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Open Features: The Proposition - 6

Ninety Scottish folk are in Assisi there to perform a canticle written by their parish priest.

And Linda McLean, who made the arrangements for their journey to Italy, finds herself worried to distraction.

To read earlier episodes of Linda’s account of the musical adventure please type her name in the search box on this page.

Sunday

All our meals were now organised. The bus drivers were occupied with the routine of transporting the motley crew into Assisi every day. We were not participating in the live performance so we could now relax.

Time off had been granted. Life was much simpler. Difficulties had been overcome. We shared a feeling of well-being, of being wrapped in cotton wool, and we wallowed in it.

We enjoyed this new-found freedom for several hours, beginning to believe that the worst was over. But Life was waiting to throw more at us at daybreak on Sunday.

All general announcements were made at breakfast, when everyone was present. Pleased with my negotiations concerning the meal for that evening I told the assembled company they would be fed at 5 pm, even though this time was inconvenient to the management.

Having given them the news I sat down with the semblance of a grin, but it was soon to be wiped from my face.

Dave stood up. Hands a-flutter, in his usual flamboyant fashion, he declared “We-e-ell, I think it’s a piece of nonsense eating that early. I would far rather eat afterwards. Has anyone here even tried dancing on a full stomach?” Then, behaving like a recalcitrant stallion, he ran both hands through his long blonde hair, shaking it free for maximum effect.

A general rumble of dissent echoed around the room.

My heart sank.

“Was it not at your behest that we requested eating at five tonight?” I asked.

“Ooooh, ye-e-s,” he admitted airily. “But I hadn’t thought about it then. I have now.”

“Well, I am pleased for you. I had no idea that it took your brain so long to kick into action.” I was very angry. “Do you know how long…?” I heard myself ask.

This sounded like the beginning of a lecture. I was sounding like an irate parent. It was best to say no more.

There were astonished looks.

“Right,’’ said Dave, taking control “Who says that we should all stay in town all day and not bother coming back to the hotel for a meal?

More than half those in the room raised their hands.

“Do you want me to arrange a packed meal for you instead of eating here?” I offered coldly.

“No-o-o need” responded Dave, smiling now he had the upper hand. “We’ll do our own thing.”

“We had an agreement yesterday,’’ I persisted. “Arranging this meal involved some tricky negotiations. It was what you wanted. Now, if I understand you correctly, you don’t want food in the hotel. What about the children? They will be practising all day. Don’t they need to be fed before the dress rehearsal?”

“If we practise all day we will give the kids time out for a snack. Will that do, dear?” Dave replied sarcastically.

“You are missing the point.” (I nearly called him ‘petal’, but thought better of it.) “All the meals here are paid for. If you eat away from the hotel you will have to pay for your own food. We don’t have cash to subsidise that.’’

I missed Father Francis at that moment. Had he been there he would have stood up looking hopeless and hapless. Folk would have rallied round. However, on arrival in Assisi he had immediately announced that he was taking himself off to a monastery.’’

“Just like that?’’ I asked, shocked.

Father Francis had rocked with laughter. “Would you prefer me to do it a bit at a time?”

Now I was on my own, and it was obvious that Dave did not care about the bigger picture. I looked around the assembly, searching for an ally.

Five pm was a sensible time for the children to eat. Surely their “guardians’’ would support me. There were 30 children and ten “guardians’’, so that made 40. The four drivers were also on my side. So too was Alana, and Evelyn was wavering.

“Okay,” I said, keen to reach some sort of compromise. “Let’s call it fifty who want to eat here. I can ask the manager to arrange sandwiches for the rest of you.”

“You just don’t get it, do you?” asked Dave, snidely. “We are not coming back. Not one person will be back.’’

Phil now came to my aid. “The tea has been arranged for 5 pm. Dave you were the one who specifically requested that time. You can’t deny that. You will have at least two hours to digest a meal before going on stage to dance. That is what you wanted. Unless any of you have a specific reason for a packed meal I expect you all to be at tea at 5 pm. Don’t any of you let us down.’’

Dave flounced out. Six people followed in his wake.

The remainder stayed seated. I re-emphasised that not to turn up for the meal would reflect very badly on us, and on Scottish people in general. The manager had gone to great trouble to arrange 90 meals on what was for him a busy and important day.

Some said they would do their best to be there. Others said they would think about it.

So the drivers took them off to town, there to practice the canticle.

My husband and I went around the shops, though we couldn’t relax. After lunch we once again ascended the 22 steps, had a bath, then a siesta, but the worrying continued.

Would anybody come back? Would we be sitting in the dining room, surrounded by 88 empty places?

© Linda McLean


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