Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pointy Bit Up Please

Winter is fast approaching here in Cloggie land, although the unseasonably mild weather is giving us all a false sense of security about how bad the winter may be. One of these days we’re going to wake up to find the car is frozen to the driveway and I’ll have to chip my way in with a pickaxe, but in the meantime we’re practically basking in temperatures around 10-13 degrees C. However the short days mean it’s time to get out into the garden for a last rummage in the dirt, and in Holland, the land of tulips, that means it’s time to plant flower bulbs.
Now let me start by saying that although I enjoy gardening and getting a bit muddy, I can quite confidently say that I’m a fairly crap gardener. My plants don’t flourish; they limp along until a season changes enough for them to flop limply in relief at not having to pretend they will ever live up to the promieses on their labels. The soil around our house is awful – any topsoil was strip-mined and sold off by the developers – and the borders are characterized by either endless shade or desert-like over exposure to the sun.
However these factors haven’t deterred me from spending money on new plants like a pro, and hope, if not my garden, sprouts eternal. In this respect, bulbs are the perfect plants for me. You just chuck them in the ground, do nothing for a few months, and hey presto, you have flowers in the spring time.
I clearly remember the very first time I planted bulbs (yes really). It was back on our farm near Matamata, in the North Island of New Zealand. We had a fairly large fruit orchard next to the house, which my Dad had rigged with a lethally impressive electric fence system. Wires running along the base of the fruit trees were cunningly arranged at just the right height to allow the resident sheep to nibble the grass around the base, but not chew on the tree trunks. Over time the sheep actually learned to stand on their hind legs to reach the lower branches, and it wasn’t unusual to look out the window to the very odd sight of what appeared to be a flock of dancing sheep staggering around under the trees, snouts raised in the air. As an added bonus the electric fence also prevented possum damage. These beasties are a huge pest in New Zealand; having been imported from Australia years ago to a land with a mild climate and no predators the population has boomed to millions, and one possum will happily strip a fruit tree in a night. However if you were a wayward possum daring to cavort around our house at night, there was a very good chance the last thing you would ever see was my Dad, his Y-fronts glowing in the moonlight, squinting down the barrel of a .22 getting ready to change your mind manually.
I decided to brighten the orchard with daffodils. Having read that the best way to achieve a natural looking placement of bulbs was to literally toss them in handfuls over the area and plant them when they landed, I subsequently spent the next half hour cursing and trying to locate the bloody things again while avoiding the electric fences. Having done that, I pretty much sabotaged my chances of a bumper flower crop by planting them…upside down. For some reason it seemed logical that the pointy bit would stick downwards. With such a hopeless record of bulb planting, who could EVER have guessed I would end up with Dutch nationality??

Monday, November 09, 2009

Hail, Caesar!

A few days ago I was pottering around upstairs, pouring the kids out of their pj's and into something warm to face the cooling autumn weather, when I heard Carl making strange noises in his room. Eventually I figured out he was practising the noise of a cracking whip. He and Big Brother are into Romans and gladiators at the moment so I figured he was having an imaginary chariot race.
A few minutes later I went in to put on his socks - I know, some 5 year olds have mastered this tricky task but it takes Carl FOREVER and sometimes it's just easier to do it yourself, you know? So there he is, lying on his bed, feet in the air and as I lean forward to roll on the first sock he swings his arm to give me a lash of his pretend whip, complete with sound effects, and yells: "Come on slave, faster!!"

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Bodiam Castle

You're probably thinking that there isn't much more we could pack into our short UK break, but you'd be wrong. As they say in advertising; but wait - there's more! Wednesday dawned grey and drizzly but even this couldn't put us off our mission to visit Bodiam Castle in East Sussex. My friend Anna had recommended this castle and it was magnificent; a quintessentially medieval fortification, square in shape with round towers at each corner, and a large picturesque moat.
Before I carry on, a quick confession; I didn't take these photos. It basically peed down with rain the whole time we were there, Niels threw a hissy fit when I growled at him about not pushing his brother down a stone stairway and refused to face the camera, and I had cold water dripping down my neck most of the time. So my photos suck. These ones however, from the National Trust, are lovely so I'm stealing them instead.
The castle was built in 1385 by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge in the days of Richard 11 in order to defend the surrounding area from the mauranding French. Touted as one of Britains most famous castle it was only after we returned home that we realised how often it appears in the kids history books.
While the walls, ramparts and towering gate houses of the castle are all intact, the once grand inner structure of the castle was deliberately destroyed, possibly by Cromwells men during the Britsh Civil War to avoid it being used as a defensive outpost.

Now owned by the National Trust, the castle is well maintained and several people dressed in medieval costume braved the weather with us to lend an air of authenticity.
By mid afternoon we squelched our way back to the car and headed 'home', the sun helpfully breaking through the clouds just as we drove out of the carpark.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Make Haste to Hastings!

One of the great things about Kent is that there is so much to do in a fairly compact area. Having sated our appetite for planes and cathedrals, it was time to immerse ourselves in even more history. Perhaps I should point out that we all enjoy our history, although hubby and Niels are real fans. Top of Niels lists of favourite historial events is now the Battle of Hastings, as a result of our day spent exploring the area and delving into the story of the Battle of 1066.
First stop however was Smugglers Adventure, a series of caves dug into the sandstone cliffs of Hastings itself. Nobody knows who dug the first caves, but British smugglers enlarged them to hide their booty to avoid paying the high taxes imposed on most goods to finance the 100 Year War with France. Based on this period the Smugglers Adventure invites visitors to walk through the dimly lit caves, learning about the smugglers, their booty, and what happened to them if they got caught. It wasn't too grisly and the boys had a blast.
Nearby are the ruins of Hastings Castle, which must have been an incredibly impressive sight before most of it tumbled into the sea a few hundred years ago. The film 'The Story of 1066' explained the history of the battle, who was fighting and who won, and prevented me from asking embarresing questions like"King Harold?? Are you sure that was his name? Wasn't he the one in Shrek?"
The fact that poor old Harold was apparently killed after being shot in the right eye by an arrow was the icing on the cake for the boys. They have been re-enacting that particular moment non-stop ever since, complete with squelchy eye popping sound effects and blood curdling death cries. Lovely.
After riding on the cute little West Cliff Victorian railway down to the seaside again, we enjoyed an excellent lunch of traditional fish & chips at a nice little restaurant before wandering back to the car. Fired up by the history oozing from the ground around us we stopped at the imaginatively named town of Battle, site of....you guessed it...the Battle of Hastings. A huge Abbey was built beside the battle field by William the Conqueror and Holger was keen to take a look, as was Niels. I bowed out - one cathedral a week is enough for me - and instead took Carl to visit Yesteryear, a museum andshop full of nostalgic things from days gone by. I bought the guys a very retro-looking gam of Tiddlywinks and a couple of traditional pop-guns (the kind with a cork on a string which pops out when you pump the handle), perhaps subconsciously hoping to distract them from the whole arrow-in-the-eye obessession.

When he emerged from the Abbey hubby was having a chuckle at something he'd seen. A concrete tile marked the spot where King Harold had died, and some patriotic Brit had placed flowers there with a note saying "In remembrance of the last true English King". Who would have thought it possible to hold a grudge for 950 years??