Thursday, 31 December 2015

Happy New Year

After I gave you quite a lot of pictures and (historic and other) detail about my home region, I have prepared something special for you for my last post of 2015:

Happy New Year from Ripon!

Ripon Town Hall Chambers just before midnight. The Bishop is about to step out onto the balcony to address the crowd with George to follow.

A view of the crowd on the square looking down from the Town Hall balcony. 

No, I have not travelled to Ripon since you last saw me walking along the Neckar. But after I told you about Ripon's Hornblower tradition a few times already (here for the first time, and again in 2014 and this year, I thought it fitting to wish you all a Happy New Year "from Ripon", so to speak.
After I had posted about the new Hornblower this year, I got in touch with George Pickles, the former Hornblower, via his website. We began corresponding, and I had so many questions that the idea of posting an interview with him came up.
He sent me the pictures you can see on this post, and patiently answered my questions. Before that, he even sent me a CD with "The Wakeman's Song" and a short presentation of the history of the Hornblower Tradition. Also, I received a very pretty Christmas card from George and Lilian. I feel privileged to know such kind and friendly people!

Six Questions to George Pickles:

1. Do you remember how and when you first heard of Ripon's Hornblower tradition?
As you may know I retired to Ripon 14 years ago with Lilian my wife, from the industrial part of Yorkshire after almost 50 years in the Engineering industry, looking for a nice Rural area for in which to enjoy our well earned retirement. Up to then we had only heard slight rumours or brief references about some chap blowing a horn on the square each evening in Ripon.

2. Did you think back then "I want to do that" - or would you have never expected to be the Hornblower for so many years?
We had not lived in Ripon long before we realised that there was more to the ritual than we had first thought. We started visiting the evening ceremony on a regular basis and became more and more interested in the history and the legend surrounding the daily ceremony and began to look further into it. We were also very impressed by the dedication of the Hornblower of the day, and always felt that it would be such a privilege to hold such a position and to be trusted with such a responsibility. When family or friends came to visit we always took them to see the Hornblower.

3. How does one actually become Hornblower in Ripon? Do people apply for the job, or are they chosen by a committee?
We had only lived in Ripon for about 18 months when the Hornblower of the day gave notice he was standing down from the role and going to live in France. The City Council, the employers of the Hornblower, advertised the position, but no one applied for the job. Two former deputies, the City Mace bearer and a former Mayor were keeping the ceremony going, but none were in a position or capable of taking on the commitment fully. The Role of the Hornblower and the ceremony was in danger of dying.
After talking it over with Lilian, I requested an appointment with the Mayor. I offered to take on the role until they found a more suitable candidate. The Mayor then arranged for me to be interviewed by a panel which consisted of the Mayor, a former Mayor, two City councillors and a legal representative from the District Council headquarters.
After the meeting, and although I had never blown a horn, or indeed any wind instruments, plus they didn't have a uniform to fit me, and I had only scant knowledge of the history and general proceedings, they gave me the job. I think it was out of desperation, and in any event there was no one else, but the continuity of the ceremony in some form was at least assured.
I spent every spare moment of my time for the following weeks, driving out into the country miles from where I could be heard, sitting in my car and practicing blowing the horn until I could produce an acceptable note. I conducted the ceremony in my own black overcoat until the uniform coat arrived from the tailors. I studied and researched the history and the legend until I had a very good knowledge, from which I devised an oral presentation based on what I had learned plus some light hearted humour. My presentation proved to be a very popular success and before long I was receiving invitations from far and wide as a guest speaker, plus radio and TV appearances. All moneys raised by me as a result were given to local charities.

