So this was the beginning of a week that would test my powers of endurance, the suspension of my new car and the limits of my bank balance. It all began so innocently! I have a very dear old friend called Andy Blundell who I know from way back when we were pub buddies back in deepest darkest Essex and The Hoop Pub in Stock near Billericay. I had not seen Andy since 1997 but somehow we had just about managed to stay in touch despite him travelling widely to places like Australia, New Zealand, Tonga and many other far flung destinations. He was now back in blighty, living near Penrith in Cumbria (his home town), married to a lovely lady called Kate and with two lovely children called Daisy and Dylan. He was also running a very well respected antique furniture restoration company called Phoenix Antiques. During one of our long distance telephone calls some time ago Andy mentioned that he would be opening a new Antiques showroom near his home in Temple Sowerby just outside Penrith. I offered to come up to Cumbria and open the showroom in my full Henry gear and so the date was set for 12th September. I drove up on the 11th, the Friday, which was an incredibly stupid idea. The M6, the main road up to the Lake District and Scotland is, as any tourist route is on a Friday (see the A303 down here for proof of that) packed solid, added to which some complete tit somewhere in the country had decided it would be a quite fabulous notion to dig most of it up at regular intervals along it's length. A journey from Somerset to Penrith should (according to my sat nav) be about 5-6 hours. It took me nearer 9 hours. I arrived knackered and aching, but Andy and Kate made me very welcome and we ended up sitting in their lovely house in Temple Sowerby eating a late night takeaway curry and drinking champagne! Wonderful.
On the Saturday morning I nipped up the road to the local Centre Parcs just outside Penrith, to visit my old friend John Summers who recently finished working as Estate Manager at Leeds Castle in Kent and was now working as Technical Operations Manager at the big tourist resort. He welcomed me kindly and gave me a guided tour of the site in one of their groovy electric vans. It's a wonderful place and I think John is enjoying working there. It was nice to see him looking so happy.
Back at the new showroom things were gearing up for the launch party. I got changed into my Henry garb, drinks were prepared for the coming guests and a ribbon was placed over the door for me to cut with a pair of scissors. Soon the guests were all there, I did a quick hello to them all, cut the ribbon and the new showroom for Phoenix Furniture Restorations was open! Many people came and all in all it seemed like a big success.
That evening, after all had quietened down, Andy, Kate and I hit the mean streets of Penrith to celebrate. We had a few drinks at a couple of very trendy bars (not my usual stamping ground, but very nice and entertaining) and then headed for a local Mexican restaurant. It was full. So we wandered round to a local Italian restaurant. This was also very busy but the manager assured us a table would be free soon. And it was and we found ourselves next to Radio 2 and 6 DJ Stuart Maconie. We were actually pretty well oiled by this time and were probably quite a pain in the bottom, but Stuart was very kind and chatty and we had a nice time with him. The meal was lovely and we drank far too much more champagne and were soon in a taxi heading back to Temple Sowerby.
A late night is probably best not followed up by an early morning and a long drive. But guess what happened next...?