Sunday, October 30, 2011


*To be fair, we weren't really Bunburying, as we have no pressing social engagements to avoid, none-the-less, the label added a much needed air of intrigue to the occasion. 

Feeling awestruck at the thought of visiting a place that had inspired Oscar Wilde's greatest play, The Importance of Being Earnest, I spent hours gushing to Adam about the wondrous place that is Worthing. So with the sounds of seventh-form-English-teacher Mr Quigley's "A handbag?!" ringing in my ears, I programmed the GPS and we set off for the seaside.

Hmm. It turns out that Worthing is a giant shithole not that great. We tried to take a picture of me next to a sign saying 'WORTHING' and we couldn't find one. Except on a rubbish bin. That's how dire things were. Our next best option was to take a picture of me next to a seemingly abandoned handbag in a railway station. But there wasn't one.

Abandoning the hunt for an Earnest-tribute picture, we decided to walk along the pier. In large letters, the pier proclaimed itself as "Pier of the Year 2006". We weren't quite sure what had happened in the intervening 5 years, but by October 29th 2011, the pier looked terrible. It was rusty, unkempt and badly in need of a paint. Perhaps there weren't many entries in the pier competition?!

By now feeling rather cheated, we decided to cut our losses and head for Eastbourne. The following day, we made it to Brighton and, at last, a sign pointing to Worthing.

(And by the way, if you haven't seen the Hollywood version of the play, go out and hire the DVD tonight. The scene where the Ernests, Colin Firth and Rupert Everett, sing 'Lady, Come Down' is absolutely gorgeous.)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Devon and Hampshire

So what have we been up to after Bristol? Well on the recommendation of a friend, we drove down to Exeter, in Devon. We found a good accommodation deal at a golf course hotel in Teign Valley, which is on the edge of the Dartmoor National Park. It is such a beautiful area of countryside, and it quickly became our favourite part of England. 

See? Isn't it lovely!
The first pictures are from the golf course and the others from the drive in to Exeter. We both decided we'd like to live in the area, but I've only seen one Engineering job advertised there in the past 3 months, so it might not be a go-er.

After spending 2 nights in Teign Valley, we drove past Southampton to Shirrell Heath, near a village called Wickham. It is common here for large country estates to become part of hotel and conference chains, I guess as a way of ensuring income to maintain the estate. Our accommodation in Shirrell Heath was called 'New Place' (very imaginative) and was a series of hotel rooms built to match the Estate's gorgeous mansion (below).

Unfortunately we didn't get to go inside the House, but from what we heard, it was very grand inside.

We went on a day trip to Southampton, and though the Museum of Archaeology was closed (sad!), we found IKEA. Wow. For those of you who don't know, IKEA is a Swedish home store, a bit like the Warehouse crossed with Spotlight crossed with Target furniture crossed with Bunnings and on steriods. The store was four stories high, and the whole first floor was just replica homes - including two full-size apartments - showing how one could set out their furniture or home furnishings.
Two hours later we emerged, glassy eyed.

There is not much more to say than that, and I shall leave you all in suspense with the knowledge that our next post shall feature Bunburying.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Engineers rule!

So far we’ve seen some pretty amazing engineering feats on our travels. Hong Kong had some awesome bridges and amazing high rise buildings. Almost as amazing as the high rise buildings themselves was the scaffolding around them. In places, buildings over 20 stories high were surrounded with scaffolding formed entirely of bamboo! There were generally no footplates at the base, and the bamboo was tied together with what appeared to be strips of flax or similar. Amazing.

The airport terminal at Hong Kong was also pretty cool. The whole airport is reasonably new (I’m sure you’ve heard about the approach to the old Hong Kong airport, where planes had to fly between skyscrapers and come in to land at about a 30 degree angle!). There are 2 huge terminals, and they both put Christchurch to shame in terms of size. In terms of design and construction, however, I can’t help but feel they pale in comparison…

England also has some pretty cool engineering. Much of it is particularly impressive given its age. We have visited cathedrals in Chester and Worcester, which were both amazing. The ornateness and detail of the buildings is hard to get your mind around – there is nothing even close to it built today. They are particularly grand, with massive ceilings, often ornately decorated themselves. The windows are all stained glass, either like the (former) rose window of Christchurch Cathedral, or featuring depictions of Biblical scenes or saints. Around both interiors and exteriors are statuettes, we figure they are of saints or apostles, and in many cases, they were destroyed for political reasons (i.e. during the civil war), so it is common to see figurines without hands, with faces scratched away, or even without heads, which is rather sad from a historical preservation perspective.

