Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Easter Theatre

Good King Hal was beginning to wonder if the courtesy car was not all it was cracked up to be.

I took my car in for it's MOT this morning. Dear old Popular Motors in Merriott, and the deeply sainted Ian Summers there, lent me a courtesy car as my Mazda was being done. It was a Renault Laguna, Ian reckoned it wasn't all that good. He was right. It was a shed on wheels to be honest. But such entertainment! Every time you went round a corner all the warning lights on the dashboard came on, then they slowly went out one by one as you straightened out. The engine temperature gauge starts at about magma, but then shoots down to something just below zero degrees Kelvin and then continues to yo-yo between the two for the rest of the time you are driving. The dashboard also lights up in different places as though you are constantly flicking the headlights on and off as you go. Marvellous stuff. I urge someone to go to Popular Motors and buy this vehicle. You will never be short of entertainment or something to talk about. On the way back from Merriott I stopped in Crewkerne at the big new Waitrose store and bought, amongst other things, a curry pot noodle. Now buying a pot noodle in Waitrose just feels dirty and wrong. It is like having dinner with the Queen whilst thunderously breaking wind with great force. Or meeting the Pope and constantly name dropping that your best mate is the Rev. Ian Paisley. I felt very naughty.
The previous day I had finished my brief tour of Essex with a return visit to the lovely Wickford Junior School. As ever, the kids were brilliant, superb costumes, good attitude and a readiness to laugh and enjoy themselves while they were learning. A pretty nice day all in all. Some of the teachers seemed a little distant on the day, I wasn't really sure what that was all about, but it was on the whole a good experience. The jousting was of a very high standard and ended with ANOTHER win for the gents! Amazing - three in a row. This now makes our year long score:
It's getting closer now. The gents will have another chance to close the gap again when tomorrow I am in Bristol for a first ever visit to Parson Street Primary School. I must keep an eye out for Tingtong Fanakapahn.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Harlow, Goodbye

Good King Hal, suddenly discovering that woodworm can "jump" from stocks to cod-piece in one easy movement.

OK, so on last Wednesday evening, I am in Langport, at LouLou's bar helping out some friends on a pub quiz, which I am delighted to announce that we win. I get home just after 11pm. On Thursday morning I am up at 3am and driving to Essex by 3.30am. Just after 9am I am in Brentwood Community Hospital where my 7-year-old son is being observed and tested about his learning delay. By 11am we are informed that he has autism. For me this is quite a relief as the worst part about any problems with a child of your own is the not knowing what is going on. To finally be able to put a label on it is, I feel, the first positive step in doing something about it and I feel now that this is known he will get all the help and support he needs, as well as his usual quota of love and affection from his Mother and myself. My wife seems to have taken it a lot more on the chin than me, and seemed deeply shell shocked for the rest of the day, but I think she is slowly getting a lid on it.
On the Friday I was up to Harlow and a return visit to that delightful school, Little Parndon. This was, I think, my fifth annual visit and the school just seems to get better and better. As usual, there were some fabulous costumes, lovely kids, excitable ones as well, fantastic teachers and a warm welcome. We had a really good day all in all, for me the only down part being having to take all my props out the car during what can only be described as a monsoon. I was literally soaked to the skin when I had finished. The jousting was very exciting and, sensation of all sensations, led to another win for the gentlemen! What is happening? This now makes the annual score:
Glad to see them making a fight of it.
A nice weekend has been had with lots of fun with my son, particularly the way he took over the meal when we took him to Pizza Hut on Saturday. As we walked in the front door he walked up to a waitress and said "table for three, please!" And then later in the meal he all but put his hand up and snapped his fingers for her attention when he wanted a refill of his drink.
Tomorrow (Monday) I am back to another favourite school of mine - Wickford Junior in...er...Wickford. Back to Somerset tomorrow night.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Knights in Shining Karma

Meanwhile, back on the shelf, demon plasterer, Hank Corkpopper suddenly devised a whole new version of "University Challenge" for use in zero-g situations. Erroneous society hostess, Hortence Mouth-Breather is on the far right of the photo, brandishing the all leather boil lancing kit she won at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival. When suddenly...

