Thursday, January 31, 2013

Birchfield, Brides and Books.

Anne Boleyn: You are Johnny Vegas and I claim my 400 groats.  Henry VIII:  Anne Boleyn, it is with great regret when I say - you're for the chop.

Snow?  What snow?  Almost as soon as it had come the inclement disgusting white stuff was on it's way out.  And good thing too.  My return visit to Birchfield Junior School in Yeovil was going to be a good one - all my visits there in the past had been equally entertaining.  The main road from Crewkerne to Yeovil is currently being dug up for some reason or other, so I found the early part of the journey involved lots of fannying around in minor country roads.  I arrived at the school under glowering grey skies and loaded my stuff into the hall.  As on my previous visits they have a large "Story Tellers" chair which they bring in, clean down and drape cloth over it to turn into a splendid throne for me.  Smashing.  Well it was, as in every visit I have made to the school, a real rip roaring fun day - a great sparky group of kids and lots of laughs.  The final joust was deafening and ended with ANOTHER win for the lads.  They are really on a roll now and have clawed the scores back to:
By the time I had got round to taking my props back out to the car, the rain that had been falling all day was slowly morphing into big fat round snowflakes that plopped down and refused to melt, the utter gits.  It snowed most of that night and for a good part of the following morning.  With a new covering of snow now in place my proposed visit to Riverside School in Hereford was certainly at risk and after a quick call to that school my visit was postponed until the 13th February.
On the Thursday, in the thick snow, I didn't go far aside from popping into the local Waitrose for some bits and pieces.  There was only one couple ahead of me at the checkout, an elderly couple of right old carrot crunchers.  Their stuff went through and they packed it away in various bags.  She pulled out a bulging leather purse, opened it and immediately a torrent of loose change exploded all over the floor.  Mostly coppers.  Her elderly husband and I then took to scrambling on the floor and picking them all up.  We poured the coins back into her purse which she zipped up.  The lady on the till then repeated their total.  "Oh yes" says the old lady, unzips her purse and.... there is a second explosion of loose change all over the floor.  I have to say that by now I was helpless with laughter and incapable of picking the change up this time.  When they had finally left and I got to the checkout girl she explained that they came in every week and ALWAYS did that.  So if you want a good bit of free entertainment folks, get yourselves down to Waitrose in Crewkerne and look out for this couple.
I drove to Kent on the Friday morning and spent some lovely time with Shelley and Owen.  On the Saturday afternoon I went to Essex and had some quality time with my lovely son James.  On the Sunday a group of us went to Detling Showground in Kent to check out the latest Wedding Fair and see if our proposed Tudor Wedding plan was looking good - and it was.  Michelle and I went in costume and got quite a bit of attention.  The cartoon above was done for us by the Artful Doodler - what a clever chap.  And I do look like Johnny Vegas in my picture, no matter what some people say.
Back down to Somerset and I was interviewed today by the lovely Marion Draper from the View From Crewkerne newspaper about my nearly 10 years of being Henry.  We met at Bilby's Cafe in Crewkerne and over a tea cake and pot of tea we put the world to rights.  I should be in next week's issue, so look out for that.  After bidding goodbye to Marion I wandered down to Gresham Books, a big antiquarian book seller at the head of Crewkerne High Street - saw a magnificent book from 1910 called "C B Fry's Who's Who of Cricket" in a leather bound jacket - wow.  I wanted it so much.  Till I saw the price. £125.  Ah, maybe not.  I'll wait till it comes out in paper back.  I'll get my purse out and release a tsunami of coppers.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Wassail, Snow and Tiverton, in that order...

Good King Hal, as he looks every night in his dreams, scratching his arse with a bloody big sword.  As you do.

