13 August 2013
I am currently sat in a delicious bubble of smugness. I need to watch this, mind, as I have often noted in past Plogs that smugness often immediately precedes a great cosmic kick in the nuts from above. In this instance, the smugness is generated by the fact that I am sat in a nice air conditioned room at the Sporting Club here on our unexpected return visit to Monte-Carlo which has been allocated to me by the management so that I can relax and reflect before going out onstage to conduct the Orchestra through the selection of Rat Pack classics which make up the show. Yes, for the first time ever, I have been allocated a proper nobby conductor’s suite in a proper nobby venue. I have a separate lav and shower, towels, a bowl of fruit, a fridge and a sofa. All for me. There is even a sign on the door with my name on.
In the time it has taken to tap out that last block of text, bang on time, the bubble of tranquil smugness has been burst by Scott Garland and his long-suffering tenor sax down the corridor commencing the ritual nightly warm-up. This will go on for the next two hours, and while Scott’s dedication to his art is admirable, and as a sax player myself I can understand the care and enthusiasm which goes into every tiny technical crenellation emanating from room 6, it has made the inside of the building about as tranquil as a sawmill. A sawmill, in fact, which as its staple diet is only allowed timber comprising mainly of knots. Mmm. Soothing. I fear that any second now young George Hogg, demon ace of the trumpet, and his chum Callum Au, chief mandarin of all things trombone, are about to commence practicing their horn section stuff. They’ve been working on this for a while now, and whilst being astonishing, it is, as Thomas Beecham may have remarked, extremely bloody loud. Aha! It has started- the perfect countermelody to Scott’s solo tone poem to the Canadian timber industry. I’ll try and get on with the writing, but if the tone of your jaded scribe begins to resemble that of Guy Gibson coming in low through the flak, you’ll understand why.
It has been a good trip though. The last show is tonight, and then off in the early morning back to The Gables via Nice Airport. Somewhere along the line a balls-up has occurred in that, most unusually, we have been spared the customary ordeal by Easy Jet, or Jet as Trading Standards should really insist it be called. It’s high season, and the short notice nature of this booking meant that tickets were a bit scarce. We’ve ended up with British Airways and their seats which were clearly designed by someone who possessed legs, arms and a head, as opposed to the Easy Jet ones which I reckon were designed by someone who was just a torso. The last-minute nature of the booking has also meant that the spread of gigs is a trifle unusual- there was one last Thursday, one last night (Monday) and one tonight. In its turn this allowed Her Indoors and I to get the further windfall of a weekend in the Riviera on the cheapo. Whilst the lads in the band had to go home to honour their previous commitments, we stayed out. I didn’t have anything in the book anyway, and all that she had to cancel was a spot of trumpet playing at a do in a marquee in Nantwich. Again, because rooms in Monaco this week were nigh on impossible to get hold of, we have been billeted out of town in a charming Riviera town called Carnoles. Pronounced Carnal Les, Carnoles is a small town in a bay inhabited mainly by retired French people. It boasts a good mile of stunning pebbled beach, amazing clear sea and one Indian restaurant.
Just for the record, the inevitable curry occurred earlier on today. Indian Moods of Carnoles did exceptionally well, with everything being hand prepared to order from the grinding of the spices upwards. The samosas were close to poetry.It’s air-conditioned, and clearly signed from the main promenade at the front. Mango Lhassi was a great hit, and the Lamb Jhalfrezi is also highly recommended. After last week’s good times in the Brick Lane of Monaco, I can say that an unexpected plus on a Riviera holiday is the high standard of the Indian grub. It’s just right for lunch on a really hot day too. I guess that the good Indian chefs who designed it all those centuries ago had exactly that in mind, but it’s a point often overlooked when entering the Taj Mahal in Watford in the pelting rain after a night next door on the bingo.
As well as the curry, the other main attraction of the Riviera is its railway. Memorise this map-
As you can easily see, a great deal of the nicest places on the planet are linked by this railway line, which in itself is one of the nicest things on the planet given that it runs more or less right along the coastline. I don’t want to sound incautious here, but I’d put this railway up there with the Met Line north of Moor Park, I really would. On Saturday, Her Indoors and I set off for a bit of intrepid continental rail travel from our station at Carnal Les to the resort at Juan-les-pins. It was baking hot, and even before I’d got on the train I’d managed to sweat right through the first of Satuday’s three shirts. Just look at the heat here- I can feel my nooks and crannies going just at the mere sight of it!
