Saturday, 30 March 2019

Rudolph's Cousin

I was going to tell you about a wire bird I made but then when trying explain why on earth I would bother I realised I never told you about Rupert (apologies to Vivien's brother). The WI Federation offered a class in making a willow reindeer back in November and for some reason I bit. I think because of willow being a natural material I didn't feel so bad about using it to craft something useless. Obviously such noble reasoning went out the window concerning the bird, but that's another post.

I took a series of pictures thinking I would remember how to do all this and maybe make some more. That's not going to happen and I'll tell you why later. 

First you have a heavy board with holes at the corners to pack in a bunch of willow sticks. We had to really pack these in so they wouldn't have room to spring back out. The 'ankles' were then secured with plastic cable ties (so much for natural materials).

We were given the technical names for parts of said sticks (but it wasn't called a stick). I remember the thick end is the 'butt' and the skinny end is the 'tip' and there is a name for the bendy bit in the middle, but it's escaped me. That's what comes of writing four months late. It has a natural bend that you have to work with, I remember that much. Also that it has to be kept damp so that it remains flexible.

Then you pull some strands across to form the beginnings of a body. And then make some circles or rings, wrapping the tip around the circle to secure it. Those circles go inside the frame of the body.

Then you make some smaller circles that are put together in such a way as to make a sphere. That forms the basis of the face.

Then you deal with the back end and the chest, just generally filling them in.

I think it was about here that the woman in front of me declared that her hands were swelling and she was having an allergic reaction to the willow. She'd told me earlier she was a bit concerned whether this might happen, as she is allergic to Christmas trees. I was thinking about all the work during the holidays she was able to avoid, unless of course the family agreed to a fake tree; but then one could simply develop an allergy to that. And on this day the instructor kindly came over and finished her reindeer for her. I was rather tired by then and quite envious of this woman's allergy. I was thinking I must remember to get one of those myself. Now, I'm not saying I don't believe people have allergies to things, only that she didn't seem to display any of the usual symptoms and my hands were equally as red as hers.

I can't tell you which end this is - they look remarkably similar so I've not shared the other photo.

Make some triangular shapes for the ears and tail. The left over bits not used for the face or chest become antlers (of a sort - I think you have to use your imagination there).

The most perverse part, I thought, was that you get all this work done and then you have to clip away the front bit of the face (talk about nervous!) in order to stick in a red pine cone for the nose. And of course add the red bow.

The most interesting part of the class, other than the revelation of the construction techniques, was when the instructor was chatting and telling that they had a farm where they grew their own willow - and sheep. It sounded rather idyllic until the reality of all that work dawned on me.

So, Rupert took about four hours to make. He'll not be getting any siblings because this is terrifically hard on the hands, not to mention you can't do this sitting in a comfortable chair. I felt as though the skin had been stripped off, though I had no real injuries to speak of. I did give myself a few stinging slaps in the face with the tips of willow and that wasn't very pleasant either.

He went on display in the front garden as part of the Christmas decorations. We tried to place him so that he was seen by occupants of the house but not necessarily by every passer-by. I expect I was flattering myself about the risk of theft. I wouldn't so much have grieved the loss of Rupert, poor guy, so much as the hard work (and £60) that went into making him. I must remember to 'paint' him with a mixture of linseed oil and turpentine before he goes outside again. 

So, Rupert will have to be an only child. After all, it hasn't done me any harm.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

March Means Daffodils

I've long meant to photograph the long swathes of daffs that appear everywhere in March. I admire them as I drive by, consider whether I have my camera and, if so, whether to pull over...and then I drive on.

Several days this month I managed to go for a walk AND remember my camera, apparently a difficult combination for some reason. 

And so, I give you daffodils:

and my personal favourite, around the corner from us:

You're welcome.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

British Citizenship

On the 13th of February 2019 I attended my citizenship ceremony, the final step in becoming a citizen of Britain.

There were also two new citizens from Bangladesh, one from India and a married couple from Rumania. Bill and I both envied the Rumanians their EU citizenship. That relates to why, after 23 years, I finally decided to apply for British citizenship. 

Between the Brexit vote and the election of Trump as President of the US I felt the world had become a strange place that didn't feel quite so secure. As an alien with 'indefinite leave to remain' - an amusing British phrase, it began to feel too...indefinite. 

The wooden thing on the table is a holder for the Mace.

