Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Load Of Tossers.

I'm fortunate enough to live a short distance from Roundhay Park, at 700 acres, one of the largest city parks in Europe.  I've posted a few photos and items about it on this blog before but it's such a wonderful city amenity that I make no apologies for posting about it again.

Sadly this post will be another bit of a rant and I promise I'll get down off my soapbox soon.

We had another gloriously warm, sunny day to bring the curtain down on May and so I decided to get some much needed exercise and combine it with seeing the park again.  I usually like to go there during the week when it's not so busy but needs must and all that, so I hoped that even a busy Sunday visit would still give me a good walk with lots of lovely scenery thrown in.

Yes I got a good walk (over 2 hrs worth) and the scenery WAS lovely but it was all spoilt by the tons of rubbish I saw everywhere within the park.

We really are a rubbish throwing nation and I don't know why but I wish it would stop.  We have rules about it but maybe we all know those rules aren't worth the discarded paper they're written on.  I'm sick and tired of being behind people, seeing them unwrapping everything from candy bars to cigarette packs and being 99% certain that the paper will be tossed away. 

Of course we are also a nation with precious few bins in our public spaces and one official in Roundhay Park once told me that was to stop terrorists from placing bombs in them !  So at least we now have a person to blame for all the litter in Leeds - Osama 'Bin' Laden.

Middle name a coincidence ? I don't think so !   

What bins I saw today were overflowing with garbage so I guess they don't get emptied at weekends.  Great, the busiest days of the week and no one empties the bins.  I'd still hope people would pick up their rubbish and take it home with them but it seems that few do.  The lovely lakeside paths and grassy slopes were littered with......litter.  Fast food packaging, crisp bags, plastic beer containers, cigarette packs, newspapers and worst of all, glass beer bottles were all over the place and as well as looking awful and spoiling the ambiance of the park, a lot of it was downright dangerous, given the many hundreds of children playing there.

I just don't get it.  Why ?  Why do people litter ?  

I tend to get a bit snobbish as I have to say the vast majority of the people I see throwing stuff away like this are low lifes.  Common even, if such a word means anything these days.  And of course if asked politely to pick up their rubbish, their comeback is verbal abuse at best and physical abuse at worst.  So we don't say anything and the littering continues as their children follow suit.  They just don't see it as an issue as they probably return to homes that don't look that much different - a rubbish tip with 3 bedrooms.

It was all summed up for me when I was looking over the lake from a raised area and noticed a family (mum, dad and 2 small kids) throwing bread into the water. For once there wasn't any wildlife at all in the lake but they'd obviously decided that as they'd brought a full bag of stale bread all that way, they were jolly well going to throw it all into the water.

Entire slices flew through the air and plopped in the lake.  The area around these people looked like an explosion in a bread factory. And the bag the bread came in ?  Oh it was last seen blowing away along the path as the family finished up and left the park. Yes I felt like picking it up and giving it back to them but the dad didn't look the sort to appreciate such a lesson in civic pride and so I just sighed and left the park myself.

Maybe overnight the magical litter fairies will wave their wands and all the litter will be gone by morning.  Anything has to be better than expecting Leeds Council to rush to do it !

Anyway I took some new photos and will add them below - because despite all the crap left by us humans, nature still puts on a good show in the park.

I also took a couple of panorama photos to try and show these particular views better. The last one was taken from a similar location to where I took the photo at the bottom of this blog. I prefer the autumnal view better of course but it's nice to be able to compare them.

So overall the park came out the winner again today but it was close. If the litter louts continue to spoil a good thing, then I fear for the park, for Leeds and most important for me, my blood pressure.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Not A PC Post

I may be using a PC to create this blog post but a few of the sentiments contained within it may not be classed as very PC !  I'm not out to offend anyone (much) but I need to vent, so here cometh the vent.

On the way into Leeds yesterday, the car was low on petrol and so as I was passing a station that is always on a list of ones having the lowest prices, I pulled in.  I was pleased to see they had the facilities for paying at the pumps - especially as there was a line of customers inside waiting to pay in person which is still the norm in this country.

So I read the simple instructions, put my card into the slot, entered my pin number, removed my card and filled 'er up.  I replaced the hose, pressed the button for a paper receipt and waited. And waited.  Nothing appeared and finally the display moved on to welcome the next customer.

Now I didn't actually need a receipt for any reason but as I was 'promised' one, I wanted it.  I also didn't want the next customer getting mine as has happened in the past so I went into the shop to see what could be done and if nothing else, get them to print me my receipt.

I joined the long line.

After a while I was one away from the counter. The overly suntanned guy in front of me was busy talking to the turban wearing attendant at a speed and pitch reserved for dogs and IPL wicket keepers so I knew I was in trouble.  Then it was my turn.

"Could I have a receipt for pump No.5 please ?"

The attendant, recently rejected for a Mumbai call centre position, looked blankly at me.  I guess he wasn't used to anyone speaking to him at all unless it was to ask for the price of a Mars bar and 2 packets of smokey bacon and pickled onion chips/crisps. I offered up a bit more information to try and help him understand.

"I paid at the pump by credit card but the machine didn't print my receipt so either it's faulty or more likely, its printer has run out of paper.  Can you print the receipt for me ?"

He looked at his screen, tried to swing it round towards me and with a combination of poor English and sign language, he either told me the machine at the pump prints the receipts or my chicken vindaloo was ready for collection.  I'm not sure which.

"No, that's my point.  The machine did NOT print my receipt as it's probably out of paper. Can you print it here ?"  I was rapidly losing it.

I mean it's not rocket science is it.  I'm not asking him the $million question here am I ?

He kept telling me, I think, that I should get the receipt from the machine although why that was being reinforced by his trying to show me his little screen was beyond me. Maybe it showed "receipt printed" or something.

