Friday, December 22, 2006

The Legends of St. Osyth

Frithewald, King of the East Angles and first Christian ruler of his tribe, was in constant fear of being attacked by marauding Danes whose notoriety preceded them. They were known for their brutal attacks, sparing no life regardless of age or gender. He and his wife Wilaburga were fearful that their home would be pillaged and their beautiful young daughter, Osyth, would be kidnapped.

Frithewald and Wilaburga were so concerned for Osyth’s safety they sent her away to the relative security of the county of Warwickshire. Her personal care and spiritual guidance were placed in the hands of Abbess St. Moden, who ran a strict priory but provided love and care of her novices.

One day, Abbess St. Moden sent young Osyth on an important mission to visit a nearby priory to collect a precious book from the Abbess St. Edith, sister of King Alfred. Osyth set off pleased that she had been given such a significant task. After her visit to the neighboring priory, Osyth carefully carried away the book, mindful of her duties to guard its safety. However, on her return journey, the weather worsened and as she crossed a bridge, she was swept into the swollen torrents of the fast-moving river.

Three days passed without St. Moden hearing from Osyth so she decided to visit St. Edith herself. St. Edith told the Abbess that Osyth had collected the book as instructed and, after some brief refreshment, had set off on her return trip that same day. Prior to knowing that Osyth was missing, St. Edith had a vision in which an angel told her to visit the river. Believing this to be an omen, the two women set out on their journey fearing the worst, but they found Osyth sitting quietly by the river with the precious book unharmed in her hands.

Another legend concerns Osyth’s adult life. When she became a grown woman, her parents betrothed her to Sighere, King of the East Saxons. She was an obedient girl and would not defy their wishes and so agreed to marry Sighere. On the morning of the wedding, Osyth’s father, the groom and the men of the wedding party noticed a white deer in a clearing of the woods. They took off in pursuit of the deer leaving Osyth and the womenfolk alone. As she sat quietly awaiting her fate, Osyth decided the life of a nun was preferable to becoming Queen of the East Saxons (later to be known as Essex) and she defied her parents’ wishes and stole quietly away to a nearby convent where she quickly “took the veil.” Sighere was devastated when he returned from the hunt but he loved Osyth and only wanted her happiness, so he built her a priory on a quiet inlet on the coast. It was not long before she was ministering to several young novices of her own and pursuing her dream of serving Christ, but the location of the priory proved fateful.

In 653, on a warm summer’s day, a band of Viking pirates led by Hubba and Inguar swept into the village and came upon Osyth’s convent. The Vikings terrorized the nuns but Osyth stood her ground and proclaimed her faith in God. The Viking, Hubba, ordered Osyth to recant her faith and accept his pagan god. She would not, so the infuriated Viking ordered a warrior to severe her head. The order was carried out and according to local legend, after Osyth had been decapitated she gently bent down, picked up her head and walked to the chapel. Once at the chapel door, her bloodied hand pushed it open and she fell dead upon the floor.
An Excerpt from Extraordinary Places ... Close to London

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Mini - Then and Now

It is a different country, different manufacturer and obviously a different place in time, but one thing is for sure, I believe the Mini Cooper is here to stay.
My love affair with the Mini has lasted 40+ years. I grew up, married, raised three handsome sons, now have three beautiful daughters-in-law, and eight fantastic grandchildren, but recently, a new love has crept into my life - my Mini Cooper!

Living in England in the early 60s, my fiancĂ©e, soon to be husband, drove speedily around in his bright red Austin Mini sometimes to the annoyance of other drivers. I remember one incident when a driver, who had been beaten to a parking spot, yelled out “…bloody little thing…I could stamp on it….” Although we loved our old Austin Mini with a passion, a growing family dictated a larger vehicle.

