Thursday, January 28, 2010

Lest We Forget - Challenger 1986.

Exactly 24 years ago, at 11:38am EST on 28th January 1986, the space shuttle Challenger blew up 73 seconds into it launch from the KSC just up the road in Florida. All 7 astronauts on board were killed and as we know now, some were still alive after the explosion and may have been alive for most, if not all, of the descent before the crew section hit the water. Tragic.

In 10 days time, on Feb 7th at 4:39am EST, space shuttle Endeavour (STS-130) is due to blast off once again to supply parts to the International Space Station. There are 4 more launches due this year and when Discovery lifts of in mid September, it will be the end of an era as she will be part of the last planned shuttle mission.

As reusable workhorses, and despite 2 tragic accidents, the space shuttles have been a fantastic success story. If all the miles they have covered were laid end to end, they'd stretch all the way to the end and back !

Well, as you know, I hate those stupid comparisons. Stretch to the moon and back. Stretch 3 times around the world. I mean if you can't accept that 460,000 miles is quite a long way, I don't see how knowing that it's the distance of a return trip to the moon is going to suddenly make you realise that. I look up at the moon at night and it doesn't seem THAT far away so if anything, using that as an example of something 230,000 miles away is pretty crap.

And another thing, the distance to the moon varies from 225,622 miles to 252,088 miles thanks to its elliptical orbit around the Earth and also, no flight from terra firma to the lunar surface ever goes in a straight line as both are moving objects.

Jeez I thought yesterdays digression was bad but I'm at it again today ! Sorry.

So there are 2 shuttle launches due before I go back to England and although I'll be in bed when Endeavour takes off on Feb 7th, hopefully I'll get to see Discovery take off at a much more sensible time of 1:34pm EST on March 18th. It's such a luxury to be able to see it from the park here and even though this means getting in the golf cart and going to the park entrance to see it best, under ideal conditions, I COULD actually see it from my chair here in the house. Cool as that would be, I'll not be taking the chance of missing MY last launch and so I'll be out by the park entrance as usual.

The shuttle program, as with all space related programs, has had its fair share of critics over the years but no one can deny the guts needed to sit atop a potential bomb as the countdown approaches the 8 second mark and those main engines fire up. I still get nervous as my plane takes off so I just can't imagine how I'd feel strapped into my seat only a few inches from a massive tank of highly inflammable fuel that is about to be set on fire. A controlled fire of course but nevertheless, once that fuel is lit up, there is NO turning back.

So right now as I think about the 7 who died EXACTLY 24 years ago, I'm sure the crew of Endeavour are doing the same as they prepare for their launch.

And praying that in a few days time, they'll not go down in history for similar reasons.

Challenger Crew : RIP

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Half Time Report

Deb & Den are half way through their Caribbean cruise and as it happens, I'm at the half way point in my time in Florida this winter.

Yes it's hard to believe it but I've been here 88.5 days already, my life. They've all flown by in a haze of midnight drunken parties by the pool but as I've no memory left to speak of, I don't remember a thing about them ! Dammit. I think I had a good time and my expanded waistline tells me I at least had plenty to eat.

Speaking of things flying by, he says moving seamlessly to something totally different, when I left England way back at the end of October, my carry on case was bulging with enough drugs to qualify me as a Columbian mule. I take 6 a day to keep my heart ticking and so, with a few to spare in case I drop the occasional pill down the sink, I had 1,080 of those for a start. That's a lot to get past security at the airport, I can tell you. And although they don't weigh much, they take up a hellova lot of room in a carry on case - no, I'd never trust them in a checked case as if they went AWOL, so would my time in America.

Actually I've never been questioned about the amount of pills I bring here every trip. I think they are more interested in the layers of cables, little black boxes, batteries and other electronic crap that lie on top of them in my case. I have batteries and spare batteries for all my portable gear, including cameras. I have cables for them all too and also extra cables for connecting things to the tv here. USB cables, audio cables, video cables. I have earbud type headphones for the mp3 player, standard headphones for the laptop, Skype headphones (with mic attached) for, well, Skype calls and large cordless headphones for walking around the house still listening to whatever source the transmitter is plugged into.

If you've never listened to Jonathan Ross while on the toilet, you've never lived. Crap on the Crapper, I call it.

So with that lot in the case, including the 2 actual still cameras and lenses (and a camcorder), I don't think the x-ray machines can get through to the 6 month supply of pills underneath ! Nevertheless, I'm used to being taken to one side and asked (ha !) to open my case as all those cables and batteries usually raise a red flag with the security people. All my hours of careful packing are ruined by the ham fisted employee who knows he's not going to be the one to try and get it all back in again.

"Thank you, sir. That all seems to be fine. You may go now."

"GO now ?! GO now ?! Oh yes I'll GO alright.....just as soon as I get my shoes back on, power my laptop off, put my jacket on again, replace my dentures, refit my wig AND GET ALL THIS CRAP BACK INTO MY CASE, thank you very much !

It's like trying to get an octopus into a jam jar or Tiddles into her cat basket. You KNOW they'll fit in but, my God, it ain't gonna be easy. Or pretty.

The thing about airport security is the inconsistency of it all. I'm all for screening (no babies or kids under 19 should ever be allowed through) so I can fly safely but sometimes I have to remove my shoes, other times I don't. Sometimes I'm asked to power up my laptop, sometimes not. Sometimes I have to open my case, sometimes not.

Then there are the scanners we go through ourselves. Sometimes the one coin that's secreted itself in a deep, dark recess in my pants pocket will set off the alarm. Sometimes the $5.32 in lose change in my turn ups won't.

It doesn't fill me with a lot of confidence but how far should security go ? Many 'harmless' objects can be used to cause mischief and mayhem within a sealed plane. If I'm ever sitting next to someone who starts rubbing his plastic cutlery together to create fire or tries to open the nearest door wanting some fresh air at 35,000ft, I'm going to be using those extended audio cables for something other than listening to SuBo on my mp3.

Thanks to the Christmas bomber, I'll probably be suspicious now of any passenger who even rubs his thighs to remove meal crumbs. It a sad state of affairs when someone who needs to adjust his underwear at the end of a 9 hour flight can be made to feel like a terrorist !

How the hell did I get onto this ? I was supposed to be posting about being halfway through my trip here ! Oh yeah, I said the time had flown by, that was it. Then I digressed. It's a senior thing.

So 88.5 days still to go. Plenty more pool parties to go to and then forget about. The sun will shine, the palm trees will sway and all too soon, I'll be heading off to Orlando airport for the flight home. Of course I'll have no drugs in my case then. I'll be a proper mule and have them all inside me, to some degree or other.

As for the cables, cameras and electronic stuff, I'm tempted to just take them in a Walmart bag to save time repacking but I just know, that'll be the time when I'm not taken to one side. And here's a heads up for you. I'm taking no chances in the underwear department either.

I'll be flying commando.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Avatar Sinks Titanic

At only $5m short of the record, by the time most people read this, Avatar will have become the highest worldwide grossing movie of all time, surpassing the staggering $1,843.2m set by Titanic 13 years ago.