I can see why it took 300 years to finish building the Worcester Cathedral. It is also amazing to see gravestones – or perhaps more accurately, memorial stones - of people who lived 600-800 years ago. The more standard of these are set in the floorstones of cathedrals, worn down by hundreds of thousands of footsteps over time. More impressive stones are set against the walls of the cathedrals, with those from the 1700s being particularly verbose, waxing lyrical about the humility and compassion of the deceased. Some date back as early as the 1200s, though these are mostly in Latin. For us both, the most interesting were those from around 1500 that feature skulls, demon-type faces, and cherubs, among other things. (Can you tell the Historian added some bits into my Engineer's blog post at this part?!)

The highlight so far though has to be Clifton Bridge. Spanning the Avon Gorge in Bristol, this suspension bridge was the first designed by engineer extraordinaire Isambard Kingdom Brunel, in 1829. It is all the more amazing given he was only 24 years old at the time!
Thanks to some speedy driving from Michelle, we managed to get on a tour of the bridge on the Sunday afternoon (Tours are only held at 3pm on weekends, and traffic was thick). I’ll summarise the history briefly, as I found it really interesting.

The idea of building a bridge in that location can be dated back to 1754 when a local businessman made a gift of GBP £1,000 towards a bridge. Unfortunately at the time the technology or knowledge to build a bridge of the required span didn’t exist. By the 1820s however technology had advanced and the need for a bridge was more pressing.
A design competition was held in 1829. The chief judge was the famous engineer Thomas Telford. Funnily enough, when the results were announced, his own design was the winner! This obviously caused a furore, and so the following year another competition was held. By this time, Isambard was in Bristol, having been sent there to convalesce after he injured himself saving workers from a cave in at the Thames Tunnel, which he was constructing with his father Marc.
13 complying designs were received in the second competition, 4 of which were from Brunel. Brunel's design was originally placed second, but he was so upset by this decision that he went back to the judges with further calculations and justifications, and managed to convince them that his design should be chosen.

He did have to make some compromises – the judges made him reduce the span of the bridge, requiring a large abutment at the western end. In the end this abutment comprised one third of the total cost of the bridge. According to the guide taking the tour, it turns out that Brunel was correct, and the bridge could have spanned the full width of the gorge.
Construction began in 1830, but unfortunately was beset with complications. The Bristol riots of 1831 meant that funding for the bridge was withdrawn, and the contractor went bankrupt in 1843 after construction had restarted.
Brunel moved on to other jobs (including designing the world’s largest iron ships, further tunnels and numerous spectacular bridges). Unfortunately the Clifton Bridge was not completed in his lifetime.
In 1862 it was decided to complete the bridge as a memorial to Brunel. Some modifications were made, but it was largely the bridge as Brunel designed it. It opened in 1864 and is still going strong.

View towards Bristol from the centre of the bridge

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A bridge and some other stuff in Bristol

We realised we have been a tad neglectful of our loyal fans, so we've put lots of pictures in this one to make up for our poor form. Technophobes - in case you haven't discovered this yet: if you click on a picture it will take you to a slideshow of them where they are larger and you can click the arrow keys to move through them.

After leaving Worcester, we travelled south to Bristol and made our way through the city to our bed and breakfast (which came with a very uncomfortable bed and no breakfast). In the morning, we made our way to Wapping Wharf and the Brunel institute. I have to admit, I hadn’t heard of Isambard Brunel, and nearly earned a beating from Adam for this great omission. Adam was looking forward to taking a look around the SS Great Britain, which was the largest boat in the world at the time it was built. Unfortunately, attractions here in Britain are expensive by NZ terms, most costing £7-9 per person, for entry ($14-18 NZD. Each.), so being too frugal to fork over £25 (that’s pounds, people) to see the boat, we had a wee cry and a look around the souvenir shop instead.

(These pictures taken looking across the floating harbour towards the nice suburb of Clifton)

Once we were over that disappointment, we ambled around the wharf for an hour, stopping to watch long boats and sailing boats. The great highlight of the day so far was watching a group of intermediate-aged kids learning to sail, particularly as once they were out in the middle of the harbour one of the girls started squawking and squirming, and her boat began heading away from the group. While the parent helps and sailing teacher frantically yelled at her to stop talking and steer the boat, as she was drifting further into the harbour and away from the others, we soon ascertained that there was a spider in the boat, and thus a maritime disaster was taking place before our very eyes. While the girl kept squealing and began trying to get out of her seat and stand up (in the middle of the harbour!), the sail boat turned around and headed right for the tow path. Luckily, the boat gently made its way in and the sailing guide gallantly removed the spider. Disaster avoided!

