At the weekend, without fanfare or polite inquiry, autumn arrived unbidden. Last week, we were all skipping about in the glorious sunshine of a lingering Indian summer and today, bham!!! We’d an ugly confrontation with a leaden sky, the hideous shock of dropping temperatures, a rip tide of goose pimples, gusty winds and then the heavens opened. It was a week of extraordinary extremes. The weather was settling into a typically drizzly British autumn. But the unsettled weather didn’t stop us checking out Bradgate Park again to witness a re-enactment. Bradgate played an active role during the English Civil War with Thomas Grey, Lord Grey of Groby (c. 1623–1657), being a senior commander in the forces of Parliament. Members of the Sealed Knot will commemorate the event when they gather at Newtown Linford and march down to the ruins of Bradgate House. Here they will demonstrate their equipment and drill before forming up and marching back to Newtown Linford. But we arrived in time to see the Roundheads leave. Grrrrrrr……
ROUNDHEAD, n. A member of the Parliamentarian party in the English civil war --so called from his habit of wearing his hair short, whereas his enemy, the Cavalier, wore his long. There were other points of difference between them, but the fashion in hair was the fundamental cause of quarrel. The Cavaliers were royalists because the king, an indolent fellow, found it more convenient to let his hair grow than to wash his neck. This the Roundheads, who were mostly barbers and soap-boilers, deemed an injury to trade, and the royal neck was therefore the object of their particular indignation. Descendants of the belligerents now wear their hair all alike, but the fires of animosity enkindled in that ancient strife smoulder to this day beneath the snows of British civility.”
~Ambrose Bierce (American Writer, Journalist and Editor, 1842-1914)~
How did we missed the event? Did they started earlier because of the horrible weather and the lack of spectators? When we arrived, there was less than 50 cars in the car-park. If they’d performed 2 weeks earlier, there would be standing room only. Although we missed the re-enactment, we stopped along the route and I video-taped the crew as they march past us. I’m gutted and now keeping an eye on the calendar for the next performance.
The Sealed Knot was an English historical association and charity, dedicated to costumed re-enactment of battles and events surrounding the English Civil War. They took their name from the original Sealed Knot, a secret association aimed at the restoration of the monarchy, although the modern incarnation has none of the political affiliations of its namesake. Apart from re-enactments, it was also involved in research into the history of the Civil War, and education (at the school or college level) about the subject.
But it wasn’t only gloom and doom. Since it was such a dreich day and not many people about, the natives came out to play. Herds of deer were scattered all over the place, foraging in peace. Well, nor for long when we were around. It was lovely pointing our lens and not photo bombed by lots of people. We spotted a few young bucks locking horns, a practice for the rutting season which won’t be long now. We couldn’t wait.
We walked along the very muddy river bank. River Lin that flowed through the park was rushing past because it had been raining the whole day. We saw a yellow wagtail upstream but it was too dark to photograph under the trees. Our favourite Wigeon was enjoying the solitude among a flock of mallards. Above us, house martins with their forked tails and white rump, were busy swooping for food. They will be migrating soon, wintering in tropical Africa.
We walked towards the hill side where we saw quite a large herd of red deer. Green woodpeckers cries were echoing around us but they didn’t stay long enough for photographs. They were well-camouflaged among the ant hills and long grasses. We didn’t stay long because the rain was getting heavier and the winds were whipping around us. It was time to head home. We did a pit stop at Groby Pool but it was deserted. It was too windy and wet for the natives to be out and about.
