In 1996 the choir ventured abroad for the first time, to Epsom's twin-town Chantilly, near Paris. Since then, a long summer weekend 'tour' has become part of the programme and the Society has most recently visited Reims, Ypres, Cologne and Boulogne

Boulogne 2014

Written by Janet James

Well, what a disciplined lot we are! Everyone was at the coach on time and we set off exactly at 8.30. Consequently we arrived in time for an earlier train and got to the hotel before we were expected.

We passed Robin waving and conducting us as we passed the hotel, and then we circled Boulogne like an aeroplane that had missed its landing slot. We did land, and were shown to our "petites chambres" (it WAS a budget hotel after all).

Our first appointment was the group meal, and once again we were all on time and were seated by 7.30. We all realise that the French do not hurry over meals, but the first course did not arrive until 8.25, and so it went on, with the coffee appearing just before 11.00 pm. Nobody had any complaints about the food, it was well presented and greatly appreciated.

By 10 o'clock the next morning we were in the cathedral for our two-hour rehearsal and were allowed out just before noon. Then we headed to the many eating houses for a hearty lunch.

During the afternoon some people visited the attractions of Boulogne, such as going to the museum or walking the ramparts, but the majority of us chose to take the 5 trip in our coach with an English-speaking guide. Our driver was a lovely chap, but he had been unable to stop the heater working in the coach (he was overheard to say "You are the 83rd person to ask me that!"). So, what with the warmth and the gentle jog of the coach, there were not many of us who stayed awake for the whole ride maybe it was because Robin had made us work so hard in the morning! But it was an interesting and informative talk we were told about the Allies bombing the harbour during the Second World War, so that Hitler could not use it as a starting place for an invasion of England.

We also visited the place where Napoleon had massed some 60,000 troops with the same intention. The tour took us through the extensive area where fish was processed, and we learned that most was imported as the local catch would not have kept the factories supplied. Findus was the big firm and was returning much of its processing back to France.

Then came the concert in the evening in the area of the cathedral that was directly beneath the large dome. This naturally had a great influence on the acoustics, and Robin warned us that if we ended on a chord that was out of tune it would still be sounding minutes later! We were surprised to have a fair-sized audience, including quite a few youngsters. The clapping increased as we went on with our songs and was especially enthusiastic when we sang in French. Robin introduced each batch of songs in French, which the audience appreciated, as they did the expert organ pieces that he performed between our singing. A collection was taken on behalf of the restoration of the cathedral (about 350, we were told), and we were please to sell six of our CDs for our own funds. After the concert most of us headed out for supper, and the men who had not changed out of their dinner jackets looked as though they thought they were at the Ritz.

The next morning we were again in the cathedral, this time to sing at the appropriate time during mass. We sang a few numbers at the end of the service, and again these were well received. The bells rang out to interrupt us, though, which did not please Robin. Afterwards it was off for another hearty lunch before joining the coach for our uneventful trip home. By this time the driver had overcome the heater problem!

A good time was had by all!

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