Tuesday 7 August 2007

Ancient History

Bill Bryson is an American from Iowa who came to live in Britain in 1973. He has written numerous books about this experience (amongst other things). I have to say I enjoyed the first 100 pages of Notes from a Small Island but it quickly became repetitive which is the same experience I had reading a few of his subsequent novels. I also found that he had adopted the English habit of whingeing and whining about just about everything. And I can only read so much of that.

I read a blurb about him the other day which made me think maybe I should revisit some of his more recent stuff. He marveled at the fact that near his home in Norfolk (on the east coast of England) there is a hedge planted in the 11th century by a niece of William the Conqueror and a church tower built about the same time.

If a church like this were in Iowa, "people would travel hundreds of miles to see it." But in Britain there are more listed churches than petrol (gas) stations. If you decided to visit one every day, it would take you 54 years to see them all.

Down the side of the garden of my house is a Saxon ditch which must be more than 1000 years old. We are not allowed to dig more than 2 inches down without archaeologists on site in the front of my house because the first Windsor Castle (pre 1077) was built nearby and they reckon we are sitting on a large part of the settlement that would have supported the King in that ancient time.

Across the front garden I can see the steeple of the village parish church. I can hear the bells on Sunday mornings and Saturday evenings and random other times. The church was built 500 years ago or so. It is tiny and in need of repair but it is beautiful to consider the history.

The school my son and daughter attend was founded in 1348 by King Edward III. Astonishing.

I walk past all of this history much like the English do - oblivious. It takes a foreigner visiting me to gaze out my window and see Windsor Castle with their jaw dropping on the floor to remind me that I am living in a country with a long and fascinating history.

Well, that and I have to study a very large thick book with thousands of years of history in order to pass the test for my British citizenship. Why couldn't I be studying a couple hundred years instead of a couple thousand?

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