The Day I Tried to Improve Welsh/Polish Relations.


A massive truck

I like to think of myself as a helpful person, a net contributor to the society. Take, for example, the time I helped a Polish lorry driver who’d got lost in the town where I grew up. I was on my way to the pub to meet friends and was running late when I spied the huge truck parked up half on the pavement of a narrow road. The driver was standing in the headlights with a big map flapping in the wind and a cigarette dangling from his mouth. His unruly hair was all over the place.

I checked the clock on my dashboard. I was very late. But then, what if nobody stops? I decided to do the right thing and pulled over. I jogged back up the street to help my fellow motorist.

‘Are you lost?’ I said.

Where the truck driver was

The site where the diplomatic relations began

He looked at me over the top of his map. His face was podgy and he had a five o’clock shadow. His eyes had big bags under them and he was clearly exhausted. He then said something to me in a foreign language that had something of the Slavic in it. I said earlier that my road companion was from Poland but in fact he could have been from anywhere in Eastern Europe.

‘Do you speak English?’ I said.

‘Nor nor!’

Map flapping in one hand he produced from his pocket the name of a company and an address. And I knew the address. The industrial estate for which he was headed was an old friend of mine. Legends nightclub was there, the only nightclub in a five mile radius. The only thing between my new friend and his destination was the language barrier. The directions were too complicated. He would never make it. I looked at my watch.

Bugger it, I thought. I am going to enhance Welsh/European relations with an extraordinary act of kindness. There was so much hate in the world about Polish immigrants stealing our jobs and here I was fighting the good fight on the ground.

‘You,’ I said, jabbing a finger at his chest. ‘Follow… me.’ And I motioned with my arms as if I was at a steering wheel.

He nodded enthusiastically, not unlike a dog. I nodded back, also like a dog. Two old dogs of the road.

‘Yes!’ I said.

‘Yes, yes,’ he said.

This was awesome, I thought. Here we were, two people from different parts of the globe coming together in a moment of friendship. We practically bounced back to our vehicles.

I smiled to myself as I turned the key. He’d tell stories of this when he returned to the taverns of his hometown. I pulled off and drove down the hill. It would only take ten minutes. My friends could wait. I kept my speed nice and easy so that he could follow in his huge wagon.

Down the hill and under the bridge and round the corner I went. On to the first roundabout. I slowed to make sure he could follow me. But when I checked in the mirror there was no truck in tow. I waited. Still no sign. Probably having a bit of bother on the narrow roads, I thought to myself. I circled the roundabout a few times but still my friend did not appear. And then a thought hit me. Not a good one.

I headed back up the road towards the truck and when I rounded the corner my fears were confirmed. My new friend had got his massive lorry wedged under the low bridge. There was a sign saying “low bridge,” I suddenly remembered. It didn’t register at the time. He either couldn’t read it or just was so worried about being lost he’d decided to take the plunge. Either way, he was in there and I was very late for the pub. I glanced up to the ceiling of the bridge and saw the only slightly mangled top of the big container bit behind the cab. It wasn’t so bad. And then I looked through the windshield. My new friend and I made eye contact. He was gesturing wildly at the roof. We stared at each other for a few seconds and I nodded apologetically and waved that it would be okay.

I always imagine the next part of the story from the point of view of the Polish driver. He’d been lost but a kindly local man had stopped his car and not just offered directions but agreed to take him all the way to his destination on the industrial estate. Soon he would be heading back to his homeland, the thought of his wife and children in his mind. Maybe she had prepared a simple fish supper over the fire for his return. What a service this young man had done for him. The metal screech as he crunched under the bridge probably darkened his jubilant mood somewhat. He probably thought, as I would have, just slam my foot down and try and get out the other end, but this would only have driven the truck deeper into the bridge until he could go no further. Disaster! he would have thought. Disaster. He would have raised his face to the heavens and relinquished control of the wheel.

But all was not lost. A minute later he would have seen a set of headlights appear, a beacon, and then the very car that had offered help would have come into his vision like a white horse at the most critical point of a battle. Yes, the young man has messed up by taking me under a low bridge but thank god he has come back. A speaker of the native tongue he will be able to help get me home. What an ambassador for his country he is. Look, he is waving to me.

And I wonder about the feeling in his chest as he saw me there, his only chance of escape, as I realised I really was very, very late. He would have watched my car reversing a little way down the street, before making a very slow and awkward three point turn (I’m not a great driver) and then disappearing into the darkness. I sometimes wonder, what did he think as he watched me do this? And I contemplate what happened to him afterwards, before I remember that I already know the answer. Because I was told the following day, about how the road was closed for several hours that night as the fire brigade de-wedged my new friend from the stony grip of the bridge.

Low Bridge

The site where diplomacy broke down.

I like to picture a happy ending to the story. I like to think of that driver as heroic. I imagine him like Tom Hanks at the end of Castaway where at last he delivers the package. I see the Polish driver walking down the middle of Coedcae Lane Industrial Estate with his package under his arm, past Legends and the TNT depot until he came at last to the place he was looking for, where he knocked on the metal goods in/out door of the warehouse, proud of a job well done. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened.


Terror Threat Foiled by Vigilant Staff at Whitchurch Lloyds Pharmacy

Bomb Squad

Vigilant staff members at Lloyds Pharmacy in Whitchurch prevented a terror attack this afternoon, when they discovered a suspicious package left in a corner. The diligent workers called the police and the shop was closed whilst the package was checked. Thank goodness for these brave people who stopped what could have been a terror attack on the scale of 9/11. Apart from it wasn’t a bomb. It was my backpack.

