A visit to the Leeds Royal Armouries

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Pew pew

Put this on your to-do list, because the Royal Armouries are amazing.

From the moment you arrive at this museum (free entry, donations welcome), you are immersed in the history of warfare and combat – with a focus on England, yes, but the collections span the globe, with some great pieces particularly from Japan. From the actors dressed in Saxon armour at the door, to the shooting simulators that let you see what it’s like to shoot a Lee-Enfield Rifle or a machine gun, there’s things to see and do before you even get to the exhibition halls.

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Pew pew. Ranked as Marksman, Second Class. Good enough to be conscripted.

And then you get to the staircase.

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Oh, so that’s why it’s the armouries.

Suddenly you are thrust face to face with a display of weaponry that is impressive, breathtaking, and a little frightening. The craftsmanship is stunning, but the sheer scale of these things for use in battle . . . it’s staggering.

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Dieu et Mon Droit – God and My Right: the slogan of the British monarch. Aggressive, no?

The museum is arranged over 5 floors, and is well designed to be bright and spacious. The space and the exhibitions are marvelous, and I could have easily spent a few days there reading about warfare and arms. I am particularly interested in Medieval history, as you can probably tell from my selection of pictures, but there were also large collections that outlined the development of guns and cannons, Victorian hunting weaponry, and contemporary weaponry and policing tools (though not so much about contemporary warfare, noticeably. Though there was one room dedicated to worldwide peace movements).

There were also plenty of live performances and presentations, from a storyteller reciting the tale of Beowulf and Grendel with vigorous use of props, to a talk about Saxon blacksmithing, to a demonstration of medieval swordfighting . . . there were more things to do than time to do them in. And they were all top quality, presented with passion and knowledge.

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But for me, the absolute highlight of the day was having a go at the crossbow firing range.

Yes, that’s right – for a small extra fee (I think it was £3.50 for 8 bolts) you can try your hand at shooting a crossbow. There was a bit of a wait in line, but so, so worth it.

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Ridiculous amounts of fun.

A great and very full day out, and plenty of interactive elements for all ages to enjoy. There are a couple of cafes in the Amouries, a little picnic area and some lockers if you prefer to bring your own food, and some restaurants just outside (we enjoyed a Pizza Express before driving home).

To finish, I will leave you with this delightful picture of Henry VIII’s tournament armour (sorry about the reflections in the glass case).

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Wow, would you look at that . . . helm. Do you think he could fit his whole ego in there?!

Poetry reading today!

I’m doing my first poetry reading in the UK today! At 1pm!

The amazing Riverhead Coffee is hosting at their Grimsby location. It is very kind of them to host – it’s their first poetry reading. And while I’ve done lots of performances, this is my first in the UK. It’s exciting, especially because I have no idea what kind of turnout there will be. Preparing has been an interesting process, because while I’ve been able to anticipate the response of the average Canadian poetry audience, who knows what the folks here will think. It’s great – I’ve got to be on my toes.

Wish me luck, and I hope to see you there!

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Soccer! Football! Whatever it’s called!

Living in England has converted me. That’s right, I’ve become a footie fan.

It’s a surprise to me. As a retired roller derby athlete and a lifelong ice hockey fan, I have always thought of soccer as a slow sport for the unfortunate people who can’t skate. Oh, I recognized the athleticism of jogging around after a ball for 90 minutes, but I just thought it wasn’t any fun to watch. All that diving to the ground and clutching at ankles. Give me Bobby Baun scoring a game winning goal on a fractured femur – as a Canadian kid I heard the legends of the hockey toughs, saw the sutures stitched on the bench. So naturally I held soccer in a not-always-quiet contempt.

I changed my mind when I worked with some soccer athletes. Dedicated, passionate, skillful and athletic, they had way more fortitude than I would have previously imagined. Still not the sport for me, but now I gave it respect.

