Maureen: the travel industry’s favourite columnist

The big issue

Last week I made reference to the fact that airline seats can be pretty snug when it comes to accommodating the super-sized among us but it seems that size matters in other areas too, as Gerry Smith, sales manager of Cottages to Castles pointed out this week.

Gerry e-mailed a story about a party of Americans booked to stay at one of the company’s houses in Chianti recently.

“As usual,” he wrote, “they were met and welcomed by the owner who noted that one of the clients was very large. She silently hoped her beds and chairs were up to the job. But it wasn’t her beds and chairs that were put to the weighty test.”

It transpired that in making a beeline for the dining room that evening, the rather large fella lost his footing on the stairs. Arms flailing, he struck out for something to steady him, found the door handle and grabbed it in a desperate bid to challenge the laws of gravity.

As he was a force to be reckoned with, the door handle, the door itself and the frame around it were no match for him, and as he toppled, he took the lot with him.

Fortunately, no lasting damage was done to the client, but he did find himself having to explain to the owner the next morning that the door would need re-setting and some new plasterwork would be required.

The owner, knowing the door was of the sturdy, rustic variety and not flimsy plywood, could not help but ask how much his guest weighed? “Why, only 130 kilos,” came the reply.

Which, by my reckoning, is a good 20 stone.

A tight squeeze

Gerry clearly had his hands full with his American clients as he told me of another incident where size played its part. In this scenario his client was trying to prove that you can fit a pint into a quart pot.

The client, a gentleman in his 70s, had hired a Mercedes to take his party on a tour through Tuscany to take in the sights.

One evening they decided to stop for dinner in a restaurant that had been recommended to them, situated in a small, hilltop town. The task was on to find a parking space.

In the failing light of dusk, the driver thought he’d spotted a blue and white sign with a P on it. But his eyes were not what they used to be, and the street lights in Italy are not bright. However, convinced he was right, he headed straight for it.

Because the vehicle was so substantial, he barely noticed a double bump, signifying that he’d mounted the kerb and he was at the top of a flight of widely spaced steps with walls on either side.

Of course, the thing about a Mercedes is its great suspension.

The old boy didn’t notice he was descending the stairs, so superbly were the bounces absorbed. He continued, determined to reach the car park he imagined to be at the bottom.

The passage became narrower. The walls grew closer. The protests of his passengers got louder. The wing mirrors broke off, and it was only when the car became tightly jammed between the walls and was completely stuck, he gave up on the idea of parking.

Unable to open any doors, the passengers had to climb out of the windows. In no time, a crowd of Italians had gathered to watch the entertainment, unable to believe a crazy American pensioner had driven down a flight of pedestrian steps, hence the ‘P’.

The carabinieri arrived to take particulars and the next day the car was lifted out by a crane.

In England, or indeed probably anywhere else in the world, the driver would expect never to be allowed anywhere near a hire car again, but the Italians are more liberal when it comes to driving and, unbelievably, replaced the Mercedes with another so the party could get back to the airport for their flight home.


Up, up and away

Almost as entertaining as Gerry’s e-mail was the Southwest and Wales Ball held at the Bristol Marriott Hotel in the city centre. I had been invited by Goldtrail Holidays and, being the eager beaver I am, arrived early.

Since my room wasn’t ready, I was given a voucher for a drink in the bar while I waited, and there I bumped into Alan Bartram.

Alan used to be in retail but switched to working as an operator specialising in cruising. However, this hadn’t offered him the challenge he’d been seeking, and he told me he was now back on the market and looking for a new opportunity. I wished him good luck.

The cocktail reception later was hosted by Bristol Airport, and followed by a fabulous dinner. I sat on a table with an inordinate number of women and only two men, one of whom was late. Thus we became Joe Lavers’ (Goldtrail Holidays sales and marketing manager) harem.

Among the harem, was Kate Milton of Howard Travel, Trowbridge; Jo Connor of Cathedral City Travel, Wells; Katie Talbot-Evans of Travelcare, Plymouth; Amy Atkinson and Karen Rickards of Bristol Airport Direct; Emma Baker of Global Independent Travel and Jo Halloul of Holiday City. A lovelier set of girls you’d be hard pushed to find. Joe was in his element and I swear his chest swelled over the course of the meal.

It was lovely to meet up with old friends and to make new ones, and fate must have been smiling that night, as Alan Bartram went on to win a balloon flight sponsored by Bristol Airport in the prize draw. I’m sure this means up, up and away for his fortunes.

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