Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Just Like On The Moon.

Ok a cryptic title I know.....but bear with me here.

Daphne et moi went to see "Looking For Eric" this afternoon and what a good movie it was, to be sure (to be sure). Very British in a sort of Full Monty sort of way and I know subtitles will be needed if it ever gets released in America...or most of the rest of the world really. Maybe even anywhere south of Sheffield !!

For a start THE Eric Cantona appears in it and even when he's not speaking in French, he's still coming out with nonsence bits of advice and going on about seagulls and so on. His tongue is so firmly in his cheek at times that even a Frenchman would be hard pushed to understand him.

Then there are the Brit actors. The star is our own Steve Evets and he's about the most intelligable one in the whole thing. Well I say 'our own Steve' as he was on the books of Daphne's agency when she single handedly got him the role but then the big London agencies came along and spirited him away with offers of bright lights and golden paved streets or something like that.

Anyway we really went to see the movie because of Steve being in it and I can happily report that he was fab, brill and a star. Hollywood Walk of Fame here he comes.

As for Ooh Ahh Cantona, well he was just himself really and I guess he was good too in a sort of big headed Gerard Depardieu sort of way, but less fat, more French and better looking - and possibly a better actor too.

We were the only two in the entire cinema. I know it was out of town at 1:30pm on a Tuesday but even so, I'd have thought it would get a few more punters in. It hasn't even made £1m yet but then it was probably made on a budget like most Brit movies and so anything over £2.50 should be into profit. I think it deserves every penny.

So what about the cryptic blog title ?

Well as we were the only patrons, think about it !!!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Sky's The Limit

Sky Sports has been running a series of self promoting adverts for their HD service on some channels.

This involves showing super slow moton HD video clips of action from various sports and I mean SUPER slow motion. At first glance it looks like you're seeing a still image. Yes it's THAT slow.

So what on earth possessed those in power to show a cricket clip in this series is beyond me.

Think about it ? Cricket in super slow motion !!

Much as I love the game, it's not up there in visual excitement terms with footy or F1 racing and surely does little to increase the urge to subscribe to Sky's HD service.

Actually the next time it comes on I'm going to really look closely.

I suspect they HAVE just used a still photo !!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Easy To Remember, Hard to Forget

Given the news that Michael Jackson died earlier today, I at least will never have a problem remembering the date in years to come. He died on my birthday !

Even death has a pecking order and the death of Farrah Fawcett, sad as it was, wouldn't have caused me to remember that it happened on this day in years to come. Her death has been trumped.

Like him or lothe him, he was a hard figure to ignore and in the often bizarre world of modern celebrity, this counted for everything. The old phrase about any publicity being good publicity could've been written for him and his troubled life.

No doubt the music industry will be rushing out a single or an album as they always do when a star dies as it's pretty much guaranteed to shoot to the top of the charts. Worked for Elvis, worked for John Lennon and it'll work for Michael Jackson.

It's not the reason for getting to No.1 that he would've wanted at this time. He was only 50.

He'll be an easy target for sick jokes that will soon be flying around the internet which no one deserves. I was never too sure about what to make of him and his personal life but I loved a lot of his music and for that reason alone, I'm saddened by his death.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

An Age Related Phone Call

My good friend Debby sent me a birthday package from Michigan and it was delivered yesterday. As it came at a ridiculous hour in the morning (10am) and I was in bed, I did my best impression of a man who was late for work and rushed down to open the door before the postman left. I was just in time.

As this took me out of my usual "getting up" routine, I left my land line phone on my bedside table and so when I got a call late evening, the answer machine cut in before I could get up the stairs to get to the phone. Playing back the message, I heard a recorded voice from my credit card company which ended by telling me to ring them immediately if not sooner ! That got my attention I can tell you.

So I rang them and before speaking with a human, I had to enter my credit card number, security code and phone number before being given the usual options for where to be directed next. I picked the last option to get an agent and when she came on the line, yes you've guessed it, I had to give her my credit card number and security code. Jeezzzz. I also had to give her my mother's maiden name, my town of birth, my inside leg measurement and who I was sleeping with in June 1973. Gotta love credit card security these days.

Finally came the reason for the call from them. They wanted me to confirm that the last 3 transactions on my card were indeed mine. The 'purchase' that had triggered this enquiry was the $131 charge made the other day by the US Embassy when I'd set up my visa appointment for July. There had been transactions in sterling the day before and the day after and so my bank was simply checking to make sure everything was in order. Fine.

Moving on to this morning and at 9am my phone rang again. I'd had a bad night and had only been asleep a couple of hours and so wasn't ready for this call. It was the automated bank voice from yesterday asking me to confirm the details from my last 3 credit card transactions, the ones I'd verified last night with the 'human'. I do wonder sometimes. As part of this automated palaver, it wanted security details from me but obviously only details that could be answered by using the numbers on the phone. Names were out.

In the mix it suddenly asked me for my age next birthday. I had to think a bit and then panic set in as I thought I might be taking too long. Does that happen to you ? When on the spot, do you forget your age ? The reason I was taking a while was because in my still sleepy state I was wondering what I'd have said if the call came tomorrow morning ? My birthday !

