Thursday, December 28, 2006

And now for something slightly the same.

In my previous blogs I had forgotten to thank a very special person in particular, that person was Amy who was one of three different Tinkerbells during my various days as Father Christmas at Leeds Castle.
On one of my final days I was taking photos of a lot of the different people who had helped during our time there. I took this one of Amy and she urged me never to show this picture to anyone. When I mentioned I had a website ( she was terrified that I might publish it on there. I assured her I would never do such a thing. But I never mentioned anything about my Blog site! So here is young Amy Creasey, as I believe her full name was, in her full Fairy Glory! Thank you, Amy!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Belated Merry Christmas from Henry the Santa...

As you can see, from this horrific image, I have been terrorising the good families of Kent in my guise as Father Christmas at Leeds Castle. It has been quite a couple of weeks...
It began with me driving down to Southampton on the 15th December to meet up with old friends from my days working at that most wonderful and cuddly of employers, Skandia Life. I had lunch with the lovely Sue Marsh at Piccolo Mondo, a wonderful little restaurant near Skandia House, and then it was a short walk to the Old Fat Cat Pub to meet up with Julie Beard and Matt Keane. After leaving Southampton I drove up the M3 to the M25 and shot over to Kent to head back to my sisters for another week and a bit being Santa at Leeds. It was a great week, but hard work. Now you wouldn't believe that sitting on your bottom and asking children if they have been good was hard work, but by God it is. After the first couple of hours your mind starts to wander and your bottom starts to feel like barnacles have been welded on to it. The rest of the people, as with everything I have done at Leeds Castle, were wonderful and it was so nice to be back amongst this group, who are now like a new family for me!
During the week I finally got to see the film "Borat". It was wonderful. I haven't laughed so much at a film for a long long time. Highly recommended. The rest of the week continued apace with some incredibly cute children coming to visit Santa. One little lad was sitting happily picking his nose while telling me what he wanted. His father said "Stop that, Jack!" Young Jack promptly removed his finger from his nose, with a nice big juicy bogey on the tip. "Oh, Jack!" admonished his father, "get rid of it!" Jack duly did, by smearing it down the arm of his father's jacket. In the words of Mastercard - priceless.
My sister Cathy and Julian had a burglary at their house in the early part of the week with Julian losing a motorbike from their front yard. He increased their security at their home with a new massive set of steel gates at the top of their drive.
I continued at Leeds Castle until Christmas Eve and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I would like to say a big thank you again to the lovely Darlene Cavill for organising the whole thing, and to her assistant Helen for frequent lifts from the Maiden's Tower back to the Estate Office. And for her wearing a silly hat. And giving my wife and I a nice box of posh biscuits for Christmas. And to Jeanne and to Barry and Carole and Ann and Ann and everyone who helped make it such a memorable experience.
Christmas Day was at my parents in Essex with my wife and son, and my sister Cathy and husband Julian. Amanda and I had a bit of a fright on Boxing Day when my left leg came up with a very sore area at the bottom of my calf. We were frightened that it might be a deep vein thrombosis brought on by too much sitting around as Father Christmas, so it was off to accident and emergency at Basildon Hospital for me. It turned out to be just a skin infection and I am now taking ibuprofen to help sort it out.
We drove back to Somerset on the afternoon of the 26th and are now safely ensconced here. Next Henry is on the 11th January at Friends School in Saffron Walden. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Kingston St Mary

After a couple of days of either (a) looking after James, and/or (b) Christmas shopping, it was quite a relief to get back to being Henry again, even if it was for only half a day. But what a half day!
I had been booked to appear at Kingston St Mary school in the village of the same name that lies just to the North West of Taunton. I had been recommended to the school by one of their teaching assistants who had seen me at Taunton Castle Museum's Christmas Fayre back in November (hence my use of this picture at the top of this blog - from left to right: Superannuated Wench #1, Me, Superannuated Wench #2, Sparky the Dragon [don't ask] and a lute player. So now you know). A recommendation like this is a real God send as mostly the school knows what to expect. Anyway, after the usual awful drive through a Taunton rush hour I arrived via some back roads in the village of Kingston St Mary - and it is delightful! A little hidden gem of a village. The school itself was very easy to find and the teachers were overwhelmingly friendly and attentive. I set up and the combined years 3/4/5/6 came in for the opening talk. If I say so myself, they loved it. Plenty of laughs and some good answers from the children, particularly from one young lady called Ellie. After a quick break it was back with just years 3/4 for some Tudor crime and punishment, then we had some fun with the stocks and finished just before lunch with an excellent jousting session, which the ladies won to keep things back to how they should be!
After driving home and having lunch, Amanda, James and I headed off to Yeovil for some more Christmas shopping (will it EVER end?) and then tonight my wife and I are going to spend a passionate evening - wrapping up presents. We know how to enjoy ourselves!
Tomorrow I am driving to Southampton to meet the Skandia bunch for some lunch and drinkies, then it is on back down to Kent to Cathy and Julian's place again for another nine days at Leeds Castle as Father Christmas. I shall try and have a quick blog from time to time as my spare times allows me.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Santa Claus is coming to Leeds...

