Monday, August 27, 2007

A Caribbean Celebration

This will be my last post for a week or two as tomorrow I'm taking my laptop down to Nottingham to the Toshiba Lap Doctor for some much needed repairs and some TLC. Hopefully I'm making the right decision and the bill won't be more than a new pc. We shall see.

And so it's only fitting that this last post ( without a bugle in sight) is a colourful one as it's about the 40th West Indian Carnival that took place today in the Chapeltown area of Leeds. I'm not sure how I've missed going to it before - especially as I used to live a few hundred yards from the parade route when I first came to the city in 1973. Maybe I slept through it as I worked shifts in those days. Given that my ears are still ringing from the thumping calypso music, I very much doubt that was the reason. I just don't know. It was time I put that right.

I'd debated where to stand and watch the parade and decided to pick a point near to my old flat, more for nostalgic reasons than photographic ones and as it turned out, it wasn't the best spot I could've chosen.

These sorts of parades can be notoriously difficult to photograph. As well as going along narrow tree lined avenues which can make a bright day seem dull, they are also audience participation parades and onlookers would simply dance themselves into the proceedings and go with the flow. This made for a very relaxed atmosphere but meant that it was difficult to take photos of the official participants as they'd often be joined in their dancing by members of the crowd.

I just snapped as best I could.

I had to wait about 45 minutes before the parade got going and the street traders were doing good business selling flags, balloons, paper trumpets and whistles. The last two items were being sold so that those of us watching the parade could make a noise and so feel part of the occasion.

The kids took this idea to it's limit and the constant piercing whistles were enough to send all the local dogs into therapy.

I almost joined them and was relieved when the parade approached as those sounds easily drowned the whistles. The crowds lined the pavements 3 deep and many strayed onto the street as I mentioned earlier so that the only way to tell spectator from participant was by their clothing.

It was great to watch so many families there from all backgrounds and the growing excitement in the kids eyes was plain to see.

The word went along the street like electricity - the parade was coming !!

With 2 police motorcycle outriders leading it along, the parade left the gates of Potternewton Park and started along Harehills Avenue towards me.

It was a case of hearing the music first, then seeing the huge colourful designs over the heads of the crowds and then it was upon us.

There were several parade themes this year because as well as being the 40th West Indian Carnival, it was also a celebration of Leed's bicentennial and finally the parade commemorated the abolition of slavery.

The character above was interviewed by a local TV station and it seems he's the one who started the Carnival all those years ago. Good for him.

I could see that the end of the parade was approaching as all the spectators had left the pavements and were walking and dancing there way along the street behind the last of the official vehicles.

My vantage point was almost at the start of the parade and it had a long way to go before winding it's way back to Potternewton Park and then the celebrations really would begin. There was a large funfair in the park already and once the parade and it's supporters mixed with the fairground visitors, the resulting party would go on well into the night.

If I took one photo that summed up the fun atmosphere generated by the parade, this would be it. What a face ! What a smile !!

The costumes may not have been on a par with New Orleans or Rio or even Notting Hill, but it was obvious just as much effort went into creating them.

Speaking of effort, a lot of people put many hundreds of hours of their time into the Carnival and it was a credit to them.

It was colourful. It was loud. And it was fun.

I hope my ears have stopped ringing by tomorrow or it's going to be a long drive to Nottingham.
I'll not push it - I'll leave my Bob Marley cd at home and stick with Radio 2.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Long Weekend - You're Not Kidding

It's the Carling Festival Weekend here in sunny North Leeds. That's the Carling Festival 2007.

Just added the year in case anyone puts the whole phrase into a Google Search. Yes I'm still THAT sad and eager to get more blog visitors. So tell your friends.

Where was I ? Oh yes, festivals. The Leeds version of the Carling Festival 2007 (hehe) is taking place at Bramham Park which is a few miles from here. The Tremeloes won't be reforming and playing the gig so I won't be going. Gig. God, I'm so hip !! F.A.B. Groovy.

I knew the festival was coming to town but I just forgot it was this weekend.....and even if I'd remembered, I wouldn't have expected the weekend to start on a Thursday. When I worked for my sins, the weekend started at 4:01pm on a Friday, and that was still a bit before most other people's weekends started.

So as it was another rare blue sky day with a temperature high enough to remove the goosebumps I've had for the last 2 months, my afternoon plans involved a short drive to my fav local eating establishment (The Wellington Pub) for another carvery lunch. Have I mentioned it's £3.25 and excellent value ? Well it is.

Then it was to be another short drive back down Wetherby Road to Roundhay Park, where if I wasn't hassled by jobsworth rangers, I planned to take lots of photos.

I decided not to go through Shadwell Village as that road has more speed bumps than in the whole of North Wales and that's saying something. I'd risk losing some fillings going over them at 60mph (only joking officer) so I went the other way and hit the Ring Road. And soon came to a complete standstill.

I was some distance from the Wetherby Roundabout and I couldn't understand it. Yes the road gets busy at times but was 1:30pm on a Thursday. Then I saw a yellow sign saying EVENT with an arrow pointing heavenwards. I leaned forwards and looked up but saw nothing.
Damn vandals......moving signs like that.

Then I remembered the Festival and I sighed heavily. Ok who am I kidding - I swore like a trooper. I banged the steering wheel. Basically I had a melt down. Damn those young people and their heathen rock and roll music. They'll all be up to no good I'll be bound, with their crowd surfing and body poppin' shenanigans.

As it happened, once I got to the Wetherby Roundabout and turned left towards the pub, I was going against the flow of traffic so was there in minutes. The long stationary line of cars going straight on to the A64 just made me realise I was making the right decision to avoid the Festival.
Another line stretched northwards along the Wetherby Road to the pub and beyond and I feared that some motorists would've decided to pull in to relieve the tension of going 100 yds in an hour and fill up on the excellent value carvery at £3.25 a pop. It really is excellent value !

