Monday, June 30, 2008

Narrow Minded - Day 3

We woke up on Sunday morning to our last full day on 't canal. It was another glorious blue sky day and once again, Daffy had been up hours earlier to take atmospheric misty photos of the canal.

Stephen and I were only too happy to let her get on with it and I found it hard enough to get up at a much more reasonable 8am.

For someone who is more used to getting up at 10am or later, 8am was quite early enough, thank you very much. Once we'd had breakfast and got on our way, it was more like 9am and, being Sunday on the canal system, we quickly came to a traffic jam.

Thankfully a traffic jam on a canal is slightly different to one on the roads.

For a start you're slowing DOWN from 4mph and not going along at that speed. You can get off and chat with the others who are stuck with you. You can boil the kettle and even have a bacon butty (or buttie) while you discuss advanced narrow boat technology and the ever changing British weather. New friends are made, email addresses exchanged and promises made to meet same time next year.

Yes all very different from the M62 at rush hour.

In our case, we were one of 5 boats waiting to go through the next set of locks.

As you go through two at a time, we knew we had a bit of a wait and so we tied up and chatted with ourselves and our fellow boatees.

Here you can see Stephen on the tow path discussing the political situation in Zimbabwe with Captain Birdseye while the next boat in turn is untied in preparation for it's trip through the lock.

The 3rd boat in line was a wide barge and those on board decided to take the opportunity to have some breakfast and this allowed us to pair up with boat 4 and go though the lock early. This took me by surprise and as I unhitched the rope at the back of the boat and pushed us away from the canal bank, I totally forgot to remove the large (expensive) iron peg that we'd hammered into the banking and tied the rope to. Opps.

We went through the lock, settled into a stretch of open water and Stephen took the opportunity to tidy away the pegs and the lock gate handle and peg is missing. I thought about blaming Daffy. I thought about saying a rogue swam nicked it. But I owned up and even said I'd go back on the tow path and get it......if it was still there of course.

But we sailed on and the pin was never mentioned again - even to the rental people who probably realised the price they'd charged covered the loss of a poxy metal pin. And the radio aerial. But that's another story !!

This was the view from one of the many lock gates looking down on the next one.

Glorious scenery, relatively good weather and the water was so calm.
It was all quite relaxing - apart from having to leap off the boat to pass though the locks.

It was all enough to give us an appetite and by lunch time, we were ready to find a pub, pull over and have something to eat.

We DID find a lovely pub, right beside the busy main A65 at Gargrave, and due to it's location plus the fact that it was Fathers Day, it was packed and we had quite a wait before we got our meals. If memory serves me well (ha !), we each had a different roast meal, lamb, beef and turkey and jolly nice they were too.

It was strange to see other patrons heading to the car park to get in their cars and 'enjoy' the delights of the A65 on a busy Sunday, while we headed down the steep hill to the water to board our boat and continue at leisure along the Leeds/Liverpool canal.

The afternoon continued much as before with lovely long stretches of lock free canal to enjoy and we all took turns steering or taking photos or just relaxing by taking in the beautiful Dales countryside.

Then we'd come to more locks and it would be time for a bit of activity.

In this case we were joined by another boat and we went through this series of locks together.

Here we have come from the higher level of water as seen in the picturesque circle behind the gates and we're being lowered down in the lock to get us to the next level.

The other boater felt the urge to burst into a short operatic aria for which the rest of us were very grateful - that it was short I mean !

The idea on Sunday was to get fairly close to the rental location by nightfall as we had to return the boat and be off it by about 9am the next morning so we didn't want to have to travel far. Just as well because at a max of 4mph and with going through a lock taking anything from 30 mins to an hour, we weren't going anywhere fast.

This is one of the last locks we passed through on the way to an evening mooring not far from Skipton.

I've included it simply because it was indicative of the scenery we found everywhere on our weekend on the canal.

You don't mind doing a bit of manual labour when you have scenery like this to look at though your sweat.

And thankfully for me, neither did Stephen. By this time on the 3rd day, I'd decided to pretend it was the 7th - and I rested. Well it was a Sunday too. I just couldn't fight tradition and I spent most of the day taking photos, mostly of Stephen opening and closing lock gates ! I didn't feel too bad though as the very fact that the lock areas were busier than we'd experienced before, meant that there were plenty of lovely, friendly boating people around to work one side while he worked the other.

My conscience was clear.

By about 5pm we were gliding smoothly along the canal which was meandering across the Dales countryside like a random streak of mayonaise on a plate of lettuce. The sky was mostly blue and there wasn't a breath of wind. I was steering and it was such a pleasure to guide the boat around gentle bends and under picturesque bridges and all was well with the world.

Then I glanced behind me and saw the storm clouds approaching. No worries as we were heading away from them. Then they appeared from both sides as well and in a moment straight out of 'Close Encounters', the evil black rain clouds converged around us and for a few, sadly brief, moments, we were in a small pocket of sunshine that was rapidly growing smaller.

For some bizarre reason we were looking at all this as if it simply wouldn't affect us. Then the realisation, and the rain, hit us hard. We needed to find somewhere to moor the boat and do it fast. This wasn't as easy as it sounds as in many places, you dare not approach the bank because the water is very shallow there and you end up beaching the boat.

I beached the boat.

We were stuck fast and the combined pushing efforts of Stephen and myself achieved nothing. We tried going backwards but we didn't move. Forwards, nothing. We both got off and tried pushing from the bank - nothing.

Finally, with all of us drenched, we managed to set the boat free and moved further along the canal until we found a better, safer mooring and tied up. The rain continued to fall for a few hours and we decided we might as well stay there for the night.

By 10pm the rain had stopped and silence once again descended on the canal.

I went outside and noticed a swan with her cygnets keeping close to us in the hopes that they would get some food.

Daffy duly obliged and although it was almost pitch black and hard for the camera to focus, I got some good flash shots.

And that was it for Day 3.

There is no point in creating a new post for Day 4 as it only lasted a few hours.

Because of the rain, we'd not exactly been interested in our location when we moored the previous evening.

