Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sunday, December 29, 2013

I Have Discovered a New Love

I have done 11 locks in two days.  And, in that two days I have discovered  a new love that MAY  make me think about leaving Michael. :)

Let's backtrack a bit.  When we go through a lock there are several steps that must be gone through.  First, you walk up to the lock and determine if the lock needs to be filled or drained.  Then, no mater which, you open the two paddles to either add or delete water.  This requires a bit of physical exertion to open the paddles, sometimes more than one would expect since the equipment can be VERY elderly.

Then, once the water levels are even, you open the gate to the lock by physically pushing the gate into the proper location.  The boat moves into the lock.  You close the gate at the back of the lock and go up and open the paddles at the top of the lock to either, again, add or drain water as needed.  Once the water pressure is even, you can open the gates at the top of the lock by physically pushing it into position. 

Now, a point of clarification, to open the paddles one must walk across the wooden gates (about 8 inches wide) at the lock.  This is a Challenge for someone who is afraid of height (like me).  But, I sometimes do it many times a day. (Please hold your applause.) Then you use your winch handle to open the paddles on both sides.  (Later you need to close the paddles by reversing what you did before which also means walking back and forth a few more times.)

Now remember, I have done that 11 times in the past two days.

Remember my 8.5 out of 10 score?  Well, it seems I have really ticked off my back due to the fall.  That can make opening and closing paddles and gates a challenge.  Yesterday, I did five locks (10 gates and paddles) and at the end my back was really letting me know it was less than pleased with me.

Last night, while trying to get a good night's sleep, I had to deal with a back that liked to spasm.  It made me less than anxious to do the other 6 six today.

But, I have discovered a new best friend. 

First, when people build a narrow boat they tend to  position their solid fuel stoves near the bow of the boat.  That means it does a good job of heating the living area and kitchen but doesn't do a good job at all of heating the kitchen and bathroom.

Therefore, a couple of months ago Mike and I bought hot water bottles.  They are wonderful to help warm up a bed at night.

It seems they are also great for keeping a sore back feeling better when you have to work it.

Today I used a wide and long neck scarf to position and secure my hot water bottle to my back in the perfect position.  Enjoying the warmth on my sore muscles helped me get through the last 6 locks today.

Of course, to people who saw me thought I looked like someone who had a genetic  condition or a fatty growth on my lower back.  (Hey, that could explain some of the looks I got, couldn't it.)  But, I don't care.  My hot water bottle and I are now fast friends until my back heals.

I just hope Mike doesn't make me choose between the two of them.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Nativity, Reservations, Boxing and an Anniversary

I haven't posted in 3 days so I better catch you all up on what has been happening.

On Christmas Eve we went to the Children's Mass at the local Atherstone church.  As expected, it was standing room only.  There are two days a year that seem to fill churches to capacity and then some:  Christmas and Easter.

The children of the parish did a nativity play and read the Christmas story from Luke.  Young children identify with the new baby born in a manger because there was no room at the inn.

I had to chuckle when I heard one little boy ask his Mum why they hadn't made reservations when they knew the baby was going to be born.  I bet that child grows up to be someone who always plans ahead. :)

Christmas Day was full of music, flickering candles, good food and a long walk.  Very calm and contented were we.

The 26th was Boxing Day. In the Middle Ages it was a day those with extra put money into the alms boxes of churches to benefit those that were doing without.  Later, it was the day that servents had off to celebrate with their families since they had to work on Christmas.  Usually they would take home a box of gifts, food and useful things given to them by their employers.  Today, it is a day of football (soccer) and sales.

The 26th was also the 40th anniversary of my first date with Michael.  It was a date that never should have happened.  He was the roommate of a young man I had dated a few times that fall quarter.  When he called and asked if he could come over I said no after explaining why this would not be at all correct to do.  Thinking nothing more of it I went upstairs to take a shower and wash my hair.  Forty five minutes later, he rang the doorbell of my parents' home.

Now remember, this was the time of long hair on men, scruffy beards and even scruffier clothes.  Mike was in navy ROTC so his hair was short, he was well groomed and he had on neat clothing.  My father liked him from the start.  When Mike could help him with a word for his crossword puzzle that was the icing on the cake as far as dad was concerned.  I could not let this young man get away. :)
So, I re-dressed and we went out.  We sat at McDonald's and talked for HOURS getting to know each other better.  And the rest, as they say, is history. 

