Ravenshead

THE BRIEFCASE

I was in a rush as usual. Why can’t I ever be organised? I asked myself. Other people seem to manage it easily, but I can’t do it. I work out the time that I must leave the house and keep that time in the forefront of my mind as I get ready, but somehow things always slip.

Today was no exception. I have had this engagement – hang on, that’s a bit pretentious isn’t it? Engagement? Get me! I have had this occasion in my diary for six months. The date when I have to travel up to Yorkshire to go and give a talk to Bruddersford U3A.

I went on to Green Flag to work out how long it will take me. 62 miles it said. So, I thought, one and a half hours should be ample, especially with a lot of motorway involved. Got to be there at 10.30 am, ready to start my talk at 11.00 am: so, if I set off at 9.00 am sharp, that should be OK, I thought. No, no, no: 8.45 am will be better – I need to build some contingency time in at the start in case there’s a holdup on the motorway, especially at such a busy time of day – rush hour no less.

Right, I told myself sternly, you must set off at 8.45 am without fail.

But as usual I didn’t. Where did the time GO? Got up in good time, didn’t dilly-dally over my breakfast, ignored the newspaper, shaved quickly, went to the lavatory, conscious all the time of the urgency but still, still, there I was, having just set off and my watch said 8.58 am.

A trouble-free run, with green traffic lights, helped me to get to the motorway pretty quickly. Even better, when I started up the motorway I found light traffic. The newish section, now designated a “Smart Motorway” proved to be helpful as well. Four lanes instead of three is a big bonus. The heavy lorries can have the two inside lanes to themselves and fast cars can have the two outside lanes to themselves. No need for me to bother with the inside two lanes and get involved with lorries at all!

So it was a very pleasant drive, fast in the third lane and very fast in the outside lane. The third lane people keeping to the 70 mph limit and the outside lane people pushing that up towards 80. Since it is a smart motorway, however, drivers need to watch the excess speed. I always try to keep to the speed limit. The speedometer on my vehicle, however, is not accurate, but my satnav is. So it is best to ignore the speedo and always refer to satnav.

I was pootling along, now without a care in the world, since my sat nav was giving an estimated time of arrival of 10.26 am, when I noticed something strange. A car was coming up behind me as I travelled along in the third lane and it was flashing its headlights.

Strange I thought. Then annoying, I thought. Then what the hell does he think he’s playing at, I thought. If he wants to pass me, he’s got an empty fourth lane to go at, I thought.
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Then another thought struck me. That’s a rather small car to start dicing with an 1800, I thought. Then a further thought still struck me. That looks a bit like my wife’s car, I thought.

I reduced my speed, slowing from 70 to 60. The little car with the flashing headlights took the opportunity to take the outside lane and glide past. I saw my wife in the driving seat, gesticulating wildly. She overtook me, then sat in front of me, indicating left. I got the message. I took it to mean “get in the inside lane”. Or more probably, get in the inside lane, you fool.

Eventually our little procession of two vehicles was in the inside lane and clear of lorries. We trundled along for a while. We must have looked like a car under tow, albeit with no visible towing connection and an inadequate towing vehicle.

Then a road sign loomed ahead, indicating a junction. My leader immediately signalled to leave the motorway and I followed suit. We went up the slip road and on to the roundabout. My wife signalled left and we both went that way. After a mile or two she turned into a lay-by and stopped. I stopped behind her. We both got out and stood facing each other.

We both spoke at once. I said “What the hell are you doing, you’re going to make me late!”

She said “You forgot your briefcase!”

I said “What?”

She said “What?”

She got in first with the repeat. (Not an unknown occurrence)

“You left your briefcase behind. I found it just inside the front door” As she said this she was opening the boot of her car and producing my briefcase.

She handed it over. I felt considerably chastened. But I was still very annoyed, so I didn’t say anything, except “Thanks”. I grabbed the briefcase, stuck it on the back seat, got back in the driving seat and set off. I had to travel another mile or so away from the junction before I could turn. Eventually I got back on the motorway, still fuming.

For some reason, the traffic seemed to have increased considerably during the fairly short period when I had been away from it. No longer could I drive with the freedom I had enjoyed previously. I no longer needed sat-nav to monitor excessive speed. I glanced at its screen just the same, however, and saw that my estimated time of arrival was 10.44 am.

I needed to pull out all the stops to get to Bruddersford in time for the start of my talk, never mind getting there in time for a cup of coffee and a chat with the U3A Speaker Co-ordinator. Of course, my wife had saved my bacon and I had no one to blame but myself for the delay. But when one is angry and annoyed and frustrated and agitated, any logical thoughts seem few and far between.

I calmed down and, rather astonishingly, so did the traffic. I was able to catch up and by the time I turned off the motorway, I was only five minutes late. Trusty sat-nav guided me fairly swiftly to my destination, the Bruddersford Community Centre. I pulled in to the spacious car-park, found a convenient bay and switched off the engine.

I was only three minutes late and I could take a moment or two to catch my breath and prepare for the presentation ahead. I had been doing these talks for some years and they were popular with U3As, Rotary Clubs and the like. I had five different talks which I had developed over the years and they gave me a little extra retirement income.

The scripts for all five talks were in a large ring-binder with a hard cover, which I always kept in my briefcase. This was a hard metal-bound case with a digital security system and I had had it for about twenty-five years. It was quite heavy and a bit old-fashioned I suppose, but I liked it.

I took the briefcase from the back-seat and walked in through the rear door of the Community Centre. A lady was looking out for me. “Mrs Rodway?” I asked. “Yes” she replied, “and you must be Mr Biltcliffe”. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and she took me for a cup of coffee in a smallish cafe area at the rear of the main hall.

I asked Mrs Rodway about how the U3A was doing and she asked me about my journey, which I described rapidly without mentioning the embarrassing bit. She handed me the cheque for my fee and took me into the Community Centre proper, and up on to the stage. There was a decent sized lectern, which I was pleased about because I could put my big ring-binder on to it. Sometimes I have to extract the notes I need from the ring-binder and use them separately.

Everything seemed very satisfactory and I put my briefcase down flat on a small table near the lectern. I clicked in the code numbers I use and opened the top.

The briefcase was completely empty.