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Tag Archives: Dordogne

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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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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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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Destiny

Picking up pet/house sits via the forum, on which, to my great surprise at being asked, I had become a member of the moderating team, we were quickly ‘booked’ by a number of pet/house owners across France! In fact, when Tom and I left Sue and Rick’s house in Montpon-Ménestérol, family and I were separated for several weeks from then, throughout July and August 2009. Two of us remained at Sue and Rick’s house to care for their pets, including two super dogs, a charismatic chook called Beaky, due to her twisted beak, and kind-hearted Fritz, their cat! Tom returned to the Aveyron to care for Skye’s little cat, Slinky, and two more cats that had arrived from the UK. I travelled across the Dordogne to Diane and Brian’s home on the outskirts of Les Eyzies, where I looked after their two brilliant dogs, Leah and Suzy, Tinker, the cat with human traits, and a large number of fascinating tortoises!

When we eventually got back together, family and I headed to a camping site in the Deux-Sevres, owned and run by the busiest British family we have met in France! Janet and Mark, and their two teen-aged sons, still run the camping site, in addition to working in their very busy, individual vocations. Every time we return to Janet and Mark’s tranquil camping site, enhanced by gently undulating farmlands and meadowland between Melle and Chef-Boutonne, we feel so warmly welcome, as if we were family returning to the fold.

From Deux-Sevres, we moved south again, back to the Mediterranean sun, sea and sand, where a dog stole our food and his owner may well have saved our lives! We arrived back on the Manjastre camping site, in the Var, in beautiful, hot sunshine. We were warmly welcomed back by the owners, and we enjoyed meeting many of the regular visitors, of several nationalities, who had been going to Manjastre for years. We made the most of being on that wonderful coastline during the following three weeks, and we spent a lot of the time sight-seeing as cheaply as we could. During our fourth and last week there, we returned from a day spent on the beach in Bormes-les-Mimosas, to find the contents of our tent had been wrecked; bread, (melted) butter, long-life yoghurt, UHT milk and cheese, cooked ham, it had all been taken! But, there was a paper trail, we followed it to a dog’s kennel located on the boundary of the owners’ garden and the camping pitches. There lay a gorgeous Golden Retriever, cleaning his front paws after devouring products that must surely have given him a very sore stomach before nightfall! That was our thief!

I had to let the owner know, we were so worried that the dog might have been poisoned by rancid butter and such-like! But, he was more concerned about our losses! As I explained to him, we needed to accept those losses every day, due to the heat of the day, it was an occupational hazard for us. The dog’s health was our immediate concern.

Two nights later, a huge Atlantic storm blew in, only our bodyweight kept the tent on the ground during that night. The winds were horrendously strong, and the trees all around us were virtually bent double. Throughout the night, we listened to the wind and the cracking branches, the tent was almost drowned in leaves, twigs and small branches by the time we ventured outside just after 6am the following morning. Later that day, the camping site owner came to see us, he asked us to go into one of the site’s static caravans that night, he was worried about the weather forecast, a second storm was expected. We thanked him, and we said we would pay for the night’s accommodation, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He said he still felt embarrassed by his dog stealing our food, we all laughed and told him we were happy the dog had not suffered any nasty effects.

That night, we slept in the caravan that was sited at the top of the camping site, after packing away our tent and possessions. Through the night, the wind howled, and the rain absolutely hammered down, it was a continuous torrent for hours. The following morning, we discovered that our previous tenting pitch had been washed down the steeply sloping hillside in a mudslide. If we had been in our tent through that night, we would have ended up at the bottom of the hill under tons of mud and branches.

It seems to us that we are destined to continue our fight to the bitter end!

 

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