Drinking Tea with Papa G
Drinking tea with Papa G is definately a great way to spend a few hours of your day. A quintessentially English gentleman, Papa G, real name Paul, is also a great story teller and he certainly has a few great ones to tell. I met him at his home on the Cap recently to ask him about his life and how he came to be living in Cap d’Antibes.
I was born in 1937 and grew up in Putney, London.
From my fathers’ side my grandfather used to work for a French company based in Lyon. The company owned several silkworm factories in India which my father looked after so the family was based over there for several years. When he retired they moved back to London. I suppose this was before my father was born. I don’t actually know where my father was born, I presume he was born in England but I am not certain. He certainly went to school in England.
I think when the family came back my father was a bit thrown out by the life he had had in india. You know over there the family had a big house, servants, there was shooting. There are some pictures of him with tigers and all sorts of things. You can imagine the colonial way of life that they had in India. When he came back to England it was a complete shock for him I suppose. It was completely different from what he was used to.
A photograph of Papa Gs’ Grand Father.
What memories do you have of your father?
I only have one recollection of my father. On my birthday, when I was in my cot, he brought me some rubber bricks which you put together. That is the only memory I have at all of him.
I think my father was a bit of a loose canon actually. He married somebody first of all before my mother. They had 2 children but it turned into a hell of a mess. He was sued for divorce by her and thirteen people were cited in the divorce case against him, thirteen women. So I think he was a bit of a naughty boy.
Then he met my mother. I don’t know much about that either. They married but that didn’t last very long either.
Papa G as a little boy taken around the time when he last saw his father.
So you grew up with you mother?
I grew up with my mother and my stepfather who stepped in soon after my father left. I don’t remember much of a gap actually, so I don’t know if my step father was on the scene already or not.
Father then went off to Sandhurst and became an officer and went into a regiment in Africa. That was more or less the end of it. Apparently he fell ill from Malaria while there. He refused to go into hospital because he wanted to stay with the troops and all that and he died.
I think, in a way, his life had been a bit of a mess. Anyway I never had a relationship with him at all. The only time I saw him was when he brought me those rubber bricks.
I had quite good contact with one sister from his previous marriage who I met much later but she died recently. We met very occassionaly, in fact I possibly got on better with her than I did with my other sister, the one I grew up with.
Were you still living in London?
For a while but sometime during the war, we moved to Somerset. My stepfather worked in Lloyds and somebody from Lloyds rented us their home down there. I remember that it was very nice. I was a little boy there scruffing around in the woods and what not. It was great fun. You know there were planes going over head and fighters. They weren’t bombing us they were going further away but you know for a little boy this was all a big game. I had a big bag of empty shells and all sorts of things which was for me a great treasure.
Do you still have them?
Unfortunately I don’t have them anymore. They got lost somewhere, I was furious. I don’t know who but someone threw them away.
Anyway, in maybe 1943, when I was 6, we went to live in Westerham in Kent. I remember the doodlebugs and other things flying overhead. I also remember that we had something called an Alison shelter. An Alison shelter was something they provided for people during the war. It was basically a big steel cage. You put it in your house in case the house was bombed and it protected you from falling debris. We slept in that every night.
I also remember listening to the wireless, we had a wireless outside. I used to listen to the pilots. You could tune into their frequency and pick up their radio conversations, it was incredible. I loved to do that.
So would you say you had a happy childhood?
During that time I had a very happy childhood. The only thing which was very difficult was when I had to go to school. I couldn’t fight the Germans anymore could I. I couldn’t play my imaginary war games which I loved to do. At our home in Westerham we had a lovely walled garden. It had a very old brick wall and I remember we had nectarine and peach trees all along it. It was perfect. We were slightly on a hill which overlooked a valley there and I loved to spend time there. In fact I was very sorry when we left that house.
Papa G on the right around the age he was sent to boarding school.
When we lived there I used to go, with the local lads, over the common and we would play a lot of pranks. Goodness what but we were always trying to get up to no good. At that point I was at the local school which was ok. Then I went to boarding school which was very traumatic. I would have been just 7 years old.
