Friday, October 31, 2008

What Happened Next ?

For those not familiar with the long running UK tv sports quiz "A Question Of Sport", the title of this blog post refers to the part of the show where they show a clip from some sporting event, pause the video and then ask the teams to tell us 'what happened next' ?

The sporting clip will usually be about someone doing something bizarre or unusual like a soccer player kicking the ball towards the goal and it bouncing off the crossbar and bringing down a Jumbo Jet. That sort of thing.  Something that doesn't happen very often.  I'm sure the FAA are very relieved about that.  And the FA for that matter.

Anyway this all came into my mind this morning as I tried to catch up on the overnight news from Blighty. Thanks to the daily BBC email feed, I got the following headline from N. Ireland.............

Ahhh......ok.    Not a very nice experience I'm sure but was that it ?   Did the intruder then leave with a threat to return and pin her to the wall again if she told the police ?  

Initially I thought the headline writer had been a bit lazy.  Usually headlines are snappy as well as informative.   You often get the whole story in the headline.  And that's when it hit me.  If you get the whole story in the headline, there is no need to read the article.

Brilliant.  This headline was so useless and yet so intriguing that I just HAD to open up the article to find out 'what happened next' and as I'm that way out this morning, you'll have to do the same thing.

Hey I never said I was a nice guy !  Why should I be the only one to waste 30 seconds of my life.

Oh and while you're looking at it, what's with that police car in the photo ?  How the hell can the driver see out ?  Maybe the design has been photoshopped onto the car to let us all know that it's a police car. Maybe they need such high visibility (well from the outside anyway) on their police cars in N. Ireland.  More used to army vehicles y'know.

Anyway that's all I wanted to say.  I'll go back to my morning coffee now. 

Oh there WAS another headline that took my eye this morning.

I've been warned off about making ANY comments about this one (no fair) so I'll just say that we can expect a dramatic shortage of priests over the next few years.  And if you fail the test, do you pass as a priest or is it the other way round ?  Oh and how will the test work ?  I envisage a 'Clockwork Orange' type scenario - those who have seen the movie will know what I mean.

There, that wasn't so bad, was it ???

However I suspect another post is coming.........................

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Golf Is A Four Letter Game

Yesterday I played golf for the first time since last March.  It didn't show.  I wasn't much good last March either !

This time, however, I had my own clubs and not a load I'd had to buy at $1 each from the local Sebring charity store. 

I went with US friends Clair, Mary and Carl and the first point to note was the temperature.  It was cold.  Not cool, but cold.  It was 11am and 55F with a strong wind blowing from the North West. Not the best direction at all.  Mary was wearing a jacket and ear muffs and even Clair had on long pants and a heavy denim shirt.

Me ?  Polo shirt and shorts of course.  It was like a decent summers day to me !  Ok it was a bit cold as we drove along in the golf carts but once stopped and playing, it was very pleasant.

I shot 98 which seemed reasonable for me but the main thing was I had fun, a lot of fun.

On one hole, Carl hit a tree which sent his ball further from the green and on his next shot, hit the same tree again.  I think he hit another tree on his way to the same green but I may have got that wrong as I was on the other side of the fairway having my own problems. And laughing at Carl.

On another hole, Mary had played her ball into the middle of the fairway, only to have it smacked yards off line by another ball.  Now what are the odds ?

I only hit one tree full on and gave another one a nasty scare.  The one I hit was only a few yards away but I'd wanted to get back onto the fairway and so took the risky shot through the trees, a risk that failed spectacularly.  I'd no idea where the ball went as when it hit that tree, I dropped to the ground like I'd been hit by a sniper.  Thankfully Mary had seen the shot and was able to tell me that my ball had gone up like an Indian rocket and was probably close to the green that we'd be playing next. It was.

The course (Harder Hall Country Club) has lots of water hazards and this means lots of wildlife, snakes and gators. We only saw one gator yesterday but as it was very close to the tee on this particular hole, it was close enough for my liking.  I mean there were no pebbles for my protection and I'm not sure which club I'd have chosen if it came at me.  Probably my 3 wood as I'd not been able to hit a thing all day with my driver. I'm not sure the gator would have offered me a mulligan.

But at $17 (£10.42 at current rates) which included a golf cart, it was a good deal and a good way to get a bit of exercise (well we DID have to walk to and from the greens). I had a few laughs with, and at, my friends, swore numerous times, hit some decent shots, hit even more crap shots, didn't lose my ball, never shot more than a 7 and even got a par.

I'd say that was a good round of golf.  For me.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Kwai Chang Caine

Ok if you never watched the 70's TV series "Kung Fu", that title will have gone right over your head.

I was out on my walk around the park roads today and came upon this monster of Jurassic Park proportions. It had to have been 20ft tall and 250lbs of pure evil muscle and it put me off my stride I can tell you. Before it could react, I climbed on board, grabbed it's antenna, tuned it into BBC America and set off at a gallop around the park.

Oh all right then. Back to reality. I came to a corner and this LITTLE grasshopper was just there in the middle of the road and happy not to be going anywhere. I was only a few yards from home so I got my camera, went back out again and Hoppy stayed perfectly still while I got down on my belly and snapped off a few shots.

I don't have a macro lens so had to get pretty close to get this view. His legs twitched a few times but he posed quite nicely. I thought about throwing a pebble at him but in the end I'd got my photos so I left him alone !!

So no grasshopper was harmed in the making of this post.

Mind you I can't say what happened when the next golf cart came along but that's not my business.

It was a glorious day so while I had the camera handy, I went round to the wooden pier on the lake and took this photo.

It's not a new view. I've posted similar ones before. But I still love it. Last year the park authorities set up several new swing 'benches' around the lake and this is the one I like to use when gazing out across the water. It's very easy to get lost in thoughts, gently swinging there in the sunshine.

I'm a gentle swinger you know.

Seeing as I was out and about now anyway, I went back round to a house here that I'd passed earlier on my walk. What I'd seen had given me a chuckle and I wanted a photo of it anyway. Considering the average age in this park is probably 105, I think this proves that humour isn't reserved for the young.

In some later post, I'll show photos of the numerous Halloween decorations around the park.

