Donald MacInnes: Expert advice is a definite perk of this job

In The Red

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The Independent Online

There are times when working for this news organisation brings concrete advantages. The most obvious, probably, is never having to write captions for Page 3 pictures.

Having in the past worked for newspapers which featured such editorial content and been asked to write little bits of prose about whichever model was on the page, I assure you I know what I'm talking about. (Actually, I only ever wrote one Page 3 caption and did it so ineptly I was never asked again.)

Another advantage of working here is that you can occasionally seek counsel from one of the staggering array of specialist journalists who write for us. Whatever information you need, they are usually able to fill in the gaps by utilising their big, twitching, Star Trek brains.

This week I found myself in need of their help when I got a letter from the car-hire firm we had used on our recent holiday in Germany. One day we drove from Munich to Salzburg and apparently didn't pre-buy a toll sticker for the Austrian motorways, so now we are being fined €120 (£101).

At such a time, it would be great, wouldn't it, to be able to bend the ear of Britain's king of travel, Simon Calder, The Man Who Pays His Way and Doesn't Accept Freebies, No Matter How Lush? Well, as he works about 10ft from me, this wasn't a problem.

I'm not in the office this week, so I emailed Simon (who, incidentally, is officially credited as being the nicest man you will ever meet. It's true… he even has framed certificates), to ask if he can offer any advice about my Austrian debt. I will let you know next week how it all turns out.

Funnily enough, I generally don't mind tolls. In fact, when one is given the option of taking a stretch of motorway on which a toll is levied, I will always go that way, as it's invariably quieter. I suppose with the majority of motorway traffic being commercial, sales reps and haulage firms would be coughing up constantly, so prefer to suffer in traffic on toll-free roads. I have noticed that this was even more pronounced in France, where toll roads are almost deserted.

Of course, this could possibly be a mass protest against such price tags being slapped on their liberté. If only the Austrians felt the same…

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