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Surprise... Surprise

Armed Forces Day, which this year for me meant an early start (yet again) and the long haul down from Lancashire to West Sussex, to a country pub near Petworth called The Three Moles, where there was not one but two surprises waiting for me. No surprise at all, though, to encounter a long delay on the M6 near Wolverhampton on the way. Instead of using the toll road, Dave decided that as the overhead gantries weren’t warning of any delays, and much preferring to reach the M40 via the M5 & M42 anyway, stayed on the M6. Big mistake. Suddenly we encountered a wall of traffic, which we sat in for almost an hour-and-a-half, inching forward at a snail’s pace at best, and often sitting stationary for minutes at a time. All the while the ETA at The Three Moles on the sat-nav was getting later and later.

When travelling to a job, we always build in what we call ‘wriggle-room’, so delays like this are at least anticipated and built in to our travel time. The trouble is, we were barely halfway as yet and most of that wriggle-room had been eaten up. In complete contrast to us. The plan to stop for food and drink, and use the loo, turned instead into a quick stop for the latter at Warwick Services… and that was about it. We were soon back on the M40 and, luckily, there were no further delays and we made it to The Three Moles, even more hungry and thirsty, in good time to set up and be ready for a 5.00pm start.

Although I’d looked at images of this lovely country pub online, I wasn’t expecting it to catch my breath as much as it did when we arrived. The first surprise of the evening, but not the last. A stunning pub in an equally beautiful setting, it was picture postcard - quintessentially English. Dave remarked that last weekend we had travelled through the Yorkshire Dales on our leisurely drive home from Catterick Garrison, and how these are the parts of our country that visitors to the shores probably never get to see. A shame really.

A large banner outside announced that yours truly would be performing live here today, and while Dave, with the welcome assistance of Tom the landlord, plus a couple of his bar staff, transported all the gear up to the garden, I went off to get changed into my ENSA uniform. Outside, after a bit, I could hear some familiar voices. This wasn’t the second surprise, as I always knew they were planning on coming along; but living at the opposite ends of the country, it’s opportunities like me being booked to appear not too far from where my sister lives that have to be taken advantage of. Clearly Gillian, Shiraz, her husband, my brother-in-law, and one of my four nephews, Aaron, had just arrived and I hurried outside to greet them.

The Three Moles host all number of different bands and singers, which Tom said costs the pub a small fortune but helps build their reputation. Certainly the beer garden, which is on three levels, with steps up to each one, and all set against a backdrop of a forest, was full. On the first level was a small stage. By 5.00pm, I was ready to start, Gillian, Shiraz and Aaron had found themselves a three spare seats on a large table towards the back and in typical fashion for them were already chatting away to others sharing the table. Typical northeners down south!

Dave was also set up, at least it looked as if he was, but there was no music coming through the system. Two days before this visit, our new mixing desk had arrived. Dave had dutifully tried it at home yesterday, and reported that all was fine and dandy with it. Except just over twenty-four hours, as everyone was waiting for the show to start, our brand new mixing desk was neither fine nor dandy. A light on the desk informed that it had power but there was just no sound coming out of it, and no obvious problem like a mute button needing to be pressed. And had Dave packed the old mixing desk… you know, just in case? Well, yes, he had – and that solved the problem. The sighs of relief were audible.

Before that, though, surprise number two. Last August, I’d been booked by a lovely couple, Ann and Peter, from Cambridgeshire, to perform at their diamond wedding anniversary. It had been a wonderful afternoon, enjoyed by all. Since then, they had followed me on Facebook and having seen that I was at The Three Moles today had decided to drive all the way down to see me perform, obviously without letting me know. So imagine my surprise when I saw Ann & Peter walking towards me. Much laughter ensued and I was completely bewildered seeing them here like this, but also very delighted and honoured that they had come all this way.

After all the issues of getting there and then the mixing desk not working, it was a relief to start my first set by paying tribute to all our armed forces. After that, I went into a mix of singalongs, classic 1940s songs, and of course plenty of dance numbers. I finished off my second set with my now much-copied Last Night of the Proms style finale, which had the whole garden waving their flags and cheering at the end. It had been a wonderful evening, a great audience, and plenty of participation – dancing, singing, and even on stage with me as a couple of the Dad’s Army re-enactors joined me for a comic rendition of Rum & Coca-Cola, catching coconuts, shimmying Hawaiian style, replete with floral garlands. Great sports.

So that was it. The car repacked, it was time to say our farewell to family, friends and Tom and his staff at The Three Moles, and head back to the West Midlands, to our hotel, ready for Sunday at Bridgnorth for Severn Valley Railway’s 1940s Weekend. Days and distances don’t come much longer, and we were both really tired by the time we checked in, but that’s the life of a full-time singer, especially in the summer, and there’s many more of those in the coming weeks and months.

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