Monday, December 31, 2007

Is The Law As Ass ???

Not The Law in general you know......just the following one, specifically.

Quitting. Ever heard of it - in terms of the UK Road Traffic Act ? I very much doubt it. It'd be a good trivia question around the campfire or dining room table for that matter.

I'll put you out of your misery - 'quitting' is when you leave your car unattended with the engine running. It's a capital offence in the UK and as well as having your head chopped off, your carcass dragged through the streets (but not by Brad Pitt) and your family members sent to Australia in disgrace, you can also be fined. And quite right too.

How dare you try and defrost your windows and warm up your LOCKED car on a freezing cold UK December's day - and not be in it at the same time. Off with your head.

Here is the relevant news article and you can read the numerous reader replies and cut your cloth accordingly. Yes I know it's the law and one can't pick and choose which ones to follow and which to break. In my case I'd NO idea there was such a law and of course ignorance of the law is no excuse. Classic.

The only reason I've any cause to call Mr. Hardman an idiot (apart from the fact that he allowed himself to be photographed with the worse possible Christmas presents in the world........ever) is that he was apparently given every opportunity to end his hideously unlawful behaviour but decided to live up to his surname by not doing so. His principals cost him £30.

I fully understand the amazement from the Canadian readers of the article as I've been there many times in winter and know that they warm up their unattended cars as a necessity. Hell even if they pop into a store, they'd never think to shut off their engines. Winter is brutal there.
Even here in the US of A you can buy remote starters at most good remote starter selling stores.

With a nifty remote control in your hand, you can start your car engine from the comfort of your bed, armchair or toilet seat in your house. The car will be toasty warm, the windows clear and all ready for you to drive off to work or wherever. Of course it might already have been driven off by a passing opportunist car thief and some may argue that that's what the law might've been created for in the first place.

But do we need a LAW to deal with this eventuality ? I mean I'd hope the law would clobber the thief (assuming he can be caught) with no regard to the car he or she stole having had it's engine running when they broke into it. So why fine the owner too ? In fact this owner was fined when no other crime had taken place.

Readers also commented on how insurance companies would deal with this - if the car was stolen of course. I'm not sure on this one. The car is locked and no keys are in the ingition. Yes the car CAN be driven off simply because the engine is already running but this requires the thief to break in first. I'm sure any insurance company would simply say the owner wasn't taking due care of his vehicle and so not want to pay up.

As some of you may know, my car was stolen from a petrol station forecourt after I'd gone in to pay and left it unlocked and with the keys in the ignition. Pretty stupid I know but thousands do it every day. My insurance company initially didn't want to pay out but I fought the case, got the ombudsman involved and eventually got slightly more than the full book value of the car.

I was Very fortunate.

So I'm kinda on the fence on this 'quitting' law. It's the law, so you gotta adhere to it. Should it be a law ? I don't think so.

Leave a comment by all means - if nothing else, it's a talking point on which to end the year.

Happy New Year to each and every one of you - and that includes you, Mr. Hardman.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Truck Photos

Now before you all go ewwww and leave me, this is not a post about trucks or our truck or any truck really. I'm not a truck-head or whatever the name is for people who go ga-ga over them and have posters of them up in their rooms.

Well they need something to cover all those bare padded walls I guess.

No, this is just a little post, a postette if you like, about things I spotted from my vantage point way up on the passenger seat of our truck as we went to Orlando last Wednesday. Dammit I mentioned 'our truck' so I guess I lied in that first sentence. Ah well, I've got you hooked now anyway.

(If you could see me, I'm twisting my long thin black moustache, raising my thick bushy eyebrows in a semi comical fashion and going........he he a slightly disturbing and decidedly unnatural way).

Back to last Wednesday and we'd not even left Sebring when I got my first unusual sighting - well unusual for me anyway. This trike contraption passed us on the left, as you can do here and a Very Good Thing it is too, and before I could say "ohhhhhh speed up and get me closer to it so I can take a really nice photo for my blog", it came to a set of traffic lights on green and swept off along a road to the left.

I snapped a photo of it anyway and you can see how it's still slightly banked from it's sharp turn to the left. Now I've seen plenty of trikes here before but this one is a bit different.

It's even more bizarre from behind as it looks just like a small European car that is either a convertible or has gone under a very low bridge and lost it's roof....and sides......and just about everything.

You'll probably have to click on it to see it properly and even then it's a bit fuzzy but we were flying along ourselves and it was heading off in another direction, so gimme a break !

The road it was going on is the one that leads to the hospital where Dennis works. I know that's not relevant to anything but I just thought I'd throw it in at this point.

My paparazzi reflexes were now in top gear and with my camera poised on my lap, I was ready for action. A light aircraft dangling from power lines, a body in a ditch, even some slightly interesting road kill - if it was out there, I'd snap a photo of it.

Sadly on US27N on Wednesday, there wasn't a lot 'out there'. My camera went into 'battery conservation mode' and shut down and I felt like doing the same.

I may have dozed a bit but was suddenly alert when a small commercial truck went past us on my right, which they can do here as well and this is also a Very Good Thing, and I noticed the advertising on it's side.

"Ah-ha", I said to myself. "What's up? I replied. "That's an amusing image for my blog" I said.
"You're right", I agreed. Then the pills kicked in and I lost my split personality.

I know this photo shows a very odd looking vehicle, and to be honest, it's confused me now as well.

I just can't remember what it looked like as I was fully absorbed with the writing on it's side. It seemed a normal van/truck at the time so this image is a puzzler.

Anyhooo, back to the advertising which, after all, is what it's all about. The first line seems like an instruction you'd get with a washing machine. God forbid you should give those little dirty buggers a wash without a pre-treat first. You'd have PETA on your doorstep in a flash.

Then there is that 2nd line. What's that all about ?. Bear baiting yes. Termite baiting, not so much fun. Maybe you tell them about the upcoming pre-treat and that's classed as baiting. Maybe you hurl insults at them.

"Your mother was a cockroach and your father was a stag beetle". Ha !

Sounds like another case for PETA to investigate if you ask me.

The last 2 lines were pretty dull and so I find little or nothing to say about them. Shame on them. I think they should've put them first and given us a good chortle to end with. Sort of send us on our way with a smile and a sudden urge to contact this witty and PETA bashing company for all our termite issues.

Except that nowhere on the vehicle was a phone number ! Opps. Witty and PETA bashing AND dumb as rocks.

Sadly I seem to have done something similar myself as my last photo is a bit of a let down. It's not even slightly interesting or amusing. I was tempted to end on a high with the 'termite baiting' one and give the impression that the route to Orlando was full of such fascinating images. An "Aligator Crossing" sign would've been nice. We did see a yellow warning sign with a silhouette of a bear on it. Not sure what that was all about unless a local zoo had a low wall as well and Yogi was on the loose.

If this news reference goes over your head, I'm not going to help you out. Oh ok, just replace bear with tiger, Orlando with San Francisco and take it from there. Probably not worth it.

We came to the Orlando outskirts and traffic picked up considerably. The Orlando 'rush hour' starts at 6am and goes on till.......about 6am the next morning. With so many tourist attractions in one relatively small area and so many tourists wanting to see them all, the roads are crazy busy. I'm not sure anyone actually gets in to an attraction - they just spend their day rushing from one to another without stopping.

"Ok kids, we're in the Disney car park (the size of Rhode Island I believe). Who fancies Seaworld now ?" "Yeahhhhhhh" from the back seats. It's all good clean fun.

I DID the theme park thing back in 1989 and no string of Clydesdale horses could drag me back to them. I had my first heart attack in 1992 and I'm sure the rot set in at The Magic Kingdom. The stress involved is enormous. Fun day out my ass.

I'll leave the details for another time (my shrink says it'll do me good to talk it out on here) but when I say that I've still got an unused one day pass available from the 4 I bought, you'll gather it wasn't a totally enjoyable experience. These places are full of kids for a start !

