THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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June 2018

Movie review: Black Panther

One of my lowbrow vices is superhero movies. For me it’s a continuation. My boyhood best friend and I collected and swapped American comic books. I fell in love with the United States through their stories and their advertisements targeting US contemporaries who seemed — from the purchasing power assumed — to be more prosperous than humble me in the 1960s North!

I was a DC boy; favouring Superman, Batman and Green Lantern over Spider-Man, Thor and the X-Men but as a modern movie phenomenon there is no question that Stan Lee’s Marvel Studios is winning. Perhaps because it has been better at creating a coherent imaginary universe (the “Marvel Cinematic Universe”) where all the characters live and interact and the stories intersect.  

I enjoyed the appearance of King T’Challa, the Black Panther, in “Captain America: Civil War.” Race is such a toxic factor in American society that it was inevitable the character’s first movie to himself would involve identity politics. I told myself I could ignore that, just as I have to ignore so much other Hollywood political nonsense to enjoy good stories being well and expensively told by great actors and other technicians  

I told myself wrong. 

I can only account for the good reviews by some equivalent of the Rotherham effect. “To criticise this piece of trash is to invite accusations of racism. So let’s lie, say it’s good and keep our jobs.” Perhaps even the editors were afraid of such accusations? How else to account for the slow pace? Perhaps the producers were afraid of them too? How else to account for their tolerance of acting (with the honourable exception of Andy Serkis) so wooden as to be a fire risk — not that any of it ever does catch fire.

The plodding rhythms of the comedy-Nigerian accent adopted for the imaginary African tech-superpower of Wakanda lull one relentlessly to sleep. I have never had a distracted chat during a Hollywood car chase before — I LOVE a car chase — but when one doesn’t give a damn if the heroes live or die, a raindrop’s path down a window pane could distract. 

All the black actors have to do is look stern and noble. All the white actors have to do is be white. Like the wearers of black hats in 50s cowboy films, you just know they’re “the baddies”. When they show up in Korea with predictably nefarious intent they are called out over the good guys’ radios as “Americans” — through gritted teeth. America being, you see, a bad place where black people are “over-policed”. Even Stan Lee’s cameo is seedy, damn it, and he’s the very god who made this universe!

Andy Serkis at least has fun. His character is a racist (natch) so he hams it up with an Afrikaans accent. He’s a great actor and (pace Martin Freeman who CAN be great but shamed himself with a meretricious performance here) he steals the movie. He does it from the villain’s role just like the late, great Alan Rickman stole Robin Hood Prince of Thieves from Costner’s wooden acting and a crappy (though far more engaging) script. To show I’m not a snob in these matters, RH—PoT is one of my favourite movies, thanks both to Rickman and to Morgan Freeman in an early precursor of today’s ideology-warped rôles.

My interest was briefly piqued when the simple racial divide between good and evil was breached by a black character behaving badly. Spoiler alert. He turns out to be merely misguided; wanting Wakanda to come out of hiding and use its technological superiority to liberate the world’s black people by overthrowing every government on Earth and ruling them “the right way” — i.e. as an empire led by an absolute monarch legitimised by a religious hierarchy. In short everything that would be wicked if the emperor’s skin lacked melanin.

Fortunately the Black Panther prefers splendid isolation (“Build that wall, King T’Challa!”) to black imperialism. So it’s back to “black skin, good and noble” and “white skin, bad and sleazy”.

The Ku Klux Klan would have been ashamed to tell a tale with so little nuance. Don't waste your money! And please don’t encourage Martin Freeman to prostitute his undoubted talent like this again. 

A corset-maker by trade, a journalist by profession and a propagandist by inclination


Five years ago today in New Jersey I stood outside the home of my hero Tom Paine, author of Common Sense, The American Crisis, Rights of Man and The Age of Reason.

In his day he was known as “the most dangerous man alive” though his only weapon was his pen. So mightily did he wield it that President John Adams said “Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.

He helped shape the new republics of America and France; serving in the Revolutionary French National Convention representing Pas-de-Calais, bravely opposing on moral principle (anti-monarchist though he was) the execution of the deposed King and escaping the guillotine at the hands of Robespierre by pure luck. He was “a corset Maker by trade, a journalist by profession and a propagandist by inclination.

