And still I woke early – 3.15 this time, and frustratingly I couldn’t get back to sleep properly. As I sat in bed, watching to the coverage of practice from the Abu Dhabi Grand prix, I realised that having been at Winterthur all the previous day, I had failed to let the owners of The Fairville know what time I wanted breakfast. As I would need to be on the road by 9am, and the breakfast service would start at 8.30, I needed to get in there early, so I decided to go over at around 8.15, hoping to get my order in right at the start.
I packed all of my cases, so I would be ready to go, and when I felt I could reasonably do so, went to the main house, where I was cheerfully greeted by Willie, the young owner. He brushed off my apologies for not letting him know about my breakfast needs and said that of course I could sit down right then, and he would make me my pancakes, and so I was well into my meal when the other guests began to arrive.
With my breakfast finished I was able to get the car loaded up and I was on the road by 9 o’clock. Friday was a strange day, in that I only had one performance scheduled at 7pm, and the drive to Lewes, Delaware, would take a little under three hours, but I had a duo of commitments first thing in the morning: at 9.30 I was due to speak to Warren Lawrence at the WKNY radio station in the Hudson Valley, and straight after that chat I was booked to take my Covid test. I had decided to drive to the branch of CVS where my test was scheduled, and do the interview from the parking lot, so that I was in the correct place to insert a swab up my nose. Unfortunately, there was a traffic issue and I had to pull off the road and park up in a parking space outside some small businesses and called into the radio station. I have spoken to Warren on many occasions, and it he always conducts a really good interview, feeding the questions and allowing me to elucidate my answers at whatever length I feel necessary. There is none of the time pressure of some media interviews. On Friday morning we talked about the character of Charles Dickens, the creation of A Christmas Carol, my adaptation and performance of it, as well as my book, ‘Dickens and Staplehurst. A Biography of a Rail Crash’. Warren even mentioned that the book is available via Amazon in the USA…..
The interview finished at 9.50, and I was able to get back on the road and arrive at CVS by ten, where I drove through the Drive-Thru, and self-administered the test sat in my car as if I were about to handed a Big Mac Meal. The nice thing in America is that you only have to swab your nostrils, whereas in the UK we have to get samples from our tonsils as well, meaning we end up gagging with watering eyes. Having completed the test, I dropped it in the little metal box provided and offered a silent prayer for a negative result, that would be delivered swiftly, so that I can complete all of the official documents that are now needed to fly.
And now I could drive on towards Lewes, which is situated in the south of Delaware. The drive seemed to take forever, and the early start meant that I was feeling very tired. I drank a lot of water, and listened to the radio, or more specifically more podcasts, as I skirted the city of Wilmington, and on. As with my drives around Massachusetts, many of the place names were familiar to me, and I drove through Kent County (I was born in the County of Kent), passed Dover and on towards Sussex County, in which Lewes is situated, as indeed is the town of Lewes in England. Some names were less ‘English’, however and I am not sure that I want to sunbathe on Slaughter Beach any time soon
This would be my first visit to Lewes and it is always lovely to visit a new city. I pulled up in the parking lot of The Inn at Canal Square, which is situated on the water’s edge of a wide inlet, lined with wooden docks and boats of varying sizes and shapes.
The buildings are mostly wooden clad, painted in bright colours, and it is an extremely pretty town. I checked in to the hotel, although my room was not ready, but it meant that I could leave the car in the lot without fear of it being towed and started to stroll around Lewes. Instantly I was greeted by a variety of boards describing the history of the town, and the first one was entitled ‘The War of 1812’. Oh dear, Lewes and the British obviously had previous form.
I read the information and discovered that the British Navy had attempted to blockade the town in 1813, and demanded that the locals provide food to fettle the warships. The residents of Lewes unsurprisingly refused to comply with the British request, and the invaders decided that the best thing to do was therefore to bombard the little town. For almost two days canon ball and rocket rained down on Lewes with absolutely no effect at all, other than breaking the leg of one pig and killing one chicken. The Americans returned fire and managed to set ‘one gunboat aflame’ but there were no casualties among the British forces either. Eventually the ships withdrew from the bay and peace fell in Lewes once more. There is one relic of the violence in the town, for a British canon ball is lodged deep in the foundations of what is now a maritime museum.
