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Taxing situations

November 30, 2012

We have been having some discussions with the neighbours regarding planting the border area where the land boundary was changed. Mme J suggested we just use some shrubs & bushes and maybe a small tree or so. On Sunday we set about making hardwood cuttings from the numerous hydrangea plants there are everywhere and she assisted us with choosing colours etc.  We have planted about 30 in a temporary home-made cloche although she said we could just put them in the ground. Not quite ready for that as we have some more landscraping to do and have not quite decided on the plan.

For reasons only understood by Bernie Ecclestone the Abu Dhabi GP was broadcast at midnight so we spent Monday ignoring all news programs, web sites etc until we could sit down and watch it. Very enjoyable too and well worth waiting for – just one more this year.

Next move was to get the office back together even though we are still short of one piece of skirting board – goodness knows what they have done with it but we do have a plan B. So having wired up all the sockets I plugged in the Livebox only to be greeted by a flashing red light indicating no internet signal. I plugged it all back into the socket in the attic and all appeared OK so now I had to strip down all the wiring in the office and test it. I eventually found one wire had broken, corrected that and we were up & running. Gradually got all the stuff back into the filing cabinet and the bookcase and we now have a functioning office. I also rebuilt the dressing table in the guest bedroom so that is now back to normal usage.

I had been waiting for the Taxe d’Habitation bill to arrive, original sales information on the house led us to believe it would be about €500 – €600. Well it showed up on Tuesday and it was over €1000! Couple of message to the tax office and some on-line research just caused even more confusion as this bill is directly affected by our personal income taxes declaration. We had not made one of these yet mainly due to not having all the data from the US & UK we needed for the forms. Now I have resolved the US tax bill for 2011 and got proper annual (not April to April) statements from the UK, I have made an appointment to visit the tax office in Vannes where they assure me they have an English-speaking official. My French has improved to the point where I can make phone calls etc but sorting out taxes across three countries is just too much.

Malcolm the gardener arrived on Wednesday and began by trimming the arched hedge – he really is turning this into a personal art statement but that’s OK with us. The rest of the time was spent removing all the detritus from previous clearings and burning all the rubbish. No-one said a word about the bonfire ban so we just got on with it and we will need to do it again as there is still a lot of tree & bush trimming to do before winter sets in. Mme J appears in the midst of all this with picks & shovels and implements of destruction and proceeds to clear the rest of the land that we made over to them. In the process she gave us a couple of lilac trees and some more bushes for transplanting.

Now that we have the upstairs basically sorted it was time to begin on the downsizing project. I needed to create a file box with all the documentation, bills etc relating to this house and I had just such a box filled with all the souvenir postcards, tickets, brochures etc from about 12 years worth of travelling – we threw the lot out and to make sure I didn’t have a change of heart I took it to the recycling dump immediately. Then we got stuck into the real filing and realized there are stacks of documents we just don’t need – like bank statements from 2004 and beyond, long closed down. The shredder got worked overtime and we now have a simple working filing system for day-to-day stuff. There is still a huge archive of old US tax returns and receipts from 20 years back – they are next on my list as are all the original brochures and documents relating to stuff we no longer own. I really thought we’d done this before leaving California but apparently not.

Then, just when we thought we were getting somewhere the phone line dropped out – this takes with it the Internet and the French TV, thankfully we still have Freesat working as that is satellite based and our cell-phones are OK. Orange with their normal rapid response reckon they will be here on Wednesday, so five days with no internet will be a tad challenging but I might just get used to it. However, it wasn’t too long before I needed to look something up so I dug out my laptop, and discovered that has now decided it won’t work unless it is plugged into the AC mains even though the battery is fully charged. Then the little 3G USB wireless connector cannot find a signal strong enough so we are definitely cut off for a few days. I’m beginning to really hate technology.

Saturday and Sunday were again tidying up days, sorting paperwork, reorganizing more of the filing system and generally trying to get a handle on what we need to keep and don’t. Highlight of the weekend was of course the Brazilian GP which in terms of drama lived up to all expectations even if the result was less than ideal.

