Friday, December 13, 2013

Santa Claus 0 Good King Hal 2

Good King Hal, ruthlessly torturing the Invisible Man, mostly with his jokes.
St Ives?  That's Unigate isn't it? No no no!  That is St Ivel, and we all know about that, well certainly in my family we do.  Lot of history with St Ivel, but I won't spill the beans, not as yet.  No, St Ives is a town.  It's two towns actually, one in Cornwall, and one in Cambridgeshire.  Luckily, as I was in Essex to begin with, I was due at the one in Cambridgeshire.  So it was a crack of dawn start for me in Basildon, and then on the beloved M25, the slightly less beloved M11 and all the way to St Ives and an appointment at Westfield Junior School.  The drive up was relatively painless, not too much traffic and I arrived with about an hour to spare before I was due.  So I parked up in a side road and had a little snooze for a while.  I woke up to find a woman taking her dog for a walk, looking through the windscreen at me as though I was a Martian invader.  People asleep in cars obviously doesn't happen in Cambridgeshire very much, no doubt I shall be headline news in the St Ives Thunderer in it's next issue.
I made my entrance at the school and was warmly welcomed by the teachers, two lovely young ladies who pampered me with a nice cup of tea and recommendations that the children were terribly excited about my visit.  I still felt half asleep, but was slowly getting there.  I was given permission from the caretaker to park the Royal jalopy right round the back of the main hall, right next to the main door so I could unload with ease. It was a lovely group of children today, loads of fun and some of them showing off just what good knowledge they had of the Tudors.  The children and the teachers had all dressed up in splendid costumes and it made the day that much more memorable.  The morning zipped past quicker than an innings by England in the current Ashes series.  We broke for lunch where I was brought a delicious tuna baguette by a very kind dinner lady.  Or lunchtime assistant, I should say.  The stocks were a raging success, with great crashing waves of laughter from the children.  We finished with a rollicking joust in which a very competent Gents team galloped home to a memorable win.  They needed that on the overall score and it clicks over to:
A fine end to a wonderful day at this splendid school.  I packed my stuff away and left St Ives to begin the long trek back to Somerset.  And it was a long trek.  I left the school between half three and four, and finally arrived home tired, but happy at nearly 7.30pm.  
The highlight of the Wednesday was a beer in the evening with the sainted Matthew Applegate of Barrington Court.  The poor man has been treated appallingly by the National Trust of late, pushed to the very limits that most men could take, and now they have finally fully plunged the knife in by making him redundant, just after Christmas.  We met over at East Lambrook at the Rose and Crown Pub and drank some lovely Palmers Beer and sat in front of a big roaring fire.  We even treated ourselves to a wee nip of Lagavullin Scotch Whisky to wish ourselves a Merry Christmas, and a hopefully much better New Year, because personally for both of us, 2013 has pretty much sucked.
Thursday was another early start and an hour long drive up to Weston-super-Mare and a first visit to another new school for me, the deliciously named Windwhistle Primary School.  This was a Year 3 group and though they weren't as responsive as the St Ives lot (who admittedly were older) they were very rewarding in the end.  My only concern was that I was under strict instructions from the head teacher not to put any of the teachers in the stocks as it might "undermine the teacher's authority with the children".... or something.  So, being the good little Tudor despot that I am, I didn't put anyone in.  Just some kids!  The day ended with a quite remarkable joust!  The ladies roared off into the lead, with their first rider miles ahead of the first gent, who was struggling badly.  Their first rider collected all of the quoits, and then dropped the lot!  She had to recollect them, meanwhile the first chap had managed to only get two quoits.  The young lady then roared round and collected them all again, only to drop them all again!  By this time the first lad had finished and handed on to their second rider.  The first lady finally finished as the lads handed on to their anchor leg rider. Unfortunately he had a complete nightmare of a round with horses, quintaines and quoits flying alarmingly round the hall, much to the amusement of some of the teachers.  Meanwhile the ladies roared round and stormed home to the finest comeback since Lazarus.  Amazing scenes of excitement from the children!  So our score amazingly moves on to:
The ladies surely are now unstoppable.  I packed everything away and began the drive back down the M5 towards Crewkerne.  I got in and then received a phone call from Leeds Castle wondering if I was free to come in and be Santa Claus this coming weekend as they were short staffed.  Sadly, I couldn't as I will be somewhere else altogether!
So my final two appearances before breaking for the Christmas holidays is tomorrow (Saturday) when I shall be slogging up to Chester for a corporate appearance at Chester Town Hall, and then on Tuesday a final Henry school visit of 2013 at Evercreech in Somerset.  Then it is off to Wales for cuddles with my son, tons of turkey, pounds of puds and no doubt a touch of the old "ho-ho-ho's" along the way.  And I promise to jingle my bells, all the way.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Better Late Than Never. Apparently.

