Monday, March 30, 2009

Best of Britain 2009

I had not done a trade show since my appearance at the Education Show at the NEC in Birmingham in early 2006. However, during a recent visit to Leeds Castle I had been asked to appear on the Visit Kent stand at the Best of Britain and Ireland Show at the Excel London Arena for the end of March. I had travelled up a couple of days earlier as I had a meeting at my son's school and then a lunch time meeting at Leeds Castle with Darlene and Helen, and a chap named Jeremy from the Knights who are hosting the Jousting tournament I am appearing at in May. It was a very helpful meeting and things are looking good for the show.
Thursday. Up bright and early and ready to head up to London. I have to say I dislike London - nothing personal dear capital, but I reckon London is a young person's town. I lived in London from 1986 to 1990 and I loved it mostly. It was exciting and wonderful to be so close to so many happening things. But now I am old and the delights of London just elude me. Everything is so busy, hectic, packed, angry, full, impatient etc. I was really not looking forward to going back there. I wasn't worried about the show, just the travelling. It would be difficult at the best of times, but when carrying a massive great case full of Henry costume and with a silver topped cane in hand... not fun! Anyway, I made it to the arena and an impressive place it most certainly is. I phoned Lynette my contact at the show to see where she was. She answered on her mobile to tell me she was "behind you". Yup, about 10 paces to be precise. The stand looked very good and as soon as I upload the photos from my camera you will be able to see for yourselves! Almost as soon as I arrived I get whisked off for a photo-shoot with a load of other people dressed as characters such as Robbie Burns, an Arsenal supporting dinosaur called Gunnersaurus and some ladies dressed as posh ladies at the Cheltenham races. The Thursday and the Friday are trade days and Thursday is much the busier of the two days. It is a long and hot day and I was more than grateful when it was time to rip off the costume (in private folks, don't worry) and get changed back into normal gear.
Friday. A much quieter day, which made it drag, but thankfully the show closed at 3pm rather than the 6pm of the previous day. However, I met a very nice chap from Warwick Castle who I passed all my details on to, so fingers crossed there, and I also met Terry Thomas - no not some gap toothed cad from a scandalous school, but a charming little West Indian lady who is a photographer for "Visit Britain" and want to do a photo shoot of me. I shall keep you posted on that one. I continue chatting up the lovely ladies from Hever Castle in the hope they will give me some work, and I playfully pester Tamsin from Penshurst Place for some work as well. You never know, it might work!
Saturday. A very bad journey up. For some reason, London Underground has taken it upon themselves to close the Jubilee Line so I can't get to Canning Town from Stratford. I have to take some buses, but as usual they tell you there is a bus replacement service but don't actually put any signs up telling you where the flaming buses are. I eventually found them and get bussed down to Canning Town station. All I need now is a Docklands Light Railway train to Beckton as it is only two stops to the Excel station. I arrive at the platform and it is packed and all the trains listed on the dot matrix board are going to Woolwich Arsenal. Each time one of these trains comes in only about two people get on, and more and more people are arriving from the other platforms. Finally a Beckton train comes in and there is a total bun fight to get on board. I eventually surrender and have to wait for another 9 minutes until another full Beckton train turns up. I fight my way on board and after what seems a lifetime I get to the Excel arena. There are masses and masses of people queued up to get in - how exciting. Only after I am in do I discover that they are all waiting to get into the Dive Show which is on in another hall. It takes me so long to fight my way in that I am ready with apologies for my tardiness - but I soon discover I am the first one there on the Visit Kent stall! It is a great day and I take much delight in chatting up the ladies on the Irish stall, especially Broughaid (I think that's how you spelt it) and my friend Bill on the Portsmouth stall (she is a lady despite that name). There is a great look-a-like on the Bristol stall dressed as Isambad Kingdom-Brunel who is great fun and a bizarre chap from the London Bridge experience dressed as an evil Professor who is 7 feet 4 inches tall. My only complaint is that on the main stage they have frequent - far too frequent for my liking - performances from the cast of "Mamma Mia". Now, how can I explain my feelings about Abba and their music? Well, let me put it this way - I would rather hammer tent pegs through my feet than have to listen to their inane whining, so you can imagine my delight when a load of shouty women then bounce around on stage for what seems like a lifetime screaming out "Mamma Mia" "Honey Honey" and, horror of horrors "Dancing Queen". When they began screeching their way through "The Winner Takes It All" I gave up all ideas of subtlty and took to howling like a wolf. I was delighted to hear various other voices joining in the howling from other stalls in the vicinity. It was good to have friends. "Mamma Mia" are on THREE times. THREE! Rather than face the vagaries of the train service going back I got a cab to Stratford station instead. Expensive but easy.
Sunday. The final day. It is announced that I am possibly to play keepy-up football with Charlie George, legendary lank haired lunatic centre forward for the Arsenal team of the early 70's. He now looks like Andy Pitkin from Little Britain with a bald patch, lank hair and thick glasses. All he needed was to say "I want that one" and he'd have been there. The keepy up never happens. Football does rear it's ugly head as I am asked to take part in a table football tournament with lots of the other costumed characters. We are teamed up with a member of the public and then set out to play each other in a knockout tournament, the winning member of the public then walks off with a luxury holiday for two - very nice. I manage to get through to the semi final before being vanquished, which was pretty good for me. More fun is had with the lovely Irish ladies (hello Josephine!) and the ladies on the Scottish stand. Then Mamma Mia turn up again, so there is more Wolf Howling from me and my friends. Finally it is time for me to go and get changed, but still there is more fun and mishaps to be had. I am getting changed in my tiny little cupboard, surrounded by everyone elses coats and bags etc, when I manage to knock over the big bottle of water I always carry in my Henry bag. It shoots up in the air and then plummets downwards, but somehow manages to miss all the clothes. I am left with a virtually empty bottle but a big suspicious looking wet patch on the floor, and not a dog in sight to blame. I end up mopping at the floor with my dirty Henry shirts from the previous few days. What a way to finish the week. I get another cab back to Stratford and for the first time in the week I can only get a slow train stopping at all stations to Shenfield. At Romford four scantily clad young "ladies" stagger through the train reeking of lager and playing an Ipod with speakers as loud as they possibly can, singing along with various foul mouthed R&B tracks. How lovely.
I will be appearing for Visit Kent again this Thursday at the Detling Showground in Kent. See you there.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

