At the time Elizabeth R and I set forth on our hike northward from Big Ben, we assumed that getting to our restaurant in Islington would be our adventure for the day. We had no idea that getting back would be the real adventure. However, those events lay blissfully before us when we arrived at the Driver, flush with success from again competently navigating the streets of London, and eagerly awaiting our reward in the form of a cheerful dinner with our son and four of his friends.
Ben had told us that it had become a tradition among his friends that when one of their friend’s parents were in town, a dinner would be organized to include the parents and whichever of the group were available. I was particularly looking forward to this, as I had had the pleasure of being included in Ben’s birthday party the previous year when I was in England by myself. Best time I had had in years!
When one of your offspring decides to leave the nest in grand fashion by moving to a different
city state country, the pride that a parent feels during the upbeat hours of daylight is sometimes replaced with a sense of worry that sneaks in with the darkness. It is an irrational worry, like most sensations of that ilk are, and can usually be offset by withdrawals from the mental bank account of belief in your child that has accumulated over the years. Still, like any account, constant withdrawals without corresponding deposits will leave the account in an unhealthy state, which was why I so looked forward to tonight’s dinner. For even though I already had had ample opportunity during our stay in England to satisfy myself that all was well in this quarter, an upbeat social gathering with your progeny’s pals can be like winning the confidence lottery.
When adult children are on their own and thriving, irrational worries are all that remain! I vicariously follow Ben’s travels all over the map of Europe and the far East with only the slightest amount of worry (flying, as Shelley Berman used to say, is the safest way to fly) and a somewhat larger amount of pure envy. But when he is home and visiting friends in town, 8 miles or so away, I still can’t get to sleep until I’m sure he’s home. Go figure.
It didn’t take long for me to comprehend that the big winners at our gathering would be Elizabeth R and myself. Each of Ben’s friends were instantly welcoming and (even better) relaxed in our company. I had no feeling that we were there as the parents of one of the set, but rather were part of the set ourselves, though undoubtedly the most inactive part. Opinions circulated easily, and though proper respect to all was the order of the evening, no one escaped the needle when it was called for. With Rob and Kate occupying my attention at one end of the table, and Adrian and Andy doing the same for Elizabeth R at the other, Ben assumed the middle and deftly acted as master of ceremonies.
The only infinitesimal problem with a dinner for seven at a rectangular table is that conversation tends to become a little fragmented, so I wasn’t able to talk to Rob and Kate as much as I would have liked. Still, I was at the British end of the table, and I would have been happy listening to the multiplication tables or stock prices in an English accent. But of course Andy and Adrian were charming and funny and I enjoyed myself thoroughly, feeling right at home amid this cosmopolitan bunch despite being a retired grade school teacher from the boonies.
Perhaps If The Table Was Round, And Slowly Revolved, We Might Be Able To Converse With Everyone … No, Perhaps Not
The conversation, laughter, and (not to be overlooked) food blended together to create an evening almost timeless in nature. Almost timeless. Then, one of the young people had the presence of mind to ask, “does anyone know when the last train for Windsor leaves?”
The answer to that question was, in want of a better way to describe it, “Oh! Crap!” The last train for Windsor from Paddington Station was in the process of boarding. Amazingly, we old folks had turned the tables on the young, and suddenly it was their turn to fret about us. Instantly, five sets of smart phones were produced, and ten tapping thumbs produced the rhythm section for our band of banqueters. As nominal guests of honor, Elizabeth R and I simply looked at each other, shrugged, and enjoyed the entertainment. I had already come to the conclusion that, with friends such as these, Ben was in good hands. So how could we not be?
I was still basking in the afterglow of good fellowship and more lager than I am accustomed to ingest. That the last train from Paddington would have the audacity to leave without us simply did not compute. Frankly, I was in London with Ben and his friends,(and their smart phones) so all would be well, somehow. My Anglophilia really does get out of control sometimes.
Then Andy struck gold with his smart phone, announcing that there was one last train leaving from Victoria Station that we just might catch if we hustled. This really threw me. Six visits to Windsor/London, made me the ultimate authority on train travel between the two. I knew Paddington and Waterloo were the only two stations that would get us to Windsor. But I certainly wasn’t going to argue with Andy, not only a native but a native with a smart phone, so I went along, intrigued to find out where we were going to end up catching a train at Victoria Station. It certainly couldn’t be Windsor, but I was up for an adventure.
Because he was the only one in the group who lived in the vicinity of Victoria Station, and Ben still had the tab to settle, Andy drew the proverbial short straw and shouldered the obligation of protecting the parents. Actually, that does not do Andy justice – he insisted on being our shepherd and with that settled, everyone frantically hailed cabs. It’s somewhat amazing that we didn’t end up with five.
Now the real fun began! With Elizabeth R and I stowed safely where we should be, in the back of the cab and out of the way, Andy jumped into the front passenger seat and coached the driver through the streets of London like the coxswain of a crew team that he used to be. Over main streets, secondary streets, and (I swear) sidewalks, Andy urged the driver forward. Periodically checking his watch to assure himself that we were on pace, he praised the driver when things proceeded to his satisfaction, and diplomatically prodded him when the driver’s efforts were not up to scratch. In minutes, they became a team united in one purpose: get to Victoria Station as quickly as possible and unload Andy and his cargo.
In between his polite but insistent suggestions to the driver, Andy tried to reassure us with a worst case scenario.
“You’re more than welcome to stay at my flat,” he offered sincerely. “It would be fine, really. The cleaners have just been there, and I’ve plenty of room.”
The last thing Andy would need would be a pair of elderly squatters in his flat as he prepared for work the next day! We demurred, charmed and touched by his genuine offer, confident that the mad cab dash would get us there on time.
We sprinted (well, Andy sprinted, Elizabeth R and I attempted to draft in his wake with a fast shuffle) into Victoria Station knowing we had but two minutes to catch the last train. Andy occasionally peered back over his shoulder and implored us ever so gently to make haste. Then, a miracle occurred – the train was going to leave late! And that was a good thing because despite Andy’s patient coaching, it took me three attempts to figure out how to purchase tickets from a machine (what do you mean you don’t take cash – stupid machine!), and then sensing a soul crushing last minute defeat, Andy found a friendly security guard whom he convinced that he had been entrusted with a pair of doddering old fools who would never be able to board the train on time unless properly escorted, so would you please open that bloody gate and take them to their train! With that, Andy took his leave and we took our seats in our coach – where we sat for ten minutes until the train finally left.
And what d’ya know – the train was bound for Clapham Junction, at which point we would disembark and board another train for Windsor. This transfer option had been (obviously) way beyond my navigating capabilities. My only worry now was that I knew from previous experience that Clapham Junction was one of the largest London area stations, having at least 400 tracks, and I doubted our ability to locate the right one under such duress. The Windsor train was serenely waiting for us one track over, just about to leave. So we made it, in a train packed to the gills with other late night wayfarers. I guess we have become so utterly countrified that we are amazed that a train leaving London late on a weeknight would be standing room only.
The slightly longer walk back to the B&B from Windsor-Eton Riverside Station left time for reflection, and the thought that kept coming back to me was that I had had quite enough excitement for a while. Tomorrow would be different … I would do nothing! Not so for Elizabeth R, because she had a horseback ride through the Windsor Great Park scheduled, but I’m sure she would also find that soothing. After all, how much trouble can you get in riding horses?