9.25am...the sun is shining in Addlestone and all children are present, fit and raring to go...although we have no coach at the moment as it is 'stuck in traffic'. Mrs O'Connor has arrived with the 2016 version of the small house on wheels...it looks for certain that she intends to stay on the island for the entire summer. There are a dazzling array of shades on display and the obligatory rapper-style baseball hats adorning the heads of the boys...the sleepy residents of Sandown will think we've just landed on a 747 from JFK in New York.
First stop today will be Portsmouth Historic Dockyard where we will tour HMS Victory and find out about the life of one of England's greatest ever sailors, Horatio Nelson. There are sure to be some prize-winning comments delivered during the tour and hopefully I will be on hand to record the classic lines in my trusty green book. Mrs Holt is looking chilled and in control although has started talking to the orang utan already which is slightly concerning at this stage of the trip...that will be a situation to monitor closely as the week progresses. The phone has just rung...apparently the coach is still 30 minutes away...and 'the driver needs a break when he gets here'. Mrs Holt is talking to the coach company...she remains chilled...this is the sign of a good trip leader. The phone conversation has ended and Mrs Holt has left the office so I expect she has gone off to discuss revised tactics with the orang utan. It's all happening and we haven't even left the school yet...I have a feeling this is going to be an interesting week.
8.10pm - Good evening all, greetings from the sunny Isle of Wight. We have arrived, we have eaten and we have internet connection at last. Time for lift off with the story of today...coming in the next few minutes...
8.20pm - And so we rewind to the events of earlier today. It's been an action-packed and amusing start to the trip...
Following our slightly delayed departure all was calm as we cruised onto the A3. Mrs Holt chose this moment to casually hand over the room lists which caused the biggest raising of eyebrows seen in Europe since Sepp Blatter declared he had the best interests of world football at heart. The week ahead took a sudden and dramatic change of direction for yours truly with the news that all 15 boys will be housed in 2 rooms on the ground floor, one either side of mine. It sounds like it could lead to a scene from Full Metal Jacket…or it could be like the siege of The Alamo down there…and I haven’t packed my US Marines uniform or Davy Crocket hat. I am currently checking my terms and conditions for my legal rights as it appears the rest of our wonderful staff team will be enjoying the serenity of the mezzanine and upper floor along with 3 orderly rooms of girls. That will probably be like something from The Sound of Music…they’ll all be singing away happily up there like the Von Trapp Family. I’m now starting to work out why Mrs Holt is looking so chilled…she can sense the sweet smell of Edelweiss on the alpine meadows…clever leadership strategy there from our ever creative Year 6 teacher. The room reports, which feature prominently in trip blogs, will be most interesting I feel so check back later for updates.
Ooh, wait a moment, Mrs Holt’s chilled approach has taken a slight knock…apparently she has forgotten her shampoo. Last year we had last minute ‘hairdryer-gate’ and in 2016 we’ve got ‘Shampoo-gate’. Without assuming too much, I predict she will be ok – the girls’ rooms on a Year 6 residential usually resemble the cosmetics department of John Lewis so I expect she will have plenty of opportunity to obtain a new bottle.
Following a serene, problem-free journey we arrived in Portsmouth where we disembarked the coach and wandered into the historic dockyard. Whilst Mrs Holt collected the tickets, we sat down and relaxed in the sun and the conversations began.
“Does the hotel have air conditioning?” Isabella asked. I think she is expecting the Hilton…we can always open the windows. Harry Yule was growing increasingly concerned, a frown spreading across his face. “What’s wrong Harry?” I asked. He was worried about his aftershave which apparently was back on the coach in his bag. It looks like we may be opening a men’s department on the ground floor this year…happy days. I’ll be checking out the aftershave later on, once we are settled into the rooms.
We moved on and headed into the museum to view lots of interesting things linked to Nelson and The Battle of Trafalgar. I made a special note that at 11.30am on 21st October 1805 as British ships were sailing into battle, Nelson encouraged his men with his famous speech “England expects that every man will do his duty”. We all know what transpired at Trafalgar so this has given me renewed hope for averting potential carnage on the ground floor this week. We will gather together later in one of the rooms for some male bonding and I will assume the mantle of a modern-day Nelson…I will keep you fully posted about how we get on. Up on the second floor there was a lovely outside terrace where I bumped into Josh taking photos…of a crane and Jake chasing a spider…clearly my Nelson-style speech needs to be truly inspirational tonight.
