Monday, December 31, 2007

A HENRY NEW YEAR

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has helped and assisted Good King Hal in the previous year and hope that your support will continue for many years to come.
So, to everyone I know and to anyone who actually reads this blog (you know, you can leave a comment if you want to!) I would like to wish you a very happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year.
All the best for 2008.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Being Santa. Leeds Castle and Jester Pain.

5th December. I had just done a half day as Henry at Holway Park Junior School in Taunton with some challenging kids and was due to be heading off ASAP to Kent to stay at my sister’s house before beginning my stint as Santa at Leeds Castle the following day. I had so much still to do that there was little chance of me shooting straight off, so I headed home and got things ready at a much statelier pace. I waited until Amanda and James were home before hitting the road. I got to Cathy’s near Sittingbourne and settled in for the night on my luxury sofa!
6th December. My first day as Santa. The grotto at the Castle is wonderful. It is housed in the old Tennis Pavilion with a skating rink under canvas alongside it and a refreshments tent. You enter through a big old gnarled wooden door to a waiting area with toys scattered about for the children to play with and with a DVD playing in the corner with a Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer film showing. You begin the walk through to Santa by sauntering past the old animatronics reindeer from last year. Through the arch leads you to a “Winter Garden” with a bridge over a “light waterfall” and a figure of a small girl skating (she packed up working after only a few days and was never properly fixed!). You then go past the best part of the tour – a full size “Toy Machine” with a conveyor belt churning out presents ready to be wrapped up. You then walk down a small tunnel lit with blue lights, turn right and there you are in Santa’s study with me sitting on a throne, with a fire place and some chairs for the children to sit on. They can chat to Santa before getting their presents. This year I am handing out Penguins. The opening couple of days are something of a “phoney war” period with long parts of the day with very few punters coming through.
7th December. After finishing at the Castle today I am off to the Hazlitt Theatre in Maidstone to appear at a party for the children of employees of a local company and to hand out presents in my capacity as Santa. I am driven to the event by a taxi driver who tells me the company in question is a debt collection agency. I do worry somewhat that this invitation to appear as Santa is just a cunning ambush ploy by disgruntled creditors of mine. At the event at the Corn Exchange part of the building, the children come up to a raised stage area to meet me and I hand out specially wrapped presents handed to me by a couple of elves. The children then pose for photos with me, taken by a photographer who prints them immediately. The actors appearing at the Panto at the Hazlitt come over to meet the children as well. Some of them pose for photos with me, including a couple of very leggy fairy ladies not wearing very much. This is the highlight of the evening by a long way! For the next few nights and to give my sister and her husband a break, I am staying at the castle. My room is called the “Creve Coeur Room” and is right up in the battlements of the main part of the castle. It is freezing cold outside and equally freezing inside when I get back from Maidstone. I phone down to “Housekeeping” to see if someone can sort out the lack of heating in my room. The phone rings a couple of times and is answered by a lady with the words “pantry – what?” in a very angry sounding voice. Now I could have been anyone – President of Peru, Princess Alexandra, or even a proper paying guest, not the free-loader I actually was, nevertheless she should have been careful. I explain where I am and my lack of heating. She interrupts me.
“You HAVE heating in that room.” I can see my breath as steam as I speak.
“No I don’t…” I start to say. She won’t have it and once more re-asserts that I do have heating in my room. I invite her up to my room to prove otherwise. She grudgingly offers to go off and talk to the butler and then promptly hangs up. Now I am no expert on customer relations, but I have a feeling that her performance was not straight out the manual. About 20 minutes later my radiator starts clanking and gurgling and finally some heat starts to seep out. By bed time the ice has melted and even the Polar Bears are complaining about the heat.
8th December. The first Saturday gives me an impression of what to expect as it gets closer to Christmas. This is like Zulu only with small children and their parents replacing the South African warriors. We are practically forming the wagons into a circle and hurling the penguins at the customers to hold them off. I end up with only about 10 minutes lunch break. Amanda and James come up to see me, as do my parents, Amanda’s parents, Amanda’s sister Maria and two of her children. I see them so fleetingly and it is only later that it dawns on me that the next time I shall see them is Christmas Eve.
The following two weeks chug slowly by. Weekdays are mostly quiet, weekends almost unbearably busy. I spend most of my evenings staying at Cathy and Julian’s, but I am due back to stay at the Castle again for the 20th to the 23rd inclusive.
On the evening of the 13th I have been invited to appear at another banquet at the Castle as Henry. I had been contacted by Hospitality a few weeks previously and Kerry there had mentioned something about the evening ending with me reading a ghost story to the punters after their meal. I had heard nothing since that phone call. Once at the castle I had made several attempts to hear from Hospitality about what the evening was going to comprise of, but again I had heard nothing. I wandered up to the Castle about 6.30pm and was shown to a side office which I could use as a changing room. After a quick cup of tea and a change I was out and about as Henry. I spoke to the temporary head butler and she informed me that they wanted me to meet and greet in the main library as guests entered. This was good fun and everything was going fine, when suddenly there is a commotion in the main hall and Davey the Jester enters. I have worked with this man before and he is a very fine Jester indeed, but by God is he loud. He hollers and shouts at a few of the punters and then wanders off towards the banquet hall. I continue being kingly and meeting and greeting when suddenly the lady butler asks me to announce dinner and progress everyone down to the Banquet Hall. I do my big booming announcement and lead them off playing my little Dordrecht recorder at their head. As I approach the Banquet Hall I can see Davey with his hands on his hips staring at me. I just walk past with the rest of the guests, lead them into the Hall and invite the honoured guests to be seated. As I walk outside Davey grabs me.
“What’s your game?” he shouts. “I progress them down from the library!”
“I was asked to by the staff…” I begin to explain, but Teddy has well and truly left the Pram by now.
“I always lead them down to the Banquet Hall. You’ll have to wait till the end and progress them back, pal.” Let me explain a little about Davey – he is from North of Watford and has that really grating Lancastrian drawl for a voice. Now I would be quite happy to apologise for progressing the guests down without realising it was his special-wecial jobby-wobby, but one thing guaranteed to put my back up is for some Lancastrian half wit to start referring to me in a derogatory way as “Pal” and telling me I had done wrong when I had done nothing of the sort. A magician had been booked as well apparently. He has only been booked for an hour, so after an hour and after not finishing going round the table completely he just clears off – much to the chagrin of some of the customers as they haven’t seen him in action. Davey is still in full war cry making frequent references to me as “pal” again and going on about people taking other people’s work. Subtle is not his nickname. It also turns out Hospitality have booked a harpist for the night but she has just not turned up full stop. The guests in the Banquet Hall are freezing cold. There is a big fire ablaze but it is not up to heating the full room and by now the ladies in their nice little frocks and dresses are fully wrapped up in coats and hats as they eat their meals. Arguments continue among the waiting staff as to whether they can risk extra heating in the ancient wood panelled Banquet Hall. And of course, can you get hold of anyone from Hospitality about this total cock up of an evening? No of course you can’t – all have long since left their offices and their mobiles are turned off. Davey finally shoves off with a few more unsubtly barbed remarks in my direction. I progress the now almost cryogenically frozen guests back to the Yellow Drawing Room, with promises of nice after dinner drinks and a roaring fire. The drinks are there, but the fire may have roared earlier, but it is barely whimpering now and has all but gone out. Pretty much like my enthusiasm for Hospitality and their banquets. Feeling pretty hacked off with life in general I wander back to the side office that I am using as a changing room and, admittedly rather childishly, kick the door open with a mixture of frustration and anger for the way the evening has gone. The door shoots open a short way before hitting something solid which makes a sort of “oomph!” noise. It turns out to be the Jester in mid-clothing change. I got him! So every cloud does have a silver lining! I get back to my sister’s house at around 11pm. It has been a long, long day. Hospitality had all but burnt their bridges with me by letting their only good contact there go (the divine Nikki Dorkings), but this evening has been the final straw, and I let Kerry know all about my feelings the next day. She makes a few noises but none of them conciliatory so forget it. And lest you think I am being a little uncharitable in my views of Davey, this man is a Vicar by day. You gotta love that Christian attitude of his.
The rest of the Santa weeks go by slowly but surely. I haven’t been away from my wife and son as long as this before and I cannot wait to see them. All the staff and helpers with the sainted Darlene Cavill and the Special Events team are fantastic and I would like to make it clear here and now that Darlene, the lovely Helen Budd, the wonderful Jean Beaton, Coralie, Carole, Helen, Helen, John, Dallas, Ian, Richard, Barry and everyone else who contributed to helping me be a successful Santa, it was a pleasure to work with you all. You are stars. And to Howard and Sue for the food, drinks and mulled wine – thank you as well!
I stayed at my sisters until the final few days when I slept in the Culpepper Rooms near the Fairfax Hall Dining Room. These rooms were very cosy and warm but unfortunately were too close to the Fairfax Hall when the evening bands were playing. All I can say is that most of them started at about 10pm and had amazingly loud bass amps. Thankfully I was so tired that I slept through most of it.
I finally finished at around 2.30pm on Christmas Eve and headed straight for home. I got to Clapton at about 5pm and was never more pleased to see my lovely wife and son. A fine Christmas Day was spent with Amanda and James, and Amanda’s parents.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Dunster First School

