French Connections

THE FIRST thing I said when I approached this stall, no doubt drawn irresistibly to it by a sudden wave of patriotism induced by the Union Jacks, was (in French) "I imagine you speak English?"

"Ah, non, pas du tout, Monsieur," (Ah, no, not at all, Monsieur) came the answer, very decidedly, as though speaking English would make her hair catch fire. H'm. This seemed bizarre to me, a stall calling itself So British and proclaiming itself to be an outlet for good British things to eat.

NO, IT'S not easy, writing a Christmassy piece before Christmas has come along. It just makes you think, though: all those Christmassy bits in the media must all be illustrated with pics from earlier festive seasons. They have to be ghosts of Christmas past, don't they?

We went to Montpellier the other day, towards the end of November. It's the big city for us, 90 minutes distant, over the hills and far away. (Montpellier? 250,000 people. Huge university. Teaching hospitals, a tradition stretching back to the 14th century. Centre of regional government. Municipal opera. Heineken Cup rugby team. Ever-expanding public buildings and tramway system. Showcase of modern civic architecture. Flourished under the leadership of the charismatic (and late) Georges Frêche, slow decline since. French premier league football champions 2011, under the aegis of a local man, Louis Nicollin, boss of the privatised municipal cleansing contractors. Oh yes, and according to Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes came here incognito, in that mystery period between being wrestled into the Reichenbach Falls by Professor Moriarty and his Return, to study coal-tar derivatives. Just thought you might like to know.)

I SHAN'T forget 11/11/11 (Onze-onze-onze if you prefer it in French). An unusual combination of numbers. My son's birthday, as it happens. And a public holiday in France to commemorate the 1918 Armistice marking the end of the First World War. Unlike in the UK, when Remembrance ceremonies take place on the nearest Sunday to November 11th, in France the day itself is a public holiday marked by ceremonies great and small throughout the country. Our village was no exception.

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