Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dear Diary...........

So how many times will you write 2008 and then go.....offs it's 2009 !!!

As I don't write the year very often, it usually takes me till mid March.  The checks in my check book still say 1998 as that's when I last wrote one. Actually I don't remember when I last wrote the date on anything.

And every year at this time I tell myself......"self, you should keep a diary next year".

I start with the best of intentions but my life is so dull that by mid January, more and more pages are being left empty until I give up completely.  

A few years ago I tried it on the computer.  Brilliant.  No empty pages as there were no pages.  If something worthwhile happened one day, I'd mention it.  If nothing else exciting or noteworthy happened for a few days, it didn't matter as it would still be the next entry anyway.  

No gaps. 

Sadly not much text either as, once again, the muse left me early in the year.

And yet I do have some almost full diaries from the more eventful years of my life. Well a couple anyway. Ok sod it, just the one.

It was 1970. Christmas was declared a federal holiday in the US, compulsory education started in England, France declared war on Prussia (don't ask !), somebody called Lenin was born and Charles Dickens died.

Oh wait, that was 1870.

In mid June 1970 Mungo Jerry were No.1 with the first rendition of "In The Summertime" and I left school forever.  The two weren't entirely related.  I was 17 and the world was my lobster. A few days later I flew to London which is somewhere in England. It was my first ever flight.  I was alone.  I was in London alone.  No place to stay.  No job.  Nada.  The things you do at 17, eh !

I'd kept a 'page-a-day' diary from the start of that year as I just had a feeling it would be an important year for me.  I'd filled every single page up until I left (Catholic boarding) school - even though most pages held exactly the same information about the time I woke up, what I ate for breakfast, how my lessons went, who bullied me that day, which priest came to 'see' me in the evening and so on.  The usual stuff and not very exciting really, although I often think the diary could be used as evidence if I ever wanted to get my own back on a few people and get some hush money from The Vatican at the same time.

But moving swiftly on................

The print I'd used on those pages was huge.  I had a full page to fill up each and every day and, as I said, I'd sod all to fill it with.  It was like writing your 30th postcard when on holiday.  By that time you just want to say "hello I'm here and you're not, so bollocks to you" but you've a whole card you feel the need to fill up and so your printing looks like it was done by a myopic idiot who stopped being a savant a long time ago.

But on that day back in 1970 when I left for London, that all changed and the diary page wasn't big enough to hold everything that happened to me. Only someone with a jeweller's eyepiece can now read what I wrote. It was worthy of one of those people who can write the Lord's Prayer on the back of a postage stamp.  It was worthy of your first postcard on holiday. I used both the margins.  I even put a little arrow and went up to the top of the page where the date was and still needed more room.

It was no good.  Half the page for the following day had to be commandeered and if anything, my writing got even smaller on that page.

This continued for a few weeks as a LOT happened to me and only ended in October when I started at college and then, sadly, I'd no time to keep a diary.  It was my best effort to this day though and apart from a few months in 1972, I've never kept a paper diary since.

But now I have this blog.  And the log in blog's a sort of diary.  Of course no one cares what time I wake up each day and what I have for breakfast but now and then, something just might be interesting enough to write about.  I started blogging on May 4th 2006 and this will be my 319th post. That's roughly one post every 3 days and that's not bad for me.

I'd still like to keep a 'proper' diary though and I might try that for 2009. It'll be on the laptop of course and there won't be an entry every day but we'll see how it goes.  If I'm still doing it by April, I'll be in uncharted waters.

Well except for that diary back in 1970.  It's fun to (try and) read it now so hopefuly diary 2009 will be fun to read in the future. 

What about you ?  Any dedicated diary writers out there ?  Any wannabe diary writers ?

I'm no Samuel Pepys but one will do one's best for 2009.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Pretend This !

Wow, two posts in one day.

You've heard of BOGOFF's (Buy One, Get One For Free) ?  Well this is a BLOGOFF.

Oh suit yourselves !!

Anyway I was talking to Daphne just now and we discussed her blog post about how she cries whenever she hears "2000 Miles" sung by The Pretenders.

I told her I do the same but usually only when it's finally over !  

I've got a thing about singers, usually with excellent voices, who insist on singing up and down to show off their vocal range.  At least I think that's why they do it. Maybe it's simply to mask that they can't sing.

I used to love the music of Mariah Carey until she met up with Boyz II Men and she suddenly felt the need to stop singing songs in one register or key or octave or whatever and would warble up and down like a canary that had spent way too long 'down pit.'

In fact my exact words to Daphne were that Chrissie Hynde sang up and down the scales like a fish on heat.

I've no idea where that simile came from.  I often start typing a sentence in a chat panel with no clue how it's going to end. 

( Yes I'm well aware that I write entire blog posts that way !  There, I said it before someone else did ).

So anyway, as I've never been able to listen to more than a few seconds of the song, I asked her what it was all about and why it's linked to Christmas in the UK charts every year ?  She didn't know !  

And STILL she cries at it !!!

Even from the title, I guessed some loved one was 2000 miles from home at Christmas and she, the singer, was missing him.

Then I used my lyrics site and found...the lyrics.

I'm still not sure though and I think the key words revolve around 'the children.'  If these singing children belonged to them, then it might be a sad story about a husband walking out on his wife and kiddies and she's missing him at Christmas time.  If these singing children are just singing children, then it still could be a sad story about separated lovers at Christmas time.

Did you spot the line about the purple sky ?  Yes I know it was only in a dream but still, I suspect some wacky baccy was being inhaled during the songwriting process. Of course a certain artist formally known as an artist once sang about Purple Rain so maybe he was using the same brand.

But it's all good stuff and even if I don't like the song, plenty do and so it gets released every December along with tunes from Slade, Wham and Wizzard.

But give me "White Christmas".  A simple tune with no strange coloured meteorological occurances to mention and all sung without any fishy goings on either. Like the way old Bing used to sing it - although now and again he was prone to a bit of uppy and downy in a sort of ba-ba-ba-boom-boom way as crooners tended to do.

Then Mariah got her tonsils around that song as well and quite frankly, it, me and Christmas have never been the same since.

Is It Easter Yet ?

Well that was it then.  Christmas over for another year but what a jolly holly time we had.

It's fun to creep downstairs at 4am, hoping to catch a fat old guy breaking into your house.

"Oi, you there.  What's your game, then ?"

"Ho-ho-ho, young fella.  And have you been a good boy this year ?"

"Look you old fool, I'm 56 and about to call the police.  How did you get in here anyway ?"

"I came down the chimney of course and where's my mince pie and glass of wine ?"

"Listen, you geriatric pervert.  It's no use you sneaking around in my living room at 4am and trying to get away with it. And stop loading our pressies into that sack".

"But I'm giving you these presents. That's what I do.  I'm Santa Claus !!!"

"And I'm Mother Teresa. Now get your clothes on and leave that elf alone."

Of course things like that don't happen in sunny Buttonwood Bay. We don't have chimneys for a start. Or stairs.  Although it IS possible to wake up at 4am and find a fat old bearded man in your living room. The general consensus is that's it's always best to gently lead him back to his own place and inform the front office the next morning.  No harm done.

Mind you, it has been known that a few of the lonlier old ladies tend to hang onto these infrequent visitors for a few days and THEN gently lead them back to their own place.  Well the sign at the park entrance does claim this to be an "active community".

