Sunday, 30 March 2008


Yes, this is the second exotic species to be seen by your correspondent within the past month!

So, today (after there was no organ music since the organist forgot to set his clock forwards and didn't make it to church, so they had to ask a nice lady to play the hymns on the piano with 30 seconds' notice -- titter), we had an excursionary activity!

Just for the Mama, there was a chaperone to make sure there was no sealing (or Horse-ing) about (tee hee -- this joke will come clearer momentarily).

Anyhoo... There are grey seals (Halichoerus grypus, meaning "hooked-nosed sea pig") which live off the coast of England (again, who knew? well, I actually did; but only since my move here.) and specifically off the Norfolk coast. There are boat trips out onto the North Sea to an island where they live, but but my abstemious nature for any spending of money on frivolity and my lack of planning ahead for personal gain have prevented my excursing there 'til now.

However, this past week during my food research day (when the vein search involved 3 stabs and I didn't even get woozy -- hoorah!), the cook told us about the seals at Horsey.

Horsey is a village with a pub and a windmill (actually a drainage windpump), on the coast north of Caister-on-Sea.

Liz is a student whom I met just over one year ago (eek!) at an exchange fair in Wollongong (just south of Syndey in Australia, where the water goes down drains backwards), and she is now at UEA for the Spring 2008 semester. She is brave and lives with 19- and 20-year-olds. She is awesome! So, we invited her to come along on our excursion today.

It was really good that I urged us to stop and get some wellies for her for the journey, as she had on very cute shoes at the beginning. We now have matching wellies in a black and white toile pattern (I do like to psychologically influence people to be just like me).

From the windmill, we were instructed by the nice National Trust man (as an easier route than going to the pub and walking from there as initially instructed by the cook -- which turned out to be slightly erroneous since they just wanted/needed our car park money, but it was VERY entertaining, fabulous exercise *at least 5 miles*, and got the wellies dirty which made me happy!)... anyhoo, we were instructed to go across the road, over the first stile, through a field, turn left, go over another stile, go to the end, turn right, go to the beach, cross the dunes (which are more than piddly little Florida dunes), turn right on the beach and walk for 10 minutes.

This is some of what we saw and did.

The first stile (to L). Note: There were no stock animals to chase us as in Carry On Camping (which I happened to watch just last evening).

The second stile (to R).

The Long and Muddy Road. It was rawther muddy. Poor E had to tuck his jeans legs into his socks and was therefore disguised as a Twitcher, with his new Zenith 10x50 binoculars (only £8 from the auction!) around his neck.

The Goal, the Gap (in the far distance). At the last stretch of road, we could see the gap which had only been visible through the bins before. And we headed for it.

It was a really pretty walk, and this was (I think) the hottest day of the year so far. It was 18C when we got back at 5 o'clock (this is almost 70F!). There is now a slight pinkish tinge to my face :)

Once we got to the beach, however, the seals were in the water right in front of us! Flitting about, surfacing and diving quite flirtatiously. It was all very exciting.

Turning to the right, we proceeded towards a large bank of rocks... oh... no, wait! Those are freaking SEALS! As Eamonn will now show us...

Seals do this sort of noise somewhere between cats rowwwwing at each other and cows mooing. I shall be happy to demonstrate to interested persons, as I enjoy making animal noises and teaching small children to do the same.

Several of the saucy ones followed us in the water as we walked along the beach observing their compatriots. Here is a video (this is a little slow in the upload, but just keep your panties on) of some of the sauciest ones, absolutely amazing when you consider that the camera was in my hands not more than 12 feet away, which you can see from the waves crashing outside the bottom of the frame.

E did some seal stalking and got some enviable pics (to R). In this pic of his, you can see both the (precious and massive) seal as well as the track of his galumphing movement across the sand.

These creatures are so cute and yet so unbelievably massive(!) [bulls weigh about 660 pounds and females weigh about half that], their eyes are huge, and they watch you extremely closely but not like they are afraid at all.
Truly thrilling, this was.

Have also discovered (despite protestations that this was silliness) that it IS possible to photograph through binoculars! However, this technique has much skill yet to be developed.


Afterwards, we slogged back up the dunes (whew!), and then down the long road to the Nelson's Head, and then back through the fields, and then across country towards Cromer for some fish and chips (mediocre from Mary Jane's Fish and Chip shop, I must say).

Along the drive, we passed daffodil farms, which clarifies the origins of the bunches of daffs that you seem to be able to buy everywhere...

