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Monday, August 12, 2019

Arthur Conan Doyle and Downton Abbey at Baconthorpe Castle Part 2

Although William Baxton, the first member of the Heydon clan, built the Inner Gatehouse in 1460, it was Sir Henry Heydon (William Baxton's grandson) who constructed the rest of the castle inside the courtyard, either during or after the War of the Roses finished. There, they would have lived comfortable lives, their needs attended by servants a la Downton Abbey. His son, John Heydon II, also constructed a wool processing factory along the inner courtyard wall, the ruins of which you can see behind me. By his Sir Christopher Heydon I's time, the family owned 20,000 to 30,000 sheep, and their ability to produce finished cloth allowed them to live in truly grand style, perhaps even better than the Crawley Family in Downton Abbey. For then, in the mid sixteenth century, they employed around 80 servants, and enjoyed a lavish lifestyle.

Unfortunately, as in Downton Abbey, Sir Christopher Heydon I found that his spending outstripped his earnings, and his son was forced to sell off part of the estate and mortgage the rest of the property. 

When I read The White Company by Arthur Conan Doyle, I couldn't understand why Sir Nigel Loring left his castle in England to find glory in France. Recently, I've been reading about the 100 Years War, and how France was less a country back then than a series of adjacent territories overseen by various rulers. The novel is set in 1366 and 1367, when England saw itself as owning much of France back then. So Sir Nigel's decision to lead a company of knights through land of contested ownership, and perhaps in some way increase England's sovereignty, makes sense. 

There was also an economic benefit to the 100 Years War which Arthur Conan Doyle doesn't cover. One region ruled by French rulers was Flanders, which is now a county in Belgium. Flanders was where the medieval world sent its wool to be transformed into finished cloth. The leaders of the wool trade in Flanders appealed to Edward III to help protect their businesses, which were necessary to UK international trade. 

Still, British rulers were too far away to protect Flemish weavers, so they began emigrating to England. Remember, Sir John Heydon II built the wool processing factory, and his first spinners and weavers likely hailed from Flanders. The fact that he owned 20,000 to 30,000 sheep, and operated the wool processing center too, gives you an idea of how powerful he was, and how he could afford such a lavish lifestyle.

Unlike the Crawley family in Downton Abbey, Sir Christopher and his successors couldn't control their spending. So increasingly, servants were dismissed, lands were sold, buildings were mortgaged, or even dismantled and the stone sold by the cartload.

People no longer live year round at Baconthorpe Castle. But visitors come to see the ruins of a castle that lasted from the tail end of the 100 Years War, through the War of the Roses, the British religious reforms of Henry VIII and his successors, and the English Civil War. While we were there, a swan couple found the mere a pleasant place to birth their children. So perhaps successive generations of swans will call Baconthorpe Castle home. Let's hope they prove wise managers of the estate, and refrain from warring with their avian neighbors.

Dragon Dave

Related Links
Baconthorpe Castle at English Heritage
Wool Trade at Historic UK

Monday, July 29, 2019

Arthur Conan Doyle and Downton Abbey at Baconthorpe Castle Part 1

The first thing that greets you at Baconthorpe Castle is the outer gatehouse, which was built around 1560 by Sir Christopher Heydon I. His lordship of the castle seems to coincide with the high point of the Heydon family. Like the Crawley family in the TV series Downton Abbey, the Heydon family by this time had a large manor house inside the inner castle courtyard, and employed around 80 servants.

At first glance, Sir Christopher Heydon I (1518-1579) seems to have benefitted from a period of relative peace in England, falling between the War of the Roses in the 15th Century and the English Civil War in the 17th Century. But then you have to remember that Henry VIII ruled England during the first half of the 16th Century. His government could have been described as anything but placid.

