Monday 1st September will be the first day back for millions of workers and school kids. The shock of "La Rentrée" (the French word meaning back to work or back to school). Here are some twisted first day work thoughts. They make sense to me. I hope they have some sense for you.

    First day back at work. Fumbling through the darkest recesses of my bag for my office keys. Not in the bag. Not in my pockets. Yes, I’ve left them in the car. Erm, where are my car keys? Where did I park my car? Premature Alzheimer’s? Short-term memory loss. I eventually find my car and my keys, that have slipped out of my pocket and have slipped down the side of the driver’s seat in the car – Or did I actually put them there for safekeeping?

    I unlock the office. The office is still there, in the general state of disorder that I left it six weeks ago. I still have an office. I presume I still have a job. After the long summer break, I still exist - well you hear so many «horror» stories about those who return to work and return to nothing, save a lap top, and a promise from their boss of a BRIGHT FLEXIBLE FUTURE (BFF) within the company.

    I remember a long time ago in one « organisation » I worked for used the BFF as standard practice to get rid of people. The scenario was always the same. Come late August there would be a sudden promotion (hooray) followed by a posting to Paris with a promise of a BFF. So, the newly promoted employee arrives, still having found nowhere to live in Paris. He is given a laptop, a ton of work, but no office, which doesn’t matter much, because our new flexible friend is going to be on the road all the time, working out of his car or crappy hotel rooms and … « by the way can you be on the other side of the world for Monday morning? » Of course you can if you travel through the weekend. So, you shut up and put up and then crack up and then leave or die young. A great way to get rid of someone in his or her early fifties.

    So, back in my disorganised office – WELL let’s talk about DIRTY DESKING. I frankly don’t trust someone with a clean desk.


    Meaning that they are waiting to do their work, or that the work has already been done, meaning that the person doesn’t have enough work or they are just too darn good at what they do and can do it quickly OR, what they do is well below their capacities and they should be in a post with more work and more responsibility.

    Meaning that they have finished working OR they genuinely have no work because they are incompetent.

    THOSE WHO ARE WAITING TO DO THEIR WORK – the kind of person who will sit round doing nothing all day, then work long into the night when everyone has gone home, just so the boss can see how hard they work. « Oh, I stayed until midnight last night … »

    Of course, no one will just sit and do nothing all day. Those who are CONSPICUOUS LATE WORKERS will first have spent most of the day, rushing round everyone else’s’ office, clutching a sheath of papers and complaining about just how much work they have to do and how late they have to stay to do it. This though, isn’t smart. Rush round for sure, but DON’T COMPLAIN about how much you have to do, but rather tell colleagues you’ve just popped in to say hello – we all like a social call, a handshake, a good morning smile -

    « Oh, would you like a coffee? »
    « No thanks. I’ve got to rush » (rain check time)

    You get the reputation of a friendly and even dynamic colleague, always on the move, but always a few minutes to say hello and have a quick chat. As for those who complain … well they just get the reputation of the miserable bastard who does nothing but complain. And were I the boss of such an employee, well I might send him or her on one of those numerous «MICKEY MOUSE » TRAINING COURSES for a spot of « remotivation » or I might just give the aforementioned employee the chance to leave – if you spend your life complaining, you are obviously overworked and unhappy and might just be happier somewhere else.

    Back at THE DIRTY DESK – well I am not suggesting that you leave your desk looking like your five year old has just decided to rustle you up a gourmet meal or redecorate the living room – I am talking about a programmed, reasoned and reasonable mess. Leave enough out on the desk to show that there is some kind of activity going on. Leave important looking magazines, reports and dossiers in full view and make sure that you have just enough (but not too many) sticky « Post It » notes, stuck in strategic places. Always best to leave out « To Do » notes, but also enough « Done » notes. Other good advice – Pencil in a few meetings in your desk diary and leave it open for all to see. If there is enough important looking mess, those who pass your desk will get the impression that you are always working. (And you probably are).

    Those with clean desks are generally highly organised and efficient – they get work done quicker than they should – these people are scary. Yes it is good to be organised, but never work too quickly. Make your work last. Even if you have very little to do, make it last. Spread the work thinly throughout the day. Procrastinate a little. No one likes a highly organised colleague who works to fast.

    BACK 2 WORK and …

    First mistake of the day - switch on the computer. At the best of times my office computer takes half a day to rev up, boot up, wake and just generally do shit, but the first day back after the summer. Well, computers are just like us. How would you feel if you suddenly had to perform technical wonders and you hadn’t been switched on for six weeks? Leave the computer time to « settle in » and go for one of those long « social walks » - meaning you walk round all the various offices and say hello to everyone – and don’t carry a bogus file with you so that you look important or just busy, you are genuinely there to say « Hello »

    Finally my computer has woken up and has loaded my e-mails – all the crap that people have sent me whilst I was on holiday. Come to think of it, my workplace

    HANG ON - my place of work has been closed for four weeks. Who has been sending me mails? I will hasten to add that most of the rest of France has also been closed down for the last month YES TRUE, but in every work place there is a skeleton staff. Those childless «stayers behind» who «man» (or even «woman») the workplace, when all THE REST OF US are on holiday. By “THE REST OF US” - I mean those poor bastards who have families and kids and have to take their holidays during the school holidays and have to pay school holiday rates for their place in the sun. NOT those who have no kids or whose offspring have flown the nest and therefore don’t mind working through the holidays – (and by work I mean answering the phone to tell everyone the place is closed.) AND who can take their holidays out-of-season far cheaper than the rest of us AND those who bugger off on holiday as soon as the rest of us get back. THOSE people who send « urgent » e-mails knowing full well that you are away, and when you finally et back you cannot attend to the issue addressed in the e-mail because the person who sent it is on holiday AAAAAAAAAAGH

    Well, it’s just the first day back. Another 88 DAYS like these and it will be CHRISTMAS.

