Friday, January 28, 2011

Groceries & Glocks - I'll Need A Bigger Cart

Ok so lets make up our shopping list for Walmart.

Cereal, check.
Eggs, check.
Bread, check.
Checked tablecloth, check.
Deli Meat, check.
Apples, check.
Armalite, check.
Onions, check.
Milk, chec........whoa !!! Back up a bit, buddy.

Armalite ? Surely Marmite or even Vegemite ? No ?

When we go to Walmart, which is usually once a week, I nearly always take my camera because as regulars will know, I just love taking photos of 'the people of Walmart' and in my local Sebring store, they rarely fail to turn up to entertain and amaze me.

I also rarely venture far from the grocery section or the electrical centre as little else really holds my interest - I like the electrical centre as it has 'things with plugs on the end of them' and I like the grocery section as this is where 'the people' lurk. I'm not sure how much of this is down to them never straying far from the food aisles or the fact that with them on board, the electric carts they use don't have the battery range to get them any further into the store !

But the other day I had more time to spare and so I ventured beyond the enticing boundaries of the electrical centre and found myself in bizarreworld. Well bizarre for a non American that is. Not that many aisles along from the toys section was a counter selling firearms of all shapes and sizes. Now as a seasoned American visitor (legal I might add), this store area was not unknown to me but it still made my camera finger twitch and when I spotted the firearms version of an Argos Catalogue, the finger couldn't stand it any longer.

I'm not sure what impressed me more...the catalogue title or the fact that it was in its 102nd incarnation. I was expecting a foreword by Wyatt Earp or Annie Oakley (better not be sexist here, eh love ?) or even Charlton 'NRA' Heston but of course his guns had finally been taken from him when the rest of his body went the way of his cold, dead hands.

Anyway the Revolutionary musket wouldn't fit into the coffin.

As this non St. James version of The Bible was sitting on a stand (I know what I mean !), I opened it up at random and sneaked another photo while the Walmart employee was attending to a nice teenage couple who were browsing for a sawn off shotgun. Both looked sort of nervous but this was probably due to the close proximity of the slightly bulbous girl's father who was doing most of the talking and given the colour of his face and the definition of the veins in his neck, either drank a lot or had a slight issue with his blood pressure, or both.

I think Sainsburys should sell guns. I can see the LS17 moms in their top of the range SUVs packing heat on the school run. And think of the Nectar Points !!

It all brought back happy memories of my very first visit to these shores in 1989 when I went into my very first gun store in South West Florida. The owner was kind enough to let me handle many of the guns and even produced a case containing his personal .44 Magnum which I can tell you was neither a tasty chocolate coated ice cream or a large bottle of bubbly. Oh no this was a Clint Eastwood special and handling the owner's impressive weapon was something I'll never forget.

Judging by his demeanour, I don't believe he felt the same way. He's never written !

But enough John Inman smut and back to Walmart. I looked through the catalogue but found nothing I wanted - which wasn't surprising considering it's not my idea of fun to shoot at anything that has a heartbeat. Mind you, I can think of a few people I'd exclude from that general category and it would be quite easy to get them all at once as they are the ones who have been piling onto the 'sexist' Sky Sports bandwagon over the last week.

Oh don't get me started..........

Right, before my blood pressure joins that of the father of the bride, I'll get off.

Happy trails.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Terminator 4 - The Rise Of The Geeks

Not sure where that title came from but inside my head is a strange place at times and usually it's best not to ask ! I've also only had one cup of coffee so far this morning so as the intro on some 60's tv show used to say.......anything can happen in the next half hour.

Anyway, as friends will tell you, I am a bit of a geek, although the word has many definitions these days. My whole career involved working with computers and despite being retired for almost 10 years (wow !!), I'm still rarely away from one. I love technology and can still just about keep up with current advances even though they are coming thick and fast.

In a post last year I mentioned how, in the early hours of the morning, I'd been able to lie in bed here in Florida and watch live tv images on my phone being sent from a web camera which had been lowered down a mine shaft in Chile showing the trapped men finally being rescued.

In bed. Television. From Chile. From inside a mine. ON MY PHONE !!

Sorry....didn't mean to shout but it was very impressive.

I mean if this technology had been around in 1969, I could've watched the moon landing from my bed.

Anyway the reason for this bloggette is that last night Deb/Den had just gone to bed early (by my night owl standards) when I read a tweet from Stephen Fry which included a link to a cute photo. Knowing Deb would like to see the photo, I sent it on to her via email, thinking she would "pick it up" this morning. About a minute later I got her "awwwwww" reply as she had picked up the email on her phone and sent me an email back.

As she was only 50ft from me in her bedroom, this was not exactly as impressive a demonstration of the power of modern technology as the one I mentioned earlier but as she has no intention of ever (voluntarily) going down a mineshaft, Chilean or otherwise, it'll have to do for now.

We are a growing bunch, us geeks. Just a few minutes ago my friend, Daphne, sent me a phone photo of a dessert her hubby was having at that very moment in a pub in Leeds. As I sit here relaxing in my recliner, I can get news articles and video clips from anywhere on my laptop or phone. People all over the globe are sending each other emails and texts, photos and live video clips. Geeks rule.

A nice sunset in Singapore ? We can watch it.
A holiday photo from the banks of the Nile ? We can see it.
Jackass wannabees going over a cliff on a shopping cart ? We can look on in disgust.

