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And then one key succeeded and smiles replaced the mumbles. The keys were switched, we filled up with petrol and for a short period all was well with the world.

That is until the next day when the car died.

We had barely left home when the engine started cutting out. I played with the choke and managed to revive it a few times but it seemed to be getting worse. We had been gradually acclimatising to the car's quirks, we recognised that if the engine revs dropped appreciably any time in the first five minutes of a journey, the engine would cut out. But then it had been a simple matter of pulling the choke out and restarting the engine. It worked every time. Until now.

And we were in the middle of nowhere.

Well, not exactly the middle of nowhere, as that's where our house was. More accurately, we were halfway from the middle of nowhere - a far worse place.

"I knew we should have told the garage yesterday."

You can always count on your passenger for helpful advice at times of stress.

"I thought we agreed not to mention it to them."

"You agreed."

"And what would we have said? It took us half an hour and a dictionary to come up with the petrol cap key doesn't work."

I thought my logic was unassailable but the conversation deteriorated from that point into a series of, "who bought the stupid car?", "I never wanted to come to France," and "I told you not to buy a red one." No wall of logic could withstand that kind of assault.

I tried the engine again. Nothing. I pushed the choke in, I pulled the choke out. Nothing.

I looked at the scenery. Hoping to find an unexpected garage hiding behind the wall of greenery that spread from horizon to horizon.

"Lovely view," I said before I could stop myself.

"Try the engine again," came the terse reply.

Nothing happened.

We were stuck in the depths of rural France and ... I could see large buzzards circling above our car.

After another round of helpful suggestions from my passenger, I countered with a "You try!"

"All right, I will."

We exchanged seats. I cast a nervous eye skyward as I walked around to the passenger side. I was sure there were only three buzzards the last time I'd counted.

Shelagh tried the same variations of turns, clicks, pulls and pushes. Was that a hint of life? The engine turned. We were saved. A frustrated squawk came from above. It would have to be mouse for dinner again.

We made it as far as the next junction before the car stalled once more. But we were making progress. We were nearly three quarters from the middle of nowhere.

Fifteen minutes later and several stop-starts, we limped into Tournas. It was only a small village but it was like Rome to us. Civilisation! It had a shop. It had people. It had a phone box.

We parked. The car was good at that.