Monday, April 27, 2009

wheeling around Suffolk

Suffolk and Norfolk (well, East Anglia generally) used to be fenland. Marsh, swamp, wetlands, or whatever term you prefer. Eye means 'island', and Diss may have meant 'lake', so you can tell that water defined the landscape. While the fens were drained over the course of centuries, and made over into farmland, water is still easy to reach--dig a hole and you have a moat or a fishpond.
The roddens (lost rivers) can still be seen in aerial photos, and there's a terrific picture here. That photo is from Cambridgeshire, probably the flattest of the former fens. Suffolk and Norfolk have some hills, and as Mark and I cycled back and forth across the Waveney (the little river that marks the boundary between Suffolk and Norfolk) I did have some work to keep up with him.

We'd done a bit of online research into hiring bicycles, without much success, but luckily Mike and Sue, our wonderful hosts at Gables Farm, had bikes they weren't using and were willing to lend to us, no charge. Even better, Michael was close to Mark's height and Sue to mine, so no fiddly adjustments were needed.
Here's my faithful blue steed, resting in a typical bit of local landscape. You'll notice that it's overcast, and this pic was taken on one of the very few overcast days we had. Mostly we had astonishingly pleasant weather, sun and occasional cloud. I even got a bit of sunburn, the day we went out to the Saints.

I should mention that for most of this trip I had a cold. It stopped at all the stations: dry cough, catarrh, losing voice, streaming nose, hacking cough, and so on. Also palindromic rheumatism bouncing about the body; one day my ankle stiffened up so that I couldn't walk without limping, but fortunately could still pedal.
But it didn't touch my mood; I was still pretty close to blissful. I kept thinking how fortunate it was that we could do this now, that we had the time and the funds to be here and that I was able, physically, to bicycle around and really see. Having to stop and blow my nose every couple of klicks wasn't much of a price to pay for that.

I mentioned before the necessity of OS maps, didn't I? Here you see one of the perils of navigating in the English countryside: the shortage of distinctive names.
The road signs, met at every tangle of lanes, are fairly helpful, except for two little quirks.
1) the default distance for any locality is 5. Once we went from 5 to 6 to 5 again for the distance to Syleham, while aiming (as) straight (as possible) for it.
2) when you get within a certain distance from a locality, it disappears from the signs. So you know you're almost at Syleham when you lose it. This is why you need the OS maps.

I'm not really sure why East Anglia appeals to me. Perhaps my childhood reading of the Green Knowe books, with Tolly's arrival in the midst of a flood at night, and Green Knowe seeming as much ship as house. Perhaps three childhood years in Richmond (aka Ditchmond) before it was completely subdivisioned, when there were flat fields behind the houses, and deep ditches scoring the fields and roads, ditches easily as deep as a Suffolk river--deeper than some.
I'm fairly sure I have no ancestral ties to this part of the UK, so it can't be the deep call of the ancient blood or whatever overwrought phrase is wanted.

This last pic is my view for most of this part of the trip. I do find it an attractive view.
And look - visible shadow! The sun is shining.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

armed with a rake

that seems to strike at me.
Or, the Duchess of Malfi does yardwork, and Spring is here in all sorts of ways.

Today was the Times-Colonist 10k Run. My participation was limited to getting up at 6, with the added entertainment of watching Mark get up at 6--he is firmly in the camp of Lady Astor, reputed to have said "Do you mean to say there are two seven o'clocks in the day?"--and driving Mark, Paul, and Shona to the start. Then I found a parking spot near the finish line and went for tea.
Next year we will arrange a meeting place beforehand. The Legislature lawn has many landmarks and prominences, but with 10,000 participants and their associates wandering about, standing on a high spot only gets you so far.

It does seem somewhat unreasonable that I who did not run am having more aches & stiffness than those who did run. Arthritis--like being an athlete, in a way.

