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

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Day One - to Épernay

I woke an hour before my 5am alarm and decided I’d had enough sleep. The weather was bad so I thought I’d make an early start. The drive to Folkestone was uneventful and the heavy rain promised didn’t show up. I had never visited the main Eurotunnel terminal before as I had always bought the Flexiplus+ ticket to have more options on return dates and times. As this is a one way ticket, it didn’t seem worth the money just to have breakfast in the (admittedly much nicer) Flexiplus+ lounge.

The quality of a full English breakfast varies inversely with the quality of alien elements introduced. Sure enough mine had hash browns and baked beans and was disgusting. It was almost as if the British Council had set out to please French tourists by reinforcing their prejudices about our food. Screenshot 2024-05-22 at 16.40.39.jpeg

I am intermittent fasting on a 16/8 cycle so no dinner for me today. That’s sad as I’m staying at my favourite hotel in Champagne, which has a superb restaurant. I may in due course need to adjust my cycle to allow for dinners, but I hate setting off on an empty stomach so will try to stick to the plan for a while. 

I arrived too late for lunch but they took pity on me (I’ve been staying here since before the young man who showed me to my room was born) and rustled up a chicken club sandwich to accompany my Ricards in the afternoon sun.

Absent a woman in my life to remind me, of course I set off without sunblock and — having driven with the roof down for a couple of hundred miles — am a good visual answer to the question “why do Australians call Brits ‘pommies’ (short for pomegranates)?” This won’t be an issue when I get to the warmer parts of this trip, as once my companion - let’s code name her “Babička” as the founding mission of this trip is to drive her to meet her new granddaughter in France – is on board with her luggage it will be no longer possible to drive with the roof down.

Babička will be on board from Prague to Provence. I may resume my pomegranating on my solo run from Provence to Spain for the ferry home. Meanwhile, here’s the route so far.

Tomorrow — on to Ansbach. 


A journey finally ends

I set out in Speranza (my 2009 Ferrari California) on May 21st to drive to Cannes via Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. Regular readers will recall it was quite an adventure. Speranza made it to Germany, where her brakes failed at 150mph on an autobahn. Exciting but not injurious — save to wallet and pride. 

I continued my journey in hire cars after she was recovered to the nearest dealer back in Luxembourg, where she remained until last Monday — almost two months!

The carbon ceramic brake disk that cracked is a “lifetime” item. It’s quite possible — as my car is approaching 100,000 miles — that I was the first customer ever to require a replacement. Many owners have a collection of several Ferraris with less mileage in aggregate than Speranza. She is a rarity for having been used as designed; a grand tourer, taken on grand tours. I can easily imagine Maranello having to order a pair of the disks from the manufacturer. For whatever reason, it took weeks.

Then diagnostics revealed two more issues. A worn wheel bearing needed replacing — another wait for parts. And a software update mandated by Maranello caused an engine sensor to fail. Fortunately that only required a software patch to fix – after yet another delay by Ferrari. If the responsiveness of their parts department reflects that of the Formula One team, it's no wonder no Ferrari since Speranza was built has been entitled to the "Constructors' Champion" badge she bears on her dashboard.

I flew to Luxembourg last Monday to collect her. I’ve put on a lot of weight post-COVID and post-WEXIT (my name — Wife Exit— for my divorce). Heathrow seemed bigger than I remembered and I was exhausted by I got to my plane. Sulking in metaphorical tents is good for neither physical nor mental health.

Public transport goes from not quite where you are to not quite where you want to be via places you've no desire to go. It was great to get back to independent private transport for the return journey. I must remember what that plane trip felt like though. In my heyday I flew several times a month and never once felt like that. It was quite a shock. If I’m to enjoy my remaining life, I clearly need to take better care of myself. 

I was unsure how I'd feel about driving Speranza after the late unpleasantness. I was done with the dealer within 90 minutes of landing so found myself with an afternoon to kill before dinner with my friends. So I drove out along the Moselle Valley towards Germany and enjoyed the wine country scenery. Monday was a bad day to do it. All restaurants and all but one of the vineyards were closed. I managed to buy some "thank you" wine for my host and then spent an hour at a view point overlooking the river. It was probably only 80 km or so, but by the end of it I was completely at ease with Speranza again. She was a joy – as she has been for most of the almost 90,000 miles I've driven her.

