It’s crazy how fast time flies and how things progress.

Honestly, I pay for this domain name. I need to stop abandoning it for long stretches. Also, if I keep it alive this year it’ll be a 5 year old blog. I don’t think I’ve ever kept a plant alive that long.

So. Anyway.

When last we spoke, it was the beginning of a long, dry, hot summer in the UK. We didn’t see rain here in Essex for over 50 days. It normally rains here at least once a week if that gives you an idea of how crazy it was. Ah, but ignoring the parched earth it was glorious. We roamed the local country park a few times both with and without picnics. We went to Mersea Island and played on the beach. We even accidentally came at high tide and had to drive through the sea a little bit. Don’t worry, the Mini did fabulously.

Unfortunately, one of the side effects of this summer was the need to leave the windows open as much as possible, especially at night to try and drop the temperature in our bedroom from 29º down to 25º (if we were lucky). During the daytime we mostly had to chase flies and the occasional rogue wasp out of the living room because of this, but then the Flying Ant Day Accident occurred.

Flying Ant Day is a strange British phenomena. Normally, these pavement ants do not have wings and are happy to live their lives underground. However, there is a point in the summer that they reach breeding season and all seem to grow wings and fly en masse. (Apparently it’s not just a single day and happens across the UK all summer long, but it’s still an impressive swarm when it happens near you.) This type of swarm is like midges or gnats, but much larger. They don’t really do anything to you other than get in your face, but in a swarm it’s awful.

HOWEVER, they do seem to like the light, very much like moths. And we have a streetlight outside of our bedroom window. “Well that’s a bit creepy to watch, but surely no harm right?” you say to me. Oh but wait. One of us accidentally left the bedroom light on when we’d gone up to open the windows and then shut the bedroom door so the cat couldn’t get out of the house.

Perfect. Storm.

M was still having a glass of water and otherwise getting ready for bed downstairs whilst I came upstairs to sort out my clothing for work the next morning, only to be confronted with something that looked like a scene out of a horror film. HUNDREDS OF FLYING ANTS ALL OVER THE ROOM. They were in the windowsill, the curtains, the lampshade, the bedding, the laundry, and all over the floor. They were crawling the walls and ceiling. Honestly, the photo doesn’t do justice to the horror of it.

My initial reaction was just to stare at them and then scream for M to bring up the fly spray. (Why I thought a can of fly spray would fix this I don’t know.) I stood, riveted in the doorway, somehow thinking that if I took my eyes off of the swarm that they’d all come down the stairs and into the rest of the house. Thankfully, M came up and had more common sense in how to deal with the scene.

Long story short, M emptied an entire can of Raid in our room and half filled a Dyson vacuum with flying ants before we went to bed two hours later, sleeping in the guest bedroom. Everything in the room that could be washed was washed, including the bedding that I had just changed that afternoon. 😥

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Plagues of ants and drought aside, nature decided to just get a bit rude in general. The heat spiked to new and exciting levels, and the train network is not currently equipped to deal with weather so extreme. This had happened last year and there was about a week that it was nigh on impossible to get on a train into or from London.

This year they did try to do some things to help with the heat. A lot of the rails in the stations had their sides painted white in an effort to drop the heat whilst the trains were at the platforms and prevent the tracks from buckling and warping. However, when the weather stations starting predicting a heat spike so intense that it could make new records, the train companies just decided “sod it” and preemptively cancelled trains at about 9:30 the night before. Awesome, right? At one point they could only run a train an hour from Colchester to London, and I’m amazed those trains didn’t get stopped more from overcrowding and overheating inside of them. It was insanity.

Supposedly, Greater Anglia is getting new trains out in 2020 and they’ll all come equipped with blessed air conditioning. Why do I feel like the seats are going to be even smaller though?

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When I was able to get into work, I was able to work on my last project as staff at the NHM. We’ve already processed all the Toxodon fossils that Darwin sent back from South America on his Beagle journey and posted them online, but the chance came to reunite two portions of a Giant Ground Sloth skull that haven’t been together since Darwin cut them into two pieces. Not only did I get to witness the event, but I got to scan said pieces! It was all very cool, and a fitting way to end my work.

