Good moaning, mes amis. I’m back from the French Riviera

Lynne Mortimer

Lynne Mortimer - Credit: Archant

What’s the first thing you do when you get home to England after a few days on the Cote d’Azur in the south of France? Even before putting the kettle on?

Put the heating on. Obviously.

Like seals with sunglasses we had basked by the blue Mediterranean under a blue sky in hot sunshine.

Nice reminded me of the TV commercial with an Audrey Hepburn look-alike getting into the back of a convertible on a Mediterranean highway with a giant bar of Galaxy chocolate. One wonders if, by the end of the journey her slender size eight had ballooned to a size 12. I’ve been climbing into the backs of cars with giant bars of chocolate for many years. I haven’t so much ballooned as inflated into a bouncy castle.

Nice has casinos, designer shops, sea food, sun-drenched promenades, classy restaurants and lots of tiny, accessory dogs. The daily flower market is glorious and the Matisse and Chagall museums are worth a visit. And there’s a lot of money about. Outside one hotel we saw a parked Audi with the Saudi Arabia number plate Royal 1.

But the beach in Nice is like Aldeburgh only much worse. We had expected a long strand of pale sand. We got stones. Great big sea-washed flintstones like the ones Fred and Barney mined in the cartoon.

So we paid (21 euros each) to go on to a private beach with sunbeds and matted walkways but the 10 feet from the edge of the mat to the sea was excruciating. Bathers (who had not purchased the special footwear at 40 euros a pair) exited the surf on all fours, pain etched on their faces, some clinging to their partners as both crumpled in agony. It was like watching the first land mammals emerge from the ocean on their newly evolved feet.

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I made an early decision not to venture into the water.

We arrived early, though not as early as the front row of sunbathers who mostly spoke German. The second row was mostly Brits. The front row was tanned to an even nut brown; the second row applied factor 50 to glow-in-the-dark pink flesh.

We immediately undertook to perform a nifty David Cameron, i.e. changing into our swimwear on the beach with the help of a modesty towel. Even without hopeful paparazzi lenses trained on our naughty bits in case of accidental pop-out, our antics attracted a good deal of attention. The thing is, you’re never quite sure if everything is safely tucked away until you whisk away the towel. You will gather this was not a nudist beach. All involuntary moving parts had to be covered.

Our relief at having fully complied with rules of public decency was tempered somewhat by the discovery that the beach facility included changing rooms. That would account for the sage nods and amused smiles on the front row as I thrashed around on my sunbed trying to get my feet through the leg holes of my all-in-one, low-leg, high neck swimsuit.

As always when we visit France, we reiterate the tired old phrase: “At least we can speak the language,” basing this on our French O-levels, achieved in the mid 60s. As always, the locals are on to us like a shot. We say “Bonjour” and they say “Hello.” We obviously have the most appalling English accents... or maybe it’s our pale skin that gives us away. Or is it that workers in the French tourist industry are provided with a special booklet: How to recognise the British?

Does it bullet-point us?

n Pale skin, possibly with streaks of red and peeling nose

n Will ignore the changing rooms provided in order to don swimwear in public

n Form queues even when they are the are only two people there.

n Buy the cheapest or second cheapest thing on the menu

n Will attempt to order in French with English additions such as “avec Heinz tomato ketchup et brown sauce s’il vous plait”

n Will walk five miles rather than work out how to use the local bus

n Always check receipts

n Are an hour early for their taxi back to the airport.

Now I am back in the office which is nice. Though the weather in Nice was nicer.