Things People Out There Say

I just took a long concrete walk in Berkeley.  I realize the Bay Area has endless hiking opportunities, but after Sheffield, I found I wanted some urban experience.  The area north of Fourth Street is suitable for this.  You can shop like a citified metro-citizen; then continue along into a messier world of railroad tracks and humming factories producing mysterious somethings – all for free, and also free of yoga pants.

A semi-urban walking experience.

Folks in California seem readier to chat than people in England.  Perhaps the weather encourages more relaxed banter.  Whatever the reason, I found in England I missed being able to talk easily with people I didn’t know and would never meet again.  I made more than a few store clerks look nervously around for security when I would attempt a silly American joke in a very buttoned-up British Debenham’s department store.  I learned in the UK to suppress that urge, and now I’m thinking quite a lot about the “passing the time” kind of remarks that Americans don’t hesitate to make to one another.  Strangely though – I haven’t thought every casual comment from every one I encountered today was necessarily in friendliness.  Some remarks were just downright odd.

Evidence #1:  Crossing a busy street on foot in Berkeley.  A woman noticed my hesitation to cross in front of so many irritated drivers, and invited me, “Let’s go together!”  How chummy!  But we parted with such haste after our safe passage.  How quickly our companionship evaporated!

Evidence #2:  At the Bank of America ATM, the woman with sunglasses+dog+workout gear tossed exclamations over her shoulder at me by way of explanation:  “It’s not reading them!”  “It’s still not!”  “I’m almost done!”  “If you need to deposit checks, it’s not reading them!”  I had nothing much to add to this one way conversation, so I just studied my Barclay’s bank card and wondered instead why “chip and pin” hasn’t caught on the the US.  It’s used so widely in England that even the train employees wear the small computers on their belts.  In England, as long you remember your PIN, you can get by all day and night with no cash at all in your pocket.

Evidence #3:  “How is your day going so far?”  “Have a great Rest Of The Day!”  “Did you find everything you were looking for?”  “Your savings today are ….. ”  I just don’t recall anyone in England flinging me these banal greetings in banks, stores, or post offices.  I miss the South Yorkshire salutation:  “Ya’ all ri-ight?”  There is no adequate answer to “Y’all right?” but there is also no answer to “Are you finding everything okay?” – I wanted to yell at the seventh person in Safeway who asked me this, “Yes – and I’m also finding a whole lot of people who are  trapped in a corporate demand to chase me down with that remark when I’m just staring blankly at the wall trying to remember if I’m almost out of toilet paper!”  But I won’t ever, ever utter those cranky words.  We’re all the same – people who encounter other people on a regular basis, and have to find a system for connecting, or managing, or defending, or handling.  Not much difference by continent, that.  Cheers.

Change, even in what appears to have been there forever.

I’ve been a champion of change for quite some time.  Maybe always.  Five to seven years is my grown up benchmark for Major Change.  When I was ten or so, I remember going to sleep and waking up the next morning completely uninterested in what had fascinated me just the day before.  I also recall thinking deeply about the mystery of hobbies.  How could anyone possibly stay interested in calligraphy, stamp collecting, model building, or bird watching long enough to achieve some sort of success?  My pursuits were quick and messy.  If a recipe called for chilling dough in the refrigerator for an hour – forget it – I would blop my concoction warm and slippery into a pan and bake it anyway.  Let varnish dry for 24 hours?  Let’s try 10 minutes, and hope for the best.  I was never a perfectionist, but my elementary school years were fast paced and ever varying.  I tried to keep up the pace all through til just about now.  Travel!  College!  Different jobs!  More college!  New profession!  Babies!

And right on schedule, the chance to change things up quite a bit by living in England for half a year was well timed.  I’m a fan of leaving the party before you’ve made a fool of yourself and everyone wishes you would go home already.  And leaving California to arrive in the very old and established environment of The British Isles was a wild way of embracing change by taking on a culture that abhors just that.  Change.

Thousand year old wall at Peveril Castle, Castleton, Derbyshire, England. There was pride in this construction, obviously.

