26 July 2009
My partner and I go to Florida tomorrow to see my parents and sister and to have a bit of summer sun and fun in the water. So today we have spent the day packing – putting bits and pieces in the suitcases. This post will be a little like the suitcases – full of some bits and pieces.
Yesterday was a gorgeous day and I enjoyed my morning walk into Salisbury city centre. The sky was bright blue, with some beautiful white clouds, warm sun, and a little refreshing breeze. I also thought the air was a little sweet with the scent of buddleia in bloom. The purple varieties seem especially fragrant, and there are some large bushes along the footpaths from Laverstock and then up and over Kelsey Road into the city city centre.
I had my second day as room steward at Mompesson House. As with my first day, we had some very nice and interesting visitors. I stewarded at the back of the House, in the Library, the only room in the House still decorated as its last owner, Denis Martineau, had decorated it in 1958. It is a fun room to work in because it is the only room in the House where visitors may sit on any chair in the room, including a Hepplewhite chair from 1760. It is not every day that one can sit in a chair that was made before the start of the American Revolution, and when I told this to several visitors they all took advantage of the opportunity.
The room is also very nice because it has very tall windows, maybe 20 feet high, that look directly out onto the lovely back gardens. Each of the two large windows has a comfortable window seat, and it is delightful to sit in a window seat and look out at the lawn, trees, and pretty flowers in the well-established herbaceous borders.
At about 3.30 PM yesterday we were are startled, however, when the fire alarms in the House went off. The Manager of the House quickly came through to make certain that we had evacuated all of the visitors safely, and then she asked me to lock the back door to keep anyone from reentering the house. The Salisbury Fire Department arrived in good time, and after she and the firemen had inspected all areas and found no fire or smoke, we were able to let the visitors back into the home.
I asked one of the veteran stewards, who is mentoring me, how many years she has been a volunteer, and how many “real” fire alarms she has seen. “More than I care to say, and this is the first” she said with a laugh. Earlier in the day I had told all the stewards about this blog, so they all had a little chuckle, saying that I would plenty to write about now. We were all relieved, of course, that there was no fire, and we were happy to reopen the House to all.
After finishing work and having supper, we walked with a friend up to the tops of Laverstock Down and Cockey Down just as the sun was setting. It was a spectacular evening and sunset. The “fields of gold” – the golden fields of barley, really are gold now, and I expect that by the time we return in 10 days the fields will have been harvested. They are a really beautiful sight now, however.
The fields of rape seed have gone from their spring colour of bright yellow to dark brown, a deeper shade of brown than even the colour of rich topsoil. They are also close to being harvested. Together, the landscape is a fascinating patchwork of light green grasses, dark green hedges and trees, and fields of golden barley and brown rape seed.
Also enjoying the lovely day were a number of children in a new park and playground that has just opened in our housing estate. The playground has some nice equipment, and it is good to see children having some “old-fashioned” fun, swinging and climbing, rather than sitting at home playing “virtual” games.
As I said, we’re off to America tomorrow. I do hope to be able to post from the USA. Vive la difference!
22 July 2009
Everyone knows the old saying that “in life, all good things must come to an end.” With the changing of the seasons, that saying is certainly true in the garden, and so it is that the lettuce that just a few weeks ago seemed inexhastible has now finished. I cut the last leaves this evening, and tomorrow I hope to plant a few new rows, along with some radishes, spinach, and maybe a even a few pumpkin seeds.
The lettuce really has been the star performer in the garden this year. We have had many delicious and beautiful salads this spring and summer. The lettuce was Unwin’s “cut and come again,” with mixed leaves, including some red varieties and some leaves shaped like oak leaves.
Another star performer is our courgette (zuchinni in American English). With just one plant, we have already harvested 5 0r 6 nice size courgettes, and they were delicious last night in a stir-fry with some red pepper and onion.
In addition, we are also really enjoying our little raised bed with herbs. The rosemary has become a beautiful plant, with a great fragrance. Also in the herb bed is a nice plant of thyme, and we also have parsley, oregano, and leeks. I picked some rosemary and thyme tonight and put it directly on some chicken breasts that I grilled. The herbs really made the plain chicken very tasty and something a little special.
