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Category Archives: British

Two Plus Two Equals Five!

During the past month, Tom and I have wished we were both at least twenty years younger! That’s a first for both of us, we are normally quite content with our ages, life experience, mental and physical capacity, achievements, and our levels of life skills learning and knowledge. So, why the change? It’s simple, we both wish we could walk further than we can, carrying our home on our backs! When our ‘old girl’, aka our long-suffering Citroen Picasso Xsara, flipped her clutch, she left us in a real quandary. Scrap her and walk, or have her repaired and break the Bank to pay for the repairs? We chose the latter because we truly can’t manage without her. She has carried the four of us over 130,000 kilometres during the past four years; Tom and I can’t do that sort of ‘motoring’ on our aging ‘pins’. Simples!

So, we were already somewhat stressed and distressed (and broke!) when we travelled to Champagnac and Mauriac to collect documents from our friend, Madame ZC, and from l’Huissier. We knew the documents would be relevant to the illegal tenant hairdresser’s written Notice to quit our house that can’t be our home, following intervention by the Cadastre (Department Land Registry). But, our immediate concerns were about how Monsieur C might be responding, or reacting! As things turned out, we didn’t need to concern ourselves about Monsieur C, he is definitely a happy bunny! More about that next time.

The documents we received were a revelation! Confirmed within the text, Tom and I were definitely stitched up on 6 July 2007 by the female half of our sellers, and, we strongly suspect she wasn’t on her own! On that day, according to the notaire’s statement, she acted on notification received some time earlier (no date given) from Madame T that Tom and I had agreed to allow the hairdresser to sell on her Rental Lease. Now, why the notaire didn’t demand documentary verification, we have no idea! But, the fact of the matter is that she didn’t demand such evidence. Had she done so, she would have had no doubt that we hadn’t agreed, because we knew nothing about it, and there is no documentary evidence because Tom and I didn’t sign any such document!

On 6 July 2007, several weeks after we signed the compromis (‘promise to buy’ pre-Contract), and three weeks before our purchase was completed, Madame T and the notaire completed their own transaction, and they effectively landed my menfolk and me in the judicial mire that is the French legal system where the hairdresser is involved! Although, of course, Madame T already knew at the time that she was defrauding us by withholding evidence of Monsieur C’s tenancy!

Tom and I now believe the 6 July transaction was the reason why the notaire withheld €2000+ from our sellers on the day of completion. After all financial business was concluded on that day, Madame T looked at her cheque and announced that the cheque was ‘more than €2000 short’. I understood what she said and I looked at the notaire – our Immobilier was trying to hurry us out of the office. The notaire’s face reddened and she told Madame T to telephone her later at her office. Well, that would not ring bells if Tom and I hadn’t been informed, later the same day, that the notaire apparently left her office to go off on holiday immediately after we all left her office!

Strange? Not if the notaire had deducted €2000+ for other services rendered during the sale/purchase proceedings!

The documents contain a number of peculiarities and ambiguities. We know a commercial Tenancy Lease is for a period of 9 years; a residential Tenancy Lease is for 3 years. The original hairdresser’s contract started in December 1998, according to the copy of the Attestation we were given. Therefore, her tenancy period was due to expire on 31 December 2007; she confirmed to us that she had not applied to renew for a further period of nine years because she was closing down to concentrate on extending and raising her family. We wished her good luck, and everything was confirmed in writing between us and the Immo. He confirmed that the hairdresser’s tenancy period had not been extended beyond December 2007. That was further verified in the pre-Contract, and it states that we would have ‘sole use and enjoyment’ of the property.

Of course, that was never going to happen, Monsieur C was skulking in the shadows. But, we were absolutely shattered when Mademoiselle S suddenly appeared in November 2007, and we were informed that she would be with us for nine years!

However, according to the documents handed to us by l’Huissier, the notaire confirms that Mademoiselle S was given a ‘three years commercial Tenancy Lease’, and that it would run from when the previous contract ‘expired in October 2008’. Confused? No more than we are!

