About the Choir
Sing With Us
Das Handschrifttagesbuchchen von Brück S. Johannes
Das Englischbarokchor drittenmal in Bocholt, 2000
Friday 14 April
12st approx (very approx; dare not look at scales), alcohol units 14, cigarettes 0 (v.g.), calories 3418, semiquavers 0, hemiolas 0, decibels max 72 (because no singing yet, but some whooping on aeroplane).
Tra-la. Off to Bocholt to mark (as they say in Germany) Leon’s last concert with the Choir. Is our third visit to this friendly north German town, and the St Matthew Passion is the third consecutive Bach performance Leon has conducted (previous two being Mass in B minor at St John’s Smith Square, and the St John Passion at Mill Hill). Seems to be a year of threes: “y2k” has three letters (or technically two letters and a digit, but as is says in The Three Habits of Highly Defective People, “don’t pick the small nits”).
And only last week I was reading an article in Cosmopolitan
about a new relaxation technique called frottage à trois. I believe this is
French. Actually, this trip will be v.g. opportunity to improve my foreign
language skills as are travelling to Germany via Amsterdam which is in far north
of Belgium, where rule of law openly
10:00 a.m. Packed and ready to go. Money, tickets, passport. Oh, music. And, er…
10:01 a.m. Gaah! Phone. “Hello it’s me, guess what?” I don’t know, mother. “That new shrub I’m growing for you: it’s got two flowers on it already. Mind, you’ll need to plant it in a shady spot but with some afternoon sun, not too clayey, and make sure you give it plenty of water”. Promise to deal with it later in the year.
11:30 a.m. In good time for check-in at LHR T4 (that’s London Heathrow Airport, Terminal 4, for provincial readers). But journey trouble already brewing. Heathrow Express failed to stop at Terminal 4, presumably because no-one pressed the red pinger button (or perhaps now is all done by bar code scanners on luggage labels going through door, so if suitcase facing wrong way or obstructed by legs then flight information not recognised). This caused late arrival of Ezzer. But as it says in The Two Testaments of Highly Religious People, “the last shall be first and the first shall be last”. Vile Richard says this is bollocks but I say is dog’s bollocks which for some reason good whereas bollocks in general bad. Truth manifest to us in what, if had happened 2000 years ago would have become The Parable of the Paralysed Check-in Clerk. Ezzer, despite late arrival, checks in immediately by not going to the nominated desk (at which remainder of us still in stationary queue) but picking an empty one at random. Ha! Serve her right if she gets taken by Aeroflot to Nagorno-Karabakh.
12:15 p.m. Now time to start drinking, in time-honoured tradition. Get unexpected chance to practise foreign languages early, as only way to get served at airside bar is to speak very slowly and loudly, with vivid gestures and waving hard currency notes.
1:30 p.m. Flight BA438 departs for Amsterdam (Schiphol). The kind of stark, factual sentence that gets recycled into those morbid newspaper reports the day after… except that our plane did not crash. It did experience some slight turbulence, closely followed by some very considerable turbulence. As grandfather used to quote from Monty Python: “notice they do not so much fly as plummet”. (This sketch was about sheep perching in trees: quite apt really). Reactions varied to violent shaking and sudden drop: cabin staff looked alarmed, especially the one whose foot was crushed by drinks trolley returning to floor. One or two shouts of yee-haa in manner of rodeo rider. Others hurled their drinks against the ceiling in order to get individual rub-down from stewardess with box of Kleenex.
But could have been worse eg Fenella’s flight struck by lightning.
15:40 (local time ie none of this pm anachronism) Despite stern advance warnings from Marshall Mike, some wandered off on arrival in Amsterdam, to buy beer, consumer electronics, herrings, skunk, Golden Showers videos etc. Someone told me Golden Showers is Dutch band like cross between Steps and Wet Wet Wet, but think might have been taking the piss. Discover Amsterdam actually in Netherlands, where they take English money. After longish and interesting chat with the Surinamese checkout assistant, discover that Dutch is very like Flemish, which is in turn like German but with the vowels doubled, the consonants either gargled or swallowed (occasionally both) and some gratuitous “j”s thrown in. Then notice impatience of queue behind growing into overt aggression, so rush off to rejoin group. Coach would have left without me but some people’s luggage gone missing so is delay.
Beer was good planning as upstairs of coach v. high temperature. Occupants assume Marshall Mike would not tolerate such conditions so must be downstairs (or are so busy with social bonding / stupefied by sauna atmosphere, are not aware of surroundings). By bizarre coincidence, lower deck passengers also rendered senseless, by smells from on-board toilet. Bus driver switches off mobile phone, for fear of igniting toilet fumes or perhaps because excessively chilled out by local “tobacco”.