What a small world we now live in !

I wonder if they said that when those seafaring explorers came back from discovering countries they never actually set out to find ?

"So, Capt Cook, just back again. Where from this time, eh ?"
"Donno really, mate. Some place with bouncing animals and bent sticks that you can't throw away."
"Travel far did you ?"
"Donno really but it took us 2 years."
"Only 2 years - what a small world we live in."
"Yeah...wanna see some photos ??"

And on that note, I think it's time for my 2nd coffee !! I really shouldn't be allowed to blog this early.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Be Werry Werry Quiet !!

A few minutes ago I came home from a short golf cart trip (if you're new to this blog that might sound bizarre so feel free to go back and catch up...might take you a while !) and approaching the driveway, saw a bunny wabbit hopping down along the side of the house. As I got off the cart, it sat still, looking at me with one huge eye.

Well it was side on to me so what did you expect ?! It reminded me of one of those chocolate bunnies.

I went and got my camera on the off chance that it wouldn't have anywhere better to go to and would therefore still be there when I returned. It wasn't.

I looked down the side of the house and there was the wabbit sitting in the back yard peering at a fallen lemon. I did my best Elmer Fudd impression and crept towards it, trying to look as if taking a photograph was the last thing on my mind. I tried not to make eye contact so it wouldn't see me !

Remember how we'd try that as kids and could never work out how mum or dad would see us when we couldn't see them ?! Grown-ups ! They had special powers !!

Anyway I got quite close and started snapping. With my backup photos taken just in case, I crept closer, one foot at a time.

There's another stupid statement. One foot at a time ! How else do we creep ? If I'd done two feet at a time I'd have been hopping !

Big ears didn't move an inch. He was happy to sit in a ray of sunshine and watch me watching him. Emboldened, I crept closer still. I took another photo. The shutter noise spooked him and he hopped a short distance away.

Don't you hate the stupid artificial shutter noises on shows like CSI, Bones, NCIS and the like ? Sounds like a gattling gun going off. I understand they're usually photographing dead bodies so don't need to be quiet but come on....that's just annoying special effects.

By now we were only a few yards apart (or metres if you're Johnny Foreigner) and after taking a few more photos of him posing in the setting sun, I got bored before he did and I came back inside.

Ok I realise this hasn't been the most exciting of posts and I could lie and say a gator suddenly appeared from nowhere and carried off the wabbit....but it didn't. So I won't.

Mind you there ARE gators here and there ARE wabbits here so...........

I've got National Geographic on speed dial !

Avoiding The Grim Reaper

I was on my park walk this morning and I saw an ambulance with its lights a flashin' parked outside a house on Tarpon Drive (for those who like such details).

As I passed, I was happy to notice that the paramedic was putting the end of the gurney into a semi upright position so at least I felt that the park resident wasn't leaving feet first, so to speak. Continuing on my walk, I got to thinking.

I've not been around the grim reaper's handiwork much in my life and can count the number of funerals I've attended on the fingers of one hand. Obviously friends and even some relatives have died and I've just not been to their funerals for one reason or another but even adding those in, I've not really had many deaths to deal with. Until I came to this park that is.

This is a 55+ community and I'd reckon that most residents are 75+ leaving (relatively) young 'uns like myself to bring down the average. As such, an ambulance entering this park is not an usual sight and in any case, it usually means there is still hope for its intended passenger. Whether that passenger ever makes the return trip is another matter, of course.

But it helps to focus the mind and makes me, at least, realise what's important in life. And that is to make sure that flaming ambulance and it's much darker coloured cousin, never stop outside MY house !! I wonder if smearing some lamb's blood on the door would help too ? Hmmm.

There have been a few deaths here already since I got here (yes, yes, just a coincidence I'm sure) and a few weeks ago a lovely little old lady passed away and it quite upset me. She reminded me of my mother as she was always smiling, loved giving hugs and was small and 'boney' to use a technical term ! When we met up again last November, the day after I got here, she greeted me with a room brightening smile and a hug that I thought would never end.

She played bocce which is where I first met her several years ago. I've no idea what else she did but she was very active and sprightly and typical of most residents here. So her death was a shock to me and as her house is on my walking route, it was with some sadness that I'd pass it regularly and see her car all covered over and her name sign swinging gently in the breeze in her garden.

I'd heard that family members had visited last week to presumably make arrangements for her house to be sold and her car to be passed along to some grandchild or other. So it was with a heavy heart that coming just a few minutes after passing that ambulance, I came to her house and noticed that both the car and the sign were gone.

We don't leave much behind but memories, do we ?

Monday, January 17, 2011

...And The Award Goes To.........

I'll admit it. I watched most of The Golden Globes last night as the show tends to be a bit less formal than The Oscars and I can just about stand a small dose of 'luvvies' every now and then. I was also hoping it MIGHT be a bit different and the winners would just say thanks and get off stage.

But therein lies the problem with these people. Luvvies + a stage = performance time.

I don't buy celeb magazines or watch showbiz tv shows like ET. I want my tv and movie stars to entertain me for the duration of the tv show or movie and that's it. I don't need to know what they do off screen and who with and what they're wearing, or not wearing, when doing those things.

From the era of the first flickering images of a silent black & white movie to the super high def digital 3D spectaculars we have today, those of us who don't act have seemingly been obsessed with those who do. Not can, but do. A whole industry exists to fuel their egos and satisfy our desire to know what they are up to 24/7. How can that help to make them well rounded individuals ? When millions read what you say and do, what chance do you have to be normal ?

