Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Olive Press

It's that time of year again when the olives are beckoning so I thought I'd let all my non South of France readers know how it works (as well as serving as a reminder of the process for me for next year!) We don't have a lot of olive trees (8) but we have enough to be able to call the last terrace in our garden, pictured above, an olive grove. I can't tell you how much pleasure that gives me, as a North London girl who now has an olive grove. Last year, the harvest was terrible, which was just as well because I was very ill and would not have been able to pick them anyway and would only have felt guilty letting them go to waste. This year it is a different story, the branches were literally bowing under the weight of the lush, plump mainly black olives. I saw olive nets being spread out in the valley in October but Rosine, my Italian neighbour and font of all food knowledge, said no picking until November at the earliest, and you can wait until as late as January or February providing they don't get hit by frost. After five days of rain, we had warm sunshine for days on end so the time was right. I asked the girls if they were interested in helping me pick, to be greeted with 'Nope, too much homework', uttered while watching back to back episodes of One Tree Hill and Gossip Girl. Handyman was too busy being handy and running the renovation of the top floor so it fell to me to head off to harvest toute seule. I don't have any fancy equipment (one friend has just bought an olive picking device for €900. Frankly I would rather gather by hand and have a new handbag/pair of boots, preferably both) but I have a rake and one set of nets, and these work just fine. I worked my way through a tree at a time, picking from the lowest branches by hand and bashing the rake at the highest branches to reach the plump bunches, which always seem to be just out of reach. The raining olives fell on the nets and then it was just a question of niftily gathering them up without treading on them and before Oscar the greedy pug had a chance to hoover them up, as he will eat literally anything, weeds, the grout between floor tiles, even half a dead rat a couple of weeks ago. I stopped short of climbing into the trees to go after the most elusive olives when I heard about Tony falling out of one of his last week, crashing through a fig tree below and narrowly escaping serious injury (I only laughed when I realised he was okay and not lying horribly maimed in hospital.) So bountiful was the harvest this year that it has taken me two weeks to finish the picking. Rosine came to help me marinade this week as I can never remember the quantities, and her method yields the tastiest olives we (and our impressed UK visitors) have ever eaten. First, sort the good from the bad (any pockmarked or slightly squishy ones can go in the moulin pile.) Then wash them in cold water and leave them soaking for two days, changing the water each day. Then drain them off and weigh them. We had a total of 55 kilos, not bad considering half of them are still on the trees out of reach, so we decided to marinade 20 kilos. You need a tuyau - a glass jar with a plastic cap - and the two I had were filled almost to the top. Then you top up with fresh water and add 80g of salt per litre of olives. We wandered around the garden picking bay and rosemary to make home made bouquet garnis to plug at the top before putting on the lids. Ta da!
They have to stay in a cool, dry place for seven to eight months before they are ready to eat. I have tried decanting into jars after marinading but as jars need to be sterilised and then kept cool, this means a fridge and wine fridge filled with olives and no room for food (or wine, perish the thought.) My new method is to leave them in the tuyau and decant as I need them. A rinse in fresh water (or not) and a squeeze of fresh lemon, a sprinkle of fresh garlic and rosemary leaves and they are ready to enjoy. Preferably by the pool with a glass of rose in hand. The remainder - some 35 kilos - I took to the Moulin de la Brague in Opio, where they weigh your quota and give you a proportion back in freshly pressed, cloudy green olive oil. My yield equated to five litres, enough to keep us going for a couple of months, and it really does taste different knowing that is freshly made from the olives in the local valley. The best way is to pick and chat with friends so if the harvest is anything like as good next year, I am going to throw an olive picking lunch, all guests need to arrive in time to do a couple of hours picking and the food and wine will be on me. As well as a jar of olives when they are ready. Lastly, and not on the subject of olives, I must mention some tea that I was kindly sent by Ali Silk at Tea Horse. I can't drink much coffee any more and have stopped drinking tea with milk so these Oriental teas are a great alternative, and even come with a cocktail recipe. Very tasty indeed. Try it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bad luck but good karma

It was my first trip to London since the summer and I was so looking forward to it. I had a full diary, a screening of the new series of The Killing, a chat with the star Sofie Grabol, and a few parties with friends and work colleagues. But the bad luck fairy was also in town and on my first night back in London town, my handbag, containing cash, cards, phone, passport and driver's licence, as well as make up, perfume and my diary which is my lifeline, was stolen.Granted, I was not hanging onto it for dear life as I usually would because I was at a private party and allowed myself the little luxury of a false sense of security. But whoever took it had to blag their way into the party, which was at a small intimate basement bar in Charlotte Street, root around in front of me to find it and really take a chance on walking out with it as it was a small friendly crowd. I thought I was going slightly mad until I rang American Express to cancel my card, only to be told that some lowlife had already made three attempts to draw cash from my Amex account in the previous hour. Cue the rest of the evening spent calling round to cancel everything and an hour at Holborn police station to report the theft. Much as it was a downer to be cast adrift in the middle of London on the first night of my trip with no ID, no communication and not a penny to my name, I couldn't let it ruin the trip. Usually when I go away, I always take a battered leather photo holder with dog eared slightly faded snapshots of the girls through the ages, from toddlers playing on the beach in Devon through to passport photos of the beautiful teens they are now. This photo wallet has been all over the world with me in the last 15 years, to Australia, Tahiti, the States, Africa and many other places and I now realise, is probably the most precious thing I own. Fortunately, I had forgotten to take it for the first time ever, so despite being totally gutted about the loss of the Miu Miu wallet I bought in Florence, and the tan clutch that went with everything, the most important and irreplaceable possession is safe. Subbed by Sarah, who also helped to organise my emergency passport application and let me use her office as a base, I still managed to have a lovely time especially when the passport office at Victoria helpfully processed my new passport in less than four hours. I spent a fab night at the Dean Street Townhouse hotel, and also had good times at E&O in Notting Hill, Bill's new deli in Soho and the NFT, where the lovely Sofie Grabol was on top form and so much more smiley and chatty than her alter ego Sarah Lund (you can read exactly how lovely in the latest edition of Hello magazine.)I also have a new phone, the Samsung Galaxy S3, which is a thing of total beauty and is revolutionising my Luddite life with easy to use technology. The moral of this story is do not EVER put your bag down. Anywhere. (Another friend told me about the time her bag was stolen in a restaurant when the thief literally crawled commando style on the floor between tables taking whatever he could find.) And don't go out with a clutch bag and no shoulder strap if you are planning on holding a glass of something all evening (see pic.)
And if you do happen not to heed these words, make sure you have a nice friend with you to wave a magic wand and make everything okay again.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Feeling racy

