Saturday, August 29, 2009

Rome - It's A Bit Old, Ain't It ???

Sorry I've not posted before but the internet here in this hotel reception is a bit odd to say the least as it times out and also the keyboards are in Johnny Foreigner hiroglyphics (I'm sorry for spelling mistakes and typos but sod it, live with them for now) so typing isn't easy.

At least mine has apostrophes.

As Daffy said, we 'did' the Colosseum today and what a grand ruin it was and like Daffy herself, pretty well preserved.

My overall impressions of Rome are - hot, mad drivers, even madder bikers, hot, old, photogenic in the extreme, expensive, cobbled streets, hot, full of Italians for some reason, jugglers and car window cleaners at many street intersections and did I say hot ? Yes very hot.

Fabby place though and so different from, say, Milton Keynes. Hotter for a start and it's got many more people dressed as gladiators who accost you everywhere and get you to pose with them for photos and then ask for 5 euros. Sorry pal but I can see why you died out as a need to get the money BEFORE we take the photos !! Basic supply and demand. You supply the photo opportunity and we bugger off.

Romans eh ? What did they ever do for us ? Plonkers.

Anyway as Daffy said, time on these terminals is suspect so I'll not waffle on.

Having a wonderful time and I must be, better be, about 10lbs lighter even with all the lasagne and spagetti and pizza as we've travelled further than Eddie Izzard over these last 3 days.

More to come when we find t'internet in the hills.


Monday, August 24, 2009

In Seach Of The Lost Cord

I bought this house back in May of 1982, so just over 27 years ago. It hasn't needed much doing to it, which has been just as well as my skill in DIY is as severely lacking as my interest in doing DIY. I know one end of a hammer from another but as both are hard, I'm quite happy to use either on the few occasions I've needed to use one.

But once you get into higher levels of DIY, like when 2 x 4's are mentioned, then you've lost me completely and I might as well be listening to Stephen Hawking....when he's pissed.

As a result, many things in this house have been in use for all of those 27 years and probably long before then too. One of them is the light cord in my bathroom which drops down about 3 feet from the ceiling as such things tend to do and the knob bit ( see, I'm sure there is a perfectly good DIY name for the gizmo that I pull on....and don't be crude !!.......but I don't know what it is ) was handily placed for me to.....well.....pull on it. I could, and usually did, do it with my eyes closed.

Get out of the gutter for goodness sake !

Now have you ever watched a tv show or a movie where a blind man is shown wandering around his living room ? Assuming he's lived there for some time, he can do this quite well and doesn't bump into anything as he has a mental image of the layout so doesn't need his sight. Of course if some asshole moves his coffee table a few inches, our poor blind friend will have a cracked shin the next time he goes to answer the door.

Ok fast forward 27 years to last night and I pulled a bit too hard on my knob (sighhhhh) and the cord broke about 6 inches from the bottom. Considering it's age, it probably just rotted away but for whatever reason, there I was with just over 2 feet of knobless cord dangling before my eyes. I looked up at the ceiling fixing and the idea of messing about with it to attach a new cord just blew my mind. That was advanced DIY and well out of my league. With electricity probably involved as well, it was totally off limits to me.

Ever one to put up with things, I felt ok just pulling on the string for a few more years. Yes, that would be fine. Sorted.

Then I looked at the knob and even my untrained DIY eyes spotted that the end of the cord just went through it and a knot at the end stopped it coming off. Ok stay with me here as it gets a bit complicated from now on. What if, just if mind you, I threaded the remaining cord through the knob again and made a new knot......see......see where I'm going with this ??

I almost had to sit down as I was practically hyperventilating. I threw DIY caution to the wind and just went ahead and did it and joy of all joys, it worked. I stood looking at my handiwork and finally knew what Michaelangelo must've felt like looking up at his Sistine Chapel etchings.

There is just one ever so tiny problemette. Remember the blind man ? Well ever since my DIY masterpiece, I've almost fallen into the bathroom every time I've gone to pull the light switch because after 27 years of KNOWING the exact position of the knob in time and space, my poor old brain hasn't worked out that it's now 6 inches higher ! I'm like Andy Murray completely missing a serve.

