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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Chapter 3 - part three

On the Saturday we moved into hotel accommodation. I use the word loosely. I was in a bunk bed in the supposed ‘hotel’ and had to walk down the corridor to use the shared bathroom and toilet facilities while skanky old men shuffled past in white singlets and cotton pyjama bottoms. This dodgy joint with its musty carpets and mustier clientele would become a home away from home whenever I was in London between tours, but for now I was blissfully ignorant of that.

The next morning we left for France. Departure morning was a whirlwind, and this didn’t change even when I was taking my own tours. Thirty seven prospective drivers and tour managers were lumped together. The drivers had been training together for a month already. The Driver Trainer introduced himself to us with a quick lesson.

“Right you guys, just remember you are on a coach, NOT a bus. If you wonder what the difference is, on a bus there’s a conductor taking your tickets, so unless you tour managers want a demotion,” (cackles from the trainee drivers), “you’d better get your terminology right. Nor would you find a toilet on a public bus,” (more snickers from the drivers), “but don’t expect to be using the one on our coach. The spots where we can empty the toilet are few and far between, and as all your ‘deposits’ are taken with us everywhere we go, there tends to be a nice whiff once the container starts getting full. I’ll be right, there’s a window I can open next to me, but for the rest of you it won’t be pretty.”

So, don’t use the coach toilet. Got it. This worried me a bit. If I see a toilet I automatically need to go. I think it stems from my outback childhood when we had to drive two and half hours to get to the nearest town, and if we were busting we had to pull over and do our business in the baked red earth of the scrub. I still hate the thought of the outback roadside-backsplash. I decided this would be a personal challenge for me, to avoid the wrath of the Driver Trainer.

The Tour Manager Trainer was Scottish with an accent to match, but at six foot tall, buff, bronzed and with bright white teeth he seemed more like a Californian. “You can call me God,” he said as introduction.

We had barely been on the road for half an hour when he flicked on the microphone.

“Mark, can you come up to spiel please.”

Hell, what was this? It surprised me that we hadn’t even reached Dover yet, let alone mainland Europe, and someone was already called up to spiel. We were still on the outskirts of London. What the heck would he spiel about?

Mark had worked for the company before. He took the microphone with a smile. He had an olive complexion and looked more Italian than Aussie, which would be handy a few seasons later when he became known as Mr Italy and specialised in those tours. He had a selection of tattoos and bulging biceps, and I’m sure the girls on his tours would all be after him. He also had a very easy way about him, and was a confident but relaxed speaker.

“Ring a ring a rosy, a pocket full of posies…Remember that nursery rhyme? Okay, keep it in mind, we’ll come back to it. Guys if you look out your window you will see we are passing Blackheath. Today it’s a park, and parts are used for rugby games, but its history is much darker and deadlier. During the middle ages the bubonic plague or Black Death decimated the population of Europe. As the dead bodies were considered contagious, large lined graves were built out here. Black Death…Black Heath, get it? Back then, it was a fair hike from London; hence a safe distance from the living population. With the modern urban sprawl now it’s part of London. Weird to think that’s what’s under the nice park, hey? That nursery rhyme you sang as kids is based on fact. ‘Ring a ring a rosy, a pocketful of posies, atishoo, atishoo, we all fall down.’ If you developed a reddish rosy ring — that was the pock mark. The posies were the supposedly healing herbs used at the time, as they didn’t have pharmacies on every corner — although some people will tell you it’s because they tried to disguise the awful smell as they thought that bad smells caused diseases. If you sneezed that meant your immune system was shutting down, and ‘we all fall down’ — you’re dead!”

What an interesting spiel! I’d had no idea about that story. It also meant that we had some very knowledgeable competition. This spurred me on to study more.

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