It's been a busy few weeks chez nous. Mipcom was the usual chock a block celeb fest in Cannes with the great and the good flying in to promote and sell their latest TV projects. Trinny and Susannah were on great form, sharing their secrets to looking good in your 40s and 50s, what not to wear if you want to age gracefully (I listened hard) and generally telling it like it is. Go girls. Matthew Modine was a gentle soul as he talked about his new sci-fi end of the world series Cat 8 and Sarah Wayne Callies from The Walking Dead was refreshingly on the ball about life in Hollywood. The hot tip for great TV coming soon is The Americans, a sizzling new pilot starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys about the secret lives of Cold War spies. Then there was the Grasse 10k race, which Liv had press ganged me into signing up for. The last time I ran it was three years ago, in 47 minutes, which was never going to happen again and in typical Competitive Mum spirit, I was loathe to say yes and not be able to beat my previous time. But it was good training for Liv's Manchester marathon next spring and her first big race so I agreed to put my own ridiculous competitive spirit to one side and be her running partner. The day dawned last Sunday, sunny and a bit too warm for running at 75 degrees, and off we set for Grasse old town along with 1899 other mad souls. I was a bit jaded, the result of a ridiculously late night at Ecole des Filles with friends. We were so busy chatting that I forgot about getting an early-ish night and only having one glass of wine and suddenly it was 1am, the wine was still flowing and I had the prospect of less than 8 hours sleep....not the best preparation for a race. So it came as quite a surprise that despite a slight hangover, I enjoyed it as much as I did. It's the furthest I have run for a year, and pounding the tarmac looking out across the countryside to the coast felt brilliant. There was something very cool about being in the midst of almost 2,000 other runners with music pumping across the PA, jazz and steel bands playing en route and spectators shouting out 'Allez, les filles' which is difficult to do justice to here. We both finished in 56 minutes, a major achievement for Liv, who only took up running six months ago, and not such a shabby result for someone who could barely put one foot in front of the other last spring.

Friday, October 5, 2012

What a load of old bollards

What is the purpose of bollards? Are they useful in any way whatsoever or is their existence merely to stress out petite drivers of Jeeps?  My first brush with a bollard happened when I offered to go shopping so that my friend Sally, who was arriving to stay with us and is a brilliant cook, could whip up a fabulous supper. She was stuck on a yacht in Monaco harbour following the Historic Grand Prix, poor thing. As I loaded the car with shopping, my phone started beeping with impatient messages from Child No 1 asking how long she had to wait for her lift. I reversed out of my space in the underground car park at LeClerc in Grasse and promptly whacked the car into a low fat bollard that had failed to materialise in my side mirror. I mean, what is the point in a bollard that you can't even see, beside a car parking space that you are encouraged to use? Supper was delicious, but it might have been cheaper and less stressful if I had just taken us all out for dinner.  The car went off to the garage for repairs and came back like new, all shiny and clean with no nasty dents. So you can imagine how gutted I was when I took Handyman's parents to the airport last week and it happened again. Again, I was doing someone a favour, this time to save Handyman from missing out on work, so I offered to drive. I parked in a lovely big space near the ramp so I could push the wheelchair to departures and did a quick appraisal of the space and saw no bollards. I had learned my lesson, however, and looked in every car mirror several times before engaging reverse, so why did I hear the sickening scrape of metal against a stupid, short, dumpy, upturned bucket of a bollard that was next to my space? Because it was invisible to anyone sitting in the driver's seat. As if by weird mental karma, my phone rang and it was Handyman asking how the drop off had gone. 'Well you won't believe this but....'  'You haven't pranged the bloody car again have you?' he spluttered in rage. 'Honestly, do you think someone is driving around putting bollards up each time you park?'  Well yes, actually that's exactly what I am thinking. Livvy said: 'Mum, you need to stop doing nice things for other people.' As I type this, we are en route to Florence for my birthday weekend. The autostrada is two lanes, incredibly narrow, with high crash barriers, tight bends and the occasional bollard. And I am not driving. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Piste to Plage...A Triumph

The word hero is generally overused but it is the most fitting word I can think of to describe each and every rider who took part in Piste 2 Plage, which came to a triumphant end late yesterday afternoon on the beach at Juan les Pins. In a nutshell, it was four days, 440 km and 160 cyclists snaking along Tour de France routes and up and down cols from the Alpine ski resort of Sainte Foy to Juan les Pins in weather that ranged from driving rain and freakish September blizzards to 30 degrees of sunshine. Lining up with 160 riders in the pretty mountain village of Auron in early morning sunshine, the anticipation of the final 111 km descent from the mountains to the coast created a tangible buzz of excitement in the air. At the forefront of my mind was the mantra 'Do Not Fall Off The Bike' and perhaps even more importantly 'Do Not Fall Over The Edge.' Having fallen off while stationary twice this summer, not forgetting a couple of embarrassing crashes into my fellow cyclist Tony while touring Kyoto two years ago, the falling off thing was in danger of becoming an obsession. Especially when I spotted crash barriers at the side of a sheer drop that had already been crashed into and destroyed. Thankfully, nothing to do with me on this occasion. We set off at 9.30am in staggered starts, with the slowest, most cautious riders first and the speed junkies last. I think you can guess which group I was in. The biggest group I have ridden in until yesterday was a gang of two so the joys of riding in a peloton were all new to me. The descent down from Auron through the mountain pass towards Nice is a spectacular drive at the best of times but on a bike with 160 other riders whizzing along with you, the wind on your face and the September sun high in a blue, blue sky, it came pretty damn close to perfection. With the roads getting busier the closer we came to Nice, we bunched together with riders shouting out warnings about gravel, posts and oncoming cyclists to the riders behind. One minute you'd be on your own lost in thought, concentration and the breathtaking scenery and the next, another rider would draw level and strike up conversation. I made a lot of new friends. As we cycled towards Villeneuve Loubet slightly ahead of schedule, the temptation to ditch the bikes for a dip proved too much and they were abandoned on the grassy verge as 100 or so sweaty padded bottoms made a dash for a quick swim in the sea, much to the amusement of the French sun worshippers on the beach. 'Oui, c'est les Anglais,' sighed a female pedestrian as she looked on bemused. If any of us needed any reminder as to why we were taking part in such an arduous challenge, it came right then when Mark, a marine who lost his right leg below the knee in a parachute accident, abandoned his bike too, ran down the beach, kicked off his prosthetic limb and hopped into the sea amid deafening cheers. Jamie, a para who sustained 60% third degree burns when his plane cockpit burst into flames, Rab, an army captain who broke his back and neck in an army ski training session and Mike, an RAF operator injured during reconnaissance over Afghanistan rode alongside us. However much your bum might hurt on that miniscule saddle, you don't even want to contemplate moaning as you ride alongside such inspirational human beings. As we headed into the last few kilometres at Cap d'Antibes in a long meandering snake, with drivers beeping and pedestrians cheering their support, the atmosphere was electric. We finally crossed the finish line at the Pinedes in Juan to the claps and cheers from friends and family and the tears flowed (well, mine did!) One year ago,I wouldn't have dared to dream that exactly a year after being diagnosed with cancer I would be marking that first anniversary riding in a challenge of this scale. I wasn't the only one proving that impossible is nothing. Neil, who had open heart surgery a few months ago, and Tom, who broke his back a year ago, were also doing the same. As the celebrations continued into the early hours at a party on the beach in Juan, the buoyant mood made everyone dig deep at the auction and raffle, leading to a current total in the region of £325,000 for Help For Heroes, which is nothing short of phenomenal. This money will fund a hydrotherapy unit at Tedworth House rehabilitation unit in Tidworth, Wiltshire as well as spa facilities for injured servicemen. None of this would have happened without the tireless dedication of one individual in particular, a certain Mr Al Parker Swift, who has lived and breathed this event since first coming up with the idea of a little cycle ride with a few mates last autumn. Words cannot express how brilliant it was. You'll just have to take my word for it.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Homeward bound

