Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Our 3D printer

Thanks to the generosity and hard work of Uncle Fred we now have a fully functioning 3D printer at home! Fred bought it in kit form, as a Christmas present for us and the Applins together. It took a lot of setting up. The provided instructions were vague and incomplete, but Fred and the boys persisted and used their ingenuity and resourcefulness to fill the gaps. Below are some pictures of things the boys have printed.

These have been designed and drawn up as CAD files by someone somewhere, and uploaded for free use. The printer's "ink" is a spool of plastic filament that is melted and laid down by the roaming printer head, controlled by the three robot arms. It's all incredible really.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Rees family trip to Europe - part 6: York Minster

It was Elf’s idea to spend 4 days in York, because it’s such a historic place, and we all love history. She was attracted partly by the chance to visit Jorvik, the Viking history centre. Unfortunately after being seriously flooded, it is closed until April this year. However there is still so much to see that I’m really delighted we spent the time there.

After spending Friday at Whitby, Saturday was to be all about York Minster. It was only a five minute walk from the B&B, and we could see it over the low rise buildings. We walked through Monkgate Bar, one of the two big gates in the city walls. There were steps up onto the top of the wall (you can walk right around it) so we popped up briefly just to look at the view.

York Minster from the city wall. The steep roof on the right is the chapter house.

Walking under Monkgate Bar. There's a Richard III museum in there.
Inside the wall the street changes name to Goodramgate. It's narrow and full of restaurants and touristy sorts of things as well as usual English high street shops, but all squeezed into old buildings, many of them half-timbered. They are also narrow, and quite irregular with sloping frontages and slightly drooping overhangs. Despite taking a phenomenal number of photos I don't have any of this street scene so here is a StreetView you can explore.

Hidden behind the tree in the Streetview is the Minster - this is the eastern side, and hence the main window. It tells in stained glass the story of creation, and has an incredibly detailed cast of characters; which are just much too high for any mortal parishioner to have made out with medieval-standard eyesight. Luckily there is a touchscreen interactive kiosk to explore the whole thing, and that is where Michael spent a lot of time.

Now, stand by for a ton of Minster photos.

Reasonably nice backdrop for a coffee and a natter.
The individuality of all the carvings is marvellous. This one is possibly a warning against the sin of gossip.

We walked around to the main door on the south side - all stunned by the beauty of this wonderful building, lit up on a perfect Yorkshire autumn morning. There is a statue outside of Constantine, the Roman emperor.

Emperors seemed to like York (it was called Eboracum then). Hadrian and Septimus Severus spent time here while emperor, and Constantius I was visiting when he died. Constantine was his son, here commanding a regiment under his father. Young Con's troops proclaimed him emperor and he was crowned right here.

South face of the Minster with Emperor Constantine in bronze.
Main west door - the actual entry is a smaller door to the left.
I was quite concerned that our trip would be one church/museum/gallery after another. My feet were sore in advance just thinking about it. And even while blown away by this church, every photo I took I was thinking "uh, church photos". But it was flippin' spectacular, and all of us loved it. So much that we went back the next day and even briefly the day after that. 

So to the inside. One of the first intriguing things we saw was this series of headless saints. It's a contemporary sculpture by Terry Hamill done in 2004. The semaphoring saints are saying CHRIST IS HERE. I like that they are signalling with haloes.

The headless saints are semaphoring a message.
Honestly I forget all the terminology about buttresses etc but just look at it!
Under the central tower is the loveliest place in the minster. The light pours in on you. In the picture above you can see in the distance a screen between the congregation and the altar. On it are 16 lifesize statues of English kings, from William I to Henry VII I think.

There is so much delightful heraldry, calligraphy, stone carving and iconography everywhere. But I reckon what you'll love most is the memorial sculptures. The Relaxing Bishops are pretty great. It seems to be a tradition that they are depicted resting, after their earthly labours are at an end. To me they all look as though someone has said they'd ring this afternoon and it's now getting on for teatime. This is also me when a Premier League match is 0-0 after 20 minutes.

I could look up who these groovers are but pardon me if I don't.

Then you've got the wealthy donors who get smaller statues, and their relatives get even smaller statues. These ones have a very endearing awkwardness to them. There were coats-of-arms everywhere in the various churches we visited, which gave Michael and I an extra point of interest, being the family heraldry buffs.

We were incredibly lucky to be visiting York Minster while the London Sinfonia rehearsed for a performance that night. Their heavenly music punctuated our tour. 

The boys and I were keen to do go up the main tower, while Elf felt she would prefer to have a close look at some things nearer the ground. While the boys and I ascended the tight spiral staircase, 275 steps to the top, little bursts of Handel (I think) wafted around us. It was really one of those Moments that make the occasional angst of travelling worthwhile.

Halfway up.
At the top of the central tower, looking east…
and looking west.