I must definitely still be in a post-Andy Partridge interview fog, as for some reason at the end of the last blog entry I stated I was going to a banquet in Awford in Hampshire. What a coad of lobblers, as the Rev Spooner might have put it. There is no such place, as far as I know. I was actually going to Awbridge, near Romsey. I left with plenty of time to spare, but I got stuck in that famous bottle neck known to all and sundry as Salisbury. So as it was I actually arrived about five minutes late at the school, but it was OK, they all seemed very laid back about it! I got changed and was ushered into the hall where I was confronted by a big group of teachers, school children AND their parents! I was heralded in by two trumpeters and then greeted all the children in their Tudor finery. Next, after taking my seat at the head of the table I was treated to a fine example of Tudor dancing. We then ate a fine Tudor meal of pottage, ladies fingers, marzipan treats and lashings of home made ginger ale, which unfortunately tasted rather a lot like cold lemsip made up with cat urine, however everything else was delicious. I did a small Henry talky bit about the six wives, was then serenaded by a recorder trio, then a flautist, then a violinist, and then we had some study of a big painting of the Field of the Cloth of Gold, and almost as soon as it had started, it was over! It was a lovely little interlude at a truly wonderful school.
Early on the Saturday I drove to Wales to spend the weekend with my parents at their lovely new home in Newcastle Emlyn. The weather was mostly awful, but it was lovely to see them both and I ate and drank far too much, so Henry is back on his diet with a vengeance today! We had dinner on the Saturday night at The Daffodil Pub in a village I can't even spell, let alone pronounce. And then on the Sunday, after a nice bracing walk in the morning we drove to Cenarth and the Three Horseshoes Pub where we had a gorgeous roast beef dinner in wonderfully old world surroundings, and all with good beer, bizarrely Christmas carols on the sound system, and a gigantically chested waitress. What more could you ask for?
I drove back to Somerset on the Monday morning, and took the day relatively easily, before meeting up with Matthew Applegate from Barrington Court at the Duke of York pub in Shepton Beauchamp for a wee beer or two. Today, Tuesday I have been back to Trull School just outside Taunton for my fifth annual visit to this lovely school. We had yet another fantastic day, a very small group, only about 28 children, but in superb costumes and all very knowledgeable and excited about the day. Just before lunch we de-camped to the ancient church opposite the school for some suitably silly posed photos of Henry with the children. After lunch we whipped through a fine, fun afternoon that culminated in a very exciting jousting tournament that went to a sudden death race off in the final, which resulted in that rarest of things this year - a win for the gentlemen! This now makes our score:
Not quite respectable for the gents yet, but it is slowly getting better. Just watching Wolves take poor old West Ham to the cleaners tonight, then later this week I am back off to Little Parndon School in Harlow on Friday and then back to Wickford Junior in...er...Wickford on Monday. All should be fun. We are also editing the Andy Partridge interview (keeping everything crossed) next Tuesday.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Andy Partridge interview

Skylarking by XTC from 1986. The single most wonderful record in the history of the Universe. (Possible slight exaggeration, but it is jolly good anyway).

This was a day I thought would never happen. I have been a fan of XTC for so long now. Well over 20 years I have listened to their clever, intelligent, catchy, melodic, annoying, heart-rending, beautiful, wistful music. To me Andy Partridge, main songwriter and singer with the group, has been this icon - a genius of God-like stature, unapproachable, untouchable, almost unreal. A short while ago I got involved with helping with the formation of a local community based radio station in Crewkerne called United FM. They have asked me to present a late night radio show at weekends playing music of all sorts into the wee small hours. I asked if I could have a regular evening slot called "Sheer XTC" where I can play a fine sweep of the works of Swindon's finest product since the Great Western Railway. The management of the station agreed. I then wondered if there was any chance I could sort out an interview or appearance by Mr Partridge at the station, but how to get hold of him? Andy has his own record label now called "Ape House Records" and on hunting down their website (http://www.ape.uk.net/) I sent a rather hopeful email and didn't really expect much to happen. But, boy did it ever happen! I got an email from Andy's assistant saying that he was very happy to do an interview, but it would have to be over the phone as he didn't drive and getting to Crewkerne could be a bit of a "pain in the..." (well, you work it out!).

After much umming and ahhing it was finally settled that the interview would take place at 1.30pm on Thursday March 18th. After various technical difficulties were sorted out by Greg the brilliant techie at United FM, I tentatively phoned Andy on the number I had been given by the record label. And suddenly I was on the phone with Andy Partridge. He was real. He was friendly, and he was laughing at some of my very lame jokes. What a nice chap. I had been booked to speak to Andy for 20 minutes - we ended up talking for over an hour. When the recording had finished Andy wanted to continue the conversation, so we then talked for another 20 minutes, off the record, so to speak which was equally friendly and enlightening. We finally parted with Andy inviting me to Swindon for dinner at a very nice Spanish restaurant that he highly recommended. How fantastic was that? The interview could not have gone better and I am delighted to announce that Andy Partridge is now definitely not a God. No, he seems for more like a close friend, which is truly wonderful.

