Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Summer Vacations

Tomorrow it'll be 4 weeks until I leave Florida and in some ways I'm ready for going home.

I love so much about America that it used to be difficult to leave but that tended to be in my pre retirement years when I'd only be here for a few weeks at a time. Of course, going back to work was an added reason for not wanting a holiday here to end.

Being here for 6 months at a time is great and after doing it for several years now, I'm pretty used to living half my life in America. Spending Oct-Mar in America and April-Sept in England, I should be able to benefit from the best weather that both countries have to offer.

In theory.

The only thing more optimistic than planning anything around the weather in England is to have gone out in August last year and bought a Leeds United League One Champions 2008 t-shirt.

Just plain stupid.

Here in sunny Florida things are somewhat different. If you arrange to play golf two weeks on Thursday, you can be pretty darned sure that it'll be both hot and sunny for your round and you'll only need an umbrella to ward off the sun.

If I try that in Leeds even in mid July, the chances are it'll be cool, breezy and that umbrella will be used to stop me from looking more like a drowned rat than a fearsome Tiger.

But unpredictable weather aside, England has plenty to offer me for the 6 months I'll spend there.

Being closer to mainland Europe than Florida is one thing ! I know this will lose many of my US readers but stay with me here. It's a short ferry crossing or, thanks to the Channel Tunnel, an even shorter car ride to what most people call Europe. Or France, if you're a blond contestant on a US quiz show. Somewhere close to Australia anyway.

I've not travelled much in Europe as since 1989, all my trips abroad have been to.....America. Every single one. About 22 round trips to date.

So this summer I hope to redress the geographical balance a bit and go 'do' some of Europe. Now I don't plan on becoming a 1980's US type tourist and take 2 weeks to have a whistle stop coach tour of 25 countries ! This sort of tour actually coined the expression 'whistle stop' as the tourists only had time to whistle in each country before moving on to the next one. This got very confusing in Alpine countries as the echo led them to believe they'd visited Switzerland twice and they never actually realised they'd visited Austria at all.

No, I'd like to take a more leisurely tour around only a few countries and get to see them in some detail. I think they deserve this as some of them have been around a long time and have a few sites (and sights) worth seeing. Well except for those funny ex Russian countries; oh and Serbia; and Montenegro; and maybe Croatia. Or are they all the same ? Shit, I've been here too long.

I'm going to start with a few of the REAL European countries and pass on the newbies for now. I'd like to visit Southern France for instance, and Italy of course and some parts of Austria or maybe Switzerland too. Then Spain and Portugal could come into the plans and there is always Poland and Germany.........oh God I can hear the whistle. I'm with that bloody coach party in 1985 with 3 film cameras and a suitcase sized VHS camcorder slung around my neck, chewing a wad of tobacco and handing out money to the stallholders saying "here, you local person you, just take as much of this mickey mouse money as you need and why aren't you speaking English anyway ???"

My plans are in the early stages of development as you can see. I'm not even sure if I want to drive my car over t'Europe and tour that way or take a cheap flight directly from Leeds to somewhere like Nice or Venice and rent a car from there. Given the high cost of petrol and how much time and money it would involve driving down through France to get to the interesting countries (hehe......sorry but I don't get any French readers so sod 'em), a fly/rent option might be best.

For one thing, the steering wheel would be on the right side. The wrong side of course but the right side. Would make overtaking a lot safer, except in Italy where all driving is geared to putting you into an early grave.

So over the next few weeks I'll be looking at maps and getting ideas. Naturally I'll buy my maps when I get home as a map of anywhere other than one of the US of A is rarer here than a baseball player NOT on performance enhancing drugs.

I also hope my pilot has a GPS device when I leave here.

"In 3450 miles, turn right, then turn left. In 200 miles drop gradually to zero feet. Taxi for 350 yards. You have arrived at your destination".


Friday, February 22, 2008

But It's All-You-Can-Eat, Mr Bumble !!

Sometimes I eat just to fill my stomach. I don't really care what I eat at such times as long as it's something from my short list of 'things wot I like to eat.'

I don't often stop to think how lucky I am to live in a society where I can have this gastronomic luxury when millions less fortunate than me simply want to eat to survive.

Of course this also applies to many other luxuries that we in the so called developed countries take for granted. We seem to accumulate more and more 'necessities' every year and so widen the gap between the haves and the have nots. That's the whole basis of innovation and invention as quite often the item that gets developed is a pure luxury item and even if it seems to make our lives a little easier, it can't be classed as a necessity. And yet often we do.

We often hear the phrase 'I don't know what I did without it' when talking about some new purchase. We've been saying that recently about the GPS device Deb bought Dennis at Christmas. It's wonderful and very helpful and may be the bestest Christmas pressie in the world........ever !!

Now we can get lost not only by our own stupidity but also thanks to some electronic glitch in the GPS software. We also know exactly how far lost we are, how long it will take us to become unlost and where to find the nearest McDonalds so we can have a Happy Meal while discussing our lostness. I'd call that innovation.

If those people on that island had such technology, well I guess the show would not be called Lost for a start. Maybe 'A Bit Lost' or 'Lost, But We Know Just Where We Are Too'. Not very snappy.

Anyway I just wanted to focus on food for this post. I may return to the joys of GPSing another time - especially after I get home and buy one myself. Well it's a necessity after all and will be very handy for finding my way to the smelly aisle in Sainsburys for a start. I wonder if it could guide Leeds United back to The Championship this season ? It's asking a lot.

So back to food. On Wednesday evening we went out to eat and when asked for my choice of eatery, I had a mental meltdown and suggested the Golden Corral in nearby Lake Placid. Oh dear.

The Golden Corral is to food what Hitler was to universal peace and harmony in Western Europe circa 1939-1945. Well that's not quite fair actually. Hitler was a power crazed madman long before 1939.

And again to be fair, the GC does serve up some reasonable quality food. It's just that it serves up a LOT of reasonable quality food. It's a buffet chain you see, a concept totally alien to those outside America. For a one off payment, you can eat all you want from an incredible selection of food items and as soon as I stepped through the doors, I realised I'd made a horrible mistake.

I have no willpower when it comes to food. I've no idea why I'm not obese. I've a very good idea why I'm overweight and 2 heart attacks don't seem to have altered my approach to eating very much. Bypass surgery and a daily plethera of pills seem to have given me the idea that all is now well internally and so I can eat what I jolly well want.

Well if I keep going to places like the Golden Corral, those words will soon be carved on my headstone.

