Saturday, September 29, 2007

Disclaimer Day

I've never written a disclaimer post before - mostly as I've never felt the need to before.

A few hours ago, someone visited my blog site by entering "Arbuthnot Day" into a Google search. Back in February I had created a post and in the process, had wanted to use a ridiculously unlikely fictional name to flower the story up a bit. I picked Arbuthnot Day.

Having gone to the Google site to see what came up, I noticed that there were two reasons why that name would be put into a search engine. First if you wanted to get info about someone actually called Arbuthnot Day and second, if someone called Arbuthnot had a 'Day' named after him. I now realise both of these exist !!

For a select band of bike riders, the 17th of September 2006 was "Arbuthnot Day" and as the web site states, it............ a day when we ride in memory of Sir RK Arbuthnot. He was the only serving Royal Navy Admiral to ride in the Isle of Man TT races in 1908. He rode a Triumph solo motorcycle in that pioneering event.

Well who'd have thunk it ???? And why just 2006 ? Isn't he remembered on other years ?
He really should have his Day every year as I'll get most hits that way !!

When we move on to people who were actually CALLED Arbuthnot Day, we again find the name comes up mostly in relation to military men. Maybe with a name like that, you had to know how to fight ! One such individual was Stewart Arbuthnot Day who probably spent a lot of his time telling people he was simply signing his initials and not giving a MySpace-like indication of his mood at the time.

I'm sure Melville Arbuthnot Day had a similar problem, but I'd better not let this idea go too far.

So I'm back to my disclaimer and I'm just getting it in now before any nasty legal email or comment comes my way. All names used in my posts (apart from those of friends and relatives who really shouldn't sue me) are fictitious - yes even that of Sammy Murphy in the previous post. In doing so, I do not ever mean to offend anyone living or dead or in any state in between.
Any named Manchester United fan falls outside of the scope of this disclaimer. They are fair game in my book.

There, I think that covers everyone. Feel free to read on....................

Grabbing Your Nuts

No I'm not highlighting some dubious video title - although, of course, I have no knowledge what titles are on the market these days. Or any days. Oh heavens no. Never never, not even once.
Phew. Close call there.

The nuts in question are those to be found all over the place at this time of year and they got me thinking as I walked to my doctor's a few days ago. I'd put an audio book on my MP3 player for the first time (Peter Kay - The Sound Of Laughter) and it wasn't working for me. It wasn't funny at all and I had quickly lost interest and the voice in my ears (not Peter's by the way and I so wish it had been) had become a sort of soft background drone.

Then I came upon a load of fallen chestnuts on the pavement and at the side of the road and I drifted off to a land before time, when kids still played outside and when being sent to your room meant you sat on the bed till the time was up.

Back then, in Sepia World, we kids loved playing with our....well, with.......ah .......ok I can see where this is headed. Lets try it another way. Kids enjoyed conkers. There. That's got be safe enough.

I used to love finding a large slightly split shell (I don't know what the name is for the whole thing, prickly shell and all) and get all excited by the potential within. Remember these were the days of wired remote controls and when Minnie Caldwell was regarded as a sex kitten. Shivvvvver. I think my memories may just be playing tricks on me but, if so, I can blame my low HDL.

Anyway, a split chestnut shell,with the possibility of a champion nut inside, was a real high point in the week. I'd gently prise it open and hope that a HUGE gleaming chestnut would appear and I could finally try and defeat the conker of Sammy Murphy who had held the record for 2 years with his suspiciously named 'Metal Mickey' monster, which was a fifteensie.

For those of a younger disposition, the idea was to carefully drill through the chestnut, thread a piece of string through the resulting hole and tie and knot it to stop the chestnut falling off. With your chestnut now ready for action, you'd challenge another owner and take turns to try and smash the other nut to pieces or even have it come off the string. If you were both first timers, the winner could call his conker a 'onesie' and if you defeated someone else, it became a twosie' and so on. I think if you beat someone with a conker that was, say, a 'twosie', then you gained his number as well and so you REALLY wanted to meet a champion and defeat him and so gain a bucket load of numbers with one victory.

Who needed an X-Box ??

Of course a whole subculture of "nut preparation" existed and many were the tales of how champion conkers came to be. All sorts of wonderful methods were discussed in the school yards, from gently cooking the nuts to dipping them in homemade concoctions - recipes that went to the grave with their inventors. Cheating during the contests was almost obligatory and modern day Health & Safety inspectors would have stepped in and declared all bets off after the first swing.

