Thursday, March 31, 2011

Parwich Primary, Derbyshire

Good King Hal attempts to bring peace to the Middle East, however the child is obviously a music lover and appears to be trying to escape.

I had never done a Henry show in Derbyshire before, so this was a real first for me. I was going to be driving up from Essex having spent some time with Amanda and James. Once more I was booked into one of those charming characterful Travelodge places, so beloved of all commercial travellers. Now my sat nav is not the most reliable thing in my possession at the moment, and on the Travelodge website it suggested you typed in another post code for the hotel than the one it officially had. Who was I to argue with that? I followed the sat nav's directions all the way up to the outskirts of Ashbourne near the Peak District, and then headed off for where it assured me the hotel would be. WRONG again. Nothing - not a sausage. I found a small petrol station and wandered in through the driving rain to ask for directions. The nice lady behind the counter smiled at me as I came in. Before I could even say a word she said "You're looking for the Travelodge, aren't you?" Was I that obvious? Apparently EVERYONE who goes into that petrol station and doesn't buy fuel has been sent there by their sat nav with the post code given to them by Travelodge in the first place! Or was she making an unsubtle pass at me? No, of course she wasn't.

I drove back the way she had shown me and saw that the hotel stood in what was basically glorified waste ground with only a Harvester-style plastic pub anywhere near it. Now I love pubs, good old fashioned English pubs. These modern plastic pubs have about as much in common with a proper English pub as I do with Jonathan Rhys-Myers. Yes, we both play Henry VIII but only one of us is even vaguely attractive to the opposite sex. So the idea of a plate of "Surf'n'turf with a complimentary salad bar to visit, and with a nice foamy pint of John Smith's Smooth Flow to wash it all down!" filled me with shuddering dread, so I was far more pleased to see that there was a Marks and Spencer food store just up the road, and so I headed there to stock up for the evening. I came back, checked into the hotel and wandered up to my room. It was a much newer hotel than the one I stayed in recently when in Shrewsbury, with the only difference I could see that the room was smaller and the bathroom considerably so. My car was one of only three in the car park at that time. I had just settled into the room when I heard the unmistakable sound of stiletto heels on concrete outside - being the nosey git I am I peaked out the window. There was a dazzling glamorous blonde lady in a steaming clinch with a man in a business suit. I looked on in awe as they appeared to be on the point of devouring each other - and what were they doing coming out of a nice Travelodge at about 4pm on a weekday? Perhaps they worked there! Perhaps they had just finished a hard shift stripping beds and replenishing complimentary tea and coffee sachets in the rooms and were congratulating each other with a vacuum like snog in the car park? They eventually disentangled each other and got into separate cars. As they drove off I could see a baby seat in the back of the business suited man's car. Now I may be putting two and two together and making 5,834, but my immediate thought was "what a bastard". I hope I was wrong.

I was up bright and early this morning and was soon driving up through the delightful town of Ashbourne and out into the countryside to find Parwich. In the drizzly incessant rain everything looked a bit grey and depressing. I soon found it and eventually the old Victorian School. I had only been there a few minutes when Laura Smith, the teacher who had booked me for the day, arrived. She was absolutely charming - one of the nicest ladies I have met in a long time. The plan was to do the morning "talky" stuff in the school classroom, and then in the afternoon to travel down to the village hall for the jousting etc. A bit like we had done at Broadclyst in Devon recently. It was a smallish group of about 26 children with a range of ages from years 3, 4, 5 & 6. Quite a few of them had come along in fabulous Tudor costumes. We had a great morning and finished off with a lovely meal of sweet and sour pork - delicious! I then moved all the gear down to the village hall, a delightful brand new building with a fine resonant main room. I went into the large disabled loo to get changed before the children came over and was horrified to discover an enormous "Richard the Third" lurking, unflushed in the toilet there. It looked like King Kong's finger and was rapidly flushed away by yours truly. The deeply worrying thing about it was that it was lying in the pan completely on it's own - no used toilet paper! ARGH! Did the person who gave birth to this leviathan simply haul up their trolleys at the end of the session and, unable to contemplate the thought of drowning their new born dreadnought, simply waddled off into the sunset? It scarcely bares thinking about. Anyway, rapidly changing the subject, the afternoon was a belter with a fantastic stocks session followed by an even better jousting tournament. We were joined by the infants from years 1 & 2 to cheer on the teams for this, and in culminated, yet again in a fine win by a very good ladies team. This now makes our score:


