It’s safe to say that we’ve never had much luck buying used cars. For years we’ve never been able to afford anything much over a few hundred pounds, which can, in the UK, buy a reasonably good, well running vehicle, if you’re lucky. We are not. There was a period while we were living in Cornwall when we bought five or six lemons in quick succession: a Toyota Hilux with a warped cylinder head; a Nissan Serena whose injectors died. The worst purchase was a LandRover which we were told when we tried to MOT it was too corroded to drive and shouldn’t have been sold to anyone. Luckily, we were able to get our money back for that one.
The problem is that when you live in a rural area you need reliable transport, and if you’re not particularly mechanically minded or rich, you are an easy target for people with little moral standing. You could just say that we’ve made stupid choices, and to be honest, Jude is reluctant for me to even be writing about the bad decisions we’ve made. But the common denominator in all of our bad car buys is that we trusted the people selling those cars.
In 2018 we were yet again in a situation where both of our cars needed repairs we couldn’t afford so we were forced to search for anything just so that Jude could continue working. We ended up buying a 2-seater little white van for 2,000 Euros in cash. This jaw-dropping amount of money could easily have bought a pretty good family car in England, but that’s one of the biggest differences of living in France: secondhand vehicles are incredibly expensive, even ones being sold for spares.
And, true to form, this van proved to be citrus-flavoured too: the gearbox was faulty and it needs a new head gasket. But the hardest part of the situation was that we were now stuck with one crappy car which only seated two of us at a time. Not only did this mean I couldn’t run my Etsy shop without asking Jude to take time off from work that we couldn’t afford but worst of all, no more family outings for the six of us. Even the supermarket started to seem like a grand adventure after a year of being stuck at home.
So in desperation (never a good start to any car purchase) I posted a want in a local Facebook buy/swap group and pretty soon was offered a 7-seater car for 1,000 euros by an Englishman who lives about an hour from us. Have you guessed what happens next? A little rattle indicated a damaged wheel bearing so we booked it in for repair. A few hours later the mechanic called us to say he couldn’t fix it and asked Jude to go and see him.
Jude came home and with one look at his face I immediately knew it was terrible news. He held me and said “remember that LandRover we bought?” and I burst into tears.
The car we’d just bought was irreparable. The mechanic made him sign a waiver denying the company’s responsibility for allowing Jude to leave his premises in an unroadworthy vehicle. He said that there was no way this car should have passed it’s CT (the French equivalent of an MOT) and that there was “risque de mort” if it was driven in the condition it was in. Even if you don’t speak French, that’s a phrase that should make your blood run cold.
The fact that someone could sell a family with young children a car that could kill them is astonishing. The fact that this happened to us twice is almost more so.
There’s a certain degree of trust in any transaction. I know this from selling online: people can only trust that what they’re buying from you is what you say it is. And when you have limited resources and indeed limited expertise, you are an easy target for unscrupulous people who don’t care about honesty. Maybe I’m just naïve: I want to believe that people are fundamentally good, but again and again our experience has proved otherwise. This last purchase pretty much killed my trust in people. I’ve found it especially hard to surface from this one because so much rests on our mobility in the months ahead.
Tula has been given a date for her operation to correct her scoliosis. She will be going into hospital in March, just a few days after her 8th birthday. She will be in Caen for one month and then transferred to Bayeux for rehabilitation. She won’t be back home with us until June at the earliest.
I need to be able to visit my girl. I can’t imagine her not being here at home with us and I can’t bear the idea of her being alone in a strange place for such a long time, let alone whilst going through such an intense ordeal.
I’m not great at asking for help. I’ve never found it easy to ask for money, and certainly not from complete strangers. But this situation is one I can’t see any other way out of. We simply cannot afford to be ripped off again with another deathtrap vehicle. It’s going to take weeks, months, to get any money back from our last purchase, if we even do. The process of litigation is due to begin at the end of January.
This is why I started the crowdfunding campaign. The idea of facing Tula’s hospitalization without a car is just too daunting. We need to buy a proper car, from a respectable dealer, and that means spending thousands more than we have at our disposal. These last few months have been challenging: we got through two birthdays and Christmas but it has been a struggle.
And before anyone tells me to go and get a job: put yourself in my position. To find anyone willing to employ a 46 year old artist who is underconfident with her fluency in French at the best of times, and then factor in childcare for four children (at different schools now Jess is at college) plus infrequent public transport from our rural location and you’ll quickly realize that my options are few. In fact I already have a successful online business, working from home and have been trying to get started with a second. But I can’t successfully manage either without a car.
I’m not good at asking for help but I want to believe that there are good people out there who can offer us some hope. And I’ve been overwhelmed by the response I’ve received: within 48 hours we are already a fifth of the way towards reaching our target.
This is possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do: to admit in public that I’ve failed, that I can’t fix this situation by myself. But my heart feels so swollen with gratitude for the kindness I’ve seen, the generosity of people’s donations, that it’s hard not to explode with it all. All the anxiety, the tension we’ve been living in – it’s still there, but for the first time ever, helping hands are coming together, from all over the world, to create a safety net for us, a point from which we can steady ourselves and move forward again, our faith in human kindness restored. To everyone who has sent us money or a kind word, please know that the tears I’ve cried over each one are happy ones: I feel blessed and more grateful than I can ever express.
** You can contribute to our campaign for funds to buy a family car for us to be able to visit Tula by visiting our GoFundMe page. If you would like to contribute directly, I can provide Transferwise details which avoid extra fees including currency exchange fees charged by banks. Please know that every donation makes a difference, no matter how much or how little, and that we are deeply grateful for your help. Follow Tula’s journey with the hashtag #MendingTula and please share our story however you wish. With love from us all, and… Thank You. **