Having smiled for the official photographs until we were convinced we would never be able to manage to produce a really sincere
smile ever again for the rest of our lives, we were free to leave. Which was just as well, because we were only too well aware that at least some of the other lunch guests were probably already in situ
To my great astonishment (speaking as someone who couldn't fold herself into the back seat of a two door car if her life depended on it), Algernon's car swallowed up five adults and a golden retriever quite easily. Pausing only to wave in a regal fashion to the crowds of tourists foregathered outside the Palace who were labouring under the fond delusion that we might have been Someone Important, we sped off (except for when impeded by traffic jams) for the Babylon Roof Gardens
We split up briefly - Algernon to park the car; Aunty J and the Old Blind Git in search of a patch of grass on which Sutton could have a wee - but were soon reunited in the restaurant bar, where we met up with Uncle, Ant, Marmite
, Pop and Puss Puss. Not to mention a very welcome (and purely medicinal) gin and tonic, which Pop had kindly promised to have ready for me the moment I arrived.
I had carefully pre-booked a table of sufficient size to accommodate us all. What the restaurant staff hadn't
mentioned was the fact that there was a small perspex screen halfway down on the window side, which rather had the effect of separating the party into two, with the naughty boys down at the far end at a safe distance from my stick. Ant and Puss Puss thus felt emboldened to queen it up like nobody's business and spent the whole of the meal striking fear into the hearts of any passing waiter. I don't think
they deliberately dropped pieces of cutlery on the floor so that the waiters would have to bend down in tight black trousers to pick them up, but I was constantly engaged in conversation myself, so I can't be sure
I discovered that there is one drawback to choosing your outfit to match your stick. I was refused entry to the accessible loo, presumably on the assumption that my stick was merely a fashion accessory. (I'd have kicked up a fuss had the standard ladies' facilities not been adequate to my needs, but they were, so there was no need for me to - as my father would say - "lean heavily on the counter".) Having said that, the stick does
become a tad superfluous when I have Pop "the human mobility aid" Larkin around to lean on. In all my fifteen years (give or take a fortnight) of cripdom, I have never met anyone else I trust to help me out of a seat without hurting me. Pop rocks.
Before I knew where we were, those who had travelled furthest had to leave. Aunty J was the first to go, quickly followed by the Old Blind Git, and Uncle, who was parked somewhere expensive. Marmite hung on until the restaurant staff threw us out, which meant he was able to witness the amusing spectacle of two qualified accountants signally failing to come to grips with the bill. But he then disappeared into the pouring rain, which left the remaining six of us unwilling to part but with nowhere in mind to go.
In a stroke of genius, Algernon suggested that we all repair to his place. There being too many of us to fit in the car, Ant and Puss Puss were despatched to the nearest tube station and were later - although not entirely without confusion - fetched by Algernon from the station nearest his house. They didn't appear to be too much the worse for their experiences, and we thought it best not to speculate on how they might have behaved when temporarily separated from our civilising influence.
Not only had Algernon stopped on the way home to stock up on drinks, but it transpires that the Hotel Algernon wine cellars are kept permanently stocked with pink champagne. What luxury! What class! What an improvement on the sickly pyramids of over-packaged, slightly crunchy chocolates the advertising men would have us believe equate to being spoiled by ambassadors!
Blogger software is currently behaving in a predictably intransigent manner (what with it being the weekend and everything). I had intended for this entry to be copiously illustrated but, after about six hours of repeated attempts to upload multiple photographs, I have only managed to secure this one of Pop post-consumption of pink champagne. And I think I sneaked that one through while Blogger's back was turned.
In any event you can see that the Hotel Algernon lounge is well supplied with comfortable seating, and that the hotel guests thoroughly enjoy themselves.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and the remaining guests had many miles to go before they slept. My attempts to bar the door to prevent Pop and Puss Puss leaving, and my pitiful "But my special day will be over if you leave!" comments were treated with the contempt they merited, and the two melted away into the night. (Although not literally, of course. As that would be rather unpleasant.) Algernon and I kept a somewhat raucous gin-fuelled vigil for the text messages we needed to be sure that they had arrived home safely, after which I safely navigated myself up the stairs with the rather tricky bend half way up and was very shortly thereafter out like the proverbial light.
It was a wonderful day, and one which I will never forget. Algernon, my brother, Aunty J, the Old Blind Git, Uncle, Marmite, Ant, Puss Puss and Pop have my sincere thanks for helping me celebrate in such a magnificent fashion.