The North African street vendors suddenly switched from selling cheap sunglasses to cheap umbrellas. The price of an umbrella moved from *3 to *20 within a five-minute period. The buying frenzy was electric and the lucky ones who already had umbrellas were rather pleased with themselves. One hour later, after the rain had passed, umbrellas were back to *3 each.
So what is all this MIPIM stuff about? If you asked my wife she would say it involves losing me for four working days to the south of France. She might also add that it involves a telephone call from me each evening to tell her what a tough day I have had spending considerable amounts of time in restaurants or on clients' delightful boats in the harbour being forced to eat excellent food, discuss business issues, and meet all my clients' other business friends.
Yes, you guessed it – for some reason she doesn't feel at all sorry for me! And any faint flicker of concern disappears completely when I explain that as part of the normal ritual of MIPIM, I have been to the "English Bar" (the Martinez Hotel), and talked and networked and generally worked ridiculously hard until the early hours of the morning.
This magnificent gathering of European property people includes pension fund managers, property developers, agents, architects, consultants of all shades and complexions and even a few contractors. Usually about a third of the attendees are English, and judging by the accents I heard in the Martinez, there were an awful lot more Germans there this year than last.
It never ceases to amaze me how clear my thinking can be when sitting on the seafront discussing next year’s business plan. Maybe the perfectly chilled Pouilly Fumé helps …
In the Palais des Festivals, there are models galore. Capital and regional cities from all over Europe compete to see who can get the best sizzle factor into their presentation. And even Ken Livingstone thinks it's a good place to announce his latest views on tall buildings and London's exciting growth potential. The whole place heaves like a Turkish bazaar, but here it is buildings, funding deals, finance and sexy design that are for sale, rather than spices and carpets.
What's equally exciting is just how many people you can see in four days. All those meetings in the coffee bars and hotels that line La Croisette add substantially to the total amount of construction business that gets done in the UK. It never ceases to amaze my brother and me how clear our thinking can be when sitting on the seafront discussing the business plan for the year ahead. Perhaps the perfectly chilled Pouilly Fumé helps, but taking time out and getting a perspective on what is going on in the European property theatre certainly gives good structure to our conversations.
Coming from a country that spends less on its property and construction sector – as a percentage of GDP – than most of its European partners, it is humbling to see just how energised other cities outside the UK are and just how much business is being done. We have so much to learn – as well as having a great deal to offer – and MIPIM encapsulates that opportunity for me.
Paul Hodgkinson is chairman and chief executive of Simons Group.