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The Wiki Man

The Wiki Man

Rory Sutherland's fortnightly column on technology and the web

25 June 2008

12:00 AM

25 June 2008

12:00 AM

Once again it’s the time of year when Spectator readers start loading up their cars with Andrex, Gentleman’s Relish and Marmite in anticipation of the annual drive to France.

Do I have any advice to give? Unsurprisingly I do.

For the first hour across the Channel, I quite like to listen to Nostalgie FM. This is a French Oldies station unintentionally rendered hilarious by some French law (probably by J. Toubon) which requires a proportion of songs on French radio to be sung in French. Hence for the first 50 miles of the A10 you can amuse yourself with classics such as:


Son petit itsy bitsy teenie weenie tout petit petit bikini
Qu’elle mettait pour la première fois
Un itsy bitsy teenie weenie tout petit petit bikini
Un bikini rouge et jaune à petit pois
Un, deux, trois… voilà ce qui arriva….

After an hour, though, this may begin to lose its appeal, and you start to miss Radio 4. So it’s a good idea to have one of those little £20 widgets (the ones by Kensington work well) which let your iPod broadcast to your car radio on a spare FM frequency, having topped up your iPod with a few podcasts or audiobooks first. (My current favourite podcasts are the Oxford Biographies series recorded by the DNB. These 12-minute spoken biographies are a delight, with subjects seemingly picked at random. This leads to bizarre juxtapositions in the style of the Biography Channel: ‘Up soon it’s a profile of the Duchess of Kent, but first a real treat in store with the life of Ted Bundy.’)

What else? I don’t know if you’ve ever used those premium text services where for around £1 you can text any question to a premium number (66000 in the case of Texperts) and receive an answer in a few minutes. Well, to my surprise, the same premium numbers work overseas, where the service comes into its own. Suddenly you can get instant answers to pressing questions like ‘Are there any petrol stations in Perpignan that don’t close in August?’ or ‘How many of the people with Ecosse stickers on their cars are actually Scottish, as opposed to just cowards?’

One last suggestion. On French motorways, in a right-hand-drive car, it is especially useful to have a Liber-T télépeage badge to avoid walking round your car to hand over your cash at every single gare de péage, to scowls from the Frenchman in the car behind. Having a télépeage badge on a British-registered car also adds a new element of amusement to your drive. Wrongly assuming that foreigners cannot get them, French drivers seeing a British car driving into the télépeage lane think you are some idiot rosbif about to block the lane for the next five minutes; you then have the fun of watching the cars behind you swerving violently and peeling off in a kind of Red Arrows formation as you effortlessly sail on straight through.

For a long time these badges were only available with a French bank account. However I can exclusively reveal to Spectator readers a website where you can order a badge with a UK address and credit card. http://snipurl.com/telepeage is a shortcut to the order page. The E2 monthly charge only applies in months when you use the service.

Rory Sutherland is vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK.


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