At 5 o’clock on Thursday morning my alarm sounded and brought me crashing into a new day. I got straight up, lest I should fall asleep again and immediately showered to try and wake myself up a bit. Most of my packing had been done the night before, but I had hung my costumes up to air after the two shows on Wednesday, and it would have been a disaster to set off for Nashville with my frock coat and trousers hanging in The Fairville Inn.
At 5.45 I hauled the cases to the Audi and found Pam already there waiting for me to arrive with the car key. The sky was dark and from the heavens Orion twinkled over us as I put my big case into the boot, and my little, albeit very heavy one, into the back seat. Pam took the driving seat and we set off in the darkness towards Philadelphia airport following a very twisty cross-country route as directed by her phone. ‘We need to watch out for deer.’ Pam said and sure enough soon we were treated to a mother and her fawn trotting across the road in front of us.
The journey was not long, and soon we were on the very busy I-95, where the driving of others was quite terrifying, trucks swooping from lane to lane as they saved vital seconds. We pulled into the airport, where there was lots of cars creeping to their various terminal drop off points. I inwardly sighed, lots of traffic equates to lots of people. Lots of people equates to long security lines. Long security lines equates to minimal breakfast time. I know my priorities.
I unloaded the car and said goodbye to Pam before going to the self check-in kiosk at the American Airlines gate, and from there to the bag drop. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, my big case was still over the weight limit, and I had to find a place on the terminal floor where I could open both cases and try to stuff more clothing into the already bulging little one. Eventually I managed to squeeze it shut and returned to the scales and was heartily congratulated by the agent for brining the weight from 52 lbs down to 47: ‘Now, THAT is what I am talkin’ about! Good job!’
I was convinced that I wouldn’t be allowed to take the little roller onboard as carry on, so heavy and bulging was it now, but I would face that problem when I came to it. For now it was security and thankfully my worst fears were not realised as the line was quite short and I got through in good time. Having replaced my belt, shoes and watch I went in search of sustenance which I found at a Legal Seafood outlet.
Re-fuelled with orange juice, coffee eggs and bacon I dragged my bag to gate C26 where, as I arrived, an announcement was being made asking for passengers who would be willing to check their carry-on bags as it would be a full flight. This was the solution to my little bag concerns and soon it was tagged and ready to take its place alongside its larger cousin in the hold.
It was daylight by the time we taxied to the runway end, and a beautiful morning was in store. As the captain opened the throttles and pulled back on the stick we soared into the sky and almost straight away banked hard to the left. As the pilot stood the plane on its port wingtip I had a perfect view of Philadelphia, we flew directly over the Museum of Art and I could imagine early morning wannabe Rockys bouncing up and down with their arms aloft. We flew along the route of the I76 and I assume somewhere over the region of Bucks County, The Ambler Inn and Byers Choice.
I read throughout the flight, only to pause for a cup of coffee. After around 90 minutes the various announcements were made in preparation for our landing and we slowly descended through the clouds to see Tennessee laid out beneath us. My first view was of a huge lake, or reservoir, surrounded by large homes, with boat houses, The surface of the lake was occasionally scarred by a silver slash as someone bumped and skipped across the water.
More big homes and golf courses gradually gave way to churches and colleges, and now the houses were in communities, albeit in great circular neighbourhoods, each home with a large yard and many with a swimming pool. Onward our approach went and now there were shopping malls, and industrial units, and the great circular neighbourhoods with their broad streets were replaced by narrower straight ones with smaller plots of land cheek-by-jowl with each other.
In the course of a few minutes I had been given a very graphic representation of the demographic of this part of Nashville.
At baggage claim I was relieved to discover that the zip on my large case had survived the journey and that my belongings weren’t coming around on the carousel one by one, which could have been humiliating, to say the least. The car rental facility is in the terminal parking garage at Nashville airport, so I didn’t need to board a shuttle bus to take me to the far reaches of the airport, as is the case sometimes.
This year my Hertz car rental contracts have allowed me to walk to a certain aisle and just choose whichever car I want and yesterday I chose a rather impressive midnight blue Jeep Compass Trailhawk, with 4×4 transmission, and red towing hooks front and rear in case I should get stuck in the mountainous regions of Nashville and need winching out. It was impressive inside too with body–hugging leather seats and all the electronic gizmos I could wish for. The sad fact was that of all the cars on this part of the trip this is the one I would be driving least, but it was fun anyway.