So it was quite a pleasant surprise to get up on the Monday and see where we had ended up.

It was another glorious morning and with the weekend over, we seemed to have the whole canal to ourselves again.

Stephen showed enough faith in my steering ability to allow me to get us through Skipton which as previous posts have shown, can be a busy place to pass though with a narrow boat. No sweat.

Due to mooring a bit further away from the rental location than we'd planned to, we were a bit late arriving there - but nothing was said. We tied up, removed our belongings and loaded up the car for the short drive back to Leeds.

It was a wonderful weekend and I'd like to thank my hosts, Daphne and Stephen, for their very generous offer of inviting me to join them. I heartily recommend spending time on a canal to anyone and I'll never forget my first time.

Of course if you've read my previous post or know me at all, that means very little. I'll have forgotten all about it by tomorrow week.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

On This Day In History..........

June 25th, 1952. A date that will live in infamy.

I was born.

Time to have a review, I think, and where better to start than with my memory.

I'd like to be able to tell you what I weighed, my length, even my time of birth. But I've no idea and those who would know these things, my parents, are not around to ask.

My dad died in 1986 and my mom in 2003.

I never thought to ask them these things when they were alive, or more likely, I did ask them at some time and now I've forgotten.

My memory is like a proverbial sieve and it seems like more and more, the ratio of data retained to data input has been falling alarmingly.

I'm not too worried about it being down to the onset of old age or even early alzheimers as I've had a bad memory for as long as I can remember. Yes I can see the obvious problem with that statement so don't bother commenting on it.

I can recall very few moments from my childhood and not many more from the last few decades either, so basically my long term AND short term memories are shot. Tell me your name and 5 minutes later I'll have forgotten it. Tell me another name in that time and the loss of the first name will be almost immediate.

My brain is in serious need of a defrag. It contains lots of data but it's all over the place and most of the links have been broken. It's also very slow now and I'm in serious need of a memory upgrade. I used to think I was quite the expert on the music of the 60's - play me a tune from back then and I could tell you the name and artist most times. But put me on a quiz show and make that the quick fire round and you might as well be asking me questions about quantum physics. Yes the answers would be in my head somewhere but the time taken to get the data out of there and past my lips would mean I'd be shouting out "The New Vaudeville Band" during the commercial break.

I've long suspected that the neurons in my brain have not been releasing their neurotransmitters into the synaptic cleft causing a depolarisation of the membrane and adversely affecting the functionality of my hippocampus.

Then again, I might just be old and stupid.

Then there is my personality. As any regular reader of this blog will know, I'm the embodiment of Victor Meldrew. I spend a ridiculous amount of time chuntering at my tv or laptop when they show me news articles or reports that wind me up. I'm in perpetual email mode, ready in an instant to fire off a complaint to those companies stupid enough to leave a customer service address on their web sites. Of course they're not THAT stupid and these emails simply go into a junk folder at Head Office but usually composing and sending the email has managed to lower my blood pressure and returned me to normality. Until the next time.

The thing is, the number of silly trigger items is growing exponentially. Everything from reality shows to the spelling and grammatical errors in every forum and comment section on the internet, from people not pushing mail and flyers all the way through my letter box to people who complain about things I don't think need to be complained about ! And don't get me going about InjuryLawyers 4U !!

See, all silly minor things. I need to remember to stop sweating the small stuff. Yes, yes, back to item one. I know.

Next up, my health. Well actually it's not a great day to be reviewing that. I must've rolled out of bed the wrong way on Monday morning and have been walking like a man with a broom handle up his ass ever since. The lower back ache seems to get better each day but then I go to bed and it all takes a step backwards again. Last night I couldn't sleep at all so I got up at 5am and came downstairs to start the 'healing' process early. Maybe if I get 20 or so hours of chair rest, I'll get it sorted. Not the best way to spend a birthday.

Apart from that, I can't complain. If I knew what was going on inside me, I might have cause to complain, but as I don't, then I can't. What you don't know about can only make you stronger. I think that's the phrase !

My cardiologist told me that, just as they wheeled me into the OR. While puzzling over that, I noticed "Tinkering With Your Heart - Bypass Surgery For Dummies" on the table. I swear I heard laughter just as the anesthesia kicked in.

I think you should be given a dvd of your surgery. I mean how do you know what they did ? It's like having your car serviced. You just never know.

But I need to stop reviewing. What's done is done. Regrets ? I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention - or remember of course. This memory thing can be a blessing at times.

Time for the classic question then : if I had my time over again, would I do anything different ?

How the hell do I know ? I don't remember what I did the first time !!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Narrow Minded - Day 2

Dear reader, you'll remember we left our intrepid narrow boaters sleeping blissfully on't water next to a lock gate just past Gargrave in the Yorkshire Dales. You don't ? Well read the previous post then !!

There, everyone is up to speed now. Not us, of course, as we were doing zero mph with the knowledge that we could only get to a hair removing 4mph if someone opened the lock gates behind us and give us a watery shove along. Not likely to happen. Mostly as the lock gate in question was in front of us and we had to get through it - but after breakfast of course.

Daffy had rescued a few slices of bread from the swans and so, after our cereal, we feasted on slightly soggy toast that had a strange after taste of canal water which we overcame with lashings of marmalade, all washed down with hot warming tea. Nummy. We were ready for those locks.

6 of them in fact.

But first, lets remind ourselves where we spent the night.

It may not have been The Hilton and I DID miss having a trouser press in my room (in fact I kinda missed having a room !) but we couldn't complain about the views we woke to or how fast it took us to get from our respective beds to become a part of those views.

This shot was actually taken from the narrow walk way at the top of the lock gates so you can see how close we had been to it overnight.

The mooring ropes had been detached and we're just about to set off - which is partly why I was up on the lock gate, with Stephen somewhere nearby. He to open the gates and me to let him do it. Actually by now I had decided I just couldn't stand doing little or nothing every time we came to a set of locks and so, giving scant regard to medical advice, I mucked in and ate 2, yes 2, jaffa cakes.

