Let’s go Roman

Hello All

Trier is an historian’s dream. Everywhere you turn you are tripping over antiquities and glorious architecture. I even look out of my window at building works where thousands have been spent on conserving the roman artefacts found there. So much on offer to feed my heritage addiction, where to start?

I went with chronology. Love a timeline. Let’s go Roman. First place to aim for: Porta Nigra a Unesco World Heritage (see we are all at it) Site.

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Built in the 2nd Century AD it is the best preserved and largest Roman city gate North of the Alps. It is MASSIVE…

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Confession: I found the stairs quite scary. Not that good with heights me.

Looking up was enough to make me dizzy. As to it’s name Porta Nigra blame those medieval wags who had noticed that the stone had turned black…. I bet it had a much grander Imperial name sadly that has been lost in the mists of time.

It had to be done. My little old legs cried out ‘Please, please’ so I went all touristy and boarded …

… for a tour around the ancient sites of Trier. Stop laughing you lot! Well this ancient site (you should have seen my hair this morning!) found it really handy to get a ‘floor plan’ of the city and it was easier for me to toddle to the places on my must visit list. Stopping only for Kaffee und Kuchen – who wouldn’t?! – I made my way back to the Basillica of Constantine which was ENORMOUS.

Another UNESCO World Heritage Site – I am racking these up today – it is the largest hall from antiquity still surviving. The Emperor Constantine I – he who converted to Christianity – commissioned the building in around 310 AD. It formed part of a larger (!!!!) palace complex.

Bombed during the war the reconstruction left the walls bare without their nineteenth century embellishments and to my mind this creates a very powerful space, awe inspiring. I was sitting musing on this and getting all philosophical when I clapped eyes on the mighty organ pipes covering most of the entrance wall, my gaze then wandered to the organist’s eerie reached by a rather spindly looking spiral staircase. Hope they have a good head for heights.

As photography is not allowed inside the Basilica I thought I would make a small jotting for you dear readers. Now this seemed to attract attention and a couple of people came over to peek at my artwork. Strangely they took one look and scuttled away without comment…can’t think why….

Michaelangelo I ain’t. But you get the idea.

To regain my artistic nonchalant air I wandered through the beautiful ornamental gardens behind the Basilica to the Roman Archaeological Museum. Once again I was left open mouthed at the SIZE of the museum’s interiors. Here are some of my highlights:

It was wonderful to look through the galleries, it was very quiet with hardly any visitors. It felt very special.

I love the way this smiley bear is covering the eyes of the wild boar, ‘Don’t look she can’t draw for toffee!’:

Hoodies are definitely nothing new:

As this figure of a Celtic Trevari confirms.

I may have eaten rather well on this trip but really…

Today has been a day of grandeur and magnificence. There were moments when I felt like a wee Cumbrian Brigante tribeswoman brought before the might that was Rome. I loved it.

Now dinner beckons and tonight I am translating the menu before making my selection. Thank goodness for translation apps! Yesterday’s meal was a vegetarian’s serendipitous delight (whoever said the German’s don’t do food for veggies? They blinking do) but tonight it will be nice to show that I appreciate the chef’s menu by making considered choices rather than just stabbing a finger at unfamiliar words hopeful of a tasty result.

Until next we meet,

Moke xxx

P.S. I hope I am not raising expectations too much as I may not be able to write a post everyday but I will try my best Wifi and other commitments allowing.

P.P.S. Want to see my reward for being an Eco-friendly guest?

Good isn’t it?

P.P.S. The quest for wool. Just as I thought I would never see a wool shop I saw two in one street so will be checking them out tomorrow. The ripple scarf-shawl-thingy must go on.

Mx

The Great Escape and an Ode to Tea

Hello All

Bags are again packed and I am off on a small adventure:

I am going Interrailing to visit (find!) my father’s home village in Germany, Klein Sperrenwalde. Thank you to my friends who waved me off both physically and virtually.