"What the deuce ?"

So really I snapped this gantry photo to remind myself that it wasn't all BAD back in 1989. I did love Epcot. The Animal Kingdom was still a Florida swamp and the Disney imagineers hadn't got to it yet. I suspect I might like it too but I doubt I'll ever put that to the test.

I've seen The Grand Canyon. Beat THAT, Disney !

And finally, as they say. I'm now talking to you, Norma of Nebraska - yes it's you I'm talking to through the power of electricity, cathode ray tubes and t'internet. I think we'd have cool things to talk about - what with you coming here to this area soon, but I've not worked out a safe way to exchange email addresses yet. I'm working on it but this is to let you know that.

And as for you, Sarah.....for you know that this is you...........PLEASE leave a comment now and then as I don't bite. I do make threats though and if you don't leave one soon, I DO know your email address and I WILL write.

That has to be enough of a threat to get you to overcome your fear of blog commenting and I'm sure that after you've done it once, you'll be commenting all over the place. You're a woman after all !!

Now YOUR blog would be a very interesting read so think about that too.

Bring it on, girl.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Scribblings From Prison

Well wi-fi in prison ? What a world we live in.

Only joking. The trip back to dark (but probably sunny underneath) Buttonwood Bay last night was totally uneventful, I'm glad to report.

I was a bit nervous sitting up in the drivers seat at first, but then a strange calming British voice entered my head and told me to relax, let go of my fears and let 'the force' guide me. I did sense this calming presence inside me so I lowered my blast visor, let go of the wheel and, not surprisingly the truck veered off to the right towards the hotel swimming pool. Opps.

Full of bullshit, this 'force' is.

Left to my own devices, I eventually made it out of the car park and onto the main road. Two toll booths later (which I passed through by taking the easy way out and handing over my money to an operator rather than risking throwing my quarters into a receptacle) and I was on I-4 West and roaring along like I'd been born to drive the thing. I felt a few nudges as I overtook slower traffic but I always checked in my mirrors that the vehicles had landed upright in the ditch and the occupants had got out safely. I'm sure they all had AAA.

I got 'home' about 9:30pm, parked the beast next to the house and climbed down as if from the flight deck of a Jumbo jet.

I had a feeling of quiet satisfaction and I'm sure the little dents and scratches can be buffed out.

I can't wait to get to play with it again.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Past

So it's all over for another year. What was all the fuss about, eh ? All those hours of frantic shopping and stressful arguments with counter staff when the advertised goods weren't in the store. The credit cards are all max'd out and little Billy Bob won't be going to college in 10 years time after all. Well not a good one anyway. Maybe a Community College.

Was it all worth it ? It's the annual question we all ask ourselves. In the UK it's usually asked by the time Her Majesty pops up on tv mid afternoon to tell us how concerned she is about the poor in some distant part of the Commonwealth that she last visited when Philip wasn't ga-ga and a liability every time he opens his mouth, Charles still had a full head of hair, Fergie and Diana were still at the sperm stage and Pitt (The Younger) was Prime Minister.

Oh of course it was worth it. We all got the lovely pressies we'd hoped for and have receipts for the ones we didn't. We COULD wear the matching glove and scarf set from Aunt Elsie but we'll probably pass them on to Nigel, our gay friend from the Rugby Club. And when will Uncle Norm realise that cars have heaters now and we don't need those horrendous pseudo leather driving gloves with the missing fingers that he gives us EVERY Christmas. We still have the boxed ones from 1963 Norm !! Even eBay won't take them anymore.

Here in sunny Buttonwood Bay, Santa still came a calling even though chimneys are few and far between and the reindeer had a hard time negotiating the palm trees. I got loads of goodies including tickets for an airboat ride which I'm really looking forward to as gators are pretty much guaranteed. Just how close up we get to them is out of my hands but I'm taking the camera for sure.

About 350 of us had the park Christmas meal and a jolly time was had by one and all. I've not downloaded the photos so that'll have to wait for another post. In the evening we went to visit with friends for more eating and drinking so it was a long but most enjoyable day.

Things are a bit hectic here right now as Deb has decided that she just MUST hold her first grandchild and so we're leaving in a few minutes to go to Orlando where she'll fly out tomorrow morning and return to snow covered Michigan (not Mitchigan) for a few days. It was all just planned yesterday and so things have moved fast. Den will be sleeping this afternoon and so I'm going with Deb today and driving back alone with the truck so Den can have it for work tonight at 11pm.

I only mention this as it'll be my first time driving the 1 ton monster and I'm slightly nervous about it. It's 22ft long and as wide as a bus - you need a 3 lane road to do a u-turn for a start so I'd say parallel parking will be out of the question. I'm glad I'm not going to Sainsburys in it as the carnage in the car park would be up on YouTube within minutes. I'll also be returning in the dark - not making this first trip easy am I ??

If there is no post from me for a while, you'll know the trip wasn't incident free. I've 3 toll booths to get through and I could really mess things up if I miss the coin receptacle. I'm not used to flinging in my quarters from such a height. All good fun.

So I hope all my Brit readers are having a fabby Boxing Day. I wish I could watch Match Of The Day to see the highlights of the Chelsea game. It had to have been a cracker. Dropping down a couple of divisions, my lot left it till the last minute AGAIN to score what turned out to be the equaliser so it was a case of us getting a 'good' draw. Funny how the timing of the goal can turn a disappointing draw into a great draw.

Right, we're off. I need to go get the stepladder so I can get up into the 'cab' and put on my 'Tommy' platform boots so I can reach the peddles.

Wish me luck.........and have the bail bond money at the ready.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Christmas From Buttonwood Bay

So the tree has been up for weeks (3 ft plastic jobbie with built in fibre optic lights), the decorations have been falling down and been put up again for the same period of time and now the pressies have been laid out around the base and the stockings have been filled.

In a couple of hours it'll be Christmas Day (it has been for 3 hrs in Leeds already but MY Christmas Day starts wherever I happen to be, so there) and I'm all a twitter. It's easy to be a bit bah humbug about it all at some time in December, or even in August when the commercials seem to start, but like with a lot of events, I get more and more into it as the great day draws closer.

But it's not how it was when I "were a lad" and that's a jolly good thing too. I grew up in sepia world and we were sooooo poor that we couldn't even afford a Christmas tree. My dad would snip a few cuttings from the big tree in the foyer of the local Barclays Bank. Well its Head Office used to send us a leaflet every November urging us to make use of their branches at Christmastime and dad thought it only fair to take them up on their offer.

This wasn't the only thing my dad took literally.

On Christmas morning he used to tape non safety matches to these branches and call my brother and I into the living room for the grand "lighting of the tree" ceremony. I vividly remember the subsequent explosion of light and heat and our eager faces would glow with an eerie phosphorus luminescence that thankfully only lasted long enough to gently singe our eyebrows. It didn't do much for the tree either but then it hadn't been all that impressive to start with.

Being Catholic, we did have a crib though. Well when I say a crib, I really mean an old tomato box that dad had "rescued" from the dumpster behind the Ballymoney Co-op the previous summer.

"This'll make a cracking crib" he said, suddenly displaying a depth of visionary skill that had lain dormant up until then.

"A bit of straw from the bales in your Uncle Albert's barn and it'll look like a crib from that 'arrods store." (Dad liked to go a bit Oliver Twist at Christmas)

We weren't convinced.

Come the day and even after several applications of Dulux Bethlehem Beige to cover the bright red DELMONTE TOMATOES name, the box still looked more like something John Noakes had thrown together rather than Valerie Singleton. Dad was beaming with ill disguised pride and would start to add the crib characters one by one, talking to them as if they were real people and animals somehow shrunk for his benefit.

"Come on, Mary. I'll put The Baby in next, don't you worry now", he'd say to the inanimate object that was supposed to represent the Mother of Jesus as he gently placed her onto the straw.

