Pulling a Cracker Alone, and a Proposal of Marriage


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Alderley Edge

On Saturday morning, I was due to leave Liverpool,. although I would be staying in the North West. The first thing to do was to retrieve my furniture and props from St George’s Hall, which I had to do before 10. I had breakfast, this time in the comfort of the Shankly without needing to cross the road from red to blue, and retrieved my car from the parking garage and drove up to the hall, having been admitted through the security barrier which was monitored round the clock. I was told to drive up a curb and onto the pavement, which was as slick as an ice rink, as a result of the heavy rain of the day and the sub-zero temperatures of the night. The car simply slid over the paving, and for a moment I thought that I would take the helter-skelter and the huge ferris wheel out, but actually my Renault slithered into a perfect position by the door, as if I were an expert stunt driver. All of my props and costume were waiting by the door, so it hardly took any time to load, but while I was lifting the heavy chair into the car, my feet slipped on the ice, and in an effort not to fall I could feel my back twist and I knew instantly that I had strained a muscle, just to add to my current physical woes!

I returned to the hotel and relaxed until my check-out time of 11, and then drove into the beautiful county of Cheshire, towards the town of Alderley Edge, where I would be performing that evening. Alderley Edge is not too far from Manchester, and is known for being the home of many of the Premier League’s top footballers, meaning that the property prices in the town are some of the highest in the country. Indeed, as I drove across the bridge into the main street one of the first cars I saw casually parked by the curbside was a yellow Ferrari, and there were copious Aston Martins and other luxury brands on display, as if they were just regular run-arounds. I parked and strolled up and down the street, looking into the windows of high-end restaurants and boutiques with no price labels, but it was raining heavily by now and I wasn’t really in the mood for walking. As I reached the upper end of the street I noticed a sign to The Alderley Edge Hotel where I was due to stay, so walked up the drive and into the stylish reception area, where I asked if there was any possibility of an early check in, and I was told that yes, my room was indeed ready! I walked back into town, retrieved my car and drove back to the hotel, and in ten minutes or so was seated in the restaurant ready for lunch.

Being sat a single table can be a lonely experience, but of course one becomes used to it when on tour, but to be sat at a table laid for a Christmas celebration with just one Christmas Cracker made it seem even more so!

Around me were groups of people in Christmas jumpers and sparkly dresses, laughing and exchanging gifts. I ordered a large plate of fish and chips, and as I waited, another single gentleman was shown in, and the staff called him by name, asking him not to go to his usual table, as that was reserved for another party. He didn’t look at a menu, just ordered what he wanted, and it was obvious that he was a permanent resident at The Alderley Edge, and the character of ‘The Major’ from Fawlty Towers came to mine. Actually the hotel itself was not dissimilar, being an elegant old house situated up a short driveway. I should say, however, that is where the similarity ended, for the service and staff were impeccable!

I ate my lunch, and took my cracker to my room, where I pulled it. My treat was a pink hair bobble, and my joke was ‘What do vampires sing on New Year’s Eve? Old Fangs Syne’. I didn’t put the paper hat on.

I had a couple of hours before I had to be at the venue, so rested and snoozed, before showering to wake myself up again. The Festival Hall was only a couple of minutes’ drive away, and I was soon pulling up outside. The hall was originally built in the 1920s, but has recently been renovated, and was very smart and clean. It had a plastered barrel roof, which gave away its age, but everything else looked very up to date. I was greeted by Colin, who was one of the hall managers, and who had agreed to run my sound effects for me. There was no sound desk available, but we worked out that if we plugged my laptop into the amplifier (hidden away in the kitchen), we could make it work. I went through the script with him, and was confident that everything would be OK. The stage was at one end of the room and although very wide, was quite narrow, it had a black cloth behind (actually a star cloth with lots of tiny lights sewn in, but we decided not to use that effect).

When I had set everything up I chatted with Colin and the other staff at the hall, until Lynne and Jacqui arrived too. The show was another that Lynne was producing and she had booked the hall at Alderley Edge. Even as we chatted, some audience members began to arrive, so I went to my dressing room, and the bar sprang into action!

To be honest, the effort and expenditure of adrenaline from two days in St George’s Hall was taking its toll, and I felt very weary. The cough had returned, and I was feeling very weak, but I could hear the audience arriving, could hear the usual sense of excitement, and gave myself a good talking to: the audience in the Alderley edge had invested just as much (I mean from the point of view of choosing to spend their evening at my show), as those in the heart of Liverpool, and therefore deserved just as much effort and commitment from me. The show was due to start at 7, but as the audience arrived Lynne realised that one of the promotional fliers was printed with 7.30 instead, meaning that the lovely early start time was delayed. We had decided to go for a 7.15 start, assuming that people expecting a 7.30 start would probably be arriving then, but they were still entering as the half-hour passed. At last Lynne welcomed everyone and I made my way through the audience and up onto the stage. I gave the show my all, but the annoying coughs, which have been a constant companion since Lewes, Delaware, continued to interrupt the flow., However, the audience enjoyed the evening and gave me a lovely ovation at the end.

Having sold out all of the merchandise at St George’s Hall, there was no formal signing session, but a few people wanted to say thank you, and pose for photographs with me afterwards, so we gathered around the sparkling Christmas Tree next to the stage until everyone was happy, and I could change and start to pack up. I thanked Colin for his efforts with the sound (he had stood in the open door of the kitchen following the script, and as the cue approached had withdrawn back to the laptop – every cue came in perfectly on time), and drove back to the hotel where Lynne, Jacqui and I sat in the bar and drank a toast to the success of our events over the past three days.

Highclere Castle

I left Alderley Edge as soon as I had finished breakfast on Sunday morning, and was on the road by 8.45. I felt exhausted and after an hour’s driving I needed to stop at a service station, drink coffee, and get some fresh air, before continuing home, where I arrived at lunchtime. It was so good to see Liz and the girls again, but my time at the hose was all too short, for that afternoon I was due to be at the amazing Highclere Castle. The weather was awful as I drove the 40 minutes or so, and as I arrived some of the audience were already gathering and my car had to be escorted at walking pace up the drive, for visitors were making their way towards the house. The timetable stated that the doors would be opened at 4.30, but folk were welcome to explore the grounds before that – there was not much exploring going on.

As I drove across the expanse of gravel in front of the main door, where countless lovely old cars have swept in during the various seasons of Downton Abbey, a voice called out from beneath an umbrella: ‘Hey Mr Dickens! This is a LONG WAY from Pigeon Forge!!’ I was astounded, for Pigeon Forge is a tourist town in Tennessee where I performed for a number of happy years in a very small hotel, and here were two audience members from those days who had made the journey to England, building their Christmas trip to around their plans to watch me perform at Highclere.

Inside the castle the preparations were being made for the evening events, and I arranged my set on the small stage which is dwarfed by the magnificent central saloon of the castle. Lord and Lady Carnarvon were there, as was Charlotte, who a few years ago drew the short straw of operating my sound effects. ‘Is the script the same? Nothing new?’ she nervously asked, and I reassured her that nothing had changed, and then I remembered the new voice over that I had recorded in Liverpool for the start of the second act. ‘There is just one thing,,,,,’

The audience were gathering at the door, deciding that a stroll in the grounds during a rainstorm was not such fun, and were keen to take their seats. I disappeared off to one of the private rooms in the castle, the studio, and changed ready for the evening ahead.

