They came for me while I was swimming. I was busy working off the previous evening’s vin blanc.
They came for me while I was swimming. I was busy working off the previous evening’s vin blanc in the pool, in the early morning, before the sun and cicadas really got going.
Suddenly, the gate to our holiday home was flung open and a gang of youths charged up to the front door.
I staggered with the all the grace a middle-aged man still full of wine and cheese could muster and approached the unruly mob.
"This is it," I thought. "Lord of the Flies, Children of the Corn. It all ends here, in France."
The family and I were staying in Aubais, close to the splendid town of Sommieries, in the Languedoc-Roussillion region of France. On the first morning of our trip, we had walked throughout the pretty village, which was replete with the stone-walled medieval charm that encapsulates this part of the country.
While we strolled, we remarked not only on the amazing capacity of the French to spend more time playing petanque than working, but also on the strange black stencils that had been sprayed on virtually every front door.
Everywhere we turned, small figures and shapes stencilled on doors, walls, and even front-door steps could be seen. After a time, the heat of the day rose. Which sent most of the village in doors.
The eerie still of the streets served only to compound the mysterious nature of the markings. The stencils were even on the house that we were staying in. And on the morning that the children of the damned turned up, they began crafting new images and effigies across the house. "Oh God," I thought. "Not only am I going to be killed by the outcasts of Grange Hill, I’m going to lose my deposit as well."
But I wasn’t. And I didn’t.
In fact, the village yoof were doing what they always did that time of year - which was to collect money for the myriad cultural festivals that mark the region in August. The stencils were called empègue and denoted a household that has provided something of a contribution to the festivities.
Quite why they planted one on our place, when all I contributed was soggy swimming shorts and a nervous disposition, I am not sure.
Throughout August, festivals and carnivals take place and consume the village and surrounding area with music and questionable animal welfare.
Chief among the festivities is the annual bull run, during which the village centre is turned into a ring and angry-looking bovine chase the local foolhardy.
Surly olive-skin men, who look they have been on the wrong end of a bottle of cassis for too long, ride horses amidst the crowd and eventually chase the bulls through the narrow streets to cheers of "Allez, allez".
It is a heady mix, for sure. The Languedoc runs a much quieter campaign than neighbouring Provence, but it is a wonderful part of France and the kids are not nearly as frightening as they first appear to be.
Just don’t look at them in the eyes.