Monday, December 7
This morning I have a live radio interview so my alarm is set for six but I wake before it rings. I make some coffee and write a little, until it is time to call the radio station. The broadcast is to help promote my forthcoming events at Byers Choice next weekend.
As is usual on the occasions, the producer will connect me to the studio, and I will hear whatever is being broadcast prior to my spot, before the presenter comes to me. Usually this will mean that I get to listen to the traffic news, or weather, but today there is a feature on nudist cruise holidays: ‘sometimes you will be in an elevator crowded with other naked men and women’; ‘most people take towels to place on the seats when they go to the shows in the theatre’, and more like that.
When it is my turn to speak all I can think of is the Byers Choice audience of six hundred sat in their all-together…
I pull myself together, and we have a nice conversation about the Byers’ events, and how they have become part such a part of many families’ Christmas tradition. As we talk, I realise that Liz will be with me when these shows are happening, and that they are less than a week away, which is a wonderful feeling.
With the interview wrapped up, I open the curtains to the most beautiful misty, sunny morning. The Hotel Hershey is built on a hill, overlooking the town itself, and this morning the mist lays low in the valley, the tops of roller-coaster rides and a ferris wheel peeking through. I would love to take my camera and walk, but I have another appointment at eight o’clock.
Pam is staying at the hotel and has a box of fifty copies of A Christmas Carol which need signing, so that they are ready to be presented to guests at a forthcoming event. We meet in the Fountain Lobby (which looks so nice without all of the tea tables in it), and chat about the show last night, as she hands me the books and I sign. It is a good production line and the fifty are soon heaped in a pile ready to be re-packed.
The Fountain Lobby is just outside the grand Circular Dining Room, where breakfast is being served. When Milton Hershey built the hotel he brought his own travelling experiences to bear. He would get annoyed when, as a single diner, he got seated in a corner of restaurants, so when he built his own he made sure that there were no corners in which to be seated.
This morning I spy David and Teresa sitting by the window and I join them. The breakfast buffet at Hershey is amazing, and I confine myself to a bowl of porridge (oatmeal) and some pastries, topped off with fresh grapefruit juice and coffee.
Teresa is very keen that I should perform in Baltimore, and as I have noticed Pam and her mother coming into the restaurant, I introduce them, with the thought that something may develop in the future.
David, Teresa and Pam are all leaving this morning, so I say my goodbyes, before going back to my room, where I spend a very lazy morning.
I finish writing the blog post, which is a long one, and my progress is hampered by the fact that the laptop gets slower and slower as I write. I finally manage to get ‘Survival’ uploaded, complete with photographs.
After watching a bit of TV and napping, midday comes around, so I go to the Trevi 5 restaurant on the second floor. I don’t think that Mr Hershey would be terribly impressed as I’m shown to a tiny table in a corner where I am sat facing a wall. As I wait for a turkey Panini to be delivered I check the BBC news website and am appalled to find that there has been a stabbing in the middle of our home town of Abingdon. A man armed with two knives walked into a store and committed murder in our sleepy little riverside community.
What a world we live in.
I return to my room and begin preparations for the afternoon tea performance.
The Fountain Lobby is busy again this afternoon, and I look down from the gallery as the audience enjoy their tea service below.
I make my way downstairs, and start to get the microphone on, when a table of guests come to see me. In previous years a young boy called Derek has been brought to the shows by his grandparents, and last year they brought me a case of beer, in recognition of ‘the plenty of beer’ consumed at Fezziwig’s Christmas party. This year not only is Derek back, but his twin brother and sister are making their debut appearances: cue THREE boxes of beer! We pose for pictures, and they return to their table, ready for the show.
As I wait for the final cakes and fancies to be served, I sip a cup of black tea and honey. The air in The Hotel Hershey is very dry and often I have found myself with a sore throat here. This year I have taken preventative measures, by sucking and deeply inhaling Fisherman’s Friends, and drinking lots of water. The tea and honey combination is lovely and soothing, setting me up well for the hour ahead.