IMG_5246Arriving late afternoon at my friend's house, we had a glass before the other dinner guest arrived; a mutual Russian acquaintance from when I was my friend's bank's lawyer in Moscow. We spent a pleasant evening chatting in a delightful restaurant. We sadly remembered a time when we all thought – with what now seems foolish optimism – that Russia was becoming a normal country.

Our Russian friend has left his country. Having passed his language and other tests, he's waiting for his Luxembourg passport to come through. Russia doesn't do dual citizenships, so then he won't technically be Russian any more. He made no complaint, but talked cheerfully and knowledgeably about a wide range of subjects. Still, I felt for him. During twenty years as an expatriate I often enough missed my home culture. How much worse to be, not expatriated, but exiled?

The war in Ukraine has terrible consequences – and not just for the Ukrainians. As the truth slowly dawned on international investors, few of the Russian lawyers I trained to do such businesss were using those skills even before the war began. Now, it seems vanishingly unlikely that they ever will. They and the other citizens of one of the world's great cultures are suffering – as so often – because of the corruption at the heart of their polity.

 

I've no sympathy at all for the evil and/or clinically-insane Russian leadership. At the risk of being de-banked by some half-wit with the political understanding of a sixth-former, I do feel for the Russian people. They can't all decamp to Luxembourg.


Going home

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My friend is going to drive me to Luxembourg Station at 1215 to catch the 13:11 train to Brussels. I have a carry-on sized wheelie case from which I plan to hang my bigger grab bag full of (now mostly dirty) clothes. My heavy camera outfit (complete with tripod) is in a backpack and I have a laptop bag to hang on my shoulder.

I shall be quite the beast of burden today, but goodness knows this trip has taught me how much I need the exercise. My post-Wexit self-neglect did a lot of damage.

In Brussels I have an hour and twenty-nine minutes to transfer my burdens to the 15:27 Eurostar to London. I am required to be there sixty minutes before "check-in" (how pretentious – it's a choo-choo train, FFS) so that gives me an ample half-hour for haulage.

I shall then have a more or less relaxing (I'm in the cheap seats) trip of just two hours and four minutes to St Pancras for 19:00 (thanks to the time difference) and an Uber home to Chiswick. I should be home by about 20:00, deo volenti.

Fingers crossed that I finish the trip at my target percentage of just 18.75% "rescue days". At least, if one of the trains breaks down, I won't have to negotiate a recovery truck with some dodgy local!

I am no fan of public transport of any kind and rather dread the prospect of a day in the hands of unionised and probably Communist public employees, but it's nice sometimes to be irresponsible. Let's hope the train drivers don't feel the same way.

Update 1: the gods of engineering strike again.

My scheduled train to Brussels is cancelled. I catch the next one — an hour later and may well not make my connection. I have an “attestation” from Luxembourg Railways of my innocence in being late which should snag me a new ticket on a later Eurostar if necessary. I’m not calling this a rescue yet as I don’t expect public transport to work anyway. 
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In the meantime, lunch  

Update 2: the gods of bureaucracy extort their tribute

Belgium passing byDo I even need to say I missed my connection? The train from Luxembourg lingered at each little station en route. It was a pretty run but the thought of the grief awaiting me at Brussels Midi Station preyed on my mind. I had to rush to the check in just in case but my train had gone.

Even if it hadn't, I was sixty sweaty, miserable minutes from the waiting area for the next one. I spoke to a staff member who directed me to the desk to change my ticket. With the aid of my attestation that went well enough. I asked if I could go to the gents before I proceeded. It was too late and the next ones were at the other end of a long security pantomime. She took pity on me and put me into the fast track. God help the poor losers in the slow track! 

I am old experienced enough to remember when countries only worried about the people arriving. The Brussels police took an age to decide it was ok for me to leave their country. I wish they'd put them to work fixing lethal potholes instead, but their gaff their choice.

Then the security theatre began. The bags their sister company would have left unexamined in the boot of my car (I've had three random checks in twenty years of using LeShuttle) were examined at length by people who'd done badly at school. 

Then a line for British Immigration to pretend they control our borders. Hundreds of Albanian cocaine-dealers must have landed on our beaches while I submitted to this farce. The automated passport control never works for me. Sure enough the robot invited me to "seek assistance". A grumpy Belgian Eurostar lady waved me into the middle of the manual check queue.