  • No Slug Pub Round Here

    Back to work tomorrow. The summer (for me at any rate) is over, and it has been a wet one – “A good summer for slugs” as Regine from next door reminded me as she went to pick up her morning paper from the better box. Regine, being a keen grower of vegetables is certainly no slug friend “they eat all my lettuces” she rasps, adding that so far this summer, she has personally “dealt” with 1000 slugs.

    Regine is the kind of canny lady who would have her garden rigged with slug traps, but much to my surprise she tells me that she merely gets there slug and throws it in the bin.

    No traps? No slug pub? – That’s the best way to kills slugs – a bowl of beer buried in the garden. The slugs are attracted by the beer and then they fall in to meet a drunken if not watery end – a gastropub for gastropods! – suppose it’s not unlike George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence, brother to Ricgard III and Edward IV – tried for treason and allegedly executed by drowning in a vatt of Malmsey wine – what a way to go.

    Having no veg, I don’t mind slugs or snails – Regine has dealt 300 snails this summer – though she doesn’t eat them. I suppose word has got round the gastropod world that a trip into Regine’s garden is certain death (though not by beer) – which is why all the slugs and snails seem to slither their slimy way into my little corner of God’s earth. I have no veg. I don’t have the patience to grow veg. I don’t kill slugs or snails. If I do happen to disturb any, during ardening I carefully transfer them to another, unkempt, humid garden corner. I don’t mind these little critters – live and let live. I think of the day that I might be reincarnated as a snail.

  • Watching THEM, Watching US

    Life's a zoo
    Went to the zoo yesterday. I thoroughly enjoyed it. My day of staring at animals staring back at me has prompted a few zoo thoughts.

    Zoo – A place where humans can see wild animals from a safe distance, whilst stuffing their faces with fast food.

    Zoo – A sprawling complex of shops and fast food outlets with a few animals.

    Zoo – An n amusement park or theme park with a few animals

    Zoos. Those places where humans can see the last surviving members of endangered species that are only endangered because of the their systematic destruction by humans

    Zoos – those places where animals can see humans in their natural environment – humans, pressed up against the glass of their enclosure, because zoos don’t have cages anymore, barred cages are redolent of prison cells and zoos are not prisons, they are places to observe animals in settings that are as close as possible to their natural environment. And so the animals stare out at the humans – stuffing their faces with popcorn and hot dogs, snapping away with cameras, knocking on the glass and shouting at the animals, trying to get them to move or perform animal antics. Why aren’t the monkeys leaping around? Why aren’t they hyenas laughing? Oh why don’t the lions roar? Why don’t the parrots speak? Why isn’t the bear singing? The kids are disappointed? « The animals aren’t like in Disney. » complains one disappointed child to his mum before walking off in a sulk.

    Oh dear, the way we have personified animals to the extent that kids are disappointed when they see the real thing. Oh the way those humans are so like animals. Two fat ladies eating bananas as they sit outside the gorilla enclosure. Kids monkeying around and having a food fight – Chimps tea party.

    The chimps don’t have a tea party anymore – it was though to be « degrading » - so they just sit round, staring at the humans outside as they do monkey impressions.

    Animals like humans. We’re not so far apart. There’s been a domestic incident in the puma cage. Mr Puma pads around in a sulky circle. Every time he approaches Mrs Puma, she rolls over on to her side, opens her legs and beckons Mr Puma to lie down for a cuddle, kiss and make up, but Mr Puma pads off again in his proud self piteous sulk.

    Down at the Hyena enclosure, one of the bored occupants is also walking round in a circle. At the end of each turn, he pauses to lick the glass separating him from us, and then resumes his round. He walks a well-worn path that is turning into a rut – almost trench like. Life in a rut? Depression? Do animals in zoos get depressed? Do they get therapy? Does this Hyena get a regular trip to the animal psychiatrist? A nice trip to the zoo might cheer him up.

    And come quarter to seven, a synthetic digitalised voice informs the visitors that the zoo is closing and they should be heading for the exit. So, what would happen if they locked the visitors in for the night and let the animals go home. « All animals are kindly asked to head for the exit, as the human zoo will soon be closing. » What a thought. What about signs « Don’t feed the humans ».

    I’m not sure who is better off, the animal occupants or the visitors. All that glass between US and THEM – is it to keep us safe from the animals or vice versa? They (the animals) are probably better off inside than us humans on the outside – at least they are protected from us, tough we like to think that we are protected from them – triple security glass to protect me from a racoon and a meerkat !!!

    No, the animals won’t run away. Would you? A large rent free enclosure, with all the bamboo you can eat and a legion of keepers to look after. In return – well you don’t have to do much, just sit there, move occasionally and be stared at by thousands of humans.

    And when the animals die off, why bother getting new ones, just fill the enclosures full of humans. We spend enough time watching TV documentaries or reality TV shows on how other live, I’m sure we would pay good money to see people nut unlike ourselves living out their lives in human zoos.

    Finally – a few zoo photos

  • Thoughts On Liberation

    They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
    Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
    We will remember them.

    The Padré is quite definitley drunk. The surfeit of red wine has loosened his tongue and we are now in full communion on his youthful sexploits with a girl from South East London. He obviously got the coming before he got the calling, but when he had been called, he was still coming – ah the sexual benefits of being an Anglican Vicar.

    Previous to his large intake of wine, the Padré was standing in a war cemetery pronouncing a glowing eulogy for an SAS commando, killed in July 1944. As he concludes, those that have grown old, lower their flags and banners whilst a trumpeter sounds the Last Post.