But joy of joys, it was a little oasis of calm and I could tell from the car park that all was well. I was in, fed and out again in 20 minutes and the black 4x4 that was just across from the entrance when I entered, was about 5 car lengths further towards the roundabout as I left. The chef had told me that last year some passengers came across the road, had a meal and were able to get back into their cars after a short walk down the road. I could believe it.

I wasn't about to join the line to get back home so I drove left out of the pub ( I love pubs that let you park inside ) and, yes, went back home via Shadwell Village. Irony of ironies. I hit each speed bump with gritted teeth, which did them no good at all, and decided there and then to make sure any trip I make over the next few days is made westwards.

It'll be a zoo out there, I tells ya.

So that's about it for The Carling Festival 2007. Sometimes known as The Carling Weekend. Y'know.....just in case it help with the searches.

Now there is another sort of festival thingy going on this weekend in Leeds. Wow we're the centre of the live entertainment universe for sure. On Monday we have the 40th Leeds West Indian Carnival And Reggae Concert which will also be part of the 800th celebrations of Leeds as a city. Hot diggity dog. We be buzzing this weekend.

Normally I'd not regard Monday as part of the weekend but we've already confirmed that modern weekends are much longer than they used to be. If they can start on a Thursday, they can surely go on till Monday night. To make it easier, it's a Bank Holiday Monday so they're always regarded as part of a weekend.

We're agreed then. This coming weekend started today and will go on till......well Tuesday I guess.

I'll pass on the festival but I might just give the carnival a look see. I've never been to it. I usually leave Bank Holiday roads to those that can't get out at any other time. I've also been out of the country a lot at this time of year. It'll be fun. Like a mini Mardi Gras. Like a mini Notting Hill Carnival. We're Leeds after all. We know our place.

I wonder if The Trems would reform for it next year ? Chip Hawkes had a voice made for reggae.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Animals And Sex - A Deadly Affair.

After almost 3 decades of working for a living, a few of the Mon-Fri type attitudes still remain with me, even after 6 years of retirement. I try not to drive into or out of Leeds city centre at rush hour(s) and when the weather forecast comes on after News At Ten, I still get the urge to go to bed. It's just a relic of an urge as I don't go to bed now till 2am or later.

That Monday Morning Feeling didn't take long to leave me.......about 2 weeks as I remember. So I got up this morning with pretty much the same feelings as I did yesterday - with a bursting bladder, a rumbling stomach and a childlike desire to see if the sun would be shining after a very long absence.

It's now exactly noon and my bladder is mostly empty, my stomach is busy processing the own brand Fruit n Fibre I shovelled into it and my childlike desire has been dashed by the heavy cloud front and almost Arctic temperatures sweeping down from the North Pole.

Global warming seems to have missed this part of Yorkshire. Bring it on, I say.

It's cold and damp and miserable and knowing it's mid August only makes it worse.

On days like this, when one could sink into a comfortable leather bound electric recliner chair, extend the foot rest and contemplate one's lot in life, I'm so glad to have t'internet to dive into as it rarely fails to show me that around the world, there are always people far worse off than myself.

Worse off people abound out there. People from Manchester for a start. Only joking.

And so when I was surfing through the news reports this morning, my attention was well and truly grabbed by the headline that said "Pet Camel Kills Australian Woman."

Now I know that someone being killed by anyone or anything is a tragedy for their family and friends - and doesn't do them much good either - but sometimes the HOW ? is a story that brings some much needed amusement into the shallow lives of others.

For starters, a pet camel ! That fact alone is enough to get me interested. Why would anyone have a camel as a pet ? But then the rest of the headline makes it all clear, Australian Woman. Nuff said.

Australian Men are world famous for being.....well.....Australian men. From their dubious personal habits to their troglodyte attitudes to just about everything, the male Australian is well known to us. The female of the species, not so much so.

But it's clear that they're not all that different as the story of this unfortunate woman illustrates.
As with most Australian stories, it includes an animal and sex. Yes, dear readers, at the same time.

Anyway, as I regard this as a family site, I'll not detail the events within the post, but any desire to 'look away' just has to be overcome to get the full jaw dropping force of the '' sensation as you read on.

I've not bought a newspaper for decades and in the days when I did, I was never one to get The Sun or The Daily Star, but I hold my hands up to taking a peek at them if they were left lying around - underneath the staffing rotas in an unlocked drawer at the bottom of the filing cabinet in the bosses office. Well, it was like shoving them in our faces !

As Page 3 frequently was.

I digress. I just mean that that for once I'd love to see what those tabloid rags would make of this story. Manna from heaven, a headline writers dream, and all that. The BBC were typically prudish in reporting it but I'm sure the journalists in the office were discussing somewhat differing headlines.

The Bible obviously knew a thing or two about it when it talked about shoving a camel somewhere it clearly couldn't go but it wasn't the 'eye of a needle' it needed to warn us about but the camel's 'roving eye' if you keep one as a pet. If nothing else it should bring home that most popular of phrases - keep your friends close, your enemies even closer and your camel lovers far far away.

Anyway for all those discerning souls who need a Monday lift and need to be reminded that there are ALWAYS others much worse off than themselves, let this story do both.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Well I Never

If ever there was proof that absolutely EVERYTHING you've ever wanted to know about is lurking somewhere on t'internet, then this has to be it.

I only discovered this site recently so haven't worked out how to get the actual video onto the blog yet, so you'll just have to make do with the link for now.

Me, I'm off to have a practice so that on Oct 3nd, my professionally folded t-shirts will so impress the security people at Leeds/Bradford airport that they might not leave my suitcase looking like it was packed by Stevie Wonder wearing boxing gloves.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

That's One Small Step...........

Well not so much a step as several steps and then a kick.

In any case The Great Man, David Beckham, or as he's known on Rodeo Drive, Posh's Hubby, finally made a start for the LA Galaxy in front of probably the smallest crowd in his professional career.

He shot, he scored.

Around the rest of the world, he scored from a direct free kick but according to this US reporter, he scored from a penalty kick. Well it's a new fangled game after all. They'll get the hang of it eventually.......and she was blond.

