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Category Archives: Napoleon

Taking Responsibility

Taking responsibility is not usually difficult, although it is sometimes time-consuming, and I would think we have all thought at some time or other, ‘I wish I didn’t have to spend my life thinking of things I must do, rather than things I would like to do!’ Ensuring our grandson receives an education that fits his needs is our responsibility, ie the responsibility of the adults in our small family unit. Because our lifestyle does not allow for formal education, that responsibility falls on my shoulders, fairly and squarely. It’s no hardship, he is a gem who soaks up learning like a sponge, and I never really envisaged retiring from teaching, anyway!

So, on Monday 1st October, Tom and I travelled to Aurillac to do what we had to do to ensure grandson’s ‘home education’ could legally continue for yet another year. During our journey through and along the perimeters of the wonderful, lush green craters of long since exploded, and still sleeping, volcanoes, we talked about our next steps to find out if we could continue to seek justice to atone for the vice caché. It seems to us that our (third) avocat and our specialist Cour de Cassation avocat are not interested in making sure we know what’s happening with our Case. In fact, as I commented to Tom, I believe we could all pop our clogs and nobody within the judicial system would be any the wiser or interested!

We decided to call on the legal expertise of an old friend in Aurillac, a French barrister, Maitre C. We were out of luck on the Monday, but Maitre C’s lovely wife asked us to return during the Tuesday afternoon, and we did.

Now, that was a revelation!

It appears that our Case will continue because Napoleon made provision for the disappearance of spouses when the law has not fully run its course. Simply, Madame T must complete the proceedings on her own. If Madame T does not survive the long drawn-out processes, her offspring must take up the slack, followed by her grandchildren if necessary! Does the same apply for the other foot’s boot, ie if Tom and I don’t live long enough to witness the final resolution? Yes.

So, there you go, it really doesn’t do to get on the wrong side of Napoleon’s laws, whether you are perpetrator or victim!

Although Tom was visibly tired, driving takes its toll these days, he wanted us to go for a drink in our village bar-tabac, to celebrate my 63rd birthday. The Bar-Tabac-Presse is only two doors down from our house – moving in the direction that’s away from the Church, of course! As we parked outside the house, a couple of our friends were heading toward the bar-tabac and they joined us. We joined a larger group inside the bar-tabac and updated everybody about the day’s events. One of them reported to us what he had been told by one of our sellers’ sons, ie that if Madame T had passed away, rather than her husband, the family would have offered to settle out of Court. But, as things stand, the matriarch calls the shots!

Can we move back into our house that’s not a home?

No. The hairdresser left too much damage in her rush to remove fixtures and fittings, none of which can be repaired because Napoleon decreed that ‘….it would not be in the public’s best interests for repairs to be carried out on a property at the centre of dispute…’! Some of us take responsibility, some of us don’t.

Were we surprised? What do you think?

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Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow – D’oh!

Tom and I arrived at the house just before 6.30pm on Saturday 29th September. We had both enjoyed returning to the sheer beauty of the Puy de Dome on our left and the long ridge of Puy Mary to our right. We really do miss the mountains of the Auvergne when we’re traipsing around France!

Mademoiselle S, the hairdresser, was still in the shop section of our house that’s not a home. The small square window-panes were steamed up and we couldn’t see the shop interior. It was all a bit Dickensian! Tom and I looked at each other and we could almost read each other’s thoughts. Ah well, it was always going to be too good to be true!

Tom pushed open the front door to the house. That was easy – the entire locking device had been broken, no key-turning necessary, just a gentle push and the door swings inward every time. That was a brand new, double-glazed, front door, to match the brand new double-glazed windows, fitted in November 2007 and funded by us. The hand-crafted door and windows had been ordered by us the week before we completed the property purchase. What could go wrong at that stage? Plenty, as it happens! Eventually, we had discovered that we couldn’t cancel the order because we had signed the devis. Oh la la, one must not renege on a signed devis!

We plonked our rucksacks in the first floor apartment lounge and headed for a welcome cuppa made by our friend and neighbour, Madame Z, she lives three doors away. Sipping steaming mugs of English tea, we listened as Madame Z told us the male half of our sellers, Monsieur T, had passed away. Tom and I were genuinely saddened by the news, but we were not at all surprised. We have never considered Monsieur T to have been responsible for the fraud. He was clearly suffering with dementia when we all met in the notaire’s office for the final signing. At one point, I stopped the notaire reading the documents to us and asked Monsieur F, the Immobilier, if the proceedings were legal. He translated my concerns to the notaire and she responded so quickly that I couldn’t understand what she had said. Monsieur F turned to Tom and me and told us it was perfectly legal, he added, “In France, this is normal.”

Well, the news saddened us, but the possible implications worried us! We wondered if that might be the end of our quest for justice. We also wondered why neither Courts nor avocats had informed us. After three days in the village, no fewer than seven people from seven different families had told us Monsieur T had passed away just under one month ago. Surely, the avocats will have been informed?

