Intrepid Optimist is the place where I can share my stories; fact, fiction and thoughts from the past and present. It’s Written by myself for people who believe adventure knows no age
No one was happier than yours truly, to learn the Thomas Cook Travel Company is showing a profit when only a couple of years back it faced bankruptcy. For me, the very mention of the name Thomas Cook conjures up memories of exciting journeys and past continental and other international adventures.
Younger readers may not be aware that before the advent of plastic credit cards, the only way to travel was with cash, letters of credit or travellers cheques. For security, few would venture abroad without their Thomas Cook’s TCs safely secured in their underwear.
I still find myself drifting into nostalgia when I think of Thomas Cook; recalling their then indispensable service over the years. They were always there when needed: a 1970s romantic, farewell dinner in Paris’s famous restaurant in La Garde railway station; a lonely Italian border post in the Alps; a Greek customs check at dawn; being detained at San Marcos de Colón, in Panama and beating the currency changers at their own game on the Costa Rican border with Panama. Without my TC travellers cheques, these events could all have ended differently.
Their very name was synonymous with pre-war continental and international journeys, adventure, and luxurious lifestyles. Their services were required in Somerset Maugham’s curious tales of the Far East and their cheques were found useful in the novels of Agatha Christie, Olivia Manning, and Alan Furst, which I re-read when I am in a wistful mood for stories about pre-war, eastern Europe.
The company itself was founded in 1841 by Thomas Cook, a former Baptist preacher, who believed that most Victorian social problems were related to alcohol and that the lives of working people would be greatly improved if they drank less. He suggested that a special train be engaged to carry the temperance supporters of Leicester to a meeting in Loughborough. The idea was received with such enthusiasm that a train was subsequently arranged, and on 5 July 1841, some 500 passengers were transported in open carriages the princely distance of 12 miles and back for a shilling.
Cook organized his first tours to Europe in 1855 and to the United States in 1865. In 1871, the founder’s son John Mason became a partner and the name was changed to Thomas Cook and Son. In 1884, the British government asked Mason to organize an expeditionary force to relieve General Gordon in Khartoum but Gordon was killed before it managed to get there.
Since those days the company has changed hands several times and is presently owned by the German group, Karstadt, Quelle. Hopefully, in any event of future changes and takeovers, the iconic name, Thomas Cook will be permitted to live on.
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