Wednesday, December 31, 2014


I'm going to keep this short and sweet. We have had a mega Christmas with lots of visitors, Christmas markets, champagne, card games, Perudo, even charades. Oh, and lots and lots of food. It's at this time of the year that I think how lucky I am to have such amazing friends and family. Christmas saw 11 of us Kershaws, Hockneys and Bradleys around the same table....amazing.

Tonight we are heading to my favourite restaurant (of all time) Ecole des Filles for a gastronomic New Year's Eve celebration with a few great friends. In a minute I am going to put on my make up to the sound of Nihils Help Our Souls, the Urban Contact Remix. If you are feeling a little party pooped and in need of a little lift or a second wind, play this track, it is an infectious disco tune that I promise will make you want to dance.

Then I am going to pour myself a glass of this little beauty and raise it to the year that was 2014. It wasn't perfect but it certainly had its moments. My wish for 2015 is that everyone I love has a brilliant, fun, healthy, laughter filled year. I'm not going to waste time worrying about things I can't change. I am going to embrace and enjoy every moment of this wonderful life. No, I haven't been drinking but that is about to change in a matter of minutes.

Bonne annee tout le monde and here's to the next 12 months.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

She's leaving home

Actually, she left two months ago. It seems surreal that after all the years of being there whenever I was needed, wiping grazes, helping with homework, organising fairy themed birthday parties and refereeing many sibling spats, suddenly Child Number One is living 1,000 miles away and getting on just fine without us.

Why wouldn't she? She is in London, relishing the ease of jumping on the tube to the West End, going to see a film on a whim or going clubbing when student funds allow but with a safety net of family and friends who look out for her, cook her the occasional Sunday roast and to whom she can turn in a crisis.

That said, letting her go is the most difficult thing I have ever had to do. Dropping her off at the airport with Handyman so that he could settle her into her halls, I somehow managed to stay chirpy and chatty until we said goodbye. Back in the car, I turned on the radio and on came a song she used to play on the piano and sing along to. I cried all the way home.

It brings into sharp focus the wonderful things about parenthood that we are all guilty of taking for granted sometimes.....the piano practises that make you stop whatever you are doing and sometimes bring a tear to your eye, the stupid jokes and banter at the dinner table, even just sitting down together to watch a TV drama or I'm a Celebrity. Working from home and not having the banter of an office, I really miss our after school chats, coffees and lazy weekend breakfasts. Her room is permanently hotel standard tidy, and I hate it.

We have got used to skype calls every few days and Whatsapp for saying good night, good morning, love you and showing each other what we're having for supper. I was expecting an alarming overload of pot noodles and pasta to be honest, but she is whipping up soups, smoothies, curries and shepherds pies like a mini Nigella. My dinner time rants about the evils of junk food, which I was convinced were in vain, have clearly paid off (although she did confess to a Pot Noodle/Gossip Girl marathon with Beaux, her best friend from primary school, recently. And she does have a fridge full of cider and Baileys in her room.)

We went to visit three weeks ago and I filled her fridge with M&S, manna from heaven for an impoverished student. I really think it takes distance, a tight budget and a bit of struggling for kids to realise what they also take for granted when they live at home. I now have a brilliant reason to flit back to London more often for a catch up with the girl who is embracing the next chapter of her life.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


It's Saturday, it's raining and there is a low rumbling electric storm which even Talullah and Oscar do not want to go out in so I don't feel remotely guilty about lying in bed reading the papers, supplements and all the news stories I've missed this week until 10.30am. Yes, not a misprint, 10.30am. I have not had a lay in like this since my teens (correction, since the night after amFAR in May, but the less said about that the better.)

On a rainy miserable day, not that we get many, it seems only right to talk about sunnier days. The last few weeks have been a rollercoaster of lovely assignments in Monaco, Saint Tropez and Cannes for OnboardOnline. The competition for top highlight is fierce...breakfast on the Superyacht Ulysses, cocktails at the new Yacht Club in Monaco, champagne at Byblos, riding at James Bond style speeds in a military rib used by the French SAS across the gulf of Saint-Tropez...but the prize event of the last month has to be my trip to Vancouver on a rather lovely TV job.

