Friday, June 30, 2006

A Voyage Of Discovery

At 3:49 EDT tomorrow (Sat), the space shuttle Discovery is due to blast off from the KSC and begin mission STS-121 to the international space station.

There might be a bit more public interest in this launch and mission as it's been a while since the last one and of course, we now realise just how dangerous these things can be. For several years it was all mundane and almost dull and launches were squeezed in after the funny last news item and the national weather forecast. "Oh and by the way, the space shuttle lifted off today but nothing exploded and nobody died in a fireball so, over to Dave for the weather."

The flash fire in the capsule of Apollo 1 in 1967 which killed the 3 astronauts inside took place while the rocket was on the ground and so wasn't dramatic enough to live in the memory of most people. Apollo 13 was another matter and for those of us old enough to remember it, the memories are clear and vivid. Where were you when it happened ? I was in school and soundly asleep actually. At 10:08pm EST on April 13th 1970, it was already April 14th where I lived. It was 3:08 in the morning to be precise and like I said, I was asleep in my 6th form room after another day of trying to cram 2 years of knowledge into my head in time for the upcoming final exams that would determine if I'd be going to university. Drama enough you might think !

But I was a NASA geek. I knew every stat available from the amount of fuel burned per second at liftoff to how rectal matter was broken down while in space. Always a good fact to throw in at dinner parties. I woke to the news of the emergency and over the next few days I was the class spokesperson on it's progress. I'd be allowed to leave lessons every so often to check on the latest updates and report back to my teacher and classmates who until then, wouldn't have known a main bus B undervolt from a double decker bus. I was in my element and would draw diagrams on the blackboard which would've impressed those in mission control. Of course once it was all over and the crew were safe and sound on the aircraft carrier, life went back to normal for us geeks. I finished my exams, got into college and waited for the opportunity to get to visit a NASA site for myself.

19 years later I made it. I went on my first trip to America and headed straight for the KSC on the east coast of Florida and all it needed was St. Peter to be at the gates and I really would've thought I was in Heaven ! I went back several times on that trip and several more times in subsequent trips. I visited other NASA sites as the years went by but as the saying goes - you always remember your first. Oh be-have !!

My final dream was to be present at a launch of any kind but with weather and mechanical delays always a possibility, it would've been foolish to plan a trip based on a launch date. I just hoped that some time when I was in the US, there would be a launch and in 2000 my dream came true. I was over for 6 months and we were on our way to Key West and popped across to the KSC for a visit. I didn't even know a launch was imminent ( I was losing my geekiness ) until I saw a notice about buying viewing tickets partially sticking out of the pay booth as we were leaving. Talk about being meant to be !

We talked our way into getting tickets even though they weren't officially on sale and the launch date timed perfectly with our return trip up from Key West a few weeks later. The launch of Atlantis on mission STS-101 on May 19th 2000 was to be my dream come true. We had to be there very early as they don't want vehicles driving anywhere near the site in the hours before the launch. At the centre we boarded buses and were driven to the viewing area and had to wait there for several hours. Now I'd seen THE viewing area on tv many times. All those press people and VIP's on bleachers; banks of electronically controlled cameras on racks; huge NASA cameras on motorised bases to track the shuttle into the blackness of space and of course, the famous enormous digital countdown clock ticking off the seconds to liftoff and then recording the time into the mission.

So as we got off the bus and looked around in the near darkness (it was about 3am by this time), I wondered if the driver had got lost. We were on a grassy bank (not a sharpshooter in sight though) and after my eyes switched to night vision, I noted that launch pad 39a was so far away that I needed my camcorder on max zoom just to see it at all. What a crock. Having got over the fact that we weren't VIPs and so relegated to a view somewhat more distant than I'd been anticipating, we settled down to wait. And wait. And wait. The hours passed like.......hours and there was nothing to do. We listened to the occasional announcement from Mission Control over the loudspeakers and heard the dialogue between them and the shuttle crew who as it turns out, weren't even in the shuttle when we got there !! Tardy bunch.

Then about 5:45am things perked up a bit and I started to recognise the countdown patter from my teenage geek days. Wow, it was so real now. Not on tv; not on the radio......but live in front of me. To me, the voice was a mixture of Walter Cronkite with a bit of Darth Vadar thrown in for effect. I was all a twitter and couldn't make up my mind if I should take a still photo of the launch or take video footage or just watch it - watch something I'd waited my whole life to see and might never see again. The eyes had it

Well I used all 3 actually but mainly I watched it and hoped for the best with the other two. At T-6 the main engine lit and the plume of steam became visible to us. No noise.....nothing. The shuttle swayed slightly as it started to fight against the restraining latches. At T-0 the solid booster ignited and when the latches were pulled back, we had liftoff......liftoff of the space shuttle Atlantis on it's flight to the international space station. Sorry, but that's what the announcer said at the time and it thrilled me then. It was 6:11am and suddenly the blinding light from the burning fuel lit up the whole area better than a motel 6 lightbulb. Much better really. I had the camcorder poised and set it to try and follow the flight of Atlantis without my eye anywhere near it. 'Point and shoot' had never been taken so literally before.

