Monday, May 23, 2016

The way to the pub

First, walk right past the closer but more expensive and (I'm told) less friendly pub.

Go past Basing House, the Tudor palace that was destroyed in the seventeenth century during a Civil War siege. I haven't taken the tour of the ruins yet because I'm waiting to do it with Husband.

Turn off the road onto the footpath along this field.

There are usually sheep in the field, but today, just a passel of these (blackbirds?).
Follow the path...

...along the stream...

...and under the railway bridge.

The pub is right up ahead, in what used to be a mill.

The footbridge is a fantastic place to feed the ducks. No goslings today, though a few weeks ago I saw nearly twenty of them out for a swim with several sets of parents.
And having come all this way, one must of course stop for a drink!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Returning from Wales

Morning Prayer in the St David University Chapel 
 After one last morning in Lampeter, I caught a bus back to Aberystwyth after church, by way of the bakery, where I bought a custard-filled resolve to save it for later didn't last very long, and I enjoyed it while waiting at the bus stop, accompanied by Neil Gaiman's The Sleeper and the Spindle.

I had several hours to kill in Aberystwyth, and I stopped in a charity shop (still no woolen jumper, but I'm now one dress and one shirt up) and a Costa (basically English Starbucks, but I suspect the coffee is better because Husband actually drinks it). When I made my way over to the train station, the staff person informed me that no, I couldn't take the earlier train, but why don't I spend my two more hours by walking that way?

I did, and "behold, the sea itself!" (Walt Whitman for Vaughan Williams' Sea Symphony). I walked a few blocks further than Costa and there it was. Absolutely stunning. Because I was carting a suitcase, I wasn't able to take off my shoes and socks and run into the water, but the views alone were amazing.

And the thing about the UK is that if you wander through a city (or along the oceanside walk, in this case), beautiful old buildings just appear. Sometimes they're well-labeled; sometimes not...and somehow I love the unlabeled ones more because they're taken for granted as just a part of the community.

Not sure what this building is, but isn't it splendid?

Anther view of the mysterious building. What beautiful windows.

St Michael's Church
The inside of St. Michael's. I found the juxtaposition of old and new (drum set, television monitors) to be quite jarring and actually uncomfortable.

The remains of a castle! And this isn't a tourist spot--there were no signs explaining the history of these tower ruins. I felt ridiculous trundling along the pathways with my suitcase, but I didn't want to miss out.

A playground and a mini-golf course on the castle grounds!

I took the train station staffer's advice and bought some ice cream at the seaside. And I swear I'm not making this up: as I walked out of the shop, a seagull flew straight at me and my cone and stole a bite! He landed a few yards away, looking very pleased with himself, as I stared at him in disbelief for a moment and then admonished, "That's unacceptable!" Ah well, it was a delicious treat in spite of that.

Finally, I could hop on the proper train from Aberystwyth back to England. It was the first of two long train rides, and I confess I got rather bored. That day, I finished Gaiman's Sleeper and the Spindle, started and abandoned Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451 (why have books been outlawed? It's all the minorities' fault for wanting equal representation. Ugh.), and read A.A. Milne's Once On a Time (really cute, and put me in mind of Elizabeth von Arnim's Princess Priscilla's Fortnight). Plus a bit of dissertation work, though not a lot, because my body was a bit worn out from traipsing around Aberystwyth with a suitcase and heavy backpack.

Finally, as my second train was pulling out of Oxford, a double rainbow:

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


It takes a long time to get to Wales from England via train (especially if you buy the cheap seats) and even longer to get to a small town from one of the larger cities with a train station. I left the house in Basingstoke around 1 pm, and finally settled into my room in Lampeter around 9. In between came two trains and two buses. This trip's travel was by far the most stressful for me because it was the least prepared. I could only plan my trip in advance as far as Aberystwyth, and I counted on being able to find help locating the proper bus to Lampeter. Luckily, everybody in Wales is so nice. A helpful bus driver told me exactly what I was doing, and during the two bus rides, I chatted with a computer science professor headed in the same direction as me. We spoke about the Welsh language, the Welsh countryside, the tragic and disastrous reorganization of the University of Wales system, the history of railway and ship travel in Wales, how he ended up in computer science after majoring in Welsh, and many more fascinating topics. I've always dreamed of having an evening in the UK to just listen to an elderly gentleman talk about his life and his experience of British culture.