I'm like a deer caught in some lingering set of headlights. I KNOW I shouldn't be eating there but I just can't help myself. I think the contestants on The Biggest Loser should be taken there as a test sometime to see how they get on. I may go in with the best of intentions (I mean it does have a salad bar after all) but I always come out with those intentions blown all to hell and with a stomach groaning under the newly arrived weight of 2500 calories. Even then I look back fondly at the dessert counter and actually want to pop back to take a last cookie on the way to the car.

Oh it's such a devilishly enticing smorgasbord.

So last Wednesday I'm sitting there again, cutting into a fresh slab of sirloin steak with mashed potatoes, gravy and bbq spare ribs on the side when visions of Africa form in my mind. I can't even enjoy overeating without these sobering images penetrating my consciousness.

It's all that bloody Bob Geldorf's fault you know. We didn't have poverty and starvation before he came along.....and told us about it. Damn you Bob. Sir Bob I mean. Sorry.

I look around me and see half finished meals being scraped away while the customer goes back to the troughs to fill up a fresh plate. I mean why eat some food item that has gone a bit cold when there is plenty more of it hot and steaming just a few feet away ?

And then I do the very same myself !!! My mashed tatters have gone cold and even though I've a large lump of black angus beef and a few spare ribs on my plate, I decide I want half a rotisserie chicken now and maybe a few scoops of bourbon street chicken to help it slide down. I hardly have to move from my chair to get to it. New plate please.

Fully stuffed and with no room for even a single b&w image of an African village to mentally slow me down, I waddle to the dessert section where I dismiss the tiny plates available and grab a much larger dinner plate so that I can sample several of the nummy cakes, cookies, gateaux and ice creams on offer. I take a huge slice of a coconut banana carrot strawberry angel cake knowing that it'll take seconds to get past my lips and months to get off my hips - as they say. Possibly never to get out of my arteries.

Images of Africa are replaced by the wagging finger of my cardiologist. Yeah well where was that finger when I was deciding where to eat ? Why wasn't it pointing at a Subway or a Panera Bread ? Not much use to me now, pal.

And so I vow never to go there again. Never, never, never. Too much food. Too little willpower. And as for guilt. I've never known such guilt since Father Murphy gave me 10 Hail Mary's as my penance and I only said 8. I should've gone back in and confessed to that but I felt the pattern might have kept me there for some time. I didn't think my 'sin' warranted 10 Hail Mary's anyway as if Father Murphy had wanted his Playgirl magazine left alone, he shouldn't have left it on the altar.

So the Golden Corral. Good Thing or Bad Thing ?

Wellllll. I donno. At $9.69 (senior special including unlimited free drinks) you can eat till your eyes pop out. Much of the food is of a reasonable standard and a lot more is pretty tasteless pap.
Some is very good indeed.

But the very concept of an all-you-can-eat buffet is always hard to justify.

We're back to the luxury and necessity business again. Do we really NEED such a bewildering choice of food items ? Another point would be to say you can just pick a few fav items and have just one plate and leave. But come on, people. It's a buffet for goodness sake.

I guess I'm on the fence with this one. The chain must make a profit or it wouldn't do it. The customers must like it or they'd not go in such numbers.

Is it hard to justify ? Yes. Should we all feel bad going there ? Probably. Is there a terrible waste of food ? Certainly.

But if you go into a posh restaurant in London, Paris or New York and pay $500 for a truffle and a glass of plonk, should you feel any more or less 'guilty' about that when people are literally dying for want of food ?

So maybe it comes down to the waste. In the posh restaurant where, one supposes, all the food gets eaten, then the only issue is spending so much money for that food.

At the Golden Corral I'd have to think that almost as much food gets thrown away as eaten and it's very cheap so waste is the only issue there.

In terms of the posh restaurant, if you have the money, why not spend it however you want ? In terms of the buffet, if lots of food is available why not put it all out for people to eat. Not doing either wouldn't mean things would be any better in Africa. Maybe it should work that way, but it doesn't.

I guess having a GPS isn't a necessity at all. Maybe wanting to live in a time when a Golden Corral is common in Africa would be a much better idea.

The waste would be the same I'm sure but at least eating there wouldn't come with a huge side order of guilt.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Mooning In Buttonwood Bay

A lunar eclipse isn't much to write home about but that isn't going to stop me writing home about the one tonight !

And here it is as best as I could manage with a 200mm lens.

I know. Not very impressive is it ?

In fact it could just be a cloud passing over a normal boring old full moon.

Just 12 hours earlier, I'd experienced a much more impressive event. The twin sonic booms caused by the shuttle Atlantis as it flew over northern Florida on it's way to landing on runway 33 at the KSC.

We were sitting having breakfast when we heard what sounded like a giant landing both feet on our roof and the house shook briefly. I admit I'd forgotten about the landing and wasn't sure what the noise had been until a friend popped in a few minutes later on an unrelated errand and calmly asked if we'd heard/felt the shuttle sonic booms ?

Well yeah !

Anyway it was somehow appropriate to end the same day with this view of a lunar eclipse as both events were kinda space related.

One Man made and the other God made. I'd not want to offend the Great Man (or woman) but on today's experience, I'd have to say Man won hands down but God is still way ahead overall.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Snow, I See No Snow !!

We are safely back in sunny Buttonwood Bay (ok it's a bit dark right now as it's gone 10pm but don't get picky with me; it's been a long day) and once again I can laugh at those unfortunates up north who are still having to wear thick socks, long pants and hooded jackets - even in bed.

We had 5 days of that nonsense and we're glad to be back in Florida.

Actually the Hampton Inn & Suites in Okemos was lovely and I can highly recommend it. Just try it in summer though. It'll be a lot more pleasant I can tell you.

Anyway I've got about 350 photos of the two little tykes to work my way through and prune down to a more sensible number over the next day or so. As a result, I may be AWOL for a while !!

I'm also a bit tired now ( "awwww bless him for even coming on to write this post" I hear you say and you'd be right) but I wanted to let those who care know that we got back safe and sound, despite flying with Spirit Airlines.

Now I'd read a lot of bad publicity about them before the trip and I have to say I was a tad concerned. If you Google their name, the 3rd search result is a web site started by one disgruntled customer and it's grown in that peculiarly unique internet way to be a huge moaning forum for anyone who has ever had a less than happy experience with them.

But fair do's and all that. We had totally uneventful flights to and from Michigan. Our flight going was a little late coming in from Puerto Rico but they did a rush job on the cleaning of the plane (I didn't think flushing the toilet would've been too much to ask though) and we made up time in the air and only landed a few minutes late. Hurrah.

