About William Addison-Atkinson

William Addison-Atkinson currently lives and works in Cambridge. When he’s not working full time repairing boats he studies English Literature with the Open University. He’s always looking for new ways to develop his writing and after graduation wants to write full time. Travelling is more of a passion than an interest. For two years he lived and worked in New Zealand as well as a year in the Scottish Highlands. He has visited many countries over the last decade; his favourites also include Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Zimbabwe and America. His other interests are books, music, theatre, art and food. In his spare time he writes about all of the above or plans the next travelling adventure.

Thailand – In Search of Paradise on a Budget

Located in the centre of south East Asia and bordered by Laos, Cambodia, Burma and Malaysia, Thailand has become a massive hot spot for tourists. It seems to cater for all, from the humble backpacker to the extravagant jet setter. With the contrast of ancient towns and temples in the north to the beautiful coastline dotted with islands in the south its popularity is not surprising.

Recently my girlfriend and I had a three-week holiday and joined the throng, but we wanted to find a piece of solitary bliss, a tropical island that selfishly would be ours. Was it possible in 2011 to find this secluded paradise when thousands of people visit Thailand each year?

Like most we landed in Bangkok, where we were instantly hit with the humidity, strange smells and the general congestion of this unfamiliar city. With no accommodation booked we wandered the busy streets in search of a cheap hotel or hostel. This somewhat haphazard task ended very quickly as there seemed to be places to stay on every corner. Prices for accommodation in Bangkok start from around twenty pounds, but don’t expect luxury at these low prices. I would recommend visiting this city to anyone but it is easy to find it daunting. Bangkok in rush hour is a nightmare and crossing the street can be hazardous. Thai’s drive on the left-hand side of the road (most of the time) and it seems anything goes, with bigger vehicles taking priority.

The best thing about Bangkok is the food, it is everywhere; street vendors cook some of the tastiest dishes I have eaten and at a small cost. China town is a must visit, the friendly but crowded streets blended with the aroma of Oriental cuisine will get any visitor wanting to return. Just leave your travel guide back at the hotel and follow your nose.

We decided two nights was enough in Bangkok, even though you could easily spend a week or two there. Unfortunately we did not have enough time. So we booked a flight to Phuket and headed down towards the coast.

Phuket is the largest island in Thailand and is greeted by the Andaman Sea in the southwest; it is the main gateway to the other small islands in the area, where cheap ferry rides can be taken. On arrival we were advised to take a bus to Patong, as we were promised beautiful sandy bays and budget accommodation. The bus ride allowed me time to take in the scenery. I envy the first westerner who discovered Phuket the landscape is stunning. It has fantastic beaches with warm waters, lined with coconut trees but care must be taken as downing’s are common.

These beautiful beaches are not a secret; thousands upon thousands of people come here each year to soak up the sun. My secluded paradise seemed completely impossible to find, as I looked at the hundreds of sun loungers in perfect rows along the whole length of the beach. Help came when I over heard a conversation by two Australian’s when sitting down for an evening meal in one of the many restaurants on the beachfront. They had come back from Ko Phi Phi earlier that day and were chatting excitedly about their adventure. We found out that this small island was fifty kilometres away from Phuket, the ferry was inexpensive and the beaches were surprisingly empty, if true this was the destination we had hoped for. No time wasted the ferry was booked that evening through the hostel manager.

Ko Phi Phi was completely destroyed by the 2004 Tsunami, but as the ferry pulled into the pier the next morning it was obvious that the main town was crammed full of accommodation and thriving businesses. It is impossible to believe that the destruction that hit this little island actually happened. We soon realised that in peak season booking accommodation in the main part of the town is essential. I dreaded waiting for the next ferry back to Phuket just because we had not booked a place to sleep. My guidebook surfaced and saved the day. The first place we saw on the map was Hat Yao or Long beach and cost two pounds to get there by taxi boat. A traditional wooden boat with a massive diesel engine took us noisily around the coast to one of the most beautiful places I have been. We were welcomed by dazzling turquoise water, a white sandy beach and not a sun lounger in sight.

Even though you can never completely avoid tourists in Thailand, Phi Phi was deserted in comparison to Bangkok and Phuket. We had found paradise at last.

