What better on a Sunday than to attend an “organised” walk followed by a communal lunch in the hills behind Gourdon in pleasant autumnal Provençale sunshine? Very little in my opinion and it would have been a very nice experience had it been err… organised, if lunch had been booked and if I had been invited.
The A.R.A (who knows what it stands for? – perhaps A Rabble Arrive?) was, I think, the brainchild some years ago of renowned Provençal art and history Svengali and renowned smoothie Anthony “Dock Of The” Bay who, having initiated the event, failed to appear on the walk at all.
The ARA has a President For Lift (he would have been President For Life but for an unfortunate typo a few years back) Dancing Greg Harris from Cote D’Azur Villa Rentals and Currencies Direct affiliate had inadvertently leaked details to me at the gentleman’s post-tennis lunch at the Auberge St Donat on Friday, marked by a distinct lack of tennis due to inclement weather. I have previously been denied membership of this Rabble, despite never applying for it, I think because I didn’t go to the right school or I am a successful author or something (there are just a few hard copies of The Valbonne Monologues left, although it is also available on Kindle) which of course made me more than determined to turn up. “Meet at 10 in the square at Cipieres for coffee” a beautiful old village in the hills beneath Greoliere, said the invitation and by 10 past 10 the Rabble had swelled to close to 20. It might have been a bonus for the gathering group to have had the ability to purchase said coffee but such was the organisational ability of the President For Lift (who had still not appeared) nowhere was open.
Some 45 minutes later, minus the thin grey bum fluff of a beard of which he was so proud and that had caused so much merriment for the Friday lunchers, and squirming embarrassment for our esteemed leader, the now clean shaven Dancing Greg arrived with scarcely an apology and then proceeded to take another 20 minutes to park his car. This was now becoming a worry because clearly the real reason for an outing of this nature is for what Peter Mayle, author of A Year In Provence, when asked to describe living in the South of France in one word replied “lunch”. I think it was about two miles into the walk and about 300 yards higher up the mountain when I asked the President For Lift about the luncheon arrangements. It was at this moment he pushed the metaphorical button which said “going down”.
“Err… Nowhere local could take 20 for lunch” he said casually and strode away from me up the hill and I could sense my life blood leaving me. Here I was with That Nice Lady Decorator and the irritating mutt Banjo, plus local luminaries such as The Master Mariner Mundell, Dangerous Jackie Lawless, Blind Lemon Milsted, and Nick “Falling Off His” Pearch on the side of a mountain at midday on a Sunday with no luncheon arrangements in place. Catastrophe!
I think I was in shock. Turning back immediately I was told by our President that the ARA did not like quitters (he seems to forget that I am not a member) when I said that I urgently needed to reach the ground floor. Suffice to say that a small select group descended the hill at a much quicker pace than we had ascended and after a swift dash to Greoliere the thirstiest and most determined walkers found solace and lunch at Le Relais. I can laugh about it now as I have forgotten the blind panic that had gripped me earlier. As to the rest of the group? They may still be on the mountain for all I know… I suspect the President For Lift is still out of order.
The words “surreal” and “Otway” have forever been linked in my little world. Having paid
for the first ever recording by John Otway in 1972, and having never managed to make any money from him for the provision of countless services, money and help I have happily and excitedly provided over the some 45 years, I thought perhaps this week would provide me with some solace.
He had this ridiculous plan. Just as ridiculous as the dozens of stupid but entertaining schemes he has hatched over the years. His idea was to crowd fund and record his first new album in a decade, but in Montserrat at the private studio at Sir George Martins house. The last people to record on the island were The Rolling Stones. Such is the value to tourism his visit has generated that he has already received a visit and endorsement from the Prime Minister of the island and the Governor is staging a reception at The Governors Official Residence.
I have always enjoyed being involved with the great scams and the entertainment working with him provides, but the opportunity to go to Montserrat to “help” him record his first new album of songs in over 10 years, and to rightfully claim it as a business expense (Currencies Direct customers are all over the world) seemed just one more absurd rung on the Otway ladder to Otexcess, his own vision of success Otway style.