St Michael's, Twerton, plus Medieval Midsummer Merriments!

Thursday. Ill. Very ill. No, not just "man flu" but seriously snotty, hot, achy and not feeling good at all. I took me to my bed and lay there groaning. The phone rang. "Yes" I croaked, in a voice more in keeping with someone having their last rites read. "Mike, where are you?" Oh dear, this could be embarrassing. Had I forgotten a school? No I hadn't, but I had forgotten a meeting I had booked with Tricia, a nice lady down in Abbotsbury for their forthcoming Medieval Midsummer Merriment as it is called. I made abject apologies and then sneezed all over the receiver just to prove to her how ill I really was. She believed me and we re-booked the meeting for this Saturday. I went back to bed and awaited a cure or death, whichever was quicker.
I woke up early on the Friday, delighted to find that I was feeling a lot better - still not brilliant, but the temperature had dropped and I was only mildly snotty. This was a vast improvement and meant I was ready to drive up to Twerton and a return visit to St Michael's School there. I had only recently visited this lovely school back in July, but it was good to be back. Just as before, they were a relatively small group, but what they lacked in size they more than made up for in noise. They were at times deafening, never more so than during the afternoon jousting. I felt really lousy by lunchtime, but plodded on with the show, feeling that I wasn't doing myself or the school justice, but the teachers said they were delighted and the children certainly made it clear that they had enjoyed themselves. The ladies stormed to a famous victory in the jousting and at the end of everything else I sold some souvenir Henry VIIIth coins we had minted with our new coin dye. One little boy bought NINE of them! NINE! I was due to go over and see Ali and Ian in Kingstone in the evening for a curry night, but it was sadly postponed at the last minute, so instead I sat in and had a Chinese takeaway.
This morning I drove down to Abbotsbury for my meeting with Tricia about the Medieval Midsummer Merriment. The meeting went well and their plans look fabulous. In the beautiful shimmering sunlight we walked down to the Tithe Barn where the event will be held and it just looked so beautiful. You looked at the green rolling hills speckled with white patches of distant sheep, the clear azure blue sky, the warm yellow sunshine and the rich warm colours of the old stone buildings and you began to wonder if there really was anywhere else in the world as beautiful as England on a spring day like today. With the nunnery on the hill and the rippled landscape scattered with ancient marks that man has made over the centuries you suddenly felt immersed in history. I can't wait for the show in June!
Next I headed up to Barrington Court for a quick meeting with Matthew Applegate about possibly doing some education shows at the Court beginning next January and February. Should be good!
And now, settle me down and watch Wales v Ireland in the Rugby!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Drayton Junior, Norfolk

