Wednesday, 23 April 2014

St George battles on .

St. George and the Dragon painting by Donato Giancola 2011.
I'm lucky enough to have my very own Knight st. George, as Mud Boy's birthday happens to be on St. George's day. We did have a day out planned for us all, but sadly before the Bank Holiday we've had to re-arrange things as important clients from America are over and his firm are in the process of moving this week. So he was needed at work and couldn't spare the time. So it is, what's ours will not pass us by. We can always take another day to celebrate.

George and the Dragon shadow puppetry.
What is lovely is that one of Mud Boy's younger brothers called to say that he was down for a visit and they are off out together tonight to celebrate the day together. Some male brotherly bonding time.

I love the tale of St. George, I am a real sucker for the romantic story of heroic George saving the damsel in distress from being flambéed by the nasty dragon. It was interesting to read a newspaper article saying that St. George's day was not celebrated nearly enough in England and that this should be changed. Where-as we have always celebrated it as a family.

Edward Burnes Jones close up of his painting st. George and the dragon.
As most people know, St. George is the patron Saint of England and was a Christian Martyr who lived around about 275 - 303 AD give or take a few years. According to the historical legend his father was a soldier from Cappadocia, and George followed in his father's footsteps, rising in the ranks to become a Count, supposedly becoming a personal guard to the Roman Emperor Diocletian.

In the year 303 AD the Roman Emperor Diocletian gave the order that all Christians were to be persecuted across Europe and he sent George to do his bidding. Unable to stand against his own people, George confessed to being a Christian himself and stood up to the Emperor's decision. George was tortured and beheaded by the cruel Roman ruler and died in Nicodemia April 23rd 303AD.

Kneeling Knight 
History seems unsure how he actually became the patron saint of England, but as he is he's the protector of the Royal Family and his symbol the Red Cross on a white background (Knight's Templar) is England's contribution to the Union Jack flag. What has happened though is the story of St. George slaying the dragon has gone down in our folklore and as such is part of our heritage and culture.

The story I always tell the girls every year is this legend :

One of my favourite Knight illustration by Arthur Rackham - Stories of King Arthur.
There was a large vast lake on the outskirts of the town Silene in Libya, and it was in this lake near the mountains and caves that a fearsome Dragon dwells. The Dragon has many evils, one of them being the bearer of a sweat in-festering  plague. To appease this monster so that they could collect water in safety, the villagers fed the Dragon on sheep and the occasional maiden when it becomes particularly restless and nasty. Maidens of the village when they came of age would have to draw lots to see whose fate it would be to be eaten alive by the beast. Every maiden, rich or poor, had to be included within this lottery draw.

One day the straw's lot fell upon the King's only child, the beautiful Princess Sabra of Silene.  The old King distraught with grief and anger told the people of his land that if they could find a way to kill the Dragon and spare his daughter from her dreadful fate, he would bestow upon that man half his Kingdom, his weight in gold and silver and the hand of his lovely daughter in marriage. The people fearing the wrath of the ever present Dragon refused the King's offer and took the Princess instead, dressed her as a bride to be like all the others before her, and tied her to Iron stake on the edge of the lake so the waters could rise around her with the swelling tide, and where she would await her fate with the Dragon.

During this time and quite by chance a handsome young Knight in shinning armour was riding past and through the small town of Silene when he heard the tales and witnessed the commotion of the townsfolk. Upon hearing of the young maiden's plight he rode out to the lake to see this beauty for himself.

Seeing this young man come to rescue her, the Princess Sabra, begged him to save himself and leave her to her death at the jaws of the mighty creature. George, who had already fallen in love with this vision of beauty before him, refused and vowed to stay at her side and defend her life with his own. To help his courage George knelt upon his knees and prayed, then he  fortified himself with the sign of the cross at the maidens feet, and as he rose up to full height he unbound her from her rope bonds.