Washington had Paine's pamphlet The American Crisis read aloud to his troops to inspire them. It begins:

These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.

He is the most important but least remembered of the Founding Fathers because — though profoundly religious himself — he offended the conventional (and in the case of the slave-owners, hypocritical) religiosity of the early Americans. Sadly his influence was also lost in France, where his fan Napoleon, who slept with Rights of Man under his pillow but whom Paine recognised shrewdly as “the completest charlatan that ever existed,” overthrew the Revolution.

When I stood before the images hewn into Mount Rushmore, I was probably the only person there thinking it sad that Paine’s was not among them.

I blog under his name not because I agree with all his ideas (he was as misguided in details as he was sound on principles) nor because I consider myself his equal (though he would have insisted upon that) but because he is a hero of the cause of Liberty. Also because if he were alive today the greatest of all pamphleteers (no publication has ever reached the same percentage of Americans as Common Sense) would blog and tweet to dangerous effect. I hoped my humble writings in defence of beleaguered Liberty might exert even a millionth part of the influence his had.

If only his ideas had been as successful in his native Britain as they were in his adopted America how much better the world might be today. I still hope one day we shall bring his revolution home.


Family friends, childhood friends, school friends, university friends, work friends and online friends; they come in all shapes and sizes but they are life-enhancing. A life thus unenhanced would be an unbearable prospect so – to any friends reading this – thank you. I appreciate your contribution to my life.

In other languages, people are more careful about ranking friends than we are in English. A German or Austrian distinguishes carefully, for example, between "ein Sportfreund" (with whom one perhaps plays tennis),  "ein Geschäftsfreund" (with whom one does business) and "ein Freund" (who will come to one's funeral, even if it's raining). A Pole reserves the rank "przyjaciel" for the rainy funeral friend and badges someone we would call a friend as a "znajomy" or acquaintance. Most of my friends according to English usage are just a "dobry znajomy" (good acquaintance) in Polish. Make careless use of the feminine word for friend  –przyjaciółka – and you may accidentally imply a degree of intimacy with a Polish lady that your circumstances do not justify. 

Our friends in the Anglosphere come in different ranks too, but we don't signal that in speech. In this we are aided by the fact that we only use the polite form of the second person singular these days. "Thee" and "thou" – signals of easy familiarity – have not been heard in everyday English since my Grandad used to greet me with "How are thee, lad?" The English, and even more the Americans, will call people friends that a Frenchman would never tutoyer.

I first found that one of my best friends was entitled to that rank years ago when I had some financial difficulties. A careful chap with his money, he produced his cheque book unprompted and offered to lend me enough to tide me over. Though I didn't accept, I knew he was no mere znajomy. A former client I thought, and hoped, was a Freund revealed himself to be – by describing me as such over the telephone to a mutual acquaintance – a Geschäftsfreund. I was disappointed, but at least I knew. The imprecision of current English usage has its benefits but also its costs.

Perhaps we English-speakers choose to blur the distinctions between people ranging from those we stay in touch with by Christmas card to those to whom we bare our souls in a crisis, to be diplomatic. Or perhaps, as it seems to those whose languages retained such niceties, we are a deceitful bunch. Often, I suspect we are deceiving ourselves. When I retired I never heard again from several people I had thought of as my friends. Some such usage as Geschäftsfreund might have helped me not to fool myself into an unwarranted loyalty – and have left me with more leisure during my career to be with my family and real friends.

Some in the next generation don't seem quite to understand how friendship works. This thought (and this post) was prompted by a blog post I read this morning. An old friend (first met online and later in meatspace) expressed an outrageous view with which I could not possibly agree. We are of similar vintage but it occurred to me that, if we were millennials, that might be the end of the friendship. First I laughed, because the thought is ridiculous. Then I frowned because for some young people it isn't and I worry how that will affect life in the future.

