My sci-fi curiosity was soon extinguised

I happened to be walking through the sunny streets of Toulouse when I saw what appeared to be star troopers from the 34th century.

Not one to believe in too much science fiction, I never liked ET, I realised that these shiny-helmeted men in uniform were not invaders from the future but firemen.

Following the smell of acrid smoke I discovered a blaze had broken out in a small hotel.

I asked the man in charge, his hat was a slightly different shiny colour, what was going on. He rolled his eyes and sighed, an action I suspect he uses when confronted by nosey English people.

“It is a fire in a hotel room. It’s not serious.” was his withering reply.


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I don’t know about you but it has been the thick end of 20 years since I had French lessons.

Back then I rather enjoyed learning about grammar and French things. Today my French lessons are totally taught in French - immersion it’s called, a bit like a tank - and I have to really listen to keep up.

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This week we all had to give a presentation on our favourite sport. Obviously, as regular readers will know, this presented somewhat of a challenge, not because I don’t enjoy the sound of my own voice but because I am no sportsman and never will be. In the end I had to confide my worries to Lucie - our teacher who had just bought an apartment inTtoulouse and enjoys DIY.

Lucie said, in French of course: “You have no favourite sport at all James? Not even rugby?”

Rugby is hugely popular here in Toulouse and I suspect I reminded her of Johnny Wilkinson who also, I think, lives in France.

“No” I replied, “I like the odd game of Cluedo and have been known to go to Newmarket races of an evening.”

To be honest I briefly thought about telling the class about my snow hike in the Pyrenees but how long can you go on about having a hot chocolate and a crepe in a cafe 2,000 feet up?

Anyway, Lucie looked ablank before telling me to talk about something that interests me.

I told her I was built for comfort not speed and talked about wine.

After our discussion we moved on to slang or “argot” as it is called here.

Now this isn’t of the cockney rhyming variety, I think that must be a peculiarly English thing, but argot is just wierd words that you hear everyone under 30 speaking.

So far I have learnt how to say “It’s frightfully cold isnt it?”in a more forceful manner and “I am stuffed” as in after a turkey dinner.

Here’s a few more words that might come in handy if you ever want to converse with a French teenager.

Fric - money - we all need it

Flic - policeman - though probably not to his face.

Chias pas - this is a contraction of Je ne sais pas which means I don’t know.

Mec - bloke

Minette - bird - as in woman

Pote - friend or chum

Crev� - very tired - but a but vulgar

Bouquin - book - like what you read

Armed with a few new words of the type you don’t get taught at school and despite my English accent, I’m fitting in on the street, innit.

Next week Lucie tells me we’re moving away from sport and taking a closer look at body parts - should prove interesting.

The mystery of the wig shop not far from my Toulousain appartment with street views (immediate) and ceilings (high) deepens.

The other evening I happened to be passing my local syrup shop, which by day is perfercetly respectable toupee-wise but at night becomes a lively bar which seems to serve exclusively the Senegalese community, when I decided to have a look inside.

Surrounded by packets of hair extenstions and strange foods is a fridge full of lager.

A nearby resident tells me it is not allowed but this is France and what can you do but shrug.

She said: “The wig shop has no licence. Its not allowed but the police are never around, there’s no one to stop them making noise on the street.” shrug.

Always keen to explore I found myself in Toulouse’s town hall the other day having a poke about.

There’s great big rooms and it’s all very elegant. I also learnt that the Duc De Montmorency was executed in the town hall’s courtyard in 1632. He was related to the King but I think he got on the wrong side of Cardinal Richelieu and that was that.

[panel - spring pictures]

As regular readers will know I haven’t been back to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland since March. My next visit to Suffolk, the county of my birth, is not until July.

This means, dear readers, that I will have missed an English Spring. This is something that has caused me some distress. It’s all very well upstickking to the south of France where things are lovely but there’s nowhere like England in the Spring is there? You just can’t beat it.

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