Back in late 1983, we, the Directors of our business, decided to run a company-wide competition which everyone could enter. We devised the rules so that everyone had targets, regardless of the level of responsibility and experience. No-one was disadvantaged and absolutely anyone could win. The prize would be ‘something you wouldn’t normally consider doing/booking’ – and that prize was a return day-trip from Heathrow to the Pyramids in Egypt on Concorde – Wow, with a capital W.
I managed to win the competition by a very short head, and the tickets for the trip were duly booked. But, alas, one week before departure, we were informed that the company running the trip had gone bust – so no trip on Concorde 😦 I was asked what I wanted to do, and suggested putting the value of the prize to a holiday trip to Florida for Sue, I and our then 3 children under the age of 7. And so it came to pass….
The stories I could tell about this two week break at Easter 1984 are legion, even though, as far as the US Immigration Department was concerned, we were never there. I’d omitted to fill in a form upon landing – probably something to do with lugging suitcases with no wheels, and manhandling 3 children, and with airport staff taking pity on us and ushering us through quickly. Anyway, upon leaving Miami to come home, I was asked for this form which I had omitted to fill in, and said that I’d never had one and couldn’t produce it. The man said (quite loudly) “As far as we are concerned, you have never been to the United States of America”, and ushered us off in the direction of our flight.
We visited Disney, EPCOT*, the Gulf Coast, a MacDonald’s restaurant for the first time, and generally had a memorable stay. During our second week there, we moved from Orlando to a condominium in Indian Shores overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, watching the prehistoric-looking pelicans flying past the windows. We took advantage of the proximity of Tampa, to visit the world-famous Busch Gardens. It was an easy hour’s drive in our rental Chevy Station Wagon, taking the long road bridge across Tampa Bay, listening to the local rock FM station playing good music – living the dream.
Once off the I-275 and into Tampa itself, we managed to lose the signs for Busch Gardens, drove round for a bit and ended up in the ‘wrong’ part of town – the part where there were big guys in baseballs caps on every street corner, seemingly without much to do. I was lost – I had to ask someone for directions. There was nothing for it – play the lost Brit card. So, I was out of the car, walking up to the first burly guy with “We’re from England, and lost. We’re trying to get to Busch Gardens.” It seemed at first to be a bit of a stand-off – no immediate reply. Perhaps he was deciding whether I was worth eating. I tried to let no sign of emotion show on my face, although the heart was beating rather quickly. Soon enough, a drawled response with instructions (which happened to be correct), and I smiled a thank you. He didn’t smile back, so I was back in the car and we were away without too much indecent haste.
I remember telling someone that we’d had to ask for instructions in this not-so-salubrious part of Tampa, and the first comment was ‘And I hope you didn’t get out of the car…’ There was a look of disbelief when I recounted what had taken place – a look that said ‘Are you truly deranged or what?’
We had a great time in Florida, even though we’d never officially been there. We managed to lose one child in Disney World – we were beside ourselves until we located him. He wasn’t bothered at all. We dressed all 3 children in identical Mothercare track suits (see under), making them easy to spot. This was fine until a fourth child in the same tracksuit ended up in close proximity. A confusing moment.
1984 was less than 10 years after the end of the Vietnam War. We were reminded of this when the pilot of the shuttle ‘plane between Miami and Orlando announced that our destination was now off the port wing, and that ‘we’re goin’ in‘, as he banked the craft steeply and down to the airport. I imagined he said the same thing on a bombing mission in Vietnam. I never did get to fly on Concorde….
*EPCOT = Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow
(Adam, Sally and Chris in their matching Mothercare tracksuits)