Once the decision on the venue had been made, a decision on when to go was next. “When is the cheapest time to visit? asked Otway. The answer was during the hurricane season. “Perfect” he said, “Let’s go!” The website advice for fans wishing to join him and his band for this trip to this Caribbean gem suggested bringing an umbrella and a hard hat.
There is a very inauspicious date on Montserrat. On 17th September 1965 a Pan Am jet crashed into a hillside on the island killing 33 people. On the same date in 1989 a hurricane hit the island destroying many of the buildings including the famous Air Studios owned by Sir George Martin and in 1995, Once again in September, The Soufriere Hills volcano erupted with such force it all but destroyed the capital, Plymouth. The 17th was a particularly bad day. Pyroclastic flows of over 600 degrees centigrade swept down the mountainside at 100 miles and hour and still it is deserted and entry allowed only under police escort.
As it turned out, the 17th September 2016 was the date set for The Governors Reception for the Otway followers (about 50) who had made it to the island. Set at Government House, an idyllic building nestling by the sea, everything started so well, but then the swarm of flying ants sent most people in from the pool (yes, of course The Governors House has a pool overlooking the ocean) and then the lightning started….
It was at a performance of the Alan Bennett play “The History Boys” at the Priory Theatre in Arundel that I made what was arguably my worst faux pas of the summer. It was a warm evening and That Nice Lady Decorator and I were on the top tier of the seating in this cute and pretty venue. With no air conditioning and despite all the available windows being open it was unbearably hot, whilst the play was anything but. A dreary history laden tale (which I accept might be the kind of comment some of my better educated peers might level at my writing, but at least I try to inject some humour) droned on for over an hour before, mercifully there was a break and a chance to skedaddle to the bar for a few scoops as Peachy Butterfield might have put it.
I decided to tell the amiable decorating operative that, having seen several of the Drip Action plays (a series of left field plays staged by enthusiastic but mostly amateur actors in different venues over Arundel Festival week) I felt I had overdone the culture and was not going in for the second half and sat nursing my drink in the bar. The 2 minute warning bell sounded indicating that the play was about to recommence and the bar emptied except for me. “I am not going back in” I said to the rather imposing woman who came over to say that the play was about to start. “Why ever not? ” she asked, pointedly. “Well, it’s a bit slow and wooden and it’s hot in there… there was barely a pause; “You cannot tell the director of the play that it is slow and wooden!!!” She exclaimed. Anxious to show that I had a rounded attitude to the theatre in general and was not a Philistine (or is that someone who collects stamps?) and without instantly recognising the level of insult that was about to tumble from my mouth, I said that as I spent some time attending some of the Drip Action plays, I felt many of these were superior to this evenings offering.
You know what they say; if you are in a hole, stop digging. Inevitably, she retorted “So after insulting my production, you are now comparing my work unfavourably with …DRIP ACTION?.. The last two words were loudly drawn out, disdainfully and dramatically emphasised. (I sub consciously thought that if she had managed to get that amount of drama onto the stage and into her play I might have stayed for the second half but by now, metaphorically, I had put down my shovel). She flounced off in a imperious manner (more drama gone to waste) and I was left with the sniggering bar staff.It has been a wonderful summer in Arundel, enlivened by the Brexit vote which offered wonderful opportunities for my many happy customers for the services of Currencies Direct to exchange euros or dollars for pounds (I thank you all from the bottom of my heart) but now I am back in the bosom of Valbonne for a few days before venturing off to Montserrat to witness the recording of the first John Otway album in decades at the newly refurbished Sir George Martin studio on the Caribbean island. The last artists to record there before the studio was destroyed in a hurricane in 1989 were The Rolling Stones. It was thoughtful of John to provide me with a perfect business reason to visit the West Indies, and very poignant of him to do this during the hurricane season. Mind you, people who know me realise that the subject of wind is close to my heart…
In the week after the suspected bombing of that Russian airliner, watching Death On The Nile the night before flying to Egypt was perhaps not the best preparation. Checking in for the flight on line and discovering that we had been allocated seats in Row 13 was another interesting reminder of ones potential impending mortality. As if this was insufficient portent, we decided to take breakfast at Jamie Oliver’s Bar And Restaurant at Gatwick Airport where the waitress, upon asking us where we were bound, said without a trace of irony “don’t worry, it’s all been blown up out of all proportion”.
