More text on the Iceland trip from Clive.
DREAM HOLIDAY FOR 80
Children whisked to Iceland on ‘Snowflake’ jet
WARM weather nearly ruined a magical white Christmas treat to see the ‘real’ Santa Claus for more than 80 children from Harpenden branch.
The children, all aged between 7 and 11, were whisked away to Iceland by Alpine Everest, the double-glazing and home freezer group of companies, which chartered its own ‘Snowflake Special’ Boeing 727 jet to give the children the most memorable Christmas present of their lives.
But, as excitement mounted among the children at Harpenden, rain was washing away Father Christmas’s carpet of snow. And when the long-range weather forecast predicted that rain had set in for the entire holiday prospects looked bleak.
However the organisers’ fears were needless. As the children scampered aboard the plane at Heathrow, snow was falling in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital, and by the time they landed at Keflavik airport it was almost six inches deep.
The young directors of Alpine-Everest became ‘Alpine Uncles’ on the 2,500 mile trip, which began early on the Tuesday before Christmas and ended in the early hours of Thursday morning.
Iceland’s Ambassador in London, Mr Niels Sigurdsson, helped make the trip possible by arranging to waive passport requirements for the children.
The highlight of the excursion was when Father Christmas appeared from behind a large rock as the children arrived at the city’s ski lodge for a party given by the Mayor of Reykjavik, Mr Geir Hallgrinsson. After the delicious traditional tea of hot chocolate and pancakes filled with cream, Father Christmas talked to the children, telling them about his mother and 12 brothers and then gave a present to each child from the bulging sack.
For many of the children, the prospect of staying in a hotel was just as exciting as seeing Santa.
‘I’ve never stayed in a hotel before’ said one little girl. ‘What’s it like? Come to think of it, I’ve never been on holiday before.’
All floors of the luxury Hotel Saga in Reykjavik were booked to accommodate the Harpenden children and their party. On Tuesday evening the adults were entertained at a reception where guests included the British Ambassador , the British Consul, the Mayor of Reykjavik, the Director of the National Theatre, the news editors of Iceland Television and radio, editors of five national Icelandic newspapers and, in ‘civvies’, Santa Claus – alias Omar Ragnarsson, a sports writer and children’s entertainer with Icelandic Television.
Most of the children were awake very early on Wednesday morning – one or two at 5.30. After breakfast, the party was taken by coach to the open-air swimming pool which is heated by the local hot springs. All of the country’s heating comes from the channelled springs and it was certainly a new experience for the children (and many brave adults!) to swim in the open air with the temperature at minus two degrees Centigrade.
After a sightseeing tour followed by lunch, the children were entertained at the National Theatre to ‘Nyjarsnottin’ – a playlet about ‘New Year’s Night’.
The people of Iceland took the Harpenden children to their hearts. Everywhere they went passers-by stopped to ask them how they were enjoying their holiday. In fact, one Icelandic businessman arrived at the airport on Wednesday evening with presents for each child from himself and friends.
The homeward flight of the ‘Snowflake Special’ was delayed for just over an hour because of thick snow and a raging blizzard.
It was not until nearly midnight that the children climbed on to the coaches for the journey back from Heathrow to Harpenden and most of them fell asleep immediately – completely exhausted after two days of non-stop excitement.
Photographers from most of the Fleet Street newspapers and one or two local newspapers went on the trip with the children.
The ‘Harpenden Free Press’ organised a competition for the children, giving prizes of £2, £1 and 50p for the three best written accounts of the trip.
Carole Adams (11) who won the first prize wrote: Iceland is a very different place from England. For instance, when we go swimming in England you just get changed and go into the pool, but in Iceland you have a shower with soap, then put on your swimming costume and walk across the snow in your bare feet to the swimming pool. This is to make sure that no one spreads germs to anyone else.’
Second prize-winner Paul Duncan (11) tells how he first heard about the trip. ‘One night as I lay quiet in my bed Sister came in and whispered a rather strange secret. She said that I was going to Iceland to see Father Christmas. Well, that was all I needed to stop me from going to sleep. I was more excited than you could possibly imagine. On the disappointing side it was such a long wait until the day came. Waiting all this time soon put me off the idea of going on an aeroplane, but somehow on the way I seemed to be all right.’
‘At the zoo there were lots of animals’, wrote Vivienne Webb, who won third prize. ‘Different birds, seals, penguins, polar bears, arctic foxes and an aquarium. While looking round we played snowballs.’
For the 66 children left behind at the branch, the two days were not dull. Pantomime trips and a swimming party in St Albans were laid on and the children were invited to other Christmas parties.
Alpine-Everest did not forget the children who were left behind either. They sent Mr Burn a cheque for £50 as a special gift for the benefit of the children who did not go to Iceland.
Neither does the story end there. The day after returning home, Harpenden choir made their annual visit to the Royal Lancaster Hotel to sing carols.
By sheer coincidence, Alpine-Everest were holding their Christmas lunch on the same day in the hotel.
The directors of the firm knew most of the children, of course, and decided to keep the party going for a few hours longer so they could hear the children singing. They therefore hired the rooms for longer than they had booked, and as a result the hotel sent Harpenden a cheque for £20 for the children.
As a personal thank-you, the hotel’s general manager served the children with turkey sandwiches and lemonade himself from a silver trolley.
GLORIOUS RIOT OF SNOW AND FUN IN ICELAND
A ROMP in the snow which would never have been possible if the weather forecasters’ gloomy predictions had been correct.
Only a few hours earlier these lucky children from Harpenden branch were standing in the unusually mild December weather at Heathrow Airport, waiting in anticipation for the trip of a life-time to Iceland.
They chased Santa Claus across the snow, tried their hands at tobogganing, fought snow battles and generally spent more time sitting down than standing up.
In fact the children became so excited playing in the snow that two of them lost a shoe. Luckily, the following day’s activities called for gumboots, and Alpine Everest, the company which paid for the trip, treated them to a new pair of shoes each when they were back at the branch.
The grown-ups were not left entirely unaffected by the seasonal spirit. More than one housefather was seen joining in the fun, and most of the 15 Fleet Street newspaper photographers who accompanied the children on the trip, could not resist the temptation to toboggan down the mountain quietly while the children were having tea.
A surprise meeting with the President of Iceland, Mr Kristjan Eldjarn, was the highlight of the trip for Mr J C Burn, Harpenden’s superintendent.
Mr Burn exchanged Rotary pennants with Mr Hoskuldur Olafsson, secretary of the Reykjavik Club.