Monday, June 29, 2009

Paulton and Newcastle Emlyn!

Tuesday 23rd June saw a return visit for me to Paulton Junior in Paulton on the southern outskirts of Bristol. I had visited this school last year and it had been a belter, and this time was no different - a fabulous day! The children were great, very enthusiastic and loud, and the teachers were as ever friendly and pleasant. It was a warm muggy day with rain falling on my arrival, the sun shone later but it was very close. On finishing I had a great reception from the children (the ladies had won a brilliantly close jousting tournament) and was off and packing the car. I was pretty tired after so many shows in such a short space of time, but my fun was only just beginning!
My parents have been trying to move away from Essex for about the last 2 years. Finally, it would seem, they had achieved their goal. They had lived in the village of Mountnessing since 1965, my Mother had been there since about 1955, but now they had found their dream home for their retirement years in the town of Newcastle Emlyn in Wales, close to where my sister Sue had lived for the previous 10 years. I travelled down to Wales on the Wednesday and we began the move in earnest on the Thursday. It was hard work but very rewarding. The area they have moved to is delightful and their new house is gorgeous. Never in the field of Human removals, have so many boxes been opened by so few people in such a short space of time. Relief was garnered in dinner at the Emlyn Arms on a couple of nights - just delightful. We had our moments of rest as well, including on Saturday driving all the way down to Laugharne to the wonderful Owl and the Pussycat cafe (encountering, of all things, a tractor rally on the way)but when we got there we found it was closed. We ate at the Green Room Cafe instead, which was equally good. Both my sisters were due to come and help out my parents, but Sue has a new "chap" and was somewhat distracted, and my poor sister Cath in Kent was due to come and help but her lovely old dog Sam was taken seriously ill and had sadly, eventually had to be put down. It brought the weekend move to a somewhat muted end. Sam was a lovely dog and a real character. Cathy and Julian loved him very much and he will be sorely missed.
I headed back to Somerset today and will be travelling to the South East tomorrow for a show at Wandsworth on Wednesday and another in Norfolk on Friday. The weather forecast is a little scary looking, but it should be OK.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Thorncombe Village Fete

When I appeared at the Barrington Court Mistletoe Festival last November little did I know it would lead to this day! On one of the various stalls that day, there was a lovely lady called Heather Upham and she had connections with the village of Thorncombe, which is in Dorset so ignore all the rubbish I said before when I said it was in Devon! She had contacted me and wanted to know if I could come and open the fete, which I was more than happy to do. It was a lovely day today and Thorncombe is a delightful little village. The main event was happening in the school and next to the village hall. It was quite a set up, with a big hog roast (which was delicious), lots of very professional looking stalls selling bric-a-brac and second hand books, a raffle, tombola, fighting medieval knights (the same group who I met at the Ilminster Experience last year), face painting, bowling, archery and even horse rides on little ponies for the kids.
I declared the fete open and had a good wander round the site. A couple of people came up who had seen me at previous events and there was one very nice lady who knew me from listening to my various appearances on the BBC Somerset programmes. Next I was judging the craft competition which the children from the school had taken part in. There was a performance by the Merriott Majorettes who's music was louder than Concorde at take off, followed by a demonstration of line dancing which personally I found a perfect advert of why you should go and find something else to do with your life. Anything. Taxidermy, golf, strangling invertebrates - anything is preferable to line dancing. Finally I drew and called out the results of the raffle and was then finished. It had been a hot busy day but very much worth it. A lovely day and hopefully lots of money raised for the church and school. And a big "HELLO" to the lovely lady who had seen me previously at Dillington House and has promised to come and see my show at Barrington Court in September.

Friday, June 19, 2009

They Think It's All Dover... It is Now!

