Sunday, March 16, 2014

Greetings From London

Well it took a year and a quarter, but I'm back in London again, this time travelling with five members of the History Club; Sara Meldon, Marina Baker, Katie Woeckener, Emily King and our peerless leader, Teresa Mock.

We arrived on Friday morning, and it has been non-stop since. Our hostel is in a row house just to the north of the center of the city about 10 minutes from Wildiners Green on the Jubilee Line, so travelling is very convenient. Friday was spent mostly walking around the center of Westminster and a hop-on, hop-off bus tour which extended out to the East End and Canary Wharf.

Weather has been spectacular so far. For those of you still in the frozen tundra of Bethany, check this out from St. James Park just outside Buckingham Palace.

Saturday was spent wandering through the park, the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square--which is partly shut down to prepare for the St. Patrick's Day bash tomorrow--Piccadilly Circus, more on the bus to Hyde Park and Mayfair, and then dinner in Chinatown off Leicester Square. Shoppers among you may recognize perhaps the most famous department store in the world, Harrod's.

Today is the traditional Changing of the Guard at the palace, perhaps the Imperial War Museum, and then a stroll through Hyde Park as the weather is again absolutely wonderful.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Coming To the End

Well, folks, coming to the end of a fabulous semester here at Harlaxton College in Harlaxton Manor. Finished grading my last final about an hour ago and have turned in all my grades. We leave tomorrow for Heathrow Airport and then out on Thursday and back to Pittsburgh by evening where I can't wait to see my lovely wife again--Skype is nice but it ain't the same. Sorry I didn't get a last post out on the events surrounding the end of the term, but I was just too busy. When I get back to Bethany I'm planning to prepare a full presentation on my semester here and what our students can expect when they enroll. I'll be sure to post that on this blog by the beginning of the new year so those of you who were faithful followers can see it as well as those on campus.

As I told the students and staff the other night during the choir's rendition of a new anthem for the school, "O Harlaxton," written by Dr. Kay Gandy a visiting prof here this term from Western Kentucky U., I myself was only 21 years old when I first came to England. That trip--done by myself at the insistence of David Judy--gave me the wanderlust which I still have. I was 60 last Sunday, and in the interim I've been to the continent numerous times, Africa, Asia several times, Australia and New Zealand, and of course back to the UK many, many times. But with the exception of my honeymoon 10 years ago, this has been the best because of this place and the students and staff of Harlaxton College. My wish for them was that they will still have the wanderlust 40 years on.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

One Last Day Trip

Well, folks, the countdown has begun. Yesterday was the last Saturday I had free before returning to the States. Next Saturday, Dec. 1, is the Harlaxton Christmas parties, one for staff and their families in the afternoon and one for students and faculty in the evening. The choir will be singing carols for each, so I'll need to be here. Finals also begin that day and run through Wednesday morning, Dec. 5. Then it's off to Heathrow for the flight home on the sixth.

So, yesterday, Dr. Jim Larner and I went over to Ely near Cambridge to view what is one of the most unusual cathedrals in England. It has a octagonal tower crowned by a wooden lantern which links the transept, the nave, and the quire. The first church on the site was erected by St. Ethelraeda in 673 AD. The cathedral itself dates from the 12th century and the parts from that time are in the Romanesque style. However, in the 1322 the Norman tower at the transept collapsed in a heap. So, a new tower had to be built. It was built in the Gothic style, and the octagonal shape, unique in English cathedrals, was adopted to reunite the various areas of the church. Here is a shot of it from the outside.

Note the octagonal stone walls and the wooden lantern which sits atop the tower.

The cathedral also boasts the fourth longest nave in England which you can get some idea of from this photo. The ceiling of the nave is completely covered in paintings, highly unusual.

We toured the Octagonal Tower, and suffice it to say that it was fascinating. Once we reached the lower roof of the tower, we went out to look at the flying buttresses erected to support the transept's roof and seen in this photo.

Then it was through the rabbit hole into the lantern itself and up to the panels--32 of them--that can be seen from the floor of the nave, 110 feet below.

