Sunday, 29 August 2010


We met at the bouledrome, open only during the season, cheapest drinks on the Cote d'Azure. As old men and young played boules, the Mistral kicked up and blew sand in our eyes. We had to hold onto our plastic cups so that the yellow aniseed liquid didn't spill. Behind the bar, shelves were crammed with trophies, enormous, some with gold figurines crouched low in a bowling stance. 'Bienvenue au bouledrome plantourienne' said the notice on the wall. Turns out Plan de la tour is one of France's top villages when it comes to boules; competitions are sometimes televised. They've even done well in the 'world cup'... 'coupe mondiale de petanque'. Plantourienne, I didn't know a village name could become an adjective. But of course: Tropezienne, Grimaldine, Maximois, Cogolais... the inhabitants of the local towns had names. 

Si had broken up with Sarah since I last saw him. I didn't much care, I didn't much like her. Typical French bird: didn't like other women, slim-hipped with a smile like a shark, a face full of European teeth and smokers wrinkles. But she'd clearly suffered in the relationship, propping up Si. As a woman I knew.  
He told us the story: 
"I was in the middle of France, one of those nowhere towns with nothing to do. She was working in a chain hotel: Formule 1 or one of them, on an industrial estate. We worked different shifts. She worked days, I worked nights. We never saw each other except Sundays. And then she'd want to walk. I don't mind a walk. One hour, an hour and a half maybe. But she could walk all day. She loved it, had the boots and everything. One day on our day off she took me for a walk round a lake. After a couple of hours I could see we were only half way round. That was it. I left.
 I had very little money. I bunked on local trains to get back down to Provence. I progressed stop by stop. It was November, freezing. I'd arrived in Limoges. I was sitting outside a cafe having a smoke. This old woman comes up to me, hunched over, with dyed red hair, in her 70s. She asked me for a light, heard my accent and talked to me in English. After a bit she asked me where I was staying. I said 'In the station, if the police don't move me on'. 
'Why don't you stay at mine?' she said."
Si broke off for a minute to say to us 'How nice is that?' in his dry Mancunian accent. We all agreed.
'"Great I'd love to' Si replied to her.
'That'll be 150 euros for the night' the woman whipped back. 'But you must wear a condom'.
Si almost choked. 
'Yes I am a prostituée' said the woman.
'No thanks love' managed Si. The woman shrugged and went into the bar. A while later, Si saw her leaving with a man in his 50s. "
We all laughed and wondered out loud. Does she do this every night? In her 70s why does she care about condoms? Isn't she scared? Talk about entrepreneurial!
We moved up to Bar de la Poste. In the touristy world of the Cote d'Azure, Bar de la Poste stood out as the real thing, a proper neighbourhood bar. Ordinary, even though Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis live in the village. Men would enter and kiss each other. When I lived in the South, I went regularly, nursed a kir while the teen was doing her drum lesson. After a few weeks they kissed me too.
Si had got the 'copain du village' act down pat. Every few metres he'd slap someone on the back and boom 'Salut mon pote'. They'd probably discovered him in a few ditches over the years.
Si was a golden boy; tall, handsome, blond, square-shouldered and jawed. He had pretensions to write.  Every so often he'd shyly pull out a few scribbled pages; mostly about waking up drunk with a mysterious girl. We rowed frequently. He didn't read women writers. So I can name him in this post in complete confidence that he will never read it. But the idea that someone apparently interested in literature would avoid the output of an entire gender shocked me. 
Si drank all the time. I accused him of drinking like Bukowski or Hemingway but not writing like them. He annoyed me. All that privilege and looks and blowing it away on drink.
 "It's not like becoming an alcoholic will automatically turn you into a talented writer you know" I'd say irritably.
He had a new girlfriend I'd heard, from the village.
'Tell me about her?'
'We've split up' he grinned.
'Last night'
'What happened?'
'I was a naughty boy.'
'Who with?'
'Another girl from the village'
We looked at each other. The village is small.
'So you shat on your own doorstep' I said.
An older woman came up to the table then and started to shake her head and wag her finger at Si.
He ordered another pint.

On Sunday we made our way to les plages d'embarquement near La Croix Valmer. There are some beach front restaurants serving moules and frites. It being the season, loud eurodisco tumbled across the tanning bodies; tall blue Africans wearing higgedly towers of pink cowboy hats loped from group to group selling beach kaftans; doughnut sellers, boys with summer jobs winked at girls and sung about hot beignets. A little further up the street a bar chugged with rock n roll music. Where do old session musicians retire? The south of France naturellement. A synth player with a long white Zappa moustache, a portly guitar player ripped licks worthy of Bowie and the Stones, no surprise, he'd played for them all. The sax player wore red sneakers and blew until his face was the same colour. A gaunt blue-eyed grey-haired man twanged on the double bass player. They reminded me of The Faces live, Spinal Tap on their holidays, dirty hot bluesy rock n roll. An English guy wearing head-to-toe black and proper shoes, not sandals, sang Jimi Hendrix and Van Morrison. Old ladies wore mini dresses with the insouciance and style of dolly birds from the sixties, varicose veins be damned. A man with long white hair and a red headband nodded. I remembered that the Gypsy Kings were discovered around here by Brigitte Bardot.

