Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Rudolf Ferdinand, shortly before his call-up to Fabio Capello's England World Cup squad.

Another year done at Leeds Castle as Father Christmas. As you can see, I wasn't lying in the previous post about how my reindeer looked like Rio Ferdinand. The final four days at the castle had also included me working nights actually in the castle rather than down at my grotto. For these final days and because of the awful weather conditions in Kent, I didn't stay at Cathy's near Sittingbourne - their driveway was just too icy to get up! - and was housed at the Castle. I was in a room called Aviary 4. I wondered if they let this room to Aviary Tom Dick and Harry who came along...? I apologise for that joke.
Some of the children were just lovely - one little boy, somewhat overawed at meeting Father Christmas wasn't quite sure what he wanted for a present. He ummed and ahhed, and looking desperately round my grotto eventually blurted out that he wanted "a branch". His parents looked bemused, but I assured them if I was going to bring him a branch I would make sure it was a "special branch". I apologise for that joke as well.
I drove up to Essex on the evening of the 23rd December and picking up Amanda and James we headed down to Wales and my parent's place on Christmas Eve. My father cooked a magnificent Beef Wellington that evening. On Christmas Day we were joined by my sister Sue and her chap Ian and a wonderful day was had by all.
I drove Amanda and James back to Essex on the 27th and after that, just to see how much punishment a body and car can take, I then drove on down to Somerset and found myself at home for the first time in what seemed like a very long time. Climbing over a mountain of mail I entered a flat that resembled an ice block. Thank God for central heating.
New Year I am due down in Wales again, but purely dependent on the weather which is looking a tad ropey at the moment. We shall see.
Happy New Year to one and all. Here's to 2010.

Friday, December 11, 2009

2009 -Thank You!

Good King Hal, just reminding you what Leeds Castle looks like - in case you'd forgotten.

Well, this is it, probably my last chance to post anything on this blog until way after Christmas. I am leaving shortly to drive to Essex to see Amanda and James, as tomorrow is James' 7th Birthday Party. Following that I am then down at Leeds Castle as Father Christmas again and will be, more or less, until the 23rd December. I have requested to have Christmas Eve off as I am spending Christmas itself with my parents in their new Ceaucescu-style mansion in Wales, and a mad dash from Kent to Wales on Christmas Eve is not a prospect that fills me with much enthusiasm. So I will be heading to Somerset first on the 23rd, and from there onto Wales the following day.
2009 has been a particularly successful year for Good King Hal. The company is now called Past Presence Ltd., I have met and made some fabulous new friends this year and seen some nice old ones as well. All the feedback from the shows are nothing but positive and the company seems to be going from strength to strength. A young lady I met at a school recently seems very keen to come on board and take over the 2nd World War days that we began last year, so I will be seeing her again in January for a meeting to try and make things a bit more definite. I have been asked to come and be a regular presenter on Radio Crewkerne (when it eventually starts), I am getting more and more feedback from every appearance I make on Emma Britton's show on BBC Somerset and...well, not wishing to blow my own trumpet too much...things are looking pretty rosy in the garden at the moment. A big thank you to Annie and Helen at Rochester Cathedral for all their help and encouragement this year - here's to more in 2010! Another big THANK YOU to the ever wonderful Darlene and Helen at Leeds Castle for more fun and friendship - a true home from home for me. And a particularly massive thank you and good luck for a troubled time that he is encountering to the deeply wonderful Matthew Applegate at Barrington Court. Matthew is one of the hardest working men I know. He puts heart and soul into running this gem of an Elizabethan Building that the NT own - and do they appreciate him? No they so**ing well don't! Not one jot. More power to your elbow Mr Applegate!
Also, COMING SOON (hopefully) The Barrington Court Classic Movies Club... Watch this space for more.
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Christmas Shopping

A Leeds Castle, yesterday.

Christmas Shopping. Two words guaranteed to make grown men scream, women weep and children dive for cover. I have taken the coward's way out this year and done the vast majority of my shopping on-line. However, there were a few bits I still had to get from a pukka High Street and so this morning I had to go to... TAUNTON! Now Taunton is one of those towns that getting into it at any time is a pain, so just a few weeks before Christmas it didn't bode well - and I was right. Even at only just after 9am it was one huge heaving mass of humanity. I braved the Lush Shop and it's pungent smells to get some stuff for Amanda, then got some wrapping paper and other stuff. Finally within about an hour and a half I was done - FINISHED! I HAD FINISHED MY CHRISTMAS SHOPPING! On the 8th December? That has got to be a record. And just think, in about 365 days we'll all be obsessing again. Actually, Christmas usually starts in the High Streets from about late August.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Sleighing Them.

Good King Hal, cunningly disguised as Father Christmas, explains to Silvio Berlusconi's London Ambassador about how some investments may go up, down and even round and round. It's a tough job but someone had to do it.



Christmas is coming,
The goose is getting fat,

Please spend a penny

In the old man's hat. (Nearly).

Yes, December dawns, wet and miserable and that can only mean one thing = less than a month before David Tennant stops being Doctor Who. What am I going to do??? It also means it is time for me to rip off my cod-piece and tights, leap into an enormous red baby-gro, don a beard that makes me look like ZZ Top will in 25 years time and then start distributing presents to the good and great who visit Leeds Castle near Maidstone in Kent. Yes it is my FOURTH year of being Father Christmas at Leeds Castle. For the third time we are in the old Tennis pavilion with it's log walls and thatched roof, and once again Dallas (a man that CAN) has designed a winter wonderland within. From the enlarged waiting room, the children are led by merry elves through a series of small rooms showing scenes of Christmas cheer (Christmas cheer equals penguins, polar bears, reindeer and a light cascade that looks like a waterfall. Trust me, when you see it, it looks fabulous). Also different this year is my room. Gone is the cosy study look and instead I am seated on a large sleigh, with steps leading up to it so the children and parents can join me. I also have one very sad looking reindeer shackled to my sleigh via tinsel who bears more than a slight resemblance to Rio Ferdinand on a bad day. I am also surrounded by Christmas trees festooned with snow. It really looks the business. I was there for the first time on the 5th and 6th December, I am back again on the 13th and then from the 16th to the 23rd inclusive.


Rio Ferdinand, yesterday, just before kick off.

It's great to see the familiar faces of Leeds Castle again - Darlene Cavill, Helen Budd, Jeanne Beaton and everyone else. Even Mark Brattle took time off from flinging his owls around to come and say hello on Sunday. It was steady all through both days and not really too much like the Rorke's Drift effect we suffered last year. Our presents this year are books full of floor puzzles - large ones for older children and small books of puzzles for the younger ones.

I am staying with my sister Cathy and her husband, Julian, again when I am doing the shows at Leeds, and it is fun spending the evening with Cathy strumming guitars and singing badly to each other. We have decided to record a song to unleash upon the world, our first idea is to do a cover version - a hippie psychedelic version of Strawberry Switchblade's "Since Yesterday" from 1983. It will be the greatest thing ever recorded and should completely obliterate Simon Cowell and his evil empire when unleashed on an unsuspecting British audience early next year.

Oh, and Manchester City 2-1 Chelsea. Get in!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Long Sutton, Somerset

Enough to put you off your Christmas Dinner.

Back in 2005 I did a show at Long Sutton, a nice little village school on the way to Glastonbury and near to Langport. What I remember of the day was that it was fun, but there was a lot of building work going on which made it quite distracting. However, I was delighted to receive an invite back and I was even more delighted to discover that the new head teacher at Long Sutton was none other than Lizzie Reynolds, former deputy head at Manor Court School in Chard. I drove up through a drowned landscape. With all the ferocious amounts of rain we have had recently it really shouldn't have been a surprise to see so many flooded fields in the flat lands round Long Sutton - but it was still quite a shock. Some of the distant fields actually looked like long term permanent lakes. In Long Load, a village near Long Sutton, there is a river that runs past the north end of the village. It is crossed by a small metal hump back bridge. As I went over I looked to my right - the swollen waters were very nearly up to the base of the bridge. Astonishing.
I arrived at the school and was warmly welcomed by Lizzie. Long Sutton is a wonderful school and we had a fine morning. It was a biggish group - maybe about 70 children, and they were very excited and knowledgeable and always ready to laugh. I had an extended break during the morning when the children had an assembly, but I bravely endured sitting in the staff room eating miniature mince pies and drinking mugs of tea. What a brave little soldier I am. I wandered down to the brilliant village stores in Long Sutton (trust me on this, this little shop is a wonder) and bought myself a sandwich and drink at lunchtime. Back in the hall the afternoon session seemed to fly past and we were soon in the middle of a deafening and pulsating jousting tournament. It was nip and tuck all the way until finally, the ladies stormed through on the final leg and triumphed. So now, at the Christmas break the score is:
GENTLEMEN 8 - 13 LADIES
And so from now on it is Father Christmas all the way! I am driving up to Kent today to stay at my sister's near Sittingbourne, then tomorrow... it is helicopter day! If this is the final entry ever in this blog then you know something went wrong...