Since moving to the UK, I have been adopted into a Manchester United household (this means that I am forbidden from saying anything remotely positive about Liverpool. At all. In any capacity. Ever.). I watched a couple games, and wasn’t that interested in their dull defensive strategy. Boring to watch. Especially when it doesn’t work, which is most of the time.

But then I started watching Leicester, who play an entirely different ball game. They’re the type of team that bring so much get-up-and-go to the field that they make other teams step up in kind. They’re fast and aggressive. It’s exciting. Really, really exciting.

Who knew?

I’m definitely a bandwagon jumper here, and I’ll admit that freely. So while I’m at it, here’s another bandwagon I’ve hopped on.

The football club to me – so local they play just a few blocks away – is Grimsby Town, nicknamed the Mariners. The team was founded in 1878. For context, the phonograph was patented the same year.

I haven’t been to a match, but I watch the crowd bedecked in black and white stripes streaming into and out of the arena whenever there’s a home game. There is a good deal of visible team support, which is really cool in an area of England where people grumble that there’s nothing to do except drink. The Mariners fans represent with a particularly Grimsby twist: chanting “fish” while waving inflatable haddock. I love England. Tis a silly place.
Last weekend the whole family gathered around the tv to see whether the team would be promoted to Football League after a 6-year absence. They won, and it’s a big deal, not in the least because it means they’ll be included in the next FIFA video game, because it means more money and prestige for the club, which in turn should attract more fans to watch games, eat at local restaurants and drink at local pubs. Good for business.
But more meaningful still is what it means to the people who live here. I sat at my window a few days ago and watched a gaggle of youngsters in their jerseys running up and down the street waiting to see the Mariners come past with their trophy. This is the difference between their hometown being the butt of a joke in the movies and having something to cheer for. It’s about community, and as someone who lives here, it brings a huge smile to my face.
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The Mighty Mariners right outside my window.

I’m looking forward to getting to a match in the future. If only to shout FISH! FISH! FISH! while waving my haddock.*
*No, that’s not a euphemism**
**Or is it??

Taking the sea air

It’s a beautiful day today, so here’s a short clip of the waves along the Cleethorpes seafront promenade.

Technically it’s not the sea, it’s the Humber Estuary. But it is glorious on a sunny morning. An instant caffeine infusion for the spirit – lifts me right up. Those Victorians were onto something with their seaside resorts.

Say what you’d like about living in Grimsby, it is fabulous to have this sight a two minute walk from my door.

A visit to Haworth, home of the Brontës

At the beginning of February, I took a trip with a bookish friend so we could geek out over the home of the Brontë sisters in Haworth, Yorkshire. Charlotte, Emily and Anne were all intelligent and accomplished writers, who penned literature that is both descriptively local and incredibly universal in the presentation of human relationships. In preparation, I reread Wuthering Heights, the literary classic about how people with too much time and too little sense make each other miserable. Miserable to death.

When we arrived at Haworth, there was snow covering the hilltops. The first time I encountered weather cold enough to wear my winter coat, and I had left it at home. Foiled!

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View from the parking lot at the Brontë parsonage. Snow covered hills in the distance.

Because I am a huge geek, we left to arrive when the museum opened. Be warned, fellow travelers, that while the museum opens at 10am, the washrooms are closed until 11! But the kind lady at admissions directed us to a nearby cafe, so we walked down a cobblestone street, found the toilet, then enjoyed coffee and pastries before getting back on track with our mission to immerse ourselves in literary wonder.

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The parsonage

The parsonage where the Brontës lived has been lovingly and thoroughly restored to historical accuracy. The paints and wallpapers have all been matched based on records and scientific analysis. The collection of original furniture, papers, manuscripts and art is staggering; the care that has been taken to preserve and restore with as much precision as possible shows the devotion that the Brontës have inspired in their fans and followers.

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The dining room would have been where the very industrious sisters undertook the majority of their writing, painting and handicrafts.