The six week 4,500k road trip is coming to an end. In that time we have had many adventures, some fun, others not quite so. The highlights? Travelling through Spain, France and the UK, seeing all the bits you usually miss, enjoying the unspoilt beauty of Cap Ferret, the culture and nightlife in Barcelona, Bill's deli in Lewes, the cool ambience of the Riding House Cafe in Soho, riding through the Norfolk countryside, surfing in the Atlantic, cycling coast roads, wine tasting in Saint Emilion, meeting my great new literary agent, watching the Olympics closing ceremony fireworks from the roof, collecting lovely bits and pieces from all over Europe safe in the knowledge that the Jeep could take the strain....oh yes, and the boozy barbecue where I realised that half of us present represented four of the most reviled professions....journalism, politics, estate agency and banking. The downsides were slashing my ear in a surf accident, losing a diamond earring in the same accident, leaving the beautiful Anthropologie cardigan I've never even worn in Saint Emilion, having a van smash into us on the M23, arriving at Beachy Head unaware that someone had committed suicide minutes earlier, enduring horrific traffic jams in 37 degrees (clearly this wasn't in the UK,) breathing through my mouth while using the stinky overcrowded mens loos at the Valence services (the queue for the ladies was 25 deep) and unpacking 1500 items from the boot at every stop. I'm returning to the Cote d'Azur a few pounds heavier and several shades blonder thanks to Karin's skills with my newly growing crop which led to being scouted for a fashion shoot by a photographer (yes, I couldn't believe it either.) Our last day and night has been spent in fitting style in Saint Remy de Provence, catching some rays by the hotel pool, mooching into the beautiful town for supper and enjoying the calm before the storm of unpacking, restocking cupboards and cracking on with work. Back to reality, except the prospect of fresh figs from the garden, 35 degrees and yoga by the pool is not such a bad routine to return to.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Back on the road

They say opposites attract so there is a reason I'm married to Handyman. I break things and crash into things, he fixes them, I pack virtually everything I own (one holdall just for shoes, another for toiletries, you get my drift) he travels light and I love a lie in while he is up before the birdsong starts and has been for a walk, breakfast and coffee before I have even brushed my teeth. Our last night in Western France before leaving for the UK was a frenzy of packing (me and Issy, who have oversized suitcases, so much her mother's daughter) while he nonchalantly chucked a few bits into his diddy Samsonite and hey presto, he was off to the bar while we waded through unworn, unfolded clothes that there was no point unpacking in the first place.  This morning, an hour before we were due to leave, he was hassling us to close our cases so he could start loading the car. I am allergic to organisation on this scale especially when I'm still in bed with sleep in my eyes. Issy was still unconscious. I dragged myself out of bed, shut my case and he was off sprinting to the car with it. Half an hour later, with the car immaculately loaded with cases, wine, beach bags, my bike and concrete candle holders, I realised that the apartment key was still in my clutch bag, now packed in my suitcase. Cue a complete unpacking of the car, amid stifled hilarity upstairs while Handyman burned off a few cals of last nights pizza/pasta carb fest trying to find the right clutch (they were three to choose from, so easy to get confused.) The moral of this story is that it doesn't always pay to be ahead of yourself.  Despite the fact that this last month was supposed to be a relaxing holiday, with some work and adventure thrown in, it has been rather eventful. I am covered in cuts and bruises, the result of biking/surfing exploits. Two days ago, I fell off my bike in front of 200 tourists as I left the ferry at Cap Ferret. It was far worse than landing in the dirt in Spain when at least no one else was around. But by far the worst accident was surfing. There I was, surfing at Biscarrosse near Bordeaux, catching some great waves and enjoying the water. After a couple of hours, I decided to get 'one last wave.' Unfortunately so did the guy next to me and he ploughed into me, knocking me off my board and somehow entangling his ankle leash around my neck under the water. As I fought to release the cord, the guy was tugging his board above me and strangling me. The surfboard fin smashed into the back of my ear and as I finally emerged from the water, I was covered in blood, my diamond earring ripped from my earlobe and the back of my ear sporting a gaping slice. The Baywatch guys swung into action, cleaning me up as other bathers looked on in horror and sending me off to Dr Fabian, a cool hippie with a surfboard in the corner of his office who stiitches up all the unfortunates. The surf shop owner said 'Fabian is good with a needle and thread.' He took a photo with his iPhone to show me the gaping flesh before and the neat six stitches afterwards saying, 'It's a shame it's behind the ear as it looks so pretty now.'   My mum has urged me to take up something safer, like knitting. In London, I have decided to leave the derring do to the Olympians and stick to pedicures and some light shopping instead. Meanwhile the 12 hour journey back to the nippy North unfolded with us both doing what we do best....Handyman driving and me reading the satnav, the papers on the iPad and Cote Ouest.  