You have been warned.

Friday, October 24, 2008

I'm Rambling - Even More Than Usual !

I'm not sure if it's the weather (dammit I only managed 6 words before mentioning it) or the time of year or my advanced years but I'm in a rambling frame of mind today.

It's been raining here recently and although that's not blogworthy in it's own right, it all adds to my state of mind.  No cheap shots, Daffy !

When it rains here, it really rains.  Not quite of biblical proportions but enough to displace critters from their natural habitat.  When you've seen a couple of small gators floating past the house, scrambling to get a foothold on the tarmac, you KNOW it's been raining hard.  The park turtles are much more serene about it and they look like WWII helmets shooting past the window.  They take it in their stride because basically they can't do much else about it. They go with the flow. The gators could learn a thing or two from them. Chill fellas.

The time of year reference is all about the clocks going back......or "falling back" as that expression helps Americans to remember which way the clocks go. Spring forward, Fall back.  All clever stuff.  In the UK our clocks go back this weekend.  Oh they go back in other countries as well but that's not important now.  In the US, they go back a week later and so for this week, the UK is only 4 hours ahead (that's AHEAD, Mr. Plague) of our US cousins.  I hope they realised this when setting up the tv schedules for the NFL game that is being played on Sunday at Wembley. These things are important over here you know, although tuning in an hour early for an  NFL game might not be such a bad thing for the advertisers. 

Ohhhh a little bit controversial there, Silverback !

By the way, while I'm in this rambling mood, I've had numerous readers asking me about the reason why I picked Silverback as my id on here.  So for both of you, here we go.  It has nothing to do with gorillas.  Or software applications.  It's a make of 5th Wheel.  You see I used to have a 30ft travel trailer here called a Mallard and for a while I used that name.  Not quite the image I wanted though.  Then we traded up to a 5th Wheel and Silverback as an id seemed like a much better idea.  So I became Silverback.  Now you know.

In the UK I drive a Clio.  Don't even go there.

Moving on, last night I finally watched one of my downloaded movies - Michael Moore's Sicko.  This documentary compares the US medical system with those like in the UK and France (and even Cuba) which have 'free' healthcare for all.  As usual with his movies, he gave a one sided view of many aspects of all these systems but even so, it was a disturbing insight into aspects of healthcare here but one that shouldn't have come as a surprise to US watchers.  They live it after all.  

What may have amazed them was how things can be so much better in other countries. Americans, by and large, assume that they live in the best country in the world. They sing about it at every opportunity.  Even in the middle of the 8th innings of the current World Series.  Even during a pool party here in Buttonwood Bay.  They love their country and boast about it all the time. That's fair enough but they don't seem to realise there are MANY other countries out there.  

I was going to say MANY other countries out there that have things better than they have.  But the previous statement stands on it's own. There are MANY other countries out there.  Honest.  They might not have a clue where they are geographically but ones with better healthcare systems. Better holiday entitlement.  Better working conditions.  Better benefits for new parents.  Better education.  And so on.

But it's not a pissing contest.  I love many aspects of American life otherwise I'd not want to be here for half the year.  The Americans I know are open and friendly to an extent rarely seen in the UK.  And yes I know that's only in my experience but after all, that's all I can talk about with any authority.  So maybe Sicko needs to be seen by all Americans NOT just to let them know about how healthcare can work much better elsewhere, but that 'elsewhere' actually exists and that in many ways, 'elsewhere' can be better than here.  Bit of a shocker, I know.  I'm not sure most are ready for this reality check.

Hey it's not raining now.  The gators are probably back in the lake and ponds and the turtles may be back there by next week. An hour either way won't make much difference to them.

But it does to me.  Leeds play mid week (7:45pm UK time) so I need to be aware of the new 4 hour time difference and start listening at 3:45pm and not 2:45pm. Or should that be 4:45pm ?  S'all very confusing. I'll be glad when we're back in sync again.

Then the UK will be back to having a disasterous day on the stock markets 5 hours before they have one over here. 

It's good to know we're ahead of the US in something !!!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hello, How Can I Help You Today ?

The news that India will launch their first mission to the Moon in a few hours time has filled me with some dread.

Call me cynical but all the details about it being a mission to look for traces of this and that exotic substance just don't ring true.  I mean haven't we moved on from the Moon now, literally ?  Aren't we spending all the money not allocated to bailing out the banks on moving scaletrix robots about on the Martian surface ?

I use the term 'we' in a very loose worldwide scientific community type way of course.  The UK Space Agency (yes, yes I've made it up) has yet to launch anything into space but we'll get there. Just after Nigeria probe Uranus probably. The Moon will be colonised, the Mars Hilton will be open for business and we Brits will still be messing about with low altitude fireworks.

"Tall Man Raises Sparkler To Record Height" would be the exciting headline.

But back to this evening and the launch of Chandrayaan 1, India's answer to the USSR's Luna 2 which was the first probe to reach the Moon in Sept 1959.  Better late than never, guys.  Actually when I say it 'reached' the Moon, I mean it crashed into it.  Lunar probes had a habit of doing that back in those days. Something to do with a Radioshack GPS and dodgy brakes. 

"After 238,800 miles you have reached your destina..........."  Bang.

So why is India really interested in the Moon ?  Well it's a pretty overpopulated country after all so maybe it sees lunar colonisation as a real possibility.  And as for sport, think what the thin atmosphere will mean for their spin bowlers for a start !  They'll be unplayable with their almost zero gravity googlies and doozras.  

Ok lost most of you now.  Sorry about that.  Interplanetary cricket may be some way off yet.

Anyway I know why they're looking towards the Moon.  S'obvious.

The first lunar call centre !!

They'll be about 238,000 miles away so absolutely useless when it comes to helping anyone in a practical sence. Communications could be a problem too with a bit of a time delay and of course solar flares might cause regular interference as well. The need to use message ending words like 'over' and 'roger' would become the norm. In Indian of course.

To sum it up, they'll be a long way away, hard to talk with and using words that we're not used to.  Oh and not much help at all really.

So no change there then.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Big Picture

I was adding a few more blogs to my blog roll today when I decided to just copy across most of those I have on my Google Reader.  

