Saturday, 25 December 2010


Ex-pats roasting on an open fire,

Frostbite nipping at your toes, (UK Version)

Riviera Radio appallingly dire,

And women dressed up like hos...(Nicois Version)



Wednesday, 22 December 2010


No. 3

I got on a tram again yesterday.  It was raining hard and I had to be somewhere and was dressed up and wearing heels and didn't want to walk for half an hour...enough excuses already???

OK.  Thanks.

Because of the rain all the carriages were packed full.  The only place for me was right in front of the double doors.  Along with 437 other people.

The next stop was very popular.  A lot of passengers wanted to disembark.  And so, as is the French way (you know, those romantic Frogs), I received a sharp elbow in my back, whilst at the same time, in front of me, a young father rammed his child's buggy over my foot.  

I'd had enough.  Months and months of this typically appalling behaviour. Something snapped and I said VERY loudly - in English:-

For God's sake!  How RUDE!!!

Everyone stopped in their tracks.  The man with the buggy looked sheepish, and others endeavouring to get off gave me as wide a berth as they could.

At the next stop the 54 people wishing to alight were shouting over each other to say Pardon Madame, excusez-moi, desolee...


1 A cross woman

69 Downtrodden passengers

ANSWER: Shout loudly in English.

Bottle of champagne in the post. 



Yes, yes, there might be a little local difficulty with some surprise seasonal precipitation in the UK right now, and Vince Cable may be spouting off about being able to bring down the Government (there's a government?  Hang on - didn't England used to be a country and not a winter theme park?) but we have our own problems here, too.

Because there are also British businesses operating on the Riviera. And if that isn't bad enough, French people use them.  

Let me explain. 

There's a Virgin store - a large one - at the bottom of Avenue Jean Medecin, the main shopping street in central Nice.  It sells lots of different things - audio equipment, CDs, DVDs, Virgins, and (mercifully) British-type stationery - the stuff with just horizontal lines running across the page, rather than those weird tiny squares the French insist on for their notebooks, just in case they feel an emergency graph coming on.  (If they don't have any paper to hand they have to make do with their clothing, hence their favourite shirts with those weird tiny squares. The French are nothing if not graphic).

Anyway, said store also has a cafe.  The waiting staff here are specially picked to combine the qualities of both countries nationalities; for they have the surliness of the French, plus the ineptitude of the British. Genius!

I arranged to meet some girlfriends in the cafe the other day.  Two of us had already been to lunch together in a lovely Nicois restaurant, where the cuisine was of reknowned good quality.  Which was just as well, because for the hour after we'd ordered all we could do was reflect on other people's opinion of the food, since they forgot about supplying us with any. Even after we'd reminded them. But the fact that others had enjoyed their meals was something of a comfort, as you can imagine. (They did knock the wine off the bill to be fair, although this, too, could have been forgetfulness.  But SO WHAT?!)

Anyway, Miranda and I looked forward to our post-prandial coffee with Santa and Veronica, who were already ensconced at a table.  We placed our order with the miserable young man who (eventually) approached our seats.  Some 15 minutes later he brought our boissons, spectacularly CRASHING DOWN ONTO THE TABLE my glass of water, so much so that it spilled.  He looked at it angrily and wandered off, never to return.

A while later I approached the counter and asked another miserable employee where the bathroom was.  He gestured wearily over to an area roughly the size of the Alpes Maritimes, which was obviously the most specific he was going to get, and so I meandered through the tables for a couple of miles.  In  a kind of foyer thing I then endeavoured to open 8 unmarked doors, before I came upon one with a torn piece of A4 paper stuck to it (the staff didn't have time to go out and buy stationery, FGS!) saying TOILETTES.  

I tried to open the door, but there was no handle.  Just a big lock.  I went up to the counter, where (yet) another miserable young man told me that the convenience was inconveniently occupied (an inconvenient truth - hey, promising title for a film! - being that there was only the one toilet to service 200 customers), and that I had to wait.  

I waited.

Soon the door opened. A man emerged with a large key in his hand, and proceeded to lock said door.  I told him I was waiting to go in, and he replied that I should go up to the counter then and tell them I wanted to use the bathroom. Without letting me explain he marched purposefully away, and handed over the key to the staff.  I then had to go up to the counter (again), and ask them for the key. A new, miserable young woman asked me if I was a customer.  I said yes, and pointed to my three friends the other side of the room.  She handed over the large key.

What WAS it with that w*nker? (No, not an 'i', try again). He was merely another customer. What was it to him if I borrowed the facilities for 30 seconds?  Would he really deny a woman the chance to use the bathroom if she hadn't been a customer?  Is needing to go to the bathroom something only wanton, wilful women do because of a terrible upbringing?  Or perhaps a misspent youth?

