Friday, December 6, 2013

Me and Mandela

It was 15 years ago on my first trip to South Africa that I met Nelson Mandela. I can't actually believe I am writing those words. Of all the amazing famous, non-famous, infamous and extraordinary people I have met and interviewed over the last two decades, meeting Nelson Mandela was the highlight.

I had just got back from a work trip to New York when, that same afternoon, the phone rang and it was my friend Sharon Ring, who then edited OK magazine. Would I like to go to Cape Town on a press trip to mark the opening of the Table Bay hotel at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront? Hmmm, let me think for a minute...February in freezing London town or an all expenses paid trip visiting the wine region of Stellenbosch, the Cape of Good Hope, Table Mountain, rugby with the Springboks, Boulders Beach where the penguins live and many other iconic sights while staying in a brand new five star hotel? Reader, it was a tough one.

The evening we arrived, we went out on a catamaran to watch the sunset and we could see Robben Island quite clearly in the distance. I had just read Long Walk to Freedom, one of the most inspiring books ever, and seeing that place with my own eyes was quite surreal having just read all about Mandela's long incarceration there.

We visited the prison and were shown around by one of Mandela's fellow former inmates. Words can't do it justice, it was a lesson in how indomitable the human spirit can be.

So to find myself, a couple of days later, at a lunch at the hotel with the then President Mandela as the guest of honour was a buzz that has yet to be equalled. A towering giant of a man, he was taller than I expected but it was his aura that made him larger than life, he just filled the room. He gave a heartfelt speech about how pleased he was to welcome visitors to his homeland and how he hoped that tourism would continue to bring people from all over the world to South Africa. It was a short, humble speech and as the deafening applause rang out afterwards, he beamed that big, big smile.

He came over to meet the international press corps to say hello. I was so nervous I could barely breathe. The other journalists, all seasoned travel writers, felt exactly the same. We all felt we were in the presence of greatness, it is impossible to put it any differently.

Since that trip in 1998, I have been back to South Africa many times, to Johannesburg and Cape Town and the townships of Soweto and Khayelitsha. There is no doubt that while South Africa still has many problems, there is a feeling of hope among the people, a passionate pride in their country and a joie de vivre that I haven't encountered anywhere else. That is the true legacy of Nelson Mandela.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Race Day

For the last few weeks, it has been hot. As in pool hot, bikini hot even. The mildest autumn for many years has seen temperatures in the mid-70s most days since mid October. We have only just put the quilt on the bed and still have no heating on in our bedroom at night. Given that it is now mid-November, I was secretly disappointed at the thought of a delayed ski station opening, as they are usually ready for business in the Alpes Maritimes from the second week in December. But with night time temperatures of minus 15 forecast for Auron later this week, two days of torrential rain and a light dusting of snow already visible at Courmettes a few kilometres from here, it seems my fears are allayed even if our lovely late, late bonus summer has ended rather abruptly.

The weather played a pivotal role in the Nice-Cannes marathon too. As we drove to the relay points to check in for our legs early on Sunday morning, Liv in Villeneuve-Loubet and me at Cap d’Antibes, the winds were already gathering pace. The atmosphere, as always at any marathon, was phenomenal with locals braving the tornado style winds to come and cheer the runners along the route. There aren’t many things more uplifting than running in or cheering on a marathon. You really see human spirit at its best. We saw the elite runners go by as we had coffee by the beach and boy, those guys were fast.

Livvy arrived after her 8.1km leg looking pretty good considering she hadn’t been able to train for two weeks and had spent a week trying out uni life on campus at Nottingham. The joy of youth. I, on the other hand, had trained my little legs off in the lead up and felt quietly confident about the hilly section of the Cap. But the wind as we rounded into Juan les Pins was so strong, it blew one of my earphones out and whipped pine needles, dirt, sand and seawater across the course and into my face. It was impossible to see for a few minutes and everyone was running blind. Crash barriers had been flattened and this usually tranquil corner of the Med looked like a scene from The Perfect Storm.

I can’t pretend I wasn’t elated to see the next relay runner waiting at Golfe Juan for the final 6 km stretch into Cannes. The weather certainly played a part in making our Mougins Girls team finish time slower than we hoped, at 4 hours 08 minutes and 30 seconds but in the circumstances, just finishing the race at all in winds that strong was an achievement. One that was celebrated with a team photo, above, followed by huge tuna burger, fries and a bottle of Sauvignon blanc at New York New York in Cannes. Big congrats to Bel and James, who achieved amazing times in challenging conditions, with a sub 4 hr 30 PB for Bel.

With training now over until I feel the compulsion to sign up for another race, it feels quite lovely to loaf guilt-free on the sofa and veg out to the annual guilty pleasure that is I’m a Celebrity. Matthew Wright and I used to work on showbiz news together almost 20 years ago so I have to declare an interest in watching him gag and gamely chew on during the first Bushtucker trial. Go Matthew.



Monday, October 28, 2013

University Challenge

It seems like only yesterday that I was walking around with a beautiful blonde baby girl on my hip who was addicted to Teletubbies and loved sitting in on interviews in the corner of my office (mainly for the Quavers that I would bribe her with to keep quiet.) When that failed, she would be back on my hip, gurgling happily as I paced around the garden jiggling her like mad while trying to finish a phoner with a celeb before she got bored and kicked off with the screaming.

This week, that beautiful blonde baby and I are off to look at universities…how did this happen? I don’t feel any older, certainly not old enough to have a daughter who is leaving in home in less than 12 months.


It beckons a new chapter chez Kershaw, one where Issy is alone in having to put up with parents who still like to dance around the house (just stopping short of twerking), sing the wrong words to everything that comes on the radio and horrors, sometimes still hold hands while watching TV or walking the dogs. She is not amused and is already planning a jail cell style calendar marking off the days until she too can flee the nest (another four years, which might as well be a life sentence in her eyes given that there is no time off for good behaviour.)

The arguments over who has borrowed a new mascara/Top Shop knickers/Ugg boots without asking will be a distant memory and I suspect we will long for the days when we couldn’t even hold a conversation downstairs for being drowned out by hormonal banshee style screaming and insults being traded in between loud slamming of bedroom doors.

A bit of me is excited about always having a good excuse to jump on a plane back to the UK to pay Livvy a visit. (This has nothing to do with any shopping/socialising opportunities whatsoever.) She has already asked me to compile a recipe book of her favourite dishes to take with her, although this could be a red herring to allay my fear of her existing on daily MacDonalds, KFC, greasy spoon fry ups and baked beans. I am going one step further and buying her a spiraliser, which turns courgettes, sweet potatoes, apples and all sorts of other fruit and veg into spaghetti or noodles. Something tells me this might not get as much use as the corkscrew but I’ve got to try.

In the meantime, there is nothing like the prospect of a chick flying the nest to make you realise that you really just need to make the most of them while they are on loan to you, screaming matches, hovel like bedrooms and make-up caked bathrooms and all.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Run rabbit run

Every year since we moved to France I have toyed with the idea of signing up to run the Nice - Cannes marathon. It is supposed to be one of the most beautiful courses in the world, snaking along the Cote d'Azur coastline and taking in the sublime Cap d'Antibes but one thing stops me. The training, oh the training. And after two London marathons - which incidentally were two of the best days of my life - I'm not sure my poor 40-something knees can cope with a third.

But this year, thanks to Mougins School and Michelle Johnson, triathlete and sports teacher extraordinaire, who asked me to join their marathon relay team, I am getting the best of both worlds; running in the marathon but only for 10.8 km before passing the baton onto Livvy for the next leg.

I was getting very excited about having my cake and eating it until Livvy casually dropped into the conversation last night the fact that Mougins historically do brilliantly and always get placed as one of the fastest finishers. Suddenly my running-free summer of drinking rose and swimming a few laps every so often instead of pounding the streets three times a week looks like it wasn't such a good idea after all.

This morning, I set off with my running playlist on my phone to do my first 5km for some time. The first kilometre was hideous, but 10 minutes in, my legs remembered that they have done this before and it started to get more enjoyable. Calvin Harris, Daft Punk and The Police helped me along and by the last sprint (past the pompiers, so it had to be a sprint rather than a stagger) I was feeling on top of the world.

The last race I ran was the 10k in Grasse last year, a few months out of treatment. The buzz was indescribable so I am looking forward to that feeling again. It's great having a race to train for. I am going to run hard over the next six weeks so I can complete my leg as fast as possible so I don't let the team down. I am going to log my times and distances on Facebook so that I can follow my progress...hopefully the thought of public FB humiliation if I don't get quicker will be incentive enough. You have been warned.