    We are in early September at the cemetery in the small French village of Villequiers in the Cher – right in the heart of France. There is one lone English war grave, with it’s white stone cross – around the grave, the surviving comrades of the dead soldier – those that are left and who have grown old - in their eighties and nineties – a handful of veterans paying homage to their “ever youthful” brother in arms.

    It started in May 1944 – 49 soldiers of the SOE (future SAS) were parachuted in seven teams of seven from Sancerre right across to Poitiers. The task of each team was to help and train the French resistance for the forthcoming Liberation. And organise “actions” to disrupt German lines of supply. – Anything to stop the Germans sending troops north to reinforce their numbers in Normandy when D Day finally came.

    So, every year, even though their numbers grow few, the brave young men of the SAS come back to France as old men and visit all those sites where they did battle in 1944. In solemn ceremony they pay hommage to their fallen comrades with words of pomp and comfort from the Regimental Padre, and then they all go for lunch – good French fare washed down with lashings of wine, and this is why the Padré is drunk.

    I am here, because it sometimes my privilege to come along and translate for the veterans. They sit with their former Resistance comrades and as old soldiers do, they reminisce on former battles. Brothers in arms, half the time, they don’t even need a translator. In spite of the language barrier, theold warriors understand each other.

    This is living history that is dying. This is the history that they never teach in schools and I am “honoured” to be with those who made history.

    On this, the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Paris. I wanted to take time to dwell on all those everyday reminders. Those plaques, monuments and statues that are art of everyday life all over France – those tokens of rememberance that I walk or drive past everyday without stopping, without thinking –

    It starts on the way to work – I cruise into town on the ring road. A few hundred metres before I turn off there is a large sign on the road indicating the spot where the “Nazi Occupier” executed 40 French men and women from 1940 to 1944. The exact execution spot is not open to the public, it is now within the grounds of a secure local military installation. One day the place might be opened up. The local authorities might see fit to put up plaques with the names of those executed by the Nazis.

    In work; in my classroom. A reminder of an older war – the Great War. On the entrance to the building, the date of construction – 1914. My classroom, with its four metre high ceilings and 30 centimetre thick walls (that’s 12 to 14 feet high ceilings and 15 inch thick walls) – built in 1914 to store artillery munitions – there are several buildings like this on the base – Bourges is and was a major production centre for artillery munitions – though in 1914, though in 1914 they were making far more than today.

    A walk into town – passing what is now a large private school, but used to be the German Kommandatur. Darker memories further on – in a side street near the post office, the former Gestapo headquarters – an uninspiring building with a grey façade, it could do with a lick of paint. And where the Gestapo once interrogated and tortured, there is now an adult learning centre offering, amongst other things, yoga sessions and evening classes in foreign languages – not sure if they teach German.

    There are those official war monuments – a separate monument for each war from the 1870 Franco Prussian war through to the war in Algeria. On November 11th there are ceremonies at the Great War Memorial. On May 8th, there are ceremonies at the WW2 memorial. I’m not sure on which day local dignitaries and veterans hold ceremonies for the war in Indochina or the war in Algeria – those wars are still “fresh” and even a little controversial – wars that some might call “wars of independence” and other might qualify as “colonial wars.” S for the Franco Prussian war – it is far from living memory, but there are still those who pose flowers and wreaths on the war memorial. Perhaps we should pay heed the this Franco-German conflict, which in its way sewed the seeds for later conflicts. It was in this war that the Germans annexed the French territories of Alsace and Lorraine – the defeat of the French and the loss of territory nurtured a gnawing national hunger for revenge. Until war erupted again in August 1914, the inter-war generations were brought up in a spirit of revenge and taught to mistrust, even hate their German neighbours.

    On a walk round the lake, I regularly pass by a discreet, lone headstone, marking the place where a young man was killed by the Germans on September 18th 1944 during the battle for the Liberation of Bourges. I can’t remember his name, but as an ex-pat, as a Brit, living in my small town, it always feel stragnge that the War came this far, that Bourges was occupied, that this town qualified by many as being off the beaten track was occupied, fought over, liberated – people died for this place. The monument to our young friend lies on the far side of the lake between the car park and the tennis courts.

    It is the same though, when I drive cross country to see friends, or, as last weekend, just go for a drive, I regularly come across monuments to those members of the Reistance who fell in the bloody battles of August 1944. On the road to Marmagne, near the level crossing, a monument to four Resistance fighters, killed by German forces as they sought to may a charge on the railway tracks. Just last Saturday, coming into the village of Graçay – a stone plinth bearing thr nales of eight locals “betrayed” and then executed by the Wehrmacht on August 15th 1944.

    All over the countryside there are monuments to those who fell in August 1944. Why so many?

    It was a time without motorways and the roads as they were all went through this region – Bourges, Vierzon, Sancerre, Chateauroux – this region which is the geographical heart of France, by road or by rail, everything going from north to south or east to west came though the centre. We were one of the main crossroads on German army supply routes.

    In August 1944, roughly 250,00 Germans troops went through this region – by road or by train. The Resistance (with a little help from the SAS) were there to disrupt German movement as much as possible – attacking trains, attacking road convoys. The Germans were head north to reinforce their troops in Normandy. Some troops were going from West to East – to reinforce their lines from Nice to Strasbourg after the Allied landings in Provence. As they went, they must have realised that he War was lost and therefore didn’t hesitiate to … the Germans went with “nothing to left to lose” – they were not tender in their retreat.

