Our nearest small town in Normandy is a quiet sort of place which has never fully recovered from being bombed by the RAF in June 1944 and set alight by the SS two months later.
When I passed though the other day, its streets (all six of them) were teeming with visitors from all over the world. For Thury Harcourt, this week is what the Olympics was to London in the summer of 2012. Until Sunday, the small town in Calvados – population 2,000 – is host to the world championships of kayak polo.
Over 50,000 spectators are expected. Thury has been chosen because the town’s canoe club is the Chelsea of kayak polo in France. The local prowess may be explained by the fact that their home “pitch” is beside a fierce waterfall on the River Orne, which means playing kayak polo can be like playing football up or down the side of a mountain.
The world championships are taking place not on the fierce river but on a small, calm artificial lake beside the town’s campsite and swimming pool. Pity.
In kayak polo, there are five players and up to three substitutes. Two goals are suspended six feet above the water. The ball can be thrown or flicked with the paddle. Teamwork is essential. Mild brutality is not unknown.