Today is my day off for this week, which is a very nice feeling. I do have an interview coming in by telephone at 8.00 so I make sure that I don’t repeat yesterday’s mistake of going to breakfast and leaving my phone upstairs.
I sit tight in my room until, at 7.55 (yes, the same time as yesterday’s realisation), at which time I discover that my phone is 6 stories DOWNSTAIRS in my car. I rush down and recover the phone just as the clock flicks to 8.00am. Actually the call doesn’t come in anyway, so at 8.30 I go to breakfast.
It is noticeable that the hotel here is much more of a business oriented one than most I’ve been staying in. No jeans or Christmas sweaters here, but lots of severe, dark suits talking urgently on smart phones. Where newspapers are being read they are the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times, rather than USA Today or the local rag.
Business is already being done, contracts discussed, notes taken. In the midst of all this my mobile phone rings. Usually I would block the call but in this setting to answer it seems the only natural thing to do. Of course it is the journalist for the interview. We agree that it would be better for her to call back in 30 minutes and I get stuck into the delicious buffet, satisfied that I’m now part of the ‘business club’. Oh yes, I hold phone conversations over breakfast.
Back in the room I spend 20 minutes or so talking about A Christmas Carol, my upbringing and the show itself before I am free for the rest of the day.
Lisa calls and we chat about last night’s show and the plans for the upcoming days. Bob emails and invites me to dinner tonight, all very relaxed.
I pack up and lug my bags to the car, load up through the side door and set the Sat Nav for North Wales. I kid you not, North Wales, Pennsylvania.
The Journey to Wales
Joining the Interstate it is not Christmas tunes that I am singing today. I am now on the New Jersey Turnpike so it is Simon and Garfunkel get the G Dickens karaoke treatment. In the haze of a bright morning I can just make out the Manhattan skyline to my left, dominated by the Freedom Tower. Now officially America’s tallest building at 1776 feet high, to commemorate the year of America’s independence.
As I drive the traffic begins to decrease and the roads begin to widen. Industrial units and high rises give way to wooded countryside and smaller communities. New York City is letting me escape.
I am again making good time so I decide to stop for lunch at a Cracker Barrel restaurant. Cracker Barrel is a chain that recreates an old country store in modern America. The fare on offer is good hearty country food and I choose fried chicken, slaw, fries and corn. The room is carefully designed with rural America farm implements and old painted signs. On the stoop outside rocking chairs swing to and fro.
Whilst the restaurant itself is a wonderful throwback to a simpler time, the store attached to it loses the plot somewhat: instead of nostalgia the goods on offer are cheap and unimpressive. On one shelf I find a collection of carollers but not Byers Choice Carollers: no, these are very poor, imported imitations. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but looking at these sad figures, I’m not at all sure.
Back on the road for the final 30 minutes of the journey and I am coming into familiar country. For the next 4 days I will be staying at The Joseph Ambler Inn which is my home when I am in Byers Choice Country.
Joseph Ambler Inn
The Joseph Ambler Inn is a collection of old farm buildings and cottages, dating from 1734 to the 1920s. I am greeted at reception as an old friend and am given the key (yes, a KEY), to my room in the Barn Building.
Of course, being an historic building there is no lift, so I have to haul my cases up to the third floor. This process is made more difficult by the rows of Poinsettias lining the stairs.
My room is lovely, with the old stone outer wall unplastered. The furniture in the room is not mass produced hotel furniture but desks, tables and chairs picked up in antique stores. The landings in each building have sofas and comfy chairs making the whole place a very homely base.
I have a refreshing shower and flop onto the bed where I read a bit and have an afternoon nap.
In the evening I am due to meet Bob Byers for dinner in his home town of Doylestown. The drive takes me past houses already lavishly decorated for Christmas. The lights on the buildings are so beautiful. People in America take such pride in decorating the outside of their homes, as well as the inside. Thousands of white lights picking out the shape of the roofs. Gardens with trees and bushes brightly illuminated. Lawns turned into giant nativity scenes.
In Britain people do light their homes but, in a very stereotypical manner, it is all rather reserved and restrained. In the USA it is, in a very stereotypical manner, brash and exciting and I love it.
I am meeting Bob at The Freight House, a steak restaurant next to the Doylestown railroad depot. The conversion of an old freight shed has been undertaken with great imagination and it is a superb looking restaurant.
We are joined by Jeff Wilson who has recently joined Byers Choice to look at future product development and is keen to see if we can develop a product range based on A Christmas Carol and my shows.
Everyone plumps for steaks, all cooked medium rare so it is not the most complicated order the waitress has ever had to deal with. The dinner is excellent and we chat about this and that, about the show, about the tour, about Byers Choice and about the future. I set my mind to thinking of possible products that would suit Byers Choice and the show itself. The lessons taken from the store at Cracker Barrel are foremost in my mind.
We say our goodbyes and I drive back to the Inn. Up the Poinsettia lined stairway and to my comfy bed which quickly seduces me to sleep.