Today I must move on from the Beechwood which, as ever, has looked after me wonderfully. I don’t have to be on the road until around 11, so I have plenty of time to get myself gathered.
I make my first coffee of the day and open the box of biscuits that Robin gave me yesterday, and sit up on my pillow to record my musings of yesterday. When the blog is finished and the pictures added I press the ‘Publish’ button and send it away to wherever it goes. I check emails, and take a quick look at my website, which is being redesigned and should go live any day now. Sadly it is the same old picture looking back at me, and things haven’t moved on since yesterday. I was hoping that the new site would be up before the tour started but things are dragging a long. I send another of my ‘Any idea when….’ emails, and get another reply of ‘soon!’ I will check again tomorrow.
When I open the window I see that a thick fog, a real pea-souper, has descended over Worcester and I can hardly see the car park outside the hotel, which is a shame because I have a fairly long drive ahead of me and I HATE driving in fog, but hopefully it will clear a little before I have to head to Portland.
Breakfast is another Traditional English, this time with scrambled eggs which are rather over done and hard, which may just effect the Beechwood’s position in the breakfast league table! There is a different clientele in the restaurant this morning and people dressed for business sit in booths chatting earnestly and being very important.
Back in my hotel room I have an online conversation with my friend Lynne who has booked some events for me in the North of England later in the season, and wants to firm up some of the details of the show. She also asks if I have a favourite book version of A Christmas Carol as she wants to sell copies at the events and has no idea what to buy. I spend a little time looking online and chose a few nice editions for her to chose from.
The other job this morning is to catch up on laundry, which means venturing out into the fog. The Beechwood hotel doesn’t have a guest laundry, but a few years ago I found a very convenient launderette about a mile away, and that is where I will spend my morning.
The Shrewsbury Laundromat is deserted as I arrive, and I have my choice of machines. I get plenty of quarters from the change machine and two packets of detergent from the detergent vending machine, and set two loads running, one with my costume shirts and one with various coloured items. I settle down in a blue plastic chair and start reading Hidden Figures, the book about the mathematicians who worked at NASA in the early days of the American space programme. The book was lent to me by our friends Penny and Jon, who suggested that I would enjoy it when they read about me enjoying the Apollo 8 book earlier in my tour.
Washes finish, Driers start. Fog refuses to lift.
Eventually my clothes tumble their way to dryness and I can drive back to the hotel to get ready for the day ahead.
In a parking lot opposite the hotel I spy another (or the same), little green Mazda 2 -it is as if Liz is really travelling with me and watching over me!
My costume, hat, cane and little roller bag are still in the car, so back in my room I only have to make sure that all of my personal items are packed in my big case. I check for chargers, adapters and all of the other paraphernalia that travel with me and finally zip it all up and leave the room.
The lady behind the reception desk is very cheery and sends me on my way with a happy ‘see you next year Mr Dickens!’ I load the car up, set the SatNav system with an address in Portland, engage Drive and let the nose of the Rogue part the swirling sea of fog in front of me.
I had meant to download some new audio books to my phone, but had not got around to it. However I still have the James Bond collection from last year, so the journey is spent in the company of Rory Kinnear reading Live and Let Die.
As I drive North the names of English cities fly past me, but in such geographical disarray that it is as if the old country had been tumble dried along with my socks – Dover, Biddeford, Portsmouth, Taunton, Chelmsford and, somewhat incongruously, Greenland. The latter named is SO out of place that it looks like a single red sock in my white wash, faintly tainting everything around it.
I make good time and the fog eases slightly, which is a relief. Soon I am leaving Massachusetts and driving into Maine where there is a slightly more familiar feel to the geography in that at least Scarborough is in the county of York!
The succession of early mornings is beginning to take their toll on me and I am feeling very tired as I drive on so I decide to stop at a service station just outside Kennebunk where the blast of chilly air does me the world of good. The snow at the sides of the road and in the parking lot is thicker here and there is a definite feel of deep winter about the scene. A fibreglass Moose watches over me as I walk to the restaurant.
Lunch finished I get back into the car and continue on to Portland, and The Press Hotel. I stayed in the same establishment last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. The hotel is in the old offices of the Portland Press and Journal newspaper and is themed to reflect the heritage of the building. I pull up outside and unload my cases before passing my car to the Valet parking attendants who will take it to a mysterious location and hide it from me. I leave my costume, checking that I will be able to get to it later this evening, and go to check in.
I am welcomed back by cheerful staff whom I recognise from twelve months ago and soon am in a lift up the sixth floor.
The newspaper theme continues throughout and the design is stylish. The colour scheme is charcoal black, but it does not feel oppressive. The carpet in the corridors has a design that looks as if lowercase letters have been dropped and scattered on the floor, whilst the walls of the lift are made covered with pins from old typewriters.
My room is lovely, and even appears to have its own little stage, which on closer inspection I discover leads to a balcony. The view is of the City Hall (where Dickens performed when he was in town) and by craning my neck slightly I can see the tower of the First Parish Church up the street where I will be performing later.
The impression is that the rooms have been carefully thought through by someone who knows what it is to travel and they are wittily designed with little quotations scattered throughout.
I flop onto my bed and enjoy an hour of nothing, which is much needed.
Just after 3 my phone rings and I am told that Kate McBrien is waiting for me in the lobby. Kate is the director of the Maine Historical Society who are responsible for my shows here, and we really hit it off last year. We hug hello and then get into her car to drive to a nearby TV studio where I will record an interview which sadly will not air until next week. The station is WCSH and I am chatting to the presenters of the 207 show. I did the same slot last year and the station specifically asked Kate if they could have me back, which is very gratifying.
