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Thursday, 17 October 2013

Le prang

I've admitted before that I'm not exactly the world's best driver.

Probably fair to middling would be the best description with parking remaining my weakest point.

Well that and negotiating ramps leading to and from underground car parks.

But that is ground well trodden - or not so well driven  - as the case may be.

As far as accidents go? Well, I've been pretty fortunate over the years.

I've only had one major incident. It happened almost two decades ago on a long drive back from Florence in Italy to Frankfurt in Germany.

I was in Switzerland late at night, clearly driving too quickly given the pouring rain conditions, with dogs in the back and my late mother in the passenger seat.

It was nothing too dramatic, just a one vehicle (mine) accident ending up in the middle of the motorway, the car written off and my dear old ma (unhurt) asking, "So can we continue now?"

Apart from that, nothing. Not even a bump or a dent (I don't consider that Paris underground ramp affair to have been an accident, rather a moment or two of close contact involving a borrowed clunker - well it resembled one by the time I had finished - and the walls of a car park).

Give the man a prize.

Until last week, that is.

Because that's when I had the "prang".

Of course it wasn't my fault - these sorts of things never are, are they?

But in the eyes of the law and for insurance purposes, it was.

After a dash around the supermarket and the less-than-15-items till, because these places are not the temples of delight for me that they seem to be for many others, I made my way back to my car.

Leaving the car park, I found myself behind a woman driving at less than five kilometres an hour with a couple of stalled engines thrown in for good measure.

I kept my distance, ready - I thought - for the next unexpectedly sudden stop.

But as we both approached the roundabout, I failed to anticipate that she would decide to come to a complete halt for no reason at all.

Even though there was nothing coming (although she later claimed otherwise) Clarice - for that turned out to be her name - slammed her foot on the brake.

I didn't.

It was the gentlest of bumps but enough to have us both jump out of our repective cars to inspect the damage.

Mine was unscathed - apart from a slightly buckled registration plate, while hers...well it seemed to have "suffered" the smallest of dents beneath the rear bumper, but one which looked suspiciously "older" to me.

I said as much, along with a few well chosen but polite (honestly) words on the level of her driving skills.

Clarice though, remained convinced that the blame lay fairly and squarely with me. She had stopped because of oncoming traffic and I was clearly in the wrong because I had driven into her.

"Isn't that right Gladys?" she said to her friend who had been sitting in the passenger seat.

Gladys didn't look entirely convinced, but nodded in circumspect agreement.

And then the official fun began.

Neither of us had a copy of the wonderfully named (in French) constat amiable d'accident automobile (accident report) in the car (I had recently had the annual clear-out and must have chucked it) required for insurance purposes if the accident is minor and the two parties involved decide to come to an amicable agreement.

Clarice didn't have one either because...well the reason will become clearer in a moment.

So what to do?

Well first of all, I took a couple of photos of the position of both cars when the two joined in unholy "bumplock".

Friendly enough after the initial "shock", Clarice didn't think much of my idea of driving together to the nearest insurance agent to request a form to fill out together.

Instead she wanted to call her husband for advice on what to do.

He, however, was unavailable.

So in true "Qui veut gagner des millions" ("Who wants to be a millionaire") style, Clarice opted to ring a close friend who convinced her that we should all make our way to the police municipale where we could sort it out.

The "amicable agreement" looked set to turn in to a major (road) incident: the main protagonists - that slightly bent registration plate and the dubious dent.

So off to the police municipale we headed. I led the way, as something told me that I would be better off in front of Clarice rather than behind her.

As luck would have it, and this being France, the police municipale had, of course, shut up shop for the day, although there was a contact number for emergencies.

I kept quiet, fearing the worst.

But the now emboldened Clarice had a "better" solution - and that without 'phoning a friend.

"The gendarmerie!" she exclaimed.

"We can go there and report the incident. Plus they'll have all the necessary forms available."

Gladys and I exchanged looks as though we sensed that this would prove to be yet another over-the-top reaction, but Clarice was not a woman to be stopped. She was in full quest mode...justice.

Besides, I wasn't in the mood for an argument and so, off we set.

A few moments later we all walked in to the gendarmerie compound to be greeted by a young man dragging on the remnants of a cigarette.

Explanations quickly made, he told us that the constat was all we really needed, whereby we could agree what had happened, countersign and then complete details of our own version of events for our respective insurance companies.

As for the constat - he didn't have one. We didn't have one. Did we really want to fill out an official report for something so minor?

"No," I thought, as providence once again stepped in, this time in the form of a call from Clarice's husband.

Her saviour. My saviour. He had a spare constat and would make his way into town so that we could finally reach that agreement which had Clarice had been so unwilling to accept in the first place.

We all bid farewell to the gendarme who wished us a pleasant evening and waited.

The 15 minutes Monsieur Husband of Clarice said he would need to arrive eventually turned into half an hour but, once he appeared, I quickly discovered I had an ally.

"Honey - again?" he  said, looking at his wife as he introduced himself to me.

I looked at him.

I looked at Clarice

"Again? I asked

"Yes, this is the third time in as many months," he replied.

I returned my gaze to Clarice, who preferred to look away sheepishly.

As Monsieur Husband of Clarice and I completed the tedious task of detaling what had happened and answering what seemed like a multitude of questions, his wife remained understandably quiet.

She no longer contested my version of events which, I knew, would not exonerate me in terms of the insurance claim.

And that suspicious dent?

Well that'll be for the insurance company to decide. They have the photos and the completed constat.

Sure, I'll have to drive extra carefully for the next five years apparently if I want to recover my no claims bonus.

On past form, that shouldn't be too much of a problem...unless I happen to "bump" into the likes of Clarice on the road.

But at least now, even though it's not a legal obligation in France, I've got a copy of the constat in the car...just in case.


La Vinci said...

What a phenomenally amusing account of a most tedious Prung. I do hope Clarice's old man sits her down and explains once and for all what the consequences are of slamming on brakes with no on-coming traffic in sight. Safe travels, Monsieur Summers! And keep the blog posts coming. They are the best.

France Today said...

Merci La Vinci

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