Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas at Kings'

The choir of Kings' College, Cambridge. Famous for the annual broadcast of their Nine Lessons and Carols service each year on Christmas Day. This year, we were there.... queuing up at 8am to stand in line for one of the 600 places offered to the public.

The day is probably best told in pictures.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Snow day!

Yesterday, it snowed. And I mean really snowed. There was chaos that truly put last year's to shame.

Brendan and I had separate adventures! He left work at 3:30, I left work at 3... 

His facebook update: spent 3 hours driving home in the snow. This included the battery dying, pushing the car off the road, buying jump leads, killing another car attempting to jump my car, getting a third car to jump the second car and mine, getting stuck on an ice-covered hill, twice, and then ice-driving through the frozen back streets of Basingstoke. 

My facebook update: 
So far I've spent 4 hours in my car in the same 4 miles, killed my battery .5 miles from a safeish place to park it, pushed my car, jump started it and parked at aldermaston, waiting for train that might not come...

What happened... an enormous amount of snow! Basically most of the roads in Hampshire and Berkshire were impassable. I left work at 3pm and didn't get back until 10pm! I spoke to many many people who had similar stories of being stuck in their cars for hours and hours, batteries dying etc.... My car is still in Aldermaston Wharf at my boss's house. 

It was nice though, because people were very kind-spirited about it all and helped each other. 

I spent 45 mins getting the few miles from work to Tim and Carrie's house in Aldermaston, then another 3 hours getting the next mile or so. You'd pretty much move a car length every 15 minutes - I was timing! After 3 hours of this I decided it was ridiculous, and heard a man talking about how the road was blocked by a lorry stuck on the hill by AWE. So I turned around and went back... 45 mins later I was about .5 miles from their house when my car battery died! Luckily I had jumper cables in the car (thanks Brendan!), and luckily some lovely guys helped me to jump start it and push the car until it got going again. 

However, even though I parked at Tim and Carrie's, neither of them were there... Carrie, Lucy and one of our clients were all stuck in Basingstoke at a client's overnight! So I took the train from Aldermaston into Reading, and then back to Basingstoke. Thankfully they were delayed but still running, and I managed to get home. Many other people didn't.

And here are some pictures.... I was on the AWE road, and the roads of the IDR in Reading are incredible as well. When I took the train home to Basingstoke from Reading I saw cars stopped there at 9 at night!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Ice-skating in Winchester....

Last year we went iceskating with Lina at Winchester,and it was awesome. This year we went with Liz and Gareth, and it was just as good if not better.

Here's the cathedral and the Michaelmas Christmas Fair... very traditional.

Here's us iceskating... I'm getting much better and can go really fast! I still can't stop as well as I want though. (I.e. only by crashing into the barriers a little...)

The days are getting very dark now- the sun goes down at 3:30. So depressing. But only another few weeks to the Winter Solstice, and it will start getting light again.

I've been extremely busy with work recently - I'm being naughty tonight and having a night off. Lots of copy to write and projects to manage! But I really do love it. And I work with the most awesome people. Brendan has also been very very busy with his work, with two big projects. He's just bought the game Dragon Age and has been rather into that as well, leaving me with less choice for Christmas presents. ;)

I also have a new car so I can drive to work by myself! :) So we have two cars now as Brendan has the other one. It's grey and has a sunroof.

Right, time to leave you all with a photo of the River Thames taken from my work in November, right before all the leaves dropped off - I can look out the window at work and see this, although it's not usually as still and reflective.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A car of her own...

I have my own little car! It's grey and has a little sunroof. (Granted, it's winter, but who cares....) I love it - it makes me feel like a boyracer. Or girlracer in this case. It's slightly faster than taking the (unreliable!) trains from Basingstoke - Reading, then another.... but mainly it's flexibility - I can get to client meetings in Thame etc, or leave late if I want to.

Here's the first frost of the winter.... my car's the third one in the picture.

Edit: I can't actually remember when it was that I bought my car, but I think it was sometime around November. Hence the photo is most likely from early Dec, and I've mostly put this post up to remind myself that it was roughly around then. And so that you can all see it!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Autum is here....

