Saturday, December 5
Today is due to follow the pattern set yesterday, so I do not need to be ready to meet Lee and Susie until 9.30. I take the opportunity to visit the cavernous laundry room and set two washers running before I have my breakfast. By the time I have finished, the washes have completed and I start the drying cycle on the way back to my room.
Once there I realise that there are a few used bowls, dishes and cups around, so I put them in the dishwasher and set it to run. There is something rather comforting in the gentle churning of the machine (hmm, that’s not a very good adjective – if a dishwasher is churning there is going to be some serious clearing up to be done).
I make sure that I have all the necessary shirts and things for the day ahead, and then return to the third floor to retrieve my laundry. The cycle has yet to finish, but I unload the clothes anyway: if a few things are a little damp I can hang them to fully dry.
At 9.15 I get into the costume with the lighter, green coat (my first performance today is A Christmas Carol), and carry the reserve costume on a hanger. My hat, scarf and cane are still in Lee’s car, so the only other things that I need are my signing pen, spare braces and a towel.
I arrive in the lobby as Lee pulls up outside, and we are soon on our way back to the mall for another hour of signing, which hopefully will be a little busier today.
The early signs are not promising, as foot traffic is sparse. There are a few staff members hurrying to their stores, and a couple of power-walkers with intense expressions on their faces as they pound around; but of book-buying public there are none.
Kathy and Susie head off in opposite directions and try to drum up some business and to a certain degree they are successful as a few families come to the table and pick some books to be signed.
The time ticks on, and as we get closer to our departure time of 11 the mall begins to get busier. The final ten minutes or so see a constant stream of visitors to our modest little table. Even as we are packing up and on the very point of leaving a lady comes running through the mall: ‘DON’T GO!’ She makes her choice quickly, and I sign, before we leave.
I’m not sure that the mall signings have really worked, although those few that did buy, bought big. However I’m sure that from an exposure point of view we could have done better elsewhere. I have no doubt that Kathy and the team will review the situation next year and come up with another plan.
Lee drives us straight to the Field Club, where things are slightly more hectic than yesterday since the show is at 1 instead of 3.
I am performing A Christmas Carol today and assume that there will be no problem in playing my music sound effect into the ballroom: how wrong I am! Caitlin, the function manager explains that there is no way of playing a CD, although they can plug a phone or mp3 player into the system. That’s good, so I ask her if she can operate the system, and when she sees Kathy leave the stage to start the music. Ah, it’s not as easy as that: the phone will plug into her office, way up the corridor and not in sight of the stage. OK, if Lee stands in the corner of the room, watching the stage and waves to Caitlin at the other end of the corridor when Kathy leaves the stage, then that will work, and I will start the show from the back of the room. Ah, it’s not as easy as that, for the system can only play music OR broadcast the microphone, not both. OK: when the bells have finished tolling and I am in position, Lee can wave to Caitlin again and she can flick the switch to microphone setting. Ah, it’s not as easy as that, as the switch to change modes is on the far side of the ballroom itself and needs a PIN to access it. Caitlin suggests that as soon as she starts the music, she runs from her office, through the kitchen, into the ballroom, where she can reach the switch in time to change the mode, so that I can be heard as I say ‘Marley was dead, to begin with!’
Great – this will never work!
Oh, finally, Caitlin has nothing to play the mp3 file on, so will need to use my phone: I give her my security code to unlock it when the time comes.
The next commitment is to record a short interview and I sit with Robyn, a young journalist originally from South Africa, in a small dining room, which doubles as my green room. The interview is over quickly and Robyn leaves to take her seat for the show while I sit at the head of a long, linen-covered table, and try to collect my thoughts.
The audience are arriving and it is a big one: over 200 are expected, so I need to be fully focussed. I pace about a little, and chat with the various Historical Society staff. Three young students are helping to check coats and they are all due to perform in a local production of A Christmas Carol in a week, or so.
1 o’clock comes, and there are a few latecomers taking their seats, but Kathy gets up to welcome the audience, and our mad-capped plan begins.
Lee is in position, as is Caitlin: Kathy says the cue line ‘sit back and enjoy the show’. Lee waves just as Kathy remembers something, and gets up again: ‘Oh, I should have mentioned…..’ Lee frantically waves at Caitlin, finger drawn across throat: cut the music which hasn’t started yet. Kathy completes the second part of the announcement, Lee Waves again and…….
Silence. Nothing. I can vaguely hear the music somewhere, but certainly not being broadcast into the room. I have no option but to begin, and my slow walk through the audience is very dull without the atmospheric strains of the cello, followed by the heavy bells.
