Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Day in Frederick, MD

On Saturday, our Brit group visited Frederick, MD. We were meeting at Sugarloaf Mountain Winery, so I decided to drive the scenic route and enjoy the last vibrant leaves that were still clinging to the trees. Just before the brewery, I passed a small empty cottage which was surrounded by hundreds of homemade bird houses.

They were stacked outside the building, on both sides and stretched into the woods behind.

The guy who made these, Rick Keeney, had used all kinds of wood and artifacts to create them, even some vehicle plates as roofs. They were all for sale and a check could be dropped into a box by the door.
I got to the winery where a few of us were meeting and we got straight down to the tasting. I had a lovely Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve but could not be persuaded to buy a bottle.

After out tasting, we went straight to Frederick where we met with some others at Rose Hill Manor. Unfortunately we got there a little late and missed most of the house tour but we were given tickets so we could return at a later date to see what we missed.

The manor was built on land given by Thomas Jefferson to his daughter, Ann. When his wife died, he spent the rest of his life here with Ann's family.

We saw the outbuildings, including the blacksmiths and a wonderful carriage museum. We then went back into the town to have dinner, followed by a walk round the streets to try and work off our huge meals.

I was particularly keen to find the Community Bridge Mural painted by William Cochran, and as we strolled towards the canal, we came across another of his works, Earthbound, just off the main street. You had to get close up to realize it was not real, it looked so convincing. We then came to the Bridge where Cochran painted a completed concrete bridge in trompe l'oeil. 

The effect was astounding as we approached it and we twisted our heads every way to ascertain whether a painting was actually a carving.

Here are some of the paintings from the bridge. There were so many small hidden images painted within the 'stonework' that I could not photograph them all.

This bird bath looked very convincing from the other side of the canal and I heard that even some birds have been fooled and tried to land on the rim of the bird bath.

This painting, Archangel, is an anamorphic project which can only be seen correctly from a window in the adjacent art gallery. Cochran and his team started painting this bridge in 1993 and didn't finish until late 1998.

Close to the canal is the Frederick News building, also decorated with a trompe l'oeil image, but I was unable to identify who had painted it.
Frederick is a charming town and I want to return as I barely saw a fraction of it. I think some of us will go when the Christmas decorations are up.There are still art galleries, museums and craft shops to be visited. We spoke to some of the residents who adore their town and claim it as the best place to live as far as community life is concerned. During our short trip, I had no reason to disbelieve them.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cool Things from the English Trip

The High Street of West Moors where Mum and Dad live. Greg and I spent a few late evenings in The Elephant and Castle pub. Some of these images are not very good quality because they were taken through a car window.

This is Louise who owns the Moorsvale Lodge B&B. The place is very comfortable and immaculate. I became friends with Louise and was very impressed when she emailed me back in the States to let me know she'd woofed a bag of Take 5's that I left behind and wanted more. You go, girl!

Her breakfasts were amazing. We had this every morning with toast and marmalade washed down with a pot of tea. I chuckle when I see this photo as Greg is sitting so patiently with his hands in his lap while I took the photo, when I know he was dying to tuck in!

Mum and I outside Moorvale Lodge.
A butcher and produce shop in the village. These are slowly disappearing as the larger grocery stores steal their business.

One of the beautiful houses in West Moors.

 A fun Beetle seen in Maidstone.

Boxley Road in Maidstone, where I shared a house after leaving home. The stone wall surrounds Maidstone Prison where the Kray Brothers were incarcerated.

St. Michael's Church in Maidstone where Greg and I were baptized.

A Week in England Part III

Thursday morning, Greg and I headed on a three hour drive up to Maidstone. It was a pretty drive and didn't feel like three hours at all. We passed over the South Downs and through many postcard villages. It was great to start seeing scenery I recognized and finally we were at an old local pub where we were meeting my best friend, Boo. I ran to the car park as I saw her arriving and after many hugs and tears we went inside to catch up on gossip.
 We then moved to another local pub to and continued chatting,...
...drank lager which I had forgotten tasted so good...

...and then to another pub where we finally had lunch and Greg managed to get a few words in edgeways! Later, we had to drop Boo off at her work where we had more hugs and tears, along with promises not to leave it so long next time. It had been very special seeing her again; we have shared so much together.