No seriously I did help a bit and pushed one side while Stephen pushed on the other and this did speed things along - a little.

While waiting for the lock to fill up and so allow us to open the gates. I took this photo of the area. Daffy really liked the lockkeepers house and I liked the 'large sky' that they always say you get in Montana.

Never really understood what that meant but I tried to recreate it in this photo and if nothing else, it shows we had a lovely morning in a lovely location and even though it was 9:30am (a time unknown to me when at home in Leeds), I felt at one with nature and a strange calmness had settled in my stomach.

I suspect it was the soggy canal flavoured toast.

I'll just clump the next 4 photos together as they show various images as we passed through this set of locks.

I hope they show how the narrow boats move up and down the canal system by either lowering or raising themselves up depending on the lie of the land.

If only it was all flat, then we wouldn't need locks at all !
Someone should really have thought of that when designing England.

Sloppy work I feel.

In an effort to save water (don't want it all running downhill and flooding Leeds you know - who said why not ??), boaters were very friendly and would always check ahead to see if a boat was coming the other way as, if a lock was full of water, it was much more sensible to let whichever boat was at that level to slip in and be raised or lowered accordingly.

This might have meant us waiting a bit longer to get into the lock ourselves but it was sensible in a water conservation sense and we were in no rush after all.

Here we are next to another narrow boat as, whenever possible, you always tried to go into a lock in pairs to save time, and water again.

We're on the right. We had no flowers.

You can see 2 yellow poles on top of our boat to be used to push the boat away from the bank and the yellow board between the poles was if one of us wanted to have a surf when we were going at full steam. I passed on that idea as I'd only brought one pair of pants.

In this next phot the water has drained out some more and the boats are lower in the lock.

Once the water is at the same level as it is on the other side of the gates in front, those gates can be opened and off we'd go.

It's all just a way to go up and down hills when you're on the water - which by another awful piece of shortsightedness, was not designed to flow upwards.

This isn't us but a shot of another narrow boat leaving a lock which we could then enter as the water IN the lock was now at the same level as we were.

The gates we see here would then be closed behind us and the ones at the far end would be opened, allowing water from a higher level to flood in and raise us up.

Simple but clever as well.

Having 6 locks so close together first thing in the morning was a bit of a pain but it certainly worked off our breakfast and was fun in a sort of masochistic way.

Fresh air, good company, exercise, stunning scenery. Worked for me.

After these locks, we were on a nice long stretch of open water and Daffy and I took the opportunity to climb onto the roof of the narrow boat and enjoy a slightly different view of the passing countryside. It was a warm day, the sun was blazing from a mostly clear blue sky and all was well with our world.

Then the trees on both sides suddenly closed in and the canal banks narrowed and we were in a different world completely.

I felt like we were in the Florida Everglades or going up the Amazon or even on a ride at Cyprus Gardens as it was just so different from anything we'd experienced before.

Sitting on top of the boat, the feeling was wonderful. Tootling along so slowly helped us to appreciate and enjoy this strange new world all the more.

Then we went around a bend and came upon a picturesque bridge which added to the effect.

We'd gone under several bridges already but having them out in the open was very different from this one which was in our own little stretch of Yorkshire Rain Forest !

I searched for human movement high up on the steep banks and was prepared for a shower of poison tipped arrows to start bouncing off boat roof.

I think I've watched way too many adventure movies.

By now it was just after noon and we were ready to find a pub, stop and have lunch.

As if to answer our 'prayers', we passed under another little bridge and found ourselves in a watery version of a truck stop.

Just to the left in this photo you can see a much wider barge style canal boat and as you might imagine, they need locks all to themselves.

There were probably a dozen or so standard narrow boats moored along this stretch of the canal as it was a good place to rest up for a while and it did have an excellent pub nearby.

We weren't the only ones who needed feeding and the local swans would come right up and be fed by hand - if you wanted to risk losing a few fingers.

If you enlarge this photo, you'll see the rows of tiny sharp 'teeth' that line the beak and they will give you a nasty scratch, made worse because as the swan is pulling away with the bread, you are pulling your hand the other way.

I did get a photo of a lump of bread just about to disappear into it's mouth but I prefer this one as I've never before managed to get one to extend its neck in a 'begging' fashion like this. Thanks to Daffy for risking her fingers to let me take this shot.

After a lovely lunch, we set off again and the next milestone was to be the famous 'double arch' bridge at East Marton that features in many canal publications.

This curious structure carries the busy A59 over the canal and after the original bridge was built, the road was raised to eliminate a severe dip and so 'another bridge' had to be built on top of the first one.

Must've been one hell of a dip.

Quite why this top bridge needed to have an arch at all has to be down to using less bricks and so it was simply a cost cutting exercise.

In any case it makes for one odd bridge and I took this photo from a very specific spot as it was where the professional photographer had to have stood to take the one that appears in official canal publications. Gives me a cheap thrill to do things like that.

I know, very sad. My dream is to stand where Neil Armstrong stood to take his famous shot of Buzz Aldrin back in July '69.

I'm working on that but I may have left it a bit late.

After I'd taken that photo, I turned around and this was the view behind me.

I know it's a bit dark and I could lighten it but then I think I'd lose the 'window' effect I wanted to capture.

I waited until the narrow boat had cleared the shadow and was rounding the bend and I just liked the way the overhanging trees framed the scene.

Au naturelle, as the Germans would say. I'd say eau naturelle but I'm just a witty bastard.

After we'd negotiated the last of the 3 Greenberfield Locks - which was officially lock No.44 (and our 15th), we decided we'd gone as far as we could go , time wise, and we had to turn around and start the trip back.

It was a difficult decision to make as you can't be precise about how long it will take you to go any distance on a canal given that the locks might be going 'for' or 'against' you.

But if nothing else, we'd picked a lovely spot to end at and we moored up for an hour to rest and get ready to face those 3 locks right away on the return leg.

We walked around and stretched our legs and finally got some excellent ice cream to enjoy beside the narrow boat. Not counting our overnight stop, we'd been on the water for a total of 12 and a half hours and had travelled a staggering 13.47 miles. Wow !! You don't need a speed camera on a canal, just a sketch artist.