An hour later we headed back to the house. The shop windows had cleared of condensation and we could see the shop was empty – apart from a large heap of hair cuttings and dust in a single pile in one corner. We tried to open the door, it was locked. So, we went inside the main door to the house and we were able to open the internal door to the shop.

I’ll try to explain the layout of the house, it’s a little like a maze! The ground floor comprises two large town-house style garages, side by side but divided by a wall. To the left of the garages is the main house entrance into a long hall that stretches through the building, right to the back door. On the left side of the hall are two good-sized rooms, ie the hairdresser’s shop, accessed by an internal door to the front room of the shop. At the far end of the hall, on the right, is the door to the steps that lead down to three cellars. Outside the back door there’s a large yard that houses several outbuildings. Originally, we planned for those outbuildings – most of them are derelict – to be demolished to make way for our ‘green space’, a garden. One of the outbuildings contains a wc, a hand-basin, a shower unit, and space for a washing-machine and tumble-drier. Electricity and running water are supplied to that outbuilding. We had planned to keep that section and use it as a utility room.

On the first floor of the house, there’s a large apartment with two double bedrooms, kitchen, lounge and bathroom. The second floor contains a second large apartment with one double bedroom, kitchen, lounge and bathroom; Monsieur C’s apartment is also on the second floor, a bed-sitting room, kitchen and bathroom.

A loft extension would have given us another apartment with three double bedrooms, lounge, kitchen and bathroom. Although, the open plan aspect would have brought all the apartments together to create one family home.

Lots of space for our big family! Also a major point for the Courts to consider, ie the architect’s main renovation Plans are dated April 2007, before any purchase documents were signed. Copies were given to the Immobilier, to our sellers, and to the notaire. Everybody was made aware of our plans – those plans did not include two locataires, those plans were created with the letter of the law firmly understood, the house was for sole use and enjoyment by Tom and me, and our family, and that was written in the pre-purchase/sale Contract.

Back to the hairdresser! She had gone! However, she returned on Sunday morning, accompanied by her cleaner, and we retrieved one set of the keys to the building. But, her cleaner did not return the spare set of keys that we know she has in her possession, the keys that she doesn’t know that we know she has in her possession!

Tom changed the locks during Sunday afternoon! Yes, we’re paranoid!

 

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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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Water, Water, Everywhere!

With a regular income now under our belts, and our son was still managing to find a little low paid work for a few days each month, as a registered self-employed labourer in the Autoentrepreneur (AE) system, and despite the bite of the recession, we really believed our luck was turning. How foolish of us!

We received mail forwarded from Champagnac by Madame ZC, and we felt like burning the lot, as usual! The resident locataire, Monsieur C, had suffered a burst water-pipe towards the end of the winter. Naturally, he could not be expected to go without fresh, running water, washing and shower facilities, and his wc. So, not knowing how long it would take Madame ZC to contact us, Monsieur C had called an emergency plumber. The repairs were carried out, and Monsieur C had signed the devis (quotation) with Tom’s name! He then gave the devis to Madame ZC to forward to us for payment directly to the plumber, who was approximately 5 hours drive away from our location.

Was Monsieur C legally permitted to do all that? Apparently so, according to the staff at the Tresor Public when I telephoned the water rates section. The young clerk told me, authoritatively, that Monsieur C was responsible for paying his water bills, but we, the property owners, were responsible for paying for repairs to the water-pipes. I asked if Monsieur C was legally enabled to sign formal documents, ie the devis, using Tom’s name. There was a sigh and an audible Gallic Shrug, but no verbal response. I thought about that for a few seconds, then I let the clerk know what Tom and I would do. The clerk laughed – he sounded genuinely amused – then he said, “Madame, you will go to prison for harassment.” I laughed with him and told him that I would then, at least, have a warm bed off the ground. The clerk chuckled and wished me good luck, he sounded as though he meant that, too!

I located the letter, with other documents wrapped in a water-proof bag in the car boot, that Monsieur C had addressed to Tom and me two years before, and in which he had refused, point-blank, to have any repairs or restoration works carried out on any part of the property included in his Rental Contract. I photocopied the letter, and the devis, and I wrote a cover letter. I put the cover letter, copy of Monsieur C’s letter of refusal, and copy of the devis into an envelope, addressed it to Monsieur C, and I posted it to him by registered mail later that day. In the cover letter, I wrote, “This is a well-known saying, you can’t have your cake and eat it. We do hope you are now much more comfortable. Kind regards….” We have never heard any further about that burst water-pipe.

But, the Tresor Public enjoyed a lot of fun and games at the expense of our well-being throughout 2010, and that is ongoing.