It's really rather depressing - it's already getting quite dark.

But the autumn leaves are glorious.

Sunday, September 06, 2009


Midges, enormous blisters and rain... did we really sign up for this? 

We've spent a week in Scotland as our summer holiday, walking 80 miles in the Highlands from Fort Williams to Inverness along a walking trail called the Great Glen Way. And boy was it "summer" in quote marks. The scenery was fantastic, though. 


Friday, July 24, 2009

The mechanic and the concert: or, what Brendan did on his birthday

Today is Brendan's 25th birthday.

Today is "buy a dozen overpriced Krispy Kreme donuts as a special treat for Brendan's birthday and eat two before feeling sick" day.

Today is "be given free concert tickets, have trouble finding the concert and then lock the one set of keys in the car ignition with the lights on" day.

Yes, really. We tried for about 20 minutes with one of the parking marshalls to get in - now we know one way to break into your own car! The string wasn't quite long enough though. So we called our insurance** and they sent a mechanic.

Here is Brendan looking unimpressed. Look at that unimpressed-but-pretending-to-smile face!

Here is the mechanic's tow truck, which couldn't actually fit into the car park.
(He said he works for Thames Valley Police, and usually gets called out for serious crashes on the M3 and M4, and suicides. They have to take the person's car as it's evidence in case of foul play. Ick.)

When the mechanic finally managed to break into the car, we all breathed a sigh of relief. Then Brendan and I enjoyed the last hour of the concert!

The concert was all tribute bands, quite a lot of fun really. Thanks to Lynne for tickets!

Today I was in Leamington Spa for a work meeting. We took the train up from Reading, which was about an hour. My boss thinks I'm the papparazzi cos I took some photos as we left.

This is the famous Leamington Spa on the left, built around the same time as Bath Spa when "taking the waters" was really fashionable as a health and beauty aid (and rather expensive!). (Sounds like the modern spa then!)

**They must be sick of us by now. This is the second time we've called them this week, after Brendan left the lights on at a work conference in Southampton. At least it's not AAA, where they only let you have six callouts a year (each). Which is probably much more than necessary for most people who don't drive dodgy cars or suffer from overt forgetfulness about lights in winter. But only just enough for Brendan and I with two dodgy cars in San Francisco and one country-wide trip. In our mail from America after we left, was a letter from AAA sternly warning that we had one callout left each. I think AA UK has a maximum of five.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Bleeding brakes...

In the past two months, we've done a lot - I started my new job, we moved out of a house with no electricity and into a new one which has been completely repainted and a new bathroom and kitchen put in, and bought a new car. It's a Holden. Or more accurately, it's called a Vauxhall here. Being in it with the windows closed makes me feel sick, because the first owner was an avid smoker and a builder. 

We've also been to Reading a few times with friends, and I've moved offices, to a little place called Pangbourne on the Thames river, just south-west of Reading. (It's dirty and yucky, but at least it looks pretty!) 

Last Friday I was driving to work. The BMW in front of me slowed down and stopped at an intersection. I put my foot on the brakes... and I wasn't slowing down! I managed to slow down enough and turn the car onto the shoulder with a squeal (there was only a sliver of one, and then a building)! I got to work a bit shaken, with no brakes. 

Thanks to certain friends who are good with cars, I managed to impress the mechanic who came to tow our car home enough that he drove me all the way home instead of charging me £150 to go 20 miles, which was awesome. (I was very grateful.) 
He also explained that it was probably air in the braking system, and told me how to bleed the brakes. Brendan and I decided that this was a good idea, and we would do it ourselves. 

So, all of Sunday afternoon, and Monday evening, we learned how to take the wheels off the car and bleed the brakes. Lots of fun, arguments, swearing and four (four!) trips to Halfords to buy the right sized spanners and assorted tools. But, the brakes worked again! We are very proud. We're not particularly mechanical people!

