I haven’t seen much of the Château of Chimay. For ten hours a day, instead of wandering in the russet grounds and admiring the bulbous slate towers, I have been lurking in the bijoux theatre that crouches off the hall, just about where you would expect to find a kitchen.
My esteemed colleagues in the continuo ‘équipe’ are awe-inspiring so I am eating some very nutritious humble pie as I place my bass line carefully in the midst of Jacob and Jory’s magical plucking.
The baroque singing competition candidates come and go in a whirlwind of loose scores that we, when we are not accompanying them, are frantically cutting and pasting. One minute I am down on my knees with the scissors and the Pritt while John Dowland or Monteverdi theorbo chords float in the air, and the next I am back at the instrument, bits of stave taped accidentally to my sleeve and my fingers sticking to the strings. As I carve my way through Purcell and Handel, I try not to hyperventilate with excitement; to keep it simple and let the glorious lines speak for themselves. Just as in life, it is much easier said than done, but it is relief to have the chance to try.
At midday, in between John Blow and Bach, the Princess comes in with a menu from the local brasserie from which we are to speedily make our choice.
In the afternoon, to keep ourselves from overwhelm, we crack the usual jokes about the text – ‘Ego Flos Campi’ morphing in to gay ego flossing, and the body parts mentioned in ‘If Music be the Food of Love’ becoming more and more lewd. We also guess that Horace’s beloved Lute is actually not a lute at all but a pretty hot chick. The candidates keep coming: A nasal soprano, a fiery contralto, three camp counter-tenors and a bass that makes the floorboards quiver underfoot…..On the fourth rendition, in the fourth key, on the fourth cut and paste part of ‘Lord, What Am I?’ I think I am beginning to hallucinate.
In the evening, eyes popping and tonics and dominants crowding our ears, we collapse into the red plush velvet depths of the Prince’s living room for a well-deserved apéro of their home-brewed beer. With the family and amongst the photos of handshakes with other princes, of the Princess beaming on stage with her guitar, of dogs and trees and babies, we inhale the aroma the Prince's big beefy stew and find ourselves laughing.
Meanwhile, further south, Julian, having shovelled the last of the concrete and earth into his bright new blue wheelbarrow and dumped it, having boxed all our food and china, having made the last adjustments to the plumbing before the hemp floor gets laid, is wading with a glass of wine through dust to get to the TV where he will also collapse after a hard days work. No-one is making him a big beefy stew, nor running a bath scented with ‘Blenheim Bouquet’. No-one is there to clink glasses with him on a job well done. When I phone, he tells me the mini has arrived in the garage. He is picking it up on Saturday and heading North for a weekend od music, food and love.