They will claim that the downside means they can't 'move among us' and lead normal lives but they can't have it both ways. They can't court publicity and then complain about it when it doesn't suit them. Or can they ? What's to stop them publicising themselves and their show/movie but then going private the rest of the time ?

The answer, it seems, is us. We don't want them to be private. We want to know what they do, what they're thinking about, what they shop for, what clothes they wear, how many babies they'll adopt this week and so on. We are to blame for thinking they are special, different from us, famous.

I regard myself as a 'normal' fan of these people. If I knew that Tom Hanks or Meg Ryan (when she was cute and not nutty) or that funny one from The Big Bang Theory was passing the end of my street, sure I'd be out there wanting to see him or her. I'd probably want to be photographed with them and even make a bit of physical contact - we're just talking Meg Ryan here before the rumours start up again. But I don't KNOW these people. I just like how they entertain me on the big and small screen. Remember they're reading lines others have written and even their movements are being directed by...the director. Out of character they could be awful people or idiots, or both. I mean I wouldn't buy a product just because any of them use it ! Come on, get real.

Get real ? That's the thing. They're NOT real, not really. They're actors. What they say and do for 22 or 122 minutes is what we like about them. After that, why do we care about them ?

And so back to The Golden Globes. It's an award show. Individuals getting awards for doing a good job during a specific show or movie. THEY get the award for what THEY did. So why do THEY all thank everyone else ? Fear ? Fear that if they don't mention everyone from their parents to the key grip technicians that they'll be blacklisted as self centred and never work again ?

During the show I felt like the room was inside a huge bubble inside which these people live their lives. They all have individual bubbles of course for daily living, but when they all get together like this, those little bubbles temporarily burst and they share the big one. Those of us outside the bubble look in and will never understand what it's like to be on the inside. More to the point, and despite what they may say to the contrary to try and sound like us, they have no wish to ever be on the outside. WHEN that day comes, they have plastic surgery and hip replacements and try and get back in. It's very sad.

Within the bubble, one can do and say whatever one likes as everyone else totally understands. There are different rules inside and as long as you don't upset your fellow bubblees, anything goes. Lets be honest. If you or I stood up and spoke like most of those award winners last night, we'd be cringing at the video this morning. Without a script and in some cases even with an autocue, it was both painful and embarrassing to listen to them. The content was bad enough but the delivery was worse. And these are the people we obsess about ? Gimme a break.

But bubble people don't see things as we do. It's a tight knit, closed off community. The ones in the crowd simply aspire to be up on that stage gushing away accepting an award, crying by the end and with the tears, finally letting the doubters know they CAN actually act ! It's almost mandatory to have a mini rant about some current political or humanitarian story to pretend you are intelligent and caring even if you come across as borderline nuts in doing so. As long as those in bubbleworld cheer and applaud you, that's all you care about.

I always love it when an award winner pauses and says "I hope I didn't leave anyone out." LEAVE ANYONE OUT !!! I'm actually shocked that I didn't get a mention ! Last night, one or two, probably only one actually, realised that they'd finished early and no one was winding them up or the 'get off' music hadn't started and so they went back and thanked a few people twice ! Now that's a pro ! Another showed us that one of an actor's skills is to NOT listen when it suits them and so, despite the 'get off' music starting, they continued to speak and only stopped, I assume, during the commercial break. Who knows.

And so the bubble bunch had a wonderful evening. Lots of kissing, hugs and handshakes and mutterings of how wonderful each other was in such and such a show/movie. I'm sure some of them were sincere and that friendships do exist within bubbleworld but I think those are as rare as a short acceptance speech. I mean, considering the inhabitants, why wouldn't there be acting going on inside the bubble ?

And finally, I'd like to thank..... But first, here is a photo to prove I can have stars in my eyes as well. This is NASA astronaut Story Musgrave looking slightly overwhelmed standing next to a famous person. Story has done more in his life than most and as well as having a bio so impressive it's scary, is the only astronaut to have flown in all 5 shuttles and for that alone, I was thrilled, and I'll admit, a little awestruck to have met him a couple of years ago. He lives just up the road outside Orlando and we've kept in touch via email since that meeting. He's a genuine, down to earth (ha !) person you would pass in the street and never recognise and yet if he was up on a stage accepting an award, would have every right to have a long list of people to thank.

People of bubbleworld (also known as bubbleheads), take note. It's not a concept you'll be familiar with or sadly, want to accept, but sometimes less is more.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Let Bygones Be Memories !

The great thing for me, but not for you, is that with my increased senility, I'm able to write about things several times over as if they were for the first time.

Having just watched "50 First Dates" (for probably the 6th time but who knows !) I feel like I can identify with the character played by Drew Barrymore, swapping car crash for old age to explain the onset of my short term memory loss.

I say all this because I think I've posted about aspects of THIS post before, hell probably the whole post word for word. But in my world, it's as new, fresh and honest as a Lb/Dem manifesto promise.

Speaking of such things, here is a wee joke I read yesterday on Twitter and apologies to all those outside the UK who may therefore not get it....and to all those inside the UK who may get it but still not think it's funny.

Man at Lib/Dem conference : "I'd like to buy a copy of your manifesto."
Lib/Dem lacky : "I'm sorry but we've sold out."
Man : "I know but I'd still like to buy a copy of your manifesto."

