Sunday, 29 March 2015

Gap Year 7: Life Through Childhood Stories

As the days unfold and spring slowly comes, I keep feeling as though I've stepped into the pages of books from my childhood.

First there was 'Mandy Mouse's Birthday':

I was reminded of this one when I spotted these robins and squirrels in the park

Then there's 'We're Going on a Bear Hunt'

Which I'm reminded of every time I go for a walk through the woods (which can feel like a 'dark, gloomy forest' when the sun sets) and encounter the 'thick, oozy mud' (the likes of which I have not seen since living in PNG!)

Of course, Beatrix Potter's books spring to mind with field mice scurrying through the undergrowth, squirrels scampering through the trees and rabbits hopping across the fields. I have yet to see a hedgehog, but although I haven't seen Jemima Puddle Duck, I have seen a fox running through the woods!

Finally, yesterday's walk along the river reminded me of one of my favourites, 'Little Beaver and the Echo', as the little beaver paddles around a lake, trying to find some friends because he is lonely. I felt a sudden urge to jump in a boat and start paddling around and asking all of the ducks, swans and geese if they wanted to be my friend!

I wonder which book I'll be reminded of next! By today's howling winds and constant rain, it might need to be a story with some wild weather in it!

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Gap Year 6: Salisbury

I set out as the early morning mist was rising and the sky clear into a beautiful clear blue-no need for an umbrella on this expedition!
Salisbury's main attraction is of course the Cathedral, which you can see from the moment you walk out of the train station as the spire towers over the town.

I'm becoming quite an expert on stained glass and Medieval through to Gothic architecture from all the cathedrals I've visited. Each building tells its own version of the history of the area: the parts destroyed by wars, the sections added on or built by various kings or wealthy landowners, the significant people buried in the church and the important documents that still remain.

The most significant of these documents that I've seen so far is Magna Carta, signed in 1215, but which is reflected in modern laws around the world. Only 4 original copies survive, and one is in the Salisbury Cathedral Chapter House and it was quite a significant moment to see this document that changed the way rulers related to their people. It's all about leaders not being able to tyrannise their subjects: it's about freedoms of religion and justice in courts and the rights of people to be free.

The original document may not have changed things for many people when it was first published, but its legacy can be traced through history as kings made it part of their laws and constitutions reflect its spirit of justice and freedoms.
Clause 40 'To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice'

Seek mercy...walk humbly

The Salisbury museum was worth a visit and I especially enjoyed a display of 'Downton lace' from the area: lace made over 100 years ago in intricate patterns that you can only marvel at.

Of course, I can't resist celebrating the first colours of spring as the flowers start to poke through and bravely bloom in the afternoon sun.

The days are light for longer, meaning I can be out exploring for longer during the day and then walk up the hill from the train station in the last golden glow as day turns to dusk. It's a magical moment as the colours darken and then finally disappear.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Gap Year 5: Exploring Bristol

Week 1 of my second term of teaching here-I'm already a quarter of the way through my contract (time does fly!).
This weekend took me to Bristol for the day, and I think a sign I saw at the harbour sums up Bristol better than I can:

I think part of it has to do with the fact that there is a large university in Bristol, but I felt that Bristol had quite a youthful feel and is quite a fast-paced city. I quite enjoyed walking along the harbour and seeing the ships and canal boats whilst soaking up a bit of sunshine. The brightly coloured houses were quite a feature of the view.

The St Mary Redcliffe church is quite spectacular, with stunning stained glass which photos simply cannot do justice to.

I then wandered through a park, and even though the trees are still bare, I felt I had stumbled into a version of Narnia

Next was the Bristol Cathedral, which sustained some damage in WWI and so they replaced the damaged stained glass windows with these that commemorate the people of Bristol who were involved in the war. I found these particular windows quite interesting and unique in comparison to all the other stained glass I've seen.

Of course, the rest of the cathedral is quite traditional, with sections that are over 800 years old

I visited the museum and art gallery and then climbed Brandon Hill and Cabot Tower for views of the entire city, and a few encounters with some wildlife and some hints that spring is on the way!
A trilling robin who posed for a while
A friendly squirrel scampering across the path:
Bristol skyline:
The gardens on Brandon Hill
Brave early blooms bringing the first colours of spring!
Cabot Tower (the balcony made me think of 'Romeo and Juliet'
And this bird who was dancing a jig on the grass-I know you can't tell in the photo, but he really was stamping his feet in some kind of rhythm on the grass!

And finally, a walk along a 'Victorian-esque' street back to the train station

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Gap Year 4

Tales from a weary traveller...
I've spent the week traipsing around England seeing some remarkable sights and sites.

First stop: Cambridge

Colleges, churches, markets, bridges and bookshops just about sums up my weekend in Cambridge. The buildings are magnificent and the museums are excellent (I was a bit excited to get to see the recently discovered bronze statues that are being attributed to Michelangelo).

I have a theory that I've become invisible: you see, I think I look and act enough like a local that the tourists think I am a local (therefore I keep getting asked for directions-which is dangerous as my sense of direction is notorious!), but to the locals, I look like a tourist (I think the camera is a dead giveaway whenever I pull it out!). The upside of this is that I don't get hassled by the tour companies who try to get you to go on their tours or purchase their over-priced souvenirs...the downside is that I don't fit into either group, so therefore just drift on my own.

Following Cambridge, I went up to York on the train and got a bit of a thrill at seeing station signs for places like Ripon and Thirsk (both mentioned in Downton Abbey!)-even though Downton Abbey was filmed here in the south of England, it is set near York, so lots of the places mentioned are around that area. The layers of history in York are very evident, with Ancient Roman ruins, Viking settlements, Medieval and Renaissance castles and churches and then Georgian/Regency period houses all mixed in with a modern city. You never know what you are going to find when you walk down a lane or street! To top it all off, I kept finding lovely quaint teashops that I just had to try!

From York I went to Stratford-Upon-Avon, because, as an English teacher, I could no longer take myself seriously until I’d paid homage to Shakespeare at his birthplace. Again, the teashops abounded (my favourite was called ‘The Fourteas’ as it had a ‘40s theme). Although Stratford is quite ‘touristy’, I was quite thrilled to be visiting places I’d only read about and taught about, so now I have my own collection of photos to use when I teach Shakespeare.
The absolute highlight of Stratford was the performances I saw. The Royal Shakespeare Company paired ‘Love’s Labours Lost’ (a play I’ve not read, so knew nothing about) with ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ (which they re-titled ‘Love’s Labours Won’) and set one just before WW1 and the other just after it. Although the plays aren’t actually connected, there are links in the stories and it was fascinating seeing them performed on the same day (I saw one as a matinee and the other that night). The actors were incredible, but the standout for me was the sets-they were so detailed and to change scenes, the entire stage would slide back and another section would either slide out to replace it, or rise up from below to fill the space. It’s hard to explain…I was mesmerised from beginning to end and am now looking forward to seeing more!

And now, I've wasted enough of your precious time with my ramblings so I'll end here. It's back to work on Monday (however, my sincere thanks go to whomever it was that invented the half-term break idea!).