Thursday, March 31, 2011

Oh that silly, sweet Cooper

Coop made his own costume out of a yellow hard hat, a lace doily, and long piece of elastic, and a ballpoint pen clipped to his shirt.
Yeah, I don't know either.

Walking with Daddy wearing matching British hats:

One night, Coop stayed awake two hours past bedtime "reading" to himself.  When he finally went to sleep, I found him like this:
I love it!

I am, however, less enamored with his new physical comedy schitck.  He walks into a pole (or other stationary object):

 And then falls dramatically to the ground:
Funny to watch.  Once.  Though the college kids humor him by laughing repeatedly.  And we certainly get some interesting glances from passersby.

One of my all-time favorite photos from the semester:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Important places around Grantham

This is my little corner of Wetherspoons pub.   
It's the one table close to an outlet, so I can plug in my laptop.  The fireplace is just to my left.  And I've got a pint Diet Pepsi sitting on the table next to me.  Perfect.  (Well, not as perfect as Diet Coke would be, but I manage.)

Alan found the B&Q store, which is eerily similar to Home Depot, right down to the orange theme colors.

This next photo really is a place of national importance in Grantham, and I'm sure Coop will someday be quite glad to have this momento:
What?  You don't know why?!

See that small brown rectangle up to the right of the second story window?  It's this:
That's right, Maggie Thatcher was born in this corner building, presumably before it was a "Chiropractic Clinic and Holistic Retreat."  And that small plaque is all there is to mark the spot.  Apparently, as one of the locals tells it, there's no love lost between Mags and the town of her birthplace, although Grantham does historically vote for the Conservative Party candidate, perhaps as a nod to its famous (if estranged) political daughter.

Another famous Grantham native is Isaac Newton.  He was born and raised outside of town at a place called Woolsthorpe.  (Woolsthorpe by Colsterworld, not Woolsthrope by Belvoir, just fyi.)  Here is Carol outside of Isaac's childhood home:

And here is Cooper "Gravity" Grant thinking some deep thoughts beneath the very apple tree that inspired Isaac Newton's revelation about gravity.
(There's some dispute in our party about whether it's actually THE tree.  Alan's always a skeptic.  Apparently Isaac's tree fell over in 1820, but this current tree grew out of the roots that took hold where the trunk fell.  I call it good enough for bragging rights.)

Finally, when Carol and Ellen were here visiting, I went back to St. Wulfram's Church in Grantham with them.  This time, the church's Chained Library was open.  The library was established in 1598 when a local reverend gave £100 for the purchase of books.  It was the first public reference library in England.  The reverend provided that his library was to be kept in the porch room at St. Wulfram's (where it remains to this day) and that the books were to be chained to desks and read in the library.  Over 80 volumes are still attached by chain to the shelves, preventing their loan or theft.

The books are Bible commentaries, sermon collections, church histories, in addition to books about law, medicine, and history.  The majority of the books were printed in the 16th Century, but there are about ten books printed prior to 1500.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The grown-ups go to London

Jack's parents offered to host Cooper for a day so Alan and I could go somewhere by ourselves.  We took advantage of their generosity by heading to London to see Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre.  It was spectacular!!

We knew we would have some extra time in London, so we picked one thing we wanted to do that we thought Cooper wouldn't care about.  Frankly, there are about 750 things that fit in that category, but we chose Winston Churchill's Cabinet War Rooms.
The War Rooms served as the British government's secret underground shelter during World War II. The government transformed basement storage rooms under the Board of Trade and the Office of Works to serve as the central emergency working place for the War Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff.

Churchill disliked the underground shelter and worked here only when bombing raids made working on the surface too dangerous.  He famously commented about the Cabinet War Room (pictured below): "This is the room from which I will lead the war."
Churchill's seat is along the back wall, directly in front of the map.

(The photos are all taken through glass barriers, so the quality isn't terrific.)

Several of the rooms are just as they were in 1945.  It's almost as if the war ended, Churchill and his people ran upstairs to celebrate, and the building was sealed.  There are original maps decorating the walls, boxes of push-pins that the officers used to track the progress of ships during the war, a line of 10 different colored telephones, a chalkboard keeping tally of aircraft losses, and rows and rows of keys for all of the doors down in the bunker.