Now on that Reader I have news sites and web sites and so those don't qualify as blog sites at all.

But I did add one web site here on my blogroll as it's almost like a blog.  The Big Picture.

I'm one of those rare people who like to look at photos - even ones not taken by me.  They could be holiday snaps or professional shots, I don't care.  I just like seeing good photos and often I learn from them.

This site updates regularly with collections of stunning photos and if you look back through previous 'posts' I assure you, you won't know where your day has suddenly gone.

Try this one for instance.  Even better if you live in London. 

Enough said.  I'll let the photos speak for themselves, as good photos often do.

Is Nowhere Sacred ??

Yesterday afternoon, while waiting for an NFL game to start,  I watched a bit of a film called Marie Antoinette (well actually the whole film was called Marie Antoinette), mostly because it starred the delicious Kirsten Dunst in the title role.  It didn't matter to me that she was 24 at the time and playing a 15 year old Marie - hey I've watched Grease where most of the high school cast were in their 30's - as I can suspend belief with the best of them.

It was all very slow going with long periods when there was no dialogue and we were left to 'enjoy' Ms Dunst gliding along the corridors of the Chateau De Versailles as if she had rollerblades under her huge voluminous dresses. They all glided back then.  Well not the men of course. They clacked along on the tiled floors in their hard healed shoes doing no hoovering whatsoever.  No wonder the floors were always immaculate as the women were human swiffers and gathered up any dust bunnies as they went from room to room.

I only saw about 45 minutes of the film but I was amazed, as usual, by what went on in royal circles back then and especially the way everyone treated those at the top of the pile.  Of course one has to remember that this is history the Hollywood way, but it's still fascinating.  Over a period of time we saw lots of cakes being ate, presumably preparing us for the infamous "let them eat cake" quote that was never actually spoken by MA.

Every morning there were about 15 people to help her get dressed and even more to attend to her and her hubby, the future King Louis XVI, when they ate breakfast.  No bacon sannies for them although given the quantity of items they had to pick from, I think the French Royal Family had enjoyed an All-You-Can-Eat Breakfast Buffet several centuries before chains like The Golden Coral took up the idea in America !  

I only mention these activities as they took place in the morning and this was the time of day that my part of the movie was concentrating on.  You see the newly married couple weren't exactly going like 'le clappers' in ye olde bed chambre and as we all know, producing a son and heir was high on the list of priorities if you wanted to keep your job in 18th century Europe.  Now Marie was trying her best but Louis wasn't really up for it, if you'll pardon my French.  He was more a huntin', shootin', fishin' type of guy and was happiest when combining all three pursuits.

What made me laugh was that on their wedding night, their four poster was surrounded by dad and his love interest, family members, numerous servants and even several representatives of the religious hiararchy - all there to watch the couple get into bed and then be blessed in the hopes of producing an heir after a night of rumpy pumpy.  Sadly, as I've said before, Louis wasn't one for bedroom rumpy and so no pumpy went on at all.

So each morning we'd see the assembled hand maidens gathered around the bed and the curtains would be drawn back to show Marie alone in the bed - which led us to believe that once again, Louis had not only NOT done his duty, but had skivved off early to do some outdoor pursuit instead.

Can you imagine the pressure ?  You're 15 and just married and every night you have a roomful of expectant people around your bed (thankfully they did leave once the curtains were closed) who would be there the next morning to wake you up and hoping that hubby would actually be in bed with you to let the world know that you had finally consummated the marriage.  Mind you if I was in bed with a 15 year old Austrian heiress...well better not think of that right now but they were obviously a lot more enlightened back then !

The reason this whole topic has become blogworthy (hopefully) this morning is because I read the following headline on the BBC News Site.

Witness Plea Over Man Shot In Bed

The article started as follows....... 

Detectives investigating the murder of a man who was shot dead in his bed have urged witnesses to contact them.

Now the man was in bed with his wife at 3am when this shooting took place. So assuming his wife didn't fire the shot and assuming he didn't commit suicide, we're left with the shooter, or shooters, as the only witnesses.  I assume.  I can't see him/them coming forward so just who are these witnesses that the police are urging to contact them ?

This all happened near Aylesford in Kent and I know we in the North of England tend to regard those south of the Watford Gap as nancy boy poshheads, but come on, I don't think they've gone all French Aristocracy on us and have people around their beds of a night.  Maybe the police are hoping there was a lover hiding in a bedroom cupboard or something.  Maybe a camcorder wielding peeping tom up a tree outside the bedroom window ?  

I'll be following this story with some interest and will let you know if a witness comes forward.  If one does, I'm sure he or she will be found to have had ancestors from 18th century France who were curtain openers or chamber pot emptiers or something in the service of Marie Antoinette and Crown Prince Louis.

I can tell you this. When I'm in my bed there are NO witnesses.  

Damn, how sad is THAT ?!

Friday, October 17, 2008

When They Work Here, They Work Fast.

When the driveway guys arrived yesterday, they didn't waste any time getting down to the work.  This first photo shows them removing the top layer of grass and soil down to about 4ins as that was to be the thickness of the concrete base.

You can see the start of the wooden frame that would limit the boundary of the cement when poured. It would eventually come right down to the roadside and across to that newly dug up part, just to the right of the existing little path (leading to the front door) so as to form a seamless solid area around that side of the house.

This next photo shows the progress only a few minutes later and you can see the depth to which the ground has been dug up, in readiness for the concrete.

Only 2 men were involved at this stage and as the afternoon wore on, one left so it became a one man show. He had to level the ground to provide a smooth base for the concrete which was due to arrive the following morning.

Today in fact. Friday.

Photo 3 shows the driveway when the guy left for the day. The full frame is in place and the dug up ground is level and smooth......well as it slopes down to the road for the rain to pour off, it's as level as it needs to be !

We don't plan on using the driveway for the truck. We want to use it for the golf cart and so that we can sit outside and not be bothered with the ants which are all over the grass here.  Sure they'll still be on the grass belong to the next property but they never stray far from their little 'holes' and so won't venture onto the concrete at all.

Our house is South facing and so the sun curves in an arc right over the driveway all day long. It's a sun trap and we want to make much more use of it for relaxation and that's why this work is being done.

