Today sees another of my 5am starts, of which there seem to be quite a few this year. Blearily I get everything packed and make the journey to the lobby and check-out.
In the parking garage I have a momentary panic that I can’t actually remember which car I have now or where I parked it. Thank heavens for the remote key fob as I see my car winking at me.
The journey to Norfolk airport is an easy and quick one, for there is little traffic on the road at this time of the morning. It is still dark as I pull into the Alamo car rental returns lane and wait while the agent checks all of the details before wishing me a cheery good day.
Norfolk is another of those lovely smaller airports and in no time my bags have been taken from me and I am through security. I discover that my gate is right next to a restaurant, so I set myself up to write the daily blog and to tuck in to a plate of eggs, bacon and toast.
Once I have finished writing for the day, I sip a second cup of coffee before going to gate A4 and wait for the boarding process to begin. Among my fellow passengers are a group of five, who do not appear to know each other terribly well but who are talking nervously, and slightly too loudly. An interesting dynamic and I try to work out who they are and why they are there. I love airports for the people-watching opportunities.
We get boarded swiftly and easily (it only being a small plane) and once in my seat I plug my earphones in and start to watch Baz Luhrmann’s amazing take on The Great Gatsby: one of my favourite novels.
When the safety briefing starts I dutifully switch the film off and direct my attention, as requested, to the front of the cabin.
The flight attendant has the most remarkable way of speaking, always placing the emphasis in a surprising place. Sadly I can’t do justice to it on the page but it is a remarkable thing to listen to.
In the seat next to me is one of the nervous group and I notice that she is busy filling in a questionnaire: ‘What 5 items are in the seatback pocket?; What announcement did the Flight Attendant make after the doors were closed?; did you board the flight via a jetbridge?.’ The questionnaire is headed: ‘Initial training for Wisconsin Air Flight Attendants’. So, there is my answer. Maybe they will all learn to speak with surprising emphasis.
Having taxied away from the gate we then sit on the tarmac for an age. The Captain informs us that there is heavy congestion in Philadelphia and that we will be here for a while.
I have a fairly tight layover in Philly but I can’t do anything about it now and the chances are that if our flight is delayed getting in, then so will the onward one be. I relax and immerse myself in the story of Nick Carraway, Daisy Buchannon and Jay Gatsby.
As we wait I think back to my fumbling morning and suddenly have a fear that I didn’t pack my wash bag in my case. I remember putting all of the things in it, but whether I actually then packed the bag itself? I can’t remember doing it. A stop at a Wal-Mart may be in order later.
Having finally taken off we fly along the coastline and it is remarkable to see the long strip of sand and what appear, from this height, to be stationary breakers on the shore. I think we are over Atlantic City although I can’t be sure. I have plenty of opportunity to try and spot familiar landmarks, as we are put into a holding pattern over the coast, to await a slot at the airport.
After fifteen minutes or so we start to descend. Once on the ground we taxi to terminal F, which is stuck out right on the edge of the airfield. Unfortunately my connecting flight is out of B, one of the main terminals. This means getting on a bus and trundling across acres of tarmac as the minutes tick by.
Once into B, I quickly check the monitor and discover, frustratingly, that my flight is ‘On Time’. B10 is about as far as possible from the bus drop off point, and when I reach the gate there are no people sat waiting to board. I dash up and discover that there are people lined up on the jetbridge, so I am OK. I knew I would be. Bags? We will see.
Philadelphia airport is very busy this morning and once we have left the gate the Captain informs us that we are 20th in line to take off. This means a long wait on the taxiways but there is no urgency now, I have nothing to do until 7 this evening.
I am flying to Boston and this is one of the most familiar airports to me. Many of my tours have started here and I know the ropes very well.
In baggage claim I am very relieved to see that my cases have made it and I quickly open the main one: the wash bag IS there.
The car rental plaza at Boston’s Logan airport is a little way from the main terminals, and you have to board a bus to get there. All of the different companies have desks and, of course, the Thrifty desk is the farthest away, right at the end. Having completed the paperwork I walk to the garage and select a Toyota, set the Sat Nav system to take me to Nashua and get on the road.
This drive out of Boston can be a nightmare of traffic but today everything is flowing freely. Through the many tunnels that take the road system beneath the city and off towards old favourite venues such as Salem, Lowell and Peabody.
Once clear of the City streets I get back to some rehearsing again, but not Top Hole today. I need to run through Doctor Marigold, which I will be performing tomorrow. I know it well, having performed it often at home, but it is still good to go over it a few times.
