The Shady Side of the Law: In Which I Manage to Report Myself to the Fraud Squad!

It is somewhat a relief to be sitting behind my computer screen, and not behind bars this afternoon. Only an hour ago I was staring at the recording device fixed to the “Brigade Financière de la Police’s” computer, otherwise known as “The Fraud Squad” in a state of nervous anxiety.

Last week I found in my letter-box a “Convocation” (summons) from the “Direction General de la Police Nationale”, the “Direction Centrale de la Securité Publique”, the “Surete Departmentale” and the “Brigade Financière”. Scary stuff when the “motif” or reason is noted only as “Affaire vous concernant”. In otherwords – “An affair concerning YOU”. I had the letter a good week in advance of my convocation, and therefore plenty of time to stress over the possible crimes I had committed during the last few years. None immediately sprang to mind, but I had visions of being carted off in menottes (handcuffs), placed in “Garde à Vue”(custody) and using my one free phone-call to call the kids and let them know I wouldn’t be home for supper, or perhaps for a year or two!


I rang the police the day of the letter, but no-one was kind enough to let me know what I had done, for fear I suppose of eradicating the evidence in the interim. So today I walked into the Police headquarters, not entirely sure if I would walk out again, and still dressed in my “upstanding citizen” and “spokesperson for the city of Rouen” clothes following my morning’s guided tour. The police officer behind the counter raised an eyebrow and told me to sit down.

Moments later the lift doors opened and a plain-clothes officer motioned for me to follow him with a demeanor as cold as wintery air outside. When the lift doors opened again I spotted a door to my left annotated “Departement d’Investigation Criminelle” and felt a surge of fear. We went through the right door! Two desks were placed along the wall, laden with manilla dossiers, and on its own, in the middle of the room, a solitary chair with recording devices trained upon it. I was invited to sit down!


The officer took sundry details such as my parents names, maiden names, my address, occupation , salary, and number of children in tow, before getting down to the nitty-gritty. In 2012 I had reported a cheque-book missing at my bank, and as a cheque had been drawn against my account the bank asked me to report it to the police station. In fact, in France, since cheques are cleared the same day as they are presented, it is very difficult to make an “opposition” against a cheque and only can be done by “Porte’ing Plainte” at the local gendarmerie.

In 2012 my mastery of the French language can be at best described as inadequate. For example, and still on the banking theme, one day I had received two letters in the post, one containing a cheque-book, and the other containing a letter from the bank asking me to call them. It took me at least five attempts at listening to the inevitable recorded message before I could choose option 1, 2 or 3, and then another half dozen calls before I got through sub-menu 2 and spoke to a real person. When I did, I discovered that I had only needed to ring the bank if I hadn’t received the cheque-book. Which just goes to show that when you have a feeble mastery of a language it can take a very long time to succeed in doing the wrong thing.

So it was that although I had understood that I had to “porte plainte” at the Police station to oppose the cheques, what I hadn’t forseen was that on the return journey to the bank with document and crime number I would remember that it was me that had written the offending cheques as a series to be deducted monthly for my children’s ice-skating lessons. By the time I arrived back at the bank, it had closed for lunch…and the rest of the weekend…which lasts until tuesday. I had therefore accused myself of stealing and fraudulently writing cheques. What the bank didn’t tell me, when I confessed all the following tuesday was that I had to return to the Police station and withdraw my “Plainte”.

So in the Fraud office of the Direction Generale de la Police Nationale this afternoon I had to convince the investigating officer that I was just a incompetent, and rather dim women approaching her middle years, which wasn’t too difficult since I had to ask for several questions to be repeated twice…. and then he only had to listen to my accent.

As we returned to the lift, the investigating officer was friendly and expansive and shook my hand as the lift came to a stop.

As for the future, well my dossier goes back to the prosecutor, “le procureur generale”, who I rather hope will be my old neighbour, and be inclined to think kindly on me. At least I have been released back into the community and there are no hand-cuffs in sight and at worst I could receive a fine for having wasted police time.

But I have no-one to blame but myself!


Femmes et Flics – A Matter of Con-trôl!

Last night the frantic hooting of a car in the street below my apartment found me hurtling down four flights of stairs in aid of my neighbour. I didn’t need any further information, I knew what the insensed fury was about!