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Maynard School, Exeter

Good King Hal, for some unknown reason, appearing to tickle a sun dial with a sprig of Mistletoe. This is illegal in 48 of the 50 states of North America, but not in Skegness on Fridays.

The Maynard School in Exeter were very good to me. They said I could start the show at 10.30 am rather than my usual 9 am start. This was lovely and meant I got a mini lie-in in the morning. As usual at this popular private girl's school it was a very small group that I was dealing with for the day - only 12 young ladies, with this number dropping to 11 for the afternoon as one had to go off to a theatre rehearsal. I was warmly welcomed by Steve, the head of year, and of course by the lovely Keagh Fry, the year four teacher. Although it was a small group, it was lively, and one or two of the ladies showed some brilliant knowledge of the Tudor era.
Lunch was particularly gorgeous - one of the best school dinners I have had in the past 6 years of being Henry! Keagh and I wandered down to the dining hall and were delighted to find they were serving roast beef, Yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes and horse radish sauce, and it was all cooked to perfection. Delicious.
The afternoon was lively and fun, and we had a short break when a photographer turned up from the local paper, plus a young lady who looks after the school website who also blazed away for plenty of pics. The jousting was fun and of course a ladies team won - but of course without any chaps about the score cannot possibly be added to the yearly round up.
I have just sat and watched delightedly as Manchester City thrashed Arsenal's under 15 team 3-0 in the quarter final of the League Cup. Tomorrow it is off to see my old friend Lizzie Reynolds in her new position as head teacher at Long Sutton school - my first visit there since 2005.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Dean Close School, Cheltenham & Henhayes OAP's!

Good King Hal, getting "jiggy wid der spriggy" at the Mistletoe Fayre. It didn't work.

After the joys of the Misteltoe Fayre I was up at the crack of dawn on a rainy and wind-blown Monday morning for a journey up the M5 to Cheltenham and a return for the 5th time to Dean Close School. It was good to be back and we had a lovely time. The morning session was full of fun and laughter, and there were some fabulous designs on the coat of arms that the children made. The main hall we were in was somewhat restricted for us by a huge stage poking out into the middle of the hall and a mass of chairs set up for a school production of "Godspell". Lunch at Dean Close was, as ever, wonderful. Pasta Bolognese, which for once with a school dinner was actually very very tasty and more-ish. I wolfed that down and then demolished a nice bowl of apple crumble and custard. Lovely! Because of the lack of space in the hall there was no room for a proper joust so instead I set up one set of quintane polls on the stage and the race was done purely as a time trial between two teams. The gents went first and posted a time of 1 minute and 19 seconds. Then it was the ladies turn. They did well but could only manage a time of 1 minute and 23 seconds. Therefore the score is now:
GENTLEMEN 8 - 12 LADIES
After re-loading the car I was on my way. The journey home was nice and, most importantly considering the recent weather, dry. If it had rained any more I was considering trading the Mazda in for a hovercraft, or even some water wings.
Today was nice and local - doing a talk to a pensioners group at the Henhayes Centre in Crewkerne. They had offered me travel expenses, but as I can virtually open my front door and fall into the Centre there seemed little point. I'd probably end up owing them money. The group was about 20 ladies and gents and they were all lovely and seemed to really enjoy it. I finished there, did some Christmas shopping in town and then headed for home.
Tomorrow I am back at The Maynard School in Exeter. I won't be able to add the result of the joust to the yearly school as, like Godstowe Prep in High Wycombe, this is an all-girls school. Thursday I am in Long Sutton in Somerset then this weekend I have my first appearances as Father Christmas at Leeds Castle - including the dreaded helicopter flight on Saturday. Watch this space for more...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Barrington Court Mistletoe Fayre 2009

Good King Hal today broke the World Record for clutching a piece of Mistletoe and NOT getting a kiss. His time of 4 years, 5 months, 16 days, 5 hours, 23 minutes and 6 seconds broke the previous record, also held by GKH by approximately 6 seconds.

Is it really a whole year since the last Mistletoe Fayre? Apparently it was. My parents had come down from their lovely new house in Wales to come and visit and over the previous days we had been up to Wells and then onto the Clarke's Shopping Village in Street, but now the weekend was here it was time for me to do my Tudor thing again. Mum and Dad came along on the first day, had a look round the stalls and then promptly disappeared off for a pub lunch. It was a slightly smaller selection of stalls than last year, but it was good to see the Blackdown Babes back in force and also the lovely Rachel Brewer, Barrington's very own "Pommellier". The first day was definitely the busiest, lots of hustle and bustle, plenty of people to meet and greet, and quite a few to pose for photos for. On both days the weather was pretty grim, but it really was unpleasant on the Sunday and I think this definitely affected the turn out, which was way down on the Saturday. Both days a Mummer's Play was performed by the Winsham Players, we were treated to more musicians on the Sunday which was very nice, and late on the Sunday afternoon I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to Trevor Peacock, famous for playing Jim in "The Vicar of Dibley" on BBC TV. He was a charming gentleman and we had a very pleasant chat for a few minutes before he was on his way.
My parents have now gone over to Kent to stay with my sister Cathy for a few days, I am back from the Fayre, tired but happy, and tomorrow morning, will I be off at the crack of dawn to Cheltenham for a return visit to Dean Close Prep? As Jim from "The Vicar of Dibley" would put it - no, no, no, no, no, no, no, YES.
The Fayre was another resounding success and once more proved what a great organiser and all round top gent Matthew Applegate is. As stated previously, the finest, most underrated, over worked, brilliant employee in SW England that the National Trust possess.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Dunster First School

Anne of Cleeves makeover was not a roaring success.

Dunster is a lovely, lovely school in a beautiful idyllic Somerset village. It really is one of my favourite places to visit. The school is wonderful, the children almost universally delightful, the teachers friendly and the head teacher is a wonderful man, even if he does support Arsenal Football Club. Still, no one's perfect.
The morning drive was largely uneventful but through some lovely countryside. I arrived in Dunster to hear the sound of the church bell tolling gently. I parked up behind the school and was welcomed by the caretaker, who was busy caring his take. We had a fine morning but without Nicola Gray my usual teaching companion here. She was off having a 20 week scan on her pregnancy, so I guess she had a good excuse! Instead there was a lovely supply teacher called Jo and we got on famously. There were laughs and jokes aplenty, lots of great Tudor knowledge and even a little boy who appeared to have been named after a dog in a cartoon (I won't say which one, in case I get in trouble with his parents). I had a lovely roast turkey lunch with the head teacher and was soon back in the hall for a rousing afternoon of more Tudor mayhem. The jousting was a close even contest but finally, a good very competent gents team ran out the winners. This now makes the score:
GENTLEMEN 7 - 12 LADIES
I have my parents staying with me for a few days and then this weekend it is the wonderful Misteltoe Fayre at Barrington Court run with brilliance as ever by the hugely underrated, underpaid and undervalued Matthew Applegate, the finest visitors services manager in the South West.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Nelson Junior, East Ham

Good King Hal, halfway through his ventriloquism act, ably supported by Saddam Hussein's balding brother.