At 5 o’clock I went to the top of the grand staircase and looked down n the audience below, which included our good friends Anthony and Andrea, who we had invited to the show, but sadly not Liz, who had tested positive for Covid a few days earlier, and was miserably at home. This was very sad for us both, as the Highclere performance is traditionally the only one on tour that Liz can get to, being close to home,and having been apart for so long it is a treat of an evening that we both look forward to.

Lady Carnarvon welcomed the gests, and then passed the castle over to me for the next couple of hours. I made my slow walk down the staircase, channelling my inner Hugh Bonneville, through the audience and onto the stage. As with all recent shows, I got though with a few coughs, but managed to tell the story well, and the audience lapped it up – laughed, clapped and sobbed a little. When both acts were over I quickly changed, and made my way to the marquee in one of the courtyards, to join Anthony and Andrea for dinner. The other guests took their seats around us, but respected our privacy generously. When we had finished and I stood to leave, a man, sat at a table with his companion, approached me and aske if I wouldn’t mind having a picture taken, and I of course agreed. As we posed, the couple happily told me that he had proposed during the interval, and that they were now engaged to be married! We chatted for a while, and soon other audience members were asking for pictures, and wanting to chat. It was a very nice and relaxed way to finish the evening. It was still raining hard when I left, and drove home, and I was very glad to be back on our sofa, with Liz.

the following evening, Monday, was petty much a repeat of Sunday, albeit without a proposal of marriage. Before the show Lady Carnarvon and I recorded a short video for TicToc (she is quite the social media expert),and chatted about A Christmas Carol, the season and my performances. The Monday audience were lively and fun, as the Sunday one had been, and I revelled once more beneath the high stone walls of the magnificent home. The shows a Highclere Castle have very much become a traditional part of my tour, and I love performing there. Hopefully next year we will add an extra night to the run.

And so, my 2022 tour was reaching its final stages, and I will tell you about the closing days in my next post.

Friday in Liverpool


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My second day in Liverpool began when I woke at 8.15, which is quite unheard of for me. Possible reasons for my late arrival to Friday were supremely effective heavy-draped curtains in my room, which created a complete blackout, and my body’s need to keep rebuilding strength and stamina. I have been staying at The Shankly Hotel for many years, mainly because of its proximity to St George’s Hall (in fact, as I drew the curtains I had a fine view of the great old Palladian building), and it is a hotel that I feel comfortable in. It has changed a little over the years, for when I first stayed it was very much a Liverpool Football Club supporter’s heaven – with the lobby and every room dedicated to the life and career of one of LFC’s finest managers, Bill Shankly. You would fall asleep looking up at one of his inspirational quotes, and the material padding on the room doors were of the same texture as a football. In recent years, though, the hotel has embraced the party vibe of the city, and the tone has changed from dugout to dancefloor. I was staying on the 5th floor, the corridor was painted a vibrant pink, and all of the rooms had not only numbers, but names too, names to make a mother blush: Sin, Adam (Eve was demurely next door), Temptation and my own room, Desire. Desire contained beds for 4 and a jacuzzi hot tub for the same number. I imagine that I am one of the quieter guests on the fifth floor……

The Shankly did not have chefs in on a Friday morning, so breakfast was being served in the sister hotel across the street – The Dixie Dean. Liverpool is a city divided from a footballing point of view, with two tribes supporting either the reds of LFC or the blues of Everton. I imagine that the owner of The Shankly realised that he was reducing his possible local clientele by half, so opened a second hotel named in honour of one of the greats of Everton. I made my way across the street and had a most enjoyable breakfast, feeling slightly traitorous, and then returned to my room, where I rested for a long while. I didn’t need to be back at St George’s Hall until 1pm, so had plenty of time. At around 11 I walked into the city and joined the throngs of Christmas shoppers bustling here and there through the great Liverpool1 shopping complex. Liverpool always makes me feel very festive and Christmassy, for there is a wonderful atmosphere on the streets. While I walked my phone ran out of battery, for I had left my charging lead in my dressing room at St George’s Hall, but I knew roughly what the time was. I returned to my hotel room, collected some fresh shirts, and then walked up to the hall ready for my matinee performance. I had forgotten, however, that to be granted access to St George’s I needed to call the duty manager, and my phone was inactive. I stood outside the door, and knocked and banged at the door, to no avail. Another young man stood at the door next to me, and I guessed he was an audience member arriving early, for his T shirt was emblazoned with the message ‘Scrooge and Marley. Accountants.’ After a while I saw a member of the St George’s Hall Staff walking by, and asked him if he could alert the manager to my presence, which he kindly did.

I said hello to everyone who were setting up the bar, and my merchandise table, and made my way up to the dressing room, and onto stage where Taz and I did a quick sound check to make sure that everything was still functioning correctly, and I made sure that everything was as it should be on the stage, before shutting myself into dressing room, drinking lots of water, and just relaxng.

The afternoon show was due to start at 2.30 and as usual the audience would be entertained by a choir, before I took to the stage. Usually the choir is one of a few very fine community choirs from Liverpool or The Wirral peninsula, but on Friday both the audience and I were in for a special treat, for Lynne had arranged for students from the West Kirby Grammar School to sing on the stage. From my dressing room I could hear the choir gathering, and assuming that it was one of the usual troupes, I opened the door to say hello, and was amazed to find 30 or so teenagers, anxiously talking, waiting to walk into the bright stage lights. We chatted until it was time for them to perform, and I wished them all good luck and told then to enjoy themselves, and in turn many told me to ‘break a leg’. When they were on stage I went up to the gallery and slipped in the door to watch them sing their first two songs, and they performed beautifully. I always like to watch the choirs from up on the gallery, for two reasons. One, it gives me the opportunity to listen to amazing singing in a setting designed purely to enhance it, and second, it gives me an opportunity to take a look at the audience, and judge what sort of performance we are about to share.

After the girls had completed their second piece, I slipped back down to the wing space, put my scarf and top hat on and waited to begin. As the choir came off stage I congratulated them, and then turned my thoughts to my own performance. The energy that I always get from the Concert Room inspired me, and the performance was a really good one, with the inevitable few coughs along the way. The audience were very good, and the ovation at the end was a typically loud Liverpool stomp! Having left the stage I changed slowly into a fresh costume, before going down to the lobby to sign copies of my book (which we sold out of) and chat to excited and bubbling audience members, one of who was the young gentleman whose T shirt I had complimented on the pavement a couple of hours before. It turns out that he is working on the script for a new musical version of A Christmas Carol, and we talked about my adaptation, and the direction he is taking his version in, that being darker more intense than the norm.

When the signing session as finished, I went back to The Shankly, and rested for a while, before showering and walking back to the Hall for the evening show, stopping to buy a large freshly cooked Bratwurst from the Christmas market which was crowded and noisy.

In the dressing room, I finished my hot dog, and then got into costume ready for a 7.30 start. The choir was one of the regular one,ms and for this show the choir leader had asked me if I minded them performing a medley from The Muppets Christmas Carol, I wouldn’t think it in any way disrespectful? It was thoughtful and kind of her to ask, and of course I said yes, go for it!

The evening audience were not as demonstrative as some of the other St George’s Hall groups, but they were intense, listening, following. There was no rustling or fidgeting, and in the pauses the atmosphere in the hall was heavy. The applause at the end of the first act was very loud, as was the applause when I returned to the stage at the start of act 2, and the final explosion of applause at the end of the show was amazing, filling me with a huge sense of reward and satisfaction.

