Monday, December 26, 2011

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday...Oh, it was...

Good King Hal wondering where the Hell he left the sleigh. Can you see a chimney anywhere?

This year, being Father Christmas was a much nicer happier experience than last year. One of the main reasons was the almost complete and utter lack of any snow. I personally loathe the stuff and I am still, to this very day, perplexed by the sort of people who pay vast sums of money to travel the globe trying to find it. And when they do find it, they then attach planks of wood to their feet and slide down the bloody stuff. And I am always tremendously sympathetic when they arrive back at Gatwick or Heathrow with compound fractures to both lower legs. I always try to take their minds of the intense pain by pointing out how nice their out of season sun tans look. It doesn't always work to be honest.
The grotto was again located in the Dog Collar Museum at Leeds Castle in the courtyard next to the Fairfax Hall restaurant. It was a nice walk through a faux winter wonderland dotted with deer and penguins. The path was a raised walkway that thankfully only one small child managed to plummet off during our run. The evening shows were again like last year up in the castle only this time no child presented with a name as good as "Lost in Chaos" from 2010, though we did have one little girl bowl up called "Twinkle", which is all well and good when you're 7 years old, blonde and cute. It might be a tad less suitable when you're 36, vastly over weight and with six screaming children running amok in your council flat. I stayed at my sister's house in Stockbury for the entire run this time, failing miserably to get snowed into the castle this time around. I also failed miserably to get a girlfriend to come and stay with me for a romantic weekend at the castle early in the run by getting dumped before reaching the required date. C'est la vie.
Staying at my sisters is always lovely as I am guaranteed a warm welcome from her and my brother-in-law Julian, and their two lovely dogs Charlie and Una. The food is good, the bed warm and comfy and, Eastenders aside, the entertainment mostly very agreeable. The only down side is the effort it takes to get into their house. It is perched at the top of a short steep hill just off the A249 and when it rains the ground and driveway churn up like very impressive impressions of Passchendale during the 1914-18 conflict. Added to this at the bottom of the hill Julian has recently installed a new security gate following recent thefts from his garden by some charming chaps who may or may not have a connection with Dale Farm near Basildon, if you follow my drift. The gate is sealed by a pretty much tamper proof padlock, the unlocking and re-locking of was one of my main duties during all my comings and goings from their house. They had supplied me with a key. On one of my first journeys back to their house in the pitch dark after an evening show, I drove up to the gates, got out the car, slithered and slipped my way to the gate, spent a few happy minutes swearing, sweating and cursing as I attempted to get the very small key into the lock and then coax it into opening. I finally succeeded - so back into the car, drive it through the gates, stop the other side and get out and re-lock the gates. The other side of the gate was even darker and wetter. I got out and immediately put my foot into a huge muddy puddle that sunk up to my lower ankle - good job my boots were high and waterproof. I took another step and instantly sank up to my mid-calf in thick black treacle-like mud that poured into the top of my boot and soaked my feet. My, how we laughed. But it was a small price to pay for such kindness and welcome from my sister and her husband. By the end of the stay my car looked like it had just been dragged out of a swamp - and so did I.
I finished on Christmas Eve at just after midday and drove up to Essex to spend Christmas Day with my lovely son James and his Mother. Tomorrow, the 27th, he and I head off down to Wales to visit my parents for a family New Year gathering at their house which should be very nice indeed. So for all their help and hard work at Leeds Castle this Christmas I would love to say a big thank you to: Darlene, Becky Lander, the incredible Dodd sisters (Becca, Jen and Pip), Sophie, Adam, Dallas for building the grotto, Pat and Alan, Barbara, Marina, Lyn Jones, Trisha, and Helen Ellis for proving that subtlety is just something that happens for other people. If I have forgotten anyone, I apologise.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ho-Ho-Ho and Ellesmere Port...

Now available from BID TV! Your very own inflatable life-size Henry VIII complete with six wives, a chopping block and a Papal Dispensation. Only £9.99 plus postage and packing (immense) - order now to avoid disappointment!

