Saturday, October 23, 2010

Leeds Castle & Taverham in Norfolk

The Maiden's Tower where Henry VIII locked up Catherine of Aragon's ladies in waiting. And yes, I said LOCKED up.

I was back in a familiar place with a new look about it. Leeds Castle had contacted me and wanted to know if I was available to attend the re-launch of their re-vamped and freshly overhauled Maiden's Tower. The last time I had properly been in the Maiden's Tower was when I did Henry's Horrid History back in 2007. Back then it was a cold slightly dingy old place with only two rooms worthy of being shown to visitors. Upstairs, where I had to go and get changed during the shows, was even worse with parts of the floor missing and a general air of decay and dereliction. I was interested to see what they had done with the old place. I drove to Kent the day before and spent a very nice afternoon and evening with my sister Cathy and her husband Julian, before heading over to the Castle early afternoon the next day.
Once changed and in the building I was stunned. It was just amazing, particularly upstairs which had changed beyond recognition. Instead of decay and broken floors, there were now sumptuous bedrooms, each and everyone with a beautiful en suite bathroom. Downstairs were two huge function rooms and downstairs below that was a fully fitted professional kitchen. Out the back where a slightly manky old swimming pool used to be, there was now a beautifully secluded garden with terraces and patios. Lovely. A film crew from Kent Business TV (or something like that) roamed around filming everyone. I did a few pieces with them including a scene where I demanded the female presenter brought me some wine. The segueway safari people were there again, but once more I refused to stand on one. Too dodgy looking by far! Davey the Jester had been booked as well, along with a fire breather friend of his, so we all prepared ourselves for the onslaught of invited guests. But not many appeared. Of the 200+ invited, about 75 had replied, 50 had intimated they were coming and in the end about 30 turned up. It was OK, we had some fun and everyone who saw the new refurbished Tower were hugely impressed, so it was a case of job done.
I drove up to Essex after the show and was then up and early for a drive to Taverham in Norfolk for a return visit to the school there. I always forget just what a lovely school this is. It is just delightful! The teachers are universally friendly, chatty and welcoming, the large group of children (about 140 I would guess) are fun, full of laughter and this year, in amazing Tudor costumes. We had a fun, slightly truncated morning due to an over running assembly, but when we finally got going it was one of the best shows I have had this academic year so far. Lunch was lovely - fish and chips, followed by a lovely moist flapjack, then it was back in the hall for what turned out to be a deafening jousting tournament. It went down to the wire with a dead heat finish between the gents and ladies in the final. So we went for the "penalty shoot out" option and.... the gentlemen won AGAIN! They just can't stop winning this year. This makes our score now:
A scoreline to make all old timers think of Wembley 1953 and Puskas and co.
I am now with my son for most of the half term, but will be back on parade as Henry after half term with a first ever show at Elmlea Junior in Bristol. See you then!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Riverside Junior, Hereford and a quiz...

Good King Hal (left), trying to flog some second hand stocks to an innocent Visitor Services Manager at Barrington Court. This was shortly before the aforementioned VSM tried to drink all world stocks of Burrow Hill Cider in one evening and fell asleep on his sofa.

Hereford. Do you know how the city of Hereford got it's name? Apparently it comes from where people would ford the river and a place was put on maps actually saying "you can ford here", which became "Here Ford". Hereford! What a mine of useless information I am sometimes. The last time I had been in Hereford was back in 2003, just after I had left Skandia Life in Southampton, and just before I embarked upon a year of stifling boredom at Debenhams in Taunton. Amanda, James and I had holidayed just outside Hereford staying in a big old half timbered house along with my parents, my sister Cathy and her husband Julian, and Julian's brother Ged, his wife Mimi and their son Elliot. We had a lovely holiday, but rather worryingly I simply cannot remember the name of the place we stayed, so if anyone who was on that holiday can remember, can you remind me and let me know!
I was visiting a school today called Riverside Junior, summoned there by the lovely Emma Shearer, formerly of Coalway Junior in Coleford in Gloucestershire. It was lovely to see her again and in such a wonderful school. Brand Harry Spankers (i.e. new) as they say and still not completely finished. It will be hugely impressive when done. The children were a group of about 50+, year 4's, a bit quiet and reticent to begin with, but got more confident and lively as the day progressed. A good morning was followed by a lively lunch in the staff room with some hilarious teachers - great fun. In the afternoon a rip roaring Jousting finale saw yet another victory for the Gents! They really are an improvement on last year! This now makes the score:


Emma had very graciously allowed me to finish half an hour early today as it is a two hour drive back to Somerset from Hereford, and in the evening it was time for the 4th Annual National Trust South Somerset Pub Quiz. Once again I was host for the evening and question setter. Which is a bit like a red setter, only slightly less slobbery. For a change this year, instead of at the pub (which was booked) we had the evening in the restaurant at Barrington Court. At first it seemed like hardly anyone was going to turn up, but eventually a number of people arrived and we ended up with four teams ranging in sizes from 4 in one side up to 7 in another. It was great fun and was won by a team helped, or possibly hindered, by Graham from Montacute House.
After the quiz when all the other groups had cleared off, a hardcore of Barrington-ites hung around drinking cider and having some laughs. It was great fun, Matthew Applegate was on such good form that he ended up sleeping on the sofa that evening, apparently, but it was also nice to see the lovely Rachel Brewer, her charming other half Anthony, and their friend, the deeply wonderful Sarah from Dorset. What a nice evening!
Right, I am off to Kent now for a corporate do at Leeds Castle tomorrow and then up to Taverham in Norfolk on Friday for a return visit to that lovely school.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Wimbledon Chase School

Good King Hal, after hearing you should feed a cold, enjoys a bijou snackette. What a ham.

Why is it, whenever a man gets a cold, whether he moans or not, the level of sympathy from most women is of the "oh, man-flu, huh!" sort? I came down with a real stinker of a cold on Monday halfway through the show I was doing at Billericay. On the Tuesday and Wednesday I really did feel like death warmed up, and did I moan extensively? I did not. What comments did I get from most of my female friends? "Oh, man-flu, huh! You wuss!" etc. Now sticking the boot on the other foot, a friend of mine (female) was moaning on Facebook about how bad her cold was, how ill she felt etc., and I was very tempted to say "next you'll be telling me you're talking absolute rubbish and have an inability to park a car in a limited space, then you'll know you have full blown bird 'flu..." But being the stunningly restrained gentleman that I am , I kept that all to myself.
Now,where was I? Oh yes, Wimbledon. The last time I had been in Wimbledon for any length of time was back in the early 90's when I spent a couple of Christmas' working on a Christian Radio Station there called "Radio Cracker". Now, as most of you know I am the most heathen, un-Godly barbarian you could possibly meet and was only working there to get some radio experience. It was mostly good fun, but I found the station's rules on what you could or couldn't play somewhat limiting, but it was always fun seeing what you could get away with. So first night on air I played some Led Zeppelin - that immediately disappeared out of the station's music library, so then I tried Billy Bragg's "Sexuality" - I actually managed to play that twice on different shows until one of the station manager's read the lyrics - so that vanished from the music library. My greatest coup de grace though was playing a song called "Satellite" by American band The Hooters on nearly all of my shows, even though it satirises TV evangelists in America and the lyrics aren't even that subtle! But I digress...
I was invited to appear down at Wimbledon Chase School by Angela Dumont, one of the teachers there. She had heard about me as her daughter is a pupil at St Cecillia's Primary in Sutton where I visit quite regularly. Her daughter had apparently given me a glowing report to her mother, and hence I got this particular booking. Wimbledon Chase is a pretty big school and is about to get even bigger. But despite it's size it is warm, welcoming and the teachers are all delightful. I was to do the show in the big school hall which has a high almost vaulted ceiling, and wonderfully dark wood panelled walls. The group of children numbered just under 60 and were all Year 6's. They were bright, sparky and ready to learn and laugh in equal measure which always makes my life easier. Lunch was taken in a packed staff room and consisted of delicious sweet and sour chicken. For the afternoon we had even more fun, loads of laughter and a brilliant jousting tournament which a very competent ladies team won by a mile! This now makes the year long score:
In the words of Barry Davies "interesting! Very interesting!" I drove back to Somerset and a very cold flat, but soon had the heating on and felt a lot better. I cooked a pad Thai dinner and suddenly life seemed very nice indeed.
Next week I am in Hereford on Tuesday during the day and then will be back at Barrington on that evening for the National Trust Annual Pub Quiz. And as for the exciting BBC news I mentioned in a recent blog entry.... well on November 19th I will be appearing down at Leeds Castle as part of BBC1's coverage of their annual Children in Need Appeal, which will hopefully involve some parts of that show being broadcast nationwide. Keep an eye out for me!