I'm sure I'll get used to it but until I do, as I'll be missing the slight resistance provided by pulling on the cord, I risk ending up on my knees in a pitch dark bathroom, face down in the toilet bowl.

And that's without even having had a drink !!

Oh and before you say it, I know I could always join the two ends of the cord together and Bob's your crossdressing Auntie it'd all be sorted. BUT that would involve another knot and I'm now out of the DIY business.

I'm quitting while I'm ahead.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lockerbie Revisited

38 minutes after taking off from London en route to New York on 21st of December 1988, Pan Am flight 103 exploded at 31,000ft and crashed down on the small Scottish town of Lockerbie killing 270 people - 243 passengers, 16 crew and 11 from the town.

The event, the flight number and the small town of Lockerbie (pop under 4,000) will be forever in the minds of those affected by this act of terrorism and have been rekindled today with the news that the only man charged and imprisoned for the atrocity has been released and allowed to return to Libya on compassionate grounds.

This news has not gone down well with everyone and the Scottish Justice Secretary, knowing full well that for the only time in his career he was in the world spotlight, laboured to tell us that due process had been performed and although the terrorist had shown no remorse or compassion for killing 270 people, he was still going to show compassion to him.

My memories of that terrible event are very clear, which is usual for me ! In those days I regularly went up to the ferry port of Stranraer to go over to N. Ireland to see my mum and as it was approaching Christmas, I had booked for a crossing two days after the tragedy. I remember standing in front of my tv set, shocked at what I was seeing as I knew exactly where it had taken place.

Two days later I decided to set off earlier than normal as I knew there would be traffic disruption at some point along the route and sure enough I noticed a build up along the M6 as it approached the Scottish border. When I left to go onto the A74, I came upon the first signs of police activity with notices warning of diversions and delays ahead. Before I came to any, my route took me onto the A75 which runs all the way to Stranraer and so I wasn't impacted in any way. When I came to Dumfries there were more police signs as this is the nearest large town to Lockerbie, 12 miles away, and there were lots of tv and press vans scattered around the road leading to the crash site.

Once on the ferry, the event was the only talking point among the passengers and I remember thinking if my plans to fly to America for the first time the following summer should be abandoned. Like most others, I decided that flying would be safer than ever after the Lockerbie tragedy and so I went ahead and have been going every year since.

I doubt we've all heard the last about Lockerbie. The plane may be gone (although a lot of it is still in a scrap yard in rural Lincolnshire), the convicted terrorist may be dead in a couple of months but I'm sure every 10 years we'll revive the memories of that fateful evening.

So was it right to release Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi ? Well the procecution case against him back in 1991 was flawed to say the least and we can't even be sure if anyone from Libya was involved at all. Huge payments were made to the relatives by Libya but it was always maintained that was to get UN sanctions removed and Libya has flourished as a result.

So maybe Megrahi was a scapegoat as we all needed someone to take the blame. Who knows.

The one part of this whole disaster that has remained with me to this day involves one of the flight attendants onboard Pan Am 103. She was found by a farmer's wife in a field close to Lockerbie, still straped to her seat. And still alive ! She died soon afterwards before help could be summoned. Can you imagine her last few minutes ? It still makes me shiver.

If it was 100% sure that Megrahi was involved in planting the bomb, then thinking about those last few terrifying moments endured by that flight attendant would be enough to convince me that even if he is about to die of cancer, then he should die in prison.

He's now been given the chance to die with dignity; to die surrounded by family and friends; a peaceful death in fact.

All things denied the 270 people who he may have been responsible for killing 21 years ago.

If only we knew for sure.............

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Time On My Hands

It's Wednesday evening and Virgin Media are having problems. Sadly their problems are my problems as right now I have no tv. Well to be precise, I have a tv but no channels. No stations. No images. Nada. I can't even watch previously recorded shows as everything comes from the infamous V+ box which is a wonderful, almost magical box when it's working but is as much use as a chocolate teapot when it's not working.

Like now.

Last week my enjoyment of the England footy game was spoiled when it played up and I had to watch the match on the internet. Tonight a couple of Johnny foreigner teams were playing so it wasn't as important but even so, I'm just about to give a very aggressive "tut" and you just know Mr. Branson will be quaking in his sandals when it reaches his ears.

