Friday, 19 August 2011

France Diary Day 4. Langres to Chatelas-en-bois (Mk1)

Blue sky. Sun shining. Up early ready for the next 250 miles. But then we connected the caravan to the car and the lights didn’t work. This has never been a problem before. Today it is a problem. Our old caravan has let us down. So I crawled around in the early morning dew, tracing the wires from the front to the back. Everything seemed okay but clearly wasn’t. Out came the toolbox and the WD40. An hour later and I’m no further along.
     I did the thing I have dreaded most of all, I called Europ Assist. I spoke to Lauren. Very helpful. Very friendly. A mechanic is on the way.
A young French family who were camping opposite came over and also offered help. He spoke little English, I spoke little French. But we each managed to communicate just enough to share the problem.
     Then the mechanic phoned. He too spoke no English, but on the phone, where my lexicon of auto-electric French is less than zero, I was in big trouble. My French camper friend came to the rescue taking my mobile phone from me and explaining everything. The guy was brilliant. He even then went to the site entrance, unknown to me, to meet the mechanic and bring him to our pitch. Then he explained the problem to M. Blanchard, the mechanic, who was as baffled as I.
     Then my French camper-friend had an idea. He backed his Frontera up to my caravan and attached the lighting cable to his car. Genius! The caravan lights worked. Voila! The problem was not the 30-year-old caravan but the 30-week-old car.
     But I had detained my new friend and his family long enough. He had to go home. It was the last day of his holidays. I wish I had asked him for his name. He was a hero. I could/should have hugged him.
     Now it was just M. Blanchard and I. Communication continued to be a problem, so I called Europ Assist and my new friend Lauren did the translation. M. Blanchard would be back in two hours to take my car to an Opel dealer.
     Today we would be staying in Langres.
     After lunch I climbed into the cab of M. Blanchard’s truck and we took my car to Chaumont, 30kms away, to an Opel garage. Here there were lots of jovial mechanics and the friendly proprietor and not one word of English. Why should there be? How many English mechanics ever spoke French? The problem, and the fault, was all of my own making. What kind of a nutcase did I think I was coming to this land with only the barest smattering of the language? Assuming I ever get home, would I ever come back? At this moment I’m, thinking, not on your bloody Nelly.
     So again my friend, Lauren, at Europ Assist stepped up and did the translation thing. The car would be kept overnight. She ordered me a taxi. Half an hour later I was in an old Mercedes, blasting through the French countryside at 120kph, overtaking into the maws of oncoming trucks. Had I been of a religious nature I would have been clutching my rosary beads and giving it loads to the almighty.
     At last, back at the caravan. Sarah is relieved, she knows nothing of what has happened since I left in the breakdown truck. And now here we are, 680 miles from home, in a caravan, in France, without transport. Our car is in a garage somewhere else in France, somewhere far away.
At this point things look pretty bleak. But I have met some lovely people: My camper friend, alas I don’t know his name; M. Blanchard the breakdown truck driver; the owner of the Opel garage in Chaumont, alas I know neither his name nor that of the garage; the friendly but lunatic taxi driver from the Alain Prost school of taxi-driving; and of course, the lovely, life-saving Lauren, somewhere on the other end of a phone in England.
It has been interesting.
So what now? Beer sur la terrace, je pense.

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