A plague on his disingenuous disguises.
Especially the one he adopted when he came to see my house. Itâs in the nature of actors to act. Itâs what they âdoâ. I shouldnât be so surprised.
This actor was answering the winsome call of the fashionista to âbuy a house in Franceâ or perhaps it was more properly the insistent cry of expensive accountants mindful of the tax advantages to artistes in France.
The house had been my home for many years, the embodiment of Ebenezer Howardâs dream of a third way, a glorious melting point of riverside country and convenient town; a refuge for ducks, drakes and humans alike. Built at the turn of the century to house the man who harnessed the power of the river and turned a lamp lit community into enthusiastic consumers of the new electricity, it had then become the epicentre of the aches and pains endured by the rural poor once they could afford to admit to them. After the mill owner, the local doctor had lived and worked within its commodious walls. His widow had retained the gatehouse, so unwilling was she to leave its environs. Latterly it had become the local chamber dâhotes, its once gracious rooms sub divided to answer modern lifeâs plea for transitory privacy.
Just the three owners before us then, and the Doctorâs widow still one of its two neighbours. The townâs school teacher inhabited the other boundary, though elderly, still welcoming a steady stream of infants through his door; his wife taught me French, refusing all payment. Between the three of us, we kept the millstream free of flotsam and jetsam, the village children were taught to fish and swim in the river, the Doctorâs widow graciously raised cuttings for me of plants long subsumed by the lawnmower of necessity employed in its chamber dâhote days.
My husband worked long hours carving moldings to replace those butchered by the division of rooms. We sanded and painted, chipped and replaced, pored over ancient photographs and tracked down the missing antique accoutrements of this house. We became part of the community, enjoyed the river spectacles, nurtured the animals, and tended the gardens.
There was always something missing though. People. This had been a house of entertainment, of children, and chauffeurs, gardeners and housekeepers. We had none of these. We were becoming elderly ourselves, too, and knew that one day young blood would have to come into this community to tend the gardens and the river.
So, with great reluctance, we put the house up for sale. We used the modern idiom of the internet. The response was instantaneous and overwhelming. In the space of a few days, over a hundred people announced their intention to drop everything and rush to view this house.
The first to arrive flew from Jersey, the island had become a hotbed of crime and vandalism he said, he could not face retirement there, but had yet to sell his house. We politely declined holding the house for his eventual sale. No 2 announced his arrival three days hence. No 3 announced his arrival one day hence. What to do? Did we offer the house for sale in order of contacting us, or in order of agreement to buy? We opted for the latter notion and advised both parties accordingly.
Thus it was that âNo 3â bounded down the garden path into our life. Preceded by a curious phone call from his Mother. âMy son is an actorâ she said, âin the Harry Potter movies, he plays Draco Malfoy. Iâm telling you this so that you take him seriously because heâs only nineteen, but he already owns 10 houses and can afford to buy your house for cash, so you must take him seriouslyâ. An intriguing phone call on both counts.
âHI! Iâm Tom, Tom Feltonâ he said, and flashed a winningly conspiratorial smile in my direction. He introduced his Mother and a âstep-fatherâ, and we led the three of them round the house. âItâs better than I could ever have expectedâ he said, âI love itâ. âMy manager could live thereâ he said, pointing to the housekeeperâs apartment, âand would there be any possibility of buying the little cottage at the end of the drive, my brother would love it, heâs a keen carp fisherman tooâ.
âA keen Carp fishermanâ â this was music to our ears. Our âelderly teacherâ neighbour had spent some 25 years nursing this into one of the best Carp fishing stretches of water, he was an expert fisherman himself. If anything could overcome the dread we felt at telling our neighbours that we were leaving them, it would be softened by the news that their new neighbour was a keen Carp fisherman!