Last weekend, I wrote a very personal piece for The Times Weekend section about how I changed my diet to cope with chemotherapy. I have been overwhelmed by the amazing response from friends, family and even strangers. It was a cathartic piece to write, and having had the all clear from my recent second year control tests (yay) it feels like I have drawn a thick black line underneath that experience. Closure, maybe. A good feeling, definitely.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Getting figgy with it

We have been back for three weeks now, having arrived home with, well let's just say a little soupcon more luggage than we left with. The weather is still fabulous so the unpacking hasn't been finished and will have to wait until the first rainy weekend of autumn.

Having cooked very little during our road trip - we ate out or barbecued out of laziness, indulgence and heat exhaustion - it feels like time to get back in the kitchen.

I have two huge black fig trees in the garden but typically, the best fruit is always just that tiny bit out of my reach. I've used ladders, big sticks, even a child's fishing net to try and reach the little blighters and often risk life and limb to get them before they drop onto the terrace at the back of the house and go to waste. It seems criminal but luckily, Rosine's tree next door is also heavy with beautiful ripe green figs, all within easy picking reach, and as they are one of my favourite food stuffs on the planet and she is happy to let me pick as many as I like, I thought I would share a few of my favourite ways with figs.

If you have access to fresh figs, just pick what you need as and when as they tend to blow, leak juice and turn mouldy within a couple of days.

The salad above was lunch a few hours ago, made with figs and coeur de boeuf tomatoes (thanks again Rosine) chopped into chunks, along with artichokes and sun dried tomatoes (out of a jar), goats cheese, pine nuts and a scattering of fresh basil. I made the dressing with equal parts of olive oil and cider vinegar (which is great for speeding up the metabolism), a squeeze of lemon juice, half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and salt and pepper. You can add a little honey to sweeten the dressing if you like. Serve it with a toasted pitta - it's healthy, low in fat and brimming with taste and goodness.

This one also works if you scatter most of the ingredients above(leaving out the fresh tomatoes, basil and pine nuts) on a piece of puff pastry and cook in a hot oven for 25 minutes (all credit to Sarah O for this one.)

For a quick, easy, low fat dessert, halve green or black figs or a combination and lay them skin side down in a roasting dish. The low fat version just needs a few tablespoons of water added while the slightly more calorific version goes with a generous dousing of honey across the top (and my friend Rob adds cinnamon too, which creates a sweet sauce with a little kick.) Roast in a hot oven for 20 minutes and serve warm with the juice drizzled over and a (small) spoonful of mascarpone. Yum. Last night's pudding at Ecole des Filles was baked cheesecake with fresh fig compote, which was delicious.

In other news this week, I found myself on the other side of the fence when I was asked to do a photo shoot for a first person piece I have just written. I have spent half my working life in studios, watching shoots while waiting to do interviews but it is a very weird feeling being the subject of one. I had a mad wardrobe panic 10 minutes before the photographer arrived, trying to choose something that was not mutton dressed as lamb, nor too clingy or heat inducing in 80 degrees. I think it went well....you can be the judge when it appears in the next week or two.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Puglia


After seven weeks, 5,000 kilometres and three countries, the summer road trip is almost at an end. Hard to choose just one highlight when there were so many....surfing on Cote des Basques, tapas in San Sebastian, aperos in Siena's Piazza del Campo, tasting great reds in Montepulciano and discovering the beautiful and virtually unknown Promontorio del Gargano on the east coast of Italy.

However, Puglia deserves a special mention, not least because the villa we rented, above, was in the most idyllic spot and perfect for exploring the surrounding towns and villages on the days when you could bear to tear yourself away from the pool terrace. Locorotondo, with its whitewashed houses, flower festooned balconies, pretty narrow streets and great fruit and veg shops (everything seemed to be €1 a kilo) was a favourite, along with the baroque splendour of Martina Franca and Torre Guaceto, a nature reserve with one of the best beaches on the coastline.


The deep south is known for la cucina povera, or poor man's food, but the food here is among the best I have eaten anywhere. Order antipasti and an abundance of courgette fritters, fresh creamy burrata, sheeps cheese, proscuitto, griddled aubergines and potato balls will weigh down the table and make you weep at the thought of finishing the next course. How anyone does primi piatti, secondi and dolce after that is a mystery to me.

If you make it to Puglia, you must not miss Matera, below, in neighbouring Basilicata. Founded by the Romans in the third century BC, it has become famous for its Sassi, troglodyte cave dwellings which are reputed to be among the first human settlements in Italy. Incredibly, these cave dwellings dug into the rock were inhabited until the mid 1960s, when a public outcry at the base living conditions led to inhabitants being rehoused just outside the city walls.


Oi Mari was set in a restored cave and offered fantastic pizzas, primi piatti pastas including an amazing wild mushroom ravioli and wines by the (huge) glass as well as great service.

If you need any more convincing that Puglia is where it's at (and I hesitate to keep ramming this point home as I don't really want anyone to know how lovely it is, so please don't go there) then it has to be the fact that after catching sight of the villa we were renting online last winter, the two 18 year olds chose to come on holiday with their parents over heading to Malia/Shagalluf/Ayia Napa with their friends. There can be no higher accolade than that.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Siena

After the thrills and spills of three weeks in Biarritz, it was time to get back on the road. Having surfed almost every day of the trip, I have to admit I was quietly relieved at the thought of a day trapped in an air conditioned car en route to Italy. I like to think my surf technique has improved a little, and I got off relatively lightly on the injuries front with just a couple of friction burns from the board and half a dozen criss cross cuts on my right foot from landing too close to a submerged rock. Oh and a suspected broken toe.

Next stop Siena and a striking contrast to the laidback West Coast beach vibe. After a July spent loafing around in shorts and flip flops, Siena is a chance to flaunt some of the many shoes I lugged along (in their own case, of course) this being Italy. There is a well known rivalry between Siena and her Tuscan sister Florence and visitors tend to fall in love with one or the other but not both. I have to say I'm finding it hard to choose. While Florence has more of a Renaissance vibe and is stuffed full of art everywhere you look, in Siena, it is all about the architecture and the feel is a lot more Gothic. It's small, intimate and a feast for the eyes if you love buildings as much as Handyman and I do.

We are staying in a converted farm on a hill just outside the old city walls, and Antonio, whose family have been here for generations, gave us three recommendations for restaurants to try. As this part of the trip is all about food, we have tried them all. Osteria il Carroccio was just like being at a family house for dinner, with one of the waitresses serving as she balanced her toddler on her hip. Almost every table was taken but they fitted us in by the kitchen. I ordered the ribollita (Tuscan vegetable and bean soup) and lasagnette (a mini lasagne?) filled with spinach and ricotta. Both delicious. Handyman had pasta in tomato and salami to start (am I alone in finding it strange to have pasta as a starter?) followed by chicken and mushroom casserole. He also gave his choices the thumbs up. We shared broad beans in tomato and garlic which, when they arrived, did a very good impression of looking just like Heinz baked beans but they tasted amazing.

Last night we went to his second recommendation Taverna di Cecco, on a quiet side street just before you reach the main square, Piazza del Campo. While Gianni the owner ran in and out greeting regulars - it was encouraging that every customer apart from us and an American couple who were being shown the sights by their Siena based student son was Italian - the waiter arrived with menus and a glass of perfectly chilled prosecco on the house. This is what I would do if I ran a restaurant. It is an instant pleaser and puts you in a great mood. I had crostini porcini - so bang went the no bread rule - followed by a lovely light risotto alla verdure made with zucchini, peas and sweet roasted onions, while Handyman opted for a caprese followed by perfectly pink lamp chops on a bed of salad. We drank Villa Antinori, a crisp and fruity white from Florence (I have just bought several bottles at the local supermarket for €6 a bottle). A guitarist turned up to serenade his friends at the next table while we discussed the derelict Hotel la Toscana opposite. By the end of supper, we were smitten, had totally remodelled it and were discussing how much we could buy it for.

Lunch today was at Antonio's third pick, Trattoria Papei in the beautiful market square. Most of the menus here are meaty, with wild boar, lamb and duck among the most common dishes. In Italy, if you are more than 20 minutes inland, it is very difficult to get fish or seafood, which makes sense really. Handyman ordered antipasti and I had the bruschetta pomodoro from his plate which was yum. He had cold cuts and minced beef spleen which he compared to cat sick and which made me very relieved to be a veggie. I am a bit pasta-ed out, all that surfing is a distant memory, so my main was chosen from side dishes of peperonata (roasted peppers in tomato and garlic) and verdure al forno (simple roasted vegetables) and Chuppa Chups had lamb chops (again) served with stewed potatoes, which he declared delicious. The dessert - torta della nonna - or Granny's tart, was unreal. Almond infused pastry filled with tangy lemon cream, baked and topped with whole toasted almonds, dusted in icing sugar. I almost wanted to go and kiss Nonna, who was sitting on the terrace surveying the action. Four orange liqueurs later (I passed mine to Handyman, who drank it, only for the waiter to arrive with two more, which he also had to drink) we staggered off in search of a lounger by the pool.

