A letter to Clare
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first knew Clare Dudley a couple of decades ago, when she worked for a
Cambridge-based tour operator, and organised an annual 'travel fair' in, of all
places, the main grandstand at Newmarket racecourse. It was she who sent me to
France on what proved to be the most nerve-wracking trip of my career (which I
described in this space a while back). But I forgave her, and we remain good
friends. She decided to plough her own furrow, establishing Ponders Travel a little over ten
years ago. This letter is, I hope, self-explanatory.
last wrote to you on 9th May, in reply to your email.
can’t believe over a decade has passed since you started out, clearing the
kitchen table to make room for your paperwork, your ambitions and your
back in May, there you were, with a staff of ten, an established travel agency,
and a much-deserved and growing reputation in your community. Selling 'dreams
in a package' and inspiring youngsters to follow in your footsteps. (Massive
congratulations to young Millie, by the way – manager at just 21, and a credit
to your mentoring.)
then, none of us had any idea what the summer of 2020 had in store. All we
could do was remember how the travel trade had dealt with previous setbacks,
and hope it would survive.
your letter you recalled 9-11, the Icelandic Ash Cloud, the Gulf War. My lifetime of globetrotting has provided
me with memories of earlier crises, too.
was that long period in the 1960s when the UK travel trade was an unregulated
free-for-all, with no rules to govern its conduct, no consumer protection,
massive industry failures, cut-throat competition, and wall-to-wall insecurity.
You could virtually guarantee the summertime failure of at least one tour firm, leaving holidaymakers stranded abroad, or in tears at the airport.
also have memories of a time when Government rules kept the price of holidays
artificially high to protect the scheduled airlines. A time when charter flights
And the particularly bad time when we were allowed to spend no more than £50 worth of 'foreign exchange' a year. I bet I’m not the only one who has an old Passport with the 'V form' details in it.
as I told you in May, the travel industry survived all that, and thrived. I was,
and am, confident it will survive this crisis, too.
reason for this letter, of course, is that you have written again to bring me
up to date on how you are faring.
80% of your clients have re-scheduled their holidays, which is tremendous news.
You’ve obtained refunds for 70% of those who sought them, and are successfully
chasing up the rest. Again, good news.
also tremendously pleased to read that tour companies, hotels, car hire
companies, cruise lines, and others, are offering discounts for the 'Heroes of
the Pandemic' - health workers, delivery
drivers, supermarket staff, and so forth.
journalists! I have no idea how we come to be on the list, but thanks, anyway.
I write, and if news reports are to be believed, work on a vaccine is
proceeding with unprecedented speed. There’s a chance of one being available,
worldwide, by the end of the year. Certainly in the early weeks of 2021.
NHS did not collapse under the strain. On the contrary, most of those 'Nightingale'
hospitals were barely used, and it is surely common sense that they should now
be adapted to treat patients with other serious problems – patients whose needs
have been neglected, and whose conditions
are far more life-threatening than Coronavirus – or Covid-19 as we now call it.
supermarkets and corner shops managed to keep us supplied with food and other
essentials. We learned the etiquette of 'social distancing' and when to wear a
mask (selling the idea of doing so to 'protect others rather than yourself' was
a clever touch).
it is truly heartening to know that retail sales are now above their
pre-Covid-19 levels and showing every sign of increasing.
the idiots who bought up all the toilet rolls (remember them?) are still
around. They flocked to the seaside during one of the hottest spells on record,
sprawling, cheek by jowl, on crowded, blistering beaches.
they believed that their miraculous immunity to Covid-19 would keep them safe
from skin cancer, too.
remain optimistic as far as the long-term future is concerned, but am nowadays
more concerned about incompetence than anything else.
incompetence of those who failed to prepare for the pandemic, when they knew
there would be a shortage of ventilators and protective equipment, is well
there is currently the incompetence of those who keep changing the rules about
travelling abroad, and other aspects of our new normality.
followed by counter-order, leads to disorder”. That mantra was drummed into me
a lifetime ago when I wore a uniform and did as I was told. I remember it
vividly, just as I remember the cartoon which hung on the wall behind my desk.
It showed a squad of men, marching towards a cliff edge, because their drill sergeant
is distracted by a pretty girl.
of the men is yelling: “For Gawd’s sake, Sarge, say something – even if it’s
That’s my feeling right now, as I contemplate the dodging and dithering in Whitehall and Westminster. Echoing that cartoon bubble, I keep thinking to myself: “For Gawd’s sake, Boris, get a grip!”
will be a tough job to get a grip on a bloated bureaucracy that too often hires
in expensive consultants to tell it what to do, then appoints Quangos to do it
and take the blame when it goes wrong. A bureaucracy that spends much of its
energy fighting turf wars, and wastes millions of pounds.
I mustn’t get sidetracked, or this could turn into a serious rant, and I don’t
do serious ranting. It’s bad for the blood pressure.
thanks again for letting me know you are still serving your community and still
finding ways of keeping their travel hopes alive.
thanks, too, for that quotation from Ibn Battuta.
I read about him ages ago, I knew little about the man. But he was in my pantheon of travel writers,
along with Aymeric Picaud, Marco Polo, Thomas Coryate and that wonderful tribe
of Victorian and Edwardian ladies who travelled to the farthest corners of the
Empire, and wrote about their experiences.
mention of him rekindled my curiosity, so I took the trouble to delve into his
history. It was well worth the delve.
other things, I discovered Ibn Battuta had the habit of getting married
whenever he paused in the course of journeys which took years to complete. As
soon as he was ready to set off again, however, he divorced his temporary wife
(which, for a Muslim, was a simple process in those days), so he would be free
to take another.
to the records, he was 'married' at least ten times. I’m prepared to bet he got
spliced more often than that, however. Was he trying to set an example to all
of us chaps who travel the world? Probably not.
you are absolutely right to quote what he wrote:
leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”
sentiment that’s as true now as it was in the 14th century.
all good wishes,
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