The flight back didn't just pull back from the gate on time but actually lifted off on time ! How often does THAT happen ? As a result we landed 15 minutes early back in Orlando so all in all, a big thumbs up to Spirit.

So I'm going to chill out, surf a bit and then get off to bed. I'll just leave this post with 3 photos to sum up the weather part of the trip to Michigan as I'm sure everyone has seen enough baby photos.

This was the view out the rental car window at 10:24 this morning as we started the drive to the airport in Detroit.

We'd actually been very lucky with the weather considering how much snow the state had received a few days prior to our arrival.

The first 3 days were bitterly cold of course but at least we'd had cloudless blue skies and little wind and that made being outside a little less daunting.

The last 2 days were like in this photo, overcast with strong winds and light falls of snow. The main roads were mostly clear but we did experience a few side roads and subdivision streets that were still covered with snow and/or ice.

It could have been much worse.

As we were driving along, I decided it'd be cool (or very cold actually) to take a reminder of the temp as we made our way to the airport.

As you can hopefully see, it was 14F and it had even gone up a couple of degrees from the moment when we left the hotel.

This was taken at 10:31 and was probably the high for the day.

Thankfully we'd not had to go outside much over the 5 days apart from the hotel to the car and from the car to someone's house or a restaurant.
It was just a bit too chilly to consider long walks in the park or a boat ride down the river. A walk ON the river might have been a laugh as every river we saw was iced over.

Anyway that was then and this is now, as some famous person once remarked. Now we're back in Florida and this was the photo I took inside the truck as we left Orlando airport at 5:29pm this evening.

This isn't as impressive as I'd hoped it would be as central Florida has had a couple of days of temps in the low 70's. It's still a nice 54 degrees warmer that it was for us 7 hours earlier.

I've just looked at the forecast for the next 9 days here and 7 of them show temps in the 80's with it reaching 86F on Friday. Wooohooooo.

Michigan should be a cold and distant memory when I wake up in the morning and once again see all the oldies power walking around the park roads. I can wear my shorts and t-shirts again and banish the fleece and jeans to the closet until the end of March.

Pixie was overjoyed to see us and pee'd and pooped in her excitement. Bless.

In Buttonwood Bay this isn't so unusual and I'm not talking just about the animals now !! It's that sort of place, remember.

But it's 'home' and we're glad to be back. I've only got another 5 weeks here before flying back to England so I'm going to make the most of this weather as I've a feeling England in April might just be a bit like Michigan in February.

I won't care. If I've a decent tan by then I'm going out in my shorts even if it's snowing. What's the point of wintering in Florida if no one knows about it when you go home.

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday snow. At least I think that's the song.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Cole & Mason & Freezing In Michigan

I'm learning pretty quickly that new babies don't really care that much about being photographed.

I mean they don't care that much about all the faces of relatives and friends peering down at them, being hoisted up from a warm cozy rocker up onto a cold boney shoulder and having a plastic bottle end shoved into their mouths when they just wanna go to sleep - so why would they get excited about some idiot leering down at them with a camera attached to his face ?

I suspect this is what Cole was trying to convey with this look he gave me yesterday. Nice one, son.

He's now a couple of months old but this was my first visit to see him.

He still wasn't impressed.

Deanna was kind enough to let me hold him and it made me think back to the last time I held a baby.

And I couldn't remember. No idea. Not something I do very often.

And it shows. I'm not really comfortable holding a baby.

But Cole helped me out by taking my finger in his little hand as if to say "here ya go big guy. I'll hold on tight and you concentrate on smiling for the camera. Wake me up when you're done"

Thanks buddy.

As well as not being interested in the goings on around them, babies like to sleep. They like it a lot. But everyone wants photos of eyes. Ohhhhh his eyes are so big. Ohhhhh his eyes are so blue. Ohhhh he was looking right at you there.

And so on. Eyes are important in baby photos.

Sadly Cole and his new cousin, Mason, could care less about eyes right now apart from liking them closed tight. They do that a lot.

Chances are, if you move a baby around enough times, the eyes will open.

And having seen the photos where this happens, I have to agree that they do 'make' a much more lasting impression.

Here Cole is being held by his great great aunt Therese who did seem to have got the knack of baby holding down to a fine art.

We watched in awe.

Yesterday it was 22F in Lansing (Michigan) so nothing like as cold as it has been here over the last few weeks.

But compared to the temps in sunny Buttonwood Bay, it was freakin' freezing here. Clothes wise we'd come as prepared as we could. In my case I didn't have much in the way of warm clothing as I didn't plan on being anywhere other than in Florida all winter.

So thankfully I did have a fleece and a heavy Detroit Lions football jacket and I've got them both here but it's STILL so cold.

The one good thing weatherwise is that's it's been clear blue skies since we got here and that does help a lot. As we drive around outside of the built up areas, the fields and buildings are all covered with a seasonal blanket of crisp virgin snow, unspoiled by the footprints of man or beast.

It all looks very pretty in a sort of Christmas Card sort of way and as long as the car is toasty warm on the inside, it's very pleasant to drive along and watch this sort of scenery flash by.

Once you stop and get out, it's a different story altogether !! The biting wind can take your breath away and memories of Buttonwood Bay seem almost as distant as the place itself.

Back with Cole, Debby was in her element holding her first grandchild.

She was sitting by a large window and so I was able to use existing natural light to highlight her face and pick out the baby's head.

This is where the zoom lens helps a lot as photos can be taken from a distance and yet still remain intimate.

After our time with Cole at her other grandma's home, we left and went to see Mason as he'd just been released from the hospital and was settling in at his home with dad Brian and mom Tara.

It was only about 15 miles away and we wanted to give them all time to get used to being at home so we went shopping first. We got to them about 6pm and the temp had dropped a few more degrees. Lovely.

Here is Brian doing his feeding thing as Mason isn't nursing quite yet.

It was a momentous occasion as feeding him at the hospital had been a struggle for everyone as he just wasn't that interested.

Last night, either because he was more settled at home or because daddy had developed a better technique, he scoffed the lot right down and we all cheered.

Hurrah. We live by such small successes.

Then he was placed in his cradle in the living room and he went right to sleep and not only that, he provided a 'Kodak Moment' in doing so.

Who needs open eyes when you can do a Mexican wave in your sleep ???

We left around 8pm so that the 3 of them could relax for their first night together at home as a family.

I just can't imagine how that must've felt.

We've been in touch already this morning and of course Brian and Tara hardly got a wink of sleep.

The joys of parenthood.