This was one time I was glad God had designed human eyes to be vastly superior to a camcorder lens. What my Hi-8 recorded was a blob of white light moving slowly up into the air and heading northwards, getting smaller all the time - but just a blob nevertheless. Camcorder technology had a way to go to catch up with those NASA cameras or my own two eyes. What I actually saw was Atlantis rising majestically off the launch pad atop an incandescent white light silence apart from the voice of Mission Control giving us a second by second update on speed, altitude and the fact that the astronauts were frantically looking for 4th gear. No seriously, it was bizarre. Atlantis was clearing the tower and we were hearing nothing.

Did NASA throw an area wide mute switch ? Had they THAT much power ?? I'd need to watch the video footage to get the exact time, but it seemed about 6 seconds after the liftoff that it hit us like an audio tsunami. Suddenly I had an image of my science teacher telling me about the speed of light versus the speed of sound and it all became clear. The camcorder recorded it as 30 seconds of distortion because the built in mic couldn't handle the volume. It was like being at a Who concert back in 1970 and you had to shout to be partially heard by someone standing next to you. Awesome. I didn't so much SEE the launch as FEEL it. It was the ultimate surround sound experience.

After that, the lack of synchronicity (if that word exists) didn't matter as the image was there for all to see. The sound delay didn't matter. I'd no idea what I'd captured on video but once the shuttle became a speck to my eyes, I brought the camcorder to my eye and found I could actually still see it. I captured the jettison of the solid rocket boosters but that was it. It was way out of range of even my camcorder when staging took place so I set it down and suddenly noticed what Atlantis had left behind - a beautiful spent fuel trail that stretched for many miles almost back to the launch pad and was being partially backlit by the rising sun.

I made it my one and only still photo and backed it up with video footage. I only had a 1mp Kodak camera back then so it's not the greatest snapshot but it does what a photo is supposed to do - it brings back a memory.

The smoke trail remained for a very long time and parts were still there as we slowly made our way back to the row of coaches. In the short time it took to reach them, Atlantis was already in orbit and the area around us had the feel of a wedding reception with the last guests leaving.

And so I jump in time to today.....just over a day before the launch of Discovery. I so wish I could be there to see it but my next trip doesn't start for 5 weeks yet. I'll make do with watching it on tv if they can be bothered to show it - or on the internet if they can't. Manned spaceflight is still controversial of course but no matter on which side of the fence you make your stand, you must admit that a shuttle launch is something to behold and I'm so thankful that on that day 6 years ago, one dream became reality.

But as the NASA IMAX movie states, the dream is still alive. God speed Discovery.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Longest Day

It probably ties in with my previous post (musical memories of my teen years) but when I hear the above words, I automatically think of the star studded movie recalling the D-Day landings on June 6th 1944.

The Longest Day came out just before my teen years but I remember it was the first blockbuster I ever saw and it's stayed with me ever since. The little cinema in my local town in N. Ireland tended to get movies several weeks after their release across in England but we didn't care. In those days going to the cinema was such a treat, and indeed a thrill, that we kids didn't care if the movies were at the end of their theatre release - they were our means of escaping to worlds far removed from our own. The more exciting and dangerous the better.

Everyone who knows me, knows my memory is pretty awful - but some events do stand out even to this day. I was taken to the cinema by my parents for the first few years which even today is not a strange occcurance. Maybe it was a sign of the innocence of those days in the early 60's or just that we lived in a very small town, but kids would be allowed to go see a movie alone or with a group of friends at a very early age.

I finally got my parents to allow me to go on my own when I was just 8 years old. Boy was I thrilled. It was a short 15 minute walk to the cinema and I remember wanting to tell everyone who passed me that I was going to see a movie AND was going on my own !!! Well actually if I had told anyone that, they'd have given me an odd look as we didn't call them movies, but films. I guess I've become 'Americanised' over the years. And that brings me to another point.......why do people from N. Ireland add an extra 'i' to that word and say, filims ? Always puzzled me. Sometime I'll get on a similar theme with the word Michigan - but not now.

So back to 1960 and a happy and excited 8 yr old skipping gayly down the street to see his first movie, sorry filim, on his own. Yes those were the days when we could do things gayly without actually being gay and ok, I didn't actually skip either but come on, I'm setting the scene here. Go with me.

Those were also the days of double features when we'd be treated to a B-movie first to get us in the mood and pumped up for the main feature. I've no idea what the B-movie was that day and that was the whole idea........they were just the warm up act and no one remembers warm up acts. Then the usherettes would come down the aisles and stand expectantly with their trays of ice creams and assorted tooth-rotting goodies. I never had the extra money for such things (violins at the ready, please) and would simply take chunks out of the stale bread that I'd sneaked in for my treat between shows. Kidding.