This caused a minor international incident as a group of Chinese Communist Party members (I lived there, remember? I recognise their style) took hearty Marxist exception to the Belgian lady's attempt to cut me in. I asked politely if they were all together and waved them through. At the same time I gave a Paddington Bear hard stare to the gentleman behind them so he'd do me the same courtesy. 

The family ahead of the Chinese was complicated. Each of their three kids had a different passport. Father got grumpy with the officer whose hackles visibly rose. Mother pushed him back and grovelled until bureaucratic pride was satisfied.

One further sweaty and unpleasant queue later I was on the train and deploying my luggage around the various racks. I must look a mess, but the ordeal is over. Provided the engineering gods leave this nineteenth century tech alone, I shall soon be at St Pancras looking for a ride home. 

I really hate trains. And it seems I hate them more if they're run by idiots trying to pretend they're spaceships. Lighten up, Fat Belgian Controller. It's just a bloody choo choo. 

It was not fun today, but – if I am spared a taxi breakdown on the way from St Pancras – I am claiming my 18.75%. Result!

Update 3: London is cheap

No, of course in general it isn't, but £36 was enough to take me – not in an Uber but in a London taxi that has to compete with Uber – 7.8 miles from St Pancras to home. In Luxembourg yesterday, it cost £65.47 to go 6 miles from the airport to my friends' house. There's the power of competition for you. In Luxembourg the government, lobbied by taxi drivers, has banned Uber. There is no legitimate reason to license service providers to rip people off, so perhaps it's best not to speculate was the actual reason was?

I had a nice chat with my London cabbie and was safely back home by 8.40pm. The trip is over – at least until I return for Speranza and use the return portion of my Eurotunnel ticket. What a ride it has been!


Last driving day

All went well on the way to my meh hotel in Dijon yesterday. I had left the booking too late because I was hoping to stay longer in Bandol if a couple days delay allowed the dealer to fix Speranza. Once it was clear I’d need to go home and return to Luxembourg later, I decided to stick to my original schedule. The American chain hotel was all that was available on short notice. It was like being in the States but with grumpy staff. The French do good customer service usually, but these guys seemed ashamed to have betrayed their country by signing up to serve “fries with everything.” It was forgettable and I already regret the time wasted on this paragraph!

IMG_1828I decided to breakfast en route and hit the road as soon as I’d showered and dressed. In the end I paused for a leisurely brunch.

My hosts in Luxembourg were returning from a holiday themselves and were not due home until 2pm so I replaced what would usually have been a Ferrari dash with a Kia saunter. It was a pleasant and relaxing journey through Bourgogne and onwards. The weather was beautiful, the scenery was picturesque and I actually found myself singing along to my driving playlist, while allowing the adaptive cruise control to keep me broadly legal.

Nira and I arrived at 1440, unloaded my luggage at my friends’ home and spent a couple of hours relaxing in their garden before heading to the airport to hand her back to Hertz by the 6pm deadline.

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Annyeong, Nira

Their guy told me the likely approach to the costs I’d incurred when Yoko broke down would be that I’d be reimbursed for the recovery truck but have to pay for the repairs from my €1,300 insurance excess. That was better than I hoped and so I went cheerily (if expensively — wow, the Luxembourg taxi drivers lobbying to ban Uber has paid off!) back to my friends’ home for espresso martinis, a delightful meal and a lot of chat and reminiscence.

The percentage of trip days requiring recovery or rescue is 20% as of today, Sunday. Let’s hope the Eurostar doesn’t break down! If it arrives without problem and my onward Uber gets me safely home the final trip percentage should be 18.75% tomorrow. 

Thanks for coming along for the ride, gentles all.


Autoroute du Soleil

On Thursday evening, after learning a little about French justice from my friend’s account of his visit to the family court with his ex wife and their daughter, we set off for dinner in another little yacht/fishing port of which I had never heard.

It was just as pretty as the better-known ports of the Côte d’Azur but entirely free of tourists. Just French families going about their leisurely business (and a Russian accountant on her way to being French, her Big Four company having found her a job here). Monsieur D seems intent on confirming every English stereotype about the French by chatting to every pretty girl he meets. On this occasion, as on all the others I’ve witnessed, his charm was well received (though with a pointed mention of the lady’s fiancé before he turned it up too high).