Back in the museum Jaimie came across a life-size and very realistic model of Nelson in full uniform. “Where has his arm gone?” she cried in shock. I was about to open my mouth and explain when Sam appeared out of nowhere and replied “He lost it in Tenerife!” Presumably this was in some legitimate naval battle and not on a secret drunken night out on the infamous ‘Veronicas’ night club strip… I hope. With Jaimie shaking her head and muttering “I’m learning so many new things already”, Toby arrived and added “Apparently he lost an eye as well.” Jaimie dashed off…then returned a couple of minutes later looking really confused “Did he lose a leg as well…or was it just a foot?” Poor old Horatio, the armless, eyeless, footless and legless admiral who never even made it to Veronicas…how did he ever win at Trafalgar?
Jaimie dashed off again and Leila strolled up. She was clearly oblivious to the various missing (real or rumoured) body parts of the great admiral but remained very concerned…about his footwear. “His shoes are too big for him” she said…Mrs O’Neil would be proud of her focus on his shoes, these things are clearly very important. I then spotted Gracie resembling Sherpa Tenzing at the beginning of an ascent on Everest. She’s lugging the biggest backpack around…it’s either full of cannonballs or she has a particularly lavish lunch in there. After Ghia and her bag of rocks last year, nothing would surprise me any more :-)
Following the museums we went aboard the newly repainted HMS Victory. Mrs Holt led the way and as we passed the ‘no stilettos on board’ sign, I pondered that, following Leila’s footwear observations, they clearly weren’t as strict at Trafalgar on shoes that fit. We made our way directly to the top deck (Poop Deck – more on that later) where we came across a lady who clearly gets a lot of pleasure from her role as a tour guide. “Why are there cannons in this cabin?” Brendan asked. This was a very good question and an opportunity for said lady to engage in the duties for which she is no doubt paid. “There are cannons all over the ship” she growled gruffly. I looked. At that moment she resembled a cross between Miss Trunchbull and Mussolini so we moved on downwards to the next deck where we came across a far more cheerful and engaging young man in the Admiral’s Cabin.
“Hello kids, where are you from?” he asked with a smile.
“Addlestone in Surrey” they replied enthusiastically. “Great, what’s it like?” he enquired.
“It’s great…we’re getting a cinema…and shops…and a car park” they beamed with pride.
And so began a bit of light-hearted banter. “We’ve had shops and a cinema and car parks in Pompey for years” he said with a grin. “Did you know the masts on the Victory were 205 feet high?” he quizzed them. “That’s exactly the same height as Stealth” Jake countered immediately. Now, that confused the cheery chappie so Jake explained about Thorpe Park.
“Err, ok, we haven’t got any rollercoasters in Pompey” he admitted. Clearly we do rollercoasters before shops and car parks in Addlestone…just how it should be.
Inspired by his open and approachable nature, the questions began to fire.
“Why is it called the poop deck?” asked Jaimie. “Is it because of the seagulls?” Isabella added. Interesting theory I pondered…but it’s a Latin translation apparently.
Leaving the Admiral’s Cabin we then came across a small kitchen with a chicken hanging upside down from the ceiling. “Do you think that chicken is real?” Federica asked. Jack looked, leaned in and grabbed the chicken by the face. “It’s a fake” he declared. Just as well for the poor chicken; being hung upside down in a 200 year old ship is bad enough without having your jowels crushed by an 11 year old. Mrs Holt moved on to the ‘dining area’ where she proceeded to read out the daily menu for an average sailor on board…which sounded like the sort of thing B list celebrities eat in that silly jungle programme on ITV. Freya was weighing it all up before saying “8am for breakfast…I’d have no chance, I’d still be in bed.”
“Err, no you wouldn’t” I replied. Freya looked bemused. “Hammock…you’d be stuck in your hammock” I added. We finished our tour in the lower decks where we came across the surgeon’s cabin complete with a macabre display of knives, cleavers, hatchets and hacksaws strewn across the table. “Is that real blood?” someone from behind asked but I couldn’t reply as I was listening to the latest incumbent tour guide describing every gruesome detail of your daily surgery in 1805. There were plenty of ‘oohs’, ‘aahhs’ and ‘urgghs’ being uttered by Year 6…now this lady really did appear to be enjoying her job. I just thanked our lucky stars that it wasn’t Trunchball-Mussolini near those implements of torture…now that would have been dangerous. We passed by the spot where brave Nelson passed away then headed for the exit. After 45 minutes hunched over like an extra from Lord of the Rings it was invigorating to be back outside in the sun. Before getting back on the coach I noticed Gracie opening her backpack. There’s a horse in there…no wonder it’s heavy…and I overheard an interesting conversation where Imogen announced her dislike of squirrels…and pigeons…oh, and ladybirds which apparently “are too small and you never know when they are going to fly away.” :-) Fascinating what you hear on a Year 6 residential.
