Monday, 13 May 2013
When Fawlty Towers meets Driving Miss Daisy
Today was the first meeting of the small sub committee we have formed to organise next year's dinner, to celebrate Sir John Stanley's 40 years in Parliament.
We had agreed to meet at Hadlow Manor, one of those privately owned hotels which specialise in coach parties of peach-sucking grannies touring the Garden of England. I shall refer to my two co-organisers as Miss Malt and Mrs Birch, which will at least afford them some modicum of deniability - though both mentioned they looked forward to reading about the meeting on this blog!
Mrs Birch said she would pick me up, as the office is en route. She has a new car, having nagged the old one into submission. Hers was the only vehicle I have ever seen which had traded in its airbags for earplugs. She picked me up in West Malling car park. For some reason, despite 40% of the spaces being empty, Mrs Birch had parked blocking the roadway and the entrance to another car park used by local shop workers. "I don't like this new car, it doesn't move as fast as the old one and I can't even turn the radio off," were her opening remarks. I pressed the button with On/Off printed on it and off went the radio. "Oh, how did you do that?", she enquired, as she reversed into an oncoming Range Rover and missed the local pharmacist's Mercedes by millimetres. As she played pot luck with the gears and we bounced along the road, she repeated, "it doesn't go anywhere near as fast as my old one," for which I was grateful. It was like Driving Miss Daisy - but in this case Miss Daisy was behind the wheel.
Finally we arrived at Hadlow Manor and bounced to a halt. Miss Malt was waiting for us in the car park. There then followed a scene worthy of Fawlty Towers. We tried to get in through the front door, but it was locked. There was a sign reading, "Front Door Around the Side" and an arrow. We followed the pathway around the front of the old manor and down steps running horizontal with the restaurant, where a random collection of elderly tourists and local pensioners were finishing off their set lunch. The pathway ran into a brick wall. Faced with the indignity of retracing our steps with the rheumy-eyed diners watching us, we thought we'd brazen it out and pretend we intended to be there, having spotted a gap between three large potted shrubs which would take us towards the entrance. What we didn't spot was beyond the shrubs was a two foot drop. Quite what the diners thought of these two well dressed ladies of a certain age accompanied by a tall fat bloke, all trying to retain a modicum of dignity whilst clambering through bushes and navigating a 2 foot drop, we shall never know.
Once inside and hidden out of harms way with a pot of tea, we started on the menus which had been provided by Tonbridge School. Many of the dishes were quite adventurous - never a good thing when organising a Conservative dinner. As many readers who have organised such events will know, planning a menu for 250 is a challenge. It's not so much selecting what people will actually like, more a case of eliminating what cannot be served, and hoping there's something left worth having. Out went the lobster tails, prawns and scallops (allergies). We said goodbye to the seared chicken livers (too rich) and the gravadlaz (the old boys will confuse it with a Norwegian sea-port). The main courses fared no better. Steak (some like it pink others well done), chicken (dull), baked sea bass (bones), confit of duck (digestion). Even the Romney Salt Marsh Lamb caused concern due to dentures.
Then we faced the guest list, and in particular, who would participate in the proceedings. It was decided to be formal, with grace and a Loyal toast. "Do we have a friendly vicar?" "How about your Steve?" "He's a Socialist." "Oh, yes, that won't do." "How about (x)?" "Resigned over the gays." "What about (x) his father was a vicar?" "Not sure he actually believes in God." "Oh, does that matter in the Church of England these days...?"
Finally, we were all done and dusted and saying our goodbyes, and once again I was in the hands of Miss Daisy and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. As we travelled back to West Malling, I took a call. It was the future Mayor of Tunbridge Wells, phoning with a generous invitation to a celebratory lunch party at his home. As I was thanking him for his kindness, the air with filled with a string of shocking invective, which caught me and the caller by surprise. "Everything OK Mrs Birch?" I enquired. Apparently it was the man in the Audi behind - he was daring to flash as she wasn't driving fast enough. How dare he? 23 mph on a dual carriageway is fast enough for anyone ! Bloody cheek - if she was in her old car she would give him a run for his money!