Sunday, March 30, 2014

Ahhhhh Italia

Got up at 3:30 am (which was really 2:30 am because the clocks went forward tonight), To Gatwick via coach (the train is stopped for repairs on Sunday morning) and arrived still in the dark at 5:45. Boarded the plane at 7:30, very early morning.  The day was clear. I slept for a bit then....

The Alps in Switzerland:

The Italian Alps (less snow):

Venice - the green area diagonally across the center:

And at that point the pictures stopped entering photo stream, so I can't get them onto the blog. The COG has an actual camera and there's a way of transferring the photos that is not reliant on photostream.  

More later,  if I can solve the picture problem.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Lambing Live

The COG is, at this moment, watching a tv show called 'Lambing Live'. It's a farming program on BBC, in which two presenters "follow the life and death drama of lambing' for 30 minutes live every night during lambing season. It seems to take place in a barn filled with sheep in labour. 

The BBC 2 says about the program:

Around 16 million lambs are born in the UK every year, making lambing the biggest and busiest event in the farming calendar. Each spring our fields fill up with ewes and their new lambs - a seasonal feature of our landscape but also a reminder of a way of life that’s shaped our country and our countryside.

BBC Two's Lambing Live opens the door to this incredible world. In Spring 2010 Kate Humble and Adam Henson got their wellies muddy on the Beavan family farm in South Wales. 

And the COG just said - I love this program. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

More About Dover Castle

Most of the castles I've ever seen were 'slighted' by Oliver Cromwell's order during the Civil War.  Unless they were later converted to country homes, they were never rebuilt after being slighted because the age of castles was over. They were architectural dinosaurs.   I've always been annoyed that Cromwell ruined so many castles. It seemed petty to me.

However, Dover Castle wasn't slighted.  I still don't know why, except that it was held by the King, not a noble family resisting Cromwell's rule.  It was apparently taken by a 'Parliamentarian Trick' without a shot being fired. Don't know what the 'trick' was.

Thus, today it is not only the largest castle in England, but also the only castle I've ever seen that is intact. There may be others, but I don't know where they might be.

I found out another interesting fact - the Anglo-Saxon church and the Roman Pharos are on a hill or mound within the castle grounds, but apart from the castle keep.  Excavators have found that the mound is bronze age, which I htink is pretty interesting.

As to whether the Anglo-Saxon church at Dover Castle is on the site of a Roman Temple, I can't find anything either way.  It might have been, or it might even have been a much older sacred site.

Possibly the Most Beautiful Magnolia Tree, Ever

In a day filled with beautiful flowers at Nymans, there was this tree.

None of the many photos I took captured the amazing beauty of this  huge, very old, very large PINK magnolia.  It was breath-taking.

Each blossom was much bigger than my hand.

I could not stop looking back at it over the tops of walls and bushes as we continued our walk.  It was magnificent even at a distance.

It's possible that the COG has some better photos. He usually does.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Other Literary Thoughts Today- (Probably of interest to only a few female relatives)

Today we went to Nyman's a beautiful National Trust Garden in Hand Cross, near Horsham. We had a lovely day walking amidst daffodils and flowering trees, but the Big Moment for me came very quietly at the end.  We were waiting for the bus to arrive when I suddenly realized where I was.  I felt it like a blow to my chest: I was in the exact location of one of my favorite Georgette Heyer books.

Kiddy-corner from the bus shelter is The Red Lion.  Apologies for the terrible picture - I was so shaken from my Momentous Realization that I took a lousy picture.  The salient points are: on the right, part of the sign saying Hand Cross; and in the middle, behind the Public Footpath sign,  The Red Lion,  Established 1519.

It's difficult to pick a favorite Heyer because I have loved her books since I bought my first one at the age of 15 on a band trip to Canada. But The Talisman Ring is right up there.  Near the beginning of the book, the young heroine encounters the young hero, who has been shot. She takes him up on her horse and he tells her:

"Follow this track; it'll bring us out on to the pike-road, north of Hand Cross. If you can wake old Nye at the Red Lion, he'll take me in....  It seemed an interminable way to Hand Cross, but at last the lonely inn came into sight, a dark huddle against the sky."