Last week I made a new little raised bed for vegetables in the garden, and I filled it with 10 brussels sprout seedlings I bought in the Salisbury Market. I hadn’t really wanted that many seedlings, but they were a good buy, and the lady in the flower and vegetable plant stall in the Market said it was a good idea to have that many so “some could be for me and some can be for the pigeons.” It does seem like the only birds we get in our garden are the wood pigeons, so if they like brussels sprouts, I guess that she gave good advice.
Rather than a problem with pigeons, however, we now have a race on between the seedlings and the slugs. I think the slugs are eating the seedlings as fast as they can grow. I’ll keep you posted about who is winning.
Brussels sprouts do have a mixed reputation. Several people just smiled when I said I was planting them, and one person said that “there is nothing like a good brussel sprout.” That reminded me of the old joke that ”there is nothing like a good ear of corn (or tomato, etc.), and that, sir, is nothing like a good ear of corn (tomato, etc.).” I do hope that will not really be the case with our sprouts.
I used to think that one could grow anything back in California if one had water for the plants. Here in Laverstock we do have plenty of water, and we are really enjoying the bounty of our little garden.
21 July 2009
Last night my partner and I went for a walk after supper. We are trying a new low-fat diet and know that we must combine exercise with a good diet in order to lose a few pounds. We have some beautiful areas around us for walking, and that is probably the best exercise one can get, so off we went last night.
I took a little plastic sandwich bag with me and, for the first time this summer, we were able to fill it half-way with one of my favorite treats in the summer – ripe blackberries. Yes, the first of the wild blackberries are now ripe in south Wiltshire.
The ones we picked last night were from tall, older bushes in a sheltered spot at the end of a very large garden near our home. A public path runs along the back of the garden and the bushes have overgrown the back fence, so it was fairly easy pickings. We only ate one or two on our walk, but carried the rest home to enjoy later with cereal or yogurt (non-fat, of course).
They were really delicious, very plump, juicy and sweet, and unlike many things that taste good, they are also good for you. Picking and eating wild blackberries also gives me a sense of being more in touch with nature, along with a feeling of carrying on a long human tradition of “gathering”. Picking blackberries is a totally “win-win” situation involving good exercise and good nutrition.
We found the first ripe berries at the beginning of our walk, and from that point on our minds were concentrated on studying the fields and paths around us for clumps of blackberry bushes. We did find a number of bushes, but no other ripe berries. All the other bushes, in more open spaces, had only flowers on them or small, unripe berries.
I think we are making a mental map of the area to record where the bushes are and at what stage the berries are. We have some other areas we want to explore tonight , and I am looking forward to discovering some other bushes and then anticipating the harvests in the coming days.
I would encourage everyone to get outside in the next few weeks and start hunting and gathering wild blackberries for yourself. You’ll have to find them yourself, though. I’m afraid that our favorite locations will remain our little secrets.
17 July 2009
Posted by Wayne D. Morris under Uncategorized
| Tags: Canterbury
, Corot to Monet
, Elton John
, Gay Icons
, Harvey Milk
, National Gallery London
, National Portrait Gallery London
, Ronald Firbank
, Sandi Toskvig
, Sister Act!
, Trafalgar Square
, Village People
|  Comments
I left the house at 10 AM on Wednesday morning and arrived home at 8 PM on Thursday. Those were a great 34 hours.
My first destination was London, arriving at Waterloo station. I walked across Waterloo Bridge and headed through Charing Cross up to the half-price ticket booth in Leicester Square. Success! I was able to buy two tickets for that evening’s performance of Sister Act! at the London Palladium.
