I love what I do, but, like everyone else, I have good days and bad days. Admittedly comedy does tend to feature a bit more variety than the average desk job, but I can tell you, a hurried drive down the M62, running late from one room of drunken stags in Manchester to another of hens in Liverpool on a Saturday night is every bit as depressing as turning up for a 9 to 5 at a paper merchants in Slough on a Monday morning.
And then sometimes you get flown to Antibes for a couple of days.
I was there for The Comedy Store, with guitar wielding Christian Reilly, staying at the home of the owner’s wife, Sylvie, and performing at gigs run by their son, Sebastien. Surely only an idiot would write a blog detailing the hospitality extended to him by his employer’s family, but then, as they say in France, je suis cet idiot.
Added to which, without wishing to be too obsequious, the hospitality was excessively good, and when it came to the food, pretty much unsurpassable. Sebastien had even gone as far as phoning me a couple of days beforehand to check if I had any dietary needs – in an industry run almost exclusively on basketed chicken, I cannot tell you how rare that is. I explained that my self imposed ban on red meat and dairy obviously didn’t include France on the grounds that I didn’t want it to, and that as we were in the Med, I would really like some Fruits de Mer at some point. Upon arrival, Sylvie picked us up from the airport and drove us to her beautiful house, then went inside to prepare lunch while Christian and I sat on the patio discussing our annoyance that not all gigs were like this.
I would like to extend my apologies (not to mention my surprise and disdain) to any avid fans of UKIP who might be reading this, but there are just some things that France does better than us, and eating al fresco is generally one of them. I am as much a fan of the good picnic as the next man, but there is something about sitting outside in the Côte d’Azur with a fresh baguette that simply can’t be beaten. Throw in a homemade mushroom quiche, two types of paté, cold roasted peppers with garlic, basil and olive oil, wash it down with a nice glass of rosé and I could quite happily punch Nigel Farage’s lights out whether he had a fag on or not.
And this was just the start – I believe we performed a comedy show at some point in the evening – but after that it was home for a delicious daube (Provençal beef stew,) a few more glasses of wine and bed. The next morning we drove to the boulangerie for croissants and pain au chocolate which Sylvie and I ate outside while discussing what we would eat for our last meal, which is a game I always enjoy. Apparently I am almost French in my tendency to discuss what I am going to eat later whilst I eat, which I regard as one of the nicest things anyone’s ever said to me.
We took a trip into town for lunch, and a wander round the harbour. One of the reasons an English language gig works so well in Antibes is the large contingent of yachties that are there at any given time, which, having grown up on the Isle of Wight, is the sort of sentence that would normally fill me with dread. However, these are, in the main, professional crew for the yachts and super yachts of the rich and famous, and generally more down to earth than your average braying Cowes week Hooray, although perhaps the same cannot be said of their employers. We whistled appreciatively, not to say a little jealously, at some of these behemoths of the sea, then walked round the corner to find the really big ones. It truly is another world when your own personal sea-faring plaything is bigger than the average cross-channel ferry, but I guess that’s what you get if your job title includes the words oligarch, sheik or massively obscene inheritance.
We met Sebastien at L’Oursin (The Sea Urchin) in the old town, which immediately endeared itself to me with its large fresh fish counter opening out onto the square. Inside is all varnished wood, brass and tasteful nauticality, but this was Antibes so we sat outside with everyone else. It is obviously quite touristy, but the restaurant seemed to be doing a thriving trade and featured that French staple, the older waiter who knows this is a proper job for a grown up. There is a serious amount of food on the menu, but in all honesty, what we had was a little hit and miss. Christain opted for a crayfish linguini which was delicious but so rich he couldn’t finish it, while Sylvie claimed her soupe de poissons was a little thin, and if Sylvie says something, you tend to believe her. The stand out dish was Sebastien’s sea bass with roasted vegetables, while my Fruits de Mer was ok – I’ve had better oysters and langoustines, and while these were good, I’m never going to be a great lover of whelks or winkles. However, sometimes the atmosphere and the company is just as important as the food and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t thoroughly enjoy my lunch, especially as it was accompanied by an excellent and very affordable bottle of Bernard Chéreau Muscadet, which also made me forget that while I can do raw clams with complete equanimity, the Englishman in me still prefers his mussels cooked and finds shrimps a bit fiddly.
After a visit to one of the best chocolatiers I’ve ever encountered, it was time to prepare for another gig (oh the hardship,) which I believe went very well even if it’s not really up to me to say so. We ended the day with a late meal of veal escalopes and I now know the secret is to add cornflakes to your breadcrumb mix – so not only was our trip enormously pleasurable, we can now say it was educational as well. After another morning visit to the boulangerie (did I mention I bloody love France?) it was, sadly, time to leave. It would be remiss of me not to thank both Sylvie and Sebastien wholeheartedly for their kindness and hospitality at this point, and I hope the gigs go from strength to strength, mainly so I can go back and do them again. We landed back in a drizzly Gatwick. The next day I flew to Glasgow for the weekend, where I was staying in an Ibis, which I suppose serves me right.