Monday, July 26, 2010

Henry's Horrid History, Barrington Court, July 31st-August 1st 2010

Every once in a while, an historical event occurs that changes the course of human history...

This coming weekend could be one of those moments...
(But to be frank, it probably won't be as it's just some big ginger lummox in tights pretending to be a Tudor King)

This Saturday, July 31st and Sunday, August 1st, Mike Farley The UK's leading Henry VIII look-a-like and re-enactor will be strolling the grounds of the idyllic Barrington Court, a National Trust property in the village of Barrington just outside Ilminster in South Somerset. To prove that walking upright and breathing oxygen are not his only discernible talents, Mike will then perform his hour long one man presentation "Henry's Horrid History". There'll be laughter, tears, badly played Tudor instruments, enormous tights and more sub-Carry On humour than you can shake a stick at.

Mike will be wandering the grounds and leaping out of hedges startling old ladies from 12 noon, with the "Horrid History" show taking place between 2pm and 3pm on each day. Contact Barrington Court on 01460 241938 for more information.

Because with your Hampton Court, no one can hear you scream.
Henry's Horrid History
Rated (R) for Regal.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Redstart School, Chard

Good King Hal saying "Get orf moy land!" to a group of terrified children. It didn't work at the Monasteries either...

It had been over five years since my previous visit to Redstart School in Chard. I had last visited them in January 2005, so this was my (at the moment) longest gap between visits to any school. It was good to be back! I had no clear memories of the place at all, and as my blog hadn't even started back then I had no notes to go back to even if I wanted to try and jog my memory! Well, I needn't have worried. It was a delightful school with some of the most responsive children I have worked with for a long time. It had the added bonus of only being about 20 minutes up the road in Chard from where I live.
It was just under 60 children today and they were great fun. You could tell it was very nearly the end of the year for them - they positively bristled with energy and excitement! The teachers were lovely as well, very welcoming and chatty, and it really was a pretty perfect day all round! At one point in the morning I did one of my usual tired old jokes that I have been pedalling out for years - and the children and staff laughed AND gave it a round of applause. Now that definitely does not happen every day! The morning did seem to bomb past at a rate of knots and before I knew it, it was time for lunch. A delicious meal of roast chicken was gratefully wolfed down by a hungry King, before it was time to don the robes again and head out for the afternoon session. Well it was a rollicking post lunch session capped off by a highly spirited jousting tournament that was won, inevitably, by a very good ladies team. This being the final school show of the term this makes our final score for the year to be:
As suspected, the ladies have romped away with it and won the overall crown for this year. Well done to them, but well done to the lads who pulled it right back in the last few weeks. Thank you Redstart School for a really splendid end to the season!
The Henry School Days at Barrington Court have now had their first proper confirmed booking after the test day the other week. Paulton Junior who I visited a couple of weeks ago have decided to come down to Barrington Court next June for their next Henry experience! Good on them! Any other schools keen on a Tudor Day in a superb Tudor environment, drop me a line!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Martham Primary, an Essex visit, extreme heat and World Cup Finals.

Anne of Cleeves and Good King Hal being attacked by a triffid, mere nanoseconds before both spontaneously combusting due to the hot sun - but then they shouldn't have touched it.

Martham Primary School has changed it's name at some point in it's recent history. Now when I first started doing my Henry shows there, they were still called West Flegg Middle School. My how things change! The first big change I noticed was the weather when I drove up to Essex from Somerset on the Thursday. What had been warm, but still reasonable weather in Somerset had morphed somewhere along the A303 into a full blow heatwave when I got to Basildon. On turning off the air conditioning in my car and opening the door, the sudden onrush of heat was the equivalent of being slapped in the face with a hot towel. Anyway, it was great to see Amanda and James again. My son is just gorgeous (I know I am biased) and was in a very cuddly mood for most of the weekend, which was perfectly alright with me. We had some fun time together, going to Hylands Park in Chelmsford on the Sunday for instance. There they had a small food market on with one stall specialising in home made sausages. James took great delight in grabbing a tooth pick from the seller and having a try of virtually every sausage they had on display. He was just going back for a second bombing run when I hauled him away! It was also fun watching "Shaun the Sheep" episodes with him on the BBCi player - we were nearly crying with laughter at a couple of the episodes.
Anyway, back to Martham! I got up at about 5am on the Friday morning and was on my way by 5.45am. The drive up was relatively easy and most pleasant in the early morning coolness. However by the time I got to the school the heat had set in properly. It was lovely to be back at Martham which is a delightful school. The teachers are lovely and welcoming, the children fun and polite, and all in all it is always a wonderful place to visit and do a presentation. We had a fun morning, particularly with one lad who was dressed up in a home made Henry VIII outfit who I took great delight in calling "Mini-Me" all day! After a lovely lunch of fish and chips, we were back for a fun afternoon, and it was a loud one as well. The stocks were uproarious fun and we finished with another belting Jousting tournament. Yet again, the gents stormed to a great victory. Can they snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? This now makes the scores very interesting:
Hmmmmm! Interesting, very interesting... I got everything loaded back into the car, turned on the engine to get the air con going, and was alarmed to see that the outside thermometer reckoned the current temperature to be 35 degrees! Now that is HOT!!! I was so glad of the air con. I got back to Essex relatively easily. We had a lovely weekend together, even spoiling James by taking him for an exciting breakfast at Burger King on the Saturday.
I watched the World Cup Final on the Sunday night as Holland kicked lumps out of the Spanish, and the Spanish then took to leaping around, rolling on the floor, clutching "hurty limbs" and writhing about as if in the middle of electro-convulsive therapy. It made a mockery of good football and just about summed up this crappy World Cup to a tee. Oh, and Nelson Mandela turned up. (Not in Essex you understand). I wonder if F W de Klerk go an invite?
I saw Amanda and James off to work and school this morning, did some tidying up for Amanda, and the washing up (what a nice chap) and then headed for Somerset. The traffic was awful. There had been an incident on the M3 this morning and the motorway had been shut for quite some time. Even though now re-opened there was still a knock-on with cars queuing back onto the M25. I finally got past that, then got held up with loads of tourist traffic at Stonehenge AGAIN (I blame the Pandorica) and then even more tourists driving incredibly slowly in the fast lane and not really overtaking anyone. In the end it took me over 4 hours to get home. And now, despite some early rain and coolness, we now have the heat back. On with the fan...

