Today's woodland talk was slightly different to the usual events I go to, since it was held in somebody's house instead of a village hall. I'd suggested to the organisers that I'd better arrive before the pre-talk refreshments, to set up the projector and screen and bring my things in, and in fact I was earlier than I needed to be, having allowed time for getting lost or not being able to find the house, and then finding that the house was exactly where Google maps said it would be. When I saw how many chairs were fitted into the sitting room I was very grateful to be putting up my screen and crawling around plugging in the extension cable before the room filled up with ladies holding cups of coffee. Apart from anything else, it was one of those rooms containing tables of family photographs and antique china, that we don't even attempt to have, since the cats would only destroy them (and anyway we would never dust them).
I had a strategic advantage over my hostess, in that I knew who she was. She comes to the music society concerts, and shops in the plant centre, and once when she was ordering a shrub I took down her name, which seemed oddly familiar, until later the penny dropped that she is a local councillor. On the other hand, she had no reason to know my name, so I thought it might be a surprise to her when I popped up on her doorstep. It was, but she bore it with equanimity.
She was ailing with a cold or flu that had struck that morning, but insisted to her friends that she was fit to carry on. Her husband already had it, and had retreated upstairs with the dog. The friend who had got me the booking arrived, and disappeared again after a few minutes on the grounds that due to family commitments she absolutely could not afford to risk catching the cold and/or flu, and that she had heard my talk before anyway. There were cries of sympathy, cries that our hostess should have cancelled, and instructions to go and lie down for half an hour, which were ignored.
I waited for them to be ready to start, while inspecting the titles in my hosts' bookcases and the tottering stacks of books piled next to the bookcases, which won my full approval. Colin Thubron, William Dalrymple, Lynn MacDonald, Beth Chatto. Travel in Asia, military history, gardening, fine art, natural history. All good stuff. I love looking at other people's bookcases. It would be rude to touch, but I read the spines.
The talk was fine, though I had to include ash dieback, which was depressing. I decided to cover it near the beginning, since it is so topical and otherwise would have been hanging over the rest of the talk in a great unspoken cloud, which meant I needed an extra image between slides 5 and 6, and the existing slides 6 to 32 inclusive all had to be renumbered. The Systems Administrator kindly fixed that for me earlier in the week. The only way of doing it I could think of would have been laboriously slow and error-prone.
After the talk came lunch, which I'd been invited to stay for and so did. Chicken casserole, salad, French bread. I am beginning to grasp that these are staples of middle class mass catering, since that's exactly what we're doing for the music society supper concert, albeit with a different chicken recipe. And a choice of puddings. People were friendly, and I was given two primroses for my garden and a generous donation for the charity. As gigs go it was definitely at the genteel end of the charity talks circuit, and beat flogging back up the A12 from south Essex in the middle of winter at ten at night, fortified with nothing but a cup of tea and a custard cream.