Friday, December 13, 2013

Santa Claus 0 Good King Hal 2

Good King Hal, ruthlessly torturing the Invisible Man, mostly with his jokes.
St Ives?  That's Unigate isn't it? No no no!  That is St Ivel, and we all know about that, well certainly in my family we do.  Lot of history with St Ivel, but I won't spill the beans, not as yet.  No, St Ives is a town.  It's two towns actually, one in Cornwall, and one in Cambridgeshire.  Luckily, as I was in Essex to begin with, I was due at the one in Cambridgeshire.  So it was a crack of dawn start for me in Basildon, and then on the beloved M25, the slightly less beloved M11 and all the way to St Ives and an appointment at Westfield Junior School.  The drive up was relatively painless, not too much traffic and I arrived with about an hour to spare before I was due.  So I parked up in a side road and had a little snooze for a while.  I woke up to find a woman taking her dog for a walk, looking through the windscreen at me as though I was a Martian invader.  People asleep in cars obviously doesn't happen in Cambridgeshire very much, no doubt I shall be headline news in the St Ives Thunderer in it's next issue.
I made my entrance at the school and was warmly welcomed by the teachers, two lovely young ladies who pampered me with a nice cup of tea and recommendations that the children were terribly excited about my visit.  I still felt half asleep, but was slowly getting there.  I was given permission from the caretaker to park the Royal jalopy right round the back of the main hall, right next to the main door so I could unload with ease. It was a lovely group of children today, loads of fun and some of them showing off just what good knowledge they had of the Tudors.  The children and the teachers had all dressed up in splendid costumes and it made the day that much more memorable.  The morning zipped past quicker than an innings by England in the current Ashes series.  We broke for lunch where I was brought a delicious tuna baguette by a very kind dinner lady.  Or lunchtime assistant, I should say.  The stocks were a raging success, with great crashing waves of laughter from the children.  We finished with a rollicking joust in which a very competent Gents team galloped home to a memorable win.  They needed that on the overall score and it clicks over to:
A fine end to a wonderful day at this splendid school.  I packed my stuff away and left St Ives to begin the long trek back to Somerset.  And it was a long trek.  I left the school between half three and four, and finally arrived home tired, but happy at nearly 7.30pm.  
The highlight of the Wednesday was a beer in the evening with the sainted Matthew Applegate of Barrington Court.  The poor man has been treated appallingly by the National Trust of late, pushed to the very limits that most men could take, and now they have finally fully plunged the knife in by making him redundant, just after Christmas.  We met over at East Lambrook at the Rose and Crown Pub and drank some lovely Palmers Beer and sat in front of a big roaring fire.  We even treated ourselves to a wee nip of Lagavullin Scotch Whisky to wish ourselves a Merry Christmas, and a hopefully much better New Year, because personally for both of us, 2013 has pretty much sucked.
Thursday was another early start and an hour long drive up to Weston-super-Mare and a first visit to another new school for me, the deliciously named Windwhistle Primary School.  This was a Year 3 group and though they weren't as responsive as the St Ives lot (who admittedly were older) they were very rewarding in the end.  My only concern was that I was under strict instructions from the head teacher not to put any of the teachers in the stocks as it might "undermine the teacher's authority with the children".... or something.  So, being the good little Tudor despot that I am, I didn't put anyone in.  Just some kids!  The day ended with a quite remarkable joust!  The ladies roared off into the lead, with their first rider miles ahead of the first gent, who was struggling badly.  Their first rider collected all of the quoits, and then dropped the lot!  She had to recollect them, meanwhile the first chap had managed to only get two quoits.  The young lady then roared round and collected them all again, only to drop them all again!  By this time the first lad had finished and handed on to their second rider.  The first lady finally finished as the lads handed on to their anchor leg rider. Unfortunately he had a complete nightmare of a round with horses, quintaines and quoits flying alarmingly round the hall, much to the amusement of some of the teachers.  Meanwhile the ladies roared round and stormed home to the finest comeback since Lazarus.  Amazing scenes of excitement from the children!  So our score amazingly moves on to:
The ladies surely are now unstoppable.  I packed everything away and began the drive back down the M5 towards Crewkerne.  I got in and then received a phone call from Leeds Castle wondering if I was free to come in and be Santa Claus this coming weekend as they were short staffed.  Sadly, I couldn't as I will be somewhere else altogether!
So my final two appearances before breaking for the Christmas holidays is tomorrow (Saturday) when I shall be slogging up to Chester for a corporate appearance at Chester Town Hall, and then on Tuesday a final Henry school visit of 2013 at Evercreech in Somerset.  Then it is off to Wales for cuddles with my son, tons of turkey, pounds of puds and no doubt a touch of the old "ho-ho-ho's" along the way.  And I promise to jingle my bells, all the way.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Better Late Than Never. Apparently.

An apology, earlier...
I know I know.  It's been far too long.  Oh the amount of times I have heard that from a lady.  Actually, I am lying to be honest.  They normally climbed into bed clutching an electron microscope.  But enough of my chequered past, and to be brutal, probably equally chequered future.
I have to cast my weary old mind back to last week and the first gig, which was at the Maynard School in Exeter.  I have been visiting this lovely school for nearly ten years now and I always get to see the same teacher, a lovely lady called Keagh Fry.  The Maynard like me to start a bit later than other schools, so I don't have to be with them until about 10.30am, which suits me down to the ground as it means I can have a bit of a lie in!  It was a cold morning but a nice drive down to Exeter itself.  I was soon in the hall with the ladies (The Maynard is a girls school), but it was a very small group this year, just 14.  We had a fabulous early session, lots of laughs and some great knowledge from the ladies.
Lunch was, as ever, delicious at the Maynard and loads of the dinner staff remembered me from previous years and we had a lot of laughs.  It was good to catch up with Keagh over lunch and hear how her lovely kids Adison and Harley were getting on.  We ripped through a fun afternoon and finished with a good jousting tournament, but of course again, like Maltman's the other day, this being an all girl school, I can't allow the result to add to the year long score.  So next year will be my tenth visit to Maynard School, and I can't wait to see them all again.
My next bookings were the beginning of the next week where the Monday and Tuesday was to find me in Cheltenham in Gloucestershire.  Monday I was due at Dean Close Prep School and the Tuesday I was at St Mark's Junior School.  I drove up to Cheltenham on the Sunday and had booked myself into a Travelodge.  Now from those who have read this blog over the years, both of you, you will know my feelings towards Travelodge.  The different levels of quality in this hotel chain is enough to give you the "Trip Adviser Bends".  I have gone from a freezing cold crap splattered shack near Knebworth, to a brand spanking new comfortable plush set up at New Brighton.  Now, here at Cheltenham I was to move up to a new level of niceness. The new Cheltenham Travelodge was lovely.  A king size bed, plasma screen telly, clean, tidy, warm and with a working elevator.  What was not to like?  I arrived on the Sunday and after settling in, went downstairs to the Harvester Restaurant that was there.  I ordered a steak and some new potatoes.  New potatoes were off, so I had mashed potatoes instead.  When my plate came up, it was roughly the same size as a satellite dish, with a small round piece of steak, a bit like an ice hockey puck, skulking at one end, a small blob of mashed potato in the middle, and a rather depressed looking grilled tomato slowly disintegrating at the other end.  Haute cuisine.  I think I would have been better off going to the Kentucky Fried Chicken drive through next door.  Having said that, the wine was nice and the waitress rather pretty, very friendly and attentive.  I slept very well.
Monday at Dean Close was a good one.  Jon Harris who books me was as ever, very attentive, friendly and well organised.  We started the day in the Oaksey Common Room, as you do, moved briefly outside for the jousting, then back for the finale of the day, the stocks back in the Oaksey Room.  It was a lovely day all round and as we had an extended session for the jousting, we got everyone to have a go, timing them to see who the fastest 12 were, and then having a big final between the three fastest boys and the three fastest ladies.  Despite what the original timings had shown us, it was the gentlemen who sailed off with the win in the big final, much to the annoyance of the ladies.  Our score clicks over to:
So a bit closer again.  It would be most interesting to see what occurred at St Mark's School on the Tuesday. Stay tuned...
I got whisked out to dinner on the Monday night, picked up from outside the hotel by Justine Cotterill, a friend of Zarrina Bull's and a lady I have pranced around with at Sudeley Castle from time to time. It was down to Justine that I was going to St Mark's School in the first place as her son goes to the school and is doing the Tudors, so she introduced me, bless her!   For the meal,  I was under the impression it was going to be me and all of Justine's family, but as it was it was just me and Justine, so a big thank you to her husband and kids for the loan of their wife/mum!  We went into the centre of Cheltenham and to a very agreeable curry house.  One lovely curry later and I was back at the hotel, sitting on the bed looking like a ginger Buddha.
I set my alarm for about 6.30am the next morning so that I could get up early and rush around slowly, as my Mother often says.  Ooh!  Did you notice the pause in my typing there?  An advert came on TV with Fearne Cotton in it and I had to smash my foot through the screen and then grind the plastic debris to dust.  But I feel better now.  Anyway, back to me supposedly getting up early on the Tuesday, well sadly I slept right through my alarm and only got woken up with a text from Justine letting me know how much she'd enjoyed the meal the night before - at about 7.45am.  ARGH!  I had promised the school I would be with them just after 8am.  I hurriedly got ready, but it was lucky that I was just round the corner from St Mark's - less than a mile to be honest.  Well, we had a lovely time at the school - it was a fantastic place, really nice teachers, groovy kids and a lovely hall.  Not sure if it was because I was enjoying myself so much or if they had drugged my tea, but the day seemed to absolutely shoot past.  The jousting finished with a roar as the ladies stormed back to a famous victory, simply destroying the boys team in the final.
And so the drive home began, and it wasn't a bad one and I was home and hosed by 5.30pm.  And after a couple of days at leisure listening to England being ripped to shreds in the second test (oh the shame... being bowled out by Mitchell Johnson, a man with all the subtlety of a commode and the accuracy of an American air strike), and then I was off up to Essex on the Friday to see Amanda and James in another production of their version of "A Christmas Carol", this time at St Nicholas' Church, Laindon, a very atmospheric venue.  It was great to see them both enjoying themselves and getting so much out of performing on stage.  Here's to their next production - a version of Terry Pratchett's "Going Postal".  What a marvellous delivery.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Maltman's Green, 50 Years of Who and Mistletoe Fayre.