OK, some poetic license there, but Hand Cross!!! The Red Lion!!!

Heyer lived in Sussex, not far from here,  for many years.  So this isn't completely surprising, but still...  

A good day. Lunch out, flowers everywhere, a nice bus trip, with the absence of any traffic related tension, and The Red Lion Inn!!!  Hand Cross!!!

Youthful Mistaken Horticultural Imaginings

Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier,  has one of the best beginnings of any book, ever. I thought of it today when we visited Nymans, a National Trust Garden. It starts:

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me.... 

I saw that the garden had obeyed the jungle law, even as the woods had done. The rhododendrons stood fifty feet high, twisted and entwined with bracken, and they had entered into alien marriage with a host of nameless shrubs, poor, bastard things that clung about their roots as though conscious of their spurious origin."

When I had read this, I never heard of Rhododendrons before - they don't grow well in Minnesota.  I imagined them to look kinda like this:

With maybe a little bit of this thrown in:

Imagine my surprise when they turned out to look like this:

and this:

I love them now. I have some in my own garden.  The COG's parents had a huge one growing by their drive, with the same red blossoms as the one in the picture. 


In a previous post, I said -" I love the train, watching the countryside fly by, in the total absence of road rage brought on by traffic."

After a period of intense marital discussion thoughtful reflection, I realized that this statement might reflect badly upon Certain People who are close to me and do most of the driving. Further negotiation with said person   reflection has convinced me that I misspoke.

Therefore, I would like to amend the above statement, as follows:

"I love the train, watching the countryside fly by, in the total absence of traffic-exacerbated road tension."

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Roman Pharos

What I did not expect at Dover Castle was the first century Roman Pharos, or lighthouse. And, I have to say, discovering it was the single most thrilling moment of the day for me.

This is the only surviving Roman lighthouse in Britain and one of only a few in the world.  There were originally two of them, one on each of the hills next to Dover harbor. The second one is still visible as a foundation outline in the grass on Dover's second hill. In the daytime, they would have been visible from well out to sea. At night, they had some kind of fire that burned all night.  Later this one was converted to a plain watchtower, so the way the fires worked is not completely clear.

The inside is an empty ruin. However, you can see holes in the masonry where beams once supported floors. There doesn't seem to have been a stair, so you probably moved between floors by ladder and trapdoor.

The COG doesn't get excited about Roman stuff.  He obviously didn't read Rosemary Sutcliffe at an impressionable age. Or take Latin in school. 

Next to the lighthouse, there is the finest and largest surviving Anglo-Saxon building in Kent - namely a church, St. Mary in Castro.  I'm pretty excited by Anglo-Saxon stuff, too, but, really, after the Pharos, I hardly noticed it. 

We Capture the Castle

The COG and I went to Dover Castle. By train. I love the train, watching the countryside fly by, in the total absence of road rage brought on by traffic.

As we arrived in Dover we could see the castle looming on the hill above the town.  We walked toward it and were soon in the middle of town but we still didn't know how to get up to it.

As I was fretting about that, the COG said - look for Castle Street on the map - and I thought - Doh!  I'm an idiot.  What I really am is a girl from Minnesota, where place names aren't related to the actual site of the place.  Canterbury Downs is as likely to be housing development as a restaurant. Here in the UK, though,Watery Lane means that there's water somewhere. Priory Close had a priory at some point in the last 1,000 years.  Church Road has a church on it. And if you have a castle, the street leading to it is likely to be called Castle Street.

So we climbed Castle Street to the Castle.

The site of the castle has been inhabited for approximately a bazillion years. There are Iron Age earthworks still visible, and it might be older than that.  The main structures were built by Henry II, in the 12th century. It's the closest spot in England to France (we could see France and it wasn't even a particularly clear day). And the town is on a beach between two hills. So one of the hills is the obvious place to overlook a possible landing by your enemies.

Unlike any other castle I know of, it has been pretty much in continuous use as a military site for a couple of thousand years.   It was an active and important site in WWII - the Dunkirk evacuations were coordinated here and much of the preparation for D-Day happened  here.  There are plenty of tunnels underground that were used as barracks, meeting rooms, a hospital etc. during the war.

