Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Water Water Everywhere.............

Yesterday was a lovely spring day and so I headed out to get some fresh air and, if nothing else, document a momentous event in the history of the motor car.

More of that later.

One of the benefits of living in N.Leeds is that it only takes about 30 mins to get up into The Dales and so, after a lovely carvery lunch at The Wellington Pub on Wetherby Road (get there early as it gets very busy), I drove up the A1 until I reached the A684 turnoff.

I love this road westwards as it takes you through tiny hamlets and villages with names like Little Crakehall, Patrick Brompton, Constable Burton and Swinithwaite in just a few miles. You couldn't make those up if you tried.

The picturesque church at Patrick Brompton, aptly named St. Patricks, is right on the main road and next to the Green Tree pub. I'm sure both are popular on a Sunday and I can just see the congregation moving from one to the other - although which way I'm not sure.

I like to stop there for a while as the setting is so beautiful and even the scenic graveyard is worth a visit........a temporary visit of course.

But my real destination yesterday was Aysgarth and it's famous triple flight of waterfalls known simply as Aysgarth Falls.

These were the falls featured in the 1991 movie "Robin Hood, Prince Of Thieves" where Robin (Kevin Costner) first met and then fought with Little John (Nick Brimble) and both got kinda wet.

I just hope it was filmed in high summer as the water was extemely cold yesterday.

The following year, the Falls played host to the crew filming "Wuthering Heights" but I don't think Ralph Fiennes even got his feet wet.

The very steep road down to the Falls leads off the A684 and there is a car park a few yards down on the right which is part of a cafe/restaurant - and so payment is necessary.

Being tight, I drove back up to the pub at the top of the hill on the A684 and parked there for free. I told myself it only added a few yds to the walk which was fine on the way down, but those yds seemed like miles on the way back up.

As soon as you start down the hill, you can hear the roar of the Falls.

As waterfalls go, Aysgarth isn't impressive in the classic style - a long drop into a scenic pool.

It's more in the style of the Horseshoe section of Niagara but on a MUCH smaller scale of course.

These Falls spread over a large area but although the 'drops' are quite small, the overall effect is still impressive and well worth a visit.

Given the time of year and that I don't think schools break up until next week, I almost had the place to myself. In high season I very much doubt that I could've got parked up at the roadside pub and I know that I'd have had plenty of company down by the Falls.

As it was, I was able to pick my spots for taking photos and not be bothered by kids, dogs or screaming babies. I really have become the quintessential 'old fart' who likes his scenery unspoilt by such distractions.

This view shows the 'horseshoe' section and without having the movie to refer to right now, certainly looks like the area where Costner got much more than his toes wet.

I've been here in summer and seen numerous kids wading across the rocks - and good luck to them, I say.
As a youngster I'd have done the same myself as I was always one for crossing streams, climbing rocks and
generally not being content to sit still on the picnic rug with mom and dad when we'd be out for the day.

I hadn't taken the tripod with me as I knew the walk down and up that hill would be bad enough with the camera equipment and so I settled for the monopod as it's almost like a walking stick and so had more than one use.

I wanted to take some slow speed photographs to give that satin look to the flowing waters and I felt the monopod would keep the camera steady enough for that purpose. Being able to sit on the staircase like rocks and set the monopod firmly between my legs and on the ledges below meant I got the (rock) steady platform I needed.

I took the usual photos to 'freeze' the water (shutter speeds above 250th/sec) but then dropped it down to a 15th/sec or even a 10th/sec to get the results you see here.

I like both views but prefer the slow speed ones better. Most point and shoot cameras aren't capable of taking them and it shows some degree of photographic skill and ability even though I regard myself as a simple snapper.

If nothing else, it helps me to justify the cost of my camera when I utilise it's capabilities like this !!

Visitors reach the Falls by going through a couple of gates at the bottom of the steep hill and crossing a small grassy park area which has plenty of picnic tables and room for families to spread out and enjoy the views.

Just above the Falls, before the waters of the River Ure reach the limestone rocks, there is a very calm and serene area with incredible trees and their roots which are mostly above ground for some bizarre reason.

Yesterday a slight mist lay over the water and it was slowly creeping up onto the land. It was quite eerie and with no one else around, I felt a few chills that weren't fully explained by the sudden dip in temperature.

After hearing noises coming from under the extensive root system, I told myself I'd seen enough there was little to be served by going further.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

I packed up and headed up THAT hill to get back to the car. In previous years I'd have semi jogged it's length but yesterday age and health were both against me and several snails passed my wheezing tortured body. Half way up I paused for breath at the gates of St. Andrews Church which claims to have the largest churchyard in England.

Apart from giving it the cursory glance it usually gets from me, I didn't have the energy or the inclination to go in. The rest of the hill beckoned and I needed all my strength to master it.

I've never been so happy to see my car and was glad I had a 6 pack of coke in the trunk. I needed them all.

I took the B6160 down to Kettlewell and it was a joy to be on it when not in any rush at all. It's a classic narrow Dales road with just about room for cars to pass. It would not be possible to travel on it with any sort of US trailer, 5th wheel or motorhome as any vehicle other than a family car would have problems with oncoming traffic.

