Yesterday, I was catching up and swapping driving experiences, having made it through the M6 toll road, (see yesterday's Blog) with a client who had just returned from a family holiday down in the Vendee. Asking how it was, he told me that it had been an entirely and enjoyable stress-free period. (His face lit up at the "stress-less" description and memory of such carefree times.)
Of course, it's a long drive down to that part of France - but all part of the holiday experience, and the Autoroute system is (in my opinion) like the girl-who-had-the-curl in the nursery rhyme - that "when it's good it's very very good"... Luckily, he had avoided the "and when it's bad it's horrid" part of the driving equation! Of course - it wasn't the beginning or the end of August - nor the beginning of a sunny weekend after a huge dump of snow...
The lack of stress was consistent - apart from one incident...
There they were, happily bowling along through the various clever tunnels that avoid major towns (I think Rouen? but then - why let the facts get in the way of a good story).
Wherever it was, the height restriction was clearly marked on each tunnel, and the UK-stickered family-car-with-top-box height was well measured - as it has to be for Euro-tunnel - and well calibrated by the responsible driver / Dad /client / person to whom this story really belongs.
Imagine this - two tunnels down, approaching the third at a fairly respectable (and just legal) speed - and suddenly the sign above the tunnel informs you of the height limit - except this time, the height allowed is a mouse's whisker less than the height of your family-car-plus-top-box..
What do you do? Think about it - it's August in France and you are driving South - along with most of the population of France (or at least Paris) behind you, in front of you and either side of you and your UK bumper stickers, scarily reading the newspaper/map in the driving seat at 90K an hour - until you remember that they are not actually driving cos it's the "wrong" side!
So do you:
Stop on the Autoroute, at the mouth of the tunnel, and get your tape measure out? (Providing it's a modern one with mm/cm as well as feet and inches!) - and hoping that your French vocabulary can stretch this
faaaarrrr to explain to the drivers-of-the-cars-behind-you-in-the-queue-that-you-have-personally-caused? But data collection is part of critical decision making after all...
Stop where you are and get your Euro's-worth (or £'s worth - let's face it - they are pretty much the same thing at the moment!!) out of that red triangle and fluorescent jacket in the boot that your Europe-insurance cover insisted on you carrying, (buried under all the luggage that's not in the top-box,) - and rely on the authorities to sort it out once they arrive?
NB.The key to success with this option is probably to threaten ALL passengers in the car that if they utter a single word of school-curriculum French, that they'll be travelling the rest of the journey IN the top-box (even if it is in the back seat of the car behind by this time) along with the red triangle AND wearing the fluorescent jacket - WITH sandals AND socks for the rest of the holiday - or watching you while you do - whichever is the bigger threat*.
*This threat option tends to have varying strengths, depending on the age of your passengers / family members. For example: very small children tend to find their parents amusing whatever they do in that they tend to like bright colours - and other kids saying "isn't that your Mummy / Daddy in that fluorescent jacket, socks and sandals, dancing like they were at a wedding?" doesn't freak them out at all - in fact they may well join in the dancing - and you are relaxed because you know you have plenty of years to a) pay off the mortgage and b) top up their psychotherapy fund to full capacity.
However, older kids tend to get a bit more neurotic (whilst they learn from us how important it is to be guided by what everyone else thinks)...and adolescents get acutely embarrassed if you can even spell "fluorescent" in public - and the Freedom Pass generation quite likes the security of socks inside their sandals to keep the sands of time out from between their toes.
So if you choose this option, you need to match it with an appropriate level of threat to be really effective.
Pretend that you haven't noticed and drive on regardless, hoping that your top-box doesn't land in the back seat of the car behind, having narrowly missed the driver and not killed or injured anyone on its rapid flight through their windscreen - especially if they are smaller, younger, better looking, or have two (or more) legs than you.
NB: You might find that closing your eyes and sticking your fingers in your ears whilst making progress is a bit of help in the short term with this option. Also - if you choose this, then singing "la, la, la, la, la" in a loud voice at the same time will ensure that you don't hear anyone else making comments or sounding alarmed at the time - whether in English or in curriculum French. It's true, it is a bit tricky while you are driving with that whole "fingers-in-ears-or-on-steering-wheel" choice thing going on - but to be frank, by the time your British top-box is slicing its way through the car behind - all bets are off and "la la la la la" will be music to your ears - fingers or not.
Edge through veeeerrrrry-veeeerrrrry-carefully and hope that if your top-box is clawed off the roof as you go, that at least you can salvage enough clean underwear - and the kids' swimming gear - out of the road and off the windscreen of the Citroen behind, to see you through the first 3 days of the holiday until the shops open again. (On the basis that lack of underwear is eminently solvable with a bit of creative thinking - but lack of kids' swimming gear from the first 3 minutes of arrival at desination is a disaster of nuclear proportions!)
Is that not the most stressful set of choice options? Have I missed any?
Running out of headroom, especially at speed and with responsibilities, is indeed a stressful experience. It got me thinking that unfortunately, cars and tunnels are not the only places where it hapens in life.
I spent some time checking out my own headroom as a result of this story (thank you Robert!)
In my coaching practice I see examples of people using each of the options to manage their own version of personal or professional restrticted headroom with varying consequences.
How are you choosing to manage your own headroom - in your job, in your life?
How are you helping others to choose to manage theirs?
I think these are important questions to ask ourselves.