As the grey hairs continue their steady advance across my head, in step with the cruel march of time, it becomes increasingly difficult to blame my forgetfulness on that old standby, alcohol.
A recent trip to Bergerac revealed this all too starkly. The first part of my holiday was in the company of a friend of mine from Chester. We go back a long way, but it was nonetheless good of her to stay calm and collected when we arrived at our place of stay to discover I had forgotten to bring the key. We drew on our collective wisdom to construct a plan, rapidly discounting breaking in or calling a lock-smith (reasoning that if two French people tried to persuade an English locksmith to break into a either of our own houses on the strength that they had forgotten their key, we'd hope they'd get pretty short shrift).
I was dimly aware that an organic baker of the name Jean Philipe held a spare key, but wasn't exactly sure where he lived. When, after some driving around, we did finally find his oven, he was nowhere to be seen. We back-tracked into Bergerac and I made what was to be the first of many trips to the Tourist Information Centre there. The girl behind the desk listened in a bemused sort of way as I told her my sorry tale. She then proceeded to do a lot of phoning around, finally locating the said Jean Philipe, who promised to deliver the key a couple of hours later at a rendezvous (which is French, apparently, for a meeting place). That left Sue and I a couple of hours to amble round the town and take in a spot of lunch, relaxing for the first time since we'd stepped off the plane a couple of hours earlier. True to his word, he turned up at 2pm, and the holiday could get back on track.
My friend was departing a couple of days later, so our time was spent in a whirlwind tour of markets, cafes, restaurants and vineyards. On her final night, I admit we may have consumed more than either of us is used to when it comes to wine and pastis. Nevertheless, I managed to deliver her to the airport safely where, once she was through check-in, I was able to position myself in a cafe outside the airport and wait for my second visitor, who was arriving off the plane she was departing on. Everything went to plan this time, with my writing-accomplice Dick Broadhean clearing the tiny arrivals hall in minutes, and his bags safely deposited at the house just ten minutes later.
We were there, ostensibly, to do some writing, and were to be joined the next day by a third scribbler. In the meantime, Dick and I had a trip out to watch Jean Philipe firing up his huge bread oven, situated in a large shed in a tiny village outside of Bergerac. Like a vast ship's engine (but not on a ship) the oven required almost constant feeding with carefully-selected pine wood. The wood had been chosen to allow the oven to reach it's optimum 'calorific weight'. Much discussion took place about this concept, I can tell you. Dick seemed to understand it more than I did. Then, it was a trip to a nearby market for a spot of food shopping.
That evening, as the sky shone with stars, Dick and me spent hours putting the world to rights. I'll admit, more wine and pastis were involved. The next day, we had one main task to accomplish - the collection from the airport of my old mucker, Mystic Veg. I'd managed to lose the paper with his arrival time on but, Bergerac airport not being exactly a hub of activity, it was fairly easy to discover that the Stansted flight wasn't due to arrive until 4.30pm, which left Dick and me with a full day to explore some of the villages around Bergerac. And very pleasant it was, too.
We were in good time to meet the flight, which arrived early. As we waited excitedly for MV's emergence from the arrivals shed, there was much 'That's him-ming' followed just as quickly by 'No - that's not him'. As the last passenger cleared customs, it was clear that MV hadn't made the flight. Unless something else could have gone wrong.
Dick and I drove back to the house, pondering what could possibly have happened. The fifteen minute journey seemed to take an hour. When we arrived, we found a note - quite a polite one, under the circumstances.
Mortification isn't the word. The thought that a man of such advancing years as Mystic should have had to spend the best part of a day alone and abandoned in a foreign country made me ashamed to be a Blunt.
Dear Bill and Dick
After waiting two hours at the airport I decided to get a taxi here. After a further four hours sat in the garden, I decided that something must have happened to you both. I'm going to book into a hotel tonight, and will meet you outside the Tourist Information at 11am tomorrow.
Dick and I sped off to the Tourist Information, where I found myself instantly recognised as 'The Key Man'. It was a slim hope that we'd find MV making enquiries there, but they hadn't seen him. They gave us a list of hotels in the place, and we began our task of searching them. After we'd visited a couple, we finally had a call from Mystic, who had just booked into a hotel two minutes away from where we were standing, and where he'd found a phone in his room that didn't require a degree in french to operate. When we told the receptionist our tale, she was pleased to release him from his contract.
It's a brave man that accuses Bill Blunt of dementia. There's life enough in this old hack's frame to be able to blame the Ricard from the night before. However, there's a lesson to be learned from this whole, sorry affair.
I've learned that Lincoln is MUCH closer to East Midlands airport than Stansted is, and that only a fool would assume otherwise.
And, on the positive side, we found it easy enough, after the experience of our trip, to come up with a name for the sitcom we're working on - Losing The Plot. I like to take credit for that.
A huge Big Up is due to the staff at the Bergerac Tourist Information Office, though. They don't half get some weird enquiries.