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Yesterday, we had crepes for lunch in yet another unknown (to me) seaside town. This one was a tad more touristy, but still relaxed and charming. After a little tour of the local vineyards, we returned to Bandol and — ignoring the droning speech being made by the local mayor to a nearby boatful of voters in shorts and floaty dresses — had a drink and a chat before hauling my unfit organism back up the hill to where we’d parked. The anticipation of that climb had taken the edge off my enjoyment of my pastis, if I’m honest. 

Today I rose early for some online chores in the metaverse of which I am a long-term citizen. Then after breakfast on the terrace, and a last look for a while at the Mediterranean, I loaded Nira up for the journey home. 

IMG_1827I overnight at Dijon tonight, deo volenti. It’s nice to be back on the familiar Autoroute du Soleil, on which Speranza (and before her Vittoria and Claudia’s I and II) and I have so often driven in the past 20 years. There’s something to be said for the anonymity of a Kia. I haven’t had the usual paranoid sense of being juicy prey for the gendarmes. She ProCEEDs amiably enough, with no fuss and the benefit of electronic driver-aids of which Speranza can only dream. I’m sure she’d disdain them anyway. 

Tomorrow I head back to Luxembourg. Speranza is not ready, alas. Modena entirely failed to deliver the parts ordered on the day of my incident, so work has not even begun. Ferrari seems unaware that any of its owners actually use their cars. So many are, after all, mere showpieces. 

I will return home by train from Luxembourg on June 5th and come back again when Enzo’s heirs finally extract their elegant digits from wherever they keep them warm. It’s going to be a tough journey with a carful of luggage I never expected to be heaving into a rack on a train. 


Bandol

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Monsieur D., with whom I lunched in Antibes last Sunday, lives in Bandol near Toulon. Yesterday I left the home in Cannes of my Polish friends and drove here to stay with him. It was the shortest drive of the trip and passed uneventfully. Having parked Nira at our home for the next few days, we set off in his car with his chocolate Labrador (one of the friendliest and calmest dogs I've ever met) for a quick tour of the town, a walk on the beach and a coffee by the sea.

Ring finger - 1He's engaged in a big deal at the moment and spent a lot of time talking and texting. So I checked my email at the café and read a notification from the Family Court that had arrived while I was driving. My divorce from Mrs PII was final. I confess it was a sad moment. I took off my wedding ring and sent her a photo of it on the café table alongside my finger, marked by its absence. My caption said "Now we are exes" and she replied "and friends." I guess that's about as well as a divorce can go. Still, I was glad to be with a friend when the news came through. His presence (and my male pride) kept me stoic.

In between his afternoon business calls and over our evening bouillabaisse in a local restaurant where he's a regular, we talked about business, our industry and our lives. We discussed his own – far worse – experiences with two divorces. He has a court hearing today about custody in the aftermath of the latest one so it's still fresh – and bitter. He received a couple of calls and a stream of texts yesterday from his ex. It was a reminder that things could have been far worse for me.

More entertainingly, we discussed the relative merits of his current girlfriends, one of whom (bless his optimism) he thinks might be "the one". If that makes him sound naive, that's misleading. His approach was rational, practical and entirely devoid of romanticism. In my life, I have had such discussions about which car I might buy next, discussing their relative merits and how they might suit me, but never about women. I remember worrying endlessly before each of my marriages whether I could make my wives happy. I never asked what was in it for me. Like some dumb teenager in a pop song, I just fell thoughtlessly in love. Everything else (in truth, most important parts of my life) I trusted stupidly (or, let's be kind, romantically) to "fate."

My friend's ruthlessly evaluative French approach has still led him twice into trouble and strife so God knows what hell awaits if ever I trust my naive lack of judgement again! I wish him (and all my friends) well in the quest for a perfect relationship,  but I am setting myself the simpler task of learning to live happily alone. To know your limitations is, after all, the beginning of wisdom.

While he's in court today, I shall take the opportunity to catch up with neglected commitments elsewhere. I shall rest quietly in his home in preparation for another un-but-should-be accustomed walk with his dog later.

Percentage of days on tour involving a rescue is now down to 27%.


Preparing to move on

IMG_5042I had a quiet day yesterday after the various social and engineering excitements of the trip. I did some washing, some reading and watched some TV.