My lady friend, rather younger than me, was surprised by the guest list for a dinner party I threw for my London friends. Guests included a Corbynite Labour person (and Evangelical Atheist), a fairly conventional (though also Atheist) Tory, a Revolutionary Marxist and a devout Catholic. She was concerned that the evening would turn into an enormous fight and thought it most unwise when I positioned the more militant atheist opposite the Catholic and the Revolutionary opposite the Tory. Yet we had a wonderful evening calling each other out on the absurdity of our various views (mine of course uniting all of the authoritarian statists against me) and ended the evening in a drunken sing-song. Afterwards she observed that the Marxist would have everyone at the table shot if the revolution ever came. I agreed but laughed; saying that he was otherwise a good, interesting chap and that as it wasn't coming his homicidal intentions were hilarious. To be honest, I don't think he'd have the zeal if it came to it. He's too nice to murder, even if he has the ideology to justify it. Like many politicos, he opines comfortably in the knowledge that he'll never get to put his ideas to the test. 

Another friend of mine has got lost in the darker corners of the internet and acquired some unsavoury views. If one was not concerned about bringing down the attention of his local security forces on him, one might even say he has been radicalised. Yet he was horrified when I asked him to stop sending me daily agitprop emails and, to be honest, he had a point. A friend doesn't ask a friend to stop spouting garbage. A friend mocks a friend mercilessly for it and changes the subject. Our generation has both cheerfully exercised its free speech and not made friendships conditional on political, ethical or religious agreement. When I dined with him recently he had invited another radical guest to back him up. I made a mild riposte or two before changing the subject by embarking on a sit-down set of my best jokes. The evening went swimmingly and we all parted friends; perhaps even Freunden or przyjacele!

Free Speech is more than a slogan. In a functioning democracy, it's a way of life. Not only should we tolerate it from strangers, we should embrace it among our friends for who is more likely to save us from error? A stranger on a soapbox contradicting our opinions, or a friend around our table over a glass or nine of wine?

Photo essays from the Cote d'Azur

Here is the video of the photo essays my classmates and I made at our Cote d'Azur workshop. At the end there are some bonus shots (a few of them mine). The bonus images were good, but didn't fit the stories we were trying to tell.

The title of my essay has gone slightly awry in the video. It was meant to be "Beaches, Boulevards & Bling: the style of the Cote d'Azur" – but I think you will get the idea.

Home again

There is little I like better than a well-maintained open road through pleasant countryside and a great car to drive on it. I had wisely decided not to venture out in search of food last night. I used "Uber Eats" to have a young Frenchman on a bicycle bring me soup and sashimi. Thus refreshed, I tried to relax by watching a movie but found myself so exhausted I couldn't stay awake. So I gave up and went early to bed. I woke very refreshed by a solid eleven hours of sleep. This may seem excessive, but the demands of my photo workshop led to my staying up several times to the early hours editing my shots. I had felt unsafely tired on yesterday's drive and it had taken many breaks and coffees to ensure my safe arrival in Dijon.

It's really not wise to drive a supercar in such a state. Or any car for that matter.

My sleep deficit eliminated, I sprang into enthusiastic action. As soon as I was showered and dressed, I loaded the car and returned to the hotel to grab a quick breakfast before hitting the autoroute. I use this modest hotel because it takes me only a couple of kilometres off the road. It's simple and clean and (when I am feeling more energetic) has a couple of modestly decent restaurants at hand. I've never uttered a word of English there because the lady d'un certain âge on reception really seems to appreciate a bit of effort to speak French – and speaks it herself so clearly and elegantly that it's not such a strain to cope with as it can be elsewhere. It's in a little development on the edge of town that no-one without business there has any reason to visit. The plentiful parking is therefore quite secure. I have never had a problem on this or my previous visits. Indeed I've never seen anyone but another hotel guest admiring Speranza – and she normally draws quite a crowd.

She has been thoroughly on song this trip. She handled delightfully as we headed north. I set off with her roof down but raised it on refuelling as it was quite cold for a while. The bright, clear conditions were perfect for driving though and it warmed up enough to lower it again for the final stretch. It took us four and a half hours to cover the 580 km to the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais. Add to that one brief stop to refuel and a couple of short breaks to stretch my legs and answer calls of nature and I was parked up at the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais by 2:00pm – a bit early for my 5.50 pm train!

