A grand tour

We have just returned from a wonderful week in Austria, staying en famille with a delightful chap called Ernst in his house near Vienna. He is a master mirror maker, his wife a talented potter, and their rambling farmhouse was the perfect place from which to explore the area. We drove all the way from Oxford, well over 1,000km, and Bertha (our trusty Ford Galaxy) wasn’t quite up to the job. So with brilliant forward planning, we exchanged her for a new (old) car the very day we left, requiring us to transfer all the luggage etc, buy new insurance/tax on the hoof and master the new automatic controls as we navigated out of Uxbridge, where the garage was. We have dubbed the new car Lulu, for no particular reason. She is a Toyota Estima, a Japanese import which you can’t buy over here, which means that all the manuals are in Japanese: luckily she behaved beautifully on the trip, so we didn’t have to put google translate to the test.

We were there for the marriage of Clare’s elder brother to a lovely Austrian woman. There was a stupendous thunderstorm on the morning of the wedding, but no amount of donner und blitzen could spoil what was a wonderful day, full of Austrian style and hospitality. An oom-pah band welcomed us to the reception at a glorious Schloss, where tremendous amounts of drink and ice-cream were served to keep us going until the lavish supper, which went on until midnight. Then dancing til the early hours, with a band bashing out the 70s back catalogue (which has just about reached Austria). Around the wedding festivities we had plenty of time for swimming in local rivers, visiting a splendid castle at Rosenburg and the lovely town of Eggenburg, and making use of Ernst’s bikes to explore the village. All very gemutlich. On the way home we stopped off for another swim at Attersee, before heading into Salzburg for a last supper. Which sounded an excellent idea, until we managed to drive into the heavily-bollarded Mozartplatz, from which there was no escape. I spent an hour with the local polizei, explaining our mistake and paying 100 euros to ensure Lulu’s release… But a lovely supper was later had in the old market square, where we met the South Korean ambassador to Afghanistan (poor chap), followed by a pretty gruelling 11 hours back to Calais, sustained by an Alex Rider story tape and lashings of over-sweet Austrian snacks.

We’re back now, and I’m in Oxford for a few days before heading up to the Fringe with our production of ‘The Dream Machine’. This is our last production of the year, and comes after a very successful Arts Festival, in which we staged a lovely outdoor version of ‘The Recruiting Officer’, followed by an anarchic pupil-led ”The Frogs’, and rounded off with ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at the Playhouse. Busy times, as ever. Manouche Etcetera went down a storm, with a packed audience and standing ovation – particularly pleasing since we were up against somewhat bigger names in the festival, such as the Ronnie Scott’s big band. Who weren’t bad, admittedly. We were asked to play on the big outdoor stage at the Cheltenham festival, too, which was fantastic fun. Turning up with just our instruments (i.e. not having to lug around amps and speakers) was a treat, and our set, sandwiched between a gospel-rock band and a 1920s comedy act, seemed to be very well-received. Cheltenham looked glorious in the July evening sun, and being blanked by Sam Mendes (who I have met at MCS, albeit for 3 minutes) didn’t detract from a great experience of the festival. We played a second set in a super-cool subterranean gin bar, the sort of place I could never afford to actually buy a drink, but was fun to perform in.

I’ve just secured the rights for ‘Guys and Dolls’ as our November musical; not exactly a wacky choice, but after last year’s all-new piece on WWI I thought it was time to put on something a little simpler logistically. And it’s a cracking show. So watch this space, and see you at the Fringe!


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