Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I get to go all over the place me...

My job takes me all over the place in my eternal quest to bring payroll peace and harmony to my many and varied business customers, all over the north of England I go and sometimes down south a bit too.

And then a few times I got to go to where the picture shows.

Bottom Bay, Barbados.

It started with an innocous phone call from someone who wanted to control his workforce and reorganise his payroll, an address in Harrogate was given, a travel agents office - I went to see him the next day and sat in his office while three "Harrogate ladies" took phone calls in the only other room in the building.

To those who have never been to Harrogate but who are British then think Bath or Knightsbridge and think of the middle aged ladies who lunch in those fine places in tweed skirts, round neck cashmire sweaters, a Laura Ashley collar turned up underneath the sweater, pearls, and a fine pair of brogues on their feet - those refined English ladies also exist in Harrogate with accents that could cut glass and a superior attitude.

For those not of these shores for whom Harrogate, Bath and Knightsbridge are meaningless words, think The Queen, working in an office.

So I'm sitting in this office and thinking "but you've only got three employees" and the bloke on the other side of the desk is talking about 150 employees and I'm thinking he's got another office somewhere that he's not telling me about, maybe a chain of shops or something and we continue in this vein for twenty minutes or more until suddenly he mentions in an off the cuff way that he'd like me to fly to Barbados at his expense to meet the manager of "the hotel" and the penny drops and I realise that this quintessential englishman sat opposite me owns a hotel in the Carribean and rather than do the demonstration of our software here in Harrogate he wants me to do it in Barbados, at his expense, and unfortunately British Airways only operate a weekly service there so I'd have to work for two hours and stay for seven days, better still its an all inclusive hotel and so I won't even need any money.

What a bugger.

What a jammy bugger.

Three weeks later he's on the phone telling me that my BA tickets are in the post and that he'll meet me at check-in at Gatwick the following Monday, I hadn't the heart to refuse, nor to tell him that actually I could have simply posted a simple step-by-step demonstration CD to the hotel and talked them through it on the phone - never mind eh ?

Bright and early at Gatwick I was, stood in line at the check-in and it was then that I realised that I could barely remember what he looked like, Jack Hawkins was the best recollection I could bring to mind, Jack Hawkins the old British wartime actor who always played well spoken officers in war films, I looked up and down the queues at the four desks but I couldn't see Jack Hawkins anywhere.

I hung around for a long while until the check-in was almost closed and then stepped forward to find that I'd been pre-booked a seat, thats ok I thought, Jack Hawkins will be sat next to me on the plane, we'll meet up then and I won't need to find him in the crowd, he'll come to me.

Checked in, called to the gate, looked around again, still no Jack Hawkins and I'm wondering if I actually heard him right, he did say he would meet me here didn't he ?

Thats when I realised that I only had a vague recollection of what the hotel was called - and had no address.

Like an idiot I walked onto the 747 when called to find that I had a window seat and I sat back and waited for Jack Hawkins to take up the seat next to me.

Minutes later a young couple sat down in the two seats next to me, this is wrong I thought and checked my ticket again, I was in the right seat so I asked the couple to check their tickets, they were Swedish and spoke not one word of English, well maybe one or two words, enough to check their tickets and confirm that they were in the right seats but not enough to speak to me again for the eight and a half hour flight.

And then the doors were closed and we took off from rainy Gatwick and I bade my country goodbye as the green but very wet fields of southern England slipped behind the clouds and I wondered for the first time what the fook I was doing accepting flight tickets from someone I'd only met for an hour or so and who hadn't turned up at the airport as arranged, its the sort of drug smuggling movie script that you read and think "this is too bloody far fetched, no-one would ever be that stupid".

After a completely silent eight and a half hour flight, having only spoken the word "yes" twice when the stewardess asked me if I'd like my dinner and afternoon tea (you get tea and scones at 4pm on British Airways, very quaint, very English), we disembarked in Barbados and as I waited for my luggage I checked again for Jack Hawkins, if I was going to see him anywhere it would be at the luggage carousel surely ?

I thought I saw him, he was with a family group and he looked a bit like Jack Hawkins, if a little taller than I remembered, I slipped through the crowd and like an assasin sidled up behind him and waited, I wasn't so sure now I was this close so I waited for him to collect a bag off the carousel and then leaned forward, tilting my head around to try and read the name on the label, it wasn't him, but whoever it was suddenly became aware of me checking out his suitcase, I looked up, smiled, gave a nervous laugh, pointed to his suitcase as if I found it funny, then shuffled sideways out of his vision, he probably still speaks of the time they were accosted by a suitcase pervert in Barbados.

My bag turned up, I took it and wandered outside, still seeking desperately for Jack Hawkins, the taxi rank gaffer asked if I wanted a taxi, I told him I was waiting for someone, I waited, I waited until all 350 people on the BA flight had cleared the terminal and been whisked on their way to their holiday hotels leaving me stood outside the airport with just my bag and the taxi rank gaffer.

We stood there for a while in an awkward silence trying to ignore each other until eventually professional curiosity got the better of him and he asked again if I'd like a taxi.

"I don't know where I'm going" I finally confessed

He stared at me for a long time the unspoken thoughts being "we've got a right nutter here"

"Are you sure you don't know where you're going sir" he asked slowly of the idiot who had flown halfway around the world with a small bag of clothes without a clue of where he was staying.

"I think I know the name of the hotel" I added, hoping it would help, I told him it, he called across a taxi and asked the driver, or as he pronounced it, he axed the driver (I still love the Bajun accent)

The driver said that he thought that he knew the hotel too, and so he took me there for $25, that was exactly half of the money that I'd brought for the week but lucky for me when I went to the hotel reception they actually knew who I meant when I mentioned Jack Hawkins and just as I sighed a huge sigh of relief in walked Jack Hawkins himself, slapped me on the back in a hale and hearty way and issued instructions to one of his staff to bring me a beer - how could I argue with that ?

The explanation was that he'd travelled club class, why did I expect less of him, and so had used the VIP check-in, I'd missed him at Barbados airport because he'd brought so many bags full of stuff for the hotel, small stuff like 50 glass ashtrays, 100 tablecloths etc that he brought in as hand luggage to avoid import taxes, so many bags that he'd gone through the cargo office at the airport, I found out that afternoon that knowing the right people at the airport could save you hundreds of dollars in import tax, in fact he told me qute openly while laughing at me, that one of the bags of linen goods was checked in at Gatwick in my name, I was a tablecloth smuggler and never knew it.

I went back there six times in as many years for an annual audit, I know, I know, it was a tough dirty job but as I explained to my employees I wouldn't ask them to do any job that I wasn't prepared to do myself.

6 comments:

kk said...
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Gary said...

There's a lot more writing to the original to do yet, I've done all that Barbados has to offer now :)

Gary said...

...erm, I haven't published the Barbados story on the biog site yet have I ?

kk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gary said...

Ahh, I thought you meant the OTHER Barbados story which resides on the jerrychicken biog site, but its not on the main menus yet, not until I get my ftp connection sorted out it isn't.

No, I know nought of inch marlow.

kk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.