There is a very merry crowd of us travelling on the train to London. Most of the seats in my carriage are occupied by Brighton supporters heading to the match with Crystal Palace which (they inform me) is due to start at 12.30
p.m. They are fortifying themselves against the possibility of disappointment with bottles of Peroni beer and much lager. No, I decline to join them, it being a tad early for one as delicate as I.
Sitting opposite me, a woman photographer bound for the Don McCullin exhibition at the Tate Gallery which she is expecting to be a trifle harrowing - hence she is bolstering her Inner Warrior by jesting with the footie fans.
In the seat next to me, a very nervous groom-to-be quaking visibly at the thought of the stag do which was being organised for him that very afternoon and evening. We (the photographer and I) comfort him with the thought that his beard, if necessary, will
doubtless grow back before the wedding day in four weeks time. He doesn’t seem particularly reassured..
Which only leaves me - on my way to the annual Jolly Girls Outing to meet up with three daughters, three granddaughters, one son and one grandson. I know, I know - but we have all agreed that the two fellas can be Honorary Jolly
Girls for the purposes of our outing. Their presence will add, I know, to the Overall Jollity of the occasion.
One of the guiding principles of the annual Jolly Girls Outing is that anticipation must build over the course of our journeys whether by car, train or coach. It is essential for everyone to keep in touch via text message ensuring
we all know where every other Jolly Person is at any given time. My mobile phone keeps pinging in a most satisfactory way, ensuring the photographer, the footie fans and the nervous bridegroom will all assume I am really, really popular. The Eldest of the
Darling Daughters sends a selfie of herself and her daughters with a poster of the theatrical production we are going to see - we all think they have arrived already but apparently they are still at Sevenoaks railway station. My Boy, travelling by coach, sends
a map complete with a blue spot indicating that he has reached Heston. My geography being what it is, I am not absolutely sure where Heston is...
At Clapham Junction, the Middle of the Darling Daughters joins my train so that she can accompany me the rest of the rest of the way to the restaurant in Covent Garden booked for us by her sister. We are the last to arrive which
at least ensures that we can make an entrance. Now we are all together, the fun can begin. I present My Boy and the Eldest of the Grandsons with the official certificates, tied with green ribbon, which I have produced, naming them Honorary Jolly Girls. They
manage to accept them with an appropriate level of appreciation. They know better than to disappoint me.
Our choice of entertainment is Come From Away at the Phoenix Theatre and we have read so many fantastic reviews that I was afraid we might be disappointed - but not for a minute of the 100 minutes running time are we anything
but enthralled. It is, we all agree, one of the very best of our Jolly Girl experiences. The four youngest of our party were children at the time of 9/11 - but they have visited Ground Zero and know of the horror that unfolded when the Twin Towers were struck.
None of us, however, had known much about the true stories lived out in the small town of Gander in Newfoundland where thousands of air passengers found themselves diverted - to be greeted by townsfolk rising to the immense challenge of feeding, housing and
comforting them. We laugh and we cry as the story unfolds and we are all on our feet, with the rest of the audience, at the finale.
We had all Come From Away on our Jolly Outing - three from Kent, three from Hampshire, one from Cardiff, one from York, me from the South Coast. There is something very special about coming together to enjoy food, to toast each
other with our choice of beverage, to tell jokes, to share news, to tease and to share an amazing theatrical experience. I look along the restaurant table, and then along our seats in Row E of the Grand Circle at so many of my Best Beloved and I have a lump
in my throat at the thought that they have all come, despite long journeys, despite impending exams, giving up a precious weekend day with their own families or opportunities to work or spend time with friends. They are all here.
On the way home I ponder on the thought that the Brighton fans have gone home happy, the photographer has returned to her studio with fresh inspiration and the groom-to-be has (hopefully) retained both his dignity and his beard.
None of them, I think, could feel happier and more blessed than I do - thanks to my Jolly Gang who came from away to make my day.