Black Friday: the day that America goes retail crazy. Twenty-four hours after families have given thanks for all that they have – so they now want MORE! Black Friday: a day that has spawned a little jokey aside in my performance, and a day to avoid the shopping malls at all costs.
I have a free day today, and I start by gathering together momentous amounts of laundry. I have decided that I shall have both of my costumes dry-cleaned today, as I have been on the road for roughly three weeks and have roughly the same to go. I stuff two frock coats, two waistcoats, and two pairs of striped trousers into the Beechwood Hotel laundry bag, ready to drop off at the front desk.
Then there is the regular laundry: I seem to have collected a very large amount (for some reason I didn’t do any in Kansas City), and it is really too much to send to the hotel’s service. Unfortunately, The Beechwood is one of the few hotels that doesn’t have a guest laundry, so I look online and discover The Shrewsbury Laundromat, which is nearby. Their website proclaims that they will happily take a load at the start of the day, wash it, dry it and fold it, and have it ready by the evening: perfect. I fill two more laundry bags ready to take to Shrewsbury.
And now, as I look around the room, I realise that I can actually unpack here, which is a rare luxury. I empty my case and lay my clothes (albeit not many of them, as almost everything is in the plastic bags), into the generous chest of drawers.
I take the dry cleaning to the front desk, ascertain that it will be ready for collection this evening, and go on to the restaurant for a delicious pancake-based breakfast.
At 9 o’clock I leave the hotel and drive the five minutes to the Laudromat in Shrewsbury, where the promised cheerful staff are absent. There is nothing for it than to settle in for the duration. When two machines are loaded, I get my script for The Signalman from the car and start to go through some lines, in preparation for a performance of the ghost story on Sunday evening.
The whole process takes around an hour and a half, and it is useful rehearsal time. Outside, the weather is misty and incessant rain falls.
My plan today, on this Thanksgiving weekend, is to drive to Plymouth Rock and see the spot where the Pilgrims landed in The Mayflower, and where the first Thanksgiving took place in 1621.
I drive from Shrewsbury (in the UK, the George C Scott A Christmas Carol was filmed in Shrewsbury), via Uxbridge (mentioned in Doctor Marigold), passed Oxford (where I live) and on towards Medway (where Charles Dickens grew up and also lived at the end of his life).
During the journey I pass the turn for the Wrentham Shopping Village, and the cars are queued right back onto the main carriageway: Black Friday is in full swing.
The drive to Plymouth (Liz was born in the UK city) takes about 90 minutes and I find a parking place which looks out to sea – the very sea over which The Mayflower sailed almost 400 years ago.
My parking space is near to the mooring of The Mayflower II, which is unfortunately absent; undergoing a complete renovation, presumably in preparation for the 2021 celebrations. The smell of the seaside is gorgeous as I walk towards the rock itself.
Now, American readers lease forgive me for my lack of knowledge, but I had rather assumed that The Plymouth Rock was at the tip of wild coastline. In my mind, I had an image akin to Pride Rock, in the Lion King.
I had imagined a towering edifice welcoming the weary seafarers to the new world, as the Statue of Liberty would welcome future generations of travellers. So, I was a little surprised, and somewhat disappointed to discover that the rock itself is rather small. Very small, if truth be told. The Palladian edifice that covers it is much more impressive than the rock itself. If the stone itself is a bit of a let-down (and there is no factual guarantee that this was even the spot where the Pilgrims first set foot on American soil), what it represents is extraordinary.
Having taken the obligatory pictures, I walk into the town itself, passing beautiful old New England houses, which remind me of those in Salem, not far to the North.
I look around a tiny antiquarian book store, that has some wonderful Dickens volumes on its shelves, before continuing my walk. It is 1.30 now and I am quite hungry, so am on the lookout for a good restaurant. It is an extraordinary thing that so many businesses are closed up today – cafes, bars, restaurants all firmly locked up. You would have thought that Plymouth would have its arms open in welcome on this weekend, of all others.
There are a couple of antiques malls open and in one I spy a beautiful old pocket watch. It is in working condition, and is priced at $105, but all items sold by this particular dealer have a 25% discount. I am very tempted.
I have the case unlocked, and study the watch. I wind it, and yes, the second hand starts to sweep around. However, the shop assistant and I can find no way of changing the time, and I reluctantly decide against making the purchase. It is a beautiful watch though!
Finally I find a tavern that is open, appropriately called The New World Tavern, and order some lunch.
I think that I have seen all that Plymouth has to offer on this Friday, so I go back to my car and start the drive back to Worcester. During the drive I am caught in a 40-minute traffic delay. Far ahead, across the sea of red tail-lights, I cans see the flashing blues and reds of police cars and assume that there must have been a terrible accident, but no, it just more traffic queuing for the Wrentham Shopping Village. Black Friday still has its tight grip on the shoppers of Massachusetts. I wonder what those first pilgrims would make of this?
I get back to the hotel and go to collect my dry cleaning from the front desk. The girl is very apologetic, but the dry cleaning isn’t ready, as the company they use was not open today after all. Fortunately my bag is still behind the counter, so I will have costumes for tomorrow’s shows, but they have been scrunched up all day long, and are a sorry sight when I hang them in my wardrobe.
I spend the first part of the evening folding all of my shirts and rolling all of my socks, and carefully placing them in the drawers (I am never this organised at home), and then go to the restaurant for supper.
I have enjoyed my day off – it is always fun to explore – but tomorrow the next leg of the tour begins, and it will be back to work for me.