A traveller’s tale - and lost luggage

BUSTLING BEACH COACH STATION...this high-summer 1962 shot shows the terminus at its busiest, a year

BUSTLING BEACH COACH STATION...this high-summer 1962 shot shows the terminus at its busiest, a year after it opened. The canopied railway platforms are still in place, three years after the line was axed. Picture: MERCURY LIBRARY - Credit: Archant

JERSEY in June sounded an attractive proposition in the coach company brochure so, never having visited the Channel Isles, we booked. But our anticipation became puzzled frustration when the strident brassy mambo ring of Mrs Peggotty’s phone awakened us dozing passengers on the first leg of our long holiday journey.

Her caller was a foreign-sounding woman reporting finding a suitcase, with our name and phone number on the luggage label, at Great Yarmouth’s Beach Coach Station...100 miles behind us.

We were confident that both our cases were in the luggage compartment of our Lowestoft-based Belle Coach but, when our driver checked, he found only one Peggotty case. How could this have happened? It was one of the many questions putting our minds in turmoil.

Then came the major poser: what to do next.

Let me return to the beginning. A taxi collected us from Peggotty’s Hut in Gorleston at 3am – yes, in the small hours! We first learned of this anti-social itinerary when we received the details from our holiday company too late for second thoughts.

As we alighted from the taxi in darkness, our Belle driver came to greet us and he and Mrs Peggotty went to the coach while I paid the cabbie and followed them. I assumed they had taken them.

We were the first passengers, gazing towards our drop-off point as we awaited our other two travelling companions on this first stage of our holiday. Once they were on board, we set off for Norwich. None of us spotted an unaccompanied case out there.

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When that phone call came, our immediate inclination was to abandon our holiday, staying on the coach to return to Yarmouth after our other passengers had disembarked at the Stevenage interchange for the transport taking them to catch the ferry at Poole.

That would have meant wasting hundreds of pounds, for no insurance company would entertain a claim that was obviously human error, so we carried on, wondering what was in the missing case and how well we could manage without its contents. Later, back in Yarmouth, our son collected the wayward case from coach station attendant Brian Geary and took it home.

Having failed O-level geography in the Fifties, I had not realised the Channel Isles were off France, not off England like the Isle of Wight, and the ferry took four hours, meaning we did not reach out hotel until the evening meal was imminent, about 14 hours after leaving Yarmouth.

It transpired that most items in the missing case were mine. A visit to a £1 shop replaced several of them, and we managed. I survived the week with only the shoes I was wearing and no sleeved jacket.

Teeth-cleaning was brisk because our electric toothbrush chargers were missing and replacements could not be bought separately. My electric shaver was an absentee, but cheap disposable razors prevented me from developing a trendy designer stubble.

Luckily all our medication was in the case we had with us. Other holidaymakers advised us not to have “him” and “her” cases in future but to spread everything.

Jersey? The weather was cool and far from beachy, but we strolled around the capital of St Helier and took buses to some of the tourist spots, including the infamous tunnels complex blasted out of rock during the wartime Nazi occupation.

So we were not sorry to leave – a voyage delayed by a rough English Channel causing the abandonment of one ferry sailing.

Consequently the next one, hours later, was packed and the sea was still rough. Then came the long drive back to Yarmouth.

We discussed the missing case scenario umpteen times, concluding that there was no way it had been inadvertently left between our taxi drop-off point and the parked coach: I would have bumped into it after paying the cabbie, we would have seen it even in the dark from the parked coach as we awaited our fellow passengers, and they would have spotted it or even tripped over it as they joined us on board.

So, we agreed, it must have stayed in the taxi boot, the driver heading off, later discovering the case and surreptitiously returning it to the coach station, leaving it as though it had been there all the time.

Back home, we went to the Yarmouth taxi firm, which showed us on screen the tracker record of all the vehicle’s journeys that night, from the pick-up at Peggotty’s Hut to the time the driver logged off. He never returned to the coach station or stopped there.

I still had doubts and, in an inspired moment, sought the help of the Yarmouth town centre community safety CCTV system, asking if our saga was filmed. Operations manager John Pond willingly trawled through hours of film recorded in those wee small hours – and cracked the problem.

Yes, you guessed it: it was my fault! I ought to have seen our case and picked it up as the taxi left, but I did not spot it in the dark, assuming it was already safely on the coach. And journalism tutors always instruct trainees: “Never assume!”

There, on film, was our taxi depositing us and departing at 3.28am, leaving the case standing near railings at the drop-off point. By 6.20am, in broad daylight, it was still there untouched, the label blowing in the breeze.

Eight minutes later a young woman read the label, probably the person who phoned us on the coach. As the coach station was still unmanned, she had to leave the case there. It was in full view of Nelson Road North and workers and children waiting for transport. Two or three people approached it but nobody moved it. At 9.27am it was taken into safe custody by Brian Geary.

So, for six hours, no-one reacted to it, apart from the kind woman who rang us on the coach.

We were lucky that in these days of awareness of terrorist activities that our case was not blown up as a suspicious object!

I was reminded of all this when I read in the Mercury recently that John Pond, a former police officer, had retired after serving in that Yarmouth CCTV control room for its entire 12-year existence, latterly monitoring 63 cameras recording round the clock non-stop.

As he assured me: “They’re not just for crime but are also there for safety and security.”

Thank you, John. They certainly helped to solve our mystery.