The juxtaposition of disparate and unlikely companions interests me.  So as I viewed England and its ancient and historic past, I felt always drawn to the details that indicated the reality of the present before it was historic:  the scratchings by a prisoner on the stone wall of a dank dungeon buried below majestic castle walls;  artfully placed rocks layered like a mosaic revealing a pride of creation within an otherwise utilitarian enclosure on a remote pasture;  meticulously perfect hand stitching on the seam of a garment worn hundreds of years ago –  these were evident markers of humans who participated in the world’s history, and left little hints of the people who lived lives shaped by constant change:  births, deaths, famines, droughts, fires, sieges, and wars.

Carved graffiti on prison walls in Edinburgh castle – American prisoners of the Revolutionary War left images of flags and schooners.

Probably it would be safe to say that most changes are not welcome because they have not been initiated by the one who is affected most by the different outcome.  Enforced change is a scary situation.  Change is most welcome and even exhilarating when it is taken on voluntarily.

Children both love and hate change.  The possibility of newness each day brings becomes almost a necessity to some children.  I recall when my son asked me once, after having played with a new action figure for about an hour, “Mommy?  Is this toy still new?”  What a strange question I thought at the time, and I certainly don’t recall what I answered.  Looking back now and knowing that his wiring was for continual change and novelty in order to keep his very bright brain engaged, I know now that “Is this toy still new?” really is the question, “Am I normal because I’m already bored with this thing I wanted so badly just an hour ago?”  And the answer for him now is “Yes and no.  Yes it’s new, and no, it’s not – to you.  Because you move so quickly and need so much variety that the world is hardly big enough to change fast enough to keep up with your very curious mind.”

The ultimate in change: strike out to explore a new continent.

Change is scary, change is puzzling, change is unavoidable.  Just start the process of change before it controls and scares you.  Cheers?

Conversation and the Classroom

In a  recent exchange with a fellow teacher recently, I heard this:  “That child is finding acceptable ways to get the attention needed.”  Hm.  I thought about that.  What are “acceptable ways” to get attention?  And does every child have the same need for attention?

We all thrive on the validation of our existence.  While I was living in England I would go days without being required to appear somewhere and produce something.  The way I structured my day and  activities mattered to no one.  Being a fairly self-disciplined individual with a conscious, I couldn’t squander a dollar of Fulbright money unless that moment was justified in its connection to the work I was in Sheffield to do.  There were many days, however, that I craved acknowledgement of my alive-ness.  I bantered with the sales staff at Marks &  Spencer, (most didn’t know how to respond) and I loitered around the city center wishing for a little friendliness before things completely shut down at 6 p.m. and Sheffield citizens made their ways back to homes and proper English suppers. (I imagined.)

Because I would go days without meaningful interaction with others, I found  that often I would waken myself up with my own voice!  I would be talking and explaining in my sleep!  Deprived of the opportunity to converse with others, I had no choice but to chat it up through the night!  This was a new odd quirk for me, but it ceased once I was in a regular routine, interacting with friends, family, and co-workers once again.

But it makes me think about this way children view school.  Ask a child what part he or she likes best about school, and, unless he or she is trying to impress you, the kid will say, “Playing with my friends.”  Friends.  Play.  Two incredible components that make school more vital than just a place to learn academics.

In a report on PBS Morning Edition in 2008, researchers reported the advantages fot children who engaged in imaginative play, (one assumes with friends or alone…)  It was reported, ” It turns out that all that time spent playing make-believe actually helped children develop a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function has a number of different elements, but a central one is the ability to self-regulate. Kids with good self-regulation are able to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline. ”

Well, self-regulation sounds desirable in a school setting, but what about , in life?  Researcher in executive function, Laura Berk, commented .  According to Berk, one reason make-believe is such a powerful tool for building self-discipline is because during make-believe, children engage in what’s called private speech: They talk to themselves about what they are going to do and how they are going to do it.

And it’s not just children who use private speech to control themselves. If we look at adult use of private speech, Berk says, “we’re often using it to surmount obstacles, to master cognitive and social skills, and to manage our emotions. Unfortunately, the more structured the play, the more children’s private speech declines.”

Think about the times you’ve explained, “Don’t mind me, I’m just talking to myself.”  Is this so strange?  Or is it a human attribute and coping strategy for being visible and present?  Conversation connects us with others.  Without chances to talk we are unsure that our presence matters.  We may even feel somewhat invisible.  Speech helps us process our thoughts.  Talking together helps us forge commonalities.  Words are places in which we hang our experiences.