Oh, we are STILL in Atherstone.  The winds here have been very strong, strong enough to move the boat and not necessarily in the direction we want it to go.  Since once we leave here we have a series of 11 locks to navigate through Mike has decided to wait until things are calmer.  The locks are tricky enough without adding a boat with a mind of its own.

Maybe tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas from the English Midlands

When I was a child, for a few years, it was my task to read the story of the birth of Jesus to all who were gathered around the dining room table.  My white leatherette bound bible was the King James Version and I have always loved the beauty of the language of that version.

So here, today, I will visualize all of my friends and family gathered around and I will once again follow the tradition as my way of wishing all of you a Very Merry Christmas.

"The Christmas Story"
King James Version

                        Unto us a Son is given.

"For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and The Government shall be upon His Shoulder: and His Name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty GOD, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His Government and peace there shall be no end, upon the Throne of David, and upon His Kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of Hosts will perform this"
(Isaiah 9:6-7).

The Story of the Birth of Christ
As told through Luke

Luke 2:1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.  2:3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 2:4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 2:5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with Child. 2:6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

2:7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son,
and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger;
because there was no room for them in the inn.

2:8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 2:9 And, lo, the angel of the LORD came upon them, and the glory of the LORD shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 2:10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 2:11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the LORD. 2:12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  2:15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into Heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the LORD hath made known unto us. 2:16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.

The Story of the Birth of Christ
As told through Matthew


2:1 Now when Jesus was born
in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king,
behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

2:10 When they saw the Star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 2:11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down, and worshipped Him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

                        Unto us a Son is given.

Monday, December 23, 2013

No Snow BUT...

The closest we have come to snow has been a couple of mornings of frost.  Since we are in the midlands that is fairly normal I believe.

However, we have had a great deal of rain (no surprise) and WAY MORE WIND than I had expected.  Today we have, so far, stayed inside our cozy little boat which is being lashed by the rain and rocked by the wind.  Average winds are 45 mph with some gusts reaching 60mph and there seem to be more than their fair share of these harder gusts.

They even have travel advisories out due to the wind.  Top heavy vehicles may to horizontal, ferries might capsize and little cars could have a mind of their own as to what lane they want to be in.

Another thing has been the very short days.  On the 21st we had 7 hours and 30 minutes of daylight and 16 hours and 30 minutes of darkness.  That is a lot of darkness, let me tell you.  Your internal body clock starts getting ready for bed at about 8 and doesn't want to get up until 8 the next morning.  I feel like a hibernating bear! :)

I have been keeping myself busy while avoiding the elements by making zucchini bread, red beans and rice, no bake cookies and today I will make butter pecan fudge.  Can you say carbohydrate addiction?  I know I shouldn't but they are just sooooo comforting.

Later today I am going to put on my foul weather gear and venture out to the charity shops.  I need to find a duvet cover for the second duvet we purchased to forestall frostbite.  I also would like to see if I can find a few more comfy turtle necks and sweaters.  When I downsized my wardrobe to bring over here I stayed with all season tops.  WRONG!  And there are only so many layers I can wear and still be able to move. :)

And who knows, I may also treat myself to a latte at Costa.  Basically, you can take that bet to the bank. :)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Fun With Dick and Jane

Mike's parents, the above mentioned Dick and Jane, apparently enjoyed celebrating the first day of spring/the day of the year with the most daylight.  We know this because they left traces of their celebrations that are here with us even now.  What am I talking about, you might well ask.

Today, nine months after the first day of spring, is my beloved husband's  62nd birthday.
Today is ALSO the birthday of his brother Jim who is now 60.  Happy Birthday Jim!
December 9th would have been their brother John's 59th birthday.  John is and always will be ever present in our hearts.

Yep, things got a little hectic in the O'Neill household with 3 babies in 4 years.  My mother-in-law coped and maintained her sanity, God bless her.  For one thing, Mike remembers that for many years while they were small birthday parties and celebrations did not happen in December.  Instead, an earlier fall day was chosen so that birthdays were special days and did not get all caught up in the whirlwind that is Christmas.

However, my favorite story is one my father-in-law used to love telling.  It may be apocryphal but it is still worth telling if only because it makes me chuckle.

When Mike was a little boy they lived on Wellington Road in Syracuse, NY.  It was a neighborhood of young families with lots in common who became friends and not just neighbors.  The neighbors quietly watched the population of the O'Neill household increase almost every December.  After John's birth they decided that something must be done to help poor Jane.

So.............they took up a collection amongst themselves and presented the resulting sum to Jane with instruction that she take a vacation the next March, ALONE.  Problem solved. 

Fable or fact?  Who knows but it is true that the next, and final, little O'Neill did not arrive for a few more years and then in September and not December. :)   

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Judge's Score: 8.5 out of 10

British early winters may not be as cold or snowy but they can sure be muddy.  The frequent rains (substitute the word daily) saturate the soil and create conditions for mud wrestling, if one is so inclined.  Wellies are advisable for any walking where you will be leaving concrete or macadam surfaces.

Today Mike and I walked about a mile to a Tesco Supermarket to do our holiday shopping for goodies: both edible and drinkable.  We ended up filling two carts since we also shopped for replacements of items destroyed in our recent explosion.

Being relatively bright individuals, we decided not to trudge it all back to the boat.  Even with our push cart we would have both been lugging bags.  It didn't sound like fun.  So, we called a cab.  Because so many Britishers do not own cars, this is not an uncommon practice here.

Ten pounds sterling poorer, we and out bundles were dropped at the gate that led down to the canal path and from there to our boat.  Again, being smart cookies, we decided to have Mike go get the boat and bring it to the purchases instead of the other way around.

My job was to babysit our treasures and then hold the boat against the side of the canal once Mike returned and was loading the bags.  The babysitting I accomplished. The holding of the boat, not so much.

Here is where we get back to the mud.  I got the rope from Mike and was walking down the side of the boat to the middle so that I could pull it into shore and hold it there, and that is when it happened.
I hit a very slippery patch, my feet started to slide, my arms looked like inefficient windmills as I tried to regain my balance.  It was not to be.  I landed flat on my back in the mud, but still holding the rope.

My dad used to say I was so graceful that I could trip over the pattern in linoleum.  Ergo, I have had plenty of practice falling.  Hence, Mike gave me an 8.5 out of 10.  He said if I had added a complete turn I could have gotten the 10.  Oh well.

Aside from thoroughly muddy garments I shall probably also have a nice bruise where I landed, although I will never see it.  Another bit of comic relief I have added to the world. :)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Brandy Alexanders for Christmas Eve

Mike's Aunt Evelyn was a wonderful woman. She was like a second mother to Mike and a third grandmother to my daughters.  When Uncle Bill, her equally wonderful husband, passed away Aunt E began spending Christmas with us.  In return, we had the pleasure of adopting some of her holiday traditions as our own, such as prime rib for Christmas dinner.

Another tradition we embraced was the sipping of a Brandy Alexander as we listened to Christmas carols after returning home from Christmas Eve mass.  It was a wonderful way to relax and de-stress from all the pressures of the season (most of which we do to ourselves, I know :)

Well, Aunt Evelyn is now part of the heavenly choir, we are in England, and this has to be the least stressful Christmas I have ever had as an adult.  But, traditions must be maintained, don't you agree?

I already have the necessary brandy since I have been "feeding" my Christmas pudding a tablespoon a day since Stir Up Sunday.  Cream is readily available.  But the creme de cacao has been hard to locate.

A quick google search located a recipe for making my own that was oh so simple (basically cocoa, sugar, vodka and water).  So now we are all ready for Christmas Eve.  Bring on the Alexanders!

Monday, December 16, 2013

With Apologies to Clement Moore

Twas the night before Monday, and all through the boat,               
Not a creature was stirring, and all were afloat.                        
The dishes were done, the laundry was drying,
The canal boat day  was slowly goodbying.

The boaters were snuggled, all warm in their bed,
While visions of woolies danced in their heads.
Sandy in her eyeshade and Mike in his mask,
Slept peacefully with no thoughts of a task.

When out of the dark, there arose a loud BOOM,
And they sprang from their bed with visions of doom.
Exchanging stunned glances, with hopes for the best,
They hastened to look for any uninvited guests.

The light in the kitchen they hastened to use,
And the vision they saw gave them the blues.
Because what to their sleep dazed eyes should appear,
But a kitchen in chaos from explosions so near.

