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Surreal disaster

My friends George and Teresa left yesterday after what started as a lovely brief stay but ended with a holiday makers’ little nightmare.

We had already had a lovely time wandering up the valley to buy trout and continuing up into the mountains, doing the circular tour via Mt Aigoual.  The lovely weather continued and on Monday we drove up onto the Causse de Blandas, first stopping at the prehistoric circle of stones and then parking to get the first view of the amazing Cirque de Navacelles.

When we returned to the car about 30 minutes later we found the triangular window on the passenger’s side had been smashed in and Teresa’s bag, which she had left on the floor of the car, had been stolen. Teresa had lost passport, driving licence, senior railcard,  Oxford University card, three bank cards, an M&S store card, endless entry cards for galleries and museums (yes, I know…. very useful in la France Profonde), money and two jumpers, one of them cashmere.  Another tourist car parked nearby had also been broken into and their bags of camping and walking kit for the start of their walking holiday had been stolen.

I rang 17 (the national number for the police) and got the police in Montpellier.  I explained which side of the Cirque de Navacelles we were and was told to ring the police in Nimes (we are in the département du Gard).  They then told me to go to the police in the commune where we were.  I pointed out politedly that there was no gendarmerie on le Causse and suggested that perhaps they meant I should go to the police in le Vigan.  Yes, they agreed.

George’s main preoccupation was trying to get through to the bank to stop the cards, but there was virtually no signal.  I suggested we tried again over lunch in my favourite restaurant in Bladas – which was full.  So back we went to le Vigan and the Gendarmerie.  But it was closed for lunch!  Rural gendarmeries close between 12 and two.

So over a rather gloomy snack in le Vigan, George finally got through to the bank to stop the cards, and then we returned to the Gendarmerie. There we were told that there was nothing they could do today as their computer system was down.  Not just theirs, added the young woman, the entire national system!  (On a day when the French were having to police several Euro 2016 games!) Apparently they could not register any report by hand, and we were told to come back tomorrow.

George and Teresa then contacted the British Embassy in Paris and established they would need to go to the consulate in Marseille, armed with, amongst other things, passport photos and the ‘attestation’ from the police.

So back we went to the Gendarmerie yesterday and spent the whole morning there. Luckily the computer was working – sort of – and I had to go in first to give details for my car insurance.  This took a loooong time.  The guy was charming, as was the young woman at the next desk who had to help him from time to time with computer codes.  There was a long, animated and sympathetic ongoing discussion about the referendum. At last Teresa was asked in.  I remained as potential translater (though Teresa has good French).  George and Poppy spent all this time sitting patiently in the waiting room. After more discussion about Brexit and a reminder that all tourist locations even in the remote countryside were now targets for thieves, so never to leave things in the car, we at last were able to say goodbye.   And while Teresa went off to the supermarket to obtain their particular brand of gangster like passport photos, I rushed poor Poppy for her scheduled torture: a session at the toilettage to have a much needed radical haircut.

Certainly a trip George and Teresa will remember.  But it was great seeing them again.  We go back to the early sixties, when George was a fellow lodger and Teresa a frequent visitor.  Then we were neighbours in Upper Fisher Row, and over the years we often stayed overnight with them in their lovely North Oxford home, on our way down to France.

Yesterday they set off for their unplanned stay in Marseille, while I went to Nimes to fetch my brother in law, Peter.


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