I am back to being Henry on Friday with a banquet to do at Awford in Hampshire in the afternoon. Should be fun.
Apple Venus from 1999. Another pretty good XTC album. (Alright, it's totally bloody brilliant, but don't take my word for it - buy it!).

Falcon Junior, Sprowston, Norfolk

Good King Hal just about to reveal who ate all the pies.

Now you can really tell that spring is on it's way. This is nothing to do with sap rising or other such sauciness, but much more to do with the fact that if I have to get up at the crack of dawn for a drive up to Norfolk, like I did this day, that outside is not pitch dark. There is a hint of sunrise as I walked out to the car in beautiful downtown Basildon and begin the long trek up to Norwich. It was a really pleasant drive this morning with the only gripe being that on the A147, which is nearly all single carriageway, the only section of dual carriageway (about two miles worth to the south of Norwich) was inevitably being dug up, and so I was stuck behind the same lorry for a long time!
The school itself was a delight as ever. Kind teachers, a lovely atmosphere, brilliantly excited children and very good facilities. They have had an artist in residence in the past and his touch is seen throughout Falcon School. There is a clever and informative time line that runs around the main hall I was in, co produced by the artist at the children at the school. There is a big colourful outside mural of a cascade of cartoon like fish that moves in the wind in a very agreeable way. Best of all is a large indoor mural celebrating the school's now (sadly) defunct marching band and their frequent foreign tours. All of this lends a magical colourful touch to an already excellent school.
We had a great morning, lots of laughs, particularly with my mate Pierce who guffawed heartily throughout. Lunch was delicious and partaken within the very friendly atmosphere of the staff room. The afternoon seemed to shoot past at a great rate and ended with a pounding, pulsating jousting tournament which, almost inevitably the ladies won again! This now makes the score:
A ten point lead!
My trip home was thankfully easy and free from any exploding tyres this time. I had a quick bite to eat with Amanda and James, got thrashed a few times at Mario Kart by James on the Wii and then drove back to Somerset. Tomorrow, I was interviewing Andy Partridge from XTC! I hoped I could sleep OK that night.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Downham Junior, Billericay

Good King Hal, auditioning for a part in the follow-up to Captain Corelli's Mandolin - known as "Captain Birdseye's Banjo".

About four years ago I did a one off Henry show at Downham School in Ramsden near Billericay in Essex. We had a good time as I recall, but now, out of the blue here I was being asked back for not one, but two days at Downham on consecutive days. Interesting and fun! I had driven to Essex on the Saturday so that I could spend some time on Mother's Day with Amanda and James.
I drove down early on Monday morning and actually got to Downham a bit too early, so I decided to take a short stroll down amnesia lane and headed a bit further up into Ramsden Heath to the Cricket ground where my old club "The Hoop Cricket Club" used to play their home games. We played there from between 1991 and 1998 when I left for the wilds of Somerset and the club almost immediately folded (see? Without the guiding hand of yours truly...). Sitting in the car park by the old club house it was a sad sight to behold. Admittedly we weren't a particularly talented team (me especially) but we had great camaraderie and the apres cricket was of an almost legendary status. The pitch we used was only a concrete strip with matting on it, but it was OUR pitch! Looking at it this week some nearly 12 years hence it looked very worn and abandoned, plus with two regularly used football pitches abutting onto it, one of which has now for some unknown reason been surrounded by a small white picket fence, there is no chance of any cricket being played on there again. Very sad. It made me think back to all the players and characters associated with the Hoop Cricket Club - Paul Smith, the Captain; Mick Stephenson, vice captain and naturally gifted wicket-keeper; and all the other players and members - Malcolm Taylor, Stuart Filby, Gareth Clipstone, Andy Banks, Adam Hudson, Gordon Scammell, Mike Slowey, Mike Escott, Sara Turner, Jim Hawes, Steve Fawkes, Paul Lagden, Paul Eaton, and our near legendary umpire, dear old Alan Bourne - the fastest finger in the west! I got back to the school and got set up for the show. But I was in for another haunting from the Hoop Cricket Club past! As I was sorting out my paper work, a small note left for me from St Michael's School in Wimborne in Dorset last week fell out. It was contact details for another school in the Dorset area recommended by a teacher at St Michael's and it was called - believe it or not - Allenbourne Junior! Alan Bourne strikes again!
Both of my days at Downham Junior were brilliant. Fabulous school, delightful kids, really kind and attentive teachers, and payment from County Hall in Chelmsford that really was faster than a speeding bullet! It was about 90+ children on the Monday and another nearly 60 children on the Tuesday. Excellent stuff, loads of laughs, some great Tudor knowledge, and fun and learning hand in hand having a good time! Wonderful.
On both days the jousting was of a quite brilliantly high standard and on both days we had the same result - comprehensive victories for the ladies in both instances! This now brings our score to:
This is getting embarrassing chaps! Come on! I am off to Falcon Junior in Sprouston in Norwich tomorrow, so a bright early start from sunny Basildon for me! Then back to Somerset and on Thursday the long awaited interview with Andy Partridge of XTC is destined to take place. I can't wait. There is also a possibility in the near future of another phone interview with a rock idol of mine - namely the wonderful Thomas Walsh of Pugwash and the brilliant cricket obsessed band The Duckworth Lewis Method. Again, watch this space!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Back on the Radio!