The car is at the mechanics at the moment, though, just to double-check. Apparently the reason I stopped a little and didn't totally crash into the BMW or into the building, was that the back-up brakes went on when the main brakes failed. It looks like we do have to replace the master cylinder. Ack. But brakes are, shall we say, quite important.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Brendan is...

feeling guilty for not making any blog posts and leaving Tina to do them all.

That was all I had to say. Who needs Twitter to microblog when you have laziness?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Singing exams at Odiham

This afternoon another choir member and I went to the village of Odiham (near the RAF base), about 10 miles away from Basingstoke. We were to to sit choral singing exams run by the Royal School of Church Music, at the church of All Saints. 

This is a window installed in the church by the RAF. I like the helicopters!

While Sue was having her exam, one of the bellringers arrived to wind the clock in the belltower, so I got to climb up the rickety ladders to see it. The clock mechanism is actually 150 years old!

There are 6 bells. This is the one which makes the "dong!" sound on each hour. The wheel on the left is the mechanical ringer, I think. On Sundays and special occasions there are 6 bellringers to make the chimes. Sue says it's all about following the patterns.  

After, we had a traditional British cream tea in the local pub. Enormous, warm scones and little ramekins of jam and clotted cream, which looks a little bit like whipped butter.

Friday, May 15, 2009

We're going on a car hunt...

... this weekend. Because we absolutely need one. The bus/train/bus combo only works for Brendan if the train is perfectly on time and the bus is late. And I need a car for client meetings.

I'm really enjoying my new job, although it's super-super busy. I get to do lots of writing and work with cool people.

The other "interesting" thing is that we are currently sitting in our room surrounded by candles, because our flatmates didn't pay the power bill. And we didn't realise until Tuesday, when the lights didn't work. Tymek is on his way home from holiday in Poland, so hopefully that's sorted soon.

Friday, May 08, 2009

A quick update....

Still no car. It's a bit awkward, since the buses become a bit sporadic after dark. I walked home an hour in the dusk the other day rather than wait 1.5 hours for a 10-min bus. However I did get to see a tiny deer in the forest by our house, so it wasn't all wasted.  

Brendan is enjoying the sights of Las Vegas this week for a work conference. Or more accurately, he's in conference rooms during the day and hearing the sights of Las Vegas rumble as he tries to get early nights. (Comment from him today during our talk on Skype: "I get to bed much earlier without you!"*) I, on the other hand, have been revelling in late nights and a lack of socks on the floor. ;)

But all this is about to change - on Monday, I start a new job in marketing/communications! I'm really excited since I worked really hard to get it. I'll be doing a lot of creative work (and hopefully use my filmmaking/writing/design skills) as well as learning to have my own clients, which is awesome.  

In other news, here are some gratuitous pictures of the countryside/woodland park next to our house. Enjoy. 

Here are some bluebells next to the path I walk through the woods to get to Tescos/the bus stop. The forest is filled with them, and occasionally I'll get a whiff of the most gorgeous smell coming from the flowers. 

(What you can't see is that to the left of this image, people have been dumping their rubbish as the path opens out into the corner of the car park. Disgusting. Before I took this shot I removed all the plastic bags scattered over this area, and put them in the communal bins downstairs. And then a spider jumped out of one onto my hand!)

I also discovered this pretty cluster hidden inside the tree belt between the houses and the field next door. 

The fields are lush with dark green barley at the moment. I think a lot of people walk their dogs here, because this is a right-of-way footpath.

*It's not that he's inherently an early bird, because he most definitely is not. It's because he needs more sleep than me, and takes longer to get to that point.

Monday, April 27, 2009

RIP little car....

Our car is dead. The past few weeks it's been steadily worsening: loud rattling noises in low gears, clutch deteriorating to the point of being unable to get it into 1st or Reverse without turning the car off first, struggles to get it into any other gear.... We'd worked out how to get around these "quirks", but we didn't expect it to completely die tonight from another issue!

When we drove to Paris in November, Geoff said he thought the clutch would die in about a years' time, and that it would take a few months to fully die at that point. Um, not even 6 months.  

