Friday, May 30, 2008

BBC Somerset Panel Yet Again

Familiar ground today! Back to BBC Somerset for another appearance on the sainted Jo Phillips' "Morning Jo Show" news panel. Of course it is school holidays week so after having set out ludicrously early to take on Taunton's notorious bottle neck roads, I just sailed through with no school run to contend with and arrived far too early. I was greeted by Anna today who was taking the lovely Emma Britton's place as Emma was slumming it up at the Royal Bath and West Show in a mud encrusted County Showground in Shepton Mallett. After last night's floods I dread to think what the parking was like up there!
I was joined on the panel today by a lovely lady who runs Hestercombe Gardens near Taunton, and another charming lady who writes children's books and who I was on a panel with only a few months ago. It was very nice to see her again. It was great fun as usual and Jo was, as ever, a hugely professional presenter and also charming, witty, friendly and easy on the eye. Always a good combination as far as I am concerned. We had lots of laughs but Jo reckoned I was going to get her in trouble with the authorities after I described the Daily Mail as being "just to the right wing of Genghis Khan" - which is true! You can listen to the show again for the next seven days by going to the BBC Somerset website ( and clicking on the listen again option and clicking on Morning Jo Friday tab.
After the show I headed for home and some letter writing and then lunch. After that I headed over to Barrington Court for a brief meeting with Matthew Applegate about future plans. That all went well and soon I was back home and found that dear old Tiscali had cut my phone off. I had to drive out of Clapton to get a signal on my mobile to phone them and find out why. After much shouting and threats they agreed that I had paid and that they would reconnect me AND send me a letter of apology. I got home and the phone still won't work, so I have taken up the cudgels with Ofcom to see if they can zap Tiscali out of a rut. Be warned, if you are thinking of going to Tiscali as a new telephone customer - DON'T!!!!!!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Meet the Tudors, Sudeley Castle

For the third May Bank Holiday running, I was at Sudeley Castle in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire for more Tudor nonsense. It promised to be bigger and better than in previous years, and in some way it was. I headed off on Saturday morning nice and early, and I was soon hacking up the M5. Winchcombe is a delightful town and Sudeley is a little treasure of a place - the final resting place of Katherine Parr, Henry's final wife.
In previous years it has just been me wandering around as Henry and meeting and greeting people, but this year I had two other friends to saunter about with. One was a delightful Irish lady called Orla Beardwell who dressed up as a wonderful Queen Elizabeth I, the other was a wonderfully insane character called Bob Mason who was dressing up as Will Somers, Henry's jester. Bob's other wonderful claim to fame is that in a previous time of his life he was the near legendary Phantom Flan-Flinger from cult TV series "Tiswas" in the late 70's and early 80's. You can see us pictured here in our first picture at the visitors reception centre. There were other attractions for the weekend, including archery, an executioner (complete with body hanging from a jibbet), singers, and even Davy the Jester, late of Leeds Castle and this blog.
Saturday was a delight, hot weather, lots of visitors, loads of photos taken and generally a fun and happy atmosphere. Sunday and the weather broke and it poured and poured with rain and was generally cold and miserable, but we still had lots of visitors. Bank Holiday Monday came complete with more cold weather and loads of rain and sadly a drop in visitor numbers. However, everyone seemed to have a really good time and the staff and people of Sudeley Castle were as friendly and charming as ever.
For my digs I stayed at Oaklands B&B virtually opposite Blair House where I stayed last year. The hosts there were wonderful and friendly and have nurtured a very happy family atmosphere for the whole place and it really does feel like a home from home. It still smacks a little of it's previous life as an old folks care home (hand rails down every corridor and lots of hand rails in strange places in the toilet!) but they do a breakfast that even defeated me (I asked for a much smaller one on Monday morning) and I can heartily recommend it for a genuinely warm and charming welcome.

It was good to meet so many nationalities and friendly people during all the walkabouts and meet and greets over the weekend, including my first ever tourists from Uruguay! On Saturday poor old Orla got very sunburnt across her shoulders and chest but I am sure this is what kept her mostly warm over the colder Sunday and Monday. Jenny from Sudeley Castle who was looking after all the bookings and events had worked with me before when she used to work at Dean Close Prep in Cheltenham (see this blog passim).
There is talk of a special event at Sudeley next year to mark Henry's 500th anniversary of his ascension to the throne. It would be lovely to be involved, so as I have said before "watch this space".
My drive back was relatively quick and uneventful, and however nice my three days at Sudeley Castle were I am very much looking forward to sleeping in my own bed tonight!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Martham and Lowestoft