I guess I'd just have added another year even if I knew the call came before THE EXACT TIME of my birth. I mean strictly speaking the actual anniversary should be based on the time, shouldn't it ? But we just take it from 00:01 on the day as using the time would be silly.

But back to the voice on the phone, patiently waiting in it's electronic way for me to answer.

57 I said, in a loud and proud manner. Then the reality set in. Bloody hell....57 ! When did I get so freakin' old ? After verifying my transactions and hopefully ensuring I don't get called again tomorrow, I lay back in my bed and thought of England. Well no I actually thought of being 57 tomorrow. I don't FEEL 57. Just like I didn't feel 27, 37 or 47 when they came along. At 17 I did feel 17 so maybe that's when the rot set in.

I have much to be thankful for. I have decent health and can walk miles - although I usually prefer not to. I don't owe a penny, have houses in Leeds and Florida (ohhh that sounds grand) with no mortgages, have been retired for the last 8 years and am loving the life. I'm financially rolling in it thanks to winning several foreign lotteries I didn't even enter and when Mr. Onoughu transfers my latest inheritance from the Bank of Nigeria into my account, I'll be even further along happy street.

But 57 ! I remember after my bypass surgery in 1993 I didn't think I'd still be around to see in The Millennium, never mind get to this advanced age. For decades now I've treated birthdays as just another day. Now and again I've been somewhere with friends who have made it special but mostly I've been on my own and the day has passed unmarked and I'm fine with that.

This time I've saved that package and thanks to Skype, I'll be opening it 'with' Debby tomorrow. A nice mix of the traditional and the new.

I've a long way to go before I get my message from The Queen and I don't think she'll be around to send it but we can both hope. Despite everything, I reckon I have a better chance of being here than she does.

Thank you Mr. Unnikrishnam Nair, cardiothoracic surgeon, BUPA hospital, Leeds.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Visa & The Wart

Sounds like the title of a low budget horror flick or the latest RomCom with Hugh Grant but I really just want to give an update on both things as they apply to me.

My stubborn wart is still lingering on the end of my left index finger despite 2 freezings by the doctor and 2 by me. Time's getting on and so I finally made the call today to set up an appointment at the US Embassy in London to get another 10 year visa.

I answered the questions as fast as I could but thanks to having to listen to a recorded message at the start and then the lady telling me exactly the same info when she came on, the call took almost 9 minutes at £1.20/min. Nice to know I'll be partly funding the next Shuttle mission or maybe helping to bail out GM.

Part of the procedure involved me giving my credit card details as they took $131 from me to pay for everything that is involved in giving me a visa......or not. You see they'll keep my money even if a visa is refused. Or if I don't make it past security with my warty index finger.

Hence the urgency in getting rid of the little bugger.

I think I'll give it another zap myself as in my mind, it's only hanging on with a few strands of root now. If that doesn't work, then it's time to get out the big guns. Or more specifically the big knife. This sucker is coming off one way or another.

Then I'll be working on the best (cheapest) way of getting to London and it looks like driving there will be top choice. So if any readers have a parking space going begging near Grosvenor Square for a few hours on 23rd July, please let me know. Even near a tube station would do, I'm not fussy.

Right, where's that knife sharpener ?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Butterfly Effect

As you may have seen from a previous post photo, Blenheim Palace has a Pleasure Garden area to amuse and educate adults and kids alike. After walking around the grounds and then inside the house, I was more than ready for a bit of a relaxing time and the Pleasure Garden section did the trick.

There is a little train that takes you there from the house but as it was on the way out anyway, we got back in the car and drove there. The Marlborough Maze claims to be the second largest symbolic hedge maze in the world but as it's only an acre in size, I have to assume the very specific name is what gives it that claim to fame. For example the 18 acre York Maze, just a few miles from my home, is obviously much bigger but I guess it's not a hedge maze and so can't be compared to the one at Blenheim.

Anyway I digress. The real reason we stopped off at the Pleasure Gardens was to visit the Butterfly House and here are a few photos of the colourful little beasties.

It was raining by this time and so we enjoyed being in the semi tropical atmosphere of the butterfly building. Oddly enough there were a few birds in with the butterflies but they all seemed to be getting on together.

It was certainly a nice way to end the long day we spent at Blenheim and well worth the admission money.......especially as we both got in as seniors.

Oh don't even ask !!

Friday, June 19, 2009

I Think I'm Losing It !!

Until I get to the supermarket later today, I've no cereal. So as I'm off out to visit a friend in a few minutes, I needed a quick intake of breakfast type food and decided on a couple of slices of toast.

Standing in the kitchen with shower water still lingering in my ears (just telling you this in case it is relevant to what follows) I was dealing with my first slice of toast when out of the blue my buttering action became much more deliberate and I heard myself growling "real men smear."

Now I admit here and now that living on my own, I am prone to a spot of talking to myself but this morning I found I'd added a new dimension to this sign of mental regression. I was telling myself off for talking to myself. And not in my head either. Oh no I was loudly telling myself off for talking to myself and it went on for some time. I said it was a bad sign and that if anyone heard me I'd be carted off to the loony bin for sure. Then I found I was telling myself off for telling myself off and thankfully at this point I stopped buttering AND stopped talking out loud and went internal.

But the damage had been done and when the buttering resumed on the second slice of toast, another "real men smear" popped out, to be followed by my attempt at the high pitched girly scream uttered by Nathan Lane in the same movie.

