Saturday, August 31, 2013

Book Review: B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth Vol. 1: New World by Mike Mignola et al.

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth Vol. 1: New World by Mike Mignola et al.

Having finally defeated the Plague of Frogs, the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense has gone public in a big way. They've even been commandeered by the United Nations, which is a very mixed blessing. Sure they have more funding, but instead of choosing what occurrences they will investigate, they now have to investigate everything, everywhere. The agents are stretched out across the globe investigating every subterranean monster that pops up as well as every freak volcano that erupts where it shouldn't (sorry, readers from Houston, but your city is wiped out).

Dr. Kate Corrigan is left in charge of the B.P.R.D. and tries her best to keep the team together. Abe Sapien is off investigating the Pacific Northwest, where he discovers a monster that has been stripping small towns of their populations. Out in the woods, he finds an old friend who helps unravel the mystery and explain the unthinkable horror that has descended upon them.

The book mostly follows Abe's exploits, though the internal dramas at the Headquarters are followed as a b-story, presumably setting up future story arcs and conflicts. The horror is delivered both on the psychological level and on the visual level, with Cthulhu-esque monsters prowling around the globe. I'm ready to see more of the gang picking up the pieces in the aftermath of near-world destruction by the frogs. Send more quick!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Cragside, UK Part V--The Playground

Like most large (and not so large) estates run by the National Trust, Cragside has a nice playground for the kids to enjoy after they have been bored out of their minds by the estate house which was so interesting to the parents.

Cragside Playground

J's chosen theme for this visit was "ropes." The ropes could be natural or synthetic, chains or woven. If it had some flexibility, climb-ability, or hang-ability, he was on it.

J on the single-strand rope bridge

The ultra-tough high-low chains

Classic climber

Zip-line hero!

J spent most of his time with the zip line. He had it mostly to himself (which is always nice) and he kept going and going. At one point, he had Mommy on one end and Daddy on the other, tossing him back and forth with all their might!

L was more classical in her tastes, enjoying regular climbing and the swings.

L at her apex!

L also convinced us to get her a cold and refreshing treat from the nearby snack stand. She had an orange popsicle all to herself.

A good time was had by all and we were soon on the road again for further adventures!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Cragside, UK Part IV--The First Floor of the House

Going upstairs at Cragside reveals the extensive bedrooms and art collection that the Armstrongs had.

The stairway has a niche with a very striking statue. It's The Slave Girl by John Bell. It was sculpted in 1870 and reflects the awareness of slavery inspired by the American Civil War and the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin.

The Slave Girl by John Bell

The bedrooms follow a standard naming pattern according to dominant colors or decorations found in the rooms. The Yellow Bedroom has a William Morris wallpaper design with fruit; the Red Bedroom has red carpets and bed linens; the Bamboo Room has Japanese-inspired furnishings (the wood is carved to look like bamboo).

Yellow Bedroom

Red Bedroom

Bamboo Room

The Morning Room is an upstairs drawing room that features a fine musical instrument.

Keyboard in the drawing room

By the bedrooms is a long gallery and a drawing room that include many of the paintings, sculptures, and taxidermy that Lord Armstrong collected during his life. He kept it as a sort of museum with scientific, geological, and natural history specimens available for study. 


Alexander Munro's Undine

Some taxidermy

Amazing marble statue

The drawing room is quite ostentatious with a massive marble chimney piece dominating the south end of the room. Designed by William Lethaby and executed by Farmer and Brindley, it easily accommodates several people, though the room has its own boiler and pipe system for heating. The room was used for entertaining large groups of guests or very important guests, like the Prince and Princess of Wales who came to visit in 1884!

Massivest fireplace ever!

The final major addition to the house was the Billiards Room in the back of the house. It is very cozy and seems like the spot for the men folk to retreat for brandy and cigars after a big formal dinner in the drawing room. The table is still in use and I had the chance to play a little.

