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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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Not Exactly A Storm In A Teacup!

It’s fairly common knowledge that the past three winters have been pretty nasty across France, but the 2011 summer wasn’t much to write home about, either, in terms of decent periods of sunshine! Certainly, family and I were so very relieved not to be in the tent towards the end of August. Severe, convective storms were forecast to affect Brittany around the 25th and 26th August.

Thursday 25th August was hot, bright and humid to start, but the storms started rolling over us during the late afternoon, and they continued through the night, virtually without a break. However, we woke up to absolutely  torrential rain on the Friday morning, and, as we set off in the car to go shopping, we noticed a young birch tree had come down across the width of the road on the bend that curves around Nikki’s property. So, with my bright blue, plastic poncho flapping like wings in the rising winds, I took hold of the tree by its torn roots and slowly pulled it around to lie, lengthways, in the ditch. Tom sat helpless in the car, he couldn’t have helped, a deep chest infection had made it virtually impossible for him to even walk further than 3-4 metres from the house to the car.

Tree safely out of the road, where it might not have caused major issues for cars and bigger vehicles, but it could well have caused a fatal accident for a motor-cyclist, I climbed back into the car and we continued to Intermarché. What a mess I felt! Wet leaves and twigs covered me from the top of my head, down my poncho, to my saturated hiking-shoes! As I squelched into Intermarché with Tom, he looked at me and burst out laughing. “Sorry, love”, he said, “but you look like Worzel Gummidge!”

I sneaked a look at myself as we passed a mirrored pillar, Tom wasn’t wrong!

The rain didn’t stop, the winds alternated between gusty and breezy, and it was a thoroughly miserable day with a series of thunderstorms making their way towards the house from across the plains. It must have been just  after 4.30pm, and it suddenly turned very dark in the house. I glanced through the office window and noticed a huge, black cloud that seemed to hover over the house, the surrounding garden and meadows, it was like a massive umbrella. Then, I saw Jerry the pony on the furthest side of his paddock, well away from the house, his mane, tail and rug flapping as he galloped, heading away from the direction of the wind. Looking to my right, I saw what looked like a thick fog moving across the meadow towards the house. I knew what it was, having seen several tornadoes and waterspouts in my lifetime.

As I quickly turned to leave the office, I met our son as he rushed in, grabbed hold of me, and almost carried me through the house to the lounge! The four of us, plus the dogs, plus two of the cats (the other two were in the barn) crushed ourselves into the tiny space that was the downstairs toilet off a small passage-way between the lounge and kitchen. There was no window in that small area. As we squeezed into the toilet room, there was a huge clap of thunder, a terrible roaring noise, and then it sounded as though the tiles on the roof were dancing to Hornpipes!

I don’t suppose it lasted much longer than thirty seconds to a minute, but it felt like a much longer period of time, and it was terrifying! I felt so sorry for the animals, they were almost rigid with fear. Wonderful dogs and cats, not one of them scratched, bit, or tried to bolt, they remained exactly where we had put them in that tiny space, crushed between four human-beings.

Apparently, when Nikki contacted her property insurance people, the agent asked her if the damage had occurred on the 26th August; she told him that was the right date and he wasn’t surprised. So, I don’t think ‘our’ mini-tornado was an isolated incident that day!

 

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