One of the lovely things about doing the mad job I do is that you get to go to beautiful places at unusual times. Right now I’m sitting in The State Room of Mansion House in York, eating a sandwich while Sam sews my costume up. It’s closed to the public now. Three huge chandeliers hang over my head from a high vaulted ceiling. I’m trying not to get crumbs on the massive expensive carpet. Staring down at me as I munch, the stern faces of various York dignitaries judge my choice of a ham and cheese toastie from the vantage point of portraits taut with symbolism. There they are, strangers every one of them to Pret a Manger, brandishing swords or pens or bits of paper, puffed up. Painted eyes of men forgotten to the dust, but remembered as a story. “You see the one above the stairs? He was banged up for fraud. They took the picture down for years, but we put it back up in the refurb.”
I met the Lord Mayor of York yesterday. Very different from Majid. Maybe he’ll have a portrait in here too one day. He came into the room and told us we couldn’t do the show on Friday. Thankfully we already knew that and had catered for it. The Sheriff is having an event in here tomorrow. She will ride to all the gates in town and do a little ceremony, then come here to the state room for mulled wine and nibbles. It means we get a day off, which will be lovely, even if there are only three shows left. But we might have to pack away all of our props. There are plenty of hiding places in here.
There’s a picture of George IV as Prince Regent. He’s being dressed by his servant and looks like he doesn’t give a toss about anyone. If you know where the catch is, he swings open revealing a secret hidey hole. We’ve built it into the show. It contains a mummified cat, an old hammer and a bunch of bones. Things they found in the walls during the refurb. It’s crazy doing the show in a room like this. So much history. So much that might get broken. But the cat is bizarre.
In the 18th century there was a tradition that if you buried a cat in the foundations of your house it would ward off evil spirits. This creature has been deliberately and expertly mummified. It was placed in the foundations. Now it’s in a cupboard behind the Prince, and yet since it was taken out of the foundations there have been twelve floods in the building, and now they’ve got actors.
I’m hoping that this centuries old unhappy looking guardian will continue to protect me as I run out into St Helen’s Square. There are lots of cops with guns in York today and I’m a bearded man with tanned skin running around in a white gown shouting things. What could go wrong?