Week 102: Last Night of the Proms

The week began in an ordinary fashion, though on Wednesday, Council all went to the GSCR to do a sweep and a clean. On Thursday night, Kevin invited Annika, Jacqueline, Margaret and myself over for dinner. Kevin makes nice curries, so we all happily obliged. We ended up spending a lot of the night just chatting, well beyond the food.

On Friday morning, we headed down to London one last time for the BBC Proms. We took our usual route directly to the Royal Albert Hall, arriving at around 9 am. Thus began the complicated procedure of queuing for the Last Night of the Proms. The stewards would not start giving out queue tickets until midday, so the prommers agreed that they would manage the queues amongst themselves. The first forty places were balloted to prevent a queuing arms race, but after that, they were keeping a registry of people as they showed up. They then passed that list on to the official stewards at midday, who then gave out the official tickets. However, when trying to reform the queue at midday, it turned into absolute chaos, and nobody was really loud and clear enough to marshall everbody. But soon enough, we had our ticket and would be back at the hall the next day. Amidst the chaos, we made friends with the people in the line behind us, who invited us to their pre-prom party on the steps the following day. The stewards were also giving out tickets for the queue for that night’s prom, so we took one of those as well.

We returned that night for the penultimate Prom of the season. It was Handel’s Theodora, an opera oratorio that went for two and a half hours. But being a baroque oratorio, it wasn’t as musically interesting, so wasn’t the most exciting concert.

The next day, we already had tickets to the queue for the Last Night, and so had the morning to do whatever we wanted. We decided to check out the Mail Rail, located underneath the Postal Museum near Farringdon. We went along, bought a ticket and went down into the underground. The museum forms only part of what used to be a larger underground system running from Paddington all the way to Liverpool Street that moved mail under the streets of London. Since the mail sorting has become automated and mail trains discontinued, the old sorting house has been converted into a museum, and they have specially built museum trains that run along the old tracks. We climbed into the somewhat claustrophobic cars and went off on a twenty minute journey under the streets of London. The car stopped at some of the old sorting platforms and there was an audiovisual display, that was really quite interesting. From there we went off to explore the rest of the museum, learning about the history of the post in the UK.

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Still before the Last Night, we headed down to Clapham Junction to purchase some Canadian and Australian flags to wave, and stopped to get some Korean food for lunch. Finally, we headed for the Royal Albert Hall, and found the people we had been in line with the previous day. They had a group of them sharing in cheese and wine and nibbles. They kept putting stuff in our hands to eat and chatting to us about music and science. They were an eclectic bunch of interesting people, who knew tons of history about the Proms. Soon enough, the queue started to move, and we found our way into the theatre for the last time for 2018. The flags were out and waving, both a lot of British flags, EU flags and flags from other countries all over the world. Jacqueline and I challenged each other to find more Australian and Canadian flags respectively.

While the first half of the program was exciting, it was the second half where the festivities really kicked off. The highlights of the night were the young saxophonist Jess Gillam, and the baritone Gerald Finley. The most fun of the night was, as always Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea-Songs. This is where the most bopping and clapping and crying and shouting happens, though the BBC were less keen to film close-ups of the audience this year than previous years, probably due to the EU flags.

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The next song was Thomas Arne’s Rule Britannia! The baritone came out and started singing, only to unbutton his waistcoat to reveal that he was wearing his native Canadian flag around his chest, somewhat of a repudiation of the lyric “Britannia Rules the Waves” coming from a former colonial possession. But in the next verse he turned the flag around to reveal a Union Jack, to the delight of the audience. But it did mean that Jacqueline clearly won the flag contest. That the conductor was from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra was but a consolation prize.

Finally, the night ended with the hall erupting into Land of Hope and Glory, Jerusalem, God Save the Queen and Auld Lang Syne. It is an unrivalled experience to sing those songs along with six thousand people standing together in a world famous hall, and we all sang at the top of our voices. Buzzing we fare-welled our new friends and headed for the train station back up to Cambridge.

Sunday was more relaxed, with another real tennis club match in Cambridge, this time playing host to the Irish Real Tennis Association. The IRTA are fighting hard to rebuild a court in Dublin, but progress is frustratingly slow. In the meantime, they tour around the courts in the UK. My match was against James, and I couldn’t close out the match, losing in three sets 6-2, 3-6, 4-6. I also played a doubles match with Peter, but we narrowly lost 1-6, 6-5, 5-6. Nonetheless, it was a fantastic weekend all around.


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