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I had a great time at horse-riding tonight. Diva did a brilliant job, her trot-canter transitions were virtually spot-on for once, no striking off on the wrong leg, and we even managed to canter some 20m circles in the indoor school. For Diva, who is neither the most elegant of beasts, nor the most agile, this was a really big deal - the girl tends to steer like a battleship.

And... WE GOT A SQUARE HALT!!  First time ever!!!!!

The secret?  A really long warm-up, perhaps, because the weather was so cold. I didn't ask her to come down onto the bit, but by the end of the session she was voluntarily working longer and lower.  A lot of the work in walk and trot was without stirrups, too, and I felt a whole lot more secure in the saddle. 

A good night, and a good day at work, too.
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I was originally aiming to attend an author's event in the Mitchell Library tonight, but it was a) chicklit; b) £8 and c) clashing with horse-riding, so I opted for the horse-riding instead. I'm going to an event in  Waterstones tomorrow instead, featuring a debut novel by a local writer which seems to be a dark psychological thriller - which is much more my thing, even if it's not set in the medieval period!!

I was paired with Diva tonight, and we worked extensively on circles and transitions. I really had my money's worth: after a 35 minute lesson, the warm-up was added on as an afterthought which meant I was riding for 45 minutes altogether, and oh boy, didn't Diva know it!

Our weather is irritatingly sprinkled with heavy showers, but this means a lot of nice stuff going on in the sky.  There's rainbows every day when I'm travelling to and from work, and tonight at the stables there was a very fetching sundog.

And The History of Wales is getting really rather interesting now we've got into the medieval period, and I'm about to abandon it for a nice hot Lush-scented bath.  I'll really have to catch up with it on demand - judging by the opening section, with that gorgeous piece of silk, this is going to get rather interesting.

Oh, and I really love those opening titles...
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I was going to post my last Lastours castle post tonight, but it's getting late and I've been distracted by horse-riding, so it's going to have to wait.

I had a fantastic lesson tonight. Diva was on the ball, and we both did really well.  Um, this could be because of a mindless bit of horse-cruelty I indulged in within 30 seconds of getting on.  She was being particularly sluggardly and dithery, so I gave her a wee tap (honest!!) with the dressage whip to wake her up, and wow!!

Diva was no longer walking.  She was sproinging along at a spirited jog.

For once, my legs were required to hold back instead of kick forward. Canter transitions were all spot on (and in every one, she struck off on the right leg) and we repeated last week's 20m circles in canter (in both reins) with aplomb. She was very up and down to begin with, but by the end of the half hour she was beginning to come down onto the bit. 

It was marvellous.  Everything came together, it was woman-and-horse-in-perfect-harmony and a thousand other horsey cliches.  Diva was very full of herself by the end.  She responds very well when someone is urging her on and telling her in no uncertain terms that she's a very clever girl, etcetera.
 
Now... 

Why can't it ALWAYS be like that???
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Okay, so Photobucket isn't working again, so I can't get on with my Carcassone posts yet again...  I've uploaded my photos and have successfully rotated them, but the altered image just don't seem to want to save. And since my nice vertical photos are integral to the post's success, I'm stymied.

I shall try again tomorrow, if I've got the will to live.  Since I'm back at the Fife designed landscape tomorrow and the weather forecast is dire.  BUT!!! We have a secret weapon.  A very large golf umbrella.  Which I'm sure we'll be taking turns to hold up over the total station in a style reminiscent of a Jack Vettriano painting. 

I suppose this is quite appropriate, considering we're in Fife...

Anyway, Diva had an interesting episode tonight.  She stumbled in canter, in her classic Diva-esque style.  I was in canter when she shied, then dipped, but didn't think anything too untoward had happened until my instructress called 'Well sat!  Are you alright??" and I realised that this must have been one of her tripping over her big feet moments.

After the incident, she wasn't lame at all.  Or even unlevel.  Not even for a couple of strides  I really got the impression that she spooked at something, lost her concentration, then tied her feet up in knots and splat! 