    Round here ther were no large battles. This was not Normandy, this was not the Plateau de Vercors, this was everyday workaday Occupied France, where people still tried to go about their daily business, despite the War, but Resistance was strong and though the area had little strategic value it still attracted the attentions of the RAF – August 15th, the RAF raid on Bourges – an attempt to destroy the local aerodrome and the arms factories – 16 members or RAF bomber crews lie buried in our local war cemetery along with two Canadian Lysander pilots – I suppose the relative remoteness of this region and the very flat local geography made it a perfect place to land agents and supplies for the Resistance. It’s not written anywhere, but 15 kms out of Bourges, large flat fields served as regular landing sites for the RAF Lysanders. On August 12th 1944 one of the Lysanders was shot down – the 2 Canadian pilots are also in the local war cemetery. Yes, you think of those vast war cemeteries in Normandy or Picardy, but we too have our local Commonwealth War Cemetery where over 20 members of British and Commonwealth forces are buried.

    And so a few words on the Demarcation Line. It is always glossed over in history lessons, but, when the Germans invaded, defeated and then occupied France in May to June 1940, they occupied the North down to the Loire and the Cher rivers and they occupied all of the Western seaboard. That part of France from Bourges to the Med and up to the Italian border was not occupied by the Germans, but left to the French and ruled by a puppet government under Marshall Petain, exercising power from the spa town of Vichy in the Massif Central. Unoccupied Vichy France was administered by the French from June 1940 to November 1942. Strangely enough, Jews were not rounded up in Unoccupied France and the place did not suffer the same hardships as Occupied France. The “game” therefore was to get to Unoccupied France – an option open to many French people who could prove they had family ties in the “Free” zone. Needless to say, there was also a lot of illicit traffic – Jews, Resistants, refugees, who tried to pass into unoccupied France by clandestine means. The old Demarcation line lies just a couple of miles away from my house, and there are still those alive who tell stories of “passing” people from Occupied France into Vichy France – fake funerals, fake weddings – any excuse was good. I have a friend whose house lies directly on the old demarcation line. He has stories of his grand parents hiding British airmen hidden in the cellar ready to cross the line into Unoccupied France. And where did the airmen go afterwards ? Spain, Switzerland, Portugal and strangley enough, Lyons and all the region up to the Swiss border, because thatwas the part of France occupied by the Italians (yep, you didn’t know that the Italians had occupied parts of France - well they did up until 1943, and then after the Sicily and Anzio landings the Italians went home and the Germans took over (look up Klaud Barbie – the Butcher of Lyons on the web) – as for the Unoccupied Zone – the Germans occupied it in November 1942 after the Allied landings in North Africa.

    I reckon that’s enough history for now.

    Just to say that whilst we talk about the Liberation of Paris, whilst we will mark the Liberation of other major French cities, every town and every village in France was “liberated” at some point and every village bears the scars of war, in every village men have gone to war and never come home. In every village, however isolated there was an act of resistance, there was an execution, there was perhaps some kind of local atrocity, and I think in the British mindset, this is something that we find hard to realise. Britain got bombed, Britain suffered, but it never underwent the day-to-day attrition that was Occupation – Resistants, Collaborators and in the majority, just ordinary people trying to get on with everyday life in very difficult circumstances.

    Now don’t believe that everyone in France was in the Resistance – as mentioned, most people were just trying to survive, but there were probably more collaborators (however passive or active) than there were members of the French Resistance. The biggest flood of members to the Resistance came in 1943/1944 when it became obvious that German days were numbered. What fuelled the flood of members to the Resistance was when French males were forcibly conscripted for labour service in the Reich- thousands of French males went – some of them quite willingly, but thousands also disappeared, melting away into the arms of Resistance cells, even just living in forests hoping not to be picked up, with little thought of joining the Resistance.

    Well look back at 1944. Most of the killing of French Resistance members was being done by the French and not the Germans. The Vichy-run and Nazi inspired Milice – an interior French military force armed by the Germans and run by Vichy actually fighting the French Resistance. Most of the killing was Franco German but Franco French. There is a school of thought that says from 1943 onwards, France was actually in a state of civil war – Fascists against Communists – Vichy France against Resistance France – the old political cleavages of the 1930’s all armed up and willing to fight each other. I’m not quite sure if the French did more harm to themselves tan the Germans did to them. (Contreversial I know)

    Okay more history in another post. As for my town though, it was liberated by the French Resistance. Not a Brit or an American in sight.

    And in reference to a Great War – just 20 miles from my house, in 1917 there was a huge American camp and supply depot, and according to family legend, my wife’s great Grandmother went out with a Doughboy.

  • Be Nice to your Holiday Crocs.


    The last day on the beach – deflating the inflatables – those inflatable objects and animals that have been purchased for the purpose of floating around in the sea. Those airbeds, dolphins, crocodiles that dad has blown up until his lungs almost exploded. I know (we say it every year) Next year we’ll bring a pump (but we never do) and as dad first struggles to find the air intake and then spend around twenty minutes with a small rubber tube in his mouth trying to blow life into a PVC crocodile, the kids stand round impatiently, screaming for their new rubber friend. Ah yes it all looks very clumsy, very perverse, but you are on the beach. Having inflated a good few floating friends in my time, it makes me wonder why anyone would actually bother with one of those inflatable sex toy dolls.

    Plastic Croc

    This year’s fashionable beach inflatable was an unfeasibly large crocodile. The beach was infested by lurid green, grinning inflatable crocs. As I surveyed the hordes of crocs lying in the sun, I wondered just how many would make it home to spend all year, lurking sad, lifeless, airless and crumpled in the darkest recesses of a cupboard? How any will simply “die” on the beach? Deflated and binned after use so they don’t have to be carried home. There’s enough “rubbish” in the car already without adding more.