Speranza on the Flexiplus car park at Eurotunnel Calais

I had breezed through the well-automated check in. The UK border police had asked a couple of impertinent questions but hadn't delayed me unduly (as they never do in this direction though they always search the car on my outward journey for some reason). The advantage of the more expensive Flexiplus fare (apart from the rather nice lounges and "complimentary" food) is that you can travel on any Shuttle. So I gave myself a half-hour break to eat at the lounge (no food being permitted in Speranza's cockpit) before boarding the train scheduled to leave at three minutes to three. This got me back to Folkestone earlier than I left, thanks to the time difference. Soon I was refuelling on home soil before facing the nationally-degrading contrast between motoring in the North of France and South of England.

We used to console ourselves that our crappy infrastructure reflected the lower taxes in the U.K. Now that's no longer the case, it's clear our public servants are either less competent than French Énarques, or just less keen on doing honest work. Probably a bit of both. I suspect our politicians are also keener on creating non-jobs as "gender coordinators" or "diversity tsars" than hiring engineers. For the French, lip-service to such egregious nonsense is the very most that is required.

By 4.30 pm London time I was parked up at home and working out the logistics of my next trip – a more modest one than this 2,000 mile adventure. On Friday I am driving to North Wales to celebrate my father's 80th birthday. Mr Paine Senior came to fatherhood early, as witness the fact that I am 61 and often (to my irritation) mistaken for his younger brother!

I realise that my burblings about touring the Côte d'Azur in my beloved Ferrari are probably not helpful to the usual purposes of this blog. It must certainly irk those with any taint of identity politics and confirm the prejudices of any passing SJWs. In some ways it might be better to write about travel and politics on separate blogs, but since I think all opinions should be evaluated in the pure and indiscriminate fire of Reason, I am inclined not to worry. Those people who take the medieval approach – now fashionable again – of evaluating ideas according to the status of the person expounding them are already lost to Reason!

Normal political service will therefore resume as soon as I catch up with the news I have missed while artistically engaged. I understand President Trump, for example, has been busy trying to earn the Nobel Peace Prize that was handed to his predecessor gratis. Let me get back to you on that one!

In the meantime, if you care to read more about the workshop I attended, you can find my classmate Tammy's blog here. The completed record of my journey on Track my Tour is here.

Cutting the mustard

I set out apprehensively this morning to pick up Speranza from the parking garage where she has been stowed all week. Another British guest's Ferrari was broken into yesterday in the garage recommended by the hotel. I heard him on the telephone organising the replacement of his smashed window so that he could get underway to catch his Eurotunnel Shuttle home. I hope he made it. I needn't have worried however. She was in good shape. I had rejected the hotel's suggestion as to parking because, inspecting the garage on Google Maps, the entrance ramp looked too steep. I chose instead to park under the nearby Meridien Hotel in what was claimed to be the most secure parking in Nice.

I drove her back to the hotel and loaded up. With all my photographic and computer gear (for editing) I have a lot of stuff with me. I was on the road by 0930 and  – by studiously ignoring the satnav, which was unaware that the usual road to the autoroute is closed and using my own local knowledge based on my difficulties on arrival (and on visiting my friends in Mougins) – found my way West quite easily. It's an L-shaped journey home, following the A8 from Nice toward Marseilles and then joining the Autoroute du Soleil North towards Lyon.

The weather was perfect. Alternately sunny and overcast and with temperatures peaking at 35℃. I drove with the lid down until I stopped for lunch at 1230 and kept it up afterwards to avoid getting sunburned. By the time of my second refuelling stop of the day, it was mid afternoon and I was further North, so the roof came down again for my final run to Dijon, where I am staying overnight. I am a bit bushed to be honest. This week was great fun but hard work. I am not sure I can be bothered to go and and find food, but a couple of hours rest may change that.

Here is the class photo from this week's workshop, with the great man himself second from the right at the front, flanked by Liza Politi who, with her partner Ari Espay (not pictured because he's taking the shot) organises the event and his able young assistant Cali. Your humble blogger is at the back beneath his Panama hat. The organisers are waiting for faster internet than the hotel in Nice can offer to upload the video of our collective efforts, but I will post a link when it has been published.

