Saturday, January 31, 2009

Heroic Cameraman Braves The Florida Ice Pack

Come on, it's cold here y'know. What's a man got to do to get some sympathy ???

Anyway, to reinforce what I said a few days ago about the video capabilities of my new Nikon L18 still camera, here is a short (4m 10s) educational video that I got out of my sick bed to create a few hours ago. 

I know.  Call me foolish.  Call me irresponsible.  Call me anytime.

Please excuse the dodgy audio quality which is down to a combination of wind 1 (nature's fault), wind 2 (the bean burrito's fault), my croaky throat (nature's fault again) and the fact that the camera hasn't the audio specifications of a proper video camera (Nikon's fault).

I was going to add subtitles because of my accent/croakiness but decided not to as then the video can be submitted in the Best Short Foreign Film category at next year's Oscars !!

Life's A Beach.

We left our hero at the car park of the Outrigger Beach Resort on Ft. Myers Beach on the west coast of Florida. There, we're all caught up now. Let's continue...........

First of all, here is an aerial view of the pool and tiki bar area.  Well when I say aerial, I really mean a shot taken from the 2nd floor of the hotel's south complex which looked remarkably like the north complex on the other side, being that it was all part of the same hotel an' all.  Whatyawant ? A helicopter shot ?!! 

You can see that the staff had cleared all the snow and ice away and so we were left with a rather nice area for sitting out with our friends. Ok time for a spot of work for you all now.  

Enlarge the photo and look for the woman resting in the water at the side of the pool.  Got her ?  Go to the right a little, past the 5ft marker on the pool and move up a tad. Pick the white pool lounge chair that is lying flat (between the sunbathing man and the empty raised lounger).  Ok ?  Move up the pool fence until you see someone wearing a white t-shirt sitting under one of the tiki huts.

That's Debby !!  Wasn't that fun ???  Oh please yourselves.  It's Saturday for goodness sake; what else did you have to do ?

To the left of the photo was THE beach and the following 2 photos show just what a glorious beach it was. I love palm trees that have that yellow, almost golden colour to the fronds and there were plenty of them on the beach close to the hotel. Sadly the best views had me up against the tiki bar fence and so I wasn't able to get all of the trunks in the shot but you'll still get the idea.

You can see the wooden fence I'm talking about in the 2nd photo and I was standing up against it when taking the first photo.

After we had a meal with the friends from Michigan who were staying at the hotel, they left to go on a boat trip and we went off onto the beach to walk out to the water and this was the view looking back to the hotel.

Although we had brought swimwear, we really didn't have the time for a dip as we had shopping to do in Ft. Myers. So Debby contented herself with walking along the waters edge so she at least got her feet wet. Dennis walked with her on the sand and muggins here was all over the place taking photos of anything that moved.....and in the case of this marine chelicerate arthropod, the occasional thing that didn't move.

This was my first up-close-and-in-your-face experience of a Horseshoe Crab and what a freaky critter is was. I say 'was' because I dropped several pebbles on it but it never flinched. Joking, people, joking. Anyway I think it was only it's shell and it was off somewhere skinny dipping for the tourists further along the beach.

From the one that got away (maybe) to one that definitely didn't get away. This tiddler was caught before my very eyes and it was funny to see the man's friends gather round with their cameras taking photos of this monsterous catch. I told him I'd make sure and photoshop the beast to make it look more impressive but good as it is, photoshop can't perform miracles.

As usual there were flocks of birds on the beach and they would scatter and regroup anytime someone passed close to them. I didn't notice what type they were until I looked at the photo later and I sent a copy of the shot to my feathers expert, Daphne. I've warned her about her dress sense but does she listen ? No.

I was particularly interested because of the very long beaks on some of the birds. Daffy said they were Black Skimmers and they fly low over the water with the lower mandible (ohhhh get me) skimming the water for small fish and crustaceans.

I tell you, this blog is just so freakin' educational I sometimes glow with pride.

And that was pretty much it for the beach. We had to go shopping to Sams Club but as we left, I took one last shot, looking north. Not bad for January 28th.

I'd certainly recommend Ft. Myers Beach to anyone visiting Florida and one final tip : use the Outrigger Beach Resort car park as it's huge and no one ever checks if you're a guest there. You'll have to pay to park just about everywhere else !

The educational info just never stops.

On The Road To...........

.....Ft. Myers Beach.

It was just over 98 miles from sunny Buttonwood Bay to the beach and the last part of the trip was new to us.  We'd been to Ft. Myers before but never to it's beach and as I was in the back of the truck with little else to do, I took some photos along the way.....which explains why they're not as sharp as usual. 

The first two are just typical road scenes from over here but I'm aware that people from other countries read this blog (bless you all) so I'll throw them in. The last one is a bit unusual as you don't expect to see a Mississippi style riverboat docked by some exclusive private houses when the rest of the boats are your typical yachts and speedboats. Maybe the owner won it gambling !!

As we approached the city, we were cut up by this 'flash harry' who obviously made a late decision to head for the beach - by crossing all three lanes without giving any indication to the rest of us.

At one point we had to join I-75 South for a few miles and this involved going up a steep on ramp. Why the photograph ? I told you I was bored.

Then we drove down the East side of Ft. Myers to get to it's beach. This involved going up onto a causeway bridge that spanned a stretch of San Carlos Bay and when I took this following photo, I wasn't aware that one of the signs was worthy of comment. Have a look at the sign closest to the camera. ALL TRAFFIC MUST YIELD TO TROLLEYS.

Nothing wrong with that as it's only right and proper that tourist trolleys should have the right of way. You can even see one heading up over the bridge in its very own lane. But look at the bit under this wording if you can.

I know it's difficult with this reduced image but it actually says.....

Min Fine $113.50

How precise is THAT ? I wonder if they'd let you off if you only had $113 on you ?
Someone on the fining committee was having a bad day when that one was drawn up.

The views from the bridge were spectacular and here you see the view to the north showing San Carlos Bay and in the distance, the Causeway Blvd (bridge) from the mainland over to Sanibel Island. This is a toll road and although it costs $6 to get to the island, the return crossing is free.

Driving down the other side of the bridge, we got our first glimpse of Ft. Myers Beach and this was the part I mentioned on my previous post when I described it as a typically colourful US 'seaside' area. The road then split left and right with the right fork taking you a short distance to the ferries that went to Key West and Ft. Myers and also took boat owners to the craft you see in this photo of a small harbour area.

We took the much longer left fork which ran south and after a mile or so, the cluster of t-shirt and souvenir stores gave way to hotels and motels built on both sides of the island.

After about 15 minutes we arrived at 6200 Estero Blvd and pulled into the car park of The Outrigger Beach Resort and........well that'll keep for another post. It's gone midnight and I'm off to bed.

All that driving has worn me out !

Friday, January 30, 2009

Sometimes Words Fail Me.

Last Wednesday we went to Ft. Myers Beach to meet up with Michigan friends who were staying for a week there at The Outrigger Beach Resort.

Ft. Myers Beach is a long thin island lying off the West coast of Florida, a few miles from the city of Ft. Myers.  Further out into the Gulf of Mexico lies the much more exclusive Sanibel Island - I only mention that so that people who have heard of Sanibel will now know where it is too !

My posts can be educational you know.

Anyhoo, as we were driving along the main island road, Estero Blvd, I was taking photos out the truck window as it was a photographers dream location : the palm trees, the blue sky, the glimpses of white sandy beach and of course tantalising views of the gulf waters.  The start of the road was typical of US 'seaside' resorts with hundreds of touristy stores side by side - all very colourful and gawdy but still wonderful in such a setting.

