Friday, November 30, 2007

I Don’t Like Mondays: Part 2 (Now with added York)

We return to the gripping story of Monday the 26th of November. But this time around we've added some random pictures of York for your viewing pleasure. Think of it as a slide show of 'what we did on our trip to York' with a discussion about Monday running in parallel. It's a blog entry for GenX and Y and other strange types that enjoy multi-tasking. (We start with some glorious ruins of an abbey, a result of Henry VIII's closing of the monasteries):

You know what it is like when you are waiting for something good, something nice, something that will just really hit the spot. And then that thing gets delayed. And then delayed some more. And then some more. And yet, you don’t stop anticipating what it will be like when it finally arrives. You still look forward to it, knowing how good it is going to be.

We had two things like that over here in Oxford. One was that our shipment of 15 boxes would arrive.

Eight large boxes full of items that we thought would really help us manage daily life better over here—linen, baby clothes for Tiny, adult clothes for us, some kitchen gadgets like a bread maker, special pizza tray, and mixmaster. Our dvds—quite a number of hours of viewing for a couple without a TV. Some board games like Settlers of Catan and its expansions, Tigris and Euphrates, the epic War of the Ring (yes, if you have a spare entire day, you too can recreate the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy of books as a boardgame), Bohnanza, and even The Game of Thrones (which we’ve never had a chance to play so far). We like our games, you might have spotted.

Seven book boxes full of…well books. These are divided between two groups. The first is the books that would really help our studies along—essentially work tools. These are books on John’s Gospel, some systematic theologies and treatments of the doctrine of the Trinity, a good chunk of patristics, and the like. The other group contains books that we need for our sanity.

(This is the other side of the York Minster from where the other pictures were shot. The York Minster includes some quite stunning gardens and multiple large old buildings around the outskirts of the gardens. They're impressive, but a minnow to a whale compared to the Cathedral.)

This is one of those things that non-readers probably just don’t ‘get’. For many people reading is like housework. It needs to be done. It probably even has to happen fairly frequently. But it is a chore. Something you do because you need to, and you move through it as expeditiously as possible. Statements that books are needed, let alone for mental health, seems a bit bizarre.

But for some of us, and Jen and I definitely fall into this group, it really is the case that we need to read. And we need to read things just for the pleasure of the reading, or because we have an interest in the area. Documentaries, radio, conversation, don’t really work. Even newspapers and magazines don’t quite have the requisite effect. There is something about the sustained storytelling of a novel, or the sustained exposition of a work of non-fiction that keeps the mind and the sense of being open to the world ticking along. Sooner or later (and usually sooner) we need to read.

And so the other set of books are enjoyment books. Novels that we’ll really want to read again in the next four years. Books of history, theology, and cultural analysis that are on our ‘read sometime in the next four years’ programme. Books of poetry that are on Jen’s ‘read regularly’ list to sustain the soul. You get the picture.

The nice thing about the last ten weeks is that we’ve coped so well with little more than two suitcases, a fully furnished flat, and purchasing a fair amount of kitchen stuff. By the standards of typical Western materialism we’ve been almost camping! In fact, it showed that it is possible to function with a lot less stuff.

(What's left of a tower as part of an old fortification. Looks far more impressive at this distance than close up. The neat part of the defensive strategy were a series of signs right around the mound saying 'keep off the grass'. As long as you had a critical threshold of literate invaders, this tower should have been impregnable.)

However, it’s also shown that certain of the gadgets that clutter one’s life can make a huge difference. We’ve noticed the absence of many of the things in the boxes many times over the last ten weeks.

So, we’ve been looking forward to these boxes arriving. A lot.

So guess which day they came?

That’s right, and they arrived about five hours after we got into bed.

Baddeley’s don’t really function well on either:
a) low sleep
b) radically changed sleep

Both of those together are synergistic. Just not in a good way.

(Before we get inundated with messages about sleep and small babies...Relax. We're aware of the issue. But it doesn't seem like there's a cure, it's just something we'll have to persevere through.)

Anyhow, you know how you look forward to something and look forward to it and look forward to it, and then it comes at precisely the wrong moment. You can neither savour the moment, nor do you quite have the resources to cope with the extra load it places upon you.

That was Monday. The boxes came, and the rejoicing was a fairly tepid ‘I suppose this is good;’ ‘Yep, been waiting for this for a while now.’
(Part of the cemetery connected to a small church buried away in the centre of a town block. It didn't face onto any street at all, you had to walk down one of two lanes to get to it, and the lanes only existed to get you to the church. Why you had such a church right on the doorstep of the cathedral, and several other churches in easy walking distance is beyond me. But it was active up until the early nineteenth century.)

Receiving the boxes required a bit of work. The delivery company would charge us extra to take them to our flat (and even more to use the lift…). So I did it. This involved a minor logistical exercise that I’m proud to say I worked out the first day I faced it.

There are 8 boxes.

And 7 book boxes.

There is one lift.

It’s fairly small.

and it takes a little while to move several floors. So it is the rate limiting step.

So the way to tackle the move is to get all the boxes from outside the block to the lift. Then move the 8 boxes into the lift, go up with them, and unpack them out of the lift onto our floor. Head back downstairs and repeat the process. Then move the fifteen boxes into our flat. This way I have the minimum number of journeys in the lift. This may seem like a small thing, but you’d be surprised how many people need to be faced with the problem a couple of times before they twig to it.

So the boxes came in, and my body was not a happy camper. My brain was occasionally shorting out and coming back on line. (Seriously, there’d be times I’d just sit there and have to wait before my brain seemed to want to get moving again). This was OK for the box moving bit of Monday.
(This is the part of the York Minster that seemed to get used most often to do actual church stuff. On the other side of the raised platform there were multiple rows of chairs laid out.)

However, there was another task that Monday required of yours truly.

It was the other thing that had been anticipated. Remember I’m over here to do some doctoral work on a guy called Athanasius? All through this term I’ve been working on everyone other than Athanasius (not quite, but it seemed like it). Writing a two thousand word essay each week for a discussion with my tutor. It’s been great. But I have been waiting for the chance to write one on Athanasius. To get stuck in to him, use some of my previous thinking and reading, and produce something I could be pleased with. So guess what day that had to be written?

That’s right. Monday.

I got to write my long anticipated essay while my brain periodically went off-line every so often.
(An arrow slit in the defensive walls that go right around a fair sized chunk of the modern city of York. Not that the walls are modern, just that the city is now bigger than them. Just so that we're clear on that point.)

This was the Monday that not only was tough going, it took the enjoyment out of two of the things we’d really been looking forward to.

Bad Monday.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I Don’t Like Mondays. (Part 1)

Tell me why
I don’t like Mondays
Tell me why
I don’t like Mondays
Tell me why
I don’t like Mondays
I wanna shoo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oot the whole day down

Unlike Boomtown Rats we here at Baddelim don’t really have it in for Mondays. While not quite rating up there with squirrels, we’re happy to live and let live when it comes to Mondays. (And how exactly does one go shooting a day anyhow?!)

