Tag Archives: family

A Secret History

. . . . . . or Kenilworth Castle and the Right-handed Camera

As soon as we drew up to Kenilworth Castle After we drove around the town of Kenilworth for 15 minutes looking for somewhere to park our Chevy unsuitable-for-tiny-villages truck, I leapt stumbled out of the passenger seat and grabbed my camera to fight with the zip to release it from its case. The parapets of Kenilworth Castle stood out in stark relief to the azure blue sky of a perfect English summer day.

Tiny specks of tourists wandered the parapets putting into perspective the enormity of the castle. If I was quick I could capture the scene. I managed to flick the lens cap off – it dangled on its safety cord – and held my camera clumsily in my left hand. I held it up to my face but daren’t even switch it on for fear of dropping it. Himself draped the neck cord over me and my hastily donned, stupid-looking Dora the Explorer hat and I tried again.

Kenilworth Castle, Keep on the left and window...
Kenilworth Castle, Keep on the left and windows of the Great Hall on the right (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With no fear of dropping the camera I might have been able to awkwardly press the shutter button but the framing was wrong and I couldn’t possibly pull on the zoom lever.  I let the camera drop on its cord, whipped my dumb hat off in disgust and himself pulled the camera off over my head. I could have asked him to be my cameraman for the day but I was so annoyed with the whole ordeal I thrust the disgraced and useless piece of equipment back in the truck.

A right-handed camera. Who knew? I certainly didn’t. I had taken for granted that it fit neatly tucked in my right 3rd, 4th and 5th fingers leaving my index finger free for the zoom lever and my thumb for the shutter. It was a perfect fit in my right hand and clearly unusable in my left hand.

If you’ve just happened on my blog and haven’t heard me whining before, my right arm is in plaster.

English: Kenilworth Castle, panorama taken fro...
English: Kenilworth Castle, panorama taken from the east (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On a lighter note, I was free (as free as you can be with your arm in sling) to enjoy the delights of Kenilworth Castle and its Elizabethan gardens without the pressure of recording each scene at every step.

The following information comes compliments of a mature PhD student who was holding court with a history teacher and her family at the next table in the tea room. Naturally I eavesdropped.  After a quick restorative nap I committed as much as I could remember to print.

English: Gaunt's great hall in Kenilworth
English: Gaunt’s great hall in Kenilworth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He let us them know that much of the information was not available on the internet. You would need to go to the Tower of London and read and copy out documents by hand as he had done as you cannot borrow or photocopy any of these ancient documents. He also let us them know that this was privileged information that would be divulged in his dissertation. Am I about to reveal . . . ?

According to Mr. Not-Quite-Doctor, Kenilworth Castle is mentioned in the Domesday Book – a survey of much of England and parts of Wales ordered by William the Conqueror and completed in 1086.

Kenilworth Castle was the most powerful castle in the land, much more so than its neighbour Warwick Castle, at one point housing 6000 troops as compared to the 2000 troops at Warwick.

Killing pits with weight sensitive trap doors were used at entry points. Attacking troops would fall in and be at the mercy of the castle troops. Lime mixed with water was a form of torture that would cause eyeballs to burst and fatal burns. It was a political stronghold.

English: The restored Elizabethan gardens at K...
English: The restored Elizabethan gardens at Kenilworth Castle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I knew of Warwick Castle but had never heard of Kenilworth Castle until I picked it off the road atlas map as being the nearest garden to our campsite near Coventry. You revolutionaries in the US may not have heard of either castle.

John of Gaunt, 1st  Duke of Lancaster, turned the medieval castle into a fortress late in the 14th c. He was one of the most powerful men of his time owning 30 castles and land in virtually every county in England. His legitimate heirs included Kings Henry IVHenry V, and Henry VI.

Rulers were always wary of castles as they were seats of power so according to Mr. NQD the very first Act of Parliament was to destroy Kenilworth Castle as it was a threat to the seat of government.

Part of Kenilworth Castle was destroyed by Parliamentary forces in 1649 but I can’t substantiate this as a first act of parliament and that is way past John of G’s time. In fact, the dates are completely wrong. Is this one of Mr. NQD’s secret facts or did I zone out after a dose of sunshine? If he’d known I was listening he’d have kept his voice down. If I hadn’t had a tantrum over my frustrating (albeit temporary, yes I know that) disability I would have had my phone with me and could have recorded him verbatim and could wow you with many more fascinating facts.