Despite my physical limitations, I had given three very strong performances in Liverpool, in ‘the most perfect hall in the world

Two Standing Ovations


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After a few days at home, during which the aftermath of my dose of Covid continued to drain me of energy, as well as lingering in the form of a heavy cold and nasty cough, it was all too soon time to get on the road again for the final UK leg of my 2022 A Christmas Carol tour. The time at home had been lovely, even though Liz and one of our daughters were also down with particularly heavy colds, but I had time to hang Christmas lights on the outside of the house, as well as on the tree, ready for us all to decorate when next I am at home.

On Thursday morning I packed the car with the props and costumes that I would need for three days in the North East and set off at around 11.am. My destination was the city centre of Liverpool and three performances at what Charles Dickens called ‘The most perfect hall in the world’ – the gilded concert room at St George’s Hall.

My drive to Liverpool was an easy one, and the landscape was beautiful with the light dusting of icy snow on the fields glittering in the bright winter sunshine. Occasionally herds of sheep appeared, slightly cream-coloured against the pure white behind them. I arrived at around 2.30, and because the area around St George’s Hall is taken over by a huge Christmas fair, I had to ring ahead to be allowed access through a security barrier, so that I could get as close as possible to unload my car. The staff at the hall brought out a small trolley/cage, and we piled everything into it and rolled it up to door. Unfortunately, the journey was across cobbles and various articles fell off along the way, including one of my costumes which got caught beneath the trolley’s wheels and ended up very muddy and dusty.

Non of ‘my’ team where at the hall yet, so I placed all of the furniture on the stage, and hung my one pristine and one soiled costume in my dressing room, and then went to check in at my hotel – The Shankly, just a few minutes walk away. I had an hour or so in my room, during which time I made a restorative cup of Lemsip, and tried to relax as much as I could, for I really wasn’t feeling too great.

At around 4.30 I wrapped up against the cold winter’s night and walked back to St George’s Hall where the door was locked. I was joined on the pavement by a young man carrying a camera bag and tripod, and I guessed that this was Adam, who had been booked to make a short video promotional film of my show. Eventually, after much bell ringing and a couple of phone calls, we were let into the huge foyer. Lynne Hamilton, the producer and events manager who puts on my Liverpool shows was there and we hugged warmly. Lynne and I have been working together for many years and it was great to see her again. Of course she was worried about my state of health, both from a personal and professional viewpoint. I went up to the main hall where my sound engineer Taz was setting up. We have worked together before, and immediately he had some ideas about the show – introducing a few echoes here and there as ghosts came and went. For my part, I wanted to to record a new voiceover for the start of the second act, which up to now has opened with me reprising the lines of Jacob Marley -‘You will be haunted by three spirits. Expect the first tonight when the bell tolls one. Expect the second on the next night, at the same hour…..’ and then I would commence snoring, as if Scrooge had been asleep throughout the interval. Rather than me actually speaking those lines, it seemed better to have them recorded, so I set my laptop and microphone up on the stage, and after three takes had what I wanted. Taz and I did a sound check, and it was apparent that while my voice was quite strong, it was full of cold, so not as clear and pure as usual. There was nothing that could be done to change that, I just had to ensure that my performance was as good as I could make it.

Meanwhile, Adam was scouting out the venue to see how best we could film some parts of the show for his promo video. I got into costume, and performed various scenes, while he followed me around with his gimble-mounted camera. He was very pleased with the results, and was worried that it was going to be very difficult to edit all of the material down. For me, it was time to hibernate for a while and relax. I drank a lot of water, popped a few Fisherman’s Friends, and did as little as possible. Downstairs the audience were beginning to arrive, while I ran through a few lines – actually some new lines. Maybe a show when I was not feeling great was not the perfect time to introduce a change to the script, but a thought had come to me in America and I was keen to try it out. As Scrooge’s time with the Ghost of Christmas Past comes to an end he berates her for ‘torturing him’ and commands that she ‘remove him from this place’ and the spirit reminds him that ‘I told you that these are the shadows of things that have been. That they are what they are, do not blame me!’ It felt important that he is reminded of that fact, so this year’s new addition is that little exchange.

The show was due to start at 7.30, but there was a slightly odd precursor to the performance. As part of Adam’s filming he wanted to get some shots of a Liverpool standing ovation from my perspective, that is from the stage. So when all of the audience were gathered, Lynne told them she needed them to stand and cheer and clap, as if it were the end of the show. I watched on a small TV monitor from the wings as the crowd went crazy. Hands in the air, stamping of feet, whooping, shouting, cries of sheer delight and adulation filled the old hall – that has to be one of the best standing ovations that I have ever received, and I wasn’t even there to bow. Adam, looking very self conscious, recorded the whole thing.

When everyone had calmed down again, the choir, who had been entertaining the audience as they arrived in the lobby below, took to the stage and, using the acoustic of the Concert Room as an extra member, performed three exquisite pieces, all rapturously received.

And at last it was my turn. The danger is, when feeling below par, that I try too hard, and over-dramatise and over-emphasise everything, so I made sure I gave a well-paced, but not too theatrical performance. My voice wasn’t great, but my characters, movements and general stage presence was pretty good, and the audience seemed engaged with the unfolding story. My new line fitted in perfectly (although in my concentration on slipping it in, I did mess up one of the proceeding lines, but that passed by in a moment.) The round of applause at the interval was loud and long, and I could relax into the second half in the knowledge that all was OK.

The second act has all of the tom-foolery in it – The Cratchit’s at dinner, Topper, Old Joe and the like, and the atmosphere in the Hall became more and more joyful as we headed to the show’s conclusion, and sure enough, when I left the stage, the ovation was every bit as energetic and loud as the pretend one of a couple of hours before. I took my bows to each quarter and as always thought of my great great grandfather doing the same when he had stood on the same boards. It is always a very memorable and emotional time in Liverpool.

I quickly changed and went to the lobby where there was a line of people clutching copies of Dickens and Staplehurst and my DVDs. We chatted, and I signed until the foyer was empty, and then went upstairs to change once more, and headed back to my hotel, where the bar and restaurant was closed for the night. So, once again, Uber Eats got my custom and at just after 11 I had a pizza in my room.

It had been a successful day, despite my cold and cough, and the positivity of a St George’s crowd gave me the confidence to face the rest of the tour with relish.

The Final Day


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Sunday would be my last day in the USA for this year, and it has certainly been a tour like no other. I had a whole morning at The Ambler Inn, which started with breakfast in the bar. As I finished I was greeted by some audience members from the previous afternoon, and we chatted for a while about this, that and the possibility of my performing in Pittsburgh in the future. Actually, Maria and John were not complete strangers, as I had performed a video reading from The Pickwick Papers which was used in a Christmas variety show, and we had been in touch since then. It was a lovely chat, but they were driving on to Alabama, and I had a show to get ready for.

Back in my room I was playing around with some ideas for next year’s 30th anniversary tour, and found a site that created word clouds, so I entered all of the characters that I play in the show (including the dressing gown) and pressed the ‘enter’ button to see what came up. I don’t know what sort of merchandise I was thinking with this idea – a tote bag maybe, or perhaps a fiendish jigsaw. Possibly, probably, nothing, but it was fun to do for an hour or so.

At 11 o’clock I checked out of the hotel and a few minutes later arrived at Byers’ Choice, where I found a parking slot right by the door. I took my large suitcase in, for after the show I would need to pack it with my top hat, cane and various other things ready to fly home. In fact I had plenty of time, so I unpacked my entire case for the first time since I touched down in Boston. Unpacked, so I could pack again.