With a sweep of their eyes, and a groan from their lips,
They knew in a moment they had issues to fix.
So reacting in shock and feeling some pain,
The names of the fallen they were heard to proclaim:

Gone toaster, gone tea pot, gone coffee cake, new.
Gone mince tart, gone cornbread, and clean dishes, too.
From the top of the walls, to the floor at their feet,
All was covered with ginger beer sticky and wet.

As fermentation its gasses creates,
The container at sometime is destined to break.
And that evening, without further ado,
At two A.M. the bottles they blew.

So dripping and trickling they heard on the floor,
And they knew at that moment they faced a huge chore.
Resolutely their backs they turned on their bed,
Reinforcing their resolve for the job ahead.

Armed with buckets and mops and cleaning cloths, too,
They mopped and they wiped everything within view.
 Many buckets of water, many cleaning rags new,
 Were needed in working to the stickiness subdue.

The counters were wiped. The dishes were rinsed.
And floors mopped once more of sticky foot prints.
Garbage bags they did fill with all the debris,
Including a tea pot not all in one piece.

The seconds they ticked on, the minutes they passed,
And before they knew it more than an hour elapsed.
Most amazing of all the events of that night,
They exchanged not a word in anger or spite.

They worked like a team, no blame did they cast,
And through it all, no Irish tempers did flash.
Once their work they had done, and all was put right,
They hastened once more in their bed to abide.

Covers, eyeshades and masks again they did don,
Finally, from bow to stern, all was again calm.
Before the first rays of the sun could be seen
Inside the canal boat all  was serene.

From this day forward they both have now vowed
No fermenting of beverages will be allowed.
Instead a return to their tried and their true,
Can they offer a martini or manhattan to you?

Getting into the Christmas Spirit

Here is my homemade (a hanger and plastic bags) wreath on the bow of the boat.  It is made to take the elements and not end up looking like something the cat drug in and the dog wouldn't touch.

Here is the old coal fired steam engine that pulled the Santa Train we took a ride on Saturday.  I believe Mike and I may have been the only ones on the train that hadn't brought a kid (talking chronological age not mental age since this season makes many of us kids at heart.)

Two of my little white Christmas tree decorations inside the boat made from paper cones and muffin/cupcake wrapper.

This little guy is "Harry".  He just turned 3 at the beginning of November.  He and his Nana and Papa sat across from us on the train.  He was soooo excited to go visit Santa and give him his letter.  He had even written his own name on the letter!  We shared him a little with Nana and Papa so that we could share in his joy and excitement.  The train was full of children with excited, shining eyes.  Just seeing them makes the season better.

Here is the station where Santa met the train and saw the children. If you look closely at the picture, Papa is drinking an ale.  You've got to love the British.  They provide adult beverages at events such as these.  Mike and I had sherry.  They also gave everyone a mince tart, a very traditional offering this time of year.  In fact, British children leave mince tarts for Father Christmas on Christmas Eve.
Our "Christmas tree" and the very necessary, although small, manger scene.

The older style passenger car we rode in during our Santa Train outing.

A cloud of steam as the train prepares to start out.  Very British atmosphere.

My inside Christmas wreath made from gingersnaps and fruit jellies. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Battle of Bosworth and a Bacon Update



The Battle of Bosworth Field, the most famous battle of the War of the Roses, was fought on August 22, 1485 and marked the end of the civil war between the houses of York and Lancaster, two rival branches of the royal family fighting for control of the throne.  

Richard III (of the house of York) was killed and Henry Tudor ( of the house of Lancaster) was crowned king Henry VII and founded  the Tudor  dynasty that was to include Henry VIII and 
Elizabeth I.

 A contemporary name for the civil war was 'The Cousins' War'. The term War of the Roses was not used until much later.