Arriving at The Loden, a chic, friendly hotel which even had yoga mats in the rooms, and knowing I was heading back home in little over 48 hours time, the best way to fight mid-afternoon jet lag seemed to be to go on a bike ride. The hotel had an assortment of bikes ready and waiting in the lobby and within minutes, I was cycling the couple of blocks to the waterfront. The skyline reminded me of a mini Manhattan but with the welcome addition of cycle lanes threading around the harbour, marina and into Stanley Park.

That night, we ate at Cardero's on Coal Harbour Quay, a buzzing bistro and bar with a suspended terrace over the water offering phenomenal views across the Pacific Ocean. Blankets were provided in case it got chilly but the late summer evening sunshine kept temperatures high enough not to need one. They bill themselves as all about fish and this is no idle boast. The West Coast fish tacos were sublime, only eclipsed by the roasted sablefish, a lot like cod, in a miso-sake marinade. This dish gave the black miso cod at E&O a run for its money, it literally melted in my mouth, no chewing required. I am drooling as I write this. We ordered some wok broccolini (tender stemmed broccoli with a fancy ending) and the way it was served has revolutionised broccoli chez moi. Steamed and then finished lightly in a wok in the holy trinity of red chilli, garlic and ginger along with soy and honey, it was delicious and is now the only way I want to eat it.

Interviews done the following day left us a day to explore so we walked to Gastown, the city's oldest quarter with a quaint Soho/boho feel downtown boasting some rather lovely boutiques including oak + fort, where I chose not to leave empty handed. A walk along the coastline, fringed with pine trees to The Cactus Club Cafe on Beach Avenue brought more culinary joy, although it has to be noted that their fish tacos, while good, were not as good as Cardero's.

I could go on but the storm has stopped, the sun has just shown its face and Talullah is now staring at me with what Issy used to call poppydug eyes so needs must.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Bye bye Eel Pie

After two months travelling around Europe, we are almost at the end of 2014's epic summer road trip. Biarritz was a blast but surfing in July feels like a long time ago now. Next stop was Spain and a journey that took us through Breaking Bad style arid wilderness skirting the Pyrenees and heading through the centre of Spain to the coast near Alicante.

The weather was scorching, the beach beckoned as did the beautiful medieval town of Guadalest, above, and we had some great nights at El Paripe, a cool little tapas bar on a whitewashed rooftop which served amazing calamari and padrons every bit as good as the ones at Bar Jean. Another favourite was La Paletta, a modest little restaurant where the delicious food and friendly service ensured it was packed every night and impossible to get a table without booking. And La Mary in Alicante would give the coolest bistro in Soho a run for its money (and charge you less than half the price.)

Next stop was the UK and a two day drive back up through Spain and France was borne with such patience by Oscar and Tallullah, who were cosily and tightly ensconced amongst cases, toiletries, a new set of kitchen knives, teaspoons, books, wine, sunglasses, you name it. They were amazingly well behaved despite queues caused by the tail end of Hurricane Bertha putting paid to ferry crossings that evening.

We have spent the last three weeks in not so sunny Herts...naturally we missed the UK heatwave by about 24 typical...but there has been something quite cool about being wrapped up in jeans and boots safe in the knowledge that it won't be for very much longer. Having not lived in the English countryside for several years, the novelty of seeing cows at the end of the garden did not wear off, nor did Fizz Friday at the Five Horseshoes, where they found a friend for life in me given that the Prosecco was half price.

The last couple of days have been spent in one of my favourite places of all time, Eel Pie Island, where we have pottered around on the river, run the dogs and their new pal Stan off their feet and waved to every passing boat from the terrace. Pretty cool to have the Thames at the end of your garden and this view with your morning coffee.

