Saturday, May 3, 2014

Maiden Castle and the Bronze Age

DSC05657 (1300x969)Britain was settled about 6000 years ago; the discovery of bronze (copper and tin) coincided with a growth in the native Celtic population and consolidation into villages.  Before the arrival of the Romans, society appears to have become less stable, less agrarian, and villages retreated into hill-forts, 30 of them in Dorset alone.  The best known is Maiden Castle, outside Dorchester about 35 miles from where I live.

And the beast, above, is an Ooser, a local demon which inspires terror in the minds of the foolish DSC05649 (1300x960)and the wicked.  I should be so lucky.

‘better to putter about the Thomas Hardy memorabilia and manuscripts, where lie gems like Happiness is but a mere episode in the general drama of pain. 

Now I miss the Ooser…

Saturday arrived unexpectedly sunny and cloudless, despite predictions of rain, so ‘headed up after cooked breakfast.  The location is not well (actually, not at all) signposted, so the route has to start in town. 

And, once there and appropriately coffee’d and sun’d, there’s no place better than the Dorset County Museum.

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Its an attic of a place, lots of archeological and natural history exhibits covering the Jurassic through Roman eras of Dorset.  Everything is well-marked, with a quirky local twist.  The exhibit on Leisure Through the Ages is vaguely disapproving of the whole concept; sections on local brewers and quarrymen lament the loss of jobs and lifestyle while documenting the everyday lives of the citizens. 

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The depictions of Maiden Castle, and of the Bronze and Iron Age artifacts found there, are excellent DSC05664 (1300x974)(despite grumbles about farmers plowing fields before scientists can reach them).  I can now distinguish varieties of Barrows (right: large domed mounds) by age and gender, and the stone chips characteristic of Dorset tribes.

Then (after a coffee and review), it was off to find the castle, actually a huge mound of earthworks southwest of town (with barrows).  It’s an impressive mound, surrounded by huge serrated bulwarks and weaving access corridors, all grassed over to prevent erosion.  The grass, in turn, is kept under control by hundreds of pale ragged sheep scattered across the flat expanse of the hilltop.  Hundreds of people once lived here before being turned out by the Romans in the first century and moved to the river at Dorchester (its hard to understand how they did get water: the books suggest”dew collection pits”).

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There is a trail around the rim that gives good views and access to a few historical markers.  It’s an impressive site, though: its easy to appreciate what daily life must have been like and how the first glimpse of the Romans coming up from the south might have looked.

With pauses all around the walk to consider philosophical and historical questions (‘glad I have wireless access on the Nexus) and to DSC05679 (1300x966)admire the view (Dorchester, right), it takes about an hour and a half to cover it well (and to nod to the other walkers going clockwise and encountering one another time after time). 

There is so little known about the period that its easy to get my head around it in an afternoon – I’m sure that the more recent portions of Life in the UK won’t be so easy about the various rulers after the War of the Roses.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A time for planting (II)

DSC05631 (1220x923)A watery, grey day along the shores of Poole Harbour.  Rain mists intermittently down across the headlands; instructors sit beneath the canopies of their kitesurfing trailers.  Concessions are open, but empty, pirate themed sand buckets and shovels competing with dairy ice and shell sculptures for customer’s spare change.

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Along the shoreline, a lone figure plucks at red rocks amidst the white sands, filling a shopping sack with walnut-sized stones.

It’s time for planting.

I found most of what I needed at the garden store outside Royston, compost (potting soil), small trowel (no pirate theme), mister, a few replacement plants.  About half of the herbs survived the winter in Maastricht and all of the green plants thrived.  But it seemed better to change the soil rather than just turn and fertilize it (at least that’s what the container gardening books advise), and that meant adding some stones and sand to the bottom of the pots and planters.  The stores are short of gravel, so the beach was a natural alternative.

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Transferring and planting took a couple of hours, a good time for thinking while getting some dirt under my nails.  Papers were approved and ready to go out to investors; I had bank holiday  / weekend plans to finalize for a visit to Dorchester (Hardy and Maiden Castle, assigned by my “Life in the UK” book). 

DSC05640 (1300x907)The final results were pretty good.  It remains to be seen whether the basil and coriander thrive, but everything else has proven pretty hardy.  ‘Especially for a notoriously ungreen thumb like mine.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A time for planting

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The college gardens were lush and green this week, colors glowing in the misty rain of East Anglia.  The groundkeepers brought in some blooms for the dining hall, and I took a morning tour to see how the wisteria were coming along.  The blooms are opening later this year, contrary to predictions that the buds had all opened and died prematurely in the February frosts.

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We closed out the company’s year, signing the reports, filing our plans, and certifying that we will remain a Going Concern.  The third-round fundraising opened as well: we’re gathering £600k to take our product to clinical trial and CE Marking.  It’s a real milestone for everyone, university, employees, contractors and investors who worked hard to bring this to fruition.

DSC05612 (1300x974)I passed by the old apartment on the way south.  It had been many months since I drove out there, and the renovations look like they’ve gotten underway.  A lot of material is coming out, ‘hard to tell what’s going up without walking around.

‘A quick couple of readings to share for the day, since they relate to recent writings.

Walking gives a boost to creativity.  Exercise has long been shown to stimulate health and thinking, but research shows that short walks (8 minutes) benefit creativity.  I have long believed that ‘cleaning the cobwebs’ with a run to the store or an hour on the bike is beneficial mid-day.  Just the change of scenery, away from the desk and computer, helps me see things more clearly when I return. 

Middle eastern cuisine is becoming chic.  I’ve been visiting more Lebanese and Moroccan restaurants since the start of the year, bought Roden’s classical cookbook (not the faddish Jerusalem), and plunged into some some kitchen explorations.  It demands a whole new set of spices and a very different palate, but the results feel unique and exotic.

I scored pretty well at Things that Confident People Do.  Out of 15 questions, I only missed They don’t require permission to act (My board, my bank, and my confidante offer checks), They don’t judge people (some acts and beliefs need to be called out), and They don’t need constant reassurance (an occasional head pat would be welcome).  On the ‘plus’ side, I’m likely superlative at not living too comfortably, embracing scary things, and never giving up.  Still, Confidence is a social style, not an individual one: the article’s inventory misses the point that others have to believe it.

DSC05618 (1300x975)I stopped at the garden centre on the way past Royston to get some additions to my herb planters.  I lost about half the container plants over the winter and it’s time to get the windowboxes set up again.  I’ve added a couple of exotics for scent and color, we’ll see how they blend together (and into foods).

The Provence memoir notes how much our sourcing of food has changed in a generation.  Most notably, we’ve moved from packaged ingredients to fresh, using fewer packaged, dried, and frozen ingredients. 

‘Growing up, we always used to have a bag of frozen vegetables in the freezer, tossing a handful in boiling water for dinner.  Now, I can’t remember the last time I’ve used anything but fresh (except canned tomatoes for marinara). 

My soups are starting to move the same direction; I’ve fearlessly chopped, boiled, and pureed whatever is in season from leeks to squash.  I cook with smaller portions of meats, prepared in more varied and ethnic dishes, then compared in restaurants who know the cuisine.  And, while I don’t claim to have acquired taste, I’m starting to develop some good technique.

DSC05474 (1300x1170)To get something good you’ve never had, you have to do something good you never done, is the oft-repeated advice.

In short, plant a seed and you put something creative into motion.