Silly horse!!!  But she recovered herself before she hit terra firma.  Which was quite impressive, considering agility is clearly NOT her strongpoint.  Though I must point out that later on, we were really pushing the envelope by cantering round the short end of the school then crossing the diagonal in canter before returning to trot at 'X'.  She was clearly finding it hard, as she's got the turning circle of a Star Destroyer, but as usual, she tried her best.  And there was no stumbling, either (sorry, I tell a lie.  She stumbled in trot, as I crossed my dressage whip going round a corner and ruined our collective balance.  She seems to be very sensitive to hopeless clodhopper riders flopping around on her back like a sack of potatoes...)

An entertaining episode, I suppose.  Which both of us came through unscathed, though I'm not really inclined to repeat it in the near future, if I can possibly help it...
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Okay, so I promised you more from Carcassone tonight? 

I'm sorry.  I'm going to have hold off for another day.  It's late, and I've only just sat down after horse-riding.

I haven't ridden Diva for almost a month now, and in that time, she's been transformed into a complete bampot.  One of the girls took me aside tonight and warned me that she'd gone mental in a group lesson on the weekend and ditched her pilot, as per usual.  Okay, so she hadn't been out in the field earlier and was a wee bit frisky, but...  I was advised to be careful. 

I shrugged, and said that I was well used to Diva's nonsense, and was expecting as much in the outdoor school.

Of more concern was the news from my instructress that Diva had stumbled and tipped over twice in canter in the week or so, when A (my instructress) was actually riding her.  A was thrown both times, and Diva ended up on the deck.

This is not good news.  I've had a horse fall with me before.  He was a four year old who didn't know where to put his legs and we ended up re-enacting a classic stunt horse fall from a western.  Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to swing my leg out of the way before Jake (the horse) went crashing to the ground, or else I'd have been squashed.

Anyway, falling horses is not something I approach lightly, and Diva was definitely on probabation.  Unfortunately, some chap was out chasing a horse in the neighbouring field throughout the lesson, so Diva was tittupping around the outdoor school with her eyes bulging and acting like some kind of demented Arab stallion.  Which considering she has the built of a small carthorse, was quite impressive. 

For some bizarre reason, I wasn't that bothered.  She might be a dingbat and a bampot, but she's not a bad horse.  Not by any stretch of the imagination .  She needed a strong leg and a strong hand, but while she was bouncing up and down like she was on four pogo sticks instead of hooves, she did listen to what she was being told, all be it with a bit of ill-humour and reluctance.  But she managed to put in some creditable work, bending properly on circles and producing some good trot-canter transitions.  She didn't even stumble once.

Poor Diva.  She's her own worst enemy.  She creates because she's not well-schooled and not used to having to work properly and she falls over her big feet because she's unbalanced.  But if she keeps up like this she'll probably be give the Royal Order of the Heave-Ho just because she's not suitable for riding school use.

I hope she sorts herself out, because I really prefer things the way they are just now.  Everything at the stables seemed to have settled down, and I'm hoping it'll stay that way.  I really don't have the time for a horse.  Let alone one who can't keep a level head and keeps flying off into orbit at every opportunity.  I dread to think what she's like on hacks.  And I can't possibly imagine what she'd be like at a horse show. 

The mind boggles....
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I got back to work today, and found myself deluged...  I'm being hassled over fieldwork requirements for the Fife designed landscape, I'm behind on generating the costings for the munitions factory, and I'm completely bogged down in finishing my three papers... And I go on annual leave next week...

I ALMOST finished off my major Thomas Telford paper today.  I've tweaked the text and added a few more references in response to last week's library trawl, and now all that's required is to finish off the footnotes and make sure everything's in order with them.  Most decent journals, you see, do not allow the use of automatically generated footnotes...

Meanwhile, The Great Surveyor and The Boss have - between them - halved the size of my lesser Telford paper, and The Boss has finished off another paper which also needs to be sent off this week which I'll be editing tomorrow...

So it's all go...

Back to Saint Andrews now, and a post dedicated to the chapter-house and cloisters.  Because Saint Andrews had its own community of Augustinian canons, which means that it has all those ancillary structures which are common to monastic sites...

