Sunday, 31 May 2009

Yugo Nowhere

As much as I hate to admit it, I’m in love with my car. Once upon a time I thought only boys were capable of such stupidity; I mean we’re talking about a machine made of metal and rubber that takes you from one place to another. Then, two years ago, I trekked half way across Europe to buy a bright orange bubble on wheels. It was falling apart and I fell head-over-heels. Since then it has spent more time in garages than it has out on the open road, and it has left me on the edge of bankruptcy, yet the idea of dumping it in the scrap yard sends shivers down my spine. It’s the car equivalent of the bad lad you can’t help going back to, even though you know he’s going to treat you like shit.

For the last week or so, Yugo, as I affectionately call him, has been parked outside my apartment collecting tickets from traffic wardens. I left a note on the dashboard explaining that I couldn’t start the engine without at least three burly men from the PMU bar coming to push me, but it was to no avail; everyday a new slip was wedged under the windscreen wiper. ‘Don’t worry,’ Kitty reassured me as we splashed in her pool, ‘you’ve got British plates; they’ll never chase you for the money. JC throws his in the bin.’ This sounded like my kind of a theory but still I couldn’t sleep easy; I’d lie in bed at night imagining tow truckers manhandling my bambino and in the morning I’d rush downstairs in my dressing gown convinced that he would be gone.

Sleep deprived, I paid a visit to my neighbour – a motorcycle mechanic who routinely helps Kitty with her Fiat Uno, Bruno, when he breaks down outside my apartment. ‘Non!’ he barked at me before I’d even opened my mouth. ‘Je suis mechanic moto! Pas voiture! Pas ici!’ ‘Please,’ I implored. ‘Non! You come in ‘ere, pretty English girls, you smile… Enough! Go across ze street, iz mechanic for cars.’ ‘Oh,’ I tried innocently, ‘you don’t understand. I don’t want someone else to fix my car. I want to learn how to do it for myself. Can’t you show me?’ He laughed. Loudly. ‘You? Mechanic? Ha!’ ‘Hey,’ I bristled, ‘I’m not afraid of getting my hands dirty.’ He looked me up and down, eventually resting his gaze on my flimsy white mini skirt. Sensing his resolve was faltering, I tried again, ‘Come on! ‘Motorbikes, cars, they can’t be that different. It’ll be fun!’ ‘Sorry,' he shrugged at last, ‘I can’t. My wife will get angry.’ He slapped his own wrists. ‘I’m asking you to teach me basic mechanics. That’s all.’ He just winked at me. Being French, it was only natural for him to assume that what I really wanted was sex. I turned around and walked across the road.

Yugo now being cared for by a proper car mechanic, Kitty came by on Friday night to collect me for dinner. Parked up by my building, she tried to start Bruno but he only coughed at her and then cut out. ‘Oh come on, don’t do this to me.’ She turned the key again: there was another coughing fit. Kitty looked at me expectantly, ‘Why don’t you go and get your Scottish friend?’ ‘No way,’ I said firmly. The Scot was still annoyed about an autoroute SOS call I’d made two weeks earlier. He’d had to miss the second half of the football to pick me up. He’d never forgive me if I pulled him out of the pub again. ‘Fucking hell,’ Kitty thumped the steering wheel, ‘I’m going to have to call JC. And he told me not drive Bruno tonight,’ she sniffed, the tears welling in her eyes, ‘he’s going to kill me.’

There was a tap on the window. The motorbike mechanic and his assistant were grinning through the glass. ‘Who’s more important JC?’ Kitty was sobbing down the phone, ‘Your friends or me?’ I wound the window down and widened my eyes, ‘Can you help us, please?’ ‘Je suis desolè,’ the mechanic said, ‘je doit aller chez moi. Ma femme,' he raised his eyebrows. 'But you iz mechanic! You fix it!’ I ignored him. ‘To learn about ze engine,’ he continued, ‘you at least need boyfriend who iz mechanic. To teach you.’ He shoved his assistant in my direction and gave me another dirty wink. ‘Seriously,’ Kitty whispered, ‘take one for the team.’ I looked at the boy, cross-eyed and muttering something about a drink, and shook my head. ‘Oh it’s alright,’ she waved her hand, ‘JC’s on his way.’ She reached across to a bag of groceries and found a bottle of wine.

By the time JC had arrived, Kitty and I had consumed most of the rosè and had started on the cheese platter. Kitty almost landed on the curb when he pulled open the door. ‘Girls, you have got to get new cars. I’ve had to cancel a dinner party for this.’ ‘But I love Bruno,’ Kitty giggled. I pointed in the vague direction of the old man’s garage, ‘And I love Yugo. He’s so pretty.’ ‘Yep, looks good, but it DOESN'T FUCKING WORK.’ JC slammed the door and went to get a tow bar from his boot. Kitty looked like she might start weeping again. ‘Don’t worry,’ I said, putting a comforting arm around her, ‘when it comes to cars, men simply don’t understand.’

