Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Meet Jake

In other summer news, we came out our kitchen door one afternoon to find that we had a visitor.  He was thin to the point of being emaciated, but very friendly...and even friendlier after we'd offered him a meal.   A few days went by, and it quickly became clear that our new friend had no other home to go to.  So (in an admittedly blatant abuse of a guest's trust) we popped him into a carrier and took him to see the vet. 

We found to our surprise that our little friend had a micro-chip.  But if we cherished illusions that we would soon be restoring him to a loving home, they were quickly dashed.  The last entry in the microchip database was 2007, and the address and phone numbers for his prior person were no longer current.  We tried searching on the name, on Facebook, on lost pet forums and at the local humane society and everywhere else we could think of with no luck.  About the only thing we found out for sure was his name- Jake.  We took Jake home with us, and gave him his privacy in the basement, while we set about trying to get a little meat on poor Jake's bones. 

Shortly thereafter Jake's tests came back from the vet showing that he had not picked up any dangerous illnesses in his long hungry ordeal, and so we introduced Jake to Biscuit and Cookie.  There was surprisingly little acrimony, though Cookie in particular was quite weirded out.  He still hadn't figured out how Biscuit joined us, and now here was another cat joining the household. 

Jake seems to have been used to being on his own.  He found Cookie and Biscuit to be rather uninteresting, especially compared to the cornucopia of cat food now available to him.  But the house has many interesting places to explore and nap. 
You'll note that Jake kind of resembles Cookie- though where Cookie has a flourishing white handlebar mustache, Jake favors a small tidy French mustache.  (It's possible Jake is short for Jacques- we don't know for sure.)

Cookie is starting to get used to Jake, though he still gives Jake a wide berth and frequent suspicious looks.  Biscuit keeps trying to entice Jake to play, bouncing out from behind furniture at him and then tearing around the house.  Jake is quite baffled by this, and gives Biscuit a look I interpret as, "What on earth was that about?!"

Now that Jake is starting to put on some weight, he's gone from surprised pleasure at each meal to wild enthusiasm. And it's a tossup who will try first to push Biscuit's nose out of his kibble- Jake or Cookie. 

Still a certain amount of settling in to do, but unless Jake's old family puts in a belated appearance, it looks like we have a new addition to the household. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

And in Fiber News

There's something about summer- the heavy social schedule (lots of cookouts!), the yard work, the travel, and the heat- or some combination of the above- that fills me with laziness and I fall off the blog wagon.  Every darn time. 

But.  I haven't given up playing with yarn.  You knew that, right?   And while I haven't been writing about it, I at least took a few photos.  So here is my summer in crafts:

For those dog days of really hot weather, there was more cotton.  I did another bag, more or less to the same pattern as the first, but this time in blues.
When that got too big to travel, there was a plain blue watch cap. I like to turn out a variety of hats, so there's something to suit all tastes.
Then I surveyed my somewhat bloated stash and decided that while I'd cut the cotton down to size pretty smartly, I still needed to do some more strategic crafting.  And one way to blow out a lot of bulk quickly would be to take a large bag full of squares and turn them into an afghan.  (The squares had come from a friend of my mom's, along with a bunch of yarn.)  So I set to work with a will.
Despite occasional feline assistance, I finished that one in August.
Then I realized that it had been months since I'd done any colorwork, and so I whipped out a quick hat to stave off withdrawal.
And in betwixt and between, there were mittens.

And that's the FOs.  I'm still futzing with the neckline of the bulky weight sweater (I've knit and ripped it twice so far- third time's the charm, I'm hoping.)   There's a mostly finished sock that I should cast off and start its mate one of these days. Last week, I even went through all the new yarn (since I sorted the stash in the spring) and separated it by weight and fiber content to make it easier to find.   And I keep thinking about sewing, but I need to knit some more first because the sewing room is awash in yarn.  And there's been some connubial carpentry with my husband which also is currently in a partially finished state.

And that isn't even getting into the two shorter trips we've taken since the England trip--so many hobbies, so little time!

