How an impulse-buy of a house abroad led to the perfect happy ending

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ONE PLACE DE L’EGLISE 

by Trevor Dolby (Michael Joseph £14.99, 193pp) 

The French call it a coup de foudre: when you fall totally and helplessly in love at first sight. That’s how it was for Trevor Dolby when he was shown round a dilapidated 12th-century house in the south of France. The estate agent pleaded with him not to buy it but Dolby was so enchanted that ‘I could hardly hold a thought in my head’. 

This account of buying a house and settling into village life abroad is in the same vein as books such as A Year In Provence, Under The Tuscan Sun and Driving Over Lemons. If you’ve read them you’ll know the problems with builders, loving descriptions of sumptuous meals and sublime wines, and wry vignettes of life in a country that is full of unexpected rules and customs. 

Trevor Dolby fell in love with a dilapidated 12th-century house in South of France. The literary agent documents buying his dream house and his new village life

Trevor Dolby fell in love with a dilapidated 12th-century house in South of France. The literary agent documents buying his dream house and his new village life

Dolby, a literary agent by profession, is cheerfully aware that for a comfortably-off British couple to buy a second home abroad is a thumping great cliche. ‘If you are middle-aged, middle-class and can borrow a few bob, then a place in France is as important as owning a four-by-four, shopping at Ocado. .. and being able to name every shade of Farrow & Ball.’ 

Everything about it was crumbling, and when Dolby looked up from the cellar he could see straight into the attic several floors above

Everything about it was crumbling, and when Dolby looked up from the cellar he could see straight into the attic several floors above

Yet he writes with genuine emotion of this ancient house in a village in the Languedoc. Everything about it was crumbling, and when Dolby looked up from the cellar he could see straight into the attic several floors above. His wife, Kaz, a splendidly trusting woman, had never seen the house but gave him the go-ahead to buy it. Shortly afterwards they had handed over 100,000 euro and 1Place de l’Eglise was theirs. 

Despite its sunny, upbeat tone, there is also a hint of melancholy in this book, which is explained in the final two pages

Despite its sunny, upbeat tone, there is also a hint of melancholy in this book, which is explained in the final two pages

Dolby rather skates over the renovation of the house (16 years on, the roof is still leaking), but he writes beautifully about life in a French village. How does a foreigner try to fit in? Say bonjour in a jolly fashion to anything that moves, but don’t make the mistake of being overly friendly and chatty. 

However bad your French, making an effort to learn it will go down well. Make sure you regularly visit the nearest bar, but don’t make the mistake of buying a round for everyone or you’ll be dismissed as flash. And the more you know about wine and bread, Dolby declares, ‘the more you will both understand the French and be respected down the bar’. The most enjoyable parts of this book are his descriptions of the French countryside. Looking out over a local river on a summer’s day, Dolby writes, ‘The pools are packed with fish, herons drift in to dine . . . lift your head, and above you is the bell tower, so often in early summer buzzed by a swarm of swifts so high they look like gnats.’ 

This account of buying a house and settling into village life abroad is in the same vein as books such as A Year In Provence, Under The Tuscan Sun and Driving Over Lemons

This account of buying a house and settling into village life abroad is in the same vein as books such as A Year In Provence, Under The Tuscan Sun and Driving Over Lemons

A long mountain hike takes him to ‘the top of the world …in front are the peaks of the Pyrenees, to the left the sparkling blue Mediterranean.’ 

ONE PLACE DE L'EGLISE by Trevor Dolby (Michael Joseph £14.99, 193pp)

ONE PLACE DE L’EGLISE by Trevor Dolby (Michael Joseph £14.99, 193pp)

This book is an unabashed love letter to France, from someone who admires the country deeply. 

If the Dolbys have ever struggled with France’s endless bureaucracy, or met an unfriendly local, the author is too tactful to say so. He has never regretted his impulse purchase: ‘There is something in the bones of 1 Place de l’Eglise that sings to us.’ 

Despite its sunny, upbeat tone, there is also a hint of melancholy in this book, which is explained in the final two pages. 

Dolby reveals that his son, George, who flits in and out of the book along with his sister, Freya, died in 2018 at the age of 28. 

‘Time for me is divided into whole and broken. When George was in the world and when he is not,’ he says. His son’s bedroom in France is now a study, but ‘it’s still George’s room and always will be until the house becomes someone else’s, and then it will become part of their story.’

Dev

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