Today is the tenth anniversary of the death of literary agent Maggie Noach, a lovely, bubbly, funny, supportive and very astute lady.
I wrote a blog post about her at the time. The comments are worth reading.
Today is the tenth anniversary of the death of literary agent Maggie Noach, a lovely, bubbly, funny, supportive and very astute lady.
I wrote a blog post about her at the time. The comments are worth reading.
Facebook keeps reminding me that I haven’t posted on my author page since 22nd September. Do I detect a slight admonishment? I plead extenuating circumstances, to wit:
I have had nothing to write that I think could have been of any interest to readers, and even if I had, I have been too busy to do so.
Mainly, but not exclusively, it dates back to that fateful car journey at the end of June when our car broke down and our caravan was damaged. The car limped back home, only to put an end to itself shortly afterwards by releasing its handbrake while parked on a slope, and smashing itself to bits on a concrete pillar.
The quantity of paperwork necessary to sort out the insurance claims seemed disproportionate to the value of the claims, but all the boxes had to be filled, in triplicate, accompanied by photocopies of numerous other documents that I had to hunt for in dusty old files, and sent off, only to be returned days or even weeks later asking for more information. .
It didn’t help that our misfortunes coincided with that time of the year in France when everybody shuts up shop and heads off to the Midi for their summer holidays and you can’t get hold of anybody for a month. Unfortunately our lovely insurance broker who has taken care of all our needs for the last twenty years, and speaks perfect English, happened to be on his well-deserved holidays when the accident happened, and has subsequently been seriously ill in hospital ever since, which means that I have had to deal with the French-speaking lady, and while my French is fairly good, it doesn’t extend to arcane French insurance language and laws and my conversations with the company were sometimes as clear as mud. It took several weeks for the payment for the car to arrive, and three more weeks to find a suitable replacement, an English-registered vehicle.
We are still awaiting compensation for the caravan, but are told it should be done within 8-10 days
As a French resident your car has to be registered in France, and so on to the next phase of paperwork, which took us to Poitiers yesterday, confident that I had everything necessary to obtain a ‘carte grise‘ – the vehicle registration document, which would mean the car was officially registered as French and we could then have new number plates fitted.
Two stops were necessary, firstly at the Centre des Finances Publiques and afterwards at the Préfecture. I checked the opening times before we left – French Government offices are notorious for their erratic opening hours. Centre des Finances Publiques is open in the afternoons from 1.15 to 3.45, and the Préfecture all day until 5.00 pm, so we should theoretically at least be able to wrap up the whole exercise in one afternoon.
We arrived 10 minutes before the Centre opened, anticipating that it would be busy and we’d have a long wait if we were at the back of the queue. When the doors opened a polite smiling young man asked each person what they wanted and directed them to the appropriate counter. He pointed us to the first floor, room 106, where a friendly lady processed the ream of paperwork in my folder and within ten minutes we had the necessary ‘quitus fiscal‘ – a document certifying that there was no tax to pay on the vehicle, one of the essential pieces of paper needed for the next stage of our venture.
Off we set to the other side of town to the Préfecture. While TOH drove off to find a parking place, I went and asked at reception which form I needed to complete. A polite and helpful young man led me to another counter and patiently went through all the steps needed and listed the papers to include with the form. I thought I’d brought everything with me – original registration certificate, bill of sale, certificate of conformity, utility bill to verify address, certificate of a contrôle technique – the French equivalent of an MOT – and the newly acquired ‘quitus fiscal‘ and proof of identity. One thing, however, that I had overlooked, was a stamped self-addressed envelope. Dammit!
No problem, the young man said, you can get one from the post office, it’s only two minutes away. He led me out of the door and round the corner to show me the way.
Off I trotted to the post office, where there were several counters for various services, but none for somebody wanting to buy a single stamped envelope. There were four people ahead of me in the queue, and a young woman asked each what they wanted and directed them to a counter. She escorted me to the parcel deposit and collection point, and it was there, when I went to pay for the envelope, that I found I had left my purse at home. It seemed silly to pay for a 1 euro purchase with my bank card, so I bought ten envelopes. Then I trotted back to the Préfecture and continued assembling all the necessary documents.