The fruit trees are blossoming and the remaining blackberry vines are leafing. I spent part of today standing on top of a stepladder waving a rake over my head to knock dead bits out of the pear tree. I spent part climbing on the rock and raking dead blackberry bits out of the St. John's wort.
Both cats came to watch: the cat that lives here (Priscilla), and the cat that doesn't live here, which proves to have a local habitation and a name (next door, Katina). The cat that doesn't live here has remarkable confidence that it does live here, and will meow at the door and walk in when the door is opened. If it weren't such a young cat, and we hadn't been living here over 20 years, I'd be persuaded it was the previous owner's cat.
The cats like to watch me work in the backyard. Priss usually stays fairly close, at ground level, and Katina perches.

At UVic the rabbits
have been breeding, and there are tiny cute rabbits everywhere. A proposal to deal with them by blowing them out of their burrows with a device called a "Rodenator" (I can only assume that Verminator was taken) is doomed, doomed, doomed, because teh bunnehs r so kewwwt!!!
I have the perfect solution, though. See, the black-footed ferret is being reintroduced in Saskatchewan. And the black-footed ferret is insanely cute, with its little masky face. Bring the black-footed ferret to UVic, and let the cute predator take care of the cute pest. If rabbits run low, there's always the gray squirrels.

In other news of cute fluffy things... Priss writhes when she's petted, in a rather disturbing way. Sometimes you can pet her into such a frenzy that she rolls off the chair. We have ladderback chairs in the kitchen, and she likes to thrust her head into the gap between the seat of the chair and the ladderback slats. I worry that she'll get stuck, but so far she's always managed to pull her head back out.
You can see this coming?
Yes, I discovered that my cat could kill herself while being petted. She jammed her head under the bar, and while I skritched her back, she rolled wildly, to and fro, and ... body rolled off the seat, head remained trapped in chairback.
Fortunately I looked down as she did this, and caught her, rolled her back onto the chair, and watched her panic for a moment or two until she found the angle that would extract her head.
Has this stopped her from jamming her head through the chair? What do you think?

The ultimate spring critter, which I forgot to mention, is a lamb, and visiting Anna a couple of weeks ago I got to feed a rejected lamb. Just a little one, (though I expect bigger by now) with tightly curled white fleece, a little black crescent of a nose, and a most demanding cry. Like babies, lambs need to be fed every couple of hours, but unlike babies, lambs can follow you around and find you at need. His name is Vinnie, which should be short for vindaloo.
Anna mentioned the difficulty non-farming people have with the idea that a hand-reared animal is destined to be food, the 'how can you treat it so kindly and then kill it?' complaint. As if it would be more understandable to beat the animal every day and then kill it.
I know, I know, it's to do with the mental categories of 'companion animal' and 'food animal', but it still requires not thinking about the life of the food animal before it becomes food.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

a little Diss and mostly Eye

UK 08, continued.
Already I've fallen somewhat out of chronological order, and into rough subject categories. But there you go.
After our Wingfield visit, Lucia, Mark and I visited Diss, specifically the Tourist Info Centre, which you should always visit first in any English town, because with few exceptions (Cambridge) they are marvellously helpful places, stuffed with maps and bus schedules and postcards and walking tour maps and lists of B&Bs and booklets of local history... Really you could just visit the tourist info ctr and be done.
We bought Ordnance Survey maps. Because OS Maps are vital in the countryside. Doing without them would be like doing without a London A to Z in London. Mark and I also bought oil for the bicycles and a lock. Diss has a bicycle shop and repair, and we took note of this for later.

This is the only picture I took in Diss (more later) and it is just crying out for a lolcats caption:

A few days later Mark and I had to bicycle to Diss to have a puncture fixed, and more pictures were taken of St. Mary Diss and so on. But I was still fumbling about with the camera at this point, and missed taking any pics of the ducks crossing the street. They did use the zebra crossing.

To file under things that make you realise you're not in North America: while shopping, finding a chub of rabbit-meat dogfood. I wanted to bring one home, but there were logistics issues. I did bring back a foil packet of beef 'n' rabbit flavoured cat treats, from London.

Here we are in Eye, picture taken looking at St. Peter & St. Paul, Eye. This being after Thornhams Parva et Magna, we were a bit tired and hungry, and asked an older fellow who was leaning on his garden wall, about places to eat. He turned out to be an amateur historian of Eye, and as well as giving us a potted history of the town's growth, suggested a fish & chip shop in a 14th century building, or Beard's teashop, in a 15th century building.

