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!