Once Sidney Carton had done his far far better thing and I had said goodbye to my friends in Burlington, so began a couple of days down time during which I could remove Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities from my mind and relax.
On Monday morning I had to wait in my room until 10am for an interview with a Canadian magazine. Dean, the journalist, called exactly on schedule and we spent around 15 minutes going through his questions about A Christmas Carol. Naturally he asked what is my favourite film version of A Christmas Caro and then, rather unfortunately for him, he asked if there was one question that I got asked over and over again….the answer, of course, being the one he had just asked.
Having finished the interview I needed to shop – there were a couple of things I wanted to buy including a pair of shoe laces. I have a pair of brown shoes with only 4 eyelets and the original laces had faded to almost white and were fraying to the point of breaking. It would be simple to buy a new pair, wouldn’t it?
In England if you want shoe laces you go to a shop that sells shoes, which seems like a simple solution but one that has yet to be adopted in America! For the next two hours or so I trailed around a whole collection of stores – Kohl’s, Marshalls, Dollar Time, Macy’s, JC Penney’s, CVC all without success. (Dollar Time and CVC did have some laces but only big thick long ones for boots). In Kohl’s I asked an employee if they sold laces and you would have thought that I was threatening to sell her grandmother – ‘we DON’T sell laces’ she hissed as she turned her back on me and strode away.
Eventually I found myself outside a huge grocery and pharmacy store called Wegman’s. It was with a sense of extreme nervousness that I approached a member of staff to inquire but when she cheerfully replied ‘yes sir, follow me’ I almost wanted to hug her right there in the middle of the aisle. A simple trip to buy a pair of laces had turned into a quest that even Homer would have discounted as too improbable. That was my morning, and the start of my afternoon taken care of.
In the afternoon I was due to meet up with George Byers to play a round of golf. We had chatted about golf on the drive from the airport and when I mentioned that I might like to play he said that he would try and find a good local course and book a tee time. At 2.30 we arrived at the Pine Crest Country Club ready to inflict damage on the local topography.
I wont go into great detail about the round, but we had great fun together even if we did lose a great many golf balls in various hedges and ponds. It was a wonderfully relaxing afternoon and just what I needed after the previous couple of days.
Following the golf Bob and Pam had invited me over for supper and the laid back tone of the afternoon continued into the evening as we all chatted and laughed over a delicious meal of pork tenderloin, macaroni cheese, vegetables and salads.
For my second free day I decided to drive into Philadelphia and embark on a bit of tourism. So on a warm and sunny morning I got into the Audi and let the SatNav unit take me towards the big city. My first port of call was going to be the Philadelphia Museum of Art and in no time I could see the great Palladian edifice on top of its hill over to my left. Having cautiously manoeuvred my way around a huge, busy, bustling traffic system I took the Audi down a steep ramp into a subterranean parking lot.
A lift brought me back to daylight and I found myself overlooking the Schuylkill River and the Fairmont Waterworks park. There was a huge silver weir which curved across the river like a scimitar blade and the whole scene reminded me of the St Anthony Falls in Minneapolis. I decided not to waste such a beautiful day and spent half an hour so walking by the river and taking in the peaceful scene. This was once the site of the city water works, and the whole are has been superbly developed into a green park, with a serpentine boardwalk meandering through it. The old waterworks buildings themselves have been restored to provide space for a museum, or an ‘interpretive center’ as is it billed.
When my walk was completed I climbed a steep path to the top of the cliff and made my way into the Museum of Art. As I entered the cavernous hall that is the main reception area a lady came straight up to me and asked me if I had already purchased a ticket and on my response to my negative answer she cheerfully said ‘Well, I have a free one! I made a group booking and ordered too many. Here.’ I am ashamed to say that initially I was suspicious, fearing some scam, but this was just a kindly, genuine, friendly offer which I thanked her profusely for.
I love meandering around a good art museum and the Philadelphia Art Museum is definitely a very good one. The first galleries I went into were European impressionism and in no time I was admiring a fine collection of Manets, Monets, Cezzanes and Van Goughs (including one of the latter’s famous Sunflower creations).
One picture that particularly caught my attention, more for historical fact than for the art itself, was by Manet, entitled ‘The Folkestone Boat, Boulogne’ which was painted around 1868.
