Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Monday 22 February 2021

Jolly jaunts far afield still being off the agenda for the foreseeable, it's a nice change* to have something different in the area to look at - in this case, Canary Wharf's set of winter light installations:

*It's the first time I've been out after dark in I can't remember how long.

Friday 19 February 2021

Not every impulse purchase at the supermarket is fattening.

Thursday 18 February 2021

A tale of two cities: WInchester (3)

Passing through the quieter side-streets, in what is evidently the purlieu of Winchester School, where not even a post box seems to have changed much since Victorian times, one comes eventually to a path that runs through lush watermeadows:
Soon another venerable church comes into view, the church of an equally venerable institution.Its grand official title is the Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty:
Almshouses were a mediaeval version of a retirement community rather than a monastic order, and this one is home still to 25 lay "Brothers". They are expected to attend the church in the prescribed gown, but otherwise live independent lives; fortunately the 15th-century buildings have been adapted into self-contained flats.
Though a 19th century furore over its management was probably the inspiration for Anthony Trollope's The Warden, it's as quiet today as you might expect - given that (not surprisngly) the non-residential buildings and the gardens attract visitors and bookings for private events, with evident signs of preparation for a wedding in the church when I was there.

Wednesday 17 February 2021

A tale of two cities: Winchester (2)

I once knew someone who swore blind they'd heard a tourist, outside Winchester Cathedral, say to his spouse "OK, honey, I'll do the outside and you do the inside". And a grand inside it is, as you might imagine of something so old and historically significant (there's a stunning exhibition on the Cathedral's Anglo-Saxon history and its associated manuscripts).
You might think this striking stained glass is a contemporary piece, but in fact it's from the seventeenth century, made up of the fragments saved by local people after the Parliamentarian soldiers smashed up windows, tombs and memorials during the Civil War:
Nowadays there are memorials to just about every regiment that's ever served or been based in the area, but the one most people come to see is that of Jane Austen. Plain, austere but fulsome about her many qualities - except that there's no mention of her writing. For a more florid story, try looking up the wall beside it: competitive or copycats?
On doing the outside (as you must to get to the café), the path passes this statue to the extraordinary William Walker, who toiled for years among the Cathedral's foundations to shore them up against encroaching ground water.

 Small wonder that in the surrounding streets there's a pub named after him, complete with diver's helmet as its sign.

Tuesday 16 February 2021

A tale of two cities: Winchester (1)

Like Ely, Winchester has a cathedral and a famous school, but is rather grander, being a royal capital in Anglo-Saxon times (and Charles II had grand ideas in that direction as well, till he came up against financial reality), and a garrison town with many military connections. It once had a great castle, of course, of which only the Great Hall remains. Used for various functions over the years, mainly as a court room until quite recent times, now it's there to attract visitors with its Tudor version of King Arthur's Round Table (early PR to attach romantic legend to the court of Henry VIII), together with assorted royal and local memorabilia, and of course a dress-up area for children, complete with a chance of the gruesome thrill of re-enacting (under the distinctly not amused gaze of Queen Victoria) the outcome of some of the trials that took place here, such as that of Sir Walter Raleigh, and Judge Jeffreys's ruthless response to the Monmouth Rebellion.

Monday 15 February 2021

A tale of two cities: Ely (3)

Outside, you might wonder why there's a cannon defending the Cathedral

It might have something to do with the fact that it's pointing straight at the house that Oliver Cromwell lived in during the 1630s and 1640s, as a rising farmer, country gentleman, Presbyterian (and no fan of bishops, cathedrals or stained glass), and MP.

Part of the ground floor doubles as the Tourist Information Office, but the rest is devoted to presenting the domestic interiors of the day.

Upstairs, there's an outline history of the causes and conduct of the Civil Wars, exploring Cromwell's record as he emerged as a leader in Parliament, army general and ultimately, as "Lord Protector", more or less military dictator and monarch in all but name. Visitors are invited to rate him Hero or Villain - it seemed it had been running around 65-35 in favour of "Hero", reinforcing (for those who remember their 1066 And All That) the view that the Roundheads were Right but Repulsive and the Cavaliers Wrong but Wromantic.

A few streets away there's a small local history museum, with plenty for school parties to get to grips with, from prehistoric finds to the draining of the Fens around about (Cromwell's first big local issue as an MP, standing up for displaced local farmers), eel-fishing (hence the town's name), the history of the assorted criminals and unfortunates who ended up in the building when it was the Bishop's Gaol, and Ely's experience in WW2 as a centre for both evacuees from London and massive numbers of airmen on bases nearby. 

