Travels With Corinne
Another of my long stories
I first met my great friend Corinne when we started working for an airline in 1976, which as we all know was in the Neolithic Age - that great era for airline travel, when flight attendants were still known as “Stewardesses.” We wore little hats, white gloves in summer and black leather gloves in winter; flat shoes in the cabin and black “court” shoes (what WE Americans call pumps) for greeting passengers. How we ever finished the training course, I will never know – because we were serial gigglers from the time we met, becoming room-mates in a series of houses and flats.
We’d both taken this particular job with the same goal in mind – world travel, without having to pay for it. And we both didn’t see it as a long term career goal - we both had other fish to fry. So we made a pact from the day of our first flight – we would try to be in the same place at the same time so we could make an itinerary of adventures and not end up with the rest of the crew partying in the captain’s hotel room drinking gin and tonics, which pretty much taste the same wherever you are. We also discovered that we were pretty good travel companions, each of us knowing when we needed time alone to do a few things independently, yet still have someone to hang out with – or indeed, to run from strange men in various countries around the globe. Believe me, we have stories!
We were rostered for our first “real” flight together. The airline tried not to have more than two new girls on any flight, and your first flight was invariably a short there-and-back to somewhere like Alicante – and if you know anything about flights from London to Alicante, you will know that they were (and probably still are) full of what we used to call “Lager Louts” on drink-as-much-as-you-can sojourns away from rainy England. Most of them came back red as tomatoes and with peeling noses.
The new girls managed to get to the destination without making any terrible errors. Neither of us spilled drinks over a passenger, and we knew our emergency drills backwards. During the hour’s layover while the aircraft was cleaned, the ground crew transferred large boxes called “Sky Packs” from the hold to the cabin. They contained the passenger plastic meals for the return journey. Corinne and I were charged with lifting these Sky Packs into lockers for take-off, after which they would be put on a cart and distributed to the passengers. Each meal comprised a plastic tray with little plastic dishes of chicken, salad, cole slaw, jelly (jello) with fruit, and a cup to receive the horrible instant coffee or equally disgusting tea. Cutting a long story short, I don’t know what got into the two of us, but lifting the boxes up into the lockers seemed to be beyond us, and we dropped each one. Upside down. And we thought it was hilarious! We were laughing to beat the band, knowing that the poor passengers would be eating jello with chicken and cole-slaw on top – thank heavens for duty free liquor sales and sozzled passengers, that’s all I can say. I think our friendship was cemented right there.
No jpg could illustrate the dreadfulness of those on-board meals.
One other reason why we travel well together - note the present tense; we’re still at it – is that I have a fairly good sense of when I am in the company of a sleaze ball, and that element of another person’s character sometimes goes over Corinne’s head. She’s more trusting than me. I should add here that for almost 35 years now Corinne has been a highly regarded probation officer and social worker working at the coal face of child advocacy. She’s passionate about her job, and I have nothing but enormous admiration for her – though perhaps not on the day she managed to get us caught up in a very “troubling” part of Barbados, which didn’t look like this:
Corinne had met a young local who said he could show us the “real” Barbados. I was skeptical. I had my doubts. But not Corinne, who said it would be an experience not to be missed. And off she went – with me running to catch up. I knew I could not let her go alone, which is just as well, because we were in trouble before even reaching the shanty town – though I had kept a mental note of the twists and turns we had taken to arrive at a place where the locals called out to us “Whores!” and the young man who was leading the way was grinning from ear to ear. Corinne looked at me. “I think I’ve made a mistake,” she said. “No kidding,” I replied, then said, “Follow me.” I led us back along twisting paths and through a banana plantation. We arrived back onto the main road with great sighs of relief – mine was short lived because the next thing I knew, Corinne had flagged down a guy in a real junker of a car, asking him to take us to Bridgetown. The car did not look like this:
“It’s OK, we’re not like the other Greek men,” said the guy with the blonde curls and a look of Adonis about him. We were on Crete this time, and I told Corinne I was pretty sure this pair were exactly like all the other Greek men we’d met – they all claimed to be shipping magnates and all wanted to take us back to Parthenon-inspired mansions. I thought about my prediction later, as we hid, pressed against the sea wall in the pitch dark, listening to the shipping magnates go back and forth on their motor scooter searching for us.
We crept back to the safety of our hotel in the early hours.
Then there was the time in Carmel that neither of us will talk about – suffice it to say, we chose not to see Close Encounters of the Third Kind that day, and have regretted it ever since.
And of course there was the adventure we had flagging down the aircraft in Bangor, Maine, because we wanted to go home for Christmas – seriously, it really happened. I stood in front of a DC 10 just beginning its approach to the taxiway and waved my arms. It worked. Of course, you couldn’t do that sort of thing now, and I’m not sure you really could do it then.
I should have kept a photo of that one, because it beggars belief.
The wonderful thing about my friend Corinne is her persuasiveness. She has managed to sweet-talk us into free hotel rooms in a few places, various upgrades and complimentary meals. When we were in Crete, Corinne discovered that a photographer was in the midst of a shoot for a new hotel brochure, so she offered our services as models to give the shots more character. This enhancement of “character” involved Corinne lazing on a lounger with a magazine and me slogging back and forth up and down the pool to demonstrate that it was swimmable. But she scored free meals for us for the entire week of our stay – we were only 22 at the time and not exactly flush with money, so it was a good deal.
Fast forward a good number of years. A very good number of years. Since my father passed away, I’ve been spending more time in the UK, so Corinne and I decided to try to fit in some adventures – a few days here and a few days there. Once you’re in Europe, there are so many places to visit within an hour or two’s flight time, and with airlines such as EasyJet, you can do it for about $100 round trip – that’s pretty much what we paid to go to Marrakech last December.
We had two days in a riad (guesthouse) within the city walls of Marrakech, and then another night at the more expensive Kasbah Tamadot, Sir Richard Branson’s retreat in the Atlas Mountains. And we had lots of adventure, lots of laughs - more than I can retell here. We were upgraded to a suite at Tamadot, and met Richard Branson’s mum over drinks in the library – believe me, her sense of adventure and energy puts her son in the shade. She’s 89 years old and would leave him in the dust if it came to a round-the-world race.
But sure enough, old habits die hard.
“This boy says he can take us to the tannery market. It’s where the Berbers come in to sell skins,” said Corinne. It was our first day in Marrakech.
“A tannery? Skins?” I said. “That’ll stink. I don’t want to see that.”
“Oh, come on, it’ll be an adventure. It’s just down this alley,” she added.
The boy was insistent, and off they walked, so I ran to catch up. And I promise, I tried very hard to memorize every cobbled street, every shadowed path - but it took us the best part of two hot and sweaty - and sometimes scary - hours to get out of the winding thoroughfares of the Medina.
In London, in March, we were trying to find a certain “off the beaten track” café recommended to Corinne by a shop assistant. My feet were aching and we were once again on a wild good chase.
“Let’s go down this little alley,” I suggested.
“You and your 'just down this little alley!'” said Corinne.
“Me? Me and my little alley?” I said. "That's rich!"
We’re thinking of Denmark for three days in August, or maybe even a quick trip to Paris on the Eurostar. More alleys. More adventures with Corinne, the best travel companion I’ll ever have.
Have a lovely weekend - wherever your travels may take you ....