by Graham Hemsley
Some of you may have read my previous blog that covered my accident in France in 2014 in Mabel, my 1960 Riley 1.5 and how that summer was a non-starter in terms of motoring around in France.
Thankfully, that is all behind me now albeit it's still a painful memory and my back still bears the scars......not that I can see them but if my wife says they're still there then that's good enough for me.
So fast forward a couple of years and I thought I'd just put a few words together on how Mabel and I get along out here in France.
Just by way of background, we're fortunate enough to have a small cottage just outside the village of St Mathieu in the Haute Vienne department of the Limousin region. We're a stones throw from both the Dordogne and Charente departments and we're classified as being in the South West of France albeit in the northernmost part.
Mabel is unceremoniously dragged down on the back of the trailer (the fun starts getting her up there) in May when I leave Bristol and is then taken back in October. Why not drive her down I hear people ask. Quite simply, I need a day-to-day car to do day-to-day “things”. Not sure Mabel would cope with being loaded to the roof with “stuff” to go to the dechetterie (the tip) and other chores.
Also, we go out quite a bit in the evening and as my wife is 99% teetotal she provides the taxi service and doesn't really like or want to drive Mabel. Hey, means I can indulge so I'm not complaining. But yes, I do go to the shops, vide greniers (boot fairs but so much better), friends houses like I would in the UK.
Back in England I use Mabel as much as I can between October and May and in the UK it's not uncommon to see classic vehicles out and about during the week. Out here in France however it does seem that unless you're going on a dedicated drive or to a show then classic cars are seldom seen. I could be wrong about that but can only talk from experience in our area.
As a result of being out and about and not on an official run or whatever and being a British car that few French people have seen or heard of, heads often turn when I pass by. Occasionally, in supermarket or builders merchants car parks people will come up and ask what it is. Oh a Reeeleee they say and seem genuinely pleased to see her.
There's quite a few Brits in the area where we are based and as in the UK I get the comments that I always get back home......”my father/uncle/relative of some description had one of those”. And as I do in the UK, I then say “I'd like a £1 for everyone that has said that”. Nothing different there.
Classic vehicle shows are a bit different out here though. I'm loosely connected with a car club called the “Rétromobile du Périgord Vert”. I say loosely as I attend a few of their events but do not pay the annual fee. That seems to solely fund the end of year meal and as I'm not there for that they seem quite happy for me to tag along. Most of the events are not their own events but larger organised events that we pitch up to.
Being France, food is inevitably high on the agenda. It's quite often the case that a meal is provided for the driver by the event organisers but any passengers have to pay whatever the going rate. Also, an aperitif is sometimes provided. As I never, ever drink and drive I am looked on quite oddly at times when I just ask for water.
On the other hand the club are going to an event after I've gone back to the UK and where they've decided to go for a meal, presumably in a restaurant as it's €35 a head for car and passengers! Now it would need to be a very good meal to justify that outlay.
Even if I were here I'd not pay that as without knowledge of which restaurant we were going to and what was on the menu (I eat anything but Julie, my wife, doesn't) it could be a serious waste of money. So the free meal will do me even if it is just melon for starters, sausage and chips for mains, a piece of cheese and a yoghurt for pud. That'll do for me.
On the day of an event we meet at the President's house. Now, that's not the President of France but the President of the car club which is about 20 mins from where we're based.. We then go off in a convoy to the event picking up members en route. Once at the event, it's then quite usual to go on a balade. That is a trip round the local area for as many or as few of the classic car owners that want to.
On a recent trip (Mabel was back in her barn in disgrace after deciding to leak copious amounts of petrol from the carbs) I went to a friend's house – he has a 1960s Volvo Amazon in superb condition and with around 28,000 kms on the clock from new. I'd like to say and show pictures of other Rileys but I've yet to see another out here.
Anyhow, after a 90 minute drive from the President's house with about 10 cars from the club, we pitched up at what clearly wasn't the event but a holding area for about 100 cars. The balade then commenced – all 100 or so cars fronted my a Model T Ford and other ancients. This time we were accompanied by motorcycle riders who went ahead at breakneck speed to block roads and turnings so that all 100 or so cars could serenely pass by. What the locals and other drivers on the local roads thought I have no idea. I just kept thinking about what would happen back in the UK and the reactions that might occur. Road rage could well be the order of the day.
Anyhow after a couple of hours (remember we'd already driven 90 minutes to get there) and going down minor roads and quite a few rough, rutted tracks that managed to cause a bit of damage to a few cars and a diversion through a horse-racing track (yes, we wondered about that as well) we arrived at a château. Ah good, the show I thought. But no. This was just a stop for aperitifs – cue wine and pineau (google it – it's lovely) being served. Not sure why, but here were adults dressed as pixies, elves and fairies there as well. All very surreal.
We then depart in the, by now, searing heat to the show. This was only a few minutes down the road but took ages owing to the crowds as it was a Vide Grenier (boot fair only way, way better) and car show combined. Searing temperatures meant rising car temperatures and the Volvo was so, so close to over-heating. However, we got there..........parked up and went for lunch. As I was a passenger it was €12. Food was only OK.
Once lunch had finished we wandered around the Vide Grenier and as it was so hot very few people were looking at the stalls let alone the cars so off we went home for the 90 minute drive back after being there for around about 90 mins. I'll not be going to that one again and neither will the club.
Back to the Mabel and her naughtiness – this is where I hand my head in shame – loose banjo bolt at the rear of the carb. A quick tighten up and all would have been OK........well actually it wouldn't as Mabel doesn't like the heat and temperature gauge rises and I'm sure I'd have been on the side of the road waiting for her to cool down. That's something to look into over the winter when we're back in Brizzel. The radiator is clearly past it's best so that may need to be re-cored and a good back flush is probably in order as well.
On the whole it's great driving around in France as the roads are so empty we often wonder if we've missed a Road Closed sign.
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