Those apart, it's a pleasant, busy and reasonably well-serviced small town, though my photos don't capture much of that (I can never get over the habit of not taking pictures of the humdrum and everyday, even though that might be of most interest to others). The bland chainstore frontages of the main shopping streets somewhat conceal interesting side alleyways.

And on the way back to the station, it's worth a diversion to a well-pubbed waterside:

Sunday 14 February 2021

A tale of two cities: Ely (2)

Arriving at the Cathedral, there are some impressive doors:

and the view of the interior, and particularly its roof, is equally impressive:

So are its stone, metal and wooden fixtures and fittings:

Some of the decoration, particularly the painted ceiling, is Victorian, part of the revival of interest in mediaeval styles previously dismissed as too papistical. The really distinctive thing about the Cathedral is, however, original: well, almost. The Octagon Tower was built in 1322 to replace an earlier Norman tower that had collapsed.

Victorian, too, are the stained glass windows; but upstairs in a side gallery, heralded by the play of coloured light from the windows on the floor, is the Stained Glass Museum, all about how it developed, and is made to this day, with plenty of examples, not only mediaeval but also early twentieth-century domestic and contemporary aesthetic (with plenty of Victorian stuff in between):

Saturday 13 February 2021

A Tale of Two Cities: Ely (1)

Real-life travel being off the agenda for the foreseeable (no point trying to predict anything these days, it seems), time to do some armchair travel with old photos (surprising how little one actually looks at them, once taken and filed away). Back in the mists of pre-Covid time (2018, to be precise), one adventure was a day trip to Ely. Tidying up some old souvenirs had turned up a programme for a concert in the cathedral that I must have been to in my student days, but I have no recollection of it at all, so it seemed worth checking out again.

It's such a small place, on one of the few hills for miles around, that the Cathedral's domination of the town is visible from quite a way away. 

On leaving the station, there's a handy poster map of the centre to show the way to all the main attractions, but it's hardly necessary in the circumstances. Go round through the park, rather than the ordinary-looking streets, and the Cathedral (and with it the geography of the centre) is easily found.

It was originally the heart of a massive mediaeval monastery, whose purlieu took up most of where the modern town stands. On the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry VIII allowed the Cathedral to stand, and many of the surrounding buildings to become the King's School, which is there to this day, and mostly behind walls, off-limits to the passer-by. 

So even if you're welcome to use the park and pass through to the town centre, there's still a cloistered feel to it all.

But lest you think this place is entirely other-worldly, the old gate house to the Cathedral/School area contains a library which is keeping up with the times.

On to the Cathedral....

Thursday 11 February 2021

I'm covered. Sort of.

On the left, my European Health Insurance Card, which allowed me access to local health services elsewhere in the EU, on the same terms as citizens of the country concerned (except that I notice - only now - that I didn't notice it expiring in 2018 and had a merry time not being covered at all in my European travels in 2019 - oops). 

On the right, my shiny new Global Health Insurance Card, which does much the same job, even after Brexit (except in the other EEA countries - Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein) - not that there's much prospect of foreign travel any time soon (though let's hope there will be before this card expires in 2026).

The "Global" monicker is a nod to reciprocal health agreements with some other countries around the world. These have existed for years already, and to take advantage of them, existing documentation seems to have been enough:  the government makes no actual claim that the new card is proof of entitlement under those agreements (and even says it isn't proof that one's entitled to use our own NHS). 

So what we have is a distinction without much of a difference. Except that the distinction is having a Union Jack on it. And that makes all the difference, apparently. Cheers, Boris. 

Tuesday 9 February 2021

Last weekend, tempted by a newspaper piece on making orange curd and spotting some Seville oranges in the supermarket, I had a bash at making both the curd and some marmalade (well it helps to pass the time).

The curd turned out fine, but the latter was a bit runny, so to get on with using it up, this weekend meant making a marmalade cake, with some of the curd as the middle layer.

It wouldn't win prizes (not exactly the lightest and fluffiest of sponges, and signs of the dreaded soggy bottom) - but it tastes good. And that'll do me. 

Sunday 7 February 2021

It's on its way

It's sleeting outside today, but yesterday , the muddy grass in the park was brightened up by the first spring flowers.