Dutch motorway is like M25 except less circular. Traffic moves at snail’s pace but as is Friday evening perhaps not surprising. What is suprising is to arrive in Bocholt to discover that Mike and two passengers actually not on coach but left behind at Schiphol. Aargh! Is like Lord of the Flies or Castaway where when people leaderless become sinister shambles. Must re-read Cabal to Rabble: Social Dynamics for Quasi-Autonomous Ad-hoc Artistic Sub-tribes On Tour, which think was serialised in Marie Claire 1997-1999.
19:00 (approx) For those staying in Europa Institute, first task is to get food, in manner of voluntary castaways declining hospitality of local families and also avoiding Marshall Mike in case is homicidal. Streets astonishingly deserted for Fri eve: where are all the drunken teenagers?
Assume Bocholt youth too poor to afford lager, no doubt driven by street cred pressures to prohibitively expensive imported brands like Kestrel, Carling etc.
Alternatively perhaps Dinner for One is on television tonight (is ancient British comedy episode which is cult in Germany and empties streets in manner of Royal Wedding or England in important football defeat.
Dinner for considerably-more-than-one is what we need. Getting into a restaurant might be easier if lose some people in the crowds, but we are the only crowds, so party is worryingly complete as approach gastronomic zone. “Guten abend gnädige Fräulein, haben Sie bitte einen Tisch für 35 Leute, bitte?” As expected is not possible, but offered three tables for ten and a table for five. Crikey. Is inexplicably empty “Argentinian” meat-oriented establishment, named after one of the Pampas and with wallpaper made out of skins of past dinners. Perhaps toilet roll holders will be made out of horns, and we will be lassooed and whipped when is time to leave.
Because of foreign language knowledge, asked by fellow diner to decode German menu and help choose light dish, not too meaty. Is difficult in what clearly is establishment for unreconstructed carnivores. Choose item which is not on mental list of known meats, but turns out to be one of the many words for chicken. Specifically, is twin-breasts-of-henlet-with-cherry-nipples, so gives entertainment value to whole table. Suppose is like eskimos (which Shazzer tells me I must now call Inuit) and snow, or come to think of it, Germans and sausages. But with sausages is clue ie all end in wurst.
23:00 Most diners understandably exhausted by fleisch-fest and overcome by sleepiness, in manner of successful stone-age hunters. Join renegade “gatherer” group which not only manages to get into bar but find empty table in corner. Bar called Reidick which think means fat gut, but could possibly be brewer’s droop. Not in German phrase book. Astounded by friendliness of staff, who not only serve quickly and without the surliness/aggression common in England, but actually bring drinks to table. And are prepared to explain different types of schapps and identify constituent cherries, pears, small Alpine flowers, goat dung etc.
01:00 Leon had warned us not to get drunk and shout “down with the mayor” in town square. As far as can remember he did not forbid medleys from Sound of Music.
Saturday 15 April
12st plus some pounds, alcohol units 19, cigarettes 0 (vg), calories 3329, semiquavers 12,548 (are lots of semiquavers in Bach, and rehearsals involve repetition. Actually not exact “repetition” or would not have been need to sing again), hemiolas 130 (of which 51 not noticed and 74 outrageously exaggerated), decibels max 86 (saving full volume for performance tomorrow).
10:00 Gaah! Rehearsals today. But first is time for shopping. On way into town, discuss potential problems of attempting to buy gifts while equipped only with the German words used in St. Matthew Passion. Is risk of loved ones receiving torn curtains, sausages made out of murderous blood etc.
11:00-13:00 Rehearsal of Part 1 (with orchestra and soloists), St-Georg-Kirche.
13:01 Fitting in lunch is challenge, difficult to find restaurant not crammed with fellow singers / instrumentalists. But stumble on marvellous little place in quiet square, with yet more friendly and efficient service. Also bonus of seeing local tradition on display, viz. setting fire to newspaper then pummelling the flaming shards into remains of dessert. Ask what are origins of this zeitungsbrandrahmeintrommelfest, but told was merely bungled attempt to burn bill and thereby avoid payment. Is understandable as bills very wide, to accommodate long words describing food.
14:00-16:45 Rehearsal of Part 2. Leon concludes with grim warning that “tomorrow is D-day”. How many times have we told him not to mention the war?
16:46 Rehearsal of evening rampage. Start quietly with hot chocolate in town square, which comes in kit form for self-assembly, in manner of IKEA furniture though know is Swedish not German. Do not mean town square is in kit form, mean hot chocolate is, with separate modules of whipped cream, amaretto and a little biscuit. Disappointed that German word for whipped cream is not like slagroom as in Dutch, but maintain entertainment by eating components separately and watching more local traditions. Thought was just local riff-raff, who I now see are absent from streets at night because completely plastered by tea-time. But on closer inspection is organised role-play involving roadsweeper type who is brandishing brush at passers-by because is not yet married at 18, in manner of sad reject. Wonder what that makes me. Befriend waitress by buying drink (for me, not her), and she explains objective is for roadsweeper type to get kiss from member of opposite sex then can go home and watch television. This approach would not work in Fulham and does not seem to work in Bocholt either.
