Monday, November 30, 2009

Italy Day 5 - 31st August 2009

It seems a long time since I was in Italy last August but seeing as I'm in mid Florida with temps in the 80's, it's actually a lot easier to think back to that trip now than it would be if I was still in wet, freezing Leeds. Sebring is 5081 miles from our Day 5 destination, Siena, but this is where we pick up the story........

Well actually just before I get to day 5, I need to put up a photo from day 4 as I'd mentioned how we were required to wear swimming caps when using the awesome outdoor pool at the Hotel Santa Genoveffa. Yorkshire Pudding had asked if there was photographic evidence of me wearing my water polo type cap and thanks to Daphne's hubby, Stephen, here it is.

I'm the one with the wide white stripe on my cap closest to the camera and Daphne is to my right. I'm wiping away a tear from my eye due to the shame of being on camera wearing such a cap. As my face is not visible, I could remain incognito but my feeling is that as my body is not visible either, the photo can be published !

Back then to Day 5...........

After a quite unsatisfactory breakfast, we headed up SS223 from the hotel in Paganico towards Siena and soon stopped off at one of the many vineyards that provided most of the stunning views in this part of Tuscany. Never having seen a vineyard up close and personal, it was a special, if not life changing, moment for me.

Onwards and upwards and we were soon entering the partly walled town of Siena and what a breathtaking place it was. Easily our favourite town in Italy. Ok it was only day 5 remember !!

We parked at the bottom of the town as tourist cars were discouraged from entering the town as such. An excellent idea and one that we discovered in lots of the smaller towns in Italy which made sightseeing much more of a joy. It was particularly refreshing in Siena as it was a classic Tuscan hill town with very steep, narrow streets and negotiating them in a car, even a small Italian car, would've been miserable for both drivers and sightseeing tourists.

Of course that didn't stop the occasional mad Italian scooter rider from whizzing past us like Barry Sheene inside the hadron collider. After 3 days in Rome, we knew how to weave too !

It was another hot morning and although nearly noon, the sun was casting harsh shadows across the tall narrow streets making exposure difficult.

I'm talking photography here people !! Honestly, some of you are just Sun readers in disguise !

The street walls were festooned with colourful flags and banners which gave the whole town a wonderful festival feel. Of course Siena is the location for Il Palio and we had just missed the 2nd race by a couple of weeks. Mind you, much as we'd have loved to have witnessed the event, I think we liked Siena so much on our visit because it was so quiet and the streets leading to the famous Piazzo Del Campo were so empty of tourists.

Anyway after a short walk from the car park, we 'entered' the piazza and it simply took our breath away. That and the steep walk ! It was a huge square and I'd simply never seen anything like it. I did try a couple of panoramic shots but without a tripod to provide a level stance, they didn't here is a wikipedia link with a couple of good panoramas that show the views we came upon.

Photos don't really show the steepness of the slope from the top edge of the piazza down to the bottom where sits the Palazzo Pubblico (town hall) built in 1297 with it's magnificent bell tower, the Torre del Mangia, completed in 1344.

Listen, I'm going to be asking questions at the end so pay attention.

After a pizza in the piazza (!!), we went into the Palazzo Pubblico and lined up for the trip oop'tower. Now normally Stephen doesn't 'do' towers as by nature, they tend to be tall. He was werry werry brave and joined us in the climb to the top of the Dome of St. Pauls in Rome but this tower was a different proposition - being that it was narrow and you got views of the outside on every turn of the spiral staircase. Not good for someone with acrophobia.

But he made the climb and although he wasn't too keen on looking out from the top, he stayed with us and when we were ready to return to terra very much firma, he was off down those stairs like Quasimodo with diarrhea. Quite appropriate really as being a bell tower, there were huge suckers at the top and if anyone had thought it funny to 'set them off' while we were next to them, it would've been like being inside Keith Moon's drum kit.

In the photo looking down on the piazza, you can see it looks like a dart board with the 'wedges' running away from the houses and shops along the top rim. What is harder to see from this image is that if you placed a ball at the top and let gravity take it, it would be going like a Beckham free kick (one of the good ones) by the time it reached the bottom. It's that steep.

But the Torre Del Manglia isn't the only bell tower in Siena. Oh no. Not only does Siena Cathedral (Duomo Di Siena) have a large dome, but it too has an impressive bell tower. The cathedral was completed in 1263 (I'm noticing a marked closeness with all these dates) and the startling black and white stonework is at odds with the rest of Siena, which is as uniformly coloured as most other Tuscan towns.

I think the crane at the left is a modern addition but for once, it actually merges in sympathetically with the building it's working on. You can also see a line of tourists, or as much of a line as you'll ever find in Italy, waiting to enter the Cathedral. We decided to give this a miss as it was just too hot to be in the direct sunlight and we were still knackered from the climbs up and down the other tower. I think being asked to climb one more tower would've driven Stephen to taking the most direct route down from it.

Back in the piazza we stopped for a final rest before leaving the town. Near the top edge was a lovely fountain (which you can again see in the photo looking down from the tower to the piazza), the Fonte Gaia, and we joined with dozens of pidgeons who were also enjoying the waters......a bit more literally than we dared to do.

Rested and refreshed, we set off back to the car park at the bottom of the town. Again we passed lots of wonderful narrow streets complete with banners left over from Il Palio, although maybe they're always like this. I also liked a wall unit which cast an unusual light onto a basket of flowers and the combination of light and flowers along an otherwise dark and deserted street just stopped me in my tracks for a moment.

