Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Wonderful World of Wal-Mart

Not the usual WWW I grant you but I thought I'd post a few photos from a trip that we made the other day to the Wal-Mart here in Sebring, Florida.

I may have a compact camera now but I've still got British reserve and so I didn't manage to point the camera at some of the people who make going there such a shopping experience. I'd be an embarassment to the paparazzi union if I was in one but I feel I've retained my sensitivity to the human race in all it's shapes and forms. Hopefully I'll get over that and post some 'good' people photos another time. In the meantime, these will have to do.

First up here is a shot of a popular aisle in the store for obvious reasons. I think just about every brand of sun product is here from ones with no SPF at all (known in the industry as cooking oil) to ones that block out the sun more effectively than the shadow of an obese American.

If instead of taking out the sun, you'd rather take out your wife's lover or the local bank manager, then this is the part of the store for you.

I had to take this photo while hiding from the assistant as I'd already asked for permission and had it denied. I guess taking a shot of a rack of guns is frowned upon whereas taking a shot at a static deer WITH a gun is fine.

And what about that overhanging warning sign ?  I think it's asking a lot to expect a Wal-Mart employee to know if someone is of 'unsound mind' when they're not exactly coming from a position of strength in that department themselves.

If you look closely at the boxes on the right, I'm not sure what the product inside might be.  The man appears to be ready for some sort of action and he's helping his wife (obviously) with those tricky bra clasps while she seems to be happy just sitting on his stayball.  All very dodgy.

Moving on to a less controversial section, namely menswear, I came upon various racks full of t-shirts for St. Patrick's Day. I'm not sure that the Irish Tourist Board would be pleased to see that the feast day of its premier saint is closely linked with getting blathered but seeing as they themselves will most likely be blathered on the big day, I guess they only have themselves to blame.

I remember a movie, sorry, a filim, many years ago with a jaunty tune in it called "You Don't Have To Be Irish To Be Irish" which was being sung by the good townsfolk as they paraded down the main street on Paddy's Day in Dublin or somewhere. It seems the owners of the Snoopy franchise have taken this to heart in a big way......

I'm sure that, as usual, Woodstock was an unwilling participant in this travesty of haute couture and I blame Snoopy for leading him astray. now I've been known to be pretty daring when chosing my underwear but I draw the line at having Snoopy anywhere near my privates on St. Patrick's Day or any other day come to that.  Maybe if I was blathered !

By now I was desperate to find some product with a name that would be funny or rude (preferably both) to a UK reader but I didn't find one that day. I'm sure there had to be some but I just didn't see any. It'll be my quest next time. I did find a dog food called "Meaty Bone"and a baby product called "Butt Paste" but even Sid James would've been hard pressed to get a laugh with those items. Missus.

On the other hand, if a friend ever asks you to go to Wal-Mart and get naked for $2.84, you'd better have a look at this before giving said friend a good slapping.

And finally, drum roll please, this is only faintly amusing if you've not watched The Biggest Loser as at first sight it seems a bit bizarre to read the slogans "Lose Weight" and "Help Feed America" next to each other.

The televised weight loss show is also running a pound for pound scheme where for every pound in weight lost by the those who sign up, a pound of groceries will be delivered to local food banks. Now that's very laudable but I still think the slogans on that product were funny - and remember I was desperate.

So that's it. I promise to grow a backbone, put on my thickest layer of skin and get to the store and take better, funnier and more bizarre photos.

I just KNOW they're in there somewhere.   Wal-Mart, I'm on a mission.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Please Sir, I Want Some More........

These days, when fixing porridge, I always remember the classic scene in the 1968 movie Oliver! (complete with exclamation point) when angel faced Mark Lester, as Oliver, slowly leaves the workhouse dining table and goes with his empty wooden bowl to ask Harry Secombe for more food.  Just looking at Harry, you could tell Mark was on a no win mission !  It also takes me back to my school days.

We had porridge most mornings at school.  Now remember I went to a boarding school so it's not like the porridge was brought from home in a lunchbox !  No, we all trooped in to the huge dining hall which was a cross between the dining room at Hogwarts and the dining room at the workhouse in Oliver!  Usually the food was more workhouse based than Hogwarts but the kitchen did put out very decent porridge.

We'd all be at long rectangular tables, seating 10 I think, with a table leader at the head of each. I'm sure he had a better title but it WAS a long time ago and my dodgy memory is infamous. I think.

Anyway after a few years there, I made it to be a table leader and boy did that position come with perks.  The leader was the one who 'doled out' the food to the eager faced and rumbling tummied boarders around the table and so, if it was done right (and by right I mean to the benefit of the leader), he would get the lion share of anything good and the mouse share of anything else. Like veggies in my case.  Uggggggg.

Porridge was one of my favs and I made sure there was plenty left in the serving dish for yours truely.  I do remember there being plenty of 'skin' on the porridge and I used to love that too.  I was an odd child.

