2016 Blogs

Number 3

Thursday 1st December 2016

A rather interesting day yesterday as I was booked to take Bartholomew and the Great Fire of London talk to St. Ives School near Ringwood. I always enjoy performing at a new school because I never know what to expect. Life, however, decided to chuck a 7lb 3oz spanner into the works and our grandson was born on Tuesday evening so we’ve had his big sister at our house since then. After a gap of over twenty years I’d forgotten just how draining an 18 month old toddler can be – especially when they wake at midnight and want a 20 minute cuddle before settling again. Throw in a couple of cars that needed de-icing for the first time this winter plus heavy traffic and I finally arrived in the classroom a couple of minutes before I was due to start.

To my great relief the staff were very friendly and accommodating and the children were great. While I was going off to change into Bartholomew’s costume one of the teachers commented on how attentive the children had been during the first section of the talk.

My favourite part of a session and the bit that really keeps me on my toes is the Q&A session after Bartholomew’s story as I never know what I’m going to be asked. In the past I’ve had questions about

  • 17th century toilet facilities
  • How many people survived the fire? Answer – all those who didn’t die, followed by the explanation that as no one really knows how many people lived in London before the fire I can’t really answer the question
  • On one memorable occasion we had established that there was no TV, Bartholomew thought that looking at a box with a picture sounded dull – or electricity. Someone then mentioned computers at which point one of the girls (7 going on 34) said “Oh for heaven’s sake he’s already said there was no electricity why are you asking such stupid questions?” (Wonder what she’s doing now?)

Yesterday’s questions were an interesting collection and ranged from

How did they know when the bread was baked? Answer – “I don’t know, I’m not a baker, I know about beer but not bread.” I’d rather tell the truth than tell the kids any old rubbish.

Why are you wearing funny trousers? Answer – “Why are you wearing that dress? These are the fashions of the day, not the latest fashion admittedly but then I’m a poor man. Don’t mock my britches they’ve stood me in good stead for years.” Completely true as my mum knocked them up from an army surplus blanket over 30 years ago.

How did they wash their clothes? The answer “You don’t want to know, they used wee,” got a wonderful reaction.

I was then asked about the various items that I have hanging from my belt which are:

  • a small horn tankard – one boy worked out that it was horn quite quickly, but several of the girls were surprised to find out that cows also have horns
  • a sheath containing an eating knife and a spoon so we talked about table manners
  • a pouch – I had removed the purse, kerchief, a hag stone and a key at the start of Bartholomew’s story but I was still able to produce a pouch containing a flint and steel, another pouch containing a small brass seal, a tamper for a pipe and some bone dice, a bone comb, a couple of leather laces, four wooden buttons, a spare ribbon point and finally a thimble.

Most of this ‘junk’ as one child put it never sees the light of day, but by having it with me I think I’m able to present Bartholomew as a fully rounded character.

All in all, I really enjoyed the session, as did the children and the staff – hope I get a repeat booking next year.

Number 2

19th November 2016.

I had an interesting evening last Tuesday when I got to give the Great Fire of London talk to the North Bournemouth Rotary Club at the West Hants Tennis Club. Interesting for several reasons.

Firstly, my ‘payment’ for the night consisted of a rather good three course meal – I’ve been given a school dinner in the past but this was way better. Unfortunately, I couldn’t have a drink as I’d volunteered to drive home at the end of the evening. More importantly, I wanted to keep a clear head for the talk – can’t think of anything worse (or more unprofessional) than a speaker who slurs his words and forgets where he is in the story.

Secondly, I had an adult audience so was able to quote what the Lord Mayor of London really said when he first saw the fire. “Pish!  An old woman could piss it out!” is so much more robust than the rather anodyne “An old woman could put it out!” which I have to use for my usual year 2 audience. I could also go into the gruesome details of what happens when you burn a human body when discussing the question of how many people died in the fire. If you want to know what happens why not book a talk?

Thirdly, and most nerve wracking of all for me, my wife was in the audience and it was the first time that she had seen the talk. If my performance was poor, or the talk was less than entertaining Sue would not pull her punches and would let me know in no uncertain terms how bad things were. To my great relief she, and everyone else, enjoyed the evening. Sue described my performance as good and the Vice Chairman of the Rotary Club said that it was one of the best talks that they’d had.

I’m now preparing to give the talk at St. Ives school, Dorset not Cornwall and another new venue, on the 30th November. A gig which I got because one of the parents has a father in the Rotary Club and heard about the talk through him – god bless family networks.

Number 1.

October 2016

Wednesday 6th October was a double first for Bartholomew – the first Great Fire of London talk of the new school year (and hopefully not the last) & the first time that I’ve done the talk at Epiphany Primary School in Bournemouth. Miss Tarrant, one of the year 2 teachers, phoned me at the library on the Thursday evening before – the mother of one of her pupils had mentioned me. I have vague recollections  of talking to a mum and her daughter who had come into the library just before the end of the summer holiday to research the subject, I must have mentioned the talk to them. Whoever it was ‘Thank You for the recommendation.’ As these talks are something that I do outside of work I gave her my home email and the address for Bartholomew’s page on the website. When I got home from work I found an email that had come via the website, (so now I know that it works ok), asking if they could book a talk a.s.a.p. As it happened yesterday was not only my day off but it was also the only free Wednesday during September & October when I wasn’t doing granddad duty.

So the prop boxes were dug out and checked over, my costume packed up and at 12:00 I arrived at the school raring to go, but somewhat nervous (see the first sentence for the reasons). There were 60 children crammed into a single classroom, which made things easier for me as I like to meet the children as ‘Ian from 2016.’ Then it’s a quick explanation as to what is going to happen, a challenge – ‘if you met someone from 1666 what would you want to ask them?’ a short(ish) PowerPoint presentation then a quick change into costume and character.

Bartholomew’s story went well, the Q&A session afterwards generating a question from Eddy (the other year 2 teacher) about why Bartholomew had said it wasn’t safe to drink the water in 1666. Someone asked why Bartholomew has a knife & spoon hanging from his belt, which triggered a discussion about eating habits and someone asked if my quill pen was ‘an eagle’s feather?’ – alas it’s from a common or garden goose.

There was a rather bizarre moment at the end of the session when one of the girls asked if she could see the gold guinea that Bartholomew carries in his purse, again. While I was separating it from the other coins – all of which are reproductions – one of the boys asked if I would give him one of my pennies. When I said “No” he asked why, “because I have to buy these pennies,” I replied. “You don’t have to buy pennies,” he responded, “you get given them!” ‘If only life were that simple,’ I thought.

The best moment came right at the end of the afternoon. While I was packing the props away, one of the girls wandered over to me and said “thank you, I loved what you did.” Little things like that make it all worthwhile.

Bartholomew is getting another outing in November, this time the talk is being given to the North Bournemouth Rotary Club – which means that I will be able to use what the Lord Mayor really said when he first saw the fire.