Saturday 27 April 2019

An Interview

Some of you know that my sister and I have been friends with George Pickles, former Hornblower of Ripon, and his lovely wife Lilian, for some years now.
Maybe you even recall that I have posted an interview with George a few years back to mark New Year's Eve; that interview is here. Or the intriguing story George allowed me to share as a guest post to mark Christmas one year; that story is here

In 2017, I learned that Ripon had introduced its first female Hornblower to keep up the tradition of setting the watch that has been going on for more than 1,000 years.
Of course George knew more about it and, as befits his generous and kind nature, he introduced us to Allison this year. We met on Ripon's market square in time to attend the setting of the watch by her. Allison then told us and the other visitors a bit about the history of the tradition, and when the others left, George introduced us. A pleasant chat followed before it was time to get out of the chilly night air and back to our warm cottage.

My sister took this photo of George, Allison and myself. (I have both George's and Allison's permission to publish it here.)

Since then, Allison and I have exchanged emails, and she has agreed to answer a few questions. Here is our interview:
1. How did it happen that you became the first female Hornblower in the over 1,000 years of this tradition? (I know you told me briefly, but I want to make sure I get it right!)
The Hornblower job was advertised in our local paper The Ripon Gazette (apparently it is the first time the role has ever been advertised). I applied and was interviewed. I don’t know how many people applied and were interviewed but the interview panel decided to appoint two of us, me and Richard M. This meant that we now have a team of four hornblowers. 

2. Were there any changes the City had to make for you because you are a woman, for instance to ensure your safety? 
No changes were made. I have never felt unsafe on the square. There are usually a lot of people around. My husband often comes with me for company and George gave me the number of the police who control the surveillance cameras on the square so if I did feel uneasy I would ring them in advance and ask them to monitor me. 

3. Sometimes women in predominantly male areas of life feel they have to work extra hard to be taken seriously. Do you ever feel this is the case in your position as first female Hornblower?
I have not felt this at all in this role. Everyone has been very welcoming and encouraging. A lot of people who have watched the ceremony have congratulated me on being the first woman to be appointed to the role and have seemed genuinely pleased. 

4.  What is the biggest challenge of being a Hornblower?
The biggest challenge for me was learning to blow the horn so it was a good consistent note. I had not come from any previous experience of playing an instrument and I am told that the horn I use is the most tricky one to blow so this was my biggest challenge and I had to do a lot of practising!

5. Has this position influenced other aspects of your life, and if yes, how?
Being a Hornblower has made me more interested in local history and I have joined The Civic Society as one way to learn more. I have also read more books and articles about Ripon. It has also made me appreciate living in Ripon even more and I feel very proud of the City and its history and traditions. 

6. Ever thought about retiring from it?
No - I feel I have only just begun and am happy to continue whilst I am enjoying it.
- - -
Allison, thank you so much for your time! It was lovely meeting you in March, and I hope we'll meet again during my next Yorkshire Holiday!

- - -
My blogging friend Monica from Sweden has posted about her visit to Ripon in 1974 and seeing the hornblower - please have a look here.

Thanks to George, I can tell you that the name of Monica's Hornblower was either Phillip Harrison or Brian Waines. How do I know this?
Check this photo of the plaque on the obelisk on Ripon's market square as it used to look like until someone decided to take it down (and not update and restore it, as was the original idea after George retired a few years ago):

Isn't it fantastic how one thing can lead to another in the blogging world? When Monica saw the Hornblower in 1974, little did she know that 45 years later she was going to post about it, inspired by someone else's post about a more recent meeting with another Hornblower!

Wednesday 24 April 2019

The Weekend Before Last

On Saturday, April 13, O.K. and I went shopping by car (a rarity for me) and brought back many bottles of various drinks (alcoholic and soft), fruit, cheese, vegetables and bread. O.K. then brought up the extra chairs from the cellar and cleaned them while I was busy in the kitchen. Garlands were hung, glasses placed in the kitchen and the buffet prepared - it was time to celebrate my birthday once more, this time with family and friends at home.

The buffet saw several contributions from my guests (thank you!). Everything was delicious, and although not everybody who was invited could make it, much fun was had by all (I hope) and the party lasted until 2:00 am.

