Tuesday, November 30, 2010

......And Thereby Hangs A Tail

A few minutes ago, when the temp passed 85F in here, I decided it was time to swim to the lanai along my own river of sweat to cool off a bit.

Yes that's a lovely image, isn't it ! Sorry.

As I approached the 2 seater, I spotted a couple of little friends part way up one of the windows, using their suckered feet/paws to adhere to the glass.

Well I say friends but being British the geckos are really just recent acquaintances as we've not been formally introduced. I first spotted them a couple of days ago and although I can't be 100% sure they are the same ones, that's not important right now (a nod to the late Leslie Nielsen there).

On a nearby table was my little Nikon point-and-shoot camera so setting it to macro and ignoring the risk to life and limb, I approached one of the critters like a proper wildlife cameraman. I even used my best Attenborough voice-over to calm him/her down and it did seem to work, as he/she simply gave me a fixed stare and allowed me to get up close and personal.

Sadly for the both of us, the camera kept trying to focus on the largest area it saw which in this case, was the yard next door. Try as I might, I couldn't get it to focus on George (I like to name my creature subjects as it gives the memory a more personal touch) who was being really very patient indeed and only moved his/her head a little and seemed happy to remain in situ.

Actually as I've named him/her George, I'm going with 'him' from now on.

My patience ran out before his and I just took the photo.

But, dear reader, this story does not have an entirely happy ending. Startled by the flash, which I forgot to turn off, George scuttled off and without thinking, I grabbed his tail.

I suspect most of you are ahead of me now......

Yes George continued scuttling and I was left holding his tail !!

Before you reach for the smelling salts and report me to PETA, geckos have evolved a defence mechanism called autotomy, where they can 'drop' their tail in moments of stress or to simply get away from a predator. There is special connective tissue in the tail that creates a weak spot and so when the gecko is under threat/stress, the blood vessels to the tail will constrict, the weak spot breaks and the tail drops off - or in this case, remains wrigging between my fingers. A very odd experience I have to say.

I left the tail on the window ledge just in case George comes back for it (stop laughing at the back) but fear not, gentle gecko lovers everywhere, he WILL grow a new one.

I'll be keeping a look out for Stumpy, the gecko formally known as George, and will let you know if he appears again.

I not sure if they can drop the regrown tail so somehow I think that if he sees me before I see him, he'll be off before you can say.....'macro.'

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Green Green Grass Of....Buttonwood Bay

Despite last Friday, Black Friday, not being a holiday, it still seems like we've just had a 4 day weekend.

This is Cyber Monday, another day invented by the retail industry here to prise open our wallets, flex our credit cards and generally part with our cash. As if it wasn't enough to get us standing in line at 4am on Black Friday, they have embraced the internet and today are tempting us with juicy online only offers. If you haven't got t'internet access.......tough. You'll have to go to a library to buy your 55" LCD 3D ready Whopper HDTV with 4 HDMI ports, 2 USB ports, built in wi-fi, blu-ray player and toaster oven.

It may not, however, come with a power cord. Many electrical items here, from printers to kitchen ovens, don't. I think the US needs a few of our consumer acts as I'd have to think that in the UK, an electric oven with no power cord would breech some part of the sale of goods act ! The "fit for use" part comes to mind.

Speaking of tvs, I just might buy my Whopper this evening as the sale ends today and the pressure is getting to me. Damn their alluring deals !

Anyway I've digressed a tad as this post was just supposed to be a quickie about lawn cutting.

Ok so I digressed A LOT but blame the heat for muddling my literary brain cells. I mean, I can barely see the keyboard for dripping sweat.

I can feel the waves of sympathy from across the (frozen) pond so will move swiftly along.........

This morning we had our grass cut. We'd hired a new team and when the first guy arrived on his bright yellow Walker mower (who says Americans don't get irony), the cutting began. He gracefully weaved his machine around the lawn obstacles like a ballet dancer on steroids :-

We'd left out a Christmas wreath for anyone to take for free and he put it on the little collection part at the back of his mower as you can see in this photo.

Thinking the fun was over, I went back into the house to continue my breakfast. Some minutes later I spotted him wrapping the cord and light string around the wreath and then placing it over his head so it was on his neck/shoulders. He then walked off to where his gang had parked their truck and he just reminded me of Sterling Moss on the podium after an F1 race from bygone times.

Never one to miss a photo op, I grabbed the phone again and went back out to ask him for a pose. By now he was standing by the truck having a ciggie break but was only too happy to help.

By the time I got back, the next guy was busily 'whipping' the lawn edges and around immovable objects and when he'd finished, the last guy took over with his blower and with this simple process, tidied up the whole place. It was all over in no time and with the long side areas and round the back to deal with, it sure was good to have this team do the hard work.

