At last I wake up at a sensible time. Well, let me qualify that: I still wake at around 4 o’clock but get back to sleep before surfacing for real at around 6. I remember that someone once told me that it takes roughly a day for each hour of time difference before the body adjusts fully. On current evidence that is just about right and I will be fully on track by Monday.
The morning routine falls into place: I make coffee and bring my little wooden table to the bedside, write the blog and watch the unfolding drama from Gleneagles.
At 8 I have breakfast and there are some other delegates from the conference there, a group of three from Chatham, Canada. We sit together and chat about various other people in the Dickens Fellowship. I’d love to travel more in Canada and here at the conference there is not only the group from Chatham but also one from Montreal. Maybe in the future I can do a mini Canadian tour.
Back in my room and it is rehearsal time. I run through The Complete Works and STILL Bleak House and Drood are being troublesome. It is not a case of freezing and not being able to remember anything: I’m not going to be standing there not knowing what to do. No, the problem is nailing the correct phrase. As I approach the line I know at the back of my mind that I’m going to struggle and when I get there – hey presto!
To take an analogy from golf: it is like playing a shot over a lake and saying to yourself: ‘I mustn’t go in the water’, which puts only one word in your head – water. Splash. Yes, my issue with the Bleak House passage is a mental one now and I have to break the deadlock (that’s a little Bleak House joke…)
I am being picked up this morning by Debby, the journalist who interviewed me on the telephone on Thursday. Debby has seen me perform in Salem before and is a fan! I get into costume and wait outside the hotel for her to pull up. Wow, it is hot. It is like an August day in England. I don’t know what the temperature is but it certainly feels as if it is in the high 70s.
Our destination today is the Peabody Institute Library in the town of Danvers, where I performed A Child’s Journey With Dickens last during last year’s tour. As we drive I notice that Saturday 27 September seems to be National Yard Sale Day. Almost every block we pass has at least one house with its front lawn full of toys, fitness equipment, furniture, rails of clothing etc.
We arrive at the library which is housed in a magnificent mansion. Debby unloads a suitcase filled with books from the car and I unload my little case containing my props and we make our way into the children’s section on the ground floor. The room has been set up with about 100 seats and the librarian confirms that they have had lots of interest in the show. I move furniture around, hide the toy white cat that features in ‘The Tale of the Bagman’s Uncle’ section of the show, cover a little table with a red cloth to represent Dickens’s reading table. When everything is in place there is still an hour to go, so it is a question of waiting.
I poke around the library for a bit, and check out the biography section to see if there are any children’s biographies of Dickens. Leanardo Di Caprio is as near as it gets.
I find another book which strikes a chord with me, as it represents a link to my very first acting role. The book is for pre schoolers and teachers them about farmyard animals. One page has a picture of a rooster with the caption ‘I am a Rooster’. Most of you will know my rooster/nativity story and for those that don’t I am going to leave you trying to imagine what on earth it is all about.
As there is still time I take myself off to a quiet corner of the room and do a short rehearsal of Doctor Marigold which is this evening’s show. It may seem odd to be rehearsing one show just before performing another but to be honest Mr Dickens is Coming is so engrained in my head that I really don’t need to worry about the lines.
The audience begins to arrive and it seems as if they are going to be very good crowd. At 1 o’clock the show begins and it is such fun. The audience respond superbly to the performance, laughing and clapping and joining in all the way through.
When the show is finished Debby and the librarians haul a table onto my set and lay out lots of books and CDs for a brief signing session.
Once the audience has drifted away I say my goodbyes and we go back to the car, drive past the yard sales, now with depleted stocks, and back to the Salem Inn.
It is almost 3 O’clock now and I haven’t eaten yet so I get changed and walk into town to buy a sandwich. On the way I stop by the bank to get some cash from an ATM but the machine will not recognise my card and refuses to give me anything. I therefore have to use a credit card to buy a sandwich, a bottle of water, some crisps (transl: chips) and a tube of toothpaste.
Back at the hotel I call the Santander Bank’s help line and spend about thirty minutes convincing them that I really am Gerald Dickens and that I really am in Salem, Mass.
Looking at my schedule I see that I have a sound-check for this evening’s performance on stage at the Hawthorne Hotel at 5 o’clock. Back into costume and walk through the middle of Salem where there are lots of other people in a variety of costumes along the way. A Ghoul statue calls out ‘Good day to you Mr Cratchit!’; a wizard in robes similar to those of Albus Dumbledore says ‘Ah, that is how a gent should dress!’; a grave digger shouts out ‘You are looking good sir!’ It is quite a procession.
The Hawthorne Hotel is a magnificent, solid historic hotel standing proudly on a major intersection. I am shown to the room where the banquet is to be held and find it is quite a small room, with no stage. I certainly will not need any amplification so a 5 o clock sound-check is a bit irrelevant really.
John Jordan (professor from Santa Cruz) joins me. He is giving a lecture tonight before my performance and together we try to set up the laptop and projector to show the slides accompanying his talk.
He has had to borrow the equipment so the whole process takes quite a while and there is a panicky moment when he can’t find the lecture’s power point file on his memory stick. Eventually we track it down and all is sorted out.
Many of the delegates are staying at The Hawthorne so they drift into the room in dribs and drabs. The bar is doing a good trade but I remain abstemious. I chat to some old friends and much of the talk is about a lecture given this morning about Dickens and his passion for conjuring. The lecture was given by an English expert in magic and I spend quite a long time talking with him.
We all sit down and salads are served and cleared. I am aware that things are running a little late and the early mornings are beginning to catch up with me in the warm room. Main courses go down and I eat a little but with a show fast approaching do not have a massive appetite.
Main courses cleared, and coffee served. Desserts. I excuse myself, and change into my Doctor Marigold costume. When I return John is setting up to give his lecture. And the group are re-charging their glasses. At 8.30 John is introduced and he begins a fascinating, scholarly, beautifully prepared lecture about the relationship of the illustrations in David Copperfield to the text.
I am feeling so tired and the room is warm and I’m very glad that I hadn’t accepted one of the many offers of a glass of wine earlier for that would have finished me completely.
John winds up, and there follows a brief question and answer session before the stage is cleared and I am on.
As soon as I start with ‘I am a cheapjack….’ The energy floods back through me and the whole performance goes very well. The line learning and extra rehearsals have paid off and as I deliver the final lines I can hear sobs from the audience, which is always gratifying.
It is now 10.30 and the company dissolves gradually as people retire to their rooms for the night. I change out of Marigold back into Victorian gent, have a glass of wine in the Hawthorne’s bar before walking back to The Salem Inn and collapsing into bed, exhausted.