My local friends in Mougins had told me I reminded them of Raymond Reddington; the anti-hero of the Netflix FBI procedural The Blacklist. So I watched a few episodes to see what they meant. They insist they intended the comparison as a compliment but, while he's certainly a clever and resourceful chap unfazed by obstacles, he's also a murderous psychopath so I have mixed feelings! It's a good show though.

Yesterday was a bank holiday, so I couldn't chase for updates on Speranza. Today I heard that the dealer in Luxembourg still doesn't have the parts they ordered from Ferrari. So she's not going to be fixed by the 4th June for me to return to London on the 5th as planned. In fact they're not now expecting the parts until 2nd June, so it could be a while.

In keeping with the indomitable spirit of this trip, I won't allow this to change my plans. I will drive to Luxembourg on the 4th to drop off Nira, my hire car. I will stay with my friends there as planned for a night. Then I will return home by plane or train and keep my Eurotunnel ticket to use when I return to collect Speranza - whenever that proves to be. I have a FlexiPlus ticket for LeShuttle which their service team confirmed today is totally open.

In other news, I also heard today that the final consent order has come through in my divorce. I agreed with Mrs PII that she can push the online button to make it all final. So that's progress. I shall be a single man again in the next 48 hours. Form an orderly queue, ladies. Not.

My Polish friends whose house in Cannes I am so very much enjoying never managed to join me because of a sad family problem in Warsaw. That's a shame as I had looked forward to spending my first real time with them for a long while. Visiting them was the founding idea of this trip. I will leave their lovely home tomorrow to drive to Bandol, where I will spend three nights with my French friend before heading for Luxembourg and home.

I have to say there's no need to feel sorry for me – despite all the malice of the gods of engineering (and marriage). I am enjoying being out in the world again and dealing with life's ups and downs like an adult. Sulking under my metaphorical bedclothes was no way to use the gift of life.

Yes, the trip has not gone remotely as planned, but oddly that seems to have helped restore my self-confidence. Shit has happened, but so far (and perhaps I shouldn't speak too soon) I have cleaned it up and moved on regardless. Days on tour involving rescue are now down to 30%. Let's hope that percentage continues to fall.


Another misadventure

Screenshot 2023-05-29 at 04.39.48Yesterday was - for the most part - an excellent day. I had arranged with an old friend from Moscow days (let's call him Monsieur D.), now resident once more in his native France, to meet him for lunch at my favourite restaurant in the whole world. I was very much looking forward to it. 

Having showered and dressed I had an hour to spare before I needed to set off. I decided to check out the sea views my friend had told me about from the top floor of the house. They were indeed superb. The house has a lift - a tiny tubular device for one person only. I thought I'd try it out and set off to the ground floor. I almost made it. It stuck a mere six inches above the ground and I was trapped in a coffin-sized space. As I tried to escape, it became hot and sweaty and the glass tube misted up. It was too small in there even to sit down while awaiting help.

Fortunately I had my mobile phone in hand. I called my friends' long-suffering concierge. Within 30 further minutes help was at hand. Within an hour of my original confinement, he managed to open the external door. The internal glass door could not swing out because it was trapped by the frame of the lift. It swung inwards too, but I would have thought it impossible in such a confined space to get it past my bulk. Freedom is strongly attractive however and – hot, sweaty and anxious as I was after my ordeal – I managed to squeeze out.

A520A34C-087E-4C05-9E41-0DF612DB8056 A520A34C-087E-4C05-9E41-0DF612DB8056Thanking my saviour heartily, I headed out in Nira to collect Monsieur D. from Antibes and drive us to the restaurant. We were installed in the shade on the terrace outside with a beautiful view of the Mediterranean under a flawless azure sky. Our reminiscences of Moscow were few. Both of us were too sad about the current situation and too disappointed that the marvelous country we'd worked to help rejoin the free world was once more as cut off as it had ever been.

Neither of us knew any more about the situation in Russia than anyone else because all our friends in Moscow are afraid to say anything as their communications are closely monitored. Modern tech allows that to be done more thoroughly even than the old KGB could manage.

My friend is still very active in my old world of real estate. We talked about his business (in which I have an investment) and the projects he has in hand, before catching up about our marriages (two each) and our daughters (I have two and he has three). When I was giving myself a calming talking-to back in that broken lift, I couldn't have imagined that life would seem so happy and so normal so quickly!

