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Johnsons Journal April 2018

As every GTO knows, despite the best laid plans, not every day trip or tour will turn out as you would wish. In January a group of 50 of us went to a Medieval Banquet as part of a two day break. It was, I believe, misrepresented by the hotel concerned to several coach and tour operators and thus to their own customers. I have been to many such Banquets in the UK & Europe over the years and the words medieval and banquet were not ones I would use for this event. That the three ‘entertainers’ were dressed in medieval-type costumes was the only hint of anything from that era. The event was held in a former chapel within the hotel – which was in fact a lovely setting BUT being long, thin and with a high ceiling the acoustics were wrong for the un-miked entertainers who occasionally wandered up and down the room. The ordinary noise of conversation completely drowned them. The ‘King’ spent most of his time at one end of the Chapel, and the ‘SINGER’, who played a modern guitar and sang a lot of nonsense words, could only be heard when he was nearby. Then there was the juggler - who kept dropping his batons. We were seated in two long rows of tables with only the people on the outside rows being able to see what little there was going on. 

Basically it was no better than going out to a three course meal at any restaurant; just more expensive. No effort had been made to create any sort of medieval environment.


What saved this weekend for us was the excellent Blue Badge guide that City & Village Tours provided us with on the Monday. Barbara took us on a coach-guided tour of ‘The Royal Landscape’ followed by a visit to Windsor Castle; ending the day at it’s Farm Shop. Barbara’s knowledge of Windsor was impressive. The best guides – as Gyll from City and Village Tours says – make a tour entertaining, know the benefit of silences, and in doing so impart so much more retained information to their audience.

Ken and I along with two of my volunteer helpers went to ‘Excursions’ at Alexandra Palace. As Chairman of AGTO’s Central Branch I had to go to the AGM that was held there but, as usual, I was able to pick up some interesting information for 2019 trips and meet up with several Tour Operators that I use regularly.


We had also been invited by Gyll to view the hotel two of my groups are staying at in April and June this year – The Clarendon at Blackheath – and then go to Folkestone on Sunday to view another hotel and be taken round the Kent Coast. It was a busy two days but very worthwhile and the upshot is that we have booked a two-day break in Canterbury, which nearly sold out at our coffee morning on the Tuesday without even a price being mentioned. We are also planning  a seven day tour based at a 4* hotel in Folkestone, that will include some very interesting and different themes and excursions, which is well on the way to being finalised ready for a presentation in May.


Ken and I don’t go on many ‘Fams’, either because the dates clash with other things we are doing or we just aren’t asked. I think that’s because budgets are being cut within the industry, and Tour Operators must be satisfied that they will get business and therefore value for their money. However I also believe you shouldn’t accept any such invitations unless you genuinely think that it will be of interest to your group and you will, if it is, book with that Tour Operator.


My annual GTO Insurance cover, which is a benefit of belonging to AGTO, is up for renewal soon. I was delighted to find out that Associate members of AGTO, City & Village Tours and Norman Allen Group Travel, who I am using for several tours in the next twelve months, automatically provide GTO’s who book with them GTO Public Liability Cover. Hopefully my premiums will lessen as I will not have to declare these tours in my figures.


Sonning Mill Dining Theatre again provided us with a great day out when we went to see Hound of The Baskervilles’. A very well acted and presented show and the food was good as well.


Through InterChoice we went to Warner’s at Sinah Warren at the end of February. Our previous visits have been midweek but we fancied the themed ‘Dolly Parton’ Friday to Monday break with professional artistes. An optional day trip in Portsmouth on the Saturday with no pre-booked visits was included as, at this time of the yea, it would depend on the weather and what was on offer at the complex as to how many actually wanted to go. Again a sell out full coach and the couple of cancellations through illness just before we went were very easily filled.


When I visited the Group Leisure Show in October last year I met Master Potter, Jon French who was demonstrating his skills on the Middleport Pottery’s stand. I decided after chatting to Jon that Ken’s Christmas present would be an hour’s ‘Pot throwing’ with him on a one to one basis. Ken took his present in February and made four very presentable pots and vases, which will be glazed on another visit. The group will be able to see his efforts as I have booked a whole day at Middleport for the group in July. With coffee on arrival followed by tours of the factory and a demonstration by Jon there will be a chance for all to make a clay flower.


After a buffet lunch a few have booked to throw a pot or glaze a plate. Jon only has three wheels in his studio, which limits the number for these one to one experiences.



One thing our attention was drawn to was the need to advise people to wear sturdy shoes as the outside paths are all cobbles and inside there are uneven surfaces. It is, after all, Victorian. Visitors are split into maximum sized groups of ten for the tour, which includes steep stairs outside and inside the factory buildings. There is a lift, but you MUST pre-book a separate lift access tour if you have people who won’t be able to manage the stairs as they have a guide to themselves. During the tour you will see how the raw clay is turned into the finished item.


I keep getting told to ‘Slow down’ but there are still so many places and experiences to go and do that it isn’t easy. As many of my group say “while you are able, you just have to take the opportunities as they arise. When you can’t do any more there will be so many memories to look back on”.

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