So now what ? Life without tv !

I tried ringing the customer line and got a msg saying to try later. Wonderful. And just when might this 'later' be, exactly ? When the Virgin Media logo has burned into my screen perhaps !

Time to ramble I think.................

I still have t'internet. The good old reliable internet.

We were using it this afternoon to plan some scenic drives in Northern Italy as we leave on 27th for 15 days over in the land of pizza. So far we've got routes from Rome to Siena to Florence to Pisa. A bit of a mix of coastal and inland drives that look very promising. What we want is scenery and not cities but of course there are just some cities that can't be missed so it'll be a balance. We'd like to include Lake Como and Venice but that might be too much 'driving' and not enough 'seeing' and so we need to plan a bit more.

And in 10 weeks time I'll be off to Florida for the winter but no planning will be needed there as it's like a second home to me by now. Actually it IS my second home but don't tell US Immigration. Yes, six months of glorious sunshine and this pale body is ready for it.

TV still not back yet.

Last week I had phone problems and while ransacking the house looking for my old style corded phone to use as a backup, I found a stack of old diaries from the early 70's. Now as I've mentioned before, I've never managed to keep a diary for a whole year. The nearest I got was in 1970 when I kept a page-a-day diary right until I went to Leicester Polytechnic in September of that year - and then the entries dried up. Not surprising really but still quite sad as ironically those were days I'd like to recall but can't without the help of a diary. I have a few vague mental images but although I wasn't on drugs or alcohol, I can't remember much else.

Anyway as I read through the dairies over the next few days, I'll let you know if anything blogworthy turns up. I doubt it, as the 70's wasn't that great a decade for me. If only I'd kept a diary during the 60's. Oh man would I have beans to spill and careers to ruin.

VM customer service still not answering. Q : Who do they ring when they've a problem ?

I guess I could do something useful like go to bed. Hell it's only 9pm. Got 5 hrs till bedtime so that's no use. I could read a book. Nah....that's what I do IN bed (yes how sad is THAT ??)

What am I thinking !! I have over 40 unwatched (cough, cough) movies on here plus nearly 200 (cough, cough) US tv shows. Wooohoooo.

Ok rambling over. Ice Age 3 here I come.

Who needs tv ?

(I do)

Monday, August 17, 2009


It's been a while since my last UWOTD and since I changed the rules so it could be Ulster WORDS Of The Day so I could include phrases, this one will be a phrase.

And it's all down to Mr. Charles Lawson.

Who ?

Well even if you are a regular Coronation Street watcher, you might not recognise the name but you would know the character he plays, Jim McDonald.

"Ah yes, what about ye ?"

Yes the very man.

I dislike the man with a passion. Sorry, I dislike the character with a passion as he embodies one of the things I dislike most about N. Ireland....the Belfast accent.

He's not been in the soap for some time and that's been a blessing but he was no sooner back last Friday than in a typical example of typecasting, he was in the bar, having a drink and causing mayhem while saying he wasn't there to cause mayhem.

As no one was expecting him to be there, old Jim had free reign to keep saying "what about ye ?" to everyone who glanced his way. As if that wasn't bad enough, he came out with the classic "I'll tell ye this and I'll tell ye no more" which sadly is never the case with him.

But it was when he came out with "catch yourself on" that I felt I might have another UWOTD post in the making. The problem is that it seems an obvious phrase for me to understand as, of course, I'm from N. Ireland and heard this expression all the time when growing up. When I mentioned it to my US friend, Debby, she hadn't a clue.

"Catch Yourself On."

It's not that easy to explain in a few words actually but in general it's a mild rebuke, warning or caution. Like if you're talking with someone who says something that seems ridiculous to you, you'd say it.

"See that house ? It's valued at £1m but I'm going to buy it one day."
"Yeah right. Catch yourself on."

Get the idea ? It's as if you're telling the other person to look at what they're saying as it's so hard to believe. Here is an even better example............

"You know, that Charles Lawson fella will win an Oscar one day, so he will."
"Oh catch yourself on."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Taking Care Of Business

Here in the UK, people are still allowed to come to our homes to get us to buy into some service or other that they just happen to offer. I like this as much as a root canal and if I see them coming, I simply ignore them and they go away. Sometimes they shove a business card or a flyer through my letterbox but as most of them wouldn't know how to spell the word 'business' and certainly don't want unfortunate customers/suckers getting in touch with them afterwards, they just leave.

