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You can always tell when it's going to happen. Notices appear tacked to the trees down the street, lashed to lamp-posts or stuck to the official notice boards scattered about the village.

'By order of the maire' they say, and there's a lot

You can always tell when it's going to happen. Notices appear tacked to the trees down the street, lashed to lamp-posts or stuck to the official notice boards scattered about the village.

'By order of the maire' they say, and there's a lot of chapter and verse from the last council meeting, and the upshot is that between certain hours the main street will be closed to traffic and no parking will be allowed. Regulations will be enforced by the Secretary of the Mairie – a large, jolly lady I can't quite see mixing it with miscreants, and by the Gendarmerie. H'm. More serious. And these notices are all very well as long as you can read French.

The street was closed the other day to allow the local brocante traders – amateurs all: no professionals allowed - to set out their stalls on either side of the street, in the shade of the plane trees. How would you translate brocante? If your house is crammed to bursting with brass First World War shell cases holding fishing rods and umbrellas, lithographs from Lourdes of The Man of Sorrows, scratched Charles Trenet EPs, café-pinched water carafes labelled RICARD, odd plates with shipwreck scenes and hall stands in the form of tail-coated black waiters, then you translate brocante as antiques, maybe even collectables. Otherwise brocante equals junk. Bric-à-brac, if you're feeling charitable and there's a space on the mantelpiece.

Josephine and I went down the other Sunday, just to look. Crash barriers closed off the main part of the street, and a muscular local worthy saw fair play. You never saw such jun . . . sorry, you never saw such bric-à-brac. Some didn't bother with tables, but simply displayed their goods on old sheets or bedspreads on the ground. Simone, a sprightly 80-year old, doyenne of the village choir and gymnastics club, sprang from behind her stall to greet us; we'd been to her surprise birthday party a few nights before when anyone who'd ever been a member of the village choir met to sing Joyeux Anniversaire in four-part harmony. I asked her about the lonely, elderly figure next door with a few new books on what looked like a school desk. 'Oh, it's Monsieur Bonnet,' she said. 'He's an author. He signs his own books. He's come a bit down-market, don't you think?'

I did think, furiously. Could this be me in a few year's time, flogging off remaindered copies of my own work? Shudder, shudder. Still, if it came to that, there could be worse places than the plane-tree shade on a sunny July Sunday morning, among the mingled scents of village humanity, roasting coffee, fresh-baked bread, Gauloises and . . .

. . . faint perfume. Over the road Géraud, a retired local GP, had set out his wares. He specializes in old perfume bottles. There's a lingering, ghostly scent in every one: as you carefully remove the glass stopper you're irresistibly carried back to your grandmother's dressing table, to your great-aunt's whiskery kiss, to the front room of the rather grand old lady who lived at Number 23 who gave you seed-cake you didn't like but ate out of good manners.

And while all this was going there was a commotion further up the street. A car, parked illegally overnight, was trying to draw out into the roadway. A brocanteur who'd spread his brassware straight on to the tarmac was moving it piece by piece out of the way, not without some muttering. The car drew out, a red Volvo estate. UK registration. Oh dear. Someone hadn't – or couldn't - read the notices. At least it hadn't needed the Mairie Secretary or the gendarmes to translate.

We came home empty-handed. We always do. You can tell how we translate brocante.

BEATRICE PETITET, arguably France's leading mezzo-soprano, blessed with a richly expressive and meltingly beautiful voice, came to see us in mid-morning a day or two after an unforgettable concert in the local Semaine Autrichienne - Austrian Week - series. (Béatrice is based in Vienna with her viola-playing husband Axel Kircher.)

What do you offer a leading mezzo-soprano who calls in the middle of the morning? Coffee and galettes bretonnes? Champagne and langues de chat? Honeydew? Milk of paradise?

Beatrice plumped for (not the right word – she's very slim) a plateful of sizzling bacon and eggs, sunny side up, British style. Bravo, Béatrice: it's really good to keep the Union Jack flying from time to time. Next time we'll try her on porridge.

THE RED duster still flew at the stern and pension books fluttered from the masthead of the Dawn Treader, which assiduous readers of this column will remember as the 42ft Bermuda rig retirement home of Clint and Annabel, last seen heading into le grand bleu from St Raphaël on the Côte d'Azur.

Well, they made it to Cap d'Agde, a cheap and cheerful seaside place between Béziers and Montpellier, where we went to see them the other evening. Cap d'Agde is known locally as Le Cap, which is also how you say Cape Town in French; raw material for a wonderful navigational muddle.

Vital for coast-hopping and putting in at little sun-kissed ports and beaches is their dinghy, christened Tommy Tender, powered by Otto Outboard, lashed when off-duty to Roger Railing. This is a game anyone can play while downing pre-prandial pastis in the cockpit beneath Barry Bimini, until exasperated fellow-guests push you over Sidney Side.

However, Captain Clint, house-proud as any new yacht owner ought to be and anxious to keep peanut-oil and other stains off the split-new teak cockpit decking, has laid down a protective carpet of green astroturf.

Gunther Grass, obviously. Ho ho.

Félicitations to last month's competition winner, Bill Jackson of Coventry, UK, first to identify the Pont du Gard, the Roman aqueduct supplying ancient Nîmes, from the where-am-I? information. His small, unimpressive prize – all you win in Campbell's Diary competitions – was a packet of sugared almonds cunningly done up to resemble green or black olives.

We find the local markets the best source of real olives, green and black. Traders scoop them out with wooden ladles into plastic bags, which they deftly knot so as to exclude as much air as possible. At home Josephine shakes the sticky black olives (picked ripe, washed in several waters, put into boiling brine, dried and pickled in olive oil, according to Larousse Gastronomique) into another bag containing a twist or two of herbes de Provence: they come out coated with dried and finely chopped shreds of rosemary, thyme, savory, basil and marjoram. Délicieux! – but don't drop them on Captain Clint's deck, or you'll find yourself walking Peter Plank.