English: Kenilworth Castle The ruined keep beh...
English: Kenilworth Castle The ruined keep behind the formal Elizabethan gardens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have padded this post out with some Google images but none of them are as perfect as the pictures that are in my mind’s eye: the jutting ruin and every space within filled with families picnicking, children frolicking, couples courting, teens bounding, all on the green, green grass under the blue, blue sky. The fact that it was at odds with the gory, impromptu history lesson made the present day scene even more delightful. It was a lost photo opportunity. I just hate that.

Do you have any missed photo opportunities that play on your mind still?

Do you have a right-handed camera? Is there such a thing as a left-handed camera?

Homelessness

‘We’re homeless. Intentionally. What planet was I on when I agreed to this?’

Do you see where it says that up there beneath the title? When I wrote it all those years ago, I thought it was funny. I had no idea it would go on for so long.

As I said in my About page ‘ours is not the tragic homelessness of poverty or extreme weather, but the ridiculous homelessness of an Englishman who wanted to live in America with freedom and an Anglicized American who wants to live in England with family.’ And so we’ve wandered.

Well we’re back in the UK now. And still homeless.

We have spent in total five years in an RV (one-and-a-half years in Europe and three-and-a-half years in the USA) and four years (one-and-a-half in Washington State and two-and-a-half in Arizona) in an apartment as temporary accommodation before taking the next step. After six months in England in a rental house we are still floundering. Himself is keeping an eye on France with a view to fleeing the UK after the next general election but I won’t air our political views here.

Ingrid asked me if I missed ‘it.’ I’m not sure if ‘it’ is Arizona specifically , warm weather, RVing or possibly all three.

No. I don’t.

With the greatest respect and best wishes to all of you off on your adventures and photographic journeys – and you all look like you are having a whale of a time – I’ve had enough of meandering. I need a base. And I’m happy in damp England. It’s where I belong despite not wanting to give up my navy blue passport.

We toured the Suffolk and Essex countryside on Easter Sunday, initially to look at a house, and saw thousands, nay millions, of daffodils. Each new field of dancing yellow blooms took my breath away. Quarter mile driveways of stately homes were lined with the yellow darlings. What a treat to come home to that. What a treat to come home at all.

Is living the gypsy life a guy thing? He’s already bought another caravan/travel trailer/RV long before a sticks and bricks house. In fairness to him he spends a lot of time online researching houses to buy (and cars, trucks, motorcycles, race meetings, campsites, channel crossings – tunnel vs. ferry, flights to Arizona and Australia and reading just enough news to make him angry). But mostly he looks at house sale sites.

Chevy Silverado and Swift Conqueror caravan
Mr. Chevy with his new friend.

Himself would go back to the itinerant lifestyle in a shot. I would not. Himself is lamenting leaving Arizona. And if you could pick it up and drop it in southern England, so would I. I just can’t bear the thought of all the long haul flights and the accompanying aggravations I seem to attract with the airport gestapo. He takes it all in his stride. It was beginning to drive me bonkers.

Beginning? Don’t kid yourself, you’re thinking.

I would be interested to know from all you full timers:

Do you get homesick for somewhere that no longer exists?

Do you at least have a family base where they put you up or plug your RV in in the driveway and offer you showers and laundry and meals?

Do you fly there or drive there?

Do you see much of your family?

I also put it to you people of a home loving persuasion – would you sell up and store your present existence in order to fund travel?

We’ve traveled through 47 states and seen glorious U.S. State Parks and National Parks, Sites, Recreation Areas, Monuments and Historic Sites too numerous to mention. We’ve RVed east to west and top to bottom of England and Scotland and traversed France and Spain. We’ve camped all along the three U.S. coastlines as well as the interior and visited most major cities. I have thousands and thousands of photos and have written over 300 blog posts.

Now I want a house. A home base. I don’t want to go anywhere. At least for a while.

Am I being unreasonable?

He is The Chosen One

I live with a mosquito deterrent. He’s called Jimmy. They prefer his flesh.

English: Logo of Target, US-based retail chain
English: Logo of Target, US-based retail chain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If he’s not scratching he’s sleeping, and sometimes he does both at the same time. In the little free time he has, he smears on an oily Deet product intended for life in a tropical swamp, then complains that it doesn’t work when he finds a new welt. He’s not satisfied with the little bump most of us get from a mosquito but sports great white welts the size of a quarter centered nicely in an inflamed red patch two inches across. With a daub of red paint in the middle of each welt, he’d make an amusing advert for Target.

