I have set my alarm for 5 am this morning. My flight from Columbus is not until 9.47, but with a drive of over an hour, re-fuelling the car and taking it back to the rental centre, it seems sensible to be on the road good and early.  I can have breakfast at the airport.

Unfortunately the family in the room next to mine have put their baby right next to the wall so when he or she wakes, demanding to be fed at 2.15 am, the crying resonates straight through into my room.

Happily the baby and I both manage to get back to sleep.  I can’t speak for the infant, but I doze soundly until the alarm rings.

Firstly I pack properly, making sure each of my cases has a complete costume in it, so that if one goes missing I have everything I need.

Careful Packing

Careful Packing

Then I shower, dress and make sure that I have left nothing in the room, before riding down in the lifts and loading the car.

It is too early for the hotel to serve breakfast, but I do grab a coffee to take with me on the road.

As I set my Sat Nav (GPS), system I realise that it has been programmed in English English, rather than American English, for it tells me to ‘follow the highlighted ‘root’, rather than ‘rout’.

Being a Sunday morning the roads are very quiet and I pass the journey by continuing my way through the Top Hole script. Rehearsing on the road is a new phenomenon to me, but seems to be a very successful way of doing it.

As I approach Columbus airport I look out for a filling station. After my adventures at Knoxville two days ago, I have checked which side the filler cap is on and I have the zip code for Byers Choice readily to hand.

What I have not done is check how to open the filler cap but I’m sure that the location of the switch will be obvious:  Not a chance!

I look beneath the steering wheel: no switch. I look in the door frame: no switch.  I look all over the central console: no switch.

Eventually, I find the car’s handbook and start leafing through that. There is no index page so I have to try and work out which section might include ‘location of filler cap release’.  I would have thought it may be under ‘Controls’ but it isn’t.  I finally track the information down in the ‘Driving the Car’ chapter.

‘Fuel filler, cap. To release simply press the cover and it will spring open.’ If I wasn’t committed to faithfully recording everything that happens for my blog, I would have said a very rude word indeed.

With the car topped up, I drive the final mile to the airport. The sun is just rising above the horizon and it is a truly impressive sight.

In the Enterprise returns garage I am greeted by a very helpful young man, who has obviously been trained to get as much customer feedback as he can. He keeps asking me if my Enterprise experience was satisfactory; if the levels of customer service were what I had expected; if the vehicle was of a suitable standard and condition.  I grumpily mention the fuel filler issue and he says ‘Oh, yes.  We often have trouble about that. So, I’m glad you had a great experience with Enterprise.  Have a nice day.’

In the airport I drop my bags at the Delta Airlines desk and make my way through the security area.

Having stood in the full body X-ray scanner a TSA agent says something to me that I honestly don’t think anybody has ever said to me before: ‘Sir, I am going to need to rub down your left ankle.’ Ah, a world of new experiences on the road.

My left ankle proving not to be a security risk, I am sent on my way. I still have plenty of time before my flight, so I find a restaurant for breakfast.

While I eat, I finish the blog for yesterday and get it uploaded to the WordPress site. I add the photographs and press the ‘publish’ button.  My words of wisdom have now been sent out into the world once more.

My combination of flights today will take me to Norfolk, Virginia, which isn’t on a hugely different latitude to Columbus. But, thanks to the way the American airlines operate, I have to transfer through Delta’s main hub in Atlanta, which means flying far south then back north again.

On the first leg of the flight I can finally watch the end of Little Shop of Horrors, so awkwardly interrupted the other day. The credits are rolling as we make our final approach.

I have been very lucky with my flight connections on this trip, so far. Once again my next gate is just a short walk, and there is no manic rush to change concourse, which can be a major issue in Atlanta.

I spend the time trying to find out what is going on in The Brazilian Grand Prix. It sounds as if it is an exciting race.

The layover isn’t a long one and soon I am in my seat ready to fly to Norfolk. I am reading a new Jeeves and Wooster novel written by the British author, Sebastian Faulks.

He was engaged by members of the Wodehouse estate to create a novel as a tribute to, and in the style of PG Wodehouse.

He has captured the language and the construction of Wodehouse perfectly. One of my favourite lines is: ‘If Hoad could best be described as inert, Beeching P, was about as ert as they come…’  brilliant.

I feel a slight connection with Faulks, for I had to deal with the Wodehouse estate also, as I went through the process of creating Top Hole!

As we make the final approach into Norfolk’s airport, I can see what a busy Naval town it is. With many Royal Naval dockyards closing in the UK, it is amazing to see so many grey hulls in dock, being worked on.