So this is Christmas. And what have you done? Stuck on a big white beard and headed for Leeds Castle again in my case. Yes, it's that time of year again when parents bring small children into Santa's Grotto and scare the crap out of them. Back at Leeds we were once again in the Dog Collar Museum which has been transformed into a winter wonderland by the genius that is Dallas, the man who always masterminds the building of the Grotto. Again it looks amazing, with the parents and children walking through on a raised walkway surrounded by deer and penguins in various states of deep freeze. I am at the end of the walkway in my large Santa throne with a very impressive Christmas Tree and a big sack of presents. We started on Saturday 10th December and it was busy buy not too hectic. On hand again were two of the wonderful Dodd sisters - Jen and Pippa, plus able support from Lynn Jones, Marina, Trisha and of course, Darlene and her assistant Becky. On the first day we had one very cute little lad in who was a bit gobsmacked when he first came into the grotto but soon got into his stride. When I asked him what he wanted for Christmas he thought long and hard, then said "Thomas". I asked "Thomas, what?" and he replied, after a long silent think - "Thomas pants." Well, you can't argue with that. Over the first two days we had a good few absolutely terrified children, but also lots of very happy jolly ones as well. I stayed at my sister Cathy's on the Saturday night where she cooked a fabulous meal, and then after the Sunday show I drove up to Essex for dinner with my lovely son James and his Mum, Amanda who had cooked a lovely roast beef meal which was delightful.

On Monday I headed up to Cheshire for a Henry show on the Tuesday in Ellesmere Port. I was booked in again at a delightful Travelodge near Chester and spent a not very nice evening listening to Manchester City being unfairly beaten by Chelsea. The main unfair part was that Chelsea scored one goal more than we did. Swines! This morning I headed up to Wolverham Primary in Ellesmere Port, which was a lovely school and met up with Joseph Bullen the teacher who had booked me. He had heard about me from a friend of his who had seen my previous appearance at a school in Cheshire when I was up near Nantwich a little while ago. It was a small group - only about 20 children, all from year 3, but they were enthusiastic, loud and, importantly very knowledgeable about Henry and the Tudors. We had a fun morning before a very nice lunch, then the afternoon started in one of the classrooms as the hall was temporarily in use. So I did the stocks session in there before we headed back to the main hall for a very loud and enthusiastic jousting tournament. It was closely fought but culminated with a good win for a Gentleman's team. As this is the last show before my Christmas break our current score for the end of the year stands at:


It is as close as that! I headed out for the long drive back to Somerset at about 3.15pm and made steady if unspectacular progress down towards the M6 - but got held up after a car smash on the A500. I finally made it onto the motorway and began south. Eventually I made it back to Crewkerne at about 7.30pm, tired, hungry but glad that I had not hit too much of the appalling weather we had been promised. Yes, the wind was very strong but there was not the Biblical rain storms that had been hinted at and no snow, and as far as I am concerned that is GOOD! I have tomorrow off, then on Thursday I am off back down to Kent again for the big push through to Christmas Eve in the Grotto.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Edgar Stammers and Southglade (NOT a rock group)

Good King Hal and his daughter (Bob) wondering where all the glass has gone from the window behind them. What a pane (geddit???).

I told a friend of mine on the phone the other night that I was off to Walsall to do a show. He asked if after that I was moving on to Gdansk. I had to repeat myself and tell him I was going to WalSALL, not Warsaw. Mind you last time I was in Walsall I had got up so early due to an inability to sleep I probably could have driven to Warsaw to do a show. Not to be caught out again I had decided to drive up on the Sunday and book myself into the luxury that is a Travelodge so as to be fresh and early at the school on the Monday. I booked online and found out to my delight that a room at a Travelodge in Walsall at the beginning of December was only £12. What a bargain! The drive up to begin with was quite nice - cold and bright, with not much traffic on the road. However as I approached the Midlands the sky became black as Newgate's Knocker and the rain just hammered down. I finally sloshed to a halt outside the august portals of the Walsall Travelodge. Now, yes admittedly it was only £12 to stay the night, but they then immediately charged you £3 for the pleasure of parking there. There was a small cafe/restaurant downstairs that offered you breakfast. But this appeared to consist of a rather forlorn looking slice of bacon, a chipolata, some watery scrambled eggs and some toast for £7.95. I'd rather starve, so I did.

