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Open Features: The Proposition - Part 2

Father Francis has written a Canticle which he wishes to have performed at the Edinburgh Festival.

With some reluctance Linda McLean agrees to raise funds to help him achieve his goal.

But now Father Francis comes knocking on the door with a further request for help. The organisers of a World Wildlife Fund want the Canticle to be performed at a festival they are organising in the Italian town of Assisi...

For the first part of this narrative please type Linda's name in the search box on this page.

Three Months later

I opened my door to the knock, to find Father Francis looking fretful. He was not his usual Harry Potter self. His mouth hung slackly open, as if he had forgotten to close it after his last utterance.

It was a beautiful day in May. I was quite pleased with myself. I had spent lots of hours bashing away at my keyboard, writing letters to all and sundry who might be interested in supporting this Canticle he was hoping to put on at the Edinburgh Festival. Progress was being made.

His distracted appearance had me worried.

“Hiya,” I greeted him. “The fundraising is going well. Have you time to come in?”

“I think I’d better,” he said.

He came in and sat at the kitchen table while I made a cup of tea. He still had that strange gawping look when the tea was ready. He appeared to be visiting a different galaxy.

“You seem to have something on your mind,” I observed, rather unnecessarily.

“Yes,” he replied vaguely.

I watched him carefully. He was not involved in his surroundings, paying no attention to the tea. He was far away, possibly unaware of my presence.

A further prod was necessary.

“I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what it is,” I offered, after a lengthy silence.

He returned to Planet Earth with a jerk, his eyes blinking rapidly to accommodate the sc ene.

“I think you are going to be angry. I’m very worried,” he said.

“Why am I going to be angry?” I asked, now wary.

“Well, you see, this year the World Wildlife Fund hold a festival in Assisi.”

“I’m not involved the World Wildlife Fund or Assisi,” I assured him.

“That’s why you might be angry.”

At last he launched into an explanation. “The World Wildlife Fund are having a festival in September, and I have been invited to take my Canticle there.” He looked in my direction, unable to manage more than the briefest glance. “There are sixty adults and thirty children, and we all need to get to Assisi. I have no idea how much it will cost. I don’t want individuals to have to pay anything. It may deter some of them from going.''

“You are not suggesting that I raise the money for that as well?” I asked, already knowing the answer to my question.

“Well, you’ve just said the fundraising is going well, and I don’t have anybody else. You’ve made a start. All that's needed is a little bit more.''

He was obviously trying to believe in his own argument. He had certainly failed to persuade me to do so.

With difficulty I swallowed my frustration. It was more than frustration. I was furious. Livid. But he looked so pathetic, sitting there, that I fully mustered my restraint.

“It would be quite a bit more.”

He instantly perked up. “Oh, so you’ll do it then?” he asked, all eager and childlike.

The man was quite impossible.

“I didn’t say that. This is a much bigger project. I would not be happy taking full responsibility. A huge amount of research needs to be done. Travel costs, hotels... The logistics are terrifying. We would need a committee to organise this.”

“Oh, I can get a committee,” he said happily.

His sudden mood swings gave cause for concern.

“It will have to be a very active committee.”

He was obviously deadly serious, but I was not sure that he understood the dimensions of the project.

"This committee must be prepared to work very hard. There is not much time available,'' I said forcefully. "It has been hard enough raising two thousand pounds. I don’t know where I’d start on a much bigger project such as this. Time is not on our side.''

“Oh, you’ll manage,” he said nonchalantly. “There is no doubt about that. And I have already thought of someone who could help on the committee.”

You could almost see the wheels whirling happily round as he began to plan.

**

And so the Assisi committee was set up.

My husband was roped in as treasurer, Mike was travel co-ordinator, I was fundraiser and Father Francis the originator. His role on the committee was never quite established, but he came regularly to the meetings, displaying at frequent intervals great amazement at the cost of his venture.

We reckoned it could be done for £20,000. The cheapest way to get to Assisi was overland by coach. We worked constantly during the brief time available before the trip. We decided to approach some famous peple who might be interested in the venture. Ted Heath was interested in music. The Duke of Edinburgh was president of the World Wildlife Fund...

Father Francis added various new challenges as we went along.

“I’m taking £15,000 worth of musical instruments. Will we need insurance?” he asked innocently.

Then there was the problem of interpreters. I spoke French, but no Italian. This was not a problem, I was assured. The professional dancers were fluent in Italian.
We had found a hotel that could take us all in Assisi for four nights. We were stopping over for one night in Lyons on the way. The route back was different, through various countries -Switzerland, Austria, and Belgium. Money would have to be changed in each country.

And how were we going to feed them all? What system could we use when the bus stopped for a meal breaks?

Would I be tour nurse? That was something they hadn’t got around to considering.

With only ten days to go, there were still vital parts of the plan not yet in place.

Most important of all, we were still £10,000 short of our target.

A pressure cooker may be used to coping with stresses, but I am not a pressure cooker, and I was finding it hard to cope with the anxiety of waiting for £10,000 to drop through the letter box. It was astonishing that I did not start smoking again.

Everything was now booked. All that was needed was someone to pay the costs.

Getting through the last few days was like wading through molasses – very hard work, with no-one quite sure if we possessed the stamina to see it through.

Could we pull it off?

© Linda McLean


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