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Adventures of a Girl Reporter, Europe

Distance learning: History, we’re standing in it  

bayeux-tapestry-death-of-harold-copyIn faraway England there’s a band of history enthusiasts on the march. They are heading south towards a field near Hastings in the footsteps of King Harold and his army who made the same fateful journey 950 years ago in 1066.

The story is well known, and not just among the English. Your Girl Reporter heard all about it at Kennedy Road Junior School in Hong Kong. We made a mural of scenes from the Bayeux Tapestry for the classroom and I was inspired enough to think that one day I might be able to go to England and stand in the very spot where Harold fell with a Norman arrow in his eye. 

All the history I learned in primary school occurred in the British Isles, with just a passing mention one afternoon that the rising sun carved into the wall overlooking our playground was a remnant of Japanese occupation during World War II.

There was no further time for that, nor the inglorious details of the Opium Wars which culminated in the establishment in 1841 of the Crown Colony of Hong Kong on that barren rock, with barely a house upon it.

Instead, we drew pictures of serfs and the narrow strips of land they worked in the three fields attached to the manor house which changed hands from Saxon lord to Norman lord after the events of 14 October, 1066.

Years later, my long-forgotten ambition to stand where history happened returned in a whizz-bang flash as I watched a fireworks display over the ruins of Hastings castle.

It was an intoxicating sensation, to find the foreign suddenly familiar, even if the events in question actually happened down the road at a place ever since called – wait for it – Battle. And the Bayeux Tapestry is actually an embroidery.

My father, who grew up in a tiny town called Grenfell in country Australia, had a similar experience on his first visit to Britain. His primary school teacher Sister Ignatius had introduced him to the outside world like this: “Today children we’re going to learn a new subject called Geography and it goes like this: London is on the River Thames.”

Dad said it had struck him, as he enjoyed an English pint overlooking the mighty Thames, as a very peculiar concept to expect a child to grasp while growing up shoeless in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales.

My sister Alin had the worst of it, enduring ridicule from her teacher and her classmates when she failed to comprehend an instruction to draw a picture of Big Ben and handed in a portrait of my big red teddy bear.

Alin and I both ended up living in England – her in Yeovil, a pretty little rural town in Somerset, and me in Hastings. We met often in London over the years but only once was it just the two of us.

We started in Kensington, as her mission was to obtain a visa for an impending trip to Spain but the queue was long and we quickly decided there were better things for two colonial girls to be doing in London.

We popped into Harrods where, as canny Hong Kong shoppers, we were shocked at the prices, then headed over to the Tower to stand in a bit of history. Traitor’s Gate was Alin’s favourite spot – I think it appealed to her anarchic nature.

We wandered through Leicester Square, Piccadilly, one of the parks and we were in Trafalgar Square, surrounded by pigeons, when Alin said she wanted to see Big Ben. “Let’s do it,” I said and, without a clue where to go or how to get there, we turned 180 degrees and there it was, straight ahead of us, gleaming through the surrounding buildings in the summer evening light.

We walked down to the river and along to Westminster and when we got there she was awestruck. She had never expected it to be so beautiful, with all that intricate golden detail.

On one of Dad’s visits to Hastings Alin and her family came down too and naturally we went to Battle Abbey, so they could see for themselves the lie of the land and walk the battlefield and imagine how it must have been all those hundreds of years ago.

And we stood by the slab which marks the spot where the original altar is supposed to have stood. Legend has it the altar was built on the spot where Harold fell.

Someone had left flowers – the kind of bouquet you would pick up at a service station – with a card which read, “To the memory of the last true King of England.”

History. We were standing in it.

© Sally Baxter 2016

Further reading:

Memorial – Alison Kinney, Berfrois. A meditation on memorials to war inspired by the Bayeux Embroidery, as it shall henceforth be known in these pages.

March into 1066 with English Heritage and follow the journey on Twitter at #Battle1066

About Sally Baxter

Once I was a girl reporter. Now I'm an interested observer covering the past, present and future of journalism and whatever else takes my fancy. All views my own.

Discussion

18 thoughts on “Distance learning: History, we’re standing in it  

  1. You made history alive .!!

    Liked by 5 people

    Posted by frenzyfellowz | November 7, 2016, 8:07 pm
  2. Reblogged this on CHI's bloG.

    Liked by 2 people

    Posted by davidever | November 7, 2016, 8:43 pm
  3. Loved it!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    Posted by pervertedsouls | November 7, 2016, 9:33 pm
  4. A well written article. Shopping in Harrods. I’m sure most people go in just to look (the food hall is something else!)

    Liked by 3 people

    Posted by The Photonomad | November 7, 2016, 11:19 pm
  5. Very enjoyable post! As an American, our studies were not as Anglo-centric as yours and your father’s were. We studied American history, with British history being an adjunct to the understanding of the origins of the U.S.A. But my own leanings are very much Anglophile, so I hope someday to stand on that spot where King Harold probably fell. With the proviso that my own heritage goes back to a Norman lord who fought with William and was rewarded with a large chunk of Norfolk for doing so, where he married the daughter of the Saxon lord whose land he took over….