Boom, boom. That's probably my first and last political joke.

Ok where was I ? Oh yes, The Tremeloes.

What ? Oh sorry, I turned two pages of notes there.

After my somewhat pompous and depressing previous post, I went for a walk. It was a lovely warm sunny afternoon and I guess I still felt guilty about eating at the Golden Coral the previous evening but for whatever reasons, I plugged in my record player, strapped on my headphones and went walkies around the park.

It was awesome (to use the local idiom) to feel the sunshine on my face and the warm tarmac beneath my feet. Quickly going back inside to put on some socks and trainers (!), I set off again with a spring in my step (Air Jordans) and a smile on my face (Colgate Spearmint).

After a few pleasantly melodic tunes from "Take That", a popular UK beat combo, I was at peace with the world and ready for the next album to hit me. Being "The Greatest Hits Of Val Doonican" it didn't so much hit me as quietly sneak up behind me in carpet slippers and plant a wet kiss on my bald head.

Val Doonican, in his day, was to rock music what Colonel Saunders was, in his day, to low cholesterol. He could out croon Perry Como, out sweater Andy Williams and his songs were down the middle of the middle of the road. If he wanted to up the tempo and go a bit racy, he'd invite guests like Roger Whittaker, John Denver and Matt Munro onto his shows. He was so laid back he always finished those long running and very popular weekly tv shows by singing from a rocking chair !!

This style allied to his soft Irish brogue made him a winner with the pearl set and basically any woman over a certain age. And everyone, man or woman, from Ireland.

Growing up, as I did, in Norn Iron, I was fed on a diet of Val Doonican, Doris Day, Ruby Murray and so on. The genre was a mix of crooners and a special brand of country & western where the west rarely went beyond Donegal. The songs had all the typical American c&w lyrics of broken relationships, wife beating husbands and loving but lonesome cowboys but without the sliding guitars and hillbilly accents.

I hated it all but it wasn't in my nature to swim against the flow by being a fan of The Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan. No the best I could manage in my mini musical rebellion was to follow The Tremeloes (see, I'm on that page now) who were from Dagenham and so a pretty dodgy lot as far as my parents were concerned.

Back in those Dansette days when records were an inch thick and played via a knitting needle and granddad's ear trumpet, chart topping groups rarely came to Norn Iron. It would be like performing in Afghanistan now and, well they just didn't. As a result and to have some sort of live music during the weekly Fri/Sat dances, we invented showbands.

A showband was a collection of musicians somewhere between the size of a typical pop group and a small orchestra. There could be 10-15 or more male and female members in a showband and they always included a brass section to beef up the sound. The better ones, like the Miami Showband and The Royals could faithfully reproduce any current chart songs and were very popular on the ballroom circuit.

Here is a booking letter for a smaller showband showing that money wasn't exactly being thrown at them once it was split across the band members.

Before I left school and Norn Iron in 1970, I had a chance to finally see The Tremeloes locally in concert and was well impressed that just 4 people could sound so good. And so loud. Looking back it was probably a case of alcohol (literally), a very small hall and loads of screaming teenage girls that combined to make me think they were loud. And good. But after listening to showbands, they were magic.

So as I walked around the park listening to old Val warbling away about donkeys, goats and motorcars, I was taken back to my hometown of Ballymoney and the sounds of the late 50's and very early 60's before The Beatles burst on the scene and everything changed. The main music store had one speaker outside (stereo hadn't been discovered yet) and would be blasting out Alma Cogan and Ruby Murray songs at an unsuspecting public. And a young me.

I think this is why I still love ballads so much and here is one of Val's from way back then. He doesn't appear in the video but his unique voice still takes me back over 40 years when we'd gather around the tv to see what colour sweater he'd be wearing and wishing someone would hurry up and develop 3D.

Waste Not, Want Lots

Last night we went to the Golden Corral for dinner....and any images of a cattle round up are well justified. There is no reason for such places to exist but nevertheless we're drawn to them like moths to a flame. Where that flame has sizzling meat over it.

For those not in the loop, this is a buffet restaurant chain that uses registered catchphrases like "help yourself to happiness" and "everyone deserves a good meal" and customers do seem to help them to LOTS of happiness at a Golden Corral.

There is nothing to stop you having a small plateful of the pretty decent food on offer and the choice is astonishing. If a food item exists, there will be plenty of it on offer at the GC. The problem is, with so much on offer, it's very hard to avoid going back for more...and more....and then even more. A lot of the people there looked like they'd arrived 10 hours earlier for breakfast and just set up camp. Food items change from breakfast through lunch and finally for dinner. Hundreds of items like pancakes, sausages and bacon give way to roasts, fries and chicken which in turn give way to steaks, shrimp and more chicken as the morning turns to evening via afternoon.

I can't remember when we got there last evening but we stayed for about 2 hours, not eating too much, but just watching others. This is where people go to prepare themselves to be 'the people of Walmart' and their reward for all their excessive eating is an electric shopping scooter !

But as well as vast amounts of food going into over stretched stomachs, my concern is about the vast amounts of food going into bins once the doors have closed for the day. I doubt that staff are allowed to take it home or that it goes to homeless shelters or hospital kitchens. Law suits would inevitably ensue if someone got food poisoning. I think it was nearly closing time when we left and the staff were still filling up the troughs....sorry, serve the few remaining customers. The chef was still grilling steaks and piling them on top of others. New banana cakes, carrot cakes and lemon pies were being added on the dessert counter. Fresh french fries were being tossed onto an already overflowing pile. They might as well have been throwing all this food straight into the bins.