I've dozens of photos to post (sorry !!) but for now, I thought I'd set the scene by posting a photo of a store window. Now even ignoring the top line with its unnecessary addition of 'one of a kind' coming after 'unique', you may pick up on the VERY unusual, if not totally unbelievable, item they claim to have in stock.

And not just one of them............plural versions !!  Not sure how THEY can be classed as 'one of a kind' but that's just me splitting hairs, or flippers or something.

I only wish we'd had time to pop in for what would have been a definite blog photo winner in any competition. I feel compelled to email the BBC as I'm sure either or both of the Attenboroughs would be on a plane to the area before you could say 'Jurassic Waterworld.'

Of course the store might just have been selling DVDs of the 1990 Cher movie !

New Camera - Cough, Sneeze.

While over at Ft. Myers Beach yesterday, we went to Sams Club and I finally took the plunge and bought a compact camera.  A Nikon Coolpix L18 like this one. I hadn't gone with the idea of buying a camera so call me spontaneous.  Go on.  Do it !!  Thank you.

Yes I know it's in an awful Man Utd red but I prefer to think of it as Ferrari red.

Works for me.

It was the cheapest there ($85 or £59 at todays rate of exchange) yet still had a few features that I liked.

I loved that its 2gb SD card only cost $7 (enough for over 750 photos) and that it uses standard AA batteries.  It was a plus that I realised today that the SD card fits right into my laptop so there is no need to mess with the cable to download the photos.

It takes video footage that runs until the SD card fills up - which I looked at today and that'll give me 21 minutes at the highest quality setting that's good enough to watch on tv.  That's all down to the excellent Nikon lens.

It has all the usual automatic scene settings for portraits, landscape, sports, night portrait, party (?), dusk/dawn, sunset, beach/snow, night landscape, close-up, panorama, museum (? again), backlight etc.  That should be enough to cope with most events I think. 

I'd have liked a paparazzi setting for taking shots through hedges and walls but hey, I didn't want to pay $5 more.

It has a Nikon anti-shake mode which although not really being image stabalisation as such, is pretty good at this price. 8 megapixels and x3 optical zoom round off the main features.

So this afternoon I slapped in some batteries (included), the SD card (not included) and set the date/time.  I was all ready to go and despite my current debiliating illness (stop laughing) I went out on the golf cart and took a few experimental photos.

Obviously I have a lot to learn about framing photos on a very bright day when there is no viewfinder to help me. Holding the camera far enough away from my body so that my eyes could focus on the huge (Nikon's description, not mine) 3" lcd screen meant it was also far enough away to be just about useless in the sunlight.  Talk about your point and shoot.  It was more point, pray for divine guidance and shoot.

This last one was taken looking right into the sun and I couldn't see a thing.

These are straight from the camera with no post processing as that would defeat the purpose. I think I need to adjust the colour setting (oh didn't I mention I can do that too ?) as the sky in them isn't quite right but apart from that, and remembering these are reduced in size to get them up on the blog, I'm happy with them.

Tomorrow I'll post the ones I took with the Canon XTi at Ft. Myers Beach but I can see me using the Nikon a lot in the future - despite it being RED.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Heavy Cold Strikes Down Heroic Florida Blogger

Reuters Thursday

The blogosphere was in shock yesterday as news filtered through that popular Florida blogger, Silverback, had been struck down in his prime by a nasty cold.

"It's true," said an obviously distressed Silverback.  "It sneaked up on me on Tuesday but I bravely carried on with things by going to the beach yesterday. I'm sure it was painful to watch as I had a meal with friends on the wooden deck of The Outrigger Motel and then, in obvious discomfort (sneezing and a bit of a cough) I struggled out across the soft sandy beach and somehow made it to the water's edge."

When asked how he found the strength to overcome the effects of this nasty virus, Silverback was typically modest.  "I just thought of my devoted readers and knew they'd be wanting to read about my day out and see some photos of us all enjoying the azure waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I just had to be strong and not let this debilitating cold get the better of me, for their sake."

It was ironic that Silverback was reeling from the effects of a 'cold' when the temperature over at Ft. Myers Beach was soaring to 82F (27c).  "Yes it was a struggle to go out to the water,"  he admitted. "The glare from the sun reflecting off the white sand made my eyes water and this in turn aggravated my sneezing.  It was very difficult at times but I gained strength from knowing that my readers would be willing me on. I really felt their good wishes out there and took strength from that."

Today Silverback is resting back in Sebring and as usual, is suffering in heroic silence, bravely uncomplaining and trying to lead a normal life. Never one to make a fuss about his medical problems, he continues to be an inspiration to those around him who try to offer help but are politely turned away.

When asked when it was likely that he would be posting about the trip, Silverback said "I will try to upload a few photos tomorrow but it'll be really hard.  This cold has shaken me up and made me rethink my life in many ways. God willing I may come out the other side a much stronger individual with a renewed love of life and care for my fellow man."

Asked for a comment, his friend Debby was quoted as saying "oh give me strength. The guy's a wuss and needs to get over himself.  It's a cold for gawds sake. I've given birth 3 times so don't talk to me about discomfort."

Silverback was not available for further comment as he had gone back to bed asking if someone could bring him a bowl of chicken soup with a side order of fries as he's feeling just a little better today.

The world rejoices.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Camera Obscura

I'm in the middle of a retail dilemma.  A creative conundrum.  A financial justification of the highest order.

You see I want another camera and as well as the choice being bewildering, I'm faced with not even knowing what I want in terms of specifications.  Well except that it has to be small.

At the start of the digital era, for me anyway, I bought a 1mp Kodak camera that had more plastic about it than Paris Hilton. ( It's been about a year since I slagged her off so she's well overdue ). 

Then I moved to a 4mp Canon G2 which served me well but after a while I missed having the ability to change lenses as I did in my pre digital days. I wanted a dSLR and so, for the last few years, I've had a 10mp Canon XTi (400D) and although I'm perfectly happy with it, it is a large camera and so not suited to carrying around with me wherever I go.

So now I'm thinking of getting a 'stick it in your breast pocket' type of camera, the type you can leave by mistake in the credit card wallet at a restaurant, but am faced with an ususual problem.  I'm looking for a lesser camera than the one I have now, in terms of lens quality, functionality, manual control and especially cost, and this is making my choice very difficult.

When you upgrade or buy a replacement you normally go for the best you can afford and hopefully this will be a product that betters the previous one. In this case I'm not wanting to upgrade OR replace but just complement.  So I started by looking at the cheapest of these micro cameras and that's when I saw I would have a problem.  I wanted one with a good lens.  I needed to move up about $50.  I also wanted one with more than X3 optical zoom.  Another $50.  I wanted one with image stabalisation.  Kaa-gingggg.

Suddenly I was heading for the much more expensive end of the market and I was in 'danger' of getting a camera that was on a par with the one I have now !!  So I headed back down again, telling myself I could do without image stabalisation as after decades of taking photos with all sizes of still and video cameras, I have my own in-built steadycam feature.  Also known as wide apart legs. I could also accept only x3 zoom as if I want to get a closer shot, I can just move closer.  Radical.  (Ok I know that doesn't work most times as there can be a river or an interstate in the way or that Yeti up in the tree is 300ft away but you know what I mean).  I do want a good lens though.

At least I know what I DON'T want. I don't want or need those features like face recognition or, God help us all, a smile recognition feature.  Yes you can now get a camera that refuses to take a photo of the Mona Lisa, as her enigmatic smile wouldn't be enough of a smile to trigger the shutter mechanism.  And if you've ever looked at the group photos on any music album, well they weren't taken with one of these cameras, that's for sure. Now if they had a sullen recognition feature, they'd clean up in the music world.