The real learning in this for us as parents, educators, and humans?  Talk with kids.  Listen.  Comment.  Build on their ideas.  Speculate on the wild and imaginative.  Validate the ordinariness of life.  Encourage imaginative play.  Banter about with words.  Play Scrabble.  Make puns.  Value words in literature and in speech.  It seems that through this unique skill human beings have with a common language, close bonds are made, and success in school is improved.  And at the very least, talking with children might insure that they are heard and recognized and given attention so that there are no moments when they wonder if anyone noticed that they were there that day.




Back to the Classroom

So going back to teaching was odd but rather like returning home to sit in your usual place at the kitchen table.  You know – the chair felt the same, but my feet resting on the floor were shod in different shoes.  Not better shoes, not worse – just different.  And after reflecting on education for seven months in England,  I returned to school none the wiser.

Steep Re-Learning Curve

Possibly the most tragic change was that Sheffield seemed to evaporate from my memory.  In the evenings I sometimes sit with my laptop pulled closely to my face.  I play Adele on iTunes and click through the images that were my reality just a month or so ago, but only lack a brisk and bold wind and smattering of nearly constant rain drops.

Back in line, but just little bit askew.

I’m right where I should be – lined up with the other committed educators, but like Hello Kitty, (see photo,) fourth row down, fifth from the left, I’m leaning forward out outward, ready to leap into the shopping cart of the next interesting experience.

Instead of working now to increase my knowledge base, I’m planning the next development in passing along what I thought about and developed while in the UK.

“American Teacher in the UK” will need to change somewhat, starting with the title of the blog.  The photographs too will probably not feature such memorable whimsey as the cereal aisle at Morrison’s or Tesco.

But watch this space for other reflections on education and an expanded opportunity for sharing the curriculum, “No One Is From Here.”  At the very least, I will strive to include, from time to time, an anecdote of life in the classroom.  No one will be named, and no one will get hurt.  Although, as I learned in England, a little pain and the accompanying humility that results can bring on some very large thoughts and new revelations.Cheers!

So Many Thoughts and At Least One Question

Now this is not going to be an Andy Rooney or Jerry Seinfeld rant about “the trouble with airlines,” although I’m kind of proud of my tech skill in transferring this picture to my blog from the internet…because I was thinking a lot about people.  That could possibly be the worst opening line ever typed.  But I’m not going back to rewrite it.  It will make sense in a moment.

I left England with a heart full of trust and quite possibly, a lot of ignorance despite the fancy “Fulbright” designation.  I will be the first to tell you, before anyone beats me to it, that I am not a suspicious sort.  I can be accused of rocking that great fashion trend:    “Wearing her heart on her sleeve.”  I like to think this makes me charming, but more often than not it results in some regret later on, and this airline story makes that perfectly evident.

In England it’s a trolley, in America, a cart. For me, it will always remain a puzzlement and irritating memory.

Because I was going to England for seven months, I had almost that number exactly of suitcases.  Well, alright – I had four.  Going AND coming.  Although the British are willing to walk everywhere, apparently their suitcases do too, because I rarely saw anyone in the UK hauling more than one small rolling bag or hefting a slightly bulky backpack.  No one tells you how to move your life from airport to train to bus to apartment, and back again.  So the trolley became this elusive, hard to locate and harder to steer, necessary method of transport.

I’m going to cut to the relevant part.  At the Manchester, England airport a helpful man in what the Brits call “a high-viz vest” took my pocket full of pence and traded it for a pound coin from his own pocket so that I could release the bloody cart from its airport shackles.  I was a few coins short, and I know for a fact, he took an American quarter and nicely considered it a 10 pence coin.  I rushed then with relief – and the trolley – to the curbside where an English family I didn’t know nicely stood guard over my suitcases.

Now, I got around the entire United Kingdom on the willingness of people I didn’t know to share what assistance they could.  Not heroic, not sacrificial, not dramatic – but honest and reasonable and useful when they could offer help.  I must have asked questions of nearly every citizen in England at one point or another.  I asked how much to tip in the pubs (not much…) and how to queue up at the bus stop (a polite single file line…) Once a kindly gentleman walked me blocks out of his way to help me locate a neighborhood primary school.  I’m not going to say that anyone earned a Purple Heart for Courage in extending help to a puzzled American, because the English in general are a “keep to themselves” sort of folk.  And that works for me.  I like my independence.  But when I asked the locals, and I asked A LOT, the help I would receive was honest and reasonable and I valued that sensible help.  In other words, I got to be quite trusting of the British resident.