But we were tough and fearless kids in those days and fended off chestnut splinters with battle hardened faces. Many kids wore eyepatches as a result of past contests and several went on to play small roles in cheap British pirate movies as they had their own prop and only had to say 'yarrrrr' every so often. In fact Sammy Murphy himself was signed up for a few such epics and made his name in the notorious "Blackbeard And The Treasure Of Bognor Regis" before sex, drugs and a conker splinter which moved down to his heart brought an end to his life in 1978 and thus adversely affected his movie career. Rent it on Betamax now.

Sadly I never DID find my own champion conker but it never stopped me looking. Back to the present and I saw that most of the chestnuts on the ground were still in their shells and I realised that we now have a generation of kids who either don't know about them or don't care about them. This was doubly upsetting as the tree was right outside a school and if ever there should have been a match made in heaven, this was it. Sadly not though. Now if something isn't plugged into the mains or takes enough batteries to power the Mars Lander, then it isn't worth bothering about.

"A nut on a string ? You must be joking, mister".

"No, it's fun; you try and smash your friends nut and that MUST be cool" ?

"Eh ? Get real. You could lose an eye that way"

"Yes but still, a whole new career could open up for you".


Thursday, September 27, 2007

(What A) Carry On Nurse

Continuing with the medical theme of the last couple of posts, I need to vent about my trip to the doc's this morning. If I don't, my BP will rise and we can't have that. Well I can't anyway.

Today I had my annual appointment at the Chronic Illness Clinic (or something like that) which is my surgery's attempt to be proactive about patient care. Now I know I shouldn't belittle any proactive measures, as heaven knows, our ailing NHS service cannot afford to do much in the way of stopping illness and has it's hands full treating it once it has struck us down.

But for high risk people like me, they run this Clinic and I've never been much of a fan. I applaud the idea but in practice it usually involves taking my BP, weight and height and then having a short chat about my blood test results, my exercise and dietry issues and a review of my medication. That's it.

I take my own BP at home, I weigh myself every Monday morning and unless the problems of global warming and worrying if Hailey will leave Roy have caused my shoulders to sag alarmingly, I'm still the 5' 8" I was last year. I got my blood results 2 days ago, I know all about exercise and the best diet for my condition so what do I actually get from going to this Clinic ?

Nothing much. Today I went as I'd nothing better to do and I did have a couple of questions to ask. My appointment was at 11am and I was out before 11:15am. I did learn something new though. That the nurse had as much knowledge about cholesterol as my doctor had 15 years ago when my reading of 9.6 (371 for US readers) didn't cause him any concern at all. His lack of concern and advice was followed 6 months later by my having my first heart attack, followed closely by an emergency quintuple bypass. Even then, my doctor had diagnosed my heart problems as 'muscle strains' until I insisted on 'going private' and seeing a specialist. Since then I've changed doctors and taken it upon myself to look after my own health and not be fobbed off by any doctor or nurse.

So imagine my surprise when the nurse today told me my HDL reading was 0.9 and said that was very good. "No it's not" I said "it should be over 1.2 and the higher the better"

Nurse : "No the HDL needs to be low and as yours is under 5, that's good."

Me : "NO, the HDL relates to the amount of cholesterol that returns to your liver and so needs to be high. It's the HDL that is the 'good cholesterol' and can be raised by exercise. That's how I remember it......H for Needing To Be High and L (in LDL) for Needing To Be Low."

I won't go on but lets say I was getting nowhere with this nurse and I found myself beginning to doubt my facts and I even said "ok you're the expert" while keeping my fingers tightly crossed.

I came straight home and checked the information pack I'd been given from the hospital from the British Heart Foundation and of course I'd been right.

Now maybe nursey had been having a bad morning and was somehow living in a backwards world but this hasn't stopped me getting steamed up. She also advised me to switch from using olive oil to rapeseed oil which was bizarre at best.

So all in all I think I'll pass on this Clinic in future and when they ask me why, I'll tell them. Maybe I need to ring them now in case that nurse isn't a nurse at all - you hear stories about people with medical aspirations, but no training whatsoever, just walking into jobs and practically performing surgery when the cleaner would know more than they do.

It's all a worry, I tells ya. I feel my BP rising and I'm sure I'm heading towards 5' 7" now. Everything seems so much bigger around me and the remote is getting heavy.

I think I'll have a drink of rapeseed oil and go for a lie down.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

No Tooth Fairy Needed - This Time

It was ironic that my previous post was called "I Never Floss" as that came back to haunt me this morning when I went to the dentist.

