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few years ago I had a book published. It is called “Gullible’s Travels” and is
a collection of essays based on my globetrotting experiences. All the stories
are true, though many are unbelievable.
has no claim to literary merit, but was intended to be the sort of book you buy
on impulse at the airport to while away a couple of hours on a plane.
was a strategic error, therefore, to use a publisher whose titles are banned
from all W.H. Smith’s bookshops, as Smith’s have a monopoly at airports.
daunted, I am working on a second collection, which I have called “Getting Away
With It”. Our
present predicament means I have time to devote to this project. Like most writers – and all journalists –
I’ll do anything to avoid work, even work that comes with a deadline. Now I
have no excuses.
But, being a cunning sort
of chap, I thought I would kill two birds with one stone by giving you a
preview of this magnum opus – or,
rather, parva opus. Thus, the burden of “Now and Then” is eased
slightly, though I am keen to keep
up an increased output in these uncertain times.
For one thing, it takes my
mind off the terrible symptoms I experience on waking each morning.
it the same with you? The conviction that the medical roof has fallen in, so to
speak? That the cough is terminal, the aches and pains are symptoms of imminent
demise? That the Grim Reaper is poised at the foot of the bed, if only you
dared to look in that direction?
once I get upright, gravity takes over and the iota of commonsense stored in
the top of my brain drops into place. Though I may wobble about like a
constipated walrus for five minutes or so, I know that a cup of tea and a
couple of McVitie’s Digestives will banish all the symptoms. Which they do.
enough of that. Let me explain, as I do in the preface to my book, how “Getting
Away With It” came to be my chosen title.
you are paid a sizeable salary, plus expenses, to visit the world’s most tempting
holiday locations, merely in order to broadcast your opinion and advice about
them in print, and on radio and television, it is not surprising that those not
similarly employed look upon you with envy.
when, as was my fate, you appear in people’s sitting rooms in the dreariest
weeks of winter, smiling and suntanned, beside a luxury hotel’s swimming pool,
or brandishing an exotic cocktail as you comment on the beauty of some
palm-fringed beach, that envy is multiplied.
is quite useless, of course, to explain that working trips are not holidays,
and that you must put in very long hours to keep your employers happy. That
travel articles don’t write themselves, that travel films have to be edited and
commentaries constructed cunningly to provide a smooth blend of words and
the harder you work at it, the easier it appears – one of the many
contradictions that the trade of travel writing throws up.
after wasting your breath trying to explain and justify your existence, to
demonstrate that the workload is as great, if not greater, than any other
career demands, you decide not to bother, and just go along with the fiction.
along with the “Life’s just one long holiday for you, mate” comments, the “Why
don’t you get a proper job?” taunts. Keep calm and carry on, as the wartime
long as you work hard and are at the top of your game, you can afford to play
along with the fiction.
brings me to the title of this tome, and the reason I chose it.
many years, when employed on Thames Television’s “Wish You Were Here...?”, I
frequently had a pleasant chap named Paul Fabricius as my director on location.
He worked hard, and was as keen as the rest of the crew to make a good job of
whatever assignment came our way.
at the end of those strenuous trips, he performed a little ritual which summed
up his – and our – attitude to the public’s perception of us and our work
the final evening, with the wrap called and the gear stowed away for the
journey home the following day, we would gather for dinner and Paul would
propose his special toast: “Here’s to getting away with it again.”
responded with a cheer and drained our glasses, knowing that damned hard work
had enabled us to “get away with it”.
joke, we knew, was on those who thought otherwise.
now you know why I chose that title for my next collection. I am now setting
down those stories, and feel I have got some first class material to work with.
Whether I can do it justice is still to be decided.
of the essays will run to 2,000-2,500 words. But I am also including shorter
pieces as a sort of literary amuse-bouche
to clear the mental palate before the next, larger, portion.
one of them:
in the days of the Cold War, my travels took me fairly frequently to Eastern
Europe, whose governments were keen to promote their tourism industries, as
they were the source of desperately needed hard currency.
had plenty to show us travel hacks, though they instinctively believed we were
“Capitalist Running Dogs”, or whatever the phrase of the moment happened to be.
