Guiding memories (1)

Alongside translation, my second job is as a tour guide.  These days I am a Blue Badge guide for the Heart of England region, but it’s not the first time I have worked in this kind of area.  For two years after university, I worked as a tour guide on coach tours throughout Europe, with English-speaking clients from all over the world.  It was a stressful, tiring yet ultimately enjoyable time, with enough anecdotes to fill a book sometime.  I actually did commit some of them to paper (well, screen but you know what I mean) a while ago, so thought I would add them to the blog rather than letting them fester on my hard drive.

So here goes…

“So Ian, can you drive a coach?”.

I will never forget those words.  I was standing at the back of a cross-channel ferry, watching the white cliffs of Dover recede into the distance, heading for Europe and a new life.  My new job as a tour guide was just beginning, in fact it was about an hour old.  I had done my preparation, and felt confident I could face whatever would be thrown at me.  But this question came out of the blue.  The manual I had read meticulously, and the intensive weekend seminar in London had covered a lot of things, but I was sure that at all times, the concept of our tours was that the driver would drive and the guide would, well, guide.  So why was my driver (one of two for this tour in actual fact) asking me this?  Had I missed something?  Or had the company missed something (“driving licence” was conspicuously absent from my CV and application form at that time in my life)?  For a moment I was speechless.

Of course it was just nerves, me reading far too much into a casual question by the driver, small talk to while away the ferry crossing.  And once I realised this, I replied in kind, that while I did not have a driving licence, I’d be happy to have a go if he’d give me crash course, so to speak.  But still, those words stayed with me.  They stand out as a valuable initiation into the world of the coach tour, simply because from that moment on, I realised that the motto I would have to live by would be “expect the unexpected”.  I am glad, although probably not half as glad as my passengers, to report that I never did have to drive a coach.  But thinking back, it seems that this was just about the only thing that I was not asked to do at one time or another.  And believe me, it would have been much easier and certainly far less bizarre than many of the tasks I was called upon to perform.

I soon discovered that even “expect the unexpected” was something of an understatement.  Looking at things objectively and with the benefit of hindsight, I suppose that is relatively obvious now.  Leading a coach tour through various European countries throws up almost unlimited scope for disasters, accidents, arguments and incidents.  And that’s just the drivers you have to work with.  Add 50 people from various countries into the mix, with a liberal sprinkling of idiosyncratic hoteliers and restaurateurs, border guards, police and local guides and you have all the ingredients for an exciting and challenging time.

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