The chilly weather was not welcome to all, but I was actually glad of it; it made keeping drinks cool so much easier as would have otherwise been possible with only one small fridge in my kitchen.

Sunday started out still grey and cold, but turned nicer as the day went on. Late afternoon, the sun came out, and O.K. and I decided to use our season's tickets (a generous gift from my Mum) for the palace grounds for the first time this season.

One part of the park was given over to Easter themed decorations made of plastic eggs on egg-shaped wire stands, straw and wooden sculptures and flower arrangements like the yellow duck. I must say I wasn't overly fond of the plastic eggs although I liked their pastel colours; the straw and wood is something I see more fit in a country environment than in the palace grounds, but that is just my personal taste.

Anyway, we were glad we had come out and enjoyed the lovely evening light and the flowers. It became rather chilly again once the sun disappeared in the west, and it was time for a small meal before O.K. was going to undertake the long drive home.

This was the last of my birthday celebrations for this year! I wonder how many I will have next year :-)

Saturday 20 April 2019

Spring at Home

Spring has well and truly sprung during the time I was in Yorkshire, and now it is so far advanced that it almost feels like early summer. 
Temperatures jumped up this week from a very cold last weekend (frosty nights and wearing a coat on my way to work) to somewhere around 24 Celsius yesterday, today and for the next few days. It has all been rather sudden, as is often the case in April in my area, and believe it or not - people already complain about it being "too hot" :-D

For my part, I am looking forward to a first trip to the icecream parlour, and I very much enjoy NOT having to wear a coat.

Here are a few pictures from just after my Yorkshire holiday.

April 1st, view from my kitchen window. Notice the buds on the twig.
April 15 - no buds, all blossoms!
The 3rd of April, magnolia tree in my neighbourhood. It was still really cold that day.
A Sunday walk in O.K.'s area, with orchards just coming into bloom on April 6th. A chilly day, but spring can not be stopped.

There is more to come. We've been to the palace grounds last weekend, and yesterday (Good Friday), my sister and I drove to my parents' allotment with our Dad - it was warm enough for wearing shorts for the first time this year, and I went on a walk and took some pictures, too. But these will have to wait for another post.

Happy Easter to all of you!

Friday 19 April 2019

Read in 2019 - 7: Becoming

Michelle Obama

When I put "Becoming" by Michelle Obama on my wishlist for Christmas last year, I already knew two things: 1. That I was going to receive it and 2. that I was going to enjoy it. On both accounts, I was not disappointed!

Mrs Obama manages to tell her story - for the larger part of her life, so closely interwoven with her husband's - in her own words and in a manner that should appeal to most readers. She writes very well, with a simple elegance that should be easy to understand by nearly all readers, without ever sounding condescending as if she were toning down her ductus to a simplified level.

The book is neatly divided into the three main stages of her life: "Becoming Me" is about her childhood, youth and young adulthood. "Becoming Us" talks of becoming a couple with Barack Obama, marriage and founding their family. "Becoming More" tells of the wider context - the Obamas, their lives, personalities and activities closely connected to their nation as its President and First Family.

All of it has its own charm and intrigue:
The descriptions of what life was like for young "Miche", at home, at school, with her friends, and later at university, make a great read. Sometimes funny, a bit nostalgic, sometimes serious, often making the reader think. As Mrs Obama is only 4 years older than myself, I was surprisingly often able to relate to things mentioned in her book, even though we live on different continents.

Her years studying and as a young professional are very interesting for someone like me who has never been to uni and much as I enjoy my job and have always liked working, has never shown such total, extreme dedication to their work.
The part about the more recent past is of course especially fascinating, offering insights into life at the White House and under the constant scrutiny any public figure or celebrity is subject to, and how she has managed to remain true to herself and never forgot her values.

All through the book, Mrs Obama is remarkably open and honest. I must admit that the only part of the book that, in my opinion, is a bit too open is the one about the Obamas' problems to become parents. As we all know, they have succeeded in their efforts, but I thought the descriptions of those efforts a little too detailed and not strictly necessary for understanding their struggle or the readibility of the book.

She also is honest about her perception of other politicians, heads of states or VIPs she has met during the years of her husband's presidency, but she never says anything vulgar or based simply on her personal likes or dislikes about these people - in other words, she does not judge others.