In fact it was a GI Joe that he'd pinched from my toy collection, removed its helmet and gun, painted it light brown over the standard camouflage green and finally covered it with an old rag as he'd seen "The Greatest Story Ever Told" about 10 times and was an authority on Middle Eastern clothing circa zero BC.

In fact all the crib characters were reconditioned GI Joes and the animals were plasticine models he'd made himself and which bore little or no resemblance to any animal ever mentioned in the bible. We were from a farming community so even as kids, my brother and I just knew that sheep didn't have 6 legs and that a cow like the one in our crib would've been put down at birth if it had existed in real life.

Dad was at least sensible enough not to try and light the crib in the same way as the tree and this ensured that it survived to give us joy and educational entertainment for many years.

He'd have loved our Florida fibre optic tree. What an invention. Out of the box, plug it in and voila.........the tree is sorted.

But where is the magic ? Where is the wonder ? Where is the fire extinguisher ?

It's just not the same.

And we don't seem to have cribs anymore. They were probably only a Hollywood invention anyway. I still like the idea of a transvestite GI Joe though. Maybe a tad contoversial having one as the Mother of Jesus but my dad was a man ahead of his time. A sort of Mel Gibson of his day.

So I hope you're having a wonderful Christmas Day wherever you are. Be it a secular or religious occasion for you, it doesn't matter. What does matter is that you've read my little post today and I thank you for that.

I'm off to bed and in a few hours I may rush out to check if Santa has paid us a visit. I somehow doubt it but then in this park, it's not unusual to spot a fat old man with a bushy white beard. It can be very confusing at this time of year.

Happy Christmas to one and all.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Baby Pics, Baby Pics

Everybody loves 'em. Baby pics.

Here are two of baby Cole - who I mentioned in my previous post.

One point of general interest. When the details were being passed around, I noted that the babies' height (or more to the point, his length) were mentioned along with his weight.

Now I'm no expert on UK protocol in these matters, but in my limited experience of these things, I've never heard us mention, or even know about, the height/length of a new born baby. Oh I'm sure the parents would know of course but when asking for the details of a birth, we seem to settle for the bare minimum in the and weight are good enough for us. Other titbits like hair colour, number of teeth, any tatoos, glasses, beard.........they can wait till later.

Just another example of the differences between our cultures I'd say. Vive la difference, as Pamela said after her surgery.

Anyway, here is the little cutie, all 5lbs 5oz and 17 ins of him, taken 70 minutes after his birth. Note the electronic tag in case he makes a break for the car park for a crafty smoke.

And here are the proud parents with him - only 30 minutes after birth. He's sure cleaned up nicely........

They are due to leave the hospital late tomorrow if everything goes to plan - so fingers crossed for that.

I hope they have a peaceful first night together as a new young family - but something tells me Cole will have a say in that. Several times I should think.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Staying With Grandparents

Tis the season of birth and renewal. Honest. It's in there somewhere.

Well I realise it's also become the season of bankrupting yourself, emptying the kids college fund and giving yourself the sort of debt rarely seen outside of a 3rd world country.

But lets not be all bah humbug and Scrooge-like today and instead focus on the aspect of a modern Christmas which has overshadowed all others for many decades now. Presents.

Everyone will have their thoughts on the perfect present and naturally that will depend on the age of the recipient. Most electronic presents are fleeting, especially if they come with batteries. A power chord may mean it'll last a while longer, but not much.

Clothing presents have a style shelf life that probably condemns them to the Goodwill Store before the following Christmas comes along. Last February I'm sure I spotted a homeless man in Leeds pushing his entire world on his bicycle and wearing my scarf and gloves set from Christmas 1998. Clothing pressies are very dodgy and are probably the most common ones to be taken back to the store the next day.

This is the origin of Boxing Day in the UK of course. This is the 26th December and the day when all those colourful patterned Pringle sweaters and gay knitted mittens, horrendous Homer Simpson socks and South Park ties are all boxed up and returned for cash at best or store credit at worst.

I'm only joking. About the origin of Boxing Day I mean.

Jewellery, or jewelry if you prefer, is always acceptable at Christmas. Depending on what form it takes, This is the closest you will get to the perfect long lasting pressie. After all, gold will last forever. Won't it ? Well not always. A few of the links on the gold chain that I got a couple of years ago have started to get so thin that the chain is in danger of falling apart - and as such, has been consigned to a bedroom drawer to, hopefully, increase in value as a non worn lump of gold.
Well it's featured in my will, so only time will tell.

Diamonds. Ah well we all know about diamonds. Hardest substance known to man. Most acceptable substance known to women. Diamonds, in any setting, go down a treat at Christmas and will certainly outlast most other types of present. A diamond is forever and all that good advertising stuff.

In an effort to set the bar lower, we often tell everyone that simple, homemade, thoughtful presents are the best. We usually tell them this seconds after they've given us a simple, homemade, thoughtful piece of crap. But it's the thought, eh ?

Well this type of present doesn't have to be frowned upon and leave you wishing it came with a receipt. Homemade can be good.....can be Very Good in fact.

Just after midnight last night, Debby got the phone call that gave her and Dennis the best 'homemade' present in the world. They could now be called grandparents as their daughter-in-law (and son of course) had got together and created something special for Christmas. A new life.

Better than gold ? Better than diamonds ? Better than a Stewie Griffin tie ? I'd say so.

This particular gift may cause the debt or even the bankruptcy that I mentioned at the start of this post, but for right now, it's the classic gift that keeps on giving.

The birth of Cole Asher is a timely reminder that for many of us, Christmas isn't just about opening presents, eating till we're fit to burst and then falling asleep in front of the new plasma widescreen (HD Ready) telle that you somehow gave yourself this year. I won't go into a Hallmark list of what it IS about because everyone will have their own ideas and I'm keeping mine to myself.

All I know is that last night Deb and Den got a present that didn't come with batteries or a power chord. (Ok it kinda had a power chord of sorts for a while but lets not go there). It wasn't gold or any other sort of jewellery. It certainly didn't have a receipt and it sure isn't going back.

So many congratulations to new parents, Deanna and Jason and a huge beaming smile to Deb and Den as I know what this means to them.

For ALL the people concerned, it's the best Christmas gift in the world......ever.

One that really will last a lifetime.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ft. Myers Revisited - Almost

Deb and I had a day out in Ft. Myers yesterday and it brought back memories. The city is about 80 miles south and west of us here in Sebring and although Deb wanted to buy a specific item, I just went along for the ride.

Deb had made a note of the exact directions to where she wanted to shop first and so I didn't need to use the large map we keep in the truck. But part way there, I just picked it up anyway as I wanted to see if I could remember how I got to Ft. Myers the first time back in 1989 when I was visiting Florida, and America in fact, for the very first time.

I'd flown into Orlando and immediately headed East to the Space Coast to visit the Kennedy Space Centre. After drooling there for MANY hours, I drove down the East coast over the next few days and ended up in Miami. After getting my fill of that city, I decided to visit The Keys some other time and headed West across the state to start up the West coast. This involved using US41 which runs across from Miami on the East coast, to Naples on the West and on up north to Tampa.......and goes right through Ft. Myers.

I used to think US41 was the infamous Alligator Alley road (where it crossed the state and took you through the Everglades) but I now know it's the Tamiami Trail and Alligator Alley is the cross state portion of I-75 which runs parallel to US41 but a bit further north. Ah well.

Anyway back in 1989 I drove into Ft. Myers on a hot summer's day and although I was capturing just about everything on a huge bulky full size VHS camcorder in those days, I don't have the footage here with me and so am relying on my (vivid) memories of the events which followed.

Entering Ft. Myers, I remember the large wide multi lane road (US41) with numerous retail properties set back on both sides. I came to what I now know to have been a strip mall but in those days that name was unknown to me. I'm not sure how I spotted this specific store in time to pull into the parking area but in any case, I was suddenly outside a gun store - something we just don't have in the UK. I just HAD to go in.

