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.