Friday, 30 September 2011

Henry II & his good friend Thomas. Dover Castle:Pt 2

It is a rare treat, indeed, to be greeted by the king himself when visiting Dover Castle. This summer, Henry II was in residence and on the day we arrived at court he seemed in a jovial mood. He sat on his throne and received guests and gifts.

It wasn't until we adjourned to the shrine of Thomas Becket, the king's private chapel located to the east of his personal chambers, that Henry became thoughtful, sad, angry, and in the end, resigned.

You see, Thomas and Henry were friends once. Henry II made Thomas his Lord Chancellor, with the duty of enforcing the king's sources of revenue, from both landowners and the church. Henry's son, Henry the Younger even lived in Becket's household as a youth, as it was common for noble children to be fostered outside their home.

The problem came when the Archbishop of Canterbury died. The church and the king were often at odds. In an attempt to solve this problem, Henry II appointed Thomas as the Archbishop. Since Thomas had always served him faithfully, Henry thought the problem settled.

What Henry did not expect, was Becket's sudden devotion to the church. Whether Thomas had a true revelation, or simply let the position go to his head, the king wasn't happy - and the conversation as we conversed in the chapel turned quite colourful!

Thomas excommunicated several of the king's knights, and chaos erupted. At one point, Henry II complained to four of his closest knights. Saying either:

"Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" or "What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?"

Henry couldn't remember exactly what he said, but either way, his knights interpreted his frustration as a royal command.

The knights went straightway to Canterbury Cathedral. There they found Thomas on his way to vespers. At the entrance to the crypt they killed him.

King Henry II bemoaned the fallout from that single act. It would become the defining moment in his entire reign.

We felt it best to leave the king to his ramblings and went to find a meal.

Cheers! x

Monday, 12 September 2011

A castle made to last: Dover Castle: Part 1

Dover is my all time favourite castle. I'm partial to the big, heavy ones built not for show but for defence (or defense, if you're American).

Once part of a Saxon fortified settlement, the grounds were first converted by William the Conqueror. Later, Henry II built the great medieval fortress that stands today.

Standing tall above the White Cliffs of Dover, the castle has guarded British shores for centuries and has been successfully updated for every European war that threatened Great Britain.

We visit the castle at least once a year. Dover Castle is maintained by English Heritage. Since we're members, entrance is free. We love our English Heritage membership. Definitely good value for money.

During the summer, the castle hosted a Knight's Joust, and weekends found Henry II, his servants and court in attendance. Jolly fun to hear the cook and his wife arguing in the kitchens!

I'll be sharing more photos later in the month, so be sure to check back.


Monday, 5 September 2011

What the heck is a Hop Festival?

The Faversham Hop Festival is an annual event celebrating the long-gone days when families would come down from London (and other places, too) to harvest the hop in the fields and make money before the hard winter months. In the evenings, they would play music, dance and tell stories outside their makeshift camps.

The modern festival (1990) is a fun way to remember those early hop-pickers through song and dance. The music, dancing, and parade are free entertainment.

There are also live performances in most of the pubs in town. My hubby (sadly no pix of him) had fun singing 6 of his new songs at the singaround at the Bull on Tanner Street.

Music, dancing, craft booths, food vendors, and beer. Yes, the hops are used to make beer.

Even though we don't drink alcohol, hubby and I are happy to support the festival as it is really more about families and having a fun day out.

It's also good for the local Faversham small businesses.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Bee swarm in the bedroom.

Last Wednesday I woke up to the buzz of a honeybee.

It was obviously agitated. I understood; I was agitated, too. I'm highly allergic to the fuzzy little things, and not happy to have it in bed with me.

My first instinct, which I followed, was to run screaming from the bedroom. Standing on the other side of the slammed door, I realized Lawrence wouldn't be home from work for hours. I needed to deal with this myself.

So, I gathered up my courage (which I'd thrown willy-nilly in my mad dash from the bedroom), slowly opened the door and snuck* back in.