As I may have mentioned elsewhere, the dentist I had for about 20 years decided to go semi retired a couple of years ago and only kept on his older patients - those who were over 55 I think he said. In any case I wasn't one of them and so I got the 'new girl' complete with her modern ways and methods.

On every visit, she seems hell bent on passing me on to the hygienist as fast as possible and this too has taken me some time to get my teeth my old dentist did the hygienist's job too. And very gentle he was with me too !!

So today when I went for my 6 month checkup, I was greeted by a beaming (teeth perfect) receptionist who informed me the hygienist would just be a couple of minutes.

"Hang on" I said, "Surely, I'm supposed to be seeing the dentist ?".

"How did you know I was called Shirley ?", she said.

"It's on your name badge" I said, and thus a good joke was spoiled forever.

Anyway I went into Meldrew Mode and eventually saw the dentist first - as it should be. I mean what would a slip of a hygienist know about cavities and other potential nightmares ? She, the dentist, set a new record for her and I was out of her office or surgery or whatever it's called, in about 5 minutes with no new holes found anywhere. And so to the hygienist who remembered me from previous visits and wasn't about to suggest mouthwashing, flossing or worse, ask me how I'd got on with those nasty pink or red handled things they want you to shove between your teeth to force out plaque, food bits and anything else that has decided to take up residence there.

I'm too long in the tooth (sorry again) for that new fangled malarky. A good old toothbrush was good enough for the Victorians and so is good enough for me. I've had the same one for 9 years and might splash out on a new one next year as I think I'm just scraping my teeth with bare plastic now as the bristles wore down to the head in 1998.

Only joking. I went electric in 2002 and fit new brush heads regularly. When I remember.

So in total silence, apart from the odd "arrrggggg" and "oh what the bloody hell are you doing in there woman ?" from me, Miss Giggleswick Dental Hygienist Of The Year (3rd runner up) hacked the tartar off my teeth and then actually gave me a full floss service. Bless. All was forgiven and I left with a movie style twinkle in the corner of my mouth and her best wishes for my forthcoming trip to America ringing in my ears.

I was free for another 6 months. I went to the nearest sweetie shop and bought a Mars Bar to celebrate. As that may upset my dentist and my hygienist, I'm thinking of going for the hat trick and upsetting my cardiologist by having it deep fried.

Hey, with these teeth, I can now bite through anything.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I'll Never Floss

I handed in my prescription this morning as I need to get a 6 month supply of my pills for my upcoming trip to America. I took the opportunity to ask for the results of my cholesterol blood test from last Thursday and so the receptionist looked it up.

"Everything was ok" she said "nothing to worry about at all".

I've come to expect this response over the years so didn't bat an eyelid. For many people, that might be enough but I take great interest in every detail of my 'condition' and so I asked if I could have the cholesterol results. After a long search through my file, she finally asked me something but it was mostly drowned out by the piped music, the sound from the tv and the collective noises from the other patients around me in the waiting area.

Is it me getting older or have waiting room levels of noise become worse recently ? The moans and groans, coughs and hacks are all part of the general hubbub that we expect in a doctor's waiting room - but now we have music from huge wall mounted speakers attached to a £5 radio somewhere under the desk next to the receptionist's handbag. The radio is usually tuned slightly off the station so you get more hiss than music and Terry Wogan's dulcet tones sound like he's permanently attached to a helium canister.

My surgery now has a small flat screen tv up on the wall and although the volume is usually muted so we can enjoy the ramblings and general blarney of Terry 'Soprano' Wogan on the radio, someone had decided this morning that they needed to hear Phillip Schofield as well as see him and so the two were competing for our aural attention.

I was so glad that I was just passing through, so to speak, and was not ill in any way. All that noise could well have pushed me over the edge. As it was, I didn't hear all of what the receptionist was saying to me so I've no idea if she was giving me my overall cholesterol figure or the ratio figure - which are very different. Hopefully it wasn't how many years they'd given me to live !!

In any case I did hear her say 3.8 (146 in US cholesterol terminology) and I was happy enough to take that and run. I'll ask for more details when I see the nurse on Thursday but considering I put on a few pounds over the summer and not done as much walking as last year, I'll take 3.8 and say thank you very much.

I then headed off for my first visit with fellow blogger, Daphne, who lives nearby and what a lovely lady she is. I met her daughter, Emily and as a bonus, their cute cat - who took an instant liking to me and only bit me once - a friendly nip just to let me know who was boss. I had tea and jaffa cakes and we spent a delightful 90 minutes chatting and getting to know each other. That's Daphne and not the cat I mean.