To Gary and Phil, Mel and Bill, Karin and Paul, Jean, Fiona and Steve and Clare, thanks for being such excellent hosts. And to Sarah, whose house we are descending on in East Sussex today for the final few days before la rentree, remember, we don't travel light so it may take a while to unpack!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Cote Ouest

Forgive me blog readers, it's been a month since my last post, where has the time gone? I intended to write an update before we set off on our road trip two weeks ago, but the pressing nature of cleaning the house and making it boutique hotel quality ready for renting out while we travel around Europe took precedence. If cleanliness is next to godliness, I am destined for great things.

First stop is Biarritz on the beautiful Atlantic west coast. There are not enough good things to say about la Cote Ouest. While I love Arcachon and Cap Ferret for their understated beach style, Biarritz seems to slightly tip the balance because it is just so damn cool here. We have rented a stunning apartment in town a few hundred metres from the beach with amazing views of the lighthouse and horizon, as you can see above.

Not only have you got wide open, wild, beautiful beaches everywhere you look, there's not a €25 a day sunbed or glitzy restaurant relieving you of €150 for a fairly average light lunch for two in sight. Instead, it's just miles and miles of sand, which disappears completely at high tide, and a number of perfectly situated beach shacks and fish restaurants serving everything from proper frothy coffee and home made brownies to excellent mojitos, uber fresh catch of the day, little tapas plates of chipirons a la plancha, padrons (little green roasted peppers) and a divine sole cooked Spanish style covered in garlic, olive oil and lemon.

Much as the food is a big draw and Bar Jean, Bar du Marche, Blue Cargo, where you can watch the sunset with a mojito to the sound of Club Tropicana, and La Plancha - still our favourite because Eric, who owns it, and Sylvain the barman recognised us after a year's absence and always find us a table no matter how busy it is - can attest to our loyalty on that front, it's the surf that has made this our (okay, my) must-do destination for the second year running (and I suspect many more to come.)

Something weird comes over me as we edge closer to the West Coast. I'm guessing there are not that many mid 40 (ahem) something women who forsake their early morning fix of Grazia Daily and for to check the swell, what time low tide is and whether there's an on or offshore breeze. Equally, there aren't many places in the world where I feel comfortable leaving the house in a skintight wetsuit which makes me look like a cross between a fetishist and a walrus to drive to Cote des Basques and throw myself into the waves. I even downloaded a few Beach Boys tracks in the car, to the horror of Handyman and Issy, who were forced to listen to Surfing USA and Little Deuce Coupe over and over again for the last 100 km.

Summer surf is unpredictable. Some days, it's virtually flat and you have to chase every wave, other days it's gnarly and the current makes catching anything a huge struggle. Add into the mix the fact that even the best surfers consider a 30 second ride a monumental success and you can see that it wouldn't appeal to everyone, being slapped around the face by huge walls of water and dragged into rips if you venture slightly out of the marked zones. Sometimes you just end up floundering in the mousse.

Today, however, dear reader, was one of those days when it all went right. Handyman rang me while walking the dogs early this morning to tell me that the swell was the biggest he'd seen since we arrived and the 'proper surfers' were all out in force. 'Maybe you shouldn't go today, it looks a bit scary, the waves are as big as me,' he warned as I struggled into my damp wetsuit, checking in with Magicseaweed before racing down to the car.

It was mega. For every wipeout (and there were a few) I must have caught six really decent waves. Inexplicably for mid July there was hardly a soul in the water which meant a 100m beach break unencumbered by small children or complete beginners. After almost two weeks of daily surfing, I have just got over the irritating blisters on my hands, scraped toes and other board-inflicted injuries that are par for the course and just as we are about to leave on the next leg on the trip to Spain, my body feels like it's well up for whatever the Atlantic can throw at it (well as long as it's not over four feet high.) The only thing missing is my surf buddy Sarah, above, who spent two short days here with me screaming with joy as we tried to catch the same belles vagues.