At some point in the future we may have a car port type structure added at the back, just in front of the little shed, and that will provide some nice shade - during the day it's usually too hot to sit outside for more than a few minutes at a time. But from mid afternoon onwards, the house itself provides increasing shade as the sun moves Westwards and so we'll see if this awning will really be needed.

Now we've moved forward to before 9am this morning (Friday) when the concrete pouring truck arrived with 4 men to do the work.

These people do most of the driveway work within the park and so it was an easy decision to pick them. If at any time we have a problem, we know where to find them as they're nearly always here.

They started at the back near the shed and poured on the first 'dollop' of concrete and began smoothing it out. Here you see the goop coming down the shute (poetic eh ?) while 2 of the men are ready with their rakes to smooth it out.

It all progressed very fast as the 'hard' preparation work had been done yesterday. In no time the whole driveway was covered in concrete and we even managed to save a tiny toad which had been cowering in a corner and had been in danger of being buried alive in classic Mafia style. Well I say 'we' but while I was dithering over it and wondering what to do, one of the workmen scooped it up and flung it over to the other side of the house.

I could've sworn I heard a tiny voice shout out "I can see your house from hereeeeee" but I may have been mistaken. In any case, toady turned up a few minutes later trying to get in the front door so obviously it's sub orbital flight hadn't affected it too much. That's one small step.....etc etc.

This penultimate photo shows them working right at the road end of the driveway and you can see how the concrete is coming around to join up with the existing path...and how much concrete was needed to fill to a depth of 4 inches.

Usually they taper the end of a driveway so that it is flush with the road but as we told them we'd not be using it for the truck, they left it raised up so it would be on a level with the end of the little door path. Of course it doesn't mean we CAN'T get the truck up (or any vehicle used by a visitor) onto the driveway, but we just need to remember there will be a slight bump going up there.

This final photo was taken just before they left for the day. The work isn't finished though as once the concrete is dry, they'll be back tomorrow to 'score' it.

If you enlarge it, you may see a line across from the water downpipe - just where the driveway starts to slope downwards to the road. The main guy will be back tomorrow to create a couple more lines across the length of the driveway with his power cutter. You cannot have such a long area of concrete without scoring it in places or else it will crack over time.

Scoring it puts in planned cracks which ensure that unplanned cracks don't appear all over the concrete. It's a shame really as I like the look of this lovely smooth area.

But it has to be done.

I'll post a final photo tomorrow when this scoring has been done and the driveway is complete.

Sorry if these have been a couple of dull posts but seeing this work done was something new to me and I'd like to have a record of it for my purposes if nothing else.

Normal blogging services will be resumed from now on..............

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Stump Cam

Seeing as this is a term familiar to watchers of cricket, I thought it would be appropriate for this blog post title.

Just before I arrived here 2 weeks ago, the tree that stood next to our house had been cut down and removed. Debby blogged about it at the time and I was bummed that I missed it.

We've also decided to have concrete laid on the area next to the house so we can sit outside and enjoy the sunshine without the constant risk of being eaten alive by the fire ants that currently share the land with us. This new driveway will run from the little shed all the way to the roadside and be 8ft 7ins wide.

These 2 photos show a before and after view of the side of the house. You see the tree in front of the golf cart that a bike is resting against ?   Then you don't !

But when they ground the old tree stump down, they didn't remove enough of it as it needed to be at least 4 ins below ground level so that the concrete work could be done. So stump man came this morning to grind it down a bit more and this time I was here to record the deed - hence stump cam.

I'll just split the series into 2 sets and let them tell their own story. First up is a set showing how the guy basically walks the grinder off the trailer and sets it up over the stump.

The next set shows how the guy gets the grinder up to speed and then lowers it and moves it very slowly from side to side and thus grinds down anything in its path. The second last photo shows the lovely colour of the stump as layer after layer gets cut away. There wasn't much left to see really but the photos on Debs blog (see link above) show the colours much better as there was more of the stump at that time.

The final photo shows the stump pretty much gone and the resulting hole was filed in with the bits and pieces that used to BE the stump and so that was a nice recycling touch. It was all over in less than an hour and once he walked his grinder back up onto the trailer, he was gone. It was something I'd never seen before so I was glad to have seen it for myself.

Now we're just waiting for the driveway man to arrive. He rang at 8am and told us he'd be here at 9am. 

It's now 10am.

I guess the time wasn't set in concrete !!      (Ohhhhh sorry about that).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Friends Reunited

One of the joys of returning here to Buttonwood Bay each year is that we eventually meet up with friends who also return to spend the winter months in the Sunshine State.

We are called 'Snowbirds' as the idea is that we are trying to avoid seeing any of the white stuff for the rest of our lives. In my case, returning to England in the last few days of March, I run the risk of getting to see snow for a few days at some stage. Maybe even in mid June, given the weather we've had recently.

My friends Debby & Dennis arrived first this year, arriving towards the end of September. They came from Michigan. Then in the first few days of October I arrived and a week later, our friends Marty and Eldy arrived from Indiana.

Yesterday Clair & Mary arrived from Pennslyvania, although they had set off from their home a few weeks earlier and taken a slower, tourist type route to get here. Maybe it was just down to Clair driving as with a laptop and 2 GPS devices, he can still get lost.

Once they had opened up their house (and removed the car and golf cart from inside it !!), they moved in a lot of their stuff from their motorhome. By 6pm they were tired and very hungry and we all decided to go locally for some fast food.

When we got back it was only just after 7pm and as there was an almost full moon, I decided to get a picture of us all with the moon in the background. I got out the tripod, attached the camera and then realised I had my long lens on it. As no one wants to hang about outside at night with the threat of 'the flying teeth' around, I just decided to go with it and get them to keep going back, and back, and back. Finally they were in shot and with the self timer set, I hit the shutter button and legged it the half mile to where they were now standing.

Just in time.

The flash unit built onto my camera has all the power of a half dead firefly so I really didn't expect it to light us up very well - so I was more than pleased with the results. The fact that it lit up the moon as well was a nice bonus !

