Wednesday, 23 July 2014

First Day in Sheffield

Thursday, June 5th, was our last day in Ripon; Friday, June 6th, was our first day in Sheffield.

And what a contrast! We were in for a "culture shock" - after quiet, picturesque small-town Ripon, all of a sudden we found ourselves amidst the noise and the crowds of Sheffield; a place of about 16.000 residents v. more than half a million (1,2 million if you count the entire metropolitan area)!

Getting from Ripon to Sheffield by public transport involved a bus ride of 1 1/2 hours through beautiful Yorkshire countryside to Leeds. Naively, we had assumed that the central bus station would be close to the central train station, as is the case in most cities. Not so in Leeds! We dragged our luggage through the city centre for half an hour (which wasn't as bad as it sounds - we actually welcomed the walk after the long bus ride) and still had a bit of time to spare before our train to Sheffield, where we arrived early in the afternoon.

Another half hour later (it was 3.00 pm by now), we were at our hotel. On the way from Sheffield's main train station to the hotel, we walked through a rather shabby, run-down area; still next to the city centre (which is well kept), but neglected, with boarded up shops and heaps of rubbish in the corners.

The hotel itself was just your average business hotel, a Holiday Inn. We had to adjust now to sharing a small hotel room after the spacious cottage, where each of us had been in their own bedroom with en-suite shower room.

After a brief rest, we ventured out again. Before our trip to England, I had been browsing Yorkshire Pudding's blog for things to do in Sheffield, and come across this post about the Five Weirs Walk. It sounded like something my sister and I would enjoy, and I remembered having seen signs pointing towards the walk on our way from the train station to the hotel.

We quickly found where the walk began, and started out... only to turn round after a short while. Much to our dismay, we found ourselves between heaps of rubbish and the back ends of industrial estates and warehouses again. Nothing picturesque about it. Our hotel obviously was at the wrong end. So, no peaceful river walk for us.

A particularly funny German translation - doesn't make much sense, really. Why didn't they ask someone who knows the language? The French looks alright, and I can't say anything about the Turkish bit.

Instead, we went the opposite way, up into the city centre, which took us only 10 minutes. We found a place to eat, relatively expensive, but the food was good. 

A few pictures from that first evening in Sheffield: Sheffield Cathedral, the entrance to City Hall, and some more post boxes for John!

In spite of our initial culture shock, we were determined to not let our holiday end on a less than pleasant note, and to make the most of the next few days until our departure on Tuesday.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Read in 2014 - 24: The Astronaut Wives Club

This is one of the few books I brought home with me from England as a last-minute buy at Manchester Airport. When I saw it in the shop, I remembered having read about it on somebody's blog, but I am not sure now whose blog it was.
Anyway - me having been interested in (human) space flight for many years, with an entire shelf in my bedroom dedicated to the topic, it was clear I "needed" this book.

Lily Koppel tells the story of the wives of the first three sets of NASA astronauts, spanning the period from 1959 (when the "Mercury Seven", the first astronauts, were announced) until 1972 (when the Apollo missions ended with the last man leaving the surface of the moon).

A lot has been written about the astronauts and their missions, but this is the first book about their wives. The first seven had no idea what was in store for them when their husbands were chosen out of the many applicants. Up until then, they had been test pilot's wives, moving from base to base with their husbands, raising their children in ever-changing environments, trying to establish new friendships with the other families living on base all the time.

All of a sudden, their husbands were in the limelight - and so were they, gaining celebrity status from one minute to the next. None of the ladies was prepared for this, and nobody did prepare them or help them. They did make a few mistakes at first, but quickly learned, and found they could cope much better with the pressure from being constantly under the public eye when they helped each other.

Of course, there were also the plus sides: meetings with "Jackie" at the White House, balls and dinner parties with a host of Hollywood stars, nice dresses given to them by well-known fashion companies to be worn as living advertisments, dream houses and cars for symbolic amounts of money (such as a corvette for just 1 $ a year).
The price to pay was their privacy; a deal was struck up with LIFE magazine that reporters and photographers would have access to them and their homes nearly 24/7, covering every meal they prepared for their children, every outfit they wore, and every emotion in their faces during launch and mission times.

The second set of astronauts were nominated, and their wives were no better prepared than the first ones. Because there was always a competitive undercurrent between their husbands as to who was going to fly the next mission, the first wives were at first reluctant to welcome the new wives into their circle. Eventually, though, they all became members of the Astronaut Wives Club, being there for each other in times of need.

While flawless All-American families were presented to the world, it often was a different story behind the scenes. There was cheating and alcoholism, coldness and jealousy, and one couple even gave up their separate lives in order to make sure the husband got the job, and moved in together again, hoping their secret would not be found out (it wasn't until long afterwards).
Inevitably, some women became closer friends than others, but whenever their husbands were up there, or when disaster struck and terrible accidents happened, they all put their differences aside and rallied round.

The book ends with a chapter about a reunion of the wives in the mid-1980s. I enjoyed it very much, although I must admit I was a bit disappointed at times with the writing style. Some chapters read like a simple row of paragraphs having little to do with each other, jumping from one wife (or couple) to the next, without a recognizable thread between them. But the overall reading is good, giving what I believe to be an accurate picture of life in "Togethersville", the nickname given to the "space suburb" in Clear Lake City, where most of the astronauts' families lived.
If you want to know more, click here to go to the official website for the book.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Last Day in Ripon

Our last day in Ripon was the 5th of June and is quickly told.