Speaking of which, have a look at Posh going crazy when hubby scores. The goal I mean. She goes positively bonkers and has to be rushed to a nearby nail salon for emergency repairs. Clapping is just SO hard on one's varnish, dahhlings.

As for the ABC studio reporter, I fear she has a less than average grasp of football (soccer to her and her countrymen) when she describes Beckham's rash (and yellow carded) tackle as 'he gets wiped out' and then goes on to mention his 'bum ankle' when clearly it should be his 'fanny ankle' if I've got my English/American dictionary open at the right page.

Ah David, even a journey of 1,000 miles starts with one assist - whatever that is. We never did get to see the end result of this assist as the game highlights had lasted long enough and anyway, it had been 2 minutes since the last commercial break.

Bet they don't return to the studio when Michael Vick is heading for the End Zone with one of those odd shaped balls in his hands leaving a load of wannabe Imperial Stormtroopers (and a pack of fighting dogs) in his wake.

Now THAT'S a sport worth seeing.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Knaresborough Revisited

Yesterday I went to Knaresborough as I wanted a day trip out.

I knew the roads and major attractions would be busy (damn those school holidays) so I stayed local and Knaresborough is only a 30 minute drive away.

In February maybe. Yesterday it took me well over an hour to get to the car park and even that was after going off my planned route almost from the get-go. I was merrily driving along on the A61 Harrogate Road and enjoying both the sunshine and Radio 2, when after only 7 minutes, I came upon stationary traffic just before my turnoff at Harewood House.

We moved a few feet in the next 7 minutes so when I reached the turnoff to Wike, I took it and went this alternative way to Wetherby. I wasn't in a rush but I never see the need to sit in traffic when there is a way to avoid it.

I'd no further problems till I got to Knaresborough itself and suddenly I came upon stationary traffic again. This time is was being caused by a policeman who had taken over the duties of the traffic lights at a busy junction but he didn't seem to be giving enough time to those of us on the main road and so a line of vehicles had built up stretching back about a mile. As most cars were passing him, their drivers tried to tell him that he wasn't helping the traffic flow at all but with his arms flapping about like a hummingbird in full courtship mode, he wasn't taking onboard any advice from anyone.

"Move along now, nothing to talk to me about here" said Knaresborough's Barbrady, as he directed traffic and landed 3 light aircraft.

Parking at the top of the town or anywhere on the main street was out of the question and so I headed down the hill to the car park across the road from The Worlds End pub.

This quaint name has to be down to good Old Mother Shipton, the local prophetess who said the world would end in 1881 and loads of other things that were mostly added to her prophecy list AFTER she died. Even I would be a prophet under those conditions.

But being a load of rubbish hasn't stopped a few canny businessmen turning it into a bit of a tourist trap and so if you want to spend some time and money, they will happily take both.

But the pub is very nice and in a prime location at the side of the road bridge from which you can get wonderful views of the River Nidd as it flows under the famous railway bridge. However the more pictureque views are from the castle which looks down on both the river and the railway bridge from the other side so for now, here is my first photo from the road bridge.

As you can see, this is a popular stretch of the river for boating although unlike in America, few Brits have their own and so have to hire them on arrival.

And once we used to rule the seas !!

Anyway after I'd taken a few pics, I took the narrow road down to the west bank of the river and went to one of the locations where you could hire one of the rowing boats for an hour.

I seem fated to photograph lines of rowing boats this summer but these ones actually did have some artistic value given their uniformity. Unlike the ones in Windermere last week, these boats were only different in one way - the numbers painted on their sides.

I wanted to climb onboard and take a photo from the middle of one, but both their unsteadiness and the fact that their owner looked like an ex wrestler dissuaded me from making the attempt.

The image does kinda hurt your eyes after a while so, as with looking at the sun, don't stare at it for too long.

Of course like with the sun, it's perfectly ok to stare at the photo once it gets dark.

A handy little tip there.

Just as well they had plenty of boats as rowing on The Nidd seemed to be very popular. I guess it brings out the MAN in some people (mostly men I have to say) and so many of the boats were being rowed by men out to impress their women but given the physique of most of them, a trip to the chiropractor would've been on the cards today.

The family men had their role sorted and they had no need to impress anyone. They were happy to sit back and let the kids do the hard work. That way the dad's arm muscles were left relaxed enough to lift a few pints in the pub later than night while the kids were fast asleep at 7pm - totally knackered but happy.

I moved on and went up a steep cobbled street towards the railway station which naturally put me at the same level as the bridge. I noticed that some of the houses had false windows painted in between real ones - quite bizarre but in a good way. As well as making the facade more impressive (if one of your criteria for impressive facades is the number of windows), the artwork was somehow in keeping with this funky town.

Oh and you thought it was just a boring window painted onto the wall ? Oh gosh no. The witty, and probably drug crazed owners, have inserted characters and animals into their artwork.

In this case a character is seen pouring water onto the luckless people below...........well you'll have to imagine the people below as they must be the people who stand looking up at the fake window.

Wow for a few moments I was a living part of this creation. Cool. My next stop, an equity card.

Of course as with all my photos, you can see a larger version if you click on it. Makes seeing the window a lot easier.

Oh ok then......I'll make it even easier............................

As I walked around the town later. I noticed more of these false windows and best of all was where one was above another and the bottom one had a zebra with the body and legs of a giraffe behind it and then in the upstairs window they'd painted the rest of the neck and the head.

Now that was cool. Still bizarre of course.

But back to the railway station. I'd opened a small gate at the end of the cobbled road and found myself on the edge of the tracks with another gate across from me and the continuation of the street. To my left was the station platform and to my right the tracks stretched off over the bridge. I wondered if a train was due anytime soon as I thought it would make a good photograph from this vantage point. I walked about 10 paces to the right along a narrow wooden boardwalk to the bottom of the steps leading up to the sigmal box.

