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Monday, 17 September 2012

Finding Brigitte Bardot . . .

A visit to St Tropez has been on my agenda for years now - for the sole purpose of visiting the fabulous Brigitte Bardot. I admire her tremendously for her dedication to animal rights and her ceaseless campaigning to change legislation that affects animals. Her life’s work has been to alter the way people treat animals, which resonates with me perfectly. I stopped eating meat at the age of two because it struck me as an unnecessary cruelty. My Mum made me eat fish until four years old when I decided that enough was enough and that fish felt pain too. I was taken to see three dieticians who reassured my mum that this was the best thing I could do health-wise. Two of them were actually vegan, which means no eggs, dairy or animal products whatsoever - clearly they knew their stuff. I was set on a life-long mission to set the world to rights, an undertaking that can be cruel, lonely and very disheartening. Brigitte sums this up in her response to a question from NGO Animal Liberation:

In your achievements so far for the animals what ones are you most proud of?

None! None whatsoever! For every victory has led to a defeat: baby seals, fur, hunting, horse-meat - what a horror! It is never ending and I am 66 years old. Frankly, I am tired with all these fights leading us one step forward and three steps back. All of these short victories have turned into big defeats. Nevertheless we will not give up.

So to return to my story, a friend of mine and ex-Bunny/ talented artist, Rose agreed to a last minute trip to St Tropez. It was so last minute (and on such a budget) that it was uncertain how we’d eat until she sold a painting 2 days before we flew ( – check her out). We arrived on Sunday night after a 1 hour sleep. It wasn’t ideal; it was supposed to be an early night but became a lock in at the Rose and Crown followed by sitting in bed chatting until 7am, like at a teenage sleepover. Our arrival was uncertain as it was a Sunday, and according to some fairly limited research on Google, we were screwed – everything would be shut and no public transport was ‘very feasible’ (one such forum). Our plan had been to make friends on the plane and hope that our new friends were going to St Tropez in a car. With space for two. The reality was that we fell asleep on the plane (despite artic conditions) and so after enquiring about the price of taxis and car hire at the airport (with just 150 euros rattling in our respective pockets) we found a convenient looking pavement and looked about for likely looking cars with whom to hitch a lift.

Rose was most unhappy about this situation – not as you’d think because of the associated dangers - oh no - but because she would be mortified if discovered by anyone she knew. And she does stand out. She stood out rather more when out of nowhere appeared a tropical storm with lightening and torrential rain. Some Australian boys turned up and offered to carry our cases to a nearby train station, but by this time Rose’s demur t-shirt was totally see-through and we had no coats. After trundling down a busy, grey and very wet road we arrived just in time to catch the train, so we waved off the boys and hoped no inspector would arrive. None did but I was craving a drink by this point, absinthe ideally – but oh how my dreams would be shattered . . .

My A-level French was coming back to me by now so we found out some details of our journey, changed trains (bought a ticket) and settled down for a fairly lengthy journey on the coast, through scenic hills, Cannes and along the coast. We also had a fairly in-depth conversation about sex, men, sex and the universe. A man came and sat opposite us, but starting chatting in French slang on his phone, so we foolishly continued. As we gathered our belongings he pointed out (in near perfect English) that we had dropped something. Cringe.

We now arrived somewhere that was not so far from a port where we could catch a boat to St Tropez, and a friendly looking taxi man persuaded us (it was quite easy) to take his cab. With a Bueno and some (hateful) sparkling water to fortify us, we set off towards Sainte Maxime. Once installed on the boat we were very contented. The sky was mercurial with the occasional flash of lightening, and the sea was a beautiful moody blue, highlighted by greens and white where the boat had cut through the waves. Fifteen minutes later we were greeted at St Tropez by a double rainbow and some mega yachts. Have to say I am very keen on yachts.

We met up with our lovely Bunny Jennie who is casually living in St Tropez with her French boyfriend. She is beautifully tanned and insouciantly chic with her non-matching espadrilles and her OCD. We all went out that evening for a gentle few drinks (can you believe Absinthe is ILLEGAL in France?!?), which I believe became a couple of clubs, as LMFAO were playing at VIP Rooms and we thought we may as well. 

