Wednesday, 30 March 2011


Since I'm about to leave Nice and relocate to London, I've been joining a few social groups there to try and make some contacts in advance; I may have been born in the city, but I haven't actually lived in the place for almost 20 years, and most of my friends are now scattered around the globe.

This is standard practice, in my experience.  People would often join the groups I was running here in Nice to say they'd be around in a couple of months, just wanting to say hi before they arrived. They'd always get a warm welcome and as much information as they wanted.

So it was with some surprise that I received the following round robin email from the organizer of a discussion group to which I'd subscribed:-

We are a Meetup group not Facebook and as such there is a need for members take part on a regular basis. To avoid a poor attendance turn out I will be removing and banning one inactive member every month. So one member every month who makes no effort to attend Meetups will be removed and banned for at least a year. This person will be chosen randomly. Don't let it be you!

Oh.  OK then.

I immediately penned a quick missive explaining my situation. (I'd already responded to the general request for information about where there were interesting talks taking place, mentioning a favourite place of mine I used to frequent to hear a variety of entertaining and erudite speakers).  I asked if I should resign from the group until such time as I was actually living in London.

It took four days for a reply to be forthcoming.  The organizer told me that leaving the group in order to re-join it was not necessary, and now that she knew what was going on, she would put a special marker alongside my profile.  

However, a few days later, this arrived in my inbox:-

Thank you for your comments Clive. We had a great night with Inherit The Wind! Brilliant film and introduction at the beginning. It was very thought provoking and for it's time very modern! Also extremely funny! It was a comedy dealing with serious issues! 

On the down side I'm surprised there were three No Shows considering the house rules. I emailed my number, wore my badge, was early, saved seats! No text or phone calls from these members and yet members can't see how inconsiderate this is to the Organiser?? Also the one member apart from Clive, who did attend didn't join us afterwards. I'm not sure why. They had my number. We would have been glad to discuss the film with them afterwards as we had a really good discussion in the pub afterwards about the film, life, everything! We laughed a lot too! 

Well it seems there's a need for more house rules.

Members can RSVP Yes and either change it to No or not show up once only. If this is done twice they will be unable to RSVP for any Meetups for three months following. This is now apart from one inactive member being removed and banned for at least a year every month. I am able to check through the site members RSVPs. This is so that members take their RSVPs seriously. 

Consider that myself and Clive were the only people that met up last night. Clive joined this group to meet other people to attend talks with. He could just aswell have contacted UCL himself and gone along alone happily. However he joined this group so he could attend talks with other people. Three of whom didn't turn up last night and whom I've still heard no word from. This is acceptable behaviour in Meetup groups with several hundred members where the Organiser wouldn't notice you missing if you used the most powerful megaphone to shout to them the reason you're not there. In big Meetup groups you are insignificant so if you don't show up most Organisers aren't bothered. They still should be but they aren't.  

Secondly please email your mobile phone number to me before the Meetups you RSVP Yes to, so I can contact you. This is helpful to me as if you don't ring to say you're delayed or not coming or lost I can ring you. This is very much appreciated. 

Thirdly I will not be editing the RSVPs after any Meetups. If you don't change it yourself before the Meetup it will remain as it is. Look forward to meeting you soon!         


I remember seeing a Meetup where the Organiser also had rules to remove inactive members. She said quality was more important to her than quantity! 

All of a sudden I felt strangely guilty for having done nothing wrong whatsoever.  Remember, in the days before the UK joined the European Union, trying not to look like a criminal walking through the Nothing To Declare channel at airports, even though you had nothing to declare???  

I don't know what's going on, but assorted strangers are telling me off for stuff I haven't done (such as putting my name down for a discussion with Clive and then not turning up, leaving Clive tragically bereft), and stuff I have done (like start a sentence with 'and').  And (tsk) everything in between.

And (enough already!) what is it with the Miss Whiplash routine?  A need for more house rules??? Is being the organizer of a Meetup Group the new dictatorship?  Could this possibly be the way out for Colonel Gaddafi?  Forget Libya, Muammar, there's a very interesting group of people in Clacton looking for a leader, wanting to discuss teapots (well, rhymes with despots, what more do you want, FFS???)

Answers on a postcard, please, by 19.17 tonight. And if your mobile phone number does not appear under your name, I'm afraid I'll have to send in the tanks and pull out your fingernails...  



You'd think that if you run a socializing group, you'd want people to erm, socialize, wouldn't you?  


(You never get these questions right!  Very weird, especially from a statistical point of'd you keep doing that???)

Anyway, there are many groups here which ex-pats (and indeed, locals) can join, each having their own particular theme: wine-tasting, Sunday lunch, business-orientated networking, and so on.  I've been involved with running two such organizations and belong to a few others too.

I was a member of one particular group for a limited period only.  Why did I leave it?  I didn't.  Dear Reader, I was ejected from it.

Now before you start coming up with your own ideas as to what misdemeanour I committed that was so, so bad it led to my cruel banishment forever (step away from the violin, Ms Etoile...) I will tell you.  I didn't turn up at an event within some secret time period not made clear to new members.

I did try to go to some, honest.  One, a bowling evening, I had to drop out of at the last minute due to the arrival of an unexpected guest; another I'd signed up to I was advised by another member not to attempt to get to on my own as it required a long walk through a dark wooded area, and I couldn't find anyone to go with from where I live; another evening I was interested in I was prohibited from attending because tickets were conditional on having turned up at least one previous function.  So it wasn't for lack of trying.