Even though the door was open and I could hear movement inside, I didn't want to suddenly appear in the box itself so I shouted up, asking if anyone could help me. Nothing. I tried again and this time Mr. Grumpy McEmployee came to the doorway and when I asked for the time of the next train in any direction, he started shouting that I was trespassing. I was truly shocked but as the deed was already deeded, I asked again about the trains. His keen eye obviously had me marked as a troublemaker who would most likely lie down on his tracks and mess up his station when my inert body was hit by the 2:15 from Upper Mucklington as he then said "I've got CCTV cameras here you know"

Now I was in a panic as I'd not washed my hair since Monday. "Ok" I answered, slowly separating the K from the O to show I wasn't intimidated by his threat of modern technology. "But what about the trains" ?

Showing all the customer relation skills that single out railway employees nationwide, he said the information I sought was on a board back on the platform walls. He wasn't quite as eloquent as that but I got the message. I think I'd just met Officer Barbrady's older brother.

I decided I didn't need a photo of a train badly enough to go to the platform and so I left Mr. Jobsworth to his flask of tea and ham sandwich......just ham, nothing else. You know the type.
No fancy la-di-da butter/mayo/lettuce/tomato in MY sandwiches, thank you very much.

Looking back at the signal box I did see a small red sign saying something like "No Trespassing On The Railway Line" but for one thing, it said nothing about walking on the wooden boardwalk to the signalbox steps and for another thing, the sign needed to be on the gate where you could actually see it. Mutter, mutter.

The street led on up to the edge of the town and the castle, which was my destination.

I've been many times to Knaresborough and with every visit, I take photos from the top looking down at the river and the viaduct railway bridge. It's just so darn purty.

But this time my eye was initally taken by a boxum woman dressed in period costume who was sitting on a low part of the castle wall and was talking to a raven. Yes you read right. Talking to a raven. Now whether said raven was taking any notice of buxom period woman is another matter altogether but it certainly was a crowd stopper.

In this photo, the pair seem to have had a falling out, maybe words were said, and the raven has turned it's back on her.

Buxom lady, who had Igraine on her name badge, took the opportunity to talk to passers by.
I suspect that wasn't her real name as it just happens to the name of the mother of King Arthur of Round Table fame.

But who knows ? Anyone who is prepared to sit all day with 3 ravens and talk to them from time to time may well have changed her name from Betty Buxomwench to Igraine Roundtable-Smythe. She looked the type.

Of course I might be totally wrong and she might have been Mrs. Jobsworth and if so, my heart goes out to her. But I don't think so......she had a lovely friendly face and a personality to match.

She was just perfect for talking to kids and Japanese tourists, none of whom would have a clue
what this strange woman in a red frock was doing at Knaresborough Castle with 3 ravens.

If I interpreted the situation correctly, one excitable Japanese passerby thought he was in the presence of JK Rowling herself and the ravens only added to that impression. Is he in for a legpulling when he shows his snaps back at work !!

And then it was back to that view from the castle. Like I said, I've stood in the same spot many times over the years and taken the very photos of the very same view. And it never ceases to impress me. I'll simply lump 2 photos together as they just take you closer to the bridge.

Some time later I took an even closer photo of the bridge and looking at it now with these other 2, I see the bridge stonework appears as a different colour - not sure why that would be but I WAS messing about with the camera settings and that had to have caused it.

Never mind, it's a nice photo so I'll keep it.

They really knew their business back in ye olden days when building these castles of ours. Whoever picked the locations had an eye for more than making sure the castle would be hard to attack and easy to defend.

Goes to show that the oft used realtor phrase "location, location, location" was just as important back then as it is now. If one was unlucky enough to be selling a castle NOT on top of a hill, I can just imagine the advert...............

Property ? One almost new castle for sale. Hardly damaged really but needs a bit of work to make it habitable. Expect high heating bills (due to lack of roof), any furniture would need to be waterproof (again due to lack of roof) and expect huge cleaning bills (yes due to missing roof AGAIN). Excellent stone built construction with numerous arrow slits to be used to fend off unwelcome IRS visitors. Battlements good for pouring of boiling oil etc.
Location ? Deep in a valley - but this is reflected in the asking price.
Views ? Unless you look upwards, none really.
Price ? Make me an offer. Please.

Just isn't going to work is it ? No, castles are always built with views to die for.........and attackers usually did. No wonder they've lasted so well and are such tourist traps today.

Back in Knaresborough and I went out of the castle gates ( there really isn't very much of the actual castle left apart from one tower area in the corner and the low walls) and into the town. It was market day and although it was only 3:15pm, a lot of the stalls were gone and the rest were in the process of joining them.

It was a typical small town market with stalls selling clothing, cds and dvds, household products, cakes and confectionery, crockery and jewellery.

The more specialist fish and meat stalls or vans had closed up and left except one van which had been selling fish from Whitby. It had a side panel which opened up to become both counter and awning and by now the owners were disposing of the ice used to keep the fish fresh.

It was all very English and I enjoyed walking slowly around the remaining stalls in the summer sunshine.

Then it was back to the castle as I wanted to return to the car park a different way. I took the steep path and steps down to the river and took one last photo of the view towards the bridge from that point of view.

There are a few cafe areas alongside the river as you can see here and their tables were packed with people taking the weight off, as we'd say here.

This gave them the best access to the river and I stayed there for some time and no one was rushing to leave their chairs and move on. Who could blame them ?

It was a very pleasant scene with a few swans and other wildlife mingling with the rowing boats out on the water. The limp flag shows there was no wind at all and it was warm without being hot.

I wanted to be on the road and home by 5pm as the trip would be a nightmare at rush hour. With this in mind I headed along the path you see on the extreme right - it went under one of the viaduct arches and on to the road bridge beyond and then I was back at The Worlds End pub. My circuit was complete.

When I got to the huge 'leg' of the viaduct, a boat went by and it just summed up all the other boats out on the river.

The mother and daughter sitting at the back relaxing and enjoying being taken for a ride - or a row. Mother would be back in charge when they got home but for now, she was happy to literally take a back seat.