(Boats with no wayward schoolchildren onboard)

(The learner sailers. The blue boat on the right contains the girl for whom tragedy almost struck.)

Other highlights of Bristol – we saw the protesters camping out in front of the council buildings in a public green. It took us all four days there to work out that they are protesting in solidarity for the “Occupy Wall Street” people. Other than that, we’re not sure what their cause is. We also got caught up in a protest against social welfare cuts, where disabled people and their supporters were marching the streets to protest cuts to disability benefits and the like. We took a look around a Georgian Manor house, set up to show what life was like for its former owners and their servants. Unfortunately they’d just had massive roof leaks, so half the house was cordoned off to dry out and undertake repairs.

Just up the road from the Manor House was a beautiful park and wildlife refuge, though all we saw was squirrels. Not that I’m complaining! They are grand. We bought a flat white (!) from a coffee stall next to the protesters and drank it in the park next to some squirrels. Bliss.

We also visited the M-Shed, a museum of life in Bristol that has only recently opened. It has quite a contemporary feel, including a whole room that goes through the suburbs of Bristol and their history/key features. People have the chance to comment on little cards, and these are exhibited throughout the museum. It really is designed as a museum for non-museum-y type people, and there were plenty of people there who I think wouldn’t normally visit a museum.

(Cranes along the wharf outside the museum)

My favourite part had an Anderson Shelter (backyard air-raid shelter) and a fire-watching booth – where men used to sit in small metal booths high on rooftops and watch for German incendiary bombs! My history – the stuff I came across for my dissertation last year! And for anyone who is thinking of visiting, the M-shed cafĂ© has a great selection of slices/muffins and does a mean cappuccino and pain au chocolat.

(Us watching for fire and bombs, respectively. We both agreed that the job of fire-watcher wasn't for us.)

In a more traditional vein was the Bristol Museum. Situated on the top of a hill, next to the University, the museum (and university) is in a beautiful old building that was a sight in itself. The museum had a really interesting Egypt exhibit, featuring some cool artefacts and a couple of mummies. Again, it’s amazing what archaeologists can tell from bodies – for example the jewellery buried with a body, the diet eaten, etc. I also loved the pictures drawn by Egyptians – I find it amazing to think that these are the real representations of life so long ago, not copies or representations, but actually Egyptian life as drawn by an Egyptian. Cool.

Bristol also had a few things that reminded us of home – a moa skeleton in the museum, a couple of coffee stalls offered flat whites, and the Gourmet Burger Kitchen featured a kiwi burger that came with one of those rubber wristband things with kiwis on it (and a donation to some kiwi park in the North Island). Adam got the kiwi burger and was pleased to have beetroot again – though English beetroot has more vinegar than ours does.

We got up early on Sunday morning to watch the rugby, heading down to a pub to watch. There were a few other kiwi supporters, including a friendly Asian couple who sat next to us who both had All Blacks tops on (though from what I could tell, they weren’t kiwi OR british) and one guy with a crusaders top on! Boy the game was tense. We were on edge almost the whole game, and we definitely appreciated the kiwi supporter a few tables back who kept yelling at the tv too. What a result though!! About time, New Zealand!

And finally, I will briefly mention the Clifton Suspension Bridge. One evening, not wanting to go back to our "bed and breakfast" too early, we drove to a secluded park high above Bristol harbour, in the suburb of Clifton, to do what Engineers do best: Look at bridges.
The Suspension bridge spans the Avon Gorge, dreamt up in the 1750s when some guy decided it would be nice to get to the other side (don't you love history?!), and was eventually finished in 1864. It was the perfect time to see the bridge, and we got to see it light up as dusk fell. At the weekend, we returned for a tour and Adam got to have a good look at the bridge – more about that in a later post.

So that was our trip to Bristol. We were quite impressed with the place, liking its busyness and the appeal of the harbour. Plus there was quite a youthful vibe, having a big university. And, of course, there was the bridge and the squirrels – two very important factors. Bristol gets a tick of approval.

I shall leave you with some trivia: The M-shed featured the story of John Horwood who, upon being rejected by his former girlfriend, threw a stone at her head. She was taken to hospital and died after an operation on her fractured skull caused an abcess. In 1821, Horwood (aged only 18) was sentenced to death and (listen carefully, children) it was decreed that his skin be stripped off and tanned to make the cover for the book of legal documents relating to his case. (Yes, you heard correctly. Aah the 1800s.)

Thursday, October 20, 2011


We have begun the next part of our journey - to travel around the South of England to see which cities we like the vibe of in order to look for jobs there.

