Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Cider With Henry

This has been a hectic couple of days. I drove up to Gloucestershire yesterday as I had a meeting with the people who run events at Sudeley Castle near Winchcombe. It is nearly a 100 mile drive to get there, but when I did it was instantly worth it. This is a delightful old Tudor House/Castle in a magnificent setting. I was due to meet Danielle from the Castle there. From what her voice sounded like on the phone I imagined some quite stern, tall and slightly officious lady somewhere in her 30's. How wrong can you be? She was this charming tiny little lady in her mid-20's who had a great sense of humour. We had a quick chat in their main office which is set up high in one of the Castle turrets! They wanted to hear some of the Tudor instruments I played, so I gave the office staff a quick tootle. I also brought along a load of the photos from the Barrington Court day and some of the unsolicited testimonials from my days at the County Museum in Taunton. Danielle then took me for a quick tour of some of the castle exhibits, which was very nice of her considering the castle had been closed to the public since October. It is a wonderful place. Hopefully they want me in May next year for a Tudor day. Fingers crossed, it would be lovely to work with them.
I drove back into Winchcombe and had a wander round it's lovely old streets and stopped for lunch in a pub called the White Lion which had all the atmosphere of an autopsy. But the fish and chips I had were very nice. I then headed back on the road to Cheltenham, and then on down through Birdlip to Slad, the village I was staying in over night. Slad is where Laurie Lee lived, and where he based and wrote "Cider With Rosie", one of my all time favourite reads. I stayed at the Old Chapel B&B, a place I stayed at about 10 years ago with my late lamented Grandfather. It is still with the same owners after all these years and I was very warmly welcomed. I settled into my room, put my feet up and opened my newspaper. Next thing I knew it was about 2 hours later and I had been asleep in the chair. Poor old git!
I got up this morning at about 6.45am and wandered down to my cooked breakfast from Mike the owner of the Chapel at about 7.30. Fabulous - omelette - cooked to perfection, crispy bacon, some herby sausage and plenty of toast and tea. I could get used to this. Next I was off on the road up from Stroud to Gloucester and my appointment at Grange Junior School. We had a really good day. About 90 kids, all very interested, great sparky questions and lots of laughs. The teachers were lovely and really couldn't do enough for me, even going as far as to nipping out at lunchtime to buy me a sandwich - bless 'em. The afternoon zipped by and we ended with a deafening Jousting tournament in which a simply superb boys team blitzed everyone! After payment and packing I was on my way. I had guessed when telling Amanda what time I would be home that it would be about 5pm. I pulled up on our home drive as the 5 o'clock news began on 5 Live. How's about that for a prediction?
A day off tomorrow, then a long long day driving up to Sutton in Surrey and back again. Then heading to Essex and more East Anglian frolics for a week. This has been a good couple of days.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Knock Football and Gertie Millar

This all begins on Remembrance Sunday. I had to drive back to Essex for three Henry VIIIth visits in the week. I would be staying at my parents again (they are SO lucky!) and as ever they were wonderful, kind and not too vicious with the rent book.
Monday I was at South Green Junior School in Billericay. Lovely and close to my parent's house, therefore slightly more of a lie in than usual. Lovely school, good teachers and great kids. We had a good time and the children seemed to really enjoy themselves. Good costumes again. That evening I went for a swift drink down at The Hoop, my old local pub in Stock. Little did I know that I was witnessing the end of an era. It was the last night the old bar would ever be as I remember it... I had a couple of drinks with Dan again, but went home relatively early on the vague promise of seeing Dan again the following night and maybe going on somewhere else.
Tuesday I was in Silver End between Braintree and Witham. I had tried to contact our friend Simon Runagall on my first arrival in Essex as he had recently contacted me to let me know he had managed to pick up some Gertie Millar post cards for me. Gertie Millar is a musical theatre artist from the Edwardian era and I, somewhat anorakishly, collect old post cards of her. Look, I know you are still out there reading this as I can hear you breathing. I knew Simon's parents lived in Silver End and so I attempted to contact him to see if we could meet up. It was arranged that I would meet him at his parent's for lunch during my break from being a Tudor monarch. But right at the start of the day I was in for another surprise as I was walking into the school with my props. I was followed in by a bloke I seemed to recognise, I wasn't sure where from. Crimewatch possibly. It turned out he was business partner with an old friend of mine from Maldon, Kevin Rowley, and he was at the school to tune their piano. The school was really good. Fabulous kids, great teachers and a good day was had by all. I got to meet Simon and his parents at lunchtime, collect my Gertie's and also some lovely photos Simon had taken of my son, James, on his last visit down to us. You will note the excruciatingly cute picture at the top of this posting... That evening I went back to the Hoop which resembled a war zone - the old bar had been completely hacked in half and was being systematically replaced with a new bar top. Too much for me. I ended up at the Bell at Rettendon with lots of friends and best of all a chance to see my dear old friend Sara Turner for the first time in about 7 years. Too long! I got back late. Thank God my mother (bless her!) had sat up to let me in. (Bless her!).
Finally, Wednesday at Southminster. This day was hard work. I was already tired from the previous two days shows, added to which the children in the group were very challenging and hard work to keep going with. By the end of the day though, I felt I was winning, but by 'eck! I earnt my corn this day. But that wasn't the end of the fun. I still had dinner with my parents and then the 2oo mile drive back to Somerset. I slept well that night. Most of it on the A303.