Another friend Sazza messaged me yesterday to tell me that I looked the best I have ever looked. I feel it too and the waves are in no small way responsible for that. At the risk of blowing the secrecy that surrounds one of my favourite places on earth out of the water, if you are feeling like life could be a bit more exciting or fun, grab a board and come on in, the water is just lovely.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Cautionary Tale

In about five minutes, it's my baby's birthday. Issy is 15 and the fun started a few hours earlier as you can see when I taught her how to play backgammon while we barbecued fish and duck and drank Charles Lafitte in a little family pre-birthday celebration.

It felt good to put a finger up at the lowlifes who ran through our house on Sunday afternoon, stealing whatever they could carry as we sat by the pool in blissful ignorance while Issy enjoyed a siesta in her room.

The dogs, who bark at EVERYTHING, did not make a sound for perhaps the first time in their lives. Oscar is excused as he was with us by the pool and heard nothing while Tallulah (okay, she is getting old and can't see so well) hid in a bush terrified as the scumbags legged it over the gate, snuck down the drive and into the house.

Once I called the gendarmes, naturellement the dogs went ballistic and more than made up for their poor show, barking and running furious circles around them.

More than anything, it's the inconvenience and time it takes to ring or email to cancel everything and reorder, renew and explain what has happened. Now we're all in paranoid stage as doors have to be locked during the day despite the fact that it's 30 degrees outside.

Usually I am a cup half full, if not completely full, but today I have to admit I had a wobble and a cry to my mum in London and felt unusually vulnerable and yes, I hate to admit it, quite down. And then I thought no, this is not going to get me. They are not going to win.

Funnily enough, of all the things that were stolen, what upset me most was the thought that the card I had ordered for Issy from Moonpig, painstakingly designed in photo upload by me (and we all know how technically minded I am) had been stolen. So when I found it on my desk cleverly filed under a sprawling pile of bills this afternoon, I was ecstatic. A small victory. Unfortunately for Handyman, his dog eared photo of the girls on the beach in Devon that has been in his wallet for the past 13 years did not make it. Ditto the beautiful Tiffany pen that they saved their pocket money up to buy for me last birthday to replace the one I had stolen in London as they knew how much it meant to me.

So what do you do in this situation? Luckily no one was hurt although the girls are sleeping in the same room right now and Handyman has a meat cleaver tucked under the bed. We are insured so it's not the end of the world. I'm all for a good cry, moving house and running down the culprits and making sure they never walk again (that might be the Lafitte talking).

Instead, after finishing the boring stuff and making an appointment in Marseille for Emergency Travel Documents in the absence of a passport (I've never been to Marseille so thanks guys), I went for a swim, bought some delicious food and we spent the evening on the terrace eating, drinking and laughing at the fact that our nutcase paranoid dogs, who attack every friend, poste person and UPS delivery driver, were too wussy to make a whimper when it came right down to it.

Laughter is the only way. Meanwhile, as summer arrives, make sure you lock your doors, be vigilant, don't be complacent and make sure you have a blunt heavy object at a handy distance.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Film Festival Fabulousness

It's been a whirlwind few weeks. Superyachts in Antibes and Genoa were swiftly followed by surfing, eating and cycling (eating definitely ruled) in Forte dei Marmi and book signings for Breathing Out in the UK, after which I barely had time to draw breath before it was Cannes Film Festival.

I can't do justice to Genoa and Forte dei Marmi here so I will return to my favourite subject of eating and drinking my way around Italy in a future post as I took it upon myself to seek out some phenomenal restaurants as the scales in my bathroom can now attest.

Signing books in the UK last week, I met an amazing and inspirational bunch of women all with their own stories to tell. Simone, my lovely nutritionist, came along and we met for the first time as thus far, all my consultations with her have been on Skype, 1,000 miles apart. That was emotional but nothing could prepare me for the signing after my talk, when many of the guests came up one at a time to share their experiences with me.

