Today it is time to move on to my last hotel of the tour, but there is no great rush. I go to the main house of the Fairville Inn for breakfast at 8am, and have one of Rick’s superb French Toast Soufflés which is absolutely delicious.
Back in my room I get the cases sorted out, thinking ahead as to how I am going to pack for the flight home in a couple of days time. After finishing the packing I do a little work on the computer, finding another sound effect to complete the set for my theatre version of the show.
I download and save all of the effects onto a USB drive, as well as onto my computer, update the script and email the whole lot to Dave at Byers’ Choice who will be running my show later today, and who is always keen to try out new ideas.
Having completed the work I put the cases in the car, drop the key off to Laura in the office, say good bye and get on the road. The day is bright and sunny and although there is plenty of traffic, the drive is very straightforward and doesn’t take much longer than an hour.
I am driving to Byers’ Choice in Chalfont PA and in a sense it is a homecoming as it is the Byers’ family who organise my entire tour, as well as being very good friends. Bob and Pam actually us in Oxford earlier in the year and it will be great to meet up again today.
My route takes me across the Pearl Harbour Memorial Bridge and I realise that it is actually the anniversary of the attack today. As I motor slowly across the bridge my thoughts are on all of those who were involved during those terrible hours. In the peace and tranquillity of a sunny winter’s day in PA it is difficult to imagine the terror that rained from the skies in Hawaii.
I am due at Byers’ Choice at midday for an early soundcheck, but I have made such good time I am very early, so I pull into a Wawa petrol station and get a coffee and a delicious cinnamon roll, which I eat in the car park, before continuing my journey.
I pull up in the car park and unload all of my things, leaving one complete costume in the car and go into the offices that I know so well (I have been performing here for about 15 years or so now.) I am greeted by all of the staff as I go to the large boardroom which will be my dressing room for the next two days.
Having laid all of my costumes out I walk towards the theatre (actually the manufacturing warehouse that has been completely cleared for the event) and find Bob and his mother Joyce, who founded the company, putting the final touches to the merchandise table. As we talk so Bob’s brother Jeff arrives and joins in the chat. The auditorium looks spectacular with around 700 chairs laid out in front of the high stage. This is the largest venue that I play on tour.
Bob delights in comparing himself to Mr Fezziwig as the warehouse is cleared away and turned into a place of joyousness and entertainment.
Dave is already at the sound desk so I leave Bob and Joyce to continue their preparations whilst I get on with the soundcheck. This year, as I mentioned earlier, I have sent Dave a whole collection of new sound effects, so as well as checking the microphone levels, we also run through all of the cues making sure he knows exactly when to bring the sound in and when to fade it again – I think it will all work very well and I know I have a safe pair of hands on the faders.
Having completed the sound check I need to get back in the car as I am due to meet Pam, Bob’s wife, for lunch prior to an appearance this afternoon. We are meeting at Lilly’s Café and after a hug of greeting we order our lunch – huge filled wraps that are amazingly difficult to eat and amazingly tasty.
After lunch we drive in my car back to Bob and Pam’s house where I change into my costume, and meet their latest addition, a Boston Terrier puppy called Calvin Timothy (the second name because he is so Tiny….). Calvin is so energetic and excited, he licks, and he bites, and he chews, and he pants, and he runs. Pam wants a picture of Calvin and I, so I pick him up and he develops a fascination for my head and gives it a good wash!
Soon it is time to leave this bundle of energy and drive back into town to the Doylestown Book Store where I am do a signing session. Bob and Pam were not sure how successful the event would be, and if anyone would turn up, but thought it worth trying. When we walk in all such fears are dispelled there are plenty of chairs laid out and a goodly crowd gathering. It is apparent that I will be required to talk before any signing takes place, so I dive in with all of the good old anecdotes about my career, and then about A Christmas Caro. When I have finished I ask if anyone has questions, and lots of hands go up.
We chat as a group for around 20 minutes and then the actual signing begins. There is an English class from the Lenape School where I spoke last year, and they all have their copies of A Christmas Carol signed and pose for selfies.
The event has been a great success but it is now time to wrap up and get ready for the evening’s performance. I drive in costume to the Joseph Ambler Inn and am soon checking in. The girl behind the desk tells me that my room is on the first floor of one of the cottages on site, and I roll my cases to it. Now I fall foul of a UK/USA language confusion – in England the floor at ground level is known as the ground floor, and the next one up is the first floor, so I lug my heavy case up the narrow wooden staircase only to discover that my room is not on that floor, it is below: in America the first floor is the first floor of the house. I lug my cases down again and eventually get into a beautiful room with a fireplace and a coffee maker! I think this may be a first at the Ambler Inn, for in years past if I wanted an early coffee it meant a trip to the reception building and using the machine there. I am a happy boy.
