Hurricane Heritage hits

It may have looked like a quiet week weather-wise, but here in the wild west, Hurricane Heritage hit, leaving confusion and empty coffee cups everywhere.

Yes, you know when you’ve had a visit from Norman Heritage, director of Gold Wing Insurance and his personal assistant Chris Branch! They called in this week on the first stop of their ‘demo tour’ of the west’s agents, eager to educate us in the ways of their new Oasis online insurance programme.

Under Norman and Chris’s supervision, we went straight to the top of the class and earned ourselves gold stars, mastering the procedures in no time. Which just goes to prove how straightforward the system is, as I can’t claim any great affinity with anything technical – let’s face it, I’m still struggling to get to grips with the hoover.

The next stop on their tour was Taunton. Rick suggested a speedy route and began reciting directions, but Norman didn’t appear to be interested.

“It’s okay,” he said, “I’ll just ask Ethel. I have absolute faith in her; after all, she got us to Gillingham with no trouble and she’s the only woman I know who will stop talking when I ask.”

Ethel? Norman’s wife is called Jean, I thought. And she’s 200 miles away in Essex. Who was this Ethel? And has she been sitting in the car all this time, listening to Radio 2? I had no time for suspicions though, as Norman quickly pointed out that Ethel was the name he’d given to his new in-car satellite navigation system.

I’m sure Ethel is no end of help to Norman as he makes his way around the UK, and these automated ‘speaking’ services are lots of fun. I expect Ethel has a BBC-style voice that’s easy to understand and totally inoffensive, but I’m tickled to imagine her as a shrill, overly loud fishwife, declaring: “Everybody knows how to get to Taunton, it’s off the M5!”

But of course, if sat-nav sounded like any old wife, there’d be no point to them, would there? Helen’s in the dog house Whilst the rest of the country is getting to grips with dynamic packaging and helping themselves at the selfservice travel buffet that has replaced the packaged holiday, here in good ol’ Gillingham, the reverse seems to be happening. Our clients seem to want more handholding and more personal attention with more pick-ups and drop-offs outside their front doors than ever.

That was the conclusion reached by Helen Tate of Titan Tours when she popped in this week to relay news of how our figures had increased with the company in the last year, and to introduce us to the new Classic Rail Tours brochure.

It was lovely to meet Helen, whose ‘dizzy blonde’ reputation precedes her. Helen manages to combine a job with a giddy home life, taken up with her toddler son, Fletcher; and Jake, an 11-year-old Jack Russell. I commented that I remember how much work it is, having a toddler in the house, but Helen’s view is that her dog is far more exhausting.

Jake is, it would seem, the sort of dog who would make it onto one of those pet behaviour TV shows, and causes the family no end of problems. At one point, they were forced to move home as Jake had irreparably damaged relations between Helen and her neighbours.

“Did he bark a lot?” I asked, wondering how such lasting damage could be done. Helen told me it was worse than that; he’d tunnelled into the neighbours’ garden and ‘taken out’ Flopsy the rabbit. And I don’t mean ‘taken out’ in the dinner and a movie sense. No, this was a case of bye-bye Benjamin bunny…

But Helen is used to moving home. She told me she’d lived all over the country and abroad during her time as an ILG rep, but that she preferred Liverpool to just about any other place. Jake the dog has not been the reason for her many changes of address, but she admits he has a lot of energy to be worked off.

Fortunately, Helen’s husband is a tree surgeon and can take the dog to work. But on the occasional days when he’s unable to, he has suggested that Helen takes him to work with her. I can’t see her boss Tommy Byrne agreeing to this; after all, if she doesn’t like what he says, she could set Jake on his ankles! Mind you, it could be that Jake would make the ideal Titan mascot – a feisty operator with a big bite.

When nature calls

I’ve come to accept that when we advertise our ‘mystery tour’, run in conjunction with Bakers Dolphin, the last thing our clients are interested in is mystery.

They want everything spelled out to the letter and all uncertainty erased.

“How much is it?” asked one caller.

“It’s free,” I replied.

“Free?” barked the caller, “why’s it free? What’s wrong with it?”

The next call regarding the advert was from an elderly gentleman who wanted to know if there was a toilet on board the coach.

“It’s alright for you women,” he said, “but at my age, you start having problems with your prostate and you need to go more often.”

If I’d said, “too much information,” do you think he’d have understood?

Something fishy…

And finally, a client added a new reason to the ever-growing list of things that put folk off travelling: ‘sex-change suntan lotion’.

Yes, if it’s not enough that people are anxious about natural disasters, bird flu and terrorism, my client is worried potential sunblock ingredients, shown to have a feminising effect on male fish, will see him leave these shores as Arthur, and come back as Martha!