4. Did you ever think "I really don't want to do this tonight" and would have liked to stay home instead?
Shortly after my appointment, I was approached by a USA serviceman called Eugene Boarman who was working at a nearby military base. He expressed a desire to be my Deputy. I took an immediate liking to him and asked the Mayor and Council to officially appoint him to that role, which they did. I spent a great deal of time schooling him. Eugene became a close friend and colleague and worked with me for about six years before he was posted back to the USA. With him at my side, I was able to have the occasional holiday, and he would cover for me if I had evening speaking engagements or other ceremonial commitments. The Hornblower role is a serious commitment, it disrupts your  social life, and home life to a certain extent, and without an understanding wife, it would not be possible to fulfil the duties over a long period of time. I am very fortunate to have such a lady as a wife.
There are times, such as the depth of winter when there is thick snow, and frost and the fire in the hearth is glowing nicely, when you feel that it would be nice not to have to go out and conduct the ceremony. But, once showered, shaved and dressed in the uniform, pride and dedication to duty soon overcomes the negatives.
Whatever the weather, time of year, or other conditions, there is always some visitors to see the ceremony. The smallest number I have ever performed in front of is about eight, and the largest crowd would be about three hundred.

5. You must have countless stories to tell about what being a Hornblower involves. Any particular, most treasured memory?
There have been so many memorable experiences during my time as Hornblower, the wonderful reception from young children when I went to so many schools to talk, the old peoples homes I visited each year at Christmas, and the raising of funds for those less fortunate. So may happy memories.

As you may know I decided that the modest monies I was paid by the Council, would be spent on a token of appreciation to give to visitors. With this in mind, I designed and had produced the Hornblower Lucky Wooden Penny. Little did I know how popular these would become, with people travelling long distances to be presented with one, and the stories of good fortune they had brought to so many people.

On one occasion, after I had carried out  the ceremony and was talking informally to the visitors and giving out some 'Pennies', I gave one to a young lady. As soon as the 'penny' was in her hand the young man with her went down on his knees, produced a ring and proposed. This incident reached the media, and thereafter so many young men brought their ladies to the square, pre arranged with me, and when the 'Penny' was given, the engagement process took place. This happened so many times.
Another occasion, a couple travelled 200 miles to ask for a 'Lucky Penny', because they were having trouble adopting a child. They returned a year later to introduce me to their lovely 3 year old son they had just adopted.
There are just too many stories to tell by email.

6. Your advice to the current Hornblower(s) ?
As you know, the duties of the Hornblower are now being carried out by a team of three or four men on a job share rota basis, so I will be recorded as the last person to singularly hold the post. My advice to those who share the duties is to remember when on duty, you are representative of the City of Ripon and the custodian of the longest ongoing daily ceremony in the world. Be polite, be dressed to a standard befitting the position and conduct yourself with pride and dignity.

Thank you, George! I am sure my readers will appreciate your answers as much as I did. By the way, I still have my Lucky Wooden Penny, the one you gave me in 2012. And that year brought me my current job, which I love and intend to stick to until retirement :-)

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Post-Christmas Walk

Yet another walk in the sun it was for us on the 27th. This time, we chose to walk along the river Neckar (if you find Ludwigsburg on google maps, you'll see the river nearby). But unlike most people who want a river walk and stay on the path right next to the water, we climbed up all the way to the top of the deep valley the river has cut here over millions of years, and enjoyed the views from there.

Our first stop was the ruins of Burg Hoheneck (castle "High Corner"), rising high above Hoheneck, now a suburb of Ludwigsburg although it is many centuries older than the city. [Scroll down to the bottom of this post for a bit of history, if you are interested.]

The ruins are privately owned and fenced off; you can walk right up to its walls but not go inside. I wonder - should I try and find out who the owners are, and befriend them so that I can have a proper look?

Great views from there in all directions:

Wolfgangskirche ("Wolfgang's church") in Hoheneck
The vineyards on the sweeping slopes of the Neckar valley are characteristical for this area. This is the view north, towards Marbach.
Looking southwards (Stuttgart way) along the river, you can see a large freight barge just approaching the bridge.
The path along the top of the slope made a curve and lead through an area of fields, orchards and allotments. We came across this decorated tree:

Another tree had its own decoration:

What's this? A rocket base near Ludwigsburg?
I spotted this bird sitting on a pole in a vineyard:

As it was only about the size of a large dove, it can't have been a buzzard. Could it have been a kestrel? Or a milan? My Dad will know if my Mum shows him this post, I am sure! 