What are your memories of boarding school?
I remember very well leaving for the first time. The school was in Wiltshire and I took the steam train from Waterloo Station. It was horrific. As a little child, there you were on the platform and there were dreadful plumes of steam everywhere. I took the train alone, of course there were other school boys on the train but the parents didn’t travel with us. So off we all went down to boarding school in Salisbury. It was a horrific experience you know, for a little boy. You had to grit your teeth. Going away like that, leaving your parents and not knowing where you were going, it was a difficult thing to go through as a seven year old.
I went down to this prep school which was called Pip rivers house, I thought it was a glorious place when I saw it. I think I was very influenced by the two schools I went to. By that I mean by the buildings and the grounds. They were in beautiful English countryside as one can imagine. There were lovely trees, nothing like the French gardens where everything is manicured and completely controlled. I think that type of gardening is dreadful.
So you liked the school then?
The building and the grounds yes, however the conditions in the school were pretty horrific. It was still during the war. The food was particularly apaling. I remember we used to have this bacon, or what they called bacon. Basically it was all fat. Nobody wanted to eat it but you couldn’t leave it. We weren’t allowed to leave any food on our plates so we used to take the bits of bacon and throw them under the table. We would throw them to the other end of it so it would be under our feet. I don’t know if they ever noticed but I just know that no one wanted to eat it. It was really horrible stuff. I do remember that the tables and benches were very beautiful. They were made from a lovely thick natural wood.
Another thing they used to serve us was boiled eggs. However the eggs were cooked all together in a big basket together so the ones on the outside were boiled correctly but the ones in the middle were raw, practically. It was really bad! Anyway then the war ended and I don’t know whether the cook was shot or what but we got a different cook and everything changed. He laughs.
Eventually I got used to being away from home, you had to, it’s just how it was then. You had to make do with the circumstances. After that school, at around 10 years of age, I went to another boarding school on the Duke of Buckinghams estate. That was also a lovely school with a glorious building and lovely grounds. I liked it there very much.
These are the sort of things which stayed with me in any case, the lovely architecture, the gardens and all that. It’s something which has touched me all of my life but I think I have a nature for this kind of thing automatically. I think my father probably had a certain influence in that side of me, genetically I mean.
My nature is that of a hunter gatherer. My step father was absolutely hopeless as a hunter. We got on well and he was very kind, however when we used to go out hunting together shooting rabbits he was absolutely hopeless. He couldn’t shoot for toffee. I remember once he bought a 12 bore shotgun. A senior partner in his firm had a lovely estate in the country which he used to shoot on so my stepfather thought the thing to do would be to buy himself a 12 bore shotgun. I don’t think he ever used it.
Papa Gs’ Mother and Stepfather. In the background is a painting of his mother.
What did you do after school?
After school I went on to work for a broking firm in London. I can’t actually remember if this was before or after university, I guess it was maybe after. In any case after the brokers, through my step father, I managed to get a job in the States for an adjusters. Adjusters are the people who, when there is an accident, go in and find out what the damage is. That for me was very interesting.
During this time, because of the work I was doing, we often visited many places which were a bit dicey. I remember going to a building in Chicago where there had been a fire, we had to go along to see what was going on, but we had to go armed. We got into the building and all of the floors had been broken up already. The people had taken everything that was usable for fire wood. It had been stripped bare so one had to be careful. I liked Chicago though, it was a great place.
In Chicago I also met the founder of the Yellow Cab Company. One evening he took us to see an illegal gambling den. This was probably around the end of the 50’s. He said he would take us out to see something interesting. So we drove out into the countryside outside of Chicago, down small country lanes and suddenly someone stepped out with a flashlight. They asked who we were but as The chap we were with was known we were waved in. There were several caravans all lined up next to each other and there were lots of guys there playing craps. I had never seen so much liquid money on a table in my whole life. It was amazing the amount of money I saw that evening. I didn’t play though,we just watched.
