Wednesday, July 02, 2014


Yes, I am back.  Briefly.  I know there was so much wailing and gnashing of teeth when I announced this blog was ceasing.  Oh, how the people mourned, how they cried, how they couldn't really give a stuff if I wrote it or not, so there you go.
Now, I am back briefly to big up this charity event I am organising and hosting. Yes, I appreciate you are all heartily sick of hearing about it but I want to sell this event out and raise some ackers for a very worthy cause.  The worthy cause is my dear old friend Anne Edwards.  I first met Anne in 1986 when I moved from the relative tranquillity of semi rural Essex to the inner city melting pot that was Stratford and the London Borough of Newham.  Anne was a friendly welcoming face to this slightly awe shocked spotty 19 year old taking his first proper steps outside of the family home.  We became close friends, and it is a friendship that has endured despite many miles between us and our meetings becoming less and less frequent.  I first heard the news that Anne was ill about two years ago through our mutual friend Sandra Springall.  Anne had suffered a major stroke and was in hospital.  I was away at the time and could not get to see her, but sent cards and flowers and my best wishes.  From speaking to and meeting Anne in recent months it was great to see her getting back on her feet and recovering slowly.  But it was clear she was frustrated at the pace of her recovery and she let me know that there were options open to her for different types of therapy, but all were expensive.  It was at about this time that I was looking round thinking what I could do to celebrate my first ten years of being Good King Hal.  Yes, 10 years had flashed by since that first, sweaty, panicked afternoon show at Rickling Green School near Saffron Walden in Essex, and I felt I should do something to celebrate.  Just having a party for the sake of it seemed a bit selfish, but then I struck on the idea of a benefit evening for Anne.  All proceeds I could get would go straight to her and for her treatment with the wonderful people at ARNI. (see for what they do).  And so it snowballed to where we are today.  The initial idea of a big venue like the Kenneth More Theatre in Ilford was scuppered by the horrendous price that they were demanding just for one evening.  And so we find ourselves now at the Brading Crescent Community Hall - not exactly the London Palladium but it will do for us.  If I can do this one thing for Anne, to make her life a bit more comfortable it will have been worth it.  Just under four weeks to go.  Loads of people showing an interest and wanting to support, but not enough buying tickets in advance.
Come on you lovely people.  You KNOW you want to come for an evening of laughter, music, tights, and some gorgeous home cooked Indian food.  So put your hands in your pockets, get your wallet, cheque book, Pay Pal account, Postal Order, Cash - anything - and just book yourselves some tickets.  £15 each or £10 concessions.  Not for me, not for Good King Hal, but for Anne Edwards.  Make her life that bit easier, help her on her long road to recovery.  Thank you.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

They Think It's All Over...

...It is now!
Hello folks and to the very occasional regular readers of this blog.  I just wanted to let you all know that this is going to be my last regular blog on here.  I have been writing this travesty of the English language on and off for the past nine years and to be honest the actual reach I am getting from it is hardly worth it.  It seems the only time I ever get feedback from people these days is when they contact me to complain about something I have written!  The effort I put in writing it is not reciprocated by the number of people reading it, so rather than struggle on trying to regularly be funny and Tudor-ish, which is all I ever wanted this blog to be, I have decided to knock it on the head and just carry on making occasional comments on Facebook and Twitter.
To all the wonderful friends I have made through this page over the years, thank you for your companionship and reading all the crap - even that infamous blog that I managed to post whilst almost paralytically drunk which actually didn't make any sense what so ever.  One of my regular readers even "liked" it on Facebook. That impressed me greatly.  To my family, again, thanks for the blind faith and encouragement. To the wonderful Michelle Coda, thanks for everything bird.  To Ian Weston and Sue English, for getting me into this mad world in the first place, many thanks!  Who needs financial security!  To the long suffering and very patient Amanda and James, thanks for understanding and encouraging me.  To all my lovely Tudor ladies - Sarah Morris, Zarrina Bull, Diane Collings, Justine Cotterill, Tudor Lou, Katherine Miller and anyone I've forgotten, you are all beautiful ladies and an honour to rule with.  To the Knights of Royal England - thanks for the fun, the companionship, the opportunities and forgiving my regular "strikes".  To the wonderful Matthew Applegate, for his friendship beyond the call of duty.  And to anyone I've forgotten - TA.
Good King Hal is now entering a very busy part of the summer.  I shall try and blog from time to time, but it won't be anything regular, but if something special happens, it will be mentioned.  And what with possible work in California, with a brand new massive Shakespearian database, and even teaming up with David Tennant shortly, I might be blogging more than usual!
Oh and can someone use a bit of weed killer on certain parts of Chatham and do everyone in the Tudor world a favour.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Ilchester, Squire! Quite staggeringly popular...

A tense moment at the Chelsea Flower Show, when John Terry (just out of picture) brings down Monty Don on the edge of the area with a late sliding tackle, a kick on the butt and three savage rabbit punches.  When questioned by Police he grunted "I slipped."  No charges were brought but a petunia was squashed.
And so it was, with a smile on his lips and a song in his heart (a drugs test will be implemented shortly) Good King Hal sallied forth from his man cave in Crewkerne for the short jaunt to Ilchester and a return visit to Ilchester Primary School.  I had last visited a couple of years back and remember it being a very cold dark morning driving over there.  Today was completely different - bright, sunny and full of early spring promise.  I plumbed in the post code for the school into my sat nav and began the journey.  I was at first suspicious of the sat nav when it tried to make me turn off the A303 ages before the Ilchester exit.  It seemed to be hell bent on getting me to visit a small field on the outskirts of Ilchester where there was no buildings at all.  Now I know Michael Gove's management of schools in the UK has been about as effective as a condom machine in the Vatican, but surely even that incompetent rubber brained arse faced twat couldn't make a complete school disappear... could he?  No, he couldn't.  Michael Gove couldn't even walk upstairs and fart at the same time to be honest.  I remembered on my previous visit driving down through an estate and past a small Nisa store that looked like something out of an abandoned Soviet town from 1973 - and, ah yes!  There it was.  I drove past some very familiar looking houses and then found.... The INFANT school.  Not the Junior school like I wanted.  I went in and asked a breakfast club assistant where the Junior school was.  She informed me to go back to the next roundabout and go straight over.  I did this and now found myself in another completely anonymous faceless housing estate, with not a sign of any school.  My sat nav was by now doing the technology version of rocking backwards and forwards and stroking it's own arms repeating the words "go to a happy place" over and over.  I eventually surrendered and phoned the school.  Where are you? I cried, wiping away snot, tears and mascara.  It turned out I was about 20 yards away, but across the road away from the housing estate - and there it was.
Well, it was a fantastic day.  Terrific fun, a big group of about 80 children from years 3 and 4.  I was recommended to watch out for one little lad in particular who they said could be a handful.  Well, he certainly made himself known to me, but he was fine.  He had ADHD and to the extent that he just could NOT sit still.  It was honestly as if someone had just set fire to his trousers, he was up down, going to sit with the teachers, back with his mates, twisting here, there and everywhere.  And all the while looking like the dead spit of the Milky Bar Kid.  He was great fun.  The morning was great fun and seemed to be over very quickly.  During the lunch break I sat and chatted to a lovely red headed lady who I said would make an excellent Queen Elizabeth I if she was interested in history.  Was she interested in history?  Do ursine creatures defecate in sylvan glades?  Hell, yeah.  She had just finished an archaeology degree at Cardiff Uni and was utterly fascinated by the whole Tudor era and the fact I was making a living out of being Henry VIII. I urged her to get a Queen Elizabeth frock made and begin prancing round stately homes.  I will put her in touch with Judy Picton and Zarrina Bull, the two finest costume makers I know.
The afternoon went by at a terrific rate and we finished on yet another fine jousting tournament with yet another fine win for the ladies.  Is there any point keeping score any more?  The lads are being trounced this year.
Almost ten clear tournaments in front.  I had no trouble in getting home, though my poor old Mazda is sounding decidedly creaky these days.  Time for a change I think.  A bottle of wine put a big smile back on my face that evening.
I am back being Henry tomorrow at West Pennard School near Glastonbury, and then off to Essex for a few days before popping down to Leeds Castle with the Knights of Royal England for another jousting tournament down there.  It will be nice to see some familiar faces at the Castle.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Joust When I Thought That My Skies Were a June/July Blue...

