Peter Warnell

Every year I buy my wife a Figaro calendar at Christmas as a stocking filler and ever since her first one it’s been her ambition to get a photo of her beloved car into one. Hence whenever we’re out somewhere vaguely picturesque out comes the camera / phone / IPad to take a picture that seemed like a good idea at the time but ultimately failed miserably to achieve the desired effect.

Now it’s no fun reaching the age of 60 – better than the alternative I know – and even less fun reflecting back upon it from a few years hence as I am now. OK there are the concessions at the cinema, local theatre and some football games (although not MY club – grrr) but in general it’s true to say I’d rather be a few years younger than I am today.

My wife Gill, bless her, foresaw my pain when she booked a surprise for my big day, a meal and overnight stay at the prestigious and rather posh Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in Oxfordshire. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t our usual sort of haunt as we’re more likely to do Gourmet Burger than gourmet restaurant but special birthdays can justify nice one off surprises and this was one such treat. I knew that there’d surely be a few photo opportunities, so I duly packed the camera with every intention of trying to take “that photo” and on arrival I was soon on the case.

Now taking that picture outside the main entrance meant we inadvertently missed the entrance to the main car park and hence headed down the drive to park right outside the main entrance. We were welcomed like royalty, which seemed appropriate considering the cost of it all, and shown to our suite – yes suite not room – which I hope Gill got on a special deal, as otherwise she would have had to rob the bank where she was working at the time.

Later having a pre-dinner drink in the bar a member of staff very discreetly advised us we had parked in the wrong car park and could he have the car keys in order to move it. No problem and I thought that was that but about 30 minutes later he came back rather exasperated to explain he couldn’t get it started. It seems that the intricacies of the Figaro gear box had beaten him and although I offered to move it he said no it was fine to leave it where it was.

We had a lovely meal and thoroughly enjoyed our all too brief stay in what seemed like an alternative universe, enjoyed by people who wouldn’t usually get to mix with the likes of us and visa versa.

Next morning I looked out of the window to check the car hadn’t been moved and saw nearby what was either a Rolls or Bentley with a personalised number plate – M40 COW or MAD COW as it read from a distance. Who on earth would own that? After breakfast we had the sad duty of checking out but at least we only had a short walk to the Fig rather than a hike to the main car park like everyone else.

So the plan was load up and then take a photo of the car outside the main entrance that we wouldn’t have otherwise even seen if we hadn’t missed the real car park on our way in. It would make a nice photo and who knows may even pass muster for the calendar.

As we were finishing loading up I saw a man about to get into the aforementioned limo. He looked over, hesitated then started to walk over to us and to my surprise I realised it was the hotel owner and Michelin star chef Raymond Blanc. He was very gracious, thanking us for our visit and hoping we had enjoyed our stay but I knew it wasn’t us that he’d come to see. “What is this car” he asked and listening intently to the stock reply that we all give. “I love the colour – very French” he opined and when Gill told him we were looking to get a photo of the car in front of the hotel he quickly ordered the chauffeur to move his one so we could get the best spot, however this was where the plan fell down.

Our new friend Raymond thought we wanted a photo of him and duly gave our camera to a lackey so all three of us could be pictured together. Now don’t get me wrong this was all rather neat but I didn’t have the heart to tell him the real reason for wanting a photo as it was one that didn’t include him, as pictures of people aren’t allowed in the Figaro calendar !

Monsieur Blanc was a really nice man who went out of his way to come over and talk to us when he didn’t have to but somehow I don’t think I can ever forgive him for ruining our photo opportunity. However we’ve taken some good photos this year so Kevin, just remember who gave you a lift back from Grassington recently and make an old man very happy this Christmas.

Published on 3rd September 2017