At one point I came up behind this tractor pulled slurry tank and was happy that I had the time to keep well behind it at a 'safe' distance.

Why ? What is slurry, you ask ?

Farm slurry is a mixture composed chiefly of water and animal sewage. It has a distinct odour, noticeable when the substance is carried in tankers, or spread over fields.

Yes, it's nasty stuff and as often happens when you're NOT in a rush, it turned into a field after only a few minutes and I was able to speed on home. But you can see my point about the narrow road.

At this time I was keeping a safe but close eye on my car's odometer which had been clicking relentlessly towards the magic 100,000 mile mark on this trip.

I wanted to record this momentous event and was glad that I had the B6160 mostly to myself as I planned on stopping and taking a photo of the odometer on 99999 and then again on 100000.

In case anyone thinks I took these pics while driving, you can clearly see the speedo pointer thingy is resting on zero - ok it's looks more like 5 mph but I can assure you I wasn't moving !!!

My car may be old and as proved by the odometer, has been around the block a few times, but there isn't a bit of rust on it anywhere and it gets me from A to B the few times I feel like a trip to B. Very pretty place.

Anyhooo, after watching the sunset over some sheep in a field near Kettlewell, I made it to the A65/A660 and back to Leeds in time for a late supper.

So if you're in the area, give Aysgarth Falls a visit. Just remember, despite what Hollywood would have you think, it's not anywhere near Sherwood Forest !

Monday, March 26, 2007

Shamed By My Colleagues

I'm considering suing 2 of my fellow members of the esteemed paparazzi club for bringing shame and embarrassment to our noble profession.

According to this BBC report, my 'friends' were simply trying to do their decent and law abiding jobs by taking unwanted and unnecessary photographs of 2 'C' list actresses on location on a movie shoot in some Canadian resort last year when they were physically and verbally assaulted by said 'actresses'.

I'm not naming names just in case I get slapped with a law suit for further ridicule.

Now for some reason we have no photos of these paparazzi chappies but I'd have to think that, like myself, they are strapping young men with ripped abs, quite adept at throwing their considerable weight around in scrums outside nightclubs and able to ascend walls and trees in a single bound - if there is a financially worthwhile photo opportunity on the other side.

So what was the verbal abuse which reduced them to quivering heaps of inhumanity and brought down embarrassment, shame and ridicule upon them ?

One of the actresses called them 'paparazzi scum' !!! Oh my goodness. The shame, the shame of it.

Well fog my intrusive zoom lens but isn't one of those words redundant anyway ???

And the physical abuse ? Well the report doesn't say if any wrist slapping, or handbag waving or, given the buxom attributes of both actresses, if boob swinging in an enclosed space was involved, but at some point laptops were thrown off a balcony.

What a one sided and mighty battle of the sexes it must've been. I'm shocked there were ANY survivors.

I know these guys like to get their reports and photos off to their quality papers and magazines as fast as possible, but I didn't realise they carried their laptops around with them while trying to get their sneaky images. I'm surprised they don't employ clapped out sherpas to haul all their gear around when on these obviously dangerous and emotionally draining assignments.

And where has this law suit been lodged ? Yes, you've guessed it. In Los Angeles Superior Court. God forbid that any serious legal work should go on there.

I tell you, the world has gone mad, mad I tells ya.

I sure hope they still managed to get photos of the actresses despite the obvious dangers to their well-being, as my celeb scrapbook has a full page screaming out for more images. It's in the 'Who Needs An Oscar When I've Got Huge Boobs And Teeth" section and although it's pretty full, there is always room for 2 more.

God bless you young men. I hope you get every cent that you deserve.

A (Not So) Little Piece Of History

Like most people, I like to have souvenirs of my trips away from home.

I remember when I went to Spain in the 70's, I brought back one of those glass drinking vessels that the locals used to pour alcohol into their mouths from a great height and that we tourists would pour all over ourselves in an attempt to copy them.

When I went to Paris I brought home a little bronze miniature of the Eiffel Tower.

From Austria , a wall shield with some sort of crest on it.

From Ireland, loads of tat with shamrock motifs.

And so on and so on. Not exactly anything to impress the neighbours, or even me come to that.
Mugs with logos, pens with country names along the sides, letter openers with city names, little figurines in national name it, I bought it.

When I was working and going to America for the traditional 3 or 4 weeks a year, I was visiting every state and got a key fob or a cigarette lighter from every one. This was quite bizarre as I've never smoked and so the lighters have remained in a big plastic bag ever since and are probably bone dry now and useless for all practical purposes.

Every inch of my fridge/freezer was covered with magnets from all over the place and opening the doors would involve a good work out.

I dare not add up the cost of all these souvenirs but I'm sure they'd easily get me a return flight to Hawaii or a Caribbean cruise.

And are ANY of them on display in or around my house now? Not a one. Well ok the magnets are still on the fridge/freezer but that's just because they're better off where they are rather than in another plastic bag.

Today I visited a friend who had been to China late last year.