The bee buzzed against the window glass. It terrified me, but I was determined to let it live. After all, bees are not wasps or hornets. They serve a purpose, are on the decline, and sole makers of wonderful sweet gooey goodness. So, I bravely reached past it, opened the window, and coaxed it out.

Man did I feel good about myself. I'd saved the life of a cute little brown bee. I'd conquered my fear. Go me!

In spite of my joy, I closed the window again, just in case it decided to return.

Adrenaline still tickling my heart, I went into the office to call my husband. He was proud of me. I rocked. I no sooner hung up—when I heard a sound I didn't like.


Another bee in the house.

Now I freaked.

All the windows in the house were closed. One stray bee I could understand, but two? That couldn't be good. I tore downstairs, tossed stuff out from under the sink, and scrounged for wasp spray. Yes, I know bees are good, but if I get stung I have to go to the hospital. My sympathy meter had dropped from happy, ecologically-friendly green to Danger-Danger-Will-Robinson orange.

I took the spray into the office, pointed at the bee, told it I was sorry, and sprayed. It fell, made a few small sounds, and then went silent.

I felt bad.

Until I heard the buzzzzzzzz.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Stonehenge and Summer Solstice

Summer Solstice
Summer Solstice (June in the Northern Hemisphere – occurs in December in the Southern Hemisphere) is traditionally, the longest day of the year – or the day with the longest period of daylight, since technically it still has the same amount of hours and minutes and isn't really any longer than any other day. (FYI: Solstice is a Latin word meaning the "sun stands still.")

Southern England
For us here in Southern England, it also means the time when the pagans and druids come en masse to watch the sunrise at Stonehenge. So many people attend that English Heritage, the organization that watches over and maintains Stonehenge, has to close normal tourist admission to the site.

This Morning
This morning, June 21, 2011 there were 18,000 people attending. Here are some links to the Facebook page of English Heritage with a picture of this morning's ritual:

Crowds at Stonehenge
Druids at Sunrise Ceremony

Monday, 13 June 2011

Why the British L.O.V.E. their kettles.

Even though we don't drink coffee or tea, we still own a kettle.

When I first moved to England, I didn't understand this philosophy. Why would we need a kettle? The most we do is make cup-a-soup. In America, if I wanted hot soup I would put water and soup mix in a big mug, and put it in the microwave. Job done.

But my husband insisted we would need a good quality kettle.

So, we got a kettle, an electric one. We use it for making soup. I even started boiling the water for pasta before putting it in the pot on the stove to hurry up the cooking time.

It wasn't until this week, though, that I finally understood the true importance of owning a kettle.

We had some builders in to add two new radiators to our heating system. Many people in England have a boiler for heat. The hot water circulates throughout the house in copper pipes into radiators. In our house, it is a noisy system, but it warms the place on a cold day.

The boiler also heats the water for the shower, and kitchen and bathroom sinks. So if you have a problem with your boiler, life can become . . . difficult.

Our troubles began when the TIMER stopped working on the boiler.

Day 1:
Builder (A) tries to replace TIMER on boiler. Wire (a) is cut. Circuit board (a) is fried. No hot water.
Day 2:
Builder (B) replaces circuit board (a). Replaces TIMER. Cuts wire (b). Doesn't have the right part to replace wire (a). No hot water.
Day 3:
Builder (A) replaces wire (b). Still no wire (a). No hot water.
Day: 4:
Builder (C) replaces wire (a). Cuts wire (c) Circuit board (b) is fried. Replaces circuit board (b). Replaces wire (c). Hot water restored!

TIMER stops working.

No joke. After four days of heating water for the bath and dishes IN A KETTLE, the TIMER is still not working. I'm afraid to call them back!!

The moral to the story: If you own a boiler, you'll need a kettle.


Thursday, 19 May 2011

Humped Zebras and other Fowl British ideas

Okay, first an apology for the terrible pun. It seems to rub off on you after you've been here a while. Pun-making is a national pastime, and seriously, Newscasters are the worst. You can't get through an edition of the nightly news without some kind of groaner.

