Wednesday, 3 September 2008


I was tired: just got back from a long day at work. Having just sat down with a cup of tea and finally begun to unwind, I was mildly irritated to have to get up to answer the phone.

I recognised the voice on the other end as a friend of mine. For the sake of cliche, I'll call him Jean-Paul. Should the nuance in the following account be too subtle, I'll point out - as an aid to context - that he's French.

Est-ce que je peu parle à Trouseurs?

I raised an eyebrow. It was odd, I thought, that the question was so awkwardly constructed, given that French was his native tongue. Nonetheless I was relieved that he had not referred to me as les Pantalons. Small mercies.

Oui, c'est moi, I replied wearily. The oui was pronounced, of course, to rhyme with c'est. I breathed a sigh, and was perturbed to note that I was exhaling a cloud of cigarette smoke: I hadn't smoked for years. Why was there a Gauloise wedged between my index and middle finger?

I took another drag on the cigarette and, realising that I was trapped in a prison of meaninglessness, exhaled once more. The smoke danced and whirled and gradually dissipated against the light of the window.

I looked around. Must clean the flat, I thought - it had gone all grainy and black and white. It almost felt like there was a film noir soundtrack playing in the background. I turned off the record player, and the film noir soundtrack stopped playing.


The voice snapped me out of my sense of ennui (do the French, I wondered, have a word for ennui?).

Pardon, Jean-Paul. C'est un problème?

He lowered his voice. Luckily, for the sake of the remainder of this post, he continued in English.

I've got the cheese.

Give me 20 minutes, I'll be right over.

Click. End of phone call.

Given that he lived just 4 minutes walk away, I was able to spend 15 minutes and 30 seconds relaxing and finishing my tea, followed by a further 30 seconds spent putting my shoes on. Exactly on time, I was chez Jean-Paul.

You'd better come in.

Logically, I went in, and followed him to the lounge. He gestured towards a seat: applying a similar kind of logic to just previously, I sat down.

One moment please.

He disappeared into the kitchen. Minutes passed before he reappeared, though that's hardly the right term: he could hardly be seen behind the sheer volume and variety of different cheeses he was carrying into the lounge with him.

He laid them all on the table, then went off again to get a selection of breads and cured meats. The next 2 hours were spent sampling the mind-boggling variety of flavours, textures and tastes - and combinations thereof.

Jean-Paul would discuss how this kind of cheese brought out a certain particular taste when tried with this kind of bread or this kind of meat. I would frown, thinking, surely I'm not going to get that? Each time I would be surprised as the sweetness of one kind of flavour served to enhance the bitterness of another, or how the herbs in a certain blend brought out hitherto latent properties and textures in another.

Eventually, we could eat no more.

A further hour later and we were both drinking pint after pint of tap water, given that our kidneys had all but shrivelled up to the size of raisins. I then stumbled home, as tired out as my belly was aching.

On the third week of every other month, I would get a similar call, and the scenario would play out again. Because on the third week of every other month, there was a French Farmer's Market in town, and it was the best stuff that Jean-Paul could get his hands on without actually bringing it back from France himself.

I've posted all this just because the memory makes me smile - and I really ought to get back in touch with Jean-Paul. Also, because I've found out I'll be heading to Paris for a weekend later this year. I've been to France often enough, but (apart from a changeover at the airport) never to Paris itself.


Caroline said...

I am not happy!

I have had really bad 'cheese cravings' all week. And now you've made it worse.

*stamping of feet can be heard*


Fire Byrd said...

There is almost nothing better than a ripe brie or camambert with crusty bread and loads of ice cold rose.A peice of Warbutons and stale chedder is about as good as it'll get in this house tonight!

trousers said...

caroline, I was going to make all sorts of "jokes" about you being cheesed off - but (even) I'm not going to stoop to that level.

What's stopping you have any - just not got any in the house? x

fire byrd, damn right. Actually there were so many different types I couldn't possibly do them justice with any kind of description. But I'm more than partial to a slice of Warburtons with stale Cheddar x

Merkin said...

(do the French, I wondered, have a word for ennui?).

Just finished 'A year in the Merde'.
Was fine. Recommended, as well, by me.

He has a chapter showing what Franglais is NOT used by the French.

Interesting, as is NMJ's, because I am still trying to get my head round writing my own Opus about life abroad.

Still, worth a look.

DJ Kirkby said...

I want a cigarette now... :(

zola a social thing said...

Bugger me : Bread, cheese, beer and strong fags.
What next will the working classes get up to in their freetime?

trousers said...

Cheers merk. Just for the record, my French is pretty rubbish anyway (you might have noticed!).

I reckon your writings about your travels would make for interesting reading...

dj! Don't do it! Unless you're a smoker anyway. Does it help if I point out that the Gauloise in the post was entirely imaginary?

Gardening, zola. Or was it a rhetorical question?

That's So Pants said...


I can't believe you'd never been to Paris. You have a great time - like that's not going to happen!



trousers said...

Thanks pants, I'm sure I will! It's just one of those things as to why I haven't been, I suppose (sorry that's really not very interesting is it? Perhaps I should make something up as to why I've never been. Something tragic or mysterious....I can't be bothered though!)

Reading the Signs said...

'allo Pantalons - ca va? Est-ce-que je peu essayer un peu de fromage s'il te plait? Je veux bien fumer une Gauloise aussi. Pardonne mon crap Francais mais je suis anglaise. Et j'ai bu trop de vin blanc ce soir.

trousers said...

D'accord, signs (pronounced seens in this instance). Ici, un peu de fromage pour toi. Je n'ai pas boucoups d'argent, et ma insurance! Est renege!

As you can see my French isn't so good either - in fact it's bloody awful :)

nmj said...

I love all this talk of Jean Paul & cheese. There is a Jean Paul in my book, I think there is, I'll need to check, he is a minor char. Lucky you off to Paris! All those autumn leaves, I can hear Edith as I type.

trousers said...

Glad you liked it, nmj - I did used to love what seemed like a mixture of culture and refinement, and sheer binging!

It's a very brief stay in Paris - just a weekend - but better than a kick in the teeth, I say :)

trousers said...



Having a binge, at any rate.

Algerian Albert said...

Trousers will be a Free Man in Paris seeking the eternal.

Katherine said...

What a super blog, I love this post especially. I wandered in here via "But why?" ... and will be back!

trousers said...

Thank you katherine, and I'll return the compliment forthwith :)