Our Route around Europe

Our Route around Europe

Sunday, February 19

The boys are indeed back in Town! Northamp-town!

Ignoring the sage advice of the very learned Miss M. Poppins, I shall jump straight to the end to tell you that we are all back. Yes, indeed, every single one. Regular readers of this blog (and the naturally sceptical) will know that this has occasionally proved a bit of hitch in previous tours (*ahem*), but this time we have returned with the same numbers with which we departed, all fit and well, and..... absolutely shattered! I'm not sure Mr P will forgive me for posting this picture, but here are two tour members out of the many who perhaps missed some of the journey home, preferring the land of nod to the scenic view of Northern Europe:

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:

Thursday, February 16

Right, I’ve decided to return to you, my expectant readers, and put the lack of Valentine’s cards behind us.
So, we woke up bright and early (is there an echo in here?) after our day of non-stop fun, and after breakfast we all piled into the coach once again, sad to be leaving our spectacular Copenhagen Danhostel. We had a short drive, broken up by the spectacular 18km long bridge from one island to the next – briefly the longest in the world, but certainly the longest in Denmark.

In a wonderful treat, we were invited to join the Skeppstam family at their summer home in Otterup for lunch, to experience some proper Danish family hospitality, and even better, some home cooked spaghetti Bolognese (a Jamie Oliver receipe, if you’re interested – quite delicious), followed by classic Danish pancakes – essentially some form of doughnut or sweet Yorkshire puddings, served with strawberries and sugar. A success, if you can believe it.

Improbably perhaps, the boys burnt off their excess energy (and possibly some doughnuts) with a run around on the nearby beach – surely this is the only tour to contain both snow and a beach in the same week? – before we once again boarded our trust coach to head on to Haderslev Cathedral and our second Danish concert.

Again, we were greeted warmly – fed and watered well – and the boys sang another great concert to a highly appreciative audience. Bed at the Ribe hostel followed, and so we finish Wednesday.

Thursday began particularly brightly – the breakfast stakes were raised even higher with pineapple carvings, a truly amazing selection of good hams and cheeses, and even candles to illuminate the buffet. Some of these subtleties may have been missed as the boys descended like unfed gannets.

The spectacular Ribe Cathedral was clearly visible from our hostel, so we took the opportunity to wander through the beautiful city, walking to the Cathedral for our rehearsal. The boys quickly got into their positions on the steps – a finely honed routine by now – and Mr DofM was asked if more light was required. Expecting perhaps some shabby standard lights, or even some Scandi design classics, everyone was blown away as the place was gradually lit up like a film set, with vast banks of professional lighting rigs. The boys have never been so bright. Well, perhaps at breakfast. Or maybe it just felt that way. *sigh*

At this stage, the cathedral was empty, so the boys retired for a quick Q&A on some Viking history (according to one, the Vikings is what happened to the Romans when they learnt how to build their boats differently and started making long boats rather than short boats. No further questions, your honour). When they processed in to the Cathedral, everybody was blown away by the vast, vast numbers of people: the programme sheets had run out twice and been photocopied again a further twice to ensure the 5-600 people could all see one. The boys, as always, rose to the occasion.

The journey from Ribe to Denmark was uneventful, and the boys quickly got absorbed into a DVD, and the border crossing into Germany was unnoticed; unfortunately, we hadn’t slipped entirely under the radar. A few minutes into Germany, our bus driver noticed an official-looking vehicle on our tail. Sure enough, their lights soon went on and we were ushered into the nearest layby. It turned out that the officials were Customs authorities, and there was some confusion over whether or not the coach company had paid the necessary German VAT tax. Unfortunately this confusion required extensive phone calls between our driver, his head-office, their lawyers and the unsmiling officials, who were eventually pacified, two hours later, by 15 faxed pages of evidence through from the UK. Again, the boys scarcely noticed – a Burger King supper from the services and they were as happy as larry, and over to Bremen we went. Our youth hostel is once again splendid, and the boys are tucked up asleep, ignoring the impressive riverside view that they have beside their full-length picture windows.

Denmark: done. In Germany once again, and bed is looking increasingly attractive. I think the time has come to say good night from me, and good night from him. 

P.s. Can't leave you without a quote of the day: The boys were playing hangman in the short gap between rehearsal and concert. They were told to use a musical theme, and the answer to one question was finally revealed as ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’ (a process that took somewhat longer than might have been anticipated given the chorister taking the lead had misspelt the composer’s name, always a tricky one in hangman….). On hearing the answer, one small boy piped up, "but what", he said, his eyes wide with outrage, his cheeks reddening with indignity, "has *he* got to do with music?”

Tuesday, February 14

Denmark Day 2: Lego, Lakes and Ludo.

Now, where were we?

After their crowd-raising success last night (the second standing ovation, I should have said, with the Belgians in Mechelen also leaping to their feet), and the predicatable ebullience that ensued, we thought the boys might have been keen on a lie-in this morning. How wrong we were.

