Saturday, November 29, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

You could say I'm spaced out.

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

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

Blogging fame can be so fleeting.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Silverback On Tour

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

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

Nuff said.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Day 1 - This Is America

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

Daphne will probably do that !!  

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

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

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

A bright red 2 door Ford Mustang !!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Houston, The Duck Has Landed !!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 21, 2008

Houston, The Duck Is In The Air.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well Buggy Me !!

I love reading about studies, I really do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Winter's Tale

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

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

Or maybe it's just me !!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Moon's A Balloon

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

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

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

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

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

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

We weren't in Albuquerque anymore, Toto.

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

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

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

It was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a magical moment.

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

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


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Maybe Too Much Information

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving on........

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 15, 2008

When Does Dog Tired Become Dog Lazy ?

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

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

All a bit like me really !!

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

Again, a bit like me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don't think anyone told Pixie about it.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Boldly Going......Once Again.

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

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

You'll be here for the landing though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Space Station : Ah Houston, we have a problem.

Houston : Roger, Space Station.

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

Houston : Grrrrrrrreat.

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

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Those Of A Nervous Disposition..........

........please read no further.

You have been warned !!

Whenever I'm asked (by friends in the UK) where we are here in sunny Buttonwood Bay, I always describe the location of Sebring within Florida, as being like Leeds within the UK.  Right smack in the middle.

That being said, we're not exactly on the doorstep of a beach, but yesterday we needed to do a bit of shopping and all the stores we wanted just happened to be in the town of Vero Beach - which also happened to be on the Atlantic coast and therefore came with......a beach.

Now we'd been to this town and beach before so it was with a bit of deja vu that we went there again yesterday. Last time had been in early December so we'd not actually gone into the water but the plan, for me at least, was to 'do the deed' this time.

After a spot of lunch, we easily found the same little FREE car park right on the edge of the beach that we'd used last time. Within seconds of placing my beach bag and towel on the sand, I was in the water !!

And now we come to the warning I made at the top. As Debby was with me, she used my camera and so there now exist lots of photos of me going to, frolicking in, and coming out of the ocean. These are not for the squeamish but as they are as rare as an honest politician, I'm going to publish a few here.

I'm not much of a swimmer and without my glasses, I'm never sure how far I am from the safety of the shoreline. Combine the two and I'm just happy to mess about a few yards out - just far enough out to still feel terra wetta under my feet.

The Atlantic waves were wonderful and I spent most of my time trying to brace myself against the biggest of them, and failing miserably. Even with my poor eyesight, I could still see when tsunami sized waves were heading my way and so I'd turn my back on them and wait for them to hit.

And hit they did. I'd be swept off my feet, tossed like a pair of skivvies in a washing machine and spat out further up the beach, much to the consternation of anyone who happened to be standing there already.

You get the idea from these two photos.

On more than one occasion, I appeared like a beached whale on the edge of the water line. Once the tide, with it's foamy froth, had receeded and left me high and almost dry, children would scatter and run screaming to their parents. The lifeguard would get off his seat and grab his harpoon in readiness to make the local version of News at 10. 

And I'd be sitting there in the shallows like a confused escapee from a retirement home (not far from the truth !) trying desperately to work out how to get back up on my feet whilst retaining SOME shred of dignity.

Have you ever tried to get back onto your feet when sitting on shifting sand and with new waves crashing over you every few seconds ? I can tell you now that's it's far from simple. Oh sure I could have rolled onto my knees and headed back out to sea doggy fashion but the downside to that method was that I just knew I'd be exposing more of my ass to public gaze than a Sun reader on a building site. The world, or at least this part of Florida, was not ready for that.

I began to see the benefits of nudist beaches. I mean if everyone else was nakie, I'd not have felt so stupid waddling back out to sea on all fours with my butt crack smiling at those still on the beach.

As it was, I edged back out to the relative comfort zone of the ocean by pushing myself backwards on the sand until the water took my weight and I could then paddle the rest of the way out. Far from being in any way dignified, this manoeuvre probably attracted more attention as I would've looked like one of those turtles returning to the water after laying it's eggs in the sand.

I was sure I heard Attenborough's dulcet tones as I made my way back out.

There was one photo that still puzzles me........

Those who know me well, know that I'm not vertically challenged. Ok I'm no basketball player but I'm no hobbit either. So what's going on in this picture then ??? 

I suspect that someone was swimming close behind me and those aren't my feet at all. Either that or those waves had pounded me much more than I'd thought.

Another theory is that I had just suffered a shark attack and my feet were actually bitten off and were now drifting behind me. This theory is reinforced by the next photo where I'm bravely 'stumping' my way out of the water, totally unaware that I'm footlose and fancy free. I guess I was still in shock.

