Crazy Dog!

23 Jun

Warwickshire, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Hampshire, West Sussex, East Sussex……

We still had a few days before we were due at our next house sitting job in the county of East Sussex, so as usual we chose roads we had not travelled before, in the general direction and stopped off at various points of interest.  
The Great Western Railway Museum in Swindon was one such diversion.  The GWR was one of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s inventions and the huge building where the Museum was housed was one of the factories that made the steam engines.   IK Brunel’s railway was unique in that the trains ran on extra wide tracks (7′ 1/4″) to give a smoother, faster and more comfortable ride, but being unique meant that they had to build the entire system from scratch.  At the age of 29, Brunel designed this broad gauge rail network in 1833 and at the time was in direct competition with George Stevenson’s original narrow gauge system  (4′ 81/2″) that was already in operation.  (George was the father of Robert Louis)   Although the wider tracks successfully proved Brunel’s theories of better speed and comfort, eventually in 1892 his wide gauge system was abandoned and the narrower became the standard throughout the UK.  Up till then if you started on one of Brunel’s trains and wanted to travel further than his wide tracks you needed to stop and transfer onto the other railway network to continue on your journey.  The Government of the day decided that one integrated rail network made more sense and passed an Act to enforce this.  Stevenson had started his railway earlier and had more miles of track to show for it so his design won out in the end.  The GWR Museum did a great job of showing the complexities of designing, building and maintaining everything required to run a rail network.  They built the tracks, engines, wooden carriages, signalling systems, station buildings etc, etc, in Swindon at this huge factory.  In the 1850’s the factory employed 2000 men producing one locomotive per week  but from the 1920’s-40’s the staff numbered 14,000!  During the War years the production changed to tanks, landing craft, midget submarines and armaments, with women taking the place of those men who were sent off to war.  

Another unique feature on IK Brunel’s trains was the massive wheels on the locomotives

The finished article

After wandering around the Museum for several hours we were sitting in the motorhome enjoying a cuppa out in the car park when a school group of 5 or 6 year olds slowly made their way towards their bus parked beyond our van.  These kids were all decked out in their school’s uniform, looking really cute and sounding cute too with their distinctive Pommie accents.  One small child got very excited when he saw our van, “Oh! Ice Cream!” and was thrilled to think his teacher was going to buy him an ice cream.   She tried to dissuade him by telling him “that’s not an ice cream van.”  “Yes, it is!”, “No, it’s not, it’s a caravan.”  The poor kid nearly cried when walking further had to admit to himself that his teacher was right.  Really funny to hear all this conversation before they walked into our field of vision!
Next stop, travelling in a south-east fashion towards our goal, was Stonehenge.  We had thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Drogheda in Ireland, where we toured in and around Newgrange and Knowth Passage Tombs.   Before proceeding to the historic sites though, we spent a good deal of time in the Visitor Centre there, reading all about the general and specific information relating to what we were about to experience.  Arriving at Stonehenge was such a disappointment!   One of England’s most famous icons and the infrastructure was shameful!  Here were a few prefab buildings, one the ubiquitous Souvenir Shop, and a couple for purchasing tickets but no Visitor Centre at all.  Oh, there is a sign up telling us that at some time in the not too distant future they are planning to build one, but it is incredible to think that this has been a tourist site since 1928 and yet the facilities are so poor!  The toilets provided are a series of large portacoms!  There is a major motorway running alongside one boundary and for years now English Heritage have been trying to get it redirected away from the famous site.  Anyway, the site was teeming with visitors from all over the world!  Part of the entry fee purchased individual audio guides, which are great but it looks so strange to have all these people with earplugs listening to a guided tour in their own language and not talking!    Visitors are restricted to walking the pathway provided, circling the stones and taking photos from every angle.  They give a special  dispensation to the modren day “druids” who flock to the site to hug the stones on Solistice day!  The spectacle is certainly impressive, especially when you consider that all this was built around 2600BC or earlier and some of these massive stones have been hauled from 150 miles away.

Stonehenge, the monument, is truly   impressive!

Just up the road a bit was Old Sarum.  Years ago both Dennis and myself read the book Sarum by Edward Rutherfurd about the building of Stonehenge, the castle at Old Sarum and the construction of Salisbury Cathedral, as well as Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet, which covers much the same topics,  so actually walking around the ruins at Old Sarum was fascinating!  The history of this site is substantial: a protective hill fort was constructed by the local inhabitants during the British Iron Age (around 500 BC) by creating enormous banks and ditches surrounding the hill (which still look impressive); the Romans had their town, Sorviodunum here; later the Saxons used the site as a stronghold against marauding Vikings; Normans built the castle and cathedral; William the Conqueror lived here and King Henry I built his palace here; and on and on.  In 1219 it was decided that they needed to build a new cathedral in Salisbury, Old Sarum was getting overpopulated and they were running out of water from the only well there and besides the King would make more money if the town grew, so Salisbury the town and the cathedral was relocated five miles further on and it sits at the confluence of five rivers.
Dennis had another excellent  supermarket shopping experience, he came across a Bacon Roast in the “specials” bin. I was a bit skeptical, not having heard of a Bacon Roast before and thought maybe it would be salty but it was delicious exactly like hot, Ham on the  Bone.  Very yummy!  We have not seen another one since.

