Monthly Archive for February, 2014


This little corner of France is pre-occupied with the forthcoming election for a 6-year term as maire. With more than mixed feelings I find myself as a candidate on one of the contender’s list as a member of his team. I am not a politician and I find it extraordinary how similar are the manoeuvrings to the most florid jockeying on both the West Wing and Borgen. And there are no more than 64 voters.
An Indian mini-cab driver with a flowing moustache and a cowboy hat took me to Heathrow. He had been brought up in Nairobi and had also lived in Quebec. He did his driving on the side. He spoke fluent English, French, Swahili, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, and Gujerati and his main job was as an interpreter. I felt most inadequate and grossly over tipped him as a result.
Being Scots means you are expected to discuss the independence referendum a lot. I follow the polls and the bookies odds as best I can as well as trying to read the papers on line and, in some cases, negotiate sneaky ways through their websites so that I don’t have to pay for the privilege. I have yet to meet someone here who thinks that ‘yes’ is a good idea and that includes Catalans and Basques – and even Americans. I have friends in Scotland who are passionate on one side or the other, but, resident in France and without a vote, I don’t really get excited by it any more. In truth it feels like a fantasy, which is quite appropriate to the Brigadoonery of the international image of Scotland.


After the urban settings of Florida, London feels acutely claustrophobic. It makes me feel like a badly socialised dog. I have lost the ability to slip through crowds like an eel ignoring other people. Instead my eye keeps being caught by the idiosyncrasies of passers by and I either want to bark at them or know more about their lives. I was taken to the zoo – the first time for 35 years. The beasts were much the same – my first okapi, most interesting – but the number of visitors had multiplied. One section was set up as a tropical rain forest with a few random mammals and birds amid lots of greenery being sprayed with water and with a viewing gallery which one walked round, peering down over other peoples’ shoulders. The stereotypical behaviour of an anteater of some kind about the size of a dachshund took the form of scuttling round its forest and then climbing the wall to weave its way through the feet of all the spectators, its progress marked by a Mexican wave of disturbance. The nose-picking gorilla gave off an air of profound stupidity. I suppose the poor brute has never had to work out
And we went to a Farmers Market. There’s a comedy sketch worth checking on You Tube of that name and this was ridiculously similar. It also felt rather like your average French market when patronised by the British bourgeoisie in summer.


Every so often I try to do something official and useful on line. Sometimes it’s taxes; sometimes it’s to pay speeding fines. You have to set aside a fair amount of time but even then it’s rarely successful. Yesterday I tried four such things. My attempt to pay French taxes failed because I lacked a particular reference number. The site told me I’d find it on a previous hard copy that they’d sent me, but the form had no such number. Then I tried to register for a UK vote, but the form asked me the day date and year when I’d last been registered, but this I did not know and I bet you don’t either. Then I tried to use the DVLA site but got stuck in a loop. Lastly I tried to top up an oyster card, but the site said it was experiencing technical difficulties. I’m back on an aircraft tomorrow, bound for London for the weekend and must thread my way across the city on the tube. The thought is depressing with or without a bulging oyster card.
I’m in the process of moaning at Orange again about having less than half the download speed I should do … and, Lord be praised, I had a sensible Irishman I’ve talked to before and he’s tweaked the speed back to what it should be.


In Florida they have tolls on many of the motorways. We swanned straight through pay booths with a gizmo attached to the windscreen. It seemed time to set up the same thing over here. In Florida the gizmo is free; you receive two of them and there’s a discount on the tolls. Here you pay to be sent the gizmo; there’s a charge for it of €1.50 a month; there’s no discount on the tolls – and the website didn’t work properly.

I was told if the top 1% of US fat cats each faced a one-time tax of 5% of their capital, it would pay off their national debt of $17 trillion and still leave enough to sort out the increasingly rickety infrastructure. There it seems one is no longer considered rich unless one counts one’s dollars in billions rather than mere millions. Such people are often serious God-botherers, investing huge sums to create giant needles with enormous eyes so that they and their loaded camels can enter Heaven.