As for my constant 'can I justify it' problem when buying anything over £10 ($15), I'm pretty much over that one now.  The 100th time on this trip that I've said "I wish I'd got a camera with me" was justification enough.  Hell watching some of the customers in the local WalMart is justification enough.  I'd no idea they built mobility scooters that wide and it really IS true what they say about marrying your first cousin !

So right now I'm all over the place.  I've read every compact digital camera review on the internet and looked at more store prices than a bargain hunter at Christmas.  I can't ask people who HAVE one of these cameras as I assume no one is going to tell me theirs is a piece of crap.  And one persons little gem may be anothers.....well piece of crap.  Cameras are like that - just read any set of reviews.

I've not written this post to ask for camera suggestions (although feel free to do so) as like I said, each to their own.  I guess I just wanted to get my feelings written down.  When I've made my decision and have been more than happy with it for a couple of years, maybe I can look back on this post and ask myself what all the fuss was about.

Unless I bought a piece of crap.

Men In Tights

Here in sunny Buttonwood Bay.....oh it's 11:50pm so who am I in darkest Buttonwood Bay, I was going through some old photos that I'd taken around Leeds City centre in an effort to try and get some level of homesickness going on.

As I'll be heading back there in 60 days time, it would be helpful if I had happy thoughts about it to make the departure a bit easier - but it's not working. Still, 60 days is quite a long time away so lets not get too depressed, eh.

Sometimes I take photos and don't look at the results very carefully.  Sometimes it's almost the taking of them that is the most fun and closely viewing the results can wait for a few days, or in this case, a few years !!

On this particular day in 2007 I was in Thornton's Arcade just off Briggate, one of the oldest streets in Leeds but part of the huge pedestrianised area that makes up the city centre shopping experience. Leeds has many wonderful Victorian arcades and Thornton's Arcade, built by Charles 'Sweetie' Thornton at the height of the industrial revolution in 18 licketty spit, is the oldest.

I know, I know. It's getting  just like the Discovery Channel isn't it ?!   

Anyway these ornate arcades are like straight arteries, helping shoppers flow from the heart of the city along to the next major parallel street although on a busy Saturday, they get as clogged as my own.  They are basically covered streets like Fremont Street in Vegas - except none have audio/visual roof displays and they could never be called tacky.

What they do have is class, character in tights.

At the West end of Thornton's Arcade is a clock.  Not just any old clock though.  Underneath the actual clock face, there are 4 animated figures surrounding the large bell which strikes as regularly as a Hollywood script writer.  When I say animated, you have to remember that this clock is in Yorkshire where men aren't known for being overly theatrical.  The 4 characters, Robin Hood, Friar Tuck, Richard The Lionheart and Gurth the Swineherd, don't exactly move a lot and any kid who has been to Disneyland and seen the animatronic creations there would be sorely disappointed with the Leeds Quartet.

Hang on. Back up a bit there. Gurth the what now ?

Gurth the know, the son of Beowulph ?  Oh THAT Gurth !

Well ok then, he was a character in Ivanhoe (1819) by one Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) and the novel included Robin and Friar and King and lots more jolly people and......well who cares.  The fact is, they are all up there below the big clock face in Thornton's Arcade in Leeds, merrie olde England.  They move every 15 minutes, hit the bell with their fists and all is well with the world. King Richard and Friar Tuck strike the hours and Robin and Gurth strike the quarters.

Actually the sound comes from 5 bells hidden behind the characters and not from the big 'show' bells you see next to each character.

Who needs an atomic clock ?  Eat your heart out, Boulder, Colorado.

But when I looked at the photo more closely, I noticed that the tableau and all around it was protected by a mesh screen. I assume this was to stop naughty little scamps from throwing objects at the figures and damaging them and/or the clock face.  The little rascals. You just want to toussle their hair don't you ?  

Castrate them too.

It's certainly a bit offputting looking right up at these characters as you may notice that they are showing a fair bit of leg up there.  And as for Gurth, they've given him a Bet Lynch makeover !  What's going on ???  I blame the Victorians.  A repressed lot.

Leeds in January isn't the warmest place on earth.  It won't be much better in 60 days when I return but it's home after all.  I do miss it in some ways.  I even miss seeing the 'men in tights'.

Even if in January they run the risk of losing their bells.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Oscar Nominated ?

We're just coming out the other side of a very cold snap here in (still) sunny Buttonwood Bay. Overnight Wednesday it dropped to 25F.  That's brrrrrrr when you're not prepared for it.

But being a hardy Brit, I never let up on the daily walks and simply threw on the fleece top and sweat pants and headed out like Captain Oates leaving his tent when he turned and said "I'm off out for a ciggie and a jimmy riddle. Mine's the blue mug and Scotty, leave me a jaffa cake, will you."

Ahhh famous last words indeed !

After my walk, as the sun was shining and the sky was blue, I got the camcorder and went back out (I know, I know, how brave) to take some more shots around the park. Well I did warn you all.  It was bizarre feeling so cold and walking past palm trees.  I felt like I was in Cornwall in July.

Just two points to make.

There are a few seconds in the middle of the video where I'm on the move with the camera.  As I've still not got the budget for a proper steadycam assembly, I had to make do with riding my push bike.  The results are less than impressive and I apologise in advance for any sensory upset that may occur.

The second point is a question.  The bird up on the tree top.......anyone know what it was ?  I'm all out of ideas after albatross and robin and I'm sure it's neither of those.  Feel free to offer suggestions.

So feed the cat to the dog, snuggle up in the comforter and enjoy.  Remember to wait about a minute after clicking on the start arrow as it takes a while to get going. I know the feeling !!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Just When You Thought Things Couldn't Get Worse........

............along comes this report.

Buying propery ?   Gambling ?   Holidays ?   Keeping a mistress ?

The altarboys from West Palm Beach must be wondering what they've done wrong !

(I know, tacky, Very tacky)

The Sun Never Sets...............

It's good to know that the British Empire is still alive and well and 'living' in Sebring, Florida.

I realise that's a bit far fetched and not strictly true, not true at all really, but it makes for a good start to this post. I mean I've never let the lack of absolute truth stop me in the past !

So what am I babbling on about this time ?

Well we popped into our local supermarket, Sweetbay, yesterday evening on the way back from town. It has an "International Aisle" featuring grocery products from the far corners of the globe (just to keep my flat earth readers happy) although it seems that for Sweetbay, these far flung corners are made up of Britain, Mexico and a general area just to the right of Britain known as 'Asian' made up of just just China and Japan.  I'll be emailing both countries to let them know they're in danger of losing their separate identities thanks to Sweetbay Head Office.

So as usual I glanced wide eyed at the British section with products like Spotted Dick, Birds Custard, Robinsons Lemon Barley Water and Tetley Tea Bags. The wide eyes were down to the prices being charged for these imports, not for the products themselves. It's no wonder they weren't shifting, although I did help move things about by buying tins of Spotted Dick and Birds Custard at Christmas.   Never let it be said that I don't support British Exports.

Anyway as we weren't doing 'a big shop' yesterday, I had more time than usual to look at the rest of the products. The usual suspects like HP Sauce and McVities Biscuits were there, rubbing unhealthy shoulders with Cadburys Fruit 'n Nut and Lion bars.  Lion Bars ?  Where were the Bounty Bars and Milky Ways ?  

Well they have those here of course, or at least something similar.

But where were the bottles of Dandelion & Burdock ?  And don't get me started on the lack of Jaffa Cakes !!!!   If those had been there you'd have heard the cries of "clean up on aisle 16" over the PA system as I'd have been creating panic with my drool slick. 

