(For those who don't know the M25, think Washington beltway or Paris péripherique. Not that I have driven the périferique, and the one time I drove the beltway it seemed nothing like as bad as the M25. Route 101 south of San Francisco might be a closer comparison.)
Many of those autoroutes are toll roads, something of which we here in England have little experience. There is just one major toll road in England, although there are a number of bridges and tunnels where a toll is charged. When we bought our cottage in France I obviously opened a French bank account and, being wholly accustomed to using plastic, I very soon applied for a debit card. This made it easier to use the péages, the toll roads, as it is so much easier to pay this way than to use cash. The usual system, although it does vary sometimes, is to take a ticket on entering a section of péage and, when leaving either at a junction or at the end of the toll section, insert the ticket into a machine to be told the cost. If using plastic, one then inserts the card, removes it and the barrier lifts.
All this is fine and dandy - unless the person nearest the machine happens to be the Old Bat. I think she must have short arms or something. No matter how close I drive to the machine (and remember: although these are placed on the driver's side, that is for French cars and it is the passenger side for English cars) the Old Bat has to release her seat belt and practically squeeze out of the window to reach. It was never thus when my friend Chris was with me, and on those occasions when the Old Bat is driving and I get to use the machines, I have no problem either. But we found a way round this particular snag. It's called télépéage.
Every French toll station - well, nearly every one - has one lane reserved for télépéage. Télépéage users have a transponder thingy stuck on the inside of the windscreen. At the toll station, a radio signal is transmitted which records the entry of the vehicle to the toll section and causes the barrier to raise. On exit, a signal is registered which raises the barrier and notes the cost of the journey. All done automatically. Each month, the total cost is charged to one's bank account. All very easy and very convenient. As a by-product, on busy days in the summer, one can sail in total serenity, figuratively thumbing one's nose, past long queues of cars (mainly English) waiting to pay in cash and be on one's way with no delay.
Simples, as the meerkats would say. (If that reference is lost on you, check it out here.) And so it was - until the last time we were in France.
To be continued.