Today is a day off, but I am still staying at the Beechwood, so everything is familiar and somewhat routine. Following the misfire with the dry cleaning on Friday, I will try again today. I bag up all of my costume items and take them to the front desk, where once more I am cheerfully promised that they will be ready this evening.
I have my breakfast and then continue the routine by collecting all of the shirts that I have used over the last two days, and drive back to The Shrewsbury Laundry, where I feed the machine (which has a voracious appetite for quarters). I sit and wait for the washing cycle to finish, transfer everything to the drier, and then drive back to the hotel, which is only 5 minutes away, to finish my blog.
After 45 minutes I return, and the drier tumbles its final revolution as I walk up to it (good timing is so important to an actor). I unload the machine and go back to my car. It is a beautiful, clear, bright New England day today, and the colours are vivid and sharp. It is a perfect day for a road trip. I have decided to drive back to Plymouth and to buy the pocket watch that I saw last week. You may remember I had concerns about not knowing how to change the time? Well, I received a message from an old friend, and fellow-actor, John Huston, who gave me complete instructions how to access the hidden lever. (incidentally, it was John who many years ago proudly announced that he had the best edited version of A Christmas Carol ever written: ‘Scrooge was an old, miserly, mean man. But he lightened up, so that was OK!’)
I connect my Kindle to the car’s radio and enjoy the continuing adventures of James Bond in Thunderball, as the miles are swallowed up. In no time I am pulling up on the Plymouth seafront, and the sea glistens in the sun, and one red-hulled boat provides a splash of colour against the deep blue.
I walk to the antique store, where the watch is still in its cabinet. I follow John’s instructions and sure enough I am able to access the hidden leaver and the hands move. I have brought my watch chain, and a waistcoat with me just to check that everything fits (it is a much larger watch than my current one), and am pleased to find that it does. With that the purchase is made and I become the proud owner of a lovely old watch, for a very reasonable price.
From Plymouth I drive south towards Newport, which is one of the most elegant (and needless to say expensive) New England towns. As I get closer there are some beautiful views across bays, all of which are dotted with marinas. Newport is certainly the playground of the rich.
I am headed for The Breakers – one of the summer cottages which were owned by the great Millionaires of the early 20th Century; in this case by Vanderbilt, the railroad magnate.
Summer cottages? To me, and probably you, a cottage is a tiny little quaint, low-ceilinged, cosy nook of a house, with roses round the door and a log burning merrily in the fireplace. A busy lady bakes fresh bread in the kitchen as a busy man cuts the grass and tends to the garden. Maybe a little dog scampers around their feet. Yes, that is a cottage. What I see before me, as I walk through the gate of The Breakers is definitely NOT a cottage!
Unfortunately, I have arrived just behind a huge coach group, and as the house tour is via an audio headset, I am destined to be stuck behind them for the whole time, but with some strategic fast-forwarding, while they chat and take pictures, and with some surreptitious overtaking, I manage to get into free air as I arrive at the Billiard Room.
Thoughts on The Breakers? Well, it is certainly impressive, it is certainly on a grand scale, it certainly displays wealth (which I suppose was the idea), but it is vulgar, tasteless and a pastiche. It is as if Vanderbilt toured Versailles and said ‘I want THAT! Build it for me!’ No, give me the cozy cottage with baking bread any day.
I finish the tour and walk into the gardens, which overlook the ocean. The sun is setting and casting a lovely golden glow on the house, which looks beautiful, and with only a little imagination the lawn is filled with the ghosts of the Newport elite, sipping champagne, laughing merrily as the strains of a jazz band come from the house. A completely different world.
I go back to my mundane little VW and set the SatNav for home. My route takes me through the centre of Newport, and the reflections of the setting sun on some of the buildings, suggest that there is quite a sight to be seen. I park the car and make my way to the seafront, where the sky is the most remarkable colour. Maybe Vanderbilt and the others paid for impressive sunsets too, for this is a display the like of which I have rarely seen.
I return to the car and head back to my own life in Worcester. Thunderball finishes and the radio tunes itself to a Worcester based station, and it is with great pride that I hear an advertisement for the Vaillancourts. My route home actually takes me right past the turn off to the Manchaug Mills, and I am on familiar roads back to The Beechwood.
I go to my room and find, with relief, that my dry cleaning HAS been done and is hanging in my wardrobe. I spend a bit of time catching up with some paperwork, and emailing Liz (who is having a very busy week, and I wish I were at home to look after her properly), before going to the restaurant where I have a simple, but delicious pizza.
Tomorrow I move on, but not until late morning, so I don’t need to pack tonight. The Beechwood has been a good home to me for almost a week and I shall be sorry to leave, but the tour moves inexorably on and there are many more friends to meet and audiences to perform for. It is a good life!