EFF ONE

Several of the Americans whom I met on Sunday night in Indianapolis felt that coming to France for the next race, although an insufficient punishment, was definitely a suitable initial penance for Formula 1 to make for the US GP fiasco. Another penalty suggested by one of my colleagues was that all the F1 teams should be made to run an American driver for the rest of the season.

America's anger with Michelin over the Indy thing is part of a greater dislike of all things French, even though I got the impression the majority of the Indy crowd might have difficulty locating France on a map of the world. Most American tourists fall in love with Paris, but leave in a huff when they realize the Parisians are far too "snob" to return their affection. Of course the picture was different 60 years ago, when the French were only too happy to see the American armies stop to allow the French troops to catch up so that they could be seen to liberate Paris.

What really riled the Americans was when the Froggies refused to join in when various American Presidents decided to go in for a bit of Desert Dictator Bashing.

The phrase "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" soon passed into the American language as a description for citizens of the "hexagon" as France calls itself. To this, we can now add, "cheese eating, tyre shredding surrender monkeys." I admit I used to think American politicos and military leaders were a humourless bunch, but their row with France proved that they are capable of delivering a killer pun when required. General "Stormin'" Norman Schwarzkopf on hearing the French military would not back him up during Desert Storm, shrugged it off with: "Going to war without France is like going deer hunting without your accordion."

When President Chirac excused his nation from turning out on parade by saying that, "as far as I am concerned, war always means failure", Rush Limbaugh responded, "and as far as France is concerned, you're right."

What the Americans failed to realise is that they could easily have persuaded the French army to head for the Middle East by spreading rumours that truffles had been discovered in the oil fields of Iraq or by leaking stories of a fabulous collection of Impressionist paintings found in a museum in Baghdad. The French love food and culture above all else, whereas us Brits think truffles are chocolate and Impressionists are people who mimic celebrities on television. While France has La Comedie Francaise, the English have the Carry On films and when football star Eric Cantona named his favourite author as the poet Rimbaud, the English thought he meant a character played by Sylvester Stallone.

Sadly, Magny Cours seemed to manage to miss out on all things that make France tolerable. One can get decent food and drink, but it takes some finding. As for the accommodation, if you see F1 folk frantically scratching themselves in the morning, it is because of all the bed bugs in the horse-hair mattresses. Hell, when you've eaten the meat, you might as well use the coat as well.

And if you see race engineers sporting Afro hairdos in the Magny Cours paddock, they are not making a fashion statement, they simply failed to spot that the shaver socket in the bathroom was handily placed under a leaky water pipe. This year the Jordan team beat all records when it comes to hotel problems, as their hostelry was shut because of an outbreak of the dreaded Legionnaires Disease. This is a serious bug which gives you an irresistible urge to wear a hat with a handkerchief stuck up the back and change your name to Beau Geste.

On Friday morning, I had my own "crise d'hotel" when I woke up to find my shower had voted "Non" to hot water. It transpired that the previous night's storm had dealt a knock-out blow to the geriatric generator and my chateau was plunged into the darkness of the eighteenth century from whence it came. No electricity meant no coffee, so I was desperate to get to the track for a restorative breakfast and this is when things really took a turn for the worse. Despite the fact our hotel could have been used as the set for "Les Liasons Dangeureuses," an educational film about the dangers of dodgy electrical wiring, it boasted electronically controlled gates.

You've guessed the rest, haven't you?

Coulthard and Button were just glad to be alive in Magny Cours given they had a near death experience when they had to make an emergency landing in Madrid on the way from Jerez to the UK. It turned out to be more faulty wiring, this time on the coffee machine on the plane. If they could have found the technician who installed it, the drivers would probably have decapitated him, or should that be decaffeinated?

Anyway, all's well that ends well, as I gather Air Traffic Control gave them immediate clearance for an espresso landing.

Speaking of dogs, on a slow news weekend, the alleged "dognapping" of Ralf Schumacher's Chihuahua "Scoopy" was the talk of the paddock, but what I cannot understand is why F1 drivers have this fascination for tiny dogs? "It's all very "Cages aux Folles," darling.

Poor old Ralf doesn't have much luck with canines. A few years ago, I interviewed him at a film shoot and he had a beautiful German Shorthaired Pointer dog with him, known in the doggy world as a GSP. Alas, I gather that this dog went to an early accidental grave. Did it go to dog heaven, where lampposts can be found on every cloud? And did its soul look down abd speak to Ralf?

Don't ask me. I've never been very good at the metaphysical.

In fact, at school I cheated in my metaphysics exam by looking into the soul of the boy sitting next to me.

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