As usual, my route can be followed here. My classmate Tammy's blog can be found here. With a bit of luck, this time tomorrow, Speranza and I will be on the Chunnel Shuttle home.

Turning in my assignment

I was downstairs at 0730 for breakfast this morning so as to be in the classroom with Joe to go through my photos at 0800. I gave him twenty-five shots to whittle down – in the role of photo-editor – to eight final "selects". It was an interesting exercise. Jay Maisel says that for photographers "editing is next to godliness" and Joe had told us yesterday that a good edit involves cutting good pictures. It was quite something to watch a master apply his approach to editing to my work.

I had no complaints. He ruthlessly cut my favourite shot because it was just not sharp enough to survive. He could see why I liked it and agreed it would have been a perfect part of my story, but it just didn't make the cut. It's not what a photo means to the photographer who was there when it was made, but what it says to a viewer who wasn't.

My classmates went through the same exercise between 0800 and 1000, when Joe replayed the edits on the big screen for all our benefits. We had seen most of the pictures before during the critiques in this week's classes but it was different to see them together as part of a photographer's chosen story. It was also fascinating to see what a place I love and know well means to my classmates.

We then headed off to lunch at a beach restaurant. That was "my" South of France; the one I have known for decades. Sitting there with great food and a breeze off the Mediterranean it felt very different from the place I have been slogging around on on a photographic mission for a week!

We returned to class to view the video Ari Espay, one of our faculty, had made of our work. He stitched together all our "photo-essays" and threw in a "grab bag" of good photos that didn't serve our stories. When I receive my copy I will host it here and post a link.

We went on from there to a "farewell dinner" at a local restaurant. Most of us are heading out tomorrow bright and early so this really was goodbye to a group of people made friends by a fascinating shared experience.

Cannes and a deadline

After our class this morning, we set off to Cannes. This little French town is a second home to me. For decades, I attended the MIPIM real estate fair at the Palais des Festivals every year. Even since I retired from practising law, I have usually visited to stay in touch with my friends in the business. It seemed strange today to be there without them. Usually, when I walk along the famous Croisette, I bump into several chums. Today, the only people I could recognise were my fellow-photographers.

The pressure was on. This was the last opportunity to generate new images for our "photo-essays". I finalised the title of mine as Beaches, Boulevards & Bling: the style of the Cote dʼAzur so have given up on my original satirical intent. I wish I'd done so from the beginning. I could perhaps have approached subjects and won their cooperation if I'd been able to tell them it was their style that caught my eye!

Boulevards  Boulevardiers & Bling_18 Boulevards  Boulevardiers & Bling_15 Boulevards  Boulevardiers & Bling_05
As it is, almost all of my shots are candid. If I have any gift as a photographer it is for directing models. This approach has denied me the use of that. And my size (I am 6' 7" tall) makes it hard to be an inconspicuous presence on the street. My candid subjects often wear nervous expressions that belie the relaxed atmosphere of this playground for the wealthy.

Having clarified my intent, I found today's shoot easier. I knew what I was looking for and, in Cannes where I feel very much at home, I knew precisely where to look. I strolled a lot along the Rue d'Antibes (Cannes' Bond Street or 5th Avenue) and the Croisette (Cannes' beach promenade). It was a shame that, as it was Sunday, most shops were closed but I still found stylish and well-accessorised people out and about. I found a couple of hunting hides where I could sit and wait for prey. I even found time to have a non-alcoholic cocktail or two at my favourite terrace bar, which brought back happy memories of time spent there with friends and family since I first visited in 1991.

I skipped breakfast today, had a hearty (but healthy) lunch and have dispensed with dinner. I needed the time to go through 600 photos (I took many more this week, but have culled them ruthlessly each day) in order to find 25 "selects" for the faculty to cull. We have been simulating the job of a photo-journalist on assignment in the good old days of Time/Life magazines. They will simulate the photo-editors of those days with each of us, one by one. They will then present both our selects and their final choices to the whole group; explaining why they chose as they did. Tomorrow morning should be interesting.