As we wait in the lobby of the station, surrounded by large colour pictures of smiling presenters, we chat to another couple who are also waiting to be interviewed, and when Kate introduces me say ‘oh, wow, we are coming to your show tonight! We cant wait to see it!’
The interview is great fun and very conversational, which is always the best way, but all to soon it is over and Kate drops me back at the Press, where I can rest for a little longer before getting ready for the evening show. I sleep for a little and at 5pm have a shower to energise myself a bit. I think I need to instigate a new award, this for the best shower on tour, because the one here is truly invigorating and powerful – I just don’t want to step out of it.
Having reluctantly stepped out into the bathroom and dried off, I send a text to the bell hops asking for my car to be brought to the door, and get ready for the show. By the time I am at the lobby the Rogue is waiting, engine running, and the valets seem a bit confused that I don’t actually want to go anywhere in it. I grab my two costumes, my hat, my cane and the roller bag, and the guys seem even more confused that I don’t need them to take my belongings to my room. I leave the car, engine still running, and walk towards the First Parish Church just across the street.
The church is empty as I walk in and it is a truly impressive sight. The pews are box pews and the aisle leads towards my stage for the night, which is well lit and slightly raised. The requisite chair, table and hat stand have been left for me to arrange, which I duly do, and then I start to speak.
The acoustics are amazing and I do not require a microphone in here. As I perform my impromptu sound check I am greeted by Moe who looks after all of the technical stuff here and whom I worked with last year. Moe is a great guy with a shock of Alice Cooper inspired black hair and a tour T shirt sporting a fluorescent image of Ian Hunter, lead singer of Mott the Hoople.
Soon Kate joins us as well and the technical triumvirate is complete. Although I do not need a microphone there is still the issue of my music cues. Kate has been following the blog and is keen to use the new Sir Roger de Coverley music too, so we all gather around the sound desk and try to work out how best to make it work. We have the cues on a USB stick and also on a CD. The desk doesn’t have a USB socket, or a CD player. Moe says that we can do it from a phone – the files are on my phone, but it is about to run out of battery and I don’t have my charging lead with me. I had emailed the sound files to Kate, so they are on her phone, but that is an iPhone which requires a different lead – which we don’t have. Kate can forward the files to Moe’s phone, which should work, but when we try to play them they keep cutting out.
After much head scratching we realise that Moe’s Samsung is set to shut down after 15 seconds so he goes into the settings menu, makes sure that the auto-lock function is disabled, and at last we have music!
The audience are beginning to arrive by this time, so I go up to my little classroom on the 2nd floor and relax until it is time to perform.
The crowd is not as big as last year sadly, and the weather is becoming ever wetter and more miserable, which has put a number of people off, but there are still a goodly amount of brave souls in the sanctuary. A few people decide to go up into the balcony to watch, from where there will be a better view of me on the stage, and that starts a bit of an exodus to higher levels.
Just before seven a young couple arrive and I am introduced to a descendent of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and we play out a rather nice historical meeting. Longfellow and Dickens corresponded for a long time and were close friends, so it is nice to re-establish the connection between our families.
Kate introduces me from the stage and perfectly on cue Moe starts the music which echoes richly and satisfyingly around the hall.
I am aware that I am still feeling tired, and I think my performance reflects that slightly – it is not the sprightliest I have given, but it does go very well. The audience are very engaged and follow along closely, those in the balcony leaning forward over the rails to watch and listen. When I come to flirt with Scrooge’s niece’s sister I find that the lady I have chosen is actually the lady we met at the TV station earlier.
As the Sir Roger de Coverley cue approaches I notice that Kate goes up to the balcony to help Moe and sure enough the fiddle tune strikes up bang on cue, allowing me to dance the dance.
It is a fun show and is received with a lovely ovation at the end. There is no formal signing session here (the Historical Society have nothing to sell), so in lieu of that I do a Q&A session from the stage, which is nice, and gives me the chance to explain about some of the staging of the show, and talk about Dickens’ own trip to Portland in March 1868.
When the Q&A is finished I pose for some photos and sign a few programmes, before returning to my little dressing room and changing. My event here is sponsored by Jeff and Elaine O’Donal, who own a thriving garden nursery business locally. Last year they had wanted to take me out to dinner to sample the local speciality of Maine lobster, but the restaurant closed early and we had a very hurried lobster roll as chairs were being stacked on tables. This year they have checked out local restaurants and discovered one that stays open until 1 – we will be fine then.
When I am changed I say thanks to Moe, and goodbye to Kate, before walking out into a fine Old English rainstorm. We drop my costumes at the hotel and then walk 4 blocks to the restaurant, where we take off hats, scarves, gloves and coats and settle into a booth, only to be told by the guy behind the bar that there is no food tonight, the kitchen closed at 9 – the bar is open till 1 though! Tradition is a wonderful thing.
We re-robe and walk back up the hill to a bright diner called Highrollers. I order a lobster roll, with lime mayo dressing and we enjoy a very tasty supper, albeit not the sort that Jeff and Elaine had planned. We chat and share news and laugh and chat some more. It is a lovely, inconsequential and relaxing end to the day. Sometimes dinners with event sponsors can be rather tiring and difficult affairs, but Jeff and Elaine are friends and it is a pleasure to be in their company.
Tiredness is creeping however, and soon it is time to say goodbye for another year. The rain outside is turning to snow and it feels very festive walking through the deserted streets of Portland. We say goodbye at the steps of The Press and I go back to my room, where sleep takes me almost instantly.