The group is run by a woman called Pam.  Everyone around here has a story to relate about Pam, and I'm not the first person to have received the impersonal email informing an errant member that they have not reached the standard of behaviour required to retain membership of such an esteemed organization.  Indeed, I have been told over the months that people have been banned for assorted, spurious reasons - such as submitting a cartoon drawing of themselves instead of a real photograph.  Naughty, naughty!

Wouldn't mind, but it was a bit of a job to gain admission in the first place.  

The groups I ran myself had a (strange) policy of welcoming anyone who wanted to join. Unless their family name was Gaddafi (naturally, we directed them to the London School of Economics and Prince Andrew). However, for Pam's group you have to write an essay (really) on why you think you're special enough to qualify for membership. Thankfully, my career in comedy working with the UK's top comedians and actors was just enough to let me slip through the society's portals. After some consideration, of course.

Once membership has been bestowed, you then have access to the website.  



It is a 'closed' site.  Non-members are unable to see what events are taking place, or to browse through the list of members to see if they fancy mixing with these people in the first place.

Here's the link to the FBI's website:-

There is far more access to information on there than there is on Pam's site, should you not belong to Pam's group.  Which leads one to wonder what actually goes on there...

...a friend told me that at one meeting she attended, Pam was asking people what events they'd like to see scheduled.  Well, this being the Med, the usual things came up - drinks at a rooftop bar, a picnic on the beach, a visit to some art galleries.  Pam made notes and then swore everyone present to secrecy.  Nobody was to tell anyone from any other social group that they were going to be arranging drinks at a rooftop bar, a picnic on the beach, or a visit to some art galleries.


Anyway, you know me, I can't stand pomposity, so I wrote to Pam on receipt of this curt email, which spelled out in rather blunt terms that I was unwanted and should never darken her homepage again. I asked if the spirit of what these groups were about was not being eroded by the pointless secrecy and the cold, unfriendly attitude. Naturally, no reply was forthcoming.

A few months passed.  I got on with my life, mixing with friends who didn't require me to submit a request in writing, in triplicate on parchment, to ask them if they fancied meeting up for a coffee. And then one evening I went to my friend, Sofia's, place in Nice for pre-party drinks. The party, to celebrate Christmas, was in Monaco, Sofia was one of the people attending with a car, who'd offered to give others a ride.  

Drinks were duly had, convivial chat was in progress, and then another friend brought over a woman, uttering the words Pam, this is Nice Etoile.  Oh dear. Pam looked me up and down. Huh. So you're Nice Etoile are you?  And she walked away, nose in the air.


The time came to depart for Monaco.  I followed Sofia to her car.  As did several other people.  Far too many to accommodate in her Fiat. But luckily, there was another driver! That's right. Pam.

Five people wanted to travel with Sofia, two had committed to travelling in Pam's vehicle. For some inexplicable reason, Sofia looked at me and asked if I would mind going with Pam. Yes, actually, I would.  No, I said. I wouldn't mind.

Stomach sinking, I walked over to Pam's car.  One person was already in the front passenger seat, another in the back.  On opening the other back door I discovered a large silver of cooked salmon on the seat (it was one of those parties where everyone brings a dish). I looked at it. Pam looked at me. I looked at Pam. She motioned with her hand for me to get into the car. I pointed to the large silver tray of cooked salmon. She continued to look at me and do nothing.  

Sofia's trunk was open.  I said there appears to be lots of space in Sofia's car, shall I carry the tray over?  

The salmon stays with me, came the reply. (As if I'd looked her straight in the eye and said I've come for my fish...)

So I stood there thinking it wouldn't be so bad not to go to Monaco, I could really do with an early night.

Eventually, though, through huffs and puffs that would have worried the builders of even the most sturdy houses in the area, Pam removed the tray, placing it lovingly into her trunk.

We set off for Monaco.

Pam is not Italian.  She is not French.  She is not, to my knowledge a Formula 1 racing driver.  However, you could easily have mistaken her for any one of these - if not all three - on the journey eastwards. For she ensured there was always a blind bend before overtaking the car - or cars - in front. At 150 kms an hour. She's trying to kill me, I thought. Murdered for not having turned up at a bowling night...

Suffice to say (you might have already worked this out for yourselves - even you, who never get the right answer on your own) that I did survive the journey.

We pulled up outside the villa and parked.  We all got out of the car. Pam opened the trunk and delved into a large bag. She handed out red Santa hats to the others she had brought in her vehicle.  She looked at me for a moment.  She grudgingly asked me if I wanted a hat, too.  I didn't.  Yes please, I said.  She thrust one into my hand.

Once inside the house I approached Sofia and asked if I could travel back to Nice with her later.  Of course, she said.  

Happy Christmas.

Strange but true.  Though not quite as strange as what occurs in my next piece.  Stay tuned for more...


Sunday, 27 March 2011


Spring and summer on the Cote D'Azur! 

A time of champagne, celebrity, Hollywood film stars and handsome young racing drivers... 

...topless starlets on the Croisette, topped-up tanks roaring around Monaco. What could make a person feel more positive about life?

I'll tell you what - a few Health and Safety rules.

Let's start with the Grand Prix. I had the misfortune to have go to Monaco a few times a week in May last year. 

Why misfortune, I hear you ask? It's one of the most exotic locations in the world, isn't it? A place where you can't walk around without tripping over some of the richest and most powerful people on the planet. Which is exactly the problem...

...tripping up.

Whilst you're snuggled on your comfy stone-coloured, kid-leather Galeries Lafayettes sofa, watching your state-of-the-art flatscreen TV, G&T in hand, mesmerized by flash, high-performance sardine cans powering through the narrow principality streets on over-sized slick-tyre Bridgestones (you never know when you might need a handy fact to let slip casually to a squared-jawed hunk over a glass of over-priced fizz), just think how we disappointingly-normal people must negotiate our way around tons of scaffolding, cameras, hundred-ton broadcast trucks and assorted members of British Royalty - who have probably been flown there courtesy of some paedophile's private jet - to carry on with our disappointingly-normal daily lives.

