I'm dreaming of festive Felixstowe

HERE in Toulouse it is fair to say Christmas, as we know it - mass consumerism and a significant retail opportunity - hasn't really got going.

James Marston

HERE in Toulouse it is fair to say Christmas, as we know it - mass consumerism and a significant retail opportunity - hasn't really got going.

I hear in Ipswich the Christmas tree is up - always one of my favourite traditions - and, according to my freind Tracey who recently returned from a trip to Las Vegas, the streets are already "horribly busy" - a less appealing facet of the festive season.

I don't know about you but I have yet to buy a single gift.

I am waiting for the Christmas markets that apparently spring up in early December so I can just get some gorgeous French things - though what exactly I have no idea.

The problem is, of course, what on earth to get people.

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I have already tried on numerous occasions to stop buying for my sister Claire who likes jigsaws and murder mysteries simply because I never know what to buy her.

I have suggested every November since 2002 that we give each other a �20 note and call it a day.

Anyway she won't agree and I am forced to buy a jigsaw every year so I do hope she'll know what to do with a French one. It goes without saying I often get a jumper.

To be honest I miss Felixstowe, the Edwardian spa town where I have a small flat with sea views (distant) at this time of year.

If I couldn't get what I wanted in Felixstowe for Christmas then I didn't bother - and Felixstowe always had everything I needed without ever being a fight through the crowds.

That's not to say there aren't some signs of the festivities to come over here in France - some of the shop windows are stylishly dressed and the lights are up, they just haven't been turned on yet.

Perhaps they are looking for a celebrity to flick the switch.

I may have to offer my services before I come back to the UK to unwrap my annual supply of knitwear.

It with some sadness that I found myself in the green and pleasant land of our great nation this weekend to celebrate the life of my grandmother Dora who died in recent days.

She was, to use one of we journalists' favourite adjectives, a whopping 91.

A long life in anyone's book.

There is something that has concerned me this week and it brings me into the sphere of politics - an area on which I rarely stray.

Nevertheless the current suggestion by the Conservative Party to withdraw troops from Germany if they win the next election is most worrying.

I totaly disagree with the analysis of Liam Fox that British troops are no longer necessary there.

Peace in Europe is a most fragile thing and it is only decades since Western Europe was convulsed in an orgy of violence.

Any student of history will know that this is the merest blink of an eye in terms of the European story. To take peace for granted and to remove the physical constraints that bolster international agreement sets an unwelcome precedent and makes Britain just that little bit more vulnerable.

European peace and security is by no means guaranteed and reducing our own nation's options in this way is not a sensible move.

Let us hope sense prevails.

Bereft of the medium of television here in France - perhaps no bad thing - I found myself watching The X factor this weekend during my brief return to Britain.

Dear readers, I wasn't impressed.

It is all lights and screaming and at least one of them sang flat - karaoke pure and simple.

And if they are realy making stars of tomorrow why do so many of them fade into obscurity so quickly?

Talking of Christmas, I understand the ancient Church of St James in the small west Suffolk village of Icklingham where I grew up is to hold a Festival Of Lights and Christmas Fayre on the weekend of December 5 and 6.

With lots of Christmas trees and decorations, the church is open to all on both days from noon until 6pm followed by a carol service on the Sunday.

Father Christmas will be in his grotto throughout and Gerry, a lady known for her baking skills in the village, is apparently making a dundee cake, amongst other things, for the cake stall.