The Monk’s Tale (2016) – A Train Journey to Brittany

Now listen if you wish to hear. But first I beg you to excuse my ignorance if I do not tell these things in order… but put some before and some behind, as they come now into my memory.
– The Monk’s Prologue, Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales

In The Canterbury Tales, The Monk’s Tale is a collection of short stories – or exempla, on the theme of tragedy. After recounting seventeen of what he claims to be hundreds held in his memory the monk is stopped by the knight, calling a halt in the name of ‘enough sadness’ (or possibly boredom).


Here then is my attempt at my own Monk’s Tale – a true story and I’d say perhaps even a tragic story – of what befell myself and indeed a monk on our train journey to Brittany on May 5th, 2016. The following events are all true, and with my apologies to Chaucer and with no knight to spare my readers from boredom, I shall recount only this one tale of tragedy…

I await my train at CDG – not my favourite place on Earth. On the platform we stand, travellers, trying to match our spot to the electronic display board up above. Coach 13, sector D. I’m under the blue D. It must be here. For whatever reason I do not know, I notice a monk standing down from me, section E. And for goodness knows what reason, I notice that he carries a long orange card box box as his luggage.

This Does NOT a Label Make...

This Does NOT a Label Make…

The journey is two hours into its being. We are near Le Mans. Or so I think. My destination is Rennes, so the intermittent stations play no role. For me. Then, the police arrive. Blue uniforms, men and women, concerned faces. They huddle at the end of exactly coach 13. My carriage. They crouch, torches in hand. I go to see what is wrong.

One now spread on the ground is delicately examining the aforementioned orange cardboard box. They enquire as to the owner. I tell them I know exactly who the owner is. Their eyes light up. I tell them I cannot see him here in the carriage. Their eyes dim down. Can you describe him they say? Yes I reply. This should be easy. A monk after all. Can’t be hundreds heading to Brittany on the 5232 from CDG that Thursday.


At this dramatic moment on an otherwise dull journey, the word ‘monk’ in French (moine) escapes me. This is unfortunate. As sadly the words I hear myself utter are; you know a ‘monk’ (using the English word) – un spiritual! I say. Telling the French police, the justifiably highly charged French police, a ‘spiritual’ person has left their luggage on the train results in those same eyes lighting right up again.

Now I am asked for a detailed description. So I tell them 45 years old, shaved head, orange robes a ‘moine’ – the word comes back. ‘The robes, were they white?‘ The Force is very agitated now. ‘No, no for heavens sake, not that kind of monk. You know, a Tibetan-like one; the Dalai Lama style?’, but it’s too late I fear. They write it all down; the gentleman in question could not look more like a monk if he tried as, well he IS one. The man in the seat in front of me agrees with my description. They scatter…


Back the blue wave returns to examine the bag once more. Eager to rectify or perhaps defuse the situation I offer to search through the train with them as I know exactly who it belongs to. They have searched the entire train they say. No need for my help. There are no monks abroad. I don’t have much faith in the French police it must be said, but one train, one monk, if they say there are none, this is one accession I am prepared to believe them.

There be no Monks on this train Sir!

There be no Monks on this train Sir!

Announcements are made in French. Left luggage. Coach 13. Again and and again. And so, we are evacuated from coach 13. More announcements in French. Only in French. ‘I will do it for you in English‘, I say, ‘As feel sure he does not speak French’. I am thanked and handed the TGV train mike. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen…‘ I begin, notching up another first in my career. I again say I’ll escort them through the train and point him out. I am told once more the train has been checked including the toilets. No monks.

I go back to my seat. A police woman comes to take my details. And now the train makes its emergency stop in Laval – we are at first told to stay put. Outside, the entire police force of this medium sized town must have been mobilised. And, as we all fear, we are then told (only in French again) to evacuate the train. And so we do. All of us. Step off the train, onto the platform, carrying all our luggage.

And as we do so, off steps a 45 year old man, in orange monk robes, with shaven head – I mean how much more flipping monk looking can you get?! Only the Dalai Lama could look more like a monk and even them we’d be on even ‘monkness’ with the chap just stepped off!

Some pretty red faced police surround him and eventually come and fetch me – there are now 15 police, NONE of whom speak English. They ask me to interpret – the poor guy is a Vietnamese monk who doesn’t speak much of anything (except I presume, Vietnamese, which doesn’t aid my interpreting). The poor fellow doesn’t understand what is wrong as he thinks he has already done security as he has just flown into France (sadly not so of course).

That'll be €216 Sir...

That’ll be €216 Sir…

I explain, the police are taking his passport to copy and fining him (only) € 216 for not having labeled luggage and his falling to adhere to the announcements resulting in the driver having having to stop the train with all the ensuing hullaballoo (try saying hullaballoo in Vietnamese). I decide to be very nice and NOT explain to the plain clothed Inspector Clouseau (who also does not speak English) who has showed up and taken charge – the above description which I have given several times to his officers… ‘There are no monks aboard.’