Dunster! Ah, fair Dunster! This is one of my all time favourite schools and it was so nice to be back there for the fourth year running. However, today was to be a little bit different.
I arrived early as for once, Taunton was in a benevolent mood and I managed to sail through the usual bottle-necks. I was greeted as warmly as ever with some lovely kids and the usual wonderful teachers.
The opening morning talk went really well with some of the children laughing so much at some of the jokes that I did wonder if we might see the occasional accident. The floor however remained thankfully free of suspicious puddles.
The other big thing today was that I was due to meet the photographer from The Guardian today who was doing a shoot of me dressed as Father Christmas for a feature for their magazine of the 15th December. He arrived almost spot on noon so instead of my usual lunch break, I was now dressed as Father Christmas and gurning at a camera in a small courtyard in Dunster School! Steve, the photographer, must have shot off about 100+ pictures of me being silly, pensive, jolly, wistful - nearly every conceivable pose you could imagine. We finished off with some nice ones of me in my Henry costume with the Santa robes draped over my shoulders. I will be interested to see how the pics look as they come out.
The afternoon was good with a great joust with a superb gents team just nicking a win from a very creditable ladies team.
Tomorrow I am at Holway Park school in Taunton for a morning visit, and then I am on my way to Kent to begin my residence as Santa at Leeds Castle.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Yeo Moor Junior, Clevedon

Another new school for me to do today. Yeo Moor Junior is in Clevedon, just to the north of Weston-super-Mare, and Clevedon is one of those towns in north Somerset that I have never visited in my entire life. So this was a new one on me completely.
The school was lovely, very bouncy kids and some charming and chatty teachers and TA's. The morning was good fun, interrupted by a school assembly which allowed me a lot longer sit down for my tea break! The teachers all said they had heard good things about me from Westonzoyland School and also from the museum at Weston-super-Mare, so many thanks to both of those fine institutions for the write ups.
After lunch we had some more fun with the children and finished with a good joust which a very fine gents team won by a short head from a good ladies team.
I drove back and stopped at Ilminster and bought a few more Christmas pressies that I had been requested to get by my wife. Back home for cuddles with my son and then out this evening with Matthew Applegate! Hoorah!
Tomorrow I am at Dunster First School again. Will be fun!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Barrington Court Christmas Walkabout 2

After the strange weather of yesterday I really wasn't quite sure what to expect at Barrington Court today. Again the forecast was not good, something along the lines of typhoons, hurricanes, gales, thunderstorms and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse getting "medieval" in the White Garden. However, it was a pleasingly bright and mild day today, a very brisk wind, but the ever threatening presence of the occasional black cloud to make you think twice about venturing out.
As it was we had a good turn out today. The official figures only showed an increase of about 40 customers today, but it seemed a lot more. We were also treated to a visit by a group of Rainbows (apparently Rainbows are those too young to be Brownies - I didn't know either) and they were great fun, Matthew Applegate and I led them in a session of colouring in and decorating their own Christmas Tree decorations!
There was one fine moment earlier in the day when I was sitting in the Study/Library annexe just off the Buttery. I heard a couple approaching chatting to each other and adopted a suitably dramatic Henry pose. The elderly man entered first, tripping up the step and staggering into the room with all the aplomb of Norman Wisdom at his slapstick best. His equally elderly wife followed in a similar manner. We began chatting and I was transfixed by both of their huge hearing aids they wore. Whilst chatting to the gentleman, he suddenly let off the most ferocious and lengthy fart that has been dealt in my presence for quite a while. Neither of them batted an eyelid as they were both deaf as a post and heard nothing it would seem. I was biting my lip desperately trying not to laugh when the wife finished me off by stating loudly:
"You certainly give this room a lot of atmosphere..." Perhaps I should have opened the window. I rapidly left the room stifling my laughter as I went.
Clevedon tomorrow and a visit to Yeo Moor Junior School.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Barrington Court Christmas Walkabout 1

A first of two days staggering around the gardens and buildings of Barrington Court near Ilminster in Somerset. The day had been forecast to be cloudy, windy and rainy, but instead I was presented with a piercingly clear day, cold and with a brisk wind, but dry.
I began wandering around, but it was quiet. There was a small collection of stalls in the old kitchens in the main house with people selling jams, wines, jewellery and some traditionally knitted scarves. After about two hours of wandering around in the bright sunshine, the weather suddenly closed in and a Bible black sky was soon followed by howling winds and driving rain. All visitors seemed to vanish into nowhere. I sat and chatted to Matthew Applegate the Visitor Services Manager and he suggested I might as well leave early. So I got changed, just as the weather cleared up and a late surge of visitors came in! Typical.
I am back at Barrington Court tomorrow. The weather is supposed to be 100% worse than today. I can't wait...

Friday, November 30, 2007

St Cecillia's, Sutton; Riverview, Gravesend, White Woman Lane, Norwich and an apology...

My long week away continued on the Tuesday morning by a very early start to drive to St Cecillia's Roman Catholic School in Sutton. This was my fourth year at this particular school so I knew what to expect from the journey. All went swimmingly until I got within about five miles of the place and then I just got swamped in wall to wall traffic. The final three miles must have taken me about 30 minutes. But it was worth it as it was a great day! Some fantastic children as usual, lovely friendly teachers and a good fun day all round. After finishing I drove down to my sister's house near Sittingbourne in Kent as the next day I was to be on parade in Gravesend. Cath and I sat and strummed guitars for the evening and had a good time.
If it's Wednesday, it must be Gravesend. Up bright and early and up the M2 to Riverview Junior. This was my third visit back to Riverview and I was looking forward to it as the previous couple of years had been great fun, and I was not to be disappointed. Another warm welcome from the lovely teachers and another group and bouncy excitable children. Fun and games all round and more cheers ringing in my ears at the end of the day. I then had to drive to Leeds Castle after finishing at the school to collect the Father Christmas outfit I am using there next week. I have been interviewed recently for an article in The Guardian newspaper and they are arranging a photo shoot of me and want to do it next Tuesday. On that day I am working back at Dunster School in Somerset, but I am due to meet the photographer there, but I needed the costume. I met up with the lovely Helen Budd at Leeds Castle and she gave me the costume. Lovely to see her again. It was back to my sister's for dinner and then up to Essex to stay with my parents.
Thursday and I am up VERY early and heading up the A12 to Norwich and White Woman Lane Junior School in Sprouston. This was another return visit and it was good to be back. They were a big group and quite challenging at times, but worth it as we had a great day with lots of laughs.
Friday I was due at Nelson Primary in East Ham, but my car had other ideas, and instead decided to have a bit of a breakdown on the A12, which took so long to get put right it totally wrote off any chance I had of making it to Nelson Primary. My abject apologies to the children and teachers I let down.
This weekend I am at Barrington Court for a couple of days of walkabouts and then next week I am in Clevedon on Monday, Dunster on Tuesday and Taunton on Wednesday. Thursday morning I start back at Leeds Castle as Father Christmas.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Grange Primary School, Swindon

