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.