And what was the main feature I'd picked for my first solo viewing ? Why no less than Swiss Family Robinson with John Mills in the title role. It was magic to an 8 yr old back then. It had everything- a cracking story, excitement with a family involved, a shipwreck, a desert island, pirates and not a swear word to be heard. What a combination for a young Catholic - enjoyment without any guilt !! Sadly it was not to last as the guilt came later.

I watched enthralled and didn't want it to end as then I'd be back into the real world of school and exams and life in general. Now remember this was in the pre multiplex days so there was only the one screen BUT you'd get 2 'showings' per evening. It had never been mentioned by my parents but of course I was only expected to see the show ONCE and so when I suddenly decided to stay put and delay my return to the real world by watching 'the family' survive their island adventures again, I had no idea of the chain of events I'd be setting off back home.

As the curtains closed across the screen and the national anthem blared out over the sound system (ahhhh those were the days), a very happy little boy exited the cinema blissfully unaware that for the last hour or so, his frantic parents and pissed off older brother were walking the streets looking for him. Now I know it seems obvious that the first port of call for them should've been the cinema but it seems it never occured to them that I'd stay to watch the movie twice. It hadn't occured to me either till it happened. I told you it was a small town so when I say they were walking the streets, basically they were able to take one each ! So although it was dark, I came out and practically bumped into my dad right away and met up with the others a few minutes later. Their relief at seeing me was in stark contrast to my puzzlement at seeing them. It had never entered my head that I'd caused a problem by my actions and so I can totally understand why kids do similar things today and wonder why their parents jump up and down and shout at them for being inconsiderate and thoughtless. Such thought processes don't occur to an 8 yr old.

My punishment fitted the crime as I wasn't allowed to go alone to the cinema for a long time after that. I think I was 25 but it may only have seemed that long. In any case a movie that should otherwise have been relegated to the furthest recesses of my mind (lets face it, it was no classic), will always be right up here when I think of titles I remember. And then there was the guilt of course. I'd caused my family such worry and anguish - not to mention I'd cheated the cinema owners by watching the show twice ! Yes 8 yr olds can suffer guilt. Hey, I was an Irish Catholic 8 yr old so guilt came with the package. The name of our parish priest at the time escapes me but I did confess my 'sins' to him a few days later and so have been spared a weekend in some hellish room just off the main hothouse when I die.

So in true Billy Connelly/Eddie Izzard style, back to The Longest Day. On this one day of the year (June 21st) I don't think of the movie but of Stonehenge, the summer solstice and all that goes with it. I've been to Stonehenge a few times and it really is the classic case of travelling a long way to see a pile of stones - admittedly rather large stones and 5,000 yrs old at that.

I realise that it's a wonderful mystery how they got there and how the top ones were raised up there and so on, but they didn't do much for me even on a bright warm sunny day.

So why an estimated 17,000 souls would turn up on this cold overcast morning to watch the sun rise through these stones is beyond me. It even depresses me that as this is the longest day, then it's all downhill till winter arrives.

Off course that would all change if Hollywood got involved and decided to come over and make a movie out of it all. I see conspiracy theories, I see ancient alien visits, I see secret treasure vaults under the stones, I see shootouts with local druids, I see Mel Gibson as a hippy tree hugger, I see an Oscar for special effects !

Now there's a movie I'd sit through twice.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Monday, Monday

No, not the Mama's & Papa's hit from the 60's but the day of the week.

I do love that record though - ok I love just about any song from the 60's. My teenage years were the 60's you see and I think that music from your teenage years sticks with you the longest. God help teenagers now if that's the case !!

I wasn't particularly happy in the 60's and nothing very 'swinging' was going on in my life. I was as far from any sniff of hippydom as I am now.....and that's pretty far I can tell you. The styles and fashion of those days were alien to me. We didn't have the money for one thing and I didn't have the looks or confidence to stand out from the crowd.

So where did I spend my teenage years that all these groovy, fab, dope smoking days passed me by ? I was in boarding school !! Worse than that, it was a male only boarding school. Worse than that, it was a Catholic all male boarding school. You get the picture. Priests and nuns in positions of authority and with absolute power to mould young minds and bodies. I'm not talking Jedi Knights here either. This 'power' was not a force that was used for good. To continue the analogy, these so called religious representatives made Darth Vadar look like Pee Wee Herman. Read into that what you will !!

But in the midst of all this misery, I had music. And what music it was. Sure it was simple, but you could hear every word. Ok most of the words were nonsence dreamed up by the previously mentioned pot smoking, swinging hippies of the age. But the tunes (and most of the words) have lived with me since those days when most other things have been long forgotten. My MP3 player is stocked with 30gb's of 60's music and when you realise that most songs of that age only take up about 2-3mbs each (many were under 2 mins long), you'll have some idea how many I've got. There probably weren't enough songs released in the 60's to fill an MP3 player but I've got most of them several times over in various compilations. I just can't resist downloading every one I find. All are from the UK and USA as I'm afraid European songs don't do it for me and anyway, I'm not sure there WAS any other music back then !