Brendan had just dropped off his carpoolers at the railway station when it died, so it didn't need to be towed too far home. Thank you insurance company!! The tow truck driver said it was the starter motor. (He also said, "Your clutch must be really ****ed if we can't hill-start it.")

The unfortunate thing is that it chose to die tonight. I have two meetings on Wednesday afternoon, in different parts of the country. I can't make it between them by train. So I immediately jumped online and booked a rental car. Between the cost of trains for me, and Brendan needing to take a bus/train/bus down to Winchester, the price actually works out to about the same. 

As soon as our flatmate gets back from Poland, he promises to help us find a new car. He has some sort of Polish car mafia contacts. Or something. 

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Today Brendan was home sick for the second day running, so he felt the need to go to the supermarket and buy junk food from Iceland. Like neopolitan icecream bars for 75p. (It's kinda funny when he tries to talk, and only a whisper comes out.)

Presenting: Kia Ora orange squash. Not orange juice; orange squash. It's quite bitter. The name, though, is hilarious: for non-NZers, "kia ora" is Maori for "hello". So it's "hello orange squash"? Also, I feel as if it contravenes some indigenous copyright laws. Much like the Lego Technics debacle a few years ago.

(Here's a photo of a walkway near our house. Our new house in Chineham is much nicer than our last one.) 

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Spring has arrived!

After losing our internet for a month, and then regaining it, we've been a little slack on the updates front recently. Also, trying to upload photos from our small camera is not a happy thing, because it eats batteries. 

We're enjoying our new flat in Chineham, which we're sharing with two crazy Polish guys. We do occasionally manage to escape Basingstoke (once you get a few miles out, it becomes much more interesting!) so here is a list of posts which are currently under construction, either in draft form or in my head:
  • The British Pub Experience (with Tony)
  • Winchester/ Hursley (with Martha)
  • The search for Watership Down
  • The Forest of Dean Half-Marathon (plus road trip!)
  • The Welsh Border and Cardiff
  • Newbury with Gareth and Elizabeth
  • The 'Inas do Bristol
  • Vyne walk
The weather here has improved significantly. It's raining today, but we had a solid run of about two weeks of sunshine. Amazing! On roadsides everywhere, the trees are starting to green (or pink, or white) and there are daffodils. Mmmm.*

*Not that Brendan notices, since he is currently obsessed with the Playstation. ;) 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Top Gear goes to my work!

In November, the car show Top Gear filmed an episode featuring cars racing inside Basingstoke Mall... where one of my jobs happens to be. Awesomeness. Click the link to see a jazzed-up version of something I see a few days a week... without the cars and spectacular carnage, of course.


Monday, March 02, 2009

Moving.... again

If it seems like we're moving all the time, that's because we are. For various reasons. Like stir-crazy landladies.

So we have moved to Chineham, a village tacked onto the back of Basingstoke. Our new house is much nicer. It's 5 minutes' walk to the supermarket, which is either good or dangerous, depending on how you look at it.

Photos to come... our internet is very limited at present.

Thursday, February 05, 2009


We rounded the crest of the hill on the highway, and there it was ahead of us: Stonehenge!

Tall, wonky, somehow familiar stones, brooding dark against the yellow grass of the hillside. Bigger than we had thought, after all the people telling us how small they really were. The large "heelstone" at the outer edge, next to the road, was about twice as tall as a person.

Brendan and the heelstone.

All that separated the casual observer from the stones was a chain-link fence running along the road. We parked down the road at the parking lot, and stepped out of the car.

A blast of icy wind hit us, whipping straight through our gloves and hats and scarves. We hurried up to the entrance gate. The hillside was very exposed, and we rather painfully struggled to keep our hands warm enough to take photos. Even though the ambient temperature was actually 1*C, and it was sunny, the staff told us later that the windchill brought the temperature to -7*C!

Because it was so cold, we didn't manage to stay for very long. We walked around and enjoyed it, but decided against walking up to the cone-shaped barrows on the fields on the other side of the monument. These barrows are burial places for the leaders of those who built Stonehenge.

On the hill, you can see the barrows.

