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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Not Exactly A Storm In A Teacup!

It’s fairly common knowledge that the past three winters have been pretty nasty across France, but the 2011 summer wasn’t much to write home about, either, in terms of decent periods of sunshine! Certainly, family and I were so very relieved not to be in the tent towards the end of August. Severe, convective storms were forecast to affect Brittany around the 25th and 26th August.

Thursday 25th August was hot, bright and humid to start, but the storms started rolling over us during the late afternoon, and they continued through the night, virtually without a break. However, we woke up to absolutely  torrential rain on the Friday morning, and, as we set off in the car to go shopping, we noticed a young birch tree had come down across the width of the road on the bend that curves around Nikki’s property. So, with my bright blue, plastic poncho flapping like wings in the rising winds, I took hold of the tree by its torn roots and slowly pulled it around to lie, lengthways, in the ditch. Tom sat helpless in the car, he couldn’t have helped, a deep chest infection had made it virtually impossible for him to even walk further than 3-4 metres from the house to the car.

Tree safely out of the road, where it might not have caused major issues for cars and bigger vehicles, but it could well have caused a fatal accident for a motor-cyclist, I climbed back into the car and we continued to Intermarché. What a mess I felt! Wet leaves and twigs covered me from the top of my head, down my poncho, to my saturated hiking-shoes! As I squelched into Intermarché with Tom, he looked at me and burst out laughing. “Sorry, love”, he said, “but you look like Worzel Gummidge!”

I sneaked a look at myself as we passed a mirrored pillar, Tom wasn’t wrong!

The rain didn’t stop, the winds alternated between gusty and breezy, and it was a thoroughly miserable day with a series of thunderstorms making their way towards the house from across the plains. It must have been just  after 4.30pm, and it suddenly turned very dark in the house. I glanced through the office window and noticed a huge, black cloud that seemed to hover over the house, the surrounding garden and meadows, it was like a massive umbrella. Then, I saw Jerry the pony on the furthest side of his paddock, well away from the house, his mane, tail and rug flapping as he galloped, heading away from the direction of the wind. Looking to my right, I saw what looked like a thick fog moving across the meadow towards the house. I knew what it was, having seen several tornadoes and waterspouts in my lifetime.

As I quickly turned to leave the office, I met our son as he rushed in, grabbed hold of me, and almost carried me through the house to the lounge! The four of us, plus the dogs, plus two of the cats (the other two were in the barn) crushed ourselves into the tiny space that was the downstairs toilet off a small passage-way between the lounge and kitchen. There was no window in that small area. As we squeezed into the toilet room, there was a huge clap of thunder, a terrible roaring noise, and then it sounded as though the tiles on the roof were dancing to Hornpipes!

I don’t suppose it lasted much longer than thirty seconds to a minute, but it felt like a much longer period of time, and it was terrifying! I felt so sorry for the animals, they were almost rigid with fear. Wonderful dogs and cats, not one of them scratched, bit, or tried to bolt, they remained exactly where we had put them in that tiny space, crushed between four human-beings.

Apparently, when Nikki contacted her property insurance people, the agent asked her if the damage had occurred on the 26th August; she told him that was the right date and he wasn’t surprised. So, I don’t think ‘our’ mini-tornado was an isolated incident that day!

 

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The Continental Breakfast

The Continental Breakfast

Autumn chill getting into old bones!

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2012 in World

 

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Hobo Tea

Hobo Tea

This is the time when the wild piggies come out to play!

 
2 Comments

Posted by on February 25, 2012 in World

 

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Phew! Close To Being Deported

2011 brought a lot of health problems for Tom and me, but, at our ages we don’t expect to have robust good health, especially as we both had pre-existing health conditions before we moved to France in 2007. However, we are convinced that our health has deteriorated far more quickly, due to harsh weather conditions spent living in the tent, than would have happened if our ongoing housing situation had never arisen.

The other two members of our family who have lived this life with us, have thrived! They have not lived according to their expectations, but they’re both young enough to take a lot of positive experience from the past 4+ years. Whereas, in truth, Tom and I feel the bottom line is that we have had 16+ years stolen from the four of us, to date, and those years can never be returned to us. They are lost to us forever, and not only to us, but also to our family in the UK.

