Thursday, June 11, 2009

Time for a moan

Well it couldn't last could it? Have finally taken off my rose tinted spectacles and realised that shit happens, no matter where you live. Will try to keep moaning to a minimum but am feeling quite murderous at the moment.

It was to good to be true that the Parisian pest at Grand Duc would stay quiet for long....last weekend she flew at a couple who had just arrived to rent our apartment. They hadn't even entered the domaine to start their holiday yet she was screaming abuse at them and threatening them there would be hell to pay if she heard their baby cry.

She is mentally unhinged so I have lodged a formal complaint with the management company and her landlord. She is the most anti-social beast, she chats loudly on her mobile on the balcony at all times of the day and night and plays Barbra Streisand and - even worse - sings along to it, yet I have never said a word. Gloves are off. But the couple, understandably, were upset.

The next bit I don't understand. The woman client rang us late on Saturday night to say she was disgusted by the state of the apartment and they wanted to leave and have a refund. Er, doesn't quite work like that. Iain went over to placate them on Sunday and said the woman is a manic depressive with OCD, she said it was a health hazard for her baby to stay there any longer! She has taken pictures of our coffee pot, the corners of the room and the shower cubicle citing filth and dirt.

I would be laughing it it weren't for the fact that they have now buggered off with our keys, all our linen and travel cot to stay somewhere else, still demanding a refund or they will plaster the internet with pictures of our uninhabitable apartment. Just makes me even more determined to get that unspeakable cow next door out, even if I have to take a petition around. There's no way they would be doing this if she hadn't ruined their holiday within 30 seconds of arrival.

So, moving onto reasons for living (or not) in France. Shall we start with the bad news and move onto the good news?

Reasons NOT to live in France:

1. In a word, SFR. This mobile phone company (in fact, pretty much all mobile companies) treat you like a convicted felon. I waited a year before signing up for a French mobile and wish I hadn't bothered. The guy at the shop in Grasse sold me a BlackBerry Storm. It wasn't what I wanted but it was the only BlackBerry he had in stock. Should have heard the warning bells then. Three weeks down the line it stopped delivering emails. I went back to be told with an indifferent shrug that the software wasn't good, so did I want to go home and call the British helpline or download the new software with a print off from the shop in French? Well, not really but there was no other option so I did. Spent all afternoon trying the duff number (it didn't work) then in desperation, I somehow worked out the printed instructions and bingo, it started working again.

Fast forward two more weeks and texts suddenly stopped coming through. Back to Grasse encore une fois and my mate the friendly SFR bi-lingual shop assistant looked SO pleased to see me. Explained the situation, he looked very bored and kept saying I could always pay another 99 euros and take another model. Hello? Even in nightmare red tapesville UK, if your phone isn't working they at least try to sort it out without charging you for a new phone. He then said I should have brought it back in the first week if I wasn't happy. The fact that that was two weeks before it went wrong seemed to pass him by. By this point I was steaming, so he just walked off to serve someone else, leaving me with a more helpful but totally French speaking assistant who would have swapped it quite happily if he was on his own. Under much duress, happy pants finally got out a jiffy bag with a huge sigh and said he would send it to be fixed but it would have to go back to the manufacturers at least twice before they will replace it.

My friend has an iPhone and she said hers has come back from repair and now it won't charge. Have reached the conclusion that the French serveice industry doesn't really exist and as for the customer always being right, don't even go there.

Reasons for living in France:

1. Havent yet heard about bent, freeloading French politicians claiming extortionate expenses for moats, mortgages that have already been paid off (the French are a nation of renters not buyers) and porn movies from Blockbusters. The worst they seem to do is have the odd mistress but there is no law against that.

2. The train journey from Grasse to Monte-Carlo. When there are no wild cat strikes, it is scenic, fairly clean, on time (I've only taken a train four times since I arrived, all in the last two days, so I might moan about it sometime soon.) It was lovely ear-marking all the places I still want to visit - Cap d'Ail, Beaulieu, St Jean Cap Ferrat - when I get the time.