It was a return visit to two schools in East Anglia this week, but only one had kept it's name the same since my previous appearance! For the past two years I had ventured to Martham village and appeared at West Flegg Middle School. But recently Norfolk County Council have decided to do away with the three tiered education system and first, middle and high schools are becoming a thing of the past. West Flegg Middle had now metamorphed into Martham Primary School! It was good to see Judy Colman there again as she is a lovely lady and was as welcoming and friendly as on previous visits. It was a very big group on the Wednesday with something in the region of about 140 children, but they were brilliantly well behaved and we had a great day. With such big groups, even the little carousel activities were well attended and lively! After a fine lunch of pasta it was into the afternoon with added gusto and a rip roaring jousting tournament which the ladies sneaked home on to win! The following day after my visit they were having the official opening ceremony of the new school and they were all desperate to rehearse their show, so as soon as Tudor day finished I was out the hall so that they could begin their preparations. I stayed my two nights in East Anglia down at my parents in Essex, so I had quite a drive down from Martham to Mountnessing.
Thursday saw my fourth annual visit to Lowestoft and the very wonderful Roman Hill Middle School. As I drove up my fuel guage in the car was getting lower and lower, but as I was making such good progress I decided to press on and wait until I was virtually in Lowestoft before stopping to refuel. Great idea in principle, but unfortunately I had left my wallet and all my money on the side in my parent's kitchen in Essex. DOH! So as soon as I arrived at the school and was greeted by the delightful Rebecca Haste I had to fall upon her mercies and ask for a load of £20 so I could actually get back to my parents and my dear wallet! Rebecca is just such a lovely lady, so friendly, helpful and easy to get along with. She makes visiting her school a total pleasure. We had a great day as usual at Roman Hill, lots of laughs, another big group and some fantastic costumes. For once the gents triumphed in the jousting and when all was done and dusted we all posed for some photos for the local paper and I was soon on my way, but as I said only thanks to Rebecca's generosity! I can't wait to come back and visit Roman Hill again.
I stopped back at my parents for dinner and then at about 7.30pm began the long plod back to Somerset, but it was a nice easy drive and I listened to the thrilling climax to the Scottish Premier League with the Celtic and Rangers matches being broadcast on Radio 5. They were exciting matches that kept me on the edge of my seat, which was very lucky as I was so tired after two very early starts and lots of driving. I stopped briefly for petrol on the return and was served by a man who was so icey and bad tempered as to make Sue English seem like a over-prozac'd game show host. Smashing.
Home for a loud welcome from the cat who was so delighted to see me and we ended up cuddled up on the sofa with her purring loudly in my ear. Very nice. I have a day of sort of leisure today and tomorrow I am back up at Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire for their grand Tudor weekend. I would hope to see lots of familiar faces back there! That includes you...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Balliol Lower School, Kempston, Bedford

My alarm went off at 0400 hours this morning. What does the O stand for? Oh my God, it's early. It was going to be a long drive today up to Kempston near Bedford for a first visit to Balliol Lower School, a new venue for me. The drive was actually quite pleasant as it was before the full heat of the day had awoken and the roads were fairly clear at this early hour. I shot up the A303 and then the A34, before cutting across country and hedging Milton Keynes and then through Buckingham, which seems a delightful little town.
I arrived just before the school opened and so sat in a side road having some breakfast, much to the amazement of an elderly lady taking her dog for a walk. She obviously thought that I was lurking in her side road up to no good as she came past and had a good look at me about four times! The welcome I got at the school was much warmer, and I was informed in great detail by the lady in the office that she had cancelled the fire drill for that day because of me, but if there was a fire alarm it would be for real.
It was a Year 3 group today of about 50-60 children and they were just fantastic! Lively, inquisitive and ready to laugh. They also had some fine Tudor knowledge to share with me. The morning just seemed to shoot by, which is always a good sign that the day went well. I had a lovely lunch of roast beef from the ladies in the kitchens and then it was into the afternoon with all the nice gory bits! The stocks were hilarious and gruesome in equal measure. The joust was a good one too, with the gentlemen winning for a nice change. Balliol Lower was a delightful school to visit and I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did. It would be nice to go back and see them again sometime.
The journey home was a bit more fraught with much more traffic on the road, especially lorry drivers hell bent on overtaking other lorries at approximately 0.1 nano-mile-per-hour faster than each other. Why do they do it? They seem to wait until you are zooming up to overtake them and then just signal and blithely pull out, and trundle along for what seems like an eon before either completing the manouevre or, more commonly, giving up and tucking in behind again.
I got back in time to sit and watch Rangers being comprehensively outplayed by Zenit St Petersburg of Russia in the UEFA Cup Final, played at the lovely home ground of Manchester City, the finest team in the world with that name.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Martock Primary