On Saturday, I boarded the bus into the city-centre to check-out what Coventry had to offer to celebrate the 19th heritage open days weekend. The weekend celebrated England’s architecture and culture by allowing visitors free access to properties that were either not usually opened to the public or would normally charged an entrance fee. They also included tours, events and activities that focused on local architecture and culture. They were organised by volunteers and were one of the biggest and most popular voluntary cultural event. My first stop was the undercroft of the Priory Visitor Centre. I have walked past this building countless times but never checked this place out. So today was the day. It was quite surreal when I entered and walked down the steps into the extraordinary area of cellars which were originally part of the city’s original cathedral. The Priory was home to a community of Benedictine monks for 500 years until it was dissolved on the orders of King Henry VIII. I walked through and admired stone vaulted rooms, courtyards, doorways and passages. It was a wonderful glimpse into Coventry’s medieval past.
The Priory Undercroft offered a fascinating revelation of an 11th century Benedictine priory showing some of the elements that featured in the daily life of the occupants. Excavated as part of the Channel 4’s Time Team programme in 2002, it had been beautifully presented in an easily accessible glass-fronted basement with an above-ground visitors centre. Following the excavations parts of the remains were open to the public as the 'Priory Garden' which can be walked through or above on wooden walkways.
Nearby was the Old Blue Coat School, a unique and historic building nestling between Priory Row and the new Phoenix Initiative. The signage was a bit confusing because a few visitors, including moi, were going around in circles trying to locate the entrance into the building. A Grade II chateau style girls’ school believed to have been founded in 1714 as a charity school for girls who spent their last two years being trained in the rigours of domestic service. The present building was built over the ruins of the Cathedral and Priory of St Mary's (founded by Lady Godiva and her husband, Leofric, in 1043) and rebuilt and enlarged in 1856/1857 and designed by John Murray.
Having not been in use for many years, it was completely re-furbished as part of the Phoenix Initiative development in celebration of 2000 years since Christ’s birth. Now it house the Holy Trinity church centre, and had been transformed and played an important role in the rejuvenation of this historic part of the city centre. There was supposed to be a guided tour of the old school room but there was no guides around and visitors were left alone to wander around.
Last but not least on my list was the the impressive Holy Trinity Church, founded in the 12th century, with its existence being first recorded in 1113. It was one of the largest medieval churches in England and was built for the tenants of the Priory lands which extended over the north of Coventry. Again, I have walked past this building hundreds of time and this was the first time I stepped in and wow… it was as impressive outside as it was inside.
The Church had become well known for one of the most fascinating examples of a 15th century ‘Doom Painting’, depicting ‘The Last Day of Judgement’. The picture may have been created as a result of Coventry having experienced an earthquake around that time, making church leaders think that the Day of Judgement was soon to come and to demonstrate the eternal consequences of both charitable and uncharitable acts. Dated to the 1430's, this "Last Judgement" style of image, known by many as the "Apocalypse painting", was only kept on view for around a century, before becoming victim to King Henry VIII's reformation. Many images, statutes, shrines and other forms of decoration in churches were considered to be frivolous, and as a result of this, the medieval mural was white-washed over shortly after Henry's reign.
More liberated times were to come, and in 1831, artist David Gee restored the painting and gave it a varnish coating to "preserve" it! The bitumen contained in the varnish soon caused it to darken, and half a century later the painting had once again virtually disappeared from sight. In 1995, discussions were held to find the best way to reveal and preserve the ancient painting. In 2002, work was underway and, thankfully, two years later we can enjoy the work originally done by Coventry's medieval artists 50 years before Leonardo da Vinci painted the Last Supper. Simply amazing.
I stood below the chance arch and above me was this 600 years old mural. The amount of colour and detail was still visible, especially when you think that it had twice been covered over and revealed. Apart from the murals, I checked out the display of Bishops Bible dating from 1568. This was the first officially-commissioned version of the Bible in the English language. There were beautiful and ancient stained glass and it was not until I entered the church that the full colour and artistry can be enjoyed. None more so than the great west window which was glazed by Hugh Easton in 1955. Also exhibited was a fire extinguisher that was used to put off the fires during the the 14th November 1940 German attack.