Believe it or not, I made it through that opening as well, but I would not recommend it to people who suffer from claustrophobia. The spiral staircase it opens into is not much bigger and very steep. However, once you get up those steps and can breath again, you are inside the lantern structure among the timbers, all original, that hold the thing in place.

As you can see, they didn't even bother to completely finish some of the trees, just stripped them of their bark. Some of these timbers were about 300 years old when they were cut down in the 14th century, making them as old as the Norman Conquest. The timbers were assembled on the ground, then each joint was marked with a numbering system. They were then taken apart, hoisted by hand up to the top of the tower and re-assembled. Some of you may recall the timbers in the middle portion of the Campbell Mansion done in the same fashion with carpenter's marks to guide the re-assembly, which you can see in the cutaway spot io the wall leading to the second floor.

On the right of the photo above you can see some framing. That is the back of one of the 32 images, created in 1874 as part of a 50-year restoration project of the entire cathedral. I had some trouble trying to get pics of these as when one of them was opened into the space above the transept, my camera didn't like the contrasting light values apparently. Here's one pic, however taken from the opening on one side of the lantern looking across at another panel opening.

I'm very sorry that I couldn't get any better pictures because it is truly amazing. And, if you look down, it is a 110-foot freefall to the floor. Pretty hairy. Then it was back down the rabbit hole and out onto the roof again and then back to the transept landing before the descent back to the nave. I took this picture of just one panel of one of the stained glass windows in the transept on our way down. These windows are not from the Middle Ages but replacements following the iconoclasm of the Reformation.

All in all, a wonderful last visit to a unique cathedral. Now, down to the last week and preparing for finals. It's very good to be on the academic calendar again rather than the administrative one. With teaching, there are built in stopping points every few months where you have to come to a halt whether you are ready to or not. With administrative work, it just goes on and on and on and on and on and. . .

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Holiday Season Is Upon Us

Well, the holidays have caught up with us here at Harlaxton Manor, and the festivities are coming fast and furious now as we careen toward the end of the semester. Wednesday night was the choir's Christmas Concert featuring traditional English carols, a lovely set of pieces by the flute quartet, a lovely dance piece by 13-year-old Maria Siewers whose father is a professor here this fall, and an altered version of the 12 Days of Christmas written by some of the students, in the performance of which yours truly played a not altogether small part.

Then, yesterday, it was Thanksgiving at Harlaxton. Now, it is NOT an official holiday here, so we had classes all day--first time I've ever worked on Thanksgiving Day I think. But then, the fire was lit in the Great Hall.

And, at 6 we had a lovely Thanksgiving Service presented by the Christian Students Fellowship and Dr. Woodrow Burt, recently retired president of Hannibal-LaGrange University in Missouri. Then it was a Thanksgiving Dinner with all the trimmings in the Long Gallery, including turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.

And, this afternoon at 2:30 the of the Christmas Tree in the Great Hall. It is at about30 feet tall and came from the back garden of a home in the village. It had gotten too big for the space. and so the couple donated it to the college.

Members of the staff brought the tree in this morning and set it up in a stand that is about a 3-foot cube of plywood and 2x4s.

Meanwhile Dr. Caroline Magennis (left) and students warmed themselves by the fire. You can see just how massive the fireplace is. That's Ben Wraith, Dean of Students, on the right looking toward the camera.

Not much time left. Classes next week, and finals begin on Saturday, Dec. 1. I have exams on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, and then we are out on Wednesday for the flight home on Thursday. Can't believe that a whole semester has gone by. I'll be posting a couple of more times, but I hope you have enjoyed these electronic postcards from my excellent adventure at Harlaxton College, and I hope that some of our students will be inspired to come here for a term in the future.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

When a Man is Tired of London. . .

. . .He is Tired of Life.

Bet you can't guess where this shot was taken from.

If you guessed the very top of St. Paul's Cathedral Dome on the Golden Gallery, 528 steps and 280 feet above the floor of the nave, you'd be correct. Here's looking at it from the ground.

And here is a diagram of my climb through the Whispering Gallery, the Stone Gallery, and all the way to the Golden Gallery.

