All pres­i­dents have backed down in the face of demos.

The Herald Magazine - - FIRST UP - FIDELMA COOK

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

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