The Control Technique certificate, an annual and rather tedious necessity for the average Frenchman holds for us a somewhat elusive quality. Driving as I do an ancient, unrecognised Japanese import about France means that I am easily recognised by my friends but has the somewhat inconvenient issue of having to take it across the Channel annually to put it through its MOT.
While it is possible to gain a ‘Certificate de Conformité gris’ and imatriculate unusual cars at the Prefecture – it had become a delicate balance between whether the cost of realigning the headlights to that of a left-hand drive will be cost-effective based on its remaining lifespan. So it was that I found myself turning out of the gate last thursday, having shed a crowd of French teenage boys in the aftermath of my 14 year old’s birthday sleepover, and heading for Calais.
It took only twenty metres to discover that the gearbox had just failed, and thankfully ‘husband à l’etranger’ was with me, and with him – where there’s a will, there’s a way! To add to the challenge, last thursday was a bank holiday which, unlike in the UK means that everything is closed. We managed to limp the car to the nearby service station and discovered that the oily patch in our parking-space in the courtyard was in fact the contents of our ‘Boite de Vitesse’ (gear-box)
Thankfully we discovered that once we had purchased a suitable funnel and a bottle of ‘Huile de Transmission’ (gear-box oil) the car actually engaged in gear and moved. Stopping to refill the gearbox every 80km we made it to the check-in at the Channel Tunnel.
For the first time in our experience, the queue for check-in was so lengthy that we managed to miss our check-in time and were relegated to a train some four and a half hours later. Not to be outdone, we made our usual manoeuvre of trying to make a bolt for it past the security to the embarkation lanes by holding our ‘G’ hanger upside down and back to front whilst all the other cars were sporting ‘X’s and ‘Y’s. We were not successful.
Having failed to convince the security that the fault of our delay lay with the enormous queue the other side of the ‘check-in’ and in a desperate attempt to catch an earlier train I piped up, smiling sweetly..
‘Monsieur, C’est très important que nous prendrons le prochain train car nous avons un rendez-vous chez une garage en Angleterre. Nous avons une fuite d’huile’
(Its very important that we take the next train because we have an appointment at the garage in England. We have an oil leak)
whereupon Monsieur Le Securité replied, also smiling sweetly but firmly –
Si vous avez une fuite d’huile, vous n’allez pas prendre ce train, ni le train en quatre heures et demie, ni aucun autre train, aujourd’hui, demain, ni aucun autre jour.’
(‘Madam – If you have an oil leak, you are not going to be taking this train, nor the train in 4 and a half hours, nor any other train, not today, tomorrow nor any other day!’)
So there you have it, along side telling security you have a weapon in the car, drive with LPG or have an Ash sapling, where you will inevitably be delayed whilst the offending article is removed and yourself interrogated, this is probably the worst thing that you can say to a Channel Tunnel security guard.
As luck would have it, the depannage (breakdown) lorry driver who was sent to deal with us had a smile that reached past his lips to a sparkle in his eye. Having minimized the damaging statement to the fact that the leak was really tiny (honest!) and that it didn’t leak at all when the vehicle was stationary (difficult to uphold since we had been stopped over a puddle and as one knows, oil likes to freely disperse itself into an ENORMOUS slick in water), the depannage engineer rang through to the train to request instant passage on the next train –
…possibly because he appreciated that we spoke the language – although the children cringing in the back would hasten to differ.
…Possibly because he’d never seen a car like it and didn’t want to tackle its unknown engine on a bank holiday.
…Possibly because he was just a very nice man.
We were on the next train out!