The Answers to the Quiz


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Today, my 8 days of quarantine over, and showing negative results, I am on the road again, driving to Lewes Delaware to perform to an enormous audience in a huge auditorium – nothing like starting small and gently working back up to full strength, is there? My throat is still a little tender from much coughing, but I have been rehearsing in the cabin and all seems well – wish me luck!

So, as I get back to normal, it is time to put you out of your misery and post the answers to the quiz questions – well done to anyone who got a full house!

A Christmas Carol Quiz

1: How many ghosts visit Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Eve?

The secret to this question is in the exact wording. The answer is not 4, or even 3.  The correct answer is 1 – Marley’s Ghost, for all of the others come after midnight, and therefore on Christmas Day.  You could say that in the unabridged text Ebenezer looks out of his window and sees the sky filled with phantoms, but they didn’t strictly come to visit him, so my official answer stays at 1.

2: In what region of London do the Cratchit family live?

Camden Town.  This was the same region that the Dickens family lived in when Charles was a young boy. His father was imprisoned for debt, thereby showing him what poverty was really like.

3: What is the name of Scrooge’s nephew’s flirtatious friend?

Topper – ‘Well Hellloooooo. Ding Dong!’

4: What was the name of the young clerk who worked alongside a young Ebenezer at Mr Fezziwig’s?

Dick Wilkins.  Just as an aside, when young Charles worked in the blacking warehouse, pasting labels on pots of shoe blacking, he worked alongside a boy named Bob Fagin.  He took both names and used them for characters in later works.

Bah! Humbug!  All of the answers in this section have the initials BH

1: What is the name of Charles Dickens’s 9th full length novel, in which he satirises the legal industry?

Bleak House, published in 20 monthly instalments between 1852-53, and featuring the never ending court case of Jarndyce V Jarndyce

2: The name of a schoolmaster in Our Mutual Friend

Bradley Headtsone.  ‘There was a kind of settled trouble in the face. It was the face belonging to a naturally slow or inattentive intellect that had toiled hard to get what it had won, and that had to hold it now that it was gotten.’

3: Where Charles Dickens’ ship moored on his 1867 trip to the USA and from where he travelled to the Parker House Hotel (and maybe enjoyed a cup of tea….)

Boston Harbor (I of course use the American spelling)

4: A particularly poor yard in London, described in Little Dorrit

Bleeding Heart Yard.  Dickens describes the area as ‘ a place much changed in feature and in fortune, yet with some relish of ancient greatness about it. Two or three mighty stacks of chimneys, and a few large dark rooms which had escaped being walled and subdivided out of the recognition of their old proportions, gave the Yard a character. It was inhabited by poor people, who set up their rest among its faded glories, as Arabs of the desert pitch their tents among the fallen stones of the Pyramids; but there was a family sentimental feeling prevalent in the Yard, that it had a character.’

There are many theories as to how the Yard got its name, but one suggests that it commemorates the murder of Lady Elizabeth Hatton. It is said that her body was found here on 27 January 1646, “torn limb from limb, but with her heart still pumping blood.”

A question I am often asked is ‘what is your favourite film version of A Christmas Carol’, and the correct answer has to be the same version as the questioner!  Here are 6 versions, can you tell me the year they were made?  I am giving you the actor who played Scrooge in each case

1: Seymour Hicks                   (1938)

2: Mark McDermot                (1910)

A CHRISTMAS CAROL- (1910) J. Searle Dawley, Marc McDermott, Charles S. Ogle – YouTube

3: George C Scott                    (1984)

4: Albert Finney                      (1970)

5: Alastair Sim                         (1951)

6: Michael Cane                      (1992)

One I didn’t list, because I couldn’t find the actor’s name, but is definitely worth a look is ‘Scrooge’ or ‘Marley’s Ghost’, made in 1901, less than 60 years after the book was published: It only lasts 5 minutes or so, but is a remarkable example of the early years of moving pictures

Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost (1901) | BFI National Archive – YouTube

To finish off, some questions about the life of Charles Dickens

1:  What year was Dickens born (an important year in British/American relations)


2:  What were CD’s middle names?

His full name was Charles John Huffam Dickens. 

3:  What is the FULL title of his first novel?

The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, Containing a Faithful Record of the Perambulations, Perils, Travels, Adventures and Sporting Transactions of the Corresponding Members

4:  What is the name of the town in the county of Kent where Charles Dickens was involved in a serious train crash (if only there was a book available on this subject…..)

Staplehurst.  Ref. ‘Dickens and Staplehurst. A Biography of a Rail Crash’

Dickens and Staplehurst: A Biography of a Rail Crash: Dickens, Gerald: 9781788308519: Books

5:  Charles Dickens was interred in Westminster Abbey in London, but where did he want to be buried?

In or near to the precincts of Rochester Cathedral, in Kent.  Rochester had featured in many of his novels, including being the main setting for his final, unfinished one ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’.  However, the Dean of Westminster and other influential gentlemen of the time felt that he should be given the honour of being laid in Poets Corner along with other literary greats.

Wednesday: In the Footsteps, or Rather the Wheel-Tracks, actually the Wake of Charles Dickens


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On Wednesday morning I continued my road back to being able to perform. On Tuesday I had finally left Manchester and driven south, so that I could be closer to my planned events over the weekend, in the hope that I would feel physically up to getting back on stage. The drive from New England to New York, specifically Long Island, is one that I should have been doing on Sunday, in readiness for the two hows I had booked there, but of course sadly that never happened. It is a route I know well from previous years, and actually follows in the wheel tracks of Charles Dickens’s first trip to the USA in 1842, As he made his way south he commented on Worcester ‘ a pretty New England town’; Hartford ‘The town is beautifully situated in a basin of green hills; the soil is rich, well-wooded, and carefully improved’; and New Haven ‘ ….known also as the City of Elms, is a fine town.  Many of its streets (as its alias sufficiently imports) are planted with rows of grand old elm-trees; and the same natural ornaments surround Yale College, an establishment of considerable eminence and reputation.’ All three of these well-remembered quotes came to me as I drove by, thinking about how quickly I was travelling, compared to the days it took him to complete the same journey by train and steamboat. I passed the time by listening to a new Audible dramatization of Oliver Twist.

My destination was Bob and Pam Byers cabin set high on a hill above the Delaware River, and the most perfect place to isolate, if only I’d been able to get there earlier in the week. The drive was a long one, and Bob and I had agreed that if I was feeling tired, I would just find a hotel and stop for the night. As I neared New York the traffic became heavy, of course, and the weather closed in with low cloud and heavy rain, so I decided to do the sensible thing and find a place to stop, and thanks to the wonder of the smart phone I was soon pulling up outside a Hampton Inn at White Plains, and carefully masked, checked in for a single night.