Travelling to Great Zimbabwe

The bus slows gently as the driver changes down through the gears; annoyingly the moment before it stops he breaks sharply and sends every passenger lurching forward from their seats. After settling back into my original position I look out the window and notice another person waiting to board. This can only happen in Africa; surely not another soul can fit on the bus.

An old man holding a rudely constructed cage made from sticks and wire, full of unhappy chickens steps on, he speaks to the driver in Shona the local language and hands him a coin. I laugh to myself when I see the old man is wearing a woolen hat and large coat, the temperature is around 38 degrees and I’m finding it unbearable in shorts and T shirt. My heart went out to the poor chickens inside their prison, their heads hanging out constantly gagging for air.

How many chickens would survive their journey? Also how many of us passengers would survive ours? The cramped hot conditions on this bus were intolerable. I felt like I was in a cage. I felt like a Chicken.

This was my first experience of public transport in Zimbabwe. My plan was to spend three months traveling throughout the country, mainly riding these small Mitsubishi buses. Unbelievably I’d soon start to look forward to boarding them; I would find pleasure in other passengers company and happily daydream whilst looking out of the window. My love for this cramped, basic transport materialised whilst on a journey to the ancient ruins of Great Zimbabwe. I knew little of these Great ruins, only that it was a place I had to visit.

Leaving Bulawayo the second largest city in the country my destination was Masvingo, which was the nearest town to the ruins in the south east of Zimbabwe. Before 1980 Masvingo was called Fort Victoria but after independence the name was changed. The driver revealed the journey was three hundred and eighty kilometers, cost eight American dollars (the currency which is now used to stabilise the economy) and took five hours. I could not complain about the price but generally drivers underestimate arrival time by a couple of hours.

The route would take me via the A6 through the small settlements of Esigodine, Mulujawane, Mbalabala, onto the A9 which crossed the beautiful Insiza river, a life line to everything in the area, through Pambuka, Zvishavane, over the Runde river and then finally through Mashava before arriving at Masvingo. These very British sounding road names need to be respected. In Zimbabwe motor vehicles have to swerve constantly for unconcerned livestock, avoid hitting potholes a grown man could get lost in and pull over what seems every 30 kilometers for tollgates. The tolls are only around one American dollar but are enforced by police armed with AK47’s, they are usually a friendly bunch but give every vehicle a close look for anything illegal, bribes are meant to be fairly common which is not surprising as the police wage is so small.

Every town and village I passed through was bustling with activity, there was always people waiting, usually women trying to sell food and drinks to the passengers. Pushing, shouting and banging on the window feebly trying to get noticed, trying to earn a living. It was very hard to look these desperate people in the eyes knowing you cannot help them all. Zimbabwe is generally a country you hear about in the news for the troubled times it has gone through. Disease and starvation has killed thousands in the last few years, with an unsupportive government it amazes me how people live with smiles on their faces, the African sense of humor never seems to evaporate. The country is changing rapidly, life is defiantly improving, people are happier but the stories of bad times are still on peoples lips. I hid these depressing thoughts in the back of my mind when finally the bus pulled into Masvingo. I knew these mental images would reappear at a later date, but for now excitement took hold as I would be visiting the Great ruins first thing in the morning.

On first sight of the ruins you cannot appreciate their magnitude. To start with all you notice is a rocky hill, but this Royal Palace takes your breath away the more you explore them. They were built in the 11th Century and shout the old Kings status and political power. The most prominent feature is the eleven-meter high walls, which extends two hundred and fifty metres, this is known as the Great Enclosure. The only other ancient structure in Africa to beat its size is the pyramids of Egypt. Every stone was laid upon one another without the use of mortar, which is very impressive as they are still as strong as the ground they were built on.

There is a theory that says the word ‘Great Zimbabwe’ comes from an old dialect of Shona, and simply means ‘large house made of stone’ which is very relevant, because the hill I first noticed is exactly that. This hill has a warren of passages throughout and Royal Quarters dug into the rock face, as well as hundreds of other little rooms that would have been used for servants, cooking and even burial. One King who ruled here was suppose to be married to over four hundred Queens, but they were given there own area to live down in a nearby Valley. It is more of an ancient city as these ruins span about two thousand acres and in its peak would have been home to eighteen thousand loyal subjects, who would have gazed at the ‘large house made of stone’ with the upmost respect, just as I did.

