It’s grim Up North

It isn't really

by Rick Johansen

I suppose this blog should come under the category ‘Travels’ since this morning I headed ‘Oop North’ to Yate in South Gloucestershire, the early stomping ground of author J.K Rowling. My destination was Yate Shopping Centre, which is described, somewhat accurately if you ask me, as a “covered outdoor shopping centre with high-street and independent stores, plus fast-food outlets.” The reason for the visit was to go to a branch of a well-known travel agent to see if they could book a holiday for me that I seemed incapable of doing myself. It didn’t go well.

We have not used a travel agent for as long as I can remember. We’ve booked a few package holidays in recent years but even then there was no need to go to an actual travel agent. I’ve had a very particular destination in mind for some time and it’s been impossible to book a holiday package of accommodation and flights. So, why not, I figured, ask a company which prides itself on expertise? However, it confirmed my earlier suspicions that a) staff did not know more than I did about booking holidays (the one I dealt with appeared to know less) and b) they do indeed use exactly the same computers and telephone numbers that Joe and Josephine Public use.

The location I wanted was available in a brochure but not on the company’s website and the shop assistant (the manager, actually) did what I would have done and telephoned them. The accommodation was not available but it was suggested we check out an alternative holiday in the brochure. I went along with that and was given a price for somewhere I didn’t want to go come in at a price so eye-watering that it was all I could do to bid an immediate farewell, muttering the words, “Sod that.” Instead, I wheeled out the old chestnut, “I’ll run that past my partner“, which is another way, albeit a more polite one,, of saying “Sod that“.

When I got home, I decided to try to make a direct booking at the accommodation I preferred, booking my flights independently.  Bugger me if my own efforts came up with a package that was over £1000 cheaper than the one suggested by the travel agent and it was all inclusive instead of the half board offered by the accommodation I didn’t want. I didn’t go on to book it because despite my investigative efforts finding a cheaper and probably better deal, it was still way over our planned budget.

I should say at this stage that I am not one of life’s great intellects, something you may have already worked out in reading this blog, but I can and do get a bit obsessive on certain subjects and the art of travel – I can hardly believe I just typed something that sounds so pretentious – is one of them. And having booked quite a variety of holidays ranging from weekend breaks to Transatlantic travel, I’ve become reasonably adept at the subject. As the shop assistant, who was very pleasant by the way, went about her business, I realised that I knew more about the individual details than she did. I had worked out connections, the airlines involved and the likely flight times in a nanosecond.  So, this is a sort of specialisation in a brain that is rarely special about anything. If only my levels of expertise were in more important matters in education, work and life in general.

Bearing in mind the above, I can imagine vast swaths of the population do require and respect the services provided by a travel agent. We are not all spending far too much time following planes on their journeys across the world, often simultaneously watching them land on streaming airport websites and – it’s embarrassing to admit this – working out flight connections and other such technical matters for no other reason than I can and rather enjoy it. In other words, I suppose we are all experts in something, despite some areas being less useful than others.

I’m going back to the future, which is to say I’ve declared my return to the travel agent a time-consuming and time-wasting failure and I’m headed back to Cyberspace where, in truth, I can do all this holiday booking myself.

I’m back home now in the soft south, having survived my length trip to the frozen wastes of north South Gloucestershire. It seemed very pleasant to me and I was wondering why the brilliant Ms Rowling left Yate at all, until I realised she was only four at the time.

You may also like