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 visited Chantilly, Ghent, Bruges, Beauvais, Klagenfurt, Norfolk, the Lake District, Aix-en-Provence, Bristol, Rouen, Barcelona, Lille, Caen, Lucca, Bruges, Utrecht, Reims and in 2012, Ypres

Antwerp 2016

Written by Adrian Payne

A - is for Antwerp, the location for our 2016 summer choral adventure. The city is internationally renowned for its architecture and art, as well as for the world-class singers it tends to attract in mid-July.

B - is for Banks, the name of our hotel, situated on the wonderfully-named Steenhouwersvest. Centrally-located and deliciously chic, its white-themed furnishings, low-hanging bendy lamps and prosecco on tap made it an ideal Habitat for ECS and entourage.

C - is for Cecilia (as in Saint). Howells' hymn for her proved a popular addition to our repertoire. Excerpts from the reduced-score whistled version were frequently heard on corridors, staircases and pavements throughout the weekend. What a tune.

D - is for the Descent of Christ, one of several extraordinary Rubens creations in the cathedral, which many of us visited. Work on the building itself didn’t start until around 1352 i.e. shortly after a nice long lunch. Although we didn't sing in the Cathedral some of us hummed quietly as we went round.

E - is for Elixir d'Anvers, a sweet, bright-yellow liqueur reputed to aid digestion. Only 16% vol. Some of us tried a glass and forgot about our digestion entirely. So it does seem to work.

F - is for Frequent Fliers. Exquisitely-crafted, as always, by our esteemed Vice Chairman and publicity supremo, David Pettigrew, our concert fliers flew effortlessly across the City, with most gratifying results (see L).

G - is for the Grand Trundle - the traditional synchronised procession of wheelie-cases between hotel and coach on the final morning of every tour. This year's 15-minute event brought forth a ferment of rumbling across the cobbles. And the wheelie-cases made quite a lot of noise as well.

H – is for Holy Crepe, the name of the restaurant that hosted our group suckling pig feast. (Also rumoured to be Boris Johnson’s exclamation on being told he was to become Foreign Secretary).

I – is for I Was Glad…Glad when Ben Lewis Smith came in at full throttle on the 3303-pipe baroque organ (circa 1652) during our rendition of Parry’s masterpiece. Fabulissimo.

J – is for Jaw-dropping, a common reaction for many of us when first entering St. Pauluskerk, our concert venue. Astonishing light. Masterful paintings. Stunning statues. Everywhere. The Counter-Reformation on steroids.

K – is for Kwik We Have But A Second. False teeth flew as we spat out the final verse of our encore at world record speeds and with new, Julian-inspired dynamics never before attempted in public without a safety net. Next year the piece is being performed under the title ‘Kwickly You’ve Already Missed It’.

L – is for Loads of Local Listeners. An appreciative audience of around 150, together with 80 or so life-size statues, witnessed our choral extravaganza at St. Pauluskerk. In the main the audience was very well-behaved but, unfortunately, many of the statues were legless even before the concert started.

M – is for Marvellous, an apt description for this trip. Thank you Mike Preiss, Steve Dow and Wendela Elsen for all that you put into making it such a marvellously memorable few days.

N – is for Nothing Immediately Comes To Mind. [This space is therefore available for advertising at reasonable rates.]

O – is for “Ooooooooo I nearly felt something then”, Julian’s shivery reaction to our most spine-tingling rehearsal efforts. If we keep on trying he may actually feel something one of these days.

P – is for Passport Control. Everyone exhibited superb control this year over their passport documentation. No coincidence, then, that P is also for perfection.

Q – is for Quite a Plateful. Breakfasts at the Banks Hotel were individually served at the table and featured a veritable A to Z of irresistible items, beautifully colour-coordinated on a single circular plate and accompanied by a bountiful basket of assorted breads. All in all, the perfect prelude to coffee, croissants and Danish at 11’ish. (See also M).

R – is for Rubens’ House. Quite some painter and decorator. Many of us went round his house - but he wasn’t in.

S – is for Sardine, the being we most thought of as we squeezed into the gallery of St. Andrieskerk to sing Sunday service. Close harmony.

T – is for Triple d’Anvers, a thrice-brewed heady little number and a star among local beers. Well worth a return visit in its own right.

U – is for Unusual Harmonies. Grayston Ives’ mass setting contains many of these. Our own rendition of the work included several that were actually written by Ives. Amazing.

V - is for Van – a feature of many local street names. Others seem to have no truck with it.

W – is for Westway, provider of driver George and luxurious coach. With its rich, chocolately exterior the bus looked every inch the Doubledecker it is.

X – is for Xchange rates. Our wise and far-sighted Treasurer saved us all a bob or two by paying in advance, at pre-Referendum rates. Very neat hedging indeed. (John is also said to be a dab hand at lawns.)

Y – is for “Y are we not moving”, a common refrain as we sat motionless on the M20 for nearly an hour on our triumphant return home. Some of the chocolate pressies on board were accidentally consumed as hunger pangs mounted

Z – is for Zwartzusters. It could be the title of a cult Belgian movie but is in fact the name of the street on which we performed our concert.

[Thanks to Garth Swanson, Helen Phillips, and Sarah and Adrian Payne for photographs.]

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