Earlier in the day, in my mad homeward dash from University to give the kids their lunch, I discovered an unwelcome obstacle outside my apartment. Some wise-crack had determined that parking their car in the turning area for entry through our Porte Cochère was perfectly acceptable behaviour.

The Porte Cochère is the doored entrance to a ‘tunnel’ which passes under the building to an inner courtyard, originally built for coach and horses in the 17th to 19th centuries. If you look carefully you will spot two metal restrictors at ground level either side of the arch. These cunning items originally were to prevent the coach wheels from hitting the side walls, and do the same job to protect the sides of cars, however they also narrow the access significantly, which is often at best only a couple of centimeters wider than a modern car with the wing-mirrors folded in.

Having only half an hour to arrive home, make lunch and return to class, spending 20 minutes of it doing an unsuccessful 50 point turn in an  attempt to place the car in a suitable position to enter the Porte Cochère was not very amusing. Imagine, then, my irritation when a the end of the day I returned home to find the offending car still blocking my way, his parking ticket having long since expired. When my neighbour arrived home several hours later, the hooting was self explanatory!

The flics, in France, are not the cinema, but the colloquial name for the police; our equivalent to the ‘cops’. Their duties include not only dealing with thefts, drunks and drugs, but for keeping the peace in the local neighbourhood. A party going on late and keeping the neighbourhood awake? No need to descend in slippers at 3am to knock on the offending door. Simply ring the flics. Once they have intervened three times, the culprit receives an ‘amende’ (fine), and everyone-else wakes the following morning with the happy knowledge that the party animals have no idea who actually made the call, but will have to pay for the nuisance.

So it was that my neighbour pulled out her phone and within about five minutes the police had arrived!

The offending vehicle wasn’t technically on a yellow line, the council irritatingly not having obliged us by stretching the yellow line further than the archway entrance to our courtyard to allow for the turning area, but neither was it in a parking bay, the last of which was several metres up the street. The male police officer studied the car carefully before declaring that while it was an offence to not park in a bay, it wasn’t towable since it hadn’t physically got a tyre on a yellow line.

Now everyone knows that the French park haphazardly anywhere and everywhere, but blocking access to a porte cochère is a definite ‘No-no’, and everyone knows not to do it, in much the same way that everyone knows that when visiting Paris for a day out,  to avoid the hefty  subterranean car parking daily rates the idea is to find a parking bay and deposit the car without worrying much about the parking meter. The French do this all the time. The fine for a parking infringement is in the region of 11€, which is vastly cheaper than feeding the meter, and saves moving the car every couple of hours whilst in short stay parking zones! And meanwhile one gets to enjoy the delights of Paris for the cost of a couple of cups of coffee.

I watched a superb film last week in which the heroine carried in her handbag an old parking ticket in its plastic pocket, and each time she parked, she pulled it out and placed it under her windscreen wipers  just in case a parking attendant should come along. It would have to be a real ‘gem’ of a attendant, after all, to give her two tickets in one day. Our heroine never had a fine to pay. But the rule of thumb in France is to always park in a designated bay or all hell may break loose!

So it was that the male flic (did I mention ‘male’) looked at my neighbours car – a real tank of a vehicle, and decided that the offending car was not  infringing parking regulations enough to call out the tow truck and that she should clearly be able to drive through the porte cochère into the tunnel access.

‘Mais non!’ said she

‘Mais NON’ said I

and he proceeded to direct her to the merest millimetre into a one hundred point turn turning to me and muttering in frustration –

‘Mais elle n’a pas maîtrisé comment contrôler son vehicule’ (she hasn’t learnt how to master driving her car)

Bah oui, Monsieur – Ce n’est pas possible, c’est tout’ I said‘ On doit être tout droit’ ( Of course she’s in control  – It’s just not possible to do unless the car is going straight forward)

‘Bah non, c’est facile’ replied the flic ‘et nous, nous entrons toujours en reverse – et dans les bus enormes’ (Of course it’s easy, and we always do it in reverse – and in much bigger vehicles)

‘Vous n’êtes pas habituées alors’ he declared (you still don’t know how to do it yet)

‘I’ve been here three years’ I retorted whilst my neighbour climbed out of her car, now nicely wedged at an angle in the archway, and offered the him the wheel.

‘Mais non Madame’ he replied ‘je n’ai pas le droit’ (I am not permitted!)‘Pourquoi ton mari a t-il acheté une voiture comme ca? (Why did your husband buy you such a big car?)

