Saturday, January 26, 2008

Euro Day 4: Old Stones and Cricket

Wednesday, July 4, 2007 and the Salisbury morning brings bright Sun and warm breezes. After one last Rokeby House breakfast, we bid our hosts, Karen and Mark, a smiling farewell and drove a few kilometers into the town center. I will note for the record that Dee declined the car keys for this short journey.

We were set on visiting Salisbury Cathedral. After a short stroll through quiet, narrow streets, we passed through the ancient arch and stood at the edge of the green space that skirts this, the tallest spire in the UK.

The free tour inside was led by our newest friend, Peter. A retired military man, Peter was the very model of a modern Major-General - and his knowledge of the Cathedral's history and architecture is vast. For 90 minutes he kept us all spellbound (even the kids!) with his stories and attention to detail. While there were so many highlights during this tour, seeing an original copy of the Magna Carta and the world's oldest working medieval clock are a few that stood out for me. It was only later that we learned the typical tour is scheduled to last only 45 minutes, and we appreciated Peter's lessons all the more.

With our time Salisbury coming to an end, our goal for the rest of the day was to meander our way towards Bath, taking in a few sights along the way. Our first stop - Old Sarum - which is the original site of what is now Salisbury. All that is left on that emerald-coloured windswept hill are the foundations of what once was. When the local populace decided to bug out in the early 1200's, they took whatever building materials they could, and moved them a few miles south to the town's present location.

After a good hour's worth of exploration at Old Sarum, we piled back into Blue Passat for the short drive to Stonehenge. Driving on the Salisbury Plain must be one of the more relaxing and idyllic trips one could make on a sunny day. Miles of green, undulating hills give way to spectacular vistas - always at just the right moment. Soon enough we were there - in the middle of nowhere in particular - amid the ancient stones of Stonehenge. While perhaps a little bit more commercialized since my first visit some 20-odd years previous, not much had changed around the site. The open fields, curious sheep, and low-key trickle of visitors were largely how I remembered things. I liked that visitors were now issued a device that provided an audio tour of the site (a feature common at many tourist destinations in England, so it seems). One big difference was the show of military force this time as compared to the 'hippie riots' that had punctuated my last visit.

After an hour or so of looking around and lunching on ice cream and scones, it was time to push on towards Bath - our next base of operations. Our actual destination was the village of Bathford on the outskirts of Bath - home to our next B&B, Eagle House. We'll explore the village of Bathford in another post, but suffice to say that it is ancient and makes liberal use of stone. Eagle House, some 250 years old, is magnificent with its stonework, gardens, and 12-foot ceilings. Certainly there was a different 'feel' than Rokeby House, and we knew we'd enjoy our stay.

After a bit of settling in, we decided it was time to dip our toes into Bath (yes, bad pun). While our guidebook suggested otherwise, we decided we might drive ourselves into town. John, our host, gave us excellent directions that would get us into the heart of town while avoiding the typical tourist congestion. The drive was not bad, although we got lost for a bit in the busy traffic. But soon enough we were in a public car-park at the Bath Cricket Grounds. This was a tip from John - not many people know that the car-park exists, and we had no trouble finding a spot for Blue Passat. As a bonus, some cricketers(?) were on the pitch holding a practise, and we spent a few minutes watching this very odd sport!

Expectedly, Bath is old and constructed largely of stone. After some 'roadhouse faire' at a restaurant in the central area of Bath, our plan for this evening was to avoid any real sightseeing. Rather, we intended to to sign on to watch a bit of street theater known as Bizarre Bath - which had run across during our Internet research. So, we found the pub at the appointed meeting time and paid our pounds. The one-man show did not disappoint. The best way to describe it is 'street theater meets Monty Python'. While it offers no historical education, we did get to spend 2 hours walking through central Bath being thoroughly entertained. Mind you, if you pale at the idea of a magic trick involving a rabbit named Stuart, a rucksack, and the River Avon, then perhaps you'd be better off to skip Bizarre Bath. My family, however, loved it.

The tour wrapped up at 10pm, and so it was time to find our way back to Bathford. Driving the twisting roads in the dark was not so bad, but I made a note to avoid doing it again. And so, a busy day came to an end inside the old, stone walls of Eagle House. Tomorrow, we would tour Bath properly.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Time Traveling in the Blogosphere

So I went and made a somewhat-public statement that I'd go back and finish the posts I started 6 months ago about Eurotour 2007. After re-reading my trip journal, I think this will be fun (for me) and uncomfortably close to watching someone else's vacation slides (for you). But since there's bugger-all going on here lately and my Vanity Project isn't being nominated for any awards anytime soon, what the hell. Let's do a Dallas Shower Scene and pretend it's July 2007 once more, shall we?

Eurotour Day 1 (and 2) was Monday July 9, 2007 and that was the day I had a heart attack. No one paid much attention, but it happened. You can read about it here.

Day 3: Suck It Up, Buttercup

After the horrors whose corporeal form was a Blue Passat, today promised more of the same. The game plan was to drive(!) 60 minutes from Salisbury down to Portsmouth; the present and historical home of the British Navy. I love ships - especially old ones - and this day was one I had been planning for weeks. The trouble was, I was not enamoured with the idea of more driving. And so, I avoided the topic as long as possible.