There I was, enjoying the intense heat of the day at home when I thought, hang on, I’ve left my backpack in the pharmacy. Panicked – my wallet and notebook and pens were in there – I raced to the shop in the hope it had been handed in. The three adult members of staff seemed to recognise me when I re-entered the shop.

‘Have you got my backpack by any chance?’ I said.

The pharmacy assistant stepped forward.

‘We had to call the police. We were terrified! We had to close the shop! We didn’t know if it was a bomb!’

My mind didn’t really register this.

‘The police tried calling you,’ said the rather sheepish pharmacist.

I checked my phone and sure enough there was a missed call and a message. My phone number is written in my notebook. The message was from a policeman telling me he had my bag and it would be kept at Fairwater Police Station until 10pm and then moved somewhere else after that, though I missed the last part because I was suddenly getting annoyed that my bag had been confiscated because three ridiculous people were unable to behave like adults. Now I had to go all the way across town to fetch my bag.

Why hadn’t they just checked the bag? I can kind of understand being worried (I can’t really – I think the world has gone crazy when it comes to terrorism) but surely shutting the shop is a bit over the top. The pharmacy is in the sleepy village of Whitchurch in Cardiff. And when the police realised it wasn’t a bomb why hadn’t they said, leave the bag here – we’ll call the owner. This is what I would do, and in fact it is what I do when bags get left behind where I work. If I closed the library every time a bag was left behind it would never be open. I never shut the place down and call the police, because that’s mental! And there were three adults there, none of whom were able to think like an adult. Squirming with anger, I of course politely thanked the staff and left the shop.

It was 5:30 and I needed to be at Amy’s grandfather’s for the weekly family meal by 6. Just enough time to get to Fairwater and back. Or so I thought. Through rush hour traffic in the stifling heat I got over to Fairwater in half an hour and remembered the policeman had said to call 101 to make arrangements for collection. I’ll do that, I thought, it’ll make the whole operation run nice and smooth. I’ll go there, get my bag, and get over to the family dinner. So I called 101 and got past the incredibly slow talking automated voice thing to a human, who took my details and asked about the bag, etc. She wanted to know the policeman’s name but I’d deleted the message and was pretty sure he hadn’t said his name anyway. So she ummed and arred for a while and said it would be best if she patched me through to public services where I got more umming and arring and supervisor-asking before at last she came back and said I’d have to go to Fairwater Police Station at 9pm as nobody was there to give me my bag at the moment. This phone call took 50 minutes. Quite an extraordinary length of time. I knew what she had to do – put out an APB to all vehicles. That’s basically what you should always do. Instead I got a reference number. Fuming, I politely thanked the phone operator and ended the call. She’s going to get a hammering in my blog, I thought.

My night was being wrecked by people doing ridiculous things. I pined for some common sense. It was almost seven o’clock now. Was I really going to wait for two hours? I didn’t even know where Fairwater Police Station was. So I popped into the local Coop for directions and took the decision to go there and wait for an officer to turn up. Surely someone would be there before 9pm. But when I got there I saw that Fairwater Police Station is, in fact, absolutely massive and choc full with policemen and women. There must have been at least forty cars in the car park.

Sadly, the car park was on the other side of a big metal gate so I pulled up in front of it and went in search of a front door. There was none. When I got back to my car the big metal gate was open and a big metal car was trying to get around my Ka. Fortunately the driver circumnavigated my car without me seeing me and I got my chance to get into the main complex, where two officers were at the door, recognising me from the photo ID in my wallet, beckoning me in.

Awesome, I thought. At last some people with common sense. ‘They thought it was a bomb!’ said the officer. ‘There hasn’t been a bomb in Cardiff since 1969!’

I laughed and nodded to the other officer. ‘I bet they just wanted to close the shop to get fifteen minutes off work,’ I said, jokingly. Just a bit of bants really. Bants with the lads. We had a good laugh about how over the top people can be. ‘If I closed the library every time a bag was left behind it would never be open!’ I said. There we were, three lads having a laugh, men of work being sensible. They gave me bag and I signed a form and it was done. I didn’t have to wait until 9pm because it would have been silly.

I chuckled to myself on the way home. It was nice to be accepted by the policemen. I had felt a manly bond with them. Then I thought. Then I had a bit of a cringe. They’d got my number from my notebook. Which meant they’d looked in my bag. Earlier that day I’d bought a present for my colleague, Wendy. Which meant that as they sifted through my things they would have picked up a pristine hardback edition of Alan Titchmarsh’s romantic bestseller, Haunted; a tale of love, betrayal and the past.

Alan Titchmarsh

The whole scene in the police station suddenly became something completely different in my head. They weren’t laughing at how stupid the people in the shop were, they were laughing at me acting all macho with a copy of an Alan Titchmarsh book in my bag. It was a disappointing end to a disappointing episode.

Addendum: I thought it was all over and took solace in the fact I would be able to blog about it. I’ll take a photo of the book next to the bag, I thought. That’ll be funny. It was a lovely light outside so I set up the shot, of the Alan Titchmarsh book next to my bag on my doorstep when my cool neighbour walked past. I was leaning over the book with my camera phone when he said, ‘Alright?’ I said, ‘Yeah I’m fine, thanks.’