A White Carnation for the Bishop of Thetford - Hallelujah!
A springlike April day in 1978. Not quite 25. I was best man at a wedding that day. A relatively low key civil ceremony in deference to the wishes of the marrying couple, both of whom I had known for several years. But I wore my best three piece suit of course, and before entering the mid-Norfolk Registry Office the groom handed me a large white carnation to wear as a button-hole. And afterwards, a very pleasant reception with about thirty guests attending at the bride's parents' bungalow. The chief bridesmaid was a short term former girlfriend, and we enjoyed catching up.
But then I had a new young lady in my life! So new in fact that she hadn't been invited to the day's event. But that same evening she was performing with her High School orchestra and choir in Norwich Cathedral. Parts One and Two of Handel's Messiah no less, culminating with the Hallelujah Chorus. On the way there, and still in best suit with white carnation, I had arranged to pick up a male teen-aged friend from the sprawling Earlham Estates on the western outskirts of Norwich to accompany. There were inevitable delays, not least parking in the Cathedral Close. By the time my young companion followed me through the great West Door the concert was imminently about to start.
Maybe it was all down to the carnation? A cathedral sacristan at once approached saying, “We have saved a chair,” and I was at once led across to a roped off 'VIP enclosure' immediately to left of the high stage. Alongside the vacant end chair sat a senior churchman in full canonical vestments. Other obviously important people extended in a seated line off to his left. “You know the Bishop of Thetford?” What! Am I dreaming? If not a serious case of mistaken identity occurring! As the sacristan re-hitched the rope I managed to blurt out a bewildered, “Good evening, Your Grace,” as my young friend was quickly ushered to the rear of the area and another chair produced.
Seconds later the stage lighting came up, and the packed nave fell hushed. The High School choir filed into their high gallery. School uniforms were of course the order of the day. Followed by the school orchestra under the command of the Head of Music who took up their positions on the stage. My new girlfriend in her green blazer and skirt, and clutching her violin and bow, walked straight towards me. The expression of utterly confused amazement which passed across her pretty 17 year old features as she glanced down and recognised me was priceless! Somewhere within the ocean of heads occupying the nave were her parents. I smiled back and risked a discreet little wave. And then we were off ...!
The High School's Head of Music was a lady dedicated to her vocation. So much so that come the finale and the Hallelujah Chorus - with everyone stood up on their feet as tradition demanded - she actually lost her grip on her conductors baton. Can anyone now recall the way the ape-man flung bone in the opening sequence of Kubrick's 2001 Space Odyssey transcribes a series of slow motion tumbles through the air? Well, it was like that, and then it crashed to earth right at the feet of myself and the Bishop of Thetford. After the finish I picked it up and returned it to its owner up in her podium, held out over-arm, rather after the manner of a noble knight presenting Excalibur hilt first in a William Morris tapestry. It seemed a fitting conclusion to the day.
And the new girlfriend? We shall be celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary in 2013 ...
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