January 19th 2018
The City of London. 1843. It is Christmas morning and the church-bells are ringing as EBENEZER SCROOGE leans out of his upstairs window and shouts down to a young STREET URCHIN, passing below.
Hallo there! What's to-day my fine fellow?
Why, Christmas Day.
It's Christmas Day!
Christmas Day! I haven’t missed it. Do you know the Bailey dealership, in the next street but one, with the Autograph 79-4T on the forecourt?
The one with the Dometic fridge as big as me?
Yes, that’s the one! Well my buck, go and buy it. I want the top of the range package, all bells and whistles. And tell the dealer to drop it off here. Quick as you can and I'll give you half a crown.
Half a crown!
STREET URCHIN exits excitedly.
Ha-ha! I'll send it to Bob Cratchit! He shan't know who sent it. And for their first trip I shall find the Cratchits a nice hard-standing pitch, somewhere in the Lake District. Tiny Tim will love it. Oh Merry Christmas everyone!
SCROOGE closes his window, mumbling to himself.
Now, where did I leave my Caravan and Motorhome Club membership card…?
Much of the above dramatisation was taken from Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’, first published in 1843. Quite a bit of it wasn’t.
If I could, I would happily spend all my days with my wife Mel and our 12 year-old daughter Lois, touring around the world in our Bailey Autograph, eating the good food, drinking the fine wines, watching the sunsets, catching the surf and generally having endless fun.
However, an unescapable reality is that the pursuit of ‘endless fun’ requires money. To get money, I need to work and that usually means I put my ‘van-life’ on hold. But not always.
I am co-owner of the Dickens Theatre Company and in early 2017, we went into pre-production for a small-scale UK theatre tour of ‘A Christmas Carol’. I had written the adaptation and I would act in the show. To make matters even more challenging, I was co-producer! Without any funding or investor support, my partners and I were taking a big risk.
By late summer, we had the cast and crew in place, theatres booked and tickets were starting to sell steadily. With just a few months until rehearsals were due to start, we had one issue yet to solve. Accommodation.
There is a popular misconception that life on the road is glamorous. It rarely is. Trying to find half-decent accommodation with a tiny budget is near impossible. Most professional actors have an anecdote about their experiences of hideous theatrical digs. We didn’t even have a tiny budget. We had no budget! We were snookered. Or were we?
Enter Bailey of Bristol, stage right.
Yes, the very generous folk at Bailey came to the rescue and agreed to loan us two more vans (an Advance 615 and an Advance 665) to go with my Autograph. Added to this was the generous support of the Caravan and Motorhome Club who found us sites in Bristol, Basingstoke and Maidstone.
Before we could set off on this voyage of theatrical discovery, we had two weeks’ rehearsal in Basildon, Essex, which meant hooking up the vans at nearby Tower Field CL site in Hullbridge.
Some of the cast and crew had experienced a night in a caravan before, but most had not.
To say there was initial reticence would be an understatement. Actors do like to grumble. But actors also like booze and after a few too many beers and a nice warm supper, we were all safely tucked up in our various beds for the night.
The next day in rehearsals, I looked around the room and everyone appeared to be rested, refreshed and happy.
And so it continued for the rest of the tour. The show itself was certainly a hit. ‘A Christmas Carol’ sold out at Basingstoke and Basildon.
Of course there were tears and tantrums along the way. That’s what you get with luvvies. But the production would never have happened without our three Bailey vans. Yes, we had snow. Once, we were stuck in a traffic jam on the M3 and only just arrived at the theatre in just the nick of time. But we loved every minute of it.
We had night after night of rowdy dinners, script read-throughs and singing practice. There is no doubt that those three vans were our happy place.
You can see for yourselves in this short film.
In the 19th century, Charles Dickens regularly toured the UK performing extracts of his own work, playing to enraptured crowds. He was one of the most famous and wealthiest men on the planet, but I bet he didn’t have a Bailey motorhome parked outside his stage-door!
Merry January, everyone. X