Arthur Rackham is by far my favourite Knight illustrator - here is 'How Sir Lancelot
fought the dragon'.
As the Dragon silently reared it's ugly head out of the deep lake behind him, George leapt for his faithful steed. Armed with a lance, George charged the beast and pierced it's scaled flesh, leaving the lance embedded deep within it's scaly chest. Wounded, the beast staggered and George called to the Princess to throw him her girdle. This she did and George atop of his steed, wrapped the girdle around the beasts neck like a leash. Scooping the Princess up upon his horse, George bound the leash to his saddle. Bleeding heavily from it's wound the Dragon meekly followed George back to the town of Silene.

With all the towns folk gathered about and the King before him, George declared
that if they all converted to Christianity then he would slay the beast before their very eyes. The people agreed, and George slew the dragon with his sword, Ascalon, cut it into pieces and had it carted away in four horse carts out of the town. On the site where the dragon was killed, the King built a church in which all the people were baptizied including himself and his daughter. In the versions I love, George marries the Princess whom he rescued and receives half the Kingdom's wealth and of course they live happily ever after. x

Arthur Rackham's dragon.
Of course the most famous legends we know of dragons arise from the Arthurian legends. Great tales to read when ones young or old. Usually I would have got the girls to write a Knight and dragon story using all their descriptive and imaginative writing skills, but for my older two those days have passed. This morning Pickle wrote me a beautiful tale of dragon mythology before lunch.

After lunch we settled down to reading book 6 from The Odyssey - Nausicaa. I think the Ancient Greeks would have liked the much later tales of St. George, in a way he is very much like their hero Odysseus - much long suffering and enduring. This chapter picks up the story after Odysseus is stranded and washed up by the help of immortal Ino on the Phaecian beach and protected by the Goddess Athena. There was a lot of Greek hospitality Xenia, to cover in this chapter and it needed to be understood for a comparison later with the Cyclops.

Afterwards Pickle wrote a character synopsis of Nausicaa and then finished a foundation past exam paper on epic and myth and a past higher exam paper on questions concerning the two books just completed - 5 & 6 ( Calypso and Nausicaa).

For an unexpected afternoon cuppa and Minecraft get together we were joined by the lovely Gallivanter's family for a couple of hours. It's always nice to receive a visit as we don't get to see them very often. Different wheels turning and different plates spinning. They were kind enough to bring with them the bones of a full sheep (minus the head, which cannot be sold or given to the public for health law reasons). Very kindly K.P had offered to source the bones by asking her local friendly butcher (some one shamefully I hadn't even thought about asking myself!). The bones are residing in our garage waiting for the girls to have a day home together to get started on the final de-fleshing process, so they can reassemble them into a skeleton. All part of their self-learning for anatomy and dissection. To assemble a skeleton gives you a better understanding of bone and structure. It's another puzzle to be solved and just one way of thinking outside the box that 'home educated' teens tend to do. I am looking forward to seeing their learning process as they work their way through it. I think it will be very interesting.

As a surprise Hubby arrived home early for the afternoon and was later joined by one of his younger brothers before they headed off to the local cinema for a brotherly bonding birthday time.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Re-Joining the Fray.

Odysseus on Calypso's island, longing for home.
The World starts back today and oh how I miss the noise and hustle and bustle of having them all home together. It is just Pickle and I again and it will probably take the rest of the week to get used to the silence that pervaded the house this morning. Usually with three girls the rooms are echoing with their chatter, clatter and noise. I am forever thankful and grateful that I've been able to have them home every day since birth. Now it is their time to fly, but I still miss them. It feels rather like Odysseus in The Odyssey chapter we studied earlier today. Missing that which was very familiar.

Bags were packed and lunches taken for their long day ahead. Pickle and I had a house to tidy and sort, books to lay out ready for the day ahead, but first it was a visit to her piano tutor for her weekly lessons.

Easter decorations were taken down and packed away and the Gas board road works are slowly moving closer to our home. We had a card put through the door to say our gas will temporarily be shut down on Friday while they lay new pipes in the road outside.

