Monday, August 31, 2009

Rural Life Museum, Glastonbury (with added Chickens!)

One of my favourite places on Earth is Glastonbury Tor. It is such a spell-binding symbol of the west country and is visible for miles around. Even to this day, all those years since I first laid eyes on it (March 1988 to be precise) I still get a weird feeling of the hairs on the back of my neck standing up when I see it. To drive to Glastonbury from my home in Crewkerne involves driving up past Compton Dundon and Somerton. Your view of the Tor is obscured until you reach the crossroads where the road splits off to either Keinton Mandeville or Ashcott, or straight on to Street and Glastonbury - suddenly it looms up at you from the landscape, and it still takes my breath away.
Once a year I am privileged enough to do some stand up Henry shows at the delightful Rural Life Museum in Glastonbury. It is right at the foot of the Tor (as the picture above shows you) and is a charming little museum with a fine Tithe Barn and a recreation of a Victorian Farmhouse. I do my shows in the Tithe Barn with it's dirt floor and moody secluded lighting which gives the impression of candle light. I was working on the Saturday and the Bank Holiday Monday (rather parochially the museum shuts on Sundays), doing three shows each day. Each day the shows followed the same routine - early show would be sparsely attended, but the group were enthusiastic and laughed a lot; the middle show would be much busier, but quiet and getting laughs from the audience were like pulling teeth; the final show would be packed and the audience were hugely responsive.
It was a fabulous weekend and great fun to work with the lovely staff at this wonderful museum. Next weekend I am at Dillington House near Ilminster for their open day on Sunday, then it is back in the schools again for the new term! Here we go!

Friday, August 28, 2009

BBC Somerset

BBC Somerset's Emma Britton enjoying the hors d'ouerve before the main course of pinot grigot turns up.

And so, for the first time in what felt like a longtime, I was back in good old Taunton and on BBC Somerset with the lovely Emma Britton on her morning show. I was on with a chap I had appeared on the show before with, possibly back when Jo Phillips was doing the show. His name was Jamie and he was a fund raiser with Secret World which is a wildlife sanctuary in mid Somerset. He was great company and the show seemed to go pretty well. Our main talking point was the fact that the Little Chef which has been tarted up by Heston Blumenthal on the A303 is now going to be in the next Good Food Guide. It was lovely to work with the delightful Emma again. She is such a bubbly character and brings such a sense of fun to the whole show. The hour seemed to go past very quickly. If you wish to hear it again, go to the page and click on the "listen again" section. Choose Emma Britton's "Have Your Say" show and choose Friday. I am on for the first hour, but the whole show is definitely worth a listen. I was on to plug the two shows I am doing this weekend in Glastonbury at the Rural Life Museum. Come and join me! I stopped briefly on the way home to see Matthew Applegate at Barrington Court and discuss future projects including the already near legendary Chutfest '09 - watch this space for more! So, Rural Life Museum in Glastonbury tomorrow and on Bank Holiday Monday.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Two Days at Barrington Court, a Holiday at Chavoncy sur la Mare, a new car and a visit to Wales!

There is no finer place to be on a hot summer's afternoon than at Barrington Court near Ilminster. I was really looking forward to my two days wandering round the old pile again - it was just a shame my old mate Matthew Applegate wasn't around as he was off enjoying a well deserved holiday in France. I was left in the very capable hands of his new "apprentice" Kate Churchill who did a wonderful job. I was there for the Saturday and the Sunday, however on the Sunday I also had another pressing engagement - my own holiday! Many years back I would regularly go camping with some friends from Essex and we would venture off into the wild West Country and have a good time. We had all decided we should do this again and, even though I now live in the West Country myself, it was to be the way out west we'd head again. So on my first day of holiday I was also to be doing a 4-hour stint at Barrington Court. We were to be camped at Freshwater Holiday Park in Burton Bradstock in Dorset. Therefore on the Sunday I dropped my wife, son and about three tons of camping equipment at Burton Bradstock and then skedaddled back to Barrington. The walkabout at Barrington went well on the Sunday, particularly with three lovely, but insane ladies from the West Midlands who had come down especially to see me. One of the ladies in particular kept hugging me and telling me what a "darling man" I was. Should have gone to Spec Savers, bless her.
Now back to the Holiday Park... When I had first arrived in the morning my impression had been "Oh My God..." It was a heaving mass of humanity perched on a beach. Caravans were EVERYWHERE. The actual area for tents was not bad, but you were crammed in tight, in a sort of cheek-by-jowl arrangement. Added to which the rest of the people camped on the site seemed to only have football shirts, tattoos, cigarettes and swearing to keep them entertained. We therefore quickly christened the site Chav-on-Sea, but if you say that quick enough it sounds like an exotic French seaside town - Chavoncy! We were soon all singing along to the tune of "La Mer" with our made up words of - "Chavoncy, sur-la-Mer, La merde de chien sur la plage" etc etc. Now on the plus side there was a great swimming pool which my six year old son thought was the best thing since sliced bread, and the toilet and showering facilities were excellent and kept almost pathologically clean by an army of Lady MacBeths, scrubbing away at any "damn spot" they came across. It could be quite noisy at night as well, when the chavs got a bit too much "Yob gas" or "tart fuel" inside them, and it was quite pricey as well, so I don't think we'll bother with that campsite again. It was nice to see all my friends despite that and we had some lovely days out at places like Maiden Castle, Bovington Camp and a brilliant curry house in Bridport on the last night! (The Taj Mahal if you were wondering).
On heading for home briefly, I stopped to say a fond farewell to my old Peugeot 406 which I had part exchanged for a Mazda 323, which despite being five years old only had 12,000 genuine miles on the clock. Lovely!
Barely pausing to wipe the grin off my face, Amanda, James and I were then leaping into the said Mazda and roaring off to Welsh Wales and a visit to my parents at their new home in Newcastle Emlyn. We have just got back from that, Amanda and James have vanished off back to Essex and I am sitting here gasping for breath while the dust settles around me. I need a holiday after all that. But not in Burton Bradstock. Hell, no!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

More Rochester Castle Pics!