By 1560, when the outer gatehouse was finished, English Christians had been rocked by the formation of the Church of England and the Dissolution of the Monasteries, ultra-progressive protestant rule of Henry's son Edward, and the ultra-Catholic rule of his daughter Mary. No wonder Sir Christopher decided he needed an outer gatehouse, as well as a larger defensive wall to surround the property. 

Oh, and he also decided to crenellate the buildings and walls around this period too, which would give his guards and soldiers better defensive positions.

The stretch of land between the outer and inner gatehouse gives you some scope of what was essentially a manor house and surrounding lands. The area off to the right would have been a large formal garden, completed by Christopher Heydon II (1561-1623). He was a solder, as well as a Member of Parliament and a writer of astrology books. 

The second Christopher's militaristic nature got him into trouble in 1601 when he took part in the Essex Rebellion against Queen Elizabeth I. Unlike the 100 Years War, and the War of the Roses, the Essex Rebellion was a comparatively small affair of short duration. Nevertheless, he fought on the wrong side, against Elizabeth, and ended up being fined and sent to prison.

Still, even if his warring nature got the better of him, and he proved an unwise estate manager, at least he appreciated the beauty of nature, as he built a mere as well as the formal gardens.

A moat surrounds the castle. You have to walk across what was once a drawbridge, and is now a permanent walking bridge, to access the inner gatehouse and castle interior. The Inner Gatehouse was built by the founding member of the family castle, built by William Baxton around 1460. 

At first, you might ask why he built such defenses, as this would have been just after the 100 Years War, which lasted from 1337 to 1453. But then you have to remember that the War of the Roses, which lasted from 1455 to 1485, had already begun. Anyone who had significant assets back then, and wanted to protect their family back then, would have owned a defensible manor or castle like Sir Nigel Loring in Arthur Conan Doyle's novel The White Company

Although William died rich, and got the castle off to a good start, his son changed the family name to Heydon, as William was a self-made man. Perhaps patrons like William de la Pole, the Duke of Suffolk and a prominent military leader in the 100 Years War, disliked the Baxton name. Or perhaps, John felt that Heydon sounded more prestigious than Baxton in the fifteenth century. 

After all, young immigrant Bedrich Polouvicka changed his name to Richard DeVere in the sitcom To The Manor Born, and went on to found a popular UK chain of supermarkets. And the Heydon family would go on to become major players in the wool trade, which was one of England's major industries in medieval times.

Dragon Dave 

Monday, July 1, 2019

Review: Spine of the Dragon by Kevin J. Anderson Part 3

St. Edmundsbury Cathedral
Bury St. Edmunds, England

The Science Fiction and Fantasy genres have always had an uneasy relationship with religion. Usually, if religion is mentioned, it is portrayed in a negative context, as in Kevin J. Anderson’s early novel Resurrection, Inc. Some of this can readily be explained by the sad fact that the proponents of religion and science so often feel opposed to each other. As for the Fantasy field, if novels revolve around gods, usually the author pits the mortal characters against these divine beings. While this approach stacks the odds against our protagonists, it does nothing to enhance a reader’s spiritual life.

In Kevin J. Anderson’s novel Spine of the Dragon, Key Priestlord Klovus glories in destruction, and yearns to impose his will over the entire world. He nurtures his godlings not only on small amounts of worshippers’ blood, but also drains all blood from wounded sailors and prisoners of war before casting their corpses aside. His assassins brutally kill one another as part of their regimen, so Klovus will always have the very best murderers at his beck and call. And he does other things, too despicable to mention in this review. Despite Anderson’s strong portrayal of villainy—or perhaps because of it--the character never spoke to me. But Klovus is just one among a host of fully rounded characters that won me over with their passions, their bravery, and their all-too-Human foibles.

With such a strikingly negative portrayal of religion, it would have been nice to see a more beneficial one practiced in the Commonwealth. Still, Anderson throws out an interesting theological construct here. Unlike the Wreths, who were created by a god, the Humans were fashioned out of magic by the Wreths. Thus, like the featureless simpleminded drones that now serve the Wreths, the Humans have no souls, and only what they do in this life matters.

