First – I want to say that the Britannia Roadside Assistance European Team are brilliant – I mean, fantastic, great, unfaultable. Which is just as well.
Perhaps it’s because we’re British…
Waking up in Lourdes, we leap into action. Well, it’s more more like a groggy: “Urgh, What time is it? Tea, I need tea before I do anything…” but we get up and sorted. We’ve had our instructions form the Assistance Team, and need to be in Tarbes by 8am, just as the garage opens in the hope that they’ll be able to squeeze us in.
25 miles later and the garage manager is bemused, the assistance team were great, happily explaining what we needed. Nope. Too busy…
Meanwhile, the breaks on this short route from Lourdes to Tarbes are verily zinging with heat
“You could fry an egg on that.”
“You couldn’t eat it though.”
“No, smartarse, that’s not what I meant”
Smirking feels wrong, so I turn back to the map and we ponder what to do. The assistance people can’t tow us to Bordeaux, but have found us another garage nearby that can help; we all hope.
So, deep breath, off we go.
To Latrense, a small town outside Bordeaux, 200km away. David (again in a french Accent, so Daveeede), our latest help from L’Assistance tells us that the garage has lunch from 12:30 – 1:30, he warns that we won’t be seen till after their midday break. That’s fine, hope’s on the horizon, we’ll need lunch too.
It’s super-swanky, the garage. We’re assuming that if Old Pierre was ludicrously expensive in his dump, then this one with the colour-co-ordinated furniture, seating and floor tiles in its expansive foyer might well end up being financially crippling. We need to be safe though. So, we stand around and wait till the only person in this huge area gets bored of ignoring us.
Gerome, finally deigns to approach us. This mechanic is shorter than me, both in stature and charm. To say he doesn’t want to help, would be to falsely suggest that ‘help’ had ever been on his agenda. He looks at us and accepts M’s handshake, rebuts my introduction and simply states:
“Come again at 2”
“Come again at 2”
We need his help, we’re not about to argue, so scuttle off to the van, sitting for another 35 minutes to ensure we’re well over the 2pm mark before we return.
Stephanie, the receptionist almost manages not to curl her nose in my direction (maybe I should have put more eyeliner on – these things matter in France). When I hand her our paperwork, she quickly drops it on the desk, hopefully thereby avoiding infection. Behind her stands the mechanic who dispatched us so efficiently half an hour ago. It’s like your worst reception team at the GPs surgery. The receptionist doesn’t believe you’re ill enough to deserve an appointment; the doctor doesn’t care.
I manage to explain about the brake discs (Les plaquettes de ferin), the heat, the concern.
“Yes, yes, leave your key.”
I ask what will happen.
“There will be a diagnostic”
Not feeling over-burdened with information, we take Stan for a walk, away from the industrial estate where the garage is situated and into the very lovely village. It’s quaint, with a number of small boutiques and individual shops, restaurants and cafes. The warm sunshine directly conflicts with the cold dread we’re both harbouring. We’ve walked around, sat and had a drink, but after an hour know we’re just putting off the inevitable. We’ve got to go back and find out what the results of the tests are. Like a pair condemned we trudge back to the chrome, black and grey waiting area, so that the staff can not talk to us for another 20 minutes.
Finally, Gerome appears and imagine our surprise…
The van is given the all clear. The great assistance people have a technical team who speak with Gerome and they say that it is all “fine.”
We look at the van. No hubcaps have been removed, no wheels have been taken off for inspection. Gerome took our van for a drive, apparently… we suspect this included reversing it into the inspection area and back out again. He still hasn’t actually made eye contact with either of us and now refuses to enter into conversation. The phone, with the assistance-technical-person on the other end, is thrust towards M as Gerome makes a quick departure through a door marked ‘privee’.
Our hands are tied now. The assistance people have nothing more they can do – the van’s been given the all clear. Our mechanic at home (who M rang) is as unconvinced as we are. The fact is though, that we’ve got several hundred miles to go to get to Calais at an average speed of 50mph. We’ll have to push on until either it is all ok, or it isn’t.
Enroute to Bordeaux, David rings again. He is concerned about the diagnosis too and wants to make sure that we’re ok and still moving (see what I mean, these guys are lovely). We tell him our experience and plans for the next few days. At the end of the conversation, David gives a huge sigh.
“I am sorreee” he starts his sentence “I think this is just normal for France, Oui? The garages, they are all rude. It is not so elsewhere, mais en France…”
David finishes with another heartfelt wordless expression. We don’t want him to feel bad and reiterate our relief for his help. He insists that they will call again on Saturday. The file will remain open until we reach British shores. One of the team (we know them all by now) will ring on Saturday afternoon to make sure we managed to cross the Channel without further mishap. I wish I could hug these guys. Their feedback is going to be glowing and extensive.
All of which takes us into Bordeaux, parked up on the riverbank, looking across River Gavonne as it sleepily sludges it’s way to the sea. Our view is similar to staring at Westminster from The Thame’s South Bank, except infinitely more French. Actually, it’s lovely.
As the sun sets, the lights from the other side sparkle-twinkle on the viscous water, like one of those pictures from an in-flight magazine of places you’ll never have time to visit. Stan has another run around, finds a couple of dogs to abuse by sticking his nose up their rear ends, M and I get supper at a local bar, looking on to all that prettiness.
By 9pm, the wheels are still mad hot, but they haven’t fallen off… yet.