The slope is not as gentle as it looks in some of my pictures. In fact, it is very steep in places, as you can see from these glimpses down the narrow stone steps:

Imagine to work this vineyard, climbing up and done in the hot sun! No chance to get there with machines, it all has to be done (and still is) by hand.

The "rocket" comes to view again. I've known this sight from when I was a little girl. It is a power plant and took up work in 1941. The "rocket" is a chimney. It was built in the early 1970s and is 160 m (525 ft) high.

Remember: these pictures were taken at the end of December, not in April!

Across the river, a great view of the Deutsche Literaturarchiv (Archive of German Literature) and Schiller Nationalmuseum in Marbach:

This is such a fascinating place, it well deserves its own post. But I'm afraid you'll have to wait until next year for that :-)

For the way back, we chose the path at river level, offering us a different perspective of what we'd seen from above.

No better way (in my opinion) to spend a sunny afternoon this time of year!


Here's the bit of history I promised earlier:

There was a Roman villa on the site of Hoheneck, with parts of it still actively being used until the 2nd century. I posted about those remains in 2013
In medieval times, Hoheneck became a proper settlement around the castle, which was probably started around the year 1200. The castle and village (then enclosed by strong walls) changed hands a few times through marriage and other political moves. Already by the end of the 14th century, the castle was not inhabited anymore and fell in disrepair. 
Most of the time, Hoheneck seems to have been a quiet place, where agriculture and vineyards offered a living to the people. As small as the village was, it had a church and two wine presses. 
During the Thirty Years' War, Hoheneck was plundered and burnt down almost completely.
When Ludwigsburg was being built and established as a city (even though it only had a handful of houses to begin with), Hoheneck officially came under its administration in 1719.
In 1892, a water power plant was built. Digging in the ground, the workers found a natural spring of brine, and by 1907, the first spa bath opened, along with concert halls, hotels and restaurants for the visitors.
Today, Hoheneck has about 5.000 inhabitants. It shows a well preserved old centre with timbered houses, and I think I should show you some more of it. For a glimpse of the old church, you can look at this post from 2012.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Read in 2015 - 38: Angels in the Snow

This book by Sarah Morgan was supposed to be another cosy Christmas read for me, but I was disappointed to the point of considering putting it aside more than once. I had not read anything by the author before, so what I expected was a foreseeable romance against a Christmas backdrop, maybe with some humour thrown in, just the kind I sometimes like: sweet and harmless like a plate of Christmas cookies, if counterbalanced by something more substantial every now and then.

The idea behind the book is nice enough and could have been turned into the kind of reading material I expected when chosing it out of a pile of books my mother-in-law had set aside for me when I came visiting her in Yorkshire in August:
It's actually two books in one, each involving one of two brothers and how they find love (after some twists and turns, of course).

1. Daniel and Patrick work at a clinic, with Daniel being on the rescue team, saving injured climbers and other people who were daft enough to risk life and limb in the mountains without proper equipment and preparation. His brother Patrick is an obstetrician, and he is so good at his job that he has a waiting list of women who insist he shall be the only one to deliver their babies.

Two years ago on Christmas Eve, Daniel proposed to his girlfriend. The same evening, Patrick's wife left him and their two children, which scared Daniel so much he instantly broke off his engagement. That in itself was, I thought, completely illogical behaviour, but I conceded that of course most people forget all sense and reason when it comes to love and relationships.

Anyway, now it's nearly Christmas again, two years later, and Daniel's ex-fiancee is back to work at the clinic, after she has convinced herself that she is well and truly over the disastrous end of her relationship with Daniel. Of course she bumps into him nearly as soon as she's back, and of course she has been kidding herself all along - the old attraction is still there, and the inevitable slide towards a renewal of their former romance begins.
The story could end there, but you didn't expect it to be that simple, did you? Daniel did not remain single while Stella worked and lived elsewhere, and the reasons for breaking off the engagement are still as solidly in his mind as before. Also, Stella has joined a dating website, desperately trying to find someone who is not Daniel to fall in love with.
Rest assured that everything turns out to every romantic's liking.