A Hampton Inn beside a huge highway intersection on a very wet night does not present me with much to talk about, but I spent a comfortable night, enjoyed a perfect waffle for breakfast, and prepared to finish my journey. I waited for the New York morning traffic to clear, and got on the road at 11 to complete the final 1 hour and thirty minutes of my journey.

The cabin is familiar to me, as I stayed here as recently as September, and it was wonderful to be back. I opened the sliding door to the decking and enjoyed the amazing view across the river, as well as taking lungfuls of chilled, pure air. Pam had kindly stocked up the refrigerator in preparation for my arrival, and I sat at the table with a plate of cheese, humous and an apple. As soon as I had finished, and cleared away, I began to rehearse, get back to work. I knew that I wanted to perform on Friday (the first after my recommended period of quarantine was over), but would I be able to? would my lungs have the strength and capacity to project? Would I be able to get more than one line out with coughing and spluttering? The answer seemed to be yes, I could, and I happily bounded around the large room as Ebenezer, Bob, Fred and the charity collector. It all felt fine!

The afternoon drifted on towards evening and I made myself a salmon and hard-boiled egg salad for my supper, which I ate in front of the television, watching the amazing film The Dig, about the archaeological find at Sutton Hoo in England, in 1938.

Although it was dark outside when I went to my bedroom, it wasn’t that late, so I decided to listen to one of my favourite podcasts, ‘You’re Dead to Me’ which is a lighthearted history pod, presented by a young historian, Greg Jenner. This week his subject was ‘A Dickensian Christmas’ featuring, as his expert, Dr Emily Bell, the editor of The Dickensian magazine. It was a fascinating listen, and I urge anyone reading this with an interest in Dickens and A Christmas Carol (which I am guessing is most of you), to give it a try. The link is below.

One more day of isolation, and then on Friday, everything being OK, I can get into costume again, walk across the stage as my sound effect plays, and say ‘Marley was dead, to begin with!’

Your’e Dead to Me Podcast:

An Update on Mr Dickens


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And so begins another day in isolation, although I have now changed location. As lovely as Manchester NH is, I was getting a little stir crazy in my hotel room, and the view out of the window, across the parking lot was becoming a little stale. Mind you, if I had been at the other side of the hotel I would have been looking across a ball park, with stands, floodlights, giant scoreboards etc. which would have been more fun!

So, an update on the situation: work wise I have lost performances in Nashua, Long Island and at Winterthur, and although I know it would have been completely irresponsible to perform (indeed, I took the initial test because I was concerned about the residents at the Nashua Senior Center being exposed to the virus), and physically I don’t think I would have been able to get through the shows, I still sat in my room feeling so upset for the hundreds of people who had been looking forward to attending. I have had lots of messages of support and sympathy, but I have so missed standing on stage and hearing the laughter and applause, and being a small part of people’s Christmas celebrations.

The good news is that I am no longer testing positive and the recommended period of quarantine from the time of the first symptoms will soon be passed. Speaking of symptoms, one of my regular readers posted a question asking what mine were and are? It started in Lenox, after my Thursday night performance there, and I began to feel as if I were catching a cold, which is nothing unusual during a tour, when the weather is cold (and this year, wet), and I am using a lot of my energy to perform, meaning that my body’s natural defences are low. I have often caught colds in the past, so these very mild symptoms didn’t ring alarm bells at that stage. On Friday morning I set out to drive from west to east towards New Hampshire, and in my uncompleted, and unpublished blog post from that day I wrote:

The day was clear and sunny, showing off The Berkshires in all of their winter glory, as I headed East. In fact, the journey was a bit like an encyclopedia of my touring history, for I passed a great many cities and communities where I have performed in the past: starting at Lenox, of course, then Westfield, I saw a sign for East Deerfield, and then more for Old Sturbridge Village. I passed through Worcester (in fact I could see the hotel where I had stayed just a few days before from the freeway), before skirting Boston, to Lowell (where I had not only performed, but CD visited the city to observe the mills during his first visit to America in 1842), and Salem before heading into New Hampshire, passing Nashua, to where I will be returning on Saturday, and finally to Manchester. If I had continued north, a long way north, I would have reached the Mount Washington Hotel in the heart of the White Mountains. In those early days of touring, I would drive past the Old Man of the Mountain, a huge granite outcrop in the shape of a face, with a hooked nose. The old man took on almost mythical status in the state, and it was with shock and fear that the news was received one morning in 2003 that the whole front of the face had broken away from the cliff and tumbled into the valley below, depriving New Hampshire of an iconic symbol.

During the drive I stopped at a Panera Bread restaurant and had one of their Fuji Salads, and by now I could feel my cold taking grip a little more – I thought that I could really have done without this just now’

So, in hindsight, it started there.

The next morning I felt much more debilitated, with my body and head both aching too. Early in the morning I managed to get hold of some testing kits and a thermometer and sure enough there was the second pink line.

Fortunately, I did not have a fever, though. The thermometer’s instructions caused me some angst, in that it told me to press against the very centre of my forehead (that was OK), but then to slowly move it up until it reached the hairline – well, in my case that is quite a long journey, in fact one could say a journey without end! Fortunately there was a suggestion to also move the probe to the neck, just below the ear, which is what I did.

Since the initial test I stayed pretty well in bed for two days, very tired, aching a bit in body and head and found myself sleeping a lot. I was thankful that the football World Cup was in full swing, as that provided some relief. I ordered food to be delivered to the hotel but found that I really didn’t have much of an appetite at all. On Monday afternoon I rebelliously sneaked out of the hotel and in the isolation of my car drove out to a deserted beach and walked on the sands breathing the fresh air. I even ran a little, just a few hundred yards up and down, to see how my lungs were performing, and actually it was OK.

From the beach at Hampton I drove up the coastal road for a while admiring the huge houses there, all twinkling with expensive Christmas decorations. The sight of those decorations made me feel wonderfully Christmassy for the first time in days, but also brought a wave of sadness to me: they represented the celebration of a season that I was not part of, and couldn’t be part of for a while.

Yesterday I drove from New Hampshire towards Pennsylvania, so that I can be close to the remaining venues of the tour and be ready to go if I am feeling physically able. The main issue now is a fairly constant dry cough, and lingering headache, but I am dosing up daily and am feeling better by the day. Bob Byers has been incredibly supportive, of course, putting no pressure on me to to perform, in fact quite the opposite, counselling me to look after myself and not push too hard too soon: he knows me too well!

So, that is the update – many thanks to all of you who have sent messages and comments via social media, I so value your friendship. I have had a messages about the quiz, and even had answer sheets submitted – I will post the complete answers in a couple of days, along with a few explanatory notes

A few more days rest and recuperation and hopefully I will back on stage on Friday!

Changes in Travel Over 29 Years. Part 1: Flying


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Apart from the memories of specific venues, performances or events, I have also been thinking a lot about how the travel experience has changed over the years. I have already hinted at some things in various blog posts, but here are some of my memories and observations.

