Today I am going on an expedition into northern France, accompanying Henry Elkins on one of his WW1 ‘recce’ research trips. He’s been engaged to guide a special family group tour at the back end of September, based around the centenary of the Battle of Loos and then the Somme in September 1916, some six weeks and more after the 1st July opening of that dreadful battle.
Why am I going with him?
Well, to be honest, a major factor is that the Memsahib has run out of Marlboro Red cigarettes and I have been granted a limited ‘pass’ to buy her a stack more at continental prices (about half UK ones), on condition that on the trip I do not get into trouble, inebriated to the point of passing out, or return either with a migrant in the boot and/or a £2000 fine for being caught with one on board.
[When I tried to introduce a touch of levity by commenting that at least she hadn’t barred me from picking up some stray French poppet for a spot of rampant ‘how’s your father’, she blanked me and sneered “Don’t be ridiculous – there’s no chance at all of that happening!“, which at the time I felt was a little unkind.]
Once Henry has agreed to let me come along for the ride, he tried to enhance my experience by getting me involved in the operation. He detailed me to make the Eurotunnel bookings and then, ‘out in the field’, to keep notes of road details, distances and timings and anything else (e.g. WW1, geographical or topographical details) that he hadn’t recorded for himself.
Computers, social media, websites and social media … I’m not the greatest at any of these. Nevertheless, after a bit of toing and froing on Friday afternoon (which I needn’t go into because, although complicated, it was relatively unremarkable) I was able to report to my commanding officer that evening that I had managed to book my car on the Eurotunnel for our 14-hour trip later today.
The crisis that blew my weekend apart arrived the next day (Saturday) at some point in the late morning, this in the form of two emails from Eurotunnel which I didn’t actually ‘register’ until 5.00pm because I had been having a leisurely lunch at a local pub.
The first was simply the standard and promised missive to confirm that my booking attempt had been successful.
However the second related to the new API (Advance Passenger Information) that was introduced by the UK government in April (or so it said on the form) as part of their efforts to prevent terrorism, presumably both going on and out of the country. It had a link to the required form which, when I ‘fired’ it and viewed the webpage concerned looked damned complicated.
Not only that, its first requirement was that I should quote my booking reference.
I didn’t know I had one, or indeed how to find it. Fortunately, some time later, when I looked again at the ‘’booking confirmation’ email, the booking reference was contained therein.
Thus, despite the attendant stress, so far so good.
I went back to the API webpage and tapped it in. The next box to be filled was the booking password. I don’t mind admitting it was at this point I first pressed the ‘panic’ button.
I’m not very good with passwords. I cannot remember them. Or rather, I cannot remember which one I used on which website or organisation I deal with. The principle problem is that – once you’ve tried the first three you have remembered and none of them have ‘worked’ – the websites tend to apply the time-honoured ‘three strikes and you’re out’ rule … and refuse to let you try again.
After ranting at the keyboard for ten minutes, I noticed that there was a customer phone-line number offering assistance. I was about to lift the phone to it when I spotted their weekend office hours, viz. 0900 to 1700 hours … and it was already past that on Saturday.
Come yesterday (Sunday) and I was on the case. The first breakthrough was that – having printed off the ‘confirmation’ email – I saw that the booking password was contained at the bottom of the page.
Next I had to provide my passport details, which took about forty minutes to find because I couldn’t recall where I’d last placed my passport for safekeeping, albeit that I then remembered that I’d recorded it (along with those of the rest of my family) somewhere in my computer.
Then I needed to input similar details of all my passengers.
I didn’t know Henry’s of course, so had to ring him to obtain them. He laughed at the complications I’d been having and indeed at the fact that – although I’d said that the government had apparently introduced these new requirements in April – he hadn’t been asked for them even on his most recent recce trip, only a week ago.
The strain of it all! I could never have worked in a travel agency – the administrative complications that you have to go through (and/or keep up to date with) would have driven me nuts.
Here’s wishing me luck for the next 16 hours …