Kathryn Harries - Soprano

Friday, June 16, 2006

Starring Bernard Cribbins

After breakfast Lorna drove Diana and me to Whissendine where we resumed our walk armed with rucksacks, several bottles of water each and our maps. Lorna had things to do for the evening concert and we were quite old and able enough to look after ourselves for a morning’s walking.
It was hot with only a suspicion of a breeze so we took advantage of every little piece of shade we could find. The four mile walk into Oakham was on a tarmac footpath so getting into a good, mile-covering rhythm was easy. We sailed past the future Oakham by-pass and reflected what a boon it would be to this pretty little town when all the heavy traffic was diverted away from the narrow, winding streets.
I had a chat with Bernard who’d just finished his interview at Rutland Radio and who was going to Rutland Water for an hour or two’s relaxation. Bernard is a great outdoorsman; he fishes and shoots at a very high standard and you can regularly see him on TV on programmes to do with fishing in particular.
As we crossed the level crossing and walked past Rutland Radio for the last time, I caught a glimpse of myself in a shop window. Oh God, what a fright. I suppose we all have a mental image of ourselves that has more to do with wishful thinking than reality; when I saw this bloody great middle-aged dragon with rugby-playing thighs on display, I resolved there and then to put the shorts back in the case, whatever the weather, and seriously consider liposuction when I got home.
Diana bought some new laces for her boots and we followed the signs to the castle where there were some loos. On the way out of the square I noticed a sign outside a shop advertising ‘knick-knacks’ and ‘old peculiarities’. We didn’t linger just in case.
We bore left out of Oakham and made for Rutland Water. It was getting hotter and hotter and the glare from the sun bounced up from the tarmac in a shimmering haze.
Tractors bearing huge rolls of hay grumbled past us – driven, I have to say, by rather handsome young men. A quick consultation with the map spread out on a shady grass bank confirmed we were on the right path and we began our ramble around Rutland Water. We didn’t catch a glimpse of the water until we’d walked a good half mile or so but it was worth waiting for. Through the restful shade of the deep green trees, the water looked coolly blue and tranquil. We took some photographs through a gap in a fence to remind us of the day before rejoining the gravel path that meandered through the woods. Taking photographs is a bit of a song and dance because I have to take off my rucksack, drop my water and map on the ground, remove my baseball cap, put my specs somewhere safe before even beginning to make some sense of my digital camera. Pathetic really.
We heard the Land Rover before we saw it and stood to one side to let the vehicle past; suddenly the driver backed up until he was level with us. ‘Are you the Opera Walk?’ he asked, pointing at our chests. (we were wearing identical T shirts and looked like those sad couples who always dress the same way) ‘Indeed we are,’ we cried. It turned out he was the Ranger in charge of Rutland Water and was coming to the concert tonight. After reassuring him that I wouldn’t look like a grubby tinker, we waved bye-bye and wandered on guessing the odds on that meeting happening at all.
We left the banks of Rutland Water and ended up at the Horse and Jockey pub in Manton. With the weighty heat of the sun bearing down on us, we’d started to trudge rather than march, so being indoors away from the breathless warmth was a relief. Speaking of which, the facilities were excellent.
We had a very tasty lunch in the recently refurbished pub and can recommend it to anyone who happens upon Manton. Top marks.
Diana rang Lorna – she had a mobile signal and I didn’t – and Diana gave Lorna clear instructions on how to find us. And then, surprisingly reinvigorated, we set off to walk as far as we could before being picked up.
We managed another 1.6 miles and stopped at yet another pub in the pretty village of Wing. We piled into the Jag and were back in Stretton by 3pm.
Time for an hour’s snooze for me and a bath for Diana while Lorna went off in search of refreshments for the artists between the rehearsal and the performance.
At 5pm, Diana was by the printer in Johnny’s office as it churned out 200 sheets listing the items for the auction; I warmed up my voice in the dining room and Johnny, who had a million and one jobs to do as usual, dashed here, there and everywhere in a fever of activity. He’s amazing.
At 5.30pm, Diana and I followed Johnny and Bernard into Oakham, parked close to the school and lugged the masses of gear we had with us into the chapel and Green Room.
We had to wait outside the chapel because a wedding rehearsal was underway – it was too late to shout ‘don’t do it!’ – but the wedding party to be rather pointedly closed the doors while we chatted quietly on the bench outside; I think it showed that our version of quiet was not necessarily everyone else’s…
Once the chapel was free, we ran through the few numbers that remained after last night’s rehearsal and then got ourselves dolled up for the concert. Lorna’s first-class sandwiches were demolished in short order and while we got dressed and made up in the funny little lavatory, she and Diana put out the concert shells, donation forms and programmes with the help of some Oakham pupils.
While Lorna went to fetch the wine from Stretton, Diana and Emily GH put the concert shells on the two hundred plus seats, set out about 300 glasses and laid out the T shirts and CDs for sale.
At least sixty people turned up at the door thanks to Rutland Radio and word of mouth and the concert, which began at 8.15pm, was a huge success.
We all sang really well in that splendid acoustic; the Rosenkavalier was a triumph and Peter Davis played the piano accompaniments as if he was a one man orchestra.
The Oakham Chamber Choir sang wonderfully and showed beyond shadow of doubt why they have reached the finals of the BBC choir of the year competition. Johnny joined them in a Czech version of the Lord’s Prayer by Janacek and they brought the house down. Magificent.
Bernard was simply brilliant; he read the Father of the Bride’s reply which he did at Coverwood three years ago and had everyone howling with laughter. And when the piano intro for ‘Hole in the Ground’ began, it was like a Hollywood film. The audience cheered and clapped and then sang along. Bernard’s voice is as youthful and attractive as it was forty years ago and I can tell you categorically that the man’s a genius.
Johnny auctioned a recital by him and Helen as well as several sets of tickets for performances at ENO. He raised a great deal of money and if he ever gets fed up with singing he could consider becoming a professional auctioneer. He certainly has the knack.
After the show, everything that had come out of the cars had to go back in, so Diana, Lorna, a number of very charming and helpful Oakham girls and boys and I tidied up as swiftly as possible. The Ranger we’d met earlier in the day said hello and told me, a little shyly I thought, that I really had scrubbed up rather well. And then, that too was consigned to history.
Back to Stretton and a party catered for by the Olive Branch Pub. What fantastic food and company and it was gone 2am before Diana and I tottered up to bed somewhat the worse for drink. Lovely-jubbly.

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