Gor blimey! Strike a light, guvnor! Apples and pears, apples and pears! I have not never seen nuffink like it in all my puff! etc etc. But enough of this Dick van Dyke-isms. Yes folks, I was back in the East End - my old stamping ground. I lived in Stratford, London E15 from 1986 to the beginning of 1990 and have rarely been back since. My most regular visit if I do go back as Henry is to the lovely Nelson Junior School in Napier Road, East Ham. I had stayed in Basildon with Amanda and James the night before, and got up early to hit the jolly old A13 to my destination. A 25 minute journey actually took just over an hour - don't you just love the south east of England??? Even though the journey had taken a long time it was still too early for the school and so to get in the mood for things I stopped at a small cafe to buy some breakfast. To blend in I put on my Pearly King outfit and did the Lambeth Walk up to the counter. "Morning Princess" I chortled. "I reckon I'll be having me jellied eels and a mug of Rosie Lee, I perishing will. All together now WE'LL MEET AGAIN, DUM-DEE-DUM, DUM-DEE-DUMMMMM! Cor, luv a duck, them luftwaffe couldn't stop us, eh? Eh?" The Greek owner of the cafe looked at me in stoney silence. "Cup tea and a bacon roll please." I mumbled.
Nelson Junior is HUGE. It is a massive old Victorian building rising to four floors and has a main assembly hall on the first three floors. For once, the lovely Jo Dalton was not with us - she was now a Year 6 teacher and so I was left in the kind hands of Humaira Begum, an absolutely delightful lady. It was a big group, about 120 children and some of them were very challenging, but the day was fun, loud and full of laughs. After a fabulous lunch we had a brief jousting tournament, then a sing song and then a banquet for the children and me. Great fun! The jousting was very loud and exciting and ended with yet another win for the ladies. This brings the score to:
GENTLEMEN 6 - 12 LADIES
I went back to Basildon to see Amanda and James again - we had some lovely fish and chips to finish off the cockney motif to a tee. I then hit the road and headed back to Somerset. I got in about 10pm and slept like a log, but with less bark and wood worm. Tomorrow I am back off to Dunster School.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Corringham Primary & Oakfield Junior, Dartford

Good King Hal, trying to get Anne of Cleves round the back of the bike sheds. Hampton Court? No, he's just pleased to see her.

Two more shows in the south east. My first visit was to Corringham Primary School in...er...Corringham, near Basildon in Essex. I stayed with Amanda and James the night before and it was nice to see them. The following morning I was up relatively early and drove the short distance down to Corringham. I had no idea how this school had heard about me - and didn't discover until I met the head teacher. He had formerly been the head at Holly Trees Primary in Brentwood which I had visited on two previous occasions. It was lovely to see him again and slightly perturbing to find that he is slowly turning into Sven Goran Eriksson. I won't even begin to tell you who I thought his deputy looked like... The school itself was a delight. We had a great day with some very sparky fun children. They had some great knowledge and loved to join in the fun of the day. After a fine lunch it was on for the afternoon, and inevitably the ladies won the jousting tournament at a canter. This made the score:
GENTLEMEN 6 - 10 LADIES
After the show I drove down over the Dartford crossing to my sister's house near Sittingbourne. She, her husband and I shared a nice take away curry that evening and I was soon dozing off in their comfortable sofa. Time for bed...
The following morning I was up and out early and heading back for a forth visit to Oakfield Junior School in Dartford. The added excitement today was that I had Annalise and her chum from Rochester Cathedral coming along to watch the show and see how my sort of Henry day might fit in at their place. I got to the school to find an enormous building site and nowhere to park. I unloaded the car and then had to park it about half a mile up the road. Oakfield Junior is undergoing a regeneration of Doctor Who proportions. It already looks very impressive, but when finished it is going to be stunning. Sadly, my two friends from Rochester never turned up (there was an email waiting for me when I got home to say that at the last minute something had come up - poor things). We had a great morning with some of the kids in some brilliant Tudor costumes. Some of the children were a little challenging, but the morning went very well indeed. At lunch I changed and walked down to a local sandwich bar. Every year at Oakfield I go to this sandwich bar and every year I forget how unfriendly, rude and terrible they are. I was not disappointed this year. I should have made the most of it as apparently their outlet is closing. What a loss to the world of fine food. Perhaps Giles London should review them? (See Giles London Gets Stuffed at Blogspot!) The afternoon shot past and soon it was time for the joust and, yet again, the ladies triumphed. This now makes the score:
GENTLEMEN 6 - 11 LADIES
I intended to drive to Cath and Julian's again and wait for the rush hour to subside before hitting the road back to Somerset. I had a terrible journey to their place from Dartford as the M2 was closed after their junction, so everything was coming off at the A249. It took me nearly an hour longer than it should have to get to them. We had a nice dinner and then I hit the road just after 8pm. Everything was going swimmingly until I got near Mere as the A303 was closed in both directions and the Ministry of Transport had decided not to put any diversion signs in place. It was just like "this road is shut - find yer own way home!" I eventually drove down the A350 to Shaftesbury and picked up the A30 - a much slower route. I didn't get home till nearly 11.30pm. I have two days to get my flat tidy for visitors coming next week before I am back in the South East again for a visit to Nelson Primary in East Ham on Monday.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Amberley Parochial School

Good King Hal, desperate for funds, is reduced to busking for a group of disinterested Belgian midgets and their chums. He is seen here during his 15 hour rendition of the "Best of Emerson Lake and Palmer". He soon had the bus fare and a broken nose.

People who don't know the south west very well often comment to me that if I am working in Gloucestershire that I must be pleased as it is "nice and local". Wrong! Getting to Amberley, near Stroud took me over and hour and a half. The weather wasn't brilliant but it was at least an improvement on the Biblical floods of the weekend. Amberley is a very pretty little village and the school, sorry Parochial School, is, as the name suggests an old Victorian building at the heart of the community. However, once through the Victorian front there has been some amazing building work at the back and the hall I was working in was only about five years old, light and airy and perfect for the day.
It was due to be a group of just over 30 children today, but their numbers had been decimated by the severe colds currently rocketing round the country. 9 children were off at the start of the day, and we lost another one during the day. Therefore I didn't split this group up for the activities and we all stayed together for everything. It was a mixed group of year 3 and 4's and some of them had tremendous knowledge of the Tudors. The teachers were lovely and very welcoming, as they always seem to be at all the schools I visit.
After a fine morning, I had to nip out for a sandwich. Now I hasten to add here that I do get changed out of the Henry clobber before I unleash myself on the unsuspecting citizens of the fine country. The local petrol station had a great selection of sandwiches, but only if you liked egg and bacon. That was all that they had. So I ummed and ahhhed and eventually plumped for....egg and bacon! Good job I didn't have an egg intolerance or was Jewish.
The afternoon was great fun and for the jousting finale we were joined by the children from year 2 who cheered along through a great tournament. The gents snatched another victory to claw the score back to:
GENTLEMEN 6 - 9 LADIES
It's getting close! Today I am driving up to Essex for a visit to Corringham tomorrow, and then I am off to Oakfield School in Dartford, Kent on Thursday.

Friday, November 13, 2009

BBC Somerset - Have Your Say

Good King Hal studies the situations vacant in the Tudor Times as a brazen young alcoholic indulges in some serious turps-nudging.

Ah, a delightful rain filled gale blowing morning of greyness almost unparalleled. And here I was up bright and early and off to Taunton for yet another appearance on Emma Britton's wonderful Have Your Say show on BBC Somerset. I sailed through the rain flecked streets and parked behind my old workplace of Debenhams' head office. I was to be on with a very nice young lady from a PR company based in West Lambrook near Shepton Beauchamp. While we were sitting in the green room waiting to be called down to the studio I heard the on air show mention that Steve Minnit from Somerset County Museum was on right now, talking about the gold finds from the Priddy Treasure as it is known - a stunning collection of bronze age gold jewellery discovered by a metal detectorist in the Somerset village of Priddy. I wandered down to the studio, and as he came out I said a big hello to Steve. He showed me some of the collection that he had brought with him - it was stunning and very humbling to be that close to something so old and precious - and I don't mean Steve.
The show itself was fun and we discussed how people should deal with anti-social behaviour. Some of the suggestions from frothing at the mouth Daily Mail readers who phoned in, included sending them all over to Afghanistan to help clear mine fields, birching them, and one very hard line lady even suggested they should all be "shot in the face" - I kid you not. Anyway, the rest of the show was fun and can still be listened to for the next week on the BBC Somerset listen again button on their website. (www.bbc.co.uk/somerset)
I stopped off in Ilminster on the way back for a late breakfast at Bilby's, which was very nice and I am now having a lazy day with the old 1960 version of "The Time Machine" on TCM Channel, Rod Taylor being frequently grabbed by the Morlocks, which would bring tears to any one's eyes. He also seems to spend an inordinate amount of time running around with Yvette Mimieux and shouting the word "Wiener!" at the top of his voice. Dirty boy.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Gorleston & South Witham

Good King Hal and Anne of Cleeves being attacked by a large red Triffid, yesterday, about tea time.