Come to Siena for the wonderful architecture, the friendly locals and the stunning scenery and of course the food as well as Il Palio, the crazy horse race that takes place every summer in Il Campo. San Gimignano is also well worth a visit, although the myriad of tourist shops were a little too Saint-Paul de Vence for me. We sat out a thunderstorm in La Mangiatoia where yet another historic lunch was consumed. Borgo Grandaie is a great base, with a delicious breakfast served on the terrace, and it's worth staying here just to pick Antonio's brain for Siena's best fare. After three nights here, we are on the move tomorrow, and heading for another personal recommendation, Promontorio del Gargano on the south east coast with a pit stop in Montepulciano en route. Viva la dolce vita.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Technology Vs the great outdoors

Today I was reading about a survey that said that two thirds of kids in a recent survey about their spare time said they would rather be outside exploring the world than playing on computers and iPads. This struck a particular chord after the day I have had with Issy and Kate.

We set off for the beach at 11.30 and despite the fact that they were lying in bed with iPads to hand 30 mins earlier, they were ready to leave before I was (I like to think this is because I chivvy along calling up the stairs 'leaving in ten' then 'leaving in five' then 'I'm leaving RIGHT NOW' only for them to appear with bags ready and sunnies on while I chase around searching for car keys, having a last minute pee and checking that I have my wetsuit.)

We got to my favourite beach Ilbarritz and instead of waves we had a flat glassy sea, perfect for swimming but no use for a board, which meant an hour of sunbathing in the most glorious surroundings, this particular beach being a cross between the best I've seen in Cornwall and Queensland, backed by dramatic cliffs and zero development. 'This is boring, let's go and find some surf,' said Issy so we packed up, jumped in the car and drove to Plage Marbella, a few minutes away on the edge of Cote des Basques.

If there is ever going to be surf, it's here, and sure enough, there was. We hired boards, paddled out and spent two hours catching some lovely waves, wiping out, standing up and laughing. I had to persuade them both out of the sea, promising we would head back tomorrow and we sloped off to the bar for a drink, salty, exhausted and utterly exhilerated. 'I'm going to teach my kids to surf,' said Issy, 'and by the time I'm 23 I want to be brilliant on a surf board. I love it here, can we move?'

It's a seductive place for sure. Sylvan, the barman at La Plancha who mixes the best mojito I've had in France, put it quite simply. 'I've lived in Polynesia for 30 years but I came back home to Biarritz this year because each time I visited my parents, it was never long enough. Tahiti is lovely but this place is where my heart is. And the surf is unbeatable.' I have to agree.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Biarritz

Having packed up and cleaned the house to within an inch of our lives, we were ready for our summer road trip, first stop Biarritz. I chose this destination for one main reason - surf. The beaches along the Atlantic West Coast are renowned for offering Europe's best surfing conditions and as someone who usually has to make do with a measly weekend every year (when it can be too stormy to be safe to surf, as in Hossegor frustratingly two summers ago) the idea of three weeks being able to dip in and out when the mood takes me was rather appealing.

Biarritz has many other pleasures too. The west coast vibe here is not dissimilar to California....there is sunshine, endless beaches with hugely dramatic cliff faces, scenery not unlike Cornwall and lots of male and female hotties skateboarding, surfing, paddle boarding and generally being tres sportif. Yesterday, we played a game of tennis, then I headed to Cote des Basques for a couple of hours surfing before joining a beach yoga session run by the Roxy Pro team.

The town is full of great boutiques, bars and tapas bars, the best being Jean in Les Halles, where the chiprions a la plancha are mouthwateringly good. And the dogs are loving their nightly walks along the cliff paths above the beach, before we stop off for a mojito at La Plancha at Ilbarritz, where the sunset is one of the best I have ever seen. One of the great surprises of this area is that you can head to the beach at 6pm and still be surfing, swimming or relaxing in full sunshine at 9pm.

Given that daughter No 1 doesn't arrive here until next week, the younger teen hasn't done too badly hanging out with the 'rents all week (God I hope she doesn't read this, she detests me using any form of abbreviation whatsoever fyi.) There have been minimal kick offs and only a little bit of eye rolling at our behaviour (this includes breathing and trying to make conversation of any sort.) Her mood, like the weather, is now set to be calm and sunny all week as her friend has just arrived from Nice, happy days.

Three surf sessions in and my technique is improving, my ear is still intact, and apart from one grazed toe, there are no injuries, although merely writing this is bound to jinx me.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Summer Summer Summertime

The lavender is in full bloom, the grass is turning yellow and the pool is warm enough to swim in which can only mean one thing. After the soggiest and most unpredictable spring in recent years, summer has finally arrived. This was heralded by the Fete de St Jean last weekend, celebrating the summer solstice, when hundreds of locals and visitors congregated in Place de la Tour in the centre of the village to watch a spectacular fireworks display which took place against the backdrop of the gorge and would have given Ally Pally a run for its money. Just a few carafes of wine were drunk at the Donjon and the mood was convivial until our friendly village policeman arrived in the early hours of Sunday morning to politely persuade us that it was time to go home. I wear this as a badge of honour rather than disgrace.

The partying had started in earnest last Thursday with the Ogilvy Mather event at the Martinez beach club, one of the highlights of the Cannes Lions advertising festival. Franz Ferdinand played and much to the girls' delight, Sarah, chief fixer, party planner and PR extraordinaire, arranged for them to go backstage and meet the band while the more mature girls amongst us (me, Milly, Karin and Mel) were content to boogie on down to Rob Da Bank's brilliant DJ set.


The glamour is in stark contrast to this week, as I make lists about lists to ensure that everything is shipshape and sorted in time for us to head off like extras from My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding next week with cases and dogs jammed into the car on our seven week European road trip. The girls are already planning how many bags/pairs of shoes/bikinis they can fit into the boot (where did they get that gene from I wonder), which leaves me and Handyman on course to share one small holdall between us. Now that the house is finally finished after a marathon five year renovation project, we have to transform it from a comfortable chaotic family home into a chic boutique pad as the holidaymakers arrive and we head west to Biarritz, arriving just in time for the Roxy Pro Surf championships. Let's just say with two teenagers, certain bedrooms like mine and the spare room are an easier task than others, naming no names.

With that in mind, Uncle Gaz arrives on Sunday, the only member of my extended family who is possibly more OCD than I am, to clean the oven (last year he threatened to post 'before' pics of it on Facebook, but life is too short to clean an oven or stuff a mushroom, isn't it?) help me pack up and generally pull everything together in organised (military boot camp) fashion. I'm not sure whether it bodes well that straight after I pick him up from Nice we are off to brunch, a monthly Sunday event that a few of us have recently started which usually ends quite jovially with no riotous behaviour whatsoever around supper time. Last year, UG, as he is known, provided many hours of entertainment in the car en route to Spain following some rather cheeky vodka jelly shots but in his defence, that was after he had finished the cleaning, not before he started.

I am planning to blog on the best bits of our road trip, so for any of you lucky readers heading to Biarritz, Puglia and Antibes, watch this space. I am signing off with a picture of the Fete de St Jean...is it just me or is that a giant cockerel being burned in the middle of the boules court?












Cockerel on fire

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Real Deal at Cannes


I was going to write about the joys of post Film Festival life this week, notwithstanding being stung by a huge jellyfish in Saint Tropez at the weekend (I am now sporting a third boob…attractive.) But as the most asked question of the last month has been ‘Go on Kazza, give us all the goss on Film Festival,’ here is the real deal (and if I wasn’t fussed about being accredited for next year, there would be a lot more juice.)

A scantily clad waitress is holding aloft a huge chocolate birthday cake ablaze with candles as she’s carried cross legged on a silver platter by six fit waiters high above the crowd at Nikki Beach to the sounds of Stevie Wonder's Happy Birthday to mark the birthday of one of Eva Longoria's VIP party. Girls who look suspiciously like they have been paid to look like party animals are dancing on tables alongside which rest magnums of Moet & Chandon in huge ice buckets.

It can only be Cannes, the craziest, most excessive film festival in the world, to which Hollywood’s A list decamp from Los Angeles for two weeks every May to party like mad on the Côte d’Azur. So what is it really like to have access all areas at the most talked about event in the celebrity social calendar?

I’ve been covering the festival for six years and while it’s been suggested that Cannes is losing its glam factor, you only had to be at Calvin Klein’s chic beach party watching a black leather clad Nicole Kidman make a show stopping entrance to realise that definitely isn't the case. With a table at amfAR costing €120,000 for ten guests and red carpet premiere tickets changing hands for €3,000 a seat, you need deep pockets or a certain degree of fame - or infamy - to come here.

