Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Drat! - Plus how I did NOT steal a famous medievalist's credit card

I forgot to pack my USB cable for my camera, so I cannot yet post pictures of cliffs, castles, sheep, or a friend standing in the "privy exit," or video clips of sheep baa'ing hundreds and hundreds of feet below a castle or of the charming Welsh men's choir singing in Welsh. So go look at Jeffrey Cohen's pictures, one of which I took.

So instead, I'll tell you the story of the Incident of the Purloined Credit Card, which features the only crabby Welsh person I've ever met.

So. At a castle called Carreg Cennen, there's a dark and slimy passage into the mountain that takes you to a rather small and anti-climactic cave. The journey is more fun than the destination -- and will definitely give you the willies if you've seen The Descent -- although it's kind of cool to see graffiti from 19th century tourists who were there before you (I'd show you a picture, but...well, you know why not). To get down there you need a flashlight. If you don't have your own, you can rent one from a hut at the base of the castle, or the tea and gift shop at the foot of the castle's hill if the hut is closed.

My friend G. and I attempted to rent one at the tea shop and were told to go to the hut. At the hut we were told that they were all out. And I swear on my mother's ashes this is what that lady then advised: she told us we could gather with a group going down or wait for someone to come up and use theirs. Ultimately, we did the latter, borrowing a flashlight -- a rather shitty one, by the way -- from someone who had borrowed it from someone else.

Somehow I ended up with the custody of the flashlight because G. is a smooth operator and knows when a menial task is too menial for him. Typical. When I got back to the hut, it was closed, with a sign directing us to return all "torches" to the cafe. I followed the directions. I always follow directions. Refer to the paragraph above and remember that one of the instructions I received was to borrow someone else's torch.

When I got to the cafe, I dutifully queued up (my English ancestors would be so proud) to return the flashlight. It had a number, which corresponded to a page in a notebook of plastic sleeves, which contained, to my growing horror, credit cards left as deposits. (Why anyone would want to steal a crappy flashlight of awkwardly large proportions when there are awesomely powerful ones that fit in your pocket is beyond me. But I digress.) As I got up to the front of the line, I said, "I don't know who this belongs to. I borrowed it from someone who borrowed it from someone else."

The crabby lady behind the counter screeched at me, "That's NOT allowed! You owe us a pound fifty!"

"What? But, but, the other person paid the pound fifty."

"It's a pound fifty PER PERSON," she exclaimed angrily.

"But, but, the lady at the hut told us to do this -- they were out of torches."

The lady wasn't completely mollified, since she kept rather dramatically flipping through the credit cards, although she stopped demanding payment (which I would have given, actually -- I was more horrified at having accidentally broken the rules). Finally she found the right card and slapped it down on the counter.

"But that's not mine! I don't know what to do with it!" I protested.

"That's your problem, isn't it?" the woman snarled at me.

I looked at the card. I recognized the famous name (indeed, I own at least one of her books) -- hooray! -- but to my chagrin realized I had no idea what the scholar in question looked like.

I asked Jeffrey what she looked like. He suggested I buy a round of drinks for the house, or something to that effect. And then he gave some ridiculous, obviously untrue description of the scholar in question. In effect, he was starting to remind me of my annoying big brother, teasing me instead of being helpful. Sigh. Boys. Finally he relented and described her.

At that very moment she was coming down the hill from the castle, coincidentally in the company of G., so I went up to her, told her it was a pleasure to meet her and I was an admirer of her work, and then presented her with her credit card, to her great relief.

But I have to say, I'm still traumatized by the fact that there's a crabby woman in Wales who thinks Americans are petty, rule-flouting thieves cheating castle tea shops out of their pound fifty! Or worse, she just thinks that of "that American girl with the Medusa hair who came with that otherwise lovely group of scholars."



Karl Steel said...


Great story.

Prof. de Breeze said...

I think you really missed an opportunity here: identity theft for scholarly purposes. Author discounts at big-name presses. Preferred seating at conference dinners. The possibilities are endless...

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

If you're feeling charitable, it was the end of what was probably a long day for the woman at the till. But if you're not, she was far ruder than you were, and while I make every effort not to be an obnoxious American, I don't believe in letting people get away with being rude. A simple, puzzled, "Why are you being rude to me?" sometimes works wonders. It depends where you are . . . I once pointed out to a Frenchman that at least I was trying to speak his language, and I didn't notice him extending the same consideration to me, which suddenly changed his attitude completely.