Gallic bred delights offer us sceptic Brits food for thought

Gallic bred delights offer us sceptic Brits food for thought

It shouldn't happen to a vet

There seems to be some confusion in the lates market. The readers of our noble press have been encouraged to think the beaches in the Med are empty and operators are practically giving holidays away.

Try as I might, I can't find another travel agent to confirm that this is the case. However, it is hard to persuade our punters of the unpalatable reality. Two vets called into our shop this week in search of the elusive cheapie. Having failed to locate it in Salisbury, they thought they would try their luck with us, but, eventually surrendering to the fact they simply don't exist, they decided to settle on a sun deal.

"Which apartments are they?" one asked.

"You won't know until you arrive," I replied.

"But they will be okay, won't they?" added the other nervously. "I mean they won't be running with rats?"

"I shouldn't think so," I smiled. "But then it won't be a problem for you, will it? Vets have an affinity with all God's creatures!"

Help me if you can

With so many takeovers and mergers, agents these days do not know who to turn to when it comes to requests for clients with special needs. Keith at Mayflower Travel in Billericay felt as though he was running up against a brick wall time and time again after he booked a family to Detroit with Northwest Airlines through the services of Advantage Flight Centre.

The lead passenger is partially sighted and quite reasonably requested seating near to the screen.

Keith wrote to the special services department at Northwest Airlines in Crawley. A reply typed on KLM headed paper came back from customer relations stating that the department was unable to deal with the request asit had no access to a reservations computer. The letter went on to suggest he make his request through normal reservations.

Keith replied he had done that in the first instance but that he had been told that nothing could be done from there.

Ultimately the only route to success was to deal directly with the airport. Fortunately, the response from Northwest staff was a different story, with one member going out of her way to ensure the client's request was met.

How does that old song go? "If I can help somebody as I go along then my living will not be in vainÉ" Perhaps they should pipe that through all customer service departments.

Counter unproductive

Nigel received an unsolicited CV from a young lady who felt that her vocation may lie in the travel industry.

She had no background in travel and, bless her, was no academic, offering grade Ds in everything except religious studies. She did however have an National Vocational Qualification in body massage.

It made us wonder if these are the sort of qualifications careers advisers and college tutors think we need. If so, it is high time they reassessed the skills necessary to a life behind the counter.

On the day this letter arrived I found myself at the end of a stream of verbal abusive, culminating in a colourful exclamation from a chap who didn't appreciate hearing the drop-off charge on his hired car.

Meanwhile, Sal was indirectly accused of precipitating a likely stroke when an elderly female client discovered she wouldn't be receiving her tickets six weeks prior to departure, wailing: "The worry will be adverse to my health!"

Beyond this we were also expected to know the precise location of every tuppeny-ha'penny town in Africa and the US because a client's son had been out there to work 20 years ago. How far will a GCSE pass in religious studies help as the counter clerk dons the hats of social worker, relate counsellor and psychic? After a day as stressful as ours, I can however, see the merits of an NVQ in body massage!

A revolution in taste

The recent good weather has led to large turnouts at public events up and down the country. I spent my Saturday afternoon at the Anglo-French festival in Dorchester where our Gallic neighbours had brought a little of la vie francaise to old Wessex.

The pedestrian walkways were filled with French traders selling everything from beer and crepes to straw hats. The sights and smells were fabulous - so very un-English. Rather more English were the comments from the locals. Upon seeing an enormous pot of hot cous-cous cooked in the streets, one man was overheard to say: "If you want that sort of stuff, you go to Waitrose."

Later on I eavesdropped a conversation over a refrigerated cabinet of cheeses. "It's all very well them bringing these cheeses over, but how can you tell if they're fresh?" Good to see the public enter into the spirit of the thing.

Cornish cuisine under fire

Where the people of Dorset had invited the French to enrich our lives in this small way, the Cornish folk were very upset at the response to their culture of an uninvited US journalist. This Atlantic invader had the audacity to claim that the legendary Cornish pasty 'tasted of nothing'.

I allowed myself a wry smile at this. When you consider the critic comes from a country where food is genetically modified and where blandness prevails, it's hard to take offence. Think how reliant on pickles and relish US food is precisely because the raw materials lack natural flavour. I guess the only exception is Louisiana where Cajun cooking rules supreme.

I don't know what the visitor expected from the humble pasty, but research informs me that the idea stems from the 18th century when Cornish miners' wives provided their men with a meal in one - the main course at one end and pudding at the other end of the pasty. But I'm no Delia Smith, so perhaps my Cornish colleagues could put me straight.


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