It’s a really cold day with a hint of snow in the air, the sort of day when you want to stay in and keep warm, it reminds me of the day we found our house and the start of my French life began.
It was a few years ago and a cold, grey and miserable day. We’d arranged to go to Calais for a day trip to do some shopping and stock up on wine with my dad.
We got to Calais quite early, did our shopping and went inland to find a nice restaurant to have lunch at. Every restaurant was shut. We were too late for the usual 12-2 dining time. Wandering around the town we stopped at an estate agent’s window and he beckoned us in for coffee. And whilst there he persuaded us to look at his three cheapest houses. We had nothing else to do so off we went.
The first house was pretty from the outside, a stream ran along the road in front with a little bridge leading to the path up to the front door, plenty of trees, lots of land around – promising. We wandered up the little path, the house was empty but despite the poor light (it being February) we could see through the uncovered windows well enough. Acid yellow linoleum with a hideous pattern covered the floors in every room. It also covered the ceilings, walls and even the backs of doors – and there was no bathroom or WC. Fungal stalactites hung off the ceilings – we left pretty quickly.
The second house was lovely from the outside. The neighbours came out to look as we pulled up. They stared unblinking as we trotted up the path, stared as we trotted back down, and stared as we got in the car and drove off. We thought it might be a little bit too quiet in that village for us.
The final viewing was in a very small village – no shops, no cafes – in fact no sign of life.
We got out of the car to get a better look – it was a very long house (called a longère) and much of the front garden was walled so we couldn’t really see very much. It was clearly occupied as there was smoke coming out of the chimney so there was no peering in the windows as we had with the previous two empty properties.
We thought the house looked pretty but we were just window shopping and about to drive off when there was a break in the weather, the sun shone through a gap in the clouds, ducks in a nearby garden started quacking excitedly, the front door of the house opened and a man stepped out. “Can I help you?” he said, in perfect English!
To cut a long story short, we went in, it was owned by an English family, it was a wreck, cold and damp, needed massive amounts of renovation and money spent on it, but – it was love at first sight.
We put in an offer for 10% under the asking price, it was immediately accepted (I wish I’d offered much less!). My Dad (who had building experience) pronounced it unsalvageable, unsafe and unpleasant and an utter wreck which should be knocked down.
Three months later it was ours.