I went to the hall, checked in with David, and discussed some changes in the lighting plot, brought about to my ‘repositioning’ of Scrooge’s Grave (I had previously played it in the centre of the stage, but now it is stage right, but had forgot to mention that fact the day before!). We also did a quick sound check, and then I went back my room, so that audience members, who were standing in the pouring rain, could be let in. I busied myself with sewing on the button, that had fallen off on Saturday and then got into costume and relaxed as best I could, before returning to the hall at 1.20 (the show starting on the half hour). It was another very full house, and another choir was producing beautiful harmonies to entertain them. Soon Bob gave me the sign, and began the process that would lead to the show itself, that being congratulating the choir, taking their good luck wishes, and then slipping into the large room when David had faded the house lights, and Bob was making his introductory remarks. In no time I was back on the stage and starting the script once again.

I had a big fright early on, for as I placed my cane, which becomes an important symbol later in the script, at the bottom of the hat rack it slipped, and was left precariously laying with its handle against the brass stand, the other end hanging over the back edge of the stage, the slightest jolt would dislodge it and send it falling down irretrievably to the floor below, which would not only leave Mr Scrooge without a knocker, but Tiny Tim without a crutch also. I trod VERY carefully in that quarter of the stage, until Scrooge left his office and I could thankfully rescue it.

The rest of the show went well, although my voice and breath control was much the same as it had been on the two previous days. I did get a round of applause for Fezziwig’s dance (if truth be told, I complete milked a round of applause, pretty well refusing to carry on until the hesitant clap from a person on the stage left side grew to encompass the whole audience!) It was another fun show, and the audience joined in more and more as we went on, and It was a good performance to bring the tour to an end with.

Once again Bob hosted a Q&A, although a lot of the audience rose to leave, probably wanting to get on the road as soon as possible,as the weather was closing in. Those that did remain listened attentively, as I spoke about how and why Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, had I heard any stories about him through the family, and who is my favourite Formula One driver – somebody reads my blog regularly, you know who you are!

Bob brought the session to a close, I took my final bow, and left the stage. Back in the conference room I changed from costume into normal clothes, stuffed socks into my top hat and wrapped the scarf around it, before carefully packing my suitcase, and roller bag, ready for the flight back to England. When everything that needed to be was in my bags I went back to the theatre which was rapidly being changed back into a manufacturing facility, and said my goodbye and thanks to David, Jeff and Bob and Pam. The Byers family are always so generous to me, and on this year’s fragmented tour they have been even more so – reassuring me that everything would be OK, cautioning me not to come back too soon or too hard, just being good and kind friends.

Actually this wasn’t quite my final goodbye, for back with my cases I realised that I didn’t have my car key! I unpacked all three bags with no joy, and then remembered that I had it in my hand when I took the microphone back to David. I went back to the sound table and sure enough there was the key, on top of the mic pack. I said more goodbyes, and finally left Byers’ Choice.

The drive to Newark airport was through thick mist and heavy rain, meaning that on many occasions I couldn’t see lane markings, and had to make my way gingerly through intersections. As I approached the environs of the airport I could see that it was immensely busy, and I was glad that I had time in hand. At the Hertz garage I bade farewell to the Santa Fe, although I hadn’t spent as much time driving hither and thither as I had hoped to, it had been a faithful companion, even it did try to take over driving duties.

I was right, the terminal was very busy, and I stood for an age in the security line, before having my roller bag pulled aside for further inspection. It was with horror that I realised almost straight away that I had failed to empty my water flask following the show. and the humourless TSA officer firmly told me that I could either go back to check-in and check the bag, and start the process all over again, or the flask would be thrown away. I had no desire to go back to square one and stand in security all over again, so reluctantly let the flask become a victim of the tour.

I was very hungry by this time, not having had anything to eat since breakfast, so I found a restaurant in the terminal and had a burger and a creamy meringue desert, before going to Gate 102, where I now sit. In my eyeline is the jet bridge over which I will walk, but at the moment it is not attached to a plane, there being no plane to attach it to – Considering we should have boarded forty minutes ago it seems likely that we will be late.

Update – yes we will be late We have all been moved to another gate, where there is no plane either! Am announcement has just been made, telling us that, ‘We are waiting for the aircraft to be towed to our gate – it IS on the ground….’ Well, that’s good to know, for it would be a hell of a job towing it, if it wasn’t!

So, this year’s tour was of course dominated by the six days I had to spend in isolation, which was a real shock not only physically, but emotionally as well There was the irrational guilt of letting people down, there was the fear of the financial consequences, there was the sheer frustration of not being able to do what I was here to do. But, aside from that week, the shows I was able to perform all went very well, and the performance is in a very good place. The only new venue that I actually got to perform at was the theatre in Waynesboro, Virginia, and that was a spectacular evening, and I hope that the venue can find a regular place in future tours. Of the old favourites, we had sell-outs at all four performances at the Vaillancourts, and at both in Lenox. The return to Lewes was a triumph with around 550 attending, and both shows at Byers’ Choice were upward of 650. Looking at the full half of the glass, it has been a very successful trip, and has laid the foundations for next year’s great celebration, work on which has already started,

Thank you to all of those people who have made this happen, even if I was not able to get to your venue, and to the people without whom none of it would be possible: The audiences.

It is now 11pm, an hour after we should have flown and still there is no change – I will certainly sleep well when we finally get airborne.

Back to Byers


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Following my very satisfying success of Friday evening, I slept particularly badly that night, waking up with a severe headache and not being able to shift it. Unfortunately my bottle of pain relief pills were still in the car, and at about 4am I cold bear it no longer, so got up, threw some clothes on and went out into the cold early morning to fetch them. Sleep still didn’t come, as I tossed and turned in bed, knowing that this wouldn’t be such an easy day ahead. At around 7.30 Bob Byers sent me a message, checking how I was feeling and was I ready for another show? My answer was ‘I’d better be!’, although I was not altogether convinced at that point

Breakfast at The Inn was not served until 8, and as I had to be on the road at around 8.30 I went downstairs as early as I could and enjoyed a simple breakfast of fruits and pastries, before returning to my room to pack my cases and set off back to Byers’ Choice in Pennsylvania. The journey was about two and a half hours, and I couldn’t shift the headache throughout the whole trip, this being slightly scary for me, as I am not normally prone to headaches. As I got nearer to Philadelphia the traffic started to build up, and the final hour of the journey seemed to last forever. I finally pulled into the Byers’ Choice parking lot at around 11.30, at the same time as the first audience members were arriving too, although the show was not due to start until 1. I went into the offices and the first person I saw was Bob, who very genuinely asked how I was doing, it was the inquiry of a concerned friend, not of a business owner who had hundreds of people gathering to see a show. Bob and Pam have been so kind and supportive of me over the past week, and haven’t put any pressure on me to perform at all, that it made me all the more determined to do a good job for them now. I was feeling better for being there, and the headache, although still present, had diminished slightly.

I walked into the huge performance space and met up with Bob’s brother Jeff who also asked about my wellbeing, and if there was anything they could do for me, to make things more comfortable. Actually, between Bob and Jeff (and I believe it was Jeff’s suggestion), the decision had been made to cancel the second performance of the day, to give me an easier time. The hope was that some evening attendees may switch their tickets to one of the matinees instead, and certainly numbers had spiked over the previous two days, with both audiences swelling to around 650. I set the stage as I wanted it, and with David, our technical wizard, who knows the show better than I do, went through the various lighting and sound cues that we have developed over the years

When everything was ready, and with the audience waiting at the doors, I made my way to the company’s large conference room, which becomes my dressing/green room during my stay and I just kept myself to myself, quietly. At 12.30 I got into costume and at 12.55 went to the hall, where it looked as if a completely full house awaited me, in fact the Byers’ Choice staff were busily fetching more chairs, as people continued to arrive. Finally Bob gave the thumbs up that we were ready to go, and we made our way backstage (or into the shipping department of the business on any other day). The audience had been entertained by some beautiful carol signing by the choir from one of the local high schools. and as they came off stage Bob and I thanked them for performing so well.