It’s not all glamour, however, and behind the scenes competition to get a few measly quotes from the red carpet is fierce. At Swiss watch brand IWC Shaffhausen, manners are in short supply as journalists, film crews and photographers jostle for the best position as guests arrive for a gala dinner at the exclusive Hotel du Cap Eden-Roc, where the most lavish parties of the festival, including de Grisogono and the amfAR AIDS Benefit, take place. It’s also where Leonardo DiCaprio promoted Cannes opener The Great Gatsby, giving five minute interviews to the world's press. (The deal was they had to return the following day to interview the rest of the cast in order to get their tapes of Leo’s interview.)

Back to the red carpet, and I get elbowed in the face by one desperate French TV reporter eager to get to the front in the hope of a few words with the A list arrivals. It almost seems worth it as we have been promised Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro and Cate Blanchett in a tip sheet from the PR a few days earlier. The reality is not quite the same league - Jamiroquai’s Jay Kay, model Karolina Kurkova and Grey’s Anatomy actor Eric Dane, who was flown in specially, naturally sporting one of the company’s watches, before being flown back to America a day later.

It's not just about celebrities either. Drinks brands Ciroc, Moet & Chandon and Belvedere spend hundreds of thousands of pounds sponsoring parties and hiring superyachts – jury president Steven Spielberg’s Seven Seas was the ultimate this year, with its own private screening theatre - to throw lavish cocktail parties to raise their profile. The Johnnie Walker Blue Label yacht hosted Martin Scorsese and Leo DiCaprio, his father George and stepmother Peggy, creating column inches that money alone just can't buy.

Belvedere threw one of the most talked about parties of the fortnight at VIP Room, flying in Run DMC's Reverend Run to DJ to a crowd including a flirty and reportedly newly single Liam Hemsworth and Solange Knowles. Important note: the drinks were only on the house for celebrities - so while Liam got a free ice bucket of cold beer, everyone else had to pay, (and at €45 for a glass of champagne and a vodka and Red Bull, you learn to drink slowly.) The naked fire-eater, dancing dwarves and trapeze artists hanging from the ceiling made up for it I guess.

I took my 18-year-old daughter Livvy along, after she begged, pleaded and cajoled to be allowed to come to a proper film festival party. I called it a day at two rounds (yep, €90) only for us to be invited into the VVIP area by a 31-year-old New York magazine publisher with the immortal words: ‘Why wait at the bar when you can drink for free with us?’ We joined him and his friends who were ‘something big in Bollywood.’ They were knocking back magnums of Belvedere vodka and Dom Perignon and while they were very generous, it soon became clear that there was another agenda. As we went to leave at 4am after what I can’t deny turned out to be a great night, he tried to persuade me to leave Livvy behind, telling me: ‘Your daughter is HOT.’ Like that was going to work.

With dozens of parties every night and each one vying to attract the classiest calibre of guests, the longer celebs stay at your bash, the more successful it is deemed. Many make a brief appearance for the cameras before quietly slipping away in their search for the coolest party of the night.

The borrowed jewels lent to A listers come with their own bodyguards although this didn't stop thieves making off with a reported €1m heist of Chopard gems from a Cannes hotel safe on the same night as the company’s Trophée party at the Martinez. Clearly, there were plenty more baubles to go round as Cara Delevingne was spotted shaking a priceless 18 carat white gold and diamond Chopard necklace and squealing: ‘Look at this, look at this!’ as she showed it off to fellow guests. She was unable to head off to another party with fellow supermodel Laura Bailey as she was required to stay at the party as an ambassador for the brand, although she later appeared at the Calvin Klein soiree a couple of miles further down the Croisette.

You know you have made it if you are invited to the Chopard Lounge on the seventh floor of the celebs base of choice, the Martinez. Their rooftop spa was transformed into a luxurious private club, with oversized sofas, fresh roses and jasmine and chill-out music playing. Waiters deliver glasses of pink Champagne, platters of fresh fruit and canapés (sushi is the A list favourite as it’s low cal) to celebrity and VIP guests. There is an eyebrow and lash tinting room run by Paris’s queen of brows Sabrina of Un Jour Un Regard, who was flown in from the French capital to tend to Nicole Kidman, Cara Delevingne and Marion Cotillard. The Mavala manicurist from London offers manis and pedis and just along the corridor is the L'Oreal hair lounge where you can have a pre-red carpet blow-dry and makeover. No money changes hands, these are free services to a1nyone lucky enough to boast a coveted pink Chopard access badge around their necks.

The press pass is also colour co-ordinated but doesn’t bring such high end delights. White and rose are the most highly regarded, giving VIP access to press screenings, increased likelihood of a red carpet premiere ticket and preferred access to the press conferences, while blue and yellow mean a scrabble for everything as you are last in line for screenings and press conferences, even if you have spent an hour in the queue (guess which colour mine was? Yep, yellow!) There are around 4,000 accredited journalists at the Film Festival, but the largest screening theatre holds less than 1,000 people and the press conference room a mere couple of hundred. Do the maths and you can see why tempers start to fray.

There is also a sliding scale of talent with Nicole, Leo, jury president Steven Spielberg, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake and his wife Jessica Biel topping the invitation lists for the hottest parties while Sid Owen, Spencer Matthews and Nancy Dell’Olio were left to make their own entertainment.

However good the parties are, sometimes stars just want to go under the radar. The Great Gatsby’s Carey Mulligan – spotted enjoying a cosy lunch with Justin Timberlake at the Michelin pop up Electrolux Agora Pavilion following their press screening of Inside Llewyn Davis – went with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire to the family-run Michelangelo Italian restaurant in Antibes, a favourite of Brad and Angelina's, for a cosy and low key supper party on the second night of the festival.

Most moving moment was when Michael Douglas – who is phenomenal as Liberace in Behind The Candelabra – broke down in tears at the film’s press conference as he spoke of his joy at being back at work after his throat cancer battle, earning heartfelt applause from the usually hardened critics and writers.

But no matter how famous you are, sometimes it cuts no ice with French security, as Harvey Weinstein, producer of The Kings Speech and The Artist, discovered when they failed to recognise him at the Calvin Klein door and told him to wait (he stayed in his car until they let him in). And Lady Victoria Hervey suffered the ultimate celebrity humiliation when she was blasted by an irate security guard for hogging the red carpet after repeatedly being told to ‘move on’ at the Blood Ties premiere (which she wasn’t in.) That’s showbiz honey!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Cannes

So there I was at the Martinez pool bar in the sunshine with glass of Taittinger in hand, a pre amfAR apero. I was made up, coiffed and party prepped for the red carpet by the L'Oreal team of professional stylists and make up artists, which is just as well as I was sitting with a table of supermodels, including Milla Jovavich, Isabeli Fontana and Bianca Balti. Kylie was lounging around in the bar with her boyfriend in jeans, a T shirt and not a scrap of make up....and still she looked amazing!

Leaving the Martinez in a fleet of festival cars to head to the Eden-Roc and THE party of the festival, the amfAR Cinema Against Aids gala, with a police escort and roads closed to let us through, was a little surreal. The night itself lived up to expectations, not least because it finally stopped raining. You can read all the goss, including how Leo DiCaprio raised €4million at the auction with a trip to space, in this week's Hello magazine....buy it NOW!

My highlights.....Behind The Candelabra, an excellent biopic for HBO about Liberace in which Michael Douglas and Matt Damon are totally believable as gay men with a soundtrack straight out of Studio 54 circa 1977. It has it all, glitz, glamour and great acting from M&M. Just a shame that Michael won't be eligible for an Oscar as it is one of the finest performances of his career.

Also, The Great Gatsby, which is attracting mixed reviews but which I loved. See it for the costumes and party scenes alone but LDC also makes a great Jay Gatsby. At his private party here two years ago, Leo put in a brief appearance surrounded by his entourage who were watching his back while the beautiful people ate, drank and danced on the terrace of his rented super villa in Cannes Californie. Watching him on screen brought back memories of that night. Gatsby is big, brash and just what you would expect of Baz Luhrmann, which is not a criticism.

And the parties, oh the parties.....Calvin Klein, on the beach at L'Ecrin, as torrents of rain lashed down on us, rendering the beautiful stretch of sand there utterly surplus to requirements. Chopard Trophee, where all the celebrity guests dripped in borrowed diamonds (Cara Delevingne was particularly excited about her enormous diamond pendant), Belevdere, with the dancing dwarves, naked tattooed fire-eaters and magnums of Dom Perignon and last but definitely not least, amfAR, where Sharon Stone proved that at 55, she can still rock it in white Cavalli, as you can see from the picture above, and turn every head in the room.