I tried again and, as is usual in these situations, I spoke louder and more slowly !  Yeah, like that worked !

In the end he got the message but said he couldn't print the receipt on his machine and would have to give me a manual hand written one.  He didn't use those words of course as he hadn't got to that chapter in his "Basic English For Dummies" book.

So he left his assistant (ha !) in charge and went into the back.  Returning a while later with a pad of receipts, he asked how many litres did I get ?  Eh ?  How did I know !!  I told him the cost and he got out a calculator to work out the number of litres.  Now all this time I wished I'd not bothered as I knew I'd be scrunching up and tossing the receipt anyway but by now I was locked into getting it.

Reminding him again to get some paper in the machine, I left the shop berating myelf for even going in.

That was numpty No.1.

Numpty No.2 was at a Currys store in town.  Now as in America, electronic type stores (like Circuit City) are having a hard time these days with so many people buying their goods via the internet.  Many stores now look like they're going out of business and the staff display no enthusiasm about working there. 

Still, that's not my problem and I was prepared to make someones day by actually making a purchase.

"Can I help you, sir ?" said the middle aged and yet still spotty faced employee with as much feeling and sincerity as he could muster.

"Yes I'd like to buy something that copies a vhs tape to a dvd via a computer."

"Ohhh tapes are old technology now sir.  Nobody wants them anymore."

"No shit, Sherlock, that's why I want to copy mine to dvd, you silly little man.

I thought that but didn't actually say it.  What I did say was.......

"Yes I know that but what do you have that will let me copy tapes to a computer?"

"Oh there is nothing to do that, sir.  Old technology you know."

"Look you puss faced blethering idiot, there are at least 4 products on the market for copying tapes to dvd so you need to go away and be retrained so you know what you're talking about or better still, just go away."

Again those were only my thoughts.   

I walked away and searched the shelves and found Dazzle - a product for copying vhs tapes to dvd via your computer.  I took it to Mr. Numpty and amazed him by showing him something which in his world, didn't exist.

"Didn't know we had that.  Not my dept, you see."

"Not your career either, matey."

I decided to call it a day and came home before meeting punker No.3.  I just knew he would be out there somewhere so he'll have to wait for another day.

I hate 'real world' shopping as it is and these people only make me want to use the internet more. I ordered a new rechargeable toothbrush, a dvd and a combination microwave oven via Amazon and now waiting for the delivery is a bit like being a kid at Christmas.

No numptys, no language problems and something to unwrap. Oh and free shipping.

When they start selling petrol over the internet, my life will be complete !

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Sign Of The Times

Being the world traveller that I am (cough, cough), I'm sure many countries have variations on pedestrian crossing signs.  Well except in India where it seems to me anything goes when it comes to traffic and crossing the road and you just close your eyes and make a dash for it.  I think it's their sole method of population control !  

But when I'm dragged kicking and screaming from my car and have to perform as a pedestrian for a while, I'm used to road crossing signs with a symbol of a hand or a little standing still man or a walking man or something similar in either red or green to indicate I can or cannot cross the road. I can even understand the WALK/DON'T WALK signs in US cities, although when they flash as well, I don't take that as a command as such but maybe that's the dull Brit in me coming to the fore. I compromise and cross the road with a somewhat jaunty gait. 

So when I was in London recently and wanted to cross the road at the corner of Green Park leading down to Buckingham Palace, I was puzzled to see this variation.

I wasn't sure if I needed to move on to another crossing point in case this one was reserved for Charles and Phil The Greek when they go to the pub on an evening and don't want to use the Bentley. In the end I went with the flow, literally, and crossed with several other bemused tourists, some of whom were eagerly flipping through the pages of their guide books looking for an explanation for this sign.  Good luck with that, I thought.

Many things about sightseeing in London must befuddle tourists from different countries, cultures and customs but crossing the road shouldn't have to be one of them.

But if some redneck horse wants to cross the road to get to Buckingham Palace to visit a distant relative that has bettered itself in the UK, then in the immortal words of Bill Engvall......"here's your sign" !!!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

This Doorbell Has To Go !!!

Following on from my recent post about my possessed doorbell, I now have to inform you about my enchanted toothbrush !

I've got one of those Braun rechargeable toothbrushes that stutters a bit after 2 minutes to let you know that you've been brushing for 2 minutes and if you don't stop, you'll be through the enamel and about to clean the raw nerves.  Never a good thing although a clean nerve is probably a good nerve.

A week or so ago that feature stopped working and being so used to it, I suddenly realised it was lunchtime and I was still cleaning my teeth. Then a few days ago when I removed the toothbrush from the charging unit, it wouldn't work at all.  No amount of threats or cajolling worked and it remained resolutely dead.  An ex toothbrush.  Kicked the bucket.  Bereft of life.  Joined the bleedin' choir invisible !

I knew that rechargeable gadgets have a life and on the Braun site it said that my toothbrush would only last for 3-5 years and then be as useful as an ex parrot.  And mine was.  

Like I said, that was a few days ago and every so often since then, I'd give it another good talking to and numerous violent, if not very techologically reasonable, shakes.  Like the careers of Cannon & Ball, it remained dead. 

So this afternoon I decided to buy another toothbrush and looked for the best deal online. As they gave a good price with free shipping, I duly gave my credit card details to Amazon and probably several hackers in Kenya.  

At this point Daphne came in for a cup of tea and a chat after tending to my garden and as I still had the toothbrush in my hand, I told her the sad story. Wanting to show her just what a dead rechargeable toothbrush was like so that she could add it to her list of life experiences,  I pressed the on button for the 200th time in the last few days.  Nothing happened.

Well what did you expect, dear reader ?   Nope, it didn't burst into life. Nothing so obvious.