Good King Hal and Jane Seymour having a "moment" on the stairs.
And so a week of work began with a trip back to Maltman's Green School near Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire.  On my previous two visits, the first time I went I arrived horrendously early and had to sit around kicking my heels until someone turned up to let me in, so the next visit I decided to stay at a nearby hotel and wander over at a reasonable hour.  That time I got stuck in horrible local traffic and was nearly late, so I decided to leave early in the morning from Somerset and enjoy a gentle perambulation up to Buckinghamshire and try and arrive on time.  Initially this seemed to be going the way of the original journey as I was miles ahead of my time, and so I was already contemplating how I would pass the time until the school opened.  What could I do?  Untie my belly button and see if my bottom fell off?  Possibly.  Try and work out what the hell anyone finds entertaining about The X Factor, or any programme remotely to do with Simon Cowell?  Probably not enough time for that one.  Plan an atom bomb attack on Chatham?  Well, that one is quite well advanced already and to be honest if I did do it, probably no one would notice I'd been.  I can see the headlines already...  100 MEGATON BOMB DROPPED ON CHATHAM IN KENT... GOVERNMENT ESTIMATE NEARLY £2-WORTH OF DAMAGE.  But what the heck.  In the end my desires to have a restful stop and think were scuppered by a lorry catching fire on the A40.  By the time I got to this road I was less than six miles to the school and had about an hour and a half to spare.  That entire hour and a half was eaten up by sitting in the stationary traffic caused by this conflagration and I arrived at the school pretty much on time.
Maltman's Green is a lovely school.  It is an all girls private school, but comes across as very friendly and quite down to Earth.  I was very warmly welcomed by the teacher who had booked me, even though she sounded and looked very poorly, the poor love.  She was full of cold, very croaky and obviously not herself.  And the poor love didn't last that long.  Less than half an hour into the day she had to leave to go home.  She either felt very ill or had heard all my crap jokes before.  I reckon on the latter...  I was looked after by a very nice teacher who had officially retired the previous year, but came back from time to time to help out, and had come in especially to take over from the poorly lady.  And she could not do enough for me!  She even went off and got my dinner for at lunch time - an OBE is in the post to her, even as I type.  The kids were great, very lively and fun, and there was a good deal of good Tudor knowledge from all the pupils.  The jousting was great as well, but of course, being an all girls school I can't add their score to the ongoing jousting score.  That would be just unfair to the boys, and lets face it folks, they need all the help they can get when it comes to the jousting.
I left just after 3.30pm and had a very pleasant, if dark journey home.  It was overcast and miserable most of the way and there was a definite chill in the air.  Winter, if not in full vigour, is certainly close to finishing it's warm up routine.  I stopped at Waitrose in Crewkerne and treated myself to a bottle of wine, and then nipped to the Chinese for a very welcoming take away.
Thursday night I met up with Matthew Applegate from Barrington Court for a pint or two at the Rose and Crown at East Lambrook.  When I arrived he was in a very down state of mind.  Hardly surprising considering the way he and his family have been so appallingly treated by the National Trust lately.  He even looked cross when he discovered there was a quiz on at the pub that evening. At first we were going to sit it out in an adjacent room, but eventually we decided to take part.  There was just me and Matthew in our "team".  Most of the other tables had at least 6+ players on them.  And we won!  Wonderfully!  Though quite what I fully intend to do with my £12 prize money, I don't know.  A holiday in the Seychelles, perchance?  On £12?  I could get six months in Chatham for that.  In fact, I could buy Chatham for that and get change.  But it was great to see Matthew and he seemed pretty well cheered up when we left, but I think a couple of large slugs of Lagavulin had helped his general demeanour as much as my bonhomie.
Saturday and Sunday was the annual Barrington Court Mistletoe Fayre.  I was due to be doubly blessed at this event with the lovely Sarah Morris joining me on the Saturday, and the beautiful Katherine Miller playing my Queen on the Sunday.  As it was, poor Sarah had to cry off a couple of days earlier as she was just as poorly as the teacher at Maltman's Green had been.  She sounded truly unwell when I spoke to her on the phone.  So for the Saturday it was to be just me wandering round.  On the Saturday we were blessed with perfect weather.  It was bright, sunny and very cold - absolutely wonderful.  And the crowds turned out in their droves.  We supposedly had well over a thousand visitors on the first day alone, which is probably close to a record for the Mistletoe Fayre.  When I had finished at Barrington, I drove back to Crewkerne to pick up Katherine Miller from the station.  It was lovely to see her.  As you can see from the picture above, she is a stunningly beautiful lady, but is just so kind and friendly with it.  One of the nicest, gentlest souls you could ever wish to meet.  I drove her over to her digs at Shepton Beauchamp - she was staying at the Duke of York pub run by my good friends Paul and Hayley Rowlands.  They have superb new B&B facilities there and were kind enough to let me book the room for Katherine at a reduced rate.  Kat and I had dinner together at the pub - a sumptuous meal.  I have to say that my chicken and chorizo pie was quite outstanding, but the shoulder of lamb that Katherine had looked even better.  We put the World to rights and had a wonderful laugh and long chat into the night, before I drove back to Crewkerne.  I was not destined for an early night though...
Doctor Who has been one of my great passions since I was seven years old.  I can tell you the very moment I was bitten by the bug.  I was taken shopping in Chelmsford by my late paternal grandmother.  Whenever this happened she would buy me (or my sisters when it was their turn) various little pressies throughout the day.  As it was, our last port of call this particular day in 1974 was WH Smiths.  I was in the book department looking for something to keep me occupied for the weekend - and I first laid eyes on the wonderfully exciting covers drawn by Chris Achilleos, of the Doctor Who books range by Target Books.  My grandmother told me I could have one, but which was it to be?  The Abominable Snowman, showing a large Yeti menacing Patrick Troughton, or The Daemons, which showed a giant devilish figure seeming just on the verge of stamping on Jon Pertwee.  I could not make up my mind.  But time was racing and my Grandfather, fresh out of The Nags Head in Baddow Road, would be waiting in his car behind Bond's Department store, ready to whisk us to Moulsham Street and the fish and chip shop, and then home to their house in Margaretting for the cod and chips feast.  So I took blind luck and chose The Abominable Snowman, as the Yeti just looked so menacing.  I got to my Grandparents, started reading, and was transfixed!  It was a terrifying tale and great to read, plus it was a whole Doctor Who story I had never ever seen or even heard of before!  The next morning my Doctor Who addiction was completed when my Grandmother presented me with a copy of The Daemons as an extra present!  From then on I was completely and utterly hooked.
Saturday night just gone was the 50th anniversary of the first ever broadcast of Doctor Who, and a special was made and transmitted on BBC1, and throughout the globe featuring current Doctor, Matt Smith, David Tennant as the previous incarnation, and the incomparable John Hurt as a mysterious and, up till now, unknown previous Doctor.  It was epic, wonderful stuff and I sat transfixed watching this programme and immediately felt myself transported back to those Saturday early evenings in the 70's.  The escapism of it all.  The Doctor could take me away from the misery of school (God, I hated it) and whisk me off to unknown lands and planets, where nothing from my normal life mattered any more.  And the absolute icing on the cake for me with the 50th Anniversary show, was right at the end, a cameo appearance from Tom Baker - my Doctor.  He looked as old as I felt after that day of marching around Barrington, but it was still him.  That mysterious stranger, the hero who didn't kick the door in and machine gun all the baddies.  Guns were for thugs, this man was an interstellar gentleman. He would baffle them with science, humour, jelly babies and his galactic sized intelligence.  God, how I wanted to be like him.  So to Doctor Who, and the fellow anoraks like me who have had the mickey taken over the past 50 years for our love of this pacifist superhero, thank you.  Thank you for everything.  And here is to the next 50 years of limitless time travel and adventure.
Sunday was back at Barrington with Katherine Miller - the weather was a little overcast, and the numbers probably slightly down on the Saturday, but it was still tremendous fun.  Any walkabout at an historical house is pleasant, but when you get to do it in the presence of a beautiful intelligent lady like Katherine it makes it all the more special.  We had laughs a plenty, had a good jaw about life, the universe and everything, and the day seemed to pass in a shot.  We spoilt ourselves by buying some goodies at the end from some of the myriad of stalls, and soon we were changed and I was whisking Katherine back to Crewkerne Station and her train back to London.  I waved her off from the platform, and then drove home and, you guessed it, watched the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary episode again.  What an anorak!  It really had been a fantastic weekend.  Fun all the way and how a two days of historical house visits should be.  Not a cross word!
Next stop for the King is tomorrow with a return to the lovely Maynard School in Exeter, and a chance to catch up with my friend Keagh Fry.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I am... The Master! (Of Parkfield School).

