Wednesday, August 29, 2012

It's The End, But The Moment Has Been Prepared For...

The Knights of Royal England - splendid fellows.  All of them.

And so, the end was near and so we faced, our final curtain...  The last regular weekend of the jousting summer was suddenly upon us before I had even realised it was coming.  The Friday and Saturday was to be back for the final two days at Hever Castle.  Hever has been magnificent this year, even when the mud in the arena was so thick you could have re-coated the M25 with it - the crowds have turned up en masse for our shows.  We were without William of Antioch for the final two shows at Hever, but everyone else was there and, as ever, much fun was had by all.  It was also to be our final two shows with Michelle Coda in tow as she would not be coming to Hedingham for the shows there.  But we were without Vix who was off appearing in her drama society production of "Annie".  Michelle had been to see one of the performances earlier in the week and declared that the production was very "provincial" - damning!  But Vix was enjoying herself so that was alright.
I had promised James a wage packet for his hard work over the summer with the jousting team, and he was mostly pre-occupied with what he wanted to spend it on.  One of his ideas is he wants a fishing rod as he is hell bent on the idea of going fishing.  Those of you who know James will be aware that he has the attention span of a amphetamine addicted gnat and a very low boredom threshold, so perhaps fishing is not the best idea for a new hobby.  But he is still going on about it.  So watch this space, I shall let you know what is finally purchased.  To be honest, it could be anything.
The last two shows at Hever passed in what can only be described as a blur.  But they were well attended like all the other shows there this summer and a great reaction from the crowd.  So with barely time to lean against a side board and gasp for breath we were off, up to Essex for a Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday at Hedingham Castle near Halstead.   I had never worked at Hedingham before, I had visited in the past as a regular punter, but was delighted by what I saw.  The castle is a typical Norman keep atop a steep hill.  It is very reminiscent of Rochester Castle in Kent or the central keep at the Tower of London.  The actual tilting arena was tiny in comparison with Hever and Leeds Castle, but it was a lovely setting.  Whereas the jousters were at the foot of the hill changing in their horse box, James and I, and the Tudor Roses, were in a large marquee that a wedding reception had been held in, behind the main house of the owners of Hedingham Castle.  It was two shows a day at Hedingham with plenty of other distractions for the punters - archery, side stalls, a jester, various food outlets etc.  It was a truly magnificent sight.  James had a go at the archery on the Monday morning and managed to score a bulls eye with only his second arrow.  That's my boy! 
The four shows were great fun, lots of laughs from us and the audience, and with the much smaller arena you got a great reaction from the punters when something exciting happened.  Whenever a lance was smashed on a shield the gasp from the audience was very audible - great stuff.  Sir William of Antioch also showed off shamelessly, particularly on the Monday when he pretended to get the huff and stomped off into the audience, sitting with people, trying to steal lunches and even posing beautifully with a child's tiny clear plastic umbrella.
The only drawback for me over the weekend was being stopped by the Police on my way to Hedingham the first day - it turned out the MOT on my car had expired four weeks ago.  Oops!  It cost me a £60 fine  but will make me more aware of checking the expiry dates on my MOT's in future.
We got filmed by a US TV cable network called Reels (or something!) who shot the show and also interviews with various members of the cast (myself included), so if you're in the States and you know a channel called Reels, or Reel then keep a look out for me!  I also got to meet the owner of Hedingham at the end of the second show and he seemed keen on getting the King back in the future.  That would suit me!
And so it was over for another year.  We posed for the picture above before the second show on the Monday - I intend to print it out in large format and laminate it so James can put it up in his bedroom as a nice memento of a very memorable summer for him.  He can look at it when he gets back from fishing....
The photo was taken by Shelley Hughes - she is beautiful!  Just thought the world needed to know!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hever? Indeedly Sudeley...

The Knights of Royal England democratically deciding who has to buy the next round of drinks at the Pub.