I was doing the dishes this morning when one such individual knocked on my neighbour's door and I glanced through the frosted glass of my kitchen door to see a blob of orange moving around the driveway.

Drying my hands, I went to my front porch to get a better look and saw it was someone wearing one of those reflective motorway type jackets and as I removed a letter from my letterbox (yes they're STILL not pushing them all the way through so don't get me started on that), orange man picked up the noise like a vulture sensing a meal and came to my door. Damn.

Now at this point I need to say that when I first get up in the morning, I need to take a while to get my brain in gear and so I often wander around in my boxers until I know if I'm going for an exercise walk, going shopping or just going to stay indoors for a while. Different pants for different activities you see.

So there I was at my front door with the net curtain to one side, not really wanting to engage in conversation with anyone, given my state of undress. I immediately noticed this character had a badge on his jacket that said something like Beechcraft Tree Services and this rang a bell with me that I'd had this 'company' here before offering their services to cut my trees or trim my hedge or some such thing.

My one rule is very simple : I will NEVER hire anyone who comes to my house offering a service.


So I said no thank you before he'd even opened his mouth.

"Why not ?" he asked.

"I've already got your details if I want to call you" I said as I really thought I did. Have his card or flyer I mean.

"How did you get it ?" he asked

By now I wanted away so just let the net curtain drop and said "Through the letterbox I suppose. I donno."

As I walked back into my living room I heard him shout "LIAR" at me.

So I guess he wasn't the type to pop details through the letterbox then !! Quelle surpise.

I hadn't seen any vehicle outside and this was because it was parked round the corner. A minute or so later it slowly went past my house and even though my new friend couldn't possibly see me inside my house (God bless net curtains) it didn't stop him from shouting out in a cheerful voice........


Now given that I was wearing boxers, it may have been that he was warning me that I was showing more of myself to the world than I'd ever want to show but somehow I think he was just a pissed off........well if I could do graphics as well as they did a while ago on Top Gear, I'd now be showing a little photo of a pie and a little photo of a key with a plus sign in between them.

Obviously I can't tell you what his tree/hedge trimming skills are like but I think he made it very obvious that those charm school lessons were a total waste of time.

Monday, August 10, 2009

It's A Funny Old Game

Supporting Leeds United, my local team, over the last few years has mostly been a pretty painful experience. Thankfully they lost the ability to inflict thoughts of suicide within me a long time ago and these days I just sigh for a while when they lose or draw.

Tonight they are playing a cup game against Darlington, a team from 65 miles up the A1 from Leeds but a million miles away in terms of footballing pedigree. Of course a big name means little in football and so it's not a surprise to me that it's 0-0 at half-time and they've played as well as we have. Or as badly.

Playing as we do now in the 3rd tier of English football, Leeds aren't on the telle much these days so I thought I'd be giving this game my full attention. I've already been around a few other channels during the first half (I drew the line at QVC) and am typing this blog post during the start of the 2nd half. Lets just say that so far it's not been the most exciting game I've ever seen.

When I first came to Leeds in the early 70's, I became a season ticket holder and even went to a lot of away games. There was little to compare with mixing cheery chants and bawdy banter with those lovely football fans who supported Man United, Liverpool and Chelsea in the 70's. Oh it was such fun and life long friendships were formed either on the streets outside the grounds or more usually at the local A&E departments.

The rivalries are still there but thankfully not the violence of those days. Maybe it's having all seater stadiums or maybe it's having to get a mortgage to buy a ticket. It's certainly not our society as it seems that every male under the age of 21 packs a knife these days and is more than willing to use it. No football now is all big business and a multi-billion £ business at that. The stars at the top of the heap earn......ok get much that they could retire after a month and that has widened the gap between players and fans even more.

5 minutes to go and Leeds are winning 1-0 but even now I get little satisfaction from the scoreline. I just can't get that excited about beating a team from Darlington. A few years ago we were playing and beating teams like Barcelona, Valencia and Roma and now we're struggling against.......Darlington.