I am not one of the rose-tinted spectacles brigade that remembers the days when you dressed up to fly, gentlemen in their trilby hats and women in their pears and chic suits. By the time I first made a transatlantic crossing the rabble (in which I include myself, I should say) had been allowed in and it was a case of anything goes. Although I love looking at images of that golden age of travel, both by air and sea, it seems a different experience to the ones I had. My only regret is that I never got to make a champagne toast to the speed of Mach 2 on Concorde, which was still in service when in 93, and had a further 10 years ahead of her (with a year’s hiatus due to the tragedy in Paris). I was always just a normal passenger.], who turned right when boarding a plane.

So, what has changed over the years?

Firstly, there was the suitcase – with a handle, to carry, or at least to put on an airport cart that required a coin to release it from a stack of other carts in the way you collect a supermarket trolley now. The experienced traveller would have the correct currency available, or would tip a porter at the curbside to take the luggage to check in. As the years passed I began to look on enviously at passengers who had cases with two wheels on one edge of the case so that they pull their own bags, and when I eventually got such a case, I looked on with envy at those who had cases with 4 wheels, which seemed to glide much easier across the floors. I assume that his innovation (and I hope that the man who invented wheeled cases has received all of the awards and rewards that he deserves), caused the end of carpeted terminal buildings.

On domestic flights in America there was an option to check in and leave your baggage at the curbside where you got out of your taxi, and entrusted it to a guy in a cap, hoping it would get onto the same flight – it often didn’t. But international check in was more complex. You had to make sure you had your passport, of course, and your ticket – yes, a real cardboard ticket, which you presented to the representative of whichever airline you were booked with, and woe betide if you’d left your tickets at home. Today, the flag carriers still exist, BA, American, United, Delta, but I often think back to those trans-Atlantic airlines that are no more: BOAC, British Caledonian, Braniff Airlines (the ‘flying carrot’ ) Laker Air, TWA, PanAm, Continental, NorthWest and I am sure many many more. At the desk the agent, in a stylish uniform featuring a cap or hat, would hand you your boarding pass and only then would you discover what seat you were travelling in – no opportunities for checking in online and choosing your own location. The agent would ask you about your luggage – had you packed it yourself, had the case been in your possession since you packed it, and had anybody asked you to take anything aboard? It was only checking in for this year’s tour that I realised that this isn’t a question anymore, and I am not aware of when it ceased being asked.

Today, once you are checked in and your bag has disappeared into the great black hole of airport baggage handlers, and to be fair the success rate of getting it to the same destination as you is very high, one moves on to security, where you are asked to divest yourself of items of apparel, including shoes, belts, jackets and watches, before being intimately screened by a large machine, and then probably being patted down by a blue-gloved agent, as your bags are being scrutinised thanks to the wonders of x-ray. The security checks of old were much less extreme and a lot seemed to be left to the trust that the officers had in the passengers. This, of course, was lampooned in ‘Airplane’ as various terrorists complete with ammunition, bazookas, rocket launchers and guns, happily stroll through the gate, while two agents wrestle a helpless elderly lady into handcuffs. It is extraordinary to think that prior to the horrors of 9-11 friends and well-wishers could come to the gate with you (maybe not on international flights, now I think about it,) and American airports were more like bus stations in those days, crowded with people lingering to wave goodbye or waiting to hug hello. On one tour I got off a flight to discover a group of costumed Victorian characters waiting at the gate to welcome me to their city through the medium of song!

The design of the planes has not changed a great deal of course, but what was available onboard has. Back in the 90’s one movie would be shown, on a screen at the front of the cabin, and you hoped your headphone socket worked, and that there wasn’t a particularly tall person sitting in the rows ahead of you. A further development was little screens which dropped down from the ceiling along the cabin (all very James Bond), meaning that you had more chance of seeing the film, and then – oh, goodness what a moment of excitement, you got an actual screen in the back of the seat in front of you, and you could control it from a handset that unclipped from the screen unit with an extendable leaded that snapped back into place if you let go, and from which you could even make astronomically expensive phone calls! Nowadays not only do most planes offer inflight films, with a HUGE catalogue to chose from, but many airlines have apps from which you can watch films using the plane’s wifi connection, if the particular aircraft doesn’t have built in TVs

One aspect of flying that has never changed has been the safety briefing – yes, we are still told, and shown, how to fix a seatbelt together, and how to undo it again, as if we have never been in an car before. Over the years some airlines have tried to make the briefing funnier by employing comedians to record them, with suitably ribald asides, but basically they are the same. I remember one larger than life flight attendant giving the briefing telling the passengers that ‘all smokers on this flight will be pleased to know that there are 2 smoking areas on this aircraft – one on the end of the left wing, and one at the end of the right!’ I do always look for my nearest exit (sometimes behind me), and having watched the film Sully a few times, I am less snippy than once I was about the idea of placing a life vest over my head and tightening the straps around my waist when flying at 35,000 feet

Preparing for international arrival is much easier now than it used to be, because there is nothing to do! I used to have to fill out various immigration and customs documents requiring my passport details, which I had inevitably left in the overhead locker – my preference for a window seat meant that I would have to ask my row companions if I could get out to fetch it (unless I could find a moment when they both required the lavatory, as they are still reassuringly called on planes, at the same time ). I would often also find that my fountain pen had reacted badly to the changes of air pressure, and that when I took the lid off to fill in the forms my fingers would get covered in ink, which stain would remain for a few days like a strange tattoo.

Yes, a lot has changed about air travel, and even after all of these years I still love it and find it exciting

Tomorrow I shall move onto driving, hotels and keeping in touch…..

A Few Reflections From my Hotel Ward


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Throughout this year’s tour, and with the realisation that I have been performing A Christmas Carol for nearly 30 years, I have been reflecting a lot about my life on the road.

So, while sitting alone in my hotel room letting Covid get out of my system, I thought that I would share a few of them. Some of these anecdotes feature in my new book, to be published next year, but I will try not to scoop myself too much.

When I first came to America, I was not a seasoned traveller, and everything was new to me. In fact, I seem to remember at my very first hotel I actually broke the key (yes, a real metal key), in the lock of my room. I can’t imagine what the manager of the hotel must have thought, or how much it must have cost him to replace the lock. I was in Atlanta, Georgia and had been booked to read at a very lavish open Christmas house in the affluent Buckhead area of the city. It was raining hard when I arrived, and everyone was rushing about trying to put the finishing touches to the decorations, and as one lady made her way into the large hallway, probably holding a poinsettia, she stopped, looked at me and said, ‘Oh, are you the Dickens guy? I thought you’d be older and fatter!’ and went on her way. At the time I thought that she seemed a little disappointed by my youth and slimness. However, nobody has said that for a few years now!

