A CERTAIN WEEKEND IN CAEN by Michael Sproule

Managing the experienced chorister from marine embarkation to air-conditioned coach and beyond, with all the attendant weight of spouses and other impedimenta, calls for a high degree of strategic nous and tactical resilience on the part of management. Fortunately, at the drop of a chapeau, your carefree Guernsey vocalist takes well to an impromptu course of self-administered, appellation controlled imbibulation, and, whether bouncing about in the Gulf of St. Malo or cruising charabanc-closeted across the verdant dairylands of Normandy, a general and genial bonhomie can be heard to have broken out, a susurrus of contentment amidst the gentle ground bass of the diesel powered Mercedes Benz coach of choice. (Incidentally, Eric is a superb, seamlessly smooth driver, the very Gerald Moore of charabanc-chauffeurs, whose accompanying presence is ever there, but never noticed, save for an enharmonic gear change to the sub-dominant as he moves into the outside lane.) (And what a lovely hostess is our Svetlana of St Petersburg!) In the centre of Caen the Royal Hotel has generous breakfasting hours which suits us all well. The coffee machine with its preference for dispensing hot milk masquerading as cappuccino aside, breakfasts are as generous as you want, and everything from bed to bath to bar is conveniently close at hand. Hard by, the Royal Brasserie (under the same roof) has a manager who welcomes mature groups with a euro in their wallet and a song in their heart. It also has a young waiter who can sing the bridge passage from George Harrison's "While my guitar gently weeps". Outbreaks of impromptu dancing and folk singing are always a likely outpouring as the inpouring of local tinctures takes serious hold. But I run ahead of myself. Although he was once fully buried there, there is little left of William the Conqueror now interred in the Abbey of St. Etienne. The single bone that remains there would have had little cause to rotate in its coffin as we assembled in that mightily austere Norman pile. We were duly greeted by the enthusiastic entreaties of Monsieur Le Rottweile to proceed nowhere within the sacred confines of the building without a Bull signed by the Pontiff himself in triplicate. That certainly put us in our place. (I have a feeling that this Brexit business is going to be more long drawn out than we thought.) Soon, English, French and Austro-Germanic music filled those towering vaults, generously applauded by an audience who delighted in hearing every note three times with a several second interval between each. Indeed, the great pause at the end of the Hallelujah Chorus sounded as if several offstage choruses, hidden behind distant pillars, were pleased to join in, like echoes from an opera by Monteverdi. It was a unique effect. Later, on a weekend when Euro-soccer reached a disappointing finale for our hosts, it fell to us to remind Saturday night residents of La Place de la Republique of : (a) the glorious Welsh national anthem, so cruelly expunged at the semi final stage; (b) the glory of Ilkley Moor round about eight in the evening with upward semi-tonal modulations; (c) the glory of a certain contralto's Greek holiday complete with bazoukis and Gershwin's Summertime; (d) the glorious Estovakian national anthem (half time score : Portugal 0, Estovakia 4); (e) the glorious English Sixties repertoire of popular song, when all they had in France was Jonny Halliday and Maurice Chevalier, and England and Alf Ramsay ruled the world. Next day, we heard numerous accounts of how Germany attempted to rule the world twice - and are still trying (but got knocked out in the semi finals) - and were finally defeated by Mr and Mrs Gallichand in Rodney's irrepressible style as custodian of the Gallicand Annals. If there is anything more important than singing among your friends, it is singing among your former enemies. It was lovely to do so in Caen that weekend in July.