I hope to be invited again.

I came home as it was time to chat online with Debby as she and Dennis, my US friends, set off yesterday for the drive from their home in Michigan down to our shared winter 'home' in Sebring, Florida. They had driven 342 of the 1,398 miles and were staying overnight near the town of Piqua, OH. The idea is to enjoy the trip as there is no rush to get to Florida. They plan to get there by Thursday evening, leaving almost a week to get the place ship shape by the time I arrive on 3rd October. I can't wait.

Sadly before that, I have my checkup with the dentist tomorrow. I never used to dread such visits as my dentist was a saint in a white coat with the gentle touch of a butterfly. HE would clean my teeth and I never felt a thing. Last year he retired and the new dentist has passed such mundane cleaning tasks to the 'hygienist from hell' who got her training at the Josef Mengele Clinic in Bolivia. At least she apologises beforehand for the pain she is about to inflict on me, but I have to say it's scant consolation. She does her best to open up the gaps between my teeth and I spend the following 6 months filling the gaps in again. It's what David Attenborough would call a symbiotic relationship but somehow I think I'm getting the worst of the deal. I seem to be the remora to her shark.

I may need several jaffa cakes to get over it. Are you listening, Daphne ??

Thursday, September 20, 2007

No Worries, Be Happy

A couple of days ago I rang my doc's surgery to make an appointment for a blood test. Having had 2 heart attacks already, I take these tests seriously and have them every 6 months.

I'd left it a bit late this time as I leave for America in 2 weeks and so the receptionist had to struggle to get me a date for the test and also for the follow up at the 'heart clinic' where my results would be given and my medication discussed.

But she was extremely helpful and although she kept saying she'd get the sack for doing it, she got me dates for both visits within the week. Yet again I put down the phone thinking how lucky I was to be registered at such a well run and friendly surgery.

Today I went for my blood test and when I presented myself at the receptionist's window, I noted that the lady was on happy pills and it was Ian this and Ian that and I felt like I was talking with my best friend in the world........ever !!! While I was deciding what had been added to her morning coffee (and if it was on the NHS ?), I was given an NHS questionaire about all aspects of the surgery and asked to fill it in - and was urged to give an 'excellent' mark when answering the questions relating to the receptionists !

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh so it WASN'T down to the coffee after all. Now I knew why she had a smile like a US pageant contestant !

The irony was that she didn't need to be like this today as I was quite happy to tick the excellent box anyway. I've been to a few other surgeries over the years with friends and relatives and those visits have made me really appreciate mine. I get in when I want and I see the doctor I want. I rarely have to wait more than 5 minutes to see the doctor and often go in as soon as I arrive. If I ring in the morning and it's not about an issue requiring an actual visit, I can have the doctor ring me at home which saves us both time and effort. The surgery itself is bright, clean and friendly and today I noticed there was a flat screen tv up in a corner to keep us entertained on those rare occasions when we do have to wait a bit longer.

So I ticked the 'very good' or 'excellent' boxes for most of my answers and I got a few general points off my chest at the end when they foolishly gave me the space to add what I wanted. I wrote nothing about my surgery but plenty about the NHS in general.

Doctor's receptionists have a bad press and I'm sure some deserve it. Any job where you deal face to face with the general public can't be easy although you'd think receptionists have it fairly stress free as they just make appointments and do a bit of paperwork. In this day and age it baffles me why medical details are STILL on cards and bits of paper but at least that's changing.
When most things are computerised, their jobs should be easier and they can put more effort into their people skills.

I also think we see them as barriers between ourselves and the doctors but like traffic wardens, they have to be there or chaos would reign. In the short time I was there this morning, it was like rush hour at a train station. Patients coming and going, others moving about filling in their questionaires, doctors flitting from their rooms to the reception area and back and trying not to be spotted by anyone hoping to 'just have a quick word'. It was crazy. Yet during all this, the receptionists were staffing the window area giving out welcome smiles and raised 'can I help you' eyebrows to all who approached them.

It goes a long way....questionaire or not.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sport Glorious Sport

Hi, I'm Ian and I'm A Couch Potato.

There, I've gone all AA because these days being a CP isn't PC.....if you follow me.

I mean I may not be quite up there with Jim Royal but I think I run him a close second.

(Had to have a break there as I used the word 'run' and came over a little faint.)

