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.