After a longish period, with not much happening at all, the last week has been a particularly good time for reviews of my 'nostalgedy...
Wednesday, 25 June 2014
You might think that the idea of the British Tourist Authority (BTA) having a network of agents dedicated to making travel to foreign parts a miserable experience rather outlandish (see Happy Now?), but there’s no shortage of evidence to support the theory.
For example, many years ago I was travelling back from France with a mate of mine. Between us, we had just about enough money left to buy either a breakfast or a few pints on the Calais/Dover ferry, so you can guess which way the choice went. This was in the days when the Calais-Dover route was operated by Sealink, a part of British Rail, and there were no other options, so you can imagine the level of customer service.
The young man behind the bar was clearly one of the BTA agents. Even though there were few customers in the bar, as this was the early hours of the morning and most people had more sense, he still made a point of ignoring anyone waiting at the bar for as long as he could. When finally forced to acknowledge their presence, he never made eye contact or engaged in conversation of any sort. Instead, he would jerk his head in the general direction of the putative customer and grunt. By this means he would take your order and return with something approaching what you had asked for.
As the bar was particularly quiet, and my mate was cursed with an enquiring mind, he managed to engage this surly youth in conversation, whereupon he (the youth) admitted that this performance of his was all about promoting his philosophy of ‘winding up the holiday Brits’. He saw it as his duty to reduce his customers to seething balls of impotent rage, which would then be let loose on our continental cousins with predictable results.
I will always remember standing at the bar, chatting to him, whilst behind us a group of blokes with whom he had clearly been particularly successful in his endeavours, jeered at him and yelled obscenities, which he resolutely ignored. Eventually, things reached such a pitch that an object came flying over our heads from the restive tribe behind. Without missing a beat in our conversation, he reached up and caught the projectile, which he then casually examined. “Looks like I’ve won myself a lighter” he announced calmly to the room as a whole. Now that’s a professional – I hope the BTA gave him a medal!
Monday, 16 June 2014
“Have you been ashore yet?” he asked, in that peculiar sort of whine and inflection that you just know is the preface to an Englishman about to embark on a damn good moan.
“Erm, yes.” We replied, wary of how this conversation might go.
“Not much there, is there?” he said, with an expression like a spaniel whose tail had just been trodden on. I decided to take a sudden and abiding interest in the lift’s progress up the floors but my wife, who hates negativity, obviously decided to engage in the debate. “Well, I think…” but they were never to know as we had reached their floor and they, and their anoraks, and their little cloud of depression, headed off to find a few like-minded souls with which to commune.
I’ve written before (see If You're Happy And You Know It...) about the British attitude to happiness, i.e, it’s something to be avoided if at all possible. Every time that I think that I’m being hard on my fellow countrymen, they seem to go out of their way to provide confirmatory evidence. Like the man and his wife in the lift, for example. He was referring to the port of call where we were then docked, Alesund in Norway. This is Alesund:
Now, I don’t know quite what he was expecting, but this strikes me as a pleasant little town arranged around a rocky outcrop in the Norwegian Fjords. The architecture is interesting, the scenery majestic and, on the whole, it’s got a thick edge over Burton upon Trent. So what were they expecting, I wonder? I suppose if I had been sufficiently interested I could have asked, although our conversation was mercifully too short to allow for much in the way of interrogation. Perhaps they had singing and dancing fishermen in traditional garb in mind, or shoals of carefully choreographed herring swimming through the harbour? Kippers skipping from stone to stone?
What this couple were really hoping for, in my opinion, were a few others of similar temperament so that they could have a good old choral moan. Being trapped in the vicinity of one of these sessions is always hugely dispiriting as they seem to drive every drop of optimism and positivity from their immediate surroundings.
This cruise actually started with an encounter with one of these positivity vacuums. As it was the start of our holiday, I was reasonably chipper, which is not my natural demeanour if I’m honest. I have been told that I usually resemble an undertaker going through a lean patch. Anyway, despite the howling wind, and the rain coming down sideways as I dumped the luggage at the cruise terminal, I was in relatively good spirits. The past few days had been sunny and warm at home, and the weather forecast had led me to believe we could expect much the same for the next week in Norway.
I was dutifully shovelling my various items of hand luggage through the scanner, including a sort of white panama-type hat which, although somewhat redundant in the wind and rain of Southampton, would not fit into our normal luggage, when I was surprised by a comment from the woman overseeing the process.
“You won’t need that!” She said emphatically.
