Good stories take time to tell and as I have it on the highest authority that this one is fit for a king, I hope you won't mind hearing it in installments! It begins a very long time ago when I first became aware that His Royal Highness, Prince Charles, was opening to the public his organic gardens at his Highgrove home, deep in the UK's Cotswolds. Immediately interested, I followed every drop of subsequent media coverage, from articles in the paper to radio interviews and television documentaries. I read every book I could find on the subject and dreamed that, one day, I too might have the opportunity to stroll through HRH's walled organic kitchen garden, or to wander dreamily through the fields of wildflowers that have become so much a symbol of his organic Highgrove philosophy.
When, a few years later, I found myself planning a nine month home-exchanging adventure to Asia and Europe, my first thought was that it might offer an opportunity to visit Highgrove. I dived onto the internet and consulted the official site. Yes, public visits were still possible, it was simply a case of making a booking via the net, and coughing up the required Euro. To my astonishment, however, I discovered that bookings were filled as far in advance as it was possible to make them! My heart sank but just as it did, there seemed there might be a way through the dilemma. Apparently, advised the booking staff when they courteously replied to my begging email, I could go on a waiting list. And that is exactly what I did. Several months before we were due to arrive in the UK, I requested automatic emails to be sent to me whenever a cancellation meant that two tickets would be available (though nowhere as keen as I was to see Highgrove, my husband thought he would enjoy joining me on a tour).
From then on, life became an emotional roller coaster. An email would pop into my inbox advising that tickets were available – but by this time, we had an itinerary to stick to (exchange-homes having been booked months in advance) and on any given date a visit to Highgrove was available, I would inevitably find I was in KL or Chiangmai, Paris or Athens. Anxiety was at fever pitch as, again and again, hope turned to disappointment. I took to praying for tickets and wondered if God listened to such trivial requests. In Istanbul, I discovered that He did. There, in the inbox of my Gmail, were two tickets on a date that would suit, well, almost. It would take some tricky renegotiating of exchange homes, the rebooking of two international train tickets (I decided the cancellation fee would be worth it), and some Houdini-like public transport changes when up in the UK (my long-suffering husband spent half a day on the internet working them out) but it seemed we might at last be going to Highgrove.
I filled in the online booking form, paid in advance, located (via the yellow pages) a UK post office to which the tickets could be sent (it was forbidden to collect tickets from Highgrove on the day of the visit, and they had to be uplifted beforehand in person rather than being emailed), and congratulated myself, rather smugly, on the result of all my efforts. If I had known then that the post office I had chosen had long ago ceased operation and that, two days prior to my visit, I would discover that my precious Highgrove tickets had disappeared from the records of the British postal system, I might not have felt quite so pleased with myself ... (To be continued...)