Then, almost hiding from sight behind a row of pickled silverskin onions, I saw something that made me realise Britain may be sending out mixed signals when it comes to our national culinary identity.

Jar after jar of various curry sauces from Madras to Vindaloo !!

I read some years ago that curry had overtaken fish & chips as THE official British dish but I sort of hoped that news hadn't spread beyond Beachy Head.  I mean it's like saying some members of our Royal Family aren't 100% British and might have some traces of 'Johnny Foreigner' blood coursing through their veins. It's just not right.

I think I need to email Sweetbay HQ and get their buyers to put a few packets of Harry Ramsdan's Flaky Fish Batter Mix on the shelves just to redress the balance.

Cause you can't beat a good plate of lightly battered fish and chips with a side order of mushy peas after a good night the bingo.

Oh and with a little white tub of curry sauce too.  Wouldn't be British otherwise !

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


The $150m circus that is the 44th Presidential Inauguration will be starting in a few minutes and I'm all a twitter.  I mean in the UK the biggest part of the Prime Ministerial changeover is watching the removal van pulling up at 10 Downing Street and trying to catch a glimpse of some of the bits and pieces of the personal belongings being taken away by the departing PM and family.

No fanfair, no pre leaving rock concert, no "ask what your country can do for you" type speech.

But then we don't lead the free world.  Not anymore.  Oh no.  Our outgoing PM just.....outgoes, and the new one....well.....goes in.  All very low key as befits a nation used to past glories and now just grateful to be taken along to G8 type conferences a bit like the fat kid who gets picked for the Sunday morning football game as a sort of sympathy player.

"Look guys he's been coming for years now and we just HAVE to let him play and think about it, if we get stuffed we can blame him !!"

It's 11:25 and we've just put the tv on to have a watch.  I mean although none of my taxes will be spent on the 'bit of a do' , I still want to find out where $150m goes these days.  Don't the banks need it ?  

They're saying about 2 million people are lining the approaches to The Capital and looking at the images, I think that might be an underestimate.  It's not the 2 million that are close to the future President that I'd be worried about.  It would be the one, just one, who could be a mile away with a high powered sniper rifle.  

I've been to Washington and I noted a distinct lack of grassy knolls.  And The Capital isn't overlooked by tall buildings either.  But the risk remains.  Right now I'm a bit like one of those race car fans who watches in case something spectacular will happen.  Awful I know but it's been widely reported that someone will have a pop at this President before long. 

And so here comes the man of the moment, walking out to his place in history and about to give an 18 minute speech.  The crowd is chanting his name, the trumpet fanfares are belting out  and with that and the look of the impressive buildings, I'm reminded of a Roman amphitheatre. I'm half expecting Obama to put his thumb up or down. 

He's at the dias and the world awaits.  We'd like some memorable line that will be quoted, or misquoted, in the decades to come. There will be words like freedom, opportunity, democracy and most of all, change.  This is what most people want from this President. Change.

If he's allowed to see through his 8 years, history will tell us if he did indeed bring change.  Change to America and change to the world as lets face it, whether we like it or not, what goes on here affects the world.  You only have to look at the current world economic situation to know that. 

He has an air about him that I've not seen since Kennedy.  I just hope he is given more time to make his mark in history and that we're not soon talking about him in the past tense with words like 'if only' and 'what if'.   

Things are running a little late and as it's 5 minutes after noon, in theory there is no Presidential leader of the free world. Oh my.  Maybe it reverts to The Queen.  Hurrah. Long live Her Majesty. I just hope someone has told her. She could be out walking the corgis, totally unaware that she can add Commander-In-Chief to her list of titles.

(and before anyone gives me the line of succession, I know it) 

I'm off to watch history in the making but I'll also be keeping an eye open for that removal van.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sick Signs Of The Times

Two stories over the last couple of days make me wonder about UK society right now.

Two young robbers attacked an 89 yr old Leeds war vet on his way home from his local fish and chip shop, a trip he made once a week as it was only 75 yds from his home. The yobs ran off laughing with his walking stick and his fish supper, leaving the old guy with bloody cuts and bruises and severely shocked. 

Two young robbers broke into the home of a frail 78 yr old Cardiff woman, threatened her with her own walking stick and when she wouldn't hand over any money, one of them snapped the neck of her pet budgie in front of her. They pushed her into a corner, took £150 and left her shaking and terrified.

Now I'm sure worse things happen all the time and neither of these old people were badly injured but I think the part that got to me the most was that at a time when senior citizens have enough to worry about, they also have to worry about being attacked in or near their homes and for what, a small amount of money or their special and chips. 

These weren't rich people. And they were also old and vulnerable. Easy prey for these yobs.

What sort of 'pleasure' could anyone get from attacking anyone for their evening meal ?  What sick bastard would kill a tiny bird when threatening a senior citizen in their own home ?  I mean, really. Do you think that is something to proudly tell your pals about over a pint the next day ? Do you think that is something to laugh about as it proves what a big tough man you are ?

Sadly in sections of UK society today, it is.

Maybe next time, and there will surely be a next time, these thugs will be REALLY brave and do these deeds by themselves.  I mean isn't it a little bit cowardly for two of you to attack these oldies ?  I wonder what sort of adults these people 'grow' into ?  Habitual criminals probably who spend the rest of their miserable thieving lives in and out of prison.

It's also got to the point where walking sticks are now offensive weapons, but used against the owners.  

When I get to the stage when I need the use of a stick, I'll be getting a hollow one with a blade inside it.  Then if I'm attacked on the way home from the local chippy, I'll be having yob kebabs for my supper instead.

No Strings On Me

It's been a few years since I watched a kids tv show all the way through.  Who said decades ?

Well you're right, decades then. 

Being a channel surfer, I'll sometimes catch one now and then and they're all much too hectic for me now.  Too much like an MTV video where the editors think that lingering on one view for more than 1.5 seconds is boring. To keep the modern teen from switching channel, scenes can only last 1 second and that's why the kids sit hypnotised in front of the set. They ARE hypnotised.

But before I go all grumpy old man again, I'll get to the point. ('bout time.  Shut up)

When I were a lad, ee by gum, my tv world was viewed in black and white.  Actually considering we had a peat fueled fire in our house, my real world was mostly viewed in black and white too.
We had a tin bath in't front room and we took turns......oh hang on, getting carried away a bit now.  Nostalgia, eh ?  Ain't what it used to be.

So back to the tv shows.  When thinking about the frantic series that kids watch now (and then we wonder why so many are hyperactive !), it got me thinking about the gentler shows of my yute.

"Your yute ?" 

"Yes my yute.  When I was growing up"

Apologies to "My Cousin Vinny."  Classic.

Thinking of these gentler shows took me to long forgotten memories about those string and hand puppet shows that were so popular back then.  I don't mean Andy Pandy, Hector's House or The Woodentops. Oh no, they were for the WEE kids, the ones who couldn't quite stand up on their own yet and were still regularly expelling from both ends.

Us big kids were into much more serious shows and for some strange but wonderful reason, most fell into the fantasy/sci-fi genre that I've stuck with over the years. 

I'm mostly talking about Sylvia and/or Gerry Anderson type shows. If I'd been old enough to understand the concept of creators and producers, this husband and wife team would've been my dream parents back then (sorry biological mum and dad).  I started with "Twizzle" with his amazing stretching arms and legs and who had a very non PC friend called Chawky who was a white faced golliwog. And you thought Jim Davidson was original ??  I then moved quickly onto "Torchy The Battery Boy" who was an early 60's energizer kid with a battery inside him and a torch in his head which shone a magic beam that found all sorts of interesting things each week.

I think Gerry Anderson was smoking more than a cigar back in those days.