 In 1483 Richard of Gloucester had maneuvered to have his twelve year old nephew, who had been crowned Edward V following the death of his father, declared illegitimate and therefore unable to inherit the throne.  Richard then seized the thrown and was crowned Richard III.  His two nephews, Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury, were taken to the Tower of London and were never seen in public again.  Today they are often romantically referred to as The Princes in the Tower.
During an earlier battle of the civil war in 1471, the Lancastrian King Henry VI and his only son, Edward of Lancaster, died in the  Battle of Tewkesbury. Their deaths had left the House of Lancaster with no direct claimants to the throne.
Henry Tudor's mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, was distantly related to kings Richard II and Henry IV.  This trace of the royal bloodline, as weak as it was, allowed the ambitious Henry Tudor to make a claim for the throne.
To further strengthen his claim, Henry Tudor swore an oath to marry Edward IV's daughter, Elizabeth of York (the sister of the two Princes in the Tower), thereby uniting the houses of York and Lancaster.

Henry had a force of about 5000 men, very few of them being Englishmen. French mercenaries made up the core of Henry's army.  

Richard’s army was close to 12,000. However, 4,000 of these soldiers belonged to the Stanley family and no one was sure which side the Stanley’s would ultimately fight for. The reason:  Lord Stanley was part of Richard's court BUT his second wife was Margaret of Beaufort, Henry Tudor's mother.  A conundrum.

When the fighting began early in the morning of August 22, 1483, The Stanley armies hung back from the actual fighting until very late in the battle when they threw their armies into the fray on the side of Henry Tudor and effectively insured his victory. 

Casualties on both sides of the battle were heavy. In two and a half hours between 1,000 and 1,500 men died and countless more were injured.  
After Richard III's death his body was stripped and strapped across a horse to be taken to Leicester and exhibited publicly for two days so there would be no doubt in the minds of the people that he was dead. 

Richard was then buried by the Greyfriars in the private area of their church.  The church was later demolished when Henry VIII broke from Rome, created the Church of England with himself as head, and dissolved all monasteries and nunneries.
For centuries the exact location of Richard's tomb was unknown until, on September 12, 2012 a battle damaged skeleton was discovered within the remains of an old church in Leicester.  DNA testing conclusively identified them as the remains as those of King Richard III.
Sometime after the Battle of Bosworth   Henry VII married Elizabeth of York uniting the houses of Lancaster and York and ending the feud between the two.


Today, Bosworth Field is serene with very little trace of the battle that took place here.

Postcript: Someone asked for an update on the bacon I made awhile ago:  we ate it all and it is time to make it again.  Yum.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Someone Moved Our Home While We Were Gone!

I bet you have never been able to say that.
Now I will admit that when Mike was in college his parents moved from the east side of Cleveland to the west side, but he still found them. :)

Today, when we were out exploring a local historical site (more about that later) we came home to find that our boat had definitely been moved a distance down the canal.
Yep, there was our rubber "welcome mat" on the ground by where we used to be.
There were the holes in the ground where our mooring pegs used to be.
But, the boat was no longer there.  It had "walked" itself further down the canal and re-driven it's mooring pegs into the ground.  It had forgotten about the welcome mat, I guess.

Just as we were beginning to create mental  scenarios of what had occurred, here came the man from the boat moored a distance down the canal from us.  He made all clear.

It seems that a boat, which shall remain nameless although we do know its name, was cruising up the canal.  It slowed down for our neighbor's boat.  It was obvious they were in residence because of the smoke coming out of their chimney.

We did not have smoke coming out of our chimney (our fire was banked and we burn coal and not wood) so apparently we were fair game.  The boat resumed normal speed and as it passed us it created such a wake that the mooring pins were torn out of the ground.  Normally it would not have been this easy but the ground here is very wet and soft.

Now that she was free, the boat decided to see if the grass was greener on the other side of the canal.
Luckily the neighbors saw that she was exploring and they very nicely went to get her and bring her home to the correct side of the canal.  Trust me, this took more time and effort than it sounds.

Now remember, these people did not know us from Adam.  We had never met them, said hi, nothing.  But they still helped us out out of the goodness of their hearts.  Takes the bar of being a good neighbor and raises it a few feet doesn't it.

Our lovely neighbors now have a new bottle of wine and we now have 2 mooring pins both at the bow and the stern and 1 in the middle.  I do not want to wake up tomorrow morning and discover myself in Kansas or Oz or wherever.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Canal Peddlers

There was a time not all that long ago that peddlers traveled a geographic area and sold items to housewives at their homes.  No trips to the mall.  No online shopping.  No crowds.  All in the comfort of familiar surroundings.

Well, here on the canals there are still peddlers.  They have a set route that they continuously cruise and if you need diesel, propane, coal, kindling, or logs you can flag them down and purchase what you need without ever leaving your boat.