Did he bring back a cuddly Panda ?


Did he bring back a mug with Shanghai on the side ?


Some rubble from THE wall maybe ?


His souvenir was a full size replica of a terracotta warrior !!

Holy excess baggage, Batman.

This 'big boy' weighs in at close to 400 lbs - that's the warrior and not my friend, btw.

I asked him to pose with his Chinese takeaway for the sake of scale and as he's not a midget either, I'd have to think the warrior is a full 6ft tall.

Now THAT'S a souvenir.

And the funny thing is, not only is it different from any of MY souvenirs in size, weight, cost and WOW factor, but in one even more amazing way...................

It doesn't have MADE IN CHINA stamped on it anywhere. Go figure.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

I Joined The Paparazzi

I had to go into Leeds city centre yesterday as I had a meeting with my financial advisor and I also wanted to get my eyes tested.

The two appointments just happened to be on the same day and nothing should be read into it !!

I don't like going into Leeds very much as like most big UK cities, it's dirty and crowded and.....well just a modern UK city really. Yes there are a few good places to stop and spend a few minutes taking in the views and for this reason I took my camera with me.

I parked at Crown Point as usual as you get the first 3 hrs free and it's only a 10 minute walk to the city centre stores and as I approached the shopping centre, I was taken with the progress of Bridgewater Place which at 137m, although still under construction, is already the tallest building in the city. For the last 9 months I'd only seen it via the construction web cam and it's just not the same.

I've never been a fan of the Leeds planning rules which seem to have given us a city of dull brown buildings all looking much the same. New city centre 'riverside' apartment blocks are going up like crazy with prices to match - but they all look the same to me...........unimpressive concrete nonentities with hundreds of little balconies breaking up their otherwise flat boring facades.

Bridgewater Place is different and then some. It would be worthy of a location in Chicago, a city which claims to be the home of the skyscraper and has many of the most beautiful within it's limits.

This view, from the middle of the road alongside the shopping centre, doesn't show it off that well but you get the overall look of the place.

The bottom 10 floors will be for office space and the top 20 will be for apartments; I'm not sure what the other 2 floors will be for but i'm sure they'll make money somehow.

It was lovely spring day and the building stood out well against the blue sky and I was glad I had the chance to see it at it's best.

After my appointments in town, I stopped off at Costco on the way home and as I was parking, I saw Chris Chittell who plays Eric Pollard in the ITV soap, Emmerdale. He was leaving the store with an elderly lady who could have been a relative or just a friend. Whatever the relationship, he was kindless itself and gently helped her along and took his time loading the shopping from the cart before helping her into his small SUV.

I quit watching Emmerdale many years ago when it stopped being about farming folk and changed it's name from Emmerdale Farm. I catch bits of it when waiting for Corrie to start and so know a few character names but in any case, Chris/Eric has been in the show for over 20 years and so it's a case of 'I'd know that face anywhere'. Even coming out of Costco.

As he was pushing his empty cart back to the store, I pounced ! I'd never ever asked a personality for a photograph in my life but the camera was on the passenger seat and I thought.....what the hell. I thought about taking candid shots with the telephoto lens in true paparazzi style but in the end I wanted a good portrait so I went for the full frontal assault.

Well he was the sweetest man and smiled as I approached him. He said I reminded him of a friend of his which may have explained the greeting. He asked how I was and what I was doing there and we chatted like old pals before I remembered why I'd approached him in the first place and asked if I might take his photo ? He was as pleased as if I'd handed him a £20 note and posed like the professional he is.

I thanked him, he thanked me and he offered his hand. I went down on one knee, proposed and the wedding is next Saturday at noon !!

No I made that last bit really....but he has been married several times on the show so I had to be careful not to be partner No.5.

But the handshake was genuine.

If that's how easy it is to be a paparazzi, then I'm in. I somehow don't think getting a snap of Elton John coming out of The Body Shop would be so easy so I may just quit while I'm ahead and have all my limbs intact.

Chris, you may not be an A list celeb but as a gent, you're a star in my book.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Wintery Spring

Tuesday was a very odd day weatherwise.

As I was sitting in my chair catching up on emails, I looked out the window and saw just a few lovely fluffy white clouds looking like floating marshmallows on a sea of azure blue.

So where was the snow we'd been 'promised' by the BBC weather experts ?

While thinking of the £millions that have been spent on the technology to get us to the point where weathermen can be totally ACCURATE about giving us the WRONG forecast up to 10 days in advance now, I decided to get out and enjoy the spring weather before they messed it all up.

I don't have much of a front garden as life is too short to spend much of it dealing with grass cutting and flower arranging but despite this lack of care and attention, I do have a few hardy and colourful daffs which wanted to stand up and shout out that it's springtime.

And here is one of them........looking smart and clever and not thinking of cold and snow at all......not one little bit. No, no ,no.

I'd also been told by a friend that she had seen some lambs in a field about a mile away around the ring road and so I decided to go and find them myself.

As I got to the car, I noticed a dramatic change in the skies. Arriving from the east were some nasty snow bearing clouds and I wasn't even sure I'd get to the main road before they dropped their load.