Aptly named Billiards Room

A good spot for lounging around between shots

Up above the gallery is the Owl Suite, a set of bedrooms that were furnished for the royal visit. In addition to the light and airy decor, plumbing was also installed for the comfort of the guests. The rooms get their name from the owl finials on the posts of the beds.

Owl Bedroom #1

Owl Bedroom #2

The Owl Suite is the summit of the house and the end of our tour. Tomorrow we will visit the most important part of the estate according to J and L--the playground!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Cragside, UK Part III--The Ground Floor of the House

Cragside was the pet project of William George Armstrong (1810-1900), a British industrialist and scientist who focused on practical applications for water power. He built the house with many conveniences we take for granted: electric lights, hot and cold water, elevators, telephone systems. Everything was powered by water. He had made several lakes on the estate and used the water to power the house. One person said that it was "the Palace of a Modern Magician." Our children (and we adults too) were amazed to see all the conveniences built into the home.

Approaching the house

A little bit of water right next to the house!

Medieval-ish archway

Courtyard inside

The first stop on the tour of the house is the kitchen. The room has many conveniences that must have delighted the servants. The oven had spits that turned automatically; a dumb waiter brought supplies up and down from the scullery below; even an early dish washer was in use!

Oven/range with automated spits

Kitchen table with dumb waiter in the back

First generation dishwasher

The scullery has all the pots and pans and such. Also, a display explains the hydraulic lift that was used by the servants, not the guests. The lift was meant to be practical, not ornamental. Delivering coal or meals or laundry to the upstairs rooms was very easy at Cragside.


Explanation of the hydraulic lift

Model of the elevator (J pushed the button here a lot)

The butler had his own pantry where some of the finer items were kept in storage. He also would coordinate activities in the household from his other room on the other side of the kitchen.

Butler's pantry

Butler's room (no they didn't have TVs in the late 1800s--nothing to watch!)

The next room (and a natural neighbor to the kitchen) is the dining room. The fireplace here is quite impressive. It has its own nook with benches for people to warm themselves from the cold along with stained glass windows by William Morris representing the four seasons.

Dining room


L and J enjoying a little warming

Next to the dining room is the library, which was originally used as a drawing room and still has a more informal, not very bookish feel. Interestingly, when the estate was taken over by the National Trust, some of the books found in the house were labeled "Servants Room," which meant that servants were encouraged to read in their off time. Also, this room was the first to have electricity, including Joseph Swan's filament light bulbs.

The library

A staircase just outside the library leads down into the Turkish Baths. Another modern convenience powered hydroelectrically, Lord Armstrong included this in his house for several reasons. It provides a way to heat the rest of the house with the air being ducted through the walls above. Also, any foreign ministers (including several Asian ministers) who might facilitate business contracts would be more amenable if they were more comfortable even during the bleak Northumbrian winter.

Steam room

Cold plunge?

Hot bath

Fezzes are cool (just like bow ties)

The ploy must have worked, for the room at the top of the stairs is the Japanese Room. It displays various gifts and mementos given to Armstrong by various Japanese families.

Japanese Room

Nearby tiles that I thought were cool

As this post is getting long, we'll save the upstairs for tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Cragside, UK Part II-- Tumbleton Lake and Outlying Buildings

After visiting the gardens briefly, we went off to the stables of Cragside to satisfy our appetite for lunch. Don't worry! First of all, we packed a lunch. Second, the stables have been converted to a visitor centre, tea rooms, shops, and museum. No animals were harmed on this visit!

Tumbleton Lake

The converted stables

The lake was created by damming a small tributary to the nearby river Coquet. Just below the dam is a pump house that used to provide water to the house. The builder of the house, William Armstrong, was a fabulous inventor who used all sorts of machines in his house, including an elevator and electric lights, all powered by water. Part of the stables is a museum describing the history of the house and the accomplishments of Armstrong.

Museum entrance

Propaganda Informational poster

All the ways the 1860s house was far ahead of its time

J examines different types of water wheels

We shopped around a bit and then headed off to the main house, which we will see in our next post!

Exiting from the stables...

...past the workmen's houses...

...and on to the house!