It costs just $11 (£6-£7) to potentially eat more in one sitting than many people around the world get to eat in a year. Like with The Big Texan where they boast about their 72oz steak meal which if you can eat it all in 1 hr you get it free, the Golden Corral plays on our greed and seeming inability to stop eating when we've had enough. It's there, we've paid for it and we eat more than we need or is healthy for us.

And before it sounds like I'm talking about others and not including myself, I'm not. Last evening I WAS one of those others. I didn't eat a lot but I still ate a little too much. And more to the point, I left too much. I didn't eat a chicken drumstick down to the bone as it was much easier to go and get a fresh one. I tried not to leave food but with the setup there, it's almost impossible not to do so. You try a piece of steak and if it's not perfect, you put it and anything else to the end of the table and within seconds it's taken away so you can go and get some different cut. Multiply that by hundreds and you get the point.

Unwanted food goes into the bin along with uneaten food. I can't imagine how large those bins must be or how many they must have round the back. I just hope they have tight lids as Florida has many critters who would enjoy a buffet menu as much as us humans......and not be so picky either.

And so we went and we ate and we watched and we felt kinda guilty about it all. That guilt lasts a few months and then, no doubt, we'll be back for another helping of food and more guilt.

Sadly life isn't fair and those who have to fight daily for a few grains of rice would stand in complete shock if they were suddenly transported to a Golden Corral. Even the concept of going to a place where you can eat and eat as much as you want would be so alien to them that they'd simply not believe such a place exists. But they do and last night it was packed. It's always packed and you can understand why.

The catchphrase "everyone deserves a good meal" is very true and laudable but when I see it on the Golden Corral site, it seems tainted somehow.

And I'm not the one standing outside with my empty rice bowl.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

It's A Small World Over Here.

I know, I know, a lot of you are now singing that annoyingly repetitious Disney song that burrows into your brain like a steroid taking weevil that loves to burrow, deeply.

I just wanted to link this post to the previous one and I really wanted to use the full title of that Disney tune but as I'd already used it as a blog post title back in April, I've edited it slightly here - which actually makes it more appropriate.


Ok in my last post I suggested that many people, even within this country, admit that America is insular when it comes to what is happening in the rest of the world. When I comment about this, I'm often left in no doubt that this attitude is totally acceptable and even justified as America is, after all, THE best country in the world so why would its population care what's going on anywhere else. So it not so much an ignorance of world affairs as a 'we don't really care' about world affairs.

Then there is the definition of WORLD over here and that's why I've had to explain that attitude above. When your country IS the world, then many naming anomalies fall into place.

Anomalies like an annual baseball series being called The World Series despite the fact that it's only contested by 2 American teams.

Anomalies like The Superbowl Champions being called World Champions despite the fact that the game is played out by 2 American teams.

You get the idea.

But I put a lot of 'the blame' for this on the media which, after all, is where most of us still get our knowledge about the world. In America, the media has undoubtedly got the ability to educate but doesn't seem to do it. Maybe, in the case of tv, it's again a ratings thing. From 5pm every weekday evening, we get 90 minutes of local news on each of the 3 big national stations, ABC, NBC and CBS. With so many local stations in every state vying for news, stories range from important county decisions to lost pets. Typical local news in fact.

With lots of viewers wanting to learn about their community, there are lots of commercial breaks and so advertising revenues are huge.

Then at 6:30pm all the local stations come together and we get simultaneous news shows that go out to the entire nation. We have the NBC Nightly News, the CBS Evening News and finally, the ABC World News.

Wanting to know more about world news and events, I tuned into the ABC World News and decided to make a note of the stories it broadcast this evening. The devastating floods in Queensland, Australia ? The catastrophic mudslides in Brazil ? Hundreds of lives lost.

Here is a list of the reports on the ABC World News in sequence..........

1) The Tucson shooting.
2) Heavy snowfall affecting all parts of America.
3) Haiti one year on.
4) Sarah Palin.
5) A new US developed test for Down Syndrome.
6) The death of David Nelson, an actor in a US tv show from the 50's and 60's.

And that was it. At least there was ONE report about a country other than America but often even that's not the case.

I love this country. I love the people I've met and the places I've been to.

But 'they' sure don't make it easy to find out what is going on elsewhere. It's an attitude, just not a very healthy one in my opinion.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Worlds Apart

I've had a bit of an international 'run' with blog readers in the last few hours and the sequence has been as follows.....India, USA, USA, Malaysia, UK, USA, Spain, Italy, USA, Ireland, Denmark, Canada, UK, USA, Greece, Spain and Lesotho.

Lesotho ? Yes Lesotho became my 112th 'unique' country and welcome to you over there in Maseru, the capital city. Now if like me, you've heard of Lesotho and know it's in Africa but don't know exactly where it is, well look it up ! I did.

I try and learn something from those who find my blog - well not the individuals of course unless they leave a comment and friendships blossom - and like to check where they come from. I mean why else would I checkout Lesotho this morning ??

For one thing, I love that its name means "the land of the people who speak Sesotho" Brilliant. Much better than "the states that are united" or "the kingdom that is united" or even "we are the Mongolia that isn't inner."

