An announcement: Bad News From The Stars: The Life and Music of Serge Gainsbourg

Hi, I’m just breaking my silence on this blog to announce that I am now crowdsourcing a biography about the French chanteur, bon vivant and provocateur Serge Gainsbourg with the fine publishing house Unbound. This is a project very dear to me and securing the funding has become something of an addictive preoccupation already and I’m only 24 hours in.

Please back this project at the dedicated Unbound website and help me to stop sounding like Bob Geldof. Nobody’s starving to be fair, especially me if you watch the video.

The book is to be called Bad News From The Stars: The Life and Music of Serge Gainsbourg and will be arriving in all good bookshops and in your letterbox in deluxe limited edition form with your name in it, just as soon as we reach the target and I finish writing the bugger.

There are some premium pledges to peruse also that I don’t expect anyone to touch, but you never know, there are some bizarre people out there with more cash than taste. Pledge now and save me the indignity of turning up in your inbox like a squeegee man. You have been warned.setJ

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Seven deadly cines

You know you’re turning into an old fart when you go to the cinema and you’re more interesting in the building the film is being shown in than the feature itself. In Paris it’s hard not to be though. There are all these beautiful art deco theatres that presumably sprung up as the movies started to become popular, and being Paris, many have stayed that way. Bear in mind too that cinema was invented here – which is perhaps why the French take film more seriously than the rest of the world. I remember my surprise when I went to get up during the credits of the first film I watched here, and everyone remained respectfully seated taking in the whole production and the people who brought it to them.

I shall refrain from writing too much here because I’m hoping to write about it somewhere else for money, though I’ll tell you a little bit about seven cinemas in order to make that title work. I do still go to the UGC Cine Cite Les Halles for blockbusters, but when I went to see the documentary The Venerable W. about a month ago it was tucked away at screen 23 and took about half an hour to walk there. It’s still nicer than going to Cineworld in Crawley to be honest, but you don’t get the same sense of occasion as you do with the following.

Le Grand Rex, situated on Boulevard Poissonniere, is an ornately stylish and, as its name might suggest, mighty cinema in central Paris. As well as films I’ve also seen Sufjan Stevens there. A lot of premiers take place at the Rex, and you also have to be careful as some of the films are dubbed into French. Discovering this one night before a film thankfully, it’s the only time (someone behind me in the queue as it happens) was racist towards me for being a rosbif. Across the road is the Max Linder Panorama, which I only discovered recently. I went along to watch Dunkirk there (which the French call Dunkerque for some reason) and it was the perfect place to watch a film like that. The Max Linder only shows one film at a time, and when you get in you know why – if it doesn’t have the biggest screen in Paris then I’ll eat my chapeau.

I’m a fan of the Action Cinemas, Action Christine and Le Desperado, which show old films throughout the day for a reasonable price, and Le Brady around the corner from me is always showing David Lynch films and is also a gorgeous little art deco number. I went to see Paris, Texas there at the weekend, which I’ve never got around to seeing before. I’m glad I watched it at the cinema, and I’m glad I saved it until after becoming a father, because it touched me in a way no film has for ages. It’s incredible on the big screen, so expansive and, well, cinematic, and you can even see one of Harry Dean Stanton’s hairs on the lens after they shave his beard (that’s maybe taking realism a bit far).

Le Louxor on Boulevard Magenta is another gorgeous art deco building although it’s not an arthouse cinema as such, and finally Le Champo in the Latin Quarter is the one I really want to visit next. It was opened in 1938 replacing a bookshop and is of the – you’ve guessed it – art deco style, and its alternative name is Espace Jacques Tati. Recently it had an Ingmar Bergman season which I was very excited about until I remembered that I’d be watching Swedish films with French subtitles, which is a little taxing on the brain and one isn’t likely to enjoy Bergman’s full genius that way. But I will get in there and enjoy it at some point, and the likelihood is I’ll be sat somewhere that once entertained the derrieres of François Truffaut or Claude Chabrol. I’ll present the seat with a nouvelle bague.