Bright and early (every morning! When will they learn that a group leader before their compulsory morning coffee will put a bear with a sore head to shame?!) they were once again to be found prowling the breakfast buffet with intense and focused concentration. Warning to parents: I suspect we may have inadvertently opened their eyes to the ways of the world. You could easily find breakfast is no longer a 'proper breakfast' unless it now offers a selection of rolls, various cheeses, a good spread of different hams and a couple of different fruit salad options. Today was to be their day off, and they were not keen to waste a moment of potential "when can I spend my money?" time.

First stop was Experimentarium, the hands-on science museum. For those who probably find themselves wonderingly wearily whether their son ever concentrates, please can I propose a few case-closing illustrations:

(Be sure to observe the characteristic employment of The Tongue of Concentration in the final image).

Having swung, jumped, climbed, shouted and produced electronic fart noises - all supposedly in the name of science (incidentally, science museums were not at all like this in my day. Ed.), we moved on to visit Copenhagen's most popular visitor attraction, Hans Christian Andersen's 'Little Mermaid' statue. Whilst we would perhaps have had a "hard-sell" if we'd tried them on the original literary tales, there was the highly predicatable fascination with her numerous beheadings, and it did result in the quote of the day: see below (I'll keep you guessing just to ensure you read to the end. Mwah ha ha!!!)

With 'Culture: done', we finally moved onto the Lego shop, where Mr DofM found himself confronted by a brave new world of possibilities. A lego figure is typically around 1.5 inches tall. Here is a lego man with one of our choristers. Yes, he really is that small:
Oh, alright, maybe this lego man is a *little* bit bigger than average, but surely my elaborate hoax was worth a go, my eagle-eyed readers? Boys did spend money. There's no denying it. Can I suggest storage boxes, and plenty of them.

Following this brief splurge of consumerism (and our first so far, despite the boys' apparent fear that their money might somehow go out of date if not spent within the first couple of hours of the tour), we had a bracing walk back through Copenhagen to the youth hostel, to change for dinner. Yes, I said dinner: a proper restaurant, where the boys tried, ate and liked squid (of all things!), followed by more familiar favourites like lamb and chicken. The evening was finished off with energetic games of table tennis, and not such energetic games of ludo and Happy Families!

Tired, happy boys in bed. Tired, happy group leaders in bed. What more can you ask?
Oh, and happy Valentine's day. And, since I did promise, and despite your lack of Valentine's cards for me, here is the long-overdue quote of the day. From an overhead snippet of chorister conversation: "Well you couldn't talk to a mermaid anyway: they speak in bubbles. You know, like fish-language and stuff."

Monday, February 13


We have arrived in snowy Denmark!  After an early start we set off with an hour to spare and managed to make an earlier ferry towards Copenhagen. The boys were very excited and even managed a game of 'tag' on deck. Some of the boys were more graceful than others however....

With a very smooth ferry crossing the boys were in high spirits on arrival at the visually stunning Hellig Kors Kirke. We can't honestly say that we saw much of Denmark due to a covering of snow and fog! After an afternoon rehearsal, including some very helpful tuition from our Danish counterparts, the boys happily tucked into enormous pizzas in the church kitchen and performed very well in front of a large and very appreciative audience.

This unusual and beautiful Church was surrounded by a gorgeous sunset that may have been lost on the choir as they posed for photos before the performance. As we drove back to our five star hostel, the largest in Europe indeed, the boys were grateful for having had time to make their beds earlier in the day! We are all looking forward to the prospect of a day off to explore Copenhagen tomorrow.

Quote of the day: After reading the quiz question 'what is the name of a large green ogre?' A chorister exclaimed ''But Miss, I have no idea what an orgy is!''
P.S. Here are a couple of taster photos from the first few days, as promised....  
St Rumbold's Cathedral in Mechelen, Belgium.
Elizabethkirche in our twin city of Marburg in Germany.

Sunday, February 12

Germany for snow! Frozen rivers and football

Quote of the day:
Question: "St Paul's letter to the Corinthians was written to the inhabitants of which foreign town?"
Answer: "Marburg!"

Clearly our twin city left an impression of biblical proportion on our choristers!

We were certainly welcomed warmly - with waving flags, chocolate and guidebooks. It is fair to say that the guidebooks were politely put aside in favour of the chocolates, but we'd have worried had the small boys done anything else.

The boys were up bright and early (too bright and too early in the eyes of their weary group leaders!), and we were quickly over to the Elizabethkirche for a rehearsal before the 10:00am service. They did well - we'll make musicians of them yet - and then on across Germany.

We past several deeply frozen rivers, and although we were prepared for the cold (as the sizes of the suitcases will testify!), this is something else! Even the alcohol wipes on the coach are slightly frozen, and unfortunately the coach toilet has been frozen for about a day now. Still, frequent loo breaks and seemingly endless DVDs and competitive quizzes have seen us cross Germany without problems, and we are now safely installed in a very plush hostel in Lubeck. After confusion last night, the boys are already noticeably quicker at making up beds, and the Background humming as they go about their tasks (some of them are quite clearly dwarves, after all) is gradually moving from Lady Gaga to Vaughan Williams, so we must be doing something right! A lovely hot dinner of home-cooked pasta and a bracing game of football in the snow is being swiftly followed by quick showers and bed.