The only other food item I remember with any fondness was potato bread.  I've never ever had potato bread as good since. I think that was just a treat for Sunday breakfasts and so, being a weekly item, it has grown in my memory as a Good Thing.  I've bought packs of potato bread many times since my school days but can never get it the way we had it back then. I'm not sure if it was created from scratch, probably not, but whatever they did to it afterwards made it something special on my youthful taste buds.

This is how I seem to get it these days, dry and mostly unappetising........

Back then, when we knew it as fadge, the pieces were square and came moist and delicious on a huge platter. Maybe it was the half ton of butter that was placed on top that made it stick in my mind (and my arteries) but I couldn't get enough of the things.  They weren't popular with everyone and so I usually had as many as I could eat with some left over.

Sadly even then we weren't allowed to take left over food out of the dining room, not that this happened very often with a room full of hundreds of starving 11-18 year olds.  I do recall going around other tables in my search for left over fadge if I'd somehow miscalculated at my own table.  I'd return to my hoard with the air of a big game hunter who had just bagged a prized beast and would be rewarded with 9 stares approaching hero worship and sometimes a small ripple of applause. This sowed the seeds of my reputation as a food scrounger of the highest order at school as well as sowing the seeds for my eventual heart attacks 20 years or so further down the road. 

Damn you, delicious fadge.

I'm always surprised by what my mind retains.  Hell I'm always surprised that it retains anything. But although my school days were NOT the happiest of my life, they will always be the days when porridge and fadge started to become 2 lifelong favourites of mine.

And speaking of such, I'm off to fix some porridge.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What Do You Miss ?

My last post about returning to England got me thinking about some of the things I've missed by being away for 6 months. I get asked that a lot.

I'm also sure that many of the kind people who are regular readers of my blog are not currently in the country or US state that they used to live in and so please feel free to let us know what you miss about the place where you were born or maybe grew up in or just spent most of your life in.

For me there aren't too many things I miss - and it's 'things' that I'm talking about here and not family and friends, which are a given. Things can be lots of...things from food items to a view from some beauty spot.

Speaking of beauty spots, we watched "The Amazing Race" as usual last Sunday which is a show where teams of two travel the globe performing tasks in different countries and the last pair to reach the weekly destination (or Pit Stop) are eliminated.  It's fun to see the stress levels rise and interpersonal battles take place as these mainly physical tasks are performed. As the teams can be brother and sister, mother and son, gay couple, engaged couple, senior married couple, best friends and so on, the pair who stay friendly (or even still engaged or married) by the end of the show certainly deserve the $1m prize.

But it's the chance to see glimpses of the different countries and cultures that make the show for me. Last Sunday they were in Switzerland, Austria and Germany and I found myself staring open mouthed at the classic scenery. That's when I decided that one of the 'things' I miss about being in Florida and not in England - are hills and mountains and everything that goes with them.

As I've said before, Florida is the flattest state in the US and when you think that this includes states like both Dakotas, then that's some record to hold.  When we played golf a while back and they had piled up a load of sand for a new trap/bunker, the top of the pile was briefly the tallest point in Florida !!   As I've not left the state in almost 6 months, I've not seen anything in the way of a hill, never mind a mountain for all that time.

So I miss hills.

I miss farms too and small fields.  I long to see again a field of cattle where the farmer can round up his herd by walking them to the gate and not by chasing them with a helicopter. I want to see again a field where you can actually SEE the far side of it and not have to use Google Earth or images from a low orbit satellite.  I want to see spring lambs jumping around their mothers and exploring their new surroundings without needing radio tags in case they stray 5 miles to the far side of the field.

So I miss the countryside, specifically the English countryside.

There are a few other things I miss, including food items, but there aren't too many of those as my food preferences are pretty basic.  

But don't get me wrong as there are plenty of things I love about life here and I'm more than happy to be here half the year and so get the best of both 'worlds'.  I'm not sure anymore, if I was given the opportunity, that I'd want to live here all year round.  Certainly not if it meant living in Florida, despite the wonderful weather.

I'd really miss those hills then and after all, a chap needs a good yodel every so often.

So if it applies to you, what do you miss, living where you do now ?

When Do I Need To Panic ?

I fly back to the UK in just over 4 weeks time and as you may imagine, I just can't wait.  

That was sarcasm, by the way.  I really can wait.  I can wait forever if Homeland Security would let me.

Anyway it's the return part of my trip over here from last October and so I'll be flying again with Mr. Branson's mob (God help me) from Miami to London Heathrow and then getting a BMI  (British Midland International) flight from Heathrow to Leeds.  

