We walk round the outside of the church gingerly to find the tall green tent. The rain has just started spitting and makes a surprisingly loud noise on the canvas. The sun has almost disappeared, the breeze giving over to a stronger wind which whips the branches of the trees in the churchyard into life. There is a rich deep grey in the clouds above us, tinged with the red of the sunset. The tent is in almost darkness, and George turns the torch on and heads in. When he reappears, he looks disappointed.
“There was no sawdust!” Apparently camping toilets have been modernised.
The day had started early in Salford. A late night followed by an early train, which took us slowly, but directly to Norwich. We struggled to sleep on the journey, mainly due to the loud group of men who couldn’t quite get their selfie angle correct and resorted to asking everybody in the vicinity to help them out. The trundling one-carriage train struggled through the beautiful hills of the North, and the contrasting boredom of Nottingham, before stumbling upon a familiar town. The canal boats of Ely and the endless flatness was a sign we were back.
“It is the cultural event of the year after all”
On arrival, we were immediately whisked to Nikki’s house. I had heard a lot about Nikki, who had been trying and failing – as most do – to get a reply from George for two weeks. She was organising the North Burlingham parish concert – the reason for our swift return to the South – and had been sending increasingly panicked and excited emails every other day in the hope that George might find it in his heart to put her out of her misery. I think he had, eventually. Anyway, it seemed that forcing George into her home was the only way to encourage him to rehearse. So here we were. As I stood in the kitchen communing with Spitfire the deaf cat and admiring the pond, George sang Vaughan Williams in the next room.
“I’ve recently discovered Yes Minister on Netflix and I just can’t stop watching.”
We were greeted when we got back by Jenny and a large pizza. The tiredness overcame us, and even the scintillating entertainment provided by the television couldn’t stop the inevitable nap. I woke up hours later, confused, Paul Eddington’s voice ringing in my ears and with only minutes to get to the church. The concert opened with the primary school wind band, consisting mainly of flutes, performing something that might have been the Bare Necessities. I sat shivering on a pew at the back of the church, and smiled at various old ladies who thought they ought to know who I was. Making conversation with parishioners is one of my specialities, having been brought up on it morning, noon and night. I considered that it was refreshing to be at a church concert during which I wasn’t being forced to perform Gilbert and Sullivan with my father. Meanwhile, I enjoyed the eclectic programme of massacred Strauss and a play about local farmers.
“Have a go on the cucumber sandwiches. The pepper really adds a bit of magic.”
The interval refreshments exceeded all expectations, mainly due to the addition of wine and seasoned cucumber. Under the pretext of “circulating”, George managed to acquire a bottle of Waitrose Merlot and a plate of olive swirls. We sat happily at the back, enjoying our picnic and the cultural delights of North Burlingham. We were accosted at one point by the star of the play, who, on learning my degree subject, claimed to be fluent only in English and Norfolk. It was the latter language that he used to continue the conversation and, despite my East Anglian training, I didn’t understand a word.
The primary school children returned, this time with the help of a kind clarinettist who improved the sound. We were given no explanation, however, of why they played the Bare Necessities twice.