Sunday, March 30, 2008

Hello From Sunny Leeds

I arrived back in Leeds, England on Friday afternoon and that night I fell into bed after being up for 41 hours. I slept. I slept well. I slept till Sunday !!

Well not quite, but I slept longer that night than I had for the entire time I was in Florida. I don't recommend staying up for 41 hours in order to get a really good sleep, but it sure worked for me.

I'll save the story of my trip home for another day as I've still a few events to post about from sunny Sebring. Like last Wednesday.

Last Wednesday we went to play golf at the awesome Panther Creek Course at the Spring Lake Resort just a few miles from Buttonwood Bay. By 'we' I mean our regular golfing partners Clair and Mary and of course Debby and myself. I was really looking forward to this course as it has numerous water hazards on EVERY hole and of course it contains the infamous 6th hole which as well as having 2 lots of water to avoid, is 800 yds long and is a Par 6.

Even though this was a totally unfamiliar course to me, I'd played the first few holes pretty well and wasn't too many shots over par and had only lost about 14 balls.

Then came the 6th. As you can see, it's only 800 yds long if you play off the black tees. We were playing off the white tees and so it was 'only' 640 yds. Maybe next time we'll try it right from the back and bring sandwiches and a drink for the trip !!

As you can see from the lengths here, it's 220 yds from the back tee to the front tee ! A decent hole length in it's own right. You need a golf cart just to get from one to the other.

Anyway I played it quite well and walked off with a 7 on my card and a smile of satisfaction on my face. It felt like an eagle !!

The next photo takes a bit of explaining.

We'd had a little get together on the Tuesday night, a sort of farewell gathering for myself. Although presents weren't on the agenda, Marty and Eldy very kindly bought me a little gift and this is a photo of that gift in action.

It's a drinks cooler in the shape of a golf bag and so it was appropriate that it was used the very next day on the golf course.

Actually I'm a giant and this is a normal golf bag.

The cooler held about 4 bottles of your choice and no, I didn't carry it like this all the way around the course. We'd stopped after the 9th hole to take on water (and get rid of some too) and let a couple of groups go past as we had been holding them up a bit and we were not in too much of a hurry anyway.

So that was as good a time as any to get the bag out of the cart and show it off to good effect. Thank you very much Marty and Eldy and I hope you enjoy the photo.

Back to the game and this is a photo of Paula Creamer, aka Debby, looking good after smacking yet another ball down the middle of the fairway.

Next winter we'll both have our own clubs with us as there just wasn't room for them in the truck this time. We simply went to the local Habitat store and built sets from the ones on sale at $1 a club.

I'm sure we'll both play much better with our own clubs. Yes, I'm sure we will !

But fun was the order of the day and on one occasion I needed to be reminded about that when I sent 2 drives to opposite sides of the fairway and had a mini meltdown as I knew I'd spoiled a potentially decent score on that one hole. I slammed the club into the bag, uttered several choice expletives and basically stamped my feet like a petulant child. I really did chuck my rattle out of the pram and needed a good talking to. Which I got.

As we approached one particular tee we came across this tiny colourful bird looking for insects on the grass. It skipped along all over the tee area without caring about us but always keeping just out of range.

I thought it might be a member of the Sandpiper family but my searches have failed to yield it's name.

In any case it wasn't impressed with my drive and flew off to find a more professional golfer to admire and eat beside.

Stupid bird obviously couldn't spot potential.

Back to the golf and we were on the back nine by now. I took a series of 3 photos of Mary's drive on one hole and this is the middle one from that series.

It shows the ball just after it was hit and it's easy to spot as it's orange !

Notice her head is still looking down on the tee in good golf form so she should be pleased with that.

On one occasion she got a birdie. Literally. Her shot hit the right leg of a bird that was minding its own business at the edge of the water. It flew a few feet and landed gingerly again but was fine.
The bird that is.

It was a lovely day on a lovely course but apart from back at the starting off point where we got our carts, we never saw a gator. It was the same gator as last time though because you get your carts at the same place no matter which of the 2 courses you're playing on - and we saw this gator when we played the Cougar Trail Course.

He was sunning himself on the grass at the back of the first tee of the Panther Course so we did get a bit closer to him this time. It certainly makes you play your first drive a bit faster than you'd want, knowing there is a gator on the grass just a few yards away. After a successful drive, I picked up my tee and scuttled off to the relative safety of the cart to put some distance between him and me.

On the back nine we came upon this bird of prey having a mid afternoon snack up in the safety of a tree branch.

I took a photo right away and then I drove the cart closer and closer until I knew I'd got as far as it would let me before it flew off.

Then I took this photo, which if you click on it, you might be able to see the bottom half of the fish that it was munching on.

Either I spooked it with my proximity or it just didn't want to be photographed but in any case, it then flew off still holding the fish in its talons and I tried to track it with my camera - viewfinder pressed to my eye - blissfully unaware that I still had my foot firmly on the cart accelerator. Thankfully I soon lost the bird in flight and looked back from the camera to see that I was heading straight for a fairway marker pole. I swerved immediately and avoided the ignominy of hitting the only obstacle on the entire hole.

I like this shot of Clair as you can clearly see the club bend as it swings down to make contact with the ball.

This was one of the many holes where you have to drive across water and personally I lost more balls that day than on all the other Florida courses combined.

It's a brute of a course. From the back tees it's 7017 yds long with 4 Par 5's and that Par 6.

But my last photo has to be of a bird. There were plenty to look at on the course from vultures to that tiny yellow breasted bird I showed earlier.
One of the most common, and one we have plenty of back in Buttonwood Bay, was the Anhinga and we often saw them due to the amount of water hazards on this course.

This one was drying its wings in classic Anhinga style and only got agitated when I approached on foot.