You see, I had applied and been accepted to do a PhD at UCL whilst working alongside the NHM. But we’ll get back to that later!

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FINALLY, we got rain in Essex again. It took weeks for the grass to go back to green and the cracks in the earth to heal, but it was amazing to have it back. We joked that my mother in law is apparently a water spirit, as every time she comes to Essex it rains. If we’d have known, we’d have had them over much sooner!

Towards the end of the summer it was finally beginning to cool down, and the Heritage Open Days EU project kicked off, opening access to historical places that are either usually closed to the public or paid entry only. Most everyone went to the castle, but I had a list of some of the more obscure and usually closed buildings that I desperately wanted to see, and a husband with an infinite sense of patience for my love of all things old.

We were only able to do one of the open days, but in that day we went up and down Colchester and managed to see the inside of the Anglo-Saxon church (the oldest in town), the facade that houses the archaeological discovery of a Roman theatre (you can easily walk by it), the interior and the view from the upper floor of the old abbey gate (the only thing still standing of the abbey), and most of the structure of Tymperleys, home to William Gilberd, scientist and physician to Elizabeth I (and now a place with most excellent scones).

Autumn began to creep in with cooler weather, and with it came the time to go back to school again. I could have sworn I was never going to do a PhD, but here I am. In fairness, my future predictions have been pretty wildly off the mark so far, so it’s not exactly surprising.

Before the official start of term, all of us in the SEAHA program (Science and Engineering in Arts, Heritage and Archaeology) convened in a village outside of Brighton for an induction into the way of things, and a chance to get to know and bond with our fellow students. I am so, so glad they did this for us, and not just because the hotel was amazing. Getting to know everyone in advance really helped make the first few weeks much easier.

One can’t stay in opulent hotels forever, and after the weekend retreat we were ready to begin lectures. Of course, this is SEAHA and we are anything but standard, so they included a trip to Stonehenge halfway through the first module, so we could write up a presentation in the second half about what we would do to modify the current A303 Stonehenge tunnel plans to make them better, using our mixture of experiences. It was more of a challenge than expected, but we ended up with new friends out of the experience and I can now tell you far more about the proposed tunnel project than I ever thought I could.

With autumn also came the harvest season, and this year I was feeling crafty. There are shedloads of sloe berries and growing on the side of a quiet road near the fields I jog past, and eventually I got up the idea to go harvest them and attempt a batch of sloe gin. You aren’t supposed to pick them until after the first frost, but the hot summer had rather killed a fair few of them, so I just picked them and froze them in the freezer at home to make up for it.

They were then added into a jar with obscene amounts of sugar, and of course, some gin. We left them to infuse until just before Christmas, then strained and decanted them out. Some have been given as little Christmas trinkets, with the firm advice that they’ll be better if they’re left until about mid-January to drink. I for one am excited to try ours out, perhaps mixed in with some prosecco, or even by making a proper sloe gin fizz!

As it does every year, my birthday snuck up on me. This year is the last year of my twenties. M thought it amusing to get a tiny cake and put 29 candles on it, so I brought out the fire extinguisher just in case. (Did you know you can buy fire extinguishers and fire blankets on Amazon Prime? Best late night purchase M’s made in some time!)

I didn’t really have any grand goals to achieve by the end of this year, and I’m still not sure what I want to do for my 30th birthday party. On one end, I could have a bunch of people around and make a big do of it, or it could just be the two of us on an adventure somewhere. I should probably sort it out before springtime.

Regardless, this birthday was a fabulous birthday, with cake, a new coat I’d been lusting after, and an evening out in the lovely medieval section of Colchester. 🙂

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Classes back in swing, birthday survived, and coats brought out of storage, we trundled into the cool autumn air. Except this time, I had friends from the US coming around with me! As is the Great American Tradition when coming to the UK, we managed to traverse across a wide swathe of the country in a little over a week. The two of them even carried on into Wales, but alas, I had to get some work done for the module. We did try to give them a weird and wonderful ride through bits of the country that not everyone goes to see on a typical tourist tour, but some things you’ve just got to see – like Stonehenge!