But getting back to all things Christmas, it's sometimes hard to get into the festive spirit here when it's in the 80's and everyone is in shorts and t-shirts.  Yes, a lot of the houses are bedecked with enough lights to be seen by the shuttle crew and yes, there are lots of Christmas trees throbbing away with multicoloured bulbs inside the houses, but it's just not the same.  We all pass each other on our golf carts and merrily shout "Happy Holidays" and "Bon Noel"  (we're a multinational bunch here and some are from Canada !!) but if past experience is anything to go by, some of the more confused residents will still be doing that in March.

At this time of year, kids and grandkids are all over the park. They clog up the pool, speed along the roads at 12 mph on the carts, hurl the bocce balls like professional pitchers, win all the bingo sessions as they can daub the numbers faster and worst of all, are out and about after 8pm !  Up to no good, I'll be bound.  God I'm so old.

We didn't have turkey yesterday.  Didn't even have ham.  No, we went the less traditional route and had steak.  Done on the grill.  Outside.  At 6pm.  It was 73F and we hardly needed the grill.

We'd thought about going to the beach but we didn't.  We thought about going to the park pool but we didn't. The day just passed like most other days here although we did eat a lot more and watched less tv.  After the steak meal we watched "Wall-E" which was cute but hardly an Oscar nominee.

Today is the day after Christmas Day, which in America is known as....the day after Christmas Day.  I miss Boxing Day.  I miss not getting dressed till mid afternoon.  I miss nibbling at stray food items left around from yesterday.  I miss looking again at some of the presents in the hopes that they've somehow turned into something I actually wanted.  I miss "The Great Escape".

Well ok no, I don't actually miss "The Great Escape" but I do miss being able to not watch it.  AGAIN.

In a few days the Christmas lights here will come down and the shuttle crew can lift their visors again. The mini trees will be boxed away and shoved to the back of closets along with the hats, scarves and wooly mittens that family members sent to show they had a sense of humour.

"Oh I know, lets send grandpa a scarf so he can wear it on Christmas Day".

I hope they still see the joke when told that grandpa was carted off to hospital suffering from heat stroke as he was also wearing the hat, gloves, fleece, sweat pants and thermal socks hilariously sent by other family members from Fargo, Dakota.  Ho-ho-ho.

The lines at Customer Services will be long today. Unwanted pressies will be going back. 

"Well I'm glad that's over for another year" will be the common sentiment and many retailers will be checking the sales figures to see if a late spending spree has meant they can ward off closure for a while longer.  Customers with any credit left will be looking for even more deals as stores become even more desperate. Plasma TV's will be found inside Corn Flakes boxes and you'll be able to enjoy a 7 day cruise around the Caribbean islands for the cost of a 4 slot toaster. Maybe even 2 slots.

Now we can look forward to the end of the year (hurrah !!) and then it'll be Easter.  Houses will be decorated with all things rabbit and.......oh jeez enough already.

I look out the window here and I see blue skies and palm trees. No snow. No rain.  There is no rush hour because there is no rush.  And I count these as blessings no matter what the time of year.  

So I hope you're all having/will have/have had a lovely Boxing Day wherever you may be and remember this :  if you find an big old fat stranger wandering around in your living room today, the chances are he really isn't Santa Claus. 

And if you live here in sunny Buttonwood Bay, please give him back before the weekend.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Branded A Fool

The title of this post comes from a part of a song lyric from the movie Grease and sums up the topic of this post perfectly.....I think.  Maybe.

A few weeks ago when Daffy and Stephen were here, we were watching tv and came upon some adverts for shows coming up on the USA Network and they all ended with the voice over guy saying "characters welcome". 

Quite reasonably, Daffy asked what that meant.  I had no idea and it was then forgotten about.

Now USA is not a channel I really watch but just a few minutes ago I came to it again and sure enough, I heard adverts for forthcoming shows ending with "characters welcome". This time I had my laptop to hand and decided to find out what it was all about.

What I discovered was a Press Release from the USA Network that makes me reconsider if English is still my first language. I could REALLY have done without understanding the individual words in this Press Release because when put together like this, they make me think I missed a few years at school; the years when advanced English BS was being taught.

Turn off all distractions, find a comfy armchair and try and follow this................

For the first time in its twenty-five year history, USA Network is launching a comprehensive branding initiative extending across all media, including on-air, off-air and online platforms, [as] announced today by Bonnie Hammer, president of USA Network… The campaign…features a new logo and the tagline “Characters Welcome,” a statement that will reflect and inform every aspect of USA, from marketing and promotion to program development.
“When we started developing a brand strategy we knew we wanted it to be enhancing rather than limiting,” said Hammer. “We didn’t want to tack on a meaningless tagline or claim an arbitrary niche or demo. I believe we’ve succeeded in developing a campaign that’s organic to USA, something that captures and communicates what the network is about, what lives and breathes on its air.”
"In talking to our viewers and realizing what they loved best about USA, we realized that there was real connective tissue around the concept of strong, relatable characters,” added Chris McCumber, senior vice president, marketing and brand strategy. “‘Characters Welcome’ delivers a clear message that establishes an immediate emotional connection with our audience.”
“The beauty of our new brand is that it truly embraces everything we do,” said Hammer. “Whether it’s an obsessive compulsive detective like Monk, the tormented returnees of the 4400 or a real-life action hero from the WWE, it’s the compelling, sometimes complicated, often funny characters that make USA Network what it is.”

The part that really got me was "we didn't want to tack on a meaningless tagline."

Hmmmmm and yet, you know what ?  Y'kinda DID.

But then what do I know about advertising and branding ?  I don't understand most of the UK tv adverts for Guinness for example but they get noticed, talked about and even appear on YouTube.  A fish riding a bicycle across the screen ?  Yeah that makes me want to rush out and buy a crate of Guinness. Not.

But wait now.  I'm discussing Guinness after all.  Isn't that what advertising is all about ?  Getting your product 'out there'.  

So maybe they're not such fools at USA after all.  I'm sure I'm not the only person thinking about "characters welcome" after seeing the ads.  Yes it may piss me off and annoy the hell out of me but lets face it, I'll always remember which network they appear on - and in the land of tv viewing figures and brand recognition, they've maybe got a winner.

But these things can go either way and so despite their cunning connective tissues and their organic emotional connections, I'll be avoiding the USA channel in future. But at least their branding inititive worked for me because I'll always KNOW why I'll be avoiding it !!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ho Ho Ho From Florida !!!

Golf Carts Roasting On An Open Fire............

Knowing the day was fast approaching, I've been trying for some time now to work the words 'golf cart' into some sort of Christmas song to create a suitably amusing post title about the annual Buttonwod Bay ( that's sunny Buttonwood Bay to you ) Christmas Golf Cart Parade of Decorated......err.... Golf Carts.  That we have every year.  In Buttonwood Bay.

As you can clearly see, I failed miserably.

But as this post is about a Golf Cart Parade, it'll be something new for search visitors to read about as for the last few weeks, I've had lots of 'hits' from people searching on Google for that very thing. And because I wrote a post about the parade last year, their search results bring them to me.  Of course if they come to my blog wanting technical info about CREATING a decorated cart, it'll all be a huge let down as what I know about decorating a golf cart could be written on a postage stamp for a very very small country indeed. A principality in fact.

So anyhoo, the big day arrived today. Golf Cart Parade Day. And for us, it turned into Golf Cart Parade Day Party Day.

Ok enough of the capitals already.

