by Jean G. DeMaiffe
Sunnyvale, California, USA
Long ago, when I was in my early twenties, I traveled to England to visit a friend and work in the hotel owned by his parents. Being young and not perfectly well organized, I managed to find myself on the wrong ferry going from the Continent to England, so my host was not there to meet me at customs. What was worse, I had been planning to work for my keep while in England and, therefore, had little money, only my return airline ticket, my guitar, and my clothes.
I had shared the ride on the ferry from Calais, France, to Dover, England, with another American and an Englishman, and I watched both of them sail through customs with no difficulties. But when my turn came, the inspector asked what was my purpose in entering the country. I innocently replied that I was going to visit friends and work in their hotel. Then he asked for my work permit. Oops. I didn’t have a work permit. Then he asked how much money I had. Not much. At that point, his friendly smiles degenerated to rather a stern or at least a concerned look.
Next, he suggested contacting my hosts to confirm my status with them. I didn’t think this would be a problem. What I didn’t know was that the sole telephone in the hotel was in a hallway at the far end of the building from where my hosts were sleeping (it being around 6:00 a.m.) — and some of the walls in between the rooms were three feet thick. Needless to say, we didn’t get through to them. The inspector asked me to step aside and wait on a bench while he considered what to do with me. By now, tears were trickling down my cheeks. The inspector was considering sending me back to Calais, and I was in complete disarray.
Then the Englishman I’d ridden the ferry with re-appeared. He’d wondered why I hadn’t come through customs yet and had come back to check on me. I poured out my story to him, and he immediately took me back to the inspector and offered to post a bond for me. The inspector was impressed enough to pass me through customs then without the posting of any bond, and my generous friend conducted me through. As if that were not enough, this kind Englishman guided me to a telegraph office from which I could notify my hosts when I would be arriving, and he helped me onto the proper train.
After all these years, I still feel blessed by the kindness of that Englishman. I don’t know his name, but I hope his kindness has been repaid many times over.