I used to know an actor who, whenever you asked him if he was busy, always answered the same way: ‘You know this business: feast or famine, dear boy, feast or famine!’
In which case, to keep the analogy going, I have enjoyed a veritable banquet over the last week or so.
For the past four years I have been travelling to Kilkenny in Ireland to perform during the City’s Arts Week. Not FOR Arts Week, but DURING Arts Week. More of that later.
The connection with a town in the middle of Ireland may not be obvious until I declare a family interest. My sister Nicky owns and runs Kyteler’s Inn right in the heart of the City. The wonderful stone house was once the home of Dame Alice Kyteler, a notorious witch who worked her way through four husbands. Eventually the relatives of each of the deceased spouses began to suspect something was up and accused Alice of witchcraft. Alice fled, possibly to England, and left her poor maid to be tortured, flogged and eventually burned at the stake.
Kyteler’s is now is a bustling, lively, musical pub in the middle of a bustling, lively, musical city. In a guidebook to Kilkenny I once read that it boasts ‘over 52 licensed premises’. Over 52? Why not ‘over 50’, or ‘54’ or whatever the official number may be. I have a theory that the inspector passed out after 52, so just used the last legible notes in his book for the official guide.
Four years ago Nicky suggested that I came over to perform in Kyteler’s and the evening was hugely successful and I have been back each summer and one winter since.
This year we decided that it would be fun to add to the usual Friday evening show and perform a more intimate programme during Saturday afternoon, thereby lengthening my stay which is always a good thing
Liz was able to come with me, so the whole adventure, which would also encompass 2 days in Wales, became a mini holiday break for us both. Over the next few days I will tell you the story, starting with:
Thursday: The Journey
The car is loaded as if we are going away for months rather than days but during the next week I will be performing Great Expectations, The Signalman, Mr Dickens is Coming and Doctor Marigold so props and costumes for all of those are in. I will be playing golf with my nephew so golf clubs have to be in, and we have packed clothes, shoes, coats, umbrellas and so forth.
At last, at 8am, we set off for Holyhead on the Isle of Anglesey. The journey takes us north to Liverpool and then west along the north coast of Wales. The drive is fairly easy and the weather is good so we arrive at the port of Holyhead in good time and join the queue of cars waiting to board the ferry.
Before leaving this morning we had made some sandwiches and now seems the perfect time to unwrap them and tuck in. How middle aged.
Lunch finished and we are of the opinion that we are now ready to board. Unfortunately the representatives of Stena Line do not share the same thoughts and meander around the dock in their Hi-Vis jackets.
We continue to sit in a line of cars. Watch the line of cars on our left board the ship. Watch the line of cars on our right board the ship. Watch a line of lorries board the ship. Watch some coaches board the ship. Eventually and somewhat reluctantly our line is waved on board.
We make our way up from the car decks to the public decks and try to find somewhere comfortable to sit, as does everyone else. We find some chairs but they seem to have springs instead of legs and wobble all over the place: great fun but not for 3 hours maybe.
We decide on a table near to a coffee bar and settle in for the long haul, getting out kindles and magazines. All around us are noisy families with loud electronic toys and high decibel voices…we must be getting old, I think.
The ferry eases away from Wales and points itself towards Ireland.
As the journey chugs on we fill the time gradually. We delay the excitement of a walk around the shop for as long as possible and enjoy it all the more for that. We are able to savour the leprechaun bottle openers and the Guinness tea towels. We can linger at the perfume counter and admire the high tech, budget headphones and colourful zany iphone covers. All of this retail excitement takes up maybe ten minutes of the trip.
Sigh. Back to the table.
Aha! There is an arcade, we can play car racing game against one another, except one side of the game isn’t working, so we have to take it in turns, which isn’t so exciting. Another five minutes passed.
Let’s go outside and have a bracing walk around the deck. The good news is that this takes up much more of our time. The bad news is that’s because there is one tiny, miniscule, petite square of deck accessible to the passengers and it is not shown on any notice anywhere, so we are walking from door to door, bulkhead to bulkhead until, almost accidentally we find the way out.
Actually the time in the open is lovely and we can see Ireland looming large which is exciting.
We return to our base camp with a greater sense of anticipation now. An announcement comes over the ships tannoy. It is the cheery voice of a children’s entertainer: ‘Hey everyone! Why not come to the main restaurant to see our great Kids Show! We’re putting on Oliver Twist!’ Would you believe it?
