Alex James: The Great Escape

The teapot broke the ice
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The Independent Online

I wasn't sure, when we were in Paris, whether to call my old friends Francois Ravard and Marianne Faithfull. There'd been a bit of a ding dong about a song Damon had written for Marianne's last record, and a bit of a mess, and I hadn't really seen them since. I did actually run into Francois on St Martin's Lane about a year ago, literally; I was running home from Brixton, and soaking wet from my exertions. I was so pleased to see him, my body went into involuntary showbiz convulsions and I started hugging him. It wasn't right, because he was wearing a suit for once, and I thought that was probably the end of that. Anyway, I sent a text saying we were on our way to Paris, and he called me right back.

I wasn't sure, when we were in Paris, whether to call my old friends Francois Ravard and Marianne Faithfull. There'd been a bit of a ding dong about a song Damon had written for Marianne's last record, and a bit of a mess, and I hadn't really seen them since. I did actually run into Francois on St Martin's Lane about a year ago, literally; I was running home from Brixton, and soaking wet from my exertions. I was so pleased to see him, my body went into involuntary showbiz convulsions and I started hugging him. It wasn't right, because he was wearing a suit for once, and I thought that was probably the end of that. Anyway, I sent a text saying we were on our way to Paris, and he called me right back.

It was good to see Marianne again. They live in the 8th arrondissement, the most beautiful part of the most beautiful city in the world. Marianne said: "We have no money". Francois said: "Let's go to the Hemmingway bar. At the Ritz." I love Marianne. All the time I've known her, she's never had any money, but she's always living in some castle or other, and always on her way to Martinique or Miami or the bloody Ritz to meet Nick Cave or Polly Harvey or Beck or Billy Corgan or some other impossibly cool admirer. She's a hundred per cent glamorous. It was early and we had the bar to ourselves. It was the perfect end to a beautiful day. I haven't had a drink for a while, but I thought, frankly, fuck it. Paris, Ritz, Marianne, what the hell.

Francois reckons you can buy a castle in Sierra Leone for five grand. It's an ex-British colony, and things have calmed down over there considerably. I put my name down for one even before the champagne arrived. Pretty soon we were on our way somewhere unlikely in a taxi, which is bound to happen if you go to the best bar in town and drink champagne.

A designer type, with an alligator skin kitchen, was having drinks at his flat. There were only a few people there, and the atmosphere was rather intimate - stifled, even - and Claire's opening gambit of, "We went up the Eiffel Tower today, it was fantastic," was received with a withering silence by the host's wife.

It was true about the Eiffel Tower, we'd had a brilliant time, but this was high society and trips to the Eiffel Tower were simply off limits. As the silence grew, I noticed a teapot sitting on an alligator skin shelf. It was the same as the one we have at home. I'm very fond of our teapot. To fill the void, I said "Ah! That's a very English teapot, you have."

"But, no," said our hostess, "'ee design." She opened one of the alligator skin cupboards and there were four or five similar teapots in different colours, all neatly ordered with matching sets of cups and saucers. It was quite scary. There were no odd cups with "yoga kills" or any clutter whatsoever. The cupboards were just full of perfect sets of bone china.

Claire's dad used to work for Wedgewood, but we seem to have gone the other way, and ended up with heaps and heaps of random uncategorisable bric-a-brac, which I like. This was amazing though. It turned out he'd designed absolutely everything in the apartment: chairs, tables, sofas, lamps, consoles. He even designed part of the Louvre! The teapot thing broke the ice.

He said what he really wanted to do was make a record and we listened to some music. The most brilliant thing of all was that he had a Bose surround sound system, exactly the same as the one I bought from the factory return shop in Bicester. (Which reminded me of the bust up I've had with the architect, builder and electrician about the wiring of the system. They had only allowed for four loudspeakers, and you need five for surround sound, which meant there would always be a wire visible. It sounds like a small thing, but since we've had the builders in, these are the things that have been keeping me awake all night and stopping me concentrating during the day, these odd wire scenarios. It's true.)

Anyway there was his Bose system in his perfectly designed, perfectly ordered, perfect Paris apartment. Do you know what? There were wires coming out, wires going in, wires everywhere. Nobody's perfect, innit.

alexjames@independent.co.uk

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