Posts Tagged ‘garden’

One of the classic futuristic dystopian scifi-ish TV series was a British series called The Prisoner starring Patrick McGoohan. Now, in 2012, Juliet is starring in a re-make of that groundbreaking television series.

Nice promotional materials!

Nice promotional materials!

For 11 months, she was a model of good behavior–only playing in the garden, never trying to escape, happy to hide in the bushes and nap all day.

Happy and free in former days

Happy and free in former days

She even enjoyed a bit of gardening

She even enjoyed a bit of gardening

And then Juliet got the idea to try to climb the fence. I really don’t know what put it in her head — maybe a giant pigeon landing on top of the fence and mocking her — but once she started to try to climb (and really badly), we had to act quickly. First, we kept her confined inside which was miserable for everyone involved. She cried, she whimpered, she begged and then she just hid from us.

She even hid from us on her supervised field trips outside

She even hid from us on her supervised field trips outside

Finally she laid down on her hot water bottle in a depressed heap

Finally she laid down on her hot water bottle in a depressed heap

Bear devised a plan to run a line of PVC mesh around the top of the garden fence and nail it in place so she couldn’t make it over the top even if she climbed up.

DIY stores the world over all use the color orange

DIY stores the world over all use the color orange

While buying supplies, we also picked up a Christmas tree which turned out to be the weaker, inbred second cousin of the Charlie Brown Christmas tree.


It didn’t cheer up Juliet as much as I had hoped. She didn’t even try to knock it over.

Juliet checking out the materials

Juliet checking out the materials

The mesh fence lying along the bushes while we get the nails and stuff together to tack it in place.

The mesh fence lying along the bushes while we get the nails and stuff together to tack it in place.

And the great thing is that it really did work…for about an hour. See video evidence below…

Then, our clever baby figured out how to scale the gate, using the cross-struts, and she squirmed out through a gap (again, see video evidence below).

Warning: I say a bad word at the end of the video. Turn down the volume if you want to preserve your image of me as a person who doesn’t know any curse words.

Now we’ve nailed the mesh to the gate so thoroughly that she can’t get through and we can’t even open the gate (probably a fire hazard), and we keep an eye on her whenever she goes outside just in case. I’m happy to say that if we catch her pawing at the gate and call her name, she looks guilty and backs off. We’ll put up more mesh after Christmas, but so far we’ve had more success than I expected.

Stay tuned for the sequel, The Great Escape


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We had tried to go to Longthorpe Tower back in the spring but it was closed, like Flag Fen, so Bear felt a little doubtful but wanted to give it a good shot, and I’m really glad that we did. The tower is only open on weekends and is staffed by volunteers, a married couple well into their seventies, who turned out to be really pleasant and enthusiastic hosts.

Longthorpe Tower– not exactly a tall tower, but square!
Displays of household items in the upper floor of the tower
I’ve been told that bears are so tough they don’t usually need armor, but Bear made an exception here
Doing my best Petyr Baelish impersonation (Game of Thrones)–slime not included

Coming back downstairs, the husband gave us a very detailed tour of the central room, explaining all of the recovered paintings. (I wouldn’t exactly call them restored because English Heritage had done its best to bring them back after they were whitewashed over by a very short-sighted owner and then later, after they were uncovered someone put a shellac over it which actually sealed in the damp and the deterioration increased.


We had a really nice chat with the couple and it turned out that they are real travelers which is a little surprising considering how many people we’ve met in England who will travel internationally but can’t be paid to go to the village down the road. They said they have a caravan and love to go all over, so they seem to be like the prototypical American retirees in an RV. They had been all over Scotland and the wife confided they had been there on their honeymoon 56 years ago and kept finding reasons to go back. They had been to all the same places we had in the Orkney Islands and I still had some pictures of the Italian Chapel on my camera and it was a funny impromptu scrapbook sharing session.

In a grouping of the apostles, this figure was female and representative of the Mother Church.

They sent us off finally up to Kirby Hall for the final stop at the partially restored remains of a great Elizabethan Hall and gardens. At the entrance hall we met a couple with two beautiful whippets who had been out exploring the grounds. The whippets had cute little fleecy jackets on and before the tour was over I would’ve given a lot for one myself.

Approach to Kirby Hall (before the wind and rain kicked in)

Outer Courtyard (you do realize I’m making up some of these names, right?)

Main front of Kirby Hall, inside the courtyard

The house’s outer courtyard was very impressive and you could still see the inner architectural structure of each flanking wing.

Looking back through to the outer courtyard

One carved motif was repeated in places, particularly around doorways and lintels, which was the loosened knot (the sign of the house of the original builder) and his initials (HS).

Initials HS visible

The wind was really starting blow severely and the temperature had dropped, so it was nice to get to the inner parts of the house.

