Monday, October 31, 2011

The Long March

Good King Hal attempting to finish his cocktail whilst pretending to play a stunning Tudor tune on his dordrecht. Dirty boy.

There have been a few miles added to my car in recent weeks. I had been to Leeds Castle a couple of weeks back for an evening corporate do - I wasn't actually on until about 10pm, and then only briefly, but the group seemed to enjoy it, even the Italians who were there and didn't speak much English. Shortly after this it was half term and I was off with my lovely son James for a visit to his grandparent's house in Wales for a few days. We had a great time and James even managed to produce a fabulous oil painting with my father of his cat Dru. It turned out to be a true masterpiece and now has pride of place in his Mum's front room. It was also nice to find James getting on so well with his reading, something he was really struggling with till recently. Whereas before when he would do anything to avoid reading in front of us he now almost has to be reigned back in, such is his desire to show off his new skills. Bless him.

After a brief day in Somerset to try and catch up on life, I was off down to the Isle of Wight again for a return visit to St Francis' School in Ventnor, only this time, my life was going to be a lot easier as the teacher from my previous visit Hannah Larkin, had offered me a room for the night before. Therefore there would be no getting up in the wee small hours for me - oh no! No, I would have a nice gentle drive down on Sunday afternoon, enjoy a relaxed crossing of the Solent and then pootle across the island to Ventnor, enjoy a large glass of wine or some such, exchange a few bon mottes with my hosts and then sleep a long restful sleep, safe in the knowledge there would be no early morning rushing about. Well, that was the plan. I left Crewkerne at about 4.30pm, booked as I was for the 6.30pm crossing from Lymington to Yarmouth. The weather was a bit grim - a mixture of rain and fog in places, but I made steady if unspectacular progress. That was until I got on the area of road between Wimborne and Bournemouth where the traffic ground to a halt. Various emergency service vehicles roared past us as we sat there - a huge smash shortly further up the road had closed the carriageway in both directions. Time plodded on and after an hour it was pretty clear I had missed the 6.30pm crossing. It was just after this that the Police came along announcing that the road would remained shut for some time and we had to turn round and find an alternative route. I cut across country for a while, but loads of other people had the same idea and masses of cars suddenly descending on narrow country lanes in fog and rain was a recipe for problems, and so it proved. After less than five miles there had been two other minor shunts as cars bumped into each other. I tried various turnings down anonymous pitch dark country lanes and succeeded in merely finding myself back on the blocked main road I had started on. I headed back to the last major junction I had gone across before heading onto the cursed road only to find this gridlocked with cars descending on it from all directions. I'd just about had enough by now, so I gave up and headed back home. By the time I got back home I had found I had driven just over 100 miles and got precisely nowhere. I phoned Hannah on the Isle of Wight and she encouraged me to try again by a different route later as the ferries ran until quite late into the night, so after a quick bite to eat I set out again, this time along the A303 to the A36 and then head down towards the ferry via Salisbury. All was going well and I arrived finally at the ferry terminal at about 22.32 to discover that the previous boat had sailed at 22.30 and the next one was not due until 23.59. Bugger. Buggerbuggerbugger. I phoned Hannah again and she sounded exhausted and near sleep, so she couldn't guarantee there would be anyone up to meet me when I arrived. I finally crossed the inky black Solent and was on the island, but this then necessitated a 45 minute drive from Yarmouth to Ventnor. Hannah sent me another message saying if there was no reply when I arrived she would leave the front door open and lights to lead me through the house to my room. That made sense. I found the house and called the mobile number, but inevitably there was no reply. So I wandered up the driveway in rain spotted darkness to be confronted by a front door left wedged open and a series of lights up a range of stairs. I walked slowly up the stairs praying that this was the right house and I wasn't about to be confronted on the steps by some irate home owner with a shotgun and a real bad attitude towards Tudor impersonators turning up in the middle of the night. I found my room, clambered into bed and fell into a deep and very welcoming sleep. It had taken me until quarter past one in the morning to get to Ventnor from a 4.15pm start. Now that was a Long March. Eat your heart out, Chairman Mao.

