Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dear Diary...........

So how many times will you write 2008 and then go.....offs it's 2009 !!!

As I don't write the year very often, it usually takes me till mid March.  The checks in my check book still say 1998 as that's when I last wrote one. Actually I don't remember when I last wrote the date on anything.

And every year at this time I tell myself......"self, you should keep a diary next year".

I start with the best of intentions but my life is so dull that by mid January, more and more pages are being left empty until I give up completely.  

A few years ago I tried it on the computer.  Brilliant.  No empty pages as there were no pages.  If something worthwhile happened one day, I'd mention it.  If nothing else exciting or noteworthy happened for a few days, it didn't matter as it would still be the next entry anyway.  

No gaps. 

Sadly not much text either as, once again, the muse left me early in the year.

And yet I do have some almost full diaries from the more eventful years of my life. Well a couple anyway. Ok sod it, just the one.

It was 1970. Christmas was declared a federal holiday in the US, compulsory education started in England, France declared war on Prussia (don't ask !), somebody called Lenin was born and Charles Dickens died.

Oh wait, that was 1870.

In mid June 1970 Mungo Jerry were No.1 with the first rendition of "In The Summertime" and I left school forever.  The two weren't entirely related.  I was 17 and the world was my lobster. A few days later I flew to London which is somewhere in England. It was my first ever flight.  I was alone.  I was in London alone.  No place to stay.  No job.  Nada.  The things you do at 17, eh !

I'd kept a 'page-a-day' diary from the start of that year as I just had a feeling it would be an important year for me.  I'd filled every single page up until I left (Catholic boarding) school - even though most pages held exactly the same information about the time I woke up, what I ate for breakfast, how my lessons went, who bullied me that day, which priest came to 'see' me in the evening and so on.  The usual stuff and not very exciting really, although I often think the diary could be used as evidence if I ever wanted to get my own back on a few people and get some hush money from The Vatican at the same time.

But moving swiftly on................

The print I'd used on those pages was huge.  I had a full page to fill up each and every day and, as I said, I'd sod all to fill it with.  It was like writing your 30th postcard when on holiday.  By that time you just want to say "hello I'm here and you're not, so bollocks to you" but you've a whole card you feel the need to fill up and so your printing looks like it was done by a myopic idiot who stopped being a savant a long time ago.

But on that day back in 1970 when I left for London, that all changed and the diary page wasn't big enough to hold everything that happened to me. Only someone with a jeweller's eyepiece can now read what I wrote. It was worthy of one of those people who can write the Lord's Prayer on the back of a postage stamp.  It was worthy of your first postcard on holiday. I used both the margins.  I even put a little arrow and went up to the top of the page where the date was and still needed more room.

It was no good.  Half the page for the following day had to be commandeered and if anything, my writing got even smaller on that page.

This continued for a few weeks as a LOT happened to me and only ended in October when I started at college and then, sadly, I'd no time to keep a diary.  It was my best effort to this day though and apart from a few months in 1972, I've never kept a paper diary since.

But now I have this blog.  And the log in blog's a sort of diary.  Of course no one cares what time I wake up each day and what I have for breakfast but now and then, something just might be interesting enough to write about.  I started blogging on May 4th 2006 and this will be my 319th post. That's roughly one post every 3 days and that's not bad for me.

I'd still like to keep a 'proper' diary though and I might try that for 2009. It'll be on the laptop of course and there won't be an entry every day but we'll see how it goes.  If I'm still doing it by April, I'll be in uncharted waters.

Well except for that diary back in 1970.  It's fun to (try and) read it now so hopefuly diary 2009 will be fun to read in the future. 

What about you ?  Any dedicated diary writers out there ?  Any wannabe diary writers ?

I'm no Samuel Pepys but one will do one's best for 2009.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Pretend This !

Wow, two posts in one day.

You've heard of BOGOFF's (Buy One, Get One For Free) ?  Well this is a BLOGOFF.

Oh suit yourselves !!

Anyway I was talking to Daphne just now and we discussed her blog post about how she cries whenever she hears "2000 Miles" sung by The Pretenders.

I told her I do the same but usually only when it's finally over !  

I've got a thing about singers, usually with excellent voices, who insist on singing up and down to show off their vocal range.  At least I think that's why they do it. Maybe it's simply to mask that they can't sing.