I then spent the rest of the afternoon at two of London’s greatest cultural gems, The National Gallery and The National Portrait Gallery. The National Gallery is especially amazing, with some of the world’s greatest paintings, from pre-Renaissance up through the 19th Century, with no admission charge. I headed first to a special exhibit, “Corot to Monet: A Fresh Look at Landscape From the Collection.” The exhibit is deliberately not a “blockbuster,” but it was a very good historical perspective. Especially interesting was a video to accompany the exhibit and which is played continuously in a little theatre at the end of the exhibit. The video had lovely footage of natural scenes, interspersed with pictures from the exhibit, and interesting quotes from the painters and a narrative that emphasized how the artists’ views of nature were revolutionary at the time, but how their way of looking at nature has become so normal to us that it is hard to think that our view of nature is really quite different from the view of nature for most of civilized history.
I next went on a “taster’s tour” of the Gallery, where a very informative and entertaining curator highlighted 5 or 6 different paintings from different periods represented in the gallery. Each of her 10-15 minute mini-lectures about a painting added so much to the viewing experience that it made me want to enroll in an art history course!
I finished off the afternoon around the corner in the National Portrait Gallery. There is so much to see and do in London that the old adage about “when you are tired of London, you are tired of life” is true, because in all my many days in the capitol, I had never been to the NPG. Besides wanting to see the Gallery for the first time in general, I also wanted to see a special exhibit there, “Gay Icons.” This was also very fascinating. The exhibit was formed by asking 10 prominent gay men and lesbians (including, for example, Elton John and Sandi Toskvig) to each name 6 of their icons; the icons did not have to be gay or lesbian themselves, but there did need to be a photo of them, so it was limited to persons in about the last 150 years. The exhibit then had a portrait and introduction to each of the selectors, followed by a photo and description by the selector of why each person had been chosen. The result was both revealing about each of the selectors as well as informative about each of their choices. Some of the choices, such as the Village People or Harvey Milk, were well-known to me, and to most visitors. Others, however, such as the novelist Ronald Firbank, were much more obscure to me, and I want to use the exhibit notes to learn more about them. I left both museums feeling inspired and with that good feeling that comes when I feel like I have learned something that I enjoyed learning about.
Outside, in Trafalgar Square, things were very lively. On the “empty plinth” directly outside the National Gallery, one of the selected persons was standing on the plinth blowing huge bubbles in the wind. (According to the London website, this summer sculptor Anthony Gormley invited people to help create a living monument by occupying the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square in an image of themselves and as a way to represent the whole of humanity.) Lower in the square, a huge screen had been erected and people were already gathering for a free simulcast of the opera “The Barber of Seville” from Covent Garden. With school groups from around the UK and visitors from around the world, Trafalgar Square was an exciting place to be and a great place for people-watching.
After a nice supper with my partner, we really enjoyed Sister Act! The play, based on the movie which starred Whoppi Goldberg, has all new music and a cast of signing nuns that was really great. As we said after the play, it was impossible to come out of the theatre without a simile on your face.
The next morning I took the train to Canterbury. That city, which has been a place of religious pilgrimage for centuries, is also a bit of a place of pilgrimage for me, as I had my junior year of university there some 35 years ago. The city holds wonderful memories for me, and I always enjoy walking the ancient streets and precincts there, along with nostalgic walks through the ever-growing University of Kent on a beautiful hillside just outside of the city. The city was busy with many foreign visitors, proud parents there to celebrate graduation day with their children, and many international students arriving to study English. Returning to the city from the campus by bus, I got off at the massive Westgate, ancient entrance to the city from London. The Westgate Gardens, along the River Stour south of Westgate, were magnificent with their floral displays.
Also beautiful are the gardens along another branch of the Stour in the city centre, by the ancient Greyfriars. Greyfriars was the home of the first Franciscans who came to England, and they came to Canterbury while St. Francis was still alive. It is a simple but beautiful brick and stone building which straddles a narrow branch of the river. One one side of the Greyfrairs is a wildflower meadow which was full of white and purple flowers. The other side of the building has more formal gardens, but the entire area was extremely lovely and peaceful, even though filled with many visitors.
The Greyfriars has become a center for the study of Franciscans, and the first (US second) floor has been furnished as a simple chapel. As with so many places in Canterbury, I can remember visiting the Greyfriars as a student, when it and the land surrounding it were much less developed or promoted. At that time, however, I had never even visited the city of San Francisco, so I had another little “circle of life” moment, revisiting the Greyfriars after having living lived in the city of St. Francis for 20 years.