Now, 40 years later, having lived in America for almost 30 years, this grandmother has gone full circle and is now the proud owner of a Mini Cooper. The buying process is of course completely different than it was all those years ago. With the help of a sales associate, one sits at a computer and literally builds the car on screen. Model, style, interior and exterior colors are chosen and then, one of the biggest choices of all for me, whether to choose an automatic gearbox rather than a stick shift. I chose the automatic and wondered later if I would be disappointed, I was not. After three months of “incubation”, which I was able to track on-line, my baby made its debut at Ralph Schomp Mini in Littleton, Colorado, polished and shining from its origin in Cowley, Oxford, England. As the proud owner, I was not sure whether to break open a bottle of champagne or give out cigars!

Evidence of BMWs fantastic engineering in the present day Mini Cooper is everywhere from the sports car like gearbox to the steering and braking capability. The car feels “as one” with the road providing a similar but much better feel than the old Austin model. Having once owned a Porsche 356B and a Mercedes 420 SEL, it was pleasure to discover again the thrill of driving a beautifully engineered car.

My Mini makes me smile – I actually smile at a car!! What’s wrong with me? But I secretly know the answer. For years I have wanted a Mini of my own, but raising a family, having a career and just the responsibilities of life meant I had to purchase a car suitable for my lifestyle. In 2006, with the encouragement of my husband, I chose a car just for myself, and I chose a Mini Cooper. Needless to say, my car is always parked in the nether regions of a parking lot to avoid the inevitable dings that will surely come. But the distance gives me the opportunity to walk slowly towards my car, appraise the workmanship and style to the extent that I always find myself smiling!

Thursday, November 9, 2006

A New Member

The National League of American Pen Women was founded in 1897 as an alternative to the (then) all-male National Press Club. Realizing a need for an organization that would include women of the press, Marian Longfellow O’Donoghue, niece of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, decided to create such as organization. Along with Margaret Sullivan Burke and Anna Sanborne Hamilton, she made plans for “bringing together women journalists, authors and illustrators for mutual benefits and the strength that comes of union.”

After a fantastic lunch and general discussion, Nancy Bentley was inducted into the National League of American Pen Women by Diane Hoover at their Colorado Springs, Colorado, monthly meeting. Their motto: “One for all and all for one.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Victorian Bed and Breakfast

Whether visitors want to walk in the parks, hike the historic districts in Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs or Old Colorado City, the Crescent Lily Inn is ideally located.

The house was built in the Queen Anne style in 1898 by Major Robert Waugh, who was the oldest Civil War Veteran in Colorado when he died in 1929. With the division of Virginia, he took part in the formulation of the Provisional Government of West Virginia in 1861. Major Waugh, who was part Native American himself, went on to accept an appointment as an Indian agent in Utah. When he retired, he and his family moved to Colorado Springs and built their home on Boulder Crescent.

The inn has five guest bedrooms, each with a private bathroom, queen or king sized beds as well as many other amenities. The inn has splendid woodwork, including an impressive staircase. The inn is beautifully decorated with antiques and there is a pleasant, elegant feel about the home especially in the dining room where homemade meals are a delight. or telephone: 719-442-2331

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Holst in Essex

Gustav Holst the composer fell in love with Thaxted on first sight when he arrived in the winter of 1913. He and his wife Isobel stayed at the Enterprise, a small guest house in Town Street for a five-day walking holiday. They enjoyed their visit, the people and the town so much that he was determined to return. The following year, Holst leased a small house called Monk Street Cottage, and he and Isobel settled in to make Thaxted their home.

It was a difficult time in England. World War I had just started and anyone with a name such as von Holst (which was his full surname) was looked upon with skepticism and distrust. Holst was eyed with suspicion, especially as he was seen walking alone for hours each day. This came to the attention of the local police constabulary who felt obliged to keep a watch on the strange man as he walked around the village. A policeman’s report noted, “Many rumors are current about this man, but nothing can be traced against him.”

Slowly Holst began to make friends but there was one person in particular, Conrad Noel, who became a close friend. Conrad was deeply involved with village life and introduced Holst to members of Saint John the Baptist Church and the choir. Soon Holst was known warmly as “our Mr. Von” and in 1916 he organized, conducted and played the organ at the Whitsun Festival. One weekend, he brought students from London to join with the Thaxted choir in an unforgettable time of singing and rejoicing. A member of the congregation was quoted as saying that Holst could make the organ “speak.” The organ Holst used to compose some of his famous works is still in Saint John the Baptist Church.