But this is me and I like to begin with baby steps. Clever little bods them babies. So I have started with a couple of days in Newcastle. Dodging a swarm of beer swilling blokes who appeared confused navigating the ticket barriers I walked through the big and beautiful concourse to see Newcastle Upon Tyne for the first time. And I was a woman on a mission.

My goal was to find a wool shop in which to purchase the first ball of wool for my European trip. I was looking for Woolly Minded and bingo found it really easily. I am used to cosy little wool shops with quaint and often quirky signage Woolly Minded is a large shop with a very modern frontage impossible to miss.

Despite the helpful assistants I sadly couldn’t find anything really local but instead I settled for King Cole DK. They are based in Skipton and that’s the North!

In case you are wondering my plan is to crochet a shawl or scarf using a ball of wool from each town or city I stay in. This seemed like a good idea when I was cooking it up in my head as it means I will not have to carry all the wool for the project but only a ball each time I stop, hopefully having already worked the previous yarn into an ever growing shawl-scarf-thingy. As the weather is turning chilly I also hope that I will have something warm and snuggly to use when I return. Let the crocheting commence!

On walking a wee bit further into the centre of Newcastle and reaching The Monument a tall …. erm … monument to Earl Grey – local politician and possibly the father to my favourite tipple Earl Grey tea – I took a brave ‘pill’. That being a metaphorical pill you understand no pharmaceuticals nor mind-altering substances were taken. Suffice to say I embraced the Newcastle Metro system.

My hotel the Best Western New Kent in Jesmond was only a few stops down the line and I was thankful to reach its welcoming reception staff.

While someone quickly made himself comfortable. Cheeky! I was just glad to put down my rucksack. Backpacks seemed lighter when I was 18….

But after a good night’s sleep- refreshed and fuelled by a veggie English Breakfast – I was ready this morning to visit Arbeia Roman Fort in South Shields. A short hop – well 16 stops but by now I am such an old hand I am not even counting – on the wonderful Newcastle Metro service.

It was easy to see when I was getting near to Arbeia.

When I arrived I really hit it lucky as today is the last day of the season at the Fort and I managed to earwig a fascinating impromptu tour which included a description of the famous Regina tombstone (its the one on the right as you look at the photograph):

It was commissioned in the 2nd century by the late lamented Regina’s husband. Fascinatingly Regina was from a southern British tribe the Catuvellauni and had been sold as a slave to Palmyrian (Syrian) trader Barates who freed her and then married her. What I love is that she is clutching her distaff and spindle rather like any of us would hold our knitting of an evening at home in a comfy chair while poignantly at her feet is her stash of wool ready for projects she never got to finish.

Sniffle! Pulling myself together I took a turn about the site and was thrilled to have the reconstructed gatehouse all to myself;

From the top I got a good view of the majority of the archaeological remains together with the reconstructed barracks and Commanding Officer’s house:

Let’s look through the keyhole (no doors let alone keyholes but bear with me). Who lives in a house/barrack like this?

A Centurian! Rather bijou.

Being the last day of the season there were also re-enactors from the Cohors Quinto Gallorum – an auxiliary unit garrisoned to the fort in the 3rd Century – showing visitors ceremonies, food and the equipment of infantry soldiers. These are brave men. I mean it. Some of those children turned quite vicious when hurling spears at them!

A short walk around the herb garden,

And I was ready for a stroll back towards the Metro.

One of the nice things about tootling and having no particular timetable is that you come upon unexpected pleasures. Today mine was the Victorian Pantry at South Shields Museum and Art Gallery on Ocean Road.

I had a lovely light lunch (I managed to resist a High Tea…goodness knows how!) served by waitresses complete with white pinnies.

The poem by an unknown author on the front of the menu sums up life for me:

When the world is all at odds,

And the mind is all at sea,

Then cease the useless tedium,

And brew a cup of tea.

There is magic in its taste,

The laden moments vanish

Somewhere into space.

And the world becomes a lovely thing!

There’s beauty as you see.

All because you briefly stopped

To have a cup of tea.

About time I was brewing up!

Until next we meet,

Moke xxx

P.S. Those of you playing spot the Meerkat (Terence to his friends), it will get harder!