I enjoy visiting Canterbury because I have happy memories from there, and thinking of those times makes me feel like I am 20 again. It’s a little bit strange, though. In my head I know that I don’t want to be 20 again, and I am thankful for my life as it has been and as it is now. Still, it gives me a little thrill to feel, even for a few moments, the same way I felt back then in my student days there. It’s also really nice to add some new memories about Canterbury, and I anticipate that Canterbury will remain a place of pilgrimage for me.
It was a brilliantly sunny day in Canterbury, but by the time my train arrived back in Salisbury we were having a real downpour. Still feeling a tiny bit like I was 20, I walked home from the station through the rain, not minding getting my arms and legs wet. It really was a great 34 hours.
13 July 2009
On Saturday I served my first day as a volunteer room steward at Mompesson House, which is located in the Close of the Salisbury Cathedral. The House is owned by the National Trust, and it is a perfect Queen Anne style town-home, dating from 1701. The House also has a beautiful back garden, which extends to the wall surrounding the Close, and it is filled with beautiful perennials, including roses and delphiniums, and there is a small tea room in the far corner of the garden.
It was a really interesting day for me. I enjoyed getting to meet the other room stewards during our breaks, got to speak with some interesting visitors from literally all parts of the world, and got to learn more about and appreciate at close hand a beautiful home and its lovely contents.
I was a steward in the southeast bedroom, on the first floor (second floor for US readers). It has a beautiful four-poster mahogany bed and a very tall chest of drawers made from Virginia walnut, brought to England as ballast in a ship. (I was very tempted to tell visitors that I was not the only thing from America in the room.) There is also a remarkable dressing table by Hepplewhite which has two concealed mirrors which can be opened out. The room also contains everyday objects that would have been used in the house, as well as paintings and other works of art. The entire house is presented as a home from the period, rather than simply as a museum.
Stewards are loaned a notebook with notes about all of the furnishings, including carpets, furniture, paintings, and all art objects in each of the rooms. I found, as I have many times in the past, that I learn more in preparing to teach others than I can pass on to others. To teach, in any way, requires that one learn much more than the students.
One of the major conservation methods in the house is to prevent bright direct sunlight from entering any room; sunlight is very destructive and each room has several sensors to monitor light over a period of time. For this reason we had to keep the blinds lowered. I can certainly appreciate the need for conservation, but I was glad in the late afternoon when we could open the blinds to a halfway position, and then the glorious view of the Cathedral across the Choristers’ Green was avaible from the bedroom.
Many of the rooms in the house have beautiful plaster ceilings, which were added some time after the house was built. The bedroom where I was stationed, however, has its original plain ceiling. Therefore, the room where I worked has not really been altered since its construction, from at least 1701, and maybe even from the 1680s. Knowing this gave me, yet again, a real sense of history and continuity that is commonplace here, but is much more rare in America. The entire house, of course, is older than the American Republic, so even though it is not ancient in terms of comparison with the Cathedral and other antiquities in the area, it still has seen a great deal of history.
We have a new home. I wonder what it may be like in 300 years?
9 July 2009
A friend and I had fun yesterday visiting an archaeological dig in the church yard of St. Andrew’s Church, here in Laverstock. The dig is being lead by Alex Langlands, archaeologist and co-star of the acclaimed BBC show Victorian Farm, and a small team of fellow archaeologists, students, and local volunteers is working on the site.
The dig is going on at the western back end of the yard, closest to the Bourne River. We walked past huge, ancient yews and flowing grasses to reach the several trenches being dug.
One of the volunteers explained that the purpose of the dig is to learn more about the churches that have been on the site. It is thought that there have been at least 3, and maybe 4, churches here. The current St. Andrew’s dates from 1858, built by the Victorians using some of the materials from the previous churches.
The first church on the site, and the location of the current dig, might go back to Saxon times. It is known for certain, however, that a Norman church was built on the site, and this church predated even Salisbury Cathedral. One of the doorways in the current church has an arch from the Norman church. That Norman church was unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1410, and a second (or third?) church was then built on the site. That church, in turn, was reported to have become derelict, and the Victorians knocked it down and built the current church on the current site in the front of the church yard. The dig is trying to establish the exact location of and more information about the prior buildings.