I also remember another trip we had to Chicago. A Greek boat had run aground in one of the great lakes there. We had to fly out and find out what was going on. There was some cargo on board which we had insured. Tinned chicken I think it was. We took a tiny little plane which we had to land on solid ice. The plane skidded all over the place which I thought was great fun.
Of course by the time we got there the Greek boat was already absolutely chock a block with ice, completely encased in it. We had to get through to the hold using axes but, eventually, we manged to get the tinned chicken out.
What happened to the chicken?
I don’t know what happened to the tinned chicken I suspect it was sold on to recover our losses but we did our job which was to retrieve it.
So you liked America?
America was fascinating, I really enjoyed being there. If I had found another job I liked when my job at the Adjusters ended I would have stayed in the States. For me, it’s a fascinating place and there are so many different aspects to the country.
I went over there initially on the HMS Normandy,a flagship of the French at the time. It was a 3 day trip I think. I remember that we ate very well on that boat. Anyway I met a guy on that trip someone in the cinema industry so when my other job ended I phoned him up to see if I could get a job there. He was in Los Angeles. But he said, no it’s very difficult, you have to be with the unions and all that sort of thing, and also I had no experience either so eventually I came back to England.
Next I went to work in Paris for another insurance firm and then came back to the UK and worked at a broker firm. Eventually I got fed up with how things were going along. When I had been in Paris I had met a girl and she had introduced me to the south of France. She had a house in Biot so I went down there one year to be with her and her sisters and friends and all the rest of it.
What happened after that?
Well eventually I met a fellow who had a house in the countryside outside of Biot. In 1962 myself and 3 other people decided to leave London and come down here full time to help on his farm there. So we worked there and lived there with him. It was a completely different way of life. I didn’t understand insurance, and policys etc. it wasn’t me at all. I didn’t think it was a worthwhile thing for me to learn about as it really didn’t interest me. So, I came down here with my three work colleagues for a complete change. That worked out very well for six months or so.
During those six months I met Anne, my wife, and we kind of floated around the countryside for a while looking for a place to live. Eventually we found somewhere in the middle of La gaude. basically we met and then we took the same road together.
What were you doing work wise at this point?
At the time in France it was very easy to find work you just asked around and got work. A fellow we met knew a lot of antique dealers in the area so Anne and I found work doing various things. We decorated the exterior of a swimming pool and built things, stuff like that. When we went to to La Gaude I started making stained glass windows. I used to go around to architects and show them what I did and I got commissions that way. It wasn’t glass, I made them out of plastic, polyester resin. That worked quite well and things were good. There were many opportunities at that time working with architects and what not.
It’s not like that now. Most of the people who did that sort of thing have disappeared. The artistic side of things seems to have gone. Biot at that time was a place where lots of artists went and had workshops and also it wasn’t very expensive. Nowadays I expect it’s very expensive to be there and the artists have moved away.
What brought you to the Cap?
When I was in La Gaude my sister, the one from my step-father and mother came down with her husband. She was married to Sean Kenny who was a great stage designer and was very much in fashion at the time in London. He came down and he said you should come to London and work with me and all the rest of it. So he persuaded us to go to London. We left our house in La Gaude and went to London. We worked at various things there. I had a workshop under a railway arch and worked for various people, that was in around 1968 I think. I was making my things, my windows, and trying to find work. However finding work in London wasn’t the same thing as it was in France, it wasn’t as easy.
Whilst I was there I managed to get on a course in carpentry and then I got a job in a firm called Turners who made stands for fairs . However, in 1976 I decided I had had enough of that and we came back to France.
Did you not enjoy London?
Yes, we liked being in London very much but we had our fun there and wanted to come back to France. I sold La Gaude and we bought a house in the Var near Salerne. I loved the Var for the lovely skies. It can be quite cold there but I love the light. It was a lovely place to live.
At the time it wasn’t too difficult for work there either. There was farm work and we got work very quickly. There’s only one problem with places like that which is when there is a crisis. I think it was the Israeli war or something which happened at that time and there was a bit of a crisis and things became a little difficult. In the Var the only things that work there are the vines. So all the rest is working for people or building secondary houses. If there is a crisis most of the work disappears.