After my recent visit to Norfolk, what do I need right now? That's right! Another visit to Norfolk! This was another of those re-organised visits from when we were all snowed in. Drayton is a fabulous school and one that I have visited on a number of occasions, so it was a delight to be back there again. Now, you know you are getting old when the head teachers and deputy heads all look like they have just come from a Ralph Reader Gang Show. The Deputy Head at Drayton looks about 12 years old, but he is a jolly nice chap and very welcoming. He has also come fresh foot from seeing Norwich beat Plymouth over the weekend, so he is also a very happy chap as well as jolly.
We had a great day, as usual at Drayton! The kids were fantastic and the teachers were brilliant. The day just seemed to shoot past at an incredible rate. Lunch was perplexing. I would call them meat balls, but they weren't round. They were more like meat hockey pucks. And what meat were they? I ate one. It was chicken, surely. No, perhaps not. It could be turkey. Hang on. No it's chicken. Or is it. No, tell a lie, it IS turkey. Actually come to think of it I reckon it's a combination of turkey and chicken. Turned out it was pork. I just pray that my Rabbi never finds out.
The afternoon joust was fantastic! The ladies built up a massive lead but the chaps started chipping away at the lead and getting closer and closer, but the ladies JUST held on for a famous victory. Drayton as ever was a fabulous school, welcoming, friendly, happy and a pleasure to visit. I can't wait to see them all again next year.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Norfolk In Chance

