Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.'The sleepy green shires have slipped away. We've left silage being cut and sheep being shorn. Our train with its creaky 'out-of-mothballs' carriages lurches through gentile suburbia, through Betjemin's 'metro land' and eventually after a number of jerky false stops, into Marylebone Station.
Mindful of The Gap, our feet meet solid ground again - a grimy platform encrusted with the muck of ages. The air is warm, foetid and fume-y. We are deafened by the din of throbbing diesel engines and the babble of strangers. We are travelers in a strange land.
To step off the train and onto London's streets is to step into a world of infinite possibility. I can forgive this city most things in exchange for the treasures it holds. I feel like a cat mewling at intangible and uncatchable birds from behind the glass of a window.
Today D. and I have a mission and there is no time to dip into galleries and museums and shops...we must go to the Royal Albert Hall where the WI are holding their AGM. We have a cup to collect. We must be on time. 14.22 precisely.
I drew the short straw and will go on stage to receive the cup and am seated on Row 1. D has a seat elsewhere - in the circle - where she, unlike me, is not be under the stern gaze of the Board of Trustees and where, if she doesn't want to clap or stand for a standing ovation - (which, it transpires, are quite popular) she won't have to. On best behaviour then....
We'd missed the morning session - no doubt our Shropshire Federation representative will send a report back about that. The afternoon began with our presentations. The Lady Denman cup was presented to a lovely lady from North Wales who had written a ghost story. She posed with her trophy - a large piece of silverware not dissimilar to the FA Cup. Now that is something to take home and show the gals. Big clap for her and cheers from the Clywd and Denbyshire ladies in the far distance.
My turn next. My cup, The Elizabeth Bell Trophy, is about the size of the average champagne glass. Of all the curious thoughts which go through one's head when really one should be concentrating on not tripping over is the vague recollection that champagne glasses were modeled on Marylin Munroe's breasts. Can anyone confirm this? It's a thought which preoccupies me later. Anyway, I blink in almost-disbelief. We've come all this way, rising at dawn, new frock, new hair, new shoes, blah-blah. For this? Ah well, it must be the thought that counts. A few inane grins for the camera - remembering to breathe in and present slenderest profile. Then down the steps and to my seat. The meeting continued.
The speakers were mostly entertaining. Eve Pollard, who made some particularly pertinent comments which the WI might like to heed; the man from Taylors Tea, Jonathan Wild who hardly mentioned his products at all; and Richard Stilgoe who spoke and then performed with some apprentices from The Orpheus Centre.
More talking and business and I'm losing the will to live - or at least behave myself in my front row seat.... Hoorah! At last it's time for the singing - or mumbling when it came to 'Land of My Fathers'. 'Jerusalem' raised the roof. It was our school song too so the words are familiar. (the ghostly voice of Miss Wallace the music mistress implores us to keep our hands by our sides and 'DON'T BREATHE YET GIRLS. WAIT... NOW!) And then 'The Queen' and we are free to hop and skip and jump out into the sunshine. Free at last. I have remembered to pick up the blessed cup from under the seat.
Oh dear. I don't think I'm a very good member do you? This is supposed to be a tremendous privilege and all I really want to do is Not Be There and be somewhere else instead. I won't bore you with a list but I'm thinking exhibitions, music, cashmere and a shoe shop on Marylebone High Street. Culture's fine and dandy but a girl needs to shop too.
Some 7 hours later we are back in Shropshire. The train trundled out of the city and we watched the ragged suburbs disappear in the gloaming and the sky turn dark through it's windows. A rosy sunset bodes well for tomorrow. It's been a long day - not particularly tiring because a lot of it has been spent sitting down and indoors. Regretfully, we've not seem much of London. How tantalizing it is to know there is so much to see and do left undone by us today.
It is nearly midnight as I drive back up the narrow lane to Trelystan. A few moths flutter in my headlights and a sole badger scuttles into the hedge as the pickup approaches. Half a moon is bright over my shoulder, a few clouds gib across its face. How still it is here. How quiet.
I offer up a short prayer to the god of lost opportunities. Here's to next time.
The cup was awarded for our entry in the 'One Step Further' competition. This was part of an initiative to promote healthy living. Members were asked to devise a walk (walking + healthy!) and produce an A4 leaflet describing it. Marton's 'Stapeley Hill Leg Stretcher' won first prize and its production was very much a team effort. It describes an 11 mile circular walk in Shropshire's Blue Remembered Hills - which I'm ashamed to say I have not yet walked. I am very familiar with it on paper though, where it appears nice and flat and easy. I think the real hills will come as a big surprise.