En route home


I am writing this last missive from the First & Business class Lee-ounge of Air India. The observant amongst you will notice something wrong there. “Ho hum,” you’ll be muttering, “Didn’t they come out with Etihad? And wasn’t there something about the return journey being null and void if something or other didn’t happen in the right order?”

You’d be partly right. We should have been going home with Etihad, but our tickets were fine. The Dread Curse Of Expensive Travel Strikes Again!

Bear with me for a moment. I must still the tempest in my chest somehow, and so I shall reminisce back to happier times. Many of you on my email list – about half of you – will remember the family parties of old at various houses dotted around Southsea – happy nights when dear friends gathered around the piano and everyone had a song. Uncle Ken would sing Paddlin’ Madeleine, Uncle Tony gave a spirited rendition of When The Train Is In The Station Please Refrain From Constipation, Dad sang an aria from Trial by Jury, Uncle John played the piano and Aunty X made light work of the drinks trolley. Uncle Michael and Aunty Betty would encourage me to sing a smutty song and you may also recall my brother’s charming rendition of Are Ye Right There Michael in his pleasing light tenor voice.

(Forgive me if this sounds like I’m rambling, I really will get to the point shortly.)

This song was written by that balladeer of distinction, Percy French, who made a killing around 1900 (I think) writing comical songs about the Irish and their lovable propensity to stuff things up big time. (Do you see where I’m going?) The song in question tells the hilarious tale – apparently true – of the time he tried to take a short train journey of about 22 miles across County Clare on the West Coast of Ireland. Naturally, the journey takes HOURS because all sorts of comical disasters befall him, they run out of fuel, they go into a siding by accident.. Etc.   But he does get to his destination eventually after huge hassles.

And I bring this up now because as I sit in Indira Ghandi Airport, Delhi, in the First Class and Business Lee-ounge, I feel as though I am in the India version of this song. Yes, folks, Execrable Travel have stuffed up again.

But before I come to that, let me backtrack. We arrived in Delhi after flying from Bhopal, back to the Imperial Hotel which is sensational. For some reason we still have not yet divined, we had been upgraded “by three levels”, as the excited lad on the check-in desk told us.   And indeed we had. Our suite was the size of a tennis court. We wondered if Expensive Travel had suddenly come good and tried to make up for their shortcomings by paying for an upgrade, but the hotel assured us that this was not the case. I suspect the hand of my old school chum, Victoria, who has been getting these missives. She is A Serious Mega-Bigwig in the World of Travel and is very unimpressed with the shortcomings of our tour company.

We had a glorious evening, dined in the hotel, woke up lovely and refreshed. Went off shopping in a tuktuk, John bought me a divine bracelet, I bought him some cool new sunglasses and I also managed to pick up some fabulous silk to have new show costumes made. Hurrah. Back to the hotel for early supper and then pickup by the rep – and guess who the rep was? Yes! Gary! Gary of the Lost Briefcase Disaster! Gary, who is doing a three-year degree in guest pick-ups! Gary whose name is really Gurvinder but who failed to tell his colleagues that he has a different airport name!

We got to the airport, and the flight wasn’t on the board. Gary looked perplexed and wandered off. Then he wandered back again with that same sick, whey-faced look he had when he realised there was no-one left to blame for the Lost Briefcase.

It’s not a long story. The flight had gone or closed or something, doesn’t matter, we weren’t on it. Etihad had actually changed their winter schedule on October 1st and informed all agents who had booked with them. For once, John and I reversed roles. I was the banshee and he was Mister Cool. I literally erupted. I’m afraid I turned violent, and smacked the Briefcase of Fame several times. I also texted and spoke to M, the loon who was our contact with Excrement Travel, and called him names. I was a woman deranged. Then John took the phone and spoke to him oh so calmly. Suddenly his whole tone changed and he sounded very dangerous indeed, like a leopard growling in the undergrowth. That familiar, philosophical Irish burr that has shared hunting/rugby/racing stories on many a bar stool took on a low and terrifying clarity. Some phrases I recall. “Suing the pants off you.” “Letter from my solicitor.” “The buck stops with you.” “Our contract was with you.” “Full refund with extra damages for distress caused.” “Horses in training.” No wonder he was the Shark of the City.

Phone calls, texts etc. More fury. Gary mincemeat on airport concourse. Threats. More fury. The good news now we are getting on an Air India flight flying direct to London, with first class seats, and we arrive at the same time we should have. I just checked the cost of the flights, and they were a mere £1,600 odd each. It’s only the start of what Extensive Trouble are going to have to pay. Oh, yes, they paid.

So there you are. We’re on our way home, our lovely last few days somewhat soured by yet another piece of crap. Excrement Travel clearly subcontracted us to Crapola Travel and went back to sleep. John remains unconvinced that we will ever get home, and says he won’t believe it till he’s on the M25 and heading back to Bicestershire.

But I want to say this. All the things that have gone wrong have had nothing to do with India. Never have we had to do what everyone tells you you have to do – shrug your shoulders and say, “This is India!” People will tell you it’s a land of contrasts. Yes, but so is Britain. I give you Bath and Wolverhampton, and I rest my case.

India is marvellous and fascinating and complex and subtle. Yes, it’s chocabloc with astounding sights and buildings but for me, it was the people that won me over. I absolutely loved so many, like Zokim, the bell hop girl at the Imperial who wrote the Urdu for “thankyou” on my hand. Saurabh, our waiter who played us the DVD of the Rajasthan train on his phone while we ate dinner – so inappropriate, so well-meaning, so enthusiastic to encourage us back. Jincey, our divine chambermaid at Marari Beach who held my hand fondly when we said goodbye, and asked if we would visit her home next time. Erwin, our genius guide in the jungle who laughed at all of my daft jokes and hugged us both when we left. How can you not love these people? You can connect from heart to heart here, and a wonderful sense of humour lurks just below the surface. In spite of everything, I have had so many attacks of furious giggles all the way round the country. You only have to smile at people and they smile back at you. It defies all your expectations.

So we will come back, because none of our difficulties here have been caused by India – Excrement Travel can take the rap.

Perhaps most astounding of all, we saw all five visible planets in a straight line across the sky. This event happens for a few days every eleven years, and it was only visible here. At 5.30 in the morning, when all the stars had faded, there they were, strung across the sky. Mars in the middle. Venus shining steadily at one end and the moon like a giant pearl at the other end. Abso-bloomin-lutely fabulous and a great reminder of how small our woes really are.


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Footnote 1: If you’re thinking of coming to India, I gather from Victoria that Greaves Travel is the only way to go. And she knows. If only I’d asked her before… Next time!

Footnote 2. The wifi here in the Lee-ounge is crap and I can’t be arsed to wrestle with it. I shall send this from Blighty.

Footnote 3: There will very likely be a 4th footnote, because I shall let you know how things go with Inefficient Travel. I’ll be speaking to our lawyers on Monday. I’m not a happy woman.

Footnote 4: There is a 4th footnote. Excrement Travel wriggled a bit, but they paid up. About 40% of the cost. So they did the decent thing, and hence it is no use asking me what the name of the travel company is, because I won’t tell you. They didn’t ask me to stay schtum, nor make me sign anything. It just wouldn’t be sporting, and as I said to them when we finally agreed on the compensation, you have to remember that our Burma holiday two years ago was the best we ever took. Organised by them. And finally, I really do think they learned a very hard lesson. What is saddest for me is that John doesn’t want to go back as a result of the holiday, and I would love to return.