I had been due for several days in Norfolk back in February, but the weather decided that snow, more snow and even more snow was the order of the day and any chance of driving across country to visit the said schools was about as likely to happen as me winning the 100 metres at the next Olympics. So while I sat steaming and trapped in the far west of England and Wales, the schools had to miss out on their Henry VIIIth days. But we managed to rearrange the dates and here I was now on my way to complete my obligations.
First visit of the two days was at Falcon Junior School in Sprouston, Norwich. This is a lovely school with some very groovy children and lovely teachers. Their hall is a beautiful place to work and has a really nice timeline painted round the walls for the children to look at. We had a great day, lots of fun and some fantastic costumes some of the children were wearing. The teachers and classroom assistants were also well togged out, particularly one of the male teachers whose voluminous pantaloons gave him more than a passing resemblance to MC Hammer. The afternoon was a fun raucous event with a fine jousting tournament in which a good gents outfit just edged out the ladies. It is such a fun school to visit every year, I can't wait to go back and see them all again.
Now instead of my usual long trawl back to either Essex or, even worse, Somerset, all I had in front of me now was a 10 miles drive to Acle and my digs for the night. I was staying at the King's Head Inn and I have to say that my first impressions weren't good. The bar seemed to be hosting a Barfly's Convention with much drunken hubbub and a slurred words between rather flakey looking middle aged men and women. However, after checking in and going upstairs to my small but comfortable room, I came back down to find the bar cleared. I was served a very nice pint of Adnams Bitter (It would have to be at £3 a pint - oh for the days when we served Adnams Bitter in The Hoop in Stock at 90p a pint...) and then perused their very good looking menu. I ordered King Prawns in garlic butter to begin and then chicken breast wrapped in smoked bacon and served on a bed of wild mushroom sauce for the main course. The King Prawns were a huge disappointment. They arrived looking massive and impressive but had been over cooked to the point of virtual disintegration. The chicken was a massive saving grace and was delicious and well cooked. After dinner I moved into the second bar where a massive screen was showing the Manchester United v Inter Milan Champions League match. Naturally, being in Norfolk I was surrounded by Manchester United fans, but they were mostly aged about 12, drunk and not over blessed with brain cells, so it was nice fun to wind them up a little. I lost interest by half time as United were walking the match, and so I retired to bed. Breakfast in the morning was a huge and impressive affair and I left fortified and with arteries hardening by the second.
My second school of the two days was another return visit, and this was to Caister Junior in Caister by Sea. This is another wonderful school that is always a delight to visit. We had another great fun day with a really nice friendly group of children. The costumes for the group were fantastic, the children fun, the teachers charming and the whole day was brilliant. The final joust was terrific fun and close as close can be, but once again the gents team strolled to a good victory. Schools like Falcon and Caister should be cherished for the good work that they do and for the fine children they produce. As endorsed by Henry VIIIth!
I drove home for a weekend in Essex with my family which is going to be nice. I am back in Norfolk again on Monday for another return visit, this time to Drayton School in Norwich, then it will be back to Somerset.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

St Michael's School, Wimborne

There comes a point, when you are running a marathon, when you, metaphorically speaking, hit a wall. It usually happens at around the 20 mile mark and leaves the runner exhausted, cramped and with the feeling that he is running through thick treacle, uphill and carrying a big bag or two of shopping. I have a feeling I hit the Henry wall yesterday. It has all been going so well lately, every show has been a winner and I have just sailed through. Yesterday was a fifth return visit to St Michael's School in Wimborne, Dorset and it has always been a favourite of mine to visit, so I was really looking forward to it. So I arrived, set up, got changed, the children came in...and I seemed to hit the wall. I kept fluffing my lines, nothing quite timed and the children seemed very quiet and subdued. It was a such a shame! They had all dressed up in some magnificent Tudor costumes and seemed genuinely enthusiastic, but I really struggled during the morning session. After a nice lunch of chilli con carne I felt I perked up a little and the afternoon seemed much easier. The jousting was great and was won by a superb gents team, two of whom could quite easily have been professional jousters! It was a nice visit to a lovely school and I would love to have been a bit more on the money for the show. The teachers were as kind and friendly as ever. Next year I promise to be better...

After a restfull evening I am now preparing paper work and packing a suitcase as for the next ten days I am up in Essex and Norfolk for a series of shows. Speak to you soon.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Friends and Fire Pits.

How nice it is to visit old friends! This weekend, I have been to Crawley in West Sussex to visit my old friends Viv and John Rich. The main reason for this was that John had built a fire pit in their back garden - a sort of permanent larger chimnea. They had invited many friends, cooked some wonderful food and laid on lots of nice drinks to celebrate this opening of all John's handiwork. And they asked me, as Henry to come along and open the said pit. It was a pleasure, as you can see from the picture above. The mug I am holding has a nice Henry VIIIth logo on it! My lovely sisters Sue and Cathy were there as well, so was Cathy's husband Julian, plus many other guests including John's delightful sister Ann. A really good time was had by all and, despite the early date of the year, we sat outside round the fire pit, nice snug and warm until about 9.30pm. We then sat indoors yarning, laughing and occasionally snoring until about 12.30am. Wonderful.
It has been a pleasure to be surrounded this weekend with such good friends and company. Sometimes you should appreciate this part of your life more often.
Tomorrow I am off to Wimborne in Dorset for a fifth return visit to St Michael's School in Colehill.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

BBC Somerset Have Your Say!

