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Drip Action Trouble

September 6, 2016

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.

That Nice Lady Decorator pulls at Hastings Carnival

That Nice Lady Decorator pulls at Hastings Carnival

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  FC Exchange 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…

 

Chris France

Walk like an Egyptian?

November 26, 2015

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.

Tomb of the Nobles at Luxor at night

Tomb of the Nobles at Luxor at night

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 exchange rates offered by FC Exchange, 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.

Chris France

Gay Abandon?

October 20, 2015

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.

From the 25th floor of the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, New York

Nope, cant see any gays in the jacuzzi

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 FC Exchange). 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…

Chris France

Hats off for fashion

May 15, 2015

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.

I wonder if he cut out some eye holes?

I wonder if he cut out some eye holes?

For me as a dedicated salesman for the services of FC Exchange, when planning 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.

Chris France

Golden Oldies in Cape Town

April 3, 2015

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 FC Exchange 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.

The Nidderdale Taverners group at Newlands, Cape Town

The Nidderdale Taverners group at Newlands, Cape Town

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.

Judge John, the Hanging Judge

Judge John, the Hanging Judge, with his beautiful assistant clutching a glass of something. Water?

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.

Seals jumping out of the water for fishy titbits in Houts Bay

Seals jumping out of the water for fishy titbits in Houts Bay

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…

The WAGS get table dancing at Groot Constantia Vineyard day out.

The WAGS get table dancing at Groot Constantia Vineyard day out.

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.

A huge school of dolphins off the coast of Cape Town

A huge school of dolphins off the coast of Cape Town

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.

That baboon with baby attached

That baboon with baby attached

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.

Sir Thomas eventually imposes himself on the treasonous baboon

Sir Thomas eventually imposes himself on the treasonous baboon

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.

A Baronet with a baboon...

A Baronet with a slightly less dangerous baboon…

So next stop for the Nidderdale Taverners will be Barbados in 2017…

Chris France

Culture and yoghurt

October 14, 2014

The appreciation of culture has never being my strong suit. I would normally prefer to be assaulted by the culture in a slightly mouldy yoghurt than to visit an art gallery, and although I can appreciate proper painting by the likes of Rembrandt, most art leaves me cold. All so-called examples of modern art are also examples of the artists fooling most of the people most of the time. In recent times charlatans like Banksy, Hirst and Emin have done a brilliant job of fooling the majority, but there is a long and cluttered history of “artists” who have fooled their contemporaries and the generations that  have followed them into thinking they are talented. One of my favourite examples of this mass illusionment are most of the paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, almost entirely embarrassing daubs, to which I would not give house room, even in the smallest room in my house.

So it was with some surprise and with a good deal of unease, that I accepted an invitation to go on a walking and culture weekend in St Remy De Provence, the place where Van Gogh did a lot of his painting and was (understandably in my opinion) detained in a lunatic asylum before he shot himself at a mercifully young age. It is a club run by Distressed Aristocracy (his words, not mine), Conde Naste Provence expert, and impossible smoothie Anthony “Dock Of The” Bay. It was my suspicion that the invitation had been extended to me by mistake, a slip of the metaphorical email as it were. On that basis, I decided that, if for devilment only, I would accept. After all, the chance to employ my council-house sense of artistic integrity, ranged against a host of public schoolboys all happily fooled by the emperors new clothes, and in the seat of where many of these crappy canvases were created was too enticing to refuse.

About 20 people met up at a bull farm last Friday for dinner which consisted of bull stew. I expected this to be followed by a load of bullshit about Mr Van Gogh and other dreadful daubers who had spent time in this beautiful part of Provence, but little of note surfaced, except for another FC Exchange prospect, one that will allow me to submit a rather hopeful claim to my accountant to set the costs of the whole weekend against expenses. I could not conjure the proverbial red rag to commence a discussion, due mainly I think to the arrival of the grappa.

