'Trust me, you won't regret it.' These were the last words my mate Paul had said to me when we parted company on Thursday evening after we'd had a few beers at our local. What I wouldn't regret was taking his advice to buy, sight unseen, a small farm. It was now Saturday morning and I was standing looking at the farmhouse and I couldn't make up my mind whether I was going to regret this or not.
Thursday evening he'd been rather quiet to start with, and then he asked me if I could lay my hands on a largish sum of money at short notice. I was naturally a bit cagey and enquired why.
"I have these clients," he said. "They are sort of circus, show people, you know?"
Well, not really, but Paul's a solicitor with some strange clients.
"They're having a bit of trouble with HMRC, well, honestly, quite a lot of trouble and they need some legitimate cash in a hurry."
Her Maj's Revenue and Customs eh? Well you don't mess with those buggers or you'll be staying at one of the Windsor Hotels for a spell. At Her Majesty's pleasure, not yours. And they'll still want their money when you get out.
"How much of a hurry?" I asked.
"And you want me to lend them some money, in fact all the money I have? You need to go and see a trick-cyclist mate."
Yes, yes, psychiatrist, but I thought that was very appropriate with his clients being circus people.
"No, no. They've got this farm that they need to sell, and since you need somewhere to live I thought it would be a good idea. Golden opportunity, I know you've got some money stashed where your ex didn't know about it."
Well, that was true, and just as well too, she'd had everything else including the kids. I hadn't seen them for a while, she'd pulled the old 'he's a paedophile' trick on me. I really don't know how these women get away with it, but the social workers always seem to go along with them, probably because most of them are women, and as soon as the ex-wife screams 'paedo' that's it, no visiting. I'm not, I like their mums not the children, not like that anyway. Of course she'd had the support of her new partner, although at the time we didn't know that's what she was, we just knew she was a social worker.
"Why don't you buy it?"
"Several reasons. First, it wouldn't be ethically acceptable. Second, if they found out I'd done that they wouldn't be very happy, and they are very good clients."
I wasn't going to ask how good.
"And third, I owe you big time and this is one way I can repay you by helping you get a leg up."
Owed me? Well possibly, but I didn't think so. Paul and I had been mates since before we started school, our families had always been close and we'd always looked after one another through school, only separating when he went to university to study law and me to study architecture. Even then we'd spent a lot of time together, having similar interests, besides women and beer that is, and a couple of years back we'd been out on our mountain bikes off road when Paul had had an accident, misjudged a jump and had done himself quite a lot of damage, enough that he wouldn't be riding a bike again; at his wife's insistence if nothing else. I'd kept him going until an air ambulance had arrived. But he'd have done the same for me so I never really thought much of it. He's my mate, right?
"You don't owe me anything, you know that." I told him.
"No, I appreciate what you say, but I still want to help you, and my clients too, of course. So it's a win win situation."
It is also true that Paul didn't really need to wheel and deal for extra money, he'd married well, a lovely girl with whom he was deeply in love, which was quite evidently reciprocated, and her father just so happened to be the boss of his own law firm. Talk about falling on your feet! Not only did he not need the money, but if he did get a whiff of scandal about him then his father in law would be rather less than amused. And then he would need more money than we were talking about here.
I, on the other hand, had managed to marry rather badly; well okay, it didn't seem like it at the time, and her penchant for girls had seemed rather fun until it reached the point where she'd rather have them than me. Quite how the court had decided that I was at fault and that she should get pretty well everything, children included, I do not know. Paul was more than a bit shocked too. But there we are, they are courts of law, not justice.
I had a sneaking suspicion that there was something he wasn't telling me, I mean, there's always a catch isn't there? But does anyone trying to get you to buy something ever tell you all possible drawbacks? It's a bit like comedy, you have to have the sad bits to make the funny bits funnier, but there you are. If Paul said it was a good deal then I was prepared to believe him.
"Can you get the money to my office by midday Friday?"
"Just about. But I don't have time to get out to look at it before the weekend, if I don't get the job I'm doing done I may lose out on a lot of follow up stuff and I can't afford that."
"Don't worry about it, you'll love it, it's perfect for you. Okay, I'll get Mary to get the searches done," Paul is my solicitor as you'd probably guessed, "it would be better if one of the other partners acted for you on this occasion, better to use a different practice, but we haven't time. You just make sure the money is ready and you'll be the proud owner of Crabs Blunchay Farm."
"That's its name. Oh, and by the way, you also get whatever is left there, they've moved the stuff they want."
And that was it. What I'd let myself in for I really had little idea, but I trusted Paul, yes I know, he's a lawyer, but we'd been mates for ever and I did trust him. Honestly.
Which brings me to a bright sunny Saturday morning, standing looking at my new, um ... home with somewhat mixed feelings. It was a couple of miles outside the small town in which I lived, but on the outskirts of the village where Paul and his wife and their two children lived. It was screened from the main road by a patch of woodland which was part of the property, and even in winter you couldn't see anything until you got quite close. One hundred and seventy acres I was told, and approached by a drive which was in less than perfect condition. In fact even my old Landcruiser had asked me to take it steady. There was the last of the blossom on the somewhat overgrown hawthorn hedges, and a blush of green leaves showed on the willow trees that were either side of a small stream running through the wood.
The house before me would be described by an estate agent as substantial, red brick with a clay plain tiled roof. They would more correctly be called peg tiles, those little ones that are held on the roof with little wooden pegs. That should give some idea of its age, although it had clearly not all been built at the same time, the rambling structure having been extended several times during its life, but none of the extensions were recent. In fact none of the maintenance was recent either. The brickwork required repointing, particularly where it was exposed to the prevailing south westerly winds, and the roof had a number of slipped and missing tiles. The building, having been constructed at different times, although using the same sources for materials, had roofs at different levels and different pitches, hipped ends, gables and cropped gables, many rickety looking chimneys and clearly floors at different levels though it was mainly two storey. Think Lutyens, then tear the drawing into strips and Sellotape them back together in the wrong order. The woodwork had too little paint left on it to be able to determine what colour it had been, and no one had done anything to the garden within living memory and it certainly wasn't one of Getrude Jekyll's designs.
To one side of the drive in there was an extensive range of barns and stabling, of indeterminate age and beyond that were a number of old caravans gently mouldering to return their constituent materials to the environment. Oh, not the sort of caravans you'd take a holiday in, not unless you had a big horse or a traction engine to pull them. Those sort of caravans, four big rubber tyred wheels and panelled sides with clerestory roofs. What I could see of the land didn't appear to have had any maintenance or use within living memory either.
And I wouldn't regret this? The only thing I could rack up on the positive side of the ledger so far is that I'd got an awful lot for my money. What was the old tailor's joke, never mind the quality, feel the width?
I sighed and made my way to the front door brandishing a key of ridiculous proportions. I inserted the key in the lock and tried to turn it. It refused to budge. I tried the door handle which did turn, and the door creaked open, clearly the last person out hadn't bothered to lock it. It opened wider accompanied by a loud groan from the hinges. Was I entering the Hammer House of Horrors?
.... There is more of this story ...