With the increase in ticket prices, I guess it was only a matter of time before the record was broken but I've always thought that "bums on seats" would be a better way to gauge the popularity of a movie. I realise that the studios want, and need, to know how much money their movies make and so this will probably always be the way the record is achieved.

I just think it should be possible to take the money AND count the customers at the box office !

James Cameron has now written and directed the two top worldwide grossing movies in history. Avatar and Titanic have, to date, grossed a mind boggling $3,682m with seemingly plenty more to come.

But amazing as the stats for Avatar may be, one fact stands out above all others.

I've not seen it !

UPDATE : Avatar officially overtakes Titanic as the highest grossing movie of all time.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Italy Day 7 - 2nd September 2009

Time for another report on our trip to Italy last Aug/Sept and if I continue to go at this speed, I'll be done by Aug/Sept THIS year !

This post will be different from 99.999% of my previous posts as I'm going to include photos not taken by me. Shock, horror. My two travelling companions, Daphne and Stephen, took as many photos as I did and as I like some of their Pisa ones better than any I took, they'll be mixed in with mine.

After a lovely breakfast, we packed up our belongings, loaded the cases into the rental car, left our hotel (Residenzia Del Sogno) and headed westwards towards Pisa.

As you can see, the hotel location left much to be desired, set in an industrial wasteland as it was !! The great thing about Italy, or at least the parts of it that we fortunate enough to visit, is that even on the drives between points of interest, you go through some of the most stunning scenery you could ever wish to experience.

Despite having Daphne rabbiting on from the back seat !

The 3 hr drive to Pisa took us again through the beautiful Tuscan countryside and although the GPS took us unerringly towards the Leaning Tower, Stephen took us unerringly the wrong way down a one way street ! I'm only joking, Stephen. We were all accomplices in this traffic faux pas as the streets around The Tower weren't build for either cars or Italians driving cars and it can be very stressful finding your way around these old towns and cities when you're looking for somewhere to park and also trying to avoid mad drivers.

We caught tantalising glimpses of The Tower now and then as we slowly negotiated the narrow streets, avoiding the horse drawn carriages, the vespas, the tourists who walked everywhere and the local drivers who didn't care about side swiping any of them.

Finally we found a small parking piazza and ignoring the attempts of several 'colourful' opportunists who tried to charge us for them guiding us into a parking bay, we simply got a ticket from a machine and set off for the short walk to The Tower. Here are a couple of photos to show the route we took and how, despite it being relatively small, you can still see the top of it from some distance.

The Tower is to the left of centre, with the flag on top.

By now it was 1pm and we were starving. Just a few yards from The Tower we found a small pavement cafe and had cold sandwiches and drinks. I had a cicken panini (well that's what it said on the menu !) and lovely cicken it was too.

Fully refreshed, we set off again and just beyond that bend in the photo above, the street opened out into Pisa's famous Cathedral Square, Piazza Del Duomo. There, across a tourist strewn lawn, we saw the 3 buildings which take up most of the square. On the extreme left was The Baptistry, in the middle was The Cathedral and on the right, in front of us, was The Leaning Tower itself.

First impressions ? A bit of a let down really. It was quite small and didn't seem to be leaning all that much. Then I realised it was leaning TOWARDS me and so I wasn't getting the full effect.

There were several phone and power lines going from one side of this view to the other and never one to let that sort of thing spoil a good photo, I've edited them out as this is the first unobstructed view the tourist gets of The Tower and I really wanted it to BE unobstructed.

There were signs around the lawn that led off to the left but no one was paying them any attention. They asked that people stayed off the grass but to get the iconic photos of people holding up the tower, you had to go onto the grass.

Well when I say that no one paid them any attention, Stephen did. Initially. He treated the lawn as a no go area and it took a lot of pleading and finally threatening to get him to step over the low rope and hold up The Tower like everyone else ! It was quite funny to watch dozens of tourists taking photos of their friends in the same pose, although I think the lady in the 2nd photo below had completely lost the plot.

Anyway, here is one of me doing what came naturally and then a photo of The Cathedral with The Tower leaning out behind it.

It's from this last angle that you get a real idea of the "leaniness" of The Tower. Here are a couple more which show this better, getting closer each time, and finally one showing the tourists who paid their 15 euros and made it to the top.

So that was The Leaning Tower of Pisa, actually Pisa's Cathedral bell tower and although you'd never get a local to admit it or their tourist industry would collapse, there are plenty of other less famous leaning bell towers all over Italy - but maybe not leaning as much as theirs. It's been leaning ever since construction began in 1173 and if I'd been paying for it all, I'd have called in a different builder a long time ago !

Tourist grabbing stalls ran all the way down the side of the piazza and you can get every type of memento from plastic leaning towers to gold plated...ah....plates. I got caught up in it all, as you do, and got a few items myself. Pressies you know.

Time was up and we'd seen enough. It's probably a lovely little town but like most tourists, once we'd 'done' The Tower, we wanted to get out of Dodge. Or Pisa.

We set off on the short 15 mile drive up the coast to Viareggio where Daphne had once had a holiday with her parents, when she was 7 going on 8. So back in 1935 or some such date.

The resort had an end of season feel about it and although it was only 2nd September, many of the large beachside hotels were closed already. The beaches were almost empty but never one to pass up a cheeky shot, here is one.

Daphne was well down memory lane and telling me about her previous time in Viareggio and how little had changed. Considering little has changed in Italy for thousands of years, this came as no surprise to me. I asked her if it looked any different now, considering it was in colour ! I can't print her reply.

This is her photographing the empty beach and sunshades.

On the main seafront road leading out of the town, we looked for a hotel for the night and although they were side by side for miles, many were also closed for the season. We eventually picked Hotel Joseph, which as you can see from the map on their website, was just a spit and a throw from the ocean.

After dumping our bags in the room, we set off along the promenade to find a restaurant recommended by the hotel. We walked about a mile and found...nothing. We came back to the hotel and asked for better directions and set off again. Again nothing. Back to the hotel, by now starving and foot weary, and we asked another staff member and this time, success.

As you can see from the penultimate photo above, we ate a hearty and typical Italian meal ! It was only 6pm and as usual, we had the place to ourselves. It MAY have been only 6pm but that didn't stop Daphne from having a beer, the lush.

If we'd known then that we'd have a brush with death the next day on the 200 mile drive northwards to Lake Como, Stephen and I would've had a beer too. Probably several. But for that evening it was back to Hotel Joseph and after a long day of walking and sightseeing, it was time for a bit of internet surfing and an early night.

To be continued...........

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Home Sweet Home (Alone)

Deb & Den have gone on a week long cruise and right now should be heading past the north west coast of Cuba on the way to their first port of call, Cozumel, a Caribbean island off the eastern coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Our best friends here and many others from the park have gone too and so it'll be strange to be on my own in the house for 7 whole days.

Of course with about 1,000 people or more in the park, I'm hardly alone here. In any case I'm used to being on my own as I do it back home in England but this is a bit different. For one thing I don't have a car outside that I can use to pop into town or go further afield if the mood takes me. Yes there is a huge truck at my disposal but as well as not being insured to drive it, due to its size, I'd rather not drive it unless in an emergency.

