During our property-hunting visit to southwest France, it was rapidly becoming apparent that what looked perfect on paper was invariably flawed in reality. In part 2 (see also part 1), we spent the first of two days with an English estate agent. Nothing we saw that day appealed: far from it, in some cases. On day 2, we had a further list of properties to view but we wondered if any of them would fit the bill.
[The image above has little to do with house-hunting but this area is known for its many different types of orchid, which were flowering when we visited in 1997.]
Des res Adams Family style
We had specified a farmhouse but the estate agent wanted to show us a maison bourgeoise in the style of a Basque chalet, quite out of keeping with the local architecture. It was on the way to other properties and he thought we would find it ‘interesting’. We had already christened it the ‘Adams Family house’ since its brooding gables gave it a sinister air. Although we approached it in bright sunshine, we could imagine the rain lashing down and the lightning flickering above the overhanging trees.
We rang the bell and waited. Footsteps echoed down the hall. Hinges creaking, the dungeon-like front door swung open to reveal Uncle Fester himself. He was completely bald: the spitting image of the TV character. Avoiding each other’s eyes, we followed Uncle Fester around the house. We expected to come upon Mortitia or Thing at any moment. The house was elegant and well-maintained but not what we were looking for.
Going outside, Uncle Fester announced proudly, ‘I’ve got 20 hectares’ and set off down the field at a spanking pace.
‘He’s not going to show us over all 20, is he?’ I asked the agent.
He simply shrugged. His clients’ behaviour remained a mystery to him.
We were spared a tour of the entire estate but had to climb over a gate and cross a field of cows to get to the derelict barns.
‘I’m 77, you know,’ Uncle Fester declared as he scaled the gate. We laboured after him, trying to avoid the cowpats strategically placed on the other side.
Having looked at the barns, we started back across the field. It was then that we noticed a hefty bull not far away, eyeing us balefully. He started bellowing and pawing the ground and the dust rose in clouds around him.
‘You’d better come quickly,’ Uncle Fester said. ‘It’s not a good sign when he does that.’
We didn’t need further encouragement and vaulted the gate, oblivious to the cowpats this time.
Itching to move on
That day we also saw a house that was infested with fleas. Set in a tiny hamlet on top of a hill, also in the back of beyond, the house was a mess. There was a warren of rooms connected by dark corridors or haphazard staircases and, in one case, a trap door. The owners were cat lovers and in every room there were litter trays that had plainly not been emptied for some time. The smell was indescribable.
The cats were the origin of the fleas, which we discovered only later from the bites around our ankles and a few hopping dots on our hands. We told the estate agent that we had left a few in his car as well. He was not amused. The owners of that house were desperate to sell and the woman dragged me off down the garden to look at the view. It was lovely but could not compensate for the house, which needed to be redone from scratch internally.
Also that day: a pretty house with a separate gîte, swimming pool and a tiny chapel in the garden. Alas, there were two overriding drawbacks there:
- The house was in a deep valley and probably got little sun except in summer.
- The only access to one of the two upstairs bedrooms was from the other bedroom. Moreover, you had to squeeze through the loo, ingeniously installed between the two rooms.
That one got the thumbs down, too. Back to the drawing board. Further adventures in the final instalment, part 4.
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