Monday, February 28, 2011

Henry's Horrid History - an overview

A brief reminder of Good King Hal's previous performances of "Henry's Horrid History" at Leeds Castle three years ago. You can be assured he did not have a fireplace like that in his marquee this time around.

Leeds Castle, near Maidstone in Kent. Three shows a day. Nine days straight off. A total of twenty seven shows. But it wasn't, actually. It was only twenty six. This was because the very first show we did on Saturday the 19th February no one turned up for, which could possibly have given you the idea that this was some sort of portent of doom. How wrong we were! As the week progressed more and more people attended the shows - on sunny days (and we had a couple of those) we were reluctantly having to turn some people away. This prompted Leeds Castle's management to add an extension on the side of the grand marquee I was in to get more bums on seats. On our best day we had just short of 600 punters in for the three shows which was wonderful.
Once more I stayed with my sister at her house in Stockbury near Sittingbourne, and I was right royally pampered the whole time I was there. Cath and her husband Julian were perfect hosts, and it was great to see their lovely friendly dog Charlie again. They have a new addition to the household with another rescue dog living with them - she is a tiny Lurcher called Oona. She is very affectionate, but blotted her copybook slightly by peeing all over my bed on the last night I was staying there. Well, Cathy SAYS it was the dog... Perhaps she was trying to tell me I had out stayed my welcome!
My set up at the Castle was impressive. They had erected a large square marquee next to the maze up near the aviary. Dallas, the genius who builds so many of Leeds Castle's temporary, but brilliant props and sets, had constructed me a partitioned off "dressing room" in one corner of the marquee, and had brilliantly disguised my big Father Christmas chair from the grotto and turned it into a throne for the King. I was to do three shows a day - one at 11am, one at 1pm and one at 2.30pm. We quickly had to change the 1pm show to a 12.30pm start as my talk clashed with the bird flying display outside by World of Wings and I was getting drowned out by their PA system and mood music. As crowd sizes increased as the week went along, my voice was coming under more strain, so I was issued with a throat mic and amplifier for the rest of the week - which was great and saved me from sounding like Barry White by the end of the run.
Lots of friends came to see the shows. Adam and Lisa Hudson with their kids came on the first Saturday, my old friend Bonnie came down from Lincolnshire with her family on the Wednesday, a couple of the teachers from White Woman Lane School in Norwich came on the Thursday, and on Saturday the 26th February (my 44th birthday!) I had loads of visitors! My sister Cath and her husband Julian came, along with my sister Sue all the way from Wales! There was my old friends Anne and Ben Lyle and their lovely daughters Nell and Tilly, Michelle Coda and her chap Matt, plus cute daughter little Victoria, my lovely friend Ali Bessell and her sister Laura, her husband Steve and Ali and Laura's Mother! After I finished the last show on the Saturday I was going to announce to the crowd it was my birthday and maybe try and get them singing "Happy Birthday" - but I was out manoeuvred as Darlene Cavill, the wonderful events organiser at Leeds, had pre-empted me and led a large phalanx of staff from the Castle up the central aisle of the marquee brandishing champagne, a birthday cake and a massive card. For once I was mostly lost for words, until I said "bloody hell" quite loudly into my throat mic, which got one of the biggest laughs of the day. As usual everyone at the castle was so friendly and helpful - Becky Lander, Jeanne Beaton, the Cheeseman's, Adam, and just everyone who helped - I could not have done it without you.
So mostly it was good fun - there was one lady out of the hundreds who came to visit the show who complained to Darlene that my show was "unsuitable" for primary school children as I hadn't used any audio visual displays. Ah, so that is where I have been going wrong for the previous 700 shows I have done throughout the country. Also, on the morning of my birthday as I drove into Bearsted to buy some lunch for later on I was nearly challenged to a fight by a very aggressive lady. I was trying to turn into the small Tesco garage as she was trying to get out - but she was being partially blocked in by a very impatient man in a 4x4 with a trailer on the back. He had got so close to her she could hardly go forward or back. I gestured for him to move back, but he ignored me and I gestured for her to come out, but she made it clear she couldn't. Time was flying, so I drove away to the other smaller petrol station on the other side of the road. As I was walking towards the front door I heard a shout behind me.
"OI!" I turned round. It was the woman from the stuck car at the Tesco's forecourt. "Were you having a f***ing pop at me back there!?" She shrieked, stalking towards me with a deranged look in her eye. I decided to placate the mad cow.
"No, I was getting hacked off with the idiot in the 4x4 with the trailer behind you..." I began. She almost immediately nearly burst into tears.
"Oh, sorry!" She shrieked. "I've had such a stressed out morning... and then I got stuck in the front of Tesco's, and then..." She'd obviously had a bad morning. I was sorely tempted to lean out of the window as I drove off and shout "I REALLY WAS HAVING A POP AT YOU, YOU MAD DERANGED COW! HAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAA!", but my gentlemanly side got the better of me.
Finally, to the lady who obviously reads this blog religiously - I got back to Stockbury for a cup of tea, then I drove up to Basildon for a cuddle or two with my son, and I am driving back to Crewkerne tomorrow. Glad you and your pink-haired friend enjoyed the final show - nice to see you!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Henry's Horrid History Part 1, plus lots of other things...