I'd left the cart to get a closer look and it turned its head in some alarm and starting to move its neck from side to side as a warning to me to stay back.

"Stay back or, or, or I'll fly away" it seemed to be saying. I stayed back.

And so that was it. We'd completed the Panther Creek Course. I'd done a Par 6 in 7 shots. I'd also got 2 pars and broken 100 and so had to be pretty satisfied with that.

Next winter I'll be back. With my own clubs and plenty of balls.

You've been warned, Mr. Panther.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Highland Hammock State Park

As I'll be leaving sunny Buttonwood Bay on Thursday, I went around most of the park on the golf cart a few days ago. Debby was driving and I had my camcorder and I filmed most of the streets and trails to look back on when, in the middle of a typically cold and wet English August day, I find I'm missing the place.

At one point we came upon a reasonably large black snake lying at the side of the road that leads out of the park. It was dead. I think it was by blunt force drama but we're waiting for the autopsy. Its head was either missing or very squished so COD seemed to point to....well a lack of a head.

I could be a medical examiner.

Anyway it was only the 2nd snake I'd ever seen in the wild (1st one was on the local golf course a few weeks ago) and it whetted my appetite for seeing more wildlife before leaving Florida. Wildlife that's still alive, preferably.

So last Saturday we teamed up with Clair and Mary and went to the Highland Hammock State Park a few miles from here as they offered a 1pm tram ride through the local swamps which seemed as good a way as any to spot gators and turtles and snakes.

While waiting for the tram to appear, we spent a while in the park's Civilian Conservation Corps Museum.

This very interesting museum told the story of the work relief program set up in 1930s America for young men from unemployed families to help them out during the Great Depression.

Might need a similar program here soon !

We left the museum and while waiting at the tram stop, we were entertained by this bird that soared around with bits of twigs in its mouth and would then drop these twigs wherever it seemed fit. If it was attempting nest building, I wouldn't hire it to build my conservatory, that's for sure.

Then it was 'alllllll aboarrrrrrrd' our tram and off we went into the wilds of Florida - or at least the wilds of Hammock Park.

You can only buy the tram tickets on the day and if we'd been able to buy them in advance, we'd not have picked Saturday for the trip.

It had rained most of the night and morning and there was rain in the air as we set off. At least the tram was covered but as you can see from this photo, the sides were open to the elements.

Ever the one for experimentation, I started with a slow shutter speed photo looking down the side of the tram.

This blurred the passing foliage on the left and gave an impression of speed - a false impression as in reality we were only traveling at about 15 mph at best !!

Yes Debby is wearing a hooded jacket but you have to remember 2 things:

1) Rain water WAS falling off the roof.
2) She would feel cold in a dutch oven.

But she has the eyes of a hawk, a hawk that wears very good glasses indeed. So it came as no surprise to us that she was the one who spotted the first gator and her shout stopped the tram in its tracks. That and the driver stepping on the brakes.

This particular gator was literally up to its eyes in the soupy swamp water and we all crowded over to the left side of the tram to see it up close.

You could see it was both impressed and even a little scared of us as I noticed a small air bubble bursting near its rear end. That HAD to be from fear. Yes, I 'd say so.

It's a food chain sort of thing. It gets its food from the swamp and we get its tail from "R J Gators".

That's fair enough.

Further along, while looking at some more gators, we saw a vulture perched on a wooden bridge.
We saw lots of vultures on the tour so I guess there must be plenty of dead critters for them to feed on. What an ugly bird it is.

This one looked like it was waiting for one of us from the passing tram to suddenly keel over and become a late, but very acceptable, tasty lunch item.

Unfortunately for it, we left it behind and watched as it flew off up onto a nearby tree branch to join its pals who had been perched up there all the time acting like unused extras from The Jungle Book.

The main swampy area was mostly on the left side of the trail and as Clair and Mary had taken the trip before, they'd given us the heads up to sit on that side of the tram.

Every time something was spotted, those on the right side would have to get up to see what we were able to see from our sitting positions.

It was excellent advice and that was why I got most of these photos. There was 'stuff' to see on the other side of course and just after we left the vultures behind, we saw this beautiful Blue Heron standing majestically in the swamp waters.

I'm not usually sure about the names of the birds I photograph but in this case Debby told me its name and the web site link above suggests she knows her onions. And her Blue Herons.

But back to the vultures for a moment.

There were loads of them on this tram trip so as a group, they'd obviously decided that the park was a good location for a daily buffet. I mean Sebring has a few good buffets for us humans so why not one for the animals ?

Anyway we came upon another bunch of them and although I took this next photo concentrating on the one up on the branch, it was only when I looked at the downloaded image that I noticed the heads of two of his friends in the bottom right corner.

They look so funny but they also they reminded me of something or somewhere else and then it came to me....Mardi Gras. I've either seen a costume in a movie from New Orleans or Venice where a person had head wear that looked just like these vulture heads.

Of course the last thing they'd have wanted to look like would've been a vulture but that's how it's working in my mind anyway.

To see what I'm rambling on about, you'll probably have to click on the photo to expand it.

Moving swiftly along, I'll just add the rest of the gator photos without comments. Basically every time we got to another clearing where there was a largish expanse of swamp water, the cries of "GATOR" would go up and our driver would stop the tram for us all to have a good look at it, or them.

We saw a lot of birds along the trail and I've also taken a lot of photos of birds during my winter here - so although I took some more on Saturday, I'll not include them here.

Well except for this one.

I obviously can't take credit for snapping the bird in this dramatic and slightly comical pose but as I did make use of the camera's rapid fire mode, I'll take a bow for THAT skillful decision !!

Its wings are in full down draft mode and although it just looks like a bizarre sculpture, it also seems to display the bird's grace and mastery of winged flight.

