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Rights of way were a little bit of a problem at the next house. The interior was nearly as uninspiring as the outside, but it was immediately habitable. The fact that half the village, or so it seemed, had the right to use the side passage and cross the garden to draw water from the well was just a minor irritant. What really put us off was the right of way that the next-door neighbour had. This allowed him to mount the staircase and cross the landing past the bedroom doors in order to gain access to his loft.
We moved on again to the third and last house on the list. It stood foursquare and forlorn with drooping shutters and with just about sufficient fragments of paint clinging to the door and window frames for a forensic scientist to work out what colour it had once been. Devising a way of opening the gate without causing it to collapse in a heap of worm-eaten wood almost needed the intelligence of Einstein and would have made a first class project for that old TV programme, The Krypton Factor. The garden was so overgrown that Dr Livingstone would have been quite at home in it. It would probably have taken Stanley just as long to find him here as it had in central Africa. When we had fought our way into the house and entered the kitchen, the first thing we noticed was a tidemark about fifteen inches up the wall. This, apparently, marked the highest level of the last flood.
"Not to worry," advised Monsieur D, jauntily. He went on to explain that the local authority had spent vast sums of money on flood defence measures which he would be delighted to show us.
The rest of the house was in much the same condition. The roof needed replacing, as did the windows and door. The wiring would have to be ripped out, and one room would need to be converted to a bathroom. Mrs S would never put up with the tumbledown brick shed beside the front gate, even if I had cleared away the jungle. There really was far too much work required although, as Monsieur D cheerfully said, it was "a small price for much work".
While I was glumly considering the wash basin on the landing with its mottled green and brown stains, Mrs S was pulling up the tattered carpets, which lay two deep, to expose the original terra-cotta floor tiles. I have to admit they were in remarkably good condition. But that was it, as far as Mrs S was concerned. The walls might have been falling down and the wiring more lethal than Alabama's electric chair, but as long as there remained perfectly good, old, terra-cotta floor tiles, she would be happy.
Monsieur D was astounded. "Madame prefers this?" he asked in a faint voice.
"Definitely," replied madame firmly.
Somehow I managed to get us away from this monstrosity without making any commitment, but that was not the end of the matter: those terra-cotta tiles were still exerting a malign influence on Mrs S. Her confidence in my ability to overcome all the obstacles was really quite flattering and, although my head was telling me I should know better, I fell for it like the mug that I am.
As we drove back to Wendy and Gary's house, Mrs S was jigging about so much in her excitement that I became quite worried about the car's suspension. In an attempt to get her to calm down I promised the dear lady that we would make enquiries about the flood prevention measures. As luck would have it, Wendy and Gary had a friend who lived in the village. Furthermore, he was both an electrician and a roofer who could be relied on to do a good job at a reasonable price. Lady Luck had certainly deserted me that day. He was in when Wendy rang to ask about the floods.
"Pfff!" he exclaimed. "It was nozzinck. A couple of sandbags across ze door, and no water!"
Mrs S was overjoyed. Using a form of logic which only she understands, she had decided that the floods were nowhere near as bad as the evidence had suggested, and as we would have a tame roofer/electrician living practically next door, nothing could be simpler. In her mind we had already bought the wreck and my magic toolbox had transformed it into the perfect residence secondaire.
The rest of our holiday passed with me frantically studying a specialist dictionary full of building terms which had not been covered by either my 'O' level or the conversation classes at night school. After all, how often does a soffit or doorjamb crop up in casual conversation? Just imagine the looks you would get if you walked into the local and announced, "Hey, chaps! I saw a great architrave today." In an idle moment I wondered if French builders shake their heads and suck air in through their teeth in the same way as their British counterparts when sizing up a new job.