Up until a few days ago my main 'concern' was that I get into London at 9:25am but my flight to Leeds doesn't leave until 8:40pm.    Yes 11 hours to waste in an airport.  Lovely.  I'm ok in Harrods for 15 minutes and I like looking at the British tat in other duty free shops but come on.....11 hrs !!   Even my mp3 batteries will have given up the ghost by then and I'll have nothing to listen to but lots of Johnny Foreigner voices and annoying PA announcements telling me about loads of lucky bastards who now need to get to their departure gates to fly off to wonderful places like I've just come from.  Yeah rub it in why don't you !!!

Sorry about that.  Anyway my plan was to go to the BMI desk and using all my charm say "look I'm due to fly out with you to Leeds in 11 hrs time but as you have 3 earlier flights to Leeds, could you please get me onto one of them, preferably the earliest one and my, but you suit your hair in that style, if I may be so bold.  And your eyes.....they're stunning."   I know, sickening isn't it and I donno why I'd bother as they're mostly a hard faced lot at airports.

But I fear things may be changing soon and I'll have more to concern me than an 11 hr wait at Heathrow.  I read last week that BMI are stopping the London-Leeds service altogether as it's just not profitable.  And when will this be happening ?  On March 28th.  And when do I fly to Leeds ?  On March 27th.  Hmmmmm.

So as things stand, I'm due to be on the last ever BMI flight from London to Leeds.  What are the chances of getting on an earlier flight now ?  Low to not bloody likely at all, matey.  And if I do have to get that last flight out (it sounds more like an evacuation from a US Embassy in Saigon) what sort of state will the cabin staff be in ?  It might be their last day at work......throwing drinks at the passengers; opening the doors at takeoff and throwing out the duty free; not telling us how to fasten our incredibly complicated seat belts; setting a mile high club record with every one of the flight crew ?   Charming.

And does my luggage stand a cat in hell's chance of arriving at Leeds airport at the same time as me ?  Even the next day - seeing as there won't be a flight after all ?  

The signs aren't looking good.  I think I'd better Google train timetables although then I might be back in the hands of Mr. Branson.  It just doesn't get any better.

And yes, that was sarcasm again.

Monday, February 23, 2009

How To Make Enemies !

A few minutes ago I got back from my daily walk, camera in hand, and as I sank into the outdoor chair for a rest, I set up the self timer and took this photo.  The self timer on the camera that is, not the chair.

And if that doesn't make me a few enemies, I'm off to the pool. Sorry Daffy.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Once More Unto The Breech...........

A few days ago I went out around the park on the golf cart, armed with nothing more than my compact camera. Brave or what ?

I mean there be snakes here (and I don't mean old Mrs. Wineberg, the park gossip, who everyone knows cheats at bingo) and gators and nasty snappy birds.

But as usual, this intrepid reporter made light of such dangers to bring you more video footage of park life here in sunny Buttonwood Bay.

And without further ado, here it is. Another candidate for Best Short Foreign Documentary at this year's Oscars, I'm thinking to myself.

"Self" I'm thinking, "it's in the bag.  A shoe-in.  A dead cert.  Find room on the shelf for the trophy"

So sit ye down, turn up the volume (yes it comes with sound expense spared) and pop the corn.  Just remember to give it about a minute after hitting the play arrow for the poor old projectionist to get back from his fag break and start it up. We can't let him go, he's like family now.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Where's The Beef ?

Older American readers will get that reference !

Yesterday when we were shopping in Wal-Mart, I wanted to get some fresh meat for the bbq that we were having for supper.  I thought......pork chop, burger meat or even a chicken breast.

When we got to the meat aisle (all pink and tender in the middle....har har) there was nothing that took my fancy as I really only wanted ONE item of meat and not a multipack.  Then I noticed a small section of bison products !

Hmmmm bison meat.  That would be something cool to try if only just to SAY I'd tried it.  I love venison after all and bison is supposed to be similar in many ways.  As we were discussing it, a meat manager was nearby and overheard me saying I'd never eaten bison (hell I'd never even caught one before) and that, combined with my accent, led him to tell me all about the meat and which to try.  

Bison meat comes in many forms similar to beef......ribs, roasts, steaks and so on. It's a dense meat with very little fat or calories so a small portion will fill you up. Looking at the price, that's just as well !!  Over $10 a pound.

Anyway Mr. Manager slapped a reduced sticker on my meat (phnrrr phnrrr) and the choice was made.

I surfed for a bison meat site to check how long to cook it for and it warned that bison meat cooks very quickly so be sure to keep an eye on the time. That said, it still recommended 10 mins for medium at 325F so that's what my steak got.

I'll spare you a photo of it cooking on the bbq as it just looked like a beef steak.

So what was the verdict ?

Well the website had suggested I cooked the steak with no seasoning or sauces at all for the first time - to get the real taste of the meat. I was happy to do so as I expected a strong taste as with venison...and I got it.