I have a little under an hour before I need to drive back to Byers’ Choice and I decide just to remain in my costume, my regular clothes are still hanging up in the car. At 5.30 I leave the Inn and make the short journey into Chalfont and back to BC HQ.
I make sure that the stage is correctly set and then go back to the board room to relax while the huge audience is let in. My cousin Rowland, who works in New York, is coming to see the show with his family, and I have reserved a few seats for them in the very middle of the auditorium. Jeff’s wife Dawn, who is a Rottweiler when it comes to seating the audience (the most cheerful and likeable Rottweiler you could ever wish to meet) , promises to protect their seats for me.
With about 20 minutes to go I walk through the offices and into the theatre where I stand at the back and watch, which is always fun to do. Various people come up and shake my hand and tell me how much they are looking forward to the show, and proudly announce how many times they have see the show!
Show time is approaching, and still no Rowland. Unfortunately he and the family will not be able to get into the middle of the row whilst the performance is going on and they will have to find seats where they can.
Rowland, or more specifically his father Claud plays an important part in this story, as it was he who first read A Christmas Carol to me one Christmas eve. The memory has never left me and I can still remember being astounded to discover that the spirits had done it all in one night. At that moment, when I was 5 or so, the seeds of my career were sown.
Back in the present we cant wait any longer and Bob and I go back stage where we thank the brilliant High School choir who always entertain the audience prior to my shows here.
After the Professor Ort the choirmaster has taken the annual photo of us with his students Bob takes to the stage and greets the assemblage in his usual modest and generous manner. Having warned them about cell phones, and alerted them about emergency exits, and told them that I will be available for signing and photographs after the show, he says ‘please welcome Gerald Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol. At the back of the hall Dave fades the lights to an eerie blue, and brings the first music cue up.
It is an interesting show in many ways, for the audience are quite restrained and quiet, although attentive. The extra sound cues work extremely well and Dave’s timing is impeccable. I am giving it everything, and I am extremely pleased with how it all goes. Once again this is a large stage giving me lots of space to express myself and I thoroughly enjoy the whole 90 minutes on stage.
Although the show itself is exhausting, it is the few minutes immediately following it that really test my stamina, for I have to get from the stage to the very farthest corner of the building to change, before the audience start to pour out into the corridors thereby blocking my route. Having taken the bows I exit into the shipping department, whilst Bob buys me a little time by addressing the audience once more, which ensures that they all resume their seats once more. Behind the scenes I run flat out through the piles of boxes waiting to be dispatched across America, then through the back of the production floor, past the headless torsos waiting to be turned into the beautiful carollers, and the clay heads waiting to be fixed atop them, I just make it into the staff canteen before the flow of humanity begins.
I take a while to calm down and change, before making my way to the room in the visitor centre where my signing table is. The line of people circles the room and back out of the door, and I receive a round of applause as I enter. For the next hour, or so, I work my way through the line, taking care to give everyone as much attention and time as they need.
At the very end of the line is Rowly, his wife Andi and their three sons Sam, Toby and Rafe. We pose for pictures and have a brief chat, and Rowly and I arrange to meet up later for a drink back at the Ambler Inn.
It is 9.30 when the last signature is signed and I change back into my normal clothes for the first time since lunchtime. Bob is trying to secure dinner for me back at the Inn but apparently the kitchen has already closed for the night, which is a shame.
Inspector Morse keeps me company on the short drive back and when I reach the Inn I go straight to the bar – there is no hot food available, although they are still serving desert and I order a delicious spiced pear bread pudding which fills a hole perfectly.
Rowly duly arrives and we sit at the bar reminiscing and catching up – he explains that the reason they were late for the show, apart from heavy traffic on the road from New Jersey, was that they had thought that it began at 7.30, so as I was beginning my stuff on stage they were munching sandwiches at a nearby restaurant!
Time passes and we chat until the bar tender suggests to all present that it is time to leave – the good ol’ Dickens boys close another bar!
I go back to my room and consider watching TV, but decide against it. I consider reading, but decide against it.
I consider sleeping. I do it.