Archive for the ‘Neighbours’ Category

Curiosity (could have) killed the cat
April 22, 2009

For those of you who follow my blog on a regular basis, you will know that I have had more than my fair share of ‘close encounters’ with shady Frenchmen. However, here is one with a less than happy ending – I was lucky, but another girl less so.

 

It took place six months after I had moved to France. My ex was digging up the floor to install the electrics, so we had temporarily relocated to a B&B just up the road. As my ex spent every day at the house, and there was little I could do to help with a toddler in tow, I took myself off for long walks in the surrounding countryside instead. Sonny was only one at the time, so enjoyed being pushed around, looking at cows, donkeys, horses and flowers. We would often collect stones or sticks on the way and turn them into little works of art on our return.

 

My favourite walk was through a small hamlet, in which only two of the four houses were inhabited. In one of the houses lived two brothers, both in their 60s; one of which slept in the main house, the other – for reasons unbeknown to me – slept on a bed of hay in the cellar. Although I never met the older brother, I would often speak (though it was more like him rattling away and me saying the odd word in both English and French) with the one who slept in the cellar, even though he had a rather disconcerting habit of talking only to my chest – and to my mother’s when he met her in the supermarket several years later. Most days he would delight in giving me fresh figs from his garden and showing me his cattle, but one day he surprised me. His gaze left my chest and he looked me straight in the eyes. Pointing to the far end of the hamlet he told me to be careful. As my French was still quite basic at the time, all I understood was, “Attention!” I assumed he was telling me to be careful of the busy, main road at the top of the lane. In hindsight, I think he was trying to warn me about his neighbour.

 

On first impressions, his neighbour seemed very nice. He was in his late 40s and was clearly in the middle of renovating his house. The first couple of times I walked by, we exchanged nothing more than a polite ‘Bonjour’. After several trips he initiated a conversation. He asked me where I came from and spoke a little about the difficulties of renovating a property on his own. When I mentioned that my partner and I were in the middle of doing the same, he asked if I would like to have a look at some of the work he was doing in his kitchen. Having a genuine interest, I said yes. As I peered through his patio doors I could see that he was a skilled artisan. He was halfway through laying a traditional, terracotta, tile floor and had just started to build his own ‘French country style’ kitchen. When I said that it looked lovely, he asked if I would like to go in and have a look at some of the rooms that were finished. As Sonny was still asleep in the pushchair, and I didn’t want to leave him on his own, I declined (knowing what I know now, it still makes me shiver to think what might have happened if I hadn’t). I continued to walk past the house for at least another week before I moved back home. I would always stop to chat but, thankfully, never took him up on the offer of a quick tour round the house or a ‘Pastis.’

 

Several months later I heard through a neighbour that he had been carted off to prison. When I heard why, I went white. Apparently, he had attacked and raped a young girl. Her car had broken down at the top of the lane late one night and seeing the headlights he had gone up to help. After assaulting her and leaving her for dead, he ran back to his house and shot himself through the mouth with a rifle. I have no idea whether the girl survived or not, but I think she managed to make a call to the police from her mobile. When they arrived at the scene they knew exactly who her attacker was: the man in the neighbouring hamlet, who had been arrested for a similar crime several years earlier. When they paid him a visit he was still alive. His suicide attempt had been unsuccessful and he was lying paralysed in a pool of blood on the floor.

 

Shocked, I asked my neighbour to fill me in on his history. Apparently, he had been diagnosed as having a mental disorder, and after serving time for his last crime, had been released back into the community on the condition that he continued to take his medication and checked in with a psychiatrist once a month. Now this is where it gets scary. Apparently he had stopped taking his medication several months before he attacked the girl (about the time when I was walking by), and that even though he had missed a string of appointments with his psychiatrist….wait for it…no one had bothered to follow it up.

 

Erm…….why? It leaves me cold to think that a man like this was alllowed to slip through the net. I wonder how the psychiatrist felt when they heard the news? In my opinion, not only did they fail their patient, but they put the lives of innocent people at risk. That poor girl. I have no idea what became of her, but everyday I thank my lucky stars it wasn’t me.

Reeling – Part 2
November 13, 2008

I have come to a decision. I am not going to confront my ex about K and her 6 yr old daughter (I forgot to mention that she has a daughter in my last post) moving in, I am going to wait for him to tell me. I have my reasons for this:

 

  1. If I initiate the conversation and an argument ensues, Sonny will feel to blame. As he is only 6, he is far too young to be having guilt trips over things he has said, or situations he has caused.
  2. My ex may tell Sonny off for telling me what goes on between him and K, and I wouldn’t want him to feel that he had to start keeping secrets, or to censor everything he said.
  3. If Sonny is happy with the situation (which I think he is) and my ownership rights remain unchanged (call to lawyer required), is it really such a big deal?