Wales is stunningly beautiful, and rainy (currently), and full of sheep. The gentleman on the bus told me why there are so many sheep everywhere: they can't really grow crops here. Rolling green hills divided into fields by hedges; bushy trees; and sheep everywhere. Here are some photos taken from the train window:


 Finally I arrived in Lampeter, this "quirky college town," as my contact in the library described it. It was a little eerie to walk away from the train station towards the university. My phone couldn't get any internet, so I was reliant on the instructions the bus gentleman had given me. None of the shops were open, and there were very few cars and people. The street felt deserted, as did the campus. It took me a while to figure out where I was supposed to go to check in for my stay at the university. Yet again, a friendly passerby came to my rescue! And once I arrived at reception, everything got easy. The folks who work here are among the cheeriest I've met; the dorm room is really cozy; the library is right across the way; and in the daytime, there are plenty of shops, bakeries, and cafes.

The original college building, which houses all kinds of things including the room I stayed in and the university chapel.
A view of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David Lampeter campus
Another view of campus
They take their rugby seriously here. Rugby was introduced to Wales from Lampeter.

In a way, Wales feels like Montreal: every sign is bilingual, with the non-English language given precedence. In theory (though not always in practice--occasionally the order is reversed), every sign is supposed to be in Welsh first, then English. The government has mandated this, although the bus gentleman told me that only about 1 in 5 Welsh people actually still speak Welsh. I've no idea if this statistic is true, especially since I've heard a lot of Welsh being spoken around me. It's a beautiful language. I still can't figure out what it reminds me of (German, maybe?), and I've no idea how to pronounce any of it. Written Welsh all seems to have either too many consonants or too many vowels.

After a solid day's work at the archive, I had a bit of time to wander the town. By now, of course, as is usual in Wales (apparently), it was drizzling, but I didn't mind a bit. I didn't have anywhere to be, and I didn't need to be all that presentable. I popped into several charity shops, looking for a wool jumper (with all these sheep around, surely they've got properly warm sweaters here?). I didn't find one, but I did walk away with a book. (Typical.)

I am drawn to churches like a moth to the flame. This one, the Roman Catholic St Peter's Church, wasn't actually open, but it was still worth walking around.
St Peter's has a sizable churchyard
You can't actually see them in this photo, but the far hill is also dotted with sheep.
A view of Lampeter from the churchyard.
A view of Lampeter from the top of a hill. Wales is so pretty!
Seriously, sheep are everywhere, even in town!
My brain is a little fried from the archival work today, so I plan to settle in for a movie night and dinner of  a crusty roll, a ball of mozzarella, a whole thing of strawberries, and a pair of mini custard tarts. In the morning, I'll attend Morning Prayer at the university chapel, check out, and catch one of the hourly buses back to Aberystwyth. I'll have plenty of time for lunch there before catching the first of my two trains back to Basingstoke. It's been a wonderful trip to gorgeous and charming Wales, and I sort of regret doing such comprehensive photo-taking that I shouldn't need to return to Lampeter to view these books again!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


This is a very short post simply to say how much I enjoyed my time in Swindon, despite the city being "not very trendy." I played lots of board and card games with my friends, occasionally winning except at the card games, which I almost always lost by a lot. I ended up providing baked goods for an early-evening event, and promised to make really American-style cookies. Determined to make chocolate chip cookies, I headed to the Tesco Express, where I chocolate chips, but (she confesses guiltily) a Betty Crocker chocolate chip cookie mix. Ah well, still very American! And then I also baked Husband's recipe for oatmeal cookies, which behaved very differently than I'm used to, and I liked the effect (they stayed as drop cookies instead of spreading out flat like pancakes) so much that I'm going to experiment when I get home to try to replicate it.