P.P.S. Apologies to anyone who caught a quick glimpse of an earlier post announcing the start of my travels. It was a draft which I prematurely published! Sorry for any confusion caused. Mx

High Days and Roman Holidays

Hello All

Being born on 24 July in the 57th year of the last century means that I have just turned 57 myself. A pleasing symmetry.

After an early morning birthday call from No1 Son, No1 Daughter arrived to take her old mum out for the day. Off we set in glorious sunshine for the pretty Lancashire village of Ribchester.

No1 Daughter knew the perfect place for lunch DSCI0326

Steamingly hot no one was sitting inside said glass house but outside under cheerful parasols or broad brimmed hats thoughtfully provided by the proprietors. I snaffled a jaunty blue number. I thought I looked tres chic. I can’t imagine what that girl of mine was sniggering at.

What a friendly and convivial setting for a happy birthday lunch.

The cafe is part of an eclectic mix of little businesses which are set up in small summer houses dotted around what is also a delightful rambling garden centre.

A special treat. But the day was not over.

Lying on the banks of an expansive stretch of the River Ribble – on this hot day filled with squealing children trying to cool down – Ribchester is a picture postcard village. It has a 13th century church, St Wilfred’s DSCI0337

 

cottages quaint enough to feature on top of a biscuit tin lid DSCI0332

 

and comes complete with an 18th century hostelry, The White Bull. DSCI0328

But what makes it very special to me are the remains of the Roman fort of Bremetennacum the story of which is told in the village’s small but beautifully formed museum.DSCI0330

 

Famously Bremetennacum was garrisoned by Sarmatian auxiliaries. These highly accomplished horsemen from the lower Danube came to Britain after their defeat by the legions of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius in 175AD. In this fabulous mongrel nation of ours I like to fancy that modern day Ribchesterians will be descended from these exotic nomadic people.

The ‘Roman’ visitors also left behind more tangible traces of their lives at Bremetennacum: their granaries

and a little walk away, their bath house

complete with an add-on medieval well DSCI0342

I couldn’t resist patting the sun-warmed stones and thinking of the people who had dressed and placed them there. It made me smile.

I’ll let you into a little secret: over the years I have researched the Sarmatians in Roman Britain for a novel and if you are really interested you can have a sneaky peek of the first few chapters on Wattpad. Beware it is very different from my blog!

No1 Daughter and I had a lovely time chatting and tootling about the site of this ancient world but thank goodness for modern conveniences and a last cup of tea. DSCI0347

 

Until we meet next. Moke

A bird in the hand

It was a traumatic start to the weekend because I am a lucky mum to still have No1 daughter, her boyfriend and grand dog. They were driving in the near-side lane of the M6 on Thursday evening when they were side swiped by a lorry, pushed along the carriage-way by the same HGV, spun around 360 degrees across the motorway and ricocheted onto the barrier of the hard shoulder. They are battered and bruised, suffering whiplash and shock but otherwise unharmed. I shiver to think how different it could have been and was most relieved to see No1 daughter yesterday afternoon and give her a hug.

Thankfully I have good friends to rant to, weep on (sorry JG, B and RS) and keep me diverted from thinking about what might have happened.

Its 2014 and time to begin a new Latin book with AHDSCN1152

it’s the last book in the series and from the length of the first translation alone we can tell it will be somewhat taxing.DSCN1148

On a Roman theme I have been asked to share a workshop I attended sometime ago with AH when we spent a couple of days with book binder extraordinaire Michael Burke (of Dominic Riley and Michael Burke fame) making a facsimile of a Vindolanda wax tablet. DSCN1124

It was quite a struggle. There was chiseling ( I have never before or since chiseled!) which meant  CAREFULLY working the beautiful tulip wood to hollow out a very thin recess or pocket in each sheet without piercing the other side of the ‘page’, especially the double-sided leavesDSCN1120

and being EXTREMELY CAREFUL to keep intact the fragile little wooden bars at the centre of each page that act – once the sheets are filled with soot-dyed beeswax (don’t ask me about working with soot and molten wax…) – as a means of separating the leaves (aaarghhhhh, they all have to LINE UP!!!!!). DSCN1121