My very busy week began in the wee small hours of Monday morning when I woke up at about 5.15am and got ready for the morning drive to Swindon. I had not visited Grange Junior before, but I was more than happy to go to Swindon, what with it being the spirtual home ground of not only the sainted Billie Piper, lately of Doctor Who, but also of the deeply wonderful XTC, the greatest band in the history of absolutely everything. Not that I am biased of course...
It may only have been a half day today, but it was a great day none the less! What a wonderful school! Should they ever want to invite me back for a full day, I would be delighted to oblige. The teachers were friendly and kind (and they all laughed like drains at my silly bits and pieces) and the children just wonderful. It was a very big group for a half day, about 200 children, but they were sparky, funny, clever and above all else, very interested. You can't ask for more than that. The gentlemen won a fine jousting tournament at the end of the morning.
My 90 mile drive home was nice, if a little grey and wet. I stopped in at Yeovil to buy some more tights and then stopped in at Crewkerne for a few bits and pieces. I got home and had some phone calls with requests for more appearances as Henry while I am busy being Santa at Leeds Castle. I can't say no!
So, I have been to the home of XTC and it was wonderful. And what is more, one of the teachers I spoke to today used to teach one of Colin Moulding's children. Now there is a claim to fame.
Tomorrow I am up even earlier to get to Sutton for my return visit to St Cecillia's, and then it is on to my sister's in Kent to stay with her again as I am off to Gravesend on Wednesday. Speak to you soon!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Maynard School, Exeter

A third year return for me on Friday to the lovely Maynard School for Girls in Exeter. The last time I had visited, Keagh Fry, the form teacher I work with, was very heavily pregnant - it was nice to see her back to her sylph-like best today!
It was a group of 26 ladies today and I had been requested to start and finish a little later than normal. I was more than happy to agree. The opening talk was fun and we had some laughs with the ladies, all of whom were in fabulous costumes.
At lunch I sat with Keagh and her assistant, Miss Bacon. I was frequently approached by some of the ladies in the school during lunch and asked, in a very conspiratorial kind of way "Are you Henry VIIIth?" to which I would reply "no, I'm his twin brother", which would always get a strange look from the questionner.
The afternoon was great and we had a really fabulous jousting tournament with a couple of "penalty shoot outs" - you will know what I mean if you have seen the jousts!
After finishing at the Maynard I had to drive back to Crewkerne for an appointment with Dr Mike Osborne to have my stitches removed after my operation on my head last week. After a long wait at the surgery I was done. I then treated myself and the family to a Chinese takeaway which was delicious.
After that, my day was still not over as I was over to Clapton and Wayford Village hall for another play reading evening for the Axe Valley Players.
Next week I am off to Swindon on Monday, Sutton on Tuesday, Gravesend on Wednesday, Norwich on Thursday and East Ham on Friday. Another full week!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

St Paul's Junior School, Shepton Mallet

A brand new school for me today! I drove up to Shepton Mallet this morning for a visit to St Paul's C of E Junior School, less than a week after my last visit to the town to have surgery! This was a far less stressful visit than last time - in fact it was a total delight from start to finish. The school itself is a remarkable old building and winds it's way around like a sort of demented rabbit warren. I arrived just about 8am and went to front door reception and rang the bell. No reply. I tried again. Still no reply. I gave up and went back to the car. Five minutes later I tried again. Still no reply! I finally tried the door, just in case it was open anyway, but it wasn't. I was about to give up again when the door suddenly opened and I was greeted by a man with a slightly surprised expression on his face.

"Can I help?" He asked. I held my hand out towards him.

"Henry the VIIIth" I announced. He looked blankly at me.

"Pardon?" Oh dear. Perhaps I was at the wrong address.

"Henry the VIIIth? Here for the Tudor day?" His face suddenly broke into a smile.

"Oh I see. Sorry, I thought you were a nutter." He was probably right!

The day itself was wonderful. Some of the loveliest, liveliest children you could ever hope to meet. The teachers and TA's were uniformly kind and pleasant, and the whole day was just wonderful.

I had lunch with some of the kids in the dining hall, which was entertaining to say the least. The afternoon session was a belter if a little rushed at the end as I ran out of time! However, the boys romped to a famous victory in the jousting.

After re-loading the car I was on my way home, pausing in Crewkerne to visit the bank, and then pop in to Bilby's a finally managed to track down Tris to see if he might be interested in taking part in the Tudor weekend at Sudeley Castle next May. He seems keen at the moment, mostly because it was where Liz Hurley got married! I think he has a little something for her.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Milverton Junior School, Somerset

It was a delightful return to Milverton Junior School near Wellington in Somerset today. It is something like 3 years since my previous visit. I kept occasionally bumping into pupils and teachers from this school during my appearances at Somerset County Museum in Taunton over the years, but here I was again!

I arrived very early this morning and it all came back to me! I remembered the layout of the school quite quickly and it was good to see some familiar faces from all those years ago! The children were just brilliant today. They laughed a lot and had a tremendous knowledge of Tudor times. The teachers were so friendly and chatty, it was like I had only been there three weeks ago, not three years!

I drove into the middle of the delightful village of Milverton for my lunch, getting some nice sandwiches from the shop in the middle. Milverton is so beautiful, a real sleeping beauty of a place.

The afternoon was brilliant, so much laughter and fun with the children and a rip roaring joust which, completely against my prediction, was won by the gentlemen! I pottered home, pausing only in Ilminster to see if I could catch up with Tris from Bilby's, but he was over at the Crewkerne branch. And so here I am at home, waiting for the England v Croatia match to kick off tonight...

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Fold School, Hove

My first visit to a school in East Sussex got off to a less than auspicious start. I had been hoping to stay in Sussex with my friends Viv and John, but had failed to get any response from them - until late on the Sunday night announcing they had just arrived back from a weekend in Suffolk. So it was me up at the crack of dawn to drive the 130+ miles to Hove and back in the day!
I was just getting over a strenuous weekend. My parents had been down to stay with us, plus on Friday I had been in hospital for an operation on my head (no, not searching for my brain) and I was still a little sore this Monday morning and with the stitches still in place!
My alarm went off at 4.30am and after a quick clean up I was on my way by 5.20am. It was plain sailing until I got as far as Portsmouth when I got stuck in traffic and crawled most of the rest of the way in horrific weather conditions. I arrived at the school at about 8.15am. I was met by Mr Bartram, fully dressed up in his Tudor finery! The Fold is a tiny school, but absolutely delightful. The children were brilliant and were dressed in some fantastic costumes. The morning seemed to shoot by and by now it was lunch time and the kitchen staff had come up trumps with a proper Tudor banquet! We ate, drank and made merry, well as merry as you can with apple juice!
The afternoon joust was another classic with the ladies strolling to a fairly comfortable win. After dishing out the winners documents and packing my car I was on my way. Luckily the journey home was OK. Fairly heavy traffic but moving most of the time. I got home just after 6pm.
I have tomorrow off, thankfully, however any ideas of a rest have been quashed by my wife announcing that we are going Christmas shopping in Yeovil. Hey ho. My next show is on Thursday in Milverton.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Knightwood Primary, Chandlers Ford

Back to one of my favourite schools this morning - Knightwood Primary School, in Chandler's Ford on the edge of Southampton. Driving down towards Southampton brought back many memories of working at Skandia Life in the City there. Thankfully most of the memories are good ones. I can't believe I used to make that journey every day though - 70+ miles in each direction, five days a week, though sometimes more if I was working weekends. I am so glad that I don't work there now.
The drive down was lovely to begin with. After encountering some thick fog around Crewkerne, the morning dawned piercingly cold and bright as I drove along the A303. I listened to the Big Country track "Winter Sky" which was the perfect soundtrack to this crystal clear icey morning sun rise.
It was nice to be back at Knightwood. The teachers were as ever wonderfully welcoming and friendly, the children were nearly all interested and enthusiastic, and all dressed in wonderful costumes. The afternoon jousting session was another fine advertisment for how team work prevails. The gentlemen just edging to victory in a tense climax.
Tomorrow I have a day off as I am off to hospital for a little operation. However, Monday I am back on duty again, this time down in Hove in Sussex for the first time.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Oakleigh House School, Swansea

This was a first for me! My first school in Wales! I had made appearances in the Principality before, but at WI groups and the like, never before with a school.
I had driven to Carmarthen the night before to stay with my lovely sister at her small holding in Esgair to the north of the town. To thank her for her hospitality I took her out to dinner. We went to a lovely little Chinese restaurant in the middle of Carmarthen and it was delicious!
The following morning my sister got up as early as I did and even made me breakfast - you can't ask for better service than that! The drive to Swansea was remarkably easy, especially after doom-ladened warnings from my sister and her husband about how heavy the traffic can be at that time of the morning. The school was very small and tucked away in the genteel western side of Swansea. The teachers were lovely and very friendly. The children were very excitable and challenging, but they made the day all the more fun with their sparky natures.
After a filling lunch we all headed back to the hall for the afternoon's activities. The jousting was incredibly loud and the gentlemen won for once, but only just! I packed up my stuff and was on my way. Despite a bit of a hold up on the southbound M5 I was soon home with my lovely family.
Today has been mostly a day of leisure, but tomorrow I am off to Chandler's Ford near Southampton for a third visit to Knightwood School. I am really looking forward to it!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Robert Kett Junior, Wymondham & Pendragon Primary, Papworth Everard