After leaving Chester, we travelled to Worcester and spent a night there, staying in a three-roomed bed and breakfast on the main road in to the Town. Driving on the motorway was an experience, especially when leaving Chester and we had to drive on lots of narrow country roads – all main roads (!) – until we got to the big motorways, with their three lanes each side.

Adam took responsibility for the drive, and thanks to our new Sat Nav, we got to Worcester without a single argument (over directions, at least). We had tea out in Worcester (nothing too culinarily adventurous, sorry Mum Moffat) and were amazed to walk along the narrow, cobbled streets and see REAL tudor buildings, wobbly wood and all.

Worcester was the first place we have really felt the cold, probably as we hadn’t been out much in the evenings before then, and we realised why all English people have wool coats. Due to the chill, we sat and ate our fish and chips (see?) in the car by the river Severn, which was beautiful. The next day, we walked a little way along the river, and it was just as beautiful in the daylight. The Worcester Cathedral sits alongside the river and, after crossing a medieval wall (similar to that in Chester), we reached the Cathedral.

It was an amazing building, as Adam will mention later, with ornate marble carvings, ostentatious memorial stones, huge pipes for the organ, and beautiful windows (albeit replaced after being destroyed during the war. Civil, of course). The three highlights for me – Michelle – were the crypt underneath the Cathedral, the tomb of King John, and Prince Arthur’s Chantry.

Walking through the crypt, I felt a shiver down my spine knowing it was built in 1084. It was totally intact, perhaps why it felt more real than the roman ruins, built a thousand years earlier, as one could see it almost exactly as it was for the first Norman Bishops. Thrillingly, in archaeological excavations there recently, two bodies were discovered. I found it exciting (hear, hear, Matt Hennessey) to read about how Archaeologists can tell all sorts of facts about the deceased such as the body was that of a pilgrim, as evidenced by the remnants of his boots and clothing (One interesting piece of trivia was that he was probably retired from his profession but had been buried in the outfit of his younger days – as evidenced by the boots having been cut to fit his large calves, though they had obviously fit him in younger, slimmer days!) and could tell what sort of diet he ate and how wealthy he was by the state of his teeth. Love that stuff!

My second highlight was that King John was actually buried in the Cathedral – yes, THAT King John, the one who badly treated his brother, Richard the Lionheart, and features in Robin Hood stories. Apparently, he asked to be buried as a Monk, so that he would be able to get into Heaven! Perhaps in an act of contempt, the stone Lion that was carved at the dead King’s feet curves around and bites the King’s leg!

Finally, the chantry of Arthur Tudor was amazing. He was the Prince of Wales, briefly husband to Catherine of Aragon, the Spanish Infanta (crown princess) – later she and Henry VIII, Arthur’s successor, married. (An aside for anyone interested in history, the question of whether or not Arthur and Catherine had "consummated the marriage" was to cause huge issues, as when Henry got sick of Catherine - and she had only produced him a daughter - he found a way to annul the marriage, deciding that he had gone against biblical law by taking his brother's widow as his own wife - even though she claimed that she and Arthur hadn't slept together, which didn't technically make her his wife (!). Henry chose not to believe this and so he was able to end the marriage. This was the catalyst for the creation of the Anglican church, and - in my words - the way that Henry VIII could still reign as "God-appointed" King, as he essentially created his own version of God. Sneaky.)

The Chantry is an oblong stone room, used as an altar for Arthur’s soul, as well as housing his tomb. Stepping through the small entranceway, a hush fell over us. Beneath our feet, the stone steps and floor of the tomb were deeply concave, worn by many feet before us, including those of Queen Elizabeth I. At each end of the chantry, many figurines had been intricately carved out of the stone walls. Sadly, these were defaced by Commissioners during the Civil War and religious reformation in the 1600s, when such things were seen as idolatory. This stuck out to me, as it was the first time we’d really seen such politically-ordained graffiti and vandalism, and it seemed especially poignant on the beautiful statues, with faces and body parts destroyed.

It’s all so strange, seeing these buildings that were created hundreds of years ago, the hands of ancient stonemasons carving out each block. There is almost a haunting feeling that accompanies these relics, the knowledge of life and death that has preceded, the traces of each footstep before, the echoes of the voices of warriors, Kings, priests throughout the ages. A certain reverence descends, the weightiness of history.

And then reality pushes its way in – the cost of the richesse and grandeur of such places, the slavery that might have been used to build them (in the case of the Roman ruins), the opulence, and almost self-worship, of the extravagant churches and cathedrals. Aghast and amazed at once, one feels captivated and drawn to these places all the same.

Deep thoughts aside, while we liked the history of Worcester, it did feel quite small to us and, most importantly, we did not see any squirrels there. I feel we shall not make our home in Worcester.

