Friday, April 29, 2011

The Royal Wedding

I'll apologise up front as that title was just to help me get a few new readers who go googling for royal wedding info today and arrive here by mistake.


Welllllll, one has to take what one can from the Royals these days as they took so much from us over the centuries. Oh my, where did THAT come from ??

Ok enough with the controversy. Seeing as I got up around 9am (EST) and 'missed' the whole shebang and haven't seen so much as a still photo of it, I'm in no position to inform anyone how it all went.

No wait I lie. I have seen two photos. The first was of Posh & Becks arriving at an Abbey National on Kensington High Street as Posh was doing the navigating and you know how she is.

"But I put in "Abbey" on the GPS, golden balls........I don't understand it."

I thought HER hat was eccentric enough, perched as it was at a gravity defying angle on the front of her head but OMG then I saw a photo of the very famous, intelligent, beautiful socialite, Tara Plunker Tomkinson and gravity just got redefined. What was holding that thing onto her head ? Blu-tac ? Superglue ? Sweat ? All of them ?

As you may have guessed already that I wasn't AT the event, then it will come as no surprise that this is one of those rare occasions where I've unashamedly nicked a photo from another site. Sorry. Of the 3 people in the shot, I think PC Plod's hat is the most sensible but then I'm a bloke and what do I know about fashion ? A bit like Tara in fact.

In my day, a hat was worn on the head. ON the head. If these two fashionistas (ha !) are anything to go by, hats are now worn at 90 degrees to your forehead. At least you get to see your own hat this way as it must pretty much be in your eyeline the whole time. Just need to watch out for low door frames.

Anyway like I said, I'm over in t'colonies for a few more days so as I didn't fancy getting up at 6am, they had to get on with it without me watching. I'm not sure I'd have watched it even if I'd been home but I have found myself bristling at anti British comments on various sites to do with the wedding and the run up to it. It's one thing for me to have a pop but not Johnny Foreigner.

No, No, No. I lose my sense of humour very quickly when I read ill informed comments and ones that are just plain anti British for the sake of it. However I'm not going to turn this blog post into a justification for the wedding and everything that surrounded it because for one thing, if you are anti something, a blog post is unlikely to change your mind.

Johnny Foreigner and even we Brits are all entitled to our opinions.....even if they are wrong !

I'll leave it at that.

So with THAT event out of the way, the much more exciting one can take centre stage.....on launch pad 39A to be precise. Yes the penultimate shuttle launch takes place this afternoon at 3.47pm (EST) and with the countdown clock showing under 4 hrs to go and with the astronauts suiting up, it's all looking good. The forecast storm front has passed over and helped water our lawn and the only slight issue might be excessive wind.

So if you spot any of the astronauts opening their helmet visors pre launch, that'll be the reason !!

Hopefully the current clouds will dissolve with the afternoon heat and I can nip out onto the driveway and watch the launch. It'll be my last chance so I'll endeavour to see it. Har har.

I doubt that the royal newlyweds will be watching it though and that's fair enough. They'll be too busy looking frantically for receipts for the monogrammed toasters, place mats with their faces on them and the autographed photo of Elton John and baby Zackary to bother with events on this side of the pond.

Meanwhile outside an Abbey National in Kensington.............

"I don't think they're coming, sweetheart. Did we get the date wrong ?"

"Donno dollface. When you said 'booking' I thought you meant during a Galaxy game."

"Oh David, you make me laugh. I love your clever wit."

"And I love you, babe. Try the GPS again. There might be another Abbey near here."

"Oh you ARE clever, GB. Look, here's one with a zebra crossing. That rings a bell..........."

UPDATE 1 : Oh well the launch has been scrubbed for today (APU heater problem) and so I'm glad we didn't go over to see it from the coast. Guess now I'll have time to look for a video of that other event.

UPDATE 2 : I didn't include a photo of Posh as I like to give people the chance to go find one themselves. But just for you, Bob (and I wasn't offended by your blog as I haven't read it) .........

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Redneck Auction - $10 for One, $5 For Two !

We went to a local auction yesterday evening. It was......memorable.

