Emma Lee-Potter thought crusty old news editors bawling for "early copy" were a thing of her past. She'd reckoned without Salut!'s determination to rely on as many others as possible to keep things ticking over even when it can't. In the latest instalment of Emma's campaign to transform a farmhouse ruin into her dream French home, we learn that everything is going rather slowly - except those eight captivating oak trees...
My heart sank momentarily when Colin’s e-mail pinged into my inbox. It was great, as always, to hear from my old Fleet Street pal, but his cheery missive reminded me about something I’ve been trying to put to the back of my mind. Namely, my mad decision to buy a tumbledown house in the south of France.
“Come on, Emma!” he’d written. “I’m waiting for more news of your French bolthole."
So here goes. The honest truth is that six months down the line from my first Salut! dispatch*, work on the house with no name is proceeding at a snail’s pace.
My architect friend Bernd has chipped the tiles off the steps that run through the centre of the house to reveal a beautiful stone staircase, ordered new windows from Germany and found a builder to fix the dodgy roof.
But apart from that, the place remains a complete wreck and the chances of me and my
teenage children staying there in the immediate future are about as likely as me taking up marathon running.
The only thing that cheers me up is that at least I’ve got a French ruin, a breathtaking view and tons of inspiration for the novel I’m writing to show for my money.
So maybe I’m better off than people who invested their savings more cautiously.
Buying a tumbledown French farm has been a rocky road right from the outset.
When I first set eyes on the house it looked like Alcatraz. Worse still, it looked like Alcatraz with a trio of satellite dishes, intimidating wire fence and a scary Alsatian. But on the plus side the house was set on a south-facing hillside - with a pretty wood, gorgeous terrace and loads of potential. All it would take to make it beautiful, I reckoned, was hard graft and a bit of patience.
But so far nothing has gone according to plan. Even completing the sale. When I travelled south on the TGV last year to sign on the dotted line I stopped off en route to view the house once more. The sun was shining when I arrived and the house looked like it had undergone a Trinny and Susannah-style makeover. The satellite dishes and wire fence were gone and even the Alsatian had disappeared.
But something was wrong. I couldn't put my finger on it but a vital ingredient was missing. What on earth was it?
Two things had convinced me to buy the farm in the first place. One was the terrace, where generations of farmers had sat under the old plane tree and put the world to rights over a glass of pastis. The other was a pretty sunlit field, bordered at one end by a coppice of distinguished-looking oak trees. I could just imagine long summer lunches there, with my daughter sketching and my son pottering about on his scooter.
I punched the air. That was it. The oak trees had vanished. Or to be strictly accurate, eight oak trees had been chopped down in their prime, leaving eight pathetic-looking stumps in their place.
I drove straight to the notaire’s office, eager to get to the bottom of the mystery of the missing oak trees.
Monsieur Mallet looked stunned at the news. He’d come across houses where sellers had taken the odd light-bulb or radiator, he told me – but not eight chênes.
He pored over his hefty file for a few minutes. I stared at him expectantly, waiting for him to wave a magic wand and solve the problem. Except he didn’t.
“Qu’est-ce qu’on va faire?” he said finally.
When the three brothers selling the property arrived (their elderly mother and sister wisely stayed away), Monsieur Mallet cleared his throat authoritatively. Instantly the room fell silent. The buyer was most concerned, he told the gathering gravely, to discover that a clump of oak trees bordering the farmhouse had been cut down and removed.
The brothers didn’t shed much light on the matter, offering a couple of lame excuses about “clearing up” the grounds and giving young saplings more room to grow. The upshot was that a few thousand euros were negotiated off the price and eventually the sale was back on again.
“How will the price reduction work?” I asked.
“It will be taken off the share of the person concerned,” said the estate agent firmly.
Oh dear. I was pretty sure who the person concerned was. I suspect he’d sold the wood to make some extra cash on the side. And even now, more than a year later, I still feel like a heel.
* See also: ** our home with no name