Author : Mark Gorton
London’s High Court has been hearing how a dream timeshare holiday turned into a nightmare for two senior citizens.
In return for £15,000, Bob Plain, 83, and his wife Betty, 82, were promised a luxury fortnight break in the computer-generated splendour of aristocratic Victorian England. Instead, the elderly couple had to endure two working-class weeks at the height of World War II’s Nazi Blitz.
Mr Plain told the court that virtual tour operator Past Times had offered a low price and also tempted him with the promise of lavish gifts that never arrived. “They told me we’d have a holiday we’d never forget,” he said, “and they were right.”
According to their contract the Plains’ trip of a lifetime to 1840 should have seen them mingling at a Buck House garden party thrown by a young Queen Vic, and also given them the opportunity to meet dizzy daffodil loving poet, William Wordsworth. Other highlights included a hot-air balloon flight over the capital, a ride on a train powered by steam, and helping Rowland Hill invent the postage stamp.
All of this was to have been a gift from Mr Plain to his wife. “I wanted to surprise Betty,” he said, “and surprise her I did. But not in the way I had planned.”
The Plains’ journey downtime left them a century short. Instead of Victoria’s England the Past Times server sent them to Brick Lane, London, in October 1940. Here there were no palaces, poets, aristocrats, inventors, champagne or caviar – just sub-standard accommodation, ordinary people, dried milk and powdered eggs. And one of the most ruthless bombing campaigns in military history.
Mrs Plain, who is still being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, described how their holiday began. “Two of the houses next to our timeshare were blown to pieces during a midnight raid. There were dead bodies stinking underneath the rubble. And despite being almost 84 years old my Bob was arrested for being a Nazi spy and put in solitary confinement and given a beating. I’ll never go back there! Never!”
Server problems also meant that the Plains’ minds could not be withdrawn from this environment until their two weeks were up. In that time Mr Plain suffered severe bruising and lost 10 kilos in weight, while a shell-shocked Mrs Plain was committed to a local asylum. “My holiday was complete Bedlam,” she told reporters later.
Expert witness and top Oxford historian Professor Richard Fothergill stated that, in his opinion, there had been a material change to the couple’s holiday plans. “I have researched this period of 20th century history for many years,” he said, “and I have no doubt that the London Blitz is not the sort of thing any normal couple would deliberately choose to experience.”
Lawyers representing Past Times told the court that the server error that blitzed the Plains was a one in ten million accident. The Plains’ lawyers agree – they are seeking £10 million in damages. The hearing continues.