Reading about its history, words like Dutch settlers, British rule, independence, military junta, civil war and poverty all appear with some predictability and with AIDS affecting a third of its population and 40% living below the poverty line ($1.25/day), it's no tourist location.

I now feel a strange connection with my reader in Lesotho even though it was probably a one off visit. What does he or she do there ? Any family ? What is day-to-day life like in such a place ? I know more about the surface of Mars than I do about Lesotho !

It reminds me that, via the internet, I have the world at my fingertips and yet, like in the real world, I rarely travel beyond my comfort zones of the USA and UK. I once tried to befriend people from other nationalities as I wanted to learn about their lives but those attempts didn't last long. I should try again. Maybe everyone should try. Think what it would do for international harmony if we had daily chats with people from countries we know little about and therefore fear or distrust. Chat with the citizens and not simply hear and believe what their often unelected leaders have to say. How about a contact in China or N. Korea, Afghanistan or Iraq ?

Sadly I found that, after a while, the fact that we had so little in common led to the demise of the daily chats as opposed to encouraging them. When you analyse chats, how much of them revolve around shared experiences ? TV or sport, recreation or hobbies ? When they are not shared or understood, then what's left ? The weather ?

We then use the language barrier to make our escape and justify not wanting to chat anymore. It's much easier to just pick up again with Charles or Hank and talk about The Gunners or those Bears, Coronation Street or American Idol. They speak our language (Hank, not so much) and so when deciding if we should have another try with Hiro Yashimoto in Tokyo or even Ntsu Mokhehle in Maseru, we take the easy way out and give up. It's a shame.

America is known as being insular and although as a nation it generously gives aid and support to many countries around the world, I think it's fair to say that its citizens know very little about those countries or even where they are. I never cease to be amazed that when people here find out I'm from England, no one ever asks me anything about life there. I usually get something about when THEY were once there during the war and that's it. We British are known for not bothering to learn a foreign language and assume everyone should speak English anyway. Is it any wonder WE are disliked and distrusted ?

I donno what the answer is. I'm in no position to preach as like I said, I can't even be bothered to type a few words regularly with anyone for whom English isn't their native tongue. (Sorry, Cletus in Louisiana but you DO try, mate).

Even with all the modern means of free and easy communication at our disposal, talking with Johnny Foreigner is always going to be an effort most of us aren't willing to make.

So although my visitor from Lesotho may never see this, thank you for at least making me think about these things today. I'll probably not rush off to find someone to talk with before lunch but maybe later....maybe later.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

...Say The Bells Of St. Clement's

Taking a break from thoughts and posts about Italy, I decided to fix myself a glass of orange juice an hour or so ago. Went to the juice.

"Merde, sacre bleu et quelle domage" I said to myself.

I tend to go all European when upset but don't know enough French to be much good at it. I should really try German as swearing sounds so much better in German.

"What to do ?" I thought, reverting to my native tongue.

A trip to the supermarket ? Not an option.

Home delivery ? Definitely not an option.

I went outside to have a think and the answer came to me. Actually the answer was hanging before my very eyes in the form of our orange tree.

And so it was, dear readers, that I went orange picking and what fun !

As you can see, even the oranges on the highest branches were not safe from my picking prowess.

I did prefer plucking the ones nearer the ground but they tended to be too small to be of much use.

After about 45 minutes, Stage 1 was complete and I had 2 large pails full of juicy succulent Honeybell oranges.

Never heard of Honeybell oranges ? Here is a description.......

"Honeybell oranges are exceptionally sweet and juicy citrus fruits which only reach peak ripeness during the month of January. Also known as Minneola tangelos, Honeybell oranges are not actually oranges at all. They are a hybrid or cross between the Darcy variety of tangerine and either the Duncan or Bowen variety of grapefruit"

I'm not sure I like the idea of them being anything to do with grapefruit as I'm not allowed to eat those. Ah well, I'll let you know !

Stage 2 involved a bit more work. I brought the oranges to the kitchen counter and, with an electric juicer doing most of the hard work, started the squeezing process. Sweet juice flowed like tap water and in no time at all, a delicious orange liquid was filling the container.

Soon there was enough to pour into an empty and well cleaned out gallon milk jug and I was finally ready to have my glass of orange juice !

Stage 3 and it was simply the best OJ I've ever had. No question. Sweet and juicy, like they said it would be.

Tonight I'm fixing salmon for supper and I'll probably want to squeeze some lemon juice over it when it leaves the griddle and hits my plate.

What to do ? Hmmmmmmmm.

Yes we have a lemon tree too.....just next to the grapefruit tree and on the other side of the 2 orange trees.

Have I told you how much I love wintering in Florida ?

Friday, January 07, 2011

Italy Day 13 - 8th September 2009

See, I'm on a roll now. And anyway, I collected up the photos last night so am eager to get them all posted here.

Now where were we ? Oh yes, in Rimini.

Wait. Before I go any further...I've had a request from a reader who thinks Stephen is a figment of my imagination and it's really just Daphne and myself who go on these trips. For shame ! So for him (and without Stephen's permission so I may now be in trouble) here is a photo of my travel companions taken a few days earlier on the shores of Lake Como.

Ok, Bob ?

When looking at the map for an interesting location for our 13th day touring Italy, I spotted something VERY interesting. Just a short drive away was a different 'country' that I'd heard lots about but never knew exactly where it was.