I used to love the music of Mariah Carey until she met up with Boyz II Men and she suddenly felt the need to stop singing songs in one register or key or octave or whatever and would warble up and down like a canary that had spent way too long 'down pit.'

In fact my exact words to Daphne were that Chrissie Hynde sang up and down the scales like a fish on heat.

I've no idea where that simile came from.  I often start typing a sentence in a chat panel with no clue how it's going to end. 

( Yes I'm well aware that I write entire blog posts that way !  There, I said it before someone else did ).

So anyway, as I've never been able to listen to more than a few seconds of the song, I asked her what it was all about and why it's linked to Christmas in the UK charts every year ?  She didn't know !  

And STILL she cries at it !!!

Even from the title, I guessed some loved one was 2000 miles from home at Christmas and she, the singer, was missing him.

Then I used my lyrics site and found...the lyrics.

I'm still not sure though and I think the key words revolve around 'the children.'  If these singing children belonged to them, then it might be a sad story about a husband walking out on his wife and kiddies and she's missing him at Christmas time.  If these singing children are just singing children, then it still could be a sad story about separated lovers at Christmas time.

Did you spot the line about the purple sky ?  Yes I know it was only in a dream but still, I suspect some wacky baccy was being inhaled during the songwriting process. Of course a certain artist formally known as an artist once sang about Purple Rain so maybe he was using the same brand.

But it's all good stuff and even if I don't like the song, plenty do and so it gets released every December along with tunes from Slade, Wham and Wizzard.

But give me "White Christmas".  A simple tune with no strange coloured meteorological occurances to mention and all sung without any fishy goings on either. Like the way old Bing used to sing it - although now and again he was prone to a bit of uppy and downy in a sort of ba-ba-ba-boom-boom way as crooners tended to do.

Then Mariah got her tonsils around that song as well and quite frankly, it, me and Christmas have never been the same since.

Is It Easter Yet ?

Well that was it then.  Christmas over for another year but what a jolly holly time we had.

It's fun to creep downstairs at 4am, hoping to catch a fat old guy breaking into your house.

"Oi, you there.  What's your game, then ?"

"Ho-ho-ho, young fella.  And have you been a good boy this year ?"

"Look you old fool, I'm 56 and about to call the police.  How did you get in here anyway ?"

"I came down the chimney of course and where's my mince pie and glass of wine ?"

"Listen, you geriatric pervert.  It's no use you sneaking around in my living room at 4am and trying to get away with it. And stop loading our pressies into that sack".

"But I'm giving you these presents. That's what I do.  I'm Santa Claus !!!"

"And I'm Mother Teresa. Now get your clothes on and leave that elf alone."

Of course things like that don't happen in sunny Buttonwood Bay. We don't have chimneys for a start. Or stairs.  Although it IS possible to wake up at 4am and find a fat old bearded man in your living room. The general consensus is that's it's always best to gently lead him back to his own place and inform the front office the next morning.  No harm done.

Mind you, it has been known that a few of the lonlier old ladies tend to hang onto these infrequent visitors for a few days and THEN gently lead them back to their own place.  Well the sign at the park entrance does claim this to be an "active community".

But getting back to all things Christmas, it's sometimes hard to get into the festive spirit here when it's in the 80's and everyone is in shorts and t-shirts.  Yes, a lot of the houses are bedecked with enough lights to be seen by the shuttle crew and yes, there are lots of Christmas trees throbbing away with multicoloured bulbs inside the houses, but it's just not the same.  We all pass each other on our golf carts and merrily shout "Happy Holidays" and "Bon Noel"  (we're a multinational bunch here and some are from Canada !!) but if past experience is anything to go by, some of the more confused residents will still be doing that in March.

At this time of year, kids and grandkids are all over the park. They clog up the pool, speed along the roads at 12 mph on the carts, hurl the bocce balls like professional pitchers, win all the bingo sessions as they can daub the numbers faster and worst of all, are out and about after 8pm !  Up to no good, I'll be bound.  God I'm so old.

We didn't have turkey yesterday.  Didn't even have ham.  No, we went the less traditional route and had steak.  Done on the grill.  Outside.  At 6pm.  It was 73F and we hardly needed the grill.

We'd thought about going to the beach but we didn't.  We thought about going to the park pool but we didn't. The day just passed like most other days here although we did eat a lot more and watched less tv.  After the steak meal we watched "Wall-E" which was cute but hardly an Oscar nominee.