However, some Mondays distinguish themselves. And not always in a good way. Monday just gone was like that.

The difficulty was that Monday began without the normal ending process of the Sunday immediately preceding it. Somewhere a bit after eleven o’clock we began to make moves towards bed. We naturally tend to a bedtime after midnight, and it requires constant vigilance for us to keep our body clocks from being set too far back. Unfortunately, the more tired we get, the harder it is to marshal the energy to not stay up. One of those perverse paradoxes that makes being a Baddeley so much…fun.

So we were tired, which was why we were heading off to bed a bit late. (It takes time to go to bed early, because most of us resists the brain saying ‘go to bed now’ - so an eleven o’clock start to the process wasn’t a good sign). And then Jen informs me that she’s had constant stomach pain since 5pm in the afternoon (there’s apparently a “don’t worry Mark with trivial information” clause in our marriage vows that I don’t remember signing off on). This is a bit of a concern. Particularly as Jen had that the previous night, and couldn’t sleep for the middle three hours of the night as a consequence. (Can I just observe once again how grateful I am that I am not the pregnant one?)

The pain fits none of the criteria the amazing Radcliffe Hospital (and it really is amazing, it’s one of the best things about being here—which is pretty amazing in itself, as it’s got a fair bit of stiff competition) told us about in the pre-natal intensive we attended. It fits none of the criteria in any of the books we have. Jen even spoke with a midwife about this pain before and was assured it wasn’t an issue. Apparently the body generates all kind of random pains in this last stage. (Again. Grateful pregnancy is not me.)

Nonetheless, seven straight hours of moderately intense abdominal pain is probably worth some kind of check. And, as part of the amazing health care we get here, we have a 24 hotline where Jen can call a midwife and get an immediate answer. There’s a person at all times whose job it is just to take calls. You couldn’t colour us more grateful. We’ve used it once before when something unusual happened and they were fantastic, and assured us that it was nothing special.

So we called, expecting another, “It’s nothing” response. We like those. They’re very comforting.

What we got instead was, “Ring the delivery suite and tell them what you just told me.” Possibly not the answer we were looking for. And delivered (Jen assures me) in the kind of tones that suggested that the person was not weak-minded and so the Jedi mind-trick wouldn’t persuade her that these weren’t the droids she was looking for…

So Jen did what she was told (it’s possible that the Jedi thingy was working in reverse). The delivery suite listened to the information and said. “You need to come right in.” Again, not really the answer we were looking for.

So we looked at each other and realised that this could be it. The most likely scenario, we figured, was that they suspected preeclampsia, and if that was the case there would be a quick caesarean and not-so-little Tiny (that’s the pre-birth name so we wouldn’t have to call the new Baddeley ‘It’ all the time) would be coming three and a half weeks ahead of schedule.

That’s when it began to hit us just how unready we were at this stage. We haven’t taken delivery of the cot yet (not until the end of this week), although we have a travel cot. The hospital overnight bag wasn’t fully packed. There was no food in the freezer just ready to go (there’s only snack dispensers at the hospital…). We didn’t have a list of what to pack that wasn’t already packed, nor where those items were located.

Oh yeah. And we didn’t have a name.

We’ll probably need one of those.

We had a shortlist, for both genders. But you can’t really apply Heisenberg’s Uncertainity Principle to names. The child would probably want a particular name of their own, rather than a haze of probabilities around a small cluster of names. Not that using different names for the one child wouldn’t be entertaining for us

What we did have was Michael Jensen who was quite happy (not quite happy, but certainly not disgruntled) to be woken up just before midnight to drive us to Hospital. (We’re rather pleased with ourselves for arranging to have such a good neighbour in the same block of flats.)

This was a good thing, because that meant we had someone reliable for those times when you really just have to go, and you have to go now. We tried cabs once before when we had to go to the hospital. We tried four taxi companies. One wouldn’t answer their phone. It gets better. One had their phone disconnected (!). The third had a working phone and actually answered. It seemed like a winner. But they didn’t have any cabs available for an hour… The fourth one promised to send us a cab. But didn’t. So it was good to have the ‘Michael Jensen, hospital driver extraordinaire’ thing worked out.

However, we were flustered, on the back foot, and how can I put this? Not really in the mood. We were ready for bed. We still had three weeks to go. We were still thinking in terms of ‘soon’, not in terms of ‘any moment now’. We hadn’t done any of the running it through in our heads in advance that we do to plot out possible responses to things when we know something momentous is coming.

In a word, we weren’t ready.

We got to the hospital around midnight. And received simply the best treatment we have ever received from a medical institution. Both the receptionist and the nurse were everything you would want: confident, competent, nice, and relational. They put us at our ease without being cloying.

The first thing they did was measure Jen’s blood pressure and seemed to relax once that was in the clear. They seemed to carefully avoid the ‘preeclampsia’ word, but we’re fairly sure that was what prompted the call in.

Having gotten us in, however, they were taking no chances. Jen was placed on a bed in fairly short order and hooked up to two machines. One to measure the child, one to get a reading on her. We were told that they’d measure things for about 20 minutes and then a doctor would be in to see us. Oh, and to give Jen something to do, they gave her a button to press every time Tiny moved. As they didn’t even look at the tally later, I suspect it wasn’t even connected… (Jen assures me that they did look at the results of her tallying, and that they do turn up on the graphs generated by the machines. The things we try and convince ourselves of when we don’t want to admit that we were just being kept occupied…)

The amusing thing about that was that Tiny clearly didn’t appreciate the cold metal sensors even partially invading Tiny’s world (please note the skilful avoidance of any hint of gender there…). And so Tiny exploded into a sustained period of quite intense kicks. Which has been one of the few times I’ve seen this, because it seems that Tiny already has a Baddeley sense of humour. Apparently aware of Jen’s desire for me to witness this activity, Tiny has mastered the art of stopping kicking just at the point that Jen calls me over to look. But even the pursuit of a long running gag seemed to take back seat to sustained aggression against the metal pads.

About quarter to one in the morning, the nurse contacted us over the intercom to let us know that the doctor would be delayed because one of the births ‘wasn’t going well’ and had been taken to surgery. She said he would be with us as soon as it was finished, which ‘should be soon.’ About twenty past one in the morning she came back to let us know that there was no idea how long the doctor would be. She looked over the charts, really liked what she saw, and so took Jen off the machines. Tiny promptly returned to the “don’t kick when Dad might see” game—despite the fact that, Jen assures me, for the last few months 1:30am has been prime kicking time. The nurse still had no idea about the abdomen pain, which had continued throughout, and wasn’t going to discharge us without the doctor seeing us.

So, about 3 in the morning, two very, very disorientated and tired Baddeley’s looked at the funny doctor as he did doctory things, asked doctory questions, and declared everything in order. Oh yes, the abdominal pain was probably muscular, as everything expanded to get ready for D-Day. That was good to find out.

