Suspicious minds

A funny thing happened this week.

I volunteer at a charity shop raising funds for abandoned and abused animals. Mostly I am in the book department, where we have a vast quantity of both hardback and paperback books donated by well-wishers and which are sold for 1 euro each.

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The ‘shop’ isn’t exactly a shop in the conventional sense. It’s a collection of barns and outbuildings selling quality bric-a-brac, furniture, linens, clothing, children’s games and toys, electrical goods, DVDs, CDs and the aforesaid books. There is also a tea shop where shoppers can spoil themselves with the very best of home-baked cakes and pastries.

Anyway, a lady came in on Tuesday and selected a number of books, and when she came to pay I noticed that a couple of them were written by me.

I said to her, “Oh, I hope you’ll enjoy these – I’m the author.”

She stared at me and said, “What?”

“I wrote these two books.” I tapped the covers. She looked at the books and then back at me, and didn’t seem convinced.

She turned her attention to my apparel, which was suited to mid-February in rural France. Fleecy trousers and tops, scarf, boots and woolly gloves all topped off with a red nose.

“Then what are you doing working here,” she asked. “I thought writers were rich.” ūüėÄ

Contrast that with what happened many years ago in the Brighton branch of the greatly missed and much-lamented Borders Bookshop, where you could sit and read for as long as you wished on a comfy sofa, and drink coffee and eat cakes, when one of my titles was newly-released and piled up on a table at the front of the shop. The friend I was with walked up to the person behind the counter and said: “This lady is the author of that book – she’ll sign some copies if you like.”

So the man came from behind the counter, found me a chair, and not only did I sign every copy, he found other titles of mine on the shelves and asked me to sign those too.

Without asking for any proof that I was the author!

Looking back I suspect he must have been relatively new or very confident that the books would sell, because bookshops cannot return unsold books to the publisher once they’ve been signed. My agent, the lovely Maggie Noach had told me that. Luckily for that man the title sold well and I don’t recall that¬†there were ever any returns.

Here’s the King, never been equalled.

The Poitiers paperchase

Facebook keeps reminding me that I haven’t posted on my author page since 22nd September. Do I detect a slight admonishment? I plead extenuating circumstances, to wit:

I have had nothing to write that I think could have been of any interest to readers, and even if I had, I have been too busy to do so.

Mainly, but not exclusively, it dates back to that fateful car journey  at the end of June when our car broke down and our caravan was damaged. The car limped back home, only to put an end to itself shortly afterwards by releasing its handbrake while parked on a slope, and smashing itself to bits on a concrete pillar.

The quantity of paperwork necessary to sort out the insurance claims seemed disproportionate to the value of the claims,  but all the boxes had to be filled, in triplicate, accompanied by photocopies of numerous other documents that I had to hunt for in dusty old files, and sent off, only to be returned days or even weeks later asking for more information. .

It didn’t help that our misfortunes coincided with that time of the year in France when everybody shuts up shop and heads off to the Midi for their summer holidays and you can’t get hold of anybody for a month. Unfortunately our lovely insurance broker who has taken care of all our needs for the last twenty years, and speaks perfect English, happened to be on his well-deserved holidays when the accident happened, and has subsequently been seriously ill in hospital ever since, which means that I have had to deal with the French-speaking lady, and while my French is fairly good, it doesn’t extend to arcane French insurance language and laws and my conversations with the company were sometimes as clear as mud. It took several weeks for the payment for the car to arrive, and three more weeks to find a suitable replacement, an English-registered vehicle.

We are still awaiting compensation for the caravan, but are told it should be done within 8-10 days

As a French resident¬†your car has to be registered in France, and so on to the next phase of paperwork, which took us to Poitiers yesterday, confident that I had everything necessary to obtain a ‘carte grise‘ – the vehicle registration document, which would mean the car was officially registered as French and we could then have new number plates fitted.