Five U.S. dollars = betrayal to a trusting human being.

The JFK airport in New York is like all airports, so no news story there.  Take one tired, trusting ex-pat returning home after seven months spent on uncomfortable Ikea furniture, and if you are only in life to make a profit, you could have swindled me easily.

Now, Nice Young Man in the Security Guard Uniform, you took advantage of me, and I willingly handed over a crisp $5 bill for the trolley you said I had to pay you for.  And now the entire internet community knows, not just that you’re a thief and a liar, but that I am gullible and stupid.

The most interesting part of this story to me, but quite possibly not to you because I know what you’re thinking….was the fact that it wasn’t until hours later it dawned on me how utterly foolish I was to trust this deceptive fellow human.  It would be very convenient and tidy to contrast the kindness of folks in England with the rip-off I succumbed to in New York City only minutes after arriving.  But that’s too easy, and besides, it’s not even true.  What is more compelling to me is to reflect on what we expect from others in all situations.  And if my first instinct is to be suspicious, then I would be handing away more than five US dollars at a time.  I would be handing over my inclination of dearly wanting to believe in the best from the rest of the population.  And that would be a bigger loss than a few bucks.  I’d like to say that “next time” I won’t be so stupid and trusting, but I know me, and I know that “next time” I would probably do it all over again because I just seem to be wired like that.  Oh well – maybe that young man put my five dollar bill in the collection plate at church.  If not – and certainly not – maybe he had just a twinge of shame at his mean greedy little extortion.  Although I don’t want to be vengeful…or do I?

Well, I’m over it now and back to more mundane subjects and more than a few questions, the most pressing of them is that this sausage here is featured by Open Clip Art Gallery as “one of the week’s most popular images.”  Why?  Who cares! Cheers!

Sausage by gnokii -


Does Reverse Culture Shock Really Exist?


“Caution:  Two way traffic!  Look both ways.”  Readers of my earlier postings will probably not remember something I mentioned in Sheffield that was my background soundtrack for seven months.  The plaintive, beseeching request emitted by the Speaker Lady at the Fitzalan Square intersection.  There, all manner of chaos occurs – walkers, limpers, stumblers, the drunk, the smokers, the texters, and the extra-extra elderly.  Trams in two directions lumber across the road, bells clanging in seeming irritation at being ignored by all humanity determined to cross that wide, wide street.  And over all this commotion, that never tiring British woman begs and pleads:  “Two way traffic.  Look both ways.”

Look all ways at the culture overlaps and crashes here, is how I always thought about this crazy venue on my regular walk to the Ponds Forge swimming pool for lane swimming, or a jaunt to Wilkinson’s for laundry detergent.  The taxi drivers all converged at this corner, and I presume they still do, although I’m not there, walking past, sniffing the air for butter pastry aroma, or dodging double decker busses roaring around the corner.  Of course no one sees the absence of me, making my way past the Co-op grocery, squinting in to see the friendly display of tea boxes stacked in the window.  I’m not missed by the Sheffield lasses, in their black tights and shorts, puffing on cigarettes, glaring about for the busses that will take them Who-Knows-Where.  So many strollers, swathed in clear plastic rain covers!  Hobbling oldsters barely able to stand, keeping their places in the bus queues, because no one every cuts into an orderly line in England!  Blazer-coated Teddy Boys, with school ties loosened, and white shirt tails flapping will continue to stream out of the discount stores, sucking down sodas and crunching on crisps before boarding the bus for school.

I’m not there, Sheffield!  But you will keep a lively pace going, I know.  And here I am, back in Marin County and California, the sun is bright and high in the sky, and not one single solitary grey cloud mars the blue expanse above.  Of course it seems like I’ve been away for an eternity, and not.  My feet remembered how many stairs down from the bedroom to the hallway below.  (thirteen)  The front gate still squeaks and needs coaxing to open.  The yards are bursting with green abandon.  And the beloveds in my California life are resuming their real selves, not the cardboard cut-outs of memories on an eight-hour time difference.

