Written by T. Christiansen 26 Jan 2020
My years in the travel industry in the UK and Norway
Having said goodbye to my Scottish wife as she flew home to the UK having spent 3 months on-board ms Sunny Girl accompanying me on our journeys between the Great Lakes and the Caribbean, my thoughts went back to the year past when we first met in the middle of the Atlantic on-board the emigrant ship ms Skaubryn on a one-off voyage from Southampton to Quebec which sealed our future for the next 32 years.
Having done another voyage from Bremerhaven to Australia, carrying yet another load of around 2.000 emigrants to their new future, I joined the laker ms Sunny Girl, with a first port of Kingston Jamaica where my future wife had already arrived from Canada.
A few months after my wife's departure, we both came to the conclusion that we missed each other too much and decided on a change of carrier. Her family were acquainted with the owners of a well established travel agency, Mackay Brothers in Edinburgh, where I later joined as a travel clerk, saying goodbye to my sailing days.
As the job was not vacant until a couple of months later, I took a temporary job as a driver for Wall's Ice Cream, visiting hospitals and asylums situated far out in the Scottish countryside. I remember especially a first visit to a ladies asylum where I entered the large kitchen with my ice-cream containers. Must have been a dozen woman there in different stages of sanity, approaching me slowly, smiling gleefully. I very quickly handed out ice-cream sticks to the nearest while I quickly backed out of the kitchen. WHOA...
Having traveled extensively around the world during my 10 year period at sea, I spoke several languages and had experienced many different cultures and did not find the transition too difficult.
Mackay Bros. Travel Agency was owned by two elderly brothers and their little but very firm mother. It was located close to the main Princess Street. Having got the grasp of the main features and movements of the travel service, I later joined the American Express Travel office at the top of Princess Street. This was a very different kettle of fish,up to date and modern, with their own travel catalog.
Our first dwelling was a little flat at Morningside, on the 4thfloor of a VERY old sandstone building, hosted by a tall, skinny Irishman with a past in the military fighting the Boer War in South Africa. He was fond of an occasional 'tipple' and often came back from the local pub a little sozzeled. I remember once opening the door for him at the top of the staircase when he made a little, involuntary stagger and said 'A little windy out there today'. He was a great fellow with many stories to tell, and often invited us to his large kitchen with a large built-in bed and a beautifully set table with coffee, scones and cakes.
We later moved to a second floor flat in the neighborhood which was both comfortable and more centrally located to shops and buses.
After a year or so I was offered a fact-finding, educational trip to Norway on-board the ms Blenheim of Fred Olsen Line, plying between Newcastle and Oslo. My wife May accompanied me and we had a pleasant trip to Oslo and later by train to my home-town Kristiansand.
During our very pleasant stay in Kristiansand, meeting all family and friends, I was unexpectedly offered a well paid position with I. Bjørneboe Travel I could not refuse, we traveled back to Edinburgh to pack our things. Shortly thereafter we re-joined the ms Blenheim for our new adventure in Norway.
We're moving to Norway
At first we obtained a nice 2nd floor flat in Dronningensgate, one of the main streets of Kristiansand. My brother Erling also moved in with us. He played the violin and was studying for a degree in CHAOS THEORY and was daily pestering me with different aspects of the theory until one day on a trip in the woods, I put my hand in the pocket and offered 'have a caramel Erling'. He laughed and said 'perhaps I'm a little obsessed with the chaos theory'. :)
The Bjøerneboe Travel business was owned by elderly Council Maja Bjørneboe and her family Liv and the writer Jens Bjørneboe.
My boss was Jacob Sødal, a fine upstanding fellow I did not always agree with. Then we had Director Nils Iglebæk who had an office in one of the upper stories of the modern block located close to the piers, with a fantastic view of the harbor. The main reception area was located on the ground floor with a service counter.
The Agency had multiple functions, both for servicing and ticketing for several airlines and shipping companies. We also had the responsibility for the inn-checking of passenger and baggage at the local Kjevik airport. The national airline, Bråthes SAFE, and later also regular flight from Gatwick to Kjevik by Dan Air. We were also booking agents for Loftleidir flying between Oslo and Reykjavik.
The Bråthen's agency also included frequent unscheduled charter flight with ship crews to and from foreign ports.
We had the reception and handling services for the Norwegian America Line, NAL, and remember especially the great event of 'Julebåten', the Christmas arrival of the Bergensfjord from the USA. This was the honor for Director Iglebæk, who was the first representative to enter on-board, impeccably dressed in a grey suit and tie, with the relevant documents under his arm. OUR first target was the nearest bar for some Christmas celebrations.
We also had the agency for several smaller cargo-liners.
The airport flight clearances and passenger check-ins was done in turn by four of us, driving to the airport by the river in a new WW.
My first car was a Wartburg made in aluminium, with a two stroke engine and a 'door-handle' gear in the dashboard. For some reason it cought fire in the engine on two occasions, my wife called it 'Daisy', days she goes and days she doesn't. Either that or the BUZZBOMB. (the war-time bombs to hit London)
We then signed on for a modern new flat in the suburb of Slettheia, a group of four story blocks in a wooded parkland setting and remember the varnish was not even dry in our anxiety to later move in.
At this time we also bought our first traditional wooden boat with an inboard 4hp petrol engine and registered as K-10. We had many a fantastic cruise in the adjacent fjords and inlets, especially at special occasions such has 24th of June called 'Sankthans'.
I remember using a telex machine for the first time. It had a long thin ribbon where messages and bookings were produced as thousands of little holes in the ribbon. If you punched ONE letter in error you had to start all over again.
Then we had very hectic times when the airport was closed during foggy days and dozens of passengers streamed back into the office for refunds and re-bookings. Those were the days.
During the summer we had visits from my in-laws who very much enjoyed the sea breeze and Norwegian seafood.
The years went by until one day we received the sad message from the UK that my mother-in-law had passed away. We then decided to move back to the UK and take care of my father-in-law,who, by the way often had said he would not live long after his wife died. True enough, he DID pass away shortly thereafter.
I had managed to get a good job with American Express in London and after a brief stay in an impressive house in fashionable Holland Park owned by a MI5 college of my sister-in-law, we moved to a little but attractive flat in Surrey and bought a car. We had only lived there a month before I also acquired a 1933 traditional wooden motor yacht from it's original owner.
Now started a very busy time in my travel career, hosting thousands of Amexco clients visiting the UK and Europe. 'Nicky' the manager of our incoming department with 6 employees had shortly thereafter been caught embezzling some theater tickets and got fired, and I took over his job.
We had the briefing of guides as well as tour escorts and the preparation of passenger lists, tickets etc. for the arriving groups.
We had around 20 hostesses we also had to brief.
This was a busy time in London with great shortage of hotel accommodation, new hotels opening every month or so. We had to contract hotels, transport and entertainment for the many special groups and scheduled Amexco tours well in advance but still experienced many passengers arriving without accommodation we had to obtain somehow while the passengers traveled from the airport, for which they were often not so thankful, being a location and grade inferior to which they had paid for and often had to take the odd client for dinner at a nice restaurant to compensate.
To be continued when the inspiration grips me again.....