Bertie’s blog

Spring News

Greetings – On starting this blog I had a ridiculous notion of being consistent which is odd as I have never been consistent. I’m more of a ‘flash in the pan’ type person which I think is an advantage for an Entertainer, not so for an air pilot. The last two months have been buzzy so here goes with a backlog of regurgitated news.

Dean Rise WI 20th Celebration Lunch

The Dean Rise WI 20th Celebration Lunch surpassed all expectations. They pushed out the boat by booking me so I tried to push the boat out with my show. More of that in a mo. It was held at a rather snazzy venue – Moor Hall in Cookham, Nr Maidenhead – The Chartered Institute of Marketing – There were lots of marketing types milling around the twinkly ornamental ponds but I was surrounded by a sea of women. I was the only man except for one husband that was roped in to take the photos and he kept hiding behind pillars. I was put on the top rectangular table facing all the other tables. ( I find this a strange convention especially at weddings where you often find a poor bridesmaid and a fierce mother-in-law hanging on the ends with no one to talk to as they gaze on everyone else having a ball. ) As I arrived at the top table I did witness an outrageous and shameless switching of the name place cards. I felt sorry for the poor lady who’d been out manoeuvred to exile in Siberia or should I say  the end of the table. I  tried to compensate her with some hyper-interesting conversation. This highly illegal practice of switching name place cards seems to be catching on a bit. Beeky Early birds waltz in to the room, thinking they’re unseen, and shuffle the cards  to maximum advantage. The really bold ones even move tables despite the fact that the host has had sleepless nights, gone through two Berol marker pens and torn up sheets of A1 paper. In SW6 there is a trend for newly marrieds to frame their seating plans and put them on the wall which is great if your social life is consistent and all your dinner party guests were at the wedding or unknown at the time. My social life isn’t consistent. In fact nearly half the guests to our wedding have never been seen again – by us that is. It’s as if our wedding was a way of saying goodbye to a former life. Like Henry V to Falstaff. This is particularly so if your friends don’t connect with your other half in which case they have to be released back into the wild with love.

Trying to entertain an audience after a heavy and wine soaked lunch is actually entering the world of the impossible. So bring on the magician you say. Well if I was that good I probably wouldn’t be in Maidenhead. I have no problems with silent sleeping during my shows and I tell myself that they are praying for me which I find consoling. As long as 20% are conscious and have a vague idea of what is going on I find the whole thing very manageable and indeed enjoyable if I too have had the heavy wine soaked lunch. The people I worry about are those who slip off to the land of nod and then suddenly re-awaken in the finale of my lawnmower escape trick – for about 4 seconds there is a look of total horror and confusion as they have no idea where they are and which world they are part of. I’m always touched when these people come up at the end and say how much they have enjoyed the show. In fact this  audience were great and rock on the WI – a great institution – and even better when they put politicians in their place with some home truths.

After a few deep breaths by the ornamental ponds I got straight back in the car and headed to Gillingham, Kent for a very different gig.

The Wigmore Lectures.

This is a series of lectures which take place at The Wigmore Library, Wigmore on the outskirts of Gillingham. The title makes it sound immensely grand and something that would grace any CV but actually it is quite the reverse.

Although held in a very ordinary and unassuming venue I have to say that I was bowled over by a packed and vibrant audience. It was a total joy to talk about the history of Punch and Judy and when I perused their brilliant programme of quirky talks I could see why it has developed such a loyal following. All I can say is Well Done to Medway Council for laying on such an event at great value. This is public services at its best.

Isle of Man Nadfas

A week later I found myself flying over to the Isle of Man for a Nadfas Lecture which took place at the Museum. I was very taken with the island and have made a mental note for a future family holiday – may be in the VW Camper Van that I’m dreaming of ? Part of the fun of Nadfas is staying with hosts and meeting new people. I was royally treated here and a change of scenery away from the kids is a good tonic (ie lie in)

I came back to receive a last minute booking from Moor Park Nadfas held at Moor Park Golf Club. They have one of the grandest and most elegant Clubhouses I’ve ever seen. I could see the attraction of being on a tube line and yet in a tranquil area. I did gawp at the big floodlit houses as I went up the hill. It reminded me of Chingford. (this reminds me that I sat next to a very engaging and delightful TV Editor at a wedding the other day who was working on ‘It’s all about Amy’ – now my knowledge of popular culture is limited so  I had a quick briefing on ‘The Only Way is Essex”, Amy Childs and vagazzling etc but we then got talking about Essex and I mentioned that I had driven through Chingford and been rather attracted to these gated, brick paved, floodlit mansions. Coming from a rural and chaotic setting there is something about the immaculate neatness of these houses which attracts me. I asked the editor what  these houses are about? She said that if you come from the East End of London and have struggled from nothing to make a lot of money, you have a  vision of paradise and that’s why  you live in a big, flood lit gated house. She also told me that Brentwood is the new Hollywood. This too has piqued my curiosity so I’m looking for an excuse to go to Brentwood)