Pedestrians? Who needs them? Monaco doesn't. Certainly not in May. 

Sidewalks are closed off, broadcast cables lie patiently in wait to snare you, steel scaffolding bars swing perilously over your head, attached precariously to the prongy bit of a crane (don't really want to chat up a crane-driver, so who needs the vocabulary?) by way of an old elastic band, pedestrian crossings are declared null and void. 

If you want to cross the road, don't even bother to look both ways, just close your eyes and step out into the busy stream of traffic hoping for the best. (Don't say I never give you any worthwhile advice). If you are walking in Monaco that must mean you have legs, which indicates you are plainly not rich enough to have evolved excessively-expensive luxury cars instead of those humanoid limb things more common amongst poor people. Which means you don't matter.

One day last year I was so exasperated trying to get to the other side of the port from the station that I para-glided, para-scended (and subsequently para-medic-ed) my normal Grand Prix route across town clutching a box of Milk Tray to my breast.  However, this made no difference whatsoever (can I sue Cadbury's?) and I have to admit, I did feel a bit of a Hazlenut Praline.

(It did occur to me to hitch a ride with Jenson Button – isn't he related to Cadbury's Buttons??? - but then I realized he drives somewhat slower than a Nicois bus driver, and thought I'd get there quicker if I just crawled).

Do I sound bitter? (Or perhaps bitter-sweet? Notice a theme developing in this piece?) Perhaps I should have gone to Cannes? What could possibly be injurious to a person's health there?

Well, all I can say is just go into a cafe at Film Festival time and order a coffee. Then look at the bill.


None of this would be possible in the UK, of course. There are lots of poor people there, and the government needs them kept alive so that they can be taxed to high heaven in order for MPs to buy their ducks floating hotels and pay their secret lover's rent. Thus Health and Safety has grown into an enormous industry, worth millions.

Moreover, the Health and Safety Executive's Mission Statement is: 'To prevent death, injury and ill health in Britain's workplaces.' (Not quite 'To inifinity and beyond' but it's a start.) Their website covers such lofty topics from Can a person be left alone at their place of work? to Vibration – Are the new regulations in force yet? Fat chance of reading anything like that around these parts.

And so, since it would appear that a glamourous lifestyle on the Med is not without its dangers, in the interest of my readers I hereby pledge to carry out my very own Risk Assessment to help them negotiate this year's spring celebrity frenzy as healthily as possible: I duly volunteer to go to Cannes to find out whether George Clooney's vibration is strong enough for me to be left alone with him. (Don't say I'm not always thinking of others.) 

And since I'd like to get there safely and in one piece, if you happen to see Jenson Button could you please ask him if I could have a lift?


No. of plastic surgeons consulted by the average girlfriend of a Formula 1 racing driver:  57

No. of complaints from average girlfriends of Formula 1 racing drivers of waking up with 2 left breasts instead of one left and one right:  896

No. of miles per hour at which Jenson Button travels when he's in a bit of a hurry:  4  


Simone came to dinner last night. (She was in the diary for January 5th, only I was standing in that Monoprix queue for a little longer than I'd expected).

She had some news for me.

She'd run into Monkey Woman's boyfriend, who regaled her with a list of complaints sooo bad about life in this apartment block that he and his chunky monkey companion had no choice but to move out.

Their main issue, it would appear, is that I'm so noisy they're going to the police to make a complaint about me!


Well, it is the case that one night last week I'd gone to bed very early, so that when the phone went at 10.30 I answered it in my bedroom.  And, erm, had a conversation.  

Cue LOUD BANGING ON THE BEDROOM WALL. (Which I obviously dealt with as placidly as you would expect from someone whose veins contain nothing other than a cocktail of Portuguese and Russian blood).  

The next day I left a note on their door telling them that if they continued to watch loud DVDs in their bedroom through the night, run baths at 3.00am whilst the clothes dryer was tumbling away until 5.00am, and SHOUT at each other from different ends of the apartment to be heard above the noise of the running bath and the kitchen machinery - not to mention continue with their harassment of me - I would complain to the syndic, the management agency who run the block.

Must admit, hadn't thought of the police, though. Inspired.

But the biggest news of all, dear Reader, is that Monkey Woman is expecting a little baby chimp!  (Delighted all that monkey business I've had to endure listening to has had some point to it).  

Anyway, on and on Banana Man went at Simone...the elevator makes a noise when people use it, when the inner elevator doors are left open it means people can't use it and then it doesn't make a noise (well, make up your bloody mind, which do you prefer, FGS?), do you know what happened the other day his girlfriend had to walk up the stairs and she's pregnant (erm, about three or four months gone, I would say, but obviously pregnant women lose the use of their legs pretty early on in the South of France), Simone's cat (one of the sweetest pussycats in the whole world) occasionally comes out of her apartment and meows at them (and leaves the elevator doors open?), he needs to live somewhere better because he works in a restaurant (oh, why didn't he let us know that before?)...ZZZzzz...


Surely not.

Anyway, they're off to to St Laurent du Var.  Which is very close to the airport, and the location for Cap 3000, the large out-of-town shopping mall (3000 denoting the number of parking spaces).  So, a lot quieter there, then.

And I'm certain their baby won't cry through the night.  Much.  

(Hee hee hee).


