Posts Tagged With: Britain

Diamond in the Rough

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Sometimes places that might appear to have little going for them are actually housing a gem or two that would make a visit well worthwhile. As I recently flipped through one of the many Yorkshire brochures scattered throughout our room scanning for potential “field trips”, I noticed a Science Adventure Park that looked interesting. The thing about it that surprised me, though, was that it was in Rotherham. To put that in perspective for those unfamiliar with the area, there’s Sheffield, a thriving multicultural university city full of diversity, great little pubs, and interesting people (like Kim and Toby). And then there’s Rotherham. Which, as far I was aware, is just a place on the outskirts of Sheffield. I didn’t know there was anything there. In my head, I picture it gray.

Anyway, we decide to give the place a try, and depart at 9:30 on Friday morning en route to Magna, accompanied by our three lovely children and their whiny “but I hate museums” type comments. It is clear this day could go either way.
When we arrive, we sign up for the steel guide tour which starts immediately. This is a tour of the shop floor of the building, which used to be Templeborough Steelworks, one of the biggest steel recycling plants in the world. At its peak, it was a mile long, employed well over 10,000 people, and was producing 1.8 million tonnes of steel per year. Our tour guide is John, a very knowledgable semi-retired former employee of the steelworks. Needless to say, he is well qualified to show us around!
After that, we have four pavilions to explore on our own – Earth, Water, Fire, and Air, each full of interactive, hands-on science experiments for the kids (and us). We go from wind tunnels and fire tornados, to water wheels and rock demolition.
All in all, it was a great experience. (If you go in the winter, though, be warned – it is very cold. Wear your winter woolies!) The kids loved it. Each pavilion was better than the last, and five hours later, after a quick run around outside in “the best playground in the world” while we warmed up the car, we were on our way home. This time, all I heard from the back of the car was, “Thank you for taking us to Magna – it was awesome!”
I have a new respect for Rotherham now, and the whole experience has reminded me how ridiculous it is to assume that just because a place may not have the best reputation, it has nothing to offer. I listened to John speak with pride about how the melting shop is actually in the Guinness Book of Records for having recycled the most steel in one day, and how it provided shells for World War I, and parts for Rolls Royce cars and jet engines. It turns out, Rotherham itself has a history that dates back to medieval times when it was a thriving market town, and it even had a college that supposedly rivaled Oxford and Cambridge! It was the place to be in the 16th century too until Edward VI stripped its assets and left it a destitute den of vice…but that’s probably a story for another time.
Anyway, now it is a work in progress – an urban regeneration project. And it is home to 250,000 people. That’s more people than there are in my entire province.
Perhaps Rotherham is just a victim of circumstance, one of the many industrialized British towns crippled by the demise of heavy industry and one financial crisis after another. And at least it has done something productive with its abandoned steelworks.

Lesson learned. If you judge a book by its cover, you might miss out on an amazing story!

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Somewhat Odd Christmas Traditions

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So, tonight we went to a pantomime.
Oh, no, we didn’t!
Oh, yes, we did!
Oh, no, we didn’t!

Obviously, if you’re not British, you will probably be somewhat confused by that, but it is one of the audience participation lines so unique to this bizarre form of theatre, and there is, I am certain, nobody in Britain who would be unfamiliar with that line, or any other one! I do remember this classic British Christmas tradition from when I was a kid, but I can’t honestly say I’ve been to the “panto” since I was about four. So, I was a little apprehensive taking our kids to one because it is such an unfamiliar format and I wasn’t quite sure what they’d make of it. As the first bad guy took the stage, and the audience started booing and hissing, Liah looked up at me in bewilderment, “I didn’t know you were allowed to do that,” says she. But by the end of it, she was booing and hissing with the rest, and having a good laugh over the fact that Mother Goose was a man dressed as a woman, another “rule” of pantomime.
Apparently there is always a “dame”, usually the oldest female character in the cast, a principal boy, usually played by a girl, and at least one “baddy”. The shows are based on classic folk or fairy tales like Dick Whitington, Alladin, Little Red Riding Hood, and Mother Goose, and are ever present this time of year in large professional theaters as well as village halls and churches. It seems most Brits indulge in panto in some form or another over the Christmas period, even though there is really nothing especially Christmassy about it. For the Canadians among you, the best way I can think to describe it is a cross between musical theatre and dinner theatre. Without the dinner. But with the audience interaction. And with the singing and dancing.
Ours was a small local production at the village church hall, and I am happy to report that the kids loved it. Obviously an incredible amount of work went into it, and it was, indeed, thoroughly, yet oddly entertaining. One of the unique things about the panto is that you never quite know what time it will end because it changes each time, depending on several factors – the level of audience participation, the number of lines forgotten, prop failures, or costume malfunctions (all part of the fun and expected by everyone), and the amount of ad-libbing on that particular evening. Mother Goose, I think, was just the right length, and I believe it was almost a sell-out at every performance, which is quite an accomplishment for a community production. Such a classic is the pantomime that in 2008 the Royal Mail Christmas stamps were based its classic characters!
So, there you go, Christmas in the UK. Mincemeat tarts, plum pudding, and a couple of drag queens in sparkly costumes. Go figure!

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