The trip only lasted 70 or 75 mins as we had to be back in time for the 2nd one of the day at 2:30pm.

All that fresh air had given us an appetite and once off the tram, we all headed for the little park cafe for something to eat. On the way we did spot something a bit different hiding on the fringe of the wooded area.

I think it was a bobcat and these are very rare even in central Florida. It just looked like a large cute pussy cat but when it snarled at me, I gave it a wide berth.

No seriously this was a stuffed bobcat in a display case inside the little cafe !! Being a cafe inside a state park, there were several displays and exhibits of a 'wild' nature and they'd even put excellent photographs of various critters underneath the glass topped tables so that you could talk about them as you ate their dead cooked relatives. I like that 'circle of life' sort of thing as you know.

Finally here is a photo of a rare critter indeed. It was always out there in the wild but very few photographs were ever taken of it. We have Clair to thank for this one and in fact it has been his skill in taking photos of this rare creature that has meant we have ANY at all.

As with all good wildlife photographs, we see it in it's natural state which tends to be when it's feeding.

It eats most things but prefers simple foods like french fries and any sort of meat product.

Unlike the other creatures found in the park that day, this one doesn't like it's meat uncooked and actually prefers it medium rare, slightly seasoned and with sides of salad and a baked potato.

So if you ever see this creature in real life, please approach carefully, make no sudden movements (unless this involves getting your wallet out) and once you've gained his trust, you may feed him as appropriate.

Just no veggies please as he can get really techy when his plate space is wasted with such inedible items.

So that was Highland Hammock State Park. Well worth a visit if you are in the area and taking the tram tour, at $4 a pop, is a really great way to get a taste for the Florida swamplands which you can then take to the next stage by visiting the Everglades further south.

The rules are the same in both places. Keep your bodily extremities inside your vehicle at all times and if you really do have to pee behind a tree, be prepared for company !!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Death By Fish

The bizarre death yesterday of a Michigan woman (57) who was killed when a 75 lb eagle stingray (age unknown) hit her when she was out on a boat near Marathon in the Florida Keys, highlights that fishing is up near the top of the League of Dangerous Occupations.

Apparently cutting down trees is No.1 and fishing is No.2. I'd have to think that being in the military would be pushing for a top spot but that's just me. Or being a football referee in Uruguay. Or being a Belgian Cartoonist. You can think of occupations yourselves. Go for it.

But this poor unfortunate woman (57) wasn't some multi tattooed, muscle bound, deep sea trawler type who was hauling in a drag net bursting with vicious barbed stingrays. Oh no. This was your typical tourist out with her family on her dad's boat only a few miles from shore. There she was, standing in the bow of the boat, minding her own business, when would you believe it, a 6ft stingray flew out of the water and hit her on the head. Whack.

I mean what were the odds ? I know the bloody thing looks like a Vulcan Bomber but it's not supposed to act like one and kill you.

Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time ! It's all a bit reminiscent of the tragic death of Steve Irwin of course but in his case, he'd deliberately gone into the water to be with the critters down there. This woman (57) wasn't even Australian for goodness' sake.

Given the passage of enough time, some deaths, or at least the causes of the deaths, can be mildly amusing or even hysterically funny. It's impossible to say how long this passage of time should be as the deaths of even people who are not friends or relatives can be so upsetting that we can never think of them as funny.

Maybe the deaths had to have happened long before we were born. Yes, that's a good starting point.

Attila The Hun died of a nosebleed - on his wedding night.
Napoleon Bonaparte was killed by his wallpaper.
Alexander 1 was killed by his pet monkey.
Francis Bacon died after stuffing snow into a chicken.
Aeschylus (father of Greek tragedy) was killed by a tortoise.
King Adolph Frederick died from overeating dessert.
Jack Daniel died after stubbing his toe.
Isadora Duncan was killed by her scarf.
Actor Vic Morrow was decapitated by a helicopter rotor blade.
Tennessee Williams choked to death on a bottle cap.

Ok so most of those were only bizarre and not very amusing (well Attila The Hun's was worth a giggle) but the point is, they all happened a long time ago and so can be talked about without causing any upset or distress over a pint in the pub, at half time in the footy game or any time Gail Tilsley is on screen in Corrie. An amusing mix of trivia banter and necrophilia always goes down well, I find.

So the death of Mrs Zagorski (57) was undoubtedly bizarre but we can't really mention it in terms of Jack Daniel. We can't have a quick laugh. In fact, it's so bizarre that we may NEVER be able to laugh at it. Even in, say, 100 years.

The various reports of how the event happened ARE funny though. National newspapers and wire reports have the stingray all but viciously attacking Mrs Zagorski (57) with a blunt instrument. She seems to have been standing on the bow of the boat, lying sunbathing on the boat and fishing off the back of the boat all at the same time. Depending on which report you read, the stingray either flew into her face causing her to fall and fatally bang her head on the deck, impaled her neck with its barb causing her to fall and etc etc or, according to one report on the internet, the stingray sneaked up over the side of the boat, lay on top of the poor woman while she was sunbathing on the deck and slapped her to death with its 'wings'.

In any case, her death was a tragedy for her family and friends and no laughing matter. Yet.

I kind of hoped she HAD been fishing as then her death might well have been the very statistic needed for 'fishing' to overtake 'tree felling' as the numero uno most dangerous occupation. I mean come on, lumberjacking !!!

I think Monty Python had the right idea about that lot.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The 3 Hours Of Sebring

Yes I know that title won't make much sense to most people - hell to nobody probably - but it's referring to the more usual "12 hours Of Sebring" which is a famous motor race around these parts. All will become clear later.

This year it was the first of the 11 races in the American LeMans Series and as the racetrack is just a few minutes drive from us here in sunny Buttonwood Bay, we popped along a few times to see the cars.

