ACS Concert Tour
21 to 26 July 1999
A 6.30 a.m. hassle for the best coach seats. Once bagged none of us at any time dared challenge for the two front seats. Roughly speaking, docile sopranos occupied the front and boisterous contraltos the middle. The men from Liverpool and Chesterfield retreated to the back seat.
At midnight we arrived in Caen. The Ibis Hotel was well sign-posted, apparently down a narrow alley, where the ever-calm Wally was forced to do a 10-point turn, watched by incredulous diners. We were unable to hide the "Altrincham Choral Society - On Tour" notice in the back window.
The hotel door was locked and some thought they'd have to spend a night on the tiles - some did.
Most went to the Peace Museum on the outskirts of Caen. Some (mainly the younger ones) got up late and went shopping - in fact they seemed to get up late and go shopping every day.
We visited the US military cemetery and glimpsed some of the landing beaches, including much of the Mulberry Harbour. We were awed to remember that so many soldiers and civilians had been killed and so much damage inflicted in the summer of 1944.
Prior publicity for our concert in Courseulles had been scant but leaflets were thrust into the hands of the surprised locals and tucked under their windscreen wipers, and we had a reasonable size and very appreciative audience. One lady complained that the 8 o'clock start was far too early - "That's when we French eat".
A free morning in Caen for the eager-beavers to go culture hunting in the Château, the Abbaye-aux-Hommes and the Abbaye-aux-Dames, which had been built in 1062 by William and Maltilda to celebrate their wedding.
The small town of Falaise was the birth place of William the Conqueror. We were pleased to see our posters in many windows - the local tourist office had done a good job. An ex-pat. Englishman with large hat and a Gitane was our guide for the castle. He rambled on for the whole afternoon, exploring many aspects of William's life and his own. One by one we slipped quietly away until only half a dozen remained to hear how there were no doors on his school's loos and how urine was used for tanning leather and for so much else.
The piano hadn't arrived at the delightful little church of St Gervais, but Steven wouldn't let us go home, threatening us with singing the whole concert unaccompanied. Fortunately a concert grand did come and Lydia was later forced to play an encore to an audience delighted by her splendid performance.
Although we started the concert at 9.00pm, people drifted in until nearly the end. We too were encouraged to sing an encore.
Another free morning for some to recover from the late night session in the bar.
We were met in Sées by a very eloquent French speaking guide who showed us a little of the town and its splendid cathedral. It was hot but the nearby bar was in shade and some had their first taste of Orangina and citron-pressé. That was the only problem - with a concert in the evening we had to be sparing with the local wines.
The concert was in the Chapelle de la Providence - a sort of convent with nuns scurrying about. They made us very welcome and cooked an excellent dinner for us, with vegetables they'd picked from their own garden that day.
An easy day visiting the wonderful Bayeux tapestry and dining in the little fishing town of Honfleur before collapsing into our en-suite cabins for the night sailing.
Many thanks must go to Lady Joy for organising the tour, to gruppenführerin Pam for getting us not to rustle our pages and of course to Steven and Lydia.
All the concerts had gone well. As Steven predicted, we never repeated the same mistakes - just invented new ones each evening. But he did say that we were beginning to sing quite well.