So around quarter to four the Baddeley’s made it in the front door of their flat. Apparently it’s easy getting a cab from the hospital than to the hospital. We promptly collapsed into bed. But only after acknowledging that the good thing out of this little false alarm was the way it flushed out where we were unready. We think we were probably 70% ready. But for something like this, 90% is really a minimum. Thanks to this, we know now where the problems are, and can take steps this week to address them.

However, that wasn’t the end of Monday… oh no. Not this Monday. This Monday had more to give... MDB

Monday, November 26, 2007

View from our Balcony

Last week we took this picture.

This is the view from our balcony. The beautiful tree in which squirrels and pigeons play is now bereft of all its leaves, except those at its base. When it rains and a lone pigeon huddles in its branches, it feels as though one is seeing a visual image of forsaken desolation.

And this photo was taken just after 4:30pm. About half an hour after sundown. So notice the thing in the photo that shouldn't be there. (A Clue: The Bright Light is Not the Sun). That's right, by 4:30pm, night has completely fallen.

Winter is coming...

Friday, November 23, 2007

Food Glorious Food (Part 1)

Prompted in part by our surprise at some of the food issues we found in England when we arrived, and in part by /Karen/’s suggestion that we look into some quite specific foods (such as bubble and squeak, which sadly will not make an appearance in today’s blog), we decided some weeks ago to devote some space to blogging about food in England. Our apologies to the gentle reader of this blog who finds the subject boring and frustrating. Please accept our assurance that we will return to our trip to York very soon. (Yes, there’s even more to tell!) But for now, the more prosaic issue of food...

First to say that this is a country for berries. Of course, we arrived at the tail end of the berry season. But we still found succulent raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, redcurrants and so forth in ordinary supermarkets for quite reasonable prices. And sometimes even spectacular prices. Both in Oxford and in Cardiff we obtained punnets of raspberries for a pound! I even came across cranberries the other day (among the more specialist produce in the Covered Markets – this is where you go to buy unskinned (or skinned) rabbit, pheasant, duck eggs and pigeon, etc). The cranberries had been imported, but I had never seen cranberries in their original form before (only dried). We even came across ‘golden rasberries’—something we’d never even heard of before, and I really, really like raspberries and take a special interest in them.

Providentially, England is also the place for cream, and cream goes really well with berries. So it’s quite serendipitous all around. There is single and double cream, cream from different parts of the country (West country seems to be superior), and various other versions of cream, culminating with clotted cream. Clotted cream looks remarkably like butter and is so thick it seems to come as a solid. Presumably it is called ‘clotted’ cream because this is the effect it has on one’s arteries. But, if one is going to indulge in cream, one might as well indulge. Half-hearted indulgence seems somewhat misguided. Having said that, we actually indulged in clotted cream yet...

The perfect evening would almost certainly include a bowl full of assorted berries, covered in thick, luscious cream. You could include chocolate, pancakes and various other delights to this assortment, but the quality of both the berries and the cream here would render such lesser provisions unnecessary.

However, every silver lining has its cloud, and England’s cloud is probably its meat. Its not news that England has enormous trouble keeping its livestock disease free: foot and mouth, blue tongue, mad cow and so forth. It’s simply not a healthy place to live if you happen to be a domestic animal. Before we came here, we had only a vague sense of the impact isolation had on Australia – and we would have spoken more in terms of foreign policy, the armed forces, intellectual and cultural history and so forth. We probably wouldn’t have said much about meat. Now we would. Because Australia is capable of keeping itself relatively free of these kinds of diseases and actually producing really good quality meat that is safe to eat and reasonably cheap.

Over here, the story is quite different. Pork is by far the most favoured meat (you might have noticed us mentioning it), and seems to be reasonably disease free. There are so many different kinds of bacon it makes one’s head spin. We’d sort of thought that bacon was, well, bacon. Lamb and beef are rarer, and less favoured. We were inordinately excited a few weeks ago to get a NZ leg of lamb on special for about fifty percent more than what we would have paid for it in Australia! (It was exceptionally good: we had guests over to enjoy it with us). Interestingly, it seems to be a bit of an Australian reputation to eat lamb—some American students here clearly had eaten little lamb despite being big red meat eaters, and made a comment to the effect of ‘you guys eat a lot of lamb in Australia, don’t you?’

We’ve found a few places which will sell us reasonably good meat at prices we can almost cope with. And we’ve been caught out a few times: for example, buying meat we thought was steak (because it was labelled as 'steak'), only to find that it was something very different… and not in a good way.

One of the strategies we worked out quite early was to make use of a crock pot, so we can get cheaper cuts of meat and make them delicious. We’ve never used a crock pot before, so this is opening up a whole new field of cooking for us. In case you’re not used to this style of cooking, it has three great advantages. You can use cheaper cuts of meat that need a long cooking time. You can prepare the ingredients four to eight hours in advance and then you don’t touch it again until it’s time to serve. And, if you do it right, you can get an amazing combination of hearty flavours that work well in wintry weather (and this is England…) So far we've been very happy with the results.

And the local library has provided some great slow cooker recipes, even to some scrummy looking deserts (we haven’t tried the latter yet). So, we aren’t particularly perturbed by the meat situation, though I think we are still a little amazed at the high prices compared to what we are used to. Perhaps we’ve just been distracted by the berries…

What does disturb us are the meat products in the shop which look like they should not be eaten by people. The most disturbing that we have come across was not just Spam, but Spam fritters: battered Spam, ready for you to take it home and deep fry it. Crunchy Spam. I realize that Spam is quite acceptable for some people, but I find it hard to deal with the idea that people are allowed to sell (and make money from) something like Spam fritters. I can’t help but think that in Australia it would be illegal – after all, in Australia there is legislation insisting that a particular percentage of a meat pie be actual meat; and meat pies would have to be a fair way down the list of 100 nutritionally best ways to eat meat. We had a great time with an old friend from College and his wife a few weeks back and mentioned the Spam fritters. He happily admitted to eating them, but then he’s the most culinarily adventurous person we’ve ever met. He goes out of his way to push the boundaries on what he eats. But even he admitted that, ‘Spam Fritters are really the kind of thing that you only ever want one of…’

We’d be more than happy to donate our ‘one’ to anyone who feels the need to embark on this glorious adventure. JMB

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Trip Home From Church With The Compliments of The Principal

We are quite partial to the English musical comedy duo Flanders and Swan. Possibly partly for this reason, at our faculty farewell John Woodhouse (Principal of Moore College) serenaded us with their homage to English weather. (As Principal he, of course, didn’t do the serenading himself. He outsourced it. To a CD of Flanders and Swan):

January brings the snow
Makes your feet and fingers glow

February's Ice and sleet
Freeze the toes right off your feet

Welcome March with wintry wind
Would thou wer't not so unkind

April brings the sweet spring showers
On and on for hours and hours

Farmers fear unkindly May
Frost by night and hail by day

June just rains and never stops
Thirty days and spoils the crops

In July the sun is hot
Is it shining? No, it's not

August cold, and dank, and wet
Brings more rain than any yet

Bleak September's mist and mud
Is enough to chill the blood

Then October adds a gale
Wind and slush and rain and hail

Dark November brings the fog
Should not do it to a dog

Freezing wet December then:
Bloody January again!