As a backup repellant he has discovered Avon Skin-So-Soft which has been proven to be effective against mosquitoes. He sprays himself liberally and ends up smelling like a girl. I find it rather attractive on him. Unfortunately so do the mosquitoes.

A Mosquito feeding on blood
A Mosquito feeding on blood (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These little blood suckers are strangely drawn to my husband. A happy family of eight people, three generations of them, sat outside their RV at the site next door to us drinking, relaxing, laughing, chatting with nary a flap of the hand. Jimmy was up to a count of 15 angry weals.

Mosquitoes have a regular diet of nectar and the juices of plants but the females need a blood banquet before they can develop eggs. Jimmy should feel proud that he is The Chosen One – vital to the reproductive process of the species. And the reason they like him so much is that he is hot. Mosquitos prefer hot skin.

We were in North Dakota, not a place we had previously associated with mosquitoes but should have twigged when the local diner advertised Mosquito free dining. After the vicious monsters had bitten himself on the bum through his trousers, I went on the hunt for products, any products, to help.

The local Wal-Mart had a vast array of choice: electric zappers, sprays, lotions, coils, candles, oils, special tablets to heat with a candle, power lanterns, towelettes, clip-on personal fans with refills (so one could walk around in permanent fog of mosquito deterrent) – all available in several different brands. They were displayed prominently in the hardware section, the garden center, an island display at the front of the store and in the grocery section.

There were dozens of choices and hundreds and hundreds of items for indoors and out. This was a town declaring war on mozzies. I plumped for a citronella oil burner meant to be used outdoors. It was so teeny I figured it wouldn’t do any harm if I burned it indoors. I was right. It didn’t even harm the mosquitoes.

Where were they coming from? Mosquitoes like standing water. We were camped in a dry field.

The Missouri in North Dakota, which was the fu...
The Missouri in North Dakota, which was the furthest upstream that French explorers managed on the river (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A sluggish, brown stretch of the Missouri River flowed two miles from the campsite. It wasn’t exactly standing still but was certainly damp. Was it their source? With their ability to smell a victim from 50 meters, perhaps Jimmy’s breath was so extraordinarily intoxicating, his skin so delicious and blood so hot and fortifying that the mighty mozzies overcame their limitations to fly up from the river against gale force winds – winds so strong they rocked the trailer – to feed on The Chosen One’s blood and perpetuate their kind – Mosquiticus jimmerei.

Himself and I Cannot Agree

Himself and I cannot agree on which country to live in much less narrow it down to a state or town. So after much banging on and on about living in France (that would be moi) here we are giving it a try for three weeks after which we are determined to make a decision. That doesn’t seem likely when we traveled the United States for three and a half years earnestly looking to settle down. Three weeks in France won’t make up our minds about where to live but we tell ourselves it will.

I want to live here. Shame it’s not for sale.

In France we will be nearer to some family, further from others. In the U.S. we can speak English and know pretty much what is going on – at least what the government wants us to know. In France we would live in a cloud of blissful French ignorance – a good thing where politics and the news in general is concerned. We are finding wines in the Languedoc region comparable to our favorite Californian and Washington State wines (such heresy, don’t tell the French). They are cheaper here as well, to make up for the higher gas prices. In France we can immerse ourselves in ancient history and ancient architecture. In the new country, everything is available to us: English libraries and cinemas, a post office without special knowledge to enter (see future post), stores with deep discounts and sales, sales, sales! road signs in English, newspapers in English, TV in English, food labels in English and everything else in English (and Spanish and French and Arabic and . . . ) that we need and take for granted in everyday life.

I was convinced I’d bought fabric softener by mistake because of the strong scent and lack of suds until Jimmy deciphered the bottle. “The only thing I can read is potassium sorbate and here’s word that has as many letters as the alphabet.” After consulting the French/English dictionary he pronounced the stuff to be washing liquid. The pictures on the bottle didn’t lie after all.

Every day in France would involve unscrambling the secret code of a foreign language and culture.

That didn’t seem important as we sat on lounge chairs on the Mediterranean coast.

 Bliss just waiting for us.

Bliss just waiting for us.

The sand was golden. The sea was aquamarine. The air was soft and warm and the sky a cloudless clear blue. Children dug in the sand and chattered. Music, the lilt of softly spoken French and the tinkle of cutlery and glasses drifted across from the restaurant where we’d just had a late lunch and a glass of wine.

