The tiny lift wheezes and groans its way up to the fifth floor, where the doors open with an unpleasant sound reminiscent of a cat’s claws being sharpened on a school blackboard. The pre-pubescent estate agent is already unlocking the door to the apartment. There are four locks. I picture the previous occupant, possibly a spinster with several cats, peeping through the spyhole suspiciously.
Young Mr Estate Agent hurries us past the windowless, unventilated bathroom and its odour of damp. It possesses one of those short Parisian baths in which even a ten-year old child would be unable to stretch out his/her legs fully. Something about the appearance of the toilet sets alarm bells ringing in my head, but before I have chance to investigate further I am cut off mid-thought. Tadpole has escaped my grasp and is making a bee-line for an interesting looking bouquet of dangling earthless sockets and exposed wires in the living room.
Returning to the task in hand, I note that the kitchen wouldn’t be out of place in a student house shared by four impoverished boys and no cleaning products. What plumbling is visible looks decidedly ancient and is likely to be lined with toxic lead.
Monsieur Agent Immobilier ingeniously diverts my attention away from this unappealing sight by throwing open the windows in the three main rooms, creating a situation where Tadpole can potentially defenestrate herself if my attention lapses for a moment. He studiously avoids the issue of central heating (and the lack thereof), but he does concede that the apartment probably requires € 35,000 spending on it in order to realise its full potential.
The main rooms are lovely, with wooden floors, high ceilings and original fireplaces. Winter sunlight pours in through the (non-double-glazed) windows and bathes the walls in a warm, buttery light. Leaning out of the fifth floor window and craning my neck to the right, I can just spy the Buttes Chaumont park.
I prod a wall-mounted electric heater suspiciously. It wobbles. I have never understood the French fondness for a single, tiny electric heater, positioned on an outside wall under a window, intended to heat a large high-ceilinged room.
Sensing that the heating issue is causing my enthusiasm to falter, the estate agent makes the mistake of opening a panel next to the front door to demonstrate the existence of a gas pipe. The rusty old pipe he wiggles at me could be anything for all I know, but whatever it is, it evidently hasn’t been used since the 1920’s and seeing this does nothing to reassure me. Nor does a glimpse of the fusebox (a single old-fasioned wire fuse). Hardly a desirable original feature.
We mumble the usual meaningless niceties about how we’ll have to discuss it but, a priori it is a little out of our budget range considering the amount of attention it needs and our patent lack of DIY skills. Mr Agent Immobilier promises to contact us if anything similar comes on the market (he won’t, in two years no-one ever has) and we take our leave.
It dawns on me later that day what was wrong with the toilet. It was low and small like a bidet with a lid. There was no visible connection to a water supply. I don’t even think it was a sani-broyeur. Could it be some sort of chemical toilet?
Call me fussy, but for the sum of £ 200,000 (€ 317,000) I am not prepared to relive my worst experiences of the Glastonbury festival. I’m too old for that.
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