Returning to Germany once again, and we find ourselves on Friday morning. The boys arose bright and [unfeasibly] early, and we launched ourselves off from Leiden once again. My choice of verb there is entirely intentional, as our first destination of the day was the European Space Agency in Leiden. Unfortunately, this did mean another coach journey across Germany. I say 'unfortunately', as we didn't have much luck on German roads: about a mile from the border with the Netherlands, a familiar set of flashing lights appeared in our rearview mirror, and once again German officials flagged down the coach and we were ordered to pull over. Getting familiar now with uniformed German beauracracy, the boys protested more in the cessation of their film than at anything else. This time it appeared the officials were from the Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt (Federal Motor Transport Authority), and their concern was with the maintenance of the coach. They checked tyres, fire extinguishers and, again, every possible bit of paperwork, and once again we were eventually passed with flying colours (many thanks indeed to Graham and Bowen's Coaches for being so organised!), and we were allowed to drive on once again. I can't be the only one who breathed a slight sigh of relief as we eventually crossed the border, as there was apparently one further authority that could have pulled us over for questioning, but with the wind behind us (a telling phrase on a coach full of small boys....), we got away without further incident.
Calm and collected, if slightly late, we arrived at the European Space Research and Technology Centre, where the boys were excited to see large signs advertising a performance by the 'Famous Boys Choir'. The extensive security clearance we had to go through to enter the building addded a certain sense of occasion to the performance, and if the AV team are anything to go by, these researchers know their stuff: the eagle-eyed will notice the boys are performing beneath an image of stained glass from All Saints. We didn't supply these images..... These guys are good.
The boys gave another good performance (thank heavens for Judith Bingham's 'Beneath these Alien Stars'), and then moved on to what was for most the highlight of the day: the guided tour of the space centre itself. The boys were shown how astronauts sleep (like bats, hanging from the wall in sleeping bags - but the bats don't need the sleeping bags), how they 'toilet' (ask a small boy for the finer details), the communication equipment utilised on board, were able to calculate their relative weights on various different planets, and even experienced genuine footage from a proper shuttle launch.
I'm afraid you'd have to ask the boys for the finer details of what they saw and learnt: this blog fairy was completely distracted by the guide's multi-coloured tartan trousers (Rupert Bear: eat your heart out), and by the observation that Mr DofM will apparently more happily blast himself into space than take a RyanAir flight; understandable, I suppose.
Following their flying (geddit?!) visit, the boys piled back on to the coach (now equipped with significantly more tut than the gift shop itself: parents, we apologise), and we set off for our final concert destination, Zoetermeer Oude Kerk. The church itself was stunning, with many echoes of All Saints, and a polished practice followed, before the generous hosts took us all out to dinner - spaghetti bolognese, if you were wondering, our fourth of the tour!
Whilst the practice had gone well, we were completely blown away when we returned: the Church was packed. I mean, absolutely full, to the extent that the boys were asked to give up their seats so that audience members could sit down (a request that I am afraid we politely refused!). The locals were out in force, and a fabulous concert followed, made even more exciting but the completely unexpected addition of several large-screen projections of the choir onto the walls of the church. Here you see Mr DofM working the crowds, one of the many large screens visible just behind him, and the parting image as the boys processed off stage:
Because of earlier delays, we were very much up against it in terms of driving hours and if were to have any hope of making our ferry the following day, we had to depart from this enormously welcome venue with no hesitation. In what is perhaps a first, we ushered the very puzzled choristers straight off the stage and onto the coach, but their puzzlement soon gave way to the usual post-concert euphoria, and on this occasion there was no doubt that it was entirely deserved: a splendid final concert to at truly appreciative audience to round-off a highly successful tour.
On Saturday morning, the boys were up - can you tell where this is going? - bright and early, and settled their breakfast by following a quick exercise routine from Dutch morning television playing in the lobby. As an aside, it should be noted that no amount of persuasion will ever persuade this blog fairy that star jumps at 7:30am would be 'good for me'.
Again, against all the odds, we were able to set off on time, and our journey across the Netherlands and into France passed off without incident. Many of the choristers have been completely drawn into Mrs S's jackanory rendition of Mr Stink (David Walliams), so for once the coach was relatively quiet, and many managed to get some much-needed shuteye (vide above). We arrived at the port in good time, but this Saturday was expected to be one of the busiest days of the year in terms of coach travel (returning ski trips and the like), so there was no possibility of an earlier crossing. The vast numbers of coaches were exceptionally well-handled by the French authorities, and we were gradually shifted from one car park to another, so at least it felt as though we were moving somewhere! They had brought in additional portaloos, and even the French Red Cross offering free tea/coffee/hot coffee, so the time passed quickly. In a first for the tour, the older boys were observed to have put away their DS/PSP/IPods, and were instead intently looking out of the windows and observing the world around them. It is just possible that it was the arrival of a ski group from a smart girls' school that brought about this epiphanic change, but I couldn't be sure.... Our crossing was choppy, but all our boys have strong sea-legs, and by now home was on the horizon, so the surprisingly green (algae?) White Cliffs of Dover were particularly welcome.
The journey back to Northampton was uneventful, broken only by a particularly moving speech of thanks by one senior chorister 'on behalf of the boys', and the regular beep of the group leaders' mobile phones as expectant parents posted frequent updates on the Facebook wall as they became increasingly excited about the immiment arrival safely back home by their little bundles of joy. The group leaders were all too happy to hand them back to their waiting parents, and as the coach turned into the car park, with classic good timing, one junior chorister piped up with a particularly apt line from Madagascar, the first DVD played on the coach as the tour began: "Smile and wave boys, smile and wave!". And so they did.
With that, I leave you, faithful readers. And what a diverse readership you are: in the last week, we have had 1530 hits from the UK, 66 from the United States, 16 from Greece, 14 from Denmark, 14 from France, 12 from Germany, 9 from Russia (?), 4 from Sweden, 3 from Canada, 2 from Belgium and 1 from Israel. You are all so very welcome: please do continue to follow us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/musicallsaints) or on our website (http://www.allsaintsnorthampton.co.uk/), where we will be adding additional photos, sound files and possibly even video in time.
For now, it is good bye from me, and good bye from them, as we leave all things snowy behind us and return to our regular pattern at All Saints, with some exciting times ahead, and a new vicar on the horizon: