Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Rudolf Ferdinand, shortly before his call-up to Fabio Capello's England World Cup squad.

Another year done at Leeds Castle as Father Christmas. As you can see, I wasn't lying in the previous post about how my reindeer looked like Rio Ferdinand. The final four days at the castle had also included me working nights actually in the castle rather than down at my grotto. For these final days and because of the awful weather conditions in Kent, I didn't stay at Cathy's near Sittingbourne - their driveway was just too icy to get up! - and was housed at the Castle. I was in a room called Aviary 4. I wondered if they let this room to Aviary Tom Dick and Harry who came along...? I apologise for that joke.
Some of the children were just lovely - one little boy, somewhat overawed at meeting Father Christmas wasn't quite sure what he wanted for a present. He ummed and ahhed, and looking desperately round my grotto eventually blurted out that he wanted "a branch". His parents looked bemused, but I assured them if I was going to bring him a branch I would make sure it was a "special branch". I apologise for that joke as well.
I drove up to Essex on the evening of the 23rd December and picking up Amanda and James we headed down to Wales and my parent's place on Christmas Eve. My father cooked a magnificent Beef Wellington that evening. On Christmas Day we were joined by my sister Sue and her chap Ian and a wonderful day was had by all.
I drove Amanda and James back to Essex on the 27th and after that, just to see how much punishment a body and car can take, I then drove on down to Somerset and found myself at home for the first time in what seemed like a very long time. Climbing over a mountain of mail I entered a flat that resembled an ice block. Thank God for central heating.
New Year I am due down in Wales again, but purely dependent on the weather which is looking a tad ropey at the moment. We shall see.
Happy New Year to one and all. Here's to 2010.

Friday, December 11, 2009

2009 -Thank You!

Good King Hal, just reminding you what Leeds Castle looks like - in case you'd forgotten.

Well, this is it, probably my last chance to post anything on this blog until way after Christmas. I am leaving shortly to drive to Essex to see Amanda and James, as tomorrow is James' 7th Birthday Party. Following that I am then down at Leeds Castle as Father Christmas again and will be, more or less, until the 23rd December. I have requested to have Christmas Eve off as I am spending Christmas itself with my parents in their new Ceaucescu-style mansion in Wales, and a mad dash from Kent to Wales on Christmas Eve is not a prospect that fills me with much enthusiasm. So I will be heading to Somerset first on the 23rd, and from there onto Wales the following day.
2009 has been a particularly successful year for Good King Hal. The company is now called Past Presence Ltd., I have met and made some fabulous new friends this year and seen some nice old ones as well. All the feedback from the shows are nothing but positive and the company seems to be going from strength to strength. A young lady I met at a school recently seems very keen to come on board and take over the 2nd World War days that we began last year, so I will be seeing her again in January for a meeting to try and make things a bit more definite. I have been asked to come and be a regular presenter on Radio Crewkerne (when it eventually starts), I am getting more and more feedback from every appearance I make on Emma Britton's show on BBC Somerset and...well, not wishing to blow my own trumpet too much...things are looking pretty rosy in the garden at the moment. A big thank you to Annie and Helen at Rochester Cathedral for all their help and encouragement this year - here's to more in 2010! Another big THANK YOU to the ever wonderful Darlene and Helen at Leeds Castle for more fun and friendship - a true home from home for me. And a particularly massive thank you and good luck for a troubled time that he is encountering to the deeply wonderful Matthew Applegate at Barrington Court. Matthew is one of the hardest working men I know. He puts heart and soul into running this gem of an Elizabethan Building that the NT own - and do they appreciate him? No they so**ing well don't! Not one jot. More power to your elbow Mr Applegate!
Also, COMING SOON (hopefully) The Barrington Court Classic Movies Club... Watch this space for more.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Christmas Shopping

A Leeds Castle, yesterday.

