Une maison please
Sunday 17 August 1997
Pourquoi? Why, indeed, you may ask. The answer, as always, is to be found in the Fount of All Knowledge. Contrary to the common belief that all we ever talk about in the Snug Bar is property I can assure you that we have several other topics of conversation. Certainly property is important but we also talk about the weather, the strength of the pound, and the merits of European Monetary Union.
Given our agenda you can see that by scouring the French market I become an instant expert on all the topics we cover during an evening at The Fount. Property - too expensive (unless you are going to France); the weather - too hot (unless you are going to France); the pound - too strong (unless you are going to France); EMU - too complicated (even if you are going to France).
Ever since I announced my plan to chercher le chateau, my drinking partners have deferred to my greater understanding of international affairs. Indeed I now find interlopers from the lounge bar popping in wondering whether they should be tucking away a few more pesetas in readiness for next year's grand tour of Tenerife.
I am enjoying my moment of glory but there is also a serious side to my French foray. In particular I am quite keen to avoid yet another Sounds of Summer British style. Those are as follows:
1) The strimmer
2) Any album by The Grateful Dead
3) Domestic strife
4) The barbecue which will not ignite
The great thing about French properties, as I understand it, is that there are no neighbours. No neighbours means no Sounds of Summer. Bliss.
What is more I am reliably informed that the French equivalent of estate agencies actually have properties to sell. I have been brushing up on the lingo and tomorrow morning I will be battering their doors down.
"Bonjour. Je veux ashtray un maison."
"Ah oui monsieur. Combien?"
"Just le un, mon ami."
"I don't zeenk monsieur, how you say, get my drift. I no zay ow many I zay ow murch."
"A dix francs to the pound nous sommes parlons les nombres de telephone, mon brave."
"Local ur lerng deestance?"
"Tres droll, Monsieur Grenouille."
"Ma name eet eez not Grenouille, eet eez is Grande Ville. Grenouille eet meanz ze slimy leetle frerg."
At this point I narrowly avoid a diplomatic incident and opt instead for the old entente cordiale. I recite a poem by Eric Cantona and hum Sachel Distel's greatest hits. Neither takes very long and in a trice Monsieur Grand Ville and I are laden with particulars and giving the 2CV some throttle.
"You speak good English," I say. "Where did you learn it?"
"Ah, the World Service?"
"No, I watch zee repeats erf 'Allo 'Allo."
I have no response to this and watch instead the Normandy countryside, a picture of style and serenity.
Suddenly Monsieur Grand Ville swings the car into a field and brings it to a shuddering halt beside a pile of rubble.
"Ear we er."
How quaint, I think, he is showing me an old war ruin, a testimony to the pain and anguish of conflict and a permanent reminder of the futility of man's inhumanity to man.
How wrong. He is in fact showing me an original 14th-century stone farmhouse set in its own grounds with potential for development.
Plus ca change...
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