Today is the day after Christmas Day, which in America is known as....the day after Christmas Day.  I miss Boxing Day.  I miss not getting dressed till mid afternoon.  I miss nibbling at stray food items left around from yesterday.  I miss looking again at some of the presents in the hopes that they've somehow turned into something I actually wanted.  I miss "The Great Escape".

Well ok no, I don't actually miss "The Great Escape" but I do miss being able to not watch it.  AGAIN.

In a few days the Christmas lights here will come down and the shuttle crew can lift their visors again. The mini trees will be boxed away and shoved to the back of closets along with the hats, scarves and wooly mittens that family members sent to show they had a sense of humour.

"Oh I know, lets send grandpa a scarf so he can wear it on Christmas Day".

I hope they still see the joke when told that grandpa was carted off to hospital suffering from heat stroke as he was also wearing the hat, gloves, fleece, sweat pants and thermal socks hilariously sent by other family members from Fargo, Dakota.  Ho-ho-ho.

The lines at Customer Services will be long today. Unwanted pressies will be going back. 

"Well I'm glad that's over for another year" will be the common sentiment and many retailers will be checking the sales figures to see if a late spending spree has meant they can ward off closure for a while longer.  Customers with any credit left will be looking for even more deals as stores become even more desperate. Plasma TV's will be found inside Corn Flakes boxes and you'll be able to enjoy a 7 day cruise around the Caribbean islands for the cost of a 4 slot toaster. Maybe even 2 slots.

Now we can look forward to the end of the year (hurrah !!) and then it'll be Easter.  Houses will be decorated with all things rabbit and.......oh jeez enough already.

I look out the window here and I see blue skies and palm trees. No snow. No rain.  There is no rush hour because there is no rush.  And I count these as blessings no matter what the time of year.  

So I hope you're all having/will have/have had a lovely Boxing Day wherever you may be and remember this :  if you find an big old fat stranger wandering around in your living room today, the chances are he really isn't Santa Claus. 

And if you live here in sunny Buttonwood Bay, please give him back before the weekend.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Branded A Fool

The title of this post comes from a part of a song lyric from the movie Grease and sums up the topic of this post perfectly.....I think.  Maybe.

A few weeks ago when Daffy and Stephen were here, we were watching tv and came upon some adverts for shows coming up on the USA Network and they all ended with the voice over guy saying "characters welcome". 

Quite reasonably, Daffy asked what that meant.  I had no idea and it was then forgotten about.

Now USA is not a channel I really watch but just a few minutes ago I came to it again and sure enough, I heard adverts for forthcoming shows ending with "characters welcome". This time I had my laptop to hand and decided to find out what it was all about.

What I discovered was a Press Release from the USA Network that makes me reconsider if English is still my first language. I could REALLY have done without understanding the individual words in this Press Release because when put together like this, they make me think I missed a few years at school; the years when advanced English BS was being taught.

Turn off all distractions, find a comfy armchair and try and follow this................

For the first time in its twenty-five year history, USA Network is launching a comprehensive branding initiative extending across all media, including on-air, off-air and online platforms, [as] announced today by Bonnie Hammer, president of USA Network… The campaign…features a new logo and the tagline “Characters Welcome,” a statement that will reflect and inform every aspect of USA, from marketing and promotion to program development.
“When we started developing a brand strategy we knew we wanted it to be enhancing rather than limiting,” said Hammer. “We didn’t want to tack on a meaningless tagline or claim an arbitrary niche or demo. I believe we’ve succeeded in developing a campaign that’s organic to USA, something that captures and communicates what the network is about, what lives and breathes on its air.”
"In talking to our viewers and realizing what they loved best about USA, we realized that there was real connective tissue around the concept of strong, relatable characters,” added Chris McCumber, senior vice president, marketing and brand strategy. “‘Characters Welcome’ delivers a clear message that establishes an immediate emotional connection with our audience.”
“The beauty of our new brand is that it truly embraces everything we do,” said Hammer. “Whether it’s an obsessive compulsive detective like Monk, the tormented returnees of the 4400 or a real-life action hero from the WWE, it’s the compelling, sometimes complicated, often funny characters that make USA Network what it is.”

The part that really got me was "we didn't want to tack on a meaningless tagline."

Hmmmmm and yet, you know what ?  Y'kinda DID.

