Thursday, March 31, 2011

Life Has Its Ups And Downs....Just Not Here !

It's that time of the year when the Florida snowbirds are packing up and preparing to return to their 'nests' in the northern US states and Canada. Watch any streaming webcam from a Floridian interstate and you'll see convoys of trailers, 5th wheels and motorhomes all heading northwards like a modern day wagon train - so no Flint McCullough and definitely no Indians.

I've no statistics for the percentage of Buttonwood Bay residents leaving over the next day or so but it's pretty huge. I still have just over 5 weeks here but although I won't be a part of the current exodus, my personal end date is speeding towards me.

The hot muggy summer weather is here and when you start to wet your clothing just by sitting in the living room, then you need to either turn on the a/c or empty your colostomy bag. This muggy weather is nasty and saps your energy and I don't have much to start with. Certainly the clear blue skies and warm sunshine are lovely but in the summer they come at a price here and the price is.....humidity. And it's come very early this year.

Just going out to pick up the mail has you dripping with sweat. Do anything more strenuous and you'd better be wearing flippers and a snorkel.

Summers here bring almost daily thunderstorms and although they usually don't last long and provide much needed rain, their presence ups the humidity levels even more.

But there are plenty of days when the weather is just perfect. Warm, not too humid and you know that when you set off for a trip to the beach, you'll have guaranteed sunshine all day.

So would I prefer spending summer here or in England ?

That's a hard one.

As I've said before, in general, if you're not a theme park or beach person, there isn't much else here. Florida is 99.999% flat with some of the most boring landscape south of N. Dakota. It's known as The Sunshine State (although a few other states actually get more hrs of sunshine per year) and not The Killer Scenery State and for good reason. It hasn't much. You'll get no "ooohs" or "aaahs" when driving from A to B here...unless you're visiting South Beach, Miami or passing along Duval Street in Key West during Fantasy Fest when, depending on how adventurous you are, you may utter both exclamations ! !

I do miss the English scenery. I've mostly taken it for granted as it's been around much longer than I have and despite urban expansion, should be around for a lot longer after I've gone. I do need to explore my own country more and since retiring, I try to do so every summer.

Although I have the time now to do that, I'm put off by a combination of our soaring petrol prices, far too many cars on our roads and our 'temperate' climate (ha!). Wandering around a castle when it's chucking it down is no fun at all as for some reason, it seems most of them were built without any sort of roof. Either the weather was a lot better back in those days or they had well dodgy Irish builders knocking on their drawbridges too.

Historic buildings aside, the actual scenery to be found everywhere in England is stunning and it's a constant annoyance to me that most foreign visitors rarely venture far from London. From soaring mountains and deep forest filled valleys to azure blue lakes and cascading rivers, Britain has stunning scenery in abundance and the great thing is that you don't have to travel far to see it.

At 50,345 sq mls, England is smaller than Florida (65,758 sq mls) and smaller than 30 other US states as well. A few miles drive from any urban area and you'll be up to your passports in breathtaking scenery. Of course those few miles may well take you several hours to travel because as well as stunning scenery being around almost every corner, so is the next traffic jam. In the summer (school holiday) months, British roads are clogged to death as, despite last year having the first ever reduction in vehicle numbers since records began in 1904, there are over 31 million registered vehicles on our roads. This is an 80% increase since 1980 on a road infastructure that has only increased 10% over the same period.

Do the math.

But it IS possible to get away from it all and find peace and tranquility in the beautiful English countryside as, thankfully, not all those 31 million vehicles are on the roads at the same time. It just seems like it on a Bank Holiday weekend !

So, on the England upside....temperate climate, stunning scenery, history everywhere, fish and chips, football, proper money, the NHS, bulldog spirit, unique sense of humour, frozen Yorkshire puddings, Sky Sports, no mosquitoes, the food, Peter Kay, the people.

And on the England downside....temperate climate, traffic chaos, close to France, cost of petrol, Manchester United, the NHS, Eastenders, seaside resorts, the food, London, the people.

As for the Florida upside.........semi tropical climate, sunshine, roads mostly free from traffic, store prices, Golden Corrals, gas prices (hey they're much better than most), senior discounts, year round cheap golf, golden beaches, KSC (no NOT to be confused with KFC), the people.

And on the downside.....summer humidity, only one and a bit seasons, no scenery, senior drivers, tv adverts, basketball, taxes, critters that bite and/or eat you, Golden Corrals, the healthcare system, Glee, the people.

I've just added 'the people' to every list for a bit of controversy as I'm that way out.

Anyway those have been my thoughts on snowbirding, England v Florida and Glee. I think it's obvious that both places have their ups and downs (except Florida which as I said before, doesn't) so maybe I've found the win-win answer by spending half the year in both places.

With two nations that are often world's apart, that's the best of both worlds.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I Remember The Past Like It Was Tomorrow.