Ok if you've never seen "The Birdcage" then not only will most of this post make little sence at all but you've also missed out on one of the best movies of all time.

So there. Not only have I admitted I might be seriously losing it in the kitchen but I've also admitted I love The Birdcage. I just don't care.

Now it's time to enjoy my breakfast.

"Oh God, I pierced the toast !!! "

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Win A Battle, Get A Palace !

Yesterday, after paying a final visit with Ruth in Oxford hospital, Daphne et moi went a few miles up the road to visit Blenheim Palace, the home of the Churchill family for the last 300 years and the birthplace of Sir Winston.

The males of the family became Dukes of Marlborough and the 11th Duke is the present Marlboro Man and lives in a private part of the house, for Blenheim, despite being classed as a Palace, it still one of the largest houses in England.

The place has had a turbulent history since being built between 1705 and 1724. It was originally a gift to John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough from a grateful nation for his victory against the French at the Battle of Blindheim, close to the Danube in Germany. Blingheim somehow became Blenheim and the rest, as they say, is......

This little remembered victory in a less remembered battle was a turning point in the Spanish War of Succession and if you're not totally confused with English, French, German and Spanish references in the same battle, then I'm with you and lets move quickly on with things.

The early Dukes were not rich men and really didn't need the 5th Duke (1766-1840) to go on a spending spree that almost pushed the family into bankruptcy. The 7th Duke tried to keep their heads above water by selling just about everything in the Palace and although a tidy sum was raised, it hardly covered the debts.

The 9th Duke (1871-1934) did the only thing he could do to save the family home. He married a rich American ! Hurrah, yet another reason to be grateful to our colonial cousins and another reason for them to never let us forget it. In 1896, the Duke married into the Vanderbilts who had loads of dosh and her daddy paid buttloads of it for the privilage of losing a daughter but gaining a Duchess. The family name and Blenheim Palace were saved.

And here it is today, as seen from a balloon we rented to take us over the house.

Ok so I took a photo OF a photo hanging inside the house and more about that later. Here is a sign that greets you as you leave the car park and approach The Palace :

I didn't know what to expect but had a full camera card and a fully charged battery so was ready for anything. The next sight to greet us was this pheasant that just waddled by us on the lawn but needless to say, took off as soon as I pointed my lens at it. As always, click to enlarge.

The large car park leads visitors to the East Wing of the Palace which isn't all that impressive. We walked around to the North side and this brought us to the Main Entrance and the long driveway to it as seen in that first aerial photograph.

The general public can't get into the house this way thanks to the huge gates being locked so it was back to the East side again and by walking through that gateway, we came to the Great Court in front of the main facade.

With rain forecast for late afternoon, we wanted to see the outside of the house and explore the extensive grounds first and then go inside if and when the weather turned nasty. Here is a shot of the water terrace at the South West side of the house. You can see the start of a white tented area which was being set up for a society wedding in the near future.

While at this part of the house, I took a series of 5 photos for a panorama and without further ado, here it is.

We were kinda pissed off that the Italian Gardens on the South East of the building could only be looked at from afar as visitors weren't allowed to enter. Anyway after a visit to the delightful cafe where we had tea and fruit scones, homemade fruit scones the size of bowling balls I must add, it was time to enter the house proper.

A sign said NO PHOTOGRAPHY of any sort inside the house and so here are a few photos !!

Well I mean don't tell me I'm not allowed to take photos. It just gives me a challenge. Sadly as there were a few old ladies with badges around to tut and remind visitors about the photo rule, I had to use my little Nikon "point and shoot" camera so the quality wasn't as good. The various rooms didn't excite me very much anyway but early on in the tour we saw loads of Winston's personal items and documents and for a change, those WERE surprisingly interesting.

Just one more photo. Here is a sneaked photo of his bed that I took early on before I got more brazen. It was actually his mother's bed but was also his "birth bed" so no NHS hospital birth for our Winston.

Yes I know it COULD be any old bed from Ikea but being in Blenheim Palace I think I'll believe the notice and that it really was the great man's birth bed. If it was also his bed in later life, a few cigar burns on the bedding and a Dummies Guide To Winning WWII on the side table would've convinced me a bit more though.

But that's enough for now. Part 2 will follow, with photos of butterflies no less, in due time. And I hope to remember to tell you about how I tried to get us into the place at the children rate and how the woman checking our tickets at the door of The Palace had recently retired from her career as the bearded lady at Chipperfield's Circus. There will also be news about Billy Connolly filming Gulliver's Travels and.........

Always leave 'em wanting more !

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I'm An Oxford Man Myself !

Daphne et moi are in Oxford tonight as we came down this morning to see Ruth, a friend who is in hospital here.

This is our 'bed & breakfast' located on London Road and very nice it is too...and only a 6 minute walk to the hospital.

I'd never been to Oxford before and being world famous for it's University, the individual colleges and many other old buildings dominate the town. Here are a couple of examples -

Colleges like All Souls, Christ Church, Balliol, Magdalen, Merton, Jesus and so on go back to the 12th century so the buildings would be impressive now and they are what the visitors come to Oxford to see. Students and locals alike whizzzzzz about the town on bicycles and it was bizarre later in the day to see many men in evening attire complete with bow ties riding push bikes. Presumably on their way to some posh do. It's that sort of town.

