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Thursday, 3 February 2011

Forty Years On: No. Luton Airport!

Even though our week in Majorca via Clarkson’s (see How many cigarettes to Arenal?) was only going to cost some trifling amount like £35, this and the spending money were going to take some raising.  Which is why June, 1971 found me reporting back to Bovril/Marmite for duties, whilst Kev headed off to the delights of regular night shifts at the Ashby Biscuit Factory, affectionately known as ‘Muck and Dust’ after its former owners, Meredith and Drew.  Sun, sea, sand and anything else beginning with ‘s’ (like sangria, of course) seemed a long way away as we trooped off to work.

Now that I had reached the grand old age of 16, I was no longer considered to need sinecures like the cap filling job at Bovril/Marmite and was instead made part of the small army of students employed each summer to cart heavy things about.  As I was still only 9 stone soaking wet and looked like the ‘Before’ part of the Charles Atlas adverts, this was not exactly my dream employment.  The only way all of this was made bearable was the promise of a week in the Majorcan sun at the end of it and the various milestones along the way, such as paying the balance to the travel agent, collecting the foreign currency and getting the British Visitors Passport (BVP).  Do you remember those?  They cost a few pounds, lasted for 12 months and were really useful documents that anyone could get from a main Post Office.  Having said that, my first BVP was issued by the Burton Employment Exchange in Cross Street.  I nipped out of work one lunchtime and walked into town to Woolworths on Burton High St to the only photo-booth I knew, to get my passport photo.  You can see the result below.  I have a collection of these which I sometimes inflict on people during my ‘guest speaker’ talks for local societies.  This is probably my favourite.  I think it looks like someone wanted for questioning for Indecent Exposure.  The expression on my face should give you a good indication of how much I was enjoying my vacation job.

I’m glad that I kept my first BVP because it tells me that I withdrew the princely amount of £30 in pesetas from Barclays Bank on 31st August 1971 (you were still limited by The Exchange Control Act 1947 as to how much cash you could take out of the country, but I don’t think that my stash worried the authorities). 

Finally, the great day arrived and, with our bags packed, we headed off to Luton Airport.  As we had little money left for anything other than the holiday, we scrounged a lift from my Uncle Ron who happened to be travelling in that direction as part of his job.  The only downside to this arrangement was that we had to be dropped off at the airport before 10.00 am as Uncle Ron had to get into London to start his day, and our flight was not until the evening.  I was terrified of the concept of flying (still am to a certain extent) and, given a full day of hanging around an airport with nothing better to do than wind myself up and drink, I was not feeling a lot of pain by the time we boarded the aircraft.  A good illustration of this is that I put my lemon scented hand towel in my tea instead of the milk, and drank it.  I also could not cope with the stuffy sensation of the pressurised cabin and went to the toilet for a breath of fresh air!  Whether I thought, in my befuddled brain, that I could open a window in there, I really don’t know.

Eventually, we landed at Palma Airport and I had my first experience of walking out of the aircraft door, into the oven-like heat of the Spanish night.  Immediately my nostrils were assailed by the singular smell that always reminds me of a combination of dodgy drains and cheap cigars (but not necessarily in that order).  We had finally arrived on foreign soil (well, tarmac) and the holiday started here.  

Find out how it all developed at Forty Years On: A Spanish Bee in Your Bonnet

You can find more stories from The Slightly Odd World of Phil Whiteland in e-book format - Steady Past Your Granny's - Kindle Edition (UK) or Steady Past Your Granny's - Kindle Edition (USA)