Park Friends

Don't we look like a happy bunch of campers ? I've caught a bit of sun in my 2 weeks here as it's kinda hard not to. I may not resemble my passport photo when I return to the UK but that's never a bad thing.

It's lovely to be here in the park with friends all around us. Constant waving becomes the norm and all traces of SAD have gone. I can watch Corrie and Match Of The Day so all in all, I see few downsides. Well until the Presidential election is over, it's best to avoid tv.

If only they could manage decent fish and chips I'd never want to go home.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Princess Is 50

My bestest ever friend, the self proclaimed Princess, is 50 today. To look at her, you'd never guess she was a day over 49.  Amazing.  No plastic surgery.  No artificial additives (I don't think).

Just Debby.

I won't go into a long list of her attributes as she'd be embarassed to see them all posted on a blog.  Yeah right.  Modesty isn't one of them !!!

But she is special to me.  We've been friends since before me met.  Thanks to t'internet.  Yes folks we were internet buddies and proud of it.  After a few years of chating online (no Skype back then as dial up connections were the order of the day), we met sometime in the early 1990's. I'm not entirely sure of the year at this point in time but could probably work it out from home movies and photos.  

Anyway it was about 15 years ago and we've seen each other every year since then.......often for 6 months at a time since 2000. She and hubby, Dennis, have opened up their home for me on these occasions and I'm glad to say that I've done the same for them when they've come over to the UK to stay with me.  

Entente cordiale, hands across the water, special relationship and all that good stuff.  We're doing our bit.

So Monday morning is coffee morning here in Buttonwood Bay and we're off now to join with as many of the residents who like to share a coffee and a chat and even a donut.  Hmmmmmm donuts.  Debby is wearing her flashing 50th Birthday badge and wonders if the tiara would be over doing it.

See what I mean ?

Happy Birthday, Princess Debby.  You sure are American Royalty !!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

DIY Surgery ?

Just before I came over here to Florida for the winter, I checked my heart monitor and realised it needed new batteries.  Not knowing if the battery had gone in the watch receiver or the chest strap transmitter, I decided to replace both to be on the safe side and to have both in sync, so to speak.

I use the monitor much more here in Florida as I use my bike a lot more - both for exercise and for getting around.  I used to be keen on biking for exercise in Leeds until my 2nd heart attack which came, ironically enough, after I'd biked to my local pharmacy to pick up my 6 months supply of pills for my trip to Florida in 2005.

I came out of the pharmacy, didn't feel too well and in typical style, rode the bike back home and probably had several minor after attacks on the trip !  Way to go !!  I knew what was happening and rang for a taxi to take me to the hospital and the rest is history.

Anyway, I'm now a bit leery about biking unless on a totally flat surface as my heart monitor shows just how much stress is placed on it (the heart, not the monitor) when I go up even a slight incline.  I could just go round and round my estate but that's a bit boring so basically when in Leeds, I just walk for exercise.

Things are different here in Buttonwood Bay as apart from one very slight incline, all the internal roads are as flat as pancakes.....even pancakes I've made !  This and the glorious weather makes biking a joy.  But I still like having my monitor on as the very hot conditions can raise my heart rate too and it's also very easy to stay out too long enjoying the sunshine.

So back to the batteries.  I'd bought this specific monitor about 18 months ago from the same local pharmacy (Lloyds) as it was very cheap at £9.95.  I decided that if the batteries were over £3 or £4 each, I'd just get a new monitor as they were now on sale for £7.95.  Getting the batteries out of the units was no easy task and certainly not as easy as it said it would be in the instructions.

Numerous tiny screws had to be removed and when I slid the cover sideways off the back of the watch, a very thin rubber gasket came off as well and I knew I'd have trouble getting it back on. 
I'd almost decided to simply buy new but I wanted to price the batteries anyway. 

I left things until I went to collect my pills again (I walked  !!) but was annoyed with myself as I'd forgotten to take the old batteries with me.  The pharmacy didn't sell replacement ones anyway and recommended the newsagents a few shops up the road.  I went there and the conversation went like this...................

"Do you sell batteries ?"

"Yes we do.  What kind do you need ?"

"Well I don't know the name or serial number and I've not got one with me but they are for a heart monitor." 

The newsagent looked at me for a few seconds and her brow furrowed.

"You removed the old batteries yourself ?"

"Well yes but like I said, I didn't bring one with me.  I'm thinking of just buying a whole new unit actually if the batteries are too expensive.

More brow furrowing and an even longer stare.

"I can't believe you've done that."

"Well yes they were a bugger to get out and a gasket came out too so I'm not sure I can get it all put back together again anyway."

I thought she was going to faint.

"A heart monitor ?" she said.  "Yes." I said.  "To check my heart rate when I exercise."


"Oh my God I thought you meant...ah.....a......."  

"A pacemaker ?" I asked helpfully.

"YESSSSSSSS" she said, getting the colour back into her cheeks and laughing hysterically.

Maybe I need to stop walking around with a white coat and stethoscope but I still don't see how she confused a monitor with a pacemaker.  I mean everyone knows that when the batteries go on those babies, you're not likely to be calmly standing at a newsagents counter with a supersize Mars bar and a bag of Werther's Originals and asking about replacement batteries.

No, I suspect you'd be sitting very very quietly at home in a soft chair and waiting for the ambulance to take you to hospital.  Not a newsagents.


Thursday, October 09, 2008

Mad Dogs And......From Wherever.

When out on my daily walk yesterday, a couple passed in their car and pulled into their driveway just a few yards from me.

I noticed a couple of Scottish stickers on the edge of their trunk and so when I got up to their driveway, I asked about them.

"My husband came from Scotland originally" said the wife.

"Ahhhh" I said in response.

Then hubby, who had taken a bit longer to get out of the car, added "Yes, but I hate the Brits !! My business partner was a Brit and he owes me a lot of money."

"Hang on" I said "I'm a Brit".  I didn't feel the need to remind him that, unless something major had happened in the week since I got here, Scots are Brits too.

"Oh well I guess I don't hate them all."

After chatting a bit more in an effort to patch up the 'special relationship' between our nations that had so obviously been tainted by the business partner, I continued with my walk.

Then I got to I a Brit ?  