So far we’ve had rain. Far more rain in our couple of weeks here then we have seen in Australia in the last couple of years. That’s a fairly obvious recurring motif in the song. All the rain tends to make things a bit dank and wet. The maximum temperature this Saturday is forecast to be 2. Yes, you read that right. We could safely classify that as ‘cold’. The sun now sets around 4:00pm in the afternoon. By 5pm it looks like 8pm in Sydney. So that would cover August’s cold, and dank, and wet with more rain.

Mist is a fairly common occurrence, and is simply glorious. All the rain means a good degree of mud. That’s September covered.

We had to go to the hospital last week for a pregnancy related check-up (news was all good) and at 7:30am there was the most amazing fog blanketing the area in and around our home. Not sure if you shouldn’t do that to a dog, but then the English do seem fairly precious about their canines. We’ll tick November off.

That just leaves October.

We’ve had the odd gale (especially in Cardiff, the wind must have been coming straight off the very cold ocean). There’s wind fairly regularly (wind and rain is not the best combination I can think of. We’ve had occasions when we almost couldn’t keep the umbrellas up to keep out the cold wet rain).

And then, on the way home from church on Sunday night, we struck something new. It had been raining on our way to church and throughout the service. On our way back to catch the bus home we had our umbrellas out as it seemed to be raining again. But something didn’t seem right about the way the rain moved in the wind when the light caught it—it seemed more responsive to the moving of the air. It was also very, very cold. And then, dripping off the end of my umbrella we noticed it. Ice mixed with water. Slush!

Somehow it made the freezing, windblown and wet conditions magical. The last time I saw slush…actually I don’t remember ever seeing it ‘rain’ slush. (I have eaten a ‘slushie’, I’m not sure if that counts for partial points.) We turned to each other (as we raced to the heated bus, I may have mentioned the cold) and grinned. Two idiotic Aussies enjoying some of England’s worst weather.

It was a great gift of God for the way home from church.

It was much better than the other possibility mentioned under the litany for October. Hail.

But I’m still going to buy a very warm and waterproof overcoat this week. And talk my budget conscious wife into getting one for herself as well. MDB

Monday, November 19, 2007

What Lies Beneath

York is full of history, most of it carefully preserved, and honed for display to tourists with a history obsession (enter the Baddelim duo, stage left).

Some of this history is nicely tucked away in other historical sites. And some of it lurks underneath other buildings of historical interest. For example, forty years ago they realized that the York Minster was in the process of collapsing. This was because, while it had been expanded over the centuries, no-one had thought to expand the foundations to cope with the ever increasing load… The comforting thought here is that bureaucratic oversights are not merely a modern phenomena.

When they realized this (the foundation problem, not the modern bureaucratic oversight issue), and sank £2M into fixing the problem they got a side bonus. Underneath the cathedral were some of the remains of two previous cathedrals (Norman and Saxon, in descending order of depth underground). And the real find, the remains of a Roman Principia were also uncovered. All lying under the cathedral.

So, once we had spent almost two hours inside the cathedral, we then spent another hour under the Cathedral. (sans camera, I’m afraid—no pictures allowed. So please enjoy some more pictures of the Cathedral itself instead.) We got to look at the stone work from the Norman Cathedral, and then the Saxon Cathedral. Even some of the stained glass had survived. The most amazing piece was some blue glass that no-one can work out how it was made—the process has been lost. Which is a bit of a shame, the glass was over millennia old and was still an amazingly deep and bright blue. My laptop screen starts going dull two years in…

We also got to see the inside of a Roman building, with some of the fresco still surviving—it had fallen face down off its wall and so had (mostly) survived. It was a picture of a Mediterranean countryside. So it was like the B.C. version of a landscape painting, (or screen saver) but on a much bigger scale, giving the inhabitants a bit of an illusion that they were back home enjoying the wide open spaces. It could rain and sleet outside and they could imagine, in their toasty warm building, painted in warm Mediterranean colours, that they were enjoying sunny Italy.

Also on display underground were some of the large collection of cups, plates, archbishop paraphernalia (rings etc) all made out of precious and semi-precious material. If it hadn’t been after the architecture lurking under the present day Minster it would have been very impressive. As it was, it was ok, but its thunder had not just been stolen, it had been sold at the local pawnshop. (On another note, it’s probably the Protestant in me, but for all I appreciate the beauty, I wish the church hadn’t seen the need to tie up so much wealth in the medieval equivalent of an executive boardroom.)

The amusing bit in how they organized this tour of the foundations was that they left it until the end to show you the actual pillars holding the building up and to tell you the ridiculous number of kilotons they were supporting. More than one person seemed to move fairly quickly above ground once that had been brought to their attention…

Still, it was a cathedral. Why wouldn’t you expect multiple layers of history underneath? Isn’t that what cathedrals are for after all, to preserve history?

Well, how about the local pub? Pubs aren’t really known as great historical treasurehouses. That’s not really the essence of pubs in most people’s minds I think it’s safe to say. York had several pubs, all of them fairly nondescript (from a historical point of view, they all seemed wonderfully atmospheric from a pub point of view). None of them were really worth mentioning from a historical perspective. They were all a few centuries old, which meant they had been around longer than any building in Australia, so hardly worth mentioning really.

Yet, one of these nondescript pubs turns out to have an unusual basement. They discovered one end of the Roman baths under it just recently. So you can go under this pub and check out a small section of York’s Roman bath from around two millennia ago. And then you could have lunch there (the pub, not the bath).

Being in the construction industry in York, or a plumber, must be potentially a whole different experience with every job you do. Pick goes down, ground moved, ah, we’ve found another… Saxon fortification… Norman hall… Roman storehouse… (take your pick). It looked like they were doing some digging near a local corner store. Maybe we should go back next year to take a tour of what they find underneath that. MDB

Friday, November 16, 2007

Praying for us (II)

Some of you have told us that you follow our blog and pray for us from time to time. This means a lot to us, so this is a blog entry just for you, to give you an idea of things you might like to thank God for and to pray for over the coming month...

Like Jacob having his wages changed 10 times under Laban's employment, Mark has had his academic program changed almost as many times in the past month. There is still some confusion as to exactly what it is he needs to complete in order to qualify for his degree. There are administrative requirements connected with this, with cut-off dates. It would be an excellent thing if the powers-that-be could come to a firm mind on the subject and communicate this to Mark before these dates kick in. On the other hand, Mark is finding the opportunity to engage with a variety of the early Fathers and to attend lectures, and sessions with his supervisor very stimulating.

We've been really grateful that our experience of the health system has been easy and useful in the lead up to our baby's birth. We've found the midwife/doctor arrangement to be sane and helpful. The only concern with the baby's health has been the possibility of it being too big (which is natural and normal for a Moore College baby, but they can't know that), but scans have shown that it is only slightly bigger than average. These are all things we are grateful to God for, so please join us in thanking him for his mercy to this little one, and to pray for its safe delivery in the near future.

