Our 1000 litres of oil purchased in mid November lasted until mid-Feb, it was a shock to discover we’d run out. No heating apart from the open fire (in a massive room) and no hot water. We order more (only 600 euros for 1000 litres back then) and that lasted us until the warmer weather. I’m not sure, but around the then exchange rate began to impact on our monthly income which came from UK as needed converting to euros, it had already begun to drop from the 1.47 we enjoyed when we first arrived. I think we still had a little money behind us, and we were managing okay.
2007 was almost uneventful. We had many visitors that first summer, for several weeks the house was like a hotel, and we enjoyed sharing our piece of France with our friends. We shared the driveway with our neighbour, it’s a right of way, and he used it to go in and out of his gated small yard at the front. When we met him, he had one dog, she was free in the yard and happy when we turned up and came to the gate to be stroked. We had a meal with our neighbour, and he had a couple of meals with us. He was helpful to a degree and we had permission to borrow his trailer and he lent us use of his rotivator. He was rather odd, but then it’s a different culture and we tend to be pretty laid back and make large allowances for things having worked in psychiatry. We wanted to get on, he was not far away and we didn’t want to change France, just live here. We always spoke French when talking to him and anyone French. We were courteous and respectful and didn’t hoist a St Georges flag and complain about how these foreigners lived. We appreciated that we were different, and did things differently and that doesn’t mean our way is right.
From this point on, our neighbour will be known as Scrote. This of course is not his real name but is how we refer to him.
Scrote, aged approx 64 when we first met him. Small and thin, body of a boy, long grey hair in a ponytail, roll up always in the corner of his mouth, glasses. If you can remember the character Catweazle from the 70’s, this is who he reminds me of, although I have looked on the internet at pictures of Catweazle and this is an insult to him, as Scrote is meaner and scruffier looking.
I am reminded of George East and his stories of René Ribe (René the fox) in his books Mill on the Flea. The story I am about to tell is darker, much darker and there is very little humour to share. In 2007 Scrote owns a horse, a donkey , many sheep and has a pigeon loft at the back of the house, (his garden is close to our kitchen) and a dog. He has 2 very old tractors, a couple of very old wrecks (cars) on his 3 fields across the main road and various old farm implements rusting away.
It’s quite possible that in this year he acquired (rescued he told us) another dog. What he was rescuing her from we have never worked out, as she remained chained up in his yard for as long as I knew her. A few months later she’d had puppies, I think he kept 6 of the 10 she gave birth to (he drowned the others) and sold the puppies keeping one, another female. The barking of the dogs was becoming an issue and we told him so one evening. He made excuses, told us dogs bark and they were probably barking at people passing by (this is a no through road, and it’s rare for people to pass by, especially at 2am!). The barking didn’t appear to be addressed, and being quiet and non confrontational types, we did nothing about it for several months before we were persuaded to go the gendarme and make a formal complaint. In fact it was more than a year before we did this. We’d made several trips and had spoken with the maire’s secretary, who had been very sympathetic, and appeared to understand our problem. She gave us a leaflet “Bruit de voisinage” and wished us luck. In England, you wouldn’t dream of going to the police about a matter that seems so trivial, yet here in France, it’s the way to resolve issues that cannot be resolved amicably. We felt quite anxious doing this, it’s so hard understanding a different culture and a different language and I was still very reliant on Mark’s French which is 10x better than mine.
Our first complaint made, we sit back and await the result. And we wait and we wait. Little noticeable difference could be discerned. We bought a bark buster which should work, and I am convinced it doesn’t. The barking dog’s debacle came to head in late 2011, when we were being disturbed at 2-3am each morning and I believe what we were hearing was the original dog whimpering and yelping as she was dying. The original and other 2 dogs have never been walked, have always been confined in the small yard and the dog who we believed was dying had been chained up on a shortish chain for over a year, she had little view from where she was chained and we believe she died a very depressed and unhappy dog. Just before she died (we think) we made a 2nd complaint, this time I think he was fined for possibly a 2nd time, and we have had no problem with barking dogs since. It’s amazing how quiet things are and I cannot believe we put up with the barking for 2 years.
