Clara had spluttered and died twice now. Yes she had eventually restarted, but she now sounded like an old noisy tank. Enough was enough; we’d called our European breakdown people, who had calmly informed us that everything would be absolutely fine. On the Monday morning I had another call from Mr Calm, who told us a breakdown truck was on it’s way. They would take Clara away, assess the situation and the insurance company would make all the necessary arrangements…
‘Do we need to go with the vehicle to the garage?’ I asked.
‘No. We will deal with all of this for you.’
‘What if we lose our campervan? It’s our home. It’s where we sleep, where we cook, where we keep our food.’
‘It’s fine. We’ll sort that out for you if it comes to that.’
Mr Calm then went away. Leaving us to frantically unpack the contents of Clara, which were somehow squeezed into our awning. We then waited for the truck to arrive, while contemplating our options. We were about as remote as it gets in Brittanny. Brasparts had one restaurant, one shop, a church and a coiffeur (they all had a coiffeur!!!). The chance of an emergency hotel was hugely slim. The nearest was probably bloody miles away. And what about all the food we had, squashed into cool-bags?
When monsieur Mechanic arrived he instantly told us that Clara’s noisy échappement was at fault. We suspected as much. Our healthy knowledge of French engine parts was growing every year Monsieur Mechanic informed us that Clara would be perfectly OK to drive to his garage and in hindsight, I’m so glad he said this.
Things could have been so much worse on this holiday, they really could. At times they were spectacularly shite, but other times we did fall on our feet a little. Taking Clara to the garage ourselves was one of those times. A garage that was literally across the road from the Intermarché we’d noisily driven to in Pleyben a few days ago. Speaking to the garage ourselves was a huge bonus. Being able to actually speak fairly decent French gave us many brownie points, or whatever the French equivalent is. My contribution was basically just smiling, shrugging my shoulders and saying ‘l’échappement est très bruyant,’ a sentence I’d learnt on the drive to the garage. My multi-lingual wife thankfully did most of the talking
The garage told us they’d give us a call once they’d had a look at Clara. And to get us back to our campsite, we were given the keys to a rather weather-worn Peugeot Partner. It wasn’t the best car we’d ever been in, by a long way. The top of the gear knob was on the floor by my feet, Tracy’s driving was spectacular, but at least we did have a vehicle. If Clara had been towed to the garage, as the insurance guy had said, we’d be stuck in a farmer’s field with no home and no transport. After a pleasant lunch in Pleyben we returned to our remote little campsite. We had a plan.
La Ferme de Tuchennou was a tiny remote little campsite, with very limited amenities, but it did have three little holiday homes on it’s site. One was available and if need be, we could use it tonight. All we needed was to hear from the garage or our insurance company. We waited…
At around 7.00PM we’d still heard nothing, so I called the insurance company. I wont relay our entire conversation, as it went on rather a long time. The gist of our little chat was basically this. The insurance company had failed to speak to the garage, who were now closed. Whether anyone was going to call to tell us this, I highly doubt!!! Our policy now gave us two options; a) We could be towed back home and our holiday would end, or b) We could get overnight accommodation & a meal.
‘Well we’d like the accommodation and meal please. We’ve even found our own accommodation for you.’
‘If you do use that option, you can’t then use the first option if you need a tow home.’
‘If we sort out your accommodation tonight and then the garage say they can’t repair your vehicle, you wont be able to use the other option.’
‘So because you’ve not spoken to our garage, you want me to try and guess what’s the matter with my campervan? And if I guess incorrectly we might not be able to get home?’
I might’ve started to swear at this point, I can’t really remember. I know the conversation went on and on, without any real resolution. In the end we decided to pay for our own accommodation, with a view to claiming it back later. It was getting really late now. We were all really tired, really hungry and in desperate need of some wine. By the time we’d de-camped into the holiday home it was stupidly late, we were stupidly tired and almost beyond hunger.
A hastily cobbled together packet of macaroni cheese was about all we had the energy to cook. It was basically cheese soup Sawyer practically fell asleep whilst still eating. A few hours later he was throwing up with a suspected migraine. As days go, this had been a fairly shitty one.
Tuesday arrived and I resumed my rant with our insurance company, who again had failed to call us..
‘We’ll have news within the hour and will call you straight back,’ said Mr Calm.
Unsurprisingly they never called, so we decided to take our Peugeot Partner out for the day. We were slowly growing quite fond of our quirky new car. By mid afternoon, just after we’d finished our beers, the garage called (not the insurance company), to say that Clara was all repaired. So it was back to Pleyben.
Our repaired échappement cost us a very reasonable €50, which I’m sure was partly due to us taking Clara ourselves and being able to speak the language. The cheery garage lady handed me Clara’s keys and asked me a question. I smiled and she repeated the question a little slower this time. With no clue as to what she’d just asked me I said, ‘‘l’échappement n’est pas bruyant,’ which was true, but I’m not entirely sure answered her question. Eventually with many bon voyages, we quietly drove Clara out of Pleyben and back to our campsite.
Tomorrow we were heading south to our beach-side campsite at Bénodet. Clara was fixed (we hoped), we’d already decided to keep our holiday-home for one more night (just to make life easier) and all was good. Today had been a better day
The following morning I didn’t feel so good. Nothing that I could specifically pin-point, apart from just being hugely anxious about driving Clara again. We packed and whilst paying for our temporary holiday-home I got a call from our insurance company…
‘Hi. I’m trying to sort out your breakdown claim and get it resolved as quickly as possible for you. Could you tell me where your vehicle is please.’
