Friday, January 28, 2011

Something Old, Something New....

Good King Hal, taking part in one of his favourite pass-times - international pro-celebrity wench hugging. He is now up to Olympic standard and is rapidly going blind.

And so it was to be back on the road again, two visits coming up, one in Essex and one in Hertfordshire. My first trip was on the Wednesday with a return visit to Tolleshunt D'arcy, the wonderfully named village near Maldon in Essex. I hadn't visited this school (St Nicholas') for a couple of years, but it was nice to be back. The trip to the school was entertaining, but not in a very nice way. My sat nav, halfway out of Basildon (where I was staying) suddenly decided to just freeze up completely. I tried turning it on and off but all to no avail, it would not pick up the route I needed. In the end I had to remove the data chip and put it back in making the whole system re-boot. But it seemed to work, the sat nav picked up the route again, only to then lose it again. And again, and again. Over and over it kept losing the satellites. It was a wonder I made it to the school at all! But I did. It was nice to see the teachers I had worked with before, including the glamorous TA who was a dead spit for the gorgeous Linda Lusardi! It was a small year three group, which was hard work occasionally, but most of the time they were a good, lively group and seemed to thoroughly enjoy their day with the King. The jousting was a lively affair and finally culminated in a long overdue victory for the Gentlemen! This made the score:
I left, and then encountered more problems with the ****ing sat nav. My predicament was not helped by the A414 down to Danbury and the A12 (my route home) was shut for no adequately explained reason. With the sat nav badly mis-firing I had to find my own way home. I eventually drove out back to the A12 via Hatfield Peverell. I was very glad to be home. That evening my wife and I took James (my lovely son) off to his karate lesson - this was only his second lesson, but he seemed to really enjoy himself. They certainly keep them moving there and by the time we got him home he was cream crackered!
The following morning I was up very early for a drive up to Ware in Hertfordshire for a visit to St Mary's Junior School. I was not sure how well my sat nav would behave so I took along a spare unit, quite an elderly one, that my wife has acquired as a sort of "belt and braces" approach. Typically, just when you thought it would be a day of frequently re-booting my sat nav, it worked perfectly. I got to the school very early, so decided to go off and find some petrol so I wouldn't have to stop on the way home. Apparently, they have never heard of petrol stations in Ware. I drove round and round and round, and eventually was forced to use the naughty sat nav and ended up driving nearly half way to Hertford before I found one. Mind you, it turned out to be worth it as the very attractive young lady who served me also turned out to be gobsmackingly dim as well, as she only charged me for my petrol and not the sandwich and drink I had bought for breakfast. The actual Tudor Day itself at St Mary's was a delight. This is a lovely school - great kids, lovely teachers and a warm friendly atmosphere throughout. It was a memorable first visit and a delight from start to finish. The jousting was a rollicking affair with so much noise. But a seemingly small and unsure ladies team stormed through to a remarkable victory! This now brings the latest score as:
I have a couple of days with my lovely son in Essex now, before heading back to Somerset this weekend. My next Henry appearance will be at Redstart Primary in Chard on Tuesday. I am looking forward to it! Oh, and there is talk of a Hoop Cricket Club reunion sometime soon - watch this space.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Blundell's Prep & Curtley Ambrose

Good King Hal singing "I'm puttin' on my top hat. Tyin' up my white tie. Brushin' off my tails!" Unfortunately in the entire song there is no mention of any trousers and consequently he was arrested for indecent exposure.

