I have been away again, this time in the "Garden of England" - Kent as it is also known. I drove to my sister's house near Sittingbourne on Monday evening and arrived at about 10pm. She greeted me with a cup of tea, which was very welcome! Tuesday morning I was on parade at St Joseph's Convent Prep School in Gravesend. My morning cuppa was delivered to me by a charming Nun, who added a plate of biscuits with it. Now that is what I call service! This was a lovely school, we had a really superb day. The children were marvellous, the majority of them dressed as young Tudors. Their knowledge of Tudor life was remarkably good and they were keen to know more and I was happy to oblige. A rip-roaring jousting tournament was won by the ladies and I left after getting some great help from some of the lads. I was quite tired and would have loved to have just had a quiet evening not doing very much, but I was due at Leeds Castle for a banquet. I had been booked by the Leeds Castle people to entertain and walk around a corporate group from Unilever. I was due to be on site and ready to go at 7.45pm. I drove down from my sister's house so that I would definitely be ready and on parade by 7.15. I drove round to the Broomfield Road entrance that I had used back in February. It was closed with an automatic barrier, but with a buzz intercom that should, in theory, put me through to security. I buzzed it. Nothing. I buzzed it again. Nothing. I kept on buzzing it. Funnily enough nothing continued to happen. In frustration I turned the car around and drove round to the main entrance about a mile away. It was shut and appeared as though it would be all night. I had no other option but to return to the Broomfield Road entrance. Again I sat and buzzed and buzzed. Nothing. I phoned my sister and asked her if she could try some of the Leeds Castle people's numbers as my mobile was running short of credit. She phoned round but everything was on voice mail. By now it was getting close to 7.45pm. I was panicking. In desperation I knocked on the door of the gatehouse. A very nice man told me to buzz security. I pointed out to him that is exactly what I had been doing for over half an hour. He phoned security and discovered the entryphone system wasn't working! He let me in and I arrived at the main part of the castle. The Head Waiter/Man in Charge was waiting for me and looked a little harrassed. He said he had been expecting me by 7.30. I told him I had been here by 7.15 but just couldn't get in. Never mind. I changed in his office and was in the dining room as the guests got stuck into their soup. I had a ball, and I like to think the Unilever people did as well! I wandered around, chatting to people, shaking hands and being very Henry-esque. Greetings go particularly to Vinnie, originally from New Jersey, but now residing in Connetticut - he allowed me to speak to a friend of his in the USA on his mobile. Great fun! After meeting and greeting people from as far afield as Brazil, Singapore, Germany and Chester (eh?), I finished at around 10pm and headed back to my sisters. The first mile of the journey I had to reverse round the outside of the castle in pitch darkness. Not much fun.
Wednesday morning dawned bright. I was today at Wateringbury School in, believe it or not, Wateringbury near Maidstone. A really lovely school, the kids were lovely and the teachers, just delightful. We had a full and fun day, which finished with a wild and exciting jousting contest that the Gentlemen won - just! I packed up and drove up to my parents in Essex to collect a bed they had for my son James. After a quick bite to eat I was on my way at about 7pm. I got to the M25 and headed north. Bad move. Road works and car accidents. It took me nearly 2 hours to get to the M3. Finally the M3 was all mine and I shot down it to the A303. All was going well until I reached Stonehenge. I had to stop at a roundabout to let a car round and when I went to pull away the car was very sluggish, as though it was trying to drive in fourth gear (my car is an automatic). Eventually it seemed to sort itself out and I carried on. I stopped for a little fuel and a sandwich at the Esso station on top of the hill before you sweep down towards Meare. As I went to pull out, again it was sluggish. Then, on driving down the hill it kept jumping gears, from 1st to 4th and back again. Never once seeming to know which gear to stay in. On reaching the bottom and beginning another climb, it stuck in 1st gear and would not change up. The engine began over heating and I soon had to pull over in a lay by. It was pitch dark and thunder and fork lightning were searing across the night sky above me. The time was approximately 10pm. I tried to phone home. ARGH! I had forgotten to top up my credit! My mobile wouldn't let me dial anyone! I tried to call the RAC on their freephone number. Again, my mobile insisted I had to top up it's credit first. I couldn't. No credit card and no debit card. What could I do? The lights of Meare I could see in the distance, but they had to be about 2 miles away. There was no other light aside from the occasional sizzling lightning bolt. I phoned 999 and asked for the Police. As soon as they answered I apologised for wasting their time, and explained my situation. They were brilliant. They phoned the RAC for me and organised a rescue van. To cut a long story short I managed to get back home just short of midnight. I was exhausted. My car no longer works, and will be going on sale on Ebay this weekend. So if you fancy a bargain - stay tuned.
New booking today from a school in Cheltenham in Gloucestershire. Lovely. I am very glad to be back home.