Monte Carlo or Bust

9th – 14th September 2015

John Wallace and Simon Fisher, from Price Forbes, joined Lloyds Motor Club and 15 teams driving our Citroen 2cv’s on a five day, epic drive from London to Monte Carlo to raise money for charity. John and Simon wrote this wonderful account of their experiences on the way to Monte Carlo!

Dear Supporter

When you see the volume of those who generously donated to support our mad-cap rush from Lloyd’s to Monte Carlo, you will forgive us for not writing to everyone individually.

MCOB-2015Having spent weeks and months preparing, setting off from Leadenhall Market on the morning of the 9th September was almost surreal. Although Price Forbes had its own car, it became clear that to avoid disappointment (through failure to complete) it needed to be completely overhauled before we set forth. So it had a re-built body and a ‘revised’ engine, as we started up on the 9th, and were flagged off by Tom Bolt, the Lloyd’s Franchise supremo, and headed south for the Eurotunnel.

My co-driver, and co-fundraiser, Simon Fisher drove us off. This was fine, since he had used the car for a weekend, and had basically got himself sorted. But many of the other cars were suffering from utterly inexperienced drivers, and we decided to leave lots of room for those cars which were somersaulting back and forth through non-existent clutch control. A good measure of the motoring competence of some of our entrants was the question being thrown out by those who could not fire up their 603 cc engines:- “What is a Choke?” Many spent time looking for other mod cons, only to learn they just weren’t there. Some of them, luckily, learnt where the brake was, before anything else.

We arrived, more by luck than anything, as a single group at Ashford, passaged the Tunnel, and ground along the Autoroute to gay Paris. This we entered during a traffic snarl-up of truly Gallic intensity, with road works which ‘out-coned’ anything on the M3, and with no sign-posts. Even the locals were lost. Given that our Paris street knowledge only covered the Place Pigalle or the best watering holes in the 8th, and my Tom-Tom was beating out messages neither of us could understand, it took us forever to get to Montparnasse via the weird exit point of Porte d’Italie on the Peripherique, having joined it at the Porte Maillot, which is a straight line to St Germain (Paris cognoscenti, take note). I don’t care if you agree with Amundi’s directions, as an ignorant Brit, I felt cheated at not being able to use my one infallible Paris route).

That evening, we were beautifully entertained by our French sponsors and hosts, Amundi, at a lovely spot called the Chalet des Isles in the Bois de Boulogne, which unusually for a motoring event, was only accessible by boat. Quality Champagne was served, as only the French know how (the Brits aspire to this, but prove they don’t really cut it, by always talking price), accompanied by a finger buffet to die for. Glamorous chique hostesses (of the formal business variety) under the command of Magali, the elegant svelt (semi-attired) boss of Amundi’s corporate events, took great care of us, and there were lots of important speeches in Franglais, some of which we understood. Fuelled by free real bubbly, Simon and I decided we should ‘re-cross’ our personal rubicund, and catch a truly Parisienne ‘bifstek, frits, salade’ before contemplating the one drama we were both dreading. We needed a truly stupid volume of vin rouge to enable us to face up to sharing a room. A room, everyone, not a bed! We finally staggered into our room, and I grabbed the bed furthest from the door, leaving Simon in pole position for the bathroom. Not a good plan!

Simon’s alarm, managing to outperform the audible effects of our ‘last supper’, reliably woke us at some ungodly hour and soon Simon’s bathroom routine was in full swing, but left not a lot of time for the second user. Eventually two guys emerged with eye-balls like road-maps. Quite appropriate, really.

A sunny morning for photo-opportunities with an Eiffel Tower backdrop (How could Amundi including the talents of Leon and the glamorous Magali have predicted the need for this?), preceded a good run south with the roofs rolled back. At this point, and possibly following Simon’s enthusiastic use of the smaller peddle ‘a droit’, our speedometer started making ghastly screeching noises. It’s hard to describe how loud it was. In order to communicate we had to scream at each other, and this started to disturb our fellow rallyists who thought there was serious trouble in ‘L’Ēquipe PF’. This wasn’t helped by me forgetting to stop shouting even when we were filling up the car. A fill-up, dear readers, was never in excess of €uros 27!