Here in this peaceful town of Thaxted, Holst was able to work on his Planets Suite as well as many of his other symphonies. In 1924, while recovering from a bout of illness, he completed Choral Symphony and wrote to a friend, “It has been wonderful to sit all day in the garden and watch the symphony grow up alongside of the flowers and vegetables, and then to find that it is done!”

Sunday, October 1, 2006

Quilt Folklore

The Log Cabin quilt (c. 1870s) shown in the above photo is showing the wear of 150 years. The Log Cabin quilt (alternatively called the Courthouse Steps) traditionally has a center of a different color. Folklore has it that if the center square of the panel is yellow that indicates a light in the home (imagine riding across the prairie and seeing a light in the window of your home). Red in the center signifies the hearth of a home and a black square indicates a ‘safe house’ or home owner who was sympathetic to the Underground Railroad, an organization that helped those fleeing slavery. Since not everyone could read and write in those days, it was often necessary to communicate by other means. By hanging a quilt with a black center square over a washing line, a bush or veranda, a traveler could see at a glance whether a particular home would welcome them and give them safe harbor.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Devils Tower (Bear Lodge)

Since seeing the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind almost 30 years ago, I have wondered if Devils Tower or Bear Lodge as some Indians referred to this special place, was really as impressive as I had seen on the silver screen. On a recent trip to the area, I was not disappointed.

The drive from Denver to Wyoming takes approximately seven hours and although my previous trips had included Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse’s monument, Devils Tower had been excluded, but was now on my agenda.

The drive from Mount Rushmore to Devils Tower, America’s first national monument takes approximately two hours. It is a pleasant drive often with many deer or pronghorns in the grasslands along the route. The looming tower, all 867 feet can easily be seen on Highway 24 on the approach to the National Park.

On arriving at the tower, we were surprised to see that climbers were allowed to scale the tower. Park service personnel described how climbers’ pitons had been used in the past to secure their hold, but nowadays, most climbers used their own strength and skill to carry them to the summit. Almost 4000 climbers visit the tower each year to test their skill on the massive rock. The National Park Service considers the rock to be a valuable and historical monument and one that is to be enjoyed by all, including climbers.

There is an excellent winding path around the base of Devils Tower. The hike is relatively easy and takes about 45 minutes for the 1.3 mile walk. At various intervals around the base, there are spectacular, panoramic views with many opportunities for excellent photographs.

On exiting the park, there is a well stocked gift shop that also offers light refreshments. Located across the road from the gift shop, there is a Post Office where one can mail postcards presumably with the postmark “Devils Tower”.

It was a good trip and well worth the extra time and energy to visit Devils Tower.

Monday, August 7, 2006

Those Amazing Mazes

They are sometimes called mazes or labyrinths but there is a slight distinction between the two terms. Generally, mazes are considered easier to negotiate since they have no blind alleys or dead ends. Labyrinths, on the other hand are considered a little more challenging. Webster’s Dictionary defines a labyrinth as “...a place constructed of or full of intricate passageways and blind alleys...something extremely complex or tortuous in structure, arrangement or character....” In any event, most writers tend to use the term maze and labyrinth interchangeably, as I will do in this column.

Mazes have been found throughout the world and appear to have early origins. In the 5th century BC, a Greek traveler, Herodotus, discovered a labyrinth in Egypt. He was so impressed with the size and complex nature of the labyrinth that he wrote “I found it greater than words could tell...even the pyramids were surpassed by the Egyptian labyrinth.” Herodotus also states that the labyrinth was built on two levels had 3,000 chambers and that a massive stone wall encircled the structure.

