As it happens, Duncroft was the last of the plates to come to rest – over the last five weeks, I also had to move house, move country – and move hospitals. Anybody who has had to do any of those will appreciate the dramas that unavoidably pop up.
We bought the little cottage where we have now come to rest a year ago. I was ‘in remission’ – and we thought we might do it up over, ooh, maybe the next ten years or so, and then retire here…
Famous last words. Within three weeks of buying it – it was announced that ‘whoops!’ I wasn’t ‘in remission’ any longer. Although we had the money available to do the necessary work to this damp little pile previously inhabited by a very elderly lady – it seemed madness to go ahead and spend it when we had no idea what treatment lay ahead of me second time round with this bluddy cancer, how long it would take, nor when we would be able to leave France. You don’t leave yourself bereft of money in France; no welfare state to call on, you have to be self supporting – so the cottage went on hold.
A year later, two lots of surgery, and a month’s worth of incarceration in a radioactive metal tube (I am hopelessly claustrophobic – so spent the entire times imagining I was in this cottage, gazing out the window at a bucolic English scene, and counting imaginary sheep in the water meadows opposite!) and Voila! Vous êtes encore enrémission.
Well, that’s a relief. A somewhat battered Raccoon announced that she would very much like to sell the house in France and move into the cottage – I’d spent that much time thinking about it, and was monumentally fed up with trying to remember my verb declinations when full of morphine and anaesthetic! We put the house on the market, and quickly found a buyer. He turned out to be a total tosser. We put the house back on the market – and found another buyer.
Now in France, you can expect three months between ‘exchange of contract’ and ‘completion’ of a sale. That meant sometime beginning of November – slightly complicated by the fact that if your buyer is borrowing even 1% of the price, he has to be given two months to work his way through French bureaucracy and find out whether they will actually lend him the money – without penalty. Or in other words, you don’t know whether you have a secure sale until two months down the line. Or to put it even another way – you end up with something like three and a half weeks in order to arrange your entire move – not so bad within France – but an international move? Bluddy nightmare.
That same three week period now applied to getting the damp little cottage, that had now been empty for a year, habitable. Mr G started roaring up and down the 1,500km distance between ‘a’ and ‘b’, several times, moving his entire workshop. I started the delicate task of prising all my notes and scans out of the French hospital and getting everything transferred to England. And finding removers who could do the job in three weeks. And packing everything up. And keeping the blog going. Just call me wonder-woman – if you truly want to drive yourself scatty, I do recommend alternate phone calls in French to Eon, arranging to get your electric cut off, and in English to Eon arranging to get your electric put on…you might think the English bit would be the easy one. Huh!
Mr G took up residence in England and starting ripping out ceilings, and the odd wall that annoyed him…I came with him on one trip – nipped to the nearest main hospital, had my ‘October scan’ and flew back to France the next day. It was all go folks – if you didn’t get a reply to your e-mail, or thought the day’s post was a bit off-colour, now you know why.
David Rose of the Mail on Sunday thought this was the perfect time to start picking my brains with a view to writing his series of articles on the Savile fiasco – I met him in a near derelict cottage in England, where I couldn’t even make him a cup of tea – we sat on camping stools in the garden so he could ‘leach’ wi-fi from the pub next door, that’s how mad it got. God knows what he must have thought – I hadn’t had a bath for three days at that point!
Back to France again, everything now in boxes, sleeping on the sofa I had fortunately had the wit to sell to the new owners (and I do love people who know you are moving and gaily say things like ‘well, if you just scan such and such, and send it to us’ when the scanner is in one of 35 identical boxes and most of your paperwork is now in another country…)
A recorded letter arrived. Now ten days before the sale date. From HSBC France. Two pages of legalise in French. They were pleased to tell me that they had closed my account and I would be able to take possession of the balance in two months time when they could be assured that there would not be any further ‘call’ on my account.
Whaaat? I had only asked them to change the address to send statements to, surely they couldn’t have misunderstood that? I phoned them – as in England, you can only phone a central number. Well, it seemed that the writer of that letter had taken off on ten days holiday and no, no one else could discuss the matter with me. What followed was a three week fiasco of daily phone calls that is still not resolved.
I had only ever heard of the French closing a bank account like that if you had bounced a cheque – my first thought was that maybe I had been the victim of fraud and someone had managed to drain the account. Three weeks of speaking to just about everyone in HSBC international, UK, Jersey, in fact everywhere other than my branch in Bordeaux, I have finally gleaned that I haven’t done anything wrong – HSBC are doing this to thousands of customers world-wide – anyone who falls foul of a tick box ‘risk assessment’ as a result of draconian fines in the US regarding money laundering. If you move money in or out of HSBC accounts in different countries – it is liable to happen to you. Pretty curious considering their core business is supposed to be dealing between different currencies in different countries….