Lots of things have occurred since I last updated this blog, and though I am tired and aching for bed, I cannot let this opportunity go to get things "back on track" so to speak.
Last weekend I was in Wales spending a few precious restful days with my parents out in Newcastle Emlyn. We had a nice, brief couple of days, but managed to fit in a trip to the wonderful Harrison's Cafe in town and a trip to see my old friend Carole Evans (nee Davey) at her lovely pub/restaurant The Daffodil. I drove back to Somerset on the Monday. By Tuesday I was back up the A303 and M3 route back to Essex. I was to stay with my wife and son for a couple of days while I did a couple of shows in the south east. But not before a brief early morning appearance on Emma Britton's show on BBC Somerset. It was good fun to be back in the studio with her and we had a lively if predictable debate about dog mess... (Enough said really). From Taunton I headed straight up to Essex.
On the Wednesday it was a 5th return visit for me to Wickford Junior School in South Essex. This is a fabulous school, full of bright sparky children and some very cool teachers indeed! We had a fabulous day marred only by the grotty weather. A simply deafening jousting tournament finished the day off a treat with the inevitable victory for an excellent ladies team. This brings the score at the end of this day to:
My son James went to his karate class on Wednesday evening and, despite this only being his third visit, he came away with his first badge for his kit. Amanda and I were so proud of him, and he was rather pleased with himself! I drove down to Kent on the Wednesday evening to stay with my sister Cathy near Sittingbourne.
Thursday I was back down to the Isle of Sheppey and Queenborough School. I had last visited here back in 2008, but it was so nice to be back. The staff and children at this school could literally not do enough for me. They were all so kind and helpful, and we had a really fun day all together as well, which makes life a bit easier! The final of the jousting in the afternoon was, as predicted, deafeningly loud and boisterous and resulted in the narrowest of victories for a very good gents team. Which finally brings us to half term and the score standing at:
All still to play for.
On the Friday I had a meeting over lunch at Leeds Castle with Darlene Cavill and her assistant Becky Lander with everything set up and ready for the off on the Saturday for Henry's Horrid History Show. Saturday morning dawned grey and miserable - the rain poured and the wind howled. My venue this time around is a very nice posh marquee erected near the maze and the Wykeham Martin Centre (if you know Leeds Castle!). It is heated, has a stage and seats about 170 people comfortably. My shows are at 11am, 1pm and 2.30pm each day. Today at 11am , there was not a soul to be seen as the rain hammered down and the wind moaned like Robert Smith with his finger caught in his guitar strap. So after an extended and unexpected bonus lunch break the show finally started at 1pm. We had about 50 people in, including my old friends Adam and Lisa Hudson, late of The Hoop Cricket Club with their two fine sons in tow. They seemed to really enjoy the show, especially when I "executed" Lisa in the Anne Boleyn section of the talk! It was great to see them all. The final show of the day only garnered about 25-30 people, but the forecast is a little better for tomorrow, so fingers crossed.
And now, finally, at long last...bed...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Westonzoyland & Ashcott

Good King Hal suddenly realising that the 2011 International Parrot Prodding Championships held at Barrington Court were missing one vital ingredient. Parrots. Who's a silly boy, then?