 

I suppose I am just annoyed that neither K nor my ex has had the decency to come and speak to me about it first – especially before they sat down and discussed it with the kids. To be honest, K probably doesn’t even know that I still own the house. My ex has always been very economical with the truth, and as we were never married, he could quite easily have said that the house belongs to him.

 

There are times when I wonder if K even knows why I left. If she did, she might not be so keen to move in. As my mum said, “give her six months, and she’ll be out of there like a shot.” That remains to be seen, but in the meantime I am going to take some legal advice and play this one very carefully indeed.

 

Who would have thought it? (and with a dodgy ticker too!)
October 16, 2008

Imagine this. There is a lovely old man in your street who you say hello to most days. You know that he lives on his own so sometimes you stop to say more than hello. On one of these occasions, whilst admiring his garden, he invites you to come in and have a look around his house.

 

 “There are lots of original features,” he says, trying to tempt you.

 

As someone who loves architecture (and having a good nose around other people’s homes), you jump at the chance – he’s a 92 year old man with a heart problem after all…what could happen?

 

He leads you into the kitchen. “Very nice,” you say, looking at the original stone floor. Upstairs is the sitting room; a beautiful mantelpiece and some very nice antiques. Your eyes dance around the room taking it all in, and then they fall upon a pile of well flicked through porn mags (about 50, to hazard a guess) on a chair next to the fire. Pretending you haven’t seen them, you edge your way towards the door saying how lovely it has been to have had a look around and that it is probably time that you made your way home.

 

“But you haven’t seen the bedroom yet,” says the old man with a twinkle in his eye.

 

“Oh I think I have seen quite enough,” you say, hot-footing it down the stairs.

 

As you make your way into the street outside, you bid the old man farewell and thank him again for having shared his home (and possibly his private life) with you. You then head off down the road, trying not to think too much about what he might get up to after you have gone.

 

So you tell me. What do you think this lovely old French man uses this type of literature for: lighting his fire or ____________ ? On second thoughts, please don’t answer that. I really don’t want to know. Honest…I don’t.

 

 

  

Post Holiday Post
July 30, 2008

 

I hate coming back from holiday! As soon as I walk through the door I can feel the post holiday blues kicking in. And the trigger is usually my post. I have to open it straightaway. I can’t relax until I know there is nothing nasty lurking in one of the envelopes. I am like a woman possessed. Suitcases in the hallway, jacket still on, I rip open each letter, frantically scanning the contents for any bad news – which there invariably is!

 

Last year’s post was particularly memorable! After 2 weeks in Spain I came home to a letter from the French government saying they were going to remove 1000 euros from my bank account (which they are able to do in France) for not paying tax on a house I moved out of in 2005. On a salary of 700 Euros a month, I went into panic mode! I had no I idea why they were pursuing me for this when it was my ex who was living in the house, not me. It turned out that he had ‘forgotten’ to pay the bill and because I am still on the title deeds and part of the French tax system (he isn’t, as he has never worked over here) they had all my details and had decided to come after me for it instead.

 

This year’s post has left me feeling equally uneasy – I don’t have any! 10 days away and my postbox is empty. This is particularly strange as I get post most days, even if it is just junk mail, but there is nothing – not even my mobile phone bill, which comes without fail around the 20th of each month. My initial thought was that it had been put to one side by my helpful, 70-yr-old neighbour, Golden Balls (I gave him this name after witnessing him hanging out his washing in nothing more than a T-shirt. When standing normally it was long enough preserve his modesty, but when he reached up to peg each item on the line it rode up past his waist, revealing his manly treasures). He has access to my postbox, which is next to his in the street below, and is the kind of person who would empty it if it looked a bit full. I have even asked him to do it when I am away, as I worry it will alert someone to the fact that my flat is empty.

 

Arriving home at midnight I had to wait until the following morning before I could knock on Golden Balls’ door. I expected to be invited in, have a cup of coffee and for my post to be on the table. Instead he peered round his door and asked what I was doing back so soon – he thought I was away for 2 weeks, which I do remember saying. When I asked if he had needed to empty my postbox a guilty look shot across his face, he shook his head, then nervously closed the door with a curt ‘au revoir’. This was very out of character for him as he is usually so friendly and is always looking for an opportunity to invite me in for a chat. As I walked away I had the feeling that something wasn’t quite right, then I began to remember a strange conversation I once had with the 69-year-old lady who used to live in the flat above him. One day when I went down to collect my post I caught her hiding round the corner, keeping a watchful eye on her postbox. She beckoned me over and whispered in my ear that Golden Balls had been stealing her mail and that she was standing there so she could catch him at it. I asked her why he would do a thing like that and she said he was stalking her. On several occasions she had caught him listening in at her door or sitting on the stairs waiting for her to go out. He had also ‘offered’ himself to her in a sexual way and it was just after she had turned him down (having seen what he had to offer, she could have done worse!) that her post began to go missing. She had told half the village, including the police, that she was being stalked but no one believed her. The general consensus was that Golden Balls was far too old and gentlemanly (he has lived here all his life and is a well respected member of the community) to be a post-stealing, sex pest and that she was just another old lady ‘losing her marbles.’ I am not sure if she ever did catch him tampering with her postbox, but I do know that she was so traumatised by the whole affair that she had to move out and I haven’t seen her since.

