So, Lisburn, eh?
I did start to panic a little last night, when I suddenly realised that, to be perfectly honest, I had no real idea where it was. I mean, even vaguely. I had a notion it was south, but I wasn’t convinced enough to be able to say confidently “Yes, I am definitely going in the right direction” as I drove endlessly along the motorway “To The South”. Every exit I passed was obstinately refusing to be marked “Lisburn”, and with every one, my doubt began to grow. Before I left the house, I would have hazarded a guess that Lisburn was somewhere near Belfast. I might even have been fairly hopeful about finding it in that region.
By the time I was once again lost in Belfast, I had totally rejected my former beliefs, and was convinced that Lisburn was actually on the northern coastline, perhaps somewhere near Portrush.
I will confess I committed the crime of texting while driving, last night. I texted McBouncy in a mild state of panic, Help! Where do I come off the motorway for Lisburn??? I must say I wasn’t particularly impressed when she replied with You shouldn’t have taken the motorway! I mean, that’s just not constructive, is it? To be fair, she did then follow up with a more sympathetic Google-Map-style text, and I found the wretched place. I even found the conference venue with only one minor incident. OK, two. And a few angry beeps.
So, this morning, then. The very wise McLovely had been on the phone with advice after I eventually returned home last night. The advice was intended to ensure that I stayed off the motorway, avoided the Westlink at rush hour, and didn’t have to leave the house at 7.30am for a 9.30am start. All of this sounded very good to me, so I set off this morning armed with painfully detailed, step-by-step instructions of how to get to Lisburn from the Moira roundabout. (McLovely had realised very quickly that these directions would have to be carefully and extensively expounded upon in order to ensure I actually got to Moira. “OK, let’s go back a bit… you know where the Nutts Corner roundabout is?” he asked, patiently. “Er… no.” “Right. You know when you get to the airport, and…” He stopped again as I mumbled something unintelligible. I could almost feel his patience draining down the receiver. “Right,” he said earnestly and determinedly. “Can you get to Antrim?”) It didn’t help that it had decided to be foggy this morning, and I couldn’t see any signposts until I was level with them, by which stage it was far too late to consider jumping across two lanes.
I spent a pleasant half hour driving around Antrim, just taking in the sights. Or trying to, through the mist.
After a while, by some sort of happy accident, I found myself at the Nutts Corner roundabout. Unfortunately, something went wrong at this point and I never made it to Moira, but it was all OK in the end thanks to a timely and quite frankly necessary phone call (motoring offence 783 in 24 hours) from Chirpy, who actually knows the Lisburnal area and is also attending the conference. “Good morning, Hails!” she said cheerfully, as I fumbled panickily with the phone, put it on loudspeaker, and balanced it on my knees. “Chirpy, HELP ME!”. She didn’t even need to ask, bless her. “Describe what you see,” she said gently, in her we-can-work-through-this-potential-disaster-and-everything-will-be-just-fine voice. I peered hopelessly through the fog and made some garbled remarks about trees and cars. “OK, great,” said Chirpy, ever the encourager. She tried a different approach. “Now, tell me what happened. How did you get there? Talk me through it.”
I proceeded to go over the most ridiculous travel information ever divulged to anyone at any point in history. “Great!!” said Chirpy excitedly, “you’re going to be fine!”. I sighed shakily with relief and an insistent yearning for this journey to be over. Her soothing voice was music to my ears. “Just stay on that road,” she said reassuringly. “In a few minutes you’ll come to – KUCHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH -” – she didn’t actually say that last bit, that was me trying to write down the sound that a mobile phone makes when someone goes through an area where there’s a poor signal.
“DON’T LEAVE ME!!!!” I wailed, agonised.
“It’s OK, I’m here, I’m here, I’m not going anywhere, I am with you, Hails, we’re in this together…” (I complimented her on this later on, in real, unashamed admiration. “I was a birthing partner once,” she explained modestly). She talked me through every minute of the journey (“You should be passing a school on your left… do you see the school? No? Never mind, it’s very foggy. I’m sure it’s probably there.”) and praised me at every opportunity, like a delighted and proud mother whose little angel has just drawn a stick man for the first time. “Go straight on through the next set of traffic lights,” she instructed at one point, and I looked dubiously at the traffic lights, which were at red. A few moments passed in silence. I made an executive decision. “Where are you now?” asked Chirpy. “I’m just stopping at these lights,” I said apologetically. “Great!” she said exuberantly. “Very good. Stop at the lights. Always obey the Highway Code.”
It was a ridiculous but ultimately successful journey, if you define “successful” as “getting to one’s destination on the same day as the intended arrival time, without killing anyone”. And I have to do it all again tomorrow. I’m honestly not sure how I ever gained ownership of a driving licence, but I’m beginning to wonder if it was the wisest course of action the DVLNI could have taken, all things considered.