But the ones that really got me glued to our rented tv set were the out and out string puppet shows like, in date order, Supercar, Fireball XL5, Stingray (not, not Stringray !!) and of course, the daddy of them all, Thunderbirds. These fantastic shows introduced the world to super marionette animation, or FILMED IN SUPERMARIONATION as the opening titles would inform us each week.  I was hooked, lined and well and truely sinkered.

Although Thunderbirds was the most popular show and I did love the whole palaver of the Tracy boys getting from their ultra modern living room into their various flying machines in order to save the world,  it was the less famous Fireball XL5, from 3 years earlier, which was my favourite.

Set in the year 2062, Fireball XL5 was a spaceship commanded by the impressively named, for a puppet, Captain Steve Zodiac. The ship was really piloted by Robbie The Robot who was see through for some reason but was nevertheless my hero. Zodiac was a member of the World Space Patrol (Star Trek's United Federation of Planets please take note) headed by Commander Zero and assisted by Lieutenant Ninety.  Hey when you can't dream up impressive names, give 'em numbers.

The show even had it's own geek, the briliantly named Professor Matthew Matic (Matt Matic..........hilarious) and a little creepy OCD alien called Zoonie the Lazoon who would get into all sorts of mischief and use up lots of airtime when the show was in danger of losing the plot - as there often wasn't one.

But you knew where you were back then. In cowboy series the goodies wore white hats and the baddies, black ones. In Andersons puppet shows, the goodies were caucasian, had wide jaws, thick flowing locks and were built like gym freaks.  The baddies were fat Eastern Europeans, balding and had eyebrows the size (and mobility) of centipedes.

I didn't know it then of course, being only 11, but Fireball XL5 was the only one of these shows that was seen in the US as NBC broadcast it from 1963 till 1965.

After that I followed my tv parents through all their other puppetry shows like Captain Scarlet and Joe 90, who was a 9 year old who would go into a futuristic spinning contraption called the BIG RAT (Brain Impulse Galvanoscope Record And Tranfer - you HAD to ask !) and had knowledge and experience 'pumped' into his head in the time it took to play the groovy music. He could only access this new information when he wore his huge glasses and as I was about 17 at the time, a huge glasses wearer thanks to the NHS and studying for my 'A' Levels, you can see why I took to this show in a big way.

I needed my own BIG RAT and I needed it badly !!

So do yourselves a favour and pop onto YouTube or the online video library of your choice and look up some of these shows. Maybe entire episodes can be found somewhere - the internet is like that. I guess my memories from those shows revolve around the songs and theme tunes which enforces my theory that it's the music from your preteen years that remains with you forever. Maybe it's just me.

Dim those lights again, pop some more corn and even if you can STILL see the strings, enjoy the opening to Fireball XL5 (watch Robbie doing the hard work). Be warned though, the tune will be in your head for the rest of the day.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Eat Your Heart Out Spielberg

Yesterday afternoon (Fri), I went out with my camcorder for a change as I'd had such an incredible reaction to my poolside video from 10 days ago.

Despite those death threats I decided to do another little videoette but given the lateness of the hour and the icicles forming under my nose (see previous post), it ended up being a short epic......rather like a Wallace & Gromit movie but without as much plasticine.  None in fact.

The pool video was done using the laptop webcam so this one is a bit better quality, technically speaking.  You may have your own ideas of course !!

So here for your delectation, as dear old Leonard Sachs used to say, are a few scenes around the lake here in Buttonwood Bay, a few of the birds I've blogged about over the last couple of years and finally a very short trip along one of our park roads - sadly a bit jerky as I was also driving the golf cart at the same time. Where is a steadycam when you need one ?

My budget didn't even run to a key grip or a dolly grip and muggins here had to double as the best boy.  Don't start !

If anyone wants to sponsor me, I can be contacted through my agent, Daphne. Best to leave it till after the weekend though so I can let her know.

Oh just a few pointers : once you've hit the arrow to start it, it can take about 30 secs to get going, even on a relatively fast connection. Those of you using dialup, I'd go fix yourselves a mug of coffee or something. Secondly, the little icon next to the word 'vimeo' will make it fullscreen but to get it to a reasonable size for uploading has meant a huge reduction in quality so I'd not recommend fullscreen unless you're watching it from across the road in a neighbours house. And finally don't keep pressing the start icon. It won't make it load any faster, people !

Ok, dim the lights, pop the corn and enjoy.

Friday, January 16, 2009

New Ice Age Hits Florida - News At 11.

The US is in an icy grip right now with record lows for January being mentioned everywhere, usually by tv reporters looking more like Scott of the Antarctic than local news men.

There seems to be a dearth of female reporters all of a sudden but maybe the post Christmas sales are still on. I'm sure they'd be out reporting too if they were available.  I'm sure.

Florida, my adopted state, is also 'suffering' unseasonal temperatures and even sunny Buttonwood Bay has not been spared the ravages of Jack Frost.  Relatively speaking.

Last night it dipped to 45F (7c) and I was glad to have an electric blanket on my bed.  It's due to drop even lower tonight and get to 39F (3.8c) by which time I should be snug and toasty with my blanket set to 'light broil' all night long. Wuss ?  Who said that ???

But have these temps affected the hardy residents of the park ?  Have they hell as like.

All morning I've watched them zooming past the window, many with dense clouds of smoke pouring from their zimmer frames and a light dusting of frost on their beards. The men too have been out and about with antifreeze in their catheters and a nip of Jack Daniels in their drips. The roller blades and skateboards may have been put away until the weather improves but nothing is going to stop a Buttonwood Bay oldie from taking his or her walk. 

And I include myself in that statement.

I'm just back from my daily 2.5 mile walk around the park which regular readers know I try and do once a week !!  Wellllll the rest of the days I take frequent walks from my recliner to the kitchen and back so don't tell ME I don't take regular exercise. Given the size of this house that might only be a matter of 8 feet but hey, over the course of a week that adds up.

The temp display was showing 59F (15c) when I set off at 11:45 and this time I took Andy Williams with me.  He was half way through 'Moon River' when my world suddenly went silent - either I'd gone deaf or my MP3 batteries had packed in. Thankfully it was the later and with Andy dead in his tracks, so to speak, I had to walk on alone. 

If you're used to walking along to music, it's horrible when that music stops. You start to feel every ache and pain in your joints and what had been a lovely aerobic workout along perfectly flat roads suddenly turns into a gruelling trek up the side of the Eiger. And as well as those roads up the side of the Eiger really needing better maintenance, I think the speed bumps are just a triffle unnecessary.

It's all mental of course.  While the music is playing, it takes your mind off your aches and pains. Unless it's an Amy Winehouse album in which case the pains are just in a different place. I had to walk the last mile without the aid of a tune to sing along with and even if that was a blessing for those who I passed on the roads, it did me no good at all.  My shins suddenly ached, my feet were sore and I started to regret not having trimmed the nail on my little toe, the end of which was now digging deeper and deeper into the side of the toe next to it. 

None of this would've been an issue if Andy had still been with me as his crooning may not have been much good for a heavy workout session, but it was perfect for a 2.5 mile walk around the park. 

But it was still lovely. The sky was blue and it was warm in the sunshine. I beat my average time by 90 seconds (38mins 31secs and probably helped by wanting to get home to cut that damn toe nail) and when I moved the temp probe into the sun, it shot up to an amazing 91F (32c).  It's all very confusing.  59F in the shade and 91F in the sunshine.  As I'd been walking in the sunshine, I decided that 91F was why I was now sweating like a pig (have you EVER seen a pig sweat ?) and I decided it's much better to know the sunshine temp than the shade temp.  I'd not have worn my sweat pants, heavy t-shirt and Big Dog fleece if I'd known it was going to be 91F.

