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Then there was the log-burner in Gascony.

There's nothing intrinsically unsound about placing a fire in the centre of a room. It can look very stylish and certainly can be a good way to heat a large room. But ... something wasn't quite right about this installation. It was the flue. Which was where the problem started. Not, however, where it finished.

Most people installing a flue would take the pipe straight up from the fire and out through the roof. Very few would take the flue fifteen feet across the room at knee height until it reached a wall.

Even fewer would then knock a hole in that wall, take the flue through into the next room, angle it behind the sofa and around two more walls before sinking it into the chimney breast on the opposite wall. As I tracked the eight-inch diameter flue's progress through the house, I wondered if I was at the birth of an entirely new form of heating system – no radiators required just one continuous flue.

I walked back and forth between the two rooms. One looked like a giant hand had pulled the log burner into the middle of the room extruding the flue in the process. The other looked like a neighbour had tapped into the chimneybreast while the owner was out shopping.

Then came The House, an eight-bedroomed maison de maître with seven acres and views of the Pyrenees. Not that we wanted eight bedrooms, two was our target, but the asking price had been reduced so low that it was now one of the cheapest properties on my list, having come down to less than half of its original asking price.

So what was the catch?

I waited for the estate agent to mention the toilet at the bottom of the stairs and the missing roof but instead heard about banks and financial problems. The owner was desperate to sell, to pay off his debts and had moved out of the house four years ago.

Aha. It had been empty for four years. Everything began to slip into place. The price, the need to sell, the image of encroaching rain forest smashing its way through the windows.

There was something about the speed in which the French countryside could reclaim properties which bordered on the supernatural. From what I'd seen, I wouldn't risk leaving a house empty for the weekend. After four years, the lounge was probably thick forest.

When we arrived, I thought we'd gone to the wrong house. It looked in too good a condition.

Aha, I thought, Indian burial ground.

It was the traditional maison de maître of the area with huge rooms, nine-foot high ceilings and stone walls of the thickness normally associated with small castles.

The hallway alone was three yards wide and big enough to garage a couple of small tractors. Apparently it was the local custom to design farmhouses that way to accommodate the trestle tables for the harvest festivities. When all the families who'd helped bring in the harvest would be wined and dined and stuffed with roast pig. Which sounded fun for everyone, except the pig.

And the house went on - room after massive room. And bathroom after bathroom. As I walked around the first floor bedrooms I began to see a possible reason for the lack of sanitary facilities I'd encountered in earlier properties. They'd all been installed here. I had never seen so many toilets. And in so many unexpected places - like next to the bed. In suite instead of en suite, I suppose.

Truly, here was a man who loved porcelain. Every bedroom had something. All had a sink, some had bidets, some had toilets, some had all three. None had partitions. Bidets and toilets stood side by side with beds and wardrobes. A ‘proud to be porcelain’ smile beaming out from their glazed countenances. When I entered the bathroom, I half expected to see a bed. All in all, I counted five toilets and four bidets in the house. I gave up on the sinks after the second recount. There were a lot.

When I rang Shelagh later that evening, I glossed over the excess of plumbing as best I could. The eight bedrooms hadn't gone down too well, so I thought the five toilets and four bidets were probably best left to another time.

But Shelagh wanted to know more.

"Did it have a second bathroom?"

"Er ... yes," I replied hesitantly. After all, it was the truth. It did have a second bathroom, in between the first and third.

"What about toilets. Did both bathrooms have one?"

Yes, again. As did the cupboard under the stairs and some of the bedrooms. But so what. We could open a showroom.