As I was talking and therefore, being a man, unable to do two things at once, I didn't turn it off. A few seconds later, the damn thing did burst into life and there I stood, open mouthed, with this vibrating thing in my hand.  Oh behave !!

Yes it spluttered at first.  In fact it ran slowly for about 3 seconds and stopped, started up again and stopped and basically took about 30 seconds of this starting and stopping before it finally came up to full speed and stayed going. 

"You bastard", I shouted, somewhat unreasonably.  "Why couldn't you have done this 5 minutes ago before I bought a new one ?????"

I think it's been in cahoots with my possessed doorbell as remember it was coming out with "testing, testing 1-2-3".  There is some sort of demonic bluetoothing going on here, I suspect. The machines are rising up, I tells ya.

I haven't cancelled the Amazon order as I still think the toothbrush, even rising from its deathbed as it has, is on its way out.   

What's worrying me is what device the doorbell is going to mess with next.  The tv ?  The vacuum cleaner ?   My mp3 player ?

I'm just glad my car's brakes aren't electronic !

Happy Anniversary

I'm not in the habit of wishing a happy wedding anniversary to family and friends, never mind total strangers but I'll make an exception today.

For the last few years, on May 26, British tv news programs and newspapers have been telling us about Frank and Anita Milford and what wedding anniversary they are celebrating now.  I remember first seeing these reports and articles when they had been married for 78 years and finding out that there is no specific 'gift' or gem stone or choice of flowers or anything past 75.

I thought that was very sad although Frank & Anita didn't seem to care much by then !

So down in Devon today they're still kissing and cuddling (only before bedtime don't you know) and celebrating their 81st wedding anniversary, a fact that blows my mind !  It must be to do with the clotted cream and the old phrase about even murderers getting less of a sentence comes to mind.

Next month they'll both be 101 so it's not as if they rushed into marriage at a young age !   They hold the current record for the oldest married couple as well as the longest married couple and who knows what records they'll hold as the years go by. They'll have to hang around for another 4 years to equal the world record for being married which stands at 85 and although 4 years isn't normally a long time to wait for something, it damn well is when you're 101 already !  Bless.

So if I was a drinking man, I'd raise my glass today to Frank and Anita.  Maybe I'll do it later with a can of Pepsi Max. I think convention goes out the window with these numbers. If they do look like making it to 85, I think something much more than a BBC report or a few newspaper articles should be planned for them.

Something relevant.  Something appropriate.  Something they both might need.

Like an all expenses paid trip to Reno !

Saturday, May 23, 2009

If You're Gonna Jump, Jump.

This news item caught my attention today.  

As a few of our expenses fiddling MPs are supposed to be considering 'jumping' from their jobs in light of the scandal, I'd lke to volunteer as the UK's version of Mr. Lai and give them a helping push.

I'd save time by not even bothering with the handshake greeting first !

Friday, May 22, 2009

Is Anyone Out There ???

Once upon a time, well a few years ago actually, I bought a wireless doorbell. The push button bit went on my doorframe and the 'bell' unit was like a big plug and slotted into a spare power point in the kitchen. It was a nice doorbell and for a while, it worked just fine.  I was a happy wireless doorbell owner.

Then bizarre things started to happen.  The doorbell would ring when there was no one at the door. Kids playing old fashioned games ?  In this day and age ?  Hardly.  When it went off while I was in the kitchen and so I could 100% see that there was no one at the door, I knew something had to be done.

My brilliant idea was that someone locally had a similar doorbell and so I went for a walk around the streets checking for the tell tale unit on a doorframe.

I didn't find one.

And so the mystery continued.  Thankfully the doorbell only went off like this a couple of times a month at most and never overnight so it wasn't too much of a nuisance.

Then I was outside one day when a neighbour 2 houses down from me came home from work, pulled onto his drive and used his remote car key to lock his car.  And my doorbell rang !!

Mystery solved.  My bell was obviously on the same frequency as his key fob. I didn't know why it only went off infrequently but never mind.  I was ok with that.  I switched the frequency setting and thought that was the end of it.  Then 2 years ago I bought my first ever car with remote door locking.

I think you're probably ahead of me by now.  Yep, MY fob set off my doorbell.  Not always, but enough times to be a pain as often I'd lock my car from inside the house.

Then it was October and when I went to America for the winter I disconnected all electrical items including the doorbell unit.  I just placed it on top of the microwave and that was it.  When I came home the tiny battery in the doorframe unit had died and I never got round to replacing it.  Things went back to the old days and people just knocked on the door.  That was fine by me.

So now it's earlier this week and I'm fixing breakfast in the kitchen.  

I live alone. The tv isn't on yet and since my DIY surgery with the electric drill, I'm not prone to hearing those little voices in my head anymore. 

"Testing 1-2-3.  Testing 1-2-3".

WTF ???   I have a small kitchen and as I was standing close to the microwave I knew exactly where the voice was coming from.  The doorbell unit !!

Now here's the thing; it wasn't plugged in and as far as I was aware, it could only emit a ding dong type noise - certainly not a voice as clear as......well as a bell I guess.  But there it was.  My doorbell had morphed into a walkie talkie or maybe a baby monitor and one that powered itself.

So now I keep it on the table here next to me and every so often I pick it up and whisper into it.......

"I'm here.  When you're ready, get in touch.  And please, whatever you are, come in peace."

I think I need to cancel my subscription to the Sci-fi channel.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Some Sheep Shopping.

There are hundreds of cute shops in small picturesque towns and villages in The Lake District. It's just that sort of place.  Yes they can be touristy at times but come on, everyone has to make a living and tourism benefits us all.

(I hope my check from the English Tourist Board is in the post).

I like The Lake District.  I like cute shops. I also like sheep.  Ergo, I like sheep IN cute shops IN the Lake District. 