Humped Zebra Crossing.

I took this picture while waiting at the bus stop outside of Tesco (major grocery store chain) in Faversham. The first time I saw it I gasped. It just seemed so… wrong. Then I giggled, because, well, because it was there, in big letters, permanent, and nobody seemed to mind.

Kind of like the first time I asked for a restroom in a fancy department store and the clerk pointed to the HUGE sign overhead: "TOILET." Effective, but crude.

So what is a Humped Zebra Crossing? It is a pedestrian crossing with a traffic-calming hump/bump/elevation.

Zebra Crossings have flashing beacons (yellow blinking balls) on the top of black and white striped poles on either side of the road. Cars must stop if there are any pedestrians near a zebra crossing. (Motorists don’t always do this, especially foreigners.)
Photo: Benjamin D. Esham / Wikimedia Commons

Toucan Crossings have a traffic light, which tells you when to cross, and when traffic has to stop. Toucan crossings are for both pedestrians and bicycles.
Photo: secretlondon / Wikimedia Commons

Pelican Crossings are signal-controlled crossings operated by the pedestrian. You press the button and in a short period of time the traffic light turns red and traffic stops, the green walking man lights up and you can cross. (We have these in America, without the bird reference.) Photo: Patrick Neylan / Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Royal Wedding

Everyone is talking about the Royal Wedding tomorrow, when a "commoner" will become royal, as Prince William of Wales marries his longtime girlfriend Catherine "Kate" Elizabeth Middleton.
For anyone who hasn't been reading the papers, Friday April 29th is a bank holiday here in the UK in honor of the royal marriage. Which means: the second four-day weekend in two weeks. Woot! Woot! (Gotta love a country that gives you 11 days off for 3 days vacation leave.)

Cool Facts for us normal folk:
  • Among the guests will be shopkeepers from Kate's home village of Bucklebury
  • The happy couple will live in a remote farmhouse in Anglesey, North Wales for the first couple of years
What does it mean to be a commoner? Well, you and I know, don't we? But for formality here is the definition: A commoner is someone who does not come from an aristocratic background; someone without a proper title.
When Kate marries William, she will get a title. Which one? Who knows, since apparently it depends on whatever new title William gets when he marries. At the very least she will be "Her Royal Highness, Princess William of Wales." If the queen decides, she could give Kate the title "Her Royal Highness Princess Catherine." However, Kate will probably become "Her Royal Highness, Duchess of [whatever new title William gets]."
None of that really matters, does it?  In the long run, she will be Queen Catherine.
If you want to watch the procession, the BBC will be covering all the details starting at 8 AM Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). If you just want to watch the arrival of the royals – check in at 11 AM (GMT). Of course, there are supposed to be over 8,000 journalists there, so if you do not live in the UK, your local television station will probably be showing it, too. There will even be one lone reporter inside Westminster Abbey – his commentary will broadcast on BBC Radio.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

High Street Pt.2 – How many streets in a "High Street"?

Ready for more High Street talk? I love the High Street. It is my favorite place to shop, socialize and take a nice leisurely stroll about town.

Did you know that even though the area is called the High Street (singular), it can in fact contain several streets (plural)?

Faversham, for example, has five streets that constitute the High Street:
Market Square (the central area), Court, West, East, and Preston. (And not one of them called "High"!)

Today we'll take a look at Preston Street.

Preston Street is probably the longest of Faversham's High Streets. It has lots of shops and businesses. Some of them include:

The Chimney Boy: a pub where the Faversham Folk Club meets on Wednesday nights. (You can find my husband there singing!)

10-11 Preston Street is the Fleur de Lis Heritage Centre and Museum, which was built during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, in about 1600. (America was known as the "new world" back then.)

Ossie's Fish Bar is hands-down the best chippy in Kent. There is an old fashioned candy shop called The Sweet Scene. And a nice restaurant with an outdoor eating area in the back called Moonlight Café. They serve a great English breakfast any time of day.

