Return Ticket Home

Thanks to Philip for sharing this with us all, Get a drink sit back relax and have a good read.

The book was published in 2014 and can be found on Amazon HERE

I have been following your blog and recently returned from Madeira – thought your subscribers might like to read the attached extract from my book ‘Return ticket Home’ – kind regards Philip Morrell.

The Garden Isle

As back of the neck hair-raising flight approaches and landings go, few could surpass that of the old Kai Tak (Hong Kong) airport for knee trembling trepidation, but in the late sixties and early seventies there was one runway approach (and landing) that was, for pilots and passengers alike much, much scarier. Prior to the construction of the original runway at Funchal on the Island of Madeira, the only way of getting there was by domestic flight from Lisbon to the neighbouring island of Porto Santo to be followed by a two-hour small ferry boat voyage to Funchal and having made that stomach churning crossing myself, I can now well understand how earlier this bit of rough sea came to be the chosen location for the film ‘Moby Dick’.  After the war though there were altogether more leisurely and arguably more exciting ways to get to the island, especially so for the well heeled traveller. For those in a hurry there was of course always the Southampton (Solent) to Funchal via Lisbon flying boat service, but this was always subject to prevailing sea conditions, but for the leisured classes and with time on their hands, trunks galore and intent on a winter away from Britain, nothing could beat a passage on one of the regular Union Castle liners that stopped off in Funchal en-route on its run to Cape. The hotel then de rigueur – was most certainly Reids – then run by the Union Castle line themselves, where the crème de la crème of British society could always be found lulling the time away on the hotel’s many verandahs including such luminaries as George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill who could sometimes be spotted with his board and easel painting the lush verdant surroundings. For me coming from a grey London, starry-eyed – this was real travel and a real destination that somehow echoed the experience on my unsanctioned passage on the ‘Train Bleu’ in 1965 – themselves summing up for me what might loosely be referred as the ‘Golden Age’ of travel where the getting there was every bit as alluring as the destination itself.

I had been campaigning in the Thomson’s Waring & Gillows offices, in fact I had organised an action committee together with fellow sympathizers, this to convince the then foot-dragging guys and girls in marketing that Madeira was indeed a destination that the Thomson should feature in its brochures and that was why in 1969, I was now on my way to the island. Not that the operations department of Britannia Airways felt in anyway inclined to even consider flying there, and what is more they did not even have the right equipment, since it was then only the Boeing 727 with its superb reverse thrust braking system that could manage the feat of landing on the runway.  There was though one airline at the time in the UK that did have 727s and it was Dan Air, who seemingly from what could recall would go where no other airline would even dare – such we would lazily refer to them as ‘Dan Dare’ after the heroic cartoon character and it was Dan Air who I had in mind to undertake the flying arrangements to Funchal.  Incidentally, Dan Air was also later to pioneer the Thomson flights to both Cairo and Tel Aviv – landing rights that are no longer available to charter carriers.

If the Portuguese military should have had an aircraft-carrier within their arsenal, one possible use could have been for pilot approach/landing simulation training into Funchal – but they didn’t, and the next best thing was to assign instead especially trained ex-military pilots to the national carrier TAP. In some important respects Funchal runway indeed presented pilots with some of the same very real challenges that came with landing an aircraft on aircraft-carrier, but unlike an aircraft-carrier the Funchal runway was without the re-assuring benefit of an arresting wire system. Due to the complete lack of flat ground on the island, the runway at Funchal had quite literally been cut into the side of a mountain; it was extremely short and had a fathomless sea at either end and had just about two hundred meters of wing clearance from the sheer mountainside that ran the length of the runway. To complicate matters further, the runaway had a pronounced upward slope at one end and prone to that most fearsome aspect of flying – wind-sheer, the flight approach and eventual landing would usually be preceded by a fly pass of the runway, I likened this maneuvered to a kind of victory roll with the pilot perhaps just making darn sure that us passengers fully understand the precariousness of what he was about to attempt while we meanwhile held onto our seat rests for dear life.

The Madeiran Tourist Authorities had put me up at the Santa Isabel Hotel which before it was later demolished was located opposite the Sheraton and close to the Savoy hotel. The hotel was owned by a certain Jaime Enrique Welsh ‘Jimmy’ – who I was to later to meet in the Santa Isabel’s bar. At the time of my visit, Jimmy advised me that the average Santa Isabel hotel guest stay was no less than three months – with his mostly elderly guests having in the main arrived in Madeira by passenger liner from Southampton to escape the harshness of the European winter. This though was at a time when travel was in a state of flux when the aircraft was taking over from the ocean liners as the preferred mode of travel and besides which his elderly guests were quite literally dying out.  The bottom line being that Jimmy could no longer count on his erstwhile long stay guests to fill his hotel and that it why he was now keen to meet me and besides which all the hotels were mostly empty in the summer when Thomson was intending to operate.

