Not surprisingly after the day I had yesterday, I sleep through to a decent enough time. Last night I arranged with John to meet him for breakfast at around 8.30, so I still have a couple of hours to kill.
I sit up in bed, coffee to hand, and write the blog. There isn’t a wifi signal in the room, so I can’t post it immediately, but I’m sure there will be somewhere in the centre where I can get online later.
I also take the opportunity to do some work on The Signalman. It is slow going (which is frustrating for such a short piece). At the back of my mind is the thought that I can always do it as a reading, but I try to keep that thought well and truly at bay.
At 8.30 on the dot there is a rat-tat-tat-tat on my door, and John is there waiting for me. We walk through the centre, take a couple of lifts and end up in a different wing of the building. John explains that this is on the assisted living side of the centre, as opposed to the independent living rooms, where I am staying. He goes onto say that they serve a better breakfast here!
Our first port of call is to knock on the door of Chandler Tyrrell, or Chan, who is joining us for breakfast. Chan is blind, but definitely one the centre’s great characters. We go to the dining room and order eggs, bacon and toast. I even spoil myself with a bowl of porridge.
There is a constant banter between Chan and John, while the servers fuss over all of us with great affection, and attention to detail. This is my first experience of The Landings in operation and it is very impressive. Even at this hour of the morning there is an energy, a vitality about the place.
Chan is 89. He used to own the largest single florist store this side of the Rockies, with a staff of 42. On Valentine’s Day his business would make almost a thousand deliveries around Lincoln.
After he retired he became blind, and a few years later his wife died. It is very apparent that he still lives life to the full. He starts to tell us about his girlfriend who is moving away. ‘Which one?’ asks John. ‘I lose count!’
As we all chat, a frail lady using a walking frame comes into the dining room and asks if she can join us. Of course she can and Dorothy sits down. She is quiet and doesn’t join in so much but we discover that she has only been at The Landings for two weeks and is still finding her feet.
John goes into promoter mode, and asks if she is coming to the show.
‘I don’t think I know about it. I don’t suppose I will’, she replies. It seems as if all of the information went out to the residents here before she had arrived.
‘Well, come along at 7.00, you will enjoy yourself.’
‘Oh, I’m too new here, I don’t know where to go, I don’t think I will.’
‘Someone will show you the way, just ask any of the staff.’
‘Oh, I don’t know who to ask. Maybe when I’ve been here a little longer I will start coming to things. I think it’s too soon for me’
I feel very sad, but realise how difficult it must be to join a large, fully functioning community like this. I have no doubt though that Chan and the rest will very soon make her feel right at home.
‘Well,’ says Dorothy, ‘I have enjoyed listening to you gentlemen talking, I must go now.’ She gets out of her chair in leaves us to finish our breakfast.
Once she has left the room Chan says: ‘you know, she is one hundred’.
After breakfast John gives me a quick tour of the whole centre and along the way I am introduced to many of the staff and residents.
‘Let me show you the swimming pool, here we will go through the men’s locker room’
There is a gentleman in the showers and we have a conversation, as he stands dripping before me, about the origin of the phrase: ‘the little Dickens’. It is a strange moment!
Our tour ends up in the room where I will be performing later. The stage is already set up and there is plenty of space to move.
The centre manager John, who we had briefly met at breakfast, hands me a microphone and we do a quick sound check. Everything sounds good and after much hand shaking it is time to return to my room.
As a reminder of the dry cold weather outside I get a static electric shock, each time I touch one of the metal door handles.
The first thing on my agenda for the day is to try and sort out the rental car issue. John had picked up a business card for the local branch manager of Hertz and calls to his wife, Mary-Ann to bring it along to my room.
John and Mary-Ann had seen me last year in Omaha, so we have a chat about how keen they had been, as soon as they’d seen the show, to bring me here. It was always going to happen: I am learning quickly that once John gets his teeth into something, he doesn’t let go.
When I am alone I call Hertz and explain the situation. After a while on hold the girl comes back on the line and says that they have a car, complete with a GPS system, being returned at 12 and I could pick it up from the airport then.
Unfortunately, that is just about when the day starts to get busy, so I ask if they can deliver it here after three. After a short discussion with her manager, she says that yes that would be possible. What good service, I can’t see that sort of thing happening in the UK.
Having sorted out my transport worries I go to the main reception area and ask about wifi. There is a small library in which there is a signal, and I am soon online posting the blog, as well as catching up with emails from home.
It is now time to get back to The Signalman. I work for a good hour or so and by the end of the session I am feel that first half is in a comfortable place, the second is sketchy. More work to be done.
At 12.15 there is a knock at the door again and it is time to go to lunch with John and Mary-Ann. They had taken a memorable trip to London a few years ago to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary and their experience there makes me feel very proud to be British. It seems as if people could not do enough for them
Mary-Ann has suffered from Polio for almost her entire life, and now gets around in a rather racy, red mobility scooter.
On one day in England John had booked a van for a day to take them touring, but when it turned up it wasn’t suitable for Mary-Ann’s wheelchair and she couldn’t get in. So they simply asked the hotel’s concierge to flag down the next black cab that passed.