When countries are ruled the way theirs were, the concept of a free press is
the first to go by the board, so to put it mildly, they were suspicious of us.
not to put it mildly, they were paranoid. To be fair, the feeling was mutual. And,
to be even fairer, they did have some grounds for concern.
of us London-based travel hacks had, very unofficially, been invited to engage
in casual conversations with “friends of friends”, who worked for the British
Government. One could never quite pin down which bit of the Government, and one
was discouraged from asking.
and extremely pleasantly, these chaps were suggesting that, when we were on our
“little trips” to the other side of the Iron Curtain, we should keep our eyes
and ears open for anything that might be of interest to them. Not details of
new hotels or tourist developments and suchlike, or descriptions of beach
resorts and other destinations. All
that stuff would be in our articles. They were interested in the stuff that
we went on our “little trips”, and we kept our eyes and ears open, but I doubt
if the information we gleaned was of any value. Still, it added a little spice
to our travelling lives.
took me frequently to Bulgaria. It was a destination I approached with some
caution, as fellow journalists had, on previous visits, tangled with the
authorities and come off worse.
was urged by those “friends of friends” to be cautious and do nothing which
might upset my hosts. I followed their
advice - in spades.
one occasion, I flew into Sofia on a Balkan Airways charter flight. Nothing out of the ordinary occurred until the
plane landed and came to a standstill a little short of the airport building.
an announcement was made to the effect that we should hand over our passports
to the flight attendants who would pass through the cabin to collect them.
was unusual, and caused a little concern among the passengers. It caused me a
lot of concern, as I was aware of my dodgy status in the eyes of my hosts.
the passports were being collected, a set of steps was wheeled up to the aircraft
door. As soon as it opened, the passports were handed over and taken away by a
we waited. About ten minutes later two rifle-toting soldiers appeared at the
front of the aircraft. One of them was holding a passport.
an announcement was made asking that passenger Carter (pronounced “Kair-Tair”)
should make himself known to the cabin crew.
raised my hand. One of the soldiers came down the aisle towards me, indicating
that I should leave my seat and go with him. He was not smiling. Nor was his
chum. Nor was I.
left the plane, with every passenger watching my departure in silence.
the steps we went. Then the soldiers fell in on either side of me and marched
me towards one of the airport buildings. We did not go inside but swerved to
the left and made our way to the back of the building. Out of sight of the
aircraft, I noted with some concern.
in a long line, were the suitcases from the aircraft’s hold. A man in a black
suit with a trilby hat jammed firmly on his head, indicated that I should
did so, stepping forward to pick it up. The man in the hat gestured me back and
ordered one of the soldiers to bring the bag, as we all walked into the
building. There, a pair of grim-faced Customs officials waited. Could it be that I had arrived in Bulgaria
on National No-Smiling Day?
sorts of other thoughts raced through my mind. Had they planted something in my
suitcase that would enable them to lock me up for a couple of years? Was I,
with or without suitcase, going to be taken for a ride to some secluded spot
where the body would never be found?
I, perhaps, going to be arrested in order to be exchanged for some Bulgarian
spy who’d been nabbed by our lot and was languishing in Wandsworth or Wormwood
Scrubs? Or Holloway, if he happened to be a she?
I was pondering my next move (angry defiance, or grovelling apology?), one of
the Customs chaps stepped forward. His right hand came out from behind his
back. He was holding a large lump of chalk.
He brought it down on my case, scrawled a symbol on it, then stepped
man in the trilby beamed with delight. As did the Customs chaps. And the soldiers.
to Bulgaria, Mr. Kair-Tair”, said Mr. Trilby, shaking my hand vigorously.
had just been given a V.I.P. welcome – Bulgarian style.
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