After all that, I was about ready for a mid morning nap.

I mean you really have to pace yourself here !!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Golf Cart Ride

An hour ago, when it hit 83F (28c), Deb and I went out for a golf cart ride around the park.

As well as 'driving' along the many internal streets, we went onto both 'cart paths' which can yield many photographic subjects, human, animal and indeterminate !

First up we came upon some sort of crane (I'm no Attenborough for sure !) that was fishing on the shallow shores of the lake. It would use its wings to stir up the still waters and even the lake bed below to bring food to the surface and then tuck in.

You can almost spot the look of concentration on it face.

Then it on to the canal path which is usually a great location for wildlife. There was a new anhinga in town and he was not pleased by my approach. He'd stretch out his snakelike neck and make as much noise as he could to scare me off.

It didn't work !

Before he flew off, I did manage to get fairly close and you can almost 'see' him giving me a look that clearly said.....one more step and I'm off.

I stepped....and he off'd.

Finally just before we got home, I took a photo of one of the many inflatable characters which 'pop up' around the park around at this time every year. Considering I'm reading reports from back home in England about record November lows and heavy snow falling in most places, I think this inflatable is very appropriate.

You certainly see all sorts in this park.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Musings.

Yes it's Thanksgiving Eve here in the US of A and all around the country, turkeys are eyeing sharp cutlery with some suspicion and a lot of nervousness.

Actually any live turkeys are probably pretty safe today as we live in an age when kids think turkeys, like their smaller (and tastier) cousins, are born frozen and, by design, have their internal organs neatly packaged in tiny plastic bags. Just how they managed to get stuffed up their asses is another matter and little Johnny or Hank don't need to be told about that.

Have you ever seen a wild turkey running around au naturelle with a little black hat on its head ? Probably not. Not even in Walmart where you see just about everything !

Being British, I'm not going to presume I know what Americans have to be thankful for - well apart from us Brits saving them in WWII but don't get me started on THAT. No, this is a VERY unique (oh how I used to hate reading that expression) holiday and, considering our history, I have to say I think we should hijack the bandwagon and have a British version.

I mean, come on. If 'they' can be thankful with only about 300 years of history, think what we could dredge up to be thankful for with 2,000 + years of history. Actually I'm not sure when man (or woman........ha !) first set foot on British soil but I'm sure it was before Coronation Street started and even before Cliff Richard had his first No.1 so it had to be a long time ago.

Despite evidence of Homo Erectus still being a bit sketchy even now in parts of the Scottish Highlands and most of central Glasgow, I'm pretty sure we had inhabitants 750,000 years ago when Britain didn't even exist as a nation and the actual landmass was still joined to continental Europe. Oh yes, we were much more a part of Europe back then and anyone with a wheel and a desire to travel could've made it from one side to the other in a couple of years ! Well unless they were starting from North Wales and then they'd have had to go at 20mph.

Little 'in' joke there.

So with our history going back countless centuries and with a clean slate to start with, think of the national fun we could have deciding what OUR Thanksgiving Day could celebrate ! I think I should email the editors of such agust UK newspapers as The Sun and The Star and suggest they poll their readership for suggestions.

Sadly I'm sure the appearance of the first Page 3 girl (Stephanie Rahn, 17th Nov 1970) or England winning the World Cup (30th July 1966) would rate highly on the thanksgiving scale and important as those events may be, they don't really compare with a bunch of pilgrims surviving their first brutal winter in New England.

Here's a thought : if they'd landed in South East Florida, anywhere near Miami Beach, there would BE no Thanksgiving Day. I mean with hardly a first brutal winter to survive, they'd have gone down in history as a very fortunate bunch of religious exiles indeed. Jammy bastards in fact. Old Abe would've no doubt found some other event to remember on the 4th Thursday in November but it certainly wouldn't have been for a load of pilgrims slapping on the factor 30 and sunbathing on a Florida beach all winter.

And I don't care how tasty they might be, I'd not appreciate finding a hunk of cooked pelican or a gator tail on my dinner plate tomorrow. Oh hell no.

So there you have it.....my take on Thanksgiving Day. If Wikipedia is to be believed, a day for giving thanks, spending time with family, feasting, football games and parades. We Brits can do all those things so just for once, we should follow in the footsteps of our friends across the pond (no, not the French...the OTHER pond) and create our own Thanksgiving Day. I may fall slightly short of the readership of The Sun or The Star, but please feel free to add your suggestions as to what we should be thankful for........and modesty dictates you leave this blog off the list !