I was quite lucky and I did manage to get a work from antique dealers. In my van I went around picking up stuff from the dealers, restoring it and taking it back. I had to drive quite far but there was work for me.
By this time we had also sold our house in London and we needed to bring the money over to France. Back then you could only bring in a ridiculously small sum of money, I have forgotten how much it was but it was an absurd amount.
So one day I said to Anne “ Right, what we are going to do is this. We will buy jewellery with our money and then bring that back to sell over here”.
You couldn’t get cash through customs you see but you could bring jewellery. So we started doing that, which was fun and it also worked well. So we started doing fairs and buzzing around like that and the thing got sort of bigger and bigger so we continued doing it. Anne also knew very well an antique dealer in Antibes, they went to school together. He had since moved up the chain and he was very friendly towards us so we decided to rent a room in Antibes because Anne was now dealing a lot around Antibes and Nice.
So is this when you moved to Antibes full time?
Well eventually we decided that the future was more in Antibes and around here than in the middle of the countryside out there. Obviously all the antique dealers we knew and worked with back then are either dead or have gone out of business now. There are very few antique dealers open today, most of them have disappeared. I know one Ebeniste who still works and has a shop off the Ramparts but that’s the only one I know of.
Eventually we got ourselves a shop in Antibes. The shop was on George Clemenceau down from the Marche Provencal. We were just the other side of the little fountain there. We were very well placed. It was a dry cleaners or something when we got it but we changed all that.
A sketch and photograph of Papa G’s jewelerry shop.
So we had that as our base and we did fairs. We did fairs in Marseille, in Paris, all over selling antique jewellery.
That went well but one sensed that the market was going down. We knew several people who were experiencing robberies. There was a friend of ours who was carrying jewellery back to her car in an underground car park and she was robbed. There was another hold up in a jewel shop in Albert 1er and another in Place Nationale and we had an attempted robbery in our shop.
I managed to put them out though.
What happened was, it was a Friday afternoon and I had taken the car in to the garage to have a service or something. At about 6pm I phoned up Anne to ask her to come and look after the shop while I went to collect the car.
She came along and took over the shop and I left. When I came back I parked the car just opposite the shop and I was going to have a quick coffee when I saw an odd couple outside the shop. The fellow had carrot coloured hair and I thought he looked a bit odd. So, I walked into the shop. I went into the back of the shop where we had the safe and I had a small pistol but I then I thought, Oh Shit I’ve left it in the front of the shop.
So quickly I went out to the front of the shop to get it. I got the pistol and had a tray of jewellery too which I was taking to the safe. At this point I heard the chap with the Carrot hair say “Ne bouge Plus”, Don’t move. So I shot him.
You actually shot him?
In those circumstances I mean you don’t hesitate, you have absolutely no time to hesitate. He dived over the counter towards me and there were some more shots. We have a picture upstairs where you can see where the bullet hit. There is a hole there.
He dived towards me, I shot at him again. I don’t know how he was affected by this but in any case he was lying on the ground underneath me and I had the pistol at his head when I realised the thing had jammed. So I held the gun at his head and I said “Sortir la police arrive”.
The woman who he was with had a bomb thing, I forget what they are called. While he was on the ground she squirted this stuff all over me but it came out as a liquid which was less effective than if it had been the gas and more went on him in any case. What worried me more was that there was a marble statue on a shelf behind her and I was concerned she was going to get me with that. If she had any sense she would have used that on me.
How did it end?
Well at this point, as my pistol was jammed, I thought the only thing I can do is to suggest that they try and get out of this the easy way. I shouted “Sortez, Sortez” to which she replied “ La porte est fermer ouvrais nous la porte” So I coverered up the pistol so that they couldn’t see it was jammed and got them both out of the shop.
There was a small article in the paper. I went to the police but on the statement I made I asked for no press. I thought it was a bad idea for the press to give other people ideas and I didn’t want any of that so there was only a small article in the paper.