I had looked into citizenship years before but, other than the vote and right to live and work in Europe, I didn't see much gain. I already could leave Britain for up to two years and still return, but not for more than two years, and that condition remains even with naturalised citizenship. We talked about living the US at one point but health insurance costs changed our minds. It's cheaper to just visit for a month every few years. So becoming a dual citizen became more attractive, giving me that vote. 

Of course Brexit continues to stumble along towards who knows what end. I told Bill getting my citizenship at this point feels like running to catch the Titanic.

It took me about a year to complete the process, no doubt someone could do it much faster. Surprisingly it cost more than twice that of obtaining US citizenship. One of Bill's Asian friends hearing my plans, sent the name of a solicitor (lawyer) who specialises in this sort of thing. I wasn't excited about paying the legal fee in addition, given I'd be doing the work. Besides, it all seemed mostly straight-forward and do-able on my own. 

The first step was to buy a book about 'Life in the UK' to study (£11.95). It was so 'rah-rah, Britain is great' I couldn't believe if was written by an actual Brit. Nor could I believe I needed to know about the popular culture and sports heroes as well as the usual government and history questions. I did like that it spelled out my responsibility to look out for myself, my family and my environment. 

No English proficiency exam was required of me, but I did have to pass a citizenship test based on the book. I found this very helpful website for study and took the exams and tests there repeatedly. I copied any questions (with their answers) I wasn't sure of into a document that I studied in between taking the tests. When I could get at least 90% pass rate on all of these tests I booked my citizenship exam. 

This part didn't go smoothly because the private company that had the contract for administering these tests was moving offices and was appallingly bad at communicating with clients but at least efficient in refunding money. The first test was cancelled 30 minutes before it was to be held in a building with only construction workers removing rubble. They kindly directed me and an also anxious young man to another building, this one with an accessible receptionist - for an unrelated company. She informed us that people had shown up for the past few weeks for tests cancelled without notice. One poor woman came up from London for nothing. The receptionist kindly gave us a phone number from the internet, which of course was answered with a recording. I went home and drafted a letter to the Member of Parliament for our area and rescheduled the test for a couple of weeks later.

The second test was at least cancelled a few days before the exam and with that email I found a live person to check with about booking future tests. I sat the exam on the third attempt. The actual test took about ten minutes to answer 24 questions. It cost £50 (when booking, not refundable if you fail.)

Next, I had to complete a 31-page application, get two references to complete portions of the form and have a proper passport photo taken (£20). The application asked for ancient history: the names, dates and places of birth for each of my husbands and for my parents. It also required provision of documents: birth, marriage and divorce records, not to mention the pass certificate for the exam. Fortunately I already had all those. The other fun part was digging out information about where I had travelled in the past three years. Had I not been married to a British citizen that period would have been five years. As it was I used Bill's emails, my diaries and this blog to compile a list of travel locations for the required time period to show I met the residence requirements for application.

The local authority in Newcastle runs a 'National Checking Service' which allows one to submit documents and have them photocopied and certified, to send with application rather than sending off originals. This service costs £80. The application fee was £1,330. 

Soon after officialdom received the application I was sent for biometric testing (£20). That was a bit fraught as the website gave different information than the checking service about which Post Office I should attend in South Shields, across the river. Bill kindly drove me down, which resulted in a traffic ticket for using a bus lane. Not even he could figure out how to navigate in South Shields without breaking the rules. I don't count his £30 ticket as part of my citizenship expenses, though it just goes to show there are many obstacles to overcome!

I went to one place only to find it shut. A bit perplexed but not out of ideas, I asked a lady where the other Post Office was and she directed me around the corner. Sadly when I arrived their machine wasn't working. There were a number of other applicants on the same mission though they hadn't the benefit of English as their first language nor, I would guess, two decades of experience in Britain. One large man was being lectured by a stern woman in a suit that he could not threaten their staff and it wasn't their fault the machine was malfunctioning. He did seem quite agitated and I couldn't blame him, though I gather he had left things to the last minute, thus adding to his own stress. I wanted to assure him it wasn't at all personal - Britain does this malfunctioning thing to everyone including its own native born. I think it, in addition to the practice of queuing, accounts for the level of national stoicism.

The lady behind the counter said I had the choice to wait for the computer guy to come or to go down to Sunderland. I chose the latter. It was in trying to reconnect with Bill that I realised I'd never yet answered my mobile phone in the years  I've grudgingly carried it. I've only ever texted a few times so  Bill and I had several failed attempts nearly worthy of a digital age slapstick before I managed to find him and the car. 