Mr Sides from Parkfield, proving he really was the Head Master. (Geddit?)
Some schools I love for their location, some for their wonderfully behaved children, some for the wonderful teachers, and some for their warm welcome.  Well Parkfield School in Taunton combines all of these fine attributes, but then goes further.  Because one of the main reasons I love Parkfield School is for their wonderful Head Teacher, the unique, quintessential Mr Sides.  Now Mr Wynford Sides, to give him his full Dickensian-esque title, really does resemble the late lamented Roger Delgado above, in his full scenery chewing role as The Master in Doctor Who.  He is well known throughout Somerset with teachers and parents alike, and he comes across as being very Marmite - you either love him, or loathe him.   I love him.  He is quirky, doesn't suffer fools gladly and calls a spade an f-ing shovel.  And I like that in a person.  As I have discovered to my cost this year, you're never really sure who your friends are until the chips are down.  People who, one minute are claiming to be on your side, can very quickly turn round and stab you in the back as soon as look at you.  It is a thorny point and one which really shouldn't arise over petty things like historical re-enactment.  Or the casting in films.  But I digress.  Mr Sides is not like that - you know exactly where you stand with this gentleman, and I appreciate that.  Poor old Mr S was struggling with a bad cold and cough this year, so much so that he had to nip off to the Doctor's half way through the morning - and he is a man, so that proves he must have felt a bit peaky.
For once I arrived at Parkfield before Mr Sides, but he was soon in about 5 minutes after me, and was soon making me the usual welcoming cup of tea.  I also bumped into the lovely French lady who works at this school and tried out some of my appalling French on her.  She muttered something about "Evadez-vous de moi, vous paniquez!" which was lovely, until I translated it.  Only joking, she was as welcoming as Mr Sides.  She and I chatted a little later about The Tunnel, the English/French drama on Sky Atlantic at the moment - she is enjoying it as much as I am.
The children were as great as ever at Parkfield, never in my many years of visiting this school have I had a properly duff group, and today was no different.  All had dressed in fabulous costumes and were engaged, fizzy and full of laughs.  Great fun.  Lunch for me was, as ever, bought from the local Tesco store with one of the staff trudging off and getting it for me which is a lovely little touch and one which endears me the this school even more.  The afternoon was deafening, particularly the jousting which was of a surprisingly high standard and produced a rather inevitable finish.  Yes, the ladies won again!  They are easily getting away again now and move into a stronger lead.  This now stands at:
Mon Dieu! I had to curtail the afternoon a bit pronto as there was a whole school assembly, so I disappeared off with more of a whimper than anything else.  Shame I won't be back at this lovely school for another year.
And so this week, I am off to Maltman's Green School near Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire tomorrow (Wednesday), then on Saturday and Sunday it is the dear old Mistletoe Fayre at Barrington Court near Ilminster.  I am being joined by the delectable Sarah Morris on the Saturday, and the gorgeous Katherine Miller on the Sunday.  And I am having dinner with them both on Saturday night!  Sometimes it really is GOOD to be the King!  And I shall be missing watching "live" the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary programme - the things I do for women, and do they appreciate it?  Probably not.
And speaking of Doctor Who, if they decide to bring the Master back in Peter Capaldi's first season and John Simm isn't really up for it, they could do a lot worse than ask Mr Sides if he is available.  Just a thought.  I could be his agent, for a very small fee.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Hampton Court? No I just sat down too quickly...

Good King Hal having a quick pas de deux.  The filthy beast.
I had waited a long time to do a gig at Hampton Court Palace.  It was one of those venues that just never seemed possible.  OK it is a closed shop to re-enactors.  You have to be top top chums with the company Past Pleasures and be prepared to work for their starvation wages most of the time.  I speak with some experience on this matter as I had auditioned for Past Pleasures some years back and was horrified by the paltry sum they offered me to work for them.  "Think of the kudos of working at Hampton Court!" Their boss had said.  Yes, think of my bank balance, I replied.  And so it seemed it would never happen.  But then the most unlikely of white-charger-riding-heroes swept out of the sunset.  BP are probably better known for crashing oil tankers on to rocks in Alaska or making obscene amounts of profit every year, but their Indirect Procurement Department (no, me neither.  Not a scooby.) had booked me to attend their "Town Hall" meeting day, which just happened to be at Hampton Court Palace.  I had asked along Sarah Morris, lovely Tudor Lady and top author on the subject, to join me as Queen for the day.  She was happy to oblige.  
I had booked at hotel right next to Hampton Court and drove up on the Sunday night as I thought it might be nice and quiet.  WRONG.  WRONG WRONG WRONG.  This was the Sunday night after a half term holiday.  The A303 was packed tighter than Robert Plant's spandex pants at an early 70's Led Zepp concert.  I spent a good hour sitting in the darkness that should have been Stonehenge, surrounded by huge 4x4 vehicles packed full of sour faced little school age f*ckers with i-Pads, playing Minecraft, or Candy Crush Saga, or watching Miley Cyrus do something really outrageous like write a decent song by herself and leave her pants on for once.  That would be nice.
I got to the King's Arms Hotel and met up with Sarah.  I nearly managed to embarrass myself early on by using the loo in my room, then deciding to wash my hands, I turned on the tap and was hammered in the crotch with a tsunami-like explosion of water which made me look like I had lost complete control of my bodily functions.  The next five minutes were spent in my room with the hair dryer trying to remove the offending stain marks.  We had a lovely dinner - I had  a wild mushroom and truffle risotto, with Parmesan shavings, and a pint of Hall and Woodhouse Badger ale.  Smashing.  I slept like a baby on a small bed that made alarming farting noises every time I moved.
Sarah and I had breakfast and then made our way round to Hampton Court.  We were in the Garden Room round the back of the Palace and were warmly reminded not to wander round the front should we upset any of the Past Pleasures slaves.... I mean actors.  It was generally a fun day - mostly me introducing the speakers, some of whom were funny and inspiring and others, such as their IT bod who needed beheading after only two minutes but insisted on giving his full.....well, I don't know how long.  It honestly felt like a lifetime.  Wonderful.  We'd had to get changed into our clobber in the cafe next door to where we were, so that involved us both going into the small gents and ladies to get our gear on properly.  I had finished when I got the call from the ladies that Sarah needed me in there to lace her in.  Now any top student of doubles entendres or any just voyeuristic tendencies, should have had a look in at that point.  We had Sarah, semi robed in her Tudor gowns, leaning on her hands bent over the sink in the ladies, as I stood close up behind her, two cords of cloth in hand, with her shouting out:  "DO ME UP MIKE!  AND DO IT HARD!"  Ooh er!  People don't realise how much I suffer in this job - here I was with Sarah Morris, who lets face it folks, is drop dead gorgeous, half undressed in Tudor undies, while I have to physically and forcefully lace her into her body hugging bodice.  What I did, I did in the name of Tudor Historical accuracy.  But I did have to have a cigarette afterwards.
Well BP treated us like Royalty, how else?  They fed and watered us splendidly, we took part in the whole day, helping out with the team quizzes and with me introducing all the speakers and posing for photos with most of the delegates.  We finished at about 4.30pm and Sarah and I were away just after 5pm.  The roads down to the M25 were horrendous, but the actual London orbital generally quiet.  I was soon at Amanda's house to see her and James, but they were out rehearsing their new play, but more of that later!
On the Wednesday I was up in Norfolk, in Norwich for a first appearance at Lionwood School.  I had been recommended by one of the teachers who had previously witnessed me doing my "thing" at Falcon Junior some years ago.  Lionwood was a brilliant school - great fun, some really cool teachers and cracking kids.  They had no idea I was coming, the children that is!  And their surprise on my first appearance was very edifying.  The joust came down to a very closely fought final, which was finally won by a very good Ladies team.  Our score goes to:
Once more daylight appears between them, what can the gents do?  It is funny how the ladies just keep on winning.  That's life I suppose.
On the Thursday evening I was at the Mirren Studio in the Towngate Theatre in Basildon to watch The Thalians Theatre Group and their production of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol".  My lovely son James was in it as a street urchin, and also the little lad who Scrooge gets to go and get the turkey at the end of the play.  And Amanda was cast as one of the old crones who strips Scrooge's flat after his death.  They were both absolutely brilliant, the whole cast was.  You had to keep reminding yourself it was an amateur production.  But it was truly wonderful, great sets, lovely costumes, great actors and a genuinely creepy Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.  Amanda and James are truly bitten by the bug and have both put their names forward for the next production - a version of Terry Pratchett's "Going Postal".  I'm ordering my tickets already.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Norwich in the South East? Norfolk in chance.

Jane Seymour, bursting into tears when the blindfold falls off and she finally see's her new husband...
So with the dust barely settling on the Holy Family School in Benfleet, his Royal Sagaciousness was up at the crack of dawn and out of the front door of Amanda's house and on the road to Norfolk.  I had mentioned to some friends that I was in the South East for the week for shows in Benfleet, Norwich and Wickford, for which my friends had snorted and said, since when was Norwich in the South East?  Well, when you live in Somerset, everything to the east of London appears to be the South East.  Sort of... Depends on which way you face and where you start from.  Oh shut up.  I don't care.  I knew what I meant.  And anyway, it wasn't even in Norwich, I was returning to Martham on the outskirts of Great Yarmouth.  Yes, Great Yarmouth, or how I still refer to it - AAARGH!!!  Not my favourite place on Earth.  I am not a big fan of seaside resorts, and let me tell you, Great Yarmouth is THE last resort.  Anyway, it doesn't matter as I was in Martham, which is a lovely little area and nothing to do with Great Yarmouth at all.  Norfolk has this reputation for having a population full of people dressed in smocks throwing turnips at old ladies that they think are witches, to paraphrase Charlie Brooker, but the children and staff at Martham are always really on the ball, and this year was no different.  It was a big group as ever, well over 100 children, but we had a fantastic time, great response and loads of laughs from all the children and staff.  It's a long drive to Martham, but days like this make it worth it.  The jousting was deafening, unsurprising considering the size of the group, and ended in a massively important win for the Ladies!  And so the score clicks over to:
So the ladies strike back after a good recent series of wins for the gentlemen.  
I got home to Amanda's place and had lots of cuddles from my lovely son, James.  Always makes the day worthwhile when that happens.  The following day, the Thursday, luckily I was much closer to Amanda's place with a return visit to Wickford School in Essex.  Wickford is a lovely school, and is always a delight to come along to. Yet another warm welcome and yet another group of fabulous kids.  All the teachers were great fun as usual, except for one very dour Welsh male teacher who spent the entire day with his arms folded, a resigned look upon his face somewhere between pain and utter disinterest.  This was a challenge, and so during the afternoon stocks session when my shows get incredibly silly, I kept haranguing him and dragging him into my routines.  But I'll give the old leek muncher his due, he resolutely refused to raise a smile for the entire day.  I was for once, defeated. Diolch yn fawr, as they say in some of the more refined sheep shearing parlours in upper Gwent.  I prefer O leiaf yn ceisio gwenu, rydych yn ddiflas git Cymru.  But please yourself I say.
Another fabulous jousting tournament in the afternoon culminated in a stunningly easy win for the ladies, again!  This is much more like last year!  Our score goes on to:
So daylight once more splits the two teams.  And this is our score as we moved into the half term period of this scholastic year.  Any thoughts of an evening of rest was soon scuppered as I was asked to go along with Amanda and James and see their latest rehearsal for the play they are appearing in - Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol".  James is playing the street urchin that Scrooge encourages to go and buy the big turkey for the Cratchitt family at the end of the play.  He has learnt his lines brilliantly, and just needs to slow down his delivery a bit and he will be a big star.  Amanda is playing an old hag who pilfers Scrooge's belongings after he has died.  I refuse to mention the words "type" and "casting" at this juncture as I rather like my cobblers where they are at the moment.  All in all, the play itself looks like it is going to be a stunner, and speaking of stunners, so is the lady playing the Ghost of Christmas Past.  I must go to the first performance and sit in the front row.
Half term saw James and I head down to Wales for a few days in the pouring wind and rain that appeared to be Newcastle Emlyn and my parents house.  To be honest some of the weather forecasts we got at the start of the week were a tad biblical, but the plague of locusts and boils did miss us on the whole and we had a lovely few days away.
Next stop for the King - an appearance at Hampton Court Palace on Monday doing a corporate event for BP.  My first Hampton Court show - I can't wait!  Watch this space for more.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Hartland and the Holy Family

Good King Hal clutching Natalie Dormer and very
shortly going blind...
I had been doing a lot of rushing around lately, and when I finally sat down in my office and looked at the up and coming shows I had to do, I was delighted to see that all that was left for the end of this week was a half day at a school in Devon.  I had enquired of the school roughly where in Devon they were, and was delighted again to hear the word "north".  Super, surely they would only be in Axminster or somewhere close by like that.  About 36 hours before I was due to be at the school I decided it would probably be prudent to actually have a butchers at the maps and see where this place was.  Ah.  It wasn't Axminster.  It wasn't Tiverton.  It was a bit further than that.  It was in Hartland, near Bideford - next stop Nova Scotia.  It wasn't a long way, it was a sodding long way.  It was about 100 miles door to door, so I ended up having to leave in the wee small hours and hack off down the M5 and then cut off on the road to, and then past Tiverton and all points west.  It is a lovely road, but by God it's a slow road.  There aren't many passing places and when you're stuck behind a lorry, you are well a truly stuck behind a lorry.  But I got to the school just after 8am and was very warmly welcomed.  The kids were lovely and the teachers charming, and the morning just seemed to zip past.  It was such a pity it was just the morning, just a half day.  We finished just before midday with a rip roaring jousting tournament which was won by a very competent Gents team, which does their annual score the power of good. It now makes it:
As close as it has been for a long long time.
My drive back to Somerset was lovely, through late autumn sunshine, but the early start and excessive driving was starting to get to me and I could feel myself getting dangerously tired.  I am old enough, and wise enough to recognise these warning signs now, and so I pulled off the main road, parked up and had a little snooze in my car - only about half an hour, but it made all the difference and I felt refreshed and ready for action and continued the drive home.
After a very nice weekend of not doing a hell of a lot - OK I went round a few charity shops, but that was the limit of heart racing excitement - I was off on the Sunday evening for a drive back to Essex and a few days with Amanda and James.  As ever it was so nice to see my little boy when I got there, even though he was spark asleep and snoring like a good un on my arrival, but he looked so angelic!  I had the Monday at leisure in the sparkling metropolis of Basildon before getting up relatively early on the Tuesday for a trip to a new school for me again, the delightfully named Holy Family Catholic School in South Benfleet in Essex.  It's funny, I am always slightly wary of going into Catholic schools, simply because of Henry's track record, but I am always rewarded with a warm welcome and usually some fabulous kids.  And today was no different.  Some of the loveliest teachers I have met in a long time, really they could not do enough for me which was very sweet of them.  The kids were great as well, only about 30 of them, but full of beans and much fun.  We had such a good morning, and an equally entertaining afternoon.  The jousting crowd was boosted by all of years 3, 4 and 6 joining the year 5 I was already with, so the hall was packed to the rafters with very excited children.  The first ladies semi final was a scruffy affair, with one team in particular going out of their way to seemingly smash most of my jousting kit to pieces.  But the final was of high quality as ever, and deafeningly loud with such a big crowd, and culminated in a win for the Gents again!
And so we are back where we started.  But well done to the Gents who have fought right back this year and could perhaps take the lead mid year for the first time ever!  Let's see what happens tomorrow.
Speaking of tomorrow I am off up and early in the wee small hours again for a return visit to Martham Junior School near Great Yarmouth in Norfolk.  So wish me dry conditions, an empty road and pleasant kids - mind you, they're usually brilliant at Martham, so I am hoping that will continue.  Night night!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

North By North West. Then South a Bit. And East.

