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Happy Birthday Tom

We’re waiting to receive a letter that was sent by one of the Courts to our house that’s not our home. The letter has been forwarded to us, at our current location, but La Poste doesn’t hurry where forwarded mail is concerned. So, this is one of those times when patience is of the essence.

Today, rather than updating by posting much of a sameness, I’m dedicating this post to my wonderful husband.

Tom turned 66 years old today, it is his sixth birthday in France, his fifth birthday as a hobo in France. Since 2007, Tom hasn’t celebrated two birthdays in the same house. In fact, he hasn’t celebrated two birthdays in the same French Department! Two of Tom’s last five birthdays were celebrated in our tent, one of his birthdays was spent in our ‘old girl’, the car, just driving!

Thank you, Tom, for always getting us from A to B during our travels, no matter how far we need to go. You have always enjoyed driving and, by golly, that is just as well!

Thank you for your persistence and courage, we have never once heard you say you couldn’t go on, even if you have thought those words and remained silent. There have been far too many times when we thought we might lose you. You have suffered dreadfully through the pain of gangrene, amputations, and severe chest infections associated with emphysema. But, you never complain.

Thank you for your love, care, and your stalwart support when I or one of the lads has been below par. Despite your vulnerability and your breathing difficulties, you have never complained about the long driving hours, or about searching for firewood with your foot swathed in gauze and bandage, or battling the sometimes bone-chilling winter cold, the miserable damp, the biting insects that love our tent and our blood!

Thank you for your humour, dry, sometimes not quite fitting the topic, often a one-off comment that throws us into howls of laughter and huge rolling tears of mirth! How do you always manage to do that when we’re at our lowest ebb?

Thank you for never comparing how comfortable we were in our house in the UK with how uncomfortable and unsettled we are in France. Comfort, of course, is not just about materialism and physical well-being, it’s also about peace of mind

Thank you for loving this beautiful country as much as we do, and for surviving our sometimes cruel lifestyle. Next year, Tom, we hope your birthday will be spent in our own home, your castle.

Many happy returns, sweetheart, you are a husband, father and grandfather in billions. We love, cherish and appreciate you more than words could ever say.

Now, we promised you a birthday treat, a decent square meal. We have the oxos in their square silver foil coats, 2 litres of bottled water, the hobo stove and a new bottle of camping gas. There’s an Aire de repos just 10kms down the road – let’s go! 😉

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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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One Down, One To Go – Maybe!

Three of us have just spent the lion’s share of a week a few kilometres inland from our favourite French beach, ie Saint-Georges-de-Didonne in the Charente-Maritime. We have visited just about every coastal area in France, from Brittany southward and from Nice westward, and we have yet to find a cleaner stretch of sand than the Saint-Georges beach. If anyone who is reading this has a hankering for a seaside holiday in France, I personally recommend Saint-Georges and immediate neighbour, Royan. Superb!

Our fourth family unit member, our son, was working for a wonderful couple inland, Gilly and Dave, pulling down a rather large shed! There can’t be many things that appeal more to menfolk than demolition! My other two menfolk and I slept soundly in the holiday home of yet another lovely friend, a super pal who has offered, on more than one occasion, to lobby the French judiciary by wearing a sandwich-board bearing words to the effect, ‘Justice for the Hobo Family’, whilst traipsing the main streets of Paris! This might present as being a tad unlikely to happen, but, believe me, that is not the case where this straight as a flying arrow friend is concerned!!

Anyway, during our few days of separation, an urgent request for pet/house sitters came our way, from a friend who lives on the outskirts of Civray. The super lady who contacted us, and who will remain anonymous, has much greater need than ours at this time. We still have the keys to the Gers property of our friends who live in the UK – we had only envisaged being away for 5 days, 6 days maximum with travelling, and we also needed to get to the Cantal to tackle the issue of having no French Income Tax Declaration documents, yet again! But, to reiterate, our friend’s need is more pressing than ours. So, we decided to drop off our two youngest family members to start the pet/house sit, Tom and I then planned to travel down to the Cantal to engage in this year’s inevitable battle with the bureaucrats! From there, Tom would drop me back at the pet/house sit to join our lads, and he would continue down to the Gers, returning to Civray to collect our lads and me in a couple of weeks. 

