Thursday, 17 September 2009

RIP Keith Floyd

Apologies for radio silence of late – let's just put it down to "technical issues"!

Anyway, things continue apace in the Francophile world. We're just finishing the latest issue of French Magazine, on sale 3rd October. It comes with a free 64-page copy of The Traveller in France, so offers top value. Features include La Rochelle, Pays Basque, a look around the lovely Languedoc home of Josephine Ryan (antiques expert and author) as well as some great recipes from Michael Caines and Michel Roux Jr – who can currently be seen picking the bones out of pro cooks' efforts on Masterchef: The Professionals.

It was very sad to hear of the death of Keith Floyd this week. I grew up watching this guy romp around Britain and the world, having a booze-up on camera and looking like he was having a great time. He was a West Country lad like me and attended the same school, so I always felt some kind of affinity for him, just because he was "one of us". I interviewed him in France once by phone – he was a committed Francophile and spent a lot of his time there. When I rang him, half of his village was being washed away by some kind of flood or mudslide but he was still charming and funny. The "C'est la vie" attitude sat with him very well.

A couple of years back we were looking at doing a special issue of French with a guest editor. Our first choice was Keith Floyd, of course, so we contacted his agent – but never heard back. What a laugh that would have been.

Since his death, every TV chef with a decent PR has clamoured to offer a soundbite extolling Floyd's culinary and broadcasting virtues but as far as I can tell, few of them offered him shared screen time in recent years. I suspect that's because he was far more charismatic and compelling than any of them.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Jolie Petite Histoire

Back from a few days in Dordogneshire – or Bergerac-on-Avon if you wish, during which I dined excessively on confit duck as usual and sampled a lovely 2004 Montbazillac in situ that would have set off a choccie pud just lovely. I also pretended not to be English in Issigeac on market day (a tall order). I achieved this by having the audacity to speak in French to some of the market stall holders. For this shameless affront to local sensibilities, I was hounded out of town by the mayor, a retired bricklayer from Knutsford. OK, this bit isn't true.

I can report that the airport at Bergerac is much improved, though quite why the good people of Ryanair insist on herding you into a facilities-free departure lounge about twenty minutes before the check-in even closes is a mystery that surely only Mr O'Leary could fathom. I look forward to the day that customers, not luggage, come along the baggage carousel after being stowed in the hold. Still, if you want a £5 flight, deal with it.

A lowlight on an otherwise very relaxing jolly was acquiring as many mosquito bites – some in places that even the great Michel Thomas would have been unwilling to teach me the French for – as in my previous 36 years put together. Those greedy French mossies have either immaculate taste or none whatsoever.

Driving around the vine-striped hills and vales of this lovely part of France with the radio on, a tune caught my ear amongst the usual dross of Fun Radio. The only words I could remember when I got home were Jolie Petite Histoire – and I had no group name or song title. But hark and watch, I found it on Youtube - it's a live version of the 1983 smash Cendrillon (meaning Cinderella) by Téléphone.

It sounds like a soppy ode to finding Prince Charming but is probably dripping with angst and irony. I can't tell – I struggle with French irony in the way that Alanis Morrissette struggles with irony in her native tongue. Anyway, it's a tune that, if it had been written and sung by an English or American group, would probably now be held in the same nostalgic esteem as Cheap Trick's I Want You to Want Me or Another Girl, Another Planet by The Only Ones, both of which I believe it resembles.

If anyone French is reading this, please can they tell me what Téléphone meant/mean to French people? I know nothing about the group.

Power pop with a beret on, smashing:

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Level playing field

An email about disabled access in France arrived this week. If anyone has any tips for Pat, please either drop me an email or leave a comment on this blog. Many thanks.

Here it is in full:

We look forward very much to our twice yearly visits to France and have for many years considered buying our own property, but other commitments have somehow got in the way!
We are a couple with an adult disabled son, and have for the past 12 years taken our holidays in an apart/hotel in Evian on Lake Geneva, however it is now necessary that we have specially adapted accommodation - 2 bedrooms with w/chair accessible bathroom and level access throughout. Because of our love for the region I have spent much time e-mailing tourist info sites to find that no specific literature for disabled accommodation exists - is this situation general in France as whole?
Surely we are not the only family to be confronted by this problem, therefore my question is: Is it possible your readers know of, or provide such accommodation, or, has the time come when we have to build from scratch to our own specifications? Have any of your readers done precisely that and are there any obstacles to watch out for?
We are not particularly looking in the Lake Geneva area but we do need to be in a town with level walks (preferably waterside) to shops, market, bars, cafes, etc. within a days drive of Calais.

Pat Powell, Devon

Sunday, 31 May 2009

10 things I learned in Nice

1. 4.40 euros gets you two white peaches. Juicy, pricy.

2. It's naive to think you can visit inside the fabulously grand Russian Church on a Sunday morning.

3. The iconic Thérèse, who runs the socca stall in the Cours Saleya market is one-part cook, three-parts crowd pleaser.

4. Men's mainstream fashion = tight, garish and a tad camp.

5. You can nick some sneaky wi-fi access in your hotel if you're lucky.

6. Don't be afraid of its grandeur, the Negresco hotel's bar is accessible to all.

7. The salades niçoises served in Nice's many open-air restaurants range from the delicious to the insultingly basic (no olives, limp lettuce – 11.50 euros, thanks for asking).

