Saturday, August 22, 2015

Fanny and the breaching butterfly

Friday 21 August 2015

Very very hot 

Spent morning cleaning our house and afternoon cleaning up the chaos in the new rental unit.  Rang the anglo french law company who, of course, had not prepared the report although they said it was 'in process' and 'wouldn't be long', though they couldn't tell me how long not very long would be.  Bloody useless, to quote the head of our agency.  Had to give the news to the sellers who are off to Cuba tomorrow.  I would love to go to Cuba, mainly to see the fabulous old American cars and the architecture.  The lady seller said to communicate with her by texto and she would, in the absence of champagne, drink a Mohito to celebrate when the compromis gets signed.

Looked in my past writings for something from the Summer, and came up with the following from 2012

It has been very hot in the our part of the world recently. Last week it topped 40 degrees with 95% humidity. If you want an idea of what that is like, put some very wet towels into your tumble dryer, turn on maximum, wait ten minutes and then poke your head inside. I defy you not to start dripping immediately. These temperatures are ‘exceptionel’ – normally August can be expected to hover in the low 30’s, an ideal temperature for toasting evenly all over and relaxing. The 40’s however are ‘excessif’ and people have either been escaping to the sea or the mountains. The transport-less have been hiding in their stone houses with the shutters firmly closed.
Being an estate agent, I was out and about. The Brits are back in force thanks to the nonstop rain back home and the favourable euro: pound exchange rate. For the first time since 2007 there are people looking for holiday homes. I had three English couples over the last few weeks. They were alarmingly white and scantily clothed. They didn’t wear hats. They didn’t drink much water. 

The latest couple were from the North and nervously excited to be on the verge of buying in France. We kicked off with a town house. 1930’s and with a swimming pool. The house has a forbidding grey render façade which I quickly whizzed them past – this house is one that looks better on the inside than the outside. The owner was away on holiday and the house smelled musty. The swimming pool was full of green weed. The clients were not impressed and I made a note to tell the owner he needs to make a bigger effort if he wants to sell. (still not sold as at 2015).

We then went to a house 6 kms away.   Owned by an English couple, my clients loved it – the exposed stone walls, the beams, the fireplaces and the cool interior. They decided it was too far out of town and we carried on into the centre of the village where we saw an interesting property which has just come onto the market. There is a large 19th century house on a plot of 2 acres with a separate bungalow. The owners are willing to split the property for a quick sale. I had trouble finding this property in the warren of tiny roads and we had to follow an obliging post lady to their door. 

We were approaching midday and the sky was washed clear of colour. We emerged from the air conditioning of my lovely cool car into a blast of sticky heat. The owners gave us water and sympathy and we were there an hour. The house has thick stone walls and was blissfully cool. Dogs panted on the stone flagged floors and a beautiful blue and brown eyed lurcher followed us around. We retreated to the conservatory and took in the garden. The Pyrenees were a pale purple haze on the horizon and the grass shimmered and waved in a green mirage. I told them the price and they were commented that they could not believe how much property you could get for your money over in France, compared to UK prices.

We dropped down to the riverside and went for lunch au fil de l’eau, a tiny restaurant which is open in the summer and is held on the lawns of a beautiful cottage. Children jumped in and out of the water and played badminton. Spanish, Irish, French and English voices mingled. The tables with their brightly coloured canapés were nearly all taken. Madame was in charge of sandwiches and rustled us up a delicious filled baguette with salad and coleslaw. We downed some very welcome soda and water and talked through what we had seen.

Refreshed, we then went back to town where I channelled my inner Kirstie and showed them a ‘mystery house’. It has been my experience, after eight years in the job, that people often buy something which is completely different from their original criteria. People come to buy renovations and end up buying brand new. People who come to buy in the countryside are seduced by the convenience and attractions of a town centre apartment with large terrace and all the entertainments on foot. I wanted to show a property which was ideal for a holiday home and would rent out easily, a property with no work to do and one that was out of the ordinary.  
A cool stream borders the 18th century cottage which we were going to see. There is a terrace and workshop and the kitchen patio doors open out onto a balcony overlooking the water. There is a kitchen/diner and living room and three bedrooms. As an extra, there is a patch of garden and a garage, though it is on the other side of the neighbour’s house. It is a snip at 149000 euros and well under their budget. (this one was quickly snapped up by a french client)

My clients were seduced however by the lurcher owner's and rejected the mystery choice. My inner Kirstie was annoyed and I told her to shut up. They went back to their B and B to have a think about what they had seen and I went to the pool. (they didnt buy anything and, as so often happens, just disappeared into the ether.  The lurcher house sold quickly, as did the bungalow by a separate sale)

What I needed right then was something cool and chlorinated. The open air public baths is open between June and October and this is where I headed. There is a large camp site just next door and the baby bassin was full of golden haired Dutch children. I noted, with relief, that the aggressive cannonballing dwarf was having a day off. The deep end of the pool has diving boards and a crocodile of tawny backed children was lined up, ready to launch themselves in a series of limb crushing manoeuvres into the water. I put on my tinted goggles and started a lazy crawl up and down. Bubbles of air sparkled like fire flies as bodies shot into the water. Someone was pretending to be dead on the floor. A very large lady in a spotty black petticoat swimsuit was peddling across the shallow end in a nearly upright position. I swam with my head under water, following the black line of tiles across the floor. It was blissful and quiet with just the gurgling of the filtration system and the occasional squeaking from the metal ladders.

It didn’t last long, as Fanny put in an appearance. Fanny (not her real name) is of medium height, with a robust physique, tightly curled black hair and a Joan of Arc look in her eye. She is around 70 years of age and we have never seen her anywhere other than the pool. My kids think she spends the rest of the year in an institution… Her normal modus operandi is to stand at the side of the pool and engage the unwary in conversation. Being English is useful as she supposes that we don’t understand her. She talks to herself non stop and periodically berates the lifeguards for letting children into the pool.

I surfaced to find her facing me at the shallow end. She was crouched as if about to start a race and was hissing encouragement to herself through her teeth. ‘Ca tape forte – courage’ she urged and launched herself tumultuously into the water. She disappeared and I dipped my head under to see what was happening. Fanny was scooting along the bottom, hands running along the tiles and legs see-sawing back and to. I recommenced my swim and focused on reaching the other end in less than 30 strokes. The lifeguards were chatting amongst themselves and didn’t seem to have noticed that Fanny had disappeared.

A few seconds later, Fanny shot out of the water in a surprisingly realistic impression of a breaching whale. Arms extended and wearing a terrible grimace, she shrieked before plunging back under. Her feet appeared briefly. Nearly everyone was taken by surprise. She did the breaching butterfly stroke twice across the pool and then paused, out of breath, and went back to her normal breaststroke.
‘C’est elle qui fait l’animation!’ laughed the lifeguards and went back to chewing gum and chatting up the tourists.