It was the roses that made me appreciate it fully; the blood-red roses. Read the opening lines of Oscar Wilde's The Ballad of Reading Gaol. It begins, He did not wear his scarlet coat/ For blood and wine are red/ And blood and wine were on his hands/ When they found him with the dead.

I did not see the roses at first, though. All I saw was the wrecking machine and the missing wall. If you look very hard, the roses are almost in the middle of the picture, above the steps and to the left. If you read on, you will also see how the story evolved. 


Look at the crack in the end wall, and at the tie-bar running from side to side. Tie-bars, to stop the walls bulging outwards and collapsing, are common in rural France. Often, they are a simple and all but inevitable consequence of inadequate or non-existent footings under shallow foundations.

This house is less than five minutes' walk from where I live. It had been falling down for a long time: years, certainly. I had walked past it countless times. The bulging, broken wall was marked off with tape in the street. Then one day I suddenly saw that it was being demolished. Inevitably, I went to take some pictures. I had not realized what hid behind those walls. Behind the walls of the part-demolished house was a small garden. In it was a rose bush. Two blood-red roses were in bloom against the wall of the garages.. 

The falling-down walls were the least part of it. To the left, as viewed from the street, was what I had always taken as a habitable building. It was a house which had indeed until recently been inhabited. There were electrically operated shutters, and fittings that were only slightly embarrassing in their datedness, and a few clich├ęs such as a single lone trainer, an easy shorthand for desolation in the hands of lazy war correspondents. 

The kitchen-dining room and the bathroom spoke of the 1970s or even 1980s. In addition there were new roof-trusses, walls in breeze-block (cinder-block, parpaing) and modern hollow clay brick. A child's toys, a grandchild by inference, still stood in one of the rooms. I cut one of the roses in the garden in memory, and left the other, also in memory. 

There is a sea shanty of which the chorus is, Go down, ye blood-red roses. A popular theory, almost certainly wrong, links this to the way the blood would billow out from a harpooned whale as it dived. Go down, ye blood-red roses. The house was harpooned, dying:effectively, already dead. Why?

Nothing lasts for ever. As Shelley wrote 200 years ago, My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings/ Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair. But most things can be repaired. Houses especially. One of our acquaintances lives in the Chateau-Fort (fortress) de Berrie, begun almost a thousand years ago. .Parts of our own house go back for centuries. What went wrong with the house in the pictures? 

No one thing, obviously; but a concatenation of things. Above all, the cost of repairs. The wall that has been demolished in the pictures was, I am pretty sure, falling down when Frances and I first saw the village in 2002. I don't know if the house was still inhabited then. It might have been. But decay is contagious: one wall starts to fall down, and drags another with it. A botched or cheap repair comes home to roost; but what do you do if you cannot afford a proper repair, or if you think, "It'll see me out"?

Another thing, perhaps, is simple taste. Who else remembers the "avocado" bathroom suites of the 1970s? All right, tan isn't as bad as avocado, but it won't help sell the house. Were they asking too much for it? Probably not, in rural France, where a functioning bathroom can still be a selling point: there are still houses without such amenities. 

Or did they simply fail to clean it up enough? The rubbish above was only the most evident sign that it hadn't been looked after: the floors of the two garages (untouched at the time of writing) were covered in rubbish too.

Of course, by the time I saw it. they'd started demolishing it, so it is entirely possible that it had looked a lot better before; it could be hard to distinguish between "plain" rubbish and demolition rubbish.

And nowhere is at its best when the floors are littered with broken glass.