Two-way traffic.  Look both ways.  Two ways to experience life.  Look, listen, and remember.  It’s nice to be back, and it was nice to have been away.  Two ways of seeing the world, and I’m being careful:  I might slip and stumble into reverse culture shock.

Cheers, you crazy corner in Sheffield!

The last photo I took in Sheffield: the take-away coffee and sandwich stand in the train station.

I Bid Goodbye to a Strangely Hot Sheffield!

Most of my photographs of Sheffield feature grey skies.  And that’s mainly because I didn’t take a great deal of pictures in the driving rain.  It is old news here already that June and July resembled nothing even close to Summer.  For the last few days Sheffield has been baking under an unfamiliar sun, reporting temperatures near 30 C (86 F) and thrilling the kids who were released from school uniforms for six weeks.  The Peace Garden fountains in the city center entertained so many splashing toddlers, teens, and adults that it seemed as if Sheffield had sent out notices requiring everyone to show up there at least once during the day.  There are currently over 500,000 residents in the town, so let me assure you I wasn’t exaggerating.  Pale flesh turned pink and red, and self tanning kits enabled some stylish lasses to sport an unnatural skin hue of orange.  Fashion missteps happened everywhere you turned, but no one cared because absolutely every city member was incredibly “chuffed” and “gobsmacked” with this giddy turn of weather events.

For dinner last night I sat outside in the city center plaza, along with my sister, and we ordered wine and water and salads and bread.  I watched boys chase each other around with water sprayers.  Other kids zipped bicycles through the spouting jets of the fountain.  Women strode by on unsteady platform sandals, proud at last to sport the summer fashions they had purchased in May.  A wonderful way to close out seven months in England, but very surreal, as I sat there in short sleeves and worried about  how to transport home my enormously heavy wool coat.

The wardrobe that saved my life.

As I’m packing up to fly back to California, I have ruthlessly jettisoned many items I brought over.  Some items of clothing certainly saw lots of wear, and I was so heartily sick of them that it was a pleasure to trot them over to the Cancer Research UK charity shop.  But other items, such as this wool coat in which I probably spent more time in than any other garment, achieved Lifetime Status in the Wardrobe Hall of Fame.  The gloves received a silver medal and the boots came out with a bronze, although they were so badly weathered, the bin (trash can in English speak) was chosen as their final resting place.

The umbrella was left behind on a train to London, alas, although replaced by a more portable model from the Victoria and Albert Museum.  My fuzzy black scarf was a comfort, and was also joined by several others provided by sympathetic friends to help me cope with the unfamiliar chill of this island nation.

So farewell, Sheffield!  I will remember you more for the grand yet friendly way you appeared to me in my first days here.  I’ll miss the charming speech pattern of the South Yorkshire folks, and I’ll long from time to time for the vendor on the Moor selling roasty hot jacket potatoes.  I regret that I won’t be around to share a proud interest in your Olympic heptathlon champion, even though I don’t much follow sports.  The old police station across from my own apartment is rumbling with reconstruction in order to make it a swanky new hotel, and I won’t be here to see how that affects the occasional traffic that zooms down my own Lambert Street from West Bar.  Sheffield is due to upgrade its roads, and the castle market vendors will soon be moving shop.  The remains of Sheffield Castle may finally be unearthed and displayed.  And somewhere, anywhere in Sheffield, at any moment of the day, someone is buying and wolfing down a hot, greasy, buttery sausage roll.  I’ll miss that pastry smell.

Stuff that was made by someone here in Sheffield. I don’t know what any of it is, but I respect the crafts folks who created them.

Sheffield made steel, and Sheffield crafted silver.

“Cutlery is that what cuts.”

Sheffield ran on water power and canal transport.  It was a city that cleared away Victorian slums that begat cholera outbreaks, and replaced them with crazy massive multi-unit apartments.  Sheffield maintained its many, many parks and green spaces and invited everyone to romp on them, which I saw so many of them do, even in the gloomiest of weather conditions.  Sheffield somehow also managed to make derelict, abandoned brick factories look like unique street side art, and my iPhoto library is crammed full of images recording the decline of its industrial past.

It’s massive, it has something to do with steel, and it doesn’t work anymore.

