The Hotel du Cap…a love story
My book, Love and Care is out now…here you can read how a glorious fool was so obsessed with what love is and why we love, that he very nearly made a film…
I once worked with a moderately famous actress who said to me, “It’s not so much that you break the rules. You just don’t know there are any, do you?”
Some truth there. I’m never entirely certain where the boundaries lie between what’s acceptable and what’s not, what’s possible and what’s not, and I suppose by implication, what’s right and what’s wrong. This is not to say I am a bad person, at least in my own eyes. The actress in question may have been pointing to a different conclusion, but that’s her problem.
It is true to say that there is something of the glorious fool about me. I might wish it different, but there it is. I have a tendency to blunder, albeit innocently, into situations beyond my ken, to put my foot in it, to say what’s on my mind as opposed to what may be appropriate or discreet or polite, to try things where there is no absolute reason not to try – like taking my mother out of a care home and looking after her myself.
Which I guess demonstrates that sometimes not knowing there are any rules, reaps benefits. Other times, not so much. To illustrate the point, I once had an idea for a film about love. I wanted to explore what love is, why we love and importantly for me, why we fall out of love. My then wife had fallen out of love with me and in love with another man and I was perplexed as to why, not least because I still loved her. I had also experienced unrequited love much earlier in life. That one I remember because I was just nine years old when I wrote a love letter, my first ever, to Joan Donleavy who was in the same year as me at primary school. Joan dealt with my unwanted affection for her by tearing the letter into tiny pieces in front of me and in the middle of the playground for all to see. Love can be cruel.
I was sufficiently committed to investigating the nature of love to concoct a film scenario combining fact and fiction in a way I thought might be original, not to say avant-garde.
The film was to called The Hotel du Cap, for reasons that will become clear as we go along, and I decided to begin the film by interviewing my ninety-eight year old Grandmother despite the infirmities of her age. I have the tapes to this day. She was not in the best of health. Her confinement to an armchair made it hard for her to refuse my request, but had she put up any kind of fight I would never have gone through with it, naturally. Doing such a thing may be seen as a prime example of a man who does not know there are any rules, particularly when it comes to exploiting one’s own family as story material, something I have gone on to do with this podcast, and now, my book, Love and Care. In mitigation, I should say I loved my grandmother very much and both as a child and as an adult, she was to me both sage and hero.
When I was still a boy, she taught me to dance to the music of the Charlie Kuntz Orchestra. She taught me to swim, in a pool in Portugal where I cut my toe open and later fainted at a bullfight. It was she took my sister and I away for the majority of our holidays, presumably to give our parents a break. Later, when I went to university to study English and my father refused to support me in any way, it was she who kept me going with a £40 cheque, posted regular as clockwork every month.
She seemed to me to be liberal and non-judgemental, qualities I try for especially with my own children. I remember one day I went to church with her. It was soon after my grandfather’s death. During the lengthy sermon she lent across to me and gave a gentle tug on my collar to reveal the bruise remaining from a less than proficient love bite. I quickly covered up because I knew what was there. “Don’t let them draw blood,” she whispered.
I tell this story in the book of Love and Care, but it bears repeating here. As an indication of how close we were, and as some excuse for putting her through the interview, she once told me that we’d been lovers in a previous life. A clairvoyant gave her this unusual piece of information. I was relatively young when she told me, and not quite sure how to react. But I knew she had a wealth of experience behind her– she had had many love affairs in her long life, but had truly loved only one man who died in tragic circumstances when she was just nineteen years old. Freddie was a pilot flying biplanes between the wars when they met and fell in love and got engaged to be married, seventy years before the day I sat in front of my grandmother, with a camera and microphone…
Play the interview:
Despite my grandfather’s love for my grandmother, she had never learned to love him and never let go of her love for Freddie, especially in her later years, when he came back to her mind again and again. She was sure that when her time came, Freddie would appear on a Faluka, a beautiful Nile sailing boat, laden with fruit and flowers. But it was my grandfather, and not my grandmother, who was to be the hero of The Hotel du Cap story.
I was only twelve when he died and only just getting my first love bites. He was a gruff, distant presence, a man of few words as they say, and a man of simple pleasures revolving around mixing Guinness and cider and watching horse racing on television whilst he rolled and smoked his cigarettes with his elbows on his knees. He was as fixed and immovable as the furniture. His passion in life was horses. His brother had been the King’s jockey in Egypt, which king I was never clear, and he had run a hospital for old warhorses in Alexandria. It was his whole life until he and my grandmother married.
He would be the hero because there was a mystery connected to my grandfather, one that I thought might serve as a kind of meditation on the nature of love and set me off on a road trip in search of answers.
This is now I imagined it might work…
Under CREDITS, we see the preparations for the journey in a bright yellow VW Camper van.
And hear this voice over…
“My grandfather knew his wife did not love him. He put up with her many affairs and remained faithful to her, until his death. But he had one secret. Every year he took a two week holiday alone to the same hotel in the north of Spain. Nobody knows what he did there or why he went back again and again to the same place. I’m going to try to find out, even after so many years have passed. What drew him back?”
