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Category Archives: Storm

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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