Saturday, December 31, 2011

To ski or not to ski?

Christmas just isn't Christmas unless I see snow and given that we have had the driest, warmest winter since we arrived in France in 2008, there is a significant lack of the white stuff in our local resort Greolieres les Neiges. 

So we decided to head up to Isola 2000, a two hour drive away, for a day skiing in the sunshine with Karin and Paul and the boys. Handyman likes to get out of the door as quickly as possible, often waiting impatiently in the car glued to his watch while I 'faff about' checking that we all have gloves, hats, ski boots etc. 

So reader you will understand how much I laughed when on arriving at the car park by the ski pass desk yesterday morning, we got out of the car in minus 5 but sunny weather to discover that brainiac had left his ski jacket on the sofa at home in his haste to leave the house and get on the road. A couple of friends pointed out that this is the kind of behaviour one would expect from a teenage girl, who fancied her chances of snaring a new designer jacket at the resort's massively overpriced ski boutique. Indeed, Handyman shares quite a few qualities with the teen breed, chiefly an ability to drink his own bodyweight of whatever alcohol is on tap, throwing a strop if he can't watch the TV show of his choice, namely Top Gear, and an obsession with farting as loudly and as often as possible and exhibiting no shame at this spurious talent. 

In his defence, it also has to be said that he is always up at the crack of dawn, tackling any number of household maintenance tasks (he is currently redesigning and renovating the pool) he always brings me my glass of water and lemon and cayenne in bed each morning, he cooks a mean curry and he generally does all of this with a smile on his face. 

Off he trotted to the aforementioned rip off joint to be sold their most stylish budget ski jacket at a mere 250 euros (it is replacing the electric drill he covets as an early birthday present) and to complete a successful morning, he also got fleeced spending over 100 euros on a ski helmet for Issy, who took advantage of the incumbent stress to choose the most designer crash helmet on offer. It came in handy when she fell off the steepest part of the drag lift just as I was watching her ascent and thinking 'God I really hope she doesn't fall off.' She rolled down the hill on her butt, with both skis whacking her in the head, later telling me 'Mum I will never ever moan again about wearing a helmet.' Luckily the Raybans that she had 'borrowed' from Livvy without permission also stayed intact, although on seeing photographic evidence of Issy sporting the shades in a photo I bbmed Liv in London to try and elicit some envy, it's questionable whether Issy will remain intact having been threatened with strangulation for the dawn raid on her stuff.

As we got on the first lift of the day, Handyman's observation that we had already spent the equivalent of a return flight to the Caribbean and we hadn't even had lunch yet could not be argued with. Moreover,he added, 'I'd rather be lying on a sun lounger in Barbados than sitting on this bloody lift freezing my tits off. I HATE skiing.' So the new jacket was a great investment. I think my idea of buying a ski lodge in the mountains for winter getaways with the proceeds from my first book needs some more work.

All there is to add is that I had a good time, enjoyed a delicious lunch and a couple of pre New Year glasses of bubbly at the Cow Club, which has set me up perfectly for preparing our New Year's Eve curry extravaganza with friends tonight. 

Happy New Year and may 2012 be a healthy, happy fruitful for year for us all.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas cheer


Festive fact of the day...six people a year die after eating Christmas decorations they mistakenly thought were chocolate. Is this is a case of fatal tinselitis?

Having tried denial on the whole yuletide festivities front, I failed miserably, realising that even though the teen and tween no longer believe in Santa, this doesn't get you off the hook in any way whatsoever. They forced me to ditch the Sunday papers to watch The Santa Clause, which I secretly enjoyed and so began the decking of the house.

The eco tree from Botanic and the LED Habitat tree have been dug out, but still this isn't enough for one member of the family, who berates me every day over the fact that I still haven't bought a real Christmas tree. The fact the last ten days has been a frenzy of socialising in London on our annual pre-Christmas visit followed by entertaining London friends here is lost on her. All that matters is we still haven't bought a tree and it's now December 20th. No matter also that I have no idea where the tree decorations are and given the festive fact above, am not so sure its a good idea to even try and find them. I think the tasteful little number pictured above should be enough.

So far it has been a far less stressful preamble to the big day than usual. I think I may have come up with a blueprint for how to do it minus the grief while also enjoying basking in a eco glow of smugness. Any resemblance to a certain Dickens character is purely coincidental.

1. Instead of buying gazillions of presents for the rugrats to open under the tree, rely on the generosity of other present givers and just buy one big present each. This equals five minutes wrapping and only one tree branch worth of Christmas paper as opposed to five days and a South American rainforest.

2. Tell everyone you are donating to charity instead of sending out Christmas cards to people you no longer see or even realise are still friends until you check last years dog-eared Christmas card list. Alleviates all guilt of receiving a card from someone you thought was dead on Christmas Eve when it's too late to send one back. Moving to another country works quite well too although it is a bit extreme.

3. For the tricky dilemma of what to buy the person who already has eveything, head to Selfridges and buy a gift card which comes in a smart box with ribbon and a glossy yellow bag wrapped by a man who makes Rowan Atkinson's sales assistant in Love Actually look slapdash. I spent 15 minutes Christmas shopping for tricky to buy people this year, the rest of the time can be spent at the Champagne bar celebrating how easy it was.

4. For food shopping, forget braving the traffic and queues of angry motorists huntng for car parking at some ungodly hour of the morning and head instead to Leclerc (or Waitrose) at lunchtime on Christmas Eve when every other shopper has vacated the area to start their Christmas shenanigans....no queues, freshly stocked shelves and a speedy exit via the empty tills. You may even bag a bargain as the stores try and offload everything they fear they'll be stuck with.

5. Failing all of this, you could just come to my house where Handyman will be dominating the kitchen and the port supply on Christmas morning while I unwrap pressies with the girls, get stuck into the Ruinart that is quietly chilling in the wine fridge and singalong to Cliff, Wham and Kirsty and the Pogues on a never ending loop.

Merry Christmas tout le monde.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Street of Shame



So Fleet Street’s finest rolled into town and it’s fair to say I have not stopped laughing since they arrived, or since they left, at the ridiculous antics. Being former Sun journalists, albeit before mobile phones had even been invented lest anyone tars us with the same brush as the hacks who are currently hanging their heads in shame, we held our own Leveson inquiry chez moi, fuelled with Champagne rather than tap water. Forget phone hacking, you would be amazed at how many money grabbing family members sell their own celebrity sons and daughters, brothers and sisters down the river for a sheckle from Mr Murdoch and others.

Handyman said it was just like having his mates to stay, except mine are louder, drunker, more coarse and vulgar than any of his friends. Life chez Hockney has resumed to its normal, serene state...yoga in the sunshine, green tea, peace, cleanliness...and is all the more boring for it.

Here are the heavily edited highlights from the Street of Shame, which temporarily located to the sleepy rural backwater of Bar sur Loup for three nights only, not nearly long enough. Names have been changed to protect the guilty.


* Angela announcing to anyone in earshot that she 'doesn’t really drink anymore' and was 'really dreading that first glass of red wine as I just don’t fancy drinking.' Akin to the Pope saying he doesn’t really pray much these days. Then slamming her glass down on the kitchen bar empty with alarming regularity and feigning distress as I refilled it, only for it to be slugged with gusto.

* Clara guffing and burping like a navvy, blaming the dogs for any errant smell, refusing to move off the sofa, and cadging a refill off anyone who was on their way to the fridge, and showing no shame at requesting wine top ups from both the (underage) girls.

* Clara insisting on kissing me and Sazzle goodnight despite the fact we had been puking for hours in the hope she might catch food poisoning and proclaiming that it was 'unfair' that we were the lucky bitches with a bug while she was just going to have to keep all her calories and not dispel them down the toilet.

* Clara sitting on the stairwell on Sunday night while tending to the sick, and reassuring Iain that the only reason she wasn’t joining him downstairs was so she was on hand to change our sick buckets. She later confessed to one patient that she daren't go downstairs because her gastronomic wind was making even her feel sick.

* The girls eschewing the lovely French boulangeries and trying to sabotage my gluten free sugar free cupboards with a supermarket-bought preservative-filled E number savvy long-life chocolate cake while rebelliously proclaiming 'Long live Mr Kipling'. Even the sugar addicted junk food loving teens won’t go near it.

Three cheers for bad behaviour.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Never trust a man in lycra


After a week of rain, and not just rain but biblical, wash-everything-away rain, the sun returned as did the warm spring like temperatures and we decided to go to the beach for lunch. We took the hounds with us now that the beach ban on dogs is over for winter, and started the coast walk from la Napoule to Port de la Rague.



You can see from the photos that the beach did not look its usual pristine style. The storms have battered the coast to such an extent that the usually fine golden sand was completely invisible under a barrage of driftwood, bamboo, flotsam and jetsam and even the odd fridge and armchair. It looked a bit like a riot scene from London last summer minus those naughty looters. We’ve had some storms here but I’ve never seen anything like this. I even saw surfers at Sainte-Maxime three weeks ago, which means handyman and I may have to retire there with a surfboard at some point in the future.

Lunch at le Repere was fantastic; sitting on the deck in warm November sunshine with a glass of champagne, a beautiful sea bass with tabouleh, rounded off by a crisp chocolate ganache, can a Sunday get any better?

