Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Broughton Astley, Leicestershire

Broughton Astley (left), Rick's older brother, a mere nano-second before being run-over by bloody great car. Rick contacted him in hospital and told him he was never gonna give him up, never gonna let him down, never gonna run around and desert him, which I am sure you will agree was of great comfort to him as they tried to erase the tyre tracks from his trousers.

Leicestershire. What did I know about Leicestershire? It's cheese was red, David Gower used to play cricket for it, the Battle of Bosworth Field raged in it, and the Download Festival frequently rages at Donnington - which is in Leicestershire. Here endeth the lesson.
I had been booked to appear at the Orchard School in Broughton Astley, a village in Leicestershire which sounds remarkably like Rick Astley's ne'er do well older brother. I'd been recommended as one of the teachers at the Orchard has a sister who works down at dear old Knightwood School in Chandlers Ford in Hampshire and had very kindly informed her sister how good I was. How kind! My original plan was to travel up on the Monday afternoon, stay overnight at a Travelodge and then pootle up to the school fresh, awake and not knackered from a long drive. Wrong! I had looked up Travelodge on-line to see if their much trumpeted "bed for £19" offer was still going strong. Apparently not. As it is nearly half term the general price for a room (and remember this is just a room -nothing else) seemed to be about £55+. Not my idea of fun, so I decided to get up very early and drive up to Leicestershire and back in the day. Also not my idea of fun, but cheaper. Therefore I was up at 3am, in the car by 3.45am and soon rocketing my way up the M5. The much discussed "warning light" which had mysteriously turned itself off at the weekend, suddenly re-appeared approximately 75 miles up the road. But what the heck could I do, apart from press on. So I pressed it on, and it looked lovely. I arrived at Broughton Astley at about 6.45am, bought some petrol for the return journey, a newspaper, and some brekkie and parked up in a side road. After reading all about England's abysmal match against Mexico (How on Earth did we manage to win 3-1? Is this a good sign for the forthcoming World Cup? Can we really play that badly and STILL win matches?) I then had a little snooze in the car, which was just what I needed. Actually, what I really need is a night out with Lisa Rogers, but that just isn't going to happen is it?
Arriving at the school I was warmly welcomed by some really cool teachers. Such nice people! And all dressed up to the nines as terrific Tudor wenches - who needs Lisa Rogers? (ME! ME!) One of the ladies had a fabulous home made costume on dressed as a Tudor Queen. Her brilliant billowing dress allowed her to simply glide across the floor. I told her she looked like a Dalek, which was meant as a compliment. She rather ruined the illusion of Tudor grace with graphic details of her struggles to use the disabled loo, the only toilet large enough to welcome her and her hooped skirts.
Well we had a fabulous day - this is such a lovely school I cannot even begin to tell you how wonderful it is. The children were brilliant, hilarious, sparky, eager to learn and all of them in fantastic Tudor costumes as well. They had just been on a recent visit to the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field and were therefore already hugely enthusiastic about Tudor history before I turned up. The morning seemed to just shoot past - lots of laughs were had, especially by the teachers and classroom assistants! After a gorgeous lunch of roast pork, I was back on again and the whole day culminated in a really pulsating jousting tournament. The two gents teams who contested their semi final were, not trying to sound rude, truly awful. The two ladies teams were brilliant, so it was really obvious where this final was going to go. Yes, the gents roared to a great victory, coming from behind to pip the ladies on the line! See!? What the heck do I know! This now makes the score:
On leaving the school at the end of the day I managed to drop my stocks and break them, which did cause me to mutter a few words of choice Anglo-Saxon language. The drive home was remarkably easy and despite not leaving Rick Astley...sorry, BROUGHTON Astley until about 3.30pm I was pulling up outside my place in Crewkerne as the 6pm news came on the radio. Wonderful. So was going to bed that evening. Even though something was missing - LISA ROGERS! Down boy!
I next have a meeting with Matthew Applegate at Barrington Court (it involves a pub so there might not be THAT much work discussed), then next week I am at Leeds Castle for a Jousting Tournament from the Tuesday to the Sunday. Come and say hello! Especially if you are Lisa Rogers.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

That's Entertainment...

Good King Hal trying to sell the title deeds of Nonesuch Palace to an impressionable dwarf and her chum.