Saturday, 26 March 2011


Since I'm about to leave Nice I've decided that some Nice Etoile awards are in order.  After all, the Nicois have worked tirelessly - often throughout the night - to ensure I have a plethora of material for this blog, so it's the least I can do for them.

Saturday 26th March


I've just spent half an hour queuing to pay in Monoprix's classy(ish) alimentation section.  (Monoprix is a department store). The queue I chose was, naturally, the slowest, it being populated (it turned out) by 10 people in front of me who each wanted to pay for their groceries in single centimes.

There are a few large-screen TVs hanging from the ceiling in the checkout area in an effort to distract customers from the fact that they are waiting in line for months; should you enter the store some time in March, by the time you manage to leave, the Christmas merchandise is on the shelves. And so I could check my horoscope, the weather, the best of the store's offers, along with my horoscope, the weather, the best of the store's offers, and also my horoscope, the weather, the best of the store's offers...

Anyway, somehow today (it's November 8th, right???) I found myself at the front of the line.  The cashier gave me a big smile, her right hand poised over my eggs - which I'm sure will be fine once I get to cook them; it's well known they last at least 17 years after being laid - when a woman approached her from the back holding up a couple of tiny baby outfits, and whispered something into her ear. I didn't catch what was going on, but it became apparent when the woman came around to where I was standing that she was very heavily pregnant and was being allowed to pay for her items next. It's store policy.  

OK, not arguing with that, I really had no desire to deliver a baby this afternoon.  Or any afternoon, come to think of it.  Been there, done that - or rather had someone else to do it for me whilst I lay back and thought of how much I could expect from the forthcoming divorce settlement.  

However, concentrate, here comes the science bit.

For her husband (or someone else's husband; who knows, they were French) also suddenly appeared with a basket load of some 35 other items.  He was not pregnant.  He (sheepishly) took the articles out and placed them on the conveyor belt, being very careful not to look at me or any of the other customers whose position he had usurped. I would go so far to say that he emitted a rather hostile air, too.

I looked at them both. They didn't look at me.  They took ages to find their loyalty card, and ages to pay. Finally they thanked the cashier and waddled away.

I know how uncomfortable standing around is whilst heavily pregnant. (Somewhat less uncomfortable than being in a Monoprix queue, I seem to recall).  But in the same position as them I would have taken care to thank the other customers I had displaced for yet another five minutes.  And in the circumstances, I don't think I would have been that bothered about my sodding loyalty card, either.

Never mind.  I'm sure her labour won't be that painful with the amount of chutzpah she and her partner have at their disposal - and oh, I've just remembered I have a lovely big bag to accommodate a couple of cushions that might come shopping with me the next time I'm thinking of venturing into Monoprix.




Having (finally) emerged with my spoils (I always thought the London Underground operated on its own space/time continuum, didn't realize shops had that option as well), I started to walk home.  This involves negotiating a few busy roads running off Nice's main shopping thoroughfare.

I was about to leap off one particular sidewalk when a motorbike drove up to the guy standing on my right hand side, positioning himself directly in front of him.  There was a bit of a standoff, until the cyclist said Excusez moi, s'il vous plait! in a tone which smacked of do I REALLY have to say this after all this time???

The pedestrian stepped aside, thus allowing the motorcyclist to take his rightful place and drive along the extremely busy sidewalk, where God and President Sarkozy (keep getting them mixed up - is God the taller one?) mean him to be.

Mind you, that was the most polite phrase I've heard for weeks.

Perhaps he wasn't French after all.


Monday, 21 March 2011


I once sat in the audience of an 'open mic' evening at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For those of you who don't know what that is, it's a show in which anyone can get up on stage and have a go at making the audience laugh. It's a tough job, stand-up. As I know from personal experience.

On this particular occasion, it was the (professional) compere who especially went down like a lead balloon. There appeared to be nothing the poor guy could do to salvage the situation.  However, one of the acts he introduced was sooo appalling, the guy got booed off within the first 30 seconds of opening his mouth. Back on came the compere, glancing off stage for an instant, before turning to the assembled throng and saying 'and you thought I was bad'.

Biggest cheer of the night.

We've all had tough audiences.  

A memorable one for me was in Brighton, where the guy who booked me asked me to do 15 minutes, no longer - there were 6 of us on that night, they had to be very strict about the timing - requesting me to make it 'intellectual'; there would be an academic crowd in from the university.

And so I wrote some stuff about aliens masquerading as lexicographers - can't remember the exact material now, but I probably did all the usual gags about aliens masquerading as lexicographers - learned it, and made my way to the venue.

The person (polite term) on before me wore a grubby buttoned-up raincoat. He had wild, unwashed hair.  And his act was also filthy. The audience were not appreciating it. But he worked hard and persevered, became ruder and ruder, and the crowd began to warm up.  His allotted 15 minutes expired.  He carried on.  The management let him carry on. In the end he did half an hour on the sort of material I wouldn't regale my stuffed dog with, and he finished triumphantly to the sight of the audience falling around holding their sides in laughter. His applause must have lasted for another 15 minutes.

And then there was me. With a set about aliens masquerading as lexicographers.

Moving on, my first foray into professional comedy was in the '80s on the London fringe, where I spent five years working for a well-known topical news satire show. I originally joined it as a Music Director, teaching the cast parodies of songs, in hastily-arranged 4-part harmony, and playing the piano on stage during the performances.  I started to contribute scripts, became the show's Script Editor, then directed a few important runs, which subsequently got me into the BBC as a Comedy Producer/Director.  Where I also did a lot of political gags.

So I speak from copious experience when I say that not everyone appreciates satire - or, indeed, appears to have the capacity to understand it.