walking in Provence

The Appiles in Provence

A spectacular walk on the Saturday of about 8km through the Alpilles, a picture of which I show today, was worth the whole trip. Temperatures in the mid 20’s, warm for the time of year, enhanced the magical beauty of the trek. Before that we had visited (me with much trepidation – they had no bar for me to idle away time whilst others took in the art) Carriers du Lumieres, literally quarry in light at Les Baux des Provence and I have to say it was a magnificent spectacle. A light show of formidably proportions in a covered stone quarry some 200 feet high and projected onto dozens of walls. It is the kind of place Pink Floyd might have used to promote a new album. The subject was the art of Klimt and Vennes, but and here I must register some disappointment, I saw not one reference to Dirty Harry. There was the Cocteau Cafe, but not one underwater experience to enjoy. When I mentioned this to our leader, I was told I was a Philistine, but I have never been interested in collecting stamps. I don’t think I shall ever fully understand the art world

Chris France

 

Ruff crossing

September 16, 2014

Upon reflection, it was stupidly optimistic.  I had delayed our departure to France in order to play cricket in the Sussex Seniors annual New Forest tour. Naively, I had come to expect that the almost 6 weeks of decent weather that we had enjoyed in Arundel up until that decision was made – in the middle of last month – would last through to the end of August. The ferry departure was rearranged and hotel and logistical arrangements were made, to enable me to play a last few games of cricket before our return to Valbonne.

As I sat down, having made the changes to our late summer itinerary,  I caught sight on the TV of Holly Green, the daughter of the Reverend Jeff, who is now a BBC TV weather girl. His surname is not Green, and, not myself having, to my knowledge, children out of wedlock, this fact has always confused me, but I am sure he will tell you the The Lord works in mysterious ways… She was warning her viewers about the tail end of Hurricane Bertha, which was due to hit the UK that weekend.

Wind and rain duly arrived and the shorts were packed away, replaced by normal UK summer wet weather gear, and sweaters. Surely, I thought, it will pass and the cricket tour would be unaffected? That is where misplaced optimism ran rife. Booking in to the Burley Manor Hotel, aware that the first two games of 4 had been cancelled due to rain, there were still 2 matches left. Again, hopeless optimism was dashed and for the first time in 20 years the whole tour was cancelled due to the weather.

As I began writing this, I was aboard the Normandy Express, the fast ferry from Portsmouth to Cherbourg, which was whisking us south to France, and frankly, it could not go fast enough to satisfy me. There is a double edge to this. The weather was still foul with a gale blowing and rain sheeting in sideways, and the crossing was very bumpy, which means that Banjo, that dangerously awful canine, who survives under the Protectorate that is That Nice Lady Decorator, should be, well, sick as a dog (did you see what I did there?). I swear that when we got back to the car and I asked him how was his trip, he said “ruff ruff”.

Jude "where's my Baileys" O Sullivan in customary pose

Jude “where’s my Baileys” O Sullivan in customary pose

The 10 day Arundel Festival had passed in the usual haze of beer, music and culture, well, not that much culture if I am honest. We did manage to see some theatre from the Drip Action team and went to see Privates On Parade at the wonderful Priory Theatre in Arundel, had a look at the Gallery Trail, but mostly it was spent at the Jubilee Gardens stage bar, the Red Lion, the White Hart and the Kings Arms. I think we must have gone home from time to time but not that I recall clearly. I do remember that before we left, Simon “who ate all the pies” Barrett came to stay, and that we had to stage the annual reopening of the double doors between our kitchen and living room, one of which remains resolutely closed when he is not in residence.  He is a touch too wide to squeeze through just the one like normal people. He did however arrive with a good stock of Montechristo no 2’s, the finest cigar known to man, and a couple of bottles of  St Emilion Grand Cru, so he is always welcome.

So now, the late summer beauty and warmth of Provence lies ahead, but my determination to have a quiet, reflective period of relaxation and temperance before continuing my work promoting the services of FC Exchange was immediately undermined by the acceptance of an invitation to go to Roly Buftons afternoon curry party less than an hour after we expected to arrive back in Valbonne. I need to lay in some liver salts (I won’t be laying in them stupid, I will be swallowing them…).