Good King Hal treating yet another child with the same respect he always does. 
Tights.  Don't you just hate tights?  They are the bane of my life sometimes.  For instance, on Monday just gone, I was at a school in Taunton during the day, and then at a small village just outside Yeovil in the evening for a visit to a WI group.  I wore the same tights for both shows, but they might as well have been completely different items of clothing.  During the day, they were a delight, fitting perfectly and staying in place.  In the evening they took on a totally different persona and were hell bent on heading south as fast as they possibly could.  Ladies, I know exactly what you go through.  Sometimes the damn things are so keen on falling off that you almost feel like you want to nail the bloody things in place to keep them there.  Perhaps stockings and suspenders are the way forward for me.  I'd better not.  I might have a heart attack half way through a show and die one day and then.... oh, the shame of what they discover when they get me to the hospital.
Anyway, the week opened last week with an early start on the Monday and a drive up to Bromsgrove in Worcestershire and two days at the lovely Aston Fields Middle School.  I was very warmly welcomed on both days and had a lovely time.  I had also managed to find a Travelodge to stay in that was (a) very nice, (amazing, I know) and (b) closer to the school I was appearing at than any other I have ever been to.  It was less than half a mile from the school gates.  Marvellous!  On the first day the children were a little restless and lacked a little bit of focus early on, but they came along wonderfully as the day went on.  By the end they were ready for a jousting tournament, and they were great!  Loud and frantic, it was a great tournament which a gents team just managed to win by the shortest of heads.  Our score for the academic year shifts on to:
Close.  The closest our tournaments have been for years.  I went back to the very nice Travelodge and settled in for an early night (and a glass of wine or two...).  Well, you have to...
Wednesday and my second day back at Aston Fields.  It was a different group of children and teachers today, but the welcome was as warm and inviting as the day before.  The children were a bit more attuned to the day from the word go on this morning and the day really moved along with a comfortable swagger.  Plenty of laughs all round, and one of the most bizarre answers I have ever received during my years on the road.  I asked the group if they knew the name of Henry VIII's second wife - and a young lad put up his hand like a rocket and blurted out "STEVE!"  There was a stunned silence for a couple of seconds, then a huge explosion of laughter.  It was akin to the old Monty Python sketch about where do Penguins come from.  BURMA!  Why did you shout Burma?  I panicked.  Perhaps this young lad did as well.  Anyway, after a fine lunch the joust proved to be every bit as competitive as the previous day, only this time the ladies just managed to snatch victory.  So the score goes to:
Has normal service been resumed?  We shall see...  I was not to be heading home, it was back onto the motorway system for a drive up to the outskirts of Preston in Lancashire as my next Tudor day was at St Mary's Catholic School in Leyland.  It was supposed to be about a two hour drive from Bromsgrove to the Travelodge I was next staying in, but with heavy rain and rush hour traffic, it took me closer to four hours.  As I climbed out of the car a chill wind howled round me.  Blimey, where did that come from?  It has been so warm for so long I had almost forgotten what cold weather felt like.  Well, that was one hell of a reminder I can tell you folks.  As I walked up to the main door into the Travelodge, an elderly lady sat outside in the cold smoking a fag and coughing in a desperately unhealthy rasping way.  Nice.  As I walked into reception she followed me in spluttering and wheezing.  She walked straight round behind reception and immediately said:  "Good evening, (choke hawk wheeze) can I 'elp yer?"  That's what I call a welcome!  This was a proper Travelodge with spattered carpets, gruesome looking smears in the bathroom and a stunning view out of your bedroom window of the side of a hill approximately 15 feet away.  I fully expected to find the Gideon Bible chained to the bedside drawer.
Great day at St Mary's School in Leyland.  Absolutely lovely teachers - friendly, gorgeous and great fun.  The kids were a lovely group to work with as well and it turned out to be a truly memorable day.  I was also inundated with requests for photos from the teachers during the lunch break!  I was more than happy to pose with all these lovely ladies!  The jousting was another belter, closely fought up to the final leg, when the gents team simply strolled away to a great victory.
This year is certainly proving to be a lot closer between the two teams than has come to be expected.  I packed up my stuff and then hit the road to head back down to Somerset.  I was dreading the journey, but it was actually OK.  I was going to use the word "a delight" but that is an epithet I could never hang on the M5 of an evening.  It was so good to be home.
Monday morning found me heading up to Taunton for a first visit to Norton Fitzwarren, which is a state primary school and not some long forgotten Victorian tragic actor.  I was there for the morning only with a group mixed up of years 3, 4, 5 & 6, which was fabulous, but means I won't be visiting them again for at least 5 years!  It was one of the most fun mornings I have ever had, loads off laughs, a great group of kids and some more delightful teachers.  A fantastic school.  The ladies won a pulsating joust that produced so much noise it damn near blew the roof off the school hall!  And so:
When I got home in the early afternoon it wasn't the end of my day.  In the evening I was booked to appear for Marston Magna (again, not a Victorian actor) WI group as their evening guest speaker.  I love doing WI groups as the ladies are all delightful and usually love a nice saucy laugh.  Well there was plenty of those!  I didn't get on until after 8pm, but the talk went really well and the ladies seemed to really enjoy themselves.  After I was changed I was asked to judge a competition of ancient relics (not the members of the WI before you all say it) but a collection of heirlooms and old items that members of the club had brought in, and I had to choose my three favourites.  Third place I went for a coachman's truncheon, carried by a coachman on the London to Plymouth stage coach in the early 1800's.  Second place I gave to an early almanack type of book dated from 1764. But for first place I chose a certificate of teaching competence awarded to a lady who had worked at Highbridge School, and then at Barrington School!  Wonderful stuff.  Next it was time for a cup of tea and a chin wag with some of the club members and then I was on my way home.  It had been a long day and a long week, but very satisfying.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Billericay Dicky and the Tudor Revels

An early version of the Tiller Girls.  Not a raging success.
After all the ridiculous hammering up and down the M4, it was nice to spend a couple of slightly more restful days in Essex with my ex wife Amanda and my lovely son, James.  They have both been offered roles in an am dram production of "A Christmas Carol", with Amanda playing one of the old crones who sells off all of Scrooge's wares after he has died in the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come bit (and I refuse to make any comments about type casting, really), and James is playing the little boy that Scrooge asks to go and buy a turkey for Bob Cratchitt on Christmas morning.  I helped them with a couple of read-throughs before their latest rehearsal, and they were both near word perfect already!  James is going to be a star, I can tell, and his Mum isn't too shabby in the acting stakes either!
The Friday morning had me returning to one of my favourite schools in Essex - South Green Junior in Billericay.  I was warmly welcomed as ever by the lovely staff, and had another pleasant experience shortly before I was due to start my show by the appearance of my dear old friend Kevin Rowley!  He runs a company called Comprehensive Piano Services, and one of his jobs is to look after the servicing and tuning of all the pianos in the state schools of Essex and beyond.  He was there to re-fit a pedal on South Green's upright which had come off at high speed during a particularly violent interpretation of Grieg's Piano Concerto.  This is of course completely made up, I have no idea how the pedal came off, but off it was, and Kevin was the man for the job.  We had a little chat, but just as we really got cracking the children arrived for their morning and Kevin had to shoot off.  Well we had a great day with the children - tremendous fun, full of laughs and much noise.  Lunch was as ever served by the charming lady at South Green who does the food there - what a nice person she is! And then we were back for a mad afternoon, culminating in a very loud joust which the boys managed to win.  So our score clicks over to the slightly surreal score of:
I packed my stuff away and headed back to Amanda's house.  I offered to take James out to dinner that evening with his Mum, anywhere that he wanted.  The choice was his.  The Ivy?  Claridges?  The Fat Duck?  Nope.  He chose - Pizza Hut, as ever.
I was up early the next morning for the drive from Essex down to Southampton and my appearance at the event called "Meet the Ancestors" run by a local historical group in Southampton called The Tudor Revels.  I was bound to get the coffee one.  I was due to give another outing to my "Henry's Horrid History" show. I set off round the M25 in high spirits, but it was bound not to last.  Warnings began being broadcast on the radio stating that the M25 was shut in both directions by the M23 due to a massive pile up and traffic was at a standstill.  I plumbed in a detour route on my sat nav, but the stupid machine kept trying to take me back to the M25.  Anyway, I ended up cutting right across country in grey lowering weather, with pretty much everybody else appearing to try the same thing as I got held up in ever slower traffic jams on what I would imagine are normally quite charming A roads.  Arundel looked nice, if gridlocked, and I made a note to pop back and visit sometime when I wasn't in a hurry.  In the end a two hour drive from Basildon to Southampton ended taking nearly 4 hours.  I had been given directions to a nearby primary school to the venue where performers could park their cars in safety.  I arrived at the school two hours late to find the gates securely locked and not a sign of any one in sight.  I drove round to the little Tudor side street where the event was taking, nearly wiping out the town crier and the wise woman on the bonnet of my Mazda.  One of the organisers popped over to the car park and let me in, which was very sweet of her.  I had told lots of my old Skandia friends that I was appearing in Southampton (Skandia Life being a company I worked for in Southampton between 1998 and 2003 - just in case you haven't read past blog entries), and I was delighted to see some familiar faces!  First off there was Camilla Kennedy, who I hadn't seen since I left Skandia, then there was Kathryn Lee, up until this point the only person from my Skandia days to see me perform as Henry as she, her mum and her daughter came out to Barrington Court one weekend a couple of years ago to see me, which was really sweet of her!  And then there was the lovely Tracie Callaway-Sayce, her husband and two kids, again, someone I had not seen since 2003.  You can see the four of us all together in the Tiller Girl pose in the photo above.  We are, left to right, Camilla, Kathryn, Some old Tudor ruin, and Tracie.  Then I bumped into the gorgeous Sarah Morris, who was there at the show giving a talk about her books and signing copies.  Great to see her again.  Such a lovely lovely lady.  Well I was doing my show in St Julien's Chapel (not Sandy's) and we were packed out!  Staff on the doors were turning people away which was a shame for them, but most gratifying.  The show went down a storm - I chose Camilla to play Anne Boleyn and took great delight in chopping her head off - only pretend of course.  When I finally finished the show and went outside all three ladies were waiting to see me, and I was roundly hugged and congratulated.  Then along came dear old Graham Orris (Or Goff as we know him!), again late of Skandia, with his wife and children - they had been one of the groups who had arrived too late to gain access to the show.  Poor lad.  After some lovely goodbyes from the Skandia crew, I walked back to the car park with Sarah Morris, had a cuddle and goodbye from her, which was very nice, and then began the long slog back to Somerset.  The drive back was fine and I finished  the evening with a nice bottle of wine and some lovely memories of seeing such lovely old friends again.
About the most exciting things that have happened this week have been getting my car MOT'd, which amazingly it passed (!!!!!!) and then getting some of my costume repaired by the sainted Judy Hares in Martock.  Back on the road again this week with visits to Bromsgrove and Preston.  Thank God for that MOT.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Tilehurst and Lots and Lots of the M4.

