Monday 1st June
It's departure day...and the drama is already unfolding. I've just had a rather scratchy and static-filled phone call from the coach driver to inform us that 'he is stuck outside Leicester as the M1 is closed and it's taken an hour to drive 5 miles'. Hmm, this is not a good start although it could have been worse as the background buzz on his phone made him sound like he was calling from another galaxy. Looks like we will be departing somewhat later than expected. Never mind, we always have a Plan B and, if that doesn't work, there are 24 other letters in the alphabet before we run out of ideas.
Mrs Holt and Philippa have arrived with suitcases the size of small houses. After carrying them both up the steps I am suspicious...I think Mr Holt and Mr Holt senior may be stowed away inside each of them. Apparently, due to the mixed weather forecast, 'there was a need to pack for all eventualities'...I wonder if that includes the eventuality that someone may be crushed into Flat Stanley if either of those bags falls on them?
Well, what an interesting start...and most of the children are not even here yet. This adventure could be well worth following as events unfold this week.
As we were all gathered in the hall awaiting the delayed coach to arrive, Mrs Holt was stricken with panic on the realisation that she had forgotten her hairdryer. Apparently ‘you can’t go anywhere without a hairdryer.’ I suspect Telly Savalas would have disagreed with this. Never mind, this crisis was soon averted as Mr Holt was called and amazingly the hairdryer was delivered; I say ‘amazingly’ as I haven’t got a clue how he extricated himself from within the suitcase…it was locked and had two straps fastened around it. Clearly Mr Holt moonlights as a Dynamo tribute act when he’s not running a neighbouring Catholic primary school.
At 11am, with all the suitcases stored in the hold, we finally hit the road. Great excitement flooded through the bus as Paula Radcliffe raced us up Ongar Hill…or was it Ellie’s mum? Regardless, combined with the rest of the parents waving us off, it was a fitting departure. The coach trip to Portsmouth was happily uneventful apart from the fact that by the time we reached Guildford we had experienced enough variety in weather conditions to keep a moderately sized meteorological convention happy. Never fear folks…any rain which occurs whilst on the coach (or during the night) does not count against the unblemished 7 year dry weather record J Oh, the paparazzi had somehow managed to sneak on board. I’m not sure how they got through the stringent security arrangements set up by Mrs Capindale but they were snapping away like two crazed alligators who had just had their lunch stolen. Looking again I realised it was Saskia and Monique taking photos of each other taking photos of everyone else. Oh…and Lucas was hungry.
We arrived at Portsmouth Historical Dockyard and Mrs Holt led the way inside. Getting our priorities well and truly right we then had lunch. Following lunch we headed inside the Nelson exhibition gallery where the observational gems began to roll. Looking at an impressive wooden model of HMS Victory in a glass case, Joe Wright pointed at it and said “ Mr Tindall, is that model made out of Lego?” “Only if Lego was wooden in Nelson’s time” I replied with a smile. HMS victory is 250 years old this year so I guess it’s possible that Lego was wooden in the late 1700’s :-)
Following the exhibition we moved onto the real thing and prepared to board the 250 year old ship. As with last year I simply couldn’t help noticing that Mrs O’Neil would surely have been ruled out of the Battle of Trafalgar. On the sign, not only does it say ‘No stiletto heels on board’, it also has a big warning saying ‘trip hazards’ with a little picture of some unfortunate individual tumbling to the floor. Mrs O’Neil wouldn’t have made Nelson’s crew…and for that matter neither would Mr Gorman as the sign also says ‘no eating and drinking on board’. A couple of hours aboard ship without coffee and cake would have seen him jumping overboard :-) Despite all these people ruling themselves out of the Battle of Trafalgar, once on board we discovered someone who was clearly there. The guide was explaining to the children about the telescope used by Nelson and how the famous story goes that after being told he could not attack ships if he could see them in his telescope, he put the scope to his blind eye. So was born the famous phrase ‘Ships, I see no ships’ which apparently was a lightbulb moment for Mrs Holt as this is a phrase that has been used by her dad all his life. Clearly Ernie from Oldham was on board at the Battle of Trafalgar :-) Whilst with the guide the children asked some excellent questions and were very attentive to the detailed and interesting answers given. I was impressed. Mrs Holt then led us on to the punishment area of the ship and explained the use of leg irons and the cat o nine tails. “Can someone tell me about the cat o nine tails?” she asked. “It hurts” Joseph replied instantly. Hmm, maybe he was also there at Trafalgar failing to spot any ships with Ernie…maybe that’s why he is familiar with the nine tails! Mrs Holt was explaining how the cat o nine tails was kept in a red bag and how the phrase ‘Let the cat out of the bag’ thus originated. One of the boys then asked “What is the cat in the bag?” It has probably lost something in translation but trust me, it was side-splittingly funny at the time.