So on Monday I trot off to Vannes to meet with the tax man, first obstacle is parking the car as there is no-where either on or off street available. I drove round the parking lot a couple of times hoping to get lucky then spotted a row of cones which I could just get behind – little judicious squeezing and a few centimeters adjustment and that was that. I arrived at the reception desk, copy of email in hand and asked for the English-speaking officer – she gave me a number and told me to wait. When my number came up, the guy did not speak any English and then told me there was no-one in the organization who did. We decided to make the most of a difficult situation and I came away with most of the documents completed in pencil and make an agreement to return with them all properly completed, signed and to bring supporting evidence plus passports.

Off I went again and parking was even more difficult and then the receptionist decided to play games. I asked to see the man I had seen in the morning – she readily agreed and gave me a number. My number came up and I arrived at a totally different person – quick discussion sorted it and I did get to meet with the same guy but what the receptionist was up to was anyone’s guess. Anyway, he went through all the stuff I had given him, ran an income tax demand for 2011 and came up with “we owe nothing” and this resulted in a number called the “revenue de reference”. He plugged that into the Taxe d’Habitation, corrected the status from second home to prime residence and came up with €546 – a whole lot better than the €1033 original bill! He told me how to pay that then we set up a direct debit for next years tax so we won’t get any big surprises, just a monthly bill. All in all, what I was dreading as a huge bunch of bills and hassle turned out to be quite simple.

While I was out, June decided it was Christmas cake making time and she set to sorting out all the ingredients, baking tins and other essentials but by the time I got back it was getting too late to start. So on Tuesday morning we got serious and into our traditional roles of measuring, stirring, mixing and supervising. The oven is still a bit of a challenge – it has a simple rotary dial marked in Celisius, all of our recipes are in Fahrenheit and so we resort to placing a separate oven thermometer which is calibrated in both. Then we have to wait about 30 minutes for the oven to stabilize at the required temperature as this never seems to be the same setting on the dial. Right at the crucial moment as we are testing the cake for doneness the electricity went out. Thinking it was probably EDF I waited about 15 minutes and then called them. They said they did not have any reports of outages so suggested I reset the main breaker and the EDF supply breaker – and that fixed that but no idea why it tripped. Useful piece of data learned plus getting the EDF English-speaking helpline phone number.

On Wednesday Orange were scheduled to arrive to fix the phone line – message said between 08:00 and 13:00 – so we had to get up early while it was still dark. Of course they didn’t arrive until almost 12:50 but they did call about 11:30 to say they were on the way. The guy was firmly convinced the fault was in the house and spent ages looking for the phone cable into the house. I’d already shown him the main entry point and eventually he carried out some checks on the main line outside and did find something. He also changed something inside and got the line working for me and then said he would report the fault to the network engineers especially as our neighbours have the same problem!

Next I get an email from Mme J offering more cuttings and plants but by this time we have had Wednesday and just needed to sit down with a warm fire and a cup of tea. So we agreed we would do the planting on Thursday and she showed up at 14h00 with a wheelbarrow full of cuttings a mattock and a rake. June & I assisted as best we could but we are clearly out of condition and Mme J was planting faster than a machine. The whole job of about 50 plants was finished in about an hour and now we have the beginnings of a border to the property but it was too wet underfoot to use the mower, just kept slipping & sliding so I gave up.

Just when I thought it was safe – a letter arrives from the IRS in the USA saying I haven’t paid my taxes and they have added penalties and interest. Unbeknown to me (at least) they assess penalties from April 15th even if you file an extension to October 15th as we had done. It took a while but eventually we got it sorted, penalties removed and they recognized the payments I had made after the return was submitted. It took longer than the French return which was somewhat surprising but now all is organized. I think I’m done with paperwork and officials for now.

Friday dawned and with it the first frost of the winter – but it cleared quickly and we have a beautiful but crisp winter day. I spent the morning in doing the monthly bills, sorting the last of the paperwork and helping June with the laundry. We have also bit the bullet and decided we want an artificial Christmas Tree as we do not want to risk any damage to the parquet floor. Now all we need to do is to source the turkey as the sausages and bacon are on order, we bought all the other stuff when we were in England. Just the weekly shop to do and we can relax a bit.


David & June

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