After that sort of start the actual day at the school could only be a bit of an anticlimax. They were an odd little group of kids today - relatively quiet and not seeming really on the ball. But they laughed in some of the right places and even fed me one of my best comic lines in ages. I was doing the question and answer session just before lunch when one little lad pointed to my new big shiny blingy ring on my right hand and asked me why I was wearing a girls ring on my right hand. I told him it was my feminine side. This garnered me a round of applause from the teachers. Thank you! The cheque is in the post. The afternoon whizzed past and culminated in a stunning win for the ladies in a fine jousting tournament. This makes our score for the year now:


The drive home threatened to be as bad as the drive down to the island with stark warnings on the radio about appalling traffic on the A31 AND the A303, but luckily by the time I got to the A303 it was clear and I shot through to Crewkerne and found myself at home before 7pm. Heaven. I made a few phone calls, ate some dinner, watched a bit of TV and comforted myself that being three floors up in my flat and with a broken front door bell I wouldn't be disturbed by bloody trick or treaters. And very soon I intend to go to bed and sleep until my name becomes Rip Van Good King Hal. Next show is on Thursday with a return visit to the lovely Knightwood School in Chandlers Ford.

Oh, and I nearly forgot - Manchester United 1 Manchester City 6. Bliss!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Royal Wedding!

The entire West End cast gurning outside Northcote House at Sunningdale Park! The handsome devil standing behind the King is the Groom, Mr Roland "Man of a Thousand Audio Descriptions" Bearne.

Just a quickie my friends. On the 9th October 2011 my very good friend Roland Bearne married the delightful Sallie Stone at Northcote House in Sunningdale Park and they very kindly invited me to come along and be announcer/master of ceremonies for the day as Henry. It was a fantastic wedding and a good day all round. The evening reception was wonderful as well as a whole load of the Knights of Royal England jousting team turned up and made a proper party of it. It was one of the finest weddings I have ever been to and Roland and Sallie made a wonderful couple - thank you both for a very memorable day!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

St Cecillia's Junior, North Cheam

Mary, Queen of Scots, busking outside Hampton Court just before being moved along by the Police and her subsequent triumphant residency at Fotheringay Castle.

If it's October then it must be a visit to St Cecillia's RC Junior School in North Cheam, near Sutton in Surrey. This was my EIGHTH appearance at the school, if you can believe it. Eight long years since I first arrived there. Of course coming all the way from Somerset does warrant a bit of an early start, to say the least. When the alarm clock went off at 4am it was a bit of a shock to the system. However, having said that, there is no finer time of the day to be driving up the A303 - the place is decidedly quiet and empty and all the better for it. I made very good time and was soon on the M3. This is really the only part of the journey where one might hit trouble and sure enough it was very busy, even at 6am in the morning. It made a change to turn onto the M25 and find it was a quieter road. It would be like moving to Kabul and finding there were less explosions there. Mind you, if you lived in Basildon during the November 5th period, then it might just work.

St Cecillia's is a fine school and it was a delight to be back - I was warmly welcomed as ever by their friendly care taker. I have absolutely no idea who this gentleman is, but he is always a delight to talk to and is welcoming and friendly. He let me drive my car in and unload the props, and then it was time for a very welcoming cup of tea. I was then introduced to the two teachers looking after Year 4 at St Cecillia's this year - two new ladies who had never seen my show before. They were dressed in their Tudor finery as were all the children. It was a group of about 60 pupils, all full of beans and dying to know more about Henry VIII. During the morning session I was telling the children about the horrors of the plague hitting Tudor England and about some of the insane "cures" people tried to come up with, one of which was they thought the plague was being spread by cats and dogs. So they slaughtered all the cats and dogs, and of course the rats (whose fleas were really spreading the plague and were having their numbers kept down by the cats and dogs) quadrupled in their population size and the plague got ten times worse. Well, I had just mentioned this information when a little lad put his hand up with a question - I asked him what it was. He said "what about the tigers?" I was a bit confused. Tigers? Yes, he meant tigers. What about them? Well, he said, they're a type of cat, so what happened to them? This really tickled me. I suddenly had all these ideas of the Tudors keeping Tigers as pets. i.e. taking them for walks and being horribly mutilated/trying to put the cat out for the night and more mutilations. Great stuff.