Arriving at Luxor safely and after having been transported to our luxury Nile Cruise boat the MS Minerva, there was just time for a sundowner on the drinks deck before dinner. I mentioned to That Nice Lady Decorator playfully that the plural of Sphinx was Sphincter but as she slightly less than politely pointed out, I was wrong. It is in fact the title of the new James Bond film.
The Decorating Operative has always been fascinated by ancient Egyptian history, hence this trip. I however am slightly less enamoured with old relics but when this cropped up in conversation she said she loved them and that’s why she was with me.
When in Rome, one has to do as the Egyptians do, so as the cruise floated up the Nile to Aswan in search of ancient temples, I found out about Cataracts, a splendid Victorian Hotel – where Agatha Christie stayed for some time – which was a sight for sore eyes.
I think it was inevitable on this visit that at some stage I would be reminded of the song “Walk like an Egyptian”. It came during a visit to the absolutely stunning Abu Simbel temple. Imbibing freely the evening before the visit, I had thought the departure time of 3.30 would be in the afternoon. Plenty of time for a late breakfast, a nice lunch and restorative gin and tonic of the sundeck before the off. To say that I was ill prepared for a 02.45am alarm call is to understate the word alarm.
Dragged from my pit, where I was once again dreaming of the excellent Currencies Direct exchange rates, I was dragged into a tiny car and driven for 4 hours through the desert in a convey guarded by armed police. This was not the best preparation for such a wonderful construction, and of course, With that amount of time elapsing, eventually the call of nature must be answered. Aboard the boat, or on a visit to a more accessible temple, one has the option of avoiding ethnic Egytian toilets, but on this occasion, there was no alternative. Dear reader, I will not go into detail here, but anyone who has ever attended Glastonbury will know the feeling of that moment when you need to roll up your trouser legs (please don’t ask why) and so it came to pass. A little touch of what I refer to euphemistically as “Billy Browntail” ensued and within a short time I was doing exactly what the song says on the tin. Walking required the kind of rolling gait where one attempts to keeps ones buttock cheeks as far apart as possible.
So, Egypt has been done. There was just the small oversight that our tour did not involve seeing any pyramids. On the first morning, I asked our tour guide and Egyptologist which day we would be seeing them, only to be told that there were two hundreds miles to the north at Giza. As I said I am not the Egyptian expert on the family). A short pit stop in Arundel for a week and now we are heading back to La Belle France.
He had not realised the potential importance, or perhaps I should say the implications of booking “The Out Hotel” for his stay in New York. We were visiting this sexually enlightened city as the result of the hubris of rather too many bottles of wine at another epic boys lunch at the Auberge St Donat. “Steely Dan are playing some theatre shows in New York. We should go” said The Wingco.
To my surprise, he did not forget and suddenly flights were booked and hotels sought. I would like to have said that this was when the trouble started, but actually it started at the airport, however I am not permitted to go into details, save to say beware of pre booking valet parking.
The enormity of his hotel booking disaster only became clear to him after several strange experiences. Firstly, he had noted that there seemed to be no women (other than his wife) staying at this very chic Boutique Hotel. Then a couple of episodes aroused his suspicions. He was enjoying a jacuzzi when he espied two chaps kissing. Very shortly after that he came across (can I say that?) a very well endowed and clearly gay chap, who was looking at him strangely and was having trouble keeping his towel securely in place over his semi. It was at this stage that it occurred to The Wingco that The Out Hotel may in fact be a haven for the gay fraternity. Indeed a simple Trip Advisor search would have elicited this review; “an ultra-hip and gay centric boutique hotel…”
I had elected to stay at The Marriott Marquis on Times Square as I had stayed there in the past and had been fascinated by the revolving restaurant and wanted That Nice Lady Decorator to see it on her first ever visit to New York. I was reasonably certain that much of its clientele would be heterosexual.
