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.