Missing the Bus!

Philip John

There are some interesting stories connected with some of the dog shows I have judged during my forty plus years in this hobby. Let me jump in and write a few I remember.

This one is set in the early nineties when I was invited to judge for the Småland Öland Kennelklubb in Sweden. The show was held at Kalmar, a coastal town in East Sweden. We were asked to fly to Copenhagen and take the Ferry to Malmo.  There was no railway bridge connecting Copenhagen to Malmo at the time. The bridge was inaugurated in 2000.

Those days correspondence was by Air Mail. It took about ten days for a letter to arrive in India from Sweden and probably another day or two before it reached our home in Coonoor, a town in the Nilgiris mountains. The invitation letter said that a bus would be provided for the Dog show judges to come to Kalmar from Malmo and we were to wait at 10 AM at a spot near the landing wharf.

Malmo is the biggest city at the South Western corner of Sweden. The bus would take us all the way to Kalmar on the East coast – right across Sweden!

My wife and I decided to fly a couple of days earlier to do some sightseeing in Copenhagen. Since we had two large suitcases we decided to stay in a hotel near the Ferry crossing. The room was small, but it was on the first floor and it overlooked the road below. We could get a glimpse of the wharf and the Baltic sea from our window. We were tired after our long flight from Bombay and just wanted to crash out. I don’t think there was air conditioning so we kept the window open. Each time we dropped off to sleep we would wake up with a start with the sound car engines revving  and people talking loudly. We looked out of the window and could see shadowy figures under lampposts and cars stopping by. It soon dawned on us that we were in the red light area of the city! It seemed like a busy night so we just closed the window and went back to sleep!

We contemplated moving to another hotel the next day, but the thought of hauling our suitcases and wasting half the day checking out and checking in, stopped us from exploring that option. Instead, we asked to be shifted to a quieter part of the hotel. There was no view of the Baltic but we did not care!

The Ferry crossing went well. My wife doesn’t like sea travel and gets seasick easily, but to her credit she held it all in and soon we were on the other side of the narrow Skagerrak Straits.

We disembarked and headed to the appointed place, once again checking details in the letter from the Show Organiser. The appointed time came and went. By 10:30 we had grown restless – by 11 AM we were in a state of panic. It was clear that we had missed the bus!  We called the number printed on the invitation letter but no one picked up. We were now left with two choices – either turn back to Copenhagen and catch our flight back to Bombay or press on to the west coast of Sweden without any clue of how we were going to get to our destination! We chose ‘trepidation’ over ‘disappointment’. Disappointment, in not being able to judge the show – at that point in time very few Indian judges got overseas invitations. Disappointment, in letting Småland Öland Kennelklubb down. And finally, disappointment in not being able to see this part of Sweden. I had been to Jönköping a couple of years earlier to judge for the Club there, but this time my wife was with me.

Trepidation, because except for knowing that the dog show was in a town on the west coast of Sweden, the Show Secretary’s letter gave no hotel address. Obviously the telephone was an office number and during a Dog Show the office shuts down as everyone is at the show grounds setting things up, or at the hotel receiving judges! People of this day and age would not understand any of what I am saying. Today their smart phones and Google maps would take them anywhere!

Anyway, we chose trepidation over disappointment and headed to the Malmo railway station which mercifully, was not far from the wharf.

There were no direct trains to Kalmar. We would have to change trains at Vaxjo. We bought our tickets and got the 11:40 to Vaxjo. Once we were on the train the sense of panic began to subside. We enjoyed the train; they brought around good things to eat and excellent Coffee. The Swedes love their Expresso!

At Vaxjo we got off, found the right platform for our next train. It arrived in 15 minutes and soon we were off to Kalmar.  We dozed a little, made friends with a couple of fellow passengers and enjoyed the flat countryside with occasional clumps of trees and some buildings, which were dark maroon in colour with grey shingle roofs. The doors and windows were always painted white.