2. Part II of the book tells Patrick's story. As mentioned in Daniel's story, he and his children are left by his wife on Christmas Eve two years ago. There are many ladies who'd give and do anything to be the new Mrs. in his life, but Patrick focuses entirely on his work at the clinic and his kids, who adore him.

Just before Christmas, he is invited to a hospital in the US who offer him a job - and a new life. Sounds tempting, and he travels across the Atlantic to have a look. His guide for the day at the hospital is not only young and attractive, but highly professional and a lot of fun at the same time. The two of them end up spending a memorable night together.
But Patrick decides he does not wish to uproot his children, not after what they went through with their mother having left them, and that he loves his work at the clinic and the closeness to family and friends too much to give it all up for a new start in the US.

Imagine Patrick's surprise when, soon after he has returned home, one evening he finds Hayley, the girl from the hospital in the US, on his doorstep, suitcase in hand! Why has she come? And what twists and turns need to happen until these two finally understand that they are perfect for each other (and the kids)?


So far, so good. Sounds sweet and romantic enough, doesn't it? And it is - on the surface. But there was an undercurrant right from the start that left me feeling uneasy. Forget the fact that nobody just says something; men always "drawl" and the women always answer "huskily". There are a lot of stubbled jaws and unruly dark hair on the mens' heads, while the women look of course gorgeous without it requiring any effort, even if they have just landed in the snow on their backsides. 
I can deal with that, and although the few steamy scenes were a bit unlikely, I didn't mind them, either. But what I do mind is when violence, even in its mildest form, is shown as something to be desired in a man. Look at this:

He caught her chin in his undamaged hand, turning her face to his, his movements strong and confident, his tone raw and demanding. "Why didn't you tell me you were coming back?" - [...] Stella moved her head but he had her trapped. 

And this is just one of many similar examples, of wrists grabbed and backs pressed against walls and so on. Am I the only woman who thinks it is wrong to treat anyone like this, let alone a woman one professes to be attracted to? Once I realized this was going to be a pattern in the characters' behaviour, I should have put the book away. But I did read on, and there were bits I enjoyed. For instance, I found the descriptions of work at the clinic, dealing with the patients and so on really interesting, and I am convinced the author did her research well for those scenes. But altogether, I can not adivse anyone to read "Angels in the Snow".

Sunday, 27 December 2015

What Christmas Was Like

Hard to believe Christmas is already over, and we'll soon start our 2016 diaries. Mine is ready, just waiting to be filled with the first dates and appointments I already have written on the last page of the one I was using all of 2015.

Christmas Eve is the main Christmas event in my family, as it will be for most Germans. We spend it at my parents', where we have a traditional meal, light the tree (yes, with REAL candles, and we've never had an accident with them, not even when we were little, or when we had one or more cats around), songs and presents.

I had spent the day doing stuff such as ironing, wrapping my presents and going to the gym. Before I left to walk the 10 minute distance to my parents, I looked out of my kitchen window and saw this:

The table and the tree (which I helped to light):

The tree is at its most beautiful when its candles are (nearly) the only light in the room. That may not be ideal for photos, but I'll post these anyway to give you a little of the atmosphere:

On Christmas morning at home, I opened my parcels from England. The desk is nearly not big enough to hold all the presents combined! Have a look:

Just after lunch time, we went for a walk on the fields. It was so sunny and warm we almost could have left our coats at home. 

We went where we had come across the decorated tree shown here. What do you think, have more baubles been added since then? I am not sure, but it still looked nice:

We spotted a heron in a field. He was rather far away, and I apologize for the quality - this was taken at maximum zoom my camera can do:

Yesterday, on the 26th, we all met again at my parents' for a Christmas brunch. As always, there was so much food twice the amount of people could have come, and there would have still been leftovers :-) It was another mild and sunny day, and we went walking again.

