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Eye’s Wide Open in LFP #5

JM with what could be a victory salute replacing the  chimney pot.

JM with what could be a victory salute replacing the chimney pot.

2011

In March 2011, we again found that Scrote’s dogs were disturbing us, at night and during the day.  We allowed several weeks to pass before telling him that they we causing us disturbance.  We wrote to him in early April 2011, and they have since been quieter.  We write to him, though we could just as easily make another complaint at the gendarmerie.  We are not happy to waste their time, and hope that Scrote will address the issue without us going further.  We noted that Scrote suggested that we were complaining that they bark perpetually, we were not.  We were complaining about being disturbed at night, and since some of those nights, Scrote is not there to control them, we were left to suffer the disturbance.  It would appear that after our letter in early April, Scrote changed how he managed them, and there have been hardly any disturbances since then.

Marking heading into the Asylum

Mark heading into the Asylum

It was several months before we had all we needed to put the gate on our new entrance.  I was so pleased once we were able to do that. Each time Scrote drove past he nearly ricked his neck trying to look in.  The new gate still wasn’t obscure enough, so we found an obscuring heather product and it does what we wanted.  He has to walk past now if he wants to look in and once our mixed hedging has reached a good height, he won’t be able to do that either.

In his anger, when things haven’t gone his way, he often does something else in an attempt to provoke.   May 2011 was very warm; we began to suffer from the smell of poultry shit from his backyard.  When we moved here in 2006, there was a static pigeon loft in situ.  In or around 2008 his mother died, and he moved his poultry to his back garden from her house which was being sold.  We had already checked with the maire’s secretary and been shown the regulation which covers this issue.  The pigeon loft had been there at least 5 years, probably a lot longer, and the pile of shit beneath it was a pile! It had never ever been cleaned as far as we could see. There are more than 60 birds in his back yard. Chickens, pigeons and ducks (there may have been rabbits, as he has bred rabbits in the past), the smell means we had become unable to use the North facing terrace at the back of the house where we would be cooler and more comfortable in summer months. Ducks are particularly smelly.   It’s just as well that we had the wall built, as we now spend our summers over in the corner beneath the walnut tree. This is as far as we can get from the smell.

Scrote suggests in a letter from his advocat after hearing of our complaint, it’s impossible that they smell because they are checked regularly by a vet!   Some of his chickens and pigeons may be of exhibition quality, and may have been checked by a vet.  This will not stop them from shitting, and chicken shit and duckshit smells.  At that time we had 12 chickens, they were not exhibition birds, and their shit will be of similar quality we are sure, to those of Scrote.  They smell.  They are well cared for and their accommodation is cleaned periodically.  They are over 70 metres from us and our neighbours; therefore the smell is not a disturbance to others.  Scrote’s chickens are on our boundary and directly next to our house, our garden and our kitchen.  We were unable to open the windows at the back of the house in the evenings, to refresh the upstairs during very hot weather, the smell would permeate.  We wrote to D.D.A.S.S. (Environmental Health) they did not respond to us, but wrote to our Maire.   A month or so later we receive a copy of a letter which had been from the Maire telling Scrote to remove or kill his poultry by the 15th August 2011, nothing changed.  When we made this complaint, it hadn’t occurred to us that the large fly population would in somewhat be down to the poultry numbers in his backyard.

We had been harassed and bullied by Scrote for over 3 years.  At times we have felt emotionally exhausted by his harassment, accusations and false claims. If it weren’t for the fact that we had both trained and practiced as psychiatric nurses and psychotherapists in the UK, we would both probably be taking anti depressants to help us cope.   As it is, we have somehow managed to analyse what was happening and keep each other sane (to a degree!).  We make sure we only ever act within the law and never to his persistent provocation.  Therefore, when Scrote increases his harassment, as he does from time to time, we step back and do not respond as far as possible.

For several months during 2011, each time he passed our house and approached the small bend in the road, he tooted his horn 3 times.  He goes out and back about 5 times per day, so this happened about 10 times per day, equalling 30 hoots.  Most times it would make me jump, as it’s normally quite quiet here.  I am quite a jumpy person anyway, so this was not good for my mental health.   So, he had a new weapon.  This went on for several months and I think only stopped after we’d been called to the gendarmerie to answer a complaint from him!  His complaint was that we were still emptying water into his system (we weren’t) and that our hedge (which we were waiting to be cut) was obscuring his view as he rounded the bend in the tiny, hardly used hamlet road.  It’s only him who is having problems with it, no one else feels the need to hoot three times.   We explained this to Mme Gendarme who as usual looked like she was on side and sighed with us.  Soon after this visit, the hooting stopped and life settled into something that had become a dream.  Peace!