Recently we did just that to replace an empty propane tank and to top up the diesel in the tank.  We didn't need coal this time and kindling we have been gathering during our walks.  Our next shopping "trip" will probably be more coal, though.  It never hurts to have extra as long as you have space on the roof for it.

We were very pleased to discover that in the past month of cruising we had only used about 12.5 gallons of diesel.  I used to use more than that in my car! Since we have a 50 gallon tank we should be able to go about 4 month on a tank.  Not too shabby.

Out of the Coventry and into the Ashby

As you can see from the sign post below, we have moved out of Coventry and the Coventry Canal and are off for new parts.

But first, we needed to retrace our steps to Hawkesbury Junction where the Oxford and the Coventry Connect and where we catch the other arm of the Coventry Canal to head to our next adventure.  At that juncture is this beautiful iron bridge, built in 1837, that marks where the canals join.

Near the bottom of the above picture you can see the canal basin that the boats use in order to position themselves to move to the adjoining canal.  In the bottom left corner you can see the black post.  Just out of sight is the seating area for the local pub, The Greyhound (excellent food, BTW), where patrons like to sit and watch the hijinks that ensue when boats are trying to position themselves. It is almost always good for a laugh if you are not the skipper of the boat.

Why?  See the beginning of the bridge in the above photo? You are traveling parallel to the bridge until you get into the basin where you must make a quick 90 degree turn to pass under the bridge and into the next canal.  Sounds easy?  Not really.

But Mike made it and as he said, "I even look like I know what I am doing." :)

We then traveled a short distance up the Coventry Canal (away from Coventry) until the Coventry and the Ashby join.  Getting into the Ashby has its own challenge, though nothing like the turn, since they restrict the entry to a small channel like you would have entering a lock.  Piece of cake.

So, now we are in the Ashby and heading towards the historic site where the Battle of Bosworth was fought and where we will play tourist for a day or so. 

While the Coventry Canal is an urban canal with the disturbing sights of grafitti and garbage all along the sides of the canal and in the canal, the Ashby is back to the rural peace and quiet.

Although last night when we took our walk the local cows were quite talkative and of course I talked back.  Mike was just relieved no one else was around to observe our conversation. :)

Sunday, December 8, 2013


This striking bird is one I have seen since first arriving here. They are
absolutely gorgeous when you see them up close with the iridescent greens/blues/purples in their tails as well as the very striking white on black markings.

Magpies mate for life.
Their numbers have increased by 112% over the last 30 years and they are now the 13th most commonly seen bird in British gardens.

However, their challenging, almost arrogant attitude, that has won them few friends. But they are beautiful striking birds.

They are scavengers and collect objects, with a weakness for shiny things.  Magpies usually walk, but can also hop quickly sideways with wings slightly opened. Watching them hop along curiously looking around for things is a fun way to while away a few minutes on a nice day. I'm never sure if they are looking for shiny things or just food, but that is part of the enjoyment of watching them.

The black and white Eurasian Magpie is one of the few animal species known to be able to recognize itself in a mirror.

In Britain and Ireland a widespread traditional rhyme recounts the myth  that seeing magpies predicts the future, depending on how many are seen.

One brings Sorrow
Two bring Joy
Three a Girl
And Four a Boy
Five bring Want
And Six bring Gold
Seven bring secrets never told
Eight bring wishing
Nine bring kissing
Ten, the love my own heart’s missing!

Whenever a Britisher sees a single magpie the tradition is to say  "Good morning Mr. Magpie. How is your lady wife today?"
As magpies usually mate for life seeing one on its own is as sign of sorrow because it's lost it's mate, whereas if you see two it's is a sign of joy as it's with it's mate. This is why when you see a single magpie you ask after it's wife, thus suggesting it has a mate and is in fact happy.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Cash's 100 Houses: a Failed Experiment

John and Joseph Cash began construction of a cottage based factory just outside Coventry  in 1856 as a way of giving individual weavers access to the advantages of mechanized looms without having to be employed in a factory. One hundred three story houses built around a square were planned.  The top floor of each house would be a workshop and each workshop would be connected to all the other workshops by steam-driven shafts. The weavers would live in the bottom two floors below their workshop and pay both rent and for a portion of the power needed to run all the mechanized looms. In the end, however, only 48 houses were built on two sides of the proposed square.
When there was insufficient work for all the weavers, trouble developed since steam still had to be raised to drive the machinery for those weavers who had work and those who didn't have work were obligated to pay their portion even if they were unable and/or unwilling to pay.

