The concert last night was in Frankfurt. Because of the Book Fair there, the publishers and book sellers of the world were using every available hotel room and so at the end of our four hour bus trip from Luxembourg, we found ourselves in a brand new hotel in Darmstadt. You could tell it was new from the smell of the foyer and the nervous look in the eyes of the staff as three coach loads of musicians surged into the foyer, anxious to get in and out for lunch as quickly as possible. They were well prepared I’m pleased to say and I was up in my room and back downstairs in an instant.
The journey to Frankfurt was slow, the traffic was worse than anything in London and seemed to be caused by people with cars full of books. Either this was some very hopeful publishers flogging their product, or some extremely enthusiastic buyers with next years must read; probably something to do with whip wielding wizards I expect. Anyway, when we did finally arrive I was reminded of what a fabulous hall the Alte Oper is. One of our young extra players asked me what it was like and I told him it had a great sound but that it was so big you couldn’t see the back. It’s good to keep these young things in awe of such things. As I sat down at the rehearsal, I realised that it was no exaggeration, you really can’t see the back of the hall although in the loud chords you can quite clearly hear the sound hit the back like a musical sonar in the yellow submarine. Captain Valery was on the bridge and guided us safely through the show which you can hear tonight and Saturday in the Barbican. If you’ve had enough ballroom or hex factor, why not come and hear some proper classic Brits?
To get to the concert this evening in the Barbican, the instruments left immediately after the concert whereas we fortunately we were able to rest awhile in the hotel before leaving this morning. Back in our new shiny hotel next to the station in Darmstadt I packed my case and spotted a little good night gift on my pillow. If you’ve ever stayed in a hotel, you’ll know that you often find a small chocolate with a personally mass produced message wishing you a good nights sleep; although often in Germany there will be a fun size pack of Haribo which are guaranteed to have you bouncing off the hotel walls all night. I looked at my pillow to find a packet of crisps. Not just any crisps, but smoky bacon flavour kettle chips. Sadly, I’d already cleaned my teeth and so just had to rely on good old fashioned exhaustion to send me to sleep.
As is customary when travelling to the airport en masse, three busses are provided for the orchestra. However, as nobody wants to be at the back of a 90 people check in queue, as many people cram onto the first bus as it always leaves a few minutes before the others. The second bus is half empty and the last bus driver is wondering why he bothered coming at all. Some members even time the placing of their suitcase into the bowels of the bus to perfection. This means that they can get their case off first at the airport and therefore be first in the check in queue. It then means they can smugly walk through passport controls and be first to sit around getting bored before boarding. This morning, I am ashamed to say, I was one of those people crammed into the first bus. In fact, by luck rather than judgement, my case was sitting there waiting for me as the driver opened the luggage compartment doors. I couldn’t believe my luck particularly as Super Mario had already told me that I had to go to zone E. My eyes became those of sprinter, nothing else existed apart from me, my suitcase and the queue at Zone E. So there I was, suitcase in hand, only about four people from the front, the delights and temptations of duty free only a frisk away. The helpful lady from the airline smiled and said good morning and directed me to a queue. Only three people in front. A few tense minutes passed and she then reappeared and asked to see my E-ticket. She looked at it and then said,”I’m sorry sir, you need to be in that queue.”
She pointed to the queue next the one I was in which was full of people who had previously been behind. They looked cooly straight ahead.
“But…you told me just now to stand in this queue!”
“Yes sir, I did, but now that the queue is longer, this is the drop off only lane and you have no paper ticket.”
Instead of asking her the point in an e-ticket if I still needed to queue for a ‘real’ ticket, I shiftily moved into the lane on my left and was relieved that my ever generous colleagues recognised my plight and let me push in. I was irritated though that there were now at least ten people in front of me.
A few more minutes passed. Another different lady with an even bigger smile appeared.
“Good morning sir, how are you. Can I see your ticket please.”
I’m always wary of people who ask questions without question marks, just as much as people who use question marks at the end of every sentence? She didn’t really want to know how I was, she just wanted to check my ticket whilst observing protocol.
“I’m fine, thanks for asking. Here is my ticket.”
She looked at my e-ticket, which is in fact a piece of A4 paper with a long list of LSO members names where my name is highlighted in orange.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to move to that queue sir.”
She pointed at the queue to the right of my original queue which was very long indeed.
“But…but, your colleague just told me to come and stand in this queue from that queue.” I protested.
Her tone changed. She wasn’t used to being questioned and she didn’t like it. I pointed to the woman still directing people into the wrong queue. She barked something at her in German and the other lady withered and scuttled off.
“I’m sorry, but this queue is for priority boarders only.”
“Oh. That isn’t me then?”
“Are you gold or silver?”
“I was only in the opening ceremony I’m afraid!”
“So you aren’t a gold or silver member, then you will have to go to the back of the queue.”
My humour had fallen on a humourless soul. Admittedly. it wasn’t the finest of jokes, but I thought maybe she might relent. I thought quickly.
“Please. There is nobody in front of me in this queue. Couldn’t I…seeing as I’m here?”
She just looked at me and the long queue.
“Please? It is my birthday.”
All noise was sucked out of the room as her face pinched and all the ladies at the check in desk held their breath as they heard the oldest excuse in the book. My breathing hastened.
“Give me your passport.” She took it from me whilst all the check in desks stopped stirring. With a flick of her thumb, she opened my passport and checked my date of birth. There was a pause. She returned my passport, picked up my case and put it through priority boarding. Everyone around me breathed once more.
“I’m sorry Mr Davies, it’s just that everyone says that. Happy Birthday.”
Getting older has its uses.