A few years back I took my old 911 to Switzerland. The return journey began at Kandersteg in the Bernese Oberland at 7.30am. By 3pm, we were five hundred odd miles north at the ferry terminal in Calais, having taken a leisurely fuel+food stop and a one-hour detour through some Moselle villages.
The nearest thing to an incident that I saw in the whole trip was a Renault Kangoo tipped on its side blocking one lane of a two-lane French autoroute. In Britain, that would have resulted in an 8-hour delay, a 20-mile tailback and the cancellation of all police leave within a 50-mile radius. In France, the police presence was one blue van on the hard shoulder, one gendarme sweeping up some broken glass and a second gendarme standing by, whistling a few selections from Edith Piaf's repertoire. Meantime, passing traffic did just that. It passed. No fuss, no drama, no reduction in speed.
The very next day, I had to drive into suburban London. The three-mile trip along roads that were apparently being deliberately constricted by the local authorities took 45 minutes and was pure hell.
Cross-channel operators have been cosily fleecing Brits for many years now. It more or less started the day after the Channel Tunnel cranked up its fares from around £100 return to nearer £300.
After the ferry operators had bravely matched these bold new Chunnel prices, they then threw in longer journey times for good measure, so not only were you paying more, you were getting a reduced service.
A purser with whom I shared a pre-breakfast rum on board one of these glitzed-up scows, the MV Beyoncé I think it was called, admitted to me that every cross-channel operator could easily get their tubs from Dover to Calais in half an hour, just as they used to, but then there wouldn't be enough time to empty every traveller's pocket in the amusingly entitled 'duty-free shop'.
Of course, to get your Euro-motoring kicks you could always fly somewhere and then rent a car, but this is fraught with danger and hidden costs, especially if you try to do it on the cheap and end up paying through the nose to be rescued from your misery by one of the global rental outfits. Plus, your Euro-choice is nowhere near as interesting as that on offer in (say) the US.
Again, things used to be better. Cat-Seven was a Chantilly-based outfit that rented out a Caterham Super Seven to anybody willing to stump up a 2,000 euro deposit plus 550 euro a day. For that, you got a Cat-Seven bod riding shotgun and giving directions so you could give maximum concentration to the essential task of frightening him half to death. After a gourmet lunch, you would switch seats with the Cat-Seven guy and become the giggling frightenee.
Two things need to happen for the fun to come back into motoring. One, a new SpeedFerries needs to come along to facilitate Euro-jaunts and keep the other lot honest. And two, somebody needs to invent some sort of convertible head protection that doesn't look annoyingly like a roof. And that isn't a hat.
[Motorway photo: Highways England]