Thursday, November 10, 2005


Another good day. I had visited Dunster school last December as Henry and they had re-booked me for today. It is a long old drive out to Dunster from our house, so I had to leave by 6.30am to be sure of making it on time. The roads were dark but relatively empty. I got the usual friendly welcome from all the staff at the school, they are so nice. And the tea wasn't bad either.
What a great group of children! Very responsive, very eager to learn, great questions, loads of laughs. We also had another nomination for best answer to a question this term. When I asked them what was the most famous piece of music Henry VIIIth was supposed to have written, one lad put his hand up and answered confidently: "Greenpeace!" He was half right I suppose.
The lunch was almost as good as last year, and then we launched into the afternoon programme. The jousting was magnificent with all the teams coming so close to winning, but in the end it was the girls who triumphed. In the final jokey teacher's race, one of the little girls who was autistic wanted to join in. She did really well, but her team lost by a whisker. She then insisted that she wanted to go in the stocks for a photo with me! I was only too happy to oblige. Then the magic happened - right at the end of the day, I was saying goodbye as the children left the hall, and this little autistic girl, called Edie came up to me with her teacher and whispered "Thank you". I melted on the spot. How's about that for an end to the day?
A long drive home, a cheque in my pocket and a warm greeting from my lovely wife and son as I arrived back at the old mansion. Everybody needs days like this. Thank you Dunster. I shall return.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Barrington Court

This has been a fantastic day! It was a relatively early start for the drive over to Barrington and my day with the children of the school in the village at Barrington Court, a wonderful old Tudor house. The hardest part of the day was lugging all my props up the main staircase and then the spiral staircase up to the long gallery on the top floor. They should definitely have had Stannah Stairlifts in Tudor times. I got some lovely help from Matthew Applegate who works for the National Trust on site - a genuinely nice guy. After I had got over several heart attacks, it was time to get changed and await the arrival of the children. It was very exciting as Alison Tulloch (the teacher from the school) hadn't told them I was going to be there - they thought it was just going to be a normal day up at the old house! I could hear all the children coming up the stairs. I had primed Matthew to warn them about possible "ghosts". They spilled out on to the main gallery, but at the far end from where I had set up. I stood stock still - like a waxwork, and was treated with some marvellous comments as the children walked down towards me.
"Hi Henry!" and "It's Henry!" etc. Suddenly, I moved.
"AAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRGH!" The children all screamed and ran back down the gallery! Wonderful! We had a fantastic day, only 15 children but they were really up for it. A lady came along to study me from Montacute House near Yeovil, so you never know, she might want to book me.
Out of the group of 15, only 3 were boys, but believe it or not, during the jousting session, the boys not only won their heat, they also won the final and picked up their certificates full of the joys of life! Another amazing thing today was that the children loved their teacher Mrs Tulloch so much, they refused the opportunity to put her in the stocks! Another first!
At the end of the day, after another exhausting movement of props up and down the grand stairs, I had a chat with Matthew Applegate again. He was very keen on the idea of getting me into Barrington Court for some summer Tudor feasts. I am all for this and think it will be a wonderful idea. I must pre-warn Tris from Bilby's.
When I got home, there were several enquiries about Henry from a variety of schools in the area. Things are starting to hot up. This has been a wonderful day and I wouldn't change a thing. Tomorrow? Dunster near Minehead. A return visit after I went to see them last December. A good school, so I am looking forward to it. Night night!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Chesil Beach Boys (nearly)

