Monday, November 30
This morning I am on the move, once more. I pack the case, setting aside a costume shirt as I will be driving directly to my first performance before checking in at the hotel.
I get dressed, and as I pull my woollen sweater over my head I can smell the wood smoke from Luke and Anna’s fire – it is a lovely, happy comforting smell.
In the restaurant I decide to have a large cooked breakfast today (2 eggs, sunnyside up, bacon, potatoes and toast). I won’t have time for any lunch before my show, and I will be having an early evening dinner, making a late lunch slightly difficult: best to get plenty of fuel on board now. If you think that I’m trying to justify my morning gluttony, you’d be right.
Outside there is another clear blue sky, but it is much colder today: people are hurrying by in hats and gloves, with steam-train-breath preceding them. I load the car up and get the engine running so that the heater can have some effect and set the sat nav unit for the Senior Center, Temple Street, Nashua.
I decide to give the Christmas playlist a miss this morning and instead Liz’s piano playing accompanies me as I drive away from Worcester.
As I drive through the seemingly never ending strip malls on the outskirts of the city, it seems to me that there an awful lot of dentists in Worcester. They must have very good teeth in this part of Massachusetts.
The stores and businesses begin to thin out and I am speeding on my way. At one major intersection I am tempted to bear off to the right and head for Cape Cod, but instead I follow the prescribed route which takes me towards many cities that I have visited over the years: Marlboro, Portsmouth and Lowell being prominent among them.
I drive on. There is a sign for Leominster, and wonder how it is pronounced here? Is it Lee-Oh-Minster, or Lem-Ster (as it is pronounced in England). Of course, this being New England, it could well be Lem-Stah.
The journey takes little more than an hour and I am soon turning off the freeway towards downtown Nashua. I make a few wrong turns, but am familiar enough with the city to get back on track. As I make my way through the residential suburbs, Liz plays Rhapsody in Blue to me and as I pull into the parking lot, the last strain’s of Gershwin’s masterpiece fade away – meaning that the journey from The Beechwood Hotel Worcester to The Senior Center in Nashua is exactly the length of Liz’s CD.
I am a little early, so I sit in the car for a while, before getting my costume from the back seat and going in.
I am immediately greeted by Judy, who is responsible for putting on events here, and she takes me into the room where I am to perform. Judging by the amount of seats that are laid out they are expecting a big audience. The room is uninspiring: it is large, with fluorescent tubes providing a harsh light. There is no raised stage or sound system either, but I know that everything will be fine. This is my third year of performing at the Senior Center, and the events have always been great fun.
Judy asks if there is anything more I need, and we find a nice chair, and a small table for the set. As I am arranging the furniture, Jill Gage arrives. Jill runs a florist and gift shop in town and it is she that brings me to Nashua each year. We hug our hellos and she congratulates me on the wedding, before we both get on with our respective preparations. I notice that there is a notice near the door which says: ‘Turn Off The Fans’. That doesn’t seem like good advice for an actor – I want my fans completely on my side!
Judy has arranged an office for me to change in, so I go back there for a little quiet time as the audience starts to arrive. I change into my costume and as the clock ticks towards 12.30 I return to the hall. It is certainly packed and there is a great deal of noise. Of course the majority of the audience are elderly, but they are the sort of people who like going out to events, rather than sitting alone and letting life pass them by – they are always an enthusiastic and vocal audience here.
I am performing Mr Dickens is Coming, which is light-hearted and varied. The audience enjoy it immensely and laugh a lot. When I get to the end they cheer and clap loudly, and give me a (admittedly rather slow) standing ovation.
There has been a great atmosphere in the room and it raises the question ‘what is a theatre?’ If the description of a theatre is an impressive building designed purely to showcase a performer, with complicated lighting rigs, sound systems and curtains then of course the Nashua Senior Center does not come close. If, however, a theatre is a crucible for entertainment, a gathering place for the pursuit of culture and education, then in that case the Center is today the finest theatre in the land.
I spend a little time meeting the audience and signing a few pieces, before getting changed and driving on to my hotel.
Over the years I have driven this route many times and just outside the town there is a most magnificent cemetery. I have often thought what a great setting it would be for a publicity shot: Scrooge, with top hat and cane standing in a sea of grave stones.
