City Breaks: Call me stingy

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The Independent Online
Call me stingy (as I'm sure the family will, when we exchange presents), but this column's modest end-of-term prizegiving ceremony is about to begin.

Two competitions are to be resolved. First, the KLM upgrade saga. You may recall the tale of a ticket issued by the Dutch airline which uncompromisingly warned NO UPGRADE. Graham Hookings of South Glamorgan writes to say that he, like me, seems consigned for ever to economy. But others, he says, are more fortunate: "Some friends recently travelled to Mexico City with KLM. On the homeward journey they were ushered into business class.

"Then, about five weeks ago, my neighbour, together with her granddaughter and niece, travelled to Seattle with KLM. On boarding the plane for their return journey, they were ushered into business class."

The omens looked good. "I returned from San Francisco with KLM last week. As I've been a member of the frequent flyer club for a couple of years I thought if I dressed respectably I, too, might get an upgrade. Nice Aquascutum tweed jacket, tie, even took my earring out! With my fancy clothes on, I made a polite request for an upgrade when I checked in. The response was `Plane full'."

The winner, Brian Loy of Ilkley, was luckier:

"`Come with me,' beckoned the official as we waited in the departure lounge for the KLM overnight flight from Lagos to Amsterdam. We had been in Nigeria long enough to have learnt that cautious collaboration with someone in uniform tends to bring less grief than truculent resistance. `You have been upgraded to business class,' he told us unsmilingly, handing us new boarding-cards. Smoothly we sidled to a shorter queue, a queue of elegance and fragrance, of superior nourishment and more legroom.

"How did we do it? I really don't know. I was carrying all our cabin luggage, overnight bags, my wife's handbag, because you see she needed both hands to carry the stuffed crocodile, and suddenly ... well, I suppose you can't get a crocodile into the luggage racks in economy class."

A crocodile? "My wife, a biology teacher, had hoped it would improve her students' grasp of reptilian morphology. But he was wrenched from her at Amsterdam airport as an unlicensed entrant of an endangered species. Only some slick talking disengaged us from the scowls of the customs officials in time to catch the transfer flight to Leeds/Bradford."

The problem is, the prize for the best upgrade story was supposed to be a KLM amenity kit. But as I found out on my flight, economy passengers don't get one. Instead, Mr Loy wins a Great Western amenity pack from the sleeper train from Penzance to Waterloo.

From Waterloo to Abba. The name of the game in our 48-hour guide to Stockholm in October was to spot all the lines from the Swedish foursome buried in the story. (Cringeworthy example: Should the person in front of you grab the last can of Abba brand herrings, just say "If you change your mind, I'm the first in line".)

Shockingly many of you sent in bids for my copy of the greatest hits compilation Abba Gold, and almost all the references were correctly picked up. The tie-break was to make the best anagram from the 24 letters of "Agneta, Frida, Bjorn and Benny".

Apologies to Trish Marshall, of Bletchley, whose Abba tape broke while she was checking the answers. But - "My daughters and I had fun with the anagrams. Here are our faves: `Fab Ninja Gent Bra Yonder' and `Brandy Fan in ER Agent Job'."

James Peat, of Edinburgh, offers "Goran banned by friend Tanya". He adds, "After living for three years in Stockholm, a bit sad perhaps [yes], but worth a shot [no]." Mike Marshall, of Bromsgrove, too, spent time in Sweden, in 1981. "I well remember Systembolaget [the state alcohol monopoly]. The government in Sweden closed the off-licences on Saturdays, to reduce alcohol consumption. Outcome: twice as much sold on Fridays." Mr Marshall suggests "Abba faded in great joy", but comes clean and admits he is five letters short of a full alphabet.

The winner, as they say, takes it all. Karen McMullan, of Ballyclare, suggests "Nanny goat jabbed, fried'n'ran", claiming "This was actually the first line of an Abba song that never quite made it". She signs off: "Is the history book on the shelf always repeating itself? I never win prizes. Take a chance on me. Gimme, gimme, gimme the Abba Gold CD." It's all yours.