Marcus took this pic, which is my favourite from the climb.

We don't have this anywhere in Australia - an urban area with one dominant set of building materials
and variations on one colour. It's really beautiful. (See also Cuzco and Siena).
And that was our day. We stepped out at some point for lunch at Costa Coffee or something like that. And on our way home we had pizza. The pizza place seemed to be run by the same people that ran 'The Viceroy' on our first night in York. Weird.

There are heaps more Minster photos coming in the next instalment, when we… return to see more Minster.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Rees family trip to Europe - part 5: Whitby

The plan for our first day in York was to actually spend all day somewhere else. We had breakfast at Monkgate then got into the rented Opel Insignia and drove 40 minutes north to Pickering. We were here to catch a steam train to Whitby for the day. It happened to be that this long weekend there was a World War 2 re-enactment happening. No actual battles but everyone dressing up, eating rationed foods, dancing and listening to music of the era, and so on.

We had to park a fair way from the station, which was buzzing. Parking was supposed to cost £5 but the machine was broken, and we were let in for free. Then we had to hustle to get onto our train. Most of the people around us were in 1940s dress, and they had all gone to a lot of trouble. This wasn't just throw on an old coat and hat and grow a quick mo, this was serious uniforms and puttees and wire-rimmed specs and stockings and cigarette holders and appropriate luggage. In amongst them were people like us in bright polar fleece and raincoats, and regular UK tourists, many with dogs. Taking your dog to the seaside by steam train is just one of those British things, it seems. We were randomly given a first class compartment.

The landscape was mostly forest, with some meadows and occasional houses. We saw a fox and many pheasants, who waddled about in fields. The line runs through the North York Moors National Park.

We stopped on the way at a little town called Grosmont. By some quirk of the schedule we had to get off here and wait for 90 minutes, so we had lunch and explored around. There were a couple of cafés and a gallery where we bought some beautiful landscape prints, mostly of places In Yorkshire we wouldn't be going. We went for a walk up the hill to where we could look over the town, then came back down again just in time to get on the next train. From Grosmont the line follows the Esk River valley down to the lovely port town of Whitby.

Grosmont Station done up for the WW2 re-enactment

Our train heads back to Pickering ...

... and now its back to take us to Whitby.
Whitby is famous for its fish and chips, its Abbey and for being the home of Captain James Cook. We headed straight for the Abbey, on the other side of the harbour from the station. We walked over the swing bridge, through some very narrow cobbled streets and then up 199 steps, to the church of St Mary. From here you can look up the coast, where a series of headlands march north and west to Scotland. The old tombstones in the churchyard are very weathered and stand at every angle imaginable, running right out to the cliff edge.

The water is close by wherever you go in Whitby
Walking to the abbey

Elf and the boys join the crowd of people and dogs going up the 199 steps

Beside the steps is this death defying road (and some random Brits).
St Marys graveyard and the North Sea
Just beyond are the ruins of Whitby Abbey. The first monastery here was built in 657AD, but was destroyed by Danish raiders 200 years later. These ruins sat around for another 200 years until Reinfrid, one of William the Conqueror's men, founded a new Benedictine monastery which is what we see today. It was ruined by Henry VIII during his dissolution of the monasteries. It was also shelled by the German navy in 1914. In between the Cholmley family moved in and kind-of looked after the site but kind-of plundered it for building stone as well.

It's a spectacular site, and you can imagine how it was once seen as a tactical asset or threat, depending on who had possession of it. It overlooks the important harbour as well as providing a lookout up and down the North Sea coast.

Apart from the main ruins there were massive columns on massive bases standing in the grass. I found it hard to conjure the previous life of the place with my imagination, as I had at Chesters Roman Fort. But I thought it was a wonderful place to be. We had a little look through the museum which occupied the Cholmley's former house.

Then we came back down and had lunch in a fish and chip shop, served by a spray-tanned lass with a look and accent like Lindsay in Scrappers except that's Bolton so Lancashire accent not Yorks. We had not a lot of time so we skipped the James Cook Museum and just spent our time roaming around the narrow streets and enjoying the views.

Looking across the harbour on our way back down
In local dialect these narrow streets are called ghauts

Statue of James Cook and an ice cream van behind him.

Looking back towards the Abbey from the Cook monument

Our train awaits to take us back to Pickering 
We got back to the station well before the train was to leave. The consequences of missing it didn't bear thinking about, but I do wish we had spent a bit more time exploring. It was getting on for evening when we got away. On our way out of town I had the chance to have a really good look at the lovely brick Larpool Viaduct that used to carry another train line.

This time we had a regular carriage. No comfy armchairs and no vase of flowers. We didn't see much scenery as it rapidly got dark, and the older travellers in the next carriage were drunk and carrying on. More squealing than was necessary. So the trip back to Pickering was a bit of a trial. 

