Hello. Natalie here. My British friends David and Catherine urged me on more than one occasion to cash in my frequent flyer miles and visit them in England, telling me they would take care of the rest when I arrived. So, during the Spring, on my first trip to Europe, I found myself on a train from London to West Yorkshire.
I have been an organized and carefree traveler since the age of five, which is a whole different story; but, at the King’s Cross Railway Station in London I discovered I left my friends’ phone number and address at home. Naturally, I found a pay phone to call an operator for information. The woman at the other end of the connection pleasantly informed me she could not help unless I gave her the street address of the home I was attempting to ring up.
Hmm… This was new. “I am visiting from Alaska and no one is at my home to look up the information. My friends’ last name is Lord. Are there a lot of Lords in West Yorkshire?”
The operator replied, “Sorry, I cahn’t help you.”
I tried again. “I respect that you have regulations, but I am in a bit of trouble. If you could read to me the names of streets on which any families with the surname Lord live in Huddersfield. I would recognize the name of the street when you said it. Can you do that?"
“Sorry, I cahn’t help you.”
Okay. I had to appreciate that other countries have different systems.
How could I have left David and Catherine’s contact information behind? I never would have made a slip-up like this when I was a kid. Sending email messages from Heathrow hadn’t worked. The messages bounced back marked “Delivery Failure” when I checked again at an Internet café near the train station. Maybe David’s computer system at work was down for repair or upgrades.
The possibility of computer problems did not occur to me as I packed for the trip. Imagine that.
I wasn’t quite alarmed. I would say what I felt was… trepidation. Anyway, my friends might remember my itinerary and be waiting for me, so I boarded the train for my first excursion by rail. West Yorkshire is about 200 miles from London. I had some time to devise another plan and would enjoy the ride on the train as much as I could before dark, which happened sooner than later. That is to say that dark happened sooner and we arrived later, at 11:00 p.m. I was the only person left at the depot when the line of steel train cars rolled away from me into the night. The office was closed, so there was no getting my hands on a phone book.
Hmm… I still didn’t have a firm plan of action to replace the ones I already tried, but it helped that a taxi came by the train station looking for stragglers. I waved him over and asked the driver if he would please drive my luggage and me to Huddersfield, which I knew from talking with David and Catherine was just a few miles away.
I asked the driver, “Are you having a good night?” I am almost always sociable, even when lost in a foreign land.
It wasn’t very long before the driver told me we had arrived. I had no choice but tell him that I did not know where I was going. I explained the telephone information thing and asked him to drive around for a few minutes to let me think, and to look for a phone booth with a phone book. We drove around downtown Huddersfield, an utterly charming community when I could see it in daylight.
Neither the driver nor I spotted a phone booth as we slowly made our way around the center of town over the old brick roads. Since it was close to midnight, the businesses were dark and the streets asleep for the night. However, the taxi meter was awake and hard at work.
I suddenly had an idea. I asked the driver to please take me to the police station.
I carried the first of my two bags into the Huddersfield Police Station, set it down just inside the foyer and then left to get the other, heavier bag the driver was retrieving from the cab. I paid and thanked the driver (who now had a new story he could share down the pub about the lost, idiot American woman he picked up at the train depot,) and hurried back into the police station to get out of the rain.
The officer who came from the closed-door, inner office to greet me looked tense. It occurred to me later that my placing the first black bag just inside the door before hurrying away must have seemed rather suspect and potentially disastrous. Yep. I could see how it might look like a bomb was about to go off.
The officer relaxed when I opened my mouth and explained I was in town to visit friends and that I stupidly left their phone number and address information at home. Sending email messages wasn’t working. Perhaps their computer was down. I had not been aware that that telephone information system worked differently than it did in the States. I got a cab, did not know where to go, could not find a public phone this time of night. Did phone booths here have phone books? All the buildings looked dark and closed. I thought the safest place was the police station.
As I wiped the rain off my face and caught my breath, I told the officer, Thelma, who seemed very kind, that I’d know the name of the street I was looking for if I saw it. Could I please use her phone book?
Thelma said no. What? I did not want to act like I felt entitled, like the ridiculous, ugly Americans who go to other countries and loudly complain when a waitress brings out toast “that’s not even buttered!” I just needed to look at the damn phone book! Why couldn’t I? Was it a state secret? Was there a password? Did they need fingerprints? A blood sample? Did I look like a criminal?
Of course I said none of those things, and Officer Rhodes was merely employing her safety training. You never know what kind of people with what kind of agendas are going to show up at the police station.
I suggested that if she read only the street names without revealing phone numbers or addresses of families with the surname Lord, I was certain to recognize the correct street. I asked if that sort of thing was allowed and she said would do it. What a welcome reprieve.
She pulled a phone book from under the counter. Though not glowing, it looked like the Holy Grail of information. I just hoped David and Catherine did not have an unlisted number, but it seemed such a thing wasn’t necessary in England. Thelma went down the list, naming streets. You might be surprised at how many British Lords live in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.
After about a dozen street names, she said the one. I exclaimed, “That’s it!” To myself I thought, “I mean, I think that’s it.” Suddenly doubt clouded my sprit a little bit, but I would just have to hope I didn’t call strangers after midnight. Can you imagine?
“Very sorry about the mistake! I’m American (like they couldn’t tell) and I’m lost. But in the words of Ringo Starr, I’m just happy to be here! Have a good night!”
Maybe honoring one of their own would prevent a sleepy and irritated citizen from calling the police to report a prank call. If not, at least I was already where I quickly could be taken into custody.
I decided to go with my first impression, that we had the right street name. I said to Thelma, “Thank you so much for helping me and going to all this trouble. You have been so nice. She really had. May I use the phone to call them?”
No, she could not let me use the phone, but she offered to place the call for me. I know I wore the most patient and appreciative look on my face as she picked up the phone.
“Hello? Yes, I am calling from the Huddersfield Police Station. Are you expecting someone from America? Right. She is here waiting for you.”
She listened for a second and then said, “No, there is no problem. She does not have your number.”
After she finished the call, Thelma told me Catherine was happy to hear I was in town, not under arrest, and that she would arrive in a few minutes.
What a relief! While I waited, my new best friend Thelma and I chatted about where I lived in Alaska. I told her how excited I was about this trip, that I was looking forward to having real Yorkshire pudding in a pub and to visiting Haworth, where the Brontë sisters lived and wrote several of arguably the greatest novels in the history of the English language. I added that I am never ashamed to admit when I am a tourist and that usually I do not get into this kind of trouble. I asked her about living in Huddersfield, about her job -- and she told me a bit about her family. I was giddy.
Catherine showed up maybe 20 minutes later, still laughing. She told me she and David were quite worried over not hearing from me, and then relieved to know the police department was not calling with bad news. My response was to say I always like to make a splashy entrance.
Of course, I felt more than a little stupid and embarrassed about making things difficult for everyone. I thanked Thelma and wished her a good night after we gave each other a hug and exchanged email and mailing addresses.
Thelma plays the fiddle. I know because we keep in touch.
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