Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"A small farm upon the Downs, five miles from Eastbourne . . .”.

In the little village of East Dean, at the edge of the South Downs, we discovered this house facing the village green. It's a characteristically Sussex house in brick and flint. Notice the blue historical marker on the facade.

Apparently in the preface to “His Last Bow,” published in 1917, Dr Watson tells his readers that Holmes chose as his retirement retreat “a small farm upon the Downs, five miles from Eastbourne . . .”.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Friday, March 23, 2012

Art, by Miss T.

Miss T has drawn her first representational drawing today. In pen, on a piece of furniture, which is bothering her mom a little, but bothers me not at all. Looking at the picture makes me feel happy.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Who Can Can-Can?

The COG pointed this flyer out to me and encouraged me to sign up for it. I told him to call and see if they had an Old Age Pensioner's Special.

On Bucket Lists

Everyone talks about Bucket Lists - the list of things you want to do before you die. For me, it's never about the things you check off your list, it's about the delightful surprises you discover along the way. The things you could never have predicted - the play of light and shadow on the grass; or the funny guy on the bus who showed us where the 0 meridian is; or finding the remains of Ashdown Forest next to a car park en route to somewhere else.

A case in point: Royal Tunbridge Wells. I have wanted to see the Pantiles in Royal Tunbridge Wells since I was a teenager - I guess Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer must have mentioned it somewhere. When we were living in Brighton, in the 1970's, we actually set out to go there, but had to turn back because it was snowing in the Downs, making roads impassable. Naturally, that only increased my desire. So, this visit the COG and I finally got there. And this is a picture of what we found. I don't think the picture accurately expresses my feelings of 'that's it? I changed 3 buses to see this?

At this point you may be wondering what a 'pantile' is. So I'll tell you: a pantile is a paving block made of local clay. Some 18th c. Queen visited the town - it was a Health Spa like Bath. She got her feet muddy while shopping, but felt much better after drinking the waters. So in gratitude, she gave money to pave the shopping area with pantiles, which apparently was really special in those days because people are still talking it up for the tourists. True, in 1793 the pantiles were replaced with stone. So what we saw was a paved shopping arcade called The Pantiles, which lacked actual pantiles. But the point is that I was able to cross it off my list. Been there, Done that. What's next.

However, there was a moment when we saw the cat in the window above The Pantiles. That, for some reason, was a highlight of the day. The delightful moment that happened on the journey, but which had nothing to do with the item from the Bucket List.

Not-Puzzling-At-All English Signs

Previously, I've noticed that many English signs are incomprehensible. However, there is are signs that are not puzzling at all. In fact, they are only too easy to understand.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

This tree is 1,600 years old

This Yew tree is in the churchyard of the 12th century village church in Wilmington. Tests have shown it to be 1,600 years old.I saw the framed certificate in the church. It was 800 years old when the ancient little church was built. When it was a seedling, in about 400 a.d., the Romans were still in Britain.

Added Note: Yew trees grow in nearly every old churchyard in the UK. There is some Christian association between the Yew and resurrection. I think Christians just repackaged an earlier pagan belief, and re-packaged it. It could well be that this was a holy spot well before the church was built. We saw an old church last autumn that actually had an early burial mound right next to the church. That was just a few miles from here.

The Long Man of Wilmington

The COG has a better photo, of course, but he has left the text to me. The Long Man of Wilmington is a chalk figure on the Downs in the lovely village of Wilmington. It may be prehistoric or it may be medieval 16th century or so, no one knows for sure. The earliest drawing of it dates to 1710. At that time it was just a depression in the grass, showing only in certain light or in a light snow. In the 19th century the local vicar outlined the shape with bricks, and more recently they have been replaced by concrete blocks. The vicar may have gotten the feet wrong, and he may have left off some details. Using archeological techniques, they've discovered that the head once had a helmeted shape and facial features. There is no evidence that it had genitalia like the other giant chalk figure, the Cern Abbas, there's also no evidence that it never had them.

