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I had been retired almost three months, and the balance of my commuted pension was still sitting in our bank account while we decided how best to invest it. I favoured a government stock that would provide a yield higher than most deposit accounts while still providing protection for the capital sum. My track record of investing on the Stock Exchange is distinctly second class and I wanted to play safe with what seemed to me to be a considerable amount of money.
Mrs S, however, had other ideas. She has always managed to find the most opportune moments to introduce her thoughts about what we should do, and she waited patiently for the right moment to arrive. After dinner one evening we were chatting quietly about a forthcoming holiday in France. It was then that she cunningly slipped the fatal suggestion into the conversation.
"Of course," she said, "we could always think about buying a cottage over there. Not to live in, but as a holiday home. We could rent it out as a gîte for most of the year. Perhaps we could have a quick look around while we are staying with Wendy and Gary."
Nothing too drastic in that, you might think. But I hadn't been married to the good lady for nearly 40 years without getting to know an instruction when I heard one. I duly retrieved the previous Sunday's papers from the waste bin and started scanning the property pages, but to no avail.
I resorted to the fount of all knowledge. After several hours spent trawling the Internet, I had accidentally subscribed to a specialist magazine to be sent in a plain brown envelope, inadvertently put my name down to run in the Chicago marathon, and printed out the details of several properties in the Normandy, Brittany, Limousin and Poitou-Charente areas of France which looked vaguely as though they might suit our requirements. These requirements were really very simple: (1) the price had to be within our (ludicrously low) budget; (2) the house had to be habitable immediately; (3) it should not be too large – two bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room and a bathroom would be ideal; (4) there would be either a small garden or a courtyard as I had no intention of spending holidays weeding and cutting the grass; (5) amenities such as a bar and a boulangerie would be in close proximity; (6) the journey from the Channel ports would take no more than half a day.
The idea was that our holiday in the Loire would provide an opportunity for a quick look at the market; it was not going to be a determined house-hunting expedition. All the same, we had left ourselves very little time to make appointments with estate agents. It was, after all, August, the month when France closes down for its annual holidays and the month when Brits like us descend on the country determined to buy property. But we did manage to make appointments with two branches of the same chain of estate agents in different towns in Normandy. The one in Brittany whom we wanted to see just could not fit us in.