They are starting to get away again! I finally packed away, said goodbye to Laura Smith, and was on my way home. Parwich looked so much nicer in the bright sunshine - a really beautiful place, very quaint and definitely worth a return visit. I'll be back! I left Parwich at about 3.40pm - I arrived at my place in Crewkerne at almost smack on 7pm, tired but pleased to be home again for the first time in well over a week. I have tomorrow off, which must be an April Fool Joke of some sort or other, and am next being Henry on Monday when I make a return visit to Noremarsh School in Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire - close to where Andy Partridge lives in Swindon! HELLO ANDY!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Radlett Prep School

Would you believe that Good King Hal had trouble finding this school? And it has an automatic toilet and a Ukrainian teacher. Remarkable.

I hate loathe and detest the M25 more than I can possibly let most of you know. It is a road that brings me only bad memories of hot static traffic jams, idiot lane hoggers and more queueing. Therefore anytime I have to go anywhere near this road I try to do it as out of hours as possible. I have been staying in Essex for the past few days - Basildon to be precise. Now from sunny Basildon to Radlett, where the school is, can be no longer than about 45 minutes - but that would be 45 minutes on an M25 with no roadworks, no other traffic - NOTHING. That never, ever happens. The nearest you can get to it is by driving as early or as late as you can possibly manage. Therefore to avoid any heartache or masses of traffic I left sunny Basildon at 5am. Now I know this sounds like overkill, but come on. I found Radlett remarkably easily, but could I find the Prep School? Could I heck. I drove up and down Watling Street (for 'tis where the school is) in the pitch dark and could not find even a hint of the school. I even stopped and asked a very early morning commuter in Radlett High Street if he knew where it was and he claimed to have never heard of it. Finally after driving nearly all the way into Elstree and heading back, I saw a tiny sign for a "school ahead". I slowed down and turned into an unmarked side road to be presented by a fairly non-descript set of gates, but with the magical words "Radlett Prep School" emblazoned upon them. They were locked, it was 6.30am, but I had found them! I parked up in a nearby lay by, turned on the Chris Evans Show and snoozed for a little while.

The school itself was lovely - a fine old Georgian building with various lumps and bumps added over the years, all built on a site which is even mentioned in the Domesday Book. I was warmly welcomed by teachers and staff alike, including the remarkable head teacher, a lovely friendly avuncular man who has worked at Radlett Prep for the previous 41 years! It was a group of about 50-60 children, all in brilliant costumes and full of laughter and sparkiness. They seemed to really enjoy the day and thankfully laughed in all the right places.

There were two very remarkable things about this school - one was the toilet I was allowed to get changed in. It was a small old fashioned looking room, but had recently had a technological re-fit and was now kitted out with state of the art hi-tech bog stuff. (Let me know if any of this techno babble is losing you). The toilet was automatic, the taps were automatic and even the hand dryer was automatic. With the toilet you either waved your hand (or any other appendage you felt like waving around) in front of a sensor and it would flush automatically, or if you finished with the WC, moving towards the sink to wash you hands would also cause it to flush automatically. This particular sensor was obviously very sensitive as it would go off at the drop of a hat. Change your shirt - FLUSH! Put socks on - FLUSH! Clench buttock cheeks a bit too quickly - FLUSH! You get the idea. Every so often you'd go a bit too close to the hand dryer and suddenly WHOOSH! This would kick in like a small jet engine cranking up for lift off. In between flushing and whooshing I would get changed and would come out of the small room with people staring at me wondering what the hell I had been doing in there. The other truly remarkable thing at this school was a year 4 teacher from the Ukraine. If she had been my teacher at school I'd still be there, purposefully flunking exams. "You're being held back for another year, Farley!" "Really? Woo-hoo!" She wasn't just smouldering, she was "burning down the house".

Lunch was a surprise. The surprise being that they didn't do any! I had to drive back to Radlett and find a shop to get some sandwiches. After another fine chat with the head teacher I set up for the afternoon session. Everything went swimmingly and the jousting tournament was a belter. This time the ladies stormed to a very worthy victory. This now makes the score:


Last night I sat and watched the England v Ghana international from Wembley. James decided to watch the match with me and lasted all of about 5 minutes before the lure of his Nintendo DS took over! I cuddled up with him in bed last night which was lovely - he is such a cuddly little boy!