3. Arriving in Monaco, a twee toytown invented to make mass excess feel quite normal, where you are just as likely to see a Bentley, Ferrari or Lamborghini as a Mini Cooper (my personal fave, I still miss my cream and black one now lovingly cared for by Melanie.) What's not to like about a place where you can never ever feel under or over dressed? It's a bit like Geneva - quite clean and clinical - but with much better people watching and more kitsch factor.

4. The Monte-Carlo TV Festival, possibly the last place on earth where journalists are made to feel a bit special rather than like something the cat brought in. The free three course lunch every day with copious quantities of wine, Badoit, coffee etc obviously tipped the balance.

5. Meeting my second famous Brad of the last three weeks - that would be Brad Walsh rather than Brad Pitt, a lovely bloke who has never changed over the years and who entertained me with stories of all the famous A listers staying at his hotel. He has spent most of his stay here calling his mates at home in Watford to tell them who he is off to dinner with each night.

6. Being able to stop off en route to the train station at the Fairmont Plaza for a glass of pink Champagne on the roof terrace overlooking the Med. St Pancras' Champagne bar is lovely but it will never compete with that.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Here a year

This time last year, we were packing up our lives in the UK to head to France for a new life. Hard to believe that on Tuesday, it's a year since we arrived. I still vividly remember pulling up on the lane by our house at dawn and climbing over the fence with the cats precariously balanced in their travel cage so we could get them into some shade and fresh air after a hot 14 hour drive through France.

Such a lot has happened in 12 months. Issy is virtually fluent in French while Iain still only knows the basics, the ground floor of our house is completely unrecognisable while the upstairs is still utter chaos and we have had our ups and downs settling in. Suddenly we have a teenager who has more of a social life than I do (hard to believe, I know,) borrows my clothes and shoes on the quiet and sees me as a never ending well of cash advances and a handy cabbie for the many parties and sleepovers she plans each weekend! It certainly hasn't been plain sailing - there have been tough times, disappointments and frustrations along the way but I have never doubted that we did the right thing at the right time.

Lately we have also got a bit more balance back in our lives after a pretty manic few months. The plan was to take life a little easier down here, enjoy the weather, the beautiful surroundings and explore the Riviera and its environs. Instead, life became even more crazy and full on than it was in the UK and after 20 odd years on that treadmill, it was time for a rethink.

It's funny, I think the perceived wisdom is that our life here is all about drinking rose, lying by the pool in the sunshine and wondering which village restaurant to try next. The truth is the shopping still needs to be done, so does the cleaning and then there is the little matter of work but today I actually ticked the 'rose by the pool' box all afternoon and it was rather lovely!

Yesterday I went racing in the Voile d'Antibes regatta with Mat and Milly on board their beautiful yacht The Blue Peter. The forecast storms never materialised but the wind was up and it was questionable whether the race would take place. We got the go ahead and I can't describe how exciting it was to be counting down to the start along with all the other classic yachts in Antibes harbour. We got off to a great start and the boat was flying. Mat's mates were all crewing and they are serious sailors so everyone was doing their bit as they had had a disappointing couple of days at the start of the regatta. For much of the time, I was clinging onto the boat and sliding from one side of the deck to the other trying to keep out of the way as they tacked and guided the yacht into the best position. Mat kept asking 'Are you ok, are you scared Karen?' but I can honestly say fear wasn't happening, it was just very very exciting, even when the waves washed over us, soaking us all to the skin. We were cruising at 13 knots and on course for a possible win when the coastguard sounded his horn and cancelled the race.

We were gutted, especially as we were not far off the finish but unbeknownst to us, two boats had been damaged in collisions due to the high winds, which were getting stronger, and one yacht was completely written off so it was just too dangerous to continue. The mood on board was jubilant nevertheless and we hit the owners marquee for a celebration drink. My white Abercrombie shorts will never be the same again and I was rocking the bag lady look, wandering around Antibes looking dishevelled with my hair matted with salt and sea water (one shop owner gave me a very strange look when I popped into his trendy boutique to try on a T shirt - luckily for him, I bought it!) but the adrenaline rush was amazing and it's a day I won't forget.

I might have embraced France wholeheartedly over the last year but The Apprentice final has just started so a bientot......