Although developed as a temporary work space, the War Rooms eventually became home to a host of civil servants (typists, telephone operators, clerks, kitchen workers) and military personnel.  In addition, Churchill and his wife Clementine both had bedrooms down in the bunker, along with a dining suite.  This is Churchill's room, restored to its 1945 state, including the maps on his walls and a cigar and ashtray on the bedside table.
The War Rooms museum was fantastic---quite a treasure trove of artifacts from WWII, including interviews with people who lived and worked there with Churchill and his cabinet.  Fascinating.

As we were walking around town (at a grown-up walking speed without constantly exhorting a sweet but distractable four-year-old to "come on, hon... keep walking"), we passed a few notable landmarks.

This is the Palace of Westminster, also known as the Houses of Parliament.  The clock tower is commonly called Big Ben, although that name technically refers to the great bell inside the clock.

This is Westminster Abbey, a church that is the traditional place of coronation and burial for British monarchs, as well as a popular place for royal weddings (including the upcoming nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton).

We also just happened to notice the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, so we ducked inside to look around.
I was surprised by a couple of things.  First, the UK Supreme Court is quite new, having sat for the first time in October 2009.  It hears cases from England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland.  The building itself is the former Middlesex Guildhall, which served as the home for justices of the county in the 1800s.  It was restored and renovated beginning in 2007.  It's lovely.

For our special grown-up London meal?  McDonald's.  The first we've had since we've been here!  Delicious!
(And just so you don't think we're totally lame, we did enjoy a quiet meal at a great Indian restaurant when we got back to Grantham.)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Twin Lakes

One Saturday, we made our way to Twin Lakes Theme Park in nearby Melton Mowbray with some of the other Harlaxton children.  According to its website, "Twinlakes Theme Park has endless adventures of family fun packed with variety, adventure and fun for every member of your family."  That's right, folks.  Adventure.  Fun.  Family.  What could be better?

And truly, it didn't disappoint.  Our kids were precisely the right ages to enjoy the park.  We had a park map before hand, so we knew we wanted to hit Buccaneer Island.  (Coop even wore his pirate costume!)  Turns out, it was a giant butler building with all sorts of pirate-themed things to do inside.  And tables for the grown-ups to sit and enjoy a Diet Coke!

First up, Cooper and Jack in Captain Hook's Clockwork Wheel:

Sitting in the front row of Lost Boys Stormy Sloop:

Taking a pirate break to play in the cars/houses area:

We also visited the Labyrinth Venture Zone, which was a gladiator-themed butler building with similar activities.

Outside, we found a few roller coasters (Alan and Cooper are in the third seat back):

A giant sand pit:

Some peacocks:

And a barn with farm animals, including sweet baby lambs:

We came home completely tuckered out.  What a perfect way to spend a Saturday.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Horse Racing

Alan's only real request this semester was to see a steeple chase.  So I hunted down a schedule of races and hoped for one nearby.  Turns out, we're sort of in the middle of some pretty serious horse race country.

We took a Saturday and headed up to Doncaster, a short 40-minute train ride away, for an afternoon of steeple chases.  Had the weather been just slightly warmer, it would have been an absolutely perfect day (but then it probably would have been incredibly crowded too, so maybe we got lucky with the cold weather).

We talked our friends Jack and Abby (and their mom Nancy) into coming with us.

So here's Cooper (and Alan down in his orange coat right by the fence) watching the horses warm up.

Right near the family area of the stands was a small kids play area, including this ride.  Coop's in the firetruck in this picture, but he drove every one of these vehicles at least three times.

And he went in the bounce house with Jack and Abby.

Another go on the firetruck, as a group:

Look!  More horses!

We bet on four horse races.  Our friend Nancy hit the jackpot and won money three of the four times (maybe 12 pounds total, after betting 1 pound on each horse).  Alan broke even.  I, on the other hand, better not quit my day job.  Three of the four horses I bet on came in dead last, and two of those finished without a rider.  Oops.

Headed home:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Nooks and Crannies around the Manor

The longer we've been here, the more time we've had to explore the castle we call home.  We've made some fun discoveries.

This small little doorway is at the end of the hall right before you get to our room.  We had a brief glimpse into it when we first arrived, but it's usually padlocked shut.

Mr. Joe, one of our favorite maintenance workers, heard us playing in the room one day, knocked on our door, and offered to show us inside this secret door.
It's an old train track.  Way back when, a train with supplies for the manor would roll right into this passageway and dump its goods down the chutes on either side.  Coal or wood for the house fires, potatoes or other food stuffs, etc.

