The third of March isn’t a good day for Daggs. Three years ago on this day Chris was bitten by a fox when he and Benj were trying to release it from a snare. We went to see the doctor who was convinced that Chris would have to go through the six-month programme of extremely unpleasant anti-rabies injections. Luckily he eventually found out from the national rabies centre, or something similar, that the Boussac area wasn’t a hotbed of la rage, so a tetanus jab and some antibiotics would do. However, Chris is decidedly less fond of foxes than he used to be.

Val du Cher services

Today it was my turn for the third of March unfortunate event. Are you sitting comfortably? Cup of tea or coffee, or glass of wine by your side? Then I’ll begin.

Caiti and I were en route for Angers to visit the university there. It was having its JPO (open day). We stopped at services just outside Tours, and slightly more than an hour away from Angers. I’d ended up in the lorry parking section, like quite a few other cars, since the signage for the car parking area was less than helpful. Anyway, we shared a Twix and a cappuccino and then went back to the car. I started the engine and a ‘steering fault’ warning came up. The power-assisted steering had stopped working. Fortunately I’m good with machines. I knew what to do. I turned the engine off, and then turned it on again. Strangely that didn’t solve the problem. I tried a few more times. I got out of the car and looked at it for a while. But still the fault persisted. We phoned Chris for advice. He undertook to look up on the Internet about possible causes of the problem. We worked our way through the manual but nothing fit the symptoms. I reversed and drove forwards again in our lorry space and managed to get the wheels to turn a little but the car obviously wasn’t drivable. Chris came up with nothing so we rang GAN, the insurance company. We have breakdown cover and finally we were calling upon it.

Mélanie was very helpful and patient. She didn’t mind that I had to get out of the car to go and find out what the registration number was when she asked for it. Well, it’s Chris’s car! She gave us a dossier number and then explained that, since we were at motorway services that technically counted as a breakdown on the motorway, so the next thing we had to do was call 17. I relayed that to Caiti.

“But that’s the police!” she cried in alarm.

It was a truck like this that rescued us

I had an idea it was but, reluctant as I was to poke a sleeping policeman, that’s what I had to do. The gendarme I spoke to was confused for a while (my French reverts to babyhood whenever I’m stressed and ‘my power assisting has failed at a motorway service station’ isn’t something they teach you at school, but really, really should be). But eventually we sorted out what was going on and he put me through to depannage (breakdown) central. That lady hadn’t heard of the only set of services of the A85 but I was able to persuade her they existed and after a while she came round to my point of view and arranged for someone to come and see us within half an hour. This was a French half an hour, so closer to a full sixty minutes, but I was grateful for any help at all. There wasn’t much I could do about it anyway!

The breakdown guy rang to ask what the problem with la direction (the steering) was, but other than telling him elle ne marche pas (it’s not working), I couldn’t give him any further clues. A big Renault breakdown truck rolled up sometime later. Parking in the lorry section had been a fortuitous move on my part because this thing needed room to maneouvre. The mechanic started the car and then checked out the engine and various fuses. He drove it backwards and forwards a bit too, but no miracle cure. So he loaded the car up onto the truck, a sight which was enjoyed by all the other motorists around. I’d have enjoyed it too if it hadn’t been my car in the starring role. I wanted to take a photo of the car being winched up, but Caiti hissed and looked daggers at me, and I remembered how self-conscious teenagers could be, so desisted. Shame. Off we went to the Renault garage at Faverolles sur Cher. This was my first ride in a breakdown truck in thirty years of driving.

The Faverolles garage in the background - plus working black Scenic, not ours!

Have you ever noticed those little roads that lead off the autoroutes with barriers across them? They’re breakdown vehicle access points and we went to go up one. Yay! (I know, I lead a sheltered life.) We got to the very closed garage after about twenty minutes and the mechanic opened everything up for us and even turned on the central heating. Within half an hour he was able to tell us that the problem wasn’t something he could fix there and then. The electric motor that controls the power steering had broken. He’d have to order parts in on Monday and the car would be ready Wednesday or Thursday. That was a sinking heart moment, but our breakdown cover includes getting passengers home. Melanie got organising again. Our offered options were initially train, hire car or taxi. But Melanie soon narrowed those down to one, since there were no trains anywhere near either our departure or arrivals point and she couldn’t find any hire car places that were open. So another French half hour later our taxi rolled up, driven by an elderly lady. She was very pleasant and apart from gluing herself to the bumper of the car in front, a very careful driver. Two hours later we were home.

So, Caiti didn’t get to see the fac at Angers. That’s a pity because it looks like a very nice university. Maybe we’ll go and have a look midweek when we go up to collect the car. Our insurance covers the cost of the rescue trip so that’s a help. I can’t fault GAN. Mélanie took great care of us today.

The hunt for a new car will have to begin. The Renault is the flagship of the Dagg fleet of means of transport. OK, it’s seven years old now, has taken some dings in carparks (a hazard in France) and a pounding from golf ball size hailstones, is starting to rattle and one of the door trims has fallen off, but up to now it’s been the reliable, failsafe car. My ten-year-old legally roadworthy Stilo has a temperamental dashboard and other than that car, we’re down to two wheeled transport. The scooter has hit the deck a couple of times, and our assortment of bikes includes two that are more than twenty-five years old, but also a couple of last year’s models. Being rural dwellers in a public transport deprived area we need a dependable car so I think the time has come to tighten our belts and invest in a small left-hand drive vehicle. It’ll be fun looking around.

And now, if you don’t mind, I shall go and collapse. My nerves are in tatters!

PS I’m being a bit dramatic. The third of March isn’t all bad because it’s Lulin the llama’s birthday. She arrived the same day as Chris had his fox incident!