Following the ‘stolen teaspoons’ fiasco, we headed for Nice and the possibility of a pitch on a site that remained open throughout twelve months of the year. We were thinking about Christmas, wondering how we could celebrate Christmas in a tent with a ‘hobo’ cooker! We were also thinking about our family in the UK. By that time, our youngest grandchild, born in the UK in August 2007, had come through various life-saving treatments, but her condition still gave cause for concern about her future development. Her mum and dad were under constant pressure and, for the first time ever, I could not be there for one of my kids. Nobody will ever know how I felt during that dreadful period, I was torn apart by the need to ‘be there’ with family on both sides of The Pond. When people mention the word ‘compensation’ to me, I know they are referring to money. No amount of money could ever compensate for what we have suffered, that applies to our entire family living in two countries.
Earlier in the year, I had become a member of an on-line Francophile forum. Whenever possible, I would visit an internet café and keep abreast of the news for the British community living in France. Our telephone was still connected at the house, and I would spend a couple of hours on the forum when we went to collect our mail. The forum was ideal for locating camping sites that would remain open the year round. I also made time to offer other forum members information when I was on-line.
Unfortunately, when we arrived at the camping site near Nice, that should have been open, we found it closed with an à vendre (for sale) notice at the entrance. The forum had not been very helpful on that occasion! So, we headed inland. I was the GPS and, usually, my map-reading skills are very good, but, not that day! We headed up-country from Nice, aiming to reach Villars by late afternoon, where we knew we could pitch the tent for one night on a commune camping site that offered space, fresh water and toilet facilities. Somewhere along the route, we took a wrong turning and strayed off course.
The terrain assumed an undulating form, then the hills became very large hills, until they turned into mountains! We were in the foothills of the Alps between France and the Italian border, on a road that was one way only! The road back to the coast, to Monaco, was some 500 metres below us. Solid mountain to the right, a sheer drop to the left, I was mortified, I’m petrified of heights and that was not a wide road! Kilometre after kilometre, every time we rounded a section of jutting cliff face, the road seeming to hang off the edge of the rock, I hoped to see flat land in front of us. Instead, there was just another purple mountain, taller and more heavily snow-laden than the one we were on. Several hours later, a road sign took us away from the Alps and back down-country to Gap. That’s when we added our jerry can of petrol to the tank! That night, we slept in the car in an aire de repos (equivalent to a lay-be with a picnic area and shower facilities). We were shattered, and Tom, our only driver, was exhausted to the point where his face was grey and his eyes were red-rimmed.
We spent the next three weeks moving from camping site to camping site, spending occasional nights in one or another of the many aire de repos facilities that are widespread throughout France. One day, we found ourselves on the outskirts of the village where Brad Pitt and his family lived, I spent at least twenty minutes with my nose pressed against the cold car window, hoping for a glimpse. No such luck!
We returned to the house very early one morning in December, on the day of the Tribunal, to wait for the telephone call giving us the justices’ decision. We waited all day, but that call didn’t arrive. We stayed in the home of a French friend in the village for a week. The house was tiny, and we were obviously over-crowding the home of our friend, although, she never gave any indication of being unhappy about it. On the seventh day, I telephoned Monsieur MA to politely demand the verdict. Taken by surprise, he told me, “The justices did not find in your favour, and you must pay €1,000 compensation to Monsieur and Madame T. There will also be Court fees to pay, and my final bill will be there after Christmas, to give you time to pay. But, I think you should Appeal. I will send the documents to you by post. L’Huissier (the Court Bailiff) will bring you the Tribunal’s Judgement document.”
We couldn’t even cry, we were stunned. We just hugged each other closely together against the cruelty and the injustice of it all.