We would really like our boxes to be delivered. Although we have everything we need to survive, in our boxes are useful things like gloves, beanies, etc, our doonah (all particularly useful now the weather has started to reach below zero), books for Mark's study, recipe books, baby clothes and other paraphenalia, which we would enjoy using. If we had an arrival date for these items, it would help our patience. However, Customs has had them for 3 weeks now, and the shipping company has told us that they want to go over this whole shipment, with no sense of when this process might be completed. We could get a phone call tomorrow, or in several months. We'd prefer to get the phone call tomorrow, if it's all the same to Customs. Meanwhile we have to decide whether to 'waste' money buying things we already have or hoping that, for example the boxes come before the baby is born so that we have some clothes for it.

We had a truly enjoyable couple of days at York (you may have noticed), and another couple of days away at Cardiff (which you'll hear all about...). We don't expect we'll do many other trips for quite some time, so we were grateful to manage these two and get a sense of the world beyond Oxford. We are grateful that God enabled us to have these refreshing, interesting trips, and that there were no complications with the pregnancy or accidents in travel.

Jennie has started to make progress on her various projects, but (possibly unwisely) is involved in three Bible study groups, which is not a bad thing, but along with sorting out various administrative details and preparing everything for the arrival of the little Baddeley, it chews up a lot of her week. Of course, the increasing immobility and tiredness which accompanies late pregnancy also contributes to this. She does enjoy the reading and thinking she is able to do, and is particularly looking forward to getting more involved in the translation work on Revelation.

We miss our friends in Australia. We are grateful that we know some kind people at Oxford. We, being eccentric, find making friends a long-term activity, and this is sometimes discouraging. We have enjoyed catching up with old friends who are over here and who we would probably not get the opportunity to hang out with this side of heaven unless we were here. All of this is very different to the people-intensive context we were in just two months ago, and so sometimes we feel disorientated by it. We would value the wisdom that comes from above as we negotiate the highs and lows of this and work at understanding how to love English people on their terms.

Once again, thank you for your prayers. JMB&MDB

A Quality Assurance Workshop

Here at Baddelim we like to make the torturous task of source criticism as easy as possible for our gentle readers. Consequently, we have a system. It’s a kind of quality assurance program for reader satisfaction. However, it appears from some of the comments that, like all quality assurance programmes, a short training workshop is in order.

The cardinal principle of this quality assurance programme is as follows:
Whenever a Baddeley pens a blog, he or she places at the end of the blog a series of letters grouped together.

This is where it gets complex. The symbols ‘MDB’ refer to the writer ‘Mark Baddeley’. The symbols ‘JMB’ refer to the writer ‘Jennie Baddeley’. Although inclined in their hearts to evil, like all of humankind, neither Baddeley deliberately changes their grouping of linguistic symbols (known colloquially as ‘initials’), nor does he or she take on the persona of the other writer (or for that matter an apostle or church leader of any historical period, so you won’t need to go all Da Vinci Code on us either). In keeping with this exotic practice, we suggest that commentators also distinguish between the writer ‘Jennie’ and the writer ‘Mark’ or ‘Badders’—just, you know, to keep in the spirit of things.

We are committed to our readers’ satisfaction and believe our quality assurance program delivers the very best in reader care. MDB & JMB

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Quest for an Archbishop

My excitement grew as we walked into York Minster because it dawned on me that this building contained the tombs of past Archbishops of York. On the whole, I manage to contain my excitement when it comes to Archbishops of York, whether they be dead or alive, but there is one notable exception to this: Thomas Musgrave. I discovered him while doing some master's research work recently. He was Archbishop of York from the late 1840's to 1860 and his time there overlapped with Sumner's time as Archbishop of Canterbury. These are the two highest posts in the hierarchy of the Anglican church.

Why is this interesting to me? It's one of the few times (it may be the only time) when two Evangelicals held those posts. And its one of the few times where Anglican Evangelicals were possibly going to leave the church in droves because of a strange, long legal battle between a clergyman called Gorham and his boss, the Bishop of Exeter. Enter Musgrave and Sumner. They had the unenviable task of being part of the final court of appeal on the case.

Both Musgrave and Sumner were widely assumed to be obviously going to give in to Gorham because he was of their 'party' but it seems that neither went into the final meetings with any such presupposition. This meant that the court case dragged on as they went over everything again, and led to the criticism that they were 'weak'. In the end, they found more against the Bishop of Exeter rather than for Gorham, but were (of course) accused of being partisan anyway. If they were trying to please anyone, they only succeeded in annoying everyone. But this did mean that Anglican Evangelicals could (in good conscience) stay in the Anglican church because of this finding. And Musgrave was part of this, which I think was fairly momentous in the history of Evangelical Anglicans.

So when I realised that I might find the place where Musgrave was buried, I was excited. Excited, not because I know huge amounts about the man, (I haven't been able to find out much really), but I think he did a difficult job, received a lot of criticism for doing it and seems not to be the kind of man who thrived on conflict or who really enjoyed being in the public eye. It takes a particular kind of courage to carry the weight of that kind of role in those circumstances. I admire him for it. I was looking forward to paying my respects to him.

But I couldn't find him.

I found lots of elaborate tombs belonging to Important People.

Some even seemed to have had a strong sense that when you meet God you don't pretend to be self-sufficient; you ask him to save you.

Others thought it was all about them. And there are a collection of Archbishops who seem to have gotten carried away with their roles and seem as pompous as the most arrogant of the Renaissance popes. Of course, it could just be that they employed the wrong sculptor.

Others were odd. Like this man without hands. I don't know what happened to him (it was all in latin), but it doesn't look like he is comfortable.

And then, after trawling through all the tombs, looking at the faded lettering on worn down stones, trying to decipher latin, eventually... I found Musgrave!

I was pretty sure it was Musgrave, even before I saw the inscription, because I realised what I had not noticed until then: the various Archbishops' tombs had objects they valued symbolically carved onto them. So, here for example, we see this man's best friend:

Others obviously really, really liked their crooks and mitres.

I remember one holding what I thought looked like a prayer book, but Musgrave is the only one I can recall who held what looked very much like a Bible. Which isn't too surprising: it's one of the distinguishing features of an Evangelical after all. We don't have much to commend us. Most of us aren't particularly attractive or charismatic. And pretty much the entire ethos of Evangelicalism can be summed up as a desire to be ruled by Christ through his Word, the Bible. So, it isn't surprising that Musgrave is carved holding his Bible, which some people would sneer at (then and now).

And, as much as you can tell from someone's face, he looked like the kind of guy I thought he might be: gentle, retiring, given to kindness. Yet, he took on a role which would make him unpopular and conspicuous, and used it for the good of other people. So, I maintain my admiration for him.

I was glad to find Musgrave's tomb. It was more than art. JMB

*I think Musgrave is actually buried in a London cemetery, so technically this isn't his tomb as such, more a memorial...but that is a small detail included only for those who care deeply for small details.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Here Be Dragons

One of the things we most enjoyed about York was the atmosphere - partly created by the presence of its many medieval buildings. It was the kind of place that if a dragon were to land on the roof of building as you were walking by, you would not be surprised. Probably seriously terrified (particularly if said dragon were to be clearly annoyed and breathing fire), but not surprised. It's the kind of place that Robin Hobb (or Megan Lindholm) fans would probably really enjoy visiting.