Maybe all the female reporters are in Florida !  

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Death Of Number Six

The sad news came yesterday that Patrick McGoohan, star of The Prisoner among others tv shows and movies, had died in California at the age of 80.

I finally made it to Portmeirion, the Welsh location for most of The Prisoner shooting, last year and if you don't want to read my blog post about it, try this site instead.  Mine is much more interesting !!

Patrick was a US born actor who was raised in Ireland and England and so we can all claim him as our own. Well those of us from the US, Ireland or the UK can anyway.  The rest of you foreign lot are out of luck even if he DID spend a wet weekend in Azerbaijan in 1992.

I loved The Prisoner.  I loved the set and I really loved the balloons that 'they' sent after him on the frequent occasions when he tried to escape. When I left the village and went down onto the beach below Portmeirion, it wasn't hard to imagine those huge balloons following me.

Maybe it was the scenery; maybe it was the proximity of those famous buildings but mostly it was the magic mushroom I'd eaten on the way down to the beach.

In any case, he seemed like a man of mystery and at the time I loved a good mystery.  Like who my real dad was ?!  

A bit reclusive in later life, we never heard much about McGoohan but if only for his exploits in that excellent tv show, he will have a place in our hearts and minds forever.

Number Six has finally escaped.


Wish You Were Here ?

The other day, Jay published a post about the mugs in her house (excluding her OH it has to be said) and it got me thinking about the souvenirs I used to bring back from foreign trips - souvenirs that I kept for myself, that is !!

My first trip abroad, almost 40 years ago, was to Majorca and naturally I brought back one of those thin stemmed vino bottles that you drink by holding it back over your shoulder while dislocating your arm at the same time. Being a non drinker, I was never sure why I bought it but I guess it had an air of the Mediterranean about it.  For many years it became a dust catcher on a shelf in my living room and after a downsizing exercise a few years ago, it's now part of a landfill just south of Barnsley.

I often wonder what future archeologists will make of it.  Part of a Spanish community in Yorkshire perhaps or maybe they'll come up with the idea that Barnsley used to be twinned with Valencia ?  Just shows how something trivial like a tourist's trip to Majorca in 1972 could lead to ill conceived theories that Iberia was once connected to South Yorkshire during Ice Age 2.

My next trip was to Austria and all I brought back, that I'm admitting to anyway, was a small wall plaque with some sort of Austrian crest on it.  It said so on the front. 

Again this ended up having 'pride of place' in a far alcove of my living room and to see it up close, you had to move the half ton tv set to one side, climb over the electrical cords that powered 9 other entertainment devices and the same amount of speaker cables as at a U2 concert.  

It's now keeping the Spanish vino bottle company in darkest Barnsley.

Canada was next and by this time I'd finally realised that my home was never likely to be featured on 'Through The Keyhole' even though numerous visitors to it had been known to exclaim "Who would live in a house like this ???? "

And so my souvenirs became more practical and less ornamental.  When I started going to America, it was at a time when the fast food outlets and the major movie studios would team up to their mutual benefit by offering drink 'cups' which promoted the latest summer blockbuster movies.  That was why, several trips later, my kitchen cupboards were overflowing with 'supersize me' plastic cups featuring images ranging from Batman to Spongebob Squarepants !

Did I say practical ?  Well one or two cups MAY have been useful but in my enthusiasm to gather up every free souvenir cup I could lay my hands on (well free if you bought the extra artery clogging meal that offered the cup), I ended up with about 25 times the number of cups as I had annual visitors to my house. 

And they were pretty fed up having to drink their tea out of a 32oz cup anyway. I probably shouldn't have included straws either.

Of course I also returned with my suitcase full of novelty t-shirts which over the years became dusters and cleaning rags. This wasn't simply down to my increased girth but more a case of what is acceptable in America isn't quite the same as what is acceptable in North Leeds.  The amusing, but slightly naughty, t-shirt that had seemed like a good and practical souvenir idea when seen hanging on a rack in Ron's Surf shop on Daytona Beach just didn't cut it in the Moortown branch of Marks & Spencers. 

And you can only wear so many baseball caps from so many Hard Rock Cafes - although as my hair receded, they became much more practical.  As with most items of clothing, one or two became favourites and the rest were exiled to the land of unwanted souvenirs, or my back bedroom closet to give it its proper name.

Finally I switched to keyfobs and fridge magnets - smaller and just as useless really. I only have one car.  I only have one front door.  I only have one fridge/freezer.  Yet for some reason I have over 100 keyfobs and about 75 fridge magnets from every State in the Union. I have Disney fobs, Coca Cola fobs, a musical Chicago Cubs fob and even a fob that contains a condom !  Now I can tell you that's not the fob you want your keys to be on when you leave them on the church pew one Sunday morning.  Oh no, believe me, you don't. 

And the fobs themselves !  Some of them are so big (promoting a movie) or knobbly (the plastic Snoopy) that you'd not want them in your pants anyway.  The working model of Pinocchio has left scars to this day. And that's no lie.

So after my recent downsizing,  the landfil near Barnsley is now 3 ft above sea level and dozens of Nigerian orphans are proudly sporting mementos of trips to strange sounding places they've never been to.....but that all have Hard Rock Cafes.  More baffling historical artifacts for future archeologists.

And I'm left with mugs. Not many, but enough to act as souvenirs and talking points whenever I allow one to be used by a tradesman. I may not have a Johnny Depp mug but I do have a few that can only be looked at, even by me. Gold plated ones no less.  Well I think it's gold. The man in the store swore it was gold and if you can't trust a man who lost an eye and part of his leg in a sword fight, then who can you trust ?  Even his parrot backed up his story.

Nowadays I don't bring back any traditional souvenirs.......not really.  I bring as many Amaretto creamers as I can fit along the edges of the suitcase, a pack of white ankle socks and maybe some logo free polo shirts.

At least I can then shop with impunity at Mark & Spencers and other shoppers will never know that I've been to the Miami Hard Rock Cafe - unless, of course, they pop round for a 32oz cup of tea !!   

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Just A Load Of Hot Air

I'm in serious danger of spontaneously combusting today and as that would cause havoc in such a small house and probably burn my precious stack of senior discount coupons to a crisp, I'll have a wee vent on here and hopefully move on.

I've been fuming all morning about the unholy fuss in the UK about Prince Harry, 3 years ago, calling a friend in his troop  'Paki'.  It's been the most read article on their website all day and it's all beyond me.  

Offensive ?  What ?   Isn't someone from PAKIstan a Paki ?

Yes, yes I know it's all about being PC and I guess that's what gets me going as who are the people who take our words from today and decide they are the offensive words of tomorrow ? I'm sure they'll claim they were ALWAYS offensive and society now needs to realise that.

So the Irish can't be called 'Micks' and the English can't be classed as 'whinging poms' and all the nicknames we have for the Germans, the Japanese, the Italians and the French are suddenly racist ?  Oh please.  These are NICKNAMES people.  Only racist in the sense that they are about a race, a nation.  Doesn't mean all hell has to break loose. Doesn't mean we have to invade Austria.

I mean some Ramadhan Foundation (?) even called Prince Harry a thug.  Hang on, that's a tad offensive isn't it ?

If Harry's friend was fine with it why is everyone and their dog jumping up and down ?  I'm sad that the army feels the need to talk about 'unacceptable behaviour' but I'm not surprised that politicians and anti racism groups are lining up to condemn Harry.  Even a Muslim group is having a pop for goodness sake.  Kettle, black ? 

Everyone wants to be seen to be politically correct as usual and if it gets them a few more votes later on, all well and good.

