Sometimes you just have a feeling that a particular group will prove challenging.
It began with an email.
Regarding our group visit to thehouse next Friday, 14 of us would like the quiche, 12 would like the ploughmans, the others don't know yet but I'll let you know their choices as soon possible. We'd also like to book the guided walk of the estate, thanks.
I was confused. What group visit next Friday? I went through my diary and my bookings file. Nothing.
I wrote back.
Thanks for confirming your choices for lunch and your booking of an estate walk. Would you be so kind as to complete the attached booking form, so I know how many of you there are, your time of arrival and so on?
The reply was illuminating. Apparently the organiser had already completed a booking form and posted it. The only problem was they'd sent it to the wrong address, hence my surprise at the unexpected lunch confirmation.
So, with only a few days notice, we arranged their visit for them. They were to arrive by coach at 11am, have coffee at our tea room on arrival, then half of them wanted to have a guided walk of the estate, while the other half wanted to visit the house. Then they all required a group lunch. This took a bit of planning, as the tea room is a good two miles away from the house. In the end we came up with the simplest solution. My Boss, who would lead the walk, would go to the tea room when they arrived for coffee and take those who wanted the guided walk on a stroll through the woods. The other half of the group would get back on the coach and be driven down to the house. My Boss would bring his group down to me, finishing his walk at the house, and then the two groups could re-merge, get back onto the coach and head up to the tea room together when they were ready for their lunch.
I did have doubts about the group's ability to master this plan. Considering that they didn't manage to send back the form to the address printed on it, I was not overly optimistic about the chances of them even turning up on time. Or to the right place.
11am came and went. I gave McColleague my "I told you so" look. My Boss radioed. "What time did you say this coach was coming?"
Forty minutes later the coach finally arrived. My Boss gave them a few minutes to get their coffees and then went over to the tea room. He welcomed them warmly and explained that he would be taking those who'd requested it on a guided walk, while the others would drive straight on down to the house. "Any questions?" No, they all understood perfectly. "Right, well I'll go outside and all those who are coming on the walk can meet me by the coach."
Ten minutes later a small group had assembled by the coach. "What are we doing again?" they asked. "Am I on the walk or the coach?"
By the time my Boss was approaching the gates to the house an hour later, he was beginning to feel the strain. Still, at least he hadn't lost any of them en route. He radioed me again. "We're just approaching the house," he said. "The organiser has some money for today's visit and wants to know where she should pay."
I sighed, inwardly. This was all explained in the booking information I sent. "If she goes to the ticket office on arrival, they'll be happy to deal with it."
A few more minutes passed. The group arrived in front of the house. One of the party approached me. "Hello! I've got some money to pay for today's visit."
"Right. Yes. If you just call in at the ticket office, there," I pointed, "they'll be able to take your payment."
"That building there. You just walked past it to get here. It's usually quite hard to miss."
My Boss finished his part of the proceedings with a relieved smile. "This is the end of the walk, folks," he said. "I hope you enjoyed it. I'll hand you over to Doris now. Anything you want to know about the house, you just ask her."
He patted me on the shoulder as he took his leave. "This lot are daffy," he hissed in my ear before striding away.
"So, what are we doing now?" was the first query from the group.
"Well, now you can have a tour of the house, have a look round the grounds, and then your coach will take you back to the tea room for lunch at 2 o'clock".
At 2.30pm I noticed two things as I walked through the orchards. Firstly, the coach had gone. Secondly a group of people had accumulated near the now empty coach bay. I went over to investigate, with a due sense of foreboding.
"Oh, good," said the organiser of the coach party as I drew near. "Can you call someone at the tea room and get them to find our coach driver? He's taken some of the others back to the top, but we've been left behind and we're really hungry. We'd like our lunch now, too!"
I duly radioed through the message. There was a pause at the other end, where they were either tracking down the coach driver or laughing a lot. Or both, possibly.
I stayed with the group until the coach returned. I didn't want any of them wandering off again, or I could see this scenario playing out before me on an endless loop for the rest of the day.
At last all of them were on the coach and off to have their lunch. Where, despite their original email, detailing their menu choices, none of them could remember what they'd pre-ordered.
Yes, they were a challenging group. Perfectly pleasant, if a little confused. By the end of the day we were almost sorry to see them go. Almost.