07 June 2007

Plus ça change…

Rosie, the bearded collie

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Sell dog food, make lots of lovely money and cut back on caring for dogs. Just take the easy ones. After all, you can go out to dinner and leave a load of dog food in the cupboard but you can’t leave other people’s dogs alone in the house. It was an attempt to get back to a slightly more normal life, perhaps give me the opportunity to socialise more than I have over the last 10 years. Even go away a little more.

I shouldn’t complain. I’m lucky enough to live in a beautiful place and I love dogs but I’m getting older. I’m forever turning down invitations and most importantly, I keep promising myself I’ll find the time to write ‘my book’, so the dog food idea seemed the way to go. Give myself a little freedom.

And it went well. Amazingly well. Orders and re-orders came in – the suppliers were delighted. I even got a gift after I’d sold my first 500 kilos, but it simply wasn’t worth it in terms of the work/money ratio. For every 100 euros worth of dog food I sold, I had to first of all buy it, then pay 24.50 euros in social charges to the French government, which left around 10 – 15 euros profit before petrol, advertising, printing. All that lugging, all that paperwork – and I hate paperwork. It wasn’t worth it. Looking after dogs, even if it was hard to get away from the house, was easier. I was better off to be more selective in the dogs I take, not so many who yap endlessly, preferential treatment to oldies who lie about all day, puppies probably a no-no. Ease up, ease up.

I’m still recommending Arden Grange dog food – I so believe in it. But it wasn’t on to be working so hard for so little and giving myself even less time to do what I wanted to do. Friends say that France’s new President, Monsieur Sarkozy, may try and make life easier for small businesses, micro-enterprises like mine, but hey, I’m not holding my breath and I’m not prepared to wait.

As you may recall, I ordered a new car specifically for this new venture. Couldn’t be making deliveries to Monte Carlo in my battered old car – after all, got to look the part. Well it arrived at the dealership the day before I left for the Euro-OES-Show in the Vosges, northeastern France. I collected it the day after I got back. [I’ll write about the show in the next posting.]
The last car was 16 years old and I loved it. Yes, it looked battered but it was easy to drive and to understand. Frankly you’d need to go back to university to understand all the bells and whistles on this Golf Plus. There are 8 tiny buttons on the steering wheel alone – like you’ve got time to look at them whilst you are driving. One is to turn the volume of the radio higher, another to lower it. I haven’t investigated the other six yet. What’s wrong with reaching across and turning the knob on the radio itself? It took me an hour to find out how to open the cap to fill the car with diesel. Christophe, who sold me the car – a charmer, of course - handed me the 4-inch thick manual and told me to go away and learn it by heart. Huh! It’s in French, natch.

So I drove home and adored the car – responsive, powerful, it felt safe. I loved that I could sit ‘high’ – I’m only a titch for those who don’t know me. I loved it till I got home, that is.
Normally I reverse down my steep track. I’m so used to it now and it’s easier than turning in the small parking area half way down. I live down a dead-end track so can’t drive down and turn around. Often, in my old car, when I reversed down, I’d go wrong and have to drive up a little to correct the descent. Naturally, I went wrong in the new car and so I knew I needed to drive up a bit and get myself in the right position to carry on down. My track is not only steep but slightly windy too. So, as per usual I changed from Reverse to Drive and bugger me, the car continued to roll back down the track and nearly hit a stone wall. I grabbed the handbrake at the same time as I stuck my foot on the footbrake and just saved the situation. This wasn’t supposed to happen! The Rover, if you changed from Reverse to Drive, ‘held’ in Drive on the steep track. The Golf didn’t. Now, you should know that the whole reason I ordered an automatic car is that I have an arthritic neck and shoulder on the right side (caused by a stupid accident yonks ago) and this is the arm/hand that has to grab a handbrake. I can’t do it. Eventually, though, it was parked and next day I had a few more goes with it to be sure I’d not made a mistake. No. Every time I put the car into Drive it wouldn’t hold on the slope – it rolled back. Equally if I was facing downhill and tried Reversing, it continued forward. I needed to use throttle and the handbrake at the same time and I simply wasn’t used to this. I was cross. Very cross.