And so, the Provençal summer party is in full effect. As I finalise this polemic (note to self; is that a collective noun for a rake of Irishmen?) prose, and with That Nice Lady Decorator insisting on giving the guardian next door an eyeful by sunbathing naked, I made the mistake of suggesting in jest that her very pert white arse could be seen from outer space. With the benefit of hindsight, whilst I sit in the casualty department, this was a quip to far.

Chris France

Test match cricket?

August 17, 2014

I have made it into the England Over 60’s cricket squad. Although now it has become distinctly autumnal, and my thoughts are turning to returning to France at the end of the month, one of the real joys of a very decent English summer has been the opportunity to play cricket again. I have had a few games for Sussex Over 60’s and although I have not made a 50 (49 is my best), I have on occasions been allowed to bowl my loopy leg breaks, and have two wickets to my name already. Who knows, by the end of the season I may have as many a 5! We all know that if it is sunny and warm in England during the summer there is no place like it, until the wasp invasion starts, and I have just seen a few in the last couple of days, but not for the first time, I digress.

In February next year there is an Over 60’s cricket tour to Barbados, and from the squad of players on the tour will be selected two “Test” teams to play for England against Barbados Over 60’s. I have to yell you now that I am in that squad. The fact that the criteria for being on the tour is limited to those over 60 and able to pay their way matters not one jot. I am on the tour and available for selection for England if required. Yes, it is an accredited tour and yes, if selected for one of the two international matches, I shall indeed be wearing three lions on my shirt and play at the Kensington Oval, where only last year I saw the those young upstarts, The English Cricket Team, get thrashed by the West Indies.

There are other joys that hove into view when one enters ones 7th decade. Prescriptions are free but more importantly I have applied for and received my Seniors Railcard, entitling me to a 33% discount on my rail fares. Next I expect pregnant women will be giving up their seat for me. the card worked a treat yesterday when we took a trip down to LA (aka Littlehampton) on The Belle of Arun, a pleasure cruiser that goes from Arundel to this mobility scooter capital of the south coast. There are so many of th infernal machines because the average age of the towns inhabitants is just over 100. I discovered that I was entitled to a £4 discount with my card on the trip, much to the chagrin of That Nice Lady Decorator who is, of course still only 37, which she has been for some years and will be for some more to come.

Yesterday I saw one of the youngsters in the town (she would have been no more than 85) taking her dogs for a walk by tying them to her mobility scooter. The problem was that one of her dogs was very small with very short legs, and was shaped a bit like a pork pie, and it was not so much walking as being scraped around the harbour side at around 15 miles an hour. Now this seems a tad fast to me. In my opinion the redevelopment of the Arun riverside needs to be adapted to incorporate mobility scooter crash barriers. She was utterly oblivious to lamp posts, drain covers, other pedestrians (very few – they are all on scooters) or the smell of smouldering dog and I was glad that there was a substantial wall between myself and my pint of London Pride outside the Empress pub/restaurant on the quayside as she sped by doing a Dinsdale Piranha impersonation on her canine companion.

sleeping dog

A dog avoiding being taken for a quick scrape

It did however give me some ideas about exercising the disaster dog, Banjo, much-loved by the Decorating Operative, and disliked by me. Perhaps I could tie him to the Merc and go for a dash up the A 27? It was a nice idea but the though did not reach my lips as I do not like a slap.

The final fling of summer has started. The Arundel Festival is a splendid event and it started yesterday. 10 days of entertaining mayhem have commenced just as the weather has turned to something more recognisable to people stuck here all year. Today we may trot up to Arundel Castle to witness some of the cricket match between Tim Rice’s XI and the Sussex Martlets, before sloping back to the town for some culture, or more likely more beer to add to those we shall doubtless consume at the cricket and/or at lunch at the George at Burpham. With the festival preceding a Sussex Seniors New Forest cricket tour before heading back to my beloved Valbonne to recommence my efforts for FC Exchange, I expect to be a broken man by the time I arrive.

