Martin and I had been regularly bumping into each other at the coffee machine and photocopier – printing reinsurance aviation claim slips and photos of babies with burned heads where air hostess’s had spilt coffee.
“Fancy coming with me to France?” he asked one day.
“Yeah, great” I was eager. I hadn’t been to France since the school trip to Calais when I’d smuggled the flick knives on the coach for the boys.
I imagined this trip would be something more romantic, Paris perhaps, shagging at the top of the Eifel Tower or becoming a member of the mile high club. Martin was hot, not my usual punky type but I appreciated classic ‘Paul Newman’ type looks and thought I’d give him a go. All the office girls fancied him, I felt privileged, it lifted my esteem.
Martin had organised his time off work but I’d run out of leave so had to bunk off. I spent the day before the trip on the sick-bed in the basement of the records department – so it looked kosher.
After a call from Martin to arrange where to meet, it became apparent that the Paris trip I’d hoped for would be another day trip to Calais. The plane fantasy turned into a ferry reality, but I was still hopeful and I could bring shed loads of cheap booze back.
We met at Southend Victoria station, I was a little late and couldn’t find Martin through hoards of old people queuing for coaches. Then I saw him near the front of a queue.
“Oi Martin!” I pushed in besides him.
“Liz, this is my Mum and my Aunt Joyce”.
Martin’s Mum was ancient, she must have had him with her last egg. Aunt Joyce who looked even older peered down at her watch then stared at me. “We may not get to sit together now” she said and we boarded the coach.
Mum and Aunt sat in a row together and I sat in front of them next to an even older man. Martin sat alongside his Mum with the galley in-between. I felt the women’s breath on my back all the way to Dover.
“I’ll be travelling down the coach soon, please have your passports ready.” Debbie the travel rep asked as we neared the white cliffs. “De-bbie blue birds over, the white cliffs of Dover..” she sang and the old people joined in.
“Shit, I forgot, I honestly didn’t think I’d need one,” and I was being honest. “I’m sure I didn’t have one when I went with the school.”
Martin and his family looked at me hopelessly then slightly relieved as I said goodbye and got off the coach. I could have perhaps stayed on, Debbie was making noises that she could sort it out but I was relieved too.
I stayed off sick for a few days and saw No. 38 to pass the time (the next one). When I returned to the office, Martin had been promoted and was now head of Marine Claims Reinsurance. He had moved to a floor below aviation claims and I only ever saw his assistant (copying sunken ferry’s and cargo) who used the same photocopier when there were copier breakdowns on either floor.