Friday, April 27, 2007

Raglan Castle (Part 1)

I am lucky to live in a part of the UK where I have access to many beautiful places. If I zip over the Severn bridge then I am soon in South Wales where there are many castles that were built by the Normans, and later the English to hold the lands called the Marches which border England and Wales. Without a shadow of a doubt though the most magnificent castle built in this region, is Raglan Castle. The weather has been unusually dry and sunny for the past few weeks in the UK so I recently packed a picnic and the lesser half (men have better halves, so it follows that women must have lesser halves) and I headed west.

Raglan is a village in Monmouthshire and the castle is situated nearby. As you leave the car park and head towards the castle you are greated by the view of the castle in the first photo which shows the magnificent main entance and gatehouse. The photo below is a closer shot of the hexagonal gatehouse towers and the detailed stonework at their tops.

The first castle at Raglan was a Norman motte and bailey which survived until the early 15th century when it came into the hands of Sir William ap Thomas, a Welsh knight who had fought at Agincourt (1415). About 1435 he began building the Great Tower, an unusual hexagonal keep, surrounded by its own moat which I will post more about next time.

Sir William's son, William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, carried on the work and added a great gatehouse and lavish accommodation. Successive generations added to the castle and the last major period of building was carried out by William Somerset, Earl of Worcester (1548-89), who was responsible for improvements to the Great Hall.

Built regardless of cost and sumptuously embellished with carving, the castle became still more splendid under Herbert's Elizabethian descendants, who added a lordly banqueting hall and other fashionable apartments befitting of royalty. Indeed, Raglan Castle was the boyhood home of Henry Tudor, later to become King Henry VII. Hints of this splendor can be seen in the windows, the moulded roof corbels and huge fireplaces which are still evident and an example of this is shown in the photo above. Other notable features of the castle include the Fountain Court, the Pitched Stone Court (photo below), a buttery, pantry, Kitchen Tower, Closet Tower, office wing, South Gate, Chapel and State Apartments.

During the Civil War the castle was held for the king, and in June 1646 came under attack from the Parliamentary forces led by Sir Thomas Fairfax. After suffering heavy bombardment for thirteen weeks, in one of the longest sieges of the war, the castle finally surrendered. The castle was slighted by the victorious Parliamentarians, and after considerable effort they managed to topple two sides of the Great Tower through undermining it. Further damage was caused when the Duke of Beaufort ransacked the castle for fittings for his new home at Badminton, leaving Raglan a derelict ruin with it's sheer size, intricate and lavish design, and the odd remaining embellishment, such as that in the photo below, giving us clues to it's splendid and rich past.

Raglan is a wonderful castle to visit as nearly all of it is open to the public, with just a few parts, such as ruined staircases leading to long since gone upper floors being inaccessible. You can also walk around the outside of the castle to the South Gate and it is from here that you really get a good idea of how formidable a structure it was, with earthen embankments and an outer wall, leading up to the castle itself. The west and south side of the castle is shown in the photo below. Trust me that grassy slope is quite steep!

This last photo was taken from the south side where we stopped for our picnic on a flat lawned area called the Bowling Green. However, in times of attack this would have been used as an artillery park. With the elevated poition of the castle this would have been extremely effective. However, today the mighty guns are gone and all was still, quiet and warm as we ate our lunch. In the photo you can see the moat which completely surrounds the great tower with the arched bridge that was used to access it. I will write more about the great tower in my next post.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Study Partner

Sooooo... the exam is over. I put my pen down at 1pm today which was a relief quite frankly as my hand ached. Alot. I am so used to tapping away on a keyboard (computer, not musical instrument), that writing continuously for three hours always comes as a bit of a shock. By the end of the exam, my handwriting had definitely decended from the the free flowing articulate form which is usually a trademark of my letter writing, to something more befitting an illiterate inebriated spider. I can only hope that the marker has completed his course in advanced handwriting deciphering.