Jasper du Barry attempts to discover a new erogenous zone of Sam of Hever with a bloody great sword.
This was a better way to start the jousting season!  Not like last year at Knebworth with driving snow, icicles, dreadful hotels, projectile vomiting and some deceitful lying little REST OF THIS SENTENCE OBSCURED ON LEGAL ADVICE. The day dawned bright but cold on Saturday 3rd May and I was up and out of the front door on the roughly 130 miles drive to the lovely town of Woodstock in Oxfordshire, and a return visit to Blenheim Palace with the Knights of Royal England Jousting Team.  Blenheim is a gorgeous site, the stunning Palace sitting looking down over broad lawns, with mature trees clumped here and there and fine views down across what appears to be a multitude of water features.  I was due to meet Michelle Coda in Woodstock so I could show her the easy way into Blenheim Palace, however while I was still about 20 miles from my destination I got a text from Michelle telling me she had arrive and Kim already had the kettle on.  Blimey, this was well before 10am so she must have left Folkestone about two weeks ago to get there that early, knowing the way Michelle drives!  (Love you!).  Michelle was so excited about appearing at Blenheim as it was her first stately home to work at other than Hever Castle or Leeds Castle.  On my arrival I was warmly welcomed by all the team, but there were a few absentees this year - most notably Sir William of Antioch.  Dear old Bill Monaghan (as he is known in civvies) had decided to retire and spend more time with his family, and he is a big loss to the team as his larger than life character of Sir William was always hugely popular with the audiences we played.  But out with the old and in with the new, we welcomed aboard Oliver, a friend of Sir Ashley's from Hampshire, fresh from a four year stint in the army, he was immediately swamped with female attention as he seemed to have perfected the art of growing muscle upon muscle upon muscle to the extent that Michelle immediately Christened him Popeye.  God help us if he takes a liking to spinach.
The first show back was a bit of a shock to the system.  I was in my new Medieval Merchant's outfit, just recently made for me by the brilliant Judy Picton of Martock in Somerset.  It had been decided at the end of last years season that any castle or venue we visited that DIDN'T have a direct connection with Henry VIII would need to see me in a different costume as a different character, as having a 16th Century monarch like Henry presiding over a generally 13th century style jousting tournament would be enough to give most historians the anachronistic bends.  And so for this weekend, and a few more this summer, I suddenly became Lord Anthony of Bollingbroke, Lord Chancellor, milk monitor, member of the Tufty club and 1st class idiot and bar.  But all went well, the big crowd seemed to enjoy themselves and we all managed to even get sun burnt.  That evening Jeremy treated us all to a night out in Oxford at a very swish restaurant in the Jericho area of the town, called Branca.  It was mostly to celebrate Jeremy and Kim's daughter, Lucy's 21st birthday. Well we had a fabulous meal in a superb restaurant - but Oxford is a funny place.  It is (A) massively expensive (see the house prices - you will weep) and (B) appears to be more full of pretty people obsessed with their looks than any other spot on the planet.  We noted that the restaurant seemed jam packed with mirrors, but it seemed that they had been placed there as none of these drop dead gorgeous and beautifully attired human beings, whether they be male or female, could stand up or do anything without first clocking themselves in one of these mirrors, subtly brushing away an errant hair or something, before smirking smugly to themselves and then carrying on with their dull little lives. 
The following morning Michelle and I emerged from our burrows (actually the Travelodge up near Bicester) took out a mortgage, and purchased two drinks from Costa Coffee at the service station.  I know you are a captive audience at these service stations, but by God, they come as close to mugging you as is legally possible without being arrested.  I wanted to purchase some Nurofen in case my bad ankle started to play up.  How much?  A pack of 16 tables £4.95.  What?  A small bottle of apple juice?  £2.19.  A can of Lynx body spray (normally already pretty stupidly expensive in supermarkets at about £3.75 a can)?  Here it was over £5.  The shows at the Palace were very well attended again today, and this time we even managed to cop our first injury of the season, and of course it had to go to new boy Oliver, didn't it?  And was it during the middle of a brutal fight with another of the Knight Marshall's?  No.  At the very end of the second show, as Sam, James and Oliver were mucking about air guitaring in the arena with their swords, Sam thought it would be hilarious to leap on top of Oliver, just as Oliver was pretending to play his sword with his teeth.  Oliver luckily missed his mouth and teeth, but somehow managed to cut the very edge of his lower eye lid, so that by the time the music had finished he had plenty of the red stuff pouring down his face.  Several anti-septic swabs and a steri-strip later and he seemed right as rain.  For this evenings din-dins Jeremy was treating us to a meal at The Star Pub in Woodstock itself, and again it was delicious.  I was driving and so as the evening, and shrieking grew louder, I ended up more and more side-lined as the only sober person there.  Not much fun!   By the time we were due to leave, Michelle was four huge Bacardi and cokes and an industrial amount of Irish coffee down the line, so I virtually had to guide her, like a Labrador with a blind person, firstly back to my car, then through the incredibly busy car park at the Travelodge and finally up to her room. All she kept repeating the whole time was "I can't feel my top lip....  I can't feel my top lip..." She also discovered to her horror that the jousters had stolen her camera while we were outside having a cigarette and had taken some very interesting studies in the gents.
If Michelle was feeling a little delicate on our last morning, she didn't show it.  However, young Oliver had apparently peaked a bit early on their arrival back at the camp site last night but he got through the two shows without barfing up a lung, so he is obviously a man made of stern stuff.  We were filmed by a BBC film crew from BBC South during the shows today and I was interviewed by Witney TV, a TV station just for Witney in Oxfordshire.  At least seven people will have probably seen it by now.  I was delighted today to also get a visit from the simply gorgeous Sarah Morris who popped in very briefly just to say a big "hi" to me and all the jousters after her appearance with them a couple of years ago.  She was as beautiful and charming as ever.  And so we finished the final show, helped tidy up with the Knights, bid our fond farewells and hit the road.  I was back in Somerset by 6.30pm and Michelle got home some time after that, so we both made good time.  It was great to be back with the jousters and it was the usual fun madness that weekends with them always are.  I can't wait for Leeds Castle at the end of this month to see them again.
Henry is back at School tomorrow with a return visit to Ilchester School near Yeovil for a full Tudor Day.  I can't wait!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Big Trip.

