Have you ever, in hindsight, realized that just perhaps you might have acted a little foolishly? It is an affliction to which I am sadly prone. It happened on a recent whirlwind visit to England, wherein I touched on London, Dorset, Somerset and Oxfordshire.
Due to shamelessly stealing my husband’s air miles, my route took me via Amsterdam. Dawdling between frenzied travellers, I took a photo of plump wheels of Gouda, and one of tulips, jaunty in dozens of buckets. I was definitely in The Netherlands. It was in the multifarious halls of Schiphol Airport that my carefully laid plans went awry.
Needing sustenance I waited patiently behind a gaggle of tittering teenagers, only to be told my credit card could not be used due to the dedicated line not working. Breaking my own rule, I sauntered into the coffee establishment with the green logo. The same problem. All credit card machines at Schiphol were down. Really? Heading for the nearest ATM, I begrudgingly withdrew a handful of euros for coffee.
A two hour connection to London was delayed due to a burst tyre, then a strike and floods in Paris. Refreshments vouchers were doled out. I needn’t have withdrawn cash after all.
Arriving finally in London after a seven hour delay I watched the carousel go around and around and around. Only my luggage wasn’t on it. I never board a plane without spare knickers, a tee-shirt and my computer in my carry-on, but my preferred travel attire is informal – without resorting to exercise wear. KLM admitted I was not suitably dressed for a meeting the following morning, and so agreed I would be reimbursed for ‘necessary’ purchases. Clothing issues resolved, and with the promise of luggage by noon, I relaxed. Foolish, foolish woman!
My interviews, deep in the bowels of the London Silver Vaults on Chancery Lane, went well – one with a dapper and sprightly 80 year old dealer, and one with the only woman proprietor, a bubbly blonde with purple glasses. Then lunch with the lovely Laura (author of An Inconvenient Posting laurajstephens.com), before I was to collect my son’s car and drive to Dorset, missing the weekend exodus.
Have you noticed that life rarely runs to plan? I loitered around my Paddington hotel, discussing world politics with the Romanian receptionist – a rather attractive chap with firm views and a slight lisp, until 8:30pm when my suitcase was actually delivered. Taxi to Bond Street, tube to Stanmore, taxi to son’s abode (he still being offshore).
I called the pub to tell them I’d be late. Not to worry, I was assured, the door will be unlocked. Room 6, end of the chalets. I relaxed. I was on my way. I had missed rush hour, missed the disgorgement of London on a Friday evening, things were improving.
Foolish, foolish woman. The London Orbital, the infamous M25, was closed for roadworks between the junctions I needed. And the M3, the same. Finally, after a number of wrong turns and a certain amount of ill humour, lightened somewhat by sighting two badgers, I reached Horsington at 1:15. The Half Moon Inn was however nowhere to be found. Half moon – I wish. Do you know how dark Dorset is at night? I finally found a young man in black, wandering along a country lane with a torch. I confessed to utter lostdom. Giving succinct directions in a deep mellifluous voice, he waved away my apologies for not offering him a lift on account of the fact I would never find my way back.
And there it was. The Half Moon Inn. In a 2 am darkness. But not to worry, the door would be unlocked. I relaxed at the thought of a shower and bed. Foolish, foolish woman.
The door to number 6 did not open. Silly me, I must have misheard. I’ll try 5. Then 7. Maybe they meant the other block of chalets. I’ll try 10, 9, 8. Yes, 8 opened. I was a little surprised, considering it was summer, to see a heavy draught-excluder curtain blocking my entry. And then they came. Three very loud and pugnacious woofs from a dog that must have been a Mastiff, or maybe a Great Dane. Had I been in Devon it would surely have been the Hound of the Baskervilles.
It was at this stage I lost my presence of mind, and swore, apologized and hastily shut the door, retreating in jet-lagged defeat to doze in the car.
In deepest, darkest Dorset, there are no petrol stations – ergo, no loos. As dawn peeked over the hedgerows and birds started clearing their throats, desperation mounted. A robust upbringing has bred freedom of fear with regard lavatorial needs, and a suitable bush was found. Bored, and with gritty eyes, I walked to the duck pond – the one I had passed many times in the dark. A golden haze bathed the countryside as birds and delivery men started their day. It was time to wake the publican and demand entrance.
Relaying my night’s adventures the next day to my husband, safe in Houston, he remarked I would have been shot had I tried the doors of rooms 5, 7, 10, 9 and 8 in Texas.
But this is England, I reminded him!