Thursday, February 5, 2009

Petanque .... It develops your intelligence ? ... or is it just a load of Boules

Previous Blog Entry - dateline 20 August 2008

Each time I log onto the internet my homepage is set to ... more out of a touching loyalty to my adopted country I suppose than for the current topics of interest on the page itself.
Usually I just check my French Yahoo Emails and then happily head off into cyber-space, but the other day one of the featured items on the homepage caught my eye.

The article was authored by a certain Célian Olivier , an educational psychologist, and was being presented as a serious piece of academic research !! ( not just a "load of boules" !!)

...... a load of boules ? ? ?

The headline read "Develop Your IQ with Petanque" and despite starting with a slightly derogatory sentence about the players often being somewhat handicapped by having the "Breath of Pastis" the piece goes on to make extraordinary claims about how playing Petanque develops the neurones of the brain, aids mental concentration and increases memory, and develops good spacial awareness ( a bit obvious really that bit) ... and even refines ones "Game Theory" strategy !! Take a quick look yourself on this link ...

Anyway, I was intrigued ....but something didnt quite seem right. Now you might be someone who genuinely believes that the "News" featured on these sites are actually "New" ... after all the internet is a wonderful tool for spreading new ideas and the latest up-to-date information isnt it ???

But I had my doubts on this one see, I had once had a brief "love affair" with the noble 'game' of Petanque and I was sure I had read something remarkably similar before ... but not presented as a serious piece of academic work ... more as a 'tongue in cheek' p*** take !!

So I did some "academic research" of my own ... ( okay I used "Google" !! ) .... and guess what ??? I found that it appears that most of the article had been "borrowed" from other work !!! ( well isnt that a surprise !!) ... is the "must read" website for all Boules-Heads !! Take a look at this link .... a wonderful parody of Le Canard Echainé .... Le Bouliste Echainé ... just look at the piece at the bottom left of the page on the right ...

". ..Les qualités intellectuelles développées par le jeu sont nombreuses. On peut citer, entre autres, l'attention, la concentration, le travail de la mémoire, le recours au calcul mental et aux projections sur les probabilités. .. " .... sound familiar ???

Not that I'm knocking the skills involved in serious Boules play. A good pair of "doublettes" are an amazing sight to see.

There is usually the mischievous vocal one ...full of flamboyant gestures .. Gallic flare ... oh yes .. and a suitable intake of pastis !! .. his role is to two-fold, to gently wind-up his opponents and be the "pointer" - ie place his boules as near to the jack ( cochonnet) as possible .. without appearing to care very much ( explained later !!) ... the real "star" of the team however is the quiet one - le tirer - which can be translated as "shooter" or more aptly perhaps "bomber" !! Now the reason the "pointer" can't care TOO much .. is that a good "bomber" in the opposing team can quite literally take out ANY boule he wishes .. whenever he wishes ... Yes ... they really are that skilled.

At this point, a short personal story if I may. When my wife and I first moved to France in early 2002 the locals of the village where we then lived cordially invited us to their annual Petanque Tournament. So along we went ... well it'll be a laugh at least we thought !!

We were drawn out in pitch 21 !! .. way out on the edge .. "Fixed" muttered the wife .. and went off to get our newly purchased set of boules from our car. Then .. with a stubborn disregard for the traditional stance, or the "vrai esprit" of the hand palm-down throwing technique, my dear lady wife proceeded to roll her boule right up to the jack .. almost every time .. despite the gravel and bumps ... it was truely amazing to see.

This technique stunned our neighbours and caused total panic !! Now bearing in mind what I said about a good "bomber" being able to take out any boule ... that is true, BUT ..when the boule is literally touching the cochonnet the problem is that the little jack can then bounce off ANYWHERE !! and with uncanny luck .. it usually ended up touching ANOTHER of our boules !!

Well, imagine our delight when we sailed through game after game .. reaching the semi-finals !!The wife was even revelling in her local nickname " Madame La Reine" and waiving regally to the crowd after each amazing throw.

By now a large crowd of "muttering locals" had gathered at our end of the park - and with each victory .. their mood got darker. Fortunately for Anglo-French relations however by this stage we had also drank a rather significant amount of beer each ( many kindly provided - free of charge - by the local petanque club captain !! ) So .. it was with relief all round that our luck .. and spatial awareness skills .. finally ran out !!

It wasn't a great surprise when , the following year, nobody called round to ask us if we were coming down to the Tournament !! ... and would you believe it ... when we left the area the following year the local Bar Owner called us over .. gave us a wink .. and presented "Madame La Reine" with a farewell gift ... a cartoon book on "the art of petanque" .. signed by all the local committee of the Petanque Club !! - whoever said the French dont have a cutting sense of irony.

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