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.