Lots of signs around the monument warned to keep off the grass, and there were two wardens standing in front as well to ensure that no-one goes up to the stones. It was only in the past few decades that people have gained an appreciation of preservation here - it used to be that everyone wandered around as they pleased and carved their names on the stones!

We look far less cold than we are.

Stonehenge is the most important ancient monument in Britain, and is at least 5,000 years old. (Some scientists think it's much older, based on post holes dating to 8000 BC underneath the car park!) The whole site was actually built in multiple stages over 1,500 years, at one stage being abandoned for 1,000 years. It's a rather fascinating mystery.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Winter blast!

It's been relatively nice here recently. So it was a bit of a shock yesterday to see a few snowflakes! But nothing compared to this morning:

I opened the door and was met with a world of white. The snow's about 10-15cm thick, and it's still snowing pretty heavily this morning. What's quite cool is that the snowflakes clump together to make mega-snowflakes.

I certainly wasn't dressed for it, though - and I didn't have time to go upstairs again and fumble around in the dark for boots and thick socks. And I disregarded the little voice in my head telling me to take my umbrella. So it was a rather cold walk to the railway station.

In the UK, a lot of things come to a standstill when it snows. But this is apparently the heaviest snowfall in 18 years! Right now, all of the London buses are cancelled. Parts of the Tube are closed. The airports are closed. The schools are closed. People keep ringing my work saying that they can't get in, or asking if the building's open so they can skip coming into work. (I'm working on the switchboard, so I get all the calls.) And just like Californians, Brits can't drive in the wet. There are lots of accidents. Brendan had a fender-bender (but he and car are OK)! Craziness!

Snow balls! Someone had made this one, we just added to it! We were rolling it away towards the park when a door opened nearby and a head wrapped in scarves popped out and made a noise like, "Mmm! Emmm nn mm ommm mmm mimm!" Or something muffled that we couldn't hear, anyway. We surmised it was something to do with the snow ball, so we rolled it back.

Monday, January 26, 2009

We always knew England had funny names....

But as this article from the NY Times shows, we didn't know just how funny!

Current favourites I've seen recently include Hatch Warren, Over Wallop, Middle Wallop, Woking, Dorking and Reading (said Redding). And of course our old village Awbridge, said Aye-bridge. Not to mention Milton Keynes' Cock and Bull pubs, the origin of the phrase "a cock and bull story". In any case, I already found British place names reasonably amusing, so this article just confirms it.

I noticed on our roadtrip that the US had a lot of "Buttes" and "Butts", though. It's all about how the language has changed over time.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A walk in the woods

Today we went for a walk in Morgaston Woods, next to The Vyne, a huge country mansion near Sherbourne St. John. Jane Austen used to visit her friend who lived here, and I suspect it was the inspiration for the large country houses in her novels. I wanted to look around The Vyne as well, but unfortunately it's closed until March. (I found it by accident last weekend on my 11-mile long run, when I got lost. It's about 5 miles out of Basingstoke. I measured. It was a long, cold run.)

The past two days it's been snowing. The trees are particularly gorgeous, since everything is covered with a layer of spiky snow. I love it!

The wetlands had frozen over completely! The pond/lake here is only about 10cm deep in most places, and is frozen right through. I wish we owned ice skates - the ice was perfectly smooth and it would have made a fantastic, enormous ice rink! After we played around on it, other people came out on the ice as well.

Friday, January 09, 2009

It's snowing!

Last night, it snowed here! So exciting. Here's a few pictures from this morning, looking out the window:

Brendan's scraping the powdery snow off the windscreen so he can go to work:

When I went for a run, the pond was frozen and snowed on. Kids were running around on it. I ran around on it too. Just because it's still a huge novelty.

The park was covered in a fine layer of snow. It mutes all the colours to white and grey.

On my way to choir tonight...

I love how the snow attaches itself to each individual blade of grass. When I came out after choir, the snow on each blade had doubled. It looked very odd, like thick fluffy worms. It's crunchy when you step on it.

Here's a photo taken this afternoon, just before my run about 4:30pm. Temperature around -2*C.

