Monday, May 28, 2007

Sudeley Castle weekend

My return visit to Sudeley seemed to creep up on me almost unnoticed. After much preparation on the Friday evening, I left bright and early (well, OK, early-ish) on the Saturday. The drive up the M5 towards Cheltenham and my eventual destination of Winchcombe went very well, and was made all the more enjoyable because the south-bound M5 was one solid pile of caravans chugging down to Cornwall. And it served them right.
I arrived at Sudeley at about 10am and was greeted by Peter, one of the staff, who looked and sounded just like Ricky Tomlinson. He was a lovely fellow and a great help all day. I was given a key to the Guides' room - a place where the tour guides can normally go to rest and recuperate, and this became my luxury dressing room for the next three days. I had recently purchased a silver topped cane to make Henry hobble a bit, and to help take some pressure off my frequently sore left ankle. I stumbled out into the bright light of day and began my constant circuits of the Sudeley Castle area meeting and greeting all and sundry. The very wonderful History People were there again, this time in their Viking encampment mode. They really are a lovely and very historically accurate group and do some great work with children and adults alike. It was good to see them again. There was also another group in the top part of the gardens putting on medieval events including sword fighting, archery and jousting. Out the front of the castle was The Hungry Hog! This was Mark Douse who accords himself the title of "The South's Premiere Hog Roast Specialist" and he and his lovely wife Natalie did not disappoint! See more of them at !
Halfway through my first day at Sudeley I was delighted to see the lovely little Isis and her beautiful mother Holly who had come to visit me when I had appeared at Weston-super-Mare museum and had been in touch ever since. The fact that Holly doesn't drive and had taken trains and boats and planes to get to Sudeley over about three hours was very touching, particularly as she and Isis had come primarily to see me! I had a lovely chat with them for a while before I sadly had to go off and meet and greet others! Later that evening as I came into Winchcombe on the look out for some dinner, I spied Holly and Isis getting on a bus to head back to Bristol - dedication to Good King Hal beyond the call of duty.
After I had finished at Sudeley I checked into my B&B - Blair House in Gretton Road in Winchcombe, run by the indomtiable Mr and Mrs Chilsholm! It is a wonderful place to stay, incredibly friendly and very cosy and comfortable. That evening my search for dinner was relatively low-key and ended up as fish and chips eaten from the paper in a lay by! After a cracking episode of Doctor Who in my B&B room, I drifted into a deep and welcome sleep.
Sunday was very disappointing at the Castle. It poured and poured with rain all day, dampening spirits and making the fur on my coat look very sad! There were few brave folk around, but those who did turn up were very friendly and we had some fun. The Hungry Hog man surrendered to the vile weather fairly early and made a run for home. Who could blame him as the rain came in at every conceivable point! Another dinner in the car and another early night at the lovely cosy Blair House - if anything I slept better that night than the previous one!
Bank Holiday Monday - it was grey, the wind blew and it was cold, but thankfully the rain just about held off all day. This was another fun day, lots of good people and hundreds more photos of me taken by some lovely tourists. The Hungry Hog might have had a bad day yesterday, but today was even worse. After driving 3 HOURS from Littlehampton (as he had done each and every day at the castle) he had got the hog on for spit roasting at 7am. All was going well until at about 10.30am when the entire thing burst into uncontrollable flames and ruined the entire hog. Cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth. But that was the end of the hog roast for that day. His entire work day ruined. Poor man. He didn't deserve that as his hog roast is some of the tastiest you are ever likely to try. The rest of the day passed at a steady if a not exactly Earth shattering pace. I left Sudeley Castle finally at just after 5pm and managed to arrive back at home to a kiss and cuddle from my wife and lovely little son at just after 7pm.
A nice weekend, good to see so many good old friends and familiar faces, but a bit cold and damp as well!

Oh Deary...

