‘Oh no, I can’t bear it,’ said the builder boyfriend when I told him I wanted to look at one more house with land.
I have dragged him round too many one-bedroomed hovels with a few scrub acres out the back. We have had to be polite about too many dilapidated sheds which the owners are calling a stable block. We have had to think of too many ways to compliment a rotten pole barn, or a patch of bare earth and weeds a vendor claims is a sand school. We have smiled at too many bathroom taps in the shape of shells. We have said ‘Oo lovely!’ at too many pine kitchens. We have pretended to like too much cheap laminate. It crushes the soul.
But more to the point, these places never have horses. At all the euphemistically entitled ‘equestrian properties’ we have seen, the owners have tragically, or carelessly, depending on your view, lost all their equines to illness and injury.
The last one we viewed, a cramped cottage down an unmade track, featured a stable block full of old furniture. When we asked the lady where her horses were she said: ‘I did have a pony. But it died. Last week.’ Her eyes shot from side to side. Her husband shifted uncomfortably.
Before that, there was a Victorian semi with a huge stable block and seven acres of deserted paddocks. When I asked that owner why the place was empty, she flushed bright red, took on a constipated look, then claimed that in the space of a year three of her horses collicked, two did all their tendons and one died of cancer… of the eyes.
‘Gosh, that’s awful!’ I grimaced. ‘What are the chances?’
Of course, the chances were nil. When I mentioned it to my farrier, he said he used to go there to shoe the woman’s horses but as the place spent nine months of the year under floodwater she moved them into livery.
No wonder the builder b lost patience. The viewings were a hiding to nothing. And that was before we tried to walk the hacking that invariably didn’t exist: ‘You just go down that lane, turn left on to the main road, cross the dual carriageway, follow the bypass for an hour and then you’re on the Downs Link!’
But I talked him into looking at one more hovel for luck. And so we drove for miles down the A3 and arrived on a glorious sunny day in an idyllic village with me thinking, ‘It might be salvageable, it might be the one,’ and the familiar surge of pre-viewing hope in my heart.
The owner greeted us as we tried to squeeze the Volvo on to the minuscule driveway. As soon as I saw the improbably small house and dilapidated sheds I knew it was hopeless. I just prayed for a quick viewing so it would be over soon. He took us into the front garden first, past a koi pond full of horribly fat fish and pointed at the upstairs windows.
‘Now, these were put in five years ago because we discovered that the originals didn’t have lintels. With this particular brand of Everest…’
The builder b nodded. I felt a tightening in my chest. ‘Can we look at the land?’
The man turned to me and very slowly said: ‘Yes, but let’s go back a step. Now, these plastic windows…’
I stood doing my breathing exercises. This was the worst yet. Mercifully, the builder chatted away, humouring the situation.
‘Right, if you will just walk this way. We will view the outbuildings.’
‘Ah yes, this looks interesting,’ said the BB, as we surveyed a dozen wrecked sheds. ‘And this one here looks in quite good nick. We could convert that.’
‘No, no,’ said the man. ‘We will be taking that one with us. Now, this area here…’ and he pointed to a patch of bare earth, ‘could be easily converted into a sand school.’
‘Yes, but we don’t want a sand school,’ I said. ‘We like hacking. Are there bridleways? Can you ride out from the property?’
‘Now, let’s go back a step. This sand school…’
It took him half an hour to finish explaining how we could build the sand school we didn’t want. And then he took us to see the sheep enclosures we didn’t want, and the stock-fencing we didn’t want, and the cattery runs we didn’t want. Finally, he showed us the five-bar gate we wouldn’t be able to use because the road was too busy.
‘We’ll never get a horse out of there,’ I said. ‘Well, you could always put in a bigger gate,’ he said.
‘I don’t mean the size of the gate, I mean…Oh, never mind.’
‘Would you like to see the house now?’
‘Yes, absolutely. I can’t wait.’