Goodbye Sheffield.  Here the locals would add, “See ya lat-ah!” and I do hope that’s true.  Sheffield, smack bang right in the center of England is a logical place to visit, although you rarely hear of Americans booking a week at the Best Western Cutler’s Inn near the bus interchange at Arundel Gate.  But maybe, just maybe my little fondness affair with this quirky city will cause a few folks to stop in for a day or two, order a flat white coffee from a local, and ask, “Y’all right?”  Cheers!

Forerunner to The Mall – the Marketplace.

The charm of the daily and weekly market in Europe and elsewhere is not a topic on which I need to expound.  Rather, I’m taken with the English reinvention of the gathering spot for buying the day’s needs.  Their neighbors in the mild Mediterranean climes may be able to trade outdoors year round, but outdoor shopping in England is not a particularly pleasant event when rain is lashing the awning of the root vegetable seller and you’re groping for change while juggling an umbrella and several other bags.

Hence:  (I assume) the indoor marketplace!  Under cover of an often shabby building in the midst of town, the English market seems to be a fusty, frumpy but charming and necessary outpost on the High Streets around the country.  I wrote recently about Castle Market in Sheffield.  It has a long, venerable history, and is matched in usefulness only by The Moor, a stretch of budget shops and outdoor vendors about half a mile from the city center.

An earlier marketplace from Sheffield’s historic archives.

When I first came to England I ventured out to Meadowhall, a very American-style shopping mall.  It was my destination chiefly for the fact that I knew I could reach it easily by the tram line, and I was certain I would be able to find my way back to it again for a return trip home.  Of course it is every thing every mall every where is.  No surprise there.  The really interesting aspect to me was the warren of small shops tucked on the lower level beneath the Cineplex.  Here an unnecessarily winding stretch of linoleum was filled with the pudgy, the elderly, the ordinary….and me.  The tradition of the independent seller stationed behind his or her goods in a space smaller than an American bathroom was recreated just down the corridor from Lady Foot Locker at the modern Meadowhall Mall!  Who knew?!

In successive towns during my travels in England I encountered the same thing again and again.  The marketplace might be outside:

The street market on Portobello Road in London.

…like this open air mart in London.  Even when shops have a presence on the street with windows to display their wares, more often than not the goodies spill out onto the sidewalk, tempting passers-by with easy to examine vegetables, or practical mop buckets, or bowers of fresh and fragrant flowers.

But the sweetest and oddest place for retail action in England is what happens when sales folks set up shop in some large and ancient building no longer used for one single purpose.  And the indoor marketplace continues in England, providing convenience, value, selection, and endless opportunities for banter and gossip.

The marketplace at the Guild Hall in Bath.

See that lady in the center of the picture above?  I didn’t get a signed release to use her in my photo so I won’t divulge her identity, but I can tell you she is a shrewd and practical consumer.  She frequents this market daily, inspects the goods with an eagle eye, and when done with her shop, will sit comfortable at a chrome dinette set in the market cafe, sipping contentedly on a steaming beaker of hot tea.  Milk in first – tea poured on after.

The soon-to-be-relocated Castle Market in Sheffield.

It doesn’t matter if America has no equivalent.  It doesn’t need to have one.  This is one of the reasons England is England, and even though I loved wandering around the booths, fingering items I would never need to buy, overhearing chatter about matters that didn’t affect me, I would never want to see California, say, attempt to duplicate the funny little marketplaces of England.  This is one tradition that was born from complete and utter necessity, and Englanders, many free from the tangle and headache of traffic tie ups and car park charges, will trot on down to their local marketplace to pick up some boiled sweets, or perhaps a nice fresh beetroot.  You go, Mr and Mrs. Marketplace!  There will always be a place for you and your wheeled cart of necessaries! Cheers!

A vast array of licorice brought in these three shoppers!





Really real beetroot for sale on a fake turf display.


Oh England…how will I carry a camera anymore without missing you?

Packing up means looking over all your belongings and deciding which ones will hurt the least when thrown in a dumpster.  Because I insisted on hauling home more books on English history, I had to bid farewell to some well used shirts and worn out shoes while filling up my suitcases to return to California.  After sorting through possessions for most of the day I went along to an American friend’s house as he said his good-byes to the English and American friends he had made here, including me.  We celebrated with the best of British foods and some American classics like pineapple upside down cake and my own homemade apple pie. (one of the only things I actually cooked here in the UK!) The weather has turned weirdly warm, adding to the strange unreality of having to leave this sweet part of Yorkshire.  Not that all here is twee and lovely – the Tram Lines music festival this weekend hosted thousands of folks throughout seventy venues around town, and the trash and debris remaining could fill its own major city.  Sheffield is not always a garden spot of loveliness, but it is full of heart and offers big doses of real humanity, and that is what I will miss most.

