A quick recap of our position – around four hundred and eighty miles under our belts with about three hundred to go; roughly one hundred and eighty to the ferry terminal, then a final one hundred and twenty in England. The petrol tank was nearing empty; the low fuel indicator shining brightly on the dashboard.
We had been crawling along for the last two miles at about three miles an hour but had finally cleared the traffic and were beginning to pick up speed once more. We were now in need of a petrol station. My brain was in overdrive doing mental arithmetic trying to calculate how much fuel was left in the tank and how far it would take us.
As we had been moving so slowly for the last forty minutes, we had hardly covered any distance at all. This meant my fuel to distance covered ratio was completely irrelevant! So, did I have enough fuel, and were my calculations correct?
Having now joined the autoroute, I was expecting to see signs for the service stations, but hadn’t, as yet seen any. This meant I had no idea how far away the nearest station was. And with my car only registering distance in miles, and the French signs only showing distance in kilometres, I was converting one to the other.
When the low fuel indicator comes on, the car manual says there are five litres of fuel left in the tank. My car is not particularly economic and the onboard display shows it was doing about thirty four miles to the gallon. One gallon is about five litres – just what I had left in the tank. So I made a mental note of the mileage shown on the odometer, or trip counter, and hoped I would find a service station very soon.
After a mile or two, I could see in the distance a service station sign. I started praying it would say something low like twenty kilometres to the next refuelling stop. That would be ideal; anything less would be a blessing; anything more could mean a disaster!
As we got closer, my heart sank. Fifty one kilometres! I had already calculated that my average of thirty four miles to the gallon would get me about fifty four kilometres. What I also had to bear in mind was that the thirty four was an average since I had last reset the counter and I hadn’t reset the counter in well over a year. So right now, bearing in mind I was towing a heavy trailer, I could have been driving at a lot less than that.
And I had already been going several miles before we had reached the sign – so this was going to be tight.
In amongst all those calculations I was making, I started wondering what would happen if I ran out of fuel. How long would it take for a recovery vehicle to get to us? Would my French be good enough over the phone to explain what had happened and where we were to the recovery people? Would we miss the ferry?
What would She Who Must Be Obeyed say?
In all my calculations, the one thing I hadn’t done was tell her we were low on fuel. Would I make it back to England unscathed or would she unleash a torrent of tired lashes on me for putting us all in such a difficult position?
I started to ease back on the revs; I started to turn off unnecessary electrical gadgets – all in the hopes of saving a little fuel.
The kilometres to the service station were counting down as were the miles left in the tank as my brain made recalculation after recalculation. I would keep on recalculating in the hopes I had made a mistake in my earlier calculations. But if there’s one thing I’m good at, it is mental arithmetic and my calculations were correct – no matter how many times I did them. We were running very low.
The fuel indicator had now hit a new low – it had reached a point I had never before seen on the gauge and a point which the car itself had only ever experienced once before and that was whilst it was being assembled in the factory! It was below the final empty mark. There was no where else it could go. It had come to rest nestling up against the side of the dial.
Now was the time to face the music. I had to tell She Who Must Be Obeyed. We were now running on fumes and I didn’t know just how much further we could go. She reached for a book; a thick, heavy book with one of those metal spirals running down the spine holding the pages together.
I braced myself ready for the backlash; gripping the steering wheel very tightly in an attempt to keep the car under control whilst taking a heavy beating from the left hand side. But nothing came. Instead, She Who Must Be Obeyed had reached for the French street map book and had simple turned to the relevant page for our current position and searched for a little village we could try to reach.
Alas, there were no exits off the autoroute until the exit for the service station. We had no choice but to cross what ever could be crossed and hope the fumes would last.
Would the fumes last? Would I survive unscathed? Would I make it out of France alive?
The answer of course to the latter two questions was yes, otherwise this account of events would either never have been written, or would have been written in French!
But, find out in part three whether the fumes lasted long enough to get us to the service station…