I was wrong.......but not by much. As I drove along the ring road, my world went considerably darker and white snowflakes started bouncing of the hood. I was tempted to give up and turn around but decided to at least find the lambs if only so I could come out another day to photograph them more easily.

Just before I got to the Wetherby Roundabout, I glanced to the right and there they were. The field was part of Cobble Hall Farm and a narrow road ran from the main ring road right to the farm and beyond and so I took it to get a closer look.

At this time of year, ewes are even more skittish than usual and those with lambs are naturally anxious to look after their newborns. I drove as slowly and quietly as my old rustbucket would allow and decided to take this initial photo quickly just in case it was the closest I'd get.
You can see that it was still snowing lightly and I really felt for the lambs who probably wondered what on earth they'd let themselves in for.

Then, wonder of wonders, the skies cleared and became mostly blue again. I parked at the side of the lane and got out to do my 'Crocodile Dundee' stealthy approach to the sheep and lambs so as not to scare the bejesus out of them. The high hedge was a mixed blessing - one one hand it shielded me from the field but of course on the other hand it made taking photos quite a bit trickier.

The lambs didn't know what to make of the moving shrubbery and strange grunts (and a few curses) coming from behind it.

The brambles were thick and clothes- rippingly sharp and pointy. I often had to elbow them to one side whilst shoving the camera further into the hedge. Then it was a case of trying to get my eye to the viewfinder in order to compose the image. Oh and remember my subjects were prone to go galloping off like startled deer at the slightlest provocation.

But once I'd got settled and wasn't making any noise, the lambs and their moms did forget about me and would come closer as they nibbled on the grass.

I'd obviously arrived at meal time as I didn't see any examples of gambling or playful running and jumping of any kind. So no chance to test out the sport setting on my camera or my ability to make best use of it.

Maybe another time.

I took all the field shots I wanted but I really wanted to see if any lambs were being held indoors for hand rearing and for this, I needed to drive on up to the farm.

As I approached the out buildings, I noticed activity around a large shed and went to investigate.

One of the two men there was the farm manager and when I asked if he had any lambs indoors that I could photograph, he kindly left his task and took me to them.

I was very conscious of not wanting to waste his valuable time - so I didn't mess about looking for the perfect angle or lighting and basically just snapped away.

This little fella wasn't the most photogenic lamb of the bunch but he did like to interact.......well with the farm manager at least. Any time you put a hand towards a lamb, it'll want to suckle on a finger or three. I'm no Attenborough but it seemed to me that these hand reared lambs had much less fear of humans than the ones out with their moms in the fields. That has to be down to the moms and makes perfect sense.

When I was skulking behind the hedge earlier, I noticed that any lambs that saw or heard me would just stop eating grass and watch. It was only when the moms saw me and made bleating noises as a warning, that the lambs would scatter.

The ones in the shed were getting no such warning bleats and with nothing in their short lives telling them otherwise, they were fearless, curious and even pets.

Maybe this is the basis for the expression 'like lambs to the slaughter' as these lambs would've followed the manager anywhere he went.

We went to another little shed where one classic looking lamb was all alone. I've no idea why the manager was keeping it apart from the others but physically it looked much younger than the rest and so maybe it was just a case of age difference.

I asked if the manager could pick him up as that would provide a better angle than I was getting looking down from above. To his eternal credit, he did so without hesitation and I can't thank him enough for taking time away from his work to be so helpful.

He asked if I wanted to hold the little critter but coming from a farming background, I'd held my fair share of lambs when growing up in Ireland and didn't need to hold this one.

Besides, I couldn't just lay down the camera as we WERE in a farm shed after all and this was a piece of expensive hi-tech gear.

I settled for a quick head pet and he was just as soft as he looks.

The lamb too !!!

Mr Manager then asked if I'd like to see some calves and after the initial exciting thought that he was offering me the opportunity to take some saucy shots of his good lady wife, I soon realised we were heading AWAY from the farm house and towards the cow sheds.

D'oh !!!

The manager first took me to a calf that had been born the previous day. It was still 'damp' and wobbling a bit on it's legs and wouldn't come out from behind it's mom and I didn't get a photo.

The next shed had this calf which was a few days old. I had a quick word with him and asked how he was getting on in his big new world and had he heard about sirloin and rump steaks ? But the little sneak ran to mom and told her you can see in the photo, and she was NOT amused.

By now my white trainers were taking on a distinctly country-fied colour and smell and so I decided to call it a day and let the manager get back to doing what a manager does.

As I left and drove down the lane towards the ring road, I took one more look at the lambs in the field - but they were STILL eating. I think I've a lot in common with them.

Just then the snow flurries returned and I drove home in a mini blizzard.

Maybe those £millions weren't wasted after all.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Bring On The Mint Sauce !

It was a lovely day so for my exercise, I went out into the countryside for some well needed fresh air. And I got more fresh air than I needed really.

Windy ? Windy ? Just about blew my freckles off.

I drove to nearby Eccup Reservoir and parked the car close to the start of the public bridleway that I've been along a few times and posted about in A Walk In The Countryside last year.