We left Siena singing its praises. Not a good thing really if you've ever heard any of us singing. But we just loved everything about it and when reminiscing about the trip, it's still up there near the top, if not at the top, of the list of our favourite places in Italy.

The plan then was to go to Florence (ha !) via a little side trip to another famous hill town called San Gimignano and so we headed out of Siena, northwards on the SS222 and when we got to Castellina In Chanti, we stopped for the day at the Hotel Salivolpi, an overpriced road side establishment with a pool that closed at 6pm, just after we got there. Dumping our bags, we walked back down into the town for supper but it wasn't the most exciting town in Italy and we had to settle for a restaurant that didn't even open till 8pm.

Back at the hotel we drifted off to sleep just before midnight to the not so idyllic Tuscan sounds of fireworks, dogs barking and more of those mad scooter riders belting down the otherwise empty SS222 that was right outside my open window.

It had been a long, tiring day......we slept like babies !

Friday, November 27, 2009

Post Turkey Post

I ate yesterday. Quite a bit, actually. I gave the menu in the previous post and although I really only ate portions of turkey, ham, mashed tatters and a few veggies, in true buffet style, I took more...and more.

I'm more American than I thought !

Add to that, generous portions of both apple pie and pumpkin pie with ice cream and the bit I put about needing a nap almost came to pass.

So today I tried to walk off the calories I'd gained from that one meal but I was thwarted by a combination of the glorious weather, the awesome scenery and some unusual park wildlife. So my walk became less of a calorie busting, fast paced exercise walk and more of a slow, multi stopping, photo snapping walk.

The view of the lake, just a few minutes stroll from our home here, always encourages me to get out my camera and today was no exception. I've taken so many that it's hard to find a different vantage point. With Robbie Williams crooning in my ear (the excellent "Reality Killed The Video Star" album), I think these were new views for me.........

Then I went out along the 'pier' and took this photo of myself. I don't take many photos of myself as I'm never comfortable in front of the lens.

Back on dry land, a pontoon boat was heading out into the lake so having taken similar photos before, I switched to black & white to try and make it a bit different.

Just before leaving this area to continue my walk, I noticed that a couple of visitors had landed on the pier's wooden railings. Now as this is a retirement community and most of the residents are 120 years old at least, the last birds that you ever want to see hanging around are these characters........

All these photos were taken with my small point and shoot camera and the one of the vultures was exactly why I got it in the first place.

Blog fodder doesn't often fall into my lap so it's great to have the Nikon handy when it does.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Turkey Talk

It's Thanksgiving Day here in the colonies and of course that means remembering back to when these actually WERE the colonies. As we all know, Henry VIII sold America to a bunch of Indians for 3 strings of beads, 2 kingsized (of course) pumpkin pies and a turkey. With giblets.

And the rest is history !

Right now we're watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade from the streets of NYC, another tradition it seems. It also seems to be a showcase for Broadway shows, beloved cartoon characters, new movies and C list celebs but it's all done with the panache that they do so well here.

The balloons are huge and the stuff of more comedy B-movies than those starring Will Ferrell. Everything from Kermit the Frog to Spiderman, Charlie Brown to The Energizer Bunny are floating past the Macy's store, trying to break free and head en mass towards Washington, taking the country to DEFCON 2.

Here in normally sunny Buttonwood Bay, we usually watch the New York crowd with some degree of smugness as they're all wrapped up for this winter parade and we're enjoying the glorious weather that Florida is famous for.

Not so this year as it's an unusually cool 63F outside today and overcast. Still about 10F more than in NY but that's low on the smugness scale.

In a couple of hours we'll be off to our friend's house for the Thanksgiving meal. This year we're having spiral sliced ham AND turkey with mashed taters, stuffing, sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, home made gravy, roasted root veggies, home made buns, pumpkin pie and apple crumb pie a la mode. This will be followed by much belching and a short nap !

More tradition follows tomorrow with Black Friday, a day that takes retail therapy to new heights and most stores offer a few amazing deals for those who have camped overnight or stood in line for hours to be there at 5am when the doors open. This is one tradition that has been watered down over the last few years with the coming of internet shopping and now BF deals are available from the comfort of your armchair and have even been creeping back to being available a few days before Friday. Shocking. Is nothing sacred ?

And so it's the start of the Holiday Season and everyone will be wishing each other Happy Holidays from now till Jan 1st so that in this PC mad world, people of different faiths and beliefs won't be upset.

Sod that. I'm not PC.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my US friends and I can tell you that in a few weeks time I'll be wishing you all a very Happy Christmas. Let's put it this way. If that upsets you, you won't be getting the greeting in the first place !

Monday, November 23, 2009

Death Cometh - With Stethoscope Or Scythe ?

17 years ago to the day, I woke up with a pain in the neck.

After she left to do some shopping, I enjoyed the rest of the day.

Oh what a wag ! No seriously, I did wake up with a pain in my neck. And I didn't feel too well either. It was actually a continuation of the previous evening when I'd returned from playing badminton and didn't feel good at all.

That was because on 22nd November 1992, a date that will live in infamy, I'd had a heart attack.

It wasn't your standard arm grabbing, chest clutching, staggering 100 meters to find a dramatic place to collapse type of heart attack. It was more a feel sick, back hurts, neck hurts sort of deal and so it was hardly a surprise that even for a self diagnosed hypochondriac like myself, the idea that I'd suffered a heart attack didn't come immediately to mind.

Just as well as the stress would've probably given me another one and finished me off !