This image also demonstrates the honor system of British culture for everything from free range eggs to hyacinth bulbs, and which I find refreshing, quaint and sad all at the same time (sad, because it is like the last gasp of a civilised society which is now turning to binge drinking and ASBO behaviour at both age 14 and age 65). The sign at the back says, '1 bunch, 35p' and '3 bunches, £1'

I am now pooped and shall retire to my beddy bye.

Depurgent Contartment

I am the Queen of Spoonerisms.

Or else, I am just getting old.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Easter irony

Sometimes, one wonders just how existence gets itself where it does. This will possibly make no sense at all and is very logically flawed (since i have not finished my first cuppa tea yet)...

The following things combined to make up my pre-Easter week:
* seeing flamingos in the wild in France
* discovering that I do not like brawn (which is hogshead cheese in American, I think -- it doesn't taste horrible, but it is bouncy. blegh!)
* house-cleaning as if it were the most commonplace thing in the world in a 14th-century church, which is my pet
* being locked out of my house (briefly) in a sleet storm (and loving it -- because i am odd)
* getting the response, 'Of course we are going' to a Southern-belle query as to whether the large snowflakes outside might indicate bad road conditions, danger, and the need to rush out and stock up on SPAM (they have that in this country for some reason; and it must be popular because the shelf section is so large and is even sometimes in the end display (!) eek.)
* driving through 4 or 5 snow flurries between Norwich and Cardiff
* seeing snow flurries between the most brilliant blue skies ever
* stopping for a Grande Vanilla Latte from Starbucks at the services (b-a-d Bruner, feeding monopolies, but c'est ci bon!)
* listening to 'Sweet Home Alabama' whilst crossing the border into Wales
* having Water Rat's Picnic read to me by a very good 6-year-old Irish phonetician
* teaching precious Irish children how to make a horse noise and how to say, 'My name is of no concern to you whatsoever!'
* meeting the Cockney Buddha and his missus for a good chinwag

It all combined to make for an acutely existential sense of awareness. It amused me, and I rather liked it :)

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Vernal Smurfing Equinox

Today is the first day of Spring!

Google has little plots of flowers making up the two 'o's. And, it is really rather cold. I wonder if all the birds who have been out tweeting around are thinking they arrived too soon.

Paul O'Grady had a Druid on his show this afternoon (it is so nice to be off work and able to be so productive!), who explained that Druids just, like, want to love nature and think good thoughts and hold hands standing in a circle and then go off to the pub. He said that Churchill was a Druid. I cannot find proof of this.

According to him, the vernal equinox occurred at 5.18am. I wonder if this is 5.18am GMT only, or if it goes wave-like around the world following time zones. I wonder if the vernal equinox knows about Daylight Savings Time. Oh dear! Here is a spring-ey picture from Montpellier (I thought last blog's quantity of photos was getting slightly excessive).
As well, there was a brief news item on the radio about a Smurf Convention or something similar. Although, your author is unable to document this story, I am rather in awe at the number of Smurf fans online. The history of the Smurfs is actually pretty interesting (this is the 50th anniversary year!), and an article in Der Spiegel is an informative analysis of the socio-cultural shifts since the cartoon and cartoon were first created. It apparently no longer is quite the Socialist ideal it once may have been.
In the upcoming Smurf movie (the first of a trilogy, dear God), 'they' have planned to have more female Smurfs.
Hey, I wonder where my old stuffed Smurf toys are... I kind of miss them. Laa-la-la-la-la-laaa, la-la-la-la-laaa!

Back to Normality

Well, normality for Norfolk, that is.

Having been out yesterday and today, there are really some funny-looking people around here (she says whilst sitting with her head covered in cling film).

It is also quite bitterly cold. This could be a result of having been spoilt by the lovely climate of south France. Yes, I did go to the country of cheese-eaters. And it was very fun and more interesting than my last trip a la France (and a £10 return, incl. taxes warmed my skin-flint heart). This entry shall be sprinkled with French phrases to prove my superior acquisition de la langue (and just to be obnoxious).

Kneece lives just outside Montpellier in Villeneuve-les-Maguelone. It is a tiny village from which one can walk out to the Cathedral de Maguelone; except we missed opening times and so only saw it from the land bridge that goes through the lagoon between the village and the island as the sun was setting. (So, obviously this mandates une autre voyage.)

Montpellier is located in the former Occitan region of France (now Languedoc-Roussillon; langue d'oc means 'language of the Occitan'), on the Mediterranean. Mostly the landscape is rolling but fairly flat, but there are mountains not too far away.