However, thanks to supportive, caring friends, here in France, we have survived so far! Although, we did wonder if we were about to be deported back to the UK, in May 2011. Once again, as has been the case every year since 2009, we had not received our French Tax Declaration form, and we set off to Mauriac to complete the form in the Tax Impots office.

We waited to be called to the desk by the duty clerk, and I gave her copies of our previous year’s French Income Tax Declaration and Assessment documents, containing all the information she needed, with evidence of my pensions increases. The clerk read the documents, looked at us and asked for our Carte de Sejour. I was ready for that! I handed over our Residency Certificate to her without saying a word. She looked at it and said, “This is out of date.”

Tom and I were dumbfounded, I replied that we didn’t actually need a Carte de Sejour or a Residency Certificate, being British citizens living in another EU State, and owning our only property in that EU State. The clerk looked at me and said she would not give us a Tax Declaration form until we provided a current Carte de Sejour, or an updated Residency Certificate stamped and signed by the Champagnac Mayor.

Without completing a current Tax Declaration, and sending copy of the ensuing French Income Tax Assessment to the Bureau d’Aide, we would lose our right to Legal Aid. I explained that to her, she shrugged and looked away from us, just couldn’t meet our eyes!

I was close to tears! Turning to Tom, I said, “What have we done wrong?” He shook his head, took my hand, then, in English, he said to the clerk, “We’ll get a new Residency Certificate and will post it to you.” The clerk understood, she nodded and waved us away from the desk, saying, “You must get one soon, or you will have to return to England.”

Tom and I drove to Champagnac, to the Mairie, where we spoke with the office staff, we know them all! Jacques, the Mayor, was in a meeting, but the senior receptionist was horrified when I told her what had transpired with the Tax Impots clerk, she said, “You don’t need a Carte de Sejour or a Residency Certificate. This is stupid, she is racist.” The ladies made us coffee and asked how we were managing, they were obviously, genuinely angry and very upset at what had been going on in our lives. Within half an hour, we had the updated Residency Certificate to hand, and we left the office after being kissed on both cheeks by all three Mairie ladies! We climbed into the car and headed back to Brittany.

I completed the tax Declaration form and posted it, with enclosures, to Madame Cosson at the Tresor Public in Mauriac. I also included a brief letter to explain why we were sending an updated Residency Certificate, and why we were sending the enclosed documents to her, ie a person we trusted. We received our Tax Assessment document in October, a couple of weeks earlier than usual, and we immediately posted off copies to the Bureau d’Aide in Paris, and to the ECHR in Strasbourg.

We received acknowledgement from the ECHR within a few days. As usual, we received nothing from the Bureau d’Aide! But, every letter we send to bureaucrats and Courts are sent LRAR (Lettre Recommandé avec Avis de Réception aka Registered Mail), We track them on-line until we see they have been received, accordingly with a signature, because the receipts are always sent to our house that can never be our home.

We wonder what will happen this year!

 

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More Than One Cuckoo In The Nest!

The weeks passed, and the weather never quite attained summer values, in fact, we were very disappointed with Brittany, on the whole. But, we do know 2011 was a strange year where weather was concerned, and not at all the norm, world-wide. Further south in France, there was severe drought and sun-baked crops and meadows, whereas, we seemed to have wall-to-wall rain, much cooler than average temperatures, and, in all honesty, we hated it! Years spent living south, where the Mediterranean climate seems always to have the upper hand over the wet, Atlantic winds, had left us struggling to cope with what we call ‘British weather Brittany’!

2011 in Brittany was not kind to Tom, and he fell foul of one chest infection after another, the emphysema was biting hard and he was virtually living on antibiotics. Unfortunately, my health also took a swift and steep dive, and I realised one morning that, once again, I had what I call a ‘cuckoo in the nest’, ie a rather large lump in my left breast. I have no idea how I missed it before it grew so large, having been there before and always being aware of the possibility of recurrence, but, there it was, and I knew I couldn’t waste any time.

