Today is my second day at Rogers Gardens, and is basically a repeat of yesterday as far as timings are concerned. I don’t have to be the venue until 11.30, so that gives me plenty of time to watch the live coverage of the Brazilian Grand Prix and my early schedule is based around the 8am start.
But, before all that: DISASTER! My coffee machine isn’t working! I press and stab at the little button, but the red light resolutely refuses to glow. How can I possibly start my day?
The first job is get some laundry going, so I go to the front desk to change a $5 bill into quarters, as well as reporting the serious malfunction in my room. The man behind the desk is so sorry and says that Housekeeping will attend to it (the coffee machine, not the laundry).
The guest laundry is in another building, and last year I was not able to find it, walking around like a lost soul clutching a bag of clothes. This year I am better prepared, and remember that it is hidden away beside the lift-shaft on the second floor. I load the machine, feed it with quarters, and then head to the restaurant for breakfast. If I linger over pastries and coffee, the washing cycle should be over before I need to get back to my room.
It is only just seven and the restaurant is quiet. Those who are there are mostly in gym clothes and are all rather hot and sweaty after an early-morning workout. I choose my table carefully!
I spend half an hour enjoying the fresh fruit, muesli and, of course, the fresh coffee – ahhhh: Ambrosia.
When I have finished, I return to the laundry, but find I have misjudged my timings by seven minutes, so I sit in the hot little room to wait until I can transfer everything to the drier. Unlike the rest of the hotel there is no air conditioning in here, and I get my first realisation of what the day will be like. To quote Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam: ‘it is HOT. Damn HOT!’ Real HOT!’
I am back in my room ready for the start of the race, which has actually been delayed for ten minutes due to heavy rain in Brazil.
True to the word of the front desk, I have a new coffee machine waiting for me, and I make a cup before settling down.
The race is a rather disjointed affair to begin with, as it keeps having to be halted due to the conditions and various accidents, but when the drivers are finally let of the leash I get to witness one of the most extraordinary bits of driving in the history of racing.
Throughout the history of Formula One the truly great drivers have excelled in wet conditions, and have often laid down a marker to their rivals. Ayrton Senna’s first great race was through the streets of Monaco in 1984 when he slithered his uncompetitive Toleman car almost to victory (and it surely would have been had the race not been stopped). The following year he made the rest of the field look clumsy and leaden-footed as he took victory on a soaking wet track in Portugal.
Today it is the turn of 19-year old Max Verstappen, who has impressed all season long, but today looks as if he is on a different surface to everyone else. During the long safety car periods, it is noticeable that he is experimenting with different lines in the corners, searching for grip, and when racing starts he drives around the other cars as if they were standing still.
A mistaken strategy by his team has left him in 14th place, but within just a few laps he finished in third position, behind the dominant Mercedes cars. During his meteoric rise through the order he passed his team mate in the same car and left him far behind, and made the multiple World Champion Sebastian Vettel look plain silly.
I apologise for those non-motor racing addicts (although I know that the lady who came to my show yesterday will be reading with a smile – as we discussed Formula One in the signing line), but watching young Verstappen has been inspiring, and a reminder how in any venture, sport or art, it is always possible to push yourself just a little bit harder and perform just a little bit better.
There may not seem to be a correlation between Max and me, but today we are both battling extreme weather conditions, for outside the sun is blazing out of a cloudless sky, and the temperatures are nudging towards 90°F. The afternoon performance will be in the height of the heat (oh, I like that), and I will have to be very careful to look after myself.
The earlier delays have meant that I can just watch to the end of the race, before getting into the car and making the short drive to Rogers (being sure not to emulate the Formula One gladiators as I make my way along I-73). The radio is tuned to a local jazz station, and I have been accompanied through Southern California by Stephan Grappelli, Oscar Peterson, Miles Davis and others, which has been soothing and very apt to my surroundings somehow.
I head for the valet parking area again and find a space right next to the gate. At the top of the amphitheatre Hedda is already in charge of operations and has arranged for huge garden umbrellas to be placed throughout the auditorium to keep the sun off. It is a balancing act between shade and restricted views for the audience.
