Postcard From France: Dear all: Intrepid novelist hits the raod - sans lessons, sans licence

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The landscape of the Mayenne, just below Normandy, is lush and rolling n especially attractive when viewed from the backyard of a second-hand car dealer in the industrial zone of our local town. I spent most of yesterday there, watching the mechanics mend motorcycles, tractors and finally succeed in getting the battery working on my new (second-hand) car.

The best thing about life in France, in my current opinion, is that I, with my 20-year-old driving phobia, have been able to buy a car and drive it. I didn't need driving lessons and I haven't got a licence. It feels like a miracle.

The car is called a sans-permis. Because it's so small and goes at a maximum of 40 kilometres an hour (25mph), its legal status is that of a bike on four wheels. It's automatic and never stalls, simply chugs along until you push the Stop button. A full tank of diesel cost me 20 francs.

I don't care if people laugh at me. It's just what I need for building up my confidence so one day I will actually pass my driving test and use a eeproper' car. I've broken a self-inflicted taboo: I've always been convinced I was an idiot with machines and would never be able to drive.

In London I can travel by bicycle or public transport, but here, where we live for half the year deep in the countryside, you don't go anywhere if you haven't got four wheels.

I do bicycle sometimes, but I've grown lazier. And it's certainly easier to enter a farmyard and cope with the baying free-range guard dogs from inside a car.

I am a coward in the face of these beasts, and the car will be my armour, like Robocop's.

The mechanic who sold me the car asked had I driven before? I lied and said no, for the pleasure of seeing him show no disdain. eeWell,' he said, eeI'll drive you down the road and you drive me back.' He indicated the gear lever: this is Forwards and this is Back.

Tomorrow I shall tootle off to visit my neighbour Madame S at her farm where she raises pigs, to make rillettes for all the family at Christmas. She is no stranger to technology: complex milking machinery, portable telephone on her at all times.

She drives a battered van very fast. She will smile and shrug at my little car, offer me an aperitif, sell me some milk and eggs, instruct me on gardening, restrain her enormous dog while I leap into my voiturette and drive home.

Who knows? Next, I might abandon my cherished typewriter and race into Le Mans to buy a word-processor. I expect I'll find one that's fully automatic and runs on diesel.

(Photograph omitted)

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