Friday and Saturday in Eze, Monte Carlo, Mougins and Tourrettes-sur-Loup

My best prospect for finding subjects for my photo essay project was Monte Carlo. Flâneurs congregate around the casino there like wildebeest at a water hole. I hoped hunting would be good. First though, our group met at 0730 for a pre-departure portrait shoot in Nice. The local photographer assisting our teachers, Manu, had agreed to pose for portraits in a café near our Nice hotel. Our lead instructor Joe McNally had scouted the location and cleared our shoot with the owners. A fellow-student had also recruited a personable young musician, Coco, whom she had seen perform the night before, to model for us.

Coco and Manu portraits_01

Joe is particularly known for his mastery of flash. On previous workshops I learned a lot from him and I now prefer to light my portraits. This workshop is about creating picture essays like those of the long-gone glory days of Life and Time magazines, however, so we were tasked to shoot with natural light. I had the most fun so far working with our two models and more of my final selects can be found here for Coco and here for Manu.

Coco and Manu portraits_02

On the way to Monaco, we visited the little medieval hill town of Eze. It was raining steadily and the steep pavements were slippery but the buildings are picturesque and one of them housed a shop where I was able to relieve my sodden misery (not having brought a coat) with the purchase of an umbrella. 

The weather cleared in Monte Carlo and we worked the scene thoroughly in our different ways. I came to the realisation that my original project was too nasty for me to pursue with any conviction. I am no fashion critic and as I searched for examples of OTT glamour, I decided to just look for "bling" instead. There's plenty of it to be seen in this part of the world and the people who wear it are not ashamed of it. With this in mind I shot over 500 images.

Manu, our model and guide, led us out to dinner at a remarkable French take on a burger joint. This was a problem for me on my diet, but I handled that well enough by ordering a chicken burger and throwing away everything but the chicken. There was an option to have a salad instead of fries so that (and two and a half litres of water) completed my meal.

I then paid the price of my intensive shooting by staying up until the early hours editing my images to find seven to present for critique. After too few hours of sleep I rose for breakfast and joined my fellow-students at our class, which (with presentations and critiques) took until midday. 

We then set of for a splendid lunch at one of my favourite restaurants in the world; the Place de Mougins. This was my second visit on this trip to my favourite French village and the food did not disappoint. It was as refined as last night's dinner had been hearty. Having opted for the vegetarian version, I was able to eat everything except the dessert (a soufflé that my friends told me tasted as good as it looked) and the highly-decorative petit fours.


I have visited Mougins many times in the thirty years or more I have been coming to the South of France, so I am mainly interested to see how my fellow-students saw it with their fresh eyes. They are an observant bunch and never fail to photograph things I miss. Tomorrow's critique session should be interesting for me.

Mougins etc_02

We returned to Nice via another medieval hill town - Tourrette-sur-Loup, which was picturesque with its steep, winding streets and oddly-shaped houses. It is almost entirely dependent on tourism, but was far less crowded than Eze or Mougins.

Tomorrow we are going to the town I know best in these parts, Cannes.


Wednesday and Thursday in Nice and Mougins

We had our first class on Wednesday morning. Each of us students contributed five or so photos, with no particular theme, to give the faculty an idea of what kind of photographers we are. If we had been on courses with Joe McNally and the team before (as most of us had) then they would also give them an idea of what progress we had made. Joe went through them in front of us all and offered each photographer some critique. Mine were mostly portraits and went down quite well. It was more interesting for me to see what my fellow-students had submitted. Their work was of a pretty high standard.

Our brief this week is to pick a theme and shoot a photo story around it. I rashly chose one that will be hard for me – because of psychological, rather than technical difficulties. Past courses have taught me that I find it hard to approach strangers to photograph them. Even in countries (unlike France) where photographers are legally entitled to shoot anything they can see from a public place (or a private place they have permission to be) potential subjects are often reluctant unless thoroughly flanneled. There is some pride in me that makes it hard to ask a stranger for a favour. There's also some English reticence about approaching a stranger at all!