    Crocs go home

    Binned Croc

    Hey folks. Be kind your crocs. You have bought them, given them life, loved them, played with them, and perhaps even given them names. They have become a full member of your holiday family. Wash them down; deflate them slowly (without stamping on them). Fold them up with love and take them home. Treat your croc well and he (or she) will be there for you next year. An inflatable crocodile is not just for the holidays, it is for life. I might just start a campaign to save holiday crocs.

  • Floating around with the Garlic Whale

    On the Beach

    Summer time and the living is easy, unless you are looking for a place on the beach to unfurl your towel and soak up the sun.

    It’s been a long year and we all deserve our place in the sun. Of course, if you want sun, you head south and everyone heads south – hundreds of thousands of people from all over Europe, pouring into that small corner of South Eastern France – the Côte d’Azur. That part of Mediterranean coastline stretching from the outskirts of Toulon up to the Italian border.

    Day One

    On the beach, and I am Lucky enough to find a few square feet to unfurl my towel, lie on the sand and enjoy a nap. I am rudely awakened by the guttural elastic sounds of Dutch people. I wake I have been besieged by a large tribe of them. When the French go to the beach, they tend to be fairly minimalist. When the Dutch hit the beach, they bring tons of beach essentials – parasols, cool boxes, numerous inflatable’s. They are like a small army on the march. To help their logistical operation, many Dutch carry their beach kit in trolleys. Surrounded by Dutch. I really should move, but I was here first and in true Rupert Brooke style – there is a corner of a foreign beach that is forever England.

    Beach bum

    Day Two

    Time to unleash my flesh on an unsuspecting world. However, over this past year, my middle age spread has spread yet again. I am now what could be termed as flabby. This is the Côte d’Azur where every male is some kind of tanned and sculpted Adonis. I’m scared to take off my T-shirt. On a stroll along the beach though I observe very few « Chippendales » but plenty of flabby blokes grilling red like sides of beef roasting in the sun. It seems at St Tropez that fat is fashionable. Time to rip off the T-shirt and get grilling.

    Day Three

    Once again besieged by a Dutch tribe, airbeds, parasols and their own garden furniture. I move down the beach next to a hoard of Brits. They spend the afternoon drink vast quantities of chilled rosé wine in the hot glaring, blazing sun. It is over 30°c. I suppose this is a case of « mad dogs and Englishmen ».

    Day Four

    We are camped next to a group of French youngsters, who spend the afternoon « groping » each other.

    Love o the beach

    Day Five

    Strolling along the beach. Close to the water’s edge mums and dads are building sandcastles for disinterested children and, when mum gets bored, dad carries on. I too would like to build a sandcastle, but my daughter has passed the age of raising towers and now merely raises her eyebrows in nonchalant disdain when I suggest some construction activity. All males possess a sandcastle gene, which is activated during the first throes of holiday fatherhood – but as our kids grow out the sandcastle phase, we never lose it. Guess I’ll just have to wait to be a grandfather and build castles with my grandchildren.

    Day Six

    The garlic whale is back. I call her the garlic whale. A rather large French woman who stinks of garlic. She floats around on an airbed, and as I splash around, however much I try to avoid her, she always seems to catch me up and then float around me, wafting her garlicky whiff. Today is particularly bad, as I am surrounded by her entire family. No matter where I swim to, they are always there.

    Day Seven

    As we prepare to leave, the beach is people with new arrivals. White like aspirin and covered in layers of factor 50 sun cream. There is a very military-looking French gent, distributing metal spades to his four children. They all line up, and at the command « shoulder spades », they all march down to the beach. Mum follows up behind carrying a cool box and a parasol. I don’t want to o home. I want to buy a real metal spade and stay here all day building a sandcastle.

  • I Like Melvis Wesley

    Melvis Wesley

    He looks like Elvis (more or less). He sounds like Elvis (just about), but it ain’t Elvis. Meet Melvis Wesley – one of the many Elvis impersonators who eke out an existence in summer by entertaining the happy campers in camping sites all along the French Riviera.

    Somehow, campsites and Elvis impersonators just don’t seem to go with the traditional image of the French Riviera – Aristocratic Englishmen and their ladies in flowing silks and summer suits, strolling along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice or all the world’s film stars jetting into Cannes for the film festival. Brigitte Bardot in St Tropez or quite simply those places of Riviera legend where, long before the age of mass tourism rich Brits and Parisians would hang out for the summer in Menton or Ramatuelle or Monaco.

    Oh dear, Monaco. High-rise apartment blocks as far as the eye can see. Yacht jams in the port. One measly beach BUT not a millionaire in sight – its all day-trippers, happy campers, bawling kids covered in ice cream, fat Germans in football shorts and tight shorts, huffing, puffing, heaving and sweating their way up the stairs to the Palace – and when you get there? – Sorry Prince Albert, but the whole place looks like it has been built from Marzipan. The Grimaldi’s palace is large house guarded by one sad soldier who looks like a Playmobil figure. But you haven’t come here for the palace. You want to see Grace Kelly – erm; you’re standing on her. Yes, she’s under that slab in the floor of he church. I know. You were expecting some kind of shrine.

    No the Riviera is not what it was. Far from exclusive – it is now very inclusive, all-inclusive to the point of being universal. Everyone wants their slice of Riviera. Everyone wants to spread their towel out on the beach at St Tropez, everyone wants a deckchair in Nice – but there just isn’t the room. The French Riviera is heaving. The French Riviera is popular. The French Riviera is every available inch of viable land turned into sprawling campsites or Jerry built holiday villages. The French Riviera is everyone looking for their slice of old world exclusivity. The French Riviera is just one vast summer refugee camp peopled with happy campers who want to say that they have been on holiday to the French Riviera. The French Riviera is trying to fit a Rolling Stones concert or a Super Bowl final into your back yard.

