When I wake I know it is cold. It is very nice to be in a building old enough to allow a connection with the world outside, rather than a hermetically sealed modern concrete hotel, and Spring House at the Fairville Inn is shivering with the rest of the world this morning. I turn the little heater on, snuggle back under the blankets and start to recall the events of yesterday. One little quibble about staying in an historic B&B is that there is no coffee machine, so at 7am (when I think the main house will be stirring) I go over to the kitchen where I find both Rick and Laura starting the preparations for breakfast
We chat for a while and then I return to my room with a large cup of steaming coffee and resume my morning’s work. Liz is having a difficult day at home, as one of our cars has to be taken to a garage for its annual MOT safety test, whereas the other is currently off the road due to a manufacturer’s recall. We have been warned by Mazda that there could be a fault in the front seat catch which may lead to the seat becoming unattached during driving. DONT DRIVE! they say. IT IS DANGEROUS! they say. IT IS ILLEGAL! They say. Oh, and we cant actually look at it for another three weeks, they say. Not good enough Mazda, and then to add to the fun a second recall notice has arrived regarding the passenger airbag but the service centre wont do the work on both fixes at the same time, rendering the car hors de combat for a further week. We are not impressed.
The upshot to all of this is that Liz doesn’t have a car today and has two boisterous girls in the house, one of whom has just been told that she can’t go to her trampoline class – it is not a good day back in Oxfordshire.
As I carry on working at the computer I discover that my new website is up at last. It needs a little tweaking over the coming weeks, but there it is at http://www.geralddickens.com.
David, Teresa and I have all booked our breakfast at 9am and at that hour we emerge onto the little landing that separates our rooms. I have a scarf to protect my throat whereas the others have gone one step further and are wrapped up in overcoats and hats for the short walk to the main house. Teresa has brought a folder of notes from a conference of theatre producers that she recently attended and thought I may be interested in, and also a little video camera so that she can show me some footage of David performing at Winterthur. I take the black folder and we walk across the car park, which has been dusted with snow in the night. Most of the cars are frozen but one is clear and has its engine running, as we walk past the driver lowers the window and calls to us ‘are you folks here to make the inspection?’ ‘No, we are going to breakfast’. ‘Oh, you kinda looked official, what with your folder, camera and coats I assumed you were here for the inspection, but have a nice breakfast!’ He has a point.
The breakfast room is busy but Laura has saved a nice table for us, and soon we are drinking orange juice and coffee (Teresa had also made a raid on the kitchen for early morning coffee), I order pancakes and scrambled egg, whilst David and Teresa both tuck into one of Rick’s famous frittatas.
When we have finished eating we repair to the lounge by the fire and I watch some footage of David doing his thing, which is fantastic to see. I don’t have time to watch the whole show, but they say that they will save the file in an MP4 format and send it to me. Teresa then runs through the folder of papers for me, suggesting that some of the producers that she met may be perfect people to talk to regarding a run of my show in a single theatre some day. Much as I adore touring, it is a lovely thought.
The party is broken up as the morning moves on, for I have to be at Winterthur by 11 and the Keltz’s need to be on the road home to Baltimore. I get a few things sorted out in my room and then get into the car and when the ice has cleared start to drive back into Delaware once more. Half way to Winterthur I realise that I don’t have any shirts for my costume and have to turn around and return to the Inn, before starting the journey anew.
As I drive I notice that the legend on Delaware licence plates is ‘Delaware The First State’ and I realise how unintentionally clever yesterday’s blog post title was.
Crowds are already milling at the visitor centre when I arrive and I recognise a few faces from years past. I recover my costumes from the auditorium, where they have been hanging on the coat check rack, and get changed. Winterthur offer a special brunch and show package for the Thursday morning show and part of the deal is that I will meander and chat to the guests so I need to be ready and on show good and early.
I spend 30 minutes or so chatting and signing things, as well as posing for photographs and it is a very nice way of becoming more involved with my audience which is a privilege that not many performers get to enjoy. When I have finished I return to the store where Ellen is waiting with Lois, a colleague of hers, who is going through the adoption process and is soon to welcome two boys into her house. She is keen to chat to me about our experiences and I am very happy to do that.
We sit in the auditorium and we talk about everything, about the process, about our frustrations with the system, about fears and insecurities, about the joys and rewards. I am astounded by how similar her experiences have been to ours and I hope that I am able to reassure her. We could have talked for hours, but Ellen gently reminds us that we need to do a show and that the audience are starting to gather.
