(You never get these questions right! Very weird, especially from a statistical point of view...how'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.
<RAISES EYES HEAVENWARDS>
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.
Strange but true. Though not quite as strange as what occurs in my next piece. Stay tuned for more...