    Liked by 3 people

    Posted by Timi Townsend | November 7, 2016, 11:33 pm
  6. I really agree, you made history alive. I was right there with you as I read🙂 Jen

    Liked by 3 people

    Posted by jengarynewadventures | November 7, 2016, 11:33 pm
  7. A lot of the world’s history might have changed that day.

    The Normans changed who we are, our laws, customs etc.
    For example in Saxon law, women were equal to men but under Norman law, women became the property of men. And the Normans introduced the feudel system Britain would have developed into a very different country.

    Perhaps the British Empire itself might have not happened, and thus Hong Kong’s annexation, becoming a colony of the Crown. But equally, without the British Empire, perhaps Germany and Japan might have won the Second World War?

    Liked by 3 people

    Posted by kevinashton | November 8, 2016, 12:50 am
  8. Loved loved your post!!! I too learned about British history from afar…South Africa to be precise. Although I had ancestral heritage I never imagined that I would ever live in lap of history; the UK. I came here quite by accident in 2001, and having never expressed any interest in living in London, I instantly fell in love with the Thames and the city on my 3rd day in London…while standing on London Bridge😉 I subsequently lived in London for many years prior to moving to Broadstairs in 2014.

    This part of your post gave me goosebumps “We wandered through Leicester Square, Piccadilly, one of the parks and we were in Trafalgar Square, surrounded by pigeons, when Alin said she wanted to see Big Ben. “Let’s do it,” I said and, without a clue where to go or how to get there, we turned 180 degrees and there it was, straight ahead of us, gleaming through the surrounding buildings in the summer evening light.”

    When I first lived in London I used to visit Leicester Square every time I went into the city. I would phone my sister in South Africa from the red telephone boxes that used to stand there and say “guess where I am” It became quite the family joke😉

    I remember when my sister then visited London for the first time. I took her to see Big Ben but walked along the left-hand side of Whitehall so she couldn’t see where we were headed….I made her shut her eyes as we neared the corner and when she opened them to see Big Ben right there in front of her…she fell to her knees and cried!!! We as kids never ever for one minute imagined we would ever see that for ourselves. It still brings tears to my eyes when I think of it. I’ve been to Hastings a number of times, more recently for the same sister’s first birthday in the UK….I took her there for the day to see the castle and the town…one of my favourite places.

    I adore the history of this country, it overwhelms me from time to time. I’ve been very lucky too to travel extensively in the last 15 years due my job, so I’ve been able to visit some amazing places. But my first love is and will always remain London and the River Thames. It lifts my heart and stirs my soul.

    I’ve been very lucky to live here, the freedom is extraordinary and I recently gained my British Citizenship. This country is now my home.

    Thanks for a great post.
    regards
    Cindy

    Liked by 3 people

    Posted by notjustagranny | November 8, 2016, 2:07 am
  9. What a lovely bit of reading.
    3 weeks ago there was a special run celebrating 950 years of the battle of hastings. Started at Pevensey castle and fishing at Battle of Abbey 17 and half miles later through beautiful countryside and lots of hills.
    1066 people entered and about 800 odd finished and I was one if them finished.
    It was great fun but very hard work but I finished it and that what matters

    Liked by 5 people

    Posted by jackieschillis | November 8, 2016, 2:24 am
  10. Reblogged this on things I've read or intend to.

    Liked by 3 people

    Posted by donesoverydone | November 8, 2016, 3:12 am
  11. Lovely nice article

    Liked by 3 people

    Posted by lucknowsmartcity | November 8, 2016, 3:19 am
  12. If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.
    History, like love, is so apt to surround her heroes with an atmosphere of imaginary brightness.

    Really enjoyed reading this post!🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    Posted by Wajdi Almowafak | November 8, 2016, 6:46 am
  13. I hope i can read more article of history like this. I lkie it

    Liked by 4 people

    Posted by hoangnamvt | November 8, 2016, 2:51 pm
  14. Wow!! Very nice! Yah, you made history alive!!

    Liked by 3 people

    Posted by marjoriecantano | November 8, 2016, 7:59 pm
  15. This is oh so true. We are history.

    Liked by 3 people

    Posted by classyqueeny | November 9, 2016, 2:43 am
  16. Reblogged this on Tome and Tomb.

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Jack | November 15, 2016, 6:15 am
  17. A Nigerian friend of mine told me while I was living in Lagos of the trouble he had with an essay entitled ‘A Snowy Day’ a difficult concept for a young land growing up in the Niger delta! your excellent post reminded me of this. History is indeed all around if we just take the time to see it.
    Many thanks
    JWL

    Liked by 2 people

    Posted by jwledbury | November 15, 2016, 11:29 pm

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