EEC 14, 28 April 2005

It didn't take long to take the van furniture out, less than an hour, and I was on my way north. I experienced some confusion with AutoRoute Express, my normally very good route finding program. It first sent me one way, then when I next looked it send me another way almost back tracking. I seemed to be heading on all sorts of small roads, not normal when you are doing a long trip.

Then I had a diversion. Diane from my trustees phoned to say they had a problem getting funds out from my Royal Sun Alliance investment, now run by Phoenix. These are funds to go towards my house purchase. Diane had rung them a long while ago to enquire what papers were needed, then she sent them, then later rang to check all was OK. Yes she was assured, all was OK, the funds would be in the trustees bank account by Wednesday 20th April. This was 15 days hence, and slower than the withdrawals from any of my other funds. Wednesday dawned, and no funds. Diane rang to ask why. Oh but you didn't send all the papers we need she was told. I sent all you asked she said. But it's not enough she was told. Send the right papers and you can have the money in another 15 days. I suspect words continued longer than that, Diane had a miserable morning trying to get money for me.

What a load of plonkers. Don't go near funds run by Phoenix. I rang next day to complain. I pointed out they were looking like holding up my house purchase by 15 days. Which would be holding up the next house purchase of the man selling my house. My daughter had the idea of visiting for a week from 1st May, that would have to be cancelled. Sorry says Carol at Phoenix, maybe it was a trainee who gave the wrong information. The wrong information twice I said? Sorry is not enough I said, I want to talk to someone. Lindsay Lewis came on the phone. I told her the story. She said, sorry. Wow! I'll write you down as a verbal complaint she said, someone will contact you with 5 days. OK I said, but I am travelling, and can only be contacted by email. I gave her my email address.

Today my sister emailed. I had received a letter, by post, detailing the complaint procedures. Jeeze! They can't get anything right. The matter is not finished yet though, just wait.

Fortunately the withdrawal from the Phoenix fund was not large, I did not need all of it to buy the house, I was thinking of the garage too. In the end I was only 2600 Euros short, I was able to find that by raiding various bank accounts and the house purchase has not been held up.

Normally I like small roads. I look for the pretty roads, and drive about 50 miles a day, and look at the view.

But now I have a job to do, I gave up on AutoRoute express and joined the nearest motorway running north. Later I checked though it all. I was using AutoRoute Express 2000, written 1999. The motorway was not finished until 2002. That's why it could not find the Motorway. Maybe I should update the software. By the way for motorway, read freeway (US) or autoroute (Fr).

Since I was now making such good progress I decided to continue up to Maintenon to pick up some stuff I had left at Jerome's. I pulled of the autoroute at Chateauroux and immediately found an official car park in the middle of the forest. Great for the night, and quiet.

In Maintenon I visited my insurance agent and picked up papers for my house insurance, and renewed a store card. They wouldn't do it in the south because the Maintenon supermarket had been taken over. I threw my stuff in the van at Jerome's, it was about full, mostly of stuff I now know I don't need. Even one balloon envelope. Jerome was busy, he was flying tonight, with 2 balloons and about 15 passengers. But still found time to drive around his fork lift truck to bring my things down from his attic. He keeps his balloons, baskets and envelopes, on a big 4 unit high sort of storage rack, and uses the fork lift to select the right combinations of equipment. I didn't count but there must be about a dozen envelopes and baskets stored on the shelves.

I called in at my favourite wine supplier, and bought another 48 bottles of bubbly. I'm sure I'll have something to celebrate some time. I also bought a 20 litre carton of red wine for Barbara and Chris. I arrived late at their place and spent the next day emptying the van of the things I didn't want and replacing with the things I did want. Then I noticed a trailer tyre was flat, and actually split. I took the wheel off and drove to Chavigny 25 km away for a new tyre. Check the other one the tyre fitter advised. I loaded more stuff on the trailer, it came on to rain, it's an open trailer, then I looked at the other trailer tyre. It didn't look good so I drove to Chavigny again, this time with the trailer, arrived 10 minutes after he should have closed, I phoned ahead, and got my second tyre. Marie joined us for dinner, we kicked off with one of my bottles of bubbly. Delicious. I don't know where it came from, but I do tend to leave them around. I did the right thing buying more bottles.

