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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.

OH DEAR. Or to put it in French, mince alors. Or zut alors. I don't think we feel strongly enough about it to reach much deeper down into the barrel of French expletives. Yes, it's resistance to change that I'm on about, since you ask. I suppose it's age, really. Perhaps we've arrived at a time of life when interruptions to the regular routine maximumly cheese us off. I know. It's desperate, isn't it? You'd have thought we'd might be a bit more resilient, we'd have learnt to parry the slings and arrows of outrageous expat fortune,  wouldn't you?

SUCH A cold wet spring this year, followed by such a hot dry summer, has thrown everything out of kilter, so now nature is striving to catch up with itself before the autumn sets in, so all the late summer wild fruits are ripening together. As you can see in the bowl above, the apricots are going on for ever, trespassing into the chestnut season just about to start.

YES, WELL might you ask. What is it, first of all? And what's it doing in someone's shop window? Is it for sale? Does it play the piano? What's that underneath its tum?

Cézanne? Monet? Van Gogh?

RECOGNISE the artist? One of the Impressionists? Cézanne? Monet, out
of his garden at Giverny? Mmm, could be. Van Gogh? He painted sunflowers, didn't
he? And yet...

...you're quite right to hesitate. It isn't any of these. Pull up your chair
and I'll tell you.

IT MAY all be a dismal failure, but at least no one can say I haven't tried. Even after nearly 22 years of living in the Deep South of France there are Brit things I still cling to. Like rhubarb crumble, mmmm. Le crumble exists as a term in France, but it's nothing like the rich, crisp and oaty topping, melding and melting into that delectably doughy mix where it meets and mingles with the lightly sweetened stewed rhubarb beneath, a marriage made in heaven. And for me, at any rate, custard completes this gorgeous ménage à trois. But beware! Custard in France masquerades as crème anglaise, English cream (as if!) but don't be deceived by this unconvincing alias: crème anglaise is gruel-thin, over-sweet, generally miserable and - crime of crimes - served cold. Gadz! as the kids I used to teach in NE Scotland would say when faced with anything particularly unpalatable.

I EXPECT you've come across those competitions in magazines and newspapers that invite you identify some place in a photo? They're entitled 'Where is this?' or 'Where am I?' and they give you various clues. If yours is the correct answer drawn out of the hat you win a free weekend at somebody's bed and breakfast, or maybe some luggage to take your stuff there.

WE HAD to return to Scotland for a funeral recently. Our first thought, whenever we go away, is what to do with Pinot the cat. Luckily we've established very good relations with Christine, who runs an excellent kennels and cattery on the edge of a tiny village not far away.

This village - more a hamlet, really - is called Lugné. Not easy for Anglo-Saxons to pronounce: it comes out something like 'lee-nyay'. (Maybe to solve this problem, my children - although both have good French - display the family inability to leave a perfectly good name alone, and call the place 'Lunge'. Much easier.) Summoned to don the black tie, dark suit and sober mien, and to brush up our waning acquaintance with Abide with me and The day thou gavest, Lord, has ended, we approached Christine to see if she had room to squeeze Pinot in somewhere while we headed north. By car, because there would be a lot of stuff to bring back.

ABOUT FIFTEEN years ago, in the days when I used to run a big choir rather than Les Jeudistes, the select group pictured above, we had a bass called Edmond. He was an elderly man of very definite and individual views who occasionally had to be shushed because of some outrageous politically incorrect statement with which the management, i.e. me, couldn't be seen to agree. He was a Protestant, which is quite rare in this part of the world, and used to play on it for all he was worth, because what he really loved was being in a vociferous minority, and knowing that no one would take him on because he had two very sharp arrows in his quiver. These were that he was really quite elderly and that he was a war hero, an honoured member of the French Resistance, and in France the fast dwindling members of the Resistance can get away with just about anything.

I KNOW. Standards of photography in Campbell's Diary just get better and better. This one wasn't easy, but when the going gets tough does your intrepid correspondent sit back and wait for next week? He does not. He seizes the hour, he grasps the opportunity. Does he push his way through the rush-hour throng and sit on the driver's knee to capture the unforgettable moment when the Paris Metro pulls into the next station?

        He certainly does, or something like that. I'm afraid I can't remember which station it was. Somewhere along Line 1, which runs diagonally across the heart of Paris from Château de Vincennes in the east to La Défense in the west, travelling directly beneath the Champs-Elysées for much of the way. The remarkable thing about this particular line is that it's automatic. No driver, so no driver's lap to sit on. If you can get to the front, as Josephine and I did because the train was almost empty, you have a clear view down the line. Actually there isn't much to see apart from a lot of black, just the occasional red and green light and oncoming trains about to whoosh past you. And of course stations as you approach them, as in the photo above. Time for an interesting fact.

