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Open Features: The Proposition – 3

A party of musicians, singers and dancers set out from Scotland, bound for Assisi in Italy, there to perform a canticle written by Father Francis. But frustrations galore lie in wait.

Linda McLean’s patience, language skills and organising ability are tested to the limit.

The fourth part of this story will appear in next Monday’s Open Writing.

I grew exceedingly nervous about the shortage of funding. Father Francis, by this time a frequent visitor, seemed totally unperturbed. His complete confidence that we would raise the money was amazing.

Suddenly, I realised that worrying about it would solve nothing. We were now committed. Whatever did or did not happen, we were resourceful enough to solve the problems. Once I had adopted this attitude, the balance of the money came through from the Council in a lump sum. We were fully funded.

It is difficult to describe the disabling effect of poverty in the local area. Walking along the street, you could observe your fellow pedestrians and see that they were psychologically beaten - beaten for want of education, ambition and money. Beaten by bureaucracy too, by systems they did not understand. Some were beaten by lack of self respect. They were utterly aimless, wandering bleakly from day to day.

However the “Big Expedition” was achieving something that was thrilling. Folk came out in droves, family and friends, feeling both pride and envy, to gather round the coaches when it was time to set out on our journey. Many going on the trip, adults as well as children, had never been abroad before, having had neither the money nor the opportunity to do so. The send off we got is something I shall always remember.

There were tears, laughter, great excitement and the honking of horns when the buses slowly pulled away at 7 pm on a lovely sunny Wednesday in September.

Those going on the trip gradually calmed down as mile followed mile. We travelled throughout the night. Our first scheduled stop was to be at Lyons, France, at 6 pm the following evening. We had all taken food and drinks with us onto the coaches.

I was introduced to “the professionals”, the soloists. Alana, a singer, was as mad as a hatter. She had long black hair, and green eyes which gave her a permanently worried look. She believed that poverty should be outlawed, that the rich did not realise how well off they were. Those with money should be more generous. She went to supermarkets near closing time when free bread was available. Why didn’t more people do that, she wondered?

Evelyn, the ballerina, was prone to temper tantrums. She phoned home from our first stop and was told that her five year old had measles. She sat down on the ground and howled like an infant. This totally astonished “the locals” who were used to lurching from crisis to crisis. They started to mutter. “Imagine not being able to control yourself at that age! You would think her child had the plague.”

After this episode she was known and referred to as Hysterical.

Then there was Dave who was also a dancer, and very, very camp. “If you’ve got it, flaunt it,” was his motto. He despaired that everyone around him was so sadly lacking in talent. He totally despaired… He didn’t care what anyone thought of him. They all missed the point, and he could see it so clearly.

This was quite a mixture. This was going to be a fun trip!

We stopped in northern France to purchase lunch supplies from a local supermarket - cheese, fruit, bread and drinks, then onwards towards Lyons.
“Can you navigate?” the bus drivers asked me. “We’ve never been this far south before.”

As I scrutinised the map I began to realise that there was something wrong with our timetable. We would not be able to make our destination for 6 pm. Speculatively I asked the drivers if we could get there by 8 pm. “What do you think this is, love, an aeroplane?” was the response.

Phoning the hotel and speaking in French was a challenge, but they seemed to understand that we had been delayed and assured me a meal would be waiting for us when we arrived.

When we reached Lyons, three hours late, we could see our hotel, but because of a complicated one-way system were unable to also see how to get to it. Round and round we went, circling, getting nearer…

When we finally arrived after 9 pm we saw a man get into a car and drive off at high speed. “That will be the chef,” one of our passengers observed.

“Don’t be silly. They said they would wait,” I responded.
However, the passenger was correct in his assumption.

I was about to step into a nightmare.

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