Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Eating Ampersands

English cuisine has a pretty bad reputation in general, though I am not sure that it is deserved. Admittedly it's not flashy like French or Italian cuisine, but if you like simple and satisfying meals, the English aren't so bad at all. We've recently sampled two favorites: bangers & mash and fish & chips.

My wife borrowed a cookbook from the local library to check out local recipes. One recipe is bangers and mash, which is sausages and mashed potatoes for those of you not in the know. I'm a pretty big fan of this dish, having eaten it several times during our month or so when we could voucher our meals. It's standard fare at pubs across the UK.

After discovering the recipe, we drove to a local farm and bought fresh made sausages. Sinc our household goods had not arrived yet, we did not have a potato masher, so we didn't buy potatoes at the farm. Luckily the English also have lots of ready-to-eat items in their grocery stores. We were able to buy mashed potatoes in a plastic refrigerated tub. The only prep for them was heating in the microwave.

We fried the sausages in a pan to brown them, then finished cooking them in the oven. As they baked, we cooked some onions in the frying pan and added some beef stock and other ingredients to make the yummy, dark sauce. Combining all the ingredients was no problem and we had a wonderful dinner ready with little effort (something that will surely change now that we have the potato masher back). Jacob at first didn't like it, though after he tried one bite of sausage, he realized that he did like it. Sometimes that's how it goes.

Last Saturday, we were too wiped out from our Ikea trip and subsequent furniture construction to grill steaks like we planned. So we opted to go to a fish and chips place for a take away [Editor's note: that's "take out" in America) dinner. We arrived at Drakes Fish and Chips, where we previously had a good in-restaurant dining experience. They had a longish line, but we waited anyway. It was worth the wait.

The restaurant serves almost only fish and chips. If you want something else from the menu, like chicken bites or spam fritters (!?!?), you need to special order them before you get to the front of the line. "Special order" means calling out to the cook behind the counter. The cook didn't seem too organized that day, which may explain the huge back up. Patience was delightfully rewarded: They wrapped a piece of deep fried cod with a bunch of chips in paper. We left the store with a nice bundle ready to eat at home.

We got home and unwrapped our bundles. The fish was yummy and the chips were very unlike most American french fries. The chips were larger, tasted more like potatoes, and were a little soft or mushy. I like them very much and wound up eating some of the kids' leftovers. Our only failing was not having malt vinegar at home for the food. The kids did not eat the fish; we had the foresight to call out for chicken bites, which they did enjoy.

I don't think fish and chips will be a dish we make at home. We left our deep fryer back in the States, though I suppose we could pan fry them. Breading always seems like more work than it's worth. Maybe we'll change our minds or become bolder. Or buy a UK deep fryer. Only time and our appetites will tell.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Bank Holiday Train Trip

In the UK, not every day off is tied to some specific event, memorial, or person. Some holidays are just "bank" holidays, a day off for the heck of it. Originally, these holidays were based around saints feast days and other significant religious celebrations, but the list has gone random. Read more about bank holidays here.

The last Monday in August (today as I write) is one of the bank holidays. Most every store was closed today, not just banks. Jacob, Lucy, and I walked over to a local church (not the one that was for sale) because they had advertised on their sign a miniature train show for the bank holiday. We had to look up when the bank holiday was to be sure to go on the right day.

It is awfully nice to be able to walk to so many different things. Being able to walk alleviates the stress of driving, though it introduces the stress of getting the children to walk at the same pace in the same direction at the same time. My wife made up a game that promotes unity if not uniformity. We look for a sign down the sidewalk and some one of us claims that they will touch it first. A mad dash ensues where typically Jacob and Lucy beat their parents to the sign. Then we look for the next sign. This system works pretty well as long as we pick signs that aren't across the street or past an intersection. Our kids are quite conscientious about holding hands while crossing the street, which is a relief and a delight for us parents. But I digress.

We reached the church and had to follow their hedge around a corner until we could get into the grounds. We went in by the parish center door and found two old ladies sitting there chatting. The one said they wouldn't charge for the children (being under 5 has its privileges), so I paid my £3 and we went in.

The trains were of varying gauges and the tables were mostly long and quite intricately decorated. Jacob and Lucy enjoyed watching the trains go back and forth (a lot of the train tracks were not loops, so the trains just went forward and back). Jacob especially enjoyed when they would come out of tunnels. "You weren't expecting that, were you, Daddy?" was a very popular question. We admired all the displays. Some of them were a little too high up. I had to lift one child and then the other so they could get a view.

