Back Every Afternoon

One of the bars we use is alongside a petrol station owned by the same people.  The bar staff who are all part of the same family sit inside the bar whilst in summer all the regulars sit outside at tables under either a large wooden awning or under umbrellas bearing trade marks of all the beers the bar doesn’t sell. The outside furniture also bears logos of non purchasable beer which must be provided by ever hopeful salesmen that call and chat up the three girls that normally work the bar and serve the drinks. To obtain a drink it is only necessary to yell “birra” plus the number of bottles and the number of glasses at the top of your voice . One of the girls then brings them out and places them on the table. Eager youths of about 19- 25 years old of course head inside to chat and joke with the girls. It is always amazing as we sit in July in heady 25 C evening temperatures to think that in February those self same girls in short shorts and t-shirts look like eskimos in trousers, heavy anoraks, scarves, gloves and balaclavas as the north wind whistles in through the ever open front bar door and we locals huddle in the back bar dressed in similar fashion.

Cars for the petrol station pull in and wait to be served. Fa di Te ( self service) has yet to arrive at this garage and in winter you are glad of it. The staff rely on the locals outside to alert them to a  customer and when a car, truck or tractor pulls in the call will go up “benzina” and out runs one of them to put the required amount in the car, return to the bar with the payment and then take the change back. A time and motion management guru would have a fit but hey that’s how they have always done it.

In summer the card players sit at the tables with four and six chairs, on lookers grab chairs or stand near the game they want to watch and nearest the petrol station sit non playing non spectator drinkers. That in the main is us.  So we get to watch the cars come and go . In summer we use the bar far more than in winter for obvious reasons and especially in hot spells like this week. So being nosey I watch the cars and see how much they put in. What becomes clear in this research is the number of vehicles that only put €5 or €10 in at any one time.

Now Italians use their cars all the time. They still shop by meal not by day and never by weekly shop. It is almost as if each meal comes as a huge surprise and they have to hot foot it off to the store to get it. ” Unbelievable it’s lunchtime again today  I hadn’t realised.  Must go to the shops” However they go to lots of shops to get the food. Bread from the favourite bakery, pork from one butcher, veal from another, chicken from a third, vegetables from a variety of local stores cheese from another. These are often stipulated by the husband and very often the meat buying is man’s business only. So mileage is high very high so the €5 or €10 injection of fuel into an empty tank hardly goes anywhere now. That means a return to the petrol station and my research reveals that loads and loads ( well I’m not going to count them there’s beer to be drunk !) come back every afternoon.

It is one of the reasons they don’t complain against the highest petrol prices in Europe bar Norway. It takes a long time for them to realise that they’re heading back to the petrol station every afternoon. We are now also entering August holiday time and the fuel price is heading north again as the petrol station owners prepare to make their annual killing by raising prices by about 15% for the period that millions of northerners head to Puglia for their summer holidays

Back Every Afternoon was the somewhat humorous moniker for BEA ( British European Airways) who I joined in 1971. It reflected the fact that being shorthaul the planes and the crews returned home everyday. BOAC was Better On A Camel and recently I was remained that the Caribbean airline LIAT was Leave Island Any Time to reflect their very poor time keeping. Richard Branson made mention of it when referring to this as the most humorous letter of complaint he had ever seen. Airline chiefs are very good at highlighting other airlines misfortunes of course.

In January 1971 as part of my training for reservations I was sent for a week to BEA customer relations who in those dim distant days answered letters from passengers. No e- mail or other electronic devices then just a bloody great sack or two of letters arriving every day, some praising but most criticizing the airlines performance. I sat with one of the clerks doing that job and did envelope opening as part of my in depth training. About the third letter I opened and laid in front of my trainer for the day  was from a passenger who was complaining about his treatment at Malta Airport. He was he wrote a wheelchair passenger and after being pushed from check in through passport control ( no security in those days) the kindly guy pushing noting it was a nice day had wheeled him down the ramp and onto the tarmac so he could sit in the sunshine. ‘ Back before you board’ he said cheerily and disappeared. The passenger sat and watched the work being done on his Vickers Vanguard aircraft as it completed its turnaround at Malta.

Soon he noticed that down a nearby ramp came a large group of passengers who made their way snake like out to the BEA aircraft and up the steps. Knowing that wheelchair passengers were normally boarded last he didn’t panic but looked around for his oh so friendly pusher. When the doors closed and the steps were pulled away he began to realise that things were not going to plan and so with his hand luggage on his lap he wrote in his letter that he began to shout and wheel his way towards the aircraft. The engines started in turn and the aircraft started to taxi away with him now in  hot  (literally as it was a summer day) pursuit . Still shouting he wheeled at Olympian pace after the aircraft along the taxiway until noticed by the ground engineer who then pursued him. My trainer and I were both in fits as we pictured this scene, the aircraft taxing, the wheelchair chasing and the ground engineer beginning to overhaul him. I think we sent him a £5 postal order and said as always we hoped to see him on another BEA flight in the very near future.

If you want to see my first airline job it’s in this video . Reservations West London Air Terminal.

Clever stuff that autoland. Only trouble was in thick fog the follow me car couldn’t find the aircraft and the plane couldn’t find the terminal !!


About hereinpuglia

Retired to Puglia after some 40 years in the travel industry working for P&O Lines, British Airways, Alamo rent-a-car,Abercrombie&Kent, owner of Quest Tours and Travel and finally with Thomas Cook North America. Married to Geraldine we now have a small house with too much land near the town of Martina Franca in Puglia. Two kids one married and living in Hong Kong and the other single and living in London. No dogs, no cats no animals.
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