Another anecdote from my early years of touring came back to me just a few days ago when I spent time in Lenox with my friend Jeneene, she reminded me that she had come to see me in a show in Ohio, at the town of Waynesville, and there was quite a story behind that. Back in 1843 Charles Dickens had visited America and had travelled into Ohio, to the very edge of the great plains. He travelled by carriage and the roads were dusty and rough. He arrived in the small town of Lebanon where he stayed at the Golden Lamb Inn. Local legend has it that the great author was parched after his day’s travelling and requested a glass of brandy to satiate him. Unfortunately, the house was a temperance one, and not a drop of liquor would be served there. Dickens therefore marched down the main street to another inn but received the same response. Early next morning he departed, and that afternoon stopped in the even smaller town of Waynesville where once again he asked for brandy, only to rebuffed once more. He left in high dudgeon. When I was invited to perform there, the locals wanted to make amends, so that everywhere I visited I was given brandy – by the time I got to my evening performance in a high school auditorium I could hardly stand, let alone remember any lines!

I have performed in many of the great cities in America – New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Franscisco, Charlotte, Boston, Kansas City, Omaha, Birmingham, Memphis, Nashville, Dallas, San Antonia, Phoenix and others, but I have also performed in many small towns, where the sense of community and hospitality is so strong. I have stayed in great, lavish hotels, and in some wonderful B&Bs and private homes, I have performed in large theatres as well as in tiny halls, and it is that contrast that helps me keep the show fresh, because every day sees a new challenge, a new set of opportunities to adapt and change the performance to fit the venue, meaning that it never becomes routine or a chore. In fact, the last week has encompassed that perfectly: At Vaillancourt Folk Art I performed on a good-sized stage, beautifully decorated, with the audience on three sides of me, very close and intimate. In Virginia I was in the traditional setting of a beautiful theatre – lots of space on stage, and a large auditorium stretching back into the darkness, meaning that I had plenty of room to move and stretch the performance out, but the audience were invisible in the darkness, behind the lights. From Virginia to The Berkshires and a small Victorian parlour, performing on the floor at one end of the room, with the audience very close, and in that setting the show becomes more of an entertainment that may have been enjoyed by guests in the 1800s, and then to another large auditorium in Manchester, where once again I needed to expand and hold a larger hall.

I am sometimes asked if there are any performances that I have not been happy with, and one in particular always springs to mind. I was in Wilmington, Delaware and the venue was a lecture theatre, I think. From memory, and I may be mis-remembering this, I was on floor level with seating sloping up, but it may have been just a normal function room with chairs on the floor. It was grey, it was very grey, and illuminated by unforgiving and untheatrical fluorescent strip lighting. A chair and a stool and a hat rack were placed in the middle of the floor, rather lost in the large room. I remember that I wasn’t feeling great and that my voice was strained and tired (in those days I used to do 3 shows in a day, and had yet to realise how important it was to protect my throat, not only by using a good technique, but also via diet – I have since learned that consuming any dairy product in the hours before a show creates an extra thick lining to the throat making it much more difficult to project and therefore leads to straining). Much of the audience were on bust tours, and had the show included in their itinerary, so hadn’t necessarily made their own decisions to be there. I began, and it did not go well! I was sluggish and wasn’t engaging with the audience, nor they with me. As the show continued, I began to edit as I went on, cutting parts of dialogue, even whole scenes, just to bring this torture to an end for all of our sakes. I reached the final scene, and finished up with ‘God Bless Us, Every One!’ and bowed once. The front two rows were filled with people from one of the bus tours, and apparently worried that they would miss their departure time, they all stood up to leave, which lead to a most curious set of circumstances. The audience members further back saw everyone at the front standing, and must have assumed that they were giving me a standing ovation, so they stood also to join in. The bus tour at the front looked around and saw everyone else standing and applauding and obviously felt that they couldn’t leave, so continued to stand and clap. I, on stage, took a few more extremely embarrassed bows, for everyone in that room knew that my performance that day didn’t deserve such a response.

The show itself undergoes a constant process of change, and not intentionally, for very rarely do I sit down at the start of a season and think that I am going to change a scene. The alterations usually come to me during a show, sometimes by fortuitous accident, sometimes by a desire to improve how a scene works, how the characters are positioned on stage and are able to interact. For example, on this year’s tour I have decided that the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come will always point directly towards the grave, whereas in the past he has just pointed Scrooge to wherever they were travelling. In the opening scene I, in the character of Ebenezer, look down onto Jacob Marley’s grave, and at the end when he is being shown the vision of his own tombstone, it is in exactly the same spot. Even when Bob Cratchit is talking to his wife about the site of Tiny Tim’s grave, he gestures to that same corner of the stage, so that downstage right corner becomes the focus of Yet to Come’s journey – whatever else happens during his visit, it is all leading to one place.

So, when I return to a regular venue, the show has undergone what could be called a full cycle of change since my last visit, lots of tiny changes, maybe of movement, maybe of expression or tone, and regular audience members will say ‘It is different this year, you’ve changed it up a little!’, and I will have no idea, for I have just gone with the flow and let it develop.

I will finish this brief post (not knowing how long I may be rendered hors de combat, I need to save some stories), with an observation on how many versions of A Christmas Carol are being performed in theatres this year – I have never known a year like it. In England there must be about 30 different professional performances being advertised in many formats, including a few one man shows (‘Bah, Humbug!’ I say), but that really does tell you everything that you need to know about the enduring legacy, the durability, the importance and the sheer entertainment value of this amazing little book, which Charles Dickens hoped would haunt the houses of its readers pleasantly, ‘and no one wish to lay it’. Well, there is certainly no sign of that happening for a long time to come.

A Dickens of a Quiz


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As I am still confined to my hotel ward, there is not much to write about, although I will be writing a post reflecting on my touring memories soon, but I thought that it might be fun to post a Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol trivia quiz. No prizes, just a bit of fun. Now, the fact that you are reading this means you have access to the internet but see how many you can get without extra research. I will post the full list of answers next week, when I am back on the road!

I will start with some old favourites, to get you started

1: How many ghosts visit Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Eve?

2: In what region of London do the Cratchit family live?

3: What is the name of Scrooge’s nephew’s flirtatious friend?

4: What was the name of the young clerk who worked alongside a young Ebenezer at Mr Fezziwig’s?

Bah! Humbug!  All of the answers in this section have the initials BH

1: What is the name of Charles Dickens’s 9th full length novel, in which he satirises the legal industry?

2: The name of a schoolmaster in Our Mutual Friend

3: Where Charles Dickens’ ship moored on his 1867 trip to the USA and from where he travelled to the Parker House Hotel (and maybe enjoyed a cup of tea….)