Monday, October 11, 2010

South Green Junior, Billericay

Hooray for Hollywood! These new letters, by the A127 welcoming you to Basildon can be seen from as far away as 30, even 40 feet.

Back in the south east for a few days, so it was ideal to spend some time with my lovely son. I drove up on Friday evening, not leaving Somerset until about 8.30pm which meant I reached the hallowed grounds of Basildon at about 11.30pm. It was a wise choice as the roads were virtually empty and made my journey very easy. I had a lovely weekend with my boy, taking him out for fun and games, and also helping him with his homework on Sunday evening where he showed just how much he has come on at school recently by whizzing through his maths sums homework. Bless him!
Monday found me back at one of my old stamping grounds - Billericay! I lived in Billericay for a year back in 1993, living in a house belonging to an acquaintance of mine from the local pub. The house had been his Mother's but had been standing empty for at least two years since she died, so I moved in with plans to bring the house back up to speed so to speak. When I first moved in I was horrified to find that the owners seemed to have locked the front door on leaving two years ago and had not been back since. There were simply piles of dead insects round all the windows, the freezer was still running and was one huge block of ice with food packets suspended in it like some kind of cryogenics experiment, but worst of all, on one of my first nights at the house I decided to grill myself some bacon. I turned on the oven and switched on the grill, there was immediately a bizarre smell filling the house. I looked under the grill and there, placed carefully across the grill pan were 12 sausage rolls, virtually fossilised and with a light covering of dust over them. GROSS!
The thought of all that hadn't even crossed my mind for many years, but here I was back in old Billericay at the lovely South Green Junior School for my 4th annual visit. It was great to be back and see so many familiar faces. We had a great day with a really excitable bunch of Year 6's. There was much fun and laughter and the morning seemed to just zap along. The only drag factor was my ever burgeoning head cold. It had come along this morning and really had it's claws into my by the afternoon session. I felt like death warmed up, but kept the show going at a good pace. The jousting was of a very high standard and once again the Gentlemen triumphed. What on Earth is going on???? This now makes our year long score:
So very different from last year. The ladies have another chance to pull the score back a bit on Thursday when I am Wimbledon Chase School Wimbledon. This will be my first visit there, so fingers crossed it will be a good one!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Dean Close Prep, Cheltenham

Good King Hal discussing his new contract at Barrington Court with a thrilled Matthew Applegate.