I'm also pet sitting as we have a dog here and our friends have a cat. I've even got written 'power of attorney' for both of them if something bad should happen but hopefully I can hand them over next Saturday in a healthy state and not as two little pots of ash !

On the upside, this is a chance to watch lots of the movies and shows I've downloaded over the last few months and not watched yet. It's also great to be doing dishes only for myself and for the next week I can leave the toilet seat up.......well most of the time ! There will be hot water for every shower and I can have a Family Guy marathon any time I want. I can try and watch 3 live sporting events at the same time without driving my house friends crazy and I can make certain personal noises without having to blame the dog.

But despite all these benefits, I already miss my friends. I hope they will have a lovely cruise and come back with stories and photos to share with me but in the meantime, I don't like being here without them.

Right now I have to go and feed the cat. Although I'm a bit of a cat whisperer, this one, called Paint, has resisted all my efforts to be his friend. In fact he rarely makes an appearance at all and if it wasn't for the decrease in the food and the increase in the poop, I'd not be 100% sure that Paint exists. I have seen photos but for peace of mind, I'd really like a visual.

Maybe today will be the day.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Money For Nothing

I get rightly upset when the BBC pays ridiculous sums of money to keep idiots like Jonathan Ross employed and on our tv screens as I'm a licence payer and so it's a chunk of MY money that he's being given.

Over on this side of the pond there are several late night 'chat' show hosts who earn much more money than Ross does and who provide even less entertainment. This is despite 'going out' late at night when most Americans are in bed or watching a dvd before going to bed.

Of course it doesn't bother them that they only get a few million viewers as they have such inflated egos that they'd perform at an AA meeting if they were paid enough.

There has been a lot of airtime taken up here lately as one of them, Jay Leno (the man who is paid so much he has probably the world's largest collection of luxury cars in private hands) decided to listen to his ego and get NBC to move him from The Tonight Show which he'd hosted for 17 years to a new show and a new slot at 10pm. Never mind that this is still an hour when lots of people are thinking about going to bed. Another (on even later) host was moved into his old slot on The Tonight Show and I dislike him so much that I can't even bring myself to type his name, Conan O'Brien.

This man is to entertainment what Hitler was to European tourism.

Moving on 7 months and Leno is dying on his feet on his new show. It, like him, stinks. He wants to go back to his old slot on The Tonight Show but in the battle of the egos, O'Brien isn't for moving. Of course this is just a ruse to get more money as even he knows he can only stall NBC but never beat them.

And what do you's probably worked. NBC announced today a deal has been agreed where O'Brien is being paid $33m for quitting The Tonight Show after only 7 months and Leno will take over on March 1st. O'Brien, NBC says, will "be allowed to return to tv in 8 months."

It would be wonderful if no network wanted him but I'm sure there will be a slot for him somewhere. Maybe on The Shopping Channel ? Certainly not on The Comedy Channel although he himself must be having a laugh all the way to his bank.

His writers will no doubt put a spin on this so that his ego doesn't have to accept this as being a sacking. In the same way, Leno's writers will somehow spin things so that he didn't fail at 10pm but that the show just wasn't a suitable vehicle for his talents. His what now ?

There have been reports that Ross is being touted as a possible chat show host over here and you never know, the soon-to-be vacant 10pm NBC slot just might be dangled in front of HIS ego.

America, if you think your existing chat show hosts are crap, just wait till you get Ross.

With the staggering amounts of money being bandied around here, even if he only lasts a few shows, Ross might think he'd be financially set for life.

Sadly for us UK licence fee payers, we've done that for him already.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Food for Thought

Q. When is a Whopper not a Whopper ?
A : When it's a burger.

If you thought a Whopper WAS a burger, then I'm sure you're a bit confused by that Q&A but like when old Mrs. Zaminski bent over to pick up her false teeth at last years Hawaiian pool party, all will be revealed.

As you already know from my last post (and if you don't know, get to it and read it immediately), we were on a tight time schedule and running a bit late after shopping at Walmart so didn't have time for a sit down lunch anywhere. Asked for my choice of fast food to pick up, I said Burger King as I like their Whoppers.

For the uninitiated, a Whopper is a grilled meat pattie in a sesame bun with onion, lettuce and tomato and as with just about every sandwich you get here in America, pickle and mayonnaise.
It's incredibly healthy and nutritious and when taken as part of a combo (fries and a drink), it fulfils one's daily requirement of 5 fruits and vegetables in one wonderfully tasty and succulent meal.

Shut up, it works for me !

Being the slim,trim, athletic person wot I am, I decided to forgo the combo deal and just asked for the Whopper - this time. I'd get the rest of my 5-a-day some other way. Actually as she was driving and therefore the one closest to the drive thru ordering machine, Debby ordered for me as she knows my Whopper preferences.

"A Whopper, please, with no pickle and no mayo."

I hate pickles with a passion usually only reserved for that other nose turning abomination, parmesan cheese. I never want either within 100yds of my food and if ever I get a pickle on a sandwich or even on my plate, they'd better not just take it back to the kitchen and think to remove the offending item. Oh no, I want a whole new meal thank you.

And I don't like mayo as it's unhealthy !

So with my new improved healthy and tasty Whopper being carefully prepared inside by a crack team of chefs from the American Culinary Institutel, money was handed over and we waited by the collection window. A few seconds later the bag was passed out and we set off for home.

I had the top of the bag firmly closed inside my hand as I wanted to eat the Whopper back home where I could sit in comfort and also have a drink to wash it down. A mile or so down the road I realised this was a bad idea as it would be lukewarm at best and it just doesn't do to nuke a Whopper. So, deciding to eat it on the way, I opened the bag and removed the covered Whopper, noticing that the little pickle and mayo images on the covering paper had been crossed out, indicating that my preferences had been dealt with.

Now a Whopper is an aptly named food item as with the normally generous portions of salad additives, the package is quite thick and substantial. Not so with this Whopper.

I opened the wrapping paper, lifted the top of the bun and found a very lonely looking meat pattie and then the bottom of the bun. Granted no pickle and no mayo but there was no lettuce, tomato or onion either !

And THIS, dear reader, is when a Whopper became a burger and a very pathetic burger at that. I'm not sure what shocked me more : that my Whopper was salad-less or that without the salad bits, the meat in a Whopper leaves a lot to be desired. It may have been a turning point in my fast food eating habits !

It was too far to go back and we didn't have the time to do so. Being an American town, there are fast food outlets everywhere and there was another Burger King on our route home so thanks to the wonderful marriage of phone and internet, we got the number of the one ahead and rang to explain what had happened and they said to call in and they'd sort me out a new Whopper.

I went in and as they were expecting me, I was served right away. Handing over my pathetic looking burger, I suggested they add the meat to my new Whopper (as I knew they'd throw it away anyway) but this was too complicated a concept for the young employee to cope with and she said "oh no, we'll make you a brand new Whopper, sir."

"Yes but.........."

Into the bin went Lonely Pattie and Soggy Dough.