As one of the photos in that post shows, the bridleway starts with a gate by the roadside and once through it, you're out in the true countryside - as my inappropriate white trainers found to their cost once again. I really must get some walking footwear if I'm going to go off road like this.

I soon came upon evidence of a secret UFO landing area or maybe it was an Irish crop circle but in any case, I searched for more evidence and found none.

The wind was at it's fiercest up on these exposed heights and it was hard to stand still long enough to take a decent photo.

A couple of hardy female walkers went past - at least I think they were female as they were so completely wrapped up against the wind and cold that they could've been of either persuasion.....or both !

I took some more photos of the whin bushes as usual but they were moving around so much in the wind that they were no better than my previous attempts with my old camera.

The bridleway got considerably wetter and thus muddier from this point onwards so at the request of my trainers, I retraced my steps and got back onto the paved road.

I walked another mile or so and came upon this awesome tree which somehow I'd never noticed before. Maybe I'd never seen it in winter as I'm sure it's a different proposition when it's dressed with leaves.

It looked like it had been hit by lightning at some point and I was on the lookout for the 3 witches as at that point, a bowl of steaming 'wing of bat' stew would've been very welcome.

I went back to the car to thaw out a bit and decided I'd had enough fresh air for a week.

I'd only driven a few hundred yards along the narrow paved country lane when I rounded a gentle bend and came upon a load of sheep which had someone escaped from a nearby field.
I'd have called them a flock of sheep but there weren't enough of them to justify the collective term.

As I approached, they took flight and ran off back to their field but I stopped the car and slowly they came back towards me. Inquisitive critters, sheep.

I slowly got out and with camera in hand, I stood by the back of the car so as not to scare them and one by one they came forward and happily munched on the lush grass on both sides of the road.

Every so often one or two would get jumpy and head off back down the road and being creatures renowned for being followers, the rest would scatter as well even though I'm sure they had no idea why they were doing so.

"Where are you going ?"
"I'm off mate..........back along this road"
"Why, the grass is good here"
"Cause the ewe went so I'm off too"
"I didn't go anywhere, I'm right here"
"Not you, ewe !"
"You you what ?"
"Oh shut up and lets go. We're the last to leave"
"Oh crap. You lead and I'll follow"

It doesn't do to try and analyse the workings of a sheep brain. It really doesn't.

I don't know if something spooked them again as a few minutes later they were heading back towards me so I stayed put behind the car and let them munch their way right up alongside me.

I think some sort of experimentation had been going on as I noticed one sheep didn't know if it was coming or going. Maybe it was imported from Kentucky for breeding purposes.

I suspect it's parents were close relatives but all's fair in the animal kingdom I guess.

At least there was some sort of equal racial equality going on in that gene pool and I named it Dolly 2 which seemed appropriate on several levels.

Some of the sheep were leaping about like the lambs I really wanted to find. I think this was more due to them getting too close to one another rather than any sort of adult frolic behaviour. One did catch my eye though as it was obviously an Irish sheep which had somehow sneaked into the flock.

While I watched in awe, this sheep suddenly broke into a rendition of Riverdance that Michael Flatley himself would've been proud to have witnessed.

It's little stick legs were a blur of movement and the clicking noise made by it's hoofs on the paved surface were just as I'd heard when watching the great man himself.

Oh if the old style variety shows ever come back on tv on a Saturday night, this sheep will be an overnight sensation.

Much as I enjoyed the free show, I needed to escape and get off home so I made my way to the car door and this prompted another mad dash off down the road for my new friends.

I started the car and slowly drove along the road towards them. I let a small van pass me as it was in more of a hurry and it managed to split the sheep to both sides of the road. Once the van had driven through them, they regrouped behind it and I looked with some alarm as they came stampeding towards me. Showing total contempt for the 15 mile an hour speed restriction in force there, they charged at me with ill disguised hatred in their eyes.

I sat terrified in the car and decided that a strain of CJD had somehow crossed over to sheep and I swore that if I survived this ordeal, I'd remove every lamb chop from my freezer.

They rushed right up to the front of the car and slowed down. A few brave ones went along both sides and the rest soon followed. I watched as they pressed their faces up against my windows as I tried not to make eye contact. They looked mean.

I slowly slid my Delia Smith cook book into the glove compartment (no point antagonising them after all) and sweated while they passed me by and started munching on the grass verges behind the car.

When the road ahead was clear, I sped off, glancing in the rear view mirror and shouting "mint sauce, mint sauce" in a futile show of bravado. I had been a part of the Great Sheep Attack Of 2007 and had survived. Something to tell the grandchilden I thought. Better get a wife and some kids first I also thought.

With pounding heart and an air of lightheadedness I rounded a slight corner and saw 2 horses in a field with their heads over the gate as if they'd been watching what had just taken place.

"Fun's over, Fred"
"Yeah...shame innit ?"
"Was good while it lasted though."
"Sure was. Same time tomorrow ?"
"Ok but you let them out next time, ok. I've done it twice in a row now"

Neither nag would've won a rosette at a show but they were friendly enough and posed nicely for the camera.