Interesting Fact No. 1:

The London Underground tunnels were built to dimensions only slightly greater than the trains running through them. Underground users will be familiar with the hold-on-to-your-hat onrush of air as a tube approaches. This is deliberate. It's in this way that Underground air is pumped about the system and doesn't get too stale or warm. Paris Metro engineers took no account of this. The Metro tunnels are much wider, the air doesn't circulate in the same way, coughs and colds spread so much more easily despite the monstrous extractor fans trying to ventilate the system. End of Interesting Fact No. 1.

* * *

ALTHOUGH JOSEPHINE knew Paris quite well, indeed had worked there at one time, I'd only been once before, in 1988, and that was before I came to live in France. On that occasion our more than generous hosts had entertained us ('us' were my late first wife, son and friend) to a trip up the Seine and back again on one the famous river cruisers, the Bateaux Mouches. Everything was splendid, the balmy August evening, the five-course dinner, the wines, some of the great monuments of Paris, the Eiffel Tower, the Musée d'Orsay, the Louvre, Notre Dame and so on, all illuminated by the banks of powerful floodlights mounted on the hull of the boat. We rounded the Île de la Cité and cruised all the way back again. Unforgettable. The Musée d'Orsay stuck particularly in my mind. Once it was a railway terminus. It's now an art gallery, but on the wall facing the Seine there are still large stucco plaques with the names of the towns once served, names from the deep Midi that were magically magnetic to me then, Albi, Cahors, Rodez...

Interesting Fact No. 2:

The Musée d'Orsay hit the headlines while we were in Paris.  There's a national scheme which allows people on social benefits to enter museums and galleries at reduced rates or even free. A few days before we arrived many visitors to the Musée d'Orsay had complained strongly to the management that a visiting family of three stank so appallingly badly that others' pleasure was being ruined. The management presumably had a confirmatory sniff, whereupon they asked the evil-smelling family to leave. When their entry money was offered back to them it was discovered that they were on unemployment benefit. Outrage. All political France, left, right and centre, was angrily polarised. The Musée d'Orsay put out a very polite explanatory notice, but stood its ground. What would you have done? End of Interesting Fact No. 2.

On returning to the Bateaux Mouches car-park that night back in 1988, our host Emile wondered if we might like to see Paris by night? As there were more of us than could fit in one car, I nobly volunteered to bring up the rear. What did I see of nocturnal Paris? I had wonderful views of the tail lights of Emile's car. Not for a fraction of a second did I dare take my eyes off them. I stuck to them like limpets. To have lost Emile would have been disaster. Why, if I'd lost him I might be still there, swirled about helplessly in city traffic, in constant wrong lane muddles, flouting one-way systems and traffic lights . . . I did manage to lift my eyes once, just to glimpse the revolving neon sails of the Moulin Rouge, but otherwise my lasting impression of Paris by night was two red lights half a car-length in front of me.

        And that impression lasted for 25 years. High time to redress the balance, wouldn't you say? The opportunity came a few days ago when three Paris-based musician friends calling themselves the Hoboken Trio, gave a concert in the Salle Cortot, something like the Wigmore Hall in London. So we took off for the weekend, by TGV (Train grande vitesse, high-speed train), another new experience. The journey time from Montpellier - our nearest city, practically on the Mediterranean - to Paris took a little under 4 hours. It's quicker than flying, if you count in the hanging about time in the departure lounge and travelling in from the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport into the centre of Paris.

        Apart from that concert (which was excellent), how do you spend a couple of days in Paris? Maybe our priorities aren't like other peoples', so please excuse me if my immediate memories seem eccentric, or wacky, even.

        *Wandering along the Rue Solferino (named after an obscure village in northern Italy, where following a murderous France v. Austria battle in 1859 a Swiss businessman called Henri Dunant was so horrified by the suffering that he took steps which resulted the founding of the Red Cross: never let it be said that Campbell's Diary doesn't give you the full info) we found an open gateway leading into a very beautiful courtyard. There seemed to be no entry restrictions, so we strolled in to admire the Napoleonic architecture. Shock, horror - the solid gate began to close automatically behind us! In the nick of time we escaped from what turned out to be the HQ of the Légion d'Honneur, in its upper echelons something like the Order of the Garter. Phew.

        *In the Musée d'Orsay, a most imaginative conversion of a railway terminus into one of the world's leading art galleries, everyone smelt just fine.