Less than 8 miles from our hotel in Rimini, was the border of the Most Serene Republic of San Marino and after 12 days of pretty hectic touring, we all fancied a nice day of 'sereneness' !

I was hoping for some sort of basic border checkpoint and had my passport at the ready. Sadly there was nothing to show we'd left Italy and entered San Marino, apart from the road suddenly heading upwards at an alarmingly steep angle. This first road sign was an indication that the all conquering Bigmac had reached the gentle inhabitants of this microstate.

Despite driving almost to cloud level, we had to park up and continue to the summit by cablecar. I liked the idea of this little parked vehicle having its own 'Denver Boot' although I still think that a passing thief could've just picked it up and carried it away.

I always like using cablecars, chairlifts and funiculars, so taking the one up to the town of San Marino was a joy. Here is a YouTube video of it going back down but you'll still get the idea.

Once at the top, we realised right away that we weren't really AT the top. The town still loomed overhead and numerous steep streets would take us to commanding views overlooking the countryside and the shores of the Adriatic off on the horizon.

It really was a fairytale place and we were hard pressed to remember this was real and not some Disneyesque facade. It also felt like we'd stepped back several centuries as the town walls, the quaint shops and the steep, narrow streets all combined to transport us to, if not a 'land before time', certainly a 'land before Bill Gates.'

Onwards and upwards we walked, taking in the bizarre items in the local shops. To compliment the setting and ambiance, many shops were full of weapons ! Not very serene really but wonderful none the less. From medieval crossbows and longbows to muskets and modern semi automatic machine guns, every weapon you could hope to see was available for purchase. Several stores even sold lethal looking samaurai swords and I'd have loved to have bought one but didn't fancy explaining it away at Dover.

We stopped at a restaurant to have some lunch and it was one of those occasions that will live long in the memory, even mine ! We entered onto a relatively dark dining area and headed for the sunny looking patio balcony outside. As we got out there and walked to the corner table, the entire countryside was spread out way below us like a patchwork quilt and for once, we didn't care if we had to wait a long time for our food to arrive. The views were simply stunning.

The first view was taken from my chair as I just had to swing round to my left. The other photo is a view looking out towards Rimini and the Adriatic.

Fortified by lunch and enchanted by those views, we returned to the streets and continued upwards. Every which way we looked, we saw sights to photograph but in reality, we were just taking shots of the same structure from different heights and directions.

Finally we'd gone as far as we could and as we made our way back down to the cablecar for the return trip to the car park, I had to take a couple of opportunities to be photographed looking manly. Yes ok so I still looked like a geek trying to look manly but even photoshop can only do so much !

The first one looks like the cover for "Gay Health" if such a publication exists and as for the other one, well create your own magazine title !

Just above the car park, we passed a tunnel entrance we'd seen on the way up and this time we went along it. The colours inside were wonderful and although there was nothing much at the other end, the tunnel itself was a star attraction.

Despite all our sightseeing, we still left San Marino in the early afternoon and being tired from the walking and climbing, wanted to find our next lodgings without driving too far. We went less than 50 miles south west along the scenic mountain road, SR258, and just before entering the small town of Sansepolcro, we spotted a road sign for Relais Palazzo Di Luglio and went up into the hillside for a look.

What a stunning find. This Tuscan family villa was just what we wanted with an outdoor swimming pool and nearby jacuzzi affording views over the olive groves of the Tiberina Valley. Hmmm I'm sounding like a travel article now but it really was somewhere special. Visit the site and click on the Relais heading and have a look at the photos !

Here are mine of the pool and jacuzzi which will have to do for this post.

After settling in we headed into the town for a meal and then returned to chill around the villa before bedtime.

It had been a memorable day in the fairytale land of San Marino and was ending in a fairytale villa deep in the Tuscan countryside. Ahhh what memories.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Italy Day 12 - 7th September 2009

Ha ! Y'all thought I'd forgotten about our Italian trip way back in 2009 !

Whaddya mean you hoped so ?? Peasants !

Ok back to September of that year and as it's been a long time since my last post, father, here is a Glee type catchup bit........

The intrepid trio (Daffy, Stephen et moi) went to Italy for a bit of a tour. We spent a few days in Rome, then headed up north west via Senna and Pisa before reaching Lake Como and the beautiful town of Bellagio (sad but not surprising that a Google search brings up the Vegas Hotel first and not this Italian town on which it is based). Then we headed east and visited Venice.

And that's what you missed.

As it was about 6pm when we finally left Venice, we didn't want to travel too far before settling down for the evening/night. So after driving 10 miles down the E55 from the railway station at Mestre, we pulled off at the small town of Lughetto and booked into the Hotel Da Vito as it looked clean and despite its name, looked remarkably free from any large Sicilians. When the receptionist assured us we'd only find a mint on our pillows as they were clean out of horses heads that week, it was an offer we couldn't refuse !

An uneventful evening turned into an uneventful night, followed 9 hrs later by an uneventful breakfast. For this, we had to cross the road as that's where the hotel restaurant was located. I find it's often a good idea to have a short walk before breakfast and 25yds was just about right.

After checking under the car, we set off down the east coast towards our next port of call, the famous resort town of Rimini. Daphne had been to Rimini in her yute and so this was a voyage of rediscovery for her but a new destination for me.

We drove along by the beach as we wanted a hotel within walking distance and were somewhat seduced by the Plaza Hotel........first by the name and then because it overlooked the beach. Neither hotel nor beach fully lived up to expectations !