The last time I visited Martock Primary I had just bought my dear old Honda Accord (see this blog about two years ago!) and we had a really good day, so I was really looking forward to this return visit. I was not to be disappointed.
Some years ago I visited a small school in Axminster in Devon and had possibly the worst cup of tea ever served to me in a school, and I mentioned it in passing in this blog. How this has come to haunt me over the years. I had no idea so many people read this blog! So even today, all these years later, as I arrive at Martock Primary and I start to have a cuppa made for me by the Head Master, he comments on how he had better make me a good one as I come down hard on bad cups of tea! I only did it once - and that was nearly three years ago now! So can I just say here and now, while at Martock Primary I had two cups of tea made for me and they were as ambrosia to the Gods and were GORGEOUS!
It was great to see so many familiar faces amongst the teachers this day and they were all as welcoming and friendly as last time. It was a group of about 90 children today, a mixture of years three and four and they were just brilliant. Bright, sparky and very ready to laugh at all my old rubbish! Even though they had only been studying the Tudors since half term they had loads of good knowledge and were very eager to share this with me. The morning seemed to just shoot past and we had plenty of laughs, particularly my "wrestling" during the Field of the Cloth of Gold with Marcus - he knows who I mean. What a star!
After a very filling lunch of meat balls and pasta it was back to Tudor times for more fun with the stocks and the jousting. As usual the ladies waltzed off with the honours in the grand final, but we still had time for a teacher's race which cranked the volume of the crowd up to even greater heights! It was a pleasure to come to this wonderful and charming school and my only complaint is that they won't need me back for a couple of years, so see you in 2010.
I have had a nice relaxing evening and have a weekend at leisure to look forward to. As the weather is promised to be hot and sunny, I might just pop over to Barrington Court for a wander about tomorrow and then hit Ilchester for a car boot sale on Sunday morning. Come and say hello if you see me. If you catch me at the right time I will sell you something!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Somerford Junior, Christchurch

It was a fairly early start for me today as I was heading down to Somerford Junior School in Christchurch, and I well remembered from my previous visits to this town what a bottleneck of a place it is to get through. I left home at about 6.20am and all went swimmingly until about the last 5-10 miles. Gridlock was not far off it. Eventually the journey took me just over 2 hours - and it was only about 55 miles.
The teachers and the rest of the staff at this lovely school were as welcoming and fun as ever and it was great to see them all again. There was much merriment from the ladies on the front reception desk about my t-shirt I was wearing today. It says "Body of a God - shame it's Buddha" which they all thought was wonderful and wanted copies of it for their own other halves. They also reminded me that on my last visit to this school I left my mobile phone there - I made sure I had it close to hand all day today.
It was a year three class today and some of them struggled a bit as they have not been doing the Tudors for very long, but they perked up as the day went on. It was almost over poweringly hot today and I was not exactly dressed for it in all my furs and layers!
After a lovely pasta lunch it was on to the crimes and punishments section, a fun stocks event and then the jousting. One of the ladies teams in the first leg were a and were never really in the running as their lead off lady took nearly 10 minutes to hook all of her quoits! Even when I helped her cheat by loading all bar one of the quoits onto her lance, she managed to knock them all off again within a couple of seconds! However, despite this, the other ladies team marched on through to the final where they comprehensively thrashed the gents champions!
My drive home was equally fraught just getting out of Christchurch! Another two hours before home again. Tomorrow I am much more local, with a return visit for the first time in two years to Martock School in, unsurprisingly, Martock! Should be fun.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Downlands School, Blandford Camp

Some two years ago, for the very first time, I attempted to get to a school using my (then) brand new Sat Nav system in my car. It was a baptism of fire for "Doris" and me! She had a bit of a "bad hair day" and attempted to get me to Downlands School in Blandford Camp, Dorset, via a brick wall enclosed builders yard. Today, for what might well prove to be her swan song, "Doris" (my sat nav) was on board to try and bring me back to Downlands! As I may have mentioned in recent days, "Doris" isn't too well at the moment and is much in need of either repair, or total abandonment. She didn't let me down today though and I arrived bright and early at the security gates at this vast army camp. I was quickly signed in and had a photo pass issued to me (they still had me on record from the previous visit two years back). I managed to even snaffle a car parking spot right outside the front door to the school.
It was great to be back, a really lovely school and some charming teachers, all dressed to the nines in their finest Tudor clothing! The ever helpful caretaker took care of me and helped me lug my Henry stuff into the main hall. The children were all dressed up in some equally fantastic Tudor garb, a lot of it painstakingly home made, but looking wonderful. Despite not having done much on the Tudors in class yet this year the children were eager to show off their knowledge. They had all obviously been reading a lot of books about Henry and his life, though pronunciation of names was proving tricky. One little girl told me that Henry's second wife was called "Annie Boyling". And who knows, perhaps she was!
After lunch we had a smashing session with the crime and punishment talk and a lot of fun with the stocks before we got on to the inevitable loud jousting tournament. The girls won on a "penalty shoot out" today, just managing to snatch victory from the gents on the second re-hooking. Downlands is a fabulous school and my only regret is that as whenever I visit them I do two years at once which means I won't get a chance to see them all again for another two years! So see you in 2010!
My journey home was a little fraught as the Troy Town by-pass was shut because of an accident and "Doris'" batteries were running low - but I made it!
Tomorrow I am off to Chard to lovely old Manor Court School and a meeting with Deputy Head, Lizzie Reynolds.