 

I am now starting to think that there may have been some truth in her story. Did Golden Balls flash his balls at me on purpose? He knew I was sitting on my terrace when he came out with his washing. Maybe he was offering himself to me then and my failure to respond has forced him to go sniffing through my letters instead? Come to think of it, he is always popping round to see how I am. And when my mum is here he comes round even more. Even my friends have noticed that he is a bit nosey, always sticking his head out the window when they walk by. Sometimes my post looks like it has been opened, but I have never thought anything of it until now. Maybe he steals the odd letter here and there, then replaces it a day later when I am not looking? Could this lonely, old do-gooder really be a stalker who gets his kicks out exposing himself and reading (and I hope that is all he does with them!) ladies’ letters? I sincerely hope not, but if he has snaffled my post he has probably done me a favour anyway. Ignorance is bliss and if there are any letters like the one I received last summer, he is welcome to them, bills and all!

 

 

Turds in the Pantry – Bon Appétit
July 1, 2008

If you have read my last post, you will recall the nightmare we had getting the previous owners of the house we bought in France to move out. We had to live with them for 3 weeks before they finally decided to go – and only then because we forced them. When they left it was a joyous occasion. I celebrated by throwing open every window, shutter and door. It was a form of exorcism. As the fresh air came in the old was drawn out, and with it the negativity that had been building since our arrival was slowly replaced with a sense of calm.

 

My next task was to remove the net curtains. They kept out the light, obscured the view and in my opinion, were completely pointless! I can understand them in a busy village where there might be an issue with privacy, but in the middle of the countryside, where the views are so magnificent – it seems such a shame. If they had been made out of beautiful, old French lace they would have been worth keeping (on one or two of the windows), but they were new, they were nylon and there was no way I could live with them! I knew their removal would offend the previous occupants – who could see what I was up to from their new house in the next field – but this was partly why I was doing it. They had caused us so much grief that I wanted to cause some back. I knew how much they adored these nets (the farmer’s wife had once said how pretty they were), and in doing this I was sending a very clear signal, that they were out and we were in – petty, I know!

 

With the nets gone, it was time to give the place a damn good clean. I started in the spare room where the shutters looked as if they hadn’t been opened years. To get to the window I had to clamber over a mountain of black bin bags. There must have been at least a hundred, as I couldn’t see the floor, and in some places they were stacked as high as my head. They belonged to the previous owners (naturally) and were filled with all kinds of junk: empty jam jars, old clothes, magazines, wool, unwanted wedding presents, shoes, toys, material, glasses, broken kitchen equipment…..it was incredible. They were obviously hoarders and had been stockpiling this stuff for a while. I had asked them to clear the room when they moved out, but they ‘didn’t have enough storage space in their new house to accommodate it, so it would have to stay for a bit, if that was ok?’ It wasn’t, so I set about the long task of removing it myself. Up and down the stairs I went, bin bag after bin bag, until it was tucked out of sight in an outbuilding at the bottom of the garden. In hindsight, I should have chucked it out the window and ordered them to come and get it before it rained – being assertive has never been my strongpoint!

 

With the worst room sorted, my next stop was the pantry. It was under the stairs and looked like it hadn’t seen a wet cloth in years. It was a rubber glove job, and boy, was I glad to be wearing them when I came across this little beauty – A MUMMIFIED DOG TURD! It was vile! I have no idea how long it had been there but it was hard and it was dusty. I knew straightway whose little derrière it had popped out of – the previous owner’s incontinent Yorkshire terrier, Jessie. When we were living together, she was forever leaving little ‘presents’ on the floor and, more often than not, they would be accompanied by a small puddle of her delightful pee-pee. Her favourite place was at the foot of the stairs, which often caught you by surprise if you came down for a glass of water in the middle of the night or were a bit bleary-eyed in the morning. Wiping it off the hands and knees of my son – who was learning to crawl at the time – was also a pleasurable experience!