There's not much left of the chapter-house, which would have been a magnificent building in its day.  Now, this row of blind arcading looks like it ought to be part of the chapter-house:-




But when you look at the photo below, you can see the footings of the wall which divides the chapter-house with the adjacent corridor or slype.  The arcading seems to be associated with the slype, and the upper row of arcading indicates that there was an upper floor, perhaps the monk's dormitory or another domestic building:-




When you step through into the cloisters, another impressive doorway (Romanesque in style) leads through into the nave of the abbey church:-



 And tomorrow, I'll take a step back in time to the early medieval period, and introduce you to something truly special and spectacular, and something which is perhaps slightly off the beaten track of history...

I should've been horse-riding tonight, but my concerned colleagues talked me out of it, in advice which ran along the lines of, "What???  ARE YOU CRAZY??  You're half-dead!! You can't do that!!" 

And I listened to them.  I could've been enjoying a nice early evening hack in the sunshine, but I turned it down, because I had a sudden flash of complete and utter sanity.

So I watched The One Show instead.  And heard this, or something similar: 'And tomorrow we're going to raise a glass to Rory McGrath, who managed to turn a whole archaeological series into one giant pub crawl..'

Your point, caller??  Why is this in any way surprising??  Archaeologists & pub crawls go together like Howard Carter & Tutankhamum, or Indiana Jones and that battered fedora...
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I made it!! I survived 'War Horse'.  (With two words - cue David Bowie, half-singing 'It's War Horse Actually.  War Horse.  As in Horse.' Refer to the album Hunky Dory if you're still confused...)

I didn't need the hankies.  I only burst out greetin' twice.  The first time was when the soldiers went over the top and braved all the shellfire/machine gun fire etcetera.  The second time was when the hero said to Joey the Horse, "That's it, boy.  We're going home."

I regret to say that Spielberg over-egged it a bit in the emotional pudding for my tastes.  If he'd played the whole thing very straight, concentrating on the human story with the horse being used as a common thread throughout, it would have been an awesome and very moving film.  But I felt that the horses were 'over-acting' - there were bits of anthromorphic behaviour from the horses which just didn't seem very horsey, and it made me go 'bleaugh!' right at the points when I should have been snivelling. They didn't need to do this - it was quite obvious from the straining sinews, snorts and groans that the poor beasts were struggling.   It's the usual Spielberg thing of 'look!  You're supposed to be feeling very upset around about now, and just to press it home, I'm going to make it even more emotional...'

Sorry, didn't work for me.  Though the lassies at the riding school thought those touches were wonderful.  Ah well.  Must just be my latent cynicsm shining through...

And then there were the little historical niggles.  Like... Why, oh why, didn't they practice field clearance before they started ploughing the dodgy field?  And perhaps lazy beds might have been a more sensible option than regular ploughing if the field in question had drainage issues?  And how come the British army had so many Andalusians taking to the field in the cavalry?  That was before The Boss gave me his diatribes on a) The Nature of Trench Fighting in WWI, and why you do not get shelled when you go Over The Top, and b) Why That Tank was an impossible Hollywood creation.

I'm glad I went - it was a good yarn, if taken with a large handful of salt.  And I can't claim the title of the post - that was J's doing.  As for my riding instructress, her description was 'Black Beauty for Boys', which was a nice one.

As for Diva...  We started lateral work tonight - leg-yielding.  We started in trot, she wouldn't or couldn't do it, so we went back to walk.  My teacher has decided she can't do lateral work and is too old to start trying (she's thirteen) but I am determined to give it a go.  We shall learn it together - even if it takes months.  She can cross her forelegs, which is a start, though the rear ones are more problematic.  Which may, once again, be down to the injury to her pelvis last year...

And now, after half an hour in walk, I am well and truly shattered...
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I spent today writing the first of my two Glasgow Water Works papers.  The aim was to finish the shorter of the two papers today: I almost managed it - but at 16.45, I found myself having to get ready for horse-riding.  I had one paragraph to go, and I really, really wanted to finish it but...  I decided to bow out gracefully instead.  As it was, my Microsoft Word decided to misbehave by refusing to shut down, so I was very nearly late.