As with any good story of island intrigue, here too Madeira were all the main ingredients, there were to be two main competing family businesses, the Blandy’s who had controlled most of the shipping and wine as well as the famous ‘Reids’ Hotel and then there were the Hinton’s who controlled the sugar industry and much else. The businesses were in fierce rivalry and often in commercial and personal conflict though to some extent in an island context they also depended on each other. William Hinton was an Englishman and although born in Naples in 1817 he had originally haled from Greenhill House the family’s Wiltshire family seat and country estate.  Following his studies at Oxford the young William Hinton for health and other reasons had in 1837 landed in Madeira where having met and then married Mary Wallas, (the daughter of a rich local merchant and sugar mill owner-  Robert Wallas) was to make his fortune on the back of the then-burgeoning Island sugar industry and in particular from the sugar cane mill in Funchal on the very spot where later Harry Hinton his son eventually established his own and this time steam-driven sugar mill which soon out-performed all the competition. In no time at all Harry Hinton had completely transformed the original Wallas business such Hinton’s were to practically control the whole of the island’s sugar industry. Under Harry’s management the business grew to also include the importation of fuel to the island and automobiles as well as acquiring vast tracks of savanna land in Angola and Mozambique for yet more sugar plantations and factories – ‘Harry’ was it seems more than just an industrialist he was a buccaneering adventurer as well.

Perhaps it was his innate ‘Boys Own’ lust for an adventure why having forsaken any concern for the fact that the first Boer War was then at its height, that Harry had accepted an invitation to accompany a friend on his steam yacht for a six-month voyage around the South African coastline. Once having reached Cape Town Harry repaired to his hotel, where he found a note awaiting him, the import of which was that someone was waiting to meet him on the hotel’s veranda, which from his vantage point he could see was a rather old, disheveled man sporting an exceptionally long white beard. ‘Harry’ the man exclaimed having now been approached and in somewhat Livingstone cum Stanley moment announced, I’m Cecil, your brother’ – Harry had last seen Cecil forty years earlier and had long disappeared from his memory, where he remembered he had then left the family home and gone to Africa to seek his fortune. On parting and having casually taken in Cecil’s rather down at heel appearance, thought that he should at the very minimum ask his re-found brother if he should be wanting of any money. With this suggestion Cecil had taken great exception – ‘who do you think I am’ he retorted and promptly dug deep into pockets to reveal bountiful quantities, banknotes, diamonds, silver, and gold – this he told Harry had been given to him by his associate the legendary mining magnate, railway builder, and politician Cecil Rhodes.

Harry never saw Cecil again and in fact, shortly after returning to Madeira word reached him that Cecil had died. Harry besides all his many other interests in Madeira had also invested in the construction of the Benguela Railway that ran from Lobito on the Angolan Atlantic coast until it eventually connected with the Zambian Railway system.  Harry’s Angolan sugar plantations were so vast they amounted to a measurable amount of real estate even by reference to a child’s atlas and he had his own private railway carriage to take him and his family into the interior.  This was as Jimmy had told me, the journey he had been taken on for his 21st birthday and all this was to be his on the inheritance bequeathed to him by his grandfather. Harry Hinton is perhaps best remembered in Portugal for having introduced association football to the country in 1875 – with Christiano Ronaldo in being from Madeira a particular beneficiary with whom I had the slightest of connections when on an aircraft travelling back once from Johannesburg, Christiano Ronaldo was to graciously offer up his seat so that my son could sit next to me.  Harry together with Harvey Foster a famous racing car driver had introduced the first motor car to the Island in 1904 (a Wolsey) and some years later Harry could be seen driving around in a convertible Mercedes (one of only ten ever made) that looked suspiciously like the one that Hitler was later seen in, which the Portuguese state were offered every time there was a visiting head of state – which is now in a museum in Funchal.

