Monday, May 19, 2008

Ford - or Trabant?

It took me 4½ hours to get to Cannes on Saturday – normal time
one hour – for the last 10km of which I had to leave the car and catch a bus – which took two hours.
You guessed it: it’s the annual bunfight known as the Cannes Film Festival. Hotels, quintuple-priced, are jammed, not to mention the fancy villas. For example, Château Microsoft, otherwise known as Chez Ballmer, which faces us across the bay on Cap Ferrat, housing, this week only – according to Riviera Radio - Brad Pitt and the very preggie Angelina Jolie (How do you get a nice name like Jolie? You start with a name like Voigt.) and entourage. The USS Microsoft lies just offshore awaiting their every whim. Here’s a picture so you can glimpse the sort of good cause that your generous contributions are supporting.

On Saturday the Film Festival was less crowded than usual. No, not because Harrison Trabant was indisposed but because of the vast crowd attending the Big Book Signing at La Gaude. Those who know about these things decided to spurn a 65-year-old super-hero for a slightly more mature writer. An animated - and thirsty - gang of literary connoisseurs assembled at the Villa Luciane, including the hostess, Chantal Paillard; the illustrator, Bernard Payet (who also exhibited his original works for the book); and an anonymous Riviera writer. They were up in the foothills of the Maritime Alps celebrating the six-month anniversary of the launch of the well-known The French Riviera: A Literary Guide (ISBN 978-1-84511-455-8).

Monday, May 12, 2008

Oh ye of little faith

On January 21, I announced what I thought would be Everton’s historic but short-lived arrival in fourth place of the Premiership. “Historic” and "short-lived" because no-one gets into the Big Four unless they’re dripping in money or foreign-owned or both. Sure enough, the People’s Club, owned and run by mere Brits, went down to fifth. But what’s incredible is that they stayed there, and yesterday the season finished - with the Blues STILL fifth.
They did a fantastic job, but special congratulations go to their Scottish (well, nobody’s perfect) manager, David Moyes, who won the prestigious Fink Tank Best Manager Award, for gaining the most points per pound spent.
I've nothing against the Big Four – in fact I love them all, except Man. U. – but in that sort of company, Best of the Rest is pretty good.

We’re off to Milan. No, we’re not really realtor-dodging – we always go away Pentecost weekend because we have some neighbours who always come Pentecost weekend. We board the train at our local Villefranche Dinky Toy station; but the train stops at Menton on this French side of the border and everyone has to get off. An anouncement says it can’t go any further because Italian Railways are on strike. With a couple of kilometres to go to the border and most people going only to the market in Ventimiglia – a further eight km. on the other side of it, about half waited for a promised bus, and the other half – which included us – headed for the Menton bus station.
The best we could do there was get a very crowded bus to Garavan, about 200m. from the border. Across the border there’s another split. About half decide to wait for the local bus to Ventimiglia, the rest – including us - decide to walk there. We didn’t know at the time that the Italian buses were also on strike, but with train tickets to Milan and hotel paid for, we were too mean to take a chance, so off we set with the rest in a remake of Exodus. Differences: while Charlton Heston may have had the Red Sea, he didn’t have a suitcase with dodgy wheels and it wasn’t uphill all the way.
We had planned to call a cab from Latte, 5k along the way, but with 200 metres to go, along came a mirage with a Mercedes emblem on the front and the word TAXI on the roof and in ten minutes we were in XXmiglia. But it was market day: the traffic was at a standstill, so we had to walk the last 500 metres!
At the station we find the strike will end at 1 o’clock and there's a train to Milan at three. It was quite a lunch.
And what about Milan? That will have to be the next post – I’m on sympathy strike just now.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The shaming of the true

It is a well-known fact – and was put on the public record by my cardiologist in the spring of 1996 that I am “inordinately fond of cheese”. I thought it an elegant turn of phrase and have since been known to use it myself, but of course never failing to credit the assumed author.
But it would seem that Dr Ilsley could be a plagiarist.
There I was, innocently looking up how to catch a shrew alive – I’ve already got one, but hell, you can’t have too many – when I came upon, in the section on shrew-catching on page 18 of a book called Small Mammals, by Adrian Barnett and John Dutton - published in January 1995 (remember that, it’s significant) the following phrase: “contrary to popular opinion rodents are not inordinately fond of cheese".
Of course, it’s possible that the good doctor – which he is – could, exactly one year later, have coined the expression himself. But it’s much more romantic to think that he took the trouble to hone his micro-surgical skills on field-mice, and consequently was able to save my life.
If they sue, he can count on me as a character witness - if I'm still around.