Once inside, my jaw hit my chest right away and rarely made contact with the top of my mouth the whole time I was there. There were guns everywhere - in glass display cases, strapped to the walls, even hanging from the ceiling. Ok it WAS a gun store I hear you say. What did I expect ? Well never having so much as SEEN a hand gun in real life, I'd no idea what to expect.

I had the place to myself and in no time at all was showing my inane tourist ignorance of all things relating to firearms. The owner was mildly amused and was happy to tell me how easy it was to get buy a gun in America in general and then specifically in Florida. I think the criteria back then was pick your weapon of choice, wait a few days for some checks to be done and pick it up when these were done.

Now when I say, weapon of choice, I mean just that. Forget a piddley little Saturday Night Special (see, I've learned a bit since 1989). Forget a trivial AK47. Up on the wall my eye was taken by something that resembled a short piece of down pipe from the guttering of a roof which was placed horizontally for display purposes.

I discovered this 'down pipe' was in fact an M72 LAW (Light Anti-Tank Weapon) and the store owner calmly told me anyone could come in off the street and buy it. By now we were chatting like pros and being a movie buff even back then, the only gun name that sprang to mind was the .44 Magnum as used by Clint Eastwood in the Dirty Harry movies. "The most powerful handgun in the world" was his catchphrase in the original movie when pointing it in the classic scene uploaded here on YouTube.

To give you some idea of it's 'power', here is a good 20 second clip showing someone firing it for the first time on a gun range. The first 'shot' is to get him used to squeezing the trigger and so there is no bullet in the chamber. But the next time......well see for yourself.

I think the sound of it being fired was enhanced in the movie with lots of extra bass or something to give it an even more impressive BOOM factor but the recoil is what's impressive.
I wanted to see one but there were none on display so I asked the owner if he had one anywhere in case I had missed it. He said he had his own and proceeded to get a gun case from behind the counter and placed it up on the glass top for me to see. Once opened, I saw this HUGE handgun set into a foam casing with all the usual cleaning bits and pieces and a few bullets also set into their own little foam areas.

I lifted out the gun and it was as heavy as it looked. I held it at arms length but didn't even want to pull the trigger and replaced it very carefully into it's foam bed as if it would suddenly go off all on it's own.

I was not, and still am not, a gun person.

I asked the owner if I could bring in my camcorder and do some filming and he said, sure. After getting footage of the store, I set the camcorder down on the far end of the counter so it was pointing back along towards me with the front of the store, and it's door, behind me. With it still running, I picked up a few guns and 'played with them' so I'd have footage of it all for posterity.
I was such a tourist.

The owner had given me some sort of impressively large semi automatic or fully automatic gun (I've no idea of these terms btw but need to get across that it wasn't a little hand gun) and in full view of the camcorder, I had it to my shoulder in full firing mode. I'd swung it to the right of the owner just as the door bell went and someone entered the store. It was the morning mail and in this case, it was being delivered by a mail woman. (ok that sounds suspiciously like an oxymoron if ever I heard one). At the sound of the bell to my left I reacted instinctively and swung my body around to see what was happening and of course the gun went with me - and ended up being pointed directly at the owner. Opps.

I think you can picture the scene. Enter mail woman to see someone pointing a weapon at a gun store owner ! It wasn't looking good for the Brit. My arrest and trial flashed before me. I'd have to plead temporary insanity or claim diplomatic immunity. Hell our countries have that 'special' ralationship after all so lets bring that into my defence.

But she never batted an eyelid, as we say. She said hi to the owner by name, placed the mail on the counter near him, said the classic "have a nice day" to him and turned around and left the store. I cracked up laughing (and with some nervous release of tension) and as the store owner hadn't even noticed me pointing the gun at him, I explained what had happened and why there was an expanding pool of slightly yellow liquid on his floor.

He said she was used to seeing customers pointing guns all over the place in his store and wouldn't have given me a second glance. I wasn't convinced and suspecting she was now calling for a SWAT team to descend on the store, I left the gun on the counter, picked up the camcorder, said a speedy thank you to the owner and shot off up US41 in my rental car and didn't stop looking in my rear mirror until I reached Tampa. I was in the clear !!

So yesterday I'd have loved to have found the store and gone in again.......but sadly we never went far enough south to get there.

Probably for the best. There might have been a faded wanted poster up on his wall from 1989 but then again, looking back on photos of how I looked 18 years ago, I think the present me would've been safe enough.

"Well, do you feel lucky, punk" ?

"Actually Mr. Eastwood, I do. I really do"

Monday, December 17, 2007

They Seek Him Here....................

Critters get everywhere here in tropical Buttonwood Bay...................and I don't just mean the ones who use walkers !!

Little lizards are all over the place and it's especially hard to ride along the cart path and the nature trail without seeing them scampering for cover. They also live all around our homes and we see or hear them every time we go outside.

But inside is another matter and until this morning, I never thought that they liked coming inside at all. Maybe one stuck to the sole of my shoe or something but this morning when I got up, there was this little fella near my bedroom door.

We looked at each other for a while but he (or she) was in no mood to move.

I didn't really fancy the idea of him (or her) being near my bedroom and so the great chase began. He (or she)......ok from now on this is going to be a HE critter as I'm rapidly losing the white lettering on my ( ) keys.......could sure move.

When I went in to grab his tail, he shot off with a 0-60 speed that would've impressed Jeremy Clarkson. Well remember I'd already been bitten by the savage Pixie so wasn't taking any chances that lizards of this variety had teeth. It was his tail or nothing.

We did our dance along the corridor as, although he moved with blistering speed, he didn't go far each time. Either the effort took it out of him or he was just playing with me.

He suddenly shot between my legs and headed for the bedroom door.....oh nooooooooo. Without so much as a 'may I enter', he shot in and under my bed and there he has remained ever since. I think.

With storage at a premium here, we've had to put a lot of stuff under our beds and so I've no idea if lizardboy is still there or not. They eat smaller critters so he can stay as long as he wants.

Oh speaking of smaller critters, I had one in my laptop screen the other day. No that's not a typing was IN my screen. I'm used to seeing tiny black things wandering across my screen - especially at night when it's the only light source in the living room. So as usual I pressed my finger to the screen to squish it in a humane way (!!) and it suddenly appeared on the other side of my finger - squish free !

In my confusion and disbelief I tried you do. And again. As if I was someone trying to squish nature's first totally flat critter. Then the little bugger stopped in mid screen as if it was wondering why it's world kept going dark and then light.

It's the big finger of death, you little bastard. Why won't you DIE !!!!!

He then strolled off into a corner of the screen and I've never seen him since. He'll be snuggled down on some valves or transistors or cathode ray thingies inside my laptop by now. I just hope he doesn't find a mate as my laptop's inner electronics can probably stand one little invader but not a whole family of them.

I shouldn't be surprised as we've found ants inside unused and still sealed plastic bags of biscuits and other food stuffs. It's incredible to think the places they can get into so why would a laptop screen be any different.

I plan on coaxing the lizard out from under my bed and have him guard my laptop. I'm all for messing with the food chain.

2007 Christmas Golf Cart Parade

It hardly seems like a year ago since the last one, but last night we had the Buttonwood Bay Christmas Golf Cart Parade once again. Doesn't time fly ???

This year the numbers seemed down a bit and some of the carts had the same decorations but hey, people made the effort.

As I'd learned a bit from last time and knew where the parade started from, I hightailed it in our own decoration-free cart (bah humbug) and took several pics while they were still getting ready to set off. This helped a lot as I'm not very good at taking decent photos of moving objects at night. Sometimes a point and shoot camera can be very useful and even my camera on full auto can't always focus on these well lit carts as they drive by......and there are no second chances as running after them is not an option. Oh no.

