Wednesday 13 November

Wednesday was a travelling day with no definite commitments which gave me a great sense of freedom.  I didn’t even have to check in for a flight as I would be driving to Omaha.

At breakfast I watched the news coverage and was reminded of the little story A Child’s Journey with Dickens which I occasionally perform.  What could there possibly be in common between a day in March 1868 and November 2019?  Well, in both cases a man named Dickens was travelling from one venue to another having performed the night before, in Charles’ case from Portland Maine to Boston, in mine from Kansas City, Missouri to Omaha. What else?  Well the answer comes in a memory of the author Kate Douglas Wiggin as she described the main topic of conversation on her train ride being the impeachment proceedings against the President, and so it was in a Kansas City hotel on Wednesday morning.

I spent the morning catching up with some emails from home, one of which was a request for an interview to promote my performance in the St George’s Hall in Liverpool later in the season.  Charles Dickens performed in the same hall, so the questions were geared around how I felt to stand on the same stage, but the last one was interesting: ‘If you could meet Charles Dickens tomorrow what would you say?’  Goodness!  Firstly I think I would be in awe and probably wouldn’t be able to ask anything.  But I suppose a natural enquiry would be ‘How was The Mystery of Edwin Drood going to end, and would you mind if I publish that ending!’ (that is called having a ghost writer, I believe).

Another line of enquiry right now would be as research for my book, so I would press for details about his stay in Paris in 1865 – what hotel, how did he get to the station, what was the journey like, etc.

Both of those questions are very self serving and mercenary, so I settled on a simpler answer which was ‘Am I doing alright?’ And ‘Thank you.’

Another question elicited a cheeky answer from me: ‘Tell me something about Dickens that we may not know’

To which I replied:  ‘I don’t know what you don’t know!’

When my work was finished I started to pack all of my things up to take to the car,  I had to remember to leave the 2 hangers that had been holding my costumes for three days and the towel that I had taken to the shows, for they were the rightful property of the Hampton Inn.

I stayed in the room until the 11 o’clock check out time and shortly before I left an email came through from Pam Byers telling me about a request for me to do an early morning TV interview on Thursday.  I would need to be at the studio at 6am, so it is going to be another long day on Thursday!

I got all of my bags into my Kia and checked out before setting off for the 3 hour drive to Omaha.  I have described the route before in previous years and it really isn’t interesting enough to go over yet again being one of the dullest roads I have ever driven on.  I passed the time by listening to the continuing story of Lyra Belacqua in Northern Lights on Audible.  It is a brilliant recording.

One little moment of light relief came from my very English satellite navigation system who when directing me towards St Joseph insisted on calling it ‘Street Joseph’

My car was obviously aware of the monotony of the journey for every now and then a little alarm sounded and a message popped up on the screen: ‘Consider taking a break’ and there was  little picture of a steaming cup of coffee underneath.

At one point in Northern Lights  Philip Pullman describes the fens, the flat marshy lands to the east of England and I realised that the country I was driving through was very similar.  Flat expanses covered with ponds and drainage streams, and a huge sky above, which was blue with some amazing cloud formations painted across it like a Wedgewood bowl.

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From ignoring the scenery around me I now began to study it more closely: many of the ponds were iced over with little lumps on the surface which reminded me of skimming pieces of ice over a frozen lake when I was a child, which set up a harmonic vibration causing the lake to ‘sing’.   And then I realised that these weren’t ponds at all but frozen floods.  Roads disappeared into the ice, and there was an incongruous stop sign poking up in the centre of a silver expanse.  Stainless steel silos were left high and dry like agricultural Noah’s arks.

These diversions, along with the book, passed the time most effectively and soon I was approaching Omaha, Nebraska which is about as far from an ocean as you can be in the United States of America.

I have been coming to Omaha for a number of years now and in the way that the Hampton Inn at Liberty is my home in Missouri, so the Element by Westin is my home in Nebraska.   I parked the car in the garage next to the hotel and checked in.  Soon I was in my comfortable room.  As I m due to stay for 4 nights I took the opportunity of unpacking and hanging everything up, which is a luxury often not available to me on tour.

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I spent the afternoon chasing some more research leads for my book: a man named Martin Condliff and his wife Hannah had been travelling on the train when it crashed at Staplehurst and I had already discovered that he was a hotelier and possibly mayor of his home town ‘in the north’, but I wanted to find more specific information about him.  Using an amazing British newspaper archive I cast a wide net and eventually found a tiny planning application by a Martin Condliff who was proprietor of The Queen’s Hotel  in Waterloo on Merseyside.  Further digging confirmed that this was the same man who had been on the train with Charles Dickens and who had lost his wife in the crash.  There was no mention of his being a Mayor however, but I sent an email to the local council asking if they had any record of him holding such a position in 1865.  I await a reply and will let you know.

A very satisfying couple of hours work.

It was getting dark now so I decided to dine at the local restaurant, The Black Oak Grill which is part of the impressive Midtown Crossing development.  I walked out into the cold evening air, and before going to the restaurant made my way to a branch of Walgreen’s as I needed a few toiletries to see me through to the end of the week.  Having run the pedestrian gauntlet of a fairly major intersection and picked up such items as I needed, I made my way back through the little sloping park in front of Midtown Crossing and went to the Grill, where I enjoyed a delicious crusted trout dish on rice.

After supper I returned to the hotel and watched a bit of The Legend of Bagger Vance before getting ready to retire for the night.  I set my alarm for 5am, so that I would be bright and perky and ready for my 6.15 interview, and fell straight to sleep.

On Thursday it will be back to work.