And now it was my turn. Bob welcomed the audience, explained briefly about the circumstances of the last week and then introduced A Christmas Carol. Up onto the stage, over to Marley’s grave, a glance down, a ‘hurrumph!’ and then back to centre stage to begin the show. It was very similar to the night before, with a strong performance, slightly tarnished by the odd frailties of my voice. I purposefully gave Marley the rather breathless, weak voice that had been forced upon me at Lewes, and it was effective again. As the story unfolded, so I found myself needing to take little coughs here and there again, but most of the time I was able to give it large – and do my thing to the best of my abilities, to the great appreciation of the large crowd.

After the applause had died down and the people had sat down, Bob came up onto the stage to host another Q&A session. He began by mentioning that I was making a huge personal sacrifice to be here on stage, for at that very moment England were playing France in the Quarter Final of the World Cup. He went on to give me the tidings that France were currently 1-0 up. Bob read out questions which had been submitted by the audience as they arrived, most of which, on this occasion, were about Charles Dickens and his writing of A Christmas Carol, which was an interesting direction to go in. As I was answering the questions I realised that I had lost a button from my waistcoat, and took the opportunity of looking for it, so that I wouldn’t tread on it, as I paced around the floor.

When I finished the final question I took yet more bows and returned to the conference room to change. After a while I went back to the hall, which was empty now, and continued the search for my button, which I eventually found at centre stage right, un-trodden on and intact.

I replaced everything on the set, ready for the next day’s show, and then gathered my bag and prepared to leave. This was a strange moment, for usually I am just resting between shows, but as I walked to my car so were many audience members, and I was rewarded by lots of shouts of ‘great show!’ and the like. I left a happy man.

My hotel for the Byers’ Choice shows is The Joseph Ambler Inn, just a 15 minute drive, and in no time I was in my comfortable room, switching the TV on to see what was happening in the football. The screen flickered on just as England’s skipper, Harry Kane was standing over the ball, preparing to take a penalty kick to draw England level with France. There was a sense of inevitability about the scene, for England’s hopes over many years have been dashed by missed penalty kicks, and sure enough the ball went soaring over the goal and into the crowd behind.

Bob and Pam had kindly invited me out for an early supper, with their son George and his girlfriend Maura who is going to be working alongside Bob and Pam in preparing next year’s tour. We chatted about the parts of this year’s trip that had gone ahead, and what had been successful or otherwise, but mainly our thoughts turned to 2023 and the thirtieth anniversary tour, and what we could do to make it a real celebration of my performances of A Christmas Carol. We talked of merchandising, sponsorship ideas, increased media coverage, and the geographical nature of the tour itself. Although we are twelve months away, the time will fly and we need to start putting plans into place now.

We finished up our dinners, and Pam pointed out to Bob that I needed rest, and she was right. There would have been no way that I could have done a second show that day, and I was grateful that they had recognised the fact in time to cancel the evening performance.

I went back tom The Joseph Ambler Inn, and watched something on television, I don’t even remember what, and fell asleep quickly. On Sunday I have one more matinee to perform, and then I will drive directly to Newark airport and fly home, back to Liz and the girls.

At Last……


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Friday 9 December 2022

It had only been a week since my last performance, which was at the Dana Center in Manchester, NH; 8 days since I first began to sniffle and snuffle and cough a little, but to me, a particularly restless person when not acting, it seemed to have been much longer.

On Friday morning I was in the Byer’s family cabin, and definitely felt ready to go. During the days previously I had been still suffering from an annoying cough, which would have made performing very difficult, but on Friday morning it had mostly cleared, and I very much wanted to get back onto the road. I didn’t actually need to leave until 11.30, so I spent the morning doing a few little pieces of laundry (well, I was back on the road, after all), playing myself at pool in the basement games room, and watching the 2nd and 3rd episodes of the Harry and Meghan documentary, purely because I was fairly certain that I will be asked about it in the coming days!

I packed my bags, said goodbye to the cabin, which had been a vast improvement over the four walls of the Hilton Garden Inn, and set off. It was a beautiful morning, with the Delaware River a deep peaty black with sparking-white ripples on the surface to my left. Soon I was skirting Philadelphia, crossing the bridge in Wilmington and heading towards Dover (one of those State capitals that is useful to know for trivia quizzes). As I drove, I discovered a feature of my Hyundai that I had not noticed previously, and that its somewhat annoying habit of taking control. When the Cruise Control function is selected it purrs along until it notices a car in front, going a little more slowly, and then it reduces the cruising speed. Now, it doesn’t just switch off the cruise control, it re-calibrates it so still the car carries on at exactly the same speed as the vehicle in front, with no influence from my right foot. If I gently turn the steering wheel to the left, thereby putting the car into an empty lane, the onboard brain comes to the conclusion that there is nothing ahead now, so lets the car accelerate back up to the previously set speed, again with no input from me. In a way this is a remarkable piece of tech, but in another it is incredibly dangerous, because you actually stop concentrating on the act of driving, putting complete faith in the car.

At one point I saw advertising signs for the Winterthur estate, and a feeling of great sadness came over me, feeling very guilty for disappointing all of those audience members who had been planning to attend the shows there this week. I am very aware that guilt is a ridiculous emotion, for I couldn’t have done anything else – at the time of the Winterthur shows I wasn’t out of the recommended quarantine period, and really wasn’t physically up to performing, but still as an actor I felt so sorry for everyone who was effected.

I stopped in Dover for lunch, and then finished my journey towards Lewes, Delaware, a very pretty coastal town, where I performed for the first time last year. I am booked by the Lewes Public Library and in 21 performed at the branch, and was very well received. On the back of that success it was decided that the library would seek a larger venue, and settled on the auditorium at a local high school.

Before driving to the venue, I had an hour or so to spend at my hotel, The Inn at Canal Square which sits at the water’s edge and is quite delightful.

The rooms are large, and comfortable and reassuringly traditional. I discovered that the room not only boasted a Keurig coffee maker, but an actual china cup too, and I think that this is my new gold-standard: a room with a real cup, not a plastic-wrapped paper one. In fact before I came down with Covid I was actually looking for a cup to come along with me on the road!

I spent the time at the hotel watching the end of the Argentina v Netherlands quarter final, which went to penalties and was very exciting. Thoughts now turn to England’s quarter final against the old rivals France, which will actually be played when I am on stage on Saturday afternoon!

At 5 o’clock I left the hotel and took the very short drive to The Cape Henlopen High School, where the various staff and volunteers from the library were waiting for me, prime among them David White, who is responsible for bringing me to the town. We walked into the auditorium, and it was huge! spread out before me, with a large stage at the bottom.

Apparently the library had received over 700 registrations (the show was free to patrons, so not all of those would show), and this room would soon be packed with excited theatre-goers. I had a moment of fear, what if I were not recovered enough to command a hall this big, what if I didn’t have enough energy, what if my voice didn’t hold out? Fortunately, David immediately passed me over to Gary, the technical head of the auditorium, and the nerves went away, for I was back into work mode, discussing sound effects and cues etc. Once we had finished the technical meeting, Gary showed me to my dressing room, which was filled with costumes in preparation for a performance of The Nutcracker, the next day – I suddenly had so much choice of what to wear…..hmmmm, what should it be?

