We are getting very close to the end of the tour now, with only three more shows to go before we fly home, two of which are today.
I don’t have to be at the arboretum until 11.30, so we have quite a leisurely morning in front of us. Breakfast at The Country Inn is standard motel fare, and as we eat the very final load of laundry on the 2016 tour tumbles itself to completion. Having finished our meal we both go to the laundry to mark this great landmark moment, and then head back to the room.
I write up the blog, and Liz reads the newspaper, getting more disenchanted at the state of the world by the minute: between the horrors of Aleppo, riots in British prisons, dire economic predictions as a result of Brexit and all the uncertainty here in the USA, it is not a happy read.
The time passes and soon we are wrapping up in scarfs, coats and hats ready to brace the winter conditions once more. Last night Peggy told us where the staff car park is, which means a much shorter walk through the snow, and as we reach the door we are greeted by a wonderful, prehistoric, lumbering, wrinkly, plump old turkey, pecking in the snow to find some berries or grubs for his breakfast.
We hurry indoors where Clarissa is making preparations for the morning’s show, and we go straight up to the green room to get and remove the coats and scarves that have forded us scant protection against the sub-zero temperatures. With an hour to go before showtime we go to the cafeteria to grab a light lunch to keep us going. We both choose tomato soup, which is warming and delicious and sets me up perfectly for the show ahead.
While I am performing, Liz will be touring the library and amazing archive here at the arboretum, and Clarissa introduces her to Kathy the librarian, who will show her the most interesting and antique parts of the collection. Liz is a passionate gardener and has studied horticulture in the past, so is very excited about her morning.
It is a larger audience that gathers this morning, and they sound enthusiastic as they take their seats (I am on the balcony with the stage lights looking down on them as they assemble). At 1 o’clock I go to the back of the hall and I listen while Clarissa makes her introductory remarks, and then make my slow way through the audience and onto the stage.
It is another good show, and I keep concentrating on keeping the narrative light – it would be so easy to slip back to where I was before, and I want to really cement this style of performing into my memory before A Christmas Carol is tucked away for another year.
As last night, the audience is responsive, but not demonstrative – until the curtain call that is, when they all stand and suddenly become very vocal with cheers of ‘bravo’ and some whoops to be going on with. I stand in the lobby as they leave and shake hands, as well as signing a few programmes.
I do have a short commitment before I am off duty, as there is a post-show tea being served, and the arboretum has said that I would make an appearance during it. I quickly change costumes, and then spend thirty minutes or so moving from table to table, chatting about the show and the tour. It is lovely to hear how many people used to come and see me perform at the St Paul Hotel back in the old days (I haven’t been there for about 12 years), and have now followed me here.
When I have finished the schmooze I get changed and Liz and I go back to the hotel. She has had an amazing morning, and was completely blown away by what she has seen. The collection contains many wonderful books, many including the most exquisite watercolour illustrations of various plant types.
One volume dates back over 400 years and the colours are still so vivid you would think they had been painted last week.
Liz had also mentioned the turkey and apparently there a many of the them in the grounds and they have become completely fixated by the Bruce Munro light installation. When darkness falls, so the turkeys become moth like and head for the source of the light. In the morning the staff have to go through the entire installation re-connecting all of the wires that the turkeys have tripped over and pulled apart!
As breakfast was a little disappointing this morning we thought about finding a diner somewhere for tomorrow, but have yet to be successful. On our route there is a large Lund’s grocery store, and we wonder if there maybe a café or restaurant in there. When I was performing in Minneapolis two years ago we greatly enjoyed shopping at Lunds, and have a great affection for the chain. We park and walk in, and the first thing we come to is a Caribou Coffee concession, which has a small sign saying that they do indeed serve a breakfast buffet, so we wait in line to get more details. As we wait I notice a sign behind the counter, with a quiz question which, if you answer correctly, gets you 10 cents off the cost of your order. See if you would qualify (correct answer at the end):
At the counter the young barista tells us that Caribou Coffee don’t do the breakfast buffet, but the deli counter does, so we ask there. The staff at the deli counter says that they don’t do a breakfast service but Caribou Coffee do. We give up on this plan.