Pickle and I sat and read chapter five together form The Odyssey all about Calypso's island. As we discussed it together after each paragraph it's clear that she has absorbed the story and subtle understandings pretty well. We then did some character analysis on those introduced in chapter five of the story Zeus, Hermes, Ino, Calypso and Odysseus.

Afterwards, I started writing a report for the L.E.A something I haven't done for a while, but Pickle has decided that she would rather not have a visit this year and thus hence the report typing from me. There's always more to write than you first think!

Monday, 21 April 2014

Cook it!

Beautiful Easter flowers from Princess.
Bank Holiday Easter Monday and a time to be at home or with family and friends. Today we managed to achieve all three.

With Pickle's new dairy free diet I have been looking at all my recipes books again and seeing which recipes I can further adapt. Whilst researching on line for cakes, because historically we didn't use vast amounts of dairy in years past, I found this charming historical cooking site which is great for enthusiastic cooking kids. It's called Cook it! Well worth a little browse around as it groups the recipes into historical periods.

Today has been a relaxing, cooking and reading day all mixed into one for the girls. The girls have been cooking and making the most of their last day at home together for a while. They've also been reading and revising for their coming exams - all of them. Budge and Diggy have end of year exams to return to and Pickle for her Classic Civ exam has been brushing up on her Odyssey story.

While the girls were all busy revising after a morning of cooking and snacking, Mud Boy and I drove over to visit family and check all was right in their worlds. Getting back in time for tea and a visit for a dear friend who brought me over some d.f tear'n'share cake and some beautiful flowers.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Bunny Hop.

The starter blue spotted eggs of the Easter Egg Hunts.
Happy Easter / Ostara one and all. I hope the Easter Bunny / Hare has visited you all bright and early this morning, despite the shower of rain here today. No matter how old the household here grows, the Easter Bunny still calls. Even though the house is now totally dairy free, chocolate is still on the menu!

Some filled eggs had chocolate d.f bunny's beside them - in out house it's the Easter Bunny's
calling card. If there's no chocolate Bunny, then he ain't been!
Some were filled with d.f goodies.
Some were filled with mallow and cute mini bunnies, chicks or lambs. 
This year the eggs are plastic, but they open on a hinge and can be filled with dairy free goodies. Though I'm not so sure that if Pickle hadn't been announced Dairy Free that she would have necessarily wanted an Easter Egg hunt this year, but I think she maybe feels she is missing out on some big part of her childhood by having the decision almost taken away from her if you will by fate. We have steered around that and made her a dairy free egg hunt. It will be interesting to see how she feels about it all next year, as this is the first few months after her diagnosis. Diggy and Budge don't mind, they're used to joining in. As older siblings you often have to join in the younger activities to continue the make believe or joy for others; plus there's chocolate - as Budge says - "It's a surprise with chocolate; what's not to like!?"

I swear that next year, I will be more on top of this and prep extra early in advance for a d.f Easter. There's a lot my brain connected that I could have bought over the past year - if I'd only known sooner. Hey ho that's how it goes. Although, I don't think I did too bad in a season where most foods can seriously harm my baby. Best of all we did our hunt before the heavens opened and the rain tumbled down.

One of the D.F Easter Eggs the girls received today from the Easter Bunny.

It was a relatively lazy early chocolate morning. The girls no longer rush with squeals for the chocolate, they know they're going to get. That's about the biggest change, I think. Other than that Easter is about the same with three teens in the house. Quietly munching on chocolate and baking.

Carrot garden in the mud cupcakes

Flock of cupcake sheep.

We've done a lot of baking today. Sheep cupcakes, carrots in the ground cupcakes and puff pastry carrots for Easter dinner. I haven't found very many d.f Easter recipes on line, so I've adapted them on my own to suit us. Substituting dairy for non dairy. It seems to work, and they taste no different.