I'm counting my lift adventure as equivalent to a roadside recovery, so my percentage of days on this tour involving a rescue is now back to 38%. It's hard not to believe that the Universe is telling me something on this trip, but I still have the humility to know (at least after giving myself a severe talking-to in that anxious hour) that it doesn't know or care that I exist!


Catching up

My first outing from my new base was to visit my friends in Mougins  – let's call them Mr & Mrs L. I respect their privacy so no photos today. I met them 18 years ago through their son. A mutual friend sent him to me in Moscow. He was 18 and looking for work experience so I introduced him to some of my clients. His father sent a polite thank you note and invited me to dinner "if you are ever near Mougins". I replied I would be there the following month, accepted the kind invitation and we've been friends ever since.

I always used to attend MIPIM in Cannes - the annual jamboree of global real estate. Dinner at the Ls' became part of my programme each year. 

Their son was only visiting. He is living post-COVID life in London, where he works in the City, but his parents still observe COVID restrictions. Their other guest at dinner – a French lady – pretty much compelled the traditional kissing, but I took the view "their gaff, their rules" and refrained from our usual hugs. It was a sad reminder of the fear governments instilled in the hearts of many citizens. They run their business from home and have not really left it since I last saw them.

Fist-bumps done with, we spent a splendid evening. I told my sad stories and was given much sympathy from Mrs L and a lot of avuncular advice from Mr L.

He is a classic car and motorsport fan. He owned 38 classic vehicles in his time, culminating in his present treasures – a flawless factory rebuild, which is arguably the best Bond-era Aston of its type and a Mercedes formerly driven by David Coulthard. The Monaco Grand Prix is this weekend and he regaled me with stories of his experiences there as a guest of one of the team sponsors. I was very envious of his pit-walks and chats with famous drivers. When he was a teenager, he used to trespass at Silverstone, which is next to his old school, Stowe. His very first glass of champagne was given to him by the great Juan Manuel Fangio, who was celebrating the purchase of a couple of cars from Jack Brabham! He has both their autographs.

I really enjoyed looking at his pictures of all the cars he'd had. Understandably, he finds my 12 year loyalty to one vehicle odd. He had many interesting ideas about what I should now be driving.

I have hopes we'll now have more chances to spend time together. The L's are thinking of retiring and Mr L promised to "bother me" more in London when they visit their son. We also talked of going to Goodwood events together.

I am thinking – as part of the return to my old life after the dark era of COVID and divorce– that I might go again to MIPIM next year. Many people from my former real estate universe will be there. It  presents a great opportunity to catch up with many friends (including the Ls) in one beautiful place – and is the perfect excuse for more road trips to Cannes.

I only stopped going because it clashed with the Goodwood Members Meeting, which I started attending with my Dad after I retired. I am a huge fan of the Goodwood Festival of Speed, a 260,000-visitor motorsport event, and used to go every year. My Dad was already too frail to cope in such massive crowds. The Members Meeting is restricted to members of the GRRC, so was perfect for him. We had good father/son moments there before he became too frail even for that. I went alone this year, but it was not the same. I will go to the Festival of Speed instead next year, making a return to my old haunts at MIPIM possible.

I had a small misadventure. I arrived home in the early hours and couldn't unlock the front door. I was preparing to sleep in the pool house before calling for help in the morning, but ventured a text to the local concierge to see if he was awake. Thankfully he was. He explained what I was doing wrong and I was able to sleep indoors!

My plan for today is to chill by the pool. I may venture out later for dinner or order my first French Deliveroo.

Days on tour involving recovery trucks are now down from a high of 50% to 28.5%. Long may that trend continue!


Mougins

One of my favourite places in the world is the little village of Mougins, up in the hills above Cannes. It was the home of Picasso in his later years and is just ridiculously cute. If you have a mental image of the perfect French village, this is it (although St. Paul de Vence can give it a good run for its money). Every time I visit, I ask myself why I don't live there. Wiser friends who've looked into it less impulsively, tell me I shouldn't because of people like me – gawping tourists - who make it uncomfortable during the season.

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Old friends of mine live there and I shall dine with them tonight. Until then, I am just relaxing after the stresses of my unduly exciting journey. I am off to keep cool in the pool until it's time to get ready.