My long week away on the road finally came to an end. My penultimate date was at Robert Kett Junior in Wymondham near Norwich. This was my fourth year back at the same school and I was really looking forward to seeing everyone. I was not to be disappointed! As usual they had me doing a slightly alternative version of my day, but with a crowd of nearly 160 children it was probably wise!
It went really well, with lots of laughs from the children and various jokes about knees (I guess you have to be there to appreciate just how funny knees in Norfolk can be!). The costumes of the children and the teachers were, again a sight to behold. Marvellous stuff! The ladies won the jousting by a whisker and I was soon on my way home. Sadly, I endured an awful journey back stuck behind a stubborn tractor driver who seemed hell bent on garnering the largest tail back behind a slow moving agricultural vehicle in history. He would NOT pull into a lay by or let anyone by. If I'd had a gun I'd have shot his tyres out!
Friday morning had me driving up the M11 to Cambridgeshire and the village of Papworth Everard and Pendragon Junior School. After a surprising "welcome" from the head teacher I was soon with my regular teachers for the day and they were lovely! The children were a spectacularly good group - but by now, my previous three weeks of almost non-stop Henry work was catching up with me. I felt like I fluffed my lines and kept getting my historical bits muddled up. However, the teachers were very kind and polite and said everything was fine.
The final joust was a belter with the ladies JUST claiming victory over a very good boys team. I drove back to my parent's house, had dinner and then changed my mind about driving back to Somerset that evening. I was just too tired. So I had an early night, got up early and drove home this morning. I got back just after 9am.
We went into Yeovil today and after some shopping and banking work, we went to Palmers for some fine fish and chips for lunch. I am a little more awake now!
Next week I am in Swansea and Chandler's Ford!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Great Abington, Gorlstone & Wickford - in that order.

Another exhausting week of Henry Tudor lunacy. It kicked off on Sunday when I had to drive to Essex for my base at my parent's house in Mountnessing. I will have to make the most of this as they are threatening to move down to Wales. Who will I stay with then in Essex???
Anyway, the Monday morning dawned bright and early and I was off to Cambridgeshire for a visit to Great Abington Junior School. Now my sat nav, known and loved as "Doris" was having tremendous difficulty in finding Great Abington. It was only when I got to the village I could see why. Although the village is listed on maps and signposts as either Great or Little Abington, it is only one village called simply Abington, which is how Doris was seeing it. Never mind. It was a very cute little school with some fine children. The group I had was only 20 strong, and all little year 3's, but they came up trumps and we had a fine day!
The next morning I was up at the same time for a jaunt up to Stradbroke School in Gorlstone near Great Yarmouth for a return visit to this school for the first time in two years. It was nice to be back there. A really friendly school, tremendous children, gorgeous Cottage Pie lunch and a terrific jousting tournament. You really can't ask for much more than that! That evening my parents and I went over to our friends Ros and Mike Bloomfield in Great Dunmow for a wonderful evening of takeaway curry and fine drinks. Lovely evening!
Today I have been back to Wickford Junior School in Essex for a return visit, almost one year to the day since my previous trip. I love Wickford Junior! The children are always really sparky and funny, the teachers are all either nice friendly chaps or gorgeous mad women! We had laughs aplenty and a good time did seem to be had by all. The jousting was one of the closest finishes I have seen in many a year, with the ladies snatching victory by mere millimetres from the gents. Great stuff!
Tonight I am taking my Mother out to dinner at a new Italian restaurant in the village of Stock near Billericay (where I used to live!). Tomorrow, I am back for my fourth visit to the Robert Kett Junior School at Wymondham, near Norwich in Norfolk. It should be fun. It usually is!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Compton Dundon School

It was a first day at a new school for me today. I was up to Compton Dundon near Somerton for an early start at the cute little school up there. If you remember I had appeared at Compton Dundon Village Hall as part of the Royal Progress Tour back in August.
It was a cold and foggy start to the morning, but this soon gave way to dazzling sunshine and beautiful views in this delightful part of rural Somerset. I arrived at the school at the same time as the Head Teacher, Mrs Thomas, who let me in. It was only 20 children today across a range of years 3, 4 and 5, but they were a wonderfully well behaved group and had some truly great Tudor knowledge.
I was very honoured this day that I was one of the very first people to "Christen" the new Staff Room at this school as it had just been finished!
At lunch time I drove up to Glastonbury to get some petrol and some lunch, before heading back for a wild and fun afternoon. The jousting was particularly memorable as a big group of parents and the whole of the reception class came in to watch as well. True to form, the ladies stormed to a great win and took the applause of the assembled parents and children.
OK, I now have Saturday at leisure before hacking off again on Sunday across to the east of the country for a week of appearances in Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Essex. The things I do for my country!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Parkfield Junior, Taunton

It was back to the wonderful Parkfield Junior School in Taunton today - home of the indomitable Mr Sides, the Head Teacher. This was my third visit to the school in three years, and it is always just such a pleasure to go there. As usual I was Royally treated, lots of friendly banter with some terrific teachers, and had some great fun with the children who had dressed up in some quite wonderful Tudor costumes for the day.
Mr Sides met me first thing and as usual was a fine and entertaining host. I set up in the main hall and the children came through to meet me just after 9am. The morning went really well - the children's general knowledge of Tudor times was superb. The teachers had done a wonderful job.
Lunchtime, I was treated to a sandwich. Now this may not sound much, but these very wonderful people at Parkfield not only walked down to Tesco's to get my sarnie, they also steadfastly refused to let me pay for it. Who could ask for better treatment than that?
The afternoon shot past very quickly, and the jousting was of a particularly high standard with the gents just managing to steal victory in the grand final against the ladies champs. After packing away Mr Sides immediately invited me back again next year and I was more than happy to accept.
I drove home pausing in Ilminster to visit the bank and also to treat myself to a slice of tiffin from Sara's Dairy in Silver Street. If you are ever in Ilminster - do yourself a favour, go and see the lovely ladies in Sara's Dairy and try a bit of their tiffin. Your taste buds will love you forever.
Tomorrow I am up at Compton Dundon school. My first visit to this school and my first trip back to that village since my appearance there during the Royal Progress in August (see this Blog passim). I shall tell you all about it tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Henry's Horrid History, Leeds Castle + Blean and Monkwick

I had been invited back to Leeds Castle for another series of Henry VIIIth talks as I had last done back in February 2006. The whole half term would see me in The Maiden's Tower at the Castle doing four shows a day. Adverts had been put out on Invicta Radio in Kent and in all the local papers, so hopefully we would have a good turn out. Boy, did we have a good turn out. The wonderful Darlene Cavill and the lovely Helen Budd were again my main hosts from Special Events at the Castle. They were budgeting for approximately 1,000 visitors per day to the Castle during my residency - what we were getting was more like 3,500 per day! The room I was stationed in for my talks would hold approximately 200 people for each show and was absolutely packed to the rafters everytime. We had some great groups in, lots of laughs. Occasionally people would come in and bring in children that were too young to appreciate the show, but the majority of the time the audiences were very good indeed. During one of the early talks, I was explaining about my Kornholt musical instrument, about how it sounded and it's history, when a little boy aged about 6 in the front row shouted out "JUST PLAY IT!"
Also working at the Castle for the week was all the other lovely helpers from the past, including the wonderful Jean and Carole, and some new faces like Shenina. I was treated Royally by everyone and had my lunch bought for me every day - how cool is that? 28 talks in 7 days would test even the most robust of larynxes, but I had been laid low with a cold and chest infection before I even started, so by the end of the week Henry VIIIth was sounding more like Barry of the White.
I was staying with my sister and her husband near Sittingbourne again, and once more they were just wonderful. Kind, patient and very hospitable. Bless 'em.
After finishing at the Castle I was still not finished in Kent. Monday saw me down at Blean near Canterbury for my 4th visit to this school in 4 years. As ever I was not disappointed with a great turn out, some wonderful costumes and some lovely sparky kids. The afternoon jousting was good and the gentlemen romped to a comfortable win. The evening I drove up to Essex to stay with my parents as on the Tuesday I was in Colchester for a return visit to Monkwick Junior School.
I slightly overslept on the Tuesday morning, but still managed to arrive on time. This was another good day at one of my favourite schools. By now, having done 9 fulls days solid without a break being Henry I was getting tired, but the school kept me alert and alive and we had a great day that concluded with another brilliant joust where the ladies snatched victory in a final quoit race off after the original final ended in a dead heat.
After dinner with my parents it was back down to Somerset for the first time in over 10 days for a late night reunion with my lovely wife, Amanda. This morning my lovely James woke me at 6.30am with a big kiss and cuddle and telling me "Daddy, I've really missed you." It doesn't get much better than that.
Tomorrow I am back at Parkfield Junior in Taunton for another return visit to a favourite school of mine! I am looking forward to seeing Mr Sides again!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Spike

