One from the vaults: False start

Today, on our trip back down memory lane, we’re heading to November 2012 and those heady days when riding outside was possible! This was when I still had my cycling coach and we’d finally arranged our oft-postponed training ride in Italy.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much planning and preparation you undertake, things just don’t pan out the way you anticipated. Take this morning. It dawned gloriously sunny, perfect for a ride with my coach. We had reorganised our oft-cancelled ride in Italy for today and had agreed to rendezvous just after the motorway exit at 09:00. My kit and bike were prepared and ready the night before. Nothing worse than discovering you’ve got a flat five minutes before you’re due to leave the house.

I got up early, ate a hearty breakfast, dressed, put the bike on the car and set off with plenty of time to spare. At that time in the morning there’s always plenty of traffic and I hate to be late, for anything. I reached our meeting point early, parked, switched off the ignition and caught up with my emails on my Blackberry.  My coach was unusually early and after exchanging the obligatory kiss on both cheeks, I prepared to follow his van. I turned on the ignition, the car emitted a quiet cough and died.

I quickly leapt from the car to stop my coach leaving and he then took over. I’m a woman so of course I might be doing something wrong. I’ve long reached an age where this no longer bothers me. I handed him the keys and the instruction manual and stood back. Ten minutes later he confirmed I needed to ring Smart Assist. I gave them all the pertinent details, including a map reference for my location and they advised me to sit tight and await a call from the Smart mechanic.

I thanked my coach for his assistance and said I now regarded our trip to Italy as being jinxed. We’ve been trying to arrange it since early June and it’s been cancelled numerous times for one reason or another. He’s a chivalrous chap and I sensed his reluctance to leave me on my own. But I was fine. I had beverages, refreshments, indeed everything that one could possibly need and my knight in a white van would soon be with me.

I read a magazine, drank my bidon and waited. After forty minutes the mechanic rang. He asked if I’d contacted the emergency services. I replied in the negative. I’d been told to sit tight and wait for him to contact me. Well it turns out that even though I had exited the motorway, I was parked on their terrain and so I needed to ring “112”.

I did and after explaining my plight was put in contact with the motorway’s rescue service. They promised someone would be with me in 40 minutes, but actually he only took 20 and was himself a keen cyclist. There then followed a series of telephone conversations on my mobile with the motorway rescue services, the mechanic and Smart Assist whereby the last one promised the first one payment for his services. Tom III was then loaded onto the back of the lorry, I climbed on board and we headed for Smart in Monaco.

Although I’m guaranteed a replacement hire car in the event of Tom’s incapacity there’s always a problem: it’s always a  manual car. While I passed my driving test on one I haven’t driven one since. Luckily I had my bike and advised that, if necessary, I would ride home.

With space being at a premium in the concrete jungle that is Monaco, the Smart garage is situated just off a narrow lane where you’d be hard pressed to drive anything apart from a Smart. Undeterred, my rescuer backed his lorry the wrong way up a one way street, dropped off my car and left me in the capable hands of the Smart mechanics.

They kindly gave it their immediate attention. The problem was a dead battery. Now I’d driven the car to Aix-en-Provence and back yesterday and then to and from the airport in the evening without any trouble. It had also started this morning without any hint of what was to come. I should add that this is my third Smart and I’d never had any problem with them. Indeed, even if I could buy any car at all, my heart’s desire would be the one I’ve got. It’s totally fit for purpose.

You might be wondering if I’d inadvertently left something alight in the car? No, I had not. A wire had worked loose from the battery. It’s a wonder I’d not had any trouble with it before now. Within 20 minutes of my arrival, I was heading out of Monaco for home.  The sun was still shining so I dropped off the car, hopped on the bike and went for a quick ride. All was now right again with my world.

Maiden MOT

Tom IV has just had his first MOT or, as we say here in France, Contrôle Technique, and now sports a small badge on his windscreen certifying compliance. In France you have to undergo one of these within six months of your car’s fourth birthday. You don’t get sent a reminder in the post, or by email. I fortunately looked up the rules on the helpful government website. You just book an appointment, turn up and within 20 painless minutes it’s all over. It costs just Euros 55, 00. I’m not sure how that compares with elsewhere as it was also my first ever MOT.

When Tom IV had his annual service back in May, the mechanic said I would need to get the oil filter sorted before my MOT. In addition, since that service, yet another idiot had driven into my bike carrier but this time had broken the rear light on the right hand side which I also needed to get fixed. So I booked a pre-MOT service at my Smart garage. I asked for the earliest service slot at 08:00am that way I only have to wait for 2 1/2 hours in the showroom.

