Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Susan Year Boyle Dreamed A Britain Talent

I was tempted to put Happy Easter as this post title just to be awkward but then decided on a sensible title instead, as you can clearly see.

Well every blogger worth his pepper is coming out from months of self imposed exile to wish all and sundry a Happy New Year/Decade and telling us about going to wonderful parties with flowing alcohol and in the case of those from the UK, trying to be anywhere apart from in front of the telle while Jools Holland is on.

That man is to New Years Eve what the iceberg was to the Titanic : causes otherwise sane people to want to jump ship - usually to the home bar or into bed or both.

Here in sunny Buttonwood Bay, the jewel in the Retirement Communities Florida Inc crown, we may all be old farts but we sure know how to enjoy ourselves at this time of year. Serious drinking has been going on since early doors although I think that may just be from the pair NEXT door, judging by the strangulated singing coming from them for the last few hours. Country music pains me at any time even when sung by professionals but give a drunken pair a karaoke machine for Christmas and just watch property values tumble.

This evening we have games at the Community Centre on our agenda. This is where loads of people bring card games, and maybe board games, to the hall along with enough food items to feed the entire population of Burkina Faso. Look it up, it exists. As I've mentioned before, everyone here has a lifetime of cooking experience behind them - even though several should've had a refund by now. So every time there is a pot luck 'do', we end up with everyone breaking out their aprons and cook books and I end up with another few inches around my waist.

I think the timing of this event may be open ended. It starts around 7pm which in Buttonwood Bay terms, is almost time for bed most evenings ! I think us 'young folk' may be able to pace ourselves but I'd not want to put my mortgage on lasting till 2010 myself. I think when the clock strikes midnight, there may well be a few oxygen tanks, walking sticks, walkers and even a couple of colostomy bags surrounding any glass slippers on the community centre floor. Any elderly Cinderellas will have been tucked up in bed with their Prince Charmings for several hours by then and in fact, just about ready to get up for another day of gentle activity in the park.

When I were a lad, I always wanted 2 things around this time of year. Well I wanted loads of things but as God never struck down the people I asked him to, I just gave up asking. Anyway I always wanted to catch Santa Claus coming down our chimney (ever since the time the pigeon got stuck halfway up, or down, it and so we knew it was blocked) and give him a good kicking for never bringing me a new bike, black with chopper handlebars and go faster stripes and I also wanted to be allowed to stay up to see in the New Year.

I was 26 before I was allowed !

Back then we had the tradition of 'first footing' which was supposed to be a way of ensuring health, wealth and happiness during the coming year. Now you just need a subscription to Sky Sports.

The idea was that you tried to get the classic tall dark stranger to be the first to cross the threshold after midnight and he should be carrying a lump of coal (heat and comfort during the year), a coin (wealth) and some food item (this one is obvious ok). If he just happened to be passing with a portable bbq, a few t-bone steaks and a keg of beer, he'd be more than welcome.

When I was old enough (not 26 btw), I became the family 'first footer' as there weren't many eligible tall dark strangers on our street and few passed by even if they were lost. Now the description had to be stretched a bit as I'm not tall, dark or handsome. Just available. (and I still me anytime....please). To ensure a good year ahead and when using a home grown footer, he (always a he as after all, why on earth would anyone want a woman coming into their home at midnight ? Maybe I'm starting to see why I'm single !) has to be outside the house before midnight so that he can be a proper visitor after midnight. A first visitor so to speak.

It was several years before I understood the laughter from inside my house when I was told to get outside at 9pm every New Years Eve. As I stood around for 3 hours with icicles forming from my extremities, I never knew that I only needed to be out for a minute or so before midnight and my family were just having a laugh. Well the laugh was on them as the coin I always handed over was an Italian lira I'd found on the floor of the local pizza restaurant. Ha !

Although as my family was always poor, maybe that wasn't such a clever response after all.

So with the approach of 2010 when anything is possible, may I wish each and every one of you a very happy, peaceful, healthy and prosperous New Year.

As for me, well I'm wheeling out the gas bbq and getting the steaks out of the freezer. The odds of anyone in here coming round with those after midnight are on a par with SuBo getting hitched to Simon Cowell. But you never know with her. It's been a funny old year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Italy Day 6 - 1st September 2009

As my diary, watch and television shows keep telling me it's the end of December and yet my senses here in Florida tell me otherwise, I thought I'd return to our Italian trip last summer for another post.

To be honest, I'd quite gone off the idea of blogging and was going to pack it in, for a while anyway. I guess the 'muse' had left me and being lazy by nature, I didn't feel like going off looking for it. I have about 200 tv shows to catch up on plus about 60 downloaded movies. Add to that, hundreds of photos and many hours of video footage to edit and you can see how writing a regular blog could easily become a chore.

But, if nothing else, I do want to document our Italian trip if only to have a place where I can return to remind myself what the hell we did there as my memories are already fading fast !

So last time, we left our intrepid explorers (including me) shacked up in the overpriced but quite beautiful Hotel Salivolpi on the steep road leading northwards out of Castellina in Chianti.

We drove down into the village and took the SS429 westwards as we were heading to San Gimignano which we had read was a not-to-be missed walled medieval hill town. To get there, we had to pass through the small town with the hilarious name of Poggibonsi. Well it became hilarious to us anyway and we were slightly disappointed to find that when we got there, there was nothing funny about it, apart from its name.

On the way we did pass lots of iconic Tuscan countryside and we had to stop frequently to get out and take photos. Here are a set of four images of the same two views.....far off shots taken with the Nikon compact and then switching to close up shots taken with the Canon SLR and 200m lens.

As I couldn't decided which pair I liked best for this post, I've put them both in.

Westwards ho and we finally approached San Gimignano, the town of a thousand towers. Ok the town of 14 towers then but come on, that's still a lot of towers to have survived centuries of wars and passing AC Milan supporters, somewhat lost on the way to Naples.

Despite dominating the surrounding vine filled Tuscan landscape, San Gimignano was a huge, if not towering (groan) disappointment. Yes it was a lovely drive up from the plains towards this walled town, but once inside and parked up, we soon realised that the magical memories we'd carried forward from Sienna the previous day had set the 'oooh factor' bar too high for San Gimignano to match. Yes it was quaint and had a lovely piazza complete with ye olde fountain but those towers....well they were just so......dull.

So wooohoo for there being 14 of them but I'd have been happier with just one or two decent ones that would've lived long in my memory (ha !). But the town did have the usual awesome narrow streets with all sorts of tourist tat for us to pick up, look at and then put down ! And did I say the piazza was pretty ? Well it was, fountain an 'all.

Speaking of tourist tat, I wasn't sure what to make of these offerings but in the end, my Euros remained firmly in my pocket, bum bag/fanny pack and false heel of my shoe. (This was Italy - I was taking no chances).

Leaving San Gimignano we needed to return to Castellina In Chanti to pick up the main road northwards to Florence and this meant passing through (hehe) Poggibonsi once again. Having stopped giggling like a bunch of schoolgirls peering into the boys changing rooms, we decided to stop in the town and go to our first Italian supermarket as we wanted some snack type food items. Sadly it was a boring Co-Op but it did have some 'different' offers on display.

I was fascinated by that last one as it was my first experience of mini octopussssses although it was sad that they were vacumed packed and frozen solid as I'd have enjoyed seeing them in a tank, like lobsters. Maybe a tank WITH lobsters ! What fun.

Anyway they were nasty looking critters and the label description of 'octopus vulgaris' was pretty accurate.

We ate at a small food area just beyond the tills and then headed off on a different route back to Castelina In Chanti. This route took us past some more stunning Tuscany countryside and by now we were all in love with the place.