The region produces several appellations of wine. There are caves (wine sellers) vineyards and wineries all over the place. Even on the short walk towards the cathedral island, there was a new vineyard. The red dirt in the freshly-plowed field to the right caught the sunset really cooperatively.

Languedoc is one of the areas where the Cathars and their religion appeared in the 11th century. Cathars are rumored to have protected the Holy Grail. The last known prefect was executed in 1321, although certain groups still claim to be descendants and follow the religion.

On a completely different note: Who knew that des flamants live in France?! (I really thought they lived only in Africa and at Sea World, I am ashamed to say.) They are very loud avians, honking and fussing at each other. When they fly, they are rather ungainly :)

The village of Villeneuve is sleepy and very sweet, and people actually say, 'Bonjour!' in the street. You go to the bakery every day for fresh bread, and to the P'tit Marche if you did not bring enough vin back with you from the city. The thing that I noticed most was that in the towns, there is less green than in British cities, except on the outskirts when countryside begins.

Montpellier is a very pretty city and streets are still on medieval plans, so they are all wind-ey and small. Steps are all crooked-ey. Paving stones are surely not marble, but they are similar-looking and slippery when wet. This is trop dangereuse for clumsy-like persons such as myself. But they are sooooo pretty!

This is one of the murals qu'on trouve around the most innocuous-looking corners. If you look closely, you can see real mixed with picture (hint: some of the shutters are real). In the large fenetre at the right, the reflection is amazingly accurate of l'eglise en face.

It is tragically fascinating as well (due to being with people who live there and point it out) to see notices reminiscent of Occupation, Deportation, and Death. Missak Manouchian was part of the French Resistance.
There are tons of English-speaking expats there -- British, Americans, Canadians, Aussies, etc. -- so it is reasonable to find a place to rest from language fatigue, such as Shakespeare's Pub or Fitzpatrick's Irish Pub. Knowing information such as this is particularly useful if one needs for some reason to watch an international rugby union game. Eamonn sang 'Hymns and Arias' when Wales first scored against France and was congratulated by dozens of lovely French people at the end of the game (Wales won 29-12). Bear enjoyed himself immensely.

Le Place de la Comedie is the central plaza, bordered by cafes and at the end of which is the Opera. It is the spot which made Kneece fall in love with the city :)
I loved so many cultural things: cafes next to fountains; masses of people carrying baguettes at all hours of the day; tall, lovely windows and French doors; shutters and balconies; young people buying vin instead of litres of lager; the fact that one cooks at home when one has visitors; hundreds of cheeses, honeys, and wines. I think I could get used to the South.

People were really kind in response to my butchering of their language (only one bit of confusion when I said 'l'annee du Rat' erroneously pronouncing the 't'), and it was sad to have a flight out just when I was starting to get my memory and vocabulary back.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

12-mile Bike Ride

Not quite 12-mile Bayou (woo hoo!), and less prone to boaters boating around a curve and finding people in various embarrassing situations, but fun nonetheless.

Yesterday, E bought a bike.

This was very positive, since I have been really wanting to go cycling on the riverpath on the weekends, but it would be most rude to just say ,'Buh-byeee!' and toddle off by one's self leaving someone who moved across a country to your city (unless they were boring and wouldn't think that was fun in the first place, in which case toddling off without them is fine).

This afternoon (after church and lunch), we rode almost to Thorpe Marriott, which is a little village on the northeast side of the city. Norwich Riverside Walk along the River Wensum joins up with Marriott's Way, which is a 21-mile trail that is an old railway line that runs from Hellesdon to Aylsham.

It goes through fields and countryside, woodsy patches, grassy hills covered with daffodils, and paddocks (or just open places) with gypsy ponies tied with chains to stakes in the ground. Some of the fields have been plowed. There are new bunny warrens and old ones with leaves in the little doorways.

Violets and cherry blossoms are out.

Swans are feeling feisty.

There were lots of people out walking, tiny kids with their little training wheels on, exhuberant doggies out on constitutionals with their people, and ASBO children playing with fire extinguishers.

Although it is getting warmer, a few of the horses are still wearing their little coats. Perhaps they are not as intriguing or as inspiring as large dogs wearing ludicrously festive bandanas, but I think they are quite charming in my simple, easily-amused spirit.

There was even a kitty on the trail waylaying unsuspecting passersby with tarty purrs and rollings in the dust (while other cyclists were having to attempt to find a pesky puncture).

It was a good day, and then E learnt how to make red beans and rice. The butcher suggested African sausage to me as what 'all the Americans always ask for' (could we use any more generalisationalistic phrase?), and it was excellent. I am pooped.

Happy riding!