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Cap Fantastique

There's a little stretch of western France that is akin to heaven. It's called Cap Ferret/Bassin d'Arcachon and it's as close to perfection as you could hope to get. The town of Arcachon is a buzzy beachside haven with seafood restaurants, cool boutiques and a beautiful daily market selling yesterdays catch, fresh fruit and vegetables as well as cashmere, silk dresses and pastries. La Maison du Bassin on Cap Ferret is the kind of hotel that one wishes to open in those daydreams one has of running a seaside b&b. The bar and terrace were full of interesting types, from Parisian families en vacances to surf dudes to arty creatives. And us. It has a whiff of The Hamptons about it. The region boasts stunning white beaches, surfing, cycling, seafood, the best wine in France, sand dunes,'s full of tanned beautiful families with kids straight out of Boden, dads who look like a cross betwenn Sean Penn and Matthew McConaughey and chic bikini clad mums wearing straw hats and boasting not a millimetre of fat. The shoes are Converse, Havaianas and Bensimon. I'd like to say I hate it but I'm smitten. Cap Ferret has wide open white sandy beaches with barely a soul on them at the end of July, cool beach bars playing salsa and latin sounds with driftwood sofas and shade sails and enough surf to keep the dudes happy. Stylish boutiques like Jane de Boy and Popies nestle beside wooden oyster shacks in the fisherman's quarter serving delicious crustaceans with a glass of chilled white. Everyone cycles with their groceries, baguettes, poodles and French bulldogs in their baskets. Chateau Galhaud locked up their wine when they heard Handyman was in Saint Emilion on Sunday. It's a beautiful village full of history, with a monastery dating back to the 8th century. We were spolit for choice with wine and went to two different caves and chateaux for tastings before heading for lunch on a shady terrace. As we were paying the bill, I noticed a poster advertising Herbie Hancock performing in Bordeaux. 'I wish we'd been here for that, I bet it was brilliant,' I said to Handyman. The very cool guy sitting at the bar wearing a hat nodded and smiled to himself. It was Herbie, chilling on a Sunday lunchtime in sleepy Saint Emilion! You've got to love a road trip, especially if you work from home and time isn't a problem. As long as you book places with wifi, you can work when necessary and explore the rest of the time. After interviewing Lenny Henry, I finally managed to persuade Handyman to hire a bike so I don't have to keep training alone following my coast rides in Spain and exploring the Bassin here. We hit the road first thing and cycled along stunning routes next to the ocean, stopping for a coffee and a croissant just as the rest of Bordeaux was waking up. Short of a surf, which had to stop after day two when a fellow surfer careered into me and caused a gash in my ear that needed six stitches, or a gallop across the beach, it is the perfect way to kick start the day. After cycling around the Cap, Sebastian Degrave's oyster shack, pictured above, beckoned and six huge oysters and a glass of white wine seemed in order. Although to call it a shack is slightly misleading given that it sits on a beach opposite the oyster beds and looks like a style shot out of Cote Sud. Cannot say more...except please don't come here, it's awful.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Barcelona and Arcachon

Barcelona is a great city, even if you don't pack light, like I didn't, and end up having to lug luggage up four flights of stairs to our cool apartment opposite the cathedral.  The tapas was fantastic at a number of restaurants including Mariscco in Placa Reail and Origens in el Born, where everything was organic. The pimientos del padron and baby squid Galician style were particular favourites.  Luckily for the Kershoe brigade, the shops stayed shut on Sunday so there was no opportunity to swell the total of eight pairs of shoes we had bought collectively in Alicante. Instead, it was the Miro Fundacio followed by a fishy tapas lunch and cava at Mariscco. Drinks at the rooftop bar of the Pulitzer rounded off a perfect weekend. Seven hours drive later, on Monday we landed in Arcachon near Bordeaux for the next leg of the summer road trip. It's a favourite haunt of Parisians, Johnny Depp, Vanessa Paradis and AA Gill, and it's not hard to see why. The seafront is bordered by golden sand, oyster bars and restaurants looking across the bassin towards Cap Ferret. There are dozens of stylish boutiques and a market selling organic and locally grown produce, boasting a fish stall which if the fish counters of Leclerc, Auchan and Carrefour were lined up they would still not beat it in length or quality.  The area is full of sand dunes, popular with bottlenose dolphins, porpoises and surfers, with the Atlantic waves among the best in Europe. With that in mind, I booked a surf lesson for Issy and Poppy before heading off to try out the beach they will be learning on tomorrow evening. I hired my board and was persuaded to take it for four hours rather than two with the words of the surf dude ringing in my ears. 'Les vagues sont tres belles aujhourd'hui.' Now, defining good is a tricky one. And I didn't realise that most of the four hour hire time would be spent trekking in searing heat with a board twice the size of me under my arm.  By the time I had parked the car at La Salie Sud and walked a kilometre of boardwalk in sand dunes carrying a 7ft 6in fun board in 80 degrees and a wetsuit, I was having anything but fun and I hadn't even stepped into the surf yet. There were no other surfers in sight, not an encouraging sign, but I was damned if I was going back after all that effort.  I gamely stepped in and was immediately rolled by waves crashing sideways into each other. Memories of Hossegor came flooding back but as everyone who knows me knows, it takes a lot to beat me. When I emerged an hour later, I'd managed to catch a fair few good waves, get rolled by a few more and incur a sand rash on my knee and a whack across the jaw when a particularly evil wave caught the board and smashed it into my face. Does this sound like fun? I'm not doing it justice.  Later, as I regaled Sarah with soggy surf tales as water still poured from my nose and my knee took on a shiny hue of scarlet, I decided that a priority in the next few days is to find a beach with surf boards for hire, surfers aplenty, less of that walking mullarkey, kind waves and a bit more in the way of fun. I will leave you with the image of me, ready for a big one, and clearly marking myself out as something of a lone maverick to the couple walking along the shallows, only for me to end up seconds later, virtually at their feet, tied up with my ankle leash like a character from Fifty Shades of Grey, covered in sand and seaweed. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Living la vida loca

We all like to start our days in different ways. This morning I drank a hot lemon and cayenne followed by a bowl of fruit, yoghurt and honey and then headed to the Bhavana spa for a steam, swim and a massage. Meanwhile Handyman, Issy and Gazker headed off in another direction for a full English breakfast.  La vida loca is tripping along nicely in sunny Spain, following a hot 12 hour journey from Bar sur Loup to Gran Alacant. We left at midnight after partying the evening away at Al and Susie's, which was a brilliant idea from my point of view (as designated Champagne drinker) and a not so great idea from Handyman's (his decision to leave at midnight rather than Sunday morning therefore he was the driver.) Al's valiant attempt to keep us off the road until morning by offering Iain a champagne bucket filled with Guinness and straws failed, and we rocked up at Gary's house at midday just in time for lunch. It's roasting but all the more enjoyable for the fact that it is tipping down in the UK. My sincere apologies to all non Med readers, who may be spitting tacks by now and hurling their PCs at rain spattered windows as they read this. My first Spanish bike ride yesterday went well up to a point. The point at which I fell off. Cycling 30k in 30 degrees at 9am down the coastal road to Santa Pola was lovely, with the warm sea breeze keeping me from overheating. Confidence is not always a good thing though and when I decided to do a u-turn rather than stop, I came unstuck, or rather I didn't come unstuck in time, the dirt path loomed and unable to click my cleats out of the pedals, I collapsed in a heap of dirt with the bike on top of me. Only my pride was dented but I am sporting a rather lovely purple bruise on my left thigh.  Whizzing along past little coves and beach bars is a wonderful way to explore the local community. Stopping off at beach bars makes the journey even better. We have our own version of the Bitch, otherwise known as Opio hill, but in the spirit of being en vacances who needs a gradient when you can choose a gently sloping beachside plateau instead?  In contrast to Northern Europe, the meteo office has issued an amber weather warning here forecasting temperatures of up to 40 degrees. It makes going to the beach before 4pm an impossibility, so there is nothing for it but to take life slowly, relax and enjoy the holiday vibe. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A very personal journey