Shortly after I had appeared for the Visit Kent group at Detling Showground (see this blog passim - and with pictures of Janet Fielding in a leather mini-skirt... down boy!) they asked if I would be available for another business exhibition, this time at the Cruise Terminal in Dover. Well, as the offer was for money I was in no fit state to refuse. I was trying to remember the last time I had ever been to Dover - and I honestly cannot recall ever being in the town at all. The drive down was lovely - bright sunshine and relatively clear roads. I was staying with my dear old friends Frank and Debbie Coda. Frank Coda was a great song and dance man in his day and later went on to become a respected character actor who's appeared alongside some legendary names over the years. Debbie was a former leggy Tiller Girl who went on to become a seamstress and wardrobe mistress, designing many of the wonderful little costumes on the Muppet Show down the years. They are a wonderful couple who I got to know through their lovely daughter Michelle. She worked for the Chest Heart and Stroke Association charity back in the early 90's. I organised a charity fund raising show for them and my main contact with the charity was Michelle. We hit it off straight away and have remained friends ever since. We lost contact some years ago, but through the miracle of the Internet, or more precisely Friends Reunited, we made contact again. When I first knew the Coda clan they lived in Muswell Hill but they relocated to Dover some years ago - and now they were going to let me come and stay with them.
I was pre-warned that parking outside their house could be something of a lottery, but when my sat nav brought me slithering to a halt right outside their door I was delighted to see a perfect space. I slid the car in and felt very pleased with myself. I got my suitcase, walked up the steps to their front door, knocked and waited. And waited. And waited a bit more. They weren't in. I phoned Michelle on her mobile and her folks were with her at her place in Deal but would be with me soon. Sure enough they soon arrived and I was cuddled and kissed virtually to death by both Debbie AND Frank! Even though it was only just after four in the afternoon a bottle of wine was opened for me, Frank got stuck into some Italian beer and Debbie began making inroads into the World stocks of gin and vermouth. Michelle's son Matty was next to arrive - one of the most likeable and pleasant 17 year olds you are ever likely to meet. By the time Michelle and her lovely little daughter, 6 year old Victoria arrived, I had finished the bottle of red and had now been presented with a bottle of Gerwurtztraminer (I had bought it for them) and was starting my first glass of that. The meal was astonishing - after a cold mixture of olives, gherkins, fetta and mozzarella, Debbie served spaghetti bolognese with added chopped Italian sausage, plus a side splat of polenta and what appeared to be a skip full of garlic bread. After dinner Michelle, Frank and myself jumped into Michelle's car for a drive down to where the Business Exhibition would be the following morning, just so where we were sure where it was. As we trundled down to the Cruise Terminal we all realised that Michelle's car was making an alarming noise - a horrible rumbling grinding noise. Michelle said it had been like that for a while, but after we got back we persuaded her to get the car looked at the following day. It sounded like the bearings in the wheel. Back in the house we yarned and laughed some more, but it was soon time for Michelle to get her family home.
In the morning Debbie cooked me a wonderful breakfast and then Frank drove me to the terminal. I had to go through a rigorous security search but you'll be glad to hear they let me keep my tights on. A cruise ship was in dock and so security was on high alert and obviously any Al Qaeeda attack on American's abroad is going to be conducted by some huge ginger pillock dressed as a 16th century British monarch. My bag was scanned twice and my dagger taken out, just in case it might sink the ship. I met up with the two nice ladies from Visit Kent. We went down to the exhibition itself which was taking place in the bowels of the terminal which rather than some swish international port resembled a local council authority car park. On our stand we had some small lavender pomanders to hand out to ladies. Our first visitors to the stall were a couple of ladies from ITV Teletext Holidays - I chatted a bit and then handed them their pomanders. I turned back to the two ladies I was on the stall with and smiled. One glowered at me and snapped: "Those are for genuine punters only, not just any old slag who turns up..." Lovely. I asked her how I was supposed to tell who was a genuine punter and who was a "slag"? Should I just ask them to their face? She didn't smile. The day was a bit slow to say the least - there weren't many punters in, and most of those weren't interested in a stall about Kent, they had come for the cruise companies. We were sandwiched in between the Canary Islands stall and a Scottish Highlands Cruise stall. Frank and Debbie came and picked me up after the show and we headed back to their place. They threatened more wine, but I just stuck to a couple of small beers as my head the morning after the previous wine-a-thon felt like the Kodo Drummers were having a quick warm up session in it. My two days with Frank and Debbie were delightful and fun filled. They are wonderful friends and such marvellous company. Frank's tales of his acting days were fun, fruity and a bit too rude to repeat in a family read blog!
The second day at the exhibition were even quieter and I eventually was allowed to slip away at about 2.30pm. I drove up to Essex to see my parents and Amanda and James.
Today I am back in Somerset after an horrendous journey home. Friday + M25 + A303 + forthcoming summer solstice + Stonehenge = pain in the posterior and a long journey. Tomorrow on the Saturday I am opening Thorncombe Village fete in North Devon! Come along if you're in the area!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Medieval Midsummer Merriment + Barrington Court & Birchfield Junior!