Liz and I know how important it has been to have people who understand the raw emotions that we can talk to and I hope that Lois will stay in touch and use us as buddies.
But now to the show, it is another good audience and there is a great buzz of anticipation in the room. Back in the store Ellen tells me that Carol is once again in a meeting and wont be here in time to do the intro, and that Jeff is officially on duty. I ask if he can mention my website and blog, and a few notes are scribbled on the script to that effect.
Not only can’t Carol make it, but Dennis, who operates the sound, is also busy so I may not have a music cue to open the show today. Dennis is a volunteer fire fighter and the designated first aider, there has been a medical emergency on one of the shuttle busses that take people to the main house, and he is dealing with that, which is rather more important than pressing the PLAY button on his sound equipment.
As 1 pm approaches Jeff is ready for his big moment, and Ellen brings me the glad tidings that Dennis is back and has the resuscitation kit with him, so that if I was thinking of collapsing during any show, this would be a good one to choose. With that happy thought in my head I get ready to perform.
Jeff makes a nice introduction and says wonderful things about my blog, although he directs people to charlesdickens.com, rather than geralddickens.com, but that’s fine. The audience clap, the music starts and I slowly walk to the stage to begin.
The matinee crowd are a lively bunch and love the show, they laugh and clap and participate as required and of course I respond to that. However the highlight of the show comes when Scrooge gets dressed all in his best and flips the hat into the air, it turns over and over and over, reaches its apogee, continues turning over and over during its descent and lands squarely on top of my head! YAY! The cheer from the crowd is amazing, and I am momentarily stunned as this is only the third time it has ever worked.
With the show finished and bows taken I go through the process of changing into a fresh shirt and costume before sitting and signing as usual. my signing table is to one side in the cafeteria and I am aware that it is soon to close, so as soon as the last book has been signed I grab a salad to take back to the Inn for my lunch.
I have about two hours to relax and soon I am sat in my room, with the fire blazing and my salad on a table in front of me. Liz calls and we spend a long time going through the rigours of her day, which has not got any better for her.
All too soon it is time for us to part again and I get ready to return to Winterthur for my evening show, my last here this year which is always sad.
I get into costume, make some tea and honey (my throat is fine, but its a rather nice way to relax and prepare) and stand with Ellen in the shop as the audience continues to build. She tells me that is a strange thing but a lady who came to yesterday’s show had told her that she was disappointed in it and on being asked why had replied ‘It was too funny, it was not serious enough’. Ellen tells me this with a ‘why would anyone think that the show was too funny?’ tone, but to me I only hear the word ‘disappointed’ I hate it when anyone doesn’t like what I do (and of course I know that you cant please all of the people all of the time, and the audiences here this year have particularly responded to the humour in the show). As the start time comes closer I reflect on my performances, and wonder if I have unintentionally slipped away from the drama of the piece. I have been trying to keep the pace up this year and have cut out a lot of the ponderous pauses, but maybe this has lost some of the gravitas of years past.
Carol is here this evening and apologises for her absence this afternoon, before sweeping onto the stage and making another eloquent introduction.
With negative thoughts in my head the show is a little bit caught in the middle tonight, as I am trying to reintroduce some of the darkness to the tale, even though the audience once again are a lively humorous bunch who want to laugh: eventually I give them what they want and it becomes a very successful evening. The lady in the front row who is the object of Topper’s affections gets particularly giggly and blushes superbly on cue.
What are the chances of me pulling off the hat trick twice in one day? Nil, and it bounces off my shining pate and onto the ground – everything is back to usual.
The signing line tonight is very long, and it is so nice that a lot of people who wait patiently don’t have a book to be signed and don’t have a camera to take pictures with, they just want to shake my hand and say thank you, which is so generous and thoughtful.
In time the people all leave and it is just Ellen, Barbara and me left in the visitor centre. I change and make sure that I have all of my belongings, especially the two little toys who have watched my shows from the mantelpiece, pack it all into the roller case and leave Barbara’s office to her once more
We chat for a while and Ellen reassures me that she thinks that this has been one of the best shows during my time at Winterthur which is kind of her, although she then adds ‘I’ve never seen it so funny!’, which slightly sets my insecurities aflame again: bloody sensitive actors!
We say our goodbyes and I walk through the darkness back to the car. Dinner is at Buckley’s tavern again where I have a plate of lasagne and garlic bread, before returning to the Inn where I am delighted to find ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ playing for the first time this season.
It has been a long day and soon I am in bed and dozing.