The train drew into Kalmar railway station. We had put aside anxious thoughts of what we should do once we arrived but now it was time to engage our minds again. The obvious thing was to find a hotel close to the Railway Station, and perhaps ask around. People should know if there was a dog show somewhere in the city. In India, a dog show would be advertised in newspapers and posters would be stuck ad nauseam inviting people to the spectacle. Entry would be by sale of tickets! Overseas, only dog people would be interested.  Anyway it was Friday and the Show did not start till the next morning.

There were a couple of hotels further down the road which was paved with cobblestones. Our suitcases just had two wheels (thank God for that), and were not the modern day 4-wheel marvels. Hauling them and our equally heavy hand-luggage was not easy. The hotel was too close for a taxi, but far enough to make it a pain getting there. The nearest hotel was called Scandic. There was something familiar about that name but I couldn’t remember why.

There was already a queue at the Front Desk. The secret of success of the budget Scandinavian hotels was to manage everything with the barest minimum of staff. My guess is that these hotels manage with one person for every four in India! One person at the Front Desk had to do everything. Similarly, in the Dining area there would be one person to refill the Breakfast buffet table and clear the plates, and probably there were two people in the Kitchen. Also a couple of people doing the Housekeeping work.

Everything seemed to work well but the down side was queues, and waiting for one’s turn is something most Indians hate to do!

The queue got shorter but when the guy ahead of me reached the counter the girl said, “Sorry, we are full up! No more rooms.” My wife and I exchanged anxious glances, I had visions of sleeping on the railway station bench. We were next in line at the Front Desk but before she could give me her speel I asked whether there were any other Scandic hotels in Kalmar. She said yes, and the nearest one would be a little out in the countryside, a 15 min ride by taxi.
I said, “Could you please call that hotel? Let me see whether I can get a room there.”
When the operator came on the line, I asked if they a room. The lady said they were fully sold out for the weekend because of a Dog Show. The next question was obvious. “Excuse me, do you have a room booked in the name of Mr. & Mrs. Philip John?”
She asked me to wait while she checked. “Yes, we have a booking. But we got news that they missed the bus connection in Malmo.”
“Yes, they did! But don’t give their room away. They will be with you in 15 minutes!”
I then remembered that I had stayed at a Scandic hotel in Jönkoping.

Our spirits soared! And the lady at the City Scandic seemed relieved. We caught a taxi and sped on to our Scandic hotel.

We went straight to the Front Desk and gave in our passports and checked in. As we were about to go up to our room, a bus arrived and Bob Curtis from Australia walked in with Maurice LeCussan, his compatriot, and other international dog show judges. “Sorry, we couldn’t find them”, he said loudly to the Receptionist. Obviously, he had called the hotel earlier to find out if we had arrived by some other means. The girl at the Front Desk pointed to us, “They are here!” she said triumphantly!

Bob Curtis walked over. “You had us worried, young man! And you held us up!”, he said crossly, peering over his glasses. He then gave me one of his bear hugs, then greeted Premela, and introduced us to a busload of judges.
Apparently, our missing the bus was a topic of conversation during their long ride to Kalmar, and many felt they already knew us!

Over dinner we told them the story and I showed them the letter giving me precise instructions as to when and where to wait for the bus. However, the Club Secretary had changed the pickup location. She had written to me but we had left our home before her letter arrived!

Looking back, none of this would have happened if I had my iPhone but we would have missed this adventure. We had a sense of achievement when we reached our destination by our wits alone. And Philip John missing the bus was a story that was jocularly talked about for a while in close-knit dog show circles.

4 Responses

  1. A very interesting story. But it clearly depicts d adventurous Philip well supported by premela. U write the story as if it happened yesterday. Thanks. Enjoyed reading it

  2. How lovely! By way of researching dogs, shows, i chance upon your blog site Dear Sir! I love your writing, reminiscent of my childhood days, your leisurely sense of story telling! Most importantly giving me visions back to times which were golden, laid back and oh so human!!

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