Really? Is this where I'm headed? Brrrr.
As I step off the number 156 into the dark, cold and wet of the Thames' south bank...and no, not the pretty bit up by the London Eye, mind you...I wonder, what have I gotten myself into?
But then pure instinct kicks in. Well that and my fierce "don't even look my way" New York attitude, so I double back a block from the bus stop and head straight into the empty, more-than-slightly forboding industrial park across the road. Hopefully the Thames and the Battersea Barge will lie just on the other side.
Well, maybe not.
After several minutes wandering back alleys, passing FedEx depots, cement mixers, seemingly abandoned boats plus who knows what else...things do take on weird shapes in the dark, don't they?...I get a wee bit concerned.
"Maybe you only THINK you know how to get there," the little voice in my head scolds.
"But I'm good with directions. Remember how I just seem to find my way out of things. And when I get lost, I always seem to figure out how to get back on track, no maps, no GPS. Anyway, Cauline told me so once and she must be right!," I retort.
The confidence lasts...at least another 30 seconds or so, until a beat up sedan slowly pulls out from the curb, headlights off, making its way towards me. And then, just when I'm about to really despair, ahh, a good samaritan arrives. (OK, a guy on rusty bike).
"Um, hi, do you know where the Battersea Barge is?"
He says, pointing, "Yeah, it's just that way. You can either cut through this industrial estate over or head that way and follow the river. It's basically the last boat moored down at the end."
"OK, great. Thanks!" I say. And he's right. Less than 10 minutes later, I see the welcoming beacon of bright lights...OK, a string of twinkly Christmas lights...and the broad gangplank of the Barge. A couple enters just ahead of me. I step through the wooden door and take a minute to let the warmth and security sink in.
"Oooh, Cherryl, you're here. So good to see you." Kiss, kiss Paul.
"I didn't know you were coming until Paul told me this morning. How nice!" Kiss, kiss Alessio.
"Wouldn't miss it," I say, smug now that I'm inside with both my wits and my purse intact. "How was your Christmas?," I ask.
"Great and yours?," says Alessio.
"Delightful and happy new year."
"Buon anno nuovo."
"Wait, how do you say it again?" Me, just loving the tongue-twisty slipperiness of the Italian.
"Buon anno nuovo."
"Hmmm, maybe I better stick with what I know and can pronounce. Buon natale, it is then."
"Buon natale. Now tell me about this young man of yours..."
And so, the loneliness of the walk soon forgotten, I'm swept along in Alessio's warm embrace, shown to my table, introduced to two other panto enthusiasts like myself and invited to join in a good bit of chin-wagging with an old friend. All too soon the music starts and the performers take the stage.
Everything as it should be.
You know, without being lost, being found wouldn't feel nearly so good.
NB: Though never excessive, certain narrative liberties, designed to heighten the storytelling, may have been taken in the writing of this blog.
The real deal...
Reached easily from Vauxhall tube station by the #344 or #156 bus, the Battesea Barge is an absolutely lovely cabaret venue set on the Thames. Last night's show was the spectaclar final performance of the 2010 panto, "Cinderella and the Glass Ceiling," produced by Paul Martin of Excess All Areas. Feel free to visit http://www.excessallareas.co.uk/ or http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/ for 2011 productions.