Today I am driving up to Derbyshire and staying near Ashbourne, before tomorrow heading to the little village of Parwich for an appearance at their school. Should be fun!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Drayton Junior

Angela Lamb (right) yesterday, just before popping home for lunch (a boiled egg, two slices of toasted bread, a cup of coffee and a waggon wheel).

Ah! Sunshine! Spring time! Sap be a rising, ooh-arr! etc. You catch my drift. Early morning starts are much more fun when there is some daylight involved, as witnessed yesterday. I was back at Drayton School in north Norwich, so I had driven to Essex to stay with Amanda and James on the Tuesday. Even being this much closer to Norwich, it is still a two hour drive from sunny Basildon to sunny Drayton, so I was up at 5am and out of the door by 5.30am. Early mornings are also made more human now by being a completely "Sarah Kennedy Free Zone". Bliss! Vanessa Feltz may never be my first choice as a radio presenter, but in comparison to Sharah (sic - or is that hic?) Kennedy she is like Vaughan Williams' "Lark Ascending" compared to the "Crazy Frog" ring tone. i.e. only one of them makes you want to rip the radio out of it's housing and spray it with bullets from an Uzi before setting fire to it.
This was my fifth, or even possibly sixth return visit to Drayton School, and it is truly one of my favourites in Norfolk. I was warmly greeted by all the staff as usual, and particularly Angela Lamb who is a dead ringers for Julianne Moore (hence the picture above!). It was a group of about 80 children today and we were in the main hall with it's migraine inducing floor design. They were a lovely group, great costumes, very eager to learn and only one or two slightly lippy ones which is always a good thing. The morning went through at a fair old pace, with only a break for an assembly to slow us up. Lunch was an unappetising looking burger with saute potatoes, which goes to prove how wrong you can be as it was delicious. Mrs Lamb took the more intelligent option and went home for lunch.
The afternoon was a good one and culminated in what was originally a quiet joust that soon turned into a deafening joust. And just to prove me wrong, the gentlemen won AGAIN! They are now virtually equal footing with the ladies. This is much closer than last year. Our score now stands at:
They will now lock horns again on Tuesday at Radlett Prep School in Hertfordshire. After the show it was back to Basildon for cuddles with my son and a few games with him on Club Penguin on line (don't ask). And look outside - it's sunny again! And in Basildon! Surely there is a law against that sort of thing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Christ Church School, Downend

Good King Hal (left) after discovering the price of a single tyre for his Mazda 323F.

Isn't it nice that the weather is finally warming up? Spring seems to have been a long time coming this year. How nice it was to wake up both Saturday and Sunday morning this weekend and to be greeted by bright sunshine and warmth. Perhaps I should put a roof on the flat (that was a joke BTW). On the Sunday morning I decided to use this wonderful early spring sunshine and to head over to Barrington Court for a walk around the gardens, not as Henry, but just as me. Simply to stretch the legs and get some fresh air in my lungs. That was the plan, anyway...
The day after the Cornish trip last week I had noticed that one of the rear tyres on the Mazda was a bit squishy, so I drove to a local garage and pumped it up. I drove over to Barrington on the Sunday afternoon for my walk, only on getting out of the car did I discover that the same tyre was now very flat again. Bum. I decided to utilise Barrington Court's resources and sat in Matthew Applegate's office flicking through the local Yellow Pages to see where the nearest tyre fitting station was. Everything local was closed as it was Sunday, the nearest places being either Taunton or Yeovil. I pumped the tyre up a little and headed for Yeovil. I arrived at Kwik Fit in South Street to be greeted by a man in oil soaked overalls who looked like the off-spring of an unfortunate encounter between the Stay Puff Marshmallow man from Ghostbusters, and a skinhead. He was on the phone, saw me walk into the reception area, and just walked off - no acknowledgment - nothing. His little assistant who was working for another customer looked about 12 and wore a Benny from Crossroads hat. The Stay Puff Marshmallow man continued to stalk around the garage bellowing into his phone while the little lad progressed and finally finished with the other customer. All joking aside the little lad was brilliant and got the tyre done in double quick time. I went for the cheapest option on the tyres, and even that was nearly £70. I finally paid and left, while the Stay Puff bloke continued to bark into his phone - I wonder if he does any work there at all..?
Monday morning saw me up bright and early again for a drive up to Downend in North Bristol and a first ever visit to Christ Church School. Downend is the birthplace of W G Grace (hence the piccie above) and is a fairly pleasant suburb. The school was brilliant - great teachers, lovely kids and a pleasant day all round. They had even organised a wonderful Tudor banquet at lunchtime with pottage, pease pudding, a chicken stew and all finished off with a delicious plum pudding. I could get used to this. The afternoon was a riot - much excitement from all the children and ended with a brilliant jousting tournament. The Gents champions had only won their semi final as they had been slightly less pathetic than their opponents, but come the final they had really pulled their socks up, and despite being behind for a long while, they stormed through to a very well deserved victory. This makes the score now:
Much more interesting and close - unlike the Rugby this weekend...
Today I am driving up to Essex and tomorrow I am back at Drayton School near Norwich in Norfolk, then next week I have visits to Radlett School in Hertfordshire and then up to Parwich in Derbyshire - I will be away from home for about 10 days.
I must dash, Jeremy Kyle is currently berating a monosyllabic 16-year-old girl who insists she is mature enough to start a family with her equally cranially challenged 17-year-old boyfriend. There goes the neighbourhood. Next stop, ESSEX!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Truro Prep, Cornwall