And here are some I found last week. 

They were spread out over the store but I herded them together for this group shot.

Given the sweet goodies behind them, I suspect those are guilty smiles on their faces.  When questioned, they said they were the store security sheep but I think they were pulling the wool over my eyes.

They're sheep.  That's their job.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Fuzzy Bridge Over Murky Waters

On our recent trip to London, I noticed a few changes, as you'd expect when visiting a capital city for the first time in several years.

One of the best was the new Millennium Bridge across The Thames which as well as looking quite nice compared to all the older bridges, gives a fantastic view and walk over to St. Paul's Cathedral and lends itself to unusual photographs......when it's not too crowded.

Here it is in all it's glory on a sunny May Day.  Click on it for the full effect.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Surf's Up, Dude

Last night I was on the internet as usual and wanted something 'pretty' to look at on the tv as background.  When in my armchair with the laptop on my.....well my lap.........I just have to raise my eyes a few centimeters above the screen and can see the tv.

I looked on my online tv guide and saw a program on a BBC channel called "South Pacific" about the islands and peoples of that region and I thought that would provide some of the 'pretty' viewing I wanted.

Did it ever.  After watching it for a few minutes, I forgot the internet and sat entranced for the next 10 minutes until I decided to look for the show on the BBC iPlayer in case it was up there in HD......and it was.  My tv set isn't HD but my laptop screen is and so I watched the rest of the program on the laptop.

There was a particularly stunning clip of a surfer inside a wave and although I've seen those before, I've never seen one in super slo-mo in HD before - I think this was a first actually.

Even if you don't have HD it's still well worth a watch and although the BBC iPlayer can't be seen outside the UK for copyright reasons, they've put the clip up on YouTube and here it is.  If you want to see how it was done, there is a 10 minute version up there too.

It may be best to click on the title with the 5 stars at the top and be taken to the clip in YouTube itself as then you'll see it as it was HD and in widescreen.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Hello Mr. Chips

As I said in a previous post, when we were up in The Lake District last week, we went to Coniston Water and popped out onto the lake for a spin in a steam yacht.

All that lack of exercise gave us raging appetites and so once back on dry land, we headed for a local hostelry for a bite to eat.  I was anticipating several bites but then I'm just a glutton.

A bit of local knowledge took us to the Black Bull Inn & Hotel and what a gem it was.  At over 400 years old, it had all the atmosphere of a really very old place indeed and for some bizarre reason, we had it just about all to ourselves. Normally it's packed to the oak beams so we struck lucky I guess.

Anyway after a lot of thinking, I picked the Cumberland sausage with chips (fries to my US readers) and as Daphne ordered something with chips as well, our portions came together in one basket.  I'm telling you this in case you think I ate the lot you see in this photo all by myself. Actually if memory serves me right, Daphne ate like a pig and I only had one or two chips. 

I have a VERY selective memory.

I don't often post photos of the food I eat (whadyamean I do ??) but in this case I know some of my ex-pat readers will drool over both the sausage AND the chips.  Yep they were just as yummy as they look - probably the bestest chips I've ever eaten and I've eaten plenty in my time. Go on, enlarge the photo and have a good look at those golden chips, chips that actually contain potato.

I've no idea how that unhealthy salad stuff got on there as there is no way I ordered it.  Damned cheek.

To say I'd recommend this place would be putting it mildly.  If you're ever in Europe or even close, like say in Asia, you must visit this pub. It's also historically interesting as it seems this is where Donald Campbell had a chip buttie before he went off to try and break the world water speed record on Coniston Water in 1967.

Being a man's man, I bet they didn't sneak any bloody salad onto HIS plate !

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Food, Glorious Food

There might well be a few short food posts coming over the next few days as on our Barrow trip we did eat lots of jolly good food.  Local stuff you know, not particularly healthy, but fresh, filling and to use words never heard on posh tv cooking shows, bloody yummy.

We got off to a great start on the drive up to Barrow and had only been going for about 75 minutes when we stopped at our usual half way eatery, the Country Harvest.  It's hard to describe this place and in many ways it's like a Cracker Barrel in the US as you pass through a store before getting to the eating area. The difference would be that the store contains food items not to be found in any Cracker Barrel and indeed items not to be found in any other store in the UK !!

Anyway rather than try to describe it in words, here is a little 5 minute video I took of the place which gives a much better idea of its layout and I think its charm comes through as well.

If you are ever travelling along the A65 and are approaching Ingleton, do drop in. You won't be disappointed and even if you leave with an empty wallet, you'll have a full stomach. 

(There is a bit of wind noise (not from me !!) at the start of the video but it only lasts a few seconds so I left it in).

Country Harvest Restaurant from Silverback on Vimeo.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Spooky Times In The Lake District.

We got back from Barrow yesterday just in time for me to watch Leeds blowing their chances of getting promoted and so 'we' have to face another long season playing exciting games against teams like Southend and Brentford.  Sighhhhh.

Anyway I've picked out a few pics from the hundreds I took while up in the lower Lake District area and first up is the Gondola, a steam powered yacht that takes tourists for trips along Coniston Water, the lake where the late Donald Campbell failed in his attempt to break his own water speed record in 1967. He was on the return leg of his attempt and had reached approx 320mph when his jet powered boat, Bluebird K7, lifted off the water, flipped over and disintegrated. His body was finally recovered from the lake in 2001 and was buried in Coniston cemetery.

Our speed on Tuesday was a bit slower, by about 320 mph in fact, but as it was pretty windy, it was fast enough for me !!  The lake is 5 miles long, half a mile wide and has a max depth of 184 ft. It was looking it's best in the spring sunshine and sitting outside on The Gondola was a lovely way to spend an hour cruising it's length.

