--- Crime and Poetry ---
It was supposed to be a routine call to Simon Gardiner, our financial adviser; a few suggestions about possible changes to our unit trusts and a couple of questions about what had happened to the promised quarterly reports. Instead it turned into one of the worst moments of my life.
Our insurance bond - the bulk of the proceeds from the farm sale, our life savings, our financial security for the future - had just disappeared.
"You cancelled it in April," came the voice down the line.
It was now September. September 22nd. Friday, three o'clock.
I froze. This was a piece of financial advice I had not been expecting.
"No, I didn't," I replied, hoping that there'd been some kind of mistake.
I could hear a riffling of papers, pages being turned, a note of panic in his voice.
"I ... er ... have the correspondence here. Yes ... April."
A sinking feeling. This cannot be happening to me. Not me! Things like this happen to other people!
And then I thought about horseboxes and flying roofs, vignettes and roadblocks, football and flues ... and realised ... I'm just the kind of person this does happen to.
It was a shock. That sudden shift in my internal picture. I was no longer the person who sat safe and warm watching events unfold upon the television screen. I was the person in front of the camera. The man standing in the doorway as the getaway car mounts the pavement. The man eating his sandwiches in the park when the sniper throws open his window.
They're all me.
A voice on the line called me back. There was a chance the money hadn't been paid over.
"There was a dispute with the insurer about the valuation of the bond and I think - yes, here it is - it's still outstanding. And we still have the originals of the bond. I don't think it could have been encashed without them."
"But you're not sure?"
"No. It's up to the insurer whether they require the originals or not. It's unusual but..."
He didn't have to continue. Unusual but not unknown. And with my luck...
"And even if the money hasn't been paid out," he continued, "all the investments would have been liquidated."
"In April?" I asked.
"In April," he confirmed.
Just before the stock markets took off. Just before our insurance bond began the 17% rise I'd so eagerly tracked for the last five months. It had been our one success story since leaving England. My trump card whenever cars broke down, fires smoked, dogs keeled over and horses succumbed to ten-foot long caterpillars. At least our finances were booming. If we hadn't sold the farm and come to France, we wouldn't have benefited from the surge in the stock markets.
I should have known it was too good to be true. The only other time we'd dabbled in the stock market was a week before the 1987 crash. Would I never learn?
How? I couldn't keep the question out of my mind. How can our money disappear without us knowing about it? Why didn't someone write to us for confirmation? Or given us a call?
There was more shuffling of papers and then the voice came back.
He had a photocopy of the cancellation letter we'd supposedly written to Mutual Friendly, the insurers who issued the bond. He read it out.
I listened in growing amazement.
"Thank you for your letter, received here on 7th April. For domestic reasons we will not proceed with this investment at this time and therefore ask for repayment of the monies paid. Please pay this, by transfer and at our expense, to our business account in Spain, this being the wish of us both.
As our house is in the process of restoration, please address any further correspondence to our hotel, being as above.
We particularly request that you and your agents respect our privacy in this matter. We do not wish to discuss our change of mind and will contact our agent at a later date to talk over further investment possibilities"
It was very clever. Plausible even. And in three paragraphs it had severed all links between us and our money.
"Where was the hotel?"
"Er, let's see ... Boulogne."
"And the Spanish bank?"
"It doesn't say."
Probably somewhere on the Costas. It had that ring about it. A ferry to Boulogne to set up an address in France, a cheap flight to the Costas to open a bank account.
I still couldn't believe it. Even after everything that had happened to us, this was just beyond belief. I was numbed. Mentally and physically.
Simon said he'd contact Mutual Friendly, inform them and find out the exact status of the bond. He'd ring back as soon as he had any news.
"You're taking this very calmly," he said before ringing off.
"Yes, I am," I said. But I knew someone who wouldn't.
I opened the window and shouted down to the figure bringing in the washing. "You're not going to believe this."
(to be continued)