Maybe it needed a little more grilling time as it was a bit too red in the middle for my liking but it cut easily and sure was tasty. I found it a bit tough but then I discovered afterwards that the cut was really at the low end of the quality scale so maybe Mr. Manager hadn't been as kind as I'd thought !

It was certainly filling too and I only ate half of it last night and will carve up the rest to have in a stir fry tonight. You can't tell from the photo but the steak was over an inch thick.

So really I can't say if I'd buy bison meat again based on last night.

Pros : VERY low fat and calories, much less than chicken for instance. More protein and nutrients and here in the US it's always sold with no additives - just 100% bison. Sweet, rich flavour.

Cons : Not cheap and is classed as a gourmet meat.

I wonder if my local Leeds supermarket stocks bison meat ?  I'll be checking them out on my return but given the price here, I can't imagine the price in England. We're not famous for herds of bison roaming around our countryside, after all.

Somehow I can't see the sequel to "Dances With Wolves" being set in West Yorkshire.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Park Life

I'm getting towards the end of my time here in sunny Buttonwood Bay - I leave in just over 5 weeks - so I'm taking every opportunity to get out and about in the sunshine while I can.

I feel there might not be too many similar days even at the height of the summer in Leeds !!

There is plenty to see here, although most of the photogenic activity takes place around the edge of the lake or along the canal path that leads from it.

This is a pet friendly place and given the companionship that pets bring to anyone, and especially oldies, you can imagine the number of pets we see. Dogs are by far the most popular and I think I read somewhere that there are over 300 Rovers and Pixies here. It gets very confusing when they're all out together !

This fine creature was being walked along the canal path yesterday when I was out on the golf cart. I was mainly taking some video footage (for another post) but thankfully had the Canon dSLR with me. Talk about a happy doggie and what's not to be happy about for a dog here. All the sunshine and fresh air you want and an owner who, although maybe not in the first flush of youth, will give you enough treats to get you to forget those long lost days of frisbee catching.

The canal channel leading from the lake (Lake Josephine) is always a great area for seeing wildlife as I've shown in many previous posts. Yesterday for some reason, the lake and the canal were busy with boaters out trying to catch those elusive fish.

These 'two men in a boat' fishermen were mostly puzzled as to why I was taking photos of them in the first place. When asked, I just said because they were there. I'm not sure they got the point of that and said it would've been better if they'd actually caught a fish. I agreed but I really didn't care. A boat on a stretch of water is nearly always better than no boat at all. I could always photoshop in a fish if I was that bothered !

I've posted so many photos of the birds that gather beside or ON the canal fishing boats that I'm reluctant to put up another one.....but this little fella posed so nicely that I just can't let him down. I think he was about to start the hokey cokey.

It's the little chicken legs that always make me laugh. Almost cartoon like in appearance, it's hard to believe they can support the body weight at all and I know there are much larger birds with similar gawky legs. It's clear why Disney was the master at exaggerating things so that these birds will always be imprinted on my mind as having even longer and thinner legs than they really have.

As I was leaving the area, a couple of birds put on an aerial display in a  "look what we can do and you can't"  sort of way. Bloody show offs. When one flew overhead, I took this photo and although I'm not very good with action shots of birds, I like the way it stands out from the clear blue sky and I decided not to remove the out of focus tree branches for the same reason.

I will admit to removing an annoying white lamp post which was in the photo as I was tracking the bird and didn't notice the post until it was too late. I love photoshop.

Speaking of posts, I'll get off now and edit the video footage. Or maybe I'll save that for a rainy day.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Who Wants To Be A Billionaire ?

The news today that Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea Football Club and the 2nd wealthiest man in Russia, has seen his personal fortune plummet by $9 billion (yes that's not a typo) during this worldwide financial crisis has put my meagre losses into some sort of perspective.

I'm surprised he's not standing on the top of the Stamford Bridge stadium this morning with serious thoughts of ending it all.  I mean he's only got a mere $14 billion left and how can anyone get by with that these days ?

Given all the rescue packages and economic stimulus 'handouts' that we've read about over the last 6 months, amounts like trillion and billion have almost ceased to be meaningful to me anymore. And whatever happened to million ?  That's never mentioned and is obviously a derisory amount of money to have in your bank account.  I certainly don't have it anyway !! 

It's bad enough when huge multinational corporations and banks talk in terms of trillions and billions but when one man has several billion all to himself, then it just blows my mind.  I just can't imagine having that much money and that's probably the main reason why I never WILL have that much money.  

Well that and the fact I'm a lazy bugger.  Maybe Roman could throw a few hundred thousand my way as that's about the only chance I'll ever get to see money like that.

But no matter how much you have to start with, to 'lose' almost 40% of your dosh has to hurt.  In Roman's case he may have to sell a few yachts or houses or even dock the Chelsea players wages for a few days and that should get him back on track.  Somehow I doubt he'll do that.  The people who have billions and lose a few, tend to find it surprisingly easy to get it all back again.  And if you're a rich Russian, it seems even easier again.  Ohhhhh I've gone all controversial now !!

