JOHNSON’S JOURNAL - APRIL 2015
Our first coffee morning of the year and the members turn up earlier and earlier. When we should open at 10am they are already sitting waiting for the presentation to start, chatting away or waiting in the queue for their coffee and biscuits. Our annual magazine came out in November listing all the planned holidays and day trips for the year – although I am adding to that constantly with theatre trips, air tattoos and the like. I also produce an Updater sheet to show how many places are left on trips and encouragingly every trip for 2015 so far is viable with confirmed bookings.
As I had booked a one night stay in Leeds to go to The City Varieties Theatre for ‘The Good Old Days’, and dressing up in Victorian costume is encouraged, I arranged for the Wardrobe Mistress of the local Concordia Theatre in Hinckley to come with a rail of suitable costumes, which she gave a very light hearted talk on. Those going on the trip were then able to go into a separate room to try on the clothes and hire them there and then. I did give a warning that I was not going to sit behind anyone wearing a HUGE hat. Even the menfolk joined in the fun and have hired striped (and sometimes very gaudy) blazers and boater hats.
Last December I gave Andy Holmes, of Norman Allen Group Travel, two months to look for a ‘Winter Warmer’. I suggested Cadiz and Madeira might be possibilities. Just before Christmas when he had identified some very good hotels and itineraries for both and thought ‘job done’ I remembered the Lemon Festival in Menton and the Nice Carnival had been on my ‘to do’ list for ages. With just three weeks to actually work on it before my January coffee morning on the 28th, the gamble paid off; we had 56 bookings confirmed with deposits before the end of the week and by the middle of the following week had exhausted the hotel’s supply of rooms.
Clipboards also went round at the January meeting to gauge interest for a Eurostar trip to Provence and a Fred Olsen cruise to Iceland in 2016. On the basis you can only spend your money once, I have put up a list of the dates of these two trips and the months we will be having UK coach holidays and it is a tactic that is working well.
Have you ever been on a trip where someone’s luggage goes off in a different direction to them, or what was becoming a common occurrence, the luggage labels supplied by the majority of Tour Operators get torn off, and it’s a case that looks exactly like half a dozen others? I solved this by asking the people at Potters Leisure Resort in Norfolk where they got their non-tear labels from. Longcombe Labels now supply me with 5 different coloured labels, which are a coach driver’s aid as they relate to the 5 different pick up points I have. They can be written on and, since we have been using them, nothing has gone astray. In fact they saved three cases going on the wrong coaches on a trip last year where we had the Tour Operator’s coaches and drivers. It would have been a great inconvenience as their owners were going in totally different directions.
February can be a pretty dull month and I am not inclined to take coaches far in case of bad weather. The hotel where we have had our last four Christmas lunches do regular Murder Mystery nights so I decided to book one exclusively for the group. ‘Deadly Diamonds’ was the title and 74 people took part in solving the mystery. Half of that number took up a deal with the hotel of a special rate for overnight accommodation and breakfast. We also had a birthday to celebrate that night for one of the group who regularly goes on our trips. It was a thoroughly enjoyable night and I have been asked to do another next year.
‘Excursions’, at Alexandra Palace was so good last year that I decided to go again this year. To ensure a prompt arrival we stayed overnight at the Holiday Inn Golders Green, which is conveniently situated off the North Circular Road. We took the opportunity on the Friday to visit Ken’s aunt who is 91 and lives in North London, If you watch ‘Call the Midwife’ then she was one of those Midwives, and went through her training at ‘Nonnatus House’ (The Nursing Order of St John the Divine in fact) in Poplar just the year before Jennie Worth, on whose Memoirs the series is based. She then went to work in Malawi with the Nursing Order and keeps in touch with the few remaining members who are still alive.
‘Excursions’ was again excellent. I have sorted out enough itineraries for holidays into 2018!! I actually lost Ken at one point and was wandering up and down the aisles with a London Pride mug and a bottle of beer – a thank you for holding the carry bag which was getting heavier and heavier – and found he had just about put together one trip to Somerset (it involved trains) with a hotel owner. We were invited to view the hotel and have provisionally booked our dates for next year.
‘Starry Nights & Northern Lights’ was the title of our last trip in February. We had group members on two trips, one from East Midlands Airport and one from Birmingham. The trips are operated by Omega Holidays, although we booked ours through Holidays and Cruises For You. They start, once you have checked in, with a very good presentation on the stars you will see on the flight, by Nigel Bradbury, and on the Sun’s activity and formation of the Aurora Borealis by Pete Lawrence of ‘The Sky at Night’ television programme.
Once in the air, and after a light snack is served, the lights on the aircraft are switched off and, if allowed by air traffic control, so are the external navigation lights. No smoking signs, which never go off, are taped over, and once your eyes become accustomed to the dark the stars are so bright you feel you can touch them. It really was ‘a starry night’. The people who went on the East Midlands flight reported that they saw the Northern Lights; we saw the aurora as an arch over the earth, a slight sage green tint – which the specialised cameras used by the presenters pick up in brighter colour than can be seen by the naked eye - but unfortunately no ‘dancing lights’ for us on the night we flew. However, it was an experience that none of us would have missed. Throughout the flight, which takes us to the edge of Icelandic air space, circling the Faroe Islands, the presenters kept up a running commentary of what constellations could be seen and on which side. At £199, this was an evening with a difference.