As well as the bizarre weather, we have also had some classic one-liners from the youngest member of the house. The other day she finished her chat with Livvy with the cruel and cutting: ‘I’m so much taller than you, I could just step on you like road kill.’ Thankfully we are all very thick-skinned, a necessity when you live with the female equivalent of Peter Kay.

We had a Premier Mardi meeting last Tuesday at the new deli and cafe in Valbonne, La Pomme Rouge. Kate Adams has given the place a fabulous facelift and it’s simply furnished, serving coffee and tea as well as breakfast, lunch and occasional evening tapas. Always good to see someone do something different, especially in Valbonne. Le Kashmir Indian restaurant is going great guns, packed to the rafters throughout the week with as many French diners as spice hungry ex-pats so hopefully Kate will also find a niche and a regular flow of customers.

My fellow blogger extraordinaire Chris France has just published his first book, Summer in the Cote d’Azur. If sales are anything like as successful as the recent launch party in Valbonne, then Chris looks set to clean up where Peter Mayle left off.

One of the most memorable meals for some time was at Shan and Tony’s glorious pad last Thursday. We gave the Kashmir a run for their money with a dazzling array of home cooked curries but the talking point was the Piste 2 Plage bike ride next year in aid of Help for Heroes, which Al and Susie are gamely organising. It’s a 450k journey through some of the highest cols in Europe, a couple of which are previous Tour de France routes ridden by the likes of Lance Armstrong. We are going to scale heights as high as Everest, which means some serious training from next spring onwards.

Tony has been talked into taking part. Let me tell those of you who have the misfortune not to know Tony what makes him tick. Tony is a man who spent a fortune transforming an outbuilding into a beautiful, state of the art gym complex complete with cinema size plasma screen right next to his pool but cannot remember the last time he went in there. Or indeed the first time either. In his Hong Kong apartment, he christened his spare room the Pointless Purchase room and used it for storing running machines, rowing machines, juicers and other spontaneously bought gadgets that never made it out of the packaging. The other day, we put the world to rights on health, fitness and the dangers of too much alcohol while I drank green tea and he supped beer with red wine chasers. I think you get the picture.

Suffice it to say, he was furiously back peddling as he knocked back the red and started talking of lending his support to the support vehicles rather than taking part in the challenge. When he was shouted down by Al, Susie and the rest of us, many of whom have also signed up, he disappeared, only to reappear in a skin-tight lycra cycling suit, which along with his brand spanking new mountain bike has never yet seen the light of day.

I wish I had a photo but you will just have to trust me when I say that it was a sight to behold, especially the lengthy zip that he kept whizzing up and down rather alarmingly. I laughed so hard my mascara ran down my face, which was also an attractive sight and second only to Lycra Larry. It was decided that if only for laughter and entertainment value, Tony has to take part, and to hell with his high blood pressure and all the other ailments he keeps trying to use as valid excuses. I for one will be making sure I cycle slow enough to enjoy his company and his zip prowess.

My next project is to make Oscar a YouTube star and us millionaires. People are raking in the bucks putting on home-made video clips of Charlie bit my finger. It sounds pretty boring to me, you can come and watch the girls in a violent bitch slapping catfight any night of the week chez moi, but it has been watched 386 million times. How successful would my Oscar video be if I filmed him head-butting the TV screen and barking rabidly at black people, gays, the disabled, wheelchair users and bald men, in fact any individual who is not a WASP? He's even started having a go at Fatima Whitbread on I'm a Celebrity, who probably fits a couple of the criteria above. I’m calling it Reservoir Dogs. The money is already in the bank.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Wintry weather


One of the things I really love about living in the South of France is there are no half measures with the weather. If it’s hot, it’s immensely hot, with clear blue skies and relentless sunshine for months on end. And when it rains, it doesn’t just drizzle or half heartedly shower here and there, it really comes down like the end of the world is nigh. We have had three days of relentless stair rod style rain, where the prospect of even stepping out of the door feels you with dread.

I remember reading once that Nice has as much rainfall annually as London. I pooh poohed this idea, especially when we lived in the UK, but now realise it's true. I just didn't grasp that it all falls in the space of about two weekends a year.

My grip on weather patterns causes much hilarity in our house. When I check the weather forecast, I always tap in 'Cannes' which is 35 minutes away, rather than 'Grasse' which is a mere 10 minute drive from our house, because the forecast for Cannes is always better. I call it keeping the glass half full. Handyman calls it delusional. Yet, nine times out of 10, I'm right.

I do like to dress up the facts. This is something I never did when working at The Sun, obviously, but when we left the UK, I made a poster for our leaving party which declared 'Au revoir Potters Bar, bienvenue Bar sur Loup.' I spent weeks smugly taking photos of my wellies outside the back door, queues of traffic in rain drenched Darkes Lane and Tallullah soaking wet after yet another weekend soaking in Northaw Great Wood to illustrate the Potters Bar end of the deal.

Contrast this with the pictures of the Gorges de Loup view from Mas St Michel, vistas of snow capped mountains, skiers enjoying a chocolat chaud in sunny Greolieres and wide open Atlantic beaches drenched in sunshine (ok, this pic was a touch wide of accuracy as Biarritz is not exactly the Riviera, although it is still technically the South of France, a mere six hour drive west) and funnily enough, not one partygoer asked why we were leaving, they merely asked if they could come too.

More than 800 people have been evacuated this weekend for fear of landslides, making our leak upstairs seem not very traumatic by comparison. The only sensible thing to do was stay in, light the candles, watch old movies and cook a huge roast chicken and bake lovely sugar free cookies and apple and pear crumble with my new natural sugar substitute Xylitol, which looks and tastes just like naughty refined white sugar and hence like it should be incredibly bad for you but is made from the bark of the birch tree so could almost be counted as one of your five a day. It's licence to eat all the stuff you usually feel guilty about.

We did try and venture out with the dogs to the Valmasque forest for a walk, but even they couldn't believe we were making them trek through six inch puddles in torrential storms. At one point, Tallulah stopped dead and refused to take one more step. Oscar stood beside her, piggy tail uncurled which always signifies despondency, shaking with cold. So the proposed ramble was cut short to 15 minutes and we all raced back to the car. They looked much happier once we got home and Oscar was able to settle down and watch David Attenborough in the warm.

The downside of such violent storms is not being able to go out for a run. I had to wait until today, when the warm sunshine finally returned, to put on my trainers. I did half an hour on the flat, and after a slothful summer am aiming to build up to three 40 minute runs a week. I let my iPod play on shuffle and ended up listening to great tunes that all had their own memories.

Calvin Harris’s Ready for the Weekend and Eric Prydz’s Pjanoo remind me of Sarah and I getting ready for a mad night clubbing at Le Palais in Cannes (the anticipation was actually better than the reality, which was hundreds of 17 year olds getting wasted on vodka and Red Bull to a soundtrack of pumping electro dance music...naturally we left them to it) The Ting Ting’s That’s Not My Name recalled the Parker and Kershaw clans having a pizza night chez nous and dancing round the house to the amusement of all the teens and Kings of Leon made me smile at the thought of zipping around Lake Maggiore in a speedboat, stopping at Stresa for prosecco and proper Italian ice cream.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Hyeres we come


I have to start today by sharing the funny little quote that the youngest member of the family came out with as I gently reminded her of the 101 jobs she has to do before school resumes tomorrow. 'Mum, you are sooo annoying, you are like my talking to do list.' I'm sure she meant it as an insult but it just made me laugh.

It's been a while since I blogged, have had lots on over the last month or so, but I'm back. We have been out and about a lot, the highlight being a trip to Hyeres and the stunning Ile des Porquerolles.

We have been talking about going there all summer but have to say that seeing it unadorned by hundreds of tourists in October was probably better than going in the height of summer. The beaches were deserted and the hotel we chose, the Hotel Bor, was everything you could possibly want...right on the beach, with a fabulous deck leading straight from our bedroom, an oyster bar, minimalist but comfortable rooms and to die for views.

I preferred the little surf hang out of La Capte rather than Hyeres town itself, which is a typical French town with the usual glut of tourist shops. La Capte, by contrast, was very casual, with great little bars and cafes hidden in the backstreets just behind the beach and had an almost Balinese vibe about it. La Bastide, right on the beach, offered fantastic lunches, an open fire inside for cooler evenings and great wines by the glass. We'd have gone back for dinner that night if it wasn't fully booked.

Instead we ended up at le Provencal, the only duff recommendation of the trip, which was like being in a scene from Fawlty Towers. Picture a faded seaside hotel, with a dining room that hasn't seen a paintbrush for about 40 years, and a dessert trolley and you are getting the picture. It was pitch dark so the view, which is perhaps the only reason people flock there, was non-existent. The food was OK but expensive and every time our waitress walked past she dropped something, smashed something or tripped over, which made the evening quite entertaining.

We hired bikes and set off for the Ile des Porquerolles, which looks a little like a Maldive that has been thrown into the Med. The heart of the village is full of cool cafes, bars and restaurants include L'Oustaou, a B&B with a great restaurant where we tucked into seafood and a cheeky glass of LP. We cycled past beautiful beaches, through pine forests and up a few hills and ended up on a beautiful stretch of coastline for a swim and sunbathe before catching the ferry back to Hyeres. The snorkelling here is among the best in France and there are no cars on the island, just bikes and golf buggies, which make it an absolute must for a return visit next year.