At the end of the tunnel is another locked door with this sign:
We didn't ask, and Joe didn't offer, to open this door.

Another day, our friends Jack and Abby offered to show us around the woods behind the manor.

Abby had previously scoped out this hideaway under a ginormous canopy of brush.  I'm guessing at one point it was a drinking spot for college kids.  But the six-and-under crowd has reclaimed it now.

There's even a cute little chandelier (for candles) handing on a branch.

This is another of Cooper's favorite little places.   It's just a small cranny along the stairs coming down from the floor above ours.  He stops there every time and calls it his "house."

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Southwell Workhouse

One Tuesday, we went with the college students on a field trip to the Southwell Workhouse.  It's a large beautiful building, with a fantastically interesting history.  It was my turn to enjoy the guided tour while Alan kept Cooper entertained running around the yard and picking up sticks and leaves and hunks of moss for our nature collection.  Here's what I learned.

First, some history as it relates to England taking care of its poor people.  Prior to the 1500s, monasteries provided for poor people as part of the medieval social structure.  But then Henry VIII broke from the Catholic church to become the head of the Church of England.  As monasteries declined, the country needed a new plan to care for poor people.

The Act for the Relief of the Poor (known as the Old Poor Law) was passed in 1601, and it provided that each individual parish was responsible for the poor people who lived in that parish.  In 1824, the Southwell Workhouse was built as a prototype workhouse---a building sponsored and supported by several area parishes where they could send their poor people to live.  The idea of the workhouse was to provide a centralized location for poor people to work and be cared for, rather than leaving the burden on individual parishes.  Economies of scale, if you will.

In 1832, the Poor Law Amendment Act (also known as the New Poor Law) was passed, which applied the workhouse model to the entire country.  Parishes were organized into unions and a workhouse was built in each union for the care of the poor people from the member parishes.  This system of workhouses largely usurped any "outdoor" forms of relief (in the form of money or clothing or food, as opposed to "indoor" relief of having poor people live in workhouse).

Southwell Workhouse was built to hold 158 people.  Families were separated upon arrival; men, women, and children were segregated from each other at all times, except for a short "family time" on Sunday afternoons and on Christmas day.

This room was the women's sleeping area:

On arrival, poor people were examined by a medical officer who determined if they were old and infirm ("innocent" poor) or if they were able-bodied ("idle and profligate" poor).  The old and inform poor, which made up the vast majority of Southwell's residents, had very light work requirements, compared to the harder tasks assigned the able-bodied poor.  Women were in charge of cleaning, food preparation, and laundry.  Men worked in the garden and the wood shop, they did regular building maintenance, and they broke up stones to be used as gravel for roads.  If they found themselves with nothing to do, they could turn a crank in the yard.  It served no purpose except to keep them busy.

One job that sounded particularly dreadful was picking oakum.  Oakum refers to the individual fibers of rope that are unthreaded, mixed with tar, and then used to caulk wooden planks in boats.  People would bring old, dirty, worn out ropes to the workhouse, and the workhouse residents would spend their time unraveling the rope until they could pull apart the individual threads.
(As I mentioned, Cooper was mostly running around outside, but he ducked back inside while our tour guide showed us these ropes and explained the oakum-picking task.  The information stuck with him; he told several people over the next few days about how this job hurt your fingers and gave you blisters.)

Children spent days in a school classroom learning the basics of reading, writing, and math.  Ideally, the workhouse wanted to help children eventually find work, perhaps as a scullery maid in a local manor somewhere.

Here's my own scullery maid pointing out the privies, the only bathrooms available to the workhouse residents.

The Southwell Workhouse had only three paid staff people:  the house master and his wife the house matron, and the school teacher who was in charge of the children at all times.  Other than these three, the poor people did all the work of the house.

Another picture of the front of the workhouse -- you can see the big garden plots.
Also notice the brick wall that surrounds the yard.  Poor people came to workhouses voluntarily and they could leave at any time (after asking and being properly discharged by the master).  It wasn't a prison (even though our tour guide kept referring to them as "inmates"), but it definitely was a harsh place to live.  Life was very regimented, controlled, and monotonous.  The work was hard and unpleasant.  The food, although nutritionally adequate (bread, broth, vegetables, meat every other day), was boring and bland.  But the people at least had a bed, warm clothes (they wore uniforms), and three meals a day.

The Southwell Workhouse continued in operation until the 1940s when England established its modern welfare system.