We checked in, dumped our stuff, crossed the road and hit the sand. Well it was a bit like the sand in parts of Hawaii (I know, name dropping again) as it was a dirty grey colour and despite the absence of any nearby active volcano, had the look of ash about it. Still, it FELT like sand and so we paid, yes paid, to go on it. Not many others shared our enthusiasm but then it was the end of the summer season and the whole town had the air of a resort that badly wanted to have a little rest and close down for a few months.

Getting to the waters edge, we surveyed the scene. The sea, or the Adriatic as it was known locally, was blue and inviting and wanting to take a photo looking along the beach, I ventured in.

....almost a bit too far !!

The swimming attire on display would've scandalised most non Europeans (no not MY swimming attire, you jokers) and I hadn't seen such an abundance of wrinkled flesh since I once stumbled into the shower block here in Buttonwood Bay. Young and old mingled with similar scanty costumes and sometimes, I didn't know where to look - to get the best eyeful !

Then, out of nowhere, a chap set up a boombox and in no time a mixed group of beach strollers collected to put on a sort of line dance meets the macarena performance.

It was all a bit bizarre as apart from this area of activity, the rest of the beach was pretty much empty.

After a splash about in the water, we made use of the beach chairs for a bit of a lie down. Tiring work this touring lark ! Then it was back to the hotel for a wash and brush up, although never one to pass up a chance for immersing herself in any form of water, Daphne made a beeline for the hotel pool. I'll spare those of a nervous disposition by leaving out photographic evidence of this event and instead, here is a photo taken by Stephen, of the pool rules. Clearly another example of an online translation site being used by Johnny Foreigner with mixed results.

Meanwhile, here is the view from our balcony which again shows just how empty the beach was and yet gives some indication how crowded it could be in high summer.

After Esther Williams had had enough and changed into her street gear, we headed off for a stroll along the promenade to take in the shops and enjoy an evening meal. The walk gave us another opportunity to people watch and also satisfied Daphne's desire, nay obsession, to buy every postcard in the whole world. At one point, it also gave her the idea that she was Sophia Loren somehow transported from Leeds to Rimini by way of a classic Italian scooter. Dream on, girl !

We finally had an evening meal and my plate of some sort of sausage meat was as unmemorable as the name of the restaurant. But look...I also had lettuce, chips ? I'm taking all of those as veggies !

Still, it filled a gap and we set off back to the hotel, passing again all the promenade shops on the way. Many were selling t-shirts and one in particular took my eye. I'm making use of the well known rule that anything seen on a t-shirt cannot possibly offend and IF you should be offended by this photo, well then you've simply not read the rule. That's my get out and I'm sticking to it.

Like the person who wrote the hotel swimming pool rules, I've used an online translation site to try and determinate the meaning of the words, although the cartoon is pretty self explanatory. Hopefully some kind Italian native, for I do have some, will do a better job in the comments section but in the meantime, I believe the words convey the message that "love is..helping each other" It does seem to imply that this is even more important as we get older !

I realise that I posted this photo in a previous blog so if I offended you back then, well I guess I've just gone and done it again !!

Ah well, if it also gave anyone an idea, then I regard posting it as performing a public service.

To whet your appetite for the next instalment, when we left Rimini, we temporarily left Italy and visited the oldest constitutional republic in the world.

Exciting eh ?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

A Grand Day Out !

One of the many plus points about wintering in Florida is the ability to play golf in early January.

Actually I'm not sure that 'ability' is the right word for my level of expertise so lets change it to the 'opportunity' to play golf. There....that's better and more truthful.

So at 11:15 this morning, we (Clair, Carl and I), met up with Gerry at the Panther Course at the Spring Lake Golf Club and settled into our carts to await our start time.

The weather was glorious and within 5 minutes we were at the 1st hole and ready for fun. On most courses here, golf carts are compulsory due to the heat and the distances involved getting from one green to the next tee. In the case of hole #6 on this Panther course, they are also needed to get you along the fairway from tee to green as from the back tee, it's 800 yds to the hole and one of only a few par 6's in the world.

My hope was to get a par on this monster hole and a few decent shots got me just short of the green in 4. I chipped up onto the green and was set to putt for a birdie. Then the excitement got to me and I send the putt several feet beyond the hole and took another two shots before it disappeared from sight. A 7 wasn't bad but to be so close to getting a birdie on that hole really upset me and I broke down and wept like a little girl.

Or maybe I cursed and threw my putter into the water where it hit a gator on the snout which pissed it off too and it chased me down the 7th fairway.

In reality I didn't weep or curse (much) OR hit a gator but I WAS upset.

The Spring Lake courses are truly stunning with little rough, lots of water hazards and photogenically placed palm tress all helping to make it a feast for the eyes and I was certainly making a meal of the golf. I hadn't played for well over a year and it showed. The course, however, helped take my mind off my game.

A lack of rain, the recent cold snap and now the warm temperatures had all left their mark on many of the fairways. The palm trees, tropical shrubbery and exotic wildlife redressed the balance and with the blue skies and fluffy white clouds, it was a great day to be out on a golf course, even if my standard of golf wasn't up to par.

My score was triple digits but I had such fun and despite being pretty wrecked by the 18th green, loved every minute of it.

Thank you Clair, Carl & Gerry. Can't wait for the next round.

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