Life is a gas - until you need some!

I HAVE been thwarted, it seems, by French red tape once again.

James Marston

I HAVE been thwarted, it seems, by French red tape once again.

This time Gaz De France have caused the problem. I returned home to my Toulousain apartment with street views (immediate) and ceilings (high) to discover an official looking note in the most polite French saying that they, and whoever they are I have yet to really find out, presented themseves earlier that day at my apartment to discuss my choice of gas supplier and, in addition, that if I do not make the choice of a gas supplier within the next 48 hours they have the honour to inform me that my gas supply will be cut off within 48 hours.

Now Toulouse maybe the south of France and when the sun's out you can still lunch outside, provided you wear a coat, but it snowed here yesterday and it's pretty nippy at the moment I can tell you. As you can imagine, I wouldn't want to be without a spot of gas to answer for my comfort.

So toute de suite I made a call - always easier said than done - to find out what was going on.

It appears that Gaz De France hadn't informed those that sent the note that I had chosen their service several weeks ago, it was I understand an error of administration (no apology) and thankfully I shan't be cut off but would I mind calling back with the meter reading, which I gave them several weeks ago, after the weekend.

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I agreed, only to be told my meter reading didn't match theirs. At this point my French and nearly my patience ran out and I was forced to ask my friend Sophie for assistance, she's French so she has a handle on the language.

Sophie, however, made limited progress.

The discrepancy over the meter remains and I have to make yet another call. As Sophie said: "It is hard for us and we are French, 80 per cent of people cannot get a gas supply easily."

It is normal apparently and two-hour phone calls to Gaz De France are not unknown.

So I'm going to wait until they send the bill and then write back and tell them to give me three phone calls in a foreign language for an hour or so before I fork out - it's normal.

On a lighter note I have managed a little night out or three since I upsticked. Last week, what with it being Christmas, I painted the pink city - that's what they call Toulouse - red and showed my celebrity face at what I thought was going to be dinner but turned into an all you can drink nibbles party.

Naturally, I was delighted to discover that the ubiquitous quiche, the stalwart of so many a buffet, is as popular here as it seems to be everywhere.

I must admit, however, that I sometimes wonder who Lorraine was though who gave her name to such a dish don't you? She must have been some hostess.

ISN'T shopping horrendous?

Here in France, being such a polite nation you get a welcoming bonjour every time you walk into a shop. And, if you don't reply, you run the very real risk of being totally ignored if you actually want to buy something.

A friend of mine called David who lives in Bristol and likes shoes e-mailed me the following little anecdote.

He said: "I just went looking for another pair of trainers and found some really nice grey and sage green ones that I liked. So I duly waited and asked if I could try them on, expressing that I was a size 8 to pre-empt any confusion.

"The girl came back and said here you are and handed me a black and red pair. I said they are the wrong colour. To which she replied does it matter. So I said yes it did matter.

"Anyway I liked them and said yes I will take them - so we went to the till and she said �80 please. So I gave her �40, she said that's only �40 so I said "Does it matter?" Apparently it did."

I LOVE those Christmas updates don't you? Especially now I live abroad I like to hear what's going on in other people's lives.

Brenda, a lovely friend of mine from Felixstowe who loves to entertain, kindly sent me her latest.

She tells me, amongst other things, that she holidayed in Stratford and she is also on the market for a pair of knees but hasn't yet seen anything suitable on e-bay. A remark which brought a smile to my face here in France.

I wish her all the best for 2010 as well.

IT was most strange getting a haircut in a foreign country partly because, I suspect, it is something you so rarely do unless you live somewhere.

Firstly it took ten minutes to take my coat and get me dressed up in a sort of cape before I had the chance to ask for what I was after.

My dear readers I don't know the French for "There's hardly anything left to cut but try a short back and sides" so I said to my coiffeuse - that's hairdresser not hair in French - what do you think?

I could tell she was stumped as my request resulted in another five minutes of one sided discussion and the occasional input from a younger girl whose job it was to hovver and sweep.

Marie-Paule - that's her name not an instruction - all but scalped me making a return visit before Easter almost unnecessary. Of course, when she held up the mirror I told her it was marvellous.

I told you I had gone global.

As regular readers will know last week I asked my dear readers if my fame was spreading. Thanks to the marvels of the web I received the following replies:

- Hi, James - you are sort of global as we live in Georgia, USA. I am originally from Ipswich and both my husband and myself enjoy your column very much. I sometimes forward it to my daughter in Seattle who admires your writing style. Long may your column continue!

- Hi James, I live in Florida, originally from Ipswich. Your name is known far and wide. Love your column! Carolyn Saxon.

I don't want the fame to go to my head but I can't help thinking that I'd like to visit Georgia one day, it looks nice in Gone With The Wind doesn't it?

Have you ever been on strike? I haven't. The bank I once worked for got close to industrial action but I would never have felt comfortable laying down tools.

And, dear readers, as an expat hoping to come back to Suffolk this Christmas I haven't got much sympathy for the cabin crew at British Airways who are threatening or threatened or whatever is going on to mess up everyone else's festive season.

Tempted though I am to phone up British Airways and offer to serve the coffee myself just to make sure I get home, I know this is not an option.

Anyway I simply have to get back or Dorothy, the church warden at the ancient church of St James in Icklingham, the village in the west of the county where I grew up, won't have an organist and I promised her.

As I mentioned last week in my weekly column, Johnny Hallyday isn't well.

The good news is he is out of a coma - induced I am led to believe for medical reasons.

His health is a big talking point here in France, they all just adore him.