Jeremy Clarke Jeremy Clarke

Low life | 19 November 2015

I encountered a single inoffensive pothole between Roscoff and Brignoles — around about the time Tennessee Williams finally lost his virginity

The car: a ’06 rosso red Seat Ibiza 1.9 TDI Sport, bought three weeks ago from a man who had bought the car from the Stig’s mum. If the Stig, with all his motoring experience, had carefully chosen the car for his dear old mum, it was an inspired choice. For an inexpensive, inoffensive-looking little two-door saloon, it is wonderfully quick. The route: from the north-western French port of Roscoff, in the socialist department of Finistère, down to Brignoles, the far-right, pied-noir capital of Provence; a 1,300-kilometre diagonal from the top left of the country to the bottom right. The in-car entertainment: ten CDs of smoky-voiced US southern-belle actress Elizabeth Ashley reading Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, John Lahr’s biography of Tennessee Williams, her voice becoming hoarser with each successive CD. Travelling time, as computed by the satnav: 11 hours 53 minutes.

I drove it in one go, stopping only for diesel and double espressos. My chosen satnav voice: a sensible, optimistic young man from New Zealand who advised me at every plausible, and sometimes implausible, opportunity to ‘grab our jandals and go and look for some steak and cheese pie’. The unmitigated contempt in his voice when warning of an imminent toll charge was a joy. The drugs: the aforementioned caffeine and Modafinil, 150mgs, which in combination kept me alert and interested throughout, with only mild hallucinations disturbing my peripheral vision after Avignon.

Observations. There isn’t half the traffic on French roads as there is on Britain’s. It’s like driving in the 1970s. Also, the French don’t spend half as much money on their cars as we do, and they spend it patriotically. Eight out of every ten vehicles were compact or mid-range Renaults or Citroëns. But the French are faster and more aggressive drivers than we are.

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