I arrived at the church hall for last night's talk in good time, to find the car park filled to bursting with cars. If I'd turned in through the gates my only possible next move would have been to reverse out again on to the main road. Confused, I drove on past. Was I late to the talk? I was sure the organiser had said the meeting started at half past seven, not seven. I was also sure I remembered her remarking that most of the members walked there.
I hoped I'd find somewhere to pull over so that I could leave the car and walk up to the hall to find out what was going on, but the main road had double yellow lines all the way to the next traffic lights and nowhere obvious to turn round. I looped round the block, took another turn along Magdalen Street and back up to the church. The car park was still full of cars, but this time I was prepared and turned right into the opposite side street, worried briefly that it would be too narrow to turn round, found space to turn, and crawled back to the end of the road looking for somewhere to hover while I watched the car park.
By the time I could see the church I was so close to the end of the road I'd have blocked the junction if I'd stopped, and I found my only choice was to turn left, so did a second loop round the block, this time circumnavigating the St Botolph's roundabout, before approaching the church for the third time. I thought maybe I could park further down my side street, before spotting the no right turn sign and realising I shouldn't have been down there before. Instead I took the first left hand turning I came too, and was finally able to slow down enough to read the signs about the parking restrictions. Off at six, thank goodness.
I parked and walked up to the church, carrying my projector table and a trug of twigs as time was getting on. The car park was still full of cars but now with signs of human life, mainly women with small children. I did not think they were from the garden club. It was now ten minutes before the meeting was due to start. Beginning to feel distinctly rattled I rang the organiser once my phone, which I'd remembered to switch off before leaving home so that it wouldn't ring while I was talking, had finished taking what seemed like an age to boot itself up again.
The man who answered sounded suspicious when I asked for the organiser by name, then mellowed slightly when I asked if she was at her garden club. I explained that I was the speaker, and was confused by the church hall being full of children with no signs of a garden club. He seemed confused as well, and told me I was at the wrong church. I ought to be by a big white building. I protested that I was by a big white building, wondering where the hell I ought to be if not there and wishing that the organiser had confirmed by letter instead of doing everything by telephone.
At that moment a short, somewhat stout, elderly lady hove into view, and phone in hand I rushed towards her. Was she from the garden club? She was, and said the organiser was inside. I apologised to the organiser's husband who said it was all right, he had been able to hear our conversation. I went inside and found the hall still full of mothers and children, all chattering volubly in a foreign language. It was the Russians, explained my hosts, as if that were the most natural thing in the world. They have an evening club for the children. They're supposed to be out by seven but their idea of by seven is not the same as ours. They'll be gone in a minute.
The organiser came back with me to my car, managed to climb in over the rolled up projector screen to the passenger seat, and we drove back to the church, the organiser assuring me that it would all be fine as long as the Russians didn't have a feast day. They don't always remember to tell the garden club when they do, and then their meetings over-run, but it's their church. It can make it very awkward when the garden club has a speaker, especially if they've travelled a long way.
The car park was now magically empty except for one car. I set up my equipment, the audience drifted in at a relaxed pace, and we had a very pleasant evening. Or at least, several people said they enjoyed the talk, some took leaflets, nobody went to sleep, and I was cordially invited to their Open Gardens day in June. I wish they had warned me about the Russians, though.