At night, I went to my friends' house. They are American and have gone to see their families in the US over Christmas and New Year. I look after their two cats on weekends; someone else does it during the week. Madame and Hobbes were very affectionate - and not just because they wanted their food (that comes from an automatic food dispenser twice a day anyway). I stayed with them for a while, giving them the cuddles and games they wanted - hard to tell who had more fun there, I or them :-) I'm on Cat Care Duty again tonight.

Enjoy your day, whether it will be a quiet one resting at home, or filled with friends and family, laughter and games! If you are travelling today, have a safe journey!

Friday, 25 December 2015

First Kiss on Christmas Eve

In Germany in the 1950s, WWII was still very much present in people's minds, even though they mostly avoided the subject and rarely talked about it. At school, history lessons stopped at a safe distance from the years that lead to Hitler's rise, and everyone was supposed to look forward instead of back.
But of course, the strong presence of the Allied Forces all over the country meant that nobody forgot the events of the past two decades. Germany was divided between the Allies, with the south falling to the Americans, the west to the French, east to the Russians and north to the British.

The true story I am about to tell you took place in the late 1950s in south Germany. The girl who told me of her very first kiss on Christmas Eve is my Mum, and I think it is rather brave of her to share what is a very private memory.


Just like everywhere else across the south of Germany at that time, many American GIs were stationed in the area of the small town where my grandmother lived. I loved going to my grandmother's all year; we got along very well and she left me the space and time I needed for myself, to sit underneath a tree in the park across the street from her house, reading books that were considered a bit too grown-up for me, or just dreaming.

The year I was 13, around Christmas time the town council sent out an appeal to all citizens to invite an American soldier into their homes for Christmas. All those young men were far away from home, often for the first time in their lives, and would be so grateful for a warm welcome in the Christian spirit and the chance to celebrate a proper German Christmas with their hosts.

My own mother would have never invited a complete stranger like that, but my grandmother was different: She didn't hesitate to put her name on the list, and a young GI named Jim was assigned to be her guest on Christmas Eve. My grandmother didn't speak English, nor did anyone else she knew. But, wait a minute - there was someone who spoke English: her granddaughter! I had been learning English at school for a few years, and that was considered enough to qualify for my being the interpreter that evening.

I found the idea of meeting a complete stranger - "exotic", too, since he wasn't German - rather exciting. Of course my mother couldn't say no, and so I arrived at grandmother's house not at all sure what to expect.
When I first saw Jim, his smile was warm and he had that all-American, totally clean-scrubbed boyish charm. In his very early twenties, he wasn't that much older than myself, but we came from different worlds and had lead completely different lives, so the gap seemed much bigger: To me, he was a man, while I was a mere teenage girl who'd had no experience whatsoever with boys (apart from what I knew through my older brother and his friends).

My grandmother celebrated Christmas Eve the traditional way: the real candles on the tree were lit, some Christmas songs were sung, the meal was served, and gifts were exchanged afterwards. Conversation flowed freely, and I did my best to translate for Jim, who turned out to be an exceptionally polite and well-educated young man. 

To offer her American guest a small reminder of home, my grandmother turned the radio to AFN. Some Christmas songs were played, with "White Christmas" featuring several times in the course of the evening.

It really was a white Christmas, too, and was still snowing by the time I had to leave in order to get the train back home. Jim had to go back to the barracks, too, and offered to walk with me so that I did not have to be out in the dark on my own.
There was snow on the ground everywhere, and the silver moonlight and the street lights made it glitter like millions of diamonds. 
We arrived at the crossing where our paths would separate; the way to the train station was to the left and the road to the barracks was to the right.

We said good-bye - and it was then that Jim took me in his arms and gave me my first proper kiss. It was a very tender, soft and warm kiss, full on the lips but nothing a 13-year-old couldn't cope with.
Nobody saw us, and when the kiss came to an end, we went our seperate ways as if nothing had happened.

But of course, a lot had happened - I wasn't the unkissed little girl anymore, I was a young lady who knew what a proper kiss is like! I was floating, not walking, all the way to the train, and kept my secret for a very long time.