A nice set right at the beginning

The details were pretty amazing to me, even ducks in the water!

Jacob cheers on the train!

Lucy enjoyed this foreign set

Another amazing miniature was this organ.

A typical track with circular rails

The organizers were crafty enough to set up a kitchen and some tables and chairs so they could sell snacks to the visitors. We had some scones and I had a cuppa tea. Jacob didn't like the jam and cream on the scones. I'll have to order one plain next time. Lucy enjoyed the jam but not the cream so much. They both asked about apple juice, which we forgot to bring and they didn't have. Even fresh scones can be a little dry. After our snack we set out for one last train set.

The ladies at the entrance said Thomas the Tank Engine was in the back room, so we wandered around until we found the right place. The back room was the sacristy where the pastor vests for services. All the closets were closed but plenty of small plastic tracks were laid out on the floor. On a table in the corner was a small layout with a Thomas train whizzing around. The kids enjoyed that too, though not so much since they were getting tired.

Jacob looked down on this track layout.

We wandered back outside and tried to find a different exit from the church grounds, but the hedge only had the one opening. We crossed the street and resumed our game of finding and touching road signs on the way home. It was a delightful way to spend a bank holiday morning. The next bank holiday in England is Christmas Day, a long wait.

Of course, as an American working for Americans, my wife will have next Monday off for Labor Day, which is also a pretty random holiday if you ask me. We still don't have plans yet. If we get done unpacking/settling in, or even close to it, maybe we'll do some sight seeing next weekend.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hello Dolly!

We finally made it to a regular story time at one of the local libraries. Jacob, Lucy, and I arrived with almost no time to spare. We wove our way through the stacks to the children's room to hear about all sorts of farm animals.

Science gone awry!?!
The librarian read a book about various farm animals followed by one about a cow who lost her moo. She (the cow) went to all the animals on the farm to see who had her special sound. She (the librarian) finished with another book about a sheep. Jacob was very attentive but still wanted to sit closer to me than to her. Lucy sat in my lap for a while and then wandered a bit, winding up at a table with a different book. The librarian didn't seem to mind, though I thought it was pretty uncouth. They'll warm up to her if we keep going, I am sure.

After stories, we moved to the little tables for a craft. In this craft, Jacob and Lucy had much delight. They both made sheep. Being of the mad scientific bent, they were glad to receive training in cloning lower life forms. Here are their results:

They also cloned some grass for bonus points.

Mommy was very proud of her children when she came home and saw the sheep. Jacob and Lucy are looking forward to future story times here in England. And so am I.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Unpacking Update

Our household goods finally arrived last Monday (five days ago as I write). We've spent a busy week trying to unpack boxes, reorganize rooms, and return disassembled furniture to its original state. It's been fun but exhausting work, leaving no time for blogging.

The good news is everything on the packing list made it. No boxes were lost or smashed to bits or confiscated by customs (I was worried about my copy of Portal 2!). Not quite everything made it. We have an Ikea loft bed that the American movers took partially apart. They did not do a good job of keeping all the fiddly little bits with it. We made a trip to Ikea today to get some additional furniture and the missing screws, dowels, and bolts required to finish the bed. The bed is now complete. Jacob even tested out the ladder and the mattress and all works well.

I was happy to see this listed as number 42 on the packing list:

The ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything is...

A bookcase! Full of linens? I guess that makes as much sense as "42" does.

Books are pretty important in my opinion. If they don't have the ultimate answer, they can definitely help in discovering it. This poor bookshelf will be stocked with books once we get some shelves for our linen closet. Ikea was surprisingly unhelpful in that regard.

Worse than Ikea not solving all our problems, we did have one casualty in the move. Jacob's cheap plastic fireman's hat got crunched up in the move. The hat was in the bottom of a box, so I think it just suffered under the burden of supporting other items. My wife said we should write to the moving company to demand $80 for a fireman's hat (as long was we left out the words "plastic" and "child's" in its decription); I said we should demand £80!

