We need to change our van. It’s a 20 year old Renault Express and is mainly used to for getting from one side of the farm to the other. It always smells of damp dog, whatever the weather. We bought it from the cousin of a cousin in Marseilles a couple of years ago, after our old van was flattened by a falling hay bale. I suppose car dealers must be the same the world over, but in Marseilles they have the reputation of being worse than most. It was of course, sold to us in “parfait état” but I had my doubts when I followed my husband home up the motorway and saw him on the hard shoulder, head under the bonnet being slowly ingurgitated by the engine.
The fifth gear didn’t work and closer inspection showed that it probably hadn’t for the last decade or so. Even the go-faster stripes couldn’t muster the illusion of speed. We got it home and through its last MOT but it is a vehicle to be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately, because of torrential rain a couple of days ago, I had no choice but to use it to go and pick my son up from the school bus.
The first thing I noticed was the orange duct tape holding up the driver’s window. The second, was that I couldn’t get in the door because the lock has broken in the down position. I belted round to the passenger side, cursing because I was already soaked, clambered over an oily chain-saw and plonked myself on the bath sponge called the driver’s seat. I had forgotten that the door didn’t shut properly and rain was pouring in through the crack. I found a muddy piece of cardboard on the floor (obviously for that purpose) and sat on it.
Amazingly it started on the third attempt and I set off for the 400 yard trip down the lane. It would be an exaggeration to say that the brakes don’t work. They do, you just need to anticipate the arrival of the neighbour’s dog on the road before it actually leaves its kennel. Also, the driver’s seat itself, harbours ambitions to go faster than the van and slides forwards with a masochistic tendency to grind bone against steering wheel each time you brake.
My worst nightmare came true when I met the school bus half way down. Given the weather, the driver had obviously decided to deliver my son to the door, which meant that I had to reverse back up. I couldn’t see out of the back windows because of the grime and the rain and although I could have looked in the rear mirrors (had I known how to use them), they had been knocked out of position. Orange duct tape prevented me from opening the windows to reposition them anyway.
I decided my best plan of attack would be to try a three point turn. By now, in a bit of a panic I shoved the van into first, forgetting that the knob on the gear stick comes off if used more than twice in a journey. It rolled under the seat out of reach. I grabbed hold of the gear stick in a vain attempt to change gears covering my hand in grease in the process. My son, by now had arrived at the van and faced by the chain saw in the front, or the sheep fence piled in the back chose to go behind. I sighed, defeated, we were going out later and he would smell of wet dog.
I made it home a sodden, smelly mess and suggested to the powers that be that we might want to change the van one day. “Oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to tell you about that. I think I’ve found a replacement. You know my cousin Michel, well he knows this guy in Marseilles…”