I was due to visit Blundell's Prep School in Tiverton last Monday, but due to family committments I had to postpone the show for a week. Therefore I was back bright and early on the morning of the 24th. My sat nav has this almost obscene dislike of going the most direct route to some addresses. Blundell's Prep is a prime example. As soon as I come off the M5 at junction 27 she goes beserk, desperately trying to get me to drive down tiny back roads, whereas I know that if I stay on the big main roads I will be there before you know it. I ignored her yesterday and arrived embarrassingly early at this lovely school.
I sat in the staff room sipping tea until my contact arrived - the gloriously named Stef Jeffs. She has been an ever present since I first went to this school about six years ago and it was known at St Aubyn's. Well she might be departing soon as she is contemplating going to theological college - good luck to her, I say, but it won't be the same without her. Similarly on their way out is the head of Blundell's Prep, Nick Folland, former Somerset batsman and a font of cricket knowledge. I chatted with him during the morning break. I asked him who was the most difficult bowler he ever faced - he couldn't name a particular one, but cited, among others Malcolm Marshall, Curtley Ambrose, Michael Holding, Patrick Patterson, Ole Mortensen et al. It made me facing Jim Hawes whilst batting for the Hoop Cricket Club a bit tame to be honest. But Nick has been an ever present again since I began at Blundell's and it really won't be the same without him, but I wish him well at his new position at a school in Chepstow.
The day itself was fun, but hardwork! Being a private school the morning session ran from 9am to 1pm with only a 15 minute break at about 11am. But then conversely, after lunch I had only just over an hour to do before closing down and heading for home. The children were fantastic and laughed a lot at the silly bits, but some of them also showed some brilliantly aquired Tudor knowledge. I also kept jokingly flirting with one of the young TA's, much to her giggling, red faced embarrassment! The final joust was a belter with, yet AGAIN, the ladies storming to an impressive victory. This now makes our score:
The ladies are really now starting to pull away again. My next two Tudor shows are in the South East this week, firstly back at Tolleshunt D'Arcy near Maldon in Essex on the 26th, and then at Ware in Hertfordshire on the 27th. This should bring about lots of laughs - where are you? Ware. Yes, where are you? Etc etc. This could rival Abbott and Costello's "Who's On First" routine in the years to come.
But probably not.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Wassail and Wii...

The M25 on the evening of the 17th January. Alastair Stewart kept going on about keeping an eye on the "IDIOT" in the pram launching red turtle shells at a monkey on a motorbike, before being dragged away frothing at the mouth by ITV executives.