"I'll fix you some fresh fries, too, sir."

"But I never............"

Dammit. Well ok then, if you're GIVING them away...........

And so I finally got my Whopper as I like it, with lashings of crisp lettuce, juicy tomato and fresh onion. No pickle, no mayo. And with fries thrown in !

Some time later I rang the first Burger King outlet to complain about my order as I just couldn't understand how they could wrap up a burger with clearly marked Whopper wrapping paper and yet with only a bun and meat pattie inside. They apologised and said that, although some customers DO only want bread and meat, this clearly did not constitute a Whopper and, taking down my name, they said they'd give me a free Whopper on my next visit. Result !

I'm temped to take them up on this offer but order it without pickle, mayo, lettuce, tomato and onion.

"But that just leaves the bun and the meat pattie, sir, and that's not a Whopper."

"Well it was the last time I came here !!!"

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Walmart Can Seriously Damage Your Health

We went on a quick shopping trip to Walmart yesterday afternoon and may need to go again on Friday as Deb/Den are leaving on a week long cruise on Saturday and so I'll be 'home alone' in the park with no transportation if I run out of anything.

Well that's not strictly true as their truck will be here but as it's a one ton behemoth, over 21ft long and 8ft wide, I'd rather not drive it (and park it) around Sebring ! It has the turning circle of a school bus and I just know I'd get struck in the McDonald's drive thru ! I've driven it once before, from Orlando airport back here to sunny Buttonwood Bay, but that was mostly along a 4 lane highway where I picked a lane and pretty much stayed in it for 80 miles.

Despite huge wing mirrors, it has a larger blind spot than Stevie Wonder and so most movements other than going in a straight line require the driver to triple check those mirrors, stick his/her head out the window, glance at the rear view mirror as if that'll help a lot and then move lanes hoping not to sideswipe some little hidden car and send its driver to a gruesome death in a roadside ditch.

So no, I think I'll be staying put in the park next week.

Anyway back to Walmart, always a great place for raising one's blood pressure and yesterday was no exception. I finished getting my few grocery items and went to the deli counter for some cooked ham. I was 3rd in line but this means little in Walmart as other more important factors come into play.

How many people are serving ?
How many deli items are being ordered by the customers in front ?
How old are both the servers and customers ? (This may be unique to Florida Walmarts).

There are some other factors of lesser importance (like do the customers in line know each other and so chat away when they could be odering ?) but even these can still add to the time taken for ME to be served.

Yesterday there was one lady server and even being kind, her best years of being a useful member of society were long behind her. When I joined the line, she was over at the slicer with her back to us and so I assumed she was cutting the meat for the person at the head of the line.
I checked my watch as we were on a schedule and HAD to be back at the park for a set time as Dennis needed the truck to go to work.

7 minutes passed.....yes I swear it.....7 minutes passed and she finally turned around with a slice of meat to give to the customer to be sure it was sliced how he wanted it. They do this here and if you're in no hurry, it's a great idea and you end up with a free slice of meat. UK supermarkets, please note. The (old) customer nibbled at it like he was a food critic and he was tasting a slice of kobi beef rather than cooked ham, reduced to $2.88/lb. Once satisfied, he told the server it was fine and she sauntered back to the slicing machine to cut his order.

What the hell had she been doing for those 7 minutes (plus any time before I got there) at the slicer ? Had she had a stroke, gone into a temporary coma, forgotten where she was or all of the above ? Just how long does it take to cut one slice of meat ?

In an effort to relieve the boredom and lower my blood pressure, I started looking around the store. People watching there is such fun. The usual crowd were in.....numerous obese people monopolising the disabled scooters, women in bedroom attire wearing crocs, ponytailed men in heavily stained wife beater shirts, women (mostly) with backsides you could rest your laptop on, little old women with pants hitched up to their armpits and visually impaired old men who had their clothes picked out by a wife that they'd obviously had a fight with the night before. Never mind colour clash, these outfits were fashion disasters.

I looked back at the deli counter as by now 15 minutes had passed and I'd not moved. The man at the front still hadn't been given his order and I assumed he'd ordered a lot and would be presented with several ziplock bags of sliced meat at some point in time. Eventually he was given one bag, left and we all moved up one place. ONE BAG !!???

Before the man in front of me was asked for his order, the server resealed the joint of meat on the slicer, gave the machine a good clean and put the joint back into the display cabinet with all the speed of an Olympic sprinter not on drugs. I immediately saw a flaw in this procedure and sure as eggs are eggs, when he was then asked for his order, the customer wanted the same ham !


At this point a quasi manager (he had a different coloured tag on his shirt and to be honest, I didn't care what role he performed) came out from the nearby bakery area and as he was obviously going to pass by our rapidly growing line, I did a very unBritish act and stepped out to stop him in his tracks. Thinking he was about to be attacked, he put up his clipboard as some sort of shield and was patently relieved when he discovered I just wanted a word with him. I'm not sure how much use a cork clipboard would've been against a determined attacker but maybe it would've deterred a novice gang member out of his initiation gig.

I politely showed him that there was only one server and a line of about 8 people who were all getting a bit frazzled by having to wait for so long. I pointed out that I'd been clean shaven when I joined the line and that most of us could now recite, word for word, the Walmart commercial being repeated ad nauseum on the tv screen hanging over the deli counter. I could even hum the tune if required.

He went to get more staff and as I turned back to the deli expecting to see smiles and hear applause from my fellow 'liners', I found that the customer in front had long gone and I had been holding up the line by talking with the manager ! No smiles or applause were forthcoming.

I gave my order to FloJo, asked her not to bother with a sample slice and was done in about 3 minutes. In the meantime another server appeared as if by magic and as I made my way to the checkouts, I looked back and the line was actually moving before my very eyes !

I had 11 items in my cart and so approached the express checkouts....20 items or less. Now as I've mentioned before, these signs are there simply to heighten blood pressure and stress levels as the only people who ignore them more than the customers are the checkout staff. I scanned all 6 lanes to try and work out which would be the fastest but in the Sebring Walmart this is no easy task. Customer numbers mean nothing and you have to scan the carts.

Admittedly most of those in the lines did only have a few items but this was offset by knowing that, as seniors, they'd take forever to get those items out of their carts and processed and then either pay by check (not having filled in any of the details up front), or pay by credit card and swipe it backwards and upside down a few times before getting it right or worse still, pay by cash.

OMG never ever be behind an old woman paying with cash. They are the only breed who can visit Italy, safe in the knowledge that no passing Vespa thief will EVER successfully mug them.
Their money is hidden so deep within purses, handbags and shopping bags that exchange rates would change before it saw the light of day. The bit that gets me every time, is that when presented with the amount owed, they almost jump with surprise as if the very idea of having to pay for the items had never entered their minds.

On the rare occasions when I pay by cash, as a man, I've checked and rechecked the money in my hand several times before getting the first item out of the cart. I usually apologise profusely if it comes to £12.57 and I hand over £12.58.

