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"YOU'LL BE a man, my son" wrote Kipling at the end of "If", a poem which warms the heart of some as much as it really gets up the nose of others.

After all the hype, puffery and scramble for sponsorship surrounding the F

"YOU'LL BE a man, my son" wrote Kipling at the end of "If", a poem which warms the heart of some as much as it really gets up the nose of others.

After all the hype, puffery and scramble for sponsorship surrounding the French football team's entry to the World Cup, which didn't exclude star player Zidane being referred to as the Messiah, Les Bleus' disastrous exit without a goal to their credit caused panic among the advertising agencies. To this idle French TV watcher, it seemed that only two football-based commercials survived the débâcle: McDonald's, to whom the news that they'd associated themselves with a pack of no-hopers must have come in a bit late, and Volvic, a mineral water from the Auvergne. A grainy, elemental Zidane continues to stride the high tops of the Massif Central sipping contentedly from a plastic bottle, his Messianic mantle unspotted. Following an injury, he only played in one match, after all, so clearly he's not to blame.

But one agency wasn't slow to cash in on disaster. I looked up at the TV screen from lunch the other day to see the French team in soft focus, in attitudes like Napoleon's Old Guard at Waterloo, bowed and bloodied but dignified in defeat. The voice-over was quoting - in French - something distantly familiar, something out of Kipling:

" . . . if you can lose, and start again at your beginnings, and never breathe a word about your loss . . . tu seras un homme, mon fils". You'll be a man, my son.

I can't remember what this was supposed to advertise. Cakes, probably.

"WHAT IS this life, if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?" wrote W.H.Hudson. We had to learn the whole poem at school, not very successfully in my case because I can't remember any more of it than that.

But who cares? With France out of the World Cup things are certainly more subdued down at the Café Laissac, headquarters of the local football club and the nearest thing we have to a local in the village. Four years ago, when France hosted the World Cup and went on to win it, the place heaved and throbbed with Gallic fervour from dawn till dusk. But now the terrasse is just the place for a no-hurry mid-morning coffee or a peaceful early evening apéritif under the shade of the plane trees, standing - or sitting, rather - and staring at the world going by, or as much of the world as is represented by the village elders playing boules over the road, the anarchic parking outside the Post Office and the lamp-post round of M. Roumégous' dog Smiler (pronounced 'smeelair').

We used to long for this, a café terrasse and the sun on our backs and time to enjoy it, before we came to live in France, but now we're here full-time we never get round to it. It was on a café terrasse that we first discovered pastis, the famous aniseed-flavoured spirit of the Midi. You never tried it? Oh, come on, this won't do! Far be it from this column to lead you to the demon drink, but the next time you find yourself at sundown on a café terrasse in the deep South . . .

. . . you know you've added enough water - which you have to do, otherwise you'll be very ill - when the rich gold of the pastis gives way to a milky, silvery white, like the moon taking over where the sun left off. (The same thing happens to Dettol, now I come to think of it, but there the resemblance ends.) One pastis is usually enough unless you're proposing to make a night of it, but the result is such an experience that people end up buying bottles of Pernod, Ricard or 51 to take home to Aylesbury or Milwaukee or wherever hoping to recapture those velvet Midi evenings with the crickets singing into the indigo night. Ahh.

But it's never the same out of France. Why is this, do you think? I'd be glad to feature sensible e-mail suggestions (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) as to why this is next month.

"MUSIC AND women I cannot but give way to, whatever my business is" wrote Samuel Pepys, the English 17th century Admiralty administrator in the privacy of his diary, made more private by writing it in a shorthand he'd invented himself. And more unfathomable still by cloaking his scrapes with women in a muddle of languages, English, French, Spanish and Latin.

At the village Festival of Choral Music (also called "La Vallée qui Chante" - The Singing Valley) at Whitsun I put my rehearsal baton down, dismissed the orchestra and singers for a couple of hours before the evening concert and started to put the school canteen - our rehearsal room - back to rights. On a table near the door, where the brass had been sitting, was a cloth-wrapped tart or pie, which certainly wasn't there when the rehearsal started. It turned to be a clafoutis, a sort of pie with cherries embedded in batter. It must have belonged to one of the musicians. The French horn had a lean and hungry look . . .

I gathered it up with my music stand, batons and scores, locked up and set off up the street towards the church, venue for the concert, not really best pleased that the Directeur Artistique, about to lead choirs, orchestra and public into the glories of some of the most sublime choral music ever written, should be lumbered with a stray clafoutis. The village street was closed to traffic, because they were holding a Foire à la Brocante, a bric-à-brac market, under the plane trees, and many stallholders simply spread their wares on the road.

Among the stallholders was Nicole. Put any thoughts of Nicole, the nubile, deep-cleavaged daughter in the Renault Clio advertisements out of your mind: our Nicole is almost as broad as tall, and doesn't care, with a smile to match her splendid size, sunny disposition and sovereign appetite. Sniffing appreciatively (mmm! délicieux! J'adore le clafoutis!), she gently pulled folds of the cloth apart, revealing the firm, warm, cherry-studded flesh beneath; she picked out a cherry between plump thumb and forefinger and popped it into her mouth. No man with the slightest interest in his food can resist this sort of seduction for long: I thrust the clafoutis into her hands and legged it for the church.

Later, after the final echoes of Gabriel Fauré's "Cantique de Jean Racine" had died away, one of the tenors asked me if anyone had found a clafoutis. He'd put it down somewhere, he couldn't remember where. Oh, I said, guiltily, was it for anyone in particular? No, he answered, it was for anyone who felt hungry. He had more cherries than he knew what to do with. Such a pity to waste them.

I was happy to assure him that it had been very much appreciated.

"Ah, that's good," he said. "May I have the dish back? It was quite an old one."

Among the many stresses that Klemperer or Toscanini suffered, I don't expect anguished wondering whether Nicole had eaten an entire clafoutis and had then sold the dish at her bric-à-brac stall was one of them. But I know how Samuel Pepys felt.