We were just on the outskirts of the village of Barnoldswick and at this point the canal widened enough for us to turn the boat around quite easily - although I'd have had no idea how to do it. Stephen was The Master and guided the front of the boat right up to the concrete bank and while I held it in position, he used minute pulses of the engine to swing the rear around like the Space Shuttle docking with the ISS. Somewhat like.

Once the back end started to face the other way, I pushed the front away from the bank and the turn around process was completed.

It was 5pm on Day 2 and we were on the long return back to base.

After we'd cleared the 3 Greenberfield Locks again and were on the open water, I took this photo to show what it was like when there were no locks, bridges, trees or tunnels to hinder our views of the Dales countryside.

I suppose it would've been nice not to have had the 2 phone poles but what the heck.

When I saw this image on the little display screen on the back of the camera, I got the idea again to use the camera lowering technique I'd used a long time ago in Roundhay Park in Leeds.

I'd not tried it with this camera and being a digital SLR with a heavy lens meant it always drooped down when held by the strap and so I had to create a sort of strap cradle to go below the lens before lowering the camera as close to the water as I dared. Thankfully on a canal the water normally flat - although you'd not think so from the above photo. Even a gentle wind would produce ripples and I didn't want to risk getting water on the lens.

After a few attempts I realised it would just be a hit and miss situation and if I got one decent shot, I'd be lucky. Then we rounded a curve and I saw a swan coming our way. I set the timer and lowered the camera to almost water level and prayed that as it glided towards the boat, it would pass on my side.

It did and this is the one off shot I got.

It's not as sharp as I'd have liked but the gap between us was decreasing by the second and with the camera set to timer mode, there was nothing I could do to alter the focus once I'd lowered it to water level.

Apart from it looking like one of the Windows XP backgrounds, I like it.

Soon after this the weather took a turn for the worse, the rain came and we had to stop. As it was about 7pm, and the rain showed no signs of stopping, we made it our overnight mooring and so endeth Day 2.

Just as it did for us, Day 3 will follow shortly.............

Friday, June 20, 2008

Narrow Minded - Day 1

Before I begin, please remember that all my photos can be enlarged simply by clicking on them and I think, in my own modest way, that some of these do deserve to be enlarged. Not because of any skill of mine but because I think the wonderful scenery of the Yorkshire Dales deserves it. I've reduced them in size (and sadly in quality) so that visitors with slow internet speeds will not have to wait too long..............

So, after the day out in London last Thursday (see previous post), the next 3 days couldn't have been more different. Daffy, her hubby Stephen and myself drove the few miles to Skipton and to Snaygill Boats to start a glorious weekend on't canal. The Leeds - Liverpool canal to be precise.

We arrived early, about noon, and were able to load up the boat with provisions - enough to feed a small army for a fortnight. Daffy doesn't do things by halves, more like doubles or even triples. We could've lived on that boat till Christmas. When ready to set off, we decided there was no point in starting off hungry and as there was a pub just a few hundred yards away, we headed there for lunch. Yes we'd started as we meant to carry on.

I was a canal virgin but Daffy and Stephen were old hands, so to speak, having owned their own narrow boat at one time in their lives. And a jolly good thing that they were as, initially, I was about as much use as chocolate fireguard. But by 1:30pm we'd cast off (sorry for these technical terms !) and were on our way. Not very fast, but we were on our way.

I might as well get the speed bit out of the way now. On our extensive canal system, boats can only go at a maximum of 4mph, or the nautical equivalent, as going faster would seriously damage the mostly grass banks of the canals. Although wider in places, canals can be as narrow as 25 feet across and only 2 standard 6'10" wide boats can fit side by side in a lock.

But before we had to worry about locks, we came to the first obstruction - a swing bridge and like a well drilled military unit, we swung into action too.

Stephen jumped off to open the bridge, Daffy steered the boat and I - well I had a mug of tea and a jaffa cake to cope with so I just strolled off the boat and took photos !

I think it all worked very well and with the bridge back in place, Stephen and I were picked up and we were off again.

Nothing to this boating lark !

Over the course of the next hour or so, Stephen had to open a few more swing bridges of varying complexity and in one case this involved road barriers coming down, flashing lights, warning signals and traffic being stopped. All very exciting and I'd worked my way through a couple of mugs of tea and several jaffa cakes by the time we'd negotiated the last one. I was worn out !!

It was fairly overcast but the scenery was still stunning, as you can hopefully tell from these photos.

I'd never seen the Yorkshire Dales from this vantage point before and it was wonderful to be able to see them without having to worry about road traffic.

It was just so damn relaxing. The waters were flat calm and we were coasting along at a speed where tow path walkers were passing us.

We passed through Skipton and it was strange seeing the town from the canal this time as I'd been at the very same spot only last month - but on dry land.

We would come upon other narrow boats moored along the canal banks either for a few hours or for many weeks or months. For some people, these boats were their only home and they were decorated accordingly.

In this case, the boat owners had even made their part of the canal bank into their little private garden area with gnomes and bird tables sharing space with the more usual chairs and tables.

It was all very magical and so hard to believe that exactly 24 hrs earlier I'd been standing taking photos in Piccadilly Circus.

Another world.

Speaking of which, our new world was full of wildlife of all sorts. Well water based wildlife anyway. From our starting point back at Snaygill Boats, we had come across numerous swans with their cute and fluffy little cygnets and dozens of ducks and other water critters. Daffy was constantly throwing out pieces of bread and I was beginning to panic that she was rapidly throwing away tomorrows breakfast toast.

This handsome fella, or fellette, was on the canal bank looking for something more substantial than a bit of bread.

I almost thought I was back in Buttonwood Bay and it was exciting to see this European grey heron up close and personal.

Shortly after this, we passed through a series of locks at Gargrave and by the time we were back on a long stretch of clear water, we were ready to tie up for the night.

This isn't much of a problem on a canal as you just find a spot that looks good, steer towards the bank, stop the engine and tie up. Sorted.

