By now both phones were ringing furiously. One third of the calls were people telling us what we already knew. Another third were people telling us their views on what we already knew. And the final third were people telling us what we should say if anyone asked us what we knew. It was amazing that the everyone seemed to have a view on something none of us knew was happening 30 minutes earlier.
What we did know was that various TV news channels were by now aware that the Rochester & Strood Association Chairman was on a canal boat, knew the name of the boat (they had phoned the hire company) and also knew from my innocent Tweet that we were just 30 minutes outside Birmingham City Centre. A tip-off told us TV crews were waiting for us on the sharp bend by The Mailbox; an ideal spot to shout questions or even worse film a navigation horror as one of us fell in or crashed into the bank by over steering. I suggested that Andrew and I should stay inside the boat until we were fully briefed and left Steve and Nancy to steer. This worked well as both are experienced boaters, but did result in two absurdities. Firstly, Steve wasn't sure where our mooring was which resulted in me sitting out of sight on the engine room floor giving directions whilst peeping through Nancy Mackness's legs. Meanwhile, inside, Andrew was naturally curious to see what was happening outside and peeped through a slit in the curtains coming face to face with a Meridian News cameraman staring back. Both were so surprised to see each other than the camera man didn't get his shot!
What followed of the coming hours and days must remain between those who have a need to know, but I remain hugely grateful to a small cadre of friends who were always there at the end of a long day of meetings and discussions, with a seat at their restaurant table and several large glasses of wine to help me relax. They know who they are.
It was not all work, though I didn't actually see inside the main conference hall until the Prime Minister's speech on Wednesday. But here are some of my person non-political highlights from Birmingham 2014.
- The West Kent Reception: Now in it's fourth year and the best attended yet (apart from the five guests who for some strange reason went to the venue we used two years ago then complained they couldn't find us). This year we were in the courtyard of Hotel du Vin and as well as a delicious tea we heard from Greg Clark MP, William Rutherford and National Vice President, Steve Bell.
- Finding a very quiet storeroom hidden away where I could work in peace, then returning late the following night to draft a letter which was being emailed to members only to find it occupied by two amorous CF-ers. I was thankful I hadn't arrived 10 minutes later, as I suspect were they!
- Being told the Regional Chairman would give me a name-check at the South East & London Regional Reception so people could collect a contact card from me to offer help with campaign support only to arrive and find myself locked out as the room was at capacity. I then heard through a firmly closed door, "Andrew Kennedy will be issuing contact details - give a waive Andrew....where is he, Andrew.....???"
- At the above reception finding many 'great and good' also excluded due to lack of space, including Sir Nicholas Soames MP and Vice President of the National Convention, Steve Bell - plus many others who accepted their fete without complaint. Then hearing the distinctive voice of a local County Councillor shouting at the security guard, "this is a disgrace, don't you know who I am?" I only wish the guard had replied, "your name is printed on your pass if you have forgotten."
- Finding myself at a breakfast table with Lord Ashcroft, Richard Ashworth MEP and Steve Bell and being asked to sing "Happy Birthday to You" to Theresa May. At 7.45am. Which was almost as odd as being in the lift at the Hyatt Regency and the lift stopping for a pink suited Christopher Biggins. I avoided the temptation to say "So far-e so goodie" (giving my age away).