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Monday, July 12, 2010

Chapter 3 - part four

If called on to spiel, we were expected to stand at the front of the coach and look back at our audience. No notes were permitted, not even palm cards. It was nerve-wracking. Not only did we have no idea when we would be called up, we had no idea what we’d have to spiel about. We had a booklet of study material on each country, but there were many spiels that could be chosen. I made it safely through Dover and the ferry to Calais, but was called up an hour out of Paris to give an introduction to France. The microphone was handed to me by a stern faced training manager. My heart was hammering a million times a minute. Right, I told myself, don’t let the bastards see your fear. Use your drama skills. Act confident even if you’re scared stiff. Talk slowly — that one came straight from Mum. Make it interesting. I turned around. Oh my God! Seventy-four eyes looking at me, some bored, some smiling faces. I focussed on a spot on the rear window and began.

“Bonjour! Welcome to France! Home of romantic Paris, the Riviera dahling, vineyards, fromage (that’s cheese), the guillotine, the Louvre, the rendezvous and the divorce! It is bordered in the south by the Pyrenees…” I managed to throw in the facts I’d learned and spieled without stopping for ten minutes, keeping up my enthusiasm throughout. From the pebbly beaches in the south to the controversial addition of EuroDisney, the romance of the Eiffel Tower, to the fact that the population was three times that of Australia…My heart was racing but I kept my voice steady and a smile festooned across my face like fresh warpaint in this, my first Battle of The Microphone.

When I’d finished I waited for my review from God. “Not bad,” he said grudgingly. “But a bit short.”

Oh well, I could work on that. I was relieved.

The most memorable spiel all day was by Lukas, the Norwegian guy. We’d each been allocated a specialist topic to research, and were to spiel about it at a relevant point in the trip. Lukas was up first. Mine wasn’t until Italy, so I had some breathing space. I’d written up most of it already as I’d figured I’d be too busy on the road to do it. ‘On the road’. Wow, that had sounded cool, back in London. Now it was a reality.

Lukas was cool too, a bit of a dude who’d worked on camping tours in America and was used to yarning to people. He sauntered down the aisle, grabbed the microphone as we passed the World War One battlefields and the Valley of the Somme, and began.

“WAR! A lot of people died.”

We all laughed. What an introduction. He talked a bit more, about death and war and stuff, but didn’t weigh his talk down with much in the way of facts or figures or historical information. I would’ve droned on with details like the 58,000 plus British troops killed in the first day of the battle remains a record, that the intended diversion resulted in over a million lives lost in less than five months of fighting, and that the nearby River Somme was the namesake for the Battle. Not Lukas. He could have been describing the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. His relaxed delivery was engaging and easy on the ear. We all clapped him as he took his seat.

God stood up to address us, his face like thunder. “Right you lot, be warned. That is NOT good enough for your individual talk. You have had weeks to prepare. From now on anyone who gets up and has such a piss weak spiel had better be ready to pay the price. Lukas, you’ll be helping the trainee drivers clean the coach tonight, to make up for the work you SHOULD have put in to your spiel. And take this.” With that, God brandished a hand mirror with a bright pink border, emblazoned in permanent marker with the words Take A Good Long Hard Look At Yourself. “Keep it on you at all times as a reminder. Don’t the rest of you get too comfortable,” growled God. “This will be passed on to the next person who stuffs up…so watch out.”

It didn’t seem to faze Lukas. It fazed me. I studied even more.

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