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This was not news we wanted to hear. They'd been law-abiding citizens, I was Mungo, the man with the forged ‘Get out of jail free’ card.

What had started out as a simple matter of buying a second-hand car was rapidly advancing towards deportation and the loss of our home.

March disappeared into history and we met April, car-less and potentially stateless. Surely something had to happen soon? How long did Toulouse need?

On the Fourteenth of April we received a letter.

I hardly dared open it. I could see it was from the Mairie. I slowly began to peel back the flap of the envelope, until I found a patch so firmly glued that it refused to budge, so I ripped the envelope to shreds in a passable imitation of a shark at the height of a feeding frenzy.

I was desperate. We both were. We read the letter, our hearts beating wildly.

There was something waiting for us at the Mairie. We read it again, comparing our translations. It had to be the cartes, didn't it?

Back on the phone again.

"Jan, we need a car. The Mairie closes in less than an hour. But don't worry it'll be the last time we ever have to borrow a car."

I could feel Nemesis shuffling on my shoulder the moment the words passed my lips. Didn't I know better by now? Had tempting fate become an obsession?

We arrived at the Mairie with minutes to spare. I was already calculating how long it would take to drive to St. Gaudens, park and then walk to the Sous-Préfecture and could we do that before 11:45 when the Carte Gris office closed for lunch?

There were two blue A5 cards on the Mayor's desk. Was that them?

Not exactly ... they were récépissés.

What the hell was a récépissé?

Apparently it was an interim carte de séjour valid for three months and issued as a receipt to acknowledge the fact that a carte had been applied for and would be issued in due course. I was on the verge of asking why they didn't just issue the cartes de séjour if they'd accepted the fact that they were going to, when I realised that I was dealing with a bureaucracy. Why issue one card when you could issue two with different names?

But they did look official. They had our photographs on them. And the stamp of the Préfecture at Toulouse. Would that be enough for the Sous-Préfecture to accept them?

The Mayor rang and asked.

"This is the Mayor of Cassagne speaking," he began. We waited. The bon took a while but there it was. They would.

Back inside the car again, out the village, through the countryside, into the suburbs, the car-park, the Sous-Préfecture, the Carte Gris office.

"We have our récépissés. Give us our vignettes!"



Apparently our Certificat de Situation - a certificate to prove there were no ourstanding loans against the car - had lapsed. It was only valid for a month following the date of issue.

"But you saw it when it was valid," I shouted.

I showed him the tick he'd made in pencil on the form.

He wasn't interested.

There was so much more I wanted to say but couldn't. It wasn't so much that my French had deserted me but all the verbs were having to be restrained by the nouns. They wanted blood.

How could our car's situation have changed in the last month? It hadn't moved. We couldn't drive it. We couldn't tax it. We couldn't register it. And we had all the documents. So how the hell could anyone secure a hire purchase loan against it?

I think the Carte Gris man was starting to weaken at this point. Perhaps he took pity on our plight. Perhaps he was fed up with seeing us. Perhaps he saw the look in Mrs. Mungo's half-lidded eye.

He stepped over to the back of the office and pulled an application form from a tray on the shelf. It was a request for a new Certificat de Situation and he filled it in for us. He even wrote down the address of the Préfecture in Tarbes for the application to be sent.