Driving Licence – Part 2
As we walk back to the surgery a tiny car passes us. It’s so small it’s almost a toy and squeezed inside is a large, large man, who smiles broadly at us.
“That was TweedleDee, wasn’t it?” says Jane.
“Hmm… I can’t tell, but it was certainly a Tweedle,” I reply.
It’s a long wait in the surgery but, at last, our turn comes. Dr. Sarko shakes our hands and ushers us into his consulting room.
“Sit down,” he says. “What can I do for you?”
“We were hoping you could give us some advice. We’re in the process of exchanging our UK driving licences for French ones…” I start.
His phone rings. He takes the call, making notes in his appointments diary.
“Sorry about that. Where were we… ? Have you got your UK licence?” he asks.
I pull the plastic card out of my wallet and hand it to him.
“Hmm…” he says. “It’s pink.”
He’s holding the card delicately between thumb and forefinger, looking at it curiously, as if it’s a membership card to a gay nightclub.
“They’re all pink – you don’t get a choice of colour,” I reply defensively.
“So, what does this entitle you to drive?” he asks, handing back the card.
I put on my reading glasses and look at the back. Under ‘Category’ are silhouettes of different vehicles: A (motorbike), B (car), BE (car towing trailer), B1 (small van or possibly milk-float), C1 (large van), C1E (large van towing large trailer or possibly articulated van), D1(mini-bus), D1E (mini-bus towing trailer). I’ve never looked at this before – I’m impressed.
“I’m entitled to drive all of them,” I say, handing back the card. “Up to the year 2021 when I’ll be seventy.”
Sarko now looks impressed.
“To drive all these under a French licence you’ll need a medical test every five years or, in your case, since you’re older, it’ll be every two years.”
The phone rings again and Sarko takes the call.
“Better keep my options open,” I whisper to Jane.
When he’s finished I ask if I could make an appointment for a medical test.
“Yes, of course,” he says. “Why don’t we do it now?”
A reply flits through my head: “Well we’ve been in here for twenty minutes and it’s nearly midday; there are other patients in the waiting room and the surgery is closed afternoons and evenings and you aren’t here tomorrow.” Then I have another thought, somewhat less altruistic: I still don’t know what tests I’m going to be given and it could be that my blood still contains a fair level of alcohol from last night. But keeping these thoughts to myself I reply, “Yes, why not?”
The phone rings again.
“Take your clothes off,” he says, as he answers the call.
I wonder what exactly he means – all my clothes? naked? I stand up and take off my jacket. Sarko holds his hand over the mouthpiece of the mobile phone and says, “Stand on the scales,” pointing to the floor to my right.
“Take your shoes off,” Jane whispers.
I obey, noticing as I do that there is a hole in the heel of my right sock. I stand on the scales and wait for Sarko to finish his phone call.
“What’s your weight?” he asks.
“Seventy-two kilos,” I reply.
“Let’s test your eyes now,” he says, handing me a plastic frame with a hole for one eye and a blank for the other. “Stand here.”
He leaves me and walks to the reading chart on the opposite wall.
“Put the frame on and tell me what you see.”
Before, while I was looking with two eyes, I could read the chart pretty well – even the small letters. But now, with a blank over my right eye, I’m finding it very difficult.
“What’s this letter?” he asks, pointing a stick at one in the middle.
To make things even more difficult the end of the stick is obscuring the letter.
“O,” I hazard, “…or possibly B?”
We continue with letters he picks at random and then I swap eyes, or rather I turn the frame around and look through the other eye. My score is not too impressive.
“I’ve got glasses too. I don’t normally wear them much – but I’ve got them,” I say, thinking that with the score I’ve achieved so far I might even get banned from driving altogether.
“OK,” he says, “try it with them on.”
It’s a significant improvement.
“Right. There’s just a bit of a snag,” he says returning to his desk. “If on this form I say you wear glasses for driving, you always have to wear glasses when driving and if you’re caught by the gendarmes without them, you’ll be fined and you’ll lose points. You know what points mean?” he asks.
“Prizes?” I think to myself, but instead I nod and say, “Oh yes.”
“Oh, and the photo in your licence,” he continues, “would have to show you wearing glasses.”
I listen, despondently. These expensive, stylish French glasses give me a headache if I wear them for more than ten minutes.
“But you say you don’t normally wear them?” he continues.
“Not normally,” I reply, hesitantly.
“Right,” he looks up from the form with an encouraging smile. “It’s better all round if I tick the box to say that you don’t wear glasses. OK?”
“OK,” I reply.
His attention goes back to the form, his forefinger running over the various categories and tick-boxes.
“Now… alcohol,” he continues.
The phone rings. He takes the call. My heart sinks. Will he give me a blood test? I wait.
When he puts the receiver down he says, “Where was I… ?”
“Alcohol,” I say, like a penitent schoolboy.
“You don’t drink much, do you? Just the odd glass of wine… ?” he prompts.