When I'm asked where I'm from, I usually give England as my answer as, after all, that's where I live.  Well for a few days over half a year at least.  That's just in case US Immigration is reading my blog. Hey you never know.

So I'm ok with where I live/where I'm from.  But my nationality ?

You see I was born in N. Ireland but I don't have a snappy and accurate country of birth to give to anyone who asks. 

"I'm....ah......well..........I was born in N. Ireland."

That's the best I can do really.  Technically that doesn't make me British.  It certainly doesn't make me Irish.  

My passport tells everyone I'm a citizen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  And no, I'm not giving that lot as a reply. On the immigration form I put 'UK' but this is mostly as the space for the answer isn't very big.  That's ok for forms but it doesn't roll off the tongue.  

Am I a United Kingdomer ? Actually that sounds pretty grand and conjours up images of castles and knights and serving wenches and Americans love all that historic stuff.

I could say I'm an Ulsterman but come on, who here would have a clue what that means ?

Remember this is a nation where, when I say I live in England, I'm asked if I know so and so as if I'm familiar with everyone who lives in England.  They're also not entirely sure where we are on a map.  Oh lets be honest, they're not sure where ANYWHERE is on a map. Ulsterman would create numerous extra questions and probably open up a whole can of political and geographical whipass.

So why is this important right now ?  Well it's down to my walking.  Mostly people here walk in the early hours before the sun is up and the tarmac isn't bubbling.  I, on the other hand, am NOT a morning person and like to wake up slowly and so I go walking at about 11am or noon most days. The temperature at this time of day is in the mid to high 80's.  And humid.  Very humid. 

But my thinking is I get exercise, a tan and a sauna all from the same walk.  

I don't meet a soul.  The a/c units are going full blast.  Everyone is inside having a nap or knitting booties for the great-grandchildren.  Even if they are teenagers now. I could be the only person in the park and no, my name isn't Daffyd !! 

So of course I wanted to blog about this and the obvious title would've been "Mad Dogs And Englishmen"  but that's when I came unstuck.  

"Mad Dogs And Ulstermen ?"


"Mad Dogs And United Kingdomers ?"

God no.

"Mad Dogs And Citizens Of The United Kingdom Of Great Britain And Northern Ireland ? "

It's only getting worse.  Maybe I should just walk at dawn and leave the midday sun to the English.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Snake Whisperer

Well I guess this poor little fella was way past the whispering stage when I came upon him yesterday.  Although it doesn't appear obvious in the photo, parts of him were flat and I don't think this was natural !  I suspect he'd been run over a few times by any or all of the golf carts that ply the roads within the park.

And if that wasn't a good clue that he was an ex snake, then the relatively large hole towards his tail was the clincher.  I think he'd been doing his 'circle of life' thing for some considerable time - so despite some recent advice about avoiding any local Coral Snakes, I felt pretty safe aproaching this one. I had a pebble handy just in case.

Although 45 species of snakes are found in Florida, only 6 are venomous. I've gone to various sites to try and identify this one but I suspect that having been run over a few times and then having a chunk removed from his body and then lying in the hot sun for a while.....oh and then being dead......he may have lost some of his distinctive colouring.  If he ever had any.  

So basically I donno what he is, or was.  

It's still a novelty for a Brit to see a snake of course, hence this post. St. Patrick was probably glad he never made it to America as he'd have had his work cut out removing all the snakes from here.  Would've been handy if some other Saint had thought to irradicate ants and mosquitoes and, well, anything that bites.  Even hamsters !  But I digress.

When I went past the same place this morning, old snakey had gone.  As I very much doubt it was under his own steam, I think he became a meal for any number of park critters and even a couple of not so fussy park residents who don't care where their next meal comes from.

Probably more nutricious than anything sold at McDonalds.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Gator Whisperer

Remember the gator I photographed a few days ago ?  The one that was hiding his head in the reeds ?

Well on Saturday Debby came back from a golf cart trip around the park and said the gator was still there and this time his head was clearly visible.

I was going for a walk anyway so armed with my camera, I set off like a poor mans David Attenborough to get a photo of this huge man eating beast......ok a little 5ft beast then.  Come on, a guy has to tell a good story, y'know.

When I got to the area, the stupid gator was right back where we'd seen it the previous day and not only was its head hidden again but it was settled even lower in the water so there wasn't as much of its body in view.

I shouted at it.  No response.

I jumped up and down.  No response.

I decided on more drastic (and potentially foolhardy) tactics and picking up 3 pebbles from the path, I threw one underarm towards the beast. It plopped into the water a foot from the gator and - no response.  The next pebble was a bit closer but still, no response.

By now I'd got the range just right and the third, and largest, pebble hit the gator in the middle of its back and it didn't like that at all.  It reared up alarmingly and opened its jaws and then
crashed back down into the water.  Lovely.  Stunning.  What a photo opportunity.

Sadly it all happened in a flash and I'd no time to even raise my camera to my eye, never mind compose and take a photo.  Dammit.  I needed an assistant.  Where was Debbie McGee when I needed her ?  

At least he settled back down with his head a bit more exposed and I think he was giving me the 'evil eye' for sure.  

"One more pebble hits me, ya bastard, and you'll be my supper."  Or thoughts along those lines.

So I took one photo and beat a hasty retreat.

When I went back today (Monday), the gator was gone.  I guess I'd had my chance and blew it.

For once I've not resized the image.  I'm having problems with photos on here not enlarging when you click on them so hopefully this one will enlarge and if so, I want it to be full size so you can get a good look at him.

No gators were (seriously) harmed in the making of this post.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Meat Is Just So Fresh Here.

Even though we've had supermarkets in the UK since the mid 60's, we obviously have a lot of catching up to do to get where they're at over here in The Colonies.

Sure they look the same and mostly stock the same foods but down here in sunny Sebring, they've taken the idea of fresh food to another level and I'm pleased to report that the chain that filed for bankruptcy just over 3 years ago, is the one raising the bar to new heights.  Winn Dixie.

We were shopping in the local branch yesterday when we got to the checkout and Deb glanced at the cart of the man in front of us who was busy loading his shopping onto the counter.

