Thursday, May 23, 2024

As I was going by The Market Cross : Noviomagus, Chichester,

Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd –
The little dogs under their feet.
               Philip Larkin, “An Arundel Tomb,” 1956

[see my report on the first part—Hammersmith + West Sussex—here]

Tuesday, May 14, 2024: As Christine wandered off for day one of her two-day course at West Dean (where she had schooled nineteen years prior, for the sake of becoming the stunningly talented book and paper conservator she is today), the young ladies and I made for the pub, and for breakfast. Already more than a couple of older locals set in their seats with pints. The night prior, Ruth had dropped us at our hotel, and there was barely time for take-away for dinner before everyone crashed. The young ladies weren't convinced by the pizza, so the pub across the street did seem to have a wider menu, and felt a better option.

“Noviomagus Reginorum was Chichester’s Roman heart,” the internet offers, “very little of which survives above ground.” This was originally a Roman settlement, with apparently little to no evidence of occupation in this particular spot until the Romans came through. Did you know this was a Roman settlement? Despite Rose complaining she would never go to another pub, we had a breakfast they enjoyed (Rose had two rounds of pancakes), before we headed off for adventures.

As we were literally beside the Cathedral, we wandered through, which the young ladies resisted at first, but enjoyed enough they claimed we would be returning. They ended up enjoying the space, which was helped by a small group of musicians practicing for their noon-time concert (the children also took turns taking photos with my phone, although Rose only seems to have taken selfies, her expression with devilish glee as she pretended to take pictures of a variety of exhibits). Chichester Cathedral, where British poet Philip Larkin and Monica Jones visited in January 1956, a visit that prompted his poem “An Arundel Tomb,” a poem included in The Whitsun Weddings (1967), a collection that, curiously (or even, wisely) enough, the bookstore across the road had copies of (Rose insisted we visit the bookstore before heading into the church). Instead, I picked up a copy of Luke Kennard's Notes on the Sonnets (Penned in the Margins, 2021), continuing my tradition of landing in England and purchasing one of his books. Given Rose has been composing poems lately (entirely on her own), I was tempted to prompt the young ladies to write their own response to what Larkin had taken as a poem-prompt, but we didn't quite get there.

As we were looking at this very expansive and stunning painted panel (above) from the early 1500s (apparently one of the first full-length depictions of Henry VIII), a gentleman with a sweater sprinkled with paint sidled up and asked if I was American. Oh, no, I said. Oh, I have a fact that you might have liked, if you were an American. I told him I loved facts (left: Aoife's photo of me listening to this random stranger offer historical facts), so he offered that one of the figures painted in that large wooden panel (one of the circles) was a direct ancestor of Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of American President Abraham Lincoln. In turn, I later offered this fact to one of the Church guides, who didn't know this at all! I left it with her, naturally, to attempt to verify.

The young ladies were quite fascinated by the amount of markers within the church, articulating burial. They couldn't quite believe how many, and that people were stepping on these! Oh, we should get you two to Westminster, I thought, where some 3,000 are buried (I think every single stone is a marker; Chichester Cathedral seems quite sparse in comparison). Aoife took many, many photos of these markers (including this one, above), attempting to wrap her head around the gravesite within the boundaries of the Cathedral building. And then, of course, there was the Roman mosaic discovered a full metre underneath the floor some years back while working routine maintenance to the building. I did ask if the Romans held this space as a religious site, but apparently it was, during that period, the site of a very grand house.

Again, Aoife took photos of the markers and other items (left, above) within the church, and Rose took selfies.

Did you know there is a window in this Cathedral designed by Marc Chagall? Absolutely stunning. Curious, also, to see from the outside, later, once we had returned to the street. The street, were we were briefly distracted by a tow-truck moving to salvage a broken-down bus; Aoife wanted to watch the bus get towed.

From there, we headed to the Novium Museum, Chichester's museum of Roman artifacts and history. The first two floors are Roman history, and the building and exhibit are entirely constructed around Roman ruins found a meter or two under street level, which is pretty cool. Not a large space, it did include a vast array of items discovered in the area, information on history from the origins of the Roman occupation to the present, and costumes to play in and what-not. And bones.

Although I did have to inquire at the front desk as to what "gibbets" were (which is why I snapped this particular photo).

And did you know a local boy made it into the British space program? They do seem pretty proud of him (and rightly so), although odd to see this timeline for him offered in a part of a Roman museum. On her part, Rose was focused on a short video (that she watched in a loop at least three or four times) on a murderous local gang.

I, for one, was delighted by the Roman finds [impressive, albeit less so than the museum we visited in Paris during our honeymoon]. It was exciting to even see a photograph, as part of the Roman timeline of the space, of Time Team legend Phil Harding, my absolute favourite British archaeologist (we all have favourite British archaeologists, don't we?). Oh, to have visited a spot he helped research and reveal! Also, given Rose had begun watching episodes of Time Team with me a couple of years back, it was interesting (and felt important) to provide her with a connection to the site (and it made me wonder if there was even an episode dedicated to uncovering some of this--I have yet to look into this, for the sake of a re-watch).

From there, we headed north a few blocks to the north boundary of the original Roman settlement; a great deal of the Roman walls and gateways still surround the downtown core of Chichester, so we strolled a few blocks' worth east, to see what we could see, and imagine our eyes out across the horizon, attempting to provide protection from the barbarian (local) hordes.

From there, we headed back south, through an array of shops (Rose had been clamouring for some shops for clothing, trinkets, makeup, jewellery, etcetera). Fortunately, we found some charity shops, so their shopping managed some inexpensive clothes, a necklace and ring or two. Aoife managed to find a nice dress. Rose picked up a purse (that promptly broke within a couple of days; we are attempting to fix it). And, after I explained that one particular charity shop was to help animal shelters, Rose promptly donated the 5p she found on the street earlier in the day (naturally, she was offered a receipt for such, which I suggested she keep for her records).