The Chopard suite on the rooftop of the Martinez was pretty special. A waiter handed me a glass of pink champagne on arrival and the best lash lady in Paris, Sabrina from Un Jour Un Regard, did my eyebrows and lashes (I didn't say it was all work.)

And so was the Michelin pop up at the Palais, where two star chef Bruno Oger, who cooked for Steven Spielberg, Nicole Kidman and Leonardo DiCap after the opening of Gatsby, rustled up a stunning six course lunch for me and a few other lucky journos at the chef's table in his amazing kitchen at the Electrolux Agora Pavilion.

The lowlights? Lack of sleep for two weeks and the bloody rain. Forget the goodie bags, nice as they were, it was an umbrella you needed at all times for Cannes 2013.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

La vie en Rose

As Cannes Film Festival approaches, my dilemma is what to wear. The last few hot sunny days have kidded us all that summer has finally arrived and bikinis and kaftans have been de rigeur chez Kershaw with jumpers and jeans stuffed to the back of the wardrobe to make room for silk T shirts, floaty shifts and shorts. Now the forecast is predicting torrential downpours over the next three days, making the prospect of cocktails at Nikki Beach not quite as appealing as they should be.

Attending glam soirees all done up like a dogs dinner is one thing but being rained on as you leg it and skid along the Croisette in ridiculous heels looking like a drowned ferret while the great and the good emerge from their dry chauffeur driven limos is another. Are you feeling sorry for me yet?

 The Great Gatsby opens the festival tomorrow, with the press screening ahead of the starry premiere tomorrow evening. Leo DiCap (I feel I can abbreviate now that we are virtually old buddies having rubbed shoulders at his private villa party two years ago), Carey Mulligan (who would be my choice to play me in a film of my life, I'm sure she would jump at the chance), Tobey Maguire and Baz Luhrmann will be posing on the steps of the Palais des Festivals while us mere mortals bask in their dazzling reflected glory.

Then there are the party invites which are currently piling into my inbox.....Calvin Klein, Chopard, Belvedere, Eva Longoria's gala dinner, to mention  few not forgetting Judy's friend's birthday supper, which will be every bit as good as the celeby bashes, if not better....it will take more than a few showers to dampen the party atmosphere this year.

Before the rain arrives, I snapped the picture above as whatever the weather, the garden is in full blossom...the orange trees, jasmine, climbing roses, grapefruit trees and even the viney weedy thing that usually really annoys me growing up our terrace are all blooming and their heady scents fill the air.

The perfume is the first thing I notice every morning when I get up to check on Earl/Steve McQueen. He hops around the olive trees every morning looking in rude health. I saw my neighbour Rosine last week and she asked, vous avez un lapin qui vit dans votre jardin? I explained that he had escaped from his two storey townhouse hutch and she told me that in the past few weeks he has eaten all of her blette and courgettes and has just started on the leeks. Eek.

I have been taking Special K, spinach, rocket, apples and carrots down for breakfast and dinner to feed him up so that he doesn't feel the need to raid her vegetable patch. He is now so confident when he sees me arrive with his organic picnic box that he races towards me like a demented puppy eager to tuck in. After his feast, he has taken to lying by the hammock (not in it) snoozing in the sunshine with his back legs stretched out. I'm still deciding whether the next picture I post should be Leo DiCap in his tux tomorrow night or Steve McQueen relishing his great escape.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Gastronomy in Bar

When we bought a house in Bar sur Loup almost five years ago, it was a sleepy little mountain village with a few shops, popular mainly with walkers and summer sports enthusiasts and despite the name, no bar. Today it is fast turning into a mini centre of gastronomic excellence. This usually happens to places just as we leave. Docklands was a vast expanse of yuppie (remember them?) housing developments surrounded by wasteland when we bought our first flat there in the late 1980s. Crouch End was starting to buzz in the early 1990s and Totteridge waited until we moved out before allowing a string of very decent eateries (not forgetting M&S) along the high street. When le Donjon opened last week, I thought it was cute to name it after the owner Donald and his better half Jonathan, but it derives from the building's first purpose as a 14th century village jail. There is nothing prison-like about the food however, with a blackboard of local seasonal specials, in much the same way as Ecole des Filles do things, but for half the price (€30 a head for two courses and wine, I kid you not.) Added to which the owner and chef, a charming man called Thomas, used to cook at EdF with their chef extraordinaire Stephane. The atmosphere is cosy and intimate, the setting is a wine cave-like space and service is prompt and friendly so it deserves to do brilliantly. Handyman is especially pleased as it also serves as the village bar. Thomas and his wife Christine have a daughter called Norah who is obsessed with dogs - mine had three extra walks each with her during dinner after which they ambled home and promptly crashed out. As did we after a delicious meal of fresh asparagus in a cream reduction, arrancini (little fried balls of rice with a ragu sauce), prawn risotto and the best home made cheeseburger Issy has had in France. Along with Ecole des Filles, which I have waxed lyrical about many times before as it is my favourite restaurant in the world where you can play a game of boules before or after dinner, Le Jarerrie, Michelangelo pizzeria, run by the delightful Eric and Corinne, and the stunningly situated Michelin starred Hostellerie du Chateau next door to Le Donjon, Bar sur Loup is making a name for itself as the place to eat, whether it's fine or casual dining you are looking for. People now drive from Nice and beyond to have dinner here, giving nearby Mougins a run for its money where quality and innovation are concerned. And best of all, there is not one tourist shop, it is a real, working village in the heart of a valley (see above) famed for its oranges with a brilliant community spirit. Now if we could just get someone to take over Boulangerie Maia and open a butcher and greengrocers, we would be laughing. Coming back from Barbados last week was always going to be a comedown but with Cannes Film Festival around the corner and the promise of great films, a glittering A list in attendance and some seriously amazing parties, I can't feel too down. While I was away, Earl, our visiting rabbit on hiatus from Tony and Shan's, managed to tunnel out of his hutch on the terrace below the house and scarper. We have changed his name to Steve McQueen and first thing most mornings, he can be spotted hopping about among the olive trees enjoying his new found freedom, as long as he avoids the kestrels and eagles which fly overhead. He can already outrun the dogs much to their frustration, which is encouraging.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Whoo I'm going to Barbados

Actually I'm already here. I'm sitting by an infinity pool on a hill above the west coast during a shoot.....I know, I know, it's a bum deal but that's work for you. Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and get on with it. At least I'm able to share it with you in today's photo. We have hung out with Dannii and Cilla watching Bajan drag queens in Holetown, belted out My Way and Sweet Caroline at top volume with Cilla at Lexy's piano bar and yesterday it was a chatty lunch with Elle Macpherson about the new season of Britain and Ireland's Next Top Model. So far, so gorgeous. Bumped into Bradley Walsh at breakfast, who is taking a well earned break after finishing the most recent series of Law and Order. You can easily see why Barbados is such a popular destination. The laidback manana vibe makes you relax instantly, the friendliness is legendary and the background noise is the chatter of parrots, cicadas and gently lapping waves. There is also a pretty amazing choice when it comes to restaurants....Lone Star offers a tasty menu on the site of an old garage with an open verandah for dining that looks straight onto the beach. It's chi chi and cool and rare that you don't spot a celeb at some point during lunch or dinner. Daphne's, the sister to the London outpost, serves spectacular Italian food with a Caribbean twist. Then there is Ragamuffins in Holetown, a Bajan institution which offers simple West Indian fare, including blow your socks off curries and spicy stir fries as well as the aforementioned drag act on a Sunday night. The queens were at least 6ft 5 in their heels and blasted out Madonna, Shirley Bassey and numerous other disco anthems including Kylie's Love at First Sight, much to Dannii's delight. Other delights include sundowner pina coladas on the beach, a pod of whales including a mother and baby visible just off the shore and barefoot beach runs in the morning. Mmmmmm. The trip came hot on the heels of a fun few days in London mixing work with pleasure and Livvy's 18th birthday weekend, which went with a bang. Highlights included cooking an Indian banquet for a dozen of her best friends, which started with a bang as Handyman joined them for tequila shots before we were forced to leave them to it, a blistering performance at Cody Chestnutt's Nice gig and a birthday lunch at my favourite Italian in Cannes, da Laura. Thank goodness for Cannes Film Festival next month as there just isn't enough glamour going on right now!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Spike

