I'm in the South of France for a couple of days to play golf with my dad. He is 84 years old, but still beats me with ease. We play at the Old Course in Mandelieu, just up the coast from Cannes.
As the name suggests it is one of the oldest courses in France and is certainly the oldest in the south of the country. I often wonder whether the name might also hint at a dual meaning as my dad is something of a spring chicken compared with a lot of the other members who hobble around the course at a magnificently relaxed pace. It's a stunning pine tree-lined course with the shimmering Mediterranean on one side and the snow-capped peaks of the Alpes Maritimes on the other.
The club was founded in 1891 by the gloriously named Grand Duke Michael of Russia and is supposed to be modelled on St Andrews although, truth be told, there is very little resemblance. As you enter the clubhouse there is a list of past club presidents that starts with the Grand Duke himself and includes an admiral and a lord although things seem to have become a little more egalitarian recently – the current president appears to be an Italian gentleman with no title whatsoever – oh the horror...
The whole place has a very English pastoral feel to it – the clubhouse is a kind of gentle mock Tudor, and only the ever-present sunshine and the Euro-chatter belies the fact that we are not somewhere in Surrey. To the side of the clubhouse a row of flagpoles flies an assortment of national flags – Swedish, French, Norwegian, German, Italian... but no Union Jack. Not even a Scottish flag to celebrate the supposed link to St Andrews.
I point this out to my dad who harrumphs and says that he has brought this thorny issue up with the powers-that-be, but to no avail. No explanation had ever been given and the flag has never flown here. I'm tempted to demand an explanation myself and am about to rise from my seat when a carafe of particularly fine red wine arrives, followed swiftly by the best steak tartare I've ever tasted. The French know how to cool nationalistic ardour. Pretty soon I couldn't care less which flag flies above the club as long as the wine keeps coming and I can have one more portion of the sublime tarte aux pommes.
I know I'm starting to sound a little like Taki in The Spectator but it's that sort of place. A touch of the Old World resisting the incessant development of this coastline that has left no square metre of the area uncovered by an ugly villa.
Driving from Nice airport up the coast, you notice that there are no divisions between the former towns of Antibes, Cannes and Mandelieu: they now all blend into one huge coastal sprawl interspersed with surgical auto-routes. It's not what it once was. With relief we retreat inland into the shadow of the perfume city of Grasse. Once home, more wine is produced and we sit on the terrace overlooking the gardens, basking in the evening sun.
I often think of moving down here, do some writing, live the good life. It would never happen – too much wine, sun and good food. I don't think I've ever managed to do much work down here – it just seems inappropriate. The following day on the Croisette in Cannes I watch the world go by and find it hard to imagine anyone actually holding down a job here. I know that they do but it just seems silly. It seems so irritating that something as tiresome as work could intrude on a Provençal day.
Maybe I'll just make olive oil and sell it to posh shops like Alex James and his cheese? Can't wait to tell Stacey and the kids... they'll be thrilled.Reuse content