|The Homage was ego inflating but the deluge looked like shrinking it and the flowing wine didn’t do the old green jacket any favours.|
The heading said ‘Homage a Ingrid Pitt’. Nice and respectful. I’ve always had a soft spot for a good Homage. The letter went on to invite me for a weekend in Paris, all expenses paid, and was signed Fabrice. Better and better. Fabrice met me at the airport – with his gorgeous Argentinian wife, Gabriella, and filled me in on my duties. Saturday afternoon I had to turn up at his shop, just off the Champs d’Elysee, sign a few autographs and then in the evening attend a cinema in the nearby Boulevard Haussmann followed by dinner in a Romanian restaurant. The rest of the weekend was mine. Most of the people who came for an autograph dropped in to avoid the rain which was coming down chats et chiens. By the time we moved on to the cinema I was pretty depressed. It would be humiliating to sit in the auditorium with acres of empty seats all around. I was amazed when we drew up outside the Cinema Haussmann to see a long queue of fans, huddled against the persistent rain, waiting to get in. Buoyed up by their interest I decided to show my respect by introducing the films, Vampire Lovers and The Wicker Man, in French. Not one of my better decisions. As we sat in the cafe next to the cinema and waited for the films to end Gabriella assured me that the audience had been laughing with me – not at me. Things perked up after we arrived at the Parisian hangout of Comte Dracula. It was small but stuffed full of enthusiasts. I was encouraged to make another speech but this time decided to quit while I was ahead and did it in English, Enthusiastic to the end I grabbed a bottle from the table, made a wide, dramatic gesture and ended with, “Vive la France”. Everyone within my immediate circle received a liberal libation from the open bottle but nobody seemed to mind. I came off worse. My emerald green jacket had interesting Burgundy coloured patches. By the time I got to bed I was wonderfully exhausted and overslept a little. Which meant a lot had to be fitted into Sunday.
It was a crystal clear April morning so I decided to walk to my first destination, the Place du Tertre. When I lived briefly in Paris, thirty odd years ago, the Place was the place where all the artists gathered to paint the square, daub surrealistic shapes on second hand canvasses, smoke black Gitanes and rip off the tourists. It’s changed a bit now. Most of the Place has been taken over by restaurants and the only artists seem to be students earning a franc or two sketching caricatures. On to the Sacre Coeur to listen to the choir and then a relaxing half hour sitting on the cathedral steps looking out over the city. A taxi took me the Place d’Opera and I sniffed out a restaurant I was very keen on all those years ago, le Pot au Feu. It was exactly as I had left it. And so was the grub. Cheap and perfect. I wanted to make the last evening before returning to London memorable so I went back to the hotel and flopped out on the bed for a couple of hours. Refreshed I took my table on one of the wonderful Bateaux Mouches floating restaurants. It was a fitting finale to a brief weekend. I was due to fly back on Monday afternoon so decided to chance another wallow in Memory Lane. There used to be a restaurant, I think called Porterhouse, somewhere near Neuilly sur Seine, which specialised in steaks. Not just any old steaks but the cheapest and most delicious you would find – anywhere. It wasn’t a place for a romantic assignation. Bare tables with long benches either side. You found a place, wedge yourself in, a paper place mat was dropped in front of you and your meal plonked on it. It was big, bleu and scrumptious. If you didn’t like it – tough! But it appears the restaurant has been shafted, ousted by the salutiferous brigade.
On the plane I reflected on the fact that I had been in Paris for three days and hadn’t once ventured along the Rue de Faubourg or any of the haute couture shopping streets. Proof, if it were needed, that I’m getting old.
I recently met up with Hazel O’Connor after 15 years. Hazel was a big singing star back in the seventies. She made a punk rock film called Breaking Glass which seemed to cement her future as a top liner and garnered a BAFTA nomination for Best Newcomer and another for Best Film Score.
She was always a bit outrageous. I remember going to a West End premiere with her. I went to have a euphemistic and when I returned Hazel was sitting on the floor, in the corner, eating a sandwich she had taken from a Mickey Mouse lunch box she had brought with her. She was unfazed by all the glitterati standing around eating stale canapés and guzzling cheap bubbly. Her wedding day was equally remarkable. It was in the Hare Krishna faith and there was a lot of fruit, particularly bananas, included in the ceremony. After an unhappy marriage Hazel went roaming for a year or so and then returned to her ancestral home in Ireland where she still lives. She was in England to meet some fans and see if she could bring her act back to these shores. I hope she succeeds.
Took a trip down to the Brighton home of Horror Maestro, James Herbert, to celebrate his birthday. James has been recovering from major surgery he underwent about a year ago. Last time I saw him, at Christmas, he was looking decidedly peeky but I was glad to see he had recovered much of his old brio. He was probably helped in his recovery by the news that his latest novel, The Secret of Crickley Hall, published last October, spent seventeen weeks on the best seller list. James is one of the outstanding modern horror writers on a par with American author Steven King. After lunch we sat outside on the terrace in the unusually warm Spring weather and talked over old times and old friends and generally did the ‘weren’t like that in my day’ bit. A perfect Easter Sunday only slightly marred by the M23’s efforts to become a national car park on the way home.
Motoring & Leisure 27/4/07