Wales – the curious incident

The curious incident of which you have probably never heard

Ils disent que vous savez quand vous êtes arrivé dans la civilisation pour l’eau, puis on vous donne avec votre café. A Vienne, ils servent un verre d’eau avec votre café.

That of course is nothing to do with the following narrative, but it makes an interesting, if not arresting opening. The incident described in the the following notes arose on a bright sunny day in the early summer of 1982°. It is not an original invention.

It seemed as if it was going to be a quiet day. PCs Dai Bach Selwyn Jones and Llewellyn Robert Evans had been allocated traffic duties outside Newport on the approach to the tunnel going towards Cardiff. The traffic moved slowly for some hours, occasioned by a significant event at Pontcanna Fields just shy of Cardiff Arms Park. It was anticipated that the fields would be full by 15h when the event was to start.

As the fields were about 20 minutes down the road from Dai and Llew, they anticipated that the road would start to clear by 1430. They were off duty at 1500 in any event, just in time to catch the France Wales kick off. Little did they know that their lives were about to be changed by events taking place in England.

In England transport arrangements to Cardiff had had to be rearranged. Due to an upgrade of the Western line from Paddington and associated overnight engineering works running late, there were no trains running to Cardiff that morning. The Pope had been expected to travel to Cardiff by train that day, but now a private chauffeur had to be arranged. The same chauffeur thought that he had allowed plenty of time, but had not taken into account the event in Cardiff.

They left on a pleasantly empty M4, with the usual disruption around Heathrow. Slough was remarkably quiet and they were making good time. Our chauffeur and the Pope chatted, and as they did so the chauffeur slowly began putting two and two together. He became a little troubled, and remaining quiet for a time waited for the Pope to nod off, which he hastened by putting the car into smooth mode and increasing the inside temperature slightly.

He called his office and listening to the reply his worst fears were confirmed. He was taking the Pope to Pontcanna Fields where a capacity crowd was expected. He had heard of the Fields, and was aware that events there cause significant disruption in the Cardiff area, not to mention on the approach roads.

As they proceeded traffic became heavier. Passing Reading, only a little of the traffic moved aside. At Swindon they came to a standstill. The Pope was awakened with a start. The chauffeur quickly restored the climate control in the passenger compartment.

Quid agimus?¹ the Pope asked, quite forgetting himself for a moment.

The chauffeur, not lacking a classical training, could still remember enough Latin to reply, though in English: ‘We have a small hold up just now, but there is still plently of time.’

The traffic cleared, and they moved on at a reasonable rate.

It was at 14h that the Pope asked how far they had to go. ’60 miles that is all. We have enough time.’ the chauffeur replied.

That was true, as the Fields were only a few of minutes off the motorway and the Pope did not have to appear at 15h. The driver had however not mentioned the M5 junction, nor that there was a toll to pay at the bridge. Then the problems arose. They were in a queue, travelling at 30 mph.

‘How far?’ ’40 miles’, the best estimate of the time required was 46 minutes, but there were only 30 minutes left.

As soon as the road cleared the Pope shouted out: ‘Put your foot down, driver.’ But no, it was more than our chauffeur’s job’s worth to do that.

The discussion continued, but the driver would not give way. 70 was the most he could do, it was after all had been said the speed limit.

Eventually, the Pope told the driver to pull over. ‘Get in the back!’ he barked ‘I shall drive.’

He figured that at an average speed of 130 they would be there on time, but that required a top speed of 150, which should be quite comfortable in their car.

They moved off. The Pope slowly built up speed, discovering how easy a Mercedes S class was to handle. The chauffeur in the back protested, but to no avail. The new driver was not going to listen. ‘The law will be after us if you don’t slow down.’ the chauffeur cried out.

They had reached the bridge. The chauffeur knew that they now had to stop to pay the toll. He however had not reckoned with the Pope. There was an automatic gate through which it was possible to drive straight through, if you had made appropriate arrangements before hand. The Pope headed straight for that gate, he had no intention of slowing down despite the now 40mph restriction. The chauffeur closed his eyes fearing the worst.

His aim was good, the Mercedes flew through the open gate at 135.

Dai and Llew had seen the road clearing and were themselves thinking about the end of their very uneventful shift, when news came through of a car which had passed through the toll without paying. Would they be ready to intercept it, if it continued on the motorway. The report failed to mention the speeding offence that had also been committed.

They expected to wait eight to ten minutes, but some five minutes later they saw the Mercedes approaching. ‘Forget the missed toll’, Dai said to Llew, ‘let’s get that one and take him back to the station with us.’

They raced off, on what was then an almost empty road. It takes a while to catch up with the Mercedes, but after a harrowing four minutes they turned on the blue lights and sirens and flashed the car down.

The Pope thought he was making good time, only six miles to go in as many minutes. Then they heard the sirens. ‘What did I tell you’, the chauffeur cried out ‘Now you will not even get to the Pontcanna Fields.’

‘Be quiet, my friend, and leave this to me. I understand that I must now pull over for your policemen.’

Dai got out of the car. He was going to enjoy this, he could ensure that the driver was kept at the station for at least an hour. Whoever was driving the car would after all have to wait for someone to take over after he and Llew walked off their shift.

He walked over to the Mercedes. Meanwhile Llew looked on. Everything appeared to be normal. Llew made his notes, as he usually did on such occasions and hoped that they would still get away in time for the rugby.

Dai came back, and fell back into his seat. Llew looked up. Dai was deathly pale; his face was ashen white, as white as a sheet.

‘Dai!’ he exclaimed.

‘Mae hyn i gyd i fyny gyda ni’², Dai replied in Welsh. Although normally their official business would be conducted in English, the horror of what just taken place meant he could only use his mother tongue, so we shall tell the rest of the conversation in translation.

‘That car’, he stuttered.
‘Who was it, Dai?’
‘You’ll never guess, Llew.’
‘It was Diana.’
‘No, Llew.’
‘Not the Prince of Wales either then.’
‘No, Llew’, said Dai his voice becoming weaker by the moment.
Llew was himself becoming a little disturbed by now. ‘The Duke of Ednburgh?’ he asked.
Dai shook his head.
‘Her Majesty?’
‘No, Llew, higher than that.’

Llew felt a little relieved, Dai was pulling his leg, but how he had managed to pull off that pale complexion he did not know. He would ask him later. In the meantime he thought he would play along with the joke: ‘Now then, Dai, don’t kid me like that’, he joked, ‘It was the Pope, wasn’t it?’

Dai summoned up his remaining strength before he would collapse back in his seat. ‘Llew’, he said, ‘the Pope.. the Pope was his driver….’

°2 June 1982
¹How are we doing?
²It’s up with us

Bitte, vergessen Sie nicht: Es ist gesagt, dass Sie, wenn Sie in der Zivilisation für die Sie erhalten dann Wasser zum Kaffee angekommen. In Wien, dienen sie ein Glas Wasser mit Ihrem Kaffee.

Courtesy of PLC, this version PC 2013