There had been an animal sanctuary nearby for many years until it closed down a few months ago. Going by the state of these horses, they must've been left behind in the move.

This white(ish) one wasn't too shabby and it came up and let me pet it on the head which was cool.

Then it's friend got jealous and came up to me as well and suddenly I remembered the sheep attack and I backed off just in case the CJD had jumped again.

But these 2 seemed docile enough. I tried out my whispering technique on them but they didn't respond. Maybe they'd heard the joke before as neither laughed at all.

When the brown horse wandered off to munch on some grass, I took the hint and got back in the car and came home.

I'd had a lovely walk in the countryside, seen some animals and taken 111 photographs - most of which were deleted once I'd had a close look at them !

God bless digital.

Later on when deciding what to get out to defrost for supper, I checked the freezer and found the lamb chops.
I remembered my promise to remove them if I survived the stampede.

Well I DID survive it and so, true to my word, I removed the chops from my freezer.

With some new potatoes and a little mint sauce, boy were they tasty !!! Sluuuuuurp !

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Whatever Happened To Integrity ???

This title is a bit pompous considering the topic and subject matter but I'm seriously pissed off and need to vent somewhere.

In the beginning, God created The Heavens and The Earth. And God saw that this was good. Then God created BBC1 in black and white and thought this was pretty good too. Next He created ITV1 to give a bit of competition and this was even better.

I'd better get off this biblical way of talking before I upset someone.

So, hard on the heels of these 2 channels came a third called......BBC2. We're not very creative when naming our tv channels.

Years later we got colour and a couple of other channels called Channel 4 and Channel 5.
Yes, the creative juices still weren't flowing.

We got these channels from an aerial on our roofs which looked like they'd been devised by preteens out of old wire coat hangers and some super glue and which doubled as perches for the local bird population. It was all vey low tech but it worked well enough in the days before we needed widescreen, plasma and HD Ready sets to better watch Richard & Judy.

But since the arrival of Sky TV way back in 1763 or some such year in the distant past, we who love watching tv have been 'blessed' with more and more television channels to help kill what brain cells remain.

Ok I agree, in my case, not that many.

I was one of the first to get a dish strapped to my house and back in those days, it was a dish large enough to be used as a backup for NASA if they needed to communicate with the Space Shuttle. I remember it collected snow better than an oversized wellie and in winter when this happened, I'd lose the picture and have to go upstairs, lean out the back bedroom window, and use a water filled fairy liquid bottle to dislodge the buildup of snow. Mr. Marconi would've been proud.

Then our street got cable and I jumped ship and went with it. The road since then has been winding and often full of potholes and I'm not talking about the physical road either.

Over the years the number of channels has expanded exponentially but as happened in America decades ago, the overall quality dropped just as fast. If I discount sports and movie channels (which are awesome of course), there are probably half a dozen worth watching on a regular basis and yet at the last count, I pay for well over 150.

BBC and ITV haven't been slow to jump on this bandwagon and we've now got BBC3, BBC4, BBC5, ITV2, ITV3 and so on. Obviously those in the channel naming department went on sabatical many years ago and never came back.

With so many channels trying to buy up the few quality shows available, it's obvious that at times we, the paying viewers, are left with dross and drivel to keep us on our couches. It's just not good enough - literally.

And this finally brings me to what has got me steamed up. I hate being taken for a ride. I hate being led astray. And almost as much, I hate it when I see it happening to others.

Spending half my year in America, I watch a lot of their shows over there and like to continue watching them here in the UK as well. So I know a bit more than most about US shows. Many are taken up by one UK channel or another and I've long since ceased to be amazed how a prime time, and thus very successful, US show ends up being broadcast here on some minor cable channel in the small hours of the morning. Vive la difference and so on.

Anyway for the last few weeks we have been getting previews and promos for a new US series called Smith, starring the relatively well known actor, Ray Liotta. The pilot was broadcast last night (Tues) on ITV4 at 10pm. When I saw the first preview and learned that this show was to be broadcast here I was amazed. Why ?

Well because only 3 episodes were ever shown in the US before the series was cancelled. Indeed only 7 episodes were ever recorded and the last 4 were available only on the internet some months ago. That was it. No more Smith and obviously no storyline ending, good or bad.

Has this stopped ITV4 picking up this series and showing it here ? Nope.
Has ITV4 kept it low key so that viewers don't get hooked on it ? Nope.
Has ITV4 informed viewers up front that it will suddenly end after 7 episodes ? Nope.
Is this an outrageous way to treat ITV4 viewers ? YES.

It was bad enough that in the previews and promo adverts for the show they called it a 'hit' US series. What criteria would class a show that is canned after 3 episodes a 'hit' ??

But even worse is not telling viewers up front that there are only 7 episodes - although it's obvious why they don't. That's right, who would watch when they know it'll end abruptly with no closure ?

So in true Mr. Angry mode I emailed ITV4 to ask both those questions and today I got their reply........a reply that just about sums up their contempt for their viewers and is also a sad commentary on tv in this country now.