We came upon Bank Newton Locks and decided we'd leave them until the morning when Stephen would be rested and I'd have a fresh mug of tea. Priorities !

Shortly after we'd moored "Saffron", Daffy had rustled up some bacon butties and when we'd finished with our after dinner chit chat, we all retired for the night.

The boat came with a tv/dvd combo and I'd brought a few dvds with me, but we were just too tired to watch anything.

We'd been on the water for just short of 6 hours and had travelled - wait for it - 7.96 miles. You don't use a narrow boat if you want to go fast from A to B.

All that fresh air and watching Stephen opening and closing the lock gates had worn me out. I'd not been to bed that early for many months but knowing we'd be up early to set off again, it was an easy decision to make.

And set off early we did...........but that's for another post. Bet you can't wait ! Me either.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Girl On A Train

This time last week I was getting ready for my first train trip to London in more than 20 years.

I'm not a fan of London and even though it's only 200 miles away and just over 2 hrs by train, I've probably only been half a dozen times in my life. It's not that I'm some sort of 'country boy' who prefers the wide open spaces to the hustle and bustle of a big city. Well maybe I am, a bit.

It's more that London does nothing for me really. Once you've been to the famous tourist places, there is little point in going back to see them again....and again. Having said that, the places that would interest me and keep me happily entertained and educated for weeks on end, would be the museums and art galleries and I think London has a few of those !

But when you only have a few hours, as Daffy and I had last Thursday, then going into a museum would've been a total waste of time. She has posted about it on her blog, with photos of a few of the places we went to, so that gives me a perfect excuse not to do the same - as we were mostly standing next to each other taking very similar photos.

Anyway, I drove to her house at 9:30am where I left my car and we waited for the 10am taxi to arrive to take us to the railway station. The taxi was late and I know for a fact that it wasn't due to the driver stopping off somewhere to freshen up a bit after a long overnight driving session.

I have honestly never had to endure a personal hygiene smell like it and as I was sitting right behind him, I got the full force of it every time we went around a corner which meant the driver had to open up his armpits. OMG if Saddam had had this guy in his employment, he could've simply placed him out in the Iraqi desert and personally wiped the coalition forces off the map. He was a human WMD and 20 long long minutes later, we staggered out of his taxi and took great gulps of the sweet clean air at Leeds City Station - and that's not something you can say every day ! I won't mention his nationality but lets just say Saddam wouldn't have needed an interpretor.

Knowing what train food can be like, we bought sandwiches at the station and I settled for a very healthy cumberland sausage, bacon, egg and tomato sandwich freshly created at 8:40am that morning - it said so on the wrapper. I only mention that as it was guaranteed to have been created within 3 hrs of purchase and as it was 10:30am, I was happy to buy it even though it was the last one on display.

Train travel can be quite relaxing and stress free but 2 elements of our trip sorely tested those benefits. First of all, the seats were a cross between those in a cheap cinema and those on a Ryanair flight. Maybe these old soft buttocks have been spoiled by my luxurious leather reclining chair (where I admittedly spend a lot of my time), but I was not comfortable for much of the time on that train.

Then there was Daffy who, bless her heart, was telling me the names of every tree and flower species between Leeds and London. I was glad there was no spot test when we got to Kings Cross as if it's one thing I'm good at, it's forgetting the names of all species of trees and flowers, usually seconds after being told them.

Thankfully none of the aforementioned trees had shed any leaves on the lines and so we arrived in London on time - actually it was 40 minutes 'early' in my mind as I'd got the arrival time wrong ! How good was THAT ?

With Zone 1 and 2 tickets in hand, we headed down into the bowels of the underworld (or The Underground as it is known in London) and 3 stops later on the Piccadilly Line, we resurfaced at Covent Garden. It was 1:30pm and we'd left Leeds at 11:05am. Not bad at all.

Daffy has posted a photo of one of the two 'silver people' who were doing their thing near the garden of covant. Not much grass around and no flowers so really it was very much like my own garden ! As she posted a photo of the male (who had decided not to be a typical standing still silver person and was, in fact, quite animated), I will post one of the woman.

Well I THINK it was a woman but under all those clothes, makeup and silver paint, who knows. I assume she was 'playing' a very stationary character from the Wizard Of Oz or maybe she had just slapped on too much silver paint and had dried out in the June sunshine.

Either way she was rock steady - all except for her eyes. I know these street people want every tourist to put some money into their cups or cans or bathtubs, in the case of the more optimistic ones, but she hadn't reckoned with this Northerner.

I was quite prepared to discuss the merits of plastic or a check/cheque or even PayPal, but the very nature of her 'act' was stacked against her.

Her eyes were going like ping pong balls during the Chinese Olympic Table Tennis Trials and I suspect she was looking from me to her tips tin and back again in the faint hopes that I'd drop in a few coins.

She didn't know me very well !

Nearby, her animated friend was doing strong business as he was interacting with the passing tourists and when you have one by the hand and pull them a few inches from your silver face, it's very hard not to make some money - if only to get your hand released.

Witchy woman had a lot to learn.

We moved on into the market area where we were faced with the usual stalls selling all things London/England. Of course most tourists believe the two are the same but as we were in London, I can't moan that there was no tat featuring images of Leeds Town Hall or even a Leeds United footy shirt. Lets be fair, it's hard enough to find any of those in Leeds.

No we were well and truely in the home of crap UK trinkets which were not in the slightest bit embarassed that they were all made in China or Korea. Even the replica Pearly King and Queen outfits were made in foreign parts and authentic cock-a-knee products were sadly absent.

One stall did stand out though and that's why it has gained an entry on my blog.

This was the Life-Like Project stall where rather than waiting to have a bust or face mask done after you've passed on, you can have a sort of cheap version done while you wait - and best of all, while you're still alive to enjoy it !

A fantastic selling point, I'd have to think.

No doubt some people still turn up with a dead relative who booked a mask sitting but passed away before making it to this London stall. I'm sure Mr. Gainino would rush off a quick mask under the circumstance but would probably draw the line if the deceased customer had been cremated. Not a lot to work with in that case.