We didn't stay in touch after Christmas; I never saw Jim again and don't know what became of him. Only a few years later, I met and fell in love with a young man from my town. He became my husband and the father of my daughters, and I wouldn't want my life to have turned out any other way.
But that Christmas Eve I'll never forget, just as I'll always remember that first kiss whenever "White Christmas" is played anywhere.


As soon as my Mum told me this very romantic Christmas story, I knew I wanted to share it with you. At first, she hesitated, then thought about posting it without revealing the identity of the girl. But in the end my Mum decided that, although very personal, this is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about, but a sweet story worth being told.
"Jim" was most likely not the real name of the young GI, but that does not matter. What matters is that he was a kind, good man, not abusing the hospitality extended to him that evening, and that he created a fond memory for someone on Christmas Eve.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Merry Christmas!

Dear readers,
Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate - and a few happy days of rest or whatever activity you have chosen to do if you don't celebrate.

One gift I gave and received at the same time already on the evening of the 22nd:
After work, I met up with my sister in Stuttgart to go to the ballet. RJ's Mum had given me tickets for a performance of "Sleeping Beauty", in a wonderful production originally started in 1987 by Marcia Haydée, with Richard Cragun as the Bad Fairy (Carabosse). If you know anything about ballet, you will have heard of Stuttgart Ballet - a world class company, started by John Cranko.
If you are not interested in ballet, none of these names will mean anything to you, but believe me, these were/are great artists.

Stuttgart on 22.12.2015, view across Schlossplatz ("palace square") towards Königstraße ("King's road")

I did see the original production back in the 1980s when I was still a young librarian in the making. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and I am glad the ballet company have decided to add it to their repertoire again. Decades later, it has not lost any of its charm, sparkle and greatness. The dancers who now fill the roles are as great and talented as the ones I saw before. It was an enchanted evening, and I am happy to have been able to share it with my sister.
Pictures can be found here on the official homepage.

My sister and I on Christmas Eve 1973. She gave me permission to use this picture in 2012, and I am using it again this year - boring, I know, but it so fits the occasion.

Yesterday, RJ and I worked until 8.00 pm to complete some last-minute stuff for our customers. RJ gave me a very welcome lift home before he drove on to his parents. Today, I'll have things to do (hairdresser's in the morning, wrapping my gifts, some ironing and probably the gym) before heading to my parents' place for Christmas Eve.

I am looking forward to seeing the tree which my Mum and my sister always decorate. It will be Christmas Eve as we like it - with traditional food, maybe a song or two, family and close friends with us, and exchanging gifts.
Of course, as every year, I will open the parcels that came from England on Christmas morning (except for the one from two of my nieces which says "open me on Christmas Eve" - I really wonder what's in it!).

Right, I best get going!

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Read in 2015 - 37: Ten Great Events in History

Originally published in 1887, this free ebook from Amazon's Kindle store does what all ranking lists are prone to do: It gives a biased view on what was considered "great" at a certain time and from a certain perspective.

For the author, the ten great events were
- Defense of Freedom By Greek Valor
- Crusades and the Crusaders
- Defense of Freedom in Alpine Passes
- Bruce and Bannockburn
- Columbus and the New World
- Defence of Freedom On Dutch Dikes
- The Invincible Armada
- Freedom’s Voyage to America
- Plassey; and How An Empire Was Won
- Lexington and Bunker Hill

An entire chapter is dedicated to each of these events. The historical impact of each of these can certainly be valued differently, depending on whose "side" the reader is on and at what point in time the event is considered. For instance, few people would doubt the impact Columbus' voyages had on the shape of the world as we know it today. But has the defense of freedom in Alpine passes made much difference to, say, someone living outside of Europe today?
In a collection of ten great events in history, I suppose nowadays most people would include the trigger events for the two World Wars. Maybe the Moon landing, maybe the invention of the car and the computer, and - for us bloggers - the internet.

But, unsurprisingly, the author was very much a child of his time, and therefore the list is the one above. He states the criteria for his choice in the preface: "The great events in history are those where, upon special occasions, a man or a people have made a stand against tyranny, and have preserved or advanced freedom for the people."