I really couldn’t think about our future any more. I had to have a nap. Jimmy had already fallen asleep. To the sound of jazz no less. And he hates jazz.

Christmas Eve is Sold Out?

We queued outside the church as though we were waiting to see the latest Harry Potter premier. Eventually allowed in we had feared the Sold Out sign would be put up just as we got to the doorway.

The church was packed with just two seats left in the very last row but we risked walking through a capacity crowd to find my brother’s family. By the time we joined him and his wife the short pew was nearly full. “I’m saving this for the rest of them,” he said, indicating a space.

“The rest of them?”

Five more people in eighteen inches of pew. It was show time and people were still pouring in. “I can’t keep this seat any longer,” he said suffering under the glares of standing parishioners and about to give up precious space to strangers as his daughter and family appeared. Somehow nine of us wedged into a space, shoulders overlapping, which would comfortably seat four and a half.

Folding chairs then appeared and all available gaps of floor space were filled with seating, probably not in accordance with fire regulations, but the Reverend looked exceedingly pleased with his full house as he picked his way up the aisle around chairs, loiterers, baby buggies, already restless tots and wheelchairs.

Timorous teenaged soloists entertained us with carols as the church continued to fill to the brim and I prayed for each one of the budding musicians to get to the end of their piece. The trumpeter was so nervous he couldn’t seem to get enough spit going to get a note out of his horn. When he did it erupted with a deafening blast. He managed to put a few notes of Oh Come All Ye Faithful in the right order and then made a hasty blushing retreat. A chubby cellist stubbornly held on to several flat notes of Silent Night, oblivious as he slowly drew his bow across the protesting strings. Even the talented pianist who was trying to accompany him couldn’t cover the wailing. The clarinettist’s few minor mistakes in Away in a Manger then paled into insignificance.

A family of five were shoe-horned into temporary seating in front of us and whenever father stood up for the frequent readings and hymns, the lights appeared to go out in our row as he towered directly over us at 6’8”.

A booming amateur opera singer standing behind us took each of the hymns and carols into a lyrical baritone harmony dislodging my tenuous hold on the melody line.

The children’s choir dressed in robes of midnight blue solemnly arranged themselves on the steps of the chancel. They sang Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella in harmonious French, finished in unison as the choir leader pinched her fingers together and turned as one when she swivelled her hands to march back to the choir stalls. As the last few choristers strode in step to their seats, they kicked up the backs of their flowing robes to reveal . . . white trainers . . . . so incongruous, yet somehow fitting, a teenaged wardrobe touch.

There were 275 people in the tiny church, 100 of them children ranging in age from one month to late teens. Communion had still to be served and as the first hour ticked past, the volume and level of activity from the congregation raised. Children became fractious. Parents looked strained. Jimmy and I remained tranquil as they were other people’s children.

The two smallest members of our extended family unit had had enough of sitting still. The baby squirmed on the floor then danced on her father’s lap. She threw herself about with such vigour that concussion on the pew was narrowly avoided. Her big brother took the opportunity whenever we stood, which we were forced to do in unison as all our hips were wedged together, to shed some energy by swimming up and down the slippery pew, well polished as it was by many bottoms over the years. It was quite difficult to concentrate on the readings when his head would suddenly appear between sets of legs.

Thankfully after communion and the blessing of the little darlings, their parents escaped with them to the nursery in the church hall.
Afterwards we sat back down with relief and a bit more space and meditated as the parishioners came and went, came and went, to take communion and return to their pews. The vicar and his mates must have been aware of the state of unrest as they fairly hurtled through the Eucharist but the devout continued to stream up to the altar and race away. I had knelt at the altar for a moment too long and was asked to leave as though in a busy restaurant. Do this in remembrance of me but be quick about it.

Twenty minutes of bread and wine had already been dished out and still the procession continued. Perhaps the next door church had run out of wine and had sent their sinners to us.

“They must be bussing them in from out of state. I’m sure there weren’t that many people here,” my brother whispered. A goodly turnout had been anticipated as six hymns were lined up on the programme to pass the time, but the organist still had to give several encores to cover the sound of pounding feet. Row upon row stood and jogged to the altar to try to keep up with the cracking pace set by the vicar. The taking of bread and wine took half an hour with an average serving time worthy of the Communion Olympics. As far as we could see no one was turned away, the doors remained open and every sinner in the metropolitan area of Tacoma received communion.

We truly felt the spirit of Christmas and as a bonus the ticket price was nil for a wonderful evening’s entertainment.