Each mask was remarkably detailed and was an excellent likeness of its new owner. I just found it hard to work out what you'd do with it but then again, what do people do with the caricature drawings and sketches they have done when visiting any popular major city ?

The ultimate ego trip I guess.

Resisting the urge to buy a lighter, pencil, glasses case, keyring or fridge magnet with a St. George's Cross on it, we wandered out of the market, into the bright sunshine and headed for the next famous location, Leicester Square. Indiana Jones was showing at the Odeon and judging by the prices, he was appearing in person. I could've bought a gallon of petrol for the price of a matinee ticket.

Ok I admit it has been a long time since I went to the cinema but come on ! And you don't even get a short anymore. Add a bucket of popcorn and a drink and you could see why Harrison Ford uses a solid gold walking frame these days.

Next we walked along some of the streets in Chinatown in order to get to the next tourist trap, Piccadilly Circus. This route took us past one of those huge public toilets where for 50p, you can step inside a lavatorial cathedral for a set period of time and if you dally too long, the door will slide open and reveal more than your red face to a waiting world. Daffy stumped up the 50p and disappeared into this tardis like crapper and I stood on guard, ready to cover her blushes in the unlikely event that she did, in fact, dally too long. She didn't.

And so, light of bladder but with gurgling stomachs, we arrived at Piccadilly Circus and several dozen photographs later we'd had enough of that and walked the short distance to Trafalgar Square. By now it was after 3:30pm and we'd set a time of 5pm for getting to the hotel where the movie preview was to take place. Oh yes I haven't even mentioned the movie here as, after all, you were expected to read Daffys blog for the reason for us being in London in the first place. Don't be so lazy. Go there if you haven't already.

It was raining slightly when we got to Trafalgar Sq. and so we didn't hang around for long. Just as we were heading down to the river and The Houses Of Parliament, we had to cross the road and while checking to make sure we weren't going to be run over by some over zealous taxi driver, I saw this pink limo heading my way.

Now I know a limo is fairly common in London - we even have a few in Leeds - but I'd never seen a bright pink one before.

Not even in LA or Vegas.

Sorry for the name dropping !!

But like I said at the start, I decided that these blog photos of our London trip would not be the standard tourist ones and so, I think a photo of a pink limo exiting Trafalgar Sq. fits the bill.

Down by The Thames we stood in front of The Houses Of Parliament and The London Eye and generally behaved like tourists again. As indeed we were. I helped out a few couples and threesomes who wanted to be photographed before these giants of the London scene and all I have to say is that if digital cameras get much smaller, you'll soon need to use the end of a biro to press the shutter. I've seen bigger snuff boxes.

By now it was 4:35pm, we were starving and our turnaround time had arrived. We traded The Thames for The Styx and once again entered the depths of the tube system. We popped up on Tottenham Court Road and I did very well by not going into any of the numerous electronic shops that run its length. Just before 5pm we were inside the Charlotte Street Hotel making sure everything was set up and running on time for the movie screening at 6pm. It was and so we went across the road to a Thai restaurant and ordered a couple of tasty meals that we now didn't have to eat in a rush.

And so here is the last of my 4 non touristy photos I've picked from the 143 that I took and the 79 taken by Daffy.

I'd ordered pork fried rice from the pineapple section of the menu as I get something similar from my excellent local Chinese takeaway in Leeds and thought I knew what to expect.

I did NOT expect them to split a pineapple, scoop out one half, fill it with a ton of pork and fried rice, top it with cucumber, tomato and tiny pieces of crispy onion and present it to me on a plate that barely held the pineapple.

I was glad we were just across the road from the hotel as this monster needed careful eating or else bits would be flying everywhere. I did good. I finished the lot. Well apart from the pineapple shell of course but it WAS a shell I left when, at 5:50pm, we crossed the road and made our way to the screening room of the Charlotte Street Hotel.

The seats were like armchairs and the movie was very good and the 30 or so guests enjoyed it enormously. The producer thanked us for coming, I inwardly thanked her for paying for it all and we settled into the hotels guest drawing room for some coffee and relaxation after the exertions of the day and prepared for the train journey back to Leeds at 9:30pm.

A short tube ride and we were at Kings Cross once again. This time we had seats at a table and across from me was a young girl. Ahhhhhhh at last you say. We wondered when this post was going to mention a girl on a train ???

Well that's it actually. She was very bored and even more boring. She was making her weekly trip to Leeds to see her boyfriend and moaned about everything. She had 4 magazines but they bored her. She opened a pack of false nails and started fixing them to her well chewed natural ones and then got bored with doing that too. She huffed and puffed and definitely didn't like the Australian girl across the way who had a loud voice and personality to match. Her boyfriend sent a few text messages and she even moaned about that.

But she couldn't stop us from having a grand return trip to Leeds and then a taxi drive (with a much sweeter smelling driver) to Daffys house where I'd left my car. 18 hours after getting out of bed, I was back in it again.

And with so many highlights, what was the most memorable ? Well apart from the evil smelling taxi driver, it had to be that toilet.

I mean only in London does it cost you 50p (pee) to spend a penny !!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Food That Doesn't Travel Well.

I try. I really do. But every so often my Victor Meldrew persona takes over and I just have to have a bit of a rant about things I've read about or experienced.

I almost posted yesterday when I read about the tv watchdog, Ofcom, getting involved because 7 ITV viewers complained about Martin Brundle using the word 'pikey' when talking with the F1 chief, Bernie Ecclestone last Sunday just before the start of the Grand Prix.

The Canadian track had broken up in places and some quick repair work was being done before the race and so Brundle said to Ecclestone "there are some pikeys there at turn 10 putting tarmac down - what do you think of that ?" And 7 people complained !

Having had Irish Travelers come to my house a few times over the years, I think the idea of them doing a rush (probably botched) job on the race track was hilarious and very quick witted of Mr. Brundle.

Now Ofcom are going to 'look at the interview' and see if there had been a potential breach of its broadcasting code. If so, a formal investigation would begin.