As I’m reflecting on life in “my” version of England, I’m looking back over seven months of photographs, delighting in the fact that I can share some newly acquired signage with my faithful readers.  At the end of this week I will be taking a taxi to the train to the airport to America, and these reflections I’ve gathered will take on new meaning for me within a different context.  So here for you are the recent acquisitions from my signage collection:

New use for an old icon. Defibrillator!

Everything you’d want at the Market Cafe in Bath.

And even things you don’t want because you don’t know what they are….


At a candy shop: yum?

Don’t worry! Not even tempted!!

This lovely bronze statue erected near-by might not comply with the signage, however.

Soon to say good-bye to you, England.  Cheers!



The Divine Inspiration of Warm Water in a Chilly Country

The Romans had a grand plan for combining spirituality and warm water.


This plan is not what you see when you visit the Roman Baths in the town of Bath Spa, England.  But you can see quite a lot of what has been uncovered in the last century, including structures revealed in just the last few decades.

The warm underground springs here were used by the Celts to honor their god Sulis, and the Romans continued on that theme around 60 AD, creatively naming the town Aquae Sulis, possibly to avoid making expensive changes to the executive stationery.  Equally convenient is the Roman dedication of this watery temple to the goddess Sulis Minerva, continuing on a theme of linking mysterious hot water bubbling up from the innards of the earth and worship of divine deities, with minimal name changes.

What you get now for your 12 pound admission fee are hours of awe as you wander the routes and caverns uncovered by archaeologists over the centuries.  Since swimming is already a pretty compelling draw, I can somewhat understand the link made here to the spiritual.  And a mystic connection seems downright plausible when you visit the baths by torchlight on a mild summer evening.

Spirits of Roman bathers flicker virtually on the walls of the cold plunge pool enclosure.

When I reflect on all the places of divine worship here in England, I can’t help but think how closely physical discomfort links with the experiences.  I shivered at a monastery in Nottingham as a guide explained that the massive archways in the indoor cloister would not have been enclosed.  Walking through minsters and abbeys all over England leaves my feet cold and sore, and no coat ever seems warm enough against the chill of the stone cooled air.

Cold rainy winds blow through countless cemeteries, and tiny churches in the countrysides are damp and properly dank.  Suffering this way would certainly enable any human to feel the martyrdom of worship.  In contrast, the steam rising off the water of the columned classic pools of the baths seems downright hedonistic!  Were the Romans on to a great form of worship, or were they seriously off track with a greedy pursuit of earthly comfort?

This says “enjoyment” to me – not worship, but I’m not Roman.

These men were gossiping, not worshipping.

The eerie mystery of hot water pulsing up through the crust of the earth is certainly magical.  And anyone who has wiled away a pleasant soak in a hot tub can attest that Relaxed and Peaceful are the assured outcomes.

I understand from my audio tour guide, that business was frequently conducted while soaking in the baths, and to me this seems much, much weirder than using it as a place of worship.  Do you think that our modern day salesmen and politicians would be more, or less, effective negotiating power deals in the buff, togas tossed pool side?

It certainly required all my strength to prevent hurling myself headlong into this warm water bubbling quietly by torchlight.  Imagine if it was not only an indulgence, but a shrewd business move to habituate the place for several hours each day?  I might be on the Forbes List of Gazillionares if that were the only qualification for success!


Sacred places everywhere you look in Bath.

So as easy as it seems to be a faithful worshipper when surrounded by the drama, mystery, inspiration, and beauty of this part of England, I wondered why instead so many visitors were drawn to the gift shops and stores lining the city center of Bath?  A strange devotion we modern humans seem to have instead for the acquisition of items, rather than the accumulation of divine awareness.  And that includes me as well.  I must admit that I spent a fair amount of time myself walking the lovely villages of Somerset county in search of the festive bunting with which the entire country displays in giddy celebration of jubilees and sporting events!  I want to keep the party going! Cheers!

Home knitted bunting reflects whimsey at the Fashion Museum in Bath.




Nothing says “party” like bunting flapping in the wind!