Willkommen Bienvenue Welcome

Welcome, gentle readers.

This is an everyday tale of regular folk, who moved from Sheffield to the deepest Corrèze in France Profonde and thence to the rather more cosmopolitan Lot in search of something… different. We certainly found it.

The Lot is an area of outstanding natural beauty. Reputedly, a famous TV globetrotter was asked where, of all the places in the world he had visited, he might return to. He answered, ‘The Lot’.

Fans of Channel 4’s Grand Designs will know that we built a somewhat quirky straw bale house-with-a-view here in the Lot, not far from the celebrated Dordogne river. You can read all about it in my book,
Bloody Murder On The Dog's Meadow, or watch the re-runs of the programme on More 4, or view it on You Tube.

After a break in the proceedings to write a book or two, this blog now takes the form of an everyday journal. Sometimes things happen, sometimes they don't (but the art school dance goes on forever). I hope it will give you an entertaining insight into what it's like to live in a foreign country; what it's like in the slow lane as an ex-pat Brit in deepest France.

I shall undertake to update this once or twice a week, unless absent on leave. Comments always welcomed, by the way, but I do tend to forget what buttons to click in order to answer them.

Friday, November 15, 2019

November: Black and Blue

'What did I do to be so black and blue?' asks the existential hero of Ralph Ellison's unique novel of alienation, Invisible Man, referencing an old Louis Armstrong song. I use the word 'unique' advisedly. Ellison never managed another novel; the brilliance of his first must have weighed too heavily on his creative shoulders. 

What did my wife do to be so black and blue, I wonder? She went upstairs to fetch a towel for her shower and stubbed her little toe on a poof. If that sounds a trifle absurd, I should point out that the poof in question has a wooden frame on which she must have caught her toe. We bought it off our friends Keith and Miranda when they sold up and moved back to Ireland. It's big enough to accommodate both pairs of feet when we curl up on the sofa to watch a film. 

She made so much noise that I thought she dideth protest too much. Six days after the event, however, her left foot is badly swollen and the colour of something you might dredge out of a rock pool. The upshot is that she's walking with the aid of a crutch borrowed from friends. I drove her to work this morning and am planning to act as the company chauffeur for the next couple of weeks. Anything to keep her at the coal face, bringing in just enough dosh to keep us living in the style to which...

Now there's a thorny issue. When it comes to making money, we're a couple of air-heads. Whether or not it's our fairly feckless upbringing, but we both recognise a complete lack of acumen when it comes to making more money than we absolutely need. Perhaps it's partly to do with living in France, where wealth is generally discouraged socially and hampered politically. Both of us have the skills and experience to make more, but – faced with the prospect – we either lose it or give it away, or both. Result: an element of tension come the end of each month. Will we, won't we make it without going into the red? Thus far, we've managed it, but the ageing process brings a diminution of our powers and our value in the market.

Things have come to a head this month. My dear newly disabled wife has been grooming a successor for some time. She tries to pass new clients her way in preparation for a day when she can take her restored foot off the gas and prop it up on the poof a little more than at present. The trouble is that her reputation goes before her and, understandably I suppose, new clients want to see her rather than her colleague. For all the mentoring she provides (probably gratis), it doesn't remedy the situation. So she in turn consulted a mentor. An American one. Given Americans' propensity for making money, the advice was simple: put your own prices up. If people want to pay less, they can opt for the less experienced, less expensive colleague.

This advice has put Debs in a whirl. Can she simply put her prices up again after raising them six years ago (and ten years before that)? Is she worthy? Will she price herself out of the market? What if no one comes to see her? I wish I could advise her. I haven't put my own prices up since I started paying my income tax in France, over a decade ago. What's more, being a writer, I've seen my fee as a journalist slashed over time due to the impact of the internet. Where once I got £25 for a 200-word music review – a tricky, time-consuming business – I now receive £15. Squeezed margins, an undervalued profession, vicious circle, the way of the world and all that.

If I put up my prices, no journal would have me. Writing e-learning is more competitively remunerated, but I choose to work for one employer only now: a lovely ethical man, who pays my invoices on time without so much as a how-many-hours-did-that-take-you?, I have no wish to interfere with his bottom-line. However... I get to eat some fine cheese once a month for my ongoing column with France Magazine, I get to keep the CDs that I review for Songlines, and there is the occasional jaunt. 

