Funtastic Fun. . . . . . draising (1988)
Having broadened our horizons for three years at University or in a sandwich (a sandwich course means you spend a year in industry to gain work experience relevant to your course), it was once again time for some fun! Forget finals that were only four months away, it was time to enjoy Paris once more.
However, no chance of making the same mistakes of putting ourselves in the (in)capable hands of wannabe racing drivers who had 25 year old rusting hairdryers for cars and who didn't maintain them properly. Or for that matter into powerful luxury limos driven by gents capable of making simple, but life threatening mistakes. We were not going to be sucked in by the lure of Paris if we had to hitch in private cars, even if they were equipped with the best metal safety cages that money can buy.
No, there was no alternative but to hitch to Paris in a vehicle whose driver would need to be intelligent (or at least sensitive to the skills required for safe passage to Paris), sober and drive for his living. Several amusing thoughts were bounced around. A hearse, an articulated lorry, a bus/coach, a train, an airliner, a motorcycle (ridden by a courier!), were all suggestions, but some were clearly off the daft end of the silly scale.
The hearse would be safe, but on the downside probably not going as far as Paris. On our last hitch to Paris, everybody who didn't get a lift in a car ended up in lorries, including, controversially one carrying live sheep, so that just didn't match up with the fun part of the deal. We reckoned on buses/coaches being a reasonable option and on the weekend in question, there was a France vs. Wales Five Nations RFU fixture at the then National Stadium and home of Paris Saint Germain - Parc des Princes. This may involve hitching to Wales first and was deemed a long shot. A train option would involve crossing London, and there was no Waterloo International in those days. Just too many changes were likely and it would probably be difficult to combine with a road option.
It soon dawned on us that it had to be by aircraft. So without a real plan, we hitched to Heathrow and asked every airline that flew to Paris for free passage. It seems that nothing goes for free without three weeks prior clearance from 'Marketing'. So not having forseen the likelihood of such a setback, we kept people talking. It soon transpired that there was an 'executive jet centre' a little further around the ring road, so undeterred, we set off. Having proved ourselves as masters of the blagging craft, we were soon asked to prove our identities and motives. Paperwork duly scrutinised, we were told that there was no guarantee, but that if a flight was required to collect someone from Paris, and with the aircraft Captain's agreement, we may be lucky. . . . . but we needed to be prepared to wait!
We discussed between ourselves, the pros and cons of waiting (there were only two cons - we didn't know how long we may need to wait, and what if the Captain said 'no')! Having just completed the discussion and contemplating a decision, we were asked to go through to a back office to meet our Captain. He re-checked our IDs and credentials and doubtless observed some of the most rehearsed friendly behaviour, smiles and general good humour ever witnessed at 'The Executive Jet Centre'. The wait that followed was probably only a few minutes. We were not sure whether he was discussing whether he should take us with the flight attendant (air hostess), or what was happening.
Suffice to say that these two or three minutes waiting for their decision seemed like the forty minutes that had elapsed since passing into this mecca of aircraft terminals. The deep shagpile carpets throughout seemed indicative that this was the domain of rock stars and captains of industry, rather than final year students looking to hitch a ride to Paris!
We didn't need to hear the answer, as the beaming smile of Patricia, our hostess said that we had clearance to hitch to Paris - not only did we have a free ride, but it was going to be in an eight seater Falcon Jet - the real McCoy. Out onto the tarmac we walked to board our plane, but not before the obligatory photo shoot for the proof that would be so necessary for the blagging rights for the quickest and most comfortable hitched ride to Paris, perhaps ever.
Unbelievably, this was then further improved upon. A free bottle of fine champagne offered by the fantastically friendly Patricia to celebrate my birthday that day, which my fellow hitch-hiker Phil carelessly (or was it carefully) let slip! We were on the final approach just as we downed the last sips of our gratefully received booty.
The champagne had clearly relaxed us, helping to dispel any negative thoughts about how serious any mistake by our pilots 'a la 1985' could be.
As you can imagine, our student colleagues could not believe our story when we arrived in Paris, but that was their problem. The last thing we wanted was to put the idea in anyone's head that they should head for the airport on Sunday. A fantastic Saturday night out followed, soon to be replaced with the realisation that on Sunday, we would have to return, and that our luck may not be so good. We tried our hardest, using every trick in the book to board a bus of Welsh rugby supporters returning by coach, but the driver would not wear it. This was very understandable as for insurance reasons, all passengers needed to have a dedicated seat, and there were none spare.
So never to be put off, we retraced our steps to the same airport that we had flown into (Orly, I think) and asked around. Before an hour had passed, we were granted some spare seats on a ten seater propellor aircraft, that had been chartered by the Managing Director of Laura Ashley for himself and several guests that he had invited to the rugby. Nursing hangovers, they were less than chatty, but we could not be mistaken for people who were bothered about this, as our positivity and beaming smiles were not going to be dampened by anybody or anything.
Phil and I returned at a rather slower speed to Blighty; the flight took almost an hour and a half! It seemed an interminably long time after our outward journey, but especially so as there was no 'champers' on offer!
As seems usual when returning to this country in February, the weather was lousy, with low cloud cloaking any views that may have been seen in better weather. Through the grey, we finally approached our destination, dropping uncomfortably (and at times it seemed, uncontrollably) through dense low cloud to a bumpy landing at Bournemouth airport.
Only once were down, we started to understand the rather tense atmosphere that we had sensed between the pilot and co-pilot (who weren't separated from the cabin by the usual divider). We had seen their ever tightening grips on the aircraft controls as we descended through that low cloud, sharing with them the view out of the front windscreen. Once we were on terra firma, we posed a few questions; they shared with us that neither the aircraft nor the airport were equipped with fog assist landing equipment - seemingly they had been flying totally by instruments!
Full of it, and no doubt wanting to share our adventures as soon as humanly possible, we telephoned Phil's mum at home in Romsey. Romsey is a beautiful little Hampshire village not that far from Bournemouth and located conveniently en route. We told her to expect two surprise visitors for Sunday lunch, before we completed our hitch back to the East Midlands to begin collecting our sponsor monies and to get ready for lectures on Monday!
So that was how my early experiences of fundraising, made me realise that if you are going to support a good cause, by taking the initiative and some risks, people's good nature comes to the fore to help you in ways that are easy for them, helping you raise money and having 'funtastic' experiences.
How life changes. Eighteen years roll on before I am ready to try my hand at something else! Time for the main event, ARoundWithRog.
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