Was he saying that I had to buy something if I wanted to exercise my right to be human???  That I shouldn't have designed my body to have to get rid of excess fluids several times a day if I expected to go out in public? Or was he just a TW*T???  (No, It's NOT an 'i', I'm getting bored with telling you).

Moral of the Story:  Never tell a Nicois man to put his head in the oven unless you actually want him to do so.  Rules are rules and they are there to be followed.  If you'd like me to show this on a graph, you can piss off. (Unlike me in Virgin).

P.S.  That bathroom was one of the filthiest I've ever had the misfortune to visit.  Good job they keep it under lock and key, else the cleaner might be able to gain admittance.


Monday, 13 December 2010



According to a few old jottings recently uncovered by some bloke called Julian Assange, some bloke called Prince Andrew believes that the UK has the best geography teachers in the world.  I don't know if this is the case or not; could be that the shy and retiring royal is merely being characteristically modest about his much-lauded ability to locate his mouth geographically with his foot on a daily basis, but I do know that whilst Nice is part of the French mainland, when you've lived in the place for a while you realise in many respects the city is actually on another planet.

Take style, for example.  I'm talking clothes.  It's a grave mistake to expect the fashionable good taste you see on the streets of Paris emulated here.   Middle-aged Nicoise women especially give lie to the supposition that there's a French 'chic' gene; let's just say when they dress up - now, how can I put this delicately? - they do 'Ageing 1980s Prostitute' rather well.  (Knew I'd find a way!) 

And so it comes as a bit of a surprise that the music piped out in many public places comes from none other than TSF Jazz - supposedly cent per cent jazz, but which is actually around soixante dix-neuf per cent jazz. (Not such a catchy strap line, for some reason.  How fortunate they don't work out percentages in the same way as me!)   These venues include the kind of shops you find in the UK frequented by little old ladies with pink hair and purple cardigans (or purple hair and pink cardigans - British women love experimenting with the latest trends), where it is traditional to have to endure the kind of local radio station that only little old ladies with pink hair and purple cardigans (or purple hair and pink cardigans) listen to (and thanks for your requests, here's Roger again to talk about his lifetime collection of pasta art and used teabags).

'Cos jazz is quite sophisticated, really.  (Although according to my friend, Hugo, it's 'music for w*nkers'.  Funny, didn't quite picture old Brian, with his moustache, cravat and Brylcremed pate, tapping his spats to Thelonious Monk).  

Once a week I take an hour-long bus journey into the hills above Antibes and Cannes.  Sophia Antipolis is the Riviera's equivalent to Silicon Valley in California; it's a sprawling development across acres of gorgeous countryside, surrounded, at this time of year, by stunning snow-capped mountains.  Invariably, different bus drivers have the radio tuned to the jazz station for the journey.  Thus assorted IT workers, scientists and teachers travel the distance tapping their trainers to the music they habitually hear in assorted shops in the town and surrounding villages.

But they're French.  English speakers have something else entirely to represent their tastes: Riviera Radio.

The Full English Breakfast Show is what RR offers to its listeners to ease them into the day.  It is presented (and I use the term loosely) by Rob and Pete.  One of them is English, the other, Australian.  Which is which, I'm not sure.  They're interchangeable to me.  Neither of them can string one word together. There are frequent long silences.  One of them once poured such scorn on the day's weather forecast supplied by the company contracted to provide such a service to the station, he spent the next week making apologies so embarrassingly fawning, they were obviously emanating from his lips whilst he was lying naked on the floor with the MD's foot on his head. This pair make Alan Partridge appear highly intelligent. And they reportedly hate each other. They're a bit like Sooty and Sweep, but without the superior linguistic ability. 

For those of you unfamiliar with Sooty and Sweep, take a butcher's at this:-

I know a bit about radio.  I used to make comedy programmes for the BBC. I wrote, directed and produced, and edited my shows on quarter inch tape with a razor blade on an old machine in my office to tight broadcast deadlines. I worked with the nation's top comedians and most revered members of the acting fraternity.  So how it was I came to be sitting opposite a complete prat day after day in a studio in central London, co-presenting a live phone-in show for a networked independent station, still has me scratching my head.

It was me and Norbert Nobrane.  (Not his real name, his real name's Gordon Astley.  Oh dear.  Did I write that out loud?  Silly me.  Oh well). For my British readers, Gordon's career includes hosting the final series of Tiswas, and being a panellist on Cheggars Plays Pop. For my non-British readers, be thankful your memory of bygone media has not been sullied by these cult* shows.  

* Oops, typo!

Gordon Astley had a personal sting, which was a bouncy piece of music underscoring the line:  

Gastley [read 'ghastly'] Gastley, why did they name me Gastley?