I spent from 1962 to 1970 at that school and like a lot of teens, I listened to the pirate radio stations like Radio Caroline and Radio Luxembourg who as well as playing songs from UK groups, would open up a whole new world to me with surfing songs from The Beach Boys and Jan & Dean, soft melodic hippy songs from The Mama's & Papas and hard hitting, thought provoking rebel songs from.......The Monkees Maybe that's where I developed my love for most things American. It all seemed so laid back, so free, so exciting to a spotty, 4 eyed, greasy haired teen for whom California might as well have been on the dark side of the moon.

For some unknown reason, it took me another 23 years to get there and as I drove the rental car through LA on the way to Malibu and the beach, I found an oldies station on the radio and was in heaven. Actually I got lost and ended up in south central LA so in fact I was in Hell first. Thank God for central locking.

But I've digressed. As I said at the start, this post isn't about THAT Monday, Monday. It's about today - Monday. The day of the week. My question is this : is this the first day of the week or was that yesterday ? Given that many work places open 7 days a week now, can Monday even be called the start of the working week anymore ? And why do I care anyway ? Hell I'm retired now and every day is a holiday. Woooohoooo for me.

But this week it does matter. This coming Sunday is my birthday. Not a day of any great importance even to me anymore but given my dilemma with these darn days of the week, can I say my birthday is at the end of this week or the start of next week ? Now that IS important. I like to be accurate in these things - comes with age. Like another birthday.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

World Cup 1



Well it would be nice to say that the talking is all over and the tournament has begun.........but only one of those statements would be right. Sadly in these days of 'filling tv time slots' the talking will go on for weeks after the final ball has been kicked on July 9th. My plan is to watch every game (ok some will have to be watched as reruns due to them being played at the same time as others) and avoid all the talking. An hour or more of listening to ex footballers and managers trying to send us to sleep before every game is not my idea of pre game
entertainment. But it's cheap television for the companies involved.

Here in the UK, coverage is being shared by the 2 national terrestrial stations.....BBC and ITV. Like most fans, I'd much rather SKY had the deal but of course that would exclude a lot of the population who have no dish or cable access to SKY. Fair enough I suppose but I don't have to like it. ITV is ok but omg...BBC. I've only 2 words to say about the BBC - John Motson. Here is a football commmentator who should have hung up his boots several decades ago. His style and delivery is from an age when we, the listeners, were grateful that anyone was televising football at all. He still believes that we're impressed that he spoke to the oppositions' water bottle carrier in the lift of the local hotel. He throws in comments about meeting such and such a player and discussing the finer points of football when the poor guys were probably looking for some way to avoid him. But his most delusional belief and the one that simply drives me to mute the sound and listen via the radio is that he still thinks that giving us banal and trivial statistics about everything from the manufacturer of the goalposts to who ironed the players shirts in 1923 will enhance our listening pleasure.

Ok picture the scene. I'm watching England play.......anyone. Motson informs us that player X has scored in every England game played on a Wednesday when the sun was shining and the manager had an R in his surname. Oh and player Y has scored 72.5% of his goals with his left foot - except when he's used his right foot on alternate Saturdays in August. What about player Z I hear you ask ? Well he was substituted in 23 consecutive games in 1492 and was sent off to discover America with Christopher Columbus. He came back in triumph and went on to play for England for another 511 years and score 3 goals.

The man is a statistic freak and he thinks we want/need to hear them all. It's not like he memorises this rubbish. He has it all written down in volumes of notes in front of him. He's cleared a large part of the Amazon rainforest all by himself. You can hear the panic in his voice if it gets to the 89th minute and he has facts left over !! That's when we dread hearing the final whistle as Motson explodes with a barrage of stats and screams them over the noise of the applauding and screaming fans. I pity the co-commentators who must have to be dry cleaned after the games to remove a thick coating of verbal diarrhea.

Having got that out of my system, what about the football ? Well England had a great day with a win against Paraguay and then ending up topping the group when Sweden could only draw with Trinidad & Tobago. The England performance was the classic 'game of two halves' scenario when the manager sneaked on 10 different outfield players for the 2nd half and hoped no one would notice. Sadly these Sunday league players almost threw the game away but held on for a stunning and memorable victory against the giants of World Cup football that are.......Paraguay. Never mind, at least we're not - Sweden.

Of course not everyone could be at home to watch the games, so in many cities the authorities set up large screens so that fans could watch the games. I just couldn't believe how many were in Leeds Millennium Square today to watch the England game.

I wonder what the view was like ? I had enough trouble watching the game on my 90' plasma screen (HD nearly ready) due to the shadows on the pitch cast by some monstrosity called a video cube suspended 25 metres above the pitch. What was THAT all about ? Isn't a big screen at one end of the pitch good enough ? This cube even got involved in the game when a kick from England's goalie, Robinson, smacked into it and dropped like a dead pidgeon straight down onto the pitch. Just as well it didn't rebound back like a rocket and end up in the net ! Can you imagine the instant replays of that little gem.

Anyway that was Day 2 of the World Cup but Day 1 wasn't important as England didn't play !!
(Not sure they did today either to be fair). Oh and btw, the 90' plasma screen bit was a little about 60' and not even plasma !