I munched some lunch in the staff room then it was back for more amazing Tudor revelations. I was doing my musical talky bit and playing my instruments and I was asked by one child if all the Tudors were musical, I mused that they probably were to a lesser or greater degree. Another child put his hand up. Yes? Did any of them play the spoons he asked. I told him Mary, Queen of Scots was a sod for whipping the spoons out at most social gatherings. I did various impressions of her singing such great Tudor melodies as "Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty" and "Let's All Go Down the Strand, Have a Banana". The jousting was good, but ruined in the final by the gents team cheating unashamedly and thus being disqualified. This let a very good ladies side in for an easy win. Our score is now:


I am next on parade at this weekend for my mate Roland Bearne's wedding in Surrey. Should be lots of fun.

Today has been nice and relaxing, I did some shopping over at Tesco's at Ilminster and was alarmed to discover that Uncle Peter from the "Smell of Reeves and Mortimer" had decided to have a sex change operation and then work on one of the tills there. DONKEY! It's amazing who you meet.

Monday, October 03, 2011

St Paul's School, Shepton Mallet

Good King Hal blowing a raspberry on the back of Anne Boleyn's hand.

The weather is very slowly coming back round to being the correct temperature for this time of year. But it was still uncomfortably hot today for my latest visit to St Paul's Junior School in Shepton Mallet. Thank the Lord for air conditioning in cars, that's all I can say. The drive up the A37 can be a bit of a bind sometimes, but today wasn't too bad at all. I arrived at the school almost smack on 8am and parked round the rear near their outdoor swimming pool. I signed in and soon had everything loaded into the main hall. The staff are so generous and kind at this school and they soon had me supplied with cups of tea, jugs of water and somewhere to get changed for the show. I was put on hold for a while as a school assembly took place, but was soon out and on show as the day began. They were a very lively bunch - about 60 of them all from year 4, and full of giggles - almost too many at times. It was a fine and loud morning - I got changed into my civvies for the lunch, which turned out to be a very tasty quiche, but I sat in with the children in the dining hall for this. Not a good move. Frequent cries of "HENRY!" or the more puzzling one of "You know you're not the real Henry VIII!" - as though I wasn't aware, constantly ringing in my ears.

The afternoon was equally deafening and ended with a good jousting tournament. This got off to a slightly truncated start when during the first gents race both teams managed to get themselves disqualified - a first for me! I re-started the race and we got on our way. It was closely fought throughout but ended with another win for the Gentlemen. So our scores are now all square again.


A nice drive back through the warm early evening sunshine. I cooked a pasta bolognese containing Quorn mince for my dinner. I am sorry, I have really tried to like it, but Quorn just tastes disgusting. Not for me any more.

Tomorrow it is a very early start for a drive up to St Cecillia's School in North Cheam in Surrey - my EIGHTH visit to this fine school.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Chut Fest 2011, Barrington Court

A Cinemascope version of a Tudor King.

The annual chutney festival at Barrington Court, lovingly known as Chut Fest, is always good fun. True it causes traffic jams (Jams? Geddit?), can get you in a pickle, (Pickle? Geddit?) but I always look forward to it with considerable relish. (Relish??? Yes, I know...). I was a little disappointed that I missed the first day on Saturday, but then I was having a splendid time at the new Museum of Somerset in Taunton, so I had a good excuse. I wasn't being saucy. (Saucy? Alright, I'll stop now). As like the previous few days at Cheltenham and Taunton, it was unseasonably hot and very humid, but luckily as the afternoon wore on a slight breeze blew up from somewhere, which was a real relief.

Loads of familiar faces at Barrington Court today, and lovely to see them all as usual. It wasn't as frantically busy as it has been at previous years, but then I think the very hot weather didn't do us any favours. People take one look at the hot weather and then leap in cars heading for the direction of the coast. I personally think they want locking up, but each to their own I suppose. Quite a few of the visitors I spoke to today had been at Taunton yesterday and one even asked if I was the same person. The same person to who? But then conversations like that get very confusing, almost as confusing as the final episode of Doctor Who last night, but lets not go there as I might start going insane.

