Down here near Nice, you find most locals unsurprised by the catastrophic Genoa bridge collapse. The Italian border is only a few miles away but most people will find any excuse not to cross it — including my wife and me. In fact, these days we don’t go there at all. We haven’t done for years. Friends find this strange. After all, Italy’s closeness is one of the reasons we bought the place. So why do I fight shy of motoring through the long autostrada tunnel that runs under the pre-Alps, linking Menton to Ventimiglia? Because it’s bloody dangerous. Not on the scrupulously maintained French side, brightly lit with clearly marked carriageways. But the moment you flash over the border into subterranean Italy, everything goes pear-shaped. At least I think it’s pear-shaped; it’s so dark it’s hard to tell. Cat’s-eye road studs vanish for hundreds of yards. The Italian authorities don’t seem to have any programme of replacing blown bulbs and gouged-out reflectors. The result is a journey through a darkness relieved only by the dazzle of approaching lorry headlights ruthlessly switched to full beam.
Collisions in tunnels are the worst kind — confined space, darkness, lack of access — yet the Italians have for years allowed their vital link between the Côte d’Azur and Amalfi coast to deteriorate into deadly darkness. Three years ago, after a hair-raising near-miss with a heavy lorry in the Stygian gloom, I vowed never to drive into Italy again. Italian engineers now say the Genoa bridge collapse may be the harbinger of dozens more across the country, thanks to a corrupt municipal menu of slapdash building, mafia involvement and lousy maintenance. Driving through the Menton-Ventimiglia tunnel is your delightful antipasto to all that. No grazie.
Back in May I ‘terminated’ defence secretary Gavin Williamson live on Good Morning Britain. He had repeatedly dodged my question about his statement after the first Salisbury nerve-agent poisonings, when he said Russia should ‘go away and shut up’. Oh dear. The defence secretary channelling Vicky Pollard. Anyway, after Williamson’s fourth barefaced obfuscation in a row, I sort of snapped. ‘Sorry, minister, interview terminated because you won’t answer a straight question.’ The moment went viral and there was a brief flurry of headlines. Williamson’s moved on since then, but that damn T-word follows me around everywhere. ‘Terminated yer shopping, Rich?’ taxi drivers shout as I exit the supermarket. ‘You wish to terminate your meal, Mr Madeley?’ knowing waiters ask, with a sly wink. Even here on holiday in France there’s no escape. This morning, putting petrol in my car, a Brit at the next pump called across: ‘Terminated filling your tank, Dicky?’ Earlier this month a network TV channel even pitched a programme idea where I ‘terminate’ interviewees if they won’t answer my questions. Don’t misunderstand me. Spontaneously kicking a cabinet minister off the air for shamelessly dodging a straight question turned out to be probably the most popular thing I’ve ever done on TV. It’s just that I’ve begun to suffocate in wisecracks about it and I’m running out of witty rejoinders. Oh well. The problem will eventually terminate itself. Probably.
Our favourite local restaurant here in Provence attracts well-known film actors because it operates a firm if unwritten ‘no autographs, no selfies’ code. Stars know they can dine on La Colombe d’Or’s outdoor terrace undisturbed. The other day a household-name British actress was lunching there with a group of woman friends. Apart from some furtive staring from other tables, no one troubled her. Until, as the meal was ending, an elegant American woman made her way through the emptying tables and tapped the actress — who we will call Mary — on the shoulder, and sank into an empty chair next to her. ‘Mary!’ she said. ‘How lovely to see you. How are you?’ The actress put her coffee down and turned with a sigh. ‘Thank you for disturbing our lunch,’ she said simply. ‘We’ve never met, but nevertheless you feel entitled to join us uninvited. Perhaps you’d leave now.’ The American turned white and stood up. ‘Well, that’s an interesting tone to adopt with me, Mary,’ she said icily, ‘considering that you and your husband were both guests at my house in Beverly Hills for ten days last year.’ I will draw a discreet veil over the subsequent ghastly grovelling.