Even if we’re wrong about the December 2007 date (we know we’re not wrong, but never mind that!), a 3 years contract would expire in 2011 if it began in 2008. In that case, why is Mademoiselle S still running her business now, in April 2012?

According to l’Huissier, nobody was able to give Notice to quit to the hairdresser until the cadastre intervened, so she probably just stayed put! Well, ok, this is France, so that’s feasible. But, also according to l’Huissier, because Tom and I didn’t sign any documents giving permission for the commercial Lease to be sold by the original hairdresser to Mademoiselle S, the notaire had signed in our absence, as we were ‘in default’!

We left Champagnac thoroughly confused, fed up, sick to our hearts, and that was definitely my lowest ebb since this whole fiasco started. Thankfully, Tom was in British Bulldog mode, and by the time we joined our lads I was over the worst of my ‘blues’!

Today, copies of all documents were posted to the Cour de Cassation, and to the ECHR. Tomorrow is another day!

 

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Whoops! Are We Back On The Roller-coaster?

After the exhilaration of the past couple of days, family and I had to get our feet back on the ground and our heads back on our shoulders, the reality is that we still have a long way to go. We’re nowhere near getting out of la forêt, yet! We must still face the daunting experience of our Case being judged at the Cour de Cassation in Paris.

So, today, in response to many questions that I have been asked by folks living all around the world, I’m going to ‘chat’ about potential next steps. I won’t go into the entire workings of the Cour de Cassation, I’m certain that would be boring to read, and I know it would be a very cumbersome post for me to write! The information I will give is based on data sent to me by various legally and part-legally qualified professionals, one of whom actually works within the austere confines of the Cour de Cassation, on my own research, and on verification of my own and others’ research.

How much information have I received from four (to date) avocats, including our specialist Cour de Cassation avocat? None, absolutely zilch!

The Cour de Cassation is the highest Appeal Court in France, it’s the Supreme Court. To get a Case to the Supreme Court, it must first be heard in one of the Tribunaux d’Instance local Courts, or in one of the Tribuneaux de Grande l’Instance Courts. The latter depends on the severity and the monetary value of the dispute. Our Case was initially heard in the Grande l’Instance Tribunal in Aurillac (15).

The history of the French Cour de Cassation goes back to the French Revolution, it was established by the Act of 27 November 1790. But, the Court’s workings are still largely based, in principle, on the ancient Roman judicial proceedings.

Within the Court, there are six main sections in which a Case can be judged, these sections are as follows: Commercial, Labour, Civil, Criminal 1, Criminal 2, and the Chambre de Requetes – the last gives judgement on whether or not a Case is admissible for Appeal at the Supreme Court. During my conversation with Maitre at l’Huissier’s office in Mauriac, it emerged that our house Case has got through the Chambre de Requetes, and that is why we now have some action! Although, we have not received written confirmation, that might be one of the documents waiting for us at l’Huissier’s office, or at the house. We will find out towards the end of April.

Our house Case was referred to the Civil section of the Cour de Cassation, but a number of professionals have commented, during the past 2 years, that it should be heard by judges in the Criminal 2 section, because our sellers’ fraud has already been proved. Those professionals might well be correct!

If the Claimant fails to win in one of the lower Courts, an Appeal can be lodged in the Region’s Tribunal d’Appel; ours was Appealed at Riom in the Puy-de-Dome (63).

Failure to win the regional Appeal can result in a further, final Appeal to the Cour de Cassation, Paris. The judges in the Supreme Court do not judge on the merits of the Case, they are in situ to decide whether or not French laws have been correctly interpreted during the previous Hearings.

What sort of result may be seen coming out of the Cour de Cassation where our Case is concerned? Well, the previous Appeal decision can be upheld, and in that case, there will be no further French legal action, it would be all over as far as the French judiciary are concerned! Or, the previous Appeal Court decision can be quashed, and the Case can be returned to the Appeal Court in Riom for further consideration and a fresh Judgement. The Cour de Cassation might decide to quash the previous Appeal Court’s decision and order that there will be no further Appeal, the Cour de Cassation decisions about the Case will then be final.

