Shear Incompetence

At the tender age of 52 we have joined the blue rinse and twin pearl set and are on a Shearing’s coach holiday. For twenty years my mum, and before his death, my dad, went on Shearing’s holidays to all sorts of places around the UK and beyond. Ben Aitken, an author, wrote a book about the time he spent on going on various Shearing’s holidays after hearing a conversation about how good value they were with bed, breakfast, and evening meal, trips out, and entertainment included.

Obviously, by the time we get around to it, Shearing’s have been through administration and takeover, the prices have gone up, and the simplicity and value for money have gone out of the window.

We got a brochure at the beginning of the year, and with Helen’s sister Julie, and mother – Joy, going with us we opted for Jersey as there is no need for a passport. There were warning flags from early on in the process that things weren’t what they used to be. The brochure clearly stated that one of the pickup points for the Jersey trip was Pease Pottage services, five minutes away from us. Only when we came to book the drop-down list didn’t include Pease Pottage. In fact, it didn’t include many places at all. When Helen rang them, they told her the nearest place to us was Cobham services.

With no thought to how the hell you get to a services which only has motorway access (Pease Pottage has lots of various accesses to it). Despite booking in February, there was no indication of the itinerary until less than a week before we were going. So, no way of knowing which day the only included trip was included, which made booking anything else (such as a day trip to St Malo) problematic.

When the itinerary did come through the trip had changed from eight nights to seven nights with no drop in price. Plus, lots of wasted time on the way out, and a ridiculously early return journey from Jersey.

The taxi to Cobham services was an ‘interesting’ journey. The driver was sat at a funny angle, and then proceeded to drive in somebody else’s boot all the way there. Well, a series of different people’s boots. I was sat in the front and was unable to see tarmac between the car in front and us for most of the drive. I wish I’d put my sunglasses on, so it wasn’t so obvious I had my eyes closed. The worst was the merge onto the M25 off the M23, when he was inches from the car in front, changing lanes into fast moving traffic and leaning over at an even stranger angle than he started at so he could check what his phone in the well in front of the gear stick had beeped for.

When we got to Cobham there was a Shearing’s coach there, but it wasn’t ours. Turns out ours wasn’t even a Shearing’s branded coach, and there was no sign in the front window to say it was being used by Shearing’s. Fortunately, there was an old man who knew what was going on and pointed us in the right direction. Others weren’t as lucky and had been stood in the wrong place looking for a blue and yellow coach for over half an hour.

Then we were off. I did have the thought of being able to get a ham cob from Cobham. But if I had then I might have had a ham burp by the time we were passing Burpham on the A3.

I’ve forgotten how badly I travel on coaches. I can’t read or write as it’s too shaky and messes my head up. Even without visual stimulation I still felt a bit queasy and was glad when we pulled up outside the hotel in Southampton.

Now, my mum had always talked about how good it was getting to the hotel, as the cases were sorted out, off the coach and then sitting outside the room by the time they had checked in. but there was nothing like that waiting for us in Southampton. It was get your own bags to your room, and so just like any other trip we go on.

The hotel is The Dolphin, a wonderful Grade II* listed building. Parts of it date from Tudor times, and it is a typical old building with sloping floors and wonky steps, but full of character. It had no air-con and thick plush carpets everywhere, making the movement of cases tricky.

I was going to say that I am the youngest person on this coach trip. But it turns out I’m not. There is a kid on the trip, who doesn’t even look like he is in his teens yet. He’s here with his grandparents. I don’t know what the poor kid did, but it seems a bit of a harsh punishment. (We later find out that this may not have been as much of a joke as I meant it to be, as two of the couple’s other grandchildren are drug dealers.)

As we are with Helen’s mum and sister and there is a lack of the previously promised porterage, I’m sure you can imagine who is the stand in porter. The aforementioned heavy carpets don’t help with this as the wheels don’t want to know. Nor does the constant stopping to peer in every nook and cranny along the way. Seriously, you can do that later, stop getting in the way whilst I’m carrying your cases.

The following morning the coach comes to pick us up for the next part of the journey. We are off to Poole to get the ferry. Where it is a bit disorganised. We have to get off the coach, take the bags through weigh in and security before they are loaded onto an airplane style trolley. And a little shuttle bus takes us from the terminal to the ferry.

After a warm and sunny morning, by the time we have gotten on the ferry the clouds have rolled in and the water is becoming choppy, excellent sailing weather, especially on a journey that will take twenty-four times as long as our last sea crossing on the Hovercraft back to Portsmouth from the Isle of Wight.

The ferry is an hour late leaving due to the volume of passengers on the busiest day of the year according to the captain. A fair few drivers are called back to their vehicles, for hand brake or leaving the engine on issues.

Along the way of boarding the ferry we appear to have picked up a fifth member of our travelling party. An elderly man from the coach trip has decided to sit near us and keeps attempting to join in with conversations. Which, as a raging misanthrope I am less than impressed with. And he has already written the trip off as the worst Shearing’s holiday ever.

Getting off the ferry once in Jersey is just like leaving a plane. We get held in our seats to let all the car passengers get back to their vehicles before they let us off. There was an announcement that we would have to wait another four to five minutes. Cue uproar as hundreds of travel weary people deliberately misheard that to be forty-five minutes. So much so the captain had to repeat and clarify the message.

Coming out of the ferry terminal we collect our bags from a carousel and go through customs and out into arrivals where a scouser with a bad dye job and too much makeup just points vaguely to the car park with where to put bags (in a minibus) and which coach to get on. We get onto a different coach to be taken to the hotel. As it was a vehicle ferry it does make it seem strange why there is a change in coach, surely the original one could have come over.

We pull up at the hotel and put the cases in reception as we are hustled to the dining room (as we are late arriving due to the ferry leaving an hour late due to the volume of passengers) to get food before checking in. There are lots of staff in reception which makes us think that porterage may be in style here. The dinner is buffet style, and the food is nice and there are more pudding than even my emergency pudding stomach would be able to cope with.

The drinks menu was put on each table, and we ordered drinks. Joy ordered a Pernod, which confused the hell out of the waiter to start with. He comes back when she’s not there to say they don’t have any Pernod. So, Helen and Julie order her a Pimms. Which comes back with ice in it but no lemonade, and so goes back again. Meanwhile, Joy says she ordered the Pernod for the indigestion she might get. (Yes, not any indigestion she already has, but some imaginary indigestion she might get in the future.) it might be a long, long week.

Another standard part of the Shearing’s experience seems to have disappeared. Those on the trip used to get drinks tokens each evening. When the bill turned up for the drinks it was clear to see that one has flown out of the ever increasingly large window.

We get back to reception to find that porterage isn’t in style here either, and so little porter Kev is called into action again.

The scouse rep is due in the morning at half nine to tell us what it is going on the rest of the week. Always assuming she knows herself. I already have visions of it being like the old Thompson / Thomas Cook style rep meeting abroad where they try to sell you all their random trips at inflated prices.

For some reason all I can think of at the minute when someone says Shearing’s is that perhaps we should be on a trip to York and the Shambles.

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