This is the story of Spike. As a naughty cheeky kitten, he used to run up the sides of my dressing gown while I made breakfast looking for trouble (him, not me.) Half Abyssinian, he grew into a beautiful sleek grey feline who liked to chat all day long. If you said 'Spike', no matter what your tone of voice, he would answer with a 'yes?' type of miaow. Spike's greatest passion was hunting. The times I arrived home to find all manner of dead wildlife be it mouse, vole, rat, once even a rabbit on the doorstep are too numerous to mention. He also liked to bring me a present when I was least expecting it, like the time I was lying on the floor of my office doing a phone interview with a supermodel in Paris and a little grey dormouse popped its head up inches from mine, leading to a mid interview meltdown and me leaping on my desk screaming while Spike tried in vain to catch it. I like to think we saved as many small creatures as he killed, so inept was he at keeping them as soon as he brought them through the catflap. I would get Handyman to set a humane trap, catch the little blighter and let him go in the paddock at the end of our garden, while Spike looked on to see if he could make a better effort second time around. When we made the hot interminable journey from the UK to the South of France with Spike and his sister Lottie, who is as quiet and calm as he was crazy, he spent the entire journey howling in his cage in the back of the car. He hated being cooped up or trapped and was in and out of the house dozens of times a day. On sunny days, he would come and sit by the pool, perched on the end of my sun lounger, stretched out lapping up the rays. When it got too hot for him, he had a den in the bushes by the palm tree where he would curl up in the dust for a siesta. He even loved rain, as the myriad of muddy footprints from our back door testified. Last night, as we laid by his side waiting for the vet to come - he had recently developed chronic arthritis, an unfortunate result of his very active 11 years, which had moved into his spinal cord and was having trouble walking so the time had come to do the right thing - we recalled our favourite memories of him. Mine was the fact that whenever we went on holiday, no matter how long we were away for, when we arrived home and drove up the drive, Spike would always be sitting there waiting to greet us effusively. The girls loved the memory of him being regularly tucked up in Issy's doll's pushchair when she was a toddler, wrapped in baby blankets with just his head visible, and wheeled around the house. Bizarrely, he loved this and never tried to escape, lying there like a swaddled newborn, until one day he decided he'd had enough and leapt out of the parked buggy and landed on Issy's head while she ate breakfast. Handyman remembers him shinning up the bamboo last summer like a very fit squirrel. When the dogs arrived five years ago, Spike still ruled the roost, and took to lounging on the top step of the staircase, superior in the knowledge that Tallullah, our mini schnauzer, wouldn't dare to try and come past for fear of a swipe. Oscar, on the other hand, had plenty of spats with him but never managed to get the upper hand and grudgingly conceded defeat on being top dog. Top dog was always Spike and he knew it. He is already much missed, so much so that I can't bring myself to mop away the last of his muddy footprints. The house feels quieter and emptier without him. We are going to bury him today under the olive tree that he used to love climbing, while he explores whatever new turf he is now king of.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Sloping Off

Rain of biblical proportions over the last few weeks has had one phenomenal upside....huge late falls of snow in the mountains, extending the ski conditions in the local resorts well beyond half term. As a newly addicted snowboarder (stop sniggering) this has been manna from heaven because it hurts a lot less falling over or face planting in fresh deep snow than in the crispy icy sparse stuff. Take last week and my third day as a boarder...God I love saying that. The snow was crisp and crusty to start with but snow flurries that started mid morning meant that by lunchtime, the whole resort of Greolieres was covered in a few centimetres of fresh powder. I was having such fun gliding silently through the soft white stuff that it didn't occur to me that I would somehow have to drive myself home through a raging blizzard. I was forced to quit when thunder and lightning closed the resort mid afternoon and having struggled to attach snow socks to the Jeep, I set off on the hair-raising journey home. On the hill leading out of the resort, cars were slipping and sliding backwards towards me but the snow socks held fast and got me up in one piece. Seeing a white van hanging over a precipice hundreds of feet high a couple of kilometres further on was a sobering sight, although the driver didn't seem unduly worried, and I crawled home steadily, in fact I could have snowboarded home faster. This week's session was a different story. Close to a metre of snow has fallen in the last week and it was blue skies, sunshine and a balmy 7 degrees when I arrived for possibly my last day on the slopes this season. Mid-week if you see six other people it's a busy day. There was barely a soul to be seen as I clipped on my board and hopped on the chairlift. Every time I go...and this was only my fourth outing....I think that any skill in staying upright the previous time must have been a total fluke and prepare for the worst. I got off the lift fully expecting to wipe out but reader, somehow I glided down to the bottom WITHOUT FALLING OVER! To clear up any confusion, the picture above isn't me (although this is what I aspire to.) On the next ascent, a seasoned 20-something dreadlocked boarder offered me some of his Snickers bar and started chatting. I confessed I was a beginner and he offered to take me off piste cutting across several different runs from the top. I was tempted but sensibly I declined. We both agreed that it's the most fun you can have in the snow. It's like catching a wave, except this wave is huge and you can stay on it for 15 minutes and travel several kilometres without being knocked off it. My next companion on the lift, a Parisian businessman, told me he stopped skiing 30 years ago because he was so smitten by boarding. I can see where he is coming from. He gave me some tips on using my body to direct my path and keeping balance on my turns with my arms outstretched and nodded approvingly as I caught him up halfway down the slope saying: 'Quatrieme fois? C'est pas mal!' I feel like I have joined an exclusive club, one which I used to think I didn't want to belong to (there is an unwritten rivalry between skiers and boarders) but now that I have been welcomed in, I'm rather enjoying my membership (even if I have knees the colour of mouldy aubergines to show for it.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Thought for Food

Reading the papers on my iPad in bed yesterday morning, I noticed a proliferation of articles about food and health......horsemeat DNA found in Ikea's famous meatballs (the same ones Iain and Issy rush to order at the cafe as soon as we make a visit to the Toulon branch of flat pack heaven.) I bought two 1kg packs the last time we were there a couple of months ago, and just half a pack remains. The whole house, apart from me, fights over who gets the most and when I'm stuck for a menu choice, the suggestion of spaghetti with meatballs and ragu sauce goes down a storm. I read the report out to Handyman, who without missing a beat, retorted 'Don't throw them out....I will eat them, even if Issy won't.' Personally I prefer my horses to look like the ones above, and frankly horsemeat is the least of the problems in so-called minced beef but that's another argument altogether.... A different report talked of Overeaters Anonymous and the food obsessions of the clinically obese (one woman used to dream of a spare room filled with Smarties.) A third report talked of the well known value and magic of a Mediterranean diet and why a food intake rich in nuts, olive oil, fresh fruit and vegetables is better for you than medicine in lowering statins and cholesterol, minimising the risk of serious illness. So far, so old hat and certainly not rocket science. And yet.... When I started my four month course of chemotherapy, 18 months ago. I consulted a Harley Street nutritionist. I was urged to eliminate fats, apart from olive oil and a couple of other good oils, meat, alcohol, gluten, refined sugar and dairy. Sounds harsh doesn't it? All the goodies we look forward to. It wasn't easy but faced with the stark choice of being sick all the way through chemo or fine tuning my already fairly healthy diet, it was a no brainer. I had substitutes (dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate, xylitol and agave syrup instead of sugar and two glasses of champagne a week when I didn't cheat and sneak a few more.) The treatment could also have made an impact but I went from my lifelong weight of 54 kg down to a mere and very scrawny 47 kg. Too thin for me and yet I felt as good as it's possible to feel while undergoing major drug therapy, was able to run, play tennis and ski occasionally during treatment and was not sick once. I came out the other side and relaxed my food plan a little (while continuing with the general principles) and went back up to a healthy 52kg, which is my current fighting weight. What I'm saying is that a lean, clean food plan (but not branded low fat or low sugar, which are usually stacked exhorbitantly high in other areas) can help you lose weight permanently, look great and feel energised without resorting to quick fixes, fads or starvation. I certainly don't recommend the chemo diet to anyone, but it was a valuable lesson in how to get through a life threatening illness and treatment feeling as good as it's possible to feel whilst retaining some element of control. I'm writing a book about it, but the concept works outside of illness and treatment. What's more, when Handyman embraced some of the same principles after a particularly rich and indulgent Christmas, he lost 6 kg without even really trying. Of course, one week long trip to Blighty and the 15 takeaways/roasts/liquid lunches proved an annoying blip. And the Ikea horseballs probably aren't helping.... Without doubt, it helps to live in the Med. My local market is bursting at the seams with small producers selling fresh seasonal produce. Certain things are much harder to source here....gluten free is expensive and rare.....but I have found a couple of boulangeries that sell pain au seigle and pain de petit epeautre (gluten free bread) although sometimes a Provencal or baguette finds its way under my arm. In the land of bread, cheese and fantastic wine, I regularly go off piste. Whether you make the changes because of illness, weight loss, lack of energy or a desire to get fit, one thing I can promise is you will never look back.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Three Bathrooms and a Wedding Dress