Friday, June 09, 2006

Roundhay Park, Canal Gardens & Tropical World

Daily walking is all very well but you tend to get bored with the same views all the time. Of course the 'trick' is to vary one's route so that doesn't happen but lets face it, after a few weeks even these different routes become normal and even, dare I say it, dull.

With this in mind, I put some thought into where I wanted to try next. I'm not at the point yet where I need to jump in the car and drive somewhere further afield to do my walk. So what was nearby, within a reasonable walking distance, that was worth creating a new route for me ? It wasn't too difficult and one location stood out - Roundhay Park.

I love this park and as it is only a short 20 minute walk from where I live, I knew I could get there and back and include the park in my daily walk.

Roundhay Park dates back to the time of William The Conqueror in the 13th century when it was a hunting park and given to Ilbert DeLacy in thanks for his support for the King during his many military campaigns. When the last of the DeLacy family died in 1871, it was sold to Leeds council who designated it a public park in 1872 and so the 700 acres became a place for everyone to enjoy.

Ok, history lesson over. It was a glorious day and although I wanted to be in t-shirt and shorts, I had the usual plethera of items to carry with me. So although I didn't like taking it, the backpack came out of mothballs and got filled with an umbrella (well the BBC web site had forecast late afternoon showers), a ham/tomato sandwich, an apple, a can of soda, my cell phone, mp3 player and camera. I also strapped on my heart monitor and pedometer. I was set for anything and with my current fav Hard Rock Cafe baseball cap covering my flowing locks (stop tittering at the back), I was ready for the adventure.

I started slowly and walked down and across the Leeds Outer Ring Road. I passed the famous Flying Pizza eatery and on down Street Lane to the first park entrance. I was slightly disappointed that the usual stunning floral displays outside the park weren't there. I'm not familiar with flowering seasons and the beds looked like they were ready for some sort of summer blooms but today they were just mounds of soil. Sighhhhh.

Once inside the entrance it was a better story. This was the view before me and the path stretched off into the distance with flower beds on both sides of the lush and newly mown lawns. There is something about that smell of newly cut grass on a warm and sunny summers day. Very evocative. It had taken me exactly 20 minutes to get to this point and I was warmed up and ready to explore the park once again.

I was also quite hungry and given the heat of the day, I decided it was the right time to eat my sandwich which was rapidly cooking in my backpack !!! So I stopped at one of the numerous benches in the park and as it just happened to be next to this lovely flower bed, it was a perfect

location for a quick pitstop. The break afforded me the chance to do a bit of people watching while I ate and drank; there was the usual mix of mothers with kids in tow and young couples walking hand in hand along the paths. Of course as it was such a warm day and the grass was soft and inviting, there were other activities going on in places but I'll draw a veil over those !

Given that I only had a sandwich and a soda, it wasn't exactly a picnic - but surrounded by so much of natures beauty, it sure felt like it. My only complaint about this part of the park is about the lack of trash cans. I hate litter but unless there are recepticals for it, I can hardly blame people for not carrying it with them till they find one. I only had an empty pop can and a sandwich bag so it was easy to hold onto them till I came upon a bin but come on LCC, there is a need for more of them in the park. I was a bit concerned about walking again after my snack but decided I was only going to be strolling for a while anyway and it wasn't a full meal in any case. As I stood up, I looked to my left and felt the view was worthy of a photo............and here it is.

Now as you can imagine, the park is very popular in summer and this tranquil scene would not be possible on a weekend or even later on a weekday after workers get out. Ahhhh the joys of being retired.

So with my lighter backpack in place once again and my 60's music keeping me chilled, I set off again deeper into the park. Speaking of music, I was heading for the area known as 'the arena' because the topography forms a natural amphitheatre which is perfect for outdoor rock and pop concerts. I think I'm right in saying that there haven't been many such concerts in the last few years for some reason but I vividly remember seeing U2, The Rolling Stones, Genesis, Madonna and Michael Jackson perform in 'the bowl' several years ago. Not together, I hasten to add !! Wow what a concert that would've been. Which was my fav ? Hard to say but probably Madonna. Go Madge !

Just as an aside, there will be another huge concert in the park in September when Robbie Williams will be performing and if I wasn't out of the country, I'd be there for sure.

Anyway, when not being used for a concert, the area is quite dull and a photo doesn't do it justice - one of those places where you just have to be there ! Over on the right of the pic is Hill 60 (don't ask - I've no idea either) where the vast majority of spectators would sit/stand. It doesn't seem like much of a hill but it really is. When it's 'full' and the surrounding flat area is heaving with sweaty rock fans, the acts that I mentioned earlier can pull in close to 90,000. Not many venues in the UK can boast such capacity.

As I live only 20 minutes walk from the park, I can clearly hear the music from my back garden and have often sat out listening to a concert on the occasions when I've not wanted to go to it. All the comforts of home plus live music.

Roundhay is not one of those prissy parks where you're not allowed to walk on the grass. Far from it. Yes the excellent paths do take you everywhere you'd want to go - but often it's good to leave the paved surface and venture off over the immaculate lawns and basically do your own thing.

