The tour is certainly getting towards its closing stages now, with just today and tomorrow left: four more ‘Marley was dead, to begin withs’ and eight more ‘God bless us every ones’.
We both wake at around 6.30 and I sit at the desk writing, while Liz reads in bed. When the blog post is finished and posted we make our way across a courtyard into the main building at The Williamsburg Lodge. The sky is bright blue and temperature is already climbing – it must be in the high 60s if not in the 70s already.
It is so busy in the restaurant that we have to put our name on a list, so that we can be called when there is space for us. The lady at the podium doesn’t quite here our name correctly, and we temporarily become Dixon, party of two.
After a short wait Mr and Mrs Dixon are called and we are shown to a table, where we are handed a menu but decide to avail ourselves of the buffet. One of the great highlights of touring is the breakfast buffet at the Williamsburg Inn, and sadly the Lodge’s efforts do not come close. As with everything here it is perfectly good and would rate well in any other hotel, but we know what is just over the parking lot. We decide that tomorrow we shall sneak to the Inn and treat ourselves to the luxurious fare that will be on offer.
Following breakfast we need to pick up a rental car from the local Hertz dealership. We should have collected a car from Richmond yesterday, but of course all of our plans became mangled with the flight cancellations and delays.
We take a short cab ride, which takes us past the campus of William and Mary College, which is truly impressive, and to a small retail park on the edge of the town. The Hertz office is tiny and the first car they offer us does not have a sat nav unit fitted, which will make things very difficult. However a larger car has recently been returned, and if we don’t mind waiting it can be cleaned for us.
As we sit and wait Liz picks up a copy of The Original Virginia Magazine, and we flick through the advertisements. One in particular catches the eye: ‘Serendipity: The Largest Flag Shop On The East Coast!’ Suddenly I have an urge to visit this vast emporium, and the advertisement promises even more when it says: ‘Flagpoles and Accessories!’ Liz points out, there can’t be that many accessories available, other than rope and a little cleat to wind it round.
As much as we want to experience the largest flag shop on the east coast (which, by the way, suggests that there must be a larger one either in the mid west or on the west coast), we decide instead to return to the historic region of Colonial Williamsburg.
When we reach the hotel there is a message waiting on our phone which is from Hertz, saying that the previous renter of our Ford Fusion thinks that he left his spectacles in the car and could we look for them. We are more than happy to do so, because actually we are in the same situation. Liz lost her glasses somewhere (either in Winterthur or Chalfont) and we are anxiously waiting to see if anybody has found them, so it is the least we can do to help this unknown gentleman in his quest.
The first search of the car proves unsuccessful, but a call to Hertz prompts us to look in the secret sunglasses compartment built into the roof, and there they are. We leave the glasses at the front desk for collection, and hope that we may have the same good fortune.
Our walk along the Duke of Gloucester Street is wonderful. The mix between the historic buildings inhabited by costumed characters, and the modern camera-toting tourists is confusing, but somehow it works. Horse-drawn coaches with liveried footmen make their way slowly along the street, and demure ladies in bonnets nod and bob their greetings to the baseball cap-wearing passengers within.
We visit one of the stores on the street, and buy a few small items to take home with us, and as we are paying we notice a pair of circular spectacles on the counter. I have often wanted Scrooge to have glasses, and we ponder for a while as to whether we should make the purchase. The arms are hinged and loose, but they can be tightened up easily enough. The glass is a reading prescription, making everything blurry to me, but I can peer over the top of them in a very Scroogy way. The man behind the counter, in full costume, asks what they are for and we explain about the show. ‘Are you Gerald Dickens? I saw you perform in St Paul, Minnesota many years ago!’
In the end we decide to buy them and I will see how they work during today’s performances.
We walk on until we reach our favourite place – the Colonial Garden, which sells horticultural wares, both living and manmade. The main part of the plot is planted with vegetables, whilst the store area is beneath a canvas cover carefully tied to tree branches, which in turn are lashed together in such a way as to create a sturdy frame.
There are elaborate Christmas wreathes and table centres artistically made with fir and dried fruits, and there are the raw materials so that one can attempt to make them oneself. There are iron gardening tools and there are terracotta pots. It is a great store and so photogenic. Over the years I must have taken more photographs per square metre here than anywhere else in the country.
The morning is moving on, and we need to buy some lunch before I go to the Inn to prepare for my first show. There is a good delicatessen next to the Fat Canary restaurant, and we buy a simple salad for me and a sandwich for Liz to take back to the hotel.
My first commitment at the Inn is for a sound check and a meeting with the banqueting staff to make sure that the tea performance runs smoothly. The Regency Room is once again set up to capacity, but today I know that every seat will be filled. Many of the staff are old friends and we chat as they set the tables.
Michele DeRosa arrives (I’m never quite sure what her position in the hotel is, but she looks after my events each year) and we discuss the logistics of the day. The tea guests will be seated at 2.15 and served, I will then begin A Christmas Carol, but will pause the performance after the Ghost of Christmas Past has done her thing, so that the teapots can be refreshed. I ask Michele if there is a room where I can change, and she shows me to an overflow dining room: It is the most lavish dressing room I have ever had, filled with antique furniture and 17th Century Chinese porcelain.
With all of the plans laid and agreed upon, I go back to the Lodge. Liz isn’t coming to the afternoon show, but is going to make the most of the beautiful day and surroundings. I get my costumes together, and we leave the room together. I must say that the idea of being a tourist this afternoon is rather appealing!
