Given that a member of Transport for London's Special Projects Team had assured us in his interview only a couple of weeks ago that the celebrated Tour De France publicity caravan would be commencing its parade around the Prologue circuit at 1:30 pm last Saturday we were more than a little startled when, as we sauntered gently along Constitution Hill at about ten past one, the first klaxons blared, heralding the arrival of a wacky assortment of giant sized plastic animals perched precariously atop a selection of 4x4s and flat bed trucks.
We had heard many stories leading up to the race about the stash of key rings, baseball caps, snacks and sweets you could reasonably expect to collect at the roadside as the caravan passed, so we quickly turned tail and found a good spot along the barriers where Park Lane joins Hyde Park Corner. About half an hour later we ended our freebie innings without troubling the scorers. The closest we came to notching some trinket treasure was when we were narrowly missed by a few stray packets of Haribo. That's not to say that the caravan itself was without its entertaining moments.
ONE - Don't mention the war on terror
We are absolutely certain in our own minds that, as we were exiting Constitution Hill, we heard the following announcement to bemused spectators from the tannoy of one of the early vehicles in the flotilla:
This is the best day ever! So what's up?! [Silence] No bombing today, huh! [Utter silence] That's cool.
The rustle of collectively raising eyebrows was drowned only by the van's sprightly departure.
TWO - A bed in Lazy Town
Many of the sponsors that bothered with any form of loud-hailer could only yell out "Helloooo..." on one side of you and then "Londonnnnn!" on the other, such was the haste that many of the vehicles employed along that stretch. One noble exception was the accidental lookalike of children's television hero Sportacus who had enough time to inform us that "We are openeeeng 'otels shortleee een Sheffield, Glassgo..." in a cheerful, but nervous manner that hinted that he harboured dark suspicions that these places may actually be on the moon. Or Iceland.
THREE - Disco Inferno
Most of the caravan was pretty mild-mannered and family orientated, but suddenly this lorry hove into view transporting half a dozen brunette models cavorting as enthusiastically as you can to EuroPop on the back of a speeding HGV in the middle of an overcast and breezy English lunchtime. Gloriously, the driver came to a brisk halt as a traffic light thoughtlessly turned red against him on a one-way, officially closed off race track. As the many fathers in the crowd suddenly tried frantically to look anywhere but at the bright and noisy spectacle directly in front of them it became clear that the models were dancing not round their handbags but rather some kind of fixed point in the base of the lorry's cargo area to which they were all comprehensively strapped by thick, black harnesses. The music was being played by a DJ anonymous in his large, plastic, cartoon devil's head. We think they were advertising a television channel that may not have had a heavy news element. The lights changed and the preveailing mood seemed to be to treat the previous sixty seconds as some sort of time-space rift possibly brought on by Dr Who withdrawal symptoms.
FOUR - Jet fighter
One rig, possibly manned by Gallic performance artistes advertising a controversial new play, turned the notion of commercial largesse on its head by firing volleys of pressurised water at the flinching crowds courtesy of an industrial, trigger-operated sprayer that looked like it might have been liberated from a car washing emporium. If the idea was to make a very public effort to dissuade people from paying to watch the production, even if the spectators had had time between blasts to read at what locations they might have done so, we feel they were doing a fine job.
FIVE - Jump on the bandwagon
Although they had no part in the actual publicity caravan itself, we were struck by the eye for an opportunity displayed by some very smartly dressed gentleman who appeared to emerge from a nearby hotel to set up a wooden table selling bottles of water from iced dishes at £2 a go, which wasn't that outrageous, and alongside those some paper catering bags containing a similar bottle, a medium-sized clingfilm-wrapped baguette freshly prepared, we were informed proudly, with ham and cheese filling and "a piece of fruit" (an apple in the bag we peered into). Price to you today, sir, a snip at eight of Her Majesty's pounds Sterling. We thought better of asking the rate for a room with a view.