We boarded the 5pm ferry and enjoyed a beautiful, calm, sunny cruise across The Solent, arriving on the island at 5.35pm. I’m now typing this as we travel to the hotel and everyone is well and in good spirits. So far so good…but then again we haven’t reached the rooms yet. I’m holding my breath that my Nelson speech helps to avoid the siege of The Alamo…more later!
8.30pm - Ok, here we go, we're back now in live real time action. The children are in the lounge listening to a storyteller reciting an intriguing tale of piracy, smuggling and mysterious goings on in darkened coves...no, it's not the official story of FIFA, but some of the history of the Isle of Wight that you probably won't read about in the tourist brochures. The storyteller appears to be working hard in there...particularly as none of the children (or indeed Mrs O'Connor) have heard of the book 'The Lighthouse keeper's Lunch'. She's now moved on to some sort of ancient IOW version of Call my Bluff...interspersed with howls, crashing cymbals and strange noises...a bit like an edition of Britain's Got Talent...only by the sea...and without Simon Cowell...and therefore by definition a bit better. Before the storyteller we all tucked into a veritable banquet of tomato soup (which apparently was what Mrs Holt used to eat in her childhood in Oldham when she was ill), sausage, chips and peas all rounded off with a choc ice. It was delicious and I'm pleased to report that all the children ate well, enjoyed the food and were 'quite shocked to be having a 3 course meal'...just like the Hilton Isabella :-) I'm also pleased to report that Harry O has brought his video camera along. This is particularly important as it may enable us to capture any potential carnage in rooms 8 and 10 on the ground floor this week...Harry could well end up as famous as Mr Zupruuder and his famous 'grassy knoll footage' from Dallas 1963. Right, I'm just going to pop into Room 8 to check out Harry Yule's aftershave...I'm very worried that it may not have made it in one piece and I'm sure you are all equally worried too :-) I think I may also take the opportunity to head up the Alps and find out how the other half are living. More news later...
9.45pm - Hello again, I'm back from my mountain climbing adventure to Von Trapp Land. It's all happening up there...Mrs O'Connor was printing out song sheets for 'Do a Deer' whilst whirling and waltzing around on the staircase and there's a very fresh, crisp mountain air feel to the whole set up. Downstairs it's a different story altogether where I've just almost killed myself trying to get into Room 10. They've booby trapped the place already with a huge suitcase directly behind the door...you push the door partly open and then it springs back like a cannon and smashes you in the face...or it would if you didn't have the reflexes of a panther...for a split second I could fully empathise with that chicken as it was grabbed by the face at HMS Victory :-) The story telling session has just ended and I caught the conclusion...where a gorilla trapped in a cage had appeared in the story. I know I missed a large chunk of it whilst typing this but a gorilla in a pirate smuggling story has left me slightly confused. Children are getting ready for bed whilst Mrs Capindale & Mrs O'Connor are organising the Bank of Holy Family ahead of tomorrow's festivities.
STOP PRESS...I'm delighted to inform you all that the aftershave is safe and sound in Room 8. Harry reliably informs me 'it is special stuff from Spain'. I'm happy...I will sleep much better now knowing all is well and I've been offered a free splash of it tomorrow :-)
Ok, I will end here for now and give a helping hand with the bank/electrical charging/nightcap drinks and post once more later night after all are quiet and the hotel is peaceful. Your children are all happy and doing you all proud. Until later, it's over and out from the Blog Bloke in Sandown.
11pm - Right, here's the latest from the island. Lights are officially out and although sleepers are currently few and far between, silence is beginning to descend on Bertram Lodge...it's a slow descent in certain rooms but hopefully all will be in the land of nod before too long. The staff are beginning to relax on the leather sofas in the lounge after a long, hard tiring day. I expect they are finding the air down on the ground floor less appealing than the alpine freshness up above but Mrs Rawlinson's malteser cake is currently helping them to acclimatise :-) Plans for tomorrow are being discussed...we're off climbing trees in the morning (I expect the orang utan booked that activity) before visiting Osborne House and the museum of strange antiquities in the afternoon followed by Shanklin Theatre in the evening. Weather forecast looks good so all is set for another exciting day. I'll be up bright and early with a first post of the day. Until then it's love and hugs to you all from everyone here in Sandown.