I'm not sure it's the authentic style and color (colour?) of locally used hats

Things are slowly coming together. The study/guest room/man room can finally be properly organized now that the loft bed is not scattered in pieces all over the floor. We opened up the boxes of pictures to hang and need to decide where they should go. That's fun work, though not as fun as going through the books and re-alphabetizing them. That takes a while because of all the sampling I do as I go. Soon there will be time for reading again! Truly a happy time for us.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Full House Future

We'll have a full house tomorrow. Our household goods are finally through customs and will be delivered tomorrow. Mommy and Daddy are pretty excited. The kids just care about getting their toys back. After weeks and weeks and weeks of the same two pairs of pants and six shirts, it will be nice to have the rest of my wardrobe. The children could care less about clothes. They have had a greater variety because their clothes are smaller and we could pack more of them.

Planning what should go where has been a challenge but we think we've worked out a decent layout. Just recently, I've read and heard about interior decorating in some of my favorite new media resources. The Art of Manliness blog has a posting on how to decorate a Man Room. I had such a room in Maryland and we do have a study/Man Room/spare bedroom in this house. I left behind some of the better decorations, i.e. my collection of weapons. Now in storage is a small crossbow from Assisi, a patu/wahaika from New Zealand, nunchucks from San Francisco's Chinatown, and many others. We figured weapons probably were problematic to bring into a foreign country. Being prepared for the zombie apocalypse is not an acceptable excuse according to customs. The extra bookshelves are coming and some spare desks, along with the computer equipment and paraphernalia. Soon I will podcast again!

The other decorating tips were from The Dice Tower, a podcast about board games and card games, but especially the people who play them. Episode 218 was about what makes the perfect gaming room. We don't have a dedicated gaming room, but it is fun to imagine. They had a lot of recommendations about support equipment, like having spare tables for drinks and snacks and having supplies to fix and/or supplement game contents (extra dice, tokens, etc.). I'm inspired to adapt such advice if I can. Also, they recommended a spare refrigerator to spare the family fridge from raids by visiting gamers. It's a great idea if we had a spare room or start a gaming group. We can dream, can't we?

At any rate, we should have a very busy and very satisfying day tomorrow. Wish us luck and swift unpacking!!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Movie Review: Zombieland

Zombieland (2009) directed by Ruben Fleischer

MPAA rating

R-Restricted: Children under 17 require accompanying parent or adult guardian, for horror violence/gore and language

ZPAA rating

17 and up

Gore level

7 out of 10--Even though it was played for laughs, the constant stream of gore was more like a flooding river. Lots of zombie on human and human on zombie violence; one instance of human on human violence. Clearly the intent wasn't to be gross-out funny, like Evil Dead 2, or stomach-churning horror, like John Carpenter's The Thing, but it still will turn a delicate stomach. And SPOILER ALERT! a twinkie gets shot.

Other offensive content

Lots of bad language including f-bombs; some drinking; one instance of drug use; some human on human threats and lots of betrayals; casual attitude towards looting and destruction of property; gratuitous celebrity cameo.

How much zombie mythology/content

They blamed the zombie outbreak on some sort of virus but what caused the zombies isn't as important to the movie as the causes the humans espouse.

How much fun

I found this movie to be enjoyable. I laughed quite a lot, the performances were good, and the conclusion was satisfyingly upbeat.

Synopsis & Review

Zombieland presents the story of Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a twenty-something guy who is surviving the zombie apocalypse by following a strict set of rules that save him from the zombies but also prevent him from connecting with any regular humans. He wants to return to his home town of Columbus, Ohio, to see if his parents are okay. He admits he has a distant or cold relationship with them, but still, they are family and what else does he have to do? Prior to the zombie outbreak, he led a sheltered life playing video games and not dating.

As he travels, he runs into Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a gun-toting zombie-killing tough guy who is spending the apocalypse trying to find the last Hostess Twinkie. He loves Twinkies and what else does he have to do? They form a temporary alliance as they travel together. They meet up with two sisters, Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who specialize in con jobs and are spending the zombie apocalypse trying to get to an amusement park in Los Angeles for one last taste of innocence and fun. What else do they have to do? They have an on-again, off-again, alliance with Columbus and Tallahassee which slowly leads all the characters to the fabled amusement park.

