Part 1 – The Road to Penrith
So, Sue’s asked me to write down the account of our first visit to an RNA conference, which happened over the 10th to the 12th of July (last weekend, in other words). I said I’d do my best, so here’s hoping that there’s not too much rambling...(Sue reminds Gray that this is the reason why he's writing up the notes. I'm the rambler!)
After the usual last-minute preparations (just how heavy do you like your suitcase, Sue?) we set off early on Friday morning. We live on the Leicestershire/Rutland border, so it’s a simple enough route to join the A1 northbound, head up to Scotch Corner and then shoot across the A66 to Penrith. Luckily, we had a fantastic journey north, and I always feel a swell of delight when we enter mysterious Yorkshire – mainly because I’m VERY MUCH looking forward to getting the chance to explore the as-yet unknown Dales and the Moors with Sue in tow...(I can't wait)
We’d made Scotch Corner in two hours, so I was on a high. The A66 to Penrith is a fast road but dual carriageway at regular intervals, so there aren’t too many idiots around. Once you enter Cumbria, the scenery is breathtaking, and it once again reminded me that we haven’t properly toured this part of the country – YET. In fact, we’d done so well that we got to Penrith with a couple of hours to spare, so we headed into the town centre.
Now, Sue’s not too great at walking medium or long distances, so I agreed to leave her behind while I went to fetch a bottle of water. I have to say, Penrith didn’t impress me too much. The people in this bustling town seem lovely, but there’s a general air of it being run down: case in point, the public toilets, which were housed in a port-a-cabin with broken windows. Not too romantic, then. Still, I got the brief opportunity to have a nosy round a few charity shops (an obsession, I’m afraid) and pick up the aforementioned refreshment, before heading back to the car for a light lunch. I’m not one to blow my own trumpet, but I’d prepared a packed lunch the night before – and dare I say it, those tuna sandwiches were delicious. (Sooo relieved that you had the foresight to think of this, Gray. They were indeed delicious!)
The car park setting, complete with cracked concrete, noisy builders and shouty teenagers might have been less than salubrious, but we enjoyed the meal nonetheless. Now it was time to set off to the university campus to begin the weekend for real. If we could find it, that is.
Penrith is built on the side of a hill and the town centre is a mass of winding little roads, all of them loaded with traffic. This is a place where the number of cars is only equalled by the number of roundabouts. After we found ourselves in the middle of an industrial estate we did a U-turn, and eventually managed to follow the given directions across the M6. The University of Cumbria is actually located a mile or so out of the town in glorious unspoilt surroundings, so I was dead chuffed when we pulled into the car park.
I was aware that the place was very leafy, which was great, but otherwise it seemed deserted. There were a few nervous-looking women here and there, rushing back and forth to their cars. We were still early, but we decided to see if we could go and pick up the keys to our accommodation. The good news was that the ever-organised Jan Jones had everything in hand along with Roger Sanderson, who has a soldierly feel to him, so we were soon stationed in our accommodation block.
I was a bit chastened when I saw the building work that was going on directly outside – they’d decided to tape off some of the paths, too (not that we let that stop us...). The good news is that the workman on the digger went home on Friday afternoon and didn’t return for the rest of the weekend. In any case, the rooms were spotlessly clean and even had lovely little welcome bags complete with toiletries, a sewing kit and even a shoe-shine brush. I spent the next twenty minutes frantically power-walking back and forth in an attempt to unload the car, ever-aware of the minute hand on my watch progressing...
We’d already had a run in with documentary filmmaker Julie Moggan, who’d previously visited us at our home to shoot scenes for a major documentary on Mills and Boon that she’s in the midst of filming. Julie seems to have limitless energy and spent the whole of the afternoon running around with a sound woman in tow, shooting footage and trying to get her consent forms signed. I’m glad I didn’t have her job to do! Needless to say that before long we ended up agreeing to a further, brief interview which I think went pretty well.
By now, we’d really done all the preparation we could, and I’d even donned my bright purple shirt in readiness for the conference opener. So there was nothing else for it – it was time to go and see what all this conference malarkey was about.
To be continued...