Many's the night I sat in the theatre after the show, trying to explain to the odd table of frothing ticket holders what the evening had been about.  

How can you make jokes about what's happening in Northern Ireland? would come the inevitable question.  Well, I'd endeavour to enlighten them, we're not laughing at the situation; we trying to make a political point through sardonic humour.  It's irony. But it's not funny, you shouldn't be laughing at something as serious as that.  

In the end, I gave up.  If they didn't get it, they didn't get it. No amount of explanation would switch on the light bulb.

Incidentally, we'd do the exact same version of the show four 4 nights in a row.  One audience would laugh its head off at all the best jokes. Another might receive the show enthusiastically, but laugh in completely different places to the audience of the previous evening. Sometimes, there'd be no energy coming off from the crowd whatsoever, not a sound, nothing for the cast to feed off  at all.  Until the last 5 minutes of the show, when suddenly - en masse - they would warm up and giggle hysterically. Frankly, it would have been better had they been dead from the neck up for the duration of the performance.  Far less frustrating for the actors. But an interesting lesson in humour and crowd behaviour.

At the BBC, whilst doing topical news comedy, my postbag would be overflowing with letters of complaint if I even mentioned the Royal Family.  There was one particular time during which Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, was touring the globe. Being notorious for continuously writing to newspapers and assorted Ministers of Government, and for talking to plants, we had a running gag throughout one particular sketch show of Charles reading out his (progressively nutty) missives.  You can imagine the amount of mail I had about that week's episode...

...I would remind you, Ms Etoile, that the BBC is funded by the Licence Fee, and as such, I pay your wages...

Usually in green ink, the sprawling handwriting spidering its way across the page.

Some programmes were recorded in front of a studio audience, usually in the Paris Studio in London's Lower Regent Street, an underground theatre which seated 324 people. No longer in existence, the venue hosted decades of comedy history - it was where the Goon Show was put on tape. Seats were free, but had to be pre-booked with the BBC's Ticket Unit.  Sounds grand, doesn't it, the 'Ticket Unit'? The reality was marginally less impressive, said unit actually being a large, middle-aged woman called Rosemary.   

Rosemary was a (larger-than-life) character.  Forever dressed in a (large) flowery Laura Ashley-type dress, she would burst into our offices, call everyone 'dear', and ask what audience shows we'd got coming up for her to promote.  If you said 'I'm doing a series of romantic comedies', the publicity would say A delightful series of romantic comedies.  If you told her you were working on 6 episodes of dark  murder mysteries with a lot of violence, the publicity would say A delightful series of dark, violent murder mysteries.

Anyway, a colleague of mine was producing a well-known, long-running political satire programme, also recorded in front of a live audience. This usually attracted a studio full of regular fans, the cast comprising a handful of much-loved household name comedians, who fired at each other sharp one-liners on the week's news. However, one week Piers came back to the comedy corridor from the Paris Studio with a puzzled look on his face.  The audience had offered not one laugh, not one titter.  The performers were rattled. He went to see Rosemary, who expressed amazement.  

I just don't understand it, dear, she said.  I filled the whole place with Swedish slow learners.

You might be wondering why I'm telling you about all this now.  Well, the other week was a first for me.  Nice to know, after 25 years in the business, that there's still the capacity to be surprised.

I wrote a joke in a recent post (some of you might have read it) about knitting mittens for Wiki Man so that he couldn't spend his time cutting and pasting. And somebody wrote to me to say they didn't get it.

Now, this line - about knitting! - requires no topical knowledge, no in-depth analysis of world events, and is entirely free from any aliens who might be masquerading as lexicographers. Indeed, the correspondent is well-acquainted with the whole Wiki Man saga. And so I'm now in the same position of scratching my head as have been some of my audiences over the years.

When I lived in the UK I once saw an ad in my local paper for Christmas cracker joke writers. I failed to apply. 

I think I'm beginning to see where my career has gone wrong.


Saturday, 19 March 2011


Think I've worked out why the Nicois are so bloody miserable - they never get any SWEARWORD sleep.

It's 5 o'clock in the morning.  Somewhere along my street there is a loud truck - obviously owned by the local council - which has had its engine running for half an hour.  Periodically there is a series of strange  s p r o i n g y noises.  

S p r o i n g...s p r o i n g, s p r o i n g, s p r o i n g...

And naturally, the two council employees charged with directing this vital operation are SHOUTING LOUDLY AT EACH OTHER so that they can communicate over all the din.

(Where do they get these people?  Does the ad in Nice Matin say Sproingers wanted.  Competitive pay and as much shouting as you like???)

The other night - this time at 3am - a truck pulled up on the road outside my bedroom window, whereupon a very wide rubber corrugated hose thing was put down a manhole in order to suck something out of the drains in a Very Noisy Way Indeed, or perhaps to deposit something into them in a Very Noisy Way Indeed.  But whatever it was doing (WHO CARES???) it had to be done then, at 3 in the SWEARWORD morning. 

I grew up in London, with millions of people around me.  However, vital sproinging maintenance is not done throughout the night, and the normal bustle of a capital city becomes mere background wallpaper.

I lived in the English countryside for a few years.  


There, the silence is deafening, and takes some getting used if you're a city girl.

But I've managed to get a decent sleep more than one night in a row in most places I've inhabited.  

Except for here.

How much do you think the Dagenham Girl Pipers would want for an engagement in Nice, marching up and down all night outside the Mayor's house? Can't be that much for squeezing a few bagpipes and banging a few drums, surely?  Do you think he'd get the message???



(Just thought - do you think Monkey Woman is employed by the council???  That would be an interesting ad...)