Jennie waved us goodbye around 3am, and then Rose and I seem to have carried on. On leaving the final club someone informed us that we might find an after-party if we “turn right after the old man with the beard”. Naively we went in search of the old man, getting aboard a huge yacht in the process. Next in my memory is a vision of Rose sitting by the sea’s edge with her feet in the water. It was dawn and everything was beautiful. I went to join her but must have taken things a bit far as the next thing I recall is that I fell fully dressed into the sea. I was wearing a watch and in my efforts (and presence of mind!) not to spoil it, I was completely submerged, save the one arm that I kept raised out of the water. 

One thing led to another and next thing we had taken all our clothes off and were swimming towards the horizon. It felt amazing and cold, and I recall that I did not want to stop. Rose however had spotted some girls on the shore pick up her diamante handbag and express an interest. She turned and swam back as fast as she could. By the time I had made my way back to the shallows I noticed another girl was holding my knickers. It is only as I write this now that I realise how strange that was.

All turned out well, the girls (a hen party from Nottingham I was overly enthusiastic to hear) went on their way and we reclaimed our goods. There was nothing to do but walk the length of the harbour to Jennie’s flat, barefoot and drenched – carrying our underwear. I actually blush a bit at the memory. We attracted a small audience of police and early-rising boat men before a car (thankfully) pulled up and offered us a lift home. As we thanked him and got out the car I noticed that we had left actual puddles on the leather – and Rose had left her pink diamante bra! Jennie greeted us with hysterics and put us to bed. The next morning I discovered that my watch saving antics had resulted in a wounded hand which was bleeding copiously. I still have the scar. Now, as my plans regarding Brigitte were almost entirely hazy, I thought it an excellent idea to take the proffered tourist trip on a boat to see her house from the sea. This cunning bit of research meant that when I DID find someone with a boat to lend, I would at least know that they were indeed taking me to the Bardot residence, and not some remote beach. The trip is itself was very pleasant, mainly because boats are fun, especially when you have to hold on. On board we bought some of that fancy pink wine, and settled back to enjoy the ride. However the wine was so foul that for the first time in my life I had to throw it away. I think we were disappointed and proud of ourselves in equal measures.

After a tumultuous evening of what Rose coined ‘Foie gras-gate’ . . . 

(If you have ever, or are ever tempted to order foie gras, please watch this 8 minute long under cover video from a Canadian worker:

. . . we spent a day stretched out on white beds at the luxurious Nikki Beach. We were seriously wined and dined, and brought sweets and ice cubes by Jen's lovely boyfriend. The journey home was rather more eventful; we were petitioned to accept a lift on a rib with some Germans and a very pissed Finnish bloke, who everyone called Lobster on account of his glowing red face. We were on the verge of accepting fairly easily until one pissed German leaned over to Jen (who was going home with the boyf) and said, “it’s okay, we only offer lift and we drop them safely at St Tropez, we are not asking for blowjobs or any of this”. Phew. In spite of this quite worrying insight we had decided that they were okay guys – the skipper was hot and was not a pissed German, and so we got aboard. We were about to depart - wine in hand, when two other girls appeared at the front of the boat. 

Speed, waves, wine and Lobster didn’t make cross-boat introductions easy, and so we forgot about the girls until we pulled up at a big yacht in the middle of nowhere. The people on the boat were gesticulating at our captain in what I assumed to be some kind of shared sea mime and there was a definite pre-agreed thing taking place. Rose and I did get mildly worried at this point – if we were being sold into slavery we would have had a bit of a job escaping this situation. The two girls at the front of our little boat were transferred onto the yacht without much ado and we thought it was our turn. Luckily the Germans were not bad men after all, although no explanation was given, but the nearest drunk German to us intimated that he thought they might be prostitutes. What gave him that idea? We were safely delivered to St Tropez harbour after a hilarious journey which mainly consisted of saving Lobster from falling overboard.

My search for Brigitte had until this point been unprofitable; Skipper was going to lend me his boat to take me to her house, but at the last minute it was hired out to some bankers, and money always wins. However he did impart the salient information that I could make it to her house on foot. This had never occurred to me. So, next morning I left Rose fending off her hang over and set off – an hour later than planned as my alarm didn’t go off. Now, Bardot is known to be somewhat unfriendly and very protective over her privacy. A life of caring about animals had made her dislike people somewhat and she is incredibly elusive. I can relate to this; at the age of 5 I announced to my best friend that I hated all people except for her, my Mum and Jesus (Roman Catholic until the age of 9 – different story).