Some chapters I read with more pleasure and interest than others. The ones about Wilhelm Tell ("Alpine Passes"), Columbus, and Freedom's Voyage to America were my favourites. Others I must admit I sort of quick-scanned in parts, especially when there were pages and pages of lengthy ballads and poems, quoted in full.

James Johonnot lived from 1823 to 1888. Wikipedia calls him a New York state educator. He wrote numerous books both for and about school and teaching.

Monday, 21 December 2015


Some of you already know that I usually start my mornings (no matter whether it is a work day or weekend, work at the office or from home) with a mug of strong, sweet, black coffee and reading your blogs. Today, the first one at the top of my dashboard was Monica's blog but it was this post by Neil who made me finally put up two pictures I've had on my phone for a while.

My phone is the 1st generation iphone, bought in 2009. Its camera is not the best, and so I only use it when I come across something I want to remember or show someone, and haven't brought my "proper" camera with me.

This picture of a lime or linden tree has been sitting on my phone since the 1st of August. I'm afraid the photo hardly does the real tree justice - it was immense, and of course neither the sweet scent of its blossoms nor the sound of what must have been thousands of buzzing bees can be transported this way; you'll have to rely on your imagination for it:

We've been having a sunny and mild December so far, with very little (too little) rain. Most weekends, we went on walks, and I didn't always have my camera with me. This was the case on the 6th of this month, when we came across this tree:

I wonder how it came about to be decorated (it is not in anyone's garden and not very close to any houses). Did one person start it off, and others saw the first few baubles on the tree, went home to fetch some of their own and added to it? Or did a group from a kindergarden or school decide to go on a walk and find a tree to decorate on the fields? 
We've not been back to this particular corner yet, but it would be intresting to see whether there is more on the tree now (or less - I hope not!).

Anyway, now you know why Yorkshire Pudding's blog reminded me to post these pictures.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

What the ... is going on?

Yesterday, my blog had 121* followers. This morning, there were 119. About an hour ago, 117. Right now, 116. At this rate, I'll wake up tomorrow to a blog with about 8 left.
What IS going on?!

Dear readers, have I written anything offensive? Has my blog become too boring/too one-dimensional/too daft/too predictable/too... something people simply don't like?

Don't get me wrong - I know that out of the entire number of readers, only a small group actually do read my blog, and even less leave comments. I also know that it is only natural that people come and go in blogland, just like anywhere else. 

And of course the fun of blogging does not completely depend on how many (if any) readers the blog has - but it is a large part of the fun. I really enjoy this form of communication, and just as I like reading and commenting on your blogs, I appreciate each and every one who takes the time to come over to mine.

So, what's going on? I am really puzzled.
(And obviously those who have left are not going to read this and answer my question. Daft, really, to ask at all.) 

*Actually, I think there were 122 earlier this week. That's 5 leaving in the space of a few days, definitely giving me something to think about.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Read in 2015 - 36: Christmas is in the Air

I do like seasonal reading. And there are so many (free) books with a Christmas theme at Amazon's Kindle shop that I have a whole collection of them on my kindle (nearly all of them from last year), adding to it as I happen to come across them (not that you really "happen" to come across anything on Amazon - very cleverly programmed algorithms make sure the user sees what the user is supposed to see).

"Christmas is in the Air" was my first Christmassy read this season. Actually, it is four books in one. Three are rather short and didn't really mean much to me, but the fourth was longer, in parts really funny, of a better quality than the first three, and I really enjoyed it.

1.) “Red Soles at Night Christmas Delight” by Cary Morgan Frates
Young woman meets man in circumstances that are anything but romantic and then of course ends up not only spending the most romantic Christmas ever with him, but also - by the looks of it - will live happily ever after with him.
The setting is rather nice: private boats (not luxury yachts) doubling as weekend or holiday homes, and a festive boat parade on Christmas Eve.

