things i like about France (no really)

I think I was a little excited by the England’s win in the RWC semi-final when I wrote the recent posting about my top 10 favourite victories over the French. I’ve had a few comments about it. I’m not going to apologise because it was a bit of harmless fun and I’m broad-shouldered enough to realise that the French could compile an equally long and light-hearted look at their famous moments over us. Like er….

Only joking mes amis. Anyone who reads enough of my postings will appreciate what a fan I am of France. I was talking the other night (Gail Porter posting) about the best meal experience I’d ever had, which was one evening with a bunch of tired kids and friends travelling in France. I’ve written about my love of the Dordogne region especially around Sarlat; I’ve talked about the beautiful Millau viaduct which I’m aching to see and the brilliant fun we had hosting guests at the Cannes film festival. It was there that I was bumped into by the world’s most beautiful woman, Catherine Deneuve. I let her off with a caution. I’ve mentioned how much I enjoy Paris, and in particular the street markets, Musee d’Orsay and the stunning Eiffel Tower (it’s the Blackpool boy in me) even if I do get serious vertigo walking down the stairs. I’ve written several times about how much I enjoy driving along the French motorways, which are the best in the world, and probably the most expensive. But I don’t begrudge a cent of the tolls. The best small hotel I’ve ever experienced was at L’Hotel in Beaune in the wonderful Bourgogne area of the Cote D’Or. I think the Marsellaise is a fantastic national anthem (see national dirges – now that was a posting) and I really do admire the way the French play their rugby (especially when they play us boom boom!). Cantona was wonderful, and my second favourite national team was always that great French team which graced the ’82 and ’86 World Cups only to get robbed both times by Germany in the semi’s. I still think Harald Schumacher should have been banned for life for that body check on Battiston. I think the whole football world was pleased to see them win the Euro 84 tournament, especially since we had failed to qualify.

So I like France and French things a lot. Not everything of course. Platini was a great player but he’s a demented administrator. The Gallic pride is enviable but their chauvinism is overbearing and unpleasant. But who’s perfect eh. One feature in the Independent this week reminded me of another thing I like about the French, their quirky car designs. If I had the money to buy any cars I fancied there’d be two French cars always in my top 10, both Citroens – the frog-eyed DS and the older classic the Type 7 Traction Avant.

A good friend of my folks, Rudi, used to own a beautiful DS and I cleaned it every Sunday morning for some spending money. They were in production from the mid 50 through to the 70’s and became the archetypal car for the Gendarme. They were so radically different from anything designed before them. Their hydro-pneumatic suspension offered 3 settings! But the thing I liked best was not the engineering but the classic design; it was a kind of ugly-beautiful which never dated. The car never suffered from changes in taste and style because its look was unique and timeless – like the E type’s ugly big brother. For a far more informed description go check out my fellow blogger’s site…

The Citroen T7, later named 11CV, was introduced in 1934. It is said to have saved the reputation and fortune of le patron of the company Andre Citroen who had challenged his team to produce a totally new car. And so they did. It introduced front wheel technology and it affectionately became better known as the Traction Avant. Although based on relatively small engines it could achieve a top speed of 100kph and it gained fame as the car driven by the French resistance, the Luftwaffe and post-war jewel thieves because of its racy performance. But again it was the lovely Bertoni design of the car that always grabbed my attention with its low-slung lines, hooded front wheels, large chrome grill, front doors that opened in the reverse right-handed direction and any colour so long as it was black. Another good friend of my folks, Ken, also owned one of these and in the early 60s this was a very chic-looking car. It was immortalised in the Maigret TV series and the star, Rupert Davies, actually bought one of the two models used in the series. Apparently his family still own the car, a beautiful 15CV version.

Ah c’est magnifique.



10 thoughts on “things i like about France (no really)

  1. Now being a firm Frnacophile thanks to my French Artist girlfriend, I have had many good reasons to praise it. Too much to mention here, but check out our diary of our summer tour “10 weeks in a Box” on our website The first twenty days or so are already posted and chart our trip from Southern Spain (where we live) through France via the Perigord and the Dordogne

  2. Talking of french cars, if anyone knows of a Citroen H van (preferably found in a french barn for less than €100) then I’m all ears. It has, as you say Paul, got that ugly beautiful look to it and fantastically utilitarian but in a completely different way from the way the Germans do it. I’ll even chuck you a finders fee if anything comes up.

  3. 10%?