At the Inn the audience are gathering and the corridor to the Regency Room is already packed as I enter my dressing room. I get myself ready and put on my hat and scarf, not forgetting the new glasses, then go to the dining room which is alive with laughter and chatter.
Ryan Fletcher takes to the stage and welcomes the crowd, asking how many have seen the show before. The response is astounding – it must be at least 80% of the room, and a round of applause breaks out. Goodness, with an approval rating like that I should be running in the forthcoming primaries, which are so energising the nation currently.
Ryan is as mellifluous and articulate as ever and as he completes his remarks the music starts and I make my way slowly through the tables (slowly and somewhat myopically, as I can’t really focus on anything very effectively).
The audience is a good one (as you would expect from such a loyal group), and we have a lot of fun. The glasses are a slight hindrance, and I need to think how best to use them. My plan had been for Scrooge to wear them throughout the first scene and then discard them when he first falls asleep: thereby meaning that he never wears them in the supernatural world, only in the real one. However, that means that Fred and Bob (as well as the charity collector and carol singer, who don’t appear in the shortened tea show) will have them too: a new project for me to work on, which is always, fun.
At the end of the performance I change and then sit in the lobby to sign. The line is long, and many people have multiple books to be inscribed with complicate dedications (which is always the case as we get closer to Christmas).
But lurking back in line is one of the most wonderful treats in the shape of the Secaur family who lavish gifts on me. Firstly there is a collection of linens, embroided by mother Mary (the mother of the family is called Mary – she is not a Mother Superior from a local convent). Each piece has a wreath of green thread and spiralling within it is the quote: ‘I shall honour Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. I shall live in the past, the present and the future, the spirits of all three shall strive within me’.
The family, and most especially daughter Meredith, have been following my adventures through the blog and so my next gifts are based on the tour: a pair of clothes-peg figures, which Meredith has made to represent Charles Dickens and me (one has more hair than the other…). ‘My’ figure also has a detachable scarf that can be left in as many venues as the real thing. So funny! There is also a book on The Gettysburg Address and other writings by Abraham Lincoln, following my visit to the battlefield there.
Thank you so much to Mary, Robert, Elizabeth and most especially Meredith – your thoughtfulness and attention to detail is very moving indeed.
The signing line lasts a long time, and eventually members of the evening audience start arriving and joining in, so I eventually have to absent myself and get a small amount of down time, before all of the craziness starts again.
I return to the room, where Liz is getting a little concerned by my prolonged absence. She has spent the afternoon at The Williamsburg Art Museum, which sounds wonderful and is definitely a place that I would like to visit in future years.
I have just time for a bath and shower to re-energise, before it is time to return to the Inn and get ready for the dinner show. I leave slightly before Liz, so that I can change into costume again. As I walk into the lobby there is a group of carol singers gathered around the Christmas tree and I am delighted to see that it is Ryan’s group. For all of the years of my visits to Williamsburg Ryan and I have shared the camaraderie of fellow performers, but I have never heard him sing, or seen him on stage. The quintet fills the lobby with the most beautiful sounds, and it is a perfect welcome for the many guests who are pouring into the hotel.
I go and change and when I return Liz is there, so we stand together and listen to the very end of ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ before congratulating the group and posing for photographs with them.
The evening’s performance will follow a three course dinner. I used to perform between courses, but the format is one that I find very tiring and difficult, not to mention being hard on the kitchen and waiting staff, so about three years ago I suggested that we reverted to a more traditional dinner theatre format. Many guests miss the old way, I know, but I’m too old to leap up and down over and over again these days.
Liz and I are sat with Ryan and his wife Jeane, as well as a few other guests. Conversation through dinner is fun, although both Liz and I are aware that I must spare my voice, so as to be ready for the vocal work-out that is to follow. I am careful as to what I eat, and leave most of the delicious crab soup, as it has a high cream content: cream/throat/performance – not a good mix.
When the desserts have been placed, and glasses refilled it is time to sing for my supper. As with this afternoon many of the audience are regular attendees, which makes everything much easier.
I am tired, I can feel that I am tired, but the show goes well. Some of the voices are not quite as crisp as they were a few weeks ago, and some of the moves are not quite so energetic (although I try to leap high as Mr Fezziwig, because Ryan told me that he always likes that part). When I get to the end I feel as if I could not go on another five minutes, for today the tank is at empty.
There is still signing to be done, and the line is immense! Liz, Ryan and Jeane go to the bar and I say that I will join them as soon as I can, but the enthusiastic audience are keen to talk. A few ask ‘why don’t you do it the old way, between courses – that was my favourite’, or ‘why don’t the waiters parade the flaming pudding, I loved that part’ or ‘Why do you not say the family grace before the first course – I miss that’, but on the whole people have enjoyed the evening exactly as it is and congratulate me.
Eventually I am able to make my way to the bar, where Liz, Jeane and Ryan are enjoying a glass of wine, and have one waiting for me. Also in the bar is my old friend Christine, who used to work at the Inn, and her husband Erich who are sharing a table with Leroy, the Maitre D’ of The Regency Room, who has run my events with military precision for as long as I can remember. Today it is his birthday and he has actually attended the dinner with his wife.
We all chat and gossip, until, as always seems to be the way in Williamsburg, we are the last ones left in the bar, patiently watched over by Mark the bar tender.
We realise that it is time to leave and another fifteen minutes passes as we all hug our various goodbyes.
Liz and I pack up my costumes and props and make our way back to the Lodge (oh, how much easier it would have been if we had a room at the Inn). Between us we muster enough energy to hang the costumes up, and get ready for bed before complete fatigue overwhelms us and sleep comes to take us both.