Thursday, July 01, 2010

A Great Entertainer Takes His Last Bow

I got a text message the other night from my old friend Sara Turner back in Essex. She and I would regularly go to the Star pub in Ingatestone High Street on Monday evening's to listen to live folk music played by a random group of musicians - nothing was really planned or rehearsed, it was just a case of who ever turned up, then played. Among the great musicians who turned up regularly were Dave Wilcox - banjo player supreme; Alex Mihailovic - a superb fiddler; Mike - a great guitarist, mandolin player and vocalist; and many more. Some evenings there would be just one musician, other evenings there would be ten or more, all crammed into one corner of this funny little old pub and belting out great music. But of all the attractions, there was really only one true "star" - and that was Gus.
Gus Dallaway was originally from Trinidad and had come over to the UK in the 1950's. He worked for British Rail as a line man and lived in Margaretting, a small village in Essex just to the south of Chelmsford. My grandparents and my father lived in Margaretting and knew Gus very well, particularly from his time playing as a member of the village cricket team. Gus was clearly not the world's greatest cricket player, but he brought infectious enthusiasm to the game and, as an added bonus, each week would make up a calypso about the previous week's match and would bring in each member of the team into his songs. I remember Gus from when I was a young child as this larger than life colourful character who permanently seemed positive and a force for good.
When I met up with Gus again in the 1990's at the Star Pub in Ingatestone it was a revelation. Gus would not turn up until about 9.30pm at the very earliest, he would sit at the bar and have a couple of drinks, but would then launch himself onto the "stage" with the band, and just take over! His staple songs would include "Yellow Bird", "Pick a Bail of Cotton", "Bless This House" and, best of all, an absolutely heart stopping version of "Old Man River" which may sound like a bit of a cliche, but Gus' version was so truly moving as to reduce grown men to tears (the author included).
As Gus got older, so his rheumatism and arthritis got worse and he finally decided he would like to go back to the warm climate of Trinidad for his final years. In 1996 a massive farewell party was organised at The Star with all the musicians playing for Gus. Sara and I got there and the place was packed - but of Gus there was no sign. The band started playing and the evening got going with a swing, but still Gus hadn't arrived. Finally a shout went out that Gus had finally got to the pub. A hush descended on the bar, the band stopped playing and the lights were dimmed. The double front doors of the pub slowly swung open to reveal Gus, silhouetted against the freezing cold Essex night, dressed in a long Matrix style black leather coat right down to the ground but done up tight to his neck, and on his head a white fur Russian military hat. There was a stunned moment of silence as everyone took in this awesome image, then a small drunken voice near the back of the room said:
"F*ck me, it's a pint of Guinness." The room erupted into laughter. It was a magnificent evening with a party that will live with me until the day I die. Gus was on marvellous form and totally dominated the entertainment all night. It was a truly fitting send off for one of the finest natural showmen and entertainers I have ever had the pleasure to meet. And so Gus departed our shores, leaving the country a little duller for it and settled back in Trinidad.
A few years back my parents were on a cruise in the West Indies and one of the stops was at Tobago, Trinidad's sister island. They phoned Gus and were going to try and meet up with him, but unfortunately it never came to fruition.
And so I got Sara's text message two days ago. There had been an announcement in the Essex Chronicle newspaper that Gus Dallaway had passed away at the ripe old age of 89 on the island of Trinidad. I sat quietly and remembered back to all those old days back at The Star in Ingatestone, the fun evenings, the entertainment that Gus had given to everyone and the pleasure he brought to so many people's lives. And most of all, to those hushed moments when he would perform "Old Man River" and get to those magical lyrics near the end:
But you and me,
We sweat and strain,
Body all aching and wracked with pain,
"Tote that barge!"
"Lift that bale!"
You Get a little drunk,
And you land in jail.
I gets weary
And sick of trying
I'm tired of living
But I'm scared of dying,
But ol' man river,
He just keeps rolling along.
Gus Dallaway, rest in peace my friend.