We have all been recently reminded of famine, how countries in the Horn of Africa have suffered one of the worst droughts in years. I just hope Zimbabwe does not repeat the heartbreaking circumstances of the last ten years and it has a positive future. I believe tourism can make a huge difference to the poor rural communities such as the ones in nearby Masvingo. Zimbabwe is a country that has so much to offer, the people are so friendly, it has amazingly diverse landscapes, shockingly beautiful wildlife and ancient fortified ruins that will keep you thinking for hours about the kings who used to rule from them.

I want to thank the people of Zimbabwe and to the people who looked after me. Hopefully one day you will be able to thank them too.

Images courtesy of William Addison-Atkinson

Winter Wordfest: 50 Years of Private Eye

Charming, educating and amusing its audience with a diverse and colourful program, Winter Wordfest descended upon the ADC theatre on Sunday 27th November in a celebration of Literature.

New and established writers covered a whole range of exciting genres in one day, these included; Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling, who discussed his book, Back From The Brink, 1000 Day’s Living At Number 11, Gordon Brown and Britain’s financial crisis; Clare Tomalin with her new biography on Charles Dickens, published for his 200th Birthday; Peter Popham thrilled the audience by analysing his vibrant book ‘The Lady And The Peacock ‘, which illuminated the Burmese female Politician, Aung San Suu Kyi, who served a prison sentence for twenty one years; Indian poet, novelist and travel writer Vikram Seth, charmed a packed theatre on his love of Chinese poetry and his new book The Rivered Earth ; Columnist and author David Baddiel joked on stage about his fourth novel, The Death of Eli Gold, he also had to mention his love of football and stand – up comedy.

It’s not fair to say Ian Hislop and Adam MacQueen headlined the day, but due to their ticket sales it became very obvious they were the festival favorites, as they celebrated the 50th birthday of Private Eye Magazine, which also ended the successful event. The pair also agreed to do a second slot earlier in the day, as Diana Athill had to withdraw for health reasons.

According to ADC – ‘Tickets for Winter Wordfest went on sale to the general public last Friday (28th October) and it was our most successful opening day ever. In less than half an hour, our event with Ian Hislop and Adam MacQueen marking the 50th anniversary of Private Eye had sold out, breaking Box Office records at the ADC Theatre’.

Adam MacQueen

The virtually unknown Adam MacQueen and author of the book ‘Private Eye The First 50 Years’, has worked for the satirical fortnightly magazine for the past 14 years, written two novels, been part of the editorial team of Popbitch.com (I’m not slightly embarrassed that I’ve never heard of this website before) and was acting editor of the Big Issue, so its obvious he’s very successful in his own right.

Without taking any credit away from Adam, it must be nice to know your book will be an instant seller before you write the first word. Having Ian Hislop to promote your book must be reassuring to say the least. Ian admitted ‘ The book was completely down to Adam, I had virtually nothing to do with putting it together’.

Wearing a pin-stripped suit that looked to big for him, and scrunching his face up like a public school boy as he laughed, it was obvious to see how proud Ian Hislop was of the magazine, as he answered questions from Adam about working at the Eye, and the ups and downs of the previous two and a half decades as the Editor.

‘ Do you like your job?’ asks Adam,

‘No I bloody hate it’ was the immediate retort, before the trademark smile and possibly only un-sarcastic comment of the evening, ‘No it’s great, of course I love it’.

Ian Hislop

Ian Hislop then told the story about Peter Cook’s (the late owner of Private Eye) ‘finest hour’. Ian explains, ‘ Robert Maxwell, the then proprietor of the Daily Mirror had got the Eye removed from newsstands over a potential libel, and was planning to print a million copies of a rival magazine called “Not Private Eye”.

Ian told how his loyal team set about sinking Not Private Eye, by sending a crate of whisky to the journalists working on it, which was ‘Cook’s ingenious idea’. Later they drove around to the Mirror’s London HQ to find all their journalists, ‘totally legless’ in Maxwell’s office.

Ian reminisced how he and his gang had grabbed a dummy front cover of the Not Private Eye, who’s front page claimed Ian had been, ‘approaching young boys on Hampstead Heath, which was totally untrue – it was Clapham Common’, he confidently joked.

