Winter to summer. I miss wearing coats.

Right, so, where was I? Oh yes, coming out of the dark of depression and surrounded by snow. Well, I’ll have you know I’m on medication, back to my usual antics, and Britain is currently melting into the sea from heat. But what’s happened since then eh?

Of course, we went to America! The weather may have been playing silly buggers, but it was wonderful to see my family again, come rain or shine! It was so strange coming back to Tennessee after being gone seven years. Some things haven’t changed a bit, and some things are unrecognisable now. Poor M had to witness quite a bit of reminiscing, but we took him on a goodly few tours of the attractions in the area. All in all, going somewhere warm with warm hearted people was just what the doctor ordered. I can’t wait until I can see them all again next. 🙂

What was not so fun in our Transatlantic Tour was that on about day three, little Ophelia went missing. And stayed missing. Friends and family were out canvassing the neighbourhood, posters were put up, and all the tricks were tried to get her home. Of course, she then remained missing the rest of our trip (nearly three weeks!) and we were all beside ourselves wondering where she was. We got home, canvassed the area ourselves, and then with no luck put ourselves to bed.

Lo and behold! Who would show up meowing at us in bed at 4 AM? Oh yes. She was skinny and a bit hoarse, but our little fur face was home safely! ❤

After the highs and lows of our big holiday, life settled down into more normal paces. Well, normal for us anyway. At work, I finished two projects on digitising whale skulls and some of the fossils Darwin sent back from his journey on the Beagle. They were both challenges to 3D scan in their own ways, but very cool and totally surreal to handle. And now they’re available to a much wider audience than before!

This April, one of my sister-in-laws and one of my work colleagues were both absolute Wonder Women and successfully ran the London Marathon! M and I came down to watch them run and cheer them on, but mostly just spent the time nearly seeing them and running back to the tube for the next spot. You may not get nearly as many steps as the runners, but cheering for the marathoners is a pretty heavy walking activity itself. It was really interesting to be a witness to such a big event, and I would recommend doing it at least once. I can’t vouch for the running bit – you’d have to ask them! 😉

In a truly miraculous moment at the end of April, I took the UK driving test and PASSED. That’s right, I’m now licensed and insured to drive both manual and automatic cars on my shiny new British license. Honestly, you should all be more concerned.

May snuck up on us and soon enough it was time to head back to Lyme Regis with the Museum team. We brought down a load of 3D printed specimens and our scanner again, but this year we also had a 3D printer in the background for people to watch. I don’t think many people realise quite how long it takes to print something until you see the process. We were shortly mobbed as soon as we opened each day because this year we had play dough to ‘create your own fossil.’ After a child (or some parents) finished with it, we would do a quick 3D scan of it. Let’s just say we’re still processing some of those files. It was popular.

After hours, it was great to catch up with some people that I hadn’t seen since the year before, and we all got to bask in glorious sunshine at the sea – a rare treat not to be taken lightly. Brought home some fossils found on the beach, and some of our staff even won some ice trophies for going above and beyond in helping make the event happen this year. And so, so many chips were eaten. There’s something magical in the fryers at Lyme Regis I think.

A month went by and we all recuperated from Lyme Regis. At the end of it, M and I took a mini holiday to Hungerford for his birthday weekend. It’s a quiet town outside of Reading, and we went when the weather was perfect for it. Took a stroll through town, had dinner at a lovely place off the High Street, and stayed in a listed pub, The Bear Hotel. Parts of the building go back to the 17th century, but the room we stayed in with the view of the river was very much from the 21st century.

The next morning, we packed up and continued west towards Tetbury to spend the rest of the birthday weekend with M’s family. It just so happened to be the weekend of the Tetbury Woolsack Races, so of course we had to go see them. The aim of the game is to carry a sack full of wool and run up the steepest hill in the village. It was quite possibly the most British thing I think I’ve witnessed to date, and it was really fun to watch! We took a stroll DOWN the hill afterwards, and immediately could see why people were so exhausted by the top of it. That hill is deceptively brutal!

