Rumble in the Ramblas – diary of the 2004 tour – Andy Johnston


Oh what fun we had on our choir Tour to sunny Spain in 2004. Unfortunately my diary does not cover the period between 11am on Friday morning and the return to Blighty due to being inconvenienced by a snail- I will comment upon unfavourably later. So I have left my notes in diary form:

Sunday 30th May-. Good flight but those who did not get the option of food changed the name of Iberia to Anorexic Airlines. After clearing immigration some of our number headed straight for the Airport foodshop, which was elegantly named ARS. I saw Judith Day and other elegant choir wives nibbling an ARS sandwich and managed to keep zipped.

It has to be said that they had left the ‘sunny’ out of Spain that day and, as we wound our way past the cement works and the largest petrochemical complex outside of Houston, one wag wanted to twin Pinedas with Redcar- as he could not tell the difference. Nice enough hotel but nowhere to go except a seaside caff. Morale did improve on discovery of the Moonlight Bar.

Monday 31st May– Morning briefing from Uncle Doug, Club Rep style and the sun was shining. The question ‘what are we doing today’ echoed and we all went our separate ways. Our little team went off to Salou on the bus to see if it was as bad as we had been led to believe, and to glimpse the places where our younger rellies had triumphed for England at the European Lager and Bonking Championships in 2003. Pete Kennedy, resplendent in the same polished black trainers he wore in Venice, had his first taste of calamari. A hastily arranged evening meet at the Moonlight Bar where we were warmly welcomed. Great sing. Virtuoso harmonica performance of Black Hills of Dakota. Pat Dixon told me not to give up my day job- does she not understand the rare pleasure of being a talent-free performer with a drunken audience? All performances eclipsed by the natural, shining star quality of Ibbo and his show stopping performances of Logger and Gnu. Fine night

Tuesday 1st June– Spent the night warding off a guerrilla mosquito that inflicted damage until precisely 5.51a.m.when his miserable life was mercifully terminated. At breakfast David Marshall, ever thoughtful, reckoned that a single mozzy had been placed in every room as a kind of gift.  Off to a rehearsal in the Video Room, where we sounded in absolute top form. Our mood was changed when we heard that Dorcas and Dougie had to return home urgently and our thoughts stayed with them through the rest of the holiday. Donald took control and became our ‘Dad’ from that point. Off we went to Tarragona- which the Romans had previously used as their base to conquer Spain. Many of us piled on a Senor Noddy train for the lazy boy’s tour, a highspot being the precise four-minute stop by the Cathedral. Dear old Derek was in the dog-house as he had forgotten his black shoes and was reportedly, reluctant to buy a new pair. Anne saw Elvis again- this time on a motorbike and in black leathers. She refused to accept that the King is dead and not following her.

Back to the hotel and then off to the Pau Cassals concert. We were up for it, the location looked good, the audience arrived on time and we all sang our best -but it was such hard work against a shrieking chorus of overhead swifts. Donald excelled with his solo- especially as Anne had, mischievously, pitched it at the extreme of his range, and Elizabeth led us with all the normal warmth and verve. Another fine night at the Moonlight when Rod delighted everyone by whipping out his little ukelele and leading us through ‘Florry Ford’s Favourites’.

Wednesday 2nd June– Free day completed by a really enjoyable concert at the hotel. World premier for Taverna don Mallol. Unfortunately we sang it at one of the few places in Catalunya where there were no Catalans so there was no flicker of recognition from the mainly Russian audience. Fortunately our wives and partners from Honley and Vocals joined us to sing Ave Verum and it worked beautifully. A sumptuous dinner for twenty four at the New York, and back for closing orders at the Moonlight. We then had a memorable finish to the day as John Poole led a handful of us to try out the acoustics in hotel reception. ‘Irish Blessing’ was the best sound of the week.

Thursday 3rd June– Reception reprise with whole choir got us of to a terrific start on our excursion to Montserrat. The mountains loomed jagged and spectacular and we just kept on climbing from the town to the monastery. David Haigh sniggered at a dodgy translation explaining Catalan tower building- where up to ten levels of people make a pyramid and then project a brave boy to the top. It said the boy ‘must have balls the size of his head’.  We reckoned that the worst job a monk could have had would be Teamakers Assistant. ‘While the waters boiling just pop down for some milk’ etc. The setting is truly awesome and we went early into the Basilica for good seats for the boys choir at 1pm. In the performance spot an average choir from Eastern Europe- probably Russia, and not in uniform, sang a version of Two Roses. When the boys filed on there were gasps of horror because none of them had any arms. We speculated afterwards whether the monks had cut the arms off the boys so that they could sit more to the bench. A wit (who I refuse to name), came up with the theory that it had been done to stop self-abuse.

After a Catalan lunch in the Montserrat café, Ibbo and I walked back giving little Jack Davies big time ‘1-2-3 and aways’ to the coach. Dad counted us on and there was big anticipation as we neared Barcelona. The hotel was easy to get near but impossible to get to so Dad and Uncle Graham went to sort them out and we had to entertain ourselves on the side of Calla. I borrowed The Hon. Elizabeth’s brand new harmonica for an appalling rendition of Mallol only to be insulted by a paltry copper collection. At the hotel our leaders went into overdrive to sort out the underwhelming space allowed for familias Ibbotson y Brown. Did they not understand that they were dealing with the top slice of Yorkshire society?

After freshening up, most of the party went down to the Ramblas in search of the fabled street entertainment. (We found out later that Enid and David fell foul of the local pastime and were mugged). Our party found a very beguiling and authentic Tapas place and we tucked in to a wide assortment of local delicacies. My fateful mistake was to show off by asking for a portion of snails. I had last eaten a snail, in France, in the late 80s and found it disgusting. So were these- but Geoff and Clive.   pretended to like them. Ibbo found us by chance and seized on the prospect of a gourmet meal with a good fino and some quality rioja. We joined him in relays and sampled his dinner.

Friday 4th June– Breakfast bedlam. Room full of Russians. No cups. No anything. Bad start to the day. Off on delightful walk to Parc Guell with Kate, Chris and Ali- up roads with magic, embedded escalators, then through the Park to have a drink overlooking the Gaudi mosaics and Barcelona. After that it was curtains for me- major shakes, taxi to the hotel and you really do not want to hear any more details of my ailment- unless you have a special interest in hydraulics. Thank you Doc Martin- I remember your reassuring words that I may pull through!

Post scripts- 1 – On the coach back to the Aeroporto I understand that Dad relayed the Test match score. Somebody asked ‘who has got the most runs?’ The reply, in unison, ‘Andy has’. Shameful! 2– Catalunya was not my best ever holiday experience, but it did reaffirm some things of real and lasting importance. There is embracing warmth about the extended family, which is choir. We look after each other and are reasonably tolerant of each other’s foibles. We make allowances and enjoy the craic. We need to go abroad again!