I did get distracted a couple of times.  I took some time out to read a little bit more about Thomas Telford. Today,  I encountered Thomas Telford the archaeologist (he evidently scraped around a bit in Wroxeter Roman city during his time in Shrewsbury), Thomas Telford the poet (apparently!!), I learned that Mr T was known by his friends by the eminently Scottish name of 'Tam', and that he is buried in Westminster abbey.  I also cam across another tantalising glimpse of the animosity between Telford and John Rennie, with Rennie refusing point blank to work with Telford on a canal job in Scotland, at around the same time as Telford was complaining to James Watt about Mr Rennie's apparent fall-out with him.  But I still can't get to the bottom of the disagreement, though I suspect it may have something to do with the Ardossan canal...

Anyway...  I did get to horse-riding, and Diva was full of va-va-voom throughout.  Then my Pony Club Ma'am Instructress decided that Diva's girth was too slack, and pulled it up a couple of holes, and suddenly Diva decided that she was going to belt around the school like a moron.  Was it something to do with the tight girth? I don't really know.  But she was quite a handful.  We concentrated on trot tonight, but managed to get a left canter on the right rein once again before the end of the lesson.  And yes, she is definitely getting fitter.

I now feel like a stuffed toy who's been put through a mangle.  After last night's workout and today's horse-riding, I'm shattered!

I
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It's been a busy day, in which much progress has been made on many fronts.  I finished writing the draft of my Perthshire farmsteads paper. It still needs a wee bit of revision: I'd be happy to present it at a conference as it stands, but it just needs a bit more tweaking to bring it up to publication  standard...

And tomorrow, I'll be heading off to the weir for the next stage of the repairs...

Horse-riding went extremely well tonight.  I did eight trot-canter transitions on the left rein - Diva's BA-A-A-DDD rein! - and out of the eight, we managed to get two on the wrong leg, followed by another three on the right leg, followed by a stint on the right rein (on the right leg, each time...) followed by yet another couple of canters on the left rein, in which we got the first one on the wrong leg, and another two on the right leg.

That's what I call progress.  I feel vindicated, because my suspicions have once again been confirmed.  There's nothing wrong with Diva's left canter, but she needs to be helped by her rider, and not abandoned to bumble along unassisted.  When I first started riding her, she seemed a bit of sluggard when it came to trot-canter transitions, but...  Oh, boy, when she gets going, she ain't half stroppy!  She's very strong, and when she gets into her head that she WANTS to canter, she won't half fight you when you ask her to trot.  Which is nice, because I like a horse with a bit of oomph, as long as it's enthusiastic oomph, and not mean, wilful, treacherous oomph... 

So there's been improvements all round.  I'm much more confident at cantering Diva - so much so that I'd be quite happy to try cantering 20m circles and canter changes of reins.  And... Diva wasn't half as sweaty and knackered tonight as she has been, even though she did an awful lot of cantering.  She seems to be getting fitter.  Which considering that she only gets worked properly for half an hour a week is quite miraculous.

Things are not quite how I'd like them to be.  Cantering should be smooth and controlled - for a musical embodiment of the perfect canter, take the third movement of Mahler's 1st symphony as a perfect model.  But as I drove home, I discovered that I'd inadvertantly selected the perfect soundtrack for the occasion: Depeche Mode's Mercy in You (from the Songs of Faith & Devotion album).  Which in comparison to Mahler's landler is, how can I put it, a bit boisterous and energetic.  Just like Diva's canter, in fact...

And then... I discovered that the weather forecast delivered last night was a wee bit over-optimistic. There was a frost already settling, and temperatures of minus six have now been forecast for our area.  So I had to spend ages running around the garden trying to get the penstemon wrapped up for the foreseeable futures, packing them with hay and then putting fleece over the top.  Unfortunately, I think may have shut the stable door after the horse as bolted, which means, alas, I'll have lost all my plants, as none of the cuttings seem likely to survive to maturity.