Maybe the best bit of all was leaving the rugrats at home for a weekend. They were quite happy watching The Only Way Is Essex and X Factor on a loop, not getting dressed and taking themselves out for a pizza for lunch.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Happiness


So the weather is still amazing, hot, sunny, but cooler at night. Definitely the best time of year on the Cote d'Azur. Sorry, am not meaning to rub my UK readers noses into this joyful fact but I did at least choose to write this on a day when you too are enjoying lovely weather.

I have a new writing project underway at the moment. It is a fairly sudden development, borne out of some unusual circumstances, and no more than that can I say at the moment. But what I can say is that I have been surprised to find that amazing material can come out of even the most negative of situations. It also serves to remind me of exactly why I became a writer, because apart from the joy of seeing something you have written read and hopefully enjoyed by millions of readers, writing is a very cathartic and personal experience.

I am reading a book called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. It's about finding happiness and the writer's quest to devote herself to the pursuit of happiness for one year. Sounds fairly unremarkable doesn't it, except you start reading and it really makes you analyse how you live your life. It's also great to read bits and think, hmm I do x already, but actually I could start do y and see if it made a difference. It's not rocket science but sometimes we have to take ourselves back to the simple stuff to find a better way forward. On a far more shallow level, the picture above of my new Gucci shoe boots from Florence makes me quite happy, and I will be even happier when I'm wearing them.

I have decided to stop feeling guilty about the time I spend not working, and use it to enjoy my time without manically checking my BlackBerry for work emails/unimportant minutae. I started this new approach on Friday when I went to the beach on my own for the day. I had plenty I could have been doing, but nothing urgent, so I swam in the sea, ate a beautiful salad, drank lots of water and read The Happiness Project. The only irritation was a jellyfish sting....there were only a couple of the blighters in the bay but one found me as usual. The plagiste Steve arrived with vinegar and swabs so it wasn't all bad.

I also went for a long swim in the Bay of Cannes early yesterday morning with some of the girls. The water was like a millpond, so still and calm, and it was totally uplifting. Not even the headache of diversions all around Cannes extending my half hour ride home to 1hr 20 could take away from the loveliness of it all.

I also discovered a book called Surf Mama, which arrived this week, about a 42-year-old artist who discovers surfing, moves her three kids with her to Biarritz and sets up the surf mamas group. Wilma sounds like my kind of girl. We exchanged messages on her blog and her book is sitting alongside How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran (which Handyman found excruciating to ask for at WH Smiths much to the amusement of the queue behind him) Peter Kay's new comi-biography, Waterlog, about one man's swimming journey through the rivers and waterways of Britain, The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Elizabeth David's mediterranean inspired food eulogy A Taste of the Sun.

The book says find your own Happiness Project...and I am.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Starry starry night

However hard I say I work, there are doubting Thomases in my family who regularly challenge this fact. The girls' favourite riposte to a hard day's slog at my PC is usually along the lines of, 'So mum, how many journos holidays did you say yes to today?' When I point out that these so-called journos holidays are press trips, where one is required to dress up, do some research on interviewees and perhaps hop on the occasional plane to a five star hotel, the sarcastic laughter drowns out any further response.

The Montblanc Princess Grace Foundation Gala in Monaco was one such event last week that earned me short shrift along with jealous, withering glances and that was just from the Handyman. Having accepted Juliet's invitation to cover the event for Hello I found myself sitting in chauffeur driven luxury in an official Montblanc car from Bar sur Loup to the very swanky Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel where I met the lovely Katie from This is Mission PR who was looking after the event.

As I am more used to driving myself to events, the journey itself was as much a treat as the rest of the evening. And what a night it was. I had the full experience, being papped on the red carpet as I walked in with Amy from You magazine, the photographer's blank faces betraying the fact that we are nobodies. Champagne at the Monte-Carlo Opera, where I chatted to Eva Herzigova and Spanish actress Elsa Pataky, was followed by a lyrical performance by Bryn Terfel, an amazing soprano called Diana Damrau and Rufus and Martha Wainwright in the presence of Prince Albert, Princess Charlene (who wasn't crying and looked quite happy to be there) and Princess Caroline. There was one awkward moment just before the royals arrived when a clearly impatient member of the audience started slow clapping and shouting for the evening start. PA's security people quickly had her removed and left everyone wondering whether she was marched off to Monte-Carlo's version of Traitor's Gate.

After the performance, where I spotted Jerry Hall wearing a necklace worth more than most people's houses, Daryl Hannah and Natalie Imbruglia, more Champagne was imbibed (taking full advantage of the fact that I didn't have to drive home) as we admired the collection of jewellery designed by Montblanc to raise funds for Princess Grace's Foundation-USA. A little chat with Olivia Palermo and her humungously handsome boyfriend Johannes Huebl was followed by supper at the Hotel de Paris and a chat with Aussie actress Naomi Watts, who despite being jet lagged was charming and very chatty, telling me how she is criss-crossing Europe to promote her new movie J Edgar Hoover with my Cannes party host Leo diCaprio and Clint Eastwood. Just to clear up any confusion, the pap shot above is me, not Naomi, Eva or Olivia.

We finally repaired to the hotel at 2am with goodie bags containing Montblanc sunglasses and a corsage (don't get excited, it's a large flower) after what can only be described as a totally luxe night. If you are still keen to hear more, my piece is in this week's edition of Hello, and after writing it, I felt it only right to enjoy breakfast on the terrace before a swim and lunch at the Cafe de Paris with Katie and Amy. Right on cue, my driver arrived and delivered me complete with a mild hangover and a head full of showbiz goss back to what passes for normality at Chemin du Laquet. Today I spent my morning cleaning the dirt off the white leather sofas....nothing like a bottle of Jif and a sponge cloth to bring you back to earth with an almighty bump.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Home at last



So we left Florence and after a traffic-laden seven hour journey, we finally arrived home in Bar sur Loup after five weeks away. No matter how good a time you have had, getting home to your own bed and four adoring pets is always a highlight. The view above is one I never tire of although Issy, 12 going on 22, begs to differ.

The tourists have gone home, the sun is still shining and finally the Cote d'Azur is back to being less busy, with space to park, eat out and sit on the beach without feeling like a sardine tightly packed in a tin. It's my favourite time of the year.

We celebrated our return with a little soiree as so many friends have been over visiting from the UK. The food was a little bit of Puglia...mozzarella, salads, parma ham, grilled chicken, griddled aubergines and courgettes...and the wine flowed.

By chance, my first boss JR was staying at his house near St Tropez so he came over too. We laughed at the story of how as a young, green, enthusiastic trainee reporter I had begged and pleaded with him for my first job at Fleet Street News Agency in Exmouth Market. He let me state my case in his office about how hard I would work, for the princely trainee sum of £65 a week, and what an asset I would be before fixing me with a look and asking: 'Give me one good reason why I should train you up only for you to settle down, get married and have babies?' He'd never get away with that now!

So although the hols were strictly speaking over, I had a cheeky extension of about a week while Sarah, Norma and Karen were still around, telling myself that August is a write off month for working really. Lunch at Vegaluna, supper at L'Ecole des Filles, where Stephane's flair for making something amazing from locally sourced ingredients is earning him rave reviews from all over the Riviera, a lazy Sunday lunch at the Rose's, dinner at Pat and Tony's in Plascassier along with Issy and Chris France,fellow blogger and teller of extraordinary and amusing tales, and many swims at the beach have perfectly rounded off the month.

Now that September has arrived, so too has the new school term, signalling the end of an almost three month break for two girls who have to swap midday lie-ins for the 7am school bus. The mood in the house is becoming greyer by the day, especially since Livvy's lovely boyfriend Rob left to go home last night after four days with us.

Just as my heart was sinking at the thought of a proper routine again, I had a call from lovely Juliet at Hello asking me to cover a glitzy bash in Monaco next week. And with plans for a working holiday to Coachella in Palm Springs next Easter already well underway, along with some light shopping in West Hollywood and surfing at Venice Beach to lighten the load, the future is looking quite rosy.


Friday, August 19, 2011

The devil wears Prada...and so do I


The best kept secret in Florence is housed in a nondescript grey factory building in a quiet village south of the city. Space is the factory outlet for Prada and Miu Miu and is fashion mecca for any style conscious designer or wearer.

With promises of massive discounts on end of season, end of line and even ranges that never made it onto the shop floor, it's too tempting to pass up. Even though the day we arrived it was shut, we rushed back the next morning to grab a ticket which allows you to browse...or sweep crazily...through the outlet grabbing whatever takes your fancy. We arrived 35 mins before opening time and still our tickets said 90-92 and the queue in 35 degrees of heat snaked into the car park before the doors opened to the stampede.

It was like the first day of Harrods sale and it's fair to say the Japanese tourists were the most excited ...one tiny girl got a mouthful of abuse from the burly Italian man she was shoving in order to get through the door. There's method in her madness, in Tokyo, prices are virtually double what we pay in Europe.

So was it worth it? Even Issy, who dragged herself out of bed at an ungodly hour to come, thought so.I bought a Miu Miu wallet and a pair of Miu Miu leather thong sandals while Handyman bought a jacket, jeans and a hoodie, outspending me! But our purchases were outshone by the Japanese who rampaged around grabbing bags and purses like their lives depended on it. The girl in front of me spent two grand on two bags and two wallets while Iain saw two guys straight out of Pulp Fiction who bought ten pairs of shoes each!