I love driving along the narrow roads around the Lake District as the views are so spectacular. They may not be wide enough to take US style RV's but in my little Clio, it was fun to take the corners at speed and still have time to take in the scenery. However, the area can be a driver's nightmare in high summer as thousands of cars vie with caravans for road space and going from A to B can be a miserable journey, despite the views out the windows.

Here is a typical view along the road and even without a lake to look at, clearly shows what I'm talking about.

On Wednesday we drove a few miles north from Barrow to take a 7 mile trip on the Ravenglass & Eskdale Steam Railway line, have a meal and a walk at the Dalegarth end and then climb aboard a different train for the return trip through the Eskdale valley.

The 4 locomotives which run on the 15" gauge line are like mini trains pulling mini carriages. These carriages are a mix of fully enclosed, open but with a roof and fully open. On the outward leg, all the fully open seats were taken and so we plumped for the 'open with a roof' option as it was cloudy but dry at the time and this still allowed for some cover in the event of a drop of rain and gave unobstructed views to the left and right. We were on the River Esk for this leg, a locomotive built in 1923, and hopefully you'll get a good idea of it's size from it's driver crouching next to it doing vital greasing before the trip. Of the engine that is.

As you can see from the clothing of the people in the fully open seats, it was pretty cold and there was rain in the air....for the return trip !

At each end of the track, the locomotives would be detatched from the lead carriage and moved along to a circular turning area and simply pushed around to go the other way - much like San Francisco trolley cars.

The locomotive being turned in the above photo, the River Irt, was the one we had for the return leg to Ravenglass and is the oldest 15" gauge locomotive in the world, having been built in 1892. It was a fun ride for sure and even a few spits of rain didn't dampen our enjoyment.

While at Eskdale and after our meal at the train station, we walked a short distance to see St. Catherine's Parish Church, beside the River Esk. There has been a place of worship at this location since the 7th century but the present church was built in 1125 and restored in 1881. The oldest grave headstone I found was dated 1768 and given the number of names on it, graves back then were dug to hold multiple family members. Obviously a very close community !!

Americans may recognise the name of The Rev. who officiates at the weekly services !

Speaking of headstones, we found one for the Benson family who lived locally in the 19th century but must've suffered from some type of 19th century Swine Flu epidemic. Jonathan and his wife, Hannah, had one son and five daughters who all died between 1859 and 1864. 1862 was a particularly sad year for poor old Jonathan, as he lost Hannah and their 14 year old daughter in October and another daughter and their only son in December. Jonathan survived them all and lived till 1877 when he jumped into the last spot in the grave at the ripe old age, for the times, of 71.

That was one deep grave - hopefully.

All this talk of death brings me to my final photo and very appropriate it is too. We were inside the church and strange goings ons were going on. It was a small church (a congregation of 10-20 at the weekly service) and being fully stone built, was probably cold enough at the best of times. On Wednesday it seemed particularly cold to me and I found myself shivering quite a lot, especially when we were walking up and down the aisle. I went up onto the pulpit to get a nice photo looking down to the back of the church and this is what I got and I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

I'll post the occasional photo from our Barrow trip from time to time as a few do deserve a post on their own. Oh yes they do !

Thank you to everyone who made it so special; Amy, Frank, Leslie and of course, my long suffering travelling companion, Daphne.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

From Your Barrow Correspondent.......

It's all gone a bit dark here in Barrow which isn't surprising considering its almost midnight. I came up to this far flung corner of The Empire on Monday, with Daffy, and we leave again tomorrow so that I can be home to watch Leeds progress to the final of the League One footy payoffs.

I think I can speak for us both, and often do, when I say we've had a wonderful time, helped, in no small measure by unseasonably fabby weather. It's been like mid May in fact.

"It IS mid May, you berk !"

Oh so it is.

To be more accurate, we've been staying with an old friend who lives on the outskirts of Barrow and on this trip, so far, we've never actually gone into the town. Not much to see really and as this trip was to be about scenic countryside, Barrow fails somewhat on that criteria anyway.

And scenic countryside we've jolly well bucketfuls. We've had 3 days of it by going a few miles each day into parts of the lower Lake District never before seen by yours truly. We've been on a steam driven boat, a steam driven train and toured around in my steam driven car. Ok petrol driven maybe but I didn't want to spoil the moment.

We've also eaten like royalty, if royalty ever bothered to eat good, freshly prepared food in a pub. Can't see Phil The Greek doing that somehow. We've had lovely company from time to time (thank you Amy, Frank & Leslie) and we've slept like 10 year olds who have worn themselves out by playing outside till they were called in for supper and then bed. Walking miles will do that to you.

Daphne brought along her dongle (oh stop sniggering and Google it) but sadly it not only wouldn't work on my laptop but messed it up so much I had to do a system restore. Never one to put all her technological eggs in one basket, she also brought her Eee with her and so I'm now using it, with the previously mentioned dongle, to access the net and create this post. Daffy, on the other hand, has been using her Blackberry to keep in touch with the world beyond Barrow and it has been very useful as soon after we got here, her son-in-law had to have emergency surgery as his appendix blew up and filled up his stomach with 2 quarts of......well you might be eating so I'll spare you more details. Using the Blackberry to keep in touch with all things medical has been
a Godsend.

So with all this technology at our disposal where are the photos, I hear you ask ? Where are the videos of this stunning countryside I also hear you ask ?

Patience, mon petite readers de blog. I'm having so much fun that such things will have to wait till I get home. The photos and videos are all safely stored on my laptop and I COULD use my flashdrive to copy them across to this Eee but this thing runs Linux and I'm such a Windows man that I thought Linux was a character from Peanuts ! So although I could get the photos on here, I wouldn't have a clue where they'd gone or how to get at them to upload to this blog. Basically without Windows Explorer, I'm like Stevie Wonder wearing sunglasses in a dark midnight.