Clever, eh?

He took an instant - and instantly noticeable - dislike to me.  He wasted no time in trying to put me down on air, and was personally rude about me into the bargain.  So one time after he'd yet again treated the world to the false modesty of Gastley, Gastley, why did they name me Gastley? I looked at him across the table and said into the mic:  'How long have you got?'

There then followed a 2 minute silence.  And from then on, it was war.

Gordon couldn't perform without his 'comfort blanket' of assorted objects, which he ritually placed onto the table around the mic stand. One such item was an old table top shop bell, which he liked to 'DING!' every time I came out with a witticism.  To pay him back, one day I smuggled into the studio without his noticing one of those streamer things you blow into to make a high-pitched screeching sound (not unlike Sweep's dulcet tones) which unfurls at the same time.  And after the next inevitable 'DING!' I suddenly reached for my instrument of torture and blew it loudly at him.  He was a little startled, I have to say. And possibly, I hazard, more than a tad irritated. The words 'dishing', 'out', 'but', 'can't' and 'take' come to mind. 

The Producer of the show, Robin, despaired of Mr Astley.  Whereas I turned up at the offices two hours before the show, as required, to go through the newspapers and discuss what were to be the day's topics, Gordon would shimmy in three minutes before we went on air and make straight for the studio. Robin would run after him, having just enough time to impart the information that the subjects to be covered were the ethics of female circumcision and East Timor's struggle for independence against Indonesia, while Gordon waved him away, intoning a breezy yes, yes whilst setting his toys out in front of him, before switching on the mic and starting with Welcome ladies and gentlemen...and the main topic today is 'funny names'.  Do you know anyone with a funny name?  Call in and tell us about it.

(Cue Producer banging his head against the plate glass window helpfully placed between studio and cubicle.  Obviously what it's there for).

And so it was that one person called in to tell us he'd once known a person called Willie Smallcock.  This amused Gordon greatly.  Willie Smallcock?!  he repeated through almost uncontrollable chuckles.  If my name was Willie Smallcock I'd change it immediately! he said.

Yes, I pitched in.  You'd change it to Willie Bigcock.

Gordon refused to talk to me for the next 15 minutes.  Live on air.   (This is the case, Gordon, should you be looking in.  I have it on tape. Wonder if it's worth anything on eBay?  Unless you'd like to make me an offer, of course...)

The audience, naturally, loved our disfunctional on-air relationship. But sadly (?  Hmm) we were just filling in for the regular presenters, and so this double-act (or rather, an act of two singles) was merely for a limited period.  The idea was then for me to contribute political comedy to the live breakfast show, which was about to be revamped, but - as is the nature of the industry - the owner of the station suddenly announced he was changing its remit, and it became a sports broadcaster.   No news-based breakfast show was thus required.

Gordon popped up on a local BBC radio station after that, before suddenly disappearing in highly mysterious circumstances in February 2009, to the consternation of his listener. (But what are mums for, eh?) The BBC stays schtum on what happened.  If I could direct you to where you can hear him now, I would.  (If I didn't like you, of course).  But I can't.

However, here's a lovely picture.

So, then, whilst it's often advisable to keep your eyes closed when out in the streets of Nice, lest they be offended by assorted sartorial crimes too hideous to contemplate, keeping your ears open is a bonus.  

Top international jazz versus Rob and Pete or Gordon Astley.  It's one thing to be an English speaker, quite another to be an English listener.  


Saturday, 11 December 2010


No. 2.

Shut up already!



1.00am.  Washing machine upstairs: 1hr 50 minutes

1.30am.  Monkey Woman and Banana Boyfriend: 15 minutes

2.30am.  Large group of wasted young men in the street below: 25 minutes

There are some things even Mastercard can't buy.  A good night's sleep being one of them.

Neighbours in central Nice?  Senseless.


Sunday, 5 December 2010


No. 1.




The world would be a far poorer place without the French.  Just imagine what it would be missing: couture design, as promoted by Coco Chanel No. 5 (for which Coco Chanel No. 4 never forgave her until her dying day); haute cuisine, cooked up by Georges Auguste Escoffier (although frankly his Suzette was crepe);  and Sacha Distel, whose renditions of Dans les Pharmacies, Un Pastis Bien Frais and On N'est Pas Des Grenouilles (knee deep in tradition) have brought tears to the eyes of millions of people around the globe who know a thing or two about music.

But surpassing even these luminaries are the great thinkers - Descartes (I think, therefore I can read maps); Simone de Beauvoir (I think, but I also look good); and Voltaire (I think, whilst at the same time undercutting EasyJet and RyanAir.  Fly Volt!).  