We decide not to avail ourselves of the opportunity but a little later, as we are walking back towards the staircase which will take us to the car deck, the children in the restaurant are singing ‘The Wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round. The wheels on the bus go round and round all day long’. Hmmmm, must re read Oliver Twist, I obviously don’t know it as well as I should.
Another announcement on the tannoy asks all car passengers NOT to block the staircases by trying to get to the car decks until the ship has berthed. This is the cue for everyone to rush for the staircases. Eventually the doors are opened and we all get into our cars.
We watch the line of cars on our left leave the ship. We watch the line of cars on our right leave the ship. We watch a line of lorries leave the ship. We watch some coaches leave the ship. Eventually and somewhat reluctantly our line is waved away.
The cars, lorries and coaches wind in a long snake through the Dublin docks and at each mini roundabout or junction we lose a few more. Unfortunately our SatNav (called Sean in honour of his Irish accent) chooses the moment we arrive at a major intersection to have a crisis and wavers between the city centre or the toll tunnel. We take matters into our own hands and chose the wrong route.
The toll tunnel would have been the good choice, beneath the city and out to join the main motorway circling Dublin. It would have been dull but fast. As it is we have interesting, lovely, and very slow.
Our route takes us past the hugely impressive Landsdowne Road Stadium where Ireland play their home Rugby matches, and then follows the line of the Grand Canal. We never knew Dublin had such a thing but it is a wonderful part of the city. The tow path is well used by walkers, runners and cyclists and stunning Georgian architecture abounds, with the elegant doors and fan lights which are such a feature of Dublin.
There is a positively Mediterranean feel as pubs and coffee bars (OK, just pubs), spill out onto the pavement and in the low light of a Friday evening the chairs are filled with people enjoying the craic.
The traffic crawls on.
OK, that’s enough loveliness. We want to get a move on now.
The traffic crawls on.
Georgian elegance turns into Victorian functionality which turns into post-war drab, which turns into 70s industrial. Still there is no let up in the traffic.
The crawl continues until we finally meet the intersection with the M50 ring road, where ‘major improvement’ is going on. All I can say is that there is a bit of work to do yet.
Finally released from the shackles of Dublin the journey is a real pleasure once more. The scenery is soft and gentle, the sun is low and there is drama in the dark rain clouds in the distance. The roads are empty now and we make great progress to Naas where, like the ship we travelled on, we make a slow turn to port and set off on a new heading taking us towards the medieval city of Kilkenny.
On this stretch of road Sean has another breakdown. It’s obviously been a few years since he was home and the impressive dual carriageway doesn’t feature in his memory bank. The screen tells us that we are rather unfortunately bounding across fields and, as far as Sean is concerned, have left tarmac far behind us.
Fortunately Sean’s lack of local knowledge is more than compensated for by my memories of previous journeys and even without his help we are soon turning into Nicky’s driveway and pulling up outside the door. There to welcome us is Nicky all hugs and smiles, her eldest son John David (JD) and his girlfriend Una.
We are bustled into the house while JD takes our bags from the car and puts them in our room: Wow, this is 5-star service, most impressive.
The kitchen table is already laid and a bottle of chilled sparkling rosé is popped and poured. Ahhhhhh, lovely. Home from home.
But before we can eat supper it seems that there is an important programme to watch on television so we all settle down on the huge L-shaped sofa to watch RTE’s ‘The Shelbourne’.
You may think that this is a strange way to welcome guests but there is a good reason. JD has been working as the Guest Relations Manager at The Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin, which is an elegant 5-star establishment. RTE, the Irish national broadcasting service, has made a fly-on-the-wall documentary about life at the hotel. JD features strongly in every episode and we are all immensely proud of him. He not only comes across as a consummate professional in the hotel industry but also as a natural on the small screen.
In this week’s episode he is helping a guest who is staging the most lavish marriage proposal you can imagine. The man has booked a suite which is to be filled with white roses. There has to be a vase visible from every angle in the room. The bed is strewn with white rose petals. Nothing is too much trouble for the staff and JD is there liaising with the guest, making sure the final touches are just so, until the moment when the lady arrives…….
Thankfully she said ‘Yes’.
As soon as the show is over JD and Una’s phones are alive with tweets and retweets about the show, including one from the proposer thanking JD again for a spectacular job well done.
Dinner tonight is a gorgeous spaghetti bolognaise and we all sit at the table chatting, laughing, eating and drinking until suddenly it is after midnight. This always happens in Ireland. The phrase ‘let’s just have a quiet, early night’ doesn’t seem to exist.
Liz and I say our goodnights, another hug with Nicky and up we go to bed where after a long day, we quickly fall asleep.