From the local information I could garner Bardot has 2 houses – the one I had vaguely seen the location of, and some other more inaccessible place. I was seriously hoping that she was at this home. I set off on my merry way with a peach and some cherries for sustenance. After a fair while I came to a place with lots of boats moored. I had already said bonjour to a friendly old man nearby, so when I came across a kayak on shore I hatched a plan. The plan came to nothing as it happens, but via a lift offered on a speedboat, a suspicious English bulldog who refused to speak French – despite living in France (prick) and the lack of oars and landing spots (oh, and the reputation of Brigitte’s security guards), I sat and waited patiently with my feet in the water for the speedboat to return. It turned out that this was a futile exercise, so 20 minutes later I set off once more, annoyed that I was left walking in the midday sun without a hat. The last leg of my walk went fast and before I knew it I was skulking around big houses set back from the road and hidden behind bamboo. ‘Interdit’ signs were everywhere I was feeling really very scared. They say never meet your heroes – and here was one notoriously unfriendly heroine, and I was going to knock on her door.

As an excuse for turning up, I had brought with me a signed 1st edition of the first Angelique book – a superb historical novel based on a real life adventuress from the 17th century. Bardot had been offered the part in what turned out to be a terrible 70s film version; apparently she turned it down without reading the script and was later disappointed on finding out what a fantastic role Angelique offers. Now, I appreciate that going all the way to St Tropez to give a hostile ageing legend a book that was missing both front and back covers might sound sort of crazy (that is certainly the response I got whilst there), but it gets a better response than telling people I want to thank her for her unfailing hard work for animal rights. Then I encounter confused and slightly glazed expressions at best, heated debates about her been a raging racist and homophobe at worst. And she obviously is a racist homophobe because it makes perfect sense that someone with a modicum of intelligence who believes that all species are equal would have the little quirk of simultaneously believing that some races are better than others. Really. For the record I have (of course) researched these claims most diligently – she has been blunt, outspoken and has made comments about policy and ghettos, and rather less political observations about the what she considers as the recent appearance of gay men who seriously mince and camp it up. However, Brigitte Bardot is not racist, nor is she homophobic – I would bet my iPhone and My Little Pony collection on it.

I trekked on feeling really rather unusual at this point, until I reached a pair of blue gates with a mosaic of a dog and a water trough. Surely this must be it. I rang the bell and my heart raced as I heard dogs barking away. A man answered a while later and I asked in my best French if this was the house of Madame Bardot. Yes it was he replied. I think I was shocked. I explained that I had come to give her a present, and he replied that I wouldn’t be able to see her as she was just about to leave for her other residence. He thanked me, took the book inside and promised faithfully to pass on my message, the essence of which was “nice work Brigitte, keep it up”. 

I then turned back towards St Tropez feeling faintly dejected that I had just given up my favourite souvenir from an earlier trip to Paris; a lady on the bank of the Seine gave it to me for all the money I had in my pocket which was not quite 12 euros. I had not seen Bardot, and now faced an hour long walk in the midday sun. I took myself to the sea's edge on the lookout for a boat heading back to St Tropez. Incidentally, Bardot’s neighbour is Mohamed Al Fayed, and the likelihood of boats zipping conveniently close by was rather high. 

Whilst at the water’s edge I heard and then saw a tatty white van going in my direction, so I nipped back to the road and stuck my thumb out. It slowed down and I noticed there was no room - I then realised that Brigitte Bardot was in the front seat mouthing thank you and waving at me! She blew me some kisses and they drove off, and suddenly I didn’t mind about the long walk home anymore. In the event it was rather lovely and the temptation of the sparkling blue water got too much. I walked up to the water’s edge, stripped off and swam to the nearest yacht and back. Delicious. I hadn’t really thought it through though, so when I got dressed, sans towel, I was still drenched and the dye of my red gingham top ran straight into the white denim on my short shorts. So at least I got a souvenir exchange; a signed first edition for some pink hot pants and a scar on my palm. Result!

A recent article by Vanity Fair on 'The Temptress of St Tropez':