I'm too old and decrepit for that malarkey.

So the first half dozen photos below were taken minutes before the parade set off while their owners were happy to pose beside or inside their 'creations'. Like I said, you may notice a few from last year but the cart pulling the boat was new to me and the one with the huge Christmas tree on the back had been include another tree on the front !!

I feel they're given themselves quite a challenge for next year.

We didn't go to the 'do' after the parade so I've no photos of that. I took enough last time to give you an idea anyway. Last night was the start of a cold snap which hit the area but thankfully it was dry and relatively warm for the parade.

But enough waffle - here are the photos.

A big thank you should go out to everyone who took the time and made the effort to decorate their carts and create this parade.

Everyone here may be retired but when you look at the detail on these carts, you'll understand how much time had to have been spent by people who have put in a lifetime of work already and deserve to be taking it easy.

You're never too old to enjoy life and not for the first time, the residents of this park are the proof of that philosophy.

Well done everyone and Happy Holidays.......oh sod it......Happy Christmas.

Christmas Music - Again

We Brits are an odd bunch. We really are. We seem to love buying the same Christmas records year after year and looking at the latest charts, one week before Christmas, I see the old favourites are back in there again.

In descending order in the Top 40 we have :

Mariah Carey - All I Want For Christmas Is You
The Pogues - Fairytale Of New York
Wham - Last Christmas
Wizzard - I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday
Andy Williams - It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
Slade - Merry Xmas Everybody
Shakin' Stevens - Merry Christmas Everyone
Band Aid - Do They Know It's Christmas
Chris Rea - Driving home For Christmas
John Lennon & Yoko Ono - Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

So a quarter of the songs in the charts are ones we've bought before...and before....and before.
All we need is Cliff Richard and Mud and we'd have the set.

But where is THE Christmas song - White Christmas by Bing Crosby ?

Maybe we've finally grown tired of it and so in decades to come, we may grow tired of all the ones I've mentioned above.

Are we alone in this strange annual ritual of buying Christmas records we surely must have bought in the past ? Well I've looked at the charts from various nations and it would seem......yes we are. Ok many other countries have one or two of these regular oldies in their charts this week but nothing like as many as we have.

Wham's foot-tapping little effort seems to be popular in a lot of European countries. Those snow loving Finns and Danes have it in their charts (maybe they like the video that goes with it) but it's a little harder to understand why Germans and Austrians are buying it in droves too. Well I guess we know why the Austrians are yet again doing whatever their bigger neighbour is doing but lets not get all political here.

Actually several European countries MAY have their own versions of re-released Christmas songs in their charts right now - I wouldn't have a clue. I mean the No.1 in Belgium this week is "Kom Dans Met Mij" by Laura Lynn & Frans Bauer and for all I know, this translates to "Lets Have An Expensive But Delicious Specialist White Chocolate Christmas" and this little Belgian treat could be a regular visitor to the charts at this time of year.

I mean I'm not insular enough to think that the efforts by Wham, Wizzard and Slade will be loved by Christmas music fans all over the world.

And sure enough one country stands out as not having a single Christmas song in their charts this week - the US of A. No original song. No re-released song. Nada. They do have a Christmas ALBUM at No.1 one however and herein may lie the clue to why there are no singles.
The No.1 album by Josh Groban has been out for 9 weeks now. Singles and albums take so long to climb the charts over here that it's almost impossible to release them so that they may get to the top spot by a particular date.

In the UK it's time for everyone to ask "who will be no.1 in Christmas week" ? It used to be quite exciting in the days when we all found out together by listening to the chart countdown on a Sunday afternoon on BBC Radio 1. Sadly that tradition has gone and thanks to computerised listings and the internet etc, we seem to know the outcome over a week in advance.

Another tradition gone forever.

But artists and their record companies only had to release their songs about 2 weeks before Christmas and given how few actual sales were needed to get into the Top 10, a popular act could pretty much relax in the knowledge that they'd be on top of the pile by 25th.

To do that here in America, I suspect they'd need to have their record in the stores by Independence Day !!

We all like our tried and tested Christmas songs at this time of year. I have about 400 of them on my laptop and MP3 player ranging from good old Bing to Bon Jovi and from Burl Ives to Sinead O'Connor. I love them all. Yes I've even got Wizzard and Wham and Slade and all of the 10 in the current UK charts.

What can I say. I'm British.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

My lack of hair and my advanced age have combined to allow me to easily cut my own hair these days. Even though I save money by doing it, it's still all quite depressing.

I've had more head than hair for some time now and I vividly remember when it all started. I was in my upstairs flat in the Harehills district of Leeds - which probably put me in my mid 20's. For some reason I used a hand mirror to look at the back of my head, probably based on some witty comment from a friend. I was horrified to see head where hair should have been and the rest, as they say, is history. Like my hair in fact.

It's never bothered me much. Well not really. I've never tried to hide it and certainly would never try a comb over. Probably because it would take me too long to grow enough strands of hair to actually throw over to the other side.

So a few years ago, after recovering from a heart attack, I decided I didn't need the physical effort of dealing with the hair that was left and so I gave myself a No.2 and although it was a bit of a visual shock to almost be a skinhead in my 50's, I loved not having to comb, brush or even wash my hair every day. A quick splash when showering is all it needs.

As I'm a sort of mid Atlantic citizen now anyway, I wear a baseball cap most times when I go out and about and so even if I mess up my haircut, no one knows. Apart from maybe missing a little tuft, it's hard to mess it up. Just go over the whole head and try and keep the clippers flush to the skull with the correct cutting guide in place.

Ahhhh the guide. I should throw the others away or put them out of reach or something. If I'd done that, then I'd never have messed up once and given myself a No.1. Opps. The glance in the mirror was beyond shocking.

You see I take my glasses off when cutting my hair and after just a couple of passes over the back of my head where most of my remaining hairs reside, I sensed something was amiss. When I looked at the guide number, my worst fears were realised. But once started, I had to continue and the end result was not a pretty sight.

For weeks I wore my baseball cap INSIDE.

Having my hair cut when I was growing up in Ballymoney (N. Ireland) seems all the more distant now. I was never a trend setter, hair wise. Not really a trend follower either. We were simple folk and a trip to 'the barber' resulted in a short back and sides that would've made a US Marine proud. The place even had a classic striped pole outside for goodness sake. Until I was old enough and tall enough to sit properly in the chair, a wooden board was placed across it and I'd be lifted up onto it.

That indignity was bad enough but my pleas to have my hair cut as I wanted it fell on deaf ears too - as the barber would only take instructions from my mum or dad.

Barber : "The usual, young man" ?

Me : "Well no actually, I'm torn between shaved sides with a thick flat top or a look like that young Elvis fella, and heavy on the Brillcream."

Mum : "The usual"

It was all a bit much for a 24 year old !! And I was NEVER asked if I wanted 'something for the weekend' either. I suspect even the barber reasoned that with that haircut, I'd be spending my weekends alone.

But that was the best part of 40 years ago. Where does the time (and hair) go ?? Both slip away much too quickly for my liking. In the UK we tend to live in one place and work in one place much longer than people over here in America. I'm not sure if that seems to make time pass slower or faster.

My mum and dad got married, moved into a council house and that was it for over 50 years. 50 years in the same house. Well actually dad left first when he died in 1986 but mum lived on, alone, in that house until she too left it forever after 53 years in 2003. I think I've got the same 'homing gene' as I've clocked up 25 years in my one and only house. Dad worked for the same company all his life and although I had a short spell with two companies at either end of my career, I spent 25 of my 29 working years with ASDA, the supermarket company based in Leeds - now part of the WalMart family, as the sign outside the headquarters informs us.

So I'm not really into change and over here everyone IS into change. I buy things expecting them to last me for decades. Over here in the throwaway society, you buy things expecting them to last till the weekend. You buy a 1gb flashcard and when they bring out a 2gb card, you move up. 4gb, sir ? Yes please. Can't fill the 1gb card but what the hell.

