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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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Heading For Paris

So, where did we go wrong this time? Well, to answer that question, we first needed to know what had taken place in that Appeal Court, in Riom. Alexandra didn’t bother with the preambles, she gave us the bottom line in a series of telephone calls and emails, question and answer format. The judiciary “recognised the sellers’ fraud.” But, they decided, the sellers are elderly, they are retired. Yes, that’s true, and so are we. The judiciary commented that the sellers were “arrogant”. But, it was added, they are elderly. We’re not arrogant, but, to reiterate, we’re elderly too.

The judiciary did not agree that the garage was important to the purchase of the property. But, had the garage not been important, we would not have spent thousands on an architect and Plans; we would not have  submitted documentation to the Tribunal, including formal medical information, to prove how important that garage space was to us, to our health. The Tribunal ruled that our health issues were not for the judiciary to consider, our health issues were of no importance to the Tribunal.

The judiciary recognised that the sellers had ‘hidden the truth about Monsieur C, the locataire.’ But, they added, Monsieur C had (has!) an assured tenancy, a protected tenancy, and he can’t be forced to leave the property. But, where does that leave us? That question is not for the judiciary to answer.

The judiciary recognised the fraud committed by the sellers where the selling on of the hairdresser’s Lease was concerned. But, the sellers are elderly. Yes, we’re elderly too. The judiciary recognised the fact that the notaire had not divulged to us the selling on of the hairdresser’s Lease. But, they added, the notaire was “young and inexperienced”, and the justices had correctly ‘smacked the notaire’s wrist’ during the first Tribunal.

The Appeal Tribunal President concluded by saying the Court recognised the fraud (again!), but the judiciary did not have a law in place by which to find in our favour. Vice caché laws have been in place since the late 1990’s, 1997 or 1998, depending on which avocat one speaks with! The Tribunal President went on to add that we could take the Case to the Cour de Cassation in Paris, to Appeal. The Cour de Cassation is the French Supreme Court. Presentation of an Appeal to the Cour de Cassation requires the services of a ‘specialist’ barrister who acts accordingly with instructions given directly by the main avocat, ie in our case, Alexandra. There are approximately a dozen specialist Cour de Cassation barristers who are reputed to be the best in France; apparently, they really know their onions where the laws of France are concerned! A Cour de Cassation barrister will, apparently, only take a Case that has the highest possible chance of succeeding!

Cost? Too much! By that time, we were running on fumes! I was honest with Alexandra, and she responded, ‘You must apply for Legal Aid. You can obtain it within six weeks, your Case can be heard at the Cour de Cassation within 6 to 8 months. We will start the processes at the beginning of January (2010). The Appeal Judge did not consider your human rights.’

That conversation took place two or three days before Christmas Day 2009. It took us until November 2010 to get the Legal Aid. We are still waiting for a hearing date to be set by the Cour de Cassation in Paris. The only way we managed to obtain French Legal Aid was through intervention by the European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg. But, that’s another story!

 

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