Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Citroën presse

Before I begin this tale, I must explain a few things for any readers from foreign parts, those who have never been to London, and persons with no knowledge of dodgy, European cars.

First of all, in London is an area known as Hammersmith that has been famous for it's Palais, the old Odeon, and a plug from Motorhead in the song 'No Spleep Till Hammersmith'.
It also has one of the most terrifying roundabouts in England.
Thanks to some development, the roundabout is now slightly less scary than it was twenty years ago, but not by much.
Twenty odd years ago the whole area went through an 'upgrade' which included demolishing some wonderful old buildings such as The Clarendon, and for a while the whole of the roundabout was left without many (if any in parts) clearly marked traffic lanes, despite it being a rather major and seriously busy intersection.

The second important thing I must explain, is the Citroën 2CV.
The 2CV, also known as the 'deux chevaux', is a car that was first bred in the 1920s and has become widespread throughout Europe where they are either loved (mostly by hippy types who decorate them with paintings of rainbows and peace signs and would love more than anything to pretend that their car is the auto equivalent of 'The Rainbow Warrior') and hated by anybody who would like to own a car which gets you from A-B without breaking down or jeopardizing the life of those inside.
If you are in Germany and see one of them in green, it is traditional to shout 'grüne ente' which translates as 'green duck', and the object of the game is that the person who spots the most 'grüne entes' during the journey, is the winner.
Another little play on words about 2CVs is 'Citroën presse', which translates as not only 'lemon juice' but 'lemon in a hurry', but that joke doesn't really work unless you know how to speak French.

This story involves Hammersmith Roundabout and a Citroën 2CV. Oh, and a door.

Many moons ago I was staying at a flat in Fulham for a while. The flat was above a kebab shop at the far end of the Fulham Road, the other end of which was at Hammersmith Roundabout.
Back then, I had yet to pass my driving test and either relied on London Transport, or friends with cars to get me about town.
One fine day I was at the flat and had to get back to my home in W7, but was rather stuck as good old London Transport had chosen that day to go on strike, so I got on the dog and bone to try and get a lift from a friend with wheels.
After a few calls I managed to track down a mate who lived in Earl's Court who very luckily for me was heading towards Heathrow at the exact time I wanted a lift as he was dropping of another friend at the airport. Also, he would have given me a lift even if he didn't have to go to the airport as he informed me he'd just got himself a new car and was itching to take it out for a proper spin.
'Hurrah!' I thought, and went to wait patiently at the bus-stop across the road for him to come and get me.
'Ah...' I thought, as an ancient, pink and rust coloured 2CV driven by my friend pulled up at the bus stop a short while later in a cloud of acrid smoke.
As the fumes cleared, I got into the front passenger seat and promptly lurched backwards as it gave way.
A short while later, we'd managed to fix the seat and off we lurched up the road towards Hammersmith Roundabout.
At the roundabout of doom, we were due to take the first exit, but found our way blocked by one of the few buses that were not on strike and too large to play chicken with, so around we went again.
Thanks to my friend not being able to get the car into gear and missing the faint line of paint marking the correct traffic lane, we had to go round once more and thanks to the fumes and very bumpy journey going round and around, I began to start feeling just a tad ill.
Once again my friend managed to miss the right exit and we were on our fourth lap, when all of a sudden the door next to me fell off the car.

No warning, no creak, no chance of making a grab for it, it was simply there one second and gone the next.
Thanks to the momentum of the car I suddenly found myself facing the road and thanking every God and Deity I could think of that the safety belt was working. I suppose in one respect it was a good thing that I was leaning out of the car as it was then that I seriously felt nauseous and copiously vomited my breakfast all over the surface of the middle lane, and a BMW that was trying to overtake.
My friend told me to hold on and I thanked him for his words of wisdom before undoing my seat belt and clambering into the back seat as I didn't want to be in the passenger seat for a nanosecond longer.
His other friend told the driver to go round one more time, climbed over into the passenger seat, and as we went round for the fifth time, managed to pick up the fallen door and hang on to it.
Finally we managed to get off at the correct exit and as soon as we could, pulled over.
Thanks to the design of the 'deux chevaux', it was very simple to re-attach the door and after a half dozen or so calming ciggies, we slowly set off once more, although we planned the rest of the journey avoiding any more roundabouts.
I have never since set foot in a 2CV, or 'Death Car' as I now call them.
Can you blame me?