Wednesday, 14 September 2016
Recently over the dinner table, a very good friend (who we've known since college days) asked 'What ever happened to your original French dream?'... I'm not sure if I've ever told this story before; but if I have, please forgive me.
I moved to France in 1972, aged 25, with the express idea of starting a 'holiday centre' for painters (my French dream). Not a 'How to paint landscapes' type of holiday, but a centre where competent painters could come, do their own thing, and maybe have a simple critique over a glass of wine in the evening.
The idea was to offer a comfortable bed, a simple breakfast, plenty of studio space, a good evening meal, and maybe some pedagogical evening assistance if required; all at a reasonable cost.
All I needed was to buy myself the right sort of biggish southern French property.
Over the years I'd managed to amass enough to fulfil my dream. I'd had a short but successful career on the London Stock Exchange, I'd managed a West End Art Gallery, I'd run my own Chelsea based Antique business, obtained a 1st Class Hons degree, done a few years teaching, and had made an immoral profit on a house restoration and sale.
French property in those days was relatively 'cheap', and even after buying my big old farmhouse (with a range of extensive stone built buildings) I still had plenty in reserve to see me through the first ten years, or so.
Having done the required work on the house, we had our brochures printed, advertised in The Times of London, and before long enquiries started to arrive. We called ourselves 'Atelier Pagot'; it all seemed to be going along OK.
Then.... I'm not sure who exactly was replying to my ad's, but I suspect they were mostly weary Psychiatrists. It was as if they were looking for Summer activities for their most difficult patients, and we ended up hosting a stream of very bizarre and unpredictable characters.
One in particular made us feel extremely uneasy. He was a gay religious maniac, who kept asking Lady Magnon if she would like to pray with him. He also had a very large SWORD on the back seat of his VW. With two small children in the house I really worried for our safety. I didn't sleep too well whilst he was with us.
In fact it was this particular 'nutter' who finalised my decision to bring the dream to a halt. I would have loved to have carried on, but it just didn't seem worth all the hard work, trouble, and angst; and we weren't even making much money. Instead, I set about stone cutting with a friend who lived nearby. Dream dashed.
Moral: Don't dream whilst wearing rose tinted glasses; or if you do, always be prepared for a shock.