 

 

Unfortunately, Jessie’s little offerings were the least of our worries. What we found round the back of the house was far worse: let’s just say there was lots of it, it was human and it required more than a pair of gloves to remove…

 

Buying a house in France – a cautionary tale!
June 27, 2008

How would you feel if you bought a house in a quiet, rural location and on moving in a year later found another house ‘under construction’ in the field next-door? What if you had bought the property for its ‘privacy’ and had been assured by the previous owners that the surrounding land, which they owned, would remain as farming land.  Now imagine if that house had been built by the previous owners, who in the process had dug trench (large enough for a small army) in your back lawn, taking out a large portion of your mature boundary hedge, to tap into your water and your electricity supply! Better still, what if on moving in you found that they were still living in your house, as theirs -a shimmering, aluminium eyesore wasn’t quite ready. Naturally, you would take pity on them and let them stay in your house indefinitely until they could make other arrangements? Probably not, but we did! Perhaps it was their kind offer of, ‘You can sleep upstairs in our bed (they forgot to mention the fleas), we’ll sleep downstairs on the fold-out sofa’ that did it. Then again, it might have been the farmer proposing that his wife cook for us, ‘it will be like a holiday for you!” that swung it. No. In reality, we were just exhausted from the journey, utterly relieved that we had arrived (we had broken down on the way and had to spend 2 days in a Tours waiting for a part for the van) and quite frankly, gobsmacked at what we had arrived to. Not wanting to ‘start off on the wrong foot’ with our new ‘surprise’ neighbours also had a part to play.  If only they had thought the same!

 

So how had they been allowed to get away with this? When we bought our farm in 2001, part of the deal was that the previous owners could carry on living there until we moved in a year later. This seemed like a good idea at the time as we didn’t like the idea of the place being empty for such a long period and they weren’t quite ready to move out: their ‘barn conversion,’ which was supposedly 15km away, being ‘a long way off completion.’ As they had a 3-year-old son (Damien, as he later became known) and nowhere to go, it seemed like the right thing to do. Looking back, the funny thing is, we had been in contact with them on a regular basis prior to moving and had often enquired as to how their new house was coming along. They never once told us it was in the next field. Their response was always the same, a very jovial, ‘you will see’ – and didn’t we just!

 

When we arrived they were not in the least bit bothered that they were still there.  It was as if we were just ‘coming to stay’ for a while. All our furniture, which had been out there for months, was still in the barns (some of it mouldy) and the house was very much theirs. I had a 5-month-old baby and not being able find an empty cupboard, remember setting up a temporary trestle table in the kitchen to put all the bottles and other baby paraphernalia on. After several days I managed to pluck-up the courage to ask the ‘lady of the house’ (for it was most definitely not me) for some storage space. She was not happy, but finally agreed to concede a cupboard – one down, six to go! Several hours later, after much huffing and puffing, the task was complete and I was the proud owner of two shelves and a door. I had finally managed to claim some territory and went to bed that night victorious – today a cupboard, tomorrow…the fridge?

 

By the third week, enough was enough. I had learnt a few words in French and was prepared to use them – primarily non, non et NON. The last one came in particularly handy when I caught little Damien thrusting a 7cm plastic tube down my little one’s throat. This was the turning point for me. I could just about put up with the fleas and the bad cooking but trying to kill my baby was not acceptable. I couldn’t turn my back for a second. Damien was driving us insane. He spent every waking minute running round the house like a wild animal, destroying everything in his wake. He spat and screamed and rarely slept through the night. He was very much a ‘disturbed’ child. To be honest, we did feel a bit sorry for the little lad. It was clear his parents loved him (there were lots of tender moments with hugs and kisses), but they had no idea how to discipline him: always pulling him around by the ear for not listening, or slapping him if he misbehaved or soiled himself. Once, when he was playing-up at the dinner table, they threw a glass of water in his face then laughed. It was a truly awful moment.

 

Unable to tolerate either party’s behaviour we had words – well, my ex did, as more than a firm ‘non’ was required on this occasion. He thanked them for their hospitality (we didn’t want to be too rude, as we were going to be neighbours after all) and told them in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t working and they would have to go. Remaining silent, I put on my best sympathy face and shrugged my shoulders a few times – i was livid, but it seemed the right thing to do under the circumstances. They put on their best hard-done-by faces, shrugged their shoulders a few times, had a little grumble, then did the right thing and left. Finally, the house was ours!

 

Even though we had forced them to move into an unfinished house, it was difficult to have any sympathy for them. They may not have had a finished bathroom but they did have plenty of water and electricity – ours! It was also very interesting to see how quickly their house progressed when they were no longer ‘tres comfortable, chez nous.’

 

 

*I later found out why she gave me this cupboard in particular, it was haunted. But that’s a another story for another day.