We made it mostly a day of household tasks, getting ready for tomorrow's departure and tonight's meal with the family.
For the first time in all the years I have been coming to Ripon, we were able to invite everyone to our place - you usually don't invite people over when you only have a hotel room, are staying at a B&B or at someone else's home. But this time, we had an entire house to ourselves!

We enjoyed the preparations nearly as much as the evening itself. My mother-in-law, sister-in-law and niece came; only my brother-in-law couldn't make it. He is a dairy farmer and works very long hours.

During the day, we connected shopping for the meal's ingredients with a last walk around Ripon. It was a sunny day, and we really did not want to think of it as our last day here. Had we had the possibility to stay on, we would have done so without hesitating!

The above picture is my last one of Ripon for this year. Next stop Sheffield!

Friday, 18 July 2014

Wednesday at Nunnington Hall: Part III

To conclude my posts about Nunnington Hall, here are some more pictures from the beautiful gardens.

We spent some time outside the grounds, too, trying to spot the otters one of the ladies at the Hall had told us were living on the river. We didn't see them, but many birds and it was just such a beautiful spot we were all reluctant to get back into the car and drive home.

Something my sister and I found funny about the Hall itself was that in nearly every room, the leaflets informed us that "This may look like a dining room, but it was actually a bedroom" or "Although this room is now furnished like a nursery, originally it was..." and so on. None of the rooms seemed to have originally been what it was made to look like today! And yet it all appeared very authentic.
As for the ghost stories, my sister found an episode of "Most Haunted" about Nunnington Hall on youtube. I watched it the other night and found it hilarious - you don't hear or see anything you would not expect in such an old building anyway! Most of the time, you can't hear anything anyway, because the "investigation team" are making so much noise, going "Oh! What was that!" and "Did you hear that?" and "I think I saw something over there!". Watch it if you like - there is a lot of beautiful footage of Nunnington Hall by day.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Wednesday at Nunnington Hall: Part II

After lunch, the sky looked as if we could dare a quick stroll around the garden. It even stopped raining after a while, which made it a lot easier to walk around and take pictures, and so we ended up exploring the entire grounds.

It was one of these stone spheres that the peacock perched on in one of the pictures in my previous post:

The grass and wildflowers in the orchard is left to grow as it pleases, with just one or two paths mowed in for the people who work there (and the visitors). Large parts of the gardens are managed in a "green" way, emphasiszing natural growth and the importance of encouraging wildlife in your garden.

Being out here also allowed for different views of Nunnington Hall itself, something I always like to do with buildings.
And of course, we met Mr. Peacock up close!

Everything was very well cared for, very green - and very wet. But that did not deter us, and I took even more pictures, of the vegetable gardens and the very pretty wendy house, and eventually, outside the actual grounds. I'll show you tomorrow!

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Wednesday at Nunnington Hall: Part I

For the first time since our arrival in Yorkshire on the Friday before, we woke up on Wednesday (4th of June) to the sound of rain. We didn't mind too much, since we had an indoor activity planned for the day: a visit at Nunnington Hall.

Nunnington Hall in its present shape is largely the result of extensive work in the 1680s on what had been a manor house already since the 13th century.
Until 1978, the Hall was a family home - and to me, it still has much of that atmosphere; the well-worn floorboards and slightly shabby furniture tell the stories of many days of family life inside those old walls.

It was still raining when we arrived, and so we quickly went inside.
I so love it when you are allowed to walk around in such places on your own, instead of being stuck in a group with a guided tour! There are informative leaflets in every room, and a host of friendly ladies and gentlemen from the National Trust will answer your questions any time.

See the painting of the girl above the fireplace? The painter had her pose in a dress that reached only knee-length, nothing too unusual at the time. But when her mother saw the finished painting, she was scandalized and ordered the painter to paint over her daughter's knees!

Whereever I am, I always make sure to look out of the windows, no matter how fascinating the interior may be. The view from here was certainly worth it:

My sister spotted this drawing of a lady high up on the wall; it wasn't easy to get a good picture of her. But don't you agree that she looks very REAL, not as statuesque or doll-like as is so often the case with old portraits? There is something about her that made us believe she must have had a very bright mind, and been great company, fun to be with.

More views from the windows:

In the attic. The maids lived up here, but the information leaflet told us that the furniture (especially the chest of drawers) would have actually been a bit too grand for servants' quarters.

Please visit Nunnington Hall's official website and read the bit about the Carlisle Collection. Those miniature rooms are fascinating examples of excellent craftmanship - and their owner's excentricity and wealth. Every miniature musical instrument in this room works! The guitar in the front is smaller than my hand.

Still up in the attic, we came across the book room - there for the visitors to rest on the squashy settees for as long as they like, browse the book shevles, read, and buy any of the used books they like. I think my niece actually bought one, and we all had fun looking at Linda Evans beauty book from the 1980s.

We had lunch downstairs in the National-Trust-run café. I discovered my new favourite drink: Rose Lemonade.

After lunch, we went outside to stroll around the gardens; the sky looked a little less gloomy now and the rain wasn't quite so heavy anymore. But those beautiful gardens are worth their own post.