Four months ago we were burgled. That would have been OK if that had been the end of it. However, as I noted in my blog post of August, since then there have been a string of incidents that have not yet finished:
Today, Monday 12th of October, towards midday, the dogs were outside and they both barked heartily. This has been quite a common occurrence, which is annoying, but I must admit that every time I go to see what they're barking at, there is always someone or something.
Today it was - guess who? - the same man I mentioned in the third paragraph of the above post. I said I would recognise him again, and indeed he has the same dogs with him, although this time with 2 donkeys, as opposed to a large saddle-less black horse like last time. He was walking up the hill, and obviously my dogs had barked when he went past our house.
So, like last time, I jumped in the car and drove up the hill, past him. Sure enough it was the same man (I recognised his bent nose!). I drove up the valley and contemplated calling in at a neighbour's house to ask him to come out onto the road as a witness, but as I said in my last Post, he wouldn't take me seriously, so I didn't bother. I then turned round and came down the valley again, and decided to engage him in conversation.
Obviously it was in French, but here's a rough approximation of what was said: Me "So we meet again!" Him: "Oui, bonjour" "there was a donkey hanging round my house a few weeks ago, for about a week, was it yours?" "No", "You have very nice donkeys - this one had a hoof with rather a long nail" "No, these are my donkeys, as you can see". Me: "Hello dogs" (to the large mastif-type dogs, quite friendly), Me: "Are you going far?" (it's already quite a walk from the bottom of the valley, and another 5kms up to the Col de Rille Him: "No, it's OK, not far...". I nearly asked him where he lived, but thought that would be rude and didn't want him to get annoyed. So I said I hoped he had a nice walk, and carried on down to my house.
Something made me carry on past my house, however, just to see whether there was anyone waiting for the 'all-clear' to come and burgle the house again. There was indeed a car down by the bridge (where a pile of wood has gone missing over the last few months), but no-one was in it. Indeed, after taking the numberplate (DD 365 TV 09, a dark green (again!) Peugeot Partner, from the Minniti Garage in Massat) I took a look inside - and it was someone who lives out of their car, I think. An old rucksack, a dogs bowl, leads, empty drink and biscuit boxes, a bag of rubbish, an old blanket, etc. Someone poor too, as it was all in shabby condition.
At this point it is relevant to mention that since I last wrote there have been more incidents of 'strangers' in these parts: at least 4 empty beer cans thrown by the side of the road, at different times (I pick them up), of the cheap and strong variety, plus other rubbish. Graffiti in the valley, which is new, plus again another cyclist who came up the valley but only as far as half way up our orchard, where I spotted him really craning his neck looking down across the orchard. It was that day that Trevor was working on our Landrover, ready for the MOT, and I think he was trying to see that, and not looking at the orchard.
Again I took the Twingo and drove up past him, stopped for a while and waited for him to come past. He never did, so I went back down the valley, only to catch him up at Milles, pedalling like mad. I slowed down and stopped him, to engage him in conversation: he was French and I said "So, you decided not to continue up the hill?" "Yes, I had a pain in my leg" he said. He then continued to pedal off down towards Rimont.
Perhaps I am foolish to keep engaging these people in conversation, but I have a very good idea, after all these years, of who is a real cyclist and/or pedestrian, and who is not. My gut reaction kicks in, and the people themselves give off a unnatural comportment, as if they have been found out. Needless to say there have been many other people who I have not 'accosted', who are indeed picking mushrooms, chestnuts, just cruising etc. There was also a young girl leading 2 carthorses last week down past the house - I was alerted by the dogs and went to see why they barked, but didn't pursue it further.
Also, not once or twice but seven times I have found freshly-used toilet paper around the house (and what goes with it - very unpleasant): once just behind in the woods, four times down by the bridge where the wood has been taken, once down by 'our' bridge on the forest track, and finally, just the other day, up on the forest track opposite, where there is an excellent vantage point of our house. You can see whether we're in or out, especially at night, and of course one of the few things stolen were some binoculars. I could tell this latter toilet paper was 'fresh' as it was still dry and very white, whereas we had had heavy rain just a few nights prior. This means someone is still roaming around the forest track, and I am assured that it is not the Hunters who do this type of thing.
At this point I should mention that there have been two burglaries of a plumber's workshop in Rimont since our own burglary: in July and August, on the day of the village Fête. I went to speak to the Plumber and we talked about it - the first time they entered by the side door and exited by the roof, and the second time in and out by the roof. I couldn't quite understand what they took, as he had a strong accent, but it was obviously unsettling for him, as it was his business premises, and the workshop was open when we spoke, and full of the tools of his trade.
I think these two burglaries happened at night, and I'm pretty sure ours must have as well - we left a light on in the living room, but being away it was not turned off at night, and if you were surveying a house, you'd be able to tell that it was a light left on, as opposed to someone being home. I'm also pretty sure that they called at the door the day before I left, as when I came home from shopping there were horse droppings on the drive - so they could have called on the pretext of getting some water - like the other man - just to see if we were in, and we weren't. If we go away temporarily, we now leave the dogs in the house, but at that time Trevor had Joe with him, and we hadn't yet found Beau, so there would have been no barking dogs.
Finally a neighbour told me on the 'phone this morning about another burglary at Rivernert - the next valley over from us, but not too far. I am going to hear the details tomorrow, and maybe it was years ago, but I'll note down what she tells me here anyway.