The girls had the most fun making the cupcake sheep characters I think, they spent ages on them giving them all individual faces. It's nice to hear them all together bonding, laughing and giggling before the madness of a new term starting back begins.

For dinner we made puff pastry carrots filled with a layer of egg mayo and roasted seasonal vegetables in a pesto sauce. They were delicious. A lot of fiddly hard work to make in stages, but well worth in the end when topped off with a yummy sprig of dill. Served with fresh seasonal greens and new potatoes; they were yummy and a big vote of YES for baking for them next year!

Cute E.B (Easter Bunny) Junior in Hop the film.
 Then for the afternoon after dinner we all settled down to watch the Easter seasoned film HOP. We took Pickle to see it in the cinema years ago, but it's a great film to pull out at Easter time. Good all round awww factor family fun.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Follow the White Rabbit.

- Morpheus. The Matrix film.

Early this morning we dropped Diggy and Budge off at their college. It was easy to know where they were meant to go, all we had to do was follow the white rabbit sign posts. All unique, all different, all very cute. It was like an Alice in Wonderland trail.

Both Diggy and Budge were volunteering for their AMC Zoo's Easter Bunny and Chick Weekend. Many of their friends will be working their today and over the Easter holiday weekend. Much like the Gaston Farm event we attended a few weeks back, this is one where children and families alike get to handle new chicks and the centre's bunnies. There is also an Easter Egg Hunt and other craft activities. Neither of the girls knew what they would be doing until they arrived there at the centre and signed in, then their duties would be assigned to them.

We decided not to stay as it was early and the centre's day didn't start for the public until 10am, so we headed on back and stopped off at Asda's hypermarket on the way home to pick up several packs of  d.f bunny eared Easter crumpets! How could one not resist!! Look how cute they are!!

Lady Luna.
When we arrived home Luna was in her usual place on my 'Ringing Singing Tree' quilt, fast asleep. She is the only animal of the house I allow to sleep on my white quilt ......... because, well, she is white.

The afternoon has been spent sorting out the garage - a mammoth of a task that only Mud Boy could do with the aid of his helper Pickle; while I walked the dog. So much stuff and several dump runs later it was cleared and full of only those essential items we need. We have a big pile for the bonfire later this week.

Then it was time to go and pick Diggy and Budge up from college, via another and last garage dump run, making us a tinsey bit late - which they didn't mind at all as they were chatting. It has been a busy day for them both, over a thousand people passed by their way today and several hundred questions answered later their voices were worn out.

Add caption
Diggy had been put in charge of the Red Pandas and had several interesting questions fired at her from the general public - "Do you have any real pandas; you know the big black and white ones?", "Can we cuddle them?", "Are they raccoons?", "Do they bite?", "Look at the Koala's; are they Kolas?", "Do you keep lions here?", "Why are they called red pandas when they're brown?", "Is there actually anything in the enclosure?" (the red pandas were sleeping, they're not the most active of creatures in captivity and especially at their age). Each of which she reckons she must have been asked at least twenty five times.

Today Diggy prepared for them six balls of panda cake (a special mix that you add water to and roll into balls), chopped pear and apple, leaf eater pellets and 2 slices of bread. They really like bread!

Budge on the other hand was inside with Herptiles and had to mist, feed and make sure no one stole the expensive creatures. She too had many questions fired at her including  "Are those plastic frogs?", "How do you handle blue arrow poison dart frogs?" The questions are valid and sometimes interesting, but usually they are the same ones asked over and over again. This is something the girls are going to have to get very used to if they want a career in any Zoo, so it's best to get in the practice now. x

For dinner this evening we made Easter egg d.f pizzas. Yummy. x

Friday, 18 April 2014

Hot Cross Buns.