Chris France

Strictly Come Cricket

July 24, 2014

As Gary Glitter once sang “I’m Back, I’m Back, Its Good To Be Back”, however this is just for a day, to catch up on events over the past month, but don’t get too excited, this column will remain the sporadic musings of an old git, just a bit more sporadic that was once the case.

The inspiration to write again came last week when That Nice Lady Decorator said “I cut my foot today”. I asked how she had managed to do that and it seems that the Stanley Knife she had employed to cut her toe nails had not been quite as accommodating as she had hoped. Now call me old-fashioned but who else would be using Stanley Knife to aid a pedicure? I dared to venture this opinion out loud, but luckily the bruises had gone down before my visit to Lords, the home of cricket last Thursday, Friday and Saturday to witness the death throes of a tired old guard being kept in the game by a load of youngsters.

Yes, the fact that I am back in the UK for summer has allowed me to indulge my love for the finest game known to man. I am not talking about the stupid limited overs (and of limited interest to those of us who understand this great game, belittled still further by the predilection for the players to wear pyjamas when playing), I am sure there is not one Currencies Direct customer in the country who will admit to liking T20 cricket ahead of the real thing, 5 day test cricket.

Lords Test

Harry Judd with Penfold, aka Mr Clipboard, at Lords

Lords was a triumph of conspicuous consumption over cricket. It has such a lovely atmosphere, almost like an enormous gentleman’s  club, that  the cricket can sometimes become  a side-show, especially when England is playing so poorly. The highlight was Saturday, when myself and That Nice Lady Decorator were guests of Adidas in their executive corporate hospitality box. It is an intimate affair with just 20 people and I was able to give someone called Harry Judd from a group  called something like Macvities (?) some much-needed sartorial advice, and to congratulate him on having achieved sufficient stature to be invited to Lords. An Uppingham Public Schoolboy, who apparently won Strictly Come Dancing recently, he has clearly benefited from the experience and perhaps some of the peculiar err…experiences that one is rumoured to find in schools of this kind. I jest. He was a thoroughly charming and grounded individual.

Two of the British Rugby team, Mike a Brown and Marland Yarde were also in attendance and I was able to give then some sound advice about how to play their games next season. I think they were impressed but it was hard to tell. I think the heady mixture of Pimms and champagne (no, not in the same glass, well at least not in my glass) might have been responsible for some rather garrulous loose talk.

Returning to Arundel on Sunday, it was time to bail out that delinquent hound Banjo from prison kennels . I argued that he not served sufficient time to pay for all the indignities he has visited upon me.  He has gobbed over most of my trousers, snapped at people including children and grown into do something about the same size as a woolly mammoth. So what does That Nice Lady Decorator do in response to his continually expanding girth? She has sent him for a haircut at Muttley Makeovers. When I was experiencing a little excess in the stomach department, was I sent for a haircut? No, I was sentenced to two miserable 5:2 diet days each week and to cycle everyday. Who has the dog’s life? Me or Muttley’s friend?

 

Chris France

From the Grand Prix to camping

May 28, 2014

When one spends part of ones life in the Côte D’Azur, one has to come to terms with the inevitability that you will be invited to certain festivals and events, and one must involve oneself in them whatever the cost. It is the law. Last week, we had dutifully to endure lunches on the beach during The Cannes Film Festival, and last weekend it was the Monaco Grand Prix. These are the kind of irksome duties that befall an ex pat living in the area.

Personally I am not enamoured with the boy racers and their nasty loud little cars, but no one can deny that it is an event, and so, when the invitation came to go to Monte Carlo aboard a private yacht, I felt compelled to accept, If only out of that sense of duty.

