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Happy Birthday Tom

We’re waiting to receive a letter that was sent by one of the Courts to our house that’s not our home. The letter has been forwarded to us, at our current location, but La Poste doesn’t hurry where forwarded mail is concerned. So, this is one of those times when patience is of the essence.

Today, rather than updating by posting much of a sameness, I’m dedicating this post to my wonderful husband.

Tom turned 66 years old today, it is his sixth birthday in France, his fifth birthday as a hobo in France. Since 2007, Tom hasn’t celebrated two birthdays in the same house. In fact, he hasn’t celebrated two birthdays in the same French Department! Two of Tom’s last five birthdays were celebrated in our tent, one of his birthdays was spent in our ‘old girl’, the car, just driving!

Thank you, Tom, for always getting us from A to B during our travels, no matter how far we need to go. You have always enjoyed driving and, by golly, that is just as well!

Thank you for your persistence and courage, we have never once heard you say you couldn’t go on, even if you have thought those words and remained silent. There have been far too many times when we thought we might lose you. You have suffered dreadfully through the pain of gangrene, amputations, and severe chest infections associated with emphysema. But, you never complain.

Thank you for your love, care, and your stalwart support when I or one of the lads has been below par. Despite your vulnerability and your breathing difficulties, you have never complained about the long driving hours, or about searching for firewood with your foot swathed in gauze and bandage, or battling the sometimes bone-chilling winter cold, the miserable damp, the biting insects that love our tent and our blood!

Thank you for your humour, dry, sometimes not quite fitting the topic, often a one-off comment that throws us into howls of laughter and huge rolling tears of mirth! How do you always manage to do that when we’re at our lowest ebb?

Thank you for never comparing how comfortable we were in our house in the UK with how uncomfortable and unsettled we are in France. Comfort, of course, is not just about materialism and physical well-being, it’s also about peace of mind

Thank you for loving this beautiful country as much as we do, and for surviving our sometimes cruel lifestyle. Next year, Tom, we hope your birthday will be spent in our own home, your castle.

Many happy returns, sweetheart, you are a husband, father and grandfather in billions. We love, cherish and appreciate you more than words could ever say.

Now, we promised you a birthday treat, a decent square meal. We have the oxos in their square silver foil coats, 2 litres of bottled water, the hobo stove and a new bottle of camping gas. There’s an Aire de repos just 10kms down the road – let’s go! 😉

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Snakes Alive!

During our many journeys around France, we have seen some truly beautiful sights, eg majestic Golden Eagles hunting over the vast, volcanic contours of the Auvergne; we had never seen a Golden Eagle before we moved to France. Short-toed Eagles, Eagle Owls with their huge, brilliant orange eyes, red and black Kites, and a host of other birds of prey that are generally only seen in television documentaries in the UK.

We once heard the low growl of a bear when we were camping overnight in the foothills of the Pyrenees. We were thrilled, not at all frightened or concerned for our personal safety. Brown bears in the Pyrenees are an extremely threatened species, quite simply, they kill sheep and are killed in return.

In Brittany, snakes were our constant companions! During the 2011 summer, a Western Whip fell from a skylight onto the bed in which Tom was sleeping. Considering that Tom had never been quite that close to a snake before, his reaction was extremely laid-back, he calmly called me! Western Whips are not venomous, but they can be rather feisty if they feel threatened, and they will strike and bite with speed if pushed into a corner! The snake slithered into a hole in the wall of the bedroom, shimmied its way down inside the wall, and popped out through another hole in the dining-room! We decided to open the patio doors that exited the dining-room into the tiny front garden of Nikki’s house, and we evacuated for a few hours! It seems that the snake took the hint, we didn’t see it again!

A few days later, whilst strimming a path through the meadow to Jerry the pony’s summer pasture, we came across a specific species of grass-snake, a Couleuvre vipérine, slowly guzzling a large frog for its lunch! At first, we thought it might be an adder, but swift identification via the forum on which I was a Moderator settled our nerves, although, not without some hilarity! Advice given included the instruction to ‘find out if the snake’s eyes are round or slanted like a cat’s eyes’! Mmmmm, I don’t think so! Who wants to get that close to a potentially venomous snake! However, at the end of the day, the frog had a lucky day, the snake was as startled as we were and released the frog before slipping away into the long grass. Somewhere in my on-line storage file, I have a photograph of that snake.

Just after my 62nd birthday in October, Nikki returned from the UK, and we returned to the wonderful Limousin lake environment where our friends had kept the caravan aired and open for another visit. It was during the following few days that we secured a long-term stay at a gites complex in Provence, to start at the end of October. The deal was this, we were required to clean and maintain the three gites and the gardens, swimming-pool and grounds, take bookings and sort out the changeovers, in return for sole family use of a two-bedroomed cottage in the grounds. We were also required to pay €100 per month towards electricity and water, buy our own gas for cooking and our own logs for heating. Now, some might consider that to be on a par with slave labour, but we welcomed the opportunity for stability.