But I fear I too am being seduced by all this crass consumerism. There was an advert on telle the other night for the latest addition to the Rogaine range - the product that claims to regrow your hair. Rogaine Foam. Now that sounds like fun.

But I think it might be too late for me as it wouldn't have a lot to work with. I'd just be a 'foam head' with no more hair than I have now.

If only it had been available back when I first looked in the mirror and noticed a small island of head appearing in an otherwise luxuriant sea of hair.

Now, sadly, it's the sea of hair that has become the island. Well more of an shrinking atoll really.

But as I said earlier, it has it's good points. I get up in the morning knowing that, hair wise, I'm looking as good as when I went to bed.

Well I don't care what you say, I'M taking that as a good point.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pixie Update

Yesterday Deb and Den took Pixie for another progress checkup at the vet hospital.

It might be the last one.

It's a 3 hour round trip and they had to wait 30 minutes to see Dr. Max and the checkup lasted about 5 minutes including the questions they asked him. It's hard to see a reason for going any more.

For the past couple of weeks, Pixie has been walking reasonably well but still falling over sideways from time to time when her back legs give way - usually when she needs to turn. But she gets right back up again. When she is walking up on all fours, her back legs have a comical high stepping action as if she's walking over hot coals or some nasty wet grass. There isn't much rotation or bending of the back legs going on.

The vet did the pinching test again (I hate it and I'm not the one being pinched) and there were still places where there was no pain, and therefore no nerve signals, getting through. He said this explained the high stepping action as basically Pixie wasn't able to sense the ground and so was using her spine alone to move her legs and just doing a simple 'leg up, leg down' straight leg motion - planting her back legs in the hope that they'd touch the ground as opposed to knowing they'd reached the ground via nerve signals going to and from her brain.

But WE know she can bend her back legs properly as she loves to roll over onto her back and be petted and often if you tickle her tummy, she'll move her back legs in a bicycle motion as she's so happy. I don't care how this motion can be explained away but the fact that it DOES take place, seems to me to show there have to be signals going right to the tips of her the pads move too.

Anyway the vet just said to continue with the twice daily therapy, don't over walk her and come back in 2 weeks.

We don't think so ! For a start it'll be Christmas but we can always alter the appointment. We just think it's a journey too far, time and fuel wise. We don't think anything more can be done for her at the hospital anyway and we just hope she'll slowly get a little better week by week with us. The last two visits have added up to 6 hours of driving and $60 in gas for a total of 15 minutes with the vet - to be told nothing new.

And even if this is as good as she'll ever be, that's fine too. Personality wise she's 100% Pixie again. She can get around the house well enough - although once she goes onto the kitchen lino she does still tend to do the splits a lot - and when on our laps, she still looks so damn cute that you want to hug her to death. She still has silly periods when she rolls over on the carpet and plays with imaginary objects; she's still a great alarm dog (could never be described as a GUARD dog) and barks when anyone comes to the door; she still causes people she meets to go awwwwwww; she still does things that make us laugh and generally talk about her (and to her); she's still Pixie.

But most of all, she's happy, not in any pain and as much as we love her, she loves us right back.

What more can any of us wish for ?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Fun In A Barn

On Monday we left the park and went into unknown territory..........central Florida. Yes we braved gator infested waters and roadside fruit sellers and made our way to a casino for a spot of gambling. Best thing to do in a casino I suppose.

Deb and I went with 2 park friends and it was the first time for all of us. So we got a little bit lost. Just a little. "How can you miss a casino ?", I hear you cry ?

Well to get around the Florida gaming regulations, this wasn't really a casino. It was called an arcade - and was set up in a building best described as....barn shaped. We had been told to look out for a gold coloured building but not that it was a barn. Luckily we'd learned a few things from watching several series of "The Amazing Race" and with some teamwork (and stopping to ask at a local grocery store), we got there at 11:30.

Only to find a note on the door that said it opened at noon !! This was definitely a different kind of casino, sorry, arcade.

We drove around the area to waste time and returned at 12:15 - didn't want to appear too eager you know. They'd just opened up and so we all went in together. Ok now you need to remember I've only been to large modern casinos/hotels in Vegas and almost as impressive ones in Michigan and so this place was a real shock. About 50 machines, one little single person restroom (I don't mean for midgets but just that only one person could 'go' at a time), one ATM and, uniquely in my experience, no cameras.

They didn't need any. On top of every machine was a card that a player could place on top of the buttons if they wanted to go for a break or go to the restroom. Basically we were on the honour system and as there were only 2 or 3 other people in the barn, that was fair enough.

The main reasons that this place could open at all was because no money can be won and no gambling took place. Confused ?

Well the machines used a points system and the total went onto a credit card sized card that you inserted everytime you moved to a new machine and it simply kept a tab on your 'winnings'. Even then the money on the card could only be redeemed at stores like WalMart and only if you got more than $25. Anything less and you just had to keep playing or the money on the card was useless. Very clever. Of course if your card had, say, $17 on it and you didn't really want to play more or even return to the arcade ever again, you could just put $8 in cash onto the card to make it up to $25 and so get to spend it in a store.

But why wasn't it classed as gambling ? Well again it's all in the detail. With most slot machines you press a start button or pull a lever and the bands revolve for a while and settle down to present winning or losing lines. You have no control over how they end up so......that's gambling.
The machines in this arcade all had a start button but there were other buttons which allowed you to stop the bands all at once or one at a time. You had 'control' and so it wasn't classed as gambling.

Of course in reality you had no more control that you'd have using the slots in Vegas. The bands whizzed round so fast that they were a blur and even if you did your Rain Man thing and worked out the sequence of the symbols, once you'd hit the stop button, the bands would rotate for a while before actually stopping so you have no chance of stopping them on the symbol you needed. Seemed pretty much like a gamble to me.

But the fun part was that we were given $15 (1500 credits) on our cards from the get go and if you played at the minimum of 8 credits at a time, that $15 could last you for several hours. And it did. The four of us were there for 3 hours and only one of us had to dip into our 'own' money. One amased $72 at one time which ended up being $50, another got $27, one broke even by losing the $15 and one used $1 of their own money.

Yes that last one was me !!

Well I'd not worked it out properly and had left 50 credits (or 50 cents) on my card but the minimum you could transfer to the machine was $1. Very clever again. So as I was the first one to finish, I walked around for a while watching the other 3 playing - this quickly became boring so I decided to put $1 of my own money on my card to make it $1.50 and so be able to play again. And before you ask, you couldn't just put 50 cents on as the cash to card transfer machine only took notes. Anyway I won now and then and that $1.50 lasted me about 25 minutes.......before it too was gone !

I was the only loser on the day. Typical.

But it was fun AND we got free sannies, goulash (I think) and all the pop, water, candies and other nibbles that we could eat. I had 3 sannies, a plate of the goulash, 2 cans of coke and numerous candies and so didn't feel too bad giving them that $1 back out of my own pocket.

It may not have been as glamorous as The Venetian or The Bellagio in Vegas but I defy anyone to spend 3 hours in any of those places with a $15 stake.

Or in my case, $16.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Surfin' USA

Yesterday Deb and my good self left the confines of Buttonwood Bay and headed out on a shopping trip to an outlet Mall near Vero Beach on Florida's east coast

The Vero Beach Prime Outlets Mall, for that was it's name, turned out to be a lot further from Sebring than Debby thought it was. She'd said it was 59 miles.


After 59 miles we were only half way there - but we we didn't care.

The sun was shining. The road was long (and possibly winding) and the car top was down. The Beach Boys were singing about some boat called John B and diners with rollerskating waitresses were everywhere. We were young, free and had drugs and money in our pockets. Ahhhh the 60's.