And so the long fun summer of jousting starts to wind down.  The penultimate weekend started off with me down in Somerset with my son James.  I had been keeping him entertained for a few days by taking him for days out, or to the cinema to see Ice Age 4, or by simply allowing him to thrash me mercilessly at baseball and tennis on the Wii Sports game.
We drove up to Essex on the Wednesday evening and then intended to head down to Kent on the Thursday - which was the plan, but poor old James started suffering with a tooth ache on the Thursday morning, to such an extent that he willingly volunteered to go to the dentist the following morning (first available appointment), so therefore for the Friday show at Hever I was a small loud herald short for the day. And I really did miss having him there - and funnily enough Michelle Coda's daughter Vix was also unavailable that day.  So not a Herald in sight!  The Friday was a good fun show - quite staggeringly hot and airless, but the audience really joined in and enjoyed the show.  James was recovered enough from his dental torture to return to the fray on the Saturday. Well if you thought the Friday had been hot - you ain't seen nothing yet!  This Saturday simply sweltered with temperatures at Hever Castle at about 80 degrees.  It was unbearably hot in the Royal Box doing the commentary, so goodness knows what the poor jousters were going through in the middle. The audience seemed equally dulled by the blistering heat and were quiet, non-responsive and a bit lethargic to be honest.  It was hard work trying to whip up any enthusiasm with them at all.  But in that weather you really couldn't blame them at all.
I was already pre-booked for the Sunday at Sudeley Castle from some time ago, and so the jousting at Hever had to occur without Henry for once, but I did really miss being there with the jousters and Michelle.  Sudeley looked lovely in the early morning light and dappled sunshine.  Luckily the weather in the Cotswolds was about 10 degrees cooler than it had been the previous day at Hever.  So it was another wander round the grounds of Sudeley Castle - groups from the Tudor Roses and Tudor Gowns were also there, as was the Tudor music group Waytes and Measures, but James and I ploughed our own solo furrow for the vast majority of the day, meeting people and posing for photographs.  The weather was very kind on this final day at Sudeley for the summer, but I was slowed down with a stiff painful ankle, which plagued me for most of the afternoon and finally forced me to give up early on the day at about 3.30pm.
On leaving Sudeley, James and I drove out to Wales for a few days at Newcastle Emlyn with my parents, where we are still currently residing and being spoilt rotten.  Mind you, the pub my Dad and I went to in Cenarth last night was                              (censored on legal advice).
James and I head back to the South East late on Wednesday and will be back at Hever Castle for our final joust there on Friday and Saturday, and then off to Castle Hedingham in Essex for the Sunday and Monday for the final summer joust of 2012.  It has been a blast.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Never Ending Bumps of Doom...

...but very soon Good King Hal was back to his charming, sociable, cuddly self.  My, how we all laughed.