The day before we were due to leave our friends and their cosy caravan, yet another snake was dragged into our lives by one of our friends’ cats! Another grass-snake, the very pretty, less than a metre long reptile was playing dead as the cat patted and toyed with it on the lawn. Fortunately, the cat was denied the chance of a coup de grace, and the snake was released into a safer environment out of the confused cat’s range of vision!

During the course of that day, one by one, all the menfolk were struck down by a bug that turned out to be a 24 hours vicious gastric virus! So, we were a very tired, drained and motley family group as we left our friends in the Limousin and headed for Provence. Little were we to know that, once again, as has happened several times during the past 4+ years, our homelessness would prove to be a wonderful opportunity for another British human being to kick us when we were down, and put us back in the tent!

 

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Phew! Close To Being Deported

2011 brought a lot of health problems for Tom and me, but, at our ages we don’t expect to have robust good health, especially as we both had pre-existing health conditions before we moved to France in 2007. However, we are convinced that our health has deteriorated far more quickly, due to harsh weather conditions spent living in the tent, than would have happened if our ongoing housing situation had never arisen.

The other two members of our family who have lived this life with us, have thrived! They have not lived according to their expectations, but they’re both young enough to take a lot of positive experience from the past 4+ years. Whereas, in truth, Tom and I feel the bottom line is that we have had 16+ years stolen from the four of us, to date, and those years can never be returned to us. They are lost to us forever, and not only to us, but also to our family in the UK.

However, thanks to supportive, caring friends, here in France, we have survived so far! Although, we did wonder if we were about to be deported back to the UK, in May 2011. Once again, as has been the case every year since 2009, we had not received our French Tax Declaration form, and we set off to Mauriac to complete the form in the Tax Impots office.

We waited to be called to the desk by the duty clerk, and I gave her copies of our previous year’s French Income Tax Declaration and Assessment documents, containing all the information she needed, with evidence of my pensions increases. The clerk read the documents, looked at us and asked for our Carte de Sejour. I was ready for that! I handed over our Residency Certificate to her without saying a word. She looked at it and said, “This is out of date.”

Tom and I were dumbfounded, I replied that we didn’t actually need a Carte de Sejour or a Residency Certificate, being British citizens living in another EU State, and owning our only property in that EU State. The clerk looked at me and said she would not give us a Tax Declaration form until we provided a current Carte de Sejour, or an updated Residency Certificate stamped and signed by the Champagnac Mayor.

Without completing a current Tax Declaration, and sending copy of the ensuing French Income Tax Assessment to the Bureau d’Aide, we would lose our right to Legal Aid. I explained that to her, she shrugged and looked away from us, just couldn’t meet our eyes!

I was close to tears! Turning to Tom, I said, “What have we done wrong?” He shook his head, took my hand, then, in English, he said to the clerk, “We’ll get a new Residency Certificate and will post it to you.” The clerk understood, she nodded and waved us away from the desk, saying, “You must get one soon, or you will have to return to England.”

Tom and I drove to Champagnac, to the Mairie, where we spoke with the office staff, we know them all! Jacques, the Mayor, was in a meeting, but the senior receptionist was horrified when I told her what had transpired with the Tax Impots clerk, she said, “You don’t need a Carte de Sejour or a Residency Certificate. This is stupid, she is racist.” The ladies made us coffee and asked how we were managing, they were obviously, genuinely angry and very upset at what had been going on in our lives. Within half an hour, we had the updated Residency Certificate to hand, and we left the office after being kissed on both cheeks by all three Mairie ladies! We climbed into the car and headed back to Brittany.

I completed the tax Declaration form and posted it, with enclosures, to Madame Cosson at the Tresor Public in Mauriac. I also included a brief letter to explain why we were sending an updated Residency Certificate, and why we were sending the enclosed documents to her, ie a person we trusted. We received our Tax Assessment document in October, a couple of weeks earlier than usual, and we immediately posted off copies to the Bureau d’Aide in Paris, and to the ECHR in Strasbourg.

We received acknowledgement from the ECHR within a few days. As usual, we received nothing from the Bureau d’Aide! But, every letter we send to bureaucrats and Courts are sent LRAR (Lettre Recommandé avec Avis de Réception aka Registered Mail), We track them on-line until we see they have been received, accordingly with a signature, because the receipts are always sent to our house that can never be our home.

We wonder what will happen this year!

