7 January 2017
8 degrees very misty. Very short day.
In France, the trick is to get out of bed and down the shops before they close. As they close at midday, this is a trick I am still not very good at. Oh hurrah, I thought, to be in the UK for a week or two when the shops are open all of the time. There is an unexpected hitch. Daylight arrives in a reluctant fashion towards 8.30 am and then, if it is raining or cloudy, starts shuffling off at around 3 pm. After 13 years in the far south west of France, where even in the depths of Winter, it doesn't start going dark until about 5.30, this is a shock to the system and the trick is to try and get something done in daylight.
My body thinks, aha, it is dark therefore I need to sit on the sofa and have a sherry and encourage OH to cook something. My day's work is done. Alas, OH isnt of the same opinion, we are both on holiday, and we have a kitchen which cant fit more than 1.5 people and no dogs at all; at the same time. I dont feel inspired. I still only have an oven which is only a hand's breadth wide and half an arm deep. Remind OH to ring up the oven people and we are both hoping that it cant be fixed because, under the terms of the new warranty which the Baumatic people were very keen we should take, we get a new cooker.
Whilst the dregs of the day are still draping themselves wetly over the houses opposite, we head out to Barrow in Furness to look at Asda. The car park is full and the lights of the football stadium glow luminously in the saturated air. The shop is heaving. And, horror of horrors, OH is not feeling decisive. He normally loves shopping and is enormously decisive and I trail around after him with the trolley. I spend a half hour throwing things in the trolley and he takes most of them out. I take to whacking him with the coat hangers. We emerge with a chicken, some steak and some sheets (yes we found sheets quelle surprise). And back home. This is not inspiring stuff for the blog so I choose a date at random from 2015 and come up with the following - a story of some Russian clients
The day of the reservation contract on the big house sale! Hit the road early and there is already a heat haze over the Pyrenees, although they are still carrying a crisp white snow cover. Traffic is light and we stop for a coffee in a driving through type town, its shops set out regularly on either side of the narrow ribbon of asphalt. At 12.15 we arrive and the Russians are there, looking pink and hot and waving their hands. We go into the cool interior of the hotel and sit by the window and enjoy the air conditioning. Again, they have driven. 'We are crazy people' smiles the man ''we have five children. When we drive we find the time to talk'. The journey is part of the experience.....
They are vegetarian and, by some miracle, there is a wonderful buffet as first course. They have never tasted mussels and are impressed. They avoid eggy mayonnaise and have a lot of beetroot. I ask what sort of food they eat at home - they say vegetables and beans. They are the slimmest vegetarians I have ever seen. Perhaps because a lot of western vegetarians eat bread and pasta. They don't eat that either. They give thanks for their food and tell us that they are Lutheran, which is a very simple form of protestantism. They kiss and start to eat, slowly, and discovering the new types of foods.
Our second course is fish for myself and the clients and OH has pork which turns out to be a chop. We all have ratatouille and the fish comes with saffron rice, which is absolutely delicious and delicately perfumed. To finish, we have apple pie. OH and I have coffee and the Russians ask for hot chocolate, which request comes as quite a surprise to the server. I don't think he has ever, in his life, been asked for hot chocolate at the end of a meal.
We emerge into the sunlight and head to pick up the owners of the house and go to the notary office. The owner has recovered from her nerves and is looking very summery, in a long flowing flowery robe. She smells of shampoo and citrus shower gel. The animals, newly shorn, are hiding from the heat. I didn't realise that newly shorn animals can burn in hot sun. Not a problem in the north of England where all of our sheep live.
The notaries office is unmarked, and looks like a bungalow, and is in the middle of a field of maize. I elect to lurk in the car park and wait for our notary to arrive. She arrives at some speed, spots me at the last minute, does a handbrake turn and skates into the car park with whizzing of wheels and spurting gravel. She is persistently late. A very slender lady, with blue eyes and blond hair, and today she is sporting some violently red ski pants and spotty blouse. People just don't wear suits here. A memory which makes me smile is that once, I was standing in a check out queue at a large French supermarket. A man in the queue ahead of me was wearing a suit and a small girl was watching him closely. He paid and left and the small girl turned to her mother and asked 'mamma - was that the President?'
The sellers notary, who resembles a snarky school teacher, shoes us into her office, which does not have air conditioning, and starts the read through. She goes at some speed and only myself and the other notary understand the proceedings and I have to keep on interrupting to make sure everyone is up to speed with what is being said. After an hour and a half, when we are all dripping, except for the other notary, we are finally released from the claustrophobic room. Everyone has to receive a copy of the reservation contract so much photocopying is being done. Many trees are sacrificed in France, says OH happily. My notary makes a face - she doesn't think much of the other notary 'she's a bit dry' is her comment. We all go out into the field and enjoy the breeze and my notary chats with the Russians. She is surprised to learn that you can be married just by going to church and saying your vows. In France, you are not married until you have been to the Mairie to have it registered. We tell her we marry before God and not before the State. 'ah bon' she says
We then all go back to the house and the owner shows my notary around the house. She is very impressed and says it is done with a lot of taste and is 'très class'. She then leaves in a cloud of dust. The Russians drift around in a daze and are thrilled. The owner, from whom you normally don't get more than a cup of tea, produces champagne and we sit in the pergola where the scent of the wisteria mingles with that of the hot earth and we all talk and it is dream like. The llamas peer out from the shelter and scent the air and buzzards circle on the high thermals.
These Russians turned out to be extra mad. Not only did they drive over from Russia in a beat up car to see the house (twice) before coming over to sign the reservation contract but they brought us lovely presents, rang us up weekly, showed us many photos of their house and children. What they did not manage to show us was deposit money. At any time. And, at the end of two months, during which the sellers went nuts and nearly turned me into a mad woman, they admitted that they did not have any money for the deposit. They did not have any money to buy the house. They were waiting for some money 'to come in'. I pressed them to know how much money. Finally, they came up with the sum of a million euros. From their 'friends in the East'. I didn't pass this information onto the sellers. They hated my guts. It was all very unfair.
I was particularly aggrieved because the Russians were such lovely people and had invited us to come and stay with them. I never did like the sellers who tried to deal privately with some other buyers which I had brought and it all came out accidentally and I did end up earning fees on this one. OH said we had had a lucky escape and that he had not been taken in at all. He can be very annoying.