Beware of French robbers in Spain

It was the last day of our touring holiday and we were making our way back up to Santander to board the ferry for Plymouth. It was around one o’clock in the afternoon so we Pulled into the Autogrill Iberia, a service station off the A1,north of Madrid

Before we ordered our food Alan, my husband, called me over to see the collection of knives that were for sale, and we agreed that it was unusual merchandise for a service station. We were in no hurry and so spent about 45 minutes at the stop.

As we we were leaving Alan noticed that the offside rear wheel was flat as a pancake. What a bummer, we thought as we hobbled into the lorry park at the back of the shop. I wasn’t too concerned as I always have faith in Alan’s abilities with anything mechanical and thought he would have the wheel changed in no time. After a few minutes of silent rifling through the various compartments in the floor of the Citroen Berlingo, I saw the expression on Alan’s face turn to one of dismay with the realisation that he had left the jack in the garage at our home back in England. We had tow rope, jump leads, a range of spanners and tools but no jack.

In the hunt for the jack our suitcases and an oddments had been strewn on the pavement. Within ten minutes of our arrival on the lorry park a car with a French number plate pulled up and parked at the rear of us, a metre away from the tailgate of our car. I thought this was suspicious as the lorry park was huge and almost empty. The two young men got out of their car and swaggered over to the cafe where incidentally, there was also plenty of parking available.

The Citroen Berlingo is a multi purpose vehicle and the purpose we used it for was to transport an off-road motorcycle, with front wheel removed, along with our luggage, riding gear and tools. On instinct, I hid the bags containing our valuables under the mound of clobber we had in the back of the car. I also put a €20 note in my pocket.

We Borrowed a jack from a man in the store but it wasn’t big enough to raise the Berlingo. Alan tried blocks of wood under the jack but because it was the wrong jack for the vehicle it didn’t fit and kept popping the plastic guard out.

We inspected the tyre but couldn’t see any damage, and I wondered if the air had been let out of the tyre. This thought relieved my anxiety slightly because I thought we could just reinflate it and get on our way.

My heart sank when the two men returned to their car half an hour later. The driver removed his hoody and sat in the driver’s seat while the other one took his empty drinks can to the bin. The driver then got out of the car and went to the bin. I was watching them all the time. They then made to drive off but stopped along side of our car to ask if we wanted help. Alan was laying on the ground still struggling with the jack. The baby-faced driver got out and got down on the ground close (too close) to Alan and tried to take hold of the jack handle. Alan pushed him away saying that he didn’t want help. Meanwhile the other, more furtive looking one went to look at the front of the car. Overcoming my normal tendency to be gracious when being offered something I told the driver that we didn’t want their help and thanked him very much. He then rose and backed away feigning surprise. I felt such a sense of relief as the pair drove off.

Alan decided to give up on the jack. It wasn’t big enough to jack the Berlingo up high enough to remove the flat tyre, let alone replace it with a fully inflated one. He let the air out of the spare but still couldn’t get the damaged tyre off. He decided to use the ‘Pink Lady’ temporary tyre foam to seal the puncture and reinflate the tyre. We were then able to limp the couple of kilometres up the road to the motor repair garage to have a new tyre fitted. On closer inspection at the garage we were able to see the cause of the trouble – a puncture mark on the tyre wall which could only have been made with a pointed blade.

With this knowledge My anxiety was renewed as I realised the enormity of the threat we had been under. It was ironic that Alan had been amazed by the knives on display in the service cafe. The scenario could have had a much more unpleasant outcome.

So, why didn’t we fall prey to these two men, who after all were only offering us their kind assistance?

I believe it was gut feeling and ham acting on the part of the would be robbers that made us both, without actually saying anything, mistrust this pair and allowed us not to let down our guard. It was also lucky that we had not stopped to attempt to change the wheel in a more isolated spot or at the side of the motorway. I must also confess to keeping a wheel spanner very visible in my hand throughout the whole encounter. I don’t mean this to sound macho but I think it might have had some significance in the outcome.

At the end of the day we were just thankful that all we lost was the price of a tyre and a few hours of our holiday. But it has made us very wary of leaving the car unattended in motorway services when travelling abroad.