Tuesday, July 10, 2007

And the winner of the next series of The Apprentice is....

After months in the markets Tanya and I have possibly become just a little complacent. We set up our stall, sit back on our chairs, munch a croissant and read La Provence. Even in a nation renowned for the liquid breakfast past experience has taught us that there is little point in trying to sell wine until 11’o clock.

Provencal markets have a more relaxed air than the average UK affair, where some beer bellied bruiser with industrial lungs bellows out his wares. In the dappled romantic light underneath the plane trees you don’t hear anyone shouting out that oranges are a euro a dozen. Instead shopping in Luberon markets is a serene affair and like the other traders we wait until the customers come to us. At least that was the case….

This week we were visited by an old friend from London. Readers of my books will be familiar with Peter Tate, a passionate Francophile and long term supporter of our crazy decision to give up our stable careers in London to work in French markets.

Tanya and I did the usual - set up, bought a pastry and waited for the rising sun to engender a thirst. Peter was having none of it. Standing in front of our stall like a sales rep at a mobile phone conference, he accosted anyone who came near. Noting the bottle neck of punters building up around his ample frame, one of my fellow traders commented that he was like a bouchon, the French word for cork or traffic jam. It was uncannily accurate. Nobody could move into the rest of the market until they got past Peter who was wielding our bottles of wine like a cowboy playing with his six shooters. Conscious of our budget we normally pour people a small sip, trying to ensure that a bottle lasts a whole market, but Peter took the view that the bigger the glasses the more guilty people would feel if they didn’t buy anything. His sales patter took no prisoners.

“Would you like to buy some wine?”

“I can’t I am a diabetic.”

“You can still buy it, you’ll just have to let me drink it for you.”

All winter we’d been cultivating a relationship with a lovely French lady called Lydia. Gradually she has begun to buy her wine from us. Tanya and I are polite charming and anxious not to offend, so poor Lydia didn’t know what had happened when we set Peter loose with his pidgin French. She foolishly mentioned she’d been invited for lunch and despite her protests that she’d already baked a cake as a gift she found a bottle of red pressed into her hands.

Tanya and I looked ruefully on, wondering how many of our business relationships would survive the morning. But at the end of the market, our stall was practically devoid of wine, and our money belts bulging with euros, leaving me thinking that Peter should put himself down for the next series of The Apprentice. The only problem is he’s in his sixties and would probably tell Alan Sugar to F-off.