U3A

I think U3a is a brilliant organisation and this is confirmed every time I do a talk for them. I have gone to various areas but late Feb saw me rock up at The Ludwick Family Centre for Welwyn Garden City U3a. The hall was packed and the audience were on great form. This was greatly helped by the time. 10.30am – it really was a pleasure and  I would travel a long way to meet an audience like that.

Men’s Breakfast

In early March I spoke at a Men’s Breakfast in Otford, Near Sevenoaks. Again speaking of times I think that breakfast is a great time to give a talk. It is always a privilege to speak about the Christian Faith and  the deeper meaning behind my life.  The hard part for me is balancing the serious with the flippant and magical. I feel in this case I could have done more magic.

Dickens – The Man and His Life through His Characters

March was dominated by Dickens for me as I gave four talks on; The Man, his life and his characters. Of course my subject is way to big for an hour’s presentation and so the talk has adapted  to; The Man and his Life through his characters. The real fun for me is  talking about Dickens’ life and then reading extracts which are  related to what I’ve said. My favourite readings are from David Copperfield and The Pickwick Papers. One of these talks took place at The Naval College (Greenwich Nadfas) and I was very amused to be approached by a man from The Pickwick Club who told me to expect a call from Augustus Snodgrass. The call came through and I will be dining (or should I say taking wittles) with the Pickwick Club at The George and Vulture in September. Of course that is the joy of ploughing your own eccentric furrow is that you literally never know what or who is round the corner. At the same time I had a return to lovely Southwold with my Punch and Judy talk. Pre show lunches can be a bit hit and miss but the host at Southwold is a true wiz in the kitchen and produces the most gorgeous lunches.  This is not good for my talk as I am in danger of nodding off.

Talking of lovely surroundings I had a very pleasant surprise when I appeared at a lunch at Packington Hall in Birmingham.  Beautiful garden and parkland and a very civilised audience. The highlight for me was when I enrolled a man to assist me  with some telepathic kinetic energy ( or  a bit of a hackneyed trick with an egg whisk and a pack of cards ) – a lady whisks thoughts across the room which magically reveal the chosen card to the man receiving the imaginary waves. When I asked the man what he did he replied that he was an air traffic controller. It was a beautiful moment and brought surprise and laughter to me. Afterwards I told him about an Opera at Glyndebourne about Air Traffic Control – with a lady belting an aria from the top of  an Air Traffic Control Tower on the stage. He didn’t believe me but I  know it’s true. Talking of Opera reminds me of two things. Firstly we’ve got a Baritone staying for the Glyndebourne  Season as he is the gardener in the Marriage of Figaro and then understudying Janecek’s Cunning Little Vixon. I met him 10 years ago on a P&O Classical Music Cruise which Richard Baker used to organise.  Of all the cruises I did they were some of the most enjoyable. I loved the concerts and lectures and met some wonderful people. It amuses me when people get in touch many years later because it is so surprising. ( This happened with the Bishop of Liverpool –  I met him and his wife in a house in Yorkshire. I was entertaining at a wedding and was put up with some neighbours down the road – on having tea I walked into the sitting room  and bumped into the Bishop of Liverpool. He took my card and rang me ten years later  to entertain for a Church/City Celebration. It was a great joy to see Ken Dodd, one of my heroes, in his home city – the last of the Music Hall Greats as I always say)

My second Opera connection happened in Mid March as I returned to Berlin Nadfas. I was blown away by Berlin on my first visit. It was like a history lesson re-enactment as so many things I had learnt and read about were right there. It was at this time that I watched the film “Goodbye Lenin” What a brilliant film. Can’t recommend it highly enough.( This was at a time when Mrs P went through the book ‘1001 films you must see before you die’ and hired them from Lovefilm. We waded through so many obscure East German films with subtitles which after a boozy meal were impossible to read. I longed for a relaxing action film but none there came. The joy of Berlin Nadfas for me is staying with the lady who runs the Nadfas Group. She is a legend and is married to an American Opera Singer (Baritone). I loved my first stay with them despite the fact it was -16* outside. This time it was warmer and just as fun. We went to church at The American Church – a huge freezing building. Berlin gave me a real change of scene and was  a great opportunity  to switch off and read.