Happy Thanksgiving to all my US friends.....especially those cooking my meal tomorrow !

Monday, November 22, 2010

It's All A Question Of Timelines

Anyone who uses Facebook and/or Twitter will know about timelines and how messages and comments appear in a timely fashion so that you can go to where you left off the night/day/week/month before, or just jump in at the top and say 'sod it' to all the vital social messages sent to you by people you have never met before and you'd run a mile from if you were ever asked to meet.

But life, even here in sunny Buttonwood Bay, has timelines too and although I pretty much ignore most of them, being that I'm retired an' all, some events just can't be ignored. In no particular order the ones still outstanding this year are, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the park's Golf Cart Parade.

Yes you read that right......the golf cart parade.

Every year, a couple of weeks before Christmas, a lot of the residents here put time and effort into decorating their golf carts and then at 6pm on the day, drive around the park in convoy to the cheers and applause of the rest of us who stand out to watch this colourful and often very inventive spectacle. Admittedly things get thrown but those tend to be candies from the cart occupants to the open handed (and teeth missing) spectators along the route.

Some of those candies may have soft centres but their shells can crack a tooth at 20 paces even when thrown by an arthritic arm.

Now remember that almost every residence here, and that's about 960 units, has a golf cart to get their elderly occupants from place to place in this large park. But although the potential for a huge convoy is there, usually only about 20 or so take part.

And this event isn't confined to this park or this part of the world. Oh deary me no. Judging from the searches made on my blog at this time of year (as I've posted a few times about previous parades here), the residents of similar parks the length and breadth of this fine country are beavering away as we speak, creating their own mobile masterpieces and are seeking a little help from looking at my photos. I'm not sure how much they'll get as taking photos in the darkness of moving objects, albeit slow moving objects, is not my forte.

Anyway the 2010 Buttonwood Bay Decorated Golf Cart Christmas Parade (or BBDGCCP as I like to call it) will be upon us in a few weeks and no doubt another blog post will follow shortly thereafter. This momentous and not to be missed event takes place between the slightly lesser dates of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Yes I know there are other events but I don't have to be PC and mention them....my blog, my rules.

So to get in the mood for all this AND as all the stores in the western world seem to have been displaying festive decorations for some time now, we felt the pressure to put up our Christmas tree a bit early this season. The rule has always been "not till Thankis Geeving be gone and Friday of the Black is hereth, shalt the tree of ornaments and other shiny dangly bittees be foisted upon the hoose dwellers.....forsooth."

Or some such words. I may have misquoted the rule. Verrily.

So this afternoon I did my bit and erected the tree which has been lying dormant for a few years as we never had room for it in our previous place here. Now that we have room aplenty (despite the imminent arrival of a 50" (make sure I got that right this time)) plasma telle), and corners to spare, the tree now stands tall and proud, dripping silently with little bits of tinsel from the last time it saw the light of day.

After Thanksgiving, Debby will throw herself into a favourite task by decorating the tree with sets of twinkling lights (twinkling via the power of electricity) and hanging up all the special ornaments collected and lovingly stored over the past decades. I know she'll be a happy bunny as decorating the 2ft tree that sat on top of the telle in our previous place was just not the same. One decent sized Piglet ornament and it was done !

So here, along with a virtual drum roll, is said tree and reet grand it looks too.


It'll look better when it's lit up.....like a Christmas tree !

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Veterans Day

Last Thursday was Veterans Day here in the US of A and with so many seniors in the park, it was a time for even more flag flying and thinking of those who have served and are serving their country.

Now before you tell me off for missing the apostrophe back there, it's not my fault. The US Government has declared that the attributive rather than the possessive case is the official spelling and who am I to argue.

Suitably impressed with my intimate knowledge of US government spelling directives and just before sunset, I set off walking to the pier by the lake as I love the light at that time of day. On my way, I passed a house that had its sprinkler going and I liked the view looking through the spray towards a distant house flying the Stars & Stripes.

It looked much better to my eyes than in this photo but you get the idea.

Then it was off to the pier and although I've taken many photos of it at sunset, I never tire of taking more and being in a reflective mood at the time, it seemed that its stark beauty at the edge of the tranquil waters was even more poignant that evening.

Some nearby palm tree fronds were catching the intense light from the setting sun and although not particularly photogenic by day, they had come alive with a vibrancy that belied their general purpose.

I then took this view over the lake with the sun nestling all too briefly on the horizon, just before it dipped down and was swallowed by the enveloping waters.

There was just time to go out along the pier and take this shot looking back at one of the swing benches and the couple who, sitting together beside the gently fluttering American flag, seemed to sum things up nicely.