The large audience was now being admitted, and I stood behind the curtain listening to them gather. I love being backstage alone, looking at all of the mechanics of the space. This particular auditorium was blessed with fly space, in other words it is tall enough to lower various back drops down to change scenes (or ‘fly’ them in). All of the different bars which the scenery can be attached to are controlled by ropes, situated stage left and they look less like stage equipment, more like rigging on some great battleship. There is good reason for that, for many theatres, especially those in port cities, were staffed by sailors, who knew how ropes and pullies could be used.

This is also the reason why it is unlucky to whistle in a theatre, for sailors used whistles to communicate on deck, and used the same language in the theatres. If you should happen to stroll onto a stage, absent-mindedly whistling a merry tune, you may inadvertently be sending a message to open a trap-door, or drop a huge canvas backdrop. Safest not to whistle!

I was very pumped up and excited behind the scenes, running through tongue twisters, breathing exercises, running, jumping, stretching, pumping myself up. This was all of the pent up energy from a week of inactivity. I roamed the empty corridors of the school, which must echo with so much noise during the days, and eventually found myself at the door to the auditorium, from where I could look at the audience, as they waited for the show to begin. It was a packed hall, and I suddenly had a realisation, and had another wave of nerves – I had no evidence that I could make it through an entire performance in a hall this large. I felt good, I felt impatient and as I looked at the crowd, I felt excited. I was certain that I could do it.

Having returned to the stage I waited for David to arrive to make his announcement, and then for the music cue, and then I walked on.

Everything was as normal, everything was in place. The narrator’s voice and Scrooge’s voice were powerful, and the laughs came in the right places. I could relax, this was all going to be fine, and so it was, until Marley arrived. It was a strange thing, but all of the big, gravelly voices (the ones which you may imagine to be hard work,) were fine, while the gentle, slightly ethereal Marley caused me all sorts of trouble – I couldn’t get to the end of a sentence on a single breath and I was worried that this early in the show this may turn into a march larger problem. In the short term I could use the situation to my advantage, for surely a ghost’s voice would be somewhat breathless? I used the helplessness of not being able complete whole phrases to suggest that this being was in a very temporary state, and it worked well. Actually the problem didn’t grow too much, I struggled a little as the show went on, and had to take a few surreptitious coughs here and there, but on the whole the performance was strong, powerful and successful. The audience were amazing, and they were standing and shouting and whooping before I’d even left the stage.

The ovation when I returned to the stage was amazing, and I soaked it all up, very pleased that I had proved to myself that I could perform the entire show, and ecstatic to be back where I belonged. David had asked if we could have a question and answer session from the stage afterwards, and because it was such a large audience, the library had taken questions in advance. I talked about the various film versions, and also about some of the techniques used in the show to differentiate between characters, which,m as my interviewer pointed out, turned into a bit of a masterclass! The truth was that, having been off the stage for so long, I didn’t really want to leave it now!

When I returned to my dressing room I was excited and elated and very happy, but I also knew that this had been a major physical effort and had taken a lot out of me. I slowly changed, and collected up all of my things, before returning to the auditorium where David and his team were packing up. Everyone said how well the show had gone, and how much they had enjoyed it, while David, with a background in theatre, quietly asked if my voice was ok, as he had been aware that I’d been struggling a little at times.

I said my goodbyes to everyone and drove the short distance back to the hotel. The restaurants in Lewes were mostly closed, so I ordered another UberEats delivery which arrived within 30 minutes, and I ate it watching Back to the Future 2. It had been a long, and emotional day and soon I was ready to sleep.

But, I was back!

The Answers to the Quiz


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Today, my 8 days of quarantine over, and showing negative results, I am on the road again, driving to Lewes Delaware to perform to an enormous audience in a huge auditorium – nothing like starting small and gently working back up to full strength, is there? My throat is still a little tender from much coughing, but I have been rehearsing in the cabin and all seems well – wish me luck!

So, as I get back to normal, it is time to put you out of your misery and post the answers to the quiz questions – well done to anyone who got a full house!

A Christmas Carol Quiz

1: How many ghosts visit Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Eve?

The secret to this question is in the exact wording. The answer is not 4, or even 3.  The correct answer is 1 – Marley’s Ghost, for all of the others come after midnight, and therefore on Christmas Day.  You could say that in the unabridged text Ebenezer looks out of his window and sees the sky filled with phantoms, but they didn’t strictly come to visit him, so my official answer stays at 1.

2: In what region of London do the Cratchit family live?

Camden Town.  This was the same region that the Dickens family lived in when Charles was a young boy. His father was imprisoned for debt, thereby showing him what poverty was really like.

3: What is the name of Scrooge’s nephew’s flirtatious friend?

Topper – ‘Well Hellloooooo. Ding Dong!’

4: What was the name of the young clerk who worked alongside a young Ebenezer at Mr Fezziwig’s?

Dick Wilkins.  Just as an aside, when young Charles worked in the blacking warehouse, pasting labels on pots of shoe blacking, he worked alongside a boy named Bob Fagin.  He took both names and used them for characters in later works.

Bah! Humbug!  All of the answers in this section have the initials BH

1: What is the name of Charles Dickens’s 9th full length novel, in which he satirises the legal industry?

Bleak House, published in 20 monthly instalments between 1852-53, and featuring the never ending court case of Jarndyce V Jarndyce

2: The name of a schoolmaster in Our Mutual Friend

Bradley Headtsone.  ‘There was a kind of settled trouble in the face. It was the face belonging to a naturally slow or inattentive intellect that had toiled hard to get what it had won, and that had to hold it now that it was gotten.’

3: Where Charles Dickens’ ship moored on his 1867 trip to the USA and from where he travelled to the Parker House Hotel (and maybe enjoyed a cup of tea….)

Boston Harbor (I of course use the American spelling)

4: A particularly poor yard in London, described in Little Dorrit

Bleeding Heart Yard.  Dickens describes the area as ‘ a place much changed in feature and in fortune, yet with some relish of ancient greatness about it. Two or three mighty stacks of chimneys, and a few large dark rooms which had escaped being walled and subdivided out of the recognition of their old proportions, gave the Yard a character. It was inhabited by poor people, who set up their rest among its faded glories, as Arabs of the desert pitch their tents among the fallen stones of the Pyramids; but there was a family sentimental feeling prevalent in the Yard, that it had a character.’

There are many theories as to how the Yard got its name, but one suggests that it commemorates the murder of Lady Elizabeth Hatton. It is said that her body was found here on 27 January 1646, “torn limb from limb, but with her heart still pumping blood.”

A question I am often asked is ‘what is your favourite film version of A Christmas Carol’, and the correct answer has to be the same version as the questioner!  Here are 6 versions, can you tell me the year they were made?  I am giving you the actor who played Scrooge in each case

1: Seymour Hicks                   (1938)

2: Mark McDermot                (1910)

A CHRISTMAS CAROL- (1910) J. Searle Dawley, Marc McDermott, Charles S. Ogle – YouTube

3: George C Scott                    (1984)

4: Albert Finney                      (1970)

5: Alastair Sim                         (1951)

6: Michael Cane                      (1992)

One I didn’t list, because I couldn’t find the actor’s name, but is definitely worth a look is ‘Scrooge’ or ‘Marley’s Ghost’, made in 1901, less than 60 years after the book was published: It only lasts 5 minutes or so, but is a remarkable example of the early years of moving pictures

Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost (1901) | BFI National Archive – YouTube

To finish off, some questions about the life of Charles Dickens

1:  What year was Dickens born (an important year in British/American relations)


2:  What were CD’s middle names?

His full name was Charles John Huffam Dickens. 

3:  What is the FULL title of his first novel?