If Shaun of the Dead was a romantic zombie comedy (or rom-zom-com as it was pithily put), then Zombieland is a family zombie comedy. Not that it is a family-friendly film, it's far too gory for that. Rather, the driving force in the story is the search for human connections and ultimately family bonds. Columbus has a hard time with other people, a problem the zombie apocalypse exacerbates. His rules keep him safe but don't let him be vulnerable. This is poignantly shown in Rule #3, Always Wear Your Seatbelt. At first this is played for a visual gag where a woman fleeing zombies is thrown impossibly and fatally far from her car because she didn't wear her seatbelt. Later on, the rule comes up a few times to display Columbus's character and his growth in trusting, or at least going along with, others. The ending of the movie turns out to be refreshingly positive and un-cynical, much like the beloved Shaun of the Dead. The importance of sticking together and caring for one another makes Zombieland the definitive fam-zom-com.

The other great thing in Zombieland is the depiction of the rules in the movie. They are shown as 3D titles within the world of the film. They often interact in comic ways with the mayhem on screen (getting knocked around or splattered with blood, etc.). They also create comic punchlines, like when someone hits a presumably finished off zombie one more time to be sure, the rule "Double tap" shows up. The use of the rules emphasizes the lighter tone of the film and gives it a distinct feel.

Columbus adopts a new rule during the course of the film: enjoy the little things. This film is full of wonderful little things and has a lot more heart than many other zombie films. While not as great as Shaun of the Dead, this movie is the second greatest zombie comedy ever. Definitely worth watching!

Sample Text

Rather than steal a scene from the film, here's the trailer:

Friday, August 19, 2011

Converting Temperatures

One of the challenges in moving from America to England is switching from Fahrenheit to Celsius. The two main challenges are cooking and dressing for the outdoor weather.

Cooking hasn't been so bad. In addition to having a book with standard temperature conversions, we also have a little sheet taped up on the side of the oven with the conversions from Fahrenheit to Celsius. Gas marks are also a popular way to set the temperature on ovens, so the chart also lists "gas mark 2, gas mark 3, etc."

More problematic is the weather. My wife heard a little rhyme to help with knowing how to dress:
30 is hot, 20 is nice,
10 is cold, 0 is ice.
While this is generally helpful, one wonders where, for example, 17 falls in the shirt-sweater-coat-parka spectrum. The formula for the conversion is F=(1.8*C)+32. Multiplying 17 by 1.8 isn't so easy off the top of one's head, so I've been trying to figure out an easier way to make the conversion.

I realized that for every 10 degrees of Celsius, Fahrenheit goes up 18 degrees. Thus the rhyme above converts to this:
30 is 86 degrees, 20 is 68,
10 is 50, 0 is 32.
Doesn't really rhyme but it is an easier scale to map against a personal shirt-sweater-coat-parka spectrum. Because, let's face it, coat weather for one person can be just shirt weather for another person. If you doubt that, come here and see the people running around in varying states of dress on a sunny, 24 degree Celsius day.

Also, I think the numbers are easier to memorize than they first appear. 86 is 68 backwards, 50 is pretty easy to remember, and I think everyone knows freezing is 32 F and 0 C.

Finding numbers in between isn't too hard, either. One just remembers that every 10 degrees Celsius is 18 Fahrenheit. So if a temperature ends in 5, just take half of 18 and add 9 to 86, 68, 50, or 32. If the temperature is over 35 Celsius, it is way too hot to be outside without a cold beverage. At least on my personal shirt-sweater-coat-parka spectrum.

With a few tricks, converting temperature is as easy as Pi!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

First UK Playdate

We had our first UK playdate at an American mommy and me play group this week. We had difficulty finding the location last week but we succeeded this week.

I don't know if it was because the weather was so nice, or people were on vacation, or they heard we were coming, but only one other parent and her child were there when we arrived about 10:20 (it started at 10:00). No one else showed up, so I'm glad the lady wasn't left alone with her girl. She said last week a lot of people showed up.

Jacob and Lucy warmed up after a little while of just looking at the toys. Jacob's favorite was a little table that had buttons and knobs for playing music. Lucy enjoyed the simple doll house with fun little furniture and people. She and the other girl played with a bunk bed. A little bit of conflict arose but we parents were able to settle them down again.

It was nice for me to chat with another parent for a while. She's been here a year and is heading back in a few months. She really loves living here and had some recommendations. She also showed me a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar in German. I recognized some of the words but not enough to read out loud. I suppose I should try to learn some basics of European languages for when we go to visit them.