After arriving at this wonderfully crass American slice of excess, and having secured a Times Square view room on the 25th floor, from where I took today’s picture, we went to have what the Australians call a “Sticky Beak”, a look around. And that was where the Decorating Operative made arguably her most important discovery of the trip; a bar offering a jalapeño margarita for $5 (just over £3 at today’s wonderful Currencies Direct exchange rates). It was later in the evening when The Wingco revealed how his booking had turned err… “Out”.
He is an accomplished musician but like many muso’s has this peculiar penchant for that most irritating genre of music, Jazz. Indeed several evenings were set aside for visits to famous New York Jazz clubs, but as it transpired, we never managed to get into either of his “must visit” choices for the simple reason that he is always late. The Blue Note was the first catastrophe. He had wanted to see some crusty old jazz legend called John Scofield and had booked a table, however we were denied entry after getting tangled up with rather too many gins and tonic at our hotel. No matter he said, we will go to the Village Vanguard. Again, too late to be allowed in and thus the first two gigs of the tour ended in catastrophe. Whilst secretly delighted that I did have to endure two episodes of endless self indulgent noodling from some senile musicians, I consoled him with the fact that we would be seeing another of his heroes, Steely Dan, the following evening.
I should state here that I am not really a fan of the group. I have a nodding acquaintance with some of their hits, but the idea of a frantic weekend in the Big Apple with him, that Nice Lady Decorator and Maryse, aka Mrs Wingco seemed a great idea at the time.
Now, did I mention self indulgent noodling? What great pile of poo Steely Dan were. My open mind on the group was slammed firmly shut during the first number at the delightful Beacon Theatre. With zero attempt at performance, a crap sound, a diabolically unrehearsed gaggle of girly backing singers, a stage light directed into the eyes of the audience and a load of old decrepit musicians hobbling around the stage, I took to the bar after 5 songs, and guess who joined me two songs later? “Reelin in the years, throwing away the time” indeed…
That Nice Lady Decorator told me that, as I am now back in the embrace of the most lovely village in Provence, Valbonne, for the next two months, I should resurrect my blog occasionally. As I am nothing if not obedient when receiving orders, I am afraid you will have to put up with another missive from my good self from time to time.
Since we arrived the Friday before last we have had a full and hard week of preparing the house for a terrible onslaught of visitors this summer, but I managed to persuade That Nice Lady Decorator that we should pop down into Valbonne Square for a spot of lunch as it was a Sunday, a day of rest (the Reverend Jeff has at least adopted one sensible religious idea). What I had not expected was that there was a fashion show being staged in the Square, and that some people were determined to make their own fashion statement whilst watching the various models, often in a state of undress, strut their stuff to the, frankly, dribbling masses. At my age, dribbling is about all I can manage (and nowadays I find that quite rewarding), but even I, an often daring pioneer when it comes to sartorial matters, would never resort to making a fashion statement as extreme as that which I captured on my phone during proceedings.
For me as a dedicated salesman for the services of Currencies Direct, when planing to attend a fashion show, even I, with what some might say is my distinct record of failure in the fashion stakes, would think twice about using a cardboard box for protection from the sun, but it seems from the picture I took that there are people even more daring than I . My message today is that there are still people out there who are able to express themselves sartorially in ways that I will never understand.
One might be expected to think that if one was expecting to be present at such an open air fashion show in the sunshine with temperatures in the mid 20’s Celsius, one might consider some sort of cranial protection. A hat perhaps?, a parasol?, even a cap? Where on earth came the inspiration to a cardboard box as a sunshade?
So yes, I am once again in the bosom of France, enjoying that sunshine and temperatures in the mid 20’s centigrade whilst my old pal Peachy Butterfield is enjoying temperatures in the mid 20’s Fahrenheit. (He is marooned in Cheshire for a week examining the gradual softening of the tundra.).