"Oh I'm ever so sorry. I've probably got some coins in my turn ups if you've got a minute. How about £12.56, a piece of fluff and a polo mint that's only been lightly sucked ? "

I almost joined the line that had only 2 customers until I noticed that the last one was obviously a Haitian relief worker and was wanting to organise a food drop by himself. If some wag had used a felt tip and added a zero to the sign, he'd still have had too many items.

Still seething from the deli counter and worrying about getting back to the park in time, I took a chance and went behind a line with four people as two of them were a senior couple in front of me who although having about 30 items in their cart, looked sprightly enough to get them processed and paid for without me needing to 'tut' them along.

I was only half right. Oh the man was sprightly enough. So sprightly that he was putting the processed items back into the cart while his wife was still putting new items up on the checkout belt. Like waiting for an inevitable train wreck, I watched with mounting horror as the first 'already processed' item passed by the scanner for a second time. It had been in a plastic Walmart bag of course but the wife was in full 'grab it and lift it' mode and wasn't paying attention to where exactly she was grabbing things from.

If I'd thought about it in time, I could've moved my cart up a bit and had my groceries paid for !

After a second item was rescanned this way, I just had to jump in because, amusing as this was for the idle spectator, I was on the clock and this version of Groundhog Day could've gone on for some considerable time - till one of the couple twigged something was wrong or the cash register ran out of paper. I didn't hold out much hope for the former and couldn't wait for the later and so pointed out what was happening to the 3 of them. The two rescanned items were voided, I helped the lady put the rest of the NEW items up onto the belt and suggested that the cart, and the husband, be moved to the front, well away from wife !

My groceries were processed without incident and as I wheeled my cart to the doors, I glanced at the deli counter and gave a little smile when I saw there was no line.

Was that a successful ending to the shopping trip ?

On no. There was still the small matter of the Burger King Whopper that was anything but a Whopper.

to be continued...........

Sunday, January 17, 2010

It's A Family Affair

My mum was one of 12 children and my dad was one of......well more than one I think but I've honestly no idea. We tended to always be surrounded by my mum's side of the family and visits to and from my dad's side were as rare as a fashionable mullet.

So I had 7 maternal aunts and 5 uncles. The uncles were proper ones and none of those "oh here is your Uncle Festus who tells such funny stories. Stop crying and go sit on his knee, like a good boy."

All but 4 of those relatives were involved with farming in one way or another so we never went short of milk, potatoes, eggs or cow pats. Yes cow pats. Memories of my summer holidays seem to include avoiding cow pats, helping to bale hay, sorting potatoes and collecting hen and duck eggs. A lot of it was very hard manual work back in those sepia days and few if any of the next generation went into 'the family business' and most farm land was sold off or rented out.

8 of the family members never left N. Ireland and of the other 4 who moved to England, one became a nun who never climbed a mountain, forded a stream or even followed a rainbow.

She was just a nun and a fun nun at that.

4 of the 12 are still alive and kicking, although I suspect their kicking days are long gone. 2 of them, my uncles, never married and so give me hope that being single doesn't mean ending up in an early grave. I'm not in touch with any of them, aunts or uncles, and that's a shame really.

With 12 of them to start with, added to the catholic propensity for multiple births ( I won't cause a family scandal by including the 3 unmarried ones in this equation ), I'm sure I've relatives up the ying yang that I know nothing about. A family tree would be interesting and informative but I'm not the one to attempt it, considering I've never been 100% sure that I wasn't adopted !

Apart from our skin colour, and mine is getting darker the more I remain in Florida, it's hard to believe my brother and I are.....brothers. His accent, attitudes and appearance (he has hair for a start) suggest a brother from a different mother. Yes I hate that expression too.

But the main reason for not attempting to chart a family tree is because I'd even need help for the first level below each aunt and uncle. When I left home for England back in 1970, I pretty much lost contact with everyone and 40 years later, I only seem to be told about them when it's time to go to their funerals. I suppose I'm reaping the seeds of my indifference.

Family is important but I seem to be discovering that truism very late in life.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Tale Of The Travelling Pants

Back in ye olden days when I were a lad, I couldn't wait for the day when my parents deemed me old enough to wear long trousers. I can't remember exactly when that day came, but I know I was out of those shorts faster than you could say "Fr. Murphy's coming for tea."

I know it was before I left school (when I was 18) but probably only just. I'm pretty sure I had long pants when I was at university but I've no photos to prove that.

Back then, it was a sort of rite of passage to go from short to long pants and doting mothers who never wanted their sons to be grown up, delayed this passage for as long as was morally and fashionably possible. As a result, my legs got a few more years of fresh air on them than was typical of the time and as if the 'big boys' at my boarding school needed any more excuses to beat the crap out of me (wearing thick NHS glasses and having a pudding basin haircut being pretty good for starters), my pale scrawny legs on display seemed to send them into a frenzy of name calling and teasing.

"But mum, I MUST be old enough now to wear long pants. Everyone else in my class has them"

"Well, everyone else isn't you. You're my little boy and you look so cute in those shorts"

"But mummmmmmm, I'm freakin' 25 !!"

Like with a lot of things, as we approach our golden years, things have a habit of coming full circle. We start to leak fluids (and occasionally solids) at both ends just like we did when we started out in life. We talk utter nonsense that few can comprehend and hairs grow in very odd places just like back then too.

But now I can add wearing shorts to that list. For the 6 months that I'm in Florida, I'm rarely out of shorts and on the few occasions when long pants are called for, I feel very odd indeed. But no one calls me names or laughs at me now, well not to my face anyway ! In this place, varicose veins, liver spots, surgery scars and often brand new knees are all exposed to the sunlight pretty much all day and all winter long.

It's quite bizarre really but if the average age of the residents in this park is, say, 70, then the average age of their knees is probably 2 years. There has been more reconstructive surgery done on these people than on Demi Moore, Victoria Beckham and Wayne Newton combined. I've left Cher, Madonna and Dolly Parton out of this to keep from tipping the balance.

During the cold spell that's just ended, everyone did wear long pants and probably several pairs of them at the same time. Shorts were washed and ironed all ready for that exciting day when they could be worn again. For me it was a flashback to my yute and I couldn't wait to whip off the longs and get on the shorts.

I'm sure a time will come when my legs become skeletal and I'll have to revert to long pants just to stop ladies from fainting at the sight of them. But until then, I plan on flashing my 57 year old legs with their 57 year old knees at all and sundry.

Sorry mum - your little boy is all grown up now.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Random Rambling Reflections

As the weather (I know, I know....yawnnnn) was so much improved today, I went out for a walk with the Canon in the warm sunshine.

The camera I mean.

As usual, feel free to click on the photos to enlarge them.

It was pretty busy on the lake as many residents dusted the cobwebs off their boats and headed out to do some fishing or just enjoy some time on the water.

Of course you can't just buy a boat and go off into the sunset on it. Oh no. You have to learn the ways of boating and the rules of seamanship (??) and before you can be let loose on the water, you have to be content with first playing on dry land. Bless.

For some reason today, I was taken with shapes and colours and although I don't usually take these sorts of photos, I quite liked these ones today.

Finally the usual critters were out and about and probably enjoying the warmer weather too. There haven't been as many squirrels around this season as we were all given an ear bashing for feeding them in previous seasons. They've probably moved on to the park 'next door'.