When it comes to everyday rationality, however, the Nicois tend to revere the thought processes of the little-known philosopher - allegedly the illegitimate son of Napoleon I - Jules Barthelemy Saint-Hilaire; for logic along the Cote d'Azur is nothing if not Hilarious.

My friend, Anastasia, and I visited a local museum when she was over from the UK.  (This was in the days before the UK managed to stop people from escaping its shores by the dastardly wheeze of coating tarmac with white water crystals.   Years in development, brilliantly effective.  There's just no holding back sophisticated governments of the 21st Century).  

The Musee Massena is situated in one of the best positions in town, facing the Mediterranean on the Promenade des Anglais.  Entrance is free. However, there's an important ritual that must be followed if you are to gain admission to this breathtakingly beautiful villa.  You first have to enter a shop next to the museum and ask the lady behind the counter for a (free) ticket.  She then gives you a (free) ticket.  You walk out of the shop and in through the gates of the house where, on the steps leading up to the front door, you encounter a guide, who asks you for your (free) ticket.  You hand over your (free) ticket, the guide thanks you very much for your trouble, and you cross the portal, whilst scratching your head (local custom).

Nice has a nice new tram system, which was years in the design and building.  It's very popular and very efficient.  Tickets - however far you're travelling - cost 1 euro, and you buy them from vending machines at tram stops.  

I bought one from my local tram stop the other day.  The tram arrived, I stepped onto it, and put my ticket into the 'composter' machine to be franked.  It immediately spat out my piece of card, alerting everyone in the carriage with a very loud BEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEP that I was endeavouring to hookwink it with an un-valid billet, and thus was a criminal of the finest order (though there's nothing about me which makes me look remotely like a British politician as far as I'm aware).

The doors having closed and the tram having set off on its route down the main shopping thoroughfare, all I could do was resolve to take the faulty ticket to the Ligne d'Azur shop for a refund. 

And so it was that I visited the Ligne d'Azur shop just opposite the very tram stop where I had wasted my euro on this duff oblong of blue paper. Well, this being a piece about tickets, you didn't really think they were going to let anyone just wander in, now did you?  It's a bit like queueing up for sausages at the Waitrose deli, you have to tear off a piece of paper with a number on it and await your turn.  My ticket said 18, the number of the ticket of the person they were currently serving was 327.  Ah well, I'm British, I know how to wait in line, and anyway, Michael Buble was purring seductively into my ear.  

After 20 minutes it was my turn.  I went up to the counter, waved my ticket in the air and explained that the machine on the tram wouldn't accept it.  Please could I have my euro back.  The woman pointed outside the shop to the tram stop 10 metres away.  Had I purchased the ticket from that machine, she asked?  Yes, I affirmed.  I had.  Well then, she said, you'll have to take it to the Ligne d'Azur shop two kilometres down the street in Place Massena. 

(*&^%$$£   (%^&*()@

(So which were the tickets she dealt with, then?  Those purchased in Scandinavia???)

Mind you, if French reason is unreasonable, just sample Italian thinking...

...I was once trying to get to Sam Remo from Nice - the sorry tale of which I will relate in another post - but all you need to know for now is that I got stuck at Ventimiglia station for what seemed like three weeks.  There is a very nice cafe come deli shop at Ventimiglia station, which enticed me for my lunch (and possibly supper, not to mention Christmas dinner. Think you're getting the idea).  

However, this is not just any cafe come deli shop, nor even is it a Marks & Spencer's cafe come deli shop, it is an Italian cafe come deli shop. Which means you don't go up to the counter, point at something lovely and say I'll take 7 of those por favor, you queue up at the till, tell the lady what you think you want to eat (either having no idea what there is to eat at the counter, or having studied what there is to eat for the last 45 minutes, realising that it is a necessity to memorize what fare there is to chose from - forget teasmade, set of towels, cuddly toy, it's more a case of Genoa Salami, Mortadella, Soppressata - oo, and what was the other thing again???, don't help me, I'll get it on my own...) - you hand over the money, she prints out a receipt with a list of the stuff you've paid for, you take it to the counter and queue up to hand it to the person serving the food, happening to glance down at something mouth-wateringly delicious before realising if you also want a slice of that, you're going to have to invest another 4 hours of your life you'll never get back again.  And thus you come away with 16 packets of coffee beans and a small bottle of extra virgin olive oil because you're menopausal. 

So perhaps living in France isn't quite so bad after all.   I've yet to visit the Ligne d'Azur shop in Place Massena (which is open from 1.24pm to 2.43pm on alternate week days, not including Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays or Fridays or bank holidays).  But at least there's a certain comedy about it.  I'm not one of those people who knows the cost of everything (1 euro) and the value of nothing (6 gags), you know.