Looking out onto the rainy garden

The rain really picked up while we were looking at the library and the billiards room, but it gave the gardens outside a really nice English look through the glass. Some of the rain turned to sleet and bounced off the sill.

Some sections of the house have been restored by English Heritage. No idea what this room does, but it did look nice

Gardens from an observational point

Great Hall/Reception area

We toured the outside gardens though even though the wind was still kicking up and the temperature seemed to be dipping.

Kirby Hall planned gardens

Exterior of the rear of the house overlooking the gardens

We figured it was time to head back before frostbite set in and I discovered a very unwelcome surprise in the car park. To understand, you need to appreciate that I once had a very unfortunate encounter with an exotic peacock in Lake City, Florida. Lake City is not exactly Peacock Central, as you might imagine. I was staying in a little cabin, doing some writing, and imagine my surprise when I walked past the kitchen window and out of the corner of my eye saw this:

I was minding my own business, and glanced out the kitchen window to see THAT on top of my car with its giant claws all over the paint. It’s not like peacocks are just wandering around Florida, willy nilly.

So I chased him off the car, then around the car, and after a while I realized that I wasn’t chasing him…he was chasing me. So I retreated to the cabin and he charged up the steps after me and waited for me outside the locked screen door. That was a pretty unsettling afternoon.


Needless to say, I wasn’t so happy to walk up to my car in the middle of England and see THIS lurking in the bushes and waiting for me along with several of his little friends.

My stalker

Fortunately he wasn’t interested in renewing our acquaintance so I was able to slip back inside the car and we headed back for dinner at a nice warm Nandos and then home to dry off.

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We had gone out for date night (or in my case, date afternoon) to see The Amazing Spider-Man in Huntingdon the day before and caught up a little on the current show of choice, Person of Interest. Since we had decided to go to a close-by place, Audley End House, we didn’t have to get out at the crack of dawn, for which Juliet was grateful. She’s come to refer (in cat language) Saturdays as “Prison Day” because she has to stay inside while we’re gone. We had a good play with her though and when she finally realized we were going, she retreated under her bed on the third floor which is always a little heart-breaking.

In a stroke of good fortune, our later departure meant that my latest Amazon buy had arrived in time. Dieter the car has only one flaw which is an inability to play anything other than a CD–this is a First World Problem, I know, but when you listen to as many audio books as we do it gets to be an inefficient pain to keep burning discs over and over that we’ll never listen to again.

I had done some research and consulted a little with Drew at work about possible solutions for getting an aux input into the dash but for the moment decided to explore a simple portable speaker that could be plugged in to any mp3 player. I got a nice little unit called a X-mini II that is rechargeable and puts out a stunning level of volume for such a tiny little thing (and only 14 pounds…as in the cost, not the weight!). So for now we have solved the question of how to play stories and podcasts in the car, which is fantastic because we’re trying (emphasis on trying) to learn a little French before our next trip to Paris. So far we’ve got all of one podcast lesson of Coffee Break French under our collective belts.

And it collapses into about the size of a small tangerine — how cool is that?

We got to Audley End in early afternoon and saw a really unexpected amount of traffic. People were on foot, strolling all over the road, and all with little British flags in their hands, kids on shoulders, babies in prams, you name it. We really thought we had made some kind of dreadful mistake when we saw lots of guys in hi-fiz safety vests who were in charge of parking and that’s when we realized that the Olympic torch relay had just come through. (I actually saw it back in 1996 in Athens and we’ll probably try to see it come through on some other day, but not today.)

Audley End made more attractive with a Bear in the foreground

We first saw the service wing where they had people in costume doing what certainly looked like very authentic things in the kitchens.

This continued out to the laundry and garden area.

Organic kitchen garden

When we got into the main house, things got a little bit more regulated and no photography was allowed in the house. I generally take that with a grain of salt but they had someone posted in almost every room and those little English Heritage workers tend to take things pretty seriously. (I think most of them are retired and thus have little else to occupy them.)

In honor of that, I bring you a display of “Photos I Stole from the Internet”. I have no idea where these came from (some are official English Heritage), but here you go:

And then we got to the 40+ cases of taxidermy from the 1840-60s. It was pretty stunning. It’s hard to keep birds in good shape and certainly some of the specimens were showing a little wear and tear, but for being about 170 years old they looked amazing.

Row after row after row…

I was pretty amazed at the volume of taxidermy and how well a lot of it was holding up under the circumstances. There was an entire case of nothing but hummingbirds and they were all posed on the twiggy branches of a little tree. I also appreciated that the original artist had posed the terns and seabirds on what looked like a plaster of paris mockup of a sea cliff with little moss bits. (They had also gone that bridge too far however in taxidermy which was stuffing one of the family pets, a favorite terrier — but he was holding up really well.) There was also a case devoted to an otter (“Paddy”) from the 1840s who had been bought as a pup by one of the Lord Baybrooke and he tamed it and kept it for many years in the <mill> pond. Considering how fat and happy it looked with that little stuffed fish in its mouth, I think Paddy had a pretty good life.

