Breakfast this morning is certainly a busy affair.  I go down slightly later than usual and the two rooms are packed.  Almost everyone there has seen at least one of my shows, and there is lots of chat and thanks, which is wonderful.

The main room (aka my theatre) is very crowded and the best way to get to my table is across the stage, which feels very odd for I feel as if I should ‘do’ something up there. The little stage is such a safe place for me during the shows but now I feel clumsy and awkward up there – very strange.

Among the conversations is a fascinating one from a couple who have recently visited the Normal Rockwell museum in Massachusetts and who learned that the artist used to sketch Dickens characters as his father read him Pickwick, Copperfield, Little Dorrit and the rest.  I had no idea that there was such a close connection between these two icons of Christmas and I am keen to learn more.

When I finish breakfast the Rockwell connection continues, for there is the most perfect  Santa sitting in front of the tree.  I pose for a picture with him and before I know it we are the centre of a major photo op, with countless phones and tablets pointing at us.  It is great fun among the many friends I have here.

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Among the camera-toting group is Gary Guthrie who I am due to meet a little later for my Pigeon Forge Christmas treat, the clue to which is emblazoned on his polo shirt.

At 10 o’clock I go down to the lobby where quite a crowd has gathered and there parked outside the hotel door is the most beautiful gun metal Corvette Stingray C7.

Two years ago I wrote the following entry in my blog post:

As I walk back I notice the most remarkable vehicle in the hotel car park. It looks like a Lamborghini, or something from a Batman movie. It is steely grey, with red brake callipers being the only flash of colour. The exhaust pipes are lined up like four flame throwers and the whole vehicle seems to hug the ground. It is an extraordinary piece of automotive engineering and I am amazed to see that it is, in fact, a Corvette. The whole thing is quirkily set of by the licence plate: ‘Thx Santa’!

A day or two later I received an email from Gary:

I’m the guy that owns the THX SNTA Corvette you talked about in your Blog. If I’m lucky enough to make it to the Inn next year while you are there and drive the Corvette I will let you drive it as long as you stay away from the deer. My wife and I loved all three of the events we went to and loved getting to talk to you. Thank you so much for making our Christmas Season so enjoyable.

Although the Guthries did come to the show last year they didn’t travel in the Corvette, but this year the beast is back and Gary wanted to make good on his offer.  Those who regularly read my posts will know that I am a complete car nut, a real petrol head, so the chance to drive such an amazing vehicle was not one I was going to ignore.

The Stingray is Gary’s pride and toy and he loves showing it off.  I am still not sure if we are going for a ride in it (fine by me), or if he is really happy for me to take the driving seat but after posing for a few pictures he gestures to the cockpit and says ‘so, would you like to take it out?’  Um, let me think for a momen…YES!

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With Gary and the Stingray

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Posing

The car is instantly comfortable and once the seat and steering wheel is adjusted (I use a racing position – quite upright with the wheel high) I feel completely at one with the car.  The visibility is much better than I had imagined and I have a very clear sense of where the extremities are.

Push the start button and GROWWWWWWLLLLLL  6.2 litre, V8: oh, this is an American car alright.  Gary explains how the exhaust note can actually be adjusted – muted for urban driving and full beans for track days and drives around Pigeon Forge.

The driving is amazing, and surprisingly easy, I can tell that it would be a good grand tourer as well as a racer (a similar model competes at the 24 hours of Le Mans). It moves away easily and rides smoothly, but I am always aware that under my right foot there is untold power.  When we are at a red light Gary suggests that when we move away I shift from 1st to 2nd quickly and then floor the throttle – I do as he says and in an instant the wheels are spinning and the traction control is taking over as the whole thing bucks and shudders.  Oh yes!

We drive around the back roads of Pigeon Forge past the Dollywood theme park.  The road is not exactly Laguna Seca or the Nürburgring , but I do get a fantastic sense of the capabilities of the ‘vette.

As pleasurable as the driving is, one of the great things about the morning is chatting with Gary, who I have to say is remarkable relaxed despite my clumsy gearchanges and woeful lane discipline.  Gary worked for GM for many years and even worked on the American version of the turbocharged Lotus Esprit.  He is a kind and fascinating man, and we have lots in common.