Rejoining the main SR222, we headed a few miles north towards Florence and decided we needed an early night so when we came upon the 3 star Residenzia Del Sogno and the owner offered us an appartment, we took it. We unpacked and then went about 50 yds along the hotel path to a restaurant for a not very enjoyable but still quite expensive meal. I really donno how Italians can afford to eat out regularly !

Back at the hotel we discussed plans for the next day, when we were supposed to be visiting Florence. We'd walked a lot over the past 6 days and were really tired as, although we may not have travelled far distance wise, most of the walking had been up and down the very steep cobbled streets of these old towns. We fancied a break.

Actually we fancied the sea. So we had a talk and both Stephen and Daphne sat on me till it was all agreed...we'd not visit Florence but instead we'd head for the coast, to Viageggio in fact. To get over the disappointment of missing out on Florence, we decided to visit Pisa as it was on the way to Viareggio anyway.

And so we went to sleep that night, hoping that one wobbly leaning tower would be much more interesting than the 14 upright ones we'd seen earlier.

Oh and it SO was !

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Red Card For Christmas Cards

My blog background photo seems to have gone awol recently but I'll deal with it later. Still in the Christmas mood here in sunny Buttonwood Bay and I don't feel like playing computer detective right now.

So....Christmas. Over for another year and like most years, I'm thinking about it all with my usual sharp and penetrating insight. Right now that's being aided by generous shots of Amaretto creamer in my two mugs of coffee and I have to say that the liquid version of the creamer is MUCH more potent than the powder version. I'm slowly working my way up to just pouring in the real thing and THEN you'll get some insight !

Christmas cards are my topic today. Should that be 'is my topic' ? Told you the Amaretto was potent.

I'm never quite sure about sending cards and for once it's not a matter of cost. Mostly. I think it all started for me when boxed sets came out and often the cards in boxes look like they were printed on paper recycled from paper already recycled from old toilet roll tubes. Often there is no message at all inside as if the producers couldn't even be bothered with 4 lines that rhyme in any way at all.

Then companies like Hallmark stepped in and now we have cards FOR everyone FROM everyone. On my visit to one of their stores in the Sebring Mall, I came across some gems in with cards for every possible member of a family from the acceptable mum, dad, son and daughter to the slightly less acceptable lover, mistress, bit on the side when the wife is off shopping at ASDA.

There were cards you could send to a priest. The bible reference inside was Luke 11:28 so I think someone was having a wee laugh.

Not to be left out, there were cards for pastors too and even nuns got their own cards. If I was wanting to send a card to Uncle Bill, my seldom mentioned Franciscan relative (my dad's brother so to speak) , I'd have been out of luck. I should start a campaign calling for equal Christmas card rights (rites ?) for monks.

"A Monk Isn't Just For Christmas" That's catchy.

Just in case you're not sure of the role that your religious friend plays, there were cards for a generic religious participant. Maybe these go to the nice people who hold open the church door or who pass along a bag full of money during Mass when I can take out a bit of spending money for the week ahead. What ? No ? You put money IN ?

My bad.

Going further down the unlikely recipients for a Christmas card list, we come to hair stylists. Yes there are now cards for the person who cuts your hair ! Why did I never think of sending mine one ? Well because I'd have to open it myself as I cut my own hair...sorry...hairs. Still plural but only just.

Then there are the ones created specifically for one section of humanity to send to another babies to their babysitters. I kid you not. ? Oh never mind.
You can now send a card to a co-worker. Now is it just me or don't you think if you were friendly enough to send a card to a co-worker, you'd just send a 'normal' one. The best one of these 'job' type ones was a card specifically for an administrative assistant ! What about the administrator ? Nothing for them. Move along to the next window please.

Leaving humanity aside, there were cards for dogs to send to cats and vice versa. But as animals aren't allowed into stores, I fear those will never sell.

I could go on but you get the point....or maybe the pointlessness of Christmas cards. I mean how often do we even read the prose/poetry inside these things ? We look to see who they're from and then panic if we haven't already sent them one. We rush to 'the recycled box' and if there is time and the post office workers aren't on strike, we post one back asap and hope not to get anymore like that.

I'm sure there must be 'late' cards like you get for birthdays.

"I'm sorry that I missed Christmas but here's a card to show you I was thinking about you in the first week in January." That sort of thing.

There is no doubt that getting a nice thoughtful card from someone you've not heard from for years can be uplifting and bring distanced friends and relatives together again. It's when you sit down with a megabox of discounted cards (70% off on Boxing Day last year) and a printout of every contact you've ever made in your life next to it, that I begin to wonder what it's all about.

"Never got one from that sister of yours so we're not sending her one this year. And Uncle Norm ? He ran off with the Philippino au pair and Auntie Marge is still in let not do either this year, eh ?"

Is it all a commercial rip off by the card companies ? Sure. Do we really need a card from anyone wishing us a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays ? That's my question today. And while I chew it over, I'm off into town to get my "Thank you For Sending Me A Christmas Card" card. For my gas meter reader, y'know.

If I get a card from my undertaker next year, then I'll know the Christmas card business has reached rock bottom - or at least 6ft down towards it !

Thursday, December 24, 2009

And A Very Happy Christmas To Susan Boyle !

Ok I just had to have one last shameless attempt to get more readers and we all know Susan is a winner when it comes to this sort of thing !

Like her, this post will be short and sweet.

Happy Christmas to all my readers and bloggers that I follow and even ones that I don't follow and to those who know me but don't read my blog (?) and to everyone that I don't know but wish I did.

There, that just about covers everyone. But just in case, Happy Christmas to everyone else.

Oh and Susan Boyle.

News Flash : Fuel Shortage In Michigan.

Well we're safely back in sunny Florida after our week "ooop north" in freezing Michigan and once again it's hard to believe it's Christmas Eve. Even England has snow for goodness sake, and a lot of it. My mind is throwing up all sorts of images of a Dickensian Christmas but with none of the nasty bits, like being cold and hungry and being in black and white.

In my mind all is cozy and warm with happy excited kids looking outside through classic snowflake covered windows, while mums and dads sit in front of a roaring log fire with a richly decorated Christmas tree in the corner standing guard over a huge mound of brightly wrapped presents.

Yes, yes I know I've been taken in by Hollywood again and that the reality of Christmas for many people is as far removed from that scene as I am right now but they're MY images in MY mind so let me have them for a while. Then I'll look outside at the sunshine and palm trees and remember that it was my decision to be here and that apart from these few days, I'm very happy that I made it.

Before I close off the chapter of my life that was last week, there is one story to tell. The story of how we made our return flight from Flint airport thanks to Deb being a very resourceful woman, the 911 service around Flint being full of Christmas cheer, the Michigan state police doing their bit for international fellowship and the lady in a Speedway gas station for being a lady in a Speedway gas station.

Of course as with any good story, there has to be a villain and the villain in this case is a Chevrolet Aveo, the biggest load of metalic crap since AC/DC.

We rented this four wheeled disaster with a full tank of gas and for once, we took the deal where you bring it back empty as prices were unusually high around Flint. Now we weren't anal enough to deliberately drive around so that we returned the car with only fumes in the tank but as we approached our Flint hotel on Tuesday afternoon, the fuel gauge was reading very close to the empty line. I got out the owners manual and read about the low fuel light and was comforted to find that once it came on, we'd have 1.7 gallons of fuel left, and even with an American car that should've given us 20-30 miles of driving.

As we pulled into the hotel car park, we were 6 miles from the airport and the low fuel light still hadn't come on. We had our evening meal at a restaurant next to the hotel so never even used the car again that evening.

So yesterday morning we worked backwards from our flight time of 5:18am and left the hotel just before 4am for the short drive. Flint is a small regional airport with only a few counters and gates so we know we had plenty of time leaving at 3:50am. HA !!!

