A Day In The Life Of A Tourist
ADRIAN GRAY discovers what it’s like to spend a day as a tourist in Cambridge and puts some very patient porters to the test.
I don’t use the word ‘pesky’ very often. It entered my vocabulary when I started reading The Beano and has sat, limp, aimless, gathering dust in some murky corner of my brain ever since, slowly withering away like a pensioner trapped in a soundproof loft. It just doesn’t seem to fit. Most of life’s vexations feel irritating, annoying, twattish. Pesky has never felt appropriate.
That was, until last week. Traipsing jadedly towards the UL on a Saturday morning I encountered a bum of tourists (bum being the collective noun). Too slow to react, I became swept up in the perpetual conga of excitable Asians and was brutally dragged along King’s Parade amidst a whirlwind of camera flashes and fold-out maps. I was livid. Almost thirteen seconds of my life, gone; my dignity shattered, in pieces.
“Those pesky tourists,” I muttered. It felt right.
The thing was, there wasn’t much I could do. In fact, there wasn’t much I felt I had the right to do. These tourists were pesky and had every right to be pesky. Telling one off for being such would be like telling Paris off for being romantic, or telling Paris off for being a disappointing shithole. They were irritating by nature, and I, upon this realisation, saw an opportunity.
The following morning, draped in an assortment of touristy garments that probably made me look more twattish than anything else, I set off on a mission: to be a tourist for a day. Just how pesky could I get away with being?
My weapon: an arsenal of bad accents. My target: Cambridge porters.
I went in with an American accent. “Hi there, I’m looking for Cambridge,” I said, hilariously. The porter stared at me like I’d asked to feed him oven chips. “Are you taking the mick, mate?” he replied. This was bad. I’d expected him to recoil in bemusement at the absurdity of my enquiry; instead, he was looking at me like I was a prick. I panicked, my accent began to slip and, upon muttering something about Harry Potter, I ran away.
An aged porter seemed suspiciously unsuspicious of my attempt at a Russian accent. I repeatedly asked him why Trinity Hall had copied Trinity, then insisted he pointed out Merton College on a map. He remained calm and somehow the conversation drifted onto the topic of celebrity alumni. He asked me if I knew of Andrew Marr. I said no. He then spent five minutes explaining Andrew Marr to me.
A mild success.
I recorded this conversation, meaning you can watch it if you wish. If you can’t be bothered, highlights include the question “Is Jesus better than Anglia Ruskin?” which, taken out of context, is possibly the oddest extension of the ‘what place does religion have in the 21st century?’ debate yet, and, a porter demonstrating the kind of tolerance rarely found outside the GoCompare man’s nuclear family.
The biggest lowlight is probably the accent I attempted – apparently a cross between diluted Mexican and Microsoft Sam.
Gonville and Caius
Both my previous accents had proved shaky, so I went with some sort of bastardised French/ Jamaican thing for Caius. My opening question was “What have you done to Stephen Hawking?” The porter ignored this and asked “Where have you come from?” “Switzerland” I replied, nervously. “Ah, c’est donc ce qui vous amène à Cambridge?” he retorted. Shit, I thought. I don’t speak French, and there was only so many times I could shout ‘croissant’ before he’d get suspicious.
“Er, no, sorry – I was born in Switzerland but raised in, um, Samoa.”
“Oh okay. What’s your first language then?”
I grabbed a quick photo with a smiley female porter and left.
Again, this one I recorded. In summary, I adopted a lispy-Hull accent and ran into the plodge, breathing heavily. I then claimed to have travelled from London to Oxford, on foot, for charity. The porter patronised me for a minute or so until I asked for a photo as proof of my arrival. He then told me I was in Cambridge. I gave a look of disbelief and begged aggressively for directions to Oxford, before sprinting off in an angry panic.
And that was that. To conclude, tourists are pesky, porters are tolerant, and I need to reconsider how I’m spending my Sunday mornings.