Violence, sex and 'bad' language are all over the place on tv and some people object to the word 'pikey'. Even worse, these 7 individuals weren't simply told their complaints had been noted and that they should go back to their basket weaving or macrame or whatever. Oh no. The full weight of Ofcom has swung into action with possible fines on the horizon.

When is this PC business going to stop ? More and more words are being added to the Voldemort list, as I call it. And now it's 'pikey'. A UK word like trailer trash in a way. Hardly offensive and even if it was, think about who we are talking about here. Gypsies. Yeah they've really earned our respect over the years ! Personally I'd call those lazy, shifty, lying, robbing, deceitful, scum just about anything BUT pikeys. That word has a sort of romantic scallywag connotation to it that they don't deserve.

Anyway I'm glad I didn't have a rant about that !!

This lunchtime I went to my favourite local pub with Daphne to have a spot of....well, lunch. The Wellington on Wetherby Road has been given several mentions on this blog from time to time and today the carvery food was of the usual good quality and at £3.50, excellent value for money.

I'm not sure if the guy carving the meats today thought I needed filling up but he loaded up my plate with enough ham and turkey to feed an American. I ate my fill and was left with a large hunk of ham and a decent amount of turkey on my plate. I was going to wrap this food in a couple of napkins and have it for my supper but as a nearby table was being cleared by a member of staff. I asked if there was any sort of container she could get me instead.

She politely told me that I wasn't allowed to take food from the pub. It seems the pub owners do not want people to take food home, leave it on the worktop and eat it 3 weeks later, go down with food poisoning and then sue the pub. What ? To quote Mr. McEnroe, "you cannot be serious" ???

"I promise I'll eat the meat really soon, tonight probably, and even if I get an upset tum, I swear I won't be back to sue you"

"Sorry but you can't leave the pub with that meat."

"But it's such a waste and it's a huge amount of meat and you'll just throw it away."

"Sorry but you can't leave the pub with that meat."

"Well what if I wait till you're away in the back or in the kitchen and I just sneak out with it ?"

"Sorry but you can't leave the pub with that meat."

She said something about her losing her job so even if she didn't actually see this crime being committed, the meat sensors all around the pub door frame would obviously set off a deafening siren and the pub would be illuminated with red and blue flashing strobe lights.

Have we gone mad ? Ironically in the land of litigation, America, a take out container practically comes with your meal. It's almost expected and compulsory. Few people can eat the portions you get over there and until they learn that the idea of "less food for less cost" would be a great idea all around, then it makes a lot of sense to be able to take home the remains of the meal you've actually paid for.

In the end she went off to talk to her manager and came back some time later with some tin foil and a disclaimer form. I kid you not. A disclaimer form.

I can't remember the heading on the form but it was along the lines of "Customer Taking Food Off The Premises Despite Us Telling Him We Don't Allow It."

She wrote her name and the time and I signed it, wrote my name in capitals and dated it. I've entered less information to get a bank loan.

The girl told us that in 3 weeks time, every establishment would have this 'law' so unless you knew this already, you've been warned. Eat up your food as you sure can't take any away with you.

So I wrapped my VIM (Very Important Meat - wish it had been Pork but it was ham and turkey) in the foil and left the pub with my head, and my meat, held high.

Not long after I got home, the pub owner rang me to ask if I was ok ? I said I hadn't eaten the meat yet so I was fine. He said that after we'd left, 7 people had complained that I'd been allowed to leave with food when it was clearly a very dangerous thing to do. He added that when he'd asked for their names and addresses, they'd given a caravan site on some greenbelt land nearby.

Pikey bastards.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Yer What ?

I often wonder if headline writers realise what they're writing.

Then again, as I'm blogging about this one, maybe they do. They are my local rugby team by the way but I'll never think of them the same way again !

Friday, June 06, 2008

.....One Giant Leap for Sandkind

Back in the days when I wore short pants, I wanted to be an astronaut.

Actually never mind when I was in my 30's, I wanted to be an astronaut back when I was in primary school.

I was almost 9 years old when on May 25th 1961, President Kennedy delivered his famous speech before a joint session of Congress. After a bit of nonsense about fighting Communism, helping the economy and more spending for the military, he came to the good stuff :

"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish".

I'd never wanted to be American so much in my short life as at that moment. Going to the moon ? Where do I sign up ?

Of course this is just very slightly untrue as it was 1961. I was 8 yrs old, living in a small town in rural N. Ireland where electricity, never mind tv or radio, was still several decades away from reaching our house. My dad didn't want it anyway.

"Electricity ? It's the work of the devil" he'd say. Having looked at my last power bill, I'd have to say he wasn't far wrong.

So ok I don't remember hearing THAT speech at the time but I think I probably read about it in The Times the next day. We were a well read family. I was inspired.

Space, the final frontier. To boldly go where no man.....oh hang on, that was Star Trek. Sorry.

But I was hooked and still am. Sadly shortly after he made that speech, I had to get glasses and my dream of going into space, without the use of recreational drugs, was gone forever. And so I decided on the next best thing - I'd be as close to the astronauts as possible by becoming a NASA computer expert. My future career was set. I was going to be a geek.

Fast forward 10 years or so and I was at Leicester studying Computer Science with images of Mission Control firmly in my mind. Fast forward another couple of years and I was working for a supermarket company and continued working there for the next 25 years. Don't you just hate unfulfilled dreams. Admittedly I was in IT all those years but it just wasn't the same.

I was sending new software updates to ASDA stores nationwide when I really wanted to be sending command module updates to the Apollo capsule. I once tried to reroute the checkout software destined for ASDA Killingbeck to Houston but I came up against their firewall.

I was even jealous of James Burke as I felt I could've done his job just as well. Every time NASA sent up a rocket, the BBC dragged Burke out to dumb down all the technical stuff by using a long pointer and lots of little Blue Peter style models. I could've done that. I bet he got to meet lots of cool astronauts and did cool stuff. He was cool. I wanted to be cool.

But I wasn't cool.