The idyll couldn't last. A nice couple of days in Essex soon turned into something a lot worse as I came down with a horrendous cold. I kept most of it at bay with frequent doses of Lemsip - tastes disgusting but it does the trick. On the Tuesday morning I had to get up at the crack of dawn and head up the A12 and into the familiar lands of Norfolk. I was going back to Gorleston on the southern outskirts of Great Yarmouth - but to a different school to the one I normally go to. So it was that I arrived on a foggy damp morning at the deliciously named Herman Junior in Gorleston. Herman Junior sounds like a character from The Munsters. I had been booked by the lovely Rebecca who had been a teacher and seen me a few times on my visits to Martham Junior. It was a big group today, nearly 90 children, and they were very excitable and many of them had dressed up in fabulous Tudor costumes. We had a good morning, a lovely lunch and then the afternoon went virtually ballistic as the children really found their voices for the jousting tournament. It was another very closely run thing, but this time, as seems to be more generally the case, it was the ladies who romped to a fine victory. The score after Herman was then:
GENTLEMEN 4 - 9 LADIES
I left Gorleston but instead of heading back to Essex or Somerset, I struck out east along the A47 and my second destination of the week - South Witham in Lincolnshire. I had visited South Witham a couple of years back as my old friend Val Smart lives there so it would be good to catch up with her and her family. I was booked into the Blue Cow Pub which I found nice and easily after a two hour drive from Norfolk. The Blue Cow is a little...ahem...frugal? It is not a luxurious country pub, but a bit of an old boozer with a few slightly grotty rooms to rent above. My room was a single, which meant it had two single beds in it, plus a crunchy carpet which hadn't seen a vacuum cleaner in quite a while, various old used tissues dotted around the room, and a pile of magazines for the guest to read, including a couple of copies of the Daily Express from August 2008. However, the host was genial, friendly and honest, the beer was sensational (they brew it on site) and the cooked breakfast both mornings was damn fine as well. It looks like the Blue Cow is mooooo-ving in the right direction. God that was an awful joke. The first night at South Witham I met up with Val and we first went to see her daughter Bonnie and her husband Alex and their family, before going on to the White Lion in Colsterworth where we had a sensational meal.
The following day I had the very short trip from the crunchy floors of the Blue Cow to the nice bright front door of South Witham Junior School. This was a fabulous day - great fun, a lively bunch of children crossing the classes of year 3, 4 and 5. It was a fun full day, lots of laughs and jokes with some brilliant children, lovely teachers and a charming head teacher as well. The afternoon session was robust, lively and loud and after a thrilling tournament the gents finally managed to pull one back!
GENTLEMEN 5 - 9 LADIES
After the show I met up with Val and her family again and we had a nice Chinese Takeaway and more laughs and fun.
This morning I had another brilliant breakfast at the Blue Cow, said goodbye to Val and headed off down to Somerset. It took me just under four hours to get back, some of it through outrageously bad weather. But it was nice to be back after over a week away. Tomorrow I am down to BBC Somerset and another appearance on Emma Britton's show. Have a listen if you can!

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Canterbury Cathedral

Good King Hal, mere nanoseconds before being savagely hoofed in the shins by another delighted fan.

Visit Kent came calling again! They have been very good to me of late with them using me at shows at such diverse places as Dover Cruise Terminal, the ExCel Arena in London and the Kent County Showground at Detling. Today was another new place for me to visit for them, and that was Canterbury Cathedral. It was a promotional reception for English Teachers based in the Calais area of France and encouraging them to bring school visits to the county of Kent for their pupils. I had been requested to be at the Cathedral by 11.30am for a photo shoot at 12 noon. I duly arrived just after 11am to be told that things were "over running a smidgen" and that the photographer for the shoot had already come and gone. I got changed into my Henry gear and was then taken to a "Green Room" to sit and wait to be called. I had a small speech they wanted me to give, welcoming these people to Canterbury, and then the idea was that each of the 150 or so teachers would be given a number, there was a number of stalls advertising different attractions in the Kent area ranging from Chatham Dockyards, Charles Dickens World, Hever Castle, Penshurst Place etc. to apple orchards and Kentish websites, they would have five minutes with each stall, I would then blow a whistle and ask them to move to the next stall - a sort of business expo version of speed dating really. Finally I was informed that I wouldn't be needed until 1.30pm. So I sat down for a rest only to be called outside for a photo shoot with a different photographer. With that I went back to the Green Room to find some food had been brought for me. It was smoked salmon and cream cheese on half a bagel. I HATE smoked salmon, but it seemed the only thing coming so, through gritted teeth I ate it. I had just finished the last agonising mouth full when another bloke came in with another plate of food for me. Doh! This was all very nice and I scoffed that quite happily.
Finally I was brought into the main hall area, but there was no need for me to do announcements and blow a whistle or two as, after their lunch, most of the French teachers had decided to go into Canterbury for some retail therapy. Eventually a load of them came back and wandered round the stalls and I did my usual circulation of the room, chatting, flirting, having a laugh or two with them. It was nice to see some old friends from Hever Castle and Penshurst Place, plus also Anna and chum from Rochester Cathedral. However by shortly after 3pm most of the French folk had wandered off. By 3.30pm stall holders were putting things away and it seemed time to head for the car. I drove to Cathy and Julian's for a couple of hours, so the rush hour could die down, and then after that it was up to Basildon to see Amanda and James again.
Next week I am off to Norfolk on Tuesday for a school at Gorleston, then on Wednesday I am up to South Witham in Lincolnshire for a visit to the village school there. It will also be a nice chance to see Agent 99 again!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Brighstone, Isle of Wight

Good King Hal attempting to swap Barrington Court for a jar of chutney, while Matthew Applegate's wife Sue does a very good Tommy Cooper impression. Taken during Chutfest.
Vectis! Proud proud Vectis! Such memories! Childhood holidays in Lake, endless drizzle, kite flying on Culver Cliff and, more recently, staggering back to the mainland after slightly over-doing it in the Yacht Haven during Skandia sponsored Cowes week. Back in April I did my first school visit to the Isle of Wight when I visited Haylands Junior in Ryde. The deputy head that day, a very nice young blond lady, has since moved and is now one of the youngest head teachers in England and is at Brighstone School near Freshwater on the west side of the island. She had recommended me to the teachers of this new school, hence my booking.
I had booked my ferry on-line before half term (which was very pleasant by the way, including various long drives up and down the M4 to Wales and Essex and back again) and was due to catch the 6.45am sailing from Lymington to Yarmouth. I left Crewkerne at about 5.20am but my sat nav said I only had a slim chance of making it to the ferry on time. I did well though and soon after passing Dorchester I was ahead of time, only to be stuck behind a succession of incredibly slow drivers, but I still felt confident I would make it. Wrong! I arrived at the ferry terminal just in time to see my ship slowly easing out into the Solent. I enquired in the office as to the time of the next sailing - 7.45am was the answer. It would have been a lot sooner but they had just that week changed their timetable to the winter sailings, so they don't go as regularly (they should eat more All Bran). I think the expression rhymes with brass poles. I was eventually on the ferry and enjoying the bright morning sunshine as we slid out of the harbour and across the bottle green waters of the Solent.
I soon found the school after a short drive down the island. It was a delightful village school and I was warmly welcomed by the lovely and friendly teachers. I would be talking to a group consisting of years 2, 3 and 4, but in total, less than 50 children. They started off quietly, but by heck, when they got going there was no stopping them. They loved it, laughing, joking and really getting involved. It was a pleasure to talk to them. After a splendid lunch of roast pork followed by apple strudel, I was soon back in the hall for the afternoon session. More laughs, more riotous fun, especially when talking about the stocks. I asked the children what did they think the Tudors would throw at someone in the stocks - one of the answers was "a donkey" which for some reason left me helpless with laughter at the thought of it. The year one's came in to watch the final jousting tournament and it was one of the best for years. The final went to two tie-breakers before the gentlemen finally snatched victory. This now leaves the year long score as:
GENTLEMEN 4 - 8 LADIES
The results are looking more interesting now.
The journey back was dreadful. When I arrived at Yarmouth there was a ferry waiting at the dockside. About half an hour later the ferry was still waiting at the dockside, and so were all of us travellers. Finally we got on board. It was a fairly choppy crossing but we didn't dock in Lymington until nearly smack on 5pm. The traffic home was terrible and I didn't get into the flat at Crewkerne until near 7pm. Very tired. Watched CSKA Moscow very nearly beat the crap out of Manchester United, which was fun - if only they could have hung on. And then to bed, where I slept like a large piece of timber cut from a tree trunk.
Next appearance is on Friday at Canterbury Cathedral in Kent.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Latest Santa News

Leeds Castle, and not a hint of Henry's chopper anywhere.