There were a couple of times we felt this. The first was as we walked through the cold night air to try and find our place. Although, as Mark has pointed out, this became an exercise in frustration, it wasn't that way for the first part of the walk as we came across various old buildings, barely lit in the dying light. The old gates of the city, the walls surrounding the city, the guardhouse, a school several centuries old: they looked to be the very things we have read about in fantasy novels for years, standing before us, unblinking witnesses to generations. Why should there not also be dragons?

The other most notable time was our discovery of the Merchant Adventurer's Guild. It should be clear that an 'adventurer' these days is a different creature to the one who would set out with a boat to find good trade (or loot) in the 1400's. So sucessful were the Merchants of York that they held a monopoly on all trade in York until the 1820's where the monopoly was only broken by a law was passing through both English houses of Parliament. This was the wealth centre of the city and some care had been taken to impress this on the humble wayfarer simply by the entrance.

To us, it looked exactly like something out of Hobb's Liveship Traders Trilogy. A passing dragon would not have been at all out of place. Some people with excellent taste were going to be married there the day we visited. It looked like a great place to be married: you could roast a small lamb on a spit, (an extra one or two for the dragon perhaps - or as the dragon would be an English dragon, perhaps a few spare pigs). And have a troupe of singers and players to dance the night away, in colourful clothes imported from exotic and distant places.

The old part of the city, particularly the street called 'the Shambles' provides the same kind of impression... and our favourite guardhouse... and so on and so forth. It didn't take us long to conclude that Tolkien (Father of the fantasy genre) really had needed to live in a country like this to write in the way he did. I don't think an Australian could have invented the fantasy genre, for example, and I think it would be difficult for an American to do so. I'm sure our dragons would be more ferocious (face it: an Australian dragon would have to be lethal just to match a real Australian animal. Unless it could outclass a taipan, red-back spider and alligator, for example, it would seem domesticated and not worthy of attention, let alone fear). I'm sure the landscape would be more dramatic, adding to the epic feel of the genre. But without towns like York, it is hard to see how the chaotic bustle of a medieval town, in a confined space with little sense of law and order could be captured so aptly.

So we came to York, and filled with a sense of adventure left again - slightly disappointed at the absence of dragons. JMB

Friday, November 9, 2007


This is a blog entry for those who would like a break from architecture, art, and history. It’s about food.

In our experience food in England is generally as bad as is claimed. And it’s generally claimed to be very bad indeed. Jamie Oliver notwithstanding.

This is just unpleasant backdrop to say that York was a consistent exception to this experience. We stayed at a B&B as that was the cheapest decent option we could find. This meant we had to buy two meals each day—not a nice thought from either the point of view of keeping costs down, of trying to buy something good for us, and trying to find something enjoyable, given our experiences so far.

But we needn’t have worried. The strength of “the English Breakfast” for tourists became clear. After having cereal, toast, eggs, bacon, and baked beans you weren’t looking at two meals for the rest of the day. You were looking for one and a half meals at best.

And those meals were of a much higher quality in York for what you paid. There were three standouts.

The first was a pub dinner on our first night. After a five hour train trip and the signs debacle, we were ready for a meal. Having heard that pubs and pub meals were a very different phenomena to Australia, we were keen to give it a try. For about £20 they fed us very, very well with food that felt like good home cooking. By Australian standards, that would have been too expensive, but from our experiences here it was a good deal. Jennie discovered that her previous enjoyment of lamb shanks wasn’t a fluke, and I confirmed my abiding appreciation of beef burgers. Almost as nice was the surroundings—the British pub has been, so far, a nice place to be. And the service, while casual, was as friendly and considerate as we’ve had (which wouldn’t be saying much normally, ‘service’ isn’t really something the British seem to do well, but this was good even by Australian standards). It was a great start to York, and helped overturn any residual feelings about that sign.

The second was a Spanish tapas restaurant. We had had a very Australian style of tapas once before in the Hunter Valley and had enjoyed it immensely. So we figured that this was a reasonable bet for something a bit exotic (neither of us are quite ready yet to try the quintessentially English ‘Spotted Dick’ or ‘Toad in a Blanket’. The names really capture the feel of English cuisine I think). This consisted of several small dishes that are shared. They had a package deal arrangement intended for newbies like us that offered a good range of dishes for two which again ended up being around £20 all up—which was an even better deal than the pub meal had been. This food was professional, restaurant style. It was also more hit and miss in actual enjoyment than the pub—some of the Spanish combination of flavours just didn’t sit right on our palates. But it was good quality and was a fresh experience to add to the mix York provided. We now know that we can enjoy authentic York Spanish cooking! An important life lesson there.

The third deserves an entry all of its own. We encountered the phenomenon that is Betty’s Tearoom. This is, as the name suggests, a tea room. Or possibly it is the Ideal tea room of which all other coffee shops are pale, inferior copies. It is decked out in 1920’s Art Deco style—looks like a scene from the restaurant on the Titanic. It serves tea and cakes and you can have High Tea (three tiers of sandwiches and cakes with your tea) there. It will, somewhat grudgingly, provide coffee and other drinks for those who don’t rise to the glory of tea.

However, this doesn’t really capture Betty’s Tearoom. This establishment is very, very serious about its business. The people on service—the person to check you into the table, the man who just stood at the top of the stairs to the basement to welcome you to the establishment and to see you off (I kid you not, that seemed to be his entire job), the waiters who took your order, the waiters who served the food, and the waiters who cleared the table (yes, three different kinds of waiters) were all immaculate and the height of professionalism. They also had all the charm and sense of hilarity of a depressed undertaker. It was a very serious business, to be partaken of, but not in a light-hearted, fun kind of way, you’ll understand. This is Tea after all!

There was a queue inside the shop, outside the door, and often for some distance beyond the shop for most of the two days we were there. Betty’s Tearoom runs its own cooking courses where you can learn to cook in the Betty Tearoom style, usually with a three course meal with wine thrown in for a cool £150 per half-day course. And it looks like it does a roaring trade. The cooking school had a faculty of around ten and a service staff of around five. No doubt fuelled by enthusiasm from customers from the six Betty’s in and around the British Isles. There is even its own cook book, so you too at home, gentle reader of this humble blog, can cook in the Betty’s style.

We went to Betty’s (feel free to have a guess at who just had to try this Tearoom. I’ll give you a hint, who doesn’t drink tea? Not him.). We queued for 45 minutes to get in. We looked at the menu. Looked at the pastries in the window (which were amazing). Took note of the prices. High Tea (sandwiches and cakes) was about the cost of a main meal elsewhere. That’ll give you a clue.