St. David's Day at St. Clement's

Last Saturday was our first Saturday at our pet church! The goal is to open it every Saturday from 11a-2p. The daffodil is the Welsh national flower, and good Welsh people wear one on St. David's Day (just in case some readers may have missed last year's explanation).

And it is also my goal to move some of the dust and cobwebs to the outside of the building :)

There is a LOT of dust and a LOT of cobwebs. There is a LOT of dust IN the cobwebs.

Cobwebs are particularly black on the monuments, and there are lots of little crevices, and drunken-looking cherubs with fiddly wings, for them to stick to. On the monuments are also some interesting shields -- I think it might be interesting to see what some of these people did, as this shield makes one think that perhaps this person was someone Colonial.

So far, in two Saturdays, I have lightly brushed away the cobwebs within my reach on the white stucco around about 2/3 of the walls. It feels a bit naughty to be standing on the pews, but one must clean. I think I need my Oma here to supervise :)

Have barely made a dent in the dust, although quite a significant amount has been exported. This week, I collected the sweeping dust into a bucket rather than flitting out after each sweep.

There is a lot of carved wood on the Victorian furnishings within. This is a detail of the front of the pulpit. On the ends of pews are carved Christian symbols.

This photo shows some of the fire damage to the organ. The guy who set it on fire, David Pitts, 52, was sentenced 2 weeks ago. He is to serve 9 months and then be supervised when he is released. It seems a bit un-punative to send him to prison since he lit the fire so as to go back to prison.

Although the pews look lovely in the sunlight, they need some conditioning. The Churches Trust man was alarmed by my mention of lemon oil -- it is non-existent in this country, which Paul and I think is really silly since they have so much old crap :) Paul kindly located something British online, which is named much less frighteningly 'Wood Reviver'. If can get permission, 5 litres at £50 seems worth it, as it will make me quite thrilled to see healthy wood and hopefully it will also have a lovely clean smell. I am pretty easy to please (in an obsessive compulsive sort of way) :)

My (well, our) pet church makes me quite happy!

[Last week, there were about 10 people who came in while the sign was out, and this week (I was actually by myself since I left Eamonn at the auction to do my nefarious bidding -- mwah, hah, hah -- this is another story for another time) there were close to 20 people! Admittedly, the last person was a madman from Uruguay who randomly (and repeatedly) told me about some German battleship sunk off the coast of Montevideo by three British ships. What this had to do with the church was a little beyond my comprehension, but he did keep pointing to under the tombstones. Then he told me he had never had a woman in his life, just on his way out the door.]

Friday, 7 March 2008

Lazy Cheese-eating Surrender Monkeys

Right, although cannot find web-based story, it seems that several contestants on L'isle da Tentation (Temptation Island) were unhappy at how hard they were forced to work during their two weeks of filming. They had to get up early and stay up late, even if they were 'shattered'. Pauvres petits.

So, even though they applied to be contestants (with no record of coercion involved); had the 'privilege' of being selected; went off for 2 weeks to be filmed and have their 15 minutes of fame... it was haaaaaaaard.

They sued.

They won.

They got £20,000 in remunerations.


I believe this the country from which Louisiana gets its illustrious legal tradition? Zootalo!

In other news, this was the Radio 4 forecast this morning:
'Sunny spells with blustery showers. It will be breezy.'
The end.
(I almost snorted my tea)
Of course, this is absolutely accurate, and you actually do know what that means if you live here. But, really, that combination of words into a meteorological communication is rather amusing.

Further, there are ongoing discussions of: National ID cards, binge drinking, and the extended diploma system (which is going to give high school certifications for things like creativity).

AND, I have rescued a piece of art from the trash and surprised E with how it is actually not entirely a piece of rubbish at all! Cleaned it last evening to miraculous results -- it was a moldy mess. (Photos later)

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Well, hail!

At the moment, the ground is a pocky blanket (albeit a chilly blanket) of pea-sized pellets! From the 4th floor window (5th floor in American), it is very pretty and the sound of the tic-tic against the window was exciting while it was going on.

Now the large grey cloud is speeding away towards the centre and there is nothing but blue sky.

This is the second time it has hailed in about 15 hours! There is a rumour of snow (and some has reportedly fallen this morning close to Yarmouth), but I am probably the only person who is anticipating such nonsense :)

Of course, even if I were to be snowed in tomorrow (!), it wouldn't be like I could tackle any laundry, seeing as my machine is broken, and the new machine cannot be delivered until the 17th... when I am in France. grrrrrr.

..and we all chuckle hysterically.