I discovered the lump on a Sunday morning and told Tom I needed to see a doctor the following day. Despite not being well, himself, and not really relishing the idea of driving, Tom didn’t hesitate. He thought I had decided the two angina attacks I’d had in recent weeks, and my second dose of shingles in two years, had finally pushed me in the direction of common-sense! I decided not to worry Tom further until I had a better idea of what was going on with my own aging, decrepit body; he had enough to contend with, breathing needed to be his priority.

That night, the nagging headache I’d had constantly for two days and nights reached a crescendo – stress, I was convinced. Yes, it was attributed to stress, in part, but the lovely lady Doctor Labenne in Chateaubriant was clearly very worried when she examined me on that Monday afternoon, 4pm being the earliest appointment I could get. Her immediate suggestion that I should go into hospital was politely but firmly declined by me, and I explained that I had an Attestation for healthcare, but no Carte Vitale. She understood, the Attestation would not ‘work’ for me outside the Cantal. My word, that lass had her work cut out! But, within four days, she had brought my blood pressure down to below ‘dangerous’ level, my scan showed I had two ‘cuckoos in the nest’, both benign, my blood sugar levels were falling slowly but steadily, and the litres (well, slight exaggeration!) of blood I had voluntarily given the local ‘vampire’ were being rushed through various analysis systems. Voila!

Nowadays, Tom and I are like a pair of football rattles when we’re out walking together! His antibiotics, ‘puffers’ (inhalers) and steroids, and my bum-bag filled with pills nicknamed ‘the screws’, ‘the tens’, ‘the bombs’, ‘the green goddesses’, etc! I’m still in line for further investigation and treatment, one of my kidneys was damaged during the period when I could not afford medication as a hobo here in France. However, we will cross that bridge in due course, the kidney is currently responding to my much better health.

If a medical professional were to read my health file and tell me Doctor Labenne had saved my life, I would 100% believe that, in truth, it’s what I believe anyway!

How I wish it were that quick, though, to vanquish our two-legged cuckoos from what should be our nest!

 

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The National Debt

February 2011 on the outskirts of Chateaubriant in Brittany wasn’t too bad, weather-wise, and March was even better, spring had sprung! So, Tom and I decided to take a chance and travel to the house in Champagnac to collect some summer clothing. The four of us only carry three changes of clothing each plus wash-bags; our tent, cooking equipment and sleeping gear virtually fill the boot of our ‘old girl’. So, other than when we replace with new any clothing and shoes that are outgrown or beyond needle and cotton, we transfer hot and cold weather clothing twice each year to and from the house. We really do have that off pat now!

We telephoned our friend, Madame ZC, to let her know we would be visiting and collecting our mail, and she invited us to stay overnight in her house to break the long journey. I suggested to Tom that we should perhaps try once again to sort out the hairdresser’s water rates issue with the Tresor Public in Saignes, as we could not persuade the hairdresser to take responsibility for her debt without our intervention. Tom agreed and I put all relevant documents into the car. Before doing that, however, I calculated the rental payments that had been made to the Tresor Public by Monsieur C and Mademoiselle S (the hairdresser), added to the amount that we had paid because Monsieur MA (our first avocat) had done a runner with our designated money, and I balanced the total against the taxes foncier and d’habitation that had been due for payment since 2008. The bottom line was an amount of +€1000. Tom and I decided to suggest to the Tresor Public that they clear the hairdresser’s outstanding water rates bill with that excess, we refuse to accept the rent payments, as advised by Monsieur MA right from the beginning. Off we set the following day, before sunrise.

We arrived at the Tresor Public just after 11am and were relieved to see the duty clerk was not our sellers’ relative. The relief was short-lived! Within seconds of approaching the clerk’s desk and laying our neatly printed paperwork in front of her, she just glanced at it and, without a word, walked into a back office. Tom and I were at a loss! What should we do? Stay or leave? People can be so rude, sometimes.

Just as we were walking towards the exit door, the clerk returned and literally slammed a jotter pad onto the counter, we just looked at her quite shocked. Then, she beckoned us over and started copying figures from a print-off. Eventually, the clerk turned the jotter around so that we could see the figures, and she pointed to the bottom line, it was nearly €2,000 less than my calculations and gave us a deficit, but I immediately saw the reason. I told the clerk she had miscalculated three years tax d’habitation, it had not been payable because my husband and I are both pensioners, and Tom was over 60 years old when we moved to France in 2007.