But then what do I know about advertising and branding ?  I don't understand most of the UK tv adverts for Guinness for example but they get noticed, talked about and even appear on YouTube.  A fish riding a bicycle across the screen ?  Yeah that makes me want to rush out and buy a crate of Guinness. Not.

But wait now.  I'm discussing Guinness after all.  Isn't that what advertising is all about ?  Getting your product 'out there'.  

So maybe they're not such fools at USA after all.  I'm sure I'm not the only person thinking about "characters welcome" after seeing the ads.  Yes it may piss me off and annoy the hell out of me but lets face it, I'll always remember which network they appear on - and in the land of tv viewing figures and brand recognition, they've maybe got a winner.

But these things can go either way and so despite their cunning connective tissues and their organic emotional connections, I'll be avoiding the USA channel in future. But at least their branding inititive worked for me because I'll always KNOW why I'll be avoiding it !!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ho Ho Ho From Florida !!!

Golf Carts Roasting On An Open Fire............

Knowing the day was fast approaching, I've been trying for some time now to work the words 'golf cart' into some sort of Christmas song to create a suitably amusing post title about the annual Buttonwod Bay ( that's sunny Buttonwood Bay to you ) Christmas Golf Cart Parade of Decorated......err.... Golf Carts.  That we have every year.  In Buttonwood Bay.

As you can clearly see, I failed miserably.

But as this post is about a Golf Cart Parade, it'll be something new for search visitors to read about as for the last few weeks, I've had lots of 'hits' from people searching on Google for that very thing. And because I wrote a post about the parade last year, their search results bring them to me.  Of course if they come to my blog wanting technical info about CREATING a decorated cart, it'll all be a huge let down as what I know about decorating a golf cart could be written on a postage stamp for a very very small country indeed. A principality in fact.

So anyhoo, the big day arrived today. Golf Cart Parade Day. And for us, it turned into Golf Cart Parade Day Party Day.

Ok enough of the capitals already.

What started off as a couple of friends and ourselves sitting out by the roadside as the carts went by, evolved, as such things here do, into a lot more people doing basically the same thing and calling it a party.  Wooohoooo. Par-tay. Wine, women and song.  

Well men, wives and carols then.  

So at 5:15pm I set off on our undecorated golf cart (bah humbug indeed) to get to the collection point at the far end of the park where all the decorated carts were being assembled for the parade.  Lined up I mean....they were already assembled !

Some were individual efforts, some were collective efforts but effort was the key word. Lots of effort had been put into the decorating and every one was a winner.  But I wasn't a judge so my opinion didn't count.

Then in true Buttonwood tradition, the 6pm golf cart parade set 5:50pm.  Everything starts early here, just in case.....y'know.  Hey the people are old remember.  You gotta go with what you've got.

So here are a few photos of the carts I took at this time......................

As you can see, it was getting darker by the minute and although the carts looked better in the dark (as most used Christmas lights as part of their decorations), I knew from previous years that the best photos were the ones taken before the parade set off......the built in flash on my camera often isn't powerful enough to fully light them up when they go past.

Once the carts had set off and cleared the area, I jumped back into mine and sped off to where my friends were set up on rows of chairs on the grass outside their house. This was the perfect location for watching the carts go past on their way to the Recreation Hall where the judging was to take place and winners announced.

In fact I'll only include one photo of an actual cart ON PARADE as it went past us ..........

I liked the idea of including the reindeer in the setup AND giving the impression of it flying through the air but I suspect PETA may have been dismayed at it's treatment. They are famous for having no sense of humour.

Unlike the residents of Buttonwood Bay who don't let a little thing like their age get in the way of having a fun old time. Take this young lady for example.......

The thing is, she wasn't dressed up like this for the parade. Oh no, this is how she dresses every day. Eccentric ? Never.

Finally, for those of you who have stuck with me so far, here is a photo of a cart before they all set off on parade. I only include it here as it shows THE house within the park that has the most elaborate Christmas decorations ever seen outside of Disney World. When the owners power up this display, they first have to clear it with the FAA (for low flying aircraft), NASA (for low flying shuttles), NORAD (for low flying missiles) and the power company (for low power levels everywhere else around the state).

Talk about taking all the glory from the golf carts !  

As so that was it for another year.  We took the par-tay inside and drank more wine and ate more food and it all broke up at some ridiculously late hour........8:45pm I think.  Oh we can be so naughty at times but lets face it, it IS almost Christmas.

