Aix-en-Provence, France

Aix was founded in 122 BC by the Roman consul Sextius Calvinus, who gave his name to its springs. In 102 BC its neighbourhood was the scene of the Battle of Aquae Sextiae when Romans under Gaius Marius defeated the Cimbri and Teutones, with mass suicides among the captured women, which passed into Roman legends of Germanic heroism.

Aix is often referred to as the city of a thousand fountains. Among the most notable are the seventeenth century Fontaine des Quatre Dauphins (Fountain of the Four Dolphins) in the Quartier Mazarin, designed by Jean-Claude Rambot, and three of the fountains down the central Cours Mirabeau: At the top, a nineteenth century fountain depicts the "good king" René holding the Muscat grapes that he introduced to Provence in the fifteenth century; half-way down is a natural hot water fountain (34C), covered in moss, dating back to the Romans; and at the bottom, on la Rotonde- the hub of modern Aix, stands a monumental fountain from 1860 beneath three giant statues representing art, justice and agriculture.


12 Jun 1998 - Aix-en-Provence, France

France '98, no not the date of my visit but the name of the occasion. France '98 refers to World Cup 98! Being a great fan of the beautiful game and also being a great fan of the craic, a trip to Aix was too much of an opportunity to pass up. Normally with Pat, Fraser and Nick we end up in a Greek resort staying in a half built hotel. This time we found ourselves staying on a campsite. At 8AM the tent turned into an oven but the nights were very cold, at least for the first half of the holiday anyway. On one night I could even hear Pat's teeth chattering as he was so cold.

How we actually arrived in Aix however is a story in itself. We travelled in the evening in two cars all the way from London,under the channel and then on through the night down the length of France. This was one long drive yet we managed it in 7 hours but whether we would make it or not was open to question. For our drivers, staying awake was a challenge. Caffeine tablets were swallowed continuously along with regular shots of strong French coffee at the motorway service stations only just managed to keep our boys awake. Only as we got to within an hour of our destination did the drivers have to pull up for half an hour of shut eye.

Aix is a nice place full of old narrow streets and fountains but this was just scenery as our intention on this trip was to watch football all day and then drink huge amounts of beer at night. I am writing this 7 years later so my memories will tend to be a rambling account of the high and low lights. The drinking was pretty large every night and on one night I can remember falling asleep in the toilet in a bar for half an hour to give myself time to come to. On another night I left a pub to sleep outside in the street. I remember the boys trying to wake me up with a bag of ice on the back of my neck before our stagger back to the campsite. All good fun but this falling asleep in places cost me a camera on one night. We all made it back to the campsite and as we were all back 'home' our solidarity left us to look after ourselves and manage the final 100 meters to our tent. At this point I somehow got it wrong and the last thing I remember is falling in to some bushes and sleeping there.

Cold. Noise. I was shivering. I opened my eyes and saw a concrete roof and that I was in a strange room. It was light and it was 5:00 AM. Where the hell was I? I got up and wandered outside and back into the room a number of times trying to make sense of where I was. I had no idea. It seemed that I was in a generator room underneath a swimming pool. At this point I started to wake up fully and tried to work out a plan of what to do. I left the room and took a guess as to which way to go. I followed a path which started to lead through people's back gardens. The campsite was in the country on the outskirts of Aix and I found myself marching up hills through thick vegetation, more back gardens and then onto another path. Finally I found myself on a tarmac road but had no idea where I was going. When would this hell end I asked myself. More walking and I came across a cottage with two rented mountain bikes parked outside. I was desperate. I didn't know where I was. I had been walking for what seemed an age. What should I do?

It didn't take long to decide. I grabbed a bike and took off. I feel sorry for the holiday makers who had rented the bike. Who would have guessed that a hung-over and thieving git would be walking the country lanes in the early morning? With guilt non-existent, it actually turned out to be a very pleasant ride. There is nothing like cycling through the country in the morning in the summer with no one to bother you and with just the cool air whistling past.

By extreme luck I found myself on a road that looked familiar and it in fact took me to the campsite. I cycled to my tent, dumped the bike in some bushes and then hit the sleeping bag - somewhere I should have been 5 hours earlier. And what was the worst thing about this whole sorry event? A few days later I opted for a swim in the campsite swimming pool. It all looked horribly familiar. It appears that where I had woken up was only a 5 minute walk from my tent yet I had turned a 5 minute walk into a two hour walk and bicycle grab. On top of that I had lost my camera with all my holiday snaps.

Another great memory I have concerns one of the final nights. We were again out for a large one and we went to our usual bar in Aix. It was quite a student bar so it was a good place to meet other people. I remember playing drinking games and getting on quite well with some English girls who we met in there. Anyway, it was getting late so we started to make our way to another bar. The doorman refused to let us in because we were English though he let in the girls who were with us. This unfair treatment and being barred because we were British just wasn't acceptable. "We aren't going to cause any trouble", Nick Williams claimed in a threatening way. Some other English lads thought otherwise and things somehow kicked off with the bar owner doing the kicking off. To put things in context, England fans had gone on a 3 day rampage in nearby Marseille so the bar owner's jumpiness may be explained by this. Anyway, justified or not here is what happened.

I saw a scuffle begin and Nick was sort of involved but was backing off and eventually on his knees. He had been hit across the face with a truncheon and CS gassed. I ran to try and help him but stopped mid action as I got CS gassed as well. We were both standing there with our eyes closed shouting for help. If you have never been CS gassed before it feels like your face is actually on fire. Pat and Fraser led me and Nick to a fountain into which we both stuck our heads. This only offered momentary relief and once we had run out of breath lifted our heads out. Aaaghhh! My face felt more on fire. Quick gasp of breath and then back into the water. Dunk and breathe, dunk and breath. This continued but the dunking got shorter and shorter. At one point we had to endure the fire on our faces while we got enough breath back for a long dunk. This got both of us laughing at the situation as the pain was so intense. What made the pain so bad was that water actually reacts with CS gas to increase its effects!

Eventually the police and paramedics arrived as someone had a made a complaint against the bar owner. We got into an ambulance and went to hospital. Their advice was just to take a shower at the hospital to wash off any chemical but Nick also got some stitches to his lip as a result of the blow he received across his face. This was most funny as we went home a couple of days later and Nick had to return to work with thread sticking out of his mouth and a line across his face. At this time the media was constantly covering the outrageous English behaviour. Nick's appearance made it seem that he was one of the 'fans' who had travelled to France for a fight and had been part of England's hooligan army. He had a lot to explain when he got back to work!
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