I took over 200 photos yesterday and that's the joy of digital photography. An instant result and the opportunity for instant retries if it didn't work out.

I'm my own biggest critic and rarely like the photos I've taken. But one I took yesterday did please me enormously and I'd be quite proud to have it in a frame somewhere.

I hope you like it too.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Mason Richard Braman

We're not in sunny Buttonwood Bay anymore, Toto !!!

We're about 978 miles further north and about 50F colder in white and freezing Lansing, Michigan and as promised, here are some photos of Mason, Deb & Den's 2nd grandkid.

After flying from Orlando to Detroit and then driving to Lansing, we arrived at Sparrow Hospital just before 8pm and went with mom Tara and dad Brian to the maternity ICU where Mason is still being kept.

It was feeding time and he's not feeding that well yet and so they may keep him in another day.

Brian and Tara were leaving the hospital about 10pm though and will be having their first night back home since the birth on Sunday.

This is a photo of a proud grandma holding her precious Mason who, it has to be said, wasn't all that overwhelmed by her flying up from sunny Florida just to see him.

I'm sure he'll be told all about this self sacrifice later in his life !!

The rules in the ICU were very strict and only parents and grandparents were allowed in for visits. Yes I'm now a grandparent !! My mom would be so proud. Very confused, but proud !

I just kept my mouth shut and did what I was told. (I was only following orders, m'lud). Only 3 people are allowed in at once so while I waited outside, Tara, Brian and Debby went in to see the little tyke.

After about 40 minutes, Brian came out and I took his place.

I had to wash my hands up to my elbows for 3 minutes and really clean my finger nails before I could start taking photos.

As I wasn't planning on holding Mason, I wasn't sure what that was all about but again, I did as I was told. My hands and arms germ free, I started clicking away and then absent mindedly picked my nose and wasn't sterile anymore !! D'oh.

Mason was feeding from a bottle but he wasn't all that keen. He just wanted to sleep and I knew how he felt. I'd hardly slept last night myself and after a fairly long day of travelling, I was ready to join him.

Debby went back out and Brian returned and I was able to get a quick photo of the new family.
It was quite cramped in the ICU as babies were all over the place and with all the incubators and cots and general hospital types things taking up space around us, I didn't get many really good photos but there will be time for those once Mason gets home.

So finally here is a photo of Tara, Brian and Mason, the latest addition to the Braman family.

Hopefully he'll be allowed to go home tomorrow but for tonight at least, Tara and Brian can sleep in their own bed in their own home and make the most of the peace and quiet.

Something tells me they're be at the ICU door first thing in the morning and who can blame them !!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

You Wait for Years For A Grandkid.........................

...................and then two come along together.

Well almost. Mason Richard was born an hour or so ago and joins his cousin, Cole, as Dennis and Debby's 2nd grandson.

His dad (Brian) is still up on the ceiling somewhere within the hospital and his mom (Tara) is busy being sewn up again (C-Section) so we have few facts apart from both mom and baby are doing just ticketty boo and at 9 lbs 1oz, Mason will be starting kindergarten next week !!

More to follow when we know it.

Update 1 : a few hours have passed and we've just had more news. Either we misheard the initial report about his weight or he's eating steak and chips already as he's 9lbs 10ozs.

He was also 21in which once again is something that gets reported here in the US.

Hopefully a photo will be 'internetted' soon.

Update 2 : they got to hold Mason briefly last night (didn't tell us till this afternoon (Tuesday)).
He had a slight case of jaundice and so will be kept in the hospital for several more days.

Update 3 : (Wed evening) Mason is out of the incubator and may be allowed home tomorrow when Tara is allowed home too. Brian has been with them since the birth so if any photos were taken, he's not had pc access to share them yet. Never fear, I'll be there from 3pm tomorrow so photos WILL be coming.

The One That SHOULD Have Got Away.

After the ranch safari last Tuesday, we were all starving and I felt I could've eaten a horse.

But as the only horse we'd seen was in a paddock and belonged to a staff member, we all decided to stop off in Lake Placid for something more traditional instead. Wild hog maybe !

We ended up at the Main Street Diner which is a very popular eatery in the area and there is usually a line of customers for most meal times. Lunch time on Tuesday was no exception and as there were 13 of us, I didn't hold out much hope of getting seated until supper time.....on Wednesday.

There were 2 parties of 6 ahead of us and yet after only about 10 minutes, our greeter and seater announced that our table was ready and with our heads bent low and our eyes even lower, we shuffled apologetically past the parties of 6 mumbling things like "sorry", "not our fault" and "we'll eat really really fast" to make up for jumping the line.

The drink orders were taken before our butts had time to spread into the corners of the seats and I rushed to peruse the extensive menu as I felt we were 'on the clock' and if nothing else, 12 sets of eyes were boring into my back from the entrance corridor. I thought about ordering a lettuce leaf (hold the dressing) just to be able to leave the table but the other 12 of us had settled down for the duration and so I relaxed and took my time.

The large table, or a combination of a couple of tables, was under a Union Flag which made me a little homesick. But not a lot.

I was also slightly upset that it was the right way up as I fancied the idea of telling them if it hadn't been so. I'm sad that way.

Here you can see Mary and Clair on the left of our table and next to Mary was Debby who had gone to the diner with the express wish to have one of their famous desserts.

So while the rest of us were working through the starter and/or entree choices, Debby had already made her choice of dessert and was ready for the waitress to reappear.

Reappear she did and she passed down the table taking our orders. Debby ordered her dessert and with a speed that had me checking out the waitress's feet for roller blades, it arrived before the rest of us had folded up the menus to put to one side.

This, of course, meant that Debby had to start eating her 'meal' while the rest of us looked on. Well I say the rest of us but really I mean everyone but Mary who made several attempts to make the eating of the dessert a shared experience.

Camera in hand, I wanted to record one of these sneak attacks for posterity but fearing a blurred outcome (as Mary's spoon action was faster than any setting that my camera could capture), I asked them to pose for a photo.

Doesn't look staged at all, I hear you say.

Maybe it was the presence of the flag over my head or the lack of anything else I fancied but I decided to order the fish and chips just to see what I'd get.

I've had meals described as fish and chips several times in America and the UK chippy industry can rest assured that nothing you can order over here will EVER put them out of business or even cause UK residents returning after a holiday here to say "oh how I miss those American fish and chips" Many things they do better than us, but delivering fish and chips is not one of them.

This was the latest variation and it takes a bit of explaining.

The chips, or fries, were fine. Very nice in fact and just how I like them. Actually tasted like they'd started off as potatoes.