Now when I say WE, I mean my friends Clair and Mary who actually did some work at the racetrack earlier in the week and so earned the free passes that they were kind enough to share with me. Clair and I went last Friday, which was the day before the featured race but you still had to pay to go in and so the free pass was very welcome and as a bonus, got us into the pits as well.

We were there for about 3 hours and so, finally, this post title may make some sense now !!

The plan was to return on the Saturday to see some part of the main 12 hour race but in the end we decided on all of us (Clair, Mary, Debby, Dennis and myself) going to a Chinese buffet and, well, you can imagine which one won. See, I'm sounding Chinese already.

I'll just throw in a few photos of the cars I took during the first race that we saw on Friday. I used a very fast shutter speed and so the cars look stationary. Obviously they were moving extremely fast and in the case of the Windows Vista car, it went very fast for a while and then suddenly and unexpectedly crashed when some race fans shouted "We Want XP, Bring Back XP" as it went by. People can be so cruel.

We'd probably call these "Touring Cars" back in the UK - not that I know much about such things being a Formula 1 man myself.

In any event, I was able to use the tips and techniques I'd learned from my previous visit to the track to take these slightly better photos.

I still wanted to take some slow shutter photos to capture the speed of the cars and once again I'd read up about it thanks to t'internet.

Here is the same car photographed both ways.

This first one was taken by panning at 1/2000th of a second and so the car is frozen in time along with the background.

Yes the image of the car is fairly sharp but so is everything else and so it doesn't stand out very well, the wheels are 'stopped' and you get no impression that it's going past me at about 165m.p.h.

This second one was taken at the much slower speed of 1/100th of a second and so although the car is in focus as it was the subject being tracked by the camera's autofocus system, everything else is blurred due to fast panning at such a slow shutter speed.

At only 1/100th of a second, the car wheels are not frozen either and this, added to the blurred background, gives a great impression of the speed of the car.

Ok enough techno babble already. I'm losing you. Be more funny !!!

Speaking of which, here is a photo of Clair coming towards me straight from the tattoo stand near the hot dog concession. He'd gone to get us a couple of 'dogs' and got suckered into a full body tattoo session while he waited for them to saute a fresh batch of onions.

Mary was none too impressed.

Only kidding.

No idea who this geezer was but the race had brought out a whole plethora of freaks, hippies, weirdos, Amish, Republicans and you name them, they were there.

He was approaching at a fair pace and in my haste to get him photographed, I chopped off his leading foot. Photographically speaking of course.

Actually as I'm sure he didn't have those tattoos done just for his own benefit, I guess I could have asked him to put on the brakes and allow me to take a better framed portrait of him but I didn't and he didn't and so there we have it. Or not. Footless In Sebring.

Actually once he'd passed me, I did get him from behind but that's another story and the subject of a stewards' enquiry so we'll move swiftly along..........

While I was in the business of chopping off body parts, I decided to do it again. This image also brings together tattoos and hot dogs as well.

We'd wandered infield to the 'Party Zone' and came upon a hot dog eating contest.

This event certainly brought out the weird, the wonderful and the odd redneck and these 2 gentlemen could probably fit into all those categories.

Hat man was one of the contestants and as the event came down to the wire, his friend leapt up onto the stage to offer words and actions of encouragement. This caught me by surprise and once again my framing left a lot to be desired.

It was a very hot day and taking in liquids was a priority for everyone.

Not wanting to run the risk of dehydration, this fella had a simple answer for the vexing problem of needing to keep your 'tinnies' handy and still have your hands free.

It did just leave one little decision to be made. At what point do you return to your supplier and take on a new batch ? When 2 are left ? One ? None ?

By now we were in the pit lane which was all hustle and bustle with people and cars and bits of cars and lots of spare tyres (and tires) and of course, babes.

Babes and car racing go together like, well like hot dog eating and rednecks. Every long limbed blondie from Highlands County and beyond seemed to be parading up and down trying to get noticed. I admit to noticing quite a lot of them.

I'm a man. It's my job.

The thing is, I sometimes see such beauties when I have my camera in hand but I'm always terrified to sneak a photo in case they take offence at my presumption. Yah right !! But at a race, these model wannabees practically beg to be photographed as that is their sole reason for being there.

Ask them about the spark plug settings of a Porsche GT3 and they'd be as lost as a lone boy scout in a parochial house.

So here is one of them.

I may be doing her a disservice as she almost looks like she really belongs there and she might well be the wife of a driver or a mechanic or she might even be a driver herself. Hey, unlikely as it may seem, I've heard they DO exist. Honestly.

There go another few readers. Opps.

Before we left the pits, I snapped the following photo as we passed the Team Porsche enclosure and I now realise I snapped the ultimate winner of the 12 hour race.

Even though it was in several pieces at the time, I saw it had winner written all over it.

Just to the left of the No.7 on the side panel actually. That made it a lot easier !!

We headed back out from the pits and just as we settled along a stretch of race track, Clair got excited when some planes flew overhead.

They were some distance away and even with the 200mm zoom lens, they were barely bigger than dots in the sky. I still took one photo of them in the hopes that enlarging it would show the planes for what they were but I'm still hoping Clair will leave a comment and let me know as I've no idea.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it but the planes are still pretty blurred.

After this we concentrated on the cars again and I wanted at least one shot of an overtaking manoeuvre as, for the most part, the cars were just coming along one behind the other.

Tres boring.

Just before we headed back to 'our' own car to leave for the day, lo and behold someone heard my wish and granted it.

And irony of ironies, it was that orange No.90 car again, the one I'd snapped twice before and included at the start of this post.


So we'd had 3 hours of fun and excitement and I'd even managed to photograph a pit babe and hadn't gone red faced doing it. Doesn't get much better.

Just before we reached the car, we were cutting across the 'Party Zone' area again and saw this gent using that wonderful method of personal transportation known as a Segway.

