London: Departure Day -2 Monday 10th June 1996 10am - My bladder is about to burst. Single rooms at The Grand Hotel don’t have the luxury of a bathroom. It’s at desperate times like these that this fact annoys me most. ‘Skipper,’ I loudly whisper, to try and rouse the warm body lying next to me in the single bed. He is pushing me up against the wall stopping my quick exit from both the bed and the room. ‘Skipper!’ I try again, but a bit louder. I ruffle his sandy blonde hair at the same time. Nothing. His rhythmic breathing continues. If I wasn’t about to pee the bed, I’d take some time to enjoy the sensation of having this lovely man, so naked, and so close to me. But, instead, I run the risk of ruining our first official sleepover by soaking the mattress with my wee if I can’t get out and get to the toilet soon. I brace my back against the grubby, textured, off-white wall of the hotel room and give him enough of a push that I create a bit of wiggle room and am able to scramble over him. My feet land on the hotel carpet before I remember my cardinal rule of never standing on the hotel carpet in my bare feet. Who knows how many different types of fluids, bodily or otherwise, have been spilled on this floor. The thought makes me a little ill. I can’t immediately see any shoes that I can slip on. Fuck it. I will have to scrub my feet raw to get them clean later. The floorspace in the single room isn’t large and it’s currently littered with two enormous suitcases and a variety of clothes that had been ripped off and discarded at random, as Skipper and I made our way to bed last night. I spot a towel draped on the back of the sole chair in the room. I reach for it and wrap it tightly around my chest. It covers just enough for a quick run to the toilet. As I grab the towel I notice the envelope that had been handed to me as my coach pulled in yesterday afternoon by a Terrific Tours London team member. I’d dropped it on the table and promptly forgotten about it. I pick it up, leave the room and race down the hall, trying to touch the floor with as little of my bare feet as humanly possible. It’s only when I hear the door click behind me that I realise I have forgotten to take a key. I put the envelope in my mouth, to keep it safe, and pull metres of single-ply toilet paper from the toilet roll holder to line the seat of the toilet. I try not to think about how many strangers’ pubes I’m going to pick up on my feet. As I relieve myself, I open the envelope that has my name scrawled across the front. The letter inside is written on Terrific Tours letterhead, in scary operations supervisor Neil’s handwriting. It reads: ‘Sharon, No need to come to the office. Your tour reports were great. Just do on the next tour exactly what you did on this one. Neil’.’ I’m not sure that would be possible. My last tour of Europe had started just over a month ago with me taking a morning after pill after accidentally having sex with Skipper, a tour driver I had met 90 minutes earlier. For most of the twenty-six days I was leading my flock of young tourists around Europe, I was trying to woo RHR (Ridiculously Handsome Roger), a fellow tour manager, who was working with Skipper. I finally managed to have a night of passion with RHR in Amsterdam, only to find out he was a two-timing, scum-sucking, untrustworthy lothario. He had lined up a girl to shag on his tour as soon as he’d finished with me. What I thought would have been my dream night ended with me wrapped only in a sheet from RHR’s hotel room and covered in my own tears and snot. While Skipper, who was dressed as a gorilla after an impromptu performance at a live sex show, comforted me. It’s not exactly how I’d like my next tour to go. While I’m grateful for my supervisor Neil’s confidence, and not to have to make a day-long trek to the office, located many miles away in Kent, I’m determined that on my next tour I’ll be fully focused on the task at hand. The task at hand being: providing a quality European tour experience to my group of 18-35 year-olds. Now that I have discovered Skipper is indeed the man for me, and we have consummated the arrangement last night… twice… and again this morning… my personal life will be calm, controlled and have no impact on my professional efforts whatsoever. I am a strong, independent and intelligent woman of the world. After I have finished in the toilet, I tap gently on the thick wooden door of Room 308, while looking nervously around. The towel I am wrapped in is both short and rather threadbare. ‘Skipper,’ I call out. ‘SKIPPER,’ louder but still no reply. I escalate from tapping to rapping to thumping but there is still no response. Fuck. Think Shaz, what would a strong, independent and intelligent woman of the world do? I bang my fists against the door at the same time as whacking my bare foot into the base and yell Skipper’s name. Damn you, fucking thick fire resistant doors! 