One of the delights of summer for my family is attending concerts in the park for an evening of classical music, singing, food and always a spectacular musical fireworks finale, the theme to Star Wars being popular. We haven’t done it for a few years now and are determined next year we will, because these weekends are always great fun. We would all descend on my brother’s two-bedroomed cottage during the afternoon, bringing picnic food and drink and, more to the point, claiming a spot for our sleeping bags. Ten to fifteen of us crowded into a tiny house with no garden in a quintessential rural village in Buckinghamshire is no mean feat – people slept under tables, on the kitchen floor, wherever they could find room. A good job we are a close family!
Most of the concerts we attended were held at Milton Keynes Bowl, an open air amphitheatre, once a clay pit now transformed into an open air venue complete with stage. There are no seats, everyone brings their own or sits on the grass. Many people in my brother’s village would also come, several coaches being hired to take us. We’d arrive early and claim our spot, carrying our chairs and blankets, picnic hampers, lanterns and everything else we’d need.
Both the first and last of these concerts I went to were memorable for two entirely different reasons. The first, not only because it was the first. The weather forecast promised a perfect evening (unusual for England!) so I was surprised to see people also carrying umbrellas, large golfing types. Hmmm, they must know something we don’t, I thought. During the course of the concert came the “Proms” part, audience participation encouraged, nay required. The Sailors’ Hornpipe and the usual beloved tunes and songs played at the Last Night of the Proms at the London Albert Hall. It was then that the reason for the umbrellas became clear. Upon the start of the anthem Land of Hope and Glory these umbrellas were opened and bobbed up and down in time to the music, a sea of Union Jacks, tartans, stripes and colours, every pattern you can think of. And frequent spontaneous Mexican waves would break out and run round the arena. A real spectacle.
During the interval, as the sun began to set, flocks of starlings began to gather over the amphitheatre, weaving and dancing, thousands of them doing their thing before roosting. Someone in the orchestra pointed this out to the conductor who beckoned the musicians to take up their instruments and he conducted them in a beautiful classical tune timed to match the flight of the birds to perfection. It was stunning, awe inspiring. Sheer magic. When it came to an end I’m not sure for whom the applause was loudest: the orchestra and conductor or the birds for such a wonderful interlude.
The last concert was a few years ago, held in the ancient jousting field below Berkeley Castle, the oldest inhabited castle in Britain. When the sun sets the red brick of the buildings positively glow. As was normal for these events, it rained that evening, a constant drizzle but it couldn’t dampen the atmosphere. It was after the concert ended that the memorable part showed itself. We were waiting on the pavement outside the grounds whilst our coach driver retrieved the vehicle from its very muddy parking field. A group of people were also waiting close by us. The ladies in full length tartan frocks, the men in kilts and sporrans. We began talking to them about the concert. Suddenly my dear mother, not one in being shy in coming forward, asked one of the men if it was true that Scotsmen wear nothing under their kilts. Without prompting, all three men raised their tartans and Mum, and us, had the answer.