The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, Containing a Faithful Record of the Perambulations, Perils, Travels, Adventures and Sporting Transactions of the Corresponding Members

4:  What is the name of the town in the county of Kent where Charles Dickens was involved in a serious train crash (if only there was a book available on this subject…..)

Staplehurst.  Ref. ‘Dickens and Staplehurst. A Biography of a Rail Crash’

Dickens and Staplehurst: A Biography of a Rail Crash: Dickens, Gerald: 9781788308519: Amazon.com: Books

5:  Charles Dickens was interred in Westminster Abbey in London, but where did he want to be buried?

In or near to the precincts of Rochester Cathedral, in Kent.  Rochester had featured in many of his novels, including being the main setting for his final, unfinished one ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’.  However, the Dean of Westminster and other influential gentlemen of the time felt that he should be given the honour of being laid in Poets Corner along with other literary greats.

Wednesday: In the Footsteps, or Rather the Wheel-Tracks, actually the Wake of Charles Dickens


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On Wednesday morning I continued my road back to being able to perform. On Tuesday I had finally left Manchester and driven south, so that I could be closer to my planned events over the weekend, in the hope that I would feel physically up to getting back on stage. The drive from New England to New York, specifically Long Island, is one that I should have been doing on Sunday, in readiness for the two hows I had booked there, but of course sadly that never happened. It is a route I know well from previous years, and actually follows in the wheel tracks of Charles Dickens’s first trip to the USA in 1842, As he made his way south he commented on Worcester ‘ a pretty New England town’; Hartford ‘The town is beautifully situated in a basin of green hills; the soil is rich, well-wooded, and carefully improved’; and New Haven ‘ ….known also as the City of Elms, is a fine town.  Many of its streets (as its alias sufficiently imports) are planted with rows of grand old elm-trees; and the same natural ornaments surround Yale College, an establishment of considerable eminence and reputation.’ All three of these well-remembered quotes came to me as I drove by, thinking about how quickly I was travelling, compared to the days it took him to complete the same journey by train and steamboat. I passed the time by listening to a new Audible dramatization of Oliver Twist.

My destination was Bob and Pam Byers cabin set high on a hill above the Delaware River, and the most perfect place to isolate, if only I’d been able to get there earlier in the week. The drive was a long one, and Bob and I had agreed that if I was feeling tired, I would just find a hotel and stop for the night. As I neared New York the traffic became heavy, of course, and the weather closed in with low cloud and heavy rain, so I decided to do the sensible thing and find a place to stop, and thanks to the wonder of the smart phone I was soon pulling up outside a Hampton Inn at White Plains, and carefully masked, checked in for a single night.

A Hampton Inn beside a huge highway intersection on a very wet night does not present me with much to talk about, but I spent a comfortable night, enjoyed a perfect waffle for breakfast, and prepared to finish my journey. I waited for the New York morning traffic to clear, and got on the road at 11 to complete the final 1 hour and thirty minutes of my journey.

The cabin is familiar to me, as I stayed here as recently as September, and it was wonderful to be back. I opened the sliding door to the decking and enjoyed the amazing view across the river, as well as taking lungfuls of chilled, pure air. Pam had kindly stocked up the refrigerator in preparation for my arrival, and I sat at the table with a plate of cheese, humous and an apple. As soon as I had finished, and cleared away, I began to rehearse, get back to work. I knew that I wanted to perform on Friday (the first after my recommended period of quarantine was over), but would I be able to? would my lungs have the strength and capacity to project? Would I be able to get more than one line out with coughing and spluttering? The answer seemed to be yes, I could, and I happily bounded around the large room as Ebenezer, Bob, Fred and the charity collector. It all felt fine!

The afternoon drifted on towards evening and I made myself a salmon and hard-boiled egg salad for my supper, which I ate in front of the television, watching the amazing film The Dig, about the archaeological find at Sutton Hoo in England, in 1938.

Although it was dark outside when I went to my bedroom, it wasn’t that late, so I decided to listen to one of my favourite podcasts, ‘You’re Dead to Me’ which is a lighthearted history pod, presented by a young historian, Greg Jenner. This week his subject was ‘A Dickensian Christmas’ featuring, as his expert, Dr Emily Bell, the editor of The Dickensian magazine. It was a fascinating listen, and I urge anyone reading this with an interest in Dickens and A Christmas Carol (which I am guessing is most of you), to give it a try. The link is below.

One more day of isolation, and then on Friday, everything being OK, I can get into costume again, walk across the stage as my sound effect plays, and say ‘Marley was dead, to begin with!’

Your’e Dead to Me Podcast:


An Update on Mr Dickens


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And so begins another day in isolation, although I have now changed location. As lovely as Manchester NH is, I was getting a little stir crazy in my hotel room, and the view out of the window, across the parking lot was becoming a little stale. Mind you, if I had been at the other side of the hotel I would have been looking across a ball park, with stands, floodlights, giant scoreboards etc. which would have been more fun!

So, an update on the situation: work wise I have lost performances in Nashua, Long Island and at Winterthur, and although I know it would have been completely irresponsible to perform (indeed, I took the initial test because I was concerned about the residents at the Nashua Senior Center being exposed to the virus), and physically I don’t think I would have been able to get through the shows, I still sat in my room feeling so upset for the hundreds of people who had been looking forward to attending. I have had lots of messages of support and sympathy, but I have so missed standing on stage and hearing the laughter and applause, and being a small part of people’s Christmas celebrations.

The good news is that I am no longer testing positive and the recommended period of quarantine from the time of the first symptoms will soon be passed. Speaking of symptoms, one of my regular readers posted a question asking what mine were and are? It started in Lenox, after my Thursday night performance there, and I began to feel as if I were catching a cold, which is nothing unusual during a tour, when the weather is cold (and this year, wet), and I am using a lot of my energy to perform, meaning that my body’s natural defences are low. I have often caught colds in the past, so these very mild symptoms didn’t ring alarm bells at that stage. On Friday morning I set out to drive from west to east towards New Hampshire, and in my uncompleted, and unpublished blog post from that day I wrote:

The day was clear and sunny, showing off The Berkshires in all of their winter glory, as I headed East. In fact, the journey was a bit like an encyclopedia of my touring history, for I passed a great many cities and communities where I have performed in the past: starting at Lenox, of course, then Westfield, I saw a sign for East Deerfield, and then more for Old Sturbridge Village. I passed through Worcester (in fact I could see the hotel where I had stayed just a few days before from the freeway), before skirting Boston, to Lowell (where I had not only performed, but CD visited the city to observe the mills during his first visit to America in 1842), and Salem before heading into New Hampshire, passing Nashua, to where I will be returning on Saturday, and finally to Manchester. If I had continued north, a long way north, I would have reached the Mount Washington Hotel in the heart of the White Mountains. In those early days of touring, I would drive past the Old Man of the Mountain, a huge granite outcrop in the shape of a face, with a hooked nose. The old man took on almost mythical status in the state, and it was with shock and fear that the news was received one morning in 2003 that the whole front of the face had broken away from the cliff and tumbled into the valley below, depriving New Hampshire of an iconic symbol.

During the drive I stopped at a Panera Bread restaurant and had one of their Fuji Salads, and by now I could feel my cold taking grip a little more – I thought that I could really have done without this just now’

So, in hindsight, it started there.

The next morning I felt much more debilitated, with my body and head both aching too. Early in the morning I managed to get hold of some testing kits and a thermometer and sure enough there was the second pink line.