The clerk looked me squarely in the eye and said, “The house in Champagnac is your second home, you live more often in a tent, that is your primary home. You must pay taxe d’habitation for the house. You must also pay the water rates bill if you don’t sign the hairdresser’s Lease.” I calmly asked the clerk to put the details in writing, and I assured her that we would wait, she shook her head and said nothing further.

We walked out of the office and have not returned, we feel a return trip would be a wasted journey. We have never received a written receipt for, or a written breakdown of, the payments made by the locataires directly to the Tresor Public. We do know the annual rent payments made total €3,234:24, and the tax foncier last year was €806, after €200 was deducted due to changes at the Cadastre.

We’re quite surprised that France still has a National Debt!

 

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Red Letter Day – Which Address Is Ours?

Once again, I have been burning the candle at both ends, so I took a couple of days out of ‘cyber circulation’ to catch up with myself!

Two days ago, we had what is to us a red letter day, our forwarded mail finally caught up with us, ie mail delivered to our house that can never be a home between October 2011 and January 2012. Our sincere thanks, as always, to our friend and former neighbour, Madame ZC.

In the large brown package, we found a birthday card sent to me by my daughter and her family, for my birthday last October. There was also a Christmas card sent to us by my sister and brother-in-Law, our first contact for three years. So, two envelopes opened, and we were jumping with joy, a brilliant start. Then, the opening of two more envelopes revealed our Carte Vitale French health insurance cards! We have only waited two years for them to arrive! Unfortunately, because they have been issued to us in the Auvergne, where we are registered as being resident, and we travel all around France, we only have basic cover outside the Auvergne. So, the ALD (Affection de Longue Durée) status of my health issues will warrant 70% refund, not the normal 100% refund. Nevertheless, that’s a vast improvement on having 0% refund, despite having paid in to the system for years!

That was the end of the good news!

Digressing to our ongoing, three years old battle with the local Tresor Public in Saignes, over the hairdresser’s unpaid water rates bills. This is the hairdresser who has no Lease, no Rental Contract, no permission whatsoever from us to be operating a hairdressing business from our property, a property that legally can’t be used as a commercial establishment. The same hairdresser who we had not known about, had not met, before November 2007, ie four months after we purchased the house in July 2007. The same hairdresser who had purchased the previous hairdresser’s Lease as it was coming to its 9 years completion date, before we purchased; a purchase that was agreed by our sellers, and by the notaire, a purchase that the Immobilier had known about since June 2007, In short, everybody knew about it before we purchased, except us!

A commercial Lease extends for 9 years in France, and it is virtually impossible to prematurely end that Lease. Indeed, it is extremely difficult to refuse to extend such a Lease for as long as the Lessee wishes to continue business operations, for 100 years and more, if required by the Lessee!

Well, anyway, that’s the hairdresser who refuses to pay her business water rates bills! The Tresor Public insist that we must pay the hairdresser’s unpaid bills. That outstanding bill stood at just under €2,000 when we received our previous, forwarded post package in November 2011. However, the new unpaid bill stands at €3357:49, according to the facture we received in our brown package two days ago. There is a further water rates bill for €508:72, the 2012 water rates facture that the hairdresser will obviously not pay! The reality in France for us!

It appears that our house that can never be our home has one front door, but it has three addresses! Our address proper is one of only four properties in the village that is simply Place de l’Eglise, due to the connections between those four properties and Church grounds. There can be no commercial enterprises on the Church Square, aka Place de l’Eglise. So says the nice guy at the Cadastre.

Obviously, our sellers boxed clever several years before we arrived in France. The resident locataire, Monsieur C, has a different address to us, his address is Place de l’Eglise, Le Bourg. The hairdresser is right out of the frame where the Church rules are concerned, her address is simply Le Bourg, no mention of the Church Square.

As I say, we have one front door between all of us, even the nice guy at the Cadastre was rather bemused at our sellers’ manipulative stroke of genius!

 

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