One of my dear little puss cats - Spike (pictured here in a very typical pose) was very sadly run over and killed this evening right outside our house. The "person" or "people" who did this, didn't even bother to stop. Luckily for us a very nice couple who were following on DID stop and picked him up. It would appear he died instantly.
He was a sweet lovely affectionate little chap, not even a year old yet, and I shall miss him tremendously.
Spike. Rest In Peace.

BBC Somerset Sound - news panel

I was invited back on to the BBC Somerset Sound morning show news panel this morning. I was sharing the panel with Jamie, a nice young chap and fund raiser for the Secret World animal sanctuary, and a lady called Val from the Exmoor Pony Rescue centre - both very nice people.
It was all a bit different at the BBC today - they were having a Job Swap Day - so whereas Emma Britton is normally working behind the scenes doing the travel, looking after the guests etc., today she was presenting the show. The normal presenter, Jo Phillips was doing Emma's normal job - and she did pretty well.
I chose a couple of stories from the paper to discuss, one about the Premiership Footballers who had pledged some of their huge salaries to underpaid nursing staff in a high profile charity movement - but who haven't paid up yet; the other about a road rage Moscow style, where a driver got so fed up with people crossing the road slowly that he shot two of them!
I also plugged Barrington Court and all their good work, and soon I was on my way. It was a fun morning and hopefully I can do it again soon.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Abbotswood Primary, Yate & Ruishton Junior, Ruishton

This week was a bit more local than the previous few weeks, but only just. Monday morning saw me up at the crack of dawn and heading up the dear old A37 to the town of Yate in South Gloucestershire, just to the north of Bristol.

I hadn't been to Yate before and was not sure what to expect, but I needn't have worried. The school was lovely and the teachers and staff charming in the extreme, especially Jo Burton, my main contact. The group of Year 3 children were lively and very knowledgable about all things of a Tudor aspect. We had a fun morning with lots of laughs, and then after a really nice lunch from the kitchens, we raced through the afternoon. The final jousting session was a really good one with the girls winning, again after a "penalty shoot out", and claiming the coveted certificates. A lot of the staff were in beautiful Tudor costumes, many of which had been made by Jo Burton's other half - an upholsterer by trade! Should he decide to go into Tudor dress making, he could make a killing!
That evening I ventured over to the Dinnington Docks to see Matthew Applegate from Barrington Court. We discussed future events for us both. In fact, I should give him a ring now! I am sure I will...
Today found me at Ruishton School near Taunton for a return visit, almost to the day from my previous trip there. I was greeted by the Year 4-5 teacher Tim, a lovely bloke who I remembered from last time. This time was a group of about 33 children who were just so well behaved. They sat and listened brilliantly, laughed at all the right bits and then took part in a magnificent jousting tournament which the boys just managed to sneak a win on! Ruishton is a lovely school with such friendly children, teachers and TA's, and the head teacher is a really good sport, and didn't cry too much when I put him in the stocks.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

St Anne Line RC Junior School, Basildon

This school day, in Basildon, had been promised for some time. My lovely sister-in-law Maria works at this school as a TA and her youngest daughter, Lucy is a pupil in year 5 - the group I was visiting today! Maria has been pushing for me to visit this school for sometime, and on Friday 5th October it happened!
I arrived bright and early and got set up. It was a far bigger group than at Saffron Walden the day before - more like about 70-80 pupils. They were very loud and very excitable, and sometimes keeping them onside was quite an effort. But they were worth it and made the day very exciting and fun.
All the teachers, and especially the TA's (hello Maria!) were very friendly and welcoming. The afternoon session was climaxed with a rousing jousting tournament that went to the wire. The gents appeared to have won, but they had broken the rules on one of the change overs, so we had to go for the jousting equivalent of the penalty shoot out - one quoit on one target and just one chance to lance it. It was very close but the ladies JUST managed to sneak in and win. A good race.
After dinner at my parents, I hit the road at just after 8pm and was home in Somerset by 11pm. Next week sees me visiting Yate in Gloucestershire on Monday and Ruishton near Taunton and Tuesday. I am then back at the BBC on Wednesday for another news panel appearance on Somerset Sound.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Friends Junior School, Saffron Walden

A return visit today. I was back at the lovely Friends Junior School in Saffron Walden for my third visit in only two years! It was so nice to see everyone again. I stayed at my parent's house in Mountnessing again the night before and drove up to the school via the A414, Harlow and the M11.
As usual I was doing the day in the old "Scout Hut" out the back of the school, but the wind wasn't howling like a banshee this time around (see previous blog entries about my visits to Friends School), and we were instead treated to a delightfully warm day with dappled sunshine giving every impression that we were in the middle of June/July, rather than early October.
The morning session was fun, with a slightly quieter group than normal, but they more than made up for the lack of noise after lunch, none more so than during the jousting session, which was a belter! For the first time in a while, the ladies stormed to an historic victory, but everyone seemed to have a good time.
I am now back at my parents, preparing for tomorrow's trip to the St Anne Line RC School in Basildon. My sister-in-law Maria is a TA there, so that should be fun! Read all about it tomorrow.

Friday, September 28, 2007

South Somerset National Trust Pub Quiz!

Another fun Friday evening! I had been asked by Matthew Applegate to once again host the annual South Somerset National Trust Pub Quiz evening, with all the competitors coming from the local NT Properties nearby. There must have been about 50 people taking part this year, and Matthew had asked me to set all the quiz questions.
We had a fine evening, lots of fun, but hard work on the voice and the feet! As it happened, Matthew's team, called "The HOD Carriers" (as Matthew and one of his team mates are both Heads Of Department) walked off with the title of champions, winning by over 20 points from their nearest team. The team that came last was a group of some very young sweet ladies who called themselves "The Young Ones" and only managed 15 points in total, compared to the 73.5 points that Matthew's team accrued!
It was a fun evening, and I hope I can do it again sometime.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Godstowe Prep, High Wycombe & Hazeldene Lower, Bedford

It was back on the road again this week. I got up in the wee small hours of Wednesday morning and drove through the clearing gloom to High Wycombe and a third return visit to Godstowe Prep School. It was a nice, relatively easy run up in the early hours. I arrived fairly early and nipped off to get a copy of "Private Eye" and a can of Diet Coke to pass the time until the school opened, luckily only about half an hour.
As ever I was greeted with extreme warmth from all members of staff and it was such fun to be back in such a lovely school. A vast majority of the girls had dressed in some quite stunning outfits and the morning went really well. After a pleasant lunch the afternoon progressed very well with a really rip roaring jousting tournament won by a very strong team of young ladies (I should point out that Godstowe Prep is an all girls school!).
After finishing at the school I headed off to St Albans where I was due to stay with my lovely cousin Liz and her husband Bruce and their delightful children Katie, Sophie and Robbie. Bruce had gone off to watch West Ham play in the League Cup so I helped Liz with the children and had some great fun playing with Robbie who is only slightly older than my own son James. After the children had disappeared to bed Liz and I enjoyed a nice home made spaggy bol and some wine and chats about our childhood holidays we had spent together with all our siblings. Liz is also a dab hand at website design and said she would like to have a go and designing a new look for the Good King Hal website. We shall see...
I woke early and after a quick ablutions session I went downstairs and finally got to say hello to Bruce! He made me a cup of tea and bemoaned West Ham's appalling play the night before. He should have gone for the spaggy bol and wine like me! Far more entertaining!
Soon I was on my way to Bedford, which seemed far further than I had imagined. Anyway, I arrived back at Hazeldene Lower and was once again greeted by Karen, the lovely year 3 teacher there. It was a bigger group for today's shows, more like 80+ children, but they were a fabulous group, very happy and with some good Tudor knowledge. One little boy called Luca was hilarious when I picked him out to play King Frances of France during my "Field of the Cloth of Gold" section!
After a lovely lunch it was back to the hall and another fabulous jousting session, with the ladies managing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and handing the championship to the gents on the very last quoit! A fine day!
The drive home took about three hours, but wasn't too bad and I arrived home to kisses and cuddles from my wife and son, and a steak and mushroom pie and a cold drink. You can't ask for more than that!
Next Henry's are next week in Saffron Walden and Basildon. See you then!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Holly Trees Primary, Brentwood