Early next month, for example, I shall be travelling to Rennes to cover the TransMusicales festival: a kind of nursery for upcoming global artists. The likes of Björk, Portishead and Amadou & Mariam have used it over the years as a stepping stone to a bigger stage. With accommodation and travel paid, plus customary pittance for the final product, it bolsters my self-belief. So I've said affirmative of course, but the whole of France will be going on strike on the 5th, the day after I travel and I don't know whether there's any prospect of getting home. Besides, at my age, the thought of all that hanging around waiting for bands to perform has rather lost its glamour. The one band I really want to see – the Minyo Crusaders from Japan, a huge outfit that plays traditional Japanese music with salsa instrumentation – won't be on stage till 5.30 in the morning. I did that once in Den Haag when I was a lot younger, for heroes of jazz rather than unknowns, back in 1986 or whenever it was, and it nearly killed me.

Anyway, my wife eventually decided that she would follow the American woman's advice. She tried it out the other day at the end of a Skype session with a client. Asked what her fee was, Debs quoted the new fee. No humming and hahing, no justifications, just a bare-faced statement of fact. The client took the hit without a murmur. I guess it's the phenomenon of high-end retail: a customer seeking quality will sniff at anything too cheap. The moral being: if you don't value yourself, who else will?   

So the Good Wife is raising her prices: for one-to-one sessions and for training courses. After all, women in particular – and I'm sure I don't risk the wrath of #MeToo for suggesting such a thing – will think nothing of paying good money to sort their hair out. Isn't it reasonable to expect to pay an equivalent to someone who helps them sort their lives out? We shall see. Will her protégé – her amanuensis, as the peerless W.C. Fields might have described her – now have all the clients and the all the work that she can cope with? Will my wife have priced herself out of the market? Will we be able to pay the mortgage right up until April, '21, when the place becomes ours? 

I don't know, but I'm happy to ferry valuable, limping cargo from here to Brive and back again for as long as it takes for a broken digit to mend to find out the answers. The role of part-time chauffeur will help to build my portfolio of domestic duties and justify my limbo-like existence. What did I do to be so slack and askew?

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Barry 'n' Bergman

A riveting documentary on Ingmar Bergman the other evening taught us that his name is pronounced Beer-man by his fellow Swedes. It was shown as part of a double bill with The Seventh Seal, which I haven't seen for decades. Perhaps not since the Exeter University film club, where I'd go to late-night noisy projections of classics with my friend Jacqui, who'd promptly fall asleep soon after the lights were dimmed. I'm looking forward to seeing the film again; this time on a sofa with The Good Wife (a potential film title there that Beer-man overlooked), who'll probably fall asleep after 20 minutes or so. After 25 minutes, I'll probably give up nudging her and carry on regardless.

In fact, we both drifted off momentarily during the documentary, but then Beer-man does that to you. His generally dark, despairing and strangely hypnotic films are not necessarily enjoyable, but always compelling. Rather like the man himself, it would seem, whose films are essentially about himself. Learning this made me feel a little better about writing essentially about my own life. Stick to what you know, they say – and living as I do in splendid isolation, who or what else do I really, really know?

Not that I would compare myself in any shape or form to Beer-man – thank the Norse gods. The man was driven and utterly ruthless. He neglected his wives and his children in pursuit of his art. He suffered constantly with stomach ulcers and such like and was never what you would describe as happy or content. And yet one of his wives, the actress Liv Ullman, still spoke of him through her tears with the utmost fondness. The paradox, I suppose, of great artists: you can't live with 'em, but you can't live without 'em. 

The gloomy one's output was certainly prodigious. In 1957 alone, we learnt, he made two unalloyed masterpieces, The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, and produced four stage plays. How is that humanly possible? No wonder he had ulcers. He – and some of those around him, it seems – paid quite a price for his immortality.

I'm rather glad that my father, John Barry Sampson, bears no resemblance to Beer-man. He might behave at times with old-age hauteur, but at least he remembers the names of his progeny. Remarkably compos mentis for one so ancient, he can still dredge up details of films and big-band jazz. His longevity is totally unexpected. Given his long-term heart condition, the only reason he got to be 92 is surely his almost Dickensian indolence. He is the very model of the world's laziest man. Dickens would have depicted him sitting in an armchair by a fire, sporting a smoking jacket and one of those brimless hats worn by the likes of Sean O'Casey. The Ageing P incarnate, receiving a succession of solicitous offspring.