My off-roading adventure began when I got completely lost in the airport roads and found myself in the arrivals pick up lane, instead of speeding away to my hotel. Eventually I freed myself and was skimming along the freeways listening to songs from Broadway on the satellite radio system.
My hotel was not far away and fortunately I was able to check in, as it was still fairly early in the morning (I had gained an extra hour in my day by flying westward).
There followed a lazy relaxing morning. I caught up with some work and watched some TV, before walking across the parking lot to a Country Cupboard restaurant where I devoured a plate of fried chicken and corn.
In the afternoon I started to run through a few lines for my evening performance, although Mr Dickens is Coming is an old script and I am very familiar with it, however, it does not do to become complacent and it was a good session. I was also able to do something that I haven’t done all trip: laundry! The guest laundry at the Mount Juliet Quality Inns and Suites just happened to be on my floor, so I thought it would be churlish not to use it.
As late afternoon came around I showered to energise myself for the evening ahead, collected all of my costumes and props and went to the Jeep. I programmed my sat nav unit to take me to The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s house, and she guided me into the midst of heavy rush hour traffic. My Navigation unit is an English one and the directions are given in a beautiful cut glass voice, that of an English rose who would not be out of place in the new Downton Abbey film. It was wonderful to hear her modulated tones telling to me join the ‘Old Hickory Boulevard’ One could imagine Maggie Smith saying it with her nose wrinkled in distaste.
The Hermitage was a plantation house and was the home of the seventh president of the United States. He is burried, next to his wife Rachel, in a tomb that he designed and had built.
I have performed at the Hermitage twice before but unfortunately the pared back nature of my tours over the last two years have meant that Pam, Bob and I were not able to find a date for a performance of a Christmas Carol either last year or this but Hannah Howard, who is in charge of the various events at the house, has instigated a series of performances featuring the works of great Victorian authors. The ‘Conversations with the Classics’ season would begin with me, and would also take in Poe and Longfellow.
I arrived to be met by the team who would be running the event, foremost Hannah, and we all piled into a little golf cart to rattle through the grounds towards the Spring House where the shows are staged.
As we drove we could admire the deer and turkeys who call these grounds their own and who come out to play when the paying public have gone to their homes.
The set for Mr Dickens is Coming is fairly simple and does not require either a guillotine, or a large screen to hang myself behind, although it does require a representation of Charles’ reading desk, a slender piece of furniture draped in red fabric. Hannah had brought a small oval side table which although not really the correct dimensions would do the job admirably. I took out my length of red cloth, which so far during the week had been a rug, a shawl, a pool of spilt wine and a wall covering, and which now would recreate the centre piece for Charles Dickens’ reading tours: that has been one versatile piece of cloth.
I ran through a few lines just to test the acoustics, and then went to the kitchen where I changed into my costume ready to perform. The audience arrived gradually, in that most were brought to the Spring House on the golf cart, which could only hold 6 or so people on each trip, but soon everyone had made it, and not got caught up in the ghost tours which were also happening on the property that evening.
Hannah welcomed me to the stage and I began the show with my silly ‘words of Charles Dickens’ ice-breaker. The various characters and scenes from the books were very well received, and I once again included the Miss Havisham passage towards the end, which gives some reality and balance to a part of the script that was quite frivolous before.
When I had finished the performance itself I instigated a Q&A session (For an event entitled ‘Conversations with the Classics’ it seemed necessary), and there were plenty of interesting questions, including ones about Catherine and Ellen Ternan, Dickens in America, the Dickensian TV series, Dickens influence on the plight of the needy, and so on. An excellent session which was eventually wrapped up by Hannah with a wave of the hand from the back of the room.
I then relocated to another room in the Spring House where I signed copies of books that people had brought along, and chatted to them at greater length (the people, not the books). It was amazing to discover how many in this group are following the blog, and therefore I must point out how kind, friendly and generous in your praise you all are!
The evening wound up and I was soon changed and ready to leave on the golf cart. As all of my props and costumes could remain in situ ready for the next night’s performance I felt very unburdened as I returned to the Jeep.
I stopped at a restaurant on my way home, and just managed to get an order in before the kitchens closed, so enjoyed a late supper of a ribeye steak and a baked potato.
At 10.30 I was back in my hotel and ready to sleep.