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Shooting the shit on social media

“Share how your day went…” Facebook sometimes beseeches now in the ‘create a post’ box, and it got me thinking how tedious that would be if everybody took it literally everyday. There probably are some people who do just that, but don’t worry, you hid them ages ago. On the other hand, I’m doing some serious procrastinating from work today so I’m going to have a go here and now. So here is how my day went, and prepare yourself for some oversharing. Up to you whether you want to tag along or not…

I woke up at 9am and thought, “excellent, I’m up early today”, and then proceeded to fall back to sleep for two hours. I was roused again by WhatsApp – Claire had sent a picture of Jeanie smiling which was a lovely way to wake up properly, although I wish I was there in person to see his beautiful smiling little face.

At around 11.30am I resolved to head for H&M to pick up some shorts. I’ve not worn shorts other than at the beach – well not since the grunge era anyway – and I usually stomp huffily onto the beach in my jeans like a goth pillock now I come to think of it. Last night I was sweating my socks off and had the following epiphany: Jeremy, you’re 44. It’s really fucking hot and you’re not Jim Morrison. Buy some shorts. In the end I bought two pairs.

On the way to H&M I popped into the Grappe d’or where I like to pick up a late morning coffee and chat in my terrible French with Gwen who works there behind the counter. I don’t know if you spell his name like that – but that’s how you say it phonetically. Gwen laughs at my abysmal French, and it makes me feel a bit like an English version of the stupid policeman in Allo Allo.

I often sing “stay away from that Grappe d’or” as I wander past, but you wouldn’t want to stay away really as they’re a lovely bunch. Just the other day the chef stopped me for an impromptu chat – the first time we’d spoken. He told me that although kitchens are supposed to be hot, his is actually cold. I couldn’t work out why because of, you’ve guessed it, my lousy French, but it had something to do with him being on the bottom floor and air blowing in through a vent, although I did understand the part he was explaining about how the building gets hotter the further up you live, even if I didn’t exactly understand it. He confounded in two minutes not only stereotypes about the French, but also chefs.

This afternoon I dawdled some more. I scored one article and delayed writing another for a well-known travel organ. I’m also meant to be doing some copywriting on the microsite of a hotel in the South Pacific, but I’m already confused about what the SEOs are all about, so I sent an email as a delaying tactic. I decided to walk the mean streets in one of the two pairs of shorts I bought – to see if I felt okay, or like a weird middle-aged man in shorts, which is what I am. I thought it might be an excuse to knock off to the Palais de Tokyo for a couple of hours, which I am now a member of (60€ for a whole year and you can take a friend whenever you like, although I was going on my Jack Jones). I set off in the baking sun and sang “I’m walking in sunshine” to myself, because Walking On Sunshine is stupid right? Then I changed it to Sous le soleil exactement because it’s far more scientific about the whole experience of being under the tropic of cancer or whatever. At least I think so, although my French is rubbish which I might have mentioned (my science is pretty ropey too).


On the way to the museum I suddenly needed the toilet. “Why’s he telling me that?” you’re probably saying to yourself, and I’m thinking to myself, “why am I telling you that?” too, but I did promise to share how my day went. The knock on effect from needing the loo meant I didn’t actually make it to the Palais de Tokyo after all (doesn’t matter, I can go whenever I want being a member and everything).

We are in the age of oversharing so I’m going to go for it. Just a year ago if the warning signs from my brain had alerted me to the fact my bowels were ready to release the faeces, then it would have been touch and go from there whether I would make it to a toilet or whether I would touch cloth. In fact I went to Center Parcs with the outlaws at Christmas and spent most of my time in the chalet near a lavatory. While that was a precarious state to be in, and it went on like that for a while, it was far preferable to the time when – for three months – I had to physically stick a bag to my stomach every day and hope it wouldn’t fall off, and when I went for a shower I would watch helplessly as excrement pumped out of a small hole in the side of my stomach while I screamed like Shelley Duvall in The Shining (in all honesty I’ve pretty much suppressed that memory). Now I just have to go quickly sometimes – it’s uncomfortable, but it’s unlikely to result in a-soiling. In fact, if I avoid fried and spicy foods altogether then I can pretty much lead a normal life now – but what’s life without fried or spicy foods?