Like a lot of people these days, I've lost a fair old chunk of my savings so I really know how Roman is feeling right now.  Oh yes I do.

But if I'd lost 40%, I'd be up on the Stamford Bridge stadium roof with or without him by my side.  Somehow I think I'd be on my own though.

прощание cruel world.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

It's Not Right. It's Just Not Right.

Now if being a Leeds Utd supporter for the last 35 years has taught me anything, it's that supporting this team will always involve ups and downs.  Sadly many more downs over the last few years but hey, things can only get better.  You'd think.

Spending 6 months in America means I can't follow them all that closely as more and more virtual doors have been closed to me in terms of listening to the games online.  Basically, as I'm too tight to spend any money to subscribe to sites that broadcast the games, I'm reduced to 'watching' the scoreline changing on one or more sites that give updates every few minutes.  This isn't too bad but often they use a game clock rather than a real time clock and so this clock starts at 3pm or whenever and carries on to 90 mins no matter what is going on in real time.

As a result, it'll say the 90 mins have been played (simply because it's 4:45pm) but I know fine well that only 85 or so may have been played so far.  I'm then left with no finger nails if we're only winning 1-0 and no toe nails if we're losing 1-0.  I'm very supple and have NO taste buds.

With the score showing 1-0, I glare at the 90 min screen with an intensity not seen since I used to subscribe to FHM magazine. Show me the fulltime (FT) score, you poxy proxy.  Come on......hells teeth did they abandon the game or something ?  Has snow blocked the refs whistle ?  Are we suddenly playing Man Utd who always get 93 minutes for their games ?  

What's going on ?  

I hit refresh like a man repeatedly hitting the lift/elevator button in the vain hope that it will accomplish something.  Come on dammit.

1-1 ???    WTF ?    Did we troop off the field after 96 minutes and the other team just ambled up the other end and scored in the empty net ?    Of course the site still shows 90 mins as their coding doesn't allow for anything more.  Footy games last 90 mins so 90 mins it is.  So, pray, when did this equaliser come ?  Ah-ha !  Got ya there.

I remember having the site up on my laptop when I was watching a game live on Sky Sports at home. There was a delayed start due to a lot of fans still in line at the car park burger van or something and it was put back 15 mins as that's a nice round figure and gave plenty of time for more expert tv opinions and adverts.

But my site showed the game had kicked off and the minutes were ticking along nicely........0-0 after 7 mins and still no players on the pitch even warming up !  Classic.  I was hoping it would update to 1-0 and then I'd REALLY know it was all being done by some geek in Basingstoke who was watching the cricket and just making up the footy scores as he went along.

So yes, I've had to put up with this sort of thing for years now but it's still better than nothing and certainly better than finding out the result by looking over the shoulder of a punter in McDonalds reading a USA Today on Monday morning.  Ahh those were the days.

But I've almost grown to like the 90 minute sites.  They keep my nails trim and my belly well supplied with keratin.  (See, this blog is still educational).  What I didn't like THIS morning was waking up to find that the Leeds game had not only started but had also finished and the team bus was back in the shed with it's engine barely warm.  

Thanks to the reputation of a few of our fans and the fact that it was a local derby game, the police and club officials had agreed to a noon kick off...........7am Florida time.  A waking time unknown to me for the last 8 years or so.  Was I consulted ?  No.

I surfed to my site and the full horror was revealed to me.

90 mins.  0-1.    FT.

The FT was like a dagger in my heart.  No chance of a late equaliser.  No chance for us to mug their keeper at a corner and sneak one in.  Not even time for the streaker to get his thong and socks off in preparation for a dash to instant fame and immortality.


The loss I could take.  But missing the game altogether and knowing I'd been sound asleep when it was being played (like a few of the players it seems) was a new low.  

You know what this means, don't you ?  Yep, I'll soon be making holes in my socks and if the next game is postponed for any reason, I'll be ringing the Guinness people as they must have a "Football Fan With The Longest Nails" category and I'll be a shoe in !

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Oh Bother !!!

I set out on my walk this afternoon and had only taken a few steps when I realised I'd not taken my camera with me. You know, the compact one I bought recently so that I could take it with me at all times so that never again would the words "damn I wish I'd got a camera with me now" pass my lips.

Those first few steps proved to be my undoing as I decided I was already too far from the house to turn back for the camera.  Too far ?  I was about 20 feet from the house and another 3 from the camera !!!

So I carried on and as I walked, I decided to change my whole routine.  Instead of doing a fast paced 2.5 mile walk for 40 minutes or less, I'd slow down a bit and walk for a full hour.  This meant I could walk where I wanted and not be tied, so to speak, to a pre planned 2.5 mile route around the park. Hurrah.  The shackles were off and I felt giddy and breathless with my new found freedom. Either that or my asthma had just kicked in.