There are moments in life when your faith in human nature is restored to the point where you want to cry with joy. Like the time many years ago when I lent the silk jacket I was wearing to a girl I'd never met before on a mad night out in New York (it's a long story, she worked at a merchant bank and couldn't go into work the next day without changing her outfit slightly, given that she hadn't been home all night.) I did it against my better judgment, expecting never to see it or her again and berated myself for being a soft touch. Imagine my surprise when a month later, a package arrived from Brooklyn, containing my jacket, a thank you letter and a beautiful dress for two-year-old Olivia. It happened again this week. With just three months until the Piste 2 Plage Challenge, I created my charity fundraising page for Help For Heroes. As well as asking for sponsorship, it was also a public declaration of what I have been through over the last 10 months. On the day I race, it will be the first anniversary of my diagnosis of breast cancer. Three operations, four and a half months of chemotherapy and six and a half weeks of radiotherapy later, I'm hanging in there, my hair is growing back after six months of looking like an extra from Alien, and best of all, I feel normal, no scratch that, I feel pretty great. I loaded it on Facebook, Twitter and email and by last night, just over 24 hours later, I'd raised in excess of £1,000 in donations from generous friends, relatives and in some cases work colleagues I have never even met. My day improved when I found out how to view the donations and read the encouraging messages of support. I am so touched I cannot even put it into words. With this in mind, I went out yesterday to buy my cycling gear. Livvy cracked up when I tried on my helmet the wrong way around. It should have been a giveaway that a. I couldn't actually see and b. the flashing torch was on the front instead of the back, making me look like a confused miner. Having been warned about raw buttock syndrome on those skinny roadbike saddles, I bought the most padded shorts I could find, which give the impression that I couldn't quite make the loo in time. Never mind. I'm a runner not a cyclist, but I will be going for it on September 15th alongside 150 other mad souls from the pretty mountain town of Auron to Juan les Pins as fast as my chunky little neon shorts will allow me. Today's picture is of me with my gorgeous soon to be teenager last year in Puglia. She is 13 on Sunday and when asked what she would like to do for her birthday, she eschewed parties and outings with schoolfriends to choose a day at the beach, just the four of us.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Two funerals and a 50th

Sitting on Easyjet has never felt so good thanks to the wonderful invention that is the iPad. I have spent this week at the Monte-Carlo TV Festival, interviewing Eva Longoria...beautiful, funny and smart, Chad Michael Murray...beautiful...Ted Danson, my teenage crush in Cheers, who is still looking good at 64, and Downton Abbey actor Allen Leech, who did a great job of keeping schtum about the new series which starts in September. Hot on the heels of the Cannes Film Festival, it means there are currently not enough hours in the day in which to write everything up. But I have just spent an enjoyable hour on thd plane writing an interview with Michelle Collins for a UK women's magazine, without feeling like a chicken with its head cut off. No email or phone to divert me either, just a muffin and a mint tea. This is my second London flight this week and I am heading to my second funeral as dear lovely Nanny Kit died two weeks ago. She was 95, in pain and just didn't want to go on any longer. She passed away a few days after a great family friend Jack, who was almost 90. His funeral last Friday was a fitting tribute to a man who was loved by everyone who met him. Even the tearing wind, horizontal rain, uprooted trees and freezing temperatures at the graveside couldn't dampen people's spirits, it was like Jack was hovering over us to see how much we could stand.  Tomorrow will be a sad day, as Kitty was larger than life, feisty, funny and didn't suffer fools. But it will also be a celebration of her long life and a time to reminisce and share happy memories. The fact that her four great-grandchildren grew up knowing her is a marvellous bonus, as is having a grandparent when you are 45. We took my mum out for supper when we arrived and she passed nan's platinum engagement ring to me with a note, written by nan quite a few years ago from the look of the hand writing, saying 'This is for Karen'. It's on my finger now. The weekend takes a more upbeat turn on Saturday when we head off to Nick's 50th. His band is playing, the Thai caterers are on standby, and the champagne will surely flow even though the great UK summer rainclouds seem set to do their utmost to rain on his parade. My silk dress and heels may need to be swapped for jeans and boots but we are armed for every eventuality and weather pattern. Luckily the sun shone last weekend when Fiona hosted a fundraising quiz for the Piste to Plage Challenge in aid of Help for Heroes. Over 60 people attended, and thanks to generous donations, fantastic raffle prizes and the efforts of Chris France to shift more copies of his book Summer in the Cote d'Azur and donate the proceeds, a magnificent €2,000 was raised. Just shows what can be done in the back garden on a sunny Saturday afternoon. The challenge takes place in September so training has started in earnest and the funds have provided a welcome boost for everyone's charity page efforts.  This month we celebrated four years of living in France and this much I know. No matter how much I miss my family and friends - never more so than at times like this - I'd find it very hard to return to the UK, where one blazing week in March followed by another in May constitutes summer. We marked our anniversaire Francais in fitting style, watching England play France at the home of Eric, who was proudly wearing his French football shirt alongside his father-in-law Jean, also in a French shirt, and Corinne, who mercifully was not. At least the draw means we are all still talking. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Cannes glitter and glitz

So I survived the Cannes Film Festival. I ran between interviews, screenings and parties for 12 days and wasn't sure just how I would pull it off given that no bedtime came before 3.30am and yet not only am I still standing but I feel great. Had a lovely chat with Jay Z at Kanye West's premiere party at Palm Beach. First off, I couldn't believe my eyes when I spotted him shimmying on the spot to the disco classic All Night Long right next to me. 'It's Jay Z isn't it?' I said and he held out his hand and said 'Yes maam,' shaking mine. We're both sporting short crops at the moment and he said:'I love your hair. I thanked him and said it was easy to just wash and go and he added: 'Hey tell me about it,' gesturing to his close cropped hair. It was a moment. Kim Kardashian and Kanye, pictured in the background above, looked cosy. Despite a crippling schedule, I saw and loved Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, Brad Pitt's satirical gangster yarn Killing Them Softly, On The Road, based on Jack Kerouac's iconic novel and Michael Haneke's Amour about the love between an old Parisian couple as she falls ill, rendering him as her carer. Not much happens, and for most of the film it is a two-hander in their apartment but I defy anyone to watch it and not be moved. It well deserved the Palme d'Or for director Michael Haneke. Other highlights? Well Brad looked gorgeous as always on the red carpet and I drank two months rations of Laurent-Perrier at the parties...Calvin Klein's was the ritziest, at a sumptuous villa above Cannes with A listers galore including Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Chris Rock and Alec Baldwin. I saw Ronnie Wood perform at VIP Room with Cyndi Lauper, Aloe Blacc at the Eden Roc and reluctantly passed on Simple Minds private Replay gig. I also mooched about on Eva Longoria's yacht. The Filmmakers Dinner at Eden Roc was also pretty special but by day 9 I was starting to flag and blew out a late invite for dinner at the Carlton with Nicole Kidman, John Cusack, Matthew McConaughey and Zac Efron for a quiet supper with Iain and the girls in sleepy Le Rouret instead. It was a no brainer. The glamour and glitz is great but normal life is even better.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cars and movies