Back to the Volkswagen Garage and the dishy Christophe. I wanted him to see the problem. He hadn’t told me the Golf wouldn’t hold on a hill, so there had to be something wrong with it. There is a slope – quite a steep slope – down to the VW garage. He drove up the slope in Drive, stopping it with the foot brake and then letting go to see if it would hold, it didn’t. Ha! I thought. Now he sees it and it will get fixed. But he got out of the car and said, ‘ C’est comme ça.’ Very French, Christophe, but that won’t do. He offered to get the technicians to look at it but insisted, ‘that’s how it is.’ The French love saying: c’est comme ça. He then said I could rectify the situation by using the brake with my left foot and accelerating with the right – i.e. just like a manual car. ‘I don’t want a manual car! It’s not what I bloody well ordered.’ So I said ‘Right, take the car back. Give me my money back. I’ll start again elsewhere. I need a car that will hold on hills.’
Christophe looked at me askance. Funny word ‘askance.’ I don’t believe I’ve used it before. Obviously been reading too many bad novels. I digress…. So he said he’d call the manager and out came a nasty piece of work, Monsieur Nasty-I’m- Going-To-Intimidate-You. Aggressive, rude, got into the car, very angry – said of course I must use the handbrake. That’s how you start the car. That’s how you use it. What an idiot I am, except he didn’t say that but obviously implied it. I told him my Rover held in Drive on ANY hill and he said he didn’t know about Rovers but that Golfs are ‘comme ça.’ Since that day, speaking to friends, I know other automatics do indeed hold on hills. So put that in votre pipe and smoke it, Monsieur Manager of Volkswagen Motors, Menton.
At this time I’d got one of the worst sore throats I’ve ever had. The drive back from the Euroshow the day before had been hellish – snow at the entrance to the Gotthard tunnel, rain for 8 hours of the 10-hour journey, I wasn’t at my best. So, anyway, I drove away with the car, not a happy camper but thinking he must be right. After all, I’m a mere woman and women don’t know about cars, do they?
On the way home I had to stop at the pharmacie to get some medication for my throat. The pharmacy on the route de Gorbio is tucked away and it’s always tricky to park. I wasn’t about to try with so little confidence in my ability to drive this car. So I drove up the steep road alongside it, sure I could find somewhere easy to turn around and be facing the right direction to drive away again. I couldn’t. In the end I had to turn in the tiniest space, the car rolled forward – of course. I heard a horrible noise, dammit to hell, I’d bashed the front of it. Damn! Excuse my French. I’d had the car two days and now it’s bashed. Oh grrrrrrrrr. Now I can’t even change it if I wanted to. Oh grrrrrr a thousand times. My new car is dented in front because it doesn't hold on steep hills and why the hell would anyone (thank you, Christophe and Monsieur Nasty) sell such a car to people (little ol’ me) in the Alpes – goddam – Maritimes which, let’s face it, is nothing but steep hills?
Eventually I got home and decided to ring David, who with his wife, Pamela, is the owner of Rosie, the bearded collie, who comes to stay at Pension Milou. David and Pam are fabulous people and always look out for me. He seems to know everything about most things and what luck, he had a good relationship with a VW garage in the UK. And further good luck, David told me when he phoned back, the guy in England had exactly the same model Golf Plus as me. ‘Drive your car up to the top of your track,’ he said – ‘so you’ve room if the car falls back. With the handbrake on and your foot on the brake, put the car into Drive. Let go of the brake and handbrake and the car should fall back just a few inches and then it will lock.’ He told me if it fell back more than that, something was wrong. I did all this. The car rolled back 6 feet before I jammed on the brake and grabbed the handbrake. I called him back. ‘Leave it with me,’ he said. Sometimes I wonder what I’d do without friends like David and Pamela. He called back about 10 minutes later. His contact at VW in the UK had got in touch with the technicians and word came back, the Golf Plus won’t hold on a hill that has a steeper gradient than 5%.
So now we know. I waded thru the manual and there it was on page 149 - …’un déclivité d’au moins 5%.’ That was it. Nothing was wrong with the car at all, but I should have been told. God knows, this part of France is all hills. How stupid. Christophe really should have told me this except I honestly don’t think he’d thought about it or even knew. See how I trust car salesmen. David said he thought I’d get used to the handbrake. He also told me that whilst it was hard on my neck and shoulder at the moment, the hand brake would gradually ‘bed in,’ whatever that meant and that it wouldn’t be as difficult for my bad arm as starting in a car with a manual gear shift.

I persevered. Now I can do a hill start like a pro. The car positively purrs as it gently takes off. I still can’t do a turn on a slope. Bugger that for a lark. I reverse down, not as advised looking in the side mirrors, though. My brain won’t work looking at something that is back to front it seem to me. I lean out of the window, will get wet on rainy days, but tant pis, it’ll be okay.
I reckon this nonsense of the car not 'holding' on more than a minor slope is a major design fault but then I really know about cars, as you’ll gather. It seems it relates to the weight of the car. Of course it’s all those gizmos and gadgets. Keep it simple, stupid. Keep the weight down and the car might work. No matter, I’m stuck with it but I’m getting used to it and the good of the car – and it IS a super car – makes up for these early disadvantages.

So, here I am with a posh new car, a bashed front fender and no dog food to lug about.
Life goes on. Plus ça change…plus c'est la même chose.


poody said...

good to know for me too because I wanted to get a VW too. I love in a hilly part of texas and this is just stupid! Why would you build a car that doesn't hold? STUPID! I am gonna stick with the Subaru!

angela said...

Oh what a shame, Jilly. and of course you're right VW shouldn't be selling Golfs here without informing buyers that the car won't hold because most places are on hills here.

I'm sad to hear about the dog food too though am keeping my fingers crossed that our new president will bring in measures to encourage small businesses.
On the plus side isn't it marvellous to have friends you can call on...

Anonymous said...

Wonderful story Jilly, frustrating though it must have been for you. I felt that I was reading a novel with a VW with dog but no dog food, as the main character. Your book will be fantastic when you find time to write it! I just love all the dogs and their stories. I particularly loved the story of the silver dish and the Limoges plate of dog food on the terrace - hilarious.

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