How nice not to be travelling. How nice to know that I have a morning of nothingness. How nice.

5am.

Oh, well! I have plenty of time to drink coffee, watch the unfolding news on television and catch up with emails, the blog and some reading.

When it seems as if I’ve arrived at a sensible time I have my shower and head to breakfast and this is NO motel breakfast! It’s a buffet, certainly, with the usual cereals, juices, bakery items and coffee but there are also 2 service stations in full swing. One is making omelettes with a huge range of most unbreakfast-like ingredients, whilst the other offers eggs, potatoes, hash browns, country ham, carved off the bone, sausages and grits.

Right I am a Brit. Tell me, someone, what are Grits? Are they hunted, is there a Grit season? If there has ever been a breakfast product with a less appetizing name I’d like to hear of it. Grit is what you find on the street, a fine gravel. There are some things that I have never got to grips with during my time here. Football (where the plays seem to spend most of the time with the ball in their hands) and Grits.

I get myself an orange juice and some granola and make my way to the overflow eating area, which also happens to also be ‘my’ theatre. It’s very odd to be munching breakfast with the stage set in front of me and I find myself looking at it to see if there is any other business I can do during the show. Switch off!

One of the nice things in staying at a venue overnight is that most of the guests enjoying their own breakfasts were at the show last night and give me cheery good mornings and share their thoughts. It’s certainly very good for the ego.

After breakfast I return to my room and generally relax until 12.30 when it is time to get into costume once more and walk across the street to the retail store itself: The Incredible Christmas Place. I am to be in the store for 2 hours from 1-3, signing books and Byers Choice Carollers.

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The shop is amazing, a cathedral of light and glitter. Each area is a slightly different theme but everywhere you look there are lavishly decorated trees and garlands and ornaments. I am situated in the Byers Choice section and a desk is set up complete with copies of A Christmas Carol as well as the most amazing pop-up book of the story. It’s actually a very clever publication in which the ‘paper engineer’, Chuck Fischer, has produced the most complicated pop ups I have ever seen, depicting famous scenes from the book but also has included on each page a little booklet with the unabridged text for the relevant stave, complete with the original John Leech illustrations. 2 for the price of one.

Kristy Elder is on hand to look after me and the passing trade is steady but never manic so it is an easy session. After a while the crew from the 700 Club arrive. The 700 Club is Christian TV networks who are filming an interview with me this afternoon based on A Christmas Carol, to be screened over Christmas. There are 5 members of the team and for a while, when they gather round the table, it is if my security detail has arrived and is protecting me from hardened Christmas shoppers! Kristy gently suggests that they move away from the desk a little and the signing continues.

We all chat a bit and make arrangements for the interview later and the crew disappear to set up whilst I remain at the store signing away until the clocks strike 3 and I head back across the street to the hotel and a quick chicken sandwich before heading down to record the interview.

As is always the way with television there is much delay while the lights are made quite perfect. When I’m sat in my seat the interviewer, Dan Reany notices some glitter on my forehead, which must have come from one of the decorations in the shop and needs removing to prevent glare in the camera. No, I know what you’re thinking but it WAS glitter creating the glare!

Glare

Glare

We are ready to roll. Stop. Too much glare from the forehead, we need make up. This time I have no excuse, I’m afraid, just glare. I put it down to repeated use of a top hat.

The interview is fun and we talk a lot about A Christmas Carol, Dickens’s own childhood experiences, his writing of The Life of our Lord and my own performance. We are constantly interrupted by various clocks chiming but we wrap it all up in good time and I’m able to go and have a bit of a lie down before the evening show.

The routine is becoming familiar now, bed, snooze, alarm, hot shower/cold shower and costume ready for the evening’s fun. Immediately I get downstairs I can see that this is a much bigger audience than yesterday’s shows. The whole routine starts up again, Dwight’s chat and banter from the stage, Kristy and I handing out the books etc to the lucky package holders and still the audience come in.

The show tonight is being filmed for the 700 Club feature, so it is good that there are plenty of people here. Suddenly before I know it, it is 8.00 and I’m on.

Whether it was the extra crowd, or the cameras I don’t know, but the performance seemed to be an extra step up tonight. It may be of course that everything is becoming more finely honed but the story seems to zip through at a great pace. I can tell I’m working hard as the sweat starts to sting my eyes. The audience play along with all the parts they should play along with (OOOOOOOHHHHH and AAAAAHHHHHing over the Cratchit’s Christmas goose and joining in with the ‘NOOOOOO BOB!’ when Bob Cratchit fails to arrive for work on Boxing Day). There are sobs as Bob mourns Tiny Tim and laughter as Scrooge struggles with his coat.

Every now and then everything ‘clicks’ and this show was just such a time.

After I’ve delivered the final line and gratefully taken the very generous applause I make my way out to the lobby and towel myself down. I am drenched! Kritsy keeps the audience in the room for a while handing out door prizes etc, which gives me plenty of time to calm down but the adrenaline is still flowing full tilt and I find that I’m pacing up and down, full of energy.

A murmur of voices alerts me to the fact that the doors are open and I take my seat behind the desk for the signing session. It is amazing how far people will travel to visit the Christmas Place and lots of the audience have seen me in other venues over the years. Tonight’s signing line is longer and busier but everyone is in good spirits and friendships are forged back in the queue as people strike up conversations (the Americans are MUCH better at doing that than us reserved Brits!). Cameras are swapped and pictures taken. ‘Could you dedicate that to Betty?’; ‘Hi, loved the show, this is for my cousin, she lives in Florida, this is the perfect gift, her name? Oh she is Debbie’; ‘Oh could you just put a date on that?’; ‘Do you mind signing 5 books? Oh, that is so sweet of you. Now, the first one is for my grandchildren, they are…..’ and so it goes on for an hour or so but gently the queue shortens and then there is no one left except Kristy and all the folk from The Inn at Christmas Place.

I can feel myself fading. I’m ready to go. We all chat and hug and say our goodbye’s and promise to be here again next year. Kristy asks if I’d mind signing a few more books for next year’s package winners and says that she will send them up to my room rather than do them here.

Once back in room 416 I change gratefully and hang the costume up to dry and then there is a knock at the door: a bellman with a cart containing 7 large boxes of books. They can wait until the morning for I can hear the siren call of the Mellow Mushroom reaching out to me.

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