A couple of weekends ago, Katie and I travelled up to Northumberland on our second visit to the very wonderful Fiona McGee – star of the previous Alchemy story, ‘Arrival’.
It was Palm Sunday. We’d just had a delightful lunch in a country pub called The Rat, which, in case you ever find yourself in the Hexham environs, I can highly recommend. Admittedly, the name is not all that promising, but the reality is a proper treat. Food, service, atmosphere, garden – the lot.
After lunch, we decided to pay a visit to nearby Corbridge – once the epicentre of much battle and drama involving not least some feisty Romans, but now a picturesque, highly desirable market town, population about 3500. It was a gorgeous day: brilliant blue sky; warm sunshine; lovely surroundings. As Katie and Fiona basked on a bench, I stalked around the churchyard taking slightly pretentious architectural photographs of interesting angles and bits of stone. Whilst doing so I came across a truly magnificent clump of tulips, a fiery blaze of brilliant reds and yellows amid the tombstones.
When I returned to Katie and Fiona, they were deep in conversation with an older couple who were amongst many now arriving at and making their way into the church. We were, it transpired, welcome to join the assembled crowds who were there to listen to the church choir perform a piece called, appropriately enough, the Crucifixion. Why not? we thought, and went inside.
I’ll say now that it all started rather well. Save the odd bum note from the organist (which reminded me of my wedding day when I had to walk up the aisle in fits of giggles thanks to the utter chaos being made of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at the Exhibition) the choir did a pretty good job, particularly the two soloists.
Unfortunately the equilibrium was not to last.
Somehow, Katie’s iPhone managed to find its way out of her bag and onto the floor, right in the midst of a quiet and serious bit, clattering loudly as it landed. I looked to my right to give her a grown-up admonishing look, at which point she said, sotto voce, “I try to be good!”
It was the look on her face that did it for me. Before I knew it I was doubled over, tears running down my cheeks as I battled to regain control. I was transported back to my childhood; to the funerals of numerous great aunts, when someone, somewhere, would start the inappropriate giggling, sending a silent, shaking, infectious wave throughout the rest of the congregation. When I dared to look up, Katie and Fiona were at it too and I knew it was game over.
Our saving grace was that we’d had the good sense to sit at the back. During the next noisy part, we slunk out like naughty schoolgirls then burst into further spluttering fits of hysterics as the door closed behind us. We passed the tulips on our way out, standing tall, proud and loud; ashamed of nothing.