Just my bad luck that it happened to me ten days before a house sale, with Mr G in England, sitting on a sofa in an empty house. HSBC in Jersey where I have a sterling account were fantastic. Turns out that France is the one country where even they can’t get any answers on the phone – but what they could do was open a Euro account for me so the sale proceeds could be paid in there – all I had to do was change the ‘instructions’ to the Notaire – who wanted everything counter signed by G, naturally, this is France we are talking about. More cross-country gymnastics.
Phew! With one bound, spring-heeled Raccoon was free. Just in time to take a phone call from the hospital in England. Not so fast Raccoon – they could see the tumour in my lung, could they possibly have sight of my last scan in France to compare it?
Er, what tumour in my lung? Oh, the little tiddly one bottom right. You mean the one I didn’t know anything about until you mentioned it? Yep, that one….oh, for crying out loud…! Could I come in and see the surgeon tomorrow – no I bloody well can’t! I’m sitting on a sofa in an empty house in the middle of rural France and I can’t leave here for another five days…
Somehow the 12th November came and went, and I appeared at the Notaires looking as though I didn’t have a care in the world, signed everything in sight, climbed into the little Fiat 500, now loaded with everything the removers had left behind and started driving Hell for leather for England. I was under strict instructions from Mr G to ‘make it a pleasant journey, meander through France, take three or four days’ – yeah, like I was going to do that when I had a few things to tell him when we were finally face to face that couldn’t be talked about on the phone – like that ‘tiddly little tumour’ for a start….I made it to the cottage in 23 hours – that included 6 hours sleep in a Fiat 500. That car is amazing.
Mr G has been fantastic; he always is. The cottage is a complete wreck; emergency electric supply, one cold water tap, and we live in one room accessed through the back of the wardrobe in another room, we call it ‘Narnia’. What I can say is that everyday is a 100% improvement on the day before…not many people can say that about their lives. We realise now that I am going to get sick again, so he has completely changed all his plans for the house and set in place an emergency plan that is going ahead at the speed of light. Builders are crawling all over the place – I even have a hot water tank to look at, as of this afternoon – not actually connected to the electricity supply, but its a start.
I think Ms Smudd thought I might have been pulling her leg when I told her what was happening – but she turned up on Saturday morning, little darling that she is, along with a ‘house warming present’ of two of the finest thermal vests in existence – that’s what you call a good friend. Without giving away that good lady’s household management secrets, it is fair to say she has seen chaos before – and even her jaw dropped. Avalanche cupboards Ms Smudd? I’ll raise you a complete avalanche household!
Usually G makes everything himself – but there is no time to do that, so every hour brings more people, more deliveries…and we have the money to pay for it. Or do we? The money in Bordeaux is irretrievably trapped until the end of December. But the house sale money, which is substantial? Where was it? It had left the Notaire, but wasn’t in the new Jersey account.
Noooo! I can’t take any more folks. The Notaire’s bank had decided that the account number wasn’t reflected in the IBAN details and were declining to send it to those details….they wanted confirmation from HSBC ‘of the correct numbers’ (in French naturally). Numerous phone calls to HSBC over the next three days couldn’t sort this out – they weren’t allowed to send account details to a ‘third party’, which the Notaire was. No statement had yet been issued (the account was only ten days old!) and there seemed no way of resolving this impasse.
I sat here with my head in my hands, close to tears. ‘If this was someone else, I would be crawling all over this story on their behalf’, I thought. ‘They can’t do this to me’.
Hmmn, why wasn’t I? Or at least why wasn’t Ms Raccoon?
So I sat and wrote the story of this lady with cancer who was now trapped in a derelict house in England, unable to pay the builders – thanks to HSBC – in Ms Raccoon’s usual style. I included spaces for ‘graphic(s) to be added’ and made reference to the Mail on Sunday without actually telling any lies – and sent it off to HSBCs press office….giving them the opportunity to comment before publication in time honoured style.
Bingo! Ms Raccoon to the rescue. Less than two hours later the lovely man in Jersey told me he had been given authorisation ‘from on high, in fact as high as it gets’ to do whatever necessary to sort the situation out. Letters were couriered overnight to France, phone calls were made, it seemed that all the things that couldn’t be done, suddenly could. By 5pm Friday night I had an e-mail to check my account – the money had arrived…
I think I just joined the list of people who have every reason to be grateful to Ms Raccoon.
Of course the hospital plate is still spinning, but that tomorrow’s problem. I’m cream crackered.