It's 11am, the doors and windows are open and I'm sitting here on my recliner, sipping my 2nd coffee and enjoying my 3rd powdered mini donut. It's already 89F/32c and there isn't a hint of a cloud in the clear blue sky. A gentle breeze is wafting the nearby palm tree fronds and generating a pleasant sound from the neighbour's wind chimes.

Yes I'm living the life. Not everyone's life, of course, as plenty of retirees like to be a tad more active than I am. I'm just lazy really and retirement helps me fulfil that dream !

Given all this free time, I really wish I had a better memory and could recall events and stories from my yute yute, middle yute and even my late yute. But I can't. I fear that like the rest of my physical body and my mental attitude, my memory is retired (and lazy) too.

My mother was one of twelve (Catholic y'know) and if it was one thing she and her siblings loved to do, it was to have a good old natter every time two or more of them got together.

(Nattering by herself was saved for much later in her life and precipitated a move to the nursing home !).

If I was present during these nattering sessions, I'd have been in a corner somewhere, listening but keeping out of the spotlight. This was where the seeds of my shyness were germinating, to fully develop and blossom over the years into a lifelong character trait. It wasn't helped when one aunt or uncle would suddenly realise I was in the room and draw attention to me by saying......."Ian's a bit quiet, isn't he ? "

(Bizarrely even my parents would say this from time to time !).

I dreaded having the eyes of everyone on me, family or not, but it didn't usually last long as my mother would invariably say "oh he's just shy" and the sibling nattering would resume without my input.

The point is that these sessions nearly always provided awesome stories that I would love to remember now. It seems to me now that all my aunts and uncles had didactic memories (not a hereditary gene I'm sad to say) and I DO remember listening enthralled by stories from their yutes which seemed like events from Little House On The Prairie to me, so far were they removed from my experiences at the time.

I never thought that at the time of course as I'd never read the books and Michael Landon hadn't been invented yet.

They all came from a family farm out beyond the small village of Dervock in Norn Iron. Actually calling Dervock a village is granting it a size it doesn't deserve...townland maybe. A couple of shops, a post office, a church and a petrol station. Actually the petrol station may have opened a long time after I left the area but anyway, that was Dervock.

Feel free to 'visit' it on Street View and amazingly, this takes you right up our mile long farm lane and stops just before turning into the yard...which was private and so a no-go area for the Google camera car. You should be able to move around within the panel below but if not, clicking on "View Larger Map" should start up Google Maps and take you to the interactive screen where you can go up and down our lane. Technology eh...........

When they were in their yutes, these relations walked daily to school in nearby Ballymoney and I seem to recall them saying that was a 4 mile walk each way, partly over the fields. Putting locations into Google Earth gives 4.8 miles from farm to school but of course this distance calculation uses only roads ! Stupid logical software.

They told lots of very amusing stories about many of these trips and although spread out widely in ages so that I donno how many of them would've been on these school walks at any one time, it must've been quite a sight to see them making their merry way to school.

Sadly although I remember there WERE amusing stories told around the peat fires of an evening, I don't remember what they were about !

This doesn't worry me as being the early onset of Alzheimer's or senility or anything as I couldn't remember those stories a few days after hearing them. Maybe that was down to my shyness and I was more focused on staying away from being included in the discussions or maybe I've just got a very narrowly focused memory. Like I know the lyrics from most songs of the 60's and who sang those songs and even the names of the band members......but what I did last Monday night.......not a clue.

If I'd known what fascinating family history I was forgetting back then, I might have paid more attention and tried to find a spot for some of it between the lyrics for "I'm A Believer" and "Build Me Up Buttercup."

As if to rub salt in my wounds, those remaining family members still had awesome memories when I was last over in Norn Iron and I never bothered to note down any stories in any way shape or recording device.

My loss. My bad.

This is only a personal observation of course, but despite their much more limited history span, Americans tend to care more for memories and recording them than we do in the UK. This also applies to family histories and this may be more to do with America being a relatively new immigrant populated country. Ancestry sites are doing great business and talking with friends here, they can tell me more about their parents, grandparents and beyond than most friends in the

Again remember, personal observation so please don't hammer me in the comments section !

My parents are both dead and I think only 2 aunts and 2 uncles are still alive (from the original 7 and 5) so maybe this summer I might visit with the uncles who both live in England and not that far from me at that. My phone has an excellent recording app so I'd not need to stress myself out and tax my retired brain by trying to remember anything they tell me.

I just need to remember to go there !

History and future blog posts need me to do so.

Monday, March 28, 2011


Last weekend we had the annual 'world famous' 12hrs of Sebring race just a couple of miles away at the Sebring International Raceway. This is a televised event with various classes of cars all on the track at the same time and as a result, it makes for exciting racing with lots of overtaking and not a few incidents. It comes under the heading of the first race of the ALMS season, that's the American LeMans Series to you and me. Good stuff.