Perched on a side 'bar' of the cart was a little lizard, one of the zillions that live here. He'd obviously come in on the cart and was enjoying shopping at Winn Dixie.  Maybe it was the GEICO gecko on a Florida vacation.    

The man saw us all looking and pointing at the lizard but he was too busy sorting out his groceries to care less.  I patted his little head (nooooooo the lizards head, not the mans) and it scuttled over to another part of the cart.  Cute little guy.

The man paid and left the store.

Legally I'm not sure where he stood.  I mean he didn't pay for the lizard but then again it wasn't sold by the store either. 

After a quick dash back to the fresh meat section, we moved up in line and started putting our groceries onto the counter.  The checkout girl glanced at my cart and seemed surprised to see the 12 lb chicken that was wrapped around the bars.  I've no idea why she rang for the manager as she hadn't said a word to the man with the gecko.

I thought it was disgraceful that they had a problem with me taking my chicken for a trip around the store.

"But it's dead" she said, somewhat unnecessarily I felt. "And also still covered in saran wrap."

"It was her last wish" I offered as a way of explanation. "She loved Winn Dixie and wanted to see inside the store one last time before supper."

"I don't believe you, Sir.  You'll have to pay for it/her."

I paid up but was not happy.  I'm sure as hell not taking my gecko there next week as planned. We'll go to WalMart.

Winn Dixie have lost my custom and to be honest, with that attitude, I can see why they went bankrupt.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Not What You Want To Hear.

On Tuesday I went to the dentist.  Yes two days before going to America for 6 months I went to the dentist.

It was just my 6 month checkup visit and when I made the appointment back at the end of March, I didn't plan on going to America quite so early in October.

Anyway I've not needed any dental work in years so I just expected to be in and out in minutes.
Like Jays blog the other day, I wasn't so lucky this time.  I spent 30 glorious minutes with the hygienist who is a sweet looking young girl with a greeting and smile that belies her ability to inflict pain. I keep refusing to use the little pokey things that she wants me to stick between my teeth to clean out the plaque and that makes her unhappy.  My reasoning is that they hurt and if nothing else, they require effort.  I mean I didn't buy an electric toothbrush to then stand and poke holes between my teeth.

If I used these articles of torture, I'd also risk removing the food that lodges between my teeth. This food is my emergency supply for when I get hungry and am nowhere near a restaurant. It's really handy to poke out a chunk of well matured Christmas cake in the middle of July when sitting on the beach at Bridlington and get a bit peckish.  

So she spent 30 minutes using all the tools at her disposal to remove this secret food stash and never even offered to let me have it to take home.  In this day and age of economic fastidiousness, that seemed a great waste to me.

With my teeth now 20cms apart, I went in to see the dentist.

"Good morning, Silverback * " she said.  "And how are things with your teeth ?" 

"Well they were fine before Miss Torture Chamber 1998 had a go at them.  Now I'll need a tug boat rope to floss", I added sweetly.

What I actually found myself saying was that I had a small sharp piece of enamel sticking up the side of my lower right molar.  My theory about it was that the gold filling on that tooth must have sunk down somehow and thus exposed the edge of the enamel and all that was needed was for her to file it away.

Simple.  I was planning my trip home within minutes.

She had a poke around and came up with her own theory.  Well not so much a theory as a fact.
A part of nice Mr. Tooth had broken off and evil Mr. Decay had moved in like some unwelcome tenant. This had upset Mr. Goldbit who had felt the need to move out as he didn't get on well with Mr. Decay even though he'd been living there for over 25 years. 

Apart from being very silly, this was not good news.  The dentist gave me a few options but really, given that I was less than 48 hours away from leaving the country, only one was possible.
Remove the gold filling, scrape out the decay, pop the filling back in again, trowel on some dental cement and Bobs your Dads brother.

Fine I said.  Get on with it.  

"Hold on there", she said. "The gold filling might not come out easily and I might crack the tooth and then we're looking at a much more serious situation."  

I wasn't sure I liked this 'we' business.  As far as I could see, it was only me who'd be looking at a serious situation but I graciously accepted her part in it all.

She then numbed my gum, closely followed by the right side of my tongue and my right arm. I also lost all feeling down to my knee cap.  It seemed a bit over the top for a bit of molar repair but I suspect that the fucking huge needle had induced a mini stroke.

Being now unable to converse verbally or with any part of my body other than an occasional twitch of the big toe on my left foot, she started asking me about my trip to Florida. What's that all about ?  It's a universal complaint from those of us "in the chair" that dentists talk to us only when we can't reply, or at best can only make unintelligible sounds that we last used when we were unable to walk properly and oozed liquids at both ends.  

My mates stag party last month in my case.

Seconds later she had my gold filling in her hand.  She said it had basically just been sitting loose on top of the decay and could've popped out on its own at any time.  Given the current price of gold and the size of this nugget, I reckon I could've swallowed £500 with my chicken vindaloo the previous night.  Puts life in perspective, doesn't it !!

Anyway, the decay was scraped out, the gold filling replaced (I kept my beady eye on it all the time in case a switch was made), the tooth sidewalls were plastered and the job was done.

But instead of waving me off with a cheery smile and words of comfort regarding the tooth work, she warned me that the filling could, and probably would, pop out again at any time as this solution wasn't really the BEST solution but was the best that she could do given the circumstances.

Oh bloody marvelous.  Really cracking news, Gromit.

So now it's almost 4 days later and I should be relaxed on my holiday. I survived the flight here. I survived the meal on the plane. I even survived immigration and customs. 

How long my gold filling survives is a different matter and thanks to my dentist, worries me constantly.  I try and chew only on the left.  I don't poke at the tooth with my tongue even though my tongue constantly feels the need to do so.  That's another one for the scientists to sort out.  Why does a tongue which is usually not interested in anything inside the mouth (unless it is the tongue from another mouth) suddenly want to investigate any tooth or part of the mouth which is causing pain or likely to cause pain in the near future ?  Weird stuff.

I now live in fear of swallowing a lot of money.  I can tell you this.  If I do swallow that filling, I'm going to be going through my poop with a fine tooth comb.  How appropriate !

And what is the dictionary definition of a fine tooth comb ?  