Variety is the spice of life, so they say. So this weekend I have been trying something a little bit different. Yes, I have been back at Leeds Castle again, and yes I am working for the lovely Darlene Cavill and Helen Budd again, but no, there is not a pair of tights or a cod-piece in sight! I am, Father Christmas! Darlene and her bods have put together a Santa's Grotto in the Maiden's Keep just inside the gatehouse and I hold court there all day as the children come and visit me! Superb fun!
I drove to Kent on Friday morning to go to my sister's as usual for when I am at Leeds. We settled in for the weekend with a couple of bottles of wine and a Chinese Takeaway. Saturday morning I was straight down to Leeds Castle via the Broomfield entrance as usual and then it was off to Helen's office to get changed into my Santa gear! The costume looks great. After a little bit of a hold up I was off via "Santa's Lapland Express" (one of the Land Trains from the summer months!) and up to the Castle and a short walk to the Maiden's Keep. Inside, Darlene and co had produced a minor miracle. A wonderful winter wonderland, complete with twinkling lights, fir trees, ice skating mannequins and even the odd Penguin or two! In the middle of this magical labyrinth was my "Santa's Study" complete with sparkling fire place and my own Christmas Tree! With the beard and wig, some red rouge for my nose and cheeks, I was away. The children were wonderful and come in some distinct groups. You get the just plain stunned ones, who spend most of the time staring at you in utter bewhilderment, or hiding behind their parents. You get the criers, who on the very first sight of me in my finery burst into tears and are beyond consolation, even if I do give them a present! You get the chatty ones who sit down next to me as though we are old friends and reels off their complete Christmas present wish list without pausing for breath once. And finally, you get the cocky little so-and-so's who probably would like 20 Marlboro's for Christmas and know full well you aren't Santa and are going to make damn sure the poor parent who brought them in knows this. But they, thankfully, are few and far between! The first day I probably had about 150 children in and I would imagine on Sunday we might even have surpassed that figure. I have been inundated with wonderful letters with requests for presents from Santa, each lovingly written out by the child. It is lovely! One letter on the Saturday was from a little girl called Tegan, whose Christmas list ran to three pages of quite small writing and who finished her entry off with the classic line of: "and that's it!" Brilliant!
Saturday night my sister Cath, her husband Julian and myself went to the cinema where we met their friends Darren and Karen. We went to see "The Covenant". I strongly urge you, with all of my heart to avoid this film like the plague. Thankfully my slumber was left mercifully undisturbed as everyone in the film hits everyone else a lot and the whole production resembles the final super-8mm film my grandfather shot of a Margaretting Rovers first XI home fixture. After this cinematic travesty we went to a Frankie and Bennie's restaurant for a largely disappointing meal in deafening surroundings, with a mixture of over loud music and strident cackling hen parties vying for the most annoying noise of the evening. I was recognised by a very sweet young Terry Wogan. So that's her off my Christmas list.
Sunday was another Father Christmas day at the Castle and I drove home this evening through horrendous rain and wind, but home for a kiss and cuddle from my wife and son, and a frankly unwatchable episode of Torchwood. And so to bed.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