I had a comfortable night in my room on the 2nd floor only being disturbed by the drunken shrieking of some demented woman at about 11pm - she wasn't happy about something and obviously wanted everyone else in the hotel to know about it. I got up the next morning and drove round to the wonderfully named Edgar Stammers School. Now to me, the name Edgar Stammers sounds like a 1960's soul singer on the Stax record label rather than a nice primary school in the West Midlands. It was a really fun group on the day - about 40+ children and all very enthusiastic. All was going really well until we got to the end of the morning session. At this point, halfway through my talk, there was a barely audible knock on the door to the hall before it was smashed open and several scary looking women of advanced years and varying degrees of gold dentistry, stormed into the hall and began noisily chucking tables and chairs around while cackling to each other. Tables were crashed down, chairs dragged honkingly loudly over the floor and voices like Thames barge foghorns were projected. I made a comment fairly loudly about them being a tad rude in stomping in like that and was shot a look from one of the teachers that said "LEAVE IT! THEY AIN'T WORTH IT!" As they began to finally (and equally loudly) to leave I called after them "Why did you bother knocking?"

After lunch, and more loud haranguing from the antediluvian dinner ladies ("'Ere! 'Enry! Where's yer Mrs? Eh? Eh?") it was back to normality, or as normal as I can get without using make up. The jousting was of a very high standard and ended up with a good Gents team coming home first. Our score therefore now moves up to:


And of course with the next contest coming up very quickly. Edgar Stammers was a lovely school, great children, lovely teachers, and very scary dinner ladies. It was like Jurassic Park with tabards.

I drove from Walsall over to South Witham near Grantham where my dear friend Val Smart lives. We wandered down to the local village pub that evening and had a lovely meal at The Blue Cow Inn. I stayed there once before as you might recall from a previous entry in the blog. It was a cold frosty evening but we sat next to a blazing log fire and had a lovely meal. The only drag was when the pub manager, who looked like a gnome who'd lost his mushroom, noticed my Manchester City t-shirt I was wearing and came over for some good natured banter as he was a Man Ure fan. He then regaled us with tales of his past life, where he'd lived, what illnesses he'd had, which RAF stations his son has been posted to and for how long, why Mousehole in Cornwall is called Mousehole, how many light bulbs they use in illuminating the village in winter... At one point I didn't think he was going to stop and I was seriously considering trying to shove him into the fireplace in a desperate attempt to escape. But we did get away. I slept in Val's spare room on a tiny, but very comfortable bed.

Tuesday morning and I was again up at bloody-hell-o'clock in the morning for a drive up to Nottingham and my visit to Southglade Junior School. This is another lovely school and I was very warmly welcomed by the teachers and staff. The children were unbelievably enthusiastic this day. It was all that I could do to reign them in and keep them on this side of hysteria. They were the same sort of size group as the day before, but about 20 times louder. Perhaps their dinner ladies were 20 times louder as well. I hoped not. The morning did honestly seem to just shoot past and I ended up for the last few minutes being interviewed in the classroom by one of the two classes, as I sank slowly into an unbelievably squashy low chair. Thank God I had my walking stick with me as I might have needed a midwife to get me out of it. Lunch was pretty awful to be honest - an all day breakfast consisting of bacon (OK), wedges (dry), mushrooms (nice), beans (stewed) and two of the most tasteless sausages I have ever experienced in my life. I know schools have to cut down on the old sodium for the sake of the kids health, but this was just taking the proverbial. They were just flavourless greyish tubes full of mush.

The afternoon was predictably loud and popular and the jousting was a joyous occasion as two really good teams fought it out in the final. The ladies came through for a deserved win though, and so our score goes back to:


I left the school at 3.30pm and made steady if unspectacular progress, until I reached junction 5 of the M42 where a car had caught fire and two lanes were blocked. I got held up there for just over half an hour. But I was soon on my way again - until the Avonmouth Bridge on the M5 where about 6 or 7 cars had decided to smash into each other and closed another couple of lanes. I was held there for about another 45 minutes. I finally walked into my flat at about 8.30pm - that had been a long long day. But worth it! And I know I am far enough away from the Dinnerladysaurus to be completely safe - for now. Tomorrow I am driving to Essex to see my lovely son and then down to Leeds Castle this weekend for the first Father Christmas weekend of the festive season. Looking forward to grooving on down with my Elves to the "Santa Rap" - HOOO-HO-HO-HOOOOO!

Friday, December 02, 2011

The Maynard

Canadian 400 metre underwater shove ha'penny Olympic quadruple gold medallist, Bruce Moosejaw IV comes thundering into the home straight with only himself to beat. And does it convincingly. Meanwhile society hostess Camilla Parker-Pen demolishes another bottle of Bombay Sapphire, while the sun sinks slowly into a pair of y-fronts. And now here's Carol Kirkwood with the weather... Carol?

