Zoot alors! A fracas in Calais

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The Independent Online
I WAS privileged last week to be an honoured guest at quite the most delightful wedding. Not only was it an affair of warmth and intelligence, but it gave me the opportunity to renew my acquaintance with Bigelow and Hudson, crusty old retainers of repute. It was Bigelow who took me to one side and appraised me of some quite stunning news.

Bigelow, by the way, pretends to be French and must be humoured at all times. He professes to have an extremely poor command of the English language. This is largely because he indeed has an extremely poor command of the English language and chooses to hide it by pretending to be French.

It is a very effective ploy and only develops difficulties when he meets real French people. In fact it was a gregarious Gallic guest who drove Bigelow into my company. In a desperate attempt to escape the fluent Frog, the crusty old retainer - or crafty old pretender - decided to share his news with me.

"Haf ew urt zee nerz?" he inquired.

"No, but I'm sure I will," I replied.

"I weel tell eet."

"No, Bigelow, you will hit it."

"I will not eet eet."

"Eat what?" I asked.

"I weel not eet zee nerz, I weel tell zee nerz," Bigelow insisted.

It transpired that far from hurting my nose, Bigelow wanted to tell me his news. Having, as I do, a Merseyside heritage I am familiar with the post-nuptial punch-up, and so I had not been fazed by the assertion that my nose was in danger. I should have realised this was a more dignified occasion and questioned Bigelow a little earlier. No matter. With the confusion cleared, Bigelow and I huddled in the corner over a glass of champagne.

"Haf ew urt eebert Megan?" Bigelow asked.

"I think you will find that the bride is called something else."

"Eeez nert bride, eez cow."

"Hush your mouth you old rogue," I chided. "How dare you insult the bride."

"But Renault Megan eez cow."

He was talking about motor cars. According to Bigelow it is possible to hop across the Channel and buy cars and a whole bunch of other goods at knock-down prices. It dawned on me that I had been making a fatal mistake with my house hunting. I had been looking in all the wrong places. Rather than trudging around Chiswick I needed to be pounding the hypermarkets of Calais.

So last week I took time out from my busy schedule and headed for Calais. My hopes soared when, in smugglers' lane at the ferry, I saw a white van with a sticker which read "I gave a home to a Battersea dog!". If houses proved as cheap in Calais as Bigelow had hinted, I would not be surprised.

I will not trouble you with the gory details of my embarrassing rout at the hands of the French retailing community.

"Ou sons les maisons moins cher?" was what I thought I had been asking. It turned out that with my pronunciation I had actually been asking: "Would you like to come back to my place, sweetie?"

The upshot was something of a run-in with the local gendarmerie and not so much as a maisonette for my troubles.

Still, I picked up a case of very reasonable vin de pays rouge which is fine as long as you don't get it on your clothes. So now I have the booze for the party all I am missing is the house to warm. C'est la vie, zoot alors, oh merde!