Once you have wrestled with the problem of getting sooty hot beeswax – I’ve told you, don’t ask me about working with soot and molten wax – on two sides of the three centre pages you finally get to put the waxed cord through the teeny tiny holes that you drilled (yes…DRILLED!) after CAREFUL MEASUREMENT to hold your Roman book together. Phew. DSCN1119

You’ll have gathered it was not the most relaxing craft project that I have undertaken. Infact I seem to remember rushing home to pick up my crochet hook and work a curly-wurly wreath just to calm down. BUT I hope you agree that the finished item is a thing of beauty and for experimental archaeologists a real eye opener. ALSO spending a couple of days in Michael and Dominic’s wonderful home and bindery with such expert bookbinders was a privilege. And do you know I still have the ‘book’ but have no idea what happened to the wreath.

Talking of book binders my two very good friends B and JG – who were taught by Michael and Dominic – are accomplished binders in their own right and today I joined them as they discussed their current project, creating beautiful bindings for ‘Letting Go’ by Angela Topping published by Mother’s Milk Books.

Of course we talked about  interesting books to read. B and RS have the wonderful Fireside Bookshop in Windermere so we were spoilt for choice, I also notice that a library book has crept in too… DSCN1163

and the afternoon would not have been complete without putting the world to rights over a tasty lunch and a slice of B’s latest gluten free baking. Today it was delicious pineapple and banana spiced Hummingbird Cake, DSCN1161

What about the bird in the hand I hear you ask? In the midst of this week’s highs and lows I have been busy creating a needle felted Guinea Fowl for a friend of Bs. Infact it became a bit of a welcome obsession. I doodled him in my craft book (remember the one B made and swapped for a pair of my fingerless mittens)…

I drew him on shopping lists…DSCN1128

I even sketched him in my diary…DSCN1131

He began life as a shaggy pile of wool tops …DSCN1134 then began to take shape…

something like a pheasant/hen/turkey…vulture?!(unkind)…cross…started to look like a down at heel Jemima Puddleduck …DSCN1138 but then found his feet ….

lost them again…DSCN1143

and erm…blossomed into a Ghanaian Crested Guinea Fowl a la Moke….DSCN1159

a bird in the hand.

Bread, Vikings and Latin

What a 24 hours that was! If variety is the spice of life I’ve just eaten a Vindaloo. Here goes…

I got off the train yesterday looking forward to a creamy tomato soup for tea. Not homemade I’m afraid, but that brand – mentioning no names – that sometimes you crave when a bit of cosseting is required. All that was missing was a tasty crusty loaf.  I was ready to settle for some toasted slightly stale left over crusts. But AW must be a mind reader as there she was at Oxenholme with…fanfare please…sourdough baquettes just purchased from the artisan baker (Lovingly Artisan) based in the little yard next to the station. The smell was delicious and having purloined a couple of these wonderful creations I whizzed through my front door and straightway gave in to the temptation to tear off a hunk and eat it there and then, mmmmmmmmm….I wish you could smell this photo, DSCN0793

So far so relaxing but Saturday morning saw a change of pace. Here come the Vikings DSCN0831

As a Young Archaeologists’ Club leader I have enjoyed some wonderful sessions exploring history and archaeology with groups of brilliant young people but this morning’s meeting was one of the best! It was made particularly special because it was lead by one of our long time members  FW (she’s been a Young Archaeologist since she was 9!) who is a Viking re-enactor. FW had brought along a fellow re-enactor whose character name is Bjarni Thorvaldrson and they shared with us their passion and tremendous knowledge of the Viking era. We handled artifacts (look away if of a squeamish disposition),

wrote in Runes,

and played Nine Men’s Morris, sometimes know as Merrel, a very addictive Viking board game,

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But the best was yet to come Viking weapons and how to use them. After terrifying museum visitors with group training in the use of shields and battle formation – I should have known they were not all lined up just to look pretty! –

FW and Bjarni went on to demonstrate with the stuff that could really hurt you (don’t try this at home these people are experts!)