Tomorrow, we move to Denmark at last- bacon and pastries should greet us in abundance. See you there.

P.s. apologies for the delays in regular posts - getting laptop, wifi, camera and spare time all available and present at the same place is proving tricky! This post is without pictures (and posted on a mobile, hence typos!), but there is one on Facebook from this morning, and I can cinfirm they are all present, healthy and correct, and about to pile into their beautifully made beds. Photos on camera to be shared later.

Tschuss, my friends.

Saturday, February 11

Belgium - done!

After the first night in the lovely Novotel, followed by a huge spread of possibilities for breakfast, we made it to our first venue, St Rumbold's Cathedral in Mechelin. A very generous welcome, and a spacious acoustic greeted us, along with an organ replete with faults and mechanical failings! Mr Palmer did a sterling job negotiating its traps, and the choir sang to an audience of just over 200, including visitors from Malta and Russia!

A long coach journey followed, arriving in our twin-town of Marburg, and our second hearty, hot meal of the day.

Sleep time!

Friday, February 10

Belgium for bed.

We've arrived! Safely across the channel - pity the occasional elderly couples or small families who's dreams of a quiet start to their holiday were ruined by an entire ferry full of teenage coach parties going skiing. And us. The boys behaved brilliantly though - even the older ones who were clearly dying with embarrassment at being forced to wear their high vis, despite the sniggering coachloads of beautiful teenage girls.

No problems whatsoever on the journey from Calais to Mechelen, other than acres of pasta salad on the coach floor. All boys now tucked up in bed - there's no doubt an 8-year old looks very small in a super-starched kingside bed. All younger boys fast asleep and most of the others on their way.

Rehearsal from 9.30-11am tomorrow morning, with our first concert of the tour at the brilliantly named St Rumbold's Cathedral at 1pm. Certainly not over-rehearsed, so let's hope the wind is behind them.

Another post tomorrow, hopefully with some action shots.

Quote of the day, when being handed a bath-mat: "look, it's one of those small towels specially for your lips!"

Wednesday, February 8

The boys are back in town! But not for long as snowy Europe beckons!

And so, like the phoenix, the blog rises from the dust (or perhaps the snow?) once more!

As February 2012 opens, the boys' choir of All Saints are about to undertake their first ever solo tour. 24 boy choristers, aged from 8-14, will be travelling most of Northern Europe, with 7 concerts in 8 days!

First thing on Friday morning, the boys will be departing from Northampton, assuming we are able to leave the county at all! Rumours of a heavy snowfall on Thursday night are already having Northamptonians panic buying in Tesco, but I'm sure it won't faze our bullish boys! A little snow in Northampton will be good practice for the feet of the stuff that we hope to find in Denmark!

We are crossing Dover-Calais later that day, eventually stopping for the night in Mechelen (also known as Maline) in Belgium.

Our concert schedule over the next few days is hectic:

Saturday 11th February 2012
St Rumbold’s Cathedral at 1:00PM: St Rumbold's Cathedral, 2800 Mechelen (Belgium)

Sunday 12th February 2012
Elizabethkirche at 10:00AM, 35037 Marburg (Germany)

Monday 13th February 2012
Jyllinge Church at 7:30PM: Church of the Holy Cross, 4040 Jyllinge (Denmark)

Wednesday 15th February 2012
Haderslev Cathedral at 7:30PM: The Cathedral of Our Lady, 6100 Haderslev (Denmark)

Thursday 16th February 2012
Ribe Cathedral at 11:00AM: St Mary’s Cathedral, 6760 Ribe (Denmark)

Friday 17th February 2012
European Space Centre at 1:00PM: ESTEC, Keplerlaan 1, Noordwijk (Netherlands)

Friday 17th February 2012
Zoetemeer Oude Kerk at 8:00PM: 37 2712HB Zoetermeer (Netherlands).

However, we also hope to have plenty of fun along the way! The boys have been getting in practice for their ice-skating - although some perhaps still have a little room for improvement!

There have been sponsored cycle rides, lots and lots of carol singing, busking, bag-packing, and much more hard work along the way in preparation for the tour, but now that it is almost upon us, the talk of the boys is just of snow boots, sledges, ice skating (ED: some could do with the practice - see pic!), and ferries.

We hope to post regular updates along our way - with photos of snow, snowballs, snowmen and snowfights! Do pop in again on Friday to see how we're doing!

Oh, and for those who were wondering, the blog title derives frome one small probationer. When asked to put on a surplice for the first time, he looked at himself in the mirror for some time, before exclaiming in excitement that he now looked just like a "snow angel!". In all fairness, it was a little on the large size.

See you in Belgium, thermals at the ready.