I had last visited Holly Trees Primary School in leafy Brentwood in Essex way back in November 2004. Not only had I been invited back for a return visit all this time later, but they had also asked me to do TWO days, so who was I to argue?
I drove up to Essex on the Wednesday evening (with many thanks to my friends Alison and Ian in Kingstone for making it possible) and arrived at my parents' house in Mountnessing. The following morning I set off for Brentwood with my Sat Nav trying desperately to guide me to St Thomas' Road, not where I really wanted to go. In the end I found Vaughan Williams Way and then the school. I was warmly welcomed as I had been back in 2004 only this time I didn't turn up with my mother in tow!
The first day was with a predominantly Year 3 group but also a few Year 4's. It went wonderfully with the morning zipping along nicely. All the children had dressed up in fabulous costumes, as did the teachers as you can see from this lovely picture sent to me by Jo, the lady in the picture and one of the teaching assistants for the day. The afternoon was another rousing affair and ended with a loud jousting session which featured a very good boys team who stormed to victory. With nothing to pack back in the car as I was returning the next day I was soon home.
The next day I was back at Holly Trees while my parents went off to France for a little holiday. The second day was with a predominantly Year 4 group but also with a smattering of Year 5's. Again another good day was had by all. I really like Holly Trees Primary, you are made so welcome by everyone - it really must be one of the friendliest schools in the South East. The afternoon went very well and the jousting was once again won by a quite brilliant boys team.
I had to make a choice as to whether I was heading for home on the Friday evening, or leaving early on Saturday. As it was I went to the Hoop Pub in Stock again and had a lovely reunion with lots of members of the old Hoop Cricket Club - Mick Stephenson, Gareth Clipstone, Andy Banks, Adam Hudson and his lovely wife Lisa, Mike Slowey, Brian Boddy - loads of old familiar faces. We had a fine evening with lots of good laughs and happy memories. I capped a splendid night by stopping in Ingatestone for a chicken curry and egg rice from the local Chinese take away. Cue much burping!
I got up at 4.30am this morning and headed back to Somerset. I was here by 8.30am, so I have had a nice full day with Amanda and James. Next shows are on Wednesday and Thursday next week at Godstowe Prep School in High Wycombe and Hazeldene Lower School in Bedford. I am then running a pub quiz for the South Somerset National Trust at Barrington Court on the Friday evening. Lovely!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

West Leigh Junior School, Leigh on Sea

A visit to a new school seems quite rare these days, but that is what was in store for me at West Leigh School in Leigh on Sea, Essex. I drove to Essex on Thursday, 13th September and was lucky enough to be taken out to dinner in the evening by my lovely Mother! We went for a really nice Chinese meal in Ingatestone.
Friday dawned clear and bright and I headed down to Leigh on Sea. I think the last time I visited here was in about 1984! I found the school fairly easily, but was alarmed to find one of the smallest car parks in the history of humanity! However, I parked, got my gear in and got ready for the day ahead. The teachers were very kind and welcoming, and the children were brilliant. It was a big group, about 150 children and all year 3. Now year 3 groups normally fall into two distinct categories - the first are an overwhelmed, quiet, very young looking group, who sit in stunned silence throughout my shows and generally look terrified. The second are cocky, self assured, rude little monkeys who come across as a sort of mad hybrid of A.J.P. Taylor and Eric Morecambe. However, the children of West Leigh were unlike either group! They were fun, lively, full of laughter and generally very well behaved. We had a fine day, some good laughs and a really good jousting session which the ladies won by a whisker.
Friday evening I went for a drink over at my old local, The Hoop Pub in Stock near Billericay. I met up with old friends including Mick Stephenson, Brian Boddy and his wife Lorraine, Dan the Man and his cute dog Thistle and even "Little" Jim Hawes. It was a nice wallow in nostalgia. Amanda and James had driven up Friday evening and arrived at my parents a little after I got back from The Hoop.
Saturday it was down to Basildon for a surprise 40th Birthday Party for my wife's lovely sister, Maria. A good time was had by all, but sadly I had to leave early to drive back to Somerset. And here I am!
Good night!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Manor Court School, Chard

The 2007/08 Educational Year started on Friday 7th September, as far as I was concerned! For the fourth year running I was back at Manor Court Junior School in Chard. For the first time though I was not being looked after by Lizzie Reynolds though - she is now the Deputy Head of the School. Instead I was with a Miss Devereux for one class, and another charming lady for the other class (sorry, I can't remember your name!). We had about 66 children in for the day and it was a good one to start the season off. I always love coming to Manor Court School, not just because of it's close proximity to my home, but because the teachers are always really good fun and the children are really nice. A good combination.
As the children were in their first week of learning the Tudors there was obviously a lack of the usual knowledge that I get with groups, but they more than made up for it with their enthusiasm - especially Harry! The morning was cut short first by an assembly, and secondly by us being invaded by some very noisy dinner ladies halfway through my final talk. However, the afternoon went really well and the jousting (won by the gents for once!) was then followed by a jokey teachers race that turned out to be the highlight of the tourney! It went to two dead heats and a play off before we managed to find a winner! Great stuff.
I loaded up the car with some help from some mini-roadies before being asked for a load of autographs from some of the children. An old gentleman walked past pushing his grandchild in a push-chair as I finished off signing the last autographs.
"Can I have your autograph?" He asked. I looked at him.
"Do you know who I am?" I said. He smiled.
"Not a clue, but you must be famous to warrant this attention."
Another good day at Manor Court. I can't wait to go back next year.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Where does all the time go?

James started school today. Four years, eight months and sixteen days after he was born. I was a very nervous Dad today, but also proud. Thank God, he actually seemed to like it and is quite keen on going again tomorrow. To all other parents who went through it today - well done.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

And coming next...

Well, the new educational year is about to start, something bound to get Terry Deary frothing at the mouth and nailing pins into effigies of hard working teachers.
In the next few weeks Good King Hal will be re-visiting some old friends from the past. Manor Court at Chard at the end of this week, followed a few days later by a return to Hazeldene Lower School in Bedford. A week after that I have two days at Holly Trees Primary in Brentwood in Essex, a school I haven't visited for a long time. I've been invited back to be host for the National Trust South Somerset Area Pub Quiz Evening again, my finest hour! This will be followed very shortly by visits to old friends at Ruishton near Taunton and Blean in Kent. New ground will be covered with Good King Hal's first ever visits to Yate in Gloucestershire, Papworth Everard in Cambridgeshire and even a visit to Swansea in Wales to look forward to! I can't wait. Looking forward to seeing everyone again.