And so, it came to pass, that His Majesty Henry VIII - Good King Hal, did travel down to Abbotsbury in the county of Dorsetshire and did take part in their annual Medieval Midsummer Merriment on Saturday June 13th. Despite some dodgy weather and a little amateurish organisational moments which reminded you it was a small village event, it was a total triumph. I entertained the crowds in the main tithe barn with a presentation about Henry and his six wives, we also had some local musicians who scraped away during the main meal. Then there was the Dorchester Historical Dance group - eight middle aged ladies in dramatic and unisex Tudor and Elizabethan clothes, plus one tanned younger man who seemed very at home in tights and was very light on his feet. They did a series of dances that were perfectly adequate, but their sound system sounded like it was from the Tudor era as well. Muffled, fuzzy, hissy and at times, deafening! Finally we had "live" music from a band called The Crack who were from Weymouth, and despite the name they were not an Irish folk band but a very good straightforward party band. The food was marvellous - roast long horn beef spit roasted for about 12 hours, plus venison sausages and a fresh crunchy salad. A marvellous time was seemed to be had by all and I finally got away from the mad partying people at about 11.30pm.
Sunday saw me leaving Portesham (I had stayed at my cousin's house the night before) and headed up towards Barrington Court for a walkabout the gardens during their "Jazz on the Lawn" weekend. Now I love most "live" music, but one thing I cannot stand is Trad Jazz (actually I loathe all types of jazz, but trad jazz and modern jazz the most). It was scorchingly hot and I was tired, but I managed many laps of the house until it got to about 3pm by which time I had definitely had enough. I went and saw the lovely Rachel on the cider stall who poured me a "Barrington Shandy" (some Barrington Court cider mixed with Barrington Court apple juice - delicious and not too lethal) and I was soon scoffing a nice sausage in a bap with some fried onions on it. That certainly girded my loins! I also bumped into a lovely couple of ladies who had been at the Abbotsbury show the night before and had come along to see me! One lady was from Mosterton and the other from Oxfordshire. Bless 'em.
Monday had me down for a return visit to Birchfield Junior in Yeovil, but today was a bit different. I did the usual opening talk and the three activities (which we did all together), but straight after that I did the jousting tournament (which the ladies won!). In the afternoon we did a small play called "Henry the VIII - This is Your Life!" in which I play Henry being surprised by Michael Aspel with the famous big red book. A whole load of family and friends came to join us and we had a really good time. I did some more of my Henry routine for the Mum's and Dad's and soon it was time for home.
Tomorrow I am driving to Dover in Kent for two days at the Cruise Terminal for Visit Kent again. See you then!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

St John's Junior, Highbridge

A long week of being Henry came to a close this Friday with a return visit to St John's Junior School in Highbridge. Now this area of Somerset has been known in the past to have been slighted by some people. Admittedly, Bridgwater and it's near neighbour Highbridge are not the most aesthetically pleasing of towns you could name. Bridgwater looks like Dagenham with a Wurzel's accent and Highbridge...well, I like to refer to it as the Latin Quarter of Bridgwater.
St John's is a lovely school, very friendly and welcoming and with lovely children. After the previous days show at Wedmore with over 160 children appearing, at St John's we were down to just about 40 which involved less shouting! The morning was good fun and I was delighted to have repeated to me one of my favourite children's answers to my questions. When I asked the group who Henry's second wife was I was informed by a very serious looking young man that she was called "Annie Boyling". Love it.
I nipped out at lunch and bought a sandwich from a local petrol station, and the afternoon seemed to zip past. It ended almost inevitably with ANOTHER victory for the gentlemen in the jousting. They are really making a habit of this!
I stopped off in Crewkerne on the way home to get some shopping. This morning I have awoken to discover I have STILL not been honoured in the Queen's Birthday List. Surely it's only a matter of time? Perhaps I should start a campaign! For services to the British Tights Industry?
Tonight I am down at Abbotsbury appearing at their lovely Medieval Tythe Barn as part of their gloriously titled Midsummer Medieval Merriement! Fun. Monday I am back at Birchfield Junior in Yeovil.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

