Cirque des Fees Episode 2!: Nous Sommes En France

So we’ve been on the road for nearly a fortnight now and we’re starting to get a feel for some of the intricacies of life on the move. We’ve only been hassled by the police twice (most recently this morning!) and are yet to get thrown into a French jail for Vagrancy, which can only really be considered a bonus.
When you have two people living in a very over-cluttered van, it becomes necessary to develop tight routines to overcome the more mundane practicalities. It’s all fine and dandy to have a shower in the back, but first we have to remove four large plastic boxes, a bin-bag full of costumes and the hand-crank washing machine which then have to be balanced in the middle of the floor until we can put them back away again. We are becoming like two well-oiled eels on ice-skates; ducking, weaving and slipping seamlessly past each other in the narrow space we inhabit.
For all our adeptness at manoeuvring ourselves inside the van, the woes and troubles which conspired against us in our attempt to leave the UK have continued to haunt us since arriving on the Continent. In France, Monday is a day when almost everything is shut, particularly in a small and rather crap town like Bellac, where we had pulled in late the previous evening. This makes it a rather unfortunate day to discover you have a punctured tyre valve hissing forlornly at you when you try to drive off. But all was not lost, for shortly before leaving England we had extravagantly purchased a Sat-Nav courtesy of Flame’s dad. Her name is Artemis, after the rather bossy but astute talking cat in the Japanese cartoon ‘Sailormoon’ which we are great fans of. Artemis is useful in such scenarios because she tells us where all the local amenities are situated and, after a few no-goers, we found a garage which was actually open. There was already a queue of sorry-looking tourists with broken-down camper-vans in the lobby. I wondered vaguely if the garage kept itself in business by sneaking around town on Sunday night with a penknife letting the air out all the tyres of the vehicles with foreign bumper stickers.
With a mixture of my bad French, Flame drawing diagrams and both of us gesticulating wildly, we managed to explain the problem and thus discovered that the French word for ‘The Valve’ is ‘Le Valve’. Neat, huh? Anyway, it’s an easy problem to mend and the morose mechanic had us fixed up in no time. As we paid out the princely sum of 20 Euros for the privilege, we consoled ourselves with the fact that at least on this occasion we had resolved our problem with the minimum of fuss and were ready to be on the road again before lunchtime.
‘So we just go to that place across the road to put a bit more air in the tyres, then we go?’ Flame suggested.
Then the roof fell off the van.

Sorry, hang on. What happened?

No, you heard me. Then The Roof Fell Off The Van!!!
OK, OK. I admit I am actually exaggerating this point slightly to make the story seem even more terrible than it really was. Quite a lot of the roof actually stayed where roofs traditionally go, on top of the walls. But we have these pop-up air vents, each measuring about 2ft square and we had stupidly neglected to put them down before driving off. As we went under the low canopy at the entrance to the tyre place, one caught against it and ripped straight off leaving a gaping hole exposed to the elements.
With the clouds lowering ominously above and the memory of the torrential downpours we had endured nearly every day for the previous week, we figured we had to do something pretty fast. Retrieving the offending piece of roof and parking next to a wall of about the right height, I gave Flame a leg up.
“Hey!” She called down. “The damn thing was only held on by plastic screws in the first place!” We consulted Artemis who helpfully informed us that the closest open supermarket with a hardware section was 40km away. Driving through the rain with a hole in the roof we naturally got stuck behind the slowest tractor in the entire world which was meticulously spraying horse shit across the surface of the road.
So, about three days later, once we had managed to overtake the tractor, get into town, get lost in the one-way system, find the supermarket, discover that there was a height barrier over the entrance to the car park, park somewhere else, put on our scuba gear, swim to the door of the van to get out and buy some bolts and washers I found myself sitting on the roof with our trusty cordless drill. Which had a flat battery.
“There’s only one thing for it hun,” said Flame as she plugged the battery into the overnight charger and handed me a roll of sellotape.

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