The great thing is, you can touch everything and not feel intimidated or have three assistants by your side giving you evils if you dont buy. The Mall at Leccio, in the Tuscan hills just outside Florence, is also worth a visit...Gucci new season at 50% off, Hogan, YSL, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta and many more. By this point the temperature had risen to 43 degrees and my Amex card was feeling the heat.

We spent a lovely day in Lucca yesterday exploring the walled city before enjoying a long lunch at Paulette and Nick's beautiful stone house in Pescaglia. Today is our last day in Florence, so we are off to the Dali/Rodin exhibition by the river then onto lunch at the Golden View restaurant, with a fabulous position overlooking the Ponte Vecchio. There are some great restaurants here, and others which cater solely, and rather soullessly, for the tourist market, which is in stark contrast to Puglia.

One of the best so far is La Cantinetta in Via Borgo... we have eaten there twice. It looks like a deli at the front but don't be fooled, they have a great wine list by the glass as well as the bottle, home cooked food - the bruschetta with pomodorini and vegetable lasagne were fabulous and Handyman rated the pork with rocket and parmesan. They only opened four months ago but they are consistently busy and service is among the best we have found in Italy.

Monday, August 15, 2011

When in Rome...


If you are looking for a holiday in an unspoilt region of Italy where the people welcome you with open arms, the food is simple, local and delicious and the scenery breathtaking, then Puglia is your spot.

We spent a gorgeous day at the Masseria Torre Coccaro beach club, which took St Tropez’s Club 55 as its inspiration and managed to outshine it. A beautiful stretch of Adriatic coastline, with an azur blue sea, lovely sunbeds and waiters who will bring a chilled glass of prosecco to the beach makes this the perfect spot. Vittorio, the owner, also runs Torre Maizza nearby and told me the secret of his success is not promoting his hotels but letting the service and setting do all the talking. It works. His land also yields olives, olive oil, artichokes and other produce which has a mere few steps to travel from picking to serving.

We also tried Al Fornello da Ricci, reputedly the best restaurant in the region, run by Antonella Ricci and her husband Vinod. Lily Allen was at the table next to us, not that this mattered as all eyes were on the food which was cooked and served by Antonella in her beautiful garden. The antipasto, with stuffed courgette flowers, fava bean paste, simple fine griddled zucchini with mint and melanzane, was unforgettable.

We left with heavy hearts promising to go back as there is still so much to explore. At Cassino we visited the war graves where Jean’s father is buried having lost his life in the battle of Cassino in WWII along with thousands of other allied servicemen. The graves where unknown soldiers were buried made the trip even more poignant, with gravestones bearing the inscription: ‘A soldier of the 1939 – 1945 war known unto God.’

Onwards to Rome and we spent a fantastic day yesterday at the Colosseum and Palatina, which is the original birthplace of ancient Rome 2,750 years ago. Fascinating. By the way, the strange looking specimen at the bottom of the picture is not Iain with a wig on... Dinner at the cool Antica Enoteca wine cave was followed by an amazing performance of live opera at the foot of the Spanish steps last night, where renditions of La Vie en Rose, Nessun Dorma and songs from other famous operas had the crowd in a frenzy. Except for Issy who, spotting the TV cameras recording the performance, said, ‘Come on, you can watch this back at the hotel on YouTube.’

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Italia Part One


So we left France in the midst of an unpredictable summer for the sunnier southern climes of Italy. It's amazing how quickly the pretty French Riviera coast give way to the industrial parks and greenhouse clad hills of the northern Italian coast but it isn't long before the distinctly industrial landscape turns into the prettier Ligurian coast, home of Santa Margarita, Sestri Levante and Cinque Terre. Then it was into Tuscany past Florence, Chianti and Orvieto through Umbria and into Lazio.

This might be a generalisation but Italian drivers seem to have a death wish, driving two metres behind your bumper at 130 kph weaving, lights flashing, overtaking on the inside, cutting in and virtually slicing the side of the nearside bumper as they jump in, which brings out the worst in any normally quite sane driver....

We approached the toll after nine hours on motorways expecting to pay a large wedge of euros but miraculously the barrier was inexplicably up so we sailed through without paying a dime! Happy days!

After two rainstorms, 40 degrees of heat and two terrible service station stops, we reached Formia, between Rome and Naples, at teatime. Bufala mozzarella is the speciality of the region with tiny farm shops on the side of the road selling only that...a little local farmer sold me four huge hunks for 8 euros and threw in a small one to taste which was divine.

We went to a fab little trattoria il Gatto e la Volpe for supper, where we tucked into octopus and potatoes, fritto polipi, pasta with swordfish and olives, gnocchi with clams, pasta fagioli with mussels and good old grilled chicken with peppers. Along with a bottle of prosecco and dessert, the bill came to a very un-Riviera total of 93 euros.

After breakfast and a swim at the hotel, (thank you Trip Advisor, 2/2 so far) the journey continued. Cutting across country from Naples to Bari, you drive through lush dramatic mountain ranges which resemble Hawaii more than southern Italy.

As well as being one of the poorest areas of Italy, Puglia is also conversely one of the most gastronomic regions, with basic ingredients being given a twist to make them more palatable and interesting by the great mamma cucinas. So at Trattoria Piazza Plebiscito, we enjoyed antipasti with tempura aubergines, griddled courgettes with mint, mashed fava beans with spinach, local tiny mozzarella knots, mussels with peppers and tomato, the list goes on and on...

Norma has been unable to order a glass of Prosecco since arrival. She usually asks for a glass of proscuitto or a glass of bruschetta, as long as it has three syllables and ends in a vowel it passes for a glass of Italian bubbly. As she says, there is no end to her language talents.

The stone house we rented is just phenomenal...comfortable, uber-stylish and well equipped. We have a daily routine of finishing on the cabanas by the pool, pictured above, with a bottle of Prosecco every evening in the sunshine. That photo is the reason we booked the house, it ticks the cool contemporary vibe while being surrounded by five acres of olive groves, giving us all the privacy any hermit could possibly desire.

On our second night here, we were greeted by Francesco walking up the drive with some friends. He grew up here and what he doesn't know about our village Ceglie Messapica and Puglia in general isn't worth knowing. He wanted to show his friends the grotto in the garden, which goes 52 metres deep and was a hide-out for persecuted Byzantine monks in the 7th Century. There is a fresco of Christ as well as the local saint San Michele on the walls.

The Norm and I have been running every other day. It's very hot, 36 degrees is not unusual, so we have to go by 8am and now she has set this amazing TRX gym equipment thing in the garden which uses your own body as resistance. It's very clever and a bit like boot camp so not quite what I had planned for my hols but my body will be a temple by the time I leave!

Puglia is everything we hoped for and more...the people are so friendly and hospitable I'm even picking up a bit of Italian much to the girls horror! Today I booked a restaurant table for tonight without lapsing into French, English or double dutch much to Tony and handyman's amusement but they soon shut up when I told them they can take it in turns to book in future.

We have adopted a kitten called Bella, she eats swordfish, scambled eggs, smoked salmon and every other leftover every morning and loves us. In fact, she is my Oscar substitute.

So far we have visited Martina Franca, a beautiful baroque town nearby which is worth coming to Puglia on its own, Lecce, known as the Florence of the south, Ostuni (in last week's Grazia as the cool hang out and yes it lives up to the hype although it's a little touristy too), Gallipoli, a bit disappointing and good old Ceglie, which is the gastro heart of the region. With that in mind, we have bribed the teens with fish finger burgers and pesto pasta salad to stay home and have a movie night while we sample the local Michelin starred Cibus, one of the most celebrated restaurants of the region. Hello bacchanalian feast, goodbye waistline.....

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The best laid plans....


For anyone who has never holidayed with us, it is an experience simply not to be missed. There's always plenty of excitement, run-ins with authority and drama and Monday was just one more example of this. We decided to have a barbecue on the beach at Theoule. I have seen lots of people having barbecues on the sandy stretch leading into Cannes in previous summers so supposed that as long as we were quite careful, we would be fine.

Milly suggested Aiguille at Theoule, far away from roads and prying eyes, just along from the beach restaurant. So we arrived, lugging cool bags filled with fish kebabs, marinated chicken, prawns, lush salads and a bottle of two of wine. We took our disposable barbie, while Paul, not realising it wasn't wise to leave this purchase until the last minute, had to buy two scaled down proper barbecues as the disposable ones had ran out, as well as a huge bag of charcoal.

Lighting them in the escalating winds was a challenge but soon the flames were licking over the sides, glasses were chinking and children were enjoying the almost empty beach while we watched a beautiful sunset and contemplated putting the food on.

Alas it wasn't to be....Three burly police municipale sped up in a van looking menacing and suddenly it was game over. Despite our best efforts to bribe them with a sausage, they made us chuck sand all over them (the barbies, not the cops) because of forest fire risks. As you can see from the picture above, fire risks were minimal. Even Eleanor, who is a reincarnation of Carmela from The Sopranos, couldn't crack them despite her best efforts to flirt and joke, so €200 of food went back in the cool bags (which by now were no longer cool) and we had to slope off to the local restaurant as a small group of French picnickers sniggered smugly nearby.