The two most used words when texting on my phone this week are ‘On way.’ Yes, it’s the school holidays and I have turned into Karen’s Kabs as I get random messages from the teens about where and what time they need to be dropped off/picked up on any given day. Sometimes this doesn’t even involve a conversation, I will just receive a text from one of them from the depths of their bedroom to give me my orders. And woe betide if I am so much as one minute late on a pick up, I get a brief blunt ‘Where are u?’ flashing up on my phone as I hurtle to the bus stop. It’s all part of the joy of school holidays….not getting up before 11am, staying in a onesie all day long, making a den on the bed surrounded by copious supplies of drinks, snacks, screens (an iPad, phone and PC all being used at once to max out connections) and only surfacing to ask what is for breakfast/lunch/dinner. That’s enough about me though. I’m sure I’ll miss it when they have both headed off to uni. At least, I think I will. While the girls relax on their much needed break from academia, Handyman and I are busy trying to keep pace with work and the endless list of household and garden jobs that need to be done. I mean, who knew you had to prune a palm tree? I didn’t, but it turns out that if you don’t take off the lower fronds and remove the berries, you end up with a top heavy tree blocking out light and a pool full of hard round marble like fruits. The palm has been done and now the olive trees beckon, as they also need a hard prune back to the barest minimum every two years. My day today started with a visit to my favourite DIY store Leroy Merlin to haemorrhage even more cash on our third bathroom, while picking up the furniture for our second soon to be completed one. I am facing the prospect of a Saturday where instead of skiing or lazing in bed reading the papers on my iPad, I will be rubbing down and painting before the final fix goes in, transforming it from a bombsite to a haven of minimalistic beauty (well, until the girls move all their stuff in there.) The best news is they won’t need to barge into my lovely new bathroom at all hours of the day and night as they currently do, leaving used make up wipes, mascara and wet towels in their wake. I didn’t feel guilty about taking a day off work this week to take Issy snowboarding. It was her first time, and it might as well have been mine, as the last time I tried it was 11 years ago in Banff. However, we exceeded our low expectations, as you can see above, not only managing to stand up on the board but mastering turns and the horrors of the drag lift (one spectacular wipe out from me nothwithstanding) but I would be lying if I didn’t own up to a fair few falls. Luckily we have had record amounts of snow this season at regular intervals so the landings weren’t quite as hard as they could have been. Watching small children gracefully whizz by as we meandered down the nursery slopes was a reality check, but it’s the closest you can get to surfing on dry land so I think my skis will be swapped for a board once I’ve had a bit more practise. Being upright on the board and swooshing down the slopes was the most amazing, liberating and addictive feeling. After four hours, we retired, comparing bruises (I won, my butt and knees are attractive shades of green and purple) and high fiving our efforts as we drove home (thank goodness Issy doesn’t read this as she would be cringing at the use of ‘high five’.) I haven’t had so much fun since I went to Cannes with Milly to try on wedding dresses (her, not me.) She is getting married in October and is looking for something a bit special. We exhausted the high end and indie stores and decided to go to a meringue speciality store in le Cannet boasting rail after rail of very expensive looking net curtains. We should have got the message that we weren’t welcome when we were told not to touch any of the dresses. How do you know what to try on if you can’t even touch the fabric? Easy, according to the bossy and bad tempered assistant, who frogmarched Milly into a changing room and delivered one after another hideous monstrosity for her to try on. ‘Mais il faut essayer,’ she kept repeating like a mantra every time Milly shook her head. There was no discussion on what style Milly might like to try, Wedding Monster’s word was law. I wanted to take photos but of course, that was forbidden too. So I had to try and keep my smirk buried while Milly was poured into several frou frou confections that would not have looked out of place on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. As WM disappeared to fetch yet another horrific tulle and nylon extravaganza with matching diamante tiara and veil, Milly poked her head out through the curtains and silently mouthed: ‘Help me!’ We decided the best course of action was to say that one of them was just perfect but that as Milly’s mum was paying, she needed to come back to the store with her and see it for herself. (She lives in New Zealand reader, so we were safe with this plan.) But WM must have smelled a rat and did not want us to leave without putting down a €200 deposit, telling us: ‘This is the last one, you will be so disappointed if it gets sold before you return.’ We beat a hasty retreat, unable to curb the giggles any longer. Thankfully, that last pit stop was purely for entertainment but it’s horrifying how badly we were treated considering they were looking at taking €2 to €3,000 euros from her. We weren’t seriously looking for a good wedding dress experience from that store but we had to admit that it would have made a great Cutting Edge style documentary.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Monday Morning Blues

Monday morning and I should be in productive spirits. The sun is shining and I’m about to organise my accreditation for the Cannes Film Festival and Monte-Carlo TV Festival (so expect celebrity snippets on both soon.) I have had a restful and chilled weekend, gardening all day on Saturday (for gardening, read pulling up my own bodyweight in weeds from the stone walls around the pool and the side terrace…my fingers are still stained from the soil.) A long soak in the bath was followed by a delicious Champagne supper at Neil and Helen’s, where we laughed and swapped salacious gossip (all of which has already disappeared from my rubbish memory, meaning it is no longer a threat to anyone.) It was too cold yesterday to spend too much time outside so I took the dogs for a stroll on the plateau above Magagnosc, which was still covered in snow and ice. I have just discovered this walk, a 10 minute drive from the house, with its spectacular views across Grasse and down to the coast as far as Theoule and the dogs love it too although the freezing sleet that started to soak us meant that we had to cut short our ramble and leg it back to the car. The afternoon was spent listening to Edith Piaf, which the girls bought me for Mother’s Day last year, while cooking a roast in front of a roaring log fire. Followed by Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, in which Bette Davis was at her mad, bad best. Can a weekend get any better? Possibly only on the ski slopes, which were forsaken this weekend, although I couldn't resist taking the picture above of a rather exhausted tot in mum's sunnies last week. It was back down to earth with a bump this morning, however, when, waiting for some work calls and emails, I decided to make a list of the materials we need to finish off the top floor. Inexplicably, our builders threw away the empty pot of paint for the doors, and I have no idea what colour or brand it was. With a further four doors still to paint, I have spent the last half hour going through all the receipts we have collected since work restarted five months ago, in the vain hope of stumbling across a serial number next to a pot of paint. What is horrifying is the realisation that we have spent the equivalent of the GDP of a small country in Leroy Merlin, Castorama and Briconautes since the latest phase started. Flicking through a mountain of crumpled receipts with €1400 here and €3,000 there is a sure fire Monday morning mood dampener and begs the question why did we decide to keep them in the first place? And it’s not like we are anywhere near finished. The only slight consolation is that the novelty of lying in a hot scented bath with my Neom and Anthropologie perfumed candles burning and being able to see all the way across the valley from the newly finished master bathroom (of which I am mistress) has still not worn off, nor will it for many months to come I suspect. It is especially comforting after lugging one third of a tonne (yes, you read that right) of tiles, tile cement and grout single-handedly from the bottom terrace up to the top floor so that on the ground at least, I can pretend that I live in a desirable, comfortable non-building site of a home. And joy, I have just found the correct receipt for the paint, so the mental torment of seeing thousands of euros worth of bills has been somewhat alleviated. In other good news, I have just heard that I have secured a spread in Hello and a feature in the FT for two of my PR clients, so am feeling rather chuffed about that. Maybe Monday won’t be so bad after all.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Well Kept Secret

One of the most amazing things about living in the South of France is the summer/winter balance. The pleasures of the Cote d'Azur in spring/summer are well known....hot sunshine, chilled rose, lunch on the terrace (as well as breakfast and dinner) and an all round outdoor life. (I could also mention tourist crowds, the jammed road to St Tropez from late June to late August and pesky mosquitoes lest anyone thinks it is paradise 100% of the time, but I won't.) The winter pleasures, however, remain a very well kept secret until you arrive here and discover that within an hour's drive of home, you can head off for a ski and still be back in time for lunch. Such was our day today. The snow has been falling and while we had fantastic conditions in Auron and Greolieres at the weekend, a huge dump of snow yesterday and last night signalled 40cms of fresh powder which simply could not be ignored. Handyman and I snuck away from our desks first thing this morning and joined Faye, Milly and seven year old Olly, whose school was happily on strike, for a knee deep powder ski on empty slopes a mere 40 minute drive from home. Needless to say, Olly out-skied us all. Even the journey there and back was spectacular, with a low snowline meaning everything looked like Narnia. Handyman hates skiing so it was totally out of character for him to suggest playing truant from work to head up for a morning ski. Typically it wasn't without trauma. In a fit of super duper organisation last autumn, he sorted through all of his ski wear just before the girls and I headed off to do a vide grenier and came across two pairs of ski trousers - one pair fitted perfectly, the others were accidentally left behind by our tall and rangey teenage nephew Josh a few years ago, when he was aged around 13. Guess which ones he ended up wearing, having put the wrong ones in a charity bag? Sadly I was prevented from posting the photo I wanted to post of him doing a fine impression of Coco the clown, complete with ill fitting braces and a fly zip that went up by less than an inch. Luckily (for the rest of us) he had a long snowboard jacket to cover his modesty, preventing him from being arrested for indecent exposure or suffering hypothermia of the nether regions, and was left praying even harder than usual that he wouldn't have a nasty accident and end up in a blood wagon. While females worry about whether they are wearing matching underwear in the event of a crash, Handyman was more concerned by the shock his exposed midriff and more could cause to a kindly pompier.
After a blast through the valley, we headed back from minus 10 to plus 19 degrees and had lunch on the terrace in warmish sunshine, pictured above. What more can I say? Hollande might be squeezing every entrepreneur, professional and ex-pat to within an inch of survival in our corner of France but while he has mountains, beaches and a mediterranean climate in his back South Eastern pocket, there is a very strong reason for staying put.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Customer service? Mais non madame...