Today was Good Friday and as a small child I couldn't understand what was so good about it, apart from eating hot cross buns and having the day off school? Now-a-days we seem to celebrate the day more and more by eating hot cross buns, which this year was a bit more of a task than usual - as everything has to be checked and double checked for dairy. There are however, very good ranges of dairy free hot cross buns you can buy and luckily I have great dairy free friends to point me in the right direction. I did though, just make them myself this year. Ironically the only one in the house who doesn't really like hot cross buns, is I made her's with d.f chocolate buttons .

There is an ancient belief that hot cross buns baked on Good Friday will not go mouldy for a whole year until the next batch are baked, so one should be kept to be given to someone who falls ill as it would recover their strength. There are many fanciful plague beliefs and cures from these times and this is just one of them!

We always sing this rhyme as the Hot Cross buns are toasted, more as a joke between us all really, but it keeps the history alive as well I suppose :

Hot Cross Buns!
Hot Cross Buns!
One Ha'penny, Two Ha'penny
Hot Cross Buns!
If you have no daughters
Give them to your sons
One Ha'penny, Two Ha'penny
Hot Cross Buns!

It's the rhyme street criers cried when they sold their trays of Hot Cross Buns on the streets at Easter time to the milling crowds. The custom of eating Hot Cross Buns also has pagan origins. The Saxons ate buns that were marked with a cross in honour of EostreThe Ancient Greeks consumed these types of buns in their celebrations of Artemis, Goddess of the hunt, and the Egyptians ate a similar cake in their worship of the Goddess Isis. There are conflicting ideas as to what the cross symbol represents. One suggestion is that it is a Christianisation of horn symbols that were stamped on cakes to represent an ox, which used to be sacrificed at the time of the Spring Equinox.

Another theory relates to Moon worship; the bun representing the full Moon, and the cross, its four quarters. Christianity gave new meanings to the symbolism of the buns, saying the cross represented the Crucifixion Cross. Thus, superstitions arose crediting these buns as being charms against evil, so after Good Friday, people would save one or two of them to hang up in their homes as amulets. During the festival season and indeed, for a long time afterwards, fishermen would carry these Easter buns in their boats, for protection.

My family were not of the Christian faith, so instead I was told the Easter tale of The Witch Hare, but I now know that for Christians Good Friday is not named (at the risk of sounding much like Bilbo Baggins) because it is a good day, rather that it is the day we commemorate the death of Christ upon the cross of crucifixion.

Every year we look at the history of the Easter traditions around the globe - why we celebrate Easter with  rabbits, hares, hot cross buns and yes - chocolate eggs!! We look at different faiths and religions so we learn about their beliefs, tales and celebrations. We decorate eggs every year and we make egg trees to display them on. We collect fresh budding twigs from the garden and the whole house seems to be filled with the scent and sunshine warmth of Spring.

There are many symbols of mixed faith in the traditional Easter celebrations we all enjoy. The Easter Bunny is one such symbol which has obvious links to fertility, rebirth, and the abundance of life which is evident in Spring.

In the Witch Hare tale I was told as a child :  One myth says that the Hare was once a bird but was changed by Ostara.  The Hare was allowed to keep it's swiftness so it could still escape those who hunted him.  Once a year the Hare is allowed to lay eggs in remembrance of it's earlier form - and so today the Easter bunny still brings eggs to the ancient festival. The story goes something like this................

The story of the Goddess Ostara and the Origin of the Easter Bunny / Hare :

Ostara, the Goddess of Dawn (Saxon), who was responsible for bringing spring each year, was feeling guilty about arriving so late. To make matters worse, she arrived to find a pitiful little bird who lay dying, his wings frozen by the snow. Lovingly, Ostara cradled the shivering creature and saved his life.

Legend has it that she then made him her pet companion. Filled with compassion for him since he could no longer fly because of his frost-damaged wings, the goddess Ostara turned him into a rabbit, a snow hare, and gave hime the name Lepus.