The son trying his best not to take them all into the riverside greenery and only doing so by zig-zagging along and not impressing anyone. He'd be going to university in October and would be wanting to show he could take care of himself but wasn't quite ready for a car just yet and would probably get a bicycle in the meantime.

And dad. He's let himself go just about as much as he feels he can. The jacket has come off but the shirt and tie remain......well he's not quite ready for the t-shirt and shorts. Oh no. Maybe when they go to Cyprus for a week in September but not in England. One has standards. But the hat is fine. Shows a casual attitude but with some decorum and class.

The clothing reflects their characters and the waters of The Nidd reflects the rest.

Once up on the main road, I resisted the lure of Mother Shipton again, left the car park and was home in time for tea. It's great to have towns like Knaresborough nearby and I try not to take it for granted.

I'm sure I'll be back again and if that's not a prophecy, then it's a pretty safe bet.

Monday, August 06, 2007

How To Increase Your Visitor Count - Maybe

I'm sure I've not discovered the blog equivalent of penicillin here or anything but over the last week or so it hit me how to greatly increase the number of visitors a blog gets.

Simply make references to upcoming events of any kind, or places of interest around the world or.......well just about anything at all that people search for on Google.

In the small resort town of Houghton Lake, there is an annual event (every year in fact !) called the Bud Bash..........that's the Bud Bash folks...........where a local watering hole (which happens to be located right on the shores of an even bigger watering hole) hosts a sort of drunken weekend and many thousands of young people flock there to, well drink and basically have a fun time doing so.

Not my cup of Earl Gray of course but it takes all sorts.

Anyway, last year I was staying in Houghton Lake when this visually amazing event took place and I wrote a few words about it in this blog. This meant that in the week or so leading up to Bud Bash 2007, I got loads of hits as people went googling for articles about it. I made it onto page one of the search results and as we all know, few people bother to go beyond page one so I got numerous hits. Yes I know that few stayed long enough to actually READ my posts, but in the sad world of counting blog visitors, numbers are king.

So this got me thinking, a blog worthy event on it's own.

If I got all those hits just by mentioning something like Bud Bash, how many hits would I get if I mentioned an upcoming world-renowned sporting event or even better, a few tourist locations that everyone would want to visit ?

So here goes.

The Great Wall Of China
Tiger Woods
San Francisco
Machu Picchu
The World Series
New York
Leeds City Market (heyyyy, it's MY list)
PGA Championship
Lewis Hamilton
The Bourne Ultimatum
Fake Steve Job
Madeleine McCann (sorry but this IS a test)
Foot And Mouth
Premiership Fixtures
George W Bush
Manchester United (really desperate now)
2007 (if all else fails)

Ok the list could be endless and my brain hurts now. It's not used to having to work BC (before cereal). I'm sure search engines will be clever enough to not display this blog just because someone adds 2007 to their search request but you never know. I'll just see what sort of global t'internet chaos ensues and keep you informed.

Oh ok then, just one more.............. Richard Branson

If this cunning plan works, I suspect Virgin Media could be broken by lunchtime.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

I Enjoyed Summer - Part 2

..................and so Lord Voldemort rose up with his Death Eaters and sent a bolt of magic energy down to earth and totally obliterated Scotland.

"No chance of a Book 8" he snarled and even the muggles cheered. Well, he had just obliterated Scotland !


Ok that was just for those who managed to read Part 1 before coming to this post. Sometimes blogs can be a continuity nightmare with the latest posts coming first, but I guess it has to be that way.

But back to Tuesday and summer. I left the grandly named Fell Foot Country Park and drove on opp north to the bustling tourist town of Windermere. Bustling wasn't the word to describe was more bursting than bustling. I drove round the main parking roads twice before striking lucky and, coming upon a car pulling out from the roadside, I took it's place and sat for a few moments with some satisfaction that I was in a prime location near the lake.

When I got out to lock the car, I glanced at the roadside and saw 2 double yellow lines and I didn't have to look far for the nearest signpost warning me that I shouldn't be parked there at ANY time. It was right beside my passenger door ! Don't you just hate it when that happens ?
The car in front already had a parking ticket on it's windscreen and this answered any thoughts I might have had that the standard rules about double yellow lines didn't apply on Tuesday's in Cumbria. I moved on.

On my 3rd revolution I found someone leaving from a legal parking spot and I reversed expertly into the vacant gap. Thankfully parallel parking is one of my strong points as I had an audience of hundreds sitting on the grass nearby who were watching and hoping to hear the sound of metal on metal. They'd have had a long wait in any case as the only metal parts on my Clio are the wheel nuts. At least I hope they're metal.

By now it was 2:30pm and as I'd not eaten since my cereal at 9am, I was starving. I was at the wrong end of Windermere for the shops and restaurants although right across the road was a place selling the usual burgers and hot dogs. When you're hungry, the smell from these places tends to overcome your natural instincts to avoid them like the plague. I looked at the menu and discovered it also sold fish and chips and ice cream. Such a variety of food choices actually put me off as it brought to mind the old premise of 'jack of all trades but master of none'. Seeing the mounds of ready cooked burgers and sausages sitting near the serving window did nothing to tempt me further and the draw of the nearby pub won me over.

And very nice it was too. It was almost empty which was both a surprise and a delight. It overlooked the lake (as one had to climb 2 flights of steps to gain entry) with wonderful all round views of the lake and the town.

From the large menu, I ordered a British standard, bangers and mash, and was happy that the time it took to bring it to me let me know it was all cooked to order.

The portion, 3 huge bulging pork sausages on an enormous bed of real mashed potatoes, coated with rich onion gravy with carrots and cabbage, would've pleased even the most obese Texan visitor. I took in the lake views between fork fulls and ate slowly but it still outfaced me. I had to leave a whole sausage, quite a large amount of potato and, naturally, all of the cabbage. Vile stuff and should only be used for decoration.

More than satisfied and quite ready for an after meal nap, I stepped out and took this photo from the top of the steps.

