There are many wonderful lines in the film Zulu but one of them in particular sprang to mind today as we headed away from the Languedoc and up to the Auvergne. In Zulu, as the British forces are preparing their defences at Rorke’s Drift, a strange noise is heard in the distance causing Gonville Bromhead, played by the wonderful Michael Caine, to remark, “Damn funny, like a train, in the distance”. The noise was, of course, the sound of about 4,000 Zulu warriors approaching intent on wiping out the defenders.
We had driven north from Loupian, largely on autoroute, and then began tacking across country to Murol about 40kms southwest of Clermont Ferrand [or Clement Freud, as we prefer to know it]. All was going smoothly until we came across some French road works. Well, at least they maintain their roads which is more than I can say for us, these days. A contraflow system was in operation as the road crew covered some nice, fresh, sticky tar with lorry loads of new gravillons [gravel]. We waited as the opposing traffic cleared whereupon it was our turn. We were last in the queue with Guillaume looking reasonably pristine after nearly four weeks on tour.
Eventually it was our turn and our line of traffic began making its way slowly over the freshly completely lane that was opened to us. A cacophony began and, in the towing mirrors, I could see poor ol’ Guillaume being peppered with gravel reaching half way up to the level of his front windows. I was being very cautious and doing only about 20mph/30kmh. Soon we were alone as the leading vehicles had all left us in their wake.
The new road surface went on for what felt like 5kms, though I didn’t measure it. Finally, mercifully, we left the freshly gravelled surface behind and were again driving on a seasoned tarmac surface. It is always an unsettling feeling when ones car makes odd noises whilst driving. Ours now sounded very different. I didn’t actually think I could hear the normal note of the engine or, indeed, the engine at all. I wasn’t losing power and things appeared to be working correctly but there was a drumming noise smothering everything, like a train. I was naturally apprehensive, as was Francine. This strange drumming noise continued for several more kilometres, through a village or two, before it seemed to begin to moderate. Or was that wishful thinking on my part? No, I believed I was now beginning to hear the note of the engine again.
Another kilometre or so and normal service appeared to have resumed. I can only assume that our tyres had been so coated in sticky gravel and that we had been running on stones rather than on Pirelli rubber.
With a little relief, after a few more kilometres, we made it to our campsite in Groire and checked in. Having got Guillaume installed I had as much of a squint as I could beneath the car and could see nothing untoward. Guillaume’s front panels were a different story; they were now spattered in tar and every flat surface and cranny had collected a goodly array of gravillons. I needed to learn that the French for tar is goudron in order to buy some solvent.
Our pitch had an electric hook-up, a branchement, but it was a paltry 5 amps, which brought to mind another film, Apollo 13.
“How much is that?”
“Oh, barely enough to run this coffee pot …”.