She also gave him the gift of being able to run with astonishing speed so he could easily evade all the hunters.  To honor his earlier form as a bird, she also gave him the ability to lay eggs (in all the colors of the rainbow, no less), but he was only allowed to lay eggs on one day out of each year. Eventually Ostara lost her temper with Lepus and she flung him into the skies where he would remain for eternity as the constellation Lepus (The Hare), forever positioned under the feet of the constellation Orion, the Hunter. But later, remembering all the good times they had once enjoyed, Ostara softened and allowed the Hare to return to the Earth once a year, but only to give away his eggs to the children attending the Ostara festivals that were held each Spring.

According to myth, Ostara (Eostre) was a playful Goddess whose reign over the earth began in Spring when the Sun King journeyed across the sky in his chariot, bringing the end of Winter. Ostara came down to Earth then, appearing as a beautiful maiden with a basket of bright colourful eggs. Ostara's magical companion was a hare (rabbit) who accompanied her as she brought new life to dying plants and flowers by hiding the eggs in the fields.

The Easter Bunny is a symbol which has obvious links to fertility, rebirth, and the abundance of life which is evident in Spring as told in the tale above. As is also the Lamb. We eat lamb at Easter because of old Jewish / Egyptian traditions of smearing fresh lambs blood on their thresholds to keep away the plague. The lamb would then be prepared and eaten in thanks. Only God could pass into these homes then and not the devil with his pestilent death. When they were later converted to Christianity the tradition of eating lamb came with them and so we still have it today. It is a seasonal meat that ties in well with the celebrations.

Being Vegan we obviously don't eat lamb at Easter, instead we have seasonal roasted vegetables on the table. What ever you celebrate, however you celebrate, don't forget to have a hot cross bun! x

Thursday, 17 April 2014

"Did I, Did I, Did I diddledooo!"

-Singing Goat- 2005 film 'Hoodwinked.

A day of semi-rest was waiting for us today. The usual catch ups that need to be done before the weekend happens. A couple of appointments suddenly arrived upon us today, making it that plans to see dear friends elsewhere had to be changed and re-arranged. You can never plan life absolute.

The girls have all been reading today. Both for pleasure and work studies. All in all it's been a blissful quiet one. x

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

"Beautiful Briny Sea"

- Bednobs and Broomsticks, Beautiful Briny song. Disney.

This morning was filled with more appointments and house tidying before meeting friends and walking down to our local beach for a picnic and the park for run around. Luckily for us the large woodland park is just down the road and just across a road is the beach. It couldn't be better suited. We don't get the Grokel noise, mess or parking and yet we still get the pleasant salty seaweed smell and seagulls.

The beach is a lovely place for a picnic and I adore the sound of the oceans waves as it brushes up against the shore. The swoosh of the pebbles as they wash back out to sea. Spending time on the beach today reminded me how little we visit the beach, even though we live so close. It's something that we seem to save as a treat. When the girls were small we lived right on the beach front, out back garden gate opened right out onto the beach. It was a lot of fun when the girls were tiny and where we spent most of our days. As they've grown though we have spent less and less time at the shore side. Even today Diggy and Budge opted to be elsewhere rather than on the beach.

After a long laze on the shore, many pebble throwing competitions and a much appreciated lunch we headed on over across the road to the large park lands where the kids played on the zip wire, kicked around the football and climbed trees. Ah, those Summer fun filled days. It really has been gorgeous weather today; more like Summer than Easter Spring.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

"Luck is believing you're lucky"

- American playwright, Tennessee Williams.

Last night hubby got a lift home with a work colleague and long time family friend. As they were driving along a winding country road he noticed the car was slowing down inappropriately, so he turned to his friend who was driving but received no response from him when he called his name. He was having a petite mal ( otherwise known as Absence seizures) at the steering wheel. Luckily hubby is a quick thinker and first aider, so he lent over and took control of the wheel and steered them on to a grass verge, using the handbrake to slow the car until it stalled and he then removed the keys, watching and waiting until his friend came round and could take his medication ; as he has suffered from epilepsy in the past. He hasn't had a seizure for a very long time and it just goes to show that you never know when things things can re-surface. Hubby drove the rest of the way home and made sure his friend was dropped off at his parents house so he could be supervised and cared for before walking the rest of the way home. We are so grateful that events didn't turn out with a tragic end to them, as it was a scary enough experience for them both. Thank the Angels both lived to tell the tale and are here safe and sound, although hubby was quite shaken for the rest of the evening.