Not bad for a guy who will be 60 in a couple of weeks and who smoked for about 40 of those years!

I was there as part of the college's day in London for the students with a visit to Christopher Wren's masterpiece St. Paul's Cathedral, built in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London in 1666. Buried under a plain slab in the crypt near the grandiose tombs of Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington, Wren's epitaph says simply, "If you would seek his monument, look around you." And a magnificent monument it is. Photos are not permitted in the cathedral proper or the Crypt, but one of the stairways which I had to negotiate on the climb from the Stone Gallery to the Golden Gallery actually goes between the outer cover of the dome--lead roofing--and an inner structure of brick which holds the actual ceiling of the dome, as you can see in diagram presented above. The outer layer is supported by huge beams such as these.


At @ 300 feet off the ground the view from the Golden Gallery was spectacular except for one minor detail, the London weather yesterday. For those of you who know London, I could not even see that great monstrosity The London Eye from the cathedral as you see in this photo taken looking up river in the general direction of Westminster.

The bridge on the left is Blackfriars Bridge, underneath which the chief executive of a major Italian bank, Banco Ambriosiano, Roberto Calvi was found hanging in 1982 after a scandal brought down the bank. As the bank's chief shareholder was the Vatican Bank--yes that Vatican--you can imagine that there was some sensation surrounding all of this. (Anyone remember the poster on my door touting the First Presbyterian Bank 'O Scotland?). Turning further to the left, we can see the Millennium Footbridge across the Thames to the Tate Modern Gallery, housed in the old Bankside Power Station which generated electricity from 1952 to 1981 before being decommissioned. Imagine such a creative use of an old power station in America!

Well, after the visit to St. Paul's it was off down Fleet Street for a quick pint at, all together now former English majors, The Cheshire Cheese, Dr. Johnson's favorite watering hole. It was "rebuilt" in 1667 the year after the Great Fire.

Then down to Whitehall for a brief stop at the Cenotaph, Great Britain's memorial originally to the dead of World War I and later as the center of all her Remembrance Day observances. Here are just some of the wreaths of Flanders poppies left by various groups as they marched past the monument last Sunday.

Then it was on to the Westminster Arms pub across the street from the Abbey for a quick pint before Evensong at 5 in the Quire of the Abbey. The pub was a regular hangout for Members of Parliament in the last century and even had a bell installed to alert MP's when a vote (division of the house) had been called and that they needed to drink up in a hurry and pop back over to the House.

 I first found this place some years ago when we were on our way to The Gambia and some students and I stopped in while awaiting the Evensong service at Westminster.

And after a rather adventurous bus ride back to the Manor, spent Saturday with Harold and Helen Cotterill, parents of Steven Cotterill, '88. Lovely visit at their home in Buckden.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Are You Goin' to Scarborough Fair?

I did--well I went to Scarborough last Thursday, but there was no fair. Scarborough sits on the Yorkshire coast and was another one of those seaside resort towns that began to blossom in the latter part of the 19th Century as leisure time became a reality for more of the emerging middle class. It is situated in a lovely bay that has actual sand beaches, unlike most seaside towns in England. That alone gave it some attraction, although the water is the North Sea, so it is basically freezing!

Here is a shot of the South Bay from the top of the bluff where the hotels are located.

And behind it my hotel

The whole point of coming up here was to rent a car the next day and travel on up the coast to Whitby, site of the Synod of Whitby in 664 AD and the showdown between the Irish Church which had survived for almost 300 years cut off from the rest of Christian Europe and the newly returned Roman Church. The issues ranged from how to date Easter to the structure of monasteries and the like, and in the end the Roman view won out and the Isles were re-connected with the continent again.

On the drive up to Whitby, stopped in at Robin Hood Bay--no nothing to do with the Sherwood Forest guy, just a name--for a spot of tea (well coffee really) at the Victoria Hotel.

The bay is gorgeous and very "out of the way." A great place to come if you wanted to get away from everyone for a few days, but understand that that is exactly what you would be doing, so don't whine about nothing to do but walk along the cliffs and sit by the fire in the pub.