It all went swimmingly in Sunderland: I made Bill park in a car park and walk the pedestrianised street with me to the Post Office and their machine worked fine. After a short wait I entered a booth where I had a facial scan and my fingerprints taken, a rather surreal experience. After that it was just a matter of waiting from three to six months for the official verdict. 

When I got the acceptance letter I had to phone my local authority, this time North Tyneside, to book into a citizenship ceremony - that was free. 

A drawing of the Registry Office that hangs in the lobby. I'm rather sentimental about the place.

The ceremony took place at the North Shields Register office where Bill and I got married eight years ago. I wore the same dress and shoes. It did sort of feel like getting married again, pledging allegiance to the Queen and to the laws of the the United Kingdom. The latter was second nature, I would live by those laws anyhow, but the Queen? Well, I think of her as a symbol and perhaps a wise little old lady. I've been fascinated with her family since I was twelve years old and in any case there wasn't a republican oath on offer, only the choice to 'swear by almighty God' or to 'affirm'. 

The ceremony began with a few tunes on the Northumbrian bagpipes. He didn't wear a kilt, just a shirt and trousers but with a large scarf, perhaps called a plaid, I'm not sure. I recognised the Northumbrian tartan, a black and white check. This was historically quite fitting as we were part of Northumberland until 45 years ago. I noticed piper's cuff links were buttons covered in the same tartan.

The mistress of ceremony was a deputy registrar I'd spoken with on the phone. A registrar's job is sort of a records manager: births, deaths, marriages...and citizenship.  There were also two official gentlemen who gave fairly similar speeches: the Chairman of the North Tyneside Council and a Deputy Lord Lieutenant (pronounced lef-tenant, you know) - sort of a deputy deputy as it were (as in lieu).

The Chairman of the Council, Tommy Mulvenna, was wearing his Chain of Office and was accompanied by a mace-bearer (also a casual civic driver, according to the job advert) who was...carrying a mace. We examined this interesting object later and found the emblem of the Tynemouth Borough Council, one of four and a bit councils amalgamated to form North Tyneside. According to this website about a film made by a local school in 1950:

  The Mace which is now recognised as a symbol of Royal Authority and Civic dignity, was originally a weapon of offence, capable of breaking through the strongest armour. It was carried into battle by Mediaeval Bishops instead of the sword.

The Deputy Lord Lieutenant was there as a representative of the Queen herself. I didn't catch his name but he kindly came up for a chat when the ceremony was over, explaining that we were 'nearly neighbours'. That gave me pause that he knew the name of my street but then I realised that the Queen's representative probably got to see my paperwork. 

The Queen, probably in about 1995, the year I came to Britain.

I asked the Leader of the Council what I might read to help me choose a political party and make an informed vote in May's local elections. Funny enough, he said it was 'all down to how you feel' and didn't recommend any study at all. He said he was once a Lib Dem (Liberal Democrat) but now was with the Labour party and suspected his wife of being a Conservative. I think he was serious, but I'm not positive. 

The speeches themselves were pretty interesting. They touched on the need for us to abide by the laws of the United Kingdom but mostly seemed to welcome our different contributions to the diversity of Britain. 

After the speeches and the pledges came the dirge-iest (that surely should be a word) version of a national anthem I've ever heard. I knew the words from my study. They are fairly amusing in a way. Think My Country Tis of Thee and sing along if you like: 

God save our gracious Queen, Long live our noble Queen, God save the Queen. Send her victorious, happy and glorious, Long to reign over us, God save the Queen. 

It implies that so long as the Queen is happy, it's all good, but then she is a symbol of the country, right? Like I said, the words were no problem but it was s-o  s-l-o-o-o-o-w, when I wanted something a bit more upbeat to fit the cheerful occasion. Never mind.

After all that we had our photos. Shame the Queen got cut out, the photographer doesn't seem to have planned well, though it wasn't his fault the curtains wouldn't shut and the room was set up wrong for photos. Still, I'm content - it was free!

Then we all gathered for a nice cup of tea and a biscuit or a bit of cake. I went around to each of my new fellow citizens to shake their hands and congratulate them - very American of me, I know. They were all pretty pleased with themselves just as I was, and shook my hand, smiling. Except for the Rumanian man. He bowed and kissed my hand instead. 

