Champagne with oysters - and pets

NOW, dear readers, after what can only be described as a headfirst baptism of fire into the trials and tribulations of moving to France, all the difficult things, at least the major ones, are behind me - I hope.

James Marston

NOW, dear readers, after what can only be described as a headfirst baptism of fire into the trials and tribulations of moving to France, all the difficult things, at least the major ones, are behind me - I hope.

I have managed not to starve. I have survived offal. I have a flat with ceilings (very high) and street views (immediate). I have cycled on the wrong side of the road. I have made myself understood without shouting and pointing too much.

Ahead of me there are tribulations yet to be overcome - I have to find a doctor, pay tax, and buy, and tune in, a television.

And of course, though my French language skills are improving and I can hold a conversation as long as I do all the talking - something which suits me quite well - I have yet to be really fluent.

Nevertheless, I am much enjoying my up-sticking to Toulouse here in French France.

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So much so, dear readers, I thought I might let you know some of the bonuses of living here, just in case you were wondering if there are any.

Here's some thing's I've noticed.

- At my local bakery you can buy champagne if you fancy it.

- The market at the end of my road sells oysters - but not just any oysters - they are from all different parts of France.

- The flower stalls stay open very late so that those with a guilty conscience can pick up a bunch of something on their way home.

- Everything stops for lunch.

- The cakes are absolutely fabulous.

- Sundays, which at first I couldn't understand, are not for shopping but for lunching.

This is a country that takes pleasure very seriously.

In fact, at the weekend I found myself joining in with the locals with tasting glass in hand perusing a wine and food fayre.

Though, obviously as I am an Englishman, I didn't use a spittoon.

I did manage to sample the local grape - it is called Frontonnias.

After much sniffing, swirling around and then, finally, getting some on my taste buds, I was able to tell the young lady, in broken French, from the vineyard that I much enjoyed her sample and what a pleasant bouquet.

After that I popped into the food hall where the stall holders have no compunction reminding you that the tasty bit of p�t� you are munching on was once a nice fluffy rabbit.

In the end, I settled for a Basque tart and that's not what you think but something made with almonds.

Remembering Jim -

It was with real sadness I read about the untimely death of Ipswich Borough Council's chief executive Jim Hehir.

When I first moved to Ipswich, some years ago now, he made me - a jobbing reporter - very welcome.

And for us journalists, who spend our days sparring with the powers that be in the pursuit of a good story, he was always approachable and ready with a quote.

When I reported on education issues he was a driving force behind the development of University Campus Suffolk - an instution that today the town and Suffolk can be proud of.

Jim Hehir did much for Ipswich and he will be remembered with great affection.

Million winner -

I bet Audrey White can't believe it can she?

Imagine scratching your way to a million quid. No wonder she sat and stared at it for twenty minutes.

I am delighted to hear the small Edwardian town of Felixstowe hitting the headlines with such good news.

Well done Audrey.

P�t� ingredient spotted-

Have you ever heard of a “ragondin”? .

The other afternoon something caught my eye as I was strolling along. It was an animal of the like I had never seen.

At first I thought it was a funny looking cat, on closer inspection I realised it was a ghastly large rat.

In fact for several days I thought I has spotted a new species of rat in south west France, until a friend of mine, when hearing of my encounter suggested I may have seen a “ragondin”.

“Eh?” I replied, in French.

After a little more research I found out the mutant rat was once a familiar sight in Suffolk - they were called coypus and were eradicated from our countryside in the 1980s.

They haven't killed them all here in France and some people seem to think they are quite cute. I don't.

Indeed, you can even buy ragondin.

You'd have to be pretty hungry before you spread some of that on your baguette wouldn't you?

Does anyone remember the coypu? Are they still around? Do drop me a line.

Whose way was it? -

I happened to be listening to the radio the other evening - and by the way does anyone know what's happening in The Archers - when the familiar strains of My Way filled the kitchen of my French flat with ceilings (high) and street views (immediate). "Ah," I thought to myself "I can sing along".

However, Frank Sinatra had been replaced by some old French guy called Claude singing "Comme D'Habitude" instead.

I've since discovered it was French before ole blue eyes ever crooned it.

Merci, Noreen -

Just a quick thank you to my oldest fan Noreen who sent me a card to wish me well on my upsticking to France.

Noreen, who has been in Felixstowe since 1948 and reads the Evening Star everyday in her flat with sea views (panoramic), remembers me in short trousers.

The card arrived this week in my letterbox.

Thanks Noreen.

Small pleasures -

There's nothing like the absurd to put a smile on your face is there?

And the shops here in France can be pretty strange.

If you ever need some miniature chairs do let me know, I know just the place to go.