Basically there are 24 hours to fill every day and we'll broadcast anything we can as long as we get advertising revenue - which, after all, is what it's all about.

I give you their reply, brief as it is, and see what you think...............................

Thank you for your email.

They used the word 'hit' as the programme was well received by some

We can confirm that ITV4 has acquired 7 episodes of this series. There
will be an on-air announcement when episode 7 is shown that it's the
final episode of the series.


ITV Duty Officer

Ok so in the great scheme of things this is hardly blogworthy stuff.

But it made me angry and having typed this, I'm not so angry anymore.

Beats taking a pill.

Now where did I put that remote....................

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Lunar Eclipse

I've never really been one for getting excited about solar or lunar eclipses and the lunar eclipse tonight has been no exception.

Having said that, I decided to nip outside at about 21:15 tonight and take some photos of it as there were no clouds to speak off and who knows, I might never see one this clear again.

I took about 12 photos at different times over the next 45 minutes until there was little left of the moon to see. It did 'turn' a sort of orange/brown colour quite early on which the news articles had said it would - so that was cool.

I've only got a 200mm lens so sadly I didn't get images like we'll probably see from the professionals and so on tomorrow, but as always with my photos, I know I was there and they are digital memories I'll have forever. Or until my hard drive gets corrupted !!

I merged 3 photos together to show this sequence. Notice how the moon passed from it's normal colour to the orange/brown hue mentioned above.

I went out a few minutes ago (23:35) and there is no sign of the moon at all. This is because the earth's shadow is still covering it and this is called totality. I hope you're taking in all this good science stuff as I'll be asking questions later.

Totality is due to end shortly and I assume things will happen in reverse of what I watched earlier. I'll let it do it's thing without me as it's cold, I can imagine what it'll be like, Big Momma's House 2 is about to start and my hot chocolate is steaming next to me.

What can I tell ya ? At my age I like my comfort.

Friday, March 02, 2007

We Live In Sad Sad Times

They say that the days of innocence have long gone and that nowadays everyone is so concerned about personal safety that a simple smile in passing can be construed as sexual harassment. I'd have to say THEY are right.

I decided to be lazy and drive the short distance to Roundhay Park and instead, get my exercise walking around and taking photos of whatever caught my eye. I walked down the steps of Hill 60 and came upon the small childrens playground across from the fire damaged cafe on the lake.

I really wanted to experiment with the various settings on my new camera and I especially wanted to take action shots to test out it's ability to keep the subject in sharp focus no matter how fast and how erratically it moved. A playground would've been a great place to do this testing given the various swinging, sliding, and generally moving children on display there. But I knew that standing there taking photos would've probably made the parents uneasy and so I decided not to bother.

An ice cream van was parked at the side of this playground and this I DID want to photograph as they are not common in America and so I wanted it for this blog. I set up the tripod and was sorting out the camera when I noticed a park warden approaching me. He asked me what I thought I was doing and I politely told him exactly what I thought I was doing........taking a photo of an ice cream van. "So you're not taking photos of the kids ?" he said. I felt my face going red......not with embarassment but with anger.

"Well if one or two happen to go to the van for an ice cream just as I snap the photo, then maybe" I replied. "Are you accusing me of being a paedophile or something?" He went on to say that taking photos around a kids playground is not a good idea and even that parents do not like photos being taken of their kids without permission.

Now while I agree with the basic premise of his statement about photographing kids, it's a sad sad situation that today makes a decent honest and trustworthy person feel like a social outcast simply for wanting to take innocent photos in a public park. I'm not sure to what lengths he would've gone to stop me, being that I WAS in a public place after all, but I didn't want any more people staring at me and so I just said I'd move on and if it was ok with him, take photos of the ducks and swans.

As an act of rebellion against Mr. Jobsworth Warden of Roundhay Park, here is that ice cream van complete with kid and mother - both of whom were in no danger from yours truely at any time. Mind you, I really did fancy a cone and having taken no money with me, I did think about mugging the kid for his.

Oh I'm joking.....I'm joking. For goodness sake, people.

Mr. Warden would've been better off sorting out the numerous dog owners who let their unleashed animals roam all over the place peeing and crapping at will AND the litter louts who continue to think that their pockets should never be soiled by sweet wrappers as long as grass and concrete alternatives exist. Grrrrrrrr.

While on the subject of 'the times we live in', I went into a local pub last week to ask for a copy of their meal menu to take home with me. Being a cold winter's day and given that I've only a few more hairs than Homer Simpson, I was wearing a comfy and practical baseball cap. When I went up to the bar I was immediately asked to remove it. I said I was only in to get a menu but Mr. Barman insisted I take off my cap or leave. I left.

I was passing this unnamed pub the next day (The Bull on Harrogate road) and went in (capless this time) and asked why I'd been effectively asked to leave the day before ? Mr. Barman said he was only following orders. Where have I heard THAT excuse before.

