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Smallville: A Planned Departure

As Peter B Farrell makes his meticulous preparations for a holiday in France he discovers that hang gliding and bungee jumping are definitely out, and on no account must spears and crossbows be used.

Sit in a comfy chair, or brace yourself against a secure object - say a heavy oaken table - before starting to read Pete's column. We don't want you to accidentally fall and break a leg while in the midst of uncontrollable chortles.

Round about the era of the Sputnik and A Streetcar Named Desire, I took my annual holiday, intending to meet up with some friends who were usually to be found sharing Woodbines, the staple cigarette brand, somewhere in the Pennine Hills.

“See you in a fortnight.” I waved goodbye to my parents, having packed a spare shirt and a sleeping bag in my rucksack. I caught the bus armed with two weeks wages – about £10 – and a couple of packets of Symington’s dried soup.

Within an hour I was at the foot of the Pennine range, and with a few like-minded companions in Army surplus clothing, decided on impulse to head for the Lake District. In a surprisingly short time, we had hitch-hiked most of the way, staying overnight in barns and Youth Hostels before walking the last few miles to Lake Windermere.

With time on our side we ventured further north sometimes sleeping out under the stars and on one occasion in the local bus station. Porridge oats was the staple diet.

Offered a lift to Glasgow by a friendly truck driver we ended up well into the Scottish Highlands by the end of the first week, visiting Loch Lomond and reaching Fort William, covered with midge-bites. This adventurous journey climaxed when we reached the summit of Ben Nevis, by which time we decided it was time we headed for home.

Travelling south along the east coast route, hiking sometimes, but mainly by hitching lifts, we ended up in a Youth Hostel in Derbyshire. Tired hungry and broke we pooled our resources which were just about enough for the respective bus journeys back to Sheffield and Manchester.

Without any planning and in all weathers, my friends and I had walked, trekked, hitchhiked and taken the occasional bus ride on a round trip of almost 800 miles. We had also climbed the highest mountain in the UK while Joe Dimaggio was settling into married life with Marilyn Monroe.

***

“Yes we’d love to. Should be quite an experience. Merry Christmas.”
My wife put the phone down;.I was startled by her instant decision.

We had been invited to accompany my brother and his wife on holiday to Southern France. Apparently we would be staying with their son who lived and worked in the Montpelier region. I located the area on the map and mused whether I would be following in the footsteps of Scott and Zelda, or even Hemingway.

My holiday planning was well documented, easily accessible on the computer and I created a new folder headed Foreign Holiday just over six months to go.

“Well out of date. It’s years since we were abroad.” My wife’s passport was obsolete and the photograph bore no resemblance. I continued the search for mine. Lost. The last time I remember seeing it was when I had hair in 1978.

Forms were filled in, witnessed and photo’s attached, credit card details processed and I was relieved of £84. Delay could be expected because of my reported loss, but my wife’s passport was exchanged in a remarkably short time. I admired her likeness.

The Passport Office was very understanding and provided I reported the matter to the local Police Station (recording the Report number on Form LS01 and sending it off with the standard photographs, duly witnessed by a professional person of my acquaintance).

“Date and whereabouts of loss sir?” All my past misdemeanours surfaced the moment I walked into the local Police Station, despite the cheerful ambience and the potted plants.

I wasn’t sure, sometime between October 1978 and say, last August when we had a clearout. That could be in either Huntingdonshire, Lincolnshire but more than likely Norfolk.

“Last August, possibly destroyed with old documents, but it was out of date, obsolete, one of the old type.” Would this get me off the hook?

It would and it did. Within a week I was carefully storing the new passports with the Forms E111. Aware of the dangers to health while travelling abroad, including malaria, snakebite, typhoid and yellow fever, we learned that having the correct paperwork – Form E111 - gave the right to reciprocal medical facilities in over 25 European countries. We would however be expected to pay for repatriation by Air Ambulance if the worst... Best take out insurance.

The Policy arrived - £47 - not only repatriation, but also an extra £1000 each if we were hi-jacked. Although not if the claim be the result of sports related activity including hang gliding and bungee jumping, or the use of spears and crossbows.

Time passed and progress was being recorded in the Foreign Holiday folder, and I methodically moved down the checklist. Currency next. At the Post Office I handed over £500 and was told I could expect the equivalent Euros in five days time. Now to buy a body belt...

With less than three months to go it was time to book the ferry to Cherbourg. The daytime crossing would be best - £125 – and as it coincided with the anniversary of the D-Day landings it promised to be quite a spectacle.

Forays to the library resulted in an abundance of guidebooks. I methodically recorded the route and listed the many attractions we would hope to visit, including the Edith Piaf museum. I also wondered whether Sylvia Beach’s bookshop was still open. Unfortunately we would be too early for the Tour de France. Perhaps another time.

I continued with the “French in a Fortnight” tapes. “Croissants?” I took up my wife’s offer for breakfast, better give it a try and dispensed with the muesli. That evening we watched Maigret on TV over half a bottle of vin rouge.

“Bargain guv, can’t get any more.” The special offer was too good an opportunity to resist and I bought six packets of dried bananas for £3 from the health food stall on the market. With the holiday only a week away I amended the packing list, adding waterproof clothing, sunglasses, seasick pills and indigestion tablets. Would I be able to buy green tea? Better take a supply, together with the dried bananas…

Ready for the off, I methodically went through the security check.
Inform neighbours.

Cancel milk.
Check electrics.
Turn off water.

Malcolm Glaser had just taken over Manchester United, £790 Million.


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