Ok moving forward to yesterday and a group of us went a few miles further north to Avon Park to watch some more ALMS racing......only this time it came under the banner of a slightly less well known ALMS - the American Lawn Mower Series.

And rather than an International Raceway, it was held at the wonderfully named Avon Park Mowerplex.

I know. I don't care who you are, that's funny. Lawn mower racing !

This turned out to be racing at its grass roots (ok if you're going to start groaning at these, you'd better stop reading now) and after paying our $5 entry fees and picking out good vantage points on the somewhat ricketty bleachers, we settled down to watch the action and hopefully see lots of overtaking, drifting and drivers cutting each other up.

Groan away, I don't care.

Well we had to wait a while as we got there an hour before the first race was due to start. This gave me plenty of time to take in the impressive track and the first port of call was the starters box.

It may have resembled a glorified pigeon loft on stilts but it served its purpose, letting the racers see the various flags being waved and its open construction allowed the winners of the various races to be presented with the checkered flag so he (or she) could do a lap of honour with it. I'm tellin' ya.....grass roots racing.

At the appointed start time of 6pm we were informed over the PA system (ok a guy with a hand held mic that faded out if he moved more than 20ft from the control box) that things would be delayed as his granddaughter who was to sing the national anthem hadn't turned up yet !

Probably still doing her homework !

It seems that just about any public event here starts with a rendition of the national anthem and this was to be no exception.

We were entertained by the lawnmowers and their riders coming out onto the track for a bit of a practice a few at a time and so when the racing DID start, we'd seen all the competitors already and the novelty factor had passed.

Actually the first race took us all by surprise as by the time we realised it WAS a race and not just a few warm up laps, the checkered flag was waved and it was all over. This was because the mowers only used part of the full course and being small engined machines, they didn't go much faster than your standard lawnmower. No one told us what was going on and so what we thought were a few laps to get the mowers set up for an eventual rolling start....well those not very exciting laps were racing laps !

Even so, the race was won by the mower that was the pace 'car' for the other races so I think that was a bit unfair as it had to have had a souped up engine under the hood. It still looked adorable and the old white bearded guy riding it only added to the comedic effect. Actually they didn't move much faster than in this STILL photo !

The rest of the races were for different classes of mowers (JP, SP, AP, CP, BP etc) and used the full course. These were much more exciting races but given the narrowness of the course, passing was very difficult and usually the mowers simply went round and round in a procession.

There were 2 others teams represented at the races last evening. As well as the local Avon Park mowers, there was a team from the Space Coast Sod Slingers and a NASGRASS (not to be confused with NASCAR which, although an easy mistake to make, is a slightly different association entirely) team from Ft. Myers I think. NASGRASS is the North American Society of Grass Racers and Sod Slingers.

I know you wanted to know that. Educational blog and all that.

A couple of racing machines stood out for me and deserve being singled out with their own photo. One was a brightly coloured mower with the expression "Git R Done" emblazoned on the front. This is the well known catch phrase of comedian Daniel Lawrence Whitney, better known by his stage name, Larry The Cable Guy.

This has a tie in with the other mower I liked as Larry provided the voice of the tow truck "Mater" in the Pixar animated movie Cars and the soon to be released sequel, Cars 2, and this mower was designed to look as much like Mater the tow truck as a mower can be.


Some mowers were pretty fast and would drift impressively around the corners, kicking up plenty of dry dirt in the process.

Before the racing began and at the half time interval, a water truck went around the track several times in an attempt to moisten the bone dry surface for the benefit of drivers and spectators alike.

Given the heat, it didn't help much and all the riders were covered in red dirt by race end.

There was no real need for an interval except to give the concession stand more opportunity to sell food items and it did a roaring trade all evening. There was time for many of the local kids to take part in hand pushed lawn mower racing 3 at a time around the short course and this kept them happy for 30 minutes or so.

By the time the proper racing started up again, darkness had fallen and despite the activation of a few light clusters, it was very hard for action photography.

These next few photos have been heavily edited using Photoshop as originally, they were so dark that details were hard to spot.

After each of these races, prizes were given out to the top 3 and hard as it was to see, this edited photo shows one winner raising up his trophy which is more than we could see with the naked eye. Yes you recognise who it was !

Then we had the IMOW (don't ask) feature race which was by far, the longest race of the evening. However, with 5 laps remaining, mower #46 (Git R Done) was involved in a nasty accident with mower #6 and one rider went over the front of his mower into the safety tire wall.

What followed was very impressive. The race was stopped and stewards, other riders and basically anyone nearby rushed to help. Seconds later the standby rescue vehicle was on the spot and I assume it was manned by medical personnel of some kind.