Back on the train, monk and all, complete with luggage (now labelled by the police) we depart after thirty minutes and the train conductor comes to seek me out to give me two vouchers each worth € 10 for ‘helping’ the SNCF in their ‘hour of need’… by ‘coming to them to offer to make the announcements in English’. She explains they have had courses, but it is ‘tricky’.

Two Tickets to Ride? My 'Reward' for Cracking the Case...

Two Tickets to Ride? My ‘Reward’ for Cracking the Case…

End result; we get to Rennes with a half hour delay, one monk with a 216 euro fine and me with two vouchers – which I give to the poor chap to help pay his fine…

Moral? Who knows?!

Here the Knight stops the Monk of his Tale

– The Monk’s Prologue, Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales

~ by 2ndcupoftea on May 6, 2016.

40 Responses to “The Monk’s Tale (2016) – A Train Journey to Brittany”

  1. Only you!!!

  2. Wonderful story!! Sad about the monk, but hysterical that the Frenc could not find him on the train

    • Yes poor chap. He really didn’t have clue what was going on. Somewhat concerning they could not spot a monk, indeed. Thanks for reading Sheila. Hug from Brittany 😉

  3. A sad take for sure, but you certainly did your best.

    • Is that Ray from RS Brittany and Normandy last year? If so how are you? Great to hear from you – have emailed you some music, but didn’t hear back. Many many hugs and thanks of course for reading 😉

  4. Are you certain there was no camera man there filming a vaguely sad French farce? Hugs from the vine clad Burgundian hills.x

    • Burgundian hills really? Oh no I was there YESTERDAY. I had no idea you were there! Now THAT is a tragedy ;-(

      • In Blace for just one day ,today I drive on to Oulx ,tomorrow hope to arrive home,Just missed each other by a whisker! Baci.XXX

      • What a pity. Can you imagine had we bumped into each other there! Drive safe now. Enjoy your castle, Princess x x x

  5. What was in the parcel?

    • Poor chaps luggage I guess. Couldn’t afford a suitcase…

  6. It could have been worse…… But French enforcement absurdities have been caricatured in cinema now for nearly a hundred years, and it is no coincidence. But so have Italian police….. However, NOT the Germans!
    Jerry Donaldson, heah in da Sout’……

    • 😉 Well, I guess caricatures are born out of something… hugs to Da Sout’

  7. The orange-clad monks I’ve seen have always carried matching orange backpacks! He is probably blessing you in his meditations..(speaking from my own “hullaballoo” experience which you helped me thru).

    • 😉 Ha, ha – that made me laugh. Aye, we all have our own hullabaloos… Thanks for your comment and hope to travel with you again, lost cases and all. Hugs.

  8. You are a hero! Susan

    • 😉 Goodness I hope it doesn’t come across that way… Hug from Quimper x

  9. Oh my goodness Thomas! What a story! Thanks for funny story! I can’t believe you were only 30 minutes late after that!

    • I think they were so embarrassed after he stepped onto the platform, they just wanted the whole thing over with quick smart. Thanks for taking the time to read. Hugs 😉

  10. Perhaps they were all colorblind!
    Are you still leading the Languedoc Spain trip in September?
    Sis and Charlie Ashby from
    The Raymonde

    • Ah, the good old ‘Raymonde’ – such fond memories. Absolutely you two – leading both their September trips. See you there? 😉

  11. Poor monk. Lucky to have you on same train.

    • Poor Monk indeed. Not sure I really did much Linda, other than explain to the man why he was being fined 😉

  12. A tragedy indeed, any sight of a pink tail?

    • Pink tail? Oh goodness Pam you lost me embarrassed to say, as I am probably being really daft… 😉

      • A pun on ‘tale’ and pink, as in The Pink Panther!

      • Too smart for me – love it though 😉 Nice one…

  13. Thomas, I’ll make sure my husband sends you your Inspector credentials shortly! What a wonderful story!

    • Dear Sue! That will be just great – seems like I might be qualified… big big hug and much love to you and Brian too of course… 😉

  14. There MUST have been cameras rolling–this has to be French farce.
    Otherwise it’s just too sad. Still, glad you shared this experience.

    • Hi Karen, thanks for reading… It maybe could be turned into a movie – a Peter Sellers clip for sure… Good to know we are in safe hands 😉

  15. Oh Thomas. You must write a book. You have such a way with words, and the gods hand you material beyond end.

    • I agree. A book or several should be in your future

      • Cheers Susan. That is very nice of you to say. And THANK YOU for the Sandburg idea – great stories – you were right 😉 Hug from Vannes… x

    • Thank you Jody. Really. Very very kind. I am writing one, with luck done winter 2017. Many hugs to Vic also x x x

  16. I need to travel with you more often. Never a dull moment!

    • Yes. you’d have enjoyed this one… hope to make it happen one day 😉

      • It will definitely have to happen. I really want to see this little town you’re living in!! It sounds adorable!!

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