Last week was still half-term in France and because it also contained a national holiday (1 November) many people were off work. The roads were empty as I drove to the garage. In fact I was there 30 minutes ahead of time and had to wait in the car. The Smart garage has free WiFi so I was able to get on with some work while they tended to Tom. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the piece to repair the light which meant I had to return the following day to get it done and, because there was also a loose connection, had another long wait in the Smart showroom while they figured it out, at no extra cost.

Finally, all the repairs had been carried out and we were set for our maiden MOT appointment. I chose the nearest garage and booked an appointment on-line for this morning. My plan had been to take Tom IV for a wash and vacuum yesterday so he’d be looking his very best today. But it rained heavily, on and off, for most of yesterday. So I just gave him a quick once over this morning.





Yes, autumn has finally arrived and I’ve put away my cycling shorts and short-sleeved jerseys. From now on I’ll be riding in my Roubaix fleecy 3/4 tights and long-sleeved jersey, as a minimum. I have replaced the Birkenstock sandals with socks and trainers and I have stowed away the last vestiges of my summer wardrobe until spring. As if to reinforce the change in seasons, I made my beloved a boeuf bourguignon for lunch. It’s time for heartier fare.

The place I’d chosen to carry out the MOT was fortuitously opposite a small parade of shops so I spent the time wisely, shopping in the Bio store. Its stock isn’t quite as extensive as the one I usually patronise. Though it’s my closest store, I’ve never shopped here before because parking is a bit of a nightmare but that wasn’t a problem today. So Tom’s now good to go for the next two years and I’ll be treating him to a wash and polish tomorrow to celebrate.


You could love it too much

Having dropped off my beloved at the airport at some ungodly hour I am now privy to a spectacular sunrise over the Baie des Anges. Truth be told, I typically head back to bed for another half-hour or so but I’ve too much to do today and have no intention of forfeiting my ride.

Yesterday, which also started bright and early, saw me glued to my office chair until the late afternoon. My husband went off for his lunchtime swim and returned, so it seemed, in the blink of an eye, demanding to be fed. I gave him money and sent him packing to a local restaurant.

When I finally managed to escape to the gym for a work out, before heading to the shops for supplies for dinner, I had a bit of an unpleasant surprise.  As I went to open the car door I noticed that it was now splattered with bird pooh, where before it had been pristine. Obviously, this had happened while it had been entrusted to my husband. There’s a series of car adverts where unfortunate things happen to friends who abuse the beloved small car of their wife, friend, husband. These adverts have struck a chord with me. I think you can see where I am going with this one.

Right before we moved to France, my husband rushed off to his local Mercedes dealer waving his bonus cheque and made a substantial down-payment on a 4×4. Having advised my husband to wait while I investigated the tax implications of such an acquisition, I was not a happy bunny. Even though Mercedes is a global company, there was no way legally we could continue to insure and pay for a German registered car while living in France. As a consequence, I had to put in train the rather long and very tedious process of re-registering the car in France which starts with parcelling up the number plates and sending them to the German consulate in Marseille. I won’t bore you with the rest of the process. The car was effectively off the road for 6-weeks.

Having, finally, successfully re-registered the car, we then had to exchange it for a new  model as we could not transfer the German operating lease. Needless to say my husband was over the moon. Me, much less so. The car was used mainly for business purposes, indeed our personal use of the car was less than 10%. I had to keep a record for the French tax authorities. In addition, despite it effectively being a “company” car, not all of the costs were tax deductible as it cost much more to run than was fiscally permissible. A point which surely rankled with me.

Finally, the operating lease came to an end and this time my husband was forcibly prevented from acquiring the car with a balloon payment. That’s right, he’s not a signatory on any of our bank accounts. A very wise move on my part. Initially, one of his clients allowed him to use one of their pool cars but that arrangement has now ended.

The thought of not having his own car, has been difficult for him to digest and he’s mulled over a couple of options which, to humour him, I have appeared to entertain. But, the other day, he conceded that we could manage perfectly well with only one car. However, I have had to point out that use of my car does carry with it a number of conditions. Yes, note the use of the possessive, it is my car, not our car.

One: when the light flashes indicating that it needs more petrol, please fill it up. I do not want to get into the car, see the flashing light and wonder whether or not I have enough in the tank to make it to the nearest petrol station. My husband has run out of petrol on a number of occasions, I have not. Two: if birds pooh on my car while you’re using it, you immediately clean it up. I keep cleaning fluid and roll of paper in the box in the boot of my car for this very purpose. Three: I do not like to be seen in a dirty or untidy car. It gets a weekly trip to the car wash where it is carefully washed, hand dried and vacuumed. If you get it dirty, you know what needs to be done. I don’t have to spell it out.

My husband knows what will happen if he doesn’t follow these three simple rules. We have been married long enough for him to appreciate that I make promises, not threats, and I have an elephantine memory.