I was making up a mental route as I walked and wanted to start by going towards the lake and taking the golf cart path which would take me past the bocce courts and the cafe and bring me back out onto the paved road again.  Yes folks I was planning on going "off road".

So about 90 seconds after setting off, I rounded the corner leading to the lake and came upon a snake in the road. Not a fork.  A snake.  And a very much alive snake at that. It had come out of the undergrowth to my right and most of its body was on the road with perhaps 1/4 of it still on the grass but in plain view. It was a beauty.

As it was just lying there, enjoying the warm tarmac, I decided to scoot home and get my camera, the Canon with the telephoto lens as I wasn't using macro on this sucker.  I ran as fast as my asthma would let me and then biked back to the spot all within 2 which time the snake had had a pint and a ciggie and slithered back into the undergrowth.  D'ohhh.

I was gutted.  It was my first real snake in the wild as the black one we saw a while ago had been up against a house wall and so not easy to see properly. I'd also seen one on the golf course but again, not in plain view like this one.  It was also a lovely looking snake but that's about all I can say about it.  The idea of getting my camera had entered my poor lard filled brain (see previous post) so fast that I never got a chance to study the snake properly.  It was quite long, about 2.5 to 3 ft and twice as thick as a mans thumb.  As for its colour and markings, I might as well try and remember who came out of Wal-Mart behind me last Wednesday.  Just ain't gonna happen.

It wasn't red or black, that much I do remember.  A light brown maybe, going towards orangy. God I'd be useless at a police lineup.  

"Him !  Him right on the end.  Nasty sneering lips.  Evil eyes and those eyebrows.  I'd know the bastard anywhere."

"That's our custody sergeant, sir. PC Williams"

So that was it.  I've no photo of the snake to upload.  As well as not having a record of my first proper snake, I've nothing to help me identify it either.  It will forever be.....the snake.  

Sometimes I'm glad I don't have grandchildren.  I'd be SUCH a disappointment to them.

Seaside And Sausages - Part 1

For some reason, I had a mental walk down memory lane when I woke up this morning and memories of Sunday afternoons spent at the seaside came flooding back, as memories tend to do.
The fact that today is a Tuesday seemed to make no difference to my mind, which is a mind of it's own !

I grew up in the small farming town of Ballymoney in N. Ireland back when 'the troubles' were still some way off and people wearing balaclavas were just protecting their ears from the bitter cold wind.  Simple times.

As my parents had to hold down several jobs to make ends meet, Sundays were special days, days for family and days to relax. Being strict Catholics, Sundays always started with Mass. Actually every day started with Mass and often my mum would be the only one in the church apart from the priest of course. We often said that if ever the priest didn't turn up, mum could've stepped in and made a decent job of the service. She often acted as the altar boy, who sometimes didn't turn up either, and if she knew this would be the case, she'd take the bell back to her pew and be a sort of alter boy from a distance. Like I said, simple times.

After Mass on Sunday, we'd return to the house where dad would make for the kitchen and 'sling the pan.' This wasn't a reference to some sort of domestic violence as I never once saw or heard about my parents even raising their voices to each other, never mind turning to kitchen utensils in times of stress. And given our financial situation, there HAD to have been numerous times of stress but my brother and I lived in blissful ignorance of such things.

No, the pan in question was the large family sized frying pan which was removed from the cupboard with almost as much solemnity and reverence as that shown by the priest when holding the communion chalice about 20 minutes earlier. The pan still contained the congealed lard from the previous fry up, complete with bits of anything that had escaped our attention, and our stomachs. 

Ahhhh lard. That artery plugging block of goodness. I can still see it now and more to the point, can still feel it's effects as I gulp down the pills that I take daily to ward off another heart attack. The 'enjoyment' of some foods can last a (probably much shortened) lifetime.

Once the pan was on the cooker and the lard was starting to soften, the breakfast items were gathered around it like some sort of culinary Little Big Horn. Just about every family had their own version of an Irish Breakfast and it's almost impossible now to think of what constituted a classic version. I say this in the past tense as I'd like to think that such breakfasts no longer exist but on rare visits to my old country, I have seen the 'Ulster Fry' as a proud item on many cafe blackboards. Hopefully lard is no longer the cooking agent used.

Anyway back to our version and this included large plump sausage links, thick meaty bacon rashers, eggs fresh from the chickens and generous slices of home made soda farls and wheaten (both breads). We used to give two old sisters a lift to Mass and they'd repay us with eggs so fresh that they were still warm and many had tiny feathers stuck to them. Probably best not to think about that last bit !  Now and again we'd be handed duck eggs which were much larger of course and had a taste that I can still recall to this day.

I can't remember if there were any other breakfast items as we didn't go in for the fancy stuff like mushrooms and other items like baked beans, black pudding and even haggis were never allowed to sully our lard encrusted pan.

