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NEW YEAR'S Day - Euro Day - found us in Cordoba, in southern Spain, penniless.

Well, almost. We set off for Christmas in Portugal armed with packs of new, shiny euro coins, about £10 ($14) worth that we'd bought in France in mid-Decem

NEW YEAR'S Day - Euro Day - found us in Cordoba, in southern Spain, penniless.

Well, almost. We set off for Christmas in Portugal armed with packs of new, shiny euro coins, about £10 ($14) worth that we'd bought in France in mid-December. As curios, really: they had an unreal, make-believe air about them, like Monopoly money or the plastic coins primary school kids play shops with. We pushed them about the the kitchen table, looked at them, felt them, and then put them back, because there wasn't much else we could do with them until January 1st, when they became legal tender.

We drove into central Cordoba, intent on having a look at the famous mezquita, the 8th-century multi-acre horseshoe-arched mosque into which a Renaissance cathedral has been slotted like a wedding cake into a baron of beef. We'd carefully got rid of our last escudos before leaving Portugal that morning, not a single Spanish peseta burdened our purses.

A car park attendant, one of Nature's scruffs, with teeth that would have interested an archaeologist, materialised from what literature has always known as a rude hut and waved us to a vacant slot in what seemed to be a bomb-site as though we were Lord and Lady Muck. Crisis. It's always good to be made to feel welcome, but how to pay the parking fee? In major tourist centres at home in France, they have sophisticated machines that allow you to pay by credit card. Not so here: there was nothing for it but to break open the euro pack. How much, we asked. He didn't know, he replied: as much as we liked. So we gave him 2.50 euros, about £1.50. He looked at the coins suspiciously. He'd never seen euros before. It took all our resources of Spanish to persuade him that our money was perfectly good, despite the French Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité on the back. To our surprise he capered off round the corner with his loot, and probably not to the dentist's. The Dentists' Arms, more likely.

We should have twigged. Car park attendant? Not he. A notice by the rude hut announced free parking on public holidays. We'll know another time.

THANKS TO to Lucy for this aperçu: friends glide to a halt at the traffic lights (feux - fires - de circulation in French, generally just feux) so as not to disturb the dozing visitor in the back. As usual someone's commandeered the upright to hang a placard from. This one's advertising a local league football match the next weekend, between Lannazac les Bains and Ste Palière.

A bleary voice from the back says 'Lannazac Lesbians? What kind of football do they play round here?'

THERE'S A tap at the French windows just as night is falling. There are three lads standing out on the terrasse holding a calendar. They say they're from the local football team; there's a group photo complete with trainer and manager in the middle of the calendar, which is bordered with advertisements for various local firms who support the village team. I don't recognise any of the team, but they're at pains to point out Olivier, central defender, whom we must know because he used to exercise his gifts as a sweeper on our autumn leaves every Saturday before he left to train as a fireman. Bona fides established, the calendar, complete with all the 2002 saints' days, and £5 ($7) change owners. The trio caper off with their loot to try their luck with the neighbours up the lane.

It's the season for this sort of thing. A few days earlier three navy blue clad figures appeared in the evening gloom with their calendars. They were from the local fire brigade. Again, I didn't recognise any of them, but they were at pains to point out in the group picture Olivier, whom we must know because etc., etc., and Stéphanie, who sings alto next to Josephine in the choir I conduct when she isn't battling heroically with forest fires or rescuing cats stuck up trees. Another calendar and more money changes hands.

Then it's Serge the postman. He comes round one evening with a sheaf of Post Office Calendars, all of different designs but none, for once, featuring Olivier. We're delighted with Serge, because on his own initiative he's turned his postal round back-to-front and instead of getting our mail in the middle of the afternoon it now arrives at breakfast time. As if we hadn't enough calendars already, we buy three. But then two are destined elsewhere . . .

NOVEMBER'S CAMPBELL'S Diary competition invited readers to identify four Signs of the Zodiac deliberately (if illogically) hidden in a story about our new roof. Ingenious though many entries were, no one found all four. Capricorn and Aquarius, easy-peasy, and most picked up Virgo: dismal failure all round, however, to extrapolate Taurus from 'one of the storms . . . tore us from sleep'.

Félicitations to the two nearest entrants, though, who each receive pre-destined Post Office calendars - L'Almanach du Facteur - complete with fascinating information about the euro and other must-know matters like The Language of Flowers à la française. Long for your own company? Send him/her a sprig of heather; it means Dreams of Solitude. The Interflora van turns up with a bouquet of gladioli? Tough luck. You'd best start looking round elsewhere. It's the beginning of the end. It means Indifference. As for holly, it means Insensibility, which I can't say I've ever experienced when I've inadvertently sat on it. No, the French Language of Flowers isn't like anyone else's, but then when were the French ever known for conformity?

All this and more to Philip Lambert (UK) and the indefatigable Campbell's Diary watcher Cynthia St Clair of Washington, USA. Keep up the good work

SMALL, UNIMPRESSIVE prize to be won!

The design on the back of the French version of the 1 and 2 euro coins, where participating countries are allowed their national designs, features a hexagon. Why should this be?

First correct e-mail explanation, even Cynthia's, to reach me wins - steady! steady! don't all rush! - an original 1 Euro coin. Oh-là-là!