He once met the Duke of Edinburgh at a trade show (strangely enough in Sweden, if I remember correctly), but otherwise has never achieved anything of note – nor ever particularly wanted to. He is happy to sit in an armchair garlanded by the Arsenal scarf I bought him, listening to music through the Bose sound bar his solicitous offspring bought him for his 90th birthday. And he is quite happy for other people to do for him what he can't be bothered to do for himself. Such solipsistic laziness can be highly exasperating. Geniality, however, 't'is generally his middle name. When he finally decides to hang up his walking stick for good, he will be remembered affectionately by friends and family alike.

Recently he has adopted the strap line of an old music hall hero of his, Billy Bennett: Almost a gentleman. A few weeks ago, my brother and I took our wannabee gentleman patriarch to the beautiful town of Great Malvern for a visit to see his old school. Although we had to endure the overgrown child's occasional tantrum – when for example he decided that he didn't like the curry he ordered in an Indian restaurant because it had coconut in it and he doesn't like coconut even though the menu, which he probably couldn't be bothered to read properly, stated clearly that a key component of the curry was coconut – most of the time his enthusiasm and evident joy was delightful. 

Under the terms of the agreement, we hired a car comfortable enough to transport his aching bones for 100 miles or however far it was, while he footed the bill for the posh hotel. The focus – and the highlight – of the visit was the guided tour of his old school on a gloomy Sunday afternoon. The Pater and I had set up the visit by e-mail (his draft, my spelling corrections) and we waited in the lee of the main Gothic building for the arrival of our guide, who had driven up from an Old Boys' football match somewhere in Surrey to keep his appointment. We had all pictured a stiff, slender and very sober individual, but were delighted to find a jolly, rotund man with a sense of humour that stimulated the kind of banter on which we Sampson males thrive.  

With a backdrop of the Malvern Hills, whose beauty inspired Elgar (for one), the buildings and the landscaped playing fields occupy around 250 acres. Malvern was and is a well-heeled spa town, and wealthy businessmen sponsored the building of the school in the 19th century. In my dad's time, it was a boys-only boarding school; these days they've had the good sense to admit girls and day pupils, whose well-heeled parents can find the requisite 40 grand or so in annual fees. The cricket pitch would grace the County Championship and the general facilities are second to none. This kind of education should be available for all, I observed. Yes, but the money that would entail, our host replied. Well, we seem to find it for missiles, I countered. And so education continues to be the poor relation to warfare.

My father was actually at Malvern for just over a year. My grandparents sent him there at great personal expense so he would be far from London's theatre of war. But the school was requisitioned by Telecommunications and Radar and my dad was forced to slum it at Harrow – right back in the thick of things. While at Malvern, he boarded in no.4 House. It's now occupied by girls, whose house mistress is an attractive jolly-hockey-sticks type only too pleased to show my still flirtatious father around. How strange it must have been for him to see the place after almost 80 years: decidedly more comfortable and relaxed than it was in his Spartan days. Their common room was equipped then with a table and chairs; now there are carpets, sofas, cushions and a television. There is, a school video suggests, a clear link between the happy pupil and a pupil who's achieving.

By this stage, the old man was getting breathless from his unaccustomed exertions. We sat him down on a bench under a tree with a view over the cricket pitch, where once he had kept wicket with little talent and moderate enthusiasm. Behind him was the heraldic statue at the foot of the stone steps leading up to the main Gothic building. In my dad's day, only prefects had the right to take this route. In his day, too, only an amateur 'gentleman' player had the right to captain the England cricket team. Our 'great British nation' was founded on such arrant absurdities.

Next day, we took our charge back home to Romsey the quick way via a coffee stop near Marlborough at a roadside cafe that welcomes bikers, truckers and, it seems, Old Malvernians. Tired out by his exertions, he took himself off to bed for the afternoon. The Brother headed back to Guildford with the hire car, while I did a final trawl of Romsey's charity shops. 

