Wheel mad in France

FOL­LOW THE READER

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - S. R. EDDY

ST KILDA, VIC­TO­RIA OURfriends (I’ll call them Ian and He­len) were driv­ing down from a hill town in south­ern France when they had a punc­ture. They opened the boot of their hired Re­nault. No spare tyre. They just about turned the car up­side down, but not even a jack.

Ian rang the car-hire emer­gency line. His French was lim­ited and no one there spoke English. And they weren’t in­ter­ested. The line kept cut­ting out. Ian and He­len pushed the car off the busy road, near a car wash.

‘‘Where are you now?’’ the car-hire agent asked. ‘‘ Lavage,’’ Ian replied. ‘‘Near­est street?’’ ‘‘There is no near­est street,’’ he in­sisted. Then the line cut out. Ian rang the num­ber, oh, about 50 times. The sun went down. Ian did get through once and was sharply told: ‘‘A punc­ture is your re­spon­si­bil­ity . . . it’s in the con­tract.’’ The line cut out.

A Spa­niard ar­rived with a tow-truck. He said new Re­naults don’t have spare tyres. ‘‘Progress,’’ he de­clared, and hooked up the car. (Ian and He­len later learnt about tyre com­pres­sors.)

‘‘Where are you tak­ing the car?’’ asked our friends. The man didn’t know. Fi­nally, a friend picked them up.

The next day, Ian phoned the car-hire agency all through the morn­ing, left mes­sages and waited for a call.

Fi­nally, some­one rang him back. ‘‘You will have to go to Toulouse to get the car to­day.’’

Ian and He­len had planned to go to Toulouse, 200km away, the next day, any­way. ‘‘We’ll pick it up at the air­port at 11am to­mor­row,’’ ad­vised Ian. ‘‘No, pick it up at 9am.’’

‘‘If it’s not still there at 11am, I’ll sue you,’’ Ian re­sponded. Later that day, he got a call to say he should have picked it up at 3pm and he was late.

Ar­riv­ing the next day at the air­port at 11am, Ian and He­len were greeted ef­fu­sively in English by a car-hire agent and shown to their new wideas-a-bus Range Rover.

‘‘No way . . . not in those nar­row French vil­lage streets!’’ wailed He­len. Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to our Fol­low the Reader col­umn: travel@theaus­tralian. com.au. Pub­lished colum­nists will re­ceive a three-piece set for clothes, shoes and toi­letries by F1 Spacepak, a com­pres­sion pack­ing sys­tem that max­imises suit­case space. $98. More: flight001.com.au.

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