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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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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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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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