Thursday evening and I am driving over to Barrington to go to the Village Hall and watch their local Am Dram's latest offering - a variety show called, of course "Show Time" featuring musical numbers, comic sketches and... other things. My old mate Matthew Applegate was working on the ticket sales as head of front of house, while his wife Sue and their two very cute young daughters were starring in the show itself. This was wonderful local village entertainment, of the sort so richly described by Laurie Lee in his book "Cider With Rosie". Fluffed lines, wobbly sets, curtains opening and closing at the wrong time, a sweating compere in ill fitting tuxedo verbally fighting with a crowd full of people who know him very well and enjoy barracking him at every opportunity. Great stuff. One of the opening numbers in the show is a medley of songs from "Grease". Fine, except of course this is an English village amateur dramatic society and the only men in the cast are aged either about 12 or 75. We are therefore treated to the sight of six 30-something women in bobby socks and neck scarves, singing about "Summer Loving", while two chaps resembling their elderly Great Uncles sing the accompanying lines of the teenage boys in the Thunderbirds gang. Surreal. One of the old chaps was wonderful. I couldn't take my eyes off him in the whole cast numbers - he clearly had no idea what the words were to most of the ensemble numbers and was placed very firmly at the back of the stage, but I could still see him opening and closing his mouth with not a vestige of a normal word escaping him. Just like watching the Tory MP John Redwood, when he was Welsh Minister, desperately trying to look like he knew the words to "Land of my Fathers". There was a fairly amusing 'Allo 'Allo skit, an excruciating Abba medley and a quite staggeringly racy version of "Hey Big Spender" from "Sweet Charity". Just a wonderful evening. I laughed like a drain.
On the Friday I drove up to Bristol to the Felix Road adventure playground where my friend Holly Crossland, and her cute daughter Isis, frequently meet up with their home education group. I had been asked to come along and do a Henry presentation for them. On the way up a warning light appeared on the dash board of my car. I wasn't sure what it was but the car seemed to be going OK, so I pressed on. I found the playground quite easily and was soon saying a big hello to Holly and Isis, and Holly's mum who had come along for the show! You can see Holly and Isis in the picture above when we first met at the North Somerset Museum in Weston Super Mare back in 2006. Isis is now 8 and is a charming young lady. And you can see why I am always pleased to see Holly... I set up and was soon on in front of a group of about 25 families. Some of the children were a little...ahem...over excitable shall we say, but they all seemed to enjoy the show and the music. I finished off with a brisk jousting show which was won by a gents team, but I can't really count it in the overall score for the year as it was just a bit of fun really. After getting changed and a quick cup of tea, I was back in the car. The warning light was still on, so whilst trapped in non moving traffic on the M5 south, I decided to have a look in the car manual as to what the light meant, hoping against hope it wouldn't be anything major. The warning light actually meant "get your engine looked at". Oh, conkers. When finally back home in Crewkerne I phoned up Popular Motors in Merriott and booked the car in for a check up on Monday morning. Of course today, the light has gone out. Typical.
I had a meeting with Matthew Applegate at Barrington Court today about a possible Tudor Banquet at the Court House sometime in December. It is looking promising.
Tuesday I am up at Broughton Astley in Leicestershire for a first visit to the school there. Should be a good one.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Norton sub Hamdon & Brent Knoll

Not the two famous actors, Norton sub Hamdon and Brent Knoll, but Good King Hal (above, right) with his Father, who lives in Tudor England and is of little help.
Norton sub Hamdon is not, as the name might suggest, a slightly camp actor with Shakespearean tendencies, it is in fact a very pretty little ham-stone village nestling at the foot of Ham Hill, a huge Iron Age hill fort that has sadly been mostly quarried out of existence. In this village there is a Ladies Group, and one of their number had heard about my Henry VIII shows and had requested some time back, that I attend one of their meetings as a guest speaker. I was due to appear for them at the Reading Room in Norton sub Hamdon, but I wasn't quite sure where that was. Now luckily for me, Norton is not very far from where I live and is also pretty small, so finding it shouldn't have been too much of a bother. Wrong. I drove through the village during the day trying to find it's location, and drove up and down the main drag several times not spying anything that might lend itself to being a Reading Room. There is a very good little shop in the heart of Norton, so I popped in and asked them for directions and a very nice lady came out of her Post Office cubicle and showed me - I was virtually next door to the Reading Room, and honestly, if you didn't know where it was you were just as likely to go straight past it without noticing. Now I knew where it was I could come back in the evening for my performance without worry.
The Reading Room is quite small when you get inside, but it had great atmosphere, particularly as about 20 ladies from their village group had crammed in to see my talk. Well it went really well, they were a lovely group, ready to laugh and also very friendly and chatty. After my talk I hung around for a cup of tea and a natter with some of the ladies, but soon I was back home to the flat in Crewkerne and getting my stuff ready for the following days show in Brent Knoll.
Now if you don't know where Brent Knoll is, then drive up the M5 from Taunton and you genuinely cannot miss it. It looms out of the landscape, a huge great lumpy green hill rearing out of the Somerset levels. Brent Knoll is old English for "beacon hill", but was equally known in ancient times as the "Isle of Frogs". On it's craggy top are the tell tale lumpy bumpy shapes of an Iron Age enclosure. The village of Brent Knoll nestles at it's base and is quite pretty in a sort of elongated way. The school in the village is, at the front, a tiny old Victorian building, but has been expanded on greatly to the rear in the last few years. I was very warmly welcomed by the lovely teachers and head teacher of the school and we soon settled down to a really pleasant Tudor day. The children in the group numbered about 45 and were great fun - lively, excitable and always ready to laugh. One young lady, who told me she wanted to be a Doctor when she was older, had remarkable amounts of Tudor knowledge. Perhaps she should be a historian instead! Lunch was a delicious cottage pie, but we were soon stuck into the afternoon session. The jousting was great, simply because every single race came down to a single quoit finish which made it incredibly exciting. But once again, the ladies showed their class and stormed to a well deserved victory in the grand final. This now makes the overall year-long score:
Thursday has been spent trying to catch up on paperwork, but I did get a chance to record a new voicemail message for my answer phone - give it a buzz if you wish to hear it! This evening I am over in Barrington supporting Matthew Applegate and his lovely wife, Sue, in their work with the local Am Dram Society. Should be a fun show. Tomorrow, I am up to Bristol for an appearance for my lovely friend Holly Crossland at her Home Education Group. I will be with them from 12 noon onwards for a quick chat and a jousting session. I have never done a home education group before, so I hope they enjoy it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