By the time we return to the car it is snowing more heavily, and even though we have only been in the store for ten minutes or so, I have to brush the windows off. There is due to be quite heavy snow this afternoon, and we wonder of it will actually affect the evening performance.
Back at the hotel we make sure the heat is on high, and settle down to watch the latest episode of the Grand Tour programme (which as Liz points out bears the initials of Top Gear, but reversed), which is fun and passes the time.
The evening show is at 7, but we know that we will need to leave plenty of time to clear the snow from the car, as well as to deal with whatever driving conditions there may be. The snow has been falling constantly and the car is indeed well coated. Liz gets in and sets all of the heaters to defrost while I brush as much as the fine powdery snow away.
The roads are covered too, and it is impossible to see any markings which would usually mark the edge, the lanes or the central reservation. I am very glad that I thought to ask for an AWD car for these few days. Everyone drives in a single lane, and very sensibly – of course this is just an ordinary commute in Minnesota.
We arrive at the arboretum again and park in our staff slot. There are no turkeys this time, and maybe they are enjoying the light show on the other side of the building. Before getting ready for the show we wrap up warm and attempt to get a few more pictures of the spectacle, before shivering our way back inside and warming ourselves with a cup of hot apple cider.
Any thoughts that a snow fall may cause the show to be cancelled come from our British perspective. There is no way a public event would go ahead in these conditions at home, but the Minnesotans are from hardy stock and just shrug it all off.
I get changed and as I open the little tin that has my cufflinks in, I see a little ladybird crawling around in it – I think he should become the adopted pet of this tour, and we shall christen him Tim!
When I am changed Liz and I return to our eerie above the audience and watch as they arrive. While we are watching we are greeted by David Maddison, who is the director of the arboretum and is the creative mind behind all of the wonderful innovations here. We chat for a brief while, but show time is approaching and I go downstairs to liaise with Clarissa once more.
The audience is quiet and staid and it is a little bit of a struggle to illicit a response: ‘don’t try too hard! Don’t overdo it’ I tell myself. Actually my job is made somewhat easier by a lady sat in the front row who is laughing often and loudly. Her enthusiasm brings to mind two quotes from A Christmas Carol, the first being ‘it was a splendid laugh, a most illustrious laugh. The father of a long, long line of brilliant laughs’, and the other more importantly this evening: ‘It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour’. The infectious nature of the lady’s laugh soon has the rest of the audience laughing too, and I am truly grateful to her.
The show finishes up and I receive another Minnesota standing ovation, but there is not much hanging about this evening, as everybody wants to get safely home. Coats are donned, scarves are wrapped, hats are pulled down and the audience drifts away into the night.
I change, and as I have one more performance tomorrow can leave all of my costume here. The snow has been falling hard all evening, and the drive home is very tentative. Each time I pull away from a light the car slips this way and that before the four wheels gain traction and propel me forward again.
We dine at Axels once more, and even though I do have to perform tomorrow, this feels like an end-of-tour celebration dinner. Liz has a steak and I have pork chops covered in a delicious, spicy apple chutney, and we toast another successful trip with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma.
The sled ride back to the hotel is only a matter of a couple of hundred yards and soon we are back in the room for our last night in the USA.
Answer to Caribou trivia: It is not quite as simple as it seems. Of course the obvious answer is 4 (Marley and the three ghosts of Christmas), but I submit this passage for your consideration:
Scrooge followed to the window: desperate in his curiosity. He looked out.
The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a door-step. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.
Whether these creatures faded into mist, or mist enshrouded them, he could not tell. But they and their spirit voices faded together; and the night became as it had been when he walked home.
However for your 10c discount, I don’t think that Caribou count these ghosts……