England PS

And just when you thought it was safe to start reading this blog....if you haven't yet had enough England photos, here are the rest (mostly Jonathan's) that haven't already been seen in prior posts:

rfholly's JT album on Photobucket

Day 15-18 London Ramblings (June 8-11)

The remaining few days of the trip were a mix of old and new activities, and I'll mainly hit the high points.  We arrived in Paddington just after 5 am.  Fortunately they don't actually kick you off the train for a couple more hours.  We had breakfast there, but were dismayed to learn that the showers they had told us were available at Paddington weren't open for several hours.  (Even the train crew didn't know they'd changed the opening time- they were rather miffed on our behalf.)   We washed up as best we could and headed off to our hotel, where we were delighted to find they had our rooms ready, and we could check in early and get showers there.    We were amused to be greeted by a statue of our old friend Brunel at the train station- Paddington station is another of his many designs.  

We had happened to return on the Queen's official birthday, and watched a fair bit of the ceremony of Trooping the Colors.

We did some walking (as is our habit), and got tickets for the tour of the House of Parliament. 



 It used to be that it was quite hard to get tours - you needed reservations that were hard to get for non-citizens, but in recent years they have discovered that tourists will pay to see the place.  The tour was excellent, and we learned a good deal about the functioning of British government, as well as seeing a spectacular building. 


We went by the Borough St. market, home of many foods from across the British isles.  

We had outstanding salt beef sandwiches for lunch, and then walked up to the park and sat in the sun while we polished off the last of our clotted cream fudge.  

We met some friends who were in London on the their first trip and introduced them to a couple of our favorite restaurants, and strolled around the city.   Some of the things on their must see list we had seen on our own first trip, now over a decade in the past, so we arranged some joint activities. 
Thames River

We went to see the Tower of London again, and were interested to see a number of new exhibits. 

And we went to a play- another traditional London activity that we had never done before- we went to see Agatha Christie's  The Mousetrap, which was doubly interesting for us as we'd read about the writing of it when we visited Greenway earlier in the trip.  It was quite enjoyable. 

We took in a new exhibit at the Museum of  Science on Alan Turing- of interest to us both because of his pioneering work in computing, and his work at Bletchley Park breaking German codes during World War II.   His brutally unfair treatment by the British government and early death were a tragedy for science as well as for him personally-  the work he might have done had he lived another 20 or 30 years could have advanced computing by decades. 


We attended a gallery talk  on Roman religious practices at the British museum- and reflected not for the first time how interesting it would be if we could get there more often.  We walked up to King's Cross station for a more detailed look at the new station and the construction in the area stimulated by the Olympic renovations to the transit system and the new Crosslink rail lines going in now. 
Our last day we made another repeat visit to a museum we'd seen on our first trip, this one to Sir John Soane's house.  We arrived early and managed to secure places on their very popular docent tour.   Soane was a fashionable architect in late 18th and early 19th century London.  We had previously marveled at his eclectic collections, but were interested to find out on the tour that they were not simply a case of pack-rattery gone amuck, but rather that Soane used his house to test out architectural ideas, and that his collections of stonework were intended as teaching tools for the apprentices under his tutelage.  A truly excellent tour, I highly recommend it. 

We finished out the trip in what has become our habitual fashion, by shopping for books at Hatcherd's and artisanal English cheeses at Neal's Yard Dairy.  More places we would go more often if we were in London more frequently.  

All in all a fabulous trip, and due to its unprecedented length, one that felt more relaxed, despite the typically extensive ground we covered.  I'm already looking forward to the next one!
rfholly's Day 15-18 album on Photobucket

Day 14 Penzance to St. Ives (Friday, Jun. 7)

The next morning we got an early start, as it was one of the most tightly scheduled days of the trip.  We checked out of the hotel, and took the train to Penzance.  

We had just a bit of time for a quick stroll around the block and down the waterfront, and then caught the 300 'Cornwall Explorer' bus which runs along the coast.  It was another double-decker and like our first coast bus experience, rather harrowing as it zipped down narrow streets and swayed over steep hills.   