Taunton - again! Back on the old A358, there must be a song title in there somewhere. I had been invited back to appear on BBC Somerset with Emma Britton on her morning show, the opening part of the show being called "Have Your Say". It is still much like the format of the old show with Jo Phillips, only now they only have two panel members per session and there is much more participation from listeners phoning in and joining in the discussion. My fellow panel member today was a lovely lady from Bridgwater Amateur Operatic Society who is putting on a production of "Hello Dolly" in the near future. She was terribly enthusiastic and good fun to be with. I hope I was too!
The general topic today was are we more inclined towards closer ties with America or with Europe, which as you can expect we got nowhere near to solving. But it was good to hear other people's opinions on the subject. After I had finished at the radio station I drove over to Street and treated myself to some new clothes and stopped off briefly in Somerton where I treated myself even more with some lovely fish and chips!
I have done little else for the rest of the day aside from convince myself that I need to do a load of tidying up before my sister Susan arrives on Friday. Yes. I really must. Tomorrow probably.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Trull again!

For five years I have been coming to Trull school, but I had never been in quite like this before! My new Sat Nav, still smarting from being out manoeuvred by the elderly Doris yesterday (see previous blog entry), decided to get it's own back on me today. The easiest and most straightforward way to get to Trull is go right through the middle of Taunton and turn off just before you get to the turn off for Musgrove Park Hospital - keep going then turn off to your left and there you find the lovely village of Trull in all it's quaintness. But not today, oh no. My sat nav started squawking about turning off and going another way - I was early and thought what the heck, let's give it a try. It ended up being like a Somerset countryside version of the Paris-Dakkar rally. I went down some of the smallest roads you have ever seen and nearly got wiped out by two insane farmers in their 4x4's. But it did make me appreciate even more than before just how lovely Trull is as a village, and what a fantastic school it is as well.
I was warmly greeted but then had to sit around for three quarters of an hour as their was a school assembly, this eventually finished and we were off and running. It was nice to hear so much enthusiasm and knowledge from the children as the day progressed. They knew a lot of good Tudor stuff! After a first class morning of fun and frolics, I popped up to the little shop in Trull village for some lunch. The choice of food was far superior to yesterday, but then a UNICEF feeding station probably has a better choice of fast foods than yesterday. So I got a nice looking sandwich, a bottle of drink and a pepperami - all going well so far. Would I like a bag to put this all in? Not 'arf! The nice lady in the shop gets out a second hand plastic bag and stuffs my grub in it and hands it over - only for me to discover that the previous contents of the bag seem to have been most world stocks of moth balls. So I got back to the school and moth balls, and ate my chicken sandwich with moth balls, nibbled a pepperami with moth balls and swigged a few mouth fulls of Pepsi Max - now with added moth balls. All that and not a Rock Hyrax in sight.
The afternoon was insane, loads of pictures were taken and a very tightly contested joust was won by the ladies with a quoit or two to spare (and some moth balls).
I drove home in the howling wind and rain and by now, just after eight o'clock, I am ready for bed already. Poor old devil. Tomorrow I am back on BBC Somerset with the lovely Emma Britton on the morning show. Please listen in!

