Thursday, 23 June 2011

Another Bonkers Road Trip: Part 2 – Necessity Is The Mother Of Inquiry

I have lived in Stafford for nearly 24 years. And one of the reasons why I would be reluctant to leave – which may sound trivial on the face of it – is an attachment to my own particular network of (for want of a better word) service providers. I am talking about a good hairdresser, optician, plumber, paving slab layer, lady who does alterations, family jeweller who will untangle a necklace free of charge, and a garage that won’t mysteriously find £350 worth of repairs that need doing when you only asked them to check your tyre pressure. That’s the sort of thing I mean. Plus the best shops for this and that: a really nice pork bap with stuffing, an arty birthday card, or an upmarket wool shop whose wares don’t crackle with static. Yes, it would take a lot of time and effort to replicate the complete gamut of quality tradespeople and retailers from scratch in a new town. By staying in Stafford I have largely avoided the issue, however, on my recent travels my resourcefulness at finding just a couple of key service providers “on the fly” was seriously put to the test... Polish photocopying coup By way of (brief) background, the agency I am working for changed one of my questionnaires quite radically midway through the trip. They sent me an electronic version, doubtless assuming that I am a mobile business centre, for whom it would be a moment's work to print off 5 copies at 40 pages a pop. Whereas I am in fact just a woman who periodically lives out of her car. Also, to up the level of difficulty, this all cracked off on a public holiday in Germany, meaning that there was no hope of finding a Kinko’s or a Kall-Kwik in time for the following day, when I was due to use the new version. My hotel reluctantly agreed to print off a single copy of the document from my memory stick, charging me 8 euros for the privilege (I beat them down from 16!), muttering darkly all the while about possible viral contagion. I incorrectly called the memory stick a “Stäbchen”, which caused much merriment amongst the front desk staff. Having since looked it up, I realise that the word does indeed denote certain stick-like entities, but in matters linguistic, a miss is always as good as a mile. Stäbchen Chopstick Ciggy / fag Skewer Rod Crochet stitch Bra bone And when used in conjunction with “fish”, “fish fingers”. And of course I might have known that the term has already become “verenglischt” as “USB-Stick”…! Okay then…. so far so good, but I still only had one copy of the questionnaire. So as Germany was effectively closed for the day, I thought I might as well drive on to my next destination in Poland, and take my chances there. I had a whole afternoon in a small town to figure something out. It turned out to be a place with a rich architectural heritage, that was sadly now somewhat ruined and crumbly. Most of the shops seemed to be of the small newsagent/kiosk variety, selling sweets and alcohol, so in the end I asked a bunch of people in a pub, who managed collectively to rustle up some six words of English - “copy”, fortunately, being one of them. A younger guy nodded his head sagely and drew me a walking map to this magical unspecified place that would help me out. I promptly got lost on some waste ground behind the railway station - the sort of terrain in which you could easily disappear, never to be seen again - so decided the map was probably on the impressionistic side, and struck out in the opposite direction. Six more passers by later, all of whom could only communicate by pointing – which was enough, as it turned out - I found myself in a pedestrian precinct at a photographer's. Yup, the owner had a photocopier all right, but didn't speak English either, so I held up the questionnaire and four fingers (rods/skewers/chopsticks etc), and that did the trick. A young girl was conjured up from the back of the shop, and painstakingly did the copying, one page at a time... I decided that “collated” or “double-sided” might be an instruction too far, and was simply overjoyed to see the questionnaire multiply fivefold on any terms. The whole lot cost me 45 zlotys, which was about 12 quid, I think. As I stepped outside into the warm sunshine, swinging my laden Kodak carrier bag before me, I felt very chuffed. Back at the pub, my informant was standing outside by my car, talking on his mobile. He looked up questioningly as he saw me, so I held the bag aloft, gave him a thumb’s up sign with the other hand, and grinned as broadly as I knew how... Belgian dental coup The other "result" of the week was to visit a dentist in Belgium. I broke a tooth driving back from Poland, about 450 miles into the 600 mile trip - on a banana chip of all things, or "chipsy bananowe" as it said on the packet. It left a jagged edge like an off-centre Matterhorn, to which my inquisitive tongue kept returning, slightly more lacerated every time. I wondered if I could bridge the gap with a tiny ball of tissue, and conducted some experiments during the remaining 150 miles of my journey. In the act of chomping on the tissue in a bid to mould it to the interstice in question, another bit of tooth promptly broke off. So I removed the sodden wad and concluded that emergency dentistry might be – to quote Mr Bonkers’ favourite phrase – "outside my sphere of competence". Finding anyone to sort my mouth out while I was away seemed a tall order at the time. But as luck would have it, the secretary of the person I was visiting the next morning managed to get me a slot with her dentist in his lunch hour a few days later. He did a fantastic job, rebuilding the tooth with a filling that looks just like real enamel and smoothing it off so that it is better now than it was to start with. And all for the half the price my own dentist would have charged me. It was amusing having to follow commands in French (our lingua franca) all the while. The dentist described my tooth as "dévitalisée", which was why he didn’t feel the need to give me an injection. Hmm, I guess "dévitalisée" must be dentist speak for "knackered". It is also a good word to sum up how I feel generally now I am home. But I hope to bounce back presently, for the next trip will be along shortly... Photo of USB sticks from flickr, town centre photos from Wikimedia Commons, photo of fish fingers from, photo of the interior of the photographer's shop from its website, cartoon of a Belgian dentist from, photo of the train station my own.