Sorry. Had a senior moment there. Sadly yesterday was still in 2007 and apart from the sunshine, nothing much remained from the 60's. The road WAS long though. And boring. US60 East from Lake Wales to Vero Beach was almost as boring as the road from Sebring to Miami. God's that's a boring road. If all the boring bits of roads from all over America were laid end to end........well I guess they have been. It's called US27 South from Sebring to Miami.

So we were ridiculously happy when we came upon the Mall with still 7 miles to go to the town of Vero Beach. I may have cheered. We both may have cheered.

The Mall was pink. Very pink. All of it. I think Outlet Malls have to be pink by law. I didn't care. We were able to get off US60 and after 80 miles of mind numbingly boring (non) scenery, a huge pink coloured Mall looked wonderful to my eyes.

We strolled along the wide and inviting pathways and looked at every store - and even went inside a few. We both bought 'stuff' and had a jolly good time doing so.

Batteries recharged, it was time to face US60 again but thankfully only for the 7 miles from the Mall to Vero Beach. It was great to see signs for places so familiar to me from previous visits to this part of Florida. Daytona Beach, Indian River Shores, Melbourne. I was a little giddy at being so close to Cape Canaveral with the latest shuttle due to be launched today. As it turned out, it's been delayed until tomorrow anyway.

We turned right down US1 for a block and then left and across one of the numerous impressive bridges that connect the mainland to the thin strip of land that runs for hundreds of miles down the east coast of Florida. We came upon a lovely FREE car park and seconds later we were on the beach with the sounds of Atlantic waves crashing on the shoreline.

We were at the seaside !!!

No sandcastles. No 'kiss me quick' hats. No garish amusement arcades and not a donkey in sight.

In fact there was nothing in sight but sand in both directions as far as the eye could see.

It was a few minutes after 6pm and the last rays of the setting sun were struggling to peek over the tree line and fall upon the beach.

I love the light at this time of day and for a few brief moments, it brought out the blue of the sea, the white of the breaking waves and cast an eerie layer of almost unnatural light between the horizon and the sky. Enlarge and have a good look.

The temperature had already dropped to a very pleasant 64F (18C) but as ever, Debby was glad of her jacket. Give her credit though, she did remove her shoes and socks and ventured out to meet the water.

As you can see from this photo, it was not a totally agreeable meeting.

But it wasn't the water temperature that was causing her to scuttle back to dry land. It was the fact that she had miscalculated the height of the previous wave and had managed to get wet above the knee line.

By now the sun had set and being in the east, we lost most of the beautiful light that can come at this time of day.

We still had this part of the beach all to ourselves and for some reason it reminded me of the scene from Deep Impact where Tea Leoni and her on screen father, played by Maximilian Schell, were standing on a similar beach waiting for the gigantic tidal wave to hit them.

If you have 3 minutes to spare, here it is, thanks to YouTube.

Anyway I decided to pass the camera over and have my soul captured for all eternity........or at least until digital images disintegrate and return to being a handful of 0's and 1's. Probably by March next year.

You can see why I prefer to be on the other side of the lens.

I share a trait with Billy Connelly as he once remarked that he'd still look like a tramp even if he was wearing a tuxedo.

Or words to that effect.

Clothes hang off me like dead skin on a leper. Smooth, smart, suave and sophisticated. All words that will never be used to describe me.

I think that's why I love being in America so much. This country was made for me. I fit right in.

But back on OUR beach, something quite startling happened. We had uninvited guests. A man and his 3 kids appeared from nowhere and had obviously been looking at my typing as, while his son stood poised on the shoreline with his little surfboard, he and his 2 daughters started to build a sandcastle.

Well I never. It spoilt the whole effect. Suddenly I could've been back home standing on the golden sands of Scarborough or Bridlington beaches. Having said that, it was obviously an unplanned visit as the traditional British bucket and spade technique had been cast aside in favour of a much more effective technique based on kneeling on the sand and digging away like crazy.

The son, on the other hand, was doing something much more photographically interesting. He was.........well there has to be a name for it but I don't know what it is. Bodyboarding or boogie surfing or some such thing.

He'd wait for the right moment, which seemed to be when he had regained his breath from the previous attempt, and start running towards the ocean.

At the water's edge, he'd hurl his board along the wet sand making use of it's obvious aquaplaning capabilities and once it was actually ON the water, he'd hop aboard and surf off into the sunset.

Except that the sun had set some time earlier, he was going AGAINST the tide and anyway, he kept falling off after a few feet.

As the closest adult around, I soon realised that this activity was destined for failure most of the time and even on the rare occasions when body and board managed to stay together, they didn't stay that way long enough to justify the efforts in getting there.

Of course I may be missing the point here and I'd just have been happy to have been able to run that fast down the beach, period. Making any sort of contact with a rapidly disappearing small speeding board would have been an incredible bonus.......and a physical impossibility I'd have to think.

As Clint Eastwood was always keen on pointing out in most of his Dirty Harry movies "a man's gotta know his limitations".

But here are a few photos of the times when he DID get it right and managed to crest a wave before parting company with both his board and most of the air in his lungs. Oh and by the way, I did ask dad's permission before taking these photos. Just in case he was on holiday from Roundhay Park. You never know.

Then, realising that he could also become famous by appearing on my blog, dad decided to get into the action. I've no idea where his board came from - maybe that's what they were digging for earlier.

Now HE was a proper surfer dude. He was wearing his authentic one piece black condom to keep out the water and had his head full of Jan & Dean's greatest hits.

Sadly we had to leave the beach as time and tide wait for no man, or woman, or surfer for that matter.

I only had one chance to take photos of dad and thankfully for us both, he found his wave and had a little surf on it.....bless.

We left the beach, returned to the truck and headed back on US60 to the Outlet Mall to do a last bit of shopping. After that we went to a nearby Steak 'N Shake for something to eat.

I'd only been once before and should've remembered that it doesn't 'do' great food. But this time it wasn't the food that got us annoyed but the temperature inside the place. We were frozen and Debby actually put up the hood on her jacket and sat across from me looking like a pink inuit.

A very disgruntled pink inuit.

The manager made the mistake of manning the cash register when we went up to pay and he just HAD to ask if everything was ok ? Oh dear. The end result was that he waived the cost of our (shared) meal and that sent us off onto US60 in a much happier frame of mind - still cold mind you.

That trip back to Lake Wales was made much more agreeable as it was pitch black and so, although we knew that the boredom was still out there (like The Nothing in The Neverending Story), we couldn't see it !

Then it was onto US27 south to Sebring and 'home'.

It had been a grand day out but the next time a woman driver tells you your destination is 59 miles away, take a book with you as you just might be in for a slightly longer trip.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Gardening Florida Style

Being from the UK, when I think of gardening I think of cutting the lawn or trimming the hedge or even sorting out the flower beds.

I think of them.....and that's often as far as it goes.

I hate gardening but I love the results. I guess I'd like to be rich enough to have someone do it for me. I had my back garden turned into a patio just so I wouldn't have to cut the grass. I drew the line at having the same done at the front as I do like greenery there. I've noticed over the years that more and more front lawns in my estate ARE being covered over - sometimes to accommodate a 2nd car or even just a larger single vehicle.

Often the owners are older people who are no longer able to cope with a garden and so pave or concrete the lawn. I don't like such gardens. When I'm out walking and see a lovely tidy trimmed lawn and a border of colourful flowers and shrubs, it gladdens my heart. I think of those unfortunates in high rise flats who would love to be able to have a garden.

But like I've said, I'm too lazy to deal with it all. I cut my lawn every week in high summer and that's about it. I have a couple of incredibly hardy rose bushes that despite my care, manage to bloom every year. In my ignorance I've often cut them down to bare stumps but lo and behold, up they come again, spawning beautiful roses as if to poke fun at my accidental attempts to kill them off.