MCOB-2015Lunch was an ad hoc arrival at the sort of inexpensive road-side café that is only found in France. Due to my map-reading, we arrived last, almost stone-deaf from the speedo screeching noise, and sat in a sort of numbed silence staring at the menu, and each of us privately considering a potential re-run of the previous evenings excesses. A cautious ‘biere pression’ finally did the trick, and we returned to the world, inhabited by those with silent speedos (For those who don’t know what a ‘speedo’ is, let us assure you, dear reader, it is not a flimsy male swimming costume).

The evening found us at a Hotel dedicated to petrol heads, decorated in early ‘Kwik-Fit’ style, next to the Magny-Cours circuit, which we all thought we would drive round. The 2CV Adventure Team were quietly thinking better of this, having observed some of the enthusiastic nose-to-tail cornering that was becoming a rite of passage by the keener drivers. On entering the hotel which protected its future re-decoration budgets with gloss red on the woodwork, and dull grey carpet up the walls, presaged the need for some expenditure in the Bar. Fumbling in the darkened passageway with my papers, two cases and drivers kit, Simon’s electronic door key enabled him to again be next to the ablutions, but put me next to the mini-bar. It was empty.

That evening, the drivers were getting to know each other, and it was clear the bar-staff were not used to the explosive combination of mostly British insurance folk, driving 2CV’s, and with Lloyd’s camaraderie to boot. I doubt anyone can remember when they turned in, but I’m sure they had a good idea when they awoke to look at their bar receipts! Simon’s ability with the accelerator had flowed through to his bathroom timing, and I was pleased to present myself at breakfast unflustered, ready for a day of motoring.

The route took us along D and E class roads, which began to bring out the best in the cars, and the best in the drivers. It did not do a lot for my map reading, and we had some joyous moments of passing the entire convoy, but going the opposite way! In the Loire valley we were alongside the Canal Lateral du Loire between Bourges and Macon, which the road cris-crosses, and is a great route. Having decided I had gone the wrong way, Simon chose what looked like a good spot to turn around. At this point, and having turned off the road, we learnt that the bank was only about nine feet wide and sloping alarmingly to dark, still waters. Not visible on turning in, was the density of the foliage hanging from the willow trees, which promptly completely filled our open roofed car. It was like having collided with a florist. Simon, white knuckled, was concentrating on seeking reverse and could see nothing, while I was parting the foliage to contemplate when I should abandon ship. ‘Anything coming?’ was the cheery question. ‘No’ I yelled above a slipping clutch, not caring if a Sherman Tank was approaching. “But I am seriously interested in you engaging reverse’. Simon took me at my word, and it’s the only time I have seen rubber marks behind a car going backwards! They had kept a place for us a lunch. We drank a toast to our continuing existence, and set our faces in firm optimism for the road ahead. Vin rouge assisted.

The evening found us in Nantua. A small ancient town set by a lake, about fifty kilometres from the Swiss border. The owner of the hotel L’Embarcadere, which overlooked the lake, had gone out of his way to be hospitable, and the Lloyd’s Motor Club wanted to make a presentation to him. He spoke no English at all, and someone ill-advised, asked me to make a formal presentation of a Lloyd’s tie, but in French. I dusted off my fractionally better than Edward Heath French, and while the French listened with expressions of pitying politeness, the Brits applauded rapturously, as they said it was the only French they had ever understood.

Saturday was the ‘Mountain Day’. As soon as we started to climb, and that means 1st and 2nd gear on these roads in a 2CV, it started to rain, and the mists came down. Navigation ceased to be the issue, being gut-wrenchingly overtaken by the need to stay on the road. The benefit to the driver was that the navigator couldn’t see down the sheer drops, first to one side and then on the other side, as we propelled ourselves up to the Col de Allos at about 3000 metres. Not arriving last, but fearing we were not in the right place (because it was empty) we cooled off, and sat smugly to await our comrades. Being wet, in the clouds and decidedly ‘off season’, it was a short break, before we descended down even trickier roads towards Chorges, a hard to find spot, again overlooking a huge lake.

