Peter Schoenmaker, Dutch hotelier in France reveals the story of two house hunters in France, guests at his hotel in “Men and their Egos”…
Our friend Ian, an English estate agent, brought us lots of business. He helps house hunters in France to find their dream home; we accommodate them as they search for their own piece of paradise in our part of France. Recently he made reservations for two house-hunting couples.
When the first couple arrived they pulled up in what looked like a top-of-the-range BMW. The driver was a charming young woman, shy with lots of curly blond hair. Her passenger could have been her father. Built like an ox, he had a flattened nose, a cauliflower ear and an accent that sounded very east London. The damage to his face had more likely been done in a dark alley than a boxing ring.
After showing them their room and joining them for a drink in the shade of the old chestnut tree we got to know each other. His business, buying and selling second hand pinball and other gambling machines, was a veritable goldmine. The blond turned out not only to be his lawfully wedded wife but his partner-in-crime. He did all the bargaining (‘buy them cheap and sell them dear’) and she did all the paperwork.
‘He can’t read, or write’ she confessed a bit later, when he was on his mobile. He had everything in his head, model numbers, specifications, prices… All deals were done on his mobile.
Before dinner he must have made another hundred thousand. His mobile had been ringing constantly and after each grumbling conversation he cheerfully shared the results with us, as if we were shareholders. ‘Not bad, Pete’, he would say, ‘Another twenty grand!’ followed by a grin of satisfaction and, ‘It seems some people have to work a year to make that, eh?’
Well, yes, people like me need to make a lot of beds and prepare mountains of breakfasts to earn that much. I admit I was a bit jealous at first, but on the other hand his life seemed to be a so… limited.
The next day saw the second couple arrive. I met them in the car park and helped them with their expensive suitcases. They were a middle-aged couple, casually dressed but not by Marks and Spencers or any ordinary department store. They definitely had expensive tastes.
‘Nice car!’ I complimented to the driver as he removed a speck of dust from its spotless bonnet ‘The new Chrysler?’
He reacted as if he had been stung by a bee.
‘What? Ashtenmorton! Handmade’! then pointing at the BMW, ‘One can buy four of those for one of these!’
His accent was ‘affected’ upper class posh, and Ashtonmorton was in fact Aston Martin, as I saw later on the rear of the car. I could already sense that the next few days could turn out to be tricky.
Mr. Pinball and Curly were sitting outside on the terrace so I introduced them to Posh & Partner and soon they were chatting away under the parasol. When I left them to get their drinks the men were already talking business.
Mr Aston Martin dealt in lawn seed. Not just any old lawn seed, you hear, but Canadian lawn seed. Booming business. Each year his turnover tripled, it often came in by the shipload these days.
Coming back with my tray of wine and nibbles the conversation had just come around to the topic of cars, both men seemed determined to out do the other.
Aston Martin clearly thought he could not lose but was told it was the Missus who owned the BMW. The Bentley was at home as it needed some work done which was being done while they were here. I couldn’t help but admire Aston because after this punch he had only been down for a second before shooting back that his Bentley too was still in the UK. By now his posh accent had all but disappeared, so I did not get which model he mentioned.
His opponent dismissed it quickly as a ‘Baby Bentley’, which made it two-nil for Pinball, who took his time to sip his wine before delivering the knockout punch by asking if Mr Lawn Seed also had a private plane? Personally he was quite happy to have traded in his Cessna Citation for a Boeing 717…. Game set and match!
By dinnertime we had had to set two tables, in two separate rooms.
Read Peter Schoenmaker’s The French Baker’s Unfaithful Wife
About Peter Schoenmaker: At 17 my mother decided that I had had enough schooling and arranged my first job at a chocolate factory, soon followed by a brief stint in IT but advertising became my calling. I loved the writing part but after 30 years decided to become a hotelier in France…. to end up as a full time writer. www.peterschoenmaker.nl