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Getting the Fiddly Details Right!

Year 2 SATs week is always a chance for me to catch up on projects. For some reason not that many schools want a pirate, highwayman or London bigwig visiting when the children have tests to concentrate on!

It means I have had a chance to cross a few things off my to do list. First there was my 18th century sailor’s knife. I had learned that ship captains, as well as keeping the ship’s weapons locked away, sometimes also insisted that their sailors’ trade knives (aka ‘gully knives’) had blunted tips. This meant that although the blades were still useful for working the ship, if the lads were tempted to mutiny, perhaps to turn pirate, then they would find it a little less easy to do so with such knives. So, while my friend Trevor serviced my car I got him to lop off the end of my recently acquired trade knife so that it would look ‘like the one in the picture’.


Having the right tools, I think he’s done a great job.

Meanwhile there were other things I could do myself, such as replacing the arrowheads I use for my Elizabethan sea farer and my Civil War Castle Governor characters with hand-made authentic ones I recently had delivered. Luckily a brulee torch flame was all that was needed to melt the epoxy glue inside the modern tips, allowing me to remove them with ease. After fixing the authentic ones on instead I am very pleased with the result.


You have to get the fiddly details right, see?

As always, reading obscure books is also something I do whenever I have the chance. This week it has been the marvellous tome penned by Sir William’s good friend Bishop John Wilkins, a treatise entitled, ‘Mathematical Magick, or, the WONDERS That may be Performed by Mechanical Geometry in two Books: Concerning Mechanical  Powers, Motions. Being one of the most Easie, Pleasant, Useful (and yet most neglected) part of MATHEMATICS Not before treated of in this Language.’

I am studying this for my time traveller character, Sir William Petty. Being a founder member of the Royal Society, and a natural philosopher of considerable repute, he has always had an interest in the latest inventions and ingenious ideas (which is of course why he is attempting to travel forwards in time). Bishop Wilkins considers all sorts of wonders in his book, some more fantastical than others.

For example, he describes an improvement on the usual methods of turning a spit. Why have a child or a dog that need encouraging, or a weight that needs winding, when you can utilise the very motion of the air as it ascends the chimney to turn the spit?


Exploring this concept further, the bishop discusses the ‘sailing chariots’ of China and Holland. After describing and illustrating a carriage with ship-like sails rigged above it, he then describes the following, explaining that due to its design it should be able to move with ease even directly into the wind.


Although the bishop does express doubts concerning whether such a chariot would shake itself to pieces on rough ground.

Another engine he describes, this time a war engine, is one which I myself think would quite literally tear itself to pieces!


That one goes beyond fiddly and into the realm of very dangerous, and not necessarily for the enemy!

If you want to know more about Sir William the Time Traveller, please click here. If it’s the naughty pirate Captain Burwash you might like to visit your school, please click here. And if you’re learning about Civil War Castles then please click on a Civil War Castle Governor to find out more. To see which of my other characters you might like to visit your school, please take a look at my page of Characters. I look forward to hearing from you.

Just Another Amongst Many Crimes

Not for the first time, ‘Swift Nicks’ Nevison recently found himself unable to get to his fine horse Nutmeg, what with the constables and watchmen of the hue and cry closing in on him. Luckily, he found an equally fine horse to steal and made off as best he could.


Unluckily, the horse was unsaddled when he took her, so after burdening her long enough to escape his pursuers, he thought it best to dismount and lead her. He knew exactly where he could steal a saddle. Before he got there a strangely armed man attempted to interfere with his progress, but Nevison saw him off in the usual, tried and tested, manner!


This is a still from the filming I did a little over a week ago, near Hey Green, near Marsden. I’ve been back since with the two boys as it was such a marvellous place I wanted them to see it too. The filming was for the Milestones Society, a charity running a project called Finding the Way. To find out more please see their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/FindingtheWay.org.uk/.

Meanwhile, if you want to know more about my Nevison the highwayman character (who will be hiding in a school on Accrington tomorrow) then please click on – Swift Nicks Nevison.

The Great Experiment is a Success!

After a long time in the making, my Time Traveller version of Sir William Petty is at last ready for schools. He’s been gently tested twice at Skipton Castle, tweaked, then dropped in at the deep end (of time?) in a Halifax school a couple of weeks ago, where I worked with the whole school, concentrating on Key Stage 2.


As I develop him further I will come up with formats for differing age groups and numbers of classes. I envisage he will work with anything from one class to the whole school, rather like my pirate character. The fewer the classes, however, the more each individual child will get out of their interaction with the character.

All of my other characters believe they’re still in their own time, which makes this character a new experience for me – Sir William is the first who can notice and directly address the present day rather than talking solely about his own world. It is a delight to see the children first realising how much I don’t know about their world despite the fact I seem very well informed about all sorts of matters, then struggling to work out how exactly they can satisfactorily explain their own world to me.


If you want to know more about Sir William the Time Traveller, please click here. And if you want him to visit your school, do please get in touch.

In the Middle of Guy Fawkes!


Just now I am right in the middle of my annual two week run as Guy Fawkes, and having a great time being him. Last week I met 12 (mostly) Key Stage 1 classes (4 then 1 then 2 then 1 then 4) plus a bunch of other classes who came to see the assembly introduction to the day.

Next week, more of the same, and then I am back to my more usual characters for three more fully booked weeks, with just one last day as Fawkes in late November and then the beard retires until next summer.

These pictures are from a day with one class in a local school (thanks Mistress ‘B’ for taking them!) when Master Guido worked with a year one class all day. Below you’ll see someone (aged 6) has made a very pertinent point which Guy Fawkes thinks is worthy of notice.


The children learned how to write in a secret cipher, being the one used by the catholics Anthony Babington and Father John Ballard in their communications with Mary Queen of Scots. If only Walsingham’s spies had not know the cipher as well as how to intercept the letters things might have been different. Guy Fawkes has high hopes that this time they will not fail. He’s so confident, in fact, that he can even laugh about it all!


I am surprised he feels so happy this close to the fateful 5th November!

I know it’ll be a while (about 11.5 months I reckon) before I am Fawkes again, but to see which of my various characters you might like to visit your school, please take a look at my page of Characters. I look forward to hearing from you.


No Prey, No Pay (on a Friday Night)!

It’s not only children that Captain Burwash regales with his tales of privateers and plain old pirates. Yesterday evening, after the Calder Probus Club members had finished their hearty repast, he spoke to them of how chasers chased the chase, and told of the deeds of Blackbeard, Morgan, Calico Jack, Anne Bonny and Mary Read (amongst others). As his audience were a tad older than his regular listeners, he added in some of the more unsavoury parts of the stories – let’s just say that pirates can be even ‘naughtier’ than he tells children!

The listeners asked him about pieces of eight, jolly rogers and muskets, and all sorts of other things, which luckily he just so happened to have with him. After his talk, he took the opportunity to chat to some of the individuals there.

Here he is explaining how the lock of his stolen French Fusil works.


And here he is wondering whether he should have so readily disarmed himself!


The evening was a success, although the captain was worried that the ladies amongst the audience might suffer from nightmares that night as a consequence of his plainspoken account of his fellow sea rovers!

If you want to know more about Captain Burwash, please click here. And if you want him to visit your school, do please get in touch.