Jacob must have been feeling comfortable because he asked to go to the potty. Lucy must have been more comfortable because she let us leave her while we went upstairs in search of the toilet. Everything went well on all fronts. We left about 11:30 to get home for lunch. We look forward to coming to the next playdate and to finding our first British (or mostly British) playgroup.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Punching Out

While we were visiting Knaresborough, the lady in the tourist office told us about the arts festival currently going on. That day featured a traditional Punch and Judy show in the town's market square, just a short walk away from the tourist office. The first performance was at 11:30, about 15 minutes away. So Jacob, Lucy, and I headed over for the show. Who knew that Jacob would want to leave during the show?

What was it that drove him off? It wasn't the wacky venue. He enjoyed the tall stage with the small puppets popping up and down, left and right. The music was pretty good too, mostly 1920's sounding rag time tunes.

Complete stage, allowing the performer to stand up. Must be nice!

The puppet's on the far right, fleeing the "show starts" sign, I guess

The puppets are a little weird looking, if you ask me. But this didn't seem to bother Jacob either.  When these two bobbies showed up in the show, they did not start hitting each other, they just danced to a silly song. Jacob was okay with this too.

They did not do a Gilbert and Sullivan Routine, alas!

The crowd did get pretty big. I was sitting right next to Jacob and he didn't seem fazed by the numbers of other kids and adults hanging around. I felt a few drops of rain, which is usually a deal breaker for Jacob, but he didn't notice or was too distracted by the entertainment to care.

Then this crazy lady showed up:

The Judy of the show?

She was okay until she had a little baby puppet (at least, I think it was supposed to be a baby) that kept showing up behind her. She asked the crowd to help her find the baby. The crowd of kids would shout whenever the baby popped up. They got very loud and Jacob got very upset. He didn't want to stay. I was curious to see more but didn't want to make him stay. We headed off to the car.

It was fortuitous that we left when we did. About a minute after we got back into the car, the rain started in earnest. We were saved from a dousing. Maybe someday we'll get to see another Punch and Judy show with a less rambunctious crowd. I think the performances are pretty popular at Christmastime.

Knaresborough Castle and Riverwalk

We made a "morning trip" (like a day trip but only for half of the day) to Knaresborough. My plan was to visit the castle and see what else we could see in the town.

Driving didn't take too long and the parking was cheap and right at the castle. We wandered in through the East Gate of the castle in search of adventure and excitement.

You can see a little corner of Lucy racing in ahead of us

We walked out into the middle of the field and found a strange passage into the ground. The sign said it was a sallyport, i.e. an underground tunnel used for secretly entering and exiting the castle. This one is wide enough for several armed and armored men to walk through, presumably to flank forces attacking the castle.

We all wanted to go down there!

Unfortunately it was locked and the sign further explained that guided tours go through the sallyport. We hoped to find more information about that. The web site I checked said the museum opened at 10:30. Maybe tours start from there?

We wandered over to the museum which is housed in the courthouse, the main building still standing inside the castle walls. The foundation dates back to 12th or 13th century, with a more modern structure, circa 1600. We went to the door, but that was locked too, even though the sign there said it was open daily.

All three doors were locked!

We walked over to the other large structure, much larger than the court house, still on the property. The King's Tower was built between 1307 and 1312 by King Edward II. It was supposed to be torn down with the rest of the castle during the Civil War. The townspeople petitioned Parliament to leave it as a prison. Also the courthouse was spared so it could function as a courthouse. Clever planning, eh?

What's left of the tower

The Tower was also closed, though later we saw a worker put out a sign that said they were open from noon to 5 p.m., which doesn't really work for nap times. Maybe we can nap early one day and rush out to see this around 3:30 or 4.

Next to the Tower is what is called the "Porch," an area that probably held an entrance room to the castle. Jacob and Lucy loved this spot, especially because I let them use the camera for a little bit.

Jacob and Lucy clowning around

Pretty good photo of me by Jacob

We walked to the back wall of the castle and saw this view of the train bridge and the River Nidd.

We heard a waterfall down below so Jacob wanted to investigate. We walked down a long and winding staircase (Lucy was carried for quite a bit), and eventually discovered the river walk. The promised waterfall wasn't too impressive (thus no pictures). The riverside had a lot of little snack shops. We stopped for a bite and to admire the traffic going by.