Very occasionally, you get to have a conversation with someone who you have regarded as something of a hero in your life. Or you get to meet someone who you have been a big fan of for many years. Usually this moment is life affirming, it confirms everything you had hoped this person was going to be. Meeting Rolf Harris while filming the BBC programme "Rolf on Art" was one such moment. He was everything I had hoped he would be, and more. Charming, self-effacing and a genuine down-to-Earth nice bloke. Fair dinkum as most Australians would say. Similarly meeting Cherie Lunghi on the same day was good for me too - for more than one reason! And then again, there are times when you meet or have contact with a hero - and everything turns to dust, disappointment and disillusionment. Last week, after some encouragment from friends, I emailed Terry Deary, author of the wonderful "Horrible History" books for children. I have for many years gone on record stating that Mr Deary was a big influence on the style and presentation I bring to my Good King Hal days - I felt I was presenting history to children in a way that he would celebrate and encourage. I wrote to him to tell him this and to ask, in a very humble and polite way, as to whether I could ever hope to be involved with promoting the Horrible History series in any way. The response I got was quick, and startlingly savage. Seldom have I received an email that I expected so much from, and yet instead all I got was a verbal kicking from Mr Deary.
I will not go into detail with what Mr Deary said - it was hurtful and unpleasant in the extreme. I responded by apologising for bothering him and mildly rebuking him for such a rude email. I got another response, far longer and far more savage, this time likening my dressing up and getting paid to present humorous Henry VIIIth days to children as to me dressing up as a variety of infamous modern day murderers and re-enacting their evil acts in front of impressionable innocent children for money. Thankfully, particularly for his rapidly expanding bank balance, Mr Deary has no qualms about selling lots of books of amusing anecdotes about Henry VIIIth and a variety of other historical despots and tyrants for school children. His similarly destructive and rabidly anti-teacher and anti-school views were equally shocking.
Suffice to say, I shall never even bother to recommend Mr Deary's works ever again - something I have done at nearly every school I have been to since I started.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Back to Sudeley Castle!

This coming weekend is your chance to come and say "hello" to Good King Hal! I am appearing on Saturday, Sunday and Monday (26th, 27th and 28th May) at Sudeley Castle in Winchcombe in the Cotswolds, Gloucestershire. I shall be on parade so to speak between 10am and 5pm each day.
The picture here is of me on my last visit to Sudeley about a year ago. Sudeley was in the news recently when Liz Hurley had one of her seemingly limitless wedding receptions held there.
So if you do come along over the weekend and you have read this blog, please come and say a big "hello". It would be great to see as many of you there as you can manage. There will be lots of other re-enactors there on the days as well, so there will be something for everyone.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Roman Hill Middle School, Lowestoft

Another return visit, this time for the third year running, back to Roman Hill Middle School in Lowestoft. Last time I was up at this wonderful school, I had got up a bit late and then hit horrendous traffic on the A12 and then found to my shock that roughly 99% of Lowestoft was being dug up. Luckily this time (and with the help of TWO - count 'em, TWO - alarm clocks) I managed to wake up in plenty of time, sail up the A12 AND discover that now only about 15% of Lowestoft is being dug up. What a difference a year makes.
I was warmly welcomed by Rebecca Haste as I have been for the previous visits. She was very busy this morning but still had time for me, which was wonderful. After I had got everything set up in some of the classrooms for the morning session, I wandered up to the staff room to make myself a cup of tea. As I entered the teachers and other staff were having a big meeting. Luckily the staff room at Roman Hill is the size of an aircraft hanger, so I whispered an apology and scuttled off to the far end of the said aircraft hanger to make myself some tea. I was doing this very quietly, and with the minimum of fuss when one of the ladies in the meeting, slipped out of her chair and wandered over to me. I was assuming by the way she was approaching me that she was going to tell me which milk to use or where the sugar was. Instead I was told to be quiet and keep still as I was distracting her from her meeting. So that told me. I was gobsmacked. So I did as I was told and stood like a statue, completely motionless until their meeting was finished. I reckon I should have run in and kicked a few tables over, rattled all the cutlery in their dishwasher and then stood naked on the table singing "On The Street Where You Live" in Serbo-Croat. Now that would have REALLY distracted her properly.
The day itself was a cracker. The kids were brilliant - very sparky and interested, some of them to the point of being TOO sparky! But that is OK, I would rather have interested excitable children than ones who sit like lobotomised haddocks all day. The afternoon stocks session was simply wonderful to behold, particularly for the reaction I got from the Teaching Assistants who were virtually falling off their chairs laughing at my silliness, which again is perfectly fine with me! The jousting was a rousing affair with the gents initially winning, but because of an illegal run by one of their jousters the ladies got a second chance with a one quoit race off - which the ladies duly snatched by half a whisker!
It was a fairly late finish for me today, but totally worth it at another school that I adore. It was nice that I was invited back for next year straight away. I stopped at my parents and had dinner with them sitting in their lovely garden, then headed for Somerset at about 8pm. Here I am home safe and sound.
An interesting query from a school up in Yorkshire has just come in! New horizons, anyone?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Blog re-decorated...