A mile or so from the hotel on I-75 the engine coughed. What ? We put it down to it being very cold. We drove on and suddenly the low fuel light came on which actually cheered us up as we were beginning to think this model didn't have one as the fuel dial was past the word "EMPTY' by this time. Seconds later we passed the mile marker for the airport exit ramp and the engine coughed again and there was no power at all.


Deb, who was driving, got us across to the side of the interstate and from the glow of the hazard lights, we could clearly see the exit sign showing it was 3/4 mile ahead. So close and yet.....

Once we'd recovered from a mild case of meltdown in the form of cursing Chevrolet and all it's products, Deb got out her cell phone and made a call. From the passenger side I just heard her saying it wasn't really an emergency but we were out of gas on the interstate and only an hour before our flight. She was blubbering like a well practised soap star and I felt really bad for her and hoped that the recovery company would sort us out.

When she came off the phone and her voice immediately returned to normal, I discovered she'd not rung the recovery company as she's not in one and in fact had dialled 911 and thanks to our location AND her perceived distraught condition, a patrol car was on it's way.

We weren't out of the woods of course as we still didn't know what would happen. Do cops carry cans of gas here ? Would the officer request a tow truck for us ? What were the chances of making our flight ? Things were not looking good.

Within 5 minutes we were blinded by a state trooper's car lights behind us and an officer who looked like he'd just finished high school appeared at my window. Having watched enough cop shows to know they're not keen on sudden movements when they approach vehicles, I made a grand show of opening the window.

He listened to our tale of woe, said they don't carry cans of gas and so wasn't sure how he could help. He returned to his patrol car for advice. He came back and said he would drive one of us to the nearby gas station in the hopes they sold empty cans.

And so it was that after 57 years of keeping my nose clean (and never being caught), I finally got to ride in the back of a police car. I don't recommend it for long journeys. The seat was basically a hard plastic bench and I now know why officers help 'passengers' in by putting their hands on their heads to guide them in. You cannot get in without going ass first and ducking down. Once in you get to know what a battery hen feels like. With my knees touching my nose, I tried to chat with this 12 yr old cop who was asking all about my accent and if I'd had a good time in Michigan !!

Minutes later we reached the gas station and joy unbounded, it sold gas cans. I decided on a one gallon red model with black fittings. I didn't spend long making my choice and even less time filling it. Then it was off like a rocket again back to our car. We didn't go through any red lights that I could see but by God that car could accelerate. Cop Jr. actually fuelled the car, asked my name and shook my hand as we parted and I'd say all this, from the spluttering of the engine to us setting off again, had taken only 25 minutes. Amazing.

At the airport, Deb sorted out returning the car while I sorted out getting our one case checked at the Delta desk. We met on the way to the gate (Gate 1 of course) and only had a few minutes to wait until we started boarding the flight to Atlanta. Phew !!

As a finale to this story, Deb later called Alamo to complain about the car's low fuel light being as much use as a chocolate fire guard and they offered to refund us the cost of a full tank of fuel, about $30. The can had cost me $5.99 and the gallon of gas cost $2.54 and so even though the cost in terms of soaring blood pressure and stress could not be quantified, we happily accepted this offer !

So a huge thanks goes out to the Flint state police dept and if I had his name, I'd be mentioning the officer too. I feel bad now that I never noticed it on his uniform or asked for it.

And the moral(s) of all this..........always take the deal that returns a rental car with a full tank, never trust that a low fuel light means you have any fuel left at all, always travel with a menopausal (or pregnant) woman in the car and if you see a Flint state trooper stopping a vehicle on the highway, give him a wave using all your fingers and not just one of them !

You never know when you might need his help.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It Was Only A Winter's Tale......

We're at the end of our week up here in the frozen north and happy to be saying farewell to the Siberian like weather. Neither Deb nor myself 'do' cold weather and if I did, I'd spend the winter in Alaska or Canada or the Channel Tunnel for that matter !

(See, despite being up here in the back of the back of beyond, I still keep up to date with news around the world. So who is this Susan Boyle woman then ?)

Anyway we've had a fabby time seeing friends and family and as the main point of the trip was to see her grandkids, here is a happy grandma on Sunday with all 3 of them.

Naturally they weren't too keen on being together for a group photo but believe me, that was the best one of the bunch I took. Tears weren't far away and I don't mean just mine !!

We travelled a few miles in our little rental car and on the last trip to see everyone, there was a lovely winter sky in view out the front window. I didn't realise it at the time but I took the photo through the sun 'visor' part of the windscreen but I've left it in as it gives a sort of filter effect to the sun and sky that I like.

It hardly snowed the whole time we've been here but there was plenty on the ground from the previous week and this is the view out the dining room window showing the back yard and the rear of the 5th wheel parked ready for more summer excursions.

But the highlight of this trip for me was Mason, who was a newborn baby the last time I'd seen him. Now he's a bundle of fun, uttering magical new words and causing us to be careful with some of the words WE say around him ! To see him like this at Christmas time has been a wonderful experience and when he ran into my arms this morning with a beaming smile and gave me a huge hug goodbye, my old dicky heart got a surge the like of which it hadn't experienced since the surgeon placed the paddles on it after my bypass !

Here he is by the tree, showing all the wonder of a child at Christmas.

So it's goodbye to Michigan (well at 5:18am tomorrow morning) and hello again to Sebring, Florida. It will be a lot warmer for sure but a little part of me wishes I was back with my little buddy, who gave me an early Christmas present that will live with me for a long time to come.

Thank you Mason. And thank you to Deb's family for giving us a warm welcome in such a cold place.

Happy Christmas to you all.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Whole World Is White !

By white I mean covered in snow and by the whole world, I mean parts of the US and parts of the UK. Almost all the world then. The important bits anyway.

We went out to do a bit of shopping this afternoon and as a break from photographing the most photogenic kid in the whole world ever, I took some piccies of the snow.

Round the back of the house we have the 5th wheel which being white, is almost camouflaged. Putting up photos of it will remind/show readers why I picked my username on here !

One thing about the cold here is that it lasts a LONG time and so icicles become stalactites over time. We have a good selection round the back of the house and the longer ones should reach the ground by the time we leave !

As we're only here for a week, it's pretty cool (literally) and certainly easier to believe it's Christmas than when we're in central Florida.

I still know where I'd rather be....weatherwise....but Mason sure is a great reason for being here too.

The End Justifies The Means

Just in case we wondered what possessed us to come up north to snow covered Houghton Lake from the balmy warmth of central Florida, these two photos from a few minutes ago might provide the answer.

Firstly, a view from just outside the front door, which was as far as I was prepared to venture in my socks and pj clad body.

Then this is Mason, one of the reasons for our trip here. A 21 month old bundle of fun who elicits constant 'awwww's' from us and is just a joy to be with. Even when he's having breakfast !

Is it cold outside ? Who cares. Suddenly, for me at least, Christmas has taken on a much different feeling.

There Be Snow Here

Well we arrived in Houghton Lake at 7pm and jolly white it was too. Being 7pm it was pretty dark but take my word for it, it was white too.

Actually looking out the plane's porthole or whatever, there wasn't that much snow to be seen over southern Michigan. When we landed in Flint, there still wasn't that much. Then we drove 2 hrs to Houghton Lake and as the miles passed, the snow levels grew. By the time we got 'home', the roads would've brought the UK to a standstill but it was simply business as usual here.

I was wearing a t-shirt under a fleece under a large jacket and the car heater was on blow factor 2 and I was still cold !