The drive back to Somerset on the Wednesday was quiet and uneventful. A little bit like England's international friendly against Denmark that evening, but at least we played quite well and won. Thursday the 10th found me at Westonzoyland up near Bridgwater. The last time I had visited this school was back in 2007 and I strongly remember sitting in the car outside the school and listening to England being trounced at Cricket on the radio by the Aussies. My how things have changed. (Actually I have just re-read my blog entry for back in 2007 and though England made a bad start we actually stuffed the Aussies in that match. My memory is obviously playing games with me!).
The weather for the visit this time was pretty much the same as my last visit - rain, rain and more rain. But the wonderful friendly school was there the same again! It was a biggish group of children with everyone from year 3 up to year 6. Some of the year 6 children remembered me from my previous visit back in 2007 - one of them it had been her birthday the last time I had been and I had sung "Happy Birthday" to her. She says how clearly she remembers it, but I assured her with the right prescription she could forget this horror. The day was excellent, lots of laughs, lots of Tudor silliness and good to be back with old friends again. After a very pleasant roast dinner lunch it was on with the show culminating in another win for the Gentlemen! This brings us to:
More and more interesting.
The following day was an almost identical journey in pouring rain up to Ashcott School near to Bridgwater and Glastonbury. Now Ashcott was the very first school in Somerset I ever did way way back in the mists of time - or 2004 as it is now known. I had been here once since then, in 2008 and now here I was back in 2011. Another hugely warm welcome. It was a small group of children today, about 35, but what they lacked for in size they more than made up for in loudness and enthusiasm. The morning was cool - very silly and with some of the children showing remarkable depth of Tudor knowledge. One young lad I had been pre-warned about was hugely into dinosaurs and I was told that at some point he would try and introduce the subject of dinosaurs into the Tudor day - and he did! During our question time session he asked me if the Tudors knew about dinosaurs! Good lad. I grabbed some sandwiches from the local village shop and was then back on for the afternoon session. We had a visit from a photographer from the Western Gazette and then it was more jousting. Back to form this time. The ladies romped to a fine win. This now brings us to:
I am off to Wales this weekend to see my parents and then back up to Essex next week for a return visit to Wickford Junior, then Queenborough School in Sheppey in Kent, then half term arrives and I begin my run at Leeds Castle.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

White Woman Lane School

It was just before the swimwear section that some members of the judging panel started to suspect Miss Ukraine was not all she was cracked up to be...

I am surprised that somewhere called White Woman Lane School is allowed to exist anymore. Surely it should now be called "Caucasian (though not exclusively Ethnic majority) Non-Gender Specific Though Definitely NOT Phallo-Centric Lane Educational Collective". Or am I just sounding a bit world weary and cynical? Hardly surprising with all this horrible stuff called "politics" flying around at the moment. I just cannot be bothered with it currently. I seem to be constantly bombarded with messages from well meaning friends these days, either as emails or on Facebook, urging me to support this, or protest against that, or leap out of a 4th floor window dressed as Cardinal Richelieu whilst quoting the complete works of Marcel Proust before you plummet into the pavement below. And quite frankly, what is the point? It is either smug right wingers telling me we've all got to tighten our belts, work harder and save money (except if you're a banker of course) or fire brand left wingers telling me that unless I save a rain forest or hug a Muslim before tea time then I am no better than a child molester. ARGH! Just leave me alone! It doesn't matter what I say, think or do, nothing will ever change! There will always be them and us, and they'll always be in charge and have us by the you know whats.
Right, rant over! It was a fifth (or was it sixth?) return visit to the above mentioned White Woman Lane School. This is a lovely school in the northern suburbs of Norwich and is always a treat to return to. The same familiar and friendly faces greeted me from the teachers and all the children (about 75 of them) had pulled out all the stops and come in a fine selection of brilliant Tudor costumes, a lot of which were home made. The journey up was nice and relatively easy, and the early morning start was more enjoyable than it sometimes used to be as Sarah Kennedy has been replaced by Vanessa Feltz on early morning Radio 2. Now this may sound like the equivalent of announcing that you are delighted that bubonic plague has been replaced with a raging cholera epidemic, but trust me on this - if you are ever up early at some point, Ms Feltz is a massive improvement.
The morning session at the school was a raging success, and things went from strength to strength with a loud and raucous afternoon. It culminated with another great jousting tournament in which a fine ladies team forged into such a huge lead that the gents team just packed up halfway through, knowing they were well beaten! This now makes the score:
Wonderful stuff. I am driving back to Somerset tomorrow as Thursday and Friday this week I am at Westonzoyland and Ashcott in that county. Watch this space for their reports - and no more shouty-crackers ranting - promise.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Stapleford Abbotts