March ended for me with the biggest day in the Nadfas Calendar. It is called The Annual Directory Day when several hundred programme secretaries descend on London to listen to the new lecturers presenting and catch up with established lecturers and make bookings. It is quintessential ‘Middle England’ and you can spot the Nadfas groups a mile off.

April 1st – Fool’s Day – found me in a truly beautiful part of the world. The village of Caerhays in Cornwall.  The sun was shining – the scenery was magnificent and it was one of those all age family parties that I really enjoy. My job is to bring a bit of fun and laughter. I am never disinterested at gatherings like these. People are so fascinating and there’s always a twist in the tale or an unexpected character. Another mental note was made for a Campervan destination of the future.

We’ve got a new puppy – A border Terrier called Mr Buttons. As we train him we’ve decided to retrain the kids at the same time. I don’t think I’ve laughed so much as I did on the first evening of puppy classes. Utter chaos as more and more new puppies arrived. I found my lead entangled several times with the leg of the lady next to me. The trainers told us to take responsibility and turn our dogs towards the wall. I spent the whole session apologising and trying to be firm but to no avail. The noise and weeing made it hard to concentrate on what the trainer was telling us. I’ve also been to a puppy party as well because I am taking the whole thing very seriously. It has put children’s parties into a whole new light.

The Eglinton Tournament.

Ayrshire Nadfas are having a Celebration in September and have asked me to give a talk on the Eglinton Tournament. Now before they asked me,  I had no idea what they were talking about. Having read up on the subject I can honestly say it must be one of the most bizarre and eccentric events ever to have taken place in this country. It is  described in the book  “The Knight and The Umbrella”. Basically the Earl of Eglinton virtually bankrupted himself by putting on a Tournament on his Estate in Ayrshire. It was part of a gothic revival and interest in the chivalry and tournaments of the past. All the great and the good turned up and just as it started the heavens opened with a deluge. The Tents all  collapsed and a hundred thousand people that had turned up were left stranded. It’s a fascinating story and I’ll let you know more.

Well I was booked to entertain at Turnbery Golf Club in Ayrshire for the Ladies Centenary Dinner. So on flying up to Glasgow I had a fun day of research at The Dick Institute in Kilmarnock looking at original water colours of the Eglinton Tournament. The Golf Club event was great fun and I can see why it is one of the most sought after courses in Scotland.

On returning back to Sussex it was all hands to the pump for a church event we put on. It was called ‘All Saints does the Alternative Olympics’ We had twelve tables representing 12 countries and set 8 challenges being: Onion Boules, peeling the longest apple peeling, mummifying a person in loo roll, putting shaving foam on someone’s face and then seeing how many wotsits  could be thrown to stick, the longest hoola dancing,first person to eat two jacobs cream crackers and whistle,  picking off the largest number of clothes pegs with one hand, the aeroplane that travelled the nearest. Our Associate Vicar gave a great talk and a fun evening was had by all.

On the 21st April I entertained the Music Box Society for a convention they were having at Pembury just outside Tunbridge Wells. One of the great marvels of life is that all across the globe are gatherings of people united in their love of something weird and wonderful. And here was just such a group. I have to say that I was a bit unsure when I saw them all filing into the dining room but as I worked round the tables I found a very unusual but friendly International audience and basically when it came to the Cabaret they were a laugh.

From one different event to the other – I was very excited to go to Riverhill House  on the edge of Sevenoaks. It is owned by the Rogers family and being on a hill (with an amazing view) they have a Himalayan garden. But it is the walled garden project that is in mid construction which is so exciting. Do go and see this garden if you have a chance. They were featured on the TV programme Country House Rescue with Ruth Whatshername? The latest generation of Rogers have commissioned a new garden within  the walled garden. I was asked to entertain at the staff and volunteers celebration party and thoroughly enjoyed traipsing through the mud to see the outline for the new garden. I was bowled over by the size of it and the vision. We were given a brief outline by the designer and I can’t wait to see it when  completed. For me – meeting and chatting with my audience gives me an advantage when I need to involve members in my show. It was a terrific range of people on this occasion and I had a ball.

From here it was on to Long Crendon – a beautiful village with needlemakers cottages and thatched roofs. Often used as the setting for Midsomer Murders, I kept thinking that John Nettles would appear behind a net curtain. I was performing for the Long Crendon Preservation Society,  after their AGM. Again it was village community at its best and there was a great atmosphere in the room.