Just a quickie! I was back on the "Have Your Say" panel for BBC Somerset this morning. This was on the Emma Britton show even though Emma was not in today as she is having a well deserved rest and apparently going through her wardrobes. Well, whatever cranks your handle. Her place was taken by a very nice lady called Charlie Crocker, who usually works for BBC Solent, but she has been allowed out of Southampton on special permission to fill in for Emma. I was on the panel with a lovely lady called Margaret and a splendid time was seemed to be had by all. If you want to hear it again, then please check out www.bbc.co.uk/somerset then click on the "Listen Again" icon and choose the Emma Britton show for Friday. I am on for the first hour. You can obviously just spool through that and enjoy the rest of the show!
Next week I am in Billericay in Essex for a couple of days and then at Falcon Junior in Drayton in Norfolk. Hopefully after that I have the interview with Andy Partridge of XTC to do before finishing with a banquet at Awbridge in Hampshire on Friday. No rest for the wicked Tudor monarch, obviously.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

St Michael's, Wimborne, Dorset

Good King Hal, at Downlands School at Blandford Camp in Dorset with six "trouble and strifes". The six are, from left to right: Happy, Bashful, Amnesia, Cuthburt, Dibble and Grubb.

Another trip down to Dorset and another return visit. This was my fifth year in a row to visit the august portals of St Michael's Middle School on the outskirts of Wimborne in Dorset. It was a delightful drive down in the early morning on Wednesday. A piercingly bright cold morning had dawned and I was soon hacking down to Dorchester and all points east heading for Wimborne town. One of my best friends at the school, the lovely Jane Eyre, I only saw fleetingly as she was accompanying a group of year 8's on a coach trip to Hampton Court Palace. I told her to make sure she left the key under the mat when they left.
It was a big group on the day, about 120 children, and we had a fine day all in all! Lots of loud laughter, lots of great Tudor costumes, good knowledge from the kids and as usual, a really warm welcome from all the lovely teachers who work at this cool school. We had a fun morning, finishing with a riotous question and answer session which had me in stitches from time to time. Lunch was a very tasty, if somewhat bizarre combination of meatball bolognese served with cous-cous and sweetcorn! Different.
The afternoon session was equally fun and frantic and finished on a very closely fought jousting tournament which finally brought a long needed victory for the gents in their ongoing battle with the ladies. This now brings the overall score to:
I finished at about 3.30pm and headed for home. I was tired out and was looking forward to a restful evening sitting on my bottom and cheering on AC Milan in what turned out to be a fruitless attempt to beat Man Ure at Old Trafford. It wasn't to happen. I was reminded I was due at Barrington Court for Kate Churchill's farewell party. She is Matthew Applegate's assistant and is a delightful young lady who will be sadly missed when she goes. I arrived at almost smack on 7pm for the party, which was to be a surprise, thinking I had missed the actual surprise bit. I hadn't. We were all lurking in the William and Mary Room in Strode House with the lights out waiting for Kate's entrance. And we waited and waited. Then we waited some more. We waited sitting down and we waited standing up, which is pretty much the same only one is taller than the other. Eventually after several false alerts and much snickering, Kate arrived and was duly shocked to find us all there! A fine party then ensued, including some more fine examples of Jay Kay style dancing from Mr Matthew "Liquid Hips" Applegate that induced much laughter from all the people there. It was a fine party and fine send off to a very popular lady. Good luck to you, Kate!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Downlands School, Blandford Camp