That was when I discovered that I needed a photocopy of the utility bill and my driving licence. In the past it used to be the person at the counter who provided the registration document – they would make the copies for you. I went to the photocopy machine and remembered that I didn’t have any money to pay for them, so I trudged back to the place where I had been filling in the forms. As I approached a young woman was waving at me rather urgently. I’d left my nine stamped envelopes there for anybody to take, so she had kept them safe for me. Thanking her, she asked if I had everything I needed. No, I replied, I’ve forgotten my purse and have no money to pay for the photocopies. Give them to me, she said, I’ll do them for you. Which she did. Finally everything seemed to be in order, and I went to the ticket machine to take a number – most public buildings around here work on that system, so that people are seen in the order they arrive, like the fish counter in supermarkets. No queue jumping!
The kind young woman caught up with me and explained that there was no need to take a ticket, because the department that deals with vehicle registration is only open in the morning.
“La vache!” I exclaimed in frustration. That would mean another seventy mile round trip tomorrow, just what I had hoped to avoid.
But no, she said. Look, you take one of these brown envelopes and put all your papers inside, then put the envelope in this box, and your claim will be dealt with tomorrow. And you have to enclose a blank signed cheque. Hm, I wonder how much it will be?
I have a premonition that my application will come back, as the contrôle technique validity is slightly out of date, but who knows, my luck may continue.
We do read quite often complaints about French bureaucrats, but based on my experiences yesterday, and indeed generally, I cannot fault them. At each place I went there were people there to help to keep the machine running smoothly and efficiently, and they all did so with a smile.
I also discovered recently that we had been paying the tax man money that was not owed to him, which has to be reclaimed, which involves hunting out another load of paperwork and writing a long letter in French and hoping that the tax office will be helpful and obliging.
So that’s part of the reason why I haven’t updated the Facebook page. Another reason is that thanks to the French health care system, both of us have had numerous appointments with our doctor and various specialists over the last few months, and TOH had an operation ten days ago. That itself required three visits to Poitiers – first to see the surgeon, again to see the anaesthetist and then for the actual operation. A trip to town does take a hefty chunk out of the day.
I volunteer at a charity shop on Tuesday afternoons and all day on the last Saturday of the month, help a 95-year-old lady with her paperwork on Wednesday afternoons, go to photographic club on the first and third Monday of each month, do the club meeting notes, and have a book club meeting on the last Friday of the month. This Thursday morning I start restorative yoga classes to try and restore some bendability to my rigid spine.
Add in all the other day to day tasks that keep life ticking over, the shopping and cooking and looking after the animals, it really doesn’t leave too much time on my hands, especially as I’m still working on the book, which has been greatly delayed mainly due the aforesaid interruptions.
And finally, my attempt to download the latest Windows 10 upgrade is now in its fifth day. Every download either fails to start or runs for about 15 hours up to 99% and then freezes and crashes the computer. I’ve tried every solution I can find on the web, nothing has worked so far. In an hour I shall go to bed, and leave the update that I began downloading at 10.15 am still running and only up to 67% eleven hours later. I’m fairly certain that when I come down in the morning, it will once again have failed.
So that is why I have been absent for so long not only from Facebook but from social media in all its forms. Just ain’t got the time at the moment, except for whipping in to Facebook for a few minutes every day to check on messages and share a few of those things that really matter to me.
Normal service will probably be resumed eventually. I hope.
I planned to write this as soon as I returned home from London, but what ever goes to plan here? 🙂 Instead I worked my way through the 127 emails and dozens of Facebook comments that had accumulated in the one and a half days I was without Internet access.
And by the time I’d done that and sorted out the washing etc. etc. etc. and had a busy week, it had slipped from top of the list to way, way down. But now it’s a peaceful Sunday morning and TOH is out for the day, so here goes.
Firstly all the panic about possible flight delays or cancellations proved to be a waste of time and panic. Everything ran on time, and I reached my accommodation at 9.00 pm on a warm dry summer evening.
