Once again the rigours of the evening before (and I’m not really referring to the performance), take their toll and it is another slow, pottery start to the day. We go through the same routine of coffee, tea and toast.
This morning Una is the first to appear from the rest of the house. We all sit round the table and have a most remarkable conversation. Una and JD are about to head off on what can only be described as the trip of a lifetime.
Una is a primary school teacher and JD, of course, works in the hotel industry. They both went straight into their respective professions as soon as they graduated and therefore missed out on the gap year enjoyed by so many students.
Thanks partly to a piece of legislation in Ireland which allows teachers to take a break from work, yet guarantees them a job when they return, JD and Una have decided to travel the world. They will be flying to Russia and from there will spend a year and maybe more exploring the eastern hemisphere.
They will be taking a train across Russia, hiking through Mongolia, exploring Tibet and hoping to trek through the foothills of the Himalayas to Everest Base Camp. Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Singapore, Hong Kong all feature in their itinerary. However, they will not be calling in favours from JD’s contacts in the luxury hotel industry as their homes will be packed up in their rucksacks each night.
Quite apart from the sheer physical scale of the adventure, there is also the logistical side of the trip to be worked on. Visas for everywhere have to be applied for: some online, some at embassies. Some countries will let you in and back out, but only if you haven’t travelled from a hostile neighbouring territory. In some cases the political situation may well have changed between the planning and the arrival so everything is up in the air.
It sounds an amazing trip and Una’s excitement of the months to come is infectious. Hopefully they will write a blog of their adventures, I can’t wait to follow them.
As we chat JD’s brother Niall appears. Niall is the only one of Nicky’s three sons not working in the hotel industry, preferring the more regular hours of a career in marketing. He drove down from Dublin last night and arrived during my show. Nicky soon joins us too.
In past years Saturday has been a day of recovery but not so this year as for the first time I am doing a second show at Kyteler’s: The Signalman.
When we discussed my trip earlier in the year Nicky suggested that we staged a daytime, more intimate show to again coincide with the Arts Week crowds. If we don’t ever become part of the official festival remember that this is where the Kilkenny Fringe started.
Niall heads into town first, and Nicky goes later. Liz and I arrange to meet her at Kyteler’s for an early lunch before the two o’clock show. Fortunately for us JD and Una are about so there is no pressure for Liz and me to set the house alarm.
In Kyteler’s we are shown to a small table and order Irish Stew – well, you have to, don’t you? As we sit and watch we are reminded (not that we have ever been in any doubt), what an amazing establishment Kyteler’s Inn is. It is Saturday lunchtime and it is busy. There are locals, there are tourists, there are Arts Week visitors and throughout all three floors are waitresses taking orders, serving dishes, clearing tables. Guests are taking photographs of the decor, getting in the way of the staff as they do but there is never any issue and the whole building has a sense of relaxed efficiency.
A table near us has been reserved and when the party arrive the reserved sign is put on an adjoining table. A second reserved table is occupied and the sign for that one is also put aside next to the first.
Now a group of American’s arrive and they head towards what looks like a large empty table but they are disappointed when they see the two reserved tabs. A waitress bustles past and realising that the group are looking for a table says: ‘You can sit there if you like’. ‘But it says reserved’ ‘Ah, don’t worry about that, that’s grand!’ She whisks away the two reserved signs and the group are beaming as if the Maitre D’ of a Michelin Starred restaurant has just freed up the most sort after table especially for them. It is a tiny thing but that group will have loved their visit to Kyteler’s Inn and, by association, to Kilkenny.
Our Irish Stew and soda bread arrives and it is delicious.
And now the time is approaching to get back to work.
The Signalman is a ghost story written by Charles Dickens in 1866. It is set in a deep, dark, damp railway cutting, at the mouth of a long tunnel and is packed with atmosphere. The story is told by an unnamed gentleman who befriends the signalman and spends long hours talking to him in his lonely box. The poor railway worker tells a tale of ghostly sightings and terrible happenings.
For this show I am performing it as a reading but will be introducing it as a fully fledged part of my repertoire soon. To allow the brilliant narrative to be the centre of attention I have cleared the stage of all my paraphernalia with the exception of a small rustic stool.
We are not expecting a huge crowd today but there are plenty of people returning after last night (presumably with the requisite ‘S’ marked on the back of their tickets) and a group of ladies who just happened to hear about the event have turned up on spec.
Just as we are about to start one of the groups order teas and Nicky’s family goes into action giving a further illustration of the professional attitude that pervades at Kyteler’s: Nicky goes to the main bar to sort out the order, asking Niall to fetch milk and sugar for the table. Niall, remember doesn’t work in the hotel industry (although he has been brought up in it and knows how it works). He is dressed in jeans and a casual shirt and calls JD, who is dressed in jacket and tie, over. Both know that it would be bad form to serve guests inappropriately dressed, so Niall passes the tray to JD. Nicky comes back with the tea, JD serves the milk and sugar, and another set of guests are spoiled without realising it.
And it is time to start. Being a reading the whole atmosphere is much more relaxed than the theatrical events of last night and it’s a rather nice feeling, almost getting back to my roots.