Our Case will be heard by a panel of at least 5 judges, presided over by the Cour de Cassation President, or, a possibility, the most senior Cour de Cassation Judge.

There are a number of potential results.

The judges can decide that our Case is a straight forward vice caché and order the property to be returned to Monsieur and Madame T, with a full refund to us, and with no leave given for the couple to Appeal. On average, it would take 4 – 6 months for the final resolution to be attained, and the judges decision must first be endorsed by the Court President.

The judges can decide that, on grounds of the vice caché having been proved at Riom, the Case must be returned to the Riom Appeal Court for further consideration and a fresh judgement. That would delay the final resolution by up to a year.

The judges could rule that we, Tom and I, are partially responsible for the vice caché, due to whatever reasons they decide on the day. In that case, they could refer the Case back to the Riom Appeal Court for further considerations and a fresh judgement.

The judges could rule that our vice caché claim has been proved, but give Monsieur and Madame T leave to Appeal. That could result in us waiting for an Appeal to be lodged by our sellers, and the Case could drag on for a further period of one to possibly up to three more years.

Our fervent hope is that the Cour de Cassation judges find fully in our favour, with no right of Appeal to our sellers, and with an order that a total resolution must be attained within 28 days.Such a Judgement is rare, but it does happen, and it would need to be endorsed by the Court President.

If we are lucky enough to receive the justice for which we fervently hope, our sellers could plead poverty and state that they’re unable to refund our money! In that event, the Cour de Cassation judges can order them to give us their own home in return for taking repossession of our house that’s not a home, and they would need to live in the latter! Or, the judges could order that property and possessions, belonging to our sellers, must be auctioned and the proceedings used to refund us. That Judgement would need to be endorsed by the Court President.

According to a very knowledgeable source, our sellers are most likely to plead that they have shared their property and possessions among their children and grandchildren! In that case, the judges can order those items to be seized by l’Huissier, assisted by Gendarmes, and the property and possessions to be auctioned, with the proceedings used to refund us. Again, such a Judgement would need to be endorsed by the Court President.

So, there are many possibilities! At the end of it all, will we recoup all of our losses? Very possibly not! But, that’s another story!

 

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A Good Doctor And A Pleasant Bailiff!

Such a huge relief, Tom’s chest x-ray showed nothing more sinister than congestion and infection, just as the doctor thought would be the current situation. So, armed with a change of inhalers, antibiotics, 5 days worth of Prednisolone pills, and a rather “pleasant fruity decongestant drink” (Tom’s words), he is set to recover from this latest lung infection. Several digits are crossed for that outcome, and Tom will return to the doctor on Thursday morning for an updating examination and assessment. Voila!

So, with a much lighter heart, I telephoned l’Huissier’s office in Mauriac, I was fully prepared to hear news of a less than positive calibre! Almost five years of negative results and lost battles were very much to the fore in my mind, although, nothing could reduce my relief that my wonderful husband will soon be well enough to return to our ‘thought showers’ sessions regarding the house Case. I have used the alternative expression to ‘brainstorming’ because, as a retired teacher, I am aware that the original term is politically incorrect, despite the fact that it is very much more appropriate to what actually happens during the sessions!

The clerk who answered my call struggled with my French language skills, so, I used two of my better stock phrases, told her my name and asked to speak with the English-speaking gentleman with whom I have had several conversations through the years. That gentleman was “out of the office”, but, the phone was passed to the Maitre. Brilliant, straight to the top!

Maitre was very pleasant, extremely reassuring, I really did have the feeling that she is definitely on our side! Using a combination of facts, clear empathy, superbly appropriate humour, and concisely worded phrases that I was able to fully understand without any difficulty, this is what I was told by the Maitre.

Both locataires have been given formal Notice to Quit the property on or before 30th September 2012. If either locataire is still in the property on 30th September, l’Huissier and supporting Gendarmes will carry out eviction processes on 1st October 2012. The Cadastral (Department Land Registry) has been given a Court Order to have the locataires removed, l’Huissier has also been granted a Court Order to ensure the eviction processes are actioned, if necessary. It was l’Huissier Maitre who served the formal Notices to Quit the property.

