Monday, 28 July 2014

Saturday in Sprotbrough

On the Saturday (7th of June) after our arrival in Sheffield, a family gathering was planned. This is something my sisters-in-law organize for us every year when I'm over in Yorkshire, and it is always a part of the holidays I very much look forward to.
The original idea was cousin Rob's; some years ago, he said it was such a shame that these days, the family only seem to be getting together at funerals, and shouldn't we create more happy occasions for all of us to meet up? And so we did. For me, it is the best way to see everybody - if I wanted to visit all the aunts and cousins and in-laws and their families by using public transport, I'd be spending 90 % of my holiday time on buses and trains.
This year, the location was The Boat Inn at Sprotbrough, a small town near Doncaster where we'd not been before.

It had been raining all morning, but we didn't mind. For a few hours, all that mattered were the about 20 people gathered in a room at The Boat Inn, and the delicious food we ate.
I had a chicken, ham and leek pie and for dessert, a selection of Belgian chocolate cake and peanut butter & chocolate cake - yumm!
Here is the website for The Boat Inn, if you are interested in seeing more pictures of its nice interior.



By the time we had all finished eating, the rain stopped, and so a small part of our group went out for a walk along the river Don and into Sprotbrough itself. Guess which part of the group I was in :-) By the way, the pub claims to have had Sir Walter Scott as their most famous guest. Apparently, he wrote some of his novel "Ivanhoe" here.






When we returned to the pub, we found the others had all gone to one of the aunt's houses, where we met up with them again for several more hours of chatting and laughing, food and drinks. It was great to see them all after a whole year had passed.

Eventually, we were taken back to Sheffield by an uncle and aunt who live in nearby Chapeltown. This beautiful rainbow greeted us when we arrived at the hotel:


What had been a meeting for a pub lunch had lasted until nearly 9.00 pm - a very good day was had by all, I think!

Friday, 25 July 2014

Read in 2014 - 25: A Columbus of Space

A science fiction novel from 1909, this was an action-packed companion on my daily train rides to and from work, a good example of the way imagination and scientific facts (as they were known then) were combined to produce a thrilling story.


The author, Garrett Putnam Serviss (1851-1929), was an American astronomer who produced more scientific publications than works of fiction. He promoted astronomy whereever and whenever he could, and so it is little wonder that he used his talent for explaining scientific facts to ordinary readers for this purpose.

A group of friends travel to Venus in a "car" (the author deliberately avoids calling it a ship) constructed by one of their number, a scientist with a brilliant mind, who - like the author himself - has always been explaining scientific and other complicated facts to his lesser gifted friends. The car runs on nuclear power, and their aim is Venus, because their guide is certain of the planet's habitability. 

The description of the inside of the car must be a delight to any Steampunk aficionado out there: comfortable benches upholstered in leather, brass knobs and handles, metal buttons and grills in front of small mouth-shaped openings for the air conditioning, a store of food, tobacco and wine to keep the friends sustained during their voyage, and so on.

At that time, Venus was still thought to rotate in a way that it would always show the same hemisphere to the sun, making it a planet divided into one half of eternal darkness and one of eternal sunshine. That is what the friends find, and of course the inhabitants of the two sides differ accordingly.

They arrive on the dark side, and have some adventures there; but the larger and more adventurous part of the story takes place on the sun side, where they venture later. After having crossed crystal mountains and vast stormy oceans, they reach the land of a people of such a high degree of civilization that spoken language has almost completely been replaced by telepathy. Of course, the scientific leader of the group does not take long to learn that language, and makes many astonishing discoveries.

The adventure wouldn't be an adventure if there wasn't some element of danger, and so the friends soon find they have unwittingly made an enemy who does not rest until he has them nearly destroyed. During their flight, more creatures of the planet are encountered, some of them very terrible and dangerous.

Several times, without wanting it, the friends become responsible for the loss of life on both sides of the planet - a fact they deeply regret. They have not set out to conquer, but to investigate and to satisfy their scientific curiosity, but they bring death and bloodshed, even making their leader exclaim he wished he had never brought them on this voyage.

Eventually, though, the group manages to make their way back to Earth. The story ends on a "mysterious" note: while the others all more or less resume their former lives after about two years of absence, the leader and his car disappear after a little while, and are never heard of again.

I like the way the author describes the landscapes, buildings and inhabitants of Venus, and how he never makes out that humans are superior to anything and anyone, but can learn from others, if they are open-minded. This was a good read, and - for now - concludes my little series of "space-related" reading (see this post and this one for the other two). Need I mention that I found it for free at the Kindle store?

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!