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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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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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The Continental Breakfast

The Continental Breakfast

Autumn chill getting into old bones!

 
5 Comments

Posted by on February 25, 2012 in World

 

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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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