But the fish.......ah the fish. I'm not sure my fish had ever been a fish at all. I suspect it had been genetically cloned from a picture of a fish. A photocopied picture of a fish.

The batter wasn't bad. Light and semi crunchy in a sort of moist crunchy way. Inside the batter was some sort of mushed watery fish paste with a consistancy only found after accidently standing on a Birds Eye Fish Finger back in the UK.

The fish this came from, if indeed this came from a fish at all, had to have been at death's door already and was probably grateful to have been caught up in the net. It had been a mercy killing.

The added presence of the fluffy KFC style biscuit only seemed bizarre if you didn't notice the little bowl of fresh fruit that also came with the meal. Definitely not something I'd expect Harry Ramsden 's to start adding to their fish and chips anytime soon. If ever.

All in all it wasn't a meal to remember although I did bring it up again (in conversation only) later that night when trying to work out why I was feeling a bit queasy prior to going to bed.

l'll be trying something different if we go there again, that's for sure. Maybe it was karma for being moved up the line ahead of those 2 parties of 6 !!

Speaking of fresh fruit, all the way from Lake Placid back to sunny Buttonwood Bay, US27 cuts through acres of orange groves and the rows of orange laden trees come right down to the roadside.

I was looking at them as we sped past and had my camera handy when I noticed one tree that looked like it had been shaken by the hand of some enormous giant. (Is there any other kind ?)

Most of it's oranges were just lying on the ground and the denuded tree looked slightly ridiculous next to it's neighbours.

What could have caused it ? Global warming ?
A sonic boom ? A tree sneeze ?

Yes a tree sneeze. That seems the most likely explanation after all. We had a cold snap a few weeks ago and this poor little tree probably caught a chill.

Before you dismiss my theory, I bet you're all picturing it in your minds now. A sort of Disney Pixar moment where Jaffa, the orange tree, is chatting away to his pals about the price of strawberries, feels the sneeze building up and suddenly........ahhh-tishooooooo !!!!!

An embarrassed silence is followed by his pals laughing their pips off as Jaffa stands almost naked before them.

Yep, even in Florida, he'd been Tango'd.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

I See No Wildebeest !!

Last Tuesday a load of us from sunny Buttonwood Bay went on a safari.

We flew 8,273 miles to south western Kenya and were taken by jeep out into the vast Serengeti National Park where we saw lions and giraffe and.............

Oh ok we drove about 20 miles south of Sebring to Buck Island Ranch to go on the Indian Prairie Safari !! Not quite the same I know, but you can only do what you can only do.

This 10,300 acre cattle ranch is home to the MacArthur Agro-ecology Research Centre and they have daily tours on a swamp buggy that take visitors out around the ranch where you have the opportunity to see everything from armadillos to river otters, from bald eagles to indigo snakes, from wild hogs to alligators and 161 species of birds.

I say you have the opportunity to see these critters but in reality, you're very lucky if you manage to see a few cows and a wild turkey. We did a little better than that and had a great day out.

The morning dawned with a heavy fog but we knew it would soon burn off and so it did. By the time the 15 of us got to the ranch at 8:45am and joined up with 2 others that were not from Buttonwood, the sky was blue, the sun was blazing away and the temperature was well on it's way into the mid 80's.

The swamp buggy was a pretty basic vehicle as you can see from this photo.

The eco warrior biologist, whose name I forgot seconds after hearing it, gave a little informational speech, asked for a volunteer to jump down and open the 4 gates we'd be passing through and then led us all aboard ol' swampy.

Actually it was called 'Ursus' but as that means 'bear' in Latin, I think ol' swampy is much more appropriate. There were no bears.

As I'd volunteered to be the gatekeeper, I sat at the back which also helped me to take photos without being in the way.

And so here is a photo of a very rare critter indeed - me - taken by Clair.

At this point we had just left the boarding area close to the main road and so this gravel track was only a prelude to the rather more jungle like terrain we would soon be coming to.

You can also see the gap in the vehicle's superstructure through which I'd be leaping like a graceful gazelle any time we came to a closed gate. There were steps down to the ground but hey, I'm not at that stage quite yet as I'd like to think I've a few more gazelle years still left in me.

The safari, if you can really call it that - and I am, was due to last between 2.5 and 3 hours and we'd been warned to dress as if it WAS a safari and bring plenty of water. Eldy was the one brave, or foolish, one to go hatless (and hairless, although to be fair, he was hairless long before the tour !!) while at the back, I was looking more homeless than hairless.

We soon left the relative comfort of the gravel and went onto a path I'd call more farm like than safari like. Early days yet.

Our eco warrior guide really needed some sort of PA system as most of her words were carried off by the wind.

She'd sometimes turn around to speak and we risked ending up IN the ditch rather than passing alongside it.

It all added to the excitement.

Up front you can see a platform area next to her driving position and on the occasions when she'd stop to give us a proper lecture, she'd stand on the box and pour forth. We were a captive audience and ohh'd and ahhh'd in all the right places.

Suddenly we saw a striped tailed animal crossing the field to the right and were informed it was a raccoon. Hurrah, we were off and running.

Then we came upon a couple of these birds which I believe were Sandhill Cranes.

They weren't easy to see against the prairie background and even less easy to photograph.

Nearly all the photos I took of mammals and birds were taken while we were bouncing along on ol' swampy so I had little option but to use the 'speed' setting on the camera.

It wasn't a day for experimentation with manual settings as often the shout of 'Deer !!' or 'Semipalmated Sandpiper !!' would go up and you'd have to be fast to spot it, never mind lay a lens on it.

And YOU try shouting out
Semipalmated Sandpiper. By the time you've said it, the damn thing has flown off. Cries of 'where, where' would go up and I'd be spinning like a Tasmanian Devil trying to follow all the pointing fingers, mostly pointing in different directions mind you.

We had a short lull in the excitement and had to make do with looking at herds of cattle as they grazed on the prairie. We were still having a gay old time but it was no Brokeback Mountain. The landscape was totally flat and boring although a few of the cattle were doing their best to entertain us with a fight that seemed rather staged for our benefit.

You can never tell what is real in Florida and I suspect a few animatronic cows had been introduced into the herd to liven things up. I think I saw our eco warrior pulling a few levers as we passed them by but she may just have been changing gear.

Being a farm boy, I'd seen cows before. Even living in Leeds, I'd seen cows before.

It's pretty hard NOT to have seen cows before but these were the first cows I'd ever seen grazing with palm trees in the background.

They deserved a photograph for that fact alone.

