Friday, January 18, 2008

Norwich Castle

So, what do you think?

That's what we thought too - that's not a proper castle! What were they thinking ...?

But wait! There's more!

First we had to make some decisions about what to pay to go inside.

There are zones! We decided that - interesting as it might be - we had not come to see the art gallery. So we chose the castle and history zone, and then we opted for a guided tour of the battlements and the dungeon.

Just like the Tardis

The inside almost seems bigger than the outside - and certainly a whole lot more interesting. The outside facade was built in the Victorian era, but the inside is still very old.

There are lots of displays of different kinds, puzzles and games for kids (big and small), and models, and electronic displays and reconstructions. We found it very interesting.

There were guides who gave an interesting tour - for no extra cost - and as well as the dummies (above), there were various people walking around in period dress.

The Battlements

The battlements tour costs a little extra, and it's truly freezing cold up there at this time of year!

But the views, of course, were brilliant, and as we walked around each of the four sides of the castle keep we were told stories relating to buildings and landmarks we could see and the history of the castle over the centuries.

The Dungeons

For hundreds of years the castle became a prison. For a little extra again we did a tour of the dungeons below the section of castle outside the keep.

Obviously not a good place to take photos ... this was a dunking chair. There were a number of death masks - molds made from the dead faces of hanged criminals hundreds of years ago. Some of them had interesting stories to tell.

The Great Hall

In the main keep one of the displays was a model of the castle in its early days. I stuck my phone up to the window of the doll's house sized model and took a photo of the feasting going on inside.

The "Borrowers" (remember the old books??) would have fun in a place like that.

But all in all it is an interesting place, well worth a visit.

Concrete and Rabbits

Working at UEA

We are working at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, teaching English for Academic Purposes to International students who are hoping to do university courses. We actually work for a company called INTO, which operates at three universities - here, Exeter, and Newcastle. Some of our students are preparing to start a degree course, others are wanting to enter the second year of a degree course, and others have completed a degree in their own country and want to do a masters degree here - in English.

The student newspaper is called Concrete. Its not hard to see why:

Its not the prettiest piece of architectural design we have ever seen. Although they obviously have tried to go for interesting shapes ...

... its probably more the overwhelming greyness of the concrete that gives it a touch of 'grim'.

Clearly this is a bad time of year to get an impression of the place. There are sections that will obviously be delightful in sunny weather ...

... when everything has dried out a little and the plants have recovered. There are lots of trees, which will soften the view when they have leaves again,

and the grass will be more green and less muddy and trampled.

At the heart of the campus there is a central courtyard with (cement) steps all around, and a (cement) water feature that presently has no water, and several shops and cafes. When the weather is kind enough for it to be filled with some of the 13 000 students sitting around on the steps - instead of rushing past all huddled against the rain and wind - I'm sure it will be much prettier.

The Broad. You may have heard of the Norfolk Broads - they are of course waterways by another name. The university has its very own broad, a man-made one.

If you slush your way across the muddy grass to the broad and look back at the university, it is very attractive. This, of course, is where all the shots are taken from for the brochures - and, oddly enough, I haven't taken any pictures of that side. So if you go here, for instance, you can see photos that look very different from the ones above.

What about the Wabbits?

The Students Union also has a publication, it's called "Rabbit".

There are rabbits all over the place - anywhere that there is grass - hopping about (digging holes), nibbling grass, quite unconcerned about the 13 000 pairs of feet tromping by.

I haven't got any pics of them - well, you know what a rabbit looks like, and they don't look much on a photo, and they are not stupid enough to let me get that close to them to take a really good picture.

Squirrels too. They know that if they are on the other side of the tree trunk I can't get to them, and I feel a bit daft chasing them round and round ...

Work and Chaos

Funny how the two are linked, isn't it? If everything went swimmingly, it wouldn't be any fun - where's the adventure in that?

Talking of swimmingly ... there was a flood in the Arts building (the centre for our admin until the new 'INTO' building is finished) just before term started. It wasn't the rain (it's a multi-storey concrete building), but a burst radiator in one of the upper floors. What got wet? Well, amongst other things: our contracts, the teachers' induction handbooks - things that would have been extremely useful to us at this time.

So we muddle our way along, discovering important information by the stumble method. People seem to be endlessly saying, "Oh, haven't you got a .... yet?" "Haven't you done your ... yet?"

Oh yes, I know, it will get easier ...

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Wintery Weather

We've passed the shortest day - and they really are short - and the longest night. But, as Susanne kept warning us: as the days begin to lengthen so the cold begins to strengthen. Apparently the coldest weather is yet to come.

We have a brilliant (brand new) boiler in our little terraced house, and indoors stays toastie warm.

This morning I looked outside - lovely sunshine! What a pretty day. We headed down the pavement to our car, and we noticed that some cars were coated with thick ice. And some weren't.

We were chuckling about that, until we got to ours ... thick rime of ice all over. Very pretty of course. The front windscreen squirter did the job on the front windscreen, but Peter had to use his fingernails on the back window (poor dear, I helped him to warm up his hands after).

Guess we had better invest in a can of that "de-icer" stuff that other people have.