The mornings can still be tricky, but I’m thankful that things have improved so much. Perhaps not thankful enough sometimes, because the brain has this incredible way of forgetting. When they reattached me and got rid of the bag on my (happy) birthday in January 2015, it felt for a long time like I’d been given somebody else’s arse. It was a nightmare, but so much preferable to the alternative. Then there was that time when I had fluid pumped into my body for a scan. I left the hospital, got on and off the metro, then suddenly the fluid ended up shooting out of me, uncontrollably, gushing down my leg and firing out of my right trouser leg onto the pavement as I wearily traversed Rue Oberkampf in the middle of the afternoon praying I didn’t bump into anyone I knew. These sorts of things happened a lot, and sometimes I’d grin and bare it, and sometimes I’d cry my eyes out about it, but I resolved never to feel sorry for myself while I was still alive.

This evening, after circling around Paris a while trying to find a cafe, I finally located one, pulled a card out of my wallet issued by the NHS and showed it to the barman, and went about my business. As easy as that. I didn’t think about it much at the time, but to be able to do that and then continue my evening like a normal person, well it’s something I didn’t think was going to happen much again at one point not so long ago. I would be racked with shame despite it not being my fault. I’d have to plan journeys and hope nothing would happen, and sometimes I would even laugh about having to dash off a bus and then shit in a park behind a tree like a dog. It was my torrid little secret and only my close friends and family knew. I think it’s important to share the shame now, when life is easier, because this is something people have to go through in silence all the time and it can be incredibly embarrassing. And obviously nobody really talks about it.

After being stopped in my tracks, I decided to go to my favourite restaurant and eat my favourite tea instead of going the museum (which I’m a member of ), again on my Jack Jones. Claire and Jeanie are in England at the moment and I miss them terribly. As you can probably imagine, having that beautiful little boy in our lives now is the most wonderful thing that’s ever happened, and I use hyperbole sparingly. Life has been so full of light after much darkness. It doesn’t mean I’ve stopped looking over my shoulder, but I try not to too much. I hope night is a long way off now, because I’m already sure watching him grow up will be the best adventure yet.

So then finally I came back here, sated, had a shower and dithered some more. I decided to write this blog instead of getting on with work. Tomorrow’s another day, and so is Sunday. So that’s how my day went, and it’s made me realise that Facebook is on dodgy territory asking people to share their quotidian experiences in such a way. One minute you’re talking about buying shorts and the next it’s cancer, shitting and the inexactitude of Katrina and the Waves. Still, it’s a good thing to write about it sometimes – the big C I mean – because some people assume you go into hospital, you have an operation, you’re cured or you die, and that’s it. I don’t know what side effects or scars or medical problems others have to endure, but I suspect it’s never that neat and tidy and then they go home and forget all about it. The reason people don’t talk about it is because it’s mortifying (if it’s not fatal), and I certainly wasn’t brave enough to ‘fess up when I was really going through the wringer. But perhaps washing our dirty linen in public everyday isn’t advisable. We all have our crosses to bear, and sometimes that bear has to go and shit discreetly in the woods hoping nobody’s watching. I’m sticking with Facebook for now, but if it starts asking about dreams then I’m off.

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In the beginning was the word, and the word was Genie. In the unlikely event you’re reading this blog and you don’t know me, we had a baby! That’s right, hiiii! That was a bit of a bolt from the blue wasn’t it?

Jean Genie arrived on Saturday the 20th May at 12.35pm after Claire had been in labour for some 18 hours. We’d actually been in hospital since the Monday, when Claire’s waters had broken, only we discovered by the Friday that the amniotic sack had only torn, which was one reason why our little munchkin was taking his time. The other reason might be that he’s lazy like his dad. He was induced for a third time on Friday night, then we sat there watching Have I Got News For You and then listening to tunes as Claire waited for the contractions to start. Turns out we were in it for the long haul.

