It's nearly Christmas. At this time of year, people are usually running around like blue-arsed flies, trying to find a bottle of perfume for Great Aunt Edna or guiltily opening Christmas cards from people they've forgotten to send to. Not us, though. Oh no.
Earlier this year, an opportunity far too good to pass up presented itself to us. If we went through with it, we could infiltrate the BOF community on levels we'd never imagine in our wildest dreams. We could see BOFs, their BOFWAGs and their BOFspring during leisure time! Dare we...? Dare we step into the lair and order tickets to see André Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra?! It was a big gamble...
So we spent half an hour chasing down £200 worth of tickets - all in the name of fun.
December the 18th arrived and we jumped in Minty. I wasn't sure if I was allowed to take a huge, in-your-face lens with me...so I popped a baby lens onto Auntie Pentax and hid the big bugger in my bag - ready to snap on when the house lights went down. I'm a bit cunning like that. Like a fox...only less hairy. Wax strips are wonderful things.
But I digress. The first obstacle we had to overcome was crossing the border. It was ok for me because - although I have a Welsh soul and would fight to the death to defend our daffodils - I was born in England to English parents. Coyote, however, is as Welsh as a rugby match in a slate mine with leek soup at half time. It wouldn't be easy for him. I watched him closely as we crept past the sign for Englandshire. His pulse raised a little and a small sweat broke out on his forehead...but it would seem the gradual exposure to my Worcestershire ways had made him immune enough to survive. We could relax.
It was easy enough to get to the NEC. We parked up and walked towards the fleet of shuttle buses that were to convey the audience to the LG Arena. It was then that we realised what we'd got ourselves into. We were suddenly cast adrift in a sea of beige and purple; a cloud of Chanel hung over the gathering crowd and I got smacked in the face by a Hermes scarf as we boarded the BOF bus. But there was no going back. We would see this through no matter what happened; no matter what fate would befall us, we were going to face it head-on with a grin.
£4 for 2 bottles of water later (it was Radnor Hills water. That was just taking the piss, frankly) we wandered into the arena and found our seats. Surveying the scene, a shiver traced down our spines...
Look at them. BOFs. BOFs EVERYWHERE. We were sat in a room with 11,998 BOFs. I started to shake; Auntie Pentax rattled in my hands and Coyote had to steady me as my breathing became erratic. 'It's ok,' he soothed. 'They can't see us. Just don't make any sudden movements and for god's sake don't mention bacon.' I hunched down in my seat and swallowed hard; the bitter taste of extortionately expensive water sliding down my throat.
André and his orchestra marched through the crowd to the tune of 'Seventy-Six Trombones' and suddenly the atmosphere changed. The BOFs began to applaud and some of them even stood up! Yes - they actually creaked to their feet and - with a cacophony of approving 'beough!'s - they watched as the Dutch violinist strode towards the stage, grinning smugly in the knowledge that he was making about £400,000 an hour. I toyed with the idea of asking him if he'd lend me a tenner, but I didn't want to risk drawing attention to us...we were doing well. I nearly blew our cover when a beige-clad BOF behind me dropped his water, though. I reached down and picked it up, dutifully lifting it back to him. He thanked me and said, 'I thought it was my wallet!' I grinned and replied, 'If it had been your wallet, I wouldn't have handed it back.' I blinked...and quickly added 'sir' with a sickly-sweet grin. That was a close call.
It was a tricky first half. While we were protected by our bubble of natural BOF loathing, something started to happen to us. While the kettle drums boomed and the violins washed over us, we found ourselves swaying to the music. Not only swaying, but clapping and stamping our feet, too! What was going on?! We're seasoned BOF Warriors! How could we be behaving the same as them?! The interval arrived and we hastily beat a retreat, searching for a small oasis of calm where we could gather ourselves and mull over the happenings of the first half.
Taking our seats for the final leg, we braced ourselves. We wouldn't get sucked in this time. We would sit quietly and observe. We had been tricked once - and once was too many.
But...but...the soloists! The tenors! The bagpipes! The sweet, sweet music and the theatre of it all...!
People were dancing in the aisles; smiles on every face as the music filled the vast arena. We couldn't help ourselves - we were swept up once more in a sea of festive joy. And do you know what, dear reader? We couldn't care less. We let ourselves be drawn in by the spirit of the occasion; allowed ourselves to be at one with the BOFs...just for three hours.
And then the moment came. Seven encores later, the man himself looked straight down your humble narrator's lens:
That knowing look. He was fully aware of what he'd done...and he was proud. We should've loathed him - seen him as King of the BOFs...but we couldn't. This was André Rieu - a man who had, against all odds, succeeded in making Coyote and Roadrunner enjoy an evening of beige. He'd brought people together. He deserved, and now has, our respect.
"What I have never understood is this. If ceasefires can be held on Christmas Day, then why can't they be held all the time? If I was Prime Minister, I would give all the soldiers violins instead of guns. But then I am no good at politics."
~ André Rieu, December 18th 2012.