All too soon we are pulling back into the parking lot of the hotel and I sadly shut down the engine and clamber out.  What an amazing morning: Gary, thank you!  I go back into the hotel – where is Santa? I may want to add something to my Christmas list…..

And I am back to normal life.

My first show today is at 3 so I have plenty of time to spare.  I decide to walk across the main Pigeon Forge strip to the Incredible Christmas Store, which is a temple to all things Christmas from traditional nativities to glittery ornaments in the shape of, well, anything you can imagine.  The store is divided into different zones one of which promotes the products of Department 56.  D56 have been making a range of ceramic buildings based on the life and works of Charles Dickens for many years, but the veracity of their products can not always be relied upon, for example I notice there is a model of the Marshalsea debtors prison in which Dickens’ father John was incarcerated.  The D56 model is a rather quaint, quirky little cottage – not the high-walled edifice that Charles knew and feared.

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NOT the Marshalsea!

Returning from the store I still have left myself time for lunch today (unlike yesterday) and I decide to go to the Blue Moose restaurant where I have chicken, fries and a corn on the cob, which should keep me going until dinner this evening.  I have to be back in my room by 1, as I have to phone a radio station in Nebraska to record an interview regarding one of my events there in a few days’ time.

The interview is actually going to air next Monday, after the event, so we chat as if the presenter was there and had watched it.  I hope for his sake nothing extraordinary  happens during the actual performance otherwise we are going to look very silly!

During our conversation Dale points out that I am 55 and that Charles Dickens died at the age of 58, which is a cheery prospect to reflect upon.

Interview finished I walk to a local pharmacy and purchase some cold remedies, as I am still feeling a bit ‘heavy’, and then it is time to prepare for Nickleby again.

The audience is smaller today, but are just as curious to see a new show.  I begin by explaining the background of the book, and my creation of the script, and then I launch in.  It is a much more physical and energetic show than last night, and the sweat is flowing freely as I reach the end.

I have always had a bit of an issue with three characters in Nickleby and today I decide to resolve it:  The voices that I give to Newman Noggs, Ned Cheeryble and his brother Charles have always been very similar.  In the case of the last two that is fine, because they are twins and I play up to the fact that they sound identical, but differentiating them from Noggs has been my problem.  Today – during the performance – I suddenly decide to make the Brothers Cheeryble Welsh.  Don’t ask me why, it just seemed like an interesting idea, and it works!

With the play finished I host another Q&A before letting Kristy take the stage to hand out the door prizes, while I prepare for the signing session in the shadow of the giant Glockenspiel.

When I am finished I suddenly realise that I am leaving the Inn tomorrow and travelling onto Nebraska, so I make sure that I am checked in for my flight, and then do my first laundry of the tour, before sitting on my bed and watching TV until it is time to get ready for the evening’s performance of A Christmas Carol.

It is another full house, but before we let them in Kristy, Dwight and I have a chat and reflect on another successful year together.  We really have become a great team!

The show is not my best, as my voice is not at its strongest, however the pacing of the show is good (I have been trying to speed things up a little, with not so many dramatic, but ponderous, pauses) and overall I am pleased with the way the evening pans out.  Once again we have a brief question and answer session, before I retire to my dressing room and change into my dry costume ready for the signing session, which is long again.

My post show routine is well trodden now, and soon I am back at my favourite haunt and eating a pizza and salad.

Music is playing over the sound system and it is mostly country artists whom I don’t know, but suddenly there is Don Mclean’s American Pie and I am singing along – as, I notice, are most of the other customers.  Memory is an amazing thing: I haven’t heard this recording for years (we used to have a Don Mclean greatest hits album at home), but the lyrics come straight back to me: ‘ Well I know that you’re in love with him, ’cause I saw you dancing in the gym.  You both kicked off your shoes.  Man, I dig those rhythm and blues’  and ‘Jack be nimble, Jack be quick. Jack Flash sat on a candlestick….’.  Everyone in that bar knew all the words to all the verses – that makes it a true classic in my book!

Dinner finished I return to my room, set an alarm and tuck myself into bed, no doubt to dream of American muscle cars!

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