Maidstone High Street. Very little has changed since we walked this street as kids.
Greg and I then headed out of Maidstone and moved on to Wateringbury, 10 miles away, where we spent our later chidhood. Greg lives and works in Malta and had been amazed to find out that his boss's grandmother lived in the Railway House in Wateringbury, asking him if he could possibly see her and take some photos of her house. Greg had been to the house the week before but no one had been home, so we were going again.

We arrived late afternoon so after finding the house empty again, we hit the local pub for a swift pint. We waited until after 6:30pm to see if someone would turn up, but unfortunately we never got to meet the grandmother, but did take plenty of photos of the house. The doubledecker buses are going to Malta for tourists to ride round the island.
During the drive back down to Dorset, we passed crowds of people in villages heading towards their village greens or fields as tonight was Guy Fawkes Night. The skies were lit up with fireworks as we passed through the towns.
Friday was my last full day in England and we would spend the day with Mum & Dad. Dad insisted that we all go to a local pub which served fabulous fish and chips. To ensure I would appreciate lunch fully, I asked Louise at the B&B to let me have just a bacon sandwich for breakfast instead of the usual Gut Buster. That was a good move.

Unfortunately, I had already attacked my plate before Greg reminded me that a photo of the food might be in order. I managed to sneak Dad into the background of the image. Once I'd taken the photo, I became increasingly aware that this could be the last meal we would all spend together and I found it very difficult to sit and chat casually. I was glad when we left and I managed to regain control by feigning interest in the passing scenery out of the car window.
I spent the evening with Dad watching a DVD of Catherine Jenkins, a Welsh singer he admired. I didn't like her as much as Sarah Brightman, but made sure that I was always attentive as I sensed that Dad was wanting to share something he liked with me, and it was important for us to have this shared memory. I have a feeling that I will listen to her more in the future.
The next morning I had to say goodbye to Dad, which, quite frankly, was impossible to do. I promised to return in January, hoping that this would give Dad something to look forward to, but knowing that it gave me something to cling to also. The look over my shoulder as I left was one of the hardest things I've ever done.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Week in England Part II

Poor Dad suffered the next morning from his wild day out and we waited apprehensively for the nurse to arrive, all of us feeling like kids sitting outside the headmaster's office awaiting our reprimands. Mum started by telling her he'd only had two beers until Dad interjected with a loud, "six!" Our heads swivelled around to hear her response and we were mightily relieved when she merely suggested without a hint of disapproval that next time he stick to two beers only.
So after lunch, I sat with him while Mum & Greg went shopping. He let me look at some of his old photo albums while he sat dozing and I spent a delightful couple of hours flicking through pages of our childhood photos, some of which I had never seen before. When Mum and Greg returned, we spent the rest of the day together at home partly feeling guilty, and partly feeling sad at the party animal in our father that had been lost forever.

Wednesday morning, Greg and I left our hotel early to quickly see Bournemouth before we headed to our parents' house. The beach was empty except for a few surfers heading out to the waves, and flocks of seagulls screeching and soaring above us.The wind was cold but I was determined to trudge through the sand in my cowboy boots and snap a few photos. 

Afterwards we headed towards the town center searching in vain for tourist souvenirs that we could take home for friends.

I loved the beautiful architecture of the jewelers shop and wished we had time to go inside the cathedral.

I couldn't believe it when we saw this monstrosity parked in the car park. I was not impressed that this giant truck had made its way over from the States and knew the owner would have a hard time negotiating many of England's roads. It didn't even fit in the parking space!
We got to Mum and Dad's by 11:00am and were disappointed to find that Dad wasn't feeling up to a day out. Greg had purchased tickets for the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth before he came over to England, and Dad insisted we go without him.We all refused until he said he would actually like some peace and quiet with nobody fussing over him. Once we had rigged up the phones for speed dialing, we left with Mum, but determined to return home early.

On the way down to Portsmouth, we saw this beautiful double rainbow.

  The Spinnaker Tower opened in 2005 and, reflecting Portsmouth's maritime history, is named and shaped after a spinnaker sail. The glass floor which we all sat on above is the largest in Europe.

The views were impressive and we could see across to the Isle of Wight while watching ferries, hovercrafts, fishing boats and warships sail past.

HMS Victory is docked here, Lord Nelson's ship that won the Battle of Trafalgar. There is even one of the large sails preserved in a warehouse showing the scars of battle.

Another amazing ship berthed here is a T45, HMS Daring, the world's most advanced destroyer and the Royal Navy's newest ship. The ship features the latest propulsion, anti-aircraft weapon and stealth technology. 

