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Knuckledusters and gloopy mash in Florence… Thank goodness we'll always have coffee in Paris

MONDAY

MONDAY

YOU will be wanting to know what I did on my holidays. First, the Home Secretary and I merged portfolios, matrimonially speaking, thus prompting some cynics to speak of nepotism and - even worse - of stifling any move towards a challenge to your diarist's leadership.

There has been talk, too, of her moving to another department but it is hard to see what that could be unless it has the word "store" after it.

She could, of course, become Chancellor of the Exchequer, adept as she is at balancing books - on her head, a trick she was taught at Chalet School.

My gut instinct, though, is to keep things as they are, mindful as I am of the adage of my old chum Giuseppe Di Lampedusa, that to remain the same some things must change, the dictum of all wee-"c" conservatives.

TUESDAY

PARIS was the first stop on our grand tour. After throwing the bags into the apartment we went in search of a wine bar.

We did not have far to go. The first we tried was called Les Garcons which, now I come to think of it, may have been transmitting gay signals.

A couple of glasses of red were soon produced and, after nosing and sipping, I called for water, a soupçon of which I tipped into the wine. The owner gave me a look that said: "Whit in the nom du petit homme dae yi think yer daein?" My reply was a gallic shrug. His was to the effect that if I continued to pollute his prize beverage I could say au revoir to another.

We next repaired to a joint called Le Nemrod which - according to TripAdvisor - is placed 5009th of 10,186 Parisian restaurants. It was recommended by my cher ami, bon viveur and fellow flaneur, Harry Reid, on the basis that he'd "never taken to it".

We were shown to a booth and seated within touching distance of our nearest neighbour, a ­Torygraph-reading, lager-drinking English fella. He took one look at me and said: "Are you my friend Nick?"

WEDNESDAY

PARISIANS have a reputation for rudeness, why I know not. Certainly they do not understand the concept of queuing, but who does nowadays?

While the HS lay abed ingesting After Eights and reading Colette, I had no alternative but to forage for fodder.

My first port of call was the local market, which is open on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Who knows what folk do on other days of the week. No wonder Lidl is sweeping the planet.

I bought a roast chicken ­without too much bother and moved on to another stall, mesmerised by a brick of pre-cooked lasagne. Behind me, however, I had a stout madame who kept poking her head in my basket as if she were a flanker in a rugby scrum.

The nearest supermarket was called Le Bon Marché, which is French for "the good market" or "a good deal".

Apparently, its wares include "hard to find mineral water from Wales", which is probably not the case in Swansea. Having said which, it was perhaps one of the few things we could afford. But we did buy a pair of dishtowels.

THURSDAY

IN few places can the divide between the haves and the have-nots be more obvious. One evening we came across what looked like a line of refugees, albeit dressed to the nines in distressed, designer denim and £800 heels.

They were waiting outside a Nespresso franchise for their fix of coffee, as some sad folk do for methadone in Scotia outside chemists'.

The lad to blame for this mad fad is George Clooney, who has achieved the impossible by making it cool to buy coffee in capsules which bear a spooky similarity to UHT milk pods.

Nespresso now makes "limited edition" capsules in weird flavours which, frankly, is ridiculous. As every coffee connoisseur knows, coffee is coffee, as whisky is whisky.

When you add anything to it other than water, it pollutes it horribly. But whatever floats your boat!

A few steps away from the capsule-crazed horde was a homeless man lying on a subway grill for heat, his head resting on a large, plastic bottle of Coca Cola.

FRIDAY

AND so to Florence, which was eerily quiet. Until we arrived and started to raise merry hell.

Window shopping - my idea of living dangerously - we came across an emporium selling knives and guns which Italians use to obliterate any bird or beast that moves.

In the mercato centrale, for example, stall-holders sell freshly shot thrushes.

So what's new, you might say, and you'd be right. I vaguely recall that Machiavelli used to set traps for thrushes in the Tuscan countryside.

Among the instruments of torture on public sale were several knuckledusters, which rather shocked the Home Secretary, which is saying something.

Knives and guns can be excused as essential equipment for moronic hunters, but to what use can knuckledusters be put other than the pulping of human noses?

SATURDAY

TO a favourite osteria near Palazzo Vecchio, accompanied by two dear chums. Though a table for four had been booked, the waiter, a mischievous young cove, shook his head and said he had no record of it. Then he burst out laughing, this being his idea of a joke. More followed.

Recognising in me a kindred spirit, he took to tapping me on the shoulder every time he passed, melting away by the time I turned round.

Once, he asked if I'd like pepper, which he generously ground on to my lap before I could tell him I'd rather have arsenic.

I ordered bangers and mash. The latter was a bit gloopy, as it was in Paris. So gloopy that I could have been fed it through a tube.

The HS says this is because the potato was probably put through a sieve. It's high time a stop was put to this.

QUOTE of the week: "We are also just normal people who can have fun together". Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the Danish PM, explains the thinking behind the selfie she took of herself, Barack Obama and David Cameron at Nelson Mandela's memorial service

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