I promised more ‘ironies’, but in fact what I am about to retail is not quite ‘an irony’, more a ridiculous situation which had me baffled for nigh-on half an hour.
We were on our way back from a concert at a chateau we had not visited before but which coincidentally was very close to a convalescent home in the country south of Bordeaux where my aunt had stayed for a few weeks after having a knee operation. This made her think she was a little familiar with the area and knew how to get back home again. She didn’t.
Instead of following the way we had come, which would have involved turning left at the chateau entrance, we turned right and - of this I’m quite certain - we were heading south and in the right direction. Then several minutes later something very odd happened: the car seemed to lose power and try as I might I could not get it to go faster than 25mph (the speedometer showed just under 45kph).
I thought there was some kind of blockage in the petrol system, so slowed down, changed down and accelerated into something rather like what is called an ‘Italian tune-up’. That seem to do the trick because in second from about 10mph acceleration was fine. Then at around 25mph everything just seemed to shut down and I just couldn’t go any faster.
My aunt who knows as much about cars as I do about the finer points of French grammar was for reconciling us to travelling that slowly. I wasn’t and got more and more frustrated by not knowing what was going on.
‘Does this car have some kind of cruise control?’ I asked her.
‘What’s cruise control?’ she replied.
‘It’s a way of setting your car to travel no more than a certain speed.’
‘Why would you want to do that?’ she asked.
‘Well, in some ways it can be a useful facility, if, for example, you don’t want to break the speed limit and are afraid of being caught by a speed camera.
‘All you have to do is stick to the speed limit,’ she pointed out.
‘But sometimes you go over it a little by accident.’
‘Well, you should just be more careful.’
‘Of course, you should,’ I agreed (trying to keep the frustration with the turn of conversation out of my voice. She is 81 and I was her guest, after all, and I couldn’t very well tell her to get a grip). ‘But it does sometimes happen. You don’t mean to, but you are driving a little too fast and you are caught speeding.’
‘Well, then you’ve got no excuse, you should just be more careful.’
‘But even though some people are more careful, it can happen, so setting a cruise control to a certain speed to ensure you don’t go over that speed can be very useful.’
‘I don’t think it’s at all useful and I can’t see why anyone would need one.’
I tried a different tack.
‘OK, but aside from that, have you heard Pierre [her husband] mention that this car has cruise control?’
‘Why would it have cruise control?’
‘I don’t know, but if it did, have you heard him refer to it?’
‘But I can’t see the point?’
And so on. And on and on and on for many more minutes and, as we were tootling along at just 25mph, for many more miles. In all this time I was touching this, pressing that, pulling this to see if I could find where the cruise control - if indeed the car had one - was located.
The road was very straight (Napoleon had many very straight roads built along which he could march his armies) and we passed several signposts, including one for Saucats, which prompted my aunt to inform me we were on the right road. But we weren’t, and soon we had no idea where we were which frustrated me as much as tootling along at a snail’s pace.
Then, for no very good reason could think of I took out my iPhone and launched the compass to find that instead of travelling south as we should have been doing, we were travelling due north. I told my aunt and suggested we about-turn.
‘We’ll get somewhere soon,’ she told me.
‘But we’re driving in the wrong direction.’
‘But we’ll get somewhere soon.’
‘Yes, but somewhere in the opposite direction we want to go. If we turn around, we’ll also get somewhere soon, but at least we know we are heading in the right direction.’
She was having none of it, and knowing myself well and knowing that, frustrated I am apt to be a little more direct than some people can handle, I decided to keep schtumm and do what she asked. And it was at this point that I discovered - I had been fiddling around discovering what I could while we proceeded - that the car did indeed have cruise control and, even better, how to switch it off. So finally we were able to get up to a reasonable speed but by this point we were on the outskirts of Bordeaux, about 20 miles due north from where we wanted to be.
We carried on, still due north, until we spotted a sign for the Arcachon to Bordeaux motorway. (Arcachon is on the Atlantic coast due west of where we were, Bordeaux was due east. Where ideally we wanted to be was due south. And that be at least 45 minutes ago.) We eventually arrived home about an hour later than we should have done but at least I had established that that particular model of Peugeot did have cruise control even though my elderly Irish aunt considered it a facitilty worse than useless.
. . .
It wasn’t that night, but the following night at somewhere called the Chateau de France that I came across Les Tromano, made up of brothers Yorrick and Daniel Troman, on violin and accordion, and double bass player Yann Dubost, and boy were they a find. They play everything from Prokoviev, Shostakovich and Stravinsky to kletzmer and if you like that kind of musis - I DO - you would like Les Tromano. I’ve bought a CD and upload some tracks in the next few days.