Once I'd dried off in the sun and took over camera duties, things returned to normal.

There weren't many people on the beach and this suited me just fine. Less witnesses to report me to the local branch of Greenpeace.

Sand does tend to get everywhere and it took me a while to clear my hands so that I could take a few photos of my own. 

Here is a view northwards along the shoreline. 

I'd waded back into the water to take it as the breaking waves were just so photogenic and I wanted to be close to the action. Of course as soon as the first glob of spray hit me, I rushed out of there as fast as my stumps would take me as water and cameras don't go together.

We had such a fun time. I don't think I've ever enjoyed myself more at a beach.

Just one final photo.

I'd taken some of Debby last time with her face lit by the setting sun. This time it was mid afternoon and I wanted a different shot. She loves the sun and was sitting near me lost in her own little world. I raised the camera and with the waves breaking in the background, this is the view I had.

Soon afterwards we left the beach and went shopping again and finally returned to Buttonwood Bay just after 10pm.

As Wallace would've said......a grand day out.

Oh and for those I may have left traumatised, my feet are back in place again.  I think the foot fairy came during the night.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Silverback 1, Mozzies 0

When I was out on my daily walk this morning, I realised I'd not taken any photos of the sunset here in sunny Buttonwood Bay. Well not this season anyway. I decided to do so this evening.

It was another lovely day and at 1pm, while I was in the mood for firsts, I also decided to play my first competitive game of bocce ball this season. About 30 players registered and after over 2 hours of intense play, my team won. As I'd been in a team of only 3 players (playing other teams of 4), I was more than pleased with this result.

Go me.

After the game, Deb wanted to go to WalMart to buy a few items and to price a few more as we're going to Vero Beach tomorrow and will be going to a Sams Club which may offer better prices.

On the way back from Sebring, as we approached the park, it was obvious we'd just missed a typical stunning sunset by a few minutes and by the time we'd unloaded the groceries and put the cold items into the fridge, it was pretty much over.

Of course there are often cool photos to be taken long after the sun has dropped below the horizon and I took this one right outside the house........

I like the view of the neighbour's palm tree which takes your eye up to the red sky with the moon peeking through the clouds.

This made me think there still might be a view worth capturing down by the lake and so I jumped into the golf cart and sped off. On the way there I remembered just why I don't like taking photos at the edge of the lake after sunset. The mosquitoes.

My first attempts last year had resulted in me getting so many bites that I looked like an extra from a B movie......or a bee movie ! It took weeks for those bites to disappear and I didn't want a repeat of that this evening.

So with camera in hand, I screeched to a halt just to the left of the pier, composed the shot, took the photo and sped off to the safety of the house before a single mozzie even knew I'd been there. I didn't even check the image 'in' camera. I didn't care THAT much and whatever I got, was going to be the keeper for this evening.

It may be a bit big headed of me to say so, but I feel like a double winner today.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Remember, Remember The What Now ?

Over in the UK, given our long and proud history, we have lots of wonderful traditions, spectacular ceremonies and yes, even a few ecccentric customs that bring in the tourists and enrich the lives of our citizens.

Then we have Bonfire Night.

Overlooking the Health & Safety issues mentioned by Jenny, Nov 5th with it's nationwide plethera of bonfire and firework displays, both public and private, has to go down as one of our more bizarre traditions.

Of course some of the aspects of 'the 5th' have almost disappeared over the decades - like when did you last see kids on the street asking for a 'penny for the guy' ?  They'd be hard pushed to find a spot on Leeds streets not already taken by Big Issue sellers anyway.  No, in this day and age, the idea of 2 Oliver like urchins sitting next to a hastily created bonfire effigy and asking strangers for money, well the mind boggles.  

And they wouldn't ask, either.  And not for a penny.  No the mini 'hoodies' would probably mug you for your wallet and nick your mobile as a bonus.

Still, given half a chance, any kid will want to stand close to a large warming bonfire on a cold November evening.  Throw in a few fireworks (not literally) and those same kids will think Christmas has come early.  A bit like the tv advertisers !

And if those same kids are taken to one of the thousands of large organised bonfire and firework displays that take place up and down the country, then their little faces will be lit up like a stockbroker burning his share certificates.

I guess it would be very bah humbug of me to mention the hundreds of injuries and even the occasional death that come from fireworks and bonfires every 5th of November. I mean when you combine gunpowder and a lit match, the potential for disaster is always there.  Thankfully, as more and more of us let our town and city councils take care of the excitement for us with properly organised displays, then fewer and fewer kids (and the occasional adult) will turn up at hospital emergency depts with smoldering stumps where their hands used to be. 