I tried to stay awake throughout the night, but as I say, I’m lazy; the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak, meaning I dozed off for 20 minutes at a time. I think what surprised us most though was being introduced to what they called “the second stage of labour”. The nurses left around 8.30am for an hour and a half and we sat in a darkened birthing chamber, assuming most of the hard work was behind us. I’m using the first person plural pronoun but in fairness it was Claire doing pretty much all of the work. We’d been told in hypnobirthing that the image of women screaming in agony was pure Hollywood, but when it came to the crunch it was just like Hollywood, but with 20 more nurses huddled around than you might expect. In fact maybe it was more like a rugby scrum with a vagina.

After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, Claire was told to push harder or we’d be thinking about a ‘c’ section. She sorted her technique out and the way she persevered in all that pain, well let’s just say I’ve never felt quite as proud of anyone in my life. And speaking of firsts, the moment Jeanie arrived via a large pair of tongs was one of the most profoundly strange ones I’ve ever experienced. It probably was for him too. There was all this build up and tears and pain and then he popped out in an instant, his face and perfect little body covered in blood. He had these incredible blue eyes staring out through the coat of red, and I don’t think he even let out a cry. He looked like a tiny devil and I thought “what have we done?” We’d let the Genie out of the bottle and there was no going back in (which to be fair, pissed him off more than anyone else).


I’d always assumed when a baby arrives you’d feel drawn to a new member of your clan, but for a moment I was struck with the idea that we’d summoned this demon, and suddenly we were being thrown together, as if we’d not chosen him and he’d not chosen us. Who is this wild little man anyway?

I went off to watch them weigh him, scared, and then the doctor said, “you can touch him if you like”. I stroked his little pink pigeon chest, and just the memory of beginning to bond with my boy for the first time brings tears to my eyes. The little man looked absolutely stunned, like a building had fallen on him and he’d somehow squirmed out of the rubble. He had scratches all over his face, like John McClane, and he sat there patiently staring about the place as they examined him and cleaned his little body up. It turns out he was a perfect little boy, and as I picked him up I felt like the luckiest man alive. I still do.

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J’❤ l’élite métropolitaine

When I lived back across La Manche there were no shortage of London stalwarts who’d apparently suffer allergic reactions if they “went south of the river”. These were people who’d inhabited the Big Smoke for as many as three years, five years and sometimes even a decade. And while it’s easy to mock these twits, I never had much affection for the south bank other than maybe the Southbank. That antipathy for the other side of the water was renewed when I moved to Paris.

Lots of places here remind me of London in a strange way, which is why my addled brain sometimes confuses them. I occasionally call Pigalle Camden and get the Champs-Élysées mixed up with Marble Arch and forget that parts of east Paris I’m walking through aren’t east London and the same with the west of both cities too. That’s probably just me. The Rive Gauche however is impossible to mix up with South London on account of it being so ornate and postcard-y; so white and teeming with tourists. I used to be conflicted about the Left Bank, because while many of the writers and musicians I dig had once lived there, the creativity of the place drained away because of the real estate dollar, which inevitably happens to anywhere with a bit of cachet.

Things have changed though. I’m prepared to look past the Irish theme bars and the loud American holidaymakers and the hard-on everyone has for Hemingway and embrace the place. I’m only a 10 minute jog away now, and many of my runs head over the Pont des Arts and then back over the Leopold Sedar Senghor, taking in recondite landmarks along the way. In the last few weeks I’ve visited the Surrealists Bureau of Research, the studio Jacques Brel recorded Les Marquises in (that’s now a plush hotel), the house Sartre lived in with Beauvoir and his mother before being bombed by paramilitaries upset at his stance on the Algerian War and the three houses Marx inhabited, one after the other, in 1844; none of these places carry a blue plaque. There are some excellent English book shops too, like Berkley Books and San Francisco Books, which are far less gap yaaah than Shakespeare and Co. So it’s official, I am no longer a river separatist. I have embraced the other side. I’ve suddenly realised there’s so much more of the city to explore and discover, which makes utter sense really. Leave your prejudices at the pont, you great twot.