Matthew Applegate had for a while been stating that 2011's Barrington Court Wassail was not going to be like previous ones. And he was right. It didn't help that the 17th January this year fell on a Monday, it also didn't help that the main man for the previous few years (one of those people who knows all about Wassailing) - a chap called Dick (stop it) wasn't available this year. We were also going to have to do without the Samba drumming band that had become a staple part of previous years - I guess the idea of pounding out Brazilian rhythms in the freezing pitch dark of a west country orchard in occasional pouring rain wasn't their idea of fun or complete job satisfaction. Fools. And we also finally had to make do without Rachel Brewer, the frankly insane, but infectiously enthusiastic pommelier at Barrington Court. She and her other half, Anthony, had decided to go for a six week holiday in Vietnam instead. What is wrong with these people? I wasn't helping much either as I had to be in Essex early on the Tuesday morning so couldn't stay for very long. I was there to read my usual poem, shout at the crowd and sort of clear off, really. So I said hello to all the usual group of lovely people at Barrington, even threatening Alf Trott with a kiss, snaffled a quick burger, read my poem and then slipped off into the night and my long drive up to Essex.
My wife Amanda was busy on the Tuesday attending a family funeral, so my job was to look after my lovely son James for the day. I took him to school first thing, then had to wait in for a carpet fitter to come and measure up for a job. After that I hit the bright lights and razzmatazz that is Basildon shopping centre. After exhausting the entertainment possibilities of the "99p Shop" and Asda, I decided to try and find some lunch. Forgoing the gastric rigours of Nando's, Taco Bell and the obligatory McDonalnds, I ended up at Ned's Noodle Bar, which was absolutely gorgeous! Proper pukka tasting oriental food served in one of those groovy cardboard cartons always seen in American movies to denote a Chinese meal is being eaten. After picking James up from school we went back to Amanda's house where my son proceeded to beat the crap out of me on Mario Kart on the Nintendo Wii. Now if you have never played Mario Kart let me describe it to you. It is like the old kids cartoon "The Wacky Races" only crossed with certain scenes from Mad Max 2. You drive along in a customisable car that can resemble anything from a fish to a Bugatti Veyron, fighting off other cartoon characters in their bizarre cars who attempt to slow you down by either simply pushing you off the road, or by blowing you to pieces with carefully aimed bombs, deadly turtle shells and even with a flying squid that sprays ink on your windscreen so you can't see where the hell you're going. James and I for some time had been using a character I had created on the Wii (you can create your own little cartoon of yourself.... I know you're all out there, I can hear you snoring), and we had pretty much opened up all the games - the more races you win, the more games you can access and more characters and cars become available. But I know James quite liked using his own character he'd created. Well, while he was at school, dear benevolent, kindly Daddy decided to do some of the easier races for him, pick up some wins and open the new cars and characters he desired. The difficulty of the races depend on the engine capacity you choose at the start. A 150cc race for instance is generally the hardest and is best left for hardened gamers and experienced drivers. 50cc is the easiest and is best for youngsters, beginners and George Osborne. James' character had not really opened many of the 100cc races so during the day I thought I'd have a bash at that for him. You race in four "Grand Prix" and an overall winner of those four races gets presented with a cup and, usually, the chance to open up new games, characters and cars. I set about my task with gusto. First set of four Grand Prix on the 100cc setting. I won the first two races at a canter and was feeling very confident. In the third race, due to constantly falling off a giant underground mine/roller coaster (don't ask) I came last by about 20 miles, but I was still second in the overall standings going into the last race. I led from the start and slowly drew away from the main pelaton. I drove within myself and tried not to take too many risks. I rounded the final bend - I could see the chequered flag! I could see it! I could almost touch it! Images flashed up in my mind of a rosy cheeked James, with big cartoon eyes, looking lovingly at me and saying "Daddy! You opened all these new characters and games just for ME?" as birds chirruped, and cherubim and seraphim's circled brightly above us and showered us with glitter and pearls on the world below. As I rounded the final bend I got hit by three bombs, two turtle shells, a squid and was then flattened by a giant car so that you could have slid my vehicle under the garage door. I finished 9th. Now we have been trying to teach James not to lose his rag when he can't win a game on either the Wii or his DS console. I forgot all of the training we have been giving James, and in that moment I think the cat learnt some new choice swear words. It was enough to make you want to chew your own foot off. After picking James up from school I couldn't face explaining to him that I hadn't managed to open a single other race, character or car, and took the feeble way out by taking him to Pizza Hut.
Well, I should be able to brush up my Mario Kart skills again next week. After Monday in Tiverton the rest of the week is in Essex and Hertfordshire so I will once again get a chance to have some lovely cuddles with my gorgeous son. Check here for the latest scores from the next Grand Prix, but if you see me sliding the flattened smoking wreckage of my car under the garage door, for Christ's sake don't ask me how the race went.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Knightwood School, Chandlers Ford

Good King Hal during an earthquake at Leeds Castle.