There have been high-profile television shows about recent archaeological digs in the vicinity. Stonehenge, Durrington Walls, Salisbury Cathedral and Silbury Hill, all in Wiltshire, have been the subject of digs and TV documentaries. This, however, was the first dig I had seen in person, and it was fascinating. Just as we were there Alex pointed out some broken pieces of red tile, which looked like pieces of a flower pot, in the dirt about a foot underground. He explained that these would have been pieces of the roof, and they would have fallen to both the north and south of the west-facing original church. This was one small step in helping to establish the location of the original walls and was, to me, another example of the amazing work archaeologists can do to help us understand the past.
The site of the dig is hemmed in with ancient grave stones, and it is thought that one of the reasons the old church was destroyed and the new one built on the current site is that the congregation needed a larger building, and the old site was too crowded with graves for the church to be expanded.
I always think there is a very exceptional feeling about a church yard that is believed to date back to Saxon times, approximately 1200 years ago. The sites may even be more ancient than that because a number of the Saxon churches were built on places considered sacred by the native Britons for centuries before the Saxons. Many of these, like St. Andrew’s, are located by rivers or other natural features of exceptional beauty, and I find that they have a special feeling of peace and quiet.
One of the volunteers told me that anyone interested in learning more about this special site is welcome to attend an “open house” at the dig on this coming Saturday, 11 July.
6 July 2009
Our Fourth of July turned out to be nice, with two surprises by the end of the day.
We began the day early, driving south towards Bournemouth. Just on the outskirts of the city we headed east and drove to the parking lot at Hengistbury Head, the historic but somewhat desolate-looking headland at the entrance to Christchurch harbour. The morning was breezy, overcast and cool, and the headlands did not look too inviting so we got in the car and headed west along the coast.
We ended up finding a nice beach, in Southbourne, between the headlands and the Bournemouth pier, where there was a pavilion with a cafe, take-away shop, seaside convenience store, toilets and seaside huts. The pavilion was rather ugly, with bare concrete walls, but it was in a good location and very convenient for us day trippers.
We set up our chairs and blanket on the beach, wrapped ourselves up in jackets and towels, and enjoyed the fresh air, with very few other people on the beach. Cups of coffee from the take-away and a bacon sandwich helped us fill the morning as we waited for the sun to come out. I kept thinking of the line in ”I am the Walrus” by the Beatles where they sing “If the sun don’t come you get a tan by standing in the English rain.” In the distance to the east we could see the dramatic silhouette of the Isle of Wight, which kept disappearing in the low clouds and occasional light mist in the morning, but periodically reappearing as the day went on. Every time I saw it I kept thinking of another Beatles’ line, “We can rent a cottage on the Isle of Wight, if it’s no too dear.”
By 1 or 1.3o PM the sun started to break through the gray skies, and by 2 we had full bright sun. With the sun out I was the first in the water, only wading up to mid-calf, but the water felt good, warmer than I had expected (I was expecting something like melted ice water!). My partner was braver and had a full swim, back and forth between the wooden groynes on the beach. More people kept coming to the beach as the day got warmer, and the people watching got more interesting as the day went on.
We left about 4 PM, feeling very refreshed, and after my wading and enjoying the warm sun I felt like I really had had a nice Fourth.
The surprises came at the end of the day. First, by bedtime, I was amazed to see that my face, arms and knees had turned bright red. While we put sunscreen on when the sun came out, this was another lesson that you really can burn even when the sky is overcast. My dermatologist would not be happy.
The second surprise was that, just as we were settling down, I heard the unmistakable sound of fireworks exploding. I pulled back the blinds at the corner of the window and through the trees in the distance I could see some fireworks going off in the direction of the river valley, towards Bishopdown, on the outskirts of the city. There were only a few fireworks, simple single colored ones, but I went to bed with a good feeling, knowing that at least one other person in Salisbury was celebrating the Fourth, and knowing that an English Fourth of July can be as fun as one in America.