Some believe that mazes were created to admonish people who had behaved badly and therefore needed to reflect on their past conduct. These individuals would be placed in the center of the maze and asked to escape. In doing so, they would experience dead ends, blind alleys, interlocking triangles and concentric circles. It was hoped that as an individual tried to escape the confinements of a maze, he might equate those experiences to real life, and therefore consider his options more carefully and make better decisions in the future.

Seen in this photograph is an unusual headstone to Michael Ayrton who was known as a master maze builder. It holds an 18” double spiral bronze labyrinth replica of the Arkville labyrinth Ayrton in New York. The tombstone is located in St. Botolph’s churchyard in Essex, England. It is located on the north east corner of the churchyard on left-hand side of the gravel path. Visitors to Ayrton’s graveside have run their fingers through the bronze plaque trying to locate the beginning and end of the puzzle. Even in death, Ayrton still has the ability to perplex people.

An excerpt in Extraordinary Places…Close to London.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Life's Little Adventures

Earl Steinbicker, who edited my book Extraordinary Places ... Close to London, has written or edited 17 books in a highly successful series called "Daytrips” and now he has launched a blog called Life’s Little Adventures.

From Earl's blog:

"• World Traveler • Commercial Photographer • Author • Book Editor • And More • I've been all of these, and now I'm older and ready to tell all that I've learned — back in the prehistoric times before computers — and how I've come to terms with today's technology. Hello, my name is Earl Steinbicker and I'll frequently include complete one-day adventures from my books that you can take, as experienced by myself and my little gang of travel writers. Along the way, you'll meet a few celebs (even living ones!), hear my rants about the publishing business, and experience some unusual happenings. Enjoy!"

Saturday, July 8, 2006

Night Flight

Some people refer to Carlsbad Caverns as the eighth wonder of the world and on a recent visit, I can see why. Take the elevator 758 feet below the surface to see such impressive formations that are hard to describe here. The stalagmites and stalactites produced over thousands of years are spectacular. The caverns also host of hundreds of thousands of bats that leave each night on their nightly hunt for food.

A cowboy, Jim White first discovered the caves at Carlsbad but few people believed his tales of the beautiful formations under the ground. Then, in 1915, a friend, Ray V. Davis accompanied White to the caverns and took some photographs. Once those photographs were made public, scores of people visited the caves but it wasn’t until 1923 that the U.S. Department of the Interior took an interest and sent an inspector to assess the caverns and report his findings. The inspector, Robert Holly, was not prepared to see the magnificent formations that stood before his eyes. His report back to Washington, D.C. stated, “ I am wholly conscious of the feebleness of my efforts to convey in words the deep conflicting emotions, the feeling of fear and awe, and the desire for an inspired understanding of the Divine Creator’s work which presents to the human eye such a complex aggregate of natural wonders.”

At dusk, literally hundred of thousands of Mexican Free-tailed bats exit the mouth of the cavern. Some appear to take their time while others blanket the sky, so dense is their flight pattern. The nightly exodus can last from 20 minutes to 2.5 hours as the last stragglers exit the cave. It is a truly extraordinary sight and well worth the wait.

There are three tours available at the caverns from 1.5 hours to a more strenuous tour that includes some crawling through narrow spaces. I chose the 1.5 hour tour (The Big Room) and stayed for the night flight of bats from the cave entrance. I highly recommend the Carlsbad Caverns as a terrific place to visit.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Kayaks – Purchase or Rent?

Does the fun and ownership justify the purchase price? We have been kayaking three times now and love the sport but are finding it hard to decide whether to purchase or continue renting? Equipment providers such as Grand Lake Sports (in Grand Lake Village and Mountain Sports Kayak School (in Steamboat Springs on the top floor of the Conoco/Ski Haus building on Hwy 40 and Pine Grove Road) make in painless and simple to rent for about $55 per day. The purchase price depending on type of kayak you choose is somewhere between $350 and $1000 plus say $400 for a roof rack, so you can see you can rent for up to 25 days before the purchase option breaks even.