Good King Hal (right) appearing in black and white, something to do with either (a) shortages, or more likely (b) he was alive in the 16th Century and colour photos took a long time to come back from the chemists.

My brain is obviously turning to mush these days. Following on from getting myself double booked the other week, I received a message on Tuesday evening from my friend Minti down in Cornwall asking me what time I was going to be turning up to stay with her, her other half Gary, and their lovely kids. I had completely forgotten our telephone conversation from a few weeks previously when Minti had graciously offered me a room for the night so that I would be close to Truro Prep for the morning start. More abject apologies from me, but thankfully Minti just thought it was hilarious.
I left from Somerset relatively early on the Wednesday morning, but it was a very pleasurable drive. The weather was kind, the roads mostly empty and the scenery as I drove down into Cornwall became quite rugged and interesting. It was nice to see the A30 over Bodmin Moor empty, rather than how I remember it during summer holidays - a long thin, winding car park, with over heated engines, families and tempers. I stopped in the early morning sunlight near Jamaica Inn and bought myself some breakfast, which was most welcome. You approach Truro Prep school via a tiny back lane near Truro golf club, and then in through a small winding back driveway. The previous two visits to this lovely school had been at the height of summer, and lunch had consisted of a slap up hog roast served out on the cricket pitch. It was warm and sunny today, but certainly not warm enough for the delights of an outdoor hog roast. As ever I was warmly welcomed by the lovely staff of this delightful school, and everyone, and I mean EVERYONE had dressed up in Tudor costumes. The morning was to be a different from my normal Henry days - I would give my opening "Six Wives" talk four times over to each different year group that was studying it. So I kicked off just after 9am, shortly after being serenaded by the school orchestra through a strangulated version of "Greensleeves", and then a rumbustious singing of "The Tudors Had Arrived" song by some miserable person with the initials T.D. who should not be approached by small children or Henry VIII impersonators.
My opening talk was to the year 5 group who were quiet to begin with, but really picked up as the talk progressed. Next I was with the year 3 group, who simply sat in stunned silence throughout the talk with a vague look of terror on their faces. We had a break for about 2o minutes, where a cup of tea was most welcome. Then it was back for year 6 who really got it and thoroughly enjoyed the show. I finished the morning with year 4, who were a smaller group and a little quieter than the year 6's. Lunch was in the main dining hall and was a sumptuous Tudor affair consisting of roasted pheasant, beef or chicken, slow roasted vegetables and roast potatoes (OK admittedly the pheasant and the potatoes would not have been on Henry's menu) which was absolutely stunning. The pheasant in particular was delicious - moist tasty and a delight. There was some pottage and bread as a starter, but just in case it tasted like real Tudor pottage I gave that a wide berth. The pudding was a sort of cheesecakey/milk puddingy filling, with lots of cinnamon and raisins, in a pastry case. It was interesting, much in the same way I am sure industrial floor polish is interesting.
After lunch I had to judge the children's costumes in a parade of the whole school - not an easy job. Then after that we had a long superb jousting tournament in the big sports hall. It was a fabulous tournament over many races but was eventually won by a very capable ladies team, that now brings our score to:


I was supposed to go an meet an old friend, Annalise who I used to work with at Rochester Cathedral in Kent, as she now lives and works down near Truro. Sadly, I didn't get away from the school till after 4pm and I was due out for dinner with friends near Langport that evening by 7pm, so I knew I would be cutting it fine. Therefore I had to blow poor old Annalise out, and promise to visit her another time soon.
I got back to Somerset and almost immediately had to go out and meet my friends at the Halfway House Inn at Pitney near Langport. We had a fabulous meal and lots of laughs. So all in all, a really nice day! My next Henry show is on Monday at Downend in Bristol, the birthplace of WG Grace. How thrilled you must all be to know that!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mereside School, Shrewsbury

Good King Hal and Anne of Cleeves having a quick nose round their new under stairs cupboard.

