I, for one, have always stuck my neck out. If there's been an injustice to correct, a battle to fight, someone's rights to defend, I'm up there rattling cages and rousing the troops, with the determination of William Wallace coursing through my veins: "they can take our lives but they'll never take our freedom!"
Only last year, my dear friend Henry broke his back in a freak accident at work. He and his wife, by the way, are one of those couples who always pay their bills on time, keep records, and respond faithfully to every French demand for yet more 'justificatifs' and pieces of paper to satisfy their red-tape stranglehold on humanity.
So when Henry was taken for life-saving surgery on his spine, followed by a long stay in hospital and then weeks of daily home visits from the nurses, they were confident that all their medical needs were covered by their insurers. After all, it was only a couple of weeks previously that their bank had sent them a letter inviting them to change their insurance. And during the face to face meeting, they were told that the top-up insurance for which they'd been paying over €150 a month for the past 18 months was no longer necessary because the health service had made some recent changes. So they had signed all the necessary paperwork there and then. Sorted.
So when Ruth, Henry's wife, duly took the paperwork to the hospital to settle the bill, she was absolutely horrified to learn that in actual fact they had no cover and were expected to settle the medical bills themselves. Bearing in mind that these good people are close to retirement age, and that at the time we had no idea how well Henry might recover from his accident, this news was nearly too much to bear.
Weeks of wrangling followed, and I went along with Ruth to various health, insurance, and social security offices to help her fight their cause. Each time to be met by a 'jobsworth' french civil servant who wanted to pass the buck on to another department, with a supercilious smile, a shrug and a "madam, there's nothing we can do". With Ruth clearly distressed at each meeting, I found myself flexing all manner of fluent and furious French I didn't know I had within me until then. Eventually shaken in to action, we finally started to get some results.
Until we went to the bank to ask for their explanation as to why they'd given us incorrect advice that had resulted in the cancellation of their policy. "Mais non, madame" smarmed the bank manager "it was clearly explained and they chose to sign. Perhaps you don't understand our system?And anyway, under our laws, they should never have been paying for a top-up because they were never entitled." This was a blatant lie, and the signatures on the pieces of paper proved that they had given them incorrect advice.
William Wallace took over at that point - I imagined the blue war-paint burning in to my cheeks, as I stood up to face this smirking creature - perfectly manicured and perfectly versed in the "there's nothing I can do" school of responses. I didn't pull him over the desk, although I was sorely tempted. Instead, I locked eyes and vowed to him that we'd be back (Arnie had by that time crept in to join William Wallace in my internal cinema screen).
So I used the French paperwork system to get our case heard. I sent a registered letter to the Chief Executive of the insurance company, copied in to the President of the bank, and copied in to the Bank Manager. It was strong, it was just, and it was factual. And less than a week later the issue was resolved, with the Bank Manager squirming that "just on this one occasion" they would make an exception and reinstate the insurance cover they had told Henry and Ruth to cancel just a few weeks earlier. No matter. He kept his pride, and we got our result. Sorted.
But how many other folk would have had the gumption and determination to fight against a wall of faceless pen-pushers to amend a human error that was threatening not only to cripple them financially but also reduce them to emotional meltdown? Incidentally, more than a year later you'll be pleased to know that Henry is fully recovered with no visible scars from his ordeal.
And so, faced with a battle of equal enormity just a short while ago, I donned my warpaint and prepared myself for the fight.
I had just discovered, you see, that my dearly loved husband of 10 years had been living a double life. Unbeknown to me, he'd racked up thousands of pounds worth of debts, had been avoiding bills, and had also been advertising himself as Happyman 213 on sex-sites and meeting up with people for casual sex for months and months. I had absolutely no idea that this was happening, and I thought that we had a good, strong marriage that would last for ever. But faced with the overwhelming evidence, I had to accept that his life here with my son and with me had been just a sham. And so I went in to battle - for myself and for my son who, for the past 11 years had known and loved this man as 'dad'.