We are convinced the nearby restaurant shopped us, spying 17 extra covers if they could rain on our parade and get us to eat there instead so we stoically marched past laden down like donkeys as Handyman loudly relayed the completely made up tale of how he had suffered chronic food poisoning the last time he ate there. At least we were forced to try a new eaterie on the water before Marco Polo, where the moules were probably the best I've ever had in France so all was certainly not lost.

I have a feeling the French and English Rivieras have been mysteriously swapped by aliens as we have been under grey clouds since yesterday and walloped by torrential rain today. This isn't July as we know it and frankly 40 degrees in the Italian south is sounding very attractive given that the girls have stolen the only capri pants, jeans and hoodie that I packed so my day has been spent freezing in summery cutdowns and trawling the net to find a great little place to stay en route to Puglia on Friday night.We have settled on Formia, just south of Rome on the coast, at a boutique hotel with a cool pool, an even cooler bar and a position on the coast just outside the medieval heart of the town.

After numerous hotel/restaurant disasters over the years, I have decided to eschew bland motorway motels and questionable establishments on the edge of industrial estates and red light districts and be, for once, the most well researched traveller Italy has ever seen. I am going with the highest rated picks on Trip Advisor from fellow Italian travellers. The fact that I can speak no Italian is of little importance as long as they have marked the place with five stars and mentioned bellisimmo and splendido a few times in their review. It's a risky strategy and you will know in three weeks time if it has paid off as our entire road trip to Puglia, Rome, Florence, Lucca and Formia is resting on this plan.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Superyachts, Seal and seriously good fun


I have been following the developments at News International with horror. It’s a bit like watching a car crash in slow motion. Seeing Neil 'Wolfman' Wallis, my old features editor, arrested and become the catalyst for the resignation of the two top dogs at the Met was surreal enough but events took a very tragic turn with the death of Sean Hoare yesterday. We worked together on the showbiz desk at The Sun and despite the dark turns his life took after that period in the early 1990s, I remember him as a funny, genuinely nice newspaper guy who was kind and had a good heart. Very strange to see my old stamping ground right up there making headlines as shocking and sensational as any of the scandals we ever unearthed.

So, the girls spent two weeks in London and I can’t pretend it wasn’t a little bit of a holiday for me too. No mess, no screechy hormone-driven hissy fits or shuffling around unwashed in pyjamas until late afternoon, just peace, tranquility and a house an OCD sufferer would have had trouble finding fault with. I missed them, and they missed me (I think) but as all my friends were going into meltdown about the long stretch of school summer hols that lie ahead, it was blissful to know that they were off having fun while I worked, relaxed, socialised and had some time to myself. Made me laugh when they started asking what handyman and I were having for supper every night…I think takeaways lost their allure after a week or so and they couldn't wait to get home for a proper cooked meal.

I had to ask my friend Karen, who has four lovely kids aged between 20 and 12, if it was weird not to miss your children painfully after two weeks. She told me that she thinks we have done such a good job of bringing them up and being there for them that we reach a point where they need us less and it all feels perfectly natural for them to flee and for us to have some quality time without them. That day is probably not so far off for Livvy, who is planning to go back to the UK to study at the end of lycee in three years time. I’m hoping Issy might wait a few years before I have to deal with empty nest syndrome but I think a two week sojourn to break up the ridiculous 11 week summer break is going to be a permanent fixture chez Kershaw.

They arrived home with piercings (ears - Issy, belly button – Livvy), dirty washing and a desire to once again sit in their rooms on their PCs Facebooking all their friends rather than seeing them in the flesh.

The highlight of last week, apart from the girls returning (this turned quickly into a lowlight when they embarked on a screaming row within an hour of arriving home) was being asked to meet Tamara Ecclestone, billion-heiress daughter of F1 supremo Bernie, on board the spectacular £100m plus superyacht Sea Force One in Saint-Tropez to interview her about her forthcoming Five documentary series Tamara’s World. I wasn’t sure what to expect but she was charming, funny, self-deprecating, refreshingly down to earth and a very good interviewee. And the boat wasn't bad either, as you can see above.

My only concern is how I will come across, as the Five team spontaneously decided to film me meeting her on board and interviewing her. I know I wasn’t looking my glamorous best after an hour in 90 plus degrees waiting for them to moor in the harbour, so if you see a sweaty, shimmering mess sitting opposite a beautiful, natural, non-sweaty brunette dressed head to toe in Missoni on your TV set sometime in October or November, please bear this explanation in mind.

Work was interrupted by a rather lovely night out with Milly at the Nice Jazz Festival last week, drinking champers in the old town, before watching a stonking performance in Place Massena by Macy Gray and Seal. Macy (whatever happened to her?) was great value but Seal topped her with an electrifying performance which included Crazy, Kiss from a Rose and Love’s Divine. He even spoke some French, which the mainly local crowd loved.

Have been rather busy with interviews this week, including Disney megastar Selena Gomez (sweet and professional) and Hustle actress Jaime Murray (wicked sense of humour) who stars in Warehouse 13 on SyFy next month, as well as moving to Mougins for two weeks before our trip to Italy at the end of the month. We are staying in a quaint stone cottage on the edge of the old village with a beautiful pool which has seen rather a lot of me since our arrival at the weekend. It’s way too hot to run so 40 lengths a day seems like the way to go and is far more enjoyable than puffing up hills in 32 degrees of July heat (sorry to all UK readers for whom 30 degrees would be a joy right now.)

So lovely to be able to work in the morning and take a few hours off with no chores beckoning, cobwebs to hoover or painting to do. Anyone who knows me will tell you that while Hockers works hard, she plays even harder. I have come to the conclusion that a functional two bedroom cottage with small terrace and a pool you don’t have to clean makes a pleasant change from a large, totally white house, which while chic is also a nightmare to maintain, plus an acre of weed-infested grounds which won’t obey the rules and stop growing due to the unusual humidity we are experiencing right now.

Just to make you Brits feel better, it is actually raining as I write which is why I’m finally updating the blog instead of pounding the pool.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The World Ends...


Yesterday was a bleak day for journalism. The News of the World, the UK's most popular newspaper (yes, contrary to all the knockers, it actually had quite a few million readers) closed under the shadow of phone hacking.

I can't defend the ghoulish revelations that have come to light in recent days detailing murder victims and grieving relatives whose phones were hacked by the paper in the endless search for stories (although I find it hard to have sympathy for any hacked expense fiddling MPs, playaway Premier League footballers and poncey 'my family are my world' actors who are secretly sleeping with prostitutes.)

But I can shed some light on what it's like to be a tabloid journalist, having worked at The Sun for four years and later for the News of the World when I first went freelance. When people ask me the innocent question 'So what do you do?' I steel myself before answering as it's usual for the conversation to take the direction of 'Okay, where is the tape recorder hidden, all this is off the record.' Journalists, and tabloid journalists in particular, are generally a distrusted, even despised breed, and you get used to defending your reputation to people you have never met before at a party or a dinner. I've done it so often, it doesn't even occur to me that it's not normal behaviour to defend your profession and qualify why you do it.

When I started out on Fleet Street (Wapping actually) at News International, it was 1990, Piers Morgan was my first boss as editor of Bizarre, Andy Coulson was a keen young showbiz reporter just across the newsroom from our desk and Rebekah Brooks was soon to be promoted from Sunday magazine to be features editor at News of the World in the office just down the corridor.

While tabloids are looked down upon (even by the people who surreptitiously hide their copy of the NOTW under their Sunday Times or Telegraph) broadsheets are feted yet it's widely known in Fleet Street that any tabloid hack could cut it at a broadsheet (many have jumped ship to work for the respectable press) while there aren't many broadsheet journos who could hold their own at a tabloid. The pace is rapid, the competition to get a story cut-throat but the camaraderie and loyalty is never in doubt. If you are lucky enough to be at a dinner table with a bunch of journalists, I can promise it will be the most entertaining, witty and outrageous spot in the entire room and the best night out you might ever have.

I had four of the best years of my career at the Currant Bun, working for Kelvin Mackenzie in a newsroom where there was rarely a dull moment. It wouldn't suit everyone but even the madness of standing on The Highway with the entire editorial team being urged to shout 'Up yours Delors' for a front page decrying the idea of Britain joining a single currency in Europe, through to being asked to sing rather tunelessly the song I reckoned was going to be the new chart No 1 that Sunday in the editor's office in front of a roomful of grinning executives (FYI it was Crystal Waters' La da de La da da...and no, it didn't reach the top)couldn't dim the excitement of working at the newspaper every other daily watched so they didn't get left behind.

Andy lived and breathed the job, often wiping the floor with the opposition which is how he came to be promoted to editor of the News of the World. Rebekah was ambitious but friendly (in those days) and Piers was, by his own admission, celebrity-obsessed and always destined for a career on the other side on the fence. This all feels like a very long time ago.

Journalism is full of talented, erudite, streetwise people who expose wrongdoing, scandals and cover ups at the highest levels of society, as well as the tittle tattle gossip that even the broadsheets cannot resist rewriting from the front pages of the red-tops. Let's not forget all the good the power of a free press can achieve.