Oh and the car, if I can call it that, is a Chevy Aveo. This car reflects the US car industry right now and makes my Clio seem like a Rolls Royce. Yes it has 4 doors and a few windows but there the luxury ends. One cup holder for the rear passengers only, no cruise control, manual everything except the transmission and 'best' of all, no central locking. It's been so long since we've used a key to lock car doors that we've twice walked away with them all unlocked. Trying to squeeze the key reminded us !

Yet it has 2 power points (formally known as cigarette lighter points) and you can hook your mp3 player to the in car stereo. Go figure. We were hoping that the 5 of us, 4 adults and 21 month old Mason, could go downstate on Sunday but it ain't gonna happen using this toy car. Even with Mason on a roof rack.

But the main thing is we're here safe and sound, if cold. It's been a long day that started at 5:30am in Tampa and now it's after midnight in Houghton Lake, 1343 miles later.

Time for bed, methinks. Snow photos tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Preparing For Winter

When I told people I was going to Florida for the winter, I meant I was going for the winter season and NOT winter weather. I wanted sunshine, beaches and waving palm trees - the whole dream.

After 7 weeks or so of living that dream, tomorrow morning at 8:35am, we fly AWAY from this sort of thing and 6 hrs later (stopping in Atlanta for 2 hrs) we'll be literally knee deep in a full snow covered winter wonderland, in northern Michigan.

Now for those who do not know where Michigan is, and for non Americans too, it's just below Canada and pretty close to Siberia as far as weather goes. It's pretty much a white state from late November until April and I'm not being racist here. It gets a LOT of snow.

But fear not. I'm well prepared. I'm sitting typing this post in a hotel room so close to Tampa airport that I can tell who didn't use deodorant on the incoming flight from Nashville and I'm in t-shirt and shorts. When we leave in the morning, I'll be wearing a t-shirt, jeans, fleece hoodie and a Detroit Lions jacket so thick and padded that if I fall over, I'll just roll back up again like a weeble. When we get to darkest Michigan, I may break out the big guns, a Leeds Rhino's beanie hat.

As you can tell, I'm not too happy about having to wear this sort of clothing.

Just as well we return in a week.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Victor Time Again

I've not had a Meldrew like rant for a while now but there has been a story in the local and national press recently that has got me going again !

I think I mentioned the crime a while ago but the case came to court a few days ago and now we have the verdict.

Here is the story of the incident in brief : family watching a Harry Potter movie in a Leeds theatre when rowdy teens cell/mobile phones keep going off and they were generally making a lot of noise. Mother asks them to be quiet, no joy. Mother calls for member of staff and it's not reported what happened after that. After the movie, family leave theatre to walk across car park to nearby restaurant for a meal and the defendant (one of the teens) leans out of their car and swears at woman. Family eats in restaurant.

The teens then go to nearby service station where the defendant buys a bottle of bleach. Return to restaurant and defendant enters and pours bleach over mother's head, splashing other members of family with it (including children) and runs off, gets in car and all drive away.

Ok so 5 months later and the defendant is up in court pleading guilt to "actual bodily harm" but not to the more serious charge of "causing grievous bodily harm with intent."

Now first of all, is it just me or could going to a service station, buying bleach, returning to a restaurant, going in and pouring said bleach over someone's head EVER be classed as 'without intent ?' Maybe this is some sort of legalese terminology at work here but I'd have to think doing all that involved a fair bit of intent.

Next, the jury actually needed several hours and an overnight stay before deciding that the defentant was guilt of the more serious charge ! Were they having a laugh ? Did someone need to be physically scared for life before this was a no brainer for them ? Jury of peers my ass !

Finally comes the really 'good' bit.

The defendant, who cannot be named for legal reasons, denied trying to cause her serious injury and told the court he only wanted to "show up" the woman.

Ohhhhhh but this makes my blood boil. If the mother (46) had given this punk a good slap and told him to shut up or leave the theatre, she'd have been up before the court in double quick time and you can be sure her name, address and family history would've been spread all over the news articles. If the father had done it, he'd have had the same punishment with sexual abuse added on for good measure (man slaps boy) and he'd have been put on a sex offenders register for the rest of his natural.

But oh no. This teen gets the full protection of the dumb ass law around him so we don't ever get to know his name or anything about him.

I understand that knowing his name or seeing a photo of him wouldn't do much for my blood pressure over this whole sorry story but why oh why can these people NOT be named and shamed ? I'd be all for having their photos on display in theatres so they would be refused admission but then we'd have cries about civil rights and liberties.

What about the rights of this family ? They've been named, we know their ages and even that they live in Leeds. No doubt video footage of them arriving and departing the court has been shown on local, if not national, tv news reports. Wouldn't take much for these teens to track down where they live and make their life hell for bringing this case to court.

Of course there was nothing stopping family and friends from taking photos of the defendant as he arrived or left the court. Just for the family album you know !

The sentencing was put off till January 11th and I'm sure he'll get an ASBO (Anti-Social Behaviour Order) or some other slap on the wrist and he'll come out smiling and grinning at this fellow teens and go off binge drinking to celebrate, probably kicking some old ladies along the way.

I know no one was killed or even seriously hurt but this sort of thing is a symptom of the youth of today and laws that seem to protect the criminals and not the.....................

Oh God I'm going off on one now.

Time to leave the soapbox free for the next person. Thank you for your time and patience.

Victor M.

Update (15/12) : I'm going to need to stop reading news reports about my home city or I'll be pushing people off the soap box and taking control of it full time.

I despair, I really do. Can these asshole judges be charged with crimes against justice ?

Buttonwood Bay Christmas Golf Cart Parade 2009

Phew, that was a mouthful but I thought I'd get as many appropriate words into the title as I could to guide new readers to my blog. Once again, shameless.

Right, we're back in the air conditioned coolness of the house after the golf cart parade and much fun was had by all. That was mostly down to the booze but the evening was capped off by the appearance of a frog that had been slumbering on our golf cart roof and decided to jump onto us as we drove home. It dropped onto my shoulder and scared the bejesus out of me as it was all wet and surprising and in my haste to get it off me, I slapped it straight onto Deb's face where it clung as if on the north side of the Eiger. She screamed and flailed about like someone who's panties had been overrun with fire ants....while still wearing them !

The air turned blue but it was dark and so no one would've noticed. In the great scheme of things, I'm not sure who was more terrified. Me, who had experienced the frog first but had no idea what the wet thing had been; Deb who was still screaming whilst wiping slime of her face or the stunned frog which was probably lying in a mess by the side of the road wondering what the hell had just happened but thinking it was the last time he was gonna sleep on a golf cart roof.

I'm telling ya, there's never a dull moment in this place.

But back to the parade. As usual I went to the staging area as once these carts get going in the parade, I rarely get good photos of them. The downside of this is that I'm taking the photos before it gets really dark and therefore their lights are but a shadow of their full glory. You'll just have to squint and get a feel for it that way. At a later date here may be a video clip of the whole parade as it passed me by.

This is a shot of the lead cart, decorated by and representing the park's Red Hat Ladies. See, the cart even has a red hat. Brilliant.

Look at the work that has gone into decorating these carts; checkout the details.

In that last photo above, you might just notice that the little bearded character in the hammock has a gator nibbling at his leg. These people are just plain sick but you have to admire their attention to detail !

Ok it's getting a bit darker by now so these next 3 look a bit 'better' as their lights have come into play.

In true tradition, Santa brought up the rear. That's as far as tradition went though as tonight he traded reindeer power for horsepower as you can see -

And so it was all over for another year. In the morning the same carts will be flying around the park as naked as nature intended.

Not the drivers; dear God not the drivers. Just the carts.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

It's That Time Of Year Again !

Don't worry, this isn't going to be a post about Christmas. Not really. I mean a lot of events take place at this time of year that only exist because of Christmas and this post is about one of them. But it's not about Christmas itself.

Right. Glad we've got that settled.