    There is this word in French « populaire » Nowadays it is misused in the English sense of popular, meaning that loads of people all like something at the same time. Applied in its true French sense though, « populaire » means of the people for the people – well, the Riviera is « populaire » - all cramped campsites, beaches thick with northern and eastern European flesh busy roasting in the sun, and, to keep the people happy, well, there are errant Elvis impersonators, magicians, ersatz Moulin Rouge Feather and boa topless dance troops and … well all the popular crap to keep people happy.

    There was a time when only people with time and the money to afford time could manage a holiday on the French Riviera, but in the sixties, with full employment and index-linked salaries, all the workers and plebs climbed into their family cars and chugged down to the Riviera in search of that holiday existence only previously enjoyed by the rich. And to accommodate them all, what better than campsites?

    So, I am proud to admit that I am a true Pleb, enjoying a pleb holiday on a sprawling refugee camp/campsite on the Gulf of St Tropez. I like, I even love my mediocrity in the sun. I like the Elvis impersonator. I love the fat German tourists. I love the wall-to-wall anorexic Russian and Polish girls on the beach, rubbing in their cooking oil and laying out their tea towels. I like eating my full English breakfast early in the morning at the beach café whilst reading my English newspaper and staring out across at St Tropez. I love the « populaire ».

    I’m not sure of the original purpose of this post, BUT, if you want an authentic posh French beach holiday, nowadays you have to head for the Atlantic coast where it is all Espadrilles, and stripy Breton fisherman’s sweaters. You don’t go to swim but, hop about in rock pools, build sandcastles, take long bike rides and just paddle in the shallows with your Chinos rolled above your knees. Now I’ve never been to New England, but this all sounds very Martha’s Vineyard (of which the French equivalent is the Ile de Ré), whilst the French Riviera is now a down market Copacabana.

    Oh dear.

    No matter, in two days I am off to the Riviera because there is guaranteed sunshine, warm seas and I also kind of like this Pleb side to the holidays, because after years of trying to be a writer and an artist, I have finally worked out I’m a pleb I like Melvis Wesley and I’m very happy that way.

  • Pimp my Mobile (Home)

    Yes, this is perverse, but I am fascinated by mobile homes. (Oh what a sad bastard I am. But I suppose it beats angling and car tuning) Read on for mobile home meanderings.

    Remember Big Brother ? That awful Reality TV show that darkened our screens during the Noughties. The concept was simple. Take a gaggle of publicity-seeking morons, lock them in a confined space for three months and then broadcast their antics on prime time TV. Drinking, smoking, swearing, arguments, sex … then every week ask the participants to nominate two or three of their number for «éjection » and then ask the TV audience to ring in and « save » the least awful of the would-be has-beens.

    A holiday in a mobile home is not unlike Big Brother – take six or eight people (depending on the capacity of the mobile home) and shove them in a confined space for two weeks and then watch as the stresses and strains of close quarters family holiday living take their toll.

    Your average mobile home (what the Americans might refer to as a trailer home) provides 24 to 28 square metres of living space. It is a flimsy wood and plastic construction that will probably just about stand a light shower or a summer breeze, but were there any serious huff and puff, it would collpase. Looking at some mobile homes you are prone to wonder if the first two little pigs were not working on the design team.

    The mobile home has one distinct advantage over other caravans and many motorhomes – the designers have put in « bedrooms » – small spaces sectioned off by plastic « walls ». There are doors to enter and exit the room, however, when the mobile home shifts a little, it’s not sure that the door will actually fit back into its original « hole ». However unbedroom-like these minsicule bedrrroms might be, they are important because they give the occupants some form of seperate living space from the other occupants. Your average mobile home will have two bedrooms – a twin and a double –though in bigger models (32 square metres plus) you get three bedrooms


    In addition to your 28 square metres of living space, the site owners generously add an 8 square metre covered wooden terrace/outside dining area. A very useful place to cool off after a blazing family row, when other family members are busy sulking in their bedrooms.

    Having described the mobile home layout, you may wonder why anyone in their right mind would :

    1 Rent one or their holiday.
    2 Seriously consider buying one.

    To answer the first question, in terms of space, durability and comfort – the mobile home is better than a tent. It also offers more room than a caravan or camper van (American readers might refer to the latter as a motorhome or even a recreational vehicle)

    Of course, here I am speaking from a European persepctive. Our European camper vans are quite small affairs compared to American motorhomes. However even if an American motorhome might fit on European roads, it sure as hell won’t fit on your standard European camp site.

    The mobile home phenomenon now appears to have peaked. In the mid Noughties however, there were entire campsites that gave all their emplacements over to mobile homes, leaving no space for traditional canvas campers.

    From the North to the south of France, prices for one week’s stay in a mobile home range from 500€ up to 1900€. For 500€ you’ll get a week on a campsite near Calais on the Channel coast. On site facilities wil be basic – a bar cum restaurant, a simple campsite shop and a games room (ping pong table in a large garage). For 1900 Euros – a kind of ersatz, Tahitian, luxury mobile home love nest. Welcome to the world of Custom Mobile Homes.

    Pimp your ride. Take a bog standard family saloon. Tune it, re- tweak it, paint it up, dress it up. Add spoilers, aerofoils, chrome exhausts, enough headlights to light up a medium sized-provincial airport and a sound system so loud that I can hear you thumping out techno beats several streets away – well however good (or stupid) your car now looks, it is still a Ford Mondeo, in fact it looked better before.