After watching the firework displays that were a large part of the Beijing Olympics, I've personally had enough of them for a while.  Talk about money going up in smoke !  

Dammit, that was a bit bah humbug too.  Sorry.

Obviously I've 'missed' Bonfire Night for several years now but I have to admit that going with a few friends to the huge bonfire and fireworks display in Roundhay Park, Leeds was always a fun thing to do. A properly organised arson display always gladdens the heart and pleases the eye. We'd all ooooh and ahhhhh at the fireworks, safe in the knowledge that no one would get hurt and that our tax money was being well spent.  

"Look there goes another 15 and red with just a hint of white as it comes down. Awesome"

I don't know if Bonfire Night brings in the foreign tourists but I'm sure that those that are in the country at the time, really enjoy it.  And why not ?!

There aren't that many outdoor things to do on a cold and dark November evening and if you can legally set fire to a load of your old tat in your back garden and scare the bejesus out of the neighbours pets at the same time, then I'd say Guy Fawkes was a fine fella and we should celebrate his legacy for generations to come.

Guy who ?

Monday, November 03, 2008

Did You Know..........

.........that according to the tv and newspapers over here, Americans are chosing the Leader of The Free World tomorrow ?  Yes, that's right, the Leader of The Free WORLD.  Hurrah.  It's so exciting to be here right now.

I wonder if the rest of the Free World is aware of this momentous occasion ?  I mean we've not been invited to cast our votes for one of these fellas but I guess we'll accept whoever makes it over the winning line tomorrow night.

It's really like the political version of The World Series and the old chestnut about only the Americans taking part in it.  And we know that the eventual winner, the new President, will say at some point in his acceptance speech.......God Bless America.  And why wouldn't He ?!?  

Answers on a postcard please...............

At least after tomorrow, or maybe late tonight, tv advertising here will be able to go back to normal.  No more ridiculous political commercials with one side bashing the other and very few actual policy facts being mentioned at all.

No more "I'm Barack Obama/I'm John McCain and I approved this message" sort of thing.  Who in their right mind would vote for a political party based on these ads ?  Think of the money that could've been saved.  But then if saving money is your goal, think of what this election has cost in financial terms alone.  Never mind.  In a few hours it'll all be over and we in the Free World can toast our new Leader.  

Sounds a bit Star Trek to me.  I wonder if any American Klingons or American Romulans will be allowed to vote ?   

So yes, tv will go back to normal.  Back to showing adverts where we're urged to ask our doctors if such and such a drug is right for us ?  You know, the drug with so many side effects that it takes most of the ad time to tell us about them.  

"Don't take such and such if you are pregnant or likely to become pregnant !"

That one always gets me.  Nothing like ruling out about 30% of the population.

"Tell your doctor if you are taking other drugs like so and so as such and such with so and so will probably kill you."

I'd be more bothered about why my doctor has to be told about the drugs I'm taking already. Shouldn't he/she know already ?  Doesn't he/she prescribe them to me ?

Anyway I've blogged about these medical adverts before so I won't rehash it here but somehow they'll be like seeing an old friend returning after a long holiday.  That's not to say they haven't been on while the political ads have been on.  Oh perish the thought.  They've just not been on as much.

And the law firm adverts should be back too.  Lovely.

There is one down here in this area that ends their advert with the catchy slogan "For The People."  This serious lawyer type sits behind his solid imposing desk with the smart green shaded lamps at each end and veritable Library of Congress type bookshelves behind him, looks us in the eye and says........"Shyster, Buckgrabber and Ambulance Chaser....For The People"  

Welcome back guys. 

And the vehicle adverts will be back too. However even they have changed over the last year or so as gas prices here have rocketed.  There aren't so many Ford v Chevy v Toyota truck ones now, each telling us how these one ton behemoths can pull a fully laden Jumbo Jet 3 feet on only one tank of gas.

Now we're getting ads about hybrids and small European sized cars that can do a staggering 30 mpg.  Surely not.  30 miles on one gallon.  Impossible.  Well yes it is impossible once you've got the typical American family inside the damn thing.  

When empty and on a test bed....30mpg.  With a family inside on a highway....never pass a gas station.

"Each car in the range comes with metallic paint, a/c, cd player, wide tyres (sorry, tires) and a shoehorn to get your family inside."

But back to tomorrow and hopefully 'our' new Leader will be a good one and will last for the full 8 years. That way we'll not have to make do without our normal volume of medical, legal and motoring adverts.

They almost make me miss the UK ones about getting a loan and then getting out of debt.


Anyway these have been my final thoughts on the election from over here.  So it's goodnight from me.

God Bless the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Hell, God doesn't have time to listen to all that.

God Bless America.  Short.  Catchy.  It's a keeper.

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