Yes I know I could upload them from the flashdrive but that would involve work and like I said, I'm here for fun and so you'll have to wait a day or so longer.

So that's the update. I'm in my bed with the Eee on my lap and thanks to this amazing dongle thingy, I can surf the world. What an age we live in. I feel like Jack Bauer.

Except he wouldn't be caught dead in Barrow.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

London Musings

As I've said before, I'm not really a city person, prefering the countryside instead. I live just across the Leeds outer ring road after all (I must buy a house one day) but rarely go into the city itself.

But that's not to say I mind the occasional visit to a city and I've visited a few in my time.  Even Barrow, where I'm off to tomorrow for a few days of sun, sea and ah......slumbering. Phew !! 

Damn I should've said sightseeing.  Ah well.

Anyway having spent last Thursday and Friday in the daddy of all UK cities, London, I thought I'd make a few observations about it all without adding a load of photos like some sort of tourist. Perish the thought. So if you want photos, look across to the right and the 'Album Of The Month' and you'll see a load of them there.

We (that's me and Daffy) had a grand time in London, a capital time in fact.  Oh hardy har har. The weather was kind as it only rained overnight and for a few hours on Friday morning before we set off for our second day of exploration. Thank you God.

It's great to wander around a large city when you know so much about it's history and landmark buildings.  Sadly this comes at a price as many thousands of other people are doing a similar thing and it's all very crowded with the pushing and the shoving and the out of my way I want to run down the escalator sort of thing. Of course in any city you can find areas of peace and calm but then I'm not much into visiting cemeteries.

So instead we went to Hyde Park and it was very peaceful and calm. The Serpentine was empty, apart from the water of course and the wildlife, oh and a few moored boats and a couple of empty crisp packets and a beer can that drifted along aimlessly just to spoil things.  Well it wouldn't be England without a bit of litter now would it ???  What a difference this was to the teeming madness that was Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus and so on. Circus was the right word.  I'm sure the rest of the world was empty.  Had to be.

We went to Southwark Cathedral and it was another peaceful oasis in the middle of the hoards of moving humanity. Stepping inside it's doors, I thought I'd gone deaf. Then I realised Daffy was still outside. No but seriously it was my first time inside and after walking from The Monument and over London Bridge (I'd walked over t'other one at Lake Havasu but that's another story) it was so nice to leave the crowds outside and enjoy the tranquil sanctuary offered freely by the Cathedral.

Then it was back outside and off to The Globe where we joined every schoolkid in the world in wanting to see a play wot Shakespeare wrote in a reconstruction of the theatre where it would have been  Yes I sence he's rolling in his grave at my grammar but quietly enjoying being much more popular now than he ever was when he was alive. Go Willy.  

Not Free Willy though as anything and everything you could possibly stamp his name on was for sale in Ye Olde Globe Ripoff Shoppe - including Romeo & Juliet lollipops for £1.50 which you will see on the photo album to the right if you wait long enough.

So anyway, over the course of the two days we went from Kings Cross Station along Piccadilly to have lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, down Constitution Hill to Buckingham Palace (never did meet Queen Liz and Phil The Greek), back up to Hyde Park and to the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain.  Then we went down Exhibition Road to The Science Museum, down to the South Kensington tube station and on out west to Chiswick where we were spending the night. After dumping our backpacks we headed off to meet up with the lovely Helen for a meal at Zizzi's Italian Restaurant and then on to the Canal Cafe Theatre to see Helen in a comedy review (the whole point of the London trip) and then back to Chiswick after midnight and bed.

Next morning we spent a few hours in The Natural History Museum before heading off to The Monument which had been cleaned up just for us.  Crossing London Bridge I finally got to see The Gherkin, albeit from a distance, and then popped into Southwark Cathedral. Then we walked past The Golden Hinde and into The Globe Theatre and later on crossed the new Millennium Bridge which gave us a stunning walk right up to St. Paul's Cathedral

After a while in the Cathedral, we took the tube to Leicester Square and had a meal at one of the many Angus Steak House locations before working it off by walking through Chinatown and the theatre district to Piccadilly Circus - when thankfully Daffy asked me what time it was and I said.....ah 7:35pm !!  Our train was due to leave from Kings Cross at 8:03pm but we made it with a few minutes to spare.

In ALL that time we only saw one, yes only one, Big Issue seller.  That has to be some sort of record in itself.  You have to fight your way past dozens of them on Albion Street alone in Leeds.

Apart from the crowds, the other thing I always think about when visiting London, is the litter. It's everywhere and having precious few litter bins doesn't help.  As we walked around the tourist thronged streets between Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, probably the busiest in London, a few poor old road sweepers were trying their best to keep the pavements clean.  They were lost in the crush of slowly moving humanity and stood no chance.

But before I leave my musings and mutterings about our short visit, I need to join with Daffy in complaining about the business of the ban on all forms of photography inside St. Paul's Cathedral.  Yes I knew to expect it but that doesn't make it any easier to accept.  I mean we'd only come 200 miles and that was far enough to have us take a sneaky photo of two to have as a free souvenir of this wonderful building.  Imagine how you'd feel if you'd come from the far flung reaches of the empire and some red coated religious zealot with a mole the size of a mushy pea on her upper lip told you to turn off your camera JUST IN CASE you were about to take a photo.

Even if I'd not wanted to take a photo before she came up to me, I certainly did afterwards. And I did !

I also took photos of an armed policeman guarding Buckingham Palace, photos of us on the London Underground, occasional photos of public buildings and even a couple of that quintisential London form of transport, the big red double decker bus.

But then I'm not Austrian and no one said a word to me.  Just mole face in St. Pauls.

