Thursday, March 5, 2009

So near . . . and yet . . .

This is totally unimportant, in fact, I may be foolish to tell you this story as it's nothing more than a record of my stupidity.
Ah well, stupid I may be, but I'll also be generous. I'll sacrifice all my credibility in order to offer you a laugh.

I hadn't yet been to see Jill's new home in Clapham. True, she'd brought me the estate agent's particulars when they'd first received them (an ideal home on the top of a hill, with a view over London) but, since their move six weeks ago, there hadn't been an opportunity to visit. Jill wanted me to come . . . I very much wanted to go . . . yesterday was the first day that suited us both. Rupert and I would go over in the car and spend the morning admiring this new home in Vicarage Grove.

You'd think that anyone living in a city would be cosmopolitan. That they would be widely travelled, at least within the boundaries of their own city. I hate to admit it, but the sad fact remains that I'm as insular as any eighteenth-century rural villager. South of the river I'm lost. East of London I'm lost. North of London I'm unsure of my whereabouts . . . it's only a very small part of the capital that feels like home. I'd never been to Clapham. I wasn't even sure where Clapham was (other than knowing that it was south of the river and had a Junction). This was venturing into the unkown.

Well in advance, I took out my 'A to Z' and carefully mapped a route. It looked relatively simple. Straight over Chelsea Bridge and keep going. So it was that, on a lovely, sunny morning, we set off. Rupert was thrilled to be going out. He sat with his nose glued to the window as I drove down Sloane Street, around Sloane Square and made for the river. Having successfully reached the foreign territory of the southern bank, we headed for Clapham. The myriad railway lines that comprise the Junction passed over our heads. With my written directions wedged firmly between the steering wheel and the windscreen, I negotiated the various turns and, finally, found myself in the maze of narrow streets that comprise the Clapham 'Groves'. It's a fascinating area. None of the roads are straight. They wind around each other like an urban maze. Somewhat confusing for the visitor, but very attractive for the residents.

Jill had warned me that extensive drainage work was being undertaken in her area. For this reason, she told me, I wasn't to try to park in Vicarage Grove. Any of the side roads would do. Accordingly, I found a parking place off Vicarage Grove outside a church, put all my small change in the meter, and took Rupert out of the car. Only then did I make a very unpleasant discovery. All my anxiety had been focussed on not forgetting the presents, not forgetting the route, and not arriving late. Now, standing on the pavement, I realised with a considerable shock that a vital element to the success of the visit was missing . . . what I had forgotten was my address book. I had absolutely no idea as to which house in Vicarage Grove I was supposed to be visiting, nor had I brought Jill's 'phone number!

Standing on the pavement, I looked up and down the unfamiliar road. There was no sign of Jill . . . no sign of Abigail . . . theirs could have been any of the houses that lay behind the anonymous, closed doors. Desperately thinking back, I remembered that the picture on the estate agent's leaflet had shown a house up a flight of steps. This information was helpful as the houses on the left were all on the level, only those on the right were up steps. I only had one side of the road to explore. But, as I realised with growing dismay, if I made my way down the whole length of the road, enquiring at each house, the money I'd put in the meter would have long expired when I reached the end of my quest.

It was then that inspiration struck. Jill had told me not to park in Vicarage Grove on account of the sewage work. Sure enough, there was a deep trench in the middle of the narrow road and, down in the trench, a group of workmen was hard at work. Surely, I thought to myself, one of them would have noticed which house laid claim to an eighteen-month toddler? Carrying Rupert, I made my way to the trench. The workmen looked up at me, somewhat surprised to see a woman carrying a cat.
"Er . . . I'm so sorry to bother you," I said, "but you wouldn't happen to know which of these houses has a baby?"
Amused by my plight, but anxious to be helpful, they consulted with each other . . . finally, they pointed to a house a few yards away.
I thanked them profusely and mounted the steps.
Directly I'd rung the bell I knew that this was a mistake. From the other side of the door came the strident sound of a large dog barking . . . Jill had no dog. Rupert looked alarmed . . . I felt alarmed . . . hastily retreating down the steps, I apologised over my shoulder to the man who opened the door!
Back on the pavement, I was approached by one of the workmen. They'd just remembered, he said, it wasn't that house, it was the one next-door.
Once again I mounted the steps, once again I knocked on the door . . . and, joy of joys, this time the door opened to reveal the welcoming smiles of Jill and Abigail!
The workmen cheered, Rupert scrambled out of my arms and rushed indoors to explore. Full of relief, I followed him . . . to recover over tea and cakes in Jill's new sitting-room.

The moral of the story . . . always check where you are going before you leave home! Either that, or make sure you have a posse of helpful workmen on standby should you need help on arrival!

And yes, just in case you were wondering, I loved Jill's new home!