Two stops were necessary, firstly at the Centre des Finances Publiques and afterwards at the Préfecture. I checked the opening times before we left РFrench Government offices are notorious for their erratic opening hours. Centre des Finances Publiques is open in the afternoons from 1.15 to 3.45, and the Préfecture all day until 5.00 pm, so we should theoretically at least be able to wrap up the whole exercise in one afternoon.

We arrived 10 minutes before the Centre opened, anticipating¬†that it would be busy and we’d have a long wait if we were at the back of the queue. When the doors opened a polite smiling young man asked each person what they wanted and directed them to the appropriate counter. He pointed us to the first floor, room 106, where a friendly lady processed the ream of paperwork in my folder and within ten minutes we had the necessary ‘quitus fiscal‘ – a document certifying that there was no tax to pay on the vehicle, one of the essential pieces of paper needed for the next stage of our venture.

Off we set to the other side of town to the Pr√©fecture. While TOH drove off to find a parking place, I went and asked at reception which form I needed to complete. A polite and helpful young man led me to another counter and patiently went through all the steps needed and listed the papers to include with the form. I thought I’d brought everything with me – original registration certificate, bill of sale, certificate of conformity, utility bill to verify address, certificate of a contr√īle technique – the French equivalent of an MOT – and the newly acquired ‘quitus fiscal‘ and proof of identity. One thing, however, that I had overlooked, was a stamped self-addressed envelope. Dammit!

No problem, the young man said, you can get one from the post office, it’s only two minutes away. He led me out of the door and round the corner to show me the way.

Off I trotted to the post office, where there were several counters for various services, but none for somebody wanting to buy a single stamped envelope. There were four people ahead of me in the queue, and a young woman asked each what they wanted and directed them to a counter. She escorted me to the parcel deposit and collection point, and it was there, when I went to pay for the envelope, that I found I had left my purse at home. It seemed silly to pay for a 1 euro purchase with my bank card, so I bought ten envelopes. Then I trotted back to the Préfecture and continued assembling all the necessary documents.

That was when I discovered that I needed a photocopy of the utility bill and my driving licence. In the past it used to be the person at the counter who provided the registration document – they would make the copies for you. I went to the photocopy machine and remembered that I didn’t have any money to pay for them, so I trudged back to the place where I had been filling in the forms. As I approached a young woman was waving at me rather urgently. I’d left my nine stamped envelopes there for anybody to take, so she had kept them safe for me. Thanking her, she asked if I had everything I needed. No, I replied, I’ve forgotten my purse and have no money to pay for the photocopies. Give them to me, she said, I’ll do them for you. Which she did. Finally everything seemed to be in order, and I went to the ticket machine to take a number – most public buildings around here work on that system, so that people are seen in the order they arrive, like the fish counter in supermarkets. No queue jumping!

The kind young woman caught up with me and explained that there was no need to take a ticket, because the department that deals with vehicle registration is only open in the morning.

La vache!” I exclaimed in frustration. That would mean another seventy mile round trip tomorrow, just what I had hoped to avoid.

But no, she said. Look, you take one of these brown envelopes and put all your papers inside, then put the envelope in this box, and your claim will be dealt with tomorrow. And you have to enclose a blank signed cheque. Hm, I wonder how much it will be?

I have a premonition that my application¬†will come back, as the contr√īle technique validity¬†is slightly out of date, but who knows, my luck may continue.

We do read quite often complaints about French bureaucrats, but based on my experiences yesterday, and indeed generally, I cannot fault them. At each place I went there were people there to help to keep the machine running smoothly and efficiently, and they all did so with a smile.

I also discovered recently that we had been paying the tax man money that was not owed to him, which has to be reclaimed, which involves hunting out another load of paperwork and writing a long letter in French and hoping that the tax office will be helpful and obliging.