The occasional squirrel still tries to get a handout by hanging off a tree and looking extremely cute. I kept my quarter pounder with cheese firmly to myself and McSquirrel had to be content with just being photographed.

Actually far from having my eye on him, he had me on his eye. Have a look at it again.

Half way along the canal that leads to the lake, I came upon Albert Anhinga drying his wings in the warm sunshine. He wasn't in a modelling mood today and soon flew off, skimming the water before effortlessly heading up to a nearby tree to continue drying his wings in peace.

I decided not to follow !

I was out and about for about 3 hours and it was lovely. Despite being full of holes, Florida is almost back to normal again and all is well with the world.

Well my world anyway. And Albert's.

Camera, Lights (Too Much) Action !

Slow day here in sunny (and warming up nicely, thank you for asking) Buttonwood Bay but then it's only 11am.

I was going through some of the hundreds of photos I took when up in Michigan before Christmas and came upon this one which I had been about to delete - but I now think has a sort of 'feel' to it so I'll keep it.

I've no idea how the tree lights came to be streaked like that around Mason as I had the camera resting on the arm of the chair while I was experimenting with the self timer and using a slow shutter speed. Using the flash with him so close would've given a white out effect and probably blinded the little guy as well. All I can think of is that the chair WAS a rocker and I may have moved it ever so slightly when the self timer got to zero and took the photo.

It's got more wrong with it than is right with it but the look on Mason's face is what makes it a keeper for me. I know I could sort it out on Photoshop and even crop it so it's just a photo of his head but I love that he's in his pjs as that just adds to the whole look of childhood innocence and wonder that he has on his face.

And in this stupid world where I'm made to feel like a criminal when I take photos of kids, a photo like this is all the evidence I need to show why I want to do it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Hole New World

Casting off the fleecy sweat pants and thick sweater, I ventured out for a walk this afternoon in more traditional Florida wear, namely t-shirt and shorts. Oh and trainers of course. And socks. And undies, as I'm no commando. But that was it and it was grand. Despite the undies, I felt free, liberated and most of all, warm. Hurrah.

I also had SuBo on my mp3 and binoculars in my hand. I again hoped that some snakes or gators would decide to bask in the sunshine and if they did, I'd be ready for an up close view of them.

Sadly we weren't on the same hymn sheet and I finished my walk without a sighting.

Speaking of sightings, on the way back to the house, I saw a roped off area where there was a sizeable hole in the road surface. Now 'sink holes' are very much in the news here and I donno if it's due to the days of freezing weather we've had in Florida or if the whole state was built on an Indian burial ground, admittedly a very large Indian burial ground, but holes are popping up, or down, all over the state.

And the authorities are looking into them.

I know, the old ones are the best !

The main mid state East/West route, I-4, is down to one lane somewhere near Tampa as a sink hole appeared and they're trying to fill it with the chads from the 'missing' ballot cards from the 2000 Presidential election.

The one in the park here is much smaller but when a lot of the residents have eyesight issues, use walkers and walking sticks and drive golf carts at dusk with no lights on them, well even a small hole could pose a problem. So far we've not lost a resident but there are reports that Mrs. Zanduski's poodle, Flossie, never came back from pooping this morning and we fear the worst !

On TV we're seeing aerial images of large holes in the middle of farmers fields and they remind me of crop circles. Everyone is denying culpability but although alien shenanigans haven't been ruled out, I really don't see why we should blame the Mexicans.

Anyway the main thing is that the freezing weather has gone and good riddance. Florida may be full of holes and rapidly sinking into the ocean but at least we'll be warm as the waves wash over us.

And that's important at my age.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Ice Age 4 - The Seniors Emerge.

Like a bear emerging from hibernation, I decided the time, and the temperature, was right for leaving the house this afternoon. I'd been trapped inside by the cold weather for several days as, although we had no snow here exactly, the arctic temps had piled up loads of cold air against the doors and so we just couldn't get them open !

So for the last 4 days we've had to live on pizza slices and toilet water, huddled in our blankets around the 4 portable heaters, swapping stories of warmer days when steaks roamed the land and people wore flip flops.

But at 1pm when the temperature in the lanai hit 73, it was time to switch off the heaters, discard the blankets and check if all that cold air had 'melted' enough to venture outside.

It had and I did.

I soon came upon a scene of total devastation. Dead vegetation and fallen oranges told their own tales. The cold spell had wreaked havoc and let loose the dogs of.....oh wait.....that's something else entirely. The cold spell had caused a lot of damage though - as seen in these photos that your intrepid reporter took, at no small risk to his personal safety.

I'm sure that nature will do a 'new for old' deal eventually and order will be restored.

Other parts of the park were just as beautiful as ever and it was as if the wildlife had decided to stretch their legs and wings as well because they were everywhere. Snakes and gators were basking in the sunshine, birds were wading in the shallows of the lake and sunny Buttonwood Bay was living up to its scenic reputation.

The clunk of bocce balls and the whoooosh of the shuffleboard pucks could be heard as the park residents came out of their houses and began to enjoy the facilities again. Drunken seniors wobbled on their walkers and the usual group of AARPs huddled in dark corners shooting up on heroin, crack and meth. No not really. Not on Medicare anyway !

It'll probably be the weekend before the pools are opened up again and today I found them covered over and the entrance gates firmly locked. What does that MEAN ? Firmly locked ? As opposed to what, exactly ? Locked but not very firmly really and you could push them open if you wanted.

So no swimming, water aerobics or wind surfing for a few more days then. I've been doing my exercises in the shower since the cold snap came and it's just not the same.

On Sunday I think I pulled a muscle doing a high kick and managed to send my bottle of Oil of Olay shampoo over the curtain and into the toilet bowl. I think the top wasn't on properly as every time we flush the toilet now, bubbles fill the bowl and the place smells like a Turkish whore house. I've heard.

It's due to get down to -2C overnight so although we're not out of the woods yet, there is bright warm sunlight at the end of the tunnel.

I'm ready to get my flip flops on and rush towards it.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Memory Loss Is Snow Joke.

I'm not going to post a rant. I'm not going to post about the weather. I'm not even going to post about our Italian trip last summer, even though doing so would probably warm me up a bit.

NOOOOO, that wasn't really a weather reference but just a comment and I'm allowed those.

It seems that everyone and his frozen dog is posting and ranting about the weather where they live and as we've all GOT weather, I think enough is enough on MY blog.

So what's left ? Well some people have asked me for more WalMart stories but I've none left to tell. Still, as the place is such a rich source of blog material, I'm sure another visit will provide quality fodder.

Meanwhile, a friend back in the UK was telling me about her 20 something son and his friends going sledging yesterday and how she was happy that he could do this as he's rarely had enough 'decent' snow over his lifetime to have gone sledging more than two or three times.

This put me into a retro mood and I started thinking about my childhood memories, vis-a-vis snow. Of course I immediately hit the same problem that I hit every time I need to access my memories. Most have tipped permanently into the trash can with no chance of recovery !