The neighborhood was beautiful; I went on many short walks and one long one.

And I even attended a yoga class in the attic room of the farm across the street! It was marvelous, and I'm reminded that even though I love my twice-a-week martial arts weapons training class, I really should make sure to continue taking yoga too.

Also, my friend is awesome at boiling a whole bunch of different vegetables in one small pot. How he times it so that they all finish at exactly the same time, I have no idea, but it's a skill I would love to gain.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Worcester and Worcester Cathedral

The library at Worcester Cathedral holds the only known surviving copy of a thing I had to see for my dissertation, and it became the first of this summer's many archival research trips. Worcester isn't close enough to Basingstoke to be a day trip, so the trip became an overnight. I hopped on a train (well, two trains actually) to Worcester on Wednesday afternoon. One of the great things about England is that generally, both the train station and the cathedral are close to the city center. It didn't take me long to find my hotel, and I could use the cathedral as a landmark, because it turned out that my hotel was right across the street.

I checked in and set off to find some dinner. I was surprised at my apathy. What I really wanted was some sort of familiar coffeeshop/bakery, to get a panini and a salad, but any place like this had already closed for the day. So I wandered around aimlessly for a while, looking at restaurant menus posted in windows. I wasn't on any sort of schedule or in any hurry; in fact, I hoped to kill a lot of time that evening with dinner because (gasp!) the hotel didn't have free wifi! So it was okay that locating dinner took a while. I did wish that Husband was there; it would have been much more fun with him.

I finally found a pub with an appealing pie menu and wifi, so I settled in with an asparagus and mushroom pie (with cheesy mash and mushy peas) and some amber ale. Thus far, I've found a beer I like at every place I've gone (what a great change from North Carolina, where I'm often disappointed not to find anything I want at local breweries). Yay England!

Then I stopped at a grocery store to buy a bag of satsumas on the way back to the hotel. I spent a very laid-back evening munching oranges, drinking tea, and finishing Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere (which is SO much better now than when I enjoyed it as a child...the whole book is one big love letter to the city of London and especially the Underground, and I know those places now).

Thursday in Worcester was equally laid-back, and a really wonderful experience. I had breakfast, including a fabulous chai latte, at the coffeeshop across the street. I spent the morning researching at the cathedral library. This library was a beautiful, narrow and angled attic room accessible via a steep, stone spiral staircase. It felt like ascending into another world--what a marvelous (and problematic) image for scholarship. Lunch at the sort of local coffeeshop/bakery I'd been craving the night before was splendid:

Flatbread and hummus, an amazing bakewell tart, and a pot of darjeeling earl grey, accompanied by L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Avonlea.

Because I'd finished up at the library by lunchtime, I had the afternoon to explore and enjoy myself. I lingered over lunch, simply because I could and because the tea was so delightful. I spent a lot of time playing tourist in Worcester Cathedral. King John (of the Magna Carta) is buried there, as is Prince Arthur, elder brother to Henry VIII and first husband to Catherine of Aragon. There's also a really pretty memorial window for composer Edward Elgar, who (though Roman Catholic) was closely tied to Worcester and its cathedral, and who premiered a number of his works there. I don't have any photographs from the cathedral (they won't allow it unless you purchase a photography license) but I do have one of the Elgar statue just outside:

Finally, I had time to walk along the river and see the famous Worcester swans. It was a bright, warm, sunny day, and the folk of Worcester were out to enjoy it to the full.