What started off as a couple of friends and ourselves sitting out by the roadside as the carts went by, evolved, as such things here do, into a lot more people doing basically the same thing and calling it a party.  Wooohoooo. Par-tay. Wine, women and song.  

Well men, wives and carols then.  

So at 5:15pm I set off on our undecorated golf cart (bah humbug indeed) to get to the collection point at the far end of the park where all the decorated carts were being assembled for the parade.  Lined up I mean....they were already assembled !

Some were individual efforts, some were collective efforts but effort was the key word. Lots of effort had been put into the decorating and every one was a winner.  But I wasn't a judge so my opinion didn't count.

Then in true Buttonwood tradition, the 6pm golf cart parade set 5:50pm.  Everything starts early here, just in case.....y'know.  Hey the people are old remember.  You gotta go with what you've got.

So here are a few photos of the carts I took at this time......................

As you can see, it was getting darker by the minute and although the carts looked better in the dark (as most used Christmas lights as part of their decorations), I knew from previous years that the best photos were the ones taken before the parade set off......the built in flash on my camera often isn't powerful enough to fully light them up when they go past.

Once the carts had set off and cleared the area, I jumped back into mine and sped off to where my friends were set up on rows of chairs on the grass outside their house. This was the perfect location for watching the carts go past on their way to the Recreation Hall where the judging was to take place and winners announced.

In fact I'll only include one photo of an actual cart ON PARADE as it went past us ..........

I liked the idea of including the reindeer in the setup AND giving the impression of it flying through the air but I suspect PETA may have been dismayed at it's treatment. They are famous for having no sense of humour.

Unlike the residents of Buttonwood Bay who don't let a little thing like their age get in the way of having a fun old time. Take this young lady for example.......

The thing is, she wasn't dressed up like this for the parade. Oh no, this is how she dresses every day. Eccentric ? Never.

Finally, for those of you who have stuck with me so far, here is a photo of a cart before they all set off on parade. I only include it here as it shows THE house within the park that has the most elaborate Christmas decorations ever seen outside of Disney World. When the owners power up this display, they first have to clear it with the FAA (for low flying aircraft), NASA (for low flying shuttles), NORAD (for low flying missiles) and the power company (for low power levels everywhere else around the state).

Talk about taking all the glory from the golf carts !  

As so that was it for another year.  We took the par-tay inside and drank more wine and ate more food and it all broke up at some ridiculously late hour........8:45pm I think.  Oh we can be so naughty at times but lets face it, it IS almost Christmas.

So try doing a Google search for a Christmas Golf Cart Parade and see if this post has made it onto the first page.

Go on, you know you want to.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Never Say Never.

If it's one thing I've discovered about my time over here in the US, it's that I should NEVER visit somewhere and leave it declaring  "well I'll never be back here again."

Famous places are one thing, like Las Vegas, San Francisco, Yosemite Park, Grand Canyon and so on, but I mean when you leave a small family owned budget motel that wasn't much to write home about on its best day, saying you'll never be back there again, you really DON'T expect to ever see it again.

But over the years I've revisited so many places here that the phrase has become a personal joke.

"Oh look, here I am again in XXXXXXX.  I never thought I'd be here again"  Ho-ho.  

There isn't a third 'ho' (didn't have enough money !!) as it's not quite Christmas yet and anyway, this isn't a Christmas Story.

So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised a couple of weeks ago when Daphne, Stephen and myself were driving down SR-699, Gulf  Blvd, over on the West Coast of Florida and we suddenly passed by the very motel I'd stayed at, way back in the early 1990's.

Back then I'd chosen the Ebb Tide motel for one reason only........price.  It was dirt cheap.  I'd driven up from the south of Florida and wanted a base for a few days so that I could unwind after touring down the East Coast, across from Miami to Naples and then up to the St. Petersburg area.  I still had to visit Disney World and as I needed to be prepared mentally and physically for that, I wanted to chill out at the beach for a while. I'd been in a different motel every night for about 10 nights and just wanted to be able to return to the same one for a change.

The owner did me a nice deal for 5 days as there are literally thousands of motels on this stretch of road and so the customer has the power. My parking bay was the one in front of the tallest palm tree on the right and then I'd scoot up that staircase and go left into my room.

To get to the beach, I just crossed the road and walked a few yards down a path and I was on the sparkling sand. Another 3 miles or so and I'd reach the water !!  The beaches on the West Coast can be REALLY wide.

The motel had it's own nice little heated pool and the other room occupants were a right mixed bunch of Europeans as the owner was German or Polish or some such nationality. A foreign 'Johnny' anyway who seemed to be well known and popular with many returning guests.

It was clean and friendly enough but I was really only in it at night to sleep. Each morning I'd be up and out exploring the vicinity and getting in lots of beach time. I've probably got some photos from back then but they're not to hand. I was heavily into video in the 90's and so most of my memories come from moving images and not stills.

The motel was on a sweeping bend in the road and so parking was a bit of an issue. I'd have to ensure that no one was close behind me as when approaching the motel, I'd have to brake and turn sharp right, so as to go up into my parking bay, inches from the road. A few times I'd get there only to find all the bays were full and so I'd be stuck in no mans land, twixt road and the bays, and causing grief behind me until I pulled back onto the road and drove around wondering what to do.

I can't remember what I DID do.  Another senior moment.

Actually that wasn't my first return to the Ebb Tide.  Oh no.  I was there a few years ago when in the area with Debby. I think I may have mentioned to her about my little phrase relating to never being back to a place again and we'd have laughed as I repeated it upon leaving. And now I was back AGAIN.

You'll be glad to know I said nothing as I left this time as to be honest, the place doesn't really deserve to be visited 4 times in one lifetime !

But who knows...............

So, dear reader, not counting locations in your own country, where have you ever been to and thought (even if you've never spoken it out loud) that you'd never be back to again, and then have been ?

(And no, Daphne, Tenby doesn't count as abroad !!!!!!)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Rain Comes To Buttonwood - Read All About It.

Here in normally hot and sunny Buttonwood Bay, it's neither hot nor sunny. Shock news, I know.

The heavy thunderstorm that was forecast days ago, has arrived on cue and it's raining like a wet weekend in Manchester. The Cafe By The Lake didn't open at noon and we've not seen a single person, car or golf cart go by since the weather took this downward turn earlier this morning.  We've had a bit of thunder and lightning and there have been tornado warnings in the area. We're keeping a close eye on Pixie, our own little Toto.

Florida doesn't do weather by halves.

Buttonwood Bay has buttoned (or battened) down the hatches and everyone is inside crocheting mailbags or sewing booties for the grandkids. Or gettin' it on maybe.  Hell I donno what oldies do when it's wet outside !  Doesn't happen often.

This has been our first experience of rain in the park for over a month. We did drive through a heavy rain shower last week on the way back from a Flea Market trip to Ft. Myers but as that wasn't IN the park, then it doesn't count !

As a result of the current storm, the temps have dropped from the high of 85F (29.4C) yesterday, to a relatively miserable 62F (16.6C) outside right now.  Given the rain, no one is really bothered as who wants to go outside anyway ?

So to cheer us all up, I thought I'd post a photo of a lovely, graceful bird on my blog today - but as I couldn't get a decent photo of Katherine Heigl, here is a photo I took of a vulture !

Hey I never said this would be a classy post.  Or truthful.

We were on our way to the Billie Swamp Safari in Everglades country (sort of) when we paused at a rest area for....well a rest.  And a pee.  Opps sorry, another bit of class gone.