For his birthday, M got a homebrew kit from my parents, which of course needed to be tried straightaway. Well, as straightaway as one can brew things anyway. After a quick stop to the shops for brewing sugar, M was busy concocting his brew. I mostly just stayed out of the way until the bottling process, which is more of a two person event. The beers have now finished brewing and have been sampled. The neighbour gives it a solid rating, though M is convinced it tastes more like real ale than the lager it was intended to be. Ah well, just means we need to make more eh?

What else has happened? Well, M’s other sister and her family have moved into a new, beautiful house and their cats are ALL ABOUT the fact that the downstairs lets them do a circular patrol. We’ve now been in our new build for over a year, and are finally putting down some literal roots in the form of a raised garden bed.

What I didn’t know was that new builds often use whatever junk soil they have available to get the yard to a certain height, and then put on a thin layer of topsoil for the grass to grow on. This was quickly discovered after we tried digging down and hit rock after rock after rock. It was a sweaty, hot day, but after nearly six hours and multiple rest breaks, we finally got the borders in and the plants rooted. As of now, they’re all still alive too!

I have realised at this point that we have had so many BBQs that I’ve stopped taking photos of them. Normally everyone in Britain races to the shops to buy food for a BBQ on a Saturday when there’s a chance the weather might have sun and temperatures above 20C/68F. However with this heatwave, it’s been balmy and sunny for months now.

We’re at the point of planning weekend BBQs without even looking at the weather forecast. People are leaving their laundry on the lines overnight with full confidence that they won’t get dew on them in the morning. Everyone has given up on wearing professional work clothes and just trying to make do with their holiday clothes. Shops have run out of shorts. Truly, Britain is going mad in the heat and sun.

It can’t all be sunny days and BBQs though, and we did have to deal with the stress that is my spousal visa this July. After being married 2.5 years (yay!), it has to be renewed for another 2.5 years. After that, I can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain, and then even a dual citizenship after that. It ain’t cheap though, and the paperwork required is a righteous pain to compile, even if you’re sensible like we were this time and had organised by month in accordion binders for the last 3 years. All the money has been paid though, and the paperwork sent off, so now it’s just a waiting game to hear back from Home Office. I don’t see why they wouldn’t approve it, but it’s stressful to wait for someone to decide such a big thing in your life.

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The paperwork required this time around for my visa. About half the amount required for the initial application.

After getting that stress sorted, M and I had two partial weeks off, and so we went to the sea to enjoy the sun, and then out into Colchester like tourists. I may have put him on a ‘let’s go find all the really old things in Colchester’ tour, but I think he did remarkably well out of it.

The beach at Walton on the Naze is perfect for lounging in the sand with a book and letting the braver souls toss themselves into the freezing North Sea. (I stuck my toes in it and can confirm that it is still frigid.) The beach huts were absolutely everywhere, and we enjoyed getting a peek inside the ones that were open. They’re basically Sea Sheds, with little kettles, a bed for a nap, and some toys for the beach. I would totally rent one if I thought I was going to spend a few days out there. We also quickly detoured up to the Naze Tower, though didn’t go in as it was getting even hotter and they had the windows shut in it. (!!!)

On our Colchester adventures, we got into town and then promptly into the Castle Museum to avoid the blazing heat of the sun. Colchester is old as all get out, as I have mentioned, and the amount of archaeology they find is impressive. I really enjoy having lived here long enough that I can recognise the names of the streets and villages where the finds were discovered and have an idea of where Roman and medieval Colchester spread.

After the museum, we headed over towards the Balkerne Gate – one of the last Roman gateways still standing in Britain. Next door to it is a pub called The Hole in the Wall, which is quite literal. You can see the Roman wall in the middle of one of the pub walls. Of course we had to pop in, as it definitely fell under the ‘old things’ tour mandate. After a brief stop, we continued on to dinner at the Siege House, which was another old building that was used (and shot at) during the English Civil War. Even if you aren’t into history, the building is beautiful and the food was amazing. Would definitely go back.

So here we are, pretty much caught up with everything in a single post. It’s still too hot in England and the trains are all melting, but other than that life is doing well. Not quite sure what’s in the cards for the next few months, other than praying for rain and keeping on at work. But we shall see, won’t we? 🙂

 

— Kate

Colchester, in the past.