We are still not sure if he was injured or not but I found one of the bullets in the wood in the shop. I presumed that it had gone through quite a lot of other stuff before hitting the wood otherwise it would have gone straight though. We also have a painting from the shop hanging upsatairs which still has a bullet hole in it.
The other one which I fired when he was climbing over me, well I don’t know where that one ended up. All I know is that, later on, when I walked down the street towards the port in one of the first doorways there was a big pool of blood. I don’t know whether that was from him or not.
I also don’t know if they were ever caught. The police weren’t very well equipped at that time. They didn’t take fingerprints or anything like that. They just noted what had happened and that was it.
I would have killed him you know if my pistol hadn’t jammed. He was on the floor and I was pressing the trigger. If someone comes in and starts shooting at you what do you do in those circumstances, you put them out for the count don’t you. You don’t have time to mess around.
Did you continue running the shop after that?
Initially yes. Sometime afterwards, considering what was happening and the amount of people that were being held up, we thought it was really just a matter of time before it would happen to us again. Maybe next time we wouldn’t be so lucky.
We had to be very careful and watch what we were doing all the time. When I was driving I had a certain way of seeing if I was being followed or not because people had been held up in their houses too. They would follow them home and then hold them to ransom. Anne and I we had a system. I would always go into the house first and if I didn’t come back within a few minutes she was to go straight to the police station. It wasn’t stressful as such, you just get into a way of functioning. It’s just what you had to do. In the end I didn’t think it was worth going on because it was getting more and more risky with less and less results financially.
Just before we sold the shop we bought a place by the seaside, by plage Salis on Blvd James Willie.
How long did you live in that house?
We were there for sometime then however one of the problems with where we were living was that in the summertime there would be people racing up and down the road there in the middle of the night, it was very noisy for us. One day Anne said “Lets sell up and go back to London”. So I said ok and we put the house up for sale. Then, once having sold the thing I said “No, I can’t go back to London. I’m not going”. So Anne went to London without me and I bought this place. We lived separately for a while after that. But I used to go and see her of course, we went backwards and forwards you know.
Has the Cap changed much in your opinion?
When I moved to the Cap it was less built up. I remember when we first came here there were a couple of wild rabbits running up the road which was quite funny to see. Everything has been kind of slowly built up which is a shame. There are all these new apartments which are always shut up. There’s one near here where I have never seen anyone go in there at all, even in the summer. I don’t think they even rent them out. They are absolutely empty, the whole lot. I am not sure why they are even there.
I noticed there was a workshop when I came in, is this your space?
Yes, it was originally the garage but I converted it to a workshop.
When I bought this house the fellow who owned this place wanted to keep the garage himself and sell me the house. But I said no no, I want the lot or nothing. Thank fully he agreed. The place next door, used to be a little school and the space above the workshop was one of the classrooms. We converted that space into an apartment.
I still like to make things, from wood however, at the moment, it’s full of boxes which belong to my sons family so I can’t work in there. When they eventually get all their stuff out I will be able to spend more time in my workshop again. I want to make some chairs like some I saw recently in a shop in Antibes. I have a picture of them on my phone. They are made just from wood and held together with rope. I like their simplicity very much. Maybe one day I will make a pair of those.
When did your wife move back here from London?
Anne moved back here from London about 2 years ago now. Basically she couldn’t be alone anymore. She developed Alzheimers and it became impossible for her to be by herself so she moved back here with me. It’s very difficult to know when the Alzheimers started. The first sign was in London when she shut herself in her own bathroom. She had meddled around with the key and lost patience and locked herself in somehow.
She was there for maybe 2 or 3 hours but eventually she managed to get herself out but that was one of the first signs. From there she went to Brussels and locked herself in again. Unfortunately she never systematically put something in a place where she could find it so she was always losing things. I tried to tell her to get a system so in case of an emergency she would find her keys easily but she never did.
What are the challenges of living with someone close to you who has Alzheimers?
