Sunday, May 24, 2009

Where the witch met Wedgewood

After a great night last night we slept very soundly. Lots of families staying in the hotel, so it was awake to the noise of littlies this morning. Breakfast this morning was - interesting! Self service cold buffet - boxed cereals, bread for toasting, croissants, packet cheeses, butter and jam, orange juice and coffee. Lots of families with young babies running around - not our idea of a relaxing breakfast. Still, it is included in the room rate so no real complaints!! And there would have been nothing to stop us having six or seven helpings if we so wished.

Michael has known for years the story of
Molly Leigh, the witch of Burslem. And now, here we were right in the area. So after breakfast off we went to visit the graveyard of St John's Church of England. Graves are normally aligned east-west but her grave lies north-south - the only one in the cemetery to do so. After her burial, she was supposedly seen large as day in her cottage. So the pastor who buried her worried that being a witch, she could get out of her grave! So they dug her up and re-aligned the grave! Andn this time, they put in her pet raven for good measure - alive! This poor unfortunate woman was most probably rather eccentric following the tormenting by local townsfolk as she was reportedly very ugly.

When we finally find the Church, there is a man taking the children's Sunday School outdoors in the beautiful sun. He explains that the Church gets lots of visitors to visit the grave (something he finds bemusing) and that one day some years ago, the church warden received a phone call saying that people had been chipping away at the grave, stealing pieces and selling them on eBay! In fact, the phone call went something like "Hey Pastor, I have just seen a piece of Molly Leighs grave for sale on eBay!" Some people will stop at nothing. He goes on to tell us that they then concreted over the parts that might be easily broken off. So the grave looks fairly uninteresting even if it does attract a lot of attention at Halloween.

So once we had left poor Molly to rest in peace it was over to the Royal Doulton outlet shop. Now I am not sure what it is about the china and glassware industry at the moment, but Spode is in administration with a huge fire sale of their factory stock taking place. The last day is today, but as the sale has been going on since January, I decide that there probably isn't too much of interest left. And in January 2009, Wedgewood also appointed receivers.

The Doulton Shop was wonderful. We bought quite a bit of stuff - plates, figures, wine decanters and for the princely sum of £20 we can have the whole lot shipped home by courier - it will probably be there is less than a week! I was hoping to find the matching teapot for our fine china dinner set, but it is a discountinued pattern and the only piece that have left is a covered sugar bowl, which we already have. And this was literally the only piece they had!
From there we drove back to the Wedgewood Visitor Centre and Factory. This is a truly amazing place. We begin in the museum where you could easily spend half a day. There was so much to see. Items to touch, voices from the past talking about processes and successes to listen to, drawers to open and explore. Then there was the amazing collection of china that dated back to the early 1700s right through to the present day - some of the most amazing and beautiful pieces we have ever seen! No photos allowed - they want you to buy the book!

And then we went in to the Wedgewood Visitor Centre proper that is attached to the factory. As well as an extensive museum collection of its own, there was a film on the life and work of Josiah Wedgewood and then more amazing pieces on display including all the special one-off commissions that were still in the ownership of the family or the company. But the highlight was going in to the open plan hall where all the processes involved in the making of Wedgewood pieces are demonstrated by factory artisans. And you can throw your own piece of Jasperware, paint a hand made flower or make your own Wedgewood jewelery. These people were so friendly and eager to have a conversation, explaining in detail all they do. To see the speed with which a carnation blossom was made, or watch the very steady hand of the lady painting the burnished gold on to a miniature plate was amazing.

We then took a quick drive through the centre of Stoke-on-Trent although everything was very quiet as it is the Sunday of a bank holiday weekend here. Stoke Minster was beautiful from the outside (it was closed) and Michael found Josiah Wedgewood's grave. It is set in beautiful and evocative grounds. The rest of Stoke however is looking quite depressed - any wonder when local factories that have been in operation for over 300 years are being closed down by some economist from the US.
Off to Oxford with Kate doing the navigating now. Very well I might add. Even when we decide to take a little detour to have a look at some of the architecture, she keeps her cool and in a calm and never exasperated voice just recalculates the route to get us back to the roads leading toward Oxford. We have the option of missing tolls (that will be handy in Europe) and even changing the route ourselves to get off the motorways.

We get to Oxford at 6:45 pm with the sun still high in the sky on a day that got to 22°C. Look out Europe, here comes summer - for goodness sake, someone remember to tell the Irish!!! It is so warm that I change into a summer top for the first time literally since we left Sydney on 13th December last year. Tomorrow we are meeting up with a couple of girls we met on the Isle of Islay in Scotland. But tonight, we are craving some asian flavours - coriander, chilli, ginger and lime. So we ask the receptionist for a recommendation and she suggests one in town. However when we get there it is closed - thankfully I had looked on the web as well and had another couple to try - we plugged the address of one into Kate and drove across town to the Thai Orchid Restaurant.
Our waiter was Pheng - very attentive and pleasant and when we mentioned the blog asked for the address straight away - that was a first. The menu has an extensive range of food and after some discussion we ended up with:
Beef satay (strips of beef marinated in spices, grilled on charcoal and served with a lightly spiced peanut sauce) Michael
Thai Orchid mixed starters (a selection of authentic Thai starters with various sauces) Maria
Mains - we shared:
Pla Yang (Fresh sea bass marinated in lemongrass, lime leaves and fresh herbs)
Ga Yang (Chicken marinated in soy sauce, garlic, fresh chilli, coriander and fresh herbs and barbequed over charcoal. Served with chilli sauce)
Larb Gai (Minced chicken, fresh herbs, chilli and lime juice)
Khao Soway (Steamed rice)
Desserts - we both had Khanom - a sweet from the trolley - Banana Parfait - thick chunks of fresh banana, light layers of sponge cakes and lightly whipped unsweetened cream crowned by a halo of spun sugar. Michael added fresh fruit salad to his and I stole a piece of his mango - mmm, it helped to soothe the palate.

The meal was so delicious - it is these fresh flavours of Asia that we miss every once in a while. That Larb was the best we have ever tasted and boy, did it pack a punch! Certainly cleared the sinuses as well. Thank goodness for that mango!

For the first time in ages we have had a good look at our blog statistics and are blown away by the visitor numbers and hits. To date, we have had a total of 2837 individual visitors to the site with a total (of a staggering) 9184 hits! Wowee. Never expected it to be so popular! We are still averaging about 20 new visitors each day and have some wierd spikes where we have got 70 - 100 new visitors in one day. And that doesn't include all of you who check it out regularly.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

While you are over there I hope that Michael is honing his stage skills by taking in some shows.
Graeme Roberts back home.