By 8am I’d got myself sorted in the corner of a local cafe whose WiFi I could surf to do my dissertation supervision sessions. M took Stan and the Van around to Msr Pierre. The brake pads had arrived, not in specialist Peugeot boxes as promised but more like something we could have ordered from Amazon. Never mind…
“Come back at 12 or at 2pm, it will be done”
M called back whilst I was working and then we called back together a couple of times. Each time we passed Pierre was working on a different wheel, with just ‘the other one’ to go.
At twelve, we’d clocked his progress and even a rudimentary knowledge of maths would tell you that 4/4 is done. So we pulled into the forecourt to call time. Pierre was a bit put out:
“Je dit 2pm…”
“Oui Monseigneur, mais tu es finis…”
He grumbled, flashed the card payment machine in front of M and then grabbed his keys and dashed out of his office, locking it behind him.
Oh well. It wasn’t much of a farewell, but at least our brakes were done and we could resume travelling north now.
“Right” says M, “I’ll drive the car” (he being the one who hired it) and you take the van. Here’s the keys…”
He fumbled for a bit. Checked all his pockets, checked the surfaces in the van, checked the ignition of the van where he’d agreed the keys would be left with Pierre…
Yup – you guessed it. No keys.
Pierre had by this time zoomed off in his little black Citroen C3, up the hill and away into the distance. We examined the details we’d taken on Friday evening. The business number could clearly be heard on the other side of the office windows. No Pierre. No mobile number. No keys.
We rang the lovely assistance people. Perhaps they had another form of communication? No. But we agreed that surely he was just on his lunch break, he’d be back soon.
At 1:45 we saw him.
Ah… No… wait…
Pierre shot back down the valley. He turned to look at his premises and clearly clocked us, but didn’t stop.
By two-fifteen, it was looking unlikely that he would EVER return. I wandered down to the other garage in the town. They rolled their eyes at the mention of his name, exchanged meaningful glances, tired ringing his office number and emphatically (perhaps in the way that only the French can do) said they didn’t know. I wandered back.
The lovely assistance people rang us back. They’d rung all over town: the other garage, the gendarmerie, the tourism office… no-one had a mobile number for Pierre. It was a mystery.
We stood outside his large office window, staring at our keys on his desk. Would one little stone really be wrong? Only a small break-in. Just enough to get our keys and go, not for anything else…
Finally, finally, at three pm, he zooms onto his own forecourt in a desperate hurry. This has nothing to do with us. He asks in a “I don’t really give a shit, but you’re still here, so I’ll enquire” kind of way why we’re still hanging around.
“Tu a nos clef” (you have our key)
“Ah. Merde” (note the lack of any apology.)
“Oui Monseigneur, Merde” I replied, affecting a calm that I didn’t at all feel.
He looked at me sharply and I returned the stare. No matter. Keys in hand it was off to Pau, to drop off the hire car, see a bit of that city and head North.
The van was a bit sluggish by the time we’d done the 60km to Pau, but I didn’t mention it to M in case I was being unnecessarily alarmist. By the time we reached Pau and decided it was no place to park for the night, and had then decamped 25 miles south to Lourdes once more, it was clear: all was not well.
“Feel the heat coming off those brakes”
I didn’t need to. As my hand drifted within a foot of the wheel itself, I could sense the temperature radiating from the corner of the van. Not good. The disc could warp or the brake fluid could burn off. Either way, we couldn’t ask the van to do another 1000 miles to home in this condition.
We rang the lovely assistance people (again) explained the issue, that we didn’t want anything more from them, other than a recommendation of a nearby mechanic with a safe reputation. They gave us a recommendation but also were incensed on our behalf.
“Did he apologise to you?” said the lovely Alan (pronounced with a French accent). “He did not apologise to me. he was very rude.”
Tarbes is where we’ll find the nearest reliable garage on their lists. By now it was 18:45, the garages would all be closed. Tomorrow they’ll use their infinitely better skills to explain our problem to the mechanics of choice. Hopefully they’ll fit us in. We’re on a countdown now to Saturday. Got to be at Calais first thing. Got to have Stan’s tapeworm done at least 24 hours beforehand. I’ve booked a vet’s appointment at Bordeaux for Wednesday, but there’s nothing to say that we’ll be road worthy by then…
But there’s nothing we can do tonight and so little point dwelling on what-ifs. The answer… clearly… is to go for a wander around lamp-lit Lourdes, and the grotto, light some candles and then find a bistro selling a lovely, grapefruity Sauvignon Blanc with cheese platter and bread, and imported plum pickle. Then to wander back to the van to wait for tomorrow.
Brakes are still broken but hey…