    I’m going to check that one out Pat. There’s a tiny-seated 3 wheeler cabin and pick up you see all over France and Italy driven by little old farmers and their tiny wives taking vegetables to market or wherever. I’m not sure what they are – they’re prob made by lambretta or something but I’d love one of those too. It’d be great to go and pick up friends etc from the airport in it and watch their faces (C would be in the proper car down the road – it would only be a joke, right?). I’m starting to get embarrassed now

  4. Hi PP

    I’m not such a Francophile myself, but love the food, wine esp a nice flinty Chablis, rich Beaujolais (Fleurie mmmm!) or the daddy of reds, Chataeuneuf du Pape. Apart from that they are lucky to have a beautiful and big country, a fantastic capital city and more importantly, the greatest endurance road race of them all in Le Mans, at La Sarthe.

    So, I won’t dwell too much on the French aspect of the posting but more on the interesting offshoot of cars that have touched something within you.

    For me there are a series of cars that I have been involved with that will live long in the memory, and more importantly the emotions;

    1) Austin A35 Van, in dark green. The first car I remember mum & dad having. We used to holiday in Norfolk in those days and would set off with the back of the van piled high with gear, topped off with bedding and me sat on top looking out through the little flip up vent on top. We would have liked to go to the South West, but dad was convinced the van wouldn’t get up the hills!

    2) Hillman Imp. The next car we had. fantastic little car – Rootes version of the Mini. Brilliant engine, albeit let down by a fragile water pump which usually lasted about 500 miles before needing replacing. In later life this was the first car I drove around the fields at home, and I can now see why it had a respectable, if short-lived career as a rally car.

    3) Jaguar XJ220, a bit of a leap up from the other two I know, but I was lucky enough to be living close to where the car was developed in Bloxham near Banbury, and remember the test mule for the engine being a transit van that roared through the village on big fat tyres. Again, in later years (and the link back to the first paragraph) I saw the racing version at Le Mans in 1993 with David Coulthard, David Brabham and John Neilsen at the wheel, win (albeit the victory revoked a few weeks later due to a technical infringement). Boy I loved that car.

    4) Lotus Elise, my affordable dream car. From the very first production car to the newer Amercanised versions like the 111S I just fell in love with them. On several Jonathon Palmer days I drove the Elise, Vauxhall VX220 and the Exige on the track and really appreciated how sorted they are. pat can have his french van, and you the Put-Put, give me the Elise anyday!

    5) The sound a TVR makes, especially the straight six bubbling away in the Tuscan. It’s a pure visceral response, as I’m not that keen on the looks, although wouldn’t say no to one outside the house! Also, I’m well aware that they can pass anything other than a petrol station and spend more time on the back of an AA truck than on the road… but that sound!

    Sorry to have taken the discussion off on a tangent, but set me thinking.

    Cheers, and pip pip


  5. hi pgob

    brilliant comments. i don’t mind which way the conversation goes, i just like to hear what interests people. it’s very easy to get fed up with my own thoughts – though you prob wouldn’t think it from the output.

    great choices wine and cars. A35 eh. we used to borrow my dad’s opel kadett to take the kids down to the west country for our hols. top speed about 48mph and no big hills too. happy memories.

    no-one else out there have any?

  6. Charlie,
    looks like we share some interests, namely motor cars and endurance racing 🙂 (and Fleurie).
    The Van is just a mad idea because we just moved out into the sticks and French rural transport now seems relevant for some strange reason, I also really do like the “Ape” (3 wheeler) that Paul mentions. but have you seen the prices! Anyway Ape for the city, H van for the country.

    Elise yes, fantastic on a track, slightly less fun on B roads (but only just) I had a go in a Ferrari 355 at silverstone a few years ago, there was always an Elise flying up the inside, beating me to every apex, I mostly passed it back before the next corner, only to be had again on the brakes.

    TVR, yes again, the sound is fantastic. Are they still in business? I lose track.

    After that I’m a Porsche nut, 917, 911, even the 914

  7. sorry for butting in guys. that’s it pat the piaggio ape – the bee. great name. i only see very old examples in marche, like the drivers.

  8. Blackpool is currently developing a 15.5 million pound Tower Festival Headland which will host various outdoor events. The promenade will be closed for traffic for 5 months from Novermber whilst the transfomration is in progress. The Headland will include a new wedding chapel and an arena with seating for 20,000 people. Just one of the new attractions comming to Blackpool

  9. Well ILB thanks for checking in but I’m struggling a little to see the relevance of Blackpool’s new attractions to all things great about France. Maybe it’s the reference to Blackpool boy eh?


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