2012

Our life has become amazingly tranquil.   No noise, no barking dogs, it’s as if he doesn’t exist and we are very happy with that.   In Feb, out of the blue, we received a notice from the Tribunal d’Instance that a court hearing would take place in March.  For several hours we thought we were being taken to court by him and couldn’t work out what for.  It was only later when our neighbour’s brother came round that we understood that it was US taking him to court.  It appears that D.D.A.S.S had proceeded further since nothing had changed from 15th August last year.   The hearing didn’t go ahead until May, and further evidence was asked for.  In September we attended a hearing, still no result but we could see the process was proceeding (at a snail’s pace) and saw Scrote digging himself a hole with the chairman of the panel.  The chairman was not taken in by Scrote’s antics and it was decided that an hussier would be sent round to see what was happening next door.  Nothing happened for months and over winter, the chickens, ducks and pigeons remained on site and in close proximity to our house.

2013

In or around April this year, I noticed someone was parked in our parking space across from the house.  It was our advocat and she headed off round to Scrote’s.  We could hear his voice and that of another male in the back garden.  We asked our friend to call that afternoon and ask our advocat if there was any progress (as in all this,  no one communicates, no one writes and lets you know what is happening).  She says that the “judge” was there and agrees that the regulation is being contravened and that he must clean up and move the poultry.

In May, Mme Gendarme  is at the gate having  just left a meeting with Scrote.  She asks if we would come for an audience (interview) at the gendarmerie next week.  Apparently there is a list of complaints from our neighbour…..sigh.  I can’t imagine what the problem is now…..and am past caring.  I am amazed that our gendarmes walk around looking rather menacing (they are a part of the military) with their boots, suits and guns, and yet they can do nothing about this time waster.  A few days later we attend with our friend who speaks some English.  Here is the list of complaints.

1. We have a dog that barks all the time and keeps him awake!

2. We lit a bonfire that caused embers to fall in his garden.

3. Mark climbed a tree, intruded onto his land, stood on his roof to take a photo of the shite next door.

4. We have sheep and 20 chickens who could escape onto the road and who are too close to his house.

5. 3 times per month we have a party and the music is very loud and wakes him.
I think that’s all…..

We don’t have a dog.  We have a dog that comes to visit a couple of times a week during the day.  The dog barks at Scrote on the odd occasion Scrote walks past the house in the road. The dog barks for about 30 seconds.  The lighting of the damp bonfire failed, it is over 30 metres from his garden.  Some embers from paper sacking may well have landed in his garden.  Mark is 65 and last climbed a tree when he was in his teens!  Scrote has not heard of zoom lenses.  Yes, I have 3 sheep, and 6 chickens Ouessants .  They’re all housed over 50 metres away from his garden and free range during the day. Sometimes when Mark is enjoying a doing bit of modelling (he makes military models) in his bunker, he plays loud music….during the evening.  I am surprised Scrote can hear it since he must have deafened himself with the loud radio playing in his car when he came home late at night and drove across our garden before the wall was in place.

We suspect these complaints are his response to the visit from the judge and possibly another court hearing that we have no knowledge of.  We think it is coming much closer to him having to move the poultry.  Despite several phone calls and promises of emails, nothing comes back from our advocat.  No surprises for us nowadays.

During our audience at the gendarmerie, we discovered we cannot accuse him of moral harassment, despite this being so.  It is a law that covers employees and work place bullying apparently and we can provide no proof of harassment.

So, here we are in June, nearly 2 years after writing to D.D.A.S.S about the awful smell.  We are on the brink of writing to them again, since they probably have more clout with the law than we seem to.  Summer proper hasn’t quite made it to our part of La France Profonde yet, so for now the smell n’exist pas.  As I said at the beginning of this blog, having read the story of Hobos in France, our problems seem like nothing, a mere flea on a pile of merde.  I am happy now to write to D.D.A.S.S and then move on.  5 years of this is more than enough and what we have now is peace and quiet with the odd run up to the gendarmerie to answer fictitious complaints.  We can cope with that.  We really do believe we’ve now got the upper hand and that he realises we cannot be walked over.

This is the end of this negative aspect of our lives here.  I hope not to add another post unless there is something positive to report.

Now perhaps you’ll understand why a closed gate is very important 😀

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Eyes Wide Open in LFP #4

I expect you’d like to see the completed wall.  We were very happy to see it.

BBQ with friends for Quatorze.  The garden now a space to use rather than to be abused in.

BBQ with friends for Quatorze. The garden now a space to use rather than to be abused in.

Our builders made a lovely job of it and sadly, for many months of the year we need to store our wood against it, as during the disputed placing of the wall, we also lost a small piece of land we’d been using for wood storage.

With no central heating, we burn at least this much each winter.

With no central heating, we burn at least this much each winter.

The end of September 2010, saw the beginning of the roof refurbishment.  Immediately Scrote complained that a small part of a crawl ladder was overhanging his property and preventing the access to his yard by the lorry due the following day.  Our very patient roofer changed this ladder for a shorter ladder in readiness for the fictional lorry due the next day.  We believe our roofer visited Scrote twice to secure access to the land at the back of the house, and after a few weeks,  we understood that Scrote had agreed.

The offending crawl ladder.

The offending crawl ladder.