I'd never been to any form of auction before, here or in the UK but felt myself a bit of an expert having spent countless hours watching afternoon auction shows on UK tv. You know the sort of shows......on for the entertainment of the unemployed, the unemployable and housewives.

Oh I feel a large comment section now ! Fill yer boots.

These shows are on at 2pm for a reason but despite this, I've always wanted to go to an auction and thought that having one a couple of miles away was too good an opportunity to pass on.

Lemme set the scene as Christie's or Sotheby's it was not.

The auction was held in a large metallic shed which, despite having the doors open and utilising several huge fans capable of blowing Peter Pan all the way to Neverland (he should BE so lucky) meant we were all a bit hot and sticky after a few minutes inside.

To add to the atmosphere, the 'people from Walmart' were out in force, both running the event and forming a large proportion of the bidders - large being an appropriate description as several 'chair and a half' patrons took up their positions at the front.

Regulars brought their own bidding numbers which was scary on several levels and led to a bit of confusion when the auctioneer realised that someone who arrived with the number 22 was in the room with a newbee who had been allocated the same number by the office who didn't know the regular person had turned up as well.

The auction items were on display on trestle tables and consisted of jewellery, soda bottles, candles, perfume, hospital supplies, post sell by candy and knock off handbags. Definitely mixed lots but we hoped that better items were still to appear.

By 6:30pm the auctioneer was on his chair, mic in hand and we were off and running. No wait. We SHOULD have been off and running but like open mouthed spectators at a crash site, we remained firmly seated, not knowing what to expect.

Debby had gone to the little office to register and get her bid number just in case a bargain did come up for auction but from the get go, it didn't look promising.

While staff members handed out a few candy bars as free samples to whip the bidders into a frenzy of excitement and anticipation, that particular bubble was somewhat burst when we discovered the first items were dull bottles of soda and cans of pop. The lady (cough) in front of us ended up bidding $10 for an 18 pack of Pepsi Max and actually bought 3 of $30. Seconds later, in an effort to shift the stock, these packs were 'going' for $5 each.

My afternoon experience of watching auction shows had not prepared me for this development - namely that having bought an item, you could then sit and watch it actually go DOWN in price before your very eyes ! Our lady wasn't fazed at all by this as I really don't think she was capable of being fazed by anything in the real world, having only recently been allowed out to experience it.

When you remember that a case of 18 cans of Pepsi Max can be bought in any store for around $6 at the most, you see my point.

And so it went on; boxes of candy bars; more cases and bottles of soda; 3 porcelain dolls (don't ask); light bulbs, candles. It was like bidding on the contents from a Dollar Store closure.

Then there were the more exotic items which REALLY called into question where these things came from. Actually there was little need to question. It was pretty obvious.

Dozens of maternity goodie bags and hundreds of 'one size fits all' surgical gloves made me suspect that somewhere a supply officer is looking at a lot of empty shelves and scratching his head. If you are due for surgery anytime soon, check if the operating staff are wearing bright yellow marigolds before your anaesthetic kicks in.

The designer handbags were next up. Each one was described in great detail - ok a designer name was mentioned for each one and that was it. There were 6 or 7 of them. The auctioneer started us off at a suggested bid of $100 or something but as the most expensive bid for a previous lot had been the $10 for those very exclusive cases of Pepsi Max, I don't think he'd worked out the purchasing power of his audience.

The price tumbled and just when it reached $10 and a few people got interested, the owner stepped in and, spluttering something about feeling embarrassed by these prices, withdrew them from the auction. I'm sure Mr. Gucci would've agreed.

Then the auction turned into a Camden Town market event as the owner of the items got out a large cardboard box and started throwing unsold items into it while (or whilst) the auctioneer took increased bids from the floor.

$10, $11, $ we were motoring along. In went a porcelain doll. $13. A few boxes of candy bars. $14. Some Marilyn Monroe perfume. $15.

The shed was in uproar. Actually only 2 people were bidding on this growing box of unsold goodies but it was pure market trading theatre.

Litre bottles of soda. $16. Boxes of candles. $17.

