The sun was still shining over a glorious day as Len Douglas left the train and joined the happy throng heading towards the village of Uppermill. He’d been working in his garden all morning and was a little tired, but there was no way he’d miss the Whit Friday brass band contests in Saddleworth.
Ever since he’d been a gangly youth, nervously polishing his cornet on his uniform sleeve, he’d performed round the moorland villages with Addersley Temperance Band on the Friday before Pentecost Sunday. It was a grand tradition which had grown considerably since his days in short trousers. Now bands from all over the country came to compete and enjoy the spectacle. Bands even travelled from abroad and were made very welcome.
Beginning in the junior band, encouraged by his father and grandfather, Len had finally reached the heights of bandmaster of Addersley Temperance Band. Now he was looking forward to seeing Bethany perform. She’d been practising all week at his house.
The place had become alive again. Records and DVDs were all very well, but you couldn’t beat the sound of live music echoing round a room, and Bethany had a real talent. He loved giving her little tips and he was sure her playing improved daily.
Perhaps he was a bit biased, he thought with a chuckle to himself. He was just sorry that he didn’t seem to have the breath himself any more to demonstrate some techniques to her. It was a shame his son, Brian, wasn’t a bit interested in his daughter playing in the band, but Len was right behind her.
Spirits buoyed by the eager crowds around him, he made his way up the road to Uppermill and to the sports field where the contest was taking place. The heat was stifling and he had to pause to catch his breath. He hadn’t been expecting such a warm day, as it was usually pouring down with rain on Whit Fridays.
“Hello, there, Len!” an old friend called. “Not playing today?”
“I’m afraid I’m a bit past it these days, Graham,” he said, taking a deep breath. “I’ve come to see our Bethany.”
“Are you travelling on Addersley’s coach?” his friend asked.
“There was no room for me this year,” Len replied with a sigh of regret. “I left it a bit late to ask.” He’d just assumed that there would be a place for him as their old bandmaster, but Ken had told him firmly the coach was full. “The good thing is that, if I base myself at Uppermill, I’ll get to see a lot more bands perform.”
“Aye, they always have a good turn-out there,” his friend replied with a smile.
They walked along together, chatting companionably. Graham had once been a junior member of the band with Brian, but had left to play in another when he’d moved to a different village nearby. Graham’s son now played in one of the junior bands.
“How’s your Brian these days? I haven’t seen him for ages,” Graham asked.
“He’s fine, but he doesn’t come to see the band nowadays, not even to support our Bethany,” Len admitted sadly.
“That’s a shame. He seemed keen at one time. Wasn’t he sweet on that dark-haired girl? What was her name? You know the one. She was the first girl to join the band,” his friend prompted.
“Janine?” Len asked in surprise. It was the first he’d heard of it.
“Aye, that’s right. Janine. I don’t think anything came of it, though.”
“No,” Len returned thoughtfully.
It came as a revelation to him and answered so many questions. He felt a bit ashamed that he’d been so wrapped up in the band he hadn’t even noticed how his son was feeling. Was it because Janine had turned his son down that Brian had vehemently turned against the band?
They had almost reached the village but Len, being older than Graham, was feeling the pressure of keeping up with him.
“You go ahead, Graham,” he puffed finally, pausing for breath. “I’ll catch up later.”
“If you’re sure?”
“Aye, you don’t want to miss any of the performances,” Len insisted.
At least now he was alone he could walk at his own pace. Somehow their step had fallen into the rhythm of a distant march that one of the competitors was playing!
A couple of coaches passed on their way to the museum where the groups assembled to begin their march. One of them was Kemington Silver Addersley’s great rival. The music drifted on the air and swelled louder in the warm evening air as he approached. Len quickened his step as he saw the Addersley Temperance coach pass.
Judging by the number of coaches that had already passed, there would be a queue to play and he’d have a chance to see Bethany before she began.
As he approached the museum he saw a figure in the familiar maroon blazer waving eagerly towards him.
“Hello, pet,” he said as Bethany kissed his cheek.
“Hello, Mr Douglas,” Rachel, her best friend, said along with many of the other players.
He acknowledged them all with a smile. He’d been a popular bandmaster and had taught many of the older ones. He wondered if he’d still be playing and leading the band if Lilian, his late wife, hadn’t been so ill. He’d given up his music to look after her.
Ken, the new bandmaster, gave him a brief nod of acknowledgement. Len wondered if he’d done something to offend him, or perhaps Ken just felt undermined at having his old bandmaster there.
‘‘Where have you played so far?” he asked Bethany, expecting her to name a few villages.
“Only Greenacres,” she said quietly with a sigh. “We had a late start and we didn’t do too well. I’ll tell you about it later.”