It shows the lower end of the lake where the steamers dock and where the visitors are almost outnumbered by the plethera of swans, gulls, ducks, pigeons, bald eagles and the odd albatross.

Well maybe not the last 2 but certainly plenty of the others. These lovely pests are so tame that they will often sit right beside a group of people on the wooden benches that surround the lake at this location. You almost have to stand on them to get them to move and even then they only waddle a few feet before dropping down again with the effort. To say they are dangerously overfed would be putting it mildly.

I watched with a mixture of amusement and mounting horror as a large swan tried to take off and it reminded me of Orville taking off in Disney's The Rescuers. Thankfully the lake was 12 miles long as it seemed to me that swan needed every inch of it to get airborne.

Most of it's feathered pals were content to chill out and doze on the shingle by the edge of the lake and were too well fed to even take free handouts from passing tourists.

You could go up and tap them on the head if you so wanted and even then they'd just give you a glare and hardly move a muscle - if indeed they had any that weren't permanently seized up.

As usual there were loads of kids who were taken with this ability to get right up close to nature. I know these weren't pink flamingos and we weren't in Ngorongoro, but these kids didn't care. And with kids, came proud parents taking photos. Hey lets get a shot of (ASBO) Timmy hitting a swan with a plastic cricket bat. Lovely.

Speaking of others taking photos, Windermere was full of Japanese tourists and every one had a camera. Long gone are the days when American and Japanese tourists would visit here with several large cameras around their necks. The world has gone digital and cameras have gone microscopic. Now tourists hold up the equivalent of a credit card and seem to have the ability to take a photo and eat a hot dog at the same time. Quite what those photos look like is a mystery to me but given modern technology and computer software, I'm sure they are just fine for the family album...........on a dvd of course.

This group was particularly active on the shore line and I met them later up on the steep narrow streets of the town. They'd snap anything with a heartbeat and if you think they're pointing their little cameras at wildlife in this photo, you'd be wrong.

The object of their lenses was a little boy who was simply throwing bread at the birds. The only reason I can think of why they were doing this was because the boy had blond hair which I assume is quite rare in Japan.

It was a bit worrying that they were so excited by this but the boy's dad was nearby so I guess it was all above board. Maybe he'd never heard of the internet and I wasn't going to give him sleepless nights by educating him ! I just hope those tourists never make it to Roundhay Park !!

I still was only a few feet from where I'd parked the car - it really was a great location. Nearby was the main boarding point for the little 'train' that toured the area and might even have gone up into the town. I'm not sure it was powerful enough to get up the steep hill though and I think the narrow streets would've been too much for it as well.

Even so, it was very popular and every time I saw it, it was packed.

One of the great things about Windermere is that it hasn't given in to the worst excesses of 'Seaside Britain' with lines of arcades and slot machines.

I know it's not a seaside location but it could easily have gone that way. In fact The Lake District in general provides a wonderful escape from such tourist tat and has managed to combine the needs of the tourist with the need to keep the natural beauty of the area as unspoilt as possible.

Of course every place has it's characters or even eccentrics and Windermere is no different. I wouldn't go so far as to call the owner of this motorbike the later but he was definitely the former. Who else would turn a motorbike into a touring taxi ? Who else would place so many lights on the front that if they were all turned on at once, would blind low flying pilots.

The low flying pilots bit isn't all that far fetched as while I was there, numerous jets screamed up the length of the lake and they weren't that far off the water.

They had to be training for low level attacks and at one point I was left hoping that Orville had made it to a comfortable cruising altitude or else he'd have made a hell of a mess either on the jet's 'windscreen' or a bigger mess if sucked into it's engine. We'll never know.

At this point in the post I may as well admit that I've been trying for an amusing and witty coming together of the words 'swan' and 'lake' but the desire to do so is affecting the flow of my creative juices (ohh err) so I'm admitting defeat and moving on...........

Back at Lakeland Station, I'd seen The Teal dock and take on more passengers for the voyage up to Windermere. The other 2 steamers were out and about on the lake as well and here is a photo of The Tern leaving the dock at Windermere.

Again you can see how packed it was and every trip on every steamer was the same. It was good to see the business thriving.

By now I was close to the start of the hill which led up to the town so I took a deep breath and headed up there........

.......took a quick look and headed right back down again. "Nothing to see here" as Officer Bar Brady would have said.

If you've never visited a quaint Lake District town before, it's probably worth a visit. If, however you've had your fill of twee stores selling everything from Beatrix Potter tea sets to locally created toffee, then Officer Brady's words will ring true.

The buildings however were worth seeing and there were colourful hanging baskets and pleasing greenery everywhere. It was all very pretty and the very narrowness of the streets meant that cars crawled along at a snail's pace and this made crossing quite easy.

This image reminds me of the famous Lombard Street in San Francisco. I realise you have to scrunch up your eyes a bit and let reality take a short vacation but if you look at the photo in this link, you might just see what I'm getting at.

Of course Lombard Street is one way. It's also tiled. It doesn't have any shops on it. It doesn't have a mini roundabout half way down it. I think I may have talked myself out of this comparison.

Back on level ground, so to speak, I found a small area that was almost free of tourists on the land and boats on the water.........moving ones that is. It was almost Venetian like with the row of unattended wooden boats bobbing up and down.

Ok no more silly comparisons from now on. I promise.

Behind me, dozens of people were still taking photos of the obese and almost flightless birds. The burgers and hot dogs were still being consumed with little regard to vascular consequences.

And it was time for me to leave Windermere.

But first I had a photographic mission to complete. Up on the hill next to my parked car, there was a small funfair. Very small. But it had some fast moving rides and I wanted to try another camera technique - capturing a fast moving subject at a slow speed. Hope that makes some sense.

I climbed the hill and found what I wanted......the dodgem ride.

Now what I really needed was a leg of the Tour De France to whiz by or a racehorse to gallop along the main street in Windermere ......two unlikely events where the moving subject goes past at a fair old speed and does so for quite some time, in photographic terms.