In October 2010, we had an appointment with our advocat, and we learned for the first time, that we were emptying used water onto Scrote’s land.  We, with our limited French, had believed the water complaint in his previous muddled letters had been about the downpipe for rainwater from the roof.  We always knew that this would be resolved once the new roof was built and new gutters and downpipes fitted.  We were very shocked to discover that we’d been using this water system, and upon returning home, immediately re-routed the washing machine outflow, and stopped using the sink in the utility room.   This is a system he set up when he lived here, and the water outflow from the utility room where we put the washing machine, drains into his fosse system, rather than ours.  There is no way we would have known that.   We were later dismayed to understand that he continued to accuse us of this.

In November 2010, when the roofers took access for their scaffold (with permission from Scrote); Mark took the opportunity to finish closing and securing the window.   Scrote had again complained that this was still not secure or obscure.  As Mark was pouring cement into the shuttering on the outside of the window cavity, Scrote came home, started to harangue Mark and took photos. We decide it is impossible to complete this piece of work, if Scrote accuses Mark of trespass.  This was the 2nd time he had prevented Mark from completing the work, and complained about 4 times about the window.  In fact, Scrote complained to the Gendarmes regarding this, and we were invited to attend to make a statement regarding this.   Once again, we could sense the frustration of gendarmes who have to follow up on yet another absurd complaint from  Scrote, adding further to their collection of photographs taken by him.  We understand that there is no law in France to prevent people from wasting the gendarme’s time. A year or so later, when at the gendarmes for another petty complaint, we asked why there wasn’t a law against wasting police time, our favourite lady gendarme replied, “En France c’est un sport!”.

The roof took 4 months to complete, due to bad weather and an injury to our chief roofer.  It was completed at the end of January 2011, and the scaffold was removed at this time.  5 months later we received yet another copy of a letter advocat to advocat where Scrote accuses our roofers of leaving  rubble on his land.  Why wait 5 months?  How can one tell from the photos what is building rubble and what is Scrote’s mess?  In the photo, there is a chimney pot lying on the ground.  This chimney pot, we suspect, is meant to represent the chimney pot removed by JM whilst dismantling the old chimney.  The chimney pot that JM removed never rested on the ground.  It was placed in our grenier, for safe keeping, and later was mounted by JM onto our working chimney (at our request) as we had lost one during the installation of our wood burner in 2008.   We have a photograph of this event, as it was the final part of a very long process somewhat like a topping off ceremony.

Eyes Wide Open in LFP #3

Posted on

2009

In March 2009, Mark began to seal and obscure the window that overlooks the disputed parcel of land.  A day after beginning this work, we went out for the day to visit friends.  We came back and discovered that Scrote had trespassed onto our property again, erected a post and wire fence, and made it very clear that Mark could no longer complete the job he had begun.  The window was sealed on the inside, the bricks on the outside were held with cement, further cement was poured from inside the house to secure the external brickwork.   Scrote chose to believe this was not secure. As far as we concerned this was secure and the window obscured.  Scrote made several complaints and demands for the window to be secured and obscured properly after this.  We erected a wooden fence along the wire and post fence line, to complete the resetting of the boundary both physically and visually.

Throughout this time, we were still frequently disturbed by his dogs at the front of the house and when one or other of us, or our cat stepped out into our front garden we were barked at.  The view of his dirty yard, full of old machinery and dog shit was very unpleasant and of course smelly.  We attempted to make a small screen for our cat, so that he could get at least 1 metre into the garden without being barked at.  Scrote constantly knocked this screen down with his car, stating that it was blocking his right of way.  (We shared a driveway).  One of his dogs had killed (on two separate occasions) two of my chickens, so we were concerned that the dogs might escape and attack the cat.  Scrote would also express his anger by revving his engine hard, and covering us in exhaust fumes.  He would also do this if he saw us sitting outside enjoying the tranquillity, or using the phone.  He would also reverse elaborately all over our garden (by several metres) when towing his trailer into his front yard.  In fact, we had no privacy or security. It seemed to us that he still felt that he had ownership of this house and garden.

In July 2009, all but 2 of our chickens were killed by a local dog who’d escaped his home.  During the aftermath, we decided that we would close the gates at the end of the shared driveway, to make an extra barrier to deter stray dogs, and to protect the remaining 3 chickens.  Scrote (with whom we shared the drive) decided that this was not acceptable, and proceeded to open them, every time he passed in his car, (as by now he was using his alternative driveway for about 85% of the time).   Scrote (who knew the chickens had been killed, and despite me writing a note on the gate explaining the reasons for the closure) continued to open the gates, even deliberately driving past, just to open them and then going home again.  This sounds unbelievable, and as I write this from my notes, I am still astonished at how bad things became and that these little acts were causing us such grief.  I am also pleased to say that with all his laying down of gauntlets, ninety nine percent of the time we did not pick them up.  He has an innate ability to push people’s buttons.  We had a friend here one afternoon that went out for a cigarette and encountered Scrote for about five minutes.  Our friend came back in, red in the face and asking us if we had a gun!  Thankfully, we don’t.

