We put our shirt on French holiday roulette and the wheel stopped on... amber | Rachel Cooke

It’s been a white-knuckle ride, but we’re finally off to France subject to our Covid ‘declaration of honour’

Like many people, I’ve spent a lot of this year playing the great new game of holiday roulette, a wild ride that began for me in January, when a group of us, convinced that foreign travel would be possible again by the summer, booked a house in rural France. So many times, we almost cancelled. So many times, I wondered if our nerve would hold. On Thursday, however, our uncommon steeliness/wilful stupidity paid off. France returned to the amber list. Time for the casino to pay up.

Only then a new game began: the struggle to organise all the stuff you now need to cross international borders. The French government’s requirement that travellers sign a “declaration of honour” promising they have no Covid symptoms makes me laugh; it reminds me, somehow, of the notes small children write, in which they sombrely announce to their parents that they’ll “tidie my bedroom soon” or do their homework “if I can have a Nintendo Switch”. But the business of booking Covid tests is the opposite of funny. While there are hundreds of “government-approved” companies out there, it seems that many turn out to be strangely uncontactable when their kits fail to turn up. In the end, I went with the site with the most vaguely scientific-sounding name and was duly rewarded with a surprisingly warm email from “Dr Tom Stubbs and the Chronomics team”. Fingers (and test tubes) crossed.

The longue view

Les Arcs, the French ski resort designed by Charlotte Perriand.
Les Arcs, the French ski resort designed by Charlotte Perriand. Photograph: Annie Green-Armytage/Alamy Stock Photo

I was longing to see Charlotte Perriand: The Modern Life at the Design Museum. If Perriand is best known for her collaborations with Le Corbusier and Fernand Léger, she’ll always have a place in my heart as the architect of Les Arcs, the 1960s ski resort that is the real star of Force Majeure, Ruben Östlund’s thrilling 2014 film about avalanches and marital discord. But walking around it, I was disappointed. It’s so hard to make design work in museums. While paintings are inevitably at their best in galleries, chairs and tables rarely are. There’s something stultifying about design shows; all the talk of form and function, when all the visitor really wants to do is to whip off their shoes and lie down in that classic chaise longue.

Still, one thing did make me smile. Architects of a certain vintage tend not to be known for larking about; you don’t look at Trellick Tower as you pass it on the train into Paddington and think “wow, the guy who came up with that must have been a hoot”, and according to those who knew Erno Goldfinger, he absolutely wasn’t. In the exhibition, though, is a brief letter to Perriand from Goldfinger – they were then both in their 60s – across which he has drawn, in red pen, a love heart, complete with arrow and dripping blood. The old flirt.

Lacking in novelty

‘Fergie won’t be put in a box’: the Duchess of York on the Lorraine Tv show.
‘Fergie won’t be put in a box’: the Duchess of York on the Lorraine Tv show. Photograph: Ken McKay/ITV/REX/Shutterstock

Given that there is now just one programme on BBC Radio 4 devoted to reviewing the arts, you’d imagine Front Row would have better things to do than talk to the Duchess of York about her Mills & Boon novel. But, no. On Thursday, it treated us to an interview of quite unparalleled inanity with the proud author of Her Heart for a Compass. Among its revelations were the fact that the book is “a work of fiction” and that she is a “director rather than a scribe” (translation: she had help writing it) whose middle name is “cinematographer”. Impossible not to notice, too, that the duchess talks about herself in the third person (“People try to put Fergie into a box”) with a frequency that borders on the alarming.

• Rachel Cooke is an Observer columnist


Rachel Cooke

The GuardianTramp

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