Friday, August 31, 2007

BBC Radio Wales

I had to drive into Yeovil this morning to appear on BBC Radio Wales. How can this be possible, I hear you cry, well it goes something like this. After being phoned the other day by a nice chap called Gareth, and asked to appear on the Roy Noble morning show on BBC Radio Wales, I had visions of me having to drive all the way over to Cardiff, but these wonderful BBC bods booked me into BBC Somerset Sound's Yeovil studio for a "live" link-up. I got to the studio smack on 9.30am, the time I was expected.
If I had thought the BBC Somerset studio in Park Street Taunton was small, this was nothing compared to Yeovil. The studio bore more of a relation to a school classroom from about 1982 than a 21st century local radio station. However, the very nice engineer plugged me in, I chatted over the ether to the production team in Cardiff and then I was on. The chat went very well, mainly about how the hell I came to be Henry VIIIth - the usual stuff, and Roy Noble was a nice very affable chatter and easy to get on with - even if I spent the entire interview calling him Rob. How embarrassing was that! You can listen to it on line now at the BBC Radio Wales website and using their "listen again" feature.
My little boy starts school next week - ARGH! And I am starting back at school with the Henry days, kicking off, as ever at Manor Court in Chard.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

BBC Somerset Sound


It was back to me being a radio star again today! Two weeks after my previous appearance on the BBC Somerset Sound news panel, I was invited back for another bash! As I had been a little late in arriving last time, I endeavoured to leave a little earlier so as not to make the same mistake twice. I should have known better with Taunton's appalling early morning traffic. I was about 10 minutes late this time, but at least I wasn't the last panellist to arrive!
I shared the panel this day with two charming ladies, one who was a "dog listener" and the other who was a fund raiser for a cancer charity based at Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton. We had some good chat and lots of laughter and I have again been invited back for another appearance sometime in the not too distant future.
This afternoon I got a phone call from BBC Wales. I was hugely excited as I had sent a few letters to Russel T Davies, urging him to write Henry VIII into the latest Doctor Who plots. Alas it was not to be. Instead I got chatting to a lovely bloke called Gareth who wants me to appear on the Bob Noble Show on BBC Radio Wales on this Friday morning. Luckily for me I don't have to drive all the way to Cardiff for this appearance as they will link me in from one of BBC Somerset's studios in Yeovil. I should be on from about 9.30am! So if you are in Wales and you know about me, have a listen!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Norton-sub-Hamdon - the Royal Progress Finale

The final day of the Royal Progress got off to a less than auspicious start. I went over to Norton-sub-Hamdon early and dished out some posters at the Lord Nelson Pub, the little local shop and popped a couple up next to the main bus stop in the village. I then drove round to pick up Jim Flanagan, my roadie, only to discover he had forgotten about today and had gone to London! Ho-hum!
I got to Norton-sub-Hamdon and was met by the key holder for the village hall. He seemed fairly confident that I wouldn't get anyone at all. After yesterday I kind of agreed with him. I need not have worried. A grand total of 17 hardy souls appeared, the majority of them children and a really good time was had by all! This was more like it! OK it was a smallish crowd, but it was better than the hermit reunion party of yesterday. Lots of nice comments afterwards and one of the ladies who had brought her son took my details to pass on to the school in Norton. Very nice.
The final irony with Jim not being there is that the chairs at this village hall were not the easy to stack lightweight plastic models of previous days, but heavy old wooden flap down seats that you had to put out and get back one at a time. it took ages! Never mind. I am now home with a nice bottle of wine, full of cold and exhausted but happy. Next Henry won't be until 7th September at Manor Court School again.

Monday, August 20, 2007

East Coker - Royal Progress...

Left: Monday in East Coker.
It would appear there is always something better to do in East Coker. A grand total of no people turned up for the show today. I should know as I counted them. Twice. It's a shame really as East Coker have a really nice village hall and it would have been great fun to put on a fabulous show for the people of this charming village. So I set up all the chairs, got my props in, got dressed up as Henry and then sat and watched the clock tick round to 3pm, and then got changed back into my civvies, put all the chairs away, stuffed all the props back in the car and went home. It was great! I can't wait to do it all again tomorrow at Norton-sub-Hamdon!
On the plus side, the BBC have come back to me and want me to appear on the morning panel again next Tuesday. More good exposure. Thank you BBC Somerset!

Barrington Court - Day Two

Day two dawned at Barrington Court with a far better looking morning. OK, it was still blowing a hoolie, but the skies were mostly clear and the sun was threatening to shine. It was dry, the billowing rain and wind from the previous day had gone.
It was much busier at the Court house today. A lot of people were coming in, yes enticed by the good weather and a chance to meet Henry VIII, but also because a lot of local shows and events had been postponed and cancelled because of the limits on moving livestock with the foot and mouth outbreak.
I met one lovely couple from Billericay in Essex, where I used to live! There was also a couple from Detling in Kent, literally about a mile from where my sister lives. Best of all, who should be here today, but dear little Isis and her beautiful Mother, Holly, late of Weston-super-Mare and Sudeley Castle (see this blog passim). Isis did me a lovely picture which I am going to scan and send to Steve French so he can upload it onto the website. It shows Henry VIII dreaming about his six wives. It was so nice to see them again. My favourite fans! Bless them both.
Towards the end of the afternoon it started to quieten down and I showed what a marvellously benevolent King I am by giving Holly and Isis a lift to Taunton Station so they could get home safe and sound. It was so lovely to see them.
Today I am back on the Royal Progress Trail at East Coker near Yeovil, but I am not holding my breath about numbers. I have pushed all the other shows and no one turned up, where as today's show I haven't had a chance to do much publicity at all, so it will be interesting to see if anyone turns up at all. Watch this space...

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Barrington Court - Day One

For this Tudor Day at Barrington Court, a sou'wester or even an aqua-lung would have been more appropriate than the Tudor robes I was wearing! This was possibly the worst weather I have ever encountered when doing an outdoor "Henry", and that includes the dreadful downpours that afflicted this year at Sudeley Castle (see this blog passim). The rain came hammering in horizontally, you could see it billowing through the howling winds.
Normally a Saturday in August at Barrington Court would see the car park full to bursting with the chance of the overflow car parks being used a real possibility. Today the main car park was barely half full and the overflows stayed resolutely locked all day. The few hardy souls who dared to brave this weather were lovely and it was great to see them all.
Matthew Applegate is away on holiday at the moment, so I was left in the tender mercies of his new assistant (Helen Appleyard having moved on to pastures new). The new assistant is called Simon and is a really nice, though quite horrifyingly young, gent! He looks like some of the children I see at the schools I visit. But I know Matthew rates him very highly and he certainly seemed to know his job. He took some photos of me posed in different parts of the main Court House which I shall hopefully get some copies of to post on here.
Anyway, today is another day at Barrington Court and the weather, dare I say it and not wishing to tempt fate, looks far better than yesterday. The wind is still blowing but it's dry and the sun is shining.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Clapton & Wayford - More Royal Progress...

Now this is about as local a gig as you can get! Clapton and Wayford Village Hall is about 300 yards from my front door - fantastic. The Royal Progress Show today was attended by 9 hardy souls, but give them their due they listened very well, laughed in all the right places and even asked for an encore at the end, so I had to come on and do a few more gags after I had finished.
No children again today, mostly OAP's funnily enough, but they were a good crowd and enjoyed themselves.
Later today, through the pouring wind and rain, I shall be wandering around Barrington Court meeting and greeting people as I go. If you are there, come and say hello. I shall be at Barrington Court again on Sunday as well.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Stoke-sub-Hamdon - The Royal Progress continues...

Another day and another not exactly brilliant turn out. Stoke-sub-Hamdon is probably the largest town I will be visiting on the tour and I had high hopes of a good turn out. But sadly only 5 people decided to venture out. We had some fun with them, but it would have been so nice to see more people there. It was equally galling that there was a big church youth/social/outreach event going on right next door and I went and told them about the day and invited them to come over and see the show as the price for anyone under 14 was only 50p. But this didn't sway them. Anyway, the lady I booked the hall through, the very nice landlady of the Half Moon Inn on Ham Hill Road, was very compassionate and waived the fee, which I appreciated enormously.
It has been a tough week, with the tour and what have you. We have also had the news this week of the death of my dear great Aunt Joan from Sherborne in Dorset. She is like a last link to my grandparent's generation and I have to say I have felt the loss quite heavily.
Today, Friday, I am on the tour again, this time at Clapton and Wayford Village Hall, and here's hoping we get some punters in today.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Compton Dundon - The Royal Progress pt 2

And so the second day of the Royal Progress tour dawned - all wet and windy! After being roused by my son James at 5.30am (that's him out of the will), my wife and I dropped him over at his nursery and then headed to Taunton for my appearance on BBC Somerset's morning discussion panel. We arrived at the studio slightly late, but had to choose a news story from a pile of papers. I plumped for a story from The Times about Great Western Railways attempts to appease disgruntled passengers complaining about their appalling punctuality by employing a pink haired poet to travel the network reading poems to the annoyed customers. Yes, that's what I thought as well... The other panel members were Ian, a Tae Kwon Do instructor from Bridgwater, and Jill, an Alexander technique practitioner from Wiveliscombe. It went very well and Jess, the presenter I spoke to the other night on the Drive programme, was very pleased with our contributions. I was told afterwards that if ever I wanted to be back on the show, just ask! Very nice...
The afternoon show at Compton Dundon wasn't quite so successful. Absolutely no children turned up, but luckily 11 adults braved the elements, and really enjoyed the show! Laughs aplenty and loads of questions afterwards. They even had a go at the hobby horse jousting at the end, which very predictably the women won!
Next stage of the tour is at Stoke-sub-Hamdon Memorial Hall on Thursday afternoon.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Seavington Millennium Hall - The Royal Progress!