I think he'd got lost on his way to Disney's Animal Kingdom just up the road in Orlando but in any case, he got as many admiring looks as did any of the cars. Well not him exactly but his Segway.

There was a nice touch of irony there too as surrounded by the sights and sounds of all those powerful and impressive automobiles, he was probably riding on the vehicle of the future - although few would admit to that.

The Segway is energy efficient, practical (in sunny countries at least), fun to ride and comes with the bonus of ultimate air conditioning. Admittedly it's not much use for the weekly trip to WalMart or heading off with the skis for two weeks in Aspen.

I also just can't see it catching on in Florida where the average age is 105 and most people have trouble standing upright on a surface that isn't moving.

It may be the future but I fear Medicare will go bust.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Golf 'N Gators

Yesterday we returned to The Cougar Trail Course at the Spring Lake Golf Resort just a few miles from sunny Buttonwood Bay. Last time we'd played there, we'd had to start on the 10th hole and by the time we'd completed 15 holes (which was the 6th of course), it was getting dark and we never played those remaining 3 holes.

Yesterday things were different as for one thing, we had an earlier tee time, being March the evenings were longer and we also started on the 1st hole.

I only mention this because I really wanted to play the famous 9th hole which, if you've read my post about it (link is above), then you'll know the green is rather larger than the norm.

Freakin' enormous actually. But more of that later.

Before we'd even set off from the clubhouse, Clair spotted a gator across the water on the far bank, not far from the 9th green as it happens. Thankfully both he and Mary had urged me to bring my camera even though last time we'd not seen much wildlife. And so I went down to the waters edge and there he was..................

Now as I may have mentioned before, I'm tight enough to want to wade into most bodies of water if there is the slightest chance that I'll find my ball or those of anyone else.

I don't mind getting a little damp in the process or even incurring the wrath of some earnest greenkeeper on a posh course but here in Florida I pretty much wave goodbye to any ball that lands within 10 yds of any stretch of water.

At 50 cents per ball, I'd rather keep my limbs.

I don't even want to follow the rules of golf and take a drop from the relevant place NEAR the water. Nope, I just drop another ball right from the same spot and try to stay on the fairway this time. If I do, I walk off with a smile on my face and wriggle my arms and legs with the quiet satisfaction that I may have taken a penalty stroke but at least I'll be able to not only walk to the flag on both legs but also remove it with a full choice of hands.

And so we played a few holes and the unrelenting sun blazed down from another clear blue Florida sky. Every so often we'd come upon other critters but none as spectacular as that first gator.

Turtles were everywhere and several would be lined up on the banks of the numerous water hazards that are a feature of this course.

I sent almost as many ball into the waters as there were turtles but that's another story.

The course was busy and I couldn't really take much time between shots to photograph the wildlife but here is a turtle.

I've no idea if he was coming up out of the water or slowly reversing into it. I'd like to think he was admiring my swing but it's hard to tell as they don't say much. Probably keeping one eye out for gators.

I was on a cart with Debby and Clair was with Mary and we usually parted company after the tee shots. We'd paid our money and were going to cover every blade of grass, dammit. And so we zig-zagged out way along each fairway stopping only to drop and whack new balls any time one of us sent one scuttling across the fairway and into the water.

The course was pretty much as flat as a proverbial pancake and the only chance we got to do any sort of uphill walking was after we'd gone down into a bunker - and even those were mostly flat.

Here is a photo of Clair holding 'the pose' long after we'd all seen the splash.

No, seriously, he played very well and as usual, any lack of technique was more than made up for by his charm and excellent company.

I think I sold myself short for that $10.

Anyway we had a load of fun which, after all, is what it's all about. He and I are probably fairly evenly matched - although if I ever hit my woods consistently, well watch out boyo.

Actually I did hit my woods pretty well yesterday and no one was more surprised than I was. I think the light rough helped a lot as the ball would sit up on the grass like on a shag pile carpet and was begging to be smacked 200 yds. One did one's best.

At one point, standing on the 10th tee, we had this stunning view of the clubhouse in all it's splendour.

The little bridge takes you over the gator infested water and then the path splits left to the 1st hole and right to the 10th.

As alternative groups are started from the 10th to speed things along (as we were last time), there can sometime be a bit of a traffic jam when those who come from the 9th naturally approach the 10th as their next hole only to find a new group waiting to tee off.

We didn't have to wait long yesterday but it did give me the time to take this photo.

We were out of our carts and chatting and as well as snapping the clubhouse, I took photos of my 3 companions. I'm including this photo of Paula Creamer, sorry, Debby, as she likes it and she doesn't say that very often about the photos I take of her.

I like it too as the look on her face perfectly sums up the fun were were having.

Speaking of fun, at this point we'd also just come from the 9th hole and that alone deserves a comment or three.

The 9th. It's only 168 yds from the white tees but it's across a large stretch of water and water is my golfing nemesis. Usually I might as well save time and throw my ball into it.

Yesterday the ball sailed across and onto the green. Hurrah. Normally this would pretty much guarantee even me a par 3 but this was no normal green.

This was the 9th green. This was a 42,000 sq ft green. That's right, 42,000 square feet. One side is on Eastern Time and the other is on Central !! My ball could've been on the edge of it and I'd still have had to use an 8 iron to get it close to the hole.

But yesterday it wasn't. I'd love to know how far away it WAS from the hole but I had to hit it with my putter harder than I've ever had to hit a putt before. It jumped into the air like a startled rabbit and fairly shot across the green and as it approached the hole, I really thought I was going to get a remarkable and totally miraculous birdie. Then it stopped and I started the long walk after it.

I stopped for a coffee and a rest room break along the way and when I finally got to the ball, I saw with a mixture of amazement and despair that it was still about 15 feet from the hole. Don't you just hate foreshortening ???