So that’s part of the reason why I haven’t updated the Facebook page. Another reason is that thanks to the French health care system, both of us have had numerous appointments with our doctor and various specialists over the last few months, and TOH had an operation ten days ago. That itself required three visits to Poitiers – first to see the surgeon, again to see the anaesthetist and then for the actual operation. A trip to town does take a hefty chunk out of the day.

I volunteer at a charity shop on Tuesday afternoons and all day on the last Saturday of the month, help a 95-year-old lady with her paperwork on Wednesday afternoons, go to photographic club on the first and third Monday of each month, do the club meeting notes, and have a book club meeting on the last Friday of the month. This Thursday morning I start restorative yoga classes to try and restore some bendability to my rigid spine.

Add in all the other day to day tasks that keep life ticking over, the shopping and cooking and looking after the animals, it really doesn’t leave too much time on my hands, especially as I’m still working on the book, which has been greatly¬†delayed mainly due the aforesaid interruptions.

And finally, my attempt to download the latest Windows 10 upgrade is now in its fifth day. Every download¬†either fails to¬†start or runs for about 15 hours up to 99% and then freezes and crashes the computer. I’ve tried every solution I can find on the web, nothing has worked so far. In an hour I shall go to bed, and leave the update that I began downloading at 10.15 am still running and only up to 67% eleven hours later. I’m fairly certain that when I come down in the morning, it will once again have failed.

So that is why I have been absent for so long not only from Facebook but from social media in all its forms. Just ain’t got the time at the moment, except for whipping in to Facebook for a few minutes every day to check on messages and share a few of those things that really matter to me.

Normal service will probably be resumed eventually. I hope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quickly there and back – conclusion

The miserable little homunculus at the garage in Argeles sur Mer sneered when Terry said he was going to tow the caravan and drive the car home without an alternator.

“It’s not possible,” he said. “It cannot be done.”

Well, you nasty, pathetic little pipsqueak, it can, and it was.

And that¬†was due to numerous people who offered help and support in one way or another, proving that decent, caring people heavily outnumber horrible little t-d-cs. (For the benefit of those who don’t speak French, t-d-c stands for trou du cul, which translates literally as ‘hole of the bottom,’ or as we usually say, arsehole.)

Yesterday I broke down and cried. Not because I was worried, or my feet were still too swollen to get into my shoes, and not because of all the horrendous expense this has cost us, but because of the overwhelming kindness of so many people. There were offers to take Terry to their home for a meal and somewhere to sleep. Offers to lend him another car. Offers to drive down to try to help fix the alternator. An offer, from people we have never met, to buy the alternator for us, and we could pay them back as and when. All day long people were phoning and sending messages asking how they could help and offering moral support. That really choked me up.

One of those friends undertook a 100 mile round trip to swap batteries, so that Terry could get the car and caravan home late last night.

When you have a disaster like this you are blessed, because you learn how many good friends you have, and how far they will go for you.

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Could you get me in a frock?

 

Have you ever seen me wear a frock? Probably not. It’s always been riding breeches or jeans since I was a teenager, except for work when I had to wear ‘proper’ clothes.

So frocks do not feature in my wardrobe. You could change that.

My best-selling title last year was Swallows and Robins, which is long-listed for the People’s Book Prize.

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If it makes the finals, I’ll have to wear a posh frock.

The competition is formidable, from stellar writers like Frederick Forsyth and brilliant cartoonist Mac to name-drop just two of the opposition.

Winners are chosen solely by public vote. Most votes wins. So, for a rare chance to get me into a frock, cast¬†your vote here: People’s Book Prize – Swallows and Robins. Voting closes 28th February.

Leaving a comment is optional. In case you are stuck for ideas to add to those super comments made so far (thanks hugely, whoever you are!), here are a few suggestions:

  • Brilliant!
  • Wonderful!
  • Amazing talent!
  • Best book ever!
  • Definitely the winner!

Thank¬†you¬†for¬†reading.¬†Thanks a lot¬†if you vote me into wearing a frock. ūüėÄ

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Me in a frock