Just a quick one this time folks. I have just been chatting to the sainted Darlene at Leeds Castle about my upcoming stint as Father Christmas in December. On my first day (5th December) apparently there will be a little girl with me who has won a prize to open Father Christmas' grotto this year. Not only that, she and I will be arriving at Leeds Castle by helicopter! How exciting. Apart from the fact that I have never been in a helicopter before and I am therefore really hoping that I won't get air sick and end up blowing chunks all over this poor child. There is nothing more likely to give a child a complex about Christmas than by having Santa yelling Ralph and Huey at her from close range in a helicopter cock-pit. I have never got air-sick in a plane, so fingers crossed I can hang on to breakfast.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pub Quiz and Parkfield

Good King Hal, Good Queen Bess and Will Somers from page 462 of the new Kays Catalogue.



For the third year running I was hosting the annual South Somerset National Trust Pub Quiz at the Royal Oak Pub in Barrington. The first year I ran the quiz I was very proud of my questions thinking they were good and hard. At the end an elderly lady came up to me from the audience, shook my hand and thanked me for making the questions so easy. I was miffed. I was annoyed. My male ego had been pricked. The following year I really went for it - some of the questions were practically impossible. By halfway through the quiz some members of the audience had actually attempted suicide rather than go on with the brain cell hammering they were receiving. At the end some of the audience complained about how tough the quiz was. So for the third year I had to pitch it at just the right level, and after the show ended I think I got it about right. The winning team and second place were only one point apart at the end. The winning team's score was 85 points - however there was another team of youngsters from the kitchens at Barrington Court and their final score was 14. Bless. Matthew Applegate and co seemed very pleased. Even the Visitors Services Manager from Montacute seemed impressed, but I still have about as much chance of beating Usain Bolt over 100 metres as I have of this bloke giving me a chance to do a show at the House.

Wednesday morning had me up and early off into Taunton for a return visit to Parkfield Junior and it's wonderfully original Head Teacher - Mr Sides. It was great to see everyone again and we had a really wonderful time with some great children. Their costumes were all brilliant and they had some fabulous knowledge of Tudor times. Everyone seemed to have a good time, and after a very pleasant lunch we launched into the afternoon session. Much noise, lots of shouting and laughter, and the jousting session was another great one. Once more the ladies sealed a memorable triumph which makes the scores now:
GENTLEMEN 3 - 8 LADIES
Parkfield is one of my favourite schools - great kids, lovely teachers and one of the most idiosyncratic Heads you can meet anywhere. Wonderful. Half term now - taking James to stay up at my parent's in Wales for a few days then back with a trip to the Isle of Wight in early November!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Elmhurst Junior, Aylesbury

Good King Hal, explaining nicely to a youngster that pointing and laughing at Anne of Cleves is HIS job, and no one elses...


After all the rushing about at the end of last week, on Saturday, just for a change I did lots of rushing about. I was up early and out of the door to drive up to Wales and visit my parents at Newcastle Emlyn as they had some old friends from Essex staying, Ros and Mike Bloomfield from Great Dunmow. I arrived in time for brekkie, which was pretty good going. After this, and with the weather being bright and not too chilly, in the afternoon we drove up to the pretty waterfalls at Cenarth for a wander about. We had a wander about, marvelled at the beauty of the waterfalls and snapped a few photos. Like this one:


The falls at Cenarth, and not a coracle in sight.

We went back to my parents place and were then joined by my sister Sue and her other half Ian before heading out for dinner. We went to a lovely little pub/restaurant called The Daffodil in the village of Penrhiwllan (try saying that to a taxi driver when you've had a few). Going up to order some drinks I suddenly realised that I recognised the girl working behind the bar - her name was Carol and I used to work with her at Skandia Life in Southampton, what seems like a lifetime ago. How weird is life? You go all the way to the back of beyond in a small Welsh village, pick a restaurant almost at random and find someone you used to work with in a city hundreds of miles away working at the restaurant! Just to prove that this event really happened, here is a truly horrific photo of me with the lovely Carol.

Mike Farley (Good King Hal) and Carol, both former Skandia employees, hiding in Wales during the official opening of Mr Farley's second chin.
We had a fantastic meal and Carol and her staff treated us like Royalty, which happens to me all the time of course. All too soon it was Sunday and I was heading back to Somerset. Monday morning saw me up at the crack of dawn and hacking down the now familiarly dark A303 towards a visit to a new school - Elmhurst Junior in the town of Aylesbury, famous for it's ducks and Marillion - and in that order. I was greeted by the charming deputy head, a very nice Welshman from Pembrokeshire. It was a big group today- about 100 children, covering the year groups 3, 4 and 5. We had a really fun exciting day - lots of laughs for the children in the morning, some great Tudor knowledge on display and some really cool teachers - especially the lovely blond lady I pretended to behead and then added insult to injury by suggesting her Tudor outfit made her look like a crew member of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek. After a delicious lunch we were back in the hall. I had the delight of putting Mrs De Wolfe, the head teacher in the stocks, before we had a riotous jousting session. Now I thought they had been noisy at Chandlers Ford on Friday but today - wow. Just deafening. They roared, they cheered, they screamed - it was ear mufflingly noisy! And what a tournament! Another win for the gents!

GENTLEMEN 3 - 7 LADIES

Well done guys, that looks a bit better. The rest of the school joined us just after the joust for a quick get together and few more laughs, but then I was on my way. I finally got home to Crewkerne just after 6pm and I am very grateful that I have tomorrow off. However, tomorrow evening is the annual National Trust Pub Quiz over at Barrington with me hosting it again at the Royal Oak Pub. Should be fun. My next Henry show is on Wednesday at the lovely Parkfield Junior in Taunton.








Friday, October 16, 2009

Knightwood Junior, Chandlers Ford

Henry VIII going on the Mother and Father of all camping trips. (Sponsored by Millets).

Back to one of my favourite schools today! Knightwood Junior at Chandlers Ford near Southampton is a lovely school and, architecturally, quite stunning. The main hall has high swooping roofs that soar up to a dizzying height. They remind me of the sort of hurricane-proof buildings you see in places in parts of the Caribbean, but I think hurricane activities are quite rare in Hampshire. Anyway, on previous visits to this school I have been caught up in terrible traffic in the last few miles, so I left about 10 minutes earlier than normal. It was amazing - I sailed through, to the extent that I arrived at the school at just before 8am. I was greeted by Lee the caretaker, one of the nicest men you could ever want to meet. I was soon set up in the hall and ready to go. They were a lovely group of children this year if a little bit quieter than previous visits. One moment of delight was when I was asking the group what the name of Henry VIII's first born son was (Henry is the answer if you didn't know - the child died very early on) and a little girl in the front row raised her hand and told me very confidently that the child was called Theo. Theo? What the...? Anyway...
A nice salad lunch was followed by an early start to the afternoon session as I had to be out of the hall by 2.30pm for an assembly. The jousting was one of the loudest and most exciting I have seen in many a year. The crowd watching were all on their feet screaming, clapping, shouting and jumping up and down. It was astoundingly loud and very exciting and the ladies romped away with another victory, to make the score now:
GENTLEMEN 2 - 7 LADIES
Quite unbelievable. I am off to Wales briefly this weekend to see my parents, but on Monday I am back on the road again with another show at a new school in Aylesbury.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

St Paul's Junior, Shepton Mallet

Good King Hal, just checking that Katherine Parr is definitely dead.