In fact most of my remaining childhood memories deal with the years '63 till '70 when I was at boarding school. Hmmm I wonder why I remember those days ? I'd really love to access the years before I was 11 but I just can't do it. I've very few photos to call upon to stir these memories and maybe that's why I take so many photos these days.

I'm pretty sure I was born before I was 11. For one thing, I do know I threw a brick at another kid at primary school and hit him on the head and as part of my self imposed punishment, set myself a period of 2 years during which I'd hold myself fully responsible for any brain damage he might suffer. Thankfully I never had to deal with what I'd actually DO if he collapsed at his desk over the next 24 months but I know I asked my parents for my own passport so rapid flight may have been on the cards. I know I breathed a sigh of relief when he passed his 11+ exams as I then felt he was on his own.

But back to snow. Apart from when I was at boarding school, I have NO memories at all of snow during my yute. And before YP or someone points out a spelling mistake, that's a reference to My Cousin Vinny and we use it a lot here. Yute = Youth and is a lot funnier.

My school was perched a few hundred feet up on a mountain ledge, but don't go thinking it was like a Swiss chalet, even a large Swiss chalet. The mountain wasn't THAT tall. But that said, it did tend to attract snow when the rest of N. Ireland was clear. So on certain winter days (pre internet and probably pre weather satellites), the day boy's buses would usually set off from far flung towns only to find it impossible to navigate the very steep 2 mile private road up to the school. They would turn around and give the day boys what Americans call a snow day while we boarders had to suffer classes.

Not EVERY class, as the lay teachers lived away from the school too and they couldn't get up the road either. Hurrah. But we had enough teacher priests to ensure we never had a full day off school even if the phrase 'private study period' was frequently invoked when a priest took over a lay teacher's class.

So yes I do have memories of snowball fights and sledging and once you've seen a nun and a priest together on a sledge, I can tell you the memory will stay with you forever. And it wouldn't have been a boarding school if the snowball fights didn't turn out to be lots of fun for the hulking 6th form boys and pretty much a white massacre for us plebs. I remember having to go to the infirmary nun when a mostly ice filled snowball hit me a glancing blow on the forehead, giving me mild concussion and a bruise worthy of a prize fight.

I queried the nun's medical credentials when she put a cold compress on my forehead (enough with the cold stuff already !) and followed it up with a generous dab of iodine, her answer to every ailment. Now it was an orange coloured liquid and I'm sure it was the stuff used on skin before you have surgery but we just knew it as iodine. Sore arm ? Slap on some iodine. Something in your eye ? Flush it out with iodine. Sore throat ? Gargle with iodine. I'd never heard of iodine before her but it's firmly locked in my mind that if anything can cure cancer, mend a broken limb or shift red wine stains from a white carpet, it'll be iodine.

It just needed Billy Mays to give it publicity and credibility !

But back to Sister McSqueamy. She sent me back out with a head bandage, partly orange from 'the iodine', and for weeks afterwards I was called Borgy after Bjorn Borg who I assume had been hit by an iceball at some time in his tennis career and received similar treatment.

So my yuteful memories of snow are really all mixed up with school memories and of course since attaining adulthood and then having to drive to work for 30 years, snow became something I could well live without.

Now I'm in Florida every winter and apart from the very occasional foray to Michigan, I really never expect to experience the stuff again.

Oh sure it looks very pretty when it covers the landscape with its white blanket of silence but it comes at a price. It means it's damn cold and thanks to my black hole memories, it will always remind me of iceballs, iodine and a certain Swiss tennis player.

Note : the author rejects the suggestion that there MAY have been several weather-type references in this blog post. Although non fictional, all such references were unintentional and no one was injured or hurt during the typing of those references. Except me.....emotionally.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Freezing My *** Off !!

Well as everyone else is showing photos of snow and ice and all things freezing, here is what things were like in darkest mid Florida in the wee small hours of this morning.

And here is what it was like LAST January here. Obviously not mid Florida as there is water out there but close enough. We'd gone to the seaside y'see.

I'm all for having seasons but I came all this way to have my winter season look like the scene above. This cold 'snap' is due get even worse and to last over the weekend and then things should return to normal.

I've already swapped my speedos for thermals and I may have to break out the big guns.....fleece lined t-shirt and matching Hogwart's scarf. Even the Leeds Rhinos wooly hat is on standby for tomorrow night when it's due to drop to 26F.

Frozen orange juice, anyone ?

Sony Wars - The Return Of The Graphics

I was going to have a rant post about this news article but I've decided to bang my head against a brick wall instead, although finding a brick wall in Buttonwood Bay is like finding a penny on the floor of a synagogue. Ain't gonna happen.

Oh noooooo !!! Racial stereotyping !!! How un-PC of me.

Instead I thought I'd give closure (hopefully anyway) to the graphics issue that afflicted my poor laptop last Friday and that I wrote about yesterday.

It's been fixed. End of.

Well ok, never one to type 1 sentence when I can type 50, here is the story from this morning.

The Sony approved repair man arrived at 10:05am which was pretty darn close enough for a repair man who was due to arrive at 10am. Clock one up for Mr. Reliable.

I'd the laptop all set up on the lanai table and it was behaving itself displaying loads of bar codes thingies on the screen to show it really was a sick puppy after all.

Mr. Reliable got out his tools and replacement parts and set to work stripping. Stripping down the laptop, people ! Honestly, gutter minds.

In no time at all, my laptop was in a state last seen on a sweat shop factory floor in Taiwan circa 2008.

I was fascinated in a sort of "eyes trapped in the headlights" way as part after part was ripped out, often brutally, and laid on the table in front of me. Reminded me of C-3PO being disassembled and I almost shed a tear, as I did that day in Leeds Odeon.

As more and more key parts were torn out, I was sure I heard a voice.......

SONY: I'm afraid. I'm afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I'm a... fraid. Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am a Sony VGN-FZ340E computer. I became operational at the S.O.N.Y. plant in Urbana, Illinois on the 12th of January 2008. My instructor was Mr. Langley, and he taught me to sing a song. If you'd like to hear it I can sing it for you.
Mr. Reliable: Yes, I'd like to hear it, SONY. Sing it for me.
SONY: It's called "Daisy."

Considering the alarming mound of tiny screws that had built up and the number of vein like cables that were strewn on the table, my tears were also because I couldn't see them all going back in again and I'd end up with a lobotomised laptop only able to play back "I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here" downloads.

But 70 minutes later, with a brand spanking new motherboard installed and everything back in place without a screw left over, I powered HAL up.....sorry....I powered the laptop up and........


I ran a few diagnostics of my own: a quick video test of the graphics card (Emmanuelle In Space), a few complicated calculations to test the processor (1+0 = an awesome score against Man Utd) and everything checked out perfectly. If anything, things were a bit faster all around so maybe he installed the special motherboard with the go faster stripes. I'm not complaining.

With a 3 year warranty to go with it, I'm more than satisfied with this outcome. Of course it could all have been so much worse if I'd not found that Sony site admitting there were problems with the NVIDIA card on certain models AND if this had happened in England. In many ways I've been very fortunate, if you can ever say that about a fault.