That way one can hold focus on the biker or the horse and easily pan along, take a snap and hopefully end up with a lovely sharp image of the subject with a blurred background giving the impression of speed.

I had to make do with the dodgems. Dodgems aren't known for blazing turns of speed in one direction but rather are known for going quite slowly for a very short distance and then coming to a complete and sudden stop. I had my work cut out and once again I gave thanks for the development of digital cameras.

I panned as best I could when this involved such short distances but quite often when someone got a 'run' going, I'd be about to take the photo when they'd hit or be hit and the 'run' would end.

Then the whole ride would end and I'd stand around waiting for enough new punters to come forward so that the dodgem operator would decide to let the carnage begin again.

These 2 photos were the best of the bunch I took (click to enlarge of course) and made me realise I've still a lot to learn - although the main lesson I learned was that dodgem cars do not make good subjects for this technique.

I wanted to try something else and next to the dodgem ride was a sort of bouncy castle tower thing where kids would climb up and hurl themselves down a vertical slide and land at the bottom (where else ??) with much merriment and residual bouncing. The thing is, the drop was SO steep that once a young and tender body left the top, no part of that body touched anything until it hit the bottom. It wasn't so much a slide as.......a fall.

Anyway it seemed as good a place to try and see if I could halt time - not in a Dr. Who way but in a photographic way. This time the background didn't lend itself to movement so I used shutter priority to try and freeze a little body in mid fall.

After watching a few kids falling this way, I actually felt my photos could be used as insurance evidence. Often kids would hit the bottom so hard and fast that the resulting bounce would propel them forwards into potential law suit territory.

The area in front of the striped bottom part was grass but that wouldn't provide much protection for growing bones and newly created teeth.

Maybe I'm just old and worry too much. I know. The kids didn't care and after a few squeals of delight, most would scramble back to the bouncy ladder to do it all over again.

I left them to it and went back to the car. It was 6:10pm when I left Windermere and headed back the way I'd arrived. I knew I'd be passing quite close to the railway station with it's 6:45pm Victorian Evening and as exciting as that sounded, well I just couldn't be bothered. What did the Victorians ever do for me ?


I drove home and due to a much lighter traffic flow, I made it to my comfy settee in 2 hours.

I enjoyed Summer 2007 very much and it gave me lots of memories. I'm already planning for Summer 2008 which I'm reliably informed by the BBC Extreme Long Range Weather Forecast team will be on July 23rd. Severe flooding to follow.

Make a note in your diary.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

I Enjoyed Summer - Part 1

Ah yes. Summer 2007. It was a day to remember !

Summer 2007 was yesterday by the way, and I decided to get out and enjoy it - by doing what we Brits do when the sun is out and the sky is blue. I headed to a packed tourist trap which involved sitting in a traffic jam as like I just said, every other non working Brit made the same decision.

You'd think I have known better but I guess the sun was affecting my brain even before I left the house. It does tend to have that effect on us here in still slightly damp Britain. I call it 'Yellow Orb Syndrome' and when it strikes, normally sensible people lose all control of their minds and feel this primeval urge to head toward water.....or the pub. Whichever is closer.

And recently you could use one to get to the other. What a great nation.

In my defence, I reasoned that it was a Tuesday and so not everyone with a car would be out on the roads. As a plan, it sucked big time. Not even worthy of Baldrick.

My destination was The Lake District and to make it a bit different from other road trips to that part of England, I was going to take a ride on a steam train. When I got there I mean. Wouldn't like anyone to think there is a steam train that goes from Leeds to The Lake District. Mr. Branson please note......might be onto a winner with THAT idea.

I'm not a steam train (or even a normal train) freak so I've managed to get to this advanced age without sampling it's delights. I just thought it'd be a cool thing to do.

I'd wanted to set off at 10am on the dot and so I reversed out of the driveway right on time - at 10:15am. Wellllllll, I'm a free spirit and not weighed down by conventional time constraints. I also had to poop just before I left and that played havoc with my timetable. I know.....TMI. Sorry.

The 'best' road to take to get from here to TLD is the A65 which is very appropriate as the distance involved is........65 miles. Spooky isn't it ? It's as if they somehow knew this when allocating the road number. No wonder it takes forever to drive around the Leeds Outer Ring Road though (A6120).

With every man and his dog (and his wife and 2.5 kids) on the road too, it took me 45 minutes to get past Ilkley which is only 17 miles. I was ready to go home. I mean the Orb was out and I was missing all of it. Things got better after Ilkley and I pulled into the car park of The Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway station at 12:30 - just in time for the 13:00 departure.

Well when I say 'pulled into' I really mean I stopped and handed over £1.50 to Cumbria's answer to Rain Man and then tried to cram my car into a parking space only just wide enough for me to open the door and squeeze out without taking paint from the camper van next to me. It wasn't so much a car park as a fertile breeding ground for bodyshops nationwide.

The line to the little ticket booth was long and VERY slow moving. No one seemed to just get to the booth, hand over their money, take their ticket and move on. Oh no. It was like being behind a line of women at a supermarket checkout. Suddenly everything from the total cost of the tickets to how many were in their party seemed to come as a shock to them. How much ? How many of us ? And so the counting and figuring would go on.....and on.....and on. I know not everyone thinks to check prices BEFORE getting to such places but come on people. You should at least know how many kids you've got so that it doesn't come as a shock when you have to pay for them all.

And so it was 12:57 when I finally got to the booth, handed over my 'all ready in my hand' money, got my ticket and was on my way all within 30 seconds. Victor Mildred needed to calm down and chill and he was in the right place for once. There is nothing like a slow relaxing steam train ride to bring down the blood pressure and after the stress of the road trip, having to pay to park in a space better suited to a push bike and then having to stand in line behind a coach outing from Dysfunctional Families In The Community, my blood pressure was off the scale.

The station beyond the ticket booth was very pretty indeed and although the train was already at the platform and steam was coming from every part of the engine, I felt I had just enough time to walk about and take some photos.

I guess I felt that as long as the carriage doors were lying open, I would have time to jump on even if the train was moving off.