A home day today. Lots of inter spaced appointments though and enough to keep us all busy, but essentially time spent at home together. Diggy and Budge have had a couple of assignments to get in and revision for Anatomy and Physiology exams when they return to college next week. It never seems to stop and higher education seems to be far more intense these days, either that or my memory is getting foggy.

Pickle has been playing the piano and getting to grips with some new pieces. As well as watching the Spark notes on the Odyssey from youtube. To watch the Odyssey through SPARK NOTES - which are always handy and useful - here are the links for The Odyssey  -  part one, part two, and part three.

Wreck-it Ralph was the film view of the day for Pickle and I after her studies. Haven't seen it for a while and I was surprised how much of it I had forgotten.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Boxgrove Priory.

Pickle at Boxgrove Priory ruins.
Boxgrove Priory is in the small and charming village of Boxgrove, founded I believe in 1066 after the Norman Invasion. A date that crops up all too often in our English history. The village is not too far from where we live there stands a wonderfully romantic ruin called Boxgrove Priory looked after by English Heritage. Built around about 1117 it has stood on this site and watched the world revolve around it for centuries. It was part of one of the first of King Henry V111's Tudor throne decisions in the dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536.  Boxgrove was ransacked and left to decay in the musts of time, now the ruins of the Priory are grade 1 listed and stand silent, brooding and distant. An angry decayed tooth on the landscape of Henry's once religiously turmoiled England.

We decided to visit today as the weather was more than fine and it's a very good place for a sunny but shaded picnic. All very pre-Raphaelite in it's surroundings and exuding Romanticism in it's Gothic setting.

Just across the green from the Priory ruins is the magnificent church of st. Mary and st. Blaise, which inside holds a rather surprising secret. It is a wonderfully cared for church and parish and unlike many of today's churches was open for viewing with plenty of helpers making her shine in all of God's glory.

A church it seems has stood here since before the Norman conquest, but the church that we see today is Anglo-Saxon and has been here since the twelfth century. Inside the church on the floor is a beautiful inlaid labyrinth or maze designed by Sian Van Driel. Labyrinths and mazes pre-date the Christian church as a pagan symbol, but as with many other things have been incorporated into their faith. The word Labyrinth means - from one path to another. Which as you can imagine but used to denote many aspects of faith and belief.

The church has an extremely French feel to it inside and has the most divine stained glass windows. I am often drawn to the colourful stained glass windows in such places. I love the light and especially colourful light. As a someone who trained in stained glass art and design, I spotted several well executed repairs in the glass panes, that is necessary from time to time.

A window dedicated to an American serviceman who was shot down at Boxgrove during
the Second World War.

In the grounds of the church are some mighty fine magnolia trees and an area left especially for wildlife conservation, which was lovely to see as many graveyards are havens for our natural creatures.

It was nice to sit for a while and watch the world go by whilst having a picnic with friends. We decided to return to the Priory ruins and sit in the sunny shade listening to the newborn lambs bleat in the afternoon haze of sun. It was gorgeous.

The village of Boxgrove though is perhaps better known for it's Palaeolithic period of history and the discovery of the oldest human remains on our island. Homo Heidelbergensis was one of our early ancestors and the archaeological site has been invaluable in learning how they lived in our landscape back then. The bones were discovered in Boxgrove quarry, known locally as Eartham pit. Not only were Homo Heidelbergensis bones discovered but interestingly to me the wing bones of a Great Auk were also uncovered within the site.

