|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:
GENTLEMEN 3.5 - 5.5 LADIES
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.