My neighbour, with a determined look in her eye then reversed her car back into the street where she parked mid-road, halting any ideas of passing traffic, and the officer, faced with two now extremely irate women resignedly pulled out his phone.

The tow truck arrived five minutes later, lifting the offending car onto its trailer…

..and we went in for a glass of wine!


So if you happen to park in a French city, remember remember, you might get away with starving the meter, but not with blocking a porte cochère –

especially if a woman is lurking behind it.

It’s just a matter of who’s in con trôl!

5. Entrée

The guinea pigs were an essential part of the advance party, their cages crammed in along side the lawnmower, a stack of plates, cutlery, frying pan and whisk, to make the 6 hour trip across the channel via Euro-tunnel.  A rental house had at last been found after months of losing out to the three or four other couples also searching in the same neighbourhood of Rouen, Normandy. It conspired that Harry would have to work during the move, leaving me to finish the last DIY details, direct the removal men, and organise the children “tout seul”!

The removal guys were saints from heaven, taking in their stride the fact that I had packed literally nothing, and proceeding to fill mountains of boxes with all my worldly goods. Effortlessly the furniture began to descend down the stairs – entire chests of drawers with filled drawers still intact. My dream neighbour arrived with a steaming pan of soup and the entire team took a welcome lunch break. My father-in –law spent the day screwing on door-handles to doors which had had none for our entire life in the house and servicing my car for its journey south.  Late that evening the removal men pulled out of the driveway, somewhat to my consternation turning northbound and I was almost too exhausted to care whether I would ever see my belongings again.

Surveying the empty house, once the children had fallen asleep “camping-style” in one of the bedrooms, I quickly realised that there would be no sleep for me! Two bedrooms desperately needed painting now that all the furniture was removed, and this particular evening was my last in the UK. The following morning we were to set of south, the keys would be left with the letting agent and we would say farewell to our friends. I gathered up my last remnants of energy, took up my roller-brush and set to work!

The 20th August dawned the hottest day on record. We headed south sweltering in the heat only to meet the M25 at a standstill. The car, which had spent most of it’s life, struggling on with meagre top-ups of oil, now decided to flash its oil warning-light with alarming persistence. My father-in-law had declared that it had taken 7 litres of oil to fill, and now in horror I suspected an oil leak at the very out-set of my journey. It was inconceivable that 7 litres of oil could have disappeared, except through a very large hole in the sump. I am not a calm and rational person where cars are concerned, and panic set in! The cars were crawling at a few miles per hour, and there was no hard shoulder. We soldiered on, hot, stressed and irritable and at last found ourselves on the Dartford crossing in the central lane. Making a bid for the hard-shoulder required crossing some seven lanes of equally irritable motorists. Their goal of the toll-booth in sight, the drivers became increasingly suspicious of my motives, and suspecting queue-jumping made a point of blocking the path! At last, and by this time a catastrophic heap of stress, I pulled over into the emergency escape lane, pulled out my phone and called Harry in France.

The phone call was quickly curtailed! Within seconds a Police 4×4 drew up behind me, the officer rapidly insisting that I had chosen an extremely dangerous spot to stop. He was unprepared for the wreck of a woman he faced. Myself, by this time  somewhat hysterical, he was bombarded with irrelevant detail, emigration, husband whereabouts unknown, a lorry load of furniture inexplicably heading north, and finally that of the oil. Rising to the challenge, and taking me in hand, he parted the traffic at the toll-booths, escorted me to the other side, opened the engine and proceeded to check oil-levels, water-levels, tyre levels, and once finally satisfied with my sanity level, wished me a “bon-voyage” with instructions on where all the other High-way patrol vehicles were located in case of further mishap.

As it happened, the location of all the Highway patrol vehicles was extremely useful. Now finding myself running late for my Euro-tunnel crossing, I was able to put my foot down with a general confidence that I wouldn’t get stopped. It was a somewhat wry grin on my face when I pulled into the Euro-tunnel check-in only to be pulled over by customs and swabbed for drugs and explosives!

We arrived at our destination some two hours later, relieved to see the same removal men lounging on our chairs in the driveway chatting over a cup of tea with my husband. The sun was starting to lower in the sky and this group of very practical men had already set up the beds ready for our first night in France.