Interestingly, there is some kind of nearly lost figure, which is revealed only by infrared photography, on Firle Beacon, the next hill over. That one, called The Firle Corn, is, logically, shaped like an ear of corn, but no one is sure what it's supposed to be. Off Topic but interesting, Firle Place, at the foot of Firle Beacon, was the ancestral home of General Gage, who lost the Battle of Bunker Hill.

As to the question of the age of the figure. Some work has shown that it was made in the 16th century, but there are some scholars who think it's much older. The whole hill, indeed, the whole area is riddled with prehistoric stuff. Just barely visible in the picture, above the figure at the crest of the hill you can see bumps that are various earthworks and tumuli. Just to the right of the figure, where the hill has kind of collapsed, there are the remains of a chalk pit and lime kiln with some funny terracing beneath it (see picture 2). And over to the left, not shown in the pictures, there's an old flint quarry.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Just a little more about Ashdown Forest

Ashdown Forest was actually established by the Normans very soon after the conquest. It's only a few miles from Battle, where the actual Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066. There are a lot of prehistoric sites there and also the Romans had some iron works there.

Today, it's still a very large protected area for walkers, horse-back riding etc. It's also a Special Protection Area for birds. And it's a designated Area of Special Beauty, or some such.

It's on The Weald, which is the area between the chalk escarpments forming the South Downs and the North Downs. The name 'The Weald' is from the old English word for woodland, 'wold' in Anglo-Saxon (as in Cotswolds). The whole area was once filled with royal hunting preserves - mostly on the higher ground.

One of the villages we passed through, Chelwood Gate, interested me. Chelwood is Old English for 'Hill Wood,' which makes sense since it was on the edge of the hilly Ashdown Forest. The 'Gate' of course, refers to the gate for horsemen to pass through the pales of Ashdown Forest 500 years ago. En Route, we passed something called Chelwood Vachery. Now a remarkable garden created in the 1920's, but it's named after a medieval manor on the same spot. What interested me was the word 'Vachery'and I'm assuming that it was from the Norman word for 'cow' which has become the word 'vache' in modern French, and that the manor had pastures for grazing cows.

England is so amazing this way - only 10% or so is inhabited so the population is very dense in some areas, but there are still huge empty tracts of land with ancient public rights of way criss-crossing them and so many names referring back to ancient words and usages that are now forgotten.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Beyond the Pale

Today we stopped briefly in a little parking lot which turned out to be much more interesting than we anticipated. It was on the edge of the old Ashdown Forest, which in Henry VIII's time was a royal hunting preserve. The forest was completely surrounded by a ditch with an earth mound, with a fence, called a 'pale' atop it. This kept the animals in, and the people out - beyond the pale. The enclosure had 40+ gates (for people on horses) and hatches (for people on foot) and the names of the villages all around still have 'hatch' and 'gate' in their names:Coleman's Hatch, Chuck Hatch, Chelwood Gate etc.

Anyway, this is a picture of part of the remaining ditch and earth mound. Not much if you don't know what it is, but pretty cool once you do know.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Fireplace Detail

Serendipity - see how the bottom of the fireplace matches the existing skirting board. Complete accident, but a happy one.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Before and After: The Fireplace

Lots to write about our time in the UK, but it will wait until we get back to proper internet connections. However, here is a B/A on the fireplace we've had installed, starting with a not-very-good picture of the Before.

Just a blank wall with the outline of a fire box and a kind of hideous hearth - pink marble surrounded by ugly dark red and patterned tiles. The latter were fortunately reproductions, so we didn't mind getting rid of them.

Here is midway in the installation. The old hearth is gone, the wall is opened up. I wouldn't want to set a real fire in that sketchy firebox. The slab of pink marble from the old hearth is now on the deck awaiting transformation into some kind of garden furniture thingie.

Here is the finished fireplace. Now we need to decorate around it. It's natural limestone with a black granite hearth. There's an electric fire with something that looks like coal piled on it. You actually pile the 'coals' on individually and they are filthy like real coal. We probably won't use the fire except for the glow, but it's nice to have. I guess. We only got it because it was thrown in.