But the only way is up, as Yazz once said. Or sang. So it may be only Darlington tonight but who knows, a good run in the cup and we might be playing Man United, Chelsea or Liverpool.

Sadly it won't be like the old days as if we meet any of those teams, we'll get stuffed. On the pitch and off it.

I guess I'd better enjoy tonight then. Final score....1-0 to Leeds. Muted wooohooooo.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

The Internet Can Damage Your Health

I went to the docs yesterday as I have had a pain in my left forearm for a month now, since returning from Tenby in fact. I'd not usually go to see a doc with such a trivial 'afflication' but even if it was something minor, I felt 4 weeks was long enough to put up with it and he might give me something for it.

I never thought he'd suggest amputation !!!

And he didn't......but he might as well have as he advised spending a lot less time on the internet to let the inflamed muscle in my forearm settle down.

Less time on the internet !!! Was he MAD ? What next ? No tv ? Stop breathing ? They're all the same to me.

He gave me a 15 day prescription for cocodamol so that's another 8 pills to take a day on top of the 7 I take already as part of my 'heart package' so if I wasn't rattling before, I will be now. I dare not leave the house or I'll have to take a briefcase with me for my medication. I'll be like those people I've seen in WalMart who walk around with a drip - and I don't mean their partner !

So I guess I shouldn't even be typing this blog. Sorry doc. I'll cut down, honest. Just not cold turkey, eh ?

And before Robert makes any comments about why it's my left arm that aches, I'd better say that I'm left handed.

I suspect I've only made things worse !

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Waxing Lyrical

Nostalgia not being what it used to be, I have little to do with it.

I often watch those 'Cash In The Attic' shows and know that if I needed to sell something from my attic to pay for, say, a new kidney, I'd be down to one working kidney. Unless the value of an empty Panasonic TV box suddenly takes off.

It has the original styrofoam packaging....any takers ? No ? Didn't think so.

I think the oldest thing in my house is the open tin of beans at the back of my fridge as even the mold on that has mold. I do have a one pound note somewhere so that might beat the beans for the title but I'm not sure. The 'best by' date on the tin is in Roman numerals !

Actually neither of those things take the title of oldest thing in my house. Yes, yes I know you're probably saying that I have to be that record holder myself but let's make it an inanimate thing, ok ?

Actually I still might qualify so lets make it, oldest thing without a beard. Yes that'll work.

And the title holder is....drum roll please....a lava lamp.

On one of my trips back to my home in N. Ireland, I was lying in bed and looking around at a room that had hardly changed since I left over 30 years earlier. Now don't get me wrong as it wasn't dusty or anything but as I'd been allowed to sleep in the guest bedroom that mum kept ready for that Papal visit that never happened, it was like sleeping in a time capsule with a bed.

There was a newspaper on the bedside table with the headline "Keeler Brings Down Profumo" and I don't think it was a report from a Lions Rugby match. There was a framed NME chart on the wall from when my fav group, The Tremeloes, hit the top with "Silence Is Golden."

And there was my lava lamp on the dressing table. An original late 60's lava lamp as I bought it before I left home in 1970. I decided there and then I was having it back and when I left, so did the lamp. It's now here in my living on top of my right channel surround sound speaker and is as dangerous today as it was back when I bought it. I'm sure it would fail every health and safety regulation that now cover such things as it's basically a naked light bulb underneath a sealed glass tube of some unknown liquid with a large blob of wax at the bottom.

As the contents warm up from the heat of the light bulb, the wax softens, breaks off into small blobs and these blobs float to the top of the glass tube. As they slowly approach the top, they cool down and start to fall back down only to warm up again and.....well you know how it works.
It's all very 60's hippy dippy and was very exciting back then, especially if you'd just smoked something illegal. Not that I ever did such a thing, oh gosh no. Remember in those days we didn't have Sky Sports or "Celebrity Big Brother Come Dancing On Ice In The Jungle" so it didn't take much to excite us.

But it would hardly raise the blood pressure of a modern teenager who has the attention span of a gnat with alzheimers. But I still love it and it was only recently that I had to replace the original bulb. Things were built to last in those days.