While I’ve not been to all the historical places in Colchester this week, I’ve been by a good amount and thought it’d make a lovely post to tell the story of the town in standing architecture today.

Colchester is the oldest recorded town in Britain, being known in the past as Camulodunum to the Romans in the 40s CE. It was founded as a Roman Legionary retirement base on what was once the Celtic site of Camulodunon (“The Stronghold of Camulos”), Camulos being a Celtic war god of the region. That site has coinage dating back to between 20-10 BCE. There have been some attempts to link Camulos to the Old King Cole of nursery rhymes, but modern scholars have determined this is unlikely to be the case. There’s also some argument that Camulodunon may be the basis for Camelot, but it is mostly speculation at this point.

Camulodunum was one of the focus points of the Iceni rebellion led by Boudica in 60-61 CE, in which it was razed to the ground and no one was spared. The town at the time was undefended, and so the survivors of the initial onslaught took shelter in the Temple of Claudius, which had been built by local taxation and slave labor of natives. Needless to say, the building was a point of contention and was targeted for attack after only a few days. The town was so utterly destroyed by this events that archaeologists have named the deposit layer of the fire and carnage the Boudican Destruction Layer, consistently finding a thick layer of burnt organic material, building ruins, and fused metal and glasswork from the heat of the flames. This layer of chaos is important for archaeologists and historians today though, as it gives a definite time stamp to work with layers above and below the BDL.

The settlement was rebuilt quickly after the attack, with fortifications added this time around. Curiously, Camulodunum was officially a colonia instead of a municipia, which meant that the Romans considered it an extension of Rome and not a province, meaning that the inhabitants were all Roman citizens. Never again the capital city for the Romans in Britain, Colchester remained an Imperial cult capital for a long time with the Temple of Claudius and appeared in writings through the years by Pliny, Ptolemy, and Tacitus.

Jumping forward nearly 1,000 years, the town was continually occupied but mostly quiet. Many of the buildings still standing from this period show recycling of materials, with Roman era bricks being used to build Norman era creations such as St Botolph’s Priory and Colchester Castle. In fact, the Temple of Claudius was still standing in the 11th century when the Normans came in to Colchester. They actually dismantled the massive structure to place the castle on top.

King Cole makes another appearance at this point with the Normans referring to the temple as King Coel’s Palace. It was a popular medieval myth that the Roman town was founded by a native warlord named Coel, who was supposedly the father of St Helena (the patron saint of Colchester). Following the story, he then married Helena off to the Roman Constantius to save his town from siege, and the couple later gave birth to Constantine the Great. (In reality, these events took place WAY off in Turkey.) Not to be deterred by history, the town’s coat of arms shows the “true cross” and the crowns of the three magi that Helena was said to have found in Jerusalem and brought back to Colchester.

In the mid-17th century, Colchester had an influx of Dutch weavers and clothmakers from Flanders. They were well known for their “Bays and Says” cloths made of wool (associated with the “Baize” coarse wool and “Serge” twill of today). During this time frame, Colchester was one of the best towns for wool in England. The area of the Dutch immigrants is near the modern town center and is still known today as the Dutch Quarter, with a good amount of still-standing Tudor era homes.

Three hundred years later, the current town hall was built. The area has been in use as a town hall for over 800 years, but the building today was created by John Belcher in 1902. It was designed as a Baroque style with a statue at the top of the hall with what is either St Helena or the Virgin Mary on it. Inside, the Council Chambers has a painted ceiling with a classical theme of the months of the year, as well as two stained glass depictions of the Roman history in Colchester on the windows.

Finally, coming up to the modern day in terms of history, there is Castle Park. In 1727 the Colchester Castle had been purchased and the grounds turned into a private park for Sarah Gray, wife of the Colchester MP Charles Gray. Gray had originally kept the land split between a grain merchant and the county gaol (jail), but in the 1740s he restored parts of the castle and created the private park around the ruin and his summer house nearby. In 1922, nearly 200 years later, the castle and the park Gray had created were gifted to the town. The park was split into an upper and lower park and the castle became a public museum.

And of course, if you ask the locals they’ll all tell you that Colchester is “alright I guess.” 😛

— Kate