Roly and Poly Bufton had invited the upper echelons of Valbonnaise society (plus Old Harrovian, Loudmouth Largy) to join them on a trip around to Monte Carlo to witness the Monaco Grand Prix. By “witness” I mean get within a few hundred yards of the port, listen to the cars whilst anchored in the bay, catch a fleeting glimpse of them as they turned into the tunnel and watch the event aboard the boat on Sky TV. Initially I had thought that, with the race due to commence in mid afternoon, that an eleven o clock start would be quite acceptable. Put in the earplugs, ignore all the Formula one nonsense, consume vast quantities of rosé and then back in time for tea. However, it was not quite like that. Having accepted the invitation, it became obvious that an early start was required in order to secure a good position, and with nowhere to turn, one had to accept that leaving Valbonne at 6.30 am was a good thing, however, awaking at 6 am with the infernal alarm shrieking at me, had me thinking of throwing a “sickie”.

camper van

Bluebell the camper

Yes, it is a fact, I was awake about an hour after I had gone to sleep, ready to board a yacht, ready to be seasick and ready to “enjoy” what is arguably the most famous Formula One event in the world. After the event people were asking me about the result, and I could only say that the result was getting home without being sick or deaf. Of course I am being a little disingenuous. It was a treat to be asked aboard a sumptuous yacht, and to be offered the chance of a unique view of one of the worlds most prestigious sporting events, courtesy of some pals who happen to have a nice yacht.

Between races was by far the most convivial experience. During the races which were staged before the Grand Prix, which were even louder than the big event, speaking was not an option, but it did have the beneficial effect of drowning out Loudmouth Largy. Actually drowning and Largy seem to fit together so well, but I digress. The atmosphere of the cars, the scores of other fabulous yachts moored nearby and the sense of occasion plus the great company aboard the boat, not to mention great food and an abundance of wine was living life as a millionaire.

So after the high life of Sunday, we decided to see how the other half live by taking Bluebell the camper out for a trip to Agay, and then on to Port Grimaud near St Tropez. I needed a few days of going back to nature after the rigours of the promotion of the fine foreign exchange services of FC Exchange.

Chris France
@Valbonne_News

Blessed are the sausage makers

May 23, 2014

Ok, I am back, but briefly. No more shall I be daily enlightening your lives with tittle tattle about the lives of the idle rich in Valbonne and Arundel. However, before the celebrations become too opulent, I will be picking up my pen (well, computer keyboard) from time to time. Today is one of those times. You will have to content yourself with only sporadic outpourings from a crusty old music business and Currencies Direct executive.

The title of today’s missive ” Blessed Are The Sausage Makers” is a reference to the recent birthday of That Nice Lady Decorator. She is, once again, just 37 and I marvel as the age gap between us lengthens with every passing year. In the past I have been given hints and sometimes direct information as to the birthday present requirements, including one year being given cement mixer brochures, because that is what she wanted. I have been struggling to think of what to get her but my old pal John Otway, who had been staying with us for a few days whilst he does very little at the Cannes Film Festival, has come up with a solution.

One of the more disappointing things about living in France is the difficulty on obtaining proper English sausages. Mr Otway, who it seems has a Particular penchant for that doyenne of the British breakfast, revealed over a drink in the Pav a couple of nights ago that he was the proud owner of a sausage maker. That Nice Lady Decorator was enthralled and thus the birthday present issue has been solved. I was however a little concerned about Mr Otway’s email suggesting that I could show some birthday love with a sausage.

film festival fun

Mrs Doubtfire in Cannes

So in celebration of the start of her 38th year, I planned a surprise trip for her to the Isle of Marguerite, a short ferry trip from Cannes, to walk that delinquent hound Banjo, for which she has an unaccountable affection, and then have a birthday lunch on the beach. I checked whether the dog was allowed in the train, he was, that he was allowed in the ferry, he was, although I did think I might have to get him a rover ticket (woof woof!), and that he was allowed on the island, he was, so it was all going like clockwork until we got to the railway station at Mouans Sartoux. For some reason, the train was being replaced by a bus that morning, and when I checked that it was still OK to take the smelly hound on the bus, I was met with a curt “non”.

It had not been in my plan to drive to Cannes during The Film Festival, but there you have it. Actually it was not that bad as we came in via Mandelieu to the port, thereby avoiding most of the madness and traffic, and after a restorative pint of Guinness at The Quays nearby, took the ferry to the island famous for the story of the man in the iron mask.

