My schooldays were spent in a very privileged but pleasant private college in Edinburgh. Like all their fellows, they keep a firm, but friendly, grip on former pupils in the hope of donations. To celebrate the coming Coronation, they are staging an exhibition and sought from aged alumni memorabilia and memories of our late Queen's Coronation. Having left school in 1951, I have crystal clear memories of that event. My work, as an embryonic journalist at The Scotsman
, meant a working day that started in the early evening. Along with the rest of my family, I was able therefore to watch the procession and service on a small blurry black and white television in a neighbour's house.
The BBC reckon 10 million people watched, mostly in groups. By today's standards, the picture quality was dreadful but to us it was remarkable. We felt we were part of a great British event and television had made it possible. Oddly, my strongest memory is not of the actual day but of a sideshow that dominated the Scottish newspapers in the months before. This was christened the 'Pillar Box War' and centred around the use of the letters EIIR on red pillar boxes. Because there had never been a Queen Elizabeth in Scotland, certain protesters began to deface the newly embossed boxes.
In February 1953, a previously damaged box at the Inch Estate, Edinburgh, was blown to pieces with a gelignite bomb. Later that year it was decided to replace the EIIR symbol in Scotland with a Scottish Crown. The dispute about the II was settled in court. Basically, royals can call themselves anything they want.
The British public watched the Coronation procession in black and white. The children of London's Great Ormond Street Hospital, however, enjoyed full colour from two cameras on the roof of the Foreign Office. This was an experimental transmission by the British electronics company, Pye, with an American partner, and is believed to have been the world's first colour outside broadcast. To misquote Peter Sellers (Michael Caine hotly denies he ever said it): not a lot of people know that!
Why are holidays almost always based on two people sharing? Not everyone is partnered. My friend M decided she wanted to sail down the Danube to the Black Sea to inspect the wildlife in the estuary. She wanted company and it seemed a splendid journey to make but getting separate cabins rendered an already expensive trip prohibitive so we are not going. Even Saga, which caters for the likes of us, failed to come up with a solution. So no river cruise holiday ahead with them although they do run holidays for singles.
The result of searching online is that we have both been deluged on Facebook with advertisements from holiday cruise companies – proof if it were needed that big brothers and sisters clearly follow one in today's world. The trouble is that the ads lead one to sites where in next to no time one is confronted either with a trip one does not want to go on, or having to talk to someone from the company – possibly a robot. It has become something of a nightmare.
M has now turned her attention to visiting Kirkwall, which seemed a good idea and, hey presto, up came the advertisements all catering for couples. Once you suggest it is for two singles, up go the prices. I decided to do the booking myself and guess what – it is cheaper by several hundred pounds to book a return flight to Kirkwall from London and a two-bedroom holiday apartment there for a week. Admittedly that does not include the dinners and breakfasts of the package deals but it is money one would spend living at home anyway.
We will spend an afternoon online making our bookings. As to when we make the trip, that depends on my surviving my first holiday of the year as I am heading at the end of this month, walking stick in hand, wheeled suitcase at my heels, to Slovenia, Croatia and Italy. I have a milestone birthday I intend to celebrate in Venice in May, that city being the first foreign city I visited as single traveller. The first foreign city was actually Paris but that was on a school trip so it doesn't count. The flights and the hotels are booked – there never seems a problem about single accommodation – and the bits in between are about to be booked.
In this changing world, one does long for the age of the friendly local travel agent one could sit down with and discuss the options.
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