Alas.  I had the sneaking suspicion that this might happen.  Though at least the pelargoniums have been brought into the house for the night, so they should be okay, at least...





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It's Burns Night tonight, and we've celebrated in the usual fashion, with veggie haggis, neeps & tatties.  J's dad joined us, and now I'm stuffed!

I won't stay long - I've been horse-riding, and Diva was her usual diligent self.  She really is a lovely horse - very generous and honest. I don't think I've had as good a working relationship with any horse since I had Squire, though the two of them couldn't be any more different.  While Squire was pure air and fire, Diva is earth, pure and simple.

The finds work is progressing well.  I've spent another day sifting through glass, thereby disobeying all those words of wisdom my mother told me about not handling broken glass without a gloves.  I did, however, manage to cut my finger once - on an envelope...

Amongst all the mangy 20th century beer and 'pop' bottles, there have been some more interesting finds.  The Boss had put in a request for some fragments of Merovingian glass, which was a bit of a tall order.  Nonetheless, there have been quite a few fragments of early window glass - I was sceptical about the possibility of their being medieval, but after having leafed through the glass report from the excavations of Battle Abbey, I'm now more convinced that they might be contemporary with the medieval abbey, rather than being 16th/17th century. 

We've also got about six or seven pieces of a rather snazzy purple perfume or ointment jar.  It would have been a beautiful piece when it was complete - it seems to have had white 's' shaped patterns upon the surface, and it has a lovely neck/rim, with a flanged collar and a twisted circular-sectioned thin rod of glass adhering to the surface beneath the collar.  We can't currently decide whether it's a 19th century perfume jar, or something more significant.  Research has revealed that purple glass was around in the medieval period, but none of the reports we've looked at as yet have revealed any glass vessels made from this material (the purple being used in stained glass...)  So, if any medievalists out there have stumbled across purple perfume jars in their travels, I'd love to hear about them.  Suffice it to say that the jar will be sent out to the specialist to see if he's got any observations on the form, etcetera.  We have the rim/neck, we have the base, and we have a few body sherds, so we're doing well.

And now I'm signing off, because I'm shattered...
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It's a horsey post tonight.

I've just come back from half-an-hour with Diva, and - oh, boy! - am I knackered!!

There were two aims of the lesson today.  For twenty minutes, we concentrated on accuracy.  Two parallel poles were set out on the inside track at C, and two more across the lateral line from E to B.  The aim was to navigate the horse through the poles each time in trot.

So far, so good.  I was thinking in terms of serpentines, and it worked very nicely.  I got some lateral bend in the horse, which is impressive, considering she's a riding school beast and usually as wooden as hell.  The difficult bit came when one set of poles were made steadily narrower, until there was only a gap of about 18 inches to navigate through.

Impossible! thought I, as we trotted our way round for the final approach.  But we managed it almost perfectly - one pole got knocked once each time - which means that I actually find it easier to steer a half-ton horse than I do a mountain-bike. J says that this is because Diva has a brain, but I'm not really sure that Diva's brain is tuned in to trotting between two very slender poles laid down on the ground.  I think I'm right in saying that she can't actually see where she's putting her feet at that stage anyway. 

That went very well.  And then we moved onto the dreaded trot-canter transition.  Tonight, I started to make progress.  I finally made my aids clearer, more precise and firmer, too, and the horse responded.  I can't tell you what the difference was - I think I was thinking of moving through from the legs and the seat, pushing the horse into canter rather than sitting like a numpty in the saddle and flapping hopelessly.  The only problem is... she kept going into canter on the left rein in the wrong leg.  This is a Diva thing - I don't know if it's linked with her pelvis trouble, or whether it's sheer silliness.  I'm not going to suggest it's laziness, because I'm a firm believer that a poorly schooled horse will have real problems performing what's asked of it. More work on her balance in walk and trot will I think bring dividends, but I'm just a lone voice in the wilderness.  I think the kids who make up most of her work schedule wouldn't know what the right bend was if it jumped up and did a song-and-dance routine in front of them...