The annual Wassail at Barrington Court has undergone something of a change in recent years.  In the past it was open to the public and was quite a big event, with drumming bands, mummers plays and lots of entertainment... and Morris dancers, still you can't have everything.  However, some of the recent evenings have been less than successful, mostly due to dreadful wet weather, but also with the National Trust management showing about as much enthusiasm for promoting the event as your regular vegan shows when offered a tour of a local abattoir.  So this year, Matthew Applegate, the much venerated Visitor Services Manager at Barrington decided to go for a small, intimate, invite only evening, and his plans paid dividends.  The weather on the evening of the 17th was far better than it had been for some years.  It was dry for a start, piercingly cold and the threatened snow was at least six hours away. 
Matthew had set up an area by the garages out the back of Strode House (the Jacobean pile right next to Barrington Court) and there was a brazier blazing away and adding warmth and welcome.  From his own garage Matthew and his lovely wife Sue were serving warm mulled cider, normal cider, apple juice for the kids, and home made cider apple cake, which was made with Matthew's own fair hands and was delicious.  About 30 people had been invited and it was lovely to see such people as Jo and Blue Walshe from Shepton Beauchamp post office, and Paul Jessop and his fiancee, the lovely Marion Lewis both from Barrington Pottery.  We began the evening with me doing a reading of The Gloucestershire Wassail, followed by Matthew's friend, the aptly named Dick who led us in a singing of "Here We Come a-Wassailing" and the "Somerset Wassail" songs.  After this and a fair bit more cider we then processed round to the orchard and gathered under one of the mature apple trees.  Here Dick poured cider over the roots to feed the tree, cider soaked toast was placed in the branches to encourage birds into the tree, and then we all made a load of noise, hollering shouting and whooping, followed by two loud blasts from a shotgun, to help scare away the evil spirits that might ruin the cider harvest.  Wonderfully pagan and great fun.  We then staggered back to the welcome warmth of the brazier.  Matthew, bedecked in his fine slightly grotty looking bowler hat, was by now very merry indeed, and had noticed that the wood supplies for the brazier had grown low, and he was much vexed by this.  He disappeared for a while, before returning with an almost comically long lump of wood in hand, whilst brandishing a huge saw in the other hand.  Several people approached him and suggested with the amount of cider that had been imbibed, that the introduction of very sharp sawing implements might not be the best idea ever hatched.  I left shortly after this, but heard nothing of any lost limbs or fingers.
Sometime over the next few hours, a snow white blanket descended on Somerset and many other south western areas.  I awoke on the Friday morning to find Crewkerne submerged beneath a heavy fall of snow.  Luckily I had no where really to go that weekend, and so I just battened down the hatches and continued to check the wine levels in my drinks cabinet.  They were fine, but getting gradually lower.  Not sure why...
This morning saw me up and out the door bright and early for a trek down to Devon and another annual visit to Blundell's Prep School in Tiverton.  I have always enjoyed my visits to this school, and this year was no different.  The sainted, and wonderfully named Stef Jeffs is long gone, and so to sadly is former Somerset opening batsman Nick Folland, so I can't pick his brains any more about the true horrors of facing Curtley Ambrose on a "bit of a sticky".  Instead I was in the safe hands of the very welcoming Steve Hirst, dressed again as a sort of psychedelic jester.  We had a great day with a lovely group of kids, about 30 of them, all in brilliant costumes.  One young lad was in an executioners costume that his mother had made, and it was of such high quality that many a full time re-enactor would have been proud to wear it.  Well done, Mum!  The morning shot past rapidly amidst much laughs and Tudor nonsense.  After a fine lunch of meat balls and rice, we were back in the hall for a grand joust finale.  This was quiet to begin with, but like a snow ball running down hill, it started to pick up momentum, and by the final it was quite deafening.  The final itself was a one-sided affair, where a much fancied ladies team was trounced by the gents.  This brings our score for the year to:
So there IS some hope for the lads after all.
It is another local gig tomorrow with another return visit to a lovely school - Birchfield Junior in Yeovil.  I always look forward to this day as well, so lets hope we have a good one.
Oh, and the picture at the top of this blog - it isn't me at all silly!  I knew that all the way through.  It's actually my identical twin brother.  Handsome devil...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Back in the Saddle Again...

Good King Hal, moon walking his way past Leeds Castle in a valiant attempt to impress anyone who might be looking.