‘I’m trying to locate your vehicle, to find out when it will be repaired.’
‘We have our vehicle. It’s been repaired.’
‘Oh… We’ve not been able to speak with the garage.’
‘Really? The garage rang us.’
‘What garage have you been trying to contact?’
‘Erm… We don’t have a name. Just a number.’
‘You don’t know the name of the garage? Finding the garage was the one and only thing that you actually did. And you still don’t know the name of it?’
All priceless information for the lengthy complaint letter that would follow
Brasparts to Bénodet was just under an hours drive away. In the grand scheme of things, this wasn’t a massive drive at all. So why was I so worried? Or was I now permanently scarred by all the other Clara incidents we’d had? Her exhaust certainly sounded a lot better, but what about the spluttering and dying problem? Had that been exhaust related too?
We hit the road south. At every junction I was fearful of Clara conking out, which thankfully she never did. We arrived at the rather swanky, all singing all dancing, Camping du Letty without any issues at all. Tracy disappeared into the reception, while Sawyer and I stayed in Clara, with her engine running, just to be on the safe side.
This campsite was a polar opposite to our previous one. Sat in Clara outside the busy reception, I could see a bar, a take-away restaurant, a launderette, a supermarket, a swimming pool, an internet cafe, a TV room and people; lots of people absolutely everywhere. Last week we’d had a field with four fellow campers. This week would be very different indeed… Clara then decided to splutter and die
This was almost as low as it got for me. The lowest point, by far, was about to come. The ever prepared and ever so jolly staff at Camping du Letty seemed totally at ease with Clara breaking down, right outside their busy reception.
‘We’ll tow you onto your pitch. It’ll be fine,’ our smiley girl told us.
Moments later a tractor arrived Clara was tethered to the back of the tractor and I was asked to steer and brake when necessary. Now I’ve no real idea how many hundred camping pitches there are at Camping du Letty, or how many acres of land the massive site covers. All I know is that our pitch was towards the back and a long way from the reception. I sat behind the wheel of our fucking flowery bastard campervan (her new name!), while a tractor pulled me past all the other campers. Talk about making a grand entrance!!!
This is probably an ideal time to introduce Andre and Jane. A really lovely couple, who we got to know rather well over the next week. They were camping on the pitch opposite to ours. Our kids all got on really nicely, we drank way too much wine together and generally had a fun entertaining time with them. But it didn’t really get off to the best of starts.
Me, Clara and the tractor turned into our camping bay. Tracy, Sawyer and our smiling girl from reception followed on foot. Andre has since told me that Clara’s spectacular arrival was the highlight of his holiday. It was easily the lowest point of mine. Andre said something rather witty to me as I crawled past and apparently I ‘gave him a look.’ I didn’t even know I was capable of that. Clara and I have fallen out many times before. It usually only lasts a few days. This time it just felt a little more permanent and I was clearly in no mood for jokes.
Andre then helped to push Clara into position, which adds him to the ever growing list of friendly people who’ve pushed Clara since we’ve owned her. At some point I may add all these names to Clara’s rear bumper, if it’s big enough to fit all the names on it!!!
As far as Clara is concerned, we had no other issues for the rest of our holiday. Largely because we (or mainly I) stubbornly refused to drive her anywhere. And to be honest, we didn’t really need to. The campsite had pretty much everything, the beach was literally a two minute walk away and we had lots of lovely fellow campers in the same bay as us. The only thing we really lacked was a decent supermarket, as the one on site was a little limited. We did attempt to walk to the nearest one, but almost died of heat exhaustion Thankfully Andre offered to pick up any essentials that we needed, as well as constantly feeding us with langoustines.
The other bonus of our week in Bénodet, was having family staying in the same town. A campsite, probably even bigger than ours, on the edge of Bénodet. They came and sampled our beach one day, we went and sampled their campsite another day. It was lovely. Sawyer stayed over with his cousins, while Tracy and I staggered back home after lots of wine and beer. Our week in Bénodet was lovely. A whole week without having to worry about our stupid fucking flowery campervan.
To be fair, I think other people were more concerned than we were. I had started her every day, just to make sure. I’d also fitted a new fuel filter, just because I like getting covered with petrol But apart from that, we’d happily just ignored Clara for the entire week. If she broke down on the way home, then so be it. I’d just call our shitty insurance company and get them to tow us home. Hell, with Clara being so uneconomical on fuel, it would probably save us a fortune getting towed home
As I’ve already said, Clara didn’t fail us again and boy, did she have ample opportunities to do so. We waved farewell to our newfound friends and drove north towards Roscoff. Clara was absolutely fine. The following morning we boarded our ferry back to Plymouth. Back in the UK it then took us about eight painful hours of accident riddled driving to get home. The M5 was truly horrendous and we were constantly stopping and starting, which in the past, would have been Prime Clara Breakdown Territory. But not today…
So why can we drive for eight shitty hours without an issue, yet as soon as we travel a few bloody miles en français, all hell breaks loose??? Answers on a postcard please…
So there you have it… Will we take Clara abroad again? Absolutely not. Will we change our minds? Quite possibly. But the flights are already booked for 2017