So try doing a Google search for a Christmas Golf Cart Parade and see if this post has made it onto the first page.

Go on, you know you want to.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Never Say Never.

If it's one thing I've discovered about my time over here in the US, it's that I should NEVER visit somewhere and leave it declaring  "well I'll never be back here again."

Famous places are one thing, like Las Vegas, San Francisco, Yosemite Park, Grand Canyon and so on, but I mean when you leave a small family owned budget motel that wasn't much to write home about on its best day, saying you'll never be back there again, you really DON'T expect to ever see it again.

But over the years I've revisited so many places here that the phrase has become a personal joke.

"Oh look, here I am again in XXXXXXX.  I never thought I'd be here again"  Ho-ho.  

There isn't a third 'ho' (didn't have enough money !!) as it's not quite Christmas yet and anyway, this isn't a Christmas Story.

So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised a couple of weeks ago when Daphne, Stephen and myself were driving down SR-699, Gulf  Blvd, over on the West Coast of Florida and we suddenly passed by the very motel I'd stayed at, way back in the early 1990's.

Back then I'd chosen the Ebb Tide motel for one reason only........price.  It was dirt cheap.  I'd driven up from the south of Florida and wanted a base for a few days so that I could unwind after touring down the East Coast, across from Miami to Naples and then up to the St. Petersburg area.  I still had to visit Disney World and as I needed to be prepared mentally and physically for that, I wanted to chill out at the beach for a while. I'd been in a different motel every night for about 10 nights and just wanted to be able to return to the same one for a change.

The owner did me a nice deal for 5 days as there are literally thousands of motels on this stretch of road and so the customer has the power. My parking bay was the one in front of the tallest palm tree on the right and then I'd scoot up that staircase and go left into my room.

To get to the beach, I just crossed the road and walked a few yards down a path and I was on the sparkling sand. Another 3 miles or so and I'd reach the water !!  The beaches on the West Coast can be REALLY wide.

The motel had it's own nice little heated pool and the other room occupants were a right mixed bunch of Europeans as the owner was German or Polish or some such nationality. A foreign 'Johnny' anyway who seemed to be well known and popular with many returning guests.

It was clean and friendly enough but I was really only in it at night to sleep. Each morning I'd be up and out exploring the vicinity and getting in lots of beach time. I've probably got some photos from back then but they're not to hand. I was heavily into video in the 90's and so most of my memories come from moving images and not stills.

The motel was on a sweeping bend in the road and so parking was a bit of an issue. I'd have to ensure that no one was close behind me as when approaching the motel, I'd have to brake and turn sharp right, so as to go up into my parking bay, inches from the road. A few times I'd get there only to find all the bays were full and so I'd be stuck in no mans land, twixt road and the bays, and causing grief behind me until I pulled back onto the road and drove around wondering what to do.

I can't remember what I DID do.  Another senior moment.

Actually that wasn't my first return to the Ebb Tide.  Oh no.  I was there a few years ago when in the area with Debby. I think I may have mentioned to her about my little phrase relating to never being back to a place again and we'd have laughed as I repeated it upon leaving. And now I was back AGAIN.

You'll be glad to know I said nothing as I left this time as to be honest, the place doesn't really deserve to be visited 4 times in one lifetime !

But who knows...............

So, dear reader, not counting locations in your own country, where have you ever been to and thought (even if you've never spoken it out loud) that you'd never be back to again, and then have been ?

(And no, Daphne, Tenby doesn't count as abroad !!!!!!)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Rain Comes To Buttonwood - Read All About It.

Here in normally hot and sunny Buttonwood Bay, it's neither hot nor sunny. Shock news, I know.

The heavy thunderstorm that was forecast days ago, has arrived on cue and it's raining like a wet weekend in Manchester. The Cafe By The Lake didn't open at noon and we've not seen a single person, car or golf cart go by since the weather took this downward turn earlier this morning.  We've had a bit of thunder and lightning and there have been tornado warnings in the area. We're keeping a close eye on Pixie, our own little Toto.

Florida doesn't do weather by halves.

Buttonwood Bay has buttoned (or battened) down the hatches and everyone is inside crocheting mailbags or sewing booties for the grandkids. Or gettin' it on maybe.  Hell I donno what oldies do when it's wet outside !  Doesn't happen often.