Lots of decent people are now paying the price for the reprehensible behaviour of a few bad apples. And to the gloaters who are basking in the glory of seeing a 168-year-old newspaper go under in shame, let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Don't believe everything you read, especially if it's in the red-top bashing Guardian.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Surfing...not drowning


Have been rather busy of late (not just lying by the pool, uncorking rose, shopping etc) but working hard, travelling and generally getting things done. Then I had a few emails and calls saying, why haven't you posted for the last two weeks, so while Bar sur Loup sits under a big threatening rain cloud, rendering the pool sadly out of bounds, here I am.

I left you a day before Biarritz, which was our annual surf trip. I also left blazing sunshine to be greeted by grey skies, drizzle and chilly temperatures which meant I had to wear my cleverly packed capsule summer wardrobe all at once in order to keep warm. Having been told that our beachside apartment at Hossegor was within walking distance of everything, it came as a shock to find walking distance meant 3 kms via roadworks to the nearest supermarket for supplies. Having cadged a lift there, Norma and Sarah tried to covertly steal the wheely basket to transport our breakfast supplies and the odd bottle of veuve and vodka back to our base, and narrowly escaped being arrested by leClerc's security officer who chased them across the car park. Sarah then begged a local gardener to down tools and drive us back with our shopping, telling him we were lost, and amazingly, he agreed. I think you are getting the picture on the kind of trip it was.

The sun shone next morning so as you can see above, we donned wet suits and set off to hire boards. The fact that Hossegor hosts the annual Euro surf championships should have told us that this might not be the best spot for novices who get out into the surf one weekend a year. One minute we were kneedeep, the next we were up to our necks with 8 footers crashing down on us. It was a combination of terror, exhileration and sheer madness that kept us out there for three hours being thrashed to death by bigger waves than I saw in Hawaii and Malibu.

Norma, wishing to avert another Baywatch style rescue alert a la Watergate Bay, sensibly opted to stay on the beach and watch from a safe distance wrapped in 20 pashminas. Given the conditions, it's nothing short of a miracle that we actually managed to catch a few terrifyingly powerful waves and surf into the beach albeit looking like something Jaws spat out, covered in sand, shingle and seaweed from the churning currents.

After a long recovery lunch, the surf shop guy Fred came to warn us that a storm was brewing and it was too dangerous to go back into the water so we had to console ourselves with exploring the shopping opportunities instead. Devastating.

The following week was the Ogilvy & Mather ad party that Sarah organised at the Grand Hotel in Cannes, with high wire artists, wickedly strong vodka cocktails and food stalls including sausage and mash, oysters, fish and chips and chocolate covered strawberries. The slightly more generous than canape-sized portions meant that the handyman felt no shame in eating seven servings of sausage and mash and fish and chips, washed down with his own bodyweight in Guinness. He claimed that this translated to one modest supper portion. On that we beg to differ but historically, he has a habit of over-estimating anything that is measured in inches so maybe this is his way of redressing the balance.

Then to London to do some interviews, and the lovely poeple at Disney booked me into a hotel which rather conveniently had its own state of the art spa and was a mere hop and a skip from Westfield so that was a rather lovely way to spend two days in between assignments.

With the girls breaking up for close to three months of summer holidays, the prospect of them lurching from bed to PC to fridge and back again for weeks on end was too much to endure so they were packed off to London last week for a fortnight of family and friends. Made me laugh when Livvy told me that on the first morning of their stay at my mum's, Nanny Carole was sitting on the end of their bed like the ghost of Christmas Past at 6.45am waiting for them to wake up....that's the kind of behaviour that would get you shot in our house!

On a sliding scale, the situation at home is mess = 0, pressure to cook supper = 0, tranquility = 10 but despite all of that, we are really starting to miss them. Just not the rows, hormonal rages, dirty linen on the floor and booming rap music....

The only downside of summer on the Cote d'Azur (yes, there is one) is the mosquitos. After three years of being bitten alive despite sporting every spray known to man, handyman decided that this was the year we put up mosquito nets over all the beds. They look rather lovely in a colonial/princess kind of way, and confidence was at an all time high as we flung open the bedroom doors and windows on the first night, daring the mossies to come on in and do their worst.

Unfortunately, when he got into bed, he didn't secure the net properly and awoke the next morning to find he was covered in hives and had a dozen swollen critters circulating INSIDE the net, above his head. To add insult to injury, they hadn't touched me. Obviously, there is nothing amusing whatsoever about this story. I just told it to illustrate the fact that the UK, for all its poor weather patterns, miserable economy and traffic jams, occasionally has the upper hand at times like this.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Incommunicado...


Question...how can you maintain your reputation as a high flying doyenne of showbiz journalism when you are inhabiting a caveman like scenario where following electric storms last week we had no mobile phones for five days followed by no landline or internet for a further week, rendering us incommunicado for approaching a fortnight?
Answer... be intrepid, drive hundreds of miles in search of a connection, rack up hundreds of euros worth of mobile bills when the signal finally returns and whatever happens, do not lose your sense of humour, which as anyone who knows me will testify never happens (people I live with are exempt from having an opinion on this last point.)
Trying to file features,get copy approved and liaise with A list celebs and magazine editors on tight deadlines is not easy when you are stuck in the communication desert .... even the views of my valley, which is lush and green because of all the rain, cannot make up for this aberration. As you can see from the picture, Oscar has no such worries, oh to be a fat lazy pug whose only concern is sunburn and when the next meal will be served...
After burning the midnight oil til 1am yesterday morning, I thought I'd hit on the solution...to Fayes house first thing to send copy in a laidback fashion before embarking on zen-like calming yoga. Instead it was a wacky races rush from Faye's where the internet was also down as of the moment I arrived to Chateauneuf where the internet cafe secretary was barely capable of boiling a kettle, much less sending urgent copy across to an incredibly important interviewee. This culminated in me in a sweat not caused by yoga and people arriving at my Premier Mardi meeting before I was even home!
All in all, it's been a terrible week what with the internet debacle, my lovely new Armani sunglasses being whipped from my beach bag on Sunday while I swam in the sea (there were a film festival freebie but that's not the point) and falling down the stone garden steps in a storm, badly bruising my shin and making the prospect of surfing in Biarritz this week remote or best case scenario, incredibly painful(cruel bystanders might say this is nothing unusual given my surfing prowess.)
I have had no sympathy from the Handyman, who reckons my fall was precipitated by far too good a time over lunch at the Monte-Carlo TV Festival and the fact that I was wearing my impossibly high Prada wedges at the time. This is purely circumstantial and not the root cause obviously....
Anyway my semaine horribilis was nothing that a coffee and a slice of lemon drizzle couldn't fix..not to mention a glass of rose at lunch as I didn't have to negotiate any steps in the company of a small but amusing bunch of lunch guests including fellow blogger and man about town Chris France. With our collective memories of the music biz and Fleet Street in the 90s (or the last century as the girls love to say) it's safe to say many people in the public eye and monarchy were defamed, ridiculed and shamed in the privacy of my four terrace walls and that is all that can be said on the subject...unless you read Chris's blog which will no doubt shed a more revealing light on the conversation.
This is without even mentioning the MC TV fest..the highlight of which was Prince Albert shimmying on the dance floor with rather enthusiastic Desperate Housewife Felicity Huffman as Kool and the Gang played at the gala dinner at the Sporting. It was surreal, a sight to behold and probably, quite fortuitously, never to be seen again.
Many of my friends ask me a. How I know all this stuff and b. Why I didn't take a picture of whatever was going down. The answer is a. I was there and b. I might have got chucked in Monaco's equivalent of Traitors Gate for showing His Serene Highness letting down what little hair he has. Maybe he was treating the evening as a dry stag run for his forthcoming wedding?
This was all preceded by drinks with lovely Juliet from Hello, where we sat at a bar on Larvotto beach putting the worlds of showbiz and European royalty to rights....again in a most slanderous fashion.
Tomorrow, the merry-go-round of work, chores and dog-walking is stopping for a few precious days as me and my swollen green gammy shin head off to Biarritz to meet fellow surf chicklets Norma and Sarah for four days of extremely competitive watersports, with perhaps a glass of something fairly pink and well chilled making its way into our company.
On our last surfing trip to Cornwall, Norma's unplanned excursion into a rip tide at the far end of Watergate Bay ended with the Baywatch lifeguards steaming up the beach to rescue her and her board. This was 20 minutes into our first surf session. One can only hope this year's trip yields the same levels of adrenaline and excitement...the coastguards from here to Calais have been warned.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Another film star fabulous weekend


I wonder what will happen when I finally stop getting glamorous invites and have only cleaning the windows, washing the car and walking the dogs at weekends to look forward to encore une fois? Now that film fest is done, my mingling with the A list is over (well for a few weeks anyway, until the Monte-Carlo TV Festival starts in June) and I was expecting to come back down to earth with a bump this week.

Fortunately it has been mitigated by a few extra lovely excursions to postpone the inevitable return to drudgery a little longer. A swim at the beach with Bex and Tom followed by cocktails and dinner at the Marco Polo was a rather lovely start to the week. Then it was a girl’s night with Fiona and her Berkshire buddies at Sparkling in Cannes, a great new-ish bar restaurant in rue des Freres Pradignac, where the lovely owner Jean-Pierre plied us with Limoncello and strawberries in hibiscus after a delicious dinner on the terrace and made us promise to come back for a night at the club downstairs once Cannes gets all summer lively....and we will!