Many potential subjects think they have a right to privacy on the street (a contradiction in terms, as they're in public, which is the literal opposite of private). In France, where the law on the subject is, let's be polite, illiberal they actually DO have a right! Working with friends, models or other volunteers, I actually enjoy the social aspect of portraiture; directing and playing with them to get the expressions and poses I want. However I certainly don't enjoy the mild aggression of "stealing" a candid shot, or the social embarrassment of chatting a stranger up to persuade him or her to pose. My final product from this workshop will therefore either be a flop, or I will have grown – and perhaps not just – as a photographer.

The idea is that it's time for this experienced body of students to move on from f-stops, photographic and lighting techniques and to get down to serious photographic work. On previous courses the faculty has produced a video at the end featuring our best work. I have usually hosted them at this site and published a link in my travelogue. This time they will produce one for each of us – effectively the final version of our photo essay.

Joe kicked off by showing us examples of great photographic features from the past, such as W. Eugene Smith's "Country Doctor" from Life Magazine in 1948 and John Loengard's "The Shakers". All his examples included an "opener" to draw the reader into the story, general shots to set the scene, detailed shots to drive the story on and a "closer" to end it. We are supposed to produce something along those lines this week, about a theme of our choosing. The only rule is that it has to be about Nice and the Cote d'Azur as that is where we are, in effect, "on assignment." This is quite daunting.

After class, we headed out on or own or in groups of friends to shoot on the Promenade des Anglais. The light was beautiful, as the skies were overcast, but, in the absence of the sun, there was not much doing on the beach. Council workers were setting up barriers and a finish line for some kind of running event (ironically called "No Finish Line") so the promenade itself was like a construction site. Amongst this mess, holiday-makers and locals were going about their business. 

I've been coming to the South of France every year on business and pleasure for over three decades and had decided to focus on a particular kind of "character" that is often to be found here. The Cote d'Azur is a high rent sort of destination and visitors are often stylish and even glamorous. Among them however there are those who lay on the glamour too thickly. They have one or more too many pieces of jewellery. If they are men, their watches are out of scale with their wrists and their dress sense is not the most tasteful. All unaware of this they stroll about (or buzz about in their Lamborghinis) to amusing effect. The French have a word for strollers, loungers or loafers on city streets. It is flaneur. It means almost the same as boulevardier, but has a slight connotation of vaguely disreputable idleness. A boulevardier may or may not be louche, but a flaneur almost certainly is. I decided that my photo essay would be about the local flaneurs

I hadn't reckoned with the fact that the best strategy for getting subjects to cooperate – being honest about your artistic intentions – would not be available to me! I am aiming to do a photographic hit job on these, perhaps a little vain or vulgar, but essentially harmless types. I can hardly saunter up to someone and tell them I plan to hold them up to photographic ridicule! I did find a couple of shots that might fit the story. I have the rest of the week to find more. I took care to shoot in a way that my subjects can not be identified from the photos (although they would of course recognise themselves if they happened upon them).

On Wednesday evening I left early to drive to my favourite village in France, Mougins, to visit some old friends for dinner. There had been an accident on the autoroute and the usually agreeable drive wasn't. It was also  raining so the roof stayed firmly up. Nonetheless I had a splendid evening in their company – for the first time ever without any drink as I am off alcohol for the time being. They had invited some other friends, a retired English lawyer who had actually worked at one of the same firms as me (though our times there didn't overlap) and his delightful Iranian wife. I found my way back to my hotel in the early hours of Thursday morning and set about editing my pictures for tomorrow's critique. I finally got to bed at 03:15.

I bunked off the early morning photoshoot on Thursday in the nearby market to get an acceptable amount of sleep, joining the group for breakfast followed by our next class. After lunch we set out to shoot in the Old Town of Nice; a warren of narrow streets packed with tourists and the shops, cafes etc. that cater to them. I had no raincoat, never having needed one in this part of the world before. That was an error. Rather than shooting on the streets, I ended up sheltering first in a church and then a cafe. I kept my camera drier than myself and managed to get some shots, but I don't think any  serve my story, even tangentially.

Tomorrow we are off to the village of Eze and then to Monaco to shoot around the Casino at Monte Carlo. I think I can reasonably hope (weather permitting) for a good few specimens of the "type" I am hunting around there. The casino car park is usually full of their kind of vehicle!

We shall see.