Saturday, June 28, 2008


‘My heroes have always been cowboys/ and they still are, it seems/ sadly in search of and one step in back of/ themselves and their slow-moving dreams.’ Willie Nelson

Just before I left... at three in the afternoon, drinking plastic jugs of Pimm’s in Wetherspoons, someone reminded me of my main ambition in life aged sixteen.

‘Francie, you always wanted to be the Great Gatsby when you grew up. Now you’ve come as close as you can without getting caught up in a mess of car-crashes and hopeless, obsessive love,’ (or words to that effect) ‘Don’t you think it’s time you got yourself a new role model?’

I’ve been giving it a lot of thought. There’s no shortage of heroes.

  • Sydney Carton
  • Magnus Pym
  • Becky Sharpe
  • Inspector Grant from Josephine Tey
  • Tess of the D’Urbervilles
  • Desdemona (but not Ophelia)
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • Don Quixote
  • Toad of Toad Hall (actually Toad of Toad Hall is The Great Gatsby, just presented differently)
  • Jo from Little Women
  • Jo from The Chalet School
  • Yossarian
  • Ginny from the Marlowe stories
  • Elsie from What Katy Did
  • The protagonist in A Farewell to Arms
  • Miss Jean Brodie
  • Emma Bovary (but not Anna Karenina)
  • Matilda
  • Viola
  • Jude the Obscure
  • Emma from Emma
  • The protagonist in The Bell Jar (we need to reclaim this excellent book from the self-hating, self-harming, American teenage girls)
  • Jane Eyre
  • Steppenwolf
  • Kezia in various Katherine Mansfield stories
  • Sally Bowles in Goodbye to Berlin
  • Count Fosco
  • Mr Majeika
  • Stephen Dedalus
  • Lucy and/or Jill from Narnia
  • Dorian Gray

The problem is that most of them seem to be just as self-destructive as Jay Gatsby. Even Winnie the Pooh ends up lying down and taking it when his erstwhile ‘lifelong companion’ rejects him and the Hundred-Acre-Wood in favour of ‘school’ and conformism in the real world. Or else they’re cool while they’re young and then they turn down good-looking, rich charmers to marry elderly German professors, or boring English tuberculosis specialists, or pretentious, repressed homosexual dukes of crappy islands, and breed hundreds of moronic children. Of course since Bildungsromans about women, especially older ones, tend to have that anticlimactic feeling- the heroines grow up by discovering they have to stop doing whatever they want- you can’t really blame them for finishing their exciting youths off with a boring marriage.

I’m beginning to feel like Rimmer when he goes into Better Than Life, the computer game that makes all your dreams come true, and gradually realises that his sub-conscience has it in for him, and so all his dreams will always be nightmares. No, it’s not quite the same. But the problem with literary heroes is that an author can finish the story any time he likes, but you’ve got to live life until it’s over. (I just paid six grand to find that out.)

I may also be getting to old for an ambition that starts with the words ‘When I grow up...’


There’s a certain type of night-club that normal people don’t go to in England, if it even still exists there. Something happened in the 80s and 90s and suddenly red velvet banquettes, chandeliers and desperately over-priced cocktails with silly names became vulgar, vaguely ridiculous accessories within a location designed for a) young people and b) dancing. It became clear that a good night out needed three things only- a room, dim lighting and loads of good and/or fun music. Which must help to keep overheads down as well.

Delightfully, this discovery is a long way from having any effect on the way people party in rural France. A parody of exclusivity, cloaked in ostentatious interior design, still permeates small-town nightclubs attended largely by penniless adolescents and the odd slimy old man of thirty-five. Girls get in free- actually everyone except the tourists get in free, but they tend to try to conceal this information- and drinks cost about a million euros, but that’s ok because everyone is tanked up on cheap rosé wine long before they pile into their battered Renaults at 1am to make the half mile trip there. Or three and a half miles, once you’ve detoured round all the local police drink-driving checkpoint hotspots.

As we staggered out towards the Mistral in Aix-en-Provence last week after knocking back a bottle of Jack Daniel’s in someone’s flat, my hostess told me she far preferred French nightclubs because they still had class. Dunno about that- the Mistral’s walls were lined in plush velvet and the other English people there were paying €20 to get in, but the music and the clientele had a definite air of school disco (the real ones at school where you wore your new chenille jumper and pink lipgloss, not the ones where you try to pretend that your schooldays were the happiest days of your life in the shortest pleated skirt ever), especially when they all started singing ‘Build me up Buttercup’ at 5am. Since the average young French person dances almost as badly as I do I always have a good time in places like that. And it’s beautiful to cap the night off strolling through golden Provencal lanes watching the sun rise over the hills, rather than sleeping with your head on some drunk’s shoulder on the Bus Of Death.

Back in St Jean, we abandoned Coco’s, the saisonnier’s nightspot of choice, to check out the club attached to the casino in town. On the way my 21-year old boss wanted to turn back because I didn’t have my ID on me. One day he’ll know what it’s like to be my age. The casino was gorgeously tacky, with attractive croupiers in bow-ties laconically dealing cards to old French ladies with dyed hair at 2am, but we decided that if we were going to piss our money up against a wall we would at least have a multicoloured drink with a glow-stick in to show for it.

I was taken aback by this place because by some strange accident it had hired a really good DJ, who seemed as surprised as us to find himself playing to a handful of drunk students in the provinces rather than to the coolest of the cool in some Parisian cellar. With music that good it didn’t matter that the dance-floor was only a quarter full. And when we got a bit hot we could stroll outside for a cigarette on the beach. (My friends had explained to me that this nightclub was unfortunately non-fumeur- I’m intrigued as to which clubs are still fumeur, despite the new law.) And of course as the smoking ban is still fresh to France they’re still spending that 3 minutes outside chatting with strangers, unlike in London where we’ve learnt to stare at our mobile phones just in case someone thinks we’re not busy and tries to start a conversation. The other great thing is that these places stay open much later, which seems completely logical- if I start work at 10am anyway, I might just as well dance until seven as until three. It’s not like I work very hard anyway.

Why can’t we bring back circular dancefloors dominated by massive disco-balls in London? And maybe roller-skating waitresses as well. I noticed there were comment cards by the door in the St Jean Casino. Maybe I’ll fill one in next time.

Friday, June 06, 2008