Anyway, apart from the odd strop when the trot-canter transition didn't go well, Diva did extremely well.  I wasn't trying to get her down on the bit, and I'm sure she could have been more active from behind.  But once again, even without being asked, she dropped her head and lightened up in the forehand.  And again, I had that incredible buzz that you get when the horse you're working with becomes completely submissive to your requests, not because you tell her to, but because she wants to.

Ah, Xenephon.  You and your Greek friends were so, so right about horsemanship....
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Normality has resumed, and I've returned to having my horse-riding lesson on a Wednesday.

Which means...

No more Softy!  No more Diva!  No more Indy!!  I'm back on Molly, and I'm delighted to be reunited with my old partner in crime.  I now have a new instructor - when I introduced myself, I told her I was going to be one of her most boring pupils, and then explained my desire to return to Classical basics.  She looked instantly relieved, and confessed that she'd been getting really depressed by all the kids moaning whenever she tried to get them to do things right, with cries of, "But such and such says this, so why do I need to change," etcetera.

Ah, it ain't like it was when I were a lass.  In the old times, the word of your instructor was law.  If she said you needed to put your heels down, you put your heels down.  If she said you looked like a sack of potatoes tied up all ugly, then you listened.  Now the young muppets seem to be getting lippy.

As for Molly... She was looking rather swish today.  She'd been done up in a natty little Arab plait, and she looked distinctly cobby.  As opposed to messy/hairy//dowdy (delete as appropriate).  Molly has completely forgotten our earlier relationship, and wasn't too chuffed at be asked to return to some attempt at athleticism.  But we did seem to be getting somewhere by the end.

More plants arrived, and things are getting crazy on the plant front.  My daily repotting quota is now as follows: 6 x lobelia, 6 x petunia, 1 x nasturtium, 1 x very fancy geranium, 1 x fancy petunia type thingy.  And it's only Wednesday!  Sigh.  I'm knackered.  Space is at a premium, too, so the sweet peas will be kicked out this weekend.

Today, I opted for the gaiters, because we were entering Tick City.   The weather has been foul - the nearby flood plain of the River Cart is doing exactly what it says on the box.  And I need to fit a rubber ring and a snorkel to my poor car...
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Normality has resumed, and I've returned to having my horse-riding lesson on a Wednesday.

Which means...

No more Softy!  No more Diva!  No more Indy!!  I'm back on Molly, and I'm delighted to be reunited with my old partner in crime.  I now have a new instructor - when I introduced myself, I told her I was going to be one of her most boring pupils, and then explained my desire to return to Classical basics.  She looked instantly relieved, and confessed that she'd been getting really depressed by all the kids moaning whenever she tried to get them to do things right, with cries of, "But such and such says this, so why do I need to change," etcetera.

Ah, it ain't like it was when I were a lass.  In the old times, the word of your instructor was law.  If she said you needed to put your heels down, you put your heels down.  If she said you looked like a sack of potatoes tied up all ugly, then you listened.  Now the young muppets seem to be getting lippy.

As for Molly... She was looking rather swish today.  She'd been done up in a natty little Arab plait, and she looked distinctly cobby.  As opposed to messy/hairy//dowdy (delete as appropriate).  Molly has completely forgotten our earlier relationship, and wasn't too chuffed at be asked to return to some attempt at athleticism.  But we did seem to be getting somewhere by the end.

More plants arrived, and things are getting crazy on the plant front.  My daily repotting quota is now as follows: 6 x lobelia, 6 x petunia, 1 x nasturtium, 1 x very fancy geranium, 1 x fancy petunia type thingy.  And it's only Wednesday!  Sigh.  I'm knackered.  Space is at a premium, too, so the sweet peas will be kicked out this weekend.

Today, I opted for the gaiters, because we were entering Tick City.   The weather has been foul - the nearby flood plain of the River Cart is doing exactly what it says on the box.  And I need to fit a rubber ring and a snorkel to my poor car...
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