But first, a look around St. Peter & Paul. The building just beside it is the Guildhall, fifteenth century timber-frame, nicely restored. The timbers are filled in with wattle & daub (something like lath & plaster, only muckier) and plastered over. Sometimes there's decorative patterns of bricks between the timbers, and that's called brick-nogging (I'll try to post a pic sometime). Suffolk and Norfolk are short of building stone--flint and chalk don't make for strong walls--so you'll see a lot of half-timbering, brick, and thatch.
The plaster is decorated in a couple of ways (it's vernacular architecture, it will be decorated). One is by colour, the Suffolk pink or yellow, originally ochre (earth pigments) mixed with size distemper and painted over the whitewash. Supposedly ox-blood was mixed in the wash, but no one's proven this, so it may be one of those stories you tell the gullible cityfolk. Nowadays you can apparently buy Dulux 'Suffolk pink' in tins.
The other decoration is pargetting, building up designs in the plaster. Ancient House in Ipswich went mad with this technique. The Eye Guildhall has a more subdued variant, 'pinking', which in this case means impressing or scratching designs into the plaster. You can see it next to the cornerpost here, a slantways row of quatrefoils between two incised lines.
Also nicely visible here is the difference between the restored and unrestored sides of the cornerpost. The ornate pinnacles and tracery between the dogs are what you'll see above arches and niches from the 14th and 15th century, carved in wood, painted in glass, cast in bronze, embroidered in gold thread.
This restored side of the post gives you an idea how it would have looked new, though it might have been painted, too.
Down the street you can see a Dutch gable (that curly brick house-end) another characteristic of East Anglian architecture. I've seen some different explanations for its adoption, but all related to the ties between East Anglia and Flanders. Introduced by homesick Flemish weavers or builders, or by East Anglian merchants impressed by the style in Flanders, at any rate it stayed.

There's a brief history of the wool towns and the links between Flemish and East Anglian merchants and weavers here.

Diss and Eye aren't very large now, but they were important in the middle ages, and the size of Eye's church is a good indicator of status. The De la Poles seem to have had a hand in the building here as well as in their own little church in Wingfield.
My main interest was in the painted dado screen, done by a local craftsman about 1500, and somehow surviving the time in between without the saints' faces being scratched off or any other pious damage. It's pure folk-art, and I've stuck my sample picture of two of the saints (John and Catherine) next to two of the saints (Dominic and Catherine) from the Thornham Parva retable. You can see the difference between court art of 1330 and folk art of 1500 (as well as how the arcading over the saints has become more elaborate) even though the basic design is the same.

And yes, food! We'd been meaning to have something to eat. The fish and chip shop was pretty greasy-smelling (as the old gent had warned) so we went on to Beard's, rather more upscale. I had leek soup, tea, and chocolate-nut pie with clotted cream. Clotted creeeeaaaammm.

Sorry, back now.
Beard's is a bed & breakfast as well as tea-shop, but doesn't have a website. On the other hand, we had such a lovely berth at Gables that I didn't mind missing out on yet another choice. (And in the heart of Eye--the nightlife might have kept us awake half the night).
Still, the beams are awesome. I took several pictures of the interior, with its beams and plasterwork, but I'll only push one on you here.

Through that door is the back garden, with an outdoor privy that looks as if it might have been a WWII air-raid shelter, which would make the privy historic as well. History is thick on the ground in the UK.