We made lunch for them and sat on the terrace sharing a bottle of wine. They seemed such pleasant people; they asked whether we would leave some of the antiques behind, a grand oil lamp, an armoire, a carved mirror or two. We agreed for we had spent years finding the perfect piece for each spot; it seemed churlish to take them away. They said they would give us their decision in two days. We pointed out that this would collide with the third viewing, it wasnât fair to drag people over the house only to tell them half way through their viewing that the house was sold. They agreed to telephone the next day.
The next day dawned, and with it, their call; not from young Tom, but from his Mother. She confirmed that it would be a cash sale and asked how quickly we could move. Tom was very keen, she said. He needed a small mortgage, maybe 20,000 Euros, nothing in the great scheme of things. We asked for confirmation that this mortgage would be available â French property law has a nasty sting in the tail for vendors if a mortgage is involved. She promised faxed confirmation by the end of the day. It arrived.
Thus it was that a rushed ten days later we exchanged a binding contract under French law for the sale of our home. The Notaire had insisted that Tom attend the meeting in person, he was considered a âvulnerable personâ under French law. It was to be the last time we set eyes on him. He had proved strangely disinterested in seeing the house again. He waited for us, asleep in the front of his Motherâs car, outside the Notaireâs office. The winning smile had gone; in its place was a sullen youth. We put it down to the pressures of his oft quoted âfilming scheduleâ. The papers were signed, binding us to a sale to young Tom in two months time â positively overnight by French standards. Tom announced that he had to fly straight back to the UK â that mysterious filming schedule again. His Mother twittered at his side.
We, meanwhile, rushed around paring a lifetimes accumulations of debris down to âsmall houseâ size. Each item was perused, did we need it, would it fit, and if not, what to do with it â invariably the answer became, leave it for Tom, heâll need it; and thus the Jacuzzi on the terrace, the little rowing boat, the fishing nets, the gardening tools, the croquet set, the tennis rackets, became, not gifts to old friends, as they should have been, but added to the list of presents for the new owner. I sat for two days and compiled a list of everything he would need to know, who was a reliable plumber, how to get your chimney swept to comply with the insurance, boring stuff, but difficult to find out when you donât speak French, as we knew Tom didnât. I made it up into a book, and added it to the bottle of champagne we had ready for his arrival.
But he was strangely silent. So was his Mother.
The day of sale grew close, and no word from the gallant Tom. We e-mailed, and got no response. We phoned, and with some difficult, got the âstep-fatherâ. âThere would be a slight delayâ he informed us. No word as to why.
By now I was overdue for an overseas posting. Our furniture was in storage. The day of sale passed. My husband managed to reach the Mother by phone. âIt should be next weekâ she informed him.
Fortuitously, we owned a camper van. My husband moved into it in the garden. By now the Notaire had the keys to the house. I had gone abroad. Next week arrived, and the week after, and the one after that. 12 weeks in all my husband sat in that camper van, along with the dog! He had been due to join me for a well earned holiday, but it wasnât to be.
Finally, 12 weeks late, he received a phone call from the Notaire. Did he know that Mrs Felton and Tom were staying in a hotel in a nearby town? Did he know that they wished to conclude the sale that day, in his lunch hour, and then fly straight back to England? No he didnât! The Notaire had agreed, as exasperated as we were by that time, bless him. A Frenchmanâs lunch is sacrosanct.
What, you might ask, did Tom think of his new home? We have no idea. Nor, more pertinently, has Tom. For he never went there. He drove straight past and out to the airport, and to this day has never visited the house again, nor has anyone else.
The shutters hang open, buffeted by the winter storms; the mill stream has filled with winterâs fallen trees; the gardens are invisible under a coating of last yearâs leaves and autumns burst of growth; the rowing boat, replete with rain, has sunk.
We saw our neighbours last week, they are devastated. âQuel dommageâ they cried. Indeed.
An Englishmanâs home is his castle, they say, to do with as he pleases. A Frenchmanâs home is his entitlement to a share in the community.
How do we describe young Tom Feltonâs home? Another notch on the belt of a too well heeled teenager? A figment of a tax return somewhere? A gracious home slowly reverting to nature? A forgotten dream of a hot Sunday?
You tell me!