After relative hibernation, May is always a good month to shake off the cobwebs and start getting out and about. This month's social diary started with the Historic Grand Prix last Sunday. A ridiculously early start on the train to Monaco with the Parkers, who arrived specially for the event, and the girls, who are both car mad, was rewarded when we reached the port at Monte Carlo to be met by a launch to take us to M.Y Shaha, a beautiful motor yacht moored right by the track just after the chicane out of the Larvotto Tunnel. We met Sally and David on board for coffee and breakfast and spent the next few hours getting an ear bashing of the loveliest kind from all the amazing classic race cars zooming around the track. We had a perfect view of proceedings as the huge screen opposite showed the rest of the track and prize giving ceremonies. The 2pm race saw two of our yachties, David and Paul, taking part so this was the one we got really involved in. Paul came third and David a very respectable 10th out of a 26 strong field, so the champagne flowed....once again. There was another unscheduled race at the end of the day, through a sudden downpour from the boat to get the train back home and it was won by a mini Kershaw followed by a senior Parker, with the rest of the field sadly trailing, in giggling, uninhibited form, which has been recorded for emotional blackmail reasons on a mobile phone by aforementioned mini Kershaw. There was very little recovery time built in before Clare and I headed off, a mere nine hours later, to a wine tasting in Mougins. You might think this was rather foolhardy following a long champagne fuelled day at the races, and you would be entirely right. Better diary scheduling is required in future. Nonetheless, we somehow managed to get ourselves out of bed and the house to enjoy a fantastic morning trying champagne, rose and white wine at Linda's lovely home. It's something of an understatement to say we were partied out by lunchtime but at least the Parkers were able to depart that evening for a rest back in the UK. I had the start of Cannes Film Festival looming and it kicked off yesterday with the quirky and brilliant Wes Anderson film Moonrise Kingdom. Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, who played a wicked and inspired Social Services, Ed Norton, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman were on the red carpet and clearly en forme, as Bruce and Bill filmed the paps shooting them and Bruce signed autographs for fans in the press corps. I also went to the pop up Nikki Beach, which will no doubt be the scene for celebrity schmoozing very soon. Following interviews with the delightful Dr Who actress Karen Gillan and Stephen Tompkinson talking about his first lead movie role in Harrigan, tonight, the Calvin Klein party beckons....

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Hashtags and gladrags

I am ashamed to say I have only just realised how the whole hashtag thing works. For the fellow uninitiated, it's a Twitter thing, where you put the hash symbol against words that have been pushed together #abitlikethis to talk up a topic. This is known as trending, it has nothing to do with being trendy, although I like to think I'm now capable of both. My ignorance meant avoiding Twitter as apart from not being acquainted with hashtag, I have also forgotten my password and username, leading to fruitless half hours spent inputting every username and password I've ever had on any account from Amazon to Topshop in the hope one might work. A few weeks ago, it finally did, but by then I'd inputted so many combinations that I forgot which one was successful! If I could just have a password with no uppercases or figures or minimum lengths all would be well. Luckily I am permanently logged into Twitter on my Blackberry but a change of handset is looming which means being locked out altogether. This afternoon Livvy informed me that I had to put new security questions on my Apple account to prevent fraud. I have to say fraud on any of my accounts is highly unlikely given that I can't remember the answers to my own security questions so what chance does anyone else have? If you should try to hack into my Apple account, apart from the obvious you'd also need to know all about my first car and where my mum and dad first met. The first car I really and truly owned was a sporty BMW Z3, in which I had many fun days out and drives to interviews and location visits with the roof down. When baby number two came along I considered converting the footwell to a babyseat so I could ferry them both around but common sense prevailed and I bought a Mercedes CLK instead. Oh happy days. And that's enough about that as I've now given that one away completely. If I had been a bit cuter on Twitter I could have trended like crazy last week about crowd surfing at Coachella...where my best acts were the Black Keys, Kasabian and Arctic Monkeys...and proper surfing at Venice Beach with Sarah, the pair of us high fiving every wave we caught. A little bit of shopping and brunching on Abbott Kinney and Melrose might have been done too. As was a lovely supper at Simons LA and the Ivy at the Shore in Santa Monica. And above is Niagara Falls, from the week before. So now I'm back in sunny Bar sur Loup, which isn't quite the 110 degrees we had at the festival in Palm Springs. If I was worried about life getting a bit dull, I really should have known better. The historic Classic Grand Prix in Monte Carlo looms, where we will be watching our great veteran racing friend David hopefully beating the opposition into a cocked hat from a yacht in the harbour. And then it's Cannes Film Festival where I shall be #atallthebestparties.

Friday, April 20, 2012

LA and Palm Springs

So we did Niagara, which was amazing apart from the mini theme park and fast food hell which has sprung up around the falls. Why an area of outstanding natural beauty has to have a mini Disneyland beside it is beyond me.  We arrived at Toronto airport four hours early but Andy, the lovely BA check in man, made it better by not only bumping us onto the earlier flight but also bumping us up to business class, and the best seats in that cabin. Thank you BA and Andy, too kind!  And so a few days in cold and rainy London before LA beckoned on Wednesday. An 11 hour Virgin flight with no sleep meant a very careful drive from LAX to the Sofitel in West Hollywood.  Sarah brought her surf board and there were only minor problems strapping it to the roof of the jeep with jet lag in 25 degrees of heat using a whizzy high tech roof rack purchased especially for said surfboard. There was also only minor consternation from Virginia and Norma in the back at the prospect of hanging onto the roof rack straps while the board skidded across the roof on every bend.  The valets at the hotel did a rather better job of securing it than we did, to the point that it will now be impossible to remove when we finally get to Venice Beach next Monday. It does however come in handy when iding the car in a multi storey amidst a sea of other identical SUVs. And it stands out even more now we are in the desert in Palm Springs, where surfboards are about as common as hens teeth.  So the girls hit West Hollywood yesterday in some style, it was a bit like an upmarket supermarket sweep as we swooped on my hotlist of favourite stores...yes it's you Madison, Wasteland, Vanessa Bruno, Kitson et al....despite jet lag and a 5am wake up.  The journey to Palm Springs was enlivened by Sarah playing with the buttons as we drove on the freeway, managing to activate the hazard lights and turn off the air con in one fell swoop.  It's day one of Coachella, it's 11am and already touching 100 degrees. Above should be the view from my sunbed as we decide which bands to grace with our company later, but I cannot work out how to download it on my ipad so check it out on Facebook instead. Top of the list today is Arctic Monkeys, Black Keys, Madness, Pulp and Swedish House Mafia. BRING IT ON. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Fashion Rocks

The grand tour, which has kept me going for the last few months, started on Saturday morning when I Ieft Nice to spend the day at Sarah's in Sussex. We went to Marco Pierre White's newly refurbished restaurant The Rainbow in Cooksbridge. The decor was mellow gentleman's club, it was like stepping into St James's, and the food, just like Sheekey's and The Ivy, was top notch fish, seafood and hearty meat courses. Angelo and Ed make a great front of house team and the service was fantastic. 