Our weekend away underlined just what a fortunate and privileged life our father has led. At least he has the good grace to acknowledge that he has been dealt a much better hand of cards than most. He's a lucky man, but I consider myself lucky to be able still to exchange on Skype views and news about the Arsenal. Even if he was never able to give me a leg-up into the wonderful world of film, he taught me to be polite and punctual, and to love music and animals. I'm eternally grateful for that.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

September: Monty Python's Meaning of Strife

In the absence of anything uplifting to write about in the face of the relentless clamour of dire news from around the world, let me pass on a little joke from my friend Bret. It's a simple and effective joke, which means that I can remember it. I gave up trying to tell jokes many decades ago, because I'd always miss out some key detail that rendered the punch line as flat as one of my wife's excellent Sunday morning pancakes. Here it is:
Q. What do you see yourself doing this time next year?
A. I don't know; I don't have 2020 vision.

I know it's not quite as devastating as the Monty Python joke that killed anyone unlucky enough to hear or read it, but it's pretty good, you must agree. The first Monty Python show was broadcast on the evening of my birthday in the year 1969. My parents didn't let me watch it and I'm not sure that they would have watched it themselves, since Terry and June was more their style. Or something equally cosy and domesticated. But the BBC repeated it recently for our edification. It was a little uneven, but still very funny in its best moments. I particularly liked the idea of using the deadly joke as a weapon of warfare. The Nazis tried to retaliate with a joke of their own, but couldn't come up with anything quite as fatally hilarious.

Anyway, Monty P. can't put out the fires in Amazonia or rid this world of Bolsinaro, Trump, Putin or Boritz Trumpton. However, a little light in time of darkness flickered recently this month with the announcement of Robert Mugabe's death. It was tempered, though, by the knowledge that he made it into his mid 90s before being carried off by natural causes. Like too many evil men, he never had to answer for the misery he caused. He's probably up there now, way beyond Van Allen's belt, chewing the celestial fat with Jimmy Saville and other cronies over a glass of port and a Cuban cigar.

My dentist is a nice, quietly spoken man who's unlikely to be called to account for crimes against either teeth or humanity. (So quietly spoken, in fact, that once the suction tube is working away in your mouth, all you can do is guess when his masked mumbles require a responsive unnnhh.) I went to see him for the first time in about three years and, after a good old inter-dental scraping, he gave me a clean bill of health. Those shooting pains I'd felt earlier in the summer on succumbing to ice cream must have been phantom. So that was good. The only thing that tarnished my visit was having to sit next to a near neighbour who supports Trump. Steering the conversation well clear of politics was like avoiding a very large elephant in the waiting room. 

The last time we'd had a 'conversation' was in this very house. We were doing our little bit for politesse and returning a fairly tense lunch date. The Trumpette in question is otherwise quite the intellectual, who spends her days studying economic data on her computer and reading information and mis-information from all over the globe. She also talks like a politician: in a steady stream and in such a way that only the most skilled interrogator could get a word in edgewise. Being neither a skilled interrogator nor a master of French, I had to listen impotently to her monologue as my rage-ometer mounted. 

Having had months to compose ripostes to her argument, I was sufficiently equipped to cross-question her. If Trump was out to 'drain the swamp' in Washington, how come he was so busy handing out favours to all his mates in the oil industry and similar lobbies? And if climate change was merely a distraction, how come that the earth is burning up? How come we've had the hottest summer on record and we're in the middle of a four-month drought that is turning the countryside brown? How come the land smells constantly of lightly browned toast? But of course, I didn't. Mention Trump's dangerously deranged mental state, and she'd simply put it down to propaganda.

People don't want to know or don't even care. It doesn't matter to them that their revered leader is a narcissistic fruitcake. After all those investigations, all that late-night satire, all that righteous indignation, we're still apparently no nearer to impeaching him, let alone seeing his tax returns. Which made it very depressing to read about the main Democratic Party's candidates' televised squabbles. I'd probably go with Elizabeth Warren myself, but it's said that Americans will never elect a woman as their president, and given the rabid state of at least half the electorate, one can believe it. Whoever's chosen, he or she is unlikely to knock the current incumbent off his perch by preaching health care for all. Play him at his own game; fight fire with fire: that's what I reckon. Direct action.

I never could understand why, say, the British secret service didn't arrange for Mugabe to be bumped off. Just as, on the face of it, surely it can't have been beyond the capability of the CIA to have rid the world of Saddam Hussein long before the disastrous invasion of Iraq. After all, they managed to nip Patrice Lumumba and, arguably, Robert Kennedy in the bud before they spread their dangerous liberal left-wing ideas. Therein lies the rub. And what does that say about a system that deems it more convenient to let sleeping dogs lie when the dogs are repellent and hell-bent on keeping whole populations in check. Look what happened in Libya once Qaddafi was removed, the argument would go. Better the devil you know and all that.