Some of the sweat was nervous, mind, as we had to contend with a French Railways ticket vending machine. For ten shame-and horror drenched moments, we were the idiot foreigners who cause the huge tutting queue to form as we attempted to operate the machine which even an enfant a quatre ans would have had no trouble with. Eventually a very nice French Gentleman called Frederick came to our rescue and operated the machine for us. We were saved! Then the huge comfy double-decker air-conditioned train came along. What a ride! We soon got used to the rhythm of the Riviera rail trip- Stunning beach in a bay, pretty town centre, stunning beach in the rest of the bay, small tunnel, repeat. This was the which we had upon getting out at Juan-Les-Pins-
What a splendid town! Because of the topography of the whole area, we soon realised that all the towns were laid out in a pretty similar way. This consist of around three blocks of shops and bars in front of the station until you hit the sea, and on the other side of the tracks a steep slope up into the mountains behind where the villas and medieval churches are put. Once you’ve seen a couple, you can understand the rest. And it’s all beautiful.
Buoyed by our success on the Saturday, on the Sunday we went after bigger game. I noticed that if we went the other way along the line from Carnal Les, we could reach Alassio in Italy. Alassio is an absolute stunner, and although roughly adhering to the mountain-churches and villas-railway-three blocks of shops and the sea formula, I remembered from a previous family holiday in 1974 that it was a town full of goodies! Oddly, my memory was correct. The station itself is a masterpiece of cod-roman art deco architecture left over from the times when Mussolini rebuilt the Italian railway. It leads out onto a beautiful town square, and then down to the sea. We were peckish. We decided that as were in Italy now, it would be fitting to have a nice bowl of spag bog. Unexpectedly, Spag Bog was impossible to find, and in fact places doing hot meals were a bit few and far between. If Olympic standard ice cream and pastry is your thing, you would have an easy ride there, but as proper explorers we did not waver from our search. That is, until it looked like we were going to miss the last train home, so we settled for a very nice family run restaurant on the front. Mum was the waitress, Dad was the chef and the teenage daughter was in charge of complimentary olives, and those great icons of 1970’s continental holiday chic, breadsticks. I settled for spaghetti with oil and garlic, thus earning half a point, and Her Indoors reverted to form and had something made mainly from melted cheese. Upon our return to the station, we discovered the true jewel in the Alassio crown- the station bar.
You can just tell when you have entered into an arena of the seriously hip, and the station bar at Alassio was a seriously hip version of one of those. Run by a couple of Italian lads in vests and tattoos, it was packed with, it would appear, locals who all seemed to know each other. British pub themers take note here- this was a bar with no trendy iconography on its walls- in fact the only thing adorning the walls was paint, no music, no special offers. What it did have was great looking snacks, booze of all descriptions, newspapers and ice cream. It and its little garden out the side were packed with all sorts, with all ages shape styles and hairdos sat around enjoying the evening air. What made this all the more shattering was that when we got to the Italy-France interchange at Ventimiglia, where you have to change trains, there was a bar there doing the same job. It must be an Italian thing. Proper grown up facilities for people who can behave like proper grown-ups. Loads of drink to all hours, but no trouble. While we were waiting for our French train, Her Indoors and I had a beer outside. This was at about 11pm by now, and we noted sadly that there is, to our knowledge, nowhere in a town centre in England which would feel that unthreatening at that hour with a beer tap at such close quarters. We liked the Riviera. We’ll be going back before long.
So to sum up, here’s the Plog short guide to Riviera holidays. The whole Riviera is brilliant. If you need a curry, you’ll want the French side, but you can save a few bob if you stick with Italy. Proving that it is all brilliant, I will conclude with the view from the window of the lav in my hotel room.
PS- Scott has gone onto the tantric meditation part of his warm-up. Tranquility is restored! I can get an hours shut-eye before the show now. Lovely.