And here's similar grass around 9:30pm. Temperature estimated -3*C or -4*C. It's a lot less defined.

Snow makes me happy. It's just enough that it's fun and pretty, and not annoying. If it was several inches deep, it would start to be inconvenient. But at the moment, I'm enjoying it. The British are moaning about how it's one of the coldest winters in memory. So it's not just me then!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Final Siege of Basing House

Picture this: It's October 1645. You're a member of the Royalists, holed up in the old part of Basing House. The Roundheads have already attacked the house twice before and have been held off. Colonel John Dalbier and 800 men have had your company surrounded since August, but so far you've held strong.

Then a rumour goes around the men: Oliver Cromwell, second-in-command and later feared leader of the Roundheads, has arrived. Bringing heavy artillery, including a cannon which shoots 63-pound shots, pulled by 70 horses. And a few thousand angry men.

Under the "rules" of battle which governed at the time, once a decent hole in the walls had been made by the attackers, the defenders had no right of surrender. So Cromwell asked the Royalists to surrender. They said no.

So that night Cromwell blasted a hole in the defences. Rather than attacking immediately, he gave the Royalists the night to think about a surrender. (They really should have.) In the morning, the Royalists flew "the black flag of defiance" (aka "screw you!") instead, so the attacking army moved in. They even used the first poison gas attack, burning wet straw mixed with sulphur and arsenic. The house was overrun, and about 150 people were killed.

During the siege, the house was accidentally set on fire and burned down. The soldiers were (unusually) given leave to pillage the house, taking goods worth about 10 million pounds today. (For the full story by Alan Turton, click here. It's quite fascinating.)

So why am I telling you all this? On New Year's Day Brendan and I went to a free tour of the ruins of Basing House, given by one of the archaeologists in charge of the area, Alan Turton. It was a freezing, overcast day and everyone was cold. But Alan Turton was very interesting, which helped keep our minds off it. Basing House is located in the village of Old Basing, where I go running. It's about a mile from our house in a straight line, or 1.5 miles to walk. (England is a contrast. One moment you're in the city, the next, in the country in a little village! The poor people live in the city, on "estates", while the rich people live in the country.)

Here's the crest on the entrance. This was actually the 'farm' gate. It's been a bit weathered away by time. The family crest here said "Love Loyalty" in Latin, and the family certainly lived up to the motto!

The Basingstoke canal went through here in the 18th century, destroying a lot of archaeological history in the process. Before railways were invented, canals were the means of transporting goods throughout the country. The Basingstoke canal always had a bit of a problem getting enough water, though, and never was fully profitable. This bridge goes both uphill and turns a corner, and is very unusual. (Not sure about the baskets underneath.)

The "old house" of Basing House was built on a Norman castle fortification, with earthen walls. The castle was separate from the rest of the village, protected by a high earthen wall around the outside. The village was also protected by high walls topped with a wooden pallisade, and a dry moat.

Here we can see the walls, which were perfect to avoid cannon attacks (which fired straight) but were useless to avoid artillery fire, which went upwards and then came down and exploded, showering shrapnel everywhere. Nasty.

By the time of the 16th century, it had a large ornate gatehouse on the top. The original owner who built it up essentially worked his way up to becoming the Lord Chancellor (head of the bank) of England, was made the Marquis of Winchester, and was extremely wealthy. When he retired from the position, at the age of 101, 40,000 pounds was discovered to be "missing", or about 12 million in today's money! But instead of confronting the guy, they wrote it off "due to his advanced age". Hmmm.

The "new house" was built below the old house, on the left. It was huge. The two houses combined had 3800 rooms! It rivaled Hampton Court Palace for opulence and size. Henry the 8th stayed a few times. Once he stayed for 3 days, and the Marquis (mentioned above) grumbled in the margins that it was costing him 2,000 pounds to entertain the king with parties - equivalent to 600,000 pounds in today's money! For just three days!

What made it particularly expensive was that the visiting monarch didn't just bring themselves and a few people - they brought the entire court! The royal locksmith would go around before the visit, and change all the locks to the monarch's chambers so that only the monarch had a key.