 Our first stop was Porthcurno, now a tiny quiet beach tucked between high headlands.  


 Once, however, it was the nerve center of the British Empire, as the place where numerous telegraph cables came ashore.  There is a marvelous small museum there, with fine exhibits illustrating the lives of telegraphers who served the Empire all over the world, and tracing the technology right up to the present (much of the world's communications traffic still travels by cable-now fiberoptic- and some of those cables still come ashore at Porthcurno).  And deep chambers cut into the cliff house an astonishing collection of telegraph equipment, much of it in working order to demonstrate how messages in Morse code were once relayed all over the world. 
We walked up along the headland to see the monument to Guiglielmo Marconi, who did pioneering work in long distance radio transmission.   And we admired the fantastic coastal views.
From there we took another bus out to Lands End, the furthest tip of Cornwall.  We'd heard it described as horribly commercialized…and it's true there were a few shops and so forth.  But the Cornish have a long way to go before they plumb the depths of tackiness achieved by American tourist areas. 

Then it was back on the 300 bus again, this time to Geevor Tin Mine, which was one of the last operating tin mines in Cornwall, and is now a World Heritage Site.  The museum was nearly empty when we were there, and it had an eerie feel.  Except for a few placards and railings, the workings were clearly an industrial site.  The landscape around was barren, and you could see the ocean.   Looking at the maps of the workings, some of the mine tunnels extended as much as a mile out to sea under the water.  I'm not claustrophobic, but the idea of being in a mine underwater gave me the creeps.   There was a short tour in one of the shallower shafts, and all the guides were miners who had worked there before the mine closed.  Although they were candid about how it was hard dirty thankless work, there was a hint of wistfulness there too- and a not-quite-dead hope that someday mining might return to the area. 
Geevor Tin Mine
We had to leave before we'd seen quite everything, as the bus schedule waited for no person.  
View from the bus
We finished our tour around the southern tip of Cornwall in St. Ives, which turned out to be one of our favorite towns of the trip. Long an area favored by artists, it was easy to see why, as the town was very picturesque, and the harbourfront lively and filled with restaurants. 

We had fish and chips at one place, and then walked along window shopping and admiring the scenery.  We stopped for some clotted cream fudge (a local delicacy) which we enjoyed enormously.  And then we took yet another bus back to Penzance. 
We had some time before our train, so we walked out along the water to see St. Michael's Mount- one of the places that would have been nice to see but just didn't fit in our schedule.  But the evening light of the water was fabulous and we enjoyed the view as we walked out and back.
St. Michael's Mount

The train ride from the end of Cornwall back to London is a very long one, so we'd booked berths on the Night Riviera train- which has sleeper service from Cornwall.  We liked this idea for its efficiency.  We wouldn't get to see any scenery- but we also wouldn't waste good sightseeing time in travel.  As the train pulled out of Penzance, we crawled into our cozy bunks on the train, and went to sleep.   
rfholly's Day 14 album on Photobucket

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Day 13 Falmouth (Thursday Jun. 6)

The next day we got a bit later a start than we would have liked, as we had to reclaim our laundry, which we'd dropped off the day before at a wash-and-fold cleaner.  When you're living out of a backpack for 18 days, laundry is a necessity.  JT made a solo run to fetch it back, and jogged back up the hill to our hotel with it in a most manly and heroic fashion, and then we hustled back down to the train station and took a train to Falmouth. 

Falmouth was, yes, another pretty coastal town, and we liked it immediately.  It had the requisite candy-colored row houses (the candy in question is Necco wafers, for the curious). 

The downtown featured a rather odd monument which we thought looked rather as if a church had sunk into the ground until only a steeple was showing. 

In fact it was erected by a prominent local family for reasons that aren't entirely clear, and has been moved around to several locations due to people wanting to build things where it was. 