4: A particularly poor yard in London, described in Little Dorrit

A question I am often asked is ‘what is your favourite film version of A Christmas Carol’, and the correct answer has to be the same version as the questioner!  Here are 6 versions, can you tell me the year they were made?  I am giving you the actor who played Scrooge in each case

1: Seymour Hicks                  

2: Mark McDermot               

3: George C Scott                   

4: Albert Finney                     

5: Alastair Sim                        

6: Michael Cane      


To finish off, some questions about the life of Charles Dickens

1:  What year was Dickens born (an important year in British/American relations)

2:  What were CD’s middle names?

3:  What is the FULL title of his first novel?

4:  What is the name of the town in the county of Kent where Charles Dickens was involved in a serious train crash (if only there was a book available on this subject…..)

5:  Charles Dickens was buried in Westminster Abbey in London, but where did he want to be buried?

Meanwhile, if you have any questions for me, then why not post them in the comments section here, or contact me via my website:

Have Fun!

The Tour Comes to a Halt, Thanks to Covid19


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For all of you who are anxious to discover what happened yesterday, when I drove from Lenox to Manchester, and performed at The Dana Center at St Anselm College, things have changed a bit.

I had written a draft for that blog post, and in it had mentioned that I was suffering the start of cold-like symptoms, which I was worried would affect my microphone-less performance last night. In fact, the show went OK, and the audience reaction was as enthusiastic and positive as those throughout the tour. However, when I got back to the hotel room, I began to feel a bit worse, and sleep was difficult. By the morning I didn’t feel good, and decided that I should take a Covid test, especially as I was due to perform at a senior center in downtown Nashua, and I certainly shouldn’t go there if there was any hint of me having Covid Unfortunately, two little pink lines showed, and for the very first time since the pandemic began in the winter/spring of 2020, I had contracted the virus.

Obviously, this is going to affect the rest of the tour, considerably. I immediately called Bob Byers, and we took the inevitable decision to cancel today’s two shows, as well as those on Monday and Tuesday on Long Island – what happens after that, we will have to wait and see how my condition improves or declines. The hotel at which I am staying in Manchester has very kindly extended my stay, so that I remain in my room, mainly watching the World Cup (sorry, USA, you put up a noble fight)

So, this is not a cheery, witty Blog post, just telling you what is happening – more soon!

A Few Secrets and a Memory of Dad


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Although my only performance on Thursday would again be at 7pm, I had to be at Ventfort Hall at 8.30 in the morning for an interview and photo shoot. I had a small breakfast of yoghurt, granola and fruit and returned to the room to get ready. Outside it was very cold in fact the remaining puddles from Wednesday’s rainstorm were now solid ice, and when I tried to open the car door, I found that I could not. At first I assumed the lock had failed, or the remote key was low on battery, but I soon realised that the door had an effective seal of ice, and it took a good deal of force to break it, and gain access to the Santa Fe (maybe, bearing in mind the season, it should be a Santa Sleigh instead?)

It is always a nice feeling, when I have been to a city multiple times, to set off on the journey from hotel to venue without needing any digital aid to navigate me there. Such is the case in Lenox, although admittedly the journey is not a complicated one, involving only one turn, but still there is a feeling of belonging when you can just jump in a car and know where you are going.

I arrived at the Hall at the same time as Haley and waited as she unlocked the venerable old building and switched the lights on. I went upstairs and got into costume and by the time I was ready I could hear Haley welcoming Anastasia Stanmeyer, the journalist from The Berkshires Magazine. We shook hands and she immediately got down to work, starting with taking a whole series of photos to accompany the article. Firstly, I stood on my set, in front of the red curtain that Haley had fixed in front of the windows to provide a suitably theatrical backdrop. I did some Scrooge faces, as well as a few posed portraits of the real me (whoever HE is?) Next Anastasia wanted to move to other areas of the house (the article, of course, being just as much about promoting Ventfort Hall as my shows). I walked about and down the long hallway leading to the Billiard Room, and then posed in front of a great stone fireplace while Anastasia called out various emotions which I had to instantly reflect in my pose and expression, it felt rather like being at drama school!

With the photo shoot done (all on her phone, for long gone are the days of hours waiting for photographic lights and flash units to be erected, readings to be taken and a single image being captured before setting up again somewhere else), we sat down in the library, or auditorium as I like to think of it, and began to chat about the show and my career. One question that she asked, which interestingly has become increasingly common this year, was ‘what is your favourite part of the show?’ The answer is a scene when nothing is happening at all, there are no words being spoken, and no action, indeed no movement. I speak of the moment that The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come leads Scrooge back to the Cratchit’s house and simply points straight forward (over the spot on the stage where both Marley’s and Scrooge’s graves are placed). The line is, ‘It was quiet. Very quiet’. and I hold the pause. If everything has gone well up to that point you can feel the silence in the room, almost heavy in its intensity, and it is an amazing experience for a performer to know that an entire audience is almost breathless with fear and anticipation.

I also shared some of my ‘secrets’ about playing multiple characters, citing the conversation between Ebenezer and the charity collector on Christmas morning, during which old Scrooge holds his hat and cane together in his left hand, while the collector holds the hat in his left hand and the cane in his right. It is a simple device, and one that maybe an audience doesn’t really see, although they are aware that there is something different between the two gentlemen. And these are the kind of details and secrets that you will be able to read in my new book, available next year!

When the interview was finished, and thank-yous exchanged, I went back to change, The Hall was now open to the public, so I wouldn’t be able to leave my costumes on the chaise longue, but Haley told me that I could hang them in a large wardrobe in the room, where they looked as if they may feature in a new Narnia novel.

I drove back to the hotel, and did a little work before heading out for a lunch date. A very dear friend of mine, Jeneene Brengelman had flown in from Cincinatti with her companion Tom, to see my show. Jeneene has often travelled over to England for the annual Dickens Festival in Rochester each June and became very much a part of the regular crowd of characters, which is where we met. After years of hoping that I may perform in her own city, she decided to come to Massachusetts instead, and very kindly extended an invitation to lunch. We were due to meet at Electra’s Cafe, which was only a matter of a few minutes from my hotel. At 1 o’clock I pulled into the parking lot, locked the car door and walked into the building, only to discover that I had nonchalantly strolled into a cannabis store (legalisation of recreational cannabis in the state and the ability to buy it from an outlet was passed in 2018, and such shops are now as prevalent along the way as popular fast-food chains). Quickly realising my mistake, I exited and took the adjoining door which opened to a much more familiar scene, and there were Jeneene and Tom waiting for me. Jeneene makes wonderful Christmas ornaments and presented me with a special one featuring a family of four snowmen and a snow cat, with all of our names written around the frame – it will hang on our tree this Christmas! We sat down, and they told me about their nightmare journey of the day before, when they had been due to fly to Albany and then drive to Lenox. In the height of the rainstorms that had hit the region, their pilot had taken the decision that it would not be safe to fly, and so the plane had trundled back to the terminal, where they had to wait for a much later departure, meaning a very late arrival at their B&B, which was all locked up. I was truly fortunate that my flight from Virginia had been on the day before the storm hit, or I may have been describing a similar tale of woe. Soon the conversation was flowing, mainly with reminiscences from Dickens festivals in the past. Many years ago, Jeneene had sent me a picture taken at one of the festivals of me and my dad, and it is a picture I treasure, for his is very obviously looking out for me, making sure that everything was OK, without taking over – his support at that time, when I was finding my feet in what was a new departure for me, was essential for the success that followed. I owe him so much.