And here it is. Every time a farm vehicle would pass them by, they'd think it was feeding time and so when we came along and briefly paused by the fence, they really thought their luck was in and came galloping up to meet us. It was a real life stampede and we huddled close atop ol' swampy in fear for our lives. A stampede ?

Well it will be every time I tell the story.

Now here is a photo of a bird.

Sorry but that's about all I can tell you about it. I know more about the post it's sitting on. There IS a bird on top, honest.

It could be the lesser spotted chameleon quail of central Florida but it could also be a Bald Eagle.

Probably neither. I know nothing about birds.

We then came to a gate and I was thrust into the spotlight. Would I be up to it ? Would be safari grind to a halt while a replacement gatekeeper was found ?

I leapt through the gap and landed like a prima ballerina on the unyielding ground. I did almost fall at the next hurdle though as the fence chain was of a type I wasn't used to dealing with and it's fastening was a little tricky.

Thankfully nobody spotted my virgin fumblings (ahhhhh that takes me back !!) and I was able to swing back the gate to a generous round of applause from the buggy occupants.

In my dreams. It was more like a generous round of "what kept you ?" and "did you stop for lunch ?" than any sort of applause.

Once again thanks to Clair, we have indisputable digital proof of this event and you can even see the concerned looks from the buggyteers at the rear in case I'd be carried off by a low flying owl or a steroid popping armadillo.

Well they can be quite fierce I've heard.

For me, the opening and closing of the gate was a welcome break from constantly wanting to photograph the plethera of wildlife and awesome scenery that you can clearly see in this photograph.

What do you mean you can't see any ?

We came upon the living quarters of the biologists and other 'ologists' who call the ranch both work and home. There was a large water filled area in front of the dwellings and someone said there was a gator on the far bank. All eyes were trained on the location and much discussion took place as to the difference between an alligator and a dead tree branch. My 200mm lens was as useless as the Hubble Telescope at that distance but one of our party did have excellent binoculars and handed them we all could see the gator, for it was so, sunning itself for our delectation.

With our spirits soaring, we moved on and entered an area of shade produced by densely packed trees.

Our eco driver abandoned the recognised path and took us into the woods on some sort of personal mission to show us the burrowings of some sort of gopher tortoise hybrid - but I may have misunderstood what she said as I was trying to avoid having my eyes gouged out by overhanging branches which were auditioning as extras in a Wes Craven movie.

We saw neither gopher nor tortoise (nor burrowing for that matter) and soon we abandoned the search and were back on the beaten track.

Suddenly there was rapid movement on the left side of the buggy and Deb shouted "wild hog, wild hog".

As I'd been sneaking a quick biscuit unnoticed at the back, I looked around somewhat embarrassed at this surprise personal assault.

But it was the real deal, a real wild hog.

It ran alongside us in the high grasses for a few seconds and just as everyone was able to see it, it burst across the path in front of the buggy and headed off into the trees on the right.

From a photographic point of view, I faced several problems. First of all I'd never seen a wild hog and 'wasted' precious moments just looking at it open mouthed. Then, by the time I remembered that I needed to get a photo of it, everyone in front of me (which WAS everyone) was standing up to get a better view themselves. I pushed little old men and ladies aside like a true paparazzi and managed to get this one photo before the hog disappeared.

It's a wild hog. Honest. Not a bald eagle. I know you're sceptical.

On the way back to our parked vehicles, we passed the forested area again and I managed a few decent shots of the soaring birds even though the buggy was doing it's best to toss me overboard every time I stood up.

And then it was all over. We descended from ol' buggy, thanked our eco biologist, picked up a few leaflets about the ranch and made our way to our vehicles.

At a cost of $15 each, it was a certainly value for money. I'm not sure I learned much about the region but hey, I'd seen a raccoon, a gator (only just), a wild hog, an otter, a couple of deer, loads of cows and many of the 161 varieties of birds.

Add to all that the scorching weather and the very agreeable company and yes, it was a very good tour.

Maybe not quite a safari in African terms but for central Florida, it wasn't bad at all.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Signs Of The Times (2)

And so after a few days to recuperate (in this case, meaning to wake up) we return to some of the signs I've photographed over the years.

I've been here in Florida for over 4 months now and am missing a few things about England. I'm lucky, I think, in that I live very close to beautiful countryside and some places made famous by poets and novelists over the centuries.

One such place is the small village of Haworth, home to The Brontes of Hollywood fame. The lesser known Bronte sisters, Elvira and Petunia, opened a little coffee house in the village in 1832 and did very well for themselves. Older sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne were seriously jealous and made up stories about their successful sisters in their sort of pre internet blogs which became huge hits and were published and still read to this very day.

It's all true. And here is their shop to prove it.

Well the bit about it being a coffee shop AND it being in Haworth is true anyway.

As you can see from the varied and very English menu, it provides much more than just coffee. It's right at the top of a very steep cobbled street which leads to the Bronte's home, the famous Parsonage.

By the time I'd traipsed to the top, I was ready for a drink of SOMETHING and this strategically located nosh house was a very welcome sight indeed.

I'm sure as the years go by, the prices on the outside boards will become a source of much financial amusement. A few years ago, when this photo was taken, they seemed very reasonable even then and certainly not as steep to me as the hill I'd just climbed to get there. The words "not a usual tourist ripoff" came to mind and it was nice to see considering the number of tourists who flock to Haworth every year. Well done Yorkshire.

Ohhhh I've come over all patriotic.

Here is a closer look at the menus and don't forget you can click on any of my blog photos to see a larger version - and you'll probably need to do this to this photo.

Down at the bottom of the right side menu are some items you might need to Google. You can find the recipes for Yorkshire Specialities like parkin and fat rascals yourselves but here are links to photos which might better show what they are.

You're on your own with the tarts !!

While on the subject of food, we next go to a country far removed from the shores of England.

Here is a bit of a different sign from a well known fast food chain. McDonalds. But where is it ?

Well as you can see from the Portuguese sausage, eggs and rice, we're not in Kansas anymore, Toto. We're not in Portugal either. So what is a Portuguese sausage ??

Answers on a postcard please.

What about spam eggs and rice ? Bet you don't see spam on offer in many fast food outlets where you live ?

Ok have you guessed the location yet ? Rice a clue ? Japan ? China ? Korea ? N. Dakota ?

Nope, this McDonalds was inside a store in Hawaii - in Kahului on the island of Maui to be precise. I can't tell you what the food tasted like as we'd just come off a cruise ship so obviously didn't need to actually pay for food !! I'm sure it was all very tasty in that usual McDonalds way.