One, a bubbly, vibrant force of nature who is younger than me, told me she is fighting advanced bowel cancer. She is in the middle of chemotherapy but you would never know it to talk to her or look at her. There's not one ounce of negative energy about her.

Another guest revealed that she has lost one sister to breast cancer and her younger sister is currently fighting it too. She faces the prospect of being tested for the BRCA gene. Both said they couldn't wait to read my book and I felt humbled by the fact that they shared so much with me.

Tonight, I received an email from Jane, who told me how much she enjoyed the book. I've never met Jane and to get an email from a stranger saying thank you is a wonderful thing. Enjoyed may be the the wrong word to use, as she has just been diagnosed with breast cancer and is now in that awful limbo of waiting to find out exactly what happens next. I remember it well. She said she is feeling positive for the first time since diagnosis and is taking the book to show her Macmillan nurse.

Their reactions have reinforced my aim to get Breathing Out into every breast care centre in the UK, and then France, if I can get it translated, then goddammit, I'm going to go for world domination.

But before that I need to get through Cannes Film Festival. It kicked off last week with Grace of Monaco, which went down like a lead balloon with the critics for its mawkishly sentimental retelling of the marriage of Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly. In fact, you can read all about it in my report in this week's edition of Hello magazine. The parties are in full swing with amfAR the hot ticket on Thursday (ahem yes, I will be going, somebody has to and it might as well be me.)

My big dilemma is what to wear alongside the A listers who have every major league designer and jeweller at their disposal. I feel Sarah Millican's pain as my wardrobe is more Havaianas and halter neck sundresses than LBDs and Louboutins. I have hit on a plan however and asked to borrow the dress I bought Liv for her birthday which she wore to the brilliant Belvedere Rita Ora gig last Friday. I figure she owes me BIGTIME for that invitation and a borrowed Tara Jarmon number will do nicely.

So far the award for most random question at a press conference goes to a German TV journalist who asked Tim Roth (Prince Rainier in Grace of Monaco): 'Was there a moment when you felt like hitting Nicole Kidman?' And most overblown ego award (lots of competition for this one) has to go to the unknown male guest at the Calvin Klein Collection/Independent Filmmaker Project party who told his date:‘That’s Julianne Moore. She’s lovely. I KNOW HER.’

Part two next week....

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Little acts of kindness

A few nights ago, we were sitting outside the Donjon with a carafe of rose (yay nearly summer), watching the world (well BSL) go by. Benito, who spends more time at the Donjon than chez lui, was telling us how he had just got back from a day in Italy, fishing near Imperia for anchovies and sardines, before heading to the market on the way home to buy tomates sechées for €6 a kilo.

Next time he is in Italy, he told us, he will buy us a bag of sun dried tomatoes as they are much cheaper there than here. He was having coffee with one of the village mums, whose daughter Lilou took Oscar and Tallullah for several little promenades around the boules pitch (much to Oscar’s annoyance as he would much rather sit under my chair waiting for crisp crumbs than go for a walk). Benito then went to the boot of his car, hauled out a bag of fresh catch of the day and gave it to the mum as a present, refusing to take any payment.

Whenever Handyman strims the terraces, we get a visit from Rosine with a home made or grown offering. We've had pomegranates, coeur de boeuf tomatoes, tiny chilli peppers and last week it was her legendary limoncello made from the lemons in her garden. She asked for some of our oranges so she can make vin d’orange and marmalade the old fashioned way her mum taught her 70 years ago. The grass doesn’t really need cutting again yet but it will get done pronto because her vin d’orange and marmalade is every bit as good as her limoncello.

My friend Nancy recently set up a Facebook page called Carboot Valbonne and Around where you can post items you want to sell or find a new home for. What a revelation. As someone who has done the real thing too many times to mention (think 5am starts, freezing sleet and people who barter hard to knock 10 cents off a €1 price tag, even when it’s your 12 year-old daughter trying to make some extra pocket money), the virtual kind is so much more civilised, enjoyable and easy, even for an eBay virgin like me.

