The great French stench: 'Sulphur with sooty notes, like boiled egg, singed with a blow torch'

As a cloud of foul-smelling gas wafts over from France, Tom Peck visits Redhill, south London to sniff out the local reaction to its latest unwelcome visitor

Snow on the ground and the stench of eggy farts in the air. Can there ever have been a better time and place to be eight years old than south London today? It had, apparently, lost some of its potency in the long journey over the Channel from a chemical plant in Rouen, but there was still enough there to be carried high on the shoulders of school kids walking down Redhill High Street. “You smelt it. You dealt it.” “You said the rhyme, you did the crime.” “The one who denied it supplied it.” All present and correct.

As the yellow street lamps flickered on in the early evening, above the white ground, it was as close to being inside an egg as a mammal is ever likely to find out. Heston Blumenthal might have enjoyed it. But the residents of Redhill didn't.

“It's disgusting. It's just like gone off egg. Absolutely disgusting. What is it? Said Susan Smith, as she shepherded her deliriously laughing children through the barriers at Redhill Station. ”It's from France? They don't even like eggs do they? I'm supposed to be doing beef bourguignon tonight. That's put me right off."

Others were less quick to revert to Anglo-Gallic rivalry. “I thought it was the tips at first,” said David Manzi, a retail worker still reeling from his lunchtime stroll to the sandwich shop. “They're only at the top of the hill, and when the wind gets up you can smell them right through town. But this was different. It's like one of those 'you-know-what's my nephew does.”

Even this side of the channel, Redhill was a long way from ground zero. coastal towns from Hampshire all the way through Sussex to Kent bore the brunt of the chemical attack - friendly fire though it was. Here it wasn't so much gone off egg. Imagine more a boiled egg, singed with a blow torch. The sulphur is there, but with those sooty notes that strike the nostrils at their highest point. More intriguing than unpleasant, but you'd be pleased to see the back of it.

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