Now I was originally due to go to Mereside School in Shrewsbury in Shropshire on the 7th January, but the school had phoned and requested the date be put back. Originally this was to the 4th March, but back then I was suffering with a terrible chest infection and cough that made me explode every so often with eye watering volcanic eructations of the stridulating, gear crunching kind. Not a pretty site and not something to show off to impressionable children in Shrewsbury. Therefore the show was postponed again and this time back to Monday 14th March.
Shrewsbury is a long way from South Somerset, so I decided to drive up on the Sunday and stay overnight at a hotel so that I would be nice a fresh for the Monday morning. I booked myself into this wonderful little place called a "Travelodge" - you might have heard of them, quaint roadside lodges with lots of personal character, and.... no... I can't go on. I cannot tell a lie. They are the hotel version of the Roman Empire - doesn't matter where you go, they are all exactly the same. I booked in and sat in my room flicking through the TV channels - all the stuff you could imagine, plus for some reason a Russian news channel - in English. Bizarre. I had been assured by the Travelodge website that there was a Little Chef AND a Burger King adjacent to the hotel, so even if I wasn't going to be eating haute cuisine I would at least not have to stagger too far for a plate of heart attack and chips. WRONG! Both the fast food outlets were closed for refurbishment, so my Sunday evening meal consisted of cold sandwiches bought from a local petrol station. I had driven to where the school was early in the evening on Sunday so I knew where it would be for Monday morning. It was only about five minutes up the road, so that was good news to me.
I got up on the Monday and drove down to the school. I was very warmly welcomed by the staff and teachers, and soon found myself with the children in the hall. It was a nice big group of about 90 children. To begin with they were quite quiet, but they soon warmed up and as the day progressed the laughs got louder. Lunch was a full proper plate of sausage and chips - who needed Little Chef anyway!
The afternoon joust was hilarious, loud and nearly blew the roof off the hall! It culminated in a narrow victory for a very good Gents team. This now brings our score to:
All the staff were delightful and took part in a final joust with great enthusiasm! Bless 'em all! The drive back was relatively easy despite a bit of a snarl up round Birmingham, but I guess that is just par for the course.
The last time I had been to Shropshire for anytime was back in 2002 for a holiday with my wife. We stayed in a lovely little village near Ludlow called Downton on the Rock. Amanda was pregnant with James and upon arriving at our self catering cottage she had decided she needed a lie down and a rest. Being on my own, I had soon exhausted the entertainment possibilities of the cottage - I had turned the heating on and off, opened the fridge door to see how quickly the light came on, and had taken to dancing to Test Match Special on Radio 4 Long Wave. In a fit of boredom I decided to shave my beard off. I first grew my beard at the age of 21 and by 2002 I was 35, therefore I had not seen my face completely bald for 14 years. I was worried I had possibly turned into a potato. I nearly shaved it all off, but chickened out at the end and left myself with a small goatee. I woke Amanda up shortly afterwards with a cup of tea. She didn't notice the beard, in fact she didn't notice the beard for another two days, until I pointed it out to her while having lunch out somewhere. Bless.
My next Henry show is tomorrow, Wednesday the 16th March at Truro Prep in Cornwall, a lovely school I last visited back in 2008. Should be a fun day! Shame I forgot I had promised to drive down the night before and visit my friend Minti where she lives near Rough Tor in Cornwall. Whoops. I shall make it up to her and Gary sometime soon, honestly!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

St Michael's followed by St Michael's...

Good King Hal (left), halfway through a terrifying transformation into a werewolf, playing a growl kornholt solo of "It Must Be Jelly Cos Jam Don't Shake Like That". Oh, the humanity...