Yesterday morning I made my breakfast...sheep's yoghurt, fruit, honey and nuts - which can only mean it's January - whilst simultaneously cleaning up dog sick and conducting an important work call with a potential new PR client as Oscar continued to retch noisily. Today I received an intriguing invitation to sample the delights of one of China's oldest cities, Hangzhou, this spring. At least I'm hoping it was an invite. I quite fancy the idea of cycling through the cherry blossom and temples on the Yangtze River Delta. It looks AMAZING and quite honestly, gazing at the beautiful images has already cheered up my January no end whether it actually comes off or not. I was in need of more cheer than usual following a week of domestic disasters surrounding the renovation which is why I have already broken my New Year resolution to blog once a week. How can I blog when I'm on my 100th plus trip to Leroy Merlin to sort out yet another bathroom problem? After five years with no bathroom (just two very faded shower rooms) we were touching distance away from the completion of our beautiful, spacious and luxury new bathroom pictured above, and the anticipation of running a bath was making everyone chez Kershaw a little bit excited. So when the plumber announced that there was a problem with the new, very expensive bathroom tap, my heart sank. I was despatched to Leroy Merlin in Vallauris to exchange it with the bill. Not a problem, said my friendly plumber Robert, happens all the time and as long as you have the bill they will exchange it for you. I was pointed in the direction of a sales assistant in the salle de bains section with a face that looked like a slapped bottom. It didn't bode well. I explained as well as I could in my limited technical French that the thermostatic control appeared not to work. 'Where is the packaging and the box?' demanded Happy Face. 'Well, as the tap looked fine and was put in a place a few days ago, we threw it away only to find it didn't work when the water supply was switched back on for final testing,' I explained. I omitted to say that if we kept the box of every piece of equipment we have bought in the last three months, we would be able to build our own cardboard city. 'Well,' she shrugged, 'I can't exchange it as there is no packaging and how do I know your plumber hasn't broken it?' This was despite a guarantee and a bill. She grudging agreed to order a new thermostat only to announce with grim satisfaction that there was a rupture in the stock, meaning that they had no idea when they might receive the part in question and no intention of pursuing it further on my behalf. I was on the verge of hysteria after weeks of problems, builders not turning up, tilers citing hangovers and then tummy bugs to get out of work etc etc when the two guys behind me stepped in. 'Can I help you,' said Etienne, 'it sounds like you have a problem and she is not keen to sort it out for you is she?' Etienne became my translator, and while his Brazilian business partner Fabricio had a look at the tap and tried to see if there was a temporary fix, Etienne effected a total mood change in Happy Face, who managed to locate the part I needed at the factory in Marseille and order it for delivery in three weeks time. 'One thing you should know,' added Etienne, who happens to be French, ' is that there is no such thing as customer service in France.' Etienne was on a one man mission to rectify this problem. 'Can we come over on Saturday and see if we can fix the tap temporarily for you?' he asked. Despite Handyman's poor joke that it was probably my plumbing they were more interested in, they turned up as promised and spent two and a half hours creating a temporary fix. When I asked what we should pay them, they told me not to worry and to recommend their new fit out and bathroom company to friends. Now that's the way to do business. If anyone needs a friendly, honest, reliable bathroom/design team in the Cote d'Azur, let me know and I'll pay it forward. In the spirit of supporting local business, I took a surfing print that Sarah bought me for my birthday to be framed at our local framing shop. The guy was friendly and had a good selection of frames so I chose two of the simplest silver frames on offer, explaining that I wanted to hang it in the bathroom so didn't need anything grand. Bearing in mind that the print is a little bigger than A4 size, but too irregular to buy off a standard off the shelf frame, I was expecting to pay between €40 and €50. The cheaper frame was €136 and the slightly thicker frame was €156. I left in a daze, and ordered an identical one from Leroy Merlin's bespoke frame service for €44. I have driven past the frame shop four or five times since and the shop is always empty, which tells you everything you need to know. The irony of taking my business from the friendly local artisan to the faceless, unhelpful chain store that had already earned a black mark this week is not lost on me.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Births, Marriages and Deaths

This morning while out on my not so early morning run with the dogs, I saw a lone teenage girl puffing and panting as she jogged along the lane. We said bonjour and a few minutes later, along jogged her even more puffed out parents, in spanking new trainers that looked suspiciously like they were on their first outing, along with child number two and closely followed by what looked like their very game granny bringing up the rear. The sight of two wilted Christmas trees forlornly standing by the recycling bin, one with fake dusty snow at the base, confirmed that January 1st has arrived. While the vast majority of us are already making plans for new fitness regimes and emptying the cupboards of endless supplies of mince pies and half eaten Christmas cake, it is gratifying to note that the French see no reason to stop the celebrations after New Year’s Eve. I’m with them on this as there is a half full bottle of Champagne in the fridge left over from last night and the bubbles simply won’t last so I will just have to finish it off later. As I ran past the second most popular restaurant in my village, the Jarrerie, I was greeted with cries of ‘Bonne Année’ from couples and families who were heading in for a long and lavish New Year’s lunch. Handyman announced this morning that his resolution this year is to lose 10 kilos. ‘Ok, well you need to cut down your portion sizes and do more exercise,’ I offered helpfully, immediately casting myself in the role of his personal trainer. ‘There’s some new outdoor gym equipment by the tennis courts and to help you get started, when I make a curry later, I will only cook half the usual amount of rice.’ ‘Great,’ he grunted moodily as he tucked into a mushroom omelette. ‘Well, I’m thinking as it’s a bank holiday today maybe I should just start tomorrow…..’ Instead of our usual New Year’s Eve party, we went to our favourite restaurant Ecole des Filles with our lovely and amusing friends Helen and Neil for a degustation menu that was quite simply one of the best meals I have ever eaten. The seven perfectly sized courses (I know, sounds horrific but somehow we managed) kicked off with a delicious tiny lobster bisque, followed by king prawns, scallops, then foie gras and venison for the carnivores and locally caught fish for me, locally produced gorgonzola and rounded off with a Grand Marnier soufflé worthy of a Masterchef:The Professionals final. Each course was accompanied by Champagne, white and red wines chosen by the sommelier and such a good time was had by all that we barely noticed when it turned midnight. Eve, who runs Ecole with her chef husband Stephane, was on hand to greet everyone despite having given birth to their beautiful daughter Manon less than four weeks ago, and little Manon lay in a baby carrier on the bar, blissfully sleeping through the festivities and captivating every guest who took a peek at her. It was a bit like having our own little nativity scene. The last year has been an up and down year for many friends and family. Pretty much everyone I know has suffered some sort of loss. We lost my lovely nanny Kit in June, and the world of journalism is all the poorer for the passing of Sue Carroll and Sue Malins, both hugely talented, wonderful writers who died way too young. I am convinced 2013 will be a good year, certainly for Mat and Milly, who got engaged after Mat proposed while mid-way through competing in a Transatlantic race, coming an impressive second overall on arrival in Barbados (but he won Milly and that’s what counts. ) After starting 2012 in treatment and not at my best, it feels good to be at January 1st 2013 feeling healthy, energised and en forme once more. My new year’s resolutions are to play more tennis, get my book published (it’s finished so that’s a start,) stay healthy and update this blog on a weekly basis (prompted by my mother in law telling me this morning that while she enjoyed the olive press blog so much that she read it several times, she would actually quite like to read something different now, so Jean, this is for you.) As I was too busy eating and quaffing and making merry last night to send out happy new year wishes, I am wishing all my family, friends and readers known and unknown a very Bonne Année, peace and good health to you all.