St Michael's School, Twerton

Good King Hal sings "Only a Nose - I Picked It For YOU!" before being rendered unconscious by a large truncheon twirled by a member of the constabulary.

It had been a busy few days, up and down to Essex to see James and Amanda, and down to Leeds Castle in Kent for talks and other things. One of the main reasons to visit Leeds Castle was to say a fond farewell to Helen Budd, Darlene Cavill's wonderful assistant. Helen began at Leeds only a few months before I did my first show there, and has been an ever present since. She is taking up a job with English Heritage based down at Dover Castle, so hopefully we can work together again. Darlene, Helen and I went to a small cafe in Bearsted, a village near the castle for lunch, and were joined by Scott, another long time worker at the Castle who won't be around any more. We had a lovely time but sadly it was soon time to go. Leeds just won't be the same without Helen.
After a few more days with James and Amanda it was back to Somerset and a visit to me from my parents, down from Wales for the weekend. We had a lovely time including a particularly fine evening meal on the Saturday night at the Dinnington Docks pub.
Monday I was back on the road again for a third return visit to St Michael's School in Twerton, near Bath. One maniac VW driver aside (some complete tit in a black Passat who thought winding roads and traffic behind slow moving lorries was an excuse for suicidal over-taking procedures on bends, hill summits etc.) the journey was going swimmingly. I had even timed my journey to begin just as stark raving bonkers (and jolly thirsty) early morning DJ Sarah Kennedy was signing off - always good news! However, all of a sudden, with no prior warning whatsoever, three quarters of the way up the A37, the road was suddenly shut. I followed the diversion signs and the words of wisdom from my sat nav but soon found myself crawling along down tiny one track lanes, however I eventually arrived at the school. As ever at this wonderful place I was very warmly welcomed and we were soon underway. We had great fun and the children showed some very good Tudor knowledge. Some of their coat of arms designs were looking pretty good as well! A delightful lunch of minced beef fajitas and a green salad was rapidly followed by the mad afternoon session. It went fantastically and culminated in a very cocky and certain Gents team being well and truly trounced by a more than capable Ladies team! This now makes the score:
Still too close to call at the moment.
When I finished gigs in the old days, I always used to fight like hell to get away from the school ASAP so I could get home to my wife and son, and cuddles and welcomes. But nowadays, now I have no one waiting for me when I get in, I don't feel the urge to get away as before. Why go home if there is nothing worth waiting for you when you get there?
So bearing this in mind I was initially not that bothered about the south facing A37 likely to be a pain again. But it was for more of a pain than I had bargained for. I followed the diversions again, only this time for some reason about 6 miles up the road, they just stopped! I was stuck in the middle of nowhere, and just at this moment my sat nav decides to go "mental mental chicken oriental" again, and locks up solid so that I can neither switch it off or on. And I was not the only one with the same predicament. Small back lanes around the Shepton Mallet area were gridlocked with irate lorry drivers and people with huge caravans, but then they deserve to suffer. I finally managed to coax my sat nav back into life and found my way home. The empty flat just served to bring my mood lower, and so I decided a Chinese takeaway would cheer things up. Wrong. Local Chinese is shut due to "short staffing". A lack of Chinese workers? But there are BILLIONS of them!? They could have found just one person to cook me some crispy beef and noodles, surely? I ended up with distinctly underwhelming fish and chips from a very underwhelming chippy.
Tomorrow evening I am giving a talk at Norton sub Hamdon for their local ladies group - should be fun. Then on Wednesday I am off down to Brent Knoll for a first Henry visit to the school down there.
Right just time for some Mighty Boosh to try and cheer me up, and then bed. Night!
P.S. And England THRASHED TRASHED AND CRUNCHED the Aussies out of sight in the final of the World Cricket T20 tournament. It always a delight to watch the Aussies take a fearful biffing in any sport, but when it is us dishing it out - even better!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Press Release!