This is the tale of the oft postponed show. I was first due for another re-appearance at the lovely Knightwood School in Chandlers Ford in Hampshire back on the 19th November last year. But then I was asked by the BBC to appear at Children in Need at Leeds Castle on that evening. Getting there from Chandlers Ford would have proved difficult, so I asked the school very nicely if I could postpone the show, which they kindly agreed to. The new date was the 3rd December. Come the 3rd December and the weather is doing a very passable impression of Siberia. Winds howl, snow falls and brass monkeys range the countryside screaming in agony. I end up snowed in at my wife's house in Essex, and can't get down to Chandlers Ford, so the show is postponed again. And here we find ourselves in January 2011 and I am finally going to the school on the morning of Wednesday 12th.
Now getting to the school in Chandlers Ford is like playing a game of chance - leave too late and you get caught up in horrendous traffic virtually gridlocked round the back roads of Romsey and Chandlers Ford - leave too early and you sail through unhindered by any other traffic and arrive embarrassingly early. I arrived in still semi darkness, so I think you can guess I left a wee bit too early. I was once more greeted by one of the friendliest caretakers in the business. This man and his counterpart at Blean School near Canterbury are my two favourites. Friendly, chatty and with all the gossip you need to know about any school you are going to work in! The teachers were got up in some marvellous Tudor costumes and also most of the children were decked out in great outfits.
We had a great morning, which proved to be the first show I had done in a long time without doing the designing a coat of arms activity. This has been slowly dying a death over the past few weeks, and it just seems to have reached it's natural end. So I ploughed on without it and all seemed to go very well. We had to end early in the main hall as the dinner ladies needed to get in and set up, so we finished the session in the smaller music room, but fun was seem to be had by all. I had a nice roast beef dinner lunch, and then promptly nodded off in the cosy staff room. How embarrassing. The afternoon was a fun loud and silly experience, with lots of laughs from everyone, and culminated in an invigorating jousting finale that saw a very confident Gents team blow their chances by their second rider spilling all the quoits he had already collected. This opened the door and a very good Ladies team strolled through to a comfortable victory. This now brings the score to:
The ladies are stretching away with it now. Come on lads! My next Henry was due to be Monday down at Blundells Prep in Tiverton, but I have to go back to Essex for a funeral and so the show has been postponed for a week. Watch out for the Wassail at Barrington Court as well.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Coalway Junior, Coleford

Good King Hal being inflated in front of Leeds Castle and with a bear behind. Ooh-er!

Sometimes you see interviews with actors, or comedians or even sportsmen, where they talk about being "in the zone". Now this often sounds like pretentious twaddle at it's most bumptious, but occasionally, very occasionally I get a brief glimpse of what they are talking about. Being "in the zone" basically means you are doing everything right without even really having the think about it. Which is about as far as you could possibly get if you are an Australian cricketer recently. Sorry, I really mustn't do that. Gloating is not a good thing to do - but it is tremendous fun. No, going back to being "in the zone", it is like when you are playing cricket and you hit a ball right off the sweet spot of the bat - you don't really feel a thing, all you are aware of is that you timed it perfectly, used very little effort and the ball is now rocketing away towards the boundary. Counter that when you slightly miss-time a shot and catch the ball on the toe of the bat....OW! Your arms will feel like you are having electric shocks passed through them for a few minutes to come! From doing Henry shows so often for the past 6+ years I know my patter and routine virtually backwards, but sometimes, like today, it just flows so much more easily. The jokes in it are timed to perfection, the audience gets it and goes with it and everything just dovetails so perfectly. Days like today don't come around very often, so you enjoy them while you can.
Coalway Junior is a delightful school in the small town of Coleford near Cinderford in the Forest of Dean. This was my seventh annual visit to this school and was far and away my best visit here and most enjoyable. It was a group of about 60 children, all charming, funny and a pleasure to talk to. The teachers were brilliant as well, joining in the silliness in the show with gusto and even chucking in a few heckles along the way, which made it all the more funny. Everything worked like a charm today. The jousting was amazingly exciting and would have been won by a very good Gents team if only their second rider forgot to keep his lance upright and managed to drop all the quoits he'd already picked up. This allowed the ladies to scuttle through and sneak an unexpected victory. This now makes our score:
So the ladies start to pull away. The drive back was OK, but through some fairly Biblical weather - howling winds and whipping rain.
Oh, and you know I was getting all celebratory the other week when the BBC finally put Sarah Kennedy out of our misery? Trust me for being cocky. Guess who they are going to replace her with? Vanessa Feltz. Early mornings are going to seem a lot darker all of a sudden... Next Henry show is the much postponed and delayed visit back to Knightwood Primary in Chandlers Ford in Hampshire on Wednesday.