It was good to see the "Blackdown Babes" (as they call themselves) with their fine collections of food and other exotic yummy stuff, and it was a real pleasure as ever to see the lovely Rachel Brewer, Barrington's very own "Pommelier" (that's a cider making expert to you and me!). Her little stall was bedecked with all the latest awards her fine drinks have earned her. I started at 11am today, but by 2.30pm my previous few days wandering round in a fur coat during a heat wave caught up with me, and I'd had enough. So I said my farewells and headed back to my own personal Hampton Court.

Monday see's me at St Paul's Junior in Shepton Mallet again, and Tuesday will be an early start and an 8th annual visit to St Cecillia's School in North Cheam in Surrey. Lovely. Right, I am going to really concentrate now as I am going to watch the last episode of Doctor Who again now. If you hear someone gibbering later on, it will be me trying to work it out.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

St Edward's Junior, Cheltenham & Museum of Somerset

Good King Hal indicating where a large UFO carrying Bigfoot, The Loch Ness Monster, Lord Lucan, Father Christmas and Cardinal Richeleu has just flown past very slowly behind the cameraman. Again.

Back up at the crack of dawn again. Yes, it's time for Good King Hal to hit the road and head up to Gloucestershire. I hadn't visited St Edward's Junior in Cheltenham before, but my crappy sat nav had by some miracle managed to find the address for the school, so it seemed to be a relatively easy hour and half drive up the M5 to find it. What I wasn't expecting was that the school was located somewhere up a very posh private lane that half way up it was a road block. Yup, a big barrier in the road for no adequately explained reason. Perhaps it was one of those ones that if you drove up to it slowly it would just raise for you. Wrong. I tried re-programming the sat nav, but it wouldn't have it - as far as she was concerned this was the way to get to the school and tough bitties if you wanted to go another way. I sat in the quiet leafy posh road scratching my head and wondering how the hell I was going to get past this. I drove back down to the main road, but my sat nav was screaming about doing a u-turn. So I turned round and went back up the posh road, and it was as I was slowly driving up this paean to capitalism that I noticed a very small worn road sign. It suggested if you wanted to get past the road barrier it was best to go in through an alternatively named road (the name escapes me at present). As my sat nav has not the best grasp on finding obscure rural roads I did wonder if it would work, but it did! I followed the directions and lo! There was the school! St Edward's Junior is a lovely school and I was very warmly welcomed by Lin Davis, the lady who booked me, and not the similarly named Olympic Long Jump champion from 1964 who also just happens to be my cousin. As is Lily Cole. But I am getting distracted. We had the main school sports hall for the entire day and it was great - a nice big hall, great acoustics and a good lively group of about 40 children. We had a fine morning, lots of laughs and good fun. Lunch was spent in the school hall being cross questioned by various children as to whether I really was the REAL Henry VIII. The afternoon was a short session, as they usually are at private schools and culminated in a very loud and enthusiastic jousting tournament. This was won by a mile by a very good ladies team. Our score for the year is now:


More intrigue. My next Henry day is on Monday with a return visit to St Paul's Junior in Shepton Mallet. Watch out for the score at the end of that.

On the Saturday I was invited back to the Museum of Somerset for their grand re-opening. As I stated in the last blog entry this re-launch of the Museum has taken about three years and millions of pounds, but it looks brilliant. Loads of interactive stuff for the kids, large airy rooms full of interesting nuggets to search out and packed with great local finds, from pre-history to the second world war. I was there as Henry, generally meeting and greeting, and then doing three half hour talks, one at 11am, one at 1pm and one at 2pm. Well over a thousand people came in during the day on this unseasonably hot 1st October. I absolutely sweltered, but it was great fun and nice to see the old place so packed full of excited new visitors. The Museum of Somerset is a big hit and well worth a visit - so get yourself to Taunton! Tomorrow I am back at Barrington Court for the Sunday of the Chut Fest 2011. See you there.