As I've said before a few times, I get a lot of visitors to my blog in the run up to Christmas who are looking for posts about decorating golf carts. For those who haven't read my posts on this exciting topic (!) and are wondering why on earth anyone would want to decorate a golf cart, I'd better explain. Briefly.

It's Christmas. The golf carts are used mostly in trailer parks to get people from place to place. The people in these parks have a lot of time on their hands. It's fun. And again, it's Christmas. That's all you need to know.

Anyway the Buttonwood Bay golf cart parade takes place tonight and as we will have our chairs out, wine chilled and cameras at the ready, there could well be a post tomorrow with photos or video or both.

Why does that sound like a threat ?!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Up, Up And Away

You know how it is......seen one palm tree, you've seen 'em all.

Same with beaches. Hot weather ? Boring.

So next week we're taking a break from it all and Deb et moi are heading 'oop north' to see family and friends in Michigan, a state which has now been twinned with Siberia.

I was last in Michigan in February 2008 when we again left the warmth of Florida to go and be with Deb & Den's eldest son and daughter-in-law (Brian & Tara) a few days after the birth of their son, Mason. On that visit we never went further north to Deb & Den's home town of Houghton Lake as their house was shut up for the winter and so there was no point in visiting.

This time we WILL be going to Houghton Lake as Brian, Tara and Mason all live there now. I've not been for a few years and am looking forward to seeing the place again and seeing a few friends as well as the family.

Until yesterday, we had planned on driving there, even though it's a 2,800 mile round trip not counting any driving we do while there. It's a trip we've done many times before and involves driving up through Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and the better part of Michigan.
Few of the miles could be classed as scenic although when I-75 cuts through parts of Tennessee, it's not bad !

But 6 very full days in a rental car, several nights in unknown motels, eating on the road (not literally, although some roadkill beats what's served up by most fast food outlets) and having only 4 days in Michigan was not a prospect we were looking forward to.

So yesterday we decided to fly there and that has meant we can leave next Wednesday and still be in Houghton Lake a few hours earlier than if we'd set off driving early on Monday morning. We can also stay longer and still be back here on 23rd in time for Christmas. All this and we save about 30% by only needing to rent a car for a few days, not get any motels and not have to eat out as much. Win, win.

Well not quite. There are always a few drawbacks. We can't take as much luggage for a start and we did want to bring a few large items back. I could try shoving the gas bbq into the overhead compartment but I doubt it would fit and the flight attendants would not be happy with the attached gas canister. It would definitely have to go under the seat !

Then we have the flight times. We leave from Tampa airport at 8:25am and we live 2 hrs from the airport so do the math. Coming back is even worse. We fly from Flint airport at 5:18am and again it's a 2 hr drive to that airport. I just hope in both cases, the pilot gets more sleep than we will.

But hell we're young and fit and don't need sleep and it'll be a grand adventure. Yesterday it was sunny and 83F here and in Houghton Lake...tons of snow and 10F !!

We went shopping for some warm clothing yesterday but in mid Florida, that's like trying to find someone under 55. Rare as hen's teeth. (I've never understood that expression). Anyway, I got a checked red flannel shirt that came with a free copy of The Lumberjack Song and we're heading off to get some more items today. I do have some warm clothing in my wardrobe here as like I said at the start, we've been to Michigan from Florida a few times.

And never fear as I'll be taking lappy of course so expect posts from your northern correspondent with photos of a snow covered world with a dearth of palm trees and sun kissed beaches.

I plan on enjoying those on Christmas Day.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Wanted : Dead Or Alive

The news that the long running US daytime soap "As The World Turns" is going to be cancelled soon, initially meant nothing to me as I'm not American and I've never seen a single second of the show.

But then the statistic geek in me decided to go surfing to see just how long it HAD been running for and one thing led to another and you know how THAT goes, yadda, yadda.

I found that the longest 'serving' character on the show, Nancy Hughes, has been played byHelen Wagner since 1876 and she's now 137. Ok since April 2nd, 1956 and she's now 91 - but it's still impressive. After all that time playing someone else, she has to be a bit schizophrenic. Or dipsy at least. I bet she's been answering to Nancy or Helen for years and look, both names have the same number of letters. And if you take the 2nd letter of each surname and switch it with the 5th letter of each first name, well then you get two stupid names and I need a break from surfing !

When I searched for details about Helen (I feel we're on first name terms now - as long as I don't mess with the letters), I came upon a site which many senior celebs probably have in their favourites and check every day.

It's a site that documents if a famous person is dead or alive and for once, it contains a list that no one wants to be on. Mind you, if you're an old and seriously befuddled celeb and you read that you're on the dead list, it's bound to confuse you for the rest of the day. Probably not the best day to watch The Sixth Sense !

I spent part of my morning happily scanning both lists mixing ....."wow, I never knew they'd died" with "holy crap are they STILL alive" which probably wouldn't please celebs in either list.
Although I loved that the icon for the alive list was a smiley face and the one for the dead list was a skull, I think an animated grim reaper should sashay across the screen on the day someone moves from one list to the other. In the unlikely event that it's a move from the dead list to the alive list, then the reaper could be shown slumped over, dragging his scythe slowly behind him.

You'd have to go back 2009 years to have seen that happen and I'm not expecting another such event anytime soon.

The list of searches on the site is hilarious.

"People Alive Over 85" makes me wonder why this age was specifically chosen. Does the grim reaper have his cloak dry cleaned and start to put his sandals on when people reach 85 ?

"Who Have You Outlived ?" is another classic, if somewhat depressing, list if there is no one on it when you put in your details. Sorry George Abbott, whoever you are !

There are a few quizzes on the site to keep you amused through the long winter evenings. I like this description.......

In all the Dead or Alive quizzes, see if you can correctly answer who is dead and who is alive. Be sure to come back again because new quizzes are posted every 15 minutes.

I hope their database is well linked as the nature of the site means that the quiz answers could change from one day to the next and I can imagine heated discussions developing.

"I win because Zsa Zsa Gabor is dead."

"No she's not".

"She HAS to be. "

"Nope, she's 92 and going strong. Well relatively speaking."

"Can we play this again tomorrow. Maybe I'll win then ?"

Anyway I'm going to add this site to my other similar morbid sites - the one that lists deaths of notables almost before they, or TMZ, know about it and then the one that lists the last resting places of the rich and famous....and presumably dead.

With that selection of sites I think, like a coroner's body bag, I've got death pretty much covered.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Normal Service Has Been Resumed

In this post SB dawn, things are slowly returning to normal. After my mention of "she-who-must-not-be -named" yesterday, my daily visitors bar graph went from looking less like the skyline of Crinkley Bottom to more like the skyline of the UAE with SB being forever more known as Burj Dubai in my mind !

My mind can be a seriously weird place to visit. Tell me about it, I have to.

Anyway thanks to Maya and even people like CanadianBill (yes I MAY alter my thinking but I don't believe my opinion was quite nonsense), I had 'hits' coming at the rate of 2 a minute for most of yesterday and bless all your hearts.

I may never mention SB (or BD) again but please return often - in case I do !

Back in sunny Sebring, Florida where I'm a snowbirder, it seems I need to clear up this point yet again. I'm not English, Welsh or Scottish and certainly not Irish. I was born in Northern Ireland and despite what others from that province would claim for themselves, I'm British. It says so on my passport and that's good enough for me. Due to my grandparents being born back when N.I. was still part of Ireland, I CAN claim an Irish passport (and presumably citizenship) and I did once have one when I was younger as it was green and looked pretty with the harp on the front and everything. A passport sponsored by Guinness ! Only in Ireland.......