And then back to the pub, for a mid-afternoon lunch (directly across from the Cathedral). Aoife drew, Rose went through her bracelet-making kit, I worked on some postcards. The Dolphin and Anchor. Aoife had a hamburger she actually ate (most restaurants she orders and doesn't finish, because it "tastes weird,"). Rose went through two orders of onion rings. I had a bitter, and made notes.

After an hour or so here, we crashed a bit in the hotel, before heading out again, to meet up with local writers and profs at the local university, Naomi Foyle and Suzanne Joinson. I was startled to discover Foyle a few days prior online, given she is a British-Canadian poet raised in (among other places) Saskatchewan, during the time that her mother, the late writer Brenda Riches, was not only president of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild, but editor of Grain magazine. How had I not heard of her? Apparently we know a ton of folk in common (Regina poet Brenda Niskala, who I toured across Canada with during a five-poet tour in spring 1998, was actually arriving the following day to have lunch with Foyle). Foyle and I traded poetry books (separate to the envelopes of chapbooks I'd brought for them) and apparently Joinson has a new memoir out in September that sounds pretty interesting. They were delightful! And the young ladies had ice cream from the cafeteria, so they were also pleased.

Although I had been nervous about making our scheduled 5pm tea on time, landing at our hotel lobby with kids for a cab at 4:50pm (I had confirmed the idea was solid the night prior with the front desk), only for the cab company to inform it would take an hour for a cab to arrive? God sakes. Fortunately, it only took twelve minutes to get there, and the front desk (upon repeated prompts) finally let me know on my museum-gifted map where the university was. I had been hoping to cab for the sake of both not getting lost, and to not put the kids through such a random walk, but we figured it out.

From tea, we headed back to the pub (underneath the Roman wall, again) for dinner (Aoife had another hamburger; Rose had a pizza she didn't care for). I worked on postcards and a few notes, Aoife worked on a cat-themed Harry Potter adaptation ("The Cat Who Lived") and Rose read from her new Shakespeare book, picked up from the bookstore earlier in the day (not sure if the cover was part of the attraction, although it is a pretty cool cover). We'd been there enough that Aoife was wandering over to the bar to get her own glass of water, which apparently prompted some side-eye from the locals (odd). Christine was still at her course and en route, so we waited, waited and waited, thinking she was going to arrive where we were (clearly a misunderstanding), only to receive a text from her saying she was already up in the room.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024:
Upon waking (Christine up and out before the rest of us had entirely moved) and breakfast (again, at the pub), Rose requested we return to the Cathedral, although it was far emptier than the day prior. Silent, almost. Quite the difference. We wandered through a far emptier space, and the lack of musicians also allowed us to wander up into the front of the church, by the pews. A few corners closed the day prior were also open, and empty. And Rose took her boatload of selfies, entirely pleased and amused by her trickery.

I wouldn't have necessarily made a second trip, but I appreciated the opportunity to catch some of the elements we might have missed, the first time through. Once we'd completed our second round, we made for a different sidestreet for further charity shops, and a handful of items for that evening's two-hour train to return back to London. At least the bookstore, Waterstones, was civilized enough to have a chair for me to sit in while awaiting the wee children in their browsing. Although, I went to their poetry section, having literally visited such the morning prior, and they'd already rearranged elements of the store. I was in here yesterday and you've moved things around? Although I did appreciate that their poetry selection seemed more extensive, or at least easier to navigate. I was tempted by a couple of items, but held fast. The children convinced me to let them purchase a small item or two each.

Lunch, at the pub. They really know their way around here now. Fifth time in two days. They know where the washrooms are, they know where the water is. They have their favourite corner of the pub. The regulars and staff are starting to recognize us. The young ladies have their favourite orders. I order a bitter, naturally. Two women at the next table comment on how well-behaved the young ladies are, something I'm hearing more than a couple of times in our travels. They do travel well, these two.

After lunch, we returned to the Museum as well, as the young ladies requested I pay the extra (the first two floors were gratis, remember) so they could wander the dinosaur exhibit. It was a curious exhibit, and I wasn't sure why they wanted to pay to get into a small dinosaur exhibit, given we live in a city that includes the Canadian Museum of Nature (if you love dinosaur stuff you have to visit). The local element of the museum made it interesting, certainly, and Aoife amused herself with some of the costume options. It was hard to compare this display, for them, given their Museum of Nature experiences, so they were not entirely impressed (hardly fair, I know).

After leaving the museum, we headed on the bus towards West Dean, as Christine wanted us to see the array of extensive gardens there. We said goodbye to the pub (above). We said goodbye to the street (although we'd be returning here to grab bags from the hotel before heading to the train). Consider that while the children and I were two days in this small corner of Chichester (above), this is where Christine was (left).

We took the bus! We did not get lost. Aoife said hello to a chicken (we told her the story of toddler Rose yelling at a chicken in Nova Scotia years back, clearly offended the chicken had not said hello to her [do you remember that trip?]).

It took a while, but we eventually found Christine, and she toured us around the gardens for an hour or so, before we needed to head back to Chichester by bus, grab our bags, walk to the train station and head back to brother-in-law's house in Hammersmith, London. Two hours by train. Curious to see an obituary of Alice Munro in the pub/lounge (not yet open) at West Dean. We wandered the grounds of this magnificent estate (a history worth looking up, honestly). And then back to Hammersmith, and the kids able to play, again, with their cousins. At least for a few minutes, before bedtime.

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