Now ME not knowing I'd had a heart attack was one thing. My doctor not knowing it was quite another. And not knowing it for over 2 months while many of the symptoms persisted was enough for me, and others who are unhappily still his patients, to call him Dr. Death. Not because he's in the habit of killing people. Oh no.

He's just in the habit of not realising when death is approaching and doing much of anything about it !!

It was only after many weeks of having pains in my neck (probably a pulled muscle from excessive badminton, was the diagnosis from Dr. Death) that I decided to put my company membership of BUPA (private medical cover in the UK) to good use and go see a proper doctor.
One with a white coat and stethoscope so I KNEW he was qualified. After a few quick tests and a disturbingly brief run on a treadmill with a crash cart next to me (never a confidence builder), Dr. White Coat passed me up the fashion ladder to Dr. Black Suit who looked at my chart, gave a few tuts, mumbled "that's not good" which I can tell you is even less of a confidence builder, and immediately booked me in for an angiogram.

"An angiogram ?" I spluttered, feeling my heart beating a lot faster and sweat appearing from every orifice.

"Yes, an angiogram. We need to see what damage was done by the heart attack," said Dr. Black Suit in a rather casual matter-of-fact way.

"HEART ATTACK !!!!," I gasped, in true theatrical fashion.

At least that's what I said out loud. In my mind I was thinking.......WTF. I'm 40. I don't smoke. I don't drink and I weigh less than Kate Moss after a binge session at a Chinese buffet. Well ok that last bit isn't strictly accurate but the rest is.....was.

Well thank you, Dr. Death. Thanks a bunch. That's how we like to be informed we've had a major medical meltdown. Oh sorry.......pulled muscle. Silly me.

And so, thanks to BUPA, a couple of days later I had the angiogram and we all found out that I'd more blocked passages than a Swiss tunnel in February. I needed a quadruple bypass and I needed it...well about 2 months previously, if truth be told.

In stepped the magnificent Dr. Nair who gave me a 5 for 4 special BUPA offer :

"You only really need 4 bypasses but while I'm in there, I'll do a 5th." said the smartly dressed little cardiothoracic surgeon from some far flung outpost of the old Empire. Hoping he didn't moonlight in a Bradford call centre, I entrusted my life to him and his team and 17 years after my quintuple bypass, I think I can say with some degree of confidence, that he did a damn fine job.

As for Dr. Death, well he's still practicing and never was that word more appropriate. I switched doctors after my surgery and so he hasn't practiced on me for the best part of 17 years.

I suspect....hell I KNOW......that's why I'm still here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Jack Bauer Would've Been Proud

This morning I got up at 6:15am.

I'm retired. I'm spending the winter in Florida. I have NO need whatsoever to be getting up at such an unearthly hour. I didn't do it when I worked. Hell the ISS crew don't get up at 6:15am and they're not even ON the earth.

you see, I thought it was 7:15am and even that is very early to be getting out of bed but I knew Deb was up and having coffee and I wanted to be sociable and join her. I even checked my watch twice as my bedroom was considerably darker than I'd have expected it to be at 7:15am - but I so trust my watch, that I rolled onto the floor, pulled myself upright in true Darwinian fashion and staggered out into the living area.

I was greeted with "what are you doing up so early ? It's just after 6am !! "

WHAT ? I looked at one of the many timepieces in the living area and sure enough, realised it was 6:15am. I looked AGAIN at my watch in case I'd mistaken the position of the hands but even if I had, it also has a digital display and there it was......7:15am. Ok 7:16am by then. What was going on ??

Now my watch was a lovely pressie from Debby last year. It synchronises daily with some atomic clock in Colorado and if it's more than 1.5 zanoseconds out, it emails Casio and they FedEx me a new watch and 2 technicians in Tokyo commit hari-kari. Not to be confused with Hari Kari who are an all female Japanese rock band who look like Kiss. It's all true. You think I could make up this stuff ?

After only one mug of coffee, I decided to investigate. I'd been messing with the buttons yesterday to get to the stopwatch function and I thought I might have set the time zone to Caracas (as you do) but the display clearly showed I was on New York time and so it should've been 6:16am. Ok 6:35am by now. My watch was proudly, and somewhat stubbornly, displaying 7:35am. It was also displaying a little satellite dish icon next to the time, showing that it was currently in digital and atomic discussions with Colorado and both parties were firmly convinced that I was in the NYC time zone and it was jolly well 7:35am.

Time (pardon the pun) to call up the big guns and I surfed for and then downloaded the manual for the watch. Like most digital watches, when there is a lot of data to display, the important stuff, like the time, is given a large font and the small stuff, like the alarm being set, that it's on a 24hr clock and that it's set for DST, are shown in wee wee tiny fonts. Very wee. Hard to see wee.

By removing my glasses and positioning the watch so close to my face that I could almost hear time passing, I noticed DST was displayed off to the extreme left on the display. Ok, fair enough. I wanted the watch to sort out DST after all so what was wrong with that ? Well everything really. According to the manual, when DST is showing in the display, that means it's summer and so 1 hr is added to the time. Why would it have a 'feature' like that ? If it's summer, just DO IT.

The manual showed me that if I wanted the watch to use its lovely 500 year, built in calendar to automatically adjust for DST, then I should press a combination of buttons until an 'A' came up and then accept it by pressing another button. As soon as I did this, the 'A' faded away as thankfully it's not supposed to be permanently on the display and then the watch hands started off on their delightful trip back 23 hrs. It's fun to see and almost worth the time being wrong now and then to watch it happen.

