Friday, July 11

I really, really want the Lovely House

Day 5
Wake to slashing rain at 6. I’m desperate to get out but can’t work out how to open the car park gates so am imprisoned until ‘rescued’ by the breakfast man. The City rush hour traffic has now clogged the roads.

Stop off in a café in a small town and am immediately hit on by men with lorry full of wood. The older more macho one insists that he’ll find me a house and, despite my reservations, I give him my phone number. I spend my day visiting estate agents and making appointments. I stop in a sleepy town and find a wonderful hotel. The plump man that I have decided to name Monsieur Splendido has a thick magician’s moustache. Madame is stiffly coiffed and wears vivid makeup. The décor is essence of sixties; loads of black quilted vinyl on the bar and the banquettes. A large fuzzy-screened telly is switched on. The Splendidos are warm and welcoming, I fall into their outstretched arms.

I have a room at the top of this tall building with views on the surrounding hills. There are fresh flowers on the escritoire which fill the room with their fragrance. My en suite bathroom is black and turquoise. There is a bath – hallelujah!

Tonight the restaurant is closed so I eat en famille with The Splendidos. We sit on the veranda bathed in the evening sun, supper is divine; warm goat's cheese salad with honey dressing, seared duck breasts with pommes dauphinoise, a bottle of Minervois and cheese.

An estate agent takes me to a sterile barn conversion tacked onto the end of the owner's property. It stands in a scraggy bit of garden, there are no shrubs or trees. It has large blank windows which show the large blank kitchen/diner/living room in it's entirety - no hiding places here. Placed as it is on a road on a hill, it could not be more exposed. The owner's attempts to make it homey amount to  ragrolling the interior walls in apple green. Out of politeness I go in, do a minimal walk around and head out as quickly as possible. Returning to her car the agent says,
Isn't it lovely?

Wood lorry man calls, If I’m prepared to do a bit of bricolage on a property he’s arranged some for me to look at. I must meet him at 7pm. Madame Splendido has become my mother so I tell her where I’m going. At the meeting place, which is a café, I wait. There is a lonely man there who immediately asks me if I’m célibataire. As usual I say not and show him my wedding ring. Undaunted he brings me a drink over and tells me all about his divorce, the wife who won’t let him see the children and the battles over money. Wood lorry man is very late but I am thankful leave with him. He drives me around the area, past abandoned places, tells me he knows how to get hold of the owners. They are all beyond a bit of brico, and he's clearly mistaken me for a qualified roofer. We are out for 2 hours, during which time I discover that he’s angry about quite a lot of things, the main themes being; youth/the French tax system/foreigners and how he's made sure that his wife wouldn't be able to put her hands on his business should she decide to leave him.

I have aged several years when we get back to the hotel but feel I should suggest a quick beer, which he accepts. He turns off the engine and asks me how old I think he is. I take a few years off what I think and say ‘60?’ he’s a bit quiet, then he says ‘I’m 43’.

I call the owner of the Lovely House, haggle over the price of his property and arrange a meeting to sign papers.

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