Simon Calder: The Man Who Pays His Way
Desperately seeking companion in Paris, mission confidential
Saturday 18 March 2006
How easily can an identity crisis be triggered? I have previously written about a number of occasions when I have been taken for Louis Theroux. Recently, the identity for which I am frequently mistaken has switched to Nicholas Crane, also a travel writer. For a bit of variety, I was accused in a pub last week of being the award-winning novelist Magnus Mills.
Stranger still, when leaving Bermuda a few days ago I was saluted by the security official. Not being quite sure how to respond (the Crawley branch of the Woodcraft Folk wisely steered clear of any act that could be construed as militaristic), I smiled back. He then winked, and whispered conspiratorially, "Used to be in your regiment, sir." Either that is a cryptic Bermudian euphemism, or I have a double among the officer ranks of the armed forces.
The self-doubt intensified as I planned a trip for this coming week, and felt a moment of anxiety about the inevitable loneliness of the long-distance traveller. The cause: on Tuesday afternoon I shall be in Paris, researching a story that requires two people. Everyone I know has declined to join me there. Which leaves you.
Are you, by any chance, planning to be in the French capital on 21 March with a couple of hours to spare in the afternoon? I cannot reveal exactly what the exercise entails, but it is legal and decent; you should be reasonably fit; all the necessary equipment will be supplied; and, if you are going to be in Paris anyway, it will cost you nothing. Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org (or, if you prefer, Messrs Theroux, Crane, Mills etc) with a phone number. If the number of responses exceeds one, I shall call strictly in the order that I receive e-mails, until I hook up with a suitable candidate. All will be revealed in these pages on 1 April.
Being the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time is an occupational hazard in this business. Therefore I feel particularly sensitive about the controversial new Tourism Australia advertising campaign, whose slogan is "So where the bloody hell are you?".
As you will know, the advertising regulators initially regarded it as too strong for UK television viewers, generating plenty of publicity.
Scott Morrison - the managing director of the organisation - was in London this week, so I was able to meet him and ask one key question: "The Commonwealth Games are taking place in the sunny Australian city of Melbourne. So where the bloody hell are you?"
"I'm sitting here in the UK arguing with the British regulatory authorities," he replied. "It's a warm invitation, that's what the campaign's doing. People want to come and have a great time, a memorable experience."
Listeners to BBC Radio Five Live can always be relied upon to offer solutions to crucial questions such as that posed by Tourism Australia. Among the ripostes were "at home, watching replays of the Ashes victory", and "in New Zealand".
TWENTY YEARS ago, the Commonwealth Games were staged in Scotland. As the host broadcaster for the Edinburgh event, BBC Radio needed to get a couple of dozen technicians from London to the Scottish capital. In those days there were virtually no discounted fares for travellers who were neither academic enough for a student railcard nor old enough for the senior citizens' discount. The standard return fare hovered dangerously close to the £100 mark; it is now £250, but fares as low as £25 are also available.
Happily for the licence-payer, a solution was found in the shape of the London Theatregoers' Club, an extra- ordinary enterprise operated from a small first-floor office in central London.
Ostensibly, the purpose of this "club" was to help impecunious drama fans and actors get around the country at prices they could afford. Effectively, though, it was a bucket shop for British Rail tickets; no one needed demonstrate thespian credentials such as an Equity card or a theatre ticket to qualify.
The 24 Beeb boffins travelled for a mere £32 return each. To save the licence-payer yet more cash, they were billeted in a selection of student halls of residence for the duration of hostilities - which, sadly, turned out to be the appropriate term. A boycott triggered by a row over a cricket tourto South Africa meant that very few foreign broadcasters turned up, and the skills of the sound crew went largely untapped. Some decided to take in a show in the Festival city - thereby retrospectively justifying their theatregoers' discounts.
BAFFLED BY NAGGING PILOT
Scolding passengers might sound like the sort of thing Ryanair staff do, rather than the "caring, sharing" ethos projected by easyJet. But the captain of Tuesday morning's easyJet flight from Newcastle to Bristol gave his passengers a good telling-off: "I'm going to start by nagging you," was his opening gambit. "We do depend on you to be on time. At the time the gate opened for boarding there were only five of you waiting."
He proceeded to warn that in future, passengers who failed to reach the gate on time would be denied boarding.
The passengers were baffled. A scattering of snow had led to the airport being closed, with not a single plane taking off or landing. Instead of attending business meetings in Bristol, the passengers were drinking overpriced coffee in the main terminal, where they obediently awaited further announcements, as staff had requested - though evidently five of them had enterprisingly tracked down the departure gate before it was announced.
Everyone marched briskly along, boarded the plane, got ticked off, and then waited to take off... and waited. The plane eventually left more than an hour late, causing people awaiting friends or colleagues at Bristol to wonder, "So where the bloody hell are you?"
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