Monday, 14 March 2011


This social networking thing's a laugh, isn't it?  

I grew up in the days when there was something called a 'postal service', which involved utilizing items called 'sheets of paper', 'envelopes', 'stamps' and legs with which to walk to 'postboxes'.  Not to mention 'cheery posties', who routinely disposed of their sack loads of 'letters' in refuse bins so they didn't have to risk having their fingers bitten off by your dog every time they stuffed the bills through the letterbox. (I'm talking England here. The US has it right with its mailboxes at the bottom of the drive. Not many dogs small enough to inhabit those. Although, here in Nice...hmm...)

Anyway, these days people can communicate with each other instantly without the employment of pens, legs or ferocious dogs. Facebook is here to stay.

I have to admit, although it took me a while to embrace it, I now see how much it has enriched my life. For one thing, as a freelance, it's good for expanding my contacts and promoting my blog (did I tell you I write a blog?) For another, I get to see what my son's up to. (Mixed feelings about that one). And then there's the educational factor...

It hit me just now how much of my life I've wasted in formal education. Four years at music college, three years at university, a post-graduate journalism course. And for what??? A couple of lousy degrees? A professional qualification? What on earth was I thinking???

If only I'd spent more time on Facebook, I wouldn't have had to devote all that time and energy into mastering a couple of instruments to professional standard (I came top in Comedy Violin in my year, as it happens. The Laugh-o-Meter nearly exploded under the strain).  Nor would I have had to have carried out all that in-depth reading on academic political theory, or sit at my desk in my study term after term, compiling reams and reams of research notes, turning them into essays and dissertations.

Because there are plenty of people out there anxious to educate me in their own way for absolutely no effort - or money! - on my part.

Wiki Man, of course, favours the 'Superman' technique.  Remember how, when the superhero fell to Earth in that speeding bubble, he was brainwashed with absolutely everything there was to know about life on our planet? Who had any inkling the information he absorbed had been compiled by Wiki Man on behalf of his favourite site? (You'll notice I didn't say 'edited' by Wiki Man, because, duh, he doesn't bother to leave any bits out.)

But there are also other ways of passing on knowledge. Namely, the 'slapped wrist' method.

I've just had my wrists slapped by someone on Facebook I've never met. This person has kindly taken the time to point out where I've been going wrong with my intellectual thought processes, and has also given me a few pointers with my grammar, too.  

Chloe once again started a thread.  (Haven't you got anything better to do, woman? Like knit mittens for Wiki Man so he can't cut and paste???)  This time it was about an article in The Sunday Times, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch and which has, some might say, a right wing slant. Another poster made a comment about not watching Fox News, and I asked if you didn't have to have a right wing gene to qualify for looking at that channel. And then Wiki Man's younger cousin appeared:-

nothing wrong with reading the news from any source, you can always spot an agenda if there is one. I read lots of them and make my own mind up.

So I wrote something to the effect that that's all very well, but if certain facts are left out of the story - as was the case with the Daily Telegraph only recently, leading to subsequent distortion of the truth - you wouldn't know about it, would you?

This was the response:-

which part of 'read lots of them' didn't you understand?

Ooo!  Chippy.

I replied that I had understood all of it. And that I make a portion of my living from journalism.

Look what came back:-

ahh, so you should have heard of agenda setting, research, and critcical analysis. I rarely believe what I read, as I am a media and communications graduate and also an ex-journalist. oh, and never start a sentence with 'and'!

WTF???  What had I done to deserve such a condescending attitude? Let alone from a 'media and communications graduate ex-journalist'. Never mind telling me off for starting a sentence with the word 'and'. (This from a person who hasn't yet got the hang of using capital letters at the beginning of a sentence).

I clicked on this woman's profile, looked at her photos. She can't have been an 'ex-journalist' for very long, since her age precludes her from having been a journalist for more than about half a hour.

I posted:-

Gosh. Suppose I must have come across agenda setting, research and critical analysis somewhere in my Politics BA and post-grad Journalism qualification. Not to mention 25 years writing for the BBC.

And it's a liberal democracy, I can start a sentence with whatever I like. (And don't believe everything they teach you on Media and Communications courses, either).

Perhaps it's the impersonality of these sites. You're not meeting people face to face, and the social politeness we learn to abide by in society * goes out of the window because you're too knocked out by seeing words you've typed yourself appear on the screen in front of you, leading you to believe you're actually more clever than you really are.

*Wiki Man excepted

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.  And (oops!) Facebook is stuffed to the brim with people with little knowledge.  

Not to mention rude ones.  


P.S.  And don't end sentences with prepositions.


The former wife of my future then husband (yes, I know it's Monday morning, but get with it already) once attended a wedding where the best man had the misfortune to suffer from Tourette's Syndrome, and who walked down the aisle in top hat and morning suit alongside the future husband of the day (not his future husband - what is it with you that you keep getting confused with marital labels???) swearing his head off at the assembled congregation.

F*ck!!!  What a tw*t!!!  You look a complete c*** in that hat!!!

Genius!  Just imagine how Great Aunt Celia enjoyed watching the video of the ceremony she missed because her chauffeur had taken the wrong turn and wedged the Bentley between two hedges in the narrow lanes of Gloucestershire.

As an aside, I once had some friends who married on a romantic Caribbean island. The wedding video had several points of interest. The first being it appeared to be nothing more than a promotional film to lure tourists to the destination...twenty minutes of a 1970s-type travelogue; wobblycam of the worst kind...'s a beautiful beach, there's one of our famous banana trees, hey, a lovely bunch of coconuts... you'll find everything you'll ever want for a stay in the number on the bottom of this picture for a brochure...

