And we’re back. One of the things I’ve always loved most about being a King’s Singer is the balance between time on and time off. When we’re working, we’re really on. But we always try to give ourselves healthy breaks between terms (because King’s Singers never really grow up…) to make sure we’re fully rested and recharged.
This Easter, I went travelling with my flatmate Jessie to India, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong. I’ve been to Hong Kong many times (and thankfully we’re performing there in July again), and I’d been to India once before, although never to Mumbai, where we were for the first three days of our trip. But it was my first time in Sri Lanka, and I was particularly looking forward to our week on the south coast near Galle, where I spent a huge amount of time sleeping, eating, marvelling at the beauty of the Indian Ocean, and preparing for the term ahead.
What we hadn’t readied ourselves for where the events of April 21st in Colombo. Jessie and I were staying with friends in the city, after travelling up from Mirissa the day before (a journey during which we visited the mesmerising gardens at the Lunuganga estate, once home to the Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa). We had a beautiful dinner in the city, before heading to bed early. We woke up early the following morning to eat breakfast (I’m now obsessed with hoppers, by the way), before travelling in a gorgeous vintage tuk-tuk to the Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour, the main Anglican cathedral in Colombo, right in the heart of the city. (You really should Google it, it’s stunning.) The service started at 8:15am, and was full of beautiful music on this very special day in the Christian calendar.
About an hour and a half into the service, just as we were being invited up to take communion, the bishop made an unexpected announcement that we should all evacuate the church immediately. Being in church, none of us had checked our phones, but there had been explosions in other key churches across the country, and we were not safe. Jessie and I, and our friends, immediately drove off to our hotel, where we were intending to stay for a night, to wait for further information there. When we arrived, we were told that there had been further explosions across the city, including at some of the most famous hotels, not far from where we were staying. Though we were confident we were safe – our hotel happened to be a walled, gated and guarded building that was once home to the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka – we decided it was better to try to leave the country as soon as possible, rather than wait to ride out the storm. We had always intended to travel to Hong Kong the following day, and managed to get our seats changed to the same flight that night (thank you very much, Cathay Pacific). Then our only challenge was getting to the airport: there was a curfew that allowed no one to be outside after 6pm, yet our flight was scheduled for 12:45am the following morning. To leave nothing to chance, we decided to arrive at the airport seven hours early.
It was only once we had landed in Hong Kong and were safely ensconced in our hotel there that we were able to process fully what had happened the day before – and also how lucky we had been. Not just because our church happened not to have been targeted, despite its prestige, but also because there were now reports of several undetonated bombs beneath the road to the airport that we had travelled along the previous evening.
It would be wrong to say that I was particularly frightened over the course of Easter Sunday. I live in London, where there have been numerous horrific attacks and tragedies over the past decade. But it was a truly awakening experience, in the sense that it reminded me how quickly the course of your life can turn through experiences over which you have no control. (We had discussed whether to attend one of the churches that was bombed, and not the Anglican cathedral, the night before.) It reminded me always to be grateful for all the wonderful, safe opportunities my travelling life affords me, and to remember all those people who aren’t as lucky as I am, or I was that day. It also reminded me how lucky I am to be surrounded by so many kind, caring people. Both Jessie and I were so touched by the number of you who reached out to us that day to check that we were unhurt.
And so now, as I gaze out over the English Channel from our hotel here in Saint-Malo, just as I was gazing out over the Indian Ocean two weeks ago, I’m looking forward to the wonderful things I’ll do and places I’ll go this term – places as close to home as London and as far-flung as Tokyo. But I’m also hugely thankful for the fact that, whatever trials I’m facing, I’m still here, and I know I have such a wonderful network of family, friends and colleagues supporting me.
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