Then it was on to Whitby. Now there have been abbeys at Whitby since the 7th century, including the home of Northumbrian poet Caedmon which was laid waste by the Vikings in the 9th century. The one that is there now lies in ruins as a result of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in Henry VIII's time. So this is all that is left.

Unfortunately, from November til February the National Trust doesn't think that people should be visiting such places during the week only the weekend, so I was not able to get onto the grounds this being a Friday! So, I hopped back in the car and began a drive through the North Yorkshire moors back to Scarborough by way of Pickering. Unfortunately, the batteries in my camera had given out when I took the above photo, so  you will just have to take my word for it that it was a lovely drive. I am particularly fond of the kind of blasted landscapes that you find in this area, no trees except in the shallow valleys, and only sheep and heather on the flatland. Got back to Scarborough and thought I would check out the castle there, but again, closed this time of year except on the weekends.

So, moral of the story, don't plan to sightsee during the winter months on weekdays. Off to London on Friday for a school trip to St. Paul's Cathedral designed by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666 and whose dome is an icon of the London skyline.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

In the Shadow of the Wars

Two events yesterday, Nov. 6, brought home how timeless the memories of wars past are in this country, one a harmless lark and the other more somber. First the fun one. A veteran from the Royal Engineers was on campus for the Remembrance Day service in Pegasus Courtyard, and he wanted to check out a relic from the Second World War found recently in a pasture just over the top of the ridge behind the Manor. It is an old Allan Williams turret used to mount a Bren Gun or a Lewis Gun, or whatever was at hand, in the dark days of 1940 when invasion by the Nazis was a real threat.

Manufactured quickly and in the thousands, these steel turrets were embedded across the countryside at airfields and other key installations, as well as important roadways and junctions. Manned by a crew of two, they could be fitted for anti-aircraft or anti-personnel firing. Gary Weight, late of the Royal Engineers and now head of Pegasus Normandy Tours in France, invited me to come along with him and get some pictures of the turret with a Bren mounted in it--which he conveniently happened to have, decommissioned of course--in situ as it were.

Anyway, off we went up Swine Hill and around to the back of the estate, pulling off to the side of the road at a small gate into a pasture. Then it was over the gate and under the electric fence to reach the turret, still sitting where it had been installed during the war. There was an emergency landing field there for damaged aircraft to use instead of crashing on the airfields in the area and putting them out of commission for a time, and this turret was situated to defend it.

And, this is the result. The first one shows how the gun would have been mounted for anti-aircraft fire.

This one would have been for covering anyone trying to approach the turret from the ground.

The turret could swivel about 180 degrees, but of course the tracks are all rusted now. The college is considering raising funds to have the thing removed from the pasture and brought onto the Manor proper or gaining access to it from the tree line in the background which marks the edge of the college's property.

Also, as mentioned above, a much more somber event yesterday as well when members of the local Parachute Regiment Association came to Harlaxton Manor to conduct a Remembrance Ceremony in the Pegasus Courtyard (see my post of Aug. 24). Ceremonies like this are conducted all over the country this week in the run-up to Remembrance Day, Nov. 11. Though it now honors the memory of all those who gave their lives in the wars of the 20th Century, it will always be particularly connected with the end of what is still called here simply The Great War, i.e. World War I. Members of the Paras were here because of this manor's connection with the British 1st Airbourne Division and its heroic failure at Arnhem during Operation Market Garden in World War II. As my own uncle fought in that battle, trying desperately to open the road north to relieve the British Paras trapped at Arnhem, I was invited to meet some of the veterans before the ceremony began. Although none were in the actual Market operation, several were veterans of WWII and now in their late 80s.

The ceremony took place in the courtyard and included remarks by one of the paratroopers, the laying of a wreath of poppies on the memorial, and the playing of Last Post, the British equivalent of our Taps, by a lone trumpeter. Here is Dr. Gordon Kingsley, Principal (dean) of Harlaxton College offering a prayer during the ceremony.

And, here a member of the honor guard lays the wreath on the memorial

All in all, a very moving service attended by the great bulk of our students and college staff.