I need to rethink my show a little, so I go back to the offices to prepare. As soon as I am there I begin drinking water, lots of water because I know I will lose a great deal of fluid during the eighty-minute performance. The main change I will make today is to ditch the frock-coat early on. I will wear it for the opening scene, just to create the effect but then will hang it up and do the rest of the show in shirtsleeves: it may make a little difference.
Another job is to ensure that the microphone doesn’t come unclipped, as it did last night, so I find a roll of tape and make sure that it is firmly fastened.
Showtime approaches. I carefully apply sun block, trying to keep it away from my eyes, and drink more water (thereby necessitating regular visits to the restroom!), before walking to the theatre. On the stage far below me the carol singers (in full Victorian garb) are entertaining the crowd, and Hedda has placed a large umbrella on the stage, which affords a little shade there too.
The Carollers song list is incongruous, to say the least: I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas (dream on!), Let it Snow (don’t think so!), Frosty the Snowman (he’s melted), but they are superb and it is always a pleasure to listen to them: they get a generous round of applause from the audience and from me too.
The show goes very well actually – I use the shade as much as I can, which means rethinking my positioning for various scenes, and I am aware that if I’m right under the umbrella the people at the very top of the audience can’t see, so I have to be careful of that too.
I do take the coat off when I first enter Scrooge’s office (‘Once upon a time, of all the good times in the year, on Christmas eve), and leave it off for the majority of the show, although I do use it through the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come scenes: it makes a huge difference and I am able to perform with my usual levels of vitality.
In Mr Fezziwig’s scene I re-introduce an old ‘ad-lib’ which gives me a little time to recover: the narrator says that there ‘was a great piece of cold roast, a great piece of cold boiled, there were mince pies and plenty of beer’, at which time I take a long swing from an imaginary glass. To buy me a few moments of rest I pause, and take another swing before saying to the audience: ‘sorry, this is a very hot part of the show.’ I then drain the imaginary glass to the very bottom, wipe my mouth, and continue the performance
I reach the end of the show and gratefully take the ovation, before getting back to the office to drink more water and get out of the sodden costume. I hang each item over a separate chair and with two each of frock coats, waistcoats, trousers, shirts, cravats and braces, the board room is quite the sight.
I take a little extra time today, calming down, drinking as much as I can, slowly getting changed, before walking up to the tent where I have been signing.
The crowd is happy and generous in their comments, and Susan chats and fusses and makes them all feel welcome, while I sign and pose.
The poor lady who received old Joe’s slime all over her arm had suffered the same fate in Occoquan years ago – there’s a lesson not to sit in the front row!
I finally finish signing and chatting, and go back to the office where there is a most delicious salad of grilled salmon, tabbouleh and pomegranate seeds waiting for me. I tuck in with great relish.
Having finished my lunch, I relax for the hour or so before getting ready for the evening show by playing, not my usually cerebrally-challenging Backgammon, but the more dexterously-involved Doodle Jump, at which I fail miserably and repeatedly.
It is a beautiful clear evening, and the moon is almost full. I noticed in the press that we are to experience a super-moon tomorrow (where the moon is very close to the Earth), and certainly the orb in the sky tonight is spectacular.
It is another full house, and almost as soon as I start I realise that it is a quieter audience than this afternoon. (a quick check back to my blog from last year and I see that I said the same thing then). The Sunday night crowd like to listen. Yes, they join in with sighing at the goose, and gasping at the Christmas Pudding, but not to the extent of some other crowds. I mustn’t let the lack of response affect me and I continue to concentrate hard on telling the story, without over doing it.
As is so often the case in these situations the applause at the end is enthusiastic and noisy, which is lovely.
I change and return to the signing tent, where there is only a small line. As usual everyone is very kind and complimentary and I enjoy chatting to them as I sign their books and programmes.
And so it is time to pack up my bags, and clear the boardroom for another year. I hang my costumes up and make sure that I have picked up everything, before loading them into the car.
I have a special treat this evening, as Hedda has booked a table at The Farmhouse restaurant, and we are to have dinner with Susan, Hedda’s husband and a friend. Having loaded my car up I sit at the bar and wait for the others to arrive and then we sit in the warm Californian night eating the most delicious food and enjoying great conversation. It’s a lovely relaxing evening and the most perfect way to bring my Californian performances to a close for another year.