Tag Archives: Albi

Sticks And Stones

People often ask me how I can possibly recall precise details of events that happened several years ago, especially as our lifestyle has been, undeniably, utterly chaotic since 2007! When I reply, I sometimes see a fleeting expression that indicates total disbelief, but most folks are too polite to say as much! The bottom line is that I am blessed with a very good long term memory, and I subconsciously link public events that are of interest to me to my memory of personal events. Hence, I clearly recall what happened to family and me, in France, in October 2009, because my memories of that period are linked to the tragic, very premature death of a wonderfully talented young man in the public eye at that time, Stephen Gately. The words to the song I have posted above are indicative of how we conduct our lives as hobos.

During our years of fighting for justice, we have found some true friends of several nationalities, not only British, but also French, Flemish, American and Dutch. But, it must be said, we have also been verbally  ridiculed, taken advantage of, openly called “Traveller types” and “the Gypsy family”, and we were once accused of stealing from a house where we had pet/house sat months before the alleged theft, and the items had actually disappeared long after we left that property. If we were Travellers or Gypsies, we would possibly be afforded better treatment according to European laws! If we were Travellers or Gypsies, we might not consider the materialistic value of a house to be worth fighting for, to the detriment of health and well-being. If we were Travellers or Gypsies, we would be proud of our relevant history, culture and creed; but we are not Travellers or Gypsies, our current lifestyle is alien to us! We have ‘turned the other cheek’ on several occasions, we have carried out tasks, without complaint, that were not our responsibility, we have truly learned how not to treat others. Are we bitter? Absolutely not! French folks have an all-encompassing popular saying that we use almost daily, c’est la vie! That’s life.

Onward! Sue and Rick had asked us if we could return to Montpon-Ménestérol, in the Dordogne, towards the end of 2009, we were delighted to have that confirmed ‘booking’ in my diary. But, in the meantime, we travelled around France, enjoying, learning, meeting new people, experiencing nature’s fury in spectacular thunder and lightening storms, laughing as we quite often needed to lie on top of the tent to hold it down as the Mistral buffeted us and underpinned the reality of frail, human bodies. We even managed to spend two fantastic days in Albi, taking leisurely walks along the magnificent River Tarn, eating our picnic meals and feeding the swans, buying the odd day’s fishing licence only to catch nothing but the dreaded poisson chat that must not be returned to the water! France is only just beginning to jump on the ‘exploitation bandwagon’ of charging sometimes extortionate entry fees to ruins; many wonderful, historic buildings can still be accessed and appreciated by families for a very low cost.

We returned to Sue and Rick’s home and pets via Janet and Mark’s serene camping site, where we helped to prune and treat very elderly fruit trees, watched the hoopoes in the meadow very early each morning, spent hours walking in Melle’s fascinating arboretum, a place we associate with peace of mind, and we stuffed ourselves with the delicious, variously flavoured, melt-in-mouth yoghurt sponge cakes that Janet makes for us every time we turn up on her doorstep!

After leaving the micro-climate of the Deux-Sevres, heading towards the hot, rather humid and steamy Department of the Dordogne, we quietly talked about the content of my most recent conversation with our avocat, Julia. It was looking very likely that our Case would not be ready for Tribunal presentation by that coming December, Julia was seriously ill, urgently required surgery, and she needed to immediately hand over our file to another avocat, our third avocat.



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Losing A Friend And Meeting New Friends

Nothing else is more clearly defined in my mind than receiving the news about the death of our dear friend, step-mother to my three eldest children from my first marriage, in December 2008. Although we could always be contacted by mobile telephone at that time, we didn’t receive that shattering text message until a week after the funeral. Obviously, death and a funeral do take precedence over all other events and considerations, but, that was when we started to discover just how much family opposition there was to our fight for justice in France. Immediately after receiving the text message, I contacted my sister, I didn’t know if she had been informed. She had been informed, before the funeral. My sister was verbally disappointed in me for not returning to the UK, for choosing to fight for justice in France, and that was the last time we had mutually agreed contact, she has no wish to have further contact with me. But, we send her and my brother-in-Law birthday, Christmas and Wedding Anniversary cards, and we send them postcards each time we move to a different commune. We must respect the wishes of others, but two wrongs never make a right.

During January, Tom duly returned to Champagnac to help load our furnishings onto the lorry for Troc to take and sell. Unfortunately, the village was snowed-in for ten days, so we didn’t see Tom for nearly a fortnight. It was an unnerving period of time, being apart reduced our team strength and our focus. We were much happier when Tom was able to return from one thawing village to another!

Mid-February 2009, we packed up the car, said fond farewells to Jacques and Natasha, after letting them know we hadn’t packed the teaspoons! They both laughed with us, we had shared the story with them, weeks earlier, over mugs of steaming hot chocolate in their wonderfully traditional, rustic, farmhouse kitchen! Then, once again, we were on the road, leaving behind us the towering, snow-encrusted twin peaks of Les Mont d’Olmes, heading to Castres in the Tarn Department.

Through the forum, I had found another camping site on the outskirts of Castres that remains open throughout twelve months of the year. We arrived in Vielmur-sur-Agout well before dark, booked into the camping site and had the tent up, car unpacked, meal cooking, and we were drinking mugs of hot tea as the sun disappeared from sight. The Vielmur-sur-Agout camping site is run by a lovely, warm-natured French family. They allotted to us a pitch opposite the children’s playing area, where we were protected from the icy winds by tall, dense hedgerows on three sides of the pitch. Just as we have always found in France, wherever we have pitched our tent, the shower blocks and toilet facilities were immaculate. We have landed on the Vielmur-sur-Agout camping site, often without giving prior notice, several times during the past three years. We are always warmly welcomed, and that same pitch is never booked to anybody other than to us!

Finding an internet café in Castres, I visited the forum to find other camping sites closer to Albi. Tom and I, with my sister and brother-in-Law, had visited Albi in September 2003, during an extended holiday spent mainly in the Midi-Pyrenees. We had promised ourselves that we would return to that magical City one day. But, that had to wait until a later time, through the forum I found another member asking for a pet/house sitter in Department 12, the Aveyron, I contacted her immediately, and she booked us for five weeks starting on the 1st March. We couldn’t believe our luck, a house, a log fire, beds, a cooker, a bath, and a super little cat to make it all just purrrrfect! But, first, we had to get through two weeks of camping in February’s unforgiving, harsh weather.

The worst time during that two weeks was right through a night when the temperature dropped to -18C degrees. Two of us in the car, two in the tent, three of us didn’t sleep at all throughout that long, extremely cold night. By the time the sun rose, we knew Tom had at least two frost-bitten toes. Despite obtaining medical treatment that same day, Tom suffered almost continuously with pain in those toes until gangrene set in; He finally lost one and a half toes to amputation in February 2010. Surgery had become urgently required to save his leg. But, that’s another story!


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