Out of the corner of my eye I see that Caitlin has made it to the switch, and hopefully has punched in the right PIN and changed the audio mode. I deliver the first lines and am relieved to hear that the microphone is on. It has been a scruffy and annoying start to the show, but that is all in the past now – I must get on with it.
A great many of the audience are regular attendees, and know how the whole thing works, so are fun to perform with. The stage at The Field Club is wide, but not very deep, but I can use the floor level as well to give myself more room to move. There is a suitably young girl in the front row to become the focus of Topper’s attentions and poor Kathy is the recipient of Old Joe’s snotty hand.
I have noticed on this year’s tour that the shows are becoming less of an adventure. In years gone by I have had difficulties with my voice, or costumes failing, or props breaking, and have had to work hard to pull things round. So far the 2015 performances have been mainly trouble-free and as a result, I think, better.
The response here is wonderful and the audience give me a very long and loud standing ovation. It has become tradition that I answer a few questions after the show, and there is a flurry of hands when Kathy throws it open to the floor: favourite novel, favourite movie, how do I remember the lines, have I ever written anything; are all answered. Then Susie pipes up from the third row: ‘When did you first start to act?’ Susie likes hearing the Cockerel story!
I finally leave the stage to another round of applause and take my seat to sign as the crowd leaves. Lee returns my phone from Caitlin, apparently the volume was turned right down, hence the lack of audible music.
The signing session is a long one, as many people have bought multiple books (the Society’s stock is rapidly diminishing now).
Because of the early show today, I actually have a nice bit of time to relax in before the evening event. Lee drops me off at the hotel at 3.30 and arranges to return in two hours.
I use the time in my room to start packing my case, as I have a ridiculously early start tomorrow morning. With as much packed as I can, I relax and play some backgammon on my Kindle before dozing on the sofa.
At 5 o’clock I have a nice warm shower, followed by an icy cold blast to energize my tired body, and get into my costume for the last event of my Omaha adventure this year. Back at The Crook House everyone seems to be in an end of term mood, there is a melancholic feeling that it is all drawing to a close, but also a celebratory feel that everything has gone so well. I even allow myself a glass of Kir Royale.
As the guests are enjoying Mario’s delicious buffet I sit quietly on a red velvet sofa and read the opening pages of Michael Slater’s new book about the relationship between Charles Dickens and Ellen Ternan. It is, of course, beautifully written and I must buy a copy. As I read I am vaguely aware of a bell ringing – the smoke in the kitchen has triggered an alarm. Suddenly the staff members are running all over the place to open doors, waft the smoke away from the sensors and kill the alarm. Apparently the Fire Department will react automatically and if they arrive we will all be evacuated from the house, while it is ‘made safe’. Fortunately Kathy manages to make a phone call and the fire truck, which is already visible from the window, is stood down. Our evening can continue without further interruption.
Tonight I am performing the family piece that I premiered yesterday, and the very intimate setting of a Victorian parlour means that it is even more touching and real (when I suggested that I performed the programme it was this room that I had in mind). As dad describes hiding under the billiard table in Mulberry Walk, Chelsea watching his mysterious aunts gather, it is as if it happened in this very room. Tonight I don’t feel Dad watching in the same way as yesterday: I hear him! It is his voice delivering the speech and his mannerisms as he turns a page with a flourish. My chin juts out like his did. I am so happy to have brought this story to the stage.
The routine is well set now and at the end of the performance the doors to the adjoining dining room are opened to reveal the flutes of champagne on the table waiting for the toast. Susie makes a wonderfully long and well prepared toast using the theme of our week in numbers: 7 days in Gerald Dickens Week, 7 performances; 2 Dickens’ (CD and me, although I’d like to have included HFD and Dad too!), 2 High School shows and 2 book signings. As the toast goes on the numerical connections become more and more tenuous, and the laughter louder and louder: Susie is a wonderful performer and receives her own round of applause as we raise our glasses for the final time.
Interestingly quite a few people in the audience were first-timers tonight, and they all promise to return with friends next year.
I am beginning to feel the effects of the day now, but I want a picture with Team Omaha before I leave. I manage to gather Kathy, Susie, Lee and Chef Mario together for a photo call in the parlour.
We all say our sad goodbyes, and I leave the Crook House for the last time this year.
Back at my hotel I say my final farewells to Lee and Susie, who gives me a gift for Liz – a scarf that she has knitted herself. It is a lovely gesture, and we share a long hug in the chill of an Omaha night.
Having watched the Grey Toyota drive away I go to my room and hang my costumes in the wardrobe, before settling down in front of the TV with my plate of Mario’s finest. I find a channel showing ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and watch to the end: ‘Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings!’
I set the alarm for 3.45am (yes, really), and get into bed. Sleep comes quickly, and I need to make the most of it for tomorrow promises to be the most difficult day on this year’s tour.