It was then to be this very same ‘William Hinton Limitada’ that Jimmy Welsh had come to inherit though I could never quite work out why Jimmy’s surname was not Hinton and I was always too sensitive to subsequently ask. Jimmy had the finest education that money could buy having started at a suitable prep school he was to go onto Eton, Cambridge and finally to the Sorbonne in Paris having previously studied architecture it was the building and designing of Santa Isabel Hotel which was to be his first project. I subconsciously contrasted my own more humble background with those of Jimmy’s rather more privileged up-bringing and education, yet he wore his status lightly and there were certainly no airs or graces about him – it appeared to me as if he were instead rejecting or was perhaps embarrassed by it and seldom offered to speak of it.  I had this lasting image in my mind of a picture I had once seen of a couple of ruffians standing next to some top-hatted and dress suited Eton boys – something that was meant to illustrate the class divide– which was something in real life I had done myself when at the Barnardos home in Windsor and being close to Eton – but the version, I remembered veered more towards taunting than wonderment. It was a strange juxtaposition of backgrounds, but it never got in the way of a life-long friendship

By 1969 the time of my visit, the sugar factories were still in full production yet were losing money by the bucketful and were in need government subsidies to keep them going otherwise thousands of the island’s cane growers would have been put out of business – though it was to be many years before Jimmy would receive a penny and when he eventually did, the authorities promptly sequestered the remaining factory, so that where both the Wallas and Hinton sugar mill had once stood now stands a community garden in the center of Funchal.  In possible anticipation of the further decline of the sugar business, Jimmy I now sensed wanted to be more involved in his first love which seemed to me to be ‘tourism’.  Jimmy’s parents by this time had retired and were then living at their lovely Quinta do Palmeira where they both indulged their passion intending the Quinta’s magnificent gardens and of all things, bookbinding such when I arrived on the island Jimmy was running the businesses. Jimmy was to go onto represent the whole Thomson operation throughout Portugal and after I had formed Voyages Jules Verne was to represent me as well – especially when I operated flights to the island that combined the ‘Garden Isle’ with the ‘High Atlas’ and Marrakech as well as guest lectured garden tours to the family home of Quinta do Palmeira within whose grounds Christopher Columbus had lodge not once but twice on his voyages of discovery to the New World. Jimmy had a valuable collection of first edition travel books mainly in reference to the Ancient Silk Route and Tibet, and on leaving Madeira he offered his favourite for me to read on the return flight home. It was a 1953 first edition of Heinrich Harrer’s ‘Seven Years in Tibet with a glowing introduction by Peter Fleming – and I couldn’t put that book down and I never to my lasting shame gave it back either.

I suppose my point in this narrative is a glossy attempt to explain how when forming Voyages Jules Verne, that my head was full of different ideas and influences and none more so than that gained from my first trip to Madeira in 1969 and that first meeting with Jimmy. The main difference of course between our two travel experiences being that I had just longed to have been on the Union-Castle liners and flying boats and observed them while in Barnardos from afar, but for Jimmy these were his regular commute to and from Eton. I remember for example Jimmy telling the story of how on one of these voyages from Funchal to Southampton he and other boys were royally and kindly entertained by Lady Clementine Churchill and her entourage in her private suite of cabins, but Jimmy thought nothing of it but for me it was all part of the rich tapestry of journeying rather than holidaying that I now wished to conjure with my take on Jules Verne’s ‘Voyages Extraordinaires’ (our ‘Great Journeys of the World). I had while at Thomson opened up the Central Asian Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva so now with my access into China it was natural that my first compositions should describe journeys across the Tian Shan – ‘Heavenly Mountains’, the Hindu Kush, the High Pamirs and the Tibetan Plateau to Lhasa, in fact I did try and unsuccessfully as it turned out to contact Herr Heinrich Harrer, this to escort one of these journeys given that at the time he was a consultant for Neckermann who in Germany were now marketing my products albeit as their own.

When opening Voyages Jules Verne for the first time, I was using the cash flow generated from the ‘Central Kingdom Express’ to cover the costs of opening the office, advertising, printing brochures and employing staff – but I needed £50,000 to satisfy the requirements of the Civil Aviation (ATOL) bond without which I couldn’t trade – so I went to the only person I knew who might have that kind of money and more importantly might lend it to me – and this was my friend Jimmy.

With cash in place and my bond application duly submitted, I was unexpectedly summoned to a full hearing where I was asked to bring along my legal representatives and accountants. When I got to the Kingsway offices, I was directed to a large room with booths in which sat reel to reel tape recorder operatives and before the proceeding commenced, I was to be cautioned that everything that I said would be noted and recorded. I was bewildered, all I wanted was a bond which was a bit of paper covered by Jimmy’s loan – but here I was faced with my very own version of the Nuremberg Trials – and for no apparent reason it seemed to me other than to off balance an aspiring entrant into the business of travel. It was this tussle with British small-minded bureaucracy that was to be a theme to dog and irk me throughout my career.

END

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