Another factor to consider is the relatively short window of opportunity for using kayaks in Colorado – just four months from June to September; and of course during these prime months, there are always other activities such as cycling, swimming and tennis to fit into the and around the kayaking plans! I do believe I have just talked myself into renting – at least for another year!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Legend of St. Botolph’s Church, Hadstock

Besides being one of the most beautiful churches in the area, the church of St. Botolph, in Essex, England, has been the focus of a legend for centuries. The legend was that of a Dane who had committed sacrilege was flayed alive and his skin was nailed to the door of the church. Some years ago, when the door was removed for renovations, human skin was found under one of the hinges on the ancient door. The skin was carefully removed, tested and determined to be human, so perhaps there was some truth to the legend! The skin is currently exhibited at the Saffron Walden Museum, Saffron Walden.

Read more starting on page 68 in my book Extraordinary Places...Close to London available from Amazon or contact me directly via email.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Ancient Traditions

Inside the pages of Tradition you’ll be delighted to find answers to age old questions regarding customs, traditions, myths and legends. The quarterly magazine is published in England and is devoted entirely to the ancient rituals and crafts of bygone days. The editor presents them to the reader in an interesting and thought provoking manner and states “we are peeling back the layers of modern society to reveal some of the ancient traditions lying just beneath the surface.”

Many of the myths, nursery rhymes and legends were brought to America and some have changed over the years to provide a softer, more politically correct version. For instance, the last line of the nursery rhyme Ring a Ring of Roses has been changed to all fall down instead of the all fall dead that I used to sing as a child.

Tradition magazine offers the reader anything and everything from witches’ customs to folk medicine, crafts and costumes and is well worth investigating.

Visit the Traditions web site here

Saturday, May 6, 2006

An Addiction to Wood

“I was angry at the world and if it hadn’t been for my grandfather and his friends…I don’t know what would have happened to me. They showed an interest in me and gave me a copy of Popular Science to read. At the age of 12 years, I bought my first lathe – it was an awaking for me and began my love of carpentry,” said Jim, a native of Greeley, Colorado.

“I love wood and the more exotic the better! Pink Ivory, Macassar Ebony, Purple Heart and Snake Wood can all be found in my workshop” Jim said with a smile. There’s nothing ordinary about Jim’s masterpieces or his passion for wood. “I admit to having an addiction to wood and tools and will purchase a piece of wood without the slightest idea how to use it,” he said.

Jim prefers the exotic and rare woods although they are difficult if not impossible to find at times. According to Jim, several years ago an unusual event took place. A shipment of Pink Ivory and Ebony was sold on the open market. A resourceful game hunter from Colorado visiting Africa heard the plans for a new reservoir. Knowing the value of the trees, and being a keen businessman, he purchased a truckload and shipped it immediately to the United States.

The news of the sale spread quickly to the various societies and clubs causing grown men to race to their trucks in anticipation of the purchase. It hadn’t always been so; pink ivory was such an expensive and negotiable commodity during the 1920s that sections were treated like negotiable bonds. This rare and sacred tree growing in the provinces of Transvaal and Natal in South Africa has been strictly controlled by the Zulu nation for centuries. Traditionally, only the chief can fell a tree; the penalty for unauthorized felling is swift and severe, sometimes death. It is a deciduous tree with a spreading crown and varies in height from under twenty feet to over fifty feet. The boles are usually seven to nine inches in quarter girth. It is hard and heavy; when air-dried the weight is 62lb per cu. ft. The fine, delicate pink hue in the wood is derived from the minerals and deposits in the soil. Controlled by the Zulu nation and usually impossible to acquire the shipment of pink ivory was sold for approximately $2 an ounce. Jim still has some small pieces of pink ivory from this shipment and has been known to collect the sawdust, mix it with a compound and use it on another project.

Over the years, Jim has designed and created many beautiful works of art. As a member of the International Wood Collectors’ Society, he constantly looks for rare or unique wood. He has noticed that women in particular have an affinity with Purple Heart, a vibrant and lively wood from Brazil and Central America and will ask for it to be used in their consignment. Jim frequently favors the almost stark white of the English Holly contrasting it with one of the Ebonies or an African Blackwood. “I rarely use a stain, unless requested by the customer; a beautiful piece of wood finished properly shouldn’t require much else.”

Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Forerunner of Shorthand?

Marcus Tullius Tiro was an ex slave born in a small village called Arpinum, in Italy about 60 miles south east of Rome. Tiro was an intelligent man who, in 63 BC, became secretary to Senator Cicero, a man who was known to enjoy hearing his own voice. He often gave long speeches in his own particular oratory style in the Senate of Rome. But, as Tiro watched and listened, he saw an opportunity to please and be of extra value to his master. He devised a method of recording his master’s speeches using his own specific marks that he could later transcribe to a proper written form. Cicero was delighted to know his speeches were recorded and could be read back to him verbatim.

Although the concept of recording speeches verbatim had been attempted by the Greeks many years earlier, it was Tiro who mastered the speed writing technique that is perhaps the forerunner of shorthand as we know it today. Tiro shared his technique with other scribes but it was not to stop there, soon Tiro’s Marks were taught in the schools of Rome. During Tiro’s employment for Cicero, he recorded more than 600 speeches and letters using his own specialized method of rapid writing.

Over the centuries, those people who had the ability to transcribe speeches and letters verbatim were highly valued employees. These scribes adapted and changed the characters to suit the particular employment, business or profession. Therefore only they could transcribe their own marks making that individual a highly prized employee.

Today, Pittman shorthand is the most commonly used method of taking dictation and recording speeches and letters. Even in the Houses of Parliament, London, speeches are still recorded verbatim by transcribers who work on rotation. The reporters work for five or ten minutes, then they re-dictate to a secretary who types up the transcripts.

Charles Dickens was just such a transcriber. He worked in the Houses of Parliament for almost six years and was well thought of by his colleagues. One contemporary described Dickens as “universally reputed to be the rapidest and more accurate shorthand-writer in the gallery” and another wrote, “A more talented reporter never occupied a seat in the Gallery of either House of Parliament.”

Here in the US, a fledgling Senate struggled with recording the speeches given by its members. A brochure called The Official Reporters of Debates of the U.S. Senate prepared under the direction of Walter J. Stewart, Secretary of the Senate, states that sometimes the reporters had difficulty hearing the speeches and even identifying the speaker. During the First Congress, Thomas Lloyd privately reported and published the debates describing the speakers as “the baldheaded man” or “the man in blue coat and wig.”

Assistant U.S. Senate Historian Betty K. Koed reported that “the last of the Senate's Reporters of Debates who used shorthand retired in the 1980s. Other reporters had begun using stenographic machines, in place of shorthand methods, in the late 1970s.”

While he served as majority leader of the United States Senate, Lyndon B. Johnson once observed that there were few documents more important than the congressional record “Locked in its pages are the debate, the resolutions, the bills, the memorials, the petitions...and that without the able, loyal, hard working, highly skilled corps of Official Reports who take down the debates.”

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Boadicea, Queen of the Iceni

Boadicea, Queen of the Iceni tribe, reigned over the counties we now East Anglia with her husband Prasutagus from approximately 48AD to 60AD. She was a fine woman by all accounts, standing as tall as a man with a booming voice that could not be ignored. The Greek, Dio Cassius, described her as “a Briton woman of the royal family” and of having a mass of red locks “the tawniest hair” that hung to her waist.

During the year 43AD, the Emperor Claudius sent approximately sixty thousand troops to finally subdue the Britons. The Iceni made peace with the Romans and Prasutagus was permitted to keep his kingdom until his death in 60AD.

On the eve of his death, Prasutagus wrote a will stating that half his kingdom would be left to his wife and two daughters. The other half would pass to Rome. Boadicea would be the beneficiary of her daughters’ inheritance until they came of age or when they married, in which case it would be used as a dowry.