    So, pimp my mobile home. First buy a mobile home and then do it up outside to look like some kind of Bora Bora beach hut – right down to the thatched roof. When the outside is done, star ripping up the inside. Tear down the walls, install a jaccuzi, a king sized double bed. Deck the place out in tasteful Tahitian décor and charge almost four times the price of a bog standard mobile home on the site in Calais.



    Tropical mobile homes are confined to certain sites on the French Riviera. Two or four berth, they most my seem to be rented by Brits and Germans (perhaps the only people who can afford them). Of course no matter how exotic your mobile home, it is still a mobile home and it is still sandwiched, cheek by jowl, up against similar mobile homes and why, for the sale kind of money don’t you rent a holiday cottage or an apartment.

    Now I come to the next question. If holiday rental companies and campsite owners are charging so much for mobile homes, why not just buy your own ?

    I saw an ad recently « Own your own mobile home for under 100 Euros a month » (99 Euros to be exact) Sounds a good deal BUT, once you have bought the mobile home, you have to find somewhere to put it. Yeah, mobile does not mean mobile unless you have your own massive semi trailer / tank transporter to take the mobile home where you want it to be. You also have to find a site that will take your mobile home.

    Most mobile homes are sold already on site. All plumbed in, plugged in on their own prim proper neat little emplacement – LOVELY … BUT BUT BUT – a word of warning. The site owner has invested in several mobile homes and then flogged them off to private individuals – it is now your home on someone’s site. If one day the owner decides that he wants to move your home to different part of the site ? If he decides that all mobile homes will now have blue shuuters instead of green or red imitation tile roofs ? What if the owner simply decides that he just doesn’t want anymore mobile homes on his site ? Well, either you comply with the owner’s wishes or you leave the site. No, buying your own mobile home is a con. Many campsite owners with permanent homes like to « replace » their homes after five years – meaning they do a massive buy back of existing homes and oblige owners to buy a new home if they wish to stay on the site. The price you get is never the same as the price you paid. Of course, you still own your mobile home, so you can unplumb it and unplug it and arrange for transport to another site – that’s expensive.



    By way of info, prices for a decent mobile home start at around 40,000€ for a 20 metre square 4 to 6 berth home. Add the this the cost of installation on the site of your choice – a one of fee ranging Fromm 500€ to 2000€. Of course, your mobile home is on a campsite, therfore you have to ay site rental – anything up to 5000€ per year. Of cousre you want to make money on your mobile home, so you will rent it out as much as possible, paying a commission to the site owner for each booking and of course, you are going to rent it out all summer, meaning that you are not going to go when you want to go. Add to this repairs and upkeep of your emplacement and any other requsets from the site owner such as changing the colour of your shutters or adding new decking or … You are better off buying an apartment by the sea. And finally if you do choose to move your mobile home, count 2000€ for transport and of course you have to find a site who will want to take your home.

    Hey, just buy a motor home. If all else fails, you can still use it as a replacement for the family car.

    So tomorrow, I will take you to a posh campsite on the French Riviera complete with toilet blocks built in the style of Egyptian temples and Elvis Presley impersonators.

  • Incestuous Camping

    Holidays in France.

    Chances are you’ve come for a couple of weeks by the sea, possibly staying in a rented mobile home on a vast campsite just a few yards from the beach –

    Oh dear. It all sounds very downmarket.

    I imagine hundreds of mobile homes, cheek-by-jowl, in a field that is actually a very long walk from the nearest accessible beach.

    I imagine a sprawling campsite, not unlike a refugee camp with water points and washing blocks. A campsite shop that looks more like a food distribution centre and mobile homes and caravans in incestuous proximity. Open your toilet window for a view of next-door’s BBQ area. We are so close that we can shake hands bedroom-to-bedroom with the neighbours. We can share in all those high-tension holiday feelings that come with close quarters living and the general stress of actually being on holiday. We are so close, that even the hushed, late night conversation next door might have you calling up the local branch of the Noise Abatement Society.

    Curious is it not. We work hard all year for our place in the sun and year on year, we pay our hard-earned money to go and live in a space that is barely bigger than the spare bedroom. We live on mosquito-infested campsites, sharing every waking minute with total strangers. We try not to stare at the family across the way having breakfast. We try our hardest to greet everyone that passes by as we sit out on our small terrace, and as we pass by, we try not to stare. BUT we are CURIOUS. We really DO want to know how the other happy campers spend their lives. We have temporarily joined this ephemeral summer campsite community. We might merely be camper vans that pass in the night, but we like to know about our neighbours. GOD FORBID though that we actually try and get to know them.

    Perhaps French campsites are not like those in other countries. To start with we don’t say campsite but “un camping” and even that is going out of fashion as the humble “camping” becomes “Un hotel de plein air”(An Open Air hotel) Inspired by Club Med you can’t go camping now if your site doesn’t have a couple of swimming pools, several bars and restaurants, a mini shopping mall, a gym, beauty salon, watersports and above all – nightly entertainment to keep the punters happy. An exaggeration? – well many camp sites might not all have the gym or the beauty parlour, but they’ve got the rest

    Ah for those campsites of old – a far-flung field with a wash block like something out of a gulag and a basic campsite shop and nothing to do in the evenings other than sit round the gas lamp, fight off the mosquitoes, read a book, play a board game and then retire to your flimsy creaking camp bed at some unfeasibly early hour when most people would just be thinking of going out for the night, but you are camping you poor bastard. You are in the middle of nowhere and once it is dark there is nothing to do but go to bed.

