LA VIE AU LOGIS: PART SEVEN
Tales from Nouvelle-Aquitaine Ep.7
“Avez-vous une voiture de location disponible svp?”
(Do you have a hire car available please?)
I had managed to contact the ferry company explaining that our car had broken down in France, and to book us onto another, slightly later crossing. We needed to get back to London fast, as we had arranged for the removal company to arrive the next day, to help pack up all our worldly possessions for the move to Limalonges.
The recovery truck arrived, and naturally Monsieur M the mechanic spoke French, but with a very broad rural Poitevan accent, which was too much of a challenge for my schoolboy grasp of the language! However, he was a kind and patient man, who evidently understood our urgency, (and my desperate attempts at mime!) and in no time our car had been winched onto the back of a low loader and whisked away to be examined at his garage. He kindly took us along as cab passengers, but we desperately needed a car to get us back to Blighty in time.
All I needed to do (ha!) was secure authorisation from my English Insurance company to hire a car. What could possibly go wrong?
I called them. They proposed ‘a solution’: we should drive the French garage’s courtesy car to Calais, leave it in a car park, board a ferry as foot passengers, take a taxi to one of their approved car hire centres somewhere in Kent, pick up a UK hire car, and drive that back to London. Then, they helpfully suggested, we could reverse the entire process on the return journey.
Clearly, this was absolutely ludicrous. Besides the sheer audacity of kidnapping the garage’s car and abandoning it in Calais, we had luggage to carry, and our dog to bring back with us on the return leg to France. I had been on the phone for THREE hours arguing the impracticalities of what they were expecting us to do, and the clock was very much against us.
Monsieur M (SUCH a kind and patient man), politely interjected to suggest that we simply hire a car from him, drive it to London, and return it the following week. I ended the phone call while the voice at the other end was in mid-sentence.
Eventually, we got back on the road, in a very nippy, brand new Fiat 500. The French mainly avoid the toll roads, but even with our route quite clear, we only just made it for the last ferry crossing of the day.
We got back to the outskirts of South London, stressed and utterly shattered. We were waiting at a set of traffic lights, some five minutes from home, when a guy pulled up next to us and, presuming us to be French, began hurling racist insults, as his two passengers flicked the Vs at us!. One had clearly done badly at Agincourt, as he appeared to be missing an index finger.
Kry and I were both wearing striped Breton shirts, in a French-registered, left hand drive Italian car, and this apparently made us fair game. He was very much mistaken, and we were very much not in the mood to laugh it off. I wound down the window and schooled in him in some very colourful ancient Anglo-Saxon vocabulary, delivered in my best Saaaaarf Lahndon accent.
When he finally heard me, over his ranting and revving engine, he looked gobsmacked. The traffic lights turned green. We sped away, and he stalled his car only to be nudged by the white van driver behind him, who was flashing his lights and beeping his horn. In the Fiat’s rear-view mirror, I saw what I can only imagine was a deep and philosophical debate, using further examples of the local vernacular. Given that I had just driven the best part of 500 miles without incident; kindly assisted by a charming French man, this wasn’t the warmest welcome ‘home’.