Just past it, we found the National Maritime museum, with fine exhibits of boats, amazing video of the coast guard in action in their Search and Rescue exhibition (the sequence of rescues during the Boscastle flood of 2004 were amazing), and an observation tower that goes from underwater up several stories to provide a great view of the harbor. 

After the museum, we had a sandwich at a cafĂ© with outdoor tables right outside the museum, and then set off to walk another section of the south coast path.  We joined the path just past Pendennis Castle, and walked past a coast guard station as we joined the path. 

The path wound along the top of the cliff, dipping down to coves with tidy pretty beaches and then swooping upward again. 


We walked for a good chunk of the afternoon and then turned inland looking for another route back.  But all paths lead to the coast, and we eventually walked another chunk of the coast path back, before cutting through Swanpool to return to Falmouth.  Why is it called Swanpool?  We found a clue:

(The swans were apparently quite used to admiration- this was shot from about 6 feet away.)

Back in Falmouth we had one of the best meals of the trip, at a Jamaican restaurant called Cribbs.

Feeling restored by the food, we headed back to the train where we encountered a chatty young woman who told us all about her recent adoption and subsequent management by a cat.  (She seemed okay with it.)  And we returned to Truro for our last night in Cornwall.
 
rfholly's Day 13 album on Photobucket

Day 12 Royal Cornwall Mummy and Another Stroll by the Sea (Wednesday Jun. 5)

We rolled out of bed early, eager to get a jump on the sightseeing.  We walked around Truro, finding that the waterfront was a bit short of water (it was low tide),

the Lemon Market was charming (mostly closed, but what we saw looked nice).  We found a friendly (and very clean) native. 

We strolled through the Pannier Market (this one was pretty permanent looking- more like Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia than the flea-market sort of thing they did in Tavistock).   We also noted a restaurant and said 'hey, we should remember that' - about which more anon. 

We finished up back at the Royal Cornwall Museum a couple of minutes before it opened.   Like the other county museums we've seen on this trip, this one was remarkably good.  They started with a very impressive collection of stone age tools, then bronze age, then iron age, and Roman.  Cornwall doesn't have very much in the way of Roman artifacts compared to more northern places.  The only known villa lacks many of the luxuries (like the hypocaust and baths) found in other places.   The placards informed us that there probably wasn't a large Roman population here, but rather that the Romans governed through local chieftans.  We strongly suspected that being sent to Cornwall was possibly not the most prestigious duty ever. 

The museum progressed through more modern eras- Cornwall has a rocky history of disputes with London (which apparently continue today- we saw inflammatory posters urging political action on posters in present day Truro).   But we were diverted into a quite extensive section on geology and mining in Cornwall, which was quite fascinating.  From there we took in other exhibits- one a gallery of paintings from artists who worked in- and painted- St. Ives.  They earned our admiration by being all representational (we like that) and some of them were quite striking. 

From there, we went to the Egyptian exhibit.  Yes, you read correctly, Egyption.  This was quite effective and well done- the star of the show was their mummy,  Iset Tayef Nakht who was a priest and craftsman in 25th Dynasty mummy at the Temple of Al Karnack.  They had a very striking reconstruction of what the man would have looked like- done from X-rays of the skull and forensic reconstruction of the features. The exhibit drew some interesting parallels between the lifestyles of the contemporary Greeks and Romans, and how the Egyptians lived.  They also had a kid's mummify your own body exhibit, with instructions on how to remove organs, put them in the appropriate jars, and then lay wrappings and charms on the (simulated) body...really, just the sort of thing to appeal to children of a certain age.  Kind of like a cross between Operation and the Alien Dissection Kit (without the slime).

After going through the exhibit, I was left with only one question, which was, how the devil did this Egyptian gentleman wind up in Cornwall?!  So I asked one of the museum volunteers.  It seems that he was excavated and sent to a local person and they had done a 'mummy unwrapping' (apparently considered good entertainment in the days before pannier markets).  And so they had him, and all his possessions, and a good deal of information about him.   A descendant had donated the mummy to the museum.   His coffin was in excellent condition and quite beautifully inscribed.  The museum attendant pointed out some of the features of the drawing and told us that they thought he had worked on his own coffin, being a craftsman, and literate.    They also encouraged people to say the appropriate prayers for him, (translated into English, of course).   If there is an afterlife, no doubt  Iset Tayef Nakht is one of the best remembered souls in it. 