As a result of the problems that ensured, the access between the workshops and the living quarters were removed and the top floor became a factory with the entrances from the cottages below closed off. Workers now entered  through the main gates as employees rather than semi-independent weavers.  The grand experiment had failed.

Later, further factory buildings were added within the square and Cash's continued on site for many years.

Some buildings were lost during WWII, leaving 37  of the original 48 cottages.

 Cash's factory moved from the site in 1984 and the houses were taken over and converted to private residences by a housing association.

Coventry Cathedral

  • Father Forgive can be seen inscribed on the back wall of the ruin.

    An eerily peaceful, beautiful and serene place.

Coventry Cathedral was the only English cathedral lost to aerial bombardment during the Second World War.

The day after the Blitz demolition crews had to be prevented from pulling down the surviving tower. They didn't realize it had been leaning for at least a hundred years.

Shortly after the destruction, the cathedral stonemason, Jock Forbes, noticed that two of the charred medieval roof timbers had fallen in the shape of a cross. He set them up in the ruins where they were later placed on an altar of rubble with the moving words ‘Father Forgive’ inscribed on the Sanctuary wall. Another cross was fashioned from three medieval nails by local priest, the Rev. Arthur Wales, The Cross of Nails.

The raid that began on the evening of 14 November 1940 was the most severe to hit Coventry during the war. The attack was intended to destroy Coventry's factories and industrial infrastructure. At around 8:00 Coventry Cathedral was set on fire by incendiaries for the first time. The volunteer fire-fighters managed to put out the first fire but other direct hits followed and soon new fires broke out in the cathedral and they were quickly out of control.

In one night, more than 4,300 homes in Coventry were destroyed and around two-thirds of the city's buildings were damaged. The raid was heavily concentrated on the city center, most of which was destroyed. Around one third of the city's factories were completely destroyed or severely damaged, another third were badly damaged, and the rest suffered slight damage. However, the effects on war production were only temporary, as much essential war production had already been moved to factories on the city outskirts. Also, many of the damaged factories were quickly repaired and had recovered to full production within a few months.

An estimated 568 people were killed in the raid (the exact figure was never precisely confirmed) with another 863 badly injured and 393 sustaining lesser injuries. Given the intensity of the raid, casualties were limited by the fact that, following  earlier air raids, a large number of residents left the city at night to sleep in nearby towns or villages .

The raid reached such a new level of destruction that Joseph Goebbels later used the term coventriert ("coventried") when describing similar levels of destruction of other towns.

Friday, December 6, 2013

England's Motor City

The U.S. has Detroit.  England has Coventry.

The automotive industry for Britain began and was centered in Coventry for almost a century.  Now it is suffering some of the many issues of Detroit, on a smaller scale, as the manufacturing of vehicles has moved elsewhere in recent years.

The Museum of Road Transport is located in Coventry's center city and is a wonderful place to spend a few hours wondering and appreciating all of its displays.  Mike was more interested in the engines and mechanics.  I loved the look of the vehicles. We were both happy.

Coventry was originally a center for the development and manufacture of bicycles from the penny farthing to the more modern models.  From bikes they moved on to making motorized cycle that eventually became full fledged motorbikes.  And those eventually morphed into larger motorized vehicles and then what we would think of as a car.

Triumph motorcycles began here. Mike admitted to a long held desire for such a motorcycle.

The Morris Mini was born here. A car beloved by many, including at one time Prince Charles and Princess Ann.

Coventry was home to Jaguar.  Need I say more?  (I wouldn't mind if Santa brought one of those.)

Daimler has its roots here. The traditional vehicle for British royalty who keep them for decades.  You can see Queen Mary's (grandmother of Elizabeth II) car in the museum.

For those into land speed records there can also be seen Britain's two land speed record holder vehicles, more like rockets with a seat than cars.  You can even experience how riding such a vehicle would feel in a simulator but neither Mike nor I tried that.  Chickens.

Oh, they also have a wonderful coffee shop that makes great lattes.