We enjoyed a herbal tea (Jen) and chocolate milkshake (guess). The chocolate milkshake was made with Betty’s own chocolate sauce. It was a very good milkshake, and tasted as though it was a very proper chocolate milkshake, for the discerning palate (no shortcuts taken). It was a bit intimidating, to tell you the truth. However, when Jennie was eating her Blackberry and Apple Pancakes she got that look that people get when their entire consciousness has been filled by the sensation currently exploding on their tongue. It doesn’t happen often with food for Jen, but it is quite amusing when it does. She completely loses her train of thought. With every bite…

A final special mention goes to the York Farmers’ Market. On the Friday the mall area was packed out with in the vicinity of sixty stalls selling produce of various kinds (mostly foodstuffs). Fruit and vegetables, cheeses, biscuits and cakes, and meat (including unplucked birds hanging off hooks—a new experience for me) tended to dominate. It will give you a sense of the fruit and vegetable situation around here in Oxford when I tell you that Jennie and I just looked at the healthy, fresh fruit and vegetables for several minutes and tried to work out if we could take it back with us. That’s never happened before on a holiday. The interesting thing however, was how much smaller the fruit and vegetables were, by and large, from their Australian cousins. They were like mini versions of things I’ve come to know in Australia. Maybe the size of the produce of the land is proportional to the size of the land that produces it? If so, I wonder how big things grow in America?

There were a couple of stalls cooking the meat products they were selling. The one that did the roaring trade was offering pig in bread. A whole pig cooked away over a spit, bits of it were cut off from time to time, put in between two slices of bread and sold, usually without anything else (especially not with anything that would look like a vegetable of any description. Just meat. And bread). Throughout the entire day, every time we walked passed the centre of town, the English were queued anywhere between ten and thirty deep in one long, polite, line to get their bit of pig. Often it was a family affair, with father and son queuing together and, from what I overheard as I walked passed, discussing the cooking pig in manly tones.

I don’t think I really grasped just how much the English are attached to pork until that moment, despite the huge amount of bacon and pork in the supermarkets (roughly on a par with the amount of lamb and beef in an Australian supermarket). One of our favourite fiction writers, an Englishman called Terry Pratchett wrote a book called Hogswatchnight set in a strange parallel world where the world really is on the back of a turtle supported by four elephants—a kind of parody of the Lord of the Rings genre. In his book, which is a thinly disguised parody of Christmas, Pratchett has Hogswatchnight be all about pig-related products. I had thought it was just an amusing detail. Now I realise he was putting the satirical knife into the heart of his own country’s taste buds. Quite delicious really.

It was at the Market that I discovered venison. Not discovered in the sense of ‘found out there was something in existence called venison.’ But discovered in the sense of trying some for the first time and being immediately converted. One of the stalls was selling venison burgers. And, as I may have indicated, I don’t mind a burger. So I tried a venison burger. I recommend it, it’s a bit like mildly spiced beef.

And yet again was the evidence of how widely different people’s tastes can be. I’m cautiously trying my first well cooked piece of venison meat. The guy after me takes the ‘venison and kidney’ option. The kidney is brought out. It’s in its own blood-filled sandwich bag. It’s purple. The gentleman says, “as rare as possible please.” And so this weird blue piece of meat is placed on the hotplate for maybe two minutes maximum.

I have come to like my beef steak rare. But there are limits. Some people, one suspects, would be happy to eat straight from the freshly killed animal. As long as the meat is just a bit above room temperature that’s ‘cooked’ for them. And kidney? Betty’s would never approve. MDB

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes is now officially over. For days now, people have been letting off fireworks of varying degrees of intensity, most of which culimated yesterday (officially the day). Some of them were quite interesting, though we aren't all that into fireworks, being big fans of a decent Queensland thunderstorm, which kind of overshadows pretty much anything fireworks can manage.

And we are fairly boring when it comes to the idea of fireworks let off in and around people's homes. We are quite fond of the Australian laws which indicate that only very carefully trained people who really know what they are doing can let off explosives. Such restrictions may dampen the enjoyment for some of the populace with mild pyromanic tendencies, but they tend to have more of their appendages attached as a result. We think that is probably a good thing, on the whole.

It's obvious that the English think such a view is a bit quaint. Mark explained the Australian practice of requiring people to have fairly rigorous certification at the lunch table at Wycliffe today. The response from the English was, "How much training do you need to light a match?" English fondness for amateurism over professionalism comes through again. (Mark's response was that it wasn't the match so much as the gunpowder that was the focus of the training. The American on the table suggested it was possibly 'the running away part'. When worlds collide.)

So, we weren't terribly excited by Guy Fawkes. But it is an intriguing idea. In 1605, Guy Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament and so end Protestant rule in England. It was essentially a terrorist action. Yet, it became a national 'holiday' where people get to let off fireworks to symbolically commemmorate the gunpowder used in the plot. How things have changed. I simply cannot imagine 9/11 becoming the kind of holiday event where people destroy model planes or model buildings, or something similar. The idea is inconceivable. In some ways we see the world very differently from people of just a couple of centuries ago.

Still, a kind of holiday it became, involving fireworks and the eating of baked potatoes, I believe, and all vaguely connected with celebrating the deliverance of British Parliament.

But there's an interesting twist. It seems that, at least in the early 1830's, Guy Fawkes Day became a kind of 'let's blow up bishops' event. The focus switched from any kind of rememberance of a plot to blow up parliament (if that still remained even then), to a great outpouring of anger against the bishops of England. The bishops had just stymied the Great Reform Act, which would have allowed more people to be involved in the 'democratic' process in British government (it was passed in 1832), and they were not popular among the middle and lower classes. The bill had passed through the lower house of Parliament, but in the upper house (the House of Lords) the bishops were instrumental in its defeat.

On Guy Fawkes in 1830 (or it might have been 1831), the typical Guy Fawkes jingle of "Remember, remember the 5th of November..." was changed to:

"Remember, remember,
That God is the sender
Of every good gift known to man.
But the devil to spite us
Sent fellows in mitres
Who rob us of all that they can".

Effigies of bishops were burnt, some on the premises of the large castle-like buildings the bishops lived in. Dead cats, rocks, rotting fruit, all manner of other things were hurled through their windows (particularly the worst offenders - some were more sympathetic to reform than others) and their coaches rocked by mobs.

So Guy Fawkes, far from being a celebration of the English Protestant dream with bishops as the great guardians of the flock, became about mob violence against bishops. In a sense, it was an attempt to 'blow up' the House of Lords. A strange turn of events and one which Fawkes may have found ironic.

But then, the English do irony so very well. JMB

Monday, November 5, 2007

It's a Big Church, Ve-ry Big Church, It's a Big Church We're In-n...

One of the highlights of York was its cathedral, the York Minster. We were quite distracted by it. On our way to somewhere else we went to walk past it but then spent about 1/2 hour just looking at one side of it and kept discovering things about it. Apart from anything, we were dumbstruck at its sheer size. We tried valiantly to capture a sense of its size on camera, but it is impossible to do it justice. It just goes on and on and when you get a sense of its height, you look at its width and are similarly confounded. Apparently they set out to build a big cathedral, and you can tell they must have got the mission statement right, because they got a big cathedral. Even Carlton Draught would be impressed.