There was a stretch of water nearby and a bunch (or colony or committee) of vultures was enjoying the remains of a dead fish. God I hope it was dead. Given that most of it's head was gone and it's body parts were being picked away by the vultures, I suspect it had become an ex fish some time ago.

They really are ugly birds.  Yes they do a vital job but why do they have to be so ugly ??  They are very common here in Florida as there is just so much road kill to go around.  I mean have you ever seen the oldies driving here ??  No roadside animal is safe.  Never mind roadside....even a deer sitting happily a few hundred yards away in a forest clearing isn't safe.

Oldies nod off at an alarming rate here and even wide awake ones still regularly drift off the road during senior driving moments.  Most of them probably took their tests (if indeed they took a test) back when cars were fueled by coal and you didn't so much start the engine as light it.


Anyway, that's it for today.  It's wet.  It's cool.  It's freakin' miserable.  The mood is sombre.

Enjoy the vulture.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Now There's Something You Don't See.......

I included a photo in my 'Fish & Ships' post that showed 3 pelicans diving into the water with a pirate ship in the background. Bizarre.

I explained how I'd been tracking the birds down in their dive and when I snapped them entering the water, I was as surprised as anyone to have captured the ship as well. Just one of those things.

Well the following day we had moved a few miles down the West coast of Florida and were all out on the beach watching another lovely sunset. It was a bit cool and so we were dressed accordingly - which meant Daphne was wearing her black 'sheep' and was holding onto her handbag which never left her side the entire 2 weeks she was here. Even in bed. I'm not even sure it COULD come off her arm.

Anyway I wanted a shot of her against the setting sun as it was such an iconic image for me of our time on the West Coast. A beach, the ocean, a glorious sunset, Daphne taking photos and ....the sheep and the handbag.

Just as I'd composed the shot and was about to press the shutter, the buzzing noise I'd been hearing for the last few seconds grew even louder and I was aware that 'something' had moved across the shot at the last second but I didn't know what.

Lowering the camera from my eye, I saw that it was a 2 man seaplane thingy and I was more than happy that I'd caught it on film, so to speak. I took some more with just Daphne in shot but I keep coming back to this one as being the one I'm most pleased with...and once again, like with the pelicans and the ship, it was 95% luck that created the image.

Oh and Daffy and her sheep and handbag of course.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Born Free.

When we were over on the West Coast of Florida recently, we stayed one night at a motel that didn't offer a breakfast. Yes I know.  We had roughed it !

So early that morning we went to a local McDonalds for coffee and a spot of breakfast but as we pulled in to park, we spotted that we weren't the only ones who were after some fast food.

This fella, or fellette, was just standing in front of the main door, staring at the premises. Amused customers would go past and he, or she, never moved.  Even the staff came to the door to have a look so we assumed this wasn't a usual event even for them.

We finally decided he, or she, was fascinated by the image of the giraffe on the "Madagascar 2" poster on the door. Maybe it was the similar long neck or maybe he, or she, had already seen Madagascar and was deciding if the sequal would be worth watching.

Of course it also brought up comments about where McD's sources its food from but those were tasteless comments !

After taking a few more photos, we too walked past the bird and into the restaurant. By the time we'd ordered and found our seats, he, or she, had gone.

I think if we'd looked closely and noticed the push bike was also gone, we'd REALLY have freaked out !

Monday, December 08, 2008

Long Live The Communist.

Given the 5 hour time difference, I woke up this morning to learn about the death of Daphne's dad, the Communist who gave rise to her blog title.

I went out for my walk around the park just now and I thought long and hard (well for 40 minutes at least !!) whether I should write a post about his passing, given that I'd only met him a few times and didn't really know him that well. But although the blogging community is huge, sometimes the lesser numbers who follow the lives of those who have become friends on here can make it a small community too.

Daffy blogged about her dad and spoke about him to me so much over the last few years that I FEEL like I knew him quite well.  Knew.  Not know.  Still takes a bit of getting used to.

I'd never known a Communist before meeting Ron.  Never spoke with one and, obviously, never had one speak to me. He was my one and only Communist !!  Of course we never discussed his political or (non) religious beliefs at all as on the few occasion when we were in a room together, it was with everyone else and the conversation was about his short visit from the nursing home or to celebrate a birthday.  Not really conducive to political chit chat and I was thankful for that. What I know about politics could be written on a beer coaster.....a very small beer coaster at that.

But I know his daughter.  I know his son a little too.  If you believe that the success criteria of good parenting is to look at the lives of their children, then Ron (and Joan of course) have left a wonderful legacy.  Thankfully Joan is still around to both further help and guide the lives of Daphne and Michael but much more importantly, to tend to my bloody garden !

Even though we knew the end was near, his passing this morning was still a shock. Daphne and the family had precious last moments over the previous 2 days with him to say goodbyes without letting on that they WERE saying goodbye as he never wanted to be told he was dying. Maybe if no one told him, it wouldn't happen.  Well, Ron, the NHS are good but not THAT good.

When I was out on my walk and thinking about doing this post, I'd got Matt Munro singing away in my ear. No, not literally as sadly he's dead too.  No, his album was on my MP3 player and suddenly he started singing "My Way" which seemed to answer my question. Yes I would write this post about him.  Now I know this became Frank Sinatra's signature song but it was somehow appropriate that a British singer should be performing it to me today and old Matt did have a very special voice.

I listened very carefully to the lyrics even though like most of us, I knew them pretty well already. They just seemed so apt today and I guess that's why a lot of people ask for it to be the song played at their funeral. The final curtain and all that.

Regrets ?  Yes I'm sure he had a few.  But then again.....well you know the song.

So goodbye Ron.  You stuck to your beliefs right to the very end.  No requests for a priest or Gordon Brown to appear at your bedside.  Ok that might have really hastened your death !  You've left behind a strong, caring, generous family who will remember you as long as they live. There are also a lot of people who didn't know you that well but wished they had, and I count myself in that group.

Just one last thing though, Ron. If you're reading this, then there IS an afterlife and guess what ?  You were wrong, you old Commie coot !!

R.I.P. wherever that afterlife may be.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Fish & Ships

Now that Daffy and Stephen have left Florida and I have a bit more time, I thought I'd go over the 1,000 or more photos that I took and do a few posts about their trip here.

On one of her posts, Daphne told of how she was swimming over on the West Coast (Sand Keys near Clearwater Beach) and was being dive bombed by birds. They were mostly pelicans and although they weren't quite on top of her, so to speak, they were very close.

I was on the beach with camera in hand and tried to get a record of this event. The few I got with Daphne in the same shot as the birds weren't very good and so I'm settling for a few images of just the birds themselves. Sadly I never got good quality consecutive shots of the same bird from flying along to diving and then entering the water and so these photos are of different birds, coming from different directions and so I'm sorry if this spoils the effect.

It was very cool to see.

This one is to set the scene. The pelicans would just be flying serenely along, minding their own business, when one or more would spot a fish in the water below (ok where else !!) and begin the dive.

This is the dive, just in case you needed a visual aid ! Remember that this was all over in seconds so not only was the pelican's eyesight pretty amazing, but I'm sure that at that very moment, the fish were swimming along thinking what a nice day it was to be a fish.

"Might stay in and watch 'Finding Nemo' again tonight"

"You've seen that movie like 20 times already (Jewish fish)"

"Yeah but let's face it, what else do I have to do tonight" ?

"That's true too. Fancy a drink after ?"