Today I decide to stop and walk among the graves for a little while and it is a beautiful spot. In contrast to modern cemeteries Edgewood is almost organic in its layout. The graves are not uniform and are scattered here and there on the gently sloping terrain, among the trees. There is something very calming about my walk.
The Crowne Plaza Hotel has become my home in Nashua and it is here that I will perform A Christmas Carol later this evening. As I check in there is a gentleman waiting to talk to one of the staff members. He looks morose and deeply unhappy, with a hang-dog expression pulling his features down towards the floor. When the desk clerk calls him forward he asks, in a low quiet tone: ‘does this hotel have a happy hour?’ Never was a request so heartfelt.
I get to my room on the 8th floor, where I have a couple of hours to relax. I try to catch up on a few things. Gary, in Wilton, is co-ordinating the hunt for my lost scarf and regularly reports back via email . He is struggling to get an answer from Christian, the technical manager there, but will keep pushing. Liz pops up on Facebook and we chat about this and that (including the awful weather in the UK at the moment).
At 5 o’clock I go to the large function room, where once again a huge amount of chairs promises an impressive audience. Pete is looking after the sound, and his boss, Chris is setting up lights. In the early years of performing for Fortin Gage we always struggled with sound and light, but over the past few years Chris has done a fantastic job for me. We do a sound check and try the CD out (Pete complimenting me on my choice of music), before I leave and head for the restaurant to enjoy dinner in fine company.
Every year an ex-pat Lancashire lass hosts a pre-show dinner for her friends. Mar Mar is the sort of lady who attracts a wide circle of interesting people. Over the last few years she has had increasing health problems and she is on a permanent regime of dialysis. Tubes lead from an oxygen tank to her nose, but she is as strong, spirited and ebullient as ever.
I order a simple grilled salmon and rice, which is delicious, and chat to her guests who include a man originally from Orpington in Kent (not far from where I was born), and another who owns classic Singer cars and struggles to find the spare parts from England.
All of the while Mar Mar is watching out for everyone, and making sure that they have everything that they need.
I excuse myself at 6.15 to go and change ready for the evening’s performance. When I return to the ballroom the crowd are already gathering, and it is an impressive sight. Chris has done a fantastic job in lighting the stage and the room looks fabulous.
With about ten minutes to go a message comes from the front of the room, where a member of the audience has noticed that the chair on the stage has a crooked leg. Fortunately this eagle-eyed member of the public has seen the show many times before, and knowing that I will leap onto the chair as the fiddle player tuning like fifty stomach aches, is worried that it may collapse. It pays to have loyal fans.
I talk to Jody, Jill’s husband, and he tracks down someone from the hotel, who swiftly finds a new chair and makes the switch.
The audience continues to swell, until it numbers close to three hundred.
Jody is making my introductions tonight and he welcomes the guests before announcing the show. I am immediately at home on this stage (which I think is slightly larger this year, giving me more space to move around in). The audience is very responsive and my performance gets better and better as the evening progresses. I would go so far as to say that it may be the best performance that I have given on the tour so far: I am very pleased with it.
Having bowed and enjoyed the applause I change into my ‘dry’ costume in a massive boardroom, before going to sign. The area around the table is heaving with people and I can see that I am in for a long session.
There are many familiar faces, and some give me gifts and others ask me to sign photographs taken in previous years, before posing for the 2015 version. Some comment on the blog, some rave about the show: everyone is happy.
Jill suggests we meet in the bar to celebrate, and so I go back to my room to change.
When I get downstairs I find Jill, Chris the sound man, and Cindy, who has been helping at the event tonight, sitting with cocktails. I join them and we spend a happy hour or so catching up on our respective news. Not only have I got married in the past year but Chris is engaged to, so that results in glass-clinking all round. We are well looked after by Frank the bar tender who always seems to be working when I am in town. Maybe he works every night.
In previous years I have spent two days in Nashua but this year I am only here for a single day, so when it is time for bed I say my good-byes before taking the lift back to the eighth floor. I don’t have a very early start in the morning so I can leave the packing until then.
I’m half tempted to use the huge whirlpool bath for a long relaxing soak, but in the end it is the prospect of sleep that wins through. before retiring I check my emails and am delighted to find one from Wilton: the scarf has been recovered and we will be reunited in Omaha.
With that good news, I get into bed and drift away into sleep.
Fortin Gage Florist and Gifts: http://fortingage.com/