St Cecillia's in Sutton in Surrey

As you can see from the title of this piece, St Cecillia's in Sutton in Surrey is not the sort of place someone like Chris Eubank would want to visit. He could quite possibly lisp himself to death.
It was a very early start for me this morning. Up at just before 5am and out of the door before 5.30am. The A303 wasn't too bad, but as I got on to the M3, the heavens really opened and for a short period you could barely see where you were going at all. Driving slowed to almost walking pace and even with wipers on at full speed, visibility was still virtually impossible. Thankfully this passed. Next step was the M25. Thankfully I was only on for two junctions, but even then I managed to get caught in a traffic jam. I was soon at the school having paused to get a sandwich for breakfast and another for lunch from a small local Tesco Store. As usual, I was warmly welcomed by all the teachers at this lovely little Catholic School. Who would have thought that Henry would get such a warm welcome at somewhere like that? The kids were a really great group as well, in some more fabulous costumes. All the schools I visit, it just amazes me the amount of time and effort put in by parents and relatives to get these children such authentic and good looking Tudor costumes. But then the teachers had excelled themselves as well! We had a great comment this morning from one little girl. She solemnly informed me that Henry VIII's favourite sport was "jostling". Or maybe it was Jocelyn? Now there WAS a sport Henry could enjoy! Priceless.
The afternoon was a good one and culminated in the ladies finally getting back to winning ways by trouncing a rather over confident gents team comprising of all those dressed as exectutioners in the "jostling". My journey home wasn't too bad being only mildly sanity attacking at points on the A303 near Stonehenge and again in Crewkerne High Street, which currently resembles a battle zone on the West Bank.
The new picture above was taken at Taunton Castle's Christmas Fayre and shows me doing a passable imitation of a startled Tudor rabbit caught in headlights during one of my talks to the assembled throng.
Tomorrow I am off to Kent for a couple of days to appear in my alternative guise as Father Christmas at Leeds Castle. Should be fun.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

New Improved Website!

As you can probably see, particularly if you navigated in by it, the Good King Hal website has been drastically altered. New graphics, new look, same old rubbish! This is all down to the brilliant technical skills of Mr Steve French, a man who makes Professor Stephen Hawking look like a pullover. Sorry, that should be a push-over. He has worked long and hard hours on this website to make it the technological marvel that you see now. It is amazing what you can achieve just using an Etcha-Sketch and a Sinclair ZX81. Ladies and gentlemen, the toast is: Mr Steve French! (the cheque is in the post...)

Parkfield Primary - one of the best!

This week is quite clearly my Christmas treat to myself as I seem to be spending most of my time at my favourite schools! After Monday at the lovely Dunster, Tuesday found me back at Parkfield School in Taunton. I was warmly welcomed back by Mr Sides again, who was his usual charming pleasant self. This school really is somewhere special. The staff are all lovely, generous to the extreme and really switched on to their pupils. The two main class teachers had dressed up in full Tudor togs and looked beautiful indeed! The group, which was about 65 children, gathered in the main hall for my opening talk. As ever, this little school produces some of the brightest sparkiest children you could ever want to meet. They ALL got the jokes. They ALL had great Tudor knowledge, and they all just wanted more, more, more! We had a truly special day. It is even the little things at Parkfield that make the place special. When I was first unloading in the morning I discovered one of my jousting targets had a slightly lose top. This is immediately whisked away from me by the caretaker who fixes it in no time at all. I have cups of tea lavished on me all day, and not just during breaks! My lunch is not only bought for me, but it is also collected for me from Tesco's during a Monsoon! And at the end of the day the children all become my roadies and help me load the props back into the Henry-mobile! Fabulous. The afternoon was particularly fun, with loads of laughs and jokes around the stocks and a rip-roaring joust. Yet again the boys triumphed. Perhaps they have finally perfected the way of winning. The press came and took some photos and even one of the Governors had come in on his day off work to see how Henry was doing! Parkfield, you are wonderful and I salute a premier school!
I have had today at leisure (if that is how you can describe going shopping with a 3 year old) before tomorrow when I am up at the crack of dawn and heading off to Sutton in Surrey for a third return visit to St Cecillia's Roman Catholic School. And after that? The weekend has Father Christmas written all over it at Leeds Castle. See you there!
The picture above this time is also from the Christmas bash at Taunton Castle and shows the King this time just testing the cooking skills of the wenches on the hog roast. Just don't tell his Rabbi.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Back to Dunster