I could not “face” a history lesson (I know, you have all missed my woeful puns and plays with words) so after a very pleasant two-mile walk along the beautiful lanes around the island, where we did not see one vehicle (or a road for that matter), it was time to deal with that most important of engagement of the day when in the south of France – lunch. La Guerite is an a fabulous position on a large covered terrace right beside the sea with views across to Cannes, but the prices were eye watering. A whole sea bass baked in salt was the first thing that caught my eye, a snip at 140 euros, but eventually I was drawn to the chilli prawns at 47 euros, but they seen to have forgotten to put any chillies in. Rosé at 40 euros a bottle curtailed my thirst somewhat, so much better value at Rado Plage  and in Cannes yesterday, when Mrs Doubtfire showed up.

Chris France
@Valbonne_News

Fire warning imminent

May 11, 2014

An invitation to dine with The Wingco and his adorable wife Maryse has been as rare as a golfing defeat for me. It has been well over two years since the last one, and his excuse, that I had been out of France for much of the time, is just not accepted. Regular readers will know that The Wingco takes a dim view of this column. The nicest thing he has ever said about it is that it is “ghastly”, but projected in that public school manner which I cannot imitate, where the word has far too many h’s than I could type. It could be better described as more exhalation of a whole lung full of breath during the second letter. I love him dearly but am able to be as rude as I like here because he will never, ever read it. He even covers his ears should his wife, (who wisely regularly enjoys a secret look at this missive, much to his disgust), dares to read sections of it out loud. He is a wonderful musician, excellent host, very amusing, well-educated, has a enormous capacity for wine and would be such a good tennis player if he had any kind of backhand.

Last night, after a little liquid preparation in the Web, our outside bar, the lovely “Banana Lady” (as she was described during a chance meeting with Jude “Mine’s A Baileys” O Sullivan – un unwelcome reminder of her constant watering of my plastic banana palm a few years ago) and her husband and my golfing rabbit, Peter Savin, to fulfill our dinner obligation. Talk turned to the lunch last Friday at the Auberge St Donat when the post tennis crowd had excelled in minesweeping the other tables for any left over wine. I had at one stage mistakenly picked up a bottle rather than my glass, had been spotted in this faux pas, and had found myself being administered wine by way of a jug. I am sure the stains will come out of the shirt in due course.

barbecue in Valbonne

I have hidden the gar barbecue so that we can have some sport

There will be one last bash today, before our house guests leave on Monday morning, and it involved Peachy Butterfield and our barbecue. He has volunteered to come around this afternoon and cook. Now dear old Peachy is from up north and cooking is obviously a fairly unfamiliar process up there, however he has managed to adapt quite well in his time over here and has even become an “Homme au foyer” (house husband)  staying at home and cooking for his lovely wife Suzanne, who is now an estate agent for Blue Square in Valbonne, who are also sensibly, Currencies Direct affiliates.

However, I am a little afraid that he will return to type. First of all, I expect any road kill within a ten-mile radius to arrive with him in a bag of “meat”. I do not think there will be any attempt at finesse when it comes to incineration of the rations, it just spends how hot he can get the barbecue. Normally of course he would need a day or two to dry out the peat and get it going but with this new fangled charcoal he has learned that he can make a funeral pyre like fire and burn everything to cinders in just a few hours. The real problem is the weather forecast seems to indicate that there will be a Mistral later, the strong local wind that often arrives at the most inconvenient moment. The issue is, that should he get his furnace up to somewhere near full danger, the possibility of sparks flying off into the forest will present a serious forest fire hazard, so I caution any of you living in Valbonne to keep a close ear out for the fire sirens this afternoon.

Chris France
@Valbonne_News

Sporting hero’s of my time

May 9, 2014

I think to be a great sportsman is a gift of birth, or perhaps a result of a combination of massive hard work, occasional and sporadic dieting and heavy drinking. First there was the extraordinary result in the golf earlier in the week when I won my first round of golf in over 2 years almost by a dog licence (7 and 6 – you have to be over a certain she to understnd that one -). Ok it was only 5 and 4 but there is no joke that I could think if in the final score.

