On my way into the Council House for Development Control today, I walked past two young men outside the Guildhall looking at a map, clearly trying to figure out where they were. I see it as almost a civic duty in such circumstances to ask if I can help. I can’t always, but I usually know most places lost people ask for.
On one occasion, I even got into someone’s van to help them through the one-way system because I knew how to get them to their hotel, but I sure as hell couldn’t explain how you get from one side of the city centre to the other in a vehicle because it is extremely complicated if you don’t know the city.
This time, the guys weren’t English, and didn’t really want to talk. I thought it was a language issue — they didn’t want to show that they only had a little bit of English, so would rather not talk to me for fear of tripping up. I thought I recognised the accent, and asked them where they were from. Germany, they said.
Wahey! I’ve not got to speak to people in German for ages. I had 40 minutes before Development Control so I switched to German and asked them what they were looking for.
“Sehenswuerdigkeiten,” they said. They weren’t looking for anything particular, they just wanted to see the sights. They were in Nottingham for a day whilst visiting a girlfriend at Loughborough University. We quickly established they’d already seen the Castle so I suggested they try the Caves of Nottingham and the Galleries of Justice. Now my German was holding up OK, but I couldn’t remember the German for either “cave” or “court” so I was having great difficulties explaining what either of those great exhibits was. All sorts of bizarre German words did come flooding back and I managed to explain that Nottingham was built on sandstone that people hollowed out–but still never got to “cave”.
I suggested they walk back to Market Square and look for the grey pedestrian signs. I could remember “pedestrian” but couldn’t remember “sign” so suggested they follow me, and I could point them at a pedestrian sign and let them get on with it.
Only, by the time I got to Market Square, I was feeling a whole lot more adventurous and in no hurry to let them get away.
Reader, in the 35 minutes left before my meeting, I whisked them around the entire Council House and gave a mini guided tour in German.
I was reasonably well versed in the history of the building because I mugged up on it the week before for the FODS tour. So I can stand outside, and get on with the “Dies Gebaude wurde in 1927 gebaut. Es steht auf dem Ort eine aeltere Gebaude, und ist von derselbe Stein als Londons Sanktpauldom hergestellt. Die zwei Loewen sind beruehmte Treffpunkte fuer die Leuten Nottinghams, und die heissen Oskar und Leo” and so on.
There were an awful lot of German words I didn’t know. Councillor. Mace. Meeting. Staircase. Statue. Ballroom. Sheriff. Minstrel’s Gallery. Minutes. Goose Fair. Virtue (needed for translating the Latin motto “Vivit post funera virtus” under the city crest). I can’t say I gave a truly professional tour this time.
But we got by, and we got round the building in our allotted time before I let them go. I think they enjoyed it. They certainly got to see the inside of the beautiful building. I’m sure most visitors to Nottingham don’t realise it’s a public building, and never see the inside. Heck, even most people who live here have never been inside!