With the box overflowing with the addition of surgical gloves and maternity bags, it was obvious the owner didn't want to have to take this stuff back home and was prepared to let it all go for a song. If you'd already bid on any of these individual items, you'd have been feeling righteous indignation by now but like I said, our lady in front hadn't got such concerns and actually applauded when the 'hammer' finally came down and someone walked away with the large box of items for the same price that she'd paid for 3 cases of Pepsi Max.

I say 'walked away' but really the box was so full and heavy that they needed to use a flat bed cart to help get it out to the buyer's vehicle. Bargain of the evening if you actually wanted those items. If you wanted to restock a Dollar Store maybe !

Then it was on to the jewellery but to be honest (ha !), who would bid for jewellery at such an auction, especially when the bids were all under $10 ? I think your skin would've been tainted about as much as the legitimacy of the items.

By then most people had left and there had only been about 40 there to start with. Most of the remainder were up looking at the jewellery items along with the auctioneer who had abandoned his mic and was trying to work out who was buying and who was just looking. Meanwhile the staff were busy packing up the unsold cases of soda and candy to no doubt be readied for another auction at another time and place as this one seemed to be coming to an end either by design or a lack of bidders.

Debby had earlier bid for and bought some Dove chocolate as let's face it, that's good stuff even a few months after it may say so on the box ! I fancied a few pairs of the surgical gloves myself but as I'm still working on that particular fetish, I didn't bid on them and I think I heard my therapist applauding from 4,000 miles away.

But it was....different. And a bit of fun. Definitely an experience. It was like a bizarre meeting of "Only Fools And Horses" and "Antique Roadshow" except with a few fools and no antiques.

Although looking at some of the expiry dates on those chocolate bars, I'm not so sure.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Hello Stranger

I noticed a new flag to me in my visitors list yesterday and had to investigate.

It turned out that the visitor from the 122nd country to visit my blog came from Benin.

Who said they go there regularly for the weekend ? Liars !

Wedged between Togo and Nigeria with a small Atlantic Ocean shoreline, Benin used to be the Kingdom of Dahomey - ahhh I sense a lot of mental lightbulbs going on now along with phrases like "well NOW I know where you're talking about."

More Liars !

Hang on......the Kingdom of Dahomey. Isn't that South Central LA ?

Anyway, if you read this little post, thank you the little visitor from that little African republic.

Much appreciated and come back soon y'all.

Friday, April 22, 2011

When Words Are Not Enough............

Somewhere in the description of this blog it states that I may ramble.

You have had fair warning !

The other day I went out for a bike ride around the park and took my camera, the SLR complete with 200mm zoom lens. This was no mean feat on a bike but I'm nothing if not intrepid.

My first port of call was the pier/lake area as it's usually a very photogenic spot and, in fact, I've taken and posted so many photos of that area that it's very hard to discover a new angle. Then again, sometimes a classic shot is worth taking again, especially if you just know you've never stood in that exact place before for some reason.

And the reason I'd never stood in "this" spot before was due to the trees encroaching slightly on both sides and a few other annoyances like a street type lamp spoiling the view or some dead whale in the water. All very annoying.

But that's where Photoshop comes in.....and so here is my classic lake view as I wanted it and not as nature intended. No annoying tree branches on the right or left, no lamp poking up and certainly no huge lump of rotting blubber floating around to spoil the feelings of peace and calm that my photo is trying to convey.

I've spent many happy hours just sitting on one or other of those benches, looking out over the lake and contemplating the numerous mysteries of the Universe - like why Conan O'Brien has a tv show and why Philip hasn't been voted off Survivor.

Dead whales aside, there is always wildlife over by the lake and I took a few photos even though on this occasion, there were no otters, turtles or even gators around to smile for my lens. That just left the fairly dull birds.

I realise I clipped the wings of the bird in the 2nd of those photos but my Photoshop skills aren't up to 'growing' some and I still liked the shot.

And yes, some sharp eyed reader MAY notice one of the birds isn't exactly real but shhhhh.....don't spoil it for the others !