Friday, January 07, 2011

New Town, Taunton

Sue Applegate using "The Force" on Good King Hal, in The Library at Barrington Court, with the lead piping.

Isn't it dark on January mornings? It's hardly worth opening your eyes to be honest. It was an early start for me, made slightly more unpleasant for me as I sat up the night before to watch the final denouement of the Ashes series. As a long term sufferer from the disease known as England Cricket Fan, I have endured the previous 20+ years of utter dominance by the Australian cricket team. They have wheeled out players of the calibre and quality of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Justin Langer, Steve Waugh, Craig McDermott etc., while we had Devon Malcolm, Ian Salisbury and Graeme Hick. God help us. So to not only go and beat Australia in their own back yard, but to do it so dominantly and in such an emphatic manner was wonderful. We had already retained the Ashes but had to be sure of not losing the final test to actually win the series outright. The dawning of the final day in Sydney it was obvious we were going to win, with only three Australian wickets to be taken for this famous victory. Knowing what was coming I decided to celebrate by putting some champagne in the fridge for that final moment. First, as they do, the Aussies decided to make a fight of it, then it started raining - surely we won't be denied our moment by inclement weather in Australia of all places? But then the sun came out, and whilst sitting in cold dark England, at about 1am in the morning, Chris Tremlett clean bowled Mike Beer off an inside edge, and England had won the final test and the series 3-1. I popped the champagne, had a glass full and then headed for bed as I knew I had to be up early to get to North Town School in Taunton.
North Town is such a fantastic school, it really is. The children are a delight, friendly bright and intelligent with just enough charming cheek to keep a smile on your face for the majority of the day. It was great to see my old friend Viv Farrow there again today, and she was on fine form. Lots of laughs and jokes aplenty. The group was of about 60 children from year 4. They had only really started their Tudor topic on the previous day, but still showed some really good knowledge at this early stage. We had lots of real belly laughs in the morning session with this lively good natured group. Lunch was particularly nice as it was partaken in the pub over the road from the school called, rather appropriately, The King's Head. I sat with a group of the teachers with a big basket of chips and chicken breast, and had a lovely time! It seemed a shame to have to go back to the school to be honest. The temptation just to purchase a large bottle of red wine and settle in at the pub for the day was incredibly strong. But back we went anyway.
The afternoon was another great one and culminated in a fantastic jousting tournament that the gents team led from start to almost finish, but they were pipped at the post by a resolute ladies team which now makes our year long score:
The ladies go into the lead in our on going score for the first time this year. Great stuff! On finishing the show I was packing everything away and took my visitor's pass back to the office when I bumped into Polly, the gorgeous delightful lady from County Donegal who I have come across at this school before. She looked as fabulous as ever and we had a little chat before I was back in the car and on my way. The rest of the teachers obviously read this blog a lot and have noted my comments about Polly before as nearly all of them kept saying "have you seen Polly yet this year?", and then grinning before virtually nudging me in the ribs and winking. How dare they! It's an innocent chaste relationship. She is innocent and I can't chase her. Perfect really.
I have another return visit on Monday, going back to Coalway Junior School in Coleford in Gloucestershire. This will be my sixth visit to this school - six! That's almost as many runs that Ricky "Thicky" Ponting got in the Ashes series. Splendid.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011


Good King Hal about to launch into an eye-watering version of "Oh For The Wings of a Dove", followed by an equally moving rendition of "Love Your Money" by Daisy Chainsaw.