It’s always so exciting when people come to the UK, whether or not they’re coming to say hello. Being on an hour’s ride into London means it’s usually easy to catch up with people, schedules permitting. It was hard to part ways, but back to the States they eventually had to go, and the cat finally decided to come out of hiding and take up her roost in the living room again.

Module one was completed with much grumbling and typing, but completed successfully. I’m now at the tail end of module two, which had a bit of a twist to it this time. We had the option to do a basic laboratory procedure in the lecture hall, or we could liaise with our supervisors and do one elsewhere that might further relate towards the PhD. Needing to learn how to run an SEM and process photogrammetric data anyway, I opted to go back to the NHM. Over the course of two weeks I have learned how to dehydrate a specimen, coat it for SEM, run the basics of an SEM, and process photogrammetric images! It all sounds rather fancy for staring at a fly face for two weeks. I’m currently tweaking the write up of my experiment, and it goes in for submission next Monday. Looking forward to what the next module will hold!

In between modules, M and I left the country again. My parents were going to see one of our exchange students and her family, and they were kind enough to invite us to stay at their house as well. We took them up on their generous offer and ended up with an absolutely unique experience of the Netherlands that one could only get from a local, and got to see my parents! I would definitely like to go back to the Netherlands, but perhaps when it’s a bit warmer. Those winds coming off of the ocean have nowhere to go but straight into your bones.

Whilst there, we took a train over for a day trip into Germany as my mom had never been. It’s fascinating to see the sharp difference between the Netherlands and Germany, seemingly just across the border. We’d hoped to see the Christmas market in Dusseldorf, but arrived a little too early. It wasn’t a lost trip though, as we got to see the famous Rhine River and a painstakingly redone Altstadt, built back up after the war.

Christmas showed up soon afterwards in a big way. When not covering our house in tinsel and Christmas cards, we were out and about and enjoying the festive spirit of it all. Got the chance to pop into Paycocke’s House and the Grange Barn out in Coggeshall for their special Christmas hours. It really did feel like going back into Tudor Christmastime, and I only wish I hadn’t gone by myself as it seemed like it’s really meant for company to come along.

Getting closer to Christmas, we managed a long weekend journey up to York to catch up with our Northern friends. I probably should have known better than to go into the Christmas Markets in York, but we braved the crowds and found some fabulous little trinkets and all kinds of snacks! Even managed to score a table with seats in The Three Tuns at peak pub hour in the rain, of which I was far too proud. Finally, late into the evening, we saw the Shambles quiet and then took ourselves back to the AirBNB for the night.

And then before we knew it, the last few weeks had passed and it was Christmas! We went up to Manchester to celebrate at M’s big sister’s new home. It’s a gorgeous new build with a massive back garden. Their days of househunting really paid off. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see much of it, as I appear to have caught food poisoning off something just before we arrived. Thankfully the sickbed was comfortable and M made sure to keep a steady supply of Sprite, so it could have been far worse. Other than that hiccup, it was really good to see everyone, especially our ever growing nephew of whom nobody can rival in Marvel knowledge. Honestly, I’d call that kid first on any game show.

We got back home for New Year’s, had a quiet night of it, and then slowly dragged ourselves back into the real world.

So here we are, a lightning trip into the present. Now that I’m not on the trains for 4 hours every day, I should hopefully be a bit better about popping in every now and then. Until we see each other next, hope you’re having a good one. 🙂

 

— Kate

Newark Park at Eastertime (Spring 2016)

Slowly working my way through the backlog of the year. Our next major trip wasn’t until Easter, when we packed up our bags and drove to the Cotswolds to see the family. We also learned on this trip that when you hire an automatic car in the UK, you pretty much just get whatever they have as most people here drive manual cars. Normally I have ended up with the tiny Vauxhall Corsa I asked for, but this time all they had was a Mercedes C-Class. And they would have to charge me the rate for the Vauxhall because I hadn’t requested it. Oh darn.

