THE MORNING AFTER THE NIGHT BEFORE
The rigours of the murder last night have certainly taken their toll. It took a long time to get to sleep and I pinged awake at 3.30 this morning. Maybe I should resort to Charles’s favourite restorative: ‘A dozen oysters and a quart of champagne….’ I settle for a cup of weak coffee and some ginger biscuits that were part of a hamper from Susie and Lee, to welcome me to my room.
I potter and blog and line learn and backgammon and doze until 7 o’clock, before heading down to breakfast. Today there is a big college football game in town, Nebraska State vs Michigan and there are lots of guests staying ready for the match, all sporting their particular team’s colours.
After breakfast it is back to the room and start trying to tidy up and restore some sense of order to my widespread belongings. 2 shirts ironed for the day ahead, props for A Christmas Carol organised, new ink cartridge in my fountain pen, shower, get into costume. Ready.
This morning I am making an appearance at a Christmas gift store in a mall on the outskirts of the City and my chauffeur today is not Lee (he is going to the match), but Frank, the husband of the Historical Society’s director, Kathy.
The store is lovely and smells of Christmas, which is a scent that America manages to capture so well. Spruce, spice and orange. It is gorgeous. I take a little while to look around the shop and hanging on the wall is a frame containing what I assume are London Bus destination boards. Here I am in a shopping mall in the mid west looking at familiar London district names.
As we arrive there are already people waiting, books in hand, Byers Choice Carollers in boxes. Kathy has a table of merchandise from the shows, including a DVD of Mr Dickens is Coming (filmed at the Byers Choice Dickens bicentennial celebrations last year), and my CD recording of A Christmas Carol. Susie is there too and Cassandra made an appearance on television this morning to promote the signing. Once again the entire society has pulled together to ensure a successful event.
One lady has driven 2 hours to be there and in between telling me what she would like inscribed in her books, she orders her husband about, who has the job of recording the meeting on camera. ‘OK, this is to my son Brandon, honey take it from there, and he is 5,. Now the next one is for my niece Brittany, Honey make sure you can see his face, she LOVES acting. Just put Merry Christmas on this one, honey don’t get the light behind us. Let me see the pictures, oh let’s just take one more. OK, smile, honey, take it now…..’ Quite an operation!
The whole session is very nice. There are plenty of people coming into the shop but it is never frenetic or hectic so I have plenty of time to chat with everyone. Frank fetches me a coffee which is very welcome and the morning moves on.
A family (grandmother, granddaughter and others), come to the desk and begin to tell me their family history. Way back, in the 1860s their relative lived in Switzerland and then moved to England where she was engaged as tutor, nurse or governess to Charles Dickens’s children! They produce a page taken from an album holding small photographs with that silvery tint of age to them, carefully labelled in faded ink: ‘Dickens Children’. Another picture shows an elderly lady in a chair marked ‘Dickens Mother’. This is most fascinating and a real bonus in a small shop in the middle of America. The granddaughter promises to scan the pictures and email them to me, so I send them to the family experts and see if they are genuine.
The trade is steady and Kathy is running out of books, so a phone call is made. Lee arrives with more. He is fully dresses in Nebraska State colours, jacket and baseball cap on his head. He looks for all the world like the team’s coach.
Our session is coming to an end, and still people are arriving and more than once Frank has to go back to the car and retrieve boxes that have been packed away ready to be taken to the Field Club. One last flourish of signing and we are off.
The tiredness from last night and this morning wash over me again and I sit very quietly in the car as we make our way to the club for the first show of the day. The team are there and we all have lunch (a nice grilled chicken salad for me) and then everyone drifts away to do their thing.
I’m in costume anyway but I check the microphone system as I’m using our headset plugged into the club’s unit. All seems fine and I just watch as the audience fills the room. Today I am performing A Christmas Carol. It is not a tea event like yesterday but the room is laid out in a theatre style. It is a goodly sized audience and the excitement of being a one man performer starts to cut in, the adrenaline starts to flow and the tiredness is forgotten for now.
It is a well tried routine now, Kathy makes the introduction, plugs the Society, thanks the sponsors and we are GO!
As I mentioned yesterday, the stage is quite narrow so there is not a huge amount of space to perform in, but it is also low so I can hop on and off, using the floor sometimes. There is a rug on the set which starts to ruck up and slip a bit, so I have to be careful of my movements around that, just one more thing to think about. Actually I’m helped in this respect when a lady in the front row chooses her moment, leans forward when I’m elsewhere on the stage and straightens the rug for me.
The show finishes to great applause and we take questions again, before I sit at my desk, sign, smile and shake hands. The family of the Dickens tutor/nurse/governess are here and we have pictures taken together.
The show is earlier than it yesterday’s, so I have a longer break back at the hotel, a chance to lay down for a bit and have a reviving shower. At 5.40 Frank is back and we are off to the Crook House for the evening’s show which will bring to an end another successful trip to Omaha.
A CHILD’S JOURNEY WITH DICKENS
The guests are arriving, carol singers are performing beautifully on the porch and a string quartet from a local high school are playing on the stage. The night is clear, the moon is full. It is a stunning scene.
Tonight I am performing ‘A Child’s Journey with Dickens’: the charming account of a meeting between the 10 year old Kate Douglas Wiggin (whom would later go on to write Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm), and her idol Charles Dickens. The show is a polar opposite to the violence and intensity of last night and the small room ensures that it is a very gentle and intimate performance. My ‘New England’ accent isn’t the best it’s ever been but it holds up pretty well and everyone seems to enjoy the show.
Signing, pictures, hand shaking. And as the guests leave the inevitable boxes of books are produced to be signed for future sale. As this is the Douglas County Historical Society there is a bustle everywhere and it is fun to be part of this team, albeit briefly. I certainly hope that I will be back next year to perform more from my repertoire.
It is time to leave, hugs for Kathy, Susie, Cassandra, new recruit Brooke and all of the others. Handshakes all round, including Lee who has changed from his Nebraska State gear into a sports jacket and tie. Unfortunately they lost: the only cloud in a busy, tiring but ultimately lovely day.