Good planning – not! Temperatures on the Atlantic coast barely crawled out of single figures; other than on the Tuesday afternoon, the weather was persistently cold and wet, biting winds chewed through our lightweight clothing, it was a really damp, icy, miserable week! The highlights were super lunches with Gilly and Dave, and with our lovely friends, Sue, Tchica and Elmo aka El Nino! At least we felt normal, not at all like hobos! In fact, all round, we were pampered – we appreciated that more than words can ever say.

Sadly, Tom’s breathing became more laboured as the days passed, and we knew he was fighting yet another severe chest infection come the day that we travelled to collect our son. Despite the many inhalers, the antibiotics, the steroids, the nebuliser that provides a limited period of time pumping oxygen into his lungs, Tom really does need better medical care and a stable lifestyle. We are so hopeful that 2012 will see an end to our years as hobos living in France. But, we fear we still have more mountains to climb before we even get a sniff of justice!

So, tomorrow, Tom will visit a local doctor and, once again, will be put back on his feet – for a little while at least, Bless him. The Cantal bureaucrats will just have to wait. Voila!

However, while we were off-line, an email came in from our friend and former neighbour, Madame ZC, I picked it up yesterday. It appears that the cadastre has been true to the word he gave in November 2010 – our hairdressing locataire (who is, and always has been, without a tenancy contract) has submitted her Notice of intention to quit our house that’s not our home!

To recap – after continuously querying the annual Tax Foncier cost, we were advised by letter sent from the Cadastral in 2010 that the property has always been, and will always be, residential only, due to it’s proximity to the village Church. The cadastre further advised us that both locataires, ie Monsieur C and the hairdresser, must find alternative accommodation/business premises, and the Cadastral would, as a matter of legal necessity, enforce that requirement.

Well, it has taken sixteen months, but, it appears that it’s now ‘one virtually down, one more to go’!

Do we envisage problems? Yes, we do, this is France! The hairdresser owes just under €4,000 for unpaid water bills. The Tresor Public has demanded that we must pay the unpaid bills, we have refused to pay; we advised the Tresor Public to cut off the water supply if the bills remained outstanding. The situation has been at a stalemate level for some considerable time.

If the hairdresser moves out of the property without paying her unpaid water rates, the onus of responsibility for payment of those unpaid bills legally falls on Tom and me – despite the fact that the hairdresser should not have been operating her business in our property, she has never had a rental lease or any kind of contract with us. We didn’t even know she existed until months after we purchased the property – the sellers, the notaire, the Immobilier, the former hairdresser, all had been aware of her impending takeover of the hairdressing business. Nobody informed us, we were told, by the Immobilier, the notaire and the original hairdresser, that the hairdressing business would be closed at the end of the 9 years commercial lease period in December 2007. We were given copy of an Attestation that confirmed what we were told. 

Madame ZC has advised us that the hairdresser actually had her Notice delivered by l’huissier (a French bailiff), a service for which she would have been required to pay. In fact, all the hairdresser needed to do was to send a Registered letter to Tom and me, and sending the letter to our house that’s not a home would have been legally considered as good enough! Tenants have virtually all the rights here in France, landlords (willing or not!) have very few rights. Certainly, a tenant who does not give Notice is very unlikely to be pursued, it is too costly in both time, effort and money!

Why has the hairdresser gone to time, trouble and expense to notify us, via l’huissier, that she is vacating? Well, we may be exhibiting classic signs of paranoia – that wouldn’t surprise me, but we honestly believe the hairdresser’s action heralds more trouble to come! I will be speaking with l’huissier tomorrow, for as long as my mobile credit lasts, after Tom has been seen by a doctor.

