It was to be the biggest event of my career. The keynote speech to the Annual Joint Conference of HMIE, ADES and COSLA. I had prepared meticulously, read everything in sight and gathered a wide variety of opinions on CfE. I had been up in Aberdeen for the weekend, visiting my sister and her family, and it was a perfect preparation for the big day. I got the early train and had loads of time.
DANGER SIGNAL NO. 1. As we pulled out of Stonehaven, there was an ominous clunking sound. The lights went out. Silence. Eventually we were informed that there had been "a wee problem" with the front set. We finally moved out, but very, very slowly. Cars on the A90 whizzed past. We stopped again. And again. By this time, panic had set in. I tried to phone, but there was no reception.
DANGER SIGNAL NO. 2. The train was full of guys from the rigs who were wiring into the trolley and drinking everything in sight. The carriage was in darkness. The toilets were soon blocked. The trolley was rapidly emptying, and we were still in Fife.
The guys from the rigs were by now loud, boisterous, crude, rude, and chatting up everything in a skirt. I initially refused to tell them what I did for a living but, in order to shut them up, I said I was a hairdresser. Eventually, I managed to make contact with the conference organiser and apologised for the delay. I would be there as soon as I could.
DANGER SIGNAL NO. 3. The trolley was out of beer and spirits. Fortunately for the drinkers, there were some returning holidaymakers from Tenerife on the train and they were duly offered daft amounts of money to part with their duty-free booze. My notes were carefully concealed on my lap and I could glance down at them in between fending off propositions, indecent proposals and offers of marriage.
DANGER SIGNAL NO. 4. The guy next to me looked green about the gills. Moments later he was shouting for Hughie and Ralph and had thrown up all over my carefully-crafted speech. I was almost in tears.
The train finally crossed the Forth and limped into Haymarket. I had decided I would just have to call it off, when I was whisked away by a liveried flunky who had been sent to fetch the keynote speaker. The conference programme had been re-jigged to accommodate Mrs McElroy's key address.
As I tried to regain my composure, dignity and bottle, I was given a glowing introduction and the hall fell silent. I had no notes. I looked up into the heavens, took a deep breath and stared straight ahead.
To be continued ...