This week was my last departmental meeting with my manager. He was leaving us to take up post as head of resources development and delivery at Oxford Brookes university. It was the moment we dreaded most and we must accept that nothing stays the same. During the meeting, each of us were given tasks to ensure that the activities of the department were running smoothly. I was given the Back Stage Library Work project where I will be the contact person for issues relating to classification. A mammoth task but right up my street. My colleagues and I wished him every success in his new role. The staff at Oxford Brookes were very, very lucky to have him.
We’d a leaving do lunch with him at the Queen and Castle in Kenilworth. This was the 2nd time in a month I’d eaten here. Since we arrived first, CF and I took the opportunity to take photographs of the lofty 16th. century Tudor castle. The spectacular ruins looked amazing in the autumnal sunshine. After everyone had been counted for, we went in to find our long table. Then a considerable time spent perusing the menu. There were so many to choose from. Finally, I ordered the linguine pasta with tiger prawns, crab with tomato and chilli. They were delicious and I highly recommend them. We’d a wonderful time checking out each others plates. Everyone picked a different dish. A pity we can’t taste each others dish.
RSC who I’d not seen for ages was sitting beside me. CC was on baby-sitting duties looking after adorable Henry. We’d a wonderful time exchanging news and gossips over a lovely tall glass of icy lemonade with lime, a concoction which she introduced to me. It was delicious. I asked the obliging waiter to take a few photographs of us enjoying our meal. We ended our meal with dessert and I indulged in a yummy chocolate brownie with Italian vanilla gelato and lashings of chocolate sauce. It was sinful. But for today lets forget ‘a moment on the hips that meant a lifetime on the hips.’
At the end of the week, there was another leaving lunch for RG at the Varsity. Everyone seemed to be leaving for new pastures. This month I’d signed 5 leaving cards and I was running out things to say. It was also getting very expensive. At 12.30pm, we followed the exodus to the Varsity and joined table. After a long perusal of the menu, I chose the grilled chicken combo topped with piles of crispy breaded onion rings and potato spirals with a bbq dip and a tall glass of elderberry cordial. RG joined us for a natter and we wished him good luck and success for the future.
I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.
On the home-front, we had seen Goldfinches around our casa and even spotted them gathering feathers from the garden for nest building. But they’d never graced our bird-feeder. Thankfully, Wilko had Nyjer seeds on offer and I bought a packet to tempt them. Then I found out that they needed a special feeder because they were very fine seeds from the African yellow daisy, Guizotia abyssinica. The specialized feeders prevent spills and restrict access to the seeds to only the most desirable birds. There were tube feeders with narrow feeding ports, wire mesh feeders and nylon mesh socks which were perfect for small, clinging finches but less suitable for larger birds that may strip the feeders more quickly.
In the birdseed market, Nyjer was often sold or referred to as thistle seed. This was a misnomer resulting from early marketing of the seed as "thistle" to take advantage of the finches' preference for thistle. Nyjer was referred to as "black gold" due to the higher price that resulted from import taxes and the cost of sterilizing the seeds. It was going to be a white elephant if the Goldfinches don’t turn up. We put the bird-feeder up in the evening and the next day, a Goldfinch was seen feeding. Whoop…whoop.
I would love to see a charm, the collective name for goldfinches, but this was a very promising start. A charm was derived from the old English c’irm, describing the Goldfinches twittering song.These birds appeared frequently in medieval paintings of the Madonna and Child, reflecting the finch as a symbol of fertility and resurrection. I’m keeping my fingers and toes double-crossed for redpolls and siskins to pay us a visit. Dunnocks, Robins and Blackbirds were taking advantage of the spills on the ground. Although expensive, the introduction of Nyjer seeds to our bird-feeder was a good investment.
In the fields
we let them have—
in the fields
we don’t want yet—
where thistles1 rise
out of the marshlands of spring, and spring open—
a settlement of riches—
a coin of reddish fire—
wait for midsummer,
for the long days,
~Mary Oliver ‘Goldfinches~