A seven hour BA flight to Toronto went smoothly, I watched George Clooney in The Descendants, a poignant tale of a woman whose fractured family come to terms with themselves and their future as she lies in a coma in hospital. Do not watch if even slightly depressed. 

We arrived at the Windsor Arms, which is Madonna and George's favourite hotel during the Toronto Film Festival, and it's easy to see why. Discreet friendly service in a historic townhouse in the heart of Yorkville, it boasts a rooftop gym and a butler's pantry straight from the room to the kitchen. You call room service, and they leave your order in it and switch on a light to let you know it's there. Dangerous. It's also where Gloria Swanson, Richard Burton and Katherine Hepburn hung out in the golden age of Hollywood. So I fit right in.

I did 50 lengths in the saltwater pool followed by my first cycle in six months in the rooftop gym. What a way to start the day, and my training for the Piste to Plage Challenge. I've got five months and no excuses to put it off any longer so I did 10 miles and although thats a sixth of the p2p daily target, it's a step, or pedal, in the right direction. 

Feeling refreshed I met the others and we headed off to explore Toronto in gale force winds ahead of meeting Elle Macpherson and the finalists in B&INTM.

Chatting to Elle, with her lush blonde locks, golden tan and never ending limbs is a sobering experience as she makes mere mortals like me feel like a fully loaded dumper truck. It was a great interview and while the content has to remain a secret for the time being, all I can tell you is The Body might be approaching 50 but she is still The Body. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

The joy of lunch

There is nothing quite like going out for lunch on a weekday. It ranks top of the list of decadent things to do with your time, except for perhaps sneaking off to a beach club midweek, which is another thing I never do, and is far more of a treat than dinner, because you really should be doing 20 other more important things. No matter how good your intentions, it's impossible to do anything vaguely pressing for at least an hour after, as you digest the fantastic food, delicious wine and scintillating conversation.

I just had a working lunch at the Hostellerie du Chateau I say 'working' lunch with the full knowledge that many of my dear but faintly cynical readers might suggest that a Friday lunch at the newly Michelin starred restaurant in Bar sur Loup with Shan and Fiona may not constitute working in the truest sense of the word, but trust me when I say it was, I was, we were.

Whether you are working or not, it is a memorable experience. The views, even on a mediocre March day like today, are spectacular and the food is remarkable with attention to the tiniest detail. The amuse bouche of spinach and sheeps cheese cannelloni in a delicate jus was sublime. The roasted leeks in creamy foam with herbs and fresh tomato was a party in the mouth and the catch of the day with carrots in ginger was a worthy follow up. A deconstructed tarte au citron meringue, with broken biscuit base, citron sorbet coated in something I can only describe as citron-y custard and stabbed with fine sticks of fresh meringue and chocolate may have looked like it had an accident en route from kitchen to table ( I think that was the idea) but tasted wonderful. Giles Coren I am not, hence no restaurant column, so this blog will have to do instead.

On the walk home, having secured a lunch for two kindly donated by the Sangoy family who run the restaurant for the upcoming Journee de Nature Partage on May 27th, I had to take a photo of this house just a few minutes walk from mine. The sign is protected heritage, saving the owner a fortune in paint and raising a smile among residents like me at the irony of having a retro Martini sign to admire but no bar in which to buy one, despite the name of our village being le BAR sur Loup. But then where would we be without the odd idiosyncrasy?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The earth moved on Sunday night. You might think this would be cause for celebration...or Handyman at least punching the air with macho glee. For once, it was nothing to do with him and everything to do with the epicentre of an earth tremor in Barcelonnette, 100 km north of here, which measured 4.9 on the Richter scale.

We were asleep in bed when I awoke to the sound of a low rumble, which is not an unusual sound in our bedroom after he has partaken of a Kashmir curry. But the doors started to rattle and I assumed the cats were playing a particularly vicious game of cat and mouse, with the mouse on the losing team. Handyman woke with a start and shouted out 'what the @&£! is that?' as doors shook, windows rattled and Livvy rushed into the room in terror to say that the whole house was moving.

Thirty seconds later it was all over and my chief concern, having spent five months renovating the pool was that the entire pool terrace might have collapsed and fallen down the valley. Because that is the kind of thing that happens chez Kershaw. Last time it rained heavily, we lost a wall in the garden but fortunately this time there was no damage.

If there is ever a good reason to buy a house on a steep hillside that has been underpinned, this is it. We stood firm in the face of adversity. It's the second tremor in a month, so we have to hope that there isn't a biggie waiting in the wings.

With the snow pretty much gone and temperatures reaching 22 degrees in the last week, spring has truly sprung, the skis have been put away for another year and the pool terrace is days away from completion (I keep saying this but it really is true) with the grand refilling planned for Saturday. The tiling is finished, the plants are planted, the loungers have been dusted off as you can see above, and the water levels should be perfect just as the first rain for weeks moves in on Sunday, so any idea of laying beside it admiring five months of blood, sweat, stress and tears will have to wait a little longer. Am excited beyond belief, which illustrates just how dull my life is at the moment.

The highlight of my week, apart from an illuminating chat by Chris France at Premier Mardi, was a chat last night with the singer Anastacia, who seems like a very down to earth girl, and who has been through hell with her health but come out fighting and still smiling. Oh and the re-opening of Michelangelo tomorrow after their season closure, which is music to Handyman's ears as it puts the bar back into Bar sur Loup and means Friday night off supper duty.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The death of journalism

Last weekend, a great friend of mine was arrested. Twelve police officers carried out a dawn raid at his house, waking him and his family at 7am and searching their house, removing PCs, his mobile phone, passport and documentation. An officer accompanied him to the shower in case he tried to dispose of 'evidence.' Then he was driven to a police station where he spent a whole day being questioned before being released without charge on police bail. His arrest was the lead item on all the weekend news bulletins.

By now you are probably thinking, well, if he is a suspected drug dealer or terrorist, fair enough. My friend is neither. He is a law abiding journalist of some 30 years standing, over two decades of which has been spent writing world exclusive scoops and putting his life at risk reporting from the front line in Afghanistan, Iraq and other war zones around the world. He is considered by his colleagues and fellow reporters at rival newspapers to be one of the very best in the business. His work has helped to sell millions of newspapers, making many millions in profit for a certain Mr Murdoch.

Meanwhile the cosy relationships between David Cameron and certain high level Murdoch employees have been elbowed out of the spotlight while the witch hunt at grass roots level continues. It is already part of the biggest police criminal investigation in British history.

'Journalists pay for stories' alert has now been replaced by 'journalists arrested for writing stories' so we had all better hope that there are no more scandals like thalidomide, cash for questions and MPs using taxpayers money to pay for private moats lurking in the establishment shadows because we have now created a toothless gutless press which is too fearful of prosecution to publish.

Two days later, in another part of the UK, Islamic extremist Abu Qatada, described as the spiritual head of the mujahideen in Britain, is released from prison despite warnings that he poses a dangerous and very real threat to national security.