By now, you might be thinking, what is she on about, and how are all these little stories linked? Well, they aren’t really except that they all qualify as random acts of kindness to make life a bit easier/more enjoyable for someone else.

I gave copies of Breathing Out to Dr Lanvin (aka Clooney) and my chemo nurse Sus and Sus invited me to speak at a support group a couple of weeks ago. I went along not really knowing what to expect and met an amazing group of women who all had a story to tell. Two in particular struck a chord with me. Suzie has been battling some kind of cancer or other since she was 24 and has outlived every medical prognosis given to her. Stylish, smart and with a chic grey crop growing through after 18 months of chemotherapy, she showed me the tattoo she wears with pride on her wrist…Carpe Diem.

Carol, who was sitting next to her, was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer when her daughter was a year old. Her prognosis was also bleak but her daughter is now 15 and Carol is the picture of health and positivity. Medical miracles, both of them.

The boss of the cancer treatment centre at the Tzanck set aside an hour and a half of his time to come and listen and afterwards, he asked me if I would give a talk to some of France’s leading oncologists at the ISIS cancer conference here in November. IN FRENCH. What do you want me to talk about, I asked him, feeling hugely flattered and just a little queasy at the thought of pulling this off. ‘Just talk like you did in that room, about how you kept going, why you stayed positive and why you decided to write a book about your experiences,' he said. 'It will help us to hear more from patients like you who have come out the other side. And are you going to translate your book into French?’

Now there’s an idea.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Think Pink

What a week it’s been. Last Friday night, I was nervously sipping a cheeky glass of Champagne for Dutch courage and wondering if my book launch would be a success. So many people turned up, it was amazing to see so many friendly faces at the Donjon in the village, many of whom had flown in from London to be there on my special night.

I signed dozens of books, met lots of new faces and gave a speech in which I compared cancer to snowboarding (no, me neither but I seem to remember somehow managing to tenously link the two) and we finally got home a wee bit merry just before 3am. It was such a fantastic high point after a long and emotional journey.

I don’t usually blog about my illness. It feels like it’s firmly in the past and after a year of living through operations, treatment and fragility, it’s not a time I like to dwell on but it has been at the forefront of my mind this week. I have been relentlessly plugging away on Twitter and Facebook (apologies to all those poor people who are bored rigid by photos and mentions of Breathing Out, but it’s a necessary evil in the world of book publishing.)

And it’s working. I’ve had some brilliant reviews, very respectable sales on Amazon and Kindle and lots of press interest, including a magnificent book of the week review in Hello magazine.

This week, I had to have blood tests before seeing my consultant in 10 days’ time for a six monthly check up. It’s a regular thing now but still a time of year that is always a bit tense for obvious reasons and as I ran up to the lab tonight to collect my blood results, I had a few tears, the first in a long time (miraculously, I didn’t shed one during my speech last week although a few of my friends did.)

It was a combination of thinking back over that fabulous evening, recalling the wonderful emails I’ve received this week from people who have read the book and I’m sure a little bit was also due to the joy of being able to run all the way up the evil 1km hill for the first time in ages without stopping (thanks Calvin Harris for keeping me going).

I’ve also heard good news (I’m thinking of you, Kirsti) and not so good news from friends this week and, without wishing to sound corny or clichéd, I feel like seizing the day, enjoying life and not worrying too much about things that are out of my control.

This Sunday, I’m taking part in the Pink Ribbon Walk in Monaco with a bunch of girlfriends, kids and dogs to remember people who haven’t been as lucky as me. It’s going to be a warm sunny day and a fantastic event so please raise a glass on Sunday, wherever you are, and think pink.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Out of breath

I've just noticed that it's nearly two months since I last posted on my blog. What can I say, life has been a wee bit busy what with work, excellent ski conditions which have encouraged the odd afternoon of snowboarding action and the little matter of my book Breathing Out, which has just been published after two and a half years in the making.In fact, the picture on the left neatly ticks both those boxes, as this is exactly what the sky looked like from my most recent cheeky two hour snowboard in the mountains.