 

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Forever Friends

‘A Forever Friend’

Sometimes in life

you find a special friend;

Someone who changes your life

just by being part of it.

Someone who makes you laugh

until you can’t stop;

Someone who makes you believe

that there really is good in the world.

Someone who convinces you

that there really is an unlocked door

just waiting for you to open it.

This is Forever Friendship.

 Suzin Polish Schwartz or LaurieAnn Kelly (Author unknown)

Very late one night shortly after Christmas 2011, totally without warning, I was summarily dismissed from my forum moderator role. I was stunned! I had thrown myself into the role, despite our complex hobo existence, and helping others through their own difficulties and often life-changing experiences had become a way of life for me.  The forum was also my personal outlet, a place for me to immerse myself in good humour and light-hearted banter and, always just for a short while, put our house Case to the back of my mind. People often ask us how can we hold onto humour and equilibrium! Quite simply, we think along the lines of, ‘there’s always somebody else who is worse off’! That’s so true, as I discovered through the forum during my 2 years and 8 months period of moderating. If I remain positive, my menfolk remain positive.

But, there was another reason why family and I were deeply saddened by my impromptu, enforced exit from the forum, it had given us our much needed avenue for finding pet/house sitting opportunities. Although, we now have a good number of friends who can, and do, call on us to ‘sit’ for them throughout the year, we still have fairly long periods where returning to living in the tent has been our only option. Filling those rather large holes in our ‘sitting’ diary was mainly achieved through the forum. But, due to the way I was ousted, and the puerile nastiness directed at me behind the scenes, I will not return to that forum. End of an era, time to move on!

In the meantime, an even more pressing priority had come to the fore, Tom had developed yet another serious chest infection, or, the most recent deep-seated infection had not totally cleared and had returned, and he required more antibiotics, steroids, closely monitored care, breathing aids and rest. Dear, oh dear, could things get worse? Well, they could have done, but they didn’t! Out from the mist and murkiness came a wonderful woman, Nettie, and her super husband, Charlie.

Nettie and I have never physically met! We were colleagues through the ‘old’ forum, have become friends via emails, and we are now colleagues on our own forum, the forum that was set up by Nettie, my son and I, a young forum that runs on self-moderation, toleration, and good people skills! There are five administrators on ‘our’ forum, Nettie, my son, Sam, Jen and me! The five of us are like-minded people, and that is what makes the young forum work. Nettie had walked away from the ‘old’ forum, acting according to her principles, and supporting me. Prior to the last two or three weeks before I was ousted, Nettie had no idea about how family and I have survived as hobos – for that matter, neither did anyone else know anywhere near the full history, and definitely not about the ongoing saga! As soon as Nettie became aware, she and Charlie offered us use of their holiday home in the Gers,

Nettie and Charlie’s French house is where family and I have been living since we left Sue, Tchica and Elmo on the outskirts of Royan, in mid-January. Tom has now properly recovered from the chest infection that had taken a grip by the time we arrived here. We are all thoroughly rested, and we have enjoyed, immensely, our weeks in this wonderful environment of rolling fields and forestry, the foothills of the Pyrenees in the distance, with a solid roof over our heads and a huge, open log fire warming our bones! We love being here, we are so very grateful for being able to live here, especially through the cold, dark hours of yet another winter.

However, we will soon need to move on, at least for a while. We have pet/house sitting bookings, people who are relying on us to be there, to care for the most vulnerable members of their families. That’s what we do best!

During the past few weeks, other friends have also offered us comfortable, stable housing in different parts of France, all have offered us use of their homes. Jane, Joy and Sue, if our house Case saga continues for much longer, you might just find us on your doorstep one day!

Family and I are, without doubt, rich in friendship; we have more than one forever friend, that is a certainty!

 

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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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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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