The park has two lakes and the first of these and the larger by far, is Waterloo Lake - named after soldiers who had returned from the Napoleonic wars. I strolled down one of the many hills in the park and this was the scene before me. Sadly the view was marred by a bench right on the other side of the flower beds but with a bit of digital editing, I removed it. I've kept the original of course but the bench annoyed me so much I'm sure I'll always prefer this version.

Down at the edge of the lake you'll always find the swans, ducks and other floating critters. There is a path which runs right round the lake and at the unofficial starting point near the cafe,

they come right up to be fed - mostly by young kids and their grandparents. It seems the young and the old share this feeling that water fowl like great clumps of white bread thrown at them. Come on guys, make it healthy at least and use wholegrain bread !!

But I digress. The feeding process made it easy for me to get up close for my photographs but I'd taken many of these shots before and I wanted something different this time. I knelt down to get to eye level but that didn't do it. I tried odd angles but I've never been keen on anything other than the classic straight on view.

After taking about 10 photographs, I'd had enough and started on the path around the lake. I'd only gone a few hundred yards and was carrying the camera by the strap and letting it 'dangle' down by my legs when the idea came to me...........take a photograph like this ! Brilliant. I could use the self timer to give me 12 seconds and in that time I could use the strap and drop the camera down to almost touch the water - and use the monitor to try and line up the shot.

So I turned round and went back to where the people were thankfully still feeding the ducks and
got set up. I soon discovered a flaw in my master plan - the critters didn't mind us getting up close and personal when everything stayed on the path above them, but try and go into their territory and off they'd swim !!

I wasn't able to get close to them when feeding and this was the best shot I got - watching 2 of them drifting imperiously away from the camera. Still, it was a worth a try and the technique might come in handy some other time.

It certainly got me some strange looks from passers by who obviously didn't know I'd pressed the self timer before lowering the camera down to the water !

After that, I set off again along the path around the lake. After a few hundred yards it ceases to be paved but is still wide and flat enough for parents with pushchairs. I've cycled round it many times in the past and as scenic paths go, it's hard to beat. This part goes towards the northern end of the lake and meets up with the smaller lake called, appropriately enough, Upper Lake.

If you don't look too closely at these lakes, as in these photos, then they seem lovely clean expanses of water. Sadly this is not the case and if you happened to fall in, you'd be as likely to have a cause of death by polution as drowning.

But on this warm and sunny day, I decided not to look too closely and just enjoy what my eyes were showing me.

This is the narrowest part of Waterloo Lake and in the distance you can see the top end and the path starts down the other side. I had been out in the sun for a couple of hours by now and didn't want to walk all the way around this time so when I got to the end of the lake, I kept going the few yards to the start of Upper Lake.

Upper Lake used to be a bit of a 'nothing' lake - just an area of water with no interesting features to encourage visitors to explore it. Recently the council added a classic water spout or jet or whatever such things are called. In fact the group comprises 7 jets with the middle one being by far the biggest and it's amazing what effect this has on this otherwise poor relation of the lake world. Add a few little viewing/relaxing areas with benches and suddenly it's well worth a visit.

The wildlife certainly thinks so and the lake has plenty of ducks and geese to keep the bread chuckers happy there too. I wonder if this is a practice around the world ? Maybe visitors to this blog could add a comment to let me know. Do other nations have this deep seated urge to feed wildlife with stale white bread or is it unique to the Brits ??

I'm not sure of dimensions but it only takes a few minutes to walk round Upper Lake and this affords different views of the water feature.

Around 2 sides of the lake, the park reverts to it's 13th century roots and becomes forest again. It's not hard to imagine DeLacy and ye olde yuppy chums spending a few happy hours hunting weldebeest or buffalo in there before returning to the mansion for tea and crumpets. No ? Ok maybe deer then....and the odd fox.

It looked too dark and scary for me to go solo in there so after a quick look, I backed out and hit the path again.

No seriously, it looked like a really nice walk in the forest but I was getting tired by now and as I'd never been in this part of the park before, I wasn't sure where the path would lead me and if not a circular route, I didn't think I wanted to do a 'there and back' walk. What a wimp. Hehe.

I was at the deepest part of the park and that's the one point to make about it - it's a very hilly park and it's typical that just when you want to start back out of it, you have to climb back up at a time when you really want the terrain to be flat or even downhill. I certainly did......and the climb up one particular slope took away the last of my energy and I was glad the backpack was basically empty.

So when I reached the exit I didn't fancy starting on the walk back home and went across the road to an area called Canal Gardens which is still part of Roundhay Park but is even more of an oasis of peace and calm. If you want flower beds and plants of all sorts laid out next to water and fountains, then this is your place. It's a wonderful restful spot for sitting in quiet contemplation - and many do just that. You can also walk around the relatively small area and take in the amazing variety of the flowers on display.