The most famous work of the English poet, Laurence Binyon, is "For The Fallen" and I quote it here. It may have been written to remember the British who died in WW1 but its last and most quoted stanza is for all nations who remember their dead........

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Senior Moments (An Ongoing Post)

Right now I'm sitting here in mid Florida watching a live footy (soccer) game from Birmingham in England. I'm also 'watching' my friend Daphne on her drive up to Barrow in N. England thanks to Glympse. (She's just turned off the A590 and is currently going at 38mph. 4th gear, Daphne, 4th gear). I'm also chatting online with various people around the world.

Kids now take all this amazing technology for granted and complain when the streaming video from the Chilean miner's webcam breaks up a little. I was watching it in bed on my phone, for goodness sake. How amazing was that ? That it was only 2am and I was already in bed !

I still remember Marconi when he placed the first ever pizza order by morse code and signal flags so all this is almost sci-fi to me. I remember Compuserve and dial-up internet when if a web site contained a photograph, you could go fix a cup of tea and still return to see the image building up like some sort of witchcraft.

I'm in the market for a new tv here and the options are bewildering : plasma, LCD, LED or LED and LCD ? What about 3D ? Internet enabled ? How many HDMI and USB ports ? 60mhz, 120mhz or 240mhz ?

You can now watch tv on a monster sized screen that would've put my local cinema to shame back in the day.

And few electronic items do just one thing these days. A phone that is just a phone ? No such device. When I go out for my daily walk, I use mine to listen to music but I could type live to friends around the world via a chat application, speak for free to those same friends via Skype, send my route to anyone who cared to see it via Glympse, watch a YouTube video or simply play a game. Oh and I could actually send/receive a phone call of course. And all this on a unit the size of a playing card. Amazing.

Being a bit of a geek, I've managed to stay in touch with the latest electronic developments but right now I'm on the edge. A few unknowns are creeping in and the occasional news article goes over my head. Soon most of them will and I'll be reduced to shaking my head when I step into a Best Buy or even a Walmart (ok so I shake my head EVERY time I go into a Walmart but that's got nothing to do with visiting the electronics section) and with no children or grandchildren to help me out, I'll be like a currently tech challenged senior, sitting at home with his wind up gramaphone and wondering where to get his collection of 78's re-grooved. Scary.

At least I'll be able to watch Bonanza reruns on my 60" LCD-LED 3D 240mhz wall mounted wifi enabled HDTV.

I just need to remember when they're on ! I'm sure there will be a phone app for that.

Friday, November 12, 2010

USA !! USA !! USA !!

I'm not one for apologising for anything I write on here or feeling a need to explain things in any way but I'm making an exception in this case....with an explanation.

While I'm here in the US, a lot of my posts will obviously relate to how I see life in these here states. Well Florida mostly. And Sebring within Florida. Yes and probably Walmart within Sebring within Florida !

Can I just make it clear that I don't (always) mean that I'm finding faults with people and places here that can't also be said about my own country and its citizens. Everything from mundane shopping trips to having medical procedures are often so different here that I like to write about these differences and that doesn't mean they are any better or any worse than we're used to in the UK. They are just different and often it's a case of "vive la difference."

No one has had a pop at me so far and I'm just trying to ensure that continues. If I didn't love most things about this country, I'd not want to live half my life here so if nothing else, I hope that shows I'm not a US basher in any way.

It's just a case that some of the things I experience here crack me up and I want to be able to comment about them without thinking I'll get flack for it. Free speech and all that. Hopefully my light hearted take on such things will offset any flack but of course free speech means people are entitled to disagree with what I say and that's fine too. I'd hope that regular readers would recognise my tongue-in-cheek is never meant to offend.

Finally, on the subject of my previous post, although it could be argued that we don't have the same levels of obesity that exist in the US, I believe a lot of evidence is simply hidden in the UK. In my experience, our "fatties" tend to remain indoors either through embarrassment or because they can't get around easily. In the US they can be much more visible due to buildings and amenities being geared up for all shapes and sizes. It's also an attitude thing and (again just my opinion here) in the US there is a "I may be huge but that's not going to stop me going out and about" attitude that we may not have in the UK. Whether the number of things you can do without leaving your car here helps with this attitude or has in fact contributed to it is another matter but it fuels my opinion that obesity here is in your face and in the UK it's a mostly secret problem.

And finally finally, I'm in no position to poke fun at obesity from any sort of smug moral high ground. I've just used an online BMI calculator and yes......I'm officially obese myself !!

This is all too serious for only one mug of coffee so I'm climbing down off my soapbox to get another. Mug of coffee that is. My soapbox has many more 'miles' left in it yet !