8. Everything is walkable, except the Matisse Museum. Get the bus.

9. Said museum is pretty, but pretty insubstantial. But it is free, unlike the Marc Chagall Museum.

10. For a sunshine weekend break, Nice can hardly be beaten.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

New French Magazine!

Salut tout le monde! We've just sent the latest issue of French to print – it's out next Thursday, 4th June, so be sure to order your copy or even subscribe (call 0117 9323 586). It's looking particularly gorgeous after a pre-summer spruce up.

New subscribers this issue will receive a cracking double DVD pack of James Martin's Brittany. In it, the likeable Saturday Kitchen chef heads off on a cook's tour of the Brittany region with culinary mates like The Hairy Bikers and Martin Blunos, picking up market produce and doing a bit of stovetop cooking, as well as dropping in on local cheese and beer producers, that kind of thing. I've seen the whole series and can strongly recommend it for a lovely armchair taste of France.

The issue has loads of good things in it - from watersports in the Champagne lakes (not literally, clearly) to Golf in Brittany, plus two stories of a dream life in Provence. Add to this the usual recipes and food news, reader comps, cultural reviews and property advice and it's the perfect read for the summer.

Next I begin work on the next issue of The Traveller in France, then crack on with French 76. If you have any photos that you think could grace the pages of our Vos Images readers' photo page, please send them to images@frenchmagazine dot co dot uk and if you have any comment you'd like to make about either the magazine or something you got up to in France, please drop me a line at edit@frenchmagazine dot co dot uk (you are not allowed to put email addresses on blogs, for some reason). There are prizes for the best of both, so get in touch!

I'm off tomorrow to France for a bit to, erm, research a piece for next issue on Nice and the Riviera (it's a terrible job, but someone... etc). I am hoping to get back to Grasse, home of French perfume. I went once years ago and they let me make my own aftershave (called "Lethargie pour Homme", of course), so I hope to replenish stocks. I imagine the ladies of France will hardly be able to contain themselves.

I hope to post a blog or two from Nice and Le Tignet, technical issues permitting. Stay tuned!

In other news, please check out Dan Johnson's blog over at Siblu - there's some good scope for discussion. Oh, and I've just reviewed the DVD of A Christmas Tale for the second issue of the brilliant new movie magazine Filmstar - the first issue of which is on sale today at all good newsagents and supermarkets. Alors, à bientôt...

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

**Special offers**

A few special offers from travel/holiday companies for you below - I will aim to post such offers more regularly so that you can eke out every euro from your pound sterling! Just click on the links to go to their websites and get full details.

Complimentary TGV travel to Burgundy or Provence and 10% off a Canal du Midi deluxe barge break from Go Barging

Until June 30th 2009, three nights for the price of two at selected hotels with Brittany Ferries

Some French golf break bargains to be had with Golf Planet Holidays

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Le couloir d'incertitude*

Apologies for the paucity of updates of late - it's been a busy couple of weeks, what with getting French Magazine to print (Issue 75 will finally be on sale on April 24th – look out for the Loire château on the cover and a free bagged issue of the Traveller in France) and then swanning off to the Lake District for Easter.

Given my family name, you might reasonably presume that I am a Lakes aficionado or frequenter. But despite my presumed Cumbrian heritage, the weekend's walking and pie-eating break was my very first in the land of "Thwaites" (clearings).

Some brief internet genealogy research (the cheapest kind) had revealed that my forebears may have been notable landownwers and so, seeing myself as some kind of prodigal son, I was expecting a triumphant homecoming as I passed through Kendal, gateway to the Lakes, onto Windermere and up to Bassenthwaite, the northernmost and least touristy of the waters where I would be staying.

There would surely be bunting, dancing girls and jugs of ale for the heroic southern softie who finally deigned to step foot up north to be with his brethren. Women and children would weep with joy as I made my way through my unfamiliar homeland, waving flags and knocking out Royal Wedding-style commemorative plates for future generations to either eat hotpot from or put on eBay. Instead, in Bowness I was queue-jumped by a stern-looking Japanese couple itching to get their hands on a battered sausage in Vinegar Joe's chippy. I ask you! Still, I'm sure there's a Stuart Maconie-style travelogue waiting to be to written on the subject.

In the meantime it's on with French Magazine Issue 75, which will feature, among many other Francophile-friendly delights, the changing face of Champagne – the region, not the drink – and the rise of Golf in France.

Talking of sports that we invented and turned out to be not very good at, there's a lovely piece on French cricket in today's Indpendent. I love a good day at the cricket – I can usually be found eyeing the cider tent by 11am at the annual Bath Cricket festival – and feel sure the game would catch on in France if, contrary to what the organisers and journalist hope, the French ditch the 20-20 format and opt for five-day matches.

To my mind, they wouldn't get bored at all. After a delayed start time thanks to whatever transport strike was holding up spectators en route to the game, then a four-hour, five-course lunch followed by an obligatory afternoon snooze, there would be very little cricket played – perhaps ten overs aside. Then it would be time for an apéro and off to dinner.

*Geoff Boycott's lovely phrase "corridor of uncertainty" might also be applied to the English Channel given the recent boat blockades. Ce n'est pas le creekeet, as he might say, and I hope that none of you have had your holidays ruined. If you have, to cheer yourself up just imagine, for a moment, Boycott commentating on French telly.