While I was reading, I often came across a sentence or two that would make great quotes or mottos; gems of wisdom everyone could do with in their lives. Not because Mrs Obama thinks she knows better, but because she has experienced a lot in her life and willingly shares with others what she has found to be true.

This is one lady who can think and speak for herself, and she does it very well.

If you get the chance, I can only recommend you to read this book. Or listen to it as an audio book, read by Mrs. Obama herself - I didn't know about it beforehand, but Monica reviewed it here on her blog not that long ago.

Years ago, I read "The Audacity of Hope" by Barack Obama (click here if you want to read my review). I was interested back then in learning more about Michelle Obama, but rather disappointed with a book I have reviewed here.
Now, no disappointment whatsoever with "Becoming"!

Tuesday 16 April 2019

Yorkshire Holiday 2019 - Last Day and Going Home

On our last day, Saturday the 30th of March, we had a special event to attend: The Spring Food Home & Garden Show at the cathedral.
I had read about it beforehand on the cathedral's website and penned it in my diary, and since my sister was just as interested in going as I was, we made that our good-bye treat for our last day.

After breakfast, we walked to the cathedral in the morning sunshine, paid our admission fee and had a first look round. It was busy without feeling stressful, and we decided to buy our lunch there but eat it at home, on the sunny bench in front of the cottage. Also, we wanted to carry home the gifts (for our loved ones at home as well as for ourselves) we had purchased and not be weighed down by many bags.

Early in the afternoon, my sister-in-law joined us, and we went back to the show with her. She, too, had a good look round, and more purchases were made. We wrapped up the afternoon by having tea and cakes in the cathedral.

Later, we went to Mary's to say good-bye to her, and on the way back bought fish & chips for our last tea/dinner in Yorkshire.

My room at the cottage in the early afternoon sun. Even though it is very different from my bedroom at home, it very much feels like "my" room.
The next day, Sunday the 31st, my sister-in-law picked us up just after 9:00 in the morning. We had already packed and dropped off the keys with our landlady. At the station in Harrogate, we had enough time to buy something to eat for the train; it was going to be a long day.

My sister took these pictures of me at various stages of our trip, with me being unaware
Everything went well, all trains were punctual, and our departing trip took even an hour less than arriving: 8 hours instead of 9, almost to the minute! We got off the plane in Stuttgart to a mild 20 Celsius. It was back to work the next day, so I was glad that I arrived at my flat in the early evening.

New pillow cases, bought at the Food Home and Garden Show
It had been a wonderful holiday, with Yorkshire and our family and friends being as lovely as ever.

Monday 15 April 2019

Yorkshire Holiday 2019 - Ripley

Friday, the 29th of March, saw us once more returning to a place we love (plus it has the advantage of being easily reachable by bus): Ripley.
If you want to see pictures of Ripley in the summer, simply type "Ripley" in the search box on the top left corner of this page, and you will find several posts about it from former visits.

It was a day of cloudless blue sky and the warmest of our holiday so far - perfect for strolling around the beautiful parkland and village of Ripley.

First, though, we stopped at the church.

A rather impressive rosemary bush
View towards Ripley Castle

The beautiful ceiling

The official visitor season had not yet begun, and so entrance to the estate (without visiting the castle) was free. It is one of those places that are beautiful in all seasons and weather, but of course we were extra lucky today with the sunshine showing the parkland and gardens at their best.

We don't know what the point of this huge chair was, but I could not resist sitting on it.
It was lunch time, and the café just across the road from the castle (also part of Ripley estate) was busy. We still managed to find a table outside in the sun and ordered lunch. My Yorkshire Platter was huge - my sister had to help me, even though her own meal, a quiche, wasn't exactly tiny, either. It was delicious, and sitting out there in the sun made the rather long wait for our food and drinks easier.

Afterwards, we walked around the village (which is quickly done - it really isn't much more than two rows of houses along the main road) and then up the hill, past the estate and through beautiful woodland, filled with spring birdsong, before it was time to go back and catch a bus home to Ripon.

The day ended with a visit next door, at our landlady's, who served us delicious nibbles to go with the G&T all three of us opted for.