Ten years ago today I attended the office of the notaire who was handling the transfer to us of what was to become our French getaway house. I have published this before but felt that a re-run would be in order in honour of the anniversary.
Maitre Legrand's office that
morning was even more crowded than Monsieur Detroit's (the estate agent) had been when we
exchanged contracts. I was a good five minutes early, but even so I
managed to arrive last, to find an assortment of chairs from baroque to
bentwood arranged theatre style in front of Maitre Legrand's imposing
desk. I was ushered to my place in the front row of the stalls by the
modern French equivalent of Uriah Heep. Seated to my left, on the
opposite side of the aisle, were Monsieur and Madame Erlanger (the vendors), while on
my right was a nondescript lady of indeterminate age. She introduced
herself, but she was so immediately forgettable that I cannot for the
life of me remember her name. It might have been Hermione, Hydrangea or
just plain Mary. I gathered that she was English and was there to act
as my guide and interpreter. Behind the Erlangers was Monsieur Detroit,
while sitting behind me was another man who might have been dragged in
off the street for all I know. He was never introduced to me, nor was
his function explained. Uriah Heep sat on Maitre Legrand's right to
pass him the papers as they were needed, while to Maitre Legrand's left
sat his secretary. I didn't manage to fathom out quite why she was
needed, but perhaps Maitre Legrand did nothing unless she was present to
record the proceedings.
Legrand started the proceedings by clearing his throat in a
particularly French way, though if I was asked to explain the difference
between the French way and the English, I would have to admit defeat.
It just sounded particularly French at the time. It was his
responsibility as a representative of the French state to see that
everything was done according to the book. This involved reading aloud
what seemed like the entire Old Testament. I gathered that he was
actually detailing the past owners of the land, from whom Mrs S and I
would derive a good title. There was a little difficulty as he started
becoming a little impatient with the interpreter. After every couple of
paragraphs or so, he would stop so that she could provide me with a
translation. But Maitre Legrand must have been in a hurry to get to a
lunch appointment, because he started reading again before the previous
translation was complete. This meant that the interpreter failed to
hear everything and had to ask for bits to be repeated, which made
Maitre Legrand even more impatient.
Maitre Legrand finished reading and it was time for me to say "I do",
or something similar. After that, Monsieur Erlanger had to sign each
one of several hundred sheets, affirming aloud with each signature that
the contents of the page were true and correct. I had to do it twice:
once for me, and once as attorney for Mrs S. Maitre L handed cheques to
Monsieur Detroit (his firm's commission) and Monsieur Erlanger, the
latter being quickly grabbed by his wife and stuffed into her handbag. I
was handed three large bunches of outsize keys.
had read all the books and magazine articles, so I knew what would happen
next: we would all decamp into a bar and celebrate the completion of the
deal, during the process of which Monsieur Erlanger and his wife would
become my bosom friends and come over to cut the grass for me every week
(except that we don't have any grass).
I don't know about all those authors, but it didn't happen like that
for me. Maitre Legrand and his secretary hurried off to their lunch
engagement. Monsieur Detroit positively raced back to his car.
Monsieur Erlanger stomped off frowning, with the walnut scurrying along
three paces behind him, clutching her handbag to her chest as if it
contained the crown jewels (though I don't suppose France has any crown
jewels). Uriah Heep wrung his hands and vanished into the basement.
The unknown man who had been sitting behind me lit a cigarette and
strolled off down the street with his hands in his pockets, whistling
cheerfully but tunelessly. The interpreter, whatever her name was – I
wish I could remember it, coughed delicately and vanished in a puff of
smoke. Actually, it was exhaust fumes from her car which had been
parked right outside the office. So it was that I was left standing on
the pavement, alone, and with three enormous bunches of outsize keys
hanging from my left hand. My right hand was half outstretched as I was
fully expecting to shake hands with everybody before going to the bar.
In fact, I had shaken hands with nobody. And I couldn't even call Mrs S on
mobile as she was incommunicado in the school library. What a let
Cheers! The Old Bat with friends Jane and Bruce.