Incidentally, I did ring the Gendarmerie after some of these incidents, but as they said, the whole area is so big and there are only a few of them - they cannot be everywhere at once. I feel these highly-organised gangs know this only too well. I'd like to know who the man with the beard is, in the white Twingo...
UPDATE 13th October 2015
This morning I took Denise, the person who was born in our house and with whom we've spent many an hour reminiscing, to the cemetary at Biert to put some flowers on her family's graves. As I went to pick her up I noticed that the dark green Peugeot Partner (numberplate noted above) was still down by the bridge. As I came back, however, it had gone. I was fully expecting it to be parked on our drive, but it wasn't.
Then, after changing my shoes, we climbed the hill and went over the Cols de Rille and Crouzette, in order to get to Biert. What should I see parked at the first bend in the road after Col de la Crouzette, but the same green Peugeot partner! Same numberplate, same dents and scratches! So, now I know where our friend lives - for it was definitely his car - and he must have walked the donkeys up to his place, then walked down to get the car this morning.
Of course I have no proof that this man is anything to do with the burglary, but it is the same person who I caught talking to a man in a white Twingo at Milles, the driver of which shot off like a scalded cat, on 14th of July. My feeling is that they were hoping we'd be out, and that they could park on our drive and finish the job of getting the things they saw on the first visit.
This morning Denise spoke of a recent burglary at Rivernert, where they took everything, including the safe and the firearms. If it's the same gang who twice burgled the plumber at Rimont and our house, it's possible I'm onto something. I'd better be careful, and I'm reflecting carefully on the next step.
UPDATE 14th October 2015
Well, well, well! To say there's never a dull moment would be an understatement. This morning I decided to note down the serial numbers of our chainsaws, in case they're nicked (!), and after that I put them back in the loft. As I got near the loft window, I automatically looked out (I don't always) and who should I see coming down the valley in his green Peugeot Partner? Yes, our friend the donkey man, from Auragnou, the hamlet on the other side of Col de la Crouzette.
Yesterday I did a bit of sleuthing, and discovered that there is a horse Stud (Haras) at Auragnou, called 'Le Ticol'. On the internet it says it's run by Hélios and Govan Quinquis, (complete with 'phone numbers: 0561969481 and 0671534686) although in the 'phone book there is only Govan and Ivan Quinquis, stating that the latter lives at Le Rame, Bièrt. There is a Hélios (which is a bit of a coincidence) but his surname is 'Minguez', although his address is Auragnou (tel: 0561969482, just one digit away from the above number).
He went down the road, so I walked the dogs down to the bridge, but he wasn't there. Back at the house I had an idea: why don't I drive around the block, to Rimont and back, to see whether that green Peugeot was parked at Prommata, or in the village. So I locked the dogs in the house and jumped in the car. I hadn't got further than just past the old trout farm, when who should I see coming towards me? Yes, you've guessed it - the man with the donkeys. I slowed down and wound my window down, and he was obliged to do the same.
"So we meet again, what a coincidence" I said with a smile. "Would you believe it" he said "my female donkey has run off as she's on heat". We exchanged a few more words about them - apparently the donkeys I saw him with the day before yesterday were mother and son, and the son is still suckling, so he has left with his mother. I have no idea whether this story is true, but I suspect not.
Then I said I could ring him if I saw them, and asked where I could reach him. He made a feeble attempt to look around for a number, then made some inaudible excuse, but told me where he lived - the other side of Col de la Crouzette. This gave me the chance to say, politely: "Yes, I know, I saw your car there. Are you M Quinquis?". He looked taken-aback, but said no, that the father died a while ago (Hélios, I suppose) and it was now Ivan, the son. This man said he was not M Quinquis, but said his name was Frédérick. The only Frédérick listed in the 'phone book at Bièrt is a Frédérick GAU, listed as living at Bagen (tel: 0561044820).
I then asked him if they still bred horses at the hamlet, and I can't remember his reply. I said that the first time I saw him - at Milles - he was with a beautiful black horse - did they breed from that horse? He gave me a searching look during this exchange (as if trying to work out whether I was on to him, perhaps?) and I can't remember his reply.
I said I wouldn't know how to catch a donkey, and I haven't got any fences, and as I can't ring him.....
So we left it at that and both drove off. I stopped at Milles as I was going to see Yvon, but a hunch sent me back to the side of the road to look back at our house. Sure enough, there were two cars stopped right behind my house, the green partner and a white/silver one, and they were obviously talking. Perhaps the same conversation about the lost donkeys, perhaps something else.
Then I waited by the side of the road, and not one but three cars came, one after the other. It is hunt day, so it's possibly that they were hunters who had spoken to him, but one thing I found odd - the driver of the second car (they passed too quickly for me to look at any numbers or makes) gave me an odd little wave - which is very, very unusual for French drivers. They normally pass you looking straight ahead, hardly ever smile or wave. Was it a friendly wave, or was it a cheeky wave saying 'we know you're watching us, watching you....'?
Anyway, once again I'm left wondering whether all of this is all just one big coincidence, or whether indeed we are being watched for the moment we both leave the house? Were they hunters or were they part of the team of people in old bangers regularly circling the house? Or maybe both??
Yesterday I telephoned the Gendarmerie at La Bastide de Sérou, and asked to speak to the lady, Mme Lebarre (?), but she had gone home. I started to tell the man that I had found out where the owner of the car lived, but he told me to stop doing the 'psycho', and hung up! It will be on his conscience if something happens to me. I feel it's only a matter of time until they re-visit this house.