As ever I have no idea as to how I have done. I feel that I fluffed one section but I'm pretty sure I did better than I expected to on the first section. I really don't know about the final section as it was a very open-ended essay question. I guess it's wait-and-see time which is always what my mother cooked for dinner, or at least that is what she told us when we asked. But I digress.

The nice thing about getting an exam over with is the feeling of freedom that envelopes you afterward. Freedom from the bonds of revision and the confines of a small study, freedom to do with my time whatever my little heart desires. At least for a while, once the chores are done and around work, but the rest of it is mine! All mine until the next part of my MBA starts in May.

As promised I have some photos I have taken to share with you, but until I get around to posting them I thought you might like the pic below of my study buddy, who sits on the window sill by my desk and purrs, and also occasionally wanders across my desk to see me in a helpful manner, more befitting a bull in a china shop than a small cat, with items tumbling to the ground after being toppled casually by his passing. Still, his company was appreciated. The pic is of Bob alfresco earlier today.

Photos of my day out to Raglan Castle coming soon as promised. Right now I am off for a relaxing evening.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Too many books, too little time!

Anyone for cake? I am neck deep in books and drowning folks. I have a big exam coming up and I'm starting to feel just a teensy-weensy bit stressed. I've been playing catch-up on my studying ever since a thief stole my books and laptop and due to restructuring at work I just changed job so I'm on a steep learning curve there too. Great timing huh?

My exam is on Strategic Human Resource Management which looks at the strategic management of people to deliver long-term business success (in a nutshell). It basically takes the Resource Based View and looks at the inter-relationship between organisationsal strategic decisions and employees and if you are really interested you can read more here. I just need to get through this exam and then I have my final year of study left before I (hopefully) get my MBA. It's at time like this I question my logic about taking on studying on top of full-time work but I am sure it will be worth it in the end.

Anyway, I need to concentrate on my revision now so I probably won't post anything much new before then. I have some great photos of a couple of castles I have visited over the last couple of weekends, including some of a medieval re-enactment fight between knights and some other photos that I would love to share with you. However, at the moment I just haven't got the time to do them justice. I will take time to pop by your blogs and say hi, but probably not as often as I ususally do. I'm just sayin' so you don't think I have gone AWOL.

As Arnie says...I'll be back! Wish me lots of luck as I feel like I need all you can spare right now. My exam is on the 25th. Thanks.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Tagged 'n' interviewed

I'm still working on the Raglan post, mainly because I seem to be having trouble uploading photos, but also because I am bushed in the evenings this week with work and exam study so I am not doing it justice.

Anyhoo, I was innocently wandering through Spiffy Town the other day and I found that Biff Spiffy, who resides there had been interviewed and was looking for volunteers to interrogate, I mean interview. I did my duty and stepped up for the task and said "Go ahead Biff, make my day", so he did and came up with some interesting questions I'm glad to say. Here goes with the Q&A's:

1. What accent sounds the silliest to you, and can you imitate it?
Ooh! There are so many silly accents, especially here in the UK. I must say though, that the silliest accent ever is one that is put on by somebody that can't quite pull it off. I went to achool with a girl who thought she was all that and she had this really false posh English accent that would slip into a proper countryside accent from time to time. Affected accents sound silliest of all. Relax and be yourself I say and no, I can't do an impression of it.

2. If you had to give up one of your senses, which one would you choose?
Sometimes, when I walk around a city I would be quite happy to lose my sense of smell. I was stood next to a sweaty individual who clearly needed to be introduced to the concept of deodorant the other day, phew! On second thoughts, I'll give up my sixth sense. I think it's broken anyway!

3. Play-doh or paper - which would you eat if you had to have one?
Hmmm. Now lets see. I could draw nice pictures of food on paper, but I could model play-doh into pies and ice-cream cornets and fruit and such.... which has the least calories? Think I'll go with paper and pretend I'm eating secret messages!

4. You are a fast food chef. A customer is complaining bitterly about the complete meal he just got for $4. What do you do?
a) I force him to eat it
b) I apologise amd give him his money back

c) I karate chop him
d) I resign from such a crummy job

e) I draw a smiley face with squirty cream on top so he gets service with a smile!

