One of the jobs of a guide these days is to hand out audio machines – or to show people where they can be found. Some guides might resent this, thinking that we are doing ourselves out of a job by enabling our replacement by machines. Audioguides (or acoustiguides) are common at many venues and they may make the in-house guide unnecessary by replacing him or, more usually, her with a recorded commentary. Machines never fall sick, forget their lines or get fed up with being asked where the toilets are. Blue badge guides, however, are not in-house guides and have to develop skills which make a day run more smoothly, ones machine will never master.
Machines cannot tell a joke, answer a question or – most importantly – arrange people into seats. When I reported for work at Golden Tours last Monday at 7:30 am Christina said that I had a full coach and had to fit 53 people into 53 seats. I would sit in the jump seat reserved for guides at the front of the coach, which I almost always do. In fact, being willing to use this seat, as long as it has a working safety belt, probably means I am offered more work than I would get otherwise.
It may sound easy to put 53 people into 53 seats but, believe me, it takes ingenuity, tact and humour – not to mention the ability to count quickly. What happens if three people arrive and naturally take two rows of seats, followed by a few pairs and then another trio? If you have to fill all the seats, you need to keep as many rows open as possible, otherwise those arriving late will find themselves scattered through the coach unable to sit with their companions, which is a bad start to their day, especially if they are travelling with young children.
Over the years I have learned the knack of fitting singles in with trios or of wrapping two groups of three into three rows of two rather than leaving them to seat themselves, in which case they will occupy at least four rows. I have developed a line in which I ask two people, who are not known to each other but will be sitting together, what their names are, introduce them and then add a line like: “This is your new best friend. Let me know if you hate each other and I will find you a new pal.” A little humour usually works, although occasionally you have to be more forceful. Only once did I have two women who refused to co-operate because they both wanted a window seat so two friends had to sit apart, which they were not happy with.
Getting the seating right so that everybody travelling together ends up reasonably close to their companions is one of those techniques you develop on the job, as is learning how to adjust the acoutiguides so they work in different languages. As is knowing how much to talk, how much humour to attempt, when to keep it simple and when a little more depth might be appreciated. Am I worried that a robot will take over this role and leave me without a job? Not in the least. Well, not in my working lifetime, anyway.