I had been approached by Sherborne Probus Club to give a talk for them. This was originally planned for July, however before Christmas I was asked to move it to an alternative date. One of the dates mooted was 5th January, so here I was trundling down the A30 to Sherborne and their meeting at the RAF Slessor Club in Long Street. Sherborne is such a lovely little town, very quaint and charming. The meeting with the Probus chaps was very pleasant, they were a nice group of older gents, about 30 of them and they seemed to appreciate the talk very much.
Probus is a club for retired or semi retired professional businessmen - hence Probus - Pro Bus? You see what they did there? It also has strong links to Rotary Clubs. The talk went really well and the gents were very generous with their laughs, applause and I was even presented with a souvenir pen for my talk. After getting changed back into my civvies I was invited to partake in a drink at the bar of the RAF club which was very nice. I was then invited to join the gents for some lunch which was to be taken at the Griffin Inn at Nether Compton just outside Yeovil. Nether Compton is where a lot of my family originate from so I know the place very well. We had a lovely lunch with a choice of fish pie (YUK!) or lasagna (YUM!) followed by a multiple choice of different puddings. I went for the chocolate and raspberry torte which was stunning.
All of the Probus group were friendly, generous and a pleasure to be with. Thank you Gents! I stopped off in Yeovil on the way back as I had some book vouchers for Waterstones. I treated myself to a Charlie Brooker book which I am sure will have me laughing like a drain for the next few nights.
I am now gearing myself to watch a bit more of England kicking Australia's teeth in on the cricket pitch. What a delight it has been. I heard a great joke about the Ashes - there is a phone call to the Australian dressing room in Sydney. One of the players answers. It is a caller from England calling long distance and hoping to wish new Aussie Captain Michael Clarke good luck for the match. He is informed Clarke has just gone out to bat, to which the long distance caller says "don't worry, I'll hang on".
Back to being Henry in schools again this Friday with a return visit to North Town Junior in Taunton. See you there!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Never Mind the Blizzards.

Good King Hal reckons this is the way forward at Leeds Castle next Christmas... That and a 4x4, a team of huskies, thermal underwear and a hot elf or two...

I hope you're all sitting comfortably as this is a long story. We start back last year - December 7th to be precise. I was just back from Chard, pleased with the idea that I had a clear day or two before I was due over at Leeds Castle for my first Santa-ing of the season. I got in and was presented with a phone message from St Saviour's School on the Isle of Wight asking if I was still coming tomorrow morning for their banquet. Huh? I had been contacted by someone from a school on the Isle of Wight about possibly visiting them on this date about two months ago, but nothing had been confirmed and I didn't even have the name or address of the school. I took the phone number from the message and called the lady in question. I explained quietly and rationally that I in no way could make it to the Island the following day, apologised and ended the call. The lady seemed OK, if a little upset. About five minutes later she called back, virtually hysterical, telling me all the children were coming in in full costume, there were caterers doing a banquet and was there anyway I could just "pop over" for an hour or so. Call me old Mr Softy if you wish, but I soon found myself phoning Wight Link ferries and booking a ticket for the following day. I drove down, thinking to myself it would be an easy day - turn up, shout a bit, eat a banquet, pose for some photos, then go home. But life is never that easy, is it? I was due to get the 10.55am ferry, but due to being stuck at a level crossing for what seemed like a lifetime I managed to drive into Lymington harbour just in time to see my ferry steaming out into the Solent. Arse. I therefore popped into the ferry office and picked up my tickets to be told I now had a 45 minute wait for the next one. Oh joy.

I got back in my car to see that I had three missed calls on my mobile, all from the same number. I called it, it was the school. A very snotty sounding lady demanded to know where I was as I was supposed to be at the school at 10am. I told her as politely as I could that as far as I was aware I was only due at the school at 11.30am, I had just missed my ferry, and if she spoke to me like that again, I would turn the car round and drive straight home. The next ferry finally arrived, I was soon on my way. The school was only about two miles from the terminal the other end, so I was soon there, but there was nowhere to park. The only space stated it was for "AXIS ONLY". I assumed this was for Taxis who's T had fallen off, and nothing to do with German WWII forces. Daring to stand up to irate cabbies and Hitler's forces, I parked in the spot and was soon inside the school. Everyone was in the main hall, and I mean EVERYONE. Teachers, kids, dinner ladies, the lot. From the smallest to the largest. But there didn't seem to be a table or chair for me. I enquired where I was supposed to go. Apparently all the food had already been served, but there was none left, and I was now expected to do a one hour talk to the kids. Well I started and I tried, I really did. But the room was packed to the rafters with some really very excitable very young children who honestly could not have cared less if I was there or not. I played some music, posed for loads of photos and was then on my way. My main thought on getting home was that was 12 hours of my life I will never get back.

