My meticulous timing was thrown into disarray however when at 4pm I picked up a voicemail - a soft County Down voice informing me that it was David Trimble and he had "caught a somewhat earlier train and was about to arrive in Kent." 'Somewhat earlier' meant 90 minutes early. This created a problem. The Secretary of State for Communities (who was going to travel with him) was wandering around Charing Cross looking for the former First Minister, and the person who was lined-up to collect them both from the station was soaking in the bath signing Nessun Dorma, and completely unprepared for donning his chauffeur's hat. I dispatched Director of Paperclips in his clapped-out VW Golf to the station to pick up our guest with instructions to bring him back to West Kent Towers, whilst I threw around the Hoover and baked a cake.
Thirty minutes later the phone rang again. It was Lord Trimble. Apparently the train had "sailed through" Tonbridge Station, so he had alighted at the next stop, High Brooms. I hurriedly phoned Paperclips to divert him. Too late. He had parked the car at Tonbridge and was walking around the High Street searching for our guest (having left his phone in the car). After an age he returned my call. "I can't find him anywhere!". "That's because he's at High Brooms - drive quick as you can!" As Paperclips fought his way through rush hour traffic, Lord Trimble phoned again. He had got restless waiting, so had walked through an alleyway and was now unsure of his location. The situation was turning into a Carry On Film with Jon Botten in the role of Charles Hawtrey and the Agent playing Hattie Jacques. "Do you know where you now are, Lord Trimble?" I asked hopefully. He had no idea, but said he would call back. By this time Paperclips was back on the phone. He had arrived at High Brooms but couldn't find him. "That's because he has gone for a walk through an alleyway and he doesn't know where he is!"
Suddenly the absurdity of the situation struck me. I had a Secretary of State hanging around Charing Cross searching for the former First Minister of Northern Ireland. The said former First Minister and Nobel Prize winner (who, until recently, was high on the IRA's hit list) had already arrived in Kent and was now wandering all alone around various back alleyways in High Brooms, totally lost and carrying a heavy box of books, searching for a scruffy beardy bloke in ripped jeans driving a clapped-out Golf.
Finally, Lord Trimble phoned again. "I'm outside the High Brooms Dental Surgery" he said. "Don't move, we'll be there in two minutes."
All's well that ends well - and it was with a degree of relief when our guest arrived safely at West Kent Towers for coffee and a chat, before appearing in front of an audience of 100 guests in a neighbouring village, more of which later.