This is a press release going out today to various TV stations, radio stations and newspapers advertising the upcoming new Henry VIII Days at Barrington Court in Somerset.

An Exciting New Project at Barrington Court

Barrington Court, near Ilminster in Somerset, was the first house acquired by the National Trust back in 1907. Fully restored to its Tudor glory, the house has been delighting thousands of visitors a year ever since, with its fine architecture, beautiful rustic setting and delightful Gertrude Jekyll-inspired gardens. But now in 2010 comes a brand new exciting venture for this most venerable of old buildings.

Mike Farley is the UK’s number one professional Henry VIII look-a-like and re-enactor. He has been delighting audiences around the country for over six years now with his brilliant interpretation of our most infamous of monarchs. With his booming voice, wicked humour and uncanny resemblance to the King, he is in great demand at country houses, museums, and castles, and with radio and TV companies throughout the land. Mike’s specialist Tudor Days in junior schools throughout the country are enormously popular and he has brought Henry to life in almost 700 schools and to countless delighted pupils. Now Mike and his company, Past Presence Ltd, are combining with the National Trust and Barrington Court to bring his full Tudor Day to life in this most magnificent of settings. Schools can now come and experience a full on Tudor Day with Henry VIII in the sumptuous surroundings of Barrington Court.

The first of these exciting days takes place on Wednesday, June 30th 2010 when the junior pupils and their teachers from Barrington, Shepton Beauchamp and Ilton Schools step back in time and meet the King in person! And the National Trust and Past Presence Ltd would like you to be there as well, to share this exciting moment with your viewers, readers and listeners, and to see a whole new chapter beginning in the long history of Barrington Court! A story with everything, local interest, history, humour and a really quirky angle!

For more information either call Mike Farley from Past Presence Ltd on 01460 271623 or speak to Matthew Applegate, the Visitor Services Manager at Barrington Court on 01460 243124.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Quest for the Croucher!

