Saturday, 27 April 2013

Why reading the instructions can be a smart move

Some may feel that 5:00 a.m. isn’t the ideal time to start a Saturday. But if your wife’s a keen birdwatcher, it’s her birthday and that justly exalted institutions, the National Trust, is organising a 6:30 birdwatching walk in that breathtaking place, Ashridge Forest, well, 5:00 is when you get up.

I’d made all the arrangements. I’d planned our departure time based on normal conditions but, of course, there’s no traffic at that time of day, so we arrived dead early. And then we sat in the morning cold watching the minutes tick by, while no-one else showed. I wandered over to the visitor centre, naturally shut, and checked out the posters: there it was, 6:30 on the 27th, beginners birdwatching walk.

The kind of thing we might have seen. But didn’t.

So where was everyone?

Danielle had been checking the web and had the answer.

‘At Steps Hill car park,’ she informed me.

Steps Hill car park? Where on Earth was that?

Ashridge doesn’t do helpful little road signs, marked with useful indications such as ‘Steps Hill car park this way’. In fact, it doesn’t even put names up on the bits of land it’s flattened here and there and designated as car parks. They’re just marked ‘car park’, which isn’t what I think of as uniquely identifying. Be fair, National Trust. I’d call that ambiguity, except that there’s loads of them. Multiguity, perhaps.

Eventually, though, we found a car park with several cars in it plus two National Trust ranger vehicles.

‘This must be it,’ said Danielle. Her tone wasn’t icy, precisely, but had just that kind of non-iciness voices take on when their owners are trying to be kind to the afflicted by not revealing their feelings.

It was 7:00 by then so we went home. Where I checked my e-mails. The one from the National Trust proudly proclaimed that the attachment contained ‘all the information you will need for your visit.’ I looked. And there it was: the meeting point wasn’t the visitor centre but Steps Hill car park. As marked on the attached map. With a grid reference and everything.

If only I’d read it. If only I’d printed it out. If only I’d taken a glance last night.

How did Whittier put it? ‘For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: "It might have been!"’

Ah well. There’s always next year, I suppose. Perhaps by then I
ll have learned to read instructions.

Meanwhile, happy birthday, Danielle.

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