The announcement of the possibility that the choir would have to travel to Dover by road was met with shrill wails from the trebles and some low groans from the tenors and basses. The reason for this decision was the proposed one-day strike on the Southern Region which coincided with our departure date. Despite this, the 29 strong choir including Mr. Peter Chapman set off with its director, Mr. Moffatt and his widely travelled briefcase (veteran of all four campaigns) on that bright morning of August 21st only fifteen minutes behind schedule. Throughout the journey to Victoria no-one could quite believe that he had arisen and gone to School in a joyful manner so early on a dreaded Monday morning. Although the strike was called off, the choir was still obliged to travel down to the coast by coach. Apart from the time taken, this also entailed a longer walk to passport control which is situated at one end of the platform at Dover Marine. It was waiting at this point that the junior choristers made wild speculations as to the fearsome nature of Customs and Excise Officers, the more experienced travellers doing little to dispel these ideas as familiar sights brought back memories of past journeys.
Once aboard the crowded boat the baggage was methodically stacked under the guidance of the ever practical Mr. Chapman before the choir was allowed to disperse. On docking at Ostend the party disembarked and after passing through the Belgian passport control, boarded the train to Vienna where we were to change trains on the following morning. The "Coil Spring" sensation was identified by those who had been on last year's trip as soon as the Budapest bound train left Vienna. At the border we were joined by a guide, a pretty Hungarian University student who was to see to the welfare of all the members of the choir. Surprisingly she remained sane, taking all the idiosyncrasies of the English in her stride. Before the train arrived at Budapest she issued everyone with a detailed map of the two cities.
Once out of the station, Barbara, as the guide was called, took us to a waiting bus which conveyed the choir and its luggage to a student hotel which, from the outside looked worse than the grim sight of Prague's hostel but the rooms were later compared with those at the Hotel Metronol in Brno. Even though we were tired and dusty after over 30 hours of travel, we were expected to attend our first social function on the evening of our arrival. This was a meeting with a youth choir similar in composition to our own except for the trebles and altos which were sopranos and contraltos. The standard of their singing was extremely high and it was a pity that we had to sing at all, unrehearsed as we were. The quality of our singing was not as bad as one would have supposed though to us it was below standard. To round off our programme we sang Vy Klaconia, a Czech folk song, but we found later, when conversing with the choir, that the Hungarians were not particularly friendly towards the Czechs. It was thought best, therefore, to omit it from future concerts.
We had breakfast at the same restaurant at which we had been served dinner on the preceding evening, as the dining hall of the hotel could not be used! After this meal we were allowed to do as we pleased for the remainder of the morning. At twelve we reassembled and were taken, by Barbara, to a restaurant on the Pest side of the Danube, for lunch, after which we were taken on a sightseeing tour around Buda and Pest. This was rounded off with a drive up to the highest point of the city, a dominating hill on which stood a tall war memorial, backed by the hazy blue Buda Hills. Many just stood in wonder and gazed as if hypnotised at a sight that nothing short of actual experience could do justice to. The more practical frantically jabbed shutter buttons in an impossible effort to capture it. With great reluctance we tore ourselves away to be taken down to our restaurant for dinner. On the following day Barbara took us on an excursion to the Buda Hills, travelling on the Pioneer Railway which, apart from the engineer, was staffed entirely by young people. We were given lunch in a restaurant at the top, after which we had a little time to examine some stalls. Many of the juniors won or bought paper balls stuffed with wood shavings and bound with cotton to which were attached lengths of elastic. These they called "Danglies". These simply-made toys pleased every owner, and even the seniors and Peter Chapman investigated, in the interests of science of course, the strange behaviour of these "Danglies".