Peter then orders a crate of Champagne from The Daily Mirrors catering and then phoned Robert Maxwell himself from New York, laughing down the phone shouting, ‘Hello Captain Bob, guess where we are’. Just before security threw them all out.

Whilst not claiming to be Private Eye’s number one fan, I have had a subscription for the past six months, as a way of learning and trying to impress my friends about Politics, Super Injunctions, The Leverson Inquiry and Rupert Murdoch’s mess, without being bored to death. Private Eye seemed a great and cheap way to do this, as an issue only costs £1.50. Nevertheless I have found on occasions some articles slightly long-winded and pointless. This is probably down to the fact I don’t have the strongest grip on British politics to understand where some of the jokes are. However this new book is an excellent way to see what scoops the magazine has covered, as they have specialised in gossip and mis-deeds of the powerful and famous over the past 50 years. I can see many of these books being animatedly ripped open from devoted Private Eye readers stockings this Christmas.

Images reproduced from cambridgewordfest.co.uk

Alex Ruffell Memorial Fund

Looking out from my seat into the African bush I can see Buffalo, Zebra and too many Impala to count. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for all day; the breathtaking experience earlier of viewing Victoria Falls for the first time drained all the energy out of me not to mention the six-kilometre walk in 40°C heat.

Now leaning back into my chair at the Stanley and Livingston hotel, rubbing my sunburn and watching African wildlife with my mosquito repellant and a bottle of local lager, I look back over my Zimbabwean experience with a smile.

One of the main reasons for me visiting Zimbabwe was to observe the charity work that has gone on in Chidobe primary school which was founded eleven years ago, after the sad and sudden death of Alex Ruffell, by his mother Sue Ford and step father Graham Ford. Alex died in 1998 at the age of 16 and was 2 years older than me at Friends School Saffron Walden, although I didn’t know him well at school, I know he was much loved by his friends and family, and the amazing results of this charity keeps Alex’s name alive for ever and helps hundreds of the Chidobe people. Everyone in this rural community will speak of Alex almost everyday, as there is a classroom built in his memory as well as the outdoor sports centre. The charity has provided drinking water, toilets, school uniforms, books and electricity which is not only used by the school but the rest of the community, this is to name but a few as the list seems to go on and on.

At Alex’s funeral, £5,000 of donations was kindly given to Sue and Graham; this was used to build the classroom in his memory. Since then more people have donated to the Alex Ruffell memorial fund, many of which from the Saffron Walden area, these generous people are kept informed of any development at the school.

Alfred Mpofu, the village head was diagnosed with HIV 4 years ago and certainly would have died if the charity didn’t supply the drugs he needed. Rural communities in Africa have very complicated politics, and rely on influential figures such as Alfred.

Graham and Sue Ford organize the charity back in the UK, which involves the time consuming role of collecting all the generously donated money, clothes, shoes and other items back to their family home. Once everything has been collected their container makes the long sea voyage to Durban in South Africa, and then the slow journey by rail to the city of Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, then on to Victoria Falls, before being loaded onto a truck and then delivered to the school. This can sometimes take months as the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) can be very difficult, everything in the shipment has to be proven that it has come from a donated charity or duty has to be paid on every item. Graham and Sue visit the country twice a year making sure that the shipment has reached its final destination and distributed correctly.

When I visited the school I witnessed the shipment being delivered, and was amazed at the number of people who turned up, 500 in total, 350 of which were school children and the rest were teachers, village heads, friends and family. It was a huge party with lots of singing and dancing, the charity supplied food and drink for every person.

Chidobe village football team with Sue Ford, Alfred Mpofu & William

After everyone had eaten and the entertainment finished, a game of football started on the school pitch. Brand new kit and boots were supplied to Ford United the local Chidobe football team, (this is another reminder of the respect Sue and Graham receive here). Previously I’d mentioned that I’d played football for my school team at Friends and was immediately placed at left midfield, I think more out of politeness me being a visitor than my ability to play. The whistle blew after the longest 90 minutes I’d ever experienced; it was time for the clothes to be distributed to the village. As I limped over to the queue of people I noticed young children wearing a very familiar school blazer with huge smiles on their faces, I couldn’t help but put one on and have my photo taken with them. The whole day was a complete success and everyone seemed very happy.