When we got there it was raining, and pitch dark once we left the station. We walked about 200 metres by the light of our phones back to the car. The GPS was working again so we managed the trip back to York with no problems. This time we dined at a hotel restaurant (we didn't realise it until we asked for a table and they asked if we were guests). Decent but not memorable food then back to the B&B. Tomorrow, York Minster.

Rees family trip to Europe - part 4: Chesters Roman Fort, Hadrian's Wall

We enjoyed driving so much more with the GPS turned off. We found our way to Chesters Roman Fort using our big UK road map and reading the roadsigns provided, as God intended. We also asked for directions at a dot on the map called Cambo, where stopped for snacks. The chaps in the tiny shop/petrol station couldn't agree between themselves so it wasn’t very useful, but it was a worthwile stop, as they had Foster's Lager on the shelf, so I have now found the one place where this dreadful stuff actually sells. One indication we were getting close to Hadrian's Wall was the placenames. In this district are Wall, Wallhouses, Headon-on-the-Wall, Wallington and Walwick.

Chesters is a stately home, named in the distant past for the "castra" or Roman camp which became the fort. The ruins of the fort were plundered for building materials over hundreds of years. The Roman bridge was demolished by the Saxons and the stone used to build a church. Nathaniel Clayton bought Chesters in 1796 and levelled whatever was left, and grassed it over for a park. His son John picked up and kept interesting antiquities throughout his childhood. When John inherited the estate he set about digging to find more; and in the process became one of the founders of the science of archaeology. John's nephew, another Nathaniel, continued the excavations and built a museum to house the artefacts they found.

We were the only people there when we arrived. It was a cool showery day but not unpleasant, and it was just nice to be out in the middle of Northumbrian farmland with the horses, sheep and birds. Nothing remains that is more than knee-high so as we approached the excavations over undulating paddocks we did not see anything until we were practically on top of the main fortress gate.

Standing there looking at our little pamphlet and down at the ruins, we experienced that telescoping of time, where you vividly imagine what was happening on that spot nearly 2000 years ago. The large gates were designed to pivot on a pin in a round hole in the stone foundation, and the iron collar of the hole still remained.

The ruins are very hands on; there are no signs telling you to keep back, and the only fences are simply designed to stop visitors falling into holes. The boys were clambering all over the ruins in no time and Elf and I joined them.

Something about 'ruins' that catches me every time is assuming they date to a specific time, and were used for a specific purpose by a specific group of people. Then when you look into it, the truth is that a site began being used at some point, and then a continuum of people, purposes and structures came and went.

But the principal occupants of this site were soldiers of a cavalry regiment which came from a distant edge of the Roman world, Asturias in Spain. A later garrison was The First Cohort of Dalmatians from present day Croatia. The soldiers slept in compartments in the barracks in groups of three, each with their horse and a slave groom nearby.

Within the fort boundary are ruins of the commandant's house, a temple (with lucky phallus bas relief on the floor) and a bath house. The latter was one of the most interesting sights; the pillars that supported the raised floor remain, and a tunnel houses the furnace which heated the air which circulated warming the floor.

Lucky phallus
The garrison's payroll and other valuables were kept in this vault.

The main east-west road through the fort

These are the foundations of the main gate, facing the barbarians to the North.

This furnace heated the water and air for the bath house.
The hot air circulated around these pillars which supported the floor of the bath house.

Outside the fort this is a section of Hadrian's Wall which continued down to the North Tyne river in the distance. There was once a fortified bridge, and the wall continues on the other bank.

The boys loved being able to just climb around on the ruins
The on-site museum has hundreds of artefacts unearthed since the 1700s.

Michael Rees, on a Roman wall, in a field, Northumberland, United Kingdom 2016

Through the trees you can see Chesters, the stately home associated with the ruins.
We had a spot of lunch in the National Trust cafe by the museum, and then got back on the road to York.

We passed from Northumberland into Durham County and then into Yorkshire. In general the towns were unsightly but the countryside was stunning, especially around Tow Law and Castleside. We also passed Snods Edge, Tofts Hill and Throckington.

As we approached York it was beginning to get dark, and the GPS (possibly offended that we had bought a map) was refusing to work. Our roadmap was of no assistance with navigating downtown York, but fortunately we found a 'tourist information bay' and pulled in there to get an idea of where we were. As we fumbled our way towards our B&B in Monkgate, the GPS came to life again, and we were at our destination safe and sound.

Our apartment at Monkgate Guest House had two bedrooms and a bathroom. We had to go through the boys' room to get to the bathroom (which had a very squeaky door, and one switch for lights and the noisy fan).

We went down the road to an Indian restaurant called The Viceroy for dinner. Two stars, disappointingly sweet curries again. We decided that would be our last attempt at Indian food in the UK.