When entering the gardens from the north, as I did, there is a long high stone wall which at first glance seems solid for it's entire length. But part way along, it has a small arched opening which
leads to a beautiful section of flowers, water and 3 fountains.

The long rectangular pool has paths around it and a cute little humped back bridge from which I took this photo. At the far end is a good view of a wonderful pub called Roundhay Fox which has changed hands and names several times in my time here in Leeds and has had literally millions spent on it. Provides quite a nice backdrop - for a building - and of course is very popular on days like this when you can sit outside and enjoy a drink and a meal in the fresh air and do some people watching.

This is one place where you are not supposed to walk on the grass and given the slope, you'd not really want to anyway. It still doesn't stop the odd person going over the ankle high decorative rail - usually for a photo opportunity. One such person, and her child, is seen in my shot.

After spending some time here recharging my batteries (ok then, getting my breath back) I went back through the archway and into the main garden area. Looking at the background in this photo, one can see the pub again and so it's obvious this garden is right next to the pool.

It's another beautiful place for relaxation and the colour and variety of the flowers on show are a joy at this time of year. Once again this place would be much busier on a weekend so it's great to be retired and be able to visit mid week when it's so much quieter. It's hard to find peace and tranqility when surrounded by crying babies and screaming kids.

When did I become a grumpy old man ???

Anyway, over on the left of the garden as we look at it here is the entrance to Tropical World which until a few years ago was the best free 'show' in Leeds. As the project has grown, so has the need to charge admission and I've seen this rise from a very reasonable 50p per person to £1 and now it's £3 for adults. I'm all for these sorts of places paying for themselves and not being a drain on the local rate payers so I think £3 is fair enough in this day and age - and the project has grown enough to justify it.

It started off as a glorified hothouse and butterfly collection when it was free to enter. Now it's a strange but delightful combination of mini zoo, reptile house, butterfly collection, aquarium and tropical climate areas with exotic plants, animals, birds, reptiles and of course, fish. Well worth the price of a portion of fish & chips for that lot I'd say.

I was no sooner through the plastic heat retaining vertical strips than I was hit with the huge increase in temperature and humidity and had to wait a moment while both my glasses and camera lens adapted to it. This proved to be a blessing in disguise as it allowed me to watch a

butterfly landing on the wooden rail quite close to me. This is their world and so it wasn't at all concerned about me getting even closer and messing about with the camera settings to get this shot. I needed to use the aperture priority setting to get a small aperture for the depth of field I wanted to make this little fella stand out against the colourful but distracting background.

I was dreading someone coming in behind me and scaring the butterfly away but again being able to be there mid week paid off for me and the shot came out as planned.

I wandered on and took photos of various birds, reptiles and even the waterfall - the cooling spray from which helps balance the almost oppressive humidity in this part of the building. The reptiles are all behind glass of course so thankfully I was able to turn off the flash setting on the camera. I saw plenty of people without that ability and I'm sure they'll not be happy with their images when they see them or not.

As soon as I got to the main reptile section, horror of horrors......the camera battery warning icon came on so I knew I only had power for a few more photos before it went dead. What a dilemma !! What to take ?

I closed in on a particularly photogenic pair of lizards and apart from the lead one swivelling it's beady eye to watch me, both of them were as still as rocks.

The smaller one had actually given it's bigger colleague quite a nip on the neck just before I snapped this shot but as it was probably a female and the male seemed to have liked it, I have to assume it was a love nip.

Not that I'd know anything about such things.

Further down the row of glass tanks was an even better specimen and I kept my fingers crossed that the battery had one more photo left in it. Again it was docile enough and lay on it's branch inviting the shot. In fact it was only the odd twitch of it's leg that showed me it was alive at all.

It was as long and as thick as my forearm and I could imagine that given some prosthetics and some clever camera angles, it could easily have been an extra in some low budget prehistoric movie - with or without a scantily clad Raquel Welch.

Showing my age again.

And with that, the battery gave out and I decided to leave Tropical World and Roundhay Park.

By the time I'd walked slowly home, I'd been out for slightly more than 4 hours and on such a warm day, I was knackered. Once again I'd looked at places I knew so well with a different viewpoint and realised that the park I'd taken for granted for so many years was actually quite a wonderful place.

Thank you Ilbert.

Roundhay Park

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Flaming June

Note : I started this post on Saturday but left it for a few hours and when I returned to it, I wasn't able to upload any photos. I spent some time trying everything I knew but nothing worked. I finally had to give up but saved the text to draft and after a night's sleep, I managed to get around the problem. So ignore the date at the top......this post relates to Saturday 3rd June.


The title of this post refers to the weather and not that I'm angry with the month or that it's suddenly 'come out' as gay !! It's an expression here in the UK and can mean that we get lovely hot weather in June but it's more in hope than actuality.

So far it's been a cracker though and today may be the warmest yet - just checked the temp probe and it shows 97.8F in the sunshine but at some time in the last few days that went to 109.2F. Thankfully it's not that warm in the shade and that what we need to look at.