Then yesterday I returned to the tennis court (twice as it turned out – I will come to that later). First I had been challenged by The Naked Politician to play singles. I am not currently at my most fluid best because of a slight stomach strain, which, had I lost, would have become a double hernia. Two years ago, when The Naked Politician had begun tennis lessons, he challenged me to a game of tennis, only to be dominated entirely by my slow lobbing game, being crushed 6-0, 6-1, the 1 coming only at the expense of an injury when diving to make a shot. Since that rout he has been playing regularly and has had several hundred tennis lessons, and was keen to play someone superior, such as my good self, to gauge his progress. He is a young man in his forties and as fit as a fiddle after several years of boot camp enrolments and the employment of a personal trainer. So, given these combined facts I was expecting a hard game. The result was a win for me by exactly the same margin; 6-1, 6-0. He started well, winning his first service game whilst I was still asleep. I would think that he should look long and hard at his tennis coach, who also, apparently, coaches his gorgeous wife Dawn. I am certain that the description of “long and hard” has not had anything to do with their faithful adherence to his coaching techniques, which do not seem to have advanced his tennis too much. Perhaps I do myself an injustice. Perhaps I am even more accomplished that I think?.

Anyway, returning home, with a smug triumphant expression, I took to my computer to finalise a deal for Currencies Direct, when the phone rang and I was asked by The Wingco where I was and more pertinently why I was not at the Vignale for the tennis match that had allegedly been arranged the day before. I pleaded ignorance and was prepared to swear on Banjo’s life that I had not had a conversation with Old Harrovian lout Largy about making up a 4 at tennis at 11am. However, it became apparent that I must have had this dialogue whilst under the considerable influence of rather too much wine in the Pav the night before. He was able to relate far too many details about events to which he could not possible be privy without the benefit of having had the alleged conversation to be lying.

That Nice Lady Decorator prepares for my successful home coming by sprucing up the web

That Nice Lady Decorator prepares for my successful home coming by sprucing up the web

Suffice to say that, after dealing with the Naked Politician earlier that morning, I was required to don my still sweaty tennis gear again and return to the scene of my earlier triumph and triumph again I against The Wingco and Dancing Greg Harris from Côte D’Azur Villa Rentals. I think the highest accolade came from The Wingco when he said “I had forgotten how utterly irritating it is to play against you with that slow lobbing game”. How humbling to be paid such great a compliment. Talking of sport, that very good sport Pat Coombs, wife of Tony “I invented the internet” Coombs, is climbing Ben Nevis for charity. I shall be making a substantial donation, and you can too by clicking on this link; http://www.justgiving.com/owner-email/pleasesponsor/Patricia-Coombs1

Chris France
@Valbonne_News

 

Trousers too tight?

May 9, 2014

When you are sitting in the sunshine on an idyllic beach in Juan Les Pins nursing a glass of rosé with the prospect of lunch with some good friends, it is always good to hear about terrible weather back in the UK. Sandra The Sultry Goddess emails to say how much her and Colin The Pirate are looking forward to a flying visit in a couple of weeks, and bemoaning the awful English weather. She relates that she bumped into some friends in Arundel early one evening who were on their way to the Co Op to buy tea bags. They stopped for a drink. 4 bottles of wine later, they went home with some borrowed tea bags in a doggy poo bag. She did not say whether it had been used but I am hoping for the best.

In the past I have mentioned the French predilection for strikes, but over lunch yesterday I heard about a strike by local school bus drivers earlier in the week. It seems that they were unhappy about the tight trousers of their uniforms and took industrial action. Now this begs the question; are the tailors to blame for making the garments too small? or is French cooking to blame for making the bus drivers too fat? Either way, a strike seems the perfectly natural response. The only problem I see is that, if they strike and therefore do not get paid, would they not then have to tighten their belts thereby exacerbating the problem?

pool overflowing

New infinity pool

After a fabulous lunch at La Petite Plage, my favourite restaurant in Juan Les Pins, we caught the train back home and found that The Nice Lady Swimming Pool Operative had created an infinity pool by dint of failing to remember to turn off the hose pipe before we left. I took this picture of Banjo the dodgy dog doing his best to help out by drinking some of the excess water. With the sun out, almost inevitably, we ended up drinking wine and watching the sun go down from the Pav. Just beside it is my fake plastic banana palm that the lovely Janie was once photographed watering when helping out in the garden. It was discussed and the conclusion was that it was looking a bit bedraggled having been out in the elements for several years, and could perhaps benefit from more of her tender care. I think it is fair to say that she was not amused.