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It was a fantastic Easter weekend with the family and we decided to make the most of it by going to visit the nearby National Trust site of Newark House that Saturday. M had just gotten off night shift the day before and was much keener on some sleep, so we left him to snooze for this one.

Newark Park is up a windy country road on the top of a hill, but it has an amazing view of the surrounding countryside. It’s a Grade I listed country house built between 1544 and 1556. It sits on 700 acres of unspoiled Cotswold countryside and gives a view that looks similar to how it would have centuries back.

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The house was originally a three storey Tudor hunting lodge with a basement that belonged to Sir Nicholas Poyntz, a Groom of the Privy Chamber to Henry VIII. It was called the “New Work” and was partially built with materials from the then-recently dissolved Kingswood Abbey nearby. The lodge has been altered over the course of the centuries, but it still remains as the eastern part of the present building.

The home passed through a few hands over the years and eventually became a rental property in the 1860s. It stayed this way until 1949 when it was given to the National Trust. Unusually, the Trust did not open Newark Park to the public, but instead let it out as a nursing home. This continued until 1970 when the estate was declared in disrepair and it was taken on privately by an American architect, Robert Parsons. It was due to his efforts that both the house and the surrounding grounds were restored and its Grade I listing was achieved.

 

The house is still managed by the National Trust and privately occupied, but you can go visit the cafe for tea and enjoy the beautiful grounds. We took it as a chance to go on a grand Easter hunt around the estate!

 

— Kate

Into the Medieval District, Part One

It has been raining continuously today since I woke up at 7. I didn’t have any particular desire to go anywhere today, and this rain has really just confirmed that. However, I’ve become a slave to my FitBit since it arrived on my birthday, and it’s showing an embarrassing 738 out of 10,000 steps today. Reading and writing may be good for the mind, but they are poor on the body. It’s far too grim to take photos of the outside of old buildings today, so I may pop back up to the Cathedral and take some photographs inside. They’re still doing construction on the outer gate, so the Ethelbert and Erpingham Gate photos will have to wait.

In the meanwhile, I still have a stockpile of other places in the city that I’ve visited. Norwich is a city that offers so much, but is also infinitely walkable in the same go. Though the city was targeted by the Germans during WWII for its cultural importance, a healthy amount of the medieval district still stands. Today we shall focus on three of the older structures in town – Cow Tower, Adam & Eve, and Elm Hill.

Cow Tower

I suppose I probably shouldn’t have done Cow Tower without explaining the Great Hospital, but there we are. Regardless, Cow Tower was built in 1278 by the monks of the Great Hospital. It was meant to be a tollhouse and later was used as a prison. By 1378 it was given to the city and was repurposed yet again as a freestanding artillery tower. The name is believed to come from the water meadow on which it sits, which was known as Cowholme. Sadly, no cows have ever lived inside the tower as far as anyone can tell. Unlike the castle, this tower has not been kept up during the years or restored to what it might have looked like whilst it was in use. This means that only the stone shell is standing and that they’ve put a barred gate at the entrance to keep any would-be climbers out. As you can tell from my photos you can still get a great view, but it’s now been reduced to a nice brief stopping point along the Riverside Walk through the city.

Adam & Eve Pub

The Adam & Eve is supposedly the oldest pub in Norwich. It has been mentioned in documents as far back as 1249, and was originally meant to be a brewhouse for the builders of Norwich Cathedral, only a few minutes away. Archaeology suggests that the spot has been used for much longer, and evidence of a Saxon well has been found underneath the pub. My American friends will be disappointed that the interior doesn’t look particularly ancient, but I promise they serve a great selection of beer, ale, and cider. They even do lunch and dinners, though we’ve never gotten around to trying them. It’s worth popping by for a drink after you’ve visited the Cathedral.

Elm Hill

Okay, so technically Elm Hill is an entire street and not just one building. However, Elm Hill is the city’s most famous medieval street. Among its fine collection of preserved Tudor buildings is the Briton Arms – the sole survivor of a city fire in 1507 and one of only five thatched buildings remaining in the city centre. Also, the Strangers Club at 22-24 Elm Hill was once the residence of a wealthy Norfolk family, the Pastons, who are famous for their letters describing everyday life in the 1400s. Do not wear heels on this street if you value your ankles, as they are still steep and covered in cobblestones.