It could be any of the above depending on my mood!

5. Have you ever kicked a pigeon? Wanted to?
Nah, they don't bother me. Now there are some people I certainly have wanted to kick though!

BONUS QUESTION - What would be your perfect day?
Bonus answer - One that didn't involve cares, paying bills, going to work or doing chores. Instead it should be somewhere relaxing with great company, great food and drink, great music and sunshine. I don't like to map these things out too much, spontaneity is often the cherry on the top and the thing that turns 'great' into 'perfect'.

So there you have it. If you would like to be interviewed by me then take one step forward and follow the instructions below:

1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me."

2. I will respond by asking you five questions. I get to pick the questions.

3. You will update your weblog with the answers to the questions.

4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.

5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Simple huh? So, who 's gonna volunteer?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

It's Philosophy, but not as we know it

Sunday has been a gorgeous day here in the UK so without a second thought I left the housework and study and hit the road. I went to Raglan Castle and will be posting about it very soon but I must get on with my revision right now before heading out this evening. So until I get my Raglan post together I thought I would leave you with the following clip.

I love a good laugh and nothing beats great comedy. I discovered Monty Python as a teenager. They are probably responsible for shaping part of my sense of humour, the part that is a little warped probably. Anyway, this clip is a classic but perhaps a little less well known than ones like the Parrot Sketch. I hope you enjoy it :0)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Blossom Hill

The weather in the UK over the Easter weekend was glorious so I took full advantage of this and went out. One of my trips took me back to a place I knew as child but hadn't been back to for a looooong time. The walk was up a hill near Gloucester so we parked and then started our ascent. Almost immediately, we noticed that there was blossom almost everywhere we looked. It looked like the trees were covered in candyfloss or cotton wool. The first photo is typical of the sight that greated us at every turn and below is a close-up of the tiny flowers that cover the trees in their millions!

The day was hot and at times the ascent was steep though there were also tracks that traversed the side of the hill. On such a track we found a shady bench that entreated us to rest awhile. How could we refuse? The light was dappled through the trees and we watched the birds and butterflies go about their busy spring business before setting off and finding a trail that took us upwards once more.

When we got to the top of the hill the view was magnificent if a little hazy, and we could see far and wide for 360 degrees. The photo below, although not great, gives you a little taste of what we saw. It shows Gloucester Cathedral towards the centre of the picture, with the centre of the city and then the suburbs stretching outwards from it. Gloucester is not a huge city but it is one with a rich history. In the distance, you can just make out the Malvern Hills which look blue in the haze of the afternoon sun. A cool breeze was blowing on the hill summit which was most welcome. Once we had rested we started our descent, back down through the blossom trees, whose petals drifted on the breeze like confetti.

I will write more about Gloucester and it's history sometime, which stretches back to the Romans.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Second Severn Crossing

I took the photo above using my mobile phone while crossing the Second Severn Crossing. I was sat in a Toyota Supra doing 70mph so I am quite pleased with the result! I hasten to add that I was a passenger at the time and not driving - it would be hard to take a photo any other way as the bridge carries traffic only! The bridge carries the M4 motorway and connects England with Wales further south down the estuary from the original Severn Bridge which I wrote about not long back (you can view that post here).

So here are some facts about the bridge:
It was inaugurated on 5th June 1996. The crossing is 3.186 miles (5.128 km) long in total, and the central bridge section you can see in the photo is of cable-stayed design with the approach viaducts being of a segmental bridge design. I love looking at the lines of the cables as I cross the bridge (as long as I'm not driving), they really draw your eye to the sky! The crossing forms a gentle S shape which you can see clearly when you travel from the English side as you approach it.