Schloss Haigerloch, just before the Tudor invasion.
I had never done an overseas show as Henry before - not unless you count the Isle of Wight or Wales as abroad.  I know some people who would, but then I know some people who actually like Lambrini.  Well if you recall, or if you have actually been brave enough to read this blog for that long, about two years ago I was invited up to Hexham in Northumberland for a visit to a Shakespeare group who regularly got together with their combined love of the works of The Bard, but have since been working on a project called "The Bard Code", with the plan to build the ultimate database of Shakespearean data and make it accessible for everyone throughout the world.  Next year is the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare and the plan is to launch the Bard Code in time for a concerted effort to get the 23rd April 2015 made into an official public holiday.  I was thrilled to be asked back by the group as Henry to front their latest get together which was to take place at the beautiful German castle of Schloss Haigerloch near Stuttgart.  Once more I would be travelling there with my sister Cathy (who has been working with the Bard Code group as their main graphics designer for quite some time now) and her husband Julian.
I travelled down to Cath and Julian's in Kent on the evening of the 24th April.  We loaded all of our luggage, including my huge Henry VIII suitcase into their Jeep Grand Cherokee and we were off down the M2 to get to Dover for the midday ferry sailing on the 25th.  After we had stopped briefly for fuel we noticed an unpleasant grinding sound coming from the rear right wheel.  Julian had a check and reckoned it was the brake pad making contact with the wheel itself.  It was noisy, but shouldn't cause any problems.  The plan was to disembark at Dunkirk after our crossing and then make our way to Heidelberg in Germany for an over night stop before pressing on to Haigerloch on the Saturday.  We drove ashore at Dunkirk with the local time being 3pm (we had gained an hour on arrival on the continent).  We hoped to be in Heidelberg by about 8pm in the evening.  We soon realised we might be a little bit later than we had hoped.  It was a bright and very warm Friday afternoon and it appeared the good people of Belgium were very much like the people of Britain who as soon as the sun comes out on a Friday there is a mass exodus to ANYWHERE that might constitute a holiday.  The roads were rammed, in particular around Antwerp, whose ring road bore an uncanny resemblance to the M25.  What we had for added entertainment was the Belgian mentality when it came to traffic jams.  It appears to them that you simply can't sit there in one lane and move up from time to time - no, you have to leap from lane to lane, into the smallest of spaces in the vain hope that it might just move you half a centimetre closer to your destination.  The Belgian authorities also had a bit thing for digging up these roads - every time we cleared one section of snarled up traffic, we'd move a few miles and then encounter MORE dug up stretches of carriageway and snarled up lane leaping traffic.  Time clicked on, the grinding wheel on the back of the Jeep got louder and we seemed to never get any closer to Heidelberg. Darkness began falling and we carried on our way.  In the distance you could see flashes of lightning, the traffic thinned out and we finally seemed to make some progress, but the monumental hold ups throughout Belgium meant out ETA at Heidelberg was now nearer to midnight.  We phoned ahead to the Hotel Molkenkur (our venue) and explained how late we were, but they were fine and said someone would be there to meet us regardless of the time of our arrival.  We stopped briefly for more fuel and a meal (a bloody Burger King of all things) and carried on.  The distant thunder and lightning got closer and closer and suddenly we were hit with torrential rain and flashes of lightning and booming rolls of thunder.  Finally we found ourselves in the back roads of Heidelberg, and as the storms slowly passed us by we wound up steep winding lanes to the entrance of Hotel Molkenkur.  It was a fantastic looking building, and I think we might have been a tad more impressed had it not been past midnight and all three of us were utterly exhausted.  We checked in, wandered up to our rooms and just fell into bed.
I awoke to birdsong and sunlight dappling through my bedroom window.  After getting myself showered and dressed I wandered over to Cathy and Julian's room.  They were at the front of the building and their view out down over the town and the Neckar River way below was stunning.  We had breakfast in the hotel restaurant, and pausing briefly for a cup of tea and a well earned fag we were soon on our way again.  Heidelberg and the Hotel Molkenkur both looked lovely, but to be honest, including a long sleep we were probably only there for less than 10 hours all told due to the appalling journey down.  We made rapid progress and the final leg of the journey down to Haigerloch was probably only about 2 hours.  The town of Haigerloch is very pleasant and typically German.  Tall half timbered buildings line the winding streets with the Castle on it's rock summit looming over the town.  It was bright warm sunshine on our arrival and we wandered the streets trying to find somewhere suitable for a bit of lunch before we checked into the Schloss. We plumped for a nice looking pizza bar in the centre of the town and settled into chairs round a table. Beers were ordered and beers were drunk.  The waitress didn't speak English and our German wasn't great, but it was pretty obvious what each of the pizza toppings were.  However, somehow the pizza I ordered and the one Julian ordered came out as completely different pizzas, but they were home made and very tasty.  And the beers kept coming which was fabulous.  We finally finished the lunch and made our way up to the Schloss and booked in.  Haigerloch is an ancient castle dating back over 800 years, but has been sympathetically restored and now comprises of function suites, a small theatre, and a luxurious hotel.  After booking in we went up to our rooms - Cath and Julian were on the 1st floor and I was on the 2nd.  I climbed to my floor and turned down the corridor towards my room - I was reading a small leaflet about the Castle and didn't notice the step.  It was a small step.  VERY small.  In fact, utterly pointless.  Why would any corridor need a step of about 1 inch height?  Surely with a bit of intelligent building work you could make it into a barely discernible ramp.  But as it was, it was still a annoying little 1 inch step.  I caught my toe in it.  I next took to that really embarrassing part of falling over, which is the 4 or 5 half running, half staggering steps you take, when you think you're going to remain upright.  It is about this time that dear old gravity kicks in and you just go "sod it" and go with it.  Crunch.  Down I went with a real proper face plant into the carpet. At this point I took to clutching my shattered ribs and thinking "ooh fuck" a lot.  With the noise someone of my build hitting the ground and with the copious amounts of swearing that I was now doing I fully expected to either hear people coming running to my aid, or at least to hear some slates coming loose on the roof.  But no one appeared.  I tottered gingerly the final five paces to my front room and examined my injuries in the mirror in my well appointed bedroom.  Apart from a slightly disappointing graze to my elbow and wrist, there was little else to see.  My ribs throbbed merrily though and would continue to do so for the rest of our stay in Germany.
The main body of the Shakespearean fans we had met at Hexham two years ago arrived via coach later in the afternoon.  The first nights entertainment was in the Castle's delightful little theatre and was a jazz swing band. The event was open to our group and also to anyone from the locality who might have seen all the posters with my ugly mug on the front dotted around town.  My job as Henry VIII for the first night was on a meet and greet basis at the front of the theatre.  It was gratifying that most of the locals seemed to know who I was, which was great, and I posed for a variety of photos.  A lot of the Shakespearean lot had dressed up as different characters, some of them a bit more effective than others. The local big band swung into action and everyone disappeared inside.  Now as regular readers of this blog will know, I am not exactly the world's biggest jazz fan and I wasn't that bothered to see them perform or not.  I wandered up for the first half and was treated to the sound of the big band launching into an astonishing version of Van Halen's "Jump".  It was made all the funnier by their German pronunciation of "Jump" which kept coming out as "Yump".  So we had the leader of the band singing "I might as well Yump!" and the backing band would as one shout out "YUMP!" much to my delight.  "Go ahead and Yump!" "YUMP!" and so on.  Marvellous.  I spent most of the second half of the show sitting on the nice beer terrace at the rear of the hotel across the courtyard from the theatre, but I was back in position when the show finished to do a bit more meeting and greeting.  Or meeting and farewell-ing, I suppose.  My ribs were throbbing a bit and so it seemed only right to head back to my room and bed.  I didn't sleep very well - a combination of my ribs and vastly over soft pillows meant I tossed and turned nearly all night.
Most of Sunday was at our own leisure, so we spent some time in the morning just lounging around on sofas in the hotel reading.  We then had a little stroll round the rest of the Schloss and took some photos down across the town of Haigerloch.  We had lunch in the hotel, which was a tremendously German affair.  We had help with the translation of the menu by a young very camp waiter who bore an uncanny resemblance to Steve Pemberton in the League of Gentlemen when dressed as the German teacher Herr Lipp. Cathy knew she had ordered something with asparagus in a Bearnaise sauce, which is what she got, and Julian and I had ordered something with sausages.  What J and I got was bizarre.  It was a big round plate with a veritable ocean of brown soupy lentils, with noodles to one side that bore a startling resemblance to scrambled egg, such was their colour and texture, and two long thin Frankfurter sausages laid on top of the lentil pond.  It wasn't the most visually alluring meal you'd ever seen, but it filled a hole.  We repaired to Cathy and Julian's bedroom, where Julian flaked out on the bed and Cath and I joked and nattered about life in general.  Cathy had bought some scotch on the ferry over and we used room service to order some mixers and nibbles and got stuck into the whisky.  Soon I was in my Henry garb for the second night of entertainment.  For this one we were back in the theatre but the music was different - not big band jazz but madrigals and plainsong. Two members of the Shakespeare group are composers and had set some of the Bard's words to music. We were entertained by a woodwind quartet and a vocal quintet, with me working as master of ceremonies in between songs.  I went on at the start, unsure how much English the audience could actually speak.  I did one of my usual opening gags and thankfully got a big laugh, which revealed to me that the audience's English was vastly superior to my German.
As you can see from the scan of the back of the evening event's programme I had been demoted from King Henry VIII to King Henry VII, which is slightly annoying.  The nice local German chap who had designed and printed the programmes claimed it was a deliberate mistake to see who was paying attention.  It was a good argument but I didn't buy it.  All of the local Germans who had attended the evening were a delight to chat to, none more so than the very nice young Gothic lady (you know my penchant for Gothic ladies...) plus she had badges showing her interest in Siouxsie Sioux AND Doctor Who.  What more could any healthy elderly Tudor pervert possibly want?  Ribs that weren't still throbbing would be nice.  The show went a storm and we got a huge round of applause at the end.  The German vocal group then came back on for an unexpected encore with a rousing rendition of "Land of Hope and Glory" as a treat for all the British people present.  It was a lovely touch and brought the evening event to a powerful finale.  We stayed for lots of drinks with everyone at the bar afterwards, and it was a bit of a bleary eyed totter back to the hotel at the end.  Still the evening wasn't finished as despite all the beer we had drunk it seemed like a great idea to carry on giving the scotch a further hammering.  I finally wound up staggering up to my room in the wee small hours full of whisky and good humour.  I sat on the edge of the bed and whizzed through all the German TV channels to see if I could find anything vaguely understandable.  Well it was the usual fayre you'd expect - news programmes, football highlights from the bundesliga, a bit of boxing (one of the Klitschko brothers pummelling an overweight dustman from Mexico City into a pulp by the look of it), a Steven Seagal movie dubbed badly into German, "Friends" dubbed badly into German, Victoria Stillwell training dogs with a German translation, more news, politics and then all of a sudden two people stark naked banging away like traction engines.  That I didn't expect.  I was shocked, I was horrified.  And twenty minutes later I as still as equally shocked and horrified.  One of the funniest parts of it was that it was an American naughty movie that had been dubbed into German, so during all the rutting scenes we were treated to the sounds of two German actors giving lots of "oh jah! Oh jah!" and "das iss goot" etc etc. I could just imagine the two poor bastards in a small recording studio somewhere with head phones on and having to make lots of moaning groaning sounds.  It suddenly made me dressing up as Henry VIII for a living seem quite respectable and main stream. Definitely time for bed.
We had breakfast at the hotel, said our goodbyes to the Shakespeare lot and hit the road.  We were booked on the 8pm ferry from Dunkirk back to Dover, but reckoned with a bit of luck we might make the 6pm one instead.  We pushed it hard, despite the continuing noises from the rear right wheel.  After belting through Luxembourg, we stopped at a Belgian service station, had some lunch and blasted on our way.  Rather inevitably as we reached Antwerp we were once again mired in huge traffic jams, just as we had been on Friday afternoon.  Time ticked on and our chances of making the 6pm ferry seemed to have finally gone.  But Julian drove beautifully (fast but safe) and we made brilliant progress.  Sadly though we had just lost too much time and arrived at the ferry terminal in time to see the 6pm ship slipping off into the channel without us. We parked up and headed for the passenger centre with the promise of food, drink and toilets.  What we got was revolting uncleaned crappy toilets, most of which were out of commission, a closed cafe, loads of expensive vending machines, noisy video games and a grey concrete faceless building that resembled a military holding facility.  We headed back to the car.  There were more drinks vending machines outside.  Guess what?  They were out of order as well.  We sat reading in the car till the ferry loomed into view again.  Soon we were ready to load on board.  As Julian started the engine and put the jeep in gear we moved forward followed immediately by a load bang and very loud scraping sounds from the rear right wheel.  We limped on board the ferry to discover the rear right brake pad had shattered and had taken the brake lines with it as brake fluid was pouring out.  No brakes.  At least this had happened here on the ferry and not just after we had left Haigerloch.  As we had two hours before we arrived in Dover it gave Cath and Julian time to phone their roadside assistance group and arrange to have a low loader to meet us on our arrival back in Blighty.
When we did arrive back in England we still had more problems, the jeep was drivable but had no brakes so we had to be very careful.  But we found the low loader, and we were soon on board and on our way.  But it wasn't going to plain sailing was it.  Road after road that we needed to go down was closed, so in the end our journey that should have been about 40 minutes ended up taking nearly an hour and a half.  We finally got back to Cath and Julian's house at Stockbury just after midnight.  A welcoming cup of tea and it was time for bed.  It had been a wonderful weekend,  Good King Hal's first overseas show has been a success.  My ribs still hurt, but I don't care!  
Back to jousting again this weekend - Blenheim Palace here I come.  But thank you Haigerloch, it was great.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Roar of the Grease Paint...

