The Choir Goes to Amsterdam
Julie Valentine 2014
(Published 10 December 2016)
Early one bright, spring morning people were gathering outside a church on the outskirts of Uxbridge, west London. They were all waiting for a coach to arrive to take them on a trip to Holland, to sing in the English Church.
They were still standing on the side of the road a half hour after the coach was due, but a cheer went up when a coach was seen approaching along the A 40, rattling and banging it’s way under the pressure of the drivers foot on the pedal.
With much haste cases were packed into the compartment under the coach, farewells were said to those who were there to wave off loved ones and the driver again picked up the pace to get to the motorway and on to the south coast port to board the ferry.
After the choir had settled down and the driver was happy being able to make up time on the motorway, he made an announcement.
Following apologies for his late arrival, he explained that the original coach had broken down and the one the choir were now travelling on had been one used to ferry the newspaper print workers into work through the strike pickets and that was why it was not cleaned out in readiness and also why there was no toilet, but only a hole in the floor so, if anyone needed a ‘comfort stop’ it would have to be quick because of the need to reach the ferry in good time.
So it was to be legs crossed all the way to Portsmouth.
This is a link into the Newspaper Riots in 1986
The windows on the coach were filthy, there were no rubbish bags available for the sweet papers etc, the blinds didn’t pull down, that is those that were actually at the windows, the heating didn’t work, but the choir put on a happy face and just hoped that the journey from the ferry to Amsterdam the other side of the channel would not be long.
The drive to Portsmouth was otherwise uneventful, but the choir were surprised to have to leave the coach and walk on to the ferry whilst the coach dropped into line to be loaded along with other coaches.
The driver joined the choir once the coach was on board and the ferry ride was really quite pleasant, the sea not at all rough and all seemed happy.
Dutch customs did not seemed to be bothered with a coachload of English choir members and the coach was waved through.
The first problem came when we reached the first roundabout out of the ferry terminal. Oh dear, the driver turned left! After a lot of tooting and hooting from the coach driver behind, the choir coach driver was able to manoeuvre the old vehicle to the correct side of the roundabout and road. His apologies again broadcast over the, by now, crackling loudspeaker system.
The drive to Amsterdam was again uneventful after that, but the choir observed the motorway cops on motorbike and sidecar, the sidecar passenger leaning out from time to time to balance the machine and keep the wheel of the sidecar on the road.
It wasn’t until the driver arrived in Amsterdam proper that the problems started. Although he was knowledgeable about the location of the choir’s accommodation, the street on which the hotel was situated was narrow, with parked vehicles on both sides. When the driver finally pulled up, double parked, outside the hotel, there was one mad rush to get the choir off the coach and the cases out from the compartment underneath, which was now in the middle of the road, of course. Not to be defeated the able men of the choir formed a suitcase chain and passed them one by one from the driver to the one in the hotel who valiantly piled them all in a line so they were easily identifiable. It was almost like a military operation.
The choir had been notified of their room number whilst still on the coach, so it was a simple matter to collect the key and sign the register. All was accomplished in a competent manner and the hotel staff took luggage to relevant rooms as the key was collected.
Well, after some refreshment and a quick meeting for further instructions and a map to the rehearsal room and time of meeting up, the choir were allowed to go roaming.
Many met up again at the hotel before attempting to find the rehearsal room which resulted in a number of English choir members trying to alight an Amsterdam tram to get them to rehearsal. In England, the fare is paid as one alights a bus or tram, in Amsterdam a ticket is purchased before alighting. The tram driver didn’t speak English, the English choir members didn’t speak Dutch, the time it was taking caused a queue of trams behind and in the end the driver simply waved his hands in the air in desperation and indicated that all should get on the tram and closed the door. No-body in the choir paid a fare that day.
By hook or by crook all members of the choir reached the rehearsal rooms.
Rehearsal over, the choir wended their way back to the hotel for a rest and a meal before the evening concert. It had been arranged for the coach to take everyone to the concert to ensure that all were present.
After all the early start and all the excitement of the day, the concert in the English Church was exceptional. The Dutch orchestra was professional, the conductor had worked with them many times and they played and the choir sang so well that the audience told of shivers down the spine and hair standing up on the back of their necks and arms. There was complete silence at the end of the final work but then the applause was tumultuous and echoed round the church. The audience certainly appreciated the music and musicianship of all concerned.
Following a brief meet and greet, the coach driver indicated that he had to move the coach, so the choir all went back to the hotel for a good sleep in readiness for a further concert outside Amsterdam the following afternoon and the return trip to England and Uxbridge.
Breakfast was continental style, so a number of hardboiled eggs found their way onto the coach to be consumed later in the day. Food and drink was so expensive in Amsterdam compared with England that a number of people had taken an extra roll and egg for a snack.
The choir were quite subdued and obviously quite tired following their exertions the previous day, but it was a leisurely drive to the next venue, which was a much smaller church.
Again, the choir excelled and the audience were enthralled showing their appreciation with much aplomb.
So with a brief break to get changed from concert dress and with suitcases loaded back into the coach, the driver turned for home and the ferry terminal.
This time, the choir had to leave the coach and walk with their suitcases through customs whilst the coach queued once again to be loaded on the ferry.
What the choir didn’t know was that the coach had to be searched in the coach customs hall as well.
Sniffer dogs were put on to the coach to find any drugs that might be hidden to be smuggled into England. One dog had started hopping about all round one section of the coach, wriggling underneath seats, wagging it’s tail and really ferretting around. The dog handler was apparently surprised by his dog’s behaviour, it had never done that before. It was quite a young dog and fairly new to the job, but still they did not know why.
Then, suddenly, the dog stopped, with tail wagging, eyes bright and well pleased with itself, the dog appeared from under a seat, it had something in it’s mouth. The handler could not see well in the confines of the coach, but someone said they had seen a tail out of the side of the dog’s mouth. Gulp ! Whatever it was, was now in the stomach of the dog. The dog had to be retired from duty for that day and a visit to the vet.
The coach driver was escorted to a small room in the customs hall and questioned.
He had to explain that the coach had been in storage in a shed, in a field, had previously been used to run workers to work through picket lines and he also confessed that as he had loaded at Portsmouth the previous day, the driver of the coach behind him had told him that he had seen a mouse run along the tops of the back seats as he had followed the coach on board at Portsmouth.
Not wanting to frighten the ladies on board the coach by telling about the mouse, he had kept his mouth shut.
The choir very nearly didn’t get home that day but in the end the customs officials decided that the mouse had probably come from England, but as it was now inside the dog there was no way of knowing, so they let the choir load their cases back onto the coach, and allowed the driver to drive onto the ferry.
Oh what a story everyone had to tell when they got home. The choir were singing all the way about the Little Mouse With Clogs On.
I failed to mention that whilst the choir were rehearsing during the Afternoon in Amsterdam, some of the men and the coach driver, wandered off to Canal Street. Just to see what it was all about. Now we all believed that, of course.