Music · Travel

Week 47: Moving House and the Royal Botanic Gardens

Jacqueline and I started the week in London, having been at the Proms over the weekend. We had to spend a little bit of time cleaning up the apartment and making it ready for its regular inhabitants again. From there, we rode back towards Liverpool Street, stopping at Embankment on the way for some German street food.  We arrived back in Cambridge late that afternoon and went home for a short while to unpack. We reconvened at Annalise’s for dinner, taking the opportunity to catch up, hang out and debrief from our recent trip to Scotland.

Tuesday and Wednesday morning were relatively tame, I had a Real Tennis coaching session with Krittika in the morning, and won games against Gillian and Paul. The chaos started early on Wednesday afternoon, when I met with Emma, Annika and Jacqueline. Today was finally the day when we get the keys to our new house.

We met the landlord at the house at half past two. We checked over the last few things, signed the last bits of paper work, and were handed the keys to the front door and side gate. Eager to get moved in, I started the long process of ferrying all of my stuff over. Too stubborn to get a taxi, I endeavoured that I would move all of it by bicycle. I brought over the first load with a few boxes of clothes strapped to the back of my bike straight away. By dinner time, I had completed three trips backwards and forwards, mostly focussed on cleaning out my wardrobe. When I got to the new place, I would go through the box and try and find a new home for everything. I grabbed a quick dinner with Jacqueline at Churchill college, before continuing later that evening. By ten o’clock, I had ferried five loads of stuff to the new house.

After a hit of tennis with Jacqueline in the morning, Thursday was mostly moving things. Bit by bit, I went through all of my things, packing and unpacking. Over the course of the day, I made seven trips back and forth. I also found the time to head to John Lewis to get some new bedsheets, as my old ones would no longer fit. This was briefly interrupted by a trip to the Cavendish to meet with my supervisor, who was only back in Cambridge briefly. Late in the evening, I reasoned that I only had one more load of things to go, and everything would be done. But this meant carrying my bike bag, and in it, my heavy bike stand. My bike bag doesn’t have wheels; it is cumbersome to carry the few miles to the new place, and it was too big to fit on the back of my bike. It meant carrying a huge bag, and a box strapped to my bike across town. It proved a little too much, and Jacqueline had to come and help the last little bit from Christ’s pieces onwards. But it meant that everything was now done.

On Friday morning, Jacqueline and I woke very early, and caught an expensive peak-hour train to King’s Cross in London. We made the familiar trek out to the Royal Albert Hall by quarter past eight in the morning, ready for the box office to open at nine. You can get arena tickets to the Last Night of the Proms on certain days of the season if you can bring ticket stubs from five previous concerts. We now had now been to ten, and were eager to get to the front of the queue. There were a number of people milling about at the coffee shop in the foyer with the box office, and when nine o’clock neared, we formed the start of the queue and guaranteed ourselves tickets for the Last Night.

Seeing as we had already made the trek into London, it made sense to stay around for most of the day. We left the Royal Albert Hall, but only after we saw the guy who was giving out queue places for the same day’s concert. We would be about thirtieth in line, meaning we would get a great place near the front of the arena.

Annalise was coming into London by train to go to the National Archives in Kew. Jacqueline and I decided to head to Kew ourselves to meet her and grab a coffee with her. We cycled out towards west London, but news slowly came through that Annalise had been set back by delay after delay. Even though she was only a few trains after us leaving Cambridge, she wouldn’t get to Kew herself until hours after us.

So instead, we took the opportunity to visit the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, now a World Heritage Site. For lunch, we found an excellent bakery selling descent sausage rolls, and headed out to the vast expanses of the gardens. We spend almost the whole day wandering through, such was the scale of it. It was coming to the end of summer, so most of the plants were still in leaf. We slowly made our way around the park, disrupted briefly by spurts of rain.

Not usually plant fans, we were both mightily impressed. There was a botanical art gallery, of which the most interesting room was an old room with A3-sized landscape paintings of scenes from all across the Commonwealth. There were VR headsets with a short film about going up a giant redwood tree with an arbourist. There was a tree-top walk amongst some very tall chestnut trees. There were glasshouses and glasshouses with plants from all across the world; rainforests, deserts and oceans. I managed to find a sole eucalyptus tree which smelled amazingly like home, and Jacqueline managed to find a few tall trees from the Pacific North West. But we just kept wandering until it was nearly closing time, and we would have to head back to the Royal Albert Hall.

 

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We grabbed dinner before the concert from a food court on High Street Kensington, before joining the queues for Prom 45. We relished our positions near the front of the audience, and realised that we were in the section for serious promenaders: everyone was telling stories of the years that they had been to the Proms, and seemed to have a favourite position near the front.

Prom 45 was Mahler’s second symphony; the “Resurrection” symphony. This was the only concert played; there was no interval. This was also, not a normal symphony, played in five movements. The first two movements were slow, tense, and everything one would expect from a symphony, with some excellent cello sections and great variation in dynamics. But the third movement on really caught my attention. Unlike many third movements so far this proms season, this was edgy and cheeky, with plenty of loud percussion. The fourth movement was sung by an alto in a short song. Though the most exciting bit was the very long fifth movement. It began with a calling from a section of horns in a separate orchestra up in the gallery. Jacqueline later explained that they are normally backstage and hence muted, but the shape of the Royal Albert Hall made the horns prophetically and angelically call down from the heavens. The conductor was directing them via a video link. In addition, there was a chorus and an organist, which made an amazing sound within the hall. At one point, the two timpanists on stage were joined by a third percussionist to play on one of their timpani, plus a third timpani in the gallery. It was suspenseful right to the final note, which was the first time in the piece that the organ began to dominate. It was my outstanding highlight of the proms season to date.

 

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After the concert we headed back towards King’s Cross. But first, we made our way to Westminster and stood on the Westminster bridge at ten o’clock for our last opportunity to hear the bells of Big Ben during our time in Cambridge. The bells would no longer be rung owing to renovation works. Despite our early start, we wouldn’t be back to Cambridge until after midnight.

The weekend, comparatively speaking, was much calmer. I finally managed to move in to the new house properly, and would return my keys for my old college dorm, making two last trips to pick up a few extra items and my bike, bringing the total number of trips to 14. I played a bit of tennis, and ran a few errands around the place.

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