I walked out towards the lovely sandy beach, where the only revellers were sea gulls. Actually, the whole place reminded me of the little town of Amity in Peter Benchley’s Jaws, and I imagine that when the tourists flock, as they do in the novel, the atmosphere must be amazing. The beach was lined by grassy dunes, which during the summer months must surely be the scene of late-night teenage campfires, and even a few midnight swims….Durrrr Dum….Durrrr Dum Durdum durdum durdum durdum Diddle deeeee!
I walked back into town and ambled around an antique store where I found the perfect Victorian Hall Stand for my set. It was made of iron and would be far too heavy to carry around, but it would make a magnificent gothic, and menacing addition to Scrooge’s furniture.
I hadn’t stopped for food during the drive, so was feeling a little peckish so I found a brilliant cafe where I had a sandwich, before going to the hotel to rest before the evening’s show. As I lay on the bed I had a message from Barbara, who had used to manage the bookstore, so sadly deserted, at Winterthur, saying that she had felt emotional reading my words, but reassuring me that she had kept all of her ‘goofy stuff’ from the walls of the office and was going to recreate that wall in her home office, the collection being just as carefully curated, as the main Dupont exhibit in the great house itself! I had been booked to perform at the public library and had arranged to arrive there at 5pm to prepare for the 7 o’clock show. Darkness had fallen as I got into the car and the Christmas lights around the city were spectacular – it looked so beautiful. The library was on the outskirts of the town, and was housed in a modern building, similar to those that I have already visited in Kansas City and on Long Island during this tour. I was greeted by the team putting on the show, led by David White, who is a theatre man through and through. David had seen me perform at Winterthur a few years ago and had very much wanted to bring me to Lewes, but various problems, not least the pandemic, had meant that the plans had never quite worked until now. We spent time arranging the stage and working out how best to work the sound cues, which could be run from a laptop, but mostly we simply talked about theatre. Although we were gathered in a modern meeting room in a library it was as if we were in a Victorian auditorium preparing for a show, because we were all theatre folk allowing our mutual experiences to be shared.
The audience started to gather at 6, and I retired to a small kitchen, which had been designated as my Green Room, and began to get ready. The microphone that I was to use was the sort that hooks over one ear, and I knew from previous experience that it would come loose and fall off during the show, but I managed to find a desk in the library offices with a roll of sellotape on it and stuck the unit to my cheek as best I could. I knew it wouldn’t last but thought that it may give me a little bit of time.
David continually poked his head around the door to give me the ‘half’, the twenty, the ten and the five, before it was show time. The room was packed but everyone was masked, and I made my entrance through the centre of the audience. Unfortunately, the little speaker that was supposed to amplify the opening music had disconnected from the laptop, so we could only hear the effect through the computer’s built-in speaker, and during the opening scenes, Jesse, David’s daughter (following the family business in theatre, but more on the tech side), crawled along the front of the stage to try and re-connect it. We wouldnt know if she had been succesful until Old Fezziwig stood out to dance.
The show was great fun, and I gave it my all. It was one of those days during which I had felt fatigued and lacking in energy, but A Christmas Carol cast its magic spell over me and brought me back to life, and Mr Fezziwig DID have music at his dance.
The audience were fully engaged, and at the end gave me a very noisy and enthusiastic ovation. As usual having taken my bows I remained on stage to conduct the Q&A session, and soon the questions were coming in from all quarters. I was asked about my family lineage and took the opportunity to include my new-found knowledge about my host town with a little affectionate and gentle teasing: when I spoke about my grandfather, Gerald, I mentioned that he had been an Admiral in the Royal Navy, and then added: ‘I know how fond you are of the British Navy in this town. I have seen the canon ball, and I have actually been sent by the Admiralty to retrieve it, they would like it back!’ I got a huge laugh and a round of applause and one audience member called out ‘He is OK!’
We finished up and I went back to my dressing room, where the pair of braces (suspenders) that I had been wearing broke, the rigours of the tour are beginning to tell. I will have to order a replacement pair when I get back to England, but for my final three shows I have another set.
The audience had departed when I re-emerged, and I gathered up my things and said goodbye to the whole team. Hopefully I can return and perform some of my other shows in this remarkable community.
It was getting on towards 9.30 when I got back to the hotel and all of the restaurants in town were closed, but I logged on to Uber Eats once more and arranged for a late-night dinner to be delivered to me.
On Saturday morning I will drive back into Pennsylvania and to Byers’ Choice, where the 2021 American tour will conclude with three final shows.