I clearly remember watching this bridge being built. I remember watching the two pieces from the land stretching out across the estuary until they met the middle section. Sub-assemblies for the bridge were constructed onshore and then shifted by a large tracked vehicle (similar to that used to move the Apollo and Space Shuttle onto a barge, prior to being floated-out on the high tide to the appropriate site. The section of bridge you can see in my photo and the centre of the pic above is over 900m long with two 149m high twin leg, reinforced and pre-stressed concrete pylons carrying 240 cables which support the bridge deck. The picture above was not taken by me but I thought it would be nice to show you the whole bridge. Personally I think it s best viewed by crossing it.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Snapping Animals

It has been a gloriously sunny Easter here in the UK so I have been out and about quite a bit. I have visited a castle, went on a couple of walks (which I will post about soon) and visted parents. On one of the walks I came across a small farm with some pens open to the public. Of course I couldn't resist taking a few pictures , and as the animals were used to people they made very obliging subjects.

There were three goats in one enclosure and the one in the picture above came trotting over as I stood by the fence. It seemed to want to pose for me so I snapped off a few shots.

The pigs were enjoying rooting around in the dirt but I noticed this one making a hollow for itself in a shady spot. I watched as it dug away the top layer of soil adn then laid down to sleep in the hollow it had made. Content with it's work it started to doze. I had a telephoto lens on so I was able to take the shot above without disturbing it from it's slumber.

In the next enclosure were a few sheep and one of them had a little lamb. The little thing followed it's mum everywhere and she kept a watchful eye on it while it joyfully ran around in the grass. She kept her offspring well away from people by the fences though many tried to call the lamb over. My telephoto lens came into it's own once more and I happily snapped away without worrying either of them.

While I have been out and about I have noticed many lambs in the fields. Spring has definitely arrived in the UK!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Duck and Weave

I've been tagged! ICL over at Slainte - It's Only Me, tagged me the other day, so obviously I don't move fast enough! I must remember to duck and weave more people, duck and weave... :0) I'm not one to shirk my duty however, so here goes.

Here are the rules:
1. Get tagged.

2. List five things that have not been revealed on your blog.

3. Tag five others.

At first glance it seems to be a nice short innocent looking tag but it has a sting. I have been sitting here trying to think of what to list, things that I would like to share but haven't already. Not so easy... but here are my five:

1) When I was a child I had a soft toy crocodile. I loved this thing which was meant to be a draft excluder but was adopted by me at two years old. I took it everywhere. At two you don't care what something is meant to be or how it looks, if you like it, then that is the way it is. I have never been one for conforming and started out the way I meant to go from an early age.

2) I have previously revealed that I used to work in showbusiness, in the theatre, (working in stage management and lighting). However, what you don't know is that my favourite show that I worked on was 'Les Miserables'. This show is wonderful and has it all. Beautiful music, fabulous set and great story. I never got tired of working on it and the performances were moving. If you looked out into the audience, half of them would be discretely employing tissues at the end of the show.

3) My batchelors degree is in Psychology. When I left school I didn't know what I wanted to do so I went to University as I enjoyed learning. A teacher gave me the advice to study something I was interested in if I didn't know what I wanted to do, so I did! In the end I liked certain aspects of the course more than others, but one thing I learnt by far was that people are individuals (apart from groupthink!), you can theorise until the cows come home but there will always be exceptions to the rules. Now I'm a manager I use this knowledge to manage staff and to mentor junior managers. My approach is to treat everyone as an individual human being, to find out what motivates them and what is going on in their lives. Seems to work wonders and is easier said than done..

4) I used to be a Girl Guide. I was a patrol leader for the whole time I was there and became Pack Leader too. It gave me the opportunity to take on responsibility at an early age and also to try out new things, such as canoeing, flower arranging, camping and making gadgets out of sticks and things, singing carols in Trafalgar Square (where we had a bomb scare) and working in the community with children and the elderly.

5) I love animals. I have nearly always had pets, ranging from gold fish to cats and dogs including a vicious hamster (really, it was evil), a huge rabbit, a tortoise with attitude called 'Rocket', tropical fish, and my latest companion, Bob the cat.