At the airport I pick up my rental car and make the short drive to the Marriott Hotel downtown.

Once checked in, and having parked the car in an adjacent parking garage, I take a stroll down the street towards the water’s edge, where I find the Nauticus science and maritime center. It is an impressive looking building, looking like a huge battle ship rising out of the water.  It is easy to make this connection, for moored next to it there is a huge battleship rising out of the water.

The USS Wisconsin, launched in 1944 is a truly awe-inspiring sight.  My dad who loved nothing better than a ‘real’ battleship (he never liked the shape of the modern ones), would have loved standing in front of the bow, admiring the lines sweeping back to a low, broad beam.

The USS Wisconsin

The USS Wisconsin

On the other side of the museum is a modern cruise terminal, and I feel very at home. Over my years of performing on cruise ships I have come into many such buildings.

There is a ship in now and there is a steady stream of passengers and crew moving to and fro.

I linger on these descriptions because I am here, In Norfolk, to work with Nauticus on a new project: Dickens Towne. More of that later.

On my way back to the hotel I buy a sandwich and a coffee, from a nearby Starbucks, before spending a bit of time in my room watching TV and generally mooching.

This evening I am being taken to dinner by Stephen Kirkland, the Executive Director of Nauticus. I’m always rather nervous about meeting ‘Executive Directors’.  It sounds so formal, so serious and I don’t do the corporate suit world very well.

At 6.15 in the lobby a voice calls out ‘Gerald! It is great to have you here in Norfolk’. I look found and my fears dissolve instantly: a young man, with a happy, smiling, friendly face greets me, shakes me warmly by the hand and leads me to his car.

Stephen introduces me to his wife, Sarah Jane, who is equally young, happy and smiling. What’s more, as soon as she speaks, I discover that she is a fellow Brit.

It transpires that both of the Kirkland’s worked for Carnival Cruise Line: Stephen as a cruise director and Sarah Jane as a dancer.  They met on board and fell in love.  It is a story happily familiar to me, as Liz and I met and fell in love on board a cruise ship almost eight years ago now.

Before going to dinner Stephen wants to give me a brief look at what is being done to create Dickens Towne.

Cruise terminals are all basically the same. There are, of course, cosmetic differences between them, but the nuts and bolts do not change.  Firstly you need an open, welcoming impressive space for the passengers to disembark into (this will be their first experience of the city where the ship is docked).  Secondly you need a huge empty space to unload suitcases etc into.  Typically this is just an empty warehouse.

Norfolk’s Half Moon Cruise terminal is no exception. Stephen explains that the ship in dock is actually the final one of the season and the centre will remain empty until next year.  The upstairs floors can be used for entertainment and functions but there is still that huge dead space underneath.

A few years ago Stephen had a little idea that has grown into reality now: Dickens Towne. He is a passionate fan of literature and of Dickens particularly.  In the warehouse space he has engaged a local theatre company to build an impressive, full sized London street scene.

When complete the public will walk around the streets.  There will be live entertainers and craft stalls and model railway exhibitions and visits from Father Christmas.

At the moment it is still an uncompleted stage set , with bits of timber and hardboard lying among the sawdust.  But as we walk through the scene I can so clearly picture the energy and fun that will be created here. Stephen is completely passionate about the idea and his enthusiasm is infectious.

The project doesn’t actually open until the 21 November, but I am here to spend a day trying to create plenty of media coverage for the big launch.

We all get back into the car and drive to the Ghent region of Norfolk where Stephen and Sarah Jane take me to a fabulous little restaurant, The Green Onion.

What a fun evening we have! We all three get on so easily and so well.  We talk about Dickens and about life on board cruise ships.  We talk about Britain (Sarah Jane is originally from Leicestershire, where I will be performing on 23 December, and has an aunt who lives very close to us in Oxfordshire), and we talk about living in America.

Most of all we talk about the project. I have plenty of experience of other Dickens festivals and hope that some of them can be of use to Stephen.  It is important to him that this is seen as something very much for the town, and not regarded as a corporate money-making machi

The time passes quickly, as we talk, eat and drink.

Eventually it is time to leave. Stephen and Sarah Jane need to get back to their three year old daughter Sophia (who has been looked after by a new baby sitter this evening, prompting many nervous checks of the phone).

Back at the hotel we say our goodbyes: a hug from Sarah Jane, a firm handshake from Stephen and I go back to my room.

Tomorrow, I think, is going to be great fun.

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