Thursday, October 26, 2006

Somerset Rural Life Museum

I was quite excited about today - a visit to Glastonbury and the Somerset Rural Life Museum. I was due to give three talks here today. I arrived at just before 10am and was due on for my first Henry at 11.30am. The people I meet at all these schools, castles and museums that I visit never fail to amaze me with their warmth, charm and good nature. They couldn't do enough for me this morning and I was introduced to all these fine people, so many of them volunteers. I was due to be giving my talks in the great Abbey Barn in their grounds and it was a wonderful venue. With it's high vaulted ceiling and rough dirt floor, plus the secluded lighting giving an impression of candlelight, all just added to the atmosphere.
My first group came in, probably somewhere in the region of 30+ people. It was nice to chat to them and get some laughs as well. I wheedled in some info about the Dissolution of the Monasteries as requested by Mary at the County Museum. It went really well and I got some lovely comments at the end of it, from young and old alike. All commented on how much like Henry VIII I was, more than any other Henry VIIIth look-a-like they had seen, which was extremely gratifying.
After a lovely meal of a kind of Ploughman's lunch with farmhouse cheddar and home-made apple pickle (which was fabulous), I was back in the Barn for the two afternoon talks. The first of these was particularly memorable for me as the jousting was contested by a lovely little lad called Cameron who made up for any lack of jousting skill with sheer enthusiasm and speed. Quoits, horses and targets flew in various directions and hardly anyone really noticed when the other team won - all eyes were firmly on Cameron's team!
The final session was packed out and with some lovely people. One family had their fourteen year old daughter with them who is into role play and history, and was she delighted to discover you could make a living out of historical re-enactment. She reckoned this was the career that beckoned her after school. Good for her! Another couple stopped me as I was packing stuff away and again commented that it was scary how much like Henry VIII I was. I know I am the same height as Henry and my build always helps. You do see some people impersonating Henry and there is a passing resemblance (and some times absolutely none at all!), but I am proud to say that I feel confident that there are few others as accurate as me at present. This may sound big headed and blowing my own trumpet a bit, but I am proud of what I do and I enjoy it, and getting these comments back are always very gratifying. So thank you!
When I got home, there was already a phone call from a teacher who's sister had been at the show today and had rung her saying how good I was, and that she must get me into her school ASAP. Well, who am I to argue?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Monkwick Junior, Ghosts and Conkers...

Thursday the 19th October saw me still at my parent's house in Essex and this time getting up to drive to Colchester and Monkwick Junior School. This was a wonderful school - and my first visit. The teachers were lovely - very friendly and funny, and the children were great. Some superb costumes to be seen, and about 90% of them appearing to be home made. I had a nice, if somewhat bizarre lunch of cheesey mashed potato, before the afternoon session, which was a real rip snorter. The kids all laughed at the appropriate moments and the gents won the jousting AGAIN. This might turn into some sort of habit... A fond farewell was said to all the teachers and TA's, and particularly to "Friar Tucker" from Teeside, before I was on my way back to my parent's house. I had been planning to drive back to Somerset that evening, but I was just so tired, I decided against it. Instead, my father and I sat and watched the football all evening on Channel 5.
I drove home on the Friday morning, but the weather and the traffic were abysmal. A journey that should have taken three hours took more like four and a half. But I was home. After a quick trip to the bank and a cuddle with my wife and son, I was off again, this time back to Barrington Court for their annual Ghost Story evening. All the people taking part first met up in Matthew Applegate's apartment in Strode House (next to Barrington Court) where Matthew's lovely wife Sue had made bucket-loads of tasty home made soup - delicious. I met up with all the other performers and volunteers for the evening. It was lovely, lots of jokes and laughs. Matthew's sister and her partner were there and were due to be dressed up as ghosts in white clothing and white faces. Sue was dressed up as "The Lady in White" with a long Jane Austen-type dress, white face and long blonde wig! They were sent off to patrol the upper long gallery in the Court and hopefully scare the pants off various punters. Other people there included some lovely ladies from Martock Panto society, one of whom was to do a reading of one ghost story, while another was joining me in making spectral noises and window scratching during another reading. We did this with great aplomb, however it did make us quite hysterical and with the added fun of everything taking place in the pitch dark, it did give the general idea that this evening was a mix of "Most Haunted" and a "Carry On" film.
With the first two stories read to the punters, Matthew and his assistant Helen (who was organising the whole shebang) suddenly realised things were running too quickly and the punters would have to be delayed before they could sit down to their dinners. Myself and Rae (if that is how you spell it), a charming lady from the Martock Panto, were asked to go outside and hide under a chestnut tree in our historical robes, the punters would then be led past on a night time walk whereupon we would be needed to moan, howl, shake the tree and generally give them the heebie-jeebies. Rae and I ventured outside and clambered under one of the conker trees, immediately feeling ourselves sinking into the soft earth. We laughed and chuckled and made various rude innuendo jokes involving conker trees, Sean Bean and "Lady Chatterly", but of the punters there was not a sign. Time passed. Still no sign of them. Eventually I see a torch beam in the distance - this must be them! I flash my torch beam briefly in the tree tops to let them know we are ready. Nothing happens. The torch beam eventually comes a lot closer and turns out to be a security guard. I think he thought Rae and I might be a courting couple as when he shone his torch on us, his first words were a mumbled and embarrassed "Ooh! Sorry!"
Eventually we are summoned back into the house after not a sign of anyone to scare. We all sit back in Matthew's apartment and drink some wine and chat and tell some terrible jokes, and then it is my turn for my story. I go down to the restaurant and read "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allen Poe, and get a great response from the listeners. And then that is that! Lots of goodbyes, and a "Hello" from Estelle, a lovely lady my wife used to work with as a community mid-wife and who helped look after my son when he was first born, and then it was time for me to head for home. I finally got home about 10.45pm. It had been a long day, but by God it had been fun! To Matthew and Helen, thank you for organising it. To Sue, thanks for the soup and wine. To all the other performers - lovely to meet you all. And finally, to Rae - smashing conkers, love!
And now, off to Wales for a couple of days at my sisters. Bye!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Pyrcroft Grange and Blean School - again...

