I went to England with the City of Brampton Concert Band. It was the band's first trip in five years and my first trip to England since 1991.
I have an album of photos from the trip on Flickr; follow this link to see them.
Friday 27 June: Everything was slow and lousy at Toronto Pearson International Airport. Their Wi-Fi absolutely sucks. We milled around for ages because we'd been told we all had to check in as a group (which explains why my attempt to check in online had failed), but then we were told to check in individually, and shortly after we'd all lined up and a few people had started doing that, we were told we had to check in as a group. Then we got split into two groups depending on who was checking in a piece of the band's equipment along with their own suitcase.
Our travel agent had been told multiple times, as early as a few months earlier, that my girlfriend had an egg allergy and needed egg-free food. He hadn't bothered to tell the airline, so they had no food for her on the plane. I had made a sandwich for myself so that I could eat that in the airport instead of paying exorbitant fees for food during the long wait for the plane, so I gave her that and paid close to $20 for a sandwich and some juice for myself. This was to be the start of a pattern.
We got a bit of a surprise; we were supposed to have been travelling on a 767 one way and an A330 the other (I forget which way was which), but they'd substituted a 777. I'd never been on a 777 before. I'm pretty sure it's the second-largest aircraft model I've ever been on, behind only the 747, and by a large margin over whatever is third-largest.
Saturday 28 June: Everything was slow and lousy at London Heathrow Airport. Their Wi-Fi pretty much sucks. We milled around for ages waiting to be directed to our bus, then milled around for a while longer waiting for the bus itself to appear.
We had a two-hour stop in Stratford to be tourists. The first half of the stop was dry, but then it started raining, pretty heavily at times, for the second half. Before getting on the bus, I used a public washroom. There was a sketchy-looking person hanging around outside the washroom. While I was in the washroom, some people came in and I heard strange noises. After I'd finished, the noises stopped and the sketchy-looking person and a man were leaving. I think an oral transaction had taken place!
In addition to our Canadian travel agent, who came along with us, we had a "local" guide in England. She's actually Irish and lives in London, but she does tours all over the British Isles. Fortunately, when she was told that the travel agent had screwed up and not arranged egg-free food for my girlfriend, the tour guide set about contacting all the hotels and restaurants where we were to have meals to arrange something my girlfriend could eat. This, too, was to be the start of a pattern; our guide was fantastic.
We spent the night in Manchester.
Sunday 29 June: I hadn't been feeling very well on Saturday, largely due to not being able to get much sleep on the plane, but I felt much better today. Today was a day of just playing tourist; we had no concerts or rehearsals. We started out in Liverpool, where it was lovely and sunny, and then off to the Lake District for the afternoon, before checking into our hotel in Carlisle for the evening.
Monday 30 June: We were back to the Lake District this morning for a cruise, then off to Brampton, Cumbria, the town after which Brampton, Ontario, was named. Brampton put on a nice little welcoming celebration for us, complete with homemade food and a public ceremony with the Town Crier and the local council chairman, who then led us on a brief walking tour of the town.
After that, it was back to Carlisle for a rehearsal, dinner, and then a concert with the local band. Their band and ours both played, though we only played separately, not as a massed band. At the end of the concert, we got a surprise. A member of a local musical group explained a tradition in their group of having every member of the group vote (in secret) for the member they thought had been the most crucial to the organization's success that year, and that person had their name engraved on a trophy. As their group seemed to be winding down, they had decided they would give us the trophy and ask us to carry on their tradition. It was a very touching speech and presentation, and we all felt honoured that they thought highly enough of us to do this.
The evening finished with members of both bands heading to a local pub for dessert (which we didn't have time to eat at dinner) and drinks.
Tuesday 1 July: It was another day of playing tourist. First, we went to Leeds to tour the factory at Tor Banners, the company that made our stand banners. After that, the bus dropped us off downtown and we had a couple of hours to do whatever we wanted. Some of us went to an old pub for lunch, and randomly met some other Canadians, and since it was Canada Day, we sang O Canada. After that, we went to the Royal Armouries Museum before getting back on the bus to head to Beverley for the night.
I met a couple of cats during the day, one in Leeds and the other one at our hotel in the evening. The hotel actually had sort of adopted a local cat; he has a home in the neighbourhood but spends a lot of time in the hotel and gets fed.
Wednesday 2 July: We started with a walking tour of York. The actual local guide (from York, not our Irish guide) did a tour that was much longer than anticipated, but we had a bit of individual time afterwards to wander before getting back on the bus to Beverley to rehearse with the local band. Our joint concert in Beverley not only had each band playing on its own but also a massed band. And again, after the concert, we went to a local pub with members of the local band (and to cool off after playing in a poorly-ventilated hall with hot lighting).
Thursday 3 July: It was another day of playing tourist. We started off in Coventry. I visited the cathedral and climbed the tower (which I'd previously done when I was a kid). When we got back on the bus to leave Coventry, it was the first time that everyone was actually at the bus when we were supposed to have been.
In the afternoon, we were given a tour of a stately home and met two aristocrats, one of whom taught members of the band how to play croquet.
Friday 4 July: We went to Leamington Spa in the morning to play a concert. We were supposed to be playing in a small auditorium in a community centre but it was a totally unsuitable venue for a band our size. We ended up playing outside, and the concert went well despite the wind blowing our stands and music around. Actually, we experienced pretty much the whole assortment of British summer weather during the hour or so we played.
When we had left the hotel in the morning, many of the men in the band had to get off the bus and push our equipment trailer around, because the turn out of the hotel driveway was very tight, there were cars parked on the other side of the road, and despite the skill level of the substitute bus driver (our regular driver was taking a legally-enforced day off), things simply didn't fit. And then when we got to Warwick Castle, we had to do the same in the castle's parking lot.
After the castle, we continued to London, where we checked into our hotel and then had the evening to ourselves.
Saturday 5 July: The day started with a tour of the city on our bus, with a stop for us to play tourist briefly at the Tower of London. We had a concert in the afternoon at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-Disability in Putney. It was amazing to see how the patients responded to our music.
The rest of the day was free for us, and a friend of mine who used to play in the band before she moved back to England had come to hear us at the hospital. My girlfriend and I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening with her, including attending an outdoor concert by The Heroes Band, whose conductor had previously led a band my friend played in.
Sunday 6 July: The day had originally been planned to be a free day for everyone to do as they pleased, but the band had been looking for an opportunity to play another concert, and we ended up playing at the Hampstead Summer Festival in the afternoon. The stage was tiny, so many band member had to stand on the ground nearby, and we were right next to a generator that was powering various things in the area, but we had a good concert. And another former band member, who had moved to the London area to take a job as a teacher a few years ago, came out to hear us play.
We'd had the morning to ourselves, so my girlfriend and I went to the London Eye.
The band had a farewell dinner at Jamie's Italian before returning to the hotel for our last night.
Monday 7 July: We packed up and headed to the airport. On the way, the band presented our Irish guide with some gifts to thank her for the excellent job she did.
Our plane was changed to a 777 again. There was a 20-minute delay before we pushed back from the gate, and then we were stuck in a 10-plane lineup before we could take off. And then we were off on our way home.