Jeremy on the ferry to France.
Jeremy’s fevered imagination constructs the possibility of another life for his grandfather. Maybe even another woman. But he may be wrong. Perhaps The Hotel Cap was simply a refuge, a kind of spiritual filling station, a break from a loveless marriage. He discusses this possibility with OTHER PASSENGERS.
You get the idea. I am Jeremy, though I cannot think why I chose that particular name to hide my true identity, nor indeed why I felt it necessary to hide my identity at all. Given that my grandmother opens the film and calls me by my real name, and that I take credit as writer and director, the viewing public would not, now I think about it, have too much trouble putting two and two together.
I had borrowed money from my ex-wife – mighty kind of her considering we were newly separated – to buy a bright yellow camper van, and I had just enough of my own cash to fund the road trip I intended to make and to shoot the trailer for the film, intended to attract the money from financiers. The actress’s words and the ‘glorious fool’ thing had become simply distant echoes to the orchestra of my obsession.
I made some phone calls to old contacts from my days in the film business, and by sheer good fortune I found an experienced camera woman willing to accompany me on a trip that would take us right through France to the Mediterranean coast.
Faye would film our progress without needing to be paid cash in return for. all travel costs, and a free ride to be with her lover who lived in the south of France.
It was now just a question of booking the cross-channel ferry, picking Faye up from the railway station and loading up, all of which was achieved without significant incident and soon, we were on our way.
I won’t relay the precise details of our weeklong journey through France, as they are not pertinent to proving my status as a glorious fool. Suffice to say, we attempted to interview people we met along the way for their views on love and to film sequences of Jeremy, me, wandering and wondering, that would serve to illustrate a perplexed man on a quest to find answers. I stopped passengers on the ferry and tried to appear like a man with a serious mission and a professional approach. Most learned to avoid me. We stopped in Caen to talk to a French academic and philosopher who’d written on the subject of love. Unfortunately, term had ended and he was nowhere to be found. Further south, we filmed a sequence with an old friend called Sarah in a market, but the microphone wasn’t up to the crowds around us and I later found I could hear almost nothing of what she’d said. We ended the trip by interviewing my best friend Phil on the quay at Grau-du-Roi about compassion, and staying with him in the very same farmhouse we would later share for a year, until I came home to the UK to take care of Mum.
With the shooting done – abandoned might be more accurate – Phil and I dropped Faye with her lover, and the next day, as I was about to leave for the journey back to the north coast and the ferry, Phil decided to come with me. A good friend indeed.
I made it home and edited the material Faye had shot into a rough promo designed to attract money to the project. My foolishness should have ended there, but it didn’t. I decided the best place to convince investors to give me money to make the full length film, would be the Cannes Film Festival. And so, some months after my return, I began the process of gaining entry to the film festival.
Reading through the application form, and with the famous actress’s opinion of me hovering, I became aware of a set of rules that were clear obstacles to my ambition.
Several lies went down on the form. Little lies to be fair, backed up by the quick formation of a production company.
I scraped together the fare for a plane ride to Nice, sufficient to cover the costs of a hire car and a week in the cheapest campsite I could find. I took with me only the bare essentials. A black dress suit purchased from a charity shop with silk collars and tiny silken stripes down the outside of the trouser legs. I thought the suit might pass in dim light and thus allow me to attend swish parties and screenings without drawing undue attention.
So obsessed was I with pretending to be someone I was not, that whilst I remembered to take a tent, I completely forgot to take either a sleeping bag or an air mattress. As a consequence, I would sleep very little for the next few days, despite the wine box I bought to hang from the tree outside the tent.
During the day, I walked the corridors of the market in the underground bunker, trying for meetings and appointments with film companies that might back the idea of The Hotel du Cap. In the evenings, I returned to the campsite, took my suit from its hanging place on the branch of the same tree with the wine box, and returned to the festival for the evening.
Invitations were scarce, though I did manage to gate crash a swish party. As I negotiated the gangplank to a yacht big enough to hold a hundred or more with room to spare, I was stopped by one of the two burly security men guarding the access. He held one hand up in front of my chest and with the other, pointed down towards my feet. I wondered if perhaps he was about to comment on the suit, picked up for fifteen pounds from Cancer Research and made for a man with a waist twice the size of mine. I was about to raise my arms in the air and admit I was an imposter, when I realized he was pointing to my shoes, bought from the same charity shop, too tight for comfort and very worn. It turned out he was, though not because my sartorial inelegance offended; simply to ask me to remove my shoes in order to preserve the teak deck of the yacht. Shoes removed, he let me pass. I walked in my socks directly to the champagne bar and proceeded to drink several glasses one after the other in celebration of this minor victory.
As far as I recall, the evening progressed reasonably well. I had the chance to talk drunkenly to a few people whose names I could not recall the next day when I awoke in the tent, still wearing the suit, with a head pounding from an excess of free champagne.
I doubt any of those people would have plumped up the cash, even if I could have remembered their names, and I probably don’t need to tell you that I never made the film.
But there’s always the future to consider. And when you’re a man who doesn’t know there are any rules, who knows what I might do next?