Ever found that, in an apparently pristine newspaper bought in Bangkok, the crossword has been completed?
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Saturday 12 July 1997
The winner is likely to be the domestic travel industry in the British Isles. The strike coincided with the sort of exceptionally warm weather that bestows even the most exposed east coast resort with Mediterranean airs. Hot, bothered travellers who find the chance of flying to Nice is nil are likely to turn to home ground.
In this spirit, these pages celebrate today the lido, from Penzance via Margate (or at least its Slavic twin) to County Dublin. The spur, of course, was the discovery this week in the occupied West Bank of the world's oldest swimming pool, proprietor King Herod. I bet he didn't have to contend with floating plasters, crisp packets and the other bits of debris that bob about in my local lido.
The closest I ever got to working for British Airways cabin crew was a job as cleaner at the airline's offices at Gatwick. But had I progressed farther up the career ladder than the cleaning cupboard, I might have been miffed by some of the responses invited on the in-flight questionnaires that BA hands out to passengers.
"Cabin crew didn't make you feel special or valued", is one possible answer. "Cabin crew served you in a hurried and stressful manner" is another. True, the converses are offered, but I still think that they might have invited passengers to tick a box saying that staff "sounded as though they didn't know what was going on". In a week of chaos at Britain's airports, perhaps some of the striking crew may be tempted to replace the word "cabin crew" with "BA management".
At least BA staff may be a little more relaxed than their counterparts at Cameroon Airlines, which advertises: "During your flight you will appreciate the comfort of our Boeing 747 Combi and the constant anxiety of our crew."
The questionnaire was handed to me on a flight back from Bangkok, where I spent a disproportionate amount of time in a single street: Khao San Road, a one-stop shopping arcade for travellers. What 20 years ago was an unremarkable thoroughfare amid the urban confusion north of the Royal Palace is now lined with travel agencies and stores selling imitation Rolexes with a life expectancy of about a fortnight.
There is also, at number 136, a newsagent offering foreign-language newspapers. Finding a copy of the Poole & Dorset Advertiser on sale a day after publication was a big surprise. A passing traveller noted my astonishment and said that the cleaning staff at Bangkok's Don Muang airport routinely collect abandoned newspapers from incoming planes, iron them and sell them on to hotels and news agencies. Can anyone corroborate this - or have you ever bought an apparently pristine newspaper in Bangkok, only to find that the crossword is completed? Answers on a newly ironed postcard.
"Hitch-hiking when truanting seems a perfectly fatuous exercise," writes Alfred Bouch of Tunbridge Wells in response to my request for tales of the road. "And since fatuity has its own attraction, I would like to contribute my own most pointless journey." Which he does.
"In the mid-Sixties, after an evening's beer-sampling in West Malling, Kent, where we were living, I persuaded a friend to hitch-hike with me to Jack's Hill transport cafe for breakfast. Having hitched many times between Edinburgh and London, I knew Jack's Hill - on the old A1 - very well. Both of us, game for anything, hit the A20 at about 11pm.
"We made it to the cafe before dawn, had a cheap fry-up, then set off on the return leg. We got a lift into central London without much trouble, and caught a bus out to Blackheath. The coal lorries from South Wales used to go slowly up the hill on their way down the A2, and often they would let you in at the traffic lights.
"However, we did not get a single lift that day and had to walk every step of the way back to West Malling, late for work and very footsore. It was only then that we discovered what the rest of the country already knew, that there had been a gaol break-out that morning and drivers had been warned not to give lifts to anyone hitching, not even two 18-year- olds, it seemed. I present this as the most sheerly irrelevant waste of time I ever indulged in during my eight years of hitching around Britain and Europe, and wonder if anyone can top it."
"Well done Changi airport, I say," writes Peter May of St Albans, after my story on free trips around the island. "Singapore airport has been offering tours to transit passengers for ages. I took one about seven years ago, when in transit from Borneo.
"Singapore is a hub for Asia, and those on cheap tickets often find themselves stuck for many hours in airports awaiting connections. Much better to get out and do something than wander the marble halls of duty- free consumerism."
Finally, while parts of the travel industry show signs of environmental awareness (see story on Budget Rent-a-Bike on page 15), Travel Weekly reports on the extravagant commuting habits of Lynn Narraway of Carnival Cruise Lines. When Hammersmith Bridge in west London was closed for repairs, she and her husband devised a way to beat the diversions. Each day Ms Narraway drives them both to the south side of the bridge and parks her car. They then walk across the bridge and transfer to his vehicle, which has been parked overnight on the north side. If they rented a couple of Budget bikes, they could even cut out that tiresome walk.
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