Friday, July 11

The Beginning - In Search of The Lovely House

May 06
Arrived in SW France to look for shooting locations for series of natural history programmes about insects – need rural property with land, near forest, water, coast…

First night
Middling-sized town, classic old-style hotel. I arrive at 7pm after a long drive and would like to take a short walk before supper. Madame on the desk insists I eat immediately or forfeit supper opportunity.

Supper is a sad procession of soggy food, I have ordered some decent wine and wish to salvage the evening by finishing with cheese, Madame is shocked and says that I can't have cheese because I have had dessert, I come over all foriegn and tell her that we do it the other way round where I come from and she stomps off returning with an excellent selection of cheese,nicely arranged on a tray.

Room recently been occupied by a smoker. Bed with lumpy wool mattress, kidney-shaped dressing table, mauve plastic chrysanthemums, sink and a bidet. Loo down the hall

Second Day

Bleak rainy morning. Find café, in local paper see box ad;

Maison de Maitre, 2 lacs, 3 hectares...

price considerably more than my budget - shame.

Tour estate agents, one possiblity - grim-looking unfurnished farmhouse with no private land.

Stop for night at small hotel in large village run by sleepy British woman in dirty sweats. Supper is English version of cassoulet - canned baked beans and frankfurters

Third Day

Use bathroom after breakfast, flush lavatory then watch contents of the flush appear in the hand basin.

Visit more unsuitable properties, phone to make appointment to view the Maison de Maitre from the small ad:

The Maison is in a village that doesn’t seem like a village. I drive through twice without noticing it, the houses are strung out unevenly along the road for about two kilometres, I am looking for a central knot of Mairie, church and bakers, that is my idea of a village. When I find the Maison I nearly faint - I made a sketch of the ideal property before setting out - and this is it. Nestled slightly low and protected behind some impressive gates it is large and crumbling, my dictionary translation of Maison de Maitre reads 'manor', this is not a manor but it is a Lovely House. An elderly neighbour, with dark leathery skin and gimlet eyes opens the large iron gates to let me drive in then he disappears, after several minutes the front door scrapes open and he is inside the house. He shows me through large, cold, dark, cobwebby rooms, opening squeaky shutters to reveal mosaic floors and painted ceilings. The light fittings are from the thirties and wonderfully eccentric, one is made up of three swirly marbled glass snails and hangs from the bedroom ceiling. All the furniture is outlined with orange woodworm dust, beds are propped up on books. The grounds are fantastically neglected with rampant brambles, thistles, nettles, spiders and - a preying mantis creeps on to my leg. The 'lakes' are large muddy ponds. It’s all perfect for our production – but way above my budget.

I calm my beating heart, tell the leathery man that this house is too expensive and too damp and set off to find something more suitable.

I drive south stopping in grey sort of town, book into a sad hotel run by a greasy-haired, overweight woman. I go out for air, a funfair packing up adds to the sense of dereliction in this place, a forlorn-looking man appears and trails behind me until I return to the hotel.

Day 4
Spend fruitless day driving around the lower slopes of the Eastern Pyrenees. Stop at one of the cheap motels proliferating on the outskirts of town, cigarette smell so strong imagine smoker must still be somewhere in room. Supper is in the vending machine.

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