Flash Fiction Friday – Fact or Fiction?

In Charge

 You will be working as part of a team, ensuring our guests have a relaxing holiday experience. Full training will be given. Other languages will be an advantage, but people skills and personality are more important.

A job that was a holiday sounded easy and working as part of a team was just what Sandra needed, no responsibility. She had no languages and her people skills depended on the people, but how did they define personality? In her last job, promoted to team leader, she only had two people to supervise, but motivating Kevin the cleaner proved to be an impossible task.

Well it wasn’t an interview to be a television presenter, so Sandra decided to go for it; she was not cut out for stressful work so the relaxed atmosphere of Uncoached Tours – holidays for the discerning traveller with the good company that provides good company, sounded just up her street and the travelling would get her out of  a rut.

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The first holiday was wonderful and she could not believe she was being paid to go on steam train rides, visit cathedral cities and stay at smart hotels. Andrew the tour guide could have been on television, his wonderful personality made up for Sandra’s lack of it. Helen, the PCO ( pastoral care officer ) was made for the job, the guests loved her and she listened to all their problems; rather too avidly Sandra thought, but dismissed such disloyal thoughts. Employees, or rather colleagues of Uncoached Tours were always loyal, that’s what made the company great. Sandra had absorbed all the words of wisdom on induction day.

Bringing up the rear, that was her job and she had acquired her own little group of fans by the end of the first day. They teased her as she urged them to keep up, but enjoyed chatting with Sandra more than listening to Andrew’s commentary through their earphones. As long as she kept the parrot on a stick in sight all was well. Andrew carried it aloft, so he was easily identified when they found themselves with other tour groups.

‘I only came for the steam trains’ confided John, the lovely old widower.

‘This holiday is a birthday present from my children,’ explained Hannah the quiet divorcee ‘they expect me to be out and about meeting interesting people.’

The last day of the holiday was spent watching the royal wedding on the hotel’s big screen, followed by a champagne lunch. Sandra felt bereft as they waved goodbye to the guests, but there was the next assignment to look forward to, five days of London and the River Thames.

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Sandra was just packing to go down to London when she got the phone call.

well done on passing your probationary period. Slight change of plan, you’re doing Beautiful Berkshire, bank holiday Monday, pick up the guests at Slough railway station, first stop Windsor Castle.

Sandra could hardly quell her excitement, she had never been to Windsor, never seen a royal castle, now she would visit the scene of the royal wedding. As the train from Paddington drew into the station she spotted a chap in the company uniform.

‘Sandra? Did you get the tour pack. Is it your first time as a guide?’

‘Guide?’ the first misgivings sank in. ‘I don’t lead, I just round up.’

‘Gavin won’t be leading for a while with his broken leg, didn’t they tell you? But you’ll be fine, you can’t get lost, the branch line goes frequently, straight into Windsor and Eton Central. Walk out and the castle is right in front of you, apparently, haven’t actually been there myself. Here’s the tour agenda, tonight’s hotel is near the castle and the crib sheet for the castle visit is on the front page, or would be if we had a ring file like we used to. All the gen is on a tablet now. Oh, mustn’t forget the parrot.’

Sandra had still not got a word in edgeways as he handed her the azure and scarlet feathered creature on its long stick. Suddenly he was gone and an assortment of people were gathering around her. She tried not to panic, they all had their pre booked train tickets and it was not difficult to find the platform, hordes of bank holiday trippers were heading that way, along with other tour parties.

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The train had made two return journeys before they got on board, but at least she had time to chat to an English speaking tour guide. The other woman laughed when Sandra told her tale.

‘Uncoached Tours, are they still in business? I got out as soon as I could. It’s going to be manic today, tours from every nation, but as long as you have your tickets booked for the castle…’

‘Tickets, do you need tickets?’

‘They’ll be a code number if UT booked on line, anyway, just keep an eye on my Saint George’s flag and you won’t get lost, turn left at Queen Victoria’s statue.’

Passengers poured off the little train as it pulled up at the end of the line. Only a few people got stabbed as Sandra tried to manoeuvre her parrot on a stick. There was no sign of a castle, only designer shops, eating places and crowds. She had no idea if her guests were all following as they were swept along.

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At last they were outside and before them on the other side of the road was a castle, and on the pavement was a queue of people stretching back down the hill further than she could see. The day was grey and drab, not like the sunny wedding weather. She tried to speak into the tiny microphone with no idea if her guests could hear. Ahead, the white flag was progressing and Sandra felt a little hopeful as Queen Victoria glared down at her. There were more people around than for the wedding, uniforms and yellow jackets steered people and they followed to the end of the pre booked tickets queue, further from the castle than when they started.

Not all Sandra’s guests were wearing their parrot badge, but the ones that were did not seem happy as the queue shuffled along. She tried to read interesting facts from the tablet, but the guests started fiddling with the audio boxes hanging round their necks. A man in uniform asked for her group’s name and booking details, as she fumbled with the tablet and shook her head he strode off, only to return ten minutes later with a frown.

‘No record of booking for your company, the best thing you can do is come back at nine o’clock tomorrow.’

Sandra felt panic rising. The guests had all heard the conversation on their audio equipment as the uniform ushered Sandra out of the queue. A man with his parrot badge upside down stepped forward.

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‘He’s right, did you see the queue to buy tickets. Why don’t you take us to see some other sights, such as where Charles and Camilla got married?’

‘The only sight I want to see is a sign for the Ladies’ said another voice.

‘That’s okay, they got married above the public toilets, come on, this way folks.’

Sandra tottered to catch up with him, it had occurred to her to run away, but she could do with a comfort stop as well.

The man grinned at her. ‘I only come on Uncoached Tours  because they are such fun, something always goes wrong, but they pick reasonable hotels. A drink, a meal and material for my novels is all I ask.’ He turned to the others, grasping the parrot out of Sandra’s hand. ‘Here we are at The Guildhall. After our comfort stop we’ll stroll down to the Long Walk and see where the royal carriage processed last week, at least the sun is coming out now.’

Sandra wondered if he purposely wore his parrot badge upside down.

13

Read about Windsor in yesterday’s blog ‘Windsor After That Wedding’

and as it’s Windsor Week at Tidalscribe look out for Silly Saturday –

‘Not The Royal Wedding’

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See more pictures of Windsor at Beachwriter’s Blog

https://www.ccsidewriter.co.uk/chapter-five-beach-writer-s-blog/

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