In August this year my family again came to visit.  They travelled by train to our nearest city and I went off with son, girlfriend and one grandson to hire a car.  Mark, my daughter and older grandson returned home to make use of the small, plastic plunge pool we’d erected and filled the week before.  After a tiring and complicated hiring process (I’d not got my purse) we arrived home to discover that J (my daughter) had turned round and noticed Scrote taking photos!  I was shaken to the core and was terribly upset that we had no privacy and a nice private family holiday had been spoiled by him taking photos.  We wondered who he was taking photos of?  My daughter, my 8 year old grandson?   For the rest of their stay, we parked the cars across the garden like a wall, it gave us some semblance of privacy and I am sure sent a message to him.  The following morning Mark and I went again to the gendarmerie, and this time (regrettably) complained but did not place a formal complaint.  It would have been useful at a later date to have had some written evidence of this occurrence.  During this visit, with young children here, we closed the gates.  Scrote continued to open them.  It was at this time that we realised that we need to make some changes to the outside of the house, and have gates that we could control for ourselves.

It was during late 2009, we noted that Scrote was beginning to transform some outbuildings, into living accommodation.  These look directly over our front garden, and if lived in, would completely invade our privacy.  As far as we are concerned, he had not applied for a Permis de Constuire at this time.

In October 2009, we were informed that we were to receive a gift of money from Mark’s mum.  This meant we would now be able to go ahead and refurbish the roof which was in a very poor state and also consider building a wall, well outside the limits of the right of way, on our land.  In November 2009, we arranged for several devis for the work to the roof.  In March 2010, we agreed with a local firm, paid a 10,000 euro deposit to start the roof in September 2010.  In March 2010, we wrote to Scrote to tell him we would be refurbishing the roof later in the year, and that we expected he would allow us to place scaffolding on his land.  He replied with another long letter of complaints and told us that until we had attended to all his demands, he would refuse to allow the scaffolding to be erected on his land.   We weren’t too concerned at this point, as there is a law which allows us reasonable access to maintain our property.

2010

In April 2010 we sought advice from the Maire regarding the building of a wall, along the boundary of the right of way, shared with Scrote.  We applied for a Permis de Constuire despite there being no requirement in the Plan d’Urbanisme.  We had been advised to do this to protect ourselves, knowing how Scrote would react.   We also sought the advice of a local geometre, checking the law with him, and making sure of the boundaries and our obligations.

The cat barrier can be seen at the foot of the post far right. He jumped up and down insisting it was illegal to place it there. Imagine his horror when he finds the wall is running in a slight diagonal line from the middle post.

The shared driveway

The shared land, showing his gate far left.

In May 2010, the construction of the wall began; we were very excited to be finally creating a physical boundary between us and him.  Work started first of all on a new opening onto our front garden.

View from cat barrier looking down to gates that we were unable to close (and are not actually in situ at this point.
The walnut tree in the photo now sits inside our wall, and provides us with shade and privacy in summer.

The digger arrived on Sunday and was parked in our garden until the start of the work.  Very exciting.

The digger arrived on Sunday and was parked in our garden until the start of the work. Very exciting.

One very happy husband.

One very happy husband.

Looks threatening (we hoped)

Looks threatening (we hoped)

Here our builders (2 very nice men) are breaking through the wall at the front of our house to create a new opening.

Here our builders (2 very nice men) are breaking through the wall at the front of our house to create a new opening.

Scrote harassed the builders for several days, taking photos, and getting in the way of heavy machinery, culminating in an incident where he blocked the builders into the right of way whilst they were laying footings, called the gendarmes and employed an hussier to fight his corner.  The gendarmes who had turned up in the first instance were not local, did not know our history, nor Scrote’s history nor our history with Scrote.   They began to dispute our measurements and told us we should have measured form the middle of the right of way, not the outer edge.  What we didn’t note at that point was, we own all of the right of way, and Scrote jointly owns a third of it with us.  After about an hour (it seemed much longer), one of our local gendarmes advised us to visit the gendarmerie that afternoon to sort things out in peace.

A line is drawn!  This may be when Scrote began to realise what was happening.

A line is drawn! This may be when Scrote began to realise what was happening.

This was incredibly stressful for us, as in retrospect, we realised that the hussier had bullied us, just as Scrote does.  For a while, we really began to doubt ourselves and our very thorough research, and wondered whether we’d made a big mistake.

He looks like he knows what he's doing!

He looks like he knows what he’s doing!

We, at that time, didn’t understand the role of the hussier, and tried to be polite and accommodating.  What we now know is, the hussier was employed for and paid for by Scrote and therefore was not interested in the truth.  When he’d finished taking advice from Scrote, he arrived at our door. We invited him in, offered a drink, but were faced with a cold and calculating man.  When Mark and I spoke to each other in English, he asked us, “Why are you speaking in English?”  Of course the answer to that is because we are English, and it is our first language and this is our house.  That’s not what we said, we both tried harder to manage in French.   In fact the hussier accused us of understanding French when we want to.  These are words we have heard Scrote use about us.

Me trying out the new driveway.

Me trying out the new driveway.

Oops.  Day 3 was a roller coaster day for us.

Oops. Day 3 was a roller coaster day for us.

We attended the gendarmerie as advised that afternoon, and were immediately informed by them that they believe that the wall was a very good idea, that the Maire had agreed it, and that we should continue to build it.  The relief we felt is indescribable, what had begun as any other day, had turned into our worst nightmare and ended up with us feeling on top of the world.

