Saturday, 2 October 2010
A Random Act of Kindness
In hindsight I should have taken the tube in to the home ed National Gallery visit on Wednesday.
But, feeling a bit daunted by thoughts of navigating vertiginously steep escalators and negotiating yawning mind-the-gap leaps with buggy, bags and children, I decided to hang the congestion charge and let the Caravelle take the strain.
Problem one became apparent as I was sailing down the Marylebone Road.
I had forgotten that I have a completely appalling sense of direction.
Ever remember playing Blind Mans Buff? When they blindfold you and spin you round and you grope around, not knowing what's up or down let alone left or right? That's the feeling I have when I'm on less familiar roads.
I find my way around by recognising landmarks, so if I'm thrown off my usual track I'm lost. I have no sense of the geographical relation of one place to another.
Actually, that shouldn't have been such a problem since husband dear has equipped his directionally challenged wife with a satnav. And satnav will get you there in the end. But satnav is no respecter of the peculiarities of London traffic.
So husband dear is trying to direct me over the mobile phone ( hands free, no worries!) away from the traffic hotspots of Oxford Circus and Regent Street.
But it's no good. I was as one drawn by an unseen hand into the vortex. And I was late already.
Problem two emerged as The Knowledge ( which is what we call husband dear owing to his intimate knowledge of every corner and alley of this city) was helping me to find a place to park. He directed me to St James's Square and, just as he said there would be, on my left was permit only parking and on my right were the pay and display spaces.
Wow, I couldn't believe my luck. Apart from some white lorries, almost every space was empty!
This was too good to be true I thought.
And it was.
The parking bays were suspended for filming. The only parking bays in use were occupied by humungous film catering behemoths. At this stage I was resigned to being late.
But I was grinding my teeth at having to pay the congestion charge, plus parking ( when I found a space) for the privilege of sitting in traffic getting tension induced lock jaw instead of being at the gallery hearing about Canaletto's Stonemasons Yard with the rest of our group..
Long story short, I did eventually find a space after some cruising around. And after putting £9.50 in the ticket machine and strapping the baby into the Ergo, and Honor into the buggy and loading up Colmcille, my little pack mule, with bags,I was ready to hit the gallery. Even if we'd missed the first half of the talk we could still jump in half way.
But feeling blindmans buffish, I didn't know if the Gallery was behind me, or in front.
So I saw this very smart looking lady walking towards me, and this is where the story gets to the good bit..
As I start to ask her for directions I notice she is speaking on the phone, and she gestures to me to wait. She tells the person she is speaking to that she has to go and then she hangs up and beams at the children as she says hello to them.
As she's giving me directions she explains that it's going to take 15, maybe 20 minutes to walk there.
My heart sinks. I think that we will have missed almost the entire guided tour by the time we catch up with our group.
And then, she see's something over my shoulder and pauses, she waves her arm and changes tack.
"I'm going to put you in a taxi" she says decisively as she walks over to the black cab she's just hailed.
I follow her slightly confused and she calls out "get in, I've paid him"
Before I know it, we're all inside, baby and buggy and all.
It all happened so quickly, I just got the chance to jump out and give her a hug before we drove off.
The driver was amused and touched when I told him that I didn't know her, that I'd just stopped to ask her for directions. He said he'd never seen anyone do that before.
I have no idea why she did that. Perhaps she liked the look of us and acted on impulse, perhaps she was "paying it forward".
But that one random act of kindness from a stranger was enough to nullify all the frustrations and tensions of my journey up until that point. It turned my day into a good day. A wonderful day.
And in case you're wondering, we did catch up with our group at the gallery in time for the second half of the talk. Afterwards, we had lunch in the car, and then crawled in stop start traffic and heavy rain to Whitfield Street where we spent half an hour under umbrellas with the 40 Days vigil outside Marie Stopes house before heading home.
A very good day after all, and a lesson in the impact of kindness from a stranger.
So now I'll be looking for an opportunity to "pay it forward".
But, unless husbands driving, I'll be taking the tube in future.