My 15-year-old son, Stanley, recently discovered my old vinyl collection. Because of him I am revisiting the music of my youth at the moment. Frank Zappa blasts out at breakfast, Captain Beefheart and The Doors accompany our lunch. And then, after supper, we settle down to the Woodstock double LP.
Aren't adolescents supposed to rebel and revile everything their parents stand for? Alarmingly, we have found our taste in music so similar that this summer we agreed it would be a good idea to go to "Jazz-a-Juan", the groovy jazz festival in Juan les Pins in the south of France. Maybe I would be able to help him to understand just why he should on no account do what I did in my youth, and instead turn into a sensible and wealthy stockbroker. I want him to inherit all my good bits and none of the bad - and I thought some one-on-one quality time might facilitate this.
In 1990 I wrote a personal book about a man and a boy, called A Good Enough Dad. This was long before the current frenzy of interest in maleness and fatherhood, in the days when the only people to hug trees were tree surgeons and bonding was exclusively to do with a licence to kill. As a recompense for the embarrassment of having a book published containing details of his first words, first nightmare, first poo, I had promised Stanley early on, that one day I would take him on a trip - just the two of us - wherever he wanted to go. This dreamed-of father-and-son holiday has changed as he has grown. Thankfully, it kept having to be put off due to work, money, other family commitments, so I managed to avoid the visit to Disneyland, anything to do with football, the swim with dolphins, LA to meet Jim Carrey, and the nature trip across Africa in Harrison Ford hats.
Suddenly, this summer, all the conditions were right and, with a very small amount of help from me, he chose the very thing I would have chosen myself. I must point out that I have not been playing him subliminal jazz music while he sleeps to influence his decision and nor did I show him the pictures of girls on French beaches in the brochure. Promise.
Juan les Pins is a classic French Riviera town, between Cannes and Nice. It is not as upmarket and blatant as St Tropez, but is a heap more tasteful than, say, southern Spain or the Canaries, while only being a bit more expensive. The hotel we stayed in had its own beach, so you could recline on a sun lounger and order drinks and food and put them on your room bill. And the food was not the usual childish beach fare, but proper, manly fish soups with rouille followed by melon in reduced raspberry sauces.
The sea, although crowded, was really warm and calm with a clean sand bottom. Stylish but snooty girls sauntered past with their bikinis slung low and their noses in the air. And that was it for the daytimes, really. We didn't learn to tie up boats, nor windsurf into dangerous waters together, as fathers and sons do in endless Hollywood movies. Nor did I challenge him to a waterskiing contest, bullying him to the point where he found his inner warrior. We did talk a lot, mostly about women. Unfortunately, since neither Stanley nor I have any sisters, females remain, for us both, rather strange chaps. And, as Stanley was anxious for advice about approaching these weird, yet impossible-to-ignore creatures, I found myself on several occasions saying: "You're asking the wrong guy, chum."
At night we'd amble along to the open-air jazz concerts through busy streets with pavement shops which sell things one might actually want to buy - like clothes and beautiful Italian ice cream - not just lilos and sun oil like so many seaside resorts. Then we'd sit all evening in rather uncomfortable chairs to watch and listen to the likes of Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock (pictured) and Keith Jarrett - for the uninitiated, or uninterested in jazz, believe me this is a pretty top-drawer roll-call.
The open, breezy stage was placed amid large windswept Mediterranean pines with a stunning backdrop of sky and sea which darkened as the sun set behind the musicians. It was pretty cool, although Stan was, as far as I could see, the only person under 40.
Why are there so many bearded men in open sandals and linen suits at jazz concerts? And why do an unacceptably high percentage of them wear Moroccan hats with their thinning hair tied in ponytails? Why didn't I bring some normal shoes and a pair of jeans? Was it really because the linen suit was easier to pack, or was there some primitive herding instinct at work? Thank goodness my hair was cropped short, because I probably would have felt an inescapable urge to tie it into a ponytail. Is there possibly an ageing-jazzer gene? If so I must possess it, and it would appear to be dominant, because Stan was wearing a headband by the end of the week and looking longingly at cheesecloth shirts in fashionable shop windows.
I won't attempt to describe the music itself, other than to say it was all, especially Joe Zawinul, extremely good. Being a music critic must be the most frustrating form of journalism there is. Since it is virtually impossible to capture in words the abstract experience of listening to music, they have to resort to bizarre metaphor and inappropriate adjectives. Hence "diesel guitars crash into a rainbow of piano chords like a horde of weasels on heat".
In the interval there were pick'n'mix sweets to guzzle, a very French custom apparently. Stanley wanted a beer and I let him have one since forbidding might make it all the more attractive. So we sat by the sea, me with my liquorice and sherbert twirls and him with his Bud.
"Girls look at us, too, you know," I said on the second night, "they're just more subtle about it. Sort of, sneakier." And, for the rest of that evening, we tested my theory and found it to be 70 per cent correct. I don't mean that girls were looking at us in particular, you understand, just looking at men in general and, more specifically, at the Brad Pitt variety. I noticed also that they tended to look more at the men who ignored them completely, something which Stanley will have to work on.
After eating outdoors we would return to the hotel late in the evening and I would be ready for bed. What I hadn't imagined when I made that promise all those years ago was going away with a voracious 15-year old who, after a supper of steak and fish and potatoes and ice creams could eat his way through an entire mini-bar fridge full of hams, cheeses, biscuits, a baguette, half a packet of marshmallows and a new gift jar of apricot jam. When he sees me penning this, his words are no longer, "Are you doing your work again daddy?" but "What are your writing down now you stupid jerk?" and then, "Can we go back out again? I'm still hungry."
Down in the warm night streets, pavements are still teeming with stylish Europeans. We sit in an open air café on the sea front esplanade, people-watching. Or more accurately in Stanley's case, ogling girls. Having finished two Nutella pancakes his eyes are wobbling on stalks like Jim Carrey's in The Mask.
"Why are they all so fit, dad?" he asks. An eternal and unanswerable question. So when it finally came to it, the cute little boy in the book I wrote 10 years ago chose for his gift holiday of a lifetime, to go and see my all-time favourite bands and look at French women walking up and down on a warm summer's evening. It's most enjoyable, this initiation into Manhood thing, I highly recommend it. Way to go Stan.
The Juan les Pins Jazz Festival takes place annually from 12 to 20 July. For further information contact the tourist office in Antibes on 00 33 4 92 90 53 00 or visit www.antibesjuanlespins.com. Nigel Planer's second novel "Faking It" (Arrow £6.99) is out now.Reuse content