Now I am here for the next two months, and will be celebrating not only my return to France, but later in the summer, a significant birthday for That Nice Lady Decorator. I have never been a fan of Dr Who but the concept of time travel does appeal to me. It seems that the Decorating Operative has somehow entered a time warp because when we were first married, there was a merely a few short years between us, but now it seems that the Nice Lady Decorator has remained at the age of 37 whilst I have accelerated into my seventh decade, which in some circumstances might suggest that I may be a candidate for the Child Protection Register. Anyway, said milestone, (37 for the 23rd time) is going to coincide with a big influx of pale, grateful and rather thirsty chaps from England and other sun tan avoidance countries into the south of France, and yours truly has been handed the organisation of celebrations for the travelling rabble. If I told you that I already have two spreadsheets for the events, you may understand the burgeoning logistics of such an undertaking. However, it is all supposed to be a surprise, so mums the word.
Leader of the Nidderdale Taverners, Sir Thomas “Tommo” Ingilby has commanded me to construct a new blog surrounding the recent Golden Oldies cricket tour to Cape Town. It was at breakfast at the team hotel when the steely eyed knight of the realm fixed me with “that” stare. He had asked if I was still writing my daily commentary on life in general and when I answered in the negative, I had the feeling that the stocks at his home, Ripley Castle, might soon be reopened in order for the writer of this column, an indolent former music business supremo, and representative of the excellent services of Currencies Direct, to be suitably admonished. Thus I have retired from retirement in order to report on the tour, and avoid beheading or whatever fate awaits the working class if they deny the wishes of the gentry.
But who am I kidding? If one gets the call, one hardens to action, (can I say that?) much in the way that I was recently called to play cricket for England Over 60’s in Barbados but that is another matter. And so it was that the Nidderdale Taverners, who had last gathered in Adelaide two years ago, met, this time in Cape Town, to do cricket battle once again.
Any cricket team in any country of the world will boast a number of diverse characters amongst their number. Indeed I have played in many teams where the diversity of backgrounds is very marked, but in the Nidderdale Taverners new depths of diversity have been plumbed. Chippy Northerners, more used to tundra than sunshine, mix uneasily with the aristocracy, judges, solicitors, lecturers and barristers, a music business Svengali, and even a few personalities, some even emanating from the the world of business in the favoured South of England, but as soon as the first beers are poured and the banter begins, the shared love of the greatest game in the world takes hold and all prejudices are put aside, unless, of course, a bantering point can be made.
It is a tradition that misdemeanors on the field of play are subject to a fine and in Adelaide two years ago, Judge John, The Hanging Judge, was appointed (without his consent) to the position of fines master. But so fanatical he became about his new appointment that he acquired a judges wardrobe and held, aptly as we were at that time in Australia, a kangaroo court at which to deal with the litany of indictments. As he was not playing in the first game, it fell to me to become chief snitch and relay details of the various crimes to the judge in readiness for sentence at a hearing before the end of tour dinner.
Steve “Chippy” Jackson was the first offender, for running backwards and forward before luckily clinging on to a simple catch one handed. It was a close run thing as to who was most surprised when he saw he had caught the ball, Chippy or the rest of the team. Had he stood still and waited, the ball would have come to him at an easy catching height.
John “Cutter And Slasher” Surtees, so called not just because he was once chief cutter and slasher of the workforce at Yorkshire TV, but also because it describes his batting to a tee, is a wicketkeeper. These are a breed apart as no proper cricketers ever understand why anyone would want to do the job of mopping up after the bowlers. They are curiously touchy about byes, which, those with a knowledge of the game will know are runs scored by the opposing side when the keeper and batsman have both missed the ball. I deemed it a reportable offence when, having fluffed another easy one at a cost of 4 byes, he questioned and ultimately forced the umpire to change his decision to leg byes (which are not considered a black mark against the wicket keeper), and to check the score book afterwards, although it makes absolutely no difference to the team total.