This has been our first experience of rain in the park for over a month. We did drive through a heavy rain shower last week on the way back from a Flea Market trip to Ft. Myers but as that wasn't IN the park, then it doesn't count !

As a result of the current storm, the temps have dropped from the high of 85F (29.4C) yesterday, to a relatively miserable 62F (16.6C) outside right now.  Given the rain, no one is really bothered as who wants to go outside anyway ?

So to cheer us all up, I thought I'd post a photo of a lovely, graceful bird on my blog today - but as I couldn't get a decent photo of Katherine Heigl, here is a photo I took of a vulture !

Hey I never said this would be a classy post.  Or truthful.

We were on our way to the Billie Swamp Safari in Everglades country (sort of) when we paused at a rest area for....well a rest.  And a pee.  Opps sorry, another bit of class gone.

There was a stretch of water nearby and a bunch (or colony or committee) of vultures was enjoying the remains of a dead fish. God I hope it was dead. Given that most of it's head was gone and it's body parts were being picked away by the vultures, I suspect it had become an ex fish some time ago.

They really are ugly birds.  Yes they do a vital job but why do they have to be so ugly ??  They are very common here in Florida as there is just so much road kill to go around.  I mean have you ever seen the oldies driving here ??  No roadside animal is safe.  Never mind roadside....even a deer sitting happily a few hundred yards away in a forest clearing isn't safe.

Oldies nod off at an alarming rate here and even wide awake ones still regularly drift off the road during senior driving moments.  Most of them probably took their tests (if indeed they took a test) back when cars were fueled by coal and you didn't so much start the engine as light it.


Anyway, that's it for today.  It's wet.  It's cool.  It's freakin' miserable.  The mood is sombre.

Enjoy the vulture.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Now There's Something You Don't See.......

I included a photo in my 'Fish & Ships' post that showed 3 pelicans diving into the water with a pirate ship in the background. Bizarre.

I explained how I'd been tracking the birds down in their dive and when I snapped them entering the water, I was as surprised as anyone to have captured the ship as well. Just one of those things.

Well the following day we had moved a few miles down the West coast of Florida and were all out on the beach watching another lovely sunset. It was a bit cool and so we were dressed accordingly - which meant Daphne was wearing her black 'sheep' and was holding onto her handbag which never left her side the entire 2 weeks she was here. Even in bed. I'm not even sure it COULD come off her arm.

Anyway I wanted a shot of her against the setting sun as it was such an iconic image for me of our time on the West Coast. A beach, the ocean, a glorious sunset, Daphne taking photos and ....the sheep and the handbag.

Just as I'd composed the shot and was about to press the shutter, the buzzing noise I'd been hearing for the last few seconds grew even louder and I was aware that 'something' had moved across the shot at the last second but I didn't know what.

Lowering the camera from my eye, I saw that it was a 2 man seaplane thingy and I was more than happy that I'd caught it on film, so to speak. I took some more with just Daphne in shot but I keep coming back to this one as being the one I'm most pleased with...and once again, like with the pelicans and the ship, it was 95% luck that created the image.

Oh and Daffy and her sheep and handbag of course.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Born Free.

When we were over on the West Coast of Florida recently, we stayed one night at a motel that didn't offer a breakfast. Yes I know.  We had roughed it !

So early that morning we went to a local McDonalds for coffee and a spot of breakfast but as we pulled in to park, we spotted that we weren't the only ones who were after some fast food.

This fella, or fellette, was just standing in front of the main door, staring at the premises. Amused customers would go past and he, or she, never moved.  Even the staff came to the door to have a look so we assumed this wasn't a usual event even for them.

We finally decided he, or she, was fascinated by the image of the giraffe on the "Madagascar 2" poster on the door. Maybe it was the similar long neck or maybe he, or she, had already seen Madagascar and was deciding if the sequal would be worth watching.

Of course it also brought up comments about where McD's sources its food from but those were tasteless comments !

After taking a few more photos, we too walked past the bird and into the restaurant. By the time we'd ordered and found our seats, he, or she, had gone.

I think if we'd looked closely and noticed the push bike was also gone, we'd REALLY have freaked out !

Monday, December 08, 2008

Long Live The Communist.

Given the 5 hour time difference, I woke up this morning to learn about the death of Daphne's dad, the Communist who gave rise to her blog title.

