Simon Page

SIMON PAGE drove two imitation 1970s American Police Cars from Cambridge to Barcelona last weekend. And he learnt some valuable life lessons.

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Last weekend, some friends and I drove two imitation 1970s American Police Cars from Cambridge to Barcelona. This (mis)adventure taught me at least two valuable life lessons. They were especially valuable, since we do an awful lot of learning, but learn very few life lessons in exam term. Read and learn – this could be useful material for your synoptic paper.

Life Lesson 1: Don’t attempt to drive two imitation 1970s American Police Cars from Cambridge to Barcelona.

I learnt this lesson about 300 miles into the journey, when our car broke down on a French motorway.

“This isn’t a problem,” I said. “I’ve brought my toolkit.”

Unfortunately, I soon realised that my toolkit contains no spare parts, and there is only so much you can do to an internal combustion engine with a junior hacksaw and a rasp file. The only solution, we decided, was to call out the emergency services.

Now, I speak serviceable French and managed to successfully direct the mechanic to our location, but I don’t know much engine-based vocabulary (in English or French). Think of all that revision wasted on stupid GCSE French – ask me my favourite food or what colour someone’s hair is and I’m golden. But, if I’m lying in the road with a broken leg, and someone asks me “Ça va?” all I know how to say is: “Ça va bien, merci.” Useless.

Anyway, I spoke good enough French to understand his verdict of the car.

Totalement Caput.”

And so, whilst being towed to his garage, I asked him how much the car would cost to repair.

Deux mille Euros.

TWO MILLION EUROS?! No, wait, that only means two thousand. But, still. TWO THOUSAND EUROS?! The height of my raised eyebrows did enough to convey to the mechanic that this was out of the question. Not knowing the French for “scrap yard,” I started feeling around for the right words:

“Ou est” – Where is

“ la poubelle” – the bin

“des voitures?” – of cars?

He gave me a masterfully Gallic blank expression – they must have lessons for that kind of thing – but thankfully after a few baffled exchanges, I’d established where “la casse” (the bin of cars) was, and we headed there and scrapped our first car.

To conclude: it’s not worth driving two imitation 1970s American police cars from Cambridge to Barcelona. If you really must attempt it, take a mechanic. Or a Haynes guide. And something more absorbent than the Sunday papers. (Fuel tank leak. Long story).

Life Lesson Two: If you do decide to drive two imitation 1970s American police cars from Cambridge to Barcelona, try and know a bit of some language that’s not English.

Preferably French or Spanish or Catalan (which is basically the Cornish of south-east Spain.)

Whilst my French could generously be described as conversational, my command of Spanish is so awful it borders on intentionally racist; honestly I just sound like a drunken bigot doing an impression of Manuel from Fawlty Towers.

Having driven the remaining car to Barcelona, we were trying to find a Spanish bin of cars to flog it to before catching our flight.

But, if you ever attempt to drive round Barcelona in an imitation 1970s American police car dressed as 1970s American policemen with dubious facial hair (and I realise that’s a big ‘if’), you should expect to get pulled over a lot by the real police.

On one such occasion, my friend was trying to explain to the officer that we were looking for a scrap yard:

“Err… The Cemeterios del Cars?”

This elicited an unimpressed look from the Spanish police.

“Um… Destructianõs?”

Still nothing.

“The car. We want to kill the car.”


Finally one of the officers said: “How long are you planning on staying in Barcelona for?”

Not liking the way that conversation was going, we made good our escape before our cack-handed attempts at Spanish ended us up in “la prisión.”

Eventually, we did get someone to take the car, but our lack of Spanish (and the imminence of our flights) meant we made no money and nearly missed our check-in.

And what did we learn? Europeans just respond better to you if you try to meet them halfway with the language. The benefits of attempting a few badly pronounced words from a Spanish dictionary could be anything from being served spit-free food to making a quick and profitable car sale.

So there you have it. Stressful, expensive, harrowing, and easily one of the most exhausting weekends of my life. Still beats revision though.