The Monday afternoon audience is much quieter than yesterday’s, but not in a disinterested way – they are hanging on every word, and I can even risk a few pauses. I make sure that I fuss over Derek’s table: his grandfather becomes old Fezziwig, and when I call to the boy on Christmas morning, I deliver the lines directly to Derek.
I reach the end of the show, and am hot and tired (I always know when I’m tired, because I can’t say the line: ‘They were succeeded by a clanking noise, deep down below, as if someone were dragging a heavy chain across the casks in the wine merchant’s cellar below’ without taking a breath), but the response is great, and lots of people want their pictures taken with me, and their menus signed, which I am happy to do.
It is 5.15 by the time I get back to the room, so I just have time to run a bath and soak for a while, before getting ready for the evening dinner show.
There is a much smaller crowd due tonight, and I remember the same event last year, when I completely failed to engage the audience and struggled to give any sort of performance. I am determined not to let the same thing happen tonight.
When the doors of The Castilian Room are opened I am greeted by a whole succession of people who have been to my events multiple times. There is a feeling of friendship and support in the room, and people want photographs from the very start, which helps to clear my mind of negative memories.
My body feels weary and tired and I think that is purely down to the subliminal thought that I have a completely free day tomorrow. The last time I had a day off with no travelling or any other commitments was back in Pigeon Forge on November 10, and I have been looking forward to December 8 for some time.
I have to shake such thoughts off: there is a show to be done, and an audience to be entertained. The room could do with some Christmas music in it, to create a bit of atmosphere, and we need to think about that for next year.
When all of the waiters have taken orders, and served wine, I am given the nod to begin. The first chapter goes very well and there is a buzz of conversation in the room as the soup is served. I am not eating at the dinner tonight, so I stand with the sound engineer and the banquet captain, watching the guests.
A show like this is more like a series of separate performances, rather than just one. Tonight show number 1 goes well; 2 not as strong; 3, 4 and 5 building back up towards a strong climax. With relatively few tables in the room I try to make sure that everyone gets a little part of the show, and feels involved. One man seems to be permanently studying his phone beneath the table during each of my sessions (he is discreet, but the tell-tale blue glow reflects onto his downturned face and glasses), but apart from that everyone seems to be enjoying it very much.
With God Bless us, Every One, everyone claps and stands, including the sound guy, which is rather touching. Everybody (almost everybody, I think that our friend is checking his emails somewhere) comes to shake hands and to thank me. I find a permanent position in front of the huge Christmas tree and a succession of people stand next to me and we smile into cameras and phones.
Before leaving the room I make sure I thank the staff who have worked so elegantly and apparently effortlessly to serve the guests with their dinners.
I go back to my room and change quickly, before returning to the bar to have a bite to eat. I order a burger and a glass of wine, which very kindly is given to me with the compliments of the beverage department.
Having finished my late supper I go back to the room where I flop onto the bed with a huge feeling of freedom: a whole day off! What WILL I do?
Ronald H. Epp said:
Your performance at the first Hershey Hotel tea was superior to my two previous experiences. As you signed your name I told you that I was four months shy of publishing a biography of George B. Dorr, founder of Acadia National Park, and the son of friends of Boston’s celebrated hostess Annie Fields with whom Charles Dickens was entertained with “plum pudding, brought on blazing, and not to be surpassed in any house in England.” [Dickens to Georgia Hogarth, December 27, 1867. The Letters of Charles Dickens]. Fellow guests were James Russell Lowell, his daughter Mabel, and Charles and Mary Dorr. Annie notes in her diary that
“Mr. Dickens talked all the time, as he will always do, generously, when the moment comes that he sees that it is expected…We played games at the table afterward, which turned out so queerly that we had storms of laughter.” Of course, you
may be familiar with this episode but it was such a treat for the Dorr family who
lived four doors distant from Dickens publisher, and the event became–like my encounters with your performances–the “plum pudding” that binds us all together.
Steve Wrzesien said:
I also received some of your “DNA” Sunday afternoon during the Hershey performance. You so graciously wiped the fake nasal fluid on the shoulder of my shirt. 😉 Can’t wait to see you next year !