When the tyre was mended, I trotted back to tell people they could come and board the coach when they were ready. Some were relaxing in armchairs and quite reluctant to move at all.
Andrew was chatting to several of our party and telling some rather good jokes. His comic timing is splendid. While we were waiting for the last few arrivals, he said again that it had really helped him, that I had been calm and reassuring all the time. “It’s not what goes wrong that matters, you couldn’t help that,” I said. “It’s what you do to put it right, and you reacted in the best way possible. And what I find in these situations is how helpful people are. You don’t know how kind someone is until you need their help.”
He agreed with that. He had been struck by the garage mechanic immediately leaving his job and coming to help. “The thing is,” I added, ” Things may go awry, but they never go as wrong as your imagination thinks they can. There’s no point in looking ahead to the worst-case scenario, because it won’t happen. I’m very, very old and I’ve learned never to get upset about something I can’t help, as things always work out.”
“But you’re not very, very old!” he exclaimed. “Old” he added, “But not very very old.”
There was an intake of breath from the few people nearby. But Andrew had my measure. I was already laughing.
I have no idea how people know within a short time of meeting me that they can rib me something shocking, but they always do and I am teased by everyone. It makes me fall about, I love a joke at my own expense.
We stopped at the same motorway services on the road home and Andrew, who had developed a gung-ho attitude to life in the last few hours, parked in the same place as last time. We piled in and Pam asked, hopefully, if alcohol was sold anywhere on the premises. We all looked disappointed when were told the whole place was dry. So we ordered great plates of fish and chips instead.
The drive home was uneventful. Andrew, relaxed by now, chatted to me quite a lot of the way. He’d come into coach driving by chance, as he was an engineer with a good job and just fancied an extra challenge, so went for a HGV licence and then a coach-driver’s one. The coach company is based in the village where he lives and he started by helping them out as a relief driver. Now, he’s self-employed and does what he chooses – which is mostly to work very hard. But he doesn’t mind it, he explained, as he is under no obligation. He can always say no, though he usually doesn’t. He also drives a sugar beet lorry at harvest time, looks after his and his parents’ 2-acre garden and enjoys life. It didn’t sound as if there was room for a girl- or (perhaps) boyfriend in his life and he obviously genuinely enjoys the company of his parents – which was why he got on well with me, perhaps, I am very motherly.
We actually arrived back in Norwich at the time we had originally expected. I was home by 9.45 and the Sage greeted me at the door with a glass of wine.
I,LTV asked why we’d gone to H1ghgr0ve. Simply, a couple of people on the committee had been and recommended it. We applied in March 05 and at the time were told that it might be up to four years before we were offered a place. However, since there is such demand, Prince Charles decided to up the number of parties and they are booked in at 20-minute intervals all day, every week day, April to September. He makes no charge, the guides and shop assistants are volunteers and any donations and all profits on shop sales go to his charitable trust.
And the part of H1ghgr0ve that made me warm to him most? It was the front entrance. It’s a lovely, though unpretentious house and not in any way a stately home. There are plants growing up the house and they are left to roam as they will, though trimmed away from the windows. There is a five-barred gate opposite, which leads to fields and a view of the church spire of Tetbury. Outside the front door is a gravel drive with an oval piece of grass to drive around. In the centre is a huge and beautiful pot planted with flowers, but the grass has uneven edges and creeps into the gravel. It is so small and unfussy an entrance (though the front door is huge and tall) as to be almost disconcerting before it makes you smile.