Elizabeth of York, feeling a prick (on a rose).
And finally the flood waters did recede, and the people of Somerset did look up at the strange yellow object in the sky and go "ooh-arr" and scratch their heads in bewilderment.  You knew the threat of flooding was now rapidly disappearing as all the TV news crews had buggered off.  When I look back to last year and this same time, we weren't inundated with water, we were instead freezing our collected butts off.  If you think back to the weekend at Knebworth (shudder - I try not to) the temperature for that whole weekend barely rose above freezing.  This same weekend just gone (i.e. 365 days later) and the temperatures were around about 20 degrees.  Funny old world, innit?
And so we begin on Tuesday the 18th March and the King's return to Birchfield Junior School in Yeovil.  My last visit to this school had been the previous January and that was certainly a lot colder - I remember loading the props back into the car after that show with huge great flakes of snow dolloping themselves onto my car windscreen and stubbornly refusing to melt.  I arrived early and was met by the usual group of very friendly teachers, including the wonderful Ally Goff who was her usual infectiously funny and happy self.  This is such a friendly happy school, great atmosphere whenever you go there and this day was no different.  We had a great group of kids as well, loads of laughs and everyone seemed to enjoy the day in the extreme.  The final jousting tournament was an incredibly loud event which virtually tore the roof off the place. It was worth it for the lads as they were finally rewarded with a long needed win.  Our score goes to:
Back out to the car to load it up and go and I am delighted to say there was not a hint of dollopy snow flakes in the air, for which I was very grateful for.
I headed up to Essex on the 23rd, for a week of looking after James as Amanda continued her burgeoning am dram career with her second performance for the Thalians Theatre Group in Basildon.  She was out for most evenings for the final technical and dress rehearsals, and was then performing on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Mirren Studio in the Towngate Theatre.  My first port of call though back in the south east was a return visit to Dulwich College Junior School in South East London.  Again my previous visit last year had included quite prodigious amounts of snow everywhere, appalling traffic and a journey that seemed just slightly shorter than Captain Scott's epic trek to the South Pole.  There was no way I was going to get caught in such terrible traffic this time, so I set off spectacularly early from Basildon... and arrived spectacularly early at the school.  Not a hint of any traffic or bad weather.  Typical.  Once inside I was greeted by the delightful Leiba Sablon, the lovely teacher who booked me last year.  Dulwich College which is Nigel Farage's old school (now there is a claim to fame) is an all boy's school so no results from the very entertaining jousting can be added to the scores as it wouldn't be fair on the ladies.  I do the same for the men when I visit the Maynard School in Exeter.  It was a great day once again at this school.  Great kids, really switched on and with it, and they get all the gags - big time!  So man laughs.  We ripped through to a fantastic jousting finale and then I was on my way back to Basildon.  The traffic out of London was far more what I expected first thing in the morning, slow, bumper to bumper and lots of very bad tempered people refusing to budge an inch.
My main place of residence on Wednesday the 26th was at the "Weston Homes Community Stadium" in Colchester.  This sadly wasn't for some huge outdoor arena style Good King Hal show in front of thousands of adoring fans - nope, I was attending a speed awareness course as I had been photographed in the Royal motor doing 67MPH on the A282 leading onto the Dartford Crossing Bridge back in early January.  So I could either pay the £100 fine and take the three points onto my licence, or I could attend this course and avoid the points.  I naturally went for this option - and promptly picked up a bill for £97.50 to attend. Well, at least I saved myself £2.50.  Not really, after I had bought myself an exorbitantly priced cup of tea in the cafe in the stadium as I waited for the course to begin.  I found it rather sweet that Colchester United had decided to call their stadium cafe "The Hot Shot Cafe".  Surely for the level they play at it should be called "The Scuffed Shot" or "The Toe Ender".  But I can forgive them most things as the waitress had a lovely bottom.  The course was much as I expected - it was presented by two men, one who was so smug as to make Greg Wallace on Masterchef look positively insecure and another old chap who was to technical items what Bernard Manning was to race relations. If he could press a button and make something go wrong he would do it.  The automatic lights went up and down, the electronic blinds went up and down more times than a whore's drawers until they fused, and he was halfway through his part of the presentation when he somehow managed to completely switch off the lap top he was doing his presentation through and we had to sit in a slightly embarrassed silence as he and Captain Smug muttered and pressed buttons until it all came on again.  Well, it was all quite informative, didn't really tell me anything I didn't already knew and it was four hours of my life I won't get back again.
Thursday night was Amanda's opening night in the play.  The Thalians (the am dram group Amanda belongs to) were doing a version of Terry Pratchett's "Going Postal" and Amanda had the part of "Mr Pony" (yes, I know) and she did fantastically well in a superb all round production.  She had worked long and hard on this production, helping out a lot with the costumes, most particularly the very impressive Golem outfit, complete with it's stunning latex mask - anyone who saw the show will know what I am talking about.  Her performance was faultless and James and I really enjoyed it, even though James got very restless towards the end of the first half.  Luckily there were some spare seats at the back of the theatre, so for the second half James and I moved back there and my restless native of a son could stand up, sit down, wriggle and do all the things slightly bored autistic children want to do, without disturbing anybody around us.  It is so great to see Amanda getting into the acting lark - her almost child-like excitement and fixation with the cast and the whole experience reminded me so much of my early days in the business.  I warned her after the final performance she would experience a real downer of post show blues - and she did, bless her.  It was nice to see her in the post performance glow going over and over the photos she had taken of the rehearsals and the cast in general.  Thankfully she is going for the read through of their next production this week, so her fix for this new addiction will get fed again!  Hopefully there will be another production soon in which James can take part as he is as taken with the whole acting lark as Amanda is.  Oh, the roar of the grease paint, the smell of the crowd.... You can't whack it.
Mothering Sunday saw Amanda, James and I joining Cathy and Julian down at their house in Kent for a lovely slap up meal and a bit of champagne sipping.  It was a nice way to round off my week looking after my beloved James.  He can also get back into his performing as I have just had all the dates through for the jousting this summer with the Knights of Royal England.  Fantastic!

Monday, March 03, 2014

Another Year Older...