The crowd was hushed. The birds settled onto nearby branches and watched. The gator raised it's head and stopped chewing on a wildebeest leg. I stood over my ball and could hear my heart beating wildly in my chest. This was it. For a par on the largest green in golf.

I hit the ball and I think someone shouted "in the hole" but I was locked inside my own world. I could actually hear the noise of the ball as it rolled over the grass towards the hole. Time slowed down. My heart beats were booming in my ears. Half way towards the hole I thought it had a chance of going in. I looked at the hole. I looked at my ball. The distance was closing and still it was on track. I dared to hope.

The ball brushed the right lip of the hole and sailed on towards the water and the waiting gator. The crowd groaned and I sank to the grass in utter disbelief. So close.


My freakin' ball went right into the centre of the freakin' hole and I did a happy jig to end all happy jigs. Even the gator seemed to be smiling but I may have misread that look. I saw lots of teeth though. A par 3. Eh ? Eh ? Who's a clever boy, then ? Me, that's who.

Of course afterwards I'd wished I'd done one of the many Tiger Woods 'in the hole' body celebrations. The rocking forearm with clenched fist. The downward movement (aka the Home Alone Movement) of the forearm again with clenched fist. The pointing of the putter towards the hole. Even the pointing of the finger as the ball covers the last few feet and falls into the hole.

Instead I just ran around most of the 42,000 sq feet like a headless chicken with ADD.

Then we moved on to the 10th where I drove into the water and decided I hated golf !!

Further out on the course we came upon two birds (sorry I never know names - lets call them George and Mildred) who were standing on the tee and had to move.

I wanted to photograph them first but after taking this photo, they started to wander off towards the fairway and I wanted more photos.

So Mary, bless her heart, took on the role of bird whisperer and slyly managed to get alongside and then in front of them to shepherd them back towards me and my waiting camera.

They didn't take too kindly to being herded in this way and flapped their wings in annoyance. Of course this made for even more interesting photographs so I was happy enough to have
them annoyed.

Mary was doing a great job but the birds either got bored with being treated this way or else were overtaken by some sort of sexual arousal because one of them definitely seemed to start courting the other and in a most bizarre fashion.

Both birds had waded into the water and had spread their wings a few times in what up until then we had taken to be annoyance at being moved.

But having watch hours and hours of David Attenborough's epic series over the years, I think
I know a spot of courtship when I see it.

George, on the right, started leaping up and down in the water in an obvious attempt to impress Mildred.

Being a bird, he was able to really get a good height on his jumps as he cheated by flapping his huge wings.

Mildred as not impressed as all he was really doing was splashing her with water and making an idiot of himself in the process.

She finally flew off closely followed by George who I suspect was a bit knackered after his exertions and just wanted a bit of a kiss and a cuddle as a sort of consolation prize for all his efforts.

Good luck George.

We finished the round and went into Sebring to celebrate a good day out in the time honoured way of all golf professionals - we went for a well earned ice cream. I had a rum and raisin and mint chocolate mix and it was scrummy.

The Cougar Trail Course may not be the most challenging or picturesque in the world but it'll always have a place in my memory - well for as long as anything remains in my memory these days. I'm convinced that when I go to sleep, I effectively power off and lose most of the memories I've built up during the day. Call it having senior moments. Call it alzheimers.

I call it being more RAM than ROM if you take my drift but in any case, I can't wait to play it again.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Welcome Time Travellers

One of my more cryptic post titles I think.

I noticed today that I was getting several 'hits' from first time visitors and most were coming to me via the same URL which by it's own definition, has to do with the passing of time and growing old.

Now I'm not sure yet if they mean they deal with blogs written BY oldies or ones that oldies might like to read but in any case, my little old blog has been given a recommendation and I'm very happy about that.

In fact I'd take both hands off my walker and leap in the air if I had the one and could do the other.

So welcome to you all. Please read a few posts to get a feel for the things I write about and don't just read one post - in case I've had an off day and it's basically crap. Enter the dark recesses of the archive section and see what you find. I do. Quite often in fact. I have so many "senior moments" that I can reread my posts a week later like someone else wrote them !!

Well seeing as I've created this post, I may as well fill it up with something. It's like in sepia days when I used to write proper remember, on paper. I always felt the need to fill up a page even if I'd little to say. Same with my "Page-a-Day" diary. I remember I started one in 1970 as it was going to be my last year at boarding school and then I'd be going off to college and so I just knew I'd have loads of stuff to write about.

Well up until the middle of June when I DID leave school, my writing was huge as I'd a page to fill and nothing to talk about. You can only mention getting up, the weather, getting bullied, classes, after school activities, getting bullied again and going to bed so many times. Even writing about what the priests and nuns got up to when they didn't know we were watching them became dull and boring to write about. Well except for that day the bishop came to visit and he joined in.

My but that was a page that just wrote itself !!

But it's funny to read the diary now, 38 years later, and see how the size of the writing altered dramatically the day after I left school and flew across to London. I was 17 and it was my first ever flight; my first time outside Ireland; my first trip on my own. I'd no idea where I was going after the plane landed. I'd not arranged a place to stay. I had only the hazy promise of a summer job.

But I was 17.

In the space of that first day I flew into Heathrow, got a bus (I'd once been on a coach but never a bus), walked around Isleworth for hours, finally got a place to stay and to celebrate, took a tube ride into the heart of London. Within a few hours I was propositioned twice by 'nice' men who asked me to go with them back to their flats (what a friendly place London was in 1970 !!) and, as it was General Election night, I mingled with thousands of people in Trafalgar Square where ITV and BBC had erected huge TV screens so everyone could follow the results and still be outside.