Good King Hal (right), doing incredible things with a small round piece of wood and a bit of string.
Once every two years I head off down to Blandford Camp, near Blandford Forum in Dorset, for an appearance at Downlands School on the Army Camp. It is home to the Royal Signals Corps and is always a bit of a shock when you come from the normal civvies world to suddenly find yourself surrounded by more soldiers than you can shake a stick at! I had spent Monday spending over £300 sorting out the terrible tyres faux pas that the RAC had foisted on me back in Essex a few weeks back. But that is a whole other story...
So this cold and frosty morning I made my way through the security check points and made my way to the school. It was a group of just under 60 children today, a mixture of year 3 & 4 - and they were a very excitable group, but all the better for it. It was a loud and raucous day, but they were a very enthusiastic group, eager to laugh and learn, and showed some very good prior Tudor knowledge already. The lovely teachers at this great school had gone to some lengths with their elegant costumes and all looked gorgeous! After a good, loud and enthusiastic morning we broke for lunch. Lunchtime was quite a laugh as well in a very good natured and fun staff room!
The afternoon went swimmingly and ended with a very loud and exciting joust. The gents led all the way to the final leg when, with just one missed quoit on the home straight, they left the door open for the ladies to come storming through to an exciting triumph. Great stuff. This now opens an even bigger lead for the ladies on the year long score. The latest is:
Well done ladies. Tomorrow the gents have a chance to pull one back with a return appearance for me at the lovely St Michael's School in Wimborne in Dorset.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Birthday Party and Friends (the school, not the sickly American sit-com)

(left) Good King Hal waiting for his daughter to finish on the throne. Then it's his turn. Damn those scallops!

This weekend just gone was fabulous. On the Friday night, Amanda and James drove down from Essex and came and stayed with me for the evening. (We had the added excitement of a next door neighbour's motorhome exploding in the wee small hours and frying all my telephone lines - I think the neighbours were just trying to let my Basildon based wife feel at home! Sorry dear, I'll get my coat...) Then on Saturday it was time for my birthday party! The evening was spent at the very fine Duke of York pub in Shepton Beauchamp near Ilminster. Sitting down for dinner was myself, Amanda, James, my parents, my sister Cathy and her husband Julian from Kent, friends Jo and Pete Flanagan, Matthew and Sue Applegate, Tris and Jane Pinkney, and Alison Barling and her other half Ian Thomas. A splendid time seemed to be had by all. James was so good all evening, chatting, playing, being cute, but most of the time entranced by his Nintendo DS game! Lovely food and drink was had (I had scallops to begin with and then a fine gammon steak) and lots of fun and laughter. A very nice way to celebrate my 43rd birthday!
On the Sunday I drove myself and James back to Essex (Amanda made her own way) as on the Monday I was to appear at Friends School in Saffron Walden. I headed out bright and early on the morning, and attempted to avoid the M25 and M11, which seemed like a good idea. It was, for most of the way, but I did get held up in a couple of spots, particularly one where a head on crash had just occurred before I got there. Adding to my fun was that my windscreen washers ran out of water just after I set off and what with the low sun and spray from the road I was soon virtually driving in braille. I arrived at the school but couldn't get round to the "scout hut" hall we always use on my normal route, so I had to go in through a rear entrance with a code for the padlock given to me by the office. It didn't work. In the end I had to park in a crappy mud field what seemed like about half a mile from the scout hut and squish and slide across this carrying the props in. The group today was only 11 children, and small groups are notoriously hard to entertain. But this group were pretty cool and laughed and joined in at all the right moments. Lunch in the grand hall was as good as it always is at Friends School - a quorn sweet and sour served with rice and prawn crackers. Delicious!
Back to the scout hut for a slightly truncated afternoon session (we were evicted from the hall by a ballet class at about 2.30pm). The jousting was great fun and surprisingly loud for such a small group. And even though there were only three girls in the whole group, I bet you can't guess who won the tournament? Yup, the ladies stormed to a remarkable victory. This now makes our ongoing year score:
They are starting to get away from you gents! I mostly have a week of leisure ahead, doing some work for United FM, the local radio group. I seem to have managed to sort out an interview with Andy Partridge, lead singer of XTC and an all time hero of mine to be recorded for broadcast, something I am totally chuffed about! Next week I am off to Blandford Camp and Wimborne in Dorset for two school visits, but the filming for the TV documentary has been postponed AGAIN. I have a feeling this might never happen now. However, I will keep you posted.