It was all taking place on the far side of the track and due to the darkness, my zoom lens was unable to get much to focus on. Again this photo has been severely edited to bring up what little detail there was but it shows a driver on the ground and his mower on its side.

We were informed that no one had been hurt and this news was greeted by a round of applause from those of us in the bleachers and those in line at the concession stand.

By now it was clear it would take some time to get the race restarted and to be honest, we'd all had enough and were starving anyway. It was way past supper time and we had a date with a table for 7 at Mi Rancho Mexican restaurant in Sebring so we packed up and left.

On the way to the cars, I put the camera on a fence post and took a 10 sec exposure shot looking back at the track. There were 2 stationery mowers in the foreground (their drivers were still over at the accident location) but I think it shows just how dark it was by then.

All in all it was a good laugh and a good evening out with friends......but once was enough and I'd never want to go again.

Mower racing may have started almost 40 years ago in England but this is one of our sports that I'm happy to have passed on to America. Somehow it seems more 'at home' here and with mowers like Git R Done and Mater taking part, the sport should provide plenty of evenings of family fun for decades to come.

If I could ever adapt my hover mower, I could be onto a winner !

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Hui Hou Kakou

Today was annual 'raver' day in very sunny Buttonwood Bay.

This was the day when the park owners and management thanked us residents who have put up with their numerous rules and regulati.........opps......better not upset anyone here as I'd like to come back. Lets try this again.........

This was the day we residents let the park owners and management lay on free food, drink and entertainment to thank us for being jolly nice people who they'd like to see return year after year or, in the case of year round residents already, remain here for ever and ever.


Over the next few days, the snowbirds will be leaving the park to return to their northern homes (6 more weeks in my case) and so this was a sort of "thank you and farewell till we see you next winter" type bash.

So once again, down in the glade by the lake, things were stirring, and with a luau being the theme this year, things were of an Hawaiian nature. Yes, despite being almost 5,000 miles and 6 time zones away, a little bit of the Pacific came to us today and no one was complaining.

Around 1200 tickets had been issued and judging by the line for the food, it seemed like everyone had turned up.

Considering such numbers, the meal had to be basic. Hot dogs with all the toppings, chips, cookies and frozen sorbet for dessert. Drink, both soda and beer, were free flowing and you just helped yourself as often as you liked. So I did.

The park management and staff did the serving and grunt work and a fine job they made of it. Dennis helped with the hotdog grilling and probably never wants to see another one for a long time.

Debby was handing out the plates and the 'goody' bags containing the cutlery, chips and cookies.

This went on for about 3 hours and finally everyone had passed by at least once and it was time for seconds....and then thirds. There was certainly no shortage of food and drink and if anyone left hungry and/or thirsty, they only had themselves to blame. By the very end, in fact, pitchers of beer and goody bags were being taken out to anyone left in the area......they didn't even have to move.

But I've jumped ahead as usual.

By the time I got there at noon, the luau was in full swing and the entertainment was about to begin. We'd all been lei'd when we'd entered the area (!) and most people had tossed aside the mothballs and brought out the brightest, loudest, most Hawaiian looking tops they could find in their closets. The sun was blazing down, the palm fronds were gently swaying in the lake side breeze and if you'd closed your eyes, the sounds alone would've convinced you you were in Hawaii. Glorious.

Some grass skirts were on display but again, this being a family blog, I'll keep those images to myself. At least until money changes hands. Oh wait, here is a 'clean' one that can be published.....

The entertainment was awesome. Numerous costume changes led us to believe dozens of dancers had been hired when in reality, I think there were only 5 or 6 girls and 2 or 3 boys. I'm not sure myself as I never saw them together.

And before any sharp eyed reader comments on a non Hawaiian 'act' in there, that was part of a story in dance around other Hawaiian type islands and so New Zealand was included.

There were plenty of opportunities for audience participation and if it's one thing I've learned about life in this park, it's that you need to step aside sharpish when the cry goes up for volunteers from the audience !!

By 3pm the main entertainment was over but few people left. As I said earlier, food and drink was still available and the music played on.

The Hawaiian Dance Formation Team also stayed around for a while so everyone could have their photos taken of them and with them. Old male (and probably female) hands were a blur as residents got themselves between the very attractive young dancers and posed for photos that are sure to be deleted when seen by their better halves !

Ever the professional, I contented myself by just taking photos OF them and here are a few, ending with my favourite.

So a grand time was had by all. Well I say that but what do I know. I had a grand time anyway. What wasn't to like ? Free food, free drink, free (very attractive) entertainment and the park was at its very best. Add in clear blue skies and hot sunny weather and yes, it was just about perfect.

What would have made it totally perfect ? Free jaffa cakes of course.

Maybe next year.

A huge thank you goes out to the Buttonwood Bay management and staff who put on this wonderful event again. The organisation and hard work put in by you all is much appreciated by this snowbird.

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