BBC Somerset, West Pennard & Wedmore

Tuesday morning had me up and about and into Taunton for another appearance on the BBC Somerset Have Your Say show. Emma Britton was on holiday so the show was hosted by Elise Raynor, and she was pretty good! I was on with Wendy Hellowell who runs a support group for people who have children with Downs Syndrome. Her group is called Ups And Downs. We had a good show and had some interesting phone ins as well.
After finishing at Taunton I drove to Yeovil as the King needed some new tights! The parking was a bit iffy, but the nice people at the Mad Hatter Shop (who supply my tights) were their usual friendly selves.
Wednesday I was back up to West Pennard School near Glastonbury. My old friend Ian Gouge was still there, only this year he is looking after the year six group. Year five were under the auspices of David Wheat - and a great group they were! The journey up was odd with a big hold up at one point down a small country lane as a big herd of cows was led across the road in front of me by a very disinterested looking cow hand. However they were soon gone and I was on my way. We have a fabulous day at the school, with much laughter and a good time truly seemed to be had by all. The early morning rain soon gave way to bright and warm sunshine. The afternoon was boisterous fun and ended with the gentlemen winning the jousting. The evening was spent at leisure watching England tonk Andorra by 6-0. It was the rugby equivalent of watching Sale Sharks play a Little Pink Pussycat. No contest.
Today I have been to Wedmore and the Hugh Sexey Middle School. As I recalled from previous years sometimes the old Sat Nav's have problems finding this address as the school really is in the middle of nowhere. Sure enough I found myself not at the right place at all but with the Sat Nav squawking away and telling me I had arrived. Computerised buffoon. I finally found the school and we had another simply superb day. It was a big group - over 160 children, but there were so many fabulous costumes you didn't know where to look first. We also had quite a cosmopolitan collection of teachers - one from Germany and another lovely lady from Canada. Fun was had by all and the afternoon was particularly good and yet again the gents came away with the win in the jousting. I am now sitting here watching England struggling against South Africa in the World Twenty 20 Cricket tournament. It is not cheering me up much.
Tomorrow I am back at St John's Junior at Highbridge. Should be fun.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Castle Primary, Stoke sub Hamdon

Last week was hard work. Last week I honestly struggled with each and every show. And then along came today! I had last appeared at Castle Primary School in Stoke sub Hamdon back in 2005 - it must have been one of the very first schools I did after becoming a full time Tudor Monarch! As I hadn't heard from them since I had sort of wondered if I had upset them! But nothing of the sort - the reason I hadn't heard from them for so long was that I had previously performed in front of four year groups combined. So after today I kind of guess I won't be hearing from them again until 2013 at the earliest, which is a real shame!
Today was great fun. It was another mixed group of years 3, 4, 5 & 6 and they were just delightful. They laughed, they whooped, they applauded, they showed brilliant amounts of Tudor knowledge and to cap it all, at the very end of the day they gave me a standing ovation, something I have never had from a school before and one which genuinely brought a lump to my throat! Thank you Castle Primary School!
The morning was brilliant fun and seemed to shoot past, even though they have a very odd set up for the day at Castle Primary which involves two (yes, TWO) morning break times - one at 10.15am and another at 11.15am. Hey-ho, each to their own. The afternoon was equally entertaining and the noise of the jousting tournament was absolutely deafening as a very capable gents team romped home to victory.
I also met today the very lovely Julie Carney who I think would make an excellent Queen Elizabeth I - all I have to do now is convince her! Watch this space.
Tomorrow I am back at BBC Somerset for the morning show, though I believe Emma Britton is away, so I am not sure who will be hosting the show. But tune in anyway folks, it's usually entertaining.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Northwick Park, Canvey Island