I love Paris. I don’t know if I told you that already. People have, in the past, accused me of being a francophile, and I’ve always taken exception to that assertion, though I could never figure out why and argue my case. It thankfully occurred to me recently while reading Julian Barnes’ Something To Declare. Barnes’ claims that a true francophile loves the idyllic France, the bucolic France, the fantasy that many Brits harbour of one day living in the countryside away from all that rancid civilisation. But my infatuation is with the capital city, which is either a rare strain of francophilia or perhaps not francophilia at all.

I couldn’t have been prouder of Paris than on Sunday when it was revealed 90% of the electorate voted for Macron, even though we couldn’t vote ourselves of course. It was 93% in our quartier, and also in the quartier we used to live in. What a splendid, tolerant and liberal city Paris is, and how gratifying that Europe has plugged the populist flood for now, and that President Trump is weeks away from impeachment. Obviously there is still much work to be done to be done regarding the much touted égalité the country claims to embody, but I’m feeling tentatively positive about the future, and even about the future of the EU.

I’ve heard plenty of bleating about the fact the President elect is pro-business by people who had clearly forgotten he was running against an actual fascist. I can no longer identify with the hard left because of this insane idea that a moderate is as much the enemy as the extreme right. The rape-apologism of the SWP, the antisemitism on the left… its a tawdry business. Melenchon is a villain, and there’ll be a special place in hell for him and his holograms for refusing to endorse Macron over Le Pen. I still abhor the exploitation of workers and know that a system that demands growth year-on-year above all else is doomed to failure, but Sunday was a binary choice between mondialistes and nationalistes and I’m on the side of globalisation if that is where the new battle lines are being drawn. Perhaps the left/right thing has seen its day politically too.

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MOAB is my tosspot

I remember being surprised by my mother’s response when I asked her how she felt during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“Which missile crisis?” she asked. “I don’t remember any missile crisis.”

My mother wasn’t a stupid woman by any stretch of the imagination, so it seems extraordinary she wouldn’t remember a game of brinkmanship between two formidable superpowers that brought us to the threshold of Armageddon. But I think I’m beginning to understand how you might shut traumatic external events like that out – if that is indeed what she did. My life is beautiful right now and I couldn’t be happier, which is why I’m almost too frightened to look at the news and check what’s unfolding.

Trump’s unpredictability and Sean Spicer’s stupidity are scaring the shit out of me. There was an understandable outcry recently when Spicer made idiotic comments about Hitler not gassing his own people, but I was more concerned about him talking about – and I quote – “the President’s decisive action in Syria and the attempts that he’s making to destabilise the region”. Was it a slip of the tongue? There wasn’t even a flicker of recognition in the CNN anchor’s eyes to suggest that what he was saying was troubling or extraordinary. At the time Spicer was attempting to defuse the situation of his own making, and given the seriousness of the gaff, this further remark gained surprisingly little traction. It seems there are so many slip-ups, and so many peculiarities, that little of it seems extraordinary anymore.

We all sat up and took note when Trump suddenly changed his mind about Assad and bombed Syria two days later, but we barely noticed when he talked about eating a “beautiful piece of chocolate cake” when he gave the order. Now he’s bombing Afghanistan and raising his dukes and waving them provocatively at North Korea. With incredulity I await what this frighteningly narcissistic, venal, pigshit thick and erratic President will do next, and I expect Mr Putin does too. If the White House is closer to Isis in ideology than they realise, then I fear Trump is at the wheel of a juggernaut, hurtling indiscriminately forward taking out as many “bad guys” as he can (there are only two types of guy in Trump’s simple, binary brain).

Then there are the French elections of course, which I could bang on about for the rest of the afternoon, but I’ll spare you for now. Just to say that the feeling in my water is that Fillon isn’t dead yet. Though the feeling in my water has been highly unreliable for a while now, so make of that what you will.