Footings "go off" over the weekend.

Footings “go off” a little later than planned.

So, weekend over, the building work continued at a pace.   They continued with the footings which should have been finished on Friday and ready for the wall on Monday after a weekend to go off.  This had been delayed by the hussier and his antics, at one point falling into the ditch whilst talking a out the risk of the unfilled ditch.   On Monday afternoon, Scrote returned from wherever he’d been staying overnight, his double take when seeing the footings being continued was a sight for sore eyes.  It seemed he’d not bothered to check the outcome of the events of Friday.

At times the weather was against them, and they (our builders from Haute Vienne) reminded each other of a conversation they’d had when deciding when was a good time to begin the job.   “Let’s do it in May, it’ll be hot and we can wear shorts”…  I have several photos of them working hard in very wet conditions.  From my notes,

A, “Does this look like an erection Kathy?”
Kathy, “A, if you don’t know by now…..”
I, “Bleep, bleep, bleep….”
A, “We’ll call it foreplay then.”

How's that!  Physical and psychological barrier coming along nicely.

How’s that! Physical and psychological barrier coming along nicely.

The wall was completed towards the end of June and we at last began to enjoy some peace and security.  We were able to sit in our own garden, rarely barked at by the dogs, who could no longer see us and we began to realise how important this physical boundary was in relation to Scrote’s apparent need to control his old territory.

Our cat was rolling around on the new driveway within days, the first time he’d been able to enjoy the front of the house in several years.  It was also nice to be able to contemplate having our grandchildren here, enjoying privacy and security with the gates closed.

We believe that since the incident above, where I asked Scrote during the heat of the fracas if he’d applied for planning permission for his outbuildings, and he’d nearly swallowed his ever present roll up, that he applied for retrospective Permis de Constuire for the buildings and double glazed doors, which quite blatantly overlooked out garden.  Now they have a nice view of a grey block wall.

We no longer have to look at this.

We no longer have to look at this.

Since the wall has been in place, Scrote has frequently had visitors who park on the right of way on our land.  This has happened 3 or 4 times, and we have chosen not to address this with him.  We are well aware that he knows that parking here is not permissible.  We suppose Scrote is attempting to get us to fight with him, so we choose to ignore his provocation.    We even heard a car one day, being moved and then returned on instructions from Scrote.

Throughout the wall saga (known as Our Magnificent Erection) I felt very supported by fellow forum members on The France Forum. I sometimes felt I shared too much on there, but most people were very supportive and I believe enjoyed reading the daily updates along with rather a lot of photos.  There were the odd one or two who enjoyed sharing horror stories about similar projects, as if we needed scaring any more than we already were!  That’s forum’s for you.

At times during the above processes, we’ve had visitors here who have either been incredibly supportive, absolutely understanding about how it feels to be bullied and intruded upon.  However we’ve also had the odd one or two who by their response to the provocation from next door, or to questions about the latest developments have obviously felt that it is us that have caused the issues, and even one person suggesting that we could give up the land in the right of way at the front (yet another piece of land) to keep the peace.  I am not sure why they would think giving in to a bully is the answer.  I honestly believe we are probably the first people who have stood our ground and not given up in the face of the bullying and threats from hussier’s and advocats employed by him.

Phew, this is a long one, and believe me I am a prolific taker of photos, so choosing what to show and what not to show has been brain achingly hard.

Eyes Wide Open in LFP #2

Posted on

2007

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.

160px-Catweazle-title

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.

2008

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.

Eyes Wide Open in La France Profonde

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Over the last few days I have been reading a blog about the trials of a family who bought a house here in France that they will never be able to live in. Their story is heartbreaking, shocking, and has made me think about our own problems here in our part of LFP. I’ve decided that for a few blogs, I will chronicle our own journey so far.
First though, this is their story

Hobos in France

…..it took me over 2 hours to read, and I am so pleased I did.

So, our story starts about a year earlier, 2006. First a small introduction to some terminology.

Vice Caché = Hidden Vice

Wikipedia says;

A latent defect is a defect or imperfection in a discovered after the purchase and the item buyer could not discover a cursory examination. These faults are not detected by examination or routine tests, they appear only after the use of the object, after the use of the object of a specific way, after the passage of time after a change in environmental conditions or other circumstances in which the defect is discovered.
Generally, it is the duty of the seller to repair the property to repay the property or to find a replacement, without blemish for it as it enters the “implicit” guarantee of quality than any seller owes the buyer .

