In the village of St Thibault, nobody was beating anything. The thirteenth-century church built to shelter the saints remains was shut fast. Rabbits slept in an apartment block of hutches. Behind a cobwebbed window two farmers argued in lamplight over a bottle of wine. Wed arrived before dark, disturbing a man with rods and lines whod shouted authoritatively: ‘Pas deau. These people think the canal system is one big fishpond, grumbled our captain as he ruthlessly nosed his barge deep into the reeds. Now our floating hotel was ablaze with light behind its screen of poplars, and a rich smell of boeufbour-guignon summoned us in for the night. St Thibault had been one of a thousand villages to which we had secret, unexpected access. We left it like spies with our mission accomplished.