On Wednesday morning I woke up at 4.15. Why, after particularly busy and tiring days, do I tend to wake so early? After a few unsuccessful attempts to get back to sleep I gave up the struggle and wrote my blog before starting to pack. I needed to be on the road fairly early so it was a good thing to be ready to leave as soon as I’d had breakfast.
I remembered to retrieve my two costumes from the cupboard where I had hung them and with my hat, cane and scarf took them all to the car where they travel in the front passenger seats with the hangers hooked over the two metal rods that support the headrest.
Back in the hotel I enjoyed a steaming hot bowl of porridge followed by a thick fluffy waffle all washed down with two glasses of fresh orange juice and a coffee. Some of the audience from the previous night’s show were also staying in the hotel and we chatted briefly until I had to go back to my room to finish my packing.
One thing I definitely needed to remember was the load of washing that had been in the drier over night, for if I drove away without that I would only have two white shirts to get me through the rest of the season. As I would be going straight to my next venue I made sure that my little roller bag had everything that I would need for a show, and when all was where it should be I left my room, checked out and got settled into the car.
My destination was the beautiful house and gardens at Winterthur in Delaware which would be a drive of around three hours. The first section took me down route 15 along the banks of the Susquehanna which looked particularly beautiful with a low bright winter sun glinting off the slightly disturbed surface. It was another gorgeous sunny day making the drive much more enjoyable than that of two days before. The miles flew by and soon I was crossing the river, passing the little Statue of Liberty that proudly stands on a ruined bridge parapet, heading towards Harrisburg and from there to Lancaster.
As my journey continued the ground began to take on a white tinge to such an extent that it was difficult to know if it was a heavy frost or snow, but as I continued into Amish country it became clear it was a light sprinkling of the latter. The Pennsylvania countryside looked absolutely glorious with the farm silos and red barns standing proudly out against the white. Occasionally a pony-pulled gig came the other way.
As I drove a phone call came in from a radio station in the UK wanting to talk about my show at Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey) next week. It was odd driving through the American countryside talking to the BBC and I had to remember to Anglicise my answers, for example talking about films not movies.
The route is a familiar one to me as Lewisburg and Winterthur always nestle side by side in my schedule, so every landmark was like an old friend. I drove up the hill past the lighthouse-like clock tower in Gap and was soon approaching Chadd’s Ford where I turned towards Centreville and across the state line into Delaware.
I arrived at Winterthur at 11 and took all of my things into the gift store where I was welcomed by Barbara ‘has it really been a year?’ we joked, because actually it had only been a little over two months since I performed Nicholas Nickleby there.
In no time my costume was in the little office which becomes my dressing room and I was in the Copeland lecture theatre arranging my set and making sure that everything was ready for the show. I was joined by Dennis who looks after the tech side at Winterthur and shortly afterwards by my dear friend Ellen. We chatted and caught up, our conversation underscored by various sound effects as Dennis ran through the script up in the sound box.
Ellen told me that the shows had sold incredibly well this year with two of the three being sold out completely and the other almost so. I looked at the huge long auditorium and tried to visualise it packed out, and then doubted the wisdom (as I do every year) of performing with no microphone. I reminded myself that the acoustics of the room are amazing and that the only time I used a mic here nobody could hear anything because the natural amplification of the room just echoed the electronic amplification and created a series of never ending echoes.
It was only 11.45 but the audience for the 1 o’clock show were already standing in line, so I made myself a tea and honey and retired to the office to relax.
I changed into costume at 12.30 and then went through the secret door behind the cash register and up the narrow staircase to the sound box from where I could watch the audience gathering beneath me. There was a definite buzz in the air, for this crowd seemed to be imbued with the Christmas spirit and it was infectious.
Start time came closer and I joined Ellen and Carol, the director of Winterthur, at the back of the hall ready to begin. A little after 1 Carol went to the podium and made the introductions and when she had finished, the Trans Siberian Orchestra’s ‘God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen’ (there has been a long Twitter conversation in the UK about correct punctuation of carol names, and that is indeed where the comma should reside in the title), filled the hall and I walked slowly to the stage.
I looked at the audience. Oh my there were a lot of them. Supposing so much clothing, so many coats and hats and shawls and scarfs and gloves might kill the accoustic, what if those people right at the back, 356 seats away, couldn’t hear anything? WHY didn’t I have a microphone?!
‘Marley was dead, to begin with’ A reassuring echo came back to me, yes the room was alive. It would be alright.
The show was the best of the tour so far. I was giving it everything and the audience were responding in kind: they loved every moment. After Fezziwing’s dance I received a loud round of applause (‘next stop Dancing With The Stars’ I ad-libbed), and another for Topper’s game of Blindman’s Buff and a third for Old Joe’s excretions. Ellen later told me that the shop staff, on hearing the applause, assumed that the show had finished and prepared for the audience to come out.
It was such fun and when I did actually reach the end the ovation was loud, enthusiastic and truly memorable. I was buzzing with adrenaline as I returned to the office and took my time to get changed before making my way to the visitor centre cafeteria for the signing session.
A lot of people had remained behind to have things signed and to have photographs taken and the line was longer than either Ellen or I could remember at Winterthur. About half way through the session I could feel the adrenaline begin to subside and a weariness came over me. I was very relieved when I signed Samantha’s programme, for she was the last.
It was 3.30 now and with no further shows I was able to hang my costumes up, re-set the stage ready for the next day and then got ready to leave. Ellen had kindly offered to take me out to dinner that night so we set an early time of 6 to meet and I drove off to the Fairville Inn where I always stay when visiting Winterthur.
This year I was given a ground floor room in The Carriage House which meant I didn’t have to haul my cases upstairs and in no time I was relaxing in front of the fire until I dropped off into a much needed nap.
I was due to meet Ellen at a rather lovely pizza restaurant called Elizabeth’s and as I drove I marvelled at the most perfect full moon shining from the clear sky. Ellen was waiting for me and we had a lovely time chatting about the tour and about ideas for alternative events in the future, along the lines of the exclusive dinner in Omaha, or the Library Lover’s receptions in Kansas City.
All of the Pizzas at Elizabeths are named after famous Elizabeths and I felt that I should really have dutifully chosen the Queen, but as the first listed ingredient was muchrooms of which I am not a fan, I plumped instead for a regular Montgomery, whilst Ellen chose a mini Shannon.
It was a very nice, unpressured, evening and we left the restaurant at around 7.30. After my ridiculously early start, and a very energetic show I was feeling completely drained and as soon as I returned to the Fairville Inn I lay on the bed. I flicked through TV channels knowing that whatever I chose would not remain on for long, and I settled on one of our favourite films of recent years Hidden Figures. I remember seeing the famous scene in which Kevin Costner demolishes the ‘coloured washroom’ sign, but after that nothing.
It had been a good day, though. The best yet.
Today’s musical choice accompanies the Cratchit family as they share their meagre Christmas lunch enjoying not a great feast but the simple joy of being together as a family.
Paul McCartney accompanies them singing ‘Simply having a wonderful Christmas time’