By this time we were quite hungry, and wasted no time in proceeding down to the pasty shop down the street that had tantalized us with baking smells when we had passed by earlier.

From there, we took a bus to Newquay, on the coast and added another to our growing collection of English seaside towns.  This was one of the more resort-like of towns.  We noted no less than three Mexican restaurants (apparently Mexican is considered vacation food), and innumerable surf shops.   By now the sky was cloudless and the sun shining down warmly.   We followed the coast path and walked over rocky slate headlands covered in wildflowers  and overlooked long sandy inlets of beach. 

There were a few signs of the harsher past.  We found the 14th century Huer's Hut, where a lookout would be posted to sound a horn when schools of pilchards would be sighted.  Boats would go out with nets held between them and try to scoop the whole school and drag it to the beach, where salting and packing of the fish would go on for days. 
Huer's hut

We also found the lifeboat station, with a steep slide for launching the boats at the mouth of the harbor. The plaque told us that before the lifeboat station had been built, lifeboats had needed to be launched from the beach, which would have taken them far longer to reach the boats in need of rescue.   After the station had been built, 142 lives had been saved. 
Lifeboat station
Lifeboat launching ramp

Several beaches had quite impressive surf and the surfers were out in force.   Around the headlands, the sea swirled around the rocks in an ecstasy of creamy foam.   I couldn't see any birds, but they were there in numbers- so many that the birdsong seemed never to stop but just went on and on.   The short explosive tweets and longer calls made me imagine a bird video game...Jonathan says I'm weird. 

When we reached the river Gannel, we found that the tide was high.  There was a low-water footbridge nearer the mouth and a low-water crossing marked further up, but at high water, the best way across was by ferry.  We stopped for some ice cream, then descended a long narrow cliff stair to reach the waterside, and a cheerful gentleman with a motorboat ran us across the river for a nominal sum. 
River Gannel
When we had taken the ferry, we decided that rather than walk back to Newquay, we'd continue on to the next village, Crantock, and take a bus back.  We reached the village sooner than we expected, but the bus was due so we duly executed the plan.   This turned out to be fortunate, since when we checked bus schedules back in Truro, we found that we had bought tickets on the faster bus...but the one that stopped operating earlier in the evening (the other bus line had later buses to Truro, but they took quite a bit longer, and there was train service, but with a connection, so that likely also would have taken a while).  So we abandoned the idea of Mexican food and caught the last bus back for Truro. 

On alighting in Truro, we considered our dinner options.  There were several restaurants recommended by our guidebook, but they nearly all were geared to expensive dressy places with beautifully arranged exotic food that isn't really us.  (Not to mention the part where the sunburned, windblown, T-shirts and jeans look would have kind of stood out.)  We looked around for more down-home kinds of places, and finally decided to go to the Italian restaurant we'd spotted that morning.  Which we then couldn't find.  By the time we'd circled the center of Truro twice, we were quite hungry and not a little annoyed.  We both remembered it...but neither one of us exactly could recall where.  We checked out a bunch of other options we spotted along the way, but didn't see anything that appealed.  Finally, we tried retracing our steps from the beginning of the day and located the restaurant...we'd evidently walked right by it without seeing it!
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at Sainsbury's so Jonathan could get one last soda.  We'd grown accustomed to Sainsbury's- it's a common grocery chain, usually on the small side by American standards.  Not this one!  It looked like a cross between Walmart, Home Depot and a warehouse store.   It made us a little sad to see it- we spend most of our time in England in town centers, and although we know that the bland retail spaces exist in England, we don't usually see them.    

Fortunately, we didn't have anything like that in our immediate future.  The next day would be all scenic, all the time. 

rfholly's Day 12 album on Photobucket