I took my walk a few hours ago when it wasn't so warm but it was hard to take all my bits and pieces with me when wearing a t-shirt and jeans. From now on I really need to be wearing shorts and that'll mean cutting down even more on what I can carry. I don't really want to use a backpack as it makes my back sweat and anyway, I don't carry enough to justify going that far.

So what DO I take ? Well unlike most people, I don't carry a water bottle. Even if I walk for 90 mins, I don't need water with me. It's not like I'm running a marathon after all. I wear my heart monitor as keeping a watch on my pulse rate IS important to me. I have a pedometer clipped to my sock to see how far I walk. I also carry my cell phone - mostly in case I get into difficulties when out in the countryside as out there, I'm really on my own for long periods of time. Another must is my mp3 player as music helps me forget any aches and pains in my legs and to be honest, I just love listening to music. Finally I take a tiny radio as a backup in case the mp3 battery runs out and today I wanted it to keep tabs on the cricket test match every now and then. Sad I know !!

None of these things weigh very much so it's still comfortable to walk with them all and today I also took my camera as there is usually something scenic to snap around here. My route today took me along a mostly urban setting but that's still pretty enough.

Taking a left out of my house and this is the view back along the road. Everyone takes great care of their gardens in this area and on a beautiful day like today, it makes for a very pleasing scene at the start of my walk. The vast majority of homes still have the traditional lawn at the front with varying levels of flowers and shrubs and even the odd rockery. But increasinlgy as more families become 2 or 3 car families, these lawns are being removed and replaced with dull concrete or paved patio type fronts so that they can get their vehicles up off the road.

It's probably also true that many older people and busy executive younger couples don't have the time or the physical ability to tend to a lawn/garden and so have them removed for those reasons. Some can be made to look nice too but at this time of year, nothing beats a lovely green trimmed lawn with a flower border in full bloom and a few earthernware pots, overflowing with brightly coloured flowers and greenery, strategically placed around the house.

Anyway back to my walk and a few seconds later I came to the main road which has a bike path running alongside it - but it could be a world away from the traffic passing just a few feet on the other side of the small wall.

Well I say it's a bike path but it's really just a foot path that bikers can use. There are houses to the left but again, the trees hide them and give some basic privacy to those living there - and it gives bikers and walkers the illusion that they are out in the countryside.

I think the way that the trees on both sides come together to form a natural archway only enhances this feeling. It's still only a few minutes from my house but what a lovely start to the walk.

As for music, on these walks I tend to pick one of my Billboard Top 100 albums (an album of the Top 100 songs from years 1958-75) as then there is no need to touch the mp3 player for the whole walk. I'm kinda locked into the 60's as far as fav music is concerned and although I like music from all decades, the 60's is by far my decade of choice.

Anyway after this avenue of greenery, I'm back to a stretch of road which just takes me past some of the most imposing houses around here. This is still an enjoyable part of the walk as I like looking at these houses and their lovely gardens which have, for the most part, been cared for by professionals. Once again it's with some sadness that I note the growing number of large black electronic gates shielding these homes from anyone except those with permission to enter. A sign of the times I guess.

After about 15 minutes along this road, I'm able to turn off and start on the country lane which I've photographed before and posted views of earlier. As usual I had it all to myself today and there wasn't even anyone on the golf course that the lane cuts across.

When I take a different route, I have time to walk to the end of this lane and down onto the main road to get back home. This route today gets me to the lane that bit later and so I like to get near the end and simply turn round and walk it's length again.

Just before my turning point, a little rabbit hopped from the left side and stopped just before the grass on the right. I knew it was going to hop on into the undergrowth with my next step towards it so I stopped. I had to rush the photo as I expected the rabbit to move at any time but I still wanted it to be well composed. I wanted to show it's diminutive size against the scenic background and it posed nicely for me.

After I'd taken the photo, it was still there looking at me. I took a pace didn't move. I took another, and another. Still it didn't move.

I knew I was pushing my luck and took one more photo just in case - and sure enough, one more step and off it went.

I see rabbits and other critters quite often on this part of the walk but it's the first time I've had my camera with me - so it was cool that I came upon such a posing rabbit this time.

It was such a lovely warm day that normally I'd have extended the walk quite a bit but today I had a deadline as I wanted to be back home for 2pm to watch the final warmup game for England before the team headed off to Germany and the start of the World Cup. It was only against Jamaica but still, a game is a game.

I stopped off at a friends house on the way home for 5 mins and still was back in time for the start of the game - so it was a 90 minute walk today which is 20 minutes longer than it usually takes me but I'd stopped a few times to take photos.

I was due to go to HomeBase and get a small paint brush to touch up around the new light fittings that my friend, Ken, had finished installing yesterday. I found an old stiff brush in the garage and decided it was good enough for the job and after the game, which England won 6-0, I touched up around the 4 light fittings as well as around the new dimmer switch and it looks pretty good now - from a distance !!

The forecast is for a dull day tomorrow (Sunday) with a chance of rain........kinda back to the flaming June we've come to expect. I'm sure it was better back when I was in school and having to stay in to study for exams

Most Recent Awards

Most Recent Awards