Let me quote you something.  You might find it interesting!  
For the final day, I was making my third return visit to Northwick Park Primary School in Canvey Island. When I first arrived I hardly recognised the place, it had been almost completely rebuilt and was now a proper Primary school rather than two separate Junior and Infant locations. They were making frantic efforts to get the place ready for it's official opening...
Sound familiar?  Well that is my entry from this very blog from my previous visit to Northwick Park Junior on Canvey Island back in 2007.  Well I was back at Northwick on Friday and, guess what?  They are having loads of work being done ready for another grand re-opening!  Some of the old classrooms were being renovated to a very high standard, plus a superb pond and nature area for the children to enjoy.  Frantic efforts were being made to get everything ready for the grand re-opening today (the Saturday).  Once again Northwick presented me with a lovely friendly school, charming helpful teachers and some very intelligent and groovy children. Some of the costumes they were wearing were brilliant.  I felt almost under-dressed!
For the first time in a long time the weather was cool and wet, but it was still warm enough to get me sweating buckets in the Henry costume.  We had a fun entertaining morning and one little lad for the first time ever knew exactly how many years had passed since Henry VIIIth had died!  I was hugely impressed!  Lunch was gorgeous - fish and chips!  But the highlight of the meal was the lovely homemade Cole slaw that it was served with - fresh, tangy, and nice and crunchy!  The afternoon shot past and a very loud jousting session was finally won by a very good boys team.
Back at my wife's house in Basildon it was announced on the news that England had lost to Holland.  I didn't really bat an eyelid - us England football fans have got used to this sort of reverse over the years.  It was only after they showed the highlights did I realise it was cricket we had lost at.  To Holland?  Bring on the Aussies?  Oh dear...

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Roman Hill Middle School, Lowestoft

Mike Farley as Good King Hal, and Helen Budd, Assistant Events Manager at Leeds Castle, working their socks off at the recent Royal Jousting Tournament.  BTW, Irn Bru tastes like crap.

I love this picture on the right.  Darlene from Leeds Castle sent it to me the other day and it just makes me laugh so much.  It almost looks like dear little Helen Budd is resting her feet on my head!
Today was yet another return visit to Roman Hill Middle School in Lowestoft in north Suffolk.  Thankfully my journey up was painless compared to a couple of years back (see this blog passim) and there were no major road traffic accidents or horrendous roadworks in Lowestoft itself.  In fact the only two things that ruined the journey up was the fact I had to leave at just before 6am and most of the journey was spent listening to the inane brainless ramblings of Sarah Kennedy on Radio 2.  Considering it is only a couple of days after the Air France plane crash, the idiotic woman was jabbering about her own experiences of Air France on a recent trip to Egypt.  Apparently it was a "jolly nice airline", which I am sure will be of monumental relief to all the mourning families across the globe.   And as today was a polling day in the European elections, she assured us she would not be digging any political stories out of the newspaper reviews that she does each day.  Now Sarah has her political colours very firmly nailed to her mast most of the time and you would have to be pretty dense not to work out her political leanings, but she was not going to make any comments about the impending implosion of Gordon Brown's government in the elections - but she reckoned the day was going to be entertaining and "jolly interesting".  Someone get this buffoon off the air because....damn!  But enough of my Will Smith impressions from "Men in Black".
It was great fun at the school today.  A group of about 80, very enthusiastic children, and some lovely teachers - but not dear Rebecca Haste from previous years.  She was busy having a fun time in Australia, and I can't blame her!  She'd heard my inane jokes for the previous five years and probably considered the antipodes as the best place to get away from them this time around.  We had a fabulous day with the only draw back being we ran out of time to find champions in the jousting!  We had a ladies race and a gents race, but that was it!  No final!  Perhaps next year.  The journey back was less of a drag as Sarah Kennedy had gone home to nail four CWT of blue bunting to the front of her country mansion.
I have spent this evening trying to teach James how to play "Super Mario Cart" on the Wii, and he is slowly getting the hang of it, but he is still not quite getting the idea that driving in a straight line is the quickest way to win a race.  Never mind, I am sure even Lewis Hamilton and Jensen Button had these problems at first.  Tomorrow I am back at Northwick Park in Canvey Island.  Should be a good one.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