Good King Hal, blowing a raspberry on Sarah Morris' face in front of the Houses of Parliament while sipping proseco. A novel way of protesting.
February 26th - my birthday.  My 47th birthday this time around.  47?  There must be some mistake!  I can't be that old...  When my dear late lamented grandfather, the near legendary Charles Mee, was 93 years old, I was having lunch with him one day, and I asked him a question I was dying to know.  As we sat in Tomassi's, the Italian restaurant in Southend in Essex, I asked him how old he felt inside - without thinking, how old did you actually feel.  He thought for briefest of moments and then said "about 45".  However, he did say he felt that young until he was walking down the street, and paused to look in the shop window, and wondered who the doddery old fool was staring at him, until he realised it was his own reflection.  I know exactly where you're coming from Grandad.  I am very handsome until I look in a mirror.  Mind you, at the age of 93 I soon realised why my Grandfather had cantered down to this Italian restaurant so quickly - it was all the tall leggy brunette waitresses.  I did tease him about this, and my Grandfather, being one of the last great Edwardian gentlemen (i.e. sex or anything regarding women was not spoken about in public) blushed a little and then said: "Well, the day you stop looking you might as well give up."  Wise words indeed.
For my 47th Birthday I took a near last minute decision to head to Southampton and meet up with two old friends from my years working at Skandia Life, now some 11 years in my past.  Therefore I was at the Tavernetta restaurant and meeting up with Ruth Le Mesurier and Sue Marsh, and we had a lovely time.  The years just rolled away and it as almost like we had never been apart from each other.  The meal was lovely, as was the large glass of Merlot.  All too soon it was time to part, and before I headed back to the NCP to take out a mortgage and pay for my parking, I popped into Skandia House and saw the lovely Sue Plumb on reception, and saw old chums from security Ian Fitzpatrick and Trevor Allery.  Very little had changed, Trevor had slightly fewer teeth and marbles, but not much else.  I also saw a young lady called Fern (your surname - I regret Madam, I have forgotten, forgive an old fart) who's telephone I used to repair on a regular basis on my days at Skandia.  This happy stroll down amnesia lane over, I was soon in the car and on my way home.
Thursday 27th February, it's time to go back to being Henry.  I drove up to the village of Cheddar and a first visit to Fairlands School.  It was a big group, of about 180 year six children, but such a lovely group, it was a delight to work with them.  This was one of the finest schools I have visited for a long time.  I had got the job through a contact at the school who knew people at Hugh Sexey School at Wedmore.  We had a truly memorable day, great fun all the way through, and culminated in one of the most memorable jousts in a long time.  The final was incredibly close, it was down to the last rider on both teams, the boys seemed to just about hold the whip hand, when the last lady knocked the final quintaine she was at very badly - her final quoit catapulted up into the air and all looked lost.  But this girl was good and coolly skewered the quoit in mid air with her lance and galloped home for a remarkable victory.  Astounding.
That could be it already lads.  Surely no way back from there.  The drive back home took me south past Glastonbury and Somerton, and on one last high patch of ground I looked west across the levels of Somerset and saw.... a sea.  It was like looking out across some vast inland sea.  The floods were still out in force, that was for sure.
I went to see my mate Pete Flanagan in Tatworth on the Friday.  He asked me a small favour... could I drive off and collect some more music memorabilia for him.  No problem Pete, where do you want me to go?  Oh... Southampton, again.  So two days after driving down to Southampton to see everyone at Skandia, I was in Pete's BMW driving back to Southampton to meet his mate and collect some signed Jimmy Page posters.  Boy, I lead an exciting life sometimes.
Friday night was a special night as it was Matthew Applegate's official farewell bash at Barrington Court.  It started at 6.30pm and I arrived about five minutes late to find the whole place heaving with people.  This just went to see how popular Matthew was, and also at how deep the anger is felt by all the people at Barrington for the way the complete tossers in the National Trust management have treated him.  First Matthew made a fine, sweet, amusing speech.  It was touching, not maudlin and was just right.  Then Matt's lovely wife Sue stood up to make a speech.  Barely holding back her tears and anger she delivered a stunner.  One of the most moving speeches I have ever heard.  There was barely a dry eye in the house.  I was delighted to be recounted a story by one of the volunteers who told me the previous week they had been summoned to the Court House for the pre-season briefing.  The man mainly responsible for Matthew's demise, a loathsome creature by the moniker Turner, delivered his attempt at a rousing gee up speech for the masses - and sat down to a deafening silence.  One of the other managers was making their address when they happened to mention Matthew's name - this caused a spontaneous and sustained round of applause to burst out among the people in the room.  Wonderful.
We had a lovely time, laughing and joking with Matthew and all his wonderful staff.  It was great to see Rachel Brewer again for the first time since her baby Oscar was born.  Old deputy Visitor Services Managers to Matthew, Tamsin and Toria turned up - one from Cornwall and one all the way from York, just to see Matthew.  That is the respect in which this man is held.  NT management will find out one day.
I've had a lovely relaxing weekend watching Manchester City win the League Cup for the first time since 1976, which was great fun.  And now it's back to the daily grind.  And all I've got to look forward to now is my 48th birthday.  Oh, and ogling women of course.  As my Grandfather said - once you stop looking, you might as well give up.  Good work, that fellow!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Floody Hell.

Just popping into Chard for some baked beans.
I had a strange experience the other day on Facebook.  No, it wasn't abuse, it was instead a series of messages from friends of mine around the country and the World enquiring as to whether I was alright or not.  I wondered why they were suddenly all so concerned about my welfare, but then the dreaded word that they were all focusing on became apparent.... Somerset.  Somerset, it seems, is now considered the most dangerous place to live on Planet Earth.  Soweto?  Hah!  Beirut?  Piffle!  Syria?  For girls!  Chatham?  Well, that is pretty f***ing ropey, but apparently Somerset is now considered more of a threat to humanity than Medway towns full of arse-faced chavs with the mental capacity of a burrito.  And it was all down to the flooding everyone was seeing on their TV sets every night.  Hour after hour you'd see welly wearing Londoners who work in "meeee-ja" and who had not even the vaguest idea of where Somerset was except they'd heard from their old University pal Briony that it was something to do with the Glastonbury Festival.  These bland news reporters were plonked in front of cameras showing angry damp people shaking their fists at various politicians, each of which was trying to be more contrite than the last one, as huge dodgy looking pipes pumped prodigious quantities of water away from the flooded plains.  If my house was to be flooded I would have to be quite spectacularly unlucky and there would have to be one heck of a lot more rain.  Crewkerne, where I live, is built on some hills, I live halfway up one of these hills on the third floor of an old converted Victorian dairy.  If I do happen to pull back the curtains one morning and see fish swimming past the window, then, and only then, would I panic.  So to all my friends who have phoned, texted and sent me Facebook messages desperate to know if I was dry, safe and un-drowned, the answer is yes, to all three of your questions.  You really don't have to go far from where I live to see the land turned into a sea, but I am pretty sure I'll survive where I am.
I was up in Norfolk the other day for a return visit to White Woman Lane School in Norwich.  This is a great place to visit, fun kids and some of the grooviest teachers you could ever wish to meet.  There is also a very high preponderance of Americans teaching in this school.  But then, they are all gorgeous and friendly so I personally encourage this special relationship.  It was a biggish group of kids, in fine form and some terrific costumes and we had a splendid day all round.  The joust was loud in the extreme and guess what??  The ladies won AGAIN.
The journey back wasn't so bad, but just south of Long Stratton there had just been what appeared to be a horrendous crash involving two lorries and two cars.  One of the cars and one of the lorries had piled through the large expensive looking brick wall of a posh house next to the road.  Paramedics were working on one of the cars with screens placed around it, which didn't look good.  I only hope anyone involved with this accident are all now OK.
I had some time with my lovely James, before heading down to Kent to see Michelle Coda and Matt Rentell, and of course the lovely Elaine!  Smashing!  After this brief pleasurable interlude I was back on the road back down to Somerset (with my water wings pre-inflated, just in case).  I saw a lot of my old mate Pete Flanagan and even attempted an evening out with Matthew Applegate at the Rose and Crown in East Lambrook. We met over there on the Wednesday evening, only to discover the place was closed for no apparent reason.  Rather stumped at what to do next we headed back to Barrington to try out the new re-vamped local pub "The Barrington Boar", formerly for many hundreds of years known as the Barrington Oak, or the Royal Oak at Barrington. Why do people have to change things like this for no apparent reason? Anyway, the pub is very nicely turned out, the beer is perfectly adequate and the restaurant was pleasingly packed out for a midweek evening.  So I will be trying it again.
I am now in Essex again as it is half term and I am spending some lovely times with my gorgeous son James.  We went bowling yesterday, where predictably enough he thrashed me.  Then today we have been to see the "Lego Movie" which was tremendous fun and so inventive, and then had a most pleasing "Ruby Murray" for lunch.  James is my pride and joy and we are having such a fun half term, and there is much more to do!
Also during this period I had a great meeting with Doug Bolton and Sarah Morris about future film and TV projects, and speaking of such things - our movie from Hever Castle is now on the Internet movie database ( - I am officially a director, actor and writer.  Never been so proud of myself.  So if you want to see our entry on IMDB, then just click on this link:  You know you want to.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Once More Unto the Travelodge...