It’s Good Friday though, and the world keeps turning for now, so I intend to keep enjoying myself while we’re still able to draw breath. I’m off to the Palais de Tokyo later with my friend Russell, then I’m thinking about checking out a cinema in Montmartre later which every Friday shows new French films with English subtitles. I’ve been looking for a place like that ever since I moved here, even if, by now, you would have thought I wouldn’t need it. My band White Witches are resurrected in Sheffield tonight, which I’m delighted about, even if I shan’t be playing. And Claire gets back tomorrow, and given that it’s been a week since I last saw her, I can’t wait to give her a squeeze. Perhaps I should take a leaf out of my mother’s book and pretend like impending geopolitical calamity is simply a figment of everyone’s imaginations. Bonnes pâques mes amis.

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Hair today, gone tomorrow*

When I’m at the hairdressers, I always instinctively try to put my arms the wrong way through the protective outer garment they give you – so the jacket is back to front – a throwback to Jeremy: The Early Years, when I regularly got my hair chopped at the Barbers. I always feel like I’ve dropped a clanger and revealed my true colours when I do that, like someone saying Versace phonetically in front of people who care about that sort of thing.

This morning I travelled back to the old place to see Davy, the handsome Jean Dujardin lookalike and star of previous blogs, who is the only man in Paris I can trust not to make me look like Geert Wilders. As every male under 50 looks like one of Harry Enfield’s Double Take Brothers these days, it’s actually a taller order than you’d think. I say << court et le bordel s’il tu plait, Davy >> and he gets to work. Court et bordel seems to mean short and like a whorehouse, but I’m assured it’s accepted parlance in Paris these days.

I get a haircut about once every 4-6 months, usually when I start to resemble a Lego Terry Wogan. It also gives me time to save up, because after a disastrous visit to Mr Toppers in my 20s which was meant to be a money saving exercise, I’ve never got my hair chopped by anyone for less than £30 ever since; reassuringly expensive, as an old advert for wife beater had it. Given that my trips are so infrequent, it’s a chance to see how my French has improved, and today proved to me that it has got a lot worse, or perhaps I was just tired.

You can’t really fake it when you’re sat in a chair for 30 minutes, even if the interrogation from hairdressers isn’t exactly taxing. And it occurred to me that I would rather do anything in the world than be a hairdresser. Just imagine having to make the same awkward small talk with the same people for years on end as you witness their barnets thinning or their grey hairs slowly increasing as their faces sag and their teeth decay.

And you send them out into the world with a haircut they’ve asked for that doesn’t suit the shape of their face, as they get ready to jet off to somewhere a bit warmer for their two weeks of scheduled fun that year. And they sound excited to be getting away, but by now you can’t even remember where it was they said they were going. I used to think snakes were my biggest fear, but not I reckon small talk is my true bête noire. I suppose the upside is at least you get to look at yourself all day.

When I told Davy I’d moved and where to, he gave me that mildly suspicious look that everyone does that kind of implies, “oh, you’re a moneyed wanker are you?” I’m quite possibly oversensitive about this – not that I really mind when the Louvre and the Pompidou are 10 minutes away in different directions. We genuinely lucked out with this place, and we’ve probably been due a little bit of luck, if you believe in such nonsense.

I enjoyed the stroll back to the new flat, as I’ve enjoyed all of my peripatetics of late. Moving to a new part of town makes you see the city through fresh eyes again. On Rue Reaumur I noticed a beautiful building at 61-63 that has a wonderful art nouveau facade, and after looking it up on the internet, it appears that much of the street is fin-de-siecle and came by the order of the prefect of the Seine, Georges-Eugène Haussmann (so I may well have to pay closer attention from now on). It’s fascinating to imagine the widespread chaos caused by the Baron, and perhaps it was such a shock to Paris’s system that it has been obstinately set in its ways ever since. Haussmann was bald on top, so he probably only went to the Barbers once a year to get a trim and edge, and I doubt he spared much thought regarding which way round one puts the protective garment on either. He’s in Père-Lachaise now, where I expect his patch is well looked after.

*The title is a shit hair pun, in keeping with hairdressers everywhere. It too is de rigeour here for hair places to name themselves something painfully punny, like Couiff1rst, which is not only a terrible pun but also a terrible franglais pun, and what’s more they’ve even managed to sandwich a number in the title.

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