After the trials and tribulations of the Bedford day and the joy of my on line banking experience, it was nice to be back to being Henry VIII again. On the Wednesday it was back to one of my longest running schools, St Michael's Junior in Wimborne in Dorset. The lady I usually see at Wimborne is called Jane Eyre, but she is off doing a year overseas with the VSO in Gambia. That or she's doing 12 months in Parkhurst.
Despite her absence there were plenty of familiar and friendly faces on my arrival. As usual on going back to schools I visit frequently there is the cry of "Is it a year already?" from all and sundry, which I think they mean in a nice way! It was a larger group than in previous visits - 140 children this time, and they were a good fun, sparky group. They laughed a lot and joined in well, and pretty much all of them were dolled up in fabulous Tudor costumes. Some of the homemade ones were of a very high standard. I spent a very pleasant lunch break with two of the younger members of the female staff (always a good thing), teaching them how to tell jokes. Neither of them had much of a clue, but then I suppose when you're that pretty and young, who needs humour? That's why I am sitting here alone, in an apartment in South Somerset dressed as a clown with a revolving bow tie on.
The afternoon session was as loud and raucous as it can be and culminated in a stunning jousting tournament won by a very good ladies team. This made the score after the Wimborne show:
The drive home was quite pleasant, not too much traffic and along that road from Wimborne to Dorchester with lovely views and scenery all around. I got home, made some dinner, turned on the TV to see Spurs about to take on AC Milan, and promptly fell asleep. Then Spurs always have that effect on me. (DAMN YOU, RICKY VILLA!!!)
And isn't it funny. You wait all year to do a show at a school called St Michael's, then two turn up at once! I had last visited St Michael's in Twerton near Bath back in May 2010, and as I usually see them at about that time of year it seemed odd turning up at this school on a cold breezy morning. Where was all the warm early summer sun?? Again it was good to see some old familiar faces, plus some new ones. This was a group of about 90 children, very excitable and sometimes a bit of a handful, but I kept them happy for most of the day. On the Tudor quiz which I do in the morning, one little lad managed to score 1 out of 20, which is far and away the lowest score anyone has ever got, but I didn't tell him that. Bless him! Lunch was a cannon ball sized baked potato swamped with baked beans and cheese, with a nice crisp salad on the side. Smashing.
The afternoon was riotous, but fun! Some of the kids laughed so much at the stocks routine I honest thought some of them might have little accidents, but the floor remained resolutely dry. The jousting was again of a very high standard and the final finished in a thrilling dead heat between the gents and the ladies. It went to a one quoit race off to find the winner which the ladies just about squeaked home in. The gents score is starting to drift again! The score is now:
Good stuff. The drive home was marred only by having to endure Victoria Coren on the Steve Wright Show on Radio 2. Why does he never have Giles London on his show? He'd be great! If you've never had the chance to enjoy him, please check out the occasional blog of the capital's smoothest, smartest, most nepotism-riddled restaurant reviewer - Giles London at as you will find he is nothing like Giles Coren in The Times at all. Honest.
My next Henry appearance is at Mereside Junior in Shrewsbury on Monday. This was the show postponed a couple of weeks back when my chest was really bad. It may be tempting fate, but I feel better now! COUGH SPLUTTER! DOH!

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Head for The Hills!

The final remains of Good King Hal (left) after the events of Monday the 7th March 2011.