"Nah, I've been drinking all day"

"Well the offer still stands. See you after the movie"

"Ok, I'll be along later and we can - what the fu....."

"Bert ? Bert ? Where'd ya go, Bert" ?

The problem with taking these photos was that I'd be tracking the bird, or birds, down from the sky and so I never knew when the water would appear in the frame and the dive would be over. This also meant that I'd never be sure what else would appear in the area around the birds and on one occasion, I captured this bizarre scene.

No it's not a still from "The Goonies" but simply a pirate ship which, thanks to a cheap knockoff GPS device from Taiwan, had confused the West Coast of Florida with the East Coast of Somalia. A natural mistake and not helped by signs pointing to a Treasure Island just a few miles further down the coast.

This was Daphne's first swim in the waters of the Gulf Of Mexico and I think she'll remember it mostly because of the pelicans.

I'm sure she made an impression on them too !!

Friday, December 05, 2008

It's Coming To An End............

Daffy and Stephen are busy packing as they return to Leeds today.  Well to be accurate they'll be in Leeds tomorrow morning as their flight from Orlando leaves at 8pm local time.

I think they've had a good time here in Florida but they'll have to tell you that themselves. They've been a pain in the neck for me but that's not important.  As long as they had a good time, that's all that matters !

No seriously, it's been a hoot having them here and we've all been places and done things that have made the 2 weeks fly past in a haze of enjoyment and good times. We've all taken enough photos and have enough memories to fill blog posts for months to some serious editing will be needed or we'll bore everyone to death on our respective blogs.

Yesterday we returned from a 3 day trip to the East Coast which took us across to Jupiter Beach, down A1A to Fort Lauderdale (where we went on a boat trip around the waterways of the rich and famous) and on to the Art Deco area of Miami, taking in lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe. Then we visited a swamp safari park in the Everglades where we went on an air boat ride and finished things off with a swamp buggy eco ride. We saw so many gators up close that I ran out of pebbles to throw at them !! 

All in all it was a fantastic 3 days to add to the West Coast tour last week and the 2 day visit to the Kennedy Space Center. We've never felt rushed, we've relaxed on a number of beaches and yet managed to fit in a lot of things. Daphne swam enough times in the ocean to have crossed from Dover to Calais and swum enough laps in various pools to have made the return trip.  If her feet aren't webbed, then they're not far off.

Yesterday evening, returning from the swamp safari park to Buttonwood Bay, we were driving along the most boring road in Florida but still managed to see a lovely sunset - which in my usual 'circle of life' way, brought their vacation to a perfect ending in my mind.

So bye bye Daffy and Stephen and I hope the temperature change you're about to experience doesn't make you too mad that I'll still be here in sunny Sebring for another 4 months !

It's been great having you and showing you why I love spending winters here.

I hope you both enjoyed it as much as we did.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Birth Of A Blogger ?

You know those ultrasound photos that women show around to friends and family after a certain number of months have passed in their pregnancy ?

I can rarely work them out.  I know some computer savvy women use photoshop or some such application to add useful pointers onto their ultrasound photos to highlight fingers, toes and a certain male appendage if one has been picked up by the scan. Probably just an extra finger I'd have thought.

"OMG, my baby is deformed.  Oh hang on, it's just a boy !!".

Well here is an adult one taken at the Kennedy Space Center last Saturday. Actually it was taken at the Astronaut Hall Of Fame which is located just at the start of Columbia Blvd which leads to the 'proper' Space Center about 4 miles further on.

Unfortunately no fingers have grown at this stage in it's development but clearly, it's a boy. His feet are encased in some sort of white material which protects them from harm while in the foetal position as the womb appears to have lots of sharp corners and pointy bits. You can see the umbilical cord near his left leg and there appears to be some sort of yellow polyp growing on the womb wall just above his head. I'd have that looked at as a priority.

The downy hairs on his face and legs should disappear once he gets to full term but the technicians had no answer for the appearance of his glasses.  One theory was that they'd somehow dropped off the bedside table during conception and in a sort of Jeff Goldblum/Fly scenario, were now an integral part of the boy. It's a theory I suppose.

Clearly his head hair is still growing and will become long flowing locks in the fullness of time.

As usually happens in nature, getting him in there only took a few seconds but it took a damn sight longer getting him out !!   The pain was intense, the procedure traumatic and embarassing and a severe loss of dignity was the order of the day.

But seriously, I think the irony of this was that I'd never have gone in there a few years ago but now it's a case of......hell, why not ?  

And they say old men revert to being like babies.  I think I may have just posted the proof of this statement.

(A big thanks to Daphne for the use of her photograph/ultrasound)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Spaceman Meets Famous Blogger..........

We went to the Kennedy Space Center today (Fri) and Daffy and Stephen are still geeked up many hours later. I remember I was the same back in 1989 when I went there for the first time.  Now I'm an old hand who has seen it all before.

While they went off on a behind the scenes tour out to see the launch pads, Saturn V area and VAB, I walked around the center and met up with and chatted with an old friend, the astronaut.......well have a guess. Many kudos to whoever comments with his name.

Thankfully I noticed his name was stitched onto his fleece, just under the mission badge so have removed that to keep the 'game' alive.

Anyway it's quite late and I'm very tired as all that space has taken it out of me.

You could say I'm spaced out.

You COULD, but you probably wouldn't. So I did.

So g'night from the Country Inn & Suites, Cape Canaveral where we're roughing it for 2 nights. Back to the KSC in the morning where more famous people might want to meet me ! 

Blogging fame can be so fleeting.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Silverback On Tour

Tonight we're on the west coast of Florida, in North Redington Beach to be precise.

This was a photo taken from the hotel balcony at sunset.

Nuff said.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Day 1 - This Is America

Ok don't panic.  I'm not going to be giving a daily diary type post for the next 13 or so days that Daphne and Stephen are here in Florida. 

Daphne will probably do that !!  

Or at least she will once I get her out of the pool and get her Eee set up on our wi-fi.

But as this is the first full day of their trip here, I thought I'd post something about it.

They arrived last night seconds before midnight and I was certainly shocked when I went to the park entrance to meet them.  They'd talked about getting a medium to large sized 4 door saloon so all of us could tour Florida in comfort.  What did I see them get out of ?

A bright red 2 door Ford Mustang !!

Fantastic sports car but not too practical for touring with 4 adults. Yes it seats 4 but the back seat passengers have as much of a view out their tiny windows as passengers on a plane. Less even.

They realised at the time that it wasn't the type of car they'd ordered but were told if they wanted to change it, they'd need to return to the rental desk and see 'the man' and as they'd just spent 90 minutes in line to get to 'the man', they quite rightly decided to put up with the car for now.

Touring on my own I'd have LOVED this car. Sighhhhhhhh

Anyway, this morning was a bit like a mini Christmas except that the goodies were all coming one way- to us - and none of them were wrapped.  I liked that.  We got a packet of jammie dodgers, a Terry's chocolate orange egg and a box of jaffa cakes.  Wooohooo.  We felt like WW2 prisoners getting a food parcel from the Red Cross. The difference being we're NOT passing the goodies on to the escape committee as for one thing, we don't want to escape from here and for another, there is no escape committee.  Oh and the war ended 63 years ago. Hurrah.

Be that as it may, the goodies were very well received and to pay them back for such generosity, we're letting them take us out to supper tonight.  I know, I know.  There is no limit to our thoughtfulnesss.