In the morning I changed a stop light bulb on the trailer, and headed south with a surprisingly uneventful trip. I pulled in near my new neighbour's barn and Andre, my neighbour, father of the man selling the house, came out and told me to take a pile of pallets, and spread them about and put my things on top to keep them from becoming damp. He wasn't going to use the farm stuff again he said. I said, thanks for letting me leave my things here, no problem he said, you'll be my neighbour. Is that your field behind I asked? Yes he said. And you're not going to do anything with it? No he said. Looks like it's just become a balloon launch field I said. He laughed in agreement.

So it seems my launch field starts about 5 meters from where I am keeping my balloons. That's even nearer than when I used to fly from my own garden in Villiers le Morhier. There I had to move my stuff about 30 metres to get to the launch area. There are people who have to drive 50 miles to fly. If you live in Paris for example the nearest sensible launch site is at Maintenon, 50 miles from Paris, over an hour's drive. So 5 metres is good. But we'll usually have to go a bit further, so that we are away from the building. Oh dear. Carry everything 15 metres? Everything on my 56, Bert, is light. The envelope is around 50 Kg, the basket 40 Kg, the burner 10 kg, so it is no big deal for 2 people. We carry the tanks too, separately, 2 Worthingtons, about 35 Kg each. The 120 lives on the trailer, we push that.

Which reminds me. When it started to rain yesterday I threw odd things in the basket that would not harm with the rain. Some chairs for example. Plus some cans of motor oil. One tipped over and leaked on to the bag for the 120, there are some slight touches of oil on the fabric which was next to that part of the bag. Not a lot, the canvas bag is pretty good, but it's there. I haven't come across motor oil on balloon fabric before. Anyone know if this is a disaster, or not? It's clean motor oil.

Which reminds me. I'm slightly changing the way I send out the emails, I think some may have been blocked as spam because of the number of recipients. If you get this, but haven't received other emails before please let me know.

I'm also sending another email in the previous format. If you get that but not this also please let me know. Well, maybe not. You won't have read this will you? I'll ask in the other email!

I drove back up to Barbara's and loaded the van. I took 2 days over it, Marie's dog thought he was helping, but as you can see he was in the way.

When I finished there was hardly room to stuff in a sardine extra.

In between times I phoned Phoenix. Several times. Finally I found someone who seemed to know more about what she was doing than the others. Still left something to be desired. Next time I rang, on the only number I had, the girl who answered the phone from customer assistance said, Michelle Wilson? I don't know who she is. There's 300 people working here you know. Seems they don't have a phone book of people working there. I finally found someone who said he would connect me. I said to avoid this hassle next time, can you give me her extension please? He said, sorry, we are not allowed to give extension numbers to clients..............

Michelle did give me her direct phone, and did promise to speed up the withdrawal. She agreed to accept a fax copy of the original document (The letter demanding new requirements had specified a copy of the original deeds of trust, but everyone else I spoke to interpreted a copy of the original as being the actual original, so Michelle's acceptance of a copy as a copy was quite something) She said when she received the fax she would action it immediately, that afternoon. However, when I phoned, an hour after the fax had been sent, she still had not received the fax.............

Now we have to try to find the actual original. It's either in one of my box files in a barn somewhere, or with Phoenix in my back file, or with my trustees in Malta. Although apparently Phoenix do have an indemnity form available in case the original has been lost. Must have been made by someone on temporary secondment to Phoenix, none of the people I spoke to seemed capable of imagining such a thing would be needed.

So I'm relying on Michelle who is shining out like Venus in an otherwise pitch black sky.

Then I drove down and unloaded.

As you can see there's about everything on the trailer, including a couple of bikes, a broom, a dustbin, several chairs, 2 shelving units, some rolls of roofing felt, a workmate, a chopping board, and a welcome mat. For those who regularly balloon in luxury, this 5 ft x 6 ft open trailer also holds a complete balloon, with 5 tanks and poles, with fan mounted on the front of the trailer.........

It was a wonderful calm flyable evening. People say the Gers is one of the best flying areas in France for light winds, and the locals say around Mirande is the best area in the Gers..........

Now I'm heading north to pick up load no 3. Today is Thursday, the signing and changeover has now been fixed for 5 pm Tuesday so there's no hurry to rush around. I think I'll start to head back during the day Monday and stay at a hotel on the way down. (There won't be room to sleep in the van) I could manage the drive down Tuesday, but with a 7 hour drive there's too much chance of something going wrong, I don't want to miss the signing.

Best regards

David Barker

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