It’s quite impossible living with it. Anne remembers who I am but otherwise she is always asking things like “When are we going back to London” or if my sons wife is the nurse. It’s impossible really. She walks around mostly and fiddles with things. She spends most of her time picking up things and hiding them. You can’t leave anything lying around. I don’t know why she does that, perhaps she thinks if she doesn’t someone will pinch them, I really don’t know.
I don’t know how difficult it is for Anne. She does get angry if things become too muddled or if she can’t put things in place. Basically she is very comfortable being with me and she knows who I am but if there are other people coming round she gets confused. She thinks all the nurses that come round are my mistresses. I say “Yes Anne, I keep them in the cellar downstairs”. So sometimes she will ask me “ Have you been down in the cellar with someone this morning”?
I try to make her say things which are thoroughly absurd thinking that maybe someday it might make her realise the absurdity of everything and work out what’s going on. Saying things to her which make sense, well that doesn’t work at all.
Last time we went away together we went to Spain. I remember I parked the car outside the hotel. After 5 minutes she said I will just go and see if the car is ok and went out. Anyway she got lost and continued walking right out of the town and into the countryside. Eventually she managed to get back, I don’t know how she did but in any case it’s impossible for us to go anywhere now.
In Antibes it’s more familiar for her but even so she still gets lost. If I leave her even for a minute she gets up and wonders off. It’s very difficult. Here there are people who know us, especially in the shops and cafes so this makes it a bit easier.
We are now taking her to a local group once a week for a couple of hours, just for a change. Balthazar, my son, took her to this place in Antibes recently, it’s a group where she can spend some time and the family can also have a break. She seemed to be very happy there but before when I had taken her it was a different story. She became very restless and became very impatient after just half an hour. However this last time she went she seemed to enjoy it very much, I don’t know if she was maybe chatted up or something (laughs) but in any case it seemed to go ok. So we are trying to take her there again next week.
Balthazar will take her though as she doesn’t like me leaving her. If I am away from her she wants to know where I have been and who I have been with and the rest of it.
So your life has changed quite a bit in the last 2 years?
Well yes and our life is going to change a bit more. We are not getting any younger so a few months ago my son and his family came to live with us in the house. Anne and I will move into the apartment next door because I guess that will be easier for everyone. At the momet we still have tenants in that apartment but when they leave Anne and I will move in there.
How is it living with your son and his family?
(He laughs) We don’t have the same tastes. I like things natural, I like wood and things like that whereas they seem to like everything plastic. If you look at the furniture they are bringing in it’s all plastic. We have a very different way of looking at things. I am very much for making things, natural things etc. I guess it’s a new experience for all of us so it will take a while to get used to I expect.
What do you like to do on the Cap?
The whole time I have been down here, since I have lived here, I have been spear fishing in the sea. I don’t do that anymore of course.
There are less fish around now than there were then but I used to go all year round down by the rocks. I would catch mullet, octopus, nothing extraordinary, but it was good. In fact, while we were in La Gaude, we used to come down to see Annes’ grandmother who lived in Antibes, on Blvd Wison. We would come down maybe once a week and go out and have a picnic with the boys on the rocks somewhere and I would go spear fishing.
I tell Papa G about Archille the young boy who comes to the Cap from La Gaude all summer to go spear fishing.
That’s great, tell him I will buy the fish from him with pleasure he says. I would love to go fishing with him but I am too old now. To be honest I haven’t tried it for a few years now. I have inflammation of the joints and I also I can’t go anymore because of Anne. I can’t leave her alone on the beach you see. In fact I don’t really go to the beach at all. My family go to sandy beaches and I don’t like sandy beaches also the water there is very shallow and in the summer there are masses of people and what do they do? They all p*** in the water.
So you like killing things?
I don’t like killing things, I do it for eating not for the killing. I am not very fond of putting animals in what I call a concentration camp to eat them. It’s necessary economically I guess but I don’t like it. I mean when you look at chickens and how they are raised, it’s apaling.
For me an animal is going to die in any case, of old age. You know they don’t have hospitals and all that so I think it’s more honest to take one now and again for food. At least you know that they have lived happily and they are not traumatised. But that’s just my way of looking at. it.