It was a very early start for me on the morning of Monday the 16th October. I was to drive from Somerset up to Pyrcroft Grange School in Chertsey in Surrey. I arrived about half an hour early, but passed the time reading the Times and drinking some Diet Coke! I hadn't been to Pyrcroft Grange for nearly two years, but it was nice to be back again. I was welcomed warmly as ever and set up my stuff in a side room - we wouldn't have full access to the hall until the afternoon session, but that was fine. Pyrcroft is a fine school, with a lot of integration between disabled, autistic and, for want of a better word, full able bodied children. This always makes it quite a special day - and it always makes for some left field questions and answers - as evidenced again today! After explaining all about Henry's eating and culinary habits, I was asked by one boy if it was true Henry ate Elephants. I explained that this was not the case. Another boy then asked whether Elephants were made of meat. I told him that all Elephants were actually made of re-formed saw dust. I then had to explain to him that I was joking. For those of you wondering, they are of course made from railway sleepers and bacofoil. The afternoon whizzed by and a fine jousting session was JUST won by the boys for a nice change. Lots of friendly goodbyes at the end and then I was on my way - but not back to Somerset...
From Chertsey I got back on the dear old M25 and headed for my sister's house in Kent. It was a relatively easy journey and I was soon with her supping a cup of tea. Her husband Julian came home from work with a very welcoming bottle of wine and a take-away curry - very nice! We sat and watched the film "The Village" which was nicely creepy, but predictable. Next morning I was up bright and early and off to one of my favourite schools that I visit every year - Blean Primary near Canterbury! This is just a fabulous school - always have wonderful kids, friendly teachers, the nicest caretaker you ever want to meet and easy to find - it doesn't get much better than that for a Henry VIII person! We had another lovely day, lots of laughs and fun, and getting everything back to how it normally is - the girls won the jousting! It was back to my sister's near Sittingbourne for a cup of tea and some guitar strumming before heading off to Essex to stay the night with my parents near Brentwood.
Today has been more or less a day off. Some bank work and paper work but nothing else. My father and mother treated me to lunch at The Mason's Arms restaurant in the Ingrave Road in Brentwood which was FANTASTIC, and then an evening at leisure! Tomorrow morning I am at Monkwick Junior School in Colchester and then heading back to sunny Somerset for a Ghost Story evening at Barrington Court! Lovely.
Ah! I hear the sound of a cork being pulled from a bottle! How that tune haunts me...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Hazeldene Lower School and Everyone's a Star!