Christmas Shopping. Two words guaranteed to make grown men scream, women weep and children dive for cover. I have taken the coward's way out this year and done the vast majority of my shopping on-line. However, there were a few bits I still had to get from a pukka High Street and so this morning I had to go to... TAUNTON! Now Taunton is one of those towns that getting into it at any time is a pain, so just a few weeks before Christmas it didn't bode well - and I was right. Even at only just after 9am it was one huge heaving mass of humanity. I braved the Lush Shop and it's pungent smells to get some stuff for Amanda, then got some wrapping paper and other stuff. Finally within about an hour and a half I was done - FINISHED! I HAD FINISHED MY CHRISTMAS SHOPPING! On the 8th December? That has got to be a record. And just think, in about 365 days we'll all be obsessing again. Actually, Christmas usually starts in the High Streets from about late August.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Sleighing Them.

Good King Hal, cunningly disguised as Father Christmas, explains to Silvio Berlusconi's London Ambassador about how some investments may go up, down and even round and round. It's a tough job but someone had to do it.

Christmas is coming,
The goose is getting fat,

Please spend a penny

In the old man's hat. (Nearly).

Yes, December dawns, wet and miserable and that can only mean one thing = less than a month before David Tennant stops being Doctor Who. What am I going to do??? It also means it is time for me to rip off my cod-piece and tights, leap into an enormous red baby-gro, don a beard that makes me look like ZZ Top will in 25 years time and then start distributing presents to the good and great who visit Leeds Castle near Maidstone in Kent. Yes it is my FOURTH year of being Father Christmas at Leeds Castle. For the third time we are in the old Tennis pavilion with it's log walls and thatched roof, and once again Dallas (a man that CAN) has designed a winter wonderland within. From the enlarged waiting room, the children are led by merry elves through a series of small rooms showing scenes of Christmas cheer (Christmas cheer equals penguins, polar bears, reindeer and a light cascade that looks like a waterfall. Trust me, when you see it, it looks fabulous). Also different this year is my room. Gone is the cosy study look and instead I am seated on a large sleigh, with steps leading up to it so the children and parents can join me. I also have one very sad looking reindeer shackled to my sleigh via tinsel who bears more than a slight resemblance to Rio Ferdinand on a bad day. I am also surrounded by Christmas trees festooned with snow. It really looks the business. I was there for the first time on the 5th and 6th December, I am back again on the 13th and then from the 16th to the 23rd inclusive.

Rio Ferdinand, yesterday, just before kick off.

It's great to see the familiar faces of Leeds Castle again - Darlene Cavill, Helen Budd, Jeanne Beaton and everyone else. Even Mark Brattle took time off from flinging his owls around to come and say hello on Sunday. It was steady all through both days and not really too much like the Rorke's Drift effect we suffered last year. Our presents this year are books full of floor puzzles - large ones for older children and small books of puzzles for the younger ones.

I am staying with my sister Cathy and her husband, Julian, again when I am doing the shows at Leeds, and it is fun spending the evening with Cathy strumming guitars and singing badly to each other. We have decided to record a song to unleash upon the world, our first idea is to do a cover version - a hippie psychedelic version of Strawberry Switchblade's "Since Yesterday" from 1983. It will be the greatest thing ever recorded and should completely obliterate Simon Cowell and his evil empire when unleashed on an unsuspecting British audience early next year.

Oh, and Manchester City 2-1 Chelsea. Get in!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Long Sutton, Somerset

Enough to put you off your Christmas Dinner.

Back in 2005 I did a show at Long Sutton, a nice little village school on the way to Glastonbury and near to Langport. What I remember of the day was that it was fun, but there was a lot of building work going on which made it quite distracting. However, I was delighted to receive an invite back and I was even more delighted to discover that the new head teacher at Long Sutton was none other than Lizzie Reynolds, former deputy head at Manor Court School in Chard. I drove up through a drowned landscape. With all the ferocious amounts of rain we have had recently it really shouldn't have been a surprise to see so many flooded fields in the flat lands round Long Sutton - but it was still quite a shock. Some of the distant fields actually looked like long term permanent lakes. In Long Load, a village near Long Sutton, there is a river that runs past the north end of the village. It is crossed by a small metal hump back bridge. As I went over I looked to my right - the swollen waters were very nearly up to the base of the bridge. Astonishing.
I arrived at the school and was warmly welcomed by Lizzie. Long Sutton is a wonderful school and we had a fine morning. It was a biggish group - maybe about 70 children, and they were very excited and knowledgeable and always ready to laugh. I had an extended break during the morning when the children had an assembly, but I bravely endured sitting in the staff room eating miniature mince pies and drinking mugs of tea. What a brave little soldier I am. I wandered down to the brilliant village stores in Long Sutton (trust me on this, this little shop is a wonder) and bought myself a sandwich and drink at lunchtime. Back in the hall the afternoon session seemed to fly past and we were soon in the middle of a deafening and pulsating jousting tournament. It was nip and tuck all the way until finally, the ladies stormed through on the final leg and triumphed. So now, at the Christmas break the score is:
And so from now on it is Father Christmas all the way! I am driving up to Kent today to stay at my sister's near Sittingbourne, then tomorrow... it is helicopter day! If this is the final entry ever in this blog then you know something went wrong...

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Maynard School, Exeter

Good King Hal, for some unknown reason, appearing to tickle a sun dial with a sprig of Mistletoe. This is illegal in 48 of the 50 states of North America, but not in Skegness on Fridays.

The Maynard School in Exeter were very good to me. They said I could start the show at 10.30 am rather than my usual 9 am start. This was lovely and meant I got a mini lie-in in the morning. As usual at this popular private girl's school it was a very small group that I was dealing with for the day - only 12 young ladies, with this number dropping to 11 for the afternoon as one had to go off to a theatre rehearsal. I was warmly welcomed by Steve, the head of year, and of course by the lovely Keagh Fry, the year four teacher. Although it was a small group, it was lively, and one or two of the ladies showed some brilliant knowledge of the Tudor era.
Lunch was particularly gorgeous - one of the best school dinners I have had in the past 6 years of being Henry! Keagh and I wandered down to the dining hall and were delighted to find they were serving roast beef, Yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes and horse radish sauce, and it was all cooked to perfection. Delicious.
The afternoon was lively and fun, and we had a short break when a photographer turned up from the local paper, plus a young lady who looks after the school website who also blazed away for plenty of pics. The jousting was fun and of course a ladies team won - but of course without any chaps about the score cannot possibly be added to the yearly round up.
I have just sat and watched delightedly as Manchester City thrashed Arsenal's under 15 team 3-0 in the quarter final of the League Cup. Tomorrow it is off to see my old friend Lizzie Reynolds in her new position as head teacher at Long Sutton school - my first visit there since 2005.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Dean Close School, Cheltenham & Henhayes OAP's!

Good King Hal, getting "jiggy wid der spriggy" at the Mistletoe Fayre. It didn't work.

After the joys of the Misteltoe Fayre I was up at the crack of dawn on a rainy and wind-blown Monday morning for a journey up the M5 to Cheltenham and a return for the 5th time to Dean Close School. It was good to be back and we had a lovely time. The morning session was full of fun and laughter, and there were some fabulous designs on the coat of arms that the children made. The main hall we were in was somewhat restricted for us by a huge stage poking out into the middle of the hall and a mass of chairs set up for a school production of "Godspell". Lunch at Dean Close was, as ever, wonderful. Pasta Bolognese, which for once with a school dinner was actually very very tasty and more-ish. I wolfed that down and then demolished a nice bowl of apple crumble and custard. Lovely! Because of the lack of space in the hall there was no room for a proper joust so instead I set up one set of quintane polls on the stage and the race was done purely as a time trial between two teams. The gents went first and posted a time of 1 minute and 19 seconds. Then it was the ladies turn. They did well but could only manage a time of 1 minute and 23 seconds. Therefore the score is now:
After re-loading the car I was on my way. The journey home was nice and, most importantly considering the recent weather, dry. If it had rained any more I was considering trading the Mazda in for a hovercraft, or even some water wings.
Today was nice and local - doing a talk to a pensioners group at the Henhayes Centre in Crewkerne. They had offered me travel expenses, but as I can virtually open my front door and fall into the Centre there seemed little point. I'd probably end up owing them money. The group was about 20 ladies and gents and they were all lovely and seemed to really enjoy it. I finished there, did some Christmas shopping in town and then headed for home.
Tomorrow I am back at The Maynard School in Exeter. I won't be able to add the result of the joust to the yearly school as, like Godstowe Prep in High Wycombe, this is an all-girls school. Thursday I am in Long Sutton in Somerset then this weekend I have my first appearances as Father Christmas at Leeds Castle - including the dreaded helicopter flight on Saturday. Watch this space for more...