Shepton Mallet? Sounds like Timmy Mallet's camp older brother. This was a nice return visit to a really lovely school. St Paul's in Shepton Mallet is virtually right in the centre of the town, but still has the feel of a leafy suburban school with plenty of greenery and a lovely old building it is housed in. I arrived virtually spot on 8am and, despite efforts to get in through the front door, I was eventually granted access via the side door by one of the teachers who was arriving. It was to be two schools combined today - year four from St Paul's, plus a group of year three's from St Aldhelm's School from Doulting near Shepton. The morning session was lively and fun, the kids were very sparky and excitable and seemed to really get into the whole Tudor fun day scenario.
I spent the lunch break chatting to a group of young ladies who had seen my show at St Paul's two years previously and were now in their last year at the school. The afternoon was wild and lively and ended with a really good jousting contest. We had a small tournament first for the children from St Aldhelm's, which the ladies won, but the main tournament was a much louder affair and ended with... a win for... The Gentlemen again! Two in two days! This makes the score a now slightly more respectable:
GENTLEMEN 2 - 6 LADIES
Let's see how it pans out tomorrow at Knightwood School in Chandler's Ford. It was a really lovely day at St Paul's today and a big thank you to Mrs Kennedy who organised the whole thing. What a nice lady she is!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

South Green, Billericay & Blean, Kent

Good King Hal playing "Spot the Next Queen" Competition. He won a years supply of prunes, two episodes of the Jeremy Kyle Show and a 1991 Vauxhall Senator with 156,782 miles on the clock. He complained to the judges and was sent to bed with slapped legs and no supper.

A lovely weekend with Amanda and James in Essex. My son is rapidly getting up to Olympic Standard on Mario Cart on the Wii console. We had some great fun with that. Monday morning dawned cold and bright and I was on my way with the short journey to Billericay and a return visit to South Green School. I started the day off with a fabulous faux pas. Signing in at the office there were two ladies in there, I chatted to them while signing in. They were making lots of suggestions about how the day should go, which I thought was a bit odd and really it should be up to the teachers to make the decisions, not a couple of ladies in the office. I told them this. They looked at me strangely and then told me slowly, as if explaining to an idiot, that they were the teachers. Ah. Sorry. Good start.
We had a fantastic day at this lovely lovely school. The children were fantastic - really enthusiastic and excitable, and the teachers were equally welcoming and charming. The quiz and the coat of arms were particularly good. After a delicious pasta lunch we had a brilliantly fun afternoon. Once again I gave the boys team a pep talk before their jousting final. And predictably it ended with the ladies once more walking off with the win. Current score after Billericay was:
GENTLEMEN 0 - 6 LADIES
Amazing. After leaving the school I headed on down over the Dartford crossing to my sister's house in Stockbury near Sittingbourne. We had a nice relaxing evening and it was good to see my brother-in-law Julian starting his new job after being made redundant a while back. In the morning I drove down the M2 and A2 to Blean, near Canterbury for my 6th visit to this wonderful school. As ever the entire group were done up in some brilliant Tudor costumes, there was laughs a plenty through the morning session. Another lovely lunch followed and we were then moved down to the main hall for the afternoon. There was a group of the young ladies who reckoned that the talk about Tudor crime and punishment was too much for them and held hands at the back of the hall with eyes sticking out like organ stops. They had managed to cope with bucket fulls of poo being chucked around in the morning, but not Tudor torture! They soon forgot their squeamishness when the jousting started and once more we seemed to have a brilliant ladies team, but somehow the gents finally managed to string some moves together and at last....the Gents won a tournament! This now makes the score:
GENTLEMEN 1 - 6 LADIES
Not quite so embarrassing as before. I was due to meet Sue Marsh et al from Skandia down in Southampton today, but it has had to be postponed due to heavy colds amongst some of the Skandia crew! So I drove back to Somerset today and tomorrow I am up at St Paul's School in Shepton Mallet again.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Balliol Lower School, Kempston

Good King Hal shows another delighted fan a thrilling new cure for a sore throat.

I thought I had got up early on Monday to go to North Cheam. 4am? 4?? AM?? There should be a law against such hours existing. I headed out into the damp dark morning and made excellent time. I was doing so well that my sat nav reckoned I would be at the school by about 7am! Wow! I could park up, grab a sandwich and a paper, maybe even have a snooze to off set the tiredness of starting so early. That was the idea anyway. I had forgotten about the Department of Transports quite brilliant idea to dig up ALL of Bedford and it's surrounds, close off loads of roads and install average speed check cameras everywhere. Added to this it was raining like mad and of course it was slowly getting closer and closer to rush hour. Therefore all dreams I had of getting to Kempston early and having a bit of shut eye in the car were crushed by the final 10 miles into the town as the traffic ground to a halt, all the roads I needed to turn off were closed and suddenly an hour had gone by. I arrived at the school at just after 8am. Still not bad for such a long journey, but not early enough to warrant a snooze.
I was warmly welcomed as ever at this lovely school. I had a cup of tea brought to me and I set up in the hall. I had been pre-warned that the group I would be seeing were a bit...er...immature. But they were mostly very good. As a year three group they struggled a little bit with the talky opening bit, but more than came into their own with the more physical side of the afternoon activities. Before the jousting I gave the boys a bit of a pep talk letting them know that not a single boys team had yet won any of the tournaments this term. I urged them to be aware that they had to win for the sake of all the boys of this World. So you can guess what happened next, can't you. The score now reads:
GENTLEMEN 0 - 5 LADIES
This is getting embarrassing. Their next chance to redress the balance is next Monday at South Green in Billericay in Essex. I will keep you posted on that one!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

St Cecillia's, North Sutton, Surrey

On re-reading my blog from years gone by I realise how boring I am. I use the same jokes over and over and over. Check out my previous write ups about visits to St Cecillia's School in Sutton in Surrey. Every single time I say "you wouldn't want to try and say that with a lisp!" And here I am typing it again. I promise I will NEVER, EVER repeat that joke. Not until I do the same school again next year, obviously.
After the rigours of the Chut Fest over the weekend it was a bit of a shock when my alarm went off at 4.30am. I was up showered, shaved and shomething elshe and out of the front door by 5am. The early part of the drive was fine as it was on the A303 which was mostly deserted, but as soon as I got to the M3 it all changed. Even at 6.30am it was packed. How can people do this every single day of their lives? Things were made worse by lots of roadworks, so I had the distinctly odd feeling of actually being glad to see the M25 when I got there.
It was nice to be back at St Cecillia's. It is amazing, but this lovely little school in North Cheam is the school I have visited the most since becoming Henry VIII full time. This was my 6th visit in total. As ever it was a very friendly welcome from everyone, from the lovely caretaker onwards. The children had all dressed in fantastic costumes and were a delight to talk to - even if they were a little quiet in comparison with some of the groups I have worked with at St Cecillia's in the past. The afternoon was a real riot of fun and games, and the jousting was of a very high standard. And the result - I know you are all waiting for that. Well.... the ladies romped to ANOTHER victory. This now makes the score a quite remarkable:
GENTLEMEN 0 - 4 LADIES
Come on, Gents! This is just not good enough. Let's see how things pan out tomorrow. I have another very early morning start as I am off up to Balliol Lower School in Kempston again for a third visit. Should be fun, if tiring!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Chut Fest 2009 Day Two!

Dateline: Sunday 4th October 2009. Place: Barrington Court National Trust Property, South Somerset. Event: Chut Fest 2009, Day Two. Status: Packed to the point of exploding and even more people trying to get in.
As I drove into Barrington Court this morning, the main car park was full - the overflow car park in the orchard was also packed and as I drove round the back of the property people were beginning to park up on the avenue. The rear car park for performers and exhibitors was equally full, so I chose to park in front of one of the volunteers cars. Her name is Maggie and she drives a very recognisable mark 1 Cortina and is always there working long hours, so I knew I wouldn't have to move the car at any time. Wrong. She was leaving at 2pm. Thankfully Matthew Applegate kindly moved the car for me as I couldn't possibly drive my car whilst in full Henry robes.
As far as the exhibition goes there was an early morning surge where every room was packed out. I was interviewed at some point by a journalist from The Lady Magazine. Hopefully I might get a mention at some point. As far as the food goes I tried a wonderful fruit cheese on one of the stalls - made from compressed damsons. Absolutely gorgeous. I also purchased some delicious Swiss Chard Chutney from Barrington Court's own gardens. Outrageously wonderful.
Tomorrow it is time for another up at the crack of dawn moments and an early morning drive up to St Cecillia's School in Sutton in Surrey for my SIXTH annual visit to this lovely school. Early night tonight.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Chut Fest 2009 Day One!

Barrington Court this morning, mere seconds before 2 million chutney fiends descended on the place.
Chut Fest 2009 has seemed to be a forthcoming attraction for such a long time that it sort of almost crept up on me unnoticed. But here it was, the day itself. I headed over just after 11am this morning - I was initially held up as for some completely unknown reason Crewkerne High Street (which I had to drive through) was utterly gridlocked, however on getting past that I then had to run the gauntlet of National Trust Volunteers helping with the parking at Barrington Court. All I wanted to do was park round the back so I was close to my dressing room, but they were most insistent that I park at the front. But I finally got where I wanted to go. I changed and headed out into the festival itself. My God! What a turnout! It was packed. There were stalls aplenty, some selling things like home made sausages and bacon, some selling handmade cards and pretty bags, plus cheese from various farms, cider from Barrington itself, plus lots and lots of chutney, pickles and jams. Matthew Applegate was in fine form and I soon found out from his lovely wife Sue that it was his birthday this very day! I chatted to a lot of the volunteers there and spent some time having a laugh and joke with Barrington's very own "Pommelier" - Rachel Brewer. A few teachers from different schools I had visited turned up, which was very nice. And then there was also a visit from the lovely Julie Carney from Castle Junior in Stoke-sub-Hamdon. All in all, it was a fantastic day for the first time and hopefully there will be more fun and frolics on day two tomorrow! See you then.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Another Hell of a Week...

Good King Hal, roasting his chestnuts by the fire in Rochester Cathedral Library (next to the Jackie Collins section).

After the bewildering week of tearing up and down the country and heading to Paris to meet Mickey Mouse you'd think I would choose a nice relaxing week wouldn't you? Wrong! The Friday saw me driving back down to see my sister Cathy and her husband Julian in Kent. On the Saturday I was due at Rochester Cathedral again, this time to do a very passable impersonation of Jools Holland. This is not as insane as it may sound. Rochester were launching their new audio tour guide section, and this had been narrated by Jools as he is a "Friend" of Rochester Cathedral (i.e. a patron and supporter). He had also been asked to come along and open the new tourist aid. He couldn't make it and so I had been asked to come along and open the audio tour in his place. It was a pleasure. I parked right outside the North Door as I had before and was soon in the impressive old Cathedral Library changing into my Henry gear. It was a bit off-putting, baring your legs and other bits in front of stern looking oil paintings of Cathedral Deans from the past, but then I am sure they saw far worse things in Victorian times. But then again...
Soon I was out in the Cathedral chatting to people and meeting the current Dean, a lovely chap called Adrian who apparently as a young priest used to work in Forest Gate in the East End of London, not too far from my old stamping grounds of Stratford and Plaistow. A ribbon was place round the desk where tourists could pick up their audio guide, I was handed some scissors by the lovely Annie from the Dean and Chapter Office, I made a nice little speech to the congregated people and then happily sliced through the ribbon. About two seconds later the photographer from the Kent Messenger appeared and moaned that he was a little late and could I cut the ribbon again. So we had to tie up the bit I had cut, I had to hold it in my left hand to stop it being seen in the picture and then cut the ribbon again. I was then also asked to pop a bottle of champagne. We were standing right under a big impressive chandelier and I had visions of the cork pin-balling it's way through the crystal and us being showered with broken glass. Therefore I lowered the trajectory of the bottle and fired it off. The cork rocketed across the vast expanse of the Cathedral and was caught spectacularly by a well placed curate. Well held, your reverence. I wandered round the cathedral for another few hours, chatting with people, but then at about 2.30pm I was on my way.
I drove up to Essex to stay with Amanda and James again. We had a nice Sunday at leisure. Monday was a very early start and off up to Taverham School in Norfolk. I was at Taverham last year and it was just as good this time around. A really lovely school, great teachers and fabulous children. We had a really fun exhausting day and lots of good Tudor knowledge was had, and plenty of laughs. The ladies inevitably won the jousting again, so the score now stands at:
GENTLEMEN 0 - 3 LADIES
I had the Tuesday and Wednesday at leisure which was nice as I could pick up James from school both days. It was slightly less fun on the Wednesday as I had to wait for him and his school mates to get back from an outing to the Science Museum in London. This wouldn't normally be too bad but his coach was about half an hour late, and so I had to sit in the playground with the other parents who, as they didn't really know who I was, treated me like a leper in their midst. I was blanked to an Olympic standard. Soon James was back and very excited. I asked him if he had seen anything exciting on his day out. He thought for a bit and then told me that his mate Victor had fallen asleep on the coach. Not quite what I was expecting.
Thursday was another early day and a return visit to Godstowe Prep School in High Wycombe. We had another really lovely day at this wonderful school. True there was the usual early morning running of the gauntlet of avoiding being killed by fleets of brand new 4x4 vehicles the size of the USS Nimitz, each disgorging one small child in uniform right by the front door, but that is just a minor quibble. The main hall we were in had lights that were on a time switch which is movement activated. So if we were still for too long the room would be plunged into gloom. I soon had all the children jumping up and down waving their arms about each time this happened, which was quite often! I would give you a result on the jousting, but as it is an all girls school you can guess that the ladies won again, but I can't really add it to the year long score.
I headed for home and was finally back in Somerset by about 5.30pm. Next up in the Henry's never ending progress is the long awaited Chut Fest at Barrington Court this weekend. Come and join us on both the Saturday and the Sunday. Arrive early to avoid the jam. (Ba-doom-tish). (Good King Hal is available for cabaret, masonics, bah mitzvah and target practice).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

That Was One Hell of a Week That Was Part Four (and the last)

Good King Hal (5th from the left) had a feeling he would be explaining this scene to his therapist for years to come.
And so, after belting around up to Penrith, then Essex, then Kent, then Disneyland, Paris, it was back to Essex for a brief stop and then down to Somerset again. On the Friday evening I was to do my one man "Henry's Horrid History" show at Barrington Court. We had tried running this show a couple of times in the past. The first time it had been a last minute organisation and had involved slapping posters in local shops and me wandering around Ilminster with a load of fliers handing them out to bewildered pensioners. It hadn't gone badly - about half full. The second time around some nameless twit over at Montacute House completely forgot to include the show in the "What's On" section of the local National Trust area hand out. Consequently we had to cancel the show as no one booked at all. GRRRRR! This time around all had been included in the local "What's On.." , I had also slapped up posters in a lot of local shops and many of the people I had met at my previous two walkabouts at Barrington had said they were coming back. So you can guess the turnout on the night. Yup, about half full again. Arse. But the audience seemed to really enjoy the show, they laughed heartily, joined in and Matthew Applegate at Barrington Court was a very happy chap. It would have been nice to a have filled the place up, but we did our best. And fighting apathy has always been difficult and thankless.
I am back off to Rochester Cathedral this weekend for a ribbon cutting ceremony, and then I have schools in Norfolk and Buckinghamshire to do later in the week. And then - Chutfest '09 at Barrington Court. Watch this space.

