Forget the pension - let's all go to Jamaica

`Visiting Granny one weekend, it came to me in a flash what I should do with my windfall'

"GUESS WHERE I am," said a familiar voice at the other end of the phone. Anywhere, knowing Nick. At the dog track, on a booze cruise to Calais, line-dancing. "Stansted airport. They just cancelled our flight to Marrakech so we're going to Frankfurt instead. It's all they could offer us. Do you know anything about Frankfurt?" Not really, it's a city... I began. "So is Birmingham," interrupted Nick. "And how many Germans do you know who choose to go there for a winter weekend break?"

That's the trouble with last-minute package deals, I was about to pontificate, and then remembered my own predicament. Have I told you about it? Throw another log on the fire; it's a long story. This time last year I came in to what's commonly known as a windfall. Nothing spectacular; enough for a loft conversion or one of those fancy Jeeps with kangaroo bars every Fulham housewife drives to Asda these days.

Put it in a building society, said my accountant. Top up your pension, said my husband. For weeks I listened to Vincent Duggleby on Money Box advising anxious listeners whom he constantly and depressingly referred to as "small savers" how best to invest sums of money just like mine. We should buy Tessas or ISAs or PEPs or Eggs or, better still, an annuity to pay for the sheltered accommodation in Worthing we would all inevitably end up in one day. "Take a flyer," advised Nick. "Lump the lot on Ignatius Loyola in the fourth race at Wimbledon next Thursday. It can't lose."

And then, visiting Granny one weekend, it came to me in a flash what I should do with my windfall. It was February and she was having one of her turns. Lying in bed, curtains drawn, a bottle of Night Nurse on her bedside table, she croaked feebly that she'd probably never see another Christmas. Nonsense, I said, I'm taking everyone including you to Jamaica next Christmas. "Jamaica!" cried Granny, springing out of bed, knocking the Night Nurse for six. "I've never been to the Caribbean. I'll have to find my bathing-costume. Draw the curtains, Susan, so I can have a look."

Taking 10 people to Jamaica for the turn of the millennium is not a last- minute package deal. Practically everywhere, said the travel agent, was booked up already. In February? Two months ago, said Mark at Worldwide Journeys; but if I sent the deposit immediately we could have the last available rooms at a five-star hotel in Negril. Was there really nothing cheaper? My windfall was looking distinctly thin. No, said Mark, absolutely nothing if I wanted Negril. It was this or nothing.

I thought of Granny's suitcase all but packed. OK, I said, but on one condition. All correspondence about this holiday must be addressed to me. If my husband knows I've blown my pension on a holiday... A week later my husband received a letter from Worldwide Journeys confirming his booking. All hell broke loose. That was last February.

A month ago I heard a man from Thomas Cook talking about the amazing millennium deals available. All that panic about overbooking was rubbish. Remember the fellow in Cornwall who hired a marquee the size of Gatwick for his eclipse party and only 20 people showed up? I rang Worldwide Journeys and someone called Neville confirmed that my five-star hotel in Negril now had accommodation at half the price. I double-checked with three other travel agents and the hotel itself. Same deal.

Accordingly I sent the balance for the luxury rooms (the cheapest) instead of the Super Sybaritic suites Mark had booked. All hell broke loose again. If, said Mark, I'd contracted to buy a Rolls-Royce I couldn't change to a Mini. But what if I wanted a Mini to start with? "You mean you are asking me to downgrade you to inferior accommodation?" he said. Put like that it sounded as if we were getting kennels. He hasn't called back. By now, chances are even the kennels have gone. I wonder what Christmas in Frankfurt would be like. Watch this space.

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