What is amazing is that we were engrossed, and we've seen highrises. This is a cathedral that was built when many people lived in small one room homes (in which that one room included even the kitchen). It must have been immense to their eyes. In a time when houses didn't have glass, the cathedral has the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the world.

The sheer size is a political statement - it is a testimony to the Archbishop of York's desire to be seen to be able to 'play with the big guys' and have his building bigger than the Archbishop of Canterbury's (Canterbury and York are first and second in the Church of England food chain). But it's also a theological statement. For medievals, this really was the house of God in some sense. And the sheer, over-the-top size impresses on you that God is A Big Deal. (The fact that it also impresses on you that his servant, the Archbishop is A Big Deal, we'll charitably put down to a fringe benefit). But this building took centuries of construction to make a point about the importance and glory of God. (Whether that's a good way to go about trying to make that point,we'll leave to one side. Let's not ruin the moment.)

As if the sheer size isn't enough, the building is covered with intricate artwork. Small gargoyles, a patterning under one of the door frames which details some of the key events of Genesis until about chapter 21, larger statues of people: the designs are carefully and beautifully executed. These we found mesmerising. There we stood: straining to see them, trying to work out what they are, getting very excited when we worked out what something must be because of the symbolism - we were two very engrossed colonials. You'd think we'd never seen a 148 metre long medieval cathedral with three 60m tall towers before!

The next day we came back and did the 'tour' inside. We found the inside still more dazzling. Of particular interest were the sculptures of the kings of England which sat under the organ. Clearly these were done after the kings were dead or those doing the sculptures would have found that kings do not (on the whole) appreciate candid shots or sculptures of themselves. Unless these kings were particularly relaxed about how cranky or clueless they looked, which frankly I find hard to believe (you'll need to click on the picture to see what I mean...).

So much more could be said! The corridors of tombs were fascinating and will get their own post; the ceiling was extraordinary in its height and decoration. We discovered that the cathedral was built on the site of an old Roman fort, and was actually the culmination of a series of cathedrals, the first built by the Saxons, then the Normans until finally the medievals built the finished product, taking a cool 300 years to finish it. (Obviously the mission statement didn't include a clause about timeliness).

But the thing that struck me as we walked through this and glutted ourselves on its beauty was that it was essentially a large open space. A remarkable large open space with an extraordinary ceiling, but at the end of the day it is a place for people to come together and hear what God has to say to them and talk to him in prayer. This is hard to miss, because although the cathedral is decorated all along its outside and inside walls, although the ceilings are awe-inspiring and there are all kinds of interesting memorials or tombs along the walls of other parts of it, apart from chairs there is nothing in the building. It's essentially empty. If you were a thief and inclined to steal things, there would be little to steal. Sure, there are some ceremonial cups and a few platters and candlesticks you might pilfer. But on the whole the only thing to steal would be some chairs (unless you were particularly enterprising and climbed the walls to steal a few gargoyles, but where you would sell these remains uncertain. I suppose you could be eccentric and collect them, a kind of mediaeval equivalent of pinching gnomes from people's gardens...).

For all its majesty, the cathedral reinforced for me that Christianity is all about relationships that you can't see: a relationship with Jesus and our relationships with each other. And going to church is about nurturing those relationships, so all you need is an open space, the roof is optional though handy for places like England where it rains a lot, and chairs are useful.

We were suitably impressed by York Minster, being colonials and all. And reminded again that there isn't much furniture in churches for a good reason. JMB

Please note: This blog does not in any way endorse theft from cathedrals, nor the pilfering of garden gnomes.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Sign Upon The Stair

Yesterday upon the stair
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today
I wish that man would go away.

Hugh Means

On the weekend just gone, we caught the train up to York and explored it for a couple of days. It’s part of our small program to Take Advantage Of A Situation We Never Imagined We’d Ever Have, (finding ourselves in Europe, or indeed, outside Australia at all). A program that will take on a new level of logistical sophistication, we suspect, once the Baddelim clan increases by 50% - hence a certain keenness to try and get one or two trips in between now and D Day.

York was amazing, as some later entries will try and impress upon you.


Our arrival proved to be the equivalent of an extended hands-on tutorial concerning the English approach to street signs.

We arrived around 5:30pm. We had the address, located in Bootham Crescent. Remember that. It is going to be important.

We had a map, and had located Bootham on it - a nice large street not far from the city centre. It was about a thirty minute walk there, so we skipped the cab and went for the exercise option.

That was possibly a mistake.

We proceeded to walk through York and try and find the street. That took some time, because as Watching the English had warned us, street signs aren’t always clearly marked out in England. Having found the road we thought we needed, we looked for the number of our street. It wasn’t there. The numbers went up close to it, jumped passed it, and then reset back to one again.

That didn’t phase us. Watching the English had a whole section of the book just dedicated to the English approach to street signs, numbering systems on streets and the fact that English people generally don’t like having their number being all that visible (if present at all). It also didn’t phase us when Bootham became a different street. Watching the English had prepared us for that too. Apparently it’s quite the done thing in England to change the name of a street constantly. We just looked around and cast our net in wider and wider circles.

We were phased, however, when, in our attempts to find the elusive street number in Bootham, we discovered two more streets each called Bootham. One was Bootham Lane and the other was Bootham Terrace. That was when we realised that we were on Bootham Street. Our street, as I’m sure you will remember, was Bootham Crescent. No relation to Bootham Street at all, really.

Watching the English
hadn’t warned us about this. I suppose it wasn’t really trying to give an exhaustive guide to English street naming protocols, so we can’t blame it. I do feel that someone should have warned us that the English will merrily have multiple streets all with the same name. Perhaps it’s just the social welfare mentality in me.

We discovered no less than six Bootham Pick-The-Synonym-For-Street/s either by stumbling over them or (in increasing desperation) finding them on our map. But no Bootham Crescent.

In the end I followed the clues from our trusty (albeit now demonstrably non-exhaustive) guide to surviving here and went to the one place where I was sure the rules on social interaction would permit me to ask where Bootham Crescent was. The local pub.

It turned out that we had (of course) passed Bootham Crescent early on in our journey, only ten minutes after we had discovered the existence of a plethora of Boothams. It had been the only street that we weren’t able to find a street sign for, and so passed on by.

At seven pm, one and half hours after arriving in York, we finally stumbled (quite literally) into our B & B in Bootham Crescent.

The next morning we discovered that there was a street sign indicating that this was Bootham Crescent.

It was attached to the side of the corner store. It faced Bootham Crescent (and so faced away from us as we walked towards it). It was six meters off the ground. (You may need to click on the image for an enlarged version).

The only way we could have seen this sign is if we had developed a sudden urge to crane our necks behind us and above us simultaneously as we passed the street. For anything like the purpose of a sign I would take for granted—like informing someone what the street was in time for them to take action—it was completely useless.

The other day, upon the corner store
We met the sign that wasn’t there.
It was there every day we were in York.
I wish it would go away.

And if it hadn’t been six meters off the ground, I probably would have burned it. MDB