In Mugabe's case, of course, we didn't know the nature of the devil. He started out as a well-intentioned if politically rigid freedom fighter. Then, as so often happens, he got a taste of power and spent the rest of his political career doing everything he could to hang onto that power. In the process, he went stark-staring bonkers. There's a lot of it about right now.

At least my dad's local MP stood up to Boritz Trumpton's bullying. She's lost the party whip (whatever that really means) as a result of voting against it or him. I wrote her an e-mail commending her for her moral courage and got a nice reply by return. My dad was pleased. Old-fashioned fool that he is, he still believes that politicians should be principled. I shall be going to visit him at the end of the month. My brother and I are talking him on a little road trip to visit his old school. We'll be staying in a hotel for a couple of nights, courtesy of the Old Boy. I'm sharing a room with my brother, so I'll be doing my utmost to ignore another elephant. My brother voted for Brexit. My father, I'm happy to report, didn't. I was denied the vote. I'm quite looking forward to the trip, but not to the challenge of skirting The Big Issue to maintain family harmony.  

Sunday, August 18, 2019

August: Inna de Whirl

The social whirlwind that blew up at the end of last month has abated at last. I've never known anything like it. You expect rather more activity than normal during the two or three months of high summer – like camels, we stock up on cultural water before the long parched trek across the rest of the year – but the last fortnight or so has been as dizzy as a dervish in full whirl. Even the occasional trip with our amphibious dog to the nearby river – at its lowest level since my records began – has failed to restore mind, body and spirit. 

Once the abominable climatically-changed temperature had died down a bit and the Youth of Today below us had given up their attempt to smash the record for the most all-night parties in a calendar month (following a broadside from my woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown), things started to happen. Her fury spent and suitably refreshed by a good night's sleep, Debs met-and-gret an Argentinean rugby player and his parents who stayed in our flat above the clinic, while I slipped off to the Rex to see Inna De Yard with the last admission on our season ticket. Joy, joy and thrice joy. The documentary about a group of ageing Rastas who gathered Buena Vista stylee to launch an album and a concert tour was entrancing. If Cedric Myton of the Congos, a kind of septuagenarian kid with dreadlocks the colour and apparent texture of ash, was the most endearing, Ken Boothe – dressed immaculately in a succession of lurid tunics by his doting wife – was the most singular. Glimpses of the Boothes' domestic interior design suggested that never has so much colour been so clashed by so few. 

On the way back to the clinic, the young woman from the agency that manages our studio flat phoned to say that the new tenant had a leaky flush – which, apart from filling me with dread, recalled a moment in primary school when 'wee Erskie' announced to his P4 classmates, Miss, Sharon's burst a pipe! She (the agent and not the unfortunate, incontinent Sharon) offered me the choice of doing it myself or calling the agency's tame plumber. It was one of many Liberty Valance moments in my life. As Jimmy Stewart discovered in the movie, there comes a time when every man has to whip off the apron and face up to the bully with a six-shooter. Surely it shouldn't be too difficult to mend a chasse d'eau. My Dutch friend, Wim, confirmed that even a man of my limited practical abilities should be able to do-it-himself. I should have remembered that it took John Wayne to gun down Lee Marvin's Liberty.

My unfortunate decision opened up a can of insanitary worms that wriggled and squirmed around my grey matter over the course of the next fortnight. While a lesser source of worry in the great scheme of things than incipient war in the Persian Gulf, Trump and Bolsinaro's assault on the environment and the imminence of a no-deal Brexit, nevertheless the saga of the leaky flush de-stabilised my fragile equilibrium. It's incredible, this capacity of human beans to substitute peccadilloes for the Really Big Worries.

But first I had to drive to Toulouse and back to pick-up the homecoming 'prodge', as a friend used to dub our daughter. She was here to share with us the opening blasts of the social whirlwind: dinner on our blasted lawn with friends from Martel, followed the next evening by Agnès Varda's final film in a field down in our commune. Outdoor cinema is catching on in these parts and it's nice. As with all things communal, however, it does entail the awkward business of mixing with fellow communards, whom you don't know from Adam, Eve or Nip-me-tight. Fortunately, I spotted our equally reclusive neighbours and we were able to sit relatively incognito. Visages Villages is a charming account of Mme Varda's travels around France with JR, a photographer in shades and permanent 5 o'clock shadow, who blows up snaps of locals and pastes them on village walls. 