Perhaps it is unfair to suggest that the Isharan religion is entirely negative. For when Queen Iluris tours her districts in search of a potential successor, she discovers that all priests do not share Klovus’ lust for power and death. A few call upon their godling only after they have exhausted every other resource, and then only for protection and healing. Perhaps it is too much to hope that Klovus might learn from their example, and become a more sympathetic character in future volumes. But sometimes the blackest villains end up surprising you.

Kevin J. Anderson may yet reveal more aspects of Priestlord Klovus, or his everyday life, that will help his features stand out amid the darkness. For example, Kevin and his wife have several cats. Klovus could adopt a white, longhaired cat, and stroke it in key scenes like another classic villain. 

Tamworth Castle Gardens
Tamworth, England

As flowers usually grace our sanctuaries, and gardens often beautify church grounds, Priestlord Klovus could take up gardening. With the way he can channel magic, and the aid of his Godling, it would be interesting to see what types of flowers Klovis could grow in the magic-infused Isharan soil. After all, he would like to marry Queen Iluris, who has a beautiful garden on the palace grounds. Perhaps planting and nurturing a garden would be the way to win her heart?

You can never know how the next volume of a Kevin J. Anderson series will go. As a longtime reader of his novels, he surprised me with the level of originality he built into Spine of the Dragon. While charting the rising tensions between Ishara and the Commonwealth, as well as between the Humans and the Wreths, perhaps Kevin will devote a little time to showing a softer side to Priestlord Klovus. I look forward to seeing how Klovus, and Anderson’s depiction of religion and theology, grow and evolve over the course of the series.

In the meantime, perhaps I should devote a little more attention to my own garden. Even unaided by magic, I’m sure if I worked harder, I could make it more productive and beautiful. In this way, I could enhance my house and my life, while also blessing the lives of those around me.

St Edmundsbury Cathedral
Bury St. Edmunds, England

As for the whole cat thing, well, I think I’ll leave that to Kevin and his wife.

Dragon Dave

Monday, June 17, 2019

Review: Spine of the Dragon by Kevin J. Anderson Part 2

A Utauk camp

In Kevin J. Anderson’s novel Spine of the Dragon, the mainland is controlled by the Commonwealth, which is made up of three separate kingdoms. But more people inhabit the Commonwealth than just the citizens of Norterra, Suderra, and Osterra. Two groups in particular live within Commonwealth borders, but outside Konag Conndur’s control.

First there are the Bravas, who send their members to protect civic and business leaders. Bravas can channel magic via their mixed Human and Wreth bloodline. They utilize this magic to protect those they serve. But this power comes with a price. Each Brava lives by a strict code. Fall short of it, and not only does the Brava community cast you out, but they strip you of your ability to ever wield power again.

The Utauks, a nomadic people who live within and yet apart from the Commonwealth, support their communities by facilitating trade between the Commonwealth and the island kingdom of Ishara. As with the Brava, the inner workings of their communities largely remain a mystery to outsiders.

Yet their members also lay claim to their own forms of magic. One kind is the heartlink that reptilian birds called Skas can form with Utauk women. King Adan Starfall is aware of this, as his wife Penda has a Ska named Xar. Another is the way they can usually channel the unpredictable rules of chance to their own ends. But there are other mysteries, deeper magics and sources of strength, which the Utauks hide from outsiders.

After the Sandwreths return, his wife Queen Penda and his father-in-law Hale Orr agree that the stakes are sufficiently high to share this treasured lore with King Adan Starfall. They take him on a long journey, until they reach a Utauk camp in a verdant valley. There they introduce him to Shella din Orr, Penda’s great-grandmother. Aware of the threat posed by the return of the Wreths, she reveals vast resources of knowledge, and shows Adan ways by which the Utauks serve as stewards of the land and its peoples. Exactly how he can use that knowledge to protect his kingdom against the Wreths, and rely on those who have always remained apart from the Commonwealth, is a mystery he will have to discover on his own.

