“Make a U-turn,” she said.
We were going to Drury Lane to see War Horse. (The stage version of course, not the allegedly saccharine film: I was collecting a Christmas present. It was, by the way, ‘effing marvellous’, as the Sergeant might have put it.) The theatre was 21 miles away, and we’d allowed ninety minutes to get there, park up and find our seats – ample time, no? But we hadn’t allowed for Florence.
Florence is of the same genus and nationality as the satnav in my own car, but with a rather different personality. Whereas Brünnhilde is terse, assumes a level of intelligence on the part of her pupils and doesn’t suffer fools gladly, Florence is a bit of an anxious, over-protective schoolmarm. She would say things like “Keep right and continue on the M4” whenever we approached a junction, just in case we felt impelled to veer off left onto the slip road just for the hell of it.
All went well, though, as far as the Hammersmith flyover. Then both Florence and Transport for London or whoever is in charge got completely confused, with the result that we ended up negotiating the multi-lane spider’s web of the Broadway. Florence lost it. “Turn right in 100 yards, then immediately right again.” We ignored that. “Follow the road for 900 yards.” No other option short of shop windows, so we obeyed. “Your route is being recalculated.” I offered to get the map book out. “Better not,” said A (who was driving). “It’ll only upset her.”
Somehow we made it through. I knew we were back on track when L spotted Harrods on the right. “Familiar territory,” she announced. At this point, Florence got a bit sniffy. “There is traffic congestion ahead. An alternative route cannot be recommended.” You always know they’re rattled when they drop into the passive voice.
We got there with five minutes to spare, not even time for a stiffener for me and L. We were in row AA, right at the front. You could see inside the horses, see the humans manipulating them – which somehow made it even more magical. I found myself avoiding eye contact with Joey.