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When is a house a habitable house? I had expected a straightforward answer and not some internal meta-ethical discourse on the nature of the meaning of the French word “habitable”. I might be old-fashioned but in my mind a house is habitable if one can move straight into it and start unpacking.

But it would seem from my house-hunting experiences I might have underestimated the complexity of the issue in distinguishing a habitable house from a non-habitable house. It’s an easy mistake to make. I had, it would appear, been relying too heavily on my sense-experience – which we all know can be deceived – and, in the true Cartesian manner (this is France after all!) I should have emptied my empiricist mind of such deceiving information and looked at the idea of “being habitable” with a whole new frame of mind. See past the ramshackle damp redolent rooms and embrace the unique opportunity to stamp my mark on the property.

Monsieur L’Agent was waiting at the first property, a three story town house which the details described as. I had my doubts but followed him inside, carefully side-stepping the burial-like mound of post and junk-mail. I enquired about the present owners, expecting death to feature somewhere in the answer. But no, they were very much alive and kicking in Ireland. This certainly brought a whole new meaning to the “lock up and leave” option. It seemed more like “lock up and get as far away as possible!” Immediately I felt myself falling back into old ways of seeing and believing and my doubt as to whether this was a habitable house or not was soon confirmed as we finally arrived upstairs where a room full of pigeons greeted our entrance with a squatter’s indifference.

“A pigeonnier?” I enquired. Monsieur L’Agent shrugged his shoulders and forced a smile to his face.

As we headed off to the next house I tried to loosen up and let go of my preconceived and limiting ideas. I was determined to see the habitable in the habitable; to go beyond the apparent (whatever state it appeared in) and to imagine the possible. The garden certainly looked cared for and appealing. Monsieur L’Agent had a confident air about his demeanour. The signs were good so far but my old scepticism soon crippled progress with exquisite sciatic skill. There was no kitchen. Well, there was a room designated as a kitchen in the details but only an archaeological excavation could confirm the veracity of the claim. There was a bathroom, again without the obvious and necessary equipment to qualify it as such – even the tiles had been removed!

Surely my senses were not deceiving me again. How is this habitable, I enquired. Monsieur L’Agent turned quickly on his heels and announced without any discernable trace of irony that he had one final habitable property for me to see in my price range.

I had expected to do some superficial tinkering on a property but fitting out a kitchen and a bathroom ab initio was not only beyond my idea of DIY but also far, far beyond my personal skills and capabilities. I was beginning to think that “habitable” was a linguistic false friend luring me into some dangerous liaison, committing myself to a long and costly relationship.

His final “habitable” offering had little in the way of kerb appeal to sell it – two donkey-sized Doberman dogs patrolling the flimsy garden fence. But beyond the canine menace the cottage had a certain attraction – and it was habitable, people were actually living in it which certainly propelled it to the top of the list. Inside did not disappoint. The kitchen was evidently a working kitchen and not merely a ghostly reminder of its former self. The bathroom contained everything one might expect – toilet, shower and a hand basin – nothing to disturb my doubts.

Immediately my mind turned to placing my belongings in the house and taking possession of it – albeit in my imagination. But this was progress. I could see how I might inhabit the space. Monsieur L’Agent seemed to read my mind, “Habitable?” he declared with all the assurance of an imminent sale.

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