Finally, I arrived (far too early, as usual) to the train station. I bought a bottle of water, sat down at a table to drink it, and promptly had a dissertation revelation. "There's nothing stopping me from pulling out my laptop right now," I thought, beaming, and I proceeded to think that for the next several hours, at two train stations and on two trains. By the end of the journey, I'd developed a plan for a new chapter, which will function as my book's conclusion. I also revised my dissertation outline and its title. A great day's work! Thanks so much to Worcester Cathedral, whose "only known surviving copy of a thing" helped me figure all of this out.

I'm in "not very trendy" Swindon now for the weekend, visiting friends. It looks like it may become a binge of board games, which will be absolutely splendid. Perhaps I'll convince them to let me do some baking as well.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Developing a schedule

I'm developing a daily schedule, and if I post it here, perhaps I'll feel some sort of imaginary peer pressure to make sure to stick to it. And perhaps some of you are interested in what daily life is like here in Basingstoke.

I wake up around 6:30 in the morning. The house is dim and quiet, and I can usually hear birds outside my window. It's generally impossible to tell if it's dark outside simply because it's early, if it's going to be a rainy day, or if (as is frequent in England) it's going to begin cloudy and then burn off, the sun gradually emerging. No one else is up and about yet. I take a shower and dry my hair, and by the time I go downstairs to the kitchen, breakfast is cooking and somewhere between zero and three instruments are being practiced. I help with breakfast or preparing school lunches. Breakfast with the family, then at 8 am, everybody rushes off to work or to drop the kids off at school.

Then the house is quiet again. Put the kettle on. Odd jobs around the kitchen to clean up. There's just enough time for a cup of tea (Twinings Lady Grey, the English version, which is softer and more vibrant than the American version) and some catching up on emails before it's time to grab my coat and, if needed, umbrella, and head to church up the street.

On weekdays, St Mary's has Morning Prayer at 8:45. The church is cool, even cold; its old stones make the space feel timeless and unchanging. Morning Prayer here is, in its broad strokes, just like the BCP at home, but some of the responses are different, so I still have to follow along in the book. Psalms and canticles here are read responsively at the whole verse, with a proper long pause at the half verse for psalms.

Come home, another cup of tea (or on rainy days like today, hot chocolate). Perhaps I'll write a blog post (as I'm doing just now). I have a morning, which ideally I'll use for the day's first round of dissertation writing.

Lunch of simple things. Leftovers, or a toast sandwich. Perhaps some days I'll find a sausage roll or something at the bakery across the street. Usually my hostess is around, so we chat over lunch and make plans for dinner. After lunch, I go for a walk.

This probably doesn't sound all that unusual, but it is for me. I don't like walking. I really don't like running. I don't see much point in perambulation as recreation. Even my bicycle never gets used except as a form of transportation. But here in Old Basing, there's always something interesting to look at. Seventeenth-century houses that still have thatched roofs. Footpaths beside creeks and fields of sheep. One day I plan to bring some bread ends and feed the ducks. Yesterday I found the park half a mile up the road and spent some time on a swing. There's a picnic table there, and on sunny days it could be nice to bring my laptop and do some work. The ruins of the Basing House, destroyed by Cromwell in the Civil War. A couple of local pubs--I pass them and think, shall I do some writing over a pint tonight?

Often in the afternoons I take care of some cooking for dinner. When the kids have things in the early evening--practice, rehearsal, what have you--my hostess takes them and leaves me instructions. It's been fun to help in this way. At home, I do most of my cooking for the week on weekends. Pans of roasted vegetables, casseroles, stir-fry, things that I can eat as leftovers all week. I don't usually make dinner much of an event, but with six people in the household, dinner is always an event now. And it's always delicious. I hope to come home with some new recipes.

After dinner, make sure to do the day's writing, if I haven't already. Read my Kindle, Skype my husband, watch some British Netflix. Before bedtime, I settle under the covers and read a few chapters of Les Miserables (the only physical book I brought for the summer) by the light of the nightstand lamp.