Why does grass have to grow so fast anyway ? That's bad design. I think one should be able to cut it at the start of summer and be done with it till the following year. Come on scientists, sort it out. Genetically modify grass please.

But don't get me started on hedges. A couple of years ago I fell for the old traveller/gypsy con trick and paid £160 to have some Irish speaking family spend 15 minutes giving my hedge a punk rock style makeover that you'd never see in Homes & Gardens. I knew I was being made a fool of while it was going on. I think the 12 year old 'son' who was actually up the step ladder attempting to cut the hedge was one giveaway. He couldn't reach the top for a start. But the clincher was when 'dad' put his arm around my shoulder and said "what on earth have you given us money for to do this to your hedge" ?

He quickly said he was only joking but when they suddenly packed up their few bits of equipment (the stepladder and an old pair of rusty clippers) and high tailed it in their white unmarked van, I stood alone surveying the remains of my hedge and didn't see the joke at all.
I'd only taken up their offer as I was 4 days home from the hospital after my heart attack and I think I was in the middle of a delayed MRSA attack. Every year on the anniversary of the great hedge fiasco, I swear I hear laughter and the squeal of tyres as a white van speeds down the street. It may just be my neighbour of course.

Anyway here in sunny Buttonwood Bay things are slightly different. Yesterday a truck pulled up outside the house next door and I realised I was going to witness something rarely seen in the UK - well outside of Devon/Cornwall at least. My neighbour's palm tree was going to be given a tidy up.

I tried to find an old photo of the tree without the truck blocking the view but any I took of our place, didn't include the tree next door.

So this photo at least shows how overgrown it was as of yesterday. Actually it looked fine to me but what do I know about palm trees ?


So they set up their crane thingy and one of them went up to do the cutting. By the time I thought to capture the event for posterity (and this blog), a few fronds had already disappeared.

Once a frond had been cut away, it was tossed down into the open truck bed and the guy was onto the next one before the discarded one had settled.

No gypsy blood in this guy !!

I have to assume the pair took it in turns to go up and do the trimming as there wasn't much for the guy on the ground to do.

If they'd been in the UK, he'd have been the one catching up on the political news and world events in The Sun and multitasking by wolf whistling at any female going past......despite none here being under 80.

It's actually embarrassing to wolf whistle an octogenarian in more ways than one. For one thing it takes so long for them to go past that you either have to give numerous whistles or else hold the final 'note' for so long that you risk serious injury to your lungs.

Believe me it doesn't happen here a lot......especially as the men are mostly of a similar age and are simply happy to be able to breath at all and don't have surplus air in their lungs or their portable tanks to waste any on whistling.

If you look at Mr Frond Guy closely, you may notice he's wearing thick gloves. There is a very good reason for this - now that I know a little bit more about palm trees.

I've blown up a portion of another photo and if you click to enlarge it, you'll see why he's wearing the gloves.

Palm tree frond stems are deceptively dangerous to the skin. In fact the whole tree is pretty much a non hands zone. The trunk can shred skin when the 2 come together and I shudder to think about the people who scoot up them for whatever reason.

Maybe I'm thinking of coconut trees which have smooth trunks !

I told you I'm clueless about gardening, exotic or otherwise but at least I do know that there is a country called Hungary, Europe isn't a country and that Budapest isn't the capital of France.

There is some hope for me and thanks to Daphne for emailing me that link. But I've digressed.................

I think I'm right in saying that the park is responsible for tree trimming on this side and so there should be no charge involved for the owner of the home. We have a huge tree to the right of our place so if it needs work doing to it, I guess we'll find out then.

Back to this palm tree and by now it was looking like a Mohawk on a bad day. Only a few minutes had gone by and already the difference was striking.

Once he'd cut away the upper fronds, he lowered his cage and started working on the other bits and pieces.

By now I'd connected up my webcam and, thanks to Skype, my friend Daphne was able to sit in her Leeds living room and watch as a palm tree in central Florida was being trimmed.

Who needs television ???

After about 20 minutes the deed was done and the truck moved away.

This is a photo of the trimmed tree and I have to say, I liked the old tree better. It somehow LOOKED more like a palm tree should look. This denuded thing seems like a cross between a feather duster and one of those pencils kids use with a troll stuck on the end of it.

It's just not aesthetically pleasing.

At least I'll be able to see how fast it all grows back but I'm sure it won't need to be trimmed again for a long long time.

Maybe that's why there are no gypsies in Florida.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Home Alone

I was going to have a rant about the story of a British teacher who has been found guilty by a Sudanese court of insulting religion by naming a teddy bear Muhammad. Well I should say she let her class of 7 yr olds pick the name and 20 out of 23 of THEM chose Muhammad. She's been sentenced to 15 days in prison and will then be deported. Like she'd want to stay in that country anyway ??

But plenty of others have voiced opinions and I'm not going to add to the circus. I think the whole philosophy of hard line Muslims can be shown up for the nonsense it is by the following excerpt from a followup BBC article :

Ibrahim Mogra, chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain's interfaith relations committee and an imam in Leicester, says the name should be reserved for boys. "Some of us believe we are assured of heaven if we name our children Muhammad."

Ah but what about the '70 virgins' ? Sorry but that explosive bonus is a bit harder to get.

Holy crap, when I think of the 80 years of good honest Catholic living and the thousands and thousands of hours of praying that she did, my sainted mother will be kicking herself that all she had to do was call me Muhammad !!

But I'm not going to rant. Well not more than I just have. It's just all too silly.

Tomorrow morning (Fri) Deb and Den will be leaving to fly back to Michigan as Deb has organised a twin baby shower for her two daughters-in-law who are 'heavy with child' right now. They'll be back on Monday evening.

I don't envy them. The outside temp here right now is 82F. The temp in Houghton Lake, Michigan is 18F (and it says with the wind chill, it FEELS like 3F). Somehow I don't think they'll be wearing their usual attire of shorts and t-shirts while up there. Oh lordy no.

So for 3 days I'll be here on my own......well of course the ferocious finger eating Pixie will be with me. Thanks to her, my left index finger end is now the size of a grapefruit, excruciatingly painful and the colour of Michael Jackson pre-Thriller.

But I'm a man, so you can discount one of those descriptions. Well ok two of them.

No, no, no. I still say that little dark blood scab to the left of my nail is pretty black looking. Yes it is.

The thing is, one tends to hold any sore appendage away from ones body to protect it from accidentally coming into contact with......basically anything. So for the last two days I've been giving totally innocent passersby the finger, so to speak. We were in a Wendy's today and I went to scratch an itch on the left side of my head and two huge 'dudes from the hood' glared at me as if I'd just spat in their (go large) soda drinks. It was a tense moment.

I'm hoping to use this time alone to catch up on the 100 or so tv shows I've downloaded and not watched yet. I don't feel right putting on my headphones and watching them when Deb/Den are here so now I can forgo the phones and let rip. I'll also feel less inhibited using Skype to talk with friends as it's a bit bizarre talking into a microphone when others are around. I call it "Amy Whitehouse Syndrome" and it should be avoided whenever possible.

I'll also be fitting my tv show viewing around walking, cycling and, of course, swimming. I mean I didn't come to Florida to spend all day inside. Oh no. I can do that in Leeds.

Here the sky is blue, the sun is warm and the pool is heated to a lovely 84F. What's not to like about that ?? Well I'm not supposed to get my finger wet so that IS a problem. I could pop a condom over it but I can see that backfiring big time. I'd be dozing on a sun lounger by the pool when several deafening shrieks wake me from my slumbers. Mrs. Horowitz has fainted in the shallow end with my discarded condom stuck to her forehead. I'd have to leave the pool area muttering that the old biddy probably hadn't seen a condom for 30 years so what was she doing fainting in the first place ?

20 minutes later Mr. Horowitz would be at my door with a twinkle in his cataracts, asking if I'd any free samples !!

Maybe I'll give swimming a miss for a while.

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