Wednesday night we returned to Akathor. For once the journey back to Nice had been straightforward. No delays, no unhelpful railway staff, no incredible disappearing stations.
There's no sign of Danger Joe tonight. The two large tv screens either side of the main entrance at Akathor are showing Monaco's Champions League Qualifier with Galatasaray. This is the game the Monaco players were preparing for when we weren't able to take the tour at Stade Louis II a couple of days ago. Not that anybody here seems to care. Nice has its own top flight football team and if you're not from Nice then chances are you support Manchester United or Liverpool. So why do you give a shit about the Champions League?
There is a band on. Another duo, but these lads look a bit younger than our Tahitian friend and his percussionist. Several centuries younger than Danger Joe. The singer and guitarist has long hair, held back at the front so that it doesn't get in his eyes. He looks like a low ranked European tennis player. He plays and sings with the kind of anguish you'd expect to feel if you kept getting bounced out of tennis tournaments in the early rounds. Whereas Monday's band were much more upbeat and made you want to drink more and sing along, this pair wear you down a bit. Even when they play something we know and like they do it with an air of outright agony and despair. They start to play Oasis' 'Don't Look Back In Anger' but they're not so much looking back in anger as they are in pained, irredeemable melancholy.
It's not that late when we leave. Along with the misery they take breaks every 20 minutes during which they sit at the table next to us and leave us in no doubt that the downbeat mood is just for the show. They're joined by a young girl and though we have no idea what they are saying they are no less annoying for it. I'm happy that they're not really that miserable, especially at their tender age before they've even had a chance to find out about water bills and pubs on Duke Street. But as they're not even entertaining us when they are playing it's time for us to try and find somebody who will.
We fail to do this. To equal measures of surprise and dismay we find that most if not all of the bars around Nice are shutting down for the night. But we both agree that going back to the hotel now, before 1.00am, is still a better option than going back to Akathor as long as it's tortured soul night. We still have two more nights after this one before we fly home. We'll make up for it.
On Thursday afternoon we visit the casino. It's next door to the hotel but we somehow haven't got around to popping in until now. When we were in Las Vegas in 2011 we did little else but visit casinos, most of which you can read about in the archives of this disreputable collection of tales and opinions. No really, please do go and have a look if you haven't already. But this is not Las Vegas so this particular Casino on Promenade des Anglais is a little more modest than the huge behemoths that dominate the strip on Las Vegas Boulevard. The casino here looks fancy, it's just a little scaled down.
Size isn't the only difference. In Vegas general practise is that you sign up to the Players' Club and they give you an amount of what is called free play. That's pretty much what it says on the tin, but instead of actual cash or tokens, you have a card with credit on. Via free play it is possible, as we proved often, to have a few drinks and still leave the casino with a few dollars more than you came in with. They're basically letting you have a small win while waitresses come around plying you with alcohol. It's customary to give a small tip for this but if you wanted to be really tight about it you could give nothing and the girls would still bring you drinks provided you are engaged in some form of gambling. They're banking on you being unable to stop gambling even when you start to lose which must work if they are prepared to take a small financial hit from the likes of us whom even after several whiskies, know when to stop.
There's none of that generosity here. Instead we spend what change we have (about €13) and play the electronic poker machines for a while. We build up a small profit at one stage as the winnings go up to €17, but since we've only been playing for 10 minutes at that stage we don't cash out. There aren't many other casinos to take our winnings to and there aren't any cocktail waitresses walking around encouraging you to get drunk. So we play on until the money is lost which, unsurprisingly, happens as quickly as it had been accumulated. Though there are no cocktail waitresses there is a bar, so it would be rude not to pay a short visit. Especially since it's no more expensive than any of the other ludicrously priced bars in Nice.
We visit many of said bars on Thursday evening. Saints are playing their first Super 8s fixture at Warrington tonight and so the task is to hopefully find a bar that might not mind putting it on for us. If you are not a rugby league follower then I'd probably need a whole new blog entry to explain the mechanics of the Super 8s. They are more complex than the lucky loser permutations on Only Connect. It's sufficient to say that the Super 8s are important. As season ticket holders we have had a stroke of luck in having our first game scheduled away from home. I'm hoping that luck extends to enable us to see it in a bar.
The biggest stumbling block to this is, as ever, football. It's the beginning of August so there isn't any domestic football. The Euros finished three weeks ago which helps, but there is still the small matter of the Olympic Games to consider. The opening ceremony isn't until Friday but the football tournament flouts such convention and gets underway early. Tonight's offering sees host nation Brazil taking on South Africa.
A few hundred yards from the hotel is a sports bar. It has four or five televisions dotted around, all of which are showing the build-up to the Brazil game when we arrive about half an hour before Saints are due to kick-off. The waitress comes over to take our order and before she turns to leave I ask if she can put Sky Sports on for the rugby league. There are very few people here and none of them are paying any attention to the Brazil game. She flatly refuses, telling me in her limited English that she's not allowed to change the channel on the tv.
I'm on holiday so I probably shouldn't be worrying about Saints and the Super 8s. I'm about to let it go and concentrate fully on lager consumption when I see a man pottering around behind the bar. He seems to have no intention of serving anyone, a suspicion confirmed when he takes his paper and his pint to a quiet corner of the bar. I seize my opportunity.
Fully expecting him to have trouble understanding English I tentatively enquire as to whether he wouldn't mind changing the channel. He answers in a broad northern English accent, possibly Yorkshire but certainly somewhere where rugby league is not an undiscovered mystery.
"Rugby league." he says with what I now think is a fair degree of suspicion..
And it's that easy. As I watch the pre-game bile from the likes of Stevo and the other clowns I think of the lady I met on the train back from Monaco the other day. I wonder if she's been as lucky? I hope so, although if the truth be told all 80 minutes are fairly agonising. It's a really tight game and as my alcohol consumption increases my ability to stay calm rescinds in direct proportion. Midway through the second half Emma decides she's had enough and shushes me. She actually shushes me. She points out that I don't get like this when we go to the home games which is true, but then I drive to the home games straight from work on a Friday night. As such I don't drink, and in any case I don't normally have the energy to call LMS a bellend at the end of another mentally taxing week in our office.
I'm outraged at the shushing and spend the rest of the game in mortified silence. With two minutes left and with Saints holding a slender two-point lead Warrington's Rhys Evans looks to have scored the winning try for the Wolves. Yet with video replays in use for all televised games it is rare for a referee to give a try these days without sending it up to the video referee to have at least one look at the slow-mo. This one is no different. The replays show that Evans' toe has brushed the side-line before he grounds the ball. There's inches in it, but it's clear. Remembering the shushing and still feeling suitably peeved by it I offer no celebration. Not so much as a fist pump or an exuberant clap. I simply turn around and leave the bar without a word, a probably slightly perplexed Emma following on.
The next time I speak it's Friday morning.