Thursday, September 24, 2009

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

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

Monday, September 21, 2009

That Was One Hell of a Week That Was Part Three

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

Sunday, September 20, 2009

That Was One Hell of a Week That Was Part Two

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

Saturday, September 19, 2009

That Was One Hell of a Week That Was Part One

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

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Manor Court Junior, Chard

Good King Hal, proving once and for all that he needs the dough. (Geddit?)
My annual visit to Manor Court Junior School in Chard is becoming almost as much of a regular thing as the return of the Swallows every summer. With the slight difference that I don't perch on telephone wires or make small houses out of mud, crap and spit and then stick them in the eaves of people's houses only showing myself to come out and hunt for small airborne insects or to have a poo. And mores the pity I say. How exciting life would be!
I love Manor Court as it is such a friendly school. The teachers are just lovely, always friendly, chatty and great fun. We had the added pleasure of a couple of student teachers today who were all of the above and with the added bonus of both being very easy on the eye. Always a plus point with naughty old Henry. The children were all brilliant today as well - terrific fun, easy to handle and very willing to laugh and have a joke. The morning went swimmingly and soon I was heading into town to grab a sandwich. In previous years I had gone to either Somerfield or Bilby's Sandwich bar, but now in 2009 they are both gone. Bilby's went some time ago and is now a Lloyd's Pharmacy. Somerfield has gone and is being replaced by a Sainsburys, but that won't open until October. Therefore I had to trundle into the middle of town until I found a bakers. I bought a "steak Cornish pasty". For "steak" read "tons of chopped potato and about three bits of apparently carbonised meat gristle in a dull brown sludge". Yummy!
After my gastric blow out at lunch it was back for an afternoon of fun, frolics and jousting. A wonderful time was had by all and a brilliantly mad, eccentric ladies team waltzed off with the title and the certificates. Wonderful stuff. This makes our score for this year:
Exciting or what? (What?)
Tomorrow (Friday) I am off to Penrith and my old mate Andy Blundell's place to help him celebrate the opening of his new antique furniture showroom. And then onto Disneyland. Good 'ere, innit?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Shillingstone Primary, Dorset

Henry VIII, shortly after resigning as President of the Vegan Society.
Ah, the sweet knowledge that the school year has begun again! Good King Hal was back on the road again today for the first show back on the circuit after the summer hiatus. It was a half day today at a little village called Shillingstone near Blandford Forum in deepest, not very darkest, Dorset. I made a joke on my Facebook page today that Shillingstone hadn't gone to the decimal system yet, but no one seemed to get it. (SHILLING-stone? 5p-stone? Geddit? No, most others didn't either).
Shillingstone Primary School is a delightful, tiny, early Victorian school building with various other bits bolted onto it, like some sort of random built meccano educational establishment. Added to this is the fact that the place has no parking whatsoever, so I had to park on the busy main street to unload my Henry gear and then park about 500 yards along this same road in the tiny car park of a Church Hall. This lack of car parking has now induced the good people of Dorset County Council and Shillingstone to re-locate the school to new premises on the edge of the village. A new build is taking place and they are promised to be in at about this time next year. Fingers, eyes and legs crossed that is.
Today was just a half day, but terrific fun all the same. The group was about 25 children from years 5 and 6, and they had only just started studying the Tudors, but there was still plenty of good Tudor general knowledge on display. Lots of giggles and laughs, lots of nice compliments from the lovely teaching staff and a jousting tournament that started quietly but soon built up to a fine crescendo ending with a well deserved victory for the ladies team. Perhaps I should try and keep score again? OK...
Watch this space for more! Thursday I am at Manor Court School in Chard, from thence to Penrith in Cumbria to open a new showroom for my friend Andy Blundell's antique furniture restoration business, and then off to Disneyland in Paris with Amanda and James.... Phew. I am exhausted just thinking about it.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Dillington House Open Day

Good King Hal, in his luxury dressing room today, with what appears to be a box of matches exploding in his hands.
Dillington House is a delightful place. I have been wondering on how to best describe this gorgeous Elizabethan house, but thought it best to leave it to themselves. This is how Dillington House describes itself on it's own website:
"Dillington House is Somerset County Council’s residential centre for professional development, adult education and the arts. Founded in 1949, it has been offering lifelong learning opportunities for over fifty years. The arts play an important role in creating the unique ambience which is Dillington. Although Dillington House is wholly part of Somerset County Council it operates without public subsidy and is responsible for meeting all of its costs.The Main House dates back to the 16th century and is one of the most beautiful houses in Somerset and features in Simon Jenkins’ book England’s 1000 Best Houses.
The accommodation is in a range of bedrooms, most of which are en-suite, that are located in the House, the Mews or the Hyde. Dillington House is neither an hotel, college nor simple conference centre. It is uniquely something special at which everything and anything is possible. Standards of service and accommodation are very high and Dillington remains the only establishment to have been awarded 5-stars by the English Tourism Council under their “Campus” quality assessment scheme."
I really honestly could not have put that better myself! Well, today was their open day and for a second year running I was invited along to wander the house and grounds and chat to people. This year seemed a lot busier than last year, but the weather was pretty much the same, overcast and blowy, but not entirely cold. Three lovely old cars sat sentinel on the front gravel driveway. A massive 1936 Rolls Royce, an equally gargantuan 1929 Lanchester and a very cute 1935 Rover.
As you can sort of see from my picture above, my dressing room was a luxurious affair. It was one of the lovely en-suite rooms you can have at Dillington House and was sumptuously furnished and very comfortable. I bumped into lots of friends from Barrington Court, a lady I had done a BBC Somerset show with and even one of the couples from the Chard Historical Group meeting I spoke to. I had a lovely packed lunch, more wandering, but by 4pm my back was aching and I felt it was time to go. It was a fabulous day and Dillington House is definitely worth a visit.
Next Henry show is on Tuesday at Shillingstone in Dorset.