The people of Chidobe have really shown me this amazing will to survive, as every day can be a struggle, especially over the last four years. It didn’t take long for me to be accepted into the community, and they were keen to show me their way of life, smiling faces are everywhere you look. This African hospitality is evident all over the country.

I want to thank the people of Chidobe village who I’ll remember forever.

Image courtesy of William Addison-Atkinson

Moscow State Circus on Midsummer Common

The Moscow State Circus performance is an adaptation of the Russian novel, ‘Twelve Chairs’, first published in 1928 and written by IIf and Petrov. This satirical novel tells the tale of a family caught in a new soviet regime, which stripped the ruling classes of property and possessions. Like many who remained in Russia, they had to do what ever they could to protect what they owned. The main character, a desk clerk and former member of nobility, is told by his mother- in- law on her deathbed, that the family’s jewelry has been hidden in one of the twelve chairs from the dining room set. He then goes on a quest to find the chair containing the lost treasure, only to discover that the chairs have been split up and sold individually.

Circus Acrobats

When you think of the circus you may not necessarily think of a classic Russian novel, unfortunately in this case it was completely lost on the audience. The amount of confused looking young children was easy to spot in the half empty stalls, playing with aluminous swords and other distracting souvenirs.

It seemed the tale of the twelve chairs was an afterthought, an easy way to try and amuse the audience in between setting up the main acts, using clowns as the main characters from the novel. This was a little disappointing, until a few mystified members of the audience were summoned from the front row into the main ring, the look on their faces whilst trying to play ridiculous home made musical instruments had everyone laughing. This embarrassment was especially noticeable for one poor woman as she bounced her bottom up and down on a squeaking horn.

Audience Participation

Nevertheless after a confusing start, and putting the loosely followed story line aside, the main acts were truly amazing, displaying strength, agility and coordination that would have impressed the Russian Olympic gymnast team.

This two hour energetic evening included, a trio juggling clubs to pin point accuracy, whilst spinning around the ring at speed on a very cleverly built platform. The concentration the three wore on their faces was very noticeable, not only did they have to throw their clubs at a precise speed and distance, but also to an empty space where their partner will arrive a few seconds later. Also a young girl performing the splits from the heads of two male tight ropewalkers, over nine meters from the ground. An arial hula-hoop act that was also suspended high above the circus ring, and many more bewildering gymnastics.

Tightrope Performers

The show seemed to get better and better as the night went on, exploding into the final act, where eight jesters showed off their acrobatic skill, flipping and somersaulting over each other. The costumes were bright and inventive, adding to the creativity of the performance.

It wasn’t only the acts that were impressive, but also the way the show was put together. A large applause must go out to the staff behind the scenes. When the Moscow State Circus turns up on Midsummer Common its like watching a small village arrive. The hard work that goes into putting the shows together is undeniable. The last show ended at 7.00pm on Sunday 9th October, by Monday lunchtime it was as if the circus had never been there.

Real Dracula at Cambridge’s ADC Theatre

“There, in one of the great boxes, of which there were fifty in all, on a pile of newly dug earth, lay the Count! He was either dead or asleep, I could not say which – for the eyes were open and stony, but without the glassiness of death – and the cheeks had the warmth of life through all their pallor, and the lips were as red as ever.”

This extract, from Jonathon Harkers journal in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, conjures up the most iconic image of this sinister character. Without a doubt he is one of the most famous of all the legendary horror figures.

The book was first published in 1897, and is a story told through journals and fragments of letters, that recounts the struggle of a group of men and woman (Dr Seward, Dr Van Helsing, Jonathon Harker and his wife Mina), to destroy a vampire who’s earth filled coffins are found in a ruined chapel next to a mental asylum. For today’s standards this may not sound that bad, in 1897 this would have been a pretty terrifying read, not to mention some of the underlying themes that would have appalled certain prudish Victorians, such as female sexual repression and incest.

Bram Stoker brought his character to life after reading about a Prince of Romania, the ruthless warlord better known as Vlad Dracula or Vlad the Impaler.