2013?  2013?  Weren't we all supposed to be blown to smithereens or something in 2012?   As I sit here in my concrete nuclear fall out shelter eating chunks of "Stormin' Norman's Re-Hydrated Southern Chicken" (Just like Mama used to re-hydrate it!) by the light of my re-chargeable lithium light emitting diode lamp, the quiet gurgle of my waste re-cycling tank my only accompaniment, I can't help feeling a little let down to be honest.  Also, I think I might have over-reacted to the threat our civilisation faced.  Still I am sure my landlord won't be too upset by the small changes I have made to my flat.  For all I know he will be delighted that I have added 3,000 tonnes of gamma ray proof lead sheeting and 6,000 tonnes of pre-stressed concrete roofing.  It all adds to the ambiance of my two bedroom flat.  And the rooftop mounted missile launching system has proved an absolute boon in keeping the grotty pigeons off my window frames, the filthy disease riddled feathery twats.
But seriously folks...  It IS 2013 and it was time for Henry VIII to hit the road again.  January 9th was my first day back in the tights and it was to be a return visit to Blackbrook School in Taunton, a school I had last visited about 4 years ago.  The reason being that on my last visit I was doing the show for a group comprised of years 3, 4 and 5 combined, and it was the same this day as well.  A group of about 130 children in total, and it was great to be back here doing the Tudor Show again.  Blackbrook was a delight - a big group, and a very enthusiastic group.  A lot of enjoyment and some great Tudor knowledge was shown by the pupils and we finished the day with the inevitable loud jousting tournament that a very good ladies team strolled to a comfortable victory.  This brought our score for the current educational year to:
So different year, same old result!  The weekend I nipped back briefly to Kent and Essex to spend some time with my lovely Shelley, and also to spend a day in the company of my darling little boy, James who is now unbelievably 10 years old.  Where does the time go?
Monday 14th saw me back to a school I have the delight of visiting every year.  St Paul's Junior is in Shepton Mallet and is a lovely school.  I am always made very welcome and today was no different.  Again it was a big group, about 130 children and they were very excitable and loud.  The morning passed very quickly and I ended it sitting in the dining hall eating some very nice sausages for lunch and chatting to some of the children who were enjoying the day.  Sure enough, with such a big group we had another deafening jousting tournament to finish the day with.  Much enthusiasm and skill was shown by the children and it culminated in yet ANOTHER victory for the ladies.  How do they keep doing it?  Our score clicks over to:
The gents are being slowly pulverised.  You sometimes wonder where their next victory is going to come from.
Tuesday 15th was a return visit to one of the schools I only ever get to visit every other year, as I do two year groups combined.  It was to Ashcott School just to the south west of Glastonbury that I was visiting.  It was a crisp clear morning, some vestiges of over night snow were on the roof of my car first thing.  The drive up towards Ashcott was lovely and the sweeping views down across Glastonbury town and the Tor rising majestically in the early morning sunshine was beautiful.  That view of the town and the mysterious looking Tor is still one of my favourite views in the whole of Somerset.  Ashcott School is a delight every time I visit, and this day was the same.  It is only ever a small group, just under 40 children this day, but their lack of numbers are more than made up for by their sheer enthusiasm and noise levels.  Mr Bryar the head teacher was a welcoming figure even if he does look young enough to almost be one of the pupils.  We had a superb day, a lovely shepherds pie lunch and a very close final to the jousting which was finally decided by me having to disqualify the gentleman's team as they just simply stacked up so many little faults and cheats!  So by default it was another win for the ladies.  The score now begins to look a bit ominous for the Gentlemen.  Where is their next win going to come from?
The drive home from Ashcott took me through Compton Dundon, a lovely little village that always reminds me of visiting it many years ago on various camping holidays with friends including Kevin Rowley, from Maldon in Essex.  Kevin always used to like one stone built shed you could see from the main road as you drove through Compton Dundon.  This particular shed had a wonderfully undulating roof ridge, where the elderly timbers sagged under the weight of the tiles across it.  As I drove through Compton Dundon after the show yesterday I looked out for this shed as I always do.... but, horror of horrors, it was gone!  Utterly destroyed!  Either by just simply collapsing under the weight of years, or possibly it might have been smashed by someone driving into it.  It was difficult to tell as I drove past.  Poor Kevin, he will miss it terribly I know....
And so, today, Wednesday 16th found me getting up on a very chilly iced up morning for a long drive up to Coalway Junior in Coleford in Gloucestershire.  This is another lovely school (I know I might sound like I am repeating myself here, but I have to be honest, pretty much all the schools I visit are genuinely lovely places) and almost as soon as I arrived I was whisked off to a side class room by some of the teachers I was working with today to be told that they were in the middle of an OFSTED inspection.  It had begun that morning and their first inclination of it taking part was a phone call to the school at 3pm on the previous day.  Well despite OFSTED's presence, we had a fine day.  About 90 children I would estimate and all full of enthusiasm for the Tudors and my presence.  There was much guffawing at some of my gags from the teachers present and a lovely day was had all round.  I hope OFSTED give them the glowing report they deserve, as Coalway Junior is a fabulous school.  The day finished for me and the children with another brain and senses numbing jousting tournament, and for once, and for the first time in 2013, it was great to see the Gents finally wining a tourney!
Perhaps there is some hope for them after all.  Keep watching folks...
So I am now back in my nuclear fall out shelter, awaiting the Biblical fall of snow we have been promised on the electric wireless thingy.  Well, what was promised to be something like the movie "The Day After To Tomorrow" yesterday, the forecast is now down to little more than some airborne dandruff on Friday.  But we shall see, you never know.  It's a bit like jousting tournaments really - you just never know what you're going to get.