Well these are my Spring highlights.I’ll be back when the weather warms up. Still haven’t planted the veg garden.

2nd Hand Car Dealers & Persian Rugs

Greetings. Two extraordinary tricks happened right under my very nose this week and I have no idea how they are done. In my last blog I mentioned how I had bought a (new for me) old Rover 75 over the phone. I thought the company was called “we-buy-anycar.com” which I have seen advertised on TV. It turns out the firm I bought this car from is called “we-sell-anycar.com” and they are a set up in Peterborough. The man on the phone was silver tongued and charming. He was concerned that I was concerned that it might sell and that the easiest thing was to put a deposit down with a credit card. He assured me that they would give me something for my Berlingo and so the deed was done. 5 days later I chugged up to Peterborough in the Citroen Berlingo. It has done 157k – the boot doesn’t open – the temperature gauge has broken – the interior has been fowled by kids, chickens, coffee and screen wash and the right front suspension does rattle – apart from that it’s a lovely car.

I arrive at a non descript Industrial Estate positively packed with cars and made my way into the office. The charming man with the silver tongue was nowhere to be seen and instead there was a rather gruff replacement. He played the part to perfection. On hearing that I thought £400 would be a suitable price for the Berlingo he looked startled and then almost offended. Deep breathing followed after which he told me that he could see oil pouring out of the engine and that he could even smell it from the office right here.  He said that The mileage was so high that there was nowhere to go except the scrapyard. And then he began a conversation with an imaginary man across the office “How much would we get for scrap for that citroen?”

The imaginary man replied “100 quid”

“we’d be lucky to get a 100 quid for scrap” countered the gruff man and  I am sure the imaginary man was nodding. So I too began to nod and duly accepted the £100 before purring down the M11 in my Rover 75.

Now you know how much I love magic tricks and being fooled and surprised at the same time. Well imagine my surprise when yesterday I randomly googled citroen on a website called “we-sell-anycar.com” to see a vision of what looked like my old car. The number plate was the same but it looked shinier and sparklier than I have seen any car look. I found out things I never knew. It has one previous owner and has only done 147k and it’s price is £1295. How do they do it? And I am sure there is a silver tongued man on the phone right now saying that he is concerned that his caller is concerned that it might sell quickly so the easiest thing to do is put down a deposit with a credit card.

Well. Trick No.2 is of a completely different nature. A new activity has gripped my mother and her tennis friends. They have discovered a new technique for cleaning their persian rugs. This technique is used extensively in Afghanistan as they have been told – although I can’t imagine there’s been too much rug cleaning going on in Afghanistan at this time. You take your rug outside and place it face down on a blanket of snow and it cleans over night. Pure magic! One of my mother’s friends took the trick further by making the rug disappear. It snowed over night and she couldn’t remember where she’d put the rug.

So after Sunday lunch we heaved a large rug outside and laid it out on the snow-covered lawn. The neighbours got twitchy and thought we were having an eccentric party. They didn’t seem that assured when we told them the real reason – and there the rug lies – cleaning itself by magic – while I write this. I can’t wait to see the result.

Back to conventional magic tricks. Enjoyed a lovely show in Potten End for the “Sin’Assle” theatre club. It was great to see so many children with their grandparents and the children on stage were brilliant.

This week sees me in Cookham Dean and Gillingham. The latter putting me in a perfect location for more Dickens research. More anon.

More Winter news from Bertie

Greetings! As I write this by the open fire the temperature outside is -3 and there is frozen snow all around. The chickens are seriously unhappy and  today only managed one small egg between all of them. Since my last blog things have been ticking along quite happily. A Nadfas lecture up in Chester – lovely city – but this was actually at the zoo. Not for the animals. Chester Nadfas use the very practical lecture theatre. So up I traipsed up  with my props including the ironing board. Meanwhile at church we were visited by the wonderful speaker Mr Rico Tice on January 21st for a lunch event which went down very well. Then on the 25th I went up to UCLH hospital on the Euston Road. On the 11th floor of the tower is the children’s unit and there is a play room where the charity ‘A Spoonful of Sugar ‘ put on Art and Magic for the ill children and their siblings. It is a very simple concept but works very well and the play specialists are delightful and I always enjoy my visits there. Meanwhile at All Saints Church Crowborough we are looking at the exciting idea of Church Planting – it is a subject of which I know very little but I am finding out more and the concept is very interesting not least because it promotes growth.