Still waiting for some proper snow, though. Stephanie tells us they've had snow in Istanbul - not like last year. We had some snow here the other day. Just teeny tiny little white balls floating down, only a few. Not like flakes, like minuscule bits of polystyrene. Gone after a few minutes.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Norwich New Year

On Sunday we wandered into the city centre looking for a church, specifically Norwich Central Baptist Church - after our good experience with Upton Vale Baptist in Torquay.

Being December 30th, congregational numbers were considerably down on normal, but they are definitely a cheerful, friendly lot. We noticed a sign-up sheet for a New Year's Day walk followed by home-made soup!) and figured this would be a good way to meet people, and even see a little of Norwich.

The walkers were obviously a very august group - we fitted right in there. "Going for walks" is a very English activity, and one gets all kitted up in good strong mud-proof boots, and many people like to carry two poles - I was offered a pair (maybe I was looking a bit lame) but I noticed none of this group were using them, although we have seen many walkers heading across fields on public footpaths dragging on their double poles.

Graham, our esteemed leader explained the route across the marshes - not too muddy at present - and along the way stopped to point out various landmarks and great houses, explaining their history and which local family had lived there over the centuries.

The Brits are amazing like that, how they know and own their lords and ladies and all their business.

Graham explained that at some point we would see a mare, with swans on it. Even the rest of the group looked at each other with puzzled expressions.

There were quite a few different kinds of gate to pass through across the fields. This one is a "kissing gate" - you push the gate, go around the end of it, then push it back the other way and walk through. There was a sign that said "Don't feed the horses" - unfortunately the horses couldn't read it and really wanted to be fed. Black-and-whitey here was in the kissing gate, and had to be physically pushed out of the way so we could get through.

We saw a lot more horses along the way, and walked along the river and past this pond ... with swans on it.

The chaps called it a "mere", and Graham pronounced it "mare", and there were swans on it!

Finally we all headed back to Graham's place for a delicious soupy lunch and some great conversation.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Christmas in the Fens

Our friends, Crosby and Susanne, have a "nanny and manny" job in Wilburton, near Ely, which is near Cambridge, in the "Fens".

Apparently, years age, Ely was an island in the sea of the fens under water. They drained it, and nowadays continue to pump water. There used to be windmills everywhere, but now only a few remain. Its all a bit like Holland, I suppose.

So the folks and their kids went skiing in France over Christmas, leaving our friends to celebrate with us in their 16th century mansion.

That would be our room at the top right.

Lovely room ... but icy cold. That's five (5) thick thick doonas ... sorry, duvets ... on the beds. And there are 4 hot water bottles hiding in there. And still Peter slept with his jacket over his head so that he could breathe. We just couldn't believe that being indoors didn't seem to be much warmer than out of doors.

The room next door to ours had skylights

with ice on them.

There was, of course, a boiler - an old defunct one, and a newly installed one - which was apparently not fully operational yet.

So Peter and Crosby spent a lot of time working on the fire in the living room

which seemed to have very little effect on the overall temperature, despite its pleasant ambiance.

Obviously the kitchen was the place to be

and where we spent a lot of our time. Especially Susanne, who discovered that leaning on the stove was the best place to read a book.

Obviously, we couldn't spend all of our time indoors, we had to venture out eventually ...

Christmas lights in London

We took the train into London to have a look at the Christmas lights in Oxford Street, and all that area. Well, forget the lights - people in the 'burbs have better displays on their houses. But it was fun to push our way through the crowds and soak up some British culture, or whatever you call it. There were lots of houses with plaques on them telling us of famous people who had lived there, or done something memorable there.

We walked and walked, and when all our little legs were thoroughly weary we went to get back on the train. We had just missed the last one by about two minutes - at 4pm. Due to works being done on various lines we had to catch a train to somewhere else, and then a bus, and then another train, and finally change trains for the last little bit. You could say that was value for money getting all that travel on the one little return ticket!

Next morning I got up and went downstairs to find somewhere warm. The sun had just risen, and the moon was still 'up'. Very pretty, and cold.


We took a trip into Cambridge - now there's an amazing place. So many beautiful buildings, colleges and churches.

Kings College Chapel - you can see a queue of people wanting to buy tickets for the carol performance that day - just one of the many beautiful buildings in Cambridge.

Famous round church - one of two in England, if I remember rightly.

Punts on the river, obviously a summertime activity really.

Nevertheless it is a very beautiful place, and we had a delightful day wandering around.

Christmas Day at the cathedral

We decided to attend the service at Ely cathedral. Ely is not a very big place, and yet it has a very grand cathedral. Our friends explained that back in the day - when the place was mostly under water - Ely was the island that everyone came to and was very important.

I didn't take any photos - seemed a little impolite in a church service, especially as my discrete little phone makes a loud camera click noise. There were all the ceremonial bits - incense, and chanting and bobbing - and yet it was a very enjoyable (almost inspirational) service.

The building was, not surprisingly, very chill. And I was desperate for a WC. We hurried out at the end of the service and followed signs to two local public conveniences, but they were all locked up - well, who needs these things on Christmas Day?

Going to the races

We all decided to enrich our cultural experience with a trip to the Huntingdon steeplechase on Boxing day.