Because it has been continuously in use, it's not always clear what you are seeing. One of the pamphlets used a phrase like: Despite restorations in the early19th century, it is still possible to see the original etc.  19th century restorations were famously based more on romantic Gothick fantasies than on solid evidence.

But you can still see the remnants of the Iron Age earthworks, and the curtain wall is pretty much intact. And the outer bailey wall is visible, though worn down. And in the middle of it all is the inner bailey. Where there is a huge, mostly intact tower from the 12th century, which is not in use for military purposes.  It's kind of wonderful because you can just wander through it, up and down staircases and along corridors. Most castles, unless they've been reused as stately homes, are ruins that might have only one tower that you can climb, and no real rooms intact. Here, they've had modern artisans make reproductions of the kinds of things that might have been in use during the 12th century castle. These were surprisingly colorful. (This picture and the one of the castle are taken from the English Heritage Website.)

Unlike me, the COG was a bit disappointed by the castle. He felt that there could be more 'going on'.  Maybe later in the season that will be the case. There is a joust scheduled for June that we could go to, for example. 

These minor niggles notwithstanding, we had a really nice day. And now I want to return to Dover to see the Roman Painted House Museum and the Bronze Age Boat Museum, which I found out were there. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Winter Storms

We had a bad (ie cold and snowy and unrelenting) winter in the US, but the UK had its own kind of terrible winter.  From mid December until at least the end of February, there were terrific storms - high winds, torrential rains, heavy seas and catastrophic coastal flooding.  Brighton is built mostly on hills and much of the beach is divided from the town by cliffs, so flooding wasn't as bad in Brighton and Hove as in towns to the east and west.  However....

A day or two after we arrived, the COG and I did our usual walk from our flat to Rottingdean along the Under Cliff walk.   You can see in the first picture that there is a 20 foot or so sea wall between the beach and the walkway. And then another chalk cliff as high or higher above the walkway.

Here's a picture of how the walkway looks now.  Usually it's completely clear - all those dark rocks on the walk and on the side, were cast up by high wind and heavy seas. It's amazing to think of the power of a storm (or repeated storms) that could do that. 

Finally, for no reason other than that I love it, here is another picture of the plant growth on the chalk cliffs that forms a nice picture of a happy terrier. Do you see it?

Spring has Sprung for Rooks, too.

We went to Lewes one day last week and we came upon this very active rookery. I like rooks - they are noisy and obnoxious but I like that, in birds.

There are a lot of rookeries around and they are particularly obvious now because there are no leaves on the trees. Also, because all the rooks are noisily busy with making a house a home.

Feeling Guilty

This winter has been so long and hard that I have been feeling a little survivor's guilt about having left all my loved ones in its icy grip.  That has made it hard to write new posts.

Here, there are daffodils everywhere and most days have been sunny and warm. We've had a couple of grey days and just a bit of rain, but nothing compared to winter at home.

But I have lots to share, so I'm just putting the worst of it out there.  This was toward the end of our walk on the Downs last night.  I hope Spring comes soon and stays, for everyone at home.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Air Disasters

There's a Air Malaysia plane that went missing about the same time the COG and I were travelling.  It set off from Kuala Lumpur and did not reach Bejing and they don't know where it is.  It's like the Air France flight that disappeared some years ago and was only found recently.

It's always tragic, but having flown the same day, I feel heightened emotion about it.  I'm so sorry for the passengers and crew and for their families.  How terrible for them all.

Arrived in Brighton!

We have arrived back in our flat in Brighton.  The poor COG had a migraine starting before we landed and continuing through the bus ride here and into the day.  He felt really wretched and was more of a pathetic old geezer all day yesterday.  However, I am happy to report that his natural crankiness has returned. He is, at this very moment nagging me while he writes a grocery shopping list, so I know he's feeling better.

It's sunny and in the low 50s today, but better still there are daffodils everywhere.  Much can be forgiven from Mother Nature when she supplies so many daffodils.  And also, the grass is green here. I've noticed this before - England stays green in the winter, the grass and ivy etc. don't turn brown. It must be that a few degrees make the difference. 