Utauk Matriarch
Shella din Orr

Each new book carries with it shades and flavors of every book the author has previously written. In Spine of the Dragon, an obvious source of comparison is the Fremen people, desert nomads originally created by Frank Herbert, that Kevin and Frank Herbert’s son Brian have utilized in their Dune novels. Both the Brava and the Utauk bear similarities to the Fremen. Yet due to the way Kevin builds up these two communities, they form their own unique cultural identities.

In addition to inviting comparison with the author's previous novels, each new book carries with it points of comparison with every book other authors have written. In Spine of the Dragon we meet two Utauk women, Queen Penda and the orphan Glik. Both have formed a Heartlink with flying reptilian creatures called Skas. In Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos series, a few people are fortunately to have formed a psychic link with reptilian birds called Jheregs. Vlad and his Jhereg-friend Loiosh converse psychically, and each knows he can rely on the other.

While the Skas in Spine of the Dragon form an emotional bond with their Human companions, the ways they interact with each other are different from that of Vlad and Loiosh. Instead of humorous banter, the Skas communicate visually with their Human counterparts. Utauk women like Penda and Glik can see through the Ska’s eyes. They also see visions in a way reminiscent of legendary Greek oracles.

In Spine of the Dragon, Kevin J. Anderson has introduced us to the Commonwealth and Ishara, two communities we can readily understand. He has also crafted two more mysterious communities, the Bravas and the Utauks. He has summoned up each community with all the magic of a seasoned author, and left me wanting to know more about these two, unique peoples. I can only hope that this level of character development and worldbuilding carries over into subsequent installments of his Wake The Dragon series.

Dragon Dave

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Review: Spine of the Dragon by Kevin J. Anderson Part 1

From memorable characters to mythical creatures, from epic adventures to world-threatening wars, High Fantasy stories have long stirred readers’ souls with the romance of a forgotten age. Kevin J. Anderson is a respected and beloved writer of the genre, with roughly 160 titles to his credit. His latest novel, Spine of the Dragon, promises to delight existing fans, while winning over those who hold J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Jordan, and George R. R. Martin in high regard.

The novel begins with a kingdom in crisis. King Adan Starfall of Suderra races from Bannriya Castle, and rides through the streets of his capital city, to prepare his citizens for an approaching sandstorm. Beside him rides his wife Penda, a member of nomadic Utauk peoples. After helping their subjects seek shelter, the royal couple race back to their castle. The storm howls and beats at the castle walls, tears aside shutters, and breaks windows. Aided by the servants and his father-in-law Hale Orr, Adan manages to keep the windblown sand from invading his castle.

When the storm passes, Sandwreths arrive outside the city gates. Although their crumbling statues remain in Bannriya, this ancient race has not been seen for two thousand years. Some consider the Wreths little more than the creations of storytellers, invented to explain the prehistory of the Commonwealth. 

But as their Queen Voo walks through Bannriya, and banishes the sand clogging the city’s streets with a wave of her hand, King Adan Starfall realizes that Humanity’s former rulers have returned.

Adan’s father Conndur, king of Osterra--and overall leader, or Konag, of the Commonwealth--faces more pressing concerns, when Isharan warships attack his coastal town of Mirrabay. Conndur sends his Brava Utho to mount a defense. With the magic fire a Brava can summon, Utho rallies the townspeople. But they can do little to fend off the ravages of the godling, a primal force born of Isharan beliefs, the magic that suffuses the Isharan land, and the hatred of their priests for the Commonwealth.

Like his brother Conndur, and his nephew Adan, King Kollanan of Norterra, the final member state of the Commonwealth, faces a new and unexpected threat. A relaxed and solitary journey to visit his daughter’s family ends in a confrontation with powerful beings who have frozen the town before its people could flee. Kollanan survives the encounter, and races back to Fellstaff castle. The Frostwreths have returned!