Just before the tape ran out they somehow managed to fit in some footage of my friends' marriage ceremony.  We knew it was coming, thanks to the steel band attempting to play Wagner's Wedding March (Here Comes The Bride, Man) in spliff major.  Cut to startled faces of the happy couple, whose vows could just about be heard - if you strained your ears - under the steady lapping of the waves onto the golden shore, the swishing of the palm trees providing what one imagines was a welcome breeze on a tropically hot day.  

Ceremony over, the newlyweds - as obviously previously instructed - turned towards each other, smiled, held hands and sauntered slowly away from the camera along the decking, gazing lovingly into each other's eyes.   After a few steps the glowing bride's first words to her new husband could be heard loud and clear (they were walking away from the noisy ocean) thanks to the body mic she'd forgotten they'd attached to her generous polyester satin gown:-

Can't wait to get out of this bloody dress , Roger - I'm sweating like a f*cking pig.

Anyway, back to last night.  My lovely neighbour, Simone, rang my doorbell around 6 o'clock.  What are you doing tonight, she asked?  I have some friends over - come for drinks at 8.00, stay for dinner.  

And she grabbed my arm and led me into her apartment.

This is Nice Etoile, she announced to her guests.  She's coming later to dine with us.

I said hello to the smiling, warm couple who were standing in the hallway, before a rather attractive older Frenchman (shock of thick, grey hair, fit, tanned body - hairy chest!) who was sitting on the sofa in the living room, leapt up and made his way over to me.  He stood very close, looked deep into my eyes and kept me talking for a good ten minutes - all the while keeping a firm hold on the hand I had initially held out to him by way of greeting.

Your English accent is lovely!  he complimented me.

I thanked him. Told him I practised a lot.

He told me (or was it my left breast) that he looked forward to seeing me (it/us) later, and I bade my goodbyes (finally managing to wrest my hand back), thinking shit, I'll have to redo my chipped nails now.  

When I returned in two hours I found that they were all playing Scrabble, probably since I'd left earlier.  Simone sat me down in what had been her seat.  She was off to the kitchen, I was to take her place in the game.  What's more, it was my turn.  In French.  Interesting.  

Managed to put something down that wasn't an unintentional swearword (although the smooth lothario did later gain some points for coming up with the French equivalent of 'f*cked'), and the next hour was taken up with getting rid of the last of the game's letters.

However, M. Smoothy appeared to have had a personality transplant during the time I'd been coating my nails with Fast 'n Fuschia.  He was overly-animated, periodically SHOUTING manically, speech liberally peppered with (English) swearwords of a type I generally reserve for thinking about certain then husbands (the other couple didn't speak very good English, thankfully). He had lived in the UK and the US for years, very possibly having been given a Dictionary of Colloquial Swearwords as a joke by someone who hated him.  And he'd obviously studied it with gusto.  (Wasn't Gusto one of the Muppets???)

He didn't shut up and he complained about everything - the time it took everyone else to think of a word to put on the board (he himself took forever) - those c***s (looking at the lovely couple), they're so SWEARWORD thick, they haven't got a SWEARWORD idea between them - the decor - my god, just look at the crap art on these walls - the champagne - do you know anything about champagne, Jane?  Not a lot, I replied, even though my name's NiceEtoile.  Well, this is shit, he helpfully explained.  

The lovely guy in the lovely couple tried to tell him the whisky the Mad Chatterer had imbibed earlier in the evening would have affected his palate, but the MC was having none of it.  Why is everyone so f*cking ignorant???!!!

The floor show took place after the Scrabble game was wrapped up. The MC picked a fight - a Very Loud and Long One - with Simone's teenage daughter, telling her (well, I say 'telling', but the volume was ramped up to 'embarrassing') that she was 'a thick bitch'.  Simone's daughter's performance was admirable, an eloquent and elegant display of temper-losing (her gestures were well thought out and commanding), and she gave as good as she got before exiting Living Room Left and holing herself up in her room.

And the evening went downhill from there...

Very odd experience.  Everyone talked clearly, and their diction and gesticulations were perfect.  All participants appeared well-rehearsed, and 'owned' the space around them.  It was, Simone and I later agreed, as if the whole thing had been scripted by a top playwright, and was being performed in a famous theatre by first rate actors. Bravo!

When the MC started to make racist comments about a particular ethnic group, however, my desire to participate in the night's entertainment completely vanished.  He caught onto this and said Oh my god, she's a Lefty!  Yes, I am, I confirmed.  I think I'd better leave now.  Yes, I think you better had, he replied.

As it happens the party broke up at that point, anyway. The lovely couple kissed me and we pledged to meet again before I leave these shores. The MC ignored me for a bit, and then grudgingly shook my hand - not that I wanted to shake his, but I did so out of respect to my host - though this time there was no hesitation in letting me have it back as quickly as possible.

I later chatted to Simone, who was extremely embarrassed about the whole evening.  She'd known this guy for a few years, and had never seen him like that before.  She gave me the strong impression she wouldn't be seeing him like that again in the future, either.  

Almost makes the Wiki Man appear appealing.

Oh, hang on.  No it doesn't.

I've never been to the village in the hills north of Cannes called Tourettes-sur-Loup.  But last night, I think it came to me.

(Did I used to moan about dinner parties in Surrey???  What was I thinking...)


No. of points for 'baisee':  12

No. of points for Simone's daughter: 154,576

No. of points for being a racist pig: 0

Saturday, 12 March 2011


There were fireworks the other night.  No, I wasn't talking on the phone to the Future Then Husband, I mean literal fireworks.  

