I still do not understand. In other countries we can draw a line on a map and go. But this is France, and in France you cannot just go from A to B. You are in a web of roads, and the roads have been built like this.
Each road you go down will meet another traffic island within a kilometre or two, and so you will go from one island to another, with the names appearing and reappearing until you are going crazy. I sometimes delude myself by thinking I am passably bright. The evidence to the contrary in this situation should have become blindingly obvious. But then I’m occasionally quite remarkably stupid, as I now see.
Therefore all this day I am going towards town after town when they disappear from the signposts and I am going round and round an area centred more or less around Tours. I am parched since yesterday’s cup of tea. All I have eaten all day is a small apple for its juice, and the apple is evident deep in my tripes. My mind is echoing stupid dialect again, on and on in mindless banality.
Therefore at darkness I need a hotel. I imagine I can do with fuel, though the gauge is blank all day. I can find no hotel. But there is a notice – “Equitation School has rooms”. So I follow the signs, out of the village for three kms. up around winding tracks to a muddy car-park.
In the welcome warmth and light my hopes are dashed. A girl tells me in an Irish accent they have no rooms. – Then where . . .? She doesn’t know. I stagger back to the car, and switch on, when – horror – the fuel gauge, blank all day, now lights up clearly to show a single bar, and prospect nil.
I can back out and run down the hill, but I have hardly reached a kilometre down the road when the motor coughs into silence and I have to run off the road. It is dry.
I get out and stand in the dark silence. Above there are clouds and some stars. I am three kms. from a village where I have found neither hotel nor garage. And now my tripes and the end of de-tox are demanding my attention, surging.
There is nothing for it. I grab a handful of tissues and head for the wood on the other side of the road. It is deep grass and brambles. As it happens, my surging bowels are unable to desecrate France, and most fortunately so, as I immediately then fall full length on to the intended site. Then, tangled in grass and brambles I fall forwards into it. I am seventy three years old and should be engaged in more constructive things. My laughter is of a bony nature as I pick my way out and return to the car. And what’s the betting that I have lost the – No, the keys are still in my pocket. – But my wallet has gone from the other pocket, with credit-cards, passport, money . . .
I head numbly back in the darkness towards where I was, and at that moment a car comes up the hill and passes. I can see nothing in the darkness. The car has stopped. A man calls. I cannot speak French, even if I could recall au secours. He comes back, a big man in his mid-thirties.
I need light, a torch. He has it in his pocket. He shines it. There is my wallet, open. Face down in the deep grass. I collect it.
I need a hotel. I need petrol, petroleum, gasoline, fuel. He checks my car. Out of fuel. He switches on the flashers and indicates me into his car, turns, and we whirl back into the village. He goes to a garage. Sorry, she is closed. We visit four other garages, all closed. Finally he visits a garage and car-rescue place. He enters and returns smiling. Yes, he is a big chap, farmer perhaps, and he introduces me to the rescue man, who will now help me.
I thank him profusely, and he is on his way. Thank God for such Christians.
The rescue man is a small, powerful dynamo. Erect and dramatic as any Berlioz, he bounces from here to there. He brings out his truck. We roar out to where my car is blinking in the dark. He tilts and winds down the tail of the van platform, bounces hither and thither to attach his chains, winches up my helpless vehicle, and we roar back to his sheds. He sends his cheery young helper for fuel. I pay him – 120 €. 20€ is for the fuel. He phones for a hotel. That is arranged. I am so very grateful.
Mentally I am very relieved, but my urgency is still upon me. Is there a toilet I can use? As I perch there the thought comes to me that sometimes there is no greater act of kindness that one person can do another in need than to lend the use of his toilet.