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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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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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