Can you IMAGINE trying to get that lot into one diary page ?? I was half way down, using a font that could only be read using an electron microscope and I'd only described the plane flight.

That first day spilled over onto 3 pages and I never did catch up as the next few days were just as memorable. After that I lost interest and a few days per week were left empty......then only a few days a month were completed and finally, around October time, the diary contains empty page after empty page like some sort of literary Marie Celeste. I'll now never know what I did at the end of that year.

That might be a good thing.

Given that it was all 38 years ago, I guess time HAS gone by for me. A butt load of it. And so I welcome elderly visitors to my elderly blog. But be warned. I feel 35. Hell I feel 25. The body might be a bit past it and can only manage 3 games of golf a week but the mind is like a steel trap.

Ok a mind like a slightly rusty steel trap. Time hasn't been kind to it.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Anyone Seen My Blimp ?

I've just come to realise that photography is a bit like golf.

Just when you think you're getting good at it, it bites you in the butt.

We were just now sitting outside, enjoying the sunshine, when we heard the distant sounds of engines coming from above and from the East. Suddenly over the treetops came the unmistakable shape of the Metlife Blimp, Snoopy One, which was on a short flight from having provided aerial shots of the Honda Classic at Palm Beach Gardens last weekend to setting up for the PODS Championship at Tampa Bay starting tomorrow.

Given the slow speed of Snoopy One, I didn't exactly have to rush inside to get my camera which was still on the tripod from my canal path trip a couple of hours ago......see previous post.

So I was all set up in plenty of time as it passed directly overhead and I didn't even have to zoom much to get it to fill the viewfinder. I rattled off several shots and as it passed off to the West, I happened to glance at the display on the back of the camera and saw the "No CF Card" warning message flashing.

OMG. I'd removed the card to download the bird photographs earlier today and forgot to put it back !!! Snoopy One was now a distant dot in the sky and probably my only opportunity to photograph it in the air was gone.

I was mortified at this unbelievable faux pas. And pissed off too. I came inside and proceeded to turn the air the same colour as the sky outside.

Yes I'd SEEN it and so that will be something to tell the grandchildren, once I get married and have at least the one kid necessary to provide that grandchild.

Trouble is, there is more chance of Snoopy One passing over my front garden in Leeds !!!

So "Be Prepared" should be the photographers byword. Ok two bywords.

I wasn't - and now my grandchildren will have to make do with a fanciful story and a glove puppet mime about the day grandpa missed the blimp.

Silly old sod.

Massive Gator Spotted In Buttonwood Bay !!

Here in sunny Buttonwood Bay we used to have a gator which would sun itself on a mud bank close to the Cafe On The Lake. It was almost like a faithful 'pet' but I use the word advisedly as it was not the sort of pet you'd want to get up close and personal with.

A couple of weeks ago some idiots fed it scraps and so it became a threat to us humans as with no fences, it could easily approach any of the nearby homes and make short work of the screen doors to gain entry in it's search for more food.

So it had to go. I'm not 100% sure it was removed on the specified day as it wasn't always on it's mud bank but in any case, no one has seen it for a week or so. As the only wild gator I've ever seen, this development was most upsetting.

About an hour ago we were taking a ride on our golf cart along the path that follows the canal that leads from Lake Josephine when someone pointed out a gator across the water on the far bank. It was easy to spot but was quite a distance away and so I came back to get my camera with it's 200mm zoom lens to try and get some photos of it.

Sadly it was a busy time on the canal as boats were moving up and down due to the fishing contest that was taking place. By the time we got back, the gator was gone.


Anyway the pathway is always a good place to see our old feathered friends and once again, they didn't disappoint. This time I had my new tripod and so was able to get slightly better shots than I'd managed before using the monopod.

I've taken many similar photos over the past 5 months and posted several on here so this time I'll just include 2 which are a little bit different.

Having the tripod was very useful for sharp focusing but it was the ability of the camera to take 3 frames per second that made this shot possible.

I'd also set the shutter speed to 1/400th of a second to ensure it's body would be sharp and yet it's wings would be a blur. It had just had a dip in the water and had conveniently perched on a post to dry itself out.

After a bit of preening, it shook it's wings the way a dog shakes water of itself but unlike a dog, the bird was able to keep it's body perfectly steady during the process which is why I've got it in sharp focus. Ok so the 1/400th of a second helped too !!

Although this image has been greatly resized to get it on here, you can still click on it to see it a bit bigger. Even this bigger image is only 78kb whereas the original image is 3.8mb's.

Further down the path we came to the usual assortment of birds waiting for anything the returning fishermen would toss to them.

This fella would stand still and pose with only it's thin tongue wobbling up and down.

It also vibrated the top part of it's long neck and again, I've no idea why it did either of these things.

Maybe it was excited about the prospect of some fish bits coming it's way or maybe it was just warning me from getting any closer but in any case, these were the only bits of it's body that were moving.

I didn't need the tripod !!

And that was it. Another typical drive along the canal path. Sadly no gators to show you, but I've 3 weeks left before I return to the UK, so I live in hope.

Oh and as you may have gathered by now, the title of this post was ever so slightly exaggerated to get your attention.

My bad.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Springfest 2008

This week is Springfest week in sunny Buttonwood Bay and I've added the 2008 to the post title just to get some practice writing the year. When you don't write cheques anymore (or checks for my US readers), there aren't many opportunities to become familiar with a new year and now that we've entered the 3rd month of this one, I still tend to think of it as 2007.

Of course that's more likely to be caused by continuous senior moments, but I don't remember.

The week leading up to Springfest saw 5 performances by the BB theatrical group and it was fun to be here for it this year. Our friend Clair was in the 2nd of the 3 short plays performed each night and Mary and Debby were in the 3rd one.

I have to say that none of the plays will linger long in the memory but as many a man would earnestly testify, you can only do the best with what you're given !!