The morning stated with a lovely breakfast of smoked salmon and creamy scrambled eggs prepared by our hosts at Rokeby House. I think I enjoyed this much more than anyone else. All through the meal I studiously avoided any talk of Portsmouth.

After breakfast we wandered over Salisbury market looking for interesting things to buy. There were none. We wandered over to Salisbury Cathedral for a look-see. There was a funeral underway and we couldn't go inside. I'm sure there's more to do in Salisbury on a grey Tuesday morning, but it was not obvious to us.

And now, the picture that is etched in my mind forever more: my family imploring me (rather angrily) that we needed to get into the Blue Passat and go see Portsmouth. When you get leaned on by an 11 year-old, you better grow some stones (I heard some big kids say that once).

And so I did.

Karen from Rokeby assured us the drive was easy. Well guess what? It was easy! And the tire held! And 60 minutes later we descended from the high, flat plains of Salisbury and my breath froze in my lungs as I saw the vast, sweeping, grey-hulled expanse of history that is Portsmouth. I had never seen so many ships in my entire life!

In this, the birthplace of Charles Dickens, there really was more to do than we could fit into a single day. We concentrated our time, therefore, on the Historic Dockyards. Upon purchasing the deluxe tourist pass, the highlights included:

The soaring Spinnaker Tower and it's 23-mile view out to the Isle of Wight:

Nelson's HMS Victory - the oldest commissioned ship in the Royal Navy:

And Henry VIII's ancient Mary Rose - cast in a haunting, waxy light:

Add to all this a boat tour of the harbour, a chance to climb around another vessel or two, some museums, and a most excellent Italian meal, and you've got a jam-packed day of salt-water, barnacles, and history.

As we drove back to Salisbury at the tired end of the day, it occurred to me that I'd learned a few things. First, driving in England could be tolerable (barely). Second, I'd been reminded of how much fun a family could have together. Third, my sense of direction still sucked. We got lost in Salisbury (again) and ended up in the maze of one-way streets in the old part of town that all the guide books say you must avoid.

After a few rolls of the dice, however, we magically were spat out from the mouse maze of narrow streets and found ourselves back at Rokeby House. And thus ended the day with cups of tea all around and some quiet journal writing. Tomorrow we would be traveling back in time even further - Stonehenge and beyond!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Computer Boy, Heal Thyself!

Back in the mid-70's, my younger cousin Joe received the gift of a new calculator which, in those days, was an expensive rarity to be owned only by engineering-types who only grudgingly gave up their slide rules. But for a young teen such as Joe - a non-geek - to own such a device meant instant celebrity status. In truth, this fueled a secret loathing in some of us covetous types as Joe - again, a non-geek - seemed to collect and discard these sorts of treasures on a regular basis. That's a subject for a different post, I think.

His calculator came with a book that detailed all sorts of neat tricks with numbers. The only ones I really remember today are how to make the display read "Shelloil", and how to calculate (and graph) your personal biorhythms.

Now, I never really believed in biorhythms but the notion always stuck in my head. I suppose it's due to the same brain-wiring that makes me open up the Freeps every morning to read my horoscope (yes, that's 2 strikes in one sentence). The last few weeks have made me think again about biorhythms - specifically the point at which the Emotional, Physical, and Intellectual cycles intersect at their lowest points. This, of course, would be a good time to lock the doors, open a book, and wait it out. To do otherwise would guarantee a Very Bad Day.


These last few weeks would seem to prove that biorhythms are real. Everything I've touched has gone to hell in pretty craptacular ways. I've been dull-witted (really), quite moody, and fighting perpetual fatigue. The evidence is tangible:
  • I installed a rather large closet organizer and, close to completion, I realized all the drywall anchors were installed backwards. I'm a reasonably handy fellow, but what should have been a 2-hour job turned into something closer to 5 hours.
  • I've been napping - every day. I never nap.
  • Closet organizer redux - It took me hours to realize that the (dozen) marks in the new hardwood floor were not a result of my awkward man-handling of the closet doors. Rather, they were caused by the metal legs of my step-stool where they had cut through the rubber feet. Lovely, huh? Thanks be to Xenu for creating matching wood filler.
  • BandGeek, my 15 year-old daughter, is barely talking to me this week. We don't quite see eye-to-eye on setting appropriate levels of usage for MSN chatting and text messaging on cellphones. Apparently I'm over-reacting. In other words, my temper is to be avoided this week.
  • The coup de grace - I inadvertently blew up my computer. With the PC case open, I moved the power cable to the CD drive every so slightly and exposed a heretofore unknown short in the CD power connection. This power lead also serviced 2 of the 3 hard drives in the PC - and they were toasted. Now, I've been an IT Guy for 25-ish years and I'm pretty handy in that department. In my neighbourhood, I'm the go-to Geek for PCs, plumbing, eletrical work, etc. Biorhythms don't care how clever I am, so it seems. It cost me 2 new drives, a whole bunch of re-install time, quite likely some videos I've been working on, and a great big glistening ball of my dignity.
This is just a partial list. It's been that bad. Just for giggles I checked my biorhythms for the past few weeks. As suspected, my cycles were at critically low levels. But, hey, things are looking up next week. I'm a believer now.

P.S. So why was Computer Boy here pushing wires around inside a working PC? He was checking for free memory slots in preparation for a few upgrades that would enable him to play Bioshock at decent settings. Sad, isn't he?