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When we arrived at Gary and Wendy's, we found that by coincidence, Gary had been collecting copies of the French equivalent of 'Property News' for other friends of his. Glancing through them on the first evening, we spotted the picture of a property that looked quite interesting even though it was not in Normandy, which we had agreed was our preferred area, being the most convenient for the ports of Cherbourg, Caen and le Havre. We decided to drive over to the village the next day just to have a look from the outside. But we were to find nothing is quite that simple when house-hunting in France.
The village was a delight. Two bars, a boulangerie and a mini-supermarket, and quiet streets. Well, they would have been quiet had it not been for a blaring radio and the noise of a heated discussion coming from the open windows of the gendarmerie. But of the house in the photograph there was no sign. We walked up and down every road and alley and peered around all sorts of unlikely corners, but nowhere could we find it, although every step we took confirmed our early impression that this village would suit us admirably.
Indeed, so smitten were we that 30 minutes later we were standing outside the estate agent's office in the nearest town. There were no lights on and the door was locked. However, there was no notice announcing that the office was closed for congé annuel so we assumed that he was just late back from lunch as it was then only 2.15. We strolled around the town and returned a little before 3.00. The door remained resolutely locked. Where could he be? It was with somewhat impolite thoughts about French estate agents and what they did with their secretaries during the lunch hour that we drove away rather disappointed.
Our faith in French estate agents was, however, to be restored the next morning. We had often driven through a village only a few miles along the road from Wendy and Gary's house but had never stopped there. Gary had told us that there was a notaire practising in the village and we thought that we would see if any properties on his notice board looked at all interesting. It being a Saturday, we had no thoughts of the notaire actually being there to answer questions. Expecting nothing, we were not disappointed: nothing was what we got. Apart from it being Saturday, the office was closed for the rest of the month while the officer of the law did what all sensible French people do during August – take a holiday in the sun. And there were no houses on his board that were of any interest.
Strolling back towards the bar, we passed an estate agent's office. Wonder of wonders, it was open for business so we decided to seize the opportunity and forgo the vin rouge for one morning. We stepped inside and were welcomed enthusiastically by Monsieur Moran, as if we were his first potential clients that month. Full of Gallic charm, he begged us to be seated using formal language strangely at odds with his informal attire, which consisted of an open-neck shirt, jeans and trainers without socks. We explained to him in broken French what we were looking for. Unfortunately Monsieur Moran's English was nonexistent, but he managed to get the gist of what I thought I was telling him. Yes, he had one property on his books that might suit, it was in a village just five minutes away. Would we like to go and see it now? He switched off the lights, locked the door behind him, and off we went. Light dawned: this, presumably, was what had happened the previous afternoon.