In places bikes and punts were gathered so close together that they made for interesting photos.

But the town still had plenty of beautiful open spaces and thankfully we had time to explore a few of them. With the bike in the foreground against a backdrop of a college building, this was a quentisential Oxford scene.

Then it was time to eat and we picked The Head Of The River pub down by The Thames. We both ordered the 8oz steak but never expected the food to be presented in such a way AND served on a cutting board !

Those were the biggest, thickest, bestest chips in the whole world ever and were golden and crispy on the outside with fluffy potato on the inside. Delicious. The cutting board took a bit of getting used to but we were 'down south' and they're an odd bunch here.

Finally one location was crying out for one of my panorama shots and I think this is one of my best ones yet as the joins are hard to spot. Click to enlarge.

The plan is to visit Ruth again in the morning and then go a few miles south to Blenheim Palace, the stunning stately home, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill.

But all that walking and eating has worn me out and anyway, it's after midnight so I'm off to bed.

More later...........

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Bless Me Father, For You Have Sinned.

Yesterday I got an anonymous comment on my post about my old school and it brought up thoughts and feelings that I said I'd talk about some day - and I guess that day has arrived. I've never written about my time at school before and this won't be easy for me. I'm not doing it for cathartic reasons or to exorcise any demons. No, I'm doing this simply because some readers have asked about my school days as I've touched on some parts of it in previous posts.

I don't plan on cracking any jokes either. This isn't a subject I find amusing in any way, shape or form and trying to mix in a bit of humour may lessen what I'm trying to get across.

I've mixed feelings about boarding schools in general but very definite feelings about one boarding school in particular. St. MacNissis College, Garron Tower in N. Ireland. The one I went to from 1963 to 1970, from age 11 to age 17.

By passing my 11+ exam, I was given access to this school and for a Catholic boy in my part of the world, going to 'The Tower' brought pride and bragging rights to my family. The fact that it also brought physical pain and mental torture as well wasn't something that was so frequently talked about. I had both for pretty much my whole time there and it didn't always come from my peers.

The school took full time boarders and day boys who were bussed in and bussed out after lessons were over each day. The teaching staff was made up of priests who stayed full time at the school, male lay teachers who stayed full time, lay male teachers who left every day and one nun who taught music. Apart from another nun who dealt with medical problems (doesn't every young boy going through puberty just want to go to a nun for advice ?) you can see it was a VERY male orientated environment.

From day one, after my parents drove away and left me standing waving at their car growing smaller by the second, I was thrown into a strange and unnatural world where bullying was the order of the day and crying myself to sleep at night became the norm. I soon discovered that there was no sanctuary even in bed. In that first year, I was in a dorm with dozens of other 11 year olds and our personal space was almost totally filled by a bed and a small locker. At the end of the building were 2 rooms where the prefects studied and slept and we were always happy when we never saw them.

The prefects kept order, enforced the rules and administered punishment. When you give 17-18 year olds this sort of authority over impressionable and mostly terrified 11 year olds and compound it with almost no supervision, then bullying follows as surely as bruises follow a good beating. And we were bruised a lot. I remember numerous occasions when we were told to get out of our beds, bend over the ends and wait for the prefects to come down the line whacking us all on our backsides with hurling sticks. Google those if you like but just think of them as field hockey sticks and you won't be far wrong. The reason ? Who knows and we rarely did. Often it was done just because they could.

The head of the school, The President, was a rarely seen priest up in his ivory tower, who condoned everything that went on as that's how it had always been. There was no point in going to him with any sort of complaint as for one thing you'd never get to see him and for another, he'd be as likely to beat you again just for complaining about the beating handed out by the prefect...or priest....or anyone else who felt like beating you. Even the medical nun could give you a nasty bruise, usually when grabbing your nuts and telling you to cough ! I never understood the role medicine played in that particular exercise but it seemed to do wonders for the nun in question.

If a boy misbehaved in class, he was sent to The President who gave him the strap or the cane. The former was administered to the hands and the later to the backside and both hurt like hell as they usually came in multiples of 6. Most teachers gave out punishment as well and this ranged from pinching the loose skin just above an armpit as they walked past your desk (try it, it bloody hurts doesn't it ?) to giving us a smack on the head just for the fun of it.

Remember many of these teachers were priests and when I say misbehaving, I don't mean injecting drugs or throwing knives at the blackboard. I mean not knowing the answer to a question or not wearing your school blazer.

So the teachers would bully us during school time and after school was over, the bully baton was passed to anyone bigger or older than you. In my case I was painfully shy, had rampant acne, thick NHS glasses, came from a small town nicknamed 'cow town' and couldn't play team sports to save my life. I was that rare form of geek in that I was geek looking but not even clever. So I was verbally and physically bullied for most of my time there for any of those 'reasons.' Once started, it rarely stopped and we were given no help to deal with it. Who could we turn to ? My parents would never believe the teachers were like that and especially not the priests. I had to be making it up. I actually never told them about being bullied as they'd strugged to find the money to get me into the school so how could I let them know it wasn't perfect and I hated being there ?

