Jeremy Clarke Jeremy Clarke

Why French car-boot sales are good for my mental health

It is refreshing and enlivening to be among the poor for a change

Credit: Sophie Walster

Hairpin bends in a stony forest. Downhill. Steep, then steeper. Smooth frictionless tarmac. I’ve got the car barely under control. A narrow bridge over a ravine. Single file only. A van hurtling uphill. A recessed drain — unavoidable. Bang, crash, wallop. The car continues but feels mortally wounded. We limp to a passing place 50 yards further down the hill and I cut the engine.

I get out and inspect the damage. A back tyre is as flat as a dab. It’s not my car. I open the boot hoping to uncover the requisite tools and spare wheel. Jack, spare wheel, warning triangle — present. Excellent. Wheel brace? Unfortunately not. Bugger. Phone signal? One bar. From time to time.

I call Michael, a neighbour. A French ring tone, then his voice. Thank the Lord. Could he possibly drive out here, bringing a wheel brace? Unfortunately Michael is stoned. ‘I’m stoned,’ he says. ‘I’ve got my feet up and I’m watching the Tour de France. This 21-year-old Slovenian guy has just come from absolutely nowhere and taken the lead. Astonishing.’ But could he possibly get in his car and bring a wheel brace? ‘Well, I need to have a cup of tea first and straighten myself out a bit. Where are you?’ I tell him I’m about a mile beyond the paddocks with the blindfolded horses. He knows them. Says he’ll be there in about half an hour.

The shady woods are quiet and cool. I can hear burbling partridges and a babbling brook. A car stops precipitously. A young man, short hair, and his girlfriend. Perhaps his sister. These are the very opposite of stoned. They jump out exuding capability, dynamic motion and an unwavering belief in the reality of appearances. ‘No nut spanner,’ I say sadly.

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