...........'a comb with teeth set close together'

Obviously not something my hygienist would ever use then.

* she didn't really call me Silverback.  She doesn't blog.

Friday, October 03, 2008

1 Down - 176 To Go.

First morning back in Butonwood Bay and I was awake at I expected would be the case.

Got up shortly afterwards and had coffee with Deb & Den and then Deb and I went into town for breakfast - a shared meal of pancakes, sausage, bacon and eggs for about $5.30 all in.

Can't beat that for a deal.

When we came back here, we went for a golf cart ride along both nature trails and due to the recent heavy rains, there were many more places for gators to be seen.

This little fella was about 5ft long but sadly for us, his head was in the reeds and so I only managed to get a photo of his bottom half.

Next time, pal, you're mine !
It seems there are plenty of gators inside the park this year and we saw 5 this morning. None were very close and apart from this one, the rest were in the water and so we only saw the tops of their heads.

A little bit further along the path we came upon this little bunny waabit who hopped onto the path and then sat still as if posing for me.

Not exactly exotic but cute none the less.

We also saw the dozens of pesky squirrels that will come up onto the golf cart given half a chance and they are so tame and are always on the lookout for food.  

We're told not to feed them but many do.  You know oldies.  Always wanting to break the rules !!

Then we came to the only bird on the water today.  There are usually plenty of them all over the park but maybe they're still off on their holidays or something but in any case, this was the only one we saw.

I know it looks like it's resting in the water but it was really fishing and was poised ready to strike.

You could wait for ages to capture the strike and to be honest, I'm not that into wildlife photos.

Now if I was on a commission from the National Geographic or BBC Bristol then I'd be happy to sit for hours waiting for the right moment.

But I wasn't so I didn't.

We saw loads of turtles but they were really too far away to become decent camera models. They were on the far bank of the channel that leads to the lake and with the amount of green algae in the water, they were hard to spot if they went in for a cooling dip.  

This one was on as branch and if you enlarge it, you'll see it was doing it's best to keep it's feet out of the water.

I'm not sure why it bothered as to get anywhere, it would have to go back in anyway. Or maybe it could waddle up along the branch.

So not bad for a 30 minute drive this morning and it promised much more to come over the months as a gator just has to come a bit closer sometime - not too close though.

A man's gotta know his limitations, as Clint used to say. And I certainly know mine.

A Quickie From Florida

It's 9:3pm here now and I've been awake for just over 41 hours.  I'm like a drunk man who has just gone into a coma so this will be one of my shorter posts.

Basically my mental facilities shut down slowly over the last 20 hours and yes, I know I'm leaving myself wide open to abusive comments for saying that !  Go for it.  Take your best shot. I'd not feel the slings or the arrows in my curent state.

This post is just to let you all know that I'm safe and sound stateside and sitting with my feet up in darkest Sebring.  Dark but bloody warm.  We've every window open and every fan going and I'll still have to sleep on top of the bed when I eventually stumple there.  I think I could sleep on stage at a Rolling Stones concert to be honest as my finger tips feel numb, my legs are going that way too and the last time I was able to focus properly was going through the Duty Free area in Heathrow about 18 hours ago.

Anyway the nice men from Homeland Security at Miami airport have let me in again for 177 days so there will still be plenty of time for posts after I've slept for 3 days. Maybe 4.

Actually having done this a few times before, history tells me that after only 6 or 7 hours of sleep, I'll be as perky as a topless cheerleader in a barrel of ice cubes.  Very perky indeed then.

But right now it's a struggle to see the keys, never mind hit them.  So it's goodnight from the good ol USA and have a good day y'all for those of you about to wake up back in Blighty. 

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Does Time Fly When You're Flying ?

In 12 hours time I'll be setting off to Leeds/Bradford airport to get a flight to Heathrow and then on to Miami.  Yes Silverback, for that is me, is off to Florida for the next 6 months.  Well 177 days to be anal about it as I don't want to overstay my Visa welcome.

So 12 hrs.  I've most things packed and my carry on case is stuffed with the items I just could not afford to lose.  My medication, my laptop (well not quite packed yet obviously !) and my photographic gear.  It's been quite a challenge to fit those in, I can tell you.  Damn Leeds/Bradford airport for their pathetic luggage rules.

12 hrs.  I think they are going to fly by.  The last hours before you set off on holiday always fly by. So much to do and many things can only be done at the last minute.  Like turning off the water and draining the system.  Turning off the gas.  Those sorts of things.   I'd like to get in a few hours of sleep but I doubt it.

The flight from London to Miami will take 9.5 hrs.  Those hours will NOT fly by even though I will.  Be flying that is.  They will be the longest hours in the whole world......ever.  It's not that I dislike flying.  I just dislike crashing.  But seriously I hate airplane seats. And I know I'll be sitting beside, or partially under, an obese chatterbox with halitosis, week old socks and a personal hygiene problem. Whoever comes up with Star Trek type transportation will be a God in my mind.  Beam me over, Scotty.

I mean I'll have my mp3 all charged up and full of all the pirated music I like.  I'll have about 30 movies to chose from.  I'll have the excitement of duty free and a couple of meals to break up the monotony.  But the time will STILL drag.  I'll be going at 500mph but it'll seem like my watch is in a time warp and only ticking every 5 seconds.  I'd watch the hands move round but it's digital.

Then it's a 3 hr drive from Miami to my winter home in Sebring, Florida.  Ok that's a total time of 12 hrs door to door.  That number is coming up too regularly for my liking.

I don't even want to think about the return trip at the end of March next year as it involves a 12 hr stop over in Heathrow.  Bloody Travelocity.  I'll never use them again.  What do you do for 12hrs in an airport if you're not Tom Hanks ?  Anyway that's next year so I'll think about it then.

I've had to put the central heating on today for the first time this year and tomorrow I'll be sitting beside an air conditioning unit trying to keep cool.  Or I may be by the pool.  It'll be a hard choice, I know, but one I'm prepared to make for Britain.

So be good, my UK friends and if the Virgin Atlantic pilots aren't drunk, nobody hijacks us to Kazakhstan and US immigration let me in again, I'll post next time from sunny (and 90F) Florida. 

I'll try not to mention the weather.

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