- Imagine a summer evening cooling over a field of 10,000 people of every age trying to clap faster than the orchestra playing “What shall we do with the drunken sailor”?
- Is it only in this green and pleasant land that a picnic supper means three courses with candelabra and World War I cavalry display?
- Do others’ hearts stir on hearing the unmistakable strum of the Spitfire engine as it reprises those sorties of long ago?
This weekend brings the last night of the BBC Proms – the season of music in London’s Albert Hall – and named for the audience of promenaders who stand in front of the stage throughout the performances. They will be the protagonists during that final performance as it concludes with “Jerusalem”, “Land of Hope and Glory” and, of course, that mariner renown for alcohol consumption.
Across the country many other outdoor venues now import an orchestra, soprano and fireworks for a picnicking audience. But few will do so with the élan to match Highclere Castle (location of Downton Abbey filming) where they deliver the Battle Prom – with members of the Armed Forces, veterans, the cavalry troop marking conflict from 100 years ago plus the Spitfire fly-past. Most spectacular and moving was the sound of artillery and rifles from both World Wars firing in time with the martial music and during the great finale. With this year marking 100 years since the Battle of the Somme, it could only give us the briefest echo of those desperate times.
But we were brought up to date with the damage sustained by today’s veterans: several spoke of their experience of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder from the Falklands War and since. So, again utterly British, we all sponsored members of our supper parties to perform 22 push-ups on the spot – a new tradition from our American allies to mark the 22 veterans who commit suicide each day in the USA.
Being silly and over-the-top with madly jingoist songs is one interpretation – but paying respect to those who have served and suffered on our behalf is nearer the truth.
Penny Melville-Brown OBE
Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk
Helping disabled people to work since 2000