Good King Hal, admiring the gear change smoothness on his Tudor Car.  He decided instead to get a four door car.  (Tudor?  Two door?  Geddit?)
So, where is Tilehurst, eh?  Anyone?  Bueller?  Bueller?  Never mind.  I assumed, with a name like that it must be somewhere in Kent.  Wrong!  It is just to the west of Reading in the County of Berkshire.  I was lined up for a morning at Park Lane Junior School in this fine town.  I drove up the A303 in thick fog, then up the A34 and finally on the M4 briefly before cutting up to Tilehurst itself.  The school is a big old red brick Victorian building, but there is no parking on the site, however I was lucky enough to be allowed to leave my car just inside the school gate and tucked up next to the door into the main hall.  I was very warmly welcomed by some lovely teachers and staff.  It was an odd morning in that the school had worked out their own timetable for me.  This started with two sessions with the main groups, just in a question and answer situation.  When this was done I was back in the hall with the first group again, this time with the Six Wives talk, then a bit of music and finally a quick frantic joust.  This first joust was incredibly close but was won by a very good ladies team.  If we add this to our scores we have:
The second group then came back in and I whipped through the Six Wives talk again, which was a bit of a mind bender doing it again so quickly.  My brain was constantly screaming "YOU'VE ALREADY SAID THIS!" but I managed to keep going.  The second jousting tournament was a lot louder but infinitely more confusing.  Despite frequent repeats of the rules, both teams really struggled as to what the hell they were doing.  Quoits flew everywhere, some riders roared off to the other side of the tilt where they shouldn't be and confusion ran amok.  In the end, with the clock zooming round towards midday and time for me to go, I called a halt to the tournament and declared it a draw, which seemed to please no one!  So I suppose I can only give half a point to each team, which makes our score now look a bit odd.
As I was about to go and get changed, one of the dinner ladies approached me.  "I'm parked behind you." She said.  I nodded and said, OK, I'll get changed and we can sort it out.  But she stopped me in my tracks and repeated, "but I'm parked behind you."  I looked at her for a second or two, nodded slowly and repeated what I had said previously.  There was a slight pause, and she repeated "But I am parked behind you, out there!" and she pointed as though to convince me to go and look.  I finally had to ask her what she was so worried about.  "Well I've got to serve dinner in a moment..." she began in a panicked little voice. I assured her that someone would, surely, allow her a minute to let her ladle have a rest while she moved her car.  And I was proved so right!  I packed what I thought was everything away and headed off down the M4 towards Wales and a visit to my folks.  I was taking them to the airport again, something I used to do a lot when they lived in Essex but haven't done as much since they moved to Wales.  The trip down was fine and they greeted me warmly and then, very nicely, took me out to dinner at the Emlyn Arms Hotel in the town of Newcastle Emlyn where they live.  We had a fabulous meal and returned home to burp loudly and sip brandy.  Splendid.  I discovered to my horror the next day that I had left one of my Tudor musical instruments at Park Lane School in Tilehurst.  I blamed the dinner lady for distracting me.
After another fine day with my folks it was time for a very early get up of 3.15am, and then a drive up the M4 to take them to Heathrow for their main holiday for the year - a trip to the USA.  Lovely.  We got to the airport and I dropped them off, but this was where my fun was now starting.  I then had to drive back down the M4 to Newcastle Emlyn and drop my father's car back at their house and collect my car, before then driving back UP the M4 to Essex and a visit to my ex-wife Amanda's place and a visit to her and my lovely son James.  It was an incredibly long day, made slightly longer by on the first journey back from Heathrow I stopped off at Park Lane School and picked up my errant musical instrument.  But it was good to have it back.  
And so to Essex, and tomorrow I have a return visit to South Green Junior in Billericay for a full day.  Always a lovely school to visit, it should be fun.  Then on Saturday I am in Southampton for the Tudor Revels event - Meet the Ancestors.  I am on at about 3.30pm in the afternoon doing my Henry's Horrid History show.  Come one, come all.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Autumn Action.

Good King Hal and friend suddenly notice the paparazzi.  Swines.
More driving around the country, but this time with a very last minute booking.  I got several calls and texts from Shillingstone School, near Blandford in Dorset desperate for me to come to the school before half term. I had visited Shillingstone twice before - once when they were in their old premises. This was an old Victorian building and with absolutely no parking near it.  My abiding memory was of dodging thundering lorries and cars whistling about 5 inches from my head as I unloaded all the props from my car in front of the school gates.  They have moved now, as I discovered on my last visit, to a brand new purpose built, state of the art school building  It is stunning, with great views all round it.  A wonderful school with fabulous teachers, lovely kids and great facilities.  What is not to like?  The drive down is pretty idyllic too, taking you down through Sherborne, past open fields full of deer racing around in herds and little cute hamlets (not moody teenage Danish Prince's having naughty thoughts about bumping people off...).  The morning was great fun, with lots of laughs as usual, and we finished with a quite magnificent jousting tournament that went right to the wire, but the winners, almost inevitably, were the ladies.  So once more they leap on to:
Same old same old!  Tired was not really the word when I got home.  It was more a case of "oh my God, everything hurts, I cannot move another inch in any direction as I think I am going to die".  Which might sound a tad over reactive, but then that's the kind of mock Tudor monarch I am....  A Chinese takeaway made me feel a whole lot better.  God bless that MSG.
On the Thursday I drove up to Lutterworth in Leicestershire, so I was nice a close by for a return visit to Orchard School in Broughton Astley.  No.  No I won't do it.  You can't make me.  I have done it on every other visit to this lovely school but I refuse to this time.  I will NOT make a joke about Broughton Astley being Rick Astley's little brother.  DAMMIT!  I just did.  The drive up was OK, but I was only staying at a Travelodge, so I wasn't in a hurry to get there to be honest.  Lutterworth itself is quite nice - as you enter the town there is a big model of a Gloucester Meteor in a real comic book take off position, as this is the birthplace of Sir Frank Whittle, inventor of the jet engine.  Well just past this big stainless steel sculpture there is the Travelodge.  I drove past it to see if I could find a nice cheap supermarket where I could buy some food for the evening.  I had a quick look but all I could see was a Waitrose - expensive, but there seemed little other choice.  I actually asked someone in the car park if there was anywhere else nearby and he told me there wasn't.  He was a complete liar, because when I drove 200 yards past it the next morning there was a bloody great Mace store.  Git.  I bought some food which came to just slightly less than the GDP of a small African country and went out to the car park.  As I went to reverse out of my space an old chap strolled straight behind my moving car.  I stopped suddenly and waited for him to move.  He didn't, he simply slowly started lighting a cigarette.  I waited and waited and finally he moved.  He gave me an absolutely filthy look as I pulled out - not sure why.  I wound down the window and called out to him: "I'll get you next time Usain".  He made a well known rude gesture.  How nice.
Orchard School was lovely the next day.  Great to see everyone from my previous visits, including the jolliest caretaker you could ever wish to meet.  It was a superb day, great fun, lots of laughs and two of the biggest prima donna's you could ever wish to meet.  As if to prove my predictions wrong, the gents this time stormed to a well deserved victory over the ladies, thus pulling our score back to:
Nice and close.  The journey back on a Friday afternoon affected M5 was not pleasant, but the weekend has been nice and relaxing.  Tomorrow morning I am up bright and early for a visit to Tilehursst near Reading in Berkshire, and then after the morning with them I am shooting down to Wales to see my folks again.  Can't wait!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Back on the Road Again. And Again. And Again.