        *We dined one evening in the Japanese restaurant next door to our hotel. (After all, why not? Living in France, we can eat at French restaurants every night of the week if we choose.) The proprietress apologised for the noise: she and her family were Chinese and were celebrating the Chinese New Year.

The Louvre, approached from the Tuileries GardensThe Louvre, approached from the Tuileries Gardens

        *The Louvre, housing even more paintings and objets d'art than the Musée d'Orsay, is vast, and crowds of Chinese, still flushed from celebrating the Year of the Serpent, Japanese and Russians swirled about in it, following guides with little flags. Most, it seemed, wanted to see the Mona Lisa. It's really quite small, not much bigger than the screen you're reading this on. We noted it in the distance.

Interesting Fact No. 3:

In the first quarter of the 20th Century an art movement called Dadaism developed. One of the movement's leaders was Marcel Duchamp, and one of his products was his version of the Mona Lisa. He called it 'LHOOQ', which says something very rude indeed when you sound out the letter names in French, so you can see what sort of art movement it was. End of Interesting Fact No. 3.

Marcel Duchamp's LHOOQMarcel Duchamp's LHOOQ

*We had a little spare time before catching the TGV back from the Gare de Lyon, so we broke our Metro journey at a stop called Bastille. When you surface from the underworld of the Metro you find yourself just outside the newish Paris opera house, a massive creation of glass and stainless steel, on the edge of a large square, the Place de la Bastille. There's a huge gilded column in the middle of the square, and you might think it commemorated the Fall of the Bastille at the start of the French Revolution on July 14th, 1789. But no, it commemorates those who died in later revolutions, those of 1830 (when the French got rid of Charles X) and 1848 (ditto Louis-Philippe) at a time in Europe when those who'd put 'king' as their previous profession on the dole claim forms made long queues at the Job Centre. The outline of the original Bastille is marked in the paving stones of the square.

        *We started to walk down the Rue de Lyon towards the station. The street had more than its fair share of something we hadn't seen anywhere else in Paris, beggars, nutters, religious zealots. At least, it seemed so: a suspiciously earnest young man asked us in Spanish for directions. At overload moments like these our Spanish, never strong, deserts us. He was terribly impatient, asking other passers-by even while we were showing him on the map. We found it for him, but he showed no gratitude. Instead he took out a Bible from his backpack and we groaned inwardly. Did we come from Galicia? he asked. He seemed unable to believe that we were English. We wondered if he really knew where he was. He told us he was a Bulgarian preacher. It was good to reach the station and shelter instinctively in the herd of like-minded people, i.e. all those united by a desire to catch the TGV to Montpellier.

* * *

I'M AFRAID we missed an awful lot of Paris, but it's always good to leave something for another time. We'll need to save up, though: we found it fearfully expensive. No quicker way to get rid of a €10 note (about £8) than to order Tea for Two, even if we sang the order. (Which we did, once, in a café on the Boulevard Malesherbes run by Bretons. Did I say nutters?)

But that reminds me. We often come across French media news items in which tourists complain how rude, curt, disobliging and unhelpful the Parisians are. The French take these reports seriously, wring their hands in despair and wonder what on earth they can do to make themselves seem more hospitable. Paris is the most visited city in the world, after all. Without tourist income the French economy, already desperately shaky, would be in an even worse way.

Well, we don't agree. We found Parisian waiters, ticket collectors, taxi-drivers, policemen, newsagents and shop assistants universally polite, cheery, helpful. I think I know the secret. It's something called two-way traffic. If you take an interest in them and put yourself on their level, they'll respond. Especially if you try to do it in French.


        To finish with, here's a photo of the Arc de Triomphe. Well, it would have been, on the horizon, at the far end of the Champs-Elysées, if Josephine hadn't stood in the way. And that halo's real, you know.

YOU WOULDN'T think this was the south of France, would you? Yes, all right, the sun's there, and brilliant blue skies, but where are the poolside loungers, the shady terrace with the pastis asking to be poured, the shorts and the T-shirts and the straw hats, the table under the mulberry tree with the daily baguette, the camembert and roquefort cheese, the local sun-warmed tomatoes and peaches, the glass or two of local rosé?

FOR AS long as I can remember, and that's about 16 years, Jean-Paul Maigres the travelling fishmonger has been turning up in the village in the early evening. Around 6pm the giga-decibel loudspeaker attached to his van announces his arrival, and because the village is cradled in a steep-to valley the sound carries everywhere and there's no mistaking, if you were in any doubt, that it's either Wednesday or Friday, the two days on which he trawls for customers round the village streets.