Interrogate waitress further with objective of improving on Tanzcafé experience of previous visit. She recommends Oberbayern, which sounds like leather shorts establishment but she assures us is hot nightspot with latest kicking techno sounds etc. She is unsure if they feature jungle, but is good chance of meadow, coniferous forest and culminating in sub-glacial moraine (very cool rock ha ha must tell this joke tonight when time is right).
Refrain despite obvious temptation from asking “I would like to see your Fuckepott”. This is genuine local tourist attraction but very old joke in poor taste so will not let anyone see diary.
Seems that Ezzer has not after all been taken to Nagorno-Karabakh because turns up in Bocholt café. But is without German money. Maybe thought Germany like Netherlands where English money taken, else perhaps did indeed arrive via Nagorno-Karabakh but was understandaby deported (not before corrupt immigration officials stole money).
19:07 Eat pizza. Is not very German but all other restaurants full or will not admit large groups with reputation of singing (badly) after main course. Reputation duly lived up to. Damn! Now is another one cannot return to.
22:00 Oberbayern. Really is leather shorts establishment, but only the staff wearing them. Customers very cool, too cool to move from bar so EBC monopolise dance floor, attracting puzzled stares. Perhaps conga is not popular here. Attempt to rebuild Strasse-Cred by drinking Weissbier out of ostentatious glasses, but locals inexplicably do not do this.
23:50 Musical style of DJ changing from Abba etc to more teutonic sound. Bemused looks of locals seem to harden as we interpret this genre with much foot stamping, air punching and shouts of “oy! oy! oy!” in manner of crazed followers of charismatic dictator. Perhaps is time to leave.
Sunday 16 April
12st plus some
14:00 Warm up
21:00 Kolpinghaus. Is traditional and revered climax of our visits to Bocholt. Innovation this year is system of recording drinks by ticking side of beermats. Is boon when asked boring old question “how many have you had?”. Do not need to speak, simply wave beermat in person’s face. If they cannot read “|||||||||||||||||” then that’s their problem.
22:00 Speeches particularly good this year. Leon understandably emotional, likens his feeling on departure from EBC to a “little death”. Think this means orgasm in French, but no overt merriment here so perhaps is not similar in German. As it says in You Can Always Get What You Want If You Want What You’ve Got: “If you don’t know whether you are coming or going, you are probably doing both”. Is v. profound.
23:00 Much international bonding and cultural exchange. Venerable and distinguished-looking Bocholt lady is asked if she enjoyed the concert. “Shit-hot” she replied in fluent English. Assume she learned English from a man in a pub, or perhaps Sky Moviemax. Actually is damning with faint praise, because shit is not in fact very hot.
23:30 Final speeches. Leon states is not actually leaving, not as such. So he is indeed going, coming and not going. Alles klar as they say in Wittgenstein.
Monday 17 April
12st plus some pounds, alcohol units 19, cigarettes 0 (is not really vg because have never smoked), calories 3329, semiquavers 0, hemiolas 0, hernias nearly one, decibels 50 (v. subdued atmosphere in manner of anticlimax or post-climax).
06:00 Breakfast is available for those staying at the Institute.
07:30 Coach picks up.
11:45 Flight BA 431 departs Amsterdam (Schiphol).
12:10pm (UK time) Arrive Heathrow Terminal 4. Gaah! Back to real life. Horror and despondency. Also, no messages on answering machine; must be faulty. Will get fixed tomorrow.
12:11pm Also, ring BT to report that 1471 is not working.
12:12pm More problems. Postman appears to have stolen all interesting mail, leaving only bills and advertising material.
2pm Write diary (actually is lie; was made up months after the event).
10pm In pub. Is something to be said for beer which is not cold and fizzy. Perhaps real life is OK. When diary is published and am rich and famous, can maybe live off earnings and pass on wisdom to others in form of self-help book. I will call this “Basses are from Neptune, Tenors are from Uranus”. Will be allegory about seamen and pilots, highs and lows, comings and goings, and universal harmony.
11pm Wonder if Marshall Mike has recovered from experience of being left behind by the party he was leading. Will write song to cheer him up.
“Lasst ihn, bleibet,
© 2000 Neil Thompson
Based on a true story, but some facts have been distorted for comic effect, and other relevant facts omitted where deemed insufficiently entertaining.
Any resemblance of characters to real individuals is for me to know and you to find out.
No animals were harmed in the making of this work, except for chickens, pigs, cattle, herring etc killed for use in foodstuffs.
With sincere thanks to all those who worked on the organisation of the trip.