We haven't yet checked out the storm damage, so we don't know how much they've recovered. 
We are still just getting settled in, delayed slightly by the COG's (POG's) migraine. 

Nothing but good times ahead.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Sealing the Counters

In case you were wondering, the stone counters I started to seal on Jan 1, have not yet been sealed.

Sunday, March 2, 2014


Here are some pictures of the floors. We don't have much furniture moved in, and it's not in place, because... well, you know why.

Guest Room - just happen to have a 'before' on this one, though it's actually a 'during' since it is the subfloor revealed with the OSB sheets were taken up.



Hall, with the Linen Closet which is serving as an overflow area for Stuff. 

Our bedroom. We are still sleeping on the mattress on the floor because the bed is, that's right, in the back room. 

What I've been Doing: Part II

Remember the counters I was going to seal?  Before I had a chance to finish sealing the counter (after repairing and repainting the kitchen walls), the Wood Floor Guys showed up at the door and said- Sorry we forgot to call, but we are here to start putting in that wood floor you wanted.

The new wood floor covers the entire upstairs, except for one small bedroom. Which means that we had to drop everything and move the entire upstairs into that little back bedroom.  Here is the picture that is worth 1,000 words:

Yes, that is all the chaos that has been my life since the end of January.

I've just edited out a long, boring section about what the floor guys did before they did the floor. They tore out a lot of stuff and repaired what they found underneath it.

It was after they left (leaving behind the bundles of wood planks that needed to sit in the house for a couple of weeks) that I said to the COG, we should paint the closet now. Before the floors go in.

The closet, Sigh, where to start. It's huge and it was horrible.  Obviously put in by a DIY-er who never finished anything and used the cheapest possible materials.  Reader, we tore it all out and bought a nice Elfa system from The Container Store.

Here are some pictures taken after the horrible unfinished plywood was ripped out and while we were painting, but before the floors were installed.  From one direction:

and the other direction. It's 20 feet long.   

Alas, the Elfa is only good on straight walls, and we have one long slanted wall. So I had the idea of building units across the whole wall. And that is what I have been doing every day for most of the month.  

I'm not done - they need tops and trimming out.  But you can see where I'm going and you can glimpse the lovely floors.   

This is a window seat, in between two taller runs. It will ultimately have a cushion, as well as being finished with trim etc. I'm already using it everyday when I put my socks on.

And this is the other side of the window seat. 

They are built to fit perfectly some Ikea and Container Store storage bins.

I'm going to have to leave it as is, untrimmed, until we get back from England in mid April.  I have to begin to unpack that mess of a room which is still piled high with stuff because otherwise I will have nothing to wear in England. And some of the COG's photographic gear is very well protected at the very back of the pile.

I hate hate hate leaving it unfinished, especially after all my unkind thoughts about the unknown DIYer who did such a crap job before.  But I will finish, and I'll post the final pictures to prove it.

What I've been doing....

Long story short:

Spent the autumn travelling. December was lost to Christmas. Then, it was January 1, 2014.

I have a little tradition. On Jan. 1st I reseal my stone counters.  So this year, I cleared off the counters to seal them and then I paused thoughtfully, looking up on the wall behind the counters.  High up on the wall was a little curl of peeling paint, result of an ice dam 3 years ago. And I thought: Hey! While I have the counters cleared off, why not fix that little teeny problem in the wall.

However, once I climbed up on the counter, I could see many places where there had been runnels of water that left hollow places in the paint that you couldn't see from the floor. Plus, the other little bit of damage over the window turned out to need retaping, which I had never done before. So, one thing and another, 3 weeks passed in a blur.  At the end of which time, things looked as they should have all along, which makes it seem like a lot of work for not much reward. Apart from the dull glow of a job well done.

So I painted the insides of the glass-fronted cupboards and made the half shelves I've been meaning to make for 15 years. That was more satisfying because it prettified the cupboards. Sorry for the lousy pictures. And it's a twofer - if you look closely at the upper right hand corner, you'll see some of the damage in process of being repaired.


AFTER (Doors opened, not missing) (Also, I repainted the mug rack that isn't there in the first picture)