I try to get my fill of fresh air and exercise during the week as weekends are just cram packed with so much live televised sport that Jim's infamous expletive comes to mind when I finally power things off each night. Or the early hours of the morning.

I remember a very early episode of The Simpsons where Homer had just got hooked up to free cable and the family were sitting watching anything on any channel just cause it was there. One by one the family members got bored and drifted away from the living room - except for Homer who sat, zombie like, for 24 hrs + sinking deeper and deeper into the couch. When he did eventually get up, he had to peel himself of the chair and in doing so, left behind a 'shroud of Turin' like image of himself.

I know the feeling.

Many years ago when I first got cable, I remember seeing that I had a couple of dedicated sports channels and I are they going to fill them ? Surely there isn't enough sport going on in the world to have 2.....yes 2 full time tv channels ? Ahhhhh such naivity.

I now have a choice of at least 12 channels dedicated to bringing top notch sport to me in my electric powered leather armchair and that doesn't include others that I never watch - like horse racing ones.

Well I say top notch sport with fingers tightly crossed and tongue firmly cheeked because some....ok a lot.... of the sport rarely reaches the heady heights that would qualify it as top notch, or even low notch.

A spot of channel surfing yesterday brought up such dubious sports as Pro Arm Wrestling and Pro Bull Riding. Can't see those becoming Olympic events any time soon but then you never know. I mean we do have Synchronised Swimming and Rhythmic Gymnastics after all.

It's the Pro bit that gets me. These 'athletes' actually make a living out of this. Obviously I just HAD to have a look and for a few minutes, I sat open mouthed as in the arm wrestling sport, huge muscled men held hands and got their faces so close to each other that I thought I'd somehow tuned into a webcam at The Birdcage.

Although today is a Sunday, take it as a typical example of weekend live televised sport and in this 24 hr period we have the established sports of golf, cycling, cricket, 'normal' footy from England, Spain, France and Germany, Aussie footy, American footy, Irish (Gaelic) footy, rugby league, rugby union, motor racing (all sorts), athletics and baseball. Then we have the next tier of sports like road racing, 3 day eventing, powerboating and mountain biking. After that we hit the twilight zone of sporting events such as wakeboarding, skateboarding, and something to do with power kites. What ??

The most dubious sport on the tv schedules today is on a show called Cage Rage. This appears to be where small nappy wearing thugs of Asian descent get into a caged ring and basically use any form of martial arts to try and put their opponents into a coma. Maybe it'll catch on if women take up this jolly game and they swap the ring for a mud pit. Sorry.....bit sexist there.

As winter approaches we get a whole plethera of sports played on the snow and ice. These are dominated by the Nordic countries and it seems that if you strap anything to your feet and try to go fast, it's a sport. Well the days are long up there and I believe their tv sucks.

Just to add some excitement to these events, they throw in tasks during an otherwise boring ski race which involves taking the rifle that they've carried around on their backs for 20kms and trying to shoot at small distant targets. If it snowed a lot in South East LA, I'd have to think the natives would be naturals at this. If they ever adapt it and swap skis for cars, America will be World Champs. Drive-by Nordic Shooting. The team event would be a hoot.

Yesterday we had the UK leg of something called Turbo Tennis with players like Tim, Greg, Andy and Goran (??) playing each other - almost normal tennis rules but with 30 minute matches and whoever was leading when the time was up, won. Somehow I think it was their answer to 20/20 cricket as it seems everyone wants fast paced sport these days. If it lasts more than an hour or so, we hit the remote. I see the end for traditional test cricket, as a game that lasts for 5 days will only be supported by oldies who can sit in a chair and doze for most of the time.

Hang on, that sounds like me !

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Time To Say Goodbye

The death of Luciano Pavarotti last Thursday came as a shock to me as I heard about it when I was driving down to Nottingham. It was only the previous day that I'd also heard on the car radio that he was 'quite ill' and so to hear about his death so soon after that previous report made it much more sudden to me than it actually was.

I'm no great opera lover and would probably never go to see one - but I do like the occasion song. Pavarotti's rendition of Nessun Dorma still moves me so much and I know that song and his performance of it for the 1990 World Cup opened up Opera for millions of people.

Pavarotti was almost a larger than life character who seemed so genuinely happy to be performing with a wide variety of well known singers from U2's Bono to The Spice Girls, from Celine Dion to James Brown. He lived life to the full with the classic list of wine, women and song being his mantra.

