An affair to forget
As Valentine's Day approaches, I'm preparing to have my ingenuity tested to the max by male clients eager to please their wives and girlfriends.
Experience has taught me that I will need not only to be at the top of my game as a travel agent, but I'll need all the skill of a veteran member of the Secret Service to keep the plans under wraps.
These surprise trips for lovers, be they specifically for Valentine's Day or a birthday, always embroil one in a conspiratorial liaison that can so easily be misconstrued.
Take the case of the gentleman client who came in not so long ago to book a romantic trip with Kirker for his wife's birthday.
He issued me with orders not to reveal my identity when I rang him at home, which I was obliged to do given that he had no mobile.
"For God's sake don't mention you're a travel agent," he said. "She'll be onto me in a flash. The woman's not stupid!"
The first time I rang, his wife did indeed answer. I asked to speak to her husband.
"He's not here. Who wants him?" she asked. I told her I was a double glazing saleswoman wondering if he was fully satisfied with his soffits.
Further phone calls saw me masquerade as a financial adviser (my best advice: don't listen to me. I'm a compulsive shopper on a mission to single-handedly pull us out of recession), a representative from a national survey company interested in their leisure activities and somebody from the water board.
I might have pulled all this off had I been better trained in credible accents. As it was, I sounded like an Australian of Welsh and German parentage. When I finally did get to speak to my client, it was evident from his tone that his wife was listening suspiciously in the background.
In the end, the couple had a fabulous time on their romantic getaway and he popped in to enquire about another break with Kirker to Nice later in the year.
In the course of the ensuing conversation he admitted that his wife had become convinced that he was having an affair with me. I said that this certainly explained why she had given me the cold shoulder.
"Well, you see, she's of the old school," he said, "no smoke without fire!"
I laughed it off, refraining from adding 'in your dreams!'
Wives can be tricky beasts, even at the best of times. My pal John Knighton, sales manager at African Pride, dropped by recently with news of the company's success in 2008.
As we chatted, he told me about a complaint the company had received that ended up pitting husband against wife.
It seems the couple had holidayed in South Africa and had journeyed on the Rovos Rail 'Pride of Africa' train, one of the most luxurious in the world.
Upon their return to the UK, the husband contacted their agent to complain about the rail trip, which he described as 'poor', demanding a refund plus compensation.
When approached by the agent, African Pride took the complaint seriously and asked the owner of the train, Rohan Vos, to investigate.
Rohan was able to locate the customer satisfaction questionnaire completed by the complainant's wife, and sent it by return to the agent.
All the boxes regarding the quality of the service, the food, the journey times and the comfort of the carriages were ticked as being to their satisfaction and she had added that she would not hesitate to recommend it to her friends.
The agent produced this evidence and asked the husband to explain it in the light of his apparent grievances.
Within 48 hours, a second letter had been received by the agent from the man in question, stating that he had no idea his wife had completed a questionnaire and that she had 'no right to do so' and her comments 'should be ignored!'
Presumably, he then went on to sit down to a dinner of brontosaurus burger served to him by Wilma Flintstone.
In a manner befitting a caveman, the complaint was swiftly knocked on the head by the agent, leaving the complainant fuming.
Still, I expect he could console himself by drafting a letter to Gordon Brown telling him to ignore his wife's vote at any future election
Maureen Hill works at Travel Angels, Gillingham, Dorset
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