All the hard work, the many proof reads, the minor layout blips that threatened to derail my sanity, they have all been worth it to hold that very precious 172 pages in my hand. The cover that started life as a very bad sketch in my notebook (art was never my strong point) was interpreted beautifully and somewhat telepathically by Peter at Bespoke Book Covers as he managed to create the very image I had in my head. It has been a labour of love and a testament to how something that was the very worst thing to happen to me can be turned into something positive and a force for good. If it helps one person get through the same nightmare journey feeling a little bit empowered and in control, then my job is done. If it makes people laugh too, even better.

It couldn't have happened without my wonderful friends and family, along with support from great friends in my business. The fact that Elle Macpherson and Amanda Holden have endorsed Breathing Out is nothing short of amazing, along with Simone Laubscher, my wonderful nutritionist whose guidance and sound words got me to where I am now, feeling fit, healthy and ready for anything, even snowboarding, old fool that I am. And Piers Morgan, my showbiz boss from too many years ago to count, kindly retweeted it to his four million followers on Twitter.

This Friday, there will be a celebration and launch at Le Donjon, the fab bistro that has become the heart and soul of our village. We will drink Champagne, eat Thomas's delicious canapes and I will sign as many books as possible. Many friends are flying in from London to join my French crowd and I dare say it will be a struggle not to lose my cool. Waterproof mascara at the ready!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Vive la difference....les rosbifs fight back

I read an interesting feature in The Times at the weekend. It was written by Muriel Demarcus, a Parisian who has spent the last 10 years living in London and it highlighted the differences - and in the writer’s view - many of the downsides to living in the UK and being English as opposed to being French and living in France.

It got me thinking about what I would write as an Englishwoman living in France. Like the writer, I too have had a 10 year relationship with my adopted home country, having spent years coming to our apartment during every school holiday until we made the move to the Côte d’Azur.

I arrived with my rose tinted glasses on, naively believing that life would be the proverbial armful of crusty baguettes accompanied by a constant supply of sunshine, year-round sports and languorous days by the pool sipping rosé. It has been all those things to be fair. But there is an awful lot of other stuff that I didn’t factor in.

School. The French education system cares about one thing and one thing only. Results. My girls have always known their position in the class hierarchy at the international section of their French secondary school and their moyen - average grade per subject - is published online to keep them on their toes. Most tests are marked out of 20 and while a grade of 12 or 13 would have me piling effusive praise on the girls given that most of their subjects are being taught in French, from the teacher, more often than not it would merely elicit: ‘Could do better,’ or ‘Must try harder.’ I find the general negativity and lack of praise hard to handle.

Shortly after starting school here, Livvy came home astonished at the fact that one of her classmates had been belted across the back of the head with a heavy text book by a teacher for daring to pick up a ruler he had dropped on the floor. On another occasion, a classroom assistant dragged a boy suspected of bullying across the primary school playground by his ear. In the UK, you would be suspended for that. In France, c’est normale. On the plus side, both girls are completely bi-lingual and studying for A levels at her British curriculum international school is a breeze for Livvy following the rigours, discipline and relentless testing from four years in the French system.

Business. Getting a business off the ground here requires nothing short of a miracle and nerves of steel. I left my busy, dynamic and successful career as a showbiz writer in London to find that it was nigh on impossible to generate anything like the workload I enjoyed before. This is despite high profile events like Cannes Film Festival and Monte-Carlo TV Festival taking place a stone’s throw from my front door. They are great fun, but not enough to sustain an annual wage. And with the auto entrepreneur, or freelance, status recently having the upper earnings level reduced to something approaching €20,000 a year, unless you start a SARL or limited company at vast set up costs, you’re scuppered unless you work for a French company or work for the government, as a significant percentage of the population do here. Don’t even get me started on social charges.