Next day started off with blinding sunshine, which by 11.00 am had given way to lashing rain, which persisted throughout the afternoon.
Dressed in my finery and sandals, and wielding an umbrella, I travelled with Stephanie to the venue at Stationer’s Hall. We were only slightly soggy when we met up with the rest of the Blackbird Digital Books contingent – intern Rosalie Love and authors Tanya Bullock (gosh, she is so tall and slim, gorgeous) and Diane Chandler with her husband Nick, and made our way into the splendour of Stationer’s Hall.
Organiser Tatiana put all the finalists through their paces in a dress rehearsal of where we should be, when and how, and once we had all been photographed we moved on for drinkypoos and had the pleasure of meeting and chatting for several minutes to Frederick Forsyth.
Dinner was served. The starter was a pretty pastel green pea mousse, decorated with a Parmesan wafer. Yummy. Main course was cod for the carnivores, but most people on our table were served the vegetarian option, a tasty pastry filled with spinach and mushrooms and served with crushed potatoes, followed by an excellent deconstructed lemon meringue pie.
Then we got down to business, beginning with the Beryl Bainbridge award for the best first time author. This went to Quentin Letts for ‘The Speaker’s Wife’
Best Publisher award was taken by Percy Publishing.
Then it was time for the non-fiction finalists to mount the platform (amidst much giggling). The prize went to Rachel McGrath with her book ‘Finding the Rainbow,’ her account of her struggle to conceive. Winners took seats at the back of the platform, while the rest of us negotiated the steps back down to floor level and took our seats with a sigh of relief at not having to make a speech. 🙂
The prize for the Children’s Book went to lovely smiley Ellie Stoneley’s Milky Moments.
I can’t remember Frederick Forsyth’s speech word for word as he prepared to announce the winner of the Fiction prize, but it was something in the order of ‘now let’s move on to the winner of the BIG prize, Fiction. An interesting one, because I was talking to her earlier over there’ – he nodded his head towards the room where we had drinkypoos. And that’s when I knew who the winner was. Incidentally, willowy Tanya, who was also a finalist in the fiction category with her beautiful book That Special Someone, is so tall that she could read the name of the winner over his shoulder. 😀
The People’s Book Prize for fiction went to Diane Chandler for ‘The Road to Donetsk’. YAY!!! Bravo Diane, I am so thrilled and delighted for you.
And bravo Blackbird Digital Books. For a small publisher to not only have three titles in the finals but to scoop the BIG prize too, that is special. Stephanie works unbelievably hard to promote her authors, and has built up a stable of the nicest and most talented writers you could hope to find.
Dr Sarah Myhill picked up the final award for Best Achievement with her book ‘Sustainable Medicine’.
To the people who stayed up for several hours waiting to see the ‘live broadcast by Sky News,’ although they were indeed filming the event, Theresa May’s accession to the Tory Throne took priority. It was rescheduled for showing on Friday, but was overshadowed by events in Turkey.
There was only one way to wrap up the evening, so we retired to a local hostelry and celebrated Diane’s win with a large bottle of Moët, courtesy of Diane and Nick. 🙂
As well as meeting Diane, Tanya and Rosalie for the first time, earlier in the day I met up with long-time Facebook mate the very lovely Jacqui Lofthouse, and newest Blackbird author Susie Lynes, whose first novel, Valentina, a psycho-thriller is raking in the 5-star reviews.
To all those people who voted for me, without you I would not have been a finalist and had such a blast, so thank you enormously. 🙂
The car/caravan drama is behind us – thankfully it was NOT the alternator at fault, but a pulley that had broken. A friend spent all of Saturday locating and fitting a replacement – cost 40 euros. Hopefully the insurance will cough up for the damage to the caravan, but at least we and both vehicles are home almost in one piece.
So now that is out of the way, let’s move on to air travel.