An aerial view of Old Sarum

Looking down on the ruins o the old Cathedral at Old Sarum

We slept the night in a public carpark in Salisbury and woke to the news that there was a heat way on the way from Europe.  “Heatwaves” always sounds so dramatic to me and I thought it would be an exaggeration.  I don’t know why I did, I should have learnt from mistrusting the same description while in Ireland and then experiencing the temperatures soaring from 8-10 degrees to 21 degrees for a week.  At this time I was still dressed in my fetching thermal underwear and the usual daytime temperature was around 9-12 degrees but that day when the heat wave arrived I had to scurry around in our suitcases to find more suitable clothing because by 10a.m. it was 22 degrees.  We enjoyed about 10 days straight of up to 29 degrees (!) and then just as quickly it dropped down to 12-15 again and in came the rain for a week, causing extensive flooding.
A real highlight in our travels has been the guided tour in and up Salisbury Cathedral!  They took us up the 332 steps into the roof spaces and through the tower to the base of the spire and then outside onto a tiny balcony on all four sides for spectacular views.  We were standing level with the bells at 12p.m. but thankfully the striker to the main, large bell was out of action so we only heard the ding, dong, ding, dong tune before 12 strikes would have rung.  Talk about loud, Trev!  Salisbury Cathedral is unusual in large churches as it was all built in one go, rather than a nave here and a cloister there sort of thing, using several different styles.  It took 38 years to finish, 1220-1258.  After saying that, that’s not the whole story as 50 years later some bright spark thought a spire would be good, so they added the tallest spire in the UK (it still is) and by so doing added 6,500 tonnes to the original church without adding any extra bracing or buttresses and you can clearly see the roof line dip by 8 inches where the new spire is attached to the bell tower!  It wasn’t until 1668 that Christopher Wren inserted more internal reinforcing to stabilise it.   Nowadays the spire leans 69.85cm (27.5in) to the south and 44.44cm (17.5in) to the west!   There are 365 (the number of days in a year) windows and 8760 (the number of hours in a year) marble pillars and if they laid out the lead on the roofs it would cover four acres!

Walking along the way towards Salisbury Cathedral we found this interesting sign

Salisbury Cathedral

They have one of the four remaining copies of the Magna Carta (1215) housed at Salisbury Cathedral.  “Its content was designed to re-balance power between the King and his subjects. When King John set his seal on Magna Carta he conceded the fundamental principle that even as king he was not above the law.  Magna Carta contains 63 clauses written in Latin on parchment. Only three of the original clauses in Magna Carta are still law today. One defends the freedom and rights of the English Church, another confirms the liberties and customs of London and other towns, but the third is the most famous:  No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled. Nor will we proceed with force against him except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.  Magna Carta has come to symbolise the rule of law in England, protecting the rights of the individual. Its basic principles have been used in the constitutions of Commonwealth and other countries worldwide.”  (I couldn’t have said it better myself!)  It is in a remarkably good condition after all these years.

Looking down into the baptismal font and seeing the reflection of the arched ceiling. The four corners of  the fleur-de-lis design act as the overflow conduits into the small drains in the floor, which recycles the water 24/7. Good photo, Dennis!

We are standing on top of that first row of arches. This is the first stop of the two-hour tour going up the tower

Up, up and up some more

Looking down, we’re standing at the base of the spire, on top of the bell tower

The old craft of craving in stone is alive and well, the old finials, blocks of stone and statues, etc finally succumb to erosion and need replacing

The lead on the roof slowly corrodes and every 125 years they remove it, melt it down and after adding new lead to that then make new roofing panels again!

Boy, we got such a fright when the bells began to chime! We had forgotten the time…

The following day we carried on to our new house sitting job in Uckfield.   Travelling over the  Salisbury Plains we were once again driving through the most productive country.   I can think of many situations while driving through New Zealand that are very unproductive e.g. driving over the Rimutakas, through the Manawatu Gorge, etc, but other than a few miles in the Lake District or Peak District that was too steep to farm, every bit of land between metropolitan areas is farmed around here.  It is no wonder that England is such a wealthy country in comparison, add to that all the coal, iron ore, and slate etc mined for generations.