We moved onward and stopped at the gun deck talk. This was incredibly interesting and again the children listened attentively and asked some great questions. There were 104 guns on board HMS Victory ranging from 12 pounders up to 32 pounders. The guide explained how the gun crews could fire and reload a 32 pound gun within 90 seconds which gave the English fleet a massive advantage over enemy crews. It allowed Nelson to fire 5 shots to 1 against the Spanish and 3 shots to 1 against the French fleet…it’s a pity this tactic doesn’t remain in place for the English football team. The guide then said “The reason why we were so much better than the opposition was because our sailors and soldiers trained and trained and trained. We were the best because we were the best prepared.” There’s a perfect message in there for all of us.
Down in the barrel storage area Mrs Holt asked “What do you think is in the barrels?” Several children offered an answer…”Rum…Brandy…Gunpowder…Chickens!” It was all going so well up to that point. In the surgeon’s casualty theatre there was a gruesome arrangement of knives, chopping implements, sharp pokey things and saws laid out on the table. Joe W pointed at the table and said “My Dad’s got a saw because he’s a roofer.” I’m not sure if that was meant as a statement or a threat but I’ve made a mental note…best make sure I don’t upset Mr Wright in a hurry…he’s got a saw and might be lying in wait on my roof.
After spending 90 minutes hunched over like an extra from Planet of the Apes to avoid the low beams, we disembarked HMS Victory and headed to another of the Nelson galleries where I bumped into Daniel and Calvin (wearing his crocodile cap) studying some old paintings. “Mr Tindall, why is that man beating rainbow-coloured crocodiles over the head with an oar?” Daniel enquired. “I’m not sure but it must be making Calvin feel rather uncomfortable” I replied. Calvin simply chuckled to himself and tipped his crocodile cap…a stylish response. Moving onward I came across someone clambering inside a 184 gallon barrel called a leager. This can hold 2,500 cans of Coke…or one Joseph who had by now got himself sorted out and was peering out. Crouched in there he declared “This is terrible…imagine being stuck in here covered in brandy”. “I don’t suppose Nelson was in much of a state to complain” I responded which clearly went down well with Joseph judging by the thumbs up sign I received. After the encounter with the barrel I came across Philippa who was happily snapping away taking selfies with various wax models of Nelson. When asked why she simply responded “Because it’s fun”. Fair point and I suppose it’s considerably cheaper than a trip to Madame Tussaud’s. By now we were in serious danger of ‘fun overload’ so it was just as well it was time to return to the coach. Everyone was in good spirits…oh and Lucas was looking for somewhere to buy a snack because he was hungry :-)
A quick drive from Gunwharf Quays to the ferry and at 5pm we were on The Solent and heading for the island. We found some comfy seats inside (and out of the increasingly wild wind) and settled down. Everyone was in good spirits…oh and Lucas was looking to buy a snack because he was hungry :-)
We are now ‘in real time’ and I’m typing this as we do the short drive from Fishbourne to Sandown. Some sort of impromptu Frozen concert has begun behind me on the coach with Lucas leading the higher soprano parts…clearly this is his way of combatting his hunger. I have made a note and will ensure I carry a bag full of food for the rest of the week…I’m not sure my ears can handle any repeat performances of Frozen. Hopefully when we arrive at the hotel the Wifi connection will instantly work, I will encounter no technical gremlins and you will all be happily reading my inane ramblings by 7pm. Fingers crossed!
Stop Press…Mrs Holt has just named Daniel’s school-made bear ‘Horatio Sandwich-Wight’ Clearly he’s a very well connected bear…I hope he’s happy with his accommodation for the week :-)
It’s all happening here…more news later!
7pm...we're in folks! It's all working. Granted, I'm having to lie on the floor of Room 8 to get it working but it's working...time to post.
