Janie and I arranged to see John and Mandy in their home town of Saffron Walden. They were keen to show off their new Saffron Hall. Luckily, we were able to find a suitable Sunday for all of us, with an appealing afternoon concert scheduled that day.
Janie and I played tennis in the morning at 9:00; an hour earlier than our usual Sunday slot. I was hoping to get away at 12:00/12:15, which didn’t seem too ambitious in those circumstances. Anyway, we set off just after 12:30 hoping the traffic wouldn’t be too bad. It wasn’t.
We checked in to The Cross Keys, where I had booked a luxury room. We parked Dumbo a bit awkwardly on arrival, as a large group of cyclists/diners had taken up one of the few proper parking spaces. When John & Mandy arrived, I managed to persuade one of the group to help me by moving the bikes a little so I could park properly, which she kindly did.
John whisked us off to Saffron Hall, which is in the grounds of the County High School. We hadn’t expected quite such a large and splendid hall in the circumstances; it can hold 740 people and has been designed in a modern, acoustically excellent style.
We were warned on arrival that Alice Coote, the intended soloist singer, was ill, so had kindly been replaced at short notice by Ruby Hughes. I think we have heard Alice Coote at the Wigmore Hall more than once; her CV is hugely impressive and her voice superb.
I looked at the addendum piece of paper (see above), half expecting it to say that Ruby Hughes is one of the better singers in the lower sixth, who has almost managed to get through Dido’s Lament without pausing for breath or singing too many wrong notes…
…but actually Ruby Hughes also has a most impressive CV and her voice was also superb. There was a small change to the programme, so we got the pieces shown on the scanned piece of paper above; similar to the original programme really.
It was a bit of a Wigmore Hall outreach gig, as Mahan Esfahani played the harpsichord in the Bach Keyboard Concerto (probably our highlight) and directed the Britten Phaedra (probably our lowlight). Janie and I are seeing one of Esfahani’s recitals at The Wig next month.
We also got two encores:
- an orchestral version of a Bartok Romanian Dance
- a version of a Chinese Fishing Song, orchestrated by someone who works in the Britten Sinfonia office, apparently.
The Britten Sinfonia had just returned from touring China. Slightly ironic, as John and Mandy were hoping to hear from Yining (their informal protectee) who is currently in Hong Kong trying to get back to Europe from China.
After the concert, we went on to The Tickell Arms for a really pleasant early dinner. Really good food and an interesting Languedoc-based wine list. A great opportunity to have a proper catch up and chat. Highlights were a pea and rocket soup and a superb roast pork dish. Mandy started with scallops and had room for some cheese as well; good for her. John was supposed to be on an alcohol holiday but the smell of the beer in The Tickell soon tempted him to break his fast.
After dinner, we showed John and Mandy our super room at the Cross Keys, then parted company reasonably early (perhaps 21:00 or so). I played Benjy the baritone ukulele briefly and then put on some 60s music, at which point Janie and I both fell asleep. I woke up at gone midnight to realise, to my horror, that the rather loud music was still playing. Just as well that luxury room of ours is quite isolated from the other rooms.
Monday morning, we had a superb breakfast at the Cross Keys and then, following John and Mandy’s advice, took a stroll around the stunning Bridge End Garden to walk off our breakfast. We even succeeded in entering and escaping the maze. What a pair of troopers. We won’t mention that the maze isn’t at all difficult, nor that we had to ask a couple of gardeners the way to find the maze in the first place. I admitted to one of those gardeners that needing directions to the maze is not an ideal qualification for a budding maze explorer. He replied, with a smile that “where is the maze?” is the most frequently asked question in the garden.
Enough excitement for one day – we headed back to London and spent the rest of the day picking up some items we need and sorting out some things that only seem to get sorted when you have a day off.
A delightful mini break.