Last evening my wife and I went to a fund raising event to raise money for Handel House Museum.  It turned out to be a spectacularly successful evening – hopefully from a fundraising perspective – and, for us, as a memorable experience.

We have been to other fundraising events for worthy causes – dinners, auctions, raffles, concerts – but this evening was special because of a happy combination of three ingredients.  Not in any order of importance, in fact the best is saved till last, they were:

The venue; Bridgewater House, off St James’s Street and close to Green Park.  This turned out to be a palatial private mansion (it is owned by the family of a Greek ship owner) designed by Sir Charles Barry and completed in 1854. The building was damaged in the Second World War but was subsequently repaired and used for a while as offices.  In the 1980’s it was completely restored to its former glory.  The house is breathtakingly OTT with endless arches, mirrors, chandeliers, statues, busts, ornate moulding picked out in gilt and vast expanses of sumptuous, and apparently brand new, carpet. We wandered round drinking wine, with nervous waiters topping up our glasses terrified of an accidental spillage. If I had owned the house (ho, ho, dream on) I would not have taken such risks with my unimaginably expensive carpet.  The venue alone would have made it a memorable evening.

The second winning ingredient was a short recital of Handel’s music given by Christopher Bucknall (harpsichord) and Augusta Hebbert (soprano).  The problem I often have with Handel (dare I admit this?) is that, even though the music is undoubtedly glorious, I find he often goes on too long.  There, I’ve said it!  For me therefore, with memories of Handel operas in uncomfortable churches, this recital was an absolute joy; all over in 45 minutes!  The two performers were excellent and, another bonus, we had a good chat with them afterwards.

Thirdly, we eavesdropped on a conversation between P D James and Ruth Rendell.  These two Baronesses, one aged 93 and the other 83, held us entranced as they chatted happily about their published works – over 87 books between them, not including short stories.  There were some wonderful asides about their struggles with technology and about the House of Lords (apparently no one is allowed to die in the chamber – they are carted away in an ambulance and declared dead in St Thomas’ Hospital).  Listening to the reminiscences of these two great authors was a remarkable privilege. They decided that Bridgewater House would make a great venue for a grisly murder. In the time allocated for questions from the audience I dared to enquire if they adopted any routines or disciplines to overcome the temptation to procrastinate.  They both claimed never to have suffered from any kind of writer’s block or a fear of the blank page – or as Ruth Rendell pointed out, the blank screen.  No wonder they have been so prolific.

So, we went home totally happy with our experience of a triumphant evening.  Well done Handel House.  If fundraising is like this, please do some more!

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