Looking at the picture now, so many years on, how slim I was and even had a sort of a fringe!

As we talked, we ate a delicious lunch, which for me featured my regular fare on the day of a show, a large salad with grilled chicken.

It was a lovely diversion and break to my day, and great to catch up with Jeneene and to meet Tom, who would be coming to the show at Ventfort that evening (having managed to change their tickets from the night before when they were stuck at the airport)

I went back to my room again, and actually had a short nap, before watching another extraordinary football match, this time Japan managing to beat Spain, thereby knocking Germany out of the tournament – it is turning into quite an interesting World Cup all things considered.

I drove back to Ventfort at around 5pm, and there were festive flurries in the air, not enough to make driving dangerous, but enough to make the town look extremely Christmassy. There wasn’t much to do when I arrived, for I had made sure the set was in place that morning, but it is always good to check so as not to be caught out, and everything was just as I had left it. I chatted with Haley, Leah and various volunteers who would be helping that evening, but even as we spoke the door opened and the first audience members arrived (actually, Jeneene and Tom). It was time to withdraw and to change. My costumes were hanging in the wardrobe, but I wasn’t transported to a magical land to be greeted by Mr Tumnus, which would have made for a very interesting blog post, but simply got changed into the meet and greet costume, without the Velcro attached.

As soon as I walked down the stairs, I could tell that the Thursday audience was a lot livelier than the Wednesday crowd had been, there was a buzz about the building. I circulated, chatted, and once again many people told me that they had seen me before at various other venues. I posed for quite a few pictures, and it was obvious that the evening was going to be a fun one.

Gradually the guests began to take their seats in the library, and I went upstairs briefly, to change into my performance costume. There was the inevitable delay while the queue for the single restroom cleared, but soon everyone was in their seats, including Anastasia, who had interviewed me that morning and was watching the show to further flesh out her article.

I was right about the audience; they were very lively and vocal and thoroughly enjoyed the performance. I had a few adventures during the show, including the fringe of the red cloth, that becomes the image of Tiny Tim’s frail body, getting caught on my coat cuff button. It seemed to take an age for me to untangle it, but I am sure it was only a few seconds. I made a couple of adlibs in the voice of Bob Cratchit, ‘ah, Tim does not want to leave go of me’ but I managed to untangle myself eventually and carry on. When I got to my ‘favourite’ moment, I hoped that the silence was as impressive as I had told Anastasia it would be, and indeed it was, I could have cut the atmosphere with a knife.

The reaction at the end was spectacular and I could feel myself completely pumped up with a huge adrenaline rush. Having taken my bows, I stationed myself in the hall and chatted and posed with audience members as they left. Jeneene still had tears in her eyes as we hugged, and others were in a similar state of emotion. It had been a very good night.

My time at Ventfort had ended all too quickly, but before I changed, I posed for photographs with Haley, Leah and the other staff. and then mounted the grand staircase for the last time.

Back at the hotel the lobby bar was still serving food, so I had a burger and fries, before turning in for the night. On Friday I drive to New Hampshire for performances in Manchester and Nashua, before heading south to New York.

Rain, Tea and 1066 – a Very British Sort of a Day


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Lenox in The Berkshires is a lovely place to be, a small town in beautiful scenery. I have been here when there has been thick snow on the ground, and I have been in here in clear bright sunshine in a cloudless blue sky, indeed I have been here when there have been both of those things together. Wednesday in Lenox, however, was less New England, more old England, as the skies were leaden, and the rain fell constantly.

I had an almost full day before me, as I didn’t have to be at the venue, Ventfort Hall, until 5pm, but the idea of driving into the mountains and maybe hiking a little suddenly didn’t appeal very much. I unpacked my costumes and hung them on the rail, and at around 7.45 went down to the lobby for breakfast. I took a bag of my regular day-to-day clothes to put in the laundry but was somewhat dismayed to discover that both washer and drier were full. I took the laundry bag to a table and then went to the counter where I ordered some French toast and strawberries, with orange juice and coffee. As I sat, I noticed a lady at another table, with a large plastic bottle of laundry detergent next to her and knew her to be my victorious competitor.

As I ate, another customer went to the bar and asked for some tea, to which the assistant asked, ‘just plain old Early Grey?’ This seemed rather dismissive of what is rather an elegant blend, seen by some to be traditionally drunk by the more respectable classes of society. In England if it is just a ‘plain old..’ cup, we tend to say, ‘builder’s tea’. Curious as to who Earl Grey was, I took at my phone and did a little research and discovered that the tea is probably named in honour of the 2nd Earl (although nobody seems quite sure for certain), who was born in 1764, and rose to become prime minister of Great Britain in 1830. In his early career he resigned as Foreign Secretary over a disagreement of policy by King George III, who had had his own troubles with tea in the past, most particularly in Massachusetts. It is suggested, in family lore, that the 2nd Earl (christened Charles, but not the Charles Grey who would go on to blow Blofeld in the James Bond films) had engaged a Chinese mandarin to create a perfect blend of tea to counteract the taste of the water at the family seat in Northumberland, which was rich in lime. The addition of bergamot into a black tea created the taste the Earl desired, and so was established the beverage that had just been ordered in Lenox, MA.

I finished my breakfast and, checked in at the laundry, where both machines were still spinning, so returned to my room. There was no great rush, although I did have a radio interview coming in at 10am. After a while I went back to the laundry, and found that the washing machine was now empty, although the lady from the breakfast room stood guard over the drier. We chatted for a while, and she asked me what I was doing in town, and was I here with the other Brits who were at the hotel? Apparently, there are a few of us here, maybe the others are part of a tea-checking delegation.

As 10 came around I called the number that connected me with a radio station in New Hampshire, and instantly I was talking with the morning show, hosted by Greg Kretschmar, and his team which included a gentleman by the name of Roadkill. I think I have been interviewed by a Greg before, but never by a Roadkill, I am quite sure of that!

After the interview, I pottered around for a while, finished the laundry and got everything ready for the evening’s show, and decided to get out for a little bit, despite the weather, to stave off the onset of cabin fever. In past years I have driven into the nearby town of Lee, and I decided to do the same and explore some of the antique shops there. The weather was getting worse, so a gentle stroll through the streets was not really an option. I parked right outside Finders Keepers and made the dash from road to store, without getting too wet. An antique is something that is over 100 years old, and there wasn’t a great deal in the shop that qualified, but there was some interesting stuff, nonetheless. One stall featured lots of ceramic houses made by Department 56, a company with whom, I used to work, mainly because they produced a range called Dickens Village. When I started touring in the 1990s D56 villages where the complete rage, people collected manically, and each Christmas would create whole towns, with streets and rivers and people in order to display their collections. Desirable pieces fetched huge amounts of money and the world of D56 was quite an industry, but, seeing them in the store, dusty, unloved, at bargain basement prices, told me everything about the decline of the company in recent years.