Then we went to a craft fair, or fayre, that was taking place in the park and after that I took them for a spin around Buttonwood Bay in the golf cart which, I think, went down pretty well. We saw one gator and lots of the birds I've photographed over the last few weeks.  Then we went into Sebring for lunch and a brief trip to WalMart and then it was back to the park where I found out that Leeds had won 4-1, so hurrah again.

We discussed what we'd do for the rest of their holiday and so far the plan is to chill for another day here (Sunday) and then leave for the West coast to see a bit of Tampa and Clearwater and all the wonderful beaches over there.  Then we'll return to the park.  Over Thanksgiving, we'll leave Debby and Dennis to enjoy the time with US friends and I'll go with Daphne and Stephen across to the East coast for our 2 day visit to the Kennedy Space Centre, the highlight of the trip.

The shuttle Endeavour is due to land on Saturday 29th at 2pm but even though we're so close, we've decided not to try and plan being at the KSC on that day. The weather might force a landing in California or elsewhere (although looking at the forecast, that seems unlikely) and in any case, the public has no special access to landings.  We'd see as much just parked along the road.

Then Daphne presented me with a bottle of HP sauce and some packets of Sainsburys own brand instant parsley sauce.  I'd asked for these and it was sweet of her to bring them.  What can I say.  I love the damn parsley sauce and although one CAN buy HP sauce here, it costs a fortune.

Just a few minutes ago, Daphne and Stephen went off to the pool on the golf cart as Daphne was champing at the bit to get wet. It's a British thing.  We need to get wet on a regular basis or we dry up and crumble into a pile of dust.

And that's about it so far.  The location for supper hasn't been decided upon yet but it looks like it may be The Outback as it does the best steaks in town.

Here endeth the Day 1 diary entry and normal blogging service will be resumed as soon as possible.......probably tomorrow.  But no promises.

Houston, The Duck Has Landed !!!

The Brits are here, the Brits are here !!!!!!

Daffy just rang me from the Perkins Restaurant we'd arranged for her and Stephen to go to for their first meal after arriving in Orlando.  Ok maybe not the best place to have your first experience of food in America but there aren't many choices on the route from the airport to here.

The only news I got was that the line at the car rental place was very long and very slow moving and that was why, even though their plane landed at about 6pm, they'd only managed to get to the restaurant by 9:30pm - a restaurant 30 miles from the airport.

But the important thing is....they survived the flight, got through immigration and customs and are in Florida safe and sound.  Hurrah, as Daffy would say.

As they are now only 63 miles away, they should be here in the park between 11pm and midnight and probably ready for bed. It's been a long day for them and I'm sure I'll hear all about it over coffee in the morning.

Suddenly I won't be the only Brit in the village....I mean the park !!  Daffyd would be impressed.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Houston, The Duck Is In The Air.

Daffy and Stephen are somewhere west of Ireland right now, heading like snowbirds towards the warmer temps of Florida...well for 2 weeks anyway.  They're probably at 37,000ft in their Virgin Atlantic 747-400 and should pose no real threat to the ISS or the Space Shuttle Endeavour !  

Ok so Endeavour/ISS are over Africa right now but in terms of the Universe, that's close enough to count as a close encounter.

I told them to book with Virgin Galactic but my phone msg got messed up getting to Leeds.

Of course if they should have to climb higher to avoid bad weather, I'll be straight on the phone to NASA and have them ask the ISS crew to keep an eye out for them.  The shuttle crew have been a bit slap happy with leaving tools floating around up there this visit and the last thing an already nervous Daffy needs is to see a screwdriver floating past her window. Anything floating on or past a plane is never a good thing. 

Back down here on earth, we're trying to get this place ready for the arrival of 2 more adults.  This isn't easy as it's basically 2 trailers joined together with 3 adults (and a Pixie) in here already.  It'll be cozy to say the least but all good fun too.  It's a pity in a way that they'll be arriving at the park in darkness (between 9pm and 10pm tonight) but as they'll be tired and just want to get to bed, I guess it's better that way.  Their internal clocks will be in sync with US time from the start.

Of course they haven't got a bed here, but I've not told them that yet !!   Only kidding.

We have no plans made at all.  Tomorrow will be spent in the park just letting them chill (not literally although we're just coming out of a cool spell) and we can discuss things then.  They do want to go across to the Kennedy Space Centre and as the entrance ticket is good for 2 consecutive days, it'll make sence to get a motel over there rather than making a round trip of about 260 miles to be there the following morning.

Another place they've mention wanting to visit is The Everglades.  I told them they just needed to visit my garden in Leeds which should be looking a lot like The Everglades by the time I return at the end of March. I plan to charge admission.

My initial idea is to just do the typical tourist 'thing' and drive down the East coast to below Miami, straight along the bottom (which will get us to The Everglades) and up the West coast 
to Tampa and back to the park in Sebring.  This route pretty much takes in most of what is worth seeing in mid to south Florida (sorry you lot in the North......maybe next time) as the central part of the state is as dull as dishwater - in my opinion. It'l also take us to all the beaches which are the main attraction in Florida anyway.  Disney you say ?  Universal you say ?  

Thankfully none of us are theme park fans so we'll be staying well away from them.

Anyway they've been in the air for just over 2 hrs now so should be getting something to eat (well only if they like airline food) and Daffy should've been on her feet and walking about at least twice to help with her DVT.  As long as she's not carrying a box cutter and doesn't approach the flight deck, she should be ok.  Stephen, being Stephen, has probably been asleep since leaving Leeds in a taxi.  We'll wake him up tonight when he gets to the park.  No doubt he'll just think he's in Barnsley.

To be continued............

Well Buggy Me !!

I love reading about studies, I really do.

Give a bunch of 'experts' a bit of funding, a clipboard and a stopwach and they'll go through that funding like a Presidential Candidate.

The latest gem to pass my eyeline is the study of how a child's development can be affected by the direction in which he/she is facing when out in their buggy/pushchair.  

The article got off to a flying start with this sentence.

More than 2,700 parent-infant pairs were observed across the UK and a smaller study was done in Dundee.

I'm sure the happy citizens of Dundee were not aware until now that they weren't a part of the UK !!  They've had independance granted to them without so much as a claymore raised in anger.

But back to this research.  It seems that when little Timmy or Tabitha are facing mommy, their average heart rates drop slightly and they laugh more.  Go figure.  If I was being pushed along a street with everything from adult legs to slobbering dogs coming at me, I think my heart rate would go up too.

The Dundee part of the study involved 20 mother/baby pairs travelling along a one mile stretch of a street. For half the trip, the baby was seated in a buggy facing away from the mum and the other half facing her. 

I wonder which came first ?  I don't think it's rocket science to discover that if a child is happily facing it's mommy for a half a mile ride and then gets removed and plunked away from her for another half mile that it will be a bit stressed.  Seriously pissed off I'd have thought. 

Only one baby laughed during the away facing ride but half laughed when facing the parent. Again, what a revelation.  Were the moms allowed to interact, maybe make a funny face or tell a joke ?  Maybe that one baby was a bit slow and only got the joke when it was on the away facing ride. 

Seems to me that every such study or piece of research usually has words like 'may' or 'could' or 'might' embedded in the findings.  This one is no different.

Children who are put in buggies which leave them facing away from their parent could have their development undermined, a study has suggested.