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.)

YES, WELL might you wonder what this is. You see, we sometimes get the feeling that we aren't alone in our house. Especially at this time of year. Do you ever feel the same? On the face of it, officially, according to the electoral roll and list of local taxpayers, Josephine and I are the only people who live here. But in compiling the definitive list of inhabitants we could hardly forget Pinot the cat, who would be black (and white) affronted if he knew he'd been left out.

I WOKE up, alone in the 2-bed ward, with a start and a raging thirst. On the bedside cabinet there was a glass of water. I sat up, reached for it over the glucose drip in my left wrist, took a sip or two. Ah. Blessed relief. Another mouthful . . . and suddenly the door opened and the night nurse stormed in.

I DIDN'T notice it at the time. It's pure serendipity. Very occasionally, just when you're least suspecting them, things work out exactly right. I did ask the couple above if I could take their photo, little suspecting that they might be giving me more than I'd bargained for, that there might be a hidden bonus. As for taking their photo, there was no problem, even in image-protective France. Florence looked up from preparing a pizza with a lovely smile, and Filou obliged with his pizza shovel (if that's the term) as a pretend guitar. They did ask, quite rightly, what I would be writing for, and I was happy to answer that all being well this piece would appear here, on the UK's and possibly the English-speaking planet's leading French interest site, in September. I promised to give them the link.

All right, out with it. Out with the hidden bonus. It's a Joke. Yes, a real, live Campbell's Diary Joke. Look up there at the top left hand corner. What can you see? Why, it's clearly the Leaning Tower of Pizza.

And when you've recovered, I'll carry on.

IT WAS agony, I can tell you. Without going into unseemly detail, it seemed to me only too obvious that I was going to have to walk bow-legged, like a jockey put out to grass, for the rest of my life.
You can hire bicycles in the village, at a place called Oxygène, which is just a shed with a lot of bikes of different sizes in. I suppose it takes its name from the vast amounts of oxygen you need to cope with the mountain tracks this area abounds in. Oxygène relies for its custom on a local feature I've often mentioned before, the old railway line which runs along the valley for miles . . .erm, kilometres and kilometres. Some years ago they took up all the tracks, laid a fine gravel all-weather surface and encouraged its use by cyclists, riders and walkers, and I have to say it has been an entire success. They call it la piste verte, the green track.

AT MIDSUMMER thirty years ago the French Minister of Culture instituted an annual nation-wide music bash called La Fête de la Musique. The minister was - and still is - called Jack Lang, a name that looks as if it ought to be English. Now 72, he's never strayed very far from the French political scene. It may be that La Fête de la Musique will be his lasting memorial, because at the recent general election he lost his seat in the French parliament, much to his chagrin, and I daresay anyone humming Auld Lang Syne in his hearing will be dealt with appropriately.

SO, WE have a new President. Nothing to do with us, of course. We didn't help to choose him. Not our fault. Would we have voted for François Hollande, if we could have? Aha, that's another question. But it's academic. We don't have the right to vote, though our inalienable human right to pay French taxes is graven in marble in the French constitution.

IT'S NEARLY 21 years since I came to live in France. In all that time I've attended a mere four sporting events. A couple of village football matches. A now-you-see-it-now-you-don't flash-past of the Tour de France through the village. Once to Montpellier to watch an opening round match of the 2007 Rugby World Cup, a contest of excruciating dullness between Tonga and Samoa. No, I can't tell you who won, I'd have to look it up.

THERE WAS a lot of conspiratorial whispering, rustling and shuffling outside, people saying urgently, under their breaths 'You go first', 'No, you', 'Go on, we'll follow', 'You start, it was your idea', and so on. While all this was going on I was busy pouring champagne, noting that for nine people you have to break into a second bottle if everyone is to get a decent glassful, and if second helpings were required then we would need a third, and that no doubt Josephine had thought of this and that the fridge bottle rack was be groaning under the weight of enough bottles to satisfy the celebratory instincts of a small but very lively French choir.

IT'S PRESIDENTIAL election time here in France. Or it will be, in a month or two, but they're gearing up for it already. It's turning into a two-horse race, between François Hollande, the socialist candidate, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the sitting tenant in the Elysée palace. There's a third entry, the National Front's Marine le Pen, but as all candidates have to have a minimum of 500 senators, regional councillors or mayors publicly endorsing their candidatures, a figure Mme le Pen so far falls short of, she may have to scratch from the starting boxes. (If she manages to scrounge the full 500 endorsements, it will make for an interesting race, to say the least.) There's a small tribe of outsiders, the centrist Francis Bayrou, the far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and the Green party candidate, a lady called Eva Joly who wears red-framed glasses and isn't even French, by birth: She's Norwegian.