Religion was also used as a punishment. When we became older, we were 'excused' going to evening prayers and other gatherings so we had more time to study for exams. This was classed as gaining a privilage and if you misbehaved or broke a rule, you had privilages revoked......and so would have to go to prayers. This carrot and stick attitude to religion, combined with the actions of most of the priests, led me away from Catholicism for good. I questioned it all and it came up wanting.

Today I remain a Christian but not a Catholic. That happened the day I left school but the seeds had been sown many years earlier. Seeds sown by the brutal and cowardly acts of particular priests who were a disgrace to their calling and should never have been put in positions of authority over anyone, never mind young boys.

Despite having an older brother there for my first 4 years, I never felt as alone as I did at that school. I'd go off by myself whenever possible and that has remained a character trait to this day. I don't feel comfortable in even small group of friends as I feel I've nothing to contribute. I prefer my own company. Until recently I've always travelled alone and been happy to do so as I never knew any other way. I don't make friends easily and as a result, I don't have many. I've gone for quality over quantity and you know who you are. Bless you for sticking with me.

You see, on my own no one could hurt me. I couldn't be bullied. I couldn't be mocked or laughed at as I got both from time to time even in the workplace. Now I've retired I'm genuinely happy and how sad is that ? It took me to my 49th birthday to finally be free from it all.

People are also surprised when I tell them I'm shy. I'm so different in my writing that it does seem hard to believe. I can express myself in my blog posts which is probably why many of the posts are so long ! The words just flow from me and I find it hard to stop. I've things to say and no one can stop me now. I love knowing that people read what I write and find it funny or informative at times. I was once asked why I bother blogging and I guess if I'm honest, I enjoy the idea that what I write might interest people. But I'd also be crushed by a bad comment !

I'm not a comedian and was never able to deflect school bullying or teasing with a witty bit of banter. But as I got older I found I could make people laugh. Not in a stand up comedian type way but simply by seeing the funny side of things and saying so in an amusing way. Maybe it's a defence mechanism kicking in a few decades too late. I donno. It's not something contrived but something natural for me.

The ironic thing about my old school was the fact it was set in a stunningly beautiful part of the world. For those who haven't read previous posts on the subject, the school was, still is of course, set on a plateau a few hundred feet up from the North Antrim Coast Road which hugs the East side of N. Ireland and is classed as an area of outstanding natural beauty. If only the setup within the school had been as beautiful back in my day.

I say that because those days are long gone as the school ceased to be a boarding school a decade or so after I left and also went co-ed. I've no idea what it's like now as it's not the sort of place that ever had reunions and nothing would drag me to one anyway. If any of those teachers were still there, I'm not sure if I could be trusted near them.

I guess I've painted a pretty black picture of the place. Let me admit it wasn't miserable all the time but sadly in my case, those are the times that I remember and the times that I feel affected aspects of my life afterwards. The happy, sunny days seem few and far between and my overall impressions are that I hated the place with an intensity I've never experienced since. Yes it gave me a wonderful basic education that I hope comes across in my writing but that's about it. The choice of subjects was woefully small, so much so that I took Latin, Greek and Ancient History as some of my O'Levels. How I ended up having a 30 year career in IT is beyond me !

Reading back what I've written, it's very tempting to delete this post or cut out most of it as it's almost like putting a diary entry up onto the internet. Once I hit 'publish' there is no going back and I've kinda bared my soul here, which is not my thing at all. Maybe it's saving me a fortune in therapy but I doubt it as like I said at the top, I've not really done it to get things off my chest. Having given small glimpses into my school life before, this has just brought it all into one place and if nothing else it should be interesting if future readers visit this post when they google the school.

My 'story' might be close to that experienced by others but I'm sure the details are unique to me. I hope so as I'd not like to think that others had 7 years there like I had. I despise a LOT of the students, I despise MOST of the lay teachers and I dispise ALL of the priests because they were made up of those who actively bullied and those who were just as bad by knowing it went on but did nothing about it.

I said in the previous post that my profle now contains a link for anyone who wants to email me rather than, or as well as, leaving a comment. Feel free. As always I'd like to get feedback.

I think you may gather that my schooldays were not the happiest of my life ! Thank you for listening.

Email Address

As my email address contains my real name, I've never wanted to show it in my profile. However some readers, new and old, may want to expand on a comment or even ask me something they don't want to ask in a comment !! There have also been times I've wanted to get in touch with someone who has left a comment and I'd like to have said, email me please.

So for these reasons I've created a special email address just for that purpose and you can get to it by looking at the contact section in my profile.

Feel free to write to me. In fact, WRITE DAMMIT. Everyone likes to get mail after all and given the hours I'm online, you can be pretty sure you'll get a prompt reply.

Friday, June 12, 2009

I Can Take The Pressure

I'm one of those people who tends to put up with things as long as they work at all or as long as I can use superglue, blu-tac or duct tape to make them work.

Take my shower. It's never been very good. Oh it looks great as I got it new when I had my bathroom completely redone a few years ago. But the plumbing in this house was done during the war (The Crimean War) and the pipework in the loft makes the map of the London Underground look simple. The water pressure is so bad that I have to run around under the shower head just to get wet.

But I've put up with it as I'm rarely in a rush when I shower and it gives me the chance to not just sing along to a few singles from an album on my shower cd player but to get in the whole album !

