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IT'S ALL the letter S this month.

Slim, Slow, Sly, Scarface? Shorty, Scratch, Sad? Stan, Smith, Smog, Smoking? I could go on. On and on. There are about 230 of them. Yes, they're names. Dogs' names, to be exact.

I'll explain. We went

IT'S ALL the letter S this month.

Slim, Slow, Sly, Scarface? Shorty, Scratch, Sad? Stan, Smith, Smog, Smoking? I could go on. On and on. There are about 230 of them. Yes, they're names. Dogs' names, to be exact.

I'll explain. We went to the vet's in St Rémy the other day, the cats to have their annual anti-everything jabs and Bellamy the golden retriever to have a one-way grass seed, a miniature version of those barley awns we used to make travel up our sleeves when we were kids, removed from a tender part. The vet's waiting room is sparsely furnished, a display rack with packs of vet-approved dog and cat biscuits, wall charts with lurid pictures of parvovirus and leishmannosis sufferers, and a rickety table with a few magazines - dog-eared, of course - about domestic animals and hunting.

That's the clue. The hunting season has recently opened. In our part of the world the main quarry is sanglier, wild boar, a fearful-looking brute. Hunting means dogs. On hunting days - Thursdays and weekends - we sometimes hear the village hunting pack in full cry on distant hillsides and we know that Slim, Slow, Sly, Scarface and their pals have got the sanglier scent in their nostrils.

Well, maybe not them, because they're too little, but their parents will be on the trail. The French have an extraordinary system, fuelled by Gallic logic and the unlikelihood of any hunting dog living longer than 26 years, of assigning a year-letter to each litter of puppies. This year it's S. I don't know how compulsory it is, but changing your dog's name to falsify its age must be like winding back the clock on a second-hand car. Confusing for the dog, too.

You can't think of names for the litter squirming in the whelping box? No problem. Go along to your vet's, pick up a leaflet put out by a company making canine eye lotion, ear cleanser and toothpaste, and take your pick.

Your dog's a bitch? Don't worry. Dogs are in blue, bitches are in pink. What did you expect? Here we go: Sorry, Skoda, Sleepy. Sofa, Sushi, Swifer. (What?) Slowlie, Sulky, Sit-in.

Suppose children were named in the same fashion? Now there's a thought.

I'VE MENTIONED before the French genius for giving inappropriate - inappropriate to English-speakers, anyway - names, whether to dogs (see above) or medicines (we occasionally take something called Smecta, which sounds like the condition it's supposed to relieve) or cars, although Peugeot, Renault, Citroën and Co. have never gone as far as the Far Eastern car manufacturers who apparently projected a European model called the Crapia.

But they keep at it, undeterred. And why shouldn't they? It gives us ex-pats endless innocent merriment. On offer at the moment in a local clothing supermarket is a range called Sweatie.

SAD, THOUGH, that mention of supermarkets should suggest strategies for suppressing shoplifting. A recent report unsuspected links between supermarket muzak and levels of shoplifting. Of course I've forgotten where I read it: in some waiting-room, probably at the vet's.

Given the appalling Euro-pop aggravated by stiff ear-bashings of North African wailing that we get in our local supermarkets, the drive to stuff your trolley and leg it by the emergency route for the wide open spaces and the great silences is entirely understandable, but apparently it doesn't work like that.

Deep waters stir here. Cultural differences heave and surge. Music in shops, say the French commercial psychologists, makes most shoppers feel at their ease, less stressed and readier to open their purses. At what point music-fed shoppers feel so laid back that they start helping themselves isn't clear, but the question is, what sort of music?

Apparently Mozart is the commerçant's composer. Strains of Eine kleine Nachtmusik or The Marriage of Figaro really deter the light-fingered, but I expect this is an over-simplification: there'll be music to adapt to any situation. A really-badly stricken shop will need something pretty heavy, Bach or Wagner. A quick burst of The Ride Of The Valkyrie would nip in the bud any nefarious notions you had of stuffing a leg of lamb up your jumper. Or even a box of Smecta. Nothing predictable: it seems that the general run of shoplifters rarely make off with things they'd set out to buy, that's to say the items on their Chopin Liszt. Ho ho. Just proves my point.

SIMONE'S 80TH birthday was marked by a surprise party in the mairie organised by her fellow members in the village choir, to which all present and past members were invited. Simone is a dedicated joiner-in, so there were probably similar parties organised during her birthday week by the gymnastics club, Le Souvenir Français - something like the British Legion - and the CEPDOL, the village amenities committee, to all of which she gives her time and talent.

So she was inveigled on some pretext into the mairie, where about 50 now and sometime choristers burst into Joyeux Anniversaire, which they sing here to the tune of Happy Birthday To You. Broad smiles and bises - the kiss on both cheeks - all round, blanquette de limoux in plastic cups, paper plates with chunks of baguette, slices of quiche, salads, pizza, taboulé, all the usual stand-up party foods here.

The cake was wheeled in, a huge affair barely able to support its own weight of gooey fruit, sponge and whipped cream. 80 candles flickered, a miracle of simultaneous lighting. Simone was called forth and invited to blow . . . un seul souffle, a single blow was all that was needed to extinguish the lot.

A formidable lady, Simone. Clearly club membership has equipped her well for this sort of feat: the choir, for controlled breathing; the gymnastics club, for the necessary musculature; Le Souvenir Français, for courage and determination; and CEPDOL, for hot air.

In the course of a small-talk chat with Sylvestre, a bass, I asked if he had any children. Oui, he said proudly, as though he hadn't finished yet, he had four, and all by different women.

I didn't ask him what club he belonged to.