Fortunately, I did not have a fever, though. The thermometer’s instructions caused me some angst, in that it told me to press against the very centre of my forehead (that was OK), but then to slowly move it up until it reached the hairline – well, in my case that is quite a long journey, in fact one could say a journey without end! Fortunately there was a suggestion to also move the probe to the neck, just below the ear, which is what I did.

Since the initial test I stayed pretty well in bed for two days, very tired, aching a bit in body and head and found myself sleeping a lot. I was thankful that the football World Cup was in full swing, as that provided some relief. I ordered food to be delivered to the hotel but found that I really didn’t have much of an appetite at all. On Monday afternoon I rebelliously sneaked out of the hotel and in the isolation of my car drove out to a deserted beach and walked on the sands breathing the fresh air. I even ran a little, just a few hundred yards up and down, to see how my lungs were performing, and actually it was OK.

From the beach at Hampton I drove up the coastal road for a while admiring the huge houses there, all twinkling with expensive Christmas decorations. The sight of those decorations made me feel wonderfully Christmassy for the first time in days, but also brought a wave of sadness to me: they represented the celebration of a season that I was not part of, and couldn’t be part of for a while.

Yesterday I drove from New Hampshire towards Pennsylvania, so that I can be close to the remaining venues of the tour and be ready to go if I am feeling physically able. The main issue now is a fairly constant dry cough, and lingering headache, but I am dosing up daily and am feeling better by the day. Bob Byers has been incredibly supportive, of course, putting no pressure on me to to perform, in fact quite the opposite, counselling me to look after myself and not push too hard too soon: he knows me too well!

So, that is the update – many thanks to all of you who have sent messages and comments via social media, I so value your friendship. I have had a messages about the quiz, and even had answer sheets submitted – I will post the complete answers in a couple of days, along with a few explanatory notes

A few more days rest and recuperation and hopefully I will back on stage on Friday!

Changes in Travel Over 29 Years. Part 1: Flying


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Apart from the memories of specific venues, performances or events, I have also been thinking a lot about how the travel experience has changed over the years. I have already hinted at some things in various blog posts, but here are some of my memories and observations.

I am not one of the rose-tinted spectacles brigade that remembers the days when you dressed up to fly, gentlemen in their trilby hats and women in their pears and chic suits. By the time I first made a transatlantic crossing the rabble (in which I include myself, I should say) had been allowed in and it was a case of anything goes. Although I love looking at images of that golden age of travel, both by air and sea, it seems a different experience to the ones I had. My only regret is that I never got to make a champagne toast to the speed of Mach 2 on Concorde, which was still in service when in 93, and had a further 10 years ahead of her (with a year’s hiatus due to the tragedy in Paris). I was always just a normal passenger.], who turned right when boarding a plane.

So, what has changed over the years?

Firstly, there was the suitcase – with a handle, to carry, or at least to put on an airport cart that required a coin to release it from a stack of other carts in the way you collect a supermarket trolley now. The experienced traveller would have the correct currency available, or would tip a porter at the curbside to take the luggage to check in. As the years passed I began to look on enviously at passengers who had cases with two wheels on one edge of the case so that they pull their own bags, and when I eventually got such a case, I looked on with envy at those who had cases with 4 wheels, which seemed to glide much easier across the floors. I assume that his innovation (and I hope that the man who invented wheeled cases has received all of the awards and rewards that he deserves), caused the end of carpeted terminal buildings.

On domestic flights in America there was an option to check in and leave your baggage at the curbside where you got out of your taxi, and entrusted it to a guy in a cap, hoping it would get onto the same flight – it often didn’t. But international check in was more complex. You had to make sure you had your passport, of course, and your ticket – yes, a real cardboard ticket, which you presented to the representative of whichever airline you were booked with, and woe betide if you’d left your tickets at home. Today, the flag carriers still exist, BA, American, United, Delta, but I often think back to those trans-Atlantic airlines that are no more: BOAC, British Caledonian, Braniff Airlines (the ‘flying carrot’ ) Laker Air, TWA, PanAm, Continental, NorthWest and I am sure many many more. At the desk the agent, in a stylish uniform featuring a cap or hat, would hand you your boarding pass and only then would you discover what seat you were travelling in – no opportunities for checking in online and choosing your own location. The agent would ask you about your luggage – had you packed it yourself, had the case been in your possession since you packed it, and had anybody asked you to take anything aboard? It was only checking in for this year’s tour that I realised that this isn’t a question anymore, and I am not aware of when it ceased being asked.

Today, once you are checked in and your bag has disappeared into the great black hole of airport baggage handlers, and to be fair the success rate of getting it to the same destination as you is very high, one moves on to security, where you are asked to divest yourself of items of apparel, including shoes, belts, jackets and watches, before being intimately screened by a large machine, and then probably being patted down by a blue-gloved agent, as your bags are being scrutinised thanks to the wonders of x-ray. The security checks of old were much less extreme and a lot seemed to be left to the trust that the officers had in the passengers. This, of course, was lampooned in ‘Airplane’ as various terrorists complete with ammunition, bazookas, rocket launchers and guns, happily stroll through the gate, while two agents wrestle a helpless elderly lady into handcuffs. It is extraordinary to think that prior to the horrors of 9-11 friends and well-wishers could come to the gate with you (maybe not on international flights, now I think about it,) and American airports were more like bus stations in those days, crowded with people lingering to wave goodbye or waiting to hug hello. On one tour I got off a flight to discover a group of costumed Victorian characters waiting at the gate to welcome me to their city through the medium of song!

The design of the planes has not changed a great deal of course, but what was available onboard has. Back in the 90’s one movie would be shown, on a screen at the front of the cabin, and you hoped your headphone socket worked, and that there wasn’t a particularly tall person sitting in the rows ahead of you. A further development was little screens which dropped down from the ceiling along the cabin (all very James Bond), meaning that you had more chance of seeing the film, and then – oh, goodness what a moment of excitement, you got an actual screen in the back of the seat in front of you, and you could control it from a handset that unclipped from the screen unit with an extendable leaded that snapped back into place if you let go, and from which you could even make astronomically expensive phone calls! Nowadays not only do most planes offer inflight films, with a HUGE catalogue to chose from, but many airlines have apps from which you can watch films using the plane’s wifi connection, if the particular aircraft doesn’t have built in TVs

One aspect of flying that has never changed has been the safety briefing – yes, we are still told, and shown, how to fix a seatbelt together, and how to undo it again, as if we have never been in an car before. Over the years some airlines have tried to make the briefing funnier by employing comedians to record them, with suitably ribald asides, but basically they are the same. I remember one larger than life flight attendant giving the briefing telling the passengers that ‘all smokers on this flight will be pleased to know that there are 2 smoking areas on this aircraft – one on the end of the left wing, and one at the end of the right!’ I do always look for my nearest exit (sometimes behind me), and having watched the film Sully a few times, I am less snippy than once I was about the idea of placing a life vest over my head and tightening the straps around my waist when flying at 35,000 feet

Preparing for international arrival is much easier now than it used to be, because there is nothing to do! I used to have to fill out various immigration and customs documents requiring my passport details, which I had inevitably left in the overhead locker – my preference for a window seat meant that I would have to ask my row companions if I could get out to fetch it (unless I could find a moment when they both required the lavatory, as they are still reassuringly called on planes, at the same time ). I would often also find that my fountain pen had reacted badly to the changes of air pressure, and that when I took the lid off to fill in the forms my fingers would get covered in ink, which stain would remain for a few days like a strange tattoo.

Yes, a lot has changed about air travel, and even after all of these years I still love it and find it exciting

Tomorrow I shall move onto driving, hotels and keeping in touch…..