He'll be missed, of course, but thankfully we have a treasure trove of his wonderful performances on cd and dvd to be enjoyed by everyone for decades to come.

And memories are what it's all about. Many a movie has ended with the phrase "he'll never really be gone as long as there are those of us who never forget him".

A tad sentimental and Hollywood maybe......but true all the same.

On the subject of Opera and memories, I do have an experience to share. Although I said that I'm not really into Opera as such, I have most of the albums of Andrea Bocelli as I find listening to his voice an almost religious experience and often it transports me to a better place.

No not like Virgin Rail. More like The Orient Express.

Anyway back to the memory.

I've been to Las Vegas about 4 times now and of course it was the first visit that holds most memories for me as it's quite a place after all. But it was an experience during my second visit that left me with a memory so vivid that it gives me goosebumps to this day. When I was first there, there was a casino called The Dunes just up The Strip from where I was staying, at The Sands. Between 1993 and 1994, the loss making Dunes was demolished and a stunning new resort casino rose in it's place. The Italian styled Bellagio opened in 1998 and as well as being a magnificent hotel, it is almost as famous for the fountain which stretches across an 8 acre lake between the building and The Strip.

To call it a fountain is like saying The Grand Canyon is a crack in the earth. It just doesn't do it justice. It has 1,200 nozzles which makes it possible to put on a display which is timed to music.
The jets can push the water up to a staggering height of 25o feet and when these displays are set to just the right music, it makes for an experience that lives long in the memory.

I was visiting the city for that second time soon after The Bellagio was built and I was in the company of someone special to me. We got to our hotel late in the evening and once we'd checked in and partially unpacked, I was eager to get out and see the sights. It was a typically hot and humid night in Vegas and after a while, we'd strolled along The Strip to the edge of The Bellagio and noticed the crowds gathering all around the lake. We joined them and waited.

On the hour, many of the 4,500 underwater fountain lights came on and the tension and excitement rose around the lake. The only light came from the hotel windows and from The Paris casino across the road. Suddenly the first notes of "Con te partirĂ²" (Time To Say Goodbye) came from dozens of speakers set up around the viewing area and then the fountain display started. As the music and voice of Sarah Brightman swelled, so did the water display with the jets sweeping across the lake and back again and shooting up into the night sky to reflect the pitch and volume of the song. A couple of minutes in and the voice of Andrea Bocelli took over and my goosebumps had goosebumps.

The fountain display on it's own was stunning. The music on it's own was beautiful. The two combined - priceless.

There are several home movies of this on YouTube and I've looked at most of them to try and find the best for this blog. I've taken my own video on a couple of occasions and know how hard it is to capture the event without picking up the voices of those standing nearby and the traffic noises from The Strip. Some posters have just added the audio track afterwards which gives great quality but loses the vital sounds of the fountain.....the swoooooooosh as the jets of water sway from side to side, the rapid, almost machine gun like sounds they make when the jets streak across the lake and finally the explosive sound when they blast the water to it's full 250ft height at the climax of the music.

There is also the problem faced by the cameramen as they try and pan back and forth to track the action and the best videos are those which simply use a wide angle and stick with it. If you've never seen the fountain before, please do not follow this link first, but there is a video taken from above which shows the design of the fountain very well but loses out on 2 points. First there is no atmosphere as I said before and also it was taken during the day. The experience is so much better at night.

So this is for you, Luciano, and it's fitting that it should be sung partly by your good friend Andrea Bocelli. Most other tribute posts will include you singing Nessun Dorma but I just wanted to merge my memory with yours.

It's the best I can do.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Bringing Home The Bacon

As I mentioned in my previous post, I took the chance to get out and about a bit more in the past 10 days while lappy was in Nottingham being repaired.

This coincided with lovely warm sunny weather (for the most part) which has been conspicuously absent for most of the summer. Now that I think about it, we had glorious warm weather back in March/April when we went for weeks without a sniff of rain and then we got a summer where we got a full double nostril full of the stuff (following on from the sniff analogy !!) to give us the wettest summer on record (that's a 78 and not a cd). Now we're having more of the dry, warm and sunny variety and so I think the time has come to drop the idea of seasons altogether.

A bit revolutionary I grant you but I'm that way out these days.

I'm a sort of Victor Meldrew with a tattoo. Rock on.

Anyway a few days ago I went on a little trip to the nearby town of Bingley which seems to be famous for 2 man made constructions - the HQ of the Bradford & Bingley Building Society and the Five Rise Locks.

The former is impressively ugly and the later is simply impressive.

