Listening to a chat on the Today Programme this morning about “The Martian”, a film concerning a space traveller who gets left behind on the Red Planet by accident, reminds me. Many a moon ago I abandoned a kid to what I feared might be a similar fate.
This was pre-mobiles, pre Health and Safety, pre Risk Assessments. Pre-history for most people. I’d arranged to take a coachload of Sixth Formers to see – probably “ A Midsummer Night’s Dream” or possibly “Antony and Cleopatra”. And this was also pre- M40 – so coaches had to travel from Harrow via Oxford and Blenheim. All very nice on the way there, but in the pitch dark coming home late – a bit slow and gloomy.
There was a certain amount of murmuring; sniggering, actually – but the kind that you expect from teenage boys, so I paid no attention until – about 35 minutes into our journey home– a be-spectacled and quite serious face loomed in the dark and a whispered voice let me know that Wiggins was not on the coach. Wiggins – not his real name –was, it seems, not a particularly popular chap.
The blood congealed. The sweat sprang coldly. The hairs upon the fretful portpentine were not so upstanding as mine. The boy was alone. Lost . Abandoned at night in a strange city. His parents would know by now. The police would have been informed. The mat had no doubt been unrolled in the Head’s study to accommodate my size nine and a halfs first thing in the morning.
The driver was less than co-operative. He had a schedule. Not allowed, mate. Anyway there was nowhere to turn on this narrow road. Defferny no turning back.
I can’t remember what had to change hands before he was prepared to risk dismissal. I may have ordered a whip-round.
We drove in a grim and eerie silence back to Stratford. Back to the coach park. It was past midnight and the place was empty.
I’ve blanked out the process – although with only public phone boxes and limited access to numbers, it must have been excruciatingly long, incriminating, and painful for Commander Whybrow. Mission Control must have been close to meltdown.
Turns out that Wiggins had waited ten minutes and then booked himself into the nearest hotel. The blister!
Not sure yet how the film ends. Do they have a Hilton on Mars?