There are some days that you look back on, when they are over, and you honestly think to yourself - what the hell did I get out of bed for in the first place this morning? Now I didn't entirely think that last night before I slumped into the land of nod, but I was close. It all began with getting up early in the morning.
Now according to my work calendar, Monday 7th March I was due at The Hills Lower School in Bedford. This entailed setting the alarm for the morning at 4am, for a 4.30am departure for the three and a little bit hours drive to Bedford from South Somerset. I deliberately put my alarm clock the other side of the room when I have to get up that early - it entails me actually having to get out of bed to turn it off, not just throw an arm at it and potentially fall asleep again. However I am always very aware of having to get up early, and frequently on nights like this my brain keeps whirring away while I try and get to sleep. It says "You might oversleep! What will you do then?" or "You're still not asleep and it must be nearly 4am by now! You'll fall asleep at the wheel and kill yourself!" However, with clever use of a Charlie Brooker book and some "Night Nurse" for my still gently burbling chest, I did eventually fall asleep. And I got up in time as well! I was very proud of my morning ablutions and was up and out of the flat by 4.30am. The roads at that time of day are an absolute delight of course, no one around at all, and I sailed serenely up the A303 towards the A34. (Well, as serenely as you can in a Mazda 323F).
The last couple of times I have visited Bedford it has been a nightmare to get into. Roadworks upon roadworks, tons of non-moving traffic and a rapidly ticking clock. But this time, it was a doddle - and I soon found myself past Milton Keynes and Buckingham, and virtually on the door step of the school. Apart from some poor sap in a Vauxhall Astra having his engine blow up as I drove behind him, it was a pretty much hassle free arrival at the school. The surroundings looked remarkably familiar. As I turned into the gate of the school it said "Welcome to Hazeldene Lower School". Huh? Hazeldene was a school I used to visit as Henry, but I hadn't been here since 2007 - why had my sat nav brought me here? Because, believe it or not, The Hills Lower School is on the same site. They use the same gate! Two completely separate Lower Schools with their front doors approximately 10 yards apart. Madness. I sat in the car having a quick swig of my drink before I went in, and watched with interest as another car parked over by the Hazeldene entrance. A young female teacher got out, and unaware she was being eyed by a dirty old Tudor monarch, paused to adjust her stocking tops. Well, that made my morning, I can tell you! I don't know who you are madam, but you did me the power of good.
As I got into the school I met the teacher I was dealing with - a very nice lady who had bombarded me with emails and questions over the previous couple of weeks. Still, it was nice to be here. I was warned by several members of staff that the group I would be with today, a year three group of two classes, were challenging and excitable to say the least. Who was I to argue with them? So I got all my stuff in the hall, got changed, and then ended up sitting on my "April" in the staff room for an hour as the kids had a singing lesson. Finally I got in the hall with the kids. They were very excitable and at times, quite a handful. One lad with some obvious learning difficulties was like a Jack in the Box of energy, with almost Tourette's Syndrome scatter gun approach to shouting out at me whenever he felt like it. It was only a brief morning, but it seemed quite long.
During lunch I chatted to a very nice lady who looks after all the gardens where the kids grow their own fruit and veg. I suddenly noticed I had a whole ream of missed calls on my mobile phone. It was messages from a school in Hertfordshire wondering where I was as I was supposed to be with them on the 7th March. Huh?? One of the teachers allowed me to sign onto a PC to check my emails to see what was going on and, uh-oh, they were right. I had well and truly double-booked myself. I had told both The Hills and this other school that I would be with them on the 7th March. The only thing I think that could have happened was that both schools had hassled me for information on dates a lot and all the time I was at Leeds Castle away from my office. As excuses go it is pretty lame, but it was the best I could do. I mailed the teacher in Hertfordshire with abject apologies filled with sackcloth and ashes, and promised to sort something out for them.
The afternoon was equally loud and hard work. Not sure I have shouted quite so much to such a small group for a long time. But they seemed to enjoy most of it and the jousting was very loud and raucous, and ended with another win for the gents! This brings our score up to:
Much more interesting. I unloaded all my gear back to the car, and then found the gates were locked. I went back into the school and found the caretaker. He assured me they weren't locked it was just made to look that way. I walked back to the car. The gates WERE locked. I walked back and got the caretaker who trudged out to unlock them with all the enthusiasm and gusto of a sloth on mogadons. I went through the gates only to find that there was now also an OUTER set of gates. This was purgatory! Luckily they weren't properly locked so I got out and headed off for a three hour drive.
The drive home was OK, apart from one little snarl up near Stonehenge. I got back, exhausted, finished and very low after such a hard show. I decided to cheer myself up to see if my pay had gone into my bank account. It hadn't. I checked up on why not and found out the standing order for it from my business account had been entered with the wrong month - my rent was due today and I didn't have enough in my account to cover it. ARGH! I phoned the bank and got onto their automated system. First they wanted my account number keyed in - done. Now the sort code keyed in - done. Now the second numeral from my personal security number. My what? What personal security number? The condescending electric voice just kept repeating it, like the boring teacher in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." I thought, I know I shall go in on another number and talk to a real person. I tried to but ended up at the same information superhighway cul de sac. In the end, very frustrated and eager to sort this out I tried to postpone my rent payment on line by one day - I was told I was too late in the day. ARGH!!! I know, inventive GKH thought, I shall phone the bank's new customer line, that way I am guaranteed to talk to a real person and they won't need this mysterious Personal Security Number crap. I keyed in the number - only to be told that the line was only open between 8am and 8pm. And the time at that very instant??? 8.01pm. AAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHH! Cue complete "mental mental chicken oriental" moment with the King. The phone gets ripped from the wall and is thrown on the floor and bludgeoned to death with it's own hand piece. Not a pretty site.
Today I went out and bought a new phone and discovered that my pay had gone through as an emergency payment thanks to my lovely company "Past Presence Ltd". The school in Hertfordshire now think I am the dot over the letter I in the word SH*T and I am currently watching Barcelona players doing passable impressions of dying swans every time an Arsenal player breathes next to them. If anyone ever builds a time machine I shall borrow it for one journey only. I shall go back to the evening of the 6th March 2011, and I will turn off my alarm clock.
Tomorrow, the 9th, I am back at one of my all time favourite schools, the very wonderful St Michael's School near Wimborne in Dorset. Should be fun.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Hazlegrove and Heaving Chests (Ooh-er!)