Speaking of the weather (!?!), it too has returned to normal after a few days when the only people enjoying life in Disney World were those selling rain capes and umbrellas. It's reached 83F outside now and as I've just cooked lunch, it's 86F in here. I did think about cracking an egg on my bald head but I decided the yoke would be on me before it cooked.

Sorry !

Time to set up the deckchair and settle down in my swim trunks and sandals and watch Leeds United v Kettering Town in the FA Cup.

Not quite Real Madrid but at least we're finally on the way up. Just like SB.


Monday, December 07, 2009

Welcome to Walmart, Susan Boyle

Shopping in a Walmart is one of life's little pleasures.

No, I take that back. Walking around a Walmart with no intention of shopping is one of life's little pleasures. Shopping there is usually a nightmare.

The customers are bad enough but just where do they get the staff from ?

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, the products. Today, non food wise, I wanted some toothpaste and deodorant. Simples.

Well actually no. There was a bewildering choice for toothpaste and this isn't always a good thing. I'm now used to seeing toothpaste here containing fluoride, baking soda and peroxide and I often wonder if toothpaste shouldn't be moved to the baking aisle in the grocery section.

That idea was reinforced today when I saw toothpaste with new (to me anyway) ingredients. Mint I could understand. But cinnamon ? Then there was a variant for those who couldn't choose between the two.......cinnamint ! I finally lost the plot when I saw toothpaste with "oxygen bubbles." I can get my toothpaste to foam quite nicely thank you. I don't need extra bubbles added.

In the end I picked the cinnamint option as I love cinnamon and just HAD to try it. I'll let you know.

Then I went to the 'entertainment' section to see if there was a line forming to buy the Susan Boyle album. Just by mentioning her in a previous post, I got the largest number of visitors to my blog EVER. So in a pathetic and shameless move to keep them with me, I'm mentioning her again ! Susan Boyle.....Susan Boyle. There.

Anyway not only wasn't there a line of eager buyers, there wasn't even an album to buy ! I searched the categories from Pop to Easy Listening and then went back to take in Country and Rap just in case the shelf stacker had been on crack and thought that Ms Boyle looked like the sort of artist to duet with Lil Wayne or Jay Z.

But there was no sign of Susan. I asked an assistant. Ha ! You've as much chance of getting help from a Walmart assistant as asking Stevie Wonder to score a penalty....from the centre another ground. Ain't gonna happen. He did have a look even though I told him I'd already looked. He checked his system.

"We might get a delivery next week" he said with little enthusiasm in his voice.

NEXT WEEK ! It's only Monday of THIS week ! I think Susan got to No.1 in America DESPITE Walmart.

I went off to the grocery section to get a few items - less than 20 items as that is key to the next bit. You see like all supermarkets, Walmart has a few 'express' checkouts for anyone buying 20 items or less but, and this is a key but, their employees are told not to challenge anyone who has more even if they appear before them with a cart piled so high the employee can't even see the customer until half their shopping has been processed.

"Oh there you are, dear. I didn't see you behind those 536 items you've got in your cart."

So it's left to the customers to say what we all think....and have a go at anyone who breaks the rule. It rarely happens and the repeat offenders know this.

Last week we came into the store and all hell was breaking loose at the express checkouts. Someone had obviously said something to a woman who was placing half the contents of the store onto the small counter. It was a slanging match to behold, and behold it we did. Rather than just stand and gawp, we hovered around the rotisserie chickens taking it all in. It almost came to blows but as usual the one with the biggest mouth and the fewest words in her vocabulary won. Not surprisingly she was the overloader. We had to admire her ability to multitask as she was slagging off the woman who had had the nerve to challenge her while still dumping item after item onto the counter.

The checkout lady (ha !) just rang up each item with a mildly bored look on her face. Now if she had just politely told gobby woman that this was a 20 items or less checkout, we'd not have had this fracas - but then I'd not have had a blog post !

But that's Walmart. The stores are staffed by about 6 employees who don't know anything about anything but have turned the act of talking amongst themselves and ignoring customers into an art form. Even if they knew where an item was, they'd never go with you to find it. Today I heard a lady ask a member of staff if they could help her get a heavy trash can down from a high shelf and the staff member said she couldn't help right now as she was due to take her break ! I had to tell another shopper where the crock pots were as the staff member she'd asked had said she didn't know....and carried on stacking a shelf !

To shop there is to take your life in your hands as nowhere else in the world has such a concentration of disabled scooters driven by people who have only two disabilities....obesity and laziness. The really disabled people are reduced to being pushed around the stores in their wheelchairs as all the scooters are in use.

The Walmart slogan is "Save Money. Live Better."

There is an argument for spending a bit more and living longer.

Update : And this is a first for me...obviously. To all you visitors from who have arrived in your hundreds today, thank you very much. SB is certainly is a global phenom but I won't abuse her popularity again......well not again today anyway ! Return again soon....and often....and bring friends...and jaffa cakes.....please.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

I'm A Rat, Get Me Out Of Here !!

I guess I should stop reading news stories "early doors" when I've only had one cup of coffee as my poor brain just can't take in some of the items.

Take this morning as a good example. Several UK newspaper sites are covering the hot news that two of the "I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here" contestants, one being the winner, are facing criminal charges in Australia for killing and eating a rat !

It seems as part of the show, they were exiled and so had to live on rice and beans, which as we all know, is no food for a celebrity to live on. Especially when one is a celebrity chef. A celebrity chef I've never heard of but that's not surprising as I've rarely heard of any of the people on that show and can say, hand on heart that I've never even watched one episode of the show...ever. Nada. Not one. Not interested.

A few days ago I did watch an episode of America's "Survivor" where again a motley group of people are thrown together in some exotic location to outplay, outwit and outlast each other to be the last man, or woman, standing and get $1m. On that episode, they decided that the egg laying chicken was needed more as an actual tasty main course than for it's prowess at producing less filling delicacies every morning.

So the chicken was gathered up, protesting loudly as it happens, and had it's head chopped off in double quick time. We were spared seeing this in graphic detail but we did see and hear the machete in action, several times actually, and so we were left in little doubt that it was an ex chicken. The sudden lack of chicken noises was the first clue and then seeing its legs sticking out of the cooking pot a few minutes later only confirmed the deed.

Now I donno if this is a fact, but I don't believe that anyone from that show is being charged with anything other than being on a that show. It's not for me to say if that alone should be classed as a crime. Actually in an earlier episode they also caught, killed and ate a rat. Ironically they were heard to say it tasted a bit like chicken, much to the concern, and rightly so as it turned out, of the camp's resident chicken. From that moment on, its days were numbered.

But back to the Aussies and their obvious love of rats. At first I thought it was a publicity stunt to keep the now finished show fresh in our minds. Maybe the Aussie RSPCA felt the need to do something when they realised no one from their organisation was on set at the time this heinous crime was committed.

I don't mean to upset or annoy any animal lovers (or Australians) out there but come on....a rat !?

I'm sure this comes under the heading of all God's creatures deserve better....but a rat ?! And what exactly was criminal about killing one ? Was it teased and tortured first ? Made to watch outtakes from the show before it was despatched ? I guess it was just the fact that an animal was killed on a tv show and here is a quote from the news article.....

Ch Insp David Oshannessy, from the RSPCA in New South Wales, told BBC Radio 5 live there was a "code of practice" which dictated how animals could be used in theatrical productions and films.

"The killing of a rat for a performance is not acceptable. The concern is this was done purely for the cameras," he said.

So no mention then that it was done because the relevant celebs were just fed up with a diet of rice and beans ? I mean it's not an easy thing to do. to catch, kill, cook and eat a rat. Personally I'd be all for tucking into seconds of the rice and beans.