And so the Royal Progress begins... I drove over to Jo and Pete's place at Haselbury Plucknet to pick up Jim, my little roadie (as opposed to my little pony) for the week. We got over to Seavington St Michael (where the hall is) but first had to go to Seavington St Mary (where the key was) - are you all taking notes about this? I met the nice lady with the key and her lovely cocker spaniel, Scooby, before heading back to the hall. Jim and I put out the seats, with enough for about 50-60 people. We then had the hanging around and waiting until anything happened.
My biggest fear about this whole tour has been the "what if no one comes?" thoughts. As it was, some people came - 9 in all. 10 if you count the Western Gazette photographer who turned up halfway through. But they were a good hardy little bunch. Four adults and five children. They all laughed and seemed to enjoy themselves with the talk, and the jousting was a rip roaring affair. They went off happy, and Jim cleared away the chairs while I got changed. A good day I suppose. Would have been nice to see more people.
Tomorrow I have the radio show to do in the morning at BBC Somerset, then Jim and I are off to Compton Dundon for more Henry shennanigans! See you there... (please)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

2 and now 1 Day to Go....

And suddenly there is no time left to worry about it any more! On the Saturday, James and I went and did our usual bit of shopping in Chard. In such nice weather we had some fun in the garden, then this afternoon I took myself and James over to Stoke-sub-Hamdon and the Half Moon Pub to deliver some of the tour posters to the friendly landlady there who had taken my booking for the village hall. We also put some posters in a couple of local shops.
Today, on the Sunday, James and I have had a day at leisure really. After lunch we headed over to Barrington Court and enjoyed a nice walk round the beautiful grounds in some lovely warm sunshine. Next time I will be at Barrington will be next weekend... I hope it goes well.
And tomorrow - the tour begins at Seavington Millennium Hall near Ilminster at 3pm. Please come along and support the show!

Friday, August 10, 2007

3 Days to Go...

Three days? ARGH! After all the plugging that got done yesterday with the Western Gazette, the Chard and Ilminster News and the BBC Somerset interview and I am so hoping there will be a turn out at Seavington for the first gig on Monday. It has now got to the point in the day when there is nothing more I can do.
I am going up to Stoke-sub-Hamdon tomorrow to see the lady who books the Memorial Hall as she is going to take some more posters for me.
I was also phoned again last night by the wonderful Blackwolf the Dragonmaster. What a lovely Wizard he is!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

5 and 4 Days to Go...



OK OK, I know I didn't blog yesterday - I just didn't seem to find the time. I popped up to Compton Dundon again yesterday to put some more posters up for the upcoming shows.
I forgot to add that I got another phone call the other night from Blackwolf the Dragonmaster again! He does phone quite late at night which is a real pity as that as we have a young child in the house, my wife and I are usually so exhausted we go to bed at some criminally early hour! Sorry about that, oh Grand Wizard!
I was on BBC Somerset in the end, they came along and I was on air and interviewed at the end of the "Drive" programme, at nearly 7pm. It went well though and I got to plug the tour.
Today I have picked up copies of the Western Gazette (the tour is in the "What's On" section), the "View From Crewkerne" (not a mention!) and The Chard and Ilminster News (again a good feature on the tour). It is all grist to the mill.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

6 Days to Go...

A lot of driving was done today. I prepared posters for the Compton Dundon show, the Stoke-sub-Hamdon show and the Clapton show. First I stopped in at Crewkerne to see if I could get some of the Clapton and Stoke one's up. Bilby's of course were more than obliging. Other places less so. For instance the tourist information office in the main square complained how big the posters were.
Next I drove up to Glastonbury to get some posters out for the Compton Dundon show. Rainbow's End cafe were very helpful, but yet again the tourist information office were less than excited, once more complaining about the size of the poster. Sorry chaps, but this is my livelihood.
I stopped in at Compton Dundon itself and the very nice chap in the pub very obligingly took a poster, and then I stopped off at Somerton and left a few more at some different places, including in the Library.
I have spoken to BBC Somerset and I am being featured on the website in an in-depth interview, plus they probably want me to appear on a mid-morning show on Friday, but I am waiting for confirmation on that one. Finally, they have just called back to say the "Drive Time" show wants to interview me "live" on air at about 6.15pm, or in other words in about 20 minutes! Watch this space...

Monday, August 06, 2007

7 Days to Go...

Another day goes by and we edge ever closer. I was rather hoping to hear from one of the Radio stations today to help publicise things for next week, but alas so far nothing. I shall chase them up tomorrow.
Also on the agenda for tomorrow is more poster sticking! This is pretty much just like being back at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe - you spend more time putting posters up for the show you are in than you do on actually performing.
I have an assistant for next week - Jim Flanagan, son of my close friend Pete. Little does the poor little chap know what lies in store for him...
My lovely friend Steve French has updated my website so there is a drop down page all about "The Royal Progress 2007" tour, with a write up about the tour, itinerary and contact details. Let me know what you think.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

8 Days to Go...

And so the days go by and the beginning of the Royal Progress draws ever closer. I was delighted to see a good plug for the tour in the ever redoubtable "Chard and Ilminster News" this week, complete with picture of me at Leeds Castle. I have also been spreading the word on the internet at any sites that take free adverts for "What's On In Somerset" during the school holidays.
I am still waiting to hear back from BBC Somerset and next week there will be more coverage in the Western Gazette and the View from Crewkerne.
We have had a nice restful day with the good weather taking James down to Charmouth for a paddle. The rest of the day was spent leisurely not doing very much basking in the warm sun in the garden. Lovely.
Back to work again tomorrow...

Saturday, August 04, 2007

9 Days To Go...


It has been a busy couple of days with a few surprises along the way as the dawning of my "Royal Progress" comes ever closer. Yesterday (Friday) I had to meet local journalist Martha, who was doing a profile of me for the local freebie paper "This is Crewkerne". We met at Bilby's Coffee House in the High Street and she interviewed me for about 45 minutes in which time I managed to plug the tour mercillessly. My friend Pete Flanagan turned up halfway through, suddenly realised it was an interview and left again! When we had finished I then wandered down to Footprintz Print Shop to see how much 50 copies of my tour poster in A3 would cost. If I wanted to have the poster done with the red Tudor roses left on it would be £40 for the 50 prints. For black and white - £10. No contest for this tight fisted Tudor King. I went home and emailed the original artwork from my sister through to Footprintz. Later in the afternoon I went back into Crewkerne and to the print shop - and they had forgotten who I was already and had forgotten to check for any emails. The Boss quickly promised to get them printed very quickly, so I wandered off down the High Street to Woolworths to get some marker pens. On my return to the print shop I was delighted to find the prints finished - but he had done them in colour. I pointed this out and with an air of resignation he agreed to let me have them for £10. What a nice man! He obviously knows not to trifle with a King. When I got home I was just in time to do another interview about the tour, this time with Chris Sweet from the Western Gazette. More publicity.
Later, much later, about 10.30pm to be precise - the phone rings. Now when I get a call at that time of night I usually assume it is either a friend has kicked the bucket or something else equally horrible has happened. It was neither. It was the splendidly eccentric Blackwolf Dragonmaster from New York City, a dear friend of mine over the internet and talking to me personally for the first time. He explained he was in the middle of organising the New York Renaissance Fayre and would normally be bothering Raaaay Irving from Lancashire, but he was hiding somewhere in Spain at the moment, so it was my turn. We had a nice little chat about my tour and his Fayre, but I was more than half way through a very decent bottle of red wine, so please if you are reading this Blackwolf, please forgive my slightly shell shocked reaction to your call.
Today, my wife, son and I have been touring round the area plastering up the first few posters for the Seavington show on the 13th August. More grist to the mill I hope.
The photo on this page was taken by the station manager of Ivel FM Radio Station in Yeovil at the recent Medieval Banquet for the local Lions Club. The lady in the photo always dresses like that. Apparently.