It was another trip over to the South East of England for me, this time, via Bedfordshire. I was due at Hazeldene Lower School in Bedford on the Monday morning, but I decided to drive to my parents the day before, just to make life a little easier. The drive up on Sunday and at about lunch time was very easy and quite pleasant. The following morning, I woke early (about 5.30-ish) and headed on to the M25 and struck out for Bedford. For some reason I had got it into my head that Hazeldene Lower School was going to be a posh private school, with undulating lawns and deer nibbling at the croquet hoops, very much like Monkton Combe in Bath. I was wrong! It was a perfectly normal, lovely state school run by some of the nicest teachers you could ever wish to meet. Karen Styles in particular was charming and friendly in the extreme. The group of children were an exciteable bunch of Year 3's and laughed longer and louder at some of my jokes than was seemingly possible! The jousting was, as ever, won by the ladies and after being paid I was on my way home. Hazeldene was a lovely school and I would be delighted to go back there.
Monday evening, I was invited to meet up with my old friend Sara Turner at the Star Pub in Ingatestone in Essex. This was a real homecoming for me. The Star was a pub that Sara and I used to visit every Monday night about 10-15 years ago. It is a really old fashioned place inside and I reckon hasn't been touched by a developer since the Crimean war. Every Monday a group of musicians get together and play bluegrass music in a jam session. Now I am not really into bluegrass, aside from the occasional burst of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" or "Man of Constant Sorrow", but "live" in this wonderful old pub it works. How nice it was to return to the Star and find all the same musicians still there! Dave Wilcox on banjo, Alex on violin, Keith on guitar, Dave on Harmonica, spoons and jug, and many more. They made my evening by, first actually remembering who the hell I was and secondly, as I was leaving early due to being incredibly tired, they played their usual finale piece, "Dead Skunk" (a Loudon Wainwright III song - don't knock it till you've heard it!) early as I was leaving. Lovely! I shall return. Funnily enough I have just received an email from Alex as he has tracked me down via my website. I shall reply to him shortly. It was a lovely day all round really.
I have just had a phone call from an entertainments company asking me to appear at an evening show near Temple in London on the evening of the 8th November. I am sure I can get a lift up from my father, but they have kindly offered to pay for a cab back to Essex for me after the show which is lovely.
Next show? Pyrcroft Grange school in Chertsey, Surrey next Monday.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

High Wycombe, Norfolk and Taunton!

Back on the jolly treadmill again, with a series of appearances dotted all over the place. It began in the wee small hours of Thursday the 28th of September. I got up very early and began the long drive/slog up the A303 and all points east towards my destination - namely Godstowe Prep School in High Wycombe. I got there about 45 minutes early due to an almost total lack of any other traffic on the road. I wasn't complaining mind you, I just simply parked up and read my new Private Eye magazine and drank some Diet Coke - anything to keep my school girl figure nice and trim...
This was my second visit to Godstowe Prep and it is always great fun. It is a Girl's school and they always dress up in the finest costumes you have ever seen. There are some fine dress makers in High Wycombe it would seem. We had a lovely day with a great group of young ladies and some friendly charming teachers as well. Lunch was pretty good as well, so no complaints from the King! Next I had to face the M25 again and drive round to my parents in Essex for where I was staying for the next few nights. My wife and son had come up under their own steam and were waiting for me when I got there. Lovely!
Friday, 29th September - I over slept marginally, but had to whiz up the A12 a little faster than anticipated. I got as far as Capel St Mary and yet another car crash on this road held me up with both lanes closed. I had to cut across country and hope that my Sat Nav could sort out a route. I was on my way to West Flegg Middle School in Martham near Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. Luckily the Sat Nav was on top form and I arrived at West Flegg more or less smack on time. This again, was a return visit to a school and once again I was treated Royally by all that were there. Once again the children's costumes were superb and we had another fab and groovy day. As ever, back to a co-ed school and it's the ladies who are walking away with the jousting honours. West Flegg is always a firm favourite to return to, so thanks to them again for being such charming helpful hosts.
I had the weekend mostly at leisure and enjoyed myself at my parents. Sunday night I had to drive back to Somerset as I was due to be up and about bright and early on the Monday, and so I was!
Monday the 2nd October I was due at a school I hadn't visited before - Ruishton Primary near Taunton. It was a lovely school - almost all of it brand spanking new and with some lovely children in the group we had. Lots of good questions and fun and laughter, particularly in the afternoon. Once again, the fine range of costumes was a testament to some hard work on a lt of people's parts and was as ever much appreciated by me. For a nice change the gentlemen triumphed in the jousting, evening the score out just a little, and then I posed for photos with some group shots and then with individual shots with every child. Ruishton is a delightful school with some lovely children and teachers, again thank you for the warm welcome.
That evening I was out again. This time I had been asked by my friend Matthew Applegate of Barrington Court to be master of ceremonies at the annual South Somerset National Trust Pub Quiz! This is the big time folks! It was great fun, held in the function room of the Royal Oak Pub in Barrington Village. Lots of laughs and good company, and I was treated to my drinks and dinner, which is no bad thing. But, by heck, was I ready for my bed when I got home that night!
Next stop? Hazledean School in Bedfordshire next Monday. Check press for more info!