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Walmart v Aldi

I went shopping last night. Always a visual experience here. Especially if one goes to Walmart.

I only needed a few basic items and to look at LED/LCD tvs so I'd plenty of time to people watch and oh my is Walmart a good place to people watch.

The thing is, as well as watching FOR people, you also have to watch OUT for people as so many whiz around the store in scooters that it's like doing your shopping on the M25. Both the people and their scooters should carry a government health warning, although sadly that warning may be too little and too late for most of them.

These were taken with my camera phone and as I'm still not totally paparazzi accredited, I feel a bit like a voyeur taking these shots so the quality isn't great. On their feet, I guess the people couldn't exactly chase me down the aisles but on their scooters, they could run over me before I'd have time to shout 'glazed donut cleanup on aisle 6.' Therefore I had to be furtive.

The best one was this combo scooter display team with the lead man/lady (who knows !!) directing things and reading from the tiniest of lists while his/her friend came along behind with a basket attached scooter. As this didn't provide nearly enough storage space, this friend was actually towing a cart behind and they all moved smoothly up and down the aisles in a sort of synchronised convoy that was amazing to behold. You gotta admire the organisation that goes into such shopping trips even if it means slow moving seniors and parents with young kids have to jump out of the way or risk serious injury if mown down by this example of mobile obesity.

As you can see from the next photo, the convoy did break formation at times and this image clearly shows that they did put some thought into making themselves highly visible in case, God forbid, they ever got separated. Most likely along the candy aisle.

On the way home, we stopped off to have a look around the new ALDI store which only opened here a few weeks ago. It was reassuring to spot the next generation of "the scooter people" coming along nicely as this young fella was probably a pre teen but was showing all the signs that he'll be a fully blown Walmart scooter person within the next decade or so.

On the other hand, as his mother was spending most of her time trying to keep him from climbing into the refrigerated food cabinets, over eating may be the least of his problems. Clearly he couldn't wait to get to the frozen profiteroles and didn't see a need to bother with the defrosting process.

Mind you, the store did sell Jaffa Cakes so in moments of weakness, I may be in no position to criticise these people.

But if you ever see me in a shopping cart convoy, please take me outside and shoot me.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A Walk In The Park.

As I sit here in my recliner armchair and look out at the Stars & Stripes fluttering patriotically at the top of the neighbour's flagpole, I'm reminded yet again that I'm not in Kansas anymore.

I'm in Florida.

Once again I come to you, dear patient readers, from sunny Buttonwood Bay, Sebring and this will be my home for the next 176 days or May 3rd 2011, whichever comes later. This year my location within the park is different as over the summer my friends here bought a new and much bigger house and it is from there that I send out this first post of my 2010-2011 season in America.

Eat your heart out, Alistair Cooke.

And here IS that new house.............

By the way, most of the photos this time around will be taken with my camera phone as I tend to have it with me all the time and let's face it, it's easier than lugging around an SLR and zoom lens. The date stamp in the corner will be the giveaway as, sadly, will the reduced quality.

So I arrived here on Sunday after a most excellent flight and even the security checks at Manchester (shoes stayed on and my carry on case wasn't opened up and examined - both firsts for me) and the immigration checks at Orlando went without a hitch. I was allowed IN for another winter in Florida and despite exiting the airport at the wrong terminal once again........

......Debby still found me as I borrowed a stranger's cell phone to tell her where I was. I did bring my phone with me but only to use as a wifi enabled 'computer' and not as an actual phone.

90 minutes later we were in the park and I got to see the new place for the first time. Seeing as it contains the contents of a much larger house in Michigan, the contents of the old place here in the park, most of the contents of their 5th wheel and the contents already in the house from the previous owners, it says something about the size and storage capacity of this place that it looks so good.

As I'd had to get up at 4:45am on Sunday to get to Manchester airport and then didn't get to bed here until 3am Monday morning UK time, Monday passed in a sort of jet lagged haze for me. I did nothing much and remember even less about it !

I regarded today as Day 1 and after 2 mugs of Amaretto flavoured Dunkin Donuts coffee (highly recommended), I went walkies. It was 10:30am.

It was also 78f/25c and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Glorious.

Rather than post photos of my walk here, I've put them up on my Facebook photo site so here is the link.

It was lovely to see old friends along the route and be waved and smiled at by everyone I met. Yes it was a bit like The Stepford Wives on the set of The Prisoner and this troubling image was enhanced with most people going around in golf carts. All that was missing was a big weather balloon.

Then it was back for a shower and a light lunch and now I'm sitting here watching Sky Sports News and hearing about Leeds United drawing at home to Hull City.

It may be a different house in a different country but some things never change !

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