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Back home again I looked once more at the meagre information about the house that had been dispensed in such a miserly manner by the French estate agent. Did my eyes deceive me? Had I really missed the note about rights of way? I think I managed to look disappointed when I pointed this out to my dearly beloved. All it said was that there were rights of way in existence. But by now we knew all about French rights of way. I hastily composed an e-mail to Monsieur D asking for more information.
Three weeks passed before I received a reply, presumably because we were still just within the French summer holiday season. Just twenty minutes with a dictionary provided what I was confident was a reasonable translation. The answer quite surprised us. This time it was the owner of the house who enjoyed the benefit of a right of way in the field beside the property in order to reach the walls if repairs were needed.
We were still undecided – no, let me be honest. I was still prevaricating – when another e-mail arrived from Monsieur D a few days later. If we were serious about buying this house, he warned us, we should move quickly as another offer had been put in. We found this hard to believe since the house had been standing empty for years, probably since the Duke of Wellington routed the local French in the Napoleonic wars. Was this just an estate agent's ploy to force an offer from us? we wondered. It can be difficult enough to tell when dealing face to face with an agent speaking one's native language but quite impossible when translating an e-mail in a foreign tongue. We agreed to play safe and make an offer. But an offer of how much?
We covered about three reams of paper with calculations in our efforts to arrive at a purchase price that would attract the vendor while still leaving sufficient money in the bank to carry out the extensive renovations. We already had an idea of the cost of replacing the roof, but how much would we have to pay for a bathroom to be installed? What was the price of rewiring? And new windows and doors? We scanned the catalogues of builders' merchants and studied advertisements in the local paper in an attempt to collate the figures we needed, then converted the answer to euros and added a bit for luck. Then we started again. And again.
Midnight came and went. Fortunately our local supermarket is open 24 hours a day so we were able to replenish our exhausted supply of coffee. Somewhere around 2.00am we came to a conclusion and decided to sleep on it. If the figure still looked about right in the morning, that would be our offer.
It was in some trepidation that I composed another e-mail the next day. Almost by return came the reply. We were too late, I read with relief. An earlier offer had been accepted.