You wouldn't believe that two days of this drove a couple of people in a Medway town almost psychotically angry.  But it did!
I was at my parents in Wales from the Tuesday evening until just after lunch on the Sunday.  It sounded like ages when I first arrived.  A near whole week of being spoilt by my lovely parents - how wonderful.  And suddenly... WHOOSH, it was gone.  Where did that go?  In what felt like a blink of an eye my time had gone and I was back on the road again.  I'd had a lovely time with my folks, had dinner with them again up at the wonderful Flat Rock Cafe in the delightfully named Gwber, I'd wandered round various antiques shops to my utmost delight and even gawped at a few Estate Agents windows and some of the lovely houses in the area.  While I was in Wales my sister, down at Cynwyl Elfed, had a nasty surprise when BOTH of her kittens, now a few months old, went missing at the same time.  Not a sign of them was to be found.  My sister was absolutely devastated and there were many tears shed for these poor cats.  But then, on the Sunday, just as I was about to leave Wales, a call came through to my parents from my sister saying one of the cats had turned up, safe and sound.  At least they got one back.  Funnily enough, I have just got off the phone to my sister who has let me have the joyous news that the second kitten has turned up safe and sound - hungry and dusty, so obviously been locked in somewhere, but none the worse for his ordeal.  God, I love a happy ending.
So back to Sunday afternoon and my drive away from my folks.  My next two days were going to be in Hereford and Coleford, neither of them a million miles apart.  I was booked into the inevitable Travelodge, this time just south of Hereford City centre on the A49.  The drive over to there took me through the infamous "Heads of the Valleys" road, usually only ever mentioned on BBC travel news when there has been some horrendous multi-vehicle pile up, with resulting soiled underpants, or when it has been closed due to inclement weather conditions, and more soiled underpants.  The weather wasn't too awful on Sunday afternoon, just sort of bloody miserable - glowering skies, constant though not heavy rain and everything appeared grey damp and horrible.  Finally, snaking up towards Hereford, the countryside opened up into pleasant rolling hills and quaint villages.  I found my Travelodge, this time in the form of a converted barn, would you believe.  I was booked in by a very nervous looking young lady (who only appeared to be about 12 years old) and settled myself in my cell.
The drive to Riverside School in Hereford the next morning wasn't exactly taxing.  I hadn't realised just how close I was to the school - 1.6 miles it turned out in the end!  Riverside is a fabulous school, a really lovely ultra modern site, with some very artistic murals painted for the children throughout the building, showing various fantasy characters from popular children's fiction.  It was a nice group of three year 4 classes today, some of who were a bit more... erm... taxing than others.  But they were sparky, fun, excitable and ready to laugh.  We had a fine morning, but I was starving!  I forgot to get any breakfast in the morning and by midday when we broke for lunch I could have eaten a scabby donkey and chips.  I went to see the dinner ladies and was told in no uncertain terms to come back at 12.45 pm when they'd finished serving the children.  So I sat in the staff room, surrounded by teachers scoffing away on sandwiches, salads, curry's and tried desperately to stop my stomach from sounding too much like Mount Etna just before eruption.  It finally got to 12.45 and I wandered back to the kitchens.  They were washing up and putting everything away.  Any food left?  I asked.  No, was the answer.  Great.  But she could rattle me up a cheese roll.  She could have handed me a dog turd on a stick by this point and I would have eaten it.  The cheese roll was duly scoffed, and I was back to being Henry and still hungry.  The afternoon was great fun and finished with a wonderful jousting tournament in which an incredibly cocky gents team got smashed to smithereens in the final by a very good ladies team.
Too easy!  I loaded up the car and made the short jaunt back to the Travelodge.  Now, next door to the hotel, cheek by jowl so to speak, was a pub/restaurant called the Grafton Inn.  I was still haunted by the cheese roll at lunch and complete lack of breakfast, and so decided to do something about it.  And, boy did I.  I had a lovely meal of calamari and King Prawns with a sweet chili dip, followed by a delicious gammon steak, served with two exquisitely poached eggs.  I washed this down with a very agreeable bottle of Merlot.  It was a very merry, slightly sloshed King Hal who staggered the 50 feet back to his hotel room after that.  I slept very well...
Tuesday found me on my way back to Coleford in the Forest of Dean and a ninth appearance at Coalway Junior School.  Such a lovely school again, it was a delight to be back.   I was warmly welcomed by all the usual faces and the exquisitely named Rhiannon Bunn, teacher of one of the Year 4 groups today.  We had a really fun day all round, I was treated Royally and didn't even have to beg for a cheese roll.  I was given a fantastic tuna baguette with a massive side salad, which went down a treat.  The afternoon galloped past at a rapid rate and finished with another damn fine joust, but this time, just for a change the Gents finally won a race.  Thank God for that.
It is still very one-sided but that does help a little.
I am off to Essex tomorrow to see my lovely little boy, then on Friday I am back at White Woman Lane School in Norwich for another visit there - again probably about my ninth!  Really looking forward to seeing my old friends. I then have a couple of meetings with film maker Doug Boulton and the writer Sarah Morris on Sunday, before heading back to Somerset on the Monday for a get together with the talented Judy Picton, my costume maker in Martock.  I might also fit in some time to see the beautiful Elaine - I can't wait!  Life is pretty good at the moment.  Just wish the weather would improve.

Friday, January 31, 2014

A'r Brenin arwain gorllewin (trwy Swindon). AND XTC!

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in drag.  From left to right: Bashful, Sleepy, Zeppo, Adolf, Brian, Shergar, Miss Chatham 1974, and another one.
The world turns and life moves on.  And for Good King Hal, it is just more and more endless roads.  The weekend of the 25th January found your jovial King once more in the south east of England.  I had Friday with my lovely son, and the Saturday morning, before heading down to Kent for my brother in law Julian's 50th birthday party.  It was a fantastic evening, populated with a nice gathering of close friends while we had our ear drums blasted out of our skulls by the consummate musical skills of the band The Licks.  A very competent and lively covers band, their lead singer looked like the unfortunate result of a night of passion between Mick Jagger and Charley Boorman, but he was a great front man.  Our dear old friend Michael Croydon once more displayed his drum whacking skills had not diminished as he pushed the rhythms along.  Add a fine bass player and a more than adequate plank spanker and you had the ideal band for a gathering like this.  It was great to see Ann Turner Maynard and her husband Dave again, plus Michelle Coda and Matt Rentell were there, and many other old familiar faces.  A great evening.  Made even the sweeter for me by the mere presence of a lady called Elaine.  But we'll leave it at that for now.  Keep you lot all hanging on on tenter hooks.
Sadly I had to whizz back to Somerset on the Sunday to get ready for two shows in two days.  The journey back was horrendous as the weather was simply so awful.  It was truly grisly, worse even than having to walk around CENSORED FOLLOWING LEGAL ADVISE gardens with CENSORED FOLLOWING LEGAL ADVICE and the other hatchet faced old boots from the CENSORED FOLLOWING LEGAL ADVICE, which was usually about as much fun as nailing your scrotum to a telegraph pole and then employing a blind rabid baboon to try and rip the nails out with his teeth.  Oh how I miss those happy days. I had a few hours at home to collect my thoughts, then I was up early and out of the door for a drive to Swindon, home of XTC and Billie Piper, among others, for a visit to Gorse Hill School.  This was a lovely school and a great day seemed to be had by all - much laughter from a great group of kids. Only one of the teachers had dressed up, all the others had declined the opportunity.  But she looked stunning in her, frankly Medieval dress, and certainly cheered my day up no end.  The final joust was incredibly loud and closely fought, but inevitably the ladies snatched a vital victory to extend their overall lead even further.  Our score is now:
They are virtually out of sight now.  It was as pathetic as CENSORED FOLLOWING LEGAL ADVISE trying to get into CENSORED FOLLOWING LEGAL ADVISE without an invite and demanding a dressing room when the jousting is on.
If I had any time to rest on my laurels, I barely had time to notice.  All too soon my alarm was squawking on my bedside table and I was up and out of the door again into another cold quiet early morning long distance drive.  I was this time making a return visit to Barry Island, in the Vale of Glamorgan (sounds lovely doesn't it?) and a day with the children and staff of Colcot School.  This lot were a lovely sparky bunch, ready to laugh and join in and not backward in coming forward with examples of their own knowledge.  Even if that knowledge could at some times be a bit dodgy.  The morning zipped past in very pleasant time and I was soon scarfing down a very welcoming plate of pasta bolognese and garlic bread for my lunch.  Just after the lunch break the teachers put on a mini Tudor banquet for the children, with pottage, ginger breads, and mulled apple juice to wash it all down.  I was on the top table with several children sitting with me, their names being drawn at random as to who should sit with the King.  I was sitting next to a very chatty and confident little girl of about eight.  She told me very proudly that she was learning to speak Welsh at school, which I told her I thought was a brilliant idea.  She showed me her new found skills by first saying "yacchi da" at me.  Then she told me how to say "hello" in Welsh.  Apparently you have to say "bonjour" in a thick French accent.  How do you follow that?  How DO you follow that?  In my case it is with a jousting tournament.  And it was another belter.  So close, all the way through.  In the final it honestly looked like the Gents had it sewn up, but their final rider had a bit of a mare, and the ladies romped through to nick it on the last quoit.  Would you believe it?  The score goes now to:
If this was a boxing match, they'd have stopped it by now to stop the lads from taking any more punishment.  A bit like Spurs being slaughtered by Manchester City the other night.  5-1, at White Hart Lane.  And that goes with the 6-0 drubbing they took at the Etihad Stadium earlier in the season.  11-1 on aggregate I make that. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear...   I drove on from Barry Island and onto see my parents in Newcastle Emlyn, some 80+ miles further on into the Land of Song, Ivor Emmanuel and Goldie Looking Chain.  It was a long old trek and made all the more incredible for me as one of the teachers at Colcot School in Barry, drives there and back, every day from Newcastle Emlyn.  And I thought I was insane when I used to drive 75 miles to Southampton every day from Somerset, when I worked at Skandia.  
It was lovely to see my folks, and they have pampered me ridiculously, I have helped out a little round the house, doing errands, helping to underpin the mansion and re-tarmacked the main Cardigan Road, but it has been worth it just to spend some time with them.  And Elaine.... they're DYING to meet you!
Monday sees me back at the lovely Riverside School in Hereford and then on Tuesday down to one of my all time favourites, Coalway Junior in Coleford in the Forest of Dean.  And not a sign of  CENSORED FOLLOWING LEGAL ADVISE , stomping round like a cross between Peppa Pig and a steam roller with a cob on.  No, neither hide nor hair of her.  Thank God.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