I have had a quick re-vamp of my blog layout. If you are a regular, or even irregular, reader of this particular blog, then please let me know what you think. I would be grateful!
Next week I am up in Lowestoft on Tuesday for a return visit to Roman Hill School, then next weekend I am up to Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire for three days over the Bank Holiday weekend. I am looking forward to those days a lot.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Blundell's Prep School, Tiverton

Yet another return visit today. This time to Blundell's Preparatory School in Tiverton in Devon. Mind you, the last time I was here it was called St Aubyn's Preparatory School. Obviously changed their name via deed poll.
It was an absolute delight to be back here today. As usual I was very pleased to find all the children in some magnificent costumes. My welcome was just as warm and friendly as it had been last time. The morning was great fun, if a little disjointed as some morning's at private schools can be! Their subtle timing differences with state schools always throw me a bit. There was some really good coats of arms made up today and also a really good display of general Tudor knowledge.
Lunch was a sumptuous chicken curry with rice, poppadoms and mango chutney - lovely. It was nice to meet the headmaster as well, namely Nick Folland, formerly of Somerset County Cricket Club.
The afternoon there was only really time for a fun stocks session and then a grand jousting tournament that started very quietly, but then built up to a blasting crescendo. The ladies this time won with a brilliant display of teamwork and speed!
The picture above is a nice one from when I took part in BBC TV's "Rolf on Art" show when it came "live" from Trafalgar Square back in September 2005. Don't believe what you read from various other Henry's on line - there was more than one Henry at the show. I should know, I was one of three.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Medstead Primary, Hampshire

It was a nasty shock for me first thing this morning... I had set my alarm to go off at 5.30am for the long drive to Hampshire and my visit to Medstead Primary School. My sat nav had indicated it would take me about two hours to get there and I like to be at a school as soon after 8am as I can possibly manage. Therefore my shock was complete when my wife woke me at nearly 6.30am and asked me what time I was getting up. 6.30? ARGH! I wanted to be out of the house by 6.15am! Somehow I managed to get showered, shaved and everything else in about 10 minutes flat and was on my way! I shot through the traffic and managed to arrive at the school at about 8.30am. It was lovely to see Helen Poore again - she had booked me about two years ago at a school in Long Sutton in Hampshire, and now she was working at Medstead she decided to inflict me on these children.
We had a superb day. We began in one of the classrooms with everyone in together. After an extended break for a morning assembly the morning continued apace. The children were bright and sparky and showed the usual high knowledge of all things Tudor related. We had a couple of young deaf lads in and I shared the stage with their signer, whilst I also wore a booster mic for one of them who had a cochlear implant.
After a fine lunch of Toad NOT in the hole (the sausages and the batter pudding were served seperately!) it was back in the hall for hanging drawing and quartering, a belt round with the stocks, and then a rip roaring joust which, getting back to the usual routine, the ladies won! The final stages of the joust were enhanced by some of the parents for the group turning up. I was therefore photographed more times than I care to mention!
Tomorrow, I am off to Tiverton in Devon for a return visit to what used to be called St Aubyns, but is now known as Blundell's Preparatory School.

Friday, May 11, 2007

West Pennard - the second!

There are some Henry days I look back on and think "to be honest, it could have gone better" and then there are days like today. It was damn near perfect! A fabulous school, which I was returning to in it's delightful surroundings over looking the Somerset levels and Glastonbury Tor! It was going to be nice back with one of my all time favourite teachers to work with, Mr Ian Gouge. Ian is just one of life's really nice people. I know Michael Palin sometimes gets hacked off with constantly being referred to as Mr Nice, but if he ever gets fed up with the title, Ian can take it off him with ease! First thing in the morning Ian told me how good his class were this year, and he was not wrong. I cannot remember the last time I went through a whole Henry day without having to have at least a quiet word in someone's ear about their behaviour. The children were fantastic - they laughed uproariously at all the jokes, had a splendid level of general Tudor knowledge and were polite, friendly and easy to talk to. It just made my life so simple! As it was only a class of about 27 I rested the whole "carousel" of activities and just sat in on them one by one, starting with the Tudor quiz on the boards. After break the children got stuck into designing their own coat of arms, and as usual we had some fabulous designs with the usual very high Doctor Who content!
After a nice fish and chips lunch, it was into the main hall for the final fling! The stocks were a riot of laughs and lots of fun. The jousting was a fine contest, the much faster but less disciplined boys team just losing out to a good ladies team. I was trapped in the school playground for a while - my car being blocked in by a school bus, but as soon as that was gone I was on my way.
I would like to say a big thank you to Mr Ian Gouge and Year 5 at the school for making a genuinely pleasurable day so memorable!
A nice weekend at leisure coming up, probably spent getting wet judging by the weather forecast! Monday I am down to Hampshire for another Henry bash...

