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 [the estate agent], 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.
And this what I have discovered: