Friday, February 27, 2009

Blackbrook School, Taunton

You wait for about two years for a new school in Taunton to book you, and then two turn up in the same week! After the fun and games of going to North Town School on Wednesday, here I was on Friday off to Blackbrook School. It was a bigger group today - about 140 children and they were very, very excited about Henry's visit!
It was a tremendously fun start to the day with the opening talk going down a storm, but I had to break at 10am as they were having an assembly in the hall and then the kids had a morning break, so I wasn't on again until nearly 11am. But we got through it. After a lunch of what were either perfectly adequate chicken fingers, or hugely over-cooked fish fingers (you could have wiped a chalk board clean with them!), it was on to the afternoon session. There was a great reply when I was getting the stocks session set up. I always tell the children that being drunk and disorderly could land you up in the stocks, but it was particularly frowned upon if you did it on a Sunday - I then ask them why it was so bad to be drunk and disorderly on a Sunday. The best answer I ever had was from a school boy in Essex who told me it was bad because all the football was on Sky on Sunday's and you'd miss it. But today's answer was: It was bad to be drunk and disorderly on a Sunday because the pubs weren't open long enough. So that told me!
We finished with a deafening jousting tournament that a very good gents side walked away with. I was just winding the show down and getting ready to leave when a load of the staff from the school came in with a birthday cake for me, complete with candles and a rousing singing of "Happy Birthday" for me! I was really touched!
I got home this evening with fine intentions of wandering over to the Duke of York pub in Shepton Beauchamp to watch the France v Wales rugby match on their big screen. But I have to admit that my bottom hit my chair in my front room and it was just too damn comfortable to get up and go out again. Sorry.
Tomorrow I am back at Barrington Court for their opening weekend of the season. I will be on parade between 12 noon and 4pm. I hope to see some of you there!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

North Town School, Taunton

Up with the lark and down with the lurghi. Well, a grotty snotty cold anyway. Just what I needed on a visit to a new school today. It has been a while since I visited a brand new school in Taunton and here I was up and on my way to North Town School, a place I had never visited before. And I nearly didn't visit it today either - I couldn't find a way in! I found the school very easily, but it's main entrance according to it's address and my sat nav was a tiny gate in a fence with not a prayer of getting a car in. There must be a rear entrance I thought. There was. It was a tiny wee gate in a fence as well. Just as I was contemplating tunnelling in, I saw someone drive into a car park on the site - so there must be a way in somewhere. I found one other small road I hadn't tried and went up there. It got narrower and narrower, and just when I was having doubts I would ever get out again, there it was! The legendary rear entrance of North Town School - God be praised! I was greeted by the caretaker at first (not an "ooh-arr!" in sight - see Wiveliscombe!) who was great. He pointed to where I had parked.
"That your car?" He asked. I told him it was. "That's the Head's parking spot. She gets the right hump if you park there. She'll probably behead you..." So that told me! I hastily moved the car. Viv, the lady I was due to see at North Town was off sick, so I was introduced to Mary, a supply teacher looking after her class. She was lovely, but then so were all the staff. Kirsty, the other class teacher in Year 4, was also poorly, but was in. However she did have to nip off to the Doctors during the morning, poor thing. There was also a particularly delightful Irish lady from Donegal as one of the class room assistants - she was gorgeous! Unfortunately I chopped her head off in the Anne Boleyn section of my talk, but she was looking much better in the afternoon. My lunch was a bit of a curate's egg - good in places. A very nice stew to begin, but a large chocolate cookie for afters that tasted like it was made out of reconditioned asbestos.
The children were great, particularly my mate Harvey who laughed so much he nearly wet himself in the afternoon session! The jousting was deafening and won by a very fine ladies team. The teachers and the class room assistants all came up to me at the end and said their faces were hurting from laughing so much. It was lovely that they had enjoyed it so much! Thank you, North Town - a truly outstanding school!
Tomorrow is my birthday! So to celebrate I am going out for a drink with Matthew Applegate this evening. Lovely!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Coalway Junior, Coleford, Gloucestershire

Here is a new look at the picture a nice chap called Roger Harris of is doing of me. He took a series of photos of me at Dillington House last August and this is his handiwork so far. All done with colour pencils! Amazing.
Today I was back at an old favourite - Coalway Junior in Coleford in Gloucestershire. This was my fifth visit to this lovely school and it just seems to get better each year. I was warmly welcomed and given a cup of tea. I soon got all the props in but then found my car was stuck on the children's playground as the only route off it was blocked by a car belonging to someone unknown! By the time I had found them and got the car moved the children were already seated in the hall - and I wasn't in my Henry gear. I rushed around in a very passable impression of a fly suffering with a blue tinge to it's derriere and we were off. It was just a fantastic day. The kids were wonderful, the teachers delightful and all in all a day you could not complain about. The afternoon was a riot, particularly helped by a wonderful little lad I picked out to be my punished beggar as he was completely deadpan all the way through. He was hilarious. The final joust was also good with the gents just pipping the ladies to the win. I was then heaped with praise by the teachers for my work which was very humbling and gratifying, and then I was on my way back home. I will now settle down and cheer on Inter Milan against Man Utd. Mind you, if Man Utd were playing the Taliban I would be cheering on the loonies in the big beards.
Tomorrow I am at North Town School in Taunton.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Big Dig, Leeds Castle

The scene: Darlene's Drift, a small partially defended medieval tourist attraction in Kent. A large tent has been erected near the aviary. Inside are hiding a handful of brave events staff from Leeds Castle, some archaeologists and a large Henry VIIIth look-a-like who for some reason is now pretending to be an archaeologist himself. Enter a blood stained sentry.
Sentry: The lookouts have just got back from the car park and they report...
Lt Darlene Chard: (Stanley Baker - for tis he) What do they report?
Sentry: They report - kids, Sir. Farsands of 'em.
Lt Darlene: Gad!
Sentry: Some of 'em armed wiv spades...
Lt Darlene: Do you know what this means?
Lt Helen Bromhead: (Michael Caine, for tis he) You're off somewhere, aren't you...
Lt Darlene: Caribbean Cruise here I come!
Lt Helen: Don't shoot till you see the whites of their eyes!
Rev Jean Beaton: (Jack Hawkins, for tis he) What if they keep their eyes shut?
Archaeologist Mike Farley: (Ulla Jacobson, for tis she) They might win.
You get the idea. It was such a brilliantly simple idea to get children interested in archaeology. You get a big marquee, you pop in some large sandpits, you fill them with sand and pop in various shards of Roman Pottery from a local dig and let the children excavate them. They then present their finds to local professional archaeologists who help them clean the items and then date them. Also on hand are some metal detector dudes who take the children and their parents out into the fields locally and show them how they make their discoveries. The response from the public was overwhelming. After a fairly placid start to the week on Saturday and Sunday, all hell broke loose on Monday and Tuesday. On the Tuesday we had nearly 3,200 people into the Castle and grounds. It truly was like a scene from Zulu. The children would clear out one of the sandpits and we'd go about re stocking it with pottery for them to find and they would be poised around us, clutching trowels to their sweaty palms, shoulders hunched over like vultures. As soon as we said go they'd leap in like Lions on a gazelle, sand flying in all directions.
It was great to be working back with Jean Beaton, Darlene Cavill, Lynn, Helen Budd and all the old familiar faces from so many other times at Leeds Castle. The archaeologists were from Kent and were headed up by Dr Paul Wilkinson, a lovely amiable chap and easy to talk to. The metal detectorists were nice as well, even if one or two were a little grumpy, but then so would you be spending half your time burying old coins and the other half digging them up for the children. Amanda and James came down and joined me on the second Saturday, and James now wants a metal detector for himself. He also took part in the falconry display show and once more showed his skill for a quick comic reply, even for a six year old. I'd asked Mark Brattle, the falconer, to pick James for the audience participation part of the show. He duly picked out James and did his usual questions, what's your name, how old are you, etc. He then asked James if he knew why he was in the display area. James replied "because you asked me", which duly brought the house down.
The biggest news of the week was when there was stirring from the detectorists that they had found something "big". One of them came down from scanning in the vineyard with a dirt covered jewelled ring in his hand. He reckoned it was "old", possibly Elizabethan. It was shown to all the other metal detectors who agreed it was old and interesting. So Paul Wilkinson had a look and reckoned it was old and interesting. So it was decided to spread the news of this amazing find and contact was made with the British Museum. They were very excited and dispatched someone immediately. A young lady arrived who studied the ring and was equally excited that it was old and interesting, and almost definitely Elizabethan. Everyone was really excited and proud of such a cool find. Everyone was slightly less excited and proud when it was pointed out by one of the groundsmen at the Castle that the ring was actually a reproduction for sale in the Castle shop for £1.80 and had probably been dropped in the vineyard by a customer a year or so back. Suddenly everyone agreed that we had never been fooled in the first place and no one ever thought it was really old.
It was a hectic but fun nine days and it was, as ever lovely to be back at Leeds Castle. I drove home on the Sunday evening and have had a lovely restful day today, getting over the rigours of the week just gone. Tomorrow I am in Coleford, Gloucestershire for a return to Coalway Junior again.

Richmond Avenue, Shoeburyness

And lo, he did waketh up and the snow it had gone - mostly. Whereas a few hours earlier it looked like a scene from Scott of the Antarctic, there had now been a fairly sizeable thaw. However, the A127 down into Southend and off to Shoeburyness was horrific. Stop start snarled up traffic. But I finally got to Richmond Avenue and it was worth the effort. I forgot just how much fun this school is. I was warmly greeted as ever by the lovely people there and we had a great day. As it was the last day before half term there was a bit of a wild atmosphere amongst the children, but in a nice way and they really got into the whole show.
After a great lunch (baked potato again!) it was into the hall for the mad afternoon. Great fun is had by all and a really good jousting tournament went right to the wire and, looking back over more than a week ago, I honestly can't remember who won! But whoever it was they were very good.
I went back to see my wife and son, and then headed off down the M25 to Kent and a stay at my sister's house near Sittingbourne in preparation for nine days at Leeds Castle and the Big Dig...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Wiveliscombe Junior

Another early start. I always seem to say that, but then I wasn't sure how long it would take me to get to Wiveliscombe. And how exactly do you pronounce it? WIV-L-ISS-COM? WIV-ELLIS-COM? WELLS-COM? I was confused. The drive down was quite nice as most of the snow in Somerset has now gone - or so I thought. As soon as you got down towards Wellington and the hills, everything was white again. It made the countryside look very attractive. After a rather tortuous back roads route in (thanks Sat Nav) I found the school, but there didn't appear to be a car park. Enter a caretaker. He said:
"Arrr, garve garner narg grarg enery wheeze spec tin oo." Well, there isn't much you can say when someone says that to you. So I smiled blankly at him. It turned out he was telling me he was the caretaker of the school and they were expecting me, which was nice. He then said:
"Arrr, darn arowd anlevt anlevtagan an arr b arrcarrparrr." Dirty boy! I slapped his face and blushed. It turned out he was trying to tell me where their car park was. I did as he told me and soon found their carrparrr, which was situated on a gentle slope at the side of the school - and was like a skating rink. I parked up in the corner and got the first of my props out. I slammed the boot of the car shut and watched in awe as my car slid four feet backwards on the icy surface.
"Arrr" said my little caretaker chum. "Oizz anoi arnlygott thuzeeer zaaaahnd" at which point he began flicking shovel loads of sand in a sort of random pattern around my car. Well, it seemed to keep him entertained.
Now the school itself - what can I say? Wonderful, for a start! Marvellous, for another! A really nice school, some lovely teachers, a wonderful caring head and some of the nicest kids you could ever want to meet. They were so well behaved! Polite, clever, interested and ready to laugh. You really would want every day to be like this! The morning seemed to shoot past and it was soon lunch time - a nice big jacket potato with baked beans and grated cheese, with a sausage on the side. Smashing. The afternoon was even more fun with so many laughs and moments of joy. The jousting was another rip-roaring affair with the gents once more storming to a memorable victory. Wiveliscombe - you were great. And how do you pronounce it? I asked the teachers and they said "Just call it Wivvy - everyone else does." So who was I to argue?
I got back to Crewkerne and began packing for my week away. I am due to be in Shoeburyness tomorrow (Friday) and then I start down at Leeds Castle for "The Big Dig" on Saturday. I began my drive up to Essex and everything went swimmingly until I got on the M25 at which point it began to snow again. And, boy did it snow. By the time I got to the A13 it was blizzard time again and it took me a lifetime to get to Basildon and my wife's place. By now I am sitting in her front room typing this up and looking out the window to a bleak winter scene. Thick snow everywhere. I have my doubts as to whether Richmond Avenue School in Shoeburyness will be open tomorrow. Watch this space for more. Or as they say in Wivvy - Arrr, wodge thusarrr spayzfur morrrrrrr.

Oakfield Primary, Totton

Skandia Life! Skandia Life! I was just testing to see whether Paul Stewart's filter is working properly in his office. I used to drive this way every day to Skandia and back. I did it for just short of five years. I must have been mad. Today was an afternoon down at Oakfield Primary School in Totton on the western edge of Southampton. I arrived and was warmly welcomed by all the teachers, some of whom had dressed in some fantastic outfits. They had set up the main hall for a banquet and the children tucked into their food while I did my "Six Wives..." turn for them. After a quick break, the children then did a fine Tudor dance for me, after which we had a rousing jousting tournament. Some fine skills were on show, but it was the gents who galloped away in the main final to win. It was a lovely school and some of the children's costumes were brilliant.
I drove home and got back feeling extremely tired, when I suddenly remembered I had agreed to go over to Barrington to see their village pantomime this evening. It was mainly as my mate Matthew Applegate's wife Sue was starring as Dick Whittington in the pantomime of the same name. I arrived to find the car park at the village hall packed out. I went inside and was soon joined by Rachel, Matthew's assistant at Barrington Court. It turned out Matthew wasn't appearing that evening as he had to baby sit his youngest. The play was great rollicking fun. Amateur in the extreme, fluffed lines, late cues, curtains closing at the wrong time, props not working and some wooden acting - and all the better for it. I loved it. I laughed myself hoarse. Sue Applegate was marvellous as she could sing, dance and act, plus she has a damn fine pair of legs on her and looked very nice in fishnets - well, better than Matthew looks anyway. As with all parochial events like this they had the inevitable raffle with a couple of nice looking bottles of wine and other prizes, so I bought a few tickets. And guess what I won??? Yup, you got it - a Doris Day CD. I was thrilled.
Wiveliscombe tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Park School, Yeovil

After last weeks snow and ice I was looking forward to a week of getting back to work. And then there was last night's TV weather forecast. I knew it was going to be bad as the girl put on a black cap first and had a vulture perched on her shoulder. It was a forecast of biblical proportions - snow, gales, thunder, lightning, flooding, luddites, witchcraft and the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse "getting medieval" in Taunton. A typical Monday evening really. Just before bed last night I had a look out of the window and saw snow fluttering down and settling on the cars parked outside. Here we go - I thought. And so to bed.
I had a restless night listening to the wind howling round the windows of my flat. In my mind's eye I could see huge snow drifts piling up by my front door and polar bears rampaging through Crewkerne shopping centre, mind you I had been eating cheese. I woke up at about 5.30am and, somewhat pensively I pulled open the windows to see..... a completely clear scene. No snow, some rain and a blowy wind. A huge sigh of relief!
I had last been at The Park School in Yeovil back in January 2006, but it was a wonderful welcome I got on my return. Great teachers, lovely kids and, cropping up again, my dear friend, the gorgeous Belinda Stephens, late of Charlton Horethorne and North Petherton! It was great to see her! We had a fun half day, with a mixture of years 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6. Loads of laughs, nice cups of tea, wild stocks session and a rip roaring joust which the ladies waltzed away with! After such a good time I just hope it isn't another three years before I am back there again.
Tomorrow, another half day, this time down at Totton near Southampton. So wish me another friendly weather forecast tonight!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Snow, snow, thick, thick, snow.

My sister's driveway in Esgair, Cynwyl Elfed, Wales (today)
I remember very clearly, as a child, that if ever there was snow in the offing from a weather forecast, my father would writhe in his armchair, oaths were muttered and several new swear words were learnt by myself and my sisters. And, as a child, I could never understand my poor father's anguish. This was snow we were talking about! Snow! The most wonderful weather ever invented. Snow! You could do so much with it, like make a snowman for a start. And then make a snowball and throw it at someone. hundreds of other things. And yet my poor father would stand at the window, watching the fat white flakes cascading from the sullen black sky, slowly shaking his head and only cheering himself up by occasionally berating the passing dog or cat with a stumping mallet. (I jest). However, my sisters and myself would be in rapture to this gift from the sky. But looking back some thirty-odd years hence, and I can see exactly what my Father was wailing and gnashing his teeth over. Snow means one thing and one thing only. A pain in the you-know-what. It makes travel virtually impossible. At the merest sight of a flake of snow, all the idiots coming crawling out the woodwork and storm the nearest shop panic buying anything they can lay their hands on. I remember some years back visiting my parents in Mountnessing and over night there was a heavy fall of snow. My mother was a little short of milk (about 5' 4" to be precise) and she asked me if I'd walk up to the little shop in the village and get a pint. I duly did this, only to find the shop a heaving mass of humanity with people clutching bottles of Vimto and packets of pearl barley as if they were hand outs from UN feeding stations in a war torn area of Africa. The rather lovely young lady who worked in the shop at the time (the deliciously named Anna-Marie Herretierre de la Roche - you don't get names like that in places like Lidl these days) nearly wet herself laughing when I asked if she had any milk left. That had sold out shortly after the previous nights weather forecast, along with Cliff Richard LP's, dried grouting paste and all other essentials for a happy life.
So here I am in 2009, standing at the window, looking at the fat flakes of snow tumbling from the Bible black sky, grumbling to myself and wishing I had something to berate with a stumpers mallet. Never mind, Eamon Holmes might be on telly later - I can punch the TV screen then. So all Henry shows for this week have been postponed. My two apperances in Norfolk have been put back to March and my appearance at Blackbrook School in Taunton is now going to be at the end of February.
And just what did happen to Anna-Marie Herretierre de la Roche? I hope she married someone with an equally exciting surname.