The first play had slight elements of a Brian Rix farce about it and I'm sorry if that reference will go over the top of most people's heads.

I think this photo captures one such element as a man thrusting his face firmly into the bosum of an unsuspecting woman has Brian Rix stamped all over it.

The element, not his face.

The fact that the woman was his wife in the play doesn't detract from her still being 'unsuspecting' as hubby had shown little sign of such affection (or lust) up until this point.

Close body contact of this nature is usually good for a laugh in a theatrical setting and it was well received by the aged audience who probably hadn't seen such intimate contact between two consenting adults since Fred danced with Ginger.

The second play only lasted 11 minutes despite the attempts by a couple of the ham actors to string things out by the unsubtle use of verbal and physical ad-libs.

The play took place in a hotel room and Clair played one of two firemen who entered the room as part of a fire fighting team called out when a fire threatened to engulf the hotel.

It couldn't come too soon for some of us but again, the actors can only perform the lines wot are wrote in the script, so no blame should be attached to them.

As you can see in this photo, Clair was the Neroesque figure who performed "Keep The Home Fires Burning" as the lights went down at the end of the play and made us all realise that those were 11 minutes we'd never get back again.

He was the lucky one as he had no lines to say at all - and based on this fact alone, I'd nominate him for "Best Actor In A Supporting Role" and expect him to romp home with the award.

We then had a short break for cookies and a drink but no one was allowed to leave as the doors had been locked. Only joking. Fire regulations didn't allow that.

Play 3 was based on a much more complicated script that forced the audience to stay awake or risk literally 'losing the plot'. There was a play within a play and both pretty much sucked. But the actors couldn't be faulted for this and performed their roles heroically.

Mary was a trooper and projected an air of experience and confidence that shone like a semi professional beacon lighting up an otherwise less than amateurish storyline.

Was that ok, Mary ?

Her facial expressions were in keeping with the performances of Keaton and Chaplin even if the plot flowed with all the grace of Michael Moore on the balanced beam.

That young lady will go far.

Speaking of young ladies, the play was enhanced by the presence of another actor of repute (who said ill ??) who just happened to be wintering in Buttonwood Bay. Debby played the pivotal role of the Driver Of The Night Express although a touch of cross dressing came into action when she became a man in the play within the play.

This was very confusing for the old gent next to me who had dozed off through the middle section of the play and woke to find Debby transformed into a man by means of a blue boiler suit.

He became much more agitated when she then became the love interest for The Railway Crossing Keeper's Daughter - try saying that in high heels - (the one lying unconscious on stage in this photo - we never did find out why) and when they got close and looked into each others eyes, he was positively drooling.

"Ohhhhh a lesbian play" he whistled into my ear. "Good for Buttonwood". I suspect the whistle came from his hearing aid but as he had a gap between his front two teeth, I can't be positive.

Then like Grandpa Simpson, his head dropped onto his chest and the snoring resumed. I so envied him at that moment.

I have dvd copies of all 3 plays if anyone would like one. Anyone ? Anyone ? Damn I didn't do a very good selling job on them did I ???

So with the theatricals over with, yesterday saw the start of 8 days of Springfest.

First up were the Buttonwood Bay Golden Chords (choral singers - gotta love the name) who treated us to a few tunes in almost perfect harmony.

I'd never heard them perform before and I have to say I was quite impressed by the standard.

I'm not sure what the conductor was doing with the microphone stand in this photo but I think it's just a bad angle. I'm sure that's it.

After the concert came the ice cream social which was set up in the tree shaded area which bordered the lake and utilised the dozens of wooden picnic benches that permanently grace that part of the park.

As usual with events here, the organisation would've made a military man proud and residents were lined up with their tickets which granted them access to the rows of tables groaning under the weight of ice cream and cookies.

Humour is never far from the surface here and this resident was charged with making sure that the single line of people split to go to all the tables so that no one table, the nearest presumably, was swamped with 'customers.'

This is what I meant by organisation - although hitting us with his night stick was taking the humour a bit far. I donno. You give some people a little power and it goes to their hat.

Once past his swinging baton, we found an available serving table and only had to wait a few moments to get a paper bowl with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream and a topping of our choice. Then we'd move on to pick from a selection of cookies and here is where I discovered that Mary wasn't just a talented actress but could also serve up a jolly decent cookie. Two actually.

She's in the light blue top with the white golf visor.

A group of us set up our own camping type chairs in the middle of the trees as we didn't fancy using the picnic benches.

Up on the concrete area behind us, some pleasant instrumental musak was playing away but not at a level to stop the general chit chat that was going on everywhere.

It was all very English in fact - well apart from the weather, and the cookies, and the absence of a cricket match, oh and the lack of a scone or a cucumber sandwich anywhere. I'd have brought out my 3 tier cake stand but didn't think it totally suitable for the occasion.

And so, armed with our rapidly melting ice cream and pair of raisin oatmeal cookies (my choice), we settled down in our camping chairs to discuss hot topics of the day, listen to the non threatening music and once again think ourselves very fortunate to be able to do all this in such beautiful surroundings.

We had a few prize draws to crank up the excitement levels and once these were over and the food was all devoured, we left the woods and again, with the organisation that is the norm for this place, within minutes there was no sign that we'd ever been there. No litter, no cookie crumbs, no forgotten walkers or oxygen tanks. Best of all, no expired residents.

We were all safely away and getting ready for the next event - an evening gospel concert given by 'Gulf Coast' a professional 4 piece close harmony group.

It was ok. I'd have preferred less talk and more singing but I guess I missed the 'gospel' bit in the description.

And hey, that was only Day 1. I'm not sure I can take this pace and I once survived 3 days at Disney World. Of course I was a lot younger then.

I think I need to pace myself.

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