Now when I'm watching a movie, I close the curtains, dim the lights to almost off, light up a few candles and power up the lava lamp. It used to take a while to get the wax to move so throwing health and safety totally out the window, when the original 40 watt bulb finally blew, I replaced it with an 100 watt bulb and that wax go, baby !!

I'm not sure the liquid should be bubbling at the top but hey, it all adds to the effect.

So there you have it. An original 60's lava lamp. The oldest thing in my house.

And although it has to be worth more than the Panasonic box in the attic, I'd never sell it. Well until it burns down my house and then the sodding thing is going on eBay.

Nostalgia my ass.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Where's Jacko ???

I went for a walk in the countryside today and to get in touch with my feminine side (which is my left side, if you're interested), I was listening to Top 100 Pop Love Songs on my mp3.

Hey don't you DARE judge me. You don't KNOW me !!!

Anyway, when I'll Be There by The Jackson 5 came on, I suddenly thought about MJ and how we've not heard a thing about him since the whole media frenzy surrounding his death took place.

I mean where is he ? Oh I'm not asking about his soul, his aura or his spirit. Not even his collection of toys just in case the kiddies came a callin'.

No, I mean his body. Has he been buried yet and if so, was it a full graveyard job or a cremation or what ? Maybe the family are holding off until they are satisfied with the cause of death and what led up to it. Given how much his body was decomposing when he was alive, I dread to think what it must be like now, gold coffin or no gold coffin.

He had a life long fascination with death and specifically how to avoid it for as long as possible. Perhaps wanting his body to be preserved in the afterlife, maybe he has been mummified in full ancient Egyptian tradition, although this does present one tiny problem. The Egyptians removed the internal organs of the recently deceased by pulling them out through the nose.

I think you know where I'm going with this !

If indeed Jacko has been mummified, I expect that particular external organ will be popping up on eBay before the year is out as I doubt it would've survived the process. S&H shouldn't cost much.

Reports in early July said he was being buried without his brain but then these reports came from the British tabloid press and most of those reading those rags are as brainless as MJ anyway. No clue there then.

I guess we'll be told eventually and until then at least the speculation has died down. Maybe then he'll be allowed to rest in peace, a peace he was rarely given when he was alive. Yes he mostly courted publicity and few artists have manipulated it as well as he did. Just as the jury is out on his personal life, it's also out on whether this manipulation served him or helped bring him down in his later years.

One thing is for sure. Nothing in his life or death has been black or white.

Just a little bit of both.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Cheap Hotels In Ireland

I just used that title so I'd get some extra visitors when people Google for cheap hotels in Ireland !

I know, I'm sneaky.

But it really is an appropriate title for this post. This evening I've been looking for hotels in Northern Italy for our trip there in a few weeks time and my mind drifted back to the cheapest 'hotel' I've ever stayed in and it was back to when I was a young teenager in the mid 60's.

We didn't have much money for holidays when I was growing up (cue violins) and usually my brother and I would be given a magazine photo of some exotic location and told to go away for 2 weeks and fantasize about being there. No seriously, we usually made do with visits to relatives farms or go on day trips to the seaside, which in Northern Ireland, is never far away.

One year we took the money earned from selling my sister to a lovely dark skinned man with a white towel on his head (Dad didn't need the camel he offered and held out for the cash) and we all drove down to Southern Ireland for a proper holiday. I think we went for 3 days and in Dublin we didn't really have the money to spend on a big city hotel.

I've been trying to remember the year and thought it would be easy to find out because we went to see a Morcambe & Wise movie. Sadly I can't remember if it was "The Intelligence Men", "That Riviera Touch" or "The Magnificent Two" so I can't be sure if it was 1965, 1966 or 1967. In any case, after the movie we came back to the car to think about a hotel and just ended up sleeping in the car all night.

Ever since then we joked about staying at The Anglia Hotel in Dublin and before anyone goes off to Google it, that was our car, a Ford Anglia. If we opened the windows a bit we had air conditioning but the 'beds' wouldn't even have been acceptable in a Motel 6. But it was fun in those simple days and a nice memory of that family trip.

Right, time to get back to the Italy trip.

I'm glad we're booked into The Sheraton in Rome for 3 nights as I can't imagine sleeping in The Opel Astra Wagon Hotel.

Not at my age !

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