Elsewhere in the shop there was a surprising amount of other Dickensiana, including a toby jug in the shape of Sam Weller and a couple of Norman Rockwell prints, one featuring Mr and Mrs Fezziwig dancing, and another of the beaming face of Mr Pickwick. There was also a lusterware jug with a scene from the Bayeaux Tapestry (which is not a tapestry, but an embroidery, and was not made in Bayeux, but in Canterbury), the famous 70-meter-long cloth depicting the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 – a date that every English child knows. All in all, I felt quite at home in Finders Keepers!

I walked up the street to another antique store, but the weather was really starting to close in now, so decided to get back to the car before I got completely drenched.

I drove to a large grocery store and picked up a salad for my lunch, then returned to the hotel room and sat at the little desk to eat it. Throughout this time, I was exchanging messages with Liz back home and with the girls about to have their supper, it seemed a good time to have a video call. They told me about what they had been up to at school, and about the trip on Thursday to watch a pantomime in Oxford, which they were excited about. Soon it was time for their meal, so we all sadly said our goodbyes, and clicked the little red button to close the call, which always seems very brutal.

I spent the next hour or so catching up with some admin, emailing back and forth with upcoming venues, both in America and England, as well as providing information to my publishers about my new book, which will be available during next year’s tour.

When my work was done, I switched on the TV and watched an enthralling match from the World Cup, Argentina against Poland. I have never particularly been a football fan, but with our eldest daughter playing, and loving the sport, I have become more aware of what makes a good team, and can appreciate great play, and oh my, was there some great play in that match!

Late afternoon was drawing in, and the weather was too, with heavy winds now whipping the even heavier rain around. I collected my costumes and roller bag (I had put my hat and cane in the car earlier when I went out) and made a dash across the parking lot for the Santa Fe. Even in that short run I got completely soaked.

The drive to Ventfort Hall was only a few minutes, and in no time I was turning into the little driveway which led me up to the red mansion that had been built in 1891. This was my fourth visit, but it seems as if Ventfort has been part of my tours for much longer than that, for it feels very friendly and welcoming. I rang at the door, which was opened by Haley, who has looked after me during all of my visits. The dark panelled hallway was decorated for Christmas, with green garlands and white lights abounding. I took my things up to the lady’s boudoir, which is my sumptuous dressing room, and then returned to the library which for the evening would be my theatre. There was not a lot to sort out, as I do not need to use a microphone in such a small space. Haley introduced me to Leah, who would be looking after my sound effects. We ran through the script together, and it was obvious that she knew exactly what she was doing: I would be in safe hands. I took an opportunity to just sit in the parlour for a while, soaking up the atmosphere ready for the evening ahead.

Soon, the first of the audience were arriving, so I took myself upstairs. The format of the show at Ventfort was slightly different this year. In the past I have performed my show, and then the audience had been served a lavish tea, complete with cucumber sandwiches, cakes and other fancies. This year the decision was made to serve the tea first, at 5.30, and then my performance would be at 7. In previous years the tea has doubled as a signing session, with me just drifting through the crowd, chatting to audience members, and posing for pictures and giving autographs, as requested, and Haley had the same idea this year, but of course prior to the show.

I got into costume ready to meet n greet. I currently have two black frock coats, one has Velcro strips attached to the lapels which allows me to become ‘all black’ for the arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, and therefore the coat I need to wear throughout a one act performance, but which would look odd during tea, so I put my other coat on, and so as to remember to change before the show, draped my scarf over the Velcroed version.

When I was sure that there were plenty of guests gathered, I went down and circulated through all of the first-floor rooms – It was very nice to meet people, and there were plenty of audience members who had seen me before, and not necessarily in Lenox, but somehow, without having had the show, it was a bit stilted and awkward – nobody, myself included, quite knowing what to say. When I was in the hall, I was swept up by board member Mary-Frances, who took me in hand and went up to every table with the ice-breaking gambit of ‘How are the cookies, Mr Dickens has said if the cookies are not good, he won’t come back, so we are checking up!’ It was an effective ploy, and allowed everyone to engage in conversation, without the social uncertainty of how to begin a dialogue.

After I had chatted for a while, I went back upstairs to relax before the performance itself. I sat in a chair next to a fireplace and could hear the strong wind whistling and moaning down the chimney, as if Jacob Marley himself were about to appear. At around 6.45 I returned to the hall and Haley confirmed that most of the audience were in, although there was a long line for the restroom, but soon everyone was gathered and Haley welcomed them all to Ventfort Hall, and introduced me. It is still the policy at Ventfort that all visitors and guests wear a mask, so I was the only person in the building without one, which felt a bit odd, and I think also made the atmosphere a bit formal, as it had last year, but I carried on and soon there was laughter in the little parlour. This was the first one act version I have performed since I arrived back in America, so I had to concentrate hard on the script, and make sure that I didn’t go off on any tangents, thereby confusing Leah and Haley, who would not be suspecting that 70 people would want refreshment! I kept to my proper script, and by the time Mrs Cratchit was panicking about her Christmas Pudding, there was lots of laughter in that small room.

The show came to an end, and I exited through the central aisle to the back of the room, and when I returned everyone stood and applauded me, with a few be-masked shouts thrown in for good measure. I wished everyone a final ‘Merry Christmas’ and stood in the large hall and chatted and posed with and for anyone who wanted to, and there were plenty who did.

It was a round 8.45 when I changed out of costume and was able to leave everything in the Green Room, for I was due to return at 9 the next morning for an interview and photo shoot. The rain outside had eased a little, but it was still windy and very cold, Haley warning me to watch for icy roads, and I drove back to the hotel, where I had a microwaved pizza for my supper, which maybe was the least English thing of my day!

From VA to MA


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On Tuesday morning I woke on the outskirts of Waynseboro with the sense that I had nowhere to be for quite a while, for this was to be a day off, with only travel to occupy me, and that wasn’t until the afternoon. I had a lazy morning ahead of me and intended to make the most of it by doing as little as possible. I probably should have taken a scenic drive into the National Park and visited some of the ‘cascading waterfalls, spectacular vistas, fields of wildflowers, and quiet wooded hollows’ that the website promised, but the fact was I felt completely empty and used up – this needed to be a ‘floppy day’ in which I re-charged my batteries a little for the next leg. I even found it difficult to write my blog, which isn’t in itself an energetic task, but my brain seemed in need of rest too, and was coming out on strike along with the rest of me!