Staying in Hawaii, and who wouldn't want to, here is another sign I liked.

It's not the sort of thing you tend to get warned about in North Leeds but it was very apt there.

It was in a lovely ocean side park with lots of picnic tables but you sat at them at your peril as falling objects could seriously spoil your meal - and your health.

I'm not sure why they were also warning us about Henry Winkler falling out of a tree, but you never know. Funny lot those Hawaiians.

The next sign isn't funny or really interesting at all but it's one that means a lot to me as I'd always wanted to get a photo of it after seeing it on so many shows like the original CSI.

I'd been to Vegas several times but I'd never seen the sign before. To be fair I'd never even thought about it.

Then I decided the next time I went there, I'd actively look for it and so here it is. It's probably on the main route in from the west but I do remember I had to park illegally on the grass median of a 4 lane highway in order to get the shot face on.

Yep, that's it. Nothing more exciting than that.

And so it seems fitting to bring up next the welcome sign for that other casino city in Nevada, Reno. Now this photo came about as a direct result of a movie, Sister Act.

It is one of my favourite movies and towards the end of it, Whoopie and her nun chums scoot off to Reno and charge all over it's version of The Strip with comedic incidents aplenty. A bunch of nuns in a casino is always good for a laugh.

When I saw the unique Reno welcome sign, I just knew I wanted to see it for myself some day and so 11 years after seeing the movie, I was there in Reno in 2003 to see the sign for myself.

I took a photo of it in daylight but I think it comes alive and looks much more impressive and memorable at night time when it becomes part of the glitz that is Reno, the much smaller cousin of Vegas.

It's not the easiest place to get to and normally on a trip around America, I'd probably never have gone there - but as it happened, Debby had a brother who lived and worked just outside the city and so when we went there to see him, I finally got to see Reno and it's sign.

Funny how things work out like that.

Many cities are known by their landmark signs and structures, be those building or bridges.

The bay city of San Francisco has them all. The elegant pyramid like Transamerica Building, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower up on the hill overlooking the city; they all mean San Francisco.

But for many locals and visitors alike, a trip down to Fisherman's Wharf is what the city is all about. I know it's a tourist trap but what major city doesn't have at least one of them ?

On this occasion, on the last day of July 2003, the city was once again showing how it has it's own little micro climate going on.

It had been a lovely warm day but as happens there a lot, the temperature dropped within minutes, the mist rolled in to envelope the bridge and a chill descended over the whole city.

By early evening, when we got to the Wharf, it was pretty cold and I was wearing a t-shirt. Ever the practical one, Debby had brought spare clothing for herself but was kind enough, and warm enough herself, to lend me a fleece.
And so it was, that she took this photo of me near the famous illuminated Wharf sign when I was wearing her spare jacket.

It's good to share !!

It's also probably a good time to bring up the last in this series of sign photos.

Back in the Hawaiian Islands in November 2004, we went to every Hard Rock Cafe that we could find.

We were in Honolulu on our last day and after visiting Pearl Harbour we came to the Hard Rock for a meal.

I couldn't help but notice these 'world clocks' up on the wall as they had them in all the Hawaii Hard Rocks. Being a Brit I was fairly sure that Hawaii was 10 hours behind the UK and so, as it was 2:14pm in Honolulu, it would've been 00:14am the next morning in London.

So I wasn't sure what to make of those clocks. I mean the odd minute, fair enough, but not 61 minutes. My theory was that they'd put their 'own' clock back the hour for the end of Daylight Saving Time but left 'ours' alone. That would at least explain the 11 hour difference.

But hey, it was Hawaii and the attitude of the people there was almost Caribbean like.

Don't worry, be happy. What's an extra hour after all. Grab your shortboard, hit the waves and don't be a swish, dude.


Signs Of The Times (1)

I was going through some of the photos on my laptop today and noticed a few that could easily be clumped together under a very loose heading of 'signs.'

And here they are, with a short explanation of their relevance to me.

The first one is a sign as you enter the island part of the Seaside Resort Park at Big Coppitt Key, about 10 miles north of Key West where I spent many happy weeks (spread over several years) when Deb's dad and her brother owned places there. Sadly when her dad died in April '05, his house there was sold and so we stopped going to the park.

I always had a quiet chuckle when we would approach the small bridge which led to the island and saw this sign. It seemed just right for a place close to Key West. Once over the bridge and onto the island, we'd turn right and there was her dads house and about 5 houses further along was her brother's place right on the water - with the Atlantic on one side and the Bay of Mexico on the other. Happy memories indeed.

In an effort to mix up the signs and take you all over the parts of the world I've been lucky enough to have visited, the next one is a lot closer to home as it's from St. Andrews up in Scotland.

Anyone who knows about the game of golf and it's history will have heard of St. Andrews and also the name of Tom Morris. This father and son (Tom Morris, Jr) won the Open Championship 8 times (4 each) and Jr would probably have won it 5 times in a row except there was no championship held in 1871.

The wording on the sign at their shop (neither were present on the day we visited !!) is a bit misleading as it just mentions the 8 titles but doesn't indicate that dad won 4 and Sonny Jim won the rest.

It's the oldest golf shop, or shoppe, in the world and couldn't be closer to the famous 18th hole without having it's grass in the doorway. In fact a slightly overhit putt could easily fly inside the place as you can see from the photo on this incredibly pathetic official web site.

As you can tell from the clothing, Deb & Den had to be well wrapped up as Scotland at the end of March is a pretty cold place and St. Andrews is right on the east coast with nothing much stopping the freezing north sea winds except the 18th flag and the front of Tom Morris' shop.

So lets go to the other extreme and shed a few items of clothing as we drive down The Strip in hot hot hot Las Vegas.

I've always had an IPS problem in Vegas and I'm not sure how it started. IPS is Ian's Positioning System and it goes haywire when it gets to Vegas and this photo proves it.

You see I keep thinking that as one drives from the airport, passing the first of the huge casino/hotels, The Mandalay Bay, one is going south as you drive DOWN The Strip. You pass all the famous casinos like the Luxor with it's Sphinx and Pyramid, The English themed Excalibur with it's colourful castle towers, the MGM Grand, Caesars Palace, The Paris with it's half size replica of the Eiffel Tower, the stunning Bellagio with that magnificent musical fountain, the incredibly beautiful Venetian with romantic gondolas gliding around the front, Treasure Island with spectacular live pirate shows performed for passing tourists, Circus Circus with big top acts - all the way to the towering Stratosphere at 1,149 feet, the tallest observation tower in the USA.