Once again we arrived the night before at our clients’ place as they were due to leave around 5.30a.m.  We met the lady of the house who introduced her two Borzio dogs,  10-year-old Ella and 3-year-old Samara.  Borzio dogs (the breed) come from Russia, favourite dogs of the Czars, apparently they were used to hunt in pairs and they could take a wolf down!  They stand about  80cm tall and look like a cross between a greyhound and a long-haired afghan.   The word borzio in Russian is an adjective for fast.   They have the most beautiful, silky, wavy, long hair and when they walk look so graceful.  The few times we saw them run they were very fast, but usually they would prance along up and down the fence line, if they weren’t asleep on the couch or a bed.  The first instructions we got and these were repeated often, in discussions and in written instructions was to NOT LET THE DOGS OUT OF THE PROPERTY!  The owners had only recently shifted into this house, having come from a place in the country that had a large two-storied house and an acre of grounds.  Sadly, they needed to shift as three years ago Mr Client, then aged around 50-55, had suffered a debilitating stroke and he is now either in bed or in a wheel chair.   It became essential that they found a house that was all on one level.  Previously, the dogs exercised themselves running around the large property all day, everyday, but now having moved to this site they only have probably one-eighth of the area they were used to!  They have never been taken for a walk with a collar and lead and never learnt the knack of meeting other dogs and not eating them!  If they did get out of the front door or through the gates into the wild blue yonder it would be unlikely that we could get them to come back, as they have had that trouble themselves.  If they see a cat, squirrel or rabbit on the property they certainly live up to their name and are FAST!

Samara and Ella eating dinner

A chestnut flower

The house was lovely, three bedrooms, one office, a large kitchen, spacious lounge and very big conservatory which they used as a formal dining area.  We have been in many houses that have plastic windows and door surrounds.  This one had that and really neat windows in the conservatory that you could open either with the hinges engaged on the outside edges to open the window vertically or the same windows had another set of hinges which allows them to open horizontally!    Very nifty.

This time we were directly under the flight path to Gatwick International Airport and with the gorgeous weather planes fly overhead OFTEN.

As well as being the main carer for her husband, Mrs Client also works full-time in their publishing company.  That’s the reason for the office in the house.  It was so sad to hear her speak about how different life is for them both.  Previously, they were a very social couple, always travelling down to London for shows, the theatre and parties and had spent many happy times overseas on holidays but now are very nearly housebound.  She receives six hours a month of respite care, where her Mother is paid to come and care for her son-in-law, as he can’t be left alone!  Of course, it is very difficult for her husband whose intellect has not been affected severely, to live with the realisation that his paralysis will not improve.  It has made me appreciate all the more Dennis’ reason for wanting us to travel at this stage of our lives, while we are fit, healthy and able.  We often think of our time when we had to sell  DJ’s Market Garden and were left with a huge debt and are so thankful for God’s provision for us.  We left the Wairarapa in 2000 and here we are only 12 years later on the other side of the world!  We do have much to be thankful for.

Kitchen with slate floor

Our house in Uckfield – not too shabby!

We were warned that Samara was nervous around men, particularly large, dark-haired men so it wasn’t strange to have her spend most of the time lying on her mistress’ bed, well away from Dennis for the first few days.  She slowly became accustomed to him and would sidle up to me for a pat and a bit of attention.  The first week I was her best friend really but for no apparent reason she began to get nasty.  When I sat on the couch in the lounge, the seat was so low and she was so tall, that when Samara stood in front of me her face was at the same height as mine.  She began to snarl at me and bare her teeth (she had a good set of chompers!) and really crowd into me!  I was quite alarmed and threatened by her behaviour and found I had to sit on a dining room chair so that I was taller than her but when she continued this I had to ban her from the lounge altogether!  For the next two weeks I had to be so careful with her, she was very unpredictable, one day she was fine and back to her agreeable self and the next aggressive again.  From time to time she would warm to Dennis and let him pat her but usually she would ignore him.   When the cleaner arrived on the first Thursday, she asked me how the dogs were behaving for me, and I could say truthfully that they were fine.  On the second Thursday I explained to her how Samara had changed and then I learnt that she had actually been their house sitter before us and now will no longer come to look after them due to the same problems with Samara!  She has experienced the same thing while there cleaning, with the clients still at home, and will not go into a room where the dog is, unless she has the Hoover with her as she knows that Samara hates the vacuum cleaner!  It made it easier for me to not feel so bad when I shut the doors between Samara and me, but I thought it was pretty poor of the client to have not warned us before.   Dennis spoke to Mrs Client about it when they returned and she told him Samara treats them just the same, from time to time, for no apparent reason.  Nuts!  What that dog needs is some regular and long exercise, it really is cruel to have these athletic dogs cooped up on a small section in the middle of town.  Needless to say, Ella was lovely and we had no issues with her at all.

Samara was great for the first week…

Ella is lovely. Each dog had their own seat in the lounge which left just the couch for us. See what I mean about the low seats?

The weather continued to be beautiful and now that I was wearing T-shirts I was astonished at how white I was!!  I never tan anyway but even my freckles had faded to be almost invisible!    This is the result of having two winters in a row. I enjoyed doing a bit of weeding in their garden and getting my hands all dirty for a change.  We took a day trip to Brighton and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I walked all day in the sun without the need for suntan lotion, which is unheard for me and my sensitive complexion.  The sun just doesn’t have the power in it as it does in NZ.  

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One Response to “Crazy Dog!”

  1. kathy June 24, 2012 at 6:30 am #

    Those dogs are hideous! Great post, love Dad’s photo of the font….don’t like the idea of being up so high in the tower though!

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