Michele Hutchison puts a rather surreal spin on coming to the end of a fantastic, if tiring, week.
The tour is over! Long live the tour!
I can’t believe we’ve made it this far and that everything went well. No missed trains, no missed events, no murders, no need for Inspector Morse. The final gala evening in the Tabernacle in West London was absolutely packed. It was buzzing. A triumphant grand finale for Artistic Director Rosie Goldsmith, after months of hard work.
David Mitchell, Deborah Moggach and Tracey Chevalier, who joined us for this final performance, all said how impressed they were by the Dutch language-writers – and I really believe them. I’m sure we made an impact.
Looking back on the past week, there was certainly no lack of humour and if I were to write a comedy sketch about the tour, it would go like this:
I’d choose a particular moment which we’d all agree was the low point. Day five: travelling from Yorkshire to Norfolk, a very long afternoon. The setting: a train carriage, a white backdrop representing a snowy landscape.
I’d give the sketch a Beckettian quality, create a huis clos, ‘Waiting for Norwich’ – and god knows what we’ll find there. We’d heard that Norwich was snowed in so maybe no one will come. What’s the point of it all anyway? I’d add some Anglo-Dutch humour: a touch of Monty Python, mixed with Jiskefet (Herman Koch’s comic stomping ground).
Cast of characters:
Six authors of various shapes and sizes (though none of them fat).
Rosie, dressed in animal print and red scarf and hat, constantly on the phone to the next venue or flitting around the train, perching on arm-rests and briefing the authors.
Unflappable tour producer Nick Chapman, working on his laptop and stroking his beard.
Diplomats and literature foundation types, sitting on the edges of the group, filling in forms.
Judith Vanistendael & Peter Terrin do their best to keep their spirits up on yet another freezing train journey
The train is freezing. Icy blasts are coming through the vents making a mockery of the idea of heating. The six writers have crawled into their shells, collars pulled up, hats and gloves on, shoulders hunched. A couple are reading books, others stare glumly.
‘We need a samovar,’ says Pieter Steinz, Director of the Dutch Literary Foundation, trying to take control of the situation in a manly, directorial way.
‘I’ll get one,’ says Koen Van Bockstal, attempting to win ground for Flanders.
He disappears and doesn’t return. They wait.
The air gets even colder.
‘It’s me. I’m a bad omen,’ Peter Terrin confesses.
Simultaneously, further down the carriage, Nick is whispering that he thinks Peter’s a bad omen.
‘No,’ counters Ramsey Nasr. ‘Honestly, it’s me. There’s a chill wind wherever I go. I need to find a home for my mixed origins, a barrel to crawl into.’
He pulls up his scarf to cover half his face.
Just then a buxom woman in a short skirt and platform heels arrives with the trolley service.
‘Teas, coffees, hot porridge?’ she calls out with a strong Liverpudlian accent.
‘Hot porridge? Up yours!’ Herman Koch explodes – but you can tell he’s just playing a role (really he’s the quietest of the lot).
‘Don’t mention Jimmy Savile!’ says Lieve Joris, or Chika Unigwe, or both at the same time.
Ramsey Nasr spontaneously recites a political poem about Jimmy Savile at a Palestinian checkpoint, before explaining that it’s a love poem at heart.
Judith Vanistendael makes a drawing of Ramsey in her notebook. Her face drops.
A small Friesian cow enters the carriage, stops and stares. It snorts at Chika’s knee-high red and blue polythene boots. Then it sees what it’s looking for, lunges forwards and begins to eat Rosie’s red trilby hat.
‘Stalin’s toy boy,’ Nasr says.
‘No, mine,’ says Terrin.
The all-seeing eyes of Lieve Joris look on.
It’s late, I’m delirious. I can go to bed at last. And helping me sleep, helping me find a gentle ending to the High Impact Tour: Herman Koch’s comic impersonation of the art of the hushed-voice BBC commentary.