But in April, when I got home from wintering in Florida and turned the water supply back on, it went from being a pathetic dribble to a trickle. I put my extensive plumbing skills to good use by going up into the loft, looking at all the pipes and giving them a good glare and the occasional shake and deciding it was all too much for me to deal with right then. That was almost 3 months ago and last week even I had had enough.

I asked a kind friend, Ken, for help and between us we came up with a plan, not a cunning plan, just a plan. My shower needed a pump installed to give the water pressure a much needed boost. An electric shower wouldn't have been any good as that just heats the water and doesn't increase the pressure so a pump was ordered. Not just any old pump mind you. Oh no. When I do eventually get things done, I get them done.

So yesterday the big day arrived, as did my friend and the pump. We had a coffee, talked about stuff and then the work began. By that I mean he installed the pump and I kept the coffee coming !! But what a nightmare it was up there and at times I didn't so much think he was installing a pump as playing a sort of individual version of Twister. One leg would be over a pipe, the other one under a pipe and the rest of his body forming a human pretzel around the wooden loft beams. Getting into these positions was bad enough, but once there, he then had to cut pipes and install electrical wiring and, as his brilliant idea for stopping water coming out of the cold water tank was to use a big blob of blu-tac to bung up the outlet hole, we were constantly waiting for a flood of water to burst from the cut pipework at any time.

Oh the pressure, the pressure. For once I didn't want any pressure !

After 3 hours it was done. The blu-tac was removed, valves opened and we heard the water getting to the pump and with no leaks. Stage 1 complete. Then the pump was started and........silence. I was moving back and forth from the shower to the top of the ladder to try and be useful while Ken puzzled over this development. We knew it needed a flow of water around the pump to activate it as it's designed never to run 'empty' but it WAS getting a flow so why wasn't it running ? I did all I could do which was to twist the various shower controls one way and then the other as that's my thing. My only thing.

Then like a dam bursting, water came forth - and fifth and even sixth - and the pump started up. Hurrah !!!

The flow wasn't great but it was a start. I moved the water temperature dial and the flow increased. See, twiddling things can work ! I still wasn't impressed and then the pump started making noises like a 40 a day smoker and the water was coming in matching spurts. Time for drastic action and with nothing to lose I opened the hot water tap on the bathrom sink.

The pump stopped coughing, the water stopped spurting and to my amazement, the flow increased 10 fold and enamel was peeling off the back of the bath ! I had pressure !!!!!

In our semi professional plumbing way, we decided it was all down to a combination of the pump needing a while to 'bed in' and some air being in the pipework. Whatever, I finally had a shower that would drench me in 0.2 seconds, remove dirt and some body hair in 2.4 seconds and reduce me to a skeleton in about 5.6 seconds. I couldn't wait to try it out. Thank you, Ken.

Last night I barely slept. I also slept barely but that's another story. I was like a kid on Christmas morning and at 9am (Very early for me) I'd had enough and jumped out of bed and straight into the shower.

My bed is very close to the bathroom !

In the past I'd been able to get into the bath tub, turn on the shower and when it was at operating temperature, move in under it to try and get wet. Today I had to remain outside the bath, reach across to turn on the shower and within a few seconds, step in and across the flow which almost pushed me to the back of the bath.

OMG I felt like I was back on the deck of The Maid Of The Mist and all that was missing was my yellow poncho. The sponge was blown out of my hands and when I bent over to pick it up, I felt violated ! I wasn't so much showered as sand blasted. My internal organs have never been so clean. My blood is more pink than red. Homer Simpson has more hair than I do.

You get the picture. I have a shower, people ! A shower to be proud of. A shower that takes your skin, sends it off to be steam cleaned and puts it back with the top 2 layers missing. If you look upwards, this shower will give you a better face lift than a Hollywood plastic surgeon.

When I turned it off I stood there dripping with an insane smile on my face. Actually it wasn't a smile so much as the state my face was left in after the shower had acted like a wind tunnel. You know those shots you see when someone is in a rocket sledge or a parachutist has just jumped out of an aeroplane and is freefalling for the first 5 minutes. That was me and I loved it.

Gathering up the folds of loose skin I exited the bath and dabbed myself dry as I felt that using the towel the normal way really would remove the rest of my skin.

I'm sure the novelty will wear off but for now it's great and my plan is to get down and dirty and have another shower this evening. Having a power shower is all well and good but I can see I'm going to have to guard against going OCD.

Anyway for now I'm off to eBay to look for a yellow poncho. Wooohoooooo !!!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Money Worries ? Sleep On It.

The news report today about the Tel Aviv woman who decided to replace her mothers mattress as a surprise, not knowing her mother had stuffed $1m in life savings inside it, brings up several questions.

1) Are banks so out of favour that there is a need to hoard that much money in a mattress ?

2) Why was the daughter not in on this cunning plan ?

3) How did she accumulate $1m in cash anyway ?

4) How much is a plane ticket to Isreal ?

I'm amazed that the names of potential dumps were given in the article as I'm sure a few people might decide to go there and hunt for the old mattress themselves. Does the woman still have ownership rights ? I mean she threw it out so does that mean it's up for grabs ?