I went out for my walk around the park just now and I thought long and hard (well for 40 minutes at least !!) whether I should write a post about his passing, given that I'd only met him a few times and didn't really know him that well. But although the blogging community is huge, sometimes the lesser numbers who follow the lives of those who have become friends on here can make it a small community too.

Daffy blogged about her dad and spoke about him to me so much over the last few years that I FEEL like I knew him quite well.  Knew.  Not know.  Still takes a bit of getting used to.

I'd never known a Communist before meeting Ron.  Never spoke with one and, obviously, never had one speak to me. He was my one and only Communist !!  Of course we never discussed his political or (non) religious beliefs at all as on the few occasion when we were in a room together, it was with everyone else and the conversation was about his short visit from the nursing home or to celebrate a birthday.  Not really conducive to political chit chat and I was thankful for that. What I know about politics could be written on a beer coaster.....a very small beer coaster at that.

But I know his daughter.  I know his son a little too.  If you believe that the success criteria of good parenting is to look at the lives of their children, then Ron (and Joan of course) have left a wonderful legacy.  Thankfully Joan is still around to both further help and guide the lives of Daphne and Michael but much more importantly, to tend to my bloody garden !

Even though we knew the end was near, his passing this morning was still a shock. Daphne and the family had precious last moments over the previous 2 days with him to say goodbyes without letting on that they WERE saying goodbye as he never wanted to be told he was dying. Maybe if no one told him, it wouldn't happen.  Well, Ron, the NHS are good but not THAT good.

When I was out on my walk and thinking about doing this post, I'd got Matt Munro singing away in my ear. No, not literally as sadly he's dead too.  No, his album was on my MP3 player and suddenly he started singing "My Way" which seemed to answer my question. Yes I would write this post about him.  Now I know this became Frank Sinatra's signature song but it was somehow appropriate that a British singer should be performing it to me today and old Matt did have a very special voice.

I listened very carefully to the lyrics even though like most of us, I knew them pretty well already. They just seemed so apt today and I guess that's why a lot of people ask for it to be the song played at their funeral. The final curtain and all that.

Regrets ?  Yes I'm sure he had a few.  But then again.....well you know the song.

So goodbye Ron.  You stuck to your beliefs right to the very end.  No requests for a priest or Gordon Brown to appear at your bedside.  Ok that might have really hastened your death !  You've left behind a strong, caring, generous family who will remember you as long as they live. There are also a lot of people who didn't know you that well but wished they had, and I count myself in that group.

Just one last thing though, Ron. If you're reading this, then there IS an afterlife and guess what ?  You were wrong, you old Commie coot !!

R.I.P. wherever that afterlife may be.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Fish & Ships

Now that Daffy and Stephen have left Florida and I have a bit more time, I thought I'd go over the 1,000 or more photos that I took and do a few posts about their trip here.

On one of her posts, Daphne told of how she was swimming over on the West Coast (Sand Keys near Clearwater Beach) and was being dive bombed by birds. They were mostly pelicans and although they weren't quite on top of her, so to speak, they were very close.

I was on the beach with camera in hand and tried to get a record of this event. The few I got with Daphne in the same shot as the birds weren't very good and so I'm settling for a few images of just the birds themselves. Sadly I never got good quality consecutive shots of the same bird from flying along to diving and then entering the water and so these photos are of different birds, coming from different directions and so I'm sorry if this spoils the effect.

It was very cool to see.

This one is to set the scene. The pelicans would just be flying serenely along, minding their own business, when one or more would spot a fish in the water below (ok where else !!) and begin the dive.

This is the dive, just in case you needed a visual aid ! Remember that this was all over in seconds so not only was the pelican's eyesight pretty amazing, but I'm sure that at that very moment, the fish were swimming along thinking what a nice day it was to be a fish.

"Might stay in and watch 'Finding Nemo' again tonight"

"You've seen that movie like 20 times already (Jewish fish)"

"Yeah but let's face it, what else do I have to do tonight" ?

"That's true too. Fancy a drink after ?"

"Nah, I've been drinking all day"

"Well the offer still stands. See you after the movie"

"Ok, I'll be along later and we can - what the fu....."

"Bert ? Bert ? Where'd ya go, Bert" ?