Monday, 25 May 2009

Diamond Dealers are a Girl's Best Friend

Right now, I am sitting on my balcony. The air is warm and still. All I can hear is the faint laughter of children in a nearby playground. A super yacht, gleaming white in the sunlight, is slicing through the water in silence. Everything is perfect. Or at least it would be, if I could only get my head to stop throbbing. I’m discovering that headaches are what happen when you adopt the lifestyle of Paris Hilton but don’t have the pedigree and the years of training. I’m convinced that Paris, Nicky, Tara P-T et al must have gone to a special school, one that gives classes on drinking on an empty stomach and getting in and out of sports cars wearing short skirts.

Yesterday, I was at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo. It was Grand Prix day and as I tottered about in my white mini dress and four-inch heels clasping a glass of champagne, I imagined I was blending in flawlessly with the high society beauties. I mean, considering that I don’t frequent this sort of establishment everyday I thought I was doing rather well. Still, given that I was only there because my playboy friend had a spare ticket, I couldn’t help feeling a little like a gatecrasher at a party.

B had called on Wednesday and left a message on my answer phone: ‘Hey lady! Got a proposition for you. Sunday. Monte. Grand Prix. Got a table at the Hotel de Paris and a spare ticket. Fancy it?’ Hmmm, it was a tough one. So there I was, sitting around a tiny table with B and his girlfriend, a banker friend of theirs from the Bahamas and a diamond dealer recently moved to Monaco from Switzerland. It was midday and we were already on our second glass of champagne. The Diamond Dealer was telling me about some £40 million rock just auctioned at Christies. Apparently, when it comes to rare gems the credit crunch is an irrelevance. I asked him how much an average diamond costs nowadays. ‘What do you mean average? For you?’ I laughed, hysterically, and he frowned. ‘Oh,’ I managed eventually, ‘I’m not really in a position to be buying diamonds.’ He raised his hand to me, ‘Seriously, they’re more affordable than you might think. You could get a nice pair of studs for just a couple of grand.’ This time I managed to keep a straight face; it is a skill I’ve been able to hone thanks to B regularly making statements like, ‘I bought my second Lamborghini on a whim’ and ‘This flat is super cheap to rent. Twenty grand a month in Monte is a bloody bargain.’

After the Diamond Dealer and I had a disagreement over whether or not I could be a classic car journalist when I couldn’t provide a definition of a frogeye, I decided to head outside for a breather. The crowd on the roof terrace had their noses pressed to the wire fence. Every few seconds, a distant burr would build to reverberating roar and a car would flash past. They were so fast. I shut my eyes, let the sound pass through me and felt my body shudder. Admittedly, it did begin to get a bit samey after a while - the cars went round and round, no one crashed - so I went back inside.

The party was hotting up and a swarm of pretty young socialites had started dancing to Eurohouse whilst the Bulgarian Mafiosi were holding court in one corner of the room. I decided that I could probably get used to the Grand Prix scene and wondered if I was too old and short to be a pit girl. I saw that B had a fresh glass of champagne waiting for me, my ninth or tenth, and I wobbled towards the table. With my feet squashed into these ill-fitting stilettos for several hours now, I suddenly felt compelled to kick them off. I also felt compelled to stand on a chair and start techno dancing. This raised position happened to be much better for scoping out handsome richies; not that I was going to be fussy, I only had to persuade one of them to kiss me and then we could get married. The plan was progressing apace and I was making out in the corner with some dapper continental chap in cream chinos and creaseless blue shirt when I felt someone tugging at my arm. ‘Hannah,’ B’s girlfriend said sharply, ‘we’re going.’ I looked up at my new beau: he was so smooth and shiny. ‘Please,’ I implored, ‘can’t we stay a bit longer.’ ‘No,’ she yanked me from the boy’s embrace, ‘the driver’s outside. Come on.’ As I was pulled towards the door, I looked back at the boy who was blinking at me, clearly bemused. He looked like a deer caught in car headlights. A really good looking deer. This was so unfair: of course she could go home, she already had a rich boyfriend. I, an impoverished writer on the other hand, was still without my trophy husband.

Now, looking down on the yacht sailing out to sea, it's dawning on me that if I want to achieve the Grand Prix standard of living I'll have to make my own money. Morally, I'm not sure I have what it takes to be a diamond dealer but, then again, I'll never know unless I give it a go...