I tentatively expressed my concerns about the resident locataire, Monsieur C, he is not rational when he feels he is under pressure! Laughing, Maitre immediately agreed with me – she has obviously already had a run-in with him! However, she told me the Court Orders have been issued to a Government Department, ie the Cadastral, and l’Huissier have been granted their enforcement powers as Government representatives upholding the laws of the State. Maitre told me that Monsieur C can object as much as he wants to, nothing will stop the processes being carried through on the dates given. I told Maitre that I felt Monsieur C would not wish to be observed by the neighbours during an enforced eviction, she agreed with my comment and told me his possessions would simply be thrown out via a window, and he would be escorted off the premises by as many Gendarmes as required; that would be explained to Monsieur C by letter before 30th September 2012.

Maitre then explained to me that both locataires will require tenancy references from their former landlords to obtain alternative rental premises. To that effect, the hairdresser has paid l’Huissier to deliver a tenancy reference request letter to Tom and me. Here we go, I thought! I informed Maitre that Tom and I are not qualified or prepared to give references, because the locataires are nothing to do with us. Maitre commented that they require references from us because we are the owners of the property. She then listened, without interrupting, while I briefly clarified to her the facts of our vice caché suit.

When I stopped speaking, Maitre asked, “Did Madame T give the locataires their tenancy contracts?”

I told her, “Yes, and we knew nothing at all about the current hairdresser until months after we purchased the property, despite the conveyancing notaire having presided over the sale of the shop Lease, months before we purchased the property.”

Maitre commented, “Classic vice caché, Madame Baxter. So, Madame T can provide the locataires with their references. I will write to her, today, and I will deliver the letter in person. There are documents here for you to collect, I need your signatures for you to receive them. Documents were also delivered to your property in Champagnac, I understand that you and your husband are happy for your neighbour, Madame ZC, to hold them safely for you, yes?”

I agreed with Maitre and told her we would collect all the documents from her office, towards the end of April, and Madame ZC has already forwarded mail from the house to the address of our friends in the Gers, from where we will collect them when my husband is well enough to travel. Maitre replied that she hoped my husband recovers fully and quickly, and she thanked me for phoning her.

Nothing was mentioned about the hairdresser’s outstanding, unpaid water rates bills!

Well, can’t get more positive than that! Or, should we wait until we have all the documents to hand, translated, read and fully understood, before we celebrate? Family and I have decided the latter is prudent!

Since yesterday, I have received many very kind messages of support, and several comments about us being able to move into our house that’s not our home on 1st October 2012. That can’t happen! Our vice caché lawsuit is designed to return the property to our fraudulent sellers, as though we had never purchased it, to receive a full refund of the purchase costs including all monies spent on improvements prior to the proceedings starting, eg the double-glazing. The vice caché lawsuit was not brought to remove the tenants.

Even if we were to move into the house, we would still have no electricity and no sanitation, and we would still not be able to legally make good the electrical and plumbing installations.

Yes, after 1st October, we could drop our vice caché Case – would you?

 

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Rogues, Thieves And Hobos!

Christmas 2011 and the New Year period of 2012 were settled times for us. After the rather nasty Storm Joachim had ploughed its way through France and into Germany, wreaking havoc along its entire path, we were able to clear Sue’s garden of minor debris from the trees, and we headed for the beach at Saint-Georges-de-Didonne. Although he was still plagued by night time coughing, and unable to walk further than 100m without stopping to rest, Tom was feeling, and looking, much better; driving short distances presented as no problem for him. However, little did we know, but it was only a brief respite.

Nearly every day, coat pockets filled with ‘doggy poop bags’, we would pile into the car – Tchica sitting regally in the back seat with the lads, Elmo in the boot after we had removed all the furnishings. Tchica is one of the most laid-back RottieX bitches we have ever met, in fact, she and another Rottie, Amber, Sue and Rick’s bitch, are up there on a pedestal for us! Although, we have been very lucky, Alf the hound in the Tarn et Garonne, Leah and Susie in Les Eyzies, Forest and Hector in Brittany, there’s very little between them all where good, gentle character and obedience are concerned; each of them has a special place in our hearts.