ALONG THE road early to St Pons de Thomières, a place of 2353 inhabitants, according to the 2007 census. One of the curiosities of St Pons - as it's called for short - is that there's a cathedral in the middle of it. If hosting a cathedral promotes a place to the rank of city, St Pons must be the smallest cathedral city in France, if not Europe. It's a peculiar cathedral, too. For one thing it's the wrong way round. For the early church builders it was imperative for the altar end to face east, towards Jerusalem.

THE OTHER evening our friend Jean-Claude came round to see us. He appears in Campbell's Diary quite often. In some ways you could say he was a pillar of this column. He has many claims to fame, and not the least intriguing is that he is, or was, distantly related to Saint Theresa of Lisieux. He's a senior village councillor and has been involved in local government for about 40 years, latterly in the village and before that in Île de France, the region around Paris. We rely on him for all our inside information about what's going on the village and round about.

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.

'DID YOU know,' I said to Josephine, 'that there's a small area of London that has an Occitan name?'
'No,' she said.
'I mean,' I prattled on, 'there's this language, Occitan, that no one in the south of France speaks as their mother tongue any more, except maybe a few very elderly people, so to all intents and purposes it's dead, like Cornish. And yet an Occitan word has given its name to an area of London. Don't you think that's extraordinary?'
'Not really,' she said. 'What is it? Convince me.'
'Castelnau,' I said. 'On the south side of Hammersmith Bridge. It's part of Barnes, really. In Occitan it means 'high castle'. Castel means castle, obviously, and nau, sometimes naut or naud, means high.'
'Are you sure? Doesn't it mean 'new castle'?'
'Nope. High castle. Quite sure.'

CRÊPES! CRÊPES! Crêpes! - and don't forget that little hat on the first E: crêpes just wouldn't be the same without it. They wouldn't have the same flavour at all. Pas du tout.

(The little hat - its Sunday name is 'circumflex' - shows that once upon a time the E or any other vowel was followed by an S. Circumflexes are quite common in French, but somehow the missing S has survived in English: if ever you're flummoxed by words like honnête or mât or hôte, you've only got to remember this little wrinkle and you shoot to the head of the queue, leaving Google translators standing, scratching their heads in puzzlement: honnête means honest, mât means mast, hôte means host, and so on. Eây peây.)

I REMEMBER a long, hot August afternoon about 30 years ago, somewhere in the Lot or Dordogne départements, on holiday with the family. Thirst drove us to a café, and at that time we didn't know the difference in France between a café and a bar (there's none) and that very often a café/bar is referred to as une terrasse, if it has an outside sitting area.

IT'S NEARLY 20 years since I came to live in France, creeping into Le Havre one dark October morning waving a sheaf of official papers and passes which everyone said you absolutely had to have or they'd just put you straight back on the next ferry to Portsmouth or wherever. In the event nobody took the blindest notice of any of it. Very strange. Unreal, too. Weren't they interested in a family of Brits (plus dog and cat) who'd suddenly taken an immense swerve in the even course of their lives to date, had given up paid employment, sold up and were in the process of moving lock stock and barrel to the south of France? Did nobody share our sense of adventure, did no one recognise the butterflies in our stomachs? Did we not deserve a little encouragement, a word of welcome?

The ferry that operates between Newhaven and Le Havre is a seasonal one only. Between May and September, Transmanche Ferries charter their vessel The Seven Sisters to make a crossing every day to provide more choice and added convenience to their customers in the summer months. There are however regular ferry services from Portsmouth to Le Havre that run all year.

View the links below to search for real time prices, availability and book ferries from Newhavent to Le Havre or see bottom of the page for other alternatives to Newhaven - Le Havre ferries.

Also, see our free guides on what to do in and around the ports of Newhaven and Le Havre.

Guide to taking a ferry to France with Transmanche Ferries

The Transmanche Ferries service is operated by LD Lines under its own banner and Transmanche Ferries.

The fleet is exclusively composed of new or modern ships, delivering the highest technical standards and offering an excellent level of comfort. All ships are equipped with effective stabilization systems allowing them to guarantee you a quick and pleasant crossing whatever the season.

Transmanche Ferries offer an all year ferry service between Newhaven and Dieppe which operates with two comfortable and modern vessels, the Seven Sisters and the Côte d’Albâtre.