Little by little, I think, people are beginning to realise that they want better quality. People are also begining to eat less meat. I think the minister of agriculture should try to help the local farmers advertise and sell their products as a better quality product. It should be labelled much more clearly so that people know and understand why they are paying more. I think that’s beginning to come along. The supermarkets are offering more what they call bio but I think it’s all a bit of a facade and I’m not sure if it actually tastes any better however I guess it’s a start.
There are many little bits throughout my life. I loved to be in the Var and I also have very fond memories of the times we went to Scotland as a family, when the kids were young. We used to go to a small cottage on the Isle of Mull, that was great. We have a picture of it here, it was painted by my son Balthazar.
I used to take him out rabbit hunting everyday and Anne would prepare the fire and we would cook it on the fire outside. That was great.
We also used to go to Swanage. I had a van there and we used to camp in the woods outside Swanage. I used to go spear fishing down there.
What kind of work do your sons do?
The older one, Manuel, is a carpenter and he lives in St Barts. Balthazar is the techy one. I guess Manuel got the working with wood thing from me I don’t know. I’m not sure where the techy thing comes from with Balthazar.
Although I have been in a way a little techy in my time. When I was in the army I used to control all the radio operations in the regiment and look after all the communications which went through there and all the rest of it. I also worked at a certain time for British Telecom London at the national telephone exchange. What was interesting there was the different types of people who worked there. I had great collegues. They were all form universities or something and working there to have a bit of money.
Did you enjoy your job there?
It was absolutely fabulous socially. The work was quite funny too because through doing that you met people on the telephone and things. Now and again you would get some nasty customers. I remember one of them was Churchills’ son, I have forgotten his name, in any case he was a real B****** and once I had him on the line and he was being very obstreperous so I put him in his place.
Occasionally we would listen in on peoples conversations, it depended on how pornographic the call was. If the thing was really hot you would call over the other guys to listen in. It was all great fun.
It was a really good job that one, great guys, It was nearly all men on my shift as we worked through the night. Women worked the daytime shift. Anyway I remember there was a really good ambiance and also a good canteen.
I remark that food seems to have come up frequently during our conversation. Is food important to you?
Food is all part of the hunting fishing thing. It’s part of the wood, and feeling things. I think it is important. It’s life, you know.
I think the cooking here is appauling, they all have the same thing. I don’t know one restaurant here that’s any good anymore. The one place where the steak is still very good is the Golf de Biot. That’s the only place I go for a steak. I don’t play golf though. The only one time I played golf was when I was with a girlfriend who played, I got a hole in one on that occasion. (Laughs)
When I worked in Paris I stayed in a very nice flat with a lovely kitchen, an old kitchen. Back then you appreciated things like that you know. The kitchen had copper pans and everything you need. I think food, if you like, is the only international language. Wherever you go you don’t have to speak but you have to eat. If someone brings along a steak and you have never seen one before you don’t have to speak about it but you can watch and learn how to cook it without words. Food is something you can understand in any language. I like to cook, I like the idea of cooking but I don’t cook well enough. I am quite willing to experiment in the kitchen though.
Who does most of the cooking in your house now?
Now with so many of us living together it’s very difficult as we all eat different things. I mean I don’t eat what they eat. Balthazar does most of the cooking but he is more Indianised than I am. He likes his Indian food but it’s not my cup of tea really. In hot countries, they were forced to use a lot of spices to preserve the meat and to hide the taste. I am not very fond of that. I like to taste what I am eating and not have it disguised with spices. But that’s just me.
Salt and Pepper grinders and salt bowl made by Papa G.
What do you like about being here on the Cap?
I like the nature here and I like animals. You know I would love to have more of a rappor with birds. I used to get magpies coming down and eating at the table here beside me. When I brought the food in I would bang a fork or something against a glass and they would come flying in to eat at the table. In England the magpies are a pest because there are so many of them but here they aren’t. I had a very big pine tree in the garden which had the magpies nest in it and I remember one time I heard a terrific racket going on in this tree. I looked out and there was a squirrel trying to get into the magpies nest, I watched them fighting it off and the magpies won.
