TV soap helps me with the language

SO, dear readers, as I talk to you from the land of camembert and foie gras, though in my case a mushroom omelette and a chocolate mousse are more apt, I am wondering to myself if you'd like to hear a little bit about the television here in France.

James Marston

SO, dear readers, as I talk to you from the land of camembert and foie gras, though in my case a mushroom omelette and a chocolate mousse are more apt, I am wondering to myself if you'd like to hear a little bit about the television here in France.

Not because it is particularly interesting it is just that lots of people ask me if it's any good.

As regular readers will know I tried to live without one preferring the solitude and calm of books. As my sister Claire said at the time "All that fuss about not needing a TV and how you simply couldn't bear it and how you liked quiet and then you went and got one."

Obviously, as I'm sure you realise, I picked up a little flat screen purely to help with learning the language and finding out what Mr Sarkozy is up to with all the tax I'm paying here. It was nothing to do with game shows and nature programmes or the occasional film.

Anyway, I'm digressing and my omelette's getting cold so I shan't keep you.

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I just wanted to tell you about this soap opera that I've found myself tuning in to when I get home to my Toulousain apartment with street views (immediate) and ceilings (high).

It's called Plus La Belle Vie, which in my rough French translates as something like The Good Life or More of the Good Life, or The Best of the Beautiful Life or something like that though there's no hint of a Margo or an escaped pig.

It's all meant to take place in Marseille, though it's so obviously a set I think the Ipswich most Operatic and definitely Dramatic Society, in which I once played the part of chubby boy at the back, would feel at home in the painted back drops.

And though it might be Marseille it's Marseille without the race riots, tear gas, strikes or dog mess on the pavement.

Everyone is extremely attractive and they are always sleeping with each other so when they take off their lovely clothes everyone's needs are catered for.

There's lots of entrances and exits and it's all done in such a way that it puts me in mind of Acorn Antiques but without Mrs Overall, wasn't she marvellous, or the humour.

Much of the action, when out of bed, takes place in a caf� or in the street - sitting down with a glass of wine - or sometimes in a shop. One story line had a young man who spent all day in the caf� playing a hand held video game - he obviously didn't have to work for a living.

I've never really understood which characters are important or not, this may be because they change a lot of because I can't remember because they are all so beautiful I forget who's who.

At the end of almost every scene someone is angry or upset or moody and the camera watches their reactions intently. Tonight, for example, I watched a boy drink a cocktail of raw eggs and olive oil to help with his boxing training, the camera lingered as he licked his lips and tried not to vomit while feeling a little bit cheated at the same time. He played the part of slightly sick 17 year old very well though I must say.

Oh and it's always sunny. Even in winter they are drinking wine outside while the rest of France shivers there's one square in Marseille where everyone just saunters around bumping into each other enjoying the weather.

Of course, it's ever so popular and it's helping my French no end.

My first visitors have arrived.

Expecting as I am to be inundated by friends and acquaintances as people fancy a weekend in the South of France later in the year, I opened my doors to my family in the first instance, who had come all the way from Suffolk, at the weekend.

My father, Duncan, was able to put his best foot forward French-wise though my sister Claire, who made herself at home in my flat, did gently remind him that speaking French involves a little more than waving your arms around and saying "eh eh eh" in a French accent after every sentence.

My mother Sue, who's less keen on languages, appeared terrified only once when a lady in a shop asked her if she was looking for anything in particular. In the end she bought a measuring jug which I thought a somewhat strange souvenir.

I think they enjoyed it.

There's a second language in this part of France.

The street's have two names and on the tube each stop is announced in both languages.

It's called Occitan and I think it's a bit like Catalan. Apparently it's all but extinct, at least the only people that speak it seem to be academics and old people making a point. It's a bit like Welsh or Gaelic or Manx in that everyone must say how important it is but can't admit it's fairly useless. I don't think I'll bother to learn it.

How hilarious that Tesco's in Cardiff have banned people in pyjamas in their stores. It beggars belief doesn't it? I mean, who in their right mind would go out in their pyjamas?

Apparently one woman said she wore pyjamas when she popped in for a packet of fags but obviously wouldn't do so if she were doing a full shop. I'm probably old fashioned but I'm utterly amazed.

My friend Beverley, who I once saw looking stylish in her pyjamas, wouldn't dream of going out in them. Can you imagine the Queen turning up in a tracksuit to open a bridge?

I was saddened to read that the Blue Cross Animal Rescue Centre, in Walton, might be closing.

I interviewed the guys there once, including Mr Gillon who runs it, and they couldn't have been more pleasant. Caring and gentle with the animals, they were all passionate about their work.

Let's hope the right decision is made. The animals will still have to go somewhere.