Notaire = Solicitor
Advocat = Lawyer
Bruit de voisinage = Neighbourhood Noise
Huissier = Bailiff
Compromis de Vente = No direct translation, but a Promise of conditions of sale
Acte de vente = Contract of Sale
Tour d’Echelle = Scaffold (however is often used to refer to the legal Droit d’Echelle (the legal right to access your neighbours land to effect maintenance and work on your house).
Permit de Constuire = Building Permit
Medecin = GP
Devis = estimate/quote
DDASS = Environmental Health

This is not a horror story, so stop reading if you like a bit of horror, it’s not for you. It’s not a thriller, a mystery or a love story. It’s not even our renovation story about how we bought a pile of stone and built several gites and a glorious home. If you’d seen our ruche’d roof you think we’d gone mad and perhaps we had, but it’s not a story about that. It’s not a story of our everyday life here, as that is mundane and so many before us have waxed lyrical about France. No, this is the story of two somewhat naive 50 something’s taking a leap of faith when buying their home in France, looking forward to a quiet and peaceful existence, and working through the consequences of their naivety and trust.
I am sure this will not put you off buying your dream home and living your dream, it hasn’t put us off. It won’t make some of you change your mind, if you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re well on your way to buying your first house in France. I know I couldn’t get enough of these types of stories in the gap between deciding, moving and ultimately buying our home and wonder now whether I read anything negative or chose to overlook those parts as I didn’t want to be put off.
So, read this with eyes wide open, possibly with rose coloured spectacles balanced on top of your head rather than on your nose and see what decisions we made and how we could have made other choices.

In the beginning

In March 2005 we were living in North Devon having moved there from Kent in 2001. This had been a dream, to retire to Devon and here were living it whilst still working. Devon was peaceful and tranquil for us coming from the busy and very full South East England. This was our rural idyll and we loved our relatively newly purchased 16C cottage which overlooked rolling countryside, the river and green hills of Devon. We were making plans to rebuild the 1960’s shack part of the house, which made up the kitchen and dining room at the back. Plans were already drawn and paid for, and I was working out how we could finance this. Both of us had divorced and now in our 2nd time around relationship, and as is common, had not come out of the divorce with much financially. Our mortgage had been hard to arrange due to us being nearer the end of our working lives, and we’d come to understand that to finance the rebuild, I would need to carry on working until I was 110!

I received an email from a lady in France who had seen our house on a home exchange site on the internet. She and her partner were interested in exchanging with us for 2 weeks in May, their property being in Poitou-Charentes in the South West of France. We’d not made plans for a holiday, money as usual was tight, and yet we decided we’d accept. We traveled out in May and our lives were changed forever.

During our 2 week stay in this lovely, spacious (and I mean spacious compared to our small cottage) old house we came to appreciate the peace and space. Mark has rather a lot of possessions (I am being polite about him being a hoarder) so our home was rather full. Here was a small swimming pool, a vegetable garden, and a few chickens to feed, large outbuildings, 2 large garages and a utility room, plenty of room for large collections of various things. Our Devon cottage was lovely but on a busy, noisy street. We noticed that here, we heard or saw probably about 5 cars/tractors per day, it was unbelievably peaceful. I had use of the internet, and G had English TV set up as she is a Professor of English at the local university. During the evenings we found ourselves falling into our normal pattern of me on the computer and Mark watching the war on telly. After about a week I began to think about the possibilities open to us and that it might be possible for us to live here and live on Mark’s NHS pension income.

Our choices were, we stay in Devon and Mark retires. I carry on working into old age. Mark doesn’t survive that, because
1) I’d kill him with my resentment and jealousy for his freedom and my lack of.
2) We’d fight about the fact there was no meal ready for me when I got home from work, not only no meal, but no sign of a meal and probably no planning gone towards the making of a meal, let alone shopping.

If we move to France, we can retire together and his survival much more likely (pretty certain in fact). Add to that the stress reduction with no work (we both worked in psychiatry and this was often quite stressful). I had a vague idea of the lump sum he’d receive if he took his NHS pension early, and I’d always checked property prices so had an idea of what we might get if we sold. We’d only been in the cottage for 3 years, luckily for us it was still a pretty good time to sell as prices had still been rising in Devon.

Over the years, we’d both holidayed separately in France with our families of origin, and taken 2 holidays here as a couple in previous years. Both had vague and mostly unspoken fantasies of living here, and never, ever thought that those fantasies would ever be more than that. Once I’d gathered my thoughts and partaken of a little research, I shared the possibilities with Mark. I think he was probably a bit shocked, and would need some convincing. Partly this is due to him being unable to visualise into the future, and partly because I am the one who makes things happen. His dream when we first got together had been to retire to Devon, within a year we were living there as I made it happen. I am not sure he sees how one can do this.
However, we agreed to apply for his pension figures again once we returned home and then discuss it some more. We continued our holiday, and I spent the final week joining forums, asking questions and looking at properties on the internet. At that time we had no idea where we wanted to be, so my net was cast far and wide. And yes, I began to swallow the travel books whole. I’d already read Walking over Lemons and A Parrot in the Pepper Tree by Chris Stewart whilst holidaying with our friends in Granada. I’d already caught the bug, felt the envy for those who taken the big step, so it wasn’t much of a step for me to move into research mode. Research mode for Mark is a dangerous time, as it normally means he’s about to spend a large amount of money. I guess you can say the same for me now.
We traveled home at the end of May, Mark proposed to me on the way home which is a different story, and as we left the shores of France I cried. I knew I’d be back, but not sure when.
Once the figures came through, I could see it was possible (as far as one can know without living it) and we agreed upon a 3 year plan. In retrospect, I agreed to 3 years but hadn’t considered my powers of persuasion and need to just get on with it. I worried about him working in a steadily more pressured job, and I hadn’t quite noticed the pressure my own job was placing on me. I began to move the 3 year plan forward a tad, we put the house on the market (well I did a couple of hours before breaking the news to Mark) and in April 2006 just after our lovely wedding weekend, we had a buyer. On 18th July 2006, 11 months into our 3 year plan, we left England for France, our adventure had begun.
We traveled down in our very full VW T4 camper with 3 unhappy cats to a rented home that we found with the help of JP and G, our home exchange couple. Having checked out Creuse and Correze a little in May and deciding they weren’t for us, we’d narrowed down our decision to Vienne or Haute Vienne, as we felt it was a good place to be. We’d ruled out Dordogne as there are rumours galore about it being too English (and whether or not they are true).  Any further South would be too hot for me, so Vienne it was.  Our rental was unfurnished, we had half our furniture delivered and half stored about 2 hours away by the removal company. We arrived a day before our furniture with 3 very unhappy and confused cats. That our rental was unfurnished was a blessing, as within 4 months we were leaving as we’d found our “dream home”.  I really didn’t think we’d find somewhere so quickly, and we’d given 3 months notice by the end of August.