With that, it sounds like it’s time for me to fortify myself and get my rainboots on for the walk to the cathedral. Wish me luck!

— Kate

Castles? Castles!

Okay, so maybe the title is a bit of a letdown as the photos I’m posting aren’t exactly castles, but still. I get to hop on a train or a bus and after sitting for awhile get to see magnificent old buildings on a semi-regular basis here and it’s AMAZING. With no further ado, let me catch you up on the cool things I’ve gotten to visit in between essays and an exhibition project for coursework. We begin with Hampton Court Palace, one of the famous residences of Henry VIII and his assorted family.

It’s not all beautiful buildings and charming countryside here. There’s mostly the real world of modern Britain, which is great in its own way. An entire country cannot exist on its history alone (contrary to what you may think when visiting the touristy bits).

After the visit to Hampton Court, I got to see such exciting things as a building detonation… (No seriously, that was really cool.)

You could hear the boom from my place with the windows shut!
You could hear the boom from my place with the windows shut!

Then there was the adventure in moving a dead sofa out to be collected by the city council…. (The new sofa is so comfortable.)

The sofa is dead! Long live the new sofa!
The sofa is dead! Long live the new sofa!

There is always something to be witnessed on an Asda trip…

It was nearly 3 feet tall.
It was nearly 3 feet tall.

And there was the one time we came across what could only be described as an onion fight that happened only moments before we arrived. I’m serious.

This weekend, I took a spur of the moment trip to Nottingham. It’s only 30 minutes north of Leicester by train and I’d kept meaning to go, so I finally just went. It’s good for the soul to go wandering a new city by yourself where you don’t know a soul there. I’d recommend everyone try it at least once. I may have to go back when it’s summer and my portable charger is actually charged to have a more leisurely stroll.

 

Well, it’s gonna be more chaos and busy life for me in the next few weeks, but I hope to have something interesting to show y’all again next weekend!

 

— Kate

Life in Photos

Hello all!

Between catching plague and prepping presentation notes, I did manage to get some living done and just didn’t have the strength to type away at a keyboard about it. None of it is going to involve epic storytelling this week, but to get back into the swing of things, I’m giving all you lovely a photo story of all the non-course related things I’ve been up to over nearly the last month. (Sorry, sorry… Will try not to let it happen again!)

So what did I manage to photograph? Well, I stopped in at St Margaret’s Church on the way to visit Abbey Park…

The church was beautiful and the people there for mid-week services were lovely. Had a cup of tea and talked with them about how they kept up such a massive building and still tried to keep to the Christian mission of good works. (Basically, it’s a challenge.) From there I continued on to my planned destination of Abbey Park, which houses the ruins of the old Leicester Abbey with the burial of Cardinal Thomas Wosley (of Tudor era fame) as well as the charred remnants of the Cavendish House, which looks like something straight out of the video game Fable II.

About a week later, I was treated to a fantastic English rendition of Thanksgiving to keep the homesickness at bay. If only it had kept the regular sickness at bay too, but alas! There was turkey and green bean casserole, and it was altogether wonderful. 🙂 Christmas could finally begin, so after a grueling round of Trivial Pursuit, Christmas music was played and a tree put up!

Finally, this weekend saw some of us adventure out into the county and visit Bradgate Park. Only 4 miles out of the city, but it felt much further out than that. Will definitely go back at some point to enjoy the nature and solitude of it all.

I am now convinced that not only do most fantasy themed video games base their storylines off of English history (Fable, Dragon Age, and the like, I’m looking at you.), but they base the background of the game off it too. Walking through Bradgate felt eerily familiar.

So next week will either be Friday or severely delayed until the weekend after as we’ve got a week of intensive hands-on courses this week and then I’m off to Fuertaventura with my favorite fellow adventurer for a week. Will hopefully speak again soon!

— 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