They closed Miami airport when we were about to take off as thunderstorms were crashing around. We sat on the tarmac for three hours, which was better than being offloaded since the terminal was a slum permeated by the stench from the lavatories. Nobody there seemed to speak English. I could very easily develop a phobia about air travel. We had succeeded in bagging seats by the exit, which gave me legroom, but the plane was crammed with elderly Danes who gathered there by the bogs for loud conversation all night. Previously I had no feelings about Danes, but no longer.
I have picked up an American cold so am keeping to myself since nobody over here is likely to have built up immunity to it. It gives an excuse to drink whisky toddies.


‘Hey. Respect, man.’ A black man thus addressed me as I pulled a cigarette from my little tin. ‘You roll your own. I haven’t done that since I was incarcerated.’ I blushed modestly and continued to struggle through the milling crowds of sweaty runners who had just trotted down the road to Key West from Miami. We dined out last night. Our host was a Hemingway lookalike, which I was assured was coincidence rather than deliberate, who gave me a most enlightening lecture on tarpon fishing. He used to take out tourists to fish from his boat, but he has dispensed with them and now goes by himself – every day, and he reckons he catches at least one on each outing. He doesn’t go out if there’s a hurricane in the offing. Like all the Key West houses in that part of town, it was wooden and shoehorned into a tiny, palm-infested plot with lots of decking and a pool straight from a Beautiful House magazine. 4-foot iguanas lolled amid the greenery. The neighbours on both sides were audible. Other guests included a large sweet man who created every cocktail known to man in a bar in town. He had a fright of dreadlocks that he was about to have chopped off at $100 a pop for charity – $8000 in total. His spouse was the only man I have met in this country who still smoked cigarettes. He’d already had his crippling stroke so saw no reason to give up. We earlier had drinks in a similar house with an extraordinary fizzing blonde with spiky hair. She and her husband were about to fly – first class – to India to join some luxury train before going on to Laos and Vietnam. She was the one who had made the money. It’s not dull here.


It’s hardly original to remark upon it but it’s very difficult to avoid eating far more than is comfortable. The food is generally very good but we are leaving more and more on our plates. If we eat out the resulting doggy bag is still more than is feasible for lunch the following day. I am surprised that there are still so many normal sized Americans and the whales are few enough to be remarkable when you see one.
Key West is very chic and is one of those places that never rests; the beautiful drag queens pose outside their nightclubs all day. I suppose the Cote d’Azur is the same but it’s the antithesis of the part of France I know and would drive me demented to live here for long. It seems younger than the rest of Florida, which is full of tottering geriatrics seeing out their days in the sunshine or being dumped for the day in the shopping malls where they sit in bewildered clusters. It’s winter here, which means that the temperature hovers round the 30. Property in Key West is very expensive and, even though the slump has meant that prices have halved, the gite in which we are staying is worth some $2m so we don’t have to rough it.


I’m told that property taxes here in Florida are less than $1,000 a year. But if the state needs more cash, which it always does, it hits the Snow Birds, those from the north and Canada who migrate down here in winter to their holiday houses. They have no idea how much they may have to pay but last year it was $7,000 and they moaned like stink. But nobody gives a damn because they have no vote.
We saw Nabucco last night, a very high-powered production of the Florida Grand Opera with at least 50 people singing the Herbrew Slaves chorus. They gave an encore and the audience was asked to sing along, but we weren’t very good.


We’ve been to a Highland games, a Shostakovich symphony, two art galleries, a reception for a new sculpture exhibition, are due at the opera tomorrow and, the highlight, to a supermarket that was so cool that the muzack was Mozart. That’s more culture in a week than we enjoy in a year in France. The weather is blissfully warm but it’s not always easy to tell as we scuttle between air-conditioned premises. Yesterday we visited a set of 12th century Spanish cloisters, bought by Hearst that ended up in Miami. They languished in 7,000 crates in New York for 35 years before they ended up here by which time they had lost the cheat sheet of how they should be put back together. They did a pretty good job but ended up with a thousand or so stones left over. They should have been the steps down to the chapter house and the seats for the monks round its circumference, but they decided that the chapter house was a chapel and rather ballsed that bit up. But very surprising to see such a thing in such a place.
The highest point for miles is known as Mt Trashmore, rather like an enormous coal bing with garbage trucks crawling up its side to dump the waste of this part of Florida. Its sides are mostly green but it’s so high that the wheeling buzzards are but tiny specks.