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Tuesday, 15 March 2011

France - Six Days No Money, Phone, Food, or Drink

Canet Plage
Living on twenty euros a day back home can be difficult at times but in France it's nigh on impossible. That's why I gave myself a whole week to cross the southern coast at a leisurely pace. That would mean cutting down the cost on fuel which is working out at anywhere between one fifty and one sixty euros a litre and thereby, leaving me my usual quota for food coffee and beer, although coffee and beer is so expensive I had ruled bars out for the week and decided to buy one euro litres of wine from the supermarket.
That was going to be hard as my only comfort in the evening was to sit in a bar and watch football till I was ready to crash. Instead I was facing a wino's existence of sitting with a waxed carton of cheap vino  in a park somewhere or other.

It never got to be a choice as the events unfolded on that first day there.
I had ridden the foothills of the Pyrenees over some delightful roads which would have been a delight if it wasn't for the rain that forced me to shelter frequently during the day.
I decided to head inland to Perpignan and access the facilities at the station, which where ok last time I was there four uears ago.
However Perpignan had decided they needed a station more modern and I hardly recognised the place. I also couldn't find a place to park the bike so after a couple of circuits I headed back to the coast. I was at a small village just on the edge of Perpignan called Pia when I again ran out of fuel. I was only a kilometre from a gas station so pushed it to there to find it was an Intermarche, but unmanned with an automatic card pay thing instead.
I normally don't use a card when fuelling up as I lose track of my budget, but the thought of walking around looking for an ATM didn't appeal to me so I inserted my card. The day in Roses had depleted my weeks money and I knew I had spent half of it on that day alone, so I was relieved to have it confirmed that I could fill up my tank to the limit of sixty nine euros. My tank only holds a gallon so I filled up to the value of six euro ninety and set of again to the next village to draw some cash for tobacco and beer.
I arrived at Bompas and went to get cash to be told to contact my bank and I was refused funds. I could only summise that the bank had put a fraud block on my card due to using it in two different countries in one day.
I wasn't sure what to do, so set off for Torrelles where I found a bar and searched my pockets and found four euros in change which I used to buy two beers that should have cost five euros. I had asked how much after the first beer but thought he said two euros and completely missed the fifty cents. They were fine and I left the bar feeling slightly embarrassed. I found a bus shelter near the cemetary with seating for about fifty people and settled down for the night. I was wondering why such a large shelter, until in the morning I was surrounded by about fifty school kids all waiting for their respective buses to school.
I gathered myself together hastily and left to get onto the coast road. Somehow my homing pigeon instincts deserted me and I headed back south to a resort called Canet sur Roussillon. I remembered visiting a friend here who was workin on a camp site when I was driving to similar locations in France and Spain thirty years ago, but I never recognised the place at all. Maybe the issue with my card was worrying me.
I managed to contact people back home and ask them to pursue the matter with my bank and have the block lifted so I could progress the ride.
The texts I got back was the worse news I could have recieved.
There was no block, but the sixty euros I had at the Intermarche was now nil.
Now I know I had no outstanding payments as my bank automaticall reduces my balance even though the money hasn't been cleared as a payment so all I could imagine had happened, was that Intermarche had consumed sixty nine euros for a six euro fuel bill.
My credit had now expired on my phone so I had no means toc ommunicate to the outside world and had zero funds to live for the next 5 days. I also hadn't eaten since the morning before and it was now approaching 2 pm with no food or drink that day either.
I was at a loss what to do ands decided maybe I should enquire if there was a consulate in Perpignan.
I found the tourism office and enquired there and they referred me to the Local Police next door.
I explained my situation and they managed to find the nearest consulate in Marseilles phone number.
I tried the number on the police dept line with no success. At this moment I was close to a full sob situation and as it was a police woman who was dealing with me, I sent her off to get a glass of water for me while I composed myself.
They offered me e-mail facility but I couldn't remember any e-mail addresses. I asked if they had internet, but they told me there were limited access to sites. The two officers then offered to take me to a cyber cafe and paid  a session for me so I could contact my friends on the Scouser Tommy forum.
These lads are really true friends and apart from donations to the causes I ride for, they have helped me out of a number of crisis.I sent out my appeal for help asking for anyone to paypal me some cash, not realising that it would take 3 days to clear at the bank anyway. Later in the afternoon the same two officers took me back there to see if there was a response. It all looked positive until I recieved a couple of texts which I was still able to access, telling me that some people thougght it was an imposter who was trying a scam. I was getting messages to get back in touch whic I was totally unable to. I sat outside the bank all evening only moving to clear up half a dozen horseradish, a couple of runner beans and a mouldy tangerine from where the greengrocers stand had been. Then an old woman came to the cash point and was seemingly in a similar situation to me. She offered me a couple of French pastries, that I think she'd gotten from the bakery down the street that were on the sell by date. Later I spotted an old woman putting bread out for the birds, and I'm ashamed to say the birds got sweet fa that night.
I settled down for the night under the arcade next to the bank to be woken by a couple of young cops wanting to know why I was there. I explained the story and they decided it wasn't 'prudent' to sleep there. I offered to find somewhere less noticeable when the young lad forced open the doors to the cash machine foyer of the bank and told me to stay there for the night. It was warm and I was woken when the lights automatically came on at 6 in the morning.
No money was arriving in my account and I was facing the prospect of another four days and nights of deprivation.
It was market day and I was forced to move my bike to another similar covered location where I sat and watched with amusement at the French locals dressed to the hilt with a baguette tucked under their arms, while every so often  my stomach reminded me of my predicament.
I sat under this canopy falling into mini sleeps and was semi lucid, imagining people standing in front of me offering me food or help and yet everytime I opened my eyes to check if it was dream or not I was alone.
I spent the most part of the morning there, just watching the people going about their routines until the market started packing away. As the space cleared I saw my lovely friend Laure who was patroling the square.
She made a beeline for me and explained that tonight I was sleeping at a refuge courtesy of the Social Services of Canet.
Laure Supercop
She beckoned me to go to the Tourist office with her as the woman there spoke better English. I was asked to prove who I was and what I was doing and we tried the internet there and were surprised to get access to the blog. They were surprised to find I financed the ride myself and believed originally that Unicef were funding it. On realising this, one of the two women there went straight out and bought a sandwich and some fruit for me. Before I could tuck in I was told I had to meet there at five to be taken to my 'hotel'.
I devoured what I had been given for lunch and at five prompt I was at the Office to be transported to the refuge.
I was told that at eight I would have to come down and collect a tray which would have my evening meal and some bread rolls and jam for breakfast. It was heaven. I rushed back to my bike and returned and had only just showered when the young woman downstairs brought my tray to my room. I immediately made sandwiches for the following day and pondered how much to eat and how much to save. I went onto the balcony for a cigarette which I had to make with till receipts as I had run out of cigarette papers earlier that day. I was using super glue to gum them and it was like smoking something from Runcorn ICI.
I slept well and woke for a meeting with Monsieur Noir of Social Services. They couldn't find a solution for me and I was back on the street again.
At least the sun was shining now, although the wind was blowing strong and was still cold. I went to the beach and ate my sandwiches and was sure I had lost one and patrolled the beach and promenade for a sandwich I had probably gulped down without noticing.I had a guess on Marys e-mail address and got a text back confirming I had struck lucky.