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Charlotte Brontë’s writing desk

It was exciting to discover what accomplished artists the sisters were; although I knew they had been governesses and that requires some artistic skill, the drawing and painting on exhibit was really beautiful. Although their brother Branwell had a short-lived and not particularly successful career as a portrait artist, the displays show that the sisters were keen artists and Charlotte in particular had great skill. As children, the siblings used to create miniature books – and although the scale is hard to tell from this picture, they made these tiny manuscripts with incredible detail.

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Because there are so many deeply personal artifacts – diaries, letters, clothes – you get a little bit of a sense of the character of the sisters. That they cared for each other deeply, that they were in turns both sensible and adventurous, that they were highly industrious, and that Charlotte at least had a sense of humour.IMG_20160203_121343383.jpg

Right outside the parsonage’s front door is a graveyard – a site that was actually the key source of pollution in Haworth village in the mid 1800s. So much of the atmosphere of the novels is explained by the constant proximity of death and these large tombstones – the trees were added later as a means of helping reduce the pollution. Many of the rooms from the parsonage, including Charlotte’s bedroom and the dining room, have windows that look out on the graveyard.IMG_20160203_123631651.jpgIMG_20160203_124009541.jpg

After our visit to the parsonage, we obviously needed a hearty meal. Luckily there is a pub down the road, the same pub that Branwell Brontë frequented.

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We sat next to a roaring fire and enjoyed a hearty meal to brace us against the Yorkshire chill.

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Well fortified, we walked through the village – which is really quaint and everything a tourist could ask for. The shops clearly embrace the Brontë heritage.

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An inspiring and educational pilgrimage. I’m not the only one who thinks so…here is what Virginia Woolf thought of her trip to the Parsonage:

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Spring?! Rambling…

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Cleethorpes Seafront

We’ve had a beautiful sunny week here in Cleethorpes. I have lots of posts to write – I’ve been to Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters, and Paris, home of all sorts of famous and infamous figures. Plus I have become guardian of two adorable guinea pigs, but have had to treat both for ringworm (I am now very proficient at getting piggies to take oral medication).

But for now here’s a picture of low tide. The daffodils are blossoming. The robins are singing. It feels like spring. Is it too early for the weather to last? Did the groundhog see his shadow? Does England even have groundhogs?

Also, if you’re local, go get the Canuck approved maple macchiato from Riverhead Coffee. Made with Canadian maple syrup drizzled on top. None of that fake “maple flavour” nonsense. Tastes like winter & home. (I know I keep raving about Riverhead Coffee. They don’t sponsor this blog. Not that I’d object if they wanted to…!)

Ah, I could go for some pancakes with bacon right now. Drenched in maple syrup. Pancakes. Not the crêpes that English people call pancakes. I mean, crêpes are great, but they aren’t the same thing at all, and are definitely not the vehicle for maple syrup delivery.

Thinking about how expensive syrup is here makes me think of all the other foods I took for granted in Canada that are much harder to find. Salsa in bulk quantities, for instance. Fresh guacamole. Pierogies and Polish sausage. Bulk rice of all varieties. Dried chickpeas. Frozen fruit. All things I am used to finding easily in even small grocery stores. There are a good selection of curry sauces and spices here, but they’re all mild. But kale is plentiful and cheap, and the cheese selection here is amazing. Goat cheese doesn’t cost a small fortune, either. And the bread isn’t as full of sugar and additives. Even the cheap loaves at the gas station are relatively sound ingredient-wise. Which is neat.

Though I still can’t get over how many things are labelled “One of your 5 a day” referring to servings of fruits and vegetables. The Canada Food Guide recommends 7-10 for an average adult. Not that any government is the perfect source for nutritional information, but it is interesting what different countries recommend to their population and why. I wonder if it has to do with post-war rationing in England? Or the later economic downturn when fresh produce might have been prohibitively expensive? All just guesses on my part, maybe I should do some looking into it.

This post is a little all over the place. Thanks for bearing with me, dear readers! As Tigger would say: TTFN!