And I could just about understand the fuss if they'd killed a wallaby or some other cute looking critter (I think a kangaroo would be classed as a big rat down under so no fuss if one of those had been killed) but a rat ?! Again....a rat ?! Oh don't start singing "Ben"and telling me even rats have feelings you sit down in front of your supper with some dead animal part on your plate. Ah yes, I know a celery stick has feelings too, if you're as barking as Prince Charles.

"Eat your veggies, Charles. Be a good prince, now"

"No mummy. Shalln't. I talked to them earlier and they're not happy. Not happy at all"

It'll be interesting to see how this story develops......which may be just what the show's producers want.

I bet they're glad the celebs found a rat and not a wandering aborigine. In that case, I doubt if anyone would've cared.

Too far ?

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Susan Boyle Takes The High Road

After just one week of release, Susan Boyle's album "I Dreamed A Dream" has shot straight to the No.1 position in the UK, Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and most amazing of all, the USA. It has broken sales records all over the place and that takes some doing for a debut album.
It probably hasn't been released in countries where English (or Scottish) isn't the first language but it will be interesting to see how it gets on when that happens.

A few months ago few people outside her home town street knew who she was. Before the advent of the internet, few people outside of the UK would've heard of her either despite her dramatic and highly memorable initial appearance on tv.

Thanks to YouTube and video sites like it, she's rapidly become the most famous Scottish name since Wee Jock McJock, the well known jockey. As far as I know she's not on Twitter or Facebook but it's only a matter of time. I follow Paul Potts on Twitter and would probably follow Ms. Boyle too. It's the only way to know that these people haven't gone back to obscurity.

Of course she's had a bit of a makeover so she no longer looks like a frumpy housewife. With the royalties from her album, she can probably afford a few other nips and tucks but something tells me she won't bother. Susan isn't like that.

We've all heard of lottery/pools winners who blow the lot in less than a year and then blame everyone but themselves for being back to square one. Of course they didn't have an ongoing and bankable 'talent' so that when the money dried up, so did their lives of luxury. Susan won't be like that either.

So far Paul Potts is still living the life and jets all over the world singing in sold out arenas. His schedule would wear out someone half his size. Sorry Paul. Cheap shot. But his story is slightly different and I can only see his career going from strength to strength.

Will Ms. Boyle be as successful and will she care anyway ? Only she knows the answer to that. There will be money men pushing her to cash in on her current fame, even if that fame only lasts a few more months. Her album got rave reviews from those people who would probably have raved about it even if every track was a version of "I Dreamed A Dream." On the Billboard site (US charts), 50% gave it a thumbs up and 50% a thumbs down.

Talk about being a middle of the road artist !

I feel this could be it for Ms. Boyle. I've heard her album and without all the hype preceding it, it wouldn't have made the bottom of the charts. Did we really need another version of Amazing Grace and Silent Night ? Sure she has a decent voice but it's the combination of HER and the decent voice that has propelled her to these dizzy heights. We all love an underdog. We all love someone who gets discovered and makes good, be it a footballer from a ghetto in Brazil or a singer from a village in Scotland.

But ultimately I say - good on you, Susan. Right from the first moment we saw you, you told us that you had a dream, a dream to sing in public. Simple enough.

Well you're living the dream and then some. Even if you've peaked already, you've made a mark that will live on for years to come. You may not be everyone's cup of tea but in this world where stories of talentless celebs and personalities fill our news stands everywhere, your story is a breath of fresh air.

Even if we need subtitles to understand it !

Friday, December 04, 2009

Searching For Answers

I like stats. Always have. It's a wonder I don't like baseball as that must be stat heaven but then there's always cricket. And even footy (soccer of course) is becoming more stat heavy as we can now find out everything from how far a player 'travelled' and how many completed passes he made during a game. I just care about how many goals he scored !

Is this leading anywhere ?

Well yes. I like looking to see where my blog visitors have come from (from 84 different countries and counting) and also how they made their way to my posts. It's all quite interesting really, from a mad stats point of view.

Many come directly so must have my blog address in their favourites and bless you all.

Some more come from other blogs that have my blog on their read list. Bless you again and please keep coming.

Others read my blog from a reader and so their stats don't appear at all. Shame on you ;-)

And finally, some come to my blog as the result of using a search engine, usually Google or Yahoo.

Now the searches being put into these engines can be most informative and even slightly worrying as I'm never quite sure how my blog appears as a result ! If she was still alive, I'm sure that Janet Munro would be pleased to know that people still search for her online but maybe she wouldn't be so pleased to learn that when the word topless is added, people end up on my blog. Ok I used those 3 words a long time ago when discussing mortal sins so I guess this is my punishment. My blog is 5th in the results for Janet Munro topless. I'm so proud.

Then there are the golfers. My blog hit rate goes up quite a lot at weekends during the LPGA season as I once mentioned Paula Creamer. I never posted a photo of her or anything so quite how my blog comes up when someone uses the image search on Yahoo is beyond me - but it does. Sadly these visitors don't seem to hang around for a read as like I said, the relevant post doesn't have any photos of the very tasty Ms. Creamer, with her long tanned legs and very, very short skirts and her lithe youthful body with just a hint of sweat........damn I'm heading back into mortal sin territory now.

I still get welcome visitors who have searched for anything to do with "walking back to happiness" presumably because they like the old Helen Shapiro song. I guess by now she must be pretty old too. Again they must be somewhat disappointed to find my blog post about getting healthy by walking ! Sorry.

But the search that gets me by far the most visitors at this time of year is one where any combination of the following words are used. "golf cart parades, decorating golf carts, Christmas golf cart parades" and so on. You get the picture.

My blog stats light up like....a decorated Christmas cart and very happy I am too. I'm not sure how many searchers are happy with what they find but most enlarge my photos about decorated Christmas carts so maybe they are.

I also hope that when new visitors come to my old posts via a search, that they click on the blog title and visit my latest posts and then become regular visitors.

And just to help things along, I'll leave you all with the following, obviously unconnected statement :-

Walking back to happiness can be fun when your companions are Janet Munro topless and Paula Creamer but even more fun when you are all riding on a golf cart decorated for Christmas.

I know. I'm shameless.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Mall Musings

After our Olive Garden meal tonight, we decided to go to The Mall.

I love malls and can spend hours just window shopping and people watching without spending a penny. And that's got nothing to do with the state of my bladder by the way.

The adventurously named Lakeshore Mall in Sebring has all the usual stores from Bath & Body Works to Zales Jewelers with a food court thrown in for good measure. A few weeks ago when waiting for Deb to complete her early morning visit with the dentist (also in the mall), I got bored and joined in with a few mall walkers, completing a circuit of the building in 20 minutes.

So it's no Mall of America but if you want to look at a few cars, one boat and find calendars full of cute cats, Michigan lighthouses or John Deere tractors, the mall is your place. I have to admit to checking out the 2010 September tractor and she's a beaut. Grace, elegance and enough pulling power to worry a rugby front row. Hubba hubba.

But it was 8pm and this is Sebring so the mall was almost deserted. Sebring is like a ghost town after 8pm. Restaurants are starting to close or have already closed. Police officers are dozing in their twinkie strewn patrol cars. The lone member of staff in the 24hr Wendys drive thru is having a french fry fight with himself and even the bikers have left the bars and revved off into the night. This is a retirement town and most people are either preparing for bed or are in bed soon after 8pm.

I mean it's 11pm now and for the last 2 hrs I've been the only person still awake in this zipcode.

But back to the mall. I was going into a store and stopped by a poster that was right in front of the entrance. It said that after 6pm on a Friday and Saturday, anyone under the age of 18 in the mall had to be accompanied by an adult. The only exception was if this under age person was going to or from the mall movie theatre and in that case, they had to use the special theatre entrance/exit.