So despite chatting with its big atomic brother in Colorado, my little watch was off by an hour just because I'd accidentally set it to DST yesterday ! See what happens when you introduce the human factor !

But I sorted it and I feel so proud.

After being unable to cook a baked potato in that combi oven the other day, my confidence in modern technology needed a boost.

This morning it got that boost. And in a timely fashion too !

Somewhere in Tokyo, 2 Casio technicians are chomping down on a large plate of fugu as it's their lucky day.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

It's Going Back !!

I SO wanted to like this oven. I really did.

I mean I have a similar one at home and therein lies the problem. The one at home, a Sharp, does everything I want a combination oven to do....and this one, a Sanyo, doesn't.

I think the clue should've been that it never claimed to be a true combination oven, at least not to the level I was expecting. I just hoped from the reviews I'd read and the spec of the thing that it would be.

As a 3-in-1 oven it's fine. The microwave part nukes, the convection part cooks and the grill, well I'm not sure about that as a grill here is a broiler. So individually, we're fine.

But when we get to combining them, that's when we hit a snag. I wanted to fix a baked/jacket potato. Should've been simple and something that the Sharp does to prefection in about 10-12 minutes depending on the size of the spud. I use the unit's combination settings to nuke it (70% of full power) and convect it (is that even a word ??) at 350 degrees for 8 minutes and then have it on convection only for the last 4 minutes to really crisp up the outside so it comes out like a proper oven baked crispy and flaking off.

I have total control over the time, the power levels and the oven temperature at all stages and apart from turning the spud over part way into the process to stop it getting a hard spot from the extra heat of the turntable, it's a 'go away and forget about it' process.

Now to the Sanyo. I set the microwave to 80% (it doesn't DO 70%) and give it 8 minutes. Hmmmmm. But I want it to be combined with convection cooking. Nope...can't do it. I try another way. I press the combi button twice which puts it on the microwave + convection option. Great. Now what ? Well nothing actually as that's my lot. I get no option to set anything apart from the time. I donno the power setting for the microwave or the temp of the convection oven so how can I decide on the time ?

In the end I simply used both functions separately........nuked the spud on 100% for 6 mins and then used the convection for another 6 mins but the skin never really crisped up. The potato WAS cooked nicely but didn't look or taste much different to if I'd used a bog standard microwave. Not a happy punter.

The instruction guide (which didn't even have a recipe section so I've no idea how to cook most food items) tells me the following for cooking a whole chicken.

Open door. Turn rotary dial to the left to get A9. The microwave and grill lights will come on. Select weight by turning rotary dial. Close door. Press start.

Now I'm all for cookers being intelligent enough to take decisions for me but I'd like to be able to at least know what temperature my bird is being cooked at and even have some say in picking that temperature. Maybe I need to just trust this auto option but if it's as crap as the one for a potato, then trust wasn't earned last night. I put in a potato (the booklet never said if this would produce a baked potato in the first place.....just a potato), set the auto dial to the 'potato' setting, pressed start and stood back. The oven clock said it would cook for 10 minutes and 10 minutes later I opened the door and discovered a hot but still very hard potato. Hard I tell you.

So it's going back. Not up to the job.

I love my Sharp.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Long Distance Affair

My combi oven is arriving less than an hour if the FedEx tracking site is accurate.

By the time it gets here, it'll have had a lovely 1455 mile sightseeing trip from its starting point in Keasbey, New Jersey last Friday. Once in the Keasbey depot, it pretty much stayed there all weekend as in FedExland, nothing moves on a weekend. Well not my oven anyway. Hopefully it wasn't turning out baked potatoes for the employees and instead was just sitting there, like most humans, just waiting for Monday morning to come along.

After a bit of a lie in, the oven left the depot at 8:45am on its long haul down the East coast. Passing the City of Brotherly Love, it took in the skylines of Baltimore and Washington before hitting Richmond, Virginia - not literally I hope.

Then the scenery will have improved as it passed down through the Carolinas and into Georgia, passing close to the good old Southern town of Savannah where it probably tried to make a break for the home of Paula Deen. It's a classy oven.

Leaving Georgia and entering Florida, the route took a bizarre turn as the oven continued down the East coast of the state and passed Sebring by 100 miles. If I'd known, I'd have waved. Obviously wanting a few hours by the seaside, it reached Pompano Beach, near Ft. Lauderdale, at 6:19pm yesterday and so just missed the sunset. So far it had covered 1227 miles and deserved a bit of a rest.

Almost 8 hrs later, at 2:10am this morning, it decided to have a look at the West Coast and crossed the state to Ft. Myers, a short trip of 150 miles. I'm sure it loved the calm waters of the Bay of Mexico as we all do but there was little time for sightseeing as less than 90 minutes later, it was off on the last leg back up North to Sebring, in mid Florida.

Now it's only 80 miles from Ft. Myers to Sebring and it set off at 7am but the sad part of all this is that I'll probably not be here to take delivery. I'm going to play bocce ball at 9am and although I'd normally pass up the game to be here for my oven, it's a Men v Women game and with the women outnumbering the men, my presence, despite my lack of bocce ability, is needed this morning. I've asked Dennis to be my stand in and as the oven weighs in at 52 lbs, I'm kinda glad he'll be doing the standing in.

And just what is a combi oven I hear you ask ?

Well it's an oven that looks very much like a standard microwave oven but is a little bigger as it's also a convection oven. It's also a grill/broiler and all 3 cooking methods can be used separately or in 'combination' to achieve the result you want. I have one at home in England and being able to cook a baked potato that is fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside in 10 minutes is alone worth the cost of the oven. To achieve that I just set the convection oven setting to full power and the microwave setting to 70% of full power and that's it. The oven constantly switches between the two cooking methods to produce the perfect result.