The problem with taking these photos was that I'd be tracking the bird, or birds, down from the sky and so I never knew when the water would appear in the frame and the dive would be over. This also meant that I'd never be sure what else would appear in the area around the birds and on one occasion, I captured this bizarre scene.

No it's not a still from "The Goonies" but simply a pirate ship which, thanks to a cheap knockoff GPS device from Taiwan, had confused the West Coast of Florida with the East Coast of Somalia. A natural mistake and not helped by signs pointing to a Treasure Island just a few miles further down the coast.

This was Daphne's first swim in the waters of the Gulf Of Mexico and I think she'll remember it mostly because of the pelicans.

I'm sure she made an impression on them too !!

Friday, December 05, 2008

It's Coming To An End............

Daffy and Stephen are busy packing as they return to Leeds today.  Well to be accurate they'll be in Leeds tomorrow morning as their flight from Orlando leaves at 8pm local time.

I think they've had a good time here in Florida but they'll have to tell you that themselves. They've been a pain in the neck for me but that's not important.  As long as they had a good time, that's all that matters !

No seriously, it's been a hoot having them here and we've all been places and done things that have made the 2 weeks fly past in a haze of enjoyment and good times. We've all taken enough photos and have enough memories to fill blog posts for months to some serious editing will be needed or we'll bore everyone to death on our respective blogs.

Yesterday we returned from a 3 day trip to the East Coast which took us across to Jupiter Beach, down A1A to Fort Lauderdale (where we went on a boat trip around the waterways of the rich and famous) and on to the Art Deco area of Miami, taking in lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe. Then we visited a swamp safari park in the Everglades where we went on an air boat ride and finished things off with a swamp buggy eco ride. We saw so many gators up close that I ran out of pebbles to throw at them !! 

All in all it was a fantastic 3 days to add to the West Coast tour last week and the 2 day visit to the Kennedy Space Center. We've never felt rushed, we've relaxed on a number of beaches and yet managed to fit in a lot of things. Daphne swam enough times in the ocean to have crossed from Dover to Calais and swum enough laps in various pools to have made the return trip.  If her feet aren't webbed, then they're not far off.

Yesterday evening, returning from the swamp safari park to Buttonwood Bay, we were driving along the most boring road in Florida but still managed to see a lovely sunset - which in my usual 'circle of life' way, brought their vacation to a perfect ending in my mind.

So bye bye Daffy and Stephen and I hope the temperature change you're about to experience doesn't make you too mad that I'll still be here in sunny Sebring for another 4 months !

It's been great having you and showing you why I love spending winters here.

I hope you both enjoyed it as much as we did.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Birth Of A Blogger ?

You know those ultrasound photos that women show around to friends and family after a certain number of months have passed in their pregnancy ?

I can rarely work them out.  I know some computer savvy women use photoshop or some such application to add useful pointers onto their ultrasound photos to highlight fingers, toes and a certain male appendage if one has been picked up by the scan. Probably just an extra finger I'd have thought.

"OMG, my baby is deformed.  Oh hang on, it's just a boy !!".

Well here is an adult one taken at the Kennedy Space Center last Saturday. Actually it was taken at the Astronaut Hall Of Fame which is located just at the start of Columbia Blvd which leads to the 'proper' Space Center about 4 miles further on.

Unfortunately no fingers have grown at this stage in it's development but clearly, it's a boy. His feet are encased in some sort of white material which protects them from harm while in the foetal position as the womb appears to have lots of sharp corners and pointy bits. You can see the umbilical cord near his left leg and there appears to be some sort of yellow polyp growing on the womb wall just above his head. I'd have that looked at as a priority.

The downy hairs on his face and legs should disappear once he gets to full term but the technicians had no answer for the appearance of his glasses.  One theory was that they'd somehow dropped off the bedside table during conception and in a sort of Jeff Goldblum/Fly scenario, were now an integral part of the boy. It's a theory I suppose.

Clearly his head hair is still growing and will become long flowing locks in the fullness of time.

As usually happens in nature, getting him in there only took a few seconds but it took a damn sight longer getting him out !!   The pain was intense, the procedure traumatic and embarassing and a severe loss of dignity was the order of the day.

But seriously, I think the irony of this was that I'd never have gone in there a few years ago but now it's a case of......hell, why not ?  

And they say old men revert to being like babies.  I think I may have just posted the proof of this statement.

(A big thanks to Daphne for the use of her photograph/ultrasound)

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