It is still dark outside when I wake, the acclimatisation to Eastern Standard Time is not happening overnight sadly and I look forward to the day when my eyes open at a respectable and recognisable waking time!
I sit in bed and write my blog, before having a coffee and turning the TV on to watch some inane police drama. Eventually 7.30 ticks around and I can go downstairs for breakfast which today is a plateful of fresh fruit, followed by a larger plateful of French toast with a little crispy bacon on the side. I am watching the clock this morning as the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is due to start at 8.10, and I want to settle down in my big arm chair, legs stretched out onto the footstool in front of the fireplace to watch it.
I make it back to the room just as the cars are pulling up to the grid, and I spend the next couple of hours enjoying a race that has a definite ‘end of term’ feeling to it, in that all of the championships have been settled so the only thing that anyone is racing for is for glory on the day The later stages are enlivened by Fernando Alonso purposefully missing a chicane on three different occasions to try to catch a rival. Alonso is retiring after this race, so doesn’t care about the various penalty points and sanctions that the governing body could heap onto his shoulders, whilst the powers that be are loath to disqualify a great character and champion from his final race: all satisfyingly old-school!
When the race is finished I make preparations for the day ahead and go to the car. It is warmer today, and some of the snow is starting to melt. As I drive away from Worcester towards Sutton I notice that the slabs of rock that line the road no longer have frozen sculptures of gargantuan icicles clinging to their faces, but are glistening wet instead. As I drive I am still listening to the Worcester Christmas station on the radio, and have an instant Pavlovian response to the opening bars of the Trans Siberian Orchestra’s Christmas Eve, Sarajevo. Fortunately though this is the full version and instead of melancholy church bells tolling the music crashes into the heavy rock version of Carol of the Bells.
I arrive at Vaillancourts early today, and just spend time mooching around the store, choosing a few gifts, for Gary and Judi is always generous and this year especially so. I grab a coffee and go to my ‘green room’ where I sit until it is time to get ready. Darren, the sound man, arrives and we discuss the failings of yesterday. He mentions that having seen the show a couple of times he would like to try some special effects if I am amenable? Sure, I say, be creative!
When the sound check is also record a video to the Year 8 students at The British School in Bahrain. An old friend of mine teaches there and as they are studying A Christmas Carol, she thought it would be fun to get a message from me. With the recording over I go and have a sandwich for lunch and chat with Gary’s brother who used to work in the heart of the City of London in the financial district – Scrooge’s natural habitat.
The audience is gathering in the store and Luke is starting to sell wine and beer: as well as looking after the company’s marketing and online presence Luke is a keen foodie and this year has branded a Vaillancourt wine, which is selling well. To help promote the new venture Judi has created a Christmas tree made out of wine bottles.
the show is at 2 and soon the shop is crowded. I go to change as the doors are opened and the empty seats fill quickly, each audience member directed to their assigned place by Luke’s father in Law Bob.
Definitely a lively bunch, no doubt grape-assisted, and there is very jolly banter between Gary and them as he makes his introductions. Having explained about the history of Vaillancourt Folk Art and the family’s love of tradition Gary starts to tell the crowd about me and explains that when they first came to see me perform at Byers’ Choice they thought that I was probably just ‘living off the name’ and had nothing really to offer. I pretend to be highly affronted and flounce out of the room saying ‘that’s it! I’m off!’ It all gets a good laugh and everyone is in fine spirits as I begin the show.
Everything goes well in the performance and I am very ‘on it’ today. Darren is enjoying himself at the sound desk putting lots of reverb onto the microphone when the ghosts appear, giving Marley, Past and Future a fantastic echoing quality. He is following the script carefully, and tweaking his mixing board to ensure that in moments of conversation it is only the ghosts who are thus amplified, whilst Scrooge continues to talk in his regular tones. It is a fun addition to the show, although not one that I would entrust to other venues.
The Sunday afternoon show at Vaillancourts is always a fun one, and today is no exception. I am very pleased with the performance which is excellent, albeit hot, and the audience love the to and fro byplay. The ovation at the end is great and I take some rather damp bows before retreating to the dressing room to change.
The signing session is fun, and most of the people in line are habitual attendees, including my great friend Robin who presents me with her now traditional gift of English ‘Family Choice’ biscuits to make me feel at home in the succession of hotel rooms.
The day runs the traditional course and in no time we are all sat around the table in Gary’s office enjoying the huge supper buffet which today features cold turkey and ham, not to mention an eye-watering collection of salads. Delicious.
The early morning is catching up with me a little and having eaten and chatted I retire to my dressing room, curl up on the sofa and fall asleep. I remain in my catatonic state until 6.30 when Gary wakes me up. The next show is at 7.
None of us know what to expect this evening, as the Vaillancourts have donated the show to the Paediatric department of the UMASS Medical School. Ticket sales and reservations have been looked after by UMASS, so we have no idea if it is going to be a sell out, or a damp squib – the feeling is towards the latter and although none of us fully articulate the thought, we all have a slightly negative feeling about the prospect. I warn Darren that if things are not going well I may start to edit the script as I go, to avoid the audience participation moments which would fall very flat with an unresponsive audience.
Actually a decent audience gathers and people seem excited, so it may be OK. Gary makes a very emotional introduction to the evening and welcomes me to the stage, and I walk up and into the unknown. Although a small group it quickly becomes apparent that they are enjoying the show, and as a result get the full works (including ghostly echoes from Darren). What we hadn’t expected, however, was the fact that many of the audience are parents of children who are being cared for at the hospital, which makes the Tiny Tim scenes much more emotional, and there are loud uncontrolled sobs as Bob sits at his son’s bedside cradling the lifeless body in his arms.
I give it everything, and wring every ounce of energy from my body – I am determined to leave nothing on the table tonight for these remarkable parents and doctors.
The show is greeted by another standing ovation, and it is a pleasure to chat and pose up in the store.
And so once more my time at this remarkable venue comes to an end. I gather all of my belongings, and pack up my bag.
I say goodbye to the staff for another year and drive back to the Beechwood where Gary, Judi and Luke join me.
As with last night we talk the talk and come up with plans for next year, some of which will be forgotten, some of which may well come to fruition: watch this space.
It is around 10.45 by the time I say my goodbyes, and return to my room. Tomorrow I move on, but it has been a wonderful two days in the company of the Vaillancourts and some amazing audiences.