Aside from mourning their lost family members, as well as the other slain townspeople, Adan and Kollanan fear a resumption of the Wreth wars. Commonwealth lands may not compare with the rich magic teeming in Isharan soil, capable of summoning the awesome energies of the godlings. But at least the soil of Osterra, Suderra, and Norterra can grow plants again, and Commonwealth citizens live more than a hand-to-mouth existence. Sadly, the same cannot be said of the Furnace, a wasteland filled with deserts, valleys cluttered with rocks so slick and sharp that a slip-and-fall means death, mystical Wreth ruins, and soil still lifeless after two millennia of rest.

Konag Conndur hasn’t seen the Wreths. Although he holds his son and brother in high regard, Adan and Kollanan’s stories seem too fantastic to be believed. Besides, he’s got the brutal assaults from Ishara to worry about. His Brava Utho likewise puts little stock in the other kings’ reports. This seems strange, as Bravas can summon magical fire due to their Wreth-and-Human heritage. But then, Utho burns with anger at how the Isharans killed his family in an earlier attack on Mirrabay, during the last war between Ishara and the Commonwealth. Nor can he forget how the Isharans nearly exterminated his halfbreed race. 

All told, it's a powerhouse opening from a masterclass writer. (And it only gets better from here, folks).

Dragon Dave

Spine of the Dragon, the first volume in the Wake The Dragon series, goes on sale today. Secure a copy quickly, before they all sell out!

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Kevin J. Anderson and Wells England

Wells was the last place we visited in our tour of Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall in 2015. It remains a highlight not just of that trip, but of all our visits to England. It's a picturesque town that frequently plays host to moviemakers. 

While we were there, big moving trucks were parked around Wells Cathedral. We soon learned they were filming "The Huntsman" starring Chris Helmsworth, who plays Thor in the Marvel movies. However, as it was either raining, or threatening rain during the two days we were there, no filming took place for us to watch. So we resigned ourselves to exploring the cathedral, and when it wasn't raining too hard, the surrounding town as well.

The way the grand cathedral dominates the quaint English town of Wells came to mind as I read my review copy of Kevin J. Anderson's upcoming novel Spine of the Dragon. When Empra Iluris looks out from her castle in Serepol, she finds it hard not to notice the temple complex. The Isharan temple Magnifica dominates her capital, yet the priesthood wants to make it many times larger. 

After the war between the ancient Wreth factions devastated their homeland, her ancestors sailed to Ishara. Unlike their former home, this new land holds magic. The priests bind this magic with the beliefs, emotions, and sacrifices of the common people to create Godlings, creatures they can wield as weapons of mass destruction.

Like the Wreth, the Isharans once warred with those in the lands they left behind. Since she took power, the country has enjoyed decades of peace. Yet the priesthood wishes to change that. 

Iluris learns too late that Priestlord Klovis has commandeered her naval ships and personnel to mount a raid that could reignite the flames of war. She's desperate to keep that from happening, but she knows that will be difficult. Aided by a capable crew, and an immensely powerful Godling, his raid will almost certainly be successful. So she has to find a way of controlling Klovis, while not angering the populace who believe so strongly in the Isharan priesthood.

I imagine her capital city looks much like present day Wells. I'm sure Serepol has its fair share of businesses and residential districts. I wonder: if I visited the temple Magnifica complex, would the surrounding city look as stately as this?

That's what Iluris wants to preserve, after all. She doesn't want to see her beautiful city destroyed, or her people killed. Of course, she's also fighting to preserve not just Serepol, but her entire nation. 

Like all those in power, Iluris must temper every action she believes is right by how it will affect her populace. She cannot sanction the priesthood directly, even if she believes they are wrong. So she decides upon a course of action she believes will be popular with her citizens. 