With the Blenheim shows out of the way, it was time to head back to Kent and another joust at Leeds Castle.  This time however it was an evening corporate joust for an American based company who were in situ at Leeds Castle all week.  Michelle Coda came along as well and to begin with she, the rest of the jousting team and me spent the early part of the evening hiding in their tent as it was absolutely tipping down with rain.  It poured and poured, the sound deafening on the roof of the tent as we cowered inside.  Lightning flashed across the sky and thunder rumbled menacingly, and one or two of us were more than a little worried that we were in an open field, sheltering from a big electrical storm inside a large metal framed tent.  Not the cleverest place to be in that situation.  But the clouds and rain passed by and suddenly light evening sunshine appeared.  We were then introduced to Larry from the American group, their head honcho and a man hell bent on riding into the arena on one of the jousters horses, wearing a helmet and clutching a sword.  And all of this while wearing a pair of shoes that can only be described as BLUE!!!  Well, we did our show OK, but thankfully there was a small group of children from a local youth group to add some atmosphere as there was very little feedback from the American guests hidden in their marquee.  To be honest the show was hard work, simply due to the lack of audience reaction, you suddenly realised just how much this show relied upon audience participation.
I was back at Leeds Castle on Wednesday evening, and with the same American group from the Monday evening joust, for a champagne reception and evening banquet.  I had been paid a deposit by them and they were going to pay the rest on the evening.  I got an email from them the night before asking if I could swap from the Wednesday to the Sunday evening, but I couldn't as I was already booked up.  They then said as I was only appearing on the Wednesday they had decided to drop my fee.  I was not a happy bunny, as I think most people would be.  I arrived at the Castle bristling for a fight, and soon got one.  I was speaking to the lady from Hospitality at Leeds and said I wasn't happy about the way I was being treated by the host company.  Her immediate response was "well, if you want to leave you can go..." at which point I was quite tempted to.  I then said to her I needed to speak to the main organising lady from the American group and struggled to remember her name and ventured the option of Lisa.  The Leeds lady immediately bristled and said, rather snottily that the lady was a representative from a very important client, her name was Laura and suggested I get her name right before I spoke to her,  This was the snotty straw that broke the camels back.  I told the Leeds lady that the American lady should get her f***ing figures right when booking artists.  So I threatened to walk out and leave, but was encouraged by slightly less snotty Leeds lady to stay.  So I did the meet and greet, later paraded the guests down to the banquet hall, and then did a little 10 minutes stand up slot that had them rolling in the aisles with laughter.  I guess I won them over.  At the event I even got to meet Missy Franklin, three gold and one bronze medal winning swimmer from the American team at the 2012 London Olympics.  She had one of her gold medals with her, so I had a chance to hold the medal and get a close up of it - huge, and staggeringly heavy.  And Missy herself was lovely, and quite amazingly tall!  She towered over me! So what had begun as an unpleasant evening, in the end was a very memorable one.
Friday saw myself, Michelle Coda, her daughter Vix and my son James back at Hever Castle for another weekend of jousting.  It was good to see Sir Owen of Leeds Castle there for each and every day, alongside his delightful and yummy mummy, Shelley.  The Friday was amazingly hot and sweaty, with barely a breath of wind to be found.  We were also short of men from the jousting team with Ashley, Bill, Dan, Mungo and Andy all missing for a variety of reasons. So for once the Knight Marshall's at both ends of the arena were ladies - Lady Kim ("the Squeeze of du Barry" as I introduced her!) at the red end, and her daughter Lucy ("Bob") manning the blue end.  It was a pretty good show, despite the stifling heat and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.  We ended up back at Michelle's house in Folkestone eating a lovely take away Chinese and drinking cold beer.  Just what was needed.
Saturday, and all the lads were back for the jousting show (And Sir Owen and Lady Shelley!).  The day began with the horse box arriving at the Castle and, after the real horses had been taken out and tethered, Jeremy went back into the box and produced a pantomime horse, consisting of his son Sam and Sam's mate Alex.
As you can see from the picture attached, it was incredibly realistic.  OK, so not to us, but as the pantomime nag clopped down the back of the horse box it completely freaked out the real horses who backed off and tried to break their tethering to hoof it away.  Michelle's daughter Vix got to have a ride on the pantomime horse's back, much to her delight.  It turned out this was one of many costumes Jeremy had recently purchased from an auction, most of them jokey fancy dress efforts, but we would see a lot more of them later that day.
The show on the Saturday was great - a fantastic responsive audience and even a nice cooling breeze for us idiots dressed up in costumes.  Very much appreciated.  James and Vix got much more involved in the show this time around and even had a good old bop around the arena at the end when we played "We Will Rock You" by Queen, and Sam and Bill came back on for their traditional victory dance.  The Tudor Roses were in attendance as well on the Saturday, and so after the show it was decided we should all go along to the Kentish Horse pub just up the road from Hever for some dinner and drinks.  We thought the other jousters might be there, but of all of them only young Mungo had shown up.  Sir Owen was terribly upset as he wanted to see Sir William (or "The Bad Guy" as he calls him), but of the others there was not a sign.  Eventually Sir Owen and Lady Shelley had to leave and make their way home.  Barely five minutes after they had gone Jeremy and Kim's Land Rover swept into the pub car park and 12 (YES, TWELVE) jousters leaped out of the interior all dressed in various silly costumes from Jeremy's purchase.  Ashley and Sam were Gorillas, even if Ash's one bore a striking resemblance to Amy Winehouse from behind, Kim and Lady Porlock were rabbits, Jeremy a big pink elephant, Lucy was a turtle, Sir Stepen of Porlock was a Womble (or a Wookiee Womble as James christened him) and there was also penguins, more rabbits and Stephanie was a cross between a Tiger and a Wolf, whatever the hell that is.  It was hysterical fun as you can see from the pictures, but I was quite glad young Sir Owen had gone as he gets so excited when he meets the jousters normally, that to see them in their costumes, arsing about in the pub garden I think he might have completely freaked out.  James was in heaven though and laughed like a drain throughout.
 Sir Stephen of Porlock remembering he's a Wookiee Womble (please note departing rear end of Tiger/Wolf hybrid).
 Sir William of Antioch not completely thrilled at the stifling heat.  Not a happy bunny.
Lady Kim and Sir Jasper as a rabbit and an elephant.  No honestly...

And so we came to Sunday, our final day.  The heat was still on, and sadly the cooling breeze had more or less vanished as well.  But it was another good show, with a very vocal Sir Owen in attendance as ever and a very thrilled audience who took part with great gusto.  After the show another drink at the Kentish Horse seemed like the best idea to get over the rigours of the day.  But it was only one, for then James and I had to climb in the car and begin our long journey back to Somerset.  We got back after about two and a bit hours, then watched a load of the Olympic closing ceremony.  James then went to bed but unfortunately was up about an hour later throwing up everywhere.  So my lovely weekend concluded with me on all fours mopping up five big puddles of vomit.  Not how I expected it to end, to be honest.
And the title of this blog?  Vix's description of the speed bumps as you drive into Hever Castle!  They were the "Never Ending Bumps of Doom"!  Brilliant.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

From a Castle to a Palace...