So we had a grand time, a capital time (ok it's wearing thin now even for me) and I want to thank Daffy for letting me accompany her.  I want to, I really do, but it's hard !!  No I do.  Really I do.

Thank you.

Here is one little photo though to end with.  It's not unique to London of course but although I've often thought about it, I've never bothered to take a photograph.  It's a photo of a pro abortion activist and you see them all over the UK although I've never quite worked out why they protest where there are always lots of kids about.  Maybe that's their point.  There are too many about !! 

Having spent 2 days trying to dodge many thousands of the noisy, rude, litter throwing little johnny foreigners at every tourist site we went to, I'm with her !

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Caption Competition

Making our way to see the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park on Thursday, we passed along the edge of The Serpentine and came upon a swan with her cute cygnets.

This particular scene cries out for captions so please feel free to add your own. 

....from the cygnet on the right :

1)  Hey Billy....I can hear the ocean !

2) Go on, fart again....the bubbles tickle my ear.

3) Dammit there goes another contact lens.

....from the cygnet on the left :

1)  No, no, no, you dipstick.  The lyrics say you put your left FOOT in..............

2) Ok now shhhhh......I'll tell mum you're dead and then you pop up and say    "April Fool"

3) You've not got the hang of hide n'seek yet have you ?

4) So what are those minnows saying about us ?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Up To The Smoke.

I think that was the phrase a few decades ago when anyone went to visit London from another part of the UK.  No matter where you lived geographically, you always went 'up' to London and as for 'the smoke' well maybe that's because all cities were smoke filled places many years ago.

Anyway Daffy et moi are off down, or up, to London tomorrow to see one of her agency actors (the lovely and talented Helen) in a comedy review and although I'm always up, or down, for a rail trip to the nation's capital, I'm having trouble thinking of places to visit as an out and out tourist.

I've only been to London a few times and don't like the place very much.  I'm not really a 'city boy' at heart and prefer my sights to be scenery based.  However it is nice, now and then, to go urban and say "oh look that's......" every so often as you walk past famous buildings and so on and God knows, London has plenty of those.  The thing is, I've seen a lot of them already.

The other thing is that we really only have 24 hrs in which to do this sightseeing so museums and art galleries are out as I do not like going into one of those constantly looking at my watch. The weather is to be dry so we want to see outdoor places.  Buildings, parks, anything.

So far we have a few things lined up.  After we get into Kings Cross Station and as we'll only have backpacks, we plan on going straight to the Hard Rock Cafe for lunch.  If anyone feels like joining us, feel free but your meal won't be !!  Then we may pop across the road (Piccadilly) and walk across Green Park to be REAL tourists and see Buckingham Palace. Maybe pop in for a cuppa if Queen Liz and Phil The Greek are at home. 

Then we could go back to Hyde Park and walk along The Serpentine and see the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain as it wasn't there the last time I visited the park.  By then it'll be time to go to Helen's place to dump our backpacks, freshen up and head off to meet up with her and have a meal.  After that we'll be ready to see her in action, so to speak, and as that's at 9:30pm, we'll be just about done for the day by the time we get back to her place for the night.  No late night clubbing for me unless sponsored jointly by SAGA and BUPA !!

So tomorrow, Thursday, is pretty much taken care off but Friday is another matter and I've no idea what to do.  We'll have until about 7pm to go anywhere in London which gives us plenty of time to get back to the station for the train ride home to Leeds.  If we take our backpacks with us in the morning, then we'll not need to go all the way back to Helen's house again and that will leave all the time available for sightseeing.

So if anyone has any suggestions for where we could go to and what we could see, please add a comment.  I know I've not left much time for this so I'll continue to put searches into Google and see what comes up.

In any case, I'm sure we'll have a fabby time and will post about the trip on our return. Considering both of us use our cameras as often as breathing, there may be a photograph or two.

Or fifty or sixty.

Monday, May 04, 2009


In a previous UWOTD post (Ulster Word Of The Day) I mentioned how we'd call a bottle of soda or pop, a mineral.  

When I was at school and someone had a mineral, the main way to ask for a drink from it was to ask for a slug.

Now this didn't mean I'd gone all French and wanted a gastropod mollusk to go with my drink ! Perish the thought.  No it just meant I wanted a drink from a bottle or can of soda.

Slug : a drink, a sip, a slurp.

"Gizza wee slug o' your mineral."  The usual response to this was "feck off" but it never hurt to ask.

The great thing about a slug was that it was of indeterminate size.  You could take a wee drink, swallow it and take another.  A slug usually meant as many repeats of this as the owner of the drink would permit before he wised up and snatched it back.

Of course, thinking back now, it may have just been me being greedy !

That's always a possibility.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

There's A Tower On A Hill............

For some reason my old school song (the opening words of which make up the title of this post) came into my mind the other day and I made up my mind to write about it again, even though I've mentioned it a few times before.  Naturally going to the school as a pupil for the first time was a huge moment in my young life and one that I vividly remember to this day.

In early September 1963, I had just had my 11th birthday and was being driven by my mum and dad from our home in Ballymoney, over the mountain road which led to the all boys Catholic boarding school which was to be my educational home for the next 7 years.

I remember being SO happy at the prospect !

Actually I was terrified and needed a change of underwear long before we started on the decent down to the picturesque towns of Cushendall and then Waterfoot on the famous Antrim Coast. It's a stunningly beautiful part of the world but none of that mattered to me that day. Even the realisation that I was going with my older brother didn't help to settle the vicious butterflies gnawing at my small intestines.  He was about to start his 3rd year at the school but even then I knew enough about peer pressure and sibling rivalry to be somewhat sceptical of any help and guidance from him. 

We passed through small rural villages and although familiar with them from many trips to the area already, I now glanced at them through the car's rear window like a hapless victim being taken to the guillotine. Even then, in my childish mind, I had the feeling I would never look upon them in the same way again.  For the next 7 years at least, they would simply be visual stepping stones along the road to my life of misery and unhappiness.