Today was a day to look forward to as I was to return for the third year to one of my favourite schools - Dunster, near Minehead. Every year when I go back I am always heartily welcomed by the teachers, head teacher and the fabulous kids they get at this school, and this year was no exception. The day did start badly. I woke up in daylight, something I should not have been seeing as I set my alarm desperately early as usual. I had overslept and it was almost 7.30am when I awoke and I had promised Dunster I would be with them by 8.30am. I got ready quickly and shot out the door. My sat nav still reckoned I had a good chance of being at Dunster by 8.45am. It had reckoned without Taunton. The place was gridlocked. By the time I had got out the other side of the town my sat nav reckoned my arrival time was more like 9.15am. In the end, with much screaming, acceleration and verbal badinage with various other drivers I managed to get to Dunster by 9.00am. I set up and got changed in about two seconds flat and then was on. The kids were just fabulous as usual. Such a fantastic group to work with, they laughed at all the jokes, had great Tudor knowledge and just wanted more, more, more! After another memorable lunch of stir fry chicken noodles and rice pudding ( in seperate bowls I hasten to add), it was on with the afternoon. The jousting was great and a real surprise was the gents winning yet again. All this and I got paid on the day as well. The drive home through Taunton wasn't nearly as awful, but the weather was.
This evening I am off over to Dinnington to see Matthew Applegate from Barrington Court again, and then tomorrow I am over to another favourite of mine, Parkfield Junior in Taunton. See you there.
Hope you like the pic above - it was taken at the Christmas bash at Taunton Castle recently and goes to prove that Henry only liked a nice cup of tea and absolutely nothing stronger than that. Honest.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Nelson Primary in East Ham

Friday morning dawned in Essex and I was due for a relatively early start with a belt down to Leeds Castle in Kent to try on my Father Christmas outfit for my imminent appearances! I drove down the A12 to the M25 to be greeted to the sight of virtually static traffic heading south and dot matrix boards indicating that there was "Congestion Junctions 28-3" - i.e. right across the Dartford Crossing and into Kent. If I was to get to Leeds Castle and then back up to East Ham by 1pm, I should have left about 2 hours before. I abandoned the idea very early, headed back to my parents' and phoned Darlene at the castle to explain the situation. She was fine about it. She said she would leave the costume in her office and I could pop in and try it on the following day (Saturday) on my way back to Somerset.
So, at about midday I began my drive up to East Ham. Now this was a real throw back for me as getting on for 20 years ago, I worked for the London Borough of Newham in their education department (Hello Caroline Lewendon! Hello Steve Newman! Hello Anne Edwards! Hello Maureen Pammen! etc etc) and had some dealings with Nelson Primary School, the school I was due to visit. I found the place very easily and soon found myself welcomed into a warm and cosy staff room and plied with cups of tea. The children had put together a Tudor banquet day and I was their guest of honour. I was very glad to be there! After getting changed into my Henry gear I was brought up to the top hall where a trumpeter heralded my arrival on the red carpet. The children broke out into spontaneous cheering which was WONDERFUL! All the teachers had dressed up as Tudors, as had the children. They all looked fabulous, some of the lady teachers looking particularly nice, I must say...! I sat on my specially built throne and fielded questions from the 150+ pupils, which was good fun. We then progressed down to one of their lower halls for the banquet itself. I wandered round the tables answering questions and playing music for the guests with my instruments. Then there was more entertainment - a series of musical pieces written and arranged by the children themselves, which were really great, then some fine Tudor dancing and a bit more home made music. It was all truly wonderful and I thanked the children for all the effort they had put in with the music, costumes, dance - everything! A really wonderful and magical afternoon. Thank you, Nelson Primary!
In the evening I drove up to Danbury near Chelmsford to meet my old friends Mick Stephenson and Deborah Dixon at the Bell Pub which is now run by Deb's sister, and another old mate of mine, Lesley. It was really nice to see them all again. Mick was, as ever, great company - this man I can safely say was the finest wicket keeper I have ever seen play. A natural. Deb and Lesley still looked as lovely as ever and it was nice to catch up with them all again after so many years. Lesley and her husband Peter were fine hosts. The Bell Inn in Danbury - by Royal Appointment. You heard it here first folks.
Saturday morning I drove back to Somerset via Leeds Castle. The Father Christmas costume was magnificent and I can't wait to start next Saturday! Before that I have visits to Dunster on Monday, Parkfield School in Taunton on Tuesday and St Cecillia's in Sutton on Thursday. Watch this space for more fun and frolics. Or something like that anyway.