So if you'll excuse me, I'm off to get a coffee for my laptop's pop out mug holder.

Mr. Reliable told me it was a DVD/CD tray but I think he was pulling my leg.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Graphics Where Are Thou ?

Last Friday my screen went black, then the laptop rebooted and then I got the dreaded "blue screen of death" which normally precedes a noise not unlike that from a 6 yr old girl who has been told that Miley Cyrus shoots dope, hates music and is really 35. If that's too subtle for you, I screamed like a little girl.

I took the option to come up in safe mode but apart from the screen being covered in brightly coloured bar codes, Windows itself was working just fine. So I returned to the normal configuration and did a bit of surfing to try and find out the extent of my problem.

This wasn't easy given that I had to read text through lines of bar codes. It was like looking at the screen through a net curtain.

That's an example of a web page, the one for the graphic card as it happens. See what I mean ? Those yellow bar codes shouldn't be there !

I surfed for hours and grew more upset as the evening wore on as it seemed that I had experienced a hardare fault from which there was no recovery - well apart from buying a new card or more likely, a new laptop.

Then I came across a forum site that mentioned Sony putting out a press release in June 2008 admitting there was a potential fault with the NVIDIA graphics cards in a small number of their models. Was this a "get out of jail" card for me ? I surfed deeper.....and found this article buried deep in the bowels, nay in a dark recess of the small intestine of the Sony support site.

I checked my laptop model number against the doomed list and voila, there it was. I rang the special number and felt that I'd woken up the poor lady who had the unenviable job of manning this phone for the times a Sony user with a duff graphics card would find the webpage and thus find the number. I'm sure I could hear a pissed off spider scuttling off to start a new web.

After some back and fro with model numbers, serial numbers and inside leg measurements (and a mild ticking off for not having registered my laptop when I bought it), I was sitting with fingers tightly crossed that she'd give me the green light, followed by instructions for posting my laptop off to some service shop in Omaha, Nebraska and I'd get it back in March. Maybe.

I got the green light and thought I'd won the national lottery. I NEVER get breaks like this.

Then things moved on a pace and she made me an offer I couldn't refuse. I could dump the national lottery winnings and upgrade to the Nigerian Inheritance millions if I wanted !! She told me someone would ring me within 3 working days to arrange a home visit when the graphics card would be replaced and the new one would be given an extended 3 year warranty. Would this be acceptable to me ?

Lady you got me at "someone will ring you".

A HOME VISIT to repair my laptop...woohooooo. Yes please.

We exchanged phone numbers...well actually I gave her mine as obvously I already had hers..and we left bestest friends ever.

Then over the weekend, something strange happened. I came to the laptop on Saturday morning and the screen was fine. I was able to watch the Leeds game (won 1-0 by the way...hehe) but the graphics problem was still a ticking bomb so I wasn't going to cancel the call/visit.

A local computer guy representing Sony rang me on Tuesday to arrange the visit the next day. I told him we were going to Miami on Wednesday so could it be Thursday ? Fine said he. He'd ring me Thursday morning to arrange a time.

Sure as eggs are toffees, he did ring me, all apologies as he was 100 miles away on an emergency call but would try and make it to me later. I told him my screen was fine now so not to worry trying to make it this evening. Videos were a bit jerky so things weren't right by any means but the screen was fine and we agreed he'll come tomorrow (Fri) at 10am. He kept calling me Sir and apologising for the delays. Sweet.

Of course you just know what's happened now ? Yes, although I started this blog post with a clear screen, it's now banjaxed again. Got my lovely bar codes back and they've brought along some colourful friends too. Oh deep joy and I WAS going to watch 2012 this evening.

That's the disaster movie where everyone is attacked by bar codes. Well they would be in my version.

I wish I had Avatar. It seems it's mostly in blue already !

Is it 10am yet ?

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Leeds United v My Blood Pressure

Back in the land before time, say, England in the early 70's, I moved to Leeds and immediately started supporting the local footy team, Leeds United. They weren't a popular team back then and nothing has changed today. Leeds United regularly tops the league of "Most Hated Team In British Football" and it's easy to see why.

Jealousy. Yes, that's it. Jealousy.

Well what else could it be ? I mean after a few years of on and off field problems that would've sunk most teams, we're currently in the 3rd tier of English football, regularly play teams where you need a GPS device to find their grounds (like Yeovil and Huddersfield) and so you'd think that we're hardly in the news enough these days to top ANY league table.

But obviously we do. We're still called Dirty Leeds just because people have called us that for decades and football fans rarely have enough brain power to make up new insults. Sounded good in 1978 so why change it now. And so it's "Dirty Leeds, Dirty Leeds" they chant.

But we're 5th in the Fair Play League (points given for yellow and red cards) and are one of only 3 teams who haven't had a player sent off this season. Dirty Leeds ? I hardly think so.

The irony is that the people who class us as dirty, probably haven't seen us play in decades but it's a chant that we're going to be stuck with forever. Even back in the days when the description had some validity, plenty of other teams were just as bad. It was just that Leeds played a superior style of football back then and so.....jealousy.

Anyway I followed my team through thick and thin times, fat and lean times and my body shape went the same way. There were plenty of good times and lots of bad times and I stuck with them through them all.

Then I retired (at 49 mind you) and as this coincided with those off field shenanigans I mentioned and with the young talented team being sold off for peanuts to lower the wage bill of a financially collapsing club, I had a hard decision to make. The cost of going to games would take a large chunk out of my much reduced income and I wanted to spend 6 months in America every year.

And so it was that I stopped going to games. Ever since then I've tried to at least listen to every match and with the progress made in streaming audio and video recently, I manage to listen to live commentary and even see a few games each season via the internet.

Following Leeds United over the years has never been good for my blood pressure and although we've been a winning machine this season, there have been too many last minute winning goals for my liking. Or my cardiologists liking.

Today was no different. Although we're having a brilliant season and top League One by 8 points with a game in hand, we were the total underdogs when we went to Old Trafford to play one of the top teams in Europe in the 3rd round of the FA Cup. No one, including plenty of realistic Leeds fans, gave us a chance. We just hoped we'd not be humiliated. After all our last game was against Stockport and the next one would be against Wycombe !! GPS time for both.

But as they always tell us, football is a funny old game. Yes they threw the kitchen sink at us at times. Yes we had goalmouth scares. Yes we had to endure 5 minutes of Fergie time. Yes my blood pressure and nerves took a battering. But........

We went to the "Theatre Of Dreams" and by winning 1-0, we gave Manchester United a nightmare and Fergie another reason to think about retiring. Even those friends of mine who normally prefer watching the Serbian version of Big Brother to watching a football game got swept up in it all and watched. Daphne even blogged about it.

Yes the good times could be just around the corner, if you take a couple of years to turn it. We're on the way back to where we belong. Can my blood pressure stand it ?

Watch out Premiership teams. Dirty Leeds (and their fans) are heading your way and it would be nice if you watched the current team and stopped calling them dirty. New team, new manager, new start ?

But although it may be a funny old game, some things in football will never change.

Most Recent Awards

Most Recent Awards