Jeremy Clarke Jeremy Clarke

Low life | 29 December 2016

That’s how it struck me on my return from France, but I’ll take downtrodden English minds over cold French utopian ideals any day

I drew back the curtains. Yet another absolutely still, sunny day. Early-morning mist lying in the valleys. An echoing report of a distant hunter’s rifle. Another day in bloody paradise. But I was leaving it. After breakfast I was driven to the bus station. ‘Would you like to do me?’ said the young woman behind the desk in the ticket office. (My single word of French greeting had been enough for her to nail me as an English speaker.) Realising her error, she and her colleague at the next window corpsed. ‘I’m afraid I haven’t got much time,’ I said. The bus ticket to Nice cost hardly anything.

The airport coach pulled in dead on time. Ligne Bleue employs only reigning beauty queens to drive their vehicles, it seems. This driver was no exception. As she clipped my ticket she asked me how was I doing. ‘All the better for seeing you,’ is what I would have liked to have said, but my French grammar wasn’t up to it without a bit of notice. The coach was 90 per cent unoccupied. Reclining seats, bags of legroom. A WC. At Fréjus she came down the coach aisle and asked me in French whether there was anything I needed. Her beauty was stunning. Such as, I said? Water, coffee, beer, she says?

At Nice airport she dropped me beside the terminal building. Palm trees, blue sea, snow-topped Alps. Every waiting taxi a shiny black Mercedes. The sunshine-filled glass departures hall was as calm as a cathedral. Three conveyor belts were in service in the bag-scan hall but I was alone. After getting dressed again, I bought a coffee from the unhurried soul of courtesy behind the posh little snack counter and took it to one of the reclining seats to watch the planes fly in from over the sea.

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