Something about taxidermy made Bear hungry so we wound up in the tea room with a cream tea (although the scones were a little dry…not the best and not up to Kenilworth standard). We ended up talking about the Bosun Higgs particle and the supercollider in Switzerland where our friend Curtis did some research (hi Curtis!). One thing I dearly love about Bear is that we never ever run out of interesting things to talk about. We could be together 24/7 for years on end and never get bored. (I’ve recently put this to the test by, literally, being with him 24/7 since we moved to England six months ago with only 3 afternoons apart and I’m not even close to bored.)

We went over to the stables after that and met the horses, Jack, Bertie, Duke and a new horse whose name I didn’t catch. These horses were, in a word, gigantic. At least compared to the ones we rode in Sardinia which it had been feared wouldn’t be able to hold up to Bear’s weight. We met a really nice lady (Rebecca Holland) who was able to explain how the side-saddle worked to us and gave us a full demonstration.

Bear had seen some horse jumping on Downton Abbey and the actress then (or stuntwoman possibly) had been riding side saddle and it all looked very dicey to him, so it was a lot of fun to get to see exactly how it worked. She even let us try out the saddle to see how you can hook your leg and grip easily.

There is an amazing picture of Bear sitting on the side saddle which he won’t let me post. But he didn’t say I couldn’t email it, so if you’re really interested (and it’s hilarious), email me.

Rebecca gave us a great sketch of the history of the side saddle and how they had fallen out of fashion after the 40s partially because of the expense of the saddle (2500-3000 pounds as compared to 50-100 for a regular English saddle, which btw they just call a saddle). While, she told us, some of the changes post WW2 had to do with the women’s movement and the opening up of jobs and such, the side saddle issue had much more to do with class and status. With a regular saddle, riding was now available for women at large and not just the wealthy — unfortunately, the side effect was a reactionary, well, reaction against side saddles which apparently were piled up and burned by the bushel which left them even more expensive and a rarity.

Rebecca also gave us a recommendation to contact some falconers in East Anglia who do displays of historic falconry from Roman to modern times (Norman being a specialty). I must’ve been caught drooling at the mention because she told us a lot about the displays and I made notes to call them as soon as I could.

In the stables, kids get to pet the horses


Fire truck/engine in the stables

On our way out to the car park (that is, the giant grass field), we ran into two couples with a German short-hair pointer (the same kind of dog that Spenser, Robert B. Parker’s detective, owned). It was a really sweet dog so we chatted on our way out and they recommended we check out Dedham, by Lavenham. One of the husbands had a friend who is the marketing director for Nando’s in the UK, which was fortuitous as we were headed to Nando’s for dinner from there. We told him all the things we loved most and hopefully that the good words might make it back up the chain.

The secret power of Nandos — the free drink refill station

A full Bear is a happy Bear

We hit the movies in Stevenage afterwards and got home in time to start on our new project — a cork bulletin board with a map and pins to mark everywhere we’ve been so far in England. We’ll post the results as we go!

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I had caught up on a lot of much needed sleep so we hadn’t really planned what to do that Saturday but it worked out beautifully to pick Kenilworth House and Gardens to visit in a nearby region.

I had read a lot of great things about the property and thought my Mom would like visiting it with Bear on a day when I’m working since it’s not so far away, but we had to check it out to make sure it was Munk Mom Appropriate. (It is!)

Exterior on approach

We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the house itself with the exhibition including the bedroom that Queen Elizabeth I is most likely to have slept in during her many stays to visit Robert Dudley, her favorite (verdict still out on exactly what that meant). I was tempted, but for once I followed the rules. Sorry, lots of cool missing pictures because of that so you’ll just have to visit for yourself.

The gardens have been restored according to what English Heritage believes to be the plan and style of that time in the 1500s, although as with a lot of historical recreations, there’s only so much you can be sure of. But good for them for trying and it certainly looked great!

I’m not a huge garden fan myself, mostly because they start to shrivel up and die when I come within 10 yards, but these were really nice and I enjoyed walking around.

Above view of the gardens

Family picnic time (wisely in the lee of a wall given how the wind was blowing)

After looking around the rest of the gardens, I confess I made a beeline back for the stables which have been converted into a museum/tea room (and yes, I was more interested in the tea room).

Join English Heritage and you too can wear a green sticker

Restored roof of stable/barn

I confess that I don’t have much text to show for the day and we had to leave out the interior of the house, but Kenilworth is a really nice property and they did a very good job with the historical information and all the tie-ins, like Sir Walter Scott having written a book about Kenilworth (imaginatively enough called Kenilworth).