I love cricket. I just think it is the finest game ever invented - a subtle mixture of sporting skill and mental toughness. Probably why I was so crap at it when I played! Much as I love watching cricket these days, being a historian at heart I am mostly attracted to cricket's past, and in particular the period of it's history referred to by all sundry as it's "Golden Age". This was the 15 year period leading up to the First World War where the superstars of cricket bestrode the Earth like Titans. And their names and deeds are still held in awe to this very day. Just mention names like W.G. Grace, Bobby Abel, C.B. Fry, K.S. Ranjitsinhji, Sydney Barnes, Charles Kortright, Wilf Rhodes and Jack Hobbs to a cricket fan and you will see their eyes light up and words of praise will come pouring forth.
For me, one man sums up the joy of Edwardian cricket more than anyone else. Gilbert Laird Jessop, affectionately known to all fans of cricket from that era as "The Croucher" for his hunched stance at the wicket when batting. He was initially famous as a tearaway fast bowler, but as his career blossomed he became World Famous for his destructive, aggressive batting style. No matter what the opposition or the situation in the match, The Croucher would launch himself at the bowling attack facing him, and destroy them with a bewildering array of attacking strokes, savage cuts and fierce drives. He had all the shots in his locker and was not afraid to use them. As he played by the sword, so he sometimes perished by the sword. For a leading batsman his career and test averages are surprisingly ordinary, but this is mainly because he attacked from the first ball he received and never seemed to bother about playing himself in and could often be out cheaply. But when he got in... wow.
In 1894 he made his first-class debut for Gloucestershire, and soon made his name for aggressive batting and taking over the play. In one match in 1900, for Gloucestershire against the first West Indian team to tour England, he made 157 in an hour. In 1902 against Australia at the Oval on a brute of a wicket, he went in to bat when England were 48 for five, needing another 225 to win. He made a century in 75 minutes, a feat described by Wisden as “what would have been scarcely possible under the same circumstances to any other living batsman”. It is still to this day the fastest hundred scored by any batsman in an Ashes Test Match. And still there was more - in 1903 against Sussex he made 286 out of 355 in just three hours and scored a half-century in just 12 minutes against Somerset a year later. How much would he be worth to the money laden teams of IPL T20 cricket if playing today?
Last night, finally driven to bed by the sheer tedium of the General Election coverage, I found myself sleepily flicking through Christopher Martin-Jenkins' book "The Top 100 Cricketers of All Time" and read his review of Jessop. It was in this write up that I discovered that Jessop spent his final years living in Fordington, a suburb of Dorchester, and is buried in St George's Church there. This is just down the road from me, probably about 20 miles at most. So when all my other chores were out the way this morning I drove down to Dorchester and sought out St George's Church. Fordington is a lovely sleepy leafy few lanes on the east end of Dorchester and the church of St George is not easy to miss. Inside are a wonderfully inscribed Roman tablet from the 1st century AD discovered in the grounds of the church, plus a couple of photos from the 40's and 50's of the then Vicar of the Parish, a certain Gilbert Jessop Junior! I wandered round the back to the slightly dislocated graveyard (it is across a car park and away from the church itself for some reason). I knew I was onto a cricket winner as soon as I began looking at the gravestones. Some of the first names I came across were Gooch, Gower and Chappell, but at first, no sign of Gilbert Jessop. The graveyard is long and L-shaped and on a gently sloping patch of ground. And it is big and after about an hour of fruitless searching I thought I would never find the final resting place of The Croucher. But then, right next to the path leading to a gate on to a main road and by a small privet hedge I found the grave.
It was overgrown, surprisingly small and quite sad really. And on the grave there was not a single mention of his great cricketing heritage and status, just his name and year of birth and death, and the same for his wife. I felt quite rotten for having come all this way and then not brought something with me, even some flowers or something. Or was I just being a bit soppy? As you can see from the picture on the left the grave has a small cross standing over it, then lying on the main body of the grave is a small stone shield with the inscription on it. It looks tired and in need of some attention - perhaps I shall go back and weed the plot and just tidy it up sometime.
I shall leave the final word on Jessop from the author, Gerald Broadribb who wrote a fine book about him called simply "The Croucher". Take it away, Gerald!
"It is strange and sad to think that if a new English batsman came to light and scored innings at even half the pace of Jessop he would soon be hailed as an outstanding player.
Let us remember the glories of Gilbert Jessop on May 19th
(Jessop's birth date), and resolve to bring to our own cricket some of his zest and spirit of attack."

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

West Pennard School & The Emma Britton Show

Good King Hal, demon topiarist, peruses the small ads while a lady hops past on one leg. Again.

I did my latest Mike Farley Show on United FM on Sunday evening, however it may prove to be my last, so watch this space for any more news. Then after a very nice Bank Holiday Monday spent not doing very much at all, I was off on the Tuesday morning back to one of my favourite schools to visit - West Pennard near Glastonbury. I was first invited to this school some years back by the sainted, slightly insane and eccentric gentleman that is Ian Gouge. Ian is still at the school but has moved up with his class year on year and is now with a year six group. Alex Wheat had booked me for his Year 4 class today and it was a wonderful day all round. It was a bright sunny morning, but with a surprisingly cold wind that bit into you. My sat nav yet again decided to go a bit Tonto and for some reason took me to a small back road in the village of Baltonsborough and announced happily that I had arrived. No I hadn't. I needed to be in West Pennard about three miles up the road. But I got there in the end.
We had a fine morning, lots of fun and laughs and, despite the children only just starting the subject, they displayed remarkable amounts of Tudor knowledge. After a very pleasant lunch of pasta bolognese, a green salad and a nice crisp apple, I was back with the group in the hall for the afternoon. The jousting was very exciting and lively, with the gentlemen continuing their recent very fine form with another spectacular win. This now brings the overall score to:
This is getting very very close indeed and is almost too difficult to call which way it is going to go now. I will next be Henry-ing on the 17th May at St Michael's School in Twerton.
This morning I was in on the Emma Britton Show on BBC Somerset again for the Have Your Say panel. I was on with a lovely eccentric lady from Corfe near Taunton. It was a fun show and Emma was, as ever, a delightful host and very professional as well. We particularly enjoyed one of the people who phoned in as one of our topics was when were you last up all night - the lady in question reckoned she was always up when the moon was full. I asked her if she turned very hairy and attacked sheep. She didn't laugh. Ah, well.