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We returned home in a subdued mood. The optimism of the early morning replaced by a quiet determination.

We posted the application and waited. It was Easter week-end. The Préfecture probably took three weeks off to paint eggs, or failing that there was some limit to the time you could register a car after purchase.

But on the Tuesday, the glorious eighteenth of April, the new certificate arrived. What a surprise, there were still no outstanding hire purchase agreements on our car.

Back to the Sous-Préfecture. We had our récépissés, we had our passports, the old carte gris, the bill of sale, the control technique, two Certificats de Situation and a sawn-off shotgun.

Well ... strike the last item. We didn't actually have a sawn-off shotgun but I think we gave the impression that we were just the kind of people who would the next time.

He took all our documents, ticked them again, and ... gave us a new carte gris.

"Et la vignette?" I ventured, determined that we were not leaving until we had everything.


What! This was not happening. Not again. The nouns were wavering, reinforcements from the adverbs and pronouns department were drafted in to keep the verbs from shredding the Carte Gris man where he stood.

"Pas ici," he continued very quickly as Mrs. Mungo advanced upon him. And then he started pointing and saying something about the Centre des Impôts.

Ah, I've heard of that, the tax office.

As we left, I began to experience a worrying thought that perhaps we'd been enquiring at the wrong office all the time. That perhaps if we'd known that vignettes were issued at the Centre des Impôts we could have gone there earlier.

It was not a pleasant thought.

Luckily it wasn't an accurate one either. The first thing the woman at the Centre des Impôts did was to ask for our carte gris. I doubted if she'd have looked very favourably upon a cancelled one from a different department.

After that it was a few seconds and back came the shiny tax disc. We were legal. We could drive our car.

Well, almost. We had to buy new number plates and change the insurance to reflect the new plates. But that was hardly a Herculean task.

It was something of an anti-climax after that. After months of frustration and hitting brick walls at great speed, suddenly everything was easy. We showed our carte gris at the auto-shop and there were no supplementary questions or requests for extra papers or birthdays. We didn't need a script or a phone call from the Mayor. It was: thank you very much, and back five minutes later with a pair of yellow and white plates.

A similar story at the insurer's. A quick update of the file and out came a new green disc from the printer.

It's amazing how easy life is when you have the right papers.

And how impossible when you don't.

(next chapter - Logs, Language, Fires and Flues)