It is true that I dropped the only catch of the innings, an edge to first slip of a ball that was going at about 90 miles per hour, a little slower than the straight one I left when batting (it was so quick it broke the stump!) and somehow the Judge was alerted. Other fineable offences included Graham “Scaly” Fish for slide fielding, showing up the rest of us. Mark “Duck Hat” Claydon for not wearing the duck hat (held by the last person on tour to record a nought, and to be worn on all formal occasions) for the team photos. His unseemly celebrations when he was able to hand this over to John “J-Lo” Lodge for coming 9000 miles for a golden duck (out first ball) should not have been overlooked by the court. Then there was John “Ganga” Bradd, so called due to his constant lack of contact with reality. His crimes are extensive; for missing the bus to the organised vineyard day out, going out to bat with two right handed gloves, and being in a permanent state of apparently suspended animation, and Steve “The Absent Leader” Wilson for turning a certain victory into a nail biting finish. “Ganga” again for claiming in the bar that taking 35 overs to get 35 in a limited overs game was “a measured response” and then there was that Nice Lady Decorator for not noticing her husband had bowled and had got the final wicket. Also Malcolm “The Spinner” Faddy for claiming to be a spinner and not turning a single ball.
Now I must turn to the visit by the team to a party day out at the Groot Constantia vineyard. I wish to draw a discreet veil over proceedings in general but a member of the aristocracy whom I cannot name (but the stunningly beautiful Lady Emma Ingilby will know of whom I speak), was entirely responsible for leading a group of Wags in a serious bout of table dancing. As you can see, I have the photos to prove it and the address of Tatler…
At the team dinner on Wednesday evening news reached me of more transgressions which will have been noted by the Hanging Judge. Disappointed by the lack of catering, our team female aristocracy, as befits her status, sent one of her surfs down to pick up a Macdonalds for herself and the Wags. This lapse in culinary standards will undoubtedly have registered with our resident legislator. Now it is a widely suspected reality of life in South Africa that the police have a reputation for being on the make, and so it was that said surf, team follower Steve “Jaywalker” Gill, was the man charged with this mercy mission, and which resulted in his nickname. “Jaywalker” was stopped by police and relieved of 50 rand for jaywalking. It was pointed out to him at the dinner that there is no such offence in South Africa, so at the time of writing I am sure the duly appointed legislature will be considering imposing upon him a fine for paying a non existent fine. I think he should also be fined for suggesting that it was unfair that he be fined for a fine, however, fairness is seldom an attribute exhibited by old Hanging.
Other incidents which will have troubled the Judge included blonde bombshell, Helen “Kiss Me” Hardy, wife of the considerably less attractive Steve (batting well above his average there) was seen going for a drive with a dishy young member (well comparatively to Steve) of the opposition in a smart Mercedes convertible. Then there was the Judge mentioning that the other team in the bus were a bit reluctant to get off, not realising there was a door in the middle and they were all sitting at the back and the Judge himself again for aiming a kick at a waste paper bin when failing to score in the final game.
However, the most notable crime of the week went unpunished and was committed by a baboon. Sir Thomas, Lady Emma, That Nice Lady Decorator and myself hired a taxi to go to The Cape Of Good Hope, and to see some wildlife such as seals, dolphins, penguins and baboons along the way.
The first three of these were witnessed in spectacular fashion but without personal loss, however when it came to the baboon, things changed. Anxious to get a close up shot of the mother and baby clinging to its back, Sir Thomas asked the driver to stop, got out of the car and was taking photographs when the baboon noticed the back window was open. It was in the car in a flash and everyone but my good self bailed out immediately. I was marooned in the back with with two baboons and, as Sir Thomas remarked later, she took one look at my luxuriant moustache, decided I was a kindred spirit and made off with his aristocratic man bag containing a valuable camera lens.
I am afraid to say that despite the fantastic seals , the school of dolphin and the penguins at Boulder Beach, my abiding memory of the day will be the sight of a Baronet running in the undergrowth after the baboon trying to retrieve his bag.
Eventually, having opened the bag and eaten the hand cream (?), and generally making a monkey of everyone, she dropped the bag and order was restored. If there were baboons on the Ripley Estate, I think a vicious cull would now be taking place. Feeling that he might need to understand baboons a little better, I found this one on a market nearby.
So next stop for the Nidderdale Taverners will be Barbados in 2017…