THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
In Champagne
Speranza in another world

Home again


Toscana 551
Done, dusted
Toscana 551 (1)
Damp start in Epernay this morning

I had two martinis and a bottle - not of Gevrey Chambertin - but a very fine Cote Rotie last night to wash down a superb meal.

A couple of miserable old Welsh people at the next table gave the staff a hard time about speed of service while - behind their backs - sniggering about how many of them there were and how they needed a manager to watch them all and "keep them on their toes". I guess the grumpy old ***s were more accustomed to Golden Arches than Relais et Chateaux. They were at it again at breakfast this morning, complaining about the saltiness of the I can't believe it but it actually *is* butter.

What made it more annoying was that they clearly didn't appreciate their luck in having made it to old age together to have the chance to bitch and moan so ignorantly in the face of good fortune. I would guess they were public sector pensioners, judging by their militaristic thoughts about management and general lack of respect for honest labour.

This did not detract from a splendid evening. It was tempered only by a slight sadness at dining in such splendour alone while recalling my previous visits with the late Mrs P. It was one of our favourite places and I have lots of memories that will be happy, given time.

The run home to London was uneventful.  I spotted the French police in ambush and sailed serenely by beneath the limit. I could smell the sweet aroma of their frustration. I was an hour early at the Channel Tunnel terminal in Calais so caught the 1320 instead of the 1420. Given the time difference I was on English soil by 1300 and home (despite strict compliance with speed limits) before 1500.

It was a great trip, but stupidly short. There was really no reason to rush back. I should have spent some time in Italy, having made such an effort to be there. I need to learn to pace myself better in my new and more leisurely circumstances.

Speranza is due in for her annual service, MOT and warranty renewal later this month and my next planned trip is - prosaically - to Pwllheli in August for some bank holiday family time with sister, nephews and parents. Before then, I have to submit to my "speed awareness" course. I am trying to stay positive in anticipation. It is possible that the AA on behalf of Thames Valley Police may teach me something that forty years of safe driving and courses from both Maserati and Ferrari have not. 

Here is my route map and my trip photo album.


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I shall look into it for my next trip. Thanks. 

Tim Newman

If you do a lot of driving in France, have you considered buying a Coyote speed camera warning system? They are fully legal due to the way they operate, i.e. they rely on road users to identify and locate the speed cameras, and the system then gives you a range of about 2-3km of where they are without actually pinpointing the location. It is a very French way of subverting a law without actually breaking it. I have one, and it is good, although I've noticed on the French autoroutes speed cameras are few and far between. I drove back to Paris from Le Mans a few weeks back, and there were a few of us merrily belting along at 150kph. Nobody seemed to care.


Nothing like that, sadly. It was all deadly serious and we were all potential child murderers. One tutor insisted, though no-one believed her, that she never exceeded the limit. There was some useful information from advanced driving instructors and I will modify my driving style in some ways - so it was not a complete waste of my time. I was delighted to find that I was far from alone in finding it hard to submit to power-tripping state agents actually. I came over as mild compared to some participants. I was rather amused by the AA's rent-seeking (the AA was ACPO's contractor in my case) in trying to get us to record a view in our feedback that "every driver would benefit from such a course". What better way for a corporation to make money than have people compelled by the state to buy its services?


If your "speed awareness" course is anything like the one a friend went to recently you'll probably have an entertaining, non-preachy day... The introduction went along the lines of - "you're only here because you've been unlucky, everybody speeds, you've just had the misfortune to get caught. We treat this course in a light-hearted way and aim to have some entertainment, unlike the courses we give to drink- or dangerous-drivers before they get their licences back. Nobody fails this course."

That's only one centre though and as they appear to be run by subcontractors to ACPO Ltd (!!!!!) yours may be different, especially if it's run by ex-coppers and they find out you were driving a Ferrari.

Anyway, best of luck, try not to fulminate or explode. :-)


I am well aware of it. I steer well clear of models (e.g. any kind of mommy van) favoured by the "It's only to get from A to B" brigade. Their lack of enthusiasm for cars and motoring is bound to be reflected in their performance. No-one gets to be good (whatever natural abilities they may have) at an activity they don't enjoy. The A-Bniks are far more dangerous even than "boy racer" types who may be insufficiently risk-averse but do at least aspire to be skilful (and probably will achieve it one day if they are spared). We can all have a lapse of attention and make a mistake so motoring is a dangerous activity per se, but if you disdain cars and driving you are likely to be a permanent menace. 

I am lucky enough to drive a powerful car and have to be all the more conscious of my surroundings. For example, Speranza can stop more quickly than most vehicles because of her F1-derived brakes. I must therefore worry more about the stopping distance of cars behind. So I end up pulling over to let them pass rather than leave them tailgating me dangerously. I would rather get back into the "slow overtaking" queue on a crowded British motorway behind rather than in front of them, regrettable though it is to reinforce their bad behaviour by rewarding it. The best use of such fools is to tuck in at a safe distance behind them and let them intimidate slow traffic out of ones way with their boorish behaviour. Then pass them when they are done. Even that needs to be done with caution as they are raising the risk of a pile-up for everyone in their presence.

Speranza is usually the fastest car on the road, but I am rarely (apart from occasional glorious moments on German autobahns) the fastest driver. When I go on track driving courses I frustrate the tutors, because I find it hard to overcome the habits of forty years of road driving. I often drive well below the speed limit if conditions are poor. In heavy rain my visibility down at the level of mommy van spray is poor. If I can't get in front of the line of traffic and out of the spray, I will hang back from it until conditions improve or even pull off and have a sandwich. Perform to the best of your own ability, manage risk as if everyone else is a fool and be gracious to all is as good a guide to driving as to any other aspect of life.

I am trying to look forward to the course, despite being rather ashamed of submitting to the blackmail involved. I feel I should tell Thames Valley Police where to stick their indoctrination, pay the fine and take the points like a man. Avoiding an increase in my insurance premiums is an understandable but far from noble objective. I know I will have to bite my tongue for four hours but it's always interesting to meet new people and to observe them under stress. Keeping my mouth shut is anyway good practice for life in politically-correct Britain. It won't adjust to me so I must adjust to it. I rather suspect that will be the best educational benefit.


The Speed Awareness Course will teach you one thing that Maserati and Ferrari did not, Tom, which is the shockingly poor level of knowledge amongst many ordinary drivers. On mine, an attendee's inability to give the correct speed limits for a single vs a dual carriageway road turned out to be because she did not know what a dual carriageway road was...

If that doesn't slow you down, nothing will.


It doesn't mean that where I live either, which is why I like to drive in countries where (a) the speed limits are closer to sensible or (b) the speed cameras don't do foreigners so I am only risking a cash fine if actually bagged in a sporting fashion. They are also very polite, call me Monsieur and do not lecture, rebuke or talk down to me. They simply state the amount by which I exceeded the limit and the sum of money they would like. Here in the Envy Isles; Lands of the Damp Puritans, I drive mostly only to get to the Eurotunnel. Otherwise I use the bus and tube, as my miserabilist masters prefer.


My word Sir you do live dangerously. Where I live strict observance of the speed limit in the presence of traffic police does not always mean one will not get a speeding fine.

Enjoyed your posts and pictures. Thank you.

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