The Romans saw Prasutagus’ death as an opportunity to seize the whole kingdom by claiming Prasutagus’ estate owed back taxes that were due immediately. Boadicea challenged the claim and, unable to justify the accusations, the Romans knew their scheme had failed leaving only one option. They instructed their soldiers to remove Boadicea by force, to crush and humiliate her.

Records of the time tell us that Boadicea was taken from her home and publicly flogged. The noblemen and women were heartbroken as they watched in horror at the treatment of their Queen. The shame was almost too much for Boadicea to bear, but the final blow came when her teenage daughters were taken from her and brutally ravaged by the Roman soldiers.

Queen Boadicea felt such fury and humiliation that she swore revenge on Rome and the Roman people and collected an army of over one hundred thousand people from various tribes that had never surrendered to the Romans and who now joined forces with the Iceni Queen.

First, Boadicea set her sights on Colchester, the foremost Roman city in England. The 9th Legion of the Roman army was guarding Colchester but they were no match for Boadicea and her soldiers. The city was quickly burned to the ground. News of Boadicea’s success spread through Britain and many people, sensing victory over the Romans, joined the fight. It is believed that Boadicea’s army totaled over 200,000 men and women at the final battle.

Boadicea’s next target was London. In anticipation of her arrival, the city was almost deserted but she kept her promise and pillaged and burned the town until nothing was left.

After the victories in Colchester and London, Boadicea and her army marched home full of triumph and accomplishment. They were greeted with cheers and happiness for ending the oppressive rule of Rome.

The Romans, ashamed and disgraced that a woman could inflict such devastation decided to use their best and most aggressive troops led by Suetonius Paulinus to contain the uprising. Paulinus commanded the 14th and 20th Legions who were known to be particularly fierce and combative. The legions had been fighting the Druids for control of Wales but now turned their attention south towards Boadicea’s army.

The actual location of the final battle site between the Roman legions and Boadicea is unknown but according to Tacitus, a Roman historian, Boadicea appeared “tired and injured, in her clan tartan and armed to the teeth…in appearance, almost terrifying.” Some say she was captured and died from poison taken by her own hand. Others say she died in prison from wounds inflicted during the battle. Either of these would have been preferable to being taken to Rome and subjected to harsh treatment or even execution in the gladiatorial arena.

Read more about Boadicea and Colchecter Castle in my book Extraordinary Places ... Close to London

Monday, March 13, 2006

What Do You See?

Each day as I walk past this tree stump, I see a face. Depending on the light, the deeply set eyes appear to be more pronounced, the long thin nose reminds me of someone – but whom?

On an impulse, I decided to email the image to some friends and family to see what they thought. I wanted to know if others also saw the same image. Only one friend said she could not see a face, and perhaps questioned my sanity. Susan couldn’t see anything except a stump with bark falling off. Well, there goes the imagination! But I can see an image, and he’s looking right back at me. Some friends and family tell me they see the face of Abraham Lincoln, while others can definitely see an image but can’t put a name to the face. Others have nicknamed him The Bark Man and The Man in The Tree. What do you see?

Monday, February 27, 2006

Culbone Church, Somerset.

As I did my research for a new travel book on the West Coast of England, I came across a little church that is said to be “...the smallest complete parish church in this country.” It is mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records and also the Domesday Book, a book compiled by William the Conqueror’s scribes to document every village, man, woman, and livestock in England for taxation purposes. The information collected was recorded in a book the English people feared so much they nicknamed it The Domesday Book, after God’s final judgment.

My journey began behind the local pub where the publican had asked if I was “really going to the church?” He told me I faced a 5 miles round-trip and that I’d “better get going if you’re to be back before dark.”

Not deterred, I set off immediately and stayed on the footpath that at times veered towards a particularly beautiful, rugged coastline of Exmoor, but then turned inland through typical English woodland. At one point on the trail, I felt quite uneasy as I had to walk though a tunnel that was dark and very wet with thick moss covering the walls. As I exited the tunnel, I had the distinct feeling I was being “watched” and it suddenly dawned on me that I was either being very brave or very foolish to undertake this adventure on my own.