I have many reasons for enjoying a trip down to Exeter in Devon and my yearly return visit to The Maynard School For Girls. One is their insistence that I don't have to start my Tudor Day until 10am. This obviously involves me staying in bed longer than normal on the morning of a Henry show, but I am prepared to suffer for my art. Secondly is my ever warm welcome from the delightful staff at this lovely school, particularly from the gorgeous Keagh Fry who now greets me on my arrival like a long lost friend. And thirdly it is always just such a fun place to come and work in. It was the usual smallish group today - about 20 young ladies I suppose, but each and every one of them in wonderful Tudor costumes. I started the show at about 10.35am, and by 12 noon we had finished for lunch -my kind of hours! It was another lovely meal at this school followed by a leisurely lounge in the comfortable staff room with it's legendary squashy sofa - the one that nearly rendered me unconscious about three years ago on a previous visit.

Straight after lunch it was a bit of music and chat from the King followed by a raucous stocks session which finished with the Head of the School being pilloried, swiftly followed by the Head of the Junior School taking another ear bashing. Great stuff. We then moved into the final jousting tournament which was loud and exciting but unfortunately can't be added to our yearly score as this is an all-girls school! But all in all it was another fun, friendly and pleasant visit to this lovely school in Exeter and a delight to see Keagh again. One of the young ladies in the group was called Emily and had the sort of voice that could pierce lead screens and reinforced concrete bunkers at a range of anything up to several and a half miles. She will go far, of that I have no doubt. I drove back home and treated myself to a Chinese take-away and an early night, though not at the same time as it might make the bed sheets a bit greasy. My next Henry outing is on Monday at Edgar Stammers School in Walsall. Thought it might be Warsaw. I'd better check...

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Dean Close Prep - Cheltenham

Good King Hal showing Jane Seymour an old trick he learnt on the "Mary Rose".

Scene: A sun-kissed tropical beach, cobalt blue waters are lapping on shimmering near white sands. Good King Hal is sitting on a lounger chair in his full Tudor robes, with a knotted handkerchief on his head while sipping a large pina colada and contemplating whether to have the langoustines or the curry pot noodle for lunch. Lisa Rogers, late of Scrapheap Challenge emerges from the water in a tiny white two piece bikini. Rivulets of water cascade down her firm semi naked body as she sashays up the beach with a sensual sway to her step. She stops next to Good King Hal's lounger chair and reaches out her hand. The King takes her hand and kisses it. She leans forward and whispers in his ear those words he had longed to hear....

BEEP-BIDDA-BIDDA-BEEP! Garg-thnarg-wassat? Damn! It was all a fecking dream! And what's worse, it is 5am and pitch dark outside AND it's the first day of December. It must be time to drive up to Cheltenham and visit Dean Close Prep. The previous evening Crewkerne had experienced weather of near Biblical proportions. Rain had lashed at my flat's windows most of the evening and a strong wind had been howling round the eaves. I really wasn't looking forward to the long drive if the weather was going to be like that. As it was the morning was cold, but dry. Added to which the roads were staggeringly empty and I made brilliant progress up the M5 towards Gloucestershire. I arrived at the impressive gates of Dean Close at about 7.30am, so I simply parked up on their drive and waited till things seemed to wake up a bit. It was a group of around 30+ children from Year 5. Some were a little over excitable, but mostly they were a friendly good natured group with lots of laughs among them. After the morning opening talk we then had an extended early morning joust in the large impressive sports hall. We took timings of all the children over two runs and totted up their scores, the fastest three gents and the fastest three ladies would go head to head in the final this afternoon...

Lunch was the usual delicious fayre that you get at most private schools - a warming tasty shepherds pie. I sat at a table with a year 6/7 teacher who bore an uncanny resemblance to Jeffrey Archer, but I resisted any temptation to punch him as he was unlike Archer in that he was eminently likeable and self-effacing. After the feast it was back to the Tudor nonsense with a fun stocks session and then the final of the jousting in which the two top teams fought it out in a lively and loud finale. The ladies swept to another comfortable victory. Latest score then is now:


I packed my stuff away and began the long journey home. My morning drive had mostly been in darkness, my evening drive was pretty much the same, this time with the added fun of occasional squally showers. Tomorrow shouldn't see me in the car for quite so long as I am back down to The Maynard School in Exeter for a full day. Now all I have to do is find that exotic sun-kissed beach again and see if Lisa Rogers is still there. And langoustines it is!