The method we adopted for our second trip was very simple. We started at one end of the area we had chosen as most suitable and visited every town and large village, calling in at estate agents and notaires to explain our requirements. Responses ranged from a Gallic shrug with a down-turned mouth to barely controlled, sometimes almost manic, laughter. However, one notaire and two agents, one of them the long-suffering Monsieur Detroit from our previous visit, found enough possibilities on their books to give us a selection of properties to consider.
Where possible we took what details we could so we could try to find the properties before our appointments to view, but one agent immediately and eagerly locked the door of his office to drive us around the three houses on his books that looked vaguely as though they might suit us.
Monsieur Cholon was a shortish, stocky man in his late 50s. His greying hair in its tight curls was strangely at odds with his large, droopy moustache and his eyes which had a mournful look about them, almost as if he was convinced that people only ever brought him the unsaleable houses and even if by chance one of them did turn out to be of interest to somebody, they would buy it through a different agent or notaire. In short, his look seemed to imply that, offered two choices, one good and one bad, his luck was that he would always select the bad. This was confirmed when we had found his car – which wasn't where he thought it should be – only to discover that the battery was flat. He turned his doleful eyes towards me and suggested that perhaps Monsieur would care to drive as his car was certain to prove more reliable than that of a poor estate agent. I fully concurred with his thoughts about cars and readily agreed to drive us round to the three houses.
The first of these turned out to be the rear lodge of a château with several acres of land deep in the heart of the country. Despite all the empty land around, the house was right next to the sties of the neighbouring pig farm. We moved on, very pleased to be leaving the flies behind us. Monsieur Cholon's eyes had turned more mournful by now.
A good many miles later (it was fortunate that I had filled the tank earlier) we arrived in a most attractive village. In the square was a pleasant house bearing a 'for sale' sign. Mrs S and I set off across the square, but the agent turned his back. With a flourish, he pointed out a doorway almost hidden behind its neighbouring house. This proved to be the entrance to another Blue Peter-type construction where the kitchen and shower room were in a three feet wide alley roofed with corrugated plastic leading from the front door to the house proper. If only French estate agents would provide more detailed information before taking clients to view hopelessly unsuitable properties!