Of course this is all down to the press in the UK.  Even the reaction section of the BBC article is just filled with comments from politicians and action groups.  Where are the reactions from the UK people ?  Bob the Builder ?  Joe the Plumber ?  I'm sure few could be bothered to give a reaction and prefer other things to worry about.  They might just have one or two of those right now.  But sadly, sensational headlines still sell newspapers which in my opinion are only good for keeping fish and chips warm.  Soggy.....but warm.

And the other cause for my high BP today is because all this race stuff reminded me about an incident last evening when we were down by the pier watching another lovely sunset.  It was so quiet and peaceful and the sun was approaching the horizon, changing slowly from blinding white to blood red when suddenly............

......from under the cover of a nearby tree, came a noise not unlike the death throws of a strangled cat. After a few seconds buildup, we were 'treated' to the complete repertoire of a lone piper which seemed to consist of a self penned lament which became, naturally, Amazing Grace. The only ones lamenting were those of us who had come to see the sunset and hadn't expected to be assulted by Oor Willie and his one man band.

Why on this blessed earth would anyone think it would be a good idea to do this ANYWHERE outside of an Edinburgh Tattoo ?  

His performance last evening has thrown up 2 points :

1) When he'd finshed his 'set', he removed ear plugs from own ears !  Where the hell were the plugs WE needed ?

2) If I call him what I'd like to call him, then this old baldy, bearded blog writer risks being castigated by the Liberal Conservative Royalist Anti Racism Council of Scottish Bagpipe Playing Muslims.  

And I'm not messing with either of them !

This evening, at sunset, I plan on hooking up my mp3 player to the speakers I got at a Who garage sale in 1978 and see if Jock MacTavish, if he turns up again, wants some competition.

The effect may be somewhat diminished as I've only got Cliff Richard's Summer Holiday soundtrack and The Wombles Greatest Hits on there right now.

Uncle Bulgaria, you rock, dude.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Beasts Of The Park.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I'd gone out yesterday for a few hours with my trusty camera and tripod and planned to roam the park taking photos of any critters I came across as I've never been very happy with the sharpness of previous photos.

I'm now thinking that I'm just expecting too much from my lenses and enlarging the photos so that an eyeball fills the laptop screen and expecting it to be pin sharp is......well just expecting too much.

As I'm not in a financial position to buy £10,000 lenses, I guess I'll have to make do until that lottery win comes along. Maybe buying a ticket would increase my odds of winning !

Anyway, as usual, give these photos a click to see them in more detail. 

I went along the edge of the lake and found this turtle sitting on the bank beside the cart path. He or she (I wasn't going to turn IT over to check) was happily sunbathing and every so often would slowly stick out a back leg and push itself a bit further along.

I did use the tripod but none of the shots came out any better than when I hand held the camera so like I said at the start, I think I've leave the tripod behind unless I need it for very specific photos.

I'd never seen a turtle head up close and looking at these photos, I'm not impressed. It's an ugly looking thing and I'm not surprised it spends its time inside a shell.

As I was now close to the wooden pier, I walked out along it as birds always like to perch there and look down into the waters below for a tasty morsel to swim by. Ok so this little fella wouldn't know what to do with a fish if he fell over a dead one but he was the only one worth taking a photo of yesterday.

Leaving the pier behind I went along the canal path and there are always birds there watching the fishermen and hoping to get some scraps. I've uploaded photos of this fella a few times but when the sun catches his white feathers, he's just so darn photogenic. He'll also pose rock steady for ages and so a tripod is never needed.

This next one is a close up of one of the ducks which arrived before Christmas and seem happy to be still here. I've never seen their type before in the park so I need help identifying the breed but again, looks wise, only it's mother could love it.

Finally, there are always opportunities to get photos of squirrels here. They'll come right up to you wanting to be fed and plenty of residents do feed them even though the park rules state that no animals should be fed.

This one just scampered up a tree, turned around and faced back down again before settling on this pose for a good few minutes. Again no tripod was needed.

By now it was almost time for sunset and that nicely brings me back to the previous post. If you haven't read it, do so now and then come back to this one and then go back to that one and........well what else do you have to do on a Saturday night ??!!!

Twixt Sun And Moon

It's just gone midnight and I'm about to get off to bed.

I was out and about in the park for about 3 hours yesterday (Fri) as I wanted to take some photos using my tripod (and the camera !!), something I don't do very often due to it's bulk and the lack of spontaneity that comes with having to set it up.

I got some decent photos of a turtle that had wandered up close to the cart path, some new ducks which appeared just before Christmas and still remain and the usual assortment of other feathered friends that seem to live here all year round.

I'll post a few of them later today.

Now sunsets here at Buttonwood Bay range from normal to stunning depending on many factors and when I'd finished today it was almost 5:30pm and so I waited a few minutes to see what sort of sunset I'd be treated to.

With a clear sky, the sunset was just.....normal.

So nothing special then ?

A few minutes later darkness descended and by the time I'd made my way back 'home' a new light had taken its place in the sky.

A full moon in all its glory.

Again nothing special ?

It's sometimes nice to know that towards the end of every day, the sun will always set and the moon will always take it's place.

In a world where you never know what's coming next, I'd call that special.

I hope you all have a very safe and peaceful night.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Down Memory Lane Again

Given the choice, I will almost always pick music from the 60's to listen to on my mp3.  I do load up modern albums from Coldplay to Dido but somehow those simple tunes and even simpler lyrics from over 40 years ago are the ones that have stuck in my mind. 

My theory is that I was in my single buying days back then and also my mind, for want of a better word, was at its most receptive.  Not that any of my teachers would agree !  My musically active teenage years were spent confined in a Catholic boarding school in N. Ireland (1962-1970) and I lived for the mid week BBC music charts. We all had our favourite groups back then and we'd await their new chart positions with some excitement and a butt load of teenage competitiveness. 

Never one to follow the crowd, I wasn't a big fan of The Beatles or The Stones and my musical support was spread out, in a non gay way, between many US West Coast bands and 'lesser' UK groups like The Tremeloes, The Hollies and David Harman.

David who now ?

David Harman, better known as Dave Dee, was the front man/vocalist for the bizarrely named Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich.  Not a group name you tend to forget in a hurry.  I don't know what it was about their songs that I liked so much as I've never tried to analyse why I like any of the songs and groups I've supported over the decades. I just like them.

Back in 1966 they released their 4th single, Hold Tight, and this started a short run of 10 consecutive singles that got into the top 20 in the UK charts.  Towards the end of this 3 year run of success, their songs became epic mini productions with half an orchestra backing them and tunes so complex that they stood apart from the usual, simple 'flower power' songs of the era. 

Remember "The Legend of Xanadu" when Dave even cracked a whip several times to highlight the 'du' of Xanadu ?  That tended to shake up the Top Of The Pops audience who used to move around the studio dance floor more like drug induced zombies than music loving groupies. In fact, Dave did hit one of the group just before their first appearance on Top Of The Pops and not surprisingly, it was Dozy !

That single was followed by the highly produced "Last Night In Soho" and while we were still trying to work out how to sing along to that one, out came the incredible "Wreck Of The Antoinette" which was to karaoke what Westlife were to progressive music. A non starter.

Then the fans had enough of this sort of music. I assume they wanted songs they could actually sing along to and dance to at parties. It was also the time of groups like Led Zeppelin and Free and so the camp, semi comic tunes from the group didn't fit in.  Their next single, in 1969, was another over produced effort called "Don Juan" which continued the story telling theme with orchestral backing. It only reached 23 in the charts and the rot had set in.  The following year Dave left to try a solo career and to try acting and the rot became permanent.

