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January 10, 2003

Travelers' Tales - Greek Tragedy (Almost)

Peter Viney
(see also our Interview with Mr. Viney)

(This is a series on the adventures and mishaps that befall writers and educators on their travels. We would love to hear your story, too. We will publish the best in this column. Submit your story using our Contact Form.)

Where do you start? In twenty years of ELT tours there are so many stories. In Italy, I was in real trouble when customs decided that the six copies of the "A Weekend Away" video I was carrying were probably porn. We'd never seen that interpretation of the title before. Then, in Greece, I had my hotel room commandeered at 11 p.m. by the Greek prime minister's entourage, and was handed my belongings in a cardboard box. In Marseille I had to move a wardrobe across the door the second time someone tried to shoulder charge it open in the middle of the night.

In Japan I was taken about 50 kilometres to the wrong university for a pre-JALT talk. On a previous visit I foolishly joined the immigration line behind six Filipino musicians (five were female) and stood there for an hour while immigration "examined" them. In Mexico, customs officers opened the travelling OUP book exhibition, which had multiple copies of a new ELT reader, "Hijacked" and decided we were potential terrorists.

Anyway, I'll choose a Greek story. Imagine an idyllic fresh fish lunch in a restaurant overlooking the Aegean Sea on a Sunday aftenoon. We were driving from Athens to Thessaloniki for a conference. Mellow and replete, we set off in the afternoon sunshine. In the middle of nowehere we drove between fields of golden wheat at very high speed. Then came the explosion. The windscreen was completely covered with black gunk and copper wire, and my driver, the OUP rep, brilliantly controlled the car, saved my life, and stopped. It seemed the entire insides of the cooling system were spread over the windshield. We were ten miles from the nearest village. The late afternoon sun was blazing down. No shade. An empty road.

After about fifteen minutes, a young Greek couple appeared from the field of wheat. The conversation was translated for me. The OUP rep asked what they were doing in a field so far from anywhere. "It's Sunday," came the reply, "What do you think? Screwing." We explained our predicament. "No problem," said the young man, "My brother and his girlfriend are screwing in the next field. He'll be here soon."

A few minutes later a black oily cloud appeared on the horizon, and an ancient BMW roared up to us. It transpired that the brother was a mechanic and amateur rally driver, and that the trunk of his car was entirely filled with BMW spare parts and a large can of water. As we had a Renault, this seemed irrelevant, but brother decided he'd build us a new cooling system with BMW hoses (which were all off wrecks).

Within twenty minutes, about five other cars with young couples had stopped to help. They all knew each other, and bottles of wine were passed round. It was quite a party. It took nearly over an hour but finally we had a new cooling system running over the top of the engine. We couldn't shut the hood, so it was tied down with wire. We had to connect two bits of wire twisted through the radiator grill (and get a 12 volt DC shock) to start and stop the cooling fan.

And they wouldn't take a penny for their trouble. After a long argument, the brother finally accepted about £10 for the spare parts . We were dubious that this ramshackle system would work, so they agreed to follow us for about 30 kilometres to prove it would. It did, all 150 km to Thessaloniki. The best moment was driving into the brand-new extremely smart Renault main dealers the next morning to get a repair. When they opened the hood, they were convinced it was a "Candid Camera" joke, and that there was no way the system could have worked. Not only had it worked, but it was still full of water. I will say you would not find a mechanic in the UK with the igenuity to have done it.

Peter Viney
Peter Viney has been teaching English since 1967. He is a freelance ELT author along with his wife Karen, and gives teacher training talks and lectures around the world. He is co-author of New American Streamline & Grapevine, and is a regular contributor to the ELT News Think Tank feature.

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