I’d like to say that the day dawned fair but unfortunately we woke to several inches of snow, blizzard conditions and blocked roads. Trains were cancelled or delayed by hours so it was with a great deal of trepidation that we set off for the Central Station. After a hair raising journey, thanks to my friend Dave Walker we did make it in time only to be told by the Travel Assistance people that there was a 3 hour delay. No trains had yet left Newcastle that morning. However, we went over to the correct platform and she sat me in the waiting room with at least 100 other people, many of whom had been there for several hours already. At 10.25 the 7.58 train pulled in to the station and to my utter surprise, back came my Assistance Lady. She grabbed me and my case and raced along the platform to where one of the on-board staff was standing guard over an empty seat. All ticket bookings and restrictions had been lifted so it was every man or woman for themselves. I actually left Newcastle on time!
After checking in to my hotel and getting changed into my posh frock, I took a taxi to the Palace. As I got in the cab, another blizzard started. Because I had a special limited mobility pass to get me into the actual Palace courtyards the poor taxi driver had to put up with a full security check of his cab by armed police. Boot and bonnet open and camera underneath. He was soaking by the time they had finished and not very happy. He had thought it was a simple drop off outside the gates. To my amazement, we were directed by security right up to the glass portico and pulled up at the red carpet leading up the steps and in to the Palace! I felt like the Queen, especially as most of my fellow Lions were trudging through the snow across the two courtyards looking ‘like the retreat from Moscow’ as the Countess of Wessex described it later that evening.
The sheer beauty of the Palace takes your breath away and the number of footmen and staff around to attend to your every need was amazing.
We were taken up in the lift to the Ballroom which has the most magnificent chandeliers, two thrones and a huge pipe organ. Drinks and nibbles were being served by yet more footmen and 350 or so Lions were mingling and meeting up with friends and acquaintances from all over the country.
Unfortunately, because of the weather the Queen herself was not present, but the Countess spoke eloquently about the Lions and their service to the community all over the world. As she herself is a Lion and has taken part in many fundraising events, not the least of which was the cycle ride from Holyrood to Buckingham Palace, Past International Director Phil Nathan presented her with a Melvin Jones Fellowship. She was rendered speechless for a few moments, but then thanked everyone and said that she was honoured to have received it. She then went walkabout and managed to have a word with most of us even if it was only hello, nice to see you. Her Private Secretary is a young man who is 7ft tall and he walked behind her towering over everybody constantly surveying the throng.
At 8 pm we were gently ushered towards the exit but were able to linger in the corridor to admire some of the glorious paintings lining the walls and to take in the lovely surroundings.
Because of my mobility problem, a lovely young Footman named Harry who was from Morpeth, was tasked with getting a taxi to come from the rank outside up to the portico to collect me. He sent an even younger more junior footman out in the blizzard to get the taxi while he waited with me and we chatted about Morpeth and Newcastle. I was the very last person to leave the Palace and it felt very surreal to walk down the steps and get into the cab at exactly the same place that you see on TV when visiting dignitaries or royal brides arrive at the Palace. My cab driver was so chuffed as he had never in his life been beyond the gates. He drove so slowly across the inner courtyard that the Security Police got a bit impatient and waved him on rather urgently.
The next worry was how was I going to get home on Thursday. Rumour in the hotel was that no trains were leaving London to go North. In fact that was true on Wednesday night as the DG and some of our Scottish contingent were stranded, but in the morning I found that trains were travelling as far as Newcastle. Great! Except mine was cancelled! Thank goodness for Travel Assistance. As soon as I reported to the desk, I was whisked away across to Platform 1 where, surprise, surprise, there was a train waiting with a vacant seat being kept for me by the on-board Staff. I actually left half an hour earlier than I should have done. Thank you, Virgin Trains Travel Assistance.
And waiting on the station to drive me home were my dear friends Dave and Christine Walker without whom I would never, ever have been able to get to and from the station.
I would also like to say a huge thank you to my Club for giving me this fantastic opportunity. It was a once in a lifetime day and one I will never forget. In spite of the weather, or maybe because of it, I had a wonderfully adventurous two days,