Despite a quick McDs lunch stop, I am soon arriving at The Crowne Plaza Hotel in Nashua, where I have been many times before and which is reassuringly familiar to me.
I get checked in and as soon as I’m in my room, I flop. The early mornings are catching up with me and it is very nice to have a brief nap.
As I am lying on the bed the phone rings and the friendly voice of Jill Gage welcomes me back. Jill and her husband Jody run a florist and gift shop in town and they are my event sponsors. They have become good friends over the years and it is always fun to perform for them.
Jill runs through the itinerary for the evening’s events and we arrange to meet just before 5.
I open my bag, get my frock coat out to hang it up and discover it is soaking. Closer inspection reveals that the cap on the bottle of mouthwash in my wash bag was not securely on and the entire contents have leaked out. I now have the freshest smelling costume in America. Maybe it would have been better if I had left my wash bag in the Norfolk bathroom.
I unpack and try to find out what else has been affected and actually it is remarkable little. But I do discover that I have managed to leave a pair of trousers back in Norfolk. Bleary-eyed packing is never a good thing.
Further investigation reveals that I also appear to have lost my fountain pen along the way. UGHHHHH!! Last year I was so careful and didn’t lose anything, but this year after only a week I’m having to trace my movements and try to work out where I left things.
I call the Marriott in Norfolk and get put through to the Housekeeping voicemail, where I tell them about the pen and the…I have to use the American word. It is a difficult thing for an Englishman to admit on a phone that he has left his khaki pants in the hotel room. It means something quite different in Britain.
At 5 I go down to the main ballroom where Jill is bustling about, making preparations for the evening. We hug and catch up briefly with events in our respective lives before going to dinner.
In Nashua there is a wonderful lady, originally from Britain, who gathers all her friends together at various times throughout the year, to join he in fine British celebrations. Her name is MaMa Rogers.
For the last few years she has organised a group of her friends, all very respectable, professional and busy people, to come to my show. She also arranges a pre-show dinner in a private dining room, to which I am invited.
Every year I am sat with different guests and it is always a fascinating experience. Today I am with a lady who fences for the USA senior team. She loves to travel in Scotland, drink single malt and play golf so we have plenty in common.
Also at my table is a highly well presented business man: the perfect model of American corporate manhood. I am rather intimidated at first but he turns out to be excellent company. We talk about Doctor Who (a recurring theme on this trip it seems), and a children’s adventure book he is writing.
We are soon joined by another couple, with their grandson Tyler, who loves A Christmas Carol and is clutching a copy of the book for me to sign.
The conversation is fine and we eat a delicious soup, before moving onto turkey and stuffing. MaMa likes to respect the traditions.
Sadly I have to leave the gathering early to go and test the microphone system in the ballroom. The stage here is wide and spacious, giving me plenty of room to move around. Jody has built a fireplace, complete with flickering logs, and the furniture is elegant and functional. It is a good place to work.
For the last few years Jill has used an excellent AV man and he is already set up and waiting for me. I stride about the stage trying to give as many volumes, voices and attitudes as I can so that he can set a good level. Everything sounds great and I go back to my room to get into costume.
The idea of having two suitcases, with a complete costume in each, has certainly paid off here. It means I can do the show without reeking of Listerine.
As I’m in my room an email comes through from Liz telling me how well her concert in Oxford went. I know she had been worried about it, so it is great news to take with me into my own show. I’m ever so proud of her and would love to give her a big hug right now.
I am in Nashua much earlier than usual, this year but the audience is still an impressive size, with many very familiar friends who have made the show a Christmas tradition. I stand at the door and chat as they all come in. There is certainly a family feel about the events here.
At 7.pm I am introduced by Kathy, the arts editor of the local newspaper and get up to do the show.
The audience is a little quiet but are certainly enjoying it. I learned many years ago not to panic about a quiet audience and not to go ‘chasing’ them by trying to over-perform. I let the story do the work and by the end they are standing and applauding loudly. It’s always a nice room to perform in.
In the lobby outside I sit at a large table to sign and chat. All the old friends stop by and shake hands and have a word. Many of them have read the blog so comment on certain aspects of my tour so far and are worried about the cough and if it is still affecting me.
Gradually everyone fades away and I can go back to my room to change, before meeting Jill and Jody in the hotel bar where we chat and catch up some more.
In the old days I would have stayed up late into the evening, but the half-century is taking its toll on my party going these days and I return to my room ready for an early night.
Although I am not moving on tomorrow (a rare luxury at the moment), I do have an early morning radio interview, so bed time is 10.15.