My flight to London is booked for next Monday afternoon. However it is strike season in France, and the air traffic controllers are just one of the many public sectors protesting at France’s proposed labour reforms. They have already called strike action 13 times in the last 14 weeks. Yesterday RyanAir had to cancel 102 flights across Europe due to these strikes
If there was advance notice of a couple of days as to if and when strikes were going to occur, people could make arrangements to cope, but it can be late in the day before you find out. If my flight should be affected and I only found out on Monday morning, I would not be able to get to London in time.
After weighing up all the options, I’ve decided to abandon the flight, and instead take the ferry from Dieppe at 1.00 am on Monday morning, which will land – all being well, which we should never take for granted – at 5.30 am, leaving plenty of time to take a train to London and organise myself before the event on Tuesday.
I’m hoping to find a lift up to Dieppe, otherwise Terry will drive me there.
If you haven’t voted for me and would like to, there’s still time – but not much. Voting link.
Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye!
PS I don’t have a carriage, but not going to worry about that. 🙂
The miserable little homunculus at the garage in Argeles sur Mer sneered when Terry said he was going to tow the caravan and drive the car home without an alternator.
“It’s not possible,” he said. “It cannot be done.”
Well, you nasty, pathetic little pipsqueak, it can, and it was.
And that was due to numerous people who offered help and support in one way or another, proving that decent, caring people heavily outnumber horrible little t-d-cs. (For the benefit of those who don’t speak French, t-d-c stands for trou du cul, which translates literally as ‘hole of the bottom,’ or as we usually say, arsehole.)
Yesterday I broke down and cried. Not because I was worried, or my feet were still too swollen to get into my shoes, and not because of all the horrendous expense this has cost us, but because of the overwhelming kindness of so many people. There were offers to take Terry to their home for a meal and somewhere to sleep. Offers to lend him another car. Offers to drive down to try to help fix the alternator. An offer, from people we have never met, to buy the alternator for us, and we could pay them back as and when. All day long people were phoning and sending messages asking how they could help and offering moral support. That really choked me up.
One of those friends undertook a 100 mile round trip to swap batteries, so that Terry could get the car and caravan home late last night.
When you have a disaster like this you are blessed, because you learn how many good friends you have, and how far they will go for you.
At 7.30 am, Phil has the tea ready, and the garage opens up. He has to collect a car from there to take back to England. The garage had refused to let him load it yesterday, for no reason they could give, but that had worked in our favour, because if he had been able to load we would not have met him and spent the evening with him.
After he has loaded up and driven away, we go across to the garage and ask if the quotation is ready. The secretary calls the unpleasant little man, who says he’s not going to the trouble of writing a quotation for people who have asked him to charge batteries. The cost will be 800 euros, and it’s 40 euros for the battery charge.
At 9.00 am I phone our insurance broker. There’s a recorded message. He’s on holiday until the 7th of July. In case of need we should contact his colleague, who only speaks French.
For the next four hours, I am on the phone, giving details, making explanations and trying to work out what to do. Once the insurance company learn that the car is broken down, and not damaged in an accident, they say that all they can do is either put us on a train, or provide us with a hire car. They do not have any responsibility to get the vehicles back to our home nearly 400 miles away.
The insurance lady had suggested that I ask if the garage will buy the car for spare parts, but from their unhelpful attitude so far I very much doubt it, which proves to be correct. They are not going to help us in any way at all. The
little shit belligerent, aggressive, insolent little chap at the garage is now demanding to know what we intend to do about the car that is sitting in the yard, and it’s clear that he’s going to start charging to have it there. Terry connects us one of the charged batteries and drives it to the parking area outside. That’s one small problem solved.
Terry is set on driving home on the batteries, towing the caravan. I am not at all convinced that we’ll be able to make it all the way, and one of us must get home, not only for the dogs but also we have two appointments booked for Wednesday, and I cannot contact either of them by phone from here.
The next option is to ask for a hire vehicle with a tow bar so that we can bring the caravan back. It’s full of equipment, including Terry’s mountain bike, and we cannot leave it there. Yes, says the insurance lady, she will ensure that we have a vehicle with a tow bar.