After writing gazillions of pieces about Elle Macpherson for Britain and Ireland’s Next Top Model from my Miami trip (big raspberry to all those doubters, well, Iain and the girls, who think I just enjoyed myself partying and playing in the surf and didn’t do a stitch of work) it was time for a little R&R, which has been little in evidence lately...so to Saint Tropez with Sylvia on Friday morning for a weekend which started out as work but ended up as, well, a little light shopping, a little less light lunching, a little rose and some serious pitches to boutiques there with her fabulous jewellery.

We had good reason to celebrate after getting her designs commissioned by Trinity, Hippychic and the beach boutique at Club 55, where the A list will soon be clamouring to buy her designs. Only the three most happening stores in the town so flush with success, we went to Salama, a very chic Moroccan restaurant on a backstreet (rue des Tisserands as I recall) serving great food in a beautiful riad-like setting that transports you straight to Marrakech. They had the most amazing playlist which the lovely waiter compiled himself and where they played one of my all-time favourite tracks of the summer, La Ritournelle, try the address below for a taste of divine Sebastien Tellier...if this doesn’t put you in the mood for summer, nothing will...

http://vimeo.com/1516056

Saturday lunch at Club 55 was memorable for the amazing atmosphere, addictive people watching, very sweet maitre d and humungous prices for what was very average food. Really not sure about the panier of raw vegetables that arrives on the table at €25 euros. Ditto my poulet fermier aux herbes which was actually chicken and chips but as I say, it’s not about the food, more about the ambience. It’s packed so they must be doing something right...

Then it was off to the Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday with Milly. We are Formula 1 virgins, so this invite was mannah from heaven...come and watch the Grand Prix at a roof terrace party at the port, pictured above, 200 metres from the start line and in full view of the exit from the tunnel and the port stretch of track. Oh yes, and have some vodka cocktails and lush Lebanese fare for lunch and listen to the sounds of the Garden Brothers DJ-ing....We watched Vettel blast his way to victory, and being just above the Red Bull stand, also saw him arrive on a private launch after the race to party with his friends, family and Red Bull team, and spray them with Champagne as they cheered his arrival. Pretty special.

It made the fact that I almost missed the train there almost bearable...having driven inexpicably to Villeneuve-Loubet instead of Cagnes-sur-Mer where I was due to meet Milly on the second last carriage of the 10.35am to Monte-Carlo. I would have been fine if only Iain hadn’t mysteriously removed the sat nav from the car on Saturday for his journey to Barcelona WHICH WAS NOT HAPPENING UNTIL WEDNESDAY ANYWAY.

It should have been like something out of Brief Encounter, it was actually more like Benny Hill as I drove around VL for ages, watching the minutes tick by and driving in and out of private domaines in rising panic looking for the roundabout I recognised until I rang MC veteran Faye to plead for directions. Somehow she navigated me to the station where I abandoned the car, waited for the dork in front of me to try and get his ticket three times from the machine because he was putting his credit card in upside down and then legged it onto the platform just as the train arrived and Milly leant serenely out of the carriage to greet me. My beautiful silk dress was soaked in sweat and I couldn’t speak for the first five minutes. But as reported, all worth it to hear the beautiful drone of those engines in glorious reality rather than through the TV screen.

As I relayed this story to Faye and Fiona this morning just before yoga, they were screeching with laughter and urging me to follow my true calling which is surely as a stand up comedienne. It made me realise that there is a reason why these things always happen to me. It’s to bring joy and laughter to those whose lives operate without the same levels of disaster and drama....

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My night with Leonardo DiCaprio


So, the end of the Film Festival and my feet, (crows and otherwise) liver and stamina are all feeling the strain of nine solid days of partying and an average of two to four hours sleep max a night. I know my friends have had enough of me going on about the hardship of yet another glass of Laurent Perrier in yet another VIP area at yet another exclusive party full of A listers, but it really is....okay, stop twisting my arm, a bloody brilliant way to earn a living.

I thought I had peaked already with the Jon Hamm close encounter at the Eden Roc, Will.i.am’s brilliant DJ stint at de Grisogono and Calvin Klein’s stylish party at the Martinez beach but the best was still to come.

My last party night kicked off with champagne at Roberto Cavalli’s new boutique on the Croisette. It was a short skip to the Carlton for the Cinema for Peace dinner hosted by Sean Penn, who was on great form, surrounded by his film stars pals Robert de Niro, Uma Thurman, Harvey Weinstein, Ryan Gosling, Naomi Campbell , Jane Fonda and Faye Dunaway. Then, slipping in after the rest, the welcome addition of Leonardo DiCaprio, the newly single man du jour who has been spotted wooing Blake Lively on Steven Spielberg’s yacht.

He was on fine form, interrupting the auction to make a huge pledge of his own for Haiti and press-ganging three of his mates at the dinner to match him. As the dinner ended, I was ready to head home, feet screaming as they were wedged into yet another pair of heels for the umpteenth time. But lovely Juliet from Hello magazine had other ideas. ‘We’re off to Roberto’s yacht for a party, you have to come,’ she told me...so I did, as you can see from the pic of Juliet and me above, taken just before we went on board.

The joy of kicking off those masochistic Stuart Weitzman snakeskin babies that I so love to walk barefoot on Cavalli's teak decks (and I'm not talking about the great designer's chest) was almost as good as being served Champagne on his amazing yacht which is decorated in animal print galore plus his own range of homes furnishings.

The DJ was rocking the guests, which had included Janet Jackson earlier that evening, and everyone was en forme. Then Juliet had another suggestion....what about the Jamiroquai private gig at the Replay party? This was the hottest ticket of the night, everyone wanted to go, but the list was tight. I was erring towards home at this point but J was insistent, telling me the PR had been badgering her to come along and it would all be fine.

We arrived to see thongs of people fighting to get past security, who were having none of it. But one quick call from Juliet and the PR was whisking us past the hoi polloi, ushering us into the VIP area with a glass of champagne each and suddenly we were a few feet from Jay Kay blasting out some of my favourite songs of the last 15 years.

There’s no way to top this, I thought, until we scored an invite to Leonardo’s private party at his villa above the Croisette, which we walked straight into with no silly red velvet ropes, security goons or other annoyances. Leo looked pleased to see us (!) and stood right next to me chatting with his entourage, fighting off female attention from a gaggle of gorgeous models and looking very relaxed. I did wonder if he had Blake hidden in a cupboard upstairs but he was happy to mingle and chose a large cigar as we all admired the view of the bay of Cannes, which was truly spectacular.

We left at 4.30am, with the party still going strong, the DJ playing a great disco mix and the chef cooking sausages on the barbecue for the 100 odd guests.

A truly fantastic finish to a really brilliant two weeks. It was a bit like being up for an Oscar – I was ‘gifted’ as they say in the good old USA, a pair of Armani rimless sunglasses and a bottle of Mont Blanc perfume to make my festival even more enjoyable. This one is going to take a lot of beating.

Was planning a nice quiet week of writing and working diligently at my PC, with no more namedropping now that I am back on school run/Carrefour/dog walking duties once again, but alas, it is not to be. St Tropez on Friday and Saturday, where Sylvia and I will no doubt be tripping over celebrities as they clamour to get near us and checking out the fab looking Hotel Sezz. Then it’s the Formula 1 terrace party at the Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday with Milly, where we will be watching our first ever GP in true style. Normal life will just have to be resumed next week instead.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Night Fever


Who knew I could be this hardcore? Eight days into the Cannes Film Festival and I have been out every night partying...or should I say watching celebrities partying. Ok, partying a little alongside them. Everyone knows I love a party but this is ridiculous....on Monday night I went to four and Sunday’s party started at midnight and ended at 6am!

I've watched Duran Duran and Jessie J in concert, mingled with SJP, Uma Thurman, Lara Stone, Naomi Campbell, Jude Law, Bradley Cooper, Jamie Foxx, watched Owen Wilson and Adrien Brody try and out party each other, drank champagne on a yacht, eaten sushi and drank lavender vodka cocktails at the Nobu pop up on the roof of 3.14 and still have cocktails with Roberto Cavalli and dinner at the Carlton with Robert de Niro, Leo diCaprio, Sean Penn and Ryan Gosling to come. As you can see, namedropping doesn't come easily to me.

So far, the best party has to be Art of Elysium purely because I was in the presence of long time crush and Mad Men star Jon Hamm. We had a little chat, he touched my arm and it was just magical although I'm sure his girlfriend didn't see it that way.

For atmosphere, it had to be the Calvin Klein party which was on the Martinez Z plage and full to bursting with A list celebs dancing their socks off and drinking the bar dry. Watching the Duran Duran boys jump around like teenagers at VIP room was a laugh too.

But for good old fashioned fun, and not a celeb in sight, it was the Bollywood party on the beach opposite the Carlton, complete with Sikh DJ, fantastic Indian buffet, champagne and a lot of people who knew how to enjoy themselves and dance the night away. Had a lovely chat with Greg Dyke, head of the British Film Institute, former tv-am boss and the man who famously invented Roland Rat.

Last night it was de Grisogono, always a glittering bash, at the Eden Roc, as you can see from the picture above it was black rather than red carpet but nonetheless filled with stars galore and Will.i.am on the DJ decks by the pool. There were fireworks and balls of flames shooting into the night sky in time to the music…just utterly, utterly fabulous.

