Vive Le James!

BONJOUR, cul-de-sac, moulin rouge, vin blanc. My French vocabulary, much improved after a little visit to Boulogne, is at the forefront of my mind this week.

BONJOUR, cul-de-sac, moulin rouge, vin blanc.

My French vocabulary, much improved after a little visit to Boulogne, is at the forefront of my mind this week.

Taking the speed ferry, or rather catamaran, across the straights of Dover-port out lager in- I turned on the Gallic charm and went native as I arrived in la république Française.

Well I say I went native, in fact the closest I got to becoming French was buying three stamps and a bottle of wine without using English. Nevertheless France was a nice little boon to help reinvigorate my tired-but-still-beautiful body and refresh my over-burdened-yet-brilliant brain.

Joining a group of journalists in an electric blue minibus which was perhaps the least discreet form of transport I have ever used, I was taken to and from restaurant and to and from hotel.

Top notch eateries, a decent filet de boeuf, a tasty claret, a strong Roquefort and a warm bed are all that are needed to please this demanding yet entertaining columnist. I'm no demanding prima donna.

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In fact had a great time in France-apart from the moment I was almost mauled by a Royal Bengal tiger.

Now it's an odd thing to talk about I know.

I know I am not one to be afraid of a tiny bit of liberal exaggeration, but when a full sized massive, huge, terrifying tiger, with the biggest teeth I have ever seen and a knowing smile, decides to get a little bit too close to one of Ipswich's best loved and funniest men in his physical and mental prime, it is an event that cannot go unrecorded in the vibrant pages of The Evening Star.

Nearly being mauled by a tiger was nearly the most frightening moment of my life.

It came a close second to the moment I glimpsed myself sideways on wearing red Speedos as I passed a mirror at the Tooting Bec lido three summers ago.

But I know you are itching to find out how I came across a Royal Bengal tiger in Northern France so I'll tell you what happened.

Alongside a group of about ten, which included other young hacks, a few Pashmina-clad ladies and a bus driver named Neil, I visited a theme park - or parc as it roughly translates - close to Le Touquet-Sur-Plage just south of Bolougne.

As we were given a guided tour of the park, which was rather like being in a strange film noir as there were as yet no paying customers, the season starting in a couple of weeks.

During the course of the tour we were introduced to a lion tamer who used bits of wood to train a selection of lions and tigers which his family had bred for generations.

Deep inside the complex arrangement of trailers and pens that held the large and fearsome meat-eaters, a lioness and a tiger were enjoying a little French sunshine and a stretch of their feline legs.

I decided I needed to get a little closer.

Undeterred from the presence of the tiger just a few feet away I whipped out my camera, poked the lens through the bars of the cage and lined up a picture of the lady lion.

As I took the shot, my eye off the tiger for a second, the striped killer got up, walked over to investigate and decided to rear up in front of me-I suspect he might have recognised me and probably wanted a closer look, it's something I am getting used to.

But staring at a tiger face to face is a pretty daunting experience even if there is a fence between you. Nature kicked in and instinct took over. My heart pounded, my mouth went dry and I stepped back in a hurry in search of a medicinal gin and tonic - large with ice and a slice.

Headlines flashed before my eyes





My story would have been flashed round the world in moments.

Indeed, I am not sure I didn't almost hear him roar as well before he nearly savaged me. There was certainly a strange gargle but he could have been clearing his throat.

When I recounted this story to a friend - who had the temerity to suggest it was the tiger that recoiled in horror- I assured him, as I do you, dear readers, that this was an experience I do not wish to repeat.

A moment later, my composure returned I stared back at the tiger and I am sure I could see him thinking.

“Hmmm, there's a tasty morsel, a nice light snack, nothing too heavy. Perhaps I can gnaw on his arm. I wonder what he tastes like.”

Thanks to my steely determination and a restoratative Cognac, I live to tell the tale.

But when I finally got back to my little Ipswich sitting room, I was most depressed to find that what was nearly my last photograph didn't come out-it was blurred with fear.

ONE of my loyal fans contacted me this week.

As yet I do not know how many there are of you. I have yet to discover an unofficial fan-based website devoted to my talent, I have yet to sign publicity photographs and my post bag is, as yet, a little sparse. But I suspect the numbers must now be in at least into double figures.

However, Stephen Lark, of I know not where, emailed me with a few thoughts about my latest fad-cycling.

He said: “A very good idea in fine weather and you can always keep the car (he means the trusty rusty Rover) in reserve.

“When I am out for a walk, I do not see many pedestrians in the road but I do see cyclists on the pavement a lot: downhill, in wet or icy conditions, weaving and travelling quickly (I do too Stephen).

“Except on designated cycle paths, this is illegal but cyclists cannot be identified as can motorists by their number plates.

“I am sure none of this applies to you but I am equally sure that you have seen it happen frequently.”

Well of course it doesn't apply to me. I am a law-abiding young man. I am afraid though despite the lack of number plates I am easily identified on my bicycle-my head-turning looks and stunning figure is my ID.

So if you would like a mention in my column just drop me a line-I always give everyone who corresponds a little bon mot, a word of encouragement accompanied by an amusing aside. I'm not averse to wishing readers a Happy Birthday/Anniversary/Bar Mitzvah either.