I had a lovely chat with an old friend on Facebook last night and went to bed relatively early with a spring in my step and a smile on my face. I knew I had to be up early in the morning for my trip up to Cheltenham, but being in such a good frame of mind that shouldn't be a problem, should it? Wrong. I could NOT get to sleep! But luckily I am now the proud owner of the nearly famous "Coma Chair". This is a lovely big squashy armchair that I purchased virtually brand new from a charity shop in Yeovil earlier this year. It is so comfy that unfortunately whenever I sit in it to watch a film or something I invariably fall fast asleep and wake up as either the titles are going up at the end, or at about 3am in the morning - hence the name "The Coma Chair". So after a few hours fruitless trying to sleep I gave in, abandoned my bed and stomped off to my front room with my duvet and an appointment with "The Coma Chair". And it worked! Within about 10 minutes I was asleep!
This morning I was up bright and early...oh alright...early, and out the door and off towards Cheltenham. And the journey was relatively trouble free, sorry, no mad annoying BMW drivers this time. However, to Cyberkim, one of the followers of this blog, I love the idea of having a Land Rover Defender, but feel I would actually need to be as rich as the real Henry VIII to afford the fuel bills for driving it round the country!
Dean Close Prep is another of my long term regular schools, a bit like the recent visits to Blean and St Cecillia's. I have been coming up to this nice private school in Cheltenham for about 6 years now and it is still a pleasure. Great bunch of kids again today, nice friendly teachers as ever and a great lunch and chat with the school's new verger to the Chaplain. One little girl didn't want to come in first thing in the morning - she made this clear by screaming and hiding outside the hall. Apparently she is terrified of anyone dressed up and had been like this with clowns, a Viking visit to the school, and now me! So I was in good company! Eventually she was persuaded inside the hall and spent the first hour of the show clamped to the arm of a female teacher at the back of the hall. I must have been doing something good as by the end of the day she was jousting with the rest of the group and even came up to me as I was packing away at the close of the show and thanked me for a fun day! What a change. The jousting was good again, very noisy and exciting and culminated in another win for....................... the gents! This now makes our year long score:
Interesting. The next Henry show is this Monday at South Green in Billericay in Essex. See you there. Also, watch out for some possibly very exciting news coming soon regarding Good King Hal and... BBC TV. I shall tell more as and when I know it!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

St Cecillia's RC School, North Cheam

Good King Hal (right) showing what a rufty-tufty little sausage he is by simply laughing away being run through the shoulder with a bloody big lance. Mind you, he cried like a big girly when they tried to pull it through from the other side...

It seems there was something about my Mazda car that I didn't realise. Apparently on the bonnet, as you are driving along on the motorway, there is a big neon sign that says "go on, it's only a Mazda, it can't be going as fast as it seems to be, pull out in front of it without signalling, you'll be alright!", and it is only visible to BMW drivers. It happened about eight bloody times up the M3 and also during my brief drive along the M25 yesterday. One woman in a dirty big five-series BMW did it to me TWICE. I had been overtaking her and she had pulled out without signalling, causing me to brake sharply and offer her some choice advice on her parentage. After stopping for fuel at Fleet Services I carried on up the road only for the same stupid cow to do it again! I wish I was rich enough to be a motor car version of the Sea Shepherd (radical environmentalist who attacks Japanese whaling ships). I'd get some harmless looking vehicle, a Morris Traveller or something, I'd beef up the front of the car with about a ton of pre-stressed concrete, pop a Saturn V rocket engine under the bonnet and then target arrogant BMW drivers, which basically covers pretty much all of them. Every time one of the smug gits pulls out in front of me I can simply stick my toe down and slice their teutonic bourge-mobiles in half. Oh, the power! There, I feel better now...
Back to the Henry day... This was, like Blean School the other week, my SEVENTH visit to St Cecillia's RC School in North Cheam, Sutton in Surrey. I had got up at 4am and was on the road with the jolly BMW drivers by 4.30am. I arrived at the school at about 7am and was welcomed in by the friendly caretaker with a very much needed cup of tea. It was another great day at this lovely school - the children were all dressed in brilliant costumes, as were the teachers and teaching assistants. Everything about the day was good, with only one slight change of plan for the afternoon. I had been contacted the day before to be told that the year group I was seeing (Year 4) were due for a visit from a Gaelic Football Teacher in the afternoon and would be going off for a lesson with him. So I would be running the jousting tournament twice as at any one time one half of the year group would be with me, whilst the other half would be off being taught Gaelic Football. I wasn't sure how you teach Gaelic Football. "KICK IT FURTHER!" "RUN!" "HURT HIM!" "DON'T PUNCH HIM LIKE THAT, PUNCH HIM LIKE THAT!" Mind you, you could say the same about me making them take part in a jousting tournament.
The jousts were both very loud and very exciting and were both won by... THE LADIES! This now makes our score:
All square again. The next tournament will be tomorrow when I am up at Dean Close Prep School in Cheltenham again.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Whoa There, Pickle! Chutfest 2010...