In October we were coming up to the 2 year time limit that had been placed on the 5000€ (that I had so generously renegotiated) put aside to deal with the dispute regarding the slip of land. We’d had nothing from our neighbour, and were looking forward to receiving the 5000€. Looking back we can see that our relationship had changed over the 18 months, it was a much cooler relationship now. As we found our feet here, there was less for him to “help” with, and we know from a much later conversation with some English neighbours that once he sees you can do stuff, sometimes better than he can, he backs off having nothing to boost his ego with.
With 3 weeks to go to the deadline for the money, our neighbour informs Mark (informally whilst Mark is chopping wood near the shared driveway) that he has arranged for a surveyor (geometre) to come tomorrow (yes, we don’t need any notice to deal with some French legal stuff, oh no!). Mark thinks he understood that this was the case and I was pretty angry that we hadn’t been given a few days notice to arrange for some help from someone who speaks both languages. On that note, we went out for the day (we might be non confrontational, but we’re not to be walked over either). A week or so later we received a very angry letter from him, telling us how rude we were and that we should have been here for the time that he’d arranged and as we’d been so disrespectful he was now going to take the piece of land that was his, and that we were to block up the window (that he’d added when he lived here and was looking out onto what was his piece of land). It was a bit of an angry rant, and it was the start (or the more obvious start) to the legal wrangles that continue to this day. Over the previous 6 months or so, we’d begun to understand more about the sale of this house, and that no one locally would have purchased it with our neighbour in situ next door. We also learned that no one in the village talks to him, he has fallen out with the local chasse and is basically persona non grata. In later years we learn more, but for now we’re beginning to see that we gave up working with mentally ill people only to find ourselves sharing a rather difficult personality disordered neighbour. We had already realised that the bitterness left from his divorce, and the loss of this house was what he was playing out with us. With no physical boundary between our house and him, it was easy for him (with the shared right of way) to continue to feel some ownership of this house.
We had several meetings at the Notaire’s office, and at the final meeting had told him that we didn’t want to purchase the small piece of land from him. We’d said we’d always known it was his and since it wasn’t very big, we didn’t really need it. This was not the outcome he’d been aiming for, I think he’d wanted money. He was placed on the back foot at this point. He’d already been humiliated (if that is possible) by the notaire pointing out all the letters that had been written to him prior to the sale of the house which he’d ignored. So, when we say “Non” and keep your strip of land, he gathers up his dossier and storms out of the office.
That evening he appeared at our front door carrying some stakes and a hand axe (rather threatening) and proceeded to stream off in French. He has always chosen to assume we understand far more French than we do, and has never slowed down for us despite frequent requests to do so. I invited him in to discuss more calmly but he stomped off around to the back of the house and proceeded to drive in stakes showing us where the boundary should be. I am afraid at this point I lost it somewhat, and had to restrain myself, shut the door and ignore him. He’d driven in stakes rather generously and had taken the line through the middle of our bathroom window, a gross exaggeration of the real boundary. It was times like this that we felt much bullied, and late at night, if I heard a noise that was unfamiliar I got concerned that it was him breaking in or something. That he own two guns was (and still is sometimes) a worry for me.
As this was going on, I’d been taking advice about the money being held from a very good virtual friend (she knows who she is). Her understanding of legal French made a massive difference to us then and at other times and I always be so grateful for her help. I often offered to pay her and she said we couldn’t afford her. Lucky us. The notaire held onto the money whilst our neighbour was being noisy and threatening, throughout Oct, Nov, Dec and on into March as I recall. It was only thanks to a letter drafted by our virtual friend that the notaire found himself being forced to release money that was rightfully ours. It was an interesting visit to his office that day. He was obviously quite rattled, and yet trying to save face, insisting that he was very busy, his normally emptyish desk strewn with “important” dossiers. Imagine though, had I not opened my big mouth, we’d have been walking away with 10K not 5!
From then until now, we have refused to talk to Scrote, and I ignore him if I see him which is probably worse for him than me shouting and swearing at him. There is nothing worse than not existing or being shunned. We’d done our best, we’d always spoken in French and yet we were wasting our time.