We returned to Buda via the cogwheel railway and took a train to the hotel. On Friday 24th the bus took us to Salgotorjen where we were spoilt in a recently opened luxury hotel, the Hotel Karoncs. We were introduced to a girls' choir on Saturday, in a concert hall twenty yards from the hotel. Unfortunately they sang only one song which was regularly punctured with giggling, and in return they asked to see a performance of Papageno which had been produced, at the end of last term, by the opera group. When this was over the choristers were entertained by their hostesses while Mr. Moffat conversed, through Barbara, with reporters and musicians about. the choir and music in English schools. Eventually we were able to get back to the Hotel and rest as we had a full day ahead.
On Sunday we participated in a concert at a village 24 kilometres front Salgotarjen. When we arrived we were shown into the auditorium which was so full of people that many were already standing, crowded at the back and in the aisles. On stage we performed a selection of secular items, every one being followed by thunderous applause. After several curtain calls the cast of Papageno hastily changed and applied make-up while some of the Hungarians danced. When all was ready the only available piano was dragged into a suitable position. It was, as we had feared, out of tune, and Mr. Moffat found that it was also too short when he attempted to play non-existant keys. Before we returned to Salgotarjen everyone was given a badge as a souvenir and some were supplied with water melon as fast as they could eat it. We all agreed that singing to a hall filled with a sympathetic audience was indeed a memorable experience.
On Monday afternoon we visited a glass factory to perform a short concert. Logical deductions made by Mr. Peter Chaptnan led many to believe that they would be able to purchase glassware at reasonable prices. This was not so and the only part of the factory that we saw was the stage of the concert hall. The quality of the concert was of the required standard. A barbecue had been arranged by the girls' choir for that evening but owing to the inclement weather this was abandoned and the evening was spent in the large concert hall by the Hotel. Before we set off for Verocze we were all given an embroidered book-mark by our friends who organised our concerts while we stayed at Salgotarjen.
At Verocze we stayed in a youth camp which was vastly different from the luxury of the Hotel Karoncs where many rooms had their own bathroom and toilet. In the camp there were six people to a chalet little bigger than a couchette and the washing facilities and lavatories were situated at one end of the camp. There was, however, a wide range of recreational activities such a football, volleyball, table tennis, swimming and riding. Meals were adequate and the system of serving resembled that of a glorified Lyons' teashop. On Thursday, August 31st, we took part in an international competition which we succeeded in winning. The sponsors must have heard us practising as 60 bars of chocolate were available for distribution on the announcement of our victory.
The bus took us back to Budapest on Friday and most of the choir seemed pleased to be back in the familiar surroundings of the Student Hotel, the dining hall of which was now operational. The following day we made a recording for Budapest Radio at their studios, as well as an interview taped by a reporter. At the studio we met the Budapest Children's Choir who were runnersup in their class in the B.B.C.'s "Let the People Sing" competition last year. They receive a considerable amount of money from the Government which enables them to visit two countries in a year, and we learnt that this year they had already been to Japan and America. The recording which we made was a selection of items from different types of music and some of Papageno. We took a late lunch because of this, after which we went shopping for food and drink to be consumed on the return journey. On the way back, the police at railway stations made it quite clear that photographs were not to be taken. This had been discovered earlier by a certain choir member who was almost chased down the road by a policeman after successfully attempting to photograph the police headquarters.
The Channel crossing was calm and at Dover Mr. Moffat and the choir had a genial conversation with the customs officer who, while checking our list, related tales of his latest confiscations. When we were safely seated in the train we discovered that the porter with our cases had been lost and unfortunately could not be found before the train departed. Mr. Chapman saw that it was put aboard the next train, thus delaying dispersal from Victoria by only twenty minutes.
Although we rehearsed on every day that we were able, it was found that the concerts were not as satisfying as those of last year, which tended to be more formal and organised. The Choir extends its grateful thanks to the Parents' Association for its financial support, the Headmaster who worked hard to acquire for us additional financial aid and especially to its director, Mr. Moffatt who has worked hard with us throughout the year to raise the standard to an extent that made a trip abroad worthwhile. We sincerely hope that the trip to Poland, proposed for next summer, will be as enjoyable as this one.
R. Phillips, 6iM