The B&B HQ was obviously transported from Normandy where it began life as part of the German defences against a potential Allied invasion. All that's missing are a few cannon barrels poking out from the windows and that would complete the image.

It's a worthy Carbuncle Award nominee for sure.

Thankfully I was able to drive past it with barely a glance as I was heading upwards to go to the Five Rise Locks - just about a mile away from this monstrosity.

Now I'd been to the locks about 6 years ago and I remembered that the locals seem to want to keep them a secret as there is one small signpost that takes you off the main road and after that, you're pretty much left to your own devices. I knew I was going in the right general direction - upwards - as after a few minutes, it became hard to breathe and my nose started bleeding. While cursing my cheapness for not getting the Renault Clio with drop down oxygen masks, I came to a familiar roundabout and knew I was close. I crossed over and drove on.....and on......and found myself out in the countryside and it all came back to me. I'd done the same thing 6 years ago as well !

I'm nothing if not consistent.

I did a u-turn and when I returned to the roundabout, I remembered I needed to take the 2nd on the right and within a few seconds, I was parking up about 50 feet from the top lock. It's easy to see why the location at the top is kept a secret as you basically park on an estate street and dozens of summer tourists invading the area would serious piss off the locals. Much better to let people park at the bottom, walk along the canal and get to the locks that way.

This is the view that greets you and very pleasant it is too.

On the right is a lovely cafe serving the usual hot and cold meals with tea, coffee and soft drinks.
I went in to check the menu and decided I fancied a sausage and bacon sandwich - but I wanted it later on after working up an appetite by walking down to the bottom of the locks, along the canal and back up again.

The photo was taken from the middle of a low bridge over the canal and you can just about see how 18th century canal boats would make their way to and from Liverpool, 111 miles to the West. The problem then was that the canal from Leeds, 16 miles to the East, was 59ft lower down and it's kind of difficult to get boats up and down a waterfall !

I mean canal ponies can only pull a boat so far.

Here are a few of the modern narrow boats that use the canal these days. Some are rented by tourists but many are owner occupied and become year round residences - residences that you can take along the UK's many hundreds of miles of beautiful canals until you find somewhere you want to 'park up' for the night, or week or longer.

Sounds wonderful but I'm sure it has it's drawbacks. I've been on such a boat but only for a week. Yes it's a peaceful and relaxing way to see this country from an unusual viewpoint but opening and closing all those locks can be exhausting.

Many of the boats had wind devices for generating electricity and some even had satellite dishes - just because you're on a canal shouldn't mean you have to miss Lost or Heroes or Emmerdale. Perish the thought.

This is a photo of one such dish with the cafe in the background.

When moored for several days or longer, the owners would make their boats more 'homely' by adding plants and flowers along the roof.

Anyway back to the problem of joining the Leeds canal to the Liverpool canal when there is a 59ft height difference.

The answer was to lift/drop the boats using a staircase of 5 connected locks which in the space of 320 feet, raises/lowers the water level 59ft 2ins. It is therefore the steepest set of locks in the UK and justifies a full time lock-keeper to help out those too inexperienced or too unfit to work the locks themselves. Barry, the 'locky' has been doing the job for over 20 years and was awarded an MBE in 2006 for 'services to Inland Waterways in the North'.

This is the view from the top lock looking down and you may have to click on it to see how each pair of lock gates has a small white 'bridge' between it and the next pair of gates.

These 'bridges' are just wide enough for you to get both feet on them side by side but they create a great vantage point for photography.

Each of the huge wooden gates are 7ft wide to make up a 14ft lock which, handily, is also the width of the canal.

The 5 lock staircase was opened on March 21st 1774 and such was the excitement generated, that 30,000 people turned up to watch.

I bet that seriously pissed off the locals - nothing worse than not being able to park your horse and carriage outside your own house ! That's probably when traffic wardens were thought up.

The local paper ran with the story........................

"From Bingley to about 3 miles downwards the noblest works of the kind are exhibited viz: A five fold, a three fold and a single lock, making together a fall of 120 feet. This joyful and much wished for event was welcomed with the ringing of Bingley bells, a band of music, the firing of guns by the neighbouring Militia, the shouts of spectators, and all the marks of satisfaction that so important an acquisition merits".

The article refers to the fact that there is another staircase of 3 locks just a short distance away and then one more single lock to complete the total drop of 120 feet.

This view from the bottom makes it easier to see the scope and impressive drop of the staircase and I waited for someone to walk down the path that runs alongside the locks to give some scale.