First of all I contacted our accountant to tell him what I'd discovered, then I rang our business bank to freeze the account and then I called in the liquidators. Oh yes, we had been running a very successful training company together for the past decade, and had lived, travelled and worked together every day for the past few years. So the depth and calculated execution of his duplicity was extreme, to say the least. And if it wasn't actually happening to me, I would find it hard to believe that one person could so successfully dupe another.
In the midst of coming to terms with the biggest shock of my life - emotional turmoil, financial ruin, the realisation that everything I depended on as being real and solid was in fact a charade - I decided I wanted to tell my story. Incidentally, since the day I discovered the facts about my husband (all documented and proven through an email trail he left behind him) he has gone to ground, leaving me to deal with the fallout.
So I contacted a well-respected press agent to see whether my story had any mileage. I wanted to share what had happened - the inner child in me wanted someone to stand up and fight, and tell it like it was. I also wanted to create a piece that could inspire other people to find inner strength, no matter what issue they were facing, to dig deep and eventually find a way through.
At the same time I also created a new website to promote my coaching skills, based on my experiences with our training company, and reasoned that I could use the newspaper article to kick-start my new business and bring in some much needed work so that I could support myself and my son.
I was delighted when a large national daily newspaper loved the idea. So I was interviewed, and they sent a photographer to my house in France for a photoshoot. "Give me a sad wistful look" he asked - just the once and never again as I countered his request with a determined smile and stance of victory.
"I'm no victim here" I replied, " I'm coming through this and I want to inspire others as well, so you won't be getting any of those kind of poses from me"
The photoshoot went well, and the article was written. I had been told by my agent, that we would need to do a 'right to reply' with my husband. It would not be printed, it was just so that legally the newspaper is covered. I had no problem with that - as I knew my husband could not deny anything I had said since the proof was all there in black and white.
What I hadn't considered, though, was that he would come back with a stream of twisted 'facts' designed to discredit me. I have countered those allegations, and both the agent and the newspaper know that they are untrue but, to cover themselves legally the paper now will not print the article without a full interview from him giving 'his side of the story'. And neither will any other publication.
This is despite the fact that my husband is a proven liar, and the fact that all my words are substantiated. The story wasn't even written in a 'bad' way about him - it was much more about how I am surviving and coming through the toughest time of my life. Both the agent and I are frustrated beyond words.
So once again he has control.
Interestingly, the liquidators are also pretty quiet despite my requests for information on the legalities and status of the liquidation. Despite this I am sending them new information every day as still more creditors turn up out of the woodwork, having been given excuse after excuse by my husband as to why their payments were late. At the same time that he was spending thousands of pounds of company money on clothing, sports equipment and trinkets for himself and his sex partners. All those debts went down along with the business - nothing was in his name.
You see, he had to go to meet with the liquidators and sign the paperwork that I had instigated. He's very plausible (he had me fooled for nearly 11 years) so I can only guess at what he might have told them.
At the same time, he is refusing to respond to my divorce solicitor, and is also refusing to pay the mortgage on our jointly owned place in Scotland in which he is living. I am receiving the increasingly harassing phone calls from the mortgage company up to 5 times a day, despite the fact that my solicitor is attempting to get through to them on my behalf. It's proving to be a ridiculously difficult challenge. And because at this moment in time I can't pay the first legal bill from my solicitor, she cannot push my case any further.
Along with many other household items I have already sold to put food on the table, I have just put my beloved old Landrover up for sale in order to pay my legal bills and keep a roof over our heads for the next couple of months. I am also still dealing with creditors, keeping my son safe and secure, and also pushing for work.
Happyman 213, on the other hand, is living his new life, still continuing to work with a couple of our old and unsuspecting clients (who will have believed whatever story he's chosen to tell them) and simply ignoring everything else. Scot free.
Is this justice? Is this what we're to expect from our legal system? Is it for this that William Wallace and all those other brave souls in history laid down their lives?
It's surely a case of one hand not knowing what the other is doing - or perhaps not. According to his advertisement on the Blackbox XXX adult-sex website, Happyman 213 boasts of using at least one of his hands countless times a day to....well, you can imagine. The other, quite clearly, is left free to stick two fingers up at the law which, it appears, is too scared to stop him.