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I started out the week making a choice. It was one that the Boundaries book (an excellent book for those in difficult situations trying to balance family, work and other commitments could benefit from reading) would probably not have supported. I decided to work on Sunday. It was technically voluntary, but there didn’t seem to be any other way to get out of the backlog I was in and postponing would only make it more difficult.

So after church, we came home and I got down to it for about six hours but we still broke in time for dinner and a video. I am incredibly glad that I spent the weeks I did before we came ripping all our favorite movies (which we owned, we own them) onto backup drives since the DVD players here use a different format.

On Monday we got down to the public library finally before it closed and I got to meet the very nice lady who had commented on the blog earlier and mentioned that she worked there. I sounded like a bit of an idiot when I asked one of the librarians if they could find her because I only remembered after the fact that I had never mentioned my actual name to her, so she had no idea who was standing out amongst the stacks, lurking around and looking for her.

Front of the St. Neots library

While waiting I got to look at some of the collection and will certainly be back especially for my beloved audio books.

Boy, I could've used this one when we first got here.

We had a really nice chat about places we’ve visited, things in the area, why rugby is more fun to watch than football (can’t repeat much more of the reasoning behind that), and funny stories in general. I’m afraid we closed the place down but will be back before long as it’s right across from the Waitrose and we can’t stay away from there for long.

We also saw a very good map of St. Neots there at the library and I took an extremely hi-res picture of it so I can blow it up and use the street index if needed. It occurred to me then that it looks like two lungs with the bridge joining them and the river and the nature areas in the middle.

St. Neots (and never the twain shall meet)

The big event of the week came when it warmed up sufficiently that we allowed Juliet out in the garden for the first time. She was absolutely precious, poking around, sniffing all the herbs and plants, jumping at every bug with wide eyes.

The Persian word "paradise" means "walled garden", and this is paradise to me, seeing her down there in the safety of her own little lush play area.

I have no idea what it is, but it really is pretty.

Curious Kitty

Again, no idea

Juliet of the Jungle

We had a chance also to explore more down the River Ouse along a bike path that led into the back of Little Paxton and around the neighborhood where we stumbled over what seems to be a breeder for French bulldogs. Really, really not what I expected to see when I set out that afternoon.

Arrows like this indicate that the road is narrow so one way or the other will need to give way if two cars meet and if you're the smaller arrow, then that's going to be you.

I like the turtle mascot.

Juliet, meanwhile, was sleeping off something of an excitement/catnip hangover.

I have been at the Legos all day. The Big Wheel is jacknifed at the end of the driveway. I'm just gonna go in the back and crash for a few hours.

I just need to crash for a few minutes...

She was also learning that the cat next door likes to clamber onto the wooden fence by way of a rabbit hutch and hang out there, so she kept an eye on things from the second floor balcony.

No-Name Neighbor Cat (with beautiful eyes)

I see you!!!

Friday came with a lot of anticipation because it was the opening of the John Carter (of Mars) movie that I’d been waiting on for a very long time. I’ve been a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs ever since I was pretty little (nine years old, I think) so seeing one of his first and best-loved heroes come to life was a very big deal. I had even written in to the SiriusXM satellite radio channel which does audio books and suggested that they re-broadcast some of the John Carter stories to go along with the movie…and they are! They even got interview footage with the direct, Andrew Stanton, as well as the lead actress, Lynn Collins, so that made me think happy, fuzzy thoughts for having made the suggestion several months ago and they’re playing it right now. (One hour blocks at 8 a.m. Eastern if you have the channel!)

We had saved our 3D glasses from the last movie we went to and were able to get a small discount. I really enjoyed the movie although having read most of the books I’m not sure I’m a good cold-case test audience member. I had been worried about how Taylor Kitsch would handle the role of John Carter, but he did really well actually and didn’t have any issues with the things I’d wondered about (youthfulness, world-weariness, Southerness, etc). There was a bit of invented backstory about his family which wasn’t from the books that I felt was extremely helpful so I’m not going to nitpick on that. In truth, I was most worried about how Woola, the only pet that could tempt me away from Juliet, would turn out but they did that really perfectly to me.

Everybody needs a Woola

But in the back of my mind that day, I was a little worried because we had some unexpected drama also at work when the wife of our vice-president and lead developer had a sudden attack of appendicitis and had to go in for surgery right on the verge of some long-scheduled server maintenance. I was somewhat involved in the situation as I’d been helping coordinate clients in advance but felt pretty bad that there wasn’t anything I could really do to help at that point.

Hoping that all would be well (and everything did turn out fine), we went ahead with plans to go to York in the morning and see the much heralded York Minster cathedral.

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