Last night I was driving Lydia home from ballet when one of the Proms concerts started to air on the radio.
“Oh Lydia, it's the proms!” I said. “Maybe, when we move to England, you'll be able to go to the proms!”
“What's the proms?” She asked so I told her all about it – about that summer's afternoon when we were on holiday in England, many, many years ago and our father announced: “right, everybody, shoes on, go to the toilet and into the car!”
“Why? Where are we going?”
“We're going to a concert.”
So we raced into London, miraculously without breaking down, found parking – even more miraculously and probably highly illegally – in Hyde Park and ran to the Albert Hall. But by the time we panted to a stop outside the megalithic stone hall, we were too late.
“There's no more tickets for the arena!” The stewards were shouting.
“Never mind, we'll go in the gallery,” Daddy said and so my first ever Proms concert was sitting on the marble floor of the gallery that runs round the inside of the hall, gazing down, with my myopic eyes, at the fuzzy heads on the stage far far below, the music wafting upwards, a split second behind the bowing and twinkling of fingers. I can't remember what the music was, but I was hooked.
From then on I was a regular at the Proms, sometimes alone, sometimes with my sisters, sometimes with friends we dragged along. We would take the first train to London in the morning, Victoria line from Euston, Piccadilly line from Green Park, run through the tunnel at South Kensington Tube station and up the Brompton road and along Prince Consort, to the steps of the Albert hall – wherein was the queue for the Arena. We would sign our names on the list and then queue all day – though we were allowed off for short periods, to get lunch etc. I would take my violin and busk, either in Kensington Gardens or the the Tube station, always earning back the money I paid for my train ticket and proms ticket and food, plus extra if I was lucky.
And, for the price of two pounds I stood at the feet of Joshua Bell, Midori, Anne Sophie Mutter, Yo-Yo Ma, Dong Su Kang, Alfred Brendel, the best orchestras from around the world.
I told all this to Lydia. I told her about the life long friends we made in the queue; how we would sit and chat in the sun on the steps and play cards and cats cradle, how we would bring instruments and play chamber music; how, one year, we practised for and performed an operetta under the feet of Little Albert on the Last Night of the Proms; how we slept out in sleeping bags on the pavement for a couple of nights to guarantee our places for the Berlin Philharmonic and the Last Night. I told her about the excitement of the doors opening, going inside, buying our tickets and racing, hearts pounding, through the dusty bowels of the Albert Hall, to the arena to bag a decent place on the rail in front of the stage. I told her about the games of Ping pong we in the arena had with the promenaders in the Gallery: “Anyone for a game of tennis?”
And she said: “Gosh, how boring.”