Usually on tour I perform for the last time, return to the hotel and then fly home the next day, but this year is a little different. I have one more show to do this morning before boarding a flight at 7.39 tonight. In a way it is a good thing, because the extra show means that Liz and I don’t have to try and pass time for a whole day, when what we want most is to be flying home: the show gives the morning some focus.
After breakfast we get ready to leave for the Arboretum, it has been snowing throughout the night and the roads are still slippery, but the ploughs have been out and conditions are a lot better than last night. We are rather hoping that our turkey might be waiting for us again, as we were not able to get a picture of him yesterday, but sadly he is not at the door to greet us.
When we stomp (to clear the snow from our boots) our way inside, Clarissa is already checking audience members in. We chat for a while go upstairs to the green room. The sun is beginning to come out now and the snowy landscape outside looks absolutely beautiful, with long blue shadows from the bare tree branches staining the snow. Our room overlooks a large semi-circular balcony and as we take in the view Liz suddenly notices that the turkey is back, and sitting on a low wall admiring the same aspect. Liz runs downstairs to capture Mr Gobble on her camera, while I try to record the scene from above.
Almost as soon as Liz is outside the turkey hears the call of a mate, and half hops, half tumbles off the wall and walks away through the trees.
The audience today is another good one, almost a full house, and I hope to be able to sign off this years’ tour with a good show. I have suggested that Liz takes control of the sound effect today, so that it can play as soon as Clarissa finishes her announcement. Dear Clarissa seems to have been doing everything relating to the shows so far: looking after us, checking people in, making the announcement as well as starting the music cue, and this just relieves her of one of those jobs. The result is that the start of the show is tighter and more effective.
At the start of the performance I find myself lapsing into my old narrative ways, giving the words too much emphasis, and acting them rather than just storytelling, so I give myself a silent talking to and try to return to a more delicate performance again, which I think I succeed in doing. The audience are restrained, but I know that is the Minnesota way, and I don’t panic. The biggest laugh comes from Old Joe’s snot (good old bodily fluids – always a winner!)
As I start the final passages it is as if I am signing off from the whole tour, from every member of every audience who has watched me over the last six weeks, and it is actually quite an emotional moment for me. The applause is lovely, although it has not been the best show of the tour and I sign off by bowing centre, left, right and centre again before walking up the aisle and out of the room.
I chat to a few people and sign a few autographs, but I can feel the adrenalin that has kept me going since November 4th taking a well-earned break. I feel weary and tired and the smiles for the cameras are maybe a little more forced than before. Two pictures that I am very happy to pose for are with Peggy and Clarissa who between them have been responsible for bringing me to the arboretum and for staging four wonderful shows in a beautiful venue.
I change out of my costume for the last time and make sure that I collect everything from the green room. I have done well on this tour as far as leaving things behind is concerned: usually I leave watches, pens, scarfs, cufflinks and various items of clothing scattered around the country, but this year I have been much more disciplined (a credit card left in a restaurant cheque folder being my only lapse).
We have secured a late check out from the hotel so that I can have a shower and pack all of my costumes. The skies are blue now and the scenery looks truly wonderful as we drive back into Chanhassen. As Liz packs her case, which has hardly been unpacked during her brief stay, I shower and get myself ready to leave. Hat, cane and two costumes are carefully placed, and then we both check the room for the various chargers and leads that are plugged in here and there.
Eventually I am confident that I have everything and we roll our bags out of the room, and to reception where we check-out. Just as we are about to leave the desk clerk grabs a Christmas bag and says ‘this is for you’. It is packed with goodies from the Friends of the Arboretum, and once more I am so moved by the generosity of the people who let me perform in their venues. The bag contains some Scotch whiskey, chocolate, a couple of apples, some horticultural note-cards and a scented candle: a wonderful memory of our stay here.
There are still four hours until we have to be at the airport, so we have decided to drive to the St Paul Hotel in the state’s capital city. I used to perform at the hotel, which is similar to the Hotel Bethlehem in that it is in the centre of a city and has a bustling, lively bar and lobby.
I was hoping to use the valet parking service, but today it is only for overnight guests. The bellhops direct us to a parking garage in the next street where we are charged $13, even though we will be little more than an hour. Apparently there is an ice hockey match in the city, and all of the parking garages are operating ‘Event Parking’, which means they can charge top dollar. We find a space on the roof, and then navigate our way through the network of skyways, meaning that we don’t have to step out into the cold from the moment we leave the car to the moment we arrive in the hotel.
Afternoon tea is being served in the lobby, but it is a five-course tea which lasts for two hours, so doesn’t quite tie in with our timetable. We head for the St Paul Grill and order some delicious gourmet burgers, which we wash down with a celebratory glass of prosecco.
When we have finished our lunch I suggest that we just look into the ballroom where I used to perform, just for old times’ sake. Before I worked with Byers’ Choice I used to have a different agent, who was responsible for my performances in St Paul, and when my contract with her came to an end so did the shows here. The hotel, keen not to lose the pre-Christmas crowds that flocked to the A Christmas Carol teas, then booked a theatre company to perform a radio play based on It’s A Wonderful Life, and I am delighted to see a packed house pouring out of the ballroom as a performance had just finished.
I look into the ballroom, and admire the set and lighting rig that has been installed for the show (I never had anything like that). As I am looking at the scene I am spotted by Heather Noseworthy who used to run my shows here, and still works at the hotel. It is very nice to be remembered after so many years (it must be twelve or so).
There is not much more to do, so we decide to walk back to the car and get to the airport. The traffic is very heavy, thanks to the recently finished hockey game, and we crawl our way out of St Paul and towards the Twin Cities airport.
We return the car, that has given such sterling four-wheel-drive service over that last two days, to Thrifty and the agent offers to drive us to the terminal, rather than making us take the tram. In our very brief time with him we learn that he came originally from Djibouti, and then to California before ending up in Minnesota – it’s a fairly safe bet that he didn’t come here for the weather!
We drop our bags which are all underweight and line up in security line where we are checked in by different agents. The girl who checks my passport does not enter into conversation, but the fellow with Liz asks if she is related to Charles Dickens, and when she replies that I am a direct descendant he asks her if she knows anything about the memorial cross in France to Cedric Dickens, who died in the First World War, and who was related to Charles. This is extraordinary as earlier in the year we attended a memorial service to Cedric and laid flowers at his cross in the tiny village of Ginchy. How he knew about Ceddy’s memorial we never ascertain, but what an extraordinary coincidence.
And now we sit at a table at gate G6 waiting for our flight to board. It has been another successful tour, with so many memories, by far the majority of them very positive.
I will write more about my reflections of this years’ trip in a few days, but for now Mr and Mrs Dickens are heading for home.