So there you have it, five things about me that I haven't revealed before on my blog. I don't pass on tags 9so I guess the non-conformist in me is breaking rule 3), so no need to duck and weave around here, but feel free to do this if you'd like to. Let me know if you do and I will come and visit.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Daffodil Principle

A friend recently sent me this story. I was having a little trouble with my essay and was a bit overwhelmed with the task in front of me. I had had all my books, laptop, notes and work on the essay stolen and even though I had been granted an extension on the deadline it was still a big undertaking considering I had so much work to re-do. I was changing jobs at the time and I had insurance to deal with (and you remember the trouble I had there!) and as a result of all of this my motivation was not great. So when this turned up in my inbox it helped me in a way that my friend might not have imagined.

The Daffodil Principle

Several times my daughter had telephoned to say, "Mother, you must come
to see the daffodils before they are over." I wanted to go, but it was a two-hour drive from Laguna to Lake Arrowhead "I will come next Tuesday", I promised a little reluctantly on her third call.

Next Tuesday dawned cold and rainy. Still, I had promised, and reluctantly I drove there. When I finally walked into Carolyn's house I was welcomed by the joyful sounds of happy children. I delightedly hugged and greeted my grandchildren.

"Forget the daffodils, Carolyn! The road is invisible in these clouds and fog, and there is nothing in the world except you and these children that I want to see badly enough to drive another inch!"

My daughter smiled calmly and said, "We drive in this all the time, Mother." "Well, you won't get me back on the road until it clears, and then I'm heading for home!" I assured her. "But first we're going to see the daffodils. It's just a few blocks," Carolyn said. "I'll drive. I'm used to this."

"Carolyn," I said sternly, "Please turn around." "It's all right, Mother, I promise. You will never forgive yourself if you miss this experience."

After about twenty minutes, we turned onto a small gravel road and I saw a small church. On the far side of the church, I saw a hand lettered sign with an arrow that read, " Daffodil Garden ." We got out of the car, each took a child's hand, and I followed Carolyn down the path Then, as we turned a corner, I looked up and gasped. Before me lay the most glorious sight. It looked as though someone had taken a great vat of gold and poured it over the mountain peak and its surrounding slopes. The flowers were planted in majestic, swirling patterns, great ribbons and swaths of deep orange, creamy white, lemon yellow, salmon pink, and saffron and butter yellow. Each different-colored variety was planted in large
groups so that it swirled and flowed like its own river with its own unique hue. There were five acres of flowers.

"Who did this?" I asked Carolyn. "Just one woman," Carolyn answered. "She lives on the property. That's her home." Carolyn pointed to a well-kept A-frame house, small and modestly sitting in the midst of all that glory. We walked up to the house.

On the patio, we saw a poster. "Answers to the Questions I Know You Are Asking", was the headline. The first answer was a simple one. "50,000 bulbs," it read. The second answer was, "One at a time, by one woman. Two hands, two feet, and one brain." The third answer was, "Began in 1958."

For me, that moment was a life-changing experience. I thought of this woman whom I had never met, who, more than forty years before, had begun, one bulb at a time, to bring her vision of beauty and joy to an obscure mountaintop. Planting one bulb at a time, year after year, this unknown woman had forever changed the world in which she lived. One day at a time, she had created something of extraordinary magnificence, beauty, and inspiration. The principle her daffodil garden taught is one of the greatest principles of celebration. That is, learning to move toward our goals and desires one step at a time--often just one baby-step at time--and learning to love the doing, learning to use the accumulation of time. When we multiply tiny pieces of time with small increments of daily effort, we too will find we can accomplish magnificent things. We can change the world ...

"It makes me sad in a way," I admitted to Carolyn. "What might I have accomplished if I had thought of a wonderful goal thirty-five or forty years ago and had worked away at it 'one bulb at a time' through all those years? Just think what I might have been able to achieve!"

My daughter summed up the message of the day in her usual direct way. "Start tomorrow," she said.

She was right. It's so pointless to think of the lost hours of yesterdays. The way to make learning a lesson of celebration instead of a cause for regret is to only ask, "How can I put this to use today?" as t
here is no better time than right now to be happy.