On the morning of 29th August 2014, beginning with my bedroom, I started the task of reclaiming my rooms. I filled eleven black refuse bags with shoes and clothes from my boudoir, labelled them, and transported them to the hallway, along with the television and its various attachments.
Karen Vick, from Leggett estate Agency, came to view the property and set in motion the process for its sale. An Englishwoman, she had been recommended by Garry and Brigitte, and was a local councillor.
The two large walk-in cupboards in the attic had been filled with the occupiers’ property. Right at the back I found some of my own belongings from the sitting room, including ornaments that had belonged to my grandparents. They had been thrown higgledy piggledy into a broken cardboard box. Stuffed into a stiff paper carrier bag that was dirty inside, were my two raincoats. My books, at least, were still stacked neatly on a set of shelves as I had left them.
A broken bedside table had been dumped into one of the cupboards. Miraculously, my grandparents’ rather fragile tourist purchases from one of their trips to St Malo were undamaged. The same could not be said for a much more robust lidded pot that stood on my bedroom mantelpiece. That, a present I had given my parents many years before, had been smashed and tossed into a waste bin.
It is actually nowadays a physically painful operation for me to crawl about in a packed attic, attempting to avoid boxes, bags, and beams. I have a few scars from the heavy timbers which I sometimes nutted.
I can’t now remember where I found my underclothes and socks. Possibly with my shirts in a wardrobe in another room.
My toiletries, including electric toothbrush, razor, hairdryer, comb, etc., etc. were all missing.
The following morning, I continued the task of cleaning and tidying the house, and separating the intruders’ belongings from mine.
My friends in Le Code Bar were very supportive. Laurence, even though we had not met for a year, was most warm in hers.
The lowering evening sun cast a splendid light across the forecourt of the bar as I dined on magret of duck, chips, and salad, with sparkling Pellegrino to drink.
Before that, I had struggled to unblock the wash basin in the bathroom. This involved undoing the pipes underneath, draining off the water, and peering down the plughole which contained a perfectly fitting little round scent bottle. From beneath, I pushed it up and out with the handle of a wooden spoon.
The key to the letterbox on the wall outside had gone missing.
I think it was the next evening that I was visited by a decorator who claimed to have painted the house and not been paid for his work. There followed a very difficult exchange, not only because he spoke no English – only his own language with a strong local accent. He wanted his money. I maintained that his contract was with his employer and that wasn’t me. Not only that but I had no information about his work and he seemed unable to provide any.
The following afternoon I was visited by two local policemen, again without any English, who were asking for a woman who lived there. Eventually grasping that they sought the teenage daughter, I explained that this was my house and she didn’t live there any more. Brigitte later told me that there had been a fight in the street.
On the morning of 2nd September during my last walk around the village,
with flowers still blooming in the old cart resting in the grass around the community centre, I
discovered a wooded footpath I had not noticed before. Signed ‘rue de la Moulin Cave’, it ran along the backs of houses until it emerged on the outskirts of the village on the road to Bergerac. A stream accompanied it on the final stretch. Beyond this, stone steps led up to a private garden.
When I returned to the house, the female partner and one of the young men who had been occupying it, were waiting to collect their clothes and shoes. I helped them carry out the eleven bin bags, two travelling cases, and one briefcase. I also handed the woman a batch of letters I had managed to extract from the box on the wall outside.
Later, Brigitte drove me to Bergerac airport.
The saga was not yet quite complete.