On the 1st of February I took the train up to Royal Leamington Spa for another Nadfas Lecture at the Spa Centre. This was where I got my first acting job as Simple Simon 14 years ago and it was strange coming back. The lovely technician Chris remember immediately as she gave me the microphone and I was very impressed. It’s funny how important names are. You an do the most amazing card tricks and yet people are far more impressed if an hour later you still remember their name.

Tomorrow I hit the road to Peterborough to buy a new (old) car from wesellanycar.com – I’ve seen the adverts but was very impressed with them on the phone. I’m  the new owner of a navy blue Rover 75 estate. On Saturday I’m on in Potten End. A lady called Liz Wood runs a theatre group called Sin’Assle and she’s gathered a huge crowd which is magic in itself. We just need to make sure that the snow is kept at bay. More anon.

 

 

 

Bertie’s first Blog!

Greetings and Happy New Year. This is my very first blog. I have no high ideals or great claims for this blog – I see it as the equivalent of a catch up at the Pub. News and views and bits and pieces that happen during my week. The week began with a visit to the beautiful city of Wells with a lecture/demonstration to The Wells Society in the Town Hall. I was very impressed to have a sound technician on standby with an actual sound desk. In my world that is a luxury. All good fun and chuffed to stumble across a Dickens centenary catalogue in a charity shop for £1.25. I should mention that like the BBC I am completely immersed in Dickens ready for my new lecture. I am loving Claire Tomalin’s new book and also re-reading David Copperfield. The childhood sequence is staggering as he suffers under the ghastly Edward Merdstone and his sister Jane. Makes you want to weep. I also loved Sue Perkins’s Tv programme on Mrs Dickens. It was so sad. Sue is a legend and highly revered in this household.
From Wells I went on to New Maldon which was a bit of a contrast. At least I know where it is. In fact the family firm Higgs and Hill was based there. And then to Pewsey – Wiltshire is a Nadfas hotspot and as I always say the red trouser count was very high. It was great to catch up with a fellow Punch and Judy Professor in the form of Alix Booth. We saw one of her brilliant and creative puppet shows up in Covent Garden. The next day it was publicity photo shoot with a photographer called Mike Dwyer who is based in Battle in East Sussex. His studio is right below the battle field – to think I traipsed that battle field as a reluctant 18 year old doing a history project questioning whether Harold was far too hasty. I longed for a later period but was put in the Ancient history division – we were always reading about King Eric blood axe – puffed up with the profits of war and pillage.
Publicity photos are a nightmare – really need a director and a stylist. I packed up all my shiny suits, shoes and the bronzing powder and a few props I thought would look good. I’ll let you know the result.
On Thursday took the kids and sister Boo to a play centre in East Grinstead as the Bertie and Boo Company is about to set up a big play centre in Balham. Found myself crawling through balls and up slides and round tunnels – all research – you must understand – didn’t scare too many children.
Friday 13th could have been ominous but I found myself doing a show in a retirement block of flats in Chichester. Wearing my shiny suit I felt very at home when I saw that the place had been officially opened by Lionel Blair four years ago. What a pro – he knows how to work an audience. In fact the audience were a lovely crowd – the flowing champagne helped and a fun time was had by all.
A kids show in Penshurst yesterday. The view of the valley was out of this world. It was like a winter wonderland with every tree sparkling in the sun. I felt more like a wizard than ever despite driving a very noisy and ever so umble Citroen Berlingo. In fact it was more civilised than you can imagine drinking a nespresso while sitting on a pile of country life magazines and surveying the Farrow and Ball catalogue on the window shelf.
Back at the Farm all is good here. My chickens which have had a bit of a break down this winter – something has scared them – mink? or large rat? Like Michael Winner I say calm down dears every morning and it seems to have worked – they’re laying again and getting up early.
You may remember Alan Bennet’s play The Lady in Van. Well we have our own lady in the van. She’s called Zoe and she lives in a green carpet van which contains a canoe, filing cabinet , desk and a bunk bed. She appears and disappears like Mary Poppins. Well she’s just appeared and wanted to borrow a soldering iron and is very concerned about the birds nesting too soon. Talking of which we’ve got owls on the roof. We know this because they’re hooting loudly – they’re regurgitating pellets and there are pale droppings. Oh and wood peckers – heard three of them in different places – all going at it like bats out of hell. How they can take all that hammering.
Well tomorrow I’m off to the Goring Hotel. The 2nd time in four weeks. It is without doubt one of the nicest hotels in London. More next time.