She orders her guards to confiscate the building materials the priesthood has been stockpiling to enlarge the Temple Magnifica, and distribute them to crews repairing streets, schools, and other important buildings. Iluris hopes this will be enough to curb the ambitions of the priests who wish to grow even more powerful Godlings, and drive her country to war. 

Wells Cathedral is famous for its distinctive scissor arches. I enjoying sitting in their sanctuary the morning before we left, and listening to a visiting choir sing. Not only did it get me out of the rain, but it allowed me to relax and sketch the interior during my waning hours in Wells. 

It'd be interesting to visit Serepol's Temple Magnifica, and see how their Godling inhabits that impressive structure. I'm not sure I'd be at ease in the presence of a primordial being capable of rampaging through a town and killing hundreds or even thousands of people. I doubt I'd be able to sit down and relax while I sketched the Magnifica's interior. 

But then, Priestlord Klovis is thrilled with his Godling, so I could be wrong.

Dragon Dave

Spine of the Dragon, the first in the Wake The Dragon series by Kevin J. Anderson, is due to be released June 4, 2019. You can purchase it before it's published, at a substantial discount, at Amazon and other online booksellers. 

Monday, April 29, 2019

Kevin J. Anderson and E. F. Benson in Rye England

In his forthcoming novel, The Spine of the Dragon, Kevin J. Anderson introduces us to young Adan Starfall. He's the king of Suderra, one of three countries that make up the Commonwealth. He lives in Bannriya Castle, which sits atop the hill overlooking the capital city of Bannriya. Adan's mind is troubled, for a sandstorm is approaching. He watches as shopkeepers close their shops, and residents prepare their homes for what could prove a particularly violent storm.

Kevin J. Anderson's description of the Bannriya Castle initially reminded me of one described in the novel Eragon by Christopher Paolini. Not only are both High Fantasy novels, but both reference a dragon in the title. In fact, Kevin's novel is the first in a series called Wake The Dragon, so dragon-lovers have a lot to look forward to. 

As for Bannriya Castle, and how it is situated in the town, I realized it reminded me of another town I had visited. Although the remains of a castle lie on the marshland along the coast, the English town of Rye sits of a hill, and another castle sits atop the hill. Just like Bannira, Rye is rich in history. In its time, it was a center for fishing in England. Even people in faraway London depended on Rye for the Cod and other seafood the ships regularly brought into harbor. 

Unlike Bannriya, Rye doesn't sit on the edge of a vast desert, so thankfully, it's unlikely to suffer from sandstorms any time soon.

As a cowriter of the popular Dune novels with Brian Herbert, sandstorms are something Kevin J. Anderson is familiar with. We follow Adan as he hunkers down inside his castle to wait through the storm. Adan's father-in-law is a former desert nomad, so he knows how to fortify the windows and doors against the windblown sand. Nonetheless, one little diamond-shaped pane in a window breaks, and the storm rushes in. Everyone rushes to help, as that broken window could allow the storm's violence to sweep through the entire castle.

It's always interesting to me to think of England's rich history. It's a country that measures time in thousands of years, as opposed to hundreds. Like England, Suderra's history goes back millennia. Once, a race called the Wreth devastated Commonwealth lands with their wars. They created Humans to be their slaves, then disappeared over two thousand years ago. 

After the sandstorm, a party of travelers arrives outside the city gates. King Adan rides down to meet them. To his astonishment, he discovers that they are Wreth.

I felt for Adan as he met these god-like beings. With their vast powers, Adan suspects he could not stop them if they stormed his city. Although they've ridden across the desert, they are not covered in sand. In fact, it appears they summoned the storm. When they ask to enter his city, as they wish to converse with him, how can he refuse them?

I imagined the Wreth walking up the narrow streets of Bannriya, heading toward Adan's castle. I felt his wonder and fear as the Wreth summoned controlled bursts of wind that blew the streets free of sand as they walked. For I too walked those streets, up and down the hill, many times during the weekend I stayed in Rye. Only for me, the town was imbued with magic even more powerful than that of the Wreth. 