The hairdresser, ie the young woman who is a non-resident, commercial locataire who operates from the residential, strictly non-commercial property, without a Lease or a Rental Contract, refuses to pay her water rates unless we sign a 9 years Lease Agreement for her to continue operating. Tom and I have just received an updated water facture from the Tresor Public, they insist that we must pay it, we refuse. The new facture stands at just under €1,900. We had never met that young woman until 4 months after we purchased the house that can never be our home.

 

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Pension? What Pension?

Against a fair few odds, I think, family and I had watched my 60th birthday roll in at the beginning of October 2009. Obviously, it was a low key celebration, and, to be honest, having received no birthday cards from family in the UK – a parcel of cards was en route from Champagnac, but it didn’t arrive until several days after my birthday – I was feeling rather quiet. Tom and I had also celebrated our Silver Wedding Anniversary just days before. 2009 will forever be known by us as the celebrations year that wasn’t!

However, by March 2010, I was still not receiving my pensions, and the rest of our savings were gushing away like water out of a broken pipe! I had applied for my pensions in June 2009. Not receiving any acknowledgement by August 2009, as I had requested, I wrote to enquire if that large brown envelope had arrived. I heard nothing, so I telephoned Newcastle. The large brown envelope had not been received! “Complete it on-line.” advised the very pleasant lass on the other end of the phone. I tried three times using the on-line service, without success, my application just wasn’t accepted, so I downloaded the documents and tried again. It was fortunate that I had an extra copy each of my Birth Certificate and Tom’s and my Marriage Certificate.

By the end of October 2009, I still had not received acknowledgement, so I telephoned Newcastle yet again and spoke with another pleasant lass. Once more, I was advised that the large brown envelope had not arrived. I then had to wait for more copies of Birth Certificate and Marriage Certificate, before I could re-apply for my pensions.

At the end of January 2010, Tom physically took the next big brown envelope filled with documents to a JobCentre Plus near his youngest brother’s home in London! Incredibly, when I telephoned towards the end of March, having not received an acknowledgement, a very pleasant lass advised me that my pensions application, and formal documents, had indeed arrived on her desk, but they had then “been misplaced.”!

By that time, I was feeling rather upset by the fiasco, and I contacted the office of (then) MEP Caroline Lucas. Her PA was horrified and told me she would pass all details to Caroline within 24 hours – Caroline Lucas was, at that time, preparing to represent the Green Party at the forthcoming General Election, and she was only days away from stepping down as an MEP in order to become an MP/Leader of the Green Party for England and Wales. I have never voted for the Green Party, yet, Caroline Lucas took up the fight for my pensions – and, whether the threat alone was enough, I don’t know, but Newcastle went into overdrive and I received my pensions backlog within days! Touch wood, my pensions have continued to arrive in the UK bank account every four weeks since then. But, it was a very close shave!

At this point, I would just like to acknowledge the unconditional help, support and kindness of two close friends, ie Diane and Natalie; without them, food and medication would have been very scarce during two weeks, specifically! The words, ‘thank you’, are never enough, but those two little words come from the hearts of family and me.

Buoyed up and in fighting mode, I emailed our avocat, Alexandra, and I asked her if she would please ‘look over’ our application to the European Court of Human Rights, before I posted it to Strasbourg. By the beginning of June, we had not received a response, and we never did receive a response! I posted the application.

A few days later, we received a brief notice from the ECHR, Strasbourg, to say our application had been filed at the Court on 10th June 2010, Tom’s 64th birthday.

 

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The Start To An Annus Horribilis

January 2010, the beginning of what was to be our worst year as hobos in France. As we waited for news about Tom’s progress in the UK, I received an email from Alexandra to say the Bureau d’Aide had not accepted our 2008 income tax assessment that consisted mainly of capital realised before we moved to France. The Bureau insisted on having our 2009 assessment. I quickly replied, reminding Alexandra that the 2009 figures would not be declared until May 2010, in accordance with the French income tax system, and the 2009 assessment would not be with us until August 2010. She telephoned me and became quite upset that I didn’t have a 2010 tax declaration form on which to record our 2009 income, telling me to “go to Aurillac and get one”!

Eventually, and after much logical persuasion, Alexandra realised that I was physically unable to provide the Bureau d’Aide with our 2009 income tax assessment form. So, she advised me to write to the Bureau d’Aide, and to send all the evidence I could find to prove our income and any savings for 2009. A taller order than she could ever have envisaged, bearing in mind that we could not carry our household filing cabinet – but, we did it, with a struggle!

However, everything was bounced back at us a few weeks later, the Bureau d’Aide bureaucrats did not believe that four of us had survived the year on a total income of just over €8,000, net of taxes, bank charges, and the last of the EDF and telephone bills relevant to the house in Champagnac. Of course, that €8,000 didn’t include the cost of running the car all over France, but I had sent receipts for all vehicle repairs, fuel, insurance and toll charges. But, the €8,000 did cover the cost of camping site fees and a couple of B&B bills, receipts also sent to the Bureau d’Aide. It’s amazing what one can do when somebody says, ‘You’ll never be able to do that.’ Hobo Stew is a favourite dish in our household!