But one is NOT going SOUTH but NORTH and I just can't get that into my IPS. I just think I'm going south as it FEELS like it's south. It's the only place I've ever been to where this happens.

On one visit, in early August 2003, we drove along The Strip and I took this photo for 2 reasons.

First because the temperature display on the truck's rear view mirror was clearly showing a record, for me, of 121F (49.4C) but also because even though my brain was telling me that we were travelling south, we were clearly going north.

We were at the traffic lights at Tropicana Ave with The Excalibur on our left and across on the other side, The MGM Grand was on our right and New York, New York was on the left.

Definitely south. I mean north. Oh shit.

Staying in warm climes, this next sign is from a nameless street in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico. It's nameless only because I've no idea of it's name !!

We'd flown to San Juan in early December 2005 in order to board Royal Caribbean's 'Empress Of The Seas' for an 11 day cruise to 9 Caribbean islands including Aruba, Barbados, Antigua, St. Kitts, St. Lucia and St. Maarten.

When we returned to San Juan, we had several hours before our flight was due to leave for the US and so we asked a taxi driver to show us the city - and a very good job of it he did too.

He left us to walk around a few places by ourselves and that is how we found ourselves in this street where I spotted this sign on a wall.
As a non drinker I'm not sure why I took a snap of it but it's a good memory of our short tour of the city if nothing else and that's as good a reason as any.

Speaking of back to the US, this next sign takes us as far from San Juan as you can go in the US without bumping into a Mountie.

Probably not many people outside of America, and many within it as well, are aware that Michigan has upper and lower parts to it. The oven mitt like part is the lower peninsula and at the tip of it you have to cross The MacKinac Bridge which brings you to the upper peninsula or UP. This bridge, known as The Mighty Mac (a bit like myself) is, I think, the 3rd longest suspension bridge in the world and once across it, you enter a strange twilight world of the Yuppers (UP'ers) who make mountain dwelling Appalachians seem like college graduates.

Well there isn't much to do up there so being with your cousin takes on a whole new meaning.

Half way along the peninsula, heading westwards towards Wisconsin, lies the sleepy town of Michigamme. They're not big on town naming up there.

Back in May 2003 I thought we'd dropped in on the set of Northern Exposure when we pulled into Michigamme as real moose roamed freely among inanimate moose signs and 3D moose cutouts.

With a population of under 300, there wasn't much choice when it came to eating establishments and even the mighty McDonald's franchise hadn't come to this part of the world. So we stopped at the aptly named 'Moose Cafe of Michigamme' which didn't have any Michelin stars but had hearty fayre none the less.
Don't ask if moose was on the menu as WE didn't dare ask.
All I know is that my chicken leg fed the 3 of us, the meat was somewhat darker than usual and seemed to have been dipped in a venison marinade.

Tel : 906.323-2233 in case you fancy popping in but no reservations are necessary.

Many years ago, when we visited beautiful Crater Lake in Oregon, I'd bought Deb a little soft moose from the gift store and 'Moosey' has gone everywhere with her since then. So it seemed only appropriate to take a photo of her next to this sign for the cafe.

Moosey is the cute one on the left in case you're wondering.

While I'm on about soft cuddly creatures, the next sign is another bit of a cheat as it's another store sign.

I like stores where the name does all the work for you.

This is one of the English Teddy Bear stores and as the sign says, it's the one in Bath, England. There were once as many as 10 of these stores dotted around jolly olde England but nasty old Osama Bin Laden put paid to them too. The ass-hooooole.

The vast majority of it's customers came from Amercia and after 9/11, visitor numbers dropped dramatically for obvious reasons and so did the fortunes of The English Teddy Bear company.

By 2002 only 4 stores remained and Hamleys, one of the largest toy stores in the world, stepped in and bought them out for a song. They obviously decided to retain the name as this photo was taken in May 2004 when we visited Bath - and it was closed. Well the Royal Baths were closed as we got there after 5pm so we had to walk the streets and thus came upon this lovely quintessential English shop quite by accident. Hurrah.

Hamleys itself is in London and while we're there on this sign trip around the world (ok mostly just trips around the US and UK really), here is a sign I never expected to see on my side of the pond. This was the very day after we'd been to Bath and we were starting a short visit to London.

Can anyone guess where 'we' are and even what the sign is all about ?

Ironically, even though we're in England now, most Americans should know it right away, all US policemen should be drooling over their keyboards and yet most Brits would be scratching their heads.

Well the sign behind Deb & Den is for Krispy Kreme Donuts and it's in that most British of establishments, Harrods of London.

Their original glazed donut is to die for and death does usually follow. One 52g glazed donut contains 200 calories and 12g of fat, 18% of your daily allowance. ONE DONUT.

The trouble is, you can't just eat one. Their unique lightness leaves you not only WANTING to eat more but also ABLE to eat more, and more, and more. It was quite a surprise to see them being sold in Harrods which is why I took the photo and once again, it brings back memories.

The next one comes from my first Christmas in America (1989) and was taken in pre digital days and so is a scanned image. I'd gone over to spend Christmas with some new friends who lived in Georgia and one day they took me on a short drive to the small town of Cleveland and it's one claim to fame : Babyland General Hospital, the birthplace of Cabbage Patch Dolls.

You have to take that description literally as the place was set up as a maternity hospital with staff running around in nurse uniforms when the alarm indicated another baby was on the way.

Eager kids and almost as eager parents would gather in front of the huge artificial 'Mother Cabbage' when the midwife or delivery nurse or whatever would, in all seriousness, go through a well worked routine and 'deliver' a new grotesque cabbage patch baby to the oooohs and ahhhhhs of the watching audience. She even went so far as to wear a surgical mask and gently slap the baby after birth.

The very clever marketing ploy was to ask the assembled kids to pick a name for the baby and of course they'd all shout out their own names. Once the nurse picked a name, it was a guaranteed sale of that baby to that kid. Sorry, ADOPTION !! As you may know, no babies were ever sold. Oh good gracious no. They were adopted with certificates to prove it.

Looking at the ugly chubby things, I'd have sent in Dr. Kevorkian at an early stage to wipe out the lot of them. Enjoy the official tour if you want and it's funny to see how the image of the baby being held by the stork outside the hospital has changed, perhaps to reflect the obesity that is rampant here now. Yes the original fat cabbage patch dolls are even fatter now.

Well this post is in danger of sending people to sleep as it's so long and I'm only half way through the sign photos. Best to stop at this point and leave the others for another time.

I'm off out to look for some more.

Most Recent Awards

Most Recent Awards