I wake up this morning and straight away it is clear that the cold is taking hold a little more aggressively, which I could do without really.
Fortunately, I have the large part of the day to myself, as I do not have a sound check until 3 this afternoon, so I can just stay in my room and rest. Even if the cold doesn’t go away at least I can find recharge the batteries a bit.
I go to the lobby for breakfast, and treat myself to some oatmeal which seems like a good a good hearty thing to have. The room is full with a girls’ basketball team, and their attendant entourage, and it is very noisy. They obviously have healthy appetites because everything keeps running out and the poor server is running here and there trying to keep it all stocked up.
I finish my meal and return to the room, where I potter about for a while before undertaking the most exciting part of my morning, driving to a nearby Wal-Mart where I stock up with a wide selection of cold remedies, lozenges and vapour-rub.
Back at the hotel I buy a little pot of chicken noodle soup that I can heat in my room, and then return upstairs and to bed.
That, faithful reader, is about it for the next few hours. I watch some TV, I write some emails and I sleep. Not the most exciting blog passage that I have ever written, or that you have ever read, I suspect!
At 2 o’clock it is time to gather my things and get ready: I shower again, and carefully hang up the 2 suits, with shirts, making sure I have my watch, fountain pen, shoes and cufflinks (my hat and cane are still in the car). With everything assembled I set the SatNav for Langhorne, PA and start the 10 minute drive to my second United Methodist Church in 2 days (they are like London busses: you wait for a year and then two come a long at once).
When I arrive at the impressive building my first thought is that I have got my times all wrong, for there is a huge crowd at the front and the car park is completely full. I find one space, and before leaving the car I check my schedule just to confirm that I should be here now, and not 2 hours ago – no, definitely 3 ‘o’clock sound check: curious.
There is a door open into the main sanctuary, and I go in and am met by a very hassled pastor John, who greets me apologetically. This has been a huge wedding which, as he explained, they have had to ‘hurry through’. As the guests leave the church, so John starts to fetch furniture for my set, which includes a huge fireplace, which we lift into place together. He tells me that Linda, who is the driving force behind my appearances here, is waiting for me at the front, so I walk towards the main door, and briefly find myself in the line of guests who are kissing the bride and shaking the groom’s hand. Fortunately, I manage to escape the tide, before things become awkward.
Linda spies me, and welcomes me, with the same sense of panic as John had. And then she tells the whole story: The wedding has been booked for months, of course, and was supposed to be finished 2 hours before I was due to arrive; however, the bride printed the wrong time on the invitations and only realised on Friday, by which time it was too late to change anything.
Even as we sit in the pews, the whole bridal party come back in for the inevitable photo session, so our preparations are once more put on hold.
Linda shows me to my dressing room, a small office, and points out that they have learned some lessons from last year’s event (my blog is a powerful tool), and hung curtains up, so that the arriving guests don’t get an unexpected free show!
Back in the church and the photography is still going on, so I wait patiently at the back with Tim, who will be looking after the sound, ready to do a microphone check. Last year I felt the levels were slightly too high and the result was a distorted sound, but this time Tim adjusts things much more naturally and it sounds good.
I go back to my office and start to change, before discovering that I didn’t bring any black socks with me and only have the rather rakish duck-egg blue ones which I have been wearing. A somewhat red-faced request, and pastor John produces a freshly-laundered pair of black socks for me. I feel complete again.
As I am changing there is a knock at my door, and when I answer it I am greeted by the smiling, cheerful face of Pam Byers, who puts the whole tour together for me each year. Pam does an incredible job with scheduling and this year has created a tour that works so well geographically. After some near-misses with flights last year, it was decided to try and restrict the need to fly, and the result is an amazing 2016 tour, in which I am free to drive from venue to venue most of the time: a brilliant job by Pam.
The rest of audience are gathering (actually most of them have been here for quite a while enjoying a turkey dinner served by members of the church.), but the start time of 4.30 is still some 20 minutes away, and I stand at the back with Tim, waiting for the cue to start. Linda goes up to the pulpit very early and watches as the last members of the audience arrive, before reading the introduction and welcoming me to the stage. Tim hits the play button, and I start my long walk down the aisle (the second person to have done that in the space of two hours).
The show goes fairly well, considering how I am feeling and the audience seem to enjoy it. I make sure that I rely on the microphone, without overdoing things, and concentrate on moving effectively around the space, which has various different levels and rails for me to play with. In the last quarter of the show I can feel those energy levels dropping again, but I get to the end successfully and am very relieved.
I change in my little office and then sit in a large parlour to meet the audience and sign their books and programmes. The cold is overwhelming me again. I can feel my head becoming congested, and the heat of a slight fever. I drink water, suck lozenges and keep going.
Between shows I join the second audience for the turkey dinner, and think of the Cratchits as the mashed potato and apple sauced are spooned onto my plate. I chose a seat alone, so as not to talk too much, and then retire to my dressing room again, where I lay a towel on the floor and try to rest.
I don’t have long, and soon it is time to get ready for the second performance. I don’t feel good. I feel hot and heavy. More water, and one of Marcia’s vitamin C mixes and it is time to do the best I can once more.
You would have thought that with a heavy cold, an inability to breathe effectively, and a strained throat, the one thing I would make sure of would be that my microphone was switched on. You would have thought. No. As soon as I say Marley was Dead, I realise that nothing is being amplified.
Now, usually tis wouldn’t be a problem, as the hall has wonderful acoustics and I can project my voice well, but today it is a disaster. I panic and try too hard and instantly start to strain my voice, and I know there will be no way back from here. I fumble in my pocket, find a switch and click it. Still nothing. Straining more. No response from the audience, try harder, strain more. I have forgotten one of my golden rules, which is never to strain and try too hard, and I am suffering for it.
After what seems to be an age I (Scrooge) fall asleep in the chair, and I am able to get the microphone pack from my pocket and study it: I turn the power switch on, and snore: nothing amplified. Ah, the first switch I clicked earlier was the mute switch: click, snore: yes! I am online again.
Of course, the rest of the show is better and the audience start to respond more, but the damage has been done and it is a very wheezy performance that is greeted by polite applause, nothing more.
I am so angry with myself! I knew it was going to be difficult, but as soon as I strain I will lose control and strain I did.
As I change I give myself a good, raspy, talking-to. It is probably just as well that I am in a Church, for the language with which I berate myself could have been a great deal worse.
I assume that there won’t be much of a signing line, but actually it is quite long, and everybody has lovely things to say, which is very kind of them. I am trying not to speak too much, and hope I don’t come across as aloof as I sign and pose. Finally, Linda produces a small pile of books that people had pre-ordered but not collected, before having her own book and programme signed, and that is the end.
I change and collect all of my things together (remembering to leave the pastor’s socks), and whisper good bye to everyone. I drive straight back to the hotel and collapse into bed. I have one more day of performances before I have a day off, and I so want to do a better job tomorrow.