Trouble on t' tours

The mention of Yorkshire Tours, the left-leaning coach tour operator, a fortnight ago brought a flood of reminiscences. Neil Taylor of Regent Holidays in Bristol writes to describe how he found himself coming to the aid of the proprietor, Laurie Shaw.

"When Intourist in Moscow could not face dealing with him direct, we took up the poisoned chalice and acted as an intermediary. I once went out of curiosity to see the office. The key to the filing cabinet had clearly been lost years previously as the cabinet could only be accessed from the back. One drawer contained a pile of visa forms, one the petty cash and cheques, and the third the remnants of tea and coffee that had not been finished on the previous trip. Most filing was avoided by the technique of scribbling a reply on the original letter and returning it. If more space was required, the message continued on the back of the envelope.

"It's just as well that no EU directives were around in Laurie's day. His itineraries can really only be described as whimsical, at best. Inspectors these days wouldn't like to see tea being brewed on a stove in the aisles of the coaches. I tried to persuade him to teach the drivers two words of German for use en route to Eastern Europe. A lot of time could have been saved if they realised that Umleitung did not appear on any map because it means `diversion'.

"And as groups often met at railway stations, it caused considerable local amusement when drivers asked directions under a large sign marked Bahnhof. Yet no one could match his prices, and no one ever complained about the travel."

Alex Shorrocks from Knutsford agrees: "A 10-day trip to Moscow for £185 was too good to miss. The pick-up point was Huddersfield station on Christmas Eve morning, 1986. On the concourse, a man with a clipboard pointed to three buses and shouted, `First coach goes to Moscow, t' second goes to Leningrad, t' third goes to Bingley market'."

Mr Shorrocks then ventures into possibly apocryphal territory. "We also heard that the driver on one Yorkshire Tours trip to Italy had used a tea- towel map of the peninsula to get his charges to Rome, and that once on the way home from a coach trip to Hungary, old Ernie from Hunslet had quietly passed away, upright in his seat. `We thought something was wrong,' a fellow passenger had remarked, `he was always first off at a toilet stop, but he didn't get off at the last one'."

The drama did not end there, although the sequel has the ring of urban legend about it. "In order to avoid having to leave poor Ernie on (and possibly in) foreign soil, it was democratically agreed that his passport should be held by his neighbour, who would put his finger to his lips every time a border guard or customs man got on to check the passengers. In true Midnight Cowboy style, Ernie and the coach got safely back to Yorkshire."

On the right rails

A reader has finally come up with a way in which the present reorganisation of Britain's railways can benefit the consumer. Even better, Michael Stace of Tonbridge, Kent, is prepared to share this money-saving tip with readers.

"One of the discount schemes which has survived the dismemberment of British Rail is the Network SouthEast card, giving a one-third discount on normal fares," he writes. "But with the new spirit of enterprise at work on the railways, there's confusion about what exactly constitutes one-third."

If you buy a day-return to London from the ticket machine at Tonbridge station, explains Mr Stace, it gives 33 per cent off.

"Instead, wait until you get on the train and buy one from a ticket inspector. Their computers are programmed to give a railcard discount of 34 per cent."

On a day-return from Tonbridge to London, the saving is short of spectacular; this wheeze lops 5p off the normal £4.45 fare. Mr Stace concludes: "Not a very significant saving, but indicative of the uncertain future for rail travellers now BR is splitting into 200 component companies."