Well that's the theory - I'll let you know how it all turns out after this oven has got over its journey. Coming to Florida from New Jersey can be traumatic even for an inanimate object.

UPDATE : It was delivered at door ! The neighbours then took it on the shortest leg of it's journey, 20 feet to our house and it's now in position with the clock set and awaiting its first chance to shine..........that'll probably be a baked/jacket potato and some reheated Mexican leftovers from last night for my supper. Nothing too strenuous for its maiden outing.

Oh and the bocce score was Women 8, Men 4. Obviously all the men were concerned about my oven !

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Victor Meldrew Again.......

I may be 5 hours and 4,000 miles from home but thanks to the internet, I'm still reading about things that fire up the Victor Meldrew in me.

First up this morning came the news that Rolf Harris has teamed up with Status Quo to release a single which will join the annual fight for the Christmas No.1 position. Oh wonderful.

Now I quite like old Rolf (79 I think) as he has more talent in one finger than all the so called celebs who grace our jungles and dance floors these days. I even like a bit of Status Quo now and then even though all their songs sound the same for one obvious reason. That reason being they ARE all the same.

But we need another novelty song trying to get to No.1 at Christmas like we need another series of Crossroads. Enough already and just let Cliff have it !

Then I read on the BBC News about a man who threw a sandbag from a bridge in Edinburgh and was ordered by a sheriff to behave for a year. Wow !! I guess we've now found something lower down the chain of criminal punishments than a slap on the wrist. No doubt he'd have had that added to his 'sentence' if the sandbag had flattened someone. That sheriff was as useless as his fictional Nottingham namesake.

Also on the same web site came news of a woman who drove for 16 miles the wrong way along a motorway and how she escaped a driving ban. WTF ?

When we were in Pisa last summer, we did drive the wrong way down a one way street but it was only a few feet in order to turn around and we were only doing about 2kph. And it WAS in Italy so nobody cared !

But 16 miles.....on a motorway ! Hello ? Didn't she get some clue with everyone else heading straight for her !!??? Maybe she was looking for a shoe store. Maybe she was on the phone. Maybe she was applying some slap. Whatever her reason/excuse, she has no place on our roads - no matter in which direction she decides to drive on them.

Maybe the magistrate was from the same family as the sheriff. Useless pair.

I must stop reading about national news - it only upsets me. Time to move onto international news about the war...sorry...conflict in Afghanistan. Even news about the Somali pirates.

I'll just wait for the day I read about the pirates kidnapping a sheriff and a magistrate. Try telling THEM to behave for a year and see where it gets you, Mr. Sheriff.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

On Safari In Sebring

After brunch at The Palms of Sebring, an independent and assisted living complex in downtown Sebring (don't ask - long story, great food), we were heading back 'home' when we popped into a Publix to pick up a few grocery items.

They told us to get out and use the car park like everyone else and when we'd parked up and were walking back to the store, we came upon this....thing.....for sale.

Normally you'd think it was a used vehicle from a local safari park but this is America, and the South at that. So I believe it's a redneck SUV (Shoot-em Up Vehicle) and the decals are reminders of some of the critters that the current owner has bagged over the years. Maybe some of them even fought back - checkout the disabled sticker in the front.

It's hard to tell from this photo, even enlarged, but the vehicle comes with dual horns. Here is a closeup of the front one.

I think the DVLA would have something to say about this adaptation back in the UK. Imagine the injuries caused to a pedestrian if hit front on. The twin puncture marks would have them scratching their heads in the hospital....or more likely the morgue.

On another topic, the other day when coming back from Avon Park, a small town just north of Sebring, we were at some traffic lights and I took this photo out my passenger window. I just liked seeing something so associated with Christmas (cold) on something so associated with Florida (warm). The name of the store behind it was a little bonus.

Oh and if you want to make an offer for a twin horn, 4 wheel drive safari jeep, just let me (and your analyst) know. There will be a place at The Palms waiting for you.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Fresh Air Ramblings

I'm just back from my exercise walk around the park which takes me about 55 minutes. Back home I'd have had to use the treadmill and today, I'd have been stepping off after about 5 minutes.

I've had a chest infection (self diagnosis of course) for a few days and although it's clearing up slowly, after about 5 minutes of brisk walking, I felt like there was someone on my chest. Now if you've ever tried walking with someone on your chest, I'd have to think it would be no fun for either of you. Highly amusing if slightly bizarre looking it may be for spectators, but definitely not fun for those involved.

But here I was out in the fresh air so when I hit that 'wall', I just looked at the palm trees, felt the sun on my face and carried on like the brave athlete I am.

There is just so much fresh air here. You step outside and within seconds, you're surrounded by it. And in a good way too. I mean it's not threatening or anything; it's just.....nice.

Ok I'm getting silly now. Too much fresh air maybe.

Once again I hardly saw a soul on my walk. The reasons......the heat and college football. When both combine, most people are indoors here in the park. Now I've been told I go on about the temps here way too much so I'm trying not to mention the I'll just say it's pleasantly HOT today and leave it at that.

I didn't see any gators. I didn't see any snakes. I didn't even see any park birds. Just a few turtles along the edge of the lake and some rustling from the undergrowth by the Nature Trail that might have come from a geographically challenged grizzly bear but was more likely from a tiny lizard.