Ex Fan des Sixties by Jane Birkin


  1. What's a "beignet?" when it's at home? And why would one think of a hot one while winking at a girl!?

    Shame Si doesn't like books written by women. There are many excellent female writers of esoteric fiction like Manda Scott and Kate Mosse (Not the skinny supermodel!). Where does this stupid gender segregation in literature come from? Si's attitude is very ignorant, about as ignorant as the radical feminists of the 60's and 70's who set up women-only communes in which books by male authors were forbidden; sometimes they were ritually burned! Book-burning- a universal cypher of barbarism and tyranny. On the fire went Shakespeare and Dickens, Sweep up the ashes of Dylan Thomas... Idiots!

  2. I love your writing, just love it, and will sneak in here for a quick read, even of posts I've already read. There's a strange combination of wistfulness, neutral observation and chaotic energy that springs out of the page.

    As for Si's dislike of female writers, he's an idiot. As you like Patrick O'Brian, you might also like Dorothy Dunnett's equally good Lymond series; similarly intelligent and beautifully plotted.

  3. Ben: a beignet is a doughnut.
    I read everyone and anyone.
    While it was a shock to me, apparently survey after survey shows that men don't read women.
    However 80% of books are bought by women.
    There is an article in the Guardian today by Lionel Shriver on how publishers push for 'girly' soft covers on books written by women, how female writers are ghettoised. She says that female writers aren't taken as seriously, aren't considered heavyweights.
    The radical feminist book burning was I guess a protest against this.So I don't think they are idiots. They were making a statement.

  4. Mr Chumbles, thank you so much for your comments, it's really encourageing as when I don't get feedback, I wonder why I am bothering. Blogging can be lonely but, less lonely than normal writing. However, sometimes I just have to write stuff down, feedback or no.
    I genuinely got angry with Si that night. An incident had just occured when I got out a few pages of my book which will be published next year. Si cast a cursory glance over the pages and then got out his exercise book with two and a half hand written pages.
    We all then felt obliged to read, ponder and comment on his writing. What I'd written was ignored, although it has been commissioned and was 'proper' like.
    I didn't say anything. I didn't think it was deliberate until he talked about never reading women later. I found myself getting genuinely angry and indignant. I thought 'how could this man be my friend?'.
    The next day I found out my dad doesn't read women either. Althought he said 'oh Jane Austen is good'. Because she is part of 'the canon' and even the most narrow minded men have to acknowledge her?
    For me the whole point of reading is to get into someone else's head or another world, another time, another point of view. I love Patrick O'Brian because I can pretend to be an 18th century sailor, something I will never get to do in this lifetime.
    Maybe it's a status thing? Maybe men are not interested in 'feeling' what it's like to be, say, a 21st century housewife?

  5. ML, We'll have to differ about the red-fems being idiots. You can't fight injustice by trying to cencel it out with another injustice. All you get is a double-dose of injustice. Some women who, quite rightly, fought for women's liberation are now trying to invert the old male chauvanist regime and create a world where men are second-class citizens. It is we blokes who are now having to fight for our rights more and more!

    The design-for-marketing techniques of books are straight out of the Edward L Bernays school! They use subliminals too. I once did a double take in Waterstones when I saw a book cover out of the corner of my eye that had what I thought was a penis on it. When I took a closer look I saw that it was a strangely shaped sandal. That is deliberate you know! They do things like to catch people's eye.

    It's a shame that women's literature is ghettoized like that. It's insulting to the reader as well as the author. I remember how the brilliant sci-fi writer CJ Cherryh is called Carolyn, but was told by her publisher that she couldn't put her name on the book because "women didn't write those kinds of books"! Funnily enough I became a huge fan of another sci-fi writer, Kim Stanley Robinson years before I realized he was male!

  6. Well, one of my best friends, who was a senior literary editor for Cassells had a similar attitude to your father until he started editing La Dunnett's majestic historical series (he also refused to watch any sequels, too, until LotR was filmed). It beats me how otherwise intelligent people section parts of the population out as not being capable of something.

    I love science fiction mainly because of the wonder of being put somewhere completely different. But even here there is a sort of weird dichotomy in that women are regarded as writers of fantasy and men of sf, as if there were anything other than minor differences.

    I think what is genuinely asinine is to think that the product (i.e. art, music, writing, food - dare I say it) takes on gender characteristics from its source.

    But sorry, you're right in thinking that I don't want to know what it's like to be a 21st century housewife*, but then again I am pretty much disinclined to have anything to do with the 21st century anyway, it's enough to put up with being an older single guy without having to imagine other 21st century peoples' experiences!

    Finally, Si sounds to me like a self-obsessed idiot - perhaps he's insecure - always looking for affirmation that he's wonderful, with the minimum amount of effort. (Actually most blokes are a little like that, but those of us who are reasonably decent try and squash the impulse!)

    *But oddly, if I like the quality of the writing then it can be pretty much about anything - the one thing blogging does teach is the art of seeding the first para with a hook; an art you have learnt beautifully.

  7. Yes but the feminists were once instance, and a conscious one, of protest against a relentless unconscious prejudice.
    Of course JK Rowling deliberately used those initials to hide the fact she was a woman. Otherwise she feared boys wouldn't buy the books.

  8. It's a shame, ML. Manda Scott has changed her pen name to "MC Scott", so even authors who have already made a name for themselves have to alter it.

  9. Sounds like a load of birds on the blob. Si.

  10. Merci d'avoir un blog interessant


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