If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Entente Cordiale, my contribution

There was a brilliant bit of teamwork going on at Nowhere Towers this evening.

I was riding home from work when I spotted a car with foreign plates parked in a small lane off the road I was on. He seemed to be nudging forward, so I slowed right down and was prepared to stop if necessary. And then I saw that it was a left-hand drive car, and that the driver had a map folded over the steering wheel and was reading it. Doh! I thought, and rode past him slowly - and then out of the corner of my eye I saw the driver get out and start waving at me.

I pulled over and he walked up to me, waving a handful of A4 papers. It was then I realised that he was lost. And French. He had (surprisingly) very little English, but pointed at the name of a guest house on the paper and asked me if I knew where it was. I had never heard of it. All I could get out of him was that the postal town was Haverfordwest. Now Pembrokeshire is a large and widely-spread county, and the area covered by the generic term 'near Haverfordwest' is huge, and includes a million scattered farmsteads. I took the papers off him and read them through. No address, no directions, nothing. Just an acknowledgement from Brittany Ferries that he was booked for tonight into a guest house with a very Welsh name. The poor guy didn't have a hope of pronouncing it, never mind finding it.

We had worked out by this time that we would do much better if we communicated in French, which shows you how limited his English was - my rough campsite French is utilitarian and inelegant, but would have to suffice. I couldn't leave them (he had his wife and teenage son in the car), so I pulled out the mobile phone. Brilliant! A signal! (Round here, that counts as a stroke of luck comparable to a modest lottery win.) So I phoned Anna, who - having lived here all her life - would surely know the place.

Nope, never heard of it.

But Anna's computer was on, so while I nodded into the phone and smiled at the French chap she Googled the name of the guest house and came up with an address about eight miles away, up in the very Welsh-speaking hills to the North. She read out the website directions (written in a jokey "if you can't find us we will send out the butler to look for you" style), which I mentally simplified and then cast into the French words I knew, and then tried to memorise for relaying to the lost motorist. I then gave him the directions as best as I could (feeling like a contestant on a cross between Krypton Factor and The Generation Game), combining O-level remnants - remembering arrêt d'autobus was a flash of genius - with arrows and pictograms scrawled on a scrap of Brittany Ferries receipt. I got him to repeat them back to me, to check we were roughly on the same page, and then I waved them goodbye. I was torn between leaving it there and shouting "suivez-moi!" and tearing off up the road to lead the way. But the thought of my dinner overcame a fifteen-mile detour to foster better Anglo-French relations, and I scooted off home.

I've just Googled the details and given the guest house a ring. They made it.

I love it when things like this happen.


  1. At least you didn't use the "John Cleese Method of Communicating with Foreigners".

    Posted by one whose multi-lingual capabilities stretch to yes/no/thank-you in both French & Spanish.

  2. "They made it". Congratulations, episodes such as this usually have an unsatisfactory outcome because you rarely know what happened next.

  3. I'm glad I phoned a simewhat surprised guest house owner, as I would have wondered about the outcome for weeks. Plus he was a nice chap (if woefully underprepared) and his wife was pretty.

  4. ;) lol...and the wife was pretty... lol...

  5. Well ... she was, y'know? The crazy thing is that this is a rural area, and their chances of finding someone with even basic French were pretty slim, let alone the first grizzly biker to pass where they were parked. I don't often say that someone was lucky to find me, but I think they were.

  6. "I've just Googled the details and given the guest house a ring. They made it."


  7. This sounds like the basis of a new service industry - to be guided through Wales by a dedicated motorcycle outrider.

    You would obviously need a decent bike made by BMW to do this in "Royal" style.....

  8. Sounds like you practise - and are successful - in the philosophy of performing random acts of kindness to strangers, It's good to know there are such people in the world.

  9. @ Nikos - I agree it should be done in style, and a tatty old trailbike was possibly not the best vehicle for the job. I would have been happy with the good old British Triumph, but letting the Germans in on the act would seem perhaps a little unwise; the history is not good on this one.

    @ Windsock - I didn't think of it as 'kindness', to be honest, just something that anyone would do in the circumstances. I am reminded of Vladimir: "To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears! But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not." Sometimes, fate presents you with a chance to do something useful for a stranger, and you take it or you don't. Whether you do or not depends largely on the kind of world you would like to live in.


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