There are lots of artsy shops in Faversham, including Birds Birds Birds on upper Preston Street. With my first paycheque (paycheck) working in the UK, I celebrated by buying a small figurine in this shop. It is adorable, I call it my "Cheeky Bird" because the tiny bird is hanging upside down and showing you its butt! LOL! They also sell chunks of creamy fudge in the shop.

Here is a link to a panorama filmed by the BBC, which shows the front of the Alexander Centre: BBC Faversham Panorama - Preston Street

At the end of Preston Street is the Rail Station. If you are in London, it is an hour and 20 minutes down the rail line to Faversham. Along the way, you will see lots of gorgeous British countryside, and even Rochester Castle.

So, what are you waiting for? :D


Sunday, 10 April 2011

A British High Street

Many adverts (commercials) in the UK talk about the "High Street". An advertisement might say something like: "Cheaper than those you will find on the High Street" or "As good as the High Street."

So, what is the High Street?

First off, High Street doesn't mean the name of the street is "High" (although some towns do have a High Street called "High" Street).

When I asked my husband for a definition, he said: "Somewhere in the town center where most of the main shopping is done." Then to make sure I had exactly what I needed he pulled out his trusty Oxford Concise English Dictionary and gave me the "official" word:

Oxford English Dictionary: noun. Main road, especially principal street of town with shops.

One of my favorite High Street stores: Obidosh! They sell adorable decorating goodies to clutter your home. Heh. I know this from personal experience! :D I'm a cupcake lover, and they always have cute cupcake stuff.

(BTW: The yellow lettering reflected on the windows comes from the bookmaker (aka turf accountant), across the street. Not to be confused with anyone who actually makes books. Betting is legal in England so there are lots of betting shops. Never been in one, so I couldn't tell you any more about them.)

Many High Streets have no traffic access. Which means you can walk down the middle of the street and not get run over, at least not by a car—there are some cycling nutters who are dangerous anywhere!

Some High Streets have special hours when traffic is not allowed. For example, during business hours or when there is an outdoor market 2-3 times a week. Those streets become normal streets after 5PM or on non-market days, so, don't get too lax.

Some of the streets aren't really big enough for a car to fit through, although that doesn't always stop British lorry (truck) drivers from trying.

Later in the week I'll talk more about Faversham's High Street.


Saturday, 2 April 2011

Nina Bell & The Fleur de Lis Heritage Centre

Thursday I had the privilege of meeting author Alexandra Iron, aka Nina Bell. Alexandra writes big family dramas including The Inheritance and Sisters in Law.

We both belong to the Faversham Society, a local organization dedicated to the preservation of English history. The Society runs a Museum and Gallery in the town center. They help with family history research, and have frequent educational evenings spotlighting local buildings, nature walks and archaeology.

Last month the Society held a silent auction to raise money for new activities. Alexandra donated a crash course in UK publishing. Since I'm a shameless wannabe novelist (an evolutionary step up from freelance), and an avid supporter of the Faversham Society, I decided to put in a bid. I didn't win, however, Alexandra was kind enough to offer a second block of time, so I got my chance.

It was lovely. Alexandra is sweet and knowledgeable. She'd prepared a worksheet full of things I need to know. Which was great, because I got to chatting and forgot to take notes. We discussed the differences between publishing in America and England. I was relieved to find out the process is similar on both sides of the Atlantic, although, Alexandra was quick to point out some British quirks.

We talked about writer's groups and writing classes, and some of the festivals available in England. (Note: In America we call them Writer's Conventions or Conferences – in the UK they call them Festivals.) The time flew, and I was surprised when I checked my watch to discover two hours had passed!

If you want to know more about Alexandra and her books, you can visit her website at: or follow her on Twitter: @NinaBellBooks

I don't mean to sound like an advertisement, but she was that nice!

By the way, I'm a steward at the Museum and Gallery. So, if you are ever in Faversham, stop by the Fleur de Lis Heritage Centre and say 'hello!'


