Each year an open-air concert is held in the grounds of one of the great houses not far from the village. I attended two of them with various friends from the Ship and Bell pub. The manicured grounds of Stanstead Park pictured above are the perfect venue for just such an event. The massive expanse of lawn in front of the great house, surrounded by trees, sparsely populated by peacocks, lends itself to such occasions. The orchestra sit on a covered stage to one side, with the soundman’s control booth set a couple of hundred yards back from the stage on the lawn among the audience. The people bring their food and drink, chairs, and rugs, and enjoy listening to all the old favourites.
The whole atmosphere of the place is like a smaller outdoor version of the ‘Last night at the proms’ concert popularised by the late Benjamin Britain, broadcast every year by the BBC from the Albert Hall in London.
Patriotic pieces like ‘Land of hope and glory’ and ‘Rule Britannia’ usually end the musical part of the evening with the crowd waving their ‘Union Jacks’ while bobbing up and down in time to the music, and singing at the top of their voices. Then comes the firework display, choreographed to something spectacular like the ‘Star Wars’ overture or some other rousing modern piece.
Beer tents, fast food outlets, and mobile toilets surround the area in front of the stately home. Everything about the event is organised with military precision by an army of volunteers, from directing traffic to locating parents when they are reported missing by their kids. Of course all of this is just another good excuse to eat and drink too much, which is why we used minibuses.
Now we enter the story. The first time I attended one of the concerts, Kenny’s wife Edith organised my ticket. Under protest my snobbish cousin and his wife accompanied us to the affair. They are both classical music buffs and so I thought they might enjoy the concert and the friendly boisterous atmosphere. I was completely wrong. He hated every minute of it. What really grated with him was having to rub shoulders in public with the likes of me, his antipodean cousin, and my friends.
We all duly met in the car park of the Brewers Arms to wait for the minibus. Terry, Ian D, and Kenny had already been at the venue for hours, setting out the seats, and establishing our spot in front of the sound booth. Kenny’s wife Edith is an absolute treasure, she organised everything, tickets, food, drink, the lot. The minibus eventually arrived and we all squeezed into the confines of the vehicle. The door was slammed shut and off we lurched along the road to Stanstead Park.
Glad to be out of the minibus, we gathered ourselves together and went in search of Kenny and the rest. Keith and I had brought along our yellow fluorescent safety jackets from work, mainly for warmth when the sun finally went down. We actually spent the evening as unofficial Day-Glo yellow navigation beacons in the darkness for the rest of our group to find their seats when they returned from disappearing off to the loo. Edith and Kenny, Terry and Ian D, Keith and myself, Barry and Jean and my cousin and his wife, together with a few others all sat together, surrounded by thousands of happy picnicking concert goers waiting for the event to begin.
The conductor came out, bowed low, introduced himself, the orchestra and the soloist, and away they went. While the music played, with the exception of two members of our party, we all ate and drank, laughed and made merry; and when the time came, we all sang at the top of our voices, waving our flags when the familiar strains of ‘Land of hope and glory’ and ‘Rule Britannia’ were played as the evening drew to a close.
All the while my relatives sat there in stony silence while the music belted out through the enormous banks of speakers at each side of the stage. The frosty look on my cousin’s face spoke volumes. Unlike the rest of us he simply would not allow himself to kick back and relax. It was a shame really because my friends and I had a great night. When I later suggested to him that they might like to attend the following year’s concert, the answer was a very definite, ‘no’!
When the last fading multi-coloured shower from the glittering firework display disappeared into the night, we began to pack up. Ian D was sitting in the back of his van receiving folded tables and chairs from our snaking line of staggering, giggling, happily drunk friends, while Kenny went off to find the minibus. We were all definitely the worse for drink as we waited in the floodlit road. Despite that, with the exception of my cousin aka The Grinch, we all had a brilliant night at the concert in the park at Stanstead House. What I never told him was that I spotted his wife quietly doing some low level conducting with one foot…