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.