All presidents have backed down in the face of demos.
FIFTEEN minutes after my dead car had been transported to the local garage, the boy mechanic phoned me. “Madame Cook, we have a problem,” he said sounding a touch baffled.
I groaned. It had taken a week to actually get it to the garage, what with holidays and non-working days.
Ian, Mika (Emilie’s boyfriend) and Alistair had all played a part in attempting its resurrection, to no avail. Mika, who had turned up unannounced as Emilie said, “He’s good with cars,” spent two hours under the bonnet before stating it needed a Ford garage as it was the electronics. And now – “We have a problem”.
When he told me what it was I asked him to repeat it twice, convinced my understanding of his fast, heavily accented French was wrong.
No, he really was asking where the rest of it was. The missing “rest” being most of the bits not actually the engine.
God knows why but it turned out that the “bits” he’d removed, to get to other “bits”, he’d simply left on the wood pile.
The mechanic returned and used my wheelbarrow to collect them all. There are an awful lot of bits under a bonnet. Who’d have thought?
It had taken a lot of persuasion to get the garage to take it in the first place. They didn’t do Ford. “But you say all marques,” I said to the receptionist whose welcoming manner is infamous in the area, even among the French, and that’s saying something.
“It could be something simple any mechanic can do,” I begged.
“It won’t be,” she snapped back. “You’ll have to pay.”
No, really? Here’s me thinking you’d do it out of the kindness of your black, black heart.
(Of course I didn’t actually say that to her – I value my life. I grovelled instead.) Anyway, it eventually turned out it did have to go to Ford. Okay – can you send it, I asked her? The insurance will pay transportation.
No, no, I can’t go through all that again, but the nearest Ford garage couldn’t take it – its diagnostic machine was equally dead.
The other, miles and miles away, would but couldn’t look at it for a fortnight. After a verbal fistfight, she agreed to send it but it went five days after she said it would, in time for the weekend and the Monday closure.
So we are now into week four. I no longer care. We are in the middle of a blockade – a gilet jaunes (yellow vests named after the high-vis waistcoats all French drivers must carry) occupation, in protest at rising fuel charges and general discontent against President Macron.
It is not a good-humoured demo; the toll so far is one dead, 528 injured and 17 gravely so.
Used as we are in France to such outpourings of rage, this one is taking on far graver overtones stemming from discontent with the state and the president’s determination to reform.
We’ve been here with every president and all have backed down in the angry face of citizens on the cobbles. Not this one, I hope.
The impetus for the blockades was a steep rise in petrol and diesel pump prices, not of Macron’s making, but compounded by the state’s environmental programme to drive up taxes on fuel, especially diesel. It is somewhat ironic, therefore, that it is the capital that has become the focus of anger, for it is here, in rural France, where we are suffering most.
Bus and train services are limited if available; cars are mainly run on diesel, for it was the cheapest for years and houses and farms lie scattered over vast distances from services. Take me, for instance. I am 4km from the nearest village with shop, doctor and pharmacy, and 24km from the nearest supermarket.
There apparently is a thrice-a-week bus going to three different towns and returning. It is a mere 1-1.50€ and you can book a pick-up at your house in advance.
It is used mainly by the elderly aided by their carers who are needed to carry the shopping.
Taxis are rare and very, very expensive. Internet shopping has not reached here yet in terms of supermarket delivery.
For the rest of us, any increase at the pumps hurts, for, apart from the above, we have no choice but to drive. Thanks to Miriam, Alistair and Emilie, my two vital trips a week– for food shopping and dog grooming – have been covered. The wine comes via TNT – praise the Lord.
I don’t need to be anywhere else but I may need a new, old car depending on what the repairs will be.
And there’s the next hurdle. How do you get a new/old car with €400 in reserve?
Actually how do you pay for any repair with…€400 in reserve?
Ah, well – I’ll think about that tomorrow or maybe next week, for sure it won’t be anywhere near ready by then. The moon is becoming full again so once it is I will go out and wish and ask the cosmos. Upwards and onwards!
cookfi[email protected]mail.com Twitter: @fidelmacook
PICTURE: GORDON TERRIS