During an extended stay at our holiday home near Marlow, my partner Rob and I were joined by Brisbane friends Margie and Lance, who were making their first visit to the UK. The prospect of this extremely laid-back couple spending six weeks with a manic history buff (me) and a control freak with a background in time-management (Rob) was alarming, but we all made an unspoken decision to ignore the possibility of friction!
Our guests had barely recovered from jet lag before Rob was whisking them around the country. En route, I force-fed them a diet of ancient myth and legend and recounted the entire history of the Civil War. Eventually Margie and Lance were afraid to glance at a man-hole lest I launch into a story of a secret passage linking it to the nearest castle.
They say time waits for no man, but while Rob has always done his utmost to at least keep up, my friend Margie remains glued to the starting blocks. As she and Lance prepared for their first independent outing, Rob left to play golf. He returned hours later to find Lance waiting patiently by the front door with his coat on. Still in her dressing gown, Margie was sipping tea and humming a little tune as she put on her socks.
We had convinced our guests to hire their own car, suggesting a 50k run to Stratford-upon-Avon as a gentle introduction. They arrived home at 8.30 pm, with Lance white-faced and weary. ‘Find your way to Stratford OK? asked Rob.‘ Mate, I reckon I found my way to every bloody town in the country’ Lance replied, pouring himself a much needed glass of red ‘So what did you think of Anne Hathaway’s cottage? I enquired over a very late dinner. ‘Umm.… we didn’t actually get there’, Margie confessed. However, she had filmed a thirty minute video inside a Stratford teashop.
Trouble loomed over the video camera during our first foray into London, when Margie insisted on filming our parking space at Ealing Common. The bonds of friendship were almost at breaking point when in an inspired move, Lance quietly handed the camera to Rob. Despite being a complete novice, he displayed an unnerving enthusiasm for movie making. In the interest of group harmony Margie and I submitted to his direction like lambs, enduring ‘arty’ close-ups no Hollywood actress of our years would have tolerated. He was also generously forgiven when instead of filming the Queen’s guards at Windsor, he captured his own left foot marching in double quick time from the Castle gates to the Long Walk.
As our friends gained confidence they ranged further afield, but we noticed their hire car sinking ever lower on its axles. Lance finally revealed Margie’s penchant for pamphlets: ‘There’s a tonne of paper in the boot,’ he said: ‘One information centre had 155 pamphlets and I swear Margie picked up 157 …two of them on the Great Barrier Reef!
Before our visitors returned to Brisbane I took them to Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum, to see a replica of King Alfred’s famous jewel. To my great regret I had never seen the original, which was removed to a bank vault following a bungled attempt to steal it. Rob allowed only the briefest of inspections before ushering us on to a mummified cat and Guy Fawke’s lantern. Hastily attempting to cover the history of the Gunpowder Plot, I failed to notice that Margie had wandered off until she was back, tugging my arm and leading me to a glass fronted safe. Inside sat the real Alfred Jewel! So overwhelming was my gratitude that as we left the building I slipped five foreign language pamphlets into her handbag.