Good King Hal starring in the latest blockbuster "Babe 3 - Pig in a White Wine Sauce, with shallots, aubergines and potato rosti, all served with a nice chilled Chablis". Certificate 18.

My son has a certain temper with inanimate objects, when they won't do what he wants them to do. Sadly, I can hide this no longer - he gets this from me. And with me it isn't even inanimate objects. If anything isn't doing what I want it to do, it is in danger of being smashed to pieces or thrown across the room. I am usually this same intolerant idiot when it comes to being ill. Now I have just finished my week long run at Leeds Castle and it is usually when I am there that I fall ill with a bad chest - but I have waited until the week after to get all yukky. Now, whenever I lie down my chest goes bubble-bubble-wheeze and I begin coughing and sometimes can't stop for several eye-watering minutes. This is where my temper with inanimate objects goes to a new level, as I get so angry with my lungs for not working properly I just want to rip them out, squeeze them dry, run them through a mangle and then stuff them back in again. As I can't actually do this for real (please, children at home - DON'T try this) it means I have been having terrible trouble sleeping of late. So the night before I was due to drive to Hazlegrove School near Sparkford in Somerset I gave up on my bed after a couple of wheezing coughing filled hours and headed instead for the warm comforts of my almost world famous "Coma Chair" (C) Mike Farley 2010. Now I knew not to sleep with my feet on the floor as this could bring on such horrors as deep vein thrombosis, scurvy and Mongolian Luirghi Fever of the Fallen Arches (or something like that). So I dutifully stuck my legs up on a stool, stuck on the latest recorded edition of Neil Oliver's "History of Ancient Britain" and as predicted I promptly fell fast asleep.
I woke up at some damnably early hour and found that my feet had at some point in the night fallen off the stool. I was now blessed with ankles that felt remarkably like over ripe cantaloupe melons. I still felt ill and my chest burbled away merrily as I drove up the A303 to Sparkford, pausing only to cough alarmingly and wipe my watering eyes. Hazlegrove School is in a remarkable old house that apparently, I was informed later, was once slept in by Catherine of Aragon... or was it Katherine Parr? Well it was one of them. Mind you, the amount of places I have been in my time as Henry VIII and been told that one of the six wives once slept there, or that Mary I slept there, or Queen Elizabeth had eaten a Ginsters pasty there etc. The other one I get all the time is mostly American women coming up to me at events and telling me they're related to Anne Boleyn. Well so am I - we're both mammals for Christ's sake. Anyway, I am getting off the subject.
Hazlegrove School was lovely, the teachers were unbelievably friendly and helpful and very sympathetic to my burbling chest and frequent Krakatoa cough explosions. The kids were great and called the usual private school names like Hector or Ned, or Jensen or Barry (not really). The lunch was lovely, a very tasty roast pork with veg and roast potatoes. The afternoon session went very well and finished with two of the finest jousting teams you will ever see, but ended with the Gentlemen's team just sneaking a narrow victory over a very good ladies team. This makes our score:
I felt totally wasted after the show. Just exhausted and burnt out. All I could think of was that I was due to get up at 4am the next morning and drive three hours up to Shrewsbury for a visit to Mereside School. To be honest I just couldn't face the idea. I needed rest and lots of it. When I got home I called Mereside and they were lovely - they said it was fine and the show has now been postponed back to the 14th March. Phew. This meant I could have a lie in this morning and get better, and you know what? I feel much better for it. Therefore the next Henry day is now on Monday at The Hills School in Bedford.