A COUPLE of weeks ago a shiny new Peugeot was being raffled at Waterloo station. I filled in a ticket. A few days later, the phone rang; the caller introduced herself as Victoria from Holiday Ownership Exchange.

After checking my personal details, including my income, she chirped, 'Congratulations] You have won one of these prizes] A Peugeot 205XE or pounds 10,000] A pounds 2,500 voucher towards the holiday of your dreams] A seven-night holiday in Florida for two including flights and accommodation] One thousand pounds in cash] Two return flights to Orlando worth pounds 600] A 14-inch colour TV worth pounds 200] You don't have to buy anything or pay anything. All we ask is that you come along with your partner to a presentation. You'll leave with your prize.'

I doubted we were going to drive away in a brand new Peugeot, but we could do with a new telly, so I agreed. 'Congratulations again] I wish you the very best of luck, Hester] I hope you get one of the top prizes]' gushed Victoria. She gave an address in Leicester Square, and told us to come at four the following afternoon.

We turned up with our secret password: 'Peugeot ten thousand,' we hissed conspiratorially to the receptionist, who handed us over to Dave, our consultant, who looked about 15.

'So, Joel and Hester, how did you two meet?' he smiled.

'Erm, we were students together. We've been friends for years.'

'So how come you got together?' smirked Dave. 'Come on, you can tell me]'

We mumbled something.

'Any children?'


'But you're planning?'


Dave was shocked. 'No kids? Everyone likes kids. I gotta little girl, eight months.' We learnt quite a bit about Dave over the next three hours.

Dave began his spiel. Checking against a list, he asked us whether we liked swimming, golf, water- skiing, mountain climbing, and country walking. 'And what other things do you like doing on holiday? Apart from the obvious, har har har]' he leered.

'Sightseeing and eating out]' I snapped primly.

'What's your ideal holiday destination? Supposing I was paying, where would you go?' asked Dave.

'Nepal,' I suggested.

Dave was foxed by this. He scribbled 'Napale' on the form. 'How about Disneyland? Everyone wants to go there.'

This was leading up to the idea that buying a timeshare flat in a Portuguese holiday village would give us the freedom to go virtually anywhere in the world (not including Nepal). We could swap a measly week in Portugal in January for a fortnight in the Caribbean in high summer if we wanted. In fact we didn't ever have to go to Portugal at all, explained Dave. Not that Portugal wasn't fabulous. He showed us some photos of a huge white ziggurat peppered with yellow parasols, by a beautiful golden beach.

Two hours later, despite a lengthy video featuring Frank Bough sipping a cocktail on a Portuguese sun-lounger, we were almost starting to be won over. 'So how much is it?' we asked.

'I'm not going to tell you]' Dave said coyly. 'You're being too eager]'

At a neighbouring table, much handshaking was going on.

'That man's managed to get as far as the price,' I said to Dave.

'He's been here all afternoon]' replied Dave.

We finally got out of Dave that a one-bedroomed flat would cost us pounds 11,100 - though signing up then and there we could have a discount, which would work out, said Dave, at only pounds 180-odd a month over five years.

'We can't afford it,' we said.

Dave was undaunted. 'Suppose I could make it even cheaper? How much a month could you afford? pounds 100? pounds 75? pounds 50?'

'Nothing. I don't know how to make that any clearer to you]' I was beginning to lose my temper. Only the thought of the prize was stopping me walking out; but it took us until seven o'clock to convince him we weren't persuadable. We were finally offered a scratch card, which revealed that we had won a pair of tickets to Orlando. Dave, looking considerably less affable, handed us a voucher.

Last week I learned that we had been among the last to endure Dave's attempts to flog a flat. Holiday Ownership Exchange closed its office at the beginning of the month due to lack of sales.

So what about my planned Christmas in Florida? A charming HOE spokeslady assured me: 'Any awards people have will be honoured.'

And the pounds 600 voucher will definitely cover the cost of the two return flights? 'Well, to be honest, at the moment it won't. You will have to contribute quite a bit.'

Oh really? 'I can only give you a very rough idea, but at the moment each flight is about pounds 600, so it's about pounds 600 on top of the voucher.'

London travel agent Trailfinders are currently selling scheduled return flights to Orlando for pounds 229. My dreams of free flights to the winter sun have been cruelly dashed. I wish we'd won the telly instead.