Off to Milan tomorrow, ostensibly for some Gothic churches, parmigiano and Jack Daniel's, but it's really to escape real-estate salemen. See you next week.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Caid mille failte

It’s my Mum’s birthday today. She would be 118 years old if she were alive - so I guess it's a good thing she's not. She hasn’t had the same coverage as Dad because she died much earlier so I knew him for longer. But she was as much a part of what I am as he was. If he was me, the brakes, she was the accelerator; he, hermit, she, gregarious. They were both Celts, but he was the Welsh one and she was Irish.
They lived in an era before the word “baby-sitter” was invented - when having kids was the whole point, not a temporary interruption of your social life. (A young relative complained recently that she couldn’t go somewhere because she had to babysit. When asked for whom she was sitting, it turned out that she would have to look after her own child!) That’s how lucky we were - Nancy and Walter made a lifetime career of my brothers and me. I’m no judge of how well they did it, except that I wish my own kids had had something as good.
They were a traditional working class couple – in those days a wife who worked was a reflection on the husband’s manhood. But she did – she cleaned for Mirabel Topham, who lived on - and owned - my school-holiday playground, Aintree Racecourse.
My memories of Sunday nights in 58 Arthur Street, Walton, are of ceilidhs, though they may not have happened every Sunday, except in my nostalgic haze. My mother was Scouse-Irish, and on those – let’s call them occasional - Ceilidh nights our little house would shake to the Gaelic music on Radio Eireann, to which Mum, aunts and assorted expatriate Micks would dance - or sometimes sing. That “shake” was literally true, because someone – usually Jimmy Gardner, to whom - for he was the tallest – would be deputed the task of pushing back the wet-battery radio to stop it falling off the sideboard. We kids were usually in bed at the time, but missed nothing, and heard, rather than saw, the ceilidh, but my mental image of the scene was of something between Riverdance and Gaelic football on rollerskates.
The signal for the end of the evening was the midnight time signal followed by what I used to think was a jolly nice quickstep, but know now was Amhrán na bhFiann, the Irish national anthem. Even now I still can’t hear it without a momentary flashback. Happy Birthday Mum.

Monday, May 05, 2008

This is not this

I just realised that if you Google me in search of this blog, you may get a page on Writers Weekly which indicates that I have contributed to its Forum six times since 2004.
Except that I haven’t - it's a coincidence. The author, it seems, is one Heather Stimmler-Hall. Ms Stimmler-Hall, although she has a far more distinctive name than mine, has a rather similar profile – travel writer, lives in France, (it doesn't say Everton, but, being from Phillie she could be an Eagles fan, which is as good) and uses the handle "rivierawriter". Since it seems she has been using it for four years to my three, she probably has more right to it than I. There are other differences: her picture’s a give-away for a start. It’s as much like me as Dorian Gray’s was to him, and it’s clear to even the most visually challenged that this is no TJ in disguise.
So I hope we can continue to enjoy our respective places in Blogland and that she’ll trust me not to bask in her fame or accept any work that is rightfully hers. I just wanted to say I chose the name innocently because that’s where I live and what I do sometimes.

Talking about distinctive names, Joan Hunter-Dunne died last month. She had obituaries in all the posh broadsheets; The Times (OK, not a broadsheet now, but still posh), The Sunday Times, The Guardian and even a leader in the Telegraph. What did she do? Well – er, nothing really. In her 92 years, her only claim to fame was that she worked in the same government office as a future poet laureate, John Betjeman, who, without knowing who she was, heard her name and, enchanted by its hypnotic, train-like ca-diddly-dah metre, wrote a poem that began “Miss J. Hunter Dunn, Miss J. Hunter Dunn, furnished and burnished by Aldershot sun”.
Philip Larkin was much impressed. and Joan might have gone on to even greater literary fame, had she not ruined it all by marrying a man called Jackson. “Joan Jackson” didn’t have the same cachet - or metre - so that was the end of her career as a muse. It could have been worse – she might have married someone called Jones. Not a name that's going to get you an obit. in The Times.