No funny caption for once.  Just an insufferably cute picture of James and Vix at Hever Castle recently.  Awww!  Bless!

And the jousting bandwagon rolls on through the summer...  On Thursday 2nd August we were at Leeds Castle for a jousting event, with two shows to do - one at 12.30pm and one at 2.30pm.  As usual with a Leeds event everything was very well planned and organised, and a big crowd turned up for both shows.  But at the end of the show, this was no time to relax - James (my son and squire for the week) headed to my sister's place for a night, before getting up very early on the Friday for a drive up to Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire for a weekend of jousting there.
We were up at 5am and on the road by 6am.  The plan was to try and blast our way round the M25 ahead of the rush hour and then stop for a breakfast somewhere up near Blenheim.  At first it seemed this idea was enormously flawed as we got on the M26 and were treated to the site of stationary traffic and red brake lights.  But this soon passed and we made good progress right round to the M40.  I had been advised by all the jousters that any sat nav would try to take you off the M40 at junction 8 and bring you to the town of Woodstock straight through the middle of Oxford, but I should ignore this and come off at junction 9 as it was much easier, and were they right.  James and I stopped at a Little Chef for a breakfast commonly known as "Heart Attack on a Plate" and then made our way to Blenheim Palace itself.  What a fantastic site! Such beautiful grounds and a stunning building.  The jousters were set up on the back lawn and it was good to see them again.  James and I helped set up the arena with them and we prepped for the day hoping against hope that the threatening clouds above didn't rain too much.
We had good turn outs on all the days at Blenheim - not really in the Leeds Castle or Hever Castle amounts of people, but still enough to build up a good atmosphere.  After the first day it was great to see my old friend Claire Venables and her son Tolly in the audience.  I hadn't seen Claire in years, so it was great to see her and meet Tolly for the first time.  So good to be back in touch.  After the second show James and I made our way to our hotel (a simply enormous Travelodge near Bicester, which was functional and comfortable, which is about all you can say about most Travelodges).  The service area next door was over-priced to the point of robbery.  I took James over there on the first night and bought him a few nibbles and magazines, things to keep him amused, but nothing major.  The bill came to over £27!  When I asked the bloke on the counter if it was correct he printed off the bill and showed me.  I requested to keep the bill so I could frame it for posterity.  We then drove back to near Blenheim for dinner with the jousters at the White House Pub right next door to the Palace.  The food was OK if a little uninspiring, but the company great fun.
Saturday's shows were fun as well, aside from a terrific downpour during the children's parade on the second show.  In the break between shows, Ashley (one of our blue knights) flaked out on the ground next to the horse box for a quick snooze.  As he lay there in his full jousting gear, Steve, one of the red knights, took it upon himself to make a lasso out of some rope, and gently tie it round Ashley's ankles.  He took such time and precision with his work that the rest of us were mesmerised, waiting anxiously to see what would happen to the poor slumbering blue knight when his plan came to fruition.  He seemed to have everything in place, then wrenched the cord hard to snap the lasso closed around Ashley's ankle - and the whole Heath Robinson designed unravelled in his hands and he fell flat on his back - accompanied by loud guffaws from the watching crew.  Ashley stirred into life and wondered what everyone was laughing at, lost interest and lay back down to sleep some more.
Saturday night we ate at the much more pleasant Woodstock Arms pub in central Woodstock.  Again an evening of great fun was had by all, and once again, as I had young James in tow with me, I had to leave early.  James and I checked out of the luxurious Travelodge on Sunday morning and headed over to the Palace for the final two shows.  The Knights and I were joined by Sarah Morris, one time Tudor Rose and soon to be published Anne Boleyn novelist, and she was Queen for the day.  During the first show, Sam of Hever took a bit of a blow to the face with a sword and had to be taken to hospital for a patch up and a couple of temporary stitches, but he was back in time for the second show which was delayed for a short while by a downpour of quite Biblical proportions which ended up with all of the Knights, Squires, Knight Marshall's et al crammed into Steve's tent trying to dodge the rain.  But all the shows at Blenheim were good fun and the crowds, though not massive, were certainly good.
James and I drove away from a sodden soggy Blenheim, only to discover that less than 10 miles down the road the ground was parchment dry!  We got back to his Mum's house in Essex and settled down for the evening.  I am off back to Leeds Castle tomorrow evening for a corporate joust show, then back at Leeds on Wednesday for another corporate evening bash.  Tired, but happy!