We were booked into what seemed like a hospital converted into a Butlin’s for large volumes of French geriatrica. Eating in a blindingly florescent formica’d cafeteria, thirty-eight drivers manoeuvred round the zimmer frames to take two carafe’s of red wine each, only to learn why the locals shared just one. The white was worse. The drivers, all male with one charming exception, were delighted to be reacquainted with Magali, now sporting shorts that raised blood pressures throughout the hotel, and re-defined the word ‘short’. The man running the Karaoke Evening was gob-smacked to find at least five of us (not Simon or I, we can assure you) who could do really good songs, while the deaf twiddled their hearing-aides and the partly sighted squinted in passivity. Contrary to their normal timing, we bribed the bar not to close at 10pm.

Overnight, the 2CV Adventure mechanics had re-engined one car, and replaced the gear-box on another, the driver having managed to engage 2nd and Reverse simultaneously, which is possible in a 2CV, if you use the gear lever with the finesse of King Kong.

Sun greeted us, and we set off in good heart for The Rendezvous, the main party headed for Menton, while in true Independent style, Simon and I were looking forward to the prospect of two separate rooms in the Hotel Voile d’Or at St Jean-Cap-Ferrat (net account, corporate readers!). Instinctively, on entering a lovely bedroom, I eyed up the location of the beds in relation to the bathroom, until I realised with relief, that my competition was now only with Heather, soon to arrive at our Hotel, with Hilke Fisher from Nice Airport.

MCOB-2015Sunday was the ‘Rendezvous Day’ and while the girls enjoyed a morning by the pool, your two intrepid drivers gathered with the other 16 cars in Menton, to prepare for a triumphal rally into the gold plated environment of Monaco. Our chequered Flag reception was planned for a precise moment in the Casino Square, John Nelson to be waving the flag from the steps of the Metropole Hotel. Unfortunately, with a lack of military discipline the leading cars had not realised that if they jumped red lights it became quite hard for others to keep up. After unbelievable chaos, with some cars meeting others going in opposite directions (for once, we knew where we were going) they all coalesced into the original format, but still some distance from our Rendezvous. After some shouting at parade ground volumes from Leon Douch, our now puce Amundi leader, collective bravado set in, and with expressions set in deadly determination, and feet firmly on the loud peddle, we surged forth, almost bumper to bumper, ignoring all lights, all road signs, even a policeman at one junction, and pretty well everything else. Over the last ten years or so, the French motorists have got much better at giving way to pedestrian crossings. One man, thinking an English plated 2CV would slow or stop for him, ventured onto a very awkwardly placed crossing, on a sharp corner. He had to leap back. He tried again, and again had to step back. By the time the last car went past he was shaking both fists in the air, now blue with his rhetoric, and our exhaust smoke.

The flagged arrival at Casino square, of what had become an almost solid block of revving metal, was far surpassed by attending the Lloyd’s Cocktail Party in the Hotel de Paris, which was beautifully organised, while the Terrace overlooking the square, afforded a great view of the PF car, being the only 2CV in evidence. It proudly displayed its charity and company regalia, nestling between a mind boggling display of mega-expensive cars. We had deployed our charity begging bowls, supported by two arms, and were heartened to receive lots of coin donations! Simon and Hilke, Heather and I found a good watering hole where the menu was priced in less than light-years of Euros, and had an evening to remember, recounting our stories of sharing bedrooms, and a thousand miles in a 1986 2CV, mostly going in the right direction.

What was all this for? We are pleased to say that as a result of your generosity, the PF team raised a few pounds short of £18,000. This enabled Lloyd’s Motor Club to exceed its target, and generate a total of £80,000, to be divided equally between the four charities. It was very well received at a short ceremony at Amundi’s offices. The PF Team received a plaque for raising by far the most funds, and I was separately awarded a road-map of France, to see if it might help. At least I can now see where we went!

A last heartfelt thank you, to 2CV Adventures without whose hard work, knowledge and sense of humour none of this would hav e been achiev ed, and to companies (and those within them who pushed for our cause) and to all the individuals who contributed to our total. Every penny counted. And equally pleasing, were the many messages of support from a huge range of friends and associates.

John and Simon