I came back to watch the Ireland v France 2010 World Cup Qualifying Game First Leg (phew) but the best quality web site showing it is in French so I'm struggling trying to keep up with the commentary with my long forgotten O'Level French.

I'm desperate for a goal to be scored so I'll hear the French for "the ball is in the old onion bag".

Thankfully the Irish are in green and the French are in blue but with the grass also being green, the French seem to be the only ones on the pitch ! Despite this, it's 0-0 at the moment so the Irish must be out there somewhere. Great tactic though. Maybe they should be sponsored by Photoshop.

I know, I'm still blaming the fresh air.

I'll leave you with this definition of a party loving transvestite : a guy who likes to eat, drink and be Mary.

I thank you.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Taking No Prisoners

Once of the most beloved and iconic tv series from the late 60's in the UK was The Prisoner. It actually wasn't all that popular when it was first shown - mainly as only about 18 people had a tv set in the UK back then. But later it went all cultified and now gets mentioned in the same reverential tones as other shows that only lasted a few episodes but have lived long in the memory.

For some bizarre reason, The Prisoner can now be watched in all it's colourful glory, mostly, on this US tv site and having spent many hours doing just that, I can tell you it's all jolly good 60's fun.

That same tv station (AMC) commissioned a new 6 part miniseries of The Prisoner and the first two back to back episodes go out this coming Sunday (15th) at 8pm (EST) with the rest being shown over the following 2 nights.

So even less of a run than the original enjoyed. Looking at the stills and preview video, I suspect it'll be like Lost meets Laurence Of Arabia. In other words, you'll struggle to follow what the hell is going on even if you join it at the beginning but with enough sand to keep Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif happy for a month of Sundays. Whatever that means.

It stars James Caviezel (he of Jesus fame) in the role of No.6, played in the original series by the enigmatic Patrick McGoohan, who also wrote it, directed it and made the tea for everyone.

The role of No.2 (and there were at least 6 of them in the original) is taken by that most adaptable of British actors, Sir Ian McKellen. Does the man NEVER turn down a role ?!

Given the worldwide locations of many of his recent movies, I'd love to have some of his airmiles. This time he got to frolic (if indeed a knight of the realm is allowed to frolic) in the warm waters and beaches around Cape Town and let loose those large white balloons on the endless golden sands of the Namib Desert in...ahhh...Namibia.

Lucky sod.

But never mind being chased by a demonic weather balloon across the hot sand; I wanna see them trying to ride those 'penny farthings' over those dunes !

We're not in Portmeirion anymore, Toto.

The Jury Has Reached A Decision

After literally sleeping on it for a couple of nights now, the jury, (for that would be me), has reached a verdict on the new bed.

It's a winner.

I couldn't give this verdict yesterday morning as I went to bed the previous night with a bit of back ache already, my life. I couldn't get a pain free sleeping position for a few hours and had a crappy night really. Although I woke with no pain, I didn't want to base my decision on THAT night and so I've left it until this morning.

Last night I slept like a baby, except my arms never went over my head in true baby fashion. I'd get terrible pins and needles if I tried that at my age. I woke with no aches or pains and could've lain there for ages if the smell of 'perked' coffee hadn't drawn me out of the bedroom like some sort of Disney cartoon character following the trail of a newly cooked apple pie.

Not so good was my voice. For a few days now I've had a sore throat but like a true brave man, I've not made a big thing about it and managed to keep the hacking, almost debilitating, coughing to a minimum. But yesterday morning I woke up talking like a cross between Darth Vadar and Sean Connery and annoyed everyone by constantly telling them about Luke being my son and that and we should rise up to defeat The English.

The depth of my voice changed again this morning and if only I could hold a note, I could do a decent voice over as Barry White. As it is, my rendition of "You're My First, My Last, My Everything" would win most karaoke competitions and get me into Florida's Got Talent, if such a show existed.

So anyway, the bed is a hit and now I'm just waiting for the combi oven to be delivered. Hopefully Homeland Security aren't watching my credit card purchases or I'll have an even harder time convincing them I don't really live here year round.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bed, Oven & Beyond

In this large country, sometimes it's a very small world.

In Sebring we have a store called Bed, Bath & Beyond, part of a nationwide chain I think. The bizarre thing is that it doesn't actually SELL beds or baths....but it sells loads of beyonds. Beyonds are just about anything you'd ever want in your home and many items you'd never ever want in your home but you can't resist buying them anyway. Remember the Innovations catalogue ? It's a bit like that.

You'll get the idea from their web site and basically, if they haven't got it, you don't need it. If I was moving here full time, I'd just take my wad of crisp new dollars into a BB&B and tell the spotty sales assistant I was going to spend an obscene amount of money there.

Then I'd go somewhere else and get a 54" TV and all the fixings as they don't actually sell those.

Like a lot of stores now, they sell even more goodies online. I want a combi oven and have decided to get one from BB&B. This is one oven that cooks using microwaves, convection and grilling either individually or in any combination and I just love the one I have at home. To get a crispy fluffy baked potato in 8 minutes is worth the price on it's own.

The Sebring store doesn't have one in stock, so they'll order it for me and deliver it to the house for no extra charge. Great service.

A few feet away from the store is Mattress Giant where last Thursday I bought a bed. I've only ever bought one bed before in my life and it didn't turn out too well as I just donno how to buy a bed. In the Leeds store I sat on them, I lay on them and apart from ones costing more than my house, they all seemed the same. The sales people saw my confusion and baffled me with techno babble about innerspring coils, tempur-pedic memory foam and the number of layers of latex used to make the mattress comfy enough for someone with 1st degree burns to bounce about on without a whimper. Then I got it home and it was like lying on a concrete slab.

