ELY CATHEDRAL, September 7
The pictures: Robert Topping, Phoebe Larmore, and me, in the Topping Ely Bookshop; the Cathedral; the choir rehearsing; the cast and choir, most of it; the three readers, and Robert P. Jones in his thug hat; the dragonfly script cover drawn freehand by “Adam One’s” ten-year-old son, William; Adam – Julian Sedgewick – in his robe; the travelling team plus Vivienne Schuster, my agent from Curtis Brown; the Ely train station, with fans carrying Bloomsbury Eco-bags and me in the mauve raincoat in the background.
Early on the morning of morning of Monday, September 7, we bundled up the sandwiches we hadn’t eaten the night before and set out for Ely – a cross-country drive of four hours, with Dave and Julia driving. Along the way we passed a huge field full of cars with their boots open. (N.B. North Americans: “boot” = “trunk”.) Dave explained the phenomenon: this was a “car boot sale.” A promoter rents the field, sets up the Port-A-Potties or Port-A-Loos or Honey Buckets, sends out advertisements, and charges entrance fees for both buyers and sellers. Refreshment booths are part of it, as are “Bootie Bootleggers”—those who sell items acquired by dubious methods. A whole subculture of “Booties” has sprung up – they’re what’s happened to middle-aged Ravers, said Dave. Does all of this have anything to do with the Recession, I wondered? Or with the re-invention of the traditional regional market, or with the folk music revival now underway? Might we expect a new guitar-and-mouth-organ ballad?
As I was going to Bootie Fair –
Toasters, roasters, and broken-down clocks –
I hoped to encounter my true love there,
And also score me some second-hand socks…
But that way madness lies.
We stopped at a lay-by to gobble up the sandwiches – waste not, want not – and reached Ely in time for a late lunch or early tea, which we found waiting for us on the upper floor of the Topping and Company Bookshop in Ely. It has been prepared for us by Louise Topping, who had whipped it up, with a beguiling combination of gracious hospitality and roll-up-your-sleeves efficiency. Having made sure we were all in order and had had enough cheese, plums from the garden, perfect strawberries, and delicious salad, she whizzed off to Ely Cathedral to rehearse with the Gardener Choir.
So did we, shortly after. I had never seen Ely Cathedral before – one of the very greatest of English cathedrals – and was overwhelmed by it. The attached picture does not do it justice at all. We were welcomed by the Dean of Ely, the Very Reverend Michael Chandler, who did not look bemused at all, but took it all in stride as if he was used to being invaded by wandering minstrels.
Before the performance there was a special reception given by BirdLife International – its Secretariat is based in nearby Cambridge – and many RSPB and BirdLife friends were there, including Dr. Marco Lambertini, the new CE – hero of Italian bird conservation, John Fanshawe, who more or less put me up to the fundraising and consciousness-raising aspects of this tour, Jane Fenton, longtime force behind the Rare Bird Club, and many others.
The Ely event was again a Topping affair (no pun intended), with Hugh Topping producing and Robert P. Jones directing. The music director and arranger was Peter North, and the choir members – I think these are all – were Cecily Beer, Anthony Bristow, Graham Diss, Oliver Hancock, Cathy Howlett, Gytha Lodge, Alison Pearson, Andrew Pearson, Tessa Pearson, Marianne Skjoldholm, and Louise Topping. The musicians were Jacob Harrison, Alex Whatley, Farrel Gray, and Orville on his acoustic guitar.
The three readers were Topping specials. Adam One was Julian Sedgewick, a Topping bookseller, in a marvelous robe willed to him by a Japanese friend, who told us that his preaching tone was inspired by his father’s love of William Blake. Kathy Lewis – another Topping bookseller – was a vivacious Ren, and Toby was played thoughtfully by Liz Parker, a Topping customer who wandered into the shop – with her dog, she added – and found herself swept away. The choir sang beautifully, their voices soaring up into the rafters. The evening again concluded with a Q&A, thanks to Robert P. Jones, who was the driving engine behind both the Bath and the Ely events.
After all books had been signed, I handed around the somewhat crumbly ginger biscuits I found at the bottom of my bag, and Fiona and I said goodbye to Phoebe and Orville, who would stay overnight in Ely and go from there to the airport the next day for their 24-hour journey back to Los Angeles. Fiona and I then headed for the Ely train station, which was decorated with many smiling people with Bloomsbury Year of the Flood Eco-bags. Not for the first time on this trip, I felt that I had stayed up way too late.