After about one hour’s hike and just when I thought I should turn back and try another day, I came upon the church. It was so beautiful it literally took my breath away. I scrambled through the last few hundred yards of woodland and could hardly wait to see inside.

Over the centuries, various repairs and renovations have been taken place on Culbone Church, yet it has retained its beauty. The walls are original and thought to be 12th century. The font is very old, probably Norman but the pedestal is believed to be Victorian. The nave is thought to be Saxon (pre 1066) but this cannot be confirmed. The churchyard cross has a 15th century base but a relatively new cross that was erected in 1966.

After a few minutes of sitting quietly in the church and the churchyard, it was time for me to get back to the village, but the church’s location intrigued me. Why was it here so far from the village? The church sits atop a 400 feet wooded area with Porlock Bay to the north and Lynton and Lynmouth to the west. Perhaps 1,000 years ago, the church was more than adequate for the small community. The church can only accommodate 33 parishioners, but still has services regularly.

Mindful of the time, I quickly made my way back to the village and the dreaded “tunnel.” With courage in both hands, I literally ran through the tunnel and breathed a sign of relief on exiting. Then the strange feeling was with me once more and I quickly turned in all directions but saw nothing. Before long, I was back in the pub and decided to order some supper. The publican asked if I had made it to the church and I stood straight up and replied that I had some excellent photos. He then asked if at any time, had I been scared or felt as though I had been watched. In amazement, I told him that the area around the tunnel gave me goose bumps and why did he ask. He told me the area was once a Leper Colony and that lepers used to flock to the church to receive communion. The publican said that many people have commented on the strange feelings they have encountered as they make their way to Culbone Church.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Blind Man’s Buff (Bluff)

In a world where we amuse ourselves with personal digital assistants and children interact with GameBoys and PS2s, it was fun to go back in time and see what families and friends did for amusement before these items existed, and even before the advent of television or radio.

As a child, I remember playing parlour games such as musical chairs, charades, or ‘Blind Man’s Buff’, which was one of the most popular games. The game was played by adults and children especially at birthday parties and other social gatherings. Although I have been unable to find the origin, I understand a similar game was played during medieval times, suggesting the game is more than 500 years old.

Many of these games were brought from England and mainland Europe to America by families seeking a better life in the New World. Some of the games were adapted and softened such as the last line in Ring a Ring of Roses. In England, the last line of the game is, “All fall dead.” In America, the ending,” All fall down.”

As I researched the origin of Blind Man’s Buff (some people say “Bluff”) I wondered if other games such as Marco Polo and Hide and Go Seek also derived from the original Blind Man’s Buff game. The games are very similar in nature particularly Hide and Go Seek; although in this game the main participant (the seeker) has only to cover his or her eyes while counting to a specific number designated by the group.

Blind Man’s Buff is usually played in a closed room with about eight to ten people. One person is designated to be blindfolded and, after a scarf is tied around their eyes, he or she is spun around three times to disorientate them. This gives the other participants a chance to scatter and move around the room. The blindfolded player then makes their way around the silent room with his or her arms outstretched as they try to ‘feel’ one of the other participants. As they make their way around the room, the blindfolded person naturally bumps into furniture or knock lamps down, much to the amusement of those attending the party. The squeals of laughter sometimes lead the seeker to an individual who, once caught must then become the seeker themselves and so the game continues.

During 1888, the press referred to the game of Blind Man’s Buff to embarrass and humiliate the police force who had been unable to arrest Jack the Ripper. Although the police arrested several men, they were quickly released for lack of evidence. A cartoon was published by Punch Magazine showing the police as the “blind man” which was obviously meant to shame the police. It depicts a London policeman in uniform with a scarf around his eyes. His arms are outstretched in an effort to catch any individual who may fall into his grasp. On the wall there is a poster with the word “Murder” as its title. Unsavory characters surround the policeman and tease him. The caption beneath the cartoon reads: Blind Man’s Buff (As Played by the Police.) “Turn round three times and catch whom you may.” The Ripper was never caught.