Maureen: It was a golden age, despite the rats

Maureen Hill is a regular columnist for Travel Weekly and works at Travel Angels, Gillingham, DorsetGeorge Salter, sales manager for the Preston Travel Group, called in this week.

He came laden with all sorts of goodies, including coasters, mini Easter eggs, brochures and, unusually, a rather tatty 18th birthday card (now 30 years old), signed by all his workmates at Arrowsmith Holidays, where he had been working at that time.

Among those signatures was one belonging to our boss at Travel Angels, Peter Grayson. I think George was hoping to relive his teenage kicks with Peter on his visit to our shop, but unfortunately for him, Peter was ‘away from his desk,’ as the saying goes.

George gave us a rundown of his time at Arrowsmith back in the days when the package holiday was the must-have purchase for the aspirational classes and everybody was busy filling the skies with tourists.

Arrowsmith was bought by Freddie Laker from owner Harry Boden-Smith who retired to Majorca with his partner, Cynthia Nolan. Cynthia became something of a celebrity on the island, driving the only pink Rolls-Royce to be seen there; think Lady Penelope minus Parker!

As I say, though, this was back in the days when there was serious money to be made, and some more of it could have been spent on workers’ conditions. George laughed as he remembered the occasional screams that would punctuate a day in the office. Before you get the wrong idea, these weren’t screams of delight.

“Rats would run across your feet from time to time,” recalled George, “there was no concept of health and safety!”

As I read the various messages on George’s aged birthday card, I could see there was clearly a lot of camaraderie between the staff and even a little flirtatiousness. One inscription from a young lady read, “To the sexiest thing on two legs.” I’m betting that’s why the card has been cherished this long!

Who knows, in years to come, when Fearne Cotton or Vernon Kay are hosting Antiques Roadshow, that card might turn up as an artefact from the history of Hallmark…

It really was fun to listen to George’s tales, which he interspersed with details of Preston’s current offers, and I especially liked hearing about his father and his connections to espionage.

As his job involved working with Russian trawlers, George’s dad was encouraged by unnamed agents to take photos of the docks, the ships and their cargos and send the undeveloped film to a secret address.

“Trouble was, he wasn’t that great at the undercover game,” said George. “I remember him receiving a letter thanking him for the interesting photos of his dog, but stating in no uncertain terms that they weren’t exactly what they were looking for. The film was still in his carrier bag. Thank God national security wasn’t resting in his hands!”

This made me think of an incident that occurred many years ago when I was invited to lunch aboard a ship by Joyce Pine of the now defunct CTC Cruises. Having eaten our meal, Joyce and I were introduced to the captain of the ship with whom we posed for photos on the deck.

You can imagine my surprise when, just a couple of weeks later, the same captain appeared on the front page of the newspapers, exposed as a spy. Let nobody say life in this industry is dull!


Wowed by clients

TV is teaching our clients a whole new collection of jargon with which to beat their friendly travel agents.

Take the couple that came in this week looking for a five-star hotel in an exotic location. With help from Denise at Hayes and Jarvis, I offered a number of possibilities, but the middle-aged pair couldn’t agree on the destination. Eventually, they decided to step outside for a chat.

When they returned, they announced they were going home to look on TripAdvisor and would get back to us. This they did, only to tell us that, while they were happy with what I’d found, they didn’t feel the resorts and hotels had the ‘wow factor,’ and would I find the ‘wow factor’ for them?

Needless to say, the ‘wow factor’ brief came with a ‘how? factor’ budget. Kirstie and Phil from Location, Location, Location might be able to bend budgets on their show, but our margins are already at breaking point.

I was tempted to whack them across the back of the head with a brochure and say I can only manage the ‘ow factor’!

Maureen Hill works at Travel Angels in Gillingham, Dorset

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