Scottish Daily Mail
The magic words I long to hear: ‘Now boarding at gate 32B’
Jeremy Clarke (and his jumbo Toblerone) can’t wait to jet off to France’s glamorous Cote d’Azur
Bristol Airport has a calm, provincial atmosphere. Frisking me, the security officer says: ‘And where are you flying to today, sir?’ to Nice, i tell her. ‘oh lucky you, sir!’
Bing bong! ‘EasyJet flight EZY 6113 Bristol to Nice is now boarding at Gate 32B.’
Magic words. i reach for my day-pack and jumbo toblerone and tread the familiar corridors. We are shepherded outside into wind and salt rain and climb the stairs to the humming orange workhorse.
Nobody in their right mind goes to Nice for the clubbing scene. on this route you get an older, reserved crowd with a leavening of grumpy Panama hats and pink trousers flying down to their second homes.
over the isle of Wight i hear the clank of the drinks trolley. on the Nice run, the easyJet flight attendants can lip-read the words ‘Gin and tonic please, love.’ it’s part of their training. i mouth the words, look desperate, and there’s one coming towards me over the heads immediately.
Halfway down France the clouds melt away. Flying now by sight, the pilots follow the shining river rhône and at the Mediterranean turn sharp left. ‘Any rubbish?’
Nearly there already. i drain my plastic glass, toss it at the moving target and settle back for the spectacular descent along the Cote d’Azur.
Under the wing, the crowded beaches of st tropez, st Maxime and st raphael drift slowly past. on the Croisette at Cannes traffic beetles between the palm trees. over the Cap d’Antibes, the plane’s shadow flits across the pantiles of an opulent villa.
HikErs on the coast path pause to squint up at us. towels spread on the la Plage de la Garoupe look like prayer rugs. the toy fort at Cagnes. Now we are skimming windsurfers’ heads and first-time passengers are trying to recall the evacuation at sea drill. seconds before we hit the water, waves become smooth asphalt. two bumps and we are earthbound again. Palmy Nice. Private jets, latest designs, baking in a row. the dazzle and shimmer of the glass airport terminal.
i descend the aircraft steps into a hot sea breeze. A cold air-conditioned corridor. A bored passport officer waves me through with a laconic flap of the hand.
Neither Customs officer is the slightest bit interested. Now only sliding doors separate me from the Cote d’Azur. Which is fun, probably, if you’re rolling in it. But me, i’m catching the bus into the hills. the Mediterranean climate still, but fragrant pine and oak forest instead of pre-cast concrete.
old stone villages instead of apartment blocks. shrieking swifts at sunset around the old church campanile. Nightingales’ liquid warbling day and night. Hoopoes. Golden orioles’ weird electronic beeping. there are stony tracks rising and falling across rosemary and thymescented garrigue.
the sci-fi drumming of cicadas slipping in and out of one’s consciousness. Deserted hilltop villages, ruined arches twined with wild fig. lonely wayside oratories, roman churches, ice-cold monastery chapels. Monks, with their habit sleeves rolled up, selling veg in the weekly village markets. Bells tolling the sweltering hours.
Weeks without socks nor a cloud in the sky. the raucousness and courtliness of southerners. Flaking croissant and quince jelly for breakfast. strong coffee. Unbearable heat after 11am. silence at noon. Afternoons on my back under a fan behind closed shutters. Velvet, sweaty, lanternlit nights. Mosquito bites. red wine stains on the tablecloth.
i quicken my step as i pass through the sliding doors into the hot, sweet south of France.