An apology, earlier...
I know I know.  It's been far too long.  Oh the amount of times I have heard that from a lady.  Actually, I am lying to be honest.  They normally climbed into bed clutching an electron microscope.  But enough of my chequered past, and to be brutal, probably equally chequered future.
I have to cast my weary old mind back to last week and the first gig, which was at the Maynard School in Exeter.  I have been visiting this lovely school for nearly ten years now and I always get to see the same teacher, a lovely lady called Keagh Fry.  The Maynard like me to start a bit later than other schools, so I don't have to be with them until about 10.30am, which suits me down to the ground as it means I can have a bit of a lie in!  It was a cold morning but a nice drive down to Exeter itself.  I was soon in the hall with the ladies (The Maynard is a girls school), but it was a very small group this year, just 14.  We had a fabulous early session, lots of laughs and some great knowledge from the ladies.
Lunch was, as ever, delicious at the Maynard and loads of the dinner staff remembered me from previous years and we had a lot of laughs.  It was good to catch up with Keagh over lunch and hear how her lovely kids Adison and Harley were getting on.  We ripped through a fun afternoon and finished with a good jousting tournament, but of course again, like Maltman's the other day, this being an all girl school, I can't allow the result to add to the year long score.  So next year will be my tenth visit to Maynard School, and I can't wait to see them all again.
My next bookings were the beginning of the next week where the Monday and Tuesday was to find me in Cheltenham in Gloucestershire.  Monday I was due at Dean Close Prep School and the Tuesday I was at St Mark's Junior School.  I drove up to Cheltenham on the Sunday and had booked myself into a Travelodge.  Now from those who have read this blog over the years, both of you, you will know my feelings towards Travelodge.  The different levels of quality in this hotel chain is enough to give you the "Trip Adviser Bends".  I have gone from a freezing cold crap splattered shack near Knebworth, to a brand spanking new comfortable plush set up at New Brighton.  Now, here at Cheltenham I was to move up to a new level of niceness. The new Cheltenham Travelodge was lovely.  A king size bed, plasma screen telly, clean, tidy, warm and with a working elevator.  What was not to like?  I arrived on the Sunday and after settling in, went downstairs to the Harvester Restaurant that was there.  I ordered a steak and some new potatoes.  New potatoes were off, so I had mashed potatoes instead.  When my plate came up, it was roughly the same size as a satellite dish, with a small round piece of steak, a bit like an ice hockey puck, skulking at one end, a small blob of mashed potato in the middle, and a rather depressed looking grilled tomato slowly disintegrating at the other end.  Haute cuisine.  I think I would have been better off going to the Kentucky Fried Chicken drive through next door.  Having said that, the wine was nice and the waitress rather pretty, very friendly and attentive.  I slept very well.
Monday at Dean Close was a good one.  Jon Harris who books me was as ever, very attentive, friendly and well organised.  We started the day in the Oaksey Common Room, as you do, moved briefly outside for the jousting, then back for the finale of the day, the stocks back in the Oaksey Room.  It was a lovely day all round and as we had an extended session for the jousting, we got everyone to have a go, timing them to see who the fastest 12 were, and then having a big final between the three fastest boys and the three fastest ladies.  Despite what the original timings had shown us, it was the gentlemen who sailed off with the win in the big final, much to the annoyance of the ladies.  Our score clicks over to:
So a bit closer again.  It would be most interesting to see what occurred at St Mark's School on the Tuesday. Stay tuned...
I got whisked out to dinner on the Monday night, picked up from outside the hotel by Justine Cotterill, a friend of Zarrina Bull's and a lady I have pranced around with at Sudeley Castle from time to time. It was down to Justine that I was going to St Mark's School in the first place as her son goes to the school and is doing the Tudors, so she introduced me, bless her!   For the meal,  I was under the impression it was going to be me and all of Justine's family, but as it was it was just me and Justine, so a big thank you to her husband and kids for the loan of their wife/mum!  We went into the centre of Cheltenham and to a very agreeable curry house.  One lovely curry later and I was back at the hotel, sitting on the bed looking like a ginger Buddha.
I set my alarm for about 6.30am the next morning so that I could get up early and rush around slowly, as my Mother often says.  Ooh!  Did you notice the pause in my typing there?  An advert came on TV with Fearne Cotton in it and I had to smash my foot through the screen and then grind the plastic debris to dust.  But I feel better now.  Anyway, back to me supposedly getting up early on the Tuesday, well sadly I slept right through my alarm and only got woken up with a text from Justine letting me know how much she'd enjoyed the meal the night before - at about 7.45am.  ARGH!  I had promised the school I would be with them just after 8am.  I hurriedly got ready, but it was lucky that I was just round the corner from St Mark's - less than a mile to be honest.  Well, we had a lovely time at the school - it was a fantastic place, really nice teachers, groovy kids and a lovely hall.  Not sure if it was because I was enjoying myself so much or if they had drugged my tea, but the day seemed to absolutely shoot past.  The jousting finished with a roar as the ladies stormed back to a famous victory, simply destroying the boys team in the final.
And so the drive home began, and it wasn't a bad one and I was home and hosed by 5.30pm.  And after a couple of days at leisure listening to England being ripped to shreds in the second test (oh the shame... being bowled out by Mitchell Johnson, a man with all the subtlety of a commode and the accuracy of an American air strike), and then I was off up to Essex on the Friday to see Amanda and James in another production of their version of "A Christmas Carol", this time at St Nicholas' Church, Laindon, a very atmospheric venue.  It was great to see them both enjoying themselves and getting so much out of performing on stage.  Here's to their next production - a version of Terry Pratchett's "Going Postal".  What a marvellous delivery.