This barbaric leader, who reigned in the 1400’s, and favorite method of torture was impaling his enemies, completely inspired Stoker to create this monster. The life of Vlad the Impaler was far more bloodcurdling than the fictional creation. Now a days Dracula and Vampires have been turned into a brand, being used in popular culture time and time again, comic strips, cartoons, computer games, over 170 films and more recently inspiring the Twilight saga, the list is endless.

In 2004 just south of Transylvania, Romanian police were called to a graveyard to investigate a violation to one of the graves. Later six people were arrested; it was believed that a family, who thought their Uncle had returned from the dead as a vampire, was visiting his niece when she was asleep and feeding on her heart. They had broken into the graveyard, dug up the corpse, cut out his heart and burnt it on the stroke of midnight. Police then discovered about twenty other similar rituals had taken place over the last few years. This is the power of literature crossed with folklore and history.

It was this true story that inspired this Pleasant Danger Productions creation ‘Real Dracula’, directed by Paul Holloway and written/produced by David Geasor. It was showing at the ADC theatre in Cambridge from 20th – 24th September, also on 30th September and 1st October.

Real Dracula is a story of love and survival set in a remote Romania village. The two main characters, an Englishman Jonathon, and Ileana (played by Andrew McKeane and Mia Keadell) are a young couple that met whilst teaching at a school in the city of Bucharest. Together they travel back to Ileana’s family home to attend her Uncle’s funeral. After the funeral, strange things start to happen and Ileana falls mysteriously ill. Both these actors give a performance to remember as their characters love develops on stage. Andrew McKeane’s small slip up of one of his lines, in a crucial point in the performance strangely made the scene more realistic and added to Jonathon’s terror. As Ileana becomes frailer and dreams more frequent, you found it hard not to be on the edge of your seat, as Jonathon is desperately trying to come to terms with the problems they are facing.

The first scene is set with Ileana’s beloved Uncle lying in an open coffin in the sitting room. Here we are introduced to her frail and emotional Auntie Magda (played by Priscilla Gray), you could not help but feel sorry for the widow, as Priscilla convincingly takes her character on a roll a coaster of melancholy and despair as she grieves her loss, and a strange family friend Dragana (played by Andrea Miller). Who’s mysterious air in which she presents the character on stage was exceptional; it was obvious she added her own personality to Dragana, and on a number of occasions she pleased the audience with a very dry sense of humor.

Alexandru is Ileana’s jealous childhood friend and want to be lover (played by Oliver Tilney, who has had nightmares of vampires since the audition) keeps reminding the audience of his macho status, he’s a very crafty character and has a huge presents on stage.

The faceless Uncle who appears in Ileana’s dreams was the star of the show, thanks to the technical director Mathew Maude, who mixes up a combination of well-timed atmospheric music and sound effects, with a drab and dark set design. This seemed to seize a perfect ambience for a chilling tale.

It is very difficult to portray horror convincingly on stage; Pleasant Danger Productions seem to do it effortlessly. Pity and terror are aroused continuously throughout the play and there is always a sense of something horrible about to happen. I await the next Pleasant Danger Production with baited breath.

22 Years of Music at Audley End House

Warm summer evenings gently cease, then autumn shows her face expertly painting the landscape into a patchwork of colour, but then it seems she is always too eager to welcome the shorter days and longer nights of winter. Nevertheless during the colder months reminiscing about warm evenings of July and August is something we all have in common.

I love to listen to music, with friends and family sitting on a blanket with good food and a bottle of something special. No place is better to do this than on a weekend at Audley End House near Saffron Walden, Essex when there’s a concert in full flow.

This idyllic Jacobean stately home does have many other events on during its opening months, showing off its extremely well maintained gardens and fine collections of English art and tapestries, but if a typical day out with English heritage isn’t enough for you, then there’s no better way to enjoy the views of this picturesque mansion than experiencing the summer concerts.

Over the last 22 years, music at Audley End House has changed a lot.

Before the open air concerts, playing popular genres of today, music at the house was limited, but could be heard inside its Great Hall, or marquees in the grounds. Classical music was usually played to a smaller, formal audience who could buy a cheaper ticket.

On July 22 and 23 1989, a Glyndebourne – style evening of formal dress and Mozart was played, by the Chillingrian Quartet. This night was named ‘The best of Austrian music’. During the interval, guests had the opportunity for a picnic outside on the lawns with a marquee on standby for bad weather.