In 1989 NASA finally called me and I went to the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. Ok I actually called THEM to get their opening times but I DID go. That must count for something. I met with an astronaut too. In a space suit. Him, not me. I shook his gloved hand and had my picture taken. It was pre digital and like my dreams, it got lost somewhere over the years.

Of course the rest, as they say, is history. They went to the moon without me. Bastards.

Now of course, every billionaire and his dog can go into space. It's no biggie. Even Brits can go.

And speaking of Britain, what have we contributed to the Space Age ? Well we had Mr. Burke of course. And Jodrell Bank over in Cheshire listens for radio waves from deep space as part of the search for intelligent life, so that rules out The Terry Wogan Show. And the Teletubbies ? Oh come on people, you can't tell me Tinky Winky wasn't OUT THERE.

But now we're really getting into the swing of things and we have, drum roll, Project Moonlite. No that's not a rerun of that show with a young and hairy Bruce Willis. No, this is cutting edge technological stuff.

Get this. We're going to shoot projectiles deep under the surface of the moon to do lots of tests and as they always say, to discover more about the origins of the universe. Seems to me everything that is sent into space is somehow supposed to help scientists learn more about these origins. How much more do we need to know, for God's sake ? Long time ago, big bang, lots of bits going everywhere, stars, planets, moon, earth. Sorted. Move on.

Anyway down in Pendine, near Tenby in South Wales, the British boffins, presumably wearing long white coats and holding clip boards, fired 3 penetrator missiles (I kid you not) at 700mph into a sand bunker designed to mimic the lunar surface. The grand idea is that in 2013, 4 similar missiles, full of test equipment, will be fired from an orbiting spacecraft to end up 10 feet under the surface of the moon.

You couldn't write this stuff.

I hope this spacecraft will be orbiting the moon and not the earth cause if we are involved, these missiles could go anywhere. If they use anything like my TomTom for guidance, they may well end up on Pluto.

"In 240,000 miles, turn left. Then keep left and you have reached your destination".

It'll all be very exciting I'm sure. I hope they bring James out of mothballs so he can explain it all to us. He can use his football Earth and golf ball moon again too. He can be a hero to a whole new generation.

I can just hear it now.

"Tenby, we have a problem. Anyone got a match ?"

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Spookily Enough..........

I hadn't realised it had been a week exactly since I wrote that last post and so it was a bit bizarre that today I walked to Daphne's house again.

This time, as the weather was a little bit more summery and the neighbours were having all their windows and doors replaced, I did it for real. They started work at 9am and after several hours of putting up with the banging and the swearing and the loud music, the window fitters asked me to stop them all and give them some peace.

So I decided to go for a walk.

I slipped into my still almost new trainers, put my hoodie over my hard rock (London) t-shirt, and with headphones in place and connected to my £1.50 Tesco radio, I was set for the great outdoors.

Old people crossed the road. Gangs of spotty youths parted to let me pass. The neighourhood bobby whispered for backup into his walkie talkie. Yes, I was strutting with some purpose and was taking no prisoners.

For the first 15 minutes I was on a 3 hr marathon schedule and felt great. Every traffic light was in my favour - although I felt I should really get off the road and pound the pavement. I had passed a Skoda though and enjoyed seeing the driver tap his speedometer to make sure he was actually moving. I was a blur. The embodiment of a clean living, non drug taking athlete.

Well ok I take a few drugs - but purely for medicinal purposes. Nothing recreational at all. Oh no.

So what if my pee is blue ? Was good enough for King George the sequel sequel.

But then I hit the barrier. This came as quite a shock to me as over the years I'd watched several London Marathons from the comfort of my armchair and bloody Stuart Storey and his BBC mob were always telling us this infamous barrier was located just past the Cutty Sark and before The Mall. So how the hell did it get to North Leeds ? Someone must've moved it after the race and placed it for unsuspecting walkers like me to smash into just across Street Lane. You know, near the chippie ? Oh come on, just before the traffic lights at Moortown Corner ? Yesssssssssss that's the place.

Bet it was that Brendan Foster geezer. Geordie bastard. I'm going to boycott Flora from now on.

Anyway it was a bit torturous after that and I was glad I only had another 17 minutes to go. Next time I'm going to be more organised and set up a couple of comfort stations along the route. A cooling wet sponge down would've done me a world of good today and I suspect a full body massage would've helped my aching joints. I'll see if Olga would be up for a bit of extra work on a regular basis. Don't think that'll be a problem actually.

Come to think of it, I need to alter my route a little bit to take me right past the chippie as opposed to close to it. If I ring them before I set off, I'm sure they'd hand over a bag of chips and some fish scraps without me needing to break stride. Excellent.

Ohhhhh even better, forget the fish scraps and try a jumbo sausage !! Brill idea. Then we could use the good old 'pass the baton' technique so beloved of British relay runners. Hmmm given our history, we'd better have a few spares handy as we're bound to need several goes at it. I may have to forgo the pickled onion to make up time. Don't want to overdo things.

But that's all in the future and today I soldiered on with no sponge and no food. I feel your admiration already. Thank you.

Just before Daphne's house there is a huge hill, well more like a mountain really. I've no idea how cars and buses can possibly get up it. Weak with hunger and suffering from dry skin, I was in no fit state to take on this geographic monstrosity and my pace slowed to a mere crawl, nay a poor substitute for a mere crawl.

I heard a car horn and glanced to my right so see a grinning Skoda driver give me a single digit salute as he flashed by. Oh the inhumanity.

But did I let that hill beat me, dear reader ? Hell no. I had my cell phone and 10 minutes later the taxi dropped me at the large wall outside Daphne's house where I jogged on the spot for a few minutes to get out of breath again. And so it was that I presented myself at her doorstep, the very picture of a knackered but successful athlete, who was in need of a good cup of tea and maybe a couple of digestive biscuits, chocolate covered if possible.

So having tried both treadmilling and real walking in recent weeks, I can heartily recommend the treadmill method. There are no hills, no Skoda drivers, no bloody barriers and best of all, you're never more than 10 feet from the fridge.

I suspect I may have found the reason for my lack of weight loss.

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