Stapleford Abbotts School with a big reminder written on the road outside as to whether the Government should shut the place or not.

Back in Essex again, but this time to visit a new school I hadn't done before. The weekend before had been nice and restful and combined such diverse delights as a breakfast at Bilby's in Crewkerne, Manchester City sticking three past West Bromwich Albion and then the even more delightful news that Manchester United had been well and truly stuffed by Wolves. Ah, life is full of such little joys every now and then. Meanwhile, back to Essex. I stayed in Basildon on the Sunday night but was then up relatively early for the short trip over to Stapleford Abbotts, near Romford. Stapleford Abbotts is one of these places I have always been aware of (I was born and brought up less than 10 miles from it) but had for some reason or another, never been to. It is in that sort of no-mans land of not quite rural Essex and not quite desolate disgusting Romford drabness that for some reason is remarkably appealing to Premiership Footballers - a group of people Charlie Brooker so cleverly described as the World's thickest millionaires.
The school in the village was very easy to find and a warm welcome awaited me - and a cup of tea! The hall out the back of this school is brand spanking new and has fabulous acoustics. It was only a half day today and a smallish group of just over 30 children. They were a bit over excited a the start, so I told them some of my best jokes, and that soon quietened them down a bit I can tell you. One lad in particular was hugely knowledgeable and seemed very excited about history in general. He'll probably become a plumber. After a quick break I then had to race through the rest of the morning with embarrassing haste as a posse of dinner ladies (or lunchtime helpers or "ingesting median sojourn operative facilitators" as we probably have to call them these days) swarmed at the other end of the dining hall and cast disparaging looks my way. We still managed to get a really good jousting tournament in which ended with another win for the gentlemen! They are really coming right back into this now. Our year long score now reads:
There will be another chance for them to close the gap further tomorrow when I am up at the crack of dawn again to head back for another return visit to White Woman Lane Junior School in Norfollk.
March 25th this year sees the first of what could prove to be a regular Hoop Cricket Club reunion. I used to play for the Hoop between 1991 and 1998, so I am looking forward to getting back there and meeting such a large group of old friends, that is if everyone turns up as they say they will.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Malvern Wells & Broadclyst

Peter Paul and Mary after an accident with a codpiece and a time machine. The man on the left used to frequently smash custard pies into Chris Tarrant's face. What a great bloke.

