Saturday 27 March 2010

A Soft Breeze of Discontent 1

My car, her name is Cleec-Cleec, decided not to return home the other evening.

We were scooting along together, the radio was playing and we had just passed the first almond tree in blossom when she decided to stop, and I returned alone.

There was no explosion, no sudden CLUNK, not even an argument - just a quiet whimper as she slowly glided to a stop at the side of the road.

I tried to coax her, I urged and I even pushed a little but she refused to speak. I opened her bonnet, peered sympathetically but stupidly and closed it again.

Lately she HAD been behaving strangely, and I have written about her lack of certain mechanical skills only recently; only a few days prior she decided to combine headlight and indicator functions into one operation - activated by use of the windscreen wipers.

After a troubled night, the next morning I cycled through frost and remains of melting snow, up the track to the local garage. I was not looking forward to the visit since, as I have explained elsewhere, the local mechanic is a grumpy monosyllabic monster.

And it was freezing, the sun hardly a smudge in the dawn sky.

Half way, at the top of the third category one climb I realised I had left the car keys on the kitchen table.

When I eventually puffed into the local village square I met the mechanic striding away from the garage with an open telephone book in his hands, heading for, effectively, the forest with an expression of “don’t you dare talk to me’ stamped into his menacing frown.

“Bonjour” I offered gaily.

A nod, and he stopped. The book remained open.

“I’ve broken down …er… not that way” – I pointed to the mountain I had just twice ascended - “but that way” – and helpfully pointed towards the vineyards.


“I wondered if you could get involved” – I don’t know how else to translate the French verb that slipped out. Intervene sounds a little weird.

I don’t remember him actually saying anything, not even his usual PPPffff. But I soon entered into a detailed description of the last night’s events.

He does that to me, I become a gibbering idiot just to cover the awkwardness of our one sided exchanges.

He listened, the book still open …. and then it came ……. Pppppffffffffffffffffffffff….. AND a shrug. A huge shrug - and then he added the fateful word - “courroie!”

(I don’tknow what it is, as far as I can tell English cars don’t have them, but every garage in France has a warning sign, posted in triplicate with a picture of someone pointing at you – Have you changed your courroie!!!!!
Which of course I never have -because English cars….etc)

And then, weirdly, nothing happened.

He stood there staring at the forest, I stood leaning against my bike, and its uncomplicated mechanics and the book remained open in his hands.

A bird flew past.

Someone opened a shutter in the distance.

A cloud formed somewhere.

I looked around, the book was a phone directory; I could see that now that I had time to take in details.

Strange, I thought, there IS a phone in his garage, but as far as I know there are none in the forest; but what do I know, I’m not even intelligent enough to change a courroie – whatever it is.

I wondered if I should say something more, or just walk away?

Nothing happened again.


I looked over my shoulder at the forest, hoping for a sign and then heard footsteps.

“He’s walking away!’ I thought and hurriedly turned around.

I was surprised to see Paul, the school bus driver who had apparently materialised from nowhere, but I was also relieved, as I knew he would speak.


I was hoping for more, anything to move us on from the stasis we were in.

“Why didn’t you stop me yesterday evening?” he asked, “when I saw the car this morning I realised you had a problem.”

I was about to speak but, amazingly, the mechanic intervened.


Paul raised his arms, shoulders eyebrows and eyes – a remarkably coordinated feat and they both turned away and walked into the garage.

Leaving me alone.

Alone in the village square with my bike.

A cloud.

A bird.

And a soft breeze of discontent.

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