It really is a marvel of engineering and the only disappointment for me was that no canal boat needed to be raised or lowered while I was there.

Although the stroll down to the bottom had been easy ( as I stopped at each lock to take more photos ), I knew the climb back up again was going to be much harder - so I recharged my batteries by spending a while enjoying the scenery.

As well as the canal path, the locks, the water and the trees, there was wildlife in abundance.

Having asked for permission to do so, I took this photo of a dad out enjoying the area with his young son. They were feeding the wildlife which wasn't that wild and would come to the bread if it wasn't coming fast enough to them.

The sun burst through a cloud just as I was framing the photo and shone brightly on the locks in the background.

It was a true Kodak moment - or in my case a Canon moment.

This was the view looking the other way and the path ran all the way to..........well I've no idea really as I've never explored any further. Maybe some day I'll go back and walk the walk.

By now it was time to eat and so I climbed back up to the top and went to the cafe for my sandwich.

Isn't it funny how one looks forward to a food item SO much that nothing else will do ? I had been thinking of that sausage and bacon sannie for some time and as I stood in line, I even counted out the exact money, as men tend to do !

Finally it was my turn but even before my lips had formed the words 'and bacon', the girl broke my heart by informing me that they weren't serving hot food anymore !!!

It was 3:30pm for goodness sake. Did she mean it was the time of day or the fact that it was September or what ? Maybe they only cooked hot meals in even years. Whatever.

I glanced at the menu again but no cold offering took my fancy. I wanted sausage and bacon, dammit. I'd earned it. I'd walked and climbed and worked up an appetite. I deserved some fat and cholesterol to replace what I'd lost. I could feel my ribs start to poke through my skin.

I left the cafe in a deep depression but as soon as I walked the few paces to the locks and studied the view back down to the canal below and the countryside beyond, my mood lifted. I sat on a bench for a while and enjoyed the tranquility and then took my rumbling stomach back to the car and drove home.

As I passed the Normandy stronghold - sorry the B&B HQ - I gave it a cheery wave. It was still hideously ugly of course but my mind was brim full of the wonderful images I'd stored up over the previous few hours and I was feeling charitable.

Less than an hour later I was tucking into a home made sausage and bacon sannie as MY cafe has no time restrictions.

Never come between a man and his desired food item.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Glad To Be Back

I scooted down to Nottingham yesterday to pick up lappy after getting the call that it was ready. Actually the call wasn't a good one as when they'd replaced a part to fix a colour problem, it went from being a temporary problem to a permanent problem and I was told it now needed a new motherboard.........that'll be £390 please. thanks.

So I went to get it and discovered they don't know much about laptop TLC as I worked my magic and voila.........I managed to get the problem to become temporary again and I can live with it now.

The overheating issue has been fixed so until the motherboard finally dies, I'm good to go.

Ok so after 10 days without t'internet (I don't count visits to the library and using a friend's Mac as being on t'internet) I was getting pretty desperate. They should have patches for people like me. Yes I've no idea what they'd put in them - it's only an idea at this stage but I feel it has potential.

I did get a lot more fresh air while being 'out of the loop' as daytime TV pretty much sucks and staring at the empty laptop tray on top of the coffee table was making me even more miserable.

Untelevised sporting events finished and I'd no idea who had won.

TV shows passed me by as my online guide was 200 miles away and without it's timely alerts, I missed House last Wednesday. I was despondent.

Videos were uploaded to YouTube and I knew nothing about them.

eBay deals were being done without my pathetic bids going in.

Worst of all, this blog was growing cobwebs and losing readers faster than a Richard & Judy recommended novel.

I tried to use boring Teletext but to get that I had to access the terrestrial stations via the roof aerial and the quality was awful and so the text would break up and be unreadable. I tried the interactive features of Virgin Media Television but that took so long to load the pages that I may as well have used Pony Express or read tea leaves.

No, if these 10 days proved anything to me, it was that I am now totally dependant on t'internet.

The results of the Outer Mongolian Goat Herding Championships ? Internet.

Did Rita say YES to Norris in the episode I missed as I was watching the US Open Tennis and lost track of time ? Internet.

The pain in my head.........hangover or brain tumor ? Internet.

Had my portfolio gone down the drain after yet another stock market crash ? Internet.

Who WAS that masked man ? Internet.

But those dark days of ignorance are over now and a new glorious age of enlightenment is upon me.

I intend to embrace it. Sod patches. I've got the real thing again !!

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