2.) Yuletide Bride” by Danielle Lee Zwissler
Young woman meets man in less than ideal circumstances and of course ends up with him becoming the love of her life (and vice versa). Sounds familiar? Yep, that was the idea behind story # 1, too.
This time, the young woman is a reporter who is determined to write an eye-opening article about her hometown's Christmas festival which always involves a seemingly randomly chosen couple getting married on the spot. She does not believe in the magic of Christmas, let alone in that of the festival. But - you guessed it - things turn out very different from what she set out to do.

3.) “Christmas Gift that Keeps Wagging" by Jennifer Conner
Young woman meets man... hold on, yet another one of those? Nearly, but this one was different from the others in that it involved a child with epilepsy. The young woman is the owner of a seizure dog, trained to detect the first signs of a seizure and assist the child. The boy's father calls the agency the young woman works for, and he is - surprise, surprise -  the most handsome and sexy man the woman has ever clapped eyes on. Plus she gets along extremely well with the boy, and guess what... Well, I'll leave the rest to your imagination.

4.) “One Horse Open Sleigh Race” by Karen Hall
As I said above, this one was longer, better and funnier than the rest. Although...
Young woman meets man in averse circumstances but then...
Yes, yes. I know! But honestly, this one was good. Set in England in 1819, it reminded me a lot of Georgette Heyer's funny, romantic novels I so loved in my teens. The characters are three-dimensional, the locations can be imagined very well without offering too much lengthy detail. Even though you know from the start who's going to end up with whom, there are one or two surprise elements.

All four stories were harmless, seasonal fun reads. While I won't actively look for any more of these authors' books, I wouldn't mind finding another by Karen Hall.
Editing was OK, not perfect, but OK - for a free ebook anyway.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

A Typical German Christmas Market

You've already seen pictures of my hometown, Ludwigsburg's, Christmas Market on my blog. But actually, ours isn't all that typical - it is for Ludwigsburg, of course, but it is rather unusual in the way it is set up. Ludwigsburg's layout is different from that of many other German towns: It didn't naturally grow from a small settlement through hundreds or even thousands of years, but it was planned and designed in order to complement the palace built for Eberhard Ludwig and his successors, the Dukes of Wuerttemberg.

In Baroque times, Man wanted to prove his ability to dominate nature. Woods, hedgerows, fields, roads, streams and lakes - everything had to be symmetrically laid out to suit the taste of the ruling classes. Ludwigsburg was no exception. It has a large market square with two churches facing each other, and the roads leading off it and connecting it to the palace were all straight and symmetrical when they were first built.
This makes for a rather unique, large market square, and the layout of our Christmas market follows the rules of Baroque planning.

Not so in many other towns, where timbered and half-timbered houses, hundreds of years older than anything you can see in Ludwigsburg, dominate the narrow cobbled streets, and often, a church lies at the centre instead of a palace.

Bad Wimpfen ("Bad" in German is not the opposite of good, it means spa) has reputedly one of the most beautiful and oldest (if not THE oldest) Christmas Market in Germany. The town is about an hour's drive from Ludwigsburg, and on Friday, two friends and I decided to go there for the day.

The town's administration has wisely provided a large parking area outside the old town - back then, streets were not made to hold anything larger than an ox cart, and even that must have been difficult to navigate at times.

Walking up the hill from the parking lot, the first impression of Bad Wimpfen was this:

It reminded me of Besigheim, a beautiful old town I've shown you here. We stopped for a drink in the rooms to the left underneath that big gate tower.

As you can see, there were many people around, but it wasn't so crowded as to feel uncomfortable.

This one is especially for Kay!
The afternoon light was dwindling rapidly, and soon it was so dark I wasn't sure whether my camera was actually going to pick up anything. (I have deliberatly not brightened up the pictures with IrfanView, so that you can see the place more or less the way we saw it.)
Inside the church, view towards the organ

We stopped for something to eat and a rest after we had been to have a look inside the very beautiful church on top of the hill. A short walk later, we had covered the entire market and seen every stall (and spent very little money - we were there to look mainly, not to buy). 

It had been a pleasant afternoon, spent with friends I don't get to see more than once a year, and where I normally don't go. I am glad I took the day off and did that!