Backwards and forwards go the phone calls, each time bringing more difficulties. It seems our contract only allows us a small car, not one with a tow bar. Also there is a deposit of up to 500 euros payable up front for the car, depending upon which company provides it. I ask the lady to check with the companies and find out which will accept the smallest deposit, but she says she doesn’t have time to do that. If we go to collect the car and our card payment is rejected, it will be too late to do anything for us today. She is being as helpful as she can, but we’re getting nowhere. At mid-day she says that unless we make up our mind quickly what we want to do, she will not be able to spend any more time on our problem, because she has too many other clients to deal with. It’s now or never.
Terry is still determined to drive the car back, so reluctantly I decide to leave and take the train home. The caravan is well stocked with food, and it’s somewhere to sleep. I hate abandoning ship, but I can’t do anything practical and I can envisage this drama going on for days. Apart from the dogs and appointments, I desperately need to shower and put on some clean clothes. The taxi will collect me in an hour, says the lady, to drive me to Perpignan station.
In fact it arrives ten minutes later, with a very kind driver who says he didn’t like to leave me in such a hot and uncomfortable place, and I’ll be far better off at Perpignan. He drives me to the station, where I collect my tickets.
It’s a strange journey that will skirt the Mediterranean coast eastwards from Perpignan to Montpellier, then swing north to Lyons and from there up to Paris, where it will curve around and turn south to Tours. There I’ll catch a connection to Poitiers.
Even in such stressful circumstances, train travel in France is a delight once you understand it. Your train ticket tells you your carriage and seat number. On the platform an electronic display tells you where to stand so that when the train arrives you walk straight into the correct carriage and find your seat. Also on the platform is a small yellow-headed machine that you need to ‘composte’ your ticket before getting on the train. You stick it in the machine which stamps it with the date. If you don’t the ticket inspector can fine you.
For the first part of my journey on the TGV, I’m ‘upstairs’- it’s a double-decker. It’s spotless, comfortable, peaceful. It arrives and leaves precisely on time.
After two hours I have 8 minutes to change trains at Nîmes. The platform is heaving with people and luggage, so I have to shove some of them out roughly of the way while I find out which part of the platform to stand on. This time I’m in a downstairs seat in an almost empty carriage for the next leg of the journey which will take four and a half hours. Luckily I had put my Kindle in my bag before we set off from home at what now seems a very long time ago, so I have plenty to read. At Valence a group of cheerful men come and sit opposite me and pass around a wooden box filled with luscious golden apricots, for which I am really grateful, because all I’ve had to eat so far today is a hot apple from the caravan.
They leave at Lyon and are replaced by a couple of polite youths with a giant bag of Maltesers. I’m not a chocaholic, but they are my favourites.
They don’t open the bag, but leave it lying tantalisingly within my reach, on the table between us, and as the hours pass I begin to feel hungry and thirsty, so I go to the bar – conveniently located upstairs in the next carriage – to see what they have to offer. There’s quite a long queue, and just one man serving. I’m thinking I’ll have a sandwich and drink of water, but then I see somebody with a steaming bowl of creamy risotto. It takes quite a while to reach the counter, and when I do I find I have insufficient cash for the risotto and the water, so I have to go back to the carriage to find my credit card. When I get back to the bar the queue is even longer, but it’s well worth the wait because it’s possibly the best risotto I’ve ever tasted. I kept the wrapper to remind me of the ingredients which included cream, rice (obviously), mushrooms, courgette, peas, mozzarella, onion, pumpkin seeds, leeks and green asparagus. The very small print showed that it also contained chicken stock, but I’d already eaten half before I saw that.
It’s 9.30 pm when I arrive at St Pierre de Corps. The next train leaves 15 minutes later and reaches Poitiers at 10.30. The insurance lady had told me to wait at the exit for the taxi to collect me, but none does. From the depths of my bag I can hear my phone buzzing, but I can’t get hold of it without everything spilling all over the floor. When I finally answer it, a very angry voice tells me to hurry up and get in the taxi, he has been phoning me for ten minutes. I find him on the taxi rank outside, a huge Humpty Dumpty of a man, and he’s extremely rude. When I say I was told to wait inside for him, he sneers how would he be expected to recognise me out of 200 people on the station? I say I thought he’d have a card with my name on it, and he tosses both hands up in the air to express his disbelief, letting go of the steering wheel as he hurtles through the back streets of the town.
