Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Probably the best garagiste in the world ever - Part 1

Readers of this blog will be familiar with our car problems. Up until January we were reliant on an 18 year old BMW convertible prone to break down at least once a week. I finally lost patience when the locks ceased to work and I had to climb in through the back window. And so I went to see Bruno Cif, the garagiste, in Lourmarin.

Bruno is a bear of a man, whose head is invariably plunged deep into an engine. He doesn’t shake hands - they are covered in grease - instead he raps knuckles. He has a collection of lawn mowers, olive harvesting machines and vintage cars, and is obsessed with anything with an engine. He’s a mechanic’s mechanic and so when he offered to sell me a 14 year old BMW at a knock down price and guaranteed the engine for three months, I happily said yes.

I digress, last Monday was a horror of day. Lightning in the combe du Lourmarin, rain like peeing cows (this is an expression my little niece has learnt at French school!) and even at 9 in the morning I needed the lights on the new car full on and the heater blaring. My first meeting went well - another ad sold - and I headed off from Apt towards Cavaillon. I didn’t get far.

The rev counter flared, the engine cut and my new car came to a whimpering halt by the side of the D900. In Lourmarin we always congratulate ourselves that we live on the Mediterranean side of the Luberon. Whenever there is bad weather it’s always worse on the north side. And so it proved. I found myself on a semi-blind bend, with no choice but to get out of the car and slow the onrushing juggernauts. I clutched my mobile in one hand, waved the traffic down with the other, and shut my eyes to thudding hailstones which smacked into my cheeks.

Axa Assistance - the name turned out to be more than a little misleading - answered their phone after twenty minutes, promptly put me through to the Vaucluse call centre, where I was cut off. I tried again, same result. By now it was snowing and I was no nearer rescue. Things then got worse.

On the other side of the road, a white shape moved in the snow. There has been plenty of press in the UK recently about how dogs are pack animals and that the dangerous dogs that attack humans have reverted to wolf like behaviour. I wasn’t worried about that, I was worried that the shape that crept between the trees was actually a wolf. Packs from the Alpes Maritime have been edging closer and closer to the Luberon and sightings in the hills are not that rare. The safety of my car was over 100 metres away. The white shape darted between the traffic and came careering towards me, vaulting the safety barrier, before leaping at my throat.

Then it licked my face with its great big sloppy tongue. So now there were two of us - me and the strange wolf come dog - stranded in a snow storm with our only hope of rescue, the phone operator at Axa Vaucluse deciding that the lengthy line of flashing call waiting lights was more important that his cigarette break.

To be continued…..