Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Not quite Downton Abbey


Monday 7 December 2015

Bright and sunny
1 degree rising to 17

Set off with great excitement to meet my colleague and see huge chateau.  For the price tag of six million, I was expecting something really special.  We grabbed a quick coffee and found the place on Google Maps and then set off.  It was fortunate, in retrospect, that we took the opportunity for refreshment.

The chateau was imposing, sitting at the end of a long banked up driveway, its black slate towered roof sparkling against the backdrop of the snowy mountains.  It all felt rather Downton Abbey.  I felt as if we should be in a coach and four rather than a Mercedes.  The owner was cranking open the metal shutters when we arrived in the courtyard, and was glued to his phone.  We walked around and, up close, you could see that the roof had been patched, the new slate considerably darker than the pale, older tiles.  

We were welcomed into the great entrance hall with its wraparound galleried landing and spectacular 20 feet high stained glass window.  The most beautiful concrete tiles under our feet.  Into the drawing room and my colleague did the introduction and I looked around the room.  The classic problem with chateau owners is that they have chateau owners costs without chateau owners income.  The walls were lined with silk fabric but it was faded and tattered in places.  The marble above the fireplace was stained and an ancestor looked down in disapproval.  A cat was raking hell out of a delicate silk chair.

The owner, one of three siblings, told us at length about how much he thought the house was worth.  He then went onto describe the agricultural activities on which the 300 hectare estate earned its living.  An hour went by.  I was sitting in the sun and the urge to doze was strong.  The cat took to spiking my legs.  The owner banged on about cereal production. There is no one like an organic farmer for being passionate about his product.  When his phone rang, at the end of an hour and a half when we had still not made it out of the drawing room, I hissed at my colleague to speed it up or we would never be done in daylight.

We set off around the house.  Downstairs was impressive but things started going awry by the first floor.  The original wiring was silk cord and there had been a fire.  The electrician had dug out a channel to replace the wiring and had re plastered in glaringly white plaster. It snaked in an ugly fashion over the wall next to the galleried landing.  Most of the twenty bedrooms were narrow with only five being presentable.  The bathrooms were old fashioned.  We went up to the top floor and the bedrooms became even narrower, turn of the 20th century electrics, and plaster falling like dandruff from the ceilings.  I have yet to go in a chateau where the ceilings aren't flaking.

The kitchen, which had yet to emerge from the 19th century, was in the lower ground floor and boasted a magnificent range which was covered in rust.  There were stockrooms and storerooms and a room full of concrete washing bays where all of the household laundry would have been done.

Then onto the outbuildings - 20 horseboxes, stable boys accommodation, managers house and guardians house and gardeners accommodation.  There must have been far more staff than family.  The horse boxes were piled up with the grain produced by the estate.  It would not be difficult for vermin to get into it.

By this time, we had been there nearly three hours and nothing had been actually measured so, when the owner suggesting driving around the 300 hectares, I grabbed my book and pen and said I would measure up.  Can you imagine trying to keep track of which rooms you had done in a house with as many corridors as a maze?  I devised rapidly a system of leaving on the light in the room I had noted and then, when all the lights were on, switching them all off and going to the next floor.  The floors were very slippy and the hall carpet was like the luge.

My colleague and the owner came back eventually and it was 3 pm and he hadn't even so much as offered us a glass of water.  We managed to escape and had steak frites in a local bar.  I said I was very disappointed in the property, especially as it transpired that the actual machinery and business was owned by separate companies and were not included in the price required.  The land value was double actual local values.  I thought more like 3.5 million.  The electricity was botched, the roof was patched and the whole place needs replastering.  No proper kitchen and all the bathrooms ancient.  Not impressed.

Back home and felt knackered.  Had to peel many prawns and ring up suspects.  Watched penultimate episode of the Last Kingdom.  That was rather disappointing too.