It was back to being Henry again today. A booking at St John's Primary School in Weymouth. This is a nice easy ride down, skirting Dorchester and then on down into Weymouth itself. The school was nice, but it was odd to be working with Year 3 pupils when I have most recently been working with Years 4, 5 or even 6. But they were good and responded positively to most of the day, even though they have barely started on the Tudors. Once again the teachers had come up trumps with their magnificent costumes and there was about a 60% uptake in dressing up from the children. There were some great answers to questions again today - when talking about my Bear Paw shoes again, I mentioned that the animal the name was based on was big, furry and in possession of big teeth and claws and one little girl asked me if it was a Panda... She later asked me how I had caught the Panda in the first place to actually make the shoes. Ahem. With another group and again talking about the shoes, another answer I got was "Elephant". When I pointed out to the young chap that Elephants aren't furry he came back with the reply "alright, a Mammoth then". Good effort.
The afternoon session with the stocks was again amusing. Asking the children what they would throw at people in the stocks some of the answers were bizarre. Fruit juice for instance. Twigs. One child even suggested cherries. The jousting was a great effort. For a change the boys won and collected their certificates later.
Lunch was a bit of a pain. I was told there was a local Tesco just around the corner. It was actually about half a mile away and in the limited time afforded by a lunch break I decided to drive around. First I nearly missed it, it was one of these little Mini Tescos. Then I couldn't find anywhere to park the car and when I eventually did and had chosen my sandwiches, I found the queue for the two tills was snaking right the way back down a complete aisle. In front of me was a sea of lanky students, all clutching single bottles of diet coke and a sandwich and each with a debit card in their sweaty palms. If I had stayed with the queue I have a feeling I would have still been there.
Tomorrow is Barrington Court near Ilminster. I can't wait! Should be a great day. Read all about it tomorrow.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Norfolk but no Turkeys

An exhausting few days has just passed. Tuesday I went to see Judy who is making me some new items of clothing for the Henry costume. She lives in the back of beyond, way down this tiny farm track. I never thought I was going to find it. She has some great ideas for updating the costume. I have left the ball and the ideas in her court.
Wednesday I drove up to Essex to stay at my parents, using their place as a staging post before heading up to Norfolk. Amanda and James were there when I arrived and it was so lovely to see them both and get lots of cuddles off both of them. Later that evening, with James safely tucked up in bed, Amanda and I went out to dinner. This was our first chance to be out alone together for yonks and we enjoyed ourselves, going to The Raj Indian restaurant in Billericay.
The next morning I had to get up at about 5am and head on up to Wymondham in Norfolk and my appointment back at Robert Kett Junior School. I only got slightly lost finding it this time and it was really nice to see all the staff again. Poor old Natasha from last year had a stinking cold and really did look poorly. But it was another great day. The vast majority of the kids had dressed up and they looked great. All the teachers and teaching assistants had done likewise and had done me proud. It was a big group, about 160 kids, but great fun. Very sparky and very bright. The noise of 160 kids cheering on the jouisting tournament was almost enough to blow the roof off the hall we were in! The girls triumphed again, and more certificates were dished out. I drove back to my parents, but by the time I got there I was so tired that the whole idea of me then hacking off back to Somerset was cancelled and I phoned Amanda to let her know I would still be in Essex tonight. I allowed myself a slight detour in the evening to visit my old favourite pub, The Hoop at Stock. I was a little worried that their wouldn't be anyone left there I knew. How wrong I was. Andy Banks and his lovely wife Libby were there, as was Gareth Clipstone and his wife Wendy. Good old Dan and his four-legged companion Thistle were in attendance. And to cap it all off, David Kitchin turned up (former landlord's son). Splendid!
This morning I woke with only a partially thick head and contemplated the drive home again. It HAD to be done I guess. And as I am typing this in my office, I reckon I made it. MORE WINE! Called the King. And it appeared. Lovely.