24 OCTOBER 1958, Page 15

Consuming Interest

Value for Money


OFFHAND, I can think of only athree things which cost the same now as they did before the war : using a public con- venience, pulling the communi- cation cord in a train and membership of a motoring organisation. The third is the

only one for which you get more value for the same money.

The Automobile Association and the Royal Automobile Club still charge only two guineas a year and yet the services they provide are con- stantly being improved and increased. They are both non-profit-making organisations and there is very little, if any, of the two guineas which is not devoted to the well-being of members. There are very few services provided by one which are not also provided by. the other : the AA gives you its handbook free, in the RAC you have to buy it; the RAC gives courses of initial training off the road for learner motor-cyclists, the AA doesn't. The AA has a larger membership and so a larger revenue; its services are therefore more thorough and widespread. The RAC is the controlling authority for all types of motor sport and competition in Britain and the Common- wealth; it also has an excellent club in Pall Mall (swimming pool, Turkish baths, squash courts, billiard room for a surprisingly low membership fee—fourteen guineas) and a country club near Epsom (golf, swimming and tennis).

For two guineas, the ordinary member of either organisation gets these services among others: road patrols, radio patrols and 1,400 tele- phone boxes (keys issued to members a either organisation fit both AA and RA Q boxes); a free home touring service and a foreign touring service which, for a three-guinea fee, provides routes, town plans, passports, visas, customs and other documents; free legal advice and repre- sentation; a road weather service giving details of roads affected by snow, ice, floods or fog; and a breakdown service which operates at home and abroad (the AA recently got a replacement wind- screen to a member who was stranded in Moscow).

Both organisations are members of the Roads Campaign Council which campaigns for more and better roads, and a Joint Standing Com- mittee of the AA, RAC and Royal Scottish Automobile Association watches all legislation and resists proposals which it feels are contrary to the interests of motorists.

Hotel appointments are made by the AA, RAC and RSAC jointly and are listed in the hand- books of the three organisations. There is scope here, 1 feel, for them to help in raising standards. So far they have argued that their job is to look after motorists, not gourmets. But, as a very large part of their handbook is devoted to listing and classifying hotels and restaurants, they might consider the public-relations advantages (at least) of going to more trouble with classifications and recommendations than they do. Classification is by stars (one to five), but they make it very clear that 'the definitions are intended rather to indi- cate the type Of hotel which Members may expect to find than to show degrees of merit.' Recently, they made a small advance in the right direction by awarding rosettes to hotels 'where the food and restaurant facilities are considered to be of a higher standard than the classification implies.' Four thousand three hundred hotels are listed and fifty-seven have been awarded rosettes.

A large proportion of members of the AA and RAC are ordinary motorists who neither know nor care about the mechanics of a car, and it is to these that the motoring organisations, with their experience, facilities, courtesy and efficiency, offer most. As one official put it to me, with the candour of a man who knows how little two guineas is usually worth, 'if you have a car and are not a member of a motoring organisation, you're a mug.'

I HAVE had occasion several times recently to use an all-Pullman-car train, The Bournembuth Belle,' and I regret to have to report that its standards are deplorably low—compared even to BR restaurant cars. Only last month the two vegetables described on the menu as 'seasonal' turned out to be tinned peas and tinned celery— in England! in September! What's seasonal about tins? Tinned peaches with something nasty was the pudding on another occasion, at a time when English fruit-growers were complaining that they cannot sell their apples and pears.

Rejecting tinned vegetables in favour of salad, I was offered either dark-brown malt vinegar or bottled mock-mayonnaise with which to dress it.

'No, sir, we never carry olive oil,' the steward said. According to the General Manager of the Pullman Car Company, 'limited accommodation also dictates such aspects of our catering as the provision of sauces, dressings, etc.' The ordinary BR restaurant cars manage the additional burden of a bottle of olive oil without having to put on an extra engine—or the Pullman Company's sur- charge.

I will not depress you with a list of the cheap, low-grade cheeses offered, a description of the flannelly bread, with, at my most recent lun- cheon on the 'Belle,' no butter to put on it until the cheese came round (in the ordinary restaurant-car trains it is available before every course). But what really shocked me was the sight of a wine-list on which every wine—and they are only modest district wines, such as Fleurie and St. Emilion—is £1 a bottle, 6s. a quarter. This is dearer than a carafe of wine at the Ritz: are we all supposed to subsist on expense accounts?

Ordinary BR restaurant cars offer decent Com- monwealth and Spanish wines at 10s. 6d. a bottle, 3s. a quarter—wines every bit as good as those in 'The Bournemouth Belle' at 13s.; and named growths of the Medoc—Château Palmer or Château Talbot, of very good years, 1952 and 1953—at us. 6d.

Let me not be mealy-mouthed : the wine prices on the Pullman cars are a piece of impudence. These are wines that can be bought retail at 10s. a bottle and less, and if the company is paying more than 7s. it ought to have its corporate head examined. The catering manager's answer to this charge, that cheaper wine 'doesn't travel,' shows an astonishing ignorance of wine—nor does it explain how wines travel any better by bringing in 200 per cent. profit.

Telly trivia (continued). A South Kensington radio shop offers a TV table model 'with consolette legs, optional extra.'