Queen Elizabeth I also visited the house twice, once for 13 days, and she brought 1400 people with her as well as 400 French men! There wasn't enough room for the French to stay in the house as well, so they had to stay down the road at someone else's house at what was considered substandard accommodation. A separate banqueting hall had to be built for them in the garden! She was particularly fond of the gatehouse in the old house (in the picture below), and requested it.

Eventually the sons and grandsons of the original Marquis, who weren't quite as wealthy as he had been, had enough. They decided to discourage royal visits by demolishing some of the new house!

Here are the toilets of the gatehouse. The 'gong farmer' would clean them out at night through the small gate at the side which is filled up with stones. Alan Turton said that they must have been very clean, because the archaeologists were hoping to find interesting artifacts that had been accidentally dropped in the waste, but found nothing.

The kitchens were built into the hillside. It would have been so hot because of the huge ovens used, that only men were allowed inside. Since everyone was nearly naked, it was considered improper for women.

The area in the centre above was the dining room. The archaeologists surmise that they were actually built on the original Norman castle ruins, which were built on Roman ruins, but they don't want to have to destroy the existing ruins to find out.

It was lucky that we attended this talk, actually - the ruins are next open to the public at the end of 2010!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Dreaming of a White Christmas...

The weekend before Christmas, Brendan and I met up with our lovely friend Lina from Bath, and went iceskating at Winchester Cathedral. It's a lot of fun. Even if I was the only one who fell over (and cracked and bruised both knees loudly).

Even Sheepie got involved. I think he got scared though.

It's a super-cute Lina!

The sessions here are around 10 pounds each for a one-hour session, which is really quite expensive given we went iceskating in SF last year for US$7 for a two-hour session. The ice rink was less crowded, though, which was more enjoyable. We both feel a bit more confident, too. Although I don't think I'm ready to skate backwards yet.

But first, we needed something to give us energy... so we looked around the Christmas market.

Until we found this.....

Belgian Waffles! With chocolate sauce!

Winchester is a really picturesque old market town which used to be the capital of England. There were people dancing in the high street to raise money for some charity or other.

We toured Winchester Cathedral, which was amazing. This cathedral was built in the 1100's, but the original church to the left of it was built in the 600's AD!

The front of the church.

The inside of the cathedral is absolutely gorgeous, with a high vaulted ceiling, and the carved quoir (wooden area at the front of the photo) where the choir sits. The organ can be seen on the right of the photo below.

The high altar features a carved 15thC screen. (Click to see bigger images.)

On the left and right of the altar, on ledges, sit little boxes with crowns on top. These are apparently the bones of the first bishops here, dating back from the 600's. The cathedral also includes St. Swithin's shrine, who was an early bishop (800's). There's a saying here that if it rains on St. Swithin's day, it will rain for the next 40 days. He apparently wanted to be buried out in the grounds, and was not pleased that he ended up inside instead in 971 (the ceremony was delayed by 40 days of torrential rain) and split between several different churches.

These paintings date from the 12th and 13th C, and are unique. The 13thC ceiling panel shows Christ in majesty.

Look for the 1578 graffiti!

The cathedral contains the graves of many famous people, such as the writer Jane Austen. She's buried in the floor near the entrance. There are also two enormous folio-sized books containing the names of those killed in battle, from the Winchester area. A surprising number (4-5 per page of maybe 100 names) were killed accidentally!

Next, we drove to Salisbury via what had obviously been an old Roman road. You can tell, because the road will go straight for miles and miles, disregarding all hills. Then it will suddenly turn a corner, on a hill, and go straight again. Apparently that was how the Roman surveyors were able to get their sight-lines. Anglo-Saxon roads wriggle all over the place!

Salisbury is another picturesque market town, similar to Winchester. We parked at the point which was once one of the gates into the town.

Everything was decorated for Christmas.

We stopped in at Salisbury Cathedral, and listened to the choir practice, but unfortunately couldn't stay long since Lina needed to catch her train back. Hopefully we can come here again soon.