If this was the plot of a Hollywood movie, it would be deemed too far fetched to be true. You really couldn't make it up. The next time I'm asked to mentor a young idealistic student who dreams of writing for the national press, my advice will be to steer well clear of a profession that hangs its own out to dry when the going gets rough and try banking instead.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Snow at last

There has been no snow all season, which seemed to signal a relaxing non-skiing ski weekend of spas and bars for Handyman at beautiful Foux d’Allos, pictured, in the Var. So you can imagine his distress at reading the snow forecast last Thursday to discover it was due to blizzard from Friday lunchtime onwards. In the words of that old disco classic I Haven't Stopped Laughing Yet (or was it dancing?)

We left Bar sur Loup kitted out with snow socks(a treat for the Jeep,) leaving a huge vat of Thai chicken curry so the girls didn't starve as they opted to stay at home in the rain rather than join the oldies on the slopes. I filled the fridge with appealing foods and not so appealing oven chips and left strict instructions on walking the dogs, feeding the cats and dogs and refilling their water bowl. The last time we left the girls home alone, the dog bowls were bone dry, pardon the pun, when we arrived back and the poor mutts drank for five minutes without stopping. I'm more worried about the survival of the pets than the girls, who will languish in PJs, unwashed, snacking on pizza and chocolate and watching Celebrity Big Brother until we get home.

We arrived to find the sparsest snow in a decade but by Saturday morning, the white stuff was gently falling and it didn’t stop all weekend. Handyman was quietly gutted at the prospect of actually skiing. Some of the printable comments I heard muttered behind me on the slopes were: ‘I feel like I’ve just hiked up the Eiger with a Mini on my back,’ ‘Welcome to hell’, ‘My thighs feel like they have been smashed with giant mallets,’ and on spotting the bodies of powder virgins strewn across the piste below us, ‘It’s like a scene from Casualty.’

He only needs the tiniest incentive to quit skiing for a glass of red in front of a roaring fire at a bar. In fact as we ate pizza and drank wine (him) and champagne (me) at lunchtime, he confessed that if he was with his friends he wouldn't even venture out of the restaurant until closing time. But he was with me. And I came here to ski. At least he remembered his ski jacket this time.

We arrived back at the hotel pleasantly pooped to hear that there had been an earthquake in Liguria which measured 5.3 on the Richter scale and the tremors were felt as far afield as the Var, the Alpes Maritimes….and Fenelon School! Livvy rang to say that her building was shaking so much that a projector fell to the floor and smashed, causing major panic among the students. They evacuated the lycee but poor Issy, who is at the college building down the road, was forced to continue playing ping pong in the gym as everything shook around her! French teachers don’t get fazed by much. I wanted to laugh but given that I was 100 km away from my babies while they endured a minor earthquake, that would make me a very bad momma indeed.

We spent Saturday on un-groomed reds and perfect off-piste powder with virtually no visibility due to continuous snow and low cloud. It was like skiing with a black bag over your head but it was amazing nonetheless and although I was shattered by late afternoon, the hammam and steam room restored me in time for a scrummy supper at the Dahut in town.

The journey home was another story. Three and a half hours in blizzards along snow packed passes and narrow cols with sheer drops to be exact. I’ve experienced some dramatic journeys over the years – hanging off the edge of a sheer drop in Meribel with my precious 15 month old Livvy strapped into her car seat as we teetered precariously and navigating from the Grand Canyon to the Rockies in Colorado in an open top Porsche Carrera on the Bull Run are right up there – but this was something else.

The sat nav inexplicably bypassed snow-free Castellane to take us on am icy climb through medieval villages at the top of the world which would have been gloriously picturesque in the summer but in failing light and snow storms was anything but fun. As we slowed down to put the car back into four wheel drive mode near Greolieres, we started slipping backwards towards a snowy ditch. The signal on our phones went kaput and despite gentle acceleration, the car kept slipping backwards off the road. A very stressed Handyman had to get out and wrestle with the snow socks before we finally managed to get back on the road and creep along the scariest pass of all, some 1000 metres high in driving snow, with a sheer drop on skating rink style roads with not a snow plough in sight.

Fifteen minutes from home, the snow gave way to slush. I have never been so pleased to see rain in my life.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Blue Monday

Well it's mid January, the most depressing month of the year, and today is officially the most depressing day of the year, which for some reason was designated the third Monday in January by someone who knows about these things.

As days go, I have had more depressing ones, particularly as I started today in bright sunshine with an almond croissant and a large full fat latte.

The past ten days, on the other hand, have been deeply depressing mainly due to the lack of honesty from people who say they are going to do a job for you. Back in October, we decided to have our pool renovated over the winter period ready for spring this year. Many back issues of Cote Sud later, I settled on the perfect look....refurbished dry stone walls, green tiles and lining and chalky white travertine terrace, as seen rather stylishly above.

The work was supposed to take a month...and three months later, we still have an empty pool surrounded by cement mixers, muddy trenches and building materials. The scenario seems to go like this. You engage a builder, he looks at the work, gives you a price and a start date. You part with some cash upfront to buy the materials, the start date comes and goes, no-one shows up, the mobile voicemail says, you can leave a message but I can't retrieve them so I can't call you back, and you are left high and dry until said tradesman decides he might put in an appearance after all.

I'm not sure what is so difficult about just turning up with a diary, checking the date you are free and writing it down and then turning up as arranged. My career has run really effectively on this premise for the last 25 years.

The work started, stopped, started, stopped and after a frustrating ten day hiatus a propos of absolutely nothing, finally restarted again on Saturday. Our pool liner man, the next domino in line, had to have a major operation last week. Coming hot on the heels of the builder who rarely showed up, he arrived on Saturday, ten days later than originally planned, in a neck brace and armed with his hospital scans. If this is a scam to complete another job on the side, it's pretty damn convincing.

As you can see from the photo, it's a long way off the contemporary oasis we envisaged last year. At this rate, we'll be lucky to get it finished by next October, and it's not even the fault of the weather. But when it is finished, the idea of sitting down there in warm sunshine on a lounger and looking across the valley with a glass of rose in hand is deeply comforting.

There is always a positive point of view when you flip it, and the upside is whenever Handyman moots the idea of buying a plot of land and building a house from scratch,which he does at least once a week, I simply laugh hysterically and aim a slap at his idealistic butt once I've picked myself up off the floor. I would rather poke rusty pins in my eyes than embark on a building project here unless we did all the work ourselves. Which is unlikely despite us having every back issue of Grand Designs ever published. It also means we won't be doing our usual, and finishing a house and then selling up before the paint is dry to move onto the next shack, I mean project. So maybe the lax, laidback, diary-free builders have done me a favour after all.

As first months of the year go, this one is pretty damn fine. The weather has been phenomenal, with blue skies and warm sunshine pretty much every day for the past six weeks. It's more like April, in fact it's drier and less windy than many Aprils I can remember here. All we need is some snow for Greolieres and January will be just perfect.