I ran back to social services and sent an e-mail asking her to go to my bank which is a credit union and deposit cash direct into there. I was feeling very optimistic now that everything would be sorted that day, when I recieved a text back telling me my bank would not accept a deposit without the necessary membership card. Total deflater and I was resigned to a lonely weekend. At five I got a text from Neil in Madrid telling me that Western Union was the answer. I rudhed to the police station to enquire where the nearest Western Union branch was. I was in their staff room while they were searching phone books till one of them found through his brother, that the La Poste handled Western Union money transfers. I spotted a coffee machine selling coffee at thirty cents and asked if someone would buy me one. I instead found myself with a large shot of Grants whiskey instead.
So next morning I would get a message to Neil and then collect my money from the post office and get moving again.
I found a new place to sleep next to a pizza retaurant, and caused a little bit of concern with the owner as he thought I was trying to nick his umbrellas that were folded up in the same area. I explained my position to him and he was fine. Although I felt like getting my head down rather than walking aimlessly around, he suddenly found himself with a lot of customers, who would have been able to see me from their tables so I decided to wait till the end of the night before settling down. I was walking past there in the course of my wanderings when he rushed out with a sandwich for me. Great bloke.
It was 2 am before his customers left and I was getting evrything sorted when his wife brought me a cup of hot chocolate.
Saturday morning I was off to the Tourist Office to e-mail messages and off to the post office to wait for the cavalry.
I eventually got a text to tell me it was being sorted. The post closes at 11.45 and it was 11.35 when the text arrived telling me he had failed.
I was gutted and left to go for a walk and past Laure. I could just barely explain to her and left her quickly to get some air on the beach. The text came through that I had given the address as La Post instead of Banque Postal and the internet rejected the initial attempts. It was now to late to do anything.
There was yet another market and as I walked back through the stalls there was Laure with a choc pain and a sandwich and some fruit courtesy of the cops in the station.
I had lost my tobacco the night before and had no cigarettes so I went for a long walk looking for good butts that I could smoke.
France being France and the smoking ban not seemingly having any effect on the habits of the French I found plenty.
It was a long day and I retired early under the awning in frony of the news agents that was pretty private.
I woke on Sunday morning to another market , a choco pain from Laure and decided I would use the six euros of fuel I had bought those days ago at the Intermarche to ride on as far as I could and then wait for my pension to arrive at one a.m. the monday morning.
I borrowed one more euro fro Laure to buy a book off a stall about the french guy in a wheel chair who hitch hiked around the world.
It seemed a rather fitting way to learn French.
Looking back at the Pyrenees from Leucate
I was off and on a slow ride to Bezier.
I reached Bezier after passing twenty kilometres of countryside with a prostitute sitting on a fold away chair every four hundred meters in the middle of nothwhere.
I hoped that I would find a place with a bank, an all night garage and an all night bar, for apart from the whiskey at the cop shop, I hadn't had a beer for nearly a week.
I was at the bottom of the big hill that Bezier sits when the fuel I had bought six days ago expired. I pushed it to the top and into the town centre and found the local artists exhibition area, where I managed to scrounge a cigarette. I got talking to a German woman who lives in Bezier and got the weeks news about the bombing in Lybia and a whole lot of stuff I had no idea about. They packed up and it was a case of finding a secure place to wait for the pension to arrive, I found a place which turned out not so quiet as I was woken at two in the morning by rowdy French revellers acting grossly immature and in a way we're led to believe only the English behave.
I trierd to charge the credit on my phone and bingo. I had money.
I went straight to the cash nachine and drew every penny I had out in case of any further fuck ups.
Fuck it was like the end of the second world war

Liberated in France

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