Are the magpies still here?
Unfortunately not. One winter I was in London and there was a hell of a storm here. When I arrived back the tree had fallen over, just missed the house. The size of the magpie nest at the top of this tree was enormous. Every year they would add more and more stick so it was huge. Unfortunately the magpies left after that.
Anything you dislike about being here?
I think the tourism here is making the place worse and worse in my opinion. In Venice for example they have stopped the big cruises coming in which they should do here too. People are beginning to wake up to the damage tourism can do. The problem with the big cruise ships is they don’t bring in anything to the local economy. Yes they buy the odd postcard but everything they need is included on board. They don’t eat here or spend their money here so what’s the advantage of allowing these boats in?
I will give you an example of the effect of tourism. There is a Boulanger in the Marche Provencale. They used to do a very good and classic pissaladiere, with anchovies. I went there the other day and commented that there weren’t any anchovies on my pissaladier. “Oh” she said “We don’t put the anchovies on it anymore, the customers don’t like it”.
So then you don’t call it pissaladiere do you? Things like that bother me.
What happened to the girl from Paris, do you still keep in touch?
The girl I met in Paris, that didn’t really work out as she was married when we met. In fact I think she was also pregnant. I was quite hot in my day and I wasn’t going to make her divorce from her husband so we continued like that, casually and it lasted for many years. I think as long as you get on with somebody you don’t have to be absolutely possessive about things. You can get along with several people without having to be possessive.
We are still in touch I ring her up now and again and find out how she is but of course she is as old as I am now and she isn’t very mobile but we do keep in touch.
Was she your first love?
It’s difficult to say if she was my first love, I am very bad at counting,(Laughs).
But seriously, maybe, yes. She has been the main vein throughout my life. God knows if we would have been together had she not been married. In any case we shared a journey together.
Papa G’S dining room. Ceiling hand painted by Papa G.
Where did you get the name Balthazar from?
Anne and I were reading a book at the time. I can’t remember the book but in it there was a character called Balthazar and we liked it so we put it as his middle name. As a family we all call him Balthaza but everyone else knows him as Nicholas or Nick which is his first name.
We thought we better give him a first name which is a little more palatable so we kept Balthazar as the middle name. The other son is Manuel but it was Anne and her first husband who named him of course. I came into the picture when Manuel was around 3 or something like that.
So Manuels early life is very similar to your early life as a little boy.
I never really thought about it but maybe one could say that. Manuel was about the same age I was when my Step father came into the picture.
What I find extraordinary these days is the amount of people who get married have a child and then divorce.
They have no consideration at all, I mean they don’t have to have children. When I was young contraception was a very difficult thing to get hold of but now it’s easy. Why do people treat children like they are sort of play things. I just don’t understand it these days.
It’s never easy and it’s getting more and more difficult having children but why are they so egoistical, leaving children like that. What on earth are they thinking.
Would you say that sending children away to boarding school is maybe a similar kind of abandonment?
Yes our parents sent us away to boarding schools but they weren’t getting rid of us. Their motivation was very different. People were doing what they thought was best for their children. You were giving them an education. Life is difficult enough so, back then, if you wanted your children to have a good education and to do well in life then you had to send them away. It’s just what you had to do.
I do think life is very difficult generally, especially today. I have often said if you were to read in a travel brochure what was available on earth and what life is like here would you come?? Would you buy a ticket to spend you holidays here?
Basically the way I see it is first you are sent to school which you rarely enjoy, and where you are not taught very well. When you finish going through that torture you have to get a job which you are obliged to do. Then, when you get to your 60’s, you get discarded ready for the hole in the ground. That’s kind of it if you want to be synical about it.
For my generation it was better. It maybe seemed easier but on the other hand there was less medical care so you didn’t live as long. Now it’s kind of like living in a supermarket where everything is wrapped in cellophane and kept fresh but there is no taste to anything. We are preserved to last as long as possible and to live for longer but I am not sure if that’s a good thing if you don’t have the quality of life to go with it.
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