Elmo, though, must be the naughtiest, most wilful, exceptionally mischievous dog of all time, and we love him to bits!

I nicknamed Elmo ‘El Nino’, after the Peruvian translation for ‘the naughty boy’, a weather cycle that creates all manner of problems around the world, when we first looked after him and Tchica during the summer of 2011! That’s what Elmo is, a constant series of whirlwinds and hurricanes that simply don’t dissipate until he falls asleep, exhausted, each evening! He is an absolute rogue of the first degree, a rascal that oozes unconditional love and affection for all man- and woman-kind! Elmo is the dog that all children should have as a play-pal during their early years, particularly. I expect readers get the picture by now, Elmo is the dog we would have loved to be a much-loved part of our family unit, if only circumstances had been different for us.

During our years as hobos, there have been many other pets that we have met, cared for, loved, and that have loved us in return. One of those pets was a very large, overweight, black Sam. We had been recommended to young Sam’s owners as ‘excellent sitters who enjoy walking dogs’. Absolutely correct! So, during the summer of 2009, we were called on to look after Sam in the Dordogne, and to exercise him until he attained the sleek shape he needed to be to live a long, healthy life. In the six weeks I was with Sam, my menfolk were ‘sitting’ in different regions in France, we walked an average of 12kms to 15kms each day. Sam lost weight, so did I! But, we were both much healthier for that weight loss and muscle toning. End result, a happy, bouncy Sam, and two happy owners who arrived to remove Sam to their new home in the UK, and to continue with his exercise regime.

Sadly, some two years later, and long after our son had painted and decorated a lot of that same property in the Dordogne, unpaid, in return for the owners putting a roof over our heads for a period of 5 weeks during the winter of 2009/2010, one of Sam’s owners emailed me to ask if we had ‘removed tools from the property, forgetting to let him know’! In other words, had we stolen the tools, including a rather large strimmer! I still have the email, and my emailed response, in which I reminded him that our ‘old girl’ aka our Citroen, could not carry his ‘missing tools’, we always have a car that is filled to capacity with all our worldly hobo goods! I also informed the guy that we had been hundreds of kilometres away from his French property when his tools had, allegedly, been taken – a fact I could prove. Additionally, I reminded him that he and his family, and their friends, had spent holiday periods in the property since we had last been there, I have the chatty emails letting us know when they were in France with Sam.

Pete, you know who you are, we are still waiting for your apology. We are hobos, not by choice or deliberate design, but through circumstances that are beyond our control. We are not, never have been, never will be, thieves.

 

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A Reflection On The Appeal

Family and I have met so many wonderful people during our hobo years in France, some are now counted as being among our closest friends. Without doubt, one close friend is a super gentleman named Pete, and his family of pets that consists of Alf the Hound, and Misty and Arry, ie two cats that remind me of T.S. Eliot’s Jennyanydots (Misty) and Skimbleshanks (Arry)! After leaving Janet and Mark’s camping site in the Deux-Sevres, we spent the next six weeks with Pete’s pets in a beautiful medieval village in the Tarn-et-Garonne, during November and well into December 2011.

Sadly, Tom’s health had been deteriorating for several weeks; one chest infection after another had rendered him virtually unable to walk and breathe simultaneously. Emphysema is an insidious disease that is included in a group of lung diseases known collectively as C.O.P.D., Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (or Disease). So, after a visit to the local village doctor and the dreaded diagnosis of pneumonia, Tom was confined to the house and loaded up with antibiotics, steroids, nebules for his nebuliser, and inhalers. To say we were extremely worried about him is an understatement. The bottom line is that family and I seriously thought Tom would not survive that dreadful infection.

Here, and with all honesty, I will say this, for the first time throughout this saga I became extremely angry, very bitter, very frightened, and I wrote to the ECHR to tell them how I felt, how we all felt as a family in fear of losing one of our own to death. We did receive a response, quite quickly, acknowledging receipt of my letter and telling us that it had been included in our Case file. The letter went on to tell us to notify the ECHR as soon as we receive correspondence from the Cour de Cassation; and so we continue to wait!