My brother and I would've 'set the table' for this banquet, a small cloth covered table with fold down leaves as we didn't have much room in the part of the living room we used for family meals, and when the plates were placed before us, we all said grace and tucked in. The bread slices had been dipped in the hot lard at the last moment and were therefore deliciously crisp on the outside (coated with bacon, sausage and egg bits) and warm and 'bready' on the inside. Great for mopping up the egg yokes like an Irish version of nann bread.

With plates cleaned and stomachs full, it was still only 10am (Mass was at 8am) and time for mum and dad to sit in their chairs and have a bit of a nap. Given my poor memory, I've no idea what my brother and I would've done at this time. It's not like we'd have 'gone to our rooms' as we shared one bedroom and it contained.....a bed. Ok a wardrobe, a chest of drawers and a bed, but that was it. No laptop, no tv, not even a peat powered Playstation. In those sepia days, we kids made up our own games but I just can't remember what they were. Too much lard coating the old brain cells.

Ironically we had a bedroom next to ours which was twice or three times the size.  It was always kept in an immaculate condition but it was a 'guest' room for those times when relatives would stay overnight or for the time my mum dreamed about when The Pope would visit Ballymoney and would need a bed for the night. Or a priest...or a nun.  Even a passing altar boy.  Anyone vaguely connected with The Church at any rate.  It never happened.  

The priests always left after getting their free meal.

After nap time there came a choice. Did we go out to 'The Farm' to visit gran and those of the family who lived there or did we go off for a drive somewhere ?  Sometimes we did both and the anticipation of a drive somewhere later made the visit to gran slightly more bearable.  Slightly.

The drive could've taken us anywhere. We'd maybe visit relatives who lived surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery you'd ever hope to see. It might involve a trip to somewhere like the Giants Causeway, the local World Heritage Site, still free to see in those days.  In any case it would never be a long drive as nowhere we went to in N. Ireland was further than 50 miles from Ballymoney.

But our most popular destination was the seaside and this usually involved going to one or both of the twin seaside towns just 12 miles away, Portrush and Portstewart. The 'port' bit is the giveaway. These small resorts were located at the far north of the country and were a relaxing and enjoyable mecca for the local working classes and farming communities. These were days when kids could spend a whole day with just a bucket and spade for entertainment; when the highlight of the trip would be a cone from the local ice cream shop with a wagon wheel as a extra treat if they'd been really good all week and if the family budget would allow it.

This trip to the seaside was like the Victorians going to a spa town to gain some medical benefits from taking the waters.

In our case, we did it to run around on the beach to try and burn off that sodding breakfast.

More from my seaside memories another time.................

Monday, February 09, 2009

People Movers

I was just going to post a weather statement today to let everyone know not to worry about us anymore and to ease up on the food parcels and blankets.

Normal service has been restored, almost, as it's 75F(24C) today with 80's for the rest of the week.

Then I thought that MIGHT sound like I was boasting or something (heaven forbid) and so I'll try and raise the interest level by showing you two of the more exclusive golf carts that can be seen around sunny Buttonwood Bay.

This first one is the only cart I've ever seen with a 'towed' capability.

And this next one is just exclusive !

There, that was better than a weather report now wasn't it ?!

Keep warm.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Who Said 'Bird Brain' Was A Derogatory Term ?

Ok so I'm taking the easy way out today and simply posting a YouTube clip.

Unlike this bird, I'm just being lazy !

Friday, February 06, 2009

Paradise Revisited

Being the (fool)hardy Brit that I am, I set off for my walk around the park today despite the fact that the max temp never passed 50F.  After a few minutes I realised that I should've stayed in my chair and exercised my mind instead. It was cold, people, cold. Even the oranges were shriveled.

But I wanted to walk somewhere, so I decided to abandon my usual route and just go where the muse took me. The muse in this case being Queen and their Greatest Hits. Good walky songs.

So I went down by the lake and along the path that borders the bocce courts and leads through 'the grove', the lovely shaded area by the lake where one can sit and watch the squirrels scratch their nuts before eating them.  Strange creatures.

This time I'd remembered to take the new Nikon and so took a few photos.  Now I know I've pretty much uploaded every view of this park you'd ever want to see but bear with me here as I tried to find a few new positions (stop that !) and after all, you'll never have seen these views before using this camera.  Desperate I know.

Photo one shows the north east section of Lake Josephine just beyond the bocce courts.

And then moving the camera to the right, the next photo shows the path going to the bocce courts in the distance and the start of the grove area to the right.  

Then I walked north and went onto the other path that I've shown on video and photos before. Still, you'll never have seen it on 5th February 2009 before. Eh ? Eh ?

And finally here is a shot near the north entrance to the park where all the streets are named after birds : Whippoorwill, Skylark, Spoonbill and the one you see in this photo.

