Can’t escape the paperwork

Hello and welcome to the latest blog on The Olivia Rose Diaries on May 20th 2022.

This week we reached the charming town of Clamecy. We had decided to stay  there for a few days and whilst I would like to say our decision was made on the basis of seeing the sights, the real reason was less appealing. We had an appointment with the local tax office to help us fill in our first attempt at the annual French tax return.

‘Are we ready?’ asked Michael.

‘As we’ll ever be,’ I replied. I checked my bag for the thick bundle of forms that I had already prepared, with question marks against the bits that still defeated both me and my new best friend ‘Google-translate’, double-checked that we had numerous forms of proof of identity (never go to a formal meeting without them), ran my eye over the list of French vocabulary to help me out when I got stuck, took a deep breath and off we went. The receptionist in the office took our name and told us to take a seat as the advisor was still with the previous appointment. This was obvious to us anyway as we could hear her through the closed door.

‘I think she’s shouting at somebody.’ I said nervously.

The door suddenly opened and a small woman strode fiercely over to the receptionist, remonstrated with her about something – judging from the look on the receptionist’s face it didn’t go so well – and then disappeared back inside her office. Five minutes later the door opened, her previous client left with a hunted, traumatised look on their face, and it was our turn.

‘Do you live here? In France?’ She interrupted me as I was in mid-sentence, trying to explain our background and which bits of the form we needed help with.

I replied that we did, resisting the impulse to say that if we didn’t we live here, we wouldn’t need to fill in the form and wouldn’t be sitting in her office in the first place.

She looked at me doubtfully and then gestured imperiously for me to hand over my forms.

It went downhill from there onwards. She ran a bony finger down the boxes that I had filled in already, muttering to herself as she did so, her French so fast that I had not the slightest idea what she said or if she was even talking to me. Then she got to the boxes with my question marks, jabbed a finger on them and glared at me.

‘This is in the wrong place.’ She turned to her screen. ‘But I don’t know where it should go.’ She pulled up a copy of the advisory notes and scrolled down through the many, many pages that I had already spent hours poring over for enlightenment that never came. After much shrugging and frowning she reached some sort of conclusion.

‘Here.’ She pushed our paper version back through the glass screen that separated us, and scrawled a couple of marks on two of the boxes. ‘You move this one there, and the other one over here. Or at least I think so. Anything else?’

I looked at the outstanding questions on my notepad.

‘No thank you. I think that will be quite enough.’ I gathered my papers together and realised that one set was still on her side of the glass. I asked for them back.

‘These are not yours,’ she said.

‘Oh yes they are,’ I said.

‘No, I gave you back….’

‘Madame, they are our papers.’ I fixed her with the sort of look that only a woman who has spent hours, if not days, trying to work out how to fill in these accursed forms might resort to. I knew these forms intimately and one set was definitely not back in my hands where they belonged. She opened her mouth to argue, thought better of it, and thrust the papers back across the table. The interview was over.

‘That was a complete waste of time,’ I fumed as we walked back to the boat. ‘And I don’t agree with what she said either. She contradicted herself.’

The next day I finished off the forms as best as I could, stuffed them in an envelope and put them in the post. I dread to think what the response will be once our local tax office back at Le Shack gets them, but for now I want to forget all about it and take the time to enjoy our stay here. As a final point on the subject and, in defence of the French people, we were unlucky with our advisor that day. If we had been assigned a more helpful person, which so many people are, it would have been a very different outcome.

Aside from the tax office experience, Clamecy turned out to be a charming little town. You can walk around the centre in less than an hour, but to do so would be to miss out on the fine details, the hidden places in the backstreets. Each time I walked in to pick up some bread or a slice of quiche for lunch I would pick a different alleyway for the return journey, marvelling at the medieval architecture, or stumbling across yet another café and wondering how such a small town could support so many eating establishments. Given that most of them only opened for one day a week during the time we were there, I guess they must have really only made any money in high season.

Clamecy’s claim to fame is that it was a vital point for the ‘flottage’ method of transporting wood from the Morvan forests to Paris. Cut logs were turned into huge floating barges, tied together by cords made from hazel, and steered down river by a bargeman. It would take eleven days to reach Paris from Clamecy, whereupon the barge would be completely dismantled, sold to homes and businesses for firewood and the bargeman would then walk back to Clamecy, ready to take the next load down. It was dangerous work, a hard way to make a living.

I’ll leave you with a few pictures of Clamecy and some fascinating old photographs from the local museum and retire to the shade. We are in a heatwave, suffering temperatures up in the low thirties. August weather has arrived in May. What is the world coming to?

Hoping that you are all a little less hot and bothered than I am – see you next week.

MJ

The Canal du Nivernais at Clamecy
A river full of logs, floating downstream to a collection point where they would be transformed into barges.
A modern-day re-enactment of a barge – they were much longer than they appear here.
In the backstreets.
A day out to Vézelay on the bikes – off early before it got too hot. Forty kilometres on a round trip through stunning countryside and hardly a car on the roads.
The Basilica at Vézelay.

9 thoughts on “Can’t escape the paperwork

  1. A sense of humour is a vital ingrediient when dealing with French bureaucracy! I love the photograph of the canal in Clamecy and the ‘backstreet’.

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  2. We’re in the final throws of packing here in Melbourne and we’ll be onboard ‘Catharina Elisabeth’ from Tuesday pm if all goes well. Pop by at Simon Evans’ yard in Migennes if you can so we can catch up. Bring sandpaper, brushes, mops, dusters and any other cleaning tool you can think of!

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  3. The annual French tax return is a nightmare, not least because they change it every year. We’ve had to visit our local tax office on several occasions. Normally, they are friendly and helpful and usually as flummoxed as we are, although we manage to find a solution to the difficulties of income arriving from three countries. Only once have we had to endure a Rosa Klebb type. I think you were unlucky. Clamecy looks an interesting place, so I hope that made up for it, at least partially. Fascinating to learn about the transportation of wood.

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  4. I think tax people seem the same the whole time probable not a friend in the world in my experience and I knew a few

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  5. What a dreadful experience with that woman! Taxes are hard enough to figure out in English, let alone French!
    Clamecy looks charming. I love old medieval towns– antiquity that, of course, we don’t see here.
    We’re experiencing a similar heat wave here this weekend. Hot/humid in May is highly irregular. You’re right, more like August. Monday is forecast to return to more reasonable temps in the low 20sC. Yes!

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    1. Hi Eliza. We have a night of thunderstorms and strong winds tonight and then same as you, back to low 20’s. Heaven. But only for a few days then temperature climbing again. Oh well….
      MJ

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