Jacob loved his pastry which was called a fat rascal

Big traffic!

Jacob explained the traffic to me, but I still didn't understand

Once done with the snack we headed back up the stairs for more adventures. We found the market square and saw one of the famous men of Knaresborough, Blind Jack. Even though he lost his sight at age 6, John Metcalf was famous for building 180 miles of road and being a great fiddle player. He even had his own pub in the market square.

Jacob finds a friend

A pub next to a liquor store seems redundant to me; check out the fake windows in the middle!

We then saw a Punch and Judy show, but that's a story for another blog posting. We enjoyed our adventures and can't wait to show Mommy around this awesome town.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Crumpet Conundrum

One of the foods we'd heard about but never tried before coming to the UK is the breakfast item called a crumpet. One can make crumpets at home but prepackaged crumpets are readily available in most grocery stores in the bread aisle. That's how we've been having them.

The tricky thing about explaining them is whether they more like American pancakes or like English muffins. They are cooked in a pan and the bottom of crumpet really looks like a pancake. The flavor and texture is very unlike a pancake and they tend to be much thicker too. So they aren't really a pancake in the American sense.

Bottom-side view, looks like a small pancake

On the other side, it definitely looks like an English muffin, with nooks and crannies to soak up all the luscious butter we put on them. Also, the store bought ones are heated up in a toaster like English muffins. Often jelly or another sweet or savory topping is added on top of the butter. We usually use honey if anything. We just bought a jar of lemon butter which may also taste nice. The flavor of the crumpet is more robust and the texture is more sponge-like than an English muffin. Also, the eater does not have to cut the crumpet in half to get at the wonderfully textured interior. So they aren't quite like English muffins either.

Has lots of butter, waiting for another topping or a hungry eater

It does have some great features of both with its own unique flavor. If Frankenstein were a happy story, it would probably be about a mad scientist/cook who cobbles together this wonderful breakfast treat from the parts of other morning meal items.

Bread good! Crumpet better!!

I recommend trying them if you have the chance. They go well with eggs and bacon or two crumpets are quite filling on their own. They go well with tea, too!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunday in the Park with Jacob

After Sunday nap time, we headed out to a local park to enjoy the playground and whatever else we could find there. We'd gone last week and heard the last bit of a brass band concert and found a water fountain that Jacob loves. He calls it a waterfall. It's true, the water does fall. But the playground is still the main attraction.

Not a voodoo drum to control zombies
This week we parked our car on the other side of the park, so when we inevitably went to the potty, we'd be close to the car and not have to walk back through the playground when leaving. That meant we were near the concert stage. This week's performers were Drums Agogo. The group of about twelve plays African drums. We heard about 20 minutes of the concert, which was a lot of fun for Jacob. He loves drumming. I joked once that for Jacob, there's only two types of things in the world. If something isn't a drum, it's a drumstick.

The drums played at the concert were hand drums, so no sticks were needed. Lucy was a little bored by the concert, so she and I went to the little restaurant in the park and bought some ice cream cones. Available flavors were vanilla or Turkish Delight. I bought one cone of each. I had a little trouble getting them back to Mommy and Jacob, mostly because Lucy insisted on being carried and was trying to get at the ice cream. The cones had little cookies stuck in, so Jacob had a treat too. I liked the Turkish Delight flavor more than my wife did, so I ate as much of that cone as I could while Lucy gobbled spoonfuls.

After the concert was over, Jacob wanted to go up on the stage to check out the drums. With a little encouragement, he asked one of the people if he could try out a drum. The lady offered her drum and she showed him how to play it--deep booms when you slapped the middle or higher-pitched thunks by the rim. At first he hesitantly banged on the drum. As he played he gained more confidence and daring. He wound up impressing one or two people, who said he was pretty good. The lady said she had been playing for two years with the group and still hadn't bought a proper bag for her drum. She's been using a plastic garbage bag. She said the drums were about £140 and she hasn't spent more on a bag yet. We may have to check into lessons for Jacob. After the success with dancing, he may be ready to take a class. We will investigate further. We aren't sure about buying a drum yet, but a hand drum will definitely be quieter (and more portable) than a drum kit.

We did eventually go to the waterfall and the playground and had a lot of fun. This type of outing may become a regular for us while the weather is still good and the sun still shines in the afternoons. I wonder what concert will be there next week!

