Richard White has a perfect miniature opera house in his home with full orchestra pit, lighting systems, stalls, gallery and of course a bar. Here the annual Claxton Opera takes place each June/July - tickets are hard to come by, but the path to this success has not been easy.
On the night of Sunday 4 March 1993, The Old Meeting House was destroyed by fire. Richard's family was at home and all got out along with Tom the dog and Chivers the marmalade cat, though Minna the little black cat has not been seen since. Three weeks later, Bobby, Richard's wife, suffered a severe stroke, from which she slowly recovered in the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital over the next twelve months.
As to the house, only the lean-to single storey section was left intact, though severely smoke damaged and from this was saved almost all the furniture but everything else was gone.
The building was well insured and over the next eighteen months it was rebuilt and the family celebrated Christmas 1994 at home once more.
Immediately after the fire, they stayed with kind friends, the Mitchells, just over the hill where Rosemary and Geoff - an architect - filled them with optimism and ideas for the rebuild. They stayed for five most enjoyable days during which Christian went off to Japan on a concert tour, Tom chased the Mitchell cats, Bec worked away at her 'A' levels and Jake made endless and partially successful 'phone calls to reorganise his work at St. John's College, Cambridge. He suffered the most from direct fire damage through the loss of all his History notes.
Richard wrote at the time:
"Meanwhile Rosemary washed van loads of smoke damaged clothes and more or less ran a field kitchen for Whites and friends. We owe her and Geoff and Matthew their son an undying debt of gratitude. They cherished us and they cheered us. By Friday we were all in a fine state to face the future.
Friends Bill and Myra Francis had gone away caravanning and generously left us the freedom of their home. We stayed at Elizabeth Road for ten days, good days during which Lucy came home from Canterbury where she was training as a nurse and then made off again with Duncan to go diving in Devon. Again, undying gratitude to Myra and Bill.
Susan Snasdell, wife of the Rector of Thorpe St. Andrew kindly suggested we rent the Curate's House - empty at the time. We moved in, bringing our few smokey belongings to this pleasant, light and convenient detached house. I set to work to tame the jungle of a garden and Chivers to intimidate the local cats. Bobby went back to work at the hospital.
The next blow struck on the morning of Friday 16 April - Bobby's stroke. The fire had really touched us but this, after her previous illness, was a bitter, bitter blow.
Altogether an extraordinary and fairly terrible month in our lives, but though 'bloodied' we are unbowed, resolute, hopeful. The loss of our possessions is sad but not important and watching the place burn, we realised just how insignificant all this 'magpieing' really is."
Above all it was the extraordinary kindness, generosity and solidarity of everyone around them that touched them and was so reassuring, so renewing. Their neighbouring villages of Ashby St. Mary, Carleton St. Peter, Thurton and of course their own Claxton rallied round with generosity that left even Richard speechless; generosity that they can never repay and never forget.
They say 'the past is another country' and writing now, seventeen years later, and re-reading this, originally a letter sent to all their friends to let them know of their troubles, Richard felt he must be exaggerating. Sadly, it is all too true and some of the aftermath lives on inside them all.
Richard, now 72, who directs productions and learned his craft at Cambridge University, also studied singing at the Royal Academy of Music where he won the Parepa Rosa Scholarship. Since these glory days he has earned his bread by teaching, singing, lecturing and directing. Now retired from earning the crust, he devotes himself wholly to his singular passion.
His illustrated talk using cd and video material is entitled "The Trouble with Opera" and addresses the whole problem of this complex, profound and tantalisingly difficult art form: its triumphs, its disasters but above all its enduring and increasing appeal in the 21st century.