So even though it was unnaturally cold for Florida, I still had a lovely walk and when you don't want to exercise, this park provides all the motivation you need to get out and just do it.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Wal-Mart : Always Low Prices, Often High Entertainment

Ok didn't I JUST buy a new camera to carry with me ALWAYS so I'd be able to put up photos of the bizarre and amusing things I spot here in Florida ?

Well I did.  But I'm not quite up to speed with remembering the bit about carrying it with me always.  That's probably why I'm here in a retirement park in the first place.  I'm old.  I forget things.

Now where was I going with this ?  Oh yes, the camera.

Man did I miss it yesterday.  We went to Wal-Mart, a people watchers paradise if ever there was one, and as usual my eyes got more exercise than on my last visit to an Ann Summers store. 

I witnessed the usual assortment of invalid/morbidly obese people carriers that you have to watch out for as they can go at a fast lick.  I think it's a morbidly obese persons only opportunity to move faster than .5 mph other than when they accidently open their truck door on a hill.  One guy yesterday was on the Humvee of such vehicles as it was basically a motorised la-z-boy armchair with a reinforced wire shopping basket on the front. It even had a cup holder for goodness sake and he was able to ride on the back of it !!  

Then there was the short guy peering at the selection of rotisserie chickens on display. He was wearing a heavy leather Harley Davidson jacket but I got a glimpse of bright orange below this so I just had to move around the display for a better look.  He was wearing orange flappy pj bottoms (I think) with 'Department Of Corrections' written all over them at various angles.  I'm not sure if he had dressed himself or if the day care staff at his home were evil minded beggars, but I was pretty sure there wasn't a Harley outside in the parking lot with his name on it.  His green crocs sealed the deal but did little to heighten his sartorial elegance.

Walking down the main aisle that separates the food section from the non food section, I heard raised voices behind me.  Well one raised voice to be honest.  The aisle was very wide (or a DOA - Double Obesity Aisle as it's known in supermarket parlance) and I was able to stand to one side to let an old couple pass me by with the man, who was doing all the talking but none of the cart pushing, having a pop at his wife. His long suffering wife I'd have to think.  Anyway he was berating her for pushing the cart down the middle of this very wide aisle when clearly she should have been following the laws of the road by keeping to the right.  How stupid of her. He was going on and on at her and I almost felt obliged to step in and say something.

Several things stopped me.  It was none of my business was top of the list, closely followed by natural British reserve. Then again the man, despite having more creases than the solitary dollar note in my back pocket, may have been 'packing', as they say in all the best cop dramas.  You really don't want to be smacked with a cunningly concealed oxygen tank and some of these oldies can be surprisingly adept at swinging one.

I left them, or mainly him, to it.  For all I know, that lopsided grin on her face wasn't the result of a stoke at all but was down to the knowledge that she'd be adding a few more glass shards to his meat loaf that evening.  You go girl.

All this had come after entering the store and being accosted, for want of a better word, by the infamous Wal-Mart greeter.  These 'care in the community' escapees rush up to innocent shoppers as they pass through the doors and shout "Welcome To Wal-Mart" in such a way that people have been known to remove their hearing aids to spare from total loss, whatever part of their hearing still functions.  If I'm talking with someone on the way in and miss the stealthy approach of this witchlike creature, I risk the heart attack that may well see me off and I'd be seriously pissed at it happening BEFORE I'd done my shopping. 

Never one to miss an opportunity, Wal-Mart gets 'great value' from these greeters by making them double up as the person who slaps a sticker on goods you are returning.  This should be a simple process but involves the use of a bar code gun and this, in the hands of one of these people, is like asking a man with no fingers to eat with chopsticks.  He'll get there in the end but it'll be a long process and painful to watch.

I'm telling you, if you're in Florida, forget Disney.  Forget Universal.  Forget Seaworld.  (I've forgotten all of them but I explained about that at the start).  No, seriously, if you want a good free day out and enjoy seeing people who may or may not be from this planet, I highly recommend a trip to Sebring Wal-Mart.

So now I've added something to the grocery list that is always maintained on our fridge door.  If the items necessitate a trip to Wal-Mart, I add CAMERA to the list. 

You won't have long to wait.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Living With The White Stuff.

Ah-ha !  Got ya.  You thought this was yet another snow post from a complaining Brit.

Well before the whole of the snow covered UK sinks below the waves so that it'll only be visible with Google Earth 5, I thought I'd post a photo of how they deal with the white stuff over here in Florida.

The downside is that it's hard to form it into a ball for a decent fight and skiing on it is rather difficult too.  But you CAN make excellent sculptures with it and the best part is that once you've had enough of it, you can run into the water and it all comes off !

Go on, try that in The Cam, or Windermere or in Waterloo Lake, Leeds, a bit closer to home.

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