Ghent moments 2014

I reminded Bill Hopwood at Watford Gap, that it was here at the The Blue Boar service station where the big 60s groups (Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Beatles, the Stones, the Zombies and the Hollies for example) called in at two o’clock in the morning after their gigs. Bill said, ‘And in 2014, New Mill Male Voice Choir.’ Not 2am, though the way the traffic was flowing it could have been.

Handing round boiled sweets and toffees in proper sweetie-shop-sized jars. I had one that tasted like a pear drop. It was a bit of surprise because it didn’t look like one. No patent on shape then.

Strange how Watford Gap is at Northampton. It’s nowhere near Watford. The gap is interesting, well to me anyway, being the an important point on the old east-west and north-south coaching routes. The M1, the Grand Union Canal, the A5, and the West Coast Main Line railway all pass through the Gap within a few hundred yards of each other.

Oops – Derby County AFC lost at Wembley. It was the upside of their fans causing traffic jams on the M1 on Saturday morning just as the New Mill tour was getting underway. We missed the Dover-Calais ferry and had to wait a couple of hours for the next one available.

Before we got the hang of using teapots for more than one cup of coffee at breakfast, I queued with a young lady with a mug. ‘Good call’ said I, ‘where do you get the mug from?’ ‘I live here,’ she said.

We sang at the Menin Gate, a memorial to soldiers with no known grave. Adam read a poem followed by a minute’s silence. Someone said was the best part of the gig. Shame we didn’t sing at The Last Post in front of 600. We would have been on our mettle. Our other two concerts were fine, Bruges being the pick for atmosphere and friendliness, Ghent for technical merit. We always improve as the tour progresses.

Amadeus is the name of several restaurants who serve ribs in large quantities; cow-sized quantities. A mature lady with great teeth was drinking red wine next to Robert Coombs’ table. She was joined by an even more mature man who, she said, rang the bells at the local bell tower. This was about 9 o’clock so presumably he’d nipped in after work when the bells must go on automatic. They were both dressed in black. He had a large moustache, a larger belly and a weird collection of chunky pendants hanging from his neck. Unsurprisingly, all was not as it seemed. Descriptions of orgies were followed by invites back to her place and requests from him to have five-in-a-bed back at our hotel. And this was a family restaurant. Needless to say Delia and Liz were not interested and I didn’t fancy him either. She did have great teeth though.

What happened to a tour round the chocolate factory? We shopped instead.

Robert and Liz created a quiz of cryptic clues, the answers to which were theatrical; plays and musicals. A lovely thing if you knew anything about the theatre. Anne and Emma did. Was it only two or three out of a lot that they missed? They also missed their prize by going home a day early. Ibbo blatantly tried to cheat by asking for answers prior to handing in his answer sheet. The help he was given by those surrounding him on the bus was plausible but incorrect. Robert was aware that there could be more than one solution to many of the clues, except there was only one solution – his.

The German cemetery we visited was a grey undignified affair not frequented by Germans, we were told. Tempting to rehearse a few stereotypes.

At the local restaurant, The Ramblers, I ordered eggs and something in toast. I ordered two actually on the same plate with a bit of salad and were there some fries?. I obviously made a hash of the pronunciation when I tried to read it off the menu so I asked the waiter what it was in Flemish. He wouldn’t tell me, can you imagine? How irritating. It turned out to be a croque-monsieur. Obvious in retrospect but that damned waiter wasn’t going to tell me.

Everything came with salad and fries. ‘I’ll have an ice-cream/beer/toilet?’ ‘You want salad and fries with that?’

After Amadeus we sought out the late night tram to the hotel. Easy really; all we had to do was locate a large group of Everly Brothers singing Let it be me. They couldn’t get the second verse going, so we joined in and the number continued several times on the tram. Bit like an echo but nobody seemed to mind and it sounded really good.

The passport people at Calais were working to rule when we arrived for our return ferry. Secure but late – which would you prefer. Followed by further delays caused by a driver parking a truck containing hazardous material in the wrong place. We know where our hazardous material is at all times. He sings into my left ear.

There were gremlins, but you wouldn’t have missed it.

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