Anyway he said it was a security directive from Head Office that all peaked caps had to be removed so that the cameras could better 'see' everyone's face just in case it was needed for a subsequent appearance on Crimewatch UK. I asked if he'd have refused admission to some old Yorkshire codger with a flat cap if he'd been determined not to part with it ? He umm'd and ahhh'd and said probably not. Baseball cap discrimination I shrieked. Well I didn't, but I thought it.

The thing is, I'd have taken my cap off out of good manners if I'd been stopping for a drink or a meal but all I wanted was a menu !! Sad times indeed.

But back to happier times and my stroll through the park this afternoon. The sun made brief but very welcome appearances from time to time and cheered up an otherwise dull and slightly miserable park. Parks never look their best in winter as there are few colourful flowers to perk up the huge expanses of greenery.

I did find some flowers though.....near the park entrance. Not being a green fingered expert or anything, I've no idea what they're called but in an otherwise world of green, they provided a lovely contrast.

Being mid afternoon on an early March weekday, I pretty much had the park to myself - well apart from the pre school kids of course but lets not go THERE again, officer !

So there was no one around to tick me off for stepping in amongst the flower beds to take these shots. However I can categorically state that no flowers were hurt in the taking of these photos. Well maybe one or two but, hey, they were slightly drooping anyway so I really just did them a kindness.

These white and purple ones were very nice and if anyone knows what they are called, please feel free to add a comment and I'll edit the text later.

Oh but before I leave Roundhay Park, I'd better include a photo of a swan seeing as I told Mr. Warden that I was heading off to photograph one.

I kept the lens safely pointed out onto the lake so as not to risk a kid sneaking into the frame and causing me untold grief. I took several shots of the swans gliding serenely along - as they do - but the one I like best is the one below, when one swan had finished giving itself a good clean and raised itself up to give it's wings a vigorous air drying.

It was quite a sight and was all over in a few seconds but thanks to the camera's ability to take 3 frames per second, I got the whole sequence. This is at the mid point of the procedure and also provides the most dramatic shot.

It reminded me of one of those water rides at Alton Towers or some such theme park where the customers climb 'into' a swan boat for a self propelled paddle around the lake.

As usual, nature provides a much better spectacle and I'll stick to the real thing.

I crossed the road to Tropical World but as it was just after 3:30pm, it was closed for the day. Thankfully I hadn't wanted to go in anyway but I think it's pretty miserable that it closes so early in winter.

But as the lemurs are outside the main 'world', I was at least able to take a few pics of them. At first glance they look like cute little furry critters but if you click on this photo and examine it's teeth, you'll see that they could give you a nasty bite if you were stupid enough to poke your fingers through to them.

Ok so the glass makes this a very unlikely occurance but the point is, IF you ever come across one out in the wild, say whilst shopping in Sainsburys or next to your table at a McDonalds, then do NOT go "awwwww look at the cute little furry thingy" and stick a digit near it's mouth.

It'll have it off faster that you can say..........ohhhh that'll sting in the morning !

But they CAN look cute so I've included a 2nd photo of one that tried to stare me down - and succeeded.

Well actually I let it win as it's a dumb animal after all and needs to feel a bit superior now and then. It can dine out for a while on the story of the day it stared down the stupid looking, non furry, not at all cute human and kicked ass.

Next to the lemurs there was a small pool with huge fishy things passing their lives away without the need for tv or the internet or anything good really.

Right above them, literally, were several colourful ducks. I use the general term here as I'm sure someone will point out that these are not ducks at all - but this is a blog people and I'm no David Attenborough or even Rolf Harris. I do have a beard though, oh and glasses too. I'm a bit overweight and I do have a hard to understand accent. And I can't sing. Hey maybe I AM Rolf Harris. Nah, I KNOW I can't sing.

Anyhoooo, back to these ducks. See, this is what I meant by wanting to take photos and not having to worry about who or what is in the shot - except when I want them to be.

Yes the shot of the duck alone would be quite nice. It was posing as only a duck can.

But click on the photo to enlarge it and have a look at the face of the little boy. You can't pay for that kind of childish reaction. Is it dangerous ? Isn't it pretty ? Will it fly away if I get closer ? Should I run away if IT gets closer ? Would it go better with rice or a baked potato ?

It's all there on his face and I never asked for permission. I'm a rebel.

The next 2 photos are really just your standard shots. The first one I like as this duck had just had a shower under the water that was pouring out of a pipe that was keeping the pool levels topped up. The droplets are still on it's head and seconds after I took the shot, it shook it's head and the moment was gone.

This is the 'after the moment had gone' look !

I've included this final photo for those of my American readers who will know all about the 'Aflac' duck. I need say no more but it's obviously retired, got a new look and moved to Leeds !!!

By now it was 4pm and getting cold and so I headed back to the car and home.

Mr. Warden hadn't exactly RUINED my afternoon out but he did make me think about a few things and the changes I may have to make when taking photographs in future. As his very first question to me had been "Are you in the media?", maybe I should invest in a long black coat and a black hat with a PRESS ticket stuck into the brim.

But even if that would ensure I could take photos of parked ice cream vans without being suspected of being a potential paedophile, it still wouldn't get me into The Bull.

We do live in very sad times.

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