Last weekend I made the short trip from my home to Kells for some of the events of Tailteann, a festival of sports and sport-writing put on by the organisers of the summer’s Hinterland literary festival in the town.
The weekend’s final event and the best attended was an interview with Paul Kimmage, one of my favourite sportswriters and, as the interviewer Myles Dungan remarked, not just one of Ireland’s best sportswriters, but one of the best at work anywhere in the world.
I have read so much of Kimmage’s work over the past 25 years, but one gap on my reading was Full Time, his ghostwritten autobiography of former Ireland international soccer player Tony Cascarino, published shortly after his retirement in 2000.
“Cas” was well-loved during 15 years as an Ireland player but not well-known, and the book addressed that. It is widely regarded to be one of the best sporting autobiographies ever published, no mean feat for a player whose moves to big clubs (Celtic, Aston Villa and Chelsea) all ended in some ignominy.
He experienced a late career revival in France, where he played for Marseille and Nancy, and one passage, during a spell when he hated the game, hated everything it meant, hated even being Tony Cascarino, contains a reference to a jour sans.
A jour sans — literally translated as a “day without” — has no direct English translation. It could be translated as “a day to forget” or an “off day”.
Jour sans is also an occasional descriptor in the field of pro cycling (Kimmage’s ground in his own sporting career), where it’s understood that no matter how powerful you are, a day when the strength and energy are not there is always a possibility just around the corner.
The French have a way with philosophy, even in their everyday idioms.
When things are not stacking up, when the cogs are grinding, when the wheels are spinning and we can’t seem to generate any momentum, perhaps at some point we might be better off just easing off a little, to prepare ourselves better for better days ahead, and put this one down to a jour sans.