Health. Having become intimately acquainted with the medical establishment in France, I can only say good things about the standard of care, speed and efficiency of treatment. My local hospital is scrupulously clean, spacious and friendly (the receptionist always remembers my name at each appointment.) Having a nursing office in the village means you don’t tie the doctor’s surgery up with blood tests, dressing changes and other basic medical requirements. If I need a GP appointment, my doctor picks up his own phone and slots me in within a day or two.

Lifestyle. Honestly, there’s not much to dislike about being a 40 minute drive from the nearest ski resort and 30 minutes from the beach. Our surroundings are like a ready-made adventure playground of cycle and running routes whose beauty takes your breath away. The river valley, gorge, waterfalls and dramatic cliff faces provide the best possible backdrop for any kind of exercise.

So like Muriel, who is happy to stay in London, I have no desire to up sticks and return to the UK just yet, despite the promises of economic recovery and the fact that certain aspects of my life would be very much simpler if I did. Besides, there aren’t too many places where you can sit outside for Sunday brunch in glorious warm sunshine in a T shirt in early January.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Happy new year! A week late. That's my only resolution in the can then, as not being late was top of my list for this year. I'm not sure why I haven't had time to update the blog as the last couple of weeks have been a happy melee of carol concerts, drinks parties, egg nog, christmas markets,a STUPENDOUS Christmas lunch, a second stupendous post-Christmas Christmas dinner last weekend (thanks Rob and Greg) and not much in the way of work. It's jolly hard work being a party animal.

I have to admit that the moment New Year's Day dawns, however, all Christmas cheer is banished back to the battered carrier bags in the shed for another 11 months. Why does it take twice as long to undress the tree as it does to deck it?

And so to 2014 and new opportunities. All of a sudden work is looking rather inviting in a month that is usually morgue like. January is all about the yachting industry and EastEnders. It's not often you see those words in the same sentence, unless you count Sid Owen quaffing Champagne on board a floating gin palace at last year's Cannes Film Festival.

Getting back into work mode is always helped by the girls going back to school. No more lie-ins til noon, unmade beds for days on end and a fridge which is permanently grazed upon and perpetually empty apart from the oddments of cheese wrapped in foil left over from Christmas.

We managed to get a few things done over the Christmas period, including sorting out both our office spaces and stocking up on Chianti, Prosecco, parmesan and taleggio on a day trip to Bordighera last week. What an amazing little gem, just over an hour's drive from here. As you cross into northern Italy from the beautiful last stretch of Cote d'Azur, the landscape becomes slightly more industrial and agricultural, with row upon row of greenhouses dotted across the hills just back from the coast.

Ventimiglia is the first stop, although not for me since the time Norma and I got towed away on market day and spent five hours in 40 plus degrees of summer heat and €400 getting our cars out of the pound. Usually we carry right on past Ventimiglia, flicking our own V sign as we pass, and stop at San Remo instead.

Let me tell you about Bordighera, which you can see from these pictures is tres mignon. There is a fab alimentari selling wine, cheese, parma ham and other specialities at rock bottom (compared to la France) prices so you can stock up on arrival and it's already been a worthwhile trip. Then you head into the old town, where the winding narrow streets boast trattorias and very decent restaurants serving fab vongole, ragu and all manner of other northern Italian cuisine at around half the price of my favourite (very authentic) Italian here, da Laura in Cannes.

We wandered down to the beach and ordered aperos at la Reserve, situated on a teak deck overlooking the sea which filled up within half an hour of our arrival. The drinks arrived with a platter of delicious antipasti for which there was no charge. Let me say that again...NO CHARGE! And you wonder why I love Italy so much. The promenade is traffic free and runs alongside several beachside eateries on stilts where you can still order lunch at 3pm on a Sunday. Talk about revolutionary. Is it any wonder we are returning in two weeks to celebrate handyman's birthday in true Italian style?