Monday, 28 March 2011

Stained Glass and Grade1-Listed Dog House

Ightham Mote is the most complete medieval manor house in England, and it at has the only Grade I Listed Dog house.

As promised, here is the stained glass window.

Because of the fragility and age of Ightham Mote, it is the biggest conservation project ever undertaken by The National Trust. Well worth the effort. If you ever get the chance to see it in person, you won't be disappointed.


Monday, 21 March 2011

Ightham Mote

Ightham Mote (pronounced: "item moat"), is an original moated manor house, built sometime in the early 14th-century, making it almost 700 years old.

For family and friends in America: The house is 500 years older than our country. Boggles the mind, doesn't it?

The builder of the house is unknown, but owner records are available from c1360 onwards. The house and gardens are located in Sevenoaks, Kent.

I'll upload a few more pictures later in the week, since it is an amazing building. And yes, there are stained glass windows, which I promise to post!


Thursday, 17 March 2011

Gorgeous Gothic Doors

I  love doors, especially old, intricately carved, mysterious doors. Don't you just want to open them and see what magical world waits on the other side?

This blue door is at the front entrance of St. Paul's Church in Astley Bridge, Bolton. It is a lovely Anglican church. I've actually been through this door.  Inside it is one big room. Cold. Dark. Stone. Vaulted ceiling. Stained glass. Beautiful.

This door is in Rochester. We found it on our way from the castle to the High Street where we were going to meet some friends for lunch. No idea what is on the other side. Can't even tell you the name of the building. We were cutting through side streets and--there it was! Only had time to snap a photo and then be on our way.

What do you think? Do you like doors?


Monday, 14 March 2011

Toe dipping in the North Sea

Back in October, Naomi and I went to the beach.  Being an 'inland' type of person, I was surprised at just how far the tide retreats. We went because I had this crazy idea that I wanted to dip my toe into the North Sea.  A romantic notion, I guess, since there was no common sense involved, i.e. it was October, overcast, cold and wiiiiiiindy. wonder those invading Vikings were so cranky.

Look at all that mud... and those are clean, new, white-inside shoes... hmmm... you gotta know, this didn't end well. LOL!

I'm generally afraid of natural water: ocean, lakes, big rivers.  You can't see the bottom.  There are 'things' living under the surface.  Oh, and you can't breathe under there either.

Luckily, toe dipping isn't scary.  It is going close enough to feel the water lapping, without the shiver of things swimming around your legs. 

When we got to the beach, the tide was out.  This meant walking quite a ways to get to the edge of the water.  As you can see, the sand closest to the pier is dry, followed by a rocky bed, and then wet, squishy, mud that never gets completely dry. 

The watermark on the poles showed that we were walking in an area where the water is usually 15-20 feet above our heads.  *eeek*

In all, it was fun, and we found lots of seashells and scrambling crabs.

I brought some of the more interesting shells home to paint. On the advice of a friend from Japan, they made great tea light holders for Christmas candles and presents.


Saturday, 26 February 2011

Twitter and Facebook and YouTube, Oh My!

I've been busy exploring the wonders of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube the last two months. 

It's been exciting.  First, I connected with friends and family on Facebook.  It's great to be able to exchange photos and bits of news with everyone back home.

Then I uploaded videos of my amazing husband, LAWRENCE DEAN, onto YouTube.  Law is a singer/songwriter.  The videos are from a filk concert at Confluence in Pittsburgh, Pa.  Confluence is a Science Fiction / Fantasy Writers' Convention.  It's also the venue where we originally met!  Law sings regularly at the Faversham Folk Club, which meets weekly at the Chimney Boy pub.  The songs from the concert are a mix of Filk, Folk, Country and Pop. 

Having survived my foray into social media - - today I decided to tackle Twitter.  Talk about a sensory overload!  That is going to take some getting used to.  But I'm determined to watch and learn.

If you want to follow me I'm  @ideabasket

Not that I'm saying all that much at the moment.  But I'm sure to settle into the swing of things in my own sweet time.

Oh, and our Channel on YouTube is: MrLawDean