Tom was discharged from hospital after five days, but he was readmitted a couple of days later, another toe was infected, more surgery was necessary, Tom’s right leg was infected from toes to groin. Tom now has three and a half toes on his right foot, and he responds with a grin to being called ‘Tommy Hobbit’, Bless him. His brother, Martin, came through his medical emergency and has since undergone surgery to implant an ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator).

Alexandra was at a loss as to what to do next, we had received a letter from the Bureau d’Aide telling us we were out of time to apply for Legal Aid. We spoke on the telephone and I asked her to help me to apply to the European Court of Human Rights, we could not let this go. Alexandra was clearly horrified at my suggestion, and she told me we had no Case to take to the ECHR at that time, but it would be a consideration after the Cour de Cassation judgement was made. Catch-22. We couldn’t file at the Cour de Cassation without paying the cost, up front, of two avocats. Paying those fees would have left us with no money on which to live. We had to secure that Legal Aid, but Alexandra had backed away, that was the last contact we had with her. Although, we did receive an emailed new year message for 2011, and again for 2012, with a brief assurance that she remains at our disposal.

As Tom was heading back to France from the UK in February, I was hand-writing our nineteen pages of application to the European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg. Computers and printers don’t work in a tent, the plugs drop out of the holes in the walls!

 

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Lots Of Gallic Shrugs!

Christmas 2009 and New Year’s Eve 2010 was a rather depressing festive season for the four of us. We found it difficult to muster any level of enthusiasm, but we realised that we had to do something positive, if we were to survive this major setback and fight another day, another battle, in the same war.

Tom and I travelled to Champagnac to collect accumulated mail, also the Income Tax documents required to support our Legal Aid application. The front of the house, the entrance hall, and the stairways, were in a dreadful mess when we arrived. The front entrance door-lock had been broken, there were boxes and cartons strewn up the stairs to the first floor landing, and there had obviously been a very wet period recently, evidenced by thick mud on stairs and up walls. The beautifully made double-glazed windows and doors, fitted in November 2007, because we were bound by law to honour the order we had placed with the Artisan via our architect, were draped with spiders’ webs and sticky with cooking grease. Tom just focused on where we needed to go to locate the tax documents, I just felt sickened as I followed. Neither of us turned around to take a backward glance as we left the village as quietly as we had arrived. Our friend, Madame ZC, had left our mail in our mailbox that morning, before she left for her son’s house in Paris.

A couple of days into January 2010, I duly wrote a cover letter to accompany the necessary documents to the Bureau d’Aide in Paris, the centre of all French Legal Aid administrations. Then, with nothing better left for us to do, except wait, we started putting our lives back together again, insofar as we could, picking each other up, brushing each other down, starting all over again, as the song goes! At that time, we were pet/house sitting, once again, for Sue and Rick in the Dordogne.

Two weeks later, Tom was looking and feeling very unwell due to dreadful pain in his toes, in fact, most of his foot had turned purple-black by then, although he had been treated for an infection at Sarlat Hospital some weeks before; he was actually treated for infections in his foot several times, by different doctors, in different towns and Departments, throughout a period in excess of a year. Tom was also suffering from a chest infection that just would not respond to antibiotics. I telephoned our private health insurance company to find out if we needed to be in the Cantal for Tom to have hospital treatment. The agent was very unhelpful, and I got quite sharp with him after fifteen minutes of listening to opening and closing files, papers rustling, heavy breathing, and a series of very audible Gallic shrugs. Eventually, the agent returned to the phone to tell me our health insurance had been stopped, and it would not be renewed. Just like that! We have never discovered why that happened, despite writing several times to the company’s Head Office in Paris. We will leave that little conundrum for the legal powers-that-be to unravel, in due course.

Fortunately – and, it will become clear why I say ‘fortunately’ – we received a call from Tom’s youngest brother, Pete, in London, to tell us their middle brother, Martin, was undergoing serious heart surgery possibly that week. Tom didn’t hesitate, he left France for the UK within hours, heading for my eldest son, Iam, and his lovely wife, Tracy, in Northumberland, planning to be with his younger brothers two days later.

Within hours of arriving in Northumberland, Tom had been admitted into hospital for emergency surgery to remove at least one toe that was beyond saving, due to gangrene in the small bones, as far as could be ascertained at that point. Iam had immediately contacted me to let me know what was happening, and the following two weeks consisted of endless days filled with anxiety as we waited to find out what else might need to be amputated.

I believe those two weeks were probably the very worst that we, certainly that I, have endured throughout this entire, disastrous chapter in our lives.

 

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