Menton is one of my favourite towns in France and I have spent and still do spend much time there. The famous Lemon Festival is one the highlights of my year….
So says Peter Jones, Francophile, who in the 1980’s was managing a Building Society branch office in Stratford on Avon, England (Shakespeare country) where many of his clients were very affluent. He tells us the story of one his clients who had a very nice car that needed to go to France:
Lady Monica. Even though there was 30 years between us we had a very flirtatious but professional relationship. She spent much of the year in Menton, where France meets Italy.
One morning my secretary called up to my office and said Lady Monica wanted to speak to me on the phone. A bit odd I thought, as I knew she was in Menton.
“Mr. Jones, good morning, I have a proposition for you. My husband’s car is in Stratford and we really would like it in Menton for the summer. Would you like to drive it down, you could stay a couple of nights with us and I would pay for your flight back from Nice”.
I thanked her for the kind offer but advised that work and family commitments would make it difficult if not impossible.
“It is a white convertible Aston Martin” came the response…
…Two days later I drove off the ferry at Le Havre with nearly 800 miles of France ahead of me.
Crossing the River Seine via the mighty bridge at Tarcanville I stopped for breakfast in Pont Audemer. Here I experienced the mighty pulling power of an Aston Martin as a crowd surrounded the immaculate white DB6. They all clapped as I fired up the engine and sped off with a throaty growl.
I am and have always been a bit of a motor racing nut so rather than blast down to Menton the quickest way I planned to go via Le Mans and give the car a tour of its historical home. As I left the city centre of Le Mans and headed south I headed the inimitable sound of a French police car. A quick glance in my mirrors revealed looming up large behind me was a Renault 4 police car – headlights and blue lights flashing, horn blaring, the driver waving at me to pull over. I racked my brain to think what I’d done wrong. The gendarmes in the car were motor racing fans and were keen to know if I was driving down the infamous Mulsanne straight.
“Bien sur “ was my reply . By now we had been joined by several other police cars the drivers all keen to admire my new toy.
I was escorted out of the city by the police though I now had two passengers both in the uniforms of the French gendarmerie, one at the start of the Mulsanne straight, normally part of the D338 road to Tours, two police cars shot ahead to make sure the road was clear and I was invited to put my foot down.
I stopped at the end to let them out but found out that my part of the deal was to take them all for a ride and I spent the next hour driving up at down the Mulsanne straight with a car full of French policeman at getting on for three times the speed limit.
I had planned to spend the night in Clermont Ferrand, home of the Michelin Tyre Company and another Mecca in the world of motor racing, and after a drive of 355 miles a hot bath and a meal was just I needed, though not before Lady Monicas car was safely garaged fir the night.
An early start took me across to below Lyon where I joined the auto route A7 the “route de soleil” and started putting some serious mileage in. Lunch was taken near Avignon before the final 180 miles onto Menton. Now firmly in the South of France, the warmth of the sun , the smells of Provence the roof down on a powerful car ,I was in heaven, but there was one last diversion…Monaco!
I have been to Monaco many times and have always been amused to see gentlemen of elderly years driving round and round the principality driving some of the best cars in the world and leering at the beautiful women, I did not look out of place. Just an hour later I pulled up at the address that Lady Monica had given me and was I surprised…on several counts, remember the original invite was “you are welcome to stay with us”
First discovery was that whilst the Aston was indeed Lady Monica’s husbands. But he had been dead for several years. “Us” was Lady Monica, two Siamese cats and a Lhasa Apso dog called Cousteau. He was named after the famous French diver Jacque Cousteau as every morning he would dive into the Mediterranean and run along the bottom chasing crabs popping up for air every few minutes or so.
But the biggest surprise was Lady Monicas house, for some reason I had expected a large Provencal house not the one bed roomed apartment she lived in.
Three days later she dropped me off at Nice airport though I do worry about poor old Cousteau crawling along the bottom of Menton harbour…