10 years later and I've still got it as I just know if I went to replace it, I'd end up with one the same.

I'm not 100% sure about the one I bought last Thursday either. Seemed fine in the store, even though the model name was Newcastle. It was from a range named for UK cities and if they'd had a Leeds, I'd have bought it on the spot. Faced with a choice of Newcastle, Nottingham or York, I went Geordie.

We picked it up this afternoon and I'll be trying it out for real tonight. Watch this space.

Finally, a few yards from both these stores is our favourite eating hole. Ok that doesn't sound right. How come watering hole sounds good but an eating hole sounds like somewhere best avoided ?

Well it's the Olive Garden and it's not so long ago that you'd have stood more chance of seeing me at an Oasis concert as in an Italian restaurant. But last winter I fell in love with Olive Garden and then last summer I went to Italy for the first time and fell more deeply in love. Yes there are now at least three items on the menu I can eat !!! There is hope for me yet.

So I've got the bed, ordered the oven and will be eating the meal in a about an hour. Three locations about 50 yds apart.

It's almost tempting to walk.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Walkies !!!

I've just returned all hot and sweaty from a short walk along the canal path in sunny Buttonwood Bay. I didn't meet a single soul as it was early afternoon and 83F in the shade and yes, I know. I'm a mad dog.

I'd taken my binoculars with me, these being a very thoughtful pressie from the lovely Daphne and Stephen who were here for 2 weeks last November and knew how much I admired their binoculars. My pressie was a new pair and not their old cast offs just in case you were thinking - cheap skates.

Anyho as I was walking towards the lake pier and getting the binoculars ready for a bit of gator spotting, I saw a large bird approaching and then hovering over the water just a few feet from me. Through the bins I could see individual feathers bending in the strong winds that we've had here for the last few days that may be coming from Hurricane Ida which is south west of the state just now putting out gusts of 121mph.

The bird hovered majestically for about 10 seconds filling my field of view. Then it shot down, head first, and I tracked its dive until it almost hit the water. Then it raised its head, lowered its feet and.....splash. A nanosecond later and it rose from the foaming waters with quite a large fish in its talons. It was a stunning sight and the first I'd ever experienced. To see it all through the binoculars, in glorious close-uppedness, was awesome. So thank you, D&S.

A little later, at the point where the path left the canal and turned up back into the park streets, I came up these two, grazing on someone's lawn.

Well to be 100% accurate, one was drinking from a large mug that may have been left out on the lawn for that purpose and the other was keeping watch. They didn't mind me watching although I didn't try and get any closer.

Finally I checked out the larger swimming pool but there was nothing going on there probably because it was football time and anyway, it was too hot for the park residents to be out and about.

Just me and as I've already admitted, I'm a bit mad.

Sorry, Daphne.......I know I'm very very naughty for posting this photo !!

Down Mexico Way

You don't have to go far in the deep south of America to find 'a world of Mexico' where everything is written in both languages and you often feel that you're on the set of The Three Amigos.

I don't mean that you have to keeping ducking to avoid being accosted by lethal oversized sombreros but it's just that the flavour of Mexico is everywhere.

Here in Florida, zillions of Mexicans labour in the orange groves and are all here legally of course ! As a result many of the smaller towns have a definite Tijuana feel to them and a Spanish phrase book is almost a necessity. If I wasn't a typical Brit who thinks the whole world should understand English, I'd try and learn Spanish as it sure would be helpful here. If nothing else, I'd know what the staff are saying when we visit a Mexican restaurant !!

And quelle surprise, we went to such a restaurant last night. It was a first time visit for me but Debby and Dennis had been several times before. Now I'm a very picky and unadventurous eater and rarely try anything new as I just assume I'll not like it. Any new food item has to first pass look, smell and texture tests before it even gets to my mouth and sadly few pass them all.
Remember I'm the one who, when in the self proclaimed gastronomic capital of the world, Paris, ate my first meal in a McDonalds !

The outside of the restaurant last night did little to dispel my doubts about eating there.

Just a couple of points about the photo. Don't you like the name of the hair salon next door ? A bit different and a nod to our modern texting generation. Then there is the car for sale with a different type of way of letting people know it's for sale. See it ? Here it is a bit closer.

Thankfully the inside of the restaurant was much more welcoming than the outside and the staff were both friendly and attentive.

God I sound like a reviewer !!

Anyway Debby and I had already decided on splitting a flauta meal as it came with 2 flautas, deep fried tortillas filled with (in our case) shredded beef. I knew I'd not be keen on most of the 'stuff' that came with the flautas (cheese, guacamole, refried beans, sour cream and yellow rice) but I knew I'd like the flauta itself.

While we waited for the food to arrive, we made use of the paper 'game' that was provided as our place mats.

It's with a feeling of pride that I can tell the world that Debby found all 36 mistakes although we agreed that the woman walking a pig wasn't exactly a mistake and I'm sure I'd used a cart with square wheels on more than one occasion in a supermarket ! I also think that playing baseball with a tennis racket isn't a mistake at all but a very clever adaptation on the more customary bat idea.

But back to the meal and it was excellent. I loved the flauta, and my share of the rice and refried beans. I'd definitely go again and like I said at the beginning, a smattering of Spanish would've been handy - if only to know if they felt the 20% tip I left was enough !

I mean I'd like to know in advance if they toss anything 'extra' into my flauta next time !!