Anonymous said...

You poor soul, V.

I sympathise especially over the broken tooth - doubly unfair that a banana chip should do the dirty on you rather than a gobstopper or a sticky toffee.

Anyway, I bet you got all your Girl Guide badges for resourcefulness! Well done for coping with all that life on the road can throw at you:-)

cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

Vanessa said...

Hi Anna,

Thanks for your sympathy, and you are right, I felt indignant that a so-called "health food" could wreak such oral havoc. I tentatively ate a few more chipsys earlier (or is the plural "chipsies" in Polish?), but gave them a jolly good suck first!

Actually I never was a Girl Guide, though my mother was in the Cornflower patrol. But I think I would made a decent fist of being one, now you mention it... : - )

Cymbaline said...

Looks to me like you were quite competently inside your "sphere of competence"!

Being in the dental world myself, the tooth-tale was particularly interesting. The crazy dental work I've seen over the years from out-of-town, state and country has me a bit fearful of needing emergency treatment while traveling! So glad you had a positive experience.

I'm speculating here, but my interpretation of the word 'devitalisee' would be 'non-vital' as in the tooth is dead and has either had a root canal or needs one.

Vanessa said...

Hi Cymbaline,

Thanks - though it was a close run thing. I think I lucked out in both cases!

How interesting to have a dental specialist in our midst. : - ) I guess having a personal recommendation of a dentist was a real bonus. It would have just been a case of pin the tooth on the donkey using the phone book otherwise.

I think you are spot on about "devitalisee" - it was a heavily filled tooth even before most of the side fell off, so I guess there is very little natural structure left that could possibly have felt anything. Though I hadn't actually had a root canal job done on that tooth.

Anonymous said...

I simply love your stories. :)
I'm glad the tooth dilemma has been solved quickly and painlessly, if you ever have a similar accident in Vienna, my husband would be honored to see to it.
Did you get the chance to smell some perfume along the way too this time?
P.S. Had a good laugh at the USB-Stäbchen, thank you. :D

Vanessa said...

Hi olfactoria,

Thanks for that, also for extending the dental care offer to me should I have another tooth-related incident on my upcoming trip to your area! The possibility can't be ruled out, for as is the way with domestic appliances tending to conk out all at once, I sense that I could develop multiple teeth problems in quick succession!

Oh, and the USB-Stäbchen joke was made very much with you in mind! : - )

The perfume sniffing was negligible on this trip, I am afraid, and probably doesn't deserve a post. Just Safarienne and a couple of others in Douglas. Oh, and a rather lurid Ed Hardy sample I was given which I may or may not ever summon the courage to test...

Marie said...

Vanessa, I admire your ressourcefulness!

When travelling abroad one has a duty to entertain the native inhabitants - so, well done, Vanessa!

I did what I could many years ago in France when I had to see an ear doctor (would that actually be an otorhinolaryngolist in English?) about a massive sinus infection. He inquired about my previous problems in that general area (at least that's what I think he asked) and I had prepared a little speech which included a phrase that went something like "mon oreille a été gonflé". The stern, elderly French doctor broke down and laughed out loud. I don't blame him. For those who have no idea what I was talking about, I tried to tell the kind doctor that I had once suffered from a perforated ear drum.

Vanessa said...

Hi Marie,

As I was writing this I was remembering your sinus trouble, so was amused to hear you French tale! In your defence, ear nose and throat matters - by virtue of our facial architecture - are very closely connected. : - )

ScentScelf said...

My sphere of competence when it comes to languages other than my native tongue is so narrow I likely would have corralled zlotys, quid, and ståbchen in the same pen. ;)

Beastly banana chip! Of all the nerve. I shall harumph with you and Anna on that one. Though it is a might more difficult, I must admit, to yell at your tissue..I mean, I don't hold it accountable for the fact it failed to serve as a reasonable facsimile for tooth enamel. Me, I would have gone for something more (Once again, insert winky emoticon.)

3,000+ miles is a lot of ground to cover and not expect something to come up. I am sorry you had to encounter these challenges, but not surprised to find you handled them with aplomb.

Perhaps you have earned a plum pudding?

ScentScelf said...

Twice I've come and neglected to mention how much I enjoyed the posts. Twice I've also stepped in again to rectify and/or clarify...

:) Enjoyed your post!

Vanessa said...

Hi ScentScelf,

Thanks for your good wishes and as a matter of fact I did think of gum! I wasn't near a seller of confectionery, but it was a fall back material, along with Blu-Tac, Silly Putty and modelling clay (though I wasn't near a seller of those either, and feared an additional odour/tastee/toxicity issue). I even wondered about building up the missing enamel gradually with repeated applications of Tipp-ex, which I did have to hand in my briefcase. Though they only do it in white, and my teeth are at best British "cream".