|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!