Today is almost to be a repeat of yesterday, with a few minor changes to the details. As usual I wake, make coffee and write until the blog is completed and posted, before taking the lift to the lobby for breakfast.
I have filled a bowl with granola and fruit, fetched myself an orange juice and am standing at the coffee station, when I am aware of something familiar on the tv screen just above my head: familiar in the sense that it is me! The morning network news channel has gone to the local station for a segment and there on the screen is an information page about my events. I am standing on stage at the Crook House (either last year or the one before, because I am surrounded by my Nicholas Nickleby props), and the subtitles suggest that a voiceover is talking about ‘touching history’. The Historical Society has certainly done well in their marketing efforts this year.
My first commitment is at 10am, and is an hour’s appearance in a gift store nearby. I started by saying that today differs from yesterday in minor details, the first of which being that the store (confusingly called The Afternoon) is just a few doors away from the radio station I visited yesterday. I get into costume and wrap up against the cold. The wind has dropped and the sky is clear, but the temperatures are definitely wintery.
I am welcomed at the store by the 2 staff members, as well as by Kathy and Rylee. And so it remains for the next 50 minutes. Nobody comes through the shop door and we are left to pass the time looking at the amazing array of gifts, kitchenware, knick-knacks, and what an impressive collection it is!
The stock ranges from beauty (jewellery, art work, feature-clocks), to functional (the kitchen section), to entertaining (books and puzzles), to downright silly (dog butt magnets, a cat scratching pad in the shape of a music deck, Reindeer spectacles and much more).
It looks as if we may get through the entire hour without signing anything. There is a large college football game today in which the Nebraska Huskers are playing the Maryland Terrapins and most of Omaha is either at the game, or in front of their TVs.
Finally, however, a lady comes into the store and starts browsing. Kathy immediately engages her in conversation and steers her towards the table of Dickens books. Eventually she decides to buy a copy of Inventing Scrooge (shortly to be made into a movie – without me in it, even though the entire first chapter is about me! Not bitter. Hardly at all…). We get chatting and she obviously knows her literature, and asks me if any of Dickens’ novels meant more to him than the others. I say that David Copperfield is semi-autobiographical, and she asks if I can write a special quote from it. Rylee is nearby and I get him to find the opening passage on his phone, for accuracy’s sake, and inscribe it for her. She leaves happily and we have had a 100% success rate.
11 o’clock comes around and our morning in The Afternoon is done.
I go back to the hotel and spend an hour sorting a few things out, before getting into costume and going to the lobby where Kathy’s husband Frank is waiting to pick me up (Lee is at the football today). We get to the Field Club and I do a quick sound check, as the microphone levels were ever so slightly too high yesterday. The audience starts to arrive, but it is noticeable that the numbers are down, certainly on yesterday but on previous years too. The Nebraska Huskers have a lot to answer for.
One family group stop to chat and the father tells me that I mentioned last year my father’s advice for good diction: ‘Always finish one word, before beginning the next one’. He says that he has never forgotten it and found it to be amazingly useful. I am glad that I have been able to pay this little piece of my father’s wisdom forward.
The show starts, to a disappointing but responsive audience. As I perform I suddenly became terribly aware of the gentleman to whom I chatted, and my diction. Every consonant is clearly clipped off before progressing to the next phrase, and I hope doesn’t sound too odd. It all probably adds about 10 minutes to the show!
The entire performance is much friendlier than yesterdays, by which I mean we are a more intimate group, and sharing in the story together. I finish up and take the applause, before answering a few questions, one of which is about the different regional accents I use in the show. Another comment is to the organisers, asking them to avoid days with football matches on for my shows.
The signing session mirrors the audience size and I am soon scribbling the final Gerald Charles Dickens, 2016, before getting ready to return to the hotel. I say my goodbyes to the staff at the Field Club and get back into Frank’s huge truck for the short drive home.
I have quite a long time to rest today, and I buy a microwaveable pasta dish for my lunch, then I lay back on the bed and watch Toy Story 2 in its entirety. As Stinky Pete the Prospector gets his comeuppance, and Jessie finds a new home with Andy, it is time to get ready for the evening show back at The Crook House.
I am once again performing A Tale of Two Cities, so get into my green waistcoat, which has the foppish flamboyance of aristocracy, especially when my fob chain is left dangling louchely.
Lee is back on duty (the Huskers hammered the Terrapins) and picks me up for our last event of this years’ Omaha adventure. The crowd is bigger tonight, and there is quite a buzz in the house. At 7 I mount the stage and begin my readings. It is a quieter audience, concentrating on the language more tonight. I like the way the reading has developed, although it does get a little bit bogged down in the middle, and that will need work if I am to continue performing this show.
The final scene on the scaffold as first the seamstress and then Carton are executed is received by an intense silence until I close my book and the applause breaks out. As usual I take questions, before moving into the adjacent parlour for Susie to deliver one of her toasts, and goodness she excels herself, delivering a beautifully considered and well-crafted speech, which Dickens himself would have been proud of. It all ends up with the presentation to me of a carefully knitted scarf (in honour of Madame Defarge), in which there is included a coded message – ‘It was the best of times, 2016’. What a wonderful gift.
The evening winds down, and when the guests are gone I pose for photographs with every possible combination of the Historical Society staff. Lots of hugs, lots of goodbyes, lots of thanks to old friends and new.
I collect my plate of Mario’s finest and go back to the hotel where I say farewell to my dearest friends here, Susie and Lee.
It has been another wonderful visit, with so many different experiences and audiences.
Next year we will do it all again.