Phew what a finish to an exciting morning.

Time for something more sedate and what could be better than sitting down to master (snigger) the present passive infinitive? whatever that is…. DSCN0848

AH and I are nearing the end of Book 4…oops I mean IV… and have only one more book to go before we finish the course. EeeeeeK. We are hoping that the gods are watching and on the last page of the last book there will be divine intervention transforming us into perfect Latin speakers. Methinks we live in hope!

Now before you go thinking I have forgotten my woolly stuff never fear something I saw amongst the Viking goods reminded me of where my obsession with wool-crafts began. Here’s a clue:DSCN0803

Watch this space tomorrow….

amo amas amat

Tuesday night is Latin Night. For the last few years my friend AH and I have struggled with participles, infinitives (split and otherwise), subjunctives, declensions and conjugations and that’s before we tackle Latin! Did I ever mentioned that I went to secondary school when grammar was considered a thing of the past? Perhaps it obvious was …. Comprehensive schools in the 1960s and 1970s placed emphasis on creativity and that was great until…I started learning a new language.

AH and I started learning Latin with Minimus –  ‘the mouse that made Latin cool’ – a Latin course for younger children (ermmm, AH and I are a little bit older) based on a family that lived at Vindolanda – just up the road on Hadrian’s Wall – in 100AD. After Minimus we began the Cambridge Latin Course and are currently on Book IV. DSCN0464

I know for a fact that we’ve been studying Latin for four years because on the day we first started translating Minimus AH’s neighbour popped in to tell AH that she was expecting a baby. That expectation is now a beautiful little girl of four. We may be slow but we have kept going,

and have recently been joined by another friend who is on Book II and consequently gives us an opportunity to revise what we have learnt. We have a theory that as we turn the last page of the last book (only one more to go….eeeeeek) we will be magically transformed in to natural Latin speakers. Fingers crossed.

I can’t imagine why we have taken so long… DSCN0474

Not a Dodo but definitely a bird

Yahoo! time for some needle felting.  I know I promised to show you how I needle felt a Dodo brooch, small change of plan … yesterday as I cast my eyes over the latest edition of Current Archaeology the cover photograph of a bird of an altogether different kind grabbed me. ca281_banner_280x165

Poignantly this small bronze enamelled cockerel was found along with a pottery feeding cup in the grave of a small child discovered by archaeologists in a Roman cemetery outside the walls of Roman Cirencester. It probably dates from the early 2nd century AD and was dedicated to the goddess Arcana by Ulpius Verinus a veteran of the sixth Legion. A gift for a much loved child to take to the afterlife.

While I thought that this would make a relevant edition to the brooches I make for Kendal Museum – they have a collection of local Roman finds – what most inspired me to create a brooch effigy was the pleasingly tactile shape and design of this small enamel  funerary offering. Here goes.

First I drew a template. DSCN0410

As you can see I had a bit of a struggle with the tail! I simplified things in the second version. So it turned a bit cartoonesque … Then I transfered my design onto fusible interfacing which I pressed with a hot iron onto a piece of felt fabric.

Now I was ready to needle felt my little not-so-feathered friend. I usually use locally sourced and dyed Merino wool tops but I also have some vibrantly coloured Austrian Merino tops that I bought at last year’s Woolfest.

Just a word of warning. Keep the needles out of harms way and watch your fingers while you are felting. Dry felting needles are barbed and they don’t half sting when you pull them out! I’m impatient so I always try to felt too much wool in one go. Best to remember ‘less is more’, you can always add wool its much more difficult to thin it out! Otherwise it’s a bit like colouring by numbers. Keep your needle straight, I’ve snapped several when trying to felt at an angle.

Still my little bird seems to be coming along. DSCN0440

Now all the felting is done. DSCN0442

I trim off the excess felt-interfacing backing, tidy up the rough edges

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and sew on a brooch pin. DSCN0457

Voila! DSCN0458

More Foghorn Leghorn in a beret than the grandeur that was Rome but still good fun.