Only I can drive out to a Women’s institute meeting and have it resemble an expedition to the Antarctic. While the whole time being armed with an AA road map and a Sat Nav. You weren’t properly prepared? I hear you ask.
That’s where you’re wrong. I’m well prepared. This is the first time I’ve given a talk so I was over the top prepared. All my notes are neatly stacked in a nice clean blue folder. Books are piled on the table ready to be packed into the car. I’d asked my husband Andrew to charge the Sat Nav the night before so it would be ready. I’d printed out an AA map for back up. I seriously couldn’t have been better prepared. I allowed forty minutes for Andrew to arrive home and have dinner with me before heading off.
It should be born in mind that I have never been to this particular village in Oxfordshire before. But the map said it would only take 30 minutes. Of course, it is also November and the nights get dark earlier so I figured I should give myself a little longer. Andrew arrives home on time. We eat dinner on time and I have my car packed in time. I’m all ready to set off. Andrew fits the sat nav into my car and we see the battery is low. I feel the first stirrings of panic but quickly get them under control.
‘It’s fine,’ says Andrew. ‘As long as you keep it plugged in here it will work.’
He’s quite right of course and we set the postcode and wait for the GPS to pick up signal. Before long Sebastian the Sat Nav is telling me to take a sharp left. Off I go.
‘Hope it goes well,’ says Andrew.
I start the car and turn the headlights on full, for it is very dark in the village. We don’t have street lights.
‘Sharp left,’ says Sebastian, lighting up the interior of the car.
I travel through the lanes of my village with Sebastian as my guiding angel, although so far I know where I am going. I round the bend and Sebastian tells me to keep left. I reach the end of the village and go to take the bend.
‘Turn left, and then …’
Suddenly Sebastian loses his voice and the car is plunged into darkness. My heart almost stops and I feel myself come over all hot. I glance at the tom tom to see it has died. Oh no, this can’t be happening. ‘We’ve only just began’ comes onto the car radio. Talk about a psychic car. I pull into a layby where there are plenty of street lamps and fiddle with the lead to the Sat Nav. A minute later and it lights up again and I sigh with relief, only to find it has now lost its destination. I fiddle with the settings, find the set destination bit and type in the postcode except for some annoying reason the O keeps getting stuck. My heart is beating faster now and with shaking fingers I struggle to punch in the postcode. A few seconds later I am off again, perspiring a bit more but off never the less. But you know how it is. I have doubts that I have punched in the right postcode. I see a pub ahead and pull in sharply, sending my neat folder and all its papers flying. I’m beginning to get a bad feeling about this talk. A man lounges outside the pub and keeps giving me odd looks. I don’t believe this is happening. I fumble for my papers and attempt to discreetly lock the doors before studying the road map and punching in the postcode again. Now, my neck is tense and there is a mild thumping in my head. The Sat Nav set, I reverse out and continue my journey, careful to avoid any bumps that may disturb the Sat Nav connection. I get onto another country road without street lights and strain to see ahead as bright headlights blind me. I then hear a pitter patter on the roof of the car and then it begins to hail stone. This surely can’t be happening. I turn the windscreen wipers on full but I can’t see anything for the spray. My neck is getting tenser and my head is now banging away. I’m going to die on the way to a Women’s institute meeting. All for fifty quid plus travelling expenses. I’m not Lady Gaga am I? Why am I doing this? No one will care if I turn up or not.
‘Exit ahead,’ shouts Sebastian and I panic. I’m in the wrong lane. Oh no, what if I miss the exit? It could be miles before I can get off and then I will most certainly be late. I strain to see through my rear view mirror and indicate. I make it into the inside lane but can’t see through the mist. I indicate to take the exit and zoom dramatically into it when Sebastian shouts, ‘Take the exit.’
I zoom into a small country lane and find myself chugging through a flooded road while in fifth gear. Can it get any worse? This must be the road to the hall. Please God, let this be the road to the hall. It’s beginning to feel like the road to hell. I think I shall kill myself if it isn’t the road to the village. Ten minutes later and I’m still travelling down the country road. Sebastian is silent and I’m getting very nervous. I pass through a village, past a hall and a church and a pub and finally Sebastian says, ‘Take the motorway.’
What. I don’t want a motorway do I? But before I know it, that’s where I am. I’ve gone round in a circle and I’m back where I was fifteen minutes before. Perhaps it is the next exit.
‘Exit ahead,’ shouts Sebastian.
Please let this be the right one. I take the exit and breathe a sigh of relief.
‘Continue for …’
The car is thrown into darkness and Sebastian dies. Oh no, I’m in the middle of nowhere. No street lights, no people and now no Sat Nav. It’s pouring with rain and the wind is howling around me. I’m beginning to wish I’d bought a little panic alarm. I fiddle with the lead of the Sat Nav and thank fully it lights up. I take a chance it is still set to the destination and continue on. I then realise I am passing the same hall, the same church and the same pub. Oh what! Right that’s it. I turn around sharply and turn back to the village hall. This must be it. On entering I see several ladies doing Zumba. Unless this is the kind of thing they do at The Women’s Institute these days, which I very much doubt, then this is the wrong hall. My heart sinks and my head thumps even more. I won’t be able to talk if things get much worse.
‘Hello, can we help?’ asks a lady.
‘A Valium and a darkened room would be nice,’ I want to say, but instead show her my little map.
‘Where is this?’ I ask.
‘Do you know the pub?’ she asks.
Oh, very well. In fact I’m seriously thinking of spending the evening there.
‘Go back past the pub and onto the main road.’
Oh no, not again.
‘The second exit is the one you need. You can’t miss it.’
Want to bet?
I climb miserably back into my car and see I have five minutes if I am going to make it in time. I drive back to the main road and the pouring rain and take the second exit. And there is the village. I could cry. I make it dead on the dot of eight o’clock. I did consider asking for damage money but I couldn’t bear telling them why.