    Of old campsites used to be fields in the country or fields by the sea. Some canny farmer with a spot of land would install a few chemical loos and water points and open a campsite. And then holidays got expensive. Those nice little cottages or apartments by the sea started to cost serious money, so everyone went camping, but people wanted all those services on a campsite that they might get in a holiday apartment. Washing machines, dishwashers, satellite TV, BBQ areas and above all they wanted something to do – bars, restaurants, shopping ; entertainment – and so the luxury campsite was born. Pitch your tent at near camping prices but with electricity, wifi, on site everything and more besides – Hey, once you have got here, you want all your creature comforts but you still want camping prices.

    I suppose the evolution to “camping resorts” started in the mid 90’s when real holiday rentals got too expensive and we all went camping to save money but stim wanted all the materiel comforts of a real holiday resort.

    As things stand in France, you can still pitch your tent in a rural campsite for as little as 5 Euros a night. You might get some very basic gulag-style washing and toilet facilities but above that that there is nothing. OR you can go for the upper end of the market – glamorous camping or “glamping” with a mobile home rental (wifi, aircon, washing machine, TV, shower, separate bedrooms, microwave) for ….

    Well it all depends where you go. On the northern coasts of France you’ll be paying 500€ to 750€ a week in high season (14/07 to 15/08) down south in the Gulf of St Tropez, a mobile home will set you back 1500€ a week. So, you know where I go and I am seriously looking at my holiday strategy. BUT, I get a lot for my money.

    So, time to sign off for tonight, because I have to confirm my last minute “Luxury Holiday Lodge” reservation (because that is what a mobile home is now called.)

  • If It’s Tuesday, We are Chinese.

    France is the world’s number one tourist destination. 83 million foreign visitors in 2013. I suppose I should feel lucky living in a country that everyone else associates with holidays. I don’t have to pay to come here. I already live here.

    Living in a place where everyone else wants to come on holiday. I once asked a friend from Nice where he went on holiday. «Paris» came the reply. Come summer all the Parisians are in Nice so that’s the best time to visit Paris. It’s a common trend – us provincial types who love Paris whilst harbouring litte affection for the Parisians themselves. It is of course reciprocal. Parisians often loathe and despise «les provinciaux» we’re just all a little too hick and uncouth for their liking – mud on our boots, spit and saw dust, hillbillies, bumpkins … most modern Parisians though, have provincial roots, obliged to leave their deepest France and head to the capital tor work or studies, it would eem though, that once they hit Paris, they adopt big city atitudes and behaviour.

    Not for me to dwell on the Paris/provincial divide, but rather to offer up reasons why people might actually want to come to France. Of those 83 million tourists, there are quite a few short stays – a day in Paris as part of a European tour. We used to mock the Americans for the «whistle stop tours» of Europe «If it’s Tuesday this must be Belgium.» – the title of a 1969 US made comedy starring Suzanne Pleshette and Ian MacShane – «A bumbling group of American tourists wend their way through Europe with one comic episode after another» – the blurb from the Yaho Movies website – Yes, the Yanks used to do all of Europe in under two weeks, and all us Europeans would scoff and haughtily mock our American friends How acn you cobver Europe in under two weeks? There is just so much … and now, we all head for the States, a few days here, a week there, a fortnight driving coast, a stopover in Vegas, a short sojourn in New York and we have «done» America. I’ve spent 25 years living in France and I still haven’t «done» France, though I have «done» places in a tourist mode.

    The Americans have in recent times been replaced by the Chinese. They spend even less time in France. A day in Paris that’s it!- A bus trip round the capital, followed by a quick trip up the Eiffel tower in the morning. lunch in a traditional French bistrot. A tour round the Palace of Versailles and then back to Paris for shopping. Where there used to be «English spoken here» it is now all in Chinese. Saunter into of any of the major Paris department stores and everything is written up in Chinese. At the Galleries Lafayettes, Chinese tourists even have their own specific entarnce, peopled with Chinese speaking guides, a bureau for currency exchange, an office to redeem ant duty free advantages and security guards – Cassius Clay/Mike Tyson-style security guards who hang in droves around the Chinese tourist buses to ensure that our oriental friends don’t get beaten up and robbed. Well, the Chinese don’t have credit cards so they carry their hoilday ealth in cash. Your average Chinese tourist is reckoned to be carrying around 2000€ to 5000€ in readies. This makes him or er an excellent taregt for the gangs of Romanian hoodlums that are curently roaming the streets of Paris. In a country where the average grooss national monthly wage is just around 2000 Euros, of you mug a Chinese touritst it is payday and more; Restassured, we don’t mug Americans tourists because they all have credit cards.

    So, if this is Tuesday we must be in Belgium because most of the major Paris tourisr attractions (unless the personnel are on strike) are actually closed on a Tuesday – and I have a problem with this. In our current state-aided economy, surely, the world’s number one tourist destination, has the werewithal to create enough jobs to keep national and world famous tourist attractions open 7 days a week? Why do the Louvre Museum or the Pompidou Center close on a Tuesday (even in summer)? In any other of the world’s cultural capitals, the museums would be open all day and everyday. moral of this story, never visit Paris on a Tiesday. Okay. In the next few posts, I’m going to be concentrating on tourism in France and places to visit.

    So, if you visit anywhere in France, you’ll be quite happy. In modern and historical terms, we are the museum of the world, but there is al the stuff that the brochures never tell you, such as the lack of public toilets, the parking charges, the price of a cup of coffee and the general ethos for the Soviet style service – ah yes, service has greatly improved over the last 20 years, but visit some places in on the French Riviera ans you get a ll the charm of an East Berlin workers’ canteen (and God knows I ate in plenty of them.) Up and coming – jellyfish, dirty beaches, polluted seas, Ryssuian prostitutes – and when you have read it all, you might just stay at home.


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