Other entertainment at the house in this month was a two – day presentation of theatre, music and dance by a traveling theatre company called Miracle Theatre. They put on an Elizabethan weekend and instruments like the lute were played accompanied by a mezzo soprano, singing some of the top 10 hits of 1589.

On July 20th 1990, a special event known as the ‘beating retreat’ took place where 4 military regiment bands of 150 musicians performed in aid of the Army Benevolent Fund. They were the 2nd King Edwards VII’s own Gurka’s rifles, the 9th / 12th Royal Lancers, the 3rd Battalion of Royal Anglican Regiment and the Royal Highland Fusiliers. The beating retreat has its origins back in the 17th century when soldiers would gather in their regiments to ‘stand easy’ after a day’s battle and listen to the regimental bands play.

The ticket price was £5 per car and only £1 for pedestrians, 9,000 people were estimated to have turned up.

During the next few years’ music at Audley End House was very similar and hadn’t changed from historical, classical or the odd evening of jazz, but in 1994 the genre of music changed. In this year, a stage went up on the lawns behind the house for an evening of classical music, guests were encouraged to bring their own picnic food and drinks whilst enjoying the summer evening with friends and family, listening to Handel’s Water Music, Albinoni’s Adagio and Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto in G major, finishing with fireworks, which now happens every year. Instead of the stage being taken down after the show finished and reassembled for the next night of music, the stage stayed where it was for a Chris de Burgh concert three weeks later.

Chris de Burgh had just released a new album ‘This way is up’ and chose Audley End for his venue to hit off his 70 – date European tour, which was his first for over 2 years. Fireworks finished this extremely successful evening. 8,000 people attended each paying £10.50 – £14.00. Many local people thought the change in music genre wasn’t the right decision as it would encourage a different sort of crowd to the concerts, causing problems in noise and traffic congestion because of an increase in ticket sales.

A local resident in Audley End village which is directly impacted by the concerts believes the weekend of music not to be a problem despite the traffic congestion. The local resident Said ‘It’s only a few weekends a year, and if I don’t like the music I don’t mind sticking my ipod in’.

10,000 people turned up each concert night for the next 2 years in 1995 – 1996 to watch Glen Millers band. Thousands again turned up the following night for the Last Night of the Proms, the National Symphony Orchestra played and soprano Sarah Poole was also there singing Rule Britannia, but a sizable number of the audience treated the whole event as a sociable occasion making far too much noise and not paying attention to the music, apparently ruining it for those who wanted to listen. This was a first for the Audley End concerts; in the past the evenings were always a lot calmer.

Up until the end of the 90s the concerts were organized by English heritage but IMG the events management company took it over, promising to keep the same style of evenings as before.

Since this company has been organising the concerts the demand and price for tickets has risen because of the popularity of the acts. Adult tickets are now £32.

In the last decade, audiences at Audley End have had the pleasure of listening to Tom Jones, Jools Holland, Music from the Movies, James Bond Night, Bjorn Again, The Rat Pack, Status Quo, Van Morrison, James Morrison, Jamie Cullum, Simple Minds, West Life, Bryan Ferry, Buena Vista Social Club, Gypsy Kings, Katherine Jenkins, Scouting for Girls, Will Young and many more, with the last night of the proms always finishing on the last weekend with a fantastic firework display.

The earlier years still had some very memorable moments. In 1996, Carolyn Grace flew her famous Grace Spitfire over the crowd whilst the National Symphony Orchestra played Walton’s ‘Spitfire Prelude’. In 1997 a nationwide appeal for strawberries was launched because of a low yield caused by heavy rainfall. Eventually 1 ton of the little English red fruit was found in nearby Hatfield Broad Oak Essex and delivered to guests for free. Britain ruled at an evening in 1999, when a sold-out night at the last night of the proms caused 10,000 people to sing along and wave Union Jacks to Rule Britannia and Jerusalem.

Every summer, the concerts have always been a huge success, entertaining a large variety of people - they never seem to disappoint.

Electronic music is probably a long way off and would defiantly challenge local residents further, but is there a possibility of another genre of music moving into the summer line-up?

Whatever happens let’s just hope they keep entertaining people in the years to come.