London and Paris: lovers and rivals. The two capitals have been eyeballing across the Channel for centuries, and the French have just reported gleefully that Paris’s most expensive apartment ever — with 16 bedrooms in an 18th-century villa on the Rive Gauche — has gone for £34 million to an unnamed European leaving London because of “the uncertainty of Brexit”.
Oof! (This is all despite the fact there are still half a dozen more expensive flats currently on the London market). The French have loved London. With 150,000 here, it has been cheekily described as France’s sixth-largest city, and when our former mayor Boris Johnson was doing such a good job of promoting London after the 2012 Olympics, Anne Hidalgo, now mayor of the French capital, said sneeringly: “London is a suburb of Paris.”
But the pendulum swings back as well as forth. Hot on the heels of the Rive Gauche apartment, Sotheby’s has just sold an entire building in the 7th Arrondissement for €48.5 million (£42 million) to Londoners, and Paris just surpassed London as the destination for the super-rich. It is almost as if we are in a peaceful war trying to annex territory by settling in each other’s cities.
But the rivalry is not without envy of the other. Napoleon III ordered Haussmann to rebuild Paris using London, where he would spend 12 years in exile, as its model. In return we borrowed their mansion blocks. They gave us restaurants, while we passed back the sandwich. We showed them how to build pavements, they began flâneuring. When London was too prudish to stock The Story of O, Paris obliged us.
And now they are showing a little ankle to our residents, as we feel the cosh of politics, even though Paris itself is not a bowl of potpourri at the moment. Should we be worried by the exodus? Or should we apologise to the French now for the spiralling house prices we might be about to inflict on them?
Soho joint pays price for the wages of din
I walked into Princi, the shiny Italian canteen on Wardour Street, this week for a glass of wine.
It was a fruitless endeavour. The music was thumping. “Will you be turning the music down any time soon,” I asked the woman behind the counter. “Sorry, what?” she said.
“The music is TOO LOUD.”
She replied: “Sorry, the head office wants it like this” — then asked which wine I wanted but couldn’t hear my order.
This all seemed too much of a challenge and I walked off to another restaurant around the corner. Perhaps the music is so loud it drowns out complaints.
Men more obsessed with sport than sex
On Tuesday evening Leïla Slimani, author of Adèle, came to a dining room in Soho to speak to members of Trouble, the talks club I run. The theme of this new novel which was to be discussed: sex addiction.
My group was all women. On the other side of the room were four middle-aged men who were having supper with each other.
I was anxious that their voices might disrupt us, but I thought if a group of women said “sex” enough times, the men might forget their own conversations and eavesdrop.
Had they listened they might have heard a few choice wisdoms not normally shared in mixed company: “You are always chasing the perfect sexual experience, and it’s always a disappointment”. “The only way a woman can become free is to disappoint her husband and children.”
Had this made any impact on the men? Clearly not. At one point in a lull in our conversation, one of the chaps was heard to say: “I was thinking about getting a subscription to Sky Sports...”
Tea and no sympathy for May and Corbyn
A warning to anyone drumming up support for an election. This week YouGov asked the question: “Who would make the best PM?” Jeremy Corbyn came in at 19 per cent, trailing well behind Theresa May at 40 per cent. But the most striking outcome was the “don’t-knows”, who pulled in a very respectable 39 per cent. One more point and they would be in the lead.
Who could be the leader of these “don’t-knows”, or would this sizeable slab of the British electorate now decline any form of leadership and prefer just to make tea and get on with their lives?