We were unable to take our own pictures in the Cathedral, as we were too cheap to pay £4 ($8) for a permit to do so. However here are a couple of pictures from around the internet:

Prince Arthur's Chantry
( taken by Bob Embleton)

The Cathedral, viewed across the Severn river

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Bore da o Cymru!

One grey Thursday morning (aren't they all?), feeling adventurous, we decided to embark upon a grand expedition to Wales. After a 20 minute walk to the train station and a 14 minute train trip, we arrived o Cymru!

Flint was the destination we had chosen, and Flint met our every expectation of a small, Welsh village located in the middle of nowhere, facing a large estuary. Grey and wet and dingy. No offense, Flint.

Despite the drizzle and dull setting, there was a reason we had come to Flint: Flint Castle. Built for King Edward I, construction began in 1277 and three years later the fortress was complete, at a cost of just under 9000 pounds. Just two years afterward, the Castle was beseiged by those dastardly Welsh who attacked again in 1294 just to keep the English on their toes. Cleverly, the English burnt down most of the Castle to protect it from their foes, and subsequently much repair work was needed to make the Castle awesome again.

In a grand twist of excitement, the rascal Henry of Bolingbroke captured King Richard II at Flint Castle, forced him to abdicate and became King himself - Henry IV to be exact. After this, Flint Castle was a Royalist stronghold during the Civil War but was eventually captured and was largely destroyed in 1647. I understand this was a common measure taken to ensure that such facilities were not used against the government in the future.

So that is the grand story of Flint Castle. It is not as big and exciting (paraphrase) as other castles in Wales, so it isn't as well protected and there was quite a bit of litter and graffiti around the castle and grounds. In much older times, the estuary used to flow around the castle, making a tidal moat. As the estuary no longer flows around the castle, one can walk around what used to be the moat, which is a strange feeling - to be able to walk over the very ground that used to protect the castle from invaders.

One can still see the arrowslits and evidence of spiral staircases and a portcullis, and the 'donjon' - or keep - is still largely intact. This was probably the most exciting part of the Castle, as one could actually see more of what the building might have been like back in the day. It was one of those places that if you narrowed your eyes and blocked out any external noise you could almost picture yourself as a nobleman or princess wandering the tower, or as a watchman peering out the arrowslits keeping an eye out for attacks.

(us keeping an eye out for attacks)

Keeping with the medieval theme, we left the castle and searched for a chippy. Finding none, even after searching the vast streets of Flint three times, we ended up at McDonalds. Yes, we're all class...

So, feeling satisfied (and a tad wet), we decided to head for home. Flint is a small place and there are only so many pubs with seedy-looking men leaning on posts whilst smoking and giving you the eye that one can take, so we made for the train station.

And for our Number One Fan (Yes, that's you, Dave Hulse): I can say that we did see Flint and we did see stone, but no, we did not see The Flintstones. Tragic, eh?

Bad puns out of the way, that is the end of another Moffventure!

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Encamped in Chester, we have been enjoying a few days of rest and the chance to catch up on some TV time.

During the times we haven't been watching the box, we've been out exploring the local area, including Chester city. We ate lunch in a pub that had a wine cellar dating back to 1179 (!)
and after that we did some exploring...

The city has some amazing history, most importantly it is one of the best-preserved walled cities in Britain. Chester was actually founded as a Roman fort in 79 (79!) (now this is Real History), and thus the walls were built as way to defend the city and keep it as a fortress. You can walk around Chester for nearly two miles on top of the walls, which gives a great view of the city. Chester also features a pretty cathedral, which was completed by 1250 and then updated over the next few hundred years. We haven't been there yet, but we plan to visit while we're here.

Two other really cool things about Chester are St John the Baptist Church, which was started around 689 and finished around the end of the 13th Century, and the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre and public baths.
The amphitheatre was built in the 1st Century and could seat 8-10,000 people. It is the largest known military amphitheatre in Britain. It was used for sports such as gladiator fights, combat with wild animals, human sacrifices, and military training. It was only discovered in the 1920s, was partially excavated in the 1950s, and further in the past fifteen years. It was mind blowing to think we were standing on ground that had been used by the Romans two thousand years before.

After walking around the wall some more, we discovered the St John the Baptist Church and were also amazed to discover that some parts of the church were constructed fifteen hundred years ago. Unfortunately, some of the church was destroyed for political and religious reasons by Henry VIII while other parts collapsed due to old age.

The best part of all was the squirrel in the churchyard - no offense to the church, it was awesome, but you know.... squirrels! (Squirrels!)

And just to finish things off properly: after that, we walked home. My feet were tired and sore.
The End.