If you tell them it's your birthday, you'll get three 'presents'. First, for photographic purposes, they'll want to place a huge sombrero on your head but I'd pass on that as I'd imagine it had been on several hundred heads already. Next, I'd probably be able to stand the embarassment of being serenaded by the birthday amigos as long as this event was never ever mentioned again.

Finally, on the up side, I'd just accept the free dessert and call it a sopaipilla.

Buenos dias, amigos. Hasta luego.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Equality In Sport ?

Now I'm all for sex equality in sports even though there are some sports that women just can't or shouldn't be playing.

There, that should open a can of worms for sure and I can already feel the love coming my way !

But I have been known to watch the occasional women's soccer game, usually at international level, and not just because seeing 22 young ladies in short shorts is quite pleasing on the eye. Heaven forfend !

Sadly below this level of ability, or maybe below the level of the best couple of league teams in Europe and America, the standard isn't particularly high and it's like watching Sunday morning football on any park around England - except that ladies, and 5 year old boys, have a strange habit of kicking the ball in whichever direction their foot is pointing at the time and then doing a little jump of excitement when the ball actually goes more than a few feet in that direction.

But I've rarely seen much in the way of vicious play during these games and was hopeful that the ladies were more into name calling behind an opponent's back or shaming their clothes/makeup/hair/handbag contents once the game was over. I'd seen good tackling and a fair amount of pushing and shoving but little that would be worthy of a clip on YouTube.

Until now.

I think any of the fouls in this one short clip was 'worthy' of the men's game but when you combine them all, ! This lot was more like an assault by the No.15, Liz Lambert and I just hope I'm never passing the pub when she's being ejected.

Of course she'd have a lot more trouble finding any of my hair to pull.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A Day At The Beach

Yesterday we went to the beach. Sadly we didn't get onto the sand until about an hour before sunset but we still had time for a swim and time for some people watching - always fun in America !

The first port of call on the 90 mile trip to Siesta Key on the West coast of Florida was the small town of Lake Placid. There wasn't any snow to speak off so I'm not sure how they managed to hold the Winter Olympics there in 1980. I know, I know. Different Lake Placid !!

This town is famous in these here parts for having loads of buildings with murals on them. Someday I'll go there and photograph a bunch of them properly but we were only there for a few minutes yesterday so I was only able to take photos from the truck. Oh and there are odd little things like the car and train dotted all over the place too. Yes it's a bizarre town for sure.

Then it was on to Sarasota for a spot of retail therapy with 'visits' to Sams Club and Best Buy before having a quick food court meal at the Westfield Mall.

By then it was a bit overcast and time was getting on so we got to the beach about 4pm. As usual on the West coast, you have to walk out about half a mile before the water covers your knees but I'm all for getting the extra exercise. The water was quite warm but not warm enough to walk straight into without a few pauses and woooohoooo's as it touched the 'sensitive' areas on my body !! You know what I mean, fellas ?

After avoiding the diving pelicans and the sudden rises and dips on the sea floor which would drop you to your chest one moment and then have it lapping your ankles the next, we got out and lay on the beach while the sun prepared to set. It was that strange time of day when you'd take a photo looking away from the sun and have that wonderful almost orange light which I love for portraits and then the other way would give the impression it was almost night time.

It was at this point that we saw some Amish or maybe Mennonite ladies strolling along the beach obviously enjoying the wind over their hair nets, the warmth of the sun on their faces and the unadulterated joy of no electricity in their lives.

I hadn't taken my SLR with me so this compact camera view is the best I could manage. I was hoping for a decent sunset but it became a bit too overcast so we left before the sun dipped below the horizon.

Just as a final touristy reference thing, Siesta Key is a beautiful part of the West coast with ample free parking right at the beach with excellent changing and restroom facilities. Actually ample doesn't do it justice as about 500 cars could park there. The sand is soft and white and goes all the way to the water which is always a good thing !

Expect a long walk to get the water up above your knees. Perfect for kids, hobbits and Tom Cruise. Be careful of kamakazi pelicans, water skimming birds and youths on skimboards that will fell you quicker than an offensive tackle.

Going to the seaside here can be a dangerous outing !

We're going again soon.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Halloween - Time To Be Silly

While still not mentally alert after my 18 hr journey to get here on Friday, I agreed to go to a halloween dance last night. As with all such events in sunny Buttonwood Bay, everyone got into the spirit of things and about 80% came in one sort of costume or another.

What made it so good was that these costumes weren't always themed, so we had Dorothy (Wiz of Oz) complete with Toto, a US fireman, a sheriff and his 'saloon flozzy', a few pirates and the usual plethera of doctors (Dr. Seymore Butts) and nurses. I did like the guy dressed in a large sack with a label on his t-shirt saying "Good".

Think about it !

Because I don't want to put up photos of residents that may not want even this low level of publicity (hey these people have family you know and what happens in Buttonwood Bay, stays in Buttonwood Bay), I'm limiting them to ones who were disguised by their masks or face paint or whatever. With a few of the residents being over 150, it wasn't always easy to know if they WERE wearing masks though !!

Hopefully only those who know her in the park will recognise her in this photo but it was just too good to not post here as it sums up the nature of the dance and the nature of the people who live here. Basically anything goes and being a senior citizen doesn't mean you've lost all sense of fun.

But just in case you don't want to be left with THAT image burned into your retinas and to show you that despite having little or no time to prepare for this dance, here is a photo of yours truely getting into the mood too.

This is a magical place alright and my normal British reservations and shyness get checked when I enter.

Of course it helps when you wear a costume so that no one knows who you are !!

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