One of my all-time favorite authors lived in Rye. His name is E. F. Benson, and he set four novels in his Mapp And Lucia series there. Through those novels, I came to love Rye as much as E. F. Benson did. I guess that's why Rye came to mind when I started reading Kevin J. Anderson's new novel Spine of the Dragon. Rye is a great little town on the south coast of England, and fills up with visitors every weekend. Even if few people today have heard of E. F. Benson, the author's power, like that of the Wreth in Bannriya, remains in Rye.

I can't wait to delve further into Kevin J. Anderson's new novel, and see what other associations it brings to mind. 

Dragon Dave

Spine of the Dragon, by Kevin J. Anderson, will be available for purchase on June 4, 2019.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Lady Jane Felsham's House

Lovejoy wasn't like Agatha Christie's Poirot or Sherlock Holmes, even if the A&E channel in America played all three TV series in the early 1990s. Lovejoy primarily investigated antiques: where they came from, who had made them, and why people wanted to buy or sell them. His love for these authentic artistic creations of the past often clashed with his ability to operate a profitable business. Unlike Poirot or Holmes, Lovejoy was a slippery character, a lovable rogue. Hard to define but easy to like. Impossible to trust, yet with a heart of gold. 

His friend, Lady Jane Felsham, was someone you could always relate to. She might have married into an aristocratic family, and live in a mansion, yet she was an ordinary woman, and ran a successful interior design firm. Lovejoy's antics infuriated her at times, both for personal and professional reasons. Her husband Lord Felsham never approved of their friendship. Still, her loyalty to Lovejoy was unshakable.

When her husband abandoned her to live in another country with another woman, Lady Jane remained in Felsham Hall. Her marriage might be over in spirit, if not in actuality. Still, was a principled woman who believed in doing the best with what she had been given. So she continued to reside there, and lent her time, money, and title to civic and charitable causes. 

Lovejoy helped her carry on with running the affairs of the old and important house, as well as aiding her business and charitable efforts. Their friendship matured, and might have become something more. But then her husband returned, and told her that he had lost all his money and his ancestral home. Left without a choice, and little more money than she had brought to the marriage, Lady Jane departed Felsham Hall to pursue a new life elsewhere. 

Nevertheless, the house, and Lord Felsham's ancestral grounds, remained a part of the series, even after his uncaring, irresponsible actions forced Lady Jane to pursue a new life elsewhere. Lovejoy's old rival Charles Gimbert returned to make Felsham Hall his home. Gimbert was a nefarious character, who loved antiques for the money and power they could give him. Lovejoy never really liked Charles, but he remained nearby, somehow unable to leave the manor house--and his link to Lady Jane--behind. 

In the final season, Charles Gimbert inexplicably vanished. After awhile, Lovejoy realized that, like Lady Jane's husband, Gimbert had also lost the manor through financial mismanagement. So once again, the antiques dealer again lingered, continuing to look after Felsham Hall.

At the beginning of the series, Felsham Hall was just another old house, and Lady Jane merely another beautiful woman. By the series' end, Felsham Hall had become a beloved place, the center of Lovejoy's existence. Just as it tore at Lovejoy's heart to leave the house and grounds, it hurt us too. For Lady Jane and Lovejoy's spirits had seeped into the bricks and mortar, the rooms and passageways, the gravel drive, and the manicured grounds.

The locals may know the mansion as Belchamp Hall, but for fans of the series, it will always be Lady Felsham's house. We met one such local walking her dogs, cute little Norfolk terriers, the morning we visited Felsham Hall. She said the hall, located in her little village of Belchamp Walter, sees few visitors these days. Still, over twenty years after the series ended, Lovejoy fans still come. Many, like us, from overseas.

