Tuesday (9th) was another SOGs lunch in Shell Centre. Since Diana was out, I had to catch the bus to the station, rather than blagging a lift. (I never drive to the station on a SOGs day, since this would mean driving back again in the afternoon, which is not really on after a few pints.) Catching a bus means paying a bus fare, which in turn means having the cash.
Strictly, this is not true, as my “future of money” friend, the “cashless guru” Dave Birch, would be quick to point out. Arriva (the bus company) has an iPhone app which enables you to buy your ticket in advance and show it to the driver on your phone screen as you get on. But that requires some set-up – getting PINs and stuff – which didn’t seem feasible in the hour before I wanted to catch the bus.
So that meant really I had to have the cash, which in my case I had not got. We had exhausted our cash reserves buying fish and chips in Wadebridge last Saturday and paying for parking in Oxford last Sunday, whilst unloading Tris at uni, and not got round to replenishing them. I had 13p in my pocket, and I haven’t seen a bus fare that small since I was at school.
So it was round to Waitrose to use the cash machine there, which refused my debit card on the spurious grounds that the chip was damaged. I had to use the household account debit card instead. Then I had to break into one of the tenners because they don’t like large denomination notes on the bus, and also I fancied a bar of chocolate.
I caught the bus and the fare turned out to be £3.80. With a price that high, I needn’t have worried about breaking a tenner. At the station I went to the ticket machines a few yards away from the ticket office, where there was no queue at all. I used to have a debate with myself over whether to get an extra-super-cheapo day return (valid for journeys starting after 11.00 am with the return before 4.00 pm) because I was never sure whether we would finish at the pub in time. South West Trains have very kindly and thoughtfully removed this dilemma for me by making the starting condition “trains arriving after 12.00 noon”. I got a bit worried when someone came and stood behind me, in line for the machine, when there were two other perfectly good and working machines next to me, but this potential ticket-mugger turned out to be a railway employee wanting to extract cash from my machine. There were some train delays which South West Trains automatically apologised for, but at Woking this means that you wait five minutes for the train delayed by 23 minutes, rather than wait five minutes for the train that is on time.
When I arrived at Shell Centre, a few people were already there. I got a text from Alun saying he wouldn’t be coming for lunch after all. Some furniture that he had been waiting for for four weeks had decided to be delivered exactly this lunchtime. And Mike pleaded that work had got in the way again – this work stuff sounds inconvenient, I don’t know why people put up with it. Nigel and Gill also sent last day apologies.
But there was a good crowd: Keith, Keith, David, Geoff, Paul, Malcolm, Gerry, Jeremy and me. One person was missing – Adam. This was a problem, because Adam needed one of us to sign him in as a guest, rather than being an SPA member in his own right, so we couldn’t really go up to lunch before he arrived. Paul reminded me of the train delays, which I realised would have affected Adam as well. He arrived just after 12.00, muttering about 25 minute delays, and up we went to lunch.
After my brilliant success in spending exactly six pounds last time, I tried for it again. My chili con carne was £4.15. I found a fruit juice for 75p, leaving £1.10 for a pudding. Easy, I thought. I found the puddings: £1.16. Poo! I put the fruit juice back and, dispirited, let the 69p go.
Several people that we knew went by and said hello. Dave Durling, clutching a sandwich, stopped as if stunned by the sight of ten old familiar faces, then said he couldn’t stop and chat. He had to run because he had a phone call in six minutes, which is not much time to eat a sandwich, even if he were to start munching in the lift. Work – damned inconvenient, shouldn’t be allowed.
After a leisurely lunch, occupying a full lunch hour, we selected a pub to which to adjourn proceedings, the well-regarded Camel and Artichoke. Three of us arrived, the others vanishing off into the office to look for old colleagues, and one (Geoff) stopping by a bookshop on the corner of Lower Marsh to procure a TARDIS and Dr Who novel, sellotaped together. (A model TARDIS, that is, not a real one.)
We first three selected the largest available space, an area with arm chairs and a low table, to sit with our pints or coffee and waited for the others. A few more arrived and filled the remaining armchairs. When the rest came, they had to sit across the gangway, at a table recently vacated by a family having lunch. They immediately dubbed it ‘High Table’ and looked down upon us.
Keith S’s partner, whose wrist was damaged in a car accident just before the last meeting, is only now beginning to recover. That was some nasty accident. We hope the improvement continues. Paul continues his Citizens Advice Bureau volunteering one day a week. He caught himself thinking about how to do more and move up the ladder and realised that that was how you thought at work, which he wasn’t at any more, and one day a week was right fine, thank you very much.
I was asked if I would still be coming to these lunches in future. I certainly hoped so, I said, although I would have to catch the 06.57 from Bodmin Parkway to Paddington to get there in time. Reflecting on that as a departure time, and allowing for getting to the station, it starts to seem like catching an early flight to the Netherlands did, which is very much too much like work, and more than inconvenient. But I will find a way, with a little help from my friends.
There remained the question of who would take over as organising secretary and with very little prompting Dave was nominated, seconded and put in position, bypassing the need for him to accept. He took the remaining kitty, though.