It was just a coincidence, as tickets are booked many months in advance, but I celebrated publication day with an evening at Glyndebourne with Rob and old friends. For those of you in America who don't know our English ways, Glyndebourne is a country house in Sussex where a summer season of opera is held each year. To say it's a gloriously eccentric occasion is an understatement: we all dress up in formal eveningwear in the middle of the afternoon and hurtle towards the South Downs with picnic hampers and bottles of champagne.
If you're lucky, the weather is wonderful - and so it was when we arrived at four o'clock to set our table in the garden. (This being England, the sun is never taken for granted, and so when it does shine on a special occasion it is all the more magical.) The sublime gardens at Glyndebourne are all part of the experience; tended to a pitch of perfection, they roll down from the old mansion and the modern theatre to the fabled ha-ha which keeps the sheep in the distance, picturesquely separate from the lawn.
For an hour or so before curtain up at around five o'clock, the spectacle is of the great and the good, rather self-consciously at play. Famous faces drift past, champagne glasses in hand. Camping chairs and rugs on the grass are eclipsed by white linen tablecloths and candelabra here and there among the peonies and roses. The wine is left to cool in ice buckets while we take our seats in the theatre for the opening act of the opera.
The point about Glyndebourne is that it may be deep in the countryside, but the productions are world class. This time, we were seeing Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky. The wide open spaces of Russian provincial life in the 1820s were rendered by sky and thicket fence, light and shadow, stunningly subtly. The music and singing tugged on the heartstrings, and every scene was beautiful lit to give the impression of a painting. It was quite breathtakingly beautiful.
As Tatyana, Ekaterina Scherbachenko (Cardiff Singer of the World in 2009) captured the yearning of an inexperienced teenager, and Onegin was played by Andrei Bondarenko as a posturing popinjay - a "Prinny", the Prince Regent, thought Felicia.
Most of the cast were, aptly, Eastern European, leading to some mischievous speculation over dinner during the long interval that there was some moonlighting going on, with quite a few also playing at Wimbledon. "Ah," said Rob, "That would explain the wailing and other noises on court - vocal exercises!"