Driving a car that is shaped like a brick is an interesting experience. But when it can also pull an army surplus trailer, fit 30 bags of horse manure in the back and run on recycled chip fat, it’s the forest gardener’s must have accessory.
I am writing this sitting in the kitchen in Bournac, listening to the roar of the stove (John has done is best Gene Hunt impression to “fire up the Godin”), the massive 650 mile drive to get here now fading to a vague memory. This always happens thankfully because, similarly to what I am told about childbirth, if we remembered the agony, we probably wouldn’t bother to do it again.
As usual, we braved the journey in our beloved Landrover which at the best of times can manage 70mph if we are using the overdrive and are following a lorry downhill. The quickest we have done the trip is 17 hours, the slowest 32, but in fairness the alternator had broken and left us stranded on the Paris périphérique. Having found a replacement battery, we had to continue the journey without switching off the engine in case it wouldn’t start again.
For this trip, we had the brilliant idea of strapping two rectangular water butts to the roof which made the car look like a vehicle from the Wacky Races. Johnny had already warned me that it would mean a slower journey with more stops for fuel, but we hadn’t bargained for the effect of the wind buffeting us around the motorway. I’m glad J was driving in the first leg because I could see him tussling with the steering wheel.
On our exit from the motorway in Paris, we were flabbergasted at the price of the toll – almost 10 euros more than normal. The same happened on the next leg – another great price hike. It was only when we reached the last péage that we realized what was going on. We had spent five minutes wondering where the ticket was, only to find it two feet above the level of my window. There are sensors as you enter the lane that read the height of your vehicle and we were being taken for a lorry! Sorry François Hollande if your ears were burning – we had been bad-mouthing the huge increase in tolls, thinking they must surely be another bonkers indirect tax increase brought in by the socialist government when in fact it was because we were unknowingly driving a juggernaut.
We left London at 10am and arrived in Bournac at 5am the next morning. Not bad going considering that we rarely got over 55mph and, rather embarrassingly, kept getting overtaken by lorries along the way.
I have already mentioned that our Landy smells like a chip van and this is because we have fitted a converter to it that allows it to run on vegetable oil. This has got to be the greenest thing that we do despite the rather odd smell that accompanies us wherever we go. Once we were stopped by French customs officers who asked to see in the back of the car. He started sniffing very deliberately and then announced, “Ça sent bizarre ici.” When he saw the dog, he backed off. How insulting! How could little Lucy ever smell as bad as the Landover?
John has perfected his refinery set up in the shed in London. He collects used cooking oil from a local hospice and drips it several time through a filter shaped like a windsock. It took a while for me to realize why all our clothes were also stinking of chip fat – he had been putting the filters in the washing machine when they got too clogged up with gunk. It’s a wonder that our marriage has survived this long…
And the great thing is that the engine will run on any kind of oil. John once found 5 litres of out-of-date massage oil and slung that in the tank. For a short while, the Landy actually smelled quite pleasant, of almonds. Which makes me wonder what would happen if we chucked some lavender oil in there. It would certainly take cyclists by surprise. Now they just get stunk out at traffic lights.
So having arrived in Bournac, we made the most of having the Landy with us this time. I was determined to start on the raised beds in the garden and this was going to require a significant amount of soil and compost. Pas de problème! We just chucked buckets of mole earth and forest floor in the back, along with odd bits of fallen wood that we found along the way. You’d have trouble doing that with a Citroen Saxo.
Perhaps the most loveable thing about the Landy is the effect it used to have on Lucy the dog who left us in June last year after a long and happy 18 years. Now we are left with many fond memories of her snoozing away on my lap, driving all over the place. In fact, when she was hospitalized in France for four nights, it was only by taking her for a drive in the Landy that she finally recovered from the stress and got better.
The leaky sunroof is sealed up with Vaseline, the heating burns your face while your knees freeze in the draughts and John wears ear-plugs to prevent himself getting a headache from the noise of the engine. BUT we love our Landrover and will never be without one. Creating our forest garden and living a sustainable life would be so much harder without it.
Go out and buy yours today!