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Tuesday 24th April 2007

As predicted my hangover and general tiredness meant I didn’t get much work done, but that didn’t stop me sitting outside cafes and eating croissants and generally pretending I was some Bohemian writer working on some existential novel. I had a late lunch in one of the cafes and was about to start working when I noticed that they had free wi-fi, so I played internet poker instead. Further evidence of my overwhelming desire to waste all opportunities that are put in my path. There I was in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, losing at Texas Hold ‘Em. What a twat!
But it made me happy – even though I was losing and I felt relaxed and like I was on a mini holiday and that is maybe more important. Things have been pretty full on lately, so I decided not to beat myself up too much about it.
And itÂ’s apt really. I spend most of my life in the UK sitting in cafes and so itÂ’s nice that I am doing the same thing, but still feeling like I am being exotic.
As I sat there at my computer I was aware of another customer coming in and sitting at the table next to mine. I didn’t pay him too much mind, not even looking up at him. But after a few minutes he started talking to me in French. Despite my grade B at French O level some twenty three years ago, I was unable to decipher the babble. “Pardon, je suis Anglais!” I told him. It means “Sorry, I am English”. Who says I wasted a good education? I wasn’t apologising for being English. I was apologising and then pointing out that I was English as an explanation.
The man didnÂ’t seem to be concerned by my interjection and carried on talking at me. He was somewhat wild-eyed and his hair was maybe a little matted, but he was youngish and quite good looking and for the moment I assumed he hadnÂ’t heard what I had said, or had perhaps not been able to penetrate my accent.
“Je ne comprends pas,” I told. Which means “I not understand not”.
He didnÂ’t stop with his Gallic monologue though and suddenly I recognised the intensity at which he was addressing me indicated that he was in all likelihood a mental. Because of the cultural and linguistic differences between us it had taken me an all-important thirty seconds to put the clues together. Had I been in London and the man had been speaking English I would have spotted it straight away and put my eyes down to the ground and ignored him. This is the danger of foreign travel. The mentally unstable have a thirty second window in which to get to you, which they would otherwise never have. I had given him eye contact. He might now see me as his friend, or a meal ticket or the next victim whose skull would one day be found in his fridge.
I took my evasive eyes to the floor manoeuvre now, but feared it was too late. He carried on talking and I wondered whether some killer blow was about to come, whether he would get agitated with me for suddenly having withdrawn my friendship. I decided it was probably time to leave just in case. But the café owner came to my rescue and told the man that as he had now finished his coffee it was time to leave.
The man reluctantly got up to go and I noticed that the entire seat of his trousers was frayed and essentially missing. I think it was safe to presume he was a homeless man who had been asking passersby for two euros for a coffee and was too honest not to actually go and spend his earnings on what he had claimed it was for. Even the beggars in Paris are chic and cool. I only wish I had understood what he had been saying to me. It was probably “I used to be a writer and comedian too, but the job took its toll and look how I ended up. I still like to get money together to come and sit in cafes, which to be honest with you is all I ever did when I had work. Make sure you write your script or you might end up out on the street with your arse hanging out like me. But in London, which isn’t as glamorous.”
Feeling in holiday mood I went to a supermarket and bought myself French things for a picnic dinner: a baguette, some camembert, some fancy ham and so forth. I felt like I was on a school field trip or Inter-railing. It made me disproportionately happy.
The gig tonight was a little bit hard work as a birthday party were in the front row and kept talking and having their phones go off and were not interested in listening to anything that required an investment of attention. I got through it all, though perhaps took my on stage breakdown a little far, leaving the audience too unsure about whether I was about to kill myself or not. I didnÂ’t kill myself though, if any of you were wondering. I have to go to Milan tomorrow and wouldnÂ’t want to miss that. Then Keswick on Sunday. Maybe Saturday would be a good time to end it all.

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