 

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The National Debt

February 2011 on the outskirts of Chateaubriant in Brittany wasn’t too bad, weather-wise, and March was even better, spring had sprung! So, Tom and I decided to take a chance and travel to the house in Champagnac to collect some summer clothing. The four of us only carry three changes of clothing each plus wash-bags; our tent, cooking equipment and sleeping gear virtually fill the boot of our ‘old girl’. So, other than when we replace with new any clothing and shoes that are outgrown or beyond needle and cotton, we transfer hot and cold weather clothing twice each year to and from the house. We really do have that off pat now!

We telephoned our friend, Madame ZC, to let her know we would be visiting and collecting our mail, and she invited us to stay overnight in her house to break the long journey. I suggested to Tom that we should perhaps try once again to sort out the hairdresser’s water rates issue with the Tresor Public in Saignes, as we could not persuade the hairdresser to take responsibility for her debt without our intervention. Tom agreed and I put all relevant documents into the car. Before doing that, however, I calculated the rental payments that had been made to the Tresor Public by Monsieur C and Mademoiselle S (the hairdresser), added to the amount that we had paid because Monsieur MA (our first avocat) had done a runner with our designated money, and I balanced the total against the taxes foncier and d’habitation that had been due for payment since 2008. The bottom line was an amount of +€1000. Tom and I decided to suggest to the Tresor Public that they clear the hairdresser’s outstanding water rates bill with that excess, we refuse to accept the rent payments, as advised by Monsieur MA right from the beginning. Off we set the following day, before sunrise.

We arrived at the Tresor Public just after 11am and were relieved to see the duty clerk was not our sellers’ relative. The relief was short-lived! Within seconds of approaching the clerk’s desk and laying our neatly printed paperwork in front of her, she just glanced at it and, without a word, walked into a back office. Tom and I were at a loss! What should we do? Stay or leave? People can be so rude, sometimes.

Just as we were walking towards the exit door, the clerk returned and literally slammed a jotter pad onto the counter, we just looked at her quite shocked. Then, she beckoned us over and started copying figures from a print-off. Eventually, the clerk turned the jotter around so that we could see the figures, and she pointed to the bottom line, it was nearly €2,000 less than my calculations and gave us a deficit, but I immediately saw the reason. I told the clerk she had miscalculated three years tax d’habitation, it had not been payable because my husband and I are both pensioners, and Tom was over 60 years old when we moved to France in 2007.

The clerk looked me squarely in the eye and said, “The house in Champagnac is your second home, you live more often in a tent, that is your primary home. You must pay taxe d’habitation for the house. You must also pay the water rates bill if you don’t sign the hairdresser’s Lease.” I calmly asked the clerk to put the details in writing, and I assured her that we would wait, she shook her head and said nothing further.

We walked out of the office and have not returned, we feel a return trip would be a wasted journey. We have never received a written receipt for, or a written breakdown of, the payments made by the locataires directly to the Tresor Public. We do know the annual rent payments made total €3,234:24, and the tax foncier last year was €806, after €200 was deducted due to changes at the Cadastre.

We’re quite surprised that France still has a National Debt!

 

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The Reality For Us?

I must first apologise to readers who may have found my previous two blog posts somewhat confusing and little short of chaotic! But, that’s how it was for family and me throughout 2010. There were very few periods of peace and stability, our lives were anchored only by the unconditional support of good friends, including a family who will be anonymous because they, too, have suffered great hardship due to corruption, theft and fraud during their property purchasing processes in France.

One day, they may decide to take it further, it is never too late to seek justice.

The family gave us our first home, ie a caravan, since we had left Champagnac in 2008. We were able to sleep off the ground, with a solid roof over our heads, not far from the bank of a truly beautiful lake. They included us in family leisure activities and events, introduced us to their extended family and friends, both British and French, and for a brief period on several occasions during 2010 and 2011, we felt totally ‘normal’!

If this blog is being read by any member of the family, you will know who you are! Thank you for your unconditional support, despite having your own very heavy cross to bear. Our promise remains, if Tom ever wins a EuroMillions jackpot, half will be yours; our half will spread very well around our family and other good friends!

Well, we never know what’s around the corner, and we always try to see that our glass is half full, not half empty!

2010 was a year that will remain forever inscribed in our memories as the year in which our well-being and dignity were almost buried under bureaucracy, and under the knowledge that corruption in this physically beautiful country always lies sleeping  beneath a vividly ugly side that is only ever masked. During our quality time with the family to whom I am referring, I spoke with a number of their French friends and neighbours; it was their observations and life stories that showed us just how unfair and difficult life can be for so many French families, some of whom have also seen behind the mask.

Whoever enters the Elysée Palace as the newly elected French President, later this year, has a lot of work to do to inspire at least some of the people of France, where justice versus corruption is concerned!