This was our last day with Lucia, and I don't think one could ask for a better travelling companion. We discussed climbing up the Castle Mound, but it was late in the day and there wasn't much medieval on the top, only a 19th century folly and a few stones of the former tower.
Back to Gables to say our goodbyes.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

around and around

Out today pruning the apple trees. The Transparent is already budding, and probably I shouldn't have pruned it, but the weather's been so chancy of late that I seized the opportunity. Also hacked out a great deal of the blackberries that have been encroaching on it for some years.
I believe I've found a system of sorts for cutting the blackberry vines back. In previous years I cut the stems, but then the dead bits form an impenetrable net, worse than than the live ones in that they have all the thorns but none of the fruit. The system is to take the shears (which I broke, last week, doing this, but they are mended now) and proceed along a stem, snipping off the offshoots as far as I can reach. Then take another stem and do the same. After a few of these attacks, the net starts to fall apart, and the stems can be cut into shorter pieces for dismantling. So now we have a growing pile of dead blackberry bits, eventually to be carted off to the garden waste disposal.
Also a stack of springy young suckers from the Transparent, with pink buds swelling at the tips. I've snipped a few pieces and stuck them in a glass jug, pretending that I am a Country Lady with an Eye For Natural Beauty.
The Transparent is now looking all light and airy. I enlisted Mark to prune off the suckers I couldn't reach, and had to stop him after a while, because the lure of the sharp tools is a powerful lure, and the book says no more than 1/3 should be pruned in a year.

Then I hacked away at the grapevine on the other side of the yard, behind the garden bench, and cleared out under the Spartan tree, where infant hollies were sneaking about under the bluebells. I had no idea that holly grew along vines, but these were.
The Spartan needs pruning, but first I have to remove most of the grapevine that's twining into it, so I can tell how much is the Spartan. This is how I ended up cutting back blackberries last weekend, in order to uncover the true Transparent.
I think I will gather up the grapevine and try making vine charcoal, just to be annoying. I wonder if I should try to find a Dutch oven at the thrift shops, or whether it would be simpler to cobble something up to roast the grapevine?
I'd dig a hole in the backyard, but backyard burning's been outbylawed for ages now, and charcoal burning is still burning. And you can only dig down about a foot here, before you hit rock.

The amusing/terrifying thing about the budding of the apple trees is that I still have apples left from last year. I don't mean the dried apples, of which there are 3 bags full, yes sir. I don't mean the apple pies, of which there are a half-dozen in the freezer. I don't mean the apple crumbles, of which there are at least a dozen in the freezer.
No, I mean apples, gathered in November, wrapped in newspaper and stored in orange crates in the pantry, which I have been taking for my lunches for two months (February and March--January I took mandarin oranges). Even with one crate of Spartans turning to mush, suggesting that Golden Delicious are a more reliable 'keeping' apple, the apple season stretched from August to April.
Now the trees are budding afresh. Isn't Nature wonderful?
You should hear that in the voice from a Monty Python skit, suggestive of someone slamming his hand in the desk drawer while saying it.

Likewise in the endless cycle of renewal, my stories fly out and fly back to me, with little notes attached that are not cheques. The two most recent rejections:

Thanks for allowing us to consider "Climbing Boys," but regretfully, I'm going to pass on this one.

I have to say, however, that I absolutely loved this story in many ways; it's such a morbid yet fitting way to portray the climbing boys, and the writing is very well done. Unfortunately, I felt the dialogue was too heavy with dialect; it kept stopping me, and I wished it was pared a bit to aid the flow of the story. Also, I wasn't altogether positive that the POV switch at the end worked.

In any case, it's a lovely story, and I hope you find a great home for it! Please do send us more of your work soon.

And for the same story:

Thank you for submitting "Climbing Boys" to Strange Horizons, but we've decided not to accept it for publication. There's some very neat stuff in here; I particularly liked the portrayal of Ned and how he catches ghosts. But the story and exposition came across as a bit too heavy-handed to fully work for us.

We appreciate your interest in our magazine.

But I will not complain, because these are positive, personal, rejections, and thus better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

The agent hunt has so far netted me 12 form rejections and 1 request for a partial.

Look, this is me not getting my hopes up.

Want to see me do it again?

On the arthritis front, I am achey today, which may be due to
a) gardening
b) warm sunny weather
c) ancestral curse
d) arthritis

With the hydroxyquin added to the methotrexate, it looks as if the swelling on my second knuckle, left hand, is going down, though still present. The left foot is pretty much the same, though it's difficult to judge when I'm having what would probably be a flare-up if I weren't medicated. Yay drugs!