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Stumper and Fieding

Christmas Letters England

Letter from the Lake District: Christmas 2013

The Christmas lights on Regent Street in London

I’m writing this year’s Christmas letter in front of a crackling fire in the resident’s lounge of possibly the best pub in Britain, the Britannia Inn in Elterwater, Cumbria. Our trip to England has so far been an embarrassment of rural idyll riches, having started in the Cotswolds where, for the first two weeks, we requisitioned the flat of our dear friends (a.k.a., Rupert and Ralph) and finished out the remaining work weeks of the year. We’ve now embarked on the northern leg of our journey to spend Christmas and Boxing Day with husband’s family, starting with an interlude in the Lake District.

The Britannia Inn, Elterwater, where we nearly divorced while arguing over the answer to Maggie Smith’s Oscar winning film during the pub quiz

Between all the bucolic bliss, we managed to spend 2 nights at the Portobello Hotel in Notting Hill, which I highly recommend if you want to feel like you’re in a Richard Curtis film. The room featured a freestanding bath tub with a view of a private garden (yes, just like the one Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant broke into in that film). Breakfast in the sitting room consisted of the most beautiful heap of scrambled eggs sitting atop a piece of toast with the crusts trimmed off. It arrived, of course, beneath a silver dome. All this pampering didn’t come without its price, but seeing as we were celebrating husband’s 39th birthday for the tenth time, it seemed apropos.

Favorite breakfast ever. Certain it was made by Mary Poppins.

We also managed to indulge in a little shopping, spurred on by the discovery of the charming shop, Stumper & Fielding on the Portobello Road. On a stretch of London that’s been blighted by tat, Stumper & Fielding is a bastion of English sartorial standards, from Tootal scarves to Loakes brogues. Husband got so carried away he purchased a pair of booties of the latter make in a size too big, a fact he failed to notice until he had marched the length of Kengsington Gardens, Hyde Park and Mayfair to deposit ourselves at the Duke of York’s theater for an evening of Jeeves & Wooster (splendid, go see it if you’re in London). Blistered and bruised, he hobbled into Stumper & Fielding in the morning to find that, amazingly, for only a pittance to cover the re-soling, they were willing to exchange the shoes. What could I do but buy myself a velvet-collared Harris Tweed blazer to express my gratitude at their professionalism?

Husband, crippled by his new shoes, leans on his favorite shop

Here I will pause for a moment to acknowledge my self-consciousness at the outpouring of wonderful life-ness I have just directed you to read. I fear you may be finding this year’s Christmas letter devoid of the gleeful Schadenfreude you had hoped for, and I wish to provide comfort. You see, this is a Christmas round-up letter, which means I am practically legally obligated to only write about pleasant events. Rest assured that I, in fact, pay very good money to a very nice lady each week to divulge my life’s tribulations. I think we can all agree that’s the appropriate place for such strife.

I did toy briefly with the idea of telling you about my challenges earlier this year of finding an MS medication that didn’t involve a needle and feeling like I had the flu on a weekly basis. But then I was reminded of the dreaded part of my weekly telephone conversation with my mother in which she debriefs me on the maladies of people I last saw thirty years ago. Terribly dull stuff, so, suffice it to say, I have settled on a twice-daily pill that also happens to be used industrially to make foods taste sour. Its worst side effect is to occasionally give me ruddy cheeks. If it makes you feel better, you can also use the MS narrative to justify the indulgence described above—you know, ‘life’s short, live it while you have your health’ kind of stuff. But, let’s face it, we both know I was a skilled indulger before the arrival of that dratted disease.

You may also take some comfort in the fact that my first book, Americashire, failed to, ahem, crack any bestseller lists. Somehow, despite this, it was the highlight of my year: a fantastic education marked by some terrific moments. These include meeting my fellow inaugural She Writes Press authors at our joint event in Berkeley in May and collecting the Indie Reader Discovery Award for Travel Writing at Book Expo America in New York in June. Husband was a supportive presence at both, and a big hit with the literary ladies. I also have a debt of gratitude to all of you who so patiently put up with endless self-promoting tweets and Facebook posts. Some of you were even so kind as to buy the thing and write nice stuff on Amazon and Goodreads. Thank you. You can’t imagine how much your actions mean.

Me at Book Expo America, prouder than I have any right to be

Back in California there were highlights, too, including our BYO Zen sitting group, seeing husband’s two idols, Shatner and McCartney, on stage together in a benefit for the Los Angeles Shakespeare Center, and our discovery of Ojai, or, as we like to call it, the Cotswolds of California (which I wrote about here). And so, friends, I think this place of gratitude for the year is a good one from which to take my leave. A pint and a packet of Scampi Fries await me in the pub. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!