Christmas 2010 found us, once again, pet/house sitting for Sue and Rick near Montpon-Ménestérol in the Dordogne. It was a bitterly cold Christmas, with a lot of snow falling throughout December – we had an emphatic White Christmas, our third in three years, but, thankfully, that one was also not spent in the tent! Our poor ‘old girl’, our car, had covered some 50,000kms during that year, and she was struggling! So, our Christmas present to ourselves was to get our ‘old girl’ rested, appropriately ‘medicated’, and back on her wheels ready for 2011.

The beginning of February 2011 saw us heading further north in France than we had ever wandered before, to a pet/house-sit on the outskirts of Chateaubriant, in Brittany. There, we were given the warmest possible welcome by Nikki and her ‘menagerie’! We remember all the names of the animals we have cared for over the years, and Nikki’s pets are no exception – 3 dogs, ie Dippy, Hector and Forest; 4 cats, ie Marmalade, Spice, Boo and Ghost; Nanny the Pygmy Goat; Jerry the pony; the goose and the gander, nicknamed, by me, the Gruesome Twosome, the gander can be a very feisty fellow, and the chooks. We had some fun and games with that little lot during the coming months! We still call them the ‘Super Squad’! Just as we still call Diane and Brian’s not-quite-101 tortoises the ‘Boys & Girls’!

Sadly, the Super Squad is now two members short. Dippy passed away after undergoing what should have been a simple veterinary procedure, when Nikki was back in France on holiday with her pets; and she emailed us, not too long ago, to let us know Nanny the Pygmy Goat had also passed away, of old age.

By the time we arrived in Brittany, we had come to the conclusion that there was nothing else left for us to do, with regard to the house Case, and now was the time for me to resolve my increasing health issues. Sadly, that was not to be! Again, before we had cleared the winter months, the bureaucratic forces were upon us once more, and, in response to my calmly delivered complaint about corruption in the Tresor Public in Saignes, I was equally calmly told, “Madam, this is the reality for you in France.”

 

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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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Skullduggery Before Travelling South

During the three to four months before we left the house, we were plagued by nuisance events. The events started within a couple of weeks of Monsieur MA informing us that our Case would be heard in a Grande l’Instance Tribunal in Aurillac, in “about one year’s time because you are in the fast track system”. The nuisance events were not merely unsettling and intrusive, they became extremely worrying.

One morning, Tom answered a telephone call from France Telecom and almost immediately passed the handset to me. The France Telecom Customer Service caller sounded quite confused as she asked me what was wrong with our telephone line. I assured her there was nothing wrong with the line, to my knowledge, and she asked me why I had reported the line as being faulty. During the course of the ensuing conversation, it evolved that “a young woman” had reported our line as being faulty. I requested the name of the young woman and was told that could not be divulged to me because it wasn’t me! The France Telecom caller ended the call.

Barely a week later, I answered a telephone call from a young woman who said she was the secretary to the avocat who was representing Monsieur and Madame T, our sellers. She asked me if we were prepared to “settle out of the Court”. I replied that her employer should be speaking with our avocat. The young woman ended the call. I immediately telephoned our avocat, Monsieur MA, he wasn’t in his office, but the secretary told me she would ask him to call me back when he returned later that day. Monsieur MA returned my call and I told him about the call I had received from the secretary to the avocat representing our sellers. Monsieur MA was adamant that the other avocat would not be so unprofessional, the call was “clearly a hoax, it happens in cases like yours”.

A couple of weeks afterwards, a young man came to the house and asked us to show him the areas where we had pests to be exterminated; he was from a “Public Health office” in Aurillac. Tom and I immediately thought the young man had been given the wrong address. But, he hadn’t! He showed us paperwork that clearly stated a telephone call had been received from Madame Baxter to report rodents in the loft and other areas of the house. I asked the young man for the telephone number of the female caller, he told me he didn’t have the details and the office would not divulge the number as that would be a “breach of privacy”!

I telephoned our avocat, Monsieur MA, and I asked him what we could do about the increasingly disturbing hoaxes, he replied, “You can do nothing, you have no proof.”

That was the last hoax, we left the property two days later after putting our possessions into storage. It was a relief to get away from the insidious skullduggery, hand-flushing of the toilet, long, dark nights with only candles for light, cold water washes and tepid water showering by bucket!

It was May 2008 and, already, daytime temperatures were sliding into the low to middle twenties. We decided to hold onto our savings, buy a tent and camping gear en route, and head for the Mediterranean coast. A friend and neighbour, Madame ZC, had offered to take in our mail on a daily basis, we had no idea how long we would be without a solid roof over our heads.

We spent a week in a Premiere Classe B&B hotel in Rodez, purchased our camping equipment, and continued travelling south. Later that day, we booked into Camping Manjastre on the outskirts of Toulon, just 15 minutes drive from the sparkling, blue Mediterranean Sea.

How did we feel at that time? We felt sad, frightened, disappointed, abandoned, cheated, sickened – we felt like hobos in France.

 

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