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Done it. It's in. It will never leave again...

The sofa is in. How we did it, I don't really know. It has been outside all day in the pouring rain under a temporary lash up to stop too much water spilling on to it. Our friend Ian Thomas from Kingstone came over in his van to help out. He was so confident that the sofa would be in our house within a few minutes that he actually left the engine running on his van. Fool!
This move took two heart-attacks, three hernias, four tantrums, a load of scraped paint, a broken door bell, a scuffed painting by my father and a partridge in a pear tree.
How the Polar Bear looks in the picture is how I feel right now. But the sofa is in. It is soaked, so I am now going to have to sit here gently wafting warm air over it from my wife's hair dryer, but it is in. And believe me, if we ever move - it stays here!
Tomorrow - for a rest I am off to West Pennard School near Glastonbury, for a return visit to Ian Gouge and his lovely year 5 class. I can't wait!

Back on the road again.

After an extended break over Easter it was back to normal again yesterday. I was back at Little Parndon School in Harlow in Essex for the third year running. But I am getting ahead of myself, there is a lot more to tell in this story!
Another reason for going to Essex was to pick up a sofa that my parents were donating to us in replacement for our old squashy green sofa which has been well and truly cat and toddler splatted. So on Tuesday 8th I picked up a big transit van from my friends at Popular Motors in Merriott. My lovely wife dropped me over there to pick it up, but she then drove off with the front door keys! I desperately phoned her from the office at Popular Motors and also from a call box later, but she had gone to do a clinic (she is a health visitor) over at Chard and was likely to be unobtainable for a couple of hours. I sat in the van on our front drive and then had a little snooze. After about two hours there was still no sign of my wife. Eventually I realised I had to do something fairly drastic, so I managed to break in through a downstairs window. If you know me then you will be more than aware that I am not exactly ideal cat burglar build, so this was quite a painful and embarrassing action and not one I wish to repeat for a while! Anyway, much later I was on my way back to Essex. I arrived at about 8.30pm and settled in for the evening with a glass of wine and some peanuts and life looked a lot more rosey!
I travelled up to Little Parndon and was delighted to see some familiar faces straight away! This is a lovely school, the teachers are wonderful, friendly and charming and more than happy to help in any way they can. It was a group of about 60+ children and they were great! Very sparky and full of laughs. The afternoon joust was not exactly a classic, as the boys team was so much better than anyone else they simply steam-rollered any opposition.
Back at my parents I now had the joy of trying to get the new sofa into the van. My parents (who were away) suggested I ask one of the neighbours for some help in loading the sofa as it was large and awkward rather than heavy. I knocked on both neighbours doors and got no response! I tried phoning some old friends in Essex, namely Sara Turner and Mick Stephenson, both erstwhile members of The Hoop Cricket Club, but both of them were already well ensconced in a couple of pubs and beyond helping me. In the end I somehow managed to manhandle the unwieldly sofa into the back of the van.
The drive home was long, wet and dark. I was very grateful to be home. In the morning my wife and I took our old sofa outside to make some room for the new one. We then got the new one out of the van - and it won't fit through the door! Amanda had to go to work so I am left here at home with a new sofa in the garden (the old one has gone to the great sofa heaven in the sky - aka the local recycling dump) and no way to get it in the house. HELP!
TO BE CONTINUED............

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

An Evening Function

It was all back to Essex again for the weekend. I had been booked to appear as Henry at a Ladies Festival Evening for the Epping Forest Masonic Lodge at Furze Hill in Margaretting. It was quite nerve wracking as I was doing the job for some friends of mine. Working just for people who have booked you just because of what you do is hard enough, but when it is friends who have booked you, you know you will have to go the extra mile. I hope they were happy!
It was a lovely, but very warm evening, but my wife looked beautiful in her new dress and with her new hair style and it was a pleasure to dance the night away with her!
We stayed on in Essex until the Monday, enjoying our 7th wedding anniversary on Sunday the 29th April on the way. A lovely time!
I have just picked up some new bookings from new schools in Taunton and Christchurch, and the Somerset County Museum want me to do an "Evening with Henry VIIIth" in July. I shall post more details as and when they become more solid.