The sun probably shone on the bleak mountain moorland as we headed down through Glenariff, one of the 9 Glens of Antrim to pick up the coast road.  We passed vast tracts of mysterious forests containing beautiful waterfalls and flower strewn glades.  All part of the glorious countryside that makes up that part of N. Ireland.  All wasted on me that day.

Then we left the glory of the glens and hit the part of the main A2 which is known as the Antrim Coast Road or even the Causeway Coast Road which hugs the Irish Sea for 25 more miles all the way to the ferry port of Larne.

Finally we drove past Waterfoot Bay and the church and parochial house where we used to actually stay on holiday to look after the house while the priest, a close family friend (but not THAT close) was away on holiday.  Yes we were that Catholic.

This was the last built up area before the steep private road up to the school and if you imagine a school built up on a wide ledge on those mountains to the left of the buildings in this next photo, that's where it was.

Again I looked out the car window as we passed the church (seen on the right in the photo above) and would've considered making an escape inside its welcoming walls and claiming sanctuary if I'd known what that meant when I was 11. 

I didn't and so we drove on until we came to a partially hidden sign telling us that the narrow road to the right led up to St. MacNissi's College.  This particular saint lived at the time of St. Patrick (480AD) and gave his name to the school as he is the patron saint of the local diocese of Down & Connor.

And still this blog continue to entertain AND educate !

The school was, and obviously still is, on a plateau about 200 feet above the coast road.  As it wends its way to the school grounds, the narrow mountain road takes you past the school's own version of calvary built, I think, to remind all the pupils that they were there to suffer and not to enjoy themselves !  That's my theory anyway.

That photo was taken from the road and although I was going to the school to start my 1st year there, I'd already been many times before when we'd go to visit my brother, usually on a Sunday. We'd take him out to the nearby town of Carnlough for fish and chips and ice cream by the seaside and it hit me that from then on I'd be taken out too !  A brief moment of freedom or being 'out on bail' to look at it another way !! 

Further up the road we passed the football pitches and as this was N. Ireland, that meant gaelic football in those unenlightened days. You can see the goal posts which look like those used in rugby football, even America football. I hated gaelic football with a passion which was apt really considering this photo of one of the pitches was taken from calvary.

They were also on different levels of the mountain and it was quite a trek to get to the furthest one and thinking about it now, their very existence was the result of quite a feat of construction. Once again, all wasted on me at the time.

Then we got to the imposing school gates and my time in the outside world was over, for a term at least. We drove past the school church which was a modern building as the school had only been created 13 years earlier using a castle as it's base.

This castle had been the summer residence of the Marchioness of Londonderry until 1915 when it became a hotel and then taken over as a school in 1950 with the construction of several academic buildings, sleeping quarters for the boarders and tennis courts, handball courts and playing fields to keep us fit and out of mischief. 

I don't have a photo handy of the dorm building where 1st years slept but these next two show where we spent years 2-5 and then lower 6th and upper 6th. That final building was made up of individual rooms so that these older boys could study as well as sleep and was a good preparation for University life I suppose.

I think part of the reason for the bullying I received there was down to my bypassing that top building altogether.  When I became a 2nd year and should've gone with my peers to that dormitory building, my brother was a 5th year and so we 'qualified' to get one of the few double rooms in the other building. I'm pointing to it (the room on the top floor above the door) in the image above. 

By double I mean it had bunk beds in a standard single room !!  This meant I was separated every evening from my age group for a few years and as none of my brother's friends wanted to have me around them either, I began my life of solitude, lonliness and being bullied.

Are the violins out yet ???

It really wasn't that bad.  Not good, but not that bad.

This penultimate photo shows the road down past the rooms building (on the left) towards the other 2 dorm buildings and on to the handball courts and finally the play fields. The mountainside was to the left and to the right was the cliff edge and 200 feet below that, the Irish Sea.

And so on that first day, I was settled into my dorm cubicle which had less space than a prison cell as it contained a bed and a tall thin cupboard and....well that was it. If you stood beside the little single bed with your back to the cubicle wall, you could bend over across the bed and almost touch the far wall. Privacy was non existant and the boy across the narrow corridor became your best friend very quickly, which for an 11 year old Catholic boy confused enough about sex, this wasn't really what you wanted.

I remember I was very anxious for my parents to leave as even back then I hated long goodbyes. Then the reality of my situation hit me and the tears started. Until that time I'd been the one getting back in the car, watching my brother getting smaller through the rear window.  Now it was the car was getting smaller and I was left in a very unnatural world, without the parents who had been with me every day for the last 11 years and suddenly surrounded by strange new boys my own age and a couple of 17 year old dormitory prefects who scared the shit out of me already. 

Maybe one day I'll post about my time at the school, especially as my therapist tells me it would be beneficial to do so and most of the people I named would be dead or in no position to sue me anyway.  Maybe.

But I'll leave this post with a photo which many will have seen before and it was briefly shown over on the right as the photo of the week.  It's the classic view of the front of the school showing it's exulted beginnings as a castle and you can see the church to the left.

More than any other image, it takes me back almost 46 years (holy crap !!) to that day when I stood alone and waved off my parents to start my 7 year sentence at Garron Tower.

The location may have been picturesque and the surrounding countryside may have been stunning but for me my schooldays were NOT the happiest time of my life. That time started 7 years later on the day I drove out through those gates again.

My sentence had been served and I was more than ready to put it all behind me and enjoy a brave new world.  A world to enjoy without priests, without bullying and especially without having someone of the same sex watching me getting ready for bed every night !!

I'm happy to say I'm still enjoying it.

Most Recent Awards

Most Recent Awards