Below the Spinnaker, a familiar shape caught my eye and I made a beeline for this spritsail barge. The village I lived in before I came to America used to build these boats which were used for carrying cargo mainly to London from nearby ports. I spent a lot of time researching and tracking down local spritsails, and also sat in a local author's house, Don Sattin, who wrote two books on these spectacular barges. It made my day to see this well preserved boat here.
We managed to get home quite early and were relieved to see Dad looking a lot better and evidently pleased to have had an afternoon without anyone fussing over him. Greg and I were heading to our home town in Kent on Thursday since Dad had nurses coming over that day, so we told Dad he had to be fit to go out for fish & chips at lunchtime on Friday. I was acutely aware that I would only see Dad two more times before I headed back to America.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Week in England Part I

Last week I went home to England to visit my family, especially my father who has terminal cancer. My brother, Greg, and I had arranged to be there at the same time and it was with extreme trepidation and fear that I entered the house when Mum opened the door. Dad was right behind her and I had to quell the shock I felt at seeing him so frail. During the many hugs, I managed to regain my composure and treat Dad the same as usual and not as an invalid. Of course the first thing to be done was to put the kettle on and enjoy two cups of tea, made with real tea, not teabags. Heaven!
The rest of the day was spent chatting and catching up, punctuated with more pots of tea and snacks. At the end of the evening, after more hugs with Mum and Dad, Greg and I left to go to our B&B and grab a last pint at the local to ponder over the day. We were both grieved to see how badly the cancer had attacked our father and resolved to play each day by ear.
Next day meant Sunday lunch at a pub, but Dad insisted we go with Mum and leave him behind. Mum gave us a knowing look so we didn't argue too much, but I felt awful at leaving him behind sitting in the lounge dozing.

The pub was a favorite of our parents and popular for its food. Check out the website for food & photos. It is a typical country style pub and it was great to see the fire already ablaze even though it wasn't really cold.

Despite Greg and I already having scarfed down a fabulous cooked breakfast of sausages, bacon, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, toast and marmalade washed down with a pot of tea, we were ready to attack a proper roast dinner. 
We found a table by the window despite the place being busy and settled to wait for our food. Inevitably, we started talking about Dad, and unfortunately I lost it and completely broke down. Mum was great and steered the conversation to how her mother and father met before the war. I was so fascinated that I managed to regain my composure before the food arrived.

This was my beef with yorkshire pudding, horseradish sauce and gravy before I heaped roast and new potatoes and succulent vegetables on the plate accompanied by wine. I really don't know how I put it all away, but then Mum insisted that we have the sticky toffee pudding to finish. Not wanting to miss out, I joined Mum for desert and we ordered one to take home for Dad. Outside the pub, we admired the views, while I admitted I'd rather overdone it as my tummy cramped up. 

This is the view across the fields of the Horton Folly Tower , also mentioned on the pub's website under The Walk. Amazingly, the car managed to get us back home without the wheels buckling or suspension sagging, and Dad got to enjoy his pudding.
The next day, after yet another massive breakfast, Greg and I arrived at Mum and Dad's where we spent a few hours. We then went out for a drive to some local seaside towns and by late afternoon, we arrived at Mudeford, a beautiful little coastal town.

The chalk cliffs are part of the Isle of Wight in the English Channel, with the Seven Sisters jutting out to the right. The sun was nearly setting with dark skies pressing down. The wind was high and rain whipped across the quay but it was ominously wonderful to see the sea crashing with seagulls hanging above us. Mum and I walked around the quay so I could shoot some quick photos while Greg and Dad went to the pub to order the pints.

These are the fishermens' cottages and at the far end, they have a seawall built surrounding them to keep the sea out during inclement weather. 
These are the beach huts used in summer by people on the beach to get changed in or use as shelter. They can be rented but many are owned and can reach high prices . Inside the tiny pub, we sat enjoying our beer and the fire, and had many laughs. We drove onto another pub later which hosts murder mystery evenings in its own Pullman carriage parked at the side.

We were all enjoying the beer, and I didn't find out until the next morning how much Dad had consumed but he stayed lucid and upright, even insisting that he have a cigarette. It was like back in the old days when we'd all go drinking together, an experience I'm sure he was trying to recapture and one he achieved. I'm also sure that Dad had this planned and that was why he stayed at home the day before, conserving his energy. I know now as I type this, that evening was probably the last fun event we'd share as a family where we all laughed and hugged refusing to let an illness dampen the day.