It feels like we’ve only just walked off stage and we are already being packed back into the touring bus. The people in front of me are reclining into my face as I try to read, and into my cello which is resting on the seat next to me. My elbow is fighting with the instrument’s hips and the macaroons I bought in Toulouse a week ago for my friends in Amsterdam are surely being crushed, the bitter almond, rosewater and coffee flavours crumbling together in the bag. Turning up the volume on the Bach French Suites I attempt to drown out giggles, sweet nothings, gossip and politics. It is too early for other people’s noise, too early to kiss colleagues or to chat. At the risk of being no fun, I wrap myself in isound, put the hard covers of my book between me and the world, and preserve myself in antisocial behaviour. In each of our different ways we are all careering towards eight o’clock when we breathe in as one body, and the music starts.
Today the five hour journey ends in a fine hotel - one with a pool, a personal nespresso machine, bathrobe and slippers. I skip lunch, borrow a bathing suit, into which I just about manage to fit, book a massage, order a salad and slide into the water. After seven days of cramped travel, rehearsals and concerts, the tension bursts out of my knees as I kick, and floats down from my shoulders to the tiles at the bottom of the pool. My elbows unfold, my neck releases and I am long again. Then, having been pummelled hard with pepper oil, I get back on the bus for the gig.
The chef’s moods on this tour have been variable and we are never quite sure what he will deliver. He has already stopped one concert because of some poor biddy coughing in the front row (Give us a break, maestro, ‘tis the season of chills), watched her, baton still poised mid-symphony, as she and her stick hobbled up the hundred or so steps to the exit and recommenced the concert. The magic was gone and the music a mere obligation.
Two minutes after the appointed hour, the chef walks on stage on good form. I am sitting up front, which means I can slot right in between the bass and middle line, like slipping both arms into cashmere sleeves and, as the Simphonie Imaginaire unfurls, the bliss and the groove of Rameau undo me more than any massage could. On the day of the last concert, however, though I want to let rip, I find I cannot. Instead I shut all portholes firmly and look out at the sound waves, which seem to be moving around me without meaning.
And then, suddenly, I am in the Paris rush to get down South for foie gras and oysters, amongst the coiffed spinsters clutching exquisitely wrapped gifts, the dreaded alcoholic mothers-in-law, the tactless brothers, the executive sons and prettified great grand children, all flooding into their families. I’m informed by phone by mine who has only just stopped working that the house is a mess but full of food. We shall improvise the rest.