10 minutes pass. I decide my only option is to get another key from reception. Skipper better be dead in there. There are two ways of getting to the ground floor and the reception desk inside The Grand Hotel - the lift or the stairs. If I take the lift, I can make sure there is no one else in there for the trip down, but… the elevator opens right into the lobby in front of the main hotel door. The stairs are a little riskier for the journey down; they are the sort of stairs that if you look up, you can see up the trousers of anyone walking above you. Being clad only in a small hotel towel leaves me vulnerable to other hotel users’ prying eyes… but the exit from the stairway is right next to the small hotel reception desk. I opt for the stairs. The exit door is another heavy fire door that creaks as I open it a fraction to peer into reception. Thankfully, there is no one visible other than the middle-aged receptionist, who is currently filing her nails while looking undeniably bored. I use the door for cover and stick my head through the gap. ‘Hi,’ I call out to the receptionist. She looks up. Her heavy, weary eyes cast around the reception area but, seeing no one, she goes back to her nails. ‘Hi,’ I try again. ‘I’m over here… behind the door’. Like one of those robotic clowns whose open mouth you might attempt to fire a ball into at a fairground, she slowly turns towards me. ‘Whot the fook are you doin’ over thare?’ She asks, in a thick northern drawl. ‘I forgot my key when I went to the loo. Can I get a spare one please? Room 308.’ She glances down and flicks through the pages of a logbook in front of her, running her finger down one page before stopping and looking up at me. ‘You don’t look like Andrew Wright.’ Shit. I’d forgotten that Skipper had registered for the single room. I’d actually forgotten his real name was Andrew Wright as well. While, technically, there was a maximum occupancy of one person, by Skipper and I sharing the tiny, shabby room with one single bed, we each saved £11 a night. That’s a lot of beer money when you’re on a budget. Think fast, Shaz. Strong, independent and intelligent woman of the world, remember. That’s my code name? He’s my brother? I’ve been abducted? All good options but what comes out of my mouth is, ‘I’m in the witness protection programme. They told me never to use my real name,’ I say, as confidently as I can. ‘What is your real name?’ The receptionist asks. ‘Sharon Green.’ ‘Why the fook are you telling me it? If they’ve told you not to tell anyone your real name and you are actually in the witness protection programme?’ Northern reception woman asks. Shit. Excellent point. ‘I’ve only just gone in. I’m still getting the hang of it,’ I babble. ‘Please don’t blow my cover.’ For good measure, I tremble my bottom lip and look a bit teary. She reaches into a draw beside her, pulls out a key attached to a long metal stick, about a foot long, and hands it to me. 10.45am - I slot the key in the door of Room 308. I’m itching for a fight. Bloody Skipper, what a knob. I swing the door open as hard as I can. I’m hoping for a dent in the wall or a satisfying bang at least. Sadly, the hydraulic door thing stops either. I raise myself up to my full 5’4”, tighten the towel around my chest and stride in. ‘SKIPPER!’ I shout at the top of my lungs. He sits bolt upright. The sheet that was caressing his neck, slides slowly down to his waist, revealing a strong chest with just a smattering of hair. A darker line of hair leads the way from his navel further south. He’s too cute for me to be angry with him. Instead I regale him with my recent escapades. After he’s stopped laughing, he pulls me to him and the next hour is a blur of sweaty intertwined bodies. 2pm - We roll out of The Moon Underwater pub, after a huge lunch of bangers and mash drowned in onion gravy, washed down with lager, and into Leicester Square. We find ourselves blinking our eyes to adjust from the dingy pub light to the unusually bright London summer’s afternoon. ‘Shall we get The Tube and go back to the hotel?’ I ask, through a yawn. The large lunch and pint of lager has made me lethargic. ‘Why don’t we walk? It’s a lovely day for it and it’s still hours before I have to be at my tour pre-departure meeting.’ Walk? WALK? Is he fucking mad? Clearly he still has a lot to get to know about me. Like I hate walking. I want to impress Skipper though, so I gaze up at him, make my tired blue eyes sparkle just a little and say, ‘Sure, I’d love to.’ He takes my hand and leads me past Chiquito - my favourite Mexican restaurant, which serves the best frozen margaritas in huge frosty jugs - and down Cranbourn Street. We pass souvenir shops flogging the latest royal memorabilia featuring Charles and Diana, now on separate china cups, and booths with discount tickets for the latest London shows. Skipper stops suddenly outside a shop I’ve never seen before. He looks down at me with a silly grin on his clean cut, handsome face. ‘Shaz,’ he enthuses, ‘let’s get mobile phones! Then we can contact each other all the time. Even when we are at different ends of Europe, we’ll still be able to keep in touch!’ The thought of being able to keep tabs on my new boyfriend does sound appealing. Not that I don’t trust him, of course. I just don’t trust all those girls who will be sitting on the coach behind him, drooling over his driving skills and asking him how he ‘gets that big thing through those tight bends’. Coach driver keys have magical powers. Perhaps if he was getting regular calls from his hot new girlfriend it would counteract some of his appeal to them? I step nearer towards the shop window to have a closer look. ‘Twenty quid, Skipper! That’s a lot of money. Then there’s the £100 monthly charge and I’ve heard you have to pay for each call and message as well.’ ‘They’re the latest technology and you can make them ring with different tunes,’ he beams at me. ‘We can call each other to say goodnight… every night. It will be like we’re in the same city.’ Before I can resist further, he drags me into the shop. When we come out, we are each carrying a bag. Inside each bag is a box, and inside each box is a Nokia 1610 Plus mobile phone. We walk back towards the hotel, holding hands and swinging the bags containing our new mobile phones in our free hands. To pass the time during our walk, and because I’m nosey, I quiz Skipper. ‘Tell me about your last girlfriend,’ I ask. ‘Why, Shaz? It’s in the past. Now it’s just you.’ He squeezes my hand. ‘I’m interested, go on, tell me about her,’ I beg, ‘pleeeeaaase.’ ‘Okay then,’ he submits to my pressure. ‘I met her when I was working on a farm just out of Glencoe… in Scotland,’ he adds, obviously assuming I don’t know where Glencoe is. He’s right, I have no clue. ‘It was over the off-season. I didn’t want to go back to Australia, so I got a job up north and spent a freezing Scottish Highland winter on a farm,’ he laughs at the memory. ‘I used to drink at a pub in Glencoe, she worked behind the bar. She was a local Highland lassie with flaming red celtic hair and sparkly green eyes. Pretty girl, she was.’ I feel jealousy prickle my skin. ‘So, what happened?’ ‘We both got drunk on New Year’s Eve and ended up… you know… together,’ he says sparing me the intimate details. ‘We saw each other for about a month after that.’ ‘Why did it end?’ I ask, hoping to learn from her mistake. ‘She had an on-again, off-again boyfriend. He was from Zimbabwe originally, the only black man in Glencoe! He’d gone back to Zimbabwe for Christmas, for a month or so. They’d broken up before he left. Then he came back and it was on again and she gave me the flick!’ ‘Aw, poor you.’ I squeeze his hand in sympathy. ‘It all worked out for the best,’ Skipper replies. He gives me one of his most beaming, wholesome smiles, then lowers his head and plants his lips on mine. 4pm - To enter the hotel I march past the Northern reception gargoyle. Greeting her with a loud ‘HELLO’, as I head to the stairs, to distract her, while Skipper slips from the main door across to the elevator. ‘You’re blimmin’ loud for someone who is in the witness protection programme,’ she says. ‘It’s a double bluff,’ I quip. ‘The louder I am, the less likely people are to think that I’m in hiding.’ She scoffs and goes back to her work. I flop onto the single, unmade bed after turning on the small TV, which is perched on a chipped wooden veneer chest of drawers in the corner of the room, opposite the avocado green basin. Countdown is on, my favourite TV show. I immerse myself in it while Skipper opens up our phone boxes, one at a time. He discards the VHS cassettes that have ‘quick start instructions’ printed on them. We have no VCR in the room to watch them on. He also casts aside the instruction manuals, opting instead to snap the battery on the back of each phone and plug them into the wall. He focuses on his phone first and turns it on by holding down the on/off button. A soothing dong dong dong dooonnnnggg tune comes out of it and the screen lights up. I turn my attention back to the TV as Skipper presses various buttons to see what he can make happen. Countdown presenter, Richard, looks his usual nerdy self with a grey plaid suit and clashing tan paisley tie. Carol Vorderman, my hero and girl crush, has on a fetching canary yellow pantsuit with a risqué v-neck and short sleeves showing off her slender tanned arms. She lifts a slender tanned arm to hit the magic button that creates a random number answer. The two contestants immediately start scribbling on pieces of paper in front of them, to try and make the smaller numbers Carol has already placed on the board, equate to the magic answer number, using maths. 4.50pm - What the fuck is that noise? Da da dum dum, da da dum dum, da da dum dum duuuuummmm. Da da dum dum, da da dum dum, da da dum dum duuuuummmm. Da da dum dum, da da dum dum, da da dum dum duuuuummmm. I must’ve nodded off. I crack one eye open and cast it around the room. Da da dum dum, da da dum dum, da da dum dum duuuuummmm. The TV is still on, but it’s not that that’s making the noise. Da da dum dum, da da dum dum, da da dum dum duuuuummmm. I notice Skipper has gone. Da da dum dum, da da dum dum, da da dum dum duuuuummmm. I get up and follow the noise. Behind an open suitcase on the floor, a brand new mobile phone is ringing. I pick it up, press the green phone button and put it tentatively to my ear. ‘Hello?’ ‘Shaz, it’s me!’ Skipper’s voice is full of the joys of spring. ‘Isn’t it cool that I can just phone you whenever I want? You were snoring really cutely, so I left you to it. I’ve just come down to The Pit for my pre-departure meeting. Come down and we can have a beer before it starts.’ ‘Okay, I’ll be there in 5 minutes,’ I respond. ‘I forgot to ask you, who is your tour manager anyway?’ ‘It’s really weird, I don’t know yet. My driver manager, Scotty, just told me to be at the meeting at 5.30pm. He said my tour manager will be coming into London this afternoon and will arrive just in time. Bit of a mystery,’ Skipper says. He’s such a kind driver. Most coach drivers skip the pre-departure meeting, with the excuse that they have to get up super early the next morning to pick up their coach on the outskirts of London and get back into the hotel by about 6.30am on the morning the tour departs. As I sit on the edge of the bed, I reach for my tan leather boat shoes and slide them onto my bare feet. They go nicely with my high-waisted stonewashed jeans and dark denim shirt, I think, as I quickly check my reflection in the mirror and wipe off a bit of smeared mascara from under my eyes that’s smudged during my nap. I run my fingers through my short reddish-brown hair and apply a swish of shiny lip gloss, tinged every-so-slightly pink. That’ll do. I slide my new phone into my Florentine leather handbag-cum-backpack and head out the door. 5.15pm - I happily trot down the industrial metal stairs that lead to The Pit, excited to see my boyfriend. I still get excited just saying ‘boyfriend’. A waft of heat and cigarette smoke hits me as I slide past the heavy door and into The Pit, making a beeline for the lime green staff shirts I can see near the u-shaped bar. Skipper looks up when he hears the door open and beams at me. He looks cute in his lime green Terrific Tour polo shirt and dark Levi’s 501s. ‘I got you a drink.’ He slides a frothy topped pint of lager towards me. ‘Hi Scooter! Hi Julie!’ I greet the other staff standing with Skipper, ‘Quiet day, eh? Only two tours leaving tomorrow?’ ‘Yip, so there’s a 50% chance that babe in the corner is with me,’ Scooter says, leering at a girl with a Rachel Hunter-esque figure and long ringlet curls who is chatting to two other girls in the corner of the room. ‘Ýou can have her, Scooter,’ Skipper says as he puts his arm around my waist and gives me a squeeze. Julie clocks this show of affection out of the corner of her eye and flashes me a questioning look. ‘How long is your tour Julie?’ I ask, to divert her attention rather than actually caring about the answer. ‘Nice quick one,’ Julie replies in her Australian drawl. ‘Seven days and we’ll be back in London. Hardly time to scratch ourselves, but also not enough time to get sick of the group either.’ The only other staff member in the room is Boring Barry from the office. Boring Barry tried to be a tour manager once. He made it on to the six-week European training trip but got kicked off in Rome after not being able to remember the difference between Doric and Corinthian columns or Gothic and Baroque architecture, or the names of any Roman Emperors or French Kings. He seemed to be both date and directionally dyslexic. When he was doing practice spiels during city tours, he’d constantly be telling people to look out of the coach windows completely the opposite way to where they should be looking to see what he was talking about. Once he found his way back to London from Rome, he managed to land himself an office job with the company instead. Part of this job was to come to the pre-departure meetings and kick things off before blending back into the carpet and reappearing the next night. 5.29pm - Boring Barry drags the corded microphone from its resting place on the bar to the step in front of The Pit’s door to the outside world. It makes a ‘click’ as he switches it on. ‘Hi,’ he drones into the microphone. While the crew in green shirts stop talking and look at him, the rest of the eighty or so people in the bar and dancefloor area ignore him. ‘Hi… Hello… HI!’ He finally shouts. The din in the room lowers and people start to gravitate towards where he is standing. ‘Where the fuck is your tour manager?’ I whisper to Skipper. He shrugs his shoulders in response. If I was about to be swamped by forty people and had no paperwork to know who they were, I’d be a nervous wreck. But Skipper looks totally calm and in control… and very sexy. ‘My name is Barry.’ Boring Barry states in his low, monotone voice. As he is about to launch into his spiel and introduce the road crew, there is a loud noise behind him and a black-wheeled suitcase tumbles down the steps and into view through the glass in the doors, followed by a loud noise from the top of the stairs… ‘FUCK!’ A few seconds later, the door swings open nearly knocking Barry off his step. The green-shirted female blur screeches to a halt next to Boring Barry, flicks the long dark hair back off her face and smiles. When I see who it is, I realise I am in shit… Deep… Deep shit.