Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Article excerpt

French supermarket cashiers won't be hurried. Nor will their customers, many of whom seem caught out by a bill at the end, then laboriously write out a cheque. This might be a contrarian French anti-capitalist attitude ('no, Monsieur: time is not money'), which is wholly admirable, of course, except when I'm in a tearing hurry and waiting to pay. While the pensioner in front of me fruitlessly riffled through her handbag for her chequebook for the third time, I stared out of the window and was instantly rewarded by the sight of a Fiat reversing into the rear of a parked Citroën. Wallop!

The drivers leapt out to view the damage, which was negligible, apparently. The driver of the Fiat was a small middle-class woman: the owner of the parked Citroën a big hairy farmer type wearing a sweat-stained vest. They then struck up a friendly conversation that was, I think, unrelated to the collision. The farmer expressed himself gracefully and expressively with huge hands. The woman stood close to him and looked pleasantly up into his earnest face. A happy ending.

The chequebook was located in a secret pocket; the cheque inscribed and presented to the cashier. I paid for my bottle of gin and two lemons in hard cash, carried them out to my car, started up and reversed -- bang -- into the side of the Citroën as it headed for the car-park exit. Farmer Flingshit got out, I got out, and together we inspected the damage to his door. I was frightfully apologetic. Fortunately, his door had numerous other dents and it was unclear which was mine. He opened and closed the door twice to see if it was still aligned. Satisfied, he said, 'Ça va,' and dismissed the incident with an underarm pétanque bowl in the general direction of an inscrutable future. I got back into the car and drove away loving him and his country.

The next day I flew back to England. My friend Charlie rang up. Charlie is a petrolhead and owns numerous cars, some of them bargains sniffed out on eBay. Did I want to borrow a car to use while I was back in the UK? I could have the Renault Clio again, he said. He bought it ten years ago for a couple of hundred quid and has never spent any money on it. …

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