The bed in the Sleep Inn & Suites room 327 is very comfortable and I sleep all the way through to 6 o’clock, which is like a long lie-in for me.

I spend some time answering emails and doing a little admin work before going to the lobby for a typical hotel buffet breakfast.

Before starting the inevitable rehearsing, I remember that I had only shortened one trouser leg on my new costume in Pigeon Forge. I get the ironing board out and carefully place the tape under the hem and seal it in place.  Even though I say it myself, I’m rather pleased with the end result.

While the ironing board is up I prepare my costume shirts for later and then start a complete run through of Top Hole’s first act.

Gratifyingly the lines are firmly in place. Now for act 2, which has always been more complicated.

Top Hole is made up from four separate short stories, but they are all mixed together, meaning that there is no logical progression through the narrative.  I do like to make things difficult for myself, don’t I?

By 11 I’ve done enough for today and I put the television on to watch the qualifying session from the Brazilian Grand Prix (alongside theatre, Formula one racing is my great passion).

As the racers do their stuff around the swoops of the Interlagos circuit, I am getting into my costume ready to be picked up by Jonett at midday.

I am ready and waiting in the lobby as Jonette arrives in Victorian dress. I climb into the back of her car which is filled with bits of costume, placards, props and other useful articles essential to the running of a successful Dickens festival.

In the front seat is Anne, as Queen Victoria.  The three of us must make a strange sight all squashed into a Hyundai SUV.

It is only a short journey to the centre of Cambridge and as we drive through the main street Jonette explains the idea of the festival. In 2006 a local businessman, Bob Ley was inspired to create an event in order to bring large numbers into the struggling downtown area.

His initial idea was to fill the town with Victorian characters and he started to sketch some ideas: a lamplighter, a constable apprehending an inebriated man, elegant ladies sitting on benches, beggers pleading with respectable gentlemen.

Life-size skeletons were made out of 2×4 timber, and then the figures were dressed. Heads were sculpted, moulded and painted, using glass marbles for eyes.

In fact they are not dissimilar to full sized Byers Choice figurines.

As we drive along the effect is remarkable, you would fully believe that the streets are filled with costumed characters for the figures are so life like. There are 160 different figures spread around the city.

A Few of the Figures

A Few of the figures

We drive to the main civic centre where a parade is forming up. There is a marching band, some stilt walkers, a Victorian horse-drawn hearse.  There are bagpipes and lots of people in costume.

Preparing to Parade

Preparing to parade

Our Carriage Awaits

Our carriage awaits

Walking Tall

Walking tall

At the tail end is a horse drawn carriage from which Queen Victoria and I will wave to the crowds. It is very cold with a biting wide blowing through, so I’m very glad that I’ve remembered to bring my scarf, which I keep tightly wound around my neck.

We ride and wave our way back into the middle of the city where the crowds are cheering and happy. Having alighted from the carriage I have a short walk around the main square before taking up my position for an hour long signing session.

In fact I am sat in a chair watching proceedings in the main arena, which include a display of Victorian dancing and, a particular highlight, the beard and moustache competition. The facial hair on display is remarkable – beautifully waxed moustaches, thick bushy mutton-chop whiskers, and full beards which include a ‘santa-off’ between three different visions of the jolly old elf.

Santa #2: On vacation before the big night

Santa #2: On vacation before the big night

As I am sat, people drift up and ask me to sign a programme or a book, and the whole thing is very relaxed and laid back.

After the beards and moustaches have been rewarded, Anne ‘Knights’ a member of the community who has done good deeds during the year. This year’s recipient is Eugene, a story teller who had chatted to me earlier.

It is cold now and I am getting a bit worried about my throat, so I am relieved when the entertainments are over and it is time to return to the hotel for a few hours before performing A Christmas Carol this evening.

Jonett and Anne are going on to have something to eat but I excuse myself as I want to rest and, more particularly, save my voice.

The hotel has a pantry in the lobby, so I buy a microwaveable chicken, mashed potatoes and corn dish, which I heat and eat in my room. Then I lay on the bed and doze for a little before starting to get ready for the evening’s events.

As my pick-up time approaches I shower, get into costume and pack up all of things that I will need later: a spare costume for the signing session, a towel, some talcum powder, Fisherman’s Friends throat lozenges and my camera.

I’m in the lobby as Jonett pulls up with Anne in front; and, as before, the Victorian trio take to the roads of Cambridge.

The venue for the performance is a civic centre a mile or so out of town. It is a modern complex but the auditorium is very nice.  The stage has been well lit and my props (a chair, hat-stand, stool, table and lamp), have been left in the middle for me to arrange.

The sound is operated by three students and the system seems very effective.

The audience are certainly keen and have started arriving an hour early, so I clear the stage and withdraw to my dressing room.

One of the nice things about performing in a purpose-built venue like this, rather than at a hotel or library, is that I can spend time backstage doing some proper warm-up exercises.

Firstly I take a series of deep breaths, filling the lungs, holding for ten and then slowly, exhaling. Next it is time to: ‘HMMMMMMMMM.  HAAAAAAAAAAAAA’, using the diaphragm, not the throat to push the air and create the volume.

After that the tongue-twisters start: ‘bibbitty bobbitty bought a bat; bibbitty bobbity bought a ball’, ‘Red lorry, yellow lorry, red lorry, yellow lorry’ and ‘she stood upon the balcony mimicking him hiccoughing and amicably welcoming him in’. Try it!

Warming up

Warming up

Half way through this regime I have a sudden horror that perhaps I’d left the radio mic on and the audience are getting a very strange extra performance. Thankfully the little unit is firmly off.

The final thirty minutes seem to drag but at last Jonett is on the stage, welcoming me and then I am in the lights, speaking those magnificent lines once more.

Waiting in the wings

Waiting in the wings

It is a different show on a stage like this, it is more controlled, more formal, if you like.

There is a wonderful sense of energy about being in a huge hall and knowing that you are controlling the proceedings.

It is a goodly sized audience and they are spread throughout the entire auditorium, which makes for a lovely show. Hot, sweaty, energy-sapping, but such fun.

When I have finished, two ladies from the festival committee come onto stage and make me a presentation of two pieces of Cambridge Glass, which is beautiful and which will remain as a lasting memory of my day in Cambridge.  It looks terribly delicate and I hope it survives the rigours of my travel.  The ladies assure me that they have packed it tightly and well.

I get back to the dressing room to change costumes and then get out to the lobby where there is a good line waiting for me. They break into applause as I appear which is rather nice.

For about forty minutes or so I sign, smile and chat. Lots of people ask if I will be back next year and I certainly hope so, it has been a lovely day and I’d very much like to be part of it again in the future.

When everyone has left I gather all of my belongings from the dressing room and climb into the car, behind the Queen and we go back to our respective hotels.

Jonett drops Anne off first and he have a big goodbye hug. The last time we met was in 1997, so we make promises to keep in touch.  Jonett then insists on driving me to my hotel, which is all of one hundred feet away.  There we say our goodbyes and I get back to my room, where I change into normal clothes once more.

I am still feeling a bit pumped from the show so I walk across to Ruby Tuesdays for a piece of dessert which mysteriously manages to turn into a burger and fries.

Felling tired now. Limbs heavy.  Back to the hotel, alarm set for 5 AM and to sleep.

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