But studies can (may, might, could) be useful  - even this one.  Anything that gives parents more help with getting little Timmy or Tabitha to develop better and be less stressed has to be a good thing. Personally I'd want a study done to see if playing Amy Winehouse through some buggy speakers would help with the child's development ?  What about plunking a virtual reality helmet on their little heads and showing them non stop epsiodes of The Teletubbies ?

I think the kid would probably arrive home with eyes like saucers and a brain mushed beyond repair.

But give me the funding for such a study and I'll have a go at it.  Even in Dundee.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Winter's Tale

At a time when newspaper headlines here continue to remind us that the US economy is in a right old state, car manufacturers and banks need to be bailed out to the tune of $billions and that large parts of California have gone up in smoke, it's refreshing to read that my local newspaper back home in Yorkshire has its finger squarely on the pulse of what its readers want to know.

I suspect this headline will have been discussed over many a pint in Leeds pubs today. And yes, the writer knew exactly what he was doing.

Or maybe it's just me !!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Moon's A Balloon

By the way, if you've never read David Niven's first volume of his autobiography (same name as the blog title), then do yourselves a huge favour and beg, borrow or steal it - it's probably the best autobiography I've ever read and I've read a few.  

Ok 3 maybe, but it's still an excellent read.

So anyway, last Friday a few of us from the park (that's Buttonwood Bay if you didn't know) drove a few miles to the Sebring Racetrack to watch a balloon festival.  Personally I wasn't expecting too much but the description, balloon festival, was almost what we got.  One balloon !

Damn their cunningly worded posters !!!  Now we know what happens to ex White House script writers.

We had read somewhere that they usually get about 20 balloons at this shindig but 15 of them must've decided it just wasn't worth the effort and so we were left with 4 simple classic balloons and one that was in the shape of a dog.  For a few tantalising minutes anyway.

We'll never know if they had a problem with the blowers or if the wind just was too strong, but just as the front legs of the pooch were beginning to take shape and leave the ground, the crowd and the balloon became equally deflated and suddenly we were down to 4.

We weren't in Albuquerque anymore, Toto.

But at least we had ReMax who always have a balloon at these events - I mean it's a realty company with a hot air balloon as it's logo so it HAS to be at any balloon festival going.

The idea on Friday was to give paying customers a tethered ride in the balloon of their choice and of course, most had lined up for a ride below the doggie. With Rover now lying in an airless heap on the ground, attention switched to the 4 remaining rather drab balloons, remembering that one was probably last used over the offices of the local estate agents.

Our little group headed for the balloon that looked like it was being tended by people who actually knew something about balloons. Given that any balloon 'flight' can be rather dangerous, statistically speaking, then picking one that is tethered at the basket end and not just at the top of the balloon seemed like a good idea.

It was.

As the evening wore on, we all watched with some initial amusement as the balloon that had ropes only connected to its top started to rise up and get caught by the wind. It swayed dramatically from side to side, giving the mid Florida spectators a glimpse of what it's like watching Amy Winehouse in concert.

Amusement turned to alarm as the swaying became more was now in serious Oliver Reed mode and the crowd below gave it a wide berth. The good (and bad) bit about a small show like this was that we could all get as close to the balloons as we wanted. Several people had to be treated in the medical tent for scorched nose hairs as when they fire up those blowers, anyone standing near the basket with a raw drumstick and 11 kinds of herbs and spices would soon be happily munching on a meal worthy of the Colonel himself. 

But more dangerous than the hot flames were the guy ropes. These connected the balloons to the backs of the trucks they came in - just to make sure the Sebring Festival didn't become the Miami Festival. Like I said, our swaying balloon friends seemed to have made a potentially catastrophic mistake by not tethering the other end of the ropes to the basket. This meant that, once launched, there was very little control as pulling down on the ropes only caused the balloon to slowly descend straight down whilst the basket swung around it like Evel Knievel on a wall of death.

Sadly I've no photos of this added 'attraction' as night photography is not one of my strengths at the best of times and I struggle enough with fixed objects. This was NOT a fixed object, much as the balloon crew wished it was.

Here is a shot of three of the other balloons.............kind of.

These ones are almost ready for fare paying passengers but I'm not sure they ever got any. It all got a big manic and confused as the human lines broke frequently and people dashed from one balloon to another in hopes of getting onboard. This brought its own dangers as the aforementioned guy ropes were now strung across the area in various stages of tautness and some serious garotting could've ensued if it weren't for alert bystanders constantly shouting "duck."

As you can see from the photo above, it took several handlers to cope with each frisky balloon and the idea was to have a new passenger climb onboard at ideally the same time as one got off. This led to numerous amusing incidents with the basket gliding across the grass with embarking and disembarking passengers hopping about madly with one leg on the ground and the other inside the basket.

It was one of those sights I'd have happily paid to have watched but having it performed in front of me for free was just the icing on the cake.

Having already diced with death just getting into the damn basket, the passengers might well have been ready for a decent ride, albeit a tethered one. Sadly this was not to be the case and low flying Jumbo Jet pilots need not have been concerned.

When I tell you that I didn't need my zoom lens to take that photo, you'll get the idea. I'm not great with distances either (as my golfing partners will tell you), but I'd say the basket rose about 20 feet. Enough to give you a good shaking up if you fell out but not enough to give you a nose bleed within the basket.

Still, it was a fun evening and as I'd slathered on enough bug goop to see off a biblical hoard of locusts, I only got one bite. The trouble was that I stank like a camel driver's jock strap and as we were going out to eat afterwards, I had to be driven home for a shower.

Smelling somewhat sweeter, we drove to the Olive Garden and as it was 7:50pm and the space shuttle Endeavour was due to launch in 5 minutes time, we drove past the restaurant and over behind a row of stores to their delivery area which afforded a view of the NE sky devoid of street lights. And waited.

7:55pm came and went. Nothing.  Maybe there had been a last minute delay.

Then right before our eyes, an area of the sky lit up as though someone a few miles away had switched on a bunch of those 6 zillion candle power lanterns. Seconds later a small incredibly bright object appeared and rose slowly but majestically upwards. The best way to rise, I always think !! In classic Hollywood fashion, Deb and I both said........OH MY GOD. I always maintained nobody really did that - but we did. And in unison. For about 10 seconds we watched, spellbound, as Endeavour started on her voyage to the International Space Station before she was enveloped by the clouds.

It was a magical moment.

So there you have it. Two free shows on one night. One had lasted about 2 hours and the other, about 12 seconds.

I know which one will live with me for the rest of my life and that's not just a load of hot air !


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Maybe Too Much Information

I've never been one to tell too much about myself and my 'history' on this blog.  The thing is, over the years, personal items get mentioned at times and if anyone cared enough to make notes, they'd pretty much know as much about me as most of my real life friends !  Probably more.

But as in my non internet life (yes I do have one, albeit a sad, miserable one !!), things can get confused and people forget and portions of a life story can become as jumbled up as headphone chords on an mp3 player.  

As this personal info has all been aired on this blog at some point over the last couple of years, I'm not giving any new secrets away but putting it all into one post may help clarify things for anyone who cares. And who knows, maybe others may do the same as I know I get confused (and make embarassing gaffs) about the names of bloggers and more to the point, their relationships with other bloggers. Yes, YOU know who you are !!

So, sounding like a newbee at an AA meeting, (I'm virtually standing up now), lets begin..........

My name is Ian and my blogging name is Silverback.  Feel free to use either.

I was born in 1952 in N. Ireland but since 1973, I've lived in Leeds, England.  I'm single, never married.  Just one of those things !