“Well… occasionally,” I reply. “But never when I’m driving,” I add.
“So that’s OK,” he says, ticking the box. “No diabetes?”
“No heart problems… ?”
“No giddy spells… ?”
“No,” trying to forget how I felt when I first woke up this morning.
“Do you smoke?”
“No. I gave up a long time ago.”
“Right. That seems to be OK. Let’s check your blood pressure. Lie down on the couch.”
I do as I’m told and he wraps the rubber tube around my upper arm and starts pumping. I feel my heart beating and try to think calm thoughts.
“Hmm… a bit high,” he says. “Feeling a bit stressed are you?”
I tell him that we are having major legal problems with our builder and that our house is collapsing even before it’s completed.
“That would probably account for it,” he says. “Right, sit up – let’s test your reflexes.”
He taps my knees in turn with a small rubber mallet. My legs react attentively.
“Good reflexes,” he says. “Now hold your arms out in front of you.”
This I do and my hands start trembling.
“Hmm… the stress? OK, last thing now. Stand on one leg.”
I do this with some difficulty, swaying to keep my balance.
“Now close your eyes.”
I half-close my eyes and grit my teeth and wobble. Just in time Sarko says, “Now the other leg.”
That ordeal over, we go back to his desk and I sit next to Jane.
“Right, that seems to be it then. So, you understand? You bring in two photos of yourself without glasses, and an envelope addressed to the Prefecture in Moulins and I’ll send everything off. OK?”
Jane writes a cheque for €24.40. We shake hands and leave.
As we drive back the sun is just breaking through the grey cloud.
“You’re humming,” says Jane.
“Yes,” she confirms. “It’s the Archers theme tune.”
“Sorry,” I say. “I was just thinking about the Tweedle Twins… Dum dee dum dee dum dee dum, dum dee dum dee dee dum…”
– – – – – – – – – –
Two days later we drive through the squally rain back to Chatel. As we enter the car-park we see Sarko scuttling towards his surgery. The church bell chimes ten-thirty. I park carelessly at an angle and we give chase, catching him up just as he reaches the door. Sarko recognises us and shakes our hands.
“Come straight through,” he says.
I sense a wave of resentment from the packed waiting room at our back. Sarko’s in hurry-mode. He talks to himself as he holds his phone in one hand to check his messages and at the same time tries to staple my photos to his forms. ‘Click’ goes the stapler just as the paper slides sideways on the desk. The photo is stapled at an angle and overlapping the edge of the form.
“Hmm… that’s not very tidy is it…” he says to himself, and still holding the telephone in his right hand he tries to extract the staple with his fingernail. The staple twists.
“Ouch!” he says, as his hand jumps away. A drop of blood forms on the tip of his thumb. He sucks it briefly then looks up and smiles as if he’s trying to say, “Don’t worry. I’m a doctor.”
Sarko looks down at the phone in his hand – he seems surprised it’s still there. He puts it on the desk saying, “I’ll deal with that later.”
He now has two hands free to re-do the stapling. ‘Click.’
“That’s better,” he says.
This time the photo is stapled in the right place. ‘Click’, and the second photo is fixed to the second form. Next comes the ink stamp. ‘Stamp… Stamp.’
“Right. That’s it,” he says, confidently. “Send this form to the Prefecture at Moulins and keep this one in case the gendarmes stop you.”
We shake hands and make our way out while Sarko bustles to the waiting-room door and says to the waiting crowd, “OK, let’s start!”
We walk across the square to the post office where Jane stops at the counter.
“I’ll just check we’ve got everything before we post it.”
Everything is in order, except across my photo is a perfect bloody thumb-print and the ink stamp is smudged.
“Perhaps it’s Sarko’s trademark,” says Jane,”so the Prefecture know this is authentic and not a counterfeit.”
– – – – – – – – – –
One week later the stand-in post woman, Post Woman Pat, hammers on our front door. She’s got a registered letter for each of us from the Prefecture. We open the envelopes like they are Oscar nominations. Inside mine is my new French driving licence. It’s pink. A clear plastic sleeve covers one third of the card. At first I think to remove it, fold the card into three and put the whole card into the sleeve. But no. The sleeve is glued on so only one third of the card can be protected. Then I notice the sleeve doesn’t even cover the entire third of the card. It’s too short. A thin strip of card is exposed at the bottom. When I point this out to Jane, she thinks for a moment then says, “That’s for the signature, I think.”
“It’s too small,” I complain. “How can you write a signature in miniature?”
“I think I’ll go up to my office and practise,” Jane replies.
Meanwhile I look through the detail on my card. They’ve excluded me from driving one category of motor-bike – it doesn’t say which. It looks like they’ve also excluded me from driving the milk-float and the large van, as they no longer figure in the list of vehicle silhouettes.
Later Jane comes down the stairs waving her licence, duly signed in miniature.
“Done it!” she says triumphantly. “My first French driving licence – in pink, wearing a plastic bolero! I think I’ll call it my BarbieCard.”