in the south. That is in the south of England, where the boy and I spent the long weekend. 'The South' in England is a somewhat elastic concept. For those who wish to be considered from 'The North' as diametrically opposed to 'The South', the said South begins anywhere below the particular latitude of their hometown. However, visiting East Sussex we were definitely in 'the South', as confirmed by local pub-goers who seemed to regard anything north of the Thames as the wild North. Eejits.
We were visiting a friend who works and lives at Herstmonceux castle, and it was a weekend of much eating out and visiting sites of historical interest, don't you know. The only downside was that we ate as if we were teenagers on a growth-spurt and moved as if we were shuffling off to live in Bexhill-on-Sea. That aside, it was a great weekend, where we:
1. Spent some time in the British Museum 'doing' the Assyrian galleries, Africa and some of Roman Britain (before we got turfed out). I found the lion hunt displays a bit relentless in the Assyrian galleries. In the African gallery I'd recommend the 'Tree of Life'.
2. Splashed out on National Trust membership for a year and put it to good use by visiting Bateman's (Rudyard Kipling's house) and Bodiam castle. The latter is so liberally provisioned with fireplaces its primary use must have been as grand manor house rather than for defence of the south coast, whatever the introductory video might say. Watch this if you ever go though, if only for the shot of a knight apparently making his fortune in the Hundred Years War by riding down a fleeing peasant.
3. Visited Lewes, scene of the Montfortian victory over Henry III in 1264, which was unfortunately mostly shut. The castle was having its walkway renovated, and the priory remains, although some attempt had clearly been made in the past to open them up and turn a penny from them (there were faded information boards and instructions that you could obtain leaflets from the ticket office), were shut away behind a fence topped with barbed wire. This seemed a shame, but apparently money is on its way to open the site up. All in all we appear to have visited Lewes too soon. In compensation we went to 'Anne of Cleeves' House'. A triumph of marketing over content because although given to Anne of Cleeves by Henry VIII she never went there. So, unless you want to see a local history of Lewes museum, you may not want to part with your gold. One display did catch my eye though: a series of firebacks made from local pig-iron. My question to you is, who would want a fireback of Protestant martyrs being burned at the stake? But this is a town with a fierce Bonfire night tradition (indeed, bonfire societies) with flaming crosses and (until recently) burning effigies of Pope Pius IV. This, I suppose, is what happens when your town suffers Marian persecution under Queen Mary.
4. Obviously looked around Herstmonceux castle and its grounds, including an embryonic archaeological dig, examining a purported moated manor house.
5. Shuffled along the sea-front at Eastbourne and its pier. Having never been on the 'traditional' English sea-side holiday I'd rather anticipated that all such resorts had tat shops selling 'Kiss Me Quick' hats and the other assorted junk a-plenty, but apparently Eastbourne is a little more classy than that.
6. Made it to the heart of '1066 Country' with a trip to Battle. English Heritage haven't done too bad a job here - your entrance fee buys you admittance to the battlefield and the remains of the abbey. It's not necessary to watch the video as you will hear the text again on your audio-guide. I found it a little hard to envisage the battle as you go around with your audio-guide as, of course, the terrain has changed and you don't get a full appreciation of the incline of the hill as the abbey buildings cut this off. (Tradition says that William had the altar of the 11th century church placed on the spot where Harold was killed, and this is some way up the abbey complex).
The boy elected to work Good Friday and Bank Holiday Monday this year, leaving me to twiddle my thumbs somewhat on those days. This led to the production of a 'traditional' Easter cheesecake on Good Friday. (Really it's a birthday cake but we won't be chez nous for the boy's birthday.)
Saturday involved a limited amount of rowing. Limited because the boat house door has been broken for some time now meaning certain boats can't be got out safely (grrrr). This did give me another opportunity to watch 'Mr Asbo' in action. The so-called 'Mr Asbo' is a male swan who has been terrorising rowers on the Cam for some weeks now. He's quite a spectacle, when viewed from a safe distance. It's cruel, but the stroke of my four has been known to do the theme tune to "Jaws" when moving through his self-proclaimed zone of the river just to freak the cox out that little bit more. The real exercise of the weekend was a walk. Doesn't sound hard, but when you cycle everywhere, walking suddenly becomes a bit of an issue. More so when you've booked to go to the Lake District for a week and your wife expects to be taken hiking. So the boy went for a bit of a drag on Saturday afternoon, and is booked for another one in a fortnight's time. (Hopefully we will both have recovered by then).
Easter celebrations at church were, in my view, cool; at least for the 'Presentation of the Gifts' section when Indian members of the congregation performed a West Syriac rite, involving lights and dancing. I thought it was just a touch Bollywood, but of course I got in trouble for saying so. The slight, ever so slight, Bollywood theme continued in the afternoon when I took the boy to see Slumdog Millionaire. My boss had told me it was sad because of the poverty and that was the overall message I took from the film, whatever the critics have said. The boy, who had been planned to endure the film, admitted to having enjoyed it.
Easter Monday saw my first sculling outing of 2009. I managed not to send my partner for a swim and, of course, stayed well clear of Mr. Asbo, so all was well on that front. The sculling season may commence.
Sometimes the lines from hymns strike you. This is more usually the case with older hymns (hymns versus choruses), written to teach you your theology. So from Palm Sunday I am stuck with
'Ride on, ride on in majesty In lowly pomp ride on to die'
The second line isn't taking any prisoners. I'm not sure what the local church was using in place of palms. It seemed to be whatever greenery the parisoners could offer up. A good idea, but the boy was in fits of hay-fever induced sneezing throughout the service.
A laid-off banker turned up to stay in the evening. It's not so bad as she has severance pay, and is already pursuing those new jobs with a determination that I've never quite mustered. And, being laid off, she didn't need to engage in defence of the 'morality' of her post.