Of course, everything is different when I'm on one of my frequent research trips. Exciting and chaotic, those are marked by managing public transit, finding delicious and economical places to eat, looking up local sites of interest, and the main goal, archival work in rare books libraries. It's nice to balance out those stressful and wonderful trips with a quiet and repetitive daily schedule here at home.

Monday, May 9, 2016

A pilgrimage to Norwich

My apologies to those who have tried to contact me over the last few days (there have been a few). I’ve been on pilgrimage to Norwich, and was able to stay off my laptop for the duration of my stay. I'm back in Basingstoke now, and catching up.

Norwich is a very special place, and I’d never been able to visit before. In ninth grade (year 8 for Brits), I competed in the National History Day Competition with a project on the building of Norwich Cathedral following the Norman Conquest. I won States, and competed at Nationals. Of course I didn’t win—I didn’t even place—but it was nonetheless a very significant moment in my development as a scholar. I have indeed ended up a (music) historian of early England; perhaps it’s surprising that I study early modern rather than medieval England! Norwich Cathedral was surprisingly important to me as a thirteen-year-old. I never thought at the time, though, that I’d ever actually see the church in person.

It’s impossible to have anything to do with religious life in Norwich and not come into contact with Lady Julian of Norwich, medieval anchoress and mystic. She lived in her cell in St. Julian’s Church, living the contemplative life, dispensing wisdom to her visitors, and writing her deeply theological reflections, Revelations of Divine Love. Some years ago, I read the Short Text of these Revelations, and afterward asked Julian if she would be my patron saint. At that point, I was in graduate school and pretty sure I’d be forming a career around English music. The idea of one day seeing Julian’s church was a remote possibility. I wasn’t able to make it two summers ago, when I spent three months engaged in pre-dissertation research, but wanted to make it a priority for this trip. When I noticed that on my first weekend in England was Lady Julian’s feast day, and that I didn’t yet have any obligations, and that the church was having a special festival, my pilgrimage began to coalesce, and within 24 hours I had made arrangements to go, and was even lucky (blessed) enough to secure the last open room in the guest house, run by a nun from the of the Community of All Hallow’s. (You'll notice that throughout this blog, I refrain from using names. Hopefully that doesn't bother any of my readers. It's a conscious choice in case any of the people I write about would prefer it this way.)

I arrived in Norwich on Friday afternoon. I had really excellent directions for the ten-minute walk from the train station to the guest house. Before I found the guest house, though, I found St. Julian's Church. (The church is, incidentally, named for a male St. Julian. Lady Julian was an anchoress there. Confusing, I know.) I walked slowly in, having the first of many speechless moments. I had a number of these moments over the course of the weekend. I'm choosing not to write about them here--I'm still processing, still reflecting, still pondering what the things I saw and heard and felt mean and will mean in my devotional life. So instead, I'll share some photographs, so you too can get just a small taste of Norwich:

St. Julian's Church was bombed in WWII, and has since been entirely rebuilt.

The whole church is this one small nave, a vesting room, and the Julian Shrine (photos below).

A view of the altar.

The vicar of St. Julian's Church commissioned this new icon of Lady Julian.
I found the Julian Centre, around the corner from the church, and then the next-door guest house. The sister is one of the most hospitable people I have ever met (and an amazing cook as well). She settled me into the St. Clare room, "a very special room" with a view of the church and garden.

Also, can I just say how wonderful it is that British rented rooms usually include a sink, and more importantly, a tea kettle?

Norwich Cathedral is a fifteen-minute walk north. I arrived in time for a look 'round the Cloisters and a scone with cream and jam in the Refectory before the last cathedral tour of the day. And then I even had time to sit in the Cloisters for a while and read a book before heading back to St. Julian's for evening prayer.

900-year-old Norman Cathedral

The Cloisters - the vaulted walkways that connected various parts of the monastery

The center of the Cloisters. There's a labyrinth in the grass, added in 2002 to celebrate Her Majesty's Jubilee.