Good King Hal (left), singing "I'm a Barbie Girl" to a room full of astonished Japanese tourists. Final score: 23 arrests, 2 falls and 1 submission. And now, here's Carol Kirkwood with the weather. Carol?

Chutfest! Ah, the very name almost sings to you, doesn't it? CHUTFEST! More chutney and pickle than you can shake a stick at. Mind you, who'd want to shake a stick at some chutney? Still, whatever gets you through the night.
Barrington Court's annual Chutney Festival began last year in what was assumed would be a fairly modest way, but it seems the National Trust and Matthew Applegate, for this is really his baby, had totally underestimated the great British public's desire and love of all things pickley. Last year had been a complete sell out with over-flowing car parks and queues of people trying to get in to the library where you could swap your chutneys. (Which sounds like a euphemism, so let's not dwell on that). Well, all of a sudden it was one year on and time for ChutFest 2010, and King Henry was back...
It wasn't to be the smoothest of starts for the King, oh no. I got up fairly early on the Saturday morning and decided to have a nice leisurely brekkie. I began munching my way through a nice slice of toast, when for some reason best known only to my body, I managed to bite a chunk out of my own tongue. Now if you have ever done this you will know exactly how painful it is, how much blood can suddenly appear as if from nowhere, and how it will leave you talking like Jamie-sodding-Oliver for the next few days. Well, it can't get any worse than that, can it? Funnily enough... I was putting my gear together for the two days of the show when I suddenly realised my shoes were split in several different places. So when I really should have been on my way to Barrington and getting ready for the show I instead found myself in Stuart Marsh Shoes in Crewkerne trying to decide which of their admittedly HUGE selection of slippers, looked most Tudor-ish.
The first day of the festival was just like last year - packed! Some of the food and drinks on display were gorgeous. There was the smokery people from Honiton again, tables and tables of home made pickles and chutneys, cakes, sausages, bacon, and of course the delightful Rachel Brewer and her Barrington Cider, helped out as ever by the equally lovely Sarah. There was a very pleasant and chatty chap who had a load of fresh vegetables on his large outside stall, but his chat was somewhat random. He just seemed to start talking about whatever was on his mind at the time and would continue endlessly until really the only way to stop him was to just walk away.
A new venture this year was to have a "Chutney of the Year" competition which was won by a local lady called Teresa Udall with her date and apple chutney, utilising a recipe handed down from her great grandmother. For this she won an engraved trophy in the shape of a copper chutney pan presented by Tracklement's Pickles, this she will hold for a year but must then come back and try and win it again in 2011. She will also visit Tracklement's factory and they will make up her recipe as a limited edition chutney to purchase from them.
On the Sunday, it was much quieter. The horrific early morning weather seemed to keep many people away and it was only as the afternoon progressed that the public began turning up in any significant numbers. My friends Thomas Hammill and his other half Katherine turned out, which was nice to see and more fun was seemed to be had by everyone.
Sunday was also Matthew Applegate's birthday, which for some reason he didn't want any one to know about, so of course we all clubbed together and bought him a card and some cakes, and would sing "Happy Birthday" to him at the drop of a hat. He deserved to be praised. The amount of work he and his assistant Tamsin put in getting the Chutfest together was unbelievable and they get so little recognition and thanks from the powers that be at the National Trust. So I shall do it here! Good work chaps
Henry is back off to St Cecillia's School in Sutton tomorrow for another visit! So time to set the alarm for an early start...