The Silly Season, shooting Chirac and the adventures of Officer Fatty

In the world, as in Formula 1, it is now the Silly Season. The summer holidays have begun and that means that news is thin on the ground and in order to fill the news pages and programs the pressmen and women must dig deeper than normal. Traditionally this is the time of year when one sees stories about ducks which can ride on skateboards and other similar things.

The other day, having a moment or two at home, I decided it a good idea to go to the annual Bastille Day Parade in Paris. The 14th of July is the day on which (in 1789) the populace rose up and broke open the Bastille Prison. The object of this assault was to find gunpowder as the revolution had begun some days earlier. Today, however, it is this event which is seen as the day on which the French Revolution "began the institutionalization of secularized individualism in both social life and politics" after which "individualism and rationality found expression in parliamentary government and written constitutionalism" - or that is what I read somewhere.

Anyway, down on the Champs Elysees no-one was much worried about all these long words. They wanted to see Mirage 2000s and tanks and, of course, Monsieur Le President as well. Jacques Chirac duly came past us, waving in the presidential manner which he does so well, and disappeared off towards the Place de la Concorde to watch the army, navy, air force, police force and fire service doing their annual march (and/or) fly past.

It was only later when we went home that we discovered that a couple of hundred meters up the road from where we had been standing someone had tried to shoot Chirac. It came as quite a surprise as there was no panic, no wild driving, no security men running down the road, no grassy knoll and no school book depository.

All seemed normal.

The initial reports on French TV about the assassination attempt indicated that there was a lone gunman and he was not competent enough to have shot himself in the foot. But by the time the newspapers appeared the following day the event had become an assault on the government by the right wing extremists in France, the cradle of democracy.

This is the way things happen these days. The need for news is such that there are not enough things happening in the world and so the tendency is for all events to be blown up in proportion to their importance.

The same thing happened to me at Magny-Cours when my pal Mike Doodson and I were travelling into the circuit in a slow-moving traffic queue (Silverstone is not the only circuit that has them). A very hefty motorcycle cop appeared alongside us and I suggested to Mike that it might be an idea to "make sure there was enough space for Officer Fatty" (this naturally was said behind a closed window and with a smile so that he thought I was praising the efficiency and professionalism of him and all Gendarmes across the world).

The English do not understand Gendarmes. They think of them as policemen and this is a mistake. Gendarmes are soldiers and have considerably more power than your average grunt in a blue uniform. A motorcycle Gendarme is treated with a certain amount of respect as they have frightening powers. They need no reason to arrest you as they have the power to put you away for driving towards a frontier.

Try not doing that at some point.

Mike, however, lives in England and believes in what the French call "Le Fair Play". I could see that an impact was coming as Officer Fatty wished to put his very large motorcycle on to the same piece of road that we about to occupy.

Despite my warnings The Dood duly bumped into Officer Fatty. I groaned. We were pulled over.

"Don't do anything stupid," I said to Mike as Officer Fatty approached. He said "Good morning" in English, having realized that no Frenchman would ever have done such a dumb thing and then suggested that The Dood should have lifted off and let him go where he wanted to go.

Mike, unable to contain his sense of justice, replied that Officer Fatty should not have tried to push him off the road.

"Shut the **** up!" I hissed.

It was High Noon at Magny-Cours.

We will never know why Officer Fatty did not shoot Doodson there and then. Perhaps his trigger finger was tired. He shrugged and no doubt concluded that it was not worth the effort to try to educate a savage who understands the rules of cricket and thinks that the meat pie is edible. Perhaps it was at the start of what was going to be a long day and perhaps Officer Fatty had not yet stopped off for coffee and a doughnut and did not feel strong enough to bop Doodson over the head.

By lunchtime the story had been spun into a great tale of Doodson versus The Frogs and by late afternoon there was so much spin involved that he was in line for a Conspicuous Gallantry Medal.

The French and the English are well known for their differences of opinion. On occasion, going back through the centuries, they have even managed to war for 100 Years. The English call the French "Frogs" and the French call the English "Rosbifs" (which is something to do with Roast Beef) and both look down their noses at the other nation. The French like to think they have style (but believe that red plastic chairs have a place in interior design) and the English think Coco Chanel is a drink and dress as though they have recently fallen out of the airing cupboard. The French think the English are sneaky (what were they doing in the airing cupboard?) while the English believe that France's biggest industry is corruption.

The Anglo-French friction was highlighted later on Saturday afternoon when Renault announced that Jenson Button is to replaced by Fernando Alonso. Instantly the British media went into fox-hunting mode, aroused that the French could dump the wonderful Jenson in place of a Spaniard who drives quite fast but is only as charismatic as a postage stamp. The Brits felt sure that this was wrong!

While the hue and cry was in full swing, I was trying to figure out what happens next. Button was off to somewhere else (BAR as it turns out) and that meant that the driver market was on the move - and that opened the way for more rumors (some blown out of all proportion).

The Silly Season has begun.

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