So I've been on the red carpet, interviewing the stars, partying and writing fab reports for Life and Style in the US and Look in the UK. But I haven't been invited to have supper with Johnny Depp. That is Issy’s invitation from her friend whose dad is a film director and fair to say that mama and big sis are green with envy and planning to turn up and deliver her `”forgotten” overnight bag just after he arrives! I've been topped by my 11yo, which is actually quite cool.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Cannes Film Fest Day One


So the 64th Cannes Film Festival has started, and first things first, they were a little behind yesterday morning, or relaxed, in what some would say is true French fashion, still unrolling the red carpet ready for the press screening and photo call of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, a romantic farce starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Adrien Brody, Kathy Bates and Marion Cotillard.

Woody loves France, he was here last year with You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, and his new film is a real love letter to Paris, with long loving shots of the city by day, by night, in the sunshine and the rain. It’s a quirky rom com and fans of the art and literary worlds of yesteryear will relish it.

One scene where Owen’s character meets Ernest Hemingway in the 1920s looked familiar but I couldn’t figure out why until I realised that it was filmed at Les Caves du Polidor, the fab little Parisien bistro just off Boulevard St Germain that we ate in last summer on the night we arrived in Paris. And where the clumsy waitress clumped iain over the head with a bread basket!

After the film, Woody talked all about how inspired he was by French directors as a young film-maker and he waxed so lyrical about France that he will probably be back chairing the jury next year. Lucky French dwellers can read my piece very soon in next month's edition of The French Paper.

The red carpet premiere last night was a blaze of cameras and thousands of people cheering as Robert de Niro, Uma Thurman and Jude Law arrived first as members of the official jury.

Then it was Melanie Griffiths and Antonio Banderas, she sporting a tattoo of his name in a heart on her right arm, and another at the back of her neck. They cuddled like loved up teenagers on the red carpet, followed by Salma Hayek in a shimmering silver sequin strapless gown and the show’s stars Owen, Rachel, Michael Sheen and Adrien flanking Woody.

Owen looked astonished at the hordes of fans gathered below the Palais and snapped a sneaky shot of the crowd with his mobile phone before heading into the theatre. But as my LA film pal Lissa, who is down here every year, said:'Hollywood loves Cannes, it's old school glamour. Not even the Oscars does the red carpet this well.'

The day was enlivened by lunch at Vegaluna with Sylvia, where I had a birds’ eye view of the Puss in Boots photo call with the still gorgeous Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek.

It is moving rapidly upscale tonight as I am soon heading off to a very glam party hosted by Calvin Klein's designer Francisco Costa for Hollywood's most chic A listers.....the only problem being what to wear, which is why this blog is going to be sort and sweet as a wardrobe raid is imminent.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Party party party party....


If you are extremely sensitive in disposition, or extremely jealous of my life here in the sunny South of France or both, I can only tell you for the good of your future mental health to stop reading now. If however, you are a masochistic soul who enjoys being made to suffer, feel free to carry on...

After three weeks of wedding celebrations both Royal and otherwise, Elvis themed 50ths and much revelling by the pool, the fun continues on Wednesday with the opening of the Cannes Film Festival.

It's the busiest two weeks of the year for a certain showbiz journalist, pictured very hard at work above, and it means allowing the pool loungers to gather some dust, letting the housework go to rack and ruin and leaving the Kershaw household to fend for itself while I hotfoot into Cannes each morning for screenings, interviews with the A listers and then, oh joy, the parties.

Having revelled rather hard of late, I'm torn between feeling excitement at the thought of some seriously souped up bashes and trepidation at the lack of sleep and general full on-ness of the next two weeks. Invitations to Cannes Film Festival parties are a bit like buses...you wait for ages then three turn up at the same time so it's a case of arriving, checking out the action and making a calculated guess on whether to stay or quit for the next one, and of course, not missing one single bit of action or saleable gossip in the process. All the while sipping a glass of fizz on a yacht/Nikki Beach/the Martinez. And people think my job is easy.

There are some seriously good names arriving as we speak, Johnny Depp, Jodie Foster,Sean Penn, SJP, to name just a few, and some great films that I will struggle to make the horrifically anti-social 8.30am screenings for (I'm sure it's a deliberate attempt by the killjoys to punish freeloading hacks who have partied long and hard into the night. Naming no names.)

My top choices are The Tree of Life with Brad Pitt and Sean Penn (who to pick, I love them both) Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris with a massively starry cast including Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates and Carla Bruni, This Must Be The Place, We Need To Talk About Kevin, Drive and the latest Gus Van Sant offering Restless.

My lovely friend Judy is coming down with the BFI so I will have a pal to party with, hurray. Cannes, be very afraid! There's no danger of an anti-climax once the festival ends either. After a two day 'working' trip with Sylvia in St Tropez, I will be off to Monaco on May 29th after a rather lovely invite came through via a DJ events company, asking if I fancy watching the Grand Prix at a champagne fuelled party with guest DJs from around the globe on the Formula 1 Terrace....and I have a plus one!

And it's not going to Iain, who is at this moment kicking himself and sticking rusty nails in his eyes as he was so super organised this year that he has already arranged a boys' race day (with a far less superior view to mine!) To say that he is super gutted is an understatement. It's going to Milly instead, so we will be GP virgins sipping LP together for one day only.

There's barely time to catch my breath before the Monte Carlo TV Festival kicks off in early June with a horde of UK and US TV stars descending on the principality for five days of press and, oh yes, partying. And then precisely one week later, it's surfing in Biarritz with the gang, by which time all I will be fit for is a cuppa, a Stannah stairlift, a facelift and some very, very early nights. And if you believe that, you are very gullible indeed.

Monday, May 2, 2011

All in the best possible taste


Hot on the heels of the Royal wedding came the second most eagerly anticipated celebration of 2011, Nick P’s 50th, and despite my instincts screaming out that it’s not a good idea to throw a party the day before a party, we couldn’t let the Royal wedding pass without inviting a few Brits to goss with about the outfits, the service and why Victoria Beckham seems incapable of smiling EVER.

An afternoon of champers, sushi, chocolate cake and Eton mess was the perfect way to see it through and I was feeling rather smug as I packed and tucked myself up in bed at 11pm ready for a big weekend. I enjoyed a rather lovely mojito in the sunshine by the river at Richmond before heading off to Parker Towers in Twickenham.

It started looking dangerous when we heard the order of the night was aperitifs, supper, pre-party drinks, party and post party back at the house. Nick indulged his twin passions for Elvis and karaoke, hiring a dwarf called Brian to dress up and perform as Elvis. We were all wondering how Dwelvis actually earned a living given that he had hearing issues, didn’t really know any Elvis stuff and seemed to be struggling to read the lyrics on the screen, until it became clear that Nick had simply googled ‘dwarves for hire’ and briefed Brian in great detail for his first ever public performance as Elvis.

No expense was spared as dressed in a suit from Argos, he arrived on stage to the strains of the Superman theme tune and cheers from the crowd. My personal favourite was Suspicious Minds and there was no shortage of support from Nick, Jeremy and Shekhar as you can see in the picture above.

If there were prizes to be dished out, the award for Best Elvis Voice would have to go to Mr P, but given that Dwelvis had trouble seeing the screen and was tone deaf, the competition was a little lacking. Best Elvis costume – well, that would be Jeremy Armstrong, in a white rhinestone suit, Elvis wig, and glasses so convincing that many people failed to recognise him, the only giveaway being his red Converse peeping out from beneath the nylon bell bottoms.

Most chivalrous party guest goes to the hack who shall remain nameless but whose family are big in the lemonade industry. On being introduced to me, he said ‘Over 40...but looking good’ and without missing a beat, then turned to the hostess and said ‘So, you’re his wife....I was convinced you were going to be a big, fat, ugly munter.....but you’re rather lovely!’

Sight of the night – the hostess landing in a black bin full of ice cubes and beers (she insists she thought it was a stool when she sat down) and being manoeuvred out by four Elvis impersonators. She has now been christened Clare Bin Parker.

There was also an incident with a corset and a trouser suit in the ladies’ but the perpetrator will never speak to me again if I say anymore so nuff said. Another great moment at 5am, when someone of Geordie origin who shall also remain nameless ‘rescued’ a half eaten kebab from the bottom of the bin and tucked in with gusto as everyone else looked on horrified, especially when she tried to offer it around.

It was a little after 6am before Fleet Street’s finest reluctantly left, many in varying states of Elvis-like dishevelment, leaving bandanas, rhinestone belts and wigs in their wake but on the upside, the police left us alone this time, making it only the second house party in Parker Towers history where they haven’t put in an appearance.

Sunday was planned as a post party chill out so quite how it was that we ended up at the White Swan on the river in Twickenham until closing time is anyone’s guess. Suffice it to say that in 14 years, I have never once sat on Clare and Nick’s sofa or watched TV at their house despite our best laid plans for building in recovery time after particularly long and eventful celebrations.

As we left this morning, bleary eyed and baggy faced to catch the flight home, we caught the headlines that Osama Bin Laden had been shot dead by US troops. The phone rang, and Nick’s bank holiday was hastily relocated to Pakistan. But there’s a silver lining – it’s dry there so a perfect place to detox and a there’s a nice long flight to sleep on.