East Riddlesden Hall, or Keighley's Old Home

Saturday we went on another excursion. Taking advantage of our National Trust membership, we drove to the town of Keighley to see the East Riddlesden Hall.

The estate was first settled in the 7th century, though the existing structures date back to the 14th century at the earliest. The hall underwent many renovations, most especially by James Murgatroyd, who built the barn and the bothy as well as substantially remodeling the house. Being a Royalist in a Parliamentarian area during the British Civil War hurt his business and he did not have enough funds to complete renovations. The estate began to fall into disrepair over the years until it wound up in the hands of the National Trust, which has been restoring it bit by bit since gaining possession in 1934.

I'm sure this bit of history has left you with many questions. I will answer the ones I can anticipate in a random and haphazard manner:

First, what is a "bothy"? It's a separate building where the farm hands and other workers on the estate would live. It has been renovated into the gift shop/entrance downstairs and the tea shop upstairs. The tea was quite good and scones were tasty.

Bothy on right; house to the left with rose window above the door

Cool ceramic clotted cream container!

In case you can't read it, the sign signs to look out for the low beam!

So you should definitely bother with the bothy!

Another question you might have is "What about the duck pond out front?" We did visit the duck pond before the house opened (we arrived about 9:30 and the house doesn't open until 10:30). Unfortunately we weren't foresighted enough to bring some bread with us, but a nice gentleman and his daughter shared some slices with us. Here are the children enjoying the ducks:

Excitement is building for kids and ducks alike!

Jacob uses bread (or possibly The Force) to influence the ducks

Lucy uses sweetness to charm the ducks, the sweetness of bread

Jacob enjoyed the fun game of chasing the ducks back into the pond. The ducks were acquiescent.

You might also ask, "Surely feeding ducks didn't take a whole hour, did it?" You would be correct. We did wander a little bit through the town and discovered the Leeds and Liverpool Canal (previously seen here), which had more ducks. Jacob said, "I need to scare ducks back into the canal, please!" We acquiesced.

Feeding the ducks

Scaring the ducks
By this point we had killed enough time to get into the house, so you'll next ask, "What's the inside of the house like?" The tourable part of the house (i.e. the part that is still standing) is quite nice. When the house was donated to the National Trust, it was almost empty. The only thing in the house was a chest used for storing grain. Everything else is from various donors and various periods. Some of the interesting things we discovered were the following:

The cradle in the Great Chamber (think master bedroom) had a few nobs on the side that we asked about. The guide explained that, since it was a farm with lots of animals running around, the nursemaid or mother would wind cords or rope across the top of the cradle in a crossing pattern. Mostly it kept the cats out. This use of the cord was the origin of the children's string game Cat's Cradle, played in England and America.

The cat's not in the cradle, nor a silver spoon

The trundle bed in the Yellow Porch room (with the rose window at the back of the house) had no mattress, showing how they would use ropes as a box spring. The mattress would go on top of this. Every night the sleeper would have to tighten the ropes to keep them from sagging. Hence the expression "Sleep tight."

Or, it was the ultimate Cat's Cradle game!

The house did have indoor heating and plumbing. Well, not plumbing but at least a fancy chamber pot:

It's important to keep the room with the toilet warm
This massive fireplace was just cool:

This other fireplace has an inscription believed to be from Psalm 144, in praise of daughters as the cornerstone of a family.

Lucy would agree with the sentiment if she could read it
You might also ask, "Where have I heard that name Murgatroyd before?" Perhaps you are familiar with "Heavens to Murgatroyd!", an exclamation made popular by Snagglepuss in The Yogi Bear Show, a popular 1960's American children's cartoon. The phrase was first used in Meet the People, a 1940's American comedy film. The writers of the film were probably aware of Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore and got the name from there. Read more about the expression here.

Someone might ask about the barn. The barn dates back from the 17th century and is the best example of such a structure extant. The inside is quite spacious and has many old vehicles and farm implements on display.

An unassuming but large structure

Early version of a minivan

A large plow

The younger among the readers will ask, "What about the playground?" The quite fabulous play area behind the bothy was a big hit with Jacob and Lucy, as you can clearly see. Jacob loved the obstacle course and went through it about ten times.

Obstacle courses are always fun

So are slides!

If you have any other questions, feel free to ask. I'll answer what I can with what I know, what I can research, or what I can make up.