Soon after this came a trip to the plus beau village of Curemonte for a picnic with friends followed by a concert in the grounds of the medieval chateau. We sat under a crescent moon listening to a troupe of three women sing show tunes accompanied by a young male pianist. 'Charming' is the kindest way to describe it, but it passed an hour pleasantly and gave us food for debate as we walked back to the car. Whose voice was best? My daughter and I both agreed that the soprano sounded rather too quasi-operatic, the darker-hued woman veered slightly off tune on occasion, and the alto in the backless satin creation probably sang most consistently well – even if her pronunciation of the English lyrics was the most bothersome.

Meanwhile, things were going from bad to worse in the first test at Edgbaston and in the tiny bathroom of the tiny studio flat. The agent (or my fallible French) had led me to believe that the place was empty. It wasn't. If there's anything worse than facing up to your own incompetence, it's having it witnessed by A.N. Other. The horror, the horror! The new flush mechanism cost me €8, but you couldn't put a price on the shame of failing to fit it. Wim had failed to warn me that if you screw the cistern to its base too tightly, you run the risk of cracking the porcelain. You know the old saying: A cracked cistern leaks like a motherfff... For God's sake, gardez l'eau!

I took my angst with me to Nick's 63rd birthday dinner later that same day. Our chum Giles, who looks less like Mick Jagger now that he's sporting a salt-and-pepper beard, was very understanding. He's camping with his family nearby while holidaymakers are paying for the considerable privilege of staying in their watermill. He told me that flush mechanisms are not that easy to fathom. 'Just go and get a new toilet; you can pick one up for sixty euros or somefink,' he suggested, still sounding like Mick Jagger. I didn't let it spoil a beautiful starlit dinner under the convivial, spreading oak tree.

During a temporary social lull following the departure of our girl, I took advantage of the The Tenant of Wildfell Studio's fortuitous absence to buy a new loo and watch Wim fit it. Much the better option. Oh to be capable and confident. An operation that took about two hours would have taken me two days, involved chronic dyspepsia, and I would have probably cracked one of the tiles on which the shiny new throne now sits. Back home, the Good Wife and I celebrated my liberation by watching a couple of episodes of a new series about Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon, his long-suffering wife. Sam Rockwell is very good as the philandering choreographer, while Michelle Williams is riveting as the legendary Broadway dancer.

And so to the eye of the social storm. We voyaged first up-river to the small market town of Saint-Céré for my rendezvous with Yapunto!, a Franco-Colombian group who were playing that evening in the venerable Place du Mercadial. Obsessively punctual, we got there at six on the dot, only to discover that the band were still rehearsing. Blow me down if they didn't finish till gone seven, but musicians aren't known for their punctuality. I grabbed ten minutes of the singer's time for my promised article before she went off to eat. But in that ten minutes, I was smitten by Alejandra Charry. Are all Colombians so open, friendly and downright enchanting? My wife certainly thought so. On taking our leave, I watched the two beaming women hug like long-lost sisters. 

After another, brief picnic with friends, we hurried back for the concert itself. French audiences never cease to amaze me. A cursory glance at the three or four hundred sedate beings in serried ranks of plastic chairs didn't inspire me with confidence, yet people were up dancing from the first number until the second encore. Debs blistered her big toes, I wearied my calves and the collective enthusiasm was wondrous to imbibe. Such a polite, repressed nation; but such liberated souls in concert.

There was barely enough time to ask pancakes for breakfast? before we were off again: north by north east this time after a biblical downpour for our Amerikanische Freund's 60th-birthday luncheon. The following evening we did it all over again with the same people and a few more besides chez Thomas, where Debs and I were introduced to a game of winning simplicity called Smite. I'm a more competent sportsman than handyman: After winning two games on the trot, I stepped aside to help instead with retrieving the wooden missile thrown at the blocks of wood, which stand like miniature Easter Island statues, waiting their turn to be smitten. Olympic status is unlikely, but it could replace croquet and ping-pong here on home turf. Something to occupy the occupants in less frenetic times. Après le whirlwind, le Smite.