I did what you would expect me to do, I had breakfast and loaded some laundry into a machine, and when the latter was complete, I set to packing my cases one more. Actually, this was quite an important moment in this year’s tour, for it would be the last time that I needed to squeeze my costumes into the little roller bag, or stuff my top hat with socks and wind my scarf around it. When next I unpacked, I would have no more flights until I go home, meaning that everything I need for my shows will be able to stay in my car.

I had asked the hotel if I could have a late check out, and as midday approached, I made final checks of the room to ensure that I left nothing and loaded my belongings into the black Highlander. I was heading back north.

The drive back to Charlottesville took me on a freeway with stunning views of the mountains to my right, and I began to regret not following The Skyline Drive earlier that morning. At one point I noticed tourist signs directing me to The Blue Ridge Trail, and suddenly I was a child again, putting my favourite 45rpm vinyl disk onto our old record player; I could almost hear the various clicks and whirrs as the mechanism allowed the disk to drop onto the turntable, and then the arm with the little stylus needle at the end swung across and lowered itself with a static ‘click’ perfectly onto the edge of the record. A moment of crackles and then a guitar started to play, followed by a voice: ‘On a mountain in Viriginia stands a lonesome pine…’ Yes, those where certainly the Blue Mountains to my right, and I was definitely in Virginia, so somewhere, it stood to reason, was a trail to a lonesome pine. I used to sing along to that record over and over when I was a child, and just for a few moments as I drove, I could hear Laurel and Hardy’s brilliant performance once more.

The drive to the airport took less than an hour, and I passed the time by listening to BBC news on the radio. At one time there was a traffic report, which described an incident causing delays between Hyde and Ashton-Under-Lyme, which is where I had been performing just a week before! I found a petrol station, filled the tank and then continued to the car rental returns area and walked the short distance into the terminal, where the paperwork would be completed. From the Enterprise desk I walked to the check-in desk, dropped my case, and then made my way to security. No bustle, no crowding, no fuss, just a very small, friendly airport.

Ahead of me at the bag drop was an elderly lady who didn’t seem quite sure what to do, and as I stood behind her, she turned and said ‘Oh, you go ahead, this is my very first time flying, and I am not sure how to do it all’. She had chosen the right airport to make her flying debut at, for everyone, me included, took her under our wings and looked after her. I helped her get the bins to put her bags and things in, and she asked if she could keep her coat on, her purse with her, her shoes on, and I told her that everything needed to go through the x-ray machine. The staff at security were brilliant, also very gently telling her what she needed to put on the conveyor belt. ‘Where do I go after that?’ she asked, ‘Oh, ‘said the kindly TSA officer, ‘we will talk about that on another side of this part, don’t you worry, we will look after you.’ He picked up a metal water bottle from her tray, ‘is this empty?’ he asked, and she replied with a huge sense of pride ‘Yes!’, as if she had passed that part of the test with flying colours. ‘Am I allowed to fill it up again?’ ‘Oh, yes ma’am, there are water stations just through those doors, that’s fine. Which airline are you flying with, ma’am?’ ‘American’. ‘Oh, I think there is a fountain by the American gates, let me check’, and with that he called another officer over, ‘Mack, is there are a water fountain over at the American Airlines gate? This lady is flying for the very first time, and she wanted to know if she can fill her bottle.’ ‘Oh, yes I think that there is. Hey, Bill,’ he called to another staff member, ‘is there a water station up at American?’ The answer came back in the affirmative and was relayed back to the smiling lady. When our bags had been cleared, and we both were putting our coats and shoes on, she said, ‘Thank you all so much for looking after me’ and went off to fill her water bottle at the American Airlines gate. I hoped for her sake that there would some equally kindly and friendly people at the next airport, which would probably be a huge, heaving, hub of humanity all rushing to be somewhere else as quickly as possible, maybe not seeing, certainly not caring about the scared elderly lady for whom all of this was an alien experience.

I had an hour or so before my flight, so I bought some lunch and listened to the BBC’s radio coverage of the build-up to the important football match in Qatar, England vs Wales, the very first time that two home nations (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) had played each other in a World Cup tournament. Unfortunately for me, the USA were also playing their final qualifying match against Iran, so any TVs that were showing the tournament were tuned to that encounter, But still, I had my radio commentary, or at least I did right up to the moment that the whistle blew to start the game, at which a pre-recorded voice informed me that ‘due to copyright issues you are unable to listen to this content in your present location’. And that was that! I had to follow the match by a rolling text report.

The flight back to Washington DC lasted for only 20 minutes, and by the time I was in the toytown terminal A and making my way towards the grown-up terminal D, England had scored three goals and ensured that they would finish at the top of their group and progress to the next stage. Meanwhile, the USA had a one goal lead over Iran, and needed to hold onto it if they were also to progress. Fortunately, they did win, meaning that they also progressed to the next stage.

My next flight was to Hartford, Connecticut and once more it was very busy. The clerk at the gate asked if anyone would like to check their roller bags, as the bin space would be very limited, and I offered mine. As a thank you, I was allowed to board with Group 2, rather than having to wait for my original allocation of Group 3 to be called, the irony being that there was so much space in the bins when I boarded that I could easily have taken my bag!

It was another short flight, under an hour, and soon I was reunited with both of my bags and was making my way to the Hertz counter where I was introduced to my companion for the rest of the trip – a Grey Hyundai Sante Fe, loaded it up and set off towards Lenox in The Berkshires.

This will be my 5th trip to Lenox. but I have never approached it from the Hartford region before, nor in the dark. I put the address of the hotel into my phone, 70 Lenox Road, and dutifully followed the instructions. The route didn’t take me on freeways, but through small towns and along winding country roads, which meant a lot more concentration, especially in the rural areas where my eyes were scanning the woodlands for any movement that may presage a deer leaping into the road in front of me. The towns, on the other hand, were beautiful, with colourful Christmas lights lining the way.

The drive took about 1 hour and 20 minutes, but at last I was approaching my destination, the Courtyard by Marriott hotel just outside Lenox, and yet still I did not recognise anything. I began to panic slightly when driving along a dark road my satnav app announced that I had arrived at my destination, or rather just said ‘Done!’ and abandoned me. I had a horrible thought that somehow I had entered an incorrect address – I could be anywhere! I wasn’t even aware of crossing the state line, and for all I knew I could be in some far-flung corner of Connecticut, miles, and hours, from where I should be – I had simply followed the screen rather than having any knowledge of where I actually was. I pulled over, and checked the address, and sure enough I had clicked on an address in New Lenox Road, rather than Lenox Road. I nervously re-entered the address and waited to see how long it would take me to get my hotel, and I can’t tell you the relief when it came up ‘6 minutes’

Soon I was on a road I knew, and there, on a hill to my left, was the Courtyard. I checked in, purchased a microwavable meal of pasta and meatballs to have in my room, and brought a day of travel from VA to MA to an end.