We are all so in need of our modern contraptions, aren't we?  Now, you'd have thought that a big old, roughty-toughty Tudor King like me would have no need of such namby pamby things like Sat Navs, wouldn't you?  How wrong.
Last week, whilst at Leeds Castle (hence the excuse for this photo here!) I had the pleasure of attending John Summer's farewell bash which took place at a very nice Indian restaurant in the middle of nowhere in Kent.  I hadn't paid much attention on how we'd got to this particular restaurant (I had driven in convoy with others) as I knew I had my faithful old Sat Nav in the car to help find my way back to my sister's place at Stockbury.  WRONG!  I came out of the restaurant after the meal and climbed in my car.  Not a sign of the Sat Nav.  Rummage, rummage, rummage.  Still nothing.  I know, I still have dear old Doris in the car, my emergency back up Sat Nav who runs on batteries only.  There she is...oh dear.  No batteries.  I took them out the previous week as my Mother needed them for her camera.  You suddenly feel the cold chill of reality running down your spine.  Yes, you are going to have to use those old fashioned things called "road signs" to find your way back to your bed tonight.  And, ye Gods, it worked!  However, this didn't solve the fact that this week I had three big Henry shows to do in Essex and Suffolk and not a sat nav that would last more than an hour to help me.  Until of course I got to Thundersley Junior this morning and while pulling all the props out of the car... there was the SAT NAV!  Cue choirs of angels, cannon fire, Hallelujah Chorus, flashing lights and laser show.  Well, to be honest it was more of "for *£%$'s sake!" and a heavy sigh.
It was my third year at Thundersley Junior and as ever it was a pleasure to come and see everyone there.  Fabulous costumes, great kids and lovely teachers.  What more could you ask for?  Also, the temperature had dropped considerably from the previous few days and that made things a lot more tolerable for me.  The afternoon joust was a belter, loads of noise and a close but deserved victory for the ladies.  Great stuff!  Tomorrow I am back at Roman Hill Junior in Lowestoft in Suffolk, so it's an early start tomorrow.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Joust a Minute

Sir Eugene of Knebworth and Sir Stephen of Porlock contemplate darning the ladder in His Majesty's tights with a dirty big needle.

And after the rain came the sun.  Where on the Wednesday we had all frozen at the jousting tournament at Leeds Castle, from Thursday onwards it got hotter and hotter, and the crowds grew larger.  On the Friday we attracted an almost unbelievable 8,400 visitors on one day - a record for a Friday we were told.  Queues of cars were stretching from the main entrance, all along the A20 and back to the M20.  On the other days we were getting at least 7,500 people which just goes to prove how popular the jousting tournament was with the public.
Apart from laddering my tights on one day, the other highlights were seeing some old friends who had come to visit during my stay at the Castle.  Anne Crocker and Ben Lyle from Shoreham brought along their lovely daughters Nell and Tilly; an old friend of my Father's, William Brown came along with a section of his immediate family; and on the Sunday the lovely Michelle Coda came along with her Mum and Dad, the indomitable Frank and Debbie, plus her partner and two children - and it was just so nice to see them all!
The whole experience of the jousting tournament has been positive, and I particularly enjoyed the final two shows as Jeremy (who is head of the Royal Knights of England) suggested I keep an open mic in the Royal Box and have some banter with Roland, the announcer.  This was great fun and everyone seemed to enjoy it!  Big thanks to Darlene, Helen and everyone else at Leeds Castle for everything as ever.  Also thanks to Cath and Julian for letting me stay at their lovely house again.
I have a couple of days to recuperate now and then I am off to Thundersley on Wednesday, Lowestoft on Thursday and Canvey Island on Friday.