‘Where to, Guv’n’r?’
John explained that he wanted to book the cab for the entire day, and to go to Windsor. How much would that cost? The fee mentioned by the cab driver was almost exactly what John had been quoted for the van, so a deal was immediately struck.
The driver couldn’t have been better, showing them all of the sights and keeping up a steady commentary. They had the time of their lives, topped by the fact that at Windsor Castle they go to see the Queen as she left to attend Ascot races.
On returning to their cab, Mary-Ann was bubbling with excitement and told the driver of their good luck.
‘Lor! Ive been coming here thirty six years and I’ve NEVER seen the Queen!’
They have many other stories of the care and attention which they received whilst in England, and it is good to hear of such a positive experience.
It is almost one, and I need to quickly change into costume for an hour’s signing session.
There is a goodly line forming and I am quickly inscribing books. Everyone is so excited about this evening’s show. The wonderful thing about this signing is that every person at the desk wants to tell me about their story: ‘I was a teacher’; ‘I lived in England’; ‘I travelled in Europe’.
One lady, the resident thespian here, greets me in a splendid Eliza Doolittle cockney accent; another tells me how her father made paint brushes in England, and that, as a girl she would travel around hardware shops, posing as a potential customer: If the store in question didn’t stock Harris’s paintbrushes, her job was to look crestfallen, telling the shopkeeper that she’d heard Harris’s were the best and that’s the only brand she wanted.
Even now, well into her eighties, her parting shot is: ‘Don’t forget, if you need a paintbrush, make sure you get a Harris!’ Her father would be very proud!
Here is the important point about The Landings (and all of the other similar communities): it is not a group of elderly people living out their twilight years, it is a place full of stories and energy and vitality. It is a thoroughly uplifting place.
As the signing hour finishes, it is now time for the next leg of John’s programme: A ‘Meet Mr Dickens, Q&A’. John and I are sat on stage and he conducts an interview with me about my life, my tours and the show.
In between my long rambling anecdotes, we take questions from the floor, one of which is: ‘Which moment in the show means most to you?’ It is an interesting question, and I ponder for a while before answering that it changes each time. The show is never the same twice and my reaction to it is different every time I perform it.
It is an enjoyable hour and is over all too soon.
Back in my room I change into civvies once more and concentrate on the second half of The Signalman, until the phone rings. The girl from Hertz is here with my replacement car, which is a huge relief.
The afternoon heads into evening. John and I have an early dinner (just a chicken salad for me), and then I get ready for the show.
The room is packed! It seems as if there is no space left and yet still residents pour in from all directions.
As the 7 o’clock start time gets nearer, I see something that fills me with so much happiness that I almost want to burst into tears: Dorothy, the one hundred year old new girl from breakfast, is making her way along the corridor to come to the show after all.
After brief introductions from John (the manager), and John (John), I start the show. The reaction is wonderful and the attention to the words is remarkable. I can see people leaning forward on the edge of their seats, to catch every nuance. There is laugher and there are tears.
At the end there is such a generous ovation, complete with ‘Whoops!’ and ‘Bravos!’ It is actually a very similar ovation to that which I received from the students at the Martin Luther King High School in Riverside.
When the noise dies down, John (manager) gets up to thank me and to make me a very special presentation. I will let you read the proclamation in full:
THE GREAT NAVY
STATE OF NEBRASKA
To All Who Shall See These Presents
Know ye, that reposing special trust and confidence in the Patriotism, valor, fidelity and abilities of
And knowing you to be a good person and a loyal friend and counsellor I have nominated and do appoint you an Admiral in the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska. You are therefore called to diligently discharge the duties of Admiral by doing and performing all manner of things thereto belonging. And I do strictly charge and require all officers, seamen, tadpoles and goldfish under your command to be obedient to your orders as Admiral – and you are to observe and follow, from time to time, such directions as you shall receive, according to the rules and discipline of the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska. This commission to continue in force during the period of your good behaviour, and the pleasure of the Chief Admiral of the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska.
Given under my hand in the City of Lincoln, State of Nebraska this 19th day of November, 2014 in the year or our Lord.
David Heineman, Govenor.
There are two things to comment on here: firstly Nebraska is as far from either ocean as it is possible to be in the USA, so this is a great piece of Nebraskan humour. Secondly (and this gives me a ridiculous amount of pride), my grandfather was also named Gerald and he was an Admiral in the Royal Navy. To hold the same name and rank is very moving.
After a short Q&A (including the inevitable: ‘So, what was your ‘special moment’ during this performance?), we all start to vacate the room. Everyone is so generous about the show and there is lots of hand shaking and hugging.
During the course of today I feel as if the Landings has very much embraced me and made me part of the community.
John has laid on a special wine and cheese reception and a few of us spend an hour or so chatting.
It is about 10.00 when everyone starts to drift away. The adrenaline is beginning to lose its effect and I am ready for my bed.
I return to my room, hang my costume up to air, and slip between the sheets of my bed. What a happy day it has been.