Guess again. That might've been ok in the movies or in the Golden Age of Steam when this train wasn't an antique. In these days of Health & Safety. the passengers all need to be inside with their seatbelts fastened before the train sets off. Well maybe not the seat belt part. I just made that up.

With the station clock already showing 1pm and with the engine belching steam impressively, I had to rush to the far end to get a photo of the beast. There was a bridge over the line but I knew I'd not be able to get up on top and back down in time to take my seat and so I made do with a shot from the end of the platform looking back at the engine.

The front of it was almost under the bridge which is why it's a bit dark. I think that helps make the steam appear even more white than it was - so I've not tinkered with it.

By the time I walked back to my carriage of choice, the whistleblower was closing all the doors and about to do his thing. I jumped on board (and not in a sophisticated and casual Cary Grant way but more in a desperate and breathless Mr. Bean way) and settled down for the ride.

Within seconds I was on my feet again and taking photos like a madman out the carriage door window. You've seen the type of shot on every train journey documentary ever made. The train going round a bend so you see the engine and first few carriages; the train going along past fields with cute cows and cuter sheep; the train approaching a bridge/lake/area of outstanding beauty. You get the picture, so to speak.

My idea was to take all the photos on this outbound journey and then be able to sit down and enjoy the return leg without getting up from my seat at all.

My carriage wasn't full but I have to say the number of people on the train was very impressive and if that was typical, then it's survival should be assured.

Just about every group had a camera owner among it's number and a few even had the notebook that always accompanies the serious train enthusiast.

When I'd checked the web site, I'd noticed that there was a special Victorian Evening surrounding the 6:45pm train journey and it was tempting to be there for that. Maybe lots of the passengers would be dressed accordingly. I decided if I was in the area near the time, I would pop along.

And so, 18 minutes later, we ended up at Lakeside and it's pretty station right on the shores of Lake Windermere, the largest lake in England.

Most people got off the train to wander around the area but I just hung around the station platform as the return trip was due in 15 minutes.

This still gave me plenty of time to take in the scenery and watch what was going on out on the lake.

There was a long line waiting to board the MV Tern for the 35 minute cruise along the lake. Built in 1891, this is the oldest steamer working on the lake and one of at least 16 large passenger steamers and launches taking people on lake cruises. Add to that the hundreds of personal boats of all kinds and you can begin to imagine how busy the lake becomes in summer - which was yesterday, remember. I'm sure they've all gone into dry dock today, what with summer being over an' all.

The 3 steamers, the Swan, the Teal and the Tern, can carry over 1400 passengers so it didn't matter that the line outside the station was long. They'd all get onboard easily enough. While enjoying the fact that few railway stations in the world could be located only a few feet from a lake, the Tern swept majestically into view and in no time was swinging around to dock right next to the small building in the last photo.

I'll add 2 images of the steamer; the first because it shows that the lake is surrounded by a wonderful backdrop of trees and hills and the second is to show off the steamer better as those very trees have made it difficult so see it clearly.

Then, with a few shrill warning blasts from the whistleblower, it was time for the trip back to Haverthwaite station and although I did my best to sit this time, I did have my video camera in my bag and so just had to get some footage - I mean I was onboard a steam train after all.

The whole round trip had taken less than an hour and was well worth the £5.20 adult fair. I have to say I was surprised there was no rate for a senior citizen and they'd been quick to see through my cunning ploy of rolling up my trouser pants and asking for the child fare. Damn this beard. Hey, it's puberty, what can I say !!

I was happy to find that the vehicles on either side of my car had not moved as I was concerned that in doing so, my car might have been damaged. Even getting into those vehicles may have caused damage to mine unless the owners were Kate Moss and Posh Spice - not something I'd have put any money on. Too much clear fresh air for Kate and no Gucci stores on the station platform for Posh. My gleaming Clio was untouched.

Anyway I left on the A590 and headed back a few miles to start on the A592 up the east side of Lake Windermere to the town which bears it's name. Lake. No sorry, Windermere. As the lake is 12 miles long, the road isn't much longer as it pretty much hugs the lakeline. Is there such a word ? Shoreline then. But lakes don't have shores, do they ?

Never mind, the road followed the water. There.

Just a few miles along and through the trees I saw hundreds of parked cars and the occasional glimpse of people frolicking on land and in the lake. I decided to investigate and found myself in Fell Foot Country Park which is owned by the National Trust and so it costs to park there.......£3 for 2 hours actually. The website I'm linking to here isn't great but at least it has 3 or so pretty moving images to look at. The National Trust website for the park is even less impressive and all this is a shame as the place looked lovely to me and a real treat for the eyes.

Well yes and no. As you can see from MY photo, it's a very popular spot and this brings a lot of tourists and day trippers. It's the old catch-22 situation again as the very beauty of the place has meant it is crowded on summer days (sorry, on the summer DAY) and so it's not quite so beautful anymore.

It's what I'd call the Yosemite Effect and if a tree was cut down in Fell Foot, loads of people would hear it fall.

Kind of mixing my metaphors there and after all, I'm not coming from a strong point of view. If I'd not caught sight of the parked cars through the trees, I'd never have stopped and added to the hoards already there.

And there was no doubt everyone was enjoying the park and that has to be a good thing. The money raised from all those £3's (and more if you stayed longer) is hopefully going back into the upkeep of the area and not into some pension fund in The Caymans.........unless that fund belongs to IBM in which case I'm all for it. They need to charge £5 per hour, dammit.

And on that point of fiscal nonsence, I'll close this part of my day out yesterday. If anyone is still interested, in true literary style, Part 2 will be coming along shortly. Book your tickets now and try to stay away from forums and chatrooms or you may accidently find out how it all ends.

Just in case, I've placed Hedwig's younger brother on the post (get suit yourselves). He'll let me know if anyone comes looking for Part 2 before it's published.

He went over to the dark side, which explains his appearance. Oh and the keen sighted may notice he's not an owl either. His mother wasn't fussy.

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