By now I am too hot, sticky, swollen and tired to bother, so I close my eyes and lean back, leaving him to mutter to himself.
After a few moments, he asks me how I found the weather in Paris. I say I haven’t come from Paris, but from Argeles sur Mer. I’ve been on holiday, there, then? No. But my car is broken down. He asks why I’ve left it there, and I explain about needing to get home to the dogs.
Suddenly, as if I’ve waved a magic wand, he changes. He’s a passionate animal lover. He has a five month old chocolate Labrador called Leo, who is adorable and always up to mischief. He also has four cats; sadly he lost a fifth one recently to typhus. The vet said it was highly contagious and all the other cats would get it, but none of them did, thank God. He goes on about all his animals, how they interact and play with each other, how much they mean to him and his wife. I learn about the wonderful kennels where Leo went while they were on holiday, and how he totally destroyed the nice bed the kennel gave him, and how they fed him on the best food. He’d only recently learned that chocolate can kill dogs. Oh la la! Every night he has two squares of dark chocolate, and he’s always given Leo a tiny piece. But the lady at the kennels has told him how dangerous it is – there’s a molecule or something which poisons them. Also that dogs shouldn’t be given pasta, because they can become diabetic from too much carbohydrate. I tell him that dried fruit is dangerous too, particularly sultanas and raisins. He’s going to check that on the Internet. He doesn’t eat raisins, but he does like figs. He gave Leo one, but Leo only played with it, as he did with a cherry. So we continue sharing animal anecdotes until we reach home, by which time we are best friends. 🙂
When I walk into the house the dogs stare in astonishment, then delight, although I think they recoil a little from my feet.
So I’m back home, but in the meantime, what’s happened to Terry? His phone battery is flat, so we’ve no means of communicating.
If you break down in a dangerous situation, you imagine that sooner or later somebody will notify the nearest police, and something will happen. Help will arrive. We cannot contact anybody, and after an hour of roasting and continuing to expand in the heat, it looks very much as if we are well and truly in the mire.
Burrowing around in my handbag I find my little white plastic 9 euro mobile phone, which, miraculously, has a full battery. I only carry it for emergencies. To my surprise, when I phone our worldwide breakdown the call actually connects. It is the first time I have ever found it to be useful.
I explain to the lady at the other end that we are broken down, and give her our details, contract number, vehicle registration, date of birth, address, and location. She keeps asking for our GPS co-ordinates, which we don’t have because the battery is flat and our GPS isn’t working. I explain numerous times that we are on the N11 one kilometre from the French border, but she cannot locate us. She keeps asking for more details, and I cannot tell her anything other than that we are on the N11, outside of La Jonquera, and just before the French border.
We are both getting frustrated, and I’m in danger of losing my temper, because I am very, very big, now, from the heat, scarlet in the face and soaked in perspiration. We seem to have reached an impasse, when a scooter pulls up just ahead of us, and a man walks towards us asking if we need help. He takes the phone from me and has a go at explaining our location, and eventually the lady pinpoints us. She will call out a breakdown vehicle, but it may take some time.
While we are waiting, our new friend introduces himself. His name is Pascal, he lives in Perpignan and had come down to La Jonquera to buy cigarettes, which cost half the price there than they do in France. He is very concerned that we do not have the compulsory red triangle, and when I explain that we can’t get it out of the boot, he offers to drive down to La Jonquera and notify the police. Twenty minutes later he’s back. He’s told the Spanish police that we are broken down on a bend, and they have said OK. He’s not optimistic that they will do anything. He has also spoken to the French police at La Jonquera, and asked to borrow their red triangle. They don’t have one in their car.