I begin the show by telling the story of Charles Dickens’ narrow escape in a terrible train disaster just a year before he wrote The Signalman. From that date he felt haunted and terrorised by the horrors of the railway and the story seems to be an exorcism of those fears.
The show goes well and I am very pleased with the way its debut has been received. The next time I perform it will be in my home town of Abingdon as a double bill with Doctor Marigold (Friday September 19 at the Unicorn Theatre, if you must know. Tickets available directly from me).
Again the audience hang around in the bar and chat about both shows. Many of them are going to get in touch with the festival organisers and push for our inclusion next year.
After doing a brief television interview up in the roof of the bar, I am able to get changed and Nicky, Liz and I take all of my furniture and props down to the car.
Before we leave Kyteler’s Nicky is anxious to show us her new pride and joy. Throughout the first part of this year she has had an entire new kitchen area built which has entailed complicated planning applications, negotiations with neighbours, architectural meetings about how to fit a modern, purpose-built, mass-catering kitchen into a limited space enclosed by a 14th Century witch’s house.
The results are spectacular and it is so lovely to hear Nicky bubbling with enthusiasm as she shows us round. She is, justifiably, very proud of what she is achieving here.
A Walk by The Nore
We all get back to the house at about the same time. Niall is going to go to the gym and Nicky had suggested that a walk would be fun. It sounds like a great idea, especially as all of my shows in Ireland are now finished and I can free my mind of them.
Liz and I are a bit intimidated as JD, Una and Nicky all appear in very sporty looking gear, whilst we are in wellies and sweaters. The walk takes us initially along the road and then across some fields to the banks of the River Nore. It is quickly apparent that JD and Una are in serious training for the trek to the foothills of Everest – they are gone! Striding out ahead at a great pace.
The walk along the Nore from Kilkenny to Bennet’s Bridge is beautiful. The river itself is dark and peaty, occasionally the strong currents created frothy white crests and then it looks like a freshly pulled pint of Kilkenny Ale. It is a river of many characters, sometimes it flows slowly and peacefully and at other times there are sections of rapids that would not be out of place in the Grand Canyon.
The path follows the river’s meandering course, through meadows, fields and deep dark woodlands. It is here, in the woods, that the most amazing structures arise before us. Covered in creeping ivy and sinuous branches is a lost industrial community. Huge mill buildings, factories, wharfs, stand long forgotten. Here was a noisy bustling river bank, these skeletons of buildings were filled with labourers shouting, swearing, sweating. Barges took loads up the river. Fortunes were made and presumably lost meaning that industry moved on leaving this ghost town in the heart of the forest. All very Brothers Grimm.
As we walk on we admire magnificent houses on each bank. Una tells us to look out for a shrine visible briefly through the trees and when we see it, it is frankly terrifying. Framed in a V in the woodland, a large white figure of Christ hangs against a black background, seemingly suspended in mid air.
We approach the end of our walk and the river path passes under a huge flyover carrying the M9 motorway towards Waterford. Here, as business men roar past over our heads, as lorry drivers belch diesel into the atmosphere, as holiday makers and taxi drivers motor on blissfully unaware, wrapped up only in their respective worlds; here we are given to a rare wildlife treat.
Our first excitement is a heron perched on a rock in the river. He is a noble bird taking off with slow, languid beats of his wings into the setting sun which refelcts brightly against the river. And then Una squeals with excitement: in the middle of the river is an otter. Coming to the surface, searching, fishing, inquisitive before diving again. For a few minutes we stand searching for him, never quite knowing in which part of the river his head will reappear. It is a beautiful end to the walk.
Back at Nicky’s car we all pile in and JD phones ahead to a Chinese restaurant in Kilkenny. As we drive across each railway crossing Nicky takes her hands and feet from the controls of the car, at the same time shouting out ‘Win the Lotto, win the Lotto, win the Lotto!’ Apparently this is a good-luck ritual introduced to her by our sister-in-law Ann. I might have thought keeping control of a high -powered vehicle in a rural lane might bring better results of self preservation. However, if Nicky wins the jackpot this weekend I am willing to be convinced.
Back at the house JD and Una go to fetch the Chinese and the rest of us settle down to watch another episode of ‘The Shelbourne’ television programme. Niall is excited about this episode as he is responsible for one of the advertisements shown at half time. The ad in question is for a foot fungal treatment. He says it is a perfect bit of advertising, as all of the staff at the hotel (including his brother, JD) are on their feet all day and always on the move so may well suffer from foot fungus. We’re certainly looking forward to our Chinese now!
We all tuck in to the various dishes and it is delicious. As usual we chat and laugh. Nicky’s home is so welcoming and she is a generous host. We talk about our walk, the television show, the performances. We talk about board games that we used to play as kids. We share silly old jokes such as: ‘why is there only one Monopoly’s Commission? Why is there only one word for thesaurus? Why is dyslexia so difficult to spell?’ and others.
We play a card game and then decide to have an early night.
It’s after midnight and tomorrow I have a major golf match to play.