2 July 2009
This coming Saturday is the Fourth of July. I suppose that for most Britons this sounds like a simple statement of fact and arouses no particular emotions. For an American, however, including this American author now living in England, “the Fourth,” American Independence Day, brings a wave of emotions and memories.
I think the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving Day are the two most uniquely American holidays. In the Fall, whenever I mention Thanksgiving Day to a British person, I usually get comments such as “That’s very nice. I wish we had a holiday like that.” Mention of the Fourth of July brings a slightly different reaction, though, usually a smile and often a little nervous laugh. America and Britain are now so close, and have such a wonderful shared history and culture, that to some it must seem almost impolite or embarrassing to bring up that messy revolution that occurred so many years ago.
Back during my university days, I had a year of study at the University of Kent in Canterbury. Those were the days of the dreadful war in Vietnam, with civil unrest in the US, and then the constitutional crisis of President Nixon and the Watergate break-in and cover-up. At that time I was somewhat ashamed of America and I would tell my British friends that they should consider the Fourth of July as “British Thanksgiving Day,” a time to be glad that America was no longer politically joined to Britain. More recently, I have grieved over a now-former President who seemed to have no knowledge, and certainly no respect, for the principles established in the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution.
Despite all the ups and downs of the state of affairs in America, however, I have always loved the Fourth of July, and I think it is many people’s favorite holiday in America. It comes at a time when the weather in all parts of the US is almost always very warm or downright hot, with very little chance of rain. The day is usually devoted to picnics or barbecues, playing or watching a game of baseball, sometimes watching a parade, and then, of course, the grand finale, the evening fireworks display. I love fireworks at any time, and those on the Fourth were always the most special.
For the last 15 or 20 years, when I lived in San Francisco, the biggest question of the day would be about the evening fog – would it appear, and, if so, would it be high fog or low fog? Some years, if the fog was heavy and low, we would only have colored fog, not real proper fireworks.
I would usually try to go up to Telegraph Hill, home of Coit Tower, and stand and watch the fireworks over the Bay. I must admit that on more than a few occasions I would go alone, especially if the Fourth fell on a weeknight, because not all my friends and family share the same enthusiams for fireworks as I do. The fireworks have changed over the years, becoming more and more elaborate, and I especially love the new ones that incredibly form a smiley face.
Although it is a very festive and light holiday, as an amatuer student of history I have also been moved by the remembrance of the events that the day commemorates. Further, I was fortunate in growing up in the historic city of Baltimore, the largest city in Maryland, one of the original 13 American colonies, and the history seemed much more real to me than I think it is for natives of states further west. Finally, I also feel a connection because several of my ancestors fought in the American Revolution, and my Mother, at age 89, remains a proud member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
The American Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776. Fighting between British soldiers and colonists in New England had been going on for more than a year before Independence was declared. The Declaration, largely written by Thomas Jefferson, is a magnificent document, containing phrases that are as revolutionary and relevant today as they were nearly 250 years ago: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, – That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing it powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
These words still have power today, not just in America, but around the world. I remember the citizens of Iran, and their desire and struggles to “institute new Government.” I think of President Obama, and marvel that America has truly embraced the concept that “all men are created equal.” And I know that even in the UK we must be vigilant to ensure that we maintain the rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
So, my British friends and family, I hope that you will understand that when I say I want to celebrate on the Fourth – by maybe going to a beach on the south coast and having a picnic and a swim – I am not merely celebrating a break between the governments of Britain and America . Much more than that, I am celebrating freedom and democracy – Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness - concepts which the American founding fathers learned from Mother England, starting with guaranties of liberty and limits on royal power which were first established in Magna Carta, an original copy of which we have here in the Chapter House at Salisbury Cathedral.
I’m hoping that the fabulous summer weather we have been enjoying in England holds up for at least two more days. I’m not expecting fireworks that evening, and I don’t even think we’ll be having a barbecue. For my Anglo-American Fourth of July I would love a nice lunch of fish and chips by the pier in Bournemouth and an afternoon laying on a towel and wading in the ocean.