My dad died in 1986 (74) and my mum in 2003 (80). I have one brother (58) who lives with his wife in Wales.  Both were teachers and although retired, moved from Yorkshire to mid Wales a couple of years ago and run a superb B&B and holiday cottage business, so feel free to stay with them anytime you are in the area.  There, that's got the family plug over with.

I've been a blogger since 4th May 2006 and this is my 297th post. Prior to this, I had been blog post free for less than 24 hrs so I guess I'm an addict.  But I don't need help.  I don't think.

I chose Silverback as a blog name as my US friends (more about them later) had just bought a monster 5th Wheel to replace my travel trailer over here and it was called a Silverback.

Of course I thought this would be a fairly unique name in the blogging world but I now realise I share my name with everything from a gorilla to a computer application.

Moving on........

I started visiting the US on June 16th 1989 with the obligatory trip to Florida and my current visit here this year is my 23rd. For some reason I took a break from the US in 1999 but that's been the only 'missing' year so far. This Christmas will be my 11th spent in America since 1989, so more than half. My shortest visit was 3 weeks and my longest, 9 months.  I've also worked out that in the 96 months from Jan 2000 to the end of this year, I'll have spent exactly half of them (48) here in America.

Obviously I like America (ya think !) but I'm well aware of the problems here. No country can be 'the greatest in the world' and it seems you either love or hate this place with equal intensity. I never try to change anyone's mind about this and I simply relate my experiences to maybe redress the perception of America for those people who have never been here or may have visited for only a few weeks. You really have to spend time here to get to know the place. The country is a touring dream and it can't all be seen in one lifetime. In my experience the people are open and friendly and what you see, is really what you get.

I've visited every state except Alaska and been on several cruises while on holiday here. Over the years I've made many US friends but none closer than the couple from Michigan. It's not for me to tell much about them on this post but most of my regulars should know who they are.

With my with solo touring days mostly behind me, I started staying exclusively with them from about 2000 when I took a sabbatical from work and spent 9 months here. On my return to the UK in January 2001, I found it VERY hard to get back into the work ethic (employers who offer sabbaticals take note) and imediately started the countdown to my 50th birthday and possible retirement. Then fate took a hand and within a few weeks, my company (IBM) were looking for volunteers to take early retirement and my hand shot up faster than a addict at a drug sample giveaway.

And so it was that I retired on my 49th birthday on 25th June 2001, barely 5 months after my 9 month US trip which had sown the seeds of retirement in my mind for the very first time. Officially I think one has to be 50 to retire so IBM simply gave me a years salary in a lump sum (tax free) to get over that little problem !  I didn't protest.

Since then I've been coming here to the US for 6 months at a time as this is the longest I can be here on a tourist visa. My Michigan friends also retired and after a trip together down here to Florida, we agreed to get a place here for the winter months (well 7 months for them and 6 for me).  I now come in October ever year and stay till the end of March. We have a place in a retirement community park just a couple of miles south of Sebring, Florida and we all love life here.

My 'Michigan' friends bring their little doggie, Pixie, with them of course and I've known her since they got her almost 9 years ago. She doesn't miss the Michigan weather at this time of year either and enjoys barking at all the other dogs in the park. I estimate there are about 70 dogs and 6 cats in the park as retired people do enjoy having pets. There are very strict guidelines about owning a pet here so none run free and all poop is picked up.

One of the main reasons for wanting to retire early, apart from the usual, was that I'd had a heart attack on 22nd Nov 1992 (yes I was just 40) which was followed by a quintuple CABG. Statistics told me this procedure had a 'life' of about 12-15 years and sure enough, to prove statistics rarely lie, I had another heart attack on 20th July 2005. As this came just 6 days before I was due to fly to America again, I was seriously pissed off. This time I was treated with extra medication as another bypass was not recommended.

Since then I've been heart attack free and I can highly recommend it.

As a last point, and to keep it firmly in my mind, my 10 year US visa expires next year and so on my return to the UK at the end of March, I need to plan on getting a new one. This isn't as simple as it used to be (send off your passport to the US Embassy and wait a few weeks) and as it now involves a trip to London and an interview with Homeland Security, it could happen that I'm not given one. They've never been too happy with me coming here so often and for so long (go figure) and on several occasions I've been taken off to a little room and held for hours while they flex their muscles and almost make me beg to enter their country and spend my money here.

So if my new visa is refused, well it honestly doesn't bear thinking about. I may have to spend my winter months in New Zealand or somewhere - Kate be warned.

And I think that's about it. Oh sure I could tell you much more but then I'd be both sending you to sleep AND cutting down on topics for future posts.

After all, even a 56 yr old needs to have some mystery in his life.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

When Does Dog Tired Become Dog Lazy ?

I've not posted much of anything about Pixie this year and I thought regular readers might like an update.

She's not been the same little doggie since her life saving back surgery just over a year ago but she's happy, loved and still with us, which is all we can hope for these days. She walks like quasimodo, pees and poops where and when the mood takes her and knows her limitations so doesn't even try to climb up or jump up onto anything more than 6 inches high.

All a bit like me really !!

But she loves being held and will almost have all her feet off the ground as she gets so excited at the prospect of being lifted onto a knee.

Again, a bit like me.

Ok I gotta stop these comparisions now.  For a start, I'm quite fussy about sitting on knees and she isn't.

So as we all winter together in sunny Florida, Gods waiting room, I think she's finally taken the retirement ethic fully on board herself.  Back in Michigan she'll get out of bed and with her Chaplinesque gait, waddle across to her food bowl for a spot of breakfast buffet.  

Things are somewhat different here in Buttonwood Bay however................

I sense a very thin line between being laid back a la Jimmy Buffett and being downright lazy, again like me. I think the next logical step will be for her to expect breakfast IN bed but we're not letting her know that's an option.

It was quite funny watching her snap up a ball of food and back up onto her bed to eat it, repeating this sequence until she'd had enough to eat.

Then she settled down to let it all process and gave me a look as if to say "what a clever little doggie I am"

What's that saying about old dogs and new tricks ?

I don't think anyone told Pixie about it.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Boldly Going......Once Again.

For those of you who are not already close to the Kennedy Space Centre in sunny Florida and who wanted to watch the launch of the space shuttle Endeavour live, well I hate to tell you but you've left it a bit late now !

She launches in under 4 hrs time. So Daffy, sorry but maybe next time.

You'll be here for the landing though.

Anyway here is a nice photo I took earlier today and yes, there are 2 shuttles on their respective launch pads. You know Americans. Always enough money for a spare.

In case you're wondering, I used a ladder.

Ok so it's an official NASA photo and hopefully they'll not sue me for posting it here. Lots of grovelling gratitude and acknowledgements blah blah blah.

Anyway we're off in a few minutes to go to the local Sebring racetrack for a balloon festival which is always good fun. They are due to light them up in a sort of lumiere performance which seems to be the balloon equivalent of F1 cars revving their engines before a race. All show and not much movement.

After that, at 7:55pm EST, we'll look to the north east and if the sky is clear, we might see a little flaming dot heading into orbit.

One can only hope it'll be Endeavour and not one of the balloons which has broken it's tether and floated off in a vain attempt to dock with the space station.

Space Station : Ah Houston, we have a problem.

Houston : Roger, Space Station.

Space Station : We see a large Tony The Tiger outside !

Houston : Grrrrrrrreat.

Now at a time when manned space missions have lost their audience, THAT would be a ratings winner.

I'm taking my camera just in case................

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