Quite beautiful, actually. Serial explosions of glistening white diamonds sparkling their way down to earth from the sky in front of my dining room window. Went on for ages. Must have cost a packet.

They were celebrating the end of the Carnival.  (Should have asked me, I'd have given them a few euros towards that).  

Part of the Closing Ceremony involves setting fire to the huge fibreglass models that have enjoyed their three-week, snail-like perambulation along the Promenade on the backs of slow trucks, blocking thoroughfares and cutting the town off from the beach for bloody miles.  

Bye. Missing you already.  

Come to think of it, when I lived in Brighton (on the south coast of England), they set fire to things there, too.  The Burning of the Clocks marks the Winter Solstice, with hundreds of homemade paper lanterns being torched along the stony beach on a freezing evening.

And I was born in London.  Wasn't there a small fire there in 1666?

People will be putting two and two together soon. (Start panicking when I move next door to you in a week or so).

Odd feeling, knowing I'm going back to the town of my birth and expecting to feel like an ex-pat. I'm also having to deal with the reigniting of the old embers of my anger, the year and a half I've been away having allowed me to distance myself mentally, as well as physically, from the dire way in which that country is run (there IS someone running it, isn't there?)

But in a way there's a certain comfort in the thought that some things remain the same.  

Take Prince Andrew, for example.  (If somebody could take him - preferably far, far away - I'd be most grateful.  Thank you.) A crass, boorish, unsophisticated man before I left UK shores, he's still a crass, boorish, unsophisticated man on my return. The Queen's 'favourite' son (the satirical magazine Private Eye describes the monarch's former racing manager, the now-deceased Earl of Carnarvon, as being Andrew's 'favourite uncle' - wonder what that means?), Andrew has devoted himself to pursuing close friendships with murderous dictators and dodgy billionaire businessmen - not to mention the odd (convicted) sex offender .

And yet still he clings on to his position as UK Trade Envoy, flying the flag to the most shadowy regimes on the planet, at great expense to British tax payers; the ironing board he insists accompany him on every trip, along with his bloated staff of unnecessary flunkies, bumping up the expenses no end.  Apparently, he was summoned before the Queen herself this week for a bit of a dressing down.  (Well, suppose that makes a change from him undressing himself in the company of underage girls.)

The most recent series of revelations - every day, in the serious UK newspapers, FFS!  - has not thus far been considered awful enough to make his position untenable as an official representative of the British Isles.  

Extraordinarily questionable financial deals with exceedingly questionable businessmen ?  So what? 

Offering hospitality - in Buckingham Palace! - to the close family of brutal dictators, whose hobbies include murdering their own people (with British-made weapons)? Why not?

Smiling at the camera with one arm around the waist of a blond, teenage 'masseur', and cavorting regularly with a convicted paedophile? Who cares?

What does he have to do before he is ousted from office??? Form a pact with the Devil???  Sleep with his crass, boorish, unsophisticated ex-wife??? (Who was caught on camera last year demanding half a million quid from supposed businessmen in exchange for access to her ex-husband.) Admit a fondness for Piers Morgan???


However, the good news is that on my return I will have just missed the government census.  

This is a document delivered to every home in the land every ten years, and if you don't fill it in you can be prosecuted.  I look forward to the court case of the ticketing machine in Hampshire it is reported they have down have on their list of citizens this time around (I'm not making this up). The envelope is addressed to 'The Occupier, Pay On Foot Shelter'.   

Date of birth?  Monday June 12th . 14.57 . Tesco Metro . Basingstoke . Blue Zone .  

Income?  £2.65.  Gates close at 7.30pm sharp.

Religion? Money. 

The questions are increasingly more intrusive.  Who was sleeping in your house on the night of the 10th March?  List their names, sex, and date of birth.  (What's a Prince supposed to answer there???)

Anyway, since I'll still be living in France on the dreaded day itself, and thus exempt from the whole farago, here's a token gesture:-

Name - Nice Etoile

Sex - Yes please

Marital Status - Disappointed

Interestingly, the questions on the form to be delivered to dwellings in England leap from 16 to 18, with the notice Question 17 has been left deliberately blank in the box where Question 17 should be.  

Who writes this stuff for them?  How come they get to write comedy for an audience of 60 million people, whilst I have 13 followers on this blog?  Suddenly everyone's a comedian.

And talking of comedians, Sir Fred Goodwin, erstwhile chief of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group - who took early retirement a month before RBS announced the biggest annual loss in UK corporate history (at which point he qualified for a retirement package of £700,000 a year) - has just been awarded a 'super injunction' (don't get me started) prohibiting him from being called 'a banker'.  So presumably it's now officially OK to call him 'a w*nker'?  Fab.  (Good news at last!)

These are the kind of people who inhabit the UK, dear Reader. Unworthy princes, government executives who fail to dispose of the services of unworthy princes, and greedy bankers...sorry, w*nkers, who have grown personally excessively wealthy by colluding in the great financial scam that has brought the world's economy to its knees.

You can see why I'm going back, can't you?

But on the other hand, look who I'm leaving behind (extract from thread about International Women's Day on Facebook by You Know Who):-  

"According to Dr. Michael Coughlin, an orthopedic surgeon who reported on all his toe surgeries over the last fifteen years which included bunions, bunionettes, hammer toes and other types, eighty five percent of them were performed on women. This is linked directly to tight fitting and ill fitting shoes. And the main culprit-high heels."

Not to mention disc, hip, etc. problems.

Baldness ? "Although some men may get it, 90-98% of cellulite cases occur in women."

Happy women's day :-)

Where's my passport??? 


P.S.  Always said they were a load of knits:-  

And goodness me, Prince Andrew appears to be unravelling...