We were a little taken aback with the numbers of other people who apparently shared our clever idea - the queue into the racetrack car park stretched at least a mile down the A14, and we missed the start of the first race at 1.00pm.

Then we joined the queue paying to get into the grandstand area ... but the 15 pounds each almost sent us scuttling back home again. Then we discovered the Picnic area, for only 7 pounds each, and decided to stay awhile.

We were right up against the rail, and enjoyed the brief moment when the horses came pounding over 'our' jump.

It was well past lunch time and we just got too cold and hungry, so Peter and Crosby went to hunt for food.

Forty minutes in these queues yielded a few sausage baguettes and lukewarm coffee.

Horse down

Then there was another race, and we huddled together to watch. One of the horses coming over our jump stumbled and fell right in front of us. The jockey hurriedly extracted his leg from under his prostrate horse and, to cries of "stay down!", rolled himself into a ball to avoid the thundering hooves off the other horses. Finally he jumped up and went to remove his horse's saddle - but the horse just lay there on its side, twitching its head a little.

A horse float with "horse ambulance" on the side came rushing over, and some men approached the horse carrying what we thought was a very large stretcher. But in fact it was a screen, which they erected around the horse on the ground. The crowd watched and waited - many of us were expecting to hear a gunshot.

Suddenly they removed the screen, and there was the horse, standing up! The crowd cheered and clapped - although probably most of them weren't as surprised as we were, they would have seen this before.

Back to the mansion

When we got back to Wilburton there were a lot of cars parked at the mansion - the chaps had all come to use the mobile hide (which is stored there) to go and do a bit of pheasant shooting. We could hear the 'pop! pop! pop!' of them shooting off somewhere in the fields.

Apparently they popped 59, a 'good' day's hunting, I suppose. And a brace of pheasants were donated to the folks at the mansion.

Normal in Norwich

Of course no one we meet ever thinks we are normal. They ask us simple questions like "Where are you from?" and we can't seem to give a straight answer ... and then they detect some sort of 'twang' in our speech and wonder if we are from America, or maybe New Zealand.

Well, we are far more normal than that, folks! Not only are we from Australia, but we are from Western Australia.

But just for now we are going to be living in England ... oops, sorry, here we call it 'the UK' ...
We are going to be living in the UK in a normal house - a 'delightful' Victorian terraced house in a normal street (with nowhere to park our car because there is a double yellow line outside our front gate.)

Across the Country

We were living peacefully - though not very normally and certainly not profitably - in beautiful hilly Torquay, in Devon. We had an idea which didn't work out, at least at this time of year, and so we ended up spending a couple of months pottering around like a couple of retirees with nothing definite to do ... pleasant enough but a little scary to see how quickly retirement can turn into endless lie-ins and, in foul weather, not leaving the house for days at a time, glued to the computer and/or TV screen.

And then 'they' said would we like to have jobs again and come to East Anglia right now?

We spent several days peering at Google Earth aerial photos of Norwich, comparing them with ads for rental properties, trying to work out where we would live. 'Moving over Christmas ... that's difficult!' the agents all said - they all closed down from several days before Christmas until several days after. And there were referencing checks to be done, and they couldn't possibly let us have a place that we hadn't viewed.

We were intending to spend Christmas with our Australian friends, Crosby and Susanne, near Cambridge (only an hour from Norwich), so we could just keep on going from there. We persuaded an agent to do our referencing by email, and our new boss went and looked over the house.

So we popped our bags of clothes into the car. And we lugged our telly into the car. (Yes, I said 'telly', that's what they say here.) And then the car was full, but there was a whole lot more stuff to take - like cans of beans, and towels and pillows, and last minute stuff. So we filled up every last little hole with this and that - we had to be really careful about opening the back doors because stuff would come tumbling out.

All the way by motorway

British roads are brilliant. We found we could go up to Exeter onto the M5, then north to Bristol and switch to the M4, then east to London's ring-road the M25, around the northside of London as far as the M11, and then all the way to Norwich (although by then is is only the A11). It's a six-hour trip, nothing to an Aussie.

When we left Torquay it was cold ... but it got colder as we got away from the coast. Our car has an outside temperature thermometer, and it didn't rise above 0.5 degrees until around midday when the weak sunshine broke through the mist and sloped across the hills to touch the road.

The biggest problem was the black muck that was thrown up onto the windscreen, and then it would set (or maybe freeze). Soon enough our windscreen washer was out of water, and we pulled into a petrol station to find some more water. There were rows of cars with their bonnets up and people handing around empty milk-bottles to fill from the tap ... everyone had the same problem.

We later realised that in this weather the motorways had all been salted. (Hey, John, remember those big bin things we saw by the roads? They've got rock salt in them.) By the time we got to Norwich our car was coated in black salt sludge and our numberplates - like everyone else's - were obliterated (so much for the endless speed cameras!)

First taste of Norwich

Our house wasn't ready - they were putting in a new boiler and central heating - so we didn't mind spending the first night in the Beeches Lodge down the road.

Four poster bed, ay! The room stank of smoke as we walked in - odd considering the new laws that have been in place since July.