I tore my gaze from my collection of valuables, now consigned to the scanner, and ceased my nervous patting down of my pockets to try to ensure I had left nothing behind to which the body scanner would object. I discovered that she was holding my hat aloft and regarding it with some disdain.
“I’m sorry?” I said, typically apologising for not having heard an entirely unexpected and unrequested comment.
“This hat,” she pointed to the offending article, “I’m saying you won’t be needing that where you’re going.”
“Really?” I replied, somewhat lamely.
“I went to Norway in May last year,” she volunteered, “and it never stopped raining” she added with some disgust.
I almost felt ashamed of going at all. Her attitude seemed to be that, if I had the sense I was born with, I would turn back now and desist from this reckless adventure. Any chirpiness I might have experienced was now left whimpering and dejected by the check-in desk. I wondered if the British Tourist Authority were sponsoring her to make departing citizens feel guilty about taking foreign holidays? If so, they were succeeding beyond their wildest dreams.
The author defiantly wearing his hat, despite the dire warnings
TO BE CONTINUED
You can find a lot more of this sort of thing at Philip Whiteland's author page
Friday, 6 June 2014
Very chuffed indeed to be one of the winners of Wattpad's Memoir Month. Check out the story (about 10th in the list) and your votes and comments would be much appreciated :-)
Sunday, 1 June 2014
This is the Derby Telegraph article for May, 2014.
Do you remember the Jolly Fisherman excursion trains which used to run from Derby to Skegness during the Spring and Summer? I'm sure you will remember the iconic posters featuring a rather obese but ridiculously happy old chap in ancient seafaring gear, skipping over an impossibly sunny beach? I think that picture calls to something deep in the soul of all Midlanders. It speaks of the seaside and everything that we associate with it. It conjures up images of warm, sunny days, ice cream, seafood stalls and fish and chips. What is doesn't bring to mind, but probably should, are howling gales, driving rain and the sea so far in the distance it would confound Mo Farah to reach it.
I happened to see the advert for the excursion as I walked past Burton station one day in the early 1970s and it called to me. I had recently started work and so had a few pounds in my pocket and thought it might be a good idea to treat my mum and my sister, Anne, to a day out at the seaside. I felt a bit guilty that Anne had not had a seaside holiday up to that point in her life. Whilst a day trip to Skegness would hardly make a huge difference, it might be something she would enjoy. I booked the tickets for the first excursion of the year, which might have been some time in March (you're beginning to spot the flaws in this plan already, aren't you?)
The day came and started sunny and bright. We caught the No. 6 bus to Burton Station and this was where the problems started. Anne, like me, was never a good traveller and the excitement of going to the seaside, combined with the rolling action of the double-decker bus, meant that as we disembarked at the top of Station Bridge, she was spectacularly ill. I suppose the only saving grace was that it didn't happen in the bus itself. Having cleaned things up as best we could, we hurried down to catch the connecting train from Burton to Derby.
At Derby Station, we joined quite a throng who were waiting for this first excursion trip. Anne, who would be about six or seven years old at the time, needed to go to the toilet. I think mum offered to go with her, but she was confident she could manage on her own. A few moments later the relative peace of the station platform was shattered by an ear-piercing shriek and the sound of gruff oaths being uttered. Mum went racing into the toilet where she found Anne crying and shaking like a leaf. It appeared that she had opened a cubicle only to find a tramp asleep. This bloke had reared up at her and yelled, causing her to shriek. Mum went off in search of the Station Manager, who evicted the vagrant and apologised profusely, but the damage was done. Anne, understandably, could not be persuaded back into the toilet and I was beginning to get a sense of foreboding about the whole proceedings.
The train trip to Skegness was, after that, happily uneventful. Many of the passengers had witnessed the commotion and asked if Anne was alright after her ordeal.
The further east we travelled, the bleaker the weather seemed to get and, at Skegness Station, we disembarked to be met by brooding clouds and a bitterly cold wind. Along with the rest of our, by now less than merry, band, we did what the British do best and trudged seaward for no apparent reason.
Anne (right) and little friend
Mum realised that, dressed as she was, Anne (see picture, it was pretty likely that she was wearing something like this) stood a good chance of getting chapped legs at best and hypothermia at worst. She decided to take her to the nearest clothing store to get something more appropriate to the climatic conditions. As it was fairly apparent to mum that the day was not turning out quite as I had hoped, she suggested that I take myself off to the nearest pub for a pint. I didn't need telling twice!
TO BE CONTINUED