Stawley School, Back of Beyond

Today's subject is geography. Question one: How do you find Stawley School near Wellington? Well, for a start, don't go to the village of Stawley, because it isn't there. Go to a tiny pimple on the map called rather cutely Appley Cross. Question two: How do you find Appley Cross? Not with my Sat Nav that's for sure. I plumbed in the post code of the school, usually more than adequate for my Sat Nav. It just looked at me and went "and....?" It had never heard of it. So I tried typing in Appley Cross. It hadn't heard of that either. Similarly it hadn't heard of Stawley, all points south of Wellington and Rock Hyraxes. In the words of Spike Milligan: What are we going to do now? Drastic measures were needed. This was a job for Doris. Doris is my semi retired and semi knackered old Sat Nav from my previous cars. She only works on batteries now and doesn't last very long when she does. I plugged her in and put in the post code -she found it straight away!
Appley Cross is as sweet and dinky as the name suggests. Stawley School is microscopic - blink and you would miss it, even if you were walking past with both legs in plaster and carrying some phenomenally heavy shopping. However, I was very warmly welcomed. It turned out the day was being shared between two schools, Stawley and Stampford from just up the road - but this still only gave us a grand total of about 30 students. But it was a great day despite the cramped conditions (no school hall so that whole day had to be done in the largest class room in the school). After a fun and frantic morning I wandered to the teeny tiny shop perched by the school gate to get some lunch. Did they have sandwiches? No. Did they have pies or pasties? No. Any cold meat and rolls? No. This was a time to improvise. Therefore my lunch ended up being two bananas, a can of Diet Coke, a packet of Kettle chips and a Twix. I am wasting away now - down to my final few hundred tons.
The afternoon joust was very different. As there was not enough room for two teams to joust at once, we had one team jousting at a time, while being timed on a stop watch. It made for some interesting results. In the main final the ladies went first and clocked a time of 1 minute and 4 seconds. The gents then went and clocked a time of 1 minute and 7 seconds! The ladies triumphed. We then had a teacher's race which saw a teacher's group romp home in just 54 seconds - surely a world record!
I got home and flaked out for the evening. For the following day I was due back at Trull.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Back at Barrington Court

On last Wednesday evening, shortly after buying Matthew Applegate another pint of beer, in a frenzy of bonhomie and beer froth, I offered to come along to Barrington Court the following Saturday for their re-opening day after the winter closure. I would do them a Henry VIIIth walkabout for free as I am such a wonderfully charitable little chap. Saturday dawned nice and bright, and after an early morning trip over to Yeovil to do such boring things as going to the bank, I was on my way to the finest Tudor house in South Somerset for their grand re-opening. I was really looking forward to it.
I got changed and was soon out and about. But where the hell was everyone? It was like a scene from "28 Days Later" to begin with - there was just no one about. But I soon encountered some brave intrepid people who had come to Barrington Court for the day. We had some fun, but despite the weather being so kind, you had to remember it was still only February and there just wasn't going to be masses of people coming in. By 3pm I was flagging and after a quick chat with Matthew I was soon on my way home. I watched the end of the Scotland v Italy rugby match, and then also watched the Ireland v England match. But I had been invited back to Barrington Court for the evening for a soiree celebrating the re-opening. Matthew had intimated that it might not be that much of a success as a bash, but I ventured over there anyway in the hope that something might occur. I was so glad I went. It was a belting evening! It began with Rachel Flynn, Matthew's assistant setting up her Wii console, and various games of Mario Cart, bowling and tennis were played, which became more raucous as the drinks intake level became higher. Then some music was put on and lots of silly dancing and laughing ensued, (see picture above as proof!) none more so than when Matthew Applegate, buoyed by approximately 300 gallons of Barrington cider decided it was time to show us how he could strut his stuff to Fatboy Slim's beautiful ballad that goes "I see you babe, shakin' that ass!" I was crying with laughter as he shuffled about the stage with his bottom sticking out at an acute angle, when it suddenly occurred to me that his dancing prowess showed an amazing likeness to the movements of Mr Jay Kay, aka Jamiroquai. I swear I nearly fell off my chair I laughed so much. The rest of the evening passed in a similar fashion with much merriment, and as I was only drinking orange juice it goes to prove you don't need to be three sheets to the wind to have a good time. But it would appear you do need to be completely shedded to dance like Jamiroquai. Matthew only needed the big furry hat and the likeness would have been complete.
I got home late. What a fantastic evening!