Hampers and Champers
As outdoor venues go, you really can’t beat a stately home as a backdrop. Last weekend’s Battle Proms at Blenheim Palace was a brilliant evening out for me, Mr C and our eldest, and they’re repeating the whole thing, cannons and all, at Hatfield House here in Herts this coming weekend. And there are still tickets going.
There was something strangely – and quite joyfully – anachronistic about the whole experience. Lots of WWII bits and pieces – including a spectacular aerial display from a Spitfire, Waterloo re-enactors firing muskets, Napoleonic cavalry folk doing a musical ride, ladies in Regency dress parading around or sitting in their decorated tents, a wandering bagpiper – who managed to find the one other person in the whole crowd who could actually play the pipes and treated us all to an impromptu tune, WWI cannons, a soprano singing Mozart, and even Myleene Klass joining in on the big screen.
It was a big historical-contemporary mash-up which sort of made sense even when it didn’t. And which I think was a teensy bit bemusing to some of the international students on the picnic blanket next to us, but they seemed to be having a lovely time anyway.
It might be… ok, it definitely is, a bit of a cliché but there really were people of all ages there. Almost literally, I reckon, 0 to 100. Our 11 year old (who is much too cool for this sort of thing, apparently) was more than a little sceptical about being taken… sorry, dragged there. But by the end – or even by the middle, to be fair – he was saying how ‘awesome’ it was and had a thoroughly good time. Not sure he particularly enjoyed the bit when Mr C swept me off my feet (think: trod on my toes) in a valiant attempt at a Viennese waltz, but hey ho.
I did suffer horribly with picnic envy, though. I thought I’d done a passable job of stuffing our admittedly ancient cool bag with tasty treats – but not only did we forget the bottle opener (our eternal thanks to the better-prepared chap one picnic blanket over) but our selection paled into positive insignificance in the face of wicker baskets with proper china and cutlery, champagne and cold chicken, checked tablecloths and candles on the tables.
We missed most of the first part of the evening – the re-enactment of various Waterloo-era (it’s the 200th anniversary, after all) bits and bobs – because we were sat in a massive tailback on the road heading in. If you’re heading to Hatfield, make sure you leave yourself plenty of time (thanks, Mum). Like, more than you’ll need and then some. We were aiming to get there about 4, when the gates were opening, but didn’t make it in until nearly 5.30 – by which time picnic places were fewer and further between than we’d hoped. That said, we found ourselves a neat little spot close to the stage – and right in front of the biggest cannon of all – so that’s not too shabby.
The first musical bit of the evening was a set from The Rockabellas – ‘Killer Heels, Killer Curves, Killer Harmonies’ — a trio that belted out ‘40s standards as well as a few more modern bits, but all with a distinctly vintage feel, and were brilliant – think The Andrews Sisters in corsets and with some serious attitude. (Check out their cover of ‘Crazy in Love‘ on their website. Makes me smile.) There were plenty people up on their feet having a bit of a bop – and even some proper jiving going on — although Mr C and I thought it best left to those who could.
The rest of the evening was spent in the capable hands of the New English Concert Orchestra – who took us through all the Prom classics, with a few other bits thrown in for good measure. Have to say, the cellist who played Elgar and Saint-Saëns was utterly brilliant – I think his name was Jonathan Pepper, but I can’t find it anywhere and we didn’t buy a programme (bother). I got goosebumps when he played the Elgar, which perched neatly on top of the goosebumps I already had having not dressed warmly enough (my own fault).
The evening came to a mighty climax with all the old favourites: the 1812 overture, Land of Hope and Glory, you know the ones I mean. To be honest, I’m not always one for flag-waving patriotism, but I found myself belting out ‘Jerusalem’ (or at least the bits I could remember) with the best of ‘em as the fireworks went off all over the place. And the fireworks were spectacular. There were a few earlier in the evening, but the last two or three pieces were accompanied by some serious pyrotechnics building to a massive finale.
All in all, it was a brilliant night. Amazing venue (and Hatfield House will be equally spectacular), lots to look at all evening, a super-relaxed feel to the whole event, a rousing intro to some well-known (and a few less so) classics for our eldest, and a great excuse for a leisurely (and just a little bit boozy) picnic. Love it.