Travel: Have you ever heard the one about ...

relives an old joke

A JOB AS a coach courier for British tourists, operating out of a campsite in the south of France, was not the most glamorous of occupations. Most of the summer was spent going up and down the motorway between St Tropez and Monaco. Heading east every morning, squinting into the sun, and coming west every afternoon, squinting into the sun. Once a week, though, I would take a coach up to the Gorges du Verdon, a grande canyon lying to the north of Draguignan - a true natural wonder, unlike the ersatz pleasures of Monte Carlo.

One day, the campsite owner asked me if I spoke German. I said I'd learnt the language during a stint working for the British Army in Berlin. "We've got a load of Poles coming tomorrow and they want to see the Gorges. Take them up in their coach, give them a German commentary and I'll pay you double."

There were still a few years until the fall of the Wall, and east Europeans were fairly unknown in the west.

The next morning the campsite knew all about the arrival of a coach from Poland. It had spluttered and coughed its way over the Maures mountains, and along the coast road to St Tropez. The driver parked up at the entrance to the site, but left the engine running, almost single-handedly provoking a smog warning, and narrowly avoiding a forest fire.

Bright and early the next morning, I found my group of Polish tourists all waiting patiently outside the coach. As they climbed aboard, each and every one shook me by the hand and said something in Polish. "They are very happy," the group leader told me. All the men wore tank-tops two sizes too small.

The Polish coach was a prime example of east European technology. The chairs wobbled and the exhaust gases seemed to be filtered through the bus before being redirected out the back. That smell amalgamated with the curious aroma of miscellaneous provisions, mainly of the sausage variety, brought from home.

I launched into the commentary, a little unsure of my German, but I gamely struggled on as we climbed through the mountains towards Le Muy. As the miles rolled by, I was getting more confident with my foreign commentary. I turned around to face them once or twice and they seemed to be rapt. I was enjoying myself now, and even told a couple of jokes.

Near Draguignan, the driver leaned over and attempted to engage me in conversation, or so I thought, in English. I pretended to understand, but his accent was thick enough to cut. He tried French, and this time I understood. "My brakes are knackered", was the gist of it. "Any idea where we can get them fixed?"

I located the group leader and reminded him that we would be driving along the edge of the largest canyon in Europe on narrow roads. Would it not have been a good idea to get this checked out before? He shouted at the driver, who gesticulated wildly for a while. Everyone had a bit of a shout, but eventually they all seemed happy. "Forget it, we'll be fine. Let's just go on," he said.

We made our precarious way along the lip of the canyon. At the far end is a beautiful lake, with sparkling green water just crying out to be swum in. Everyone was desperate to get off the bus, but first I got the group leader to deliver the lecture about not getting sunburnt, be careful on the pedalos and, above all, get back to the coach on time, it being rude to keep your fellow travellers waiting, etc.

I had brought a couple of visiting friends from home along on the trip. Normally, I would sunbathe and read while the punters were off having fun, but my friends decided we just had to go downriver on a pedalo. It is a wonderful way of seeing this spectacular place, so we drifted along merrily until I realised we only had 30 minutes to get back to the coach. "We'd better be getting back," I said, but as we turned we realised how difficult this would be. We were pedalling against the water and didn't seem to be moving. An hour later, our leg muscles screaming in pain, we rounded the end of the gorge and managed to look up to where the coach waited. Silhouetted against the bright sky were 50 Poles, arms crossed.

I staggered up the ridge and apologised with every German expression of sorrow I could muster. The leader pulled me aside: "Do you speak English?"

"Of course I do, I am English. Why's that?" I asked.

"Because nobody on the coach speaks German."

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor