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Tuesday, June 26, 2012
The list of requirements from French roads can weigh heavy on the tourist’s mind...and car
For anyone who has opted to take the family on a holiday to France by car, packing all the bits and bobs for a fortnight self-catering can be a task only for the mathematical genius.
Quite how you cram in sufficient equipment into the space of a modest family car, and still find room for children is a feat only for the brave.
By the time you have shoved the final bag onto the lap of a complaining child (who is already resting their head on a camp stove/pillow) and pondered whether you could actually fit something by the feet of the driver without guaranteeing a high-speed death, you set off down your street spraying sparks where the frame of the car has slumped so dramatically due to the increased load as to be scraping along the road.
Of course, you’d like to think as families across the UK crowd on to ferries and cough up a small fortune to drive on the fabulously clear toll roads in pursuit of that elusive few days of sun, the French authorities would look to give you a helping hand.
To ease the financial burden in these troubled economic times.
Unfortunately, it seems that the required list of things needed in each and every tourist car as it enters France these days may mean the smallest member of the family find themselves turfed out of that over-loaded car and left tearful on the side of the street before you bid farewell to your home.
For years, motorists have wiled away the time stuck in the queue waiting for the ferry by working out how on earth to stick on those black strips to prevent dazzling our cross-Channel cousins who insist on driving on the wrong side of the road at night.
It was something all men would do. Until they got stuck and called on female assistance.
But now there is far more required than headlamp strips and a GB sticker.
First, of course, there was the box of replacement bulbs. Quite aside from the fact I am not sure anyone has ever spent their holiday time replacing a rear brake light bulb, modern cars today make such an apparently simple bit of car DIY a task which requires an advanced mechanics qualification.
Where once you just pulled the bit off the back to access the bulbs, today car manufacturers revel in making it nigh-on impossible for anyone other than those who work on cars for a living, to work out exactly how to access the things.
Then, of course, there is the red triangle. Not, to all adults eternal regret, a requirement akin to those Channel 4 films many moons ago, but so if you do break down the ten-tonne juggernaut bearing down on you can be slowed slightly as it collides with that before ploughing into the back of your car.
OK, maybe I’m being unkind; they are, after all, actually quite handy.
And in truth, ‘quite handy’ can be applied to most of the things now required.
But the list grows. A few years ago everyone was told you had to pack bright fluorescent jackets for everyone to wear in the event of you being left stood on the hard-shoulder of a French motorway.
Again, sensible, but, again, meaning you have to throw something out of that over-loaded car to fit them in. Who needs that emergency pack of nappies anyway – just tell the baby to hold it all in.
And now we are told we must all buy a DIY breathalyser and keep it in the cars at all times.
Granted, they don’t take up acres of space, but you can bet your bottom dollar that the phrase ‘competitively priced’ will not be one applied by the ferry companies as they drop a leaflet through your car window informing you that you can buy all the things you forgot to conform with French road laws in their shop. For roughly half the price of the holiday itself.
The breathalyser, however, is surely only going to be used for one thing. With the kids in bed and the adults knocking back a few bottles of cheap French plonk (and absolutely no plans to use the car), the temptation will be to see exactly how high above the legal limit you are come about midnight.
Which means by, oh, say day two, you’ll no longer have this legal requirement. Unless, of course, you’re very sensible.
And if you’re that sensible, the chances are you’ll have decided it’s far easier to fly than drive.