One Final Barrington Court Wassail

The ideal place to stick South Somerset National Trust
Managers.  I reckon we should have got a Wicker Man...
Barrington Court is a delightful Elizabethan country house in South Somerset, and was the first large property ever purchased by the National Trust.  I first worked there in 2005 when I was asked to host a Tudor Day for Barrington Village School who decided to have the event at Barrington Court, rather than in the cramped surrounds of their sweet little school.  I was welcomed to the property by the Visitor Services Manager, a charming man by the name of Matthew Applegate.  We had a great day and Matthew and I got on like the proverbial house on fire.  He invited me back to be Henry VIII at the property at different times over the years and always it was a delight to appear there.  What I particularly liked about Barrington was the rapport that Matthew had with his staff, both paid and volunteers.  They were a really dedicated group of friendly people prepared to do anything for each other and for the name and reputation of the old building.  There was a pride in what they did.  Barrington was never seen as a prestige venue by the National Trust, most of the local spotlight being pointed directly at Montacute up the road towards Yeovil.  Barrington was run on a shoestring budget, in a sort of mixture of amateur enthusiasm and general goodwill.  And it worked a treat.  Excellent events were staged time and time again.  Various imaginative brilliant exhibitions and live shows, and quite a few Henry shows from me.  Sometimes I would do my shows for the place and there would be some money in the pot for me, but the majority of the time I did free shows for them, because I loved the house so much, and bought into the ideal of the staff and volunteers.  But unfortunately corporate management these days just cannot leave well alone, can they?  Faceless suits are moved into areas of authority, and these short sighted narrow minded "executives" seem hell bent on doing something... anything to desperately try and justify their very existence in the job they are doing.  There is a very old adage - if something ain't broke, why the hell try and fix it?  And this is the case with Barrington.  A particularly unpleasant faceless suit has been parachuted into a position of power and for some reason seemed determined to try and make Matthew Applegate's position untenable.  Goal posts were moved, frequently, structure of the running of the venue changed again, and again, to no discernible improvement.  From an outsiders point of view it almost seemed like they were trying to push Matthew to the very limit of his patience to make him walk away from a job that he was brilliant at, and very popular for doing.  But he is a man of substance and virtue and would never have deserted his staff and volunteers.  So once more, after even more changes of goalposts and targets, the suits-that-be did the final dirty and simply abolished Matthew's position.  So his job has gone, but you also have to consider that he also loses his home (he has a flat on the estate) so the National Trust are also making him and his young family homeless as well.  The reaction from the volunteers is one of silent rage.  Anger that someone so popular with them has been so ruthlessly dispatched in such an unkind, underhand way.  And at Christmas as well.  The spirit of Ebeneezer Scrooge is alive and well and living in the management of the National Trust in South Somerset.  I for one, will never do a free show for these people again.  If they want Henry VIII at their property then they are going to have to pay my full whack.  One of Matthew's finest legacies to this property was the re-introduction of the age old practise of a Wassail - the blessing of the apple trees on the old twelfth night (17th January), amid much carol singing, gun firing, drum banging and scrumpy drinking.  At the very peak of these events, probably about 5 years ago, the evening was magical.  Drumming groups, mummer's plays, musicians, hot food and drinks, and literally hundreds of guests gathering in the orchards of Barrington and joining in the tradition.  The last two Wassails have been smaller, private events, but this one was very special as it would very probably be Matthew's last event at Barrington in his current role.  Invites were sent out to a few people, and Matthew's popularity was very evident in the turn out - probably about 50-60 people gathered round a roaring brazier (as seen in the picture above), big lusty glasses of Barrington cider were drunk, poems were recited, traditional Wassail carols were sung, and we progressed to the apple trees and blessed them with toast, cider, drumming and gunfire, all to help bring forth more wonderful apples for the next harvest.  The only thing to have made it even better was to have had a Wicker Man in the orchard and one or two faceless suits stuffed inside and giving it the full Edward Woodward screaming hysterics as we chucked lit torches at them...  It was nice to see all the old faces from Barrington there, plus Jo and Blue Walshe, late of Shepton Beauchamp Post Office stores and soon to be moving to a well earned retirement in the south of France and even Kate Churchill, formerly Matthew's assistant from a couple of years ago.  THIS, if the management of the National Trust needed it, was ample proof of the popularity of the man they have so ruthlessly stabbed in the back.  He will not be forgotten and they will never be forgiven.  It was a really lovely evening.
Monday the 20th saw me back on the road and being Henry again.  My visit this day was to Blundell's Prep school in Tiverton in Devon for my 10th visit to this lovely school.  I was greeted warmly as usual, but it was a sort of disjointed day starting off in the main hall for the first hour, then shunted off to the pre-prep school hall for the remainder of the morning, then back to the main hall for the afternoon session.  All the kids in the group were dressed in fantastic costumes and were up for a really fun day.  I was in the first throes of a head cold and felt pretty croaky and unwell, but the enthusiasm of the children carried me through the day and it was fun all the way.  We finished the day with a belting jousting tournament that was won, for a change, by the boys.  But it was very close.  Our score moves on to:
So again, the gents make it look a little more respectable.  I got back to Crewkerne, had dinner and flaked out on the sofa in front of the TV.  Another wild evening for me!
The cold remained, as did the sneezing and snot, and two days later I was up bright and early for a drive up to Brent Knoll School, in the village of the same name just off the M5 near Bridgwater.  I was last at this school about five years ago and today it was group of about 70 children and a mixture of years 3, 4, 5 and 6.  They were enthusiastic and loud, which is how I like my groups.  We had a load of laughs and I was treated Royally by the lovely staff of this brilliant school.  One lady from the staff even very kindly walked all the way to the local shop and back to get me some lunch - even treating me to a Belgian bun for afters!  What a lovely lady.  The afternoon session was a bit quieter as years 3 and 4 disappeared off for a swimming lesson, but years 5 and 6 thoroughly enjoyed the stocks and then had a deafening jousting tournament that ended with the inevitable victory for the ladies.
Great stuff.  And so it was just left for me to pack everything away in the car, and head for home, stopping on the way to purchase a much needed bottle of wine.  I had a thoroughly splendid evening watching Manchester United being dumped out of the Capital One Cup Semi Finals by Sunderland on penalties.  If anyone deserves to be recognised in the New Years Honours list for services to sport it should be David Moyes. The joy his crap Man Ure team has brought to all football lovers throughout this land is almost immeasurable.  Arise Sir David - a job well done!
I am off to Essex and then Kent this weekend for my brother in law's 50th birthday party, and then next week my Henry appearances are in Swindon (home of XTC!) and then back to Barry Island in Wales.  I shall then be spending a few days with my folks at their place in Newcastle Emlyn.   I can't wait for the rest and pampering!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

One Month - No Blog.