The long house (our dream home) belonged to a divorcee, who’s ex husband lived at the end of the house, the other side of our garage and utility room. We were astonished that our offer was accepted as it was quite a bit less than the asking price and it was all we had left. In fact we’d paid the same price for our 16C cottage 3 years previously, and this house was at least 3 times bigger and had an acre of land attached. In retrospect I think we may have had a lower offer accepted, but back then we did not know what we now know!
The purchase process took us into mid November, we made several trips over to wander in the garden (the house had been empty for at least a year) and dream of a time when we could live here. There are several chestnut trees in the garden, so I enjoyed collecting some and eating them raw.
There were a couple of things to iron out during the process. Our lovely immobilier T took us to visit our soon to be neighbour for coffee and cake one morning for these issues to be discussed. There was a small piece of land at the rear of the house next to the kitchen and bathroom that had not been divided up properly during the divorce, so the boundary wall and fence was now in the wrong place. Another issue over some joint driveway on the other side of his property and our joint ownership of the right of way at the front. There was a heated discussion in French, we came away thinking we’d understood some of what was discussed and carried on. We were due to meet with our neighbour, his ex wife and our immobilier to finalise what had been “agreed” during the discussion. Nearly neighbour didn’t turn up, we said never mind we’ll sort it out over time and signed the Compromis de Vente. Again in retrospect, this was our first mother of all assumptions.

In mid November 2006, after a rather anxious early morning run to the bank for the banker’s draft, we arrived at the Notaire’s office feeling nervous and excited. Our meeting started at 09h30, we had a sworn translator there, as was required by our notaire. Others present (it feels like a wedding) the vendor, T our immobilier, us and the notaire’s secretary. There is a discussion about the disputed piece of land and it is agreed that 10,000€ be set aside by the vendor, and held by the notaire for 2 years in a non interest bearing account, in order to deal with any expenses incurred if our new neighbour makes a claim on the piece of land. I, because I am so generous and possibly even more naive than I am willing to acknowledge say, “Oh no, that’s too much, make it less”. So, the Acte de Vente goes off to be rewritten.

Our sworn translator, who is being paid, has not managed to provide us with a completely translated AdeV, and to this day we still don’t have one. So, time passes, we initial page after page of document and our vendor hands over a massive bunch of keys….most of them keys to the garage! She is tearful and I think she must be feeling sad at the end of an era etc. The time has now reached midday, and we’re still in the throes of signing and rewriting. As 12h30 approaches there is a lot of shuffling and anxiety filling the room as it is now LUNCH TIME! Lunch time in France, in our experience, is like a religious ritual, and going beyond lunch time and risking not getting seated in your designated eating place is just not on. Eventually, at 13h10 the meeting is wound up, we have bought us a house and we all leave to have lunch and Mark and I to celebrate.

After lunch we rush off to let ourselves into our new house, full of excitement and dreams and manage to get ourselves as far as the utility room. The garage key(s) work, and the room next door is open, but access from the utility room to the first main room and the rest of the house is locked and we cannot unlock the door. I think we were held up at this point for only 10 mins whilst Mark found a screwdriver and removed the lock. We were here; we were in and spent the next few days, along with our friends from North Devon, getting things cleaned up ready for the arrival of our furniture. There are no unusual events to tell, moving house is full of things that need doing, things that don’t go right etc, but it was mostly an uneventful move and by the end of November we were more or less settled, there were still boxes to unpack but not so many. My children and grandchildren came and joined us for our first Christmas, we and my son learnt more about the fosse septique than he would have liked, we’d had chutes of wood delivered, and enjoyed the open fire. I had my first rendezvous chez medicin and we got the heating working, and enjoyed a warm and happy Christmas en famille.

to be continued>

Why do your ideas always arrive when you’re in the shower or in bed?