Normally I'd have to think twice about wanting a used mattress from a dump site. Lets face it, it wouldn't be in prime condition and no amount of febreze would help. But one stuffed full of money might just get me down there, or over there in this case.

The daughter was philosophical about it all - easy for her !

The mother ? Not so much. The last line of the article is a classic and I don't think she'll be sleeping well for some time to come, despite her nice new mattress !

Monday, June 08, 2009


"Y'buy one, y'get one free"
"I said, y'buy one, y'get one free."

Ah don't we all just love that advert for Safestyle UK double glazing ?!  No, I know we don't BUT we remember it !  At least I've just proved that I do.

Anyway this is a 2 for 1 post today as I've just been out for some fresh air and the walk has stimulated my endorphins. That'll teach me to go commando !

So I walked the 20 mins to my doctor's surgery/office and met a few people along the way.  Did any wish me a good morning ?  No.  Did any smile and return my smile to them ?  No.  Did any even raise their heads and make eye contact ?  No.  

Well actually one did all three. She was a young mum pushing her kiddie in a pram and she looked right at me, smiled broadly and gave me a cheery good morning.  It was almost a shock and for a split second I wondered if she was part of a sting operation designed to throw me off guard while an accomplice darted out of the bushes and mugged me.

I know we're living through harsh times but not SO harsh that we can't greet fellow pedestrians. It was like being on the London Underground today. I miss Buttonwood Bay as about 95% of people I meet on my daily walks there (YES daily, damn you) not only smile and say hello but also wave if they're on the other side of the street. Those that don't, tend to be blind and/or deaf so fair enough.  I know deep down they'd wave too if only they could see and hear me !

Everyone here is plugged into their ipods or furiously texting their mates, telling them that they're on such and such a street and should be crossing onto such and such a street in 5 minutes.  However did we manage before texting ?

And speaking of all things electronic (a dubious link if ever there was one), I bought a new laptray for my laptop the other day and I'd highly recommend it. Previously I'd always used one of those tv trays with a bag containing thousands of little polystyrene beads to provide padding for my old thighs and knees.  Over time those beads provide less and less padding and I was ending up with just the wooden tray on my legs - which hurt.

So on a trip to Costco recently I spotted this wonderful item.

The padded bag is full of something resembling that memory foam they put in high end mattresses and pillows and man is it good.  I'm hoping it'll outlast my laptop and probably my legs too and the signs are good. And look, its blue, my fav colour and it has a cute little carry handle.

By the way, I've just uploaded the above photo to show the tray.  So don't ask me about the laptop as I don't know anything about it.  Same goes for the girl - I've no idea what she thinking about (although I can't imagine that typing position doing her back any good at all).  The laptop and the woman are NOT the reason why I posted the photo, capiche !

Friday, June 05, 2009

Food for Thought

I said I'd get a few posts out of the photos I took in Bridlington on Tuesday and here is another one.

It's also on a food theme as the 3 photos are all menus and I thought they might be of interest to readers from other countries.  Or even from the UK when you look at the first one.

It was bad enough that every meal for kids came with chips (fries) but I think someone hadbeen tinkering with the gene pool as nothing in nature would ever get a turkey and a dinosaur to 'get it on.'  Wonder was it fresh ?!

I just HAD to photograph the next one because on one of the Ulster Word Of The Day (UWOTD) posts, I mentioned 'mineral' as being a collective word for all sorts of pop/soda when I was growing up in N. Ireland. And now here it was being used in Yorkshire !

Finally this is part of the menu from the cafe where we had a light snack before leaving Bridlington. We arrived not long before they were closing and when we were told the kitchen was closed for hot food and they only had tea/coffee and things like scones, we were ok as that was exactly what we'd gone in for.

I only show it here in case anyone from foreign shores wouldn't know what to expect from a bed & breakfast establishment here......as most of these meals would be typical of a full English breakfast and I can tell you that any of these choices would set you up for a day of walking around being a tourist.

I suspect the larger ones might force you to have a mid morning nap first !!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Bigger, Faster, Better ?

My new combination microwave finally arrived this afternoon. The delivery company had rung me yesterday to tell me it would be on the morning truck and sure enough, in the time honoured tradition of British delivery companies, it arrived this afternoon !

Never mind, being retired I'd nothing better to do than wait in.

The muscular driver brought it up the drive like the box was empty. I opened the door, he brought it in, placed it on the kitchen floor and after putting my John Hancock on his document, he was gone.  I was all set to move the box out of the kitchen when I noticed the weight on the side of it...29kgs !!  That's 64lbs in real money. Or weight.

So the box stayed where it was and I managed to get the oven out without any serious medical complications but it was a close call. Who knew microwaves weighed so much.

At first I was delighted with the colour as I love all things blue, well except for movies. Then I realised it was only a blue protective cover and the unit was a boring silver. Ah well.

I can't show any other photos as the front acted like a mirror and it was impossible to get a shot without me appearing as well.  It hardly matters as they're all much the same.

Then I found the instruction manual and knew where most of the 64lbs came from !  With a control panel worthy of the Space Shuttle flightdeck, it needed to have a manual to match - and it did. It'll give me bedtime reading for the rest of the month. My old oven had 2 dials and a start/stop button. One dial to set the power level and the other for the time. Once both were set and the start button pressed, 6 large tealight candles would be slowly lowered from the oven top and the cooking process would begin.