It was just a moment in time, a brief visit. A walk along the familiar drive, an attempt to capture via photographs the house and the grounds. A moment to inhale the spirits of Lovejoy and Lady Jane. 

And then, all too soon, it was time to leave. Time to turn my back on the manor, and depart through those gates. Lady Jane rode through those gates in a taxi when her husband's actions finally forced her to leave.  Lovejoy packed up his business and drove through them in his little pickup truck at the end of the final episode. So I wasn't doing anything my friends hadn't done. Still, having just arrived, and knowing I would never return--it was hard to Felsham Hall.

Like so many people, I lack an ancestral home. But for a brief moment, I was able to return to a beloved house where I had been a frequent and welcome visitor. I finally saw with my own eyes, not just through the TV screen, a place inhabited by friends I had cared for, and people I loved. People who had made the place special, even if they, and their traditions, had been entirely fictional.

Farewell, Felsham Hall. Thanks so much for allowing me to visit.

Dragon Dave

Monday, April 1, 2019

An Italian In Panaca Part 2

Norfolk Broads, England
Sitting around a big table, at the B&B in Panaca, my wife and I enjoyed chatting with the Italian couple seated across from us. The man in particular seemed to drive the discussion. He clearly enjoyed engaging with us, and we discovered a mutual interest in England. 

We told him about the places we had visited in England, and he told us of the places they had visited. Freshest in our mind were memories of our 2017 trip, when we had explored the university town of Cambridge, toured the Norfolk Broads, and seen Norwich Cathedral. Yet we shared experiences from our other trips as well.

As Europeans, the Italian couple's way of life seemed closer to that of people in England than ourselves. Yet we discovered that they loved many of the same things we liked about England, and disliked the things that bothered us as well. We had visited some of the same places, and were able to compare notes on our stays in those areas.

He and his wife lived halfway around the world from us. They didn't even share the same first language. Yet in this man and his wife, we had found a kindred spirit, someone with mutual interests, and a similar, while still different, point of view.

That's incredibly rare, in my experience.

Norwich Cathedral, England

After awhile, the woman brought out breakfast. She had never asked anyone what they wanted, and gave everyone the same thing: a flour tortilla filled with eggs, cheese, hash browns, bacon, and sausage. We probably wouldn't have ordered it, but we enjoyed our breakfast burrito. Still, it was a far cry from most of the B&Bs we visited in England, where you're given a menu to order from, and they prepare your food exactly like you want it.

The one part of the conversation with our Italian friends that stuck with me was the man's description of Brexit. In America, Brexit is an afterthought, given little or no real attention. Many people may not even know what it means. 

I had viewed the Brexit process as a change in regulations that businesses and ordinary people in England and throughout the European Union would adapt to with a modicum of discomfort. But the Italian gentleman told us about people living in his country who had lost their jobs because of it. He spoke about Italian businesses that had shut down because they would no longer be able to do business with England as readily as before. He talked about the people living in nearby towns and villages suffering because local companies had ceased operation. 

He spoke about families that were being broken up because of it. Britain's membership in the European Union had made it easier for citizens of different countries to marry and live together. Britain's withdrawal from the EU meant family members would have to physically move from one country or another, either for work, or to raise their children.

Thus, Britain's withdrawal from the EU represented a tragedy for his friends and neighbors. Yes, they would find a way to navigate the legal and regulatory changes, to adapt, and to move on with their lives. But in the meantime, they were separated from their loved ones, struggling to get by, and wondering how they would put the broken pieces of their lives back together. 

Despite having visited England five times, and talked with many Brits on each of those trips, I never understood the full implications of Britain's desire to leave the European Union. I may not understand why Brexit is occurring, any more than I understand why the United States seems to be retreating from processes and structures that have historically led to greater international cooperation. At least now I better understand how Brexit will affect people living in England and European Union countries in significant ways. And that's all because I took a less-traveled road on our vacation, and stayed in a little town called Panaca.

Dragon Dave