A taxidermied Great Auk.
Great Auk's were, for they are entirely extinct now, a flightless bird. They became extinct in the late 1880's and could be found foraging in the waters of Great Britain among other places including the North Atlantic. If I was to give you their Latin name Pinguinius impennis you would perhaps understand my fascination for them. Though they are not a member of the Penguin family as you would first expect. DNA has shown that they are more closely related to today's razorbill, but to me they are very penguin like not only in appearance but habit also. They lived off fish, were agile in the water but clumsy on land, mated for life, lived in social colonies and cared for their egg bound off spring; much like their modern day penguin counterparts. They were only named Pinguinius because at first it was noticed that they looked and acted similar, presuming a genus link ; Mother Nature doesn't always work like that though, nothing is ever that simple - after all she is a woman.

All we know of Great Auk's behaviour is from sailors and amateur naturalists accounts, as sadly science never got around to studying this beautiful bird before it disappeared. Again man was the cause, we hunted it down to it's death for the downy feathers it possessed for our heads to sleep on soft comfy pillows. Hope reared it's pretty head for the birds in 1794 when in recognition that a species was rapidly fading the hunting of Great Auk's was banned and also the stealing and consuming of their eggs; punishment was a public flogging.

There is a rather horrible written account written by Aaron Thomas a sailor aboard the HMS Boston from 1794 that describes it thus :

"If you come for their Feathers you do not give yourself the trouble of killing them, but lay hold of one and pluck the best of the Feathers. You then turn the poor Penguin adrift, with his skin half naked and torn off, to perish at his leasure. This is not a very humane method but it is the common practize. While you abide on this island you are in the constant practize of horrid cruelties for you not only skin them Alive, but you burn them Alive also to cook their Bodies with. You take a kettle with you into which you put a Penguin or two, you kindle a fire under it, and this fire is absolutely made of the unfortunate Penguins themselves. Their bodys being oily soon produce a Flame; there is no wood on the island."

As the bird became rarer, so the increase grew in selfish collectors for it's prized eggs; and the species was further harried into extinction. In 1844 the last recorded Great Auk was killed on the Scottish Isles by three men, possibly sailors or fishermen, who caught the defenceless little bird during a storm and believed it to be a witch causing the blight for their travels. They tied it up for three days and then beat it to death with a stick!

What kind of monsters are we as a species????

The Gairfowl otherwise known as the Great Auk recounting it's demise in Charles
Kingsley's book 'The Water Babies'. Illustration by artist A.E.Jackson.
The Great Auk is the only bird to have been made extinct in the British Isles during our recorded history and I personally think it a great tragedy and injustice to the poor little fellow.  You can read of the birds tale of it's own demise in one of my favourite childhood books - 'The Water Babies' by Charles Kingsley. In the pages the Great Auk (often called the Gairfowl) recounts forlornly it's extinction, whilst wearing it's great white spectacles (the bird's own feathered facial markings), to drowned and reborn young chimney sweep Tom within the company of his rich un-drowned friend Ellie.

"Why, we have quite gone down in the world, my dear, and have nothing left but our honour. And I am the last of my family. A friend of mine and I came and settled on this rock when we were young, to be out of the way of low people. Once we were a great nation, and spread over all the Northern Isles. But men shot at us so, and knocked us on the head, and took our eggs - why, if you will believe it, they say that on the coast of Labrador the sailors used to lay a plank from the rock on board the thing called their ship, and drive us along the plank by hundreds until we tumbled down into the ship's waist in heaps; and then, I suppose they ate us, the nasty fellows!"

As it stands lamenting on the Allalonestone, I reminded Pickle of it's last words "And soon I shall be gone, my little dear, and nobody shall miss me; and then the poor stone will be left all alone".

So today Pickle and I remembered the Geat Auk's sad tale and chatted about the Great Auk's story which I read whilst we were sat there at Boxgrove. I'd saved a picture on my phone especially for today, along with Homo Heidlebergensis as we all need a visual reference to help us see the past sometimes.