Any young looking unaccompanied mall visitor must be prepared to show evidence of their age if stopped by a security guard and if under 18, would be told to leave the mall. If they refused, they would be charged with trespassing.

Sadly in this day and age, I'm sure this 'law' is very necessary for the comfort and safety of everyone...everyone in a large city mall. But come on people. This is Sebring where the average age is 102. I doubt that anyone under the age of 18 even lives in Sebring, never mind would want to go alone to the mall. Remember this is the town where I'm always offered the senior discount even though I'm 57. The staff just assume everyone is a senior and we go along with it for a cheap burger and free drink.

I don't know if we have such mall rules in England. Even with our hoodie, yob culture I'm not sure our malls are overrun with hooligans on Fri/Sat evenings - I'm not sure because I'm usually in my jim-jams getting ready for bed of course but also because the hooligans are stoned out of their minds in our town centres with binge drinking and couldn't get through a mall door if they tried.

Then the date on this poster caught my attention. The under age rule was introduced on September 11th.

So now when someone under 18 in Sebring (if one can be traced) is asked what catastrophe happened on 9/11, the answer might not be what you'd expect to hear !!

Anyway it's 11:15pm and I'd better get to bed. All those free drinks have played havoc with my bladder and now I really DO have to spend a penny.

Say, good night Gracie.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Cute As A Button

What does THAT mean ? I've never seen a cute button in my life.

I mean Jensen is ok but I'm not into men...ohh err, missus.

Anyway here is a very cute video.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Italy Day 5 - 31st August 2009

It seems a long time since I was in Italy last August but seeing as I'm in mid Florida with temps in the 80's, it's actually a lot easier to think back to that trip now than it would be if I was still in wet, freezing Leeds. Sebring is 5081 miles from our Day 5 destination, Siena, but this is where we pick up the story........

Well actually just before I get to day 5, I need to put up a photo from day 4 as I'd mentioned how we were required to wear swimming caps when using the awesome outdoor pool at the Hotel Santa Genoveffa. Yorkshire Pudding had asked if there was photographic evidence of me wearing my water polo type cap and thanks to Daphne's hubby, Stephen, here it is.

I'm the one with the wide white stripe on my cap closest to the camera and Daphne is to my right. I'm wiping away a tear from my eye due to the shame of being on camera wearing such a cap. As my face is not visible, I could remain incognito but my feeling is that as my body is not visible either, the photo can be published !

Back then to Day 5...........

After a quite unsatisfactory breakfast, we headed up SS223 from the hotel in Paganico towards Siena and soon stopped off at one of the many vineyards that provided most of the stunning views in this part of Tuscany. Never having seen a vineyard up close and personal, it was a special, if not life changing, moment for me.

Onwards and upwards and we were soon entering the partly walled town of Siena and what a breathtaking place it was. Easily our favourite town in Italy. Ok it was only day 5 remember !!

We parked at the bottom of the town as tourist cars were discouraged from entering the town as such. An excellent idea and one that we discovered in lots of the smaller towns in Italy which made sightseeing much more of a joy. It was particularly refreshing in Siena as it was a classic Tuscan hill town with very steep, narrow streets and negotiating them in a car, even a small Italian car, would've been miserable for both drivers and sightseeing tourists.

Of course that didn't stop the occasional mad Italian scooter rider from whizzing past us like Barry Sheene inside the hadron collider. After 3 days in Rome, we knew how to weave too !

It was another hot morning and although nearly noon, the sun was casting harsh shadows across the tall narrow streets making exposure difficult.

I'm talking photography here people !! Honestly, some of you are just Sun readers in disguise !

The street walls were festooned with colourful flags and banners which gave the whole town a wonderful festival feel. Of course Siena is the location for Il Palio and we had just missed the 2nd race by a couple of weeks. Mind you, much as we'd have loved to have witnessed the event, I think we liked Siena so much on our visit because it was so quiet and the streets leading to the famous Piazzo Del Campo were so empty of tourists.

Anyway after a short walk from the car park, we 'entered' the piazza and it simply took our breath away. That and the steep walk ! It was a huge square and I'd simply never seen anything like it. I did try a couple of panoramic shots but without a tripod to provide a level stance, they didn't here is a wikipedia link with a couple of good panoramas that show the views we came upon.

Photos don't really show the steepness of the slope from the top edge of the piazza down to the bottom where sits the Palazzo Pubblico (town hall) built in 1297 with it's magnificent bell tower, the Torre del Mangia, completed in 1344.

Listen, I'm going to be asking questions at the end so pay attention.

After a pizza in the piazza (!!), we went into the Palazzo Pubblico and lined up for the trip oop'tower. Now normally Stephen doesn't 'do' towers as by nature, they tend to be tall. He was werry werry brave and joined us in the climb to the top of the Dome of St. Pauls in Rome but this tower was a different proposition - being that it was narrow and you got views of the outside on every turn of the spiral staircase. Not good for someone with acrophobia.

But he made the climb and although he wasn't too keen on looking out from the top, he stayed with us and when we were ready to return to terra very much firma, he was off down those stairs like Quasimodo with diarrhea. Quite appropriate really as being a bell tower, there were huge suckers at the top and if anyone had thought it funny to 'set them off' while we were next to them, it would've been like being inside Keith Moon's drum kit.

In the photo looking down on the piazza, you can see it looks like a dart board with the 'wedges' running away from the houses and shops along the top rim. What is harder to see from this image is that if you placed a ball at the top and let gravity take it, it would be going like a Beckham free kick (one of the good ones) by the time it reached the bottom. It's that steep.

But the Torre Del Manglia isn't the only bell tower in Siena. Oh no. Not only does Siena Cathedral (Duomo Di Siena) have a large dome, but it too has an impressive bell tower. The cathedral was completed in 1263 (I'm noticing a marked closeness with all these dates) and the startling black and white stonework is at odds with the rest of Siena, which is as uniformly coloured as most other Tuscan towns.

I think the crane at the left is a modern addition but for once, it actually merges in sympathetically with the building it's working on. You can also see a line of tourists, or as much of a line as you'll ever find in Italy, waiting to enter the Cathedral. We decided to give this a miss as it was just too hot to be in the direct sunlight and we were still knackered from the climbs up and down the other tower. I think being asked to climb one more tower would've driven Stephen to taking the most direct route down from it.

Back in the piazza we stopped for a final rest before leaving the town. Near the top edge was a lovely fountain (which you can again see in the photo looking down from the tower to the piazza), the Fonte Gaia, and we joined with dozens of pidgeons who were also enjoying the waters......a bit more literally than we dared to do.

Rested and refreshed, we set off back to the car park at the bottom of the town. Again we passed lots of wonderful narrow streets complete with banners left over from Il Palio, although maybe they're always like this. I also liked a wall unit which cast an unusual light onto a basket of flowers and the combination of light and flowers along an otherwise dark and deserted street just stopped me in my tracks for a moment.

We left Siena singing its praises. Not a good thing really if you've ever heard any of us singing. But we just loved everything about it and when reminiscing about the trip, it's still up there near the top, if not at the top, of the list of our favourite places in Italy.

The plan then was to go to Florence (ha !) via a little side trip to another famous hill town called San Gimignano and so we headed out of Siena, northwards on the SS222 and when we got to Castellina In Chanti, we stopped for the day at the Hotel Salivolpi, an overpriced road side establishment with a pool that closed at 6pm, just after we got there. Dumping our bags, we walked back down into the town for supper but it wasn't the most exciting town in Italy and we had to settle for a restaurant that didn't even open till 8pm.

Back at the hotel we drifted off to sleep just before midnight to the not so idyllic Tuscan sounds of fireworks, dogs barking and more of those mad scooter riders belting down the otherwise empty SS222 that was right outside my open window.

It had been a long, tiring day......we slept like babies !

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