That was pretty much it until the late 90's when the group reformed (except for the original Beaky) for the lucrative oldies circuit and have been going steadily since then.

Until now.

Dave Dee died today at the age of 65. He'd been suffering from cancer for the last 3 years but didn't let this stop him performing.  Here are the lads from their TOTP performance in 1968 with The Legend Of Xanadu.  

Camp ?  Over produced ?  Theatrical ?  Mimed ?

Hell yes but I still love it.  I'm just not sure what the love child of Mick Jagger and Angelina Jolie is doing in this still from the video !!

RIP Dave.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Global Warming ?

As I've said before on this blog, it's always gratifying when one is away on holiday (albeit for 6 months) and one learns that the weather back home isn't quite as 'nice' as where one

I've been reading over the last few days that the UK is in the middle of a cold snap where ice is a constant problem in the mornings and snow is to be seen in small amounts from North to South and all bits in between.

Daphne, she of blog fame and a resident of my home city of Leeds, told me that she'd chipped the ice out of her bird bath and a few days later the discarded ice was still on the lawn.  Now this wouldn't be news to residents of most of the Northern US states where they won't even see their lawns till about mid April.....but it is usual for Brits.

So as a token of 'hands across the (ice) water' and entente cordiale and all that good stuff, I thought I'd get up out of my patio chair, put my temperature display on the top of it and take a photo to post on here. 

Feel free to click on it and have a good close look.  Go on.  You know you want to.  

Feel free to print this photo, Daphne, and use it to line your bird bath.  Even if it doesn't keep the ice from forming, it'll at least give the birds something warm to look at as they skate off the edge.

You can probably see why we have 4 a/c units, 4 ceiling fans and 3 portable fans in our small residence here.

Who needs postcards ??  I'm off to the pool.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Cat On A Warm Soft Bed.

Daphne's latest post (about jobs one thinks one could do if pushed kicking and screaming back into the workplace) got me thinking about what jobs I could do at my advanced age.

I have to admit that not many came to mind but a lot of that was due to me really REALLY not wanting to ever have to work again.  Been there, done that, got the pension.

Over the weekend my friends, Clair & Mary, went off to the East coast of Florida to spend a few days with some of their friends who have a condo on Hillsboro Beach. It may not be ON the beach exactly, but even a girly underarm throw from the balcony would easily get a football onto the sand. Hillsboro Beach (pop just over 2,276) is yet another place like Ft. Lauderdale where the houses are best reached by boat and those boats are yachts and those yachts are just tied up at the end of your back lawn. It even has a Millionaire's Mile.

I tried tying up our golf cart here in sunny Buttonwood Bay but visually it just didn't work.

Anyway while they were away, they again asked me to 'cat sit' their cat, Paint, and I was more than happy to do so.

Now Paint is probably a very loving, affectionate cat but I'm not telling you this from personal experience. Oh no.  Now I regard myself as a bit of a Dr. Dolittle (Ret) and can usually coax the best out of most animals - and cats have been my speciality over the years.  

"Oh Fluffy doesn't like strangers" I'll be told when meeting a new cat.

Within minutes, Fluffy will be on her back and purring louder than Zsa Zsa Gabor trying to avoid a speeding ticket. Yes I'm that good.

But I've met my match with Paint. He spends most of his time on Clair & Mary's bed and when I let myself into their house, he's quite content to stay there. If I go to the bedroom door, he'll glare at me for a while and if I make another move towards him, he's off that bed faster than a lover when hubby is coming up the stairs.

I'll sit in the living room and make all the cat noises that usually peek their interest - nothing.

It's only when I rattle the food container (dry food pellets) that Paint will stroll slowly down the corridor and peer at me around the kitchen cabinet. Well not so much a peer as another glare. It's as if he realises I'm his feeder today but who the hell am I and why haven't we been formally introduced ?  It's also a look that makes me want to examine my feet in case I've brought something nasty in with me. 

But mostly it's a stare.  A stare I'm always the first to break as, frankly, I've better things to do than try to out stare a cat.  Cause I'd never win with Paint.

After doing this for a few days, Paint allowed me to slowly and carefully pet his head.  Just twice. Going for a third 'pet' he made to go back to the bedroom and so I backed off and let him get on with eating.  Once finished, he stretched, gave me a final glare and walked back to the bedroom in that superior way that only cats have mastered.

I've taken the petting as a significant success and can't wait for Clair & Mary to go away again so Paint and I can get on with our bonding.  It may take several more sessions but I feel that a bonding will be achieved. A tazer may be required but bonding WILL take place.

Even so, the whole business has dented my confidence and I'm not sure anymore if a post retirement career beckons in 'cat sitting.' 

Needless to say I've never taken a photo of Paint and so this one came from Clair. I think it proves my point.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

A Progressive New Year

Last night, being New Years Eve an' all, we decided to take part in something a bit different here in sunny Buttonwood Bay. 

No, not wife swapping or even pole dancing. For one thing I don't have a wife to swap and the last time I shimmied up or down a Pole, he was none too pleased about it. 

So we had a progressive dinner party.

Whaddyamean what's one of those ?

Well a few of us got together and arranged to have a 4 course meal spread over 4 houses.  Yes, yes I know what you're thinking. What a waste of good food. But we didn't actually plaster mashed tatters and gravy over our homes. No, the idea was for one household to provide the starter course, another the salad course, a third the entree and the last house, the dessert. We'd move from house to house eating these courses.....over the course of the evening, so to speak.

Progressive, you see.

There were 11 of us and I set the ball rolling with the starter course. I fixed kebab skewers with peppers, onion, pineapple, prawns, two types of sausage, tomato and steak. Except that I forgot to use the pineapple even though I'd bought some.

I created 35 of them and I thought they were pretty darned good.

Everyone arrived at 4pm as planned and I had most of the skewers sizzling away on the bbq by then. I also prepared a roasted red pepper dip with crackers and fresh vegetables. A creamy salsa dip served with tortilla shells rounded off the course and copious amounts of wine helped to wash it all down.

Oh ok so Deb and Den helped a bit but I did fix some of the items on a few of the skewers !!

Then we all got in our golf carts and headed up the road to Clair & Mary's place for the salad course. After that we went a bit further to Carl & Jackie's house for the entree and finally onto Eldy & Marty's house for dessert.

I won't go into the details of those other courses in case I miss something out and get thrown into the lake for my gastronomic ommisions. Suffice it to say, it was all wonderful and we were all full and merry by the time the official eating (but not the drinking) was 7:30pm.

I'll only post one other photo and it's actually of me eating some delicious lemon meringue pie provided by Marty. I set my camera down for 2 seconds and this is what happens !  Thank you Debby.

We then golf carted back to Carl & Jackie's house for an evening of Uno, which is an excellent card game if you've never tried it. We played till just before midnight when we packed it in and switched on the telle to join with poor old Dick Clark to see in the New Year from Times Square.

Dick Clark is to New Years Eve in America what Andy Stewart was for us in the UK. Sadly right now they both look about the same too. 79 year old Dick had a stroke back in 2004 and suddenly the Cliff Richard of America (in terms of youthful appearance) aged overnight and became.....well 75 I guess. Joining the show as we did with just a couple of minutes to go till midnight, we didn't see or hear too much of him but what we did hear was painful to listen to and I hope for his sake he retires soon.

And that was it. After a round of hand shakes, high fives, hugs and even some french kissing (Carl and Clair, I have photos !!), we climbed into our carts and headed off into the darkness. Well we headed to our homes actually and passed enough lit bedrooms to suggest that we weren't the only ones who had managed to ward off sleep and see in the New Year.

I keep telling you, this is an ACTIVE community !!!!

Now then, where did I put that diary..............

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