Good King Hal showing utter contrition for his lack of blog for the last month.
A month?  Are you sure?  Strewth.  What have I been doing?  Oh I know, Christmas and Tudor stuff, as any normal despotic post medieval ruler should do.  I really have to cast my mind back to try and remember what the hell I have been doing for the past month.  Some afternoons I have trouble remembering what I did in the morning, so this could be hard work.  So where to begin?  At the very beginning, as Julie Andrews would have warbled, it's a very good place to start...
14th December I had been booked to appear at Chester Town Hall for a corporate evening bash for a company called Kingspan who make wall cladding, apparently.  Well my King's span is pretty big, but I am not sure how much wall I can actually cover without it being a bit painful. I drove up to Chester at lunchtime on the Saturday and booked into a hotel.... oh alright, a Days Inn, on the outskirts of the city.  This plastic hotel was a bit different to most of the others I have used recently as it was really nice!  It had recently been renovated, was very cosy, nicely equipped and had a lovely king size bed that was incredibly comfortable.  The weather was revolting and a pre-cursor of what to expect over Christmas and the new year - a cold howling wind and heavy squally rain showers.  As I didn't know Chester at all and wasn't sure what the parking would be like at the venue I had decided instead to book a taxi to get me there and back.  I had visited Chester once before, but that was in 1981 and I kind of guessed the town might have changed a bit since I was last there.  My taxi arrived bang on time and I was soon being whisked off into the night for my appointment at the Town Hall. My driver was a lovely bloke, a scouser with a lovely thick Liverpudlian accent.  We got to chatting about football and he asked me what team I supported.  When I said Manchester City he briefly took a fierce intake of breath.
"You're lucky you said that, mate" he said.  "If you'd said Manchester United I'd have made you get out and f***ing walk."  Really?  "Oh yeah, if I ever get any of those b***ards in my cab I charge them double."  Ah bless him!  
Chester Town Hall is a marvellous Victorian edifice - a celebration of Gothic architecture and full of grand high ceilings, sweeping staircases, imposing busts (ooh er!) and mock medieval touches here and there.  I was sharing a changing room with all the other artists booked that evening including three jesters, a group of medieval musicians and a fire breather.  They were all lovely and very welcoming and I was soon stationed at the front door ready to welcome the guests as they arrived.  There was a whole load of gorgeous young wenches in elegant dresses, there to be waitresses and staff for the event.  I chatted to them and they were all students working at the University of Liverpool, one of whom was studying ancient music and medieval plainsong.  The guests who first arrived were greeted by two of the jesters on the stairs who were juggling and fire breathing, until they were told to stop fire breathing by a jobs worth from the City Council who claimed the heat and smoke from their activity might set off the fire alarms and sprinklers in the building.  Inside, I was there at the top of the stairs with four of the wenches, and yet another jester who was showing amazing juggling skills with a variety of objects, even heavy glass globes - and all of this over solid stone floors.  A brave man.  The guests began arriving in drips and drabs, but it soon turned into a torrent.  As with most British works bashes, all of the women were dressed amazingly in beautiful fine dresses and gowns, and the men were in a general uniform of fancy shirt, jeans and boots.  One lady who turned up on this cold evening was wearing an outfit that resembled a large, black see-through handkerchief.  She had nothing on underneath and was VERY cold, if you know what I mean.  They were sticking out like chapel hat pegs and you could have struck matches on them.  But at least I had somewhere to hang my hat.  The musicians started and sounded wonderful.  Some medieval music groups I have heard can be very quiet - this lot were like the historical version of The Who - especially their drummer who had what appeared to be a Tudor samba drum and it made an incredibly wonderful booming sound that resounded through the building.  I then had to go upstairs to where the guests drinks reception was being held and process them down to the main hall for their dinner.  The main hall in the building is magnificent with a colossally high ceiling with an impressive hammer beam style roof.  I had a large golden throne to park my Royal derriere on and receive guests as they came in.  I posed for numerous photos, had lots of lovely ladies come and want to sit on my lap - who was I to argue? - and then a few navigation's of the room to see how all the guests were.  I had a quick break to snaffle down some dinner, which was delicious, then it was back into the hall for a grand draw with various prizes for the guests, one last patrol of the hall, and then I was released.  I got changed, wandered outside, found a taxi and began my journey back to my hotel.  This driver was a bit different from my earlier one as he explained in great details about his chronic heart problems that meant he could kick the bucket at any second.  I just prayed he got me back to my hotel first, which he did.  I had a lovely comfortable night in my hotel and then drove back to Somerset early on the Sunday morning.
Tuesday found me at Evercreech in Somerset for my final school appearance of 2013.  Evercreech school was lovely and I was very warmly welcomed by staff and pupils alike, all of whom were a bit end of term crazy and ready for a good time, so who was I to say no?  We had a simply splendid day, so many laughs, great fun with the kids and a truly memorable day.  For the jousting we brought the rest of the school in to watch and this of course increased the sound volume immensely.  As has been the case throughout the year, nothing changed and the ladies romped to a very impressive win.  The score at the end of the year goes to:
It pains me to say it, but the boys look clueless at present.  And so my final professional engagement of the year ended and I looked forward to my Christmas break.
For Christmas I first drove back to Essex to pick up Amanda and James from Basildon, then on the 23rd we drove down to Wales and a visit to my parents in Newcastle Emlyn.  The weather down was frighteningly horrible - the wind, almost hurricane like in it's ferocity buffeted the car and made driving very difficult.  When we stopped for lunch at Membury Services on the M4, it was almost impossible to walk from the car to the services without being blown over. Finally, as we got down to near the Severn crossing the wind began to abate, the rain stopped, and by the time we reached our turn off at Carmarthen, we even had a clear sky above us.  The fields around Newcastle Emlyn were heavily flooded and the rivers were so submerged you could not make out their true course.  Christmas was a delight, James thoroughly enjoyed himself and everyone had a good time.  I had to have my car looked at because of possible brake problems.  I booked it into Emlyn Motors who promised me it was brake pad problems and wouldn't be too expensive.  Well that obviously means something completely different in Welsh than it does in English as the "not too expensive" brakes cost me nearly £500 with all the new callipers and the work they had to do.   I had felt tremendously smug just before Christmas as I had come through it all with money to spare in my account.  Well that was that p***ed up the wall in 10 seconds flat.  Arse. I drove James and Amanda back to Essex, spent a couple more days with them and then headed back to Somerset.  I spent New Years Eve with my lovely old friend Ali Bessell, and we had a smashing evening watching the movie "World's End", nibbling canapes and sipping proseco.  The evening ended with us watching Jools Holland's Hootenanny on BBC2, which was good fun, apart from groovy new girl guitar band Haim, who sounded like a third rate amateur band bashing out cover versions in your local boozer.  How the hell they have garnered such a reputation so early in their career God alone knows.  Truly awful. 
I had a week's grace to get myself attuned to being back in the real world, but then my first 2014 bookings appeared.  My first show was at the deliciously named Gothic Mede Academy in the town of Arlesy in Bedfordshire.  With a name like that I imagined copious amounts of dry ice, all the teachers with black hair and white painted faces and Bauhaus blaring out of all available speakers (Yes, Corinna, I know, I know...) but it was a fairly normal ordinary school.  The lady who had booked me was incredibly pregnant and looked tremendously uncomfortable throughout the day, poor love, but they were very welcoming and we had a lovely mixed group of years three and four, just under 100 children.  Loads of laughs and fun, and the children all enjoyed watching the film I had made at Hever Castle during the summer.  The jousting was incredibly close, really a tight tight finish, probably closer than anything I had seen in 2013.  But inevitably the ladies stormed through to nick victory.
This is getting embarrassing.  Much as I would have liked to have leapt in the car and head for home, I had to head north instead to Northampton for my next appointment on the following day.  I was back to dear old Travelodge for the night and was delighted to find the hotel I was in was just as lovely as the Days Inn at Chester had been.  Warm, welcoming, comfortable and the all new big king size bed.  Brilliant!  I had a lovely lovely evening and slept like a log.
If I thought the Gothic Mede Academy was a good name yesterday, today I was at the equally wonderfully named Hopping Hill Primary School in Duston, in Northampton.  Today was a fabulous day - a year six group, a rare thing, but they were brilliant. We started off in their classroom for the morning as the hall was out of commission, but we had a fabulous time.  Chris Barnes, the gentleman who had booked me was lovely, but looked about 12 years old - you know you're getting old when teachers could realistically be your children.  A lovely lady went out of her way to look after me at lunchtime, going out to the local shops to get me a sandwich and drink, and she refused any money for them.  What a nice lady. The stocks and the jousting in the hall were a delight and we finished on that rarest of things - a win for the Gentlemen!  But, boy was it close again. We had to go to a jousting penalty shoot out to get a result.
Wow, did the boys team need that.  They were getting left behind again.  I began the long slog back home to Somerset and finally arrived in Crewkerne just after 6pm.  I was hungry and knew there wasn't much at home, so I decided to get fish and chips.  Not from my usual miserable bastards in West Street, but instead I decided to try Tucker's, the new chip shop in East Street, and they were lovely.  Welcoming, chatty, friendly, clean and pleasant - pretty much everything the other place isn't.  So, that's my new chip shop sorted out.  I got back home, stuck on the TV, ate my dinner and promptly fell asleep on the sofa.  Oh, the wild and exciting life of a Henry VIII look-a-like!
My next Henry appearance is next Monday with a return visit to one of my longest standing bookings, at Blundell's Prep School in Tiverton in Devon.  Should be a fun one like it always is.