I have my alarm set good and early so that I complete the packing of my costumes, which have been airing over night, before driving to Nashville airport, which is only 5 minutes a way from the Radisson. I check out, not forgetting to collect my cravat that Hannah had left at the front desk last night, and in no time I am at the Payless car rental garage to return my little brown Tuscon. It has been a good car and I am genuinely sorry to see it go.
The security lines always seem to be long and slow at Nashville, and today is no exception. My little roller case is pulled out for extra inspection and it seems as if my box of business cards pose a potential threat today. The agent smilelessly peers into the case, checks the cards and then returns my property to me without comment.
I walk to my gate, and still have around 40 minutes before boarding so have a quick breakfast of bacon and eggs before taking my very cramped seat for the short flight to Houston.
These days United Airlines have an amazing system onboard whereby you can long onto their wifi network, without needing to pay, and access their huge library of films. I follow the prompts on my phone but the system doesn’t live up to its promise as the network keeps failing and I can’t watch anything after all. I do discover, however, that I still have season 3 of House of Cards downloaded onto my Kindle, so as the plane heads south west I find myself catching up with the machinations of Francis Underwood et al.
The beverage cart comes down the aisle and I order a coffee, which comes complete with a stroopwafel, which is delicious and far preferable to a little bag of mini pretzels.
The flight arrives a little ahead of schedule and as I have plenty of time before my onward flight, the transfer from terminal A to terminal E, via Houston Airport’s monorail system is completely without stress.
I decide to have a salad for lunch and avail myself to the fare on offer at The Tanglewood Grill which is situated beneath an amazing wooden frame, and which dominates the terminal building.
The flight to the little Orange County airport at Santa Ana is packed to capacity – I suppose passengers are looking for an alternative to the hell that is the main LAX airport in Los Angeles, making these regional airports more appealing
We are on board a Boeing 737, rather than one of the little jets that I have flown so far on this trip, so it is quite a novelty to be allowed to take my roller case on board with me. I hoik it up into the overhead bin, along with my coat, and settle into my seat for the next three hours.
The flight is smooth, and an unlikely duo of Francis Underwood and Miss Marple look after me until we begin our slow descent over the mountains of California and into the John Wayne airport. As the plane taxis towards the gate I can actually see my hotel just outside the perimeter fence, and it is a nice thought that I will have a little time to freshen up before performing later this evening.
As I get ready to leave the plane I almost forget to retrieve my bag (which has all of my costumes in it), from the overhead bin. That wouldn’t be good come 6pm this evening!
The John Wayne airport is quite small and in no time I am at the Hertz desk to collect my car which I will be using for the next five days. The agent tells me that I have a Toyota Corolla, which is fine, but then he tries to offer me an upgrade. How about an Audi Q7 – ooh, that sounds nice, and then on hearing my accent he offers me a Land Rover Discovery. I am like a salmon on the end of a line being carefully played before finally being landed. But on this occasion the fish manages to free itself, and I swim away in the Toyota.
It is around 2.30 by the time I arrive at The Ayres Hotel and thankfully they have a room ready for me, so I can quickly shower and change before driving to the Rogers Garden Center, where I am to perform tonight.
This is my fourth year coming to Rogers and it has become a very settled part of the tour, and offers a whole different set of experiences as the show is in the open air.
As I arrive I am welcomed by Hedda who books me, and Patrick the sound man, as well as Karen and the rest of the team who are bustling around making final preparations. It is 4.30 and the audience is already lining up to get the best seats for the 6 o’clock start.
Patrick likes to be sure that all bases are covered, so this year he asks if I wouldn’t mind using two microphones. Apparently the frequencies available to him are becoming more and more limited and more crowded, and he doesn’t want to run the risk of us becoming tangled up with other users. Who knows how the local law enforcement officers would react if suddenly on their radios they hear ‘Marley was dead, to begin with!’ They would probably send all of their officers to investigate the homicide.
I carry out the sound check successfully and chat to Karen and some of the audience, before retiring to the board room in the admin block, which becomes my dressing room for the next three days. Hedda mentioned that some of the audiences had pre ordered books which need signing, and she has laid them out very efficiently on the board room table. Each stack of books has a printed sheet informing me exactly how the customers want it inscribed. The boardroom chairs are on casters, so I can operate a sort of production line, starting with the books on the right and then rolling to the left along the table until I reach the end.
There is an hour to go before the show and I take the opportunity to rest completely, which I need. The early start coupled with the two hour time difference is slightly taking its toll and I am feeling rather jaded. Eventually I start to change into my costume and get ready for the show. Just before six I walk to the back of the amphitheatre and watch the brilliant carol singers as they entertain the crowd which is very large (all of the events here have been sold out). Finally we are ready to go and Hedda makes the introductions before Patrick starts the music and I walk through the audience and onto the stage area to take my place alongside the plaster figurines that featured in a Harrod’s Christmas windows in the early years of the twentieth century.
The show goes well, and the audience are fully engaged. I was worried that feeling tired I may try to over compensate in the open air, but I keep control of it and everything works perfectly. Roger’s Gardens looks lovely with all of the trees decorated by white lights, and Patrick does a superb job with the coloured stage lighting adding extra atmosphere to the performance.
I sign off with God Bless Us Every One and the audience stands and claps loudly: a standing ovation is always a very special thing, but in an amphitheatre setting with the audience above you it is somehow even more impressive. capturing something of the Coliseum in Rome. Actually, on reflection, maybe that is not such a good thing!
I leave the stage and head back to the boardroom where I change costume for a signing session back on the setitself. People have such nice things to say about the show and one lady is almost moved to tears as she tries to explain what it meant to her. Right at the end of the line is a couple from Derby who joke that they travelled from the UK just to see the show!
Finally my duties are over and I can leave A Christmas Carol behind me for 24 hours. I make sure that each item of costume is hung over the back of separate chairs before closing the boardroom up.
I am fortunate tonight that a regular audience member at Rogers has offered to take me out for dinner, which is a treat, and we go to Muldoon’s Irish restaurant where I have a delicious shepherd’s pie.
However the day is definitely catching up now, and I am not at my sparkling best. I offer my thanks and make my excuses before returning to the hotel for what I am sure will be a good night’s sleep.