8.20pm Hello everyone I'm back. Dinner has been consumed and there were plenty of clean plates all round. Starter was tomato soup followed by sausage, chips and peas all rounded off with choc ice and plenty of orange juice. Happily I can report that I've just officially checked and Lucas is now not hungry :-) The children have been allocated their rooms and all appear generally pleased. I'm on the ground floor in Room 9 sandwiched between Room 8 and Room 7...the black holes of Sandown as one contains 7 boys and the other 6 boys. Shockingly it's dawned on me that this equals 13 (you can see why I take the level 6 maths group) which I'm hoping will not prove unlucky for our bid for someone on the ground floor to win the 'tidiest room' competition this week. The boys are in confident mood so I'm going with that positivity. If the boys get anywhere near winning, I will be applying for the installation of a blue plaque on the hotel to commemorate this auspicious event in English history. Upstairs the hotel management clearly did not get the steel reinforcement joists installed in time as Mrs O'Connor and her suitcase are not on the 'half-landing'. Worryingly however, Mrs Holt IS on the half landing and after carrying her suitcase into school earlier today, that could spell trouble for the ceiling...although the Dynamo tribute act has escaped after the hairdryer alert so the case could be significantly lighter by now :-)
The children are currently listening to the storyteller in the lounge of the hotel. It sounds like an interesting tale all about smuggling and dogs' tails and fog and secret codes. There are long periods of silence interspersed with howling, wailing and muttering which reminds me of The Etihad Stadium on a good night...only better...and no-one is dressed like a blue seat...and this is by the sea. Outside the wind is begin to really blow..the storm is coming in so I'm glad we are tucked inside this lovely little hotel in the warmth and the calm. Mrs Holt is sitting cross-legged on the floor surrounded by paper and little money bags...she is either meditating, solving the world banking crisis or preparing for tomorrows action. Speaking of tomorrow, we have made a cunning adjustment to the itinerary in order to thwart the forecasted wind and rain. Rock climbing has been swapped with Monkey Haven so we will be visiting the gibbons and their mates in the morning - that should be entertaining. I'm also hoping Mrs Holt and I will be re-united with our old friend from last year, Scrumply the Mancunian Snake ('scrumply' is a top Northern word meaning 'a bit messy and creased' and was part of our continued mission to enrich the children's vocabulary on last year's trip). Ok, that's enough rambling for now. I'm off for a quick room trawl to find out the competition for this tidiest room quest. More updates later...
Ok, I’m back again…room trawl is done. Early indications are that upstairs Room 2 are having a total nightmare; the place is total carnage. There are trainers strewn across the floor and items of clothing fashionably hanging everywhere. I don’t fancy their chances of winning. Room 3 next door is a totally different story – it’s as big as the ballroom at The Winter Gardens…but tidier…and there’s no giant white Wurlitzer in the corner. The trainers in Room 3 are perfectly aligned and all colour coded…it’s impressive stuff. Room 3 are a genuine threat to the aspirations on the ground floor. Room 4 have made a solid start. They could be dark horses…best keep a close eye on Room 4. As the blog develops over the week, I will reveal further clues as to the identities of those within each room; this will allow you all to get your Poirot heads on and see if you can work it all out. Room 2 have just appeared downstairs en masse to declare ‘they have been locked out of their room.’ This is an interesting development…I told you it was carnage in there…even the room itself has abandoned all hope. Also on these trips it is customary for me to roll the film credits for each room based on the events of the week. Room 8 are already sorted on this score as I’ve already got enough ammunition to write a whole series of movies. After popping in to see how their unpacking was going, I heard faint scratching from within the wardrobe. “Surely not a mouse?” I whispered…but no, it was Akindu…in the wardrobe. “How was Narnia…did you not fancy one of those lovely beds?” I asked him. You couldn’t make this up. Room 8... ‘Hunger Games goes to Narnia’ starring Lucas, Akindu, Joseph, Joe, Conor and Kian.
It’s now 10pm and Mrs Holt is in full flow delivering her pre-sleep motivational talk. I really hope this works as they don’t sound sleepy to me…although Mrs Holt has just literally said “most of you are looking very tired” Clever…I’m fully expecting a watch swinging on a chain before too long. She is running through her full repertoire of sleep inducing strategies which apparently include going all round Oldham town centre in your head…maybe that explains why I’ve spotted so many people lying on the streets of Oldham outside public houses at midnight on a Friday :-)
Ok folks, I'm just about done for today as the technical gremlins have set in. For some reason I'm struggling to get anything to publish to the website now. Children are in their rooms with lights out and total silence in the next half hour...I hope :-) If things start to work, I will make one last post tonight.
11pm - if you have reached this far then I take my hat off to you! All is now quiet inside the hotel and the staff are enjoying a well-earned moment of relaxation on the leather sofas. Very comfy they are too. It's been a successful day after our delayed start and all children are well...oh, the tooth fairy will be making a double visit to Room 7 tonight as we've lost TWO teeth in there. Let's hope she makes it across The Solent in this heavy wind. Until tomorrow folks it's goodnight form everyone here in the Isle of Wight. See you all in the morning.
The Blog Bloke