Tom’s health issues, specifically emphysema, were included in the reasons why we needed to have a lift installed at ground level, to access the first floor of the house in Champagnac. Emphysema doesn’t go away, it can’t be cured, it can only be treated according to the level of advancement, existence and severity of infection, assessment on a day to day basis. Tom can develop a chest infection overnight. We did our homework before moving to France, we knew exactly what types of property we needed to purchase, we knew exactly what provisions needed to be put in place to meet Tom’s needs as a disabled person. That was all deemed to be of no importance by the Riom Appeal Tribunal, in December 2009.

Through life experience, I have found that anger and bitterness are generally counter-productive, but, occasionally, human nature over-rules the need for cool, calm consideration!

Towards the end of our six weeks with Alf, Misty and Arry, Pete returned home and invited us to stay as long as we wished; the house was spacious with several bedrooms, and we all got on like a house on fire! How many people would make such an offer after knowing a family for what, in reality, amounted to no longer than a couple of days?

However, we were booked to cover Christmas and the New Year just outside Royan, a ‘sit’ that we anticipated with much pleasure because the ‘sit’ was for another very close friend, Sue, and we have a great love for her two dogs, Tchica and Elmo. A bonus, Royan is on the same coastline as Saint-Georges-de-Didonne, our favourite coastal town in all of France! Bormes-les-Mimosas, on the Mediterranean coast of France, comes a close second, but hasn’t quite got the edge!

The 17th December 2011 saw us heading back up-country, away from the Tarn-et-Garonne and towards Sue, Tchica and Elmo, just outside Royan. We were driving through yet another major tempest, with another Christmas on our minds as we travelled, our fifth Christmas as hobos in France. But, at least there were still four of us, that was all-important!

 

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R.I.P. Winter Tent

Leaving Provence, we worked our way north to Janet and Mark, and their camping site in the Deux-Sevres. Once again, we were in need of moral support, some tlc, and a pitch for our tent! Metaphorically speaking, we were bruised and psychologically battered, and our only thought was to get to friends.

Through the forum and a Chats du Quercy link, we had been asked to pet/house sit for a gentleman who has a dog and two cats; all three pets were rescued from neglect and cruelty. Family and I have the utmost respect and admiration for Rescue organisations, and for the dedicated people who spend their lives striving to bring peace, love, kindness and new forever homes to the most vulnerable and endangered of domestic animals. Against all odds, Charity Rescue services such as Chats du Quercy, Greyhound Gap and Hope Rescue, among many, achieve remarkable success whilst constantly fighting to secure funds for a never-ending stream of abused and abandoned pets. Family and I are always very happy to ‘sit’ for people who rescue pets, the animals can remain in their forever homes, and we feel we’re giving a tiny contribution to their happiness and feeling of security.

First of all, though, we needed to return to the tent for a few days! In absolute honesty, we were not looking forward to that, my menfolk and I were really feeling very weary and disillusioned. Hope was fading for the first time in a long time; we hadn’t heard from either Court, and we had no expectations at all regarding being contacted by our avocat, Alexandra!

But, our spirits were immediately lifted when we arrived in Tillou, at Janet and Mark’s wonderful sprawling property. It was the 28th October, the birthday of our youngest family group member – and, alongside that welcome and welcoming pot of tea was a delicious, chocolate birthday cake, made by Janet, with all the appropriate decorations! Janet never forgets a birthday. In 2010, our youngest member received a box of reading books, books that travel everywhere with us, books that our youngster cherishes.

Such are the memories that will remain with us for the rest of our lives.

Well, the sun was definitely in full view when we arrived, but that was the last we saw of it for nearly a week! October is usually still warm, sunny, calm and settled in the Deux-Sevres micro-climate. It wasn’t in 2011! It was unseasonally cold, wet, windy and not at all kind weather for campers! The storms rolled in, and the storms rolled over, we were constantly struggling to keep clothing and sleeping-bags dry and aired. Having use of Janet and Mark’s huge portable barbecue was our main comfort, we were able to keep reasonably warm as we sat around the log fires we made in the big steel base, and hot meals were easy to cook between showers! Nevertheless, by the end of that six days, Tom was clearly unwell with yet another chest infection. How very ill he actually was, we didn’t discover until a week later. But, that’s another story.

