So, how’s it going on Golden Tours, Eddie? I received a call from them out of the blue last summer – when my tour managing time was obviously coming to an end – asking me to do a day job for them. It was a day trip to Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath, a day which I always considered impossible but now just think of as challenging. The day went pretty well, the driver seemed pretty pleased with the tips we earned (always a good sign) and I found myself working for them more and more.
These are what we call ‘service tours’ in the business, catering for the many people who do not come here in organised groups but as individuals and in small family groups, often couples. They want a day out which covers as much as possible and are prepared to spend around a hundred pounds per person. If that sounds a lot, it is less than they would pay for the transport, food and entrance fees they incurred if they went by themselves.
I often think of these as ‘take and talk’ jobs. Your main task is to take people to the venues advertised and see they get into them but you also have to talk a bit about the places they are visiting and – most importantly – a bit about life in Britain generally. I cover contemporary topics, such as the election, the fire at Grenfell Mansions (we pass some similar tower blocks on the way out of town) and Brexit. Nothing is more boring than hearing a tourist guide droning on about his personal views but people are interested in these matters and expect to have them covered. I also talk about income, taxes (particularly income taxes) and topics such as the role of the monarchy, farming and house prices. I usually recite a few poems, talk about sport, the Beatles and tell people they only have to remember three dates on my tours – 1066 (William the Conqueror), 1666 (the Great Fire of London) and 1966 (England winning the World Cup for the one and only time). The tone is light, informative and – hopefully – engaging. There might be the occasional joke but for many people on these tours, English is their second language and humour does not always work.
Time is tight and Bath is proving a nightmare at the moment with roads closed, traffic jams and a difficult relationship with the coach supervisor at the drop off point, always called Bog Island. I had to leave four people behind there the other day because he insisted we left as our time for pick-up had passed. I hate to do this and always try to find those who are missing but we were unceremoniously kicked out and had to go back to London without them. When I returned the next day we were an hour late because of a traffic jam caused by Both University open Day and subsequent road closures and arrived with only fifteen minutes to get to the roman Baths before they closed. (If you arrive at five they slam the door in your face.). The driver was told to go to the coach park before we had a chance to drop off and, as this would inevitably have meant missing the Baths, I for once in my life stood my ground, told him to pull over and took the people off to reach the Baths in time. Obviously deciding that I was the founder member of the awkward squad, he threatened me with the police. I explained that I had to get my people to the Baths and proceeded to do exactly that. We made it in time and, although we were late back to London (nine pm!) people felt they had a good day and the tips were good.
In case HMRC are reading this I will not specify exactly how much, but it does give you satisfaction when you get a good tip at the end of the day as it makes it seem as if your efforts have been rewarded through people’s generosity. It also helps to keep the drivers happy as they have an even longer day than you. And, incidentally, I do put tips on my tax form although there may be an element of approximation in the amount stated.
So is it going well? Not always, but in the words of the advert ‘I’m loving it’. And I have buried the hatchet with the coach supervisor – he too has a tricky job to do.