In my modest way I've always enjoyed driving my Peugeot 306 diesel, which, of all the cars I've ever had, has given the least trouble while proving the cheapest to run despite the incredibly high French motor insurance rates. (The annual premium i
In my modest way I've always enjoyed driving my Peugeot 306 diesel, which, of all the cars I've ever had, has given the least trouble while proving the cheapest to run despite the incredibly high French motor insurance rates. (The annual premium is probably more than its prix Argus, the French guide to second-hand car prices.)
I bought it second hand about nine years ago. In France cars above a certain age have to undergo a roadworthiness test called contrÃ´le technique, something like the MOT in the UK. A couple of weeks before the expiry date I take my Peugeot along to the local testing centre, sit and have a cup of coffee and read the paper keeping my fingers crossed that they're not going to find anything too radical.
I'm a bit worried, all the same. The fuel injection system isn't all it ought to be. If I really put my foot down, give the throttle some welly, dense clouds of noisome black fumes darken the rear horizon. This localised poisoning of the sweet French rural air is easily avoided by changing down a gear or two instead of staying in top to overtake that ancient tractor driven fag in mouth by Pierrot and his dog. I'm guiltily conscious of lazy habits dying hard.
Even now in the workshop next door the tester has pushed a sensor up the tail pipe to check the exhaust gases for levels of pollution. I can hear him revving up. Nemesis approaches, the day of reckoning. If your car fails its contrÃ´le technique, you've got until the expiry date of the old certificate to get it fixed and re-tested. If it fails again, you've had it: your car has to come off the road. Mon Dieu.
The tester appears at the reception area door, brows furrowed in disquiet, trailing a cloak of noxious fumes. He beckons me into the workshop. He isn't certain, he says, that his gauges are working properly. He plans to reset it and try again. Will I oblige him by depressing the accelerator myself while he attends to his testing apparatus?
Now what game's this, I wonder, settling myself into the driver's seat. What's the catch? At his signal I gradually put my foot to the floor. The engine roars, the car shudders, the clouds behind are less dense than I thought they would be, but there's still enough to make a 60-a-day man feel quite at home.
Ah non, non, non , he says, shaking his head at his battery of dials and gauges. It's too much. We'll try again. Can I suggest, monsieur, that you don't put your foot down quite so hard?
I don't need telling twice. I put my foot down as though I was overtaking a convoy of crippled snails and presently the tester said: I am glad to inform you, monsieur, that everything is perfectly in order. Here is your vignette (i.e. the little blue sticker you put in the bottom right-hand corner of your windscreen): I look forward to seeing you again in two years' time.
Enormously grateful, I paid up and left. As was leaving the tester said quietly: But I strongly advise you to get your injectors seen to.
Well, I have, and no cleaner diesel motor now purrs along our lanes. But I've often wondered how the most desperate old bangers we see about the village ever get through their contrÃ´le technique. Now I know.
A STORY going the rounds just now concerns some Brits - let's call them Bob and Marcia - who left their house not far from Bordeaux for a short visit to the UK. They left very early one morning, having asked their French neighbours, with whom they got on very well, if they would be kind enough to keep an eye not only on their house but on their elderly pet white rabbit Freddy as well.
A day or two later the French neighbours were horrified to see their dog Golfie (French pet-naming habits deserve a study to themselves) wandering about the garden with the mud-streaked, bedraggled carcase of what had once been a white rabbit in his mouth. Frantic discussions took place: the neighbours agreed that the best thing to do would be to clean ex-Freddy up and lay him in his basket, as though he had passed peacefully away in his sleep, and in the meantime Golfie got it hot and strong and was grounded in his pen for several days.
Bob and Marcia came back in due course, cast an eye round the house to see that all was well, and discovered Freddy lying in state. They made their way next door. We're a bit puzzled by Freddy, they said. You see, he died the night before we left. It was too late to tell you that night, and we didn't want to disturb you so early the morning we left. We buried him at the bottom of the garden, and now here he is back in his basket. What can have happened, do you think?
Last month's competition was won yet again by the wily and ever-vigilant Rob Quinn of Ottawa, who correctly identified Edmond as the elder of the two brothers Goncourt, after whom the Goncourt prize for literature is named. Félicitations, Rob, and keep them coming!
This month's competition is specifically designed to stretch competitors', including Rob's, resources to the very limits and beyond. Most French towns and areas have their own personal adjectives, so that someone from Toulouse is un Toulousain, someone from Tours is un Tourangeau, from Cahors un Cadurcien, from Nice un NiÃ§ois, and so on.