It’s 8.37pm and I am sitting in a freezing cold church hall with 12 pensioners, discussing the best way to plant daffodil bulbs and how to tackle a voracious weed that goes by the name of Himalayan Balsam.
How I came to be here is another story but right now two things are going through my head: 1. The husband is going to want feeding and he has no idea where I am. 2. When on earth is this meeting going to end?!
In hindsight, pitching up unannounced at a committee meeting of Friends of The Park was a very foolish manoeuvre indeed. The rationale behind this madness was that as the house-that-we-bought-but-have-yet-to-move-into is on the edge of the park, it would probably be prudent to actually become a Friend of the Park.
So when I received a generic email inviting all Friends of the Park to their quarterly meeting at 7pm on Wednesday, in the spirit of neighbourliness I thought I’d bob along.
I imagined scores of friendly locals filling the hall, discussing local matters – such as the new bar down the road – over coffee and biscuits.
But as I walked through the door and took in the scene that greeted me – namely a cavernous and chilly church hall with a handful of silver-haired octogenarians shuffling in the shadows, I realised that I’d made a terrible mistake: I’d unwittingly stumbled across a real life episode of the Vicar of Dibley.
To be fair, I couldn’t have been given a warmer welcome. After the initial shock of someone at least thirty years younger suddenly appearing at one of their meetings, the Friends of the Park flocked round me like bees to a pot of honey.
‘As you can see we’re not the most sprightly of groups,’ said a kindly woman called Sue. ‘It’s great to see someone young here.’
I perched at the edge of the table trying to look as inconspicuous as possible as chairman David gave his round-up of what Friends of the Park had been up to.
He started with litter picking, before moving on to tackling rampant weeds, malfunctioning drainage systems, slippery stepping stones, budget-busting building work… On and on he went, in his strangely soothing drone.
As I glanced around the table, I noticed one grizzled attendee had fallen asleep; another had a coughing fit, disappeared into the darkness and never re-appeared.
‘…. it was only once my initial indignation had abated that I decided to respond to the claims that I should have ordered 6,000 daffodil bulbs and not 3,000… ‘ David was saying.
And off he went again.
Just as I was snatching a quick glance at my phone under the table and considering what sort of excuse I could give to GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE, there was a break in David’s monotone.
I looked up to find 12 sets of hooded eyes staring eagerly at me.
‘David was just saying we REALLY need someone to help with the website – someone youthful with a better handle on media stuff,’ said the woman called Sue.
In my experience of these meetings, Rule Number One is never to agree to help with anything. As my mother would say, once you’ve GOT INVOLVED, you’ll never be able to escape.
‘I’m afraid I’m utterly hopeless at anything related to ICT,’ I stuttered. ‘I’m just not the person for the job.’
Sue looked so crestfallen that I felt the need to offer a consolation prize.
‘I could take a look at the website though,’ I offered. ‘A fresh pair of eyes to make some suggestions?’
Sue seemed happy with this but David peered at me over his spectacles suspiciously.
‘I think we should get a designer to help us,’ he said. ‘We’re frightened of spending money but this is one thing that we really should spend money on.’
‘Perhaps we should have a meeting to decide on the content and look of the website first,’ I suggested. ‘And then we could find a designer to put it altogether?’
‘But a good designer would do that for us,’ argued David.
‘Maybe,’ I said. ‘But it’s probably better to approach them with an idea of the content we want first.’
David merely scowled at me.
At 9pm, the meeting finally began to draw to an end. I picked up my bag and shuffled to the edge of my chair in a manner that I hoped indicated that I was ready to leave.
My phone flashed with a text from the husband, no doubt racked with hunger: WHERE ARE YOU?
‘Is there any other business?’ asked monotone David.
‘Well,’ said kindly Sue. ‘As many of you can probably see, we have a new member here tonight…
‘Katy, would you like to properly introduce yourself?’
As I glanced in desperation at the door, the Friends of the Park settled back in their chairs and smiled at me expectantly.