Monday, September 21, 2009

That Was One Hell of a Week That Was Part Three

My son James, with the new Conservative Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for some posh place in the south east.4
Disneyland! Paris! What, little old me? Who'd have thought it. After our previous day with the family in Kent, on the Monday morning my brother-in-law Julian drove Amanda, James and I down to Ashford and the international train station there. We were to spend three nights and four days at the resort in Paris and James, being six years old, was rather excited. Almost as excited as Amanda and I really.
Our opening experiences of Eurostar were not the most favourable. For a start you had to get about 600 passengers down to the platform and the train via one rather small lift. We are then all waiting to board our train when an officious French lady clutching a clipboard informs us that all the baggage racks on these coaches were full already and we would have to put all our suitcases in the baggage coach. She sprints off down the platform with us tottering after her, some of us pulling cases the size of steamer trunks. Our cases are literally flung into a storage area and we walk back up the platform to our coach. Imagine our slight sense of humour failure when we get into our coach and find all of the baggage racks completely empty. We hammer through the tunnel and then down over the bland flat lands of north France. Just outside the station for Disneyland we are held up for about ten minutes because of a "security alert". Eventually we are in the station and begin trying to find which coach has our suitcases in it. Myself and some other chaps find our coach and have to virtually break into it to get to the cases. We then have to queue up for the Disneyland Express service which involves them taking our cases off us, we go straight to the fun park and our cases are then taken onto our hotel so we will find our stuff when we get there.
The park and everything in it are just as you would expect. Fun, fun, fun and capitalism run wild. There are hundreds of little shops, but it soon dawns on you that they all sell exactly the same stuff as each other. Some of the rides are particularly brilliant - Pirates of the Caribbean was great fun, the Star Wars "Star Tours" was mind blowing, and we had great delight in doing the Buzz Lightyear Lazer Blast game every single day!
Late afternoon on the first day we book into the hotel. The charming lady on the reception asks if we will be using the minibar - I have been warned off minibars for years past, and I was right to follow my instincts. In the minibar a tiny tube of Pringles crisps were 5 Euros. 5 EUROS? That's about £4.50. For a couple of the nights we ate in the Inventions Restaurant in the Hotel and their evening buffet was amazing. Langoustines, huge pacific prawns, medallions of beef in a sour cream sauce, beef bourguinon, scallop terrine, all wonderful high quality food, but as they had to cater for children there was even fun stuff like spaghetti and meat balls and even breaded chicken shapes and funny faces potato wedges. We did get stung on the first night. We were on a half-board option, so all our evening meals were paid for, however our drinks were extra. On this first night I ordered Amanda two glasses of house white wine and me two glasses of house red wine. These four glasses of wine cost me 36 Euros. On our second night we went to see the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show in the Disney Village - great fun, very touristy and very silly. But we all enjoyed it, even James who was delighted to receive a free stetson hat during the show which he could keep.
We had a fabulous, exhausting time and really only became completely saccharined out on the final afternoon. For me the funniest thing to see for the whole week was a family group we would see occasionally with lots of young children, a mum and dad, and a sallow faced miserable teenager, defiantly wearing a series of Slipknot t-shirts and desperately trying to remain looking cool while all the other members of his family are wearing Mickey Mouse ears.
James had his photo taken with Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Goofy, Tigger, Ee-Aw, Balloo and a host of other Disney characters. He had all sorts of stuff bought for him and went on all the rides he could ever possibly want. He is a very lucky boy!
We got the train back to Ashford and Julian picked us up again. We were all exhausted, but it was a magical experience. But my week wasn't over yet....

Sunday, September 20, 2009

That Was One Hell of a Week That Was Part Two

James, on one of Julian's many motorbikes, keeping the rest of the family royally entertained.
So I arose in Temple Sowerby in the wee small hours of a Sunday morning. My head was thumping a little from the Stuart Maconie Fan Club outing from the previous night, but a couple of paracetamol soon put that matter to rest. I didn't disturb Andy and Kate as I left and was soon roaring down the M6 towards Essex and a rendezvous with Amanda and James. At first the traffic was minimal, but slowly, inexorably it built up the further south I got and the later the day became. I was tuned permanently to Radio 5 to hear any traffic news. When it did come it wasn't good. The main junction between the M1 and the M25 (which I was intending to use) was completely closed due to a multi-vehicle pile up. Honestly, some people are so insensitive. Didn't they know I was going to use that junction? Didn't they think about my important journey before they began smashing each other's cars into their neighbours? Swines! Therefore I had to make a quick detour across towards Bedford and over to the A14 and the M11. I got within a few miles of Basildon and Amanda's house when we ground to a complete halt on the A127. There was some motorbike rally going on and we all had to stop for them. I am not the world's biggest fan of motorbikes at the best of times, but at this very moment, after having driven for five hours from Penrith I personally would not have wasted my urine on any passing motorcyclist who happened to find himself ablaze at that time.
I eventually picked up Amanda and James, and we drove down to Kent and a stop at Cathy and Julian's house in Stockbury. My parents were there as well, on their way back from a holiday in Germany, so we all ended up together having a very nice family dinner. James had great fun playing around in Cath and Julian's garden as it is a little...ahem... stuffed with all the lovely lumps of rusting machinery that Julian is so fond of purchasing and that Cathy is so keen for him to get rid of. James took great delight in wearing one of Julian's crash helmets and sitting astride a mighty motorbike, much to the amusement of the rest of us - as you can see from the picture above. He even reckoned he was going to ride to Disneyland in Paris by himself. But that is another story.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

That Was One Hell of a Week That Was Part One

So this was the beginning of a week that would test my powers of endurance, the suspension of my new car and the limits of my bank balance. It all began so innocently! I have a very dear old friend called Andy Blundell who I know from way back when we were pub buddies back in deepest darkest Essex and The Hoop Pub in Stock near Billericay. I had not seen Andy since 1997 but somehow we had just about managed to stay in touch despite him travelling widely to places like Australia, New Zealand, Tonga and many other far flung destinations. He was now back in blighty, living near Penrith in Cumbria (his home town), married to a lovely lady called Kate and with two lovely children called Daisy and Dylan. He was also running a very well respected antique furniture restoration company called Phoenix Antiques. During one of our long distance telephone calls some time ago Andy mentioned that he would be opening a new Antiques showroom near his home in Temple Sowerby just outside Penrith. I offered to come up to Cumbria and open the showroom in my full Henry gear and so the date was set for 12th September. I drove up on the 11th, the Friday, which was an incredibly stupid idea. The M6, the main road up to the Lake District and Scotland is, as any tourist route is on a Friday (see the A303 down here for proof of that) packed solid, added to which some complete tit somewhere in the country had decided it would be a quite fabulous notion to dig most of it up at regular intervals along it's length. A journey from Somerset to Penrith should (according to my sat nav) be about 5-6 hours. It took me nearer 9 hours. I arrived knackered and aching, but Andy and Kate made me very welcome and we ended up sitting in their lovely house in Temple Sowerby eating a late night takeaway curry and drinking champagne! Wonderful.
On the Saturday morning I nipped up the road to the local Centre Parcs just outside Penrith, to visit my old friend John Summers who recently finished working as Estate Manager at Leeds Castle in Kent and was now working as Technical Operations Manager at the big tourist resort. He welcomed me kindly and gave me a guided tour of the site in one of their groovy electric vans. It's a wonderful place and I think John is enjoying working there. It was nice to see him looking so happy.
Back at the new showroom things were gearing up for the launch party. I got changed into my Henry garb, drinks were prepared for the coming guests and a ribbon was placed over the door for me to cut with a pair of scissors. Soon the guests were all there, I did a quick hello to them all, cut the ribbon and the new showroom for Phoenix Furniture Restorations was open! Many people came and all in all it seemed like a big success.
That evening, after all had quietened down, Andy, Kate and I hit the mean streets of Penrith to celebrate. We had a few drinks at a couple of very trendy bars (not my usual stamping ground, but very nice and entertaining) and then headed for a local Mexican restaurant. It was full. So we wandered round to a local Italian restaurant. This was also very busy but the manager assured us a table would be free soon. And it was and we found ourselves next to Radio 2 and 6 DJ Stuart Maconie. We were actually pretty well oiled by this time and were probably quite a pain in the bottom, but Stuart was very kind and chatty and we had a nice time with him. The meal was lovely and we drank far too much more champagne and were soon in a taxi heading back to Temple Sowerby.
A late night is probably best not followed up by an early morning and a long drive. But guess what happened next...?