Cycle tracks in Surrey, tank tracks in Normandy

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THIS YEAR is the first in history in which part of the Tour de France will be run on English soil. Or will it?

Not if the action brought by Major Gerald Brolly succeeds. For in an unprecedented move he is seeking to have the Tour de France declared illegal under the Trades Description Act. Here is part of yesterday's court proceedings, during which Major Brolly took the witness stand to be questioned by counsel.

Counsel: Could you summarise your opposition to the cycle race known as the Tour de France?

Major: If a lot of bicyclists wearing yellow and blue shirts and strange black shorts wish to cycle round the whole of France without once raising their eyes from the road, then let them do so. What I object to is having the race extended to the South of England. Good Gad, sir, I didn't fight in the war to have streams of scantily-clad bicyclists streaming past the windows of my old thatched cottage on the wrong side of the road, making the air hideous with their grunting and panting, and spitting God knows what continental germs on to the tarmac]

Counsel: Would you be happier if the organisers changed the name from the 'Tour de France' to the 'Tour de France et d'un petit coin d'Angleterre'?

Major: What would make me much happier would be if the race were confined entirely to the shores of France.

Counsel: Just a moment. You said you didn't fight in the war to let hordes of foreign bicyclists come to England. May I ask what you did fight in the war for?

Major: To make Europe free again, sir]

Counsel: And as part of making Europe free again, did you or did you not drive a tank across northern France in 1944?

Major: I did.

Counsel: I see. So it is all right for you to drive a huge, noisy dangerous vehicle right across the north of France, spreading death and destruction, but not all right for some French cyclists to spend a peaceful couple of days in the south of England?

Major: Yes.

Counsel: Yes, what?

Major: Yes, it was all right for me, but it isn't all right for them. I don't want my country lane invaded by vans advertising Pernod. . I don't want the sweet English air made poisonous by the smell of anabolic steroids. I don't want Parisian journalists knocking on my door asking if they can use my phone to talk to their paper, in French . . .

Counsel: And do you think that the peasants of Normandy wanted to be awoken by the terrifying sound of a heavily armoured tank roaring past their homestead?

Major: I don't know. I have never been a Normandy peasant in such a position.

Counsel: Or even worse, to have your small Normandy cottage, as perfect in its own way as a rustic English dwelling, half destroyed by a badly driven English tank?

Major: I assure you, sir, I don't know what you are talking about.

Counsel: Then perhaps the testimony of Gaston Leforestier will refresh your memory. He is 79 now, but he still well remembers, as he will testify in court, the morning that a good deal of his cottage, which had survived four years of occupation by the Germans and bombardment by the RAF, was wiped away in a moment by the careless driving of an English tank operator, none other than the Major Gerald Brolly whom you see in court before you today.

Major: I assure you, I have no memory of any such thing.

Counsel: I am sure you have no memory of it. If I were to obliterate someone's house by the careless driving of a tank, it is the sort of thing that I, too, would want to wipe from my memory. But if you were the owner of the house and you had just slipped out the moment before to feed your chickens and had come back to find your house gone, then I think you might remember the incident well.

Major: Assuming such a thing happened, how could this man possibly identify me?

Counsel: By taking the number of your tank. Also by having a distinct image of the driver emerging from the top of the tank for a second, after reversing out of the wreckage, putting his thumb up and shouting: 'Quel bally dommage, monsieur]'

Major: Hmm. May I ask if it is too late to withdraw my action against the organisers of the Tour de France?

Judge: Much too late. I think we are all looking forward far too much to the reunion of you and Monsieur Leforestier to be deprived of it now . . .

The case continues.