How often have you found yourself in the shower or in bed when an idea comes to you, and you have no means to write it down. Probably not so bad if you’re in bed, as you hopefully have a notebook next to you for these occasions, but in the shower there is an problem with paper and pen. Why is it that these ideas come then? Why can’t they come when you’re actually sitting at your PC and working.

When we’re working at the PC, reading, writing, chatting, networking, emailing, tweeting we’re using up most of our brain and there is no reflective space to allow new ideas and thoughts in. So, when we finally switch off, and put work away and start doing stuff that doesn’t require our brain space, we free up creative space. It would be good to pay heed to this and think about other activities that free up our brain during the day.

When you went for that bike ride earlier, not only were you exercising your body, getting some Vitamin D and breathing in some fresh air, you were giving your brain some space too. I wonder whether you had some good ideas whilst you were out, whether you got inspired. I wonder whether your productivity improved as a result of your short break from the desk. There are many, many articles on the web about this, and many of them quote Richard Branson who suggests;

There are other articles that suggest that sunlight increases productivity too, so a walk, run, cycle ride in the sun has got to be a good thing.
In fact many of the studies look at how to bring more natural light and sunlight into the workplace, so setting your office space up in a sunny spot is a good plan too.

Earlier in this blog I used used the word reflective, and I think that many of us don’t really get how important time to reflect is. In this world where every minute is scheduled and lunch is taken on the move, opportunities for reflection have been lost. If you can imagine for a minute that reflection during the day is a little like dreaming at night, and we all know how important it is to be able to dream. Just as dreaming is important, so is reflection and I am sure you would find an improvement in your stress levels if you allowed yourself some space to do so.


I found this here and wanted to use it, so have linked to the blog.

I also loved this anonymous quote on the same blog.
Stress is when you wake up screaming and you realize you haven’t fallen asleep yet.
Anonymous

So, in essence it’s a good plan to get out there into the wilderness, the countryside and the sun and exercise your body and mind, even if only for 30 mins. Give yourself some space and don’t forget your notepad.

Kathy, feeling very sane ce soir.

PS. I would be really grateful if anyone reading this could let me know whether they can see the links to the articles and the blog. I cannot see them and I wonder if they are there?

Older and unfinished musings.

How are you?

Is how we frequently begin a conversation either face to face or over the phone.
Each party asking how the other is.
My question is, how many of us really want to know? How often are we asking out of politeness than from a genuine enquiry into someones well-being?

As a child and younger adult, I’d learnt that when asked such a question, one answers with, “Okay thanks, what about you?”
In the last 15 years I’ve learnt to say how I am, whether it be good or bad. I have noticed that not all grew up with this injunction. Many are used to saying how they are and going into great detail about how they are. Not all of them have been willing to take the time to listen in return. It has been interesting to notice the responses now that I too say how I am.

I have noticed that some people, having asked how I am, will move on when I tell them I am not so good, or such and such (negative) is going on. They make a noise of acknowledgement, and then change the subject. I am left wondering whether I should go back to my old response (and of course, the people who respond this way would probably prefer that). Others respond with a greater problem, somehow as if there is a competition to see who has it worse. These are the people a guest therapist/trainer of mine referred to as, “Empty Gas Pumps” I can’t find any references to it, but these are the people not to take your problems to. They don’t want to hear that your life is not good at the moment, and cannot provide any support or active listening. They really only want to tell you about themselves, their problems and get your support. So, there is frequently great reinforcement to return to old ways of responding.

I only go to the full gas pumps when I need support nowadays. I am also a full gas pump when I can be, and will say I am not able to provide support when I am empty. I love my mutual relationships, they are mostly free from complication and competition.

Stroking and touch.

This has been a long term ponder of mine. In recent years research has found that touch and stroking can be healing.
Dogs have been introduced to certain areas in hospitals (or have they been banned since M.R.S.A.) providing P.A.T therapy. There is also research into the bonding between humans and their pet dogs and the reduction of stress and lowering of blood pressure.

Aaron Katcher of the University of Pennsylvania, actually measured what happens physically when a person pets a friendly and familiar dog. They found that the person’s blood pressure lowered, heart rate slowed, breathing became more regular and muscle tension relaxed-all of which are signs of reduced stress. Furthermore a study published recently in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine not only confirmed these effects, but showed changes in blood chemistry demonstrating reduced amounts of stress related hormones. It is interesting to note that these positive psychological effects work a lot faster than many drugs taken for stress, since all of these effects occurred after only 5 to 24 minutes of pleasantly interacting with the dog.

This is all great, and yet it leaves me wondering…..is it possible to get the same health benefits from bonding with, touching and stroking another human being? Does it have to be an animal? Is it a Western thing? Could this same research be replicated in other cultures, or do they reduce their blood pressure and stress in other ways? I can understand how important it is for those who have a pet and no partner, but what about those with partners?

Lots of questions, I’d love some answers. One more question before you leave. Is it possible we touch and stroke our pets more than we do our human partners? It would be fascinating to get you to count the times you interact physically with your pets and to count the same with your human and let me know that answer.

Please be very sure to close the gate for the next 2 weeks, keep my grandsons safe.

a bientot.