Now why is it, when you have to get up early you cannot get to sleep, yet when you have a day off you can't keep your eyes open? This happened to me on Wednesday night - I knew I had to get up pretty early as I had a nearly 2 hour drive to get up to Worcestershire and Malvern Wells for a visit to a school. However, whenever I put my head to the pillow for a snooze my brain would immediately start questioning me as to what the heck it thought I was doing. I was sorely tempted at one point to surrender and succumb to the "coma chair", but in the end that wasn't necessary.
Malvern Wells is a lovely area, pretty houses and delightful countryside. Malvern Wells school is pretty wonderful as well. The teachers are all lovely and friendly, none more so than the very pretty Ella Jones who had booked me. Now you really know when you're getting old when the teachers are closer in age to their pupils than they are to you! Ella was lovely - very friendly and helpful and was absolutely right when she stated how wonderful her class were. They were brilliant, quick witted, and a delight to work with from start to finish. The only problem I had with the school was finding somewhere to get changed! There was a toilet down near the hall where I was working, but it was so small I couldn't even get my suitcase in it, let alone my not inconsiderable bulk. In the end I had to use a kitchen, but it only had a sort of half sized cottage door on it, so I had to make doubly sure no one was around before I started whipping my gear off. The afternoon was brilliant and ended with another thrilling jousting tournament, finally culminating in a long waited for win the for the Gentlemen.
That helped the gents score a lot. It has been a long time since I had visited a new school and had such a good time before, but Malvern Wells was a big hit with me! Great stuff. The drive back wasn't too bad either, but I had to be up early the following morning as well - not as early as for the Malvern visit.
Today I was on my way down to Devon and another visit to a new school - Broadclyst Junior School just outside Exeter. They had heard about me from reading about my frequent visits to the Maynard School. The day today was going to be distinctly odd - firstly I wouldn't be in the school as they no longer have a hall at Broadclyst. So instead I found myself setting up in the village hall just round the corner. (And boy, what a village hall! Delightful, gleaming and looking like it has only just been renovated!) Added to which I was doing two completely different groups in the day. In the morning I would be with a combined year 5 & 6 group, while in the afternoon I would have a combined year 2 & 3 group. The morning was with about 120 children, and it was superb! The children were funny, sharp, and just as with it as the Malvern children had been the day before! Wonderful stuff. Loads of laughs and they even videoed a large part of my performance which they are promising to send to me. I'll see if I can upload some of it to this blog or the website. The morning finished with a pulsating tournament that ended with yet another win for the ladies.
Just when the gents thought they were getting back into it...
The afternoon session was a bit more of a slog, as (a) I was tired by now and my cold addled throat wasn't very happy about being used again, and (b) being only years 2 & 3 the group were quite immature after the older group of the morning, and consequently were more hard work. But it was still fun and loads of laughs. And just to keep an even keel - the gents won the afternoon jousting!
How exciting is this getting? OK, not at all, but I don't care!
I have tomorrow to myself (a real rarity) then I am driving up to Essex on Sunday. I have a couple of days in the south east next week, then back to Somerset for two more days down here.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Redstart School, Chard

The above picture is either (a) Good King Hal whacking his head on a low roof, or (b) proof that he has a halo. Please send your answer, with a £50 note to: Good King Hal, The South of France Villa Appeal, Knackers Row, Catford, near England.

For all the long distance staggering about I do, occasionally (just occasionally) I get a really local show. So local in fact, that it is the travelling equivalent of opening your front door and simply falling forward onto your face. This was that toppling forward. I first went to Redstart School in Chard about six years ago - then never heard from them until about six months ago. I went and did a Tudor day with them, and here I was much less than a year later being invited back. It's like waiting for a bus. Six years and nothing, then two come along at once.
Redstart is a lovely school. The children were terrific, great fun and in some brilliant little Tudor costumes. All of the staff and the teachers were a delight and couldn't do enough for me, almost to the point of waiting on me hand and foot. I am not complaining, honestly, just ever so slightly embarrassing. It was a year 4 group today and they were at the very beginning ominously quiet, and I wondered if the day was going to be difficult. But they soon warmed up and were a delight to work with. Loads of laughs, some great Tudor knowledge and a nice relaxed air with everyone just enjoying the day.
I had a lovely lunch with my dinner being brought to me in the staff room by a poor lady with a bad back - she was in great pain but insisted on getting the meal for me. Didn't she know I wasn't a real King??? The air was so relaxed and convivial in the staff room that I very nearly drifted off into a peaceful sleep - but just managed to catch myself before I started snoring.
The afternoon was great fun. The kids just loved the stocks session, bless 'em, and then the jousting was an absolute classic. Two very good teams, who could have quite easily won any other school visit I had done, but it was, rather inevitably, the Ladies who romped away for a very good victory. This now makes the score:
The boys are beginning to be left behind. This could get very one sided. I am next back on the road tomorrow morning with a first visit to a school in Worcestershire with a visit to Malvern Wells School Malvern Wells. An early start.... YAWN.