Oh, dear! What can the matter be?
In which Chris Parker is wrong several times, mislays some pensioners and takes on some tricksy technology but beats the British weather to have fun:
Our Friends Together groups and members from Tonbridge, Paddock Wood and Tunbridge Wells were all looking forward to a day out.
Back then, the end of May seemed reasonable: likely to be fairly warm, not too hot for our older members and – we hoped – dry.
Wrong, wrong and wrong again.
To be fair, the weather forecast app on my phone did say cloudy. It just failed to mention that those clouds were pitch black.
The closer we got to Portsmouth, the darker they became. The previous few weeks had been unseasonably warm; we had at least three ‘hottest days of the year so far’ weather reports,
Our lovely members were undaunted. A generation which coped with a war and extreme hardship in their younger years were not going to be put off by a bit of rain. It looked as if it would all be ok.
There was a minor panic when I mislaid two of them in the lavatories at Cobham services. Running up and down the cubicles calling their names produced no response. I eventually tracked them down in Marks and Spencer’s.
“Thought we’d just get a few bits while we were here, dear”
By the time we reached our first scheduled stop, Gunwharf Quays, the rain was pelting down and the wind had gone from ‘a bit chilly’ to ‘wish I’d worn my winter coat’. Still undeterred, my charges set off leaving me with a group of four, two in need of mobility scooters. Being an organised soul, I had checked this all out in advance: we’d walk just around the corner to the customer services where the scooters will be waiting.
“Sorry, madam: they have to be collected from the car park office on the lower ground floor.”
Now the whole point of ordering these was the people among us who couldn’t walk very far. Unsurprisingly, that includes ‘just at the other end and down the escalator’
As nobody was available to bring them up and I couldn’t collect two, one of the ladies volunteered to come with me so we’d each bring back a scooter. On the way down, we realised neither of us had ever driven one before. But pensioners drive them and we both drive cars: how hard can it be?
Actually it’s harder than you think. They work a bit like dodgem cars, well, they did for us anyway and it’s quite hard to get them into a lift.
The return at the end of the day was equally problematic: I ended up on the wrong car park level and when I tried to get to the right one the lift chose that very moment to break down. A passing car park employee came to my rescue just as I had decided to abandon the wretched machine. Quite a novel experience, but I think I may hang on a few years before I buy one.
Leaving Portsmouth, we traveled along the coast to Hayling Island for a planned tea stop at a beachside inn. In my mind, I had envisaged thirty two pensioners sitting in the sunshine enjoying an ice cream and the view over the Solent to Portsmouth Harbour with the Isle of Wight in the distance.
Back to earth, with a posse of pensioners in overcoats huddled inside the inn clutching hot drinks. No sign of the Isle of Wight. Even Portsmouth was only dimly visible through the rain.
Despite the weather, everyone seemed to have a good time. It would just have been so much better in sunshine. Now: where shall we go next?