The spire of the cathedral

Roof "bosses." The cathedral and cloisters contain over a thousand of these medieval sculptures.

The cathedral itself was setting up for a concert that evening.

This organ had a beautiful sound - I heard it for the Sunday service.

A view of the choir and the altar at the far end. The church only really uses this altar for weddings and special events now.

The lectern is a pelican (medieval people didn't actually know what pelicans really looked like). According to legend, the pelican feeds its young on its own blood from its breast, making it a perfect medieval symbol of Christ.

The bishop's seat is behind the altar. It's a bit precarious now, but even without a railing, the bishop does sometimes sit there.
This fourteenth-century reredos in one of the side chapels was flipped upside down and hidden in plain sight as a table in the seventeenth century, in order to escape the iconoclasm of the Civil War. It remained hidden as a table until well into the twentieth century!

The military chapel

Another beautiful side chapel

Remnants of paint like this are the reason for belief that the medieval cathedral was fully painted, but has since largely faded. How unlike the white stone today!

This memorial remembers a seventeenth-century organist whom I've never heard of, even though I'm a scholar of early modern English music. How many exceptional musicians aren't remembered in musicology today because they were performers rather than composers?
Osbert Parsley was a "singing man" who somehow, magically, remained a church singer under all four monarchs of the English Reformation.

The Julian Festival took place on Saturday. It didn't begin until the 11:00 Eucharist, so I strolled through town and enjoyed seeing the marketplace and the outsides of a number of old churches and medieval buildings. Norwich was a bustling medieval town, and a lot of those medieval facades endured to today (or have been restored), so there's always something interesting to look at. I didn't have time to see the museum in Norwich Castle--something for the next trip. The Julian Festival itself consisted of Eucharist, a lecture by a prominent scholar of Julian of Norwich, a picnic lunch in the garden, evening prayer, and a few events only for the Friends of Julian and the Companions of Julian (neither of which I am a member). It was a draining day for me, but it was really fantastic to be in the company of so many other people who have found wisdom and solace in the life and writings of this amazing woman. I also made friends with a Dutch PhD student writing her dissertation on Julian. She and I had great fun comparing our experiences in US and Swedish doctoral programs. Later in the early evening, I found time for solitary prayer in the Julian Shrine.

This small shrine was built on the exact spot where Julian's cell was - in rebuilding the church following its destruction in WWII, they found a piece of the foundation of her cell. This room is wildly historically inaccurate and larger than her cell would have been, yet it was still breathtaking to pray in the same spot she did.

On the right you can see the surviving piece of the foundation of Julian's cell

Finally, on Sunday I was able to attend Eucharist at both Julian's church and Norwich Cathedral. They couldn't have been much more different. The first was quiet and contemplative, perhaps ten people in the Julian Shrine. The second, at the cathedral, was exuberant and boisterous (I happened to sit behind all the Sunday School kids) and filled with music. The organ sounded marvelous and the congregation sang hymns lustily, if half a second behind the organ. The choir, men and boys, sang Mozart's Missa Brevis in F (not Mozart's best work, although I did like the fugue at the Hosanna) and Stanford's Coelos ascendit hodie (frankly, not Stanford's best work either, but always fun). I felt extremely welcomed in both churches and am starting to get the hang of the minor differences in liturgical wording between the Episcopal Church of America and the Church of England.

After one last meal provided by the sister, and a really eventful train trip home (serious issues on the tracks around London meant hours of delays and rerouting), I finally got back around 10 pm. Norwich was not a trip I'll easily forget. It's one thing to know a place through photographs, scholarship, or writing, and another to see it in person, touch the stones it's made of, kneel to pray there in the company of all who came before. On this trip, there were two such churches for me to encounter materially.

I went on pilgrimage to Norwich with a desire to see these places that have proven so important in my life, and with a half-formed question. I’ve come back with memories, photographs, icons, and an answer.