I am in a chilly Ibiza writing a book when I hear they are looking to cast a grumpy British detective who gets plonked in a tropical paradise. I can’t make the audition so my partner Jessica films me and I email it to the producers.
What’s not to like?
This is absolutely ridiculous. Suddenly I hear I have the part… and I am starting in two weeks’ time. And it will be several months in the Caribbean, in Guadeloupe. So I Google Guadeloupe, as you do, and up comes the most amazing set of images. Palm trees kissing azure oceans. Fish the colour of Paul Smith socks swimming in languid coral pools. It looks amazing. At the same time I realise I have never really lived in a foreign country, other than getting snowed in in Cornwall once.
Flew to Guadeloupe today. Jessica and my son Sonny have come out with me for the first few weeks. We came through passport control and there were all these people shouting, cheering, rejoicing like some great cultural event was occurring. In my jetlagged haze I thought for a brief moment they were cheering for us. But it was the Guadeloupe volleyball team beside us. Twenty minutes in and already things were turning a little bizarre.
Lunatics in lycra
The volleyball thing was a good taster – Guadeloupe is absolutely athletics mad. Today I saw people in lycra running along the motorway. I’m not kidding. Running on the hard shoulder. For fun. In 35-degree heat.
Did I mention the heat? I’ve never experienced anything like it. Guadeloupe definitely is paradise. But it’s paradise for plants. Because they get just absolutely medicinal quantities of sunshine and rain. Often at the same time. It’s a tropical climate, which means that when it rains, it’s not really rain at all – it’s blocks of water falling out of the sky and hitting the earth. It comes down so quickly that suddenly there’s a river where a minute ago there was a road.
Dressed to kill
Can I say right now I would like to thank the writer who put my character in a dark wool suit. Walking in the heat here is like pushing back a wall. But DI Richard Poole chooses to stay in his collar and tie for the duration. Great.
Initially, with the beach, the family out here and the occasional fresh coconut milk, Guadeloupe was all very exciting. But now the family have left, and after two or three weeks it has sunk in. I’m on a desert island. On my own. And everybody I know has gone back home to the other side of the world. Oh my God, what have I done?
For solace, I have the bananas. They are incredible. Note to fruit eaters back home: when you buy a banana in England it may look like a banana, but it’s not. It’s a travesty of a banana, just a banana in banana’s clothing.
To fend off creeping despair I have decided to throw myself into the job. Today that involved a scene with a particularly photogenic but very uncooperative goat. I was attempting to get it to lie down in this prison cell, but it wasn’t responding. And then my French co-star Sara Martins arrived on set and said, “Non, non, you Een-gleesh don’t understand – zis is un French goat.” She spoke to the goat in French and it did exactly what it was asked to do. Immensely annoying.
I have decided to learn French, in part to avoid any future goat incidents and in part as a project to keep me distracted. French is the lingua franca in Guadeloupe because it’s a French département. Everyone speaks it on set. This is the odd thing about learning French – no one French is remotely impressed by the fact you’re learning French. They really much prefer you struggling through a few sentences while they raise their eyebrows and stare at the ceiling until you’re in such difficulty that they break in with rather good English.
My French has improved. But only to the extent that I now understand that every time I speak to Sara in French, the person next to her is saying, “What did he say?”
Now that Jess and Sonny aren’t around, I have moved in to the hotel where all the crew are. I know my French must be improving because today I managed to have an argument – in French – with someone at the hotel.
I got locked out of my room and I thought I deserved an apology. My exact words were, “Vous n’avez pas dit ‘pardon’.” The receptionist said [in French], “No, ‘pardon’ is a word reserved for an apology to someone with whom one is intimate. Our relationship is formal, so that would be the wrong word to use.” So he corrected my French rather than say he was sorry. My comeback: “OK.”
Went to a restaurant and waited two hours for the meal to come. This is absolutely infuriating and baffling, yet completely typical. There is no concept of “now” in the Caribbean.
Woke up this morning and I could hear a scratching sound. Really quite loud. Can’t work out what on earth it is.
Heard it again tonight. Mildly perturbed.
Nipper at bedtime
Noise driving me batty. Decided to investigate – I am supposed to be a detective, after all. Looked under the bed: a proper, full-sized crab. The sort of bruiser you see on sale at Whitby. A crab that’s too big, frankly, to have got up to the second floor where I was staying. It must have taken the lift. Or maybe it had got in as a tiny crab and had been living there for years.
Read yesterday’s entry back. Paradise is sending me batty. Crabs in lifts?
Bugs under the bed
I have moved in to a little villa with a view of the ocean, up on the fringes of the jungle. I wanted to “experience” a bit more of jungle life. Turns out that this means bugs. Last night I made the mistake of leaving a light on in my villa. I opened the door when I came in to find maybe 50,000 flies as house guests. It was like a plague. Lying on my bed, I felt as if there were about 50 creepy-crawlies that wanted to eat me at once. Fifty pairs of eyes, just looking.
Must let the bug thing go. Don’t want to turn Colonel Kurtz out here in the jungle. Jess is returning with Sonny soon. Sanity important.
Dirty dad dancing
People dance all the time here. It’s hard to go anywhere without them insisting they teach you how to dance. Everyone in Guadeloupe is obsessed with this salsa-y dance called Zouk. Needless to say my Zouking is absolutely dreadful. I look like one of those newsreaders you see on Strictly Come Dancing. Like a white, middle-class bloke trying to make it look like he’s not INCREDIBLY UNCOMFORTABLE HAVING TO DO THE ZOUK. AGAIN.
What I really miss are the most clichéd things about England. Things I don’t even generally care about when I’m in England. I have started fantasising about marmalade. They have orange jam here, which is really not the same. I have invited a friend out. I have pretended I want to see him, but really I just want him to bring some marmalade. I hope he doesn’t read this.
And we’re done. Wrap party last night. They had a local band there playing Zouk all night. And you know what? It was fantastic. I may have gone slightly loop-the-loop, but if I can take away some of these things I’ve learnt out here – a bit of Zouk, a bit of French, a bit more of a laidback attitude – then I will really have learnt something from this experience.
Two weeks later – London
I’ve not spoken one bit of French or done one bit of Zouk or been laidback at all. Just doing that usual sweaty scrum on the Tube with everybody else. I miss Guadeloupe.
Death in Paradise starts tonight, 9pm, BBC1.
This is an edited version of an article from the issue of Radio Times magazine that went on sale 18 October.