With today being a Friday, the market is staged in Valbonne, and unless I can find an excuse I may be required to attend with our house guests, the Savins. I have an email from The Naked Politician suggesting tennis at the impossible early time of 9 am, but that seems a rather drastic response, however, it may be an invitation that I accept. It is not that the market is not good, it is, but familiarity can breed contempt.

Then it is downhill to the weekend with the probable impetus of lunch in Valbonne Square. I believe I may even end up looking forward to a 5:2 diet day on Monday as it will preclude having to have a drink, not that we have much left after yesterday.

The more perceptive part of you, my reader, will have noticed that, despite giving notice that I was going to stop producing this daily drivel dedicated to the excellent foreign exchange services offered by Currencies Direct, that like a bad penny it has turned up again. I am still not sure whether I shall continue to write this each day, so watch this space?

Chris France
@Valbonne_News

 

A golfing triumph

May 8, 2014

Ordinarily I would not necessarily make golf my premier subject. However, coming out of golfing retirement, having not played for two years I was expecting a heavy defeat at the hands of a man who plays every week, and even cleans his clubs after every round. Therefore my victory over house guest Peter Savin by 5 and 4 (meaning I was 5 holes up with only 4 to play for all you youngsters who are not old enough to play this great game) was as thrilling as it was unexpected.

Tradition requires that the winner of the 10 euro bet is required to be photographed with his winnings stuck to his forehead and I am nothing if not a traditionalist as you can see from today’s photo. Some may see this as a gaudy and unsophisticated spectacle, designed to get up the nose of the loser, but I do not see it that way (unless I have lost). This event took place at the rather wonderful and very tricky golf course at St Donat near Mouans Sartoux. The outside terrace has a spectacular view over the nearby lake and fountain, some of which you can see, which is beside the 10th hole, which requires the player to hit the ball over the lake. Normal procedure is to use a lofted club and hit the ball high enough and far enough to reach the green. However I found a different technique which involved scudding the ball inches above the water and then crashing into the bank, jumping up and landing on the green. The par was enough to turn the game even further in my direction and for some strange reason my opponent was slightly resentful, calling it a lucky shot. His was rightly unconvinced by my outrageous claim that it was exactly what I had planned.

winning at golf

Traditional golfing behaviour

Celebrations were long and drawn out. Several beers were consumed at the golf course before adjourning to spectacular house in which Peachy Butterfield, (one of the many owned by Roly and Poly Bufton) who had come along to enjoy the festivities – he does not usually miss a social occasion – to drink some of his execrable Card Bordeaux. Wisely I stuck to the rosé as it is less likely to strip your tonsils. Later we returned to the Pav for some food to soak up the wine and an early night.

This morning, I was going to meat out a tennis lesson for The Naked Politician, but he had wisely decided to challenge me on what is a French Bank Holiday, so there were no courts available to hire for this ritual thrashing. He tells me he had been playing a lot and has gained some more consistency. Perhaps, if we ever get to play, he will be able to increase his combined tally of one game against me (incidentally injuring himself at the same time by diving to make the winning return).

Due to this bank holiday, a plan has developed to go to Juan Les Pins for lunch. At the time of writing the party stands at 6, but the usual spontaneity amongst the ex pats in the south of France could see the eating party extended to a dozen or more. Should I decide to write this column tomorrow dedicated to extinguish the virtues of using Currencies Direct for foreign exchange needs, then I expect it will carry a full report. We are going on the train, which is usual for us, but for several of the more well-heeled amongst us, it will be interesting to see how they deal with the whole concept of public transport.

Chris France
@Valbonne_News

 

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