We arranged to go back the following day to meet the vendor and exchange contracts. And to pay the ten per cent deposit, of course. After that matters would grind on through the darkest corners of French bureaucratic practice until, possibly about three months later but maybe four ... or five ... or six ..., we would pay the balance and become the proud owners of a small part of France which had, centuries back, been ruled by English kings.
Not surprisingly, we then drove back to ‘our' village to have another look at the house we were to buy. The chain-link fencing and high gates looked just as unwelcoming in the overcast of the afternoon as they had in the bright morning sun, but at least the house hadn't fallen down since we had last seen it. There was nothing much of interest in the main street, but the village square was attractive with its lawn, flower beds, war memorial and flower-decked well. The pollarded horse chestnut trees had obviously received recent attention. The marie or town hall was in an imposing building with a tower almost the same height as the church spire but was apparently open only two mornings a week. There was a restaurant with a bar, a public telephone and a post box – and an enormous church that looked as though it might fall in half at any time. Walking down the lane beside the restaurant, we discovered the village football pitch, complete with a public convenience, which we didn't bother to investigate thinking it might be just a hole in the ground.
And that seemed to be about the extent of the village, although we were to learn later that there was a school and a cemetery. And a bus twice a week.
Monsieur Detroit's office was a little crowded the next morning. Apart from Monsieur D, there were the elderly vendor and his equally elderly, walnut-look-alike wife, Mrs S and myself, and a very attractive young lady who was introduced to us as Karen, an English rose who had married a Frenchman and had been transplanted into foreign soil. She was to act as the interpreter, which gave Mrs S great relief as she had suffered nightmares at the thought of sitting there for a couple of hours with the only language spoken being French, and French legal terms at that. Karen's presence certainly added something to the proceedings, although it would almost certainly add something to the agent's costs which we, the buyers, were to pay, as is customary in France. Pushing this unchivalrous thought to one side, I tried to concentrate on what was happening.
I managed to keep up for about half an hour or so, but by then I was becoming somewhat mind-numb. There were probably not quite seventy-three A4 pages, each of which had to be read in its original French, translated into English, and then initialled by Monsieur Erlanger (the vendor) and both Mrs S and me, but by the end the total cannot have been far short of that. Monsieur Erlanger was delighted to see me hand a cheque to Monsieur Detroit, but was considerably less happy when told he had to pay for three surveys to be conducted to ensure that the house was free of termites, had no lead paint and was asbestos-free. He and the walnut-look-alike went of muttering after grudgingly shaking hands. Mrs S and I shook hands with Karen and Monsieur D and took ourselves off for a celebratory drink which had to double as a reviving draught. Coincidentally, a few minutes later Karen walked in. It transpired that she and Jacques, her husband, owned the bar.