Good King Hal, inflating a new author by blowing in her ear in front of the Houses of Parliament.  And why not.
And so we knew summer was over as it started chucking it down with rain, the winds started howling, central heating got turned on again, and all the people who had been moaning about it being too hot during the summer immediately started moaning that it was too cold.  What a joy the people of England are some time.  Another sure fire sign that summer was over was the imminent re-opening of the schools and my endless trips round to the to be King Henry VIII.
My first port of call for this academic year was to West Leigh Junior School near Southend-on-Sea in Essex. I had visited this school several times previously and it was a delight to be back with Bella Garrett and her lovely pupils.  It seemed a little strange being back in schools after a long summer of jousting, but it felt good as well.  Admittedly I was a little rusty having not done a full day since about mid July, but after having done this show well over 700 times it soon came back to me.  It was a big group for the first day back - about 135 year three children, but a very rewarding group none-the-less.  The morning did seem to zip past as I performed in the small inner hall.  After lunch we hiked over to the dining hall - much bigger - and got ready for the jousting.  It was a fine old tournament, amazing noise from all of the pupils and a really closely fought contest.  Amazingly, our first winners of the new scholastic year was..... THE BOYS!  I know!  Will wonders never cease?  So, like the first Premier League table of the season, this may not mean very much in the long run, but our score is:
Would it last?  Well, you will find out very shortly...  Also at this time we were all waiting for the results of our filming efforts at Hever Castle to go "live" on line.  Doug Bolton, the sainted Darlene Cavill's son, had done a marvellous job with the filming, rendering and editing and I was dying for our efforts to be unleashed on an unsuspecting world.  But we would have to wait for just a little bit longer.
On Monday the 9th, I was back in Somerset for a return visit for the first time since 2009 to Long Sutton Primary near Langport.  Lizzie Reynolds, late of Manor Court School in Chard, is still the head at this lovely little school and it was so nice to see her again.  We had a fabulous day - Long Sutton is a brilliant school and very welcoming and friendly, and we had a superb morning with plenty of laughs from the children and some great joining in.  The jousting was, like West Leigh, very hard fought, incredibly noisy and a close run thing.  But getting things back to normal, the ladies simply walked off with the win in the final.  It seemed almost too easy for them.
So, normal service resumed?  Read on dear intrepid Tudor nonsense fan, read on... I had about 12 hours to gather my thoughts and some clean underwear and hit the road for the long trek up to Cumbria and an appointment at Ashfield Junior in Workington.
I had asked my lovely friends Andy and Kate Blundell of the Phoenix Antiques Barn in Temple Sowerby near Penrith if I could stay with them, and they very kindly agreed.  So I headed out onto the M5 and pointed my car at the North Pole and began...  It was actually a very pleasant drive up - when you get to North Lancashire and Cumbria some of the scenery alongside the M6 is possibly the most dramatic you will find by any motorway in Britain, unless of course the big wind turbine near the Madjewski Stadium in Reading next to the M4 is the kind of thing that floats your boat.  I was blessed with brilliant sunshine as well, which as it began to slowly fade at about 4pm, looked stunning against the rugged hills and peaks of the Cumbrian landscape.  I got to the Phoenix Barn to find Andy holding his bank manager in a head lock, so I joined in with a couple of rabbit punches and a kick to the goolies and sent him on his way.  It was great to see Andy and he took me on a tour of the latest acquisitions in the Barn.  As ever some lovely stuff and definitely worth a visit if you are ever in the area.  We headed back to their house where I got a big bone crushing hug from Kate, and it was good to see their lovely kids Daisy and Dylan again.  We went out to dinner at a local pub, and then headed back to their place to drink far too much wine and sit in the garden watching the satellites silently gliding above us in the black inky night sky.  Lovely.  I headed off early the next morning after demolishing some croissants Andy cooked and drove over to Workington.  The drive over itself was lovely - past stunning countryside and more dramatic peaks and lakes.  Workington itself is...ahem... a little on the plain side, but Ashfield School was lovely - hugely welcoming and roughly the same size as the TARDIS inside.  I got lost on numerous occasions, even when just trying to find the loo.  We had to begin the day with the jousting as we only had access to the main hall for the early morning.  It was a long loud tournament but very bravely fought by both sides.  Predictably enough, the ladies romped to a victory so normal service IS resumed.
On finishing the show I headed back towards the M6 and the 340 miles back to Somerset.  The weather was no longer my friend, and it poured with rain, the wind howled and the traffic was dreadful.  But I made it back and walked into my flat at about 9.45pm.  I was tired out of my brain, but any thoughts of a rest and a long lie-in would just have to wait...
The alarm went off at "WHAT?" o'clock and I stumbled out of a bed that I didn't want to leave.  Back on the road again, this time in cold foggy conditions, back up the A303 to the A34 and another return trip, this time to the lovely Kingsclere School in Berkshire.  This is such a lovely school with some of the nicest teachers you would ever want to meet or work with.  Loads of laughs throughout the day, plus plenty of offers of wedding cake and other goodies from various just missed festivities.  And I bet you can't guess what happened in the jousting???  Yes, the ladies won - AGAIN.  History is repeating itself quite obviously and the same pattern emerges year after year.  I feel sure some research scientist somewhere could look into this and discover something very deep and meaningful about the entire human condition.  But to be honest I am too bleedin' knackered to bother asking him, so it will just have to wait.  Along with those other all consuming questions we should be striving to find an answer for - such as, how does the snow plough driver get to work in the morning?  Or if you unscrew your belly button does your bum fall off?  Or who on Earth actually finds Miranda Hart funny other than about three BBC executives?  All this and much more will NOT be answered in the next blog.
Oh, and after all that - yes, the video we made IS "live" now on both the Hever Castle website and on You Tube.  Have a look, enjoy and share it with as many people as you know.  Let's go viral folks.

Monday, August 26, 2013

I'm Ready For My Close Up, Mr DeMille...