It is impossibly hot, and he is wearing leathers. I thank him for stopping, and urge him to carry on now that we know the breakdown vehicle is coming, but he insists on waiting until it does, an hour later. With a handshake and a ‘bon courage,’ he drives off.
Our breakdown insurance mentions that it will get us home from anywhere in Europe, so when the recovery vehicle arrives we can sit back and relax, once the car is loaded and the caravan attached. The driver is taciturn and somewhat disinterested, but efficient. He announces that he is taking us to Argeles sur Mer, to a garage. That isn’t what we want, I reply. We want to be taken home. That won’t be possible; he will only take our vehicles to the nearest garage for repair. Our insurance, he tells us, only promises to get us home, not the vehicles.
That’s a shock, but at least, for the time being, we are on the move. I can hear the driver telling the garage that our alternator is dead and that we want them to replace it. I stop him. We do not want the garage to replace the alternator because we cannot afford it. What we want them to do is to recharge both our batteries, and we will get the car home. The garage reply that without an alternator the car won’t move. I reply that it will have to. It’s brought us 120 miles, and with a recharged battery it should continue to move us closer to home.
When we reach the garage there is an extremely belligerent little man waiting for us. (I’m beginning to think there’s a Little Man Syndrome, which makes very short men unpleasant.) He’s both aggressive and insolent and I’d like to whack him round the ears with the dead alternator. Instead I ask politely if he will be kind enough to recharge our batteries, for which we will happily pay him. He replies that it will take all night, and we’ll just have to wait. We ask him for a quotation for repairing the car – for insurance purposes – and he says he will do that in the morning. He’s really quite intimidating, standing unreasonably close to me and trying to stare me down.
Luckily the garage is in a clean, peaceful area, and the caravan has been put on a spacious car park just outside the garage. There’s a large car transporter parked there, too, and a friendly English driver comes over to chat and hand us a couple of bottles of beer.
Before long we are friends, and decide to walk into town for a pizza. I jam my feet into the trainers with difficulty. Because we were expecting to be back home by now, I’d only packed a toothbrush. No change of clothes. I am aware of looking frightful and being rather unfragrant.
We find a small restaurant and sit at a table on the pavement. Inside, they’re watching a football match – England vs. Iceland. Our new friend, Phil, is great company. He transports prestige cars all over Europe, from Lapland to Portugal. He shows us photos of some of the vehicles he has delivered – Bentleys, Aston Martins, Lamborghinis. Last year he delivered Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren P1 to Monaco. Although Phil didn’t meet the driver he left a note in the glove compartment saying that his young son was a fan and had hoped to get the driver’s autograph. He left his address, and within a couple of days Hamilton had telephoned to talk to the little boy and sent him his autograph together with a beautiful scale model of the car. (Or it may have been a Mercedes model, I’m not sure.) Anyway, a lovely gesture.
While we are eating, a handsome, fit man comes over and introduces himself and asks if he may join us. He speaks fluent English with a slight American accent, having lived there for three years. He also speaks five other foreign languages fluently, plus his native French, and says he’s studying another two. He is a money market trader, and we talk for a couple of hours about Brexit, sport, life in general. He buys us all a round of drinks, and shares Terry’s pizza; he’s charismatic, amusing, interesting and friendly. What are the chances of meeting not just one, but two such nice people to spend the evening with and forget our problems for a while?
Although we have the caravan to sleep in, there is no access to water or electricity and no means of washing, so I use the restaurant’s loo and splash some water from the hand basin on my face and arms. As we leave the restaurant, somebody calls out “Second Brexit for England – knocked out by Iceland.” But it is said with a friendly smile and a wave, there’s no malice.
My feet are still alarmingly swollen and I hobble back to the caravan, which is like a furnace and smells of sweaty clothes and feet. In the morning Phil will make us a cup of tea, and at 9.00 am we will phone our insurance broker, who speaks perfect English and is always a tower of strength. My French is pretty good, a level below fluent, and I can manage most things, but it would be a help to be able to speak to somebody who can communicate in English while we try to sort out the mess. That’s the comforting thought in my mind before I fall asleep. Help will arrive tomorrow.