During the night before we were due to leave Deux-Sevres to travel back down-country to the Tarn-et-Garonne, a massive tempest hit the region. Right through the night, we fought to keep the tent in position. The pegs held the guy ropes, but the stress from the guy ropes tore the tent to shreds! Flying twigs, and even small branches, ripped the nylon that had been weakened by alternating high temperatures and freezing temperatures, and the seams parted. Torrential rain had already penetrated one ‘wall’ of the tent two nights before – another good friend, Jeannie, had loaned us dry sleeping-bags, and she had kindly driven to us to drop them off – but, another night of horizontal, fiercely lashing rain finished off our winter tent, and two of us were saturated. By the time day-break arrived, we were all up, the car was packed, and our winter tent had been deposited in a poubelle for recycling! R.I.P. winter tent, you served us well for three years.

 

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A British Shrug And Drug-dealers In Provence!

It was the end of October 2011, and we were rather wearily heading for Provence, but our spirits slowly lifted as we headed south once again. We were looking forward to yet another birthday within our small family group, the birthday of our youngest member! Having already bought the two-wheeler with stabilisers that was tightly strapped and secured to the back of our ‘old girl’, our long-suffering Citroen, we anticipated much use being made of the bike in the ample grounds of a Provence gites complex.

My menfolk were all suffering in the aftermath of a particularly virulent gastric bug, so there were many pit-stops en route, and we arrived a little later than we had agreed with the owners of the gites complex. However, that didn’t appear to be a problem, a lovely pot of tea appeared within minutes of our arrival.

As we sat and talked about ‘roles, responsibilities, expectations’, I noticed Madame B was not as visibly jovial as her husband; in fact, she looked distinctly nervous! Just as I was beginning to wonder when we would be taken or directed to the cottage for our ‘sole family use’, Monsieur B suddenly told us that he and his wife had heard about our ‘dreadful ordeal’ from friends who live further north. Without further ado, he proceeded to clarify a new agreement that he and Madame B felt would be in our ‘better interests’. Based on his understanding that we are pensioners with little to no chance of securing paid work, the new deal was that we should rent the cottage for €460 per calendar month, pay for our own utilities, and gas for cooking, carry out the full list of ‘jobs as previously agreed, in return for the low rent’, and consider it a ‘long term arrangement’.

By the time Monsieur B finished with, “Now, how does that sound?” Tom and I were virtually slumped in our chairs, we knew we could not afford to go with what the guy was suggesting. It was as simple as that! Furthermore, despite the €50 worth of fuel we had put in the car that morning, and the €50 worth of fuel it would take to get us back up-country to friendly faces, we were not prepared to be taken advantage of in that way.

I pulled myself together and politely asked Monsieur B if we could please revert to Plan A, as Plan B didn’t suit, and it certainly didn’t equate with his advertisement in a particular forum’s Classifieds section. Madame B swiftly agreed with my request, but Monsieur B just shrugged (had obviously lived in France for a long time) as he uttered the immortal words, “Well, I don’t believe you have much choice, Chrissie, your only alternative is to spend another winter in a tent.”

Family and I still have something left that is of immense value to us, our dignity. I thanked Madame B for the tea, and I saw honest tears in that woman’s eyes as she caught hold of my hand and gently squeezed it, mouthing one word, “Sorry.” We quietly headed up the drive, back to our ‘old girl’, and the sun was dropping beyond a beautiful blood-red horizon as we drove off to find the nearest, open camping site.

Provence in late October – an open camping site is a tall order! That night, we slept in the car, behind evergreen shrubbery that divides most French lay-bys from motorways. Just after 3am, the menfolk and I were wide awake and fascinated as we watched the drug-dealers at work. My word, there are certainly some busy night owls in the south of France! But, in reality, that was the lull before the storm!

 

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