This afternoon I did my second bout of tour guiding. I was late, there was no parking space, I had to park 200m up the road and haul 120 maps of the Ardèche down to the buses where the other two tour guides were impatiently waiting for me. One of the lady tourists had a hip problem and couldn’t get on the bus until someone dug out a tupperware box to use as a step. Our bus had a faulty door which wouldn’t shut. We set off late. My first joke went down like a piece of lead piping. A woman felt so sick winding along the bendy Ardèche roads that we had to creep along at a crippled snail’s pace. We got to the first viewpoint late. I had to shoo cars out of the parking space, complete with their fuming passengers, so our bus could fit in. We crept further up the windy cliffs of the gorges. People were terrified of the fact there were no barriers on the sides of the road with a sheer 1000m drop. The sicky lady turned greenish yellow with purple spots. The driver slowed down even more. I wondered whether he was going slow enough for me to jump out of the bus unnoticed. And then, suddenly, mysteriously they all warmed to me; they started laughing at my jokes and at the next viewpoint stop they piled out saying (with heavy, almost unintelligable Texan accent:) “You’re the best, Claire – we’ve been on a few tours, but you’re the funniest and the most informative. Keep it up, gal!” and came close to slapping me on the bottom as encouragement. I dread to think what their other tour guides have been like.
I gave them some nougat to taste and they decided they liked me even more.
We got to the lavender museum 20 minutes late and I was horrified to see there were already five coaches parked up. Usually you can’t fit more than two coachloads of tourists comfortably into the little lavender centre without all hell breaking loose. It was chaos. One of the other buses was a colleague with tourists from the same boat, but the other three buses were full of Germans. Angry ones. Their boat had moored an hour and a half late and they’d had to rush to get onto their buses which had rushed to the lavender museum, unfortunately arriving at the same time as us. There was a huge queue to see the little film; only 45 people can fit in at once. The Germans were determined to all see the film first, but after three sessions of the film in German, I put my foot down and demanded that the film be shown in English for my busload of Americans. But by then my Americans had dispersed all over the place; into the shop, the lavender fields, the loos and the old distillery. The people that were still hanging around only filled half the seats in the mini-cinema, so 20 Germans piled in with them. But the film was in English. So their tour guide stood in the doorway and translated into German out loud … so loudly in fact that my Americans couldn’t hear the English soundtrack. Four of them walked out and the Germans looked rather pleased with themselves. But 12 of them stubbornly held on in there. Eventually the Germans became frustrated … then angry … and eventually livid – storming out in a sweaty cloud of schnitzelhosen swear words. My Yanks had won and they celebrated loudly as they walked past the German buses and back to our bus. But I feared this was merely the beginning – an international incident had occurred. World War Three is no doubt on its way, and it’s partly my fault.
By the time we got back on the bus it was really late. I warned them to put their seatbelts on and Maurice, our bus driver, put his foot down. I talked non-stop all the way back to their boat to distract them all from being sick – it seemed to do the trick. The chief tour guide was waiting for us at the docks, scowling. It was quarter to seven and dinner was scheduled at half past six. I was warned that if the same thing happens next week the tour will be cancelled. I heaved my blossoming, pregnant bosom at him, gave him a shot of cleavage and perked up my nipples. He immediately calmed down. My Americans poured out of the bus and filled my little nougat basket with euros and dollars. I got 93 euros and 16 dollars in tips. That’s tips.