Well it was 25 years old.

So the new oven was plugged in and following the instructions, I cooked some fresh air for 40 minutes. Worked a treat and never has air been so well cooked in my experience. I used the grill setting for 20 minutes and then the convection oven setting for the other 20 minutes. This got rid of that new smell and probably cremated any bugs that may have sneaked in on it's trip from Thailand.

By now it was time for supper and its first real chance to impress. On the menu tonight was a pork chop with garlic mashed potatoes and mixed veg. Deciding I didn't want to clean up the mess on day 1, I grilled the chop on the griddle which left the new microwave to.....ah....heat up the mixed veg !

I know, not much of a test but it's early days.  I'm going to settle down and watch a movie later on and that means microwave popcorn.

Heating up mixed veg and nuking popcorn. I'm sure I can hear sniggering coming from the old oven !

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Oh I Do Like To Be.......

.......beside the seaside.

I was due to be putting my tired old legs up today while waiting for an Amazon delivery but they rang before noon to say the delivery would be tomorrow.  I mean Amazon rang, not my legs !  

So I was free for the day and being the last day of the current warm spell, known here as the end of Summer, I wanted to go out somewhere.  Rounding up Daphne, we headed first to The Wellington for an excellent carvery lunch and then after a bit of deliberation, it was off to the seaside.  

Bridlington to be precise; a typical British resort town on the East Coast which is normally a place I'd avoid like the plague.  Sorry Bob.

But Bridlington does have one thing going for it - a huge beach of Daytona proportions, although the only form of transport allowed on this beach are donkeys.

As it turned out, it was also a photographers dream location and I should get at leasat 3 posts from our visit there.  To get the ball rolling, this post will just focus on edibles.  And as you will see, I use the term VERY loosely.

First, crabs.  You always get crabs at the seaside.  Sorry, couldn't resist.

These little nippers were straight off the boat and most were still moving. One made it off the tray but landed upside down on the concrete dock. I pointed this out to the crabby man (!) and he placed it gently back in the tray, patting it's head and checking that it was comfy.

Well no, not really but as this blog may be read by kids, I'll say no more.

Some time later, after a walk on South Beach (which was just so similar to THE South Beach that it was spooky), we went back along the prom to North Beach. This involved passing a plethera of gift shops, fish and chip outlets, amusement arcades and, for the want of a better term, sweet stores.

One of the staples of sweet stores at the seaside is rock. Edible rock. And as I'd not had a stick of rock for decades, I wanted some today.

The stick I eventually bought was much bigger than any of these as I wanted a classic with the town name running all the way through it. But while in some of these stores, what concerned me was that they'd taken 'amusing confectionary' to a new low level.

If you are easily offended, then look away now.

If you are easily offended, what the hell are you reading my blog for in the first place ?

Mind you, with my long hard stick of rock grasped firmly in my hot sweaty hand, I guess I was in no position to complain !!

One of the stores made me think my GPS had taken us to Cock-a-knee land as it sold items not normally seen north of the Watford Gap. Maybe I just don't go to the seaside enough.

Gives a whole new meaning to the expression "a price on your head.
And finally, for this initial post, I've leave you with a photo which evoked memories long forgotten. I'd never seen such a variety of sweets in glass jars like this since I was a wee bairn growing up in N. Ireland. I mean I know many corner shops still have them but surely not in such quantities anymore. It was a joy to see and this was only a small part of the display.

Crabs, rock, whelks, phallic inspired sweeties and not a 'Kiss Me Quick" hat in sight.

This is Yorkshire and we know what people want !

Monday, June 01, 2009

A Walk On The Wild Side

After walking for 2 hrs around the park yesterday, the last thing I felt like doing today was going for another walk.  More than doing it for the exercise, today it was mainly due to hearing about the missing plane (see previous post) and thinking that the life we take for granted could be taken away in a heartbeat that got me up off my backside and out into the fresh air again.

So I decided to go to Eccup Reservoir which involved going along my country path that I've blogged about before.  First I walked through a few streets in my estate and I have to say even that was a pretty start to the walk.

Then it was country path time and after my litter strewn walk yesterday, it was refreshing to go along this path with no litter in sight. Maybe the lack of people was the reason but whatever, I loved it. I also loved the canopy created by the overhanging trees which as well as giving me some brief shade from the sun, created an almost tunnel like effect for my walk.

At the end of the path, it meets up with the very busy A61, Harrogate Road, and while waiting for a break in the traffic, I set the camera up on a bollard and took a photo of me with the path behind me.

That's my mp3 headphones lead you see and not a hearing aid.  I'm not quite at that stage yet. I then took the following photo while crossing the road and considering I was trying to avoid death by bus, it came out pretty well !

Then it was down the hill to the reservoir and it was looking stunning in the late afternoon sunshine. There were joggers, cyclists and walkers like myself and still, no litter. See, we CAN get it right sometimes.

At this point I turned around and walked back home. I'd been out for 2.5 hrs and was jiggered. After almost 5 hours out and about over the last 2 days, I plan on putting my tired old legs up tomorrow. I have to stay in anyway as I'm expecting a new combination microwave from Amazon so that'll be my excuse.

I just hope it doesn't arrive at 9am !!

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