Today I leave Lenox and The Berkshires, heading back towards Boston again. As has been the case throughout this trip I don’t have to be away particularly early, so have time for a leisurely breakfast of fruit and yoghurt, accompanied by a blueberry muffin.
While I am having breakfast Liz calls from home and I take myself off to a quiet part of the lobby and we have a lovely video chat for a while. The new, and ever improving, communication technology has really shrunk the world over the years that I have been touring.
Back in room 226 I pack everything up into my cases and take one last look at the snowy view before loading the car, setting the SatNav and driving back East. The weather has warmed slightly since my arrival so the vistas are not quite as spectacular but it is still a beautiful drive.
I have downloaded the second Morse novel and this time I chose not to listen to Kevin Whately, but to Sam West reading it. The new audiobook is better: the Kevin Whately one was obviously produced for the popular TV-fed market, it was quite highly abridged and changed various details to satiate a television audience (for example Morse’s car was changed from the literary Lancia to the small screen Jaguar, and the character of Lewis, who is an older sergeant in the books, was definitely played as Whately played him in the series). Samuel West’s version seems to be a much truer reading of the novel.
As I drive I notice that I am passing Westfield Mass, where I performed a few times as part of their Westfield on Weekends (or WoW) festivals, and I bid them a silent ‘good luck’ for this year’s season as I speed on by.
My route takes me once again straight past Worcester, avoiding its gravitational pull I carry on towards Boston. I am feeling a little tired, so decide to stop and buy a bottle of water, and while I am parked I check my phone, as it was pinging with a message coming in as I drove.
The message is from Linda Cornell at the VNA Senior Living Facility where I am due to perform at 2 this afternoon, and she is in rather a panic!
The problem of writing my blog in the present tense,a day in arrears is that if, for example I begin my musings by saying something like: ‘Today promises to be a very quiet day as I have no major performance’ and someone who has gone to great lengths to stage a major performance reads those musings over their breakfast, it is possible that they may get a tad worried: so it is with Linda this morning.
I send a reassuring reply promising to be at the facility in Sommerville at around 12. The answering message from Linda comes instantly and the sigh of relief that accompanies it is almost audible.
The traffic is much heavier as I get closer to Boston and navigation is difficult. On the outskirts of the City I pass the Perkins School for the Blind where both Charles and I have visited in the past. Charles wrote a very moving and memorable chapter about his visit in American Notes, which encouraged the Keller family to send their daughter Helen to the school.
My route takes me towards the towers of Harvard (which seems apt as I listen to a plot set among the dreaming spires of Oxford) and then into the small city of Sommerville. My English SatNav unit directs me to Lowell Street, and pronounces it to rhyme with Noel, which is rather sweet and festive, and I pull up in the car park of the VNA Centre.
In the reception area I am greeted by Linda who gives me a great hug of welcome (and relief) and immediately starts fussing over me. Everyone here is terribly excited about my visit and she wants everything to be perfect.
Firstly she takes me to the room where I will be performing and proudly shows off the ‘stage’ At one end of the room she has rigged up a proscenium arch flanked with two red velvet curtains held back by large golden tassels. It looks amazing and transforms what would have been a fairly featureless space into a rich and exquisite one.
But Linda has left her piece de resistance until last: she proudly produces a long length of metal chain – ‘for Marley!’ she explains. Instantly my mind is working as to how I can include the chain in the show, and how best it will work.
As we chat so George, who is looking after the sound, arrives. George is a cheerful Irish Bostonian who played in a band and has a background in live performance. He cant do enough to make sure that things work well for me, and has even created a sort of collar to hold the microphone right in front of my mouth. This contraption has been fashioned out of a wire coat hanger and some gaffer tape and looks rather like an angel’s halo from a nativity play Unfortunately I think that with my scarf coming on and off, not to mention lengths of metal chain rattling around, this amazing invention wont work, and we decide to revert to simply clipping the microphone to my shirt. We also discuss the music cues that George is happy to look after, and I print a copy of the script in the main office so that he can follow along.
With the set and sound fully approved I go to my little apartment which has been given to me for the length of my stay and settle in. Linda has brought some sandwiches for me, as well as a plate of delicious home made banana bread. She also obviously follows my blog as there is even a little envelope of quarters for the laundry, should I need it!
I rest on the sofa for an hour or so, before getting into costume and returning to the performance room where the audience is gathering slowly. They are sat on two levels as the room has a sort of atrium allowing people on the second floor, or in the dress circle as I christen it, to look down at the action.
At 2 o’clock the last of the walking frames has been parked in the corridor and everyone is in their seats. Linda makes a moving introduction, talking about her mother’s love of Dickens (I met them both at performances in the past), before handing the room to me.
The show goes well, and I get fully into the story. Of course there are a few distractions, as some of the audience need to leave quickly and are helped by their care assistants, others gently doze and one lady announces rather loudly that ‘I want to leave!’ Behind me trains rattle and rumble at regular intervals. But still the majority of the audience are following closely and reacting to the developing drama.
Marleys Ghost makes his entrance. I had decided to leave the chain carefully laid on the floor in front of the fireplace, so that I can grab an end and as Marley walks forward he is pulling it behind him. The issue I have is how Marley can be wearing the chain and Scrooge not. I get round this by extravagantly winding it around my neck and waving the ends in my hands when Marley is speaking, as if it were weightless, and then letting it drop, as though suddenly effected by a mortal being’s gravity, during Scrooge’s dialogue. Unfortunately my twirling of the chain gets a little enthusiastic on one occasion and as I drop it a length of metal crashes across the bridge of my nose, leaving it feeling very tender indeed.
I successfully get to the end of the story and am rewarded by a wonderful standing ovation from both levels of my little theatre.
When the applause has died down I chat to many members of the audience and sign various bits and pieces. Linda has a smile that could grace a Cheshire Cat and is taking pictures of everything. One resident comes to talk and he is a sprightly, fit gentleman named Oscar who used to write book reviews for the Boston Globe. We chat about the show and he offers me congratulations on the job I did. Linda whispers into my ear ‘ask how old he is’. Oscar hears that and announces that he is going to ignore the question. Linda is determined though and spills the beans ‘he is nearly 101!’ ‘I am NOT!’ , replies Oscar with indignation, ‘I am 100 and 7 months’. What a twinkle there is in his eye.
With the room clearing I go back to my apartment and change. I take a look in the bathroom mirror and notice that there is small cut and the start of a bruise over my nose where Marley left his mark.
I change quickly for Linda is taking me out for an early supper and soon we are driving through Sommerville to an Irish bar, The Burren, where George is waiting with his wife Joan.
Sommerville is a surprise, I have to say, it is obviously an energetic and lively city and even at this early hour the bar is filled with young folk talking loudly. George (an Irish musician in Boston remember) says that come 9 pm when the live music starts there will not be room to move in here.
We have such a great evening, and I eat a delicious bowl of Irish stew cooked in a Guinness broth with a thick slice of soda bread on the side. Linda, George and Joan are excellent company and it is a really fun evening (well, late afternoon really).
The bar is starting to get busy as we leave and I say goodbye to George and Joan, before being driven back to the VNA Centre by Linda. It is only 7 o clock so I sit watching a film on my laptop before settling into my bed for the night, and falling asleep as another train rumbles and rattles its way into the city.