I do wish Britain could stay in the EU.

We had a G&T at the Grand Hotel before going home to change and attend the Tynemouth Historical Society meeting.

Saturday, 2 March 2019

Alnmouth - Part II

So, we went for a walk on the beach. I was surprised at the view at the bottom of the street. I guess I just hadn't looked in that direction.

There were a number of interesting things to look at on our walk. For one I saw the other side of some of the houses I'd been admiring. It seemed we actually came out on the River Aln estuary at low tide. Then we turned and walked north along the sea front. This was familiar territory owing to a number of days out either having done or not done the Coastal race. (I recommend not unless you are extremely fit, and maybe not even then). 

I don't think I'd ever wandered south to the river, being keen to get changed, fed and head to the pub. Bill teased me it was the first time I'd seen Alnmouth village sober but to be fair there really wasn't anything else to do, everything being closed on Sunday the day of the race. And we always took the bus so you had to stick with the crowd so as not to miss the bus back home. That's my side of the story anyhow. 

Pardon me while I reminisce...

I still remember I'd only been in the running club a few days (this is 22 years ago) when I was offered this day out. I rode up to Beadnall on the bus sitting next to a woman who never stopped talking the whole way. It certainly passed the time, listening to her. Noreen has written plays since that day that are performed in theatres all around this area. I wouldn't have predicted that at the time, but I did appreciate her friendliness. I only had the barest of acquaintance with a few of the people on that bus. The whole 'friendliness' thing is one of the ways in which I tend to compare Newcastle with Oklahoma: coal mining history, folks pass through on their way to somewhere else, people are really friendly.

A nice young guy spent time walking on the beach with me, Dave, who happened to work in the lab next to my office, as we waited for the runners to finish so we could get on with the social part. He was injured and so not running. Bill and I eventually went to Dave's wedding and helped him move into their new house. He gave us a wardrobe he no longer wanted, which is still in use today. Dave and Ruth's kids are teenagers now and he still runs.

Anyhow, on this day in February of this year I saw a large cross on a hill across the river. I had no idea what it was, nor did Bill. Turns out it is St. Cuthbert's cross (a replica, not the original) and this is said to be the location where Cuthbert agreed to become Bishop of Lindisfarne when petitioned by the king, that would have been Edwin of Northumbria. Note to self: must go back to Holy Island one's only about 1 1/2 hours away after all.

Now, I must admit that I'd never heard of Cuthbert or Lindisfarne before I came to live in the North of England, but I had heard of the Book of Kells. If you've never heard of Lindisfarne but you have heard of the Book of Kells, then I would invite you take a moment to enjoy the Lindisfarne Gospels. These books are old. I've been fortunate enough to see the Book of Kells in Dublin at Trinity College - it is gorgeous. I read that the Gospels are at the British Library in London. I think I'd rather go up to Holy Island, actually.

Annoying spot on my camera lens, only comes up now and then. V. annoying that.

What else did I see? That upstairs conservatory that I admired from our window was pretty funny from the other direction. It would appear that it directly overlooks the chimney of the house just behind. Such is life at the sea front, I suppose.

I really do love moss. If you'd grown up in a place where everything goes brown and crackly in summertime you'd understand why.

We had a spectacular day for beach walking. I found quite a bit of large lumps of sea coal. I just finished one in the series of Shipyard Girls novels (which I recommend) and one of the characters talks about collecting sea coal as a child. It is a poorer quality, being soaked with sea water, and I gather it 'spits' a lot.

Then we turned off the beach and walked into the village, which had some things open for a change! One of the big houses on front street had an interesting collection in their front garden. I still haven't figured out what all that stuff is, never mind why.

I had seen the church steeple from our window and wondered about what looked like pigeon holes on it. I asked Bill and he said it was actually to allow people to hear the bells chiming. Well, of course.

We stopped by the house to pick up some food for the bairn (well, he's Scottish even if I'm not) before going to the Tea Cozy Cafe. While we were waiting, I took a photo of some moss on the wall (see above). 

There was something rather perfect in their presentation.

In spite of the rather twee name the food was quite good (I had a salad with too much goat's cheese; I didn't know that was possible) and Bill let me have a bit of his dessert. He used to hate sharing at all and I must say his training is coming along nicely. I only ever want a bite of anything sweet.

After this we went back to the house, packed up and came home. I had an important event to get ready for!