Off to Kent. This was to be my fifth year of being Santa for Leeds Castle and this year, rather than freezing my baubles off out in the old tennis pavilion turned into a grotto, I was instead in the much warmer and central Dog Collar Museum - which had been cunningly disguised as a grotto. I have often wondered about the Dog Collar Museum - who actually thought of it in the first place? Did someone just wake up one morning and think "blimey, Leeds Castle is one of the most beautiful castles in the whole of Britain, but it appears to be lacking something.... I know - a Dog Collar Museum!" I know down this neck of the woods there is a "Barometer World" which takes some beating, but I think the whole idea of a Dog Collar Museum runs it a close second.

Well the whole few weeks at Leeds being Santa was quite entertaining. Once more we got swamped with snow halfway through the run, with the castle actually closing on the middle Saturday. I was trapped in the castle for a few days unable to get back to my sister's place near Sittingbourne where I was due to stay. Thinking I would only be trapped for a couple of nights I took only a small amount of clothing with me. I was eventually stuck at the castle for nearly a week which necessitated frequent washing and drying of my clothes in the rooms I was staying in each evening. Seeing my grotty socks steaming on the classy rooms radiators was like finding Worzel Gummidge dossing in the Savoy. I was not the only Santa this year, we had Castle employee Alan Cheeseman working in a twin grotto which meant we could take more people in at peak times. Apart from the day times I was also due in the Castle for four evenings meeting children who had been on tours of the place. These were mostly charming as the children were so in awe of being shown round the castle by actors dressed as Panto characters and then to meet Santa in his study at the end and get a present - most were either beside themselves with excitement or gobsmacked into silence. However, one American family arrived. The parents were of the "Yo! Dude!" species normally associated with skateboarding, surfing or the west coast. Their precocious son of about 8 years came in. "What's your name?" I asked. It sounded like he replied "Lost in Chaos". I chuckled a little. Perhaps he was nervous and had mumbled. I asked again. "LOST IN CHAOS!" he roared, and fixed me with a stare as if to say I was some sort of imbecile. "That's nice for you..." I muttered. "And what would you like for Christmas?" I asked. "I already wrote you a Goddam letter two months ago!" He snapped. Bless. His parents smiled and laughed at him being so big and clever, and snapped a few photos. If he carried on like this they could get some pleasant shots of him being throttled and then chucked out the battlement window down into the icy moat 40 feet below. He was the exception though, most of the kids this year were a delight.

It was great to be back at the Castle again and seeing everyone again. A roll call of honour reads thus: Darlene - as ever, brilliantly leading from the front; Becky - her lieutenant, wonderful and ever helpful; Alan - deputy Santa, well played old chap!; Amy, Sarah, Sophie, Becky, Jen, Pippa & Adam - the finest Elves any Santa could wish for; Jeanne Beaton - just the most wonderful human being on Earth; and to all the other staff and volunteers at Leeds Castle, many thanks for making this one of the most pleasant Santa sessions ever.

Christmas Day was spent with my wife Amanda and my son James at their new home in Basildon, and Boxing Day down at my sister's place in Sittingbourne. 2010 came to a rather muted end as, on the 30th December Amanda's lovely Aunt Margaret finally lost her long battle with cancer and passed away. It was not unexpected but still very sad.

I finally got back to Somerset today, the 1st January. It felt like I had been away for a lifetime. My next Henry show is on Wednesday 5th when I am giving a talk for Sherborne Probus Club.