The King finally discovers the reason why men wear cod pieces.  This was a mere 37 seconds before someone invented the hat stand.
I'd only just finished another weekend at Hever Castle, so guess where I was on the Wednesday and Thursday?  Yes!  Lerwick in the Shetland Islands.  I jest.  Of course I was back at Hever Castle, but this time to film the long awaited and promised comedy short "The Six Wives of Henry VIII in 2 Minutes and 19 Seconds".  I had put together a script and Hever had sorted out some ladies to play some of my wives, but it was down to me to sort out the final few.  I called in the lovely Zarrina and Louise from Tudor Gowns, naturally I had the wonderful Michelle Coda and her other half Matt on hand, plus there was the lovely Katherine Miller who only lived up in Greenwich with easy access to Hever.  My final choice for a wife was a bit surprising.  It was my old mate Ian Weston from Portals to the Past - he was to play Anne of Cleves, and he did it marvellously.  Vivien from the Hever Marketing Department was on hand to help out with any problems we might encounter, plus of course we had Doug Bolton from Maveryk TV as our camerman/lighting engineer and soon to be editor and sound effects wrangler.  Well we had two fantastic days to film our little epic and it was such a fun time.  I can honestly say I have never had more fun or been more knackered at the end of a Tudor related event.  It was lovely to work with a group of people where there was no egos, no delicate personalities and no squabbles or back biting.  We just got on with it and had a terrific laugh in the process.  The photo above shows the lovely Helen Reeves from Hever Castle with her friend Charlotte (also from Hever staff) with Matt Rentell as the Priest and yours truly as Henry VIII in a scene we shot early on the second morning, of Arthur and Catherine of Aragon's wedding, followed very swiftly by the marriage of Henry to Catherine of Aragon just after Arthur pops his clogs.  Even Ian Weston, a veteran of numerous film shoots for cinema and TV said that the two days had been the most fun he'd ever had on a shoot, and this from a man who has worked with Ridley Scott!  Take THAT Ridley!  So thank you Hever, thank you Vivien, and a massive thanks to Zarrina, Louise, Katherine, Michelle, Matt, Ian, Helen, Charlotte, all the staff who work at Hever and helped us out so much, and most of all, to Doug Bolton for his genius with a camera and his help and advice in making this dream a reality.  Watch out for when we post the finished item here.  And anyone I have forgotten to thank here - SORRY!
I was back at Hever for Friday and Saturday for two more days jousting.  It was two pleasant days, aside from the near biblical flood we had on the Saturday.  Our costumes were drenched and poor old James, my lovely son, fell over twice on the rain sodden walk back to the Castle and promptly announced on our arrival back in our dressing room: "I WANT TOMORROW OFF!"  And so he did.
Sunday and Monday found me driving back up to Castle Hedingham in Essex for the final two days of jousting for this summer with the Knights of Royal England.  We had two lovely days in near perfect weather, but by now most of the jousters were running on empty and even the young ones seemed to be flagging.  But we put on two good shows on each day and got some tremendous feedback from all those that watched.  So another summer of jousting comes to an end and I have about four days to myself before the schools all start again and it's back to rushing round like a Tudor blue arsed fly!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Two Hever Weekends

Ronseal.  Just don't try this at home.
If it's a weekend in August then it must be time for some jousting at Hever Castle in Kent.  As usual a fun weekend was had with the Knights of Royal England, and it was as ever a delight to have Michelle Coda with me as Anne Boleyn.  We love doing the shows and despite moaning about how long it takes, we really enjoy our walk back from the jousting arena to the Castle.  We get stopped virtually ever two or three paces for photos with groups ranging from family groups with loads of children, to hen parties and bewildered looking Chinese tourists.  We also tot up how many times we get asked if we are hot in our costumes.  To save you time, everyone who might come to see us joust, yes we are hot.  Very very very hot.
James, my lovely son, is always at my side as the King's herald, but on the first of the two weekends, on the Sunday, his Mum Mandy came along and accompanied us after the show back to Somerset for a few days.  Somerset was where James was born back in 2002 and I always enjoy taking him for visits to his old haunts, keeping the memories alive for him.  We had a lovely time over the three days they were down, none more so than when we took James down to West Bay in Dorset, where the TV series "Broadchurch" with David Tennant was filmed and he enjoyed himself immensely catching crabs (steady) down at the harbour.  His patience, not good at the best of times, was tested severely.  We recommended that he should put his net in, leave it for at least five minutes before checking it.  His net was barely in the water for more than 30 seconds before he was hauling it out and cursing his bad luck without a crab in sight.  We finally persuaded him to leave the net in slightly longer and he promptly pulled out a crab of Brobdingnagian proportions, much to the chagrin of the other children similarly fishing around him.  The rest of his catches didn't really live up to that opening promise, but he thoroughly enjoyed himself.  We crowned a fine morning with fish and chips from the wrapper while sitting on the front.  Lovely.
We met up with Sue English and Ian Weston from Portals to the Past who were having a little holiday in Somerset.  We had a fine dinner with them at the Duke of York Pub in Shepton Beauchamp, which was just like the old days.  The next day we headed back to the south east so we could prepare for yet more jousting at Hever Castle.  We were lucky with the weather again and the shows seemed to be getting better and better.
And so this week I am down at (you guessed it) Hever Castle filming a quick promo video for them, then on the Friday and Saturday I am back at H***r C****e (fill in the blanks yourself) for more jousting before then heading up to Essex to visit Castle Hedingham for the Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday for the final two jousting days of the season.  It has been terrific fun, hard work and I can't wait till next season.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Accidents Will Happen

Good King Hal attempting to keep his tights in the standing load position.
So with only a few hours to catch our breath after finishing at Hever, the jolly old Knights of Royal England, plus a rotund Tudor King and his young Squire rolled into Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire for three more days of jousting mayhem.  Blenheim is situated in the delightful little town of Woodstock just to the north of Oxford.  It's a place that had corpses being discovered at embarrassingly regular intervals in the whole world of Inspector Morse, but is as genteel and backwater a place as you can possibly find.  James and I drove up after a couple of days R&R in Somerset and I had promised James a breakfast at one of his favourite haute cuisine outlets - Little Chef to you and me.  But do you think I could find one once we got on the A34 north?  Not a chance.  I even resorted to typing it into my sat nav, which promised that there was one just two miles further up the road.  We drove there only to discover it had morphed into a Costa Coffee house.  We had two sausage baps, a cup of coffee and an orange juice and it really did Costa bloody fortune.  What rip offs these places are.
We arrived at Blenheim Palace and were warmly greeted by Jeremy, Kim and everyone else from the group.  The weather forecast for the first day was not brilliant, but we were treated to blazing sunshine and sun burn all round.  The first two shows on the first day passed with little or no big problems, and after a lovely meal at the Woodstock Arms hotel in the evening, James and I left the young jousters to their usual revels and headed off to our luxurious hotel.  (OK, OK, it was a Travelodge).  We arrived back at the Palace on the Saturday morning expecting to see the usual collection of hangovers, jousters slumped in chairs and not much movement.  But there was little or no sign of anyone around the horse box, most of the jousters were working like smoke over in the arena, getting everything ready for the show, and there was no sign of Jeremy, Kim or their Land Rover.  Sam's girlfriend, Vanessa then appeared at the door of the horse box.  We said good morning and I asked her if J and K were off in town doing some shopping.  No, apparently they were off at A&E at the local hospital with Mungo.  What had happened?  During some "hi-jinx" on the Friday night, whilst highly intoxicated (i.e. pissed out of their brains) an incident occurred that had somehow culminated in Mungo falling heavily against a parked car and breaking his shoulder.  Blimey.  I was glad we had left early.  Jeremy and Kim then returned with faces like thunder and it suddenly became apparent why all the younger jousters were beetling around desperately working their socks off getting everything ready for the two shows that day.  Just before the show Mungo himself returned to the site via a taxi with his arm in a sling and slightly sheepish expression on his face.  After all that the two shows had to be good, and they were.  We were hit with a little bit of rain during both shows, but nothing like the deluge of last year.  The apres show dinner at a local Chinese restaurant was very nice and also highly restrained after the previous nights shenanigans.
Sunday was the final two days of Blenheim this year.  Two more good shows went by, with all the incidents saved for our final tournament.  At the beginning of the second show, we do a gag where I address the audience about what qualities a person needs to become a great Knight - and all the while I am saying this, someone (usually Sir William of Antioch) mimes them behind me, with the final pay off being something they very obviously can't have.  In Sir William's case it is always a head of luxurious hair.  As Sir William was away, Dan was filling in, and his pay off was to be totally terrified of swords.  For this he was to leap onto the centre tilt, look at his sword, scream like a girl and then jump off the tilt.  Not exactly Emmy Award winning stuff, but a bit of fun.  On this day we had had a bit of a shower just before the show, and as Dan leapt onto the tilt, he didn't realise how slippery it was, and as I was about to deliver my line "but what a Knight needs most of all..." his legs shot away from under him and he fell down, completely cross-barring himself right in the old Niagara's.  Therefore I quickly changed my pay off line to: "What a Knight really needs is... (CRUNCH).... a pair of fully functioning cobblers.  So that's you out, Dan", which got the biggest laugh of the day.  And still our accidents weren't over.  Right at the very end of the tournament, during a skill exhibition by both teams, my son James who was sitting in the Royal Box to my right, was getting very excited and was jumping up and down in his seat.  I looked away to commentate on some action to my left, at which point there was an enormous crash to my right, which at first I assumed was a horse bouncing off the Royal Box, such was it's score on the Richter Scale, and the fact that it caused all of the flags around the Royal Box to collapse and fall apart.  What it was was James' chair falling backwards off the Royal Box and bringing all the standards with him.  It was a big fall and he could easily have been hurt, but thankfully he was fine, just with a very bruised ego.  We finally finished the show and made our way back to the car.  It had been a fine weekend at Blenheim, memorable for a lot of different reasons, but it was good to be on our way home. 
This weekend we are back at Hever for another three days of fun jousting.  It will be nice to see Michelle and Vix again, but sadly Mungo is now out for the rest of the year.  Alcohol sales in the Edenbridge area are going to suffer, BIG TIME.