Henry VIIIth showing Anne of Cleves an old trick he learnt in the Army. The ancient monument in the background is Hans Holbein. Behind him is Rochester Castle.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Henry meets Anne of Cleves in Rochester!

Hans Holbein shows Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves his etchings. Some day his prints will come.

I am ashamed to admit something. I had never been to Rochester in Kent before. There, I've said it and I feel better for getting it off my chest. After doing various bits of work for Visit Kent at the ExCel Arena in London and down at the Dover Cruise Terminal (see various blog entries in the past about all that) my name had got to the good people at Rochester Cathedral and Rochester Castle. Now Rochester looms large in the history of Henry VIII as it was at this Kent city that our rotund Tudor hero first met Anne of Cleves, his fourth wife. The Cathedral people had decided to cash in on the 500th anniversary of Henry's accession to the throne in 1509 by staging a "re-enactment" of this first meeting, which originally didn't go very well - luckily our interpretation of it seemed far more successful.
I had driven down to Kent on the Monday afternoon and stayed with my sister and her husband at their lovely house near Sittingbourne. We had a lovely evening eating curry and then Cathy (my sister) and I spent the rest of the night jamming together on guitars and mandolin. Fun fun fun, but probably not if you were a true music lover. The following morning I drove up to Rochester, as I have said before, my first visit to this lovely city, and it truly is lovely to look at. The castle and Cathedral, sitting cheek by jowl, are amazing to see. I was lucky enough to be able to park right next to the Cathedral's back door! I was then introduced to the actor playing Holbein for the re-enactment - a really nice man who I think was called Andrew, but if I have the name wrong I apologise profusely. Then entered the actress playing Anne of Cleves, a delightful little lady called Kiri Bloom - a name you don't forget in a hurry. She had made her own costume, which was brilliant, and additionally she was only 4 feet 11 inches tall, so she looked very sweet and vulnerable next big nasty old Henry. The plan for the day was simple, we would ponce around the Cathedral for a while to begin with, having promotional photos taken and also speaking to any press that turned up (the only press that turned up was BBC Radio Kent) before making our way round to the war memorial outside the Cathedral where we would do our two interpretations of Henry's meeting with Anne, one at 11am and one at 12 noon. We would be preceded by Rochester's town crier who would announce us and on we'd go. A script had been drawn up the day before the show, but we were only to use it as a vague outline of what to do, improvisation was the name of the game today. The two morning presentations went very well, lots of laughs and impromptu asides and the audience seemed to enjoy it. The second one was probably the best of the two.
We were treated to a sumptuous lunch at a pub near the Castle called the something or other Vaults - didn't quite catch the name, but it was very very good. It was fun walking down the pub with all three of us still in costume. After lunch we were up at the Castle wandering about meeting people and we were requested to do the interpretation again - and so we did for a third time! More fun! Then it was back to the Cathedral another little wander about and then that was about it. A really fun day.
I drove back up to Essex, met up with Amanda and James and we then drove up to Maldon for an evening meal with Kevin and Ann Rowley and their lovely mostly grown-up children, Rachel, Charlotte and Michael. It was a perfect end to a very lovely day. Tired today, but happy.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Southchurch Hall Tudor Day 2009

Henry VIIIth, accidentally sitting down too fast and nearly dissolving his Monasteries.

Last year I had the pleasure of appearing at the Southchurch Hall Tudor Day, and it was such good fun that I was delighted to receive a follow up invitation for this year's event. The weather was a lot better than last year and I was pleased to find a parking spot right by the main entrance to the park. As I said before, Southchurch Hall is this delightful old Tudor building nestling amongst some fairly anonymous 1920's and 30's developments. Like last year they had set up a mini-Tudor village with an apothecarist, various other vendors, a wise woman and a working medieval/Tudor wood lathe. I was very happy to see the same Jester that had appeared last year. I asked him where he was based and he said "Hadleigh, for this time of year..." it turned out that he lives the rest of the time in Western Australia! He was as good as ever, as was the wonderful Tudor musician with all his collection of fantastic instruments. There was however, a complete lack of any sweating screaming lunatic telling stories of the Marie Rose sinking in Portsmouth Harbour - thank God.
I did my first talk in the main hall during the morning session, and it was packed out. There were some good laughs to be had and a nice receptive crowd. I wandered the grounds and kissed young ladies hands, shook hands with gents, and had my photo taken with many bemused but friendly children. The warmer weather this year seemed, to my eyes at least, to have brought out more crowds than last years. Many people came up to see me who had been at the show last year, and I had many photos again taken by the lovely people who publish them on which is where I got the wonderful picture above, taken this very day!
We had the parade of children in fancy dress and chose the best costumes for boy and girl, and then it was my second talk of the day. This take place outside under one of the trees and I had another big and lovely crowd watching. Laughs a plenty and then it was over. I had been so busy I had managed to miss lunch so I was delighted to find a wonderful hot meal waiting for me on my return to Amanda's house in Basildon. And yes, it WAS sunny Basildon.
Off to Rochester in Kent for a photo shoot at the castle. See you there!