My interest in his particular image stemmed from the famous Staplehurst train crash that Charles Dickens was involved in on June 9, 1865. He had been riding on the tidal train from Folkestone which had met the steamer from Boulogne. Therefore Manet’s painting depicted the same scene as Dickens and Ellen Ternan would have experienced as they prepared for their journey on that fateful day.
I wandered through the various galleries for a couple of hours and thoroughly enjoyed my time. Some works I liked, some left me cold, but it was a superb morning. As ever when I am in a great art museum I was struck at how important the design of the gallery itself is to the whole experience: the lighting, the shape, the colour, the space in the rooms all enhance (or if poorly executed, destroy) the experience.
After a while I felt ‘arted-out’ so found the café where I had a sandwich and a fresh lemonade for lunch, before pondering my next move. The zoo was just across the river, but somehow that would seem a very lonely thing to do, I needed Liz with me to go there. The Rodin Museum was only a short walk away, but I decided that I had had my fill of art and sculpture for the day. I thought about visiting the Eastern State Penitentiary in the footsteps of Charles, but the day was too sunny and too cheerful to take myself into a dark and cold prison.
In the end I decided simply to walk towards the city and enjoy the space. So having finished lunch I walked out of the main entrance and found myself at the top of ‘those’ steps looking towards the impressive Philadelphia skyline. Those steps? yes, for it was here that Rocky Balboa ran in the first movie to bear his name, and turning to face the city raised his arms in his iconic victory salute.
And now the steps are covered with tourists recreating that moment for their camera phones. Men, women, old and young all raising their arms and laughing as their family, friends or complete strangers in many cases take their picture. The museum has thoughtfully placed two foot prints into the stone to mark the exact spot where Rocky stood. Some muscle-bound guys, usually with a suitably impressed girlfriend watching on, made the run from the bottom of the steps to the top and then skipped lightly from foot to foot, shadow boxing to prove that it had all been easy and they could do it all over again, all day.
Having resisted the temptation to do the same I descended the steps walked towards the city. Eventually I found myself at The Franklin Institute, which is a science museum and thought it may be fun to take a look. Unfortunately it is very much geared to a family visits, with lots of interactive galleries aimed at children, so it didn’t really match up to my expectations, although I was like a little kid admiring the huge steam locomotive in the basement.
One exhibit of which the Institute is very proud is their giant heart which you can actually walk through. The heart is a huge fibreglass construction and once you are in you walk up and down little staircase, through little passageways as if you were a blood cell. Along the way little signs tell you exactly where you are in the organ and what is happening to you.
It is very instructive and educational But in this litigious age the museum has to cover its back, it wouldn’t want people thinking that they now know so much about the workings of a human heart that they might go home and attempt some amateur surgery, so there is a disclaimer:
‘The Franklin Institute’s THE GIANT HEART provides educational information and demonstrations. The information shall not be used as treatment recommendation or medical advice. You should consult your personal physician for such treatment advice’
My visit to the Institute finished with an IMAX film about volcanoes which was impressive, as all IMAX films are.
It was now time to head back to the car and as I walked back to the Art Museum the Rocky poses were still being struck at the top of the steps. I set my SatNav which told me how to leave the city by a particularly appropriate route: this is the city of the Liberty Bell, this is the city of Benjamin Franklin one of the founding fathers of the United States (a child’s t shirt in the institute’s gift shop depicted Franklin in sunglasses with the caption ‘Too Cool For British Rule), this is the city of Independence and this particular Britisher was being told to leave on the I-76! (the American Declaration of Independence of course having been signed in 1776)
The journey back to the Ambler Inn was slow, but on my return I packed all of bags up, as I would be moving out and on to my next shows the next day. To be honest I was now getting restless and bored: a coupe of days to recharge and reset were perfect but now I was ready to get back onto the stage and get back to doing what I came here to do.
I trimmed my beard (I had allowed it to get rather bushy and unkempt for the character of Magwitch and maybe Monsieur Defarge), and showered before going to the restaurant and eating dinner under the stars, which was lovely.
From the Ambler Inn I will drive to Winterthur where I will be performing The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby twice in a day, before flying to Nashville and my final venue of this tour.