There were a LOT of birds down by the lake that day and that was mainly due to the plague like (sorry Bob) numbers of mayflies. Yes now is that time of year when these little critters become adults and really bring home the expression "never put off till tomorrow what you can do today."
There are about 2,500 species of these insects worldwide and they are called many names (mayflies and fishflies being the most common here) and even a few that don't include a swear word.

They covered every surface in biblical proportions and the ground was a carpet of ones that had literally 'had' their day. Actually with only a day or so to live, I did wonder why they were all just clinging to the various posts, poles and trees when surely they should've been having rampant sex or watching Swamp People. There were such a lot of them that there had to have been at least one mate for even the ugliest one.

"Oi, Stan, fancy her then ?"


"Her with the cute bod next to you, mate."

"Nahhh.....just wanna stay here for a while and watch the lake. It's so photogenic."

"Wot, even without Photoshop ?"

"Yep.....I can stay here all day and never get tir........."

"Stan ? Stan ? Wot you doing down there on the ground, mate. STAN ? Ohhh hang on, I don't feel too good......."

"Oh hi Stan !"

Up in the tree branches the birds were listening to similar conversations a few million times over but for them it was a bit like us going to a Golden Corral and most couldn't be bothered.

There was just one medium sized white ibis strutting along the pier. They are a "species of concern" as it seems numbers are dwindling but you'd never know that from the amount we have here. In fact seeing just one, as I did on that day, was very rare.

As he, or she, was keeping a beady eye on me as I inched closer, I was kinda hoping he, or she, would miss their footing, tip over the edge and give me a fun shot. Sadly that was not to be and I had to make do with the funny beady eye and the raised leg.

I know.....bit of a let down.

The most common boat on the waters here is a pontoon boat and one came in as I was about to leave. It cast both a pretty and funky reflection on the still waters of the channel and so I'm including here.............

I wanted a final shot of the pier but as again I'd taken so many before, I fancied something different. Not sure if by focusing on the first wooden stake this 'worked' but it's different.

On my peddle back home, I went past the road that leads into and out of the park. As I'd the camera over my shoulder, I quickly held it up and without even being able to see through the viewfinder, took this snap. I was pretty impressed with the result which owes as much to the smooth street surfaces here as to my dexterity with a camera.

And so to the final shot.

This dock is the first one at the entrance to the narrow channel leading to and from the lake. As such it offers splendid views over the lake and to the right, down the channel and its owner is a keen fisherman. After placing a chair on his dock to make his fishing sessions much more comfortable, he nailed it firmly to the wood. I doubt this was to ensure he didn't get carried off by some deep dwelling monster as, for one thing, the lake is only a few feet deep and a basketball player could simply walk across it and not get his jersey wet.

I've often thought it would make a good main image for this blog as it does give an impression of retirement, endless days of relaxing pleasure and basically being able to sit and watch the world go by. For that reason, I've altered it to sepia which I think enhances that impression.

Ahhhh retirement. Where's my chair !

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Future. Will It Be Around When I Get There ?

I know I've been posting a lot recently about the past but that's because, despite having a shocking memory, I still know more about the past than the future.

Yes a very surprising and even somewhat shocking admission.

I try not to look too far into the future as that brings stress with its worrying possibilities. I mean who knows when senility will strike (whaadyyamean it has already ??) and I'll end up on "Dancing With The Stars" or "I Think I'm A Celebrity, Gizza A Job."

The idea of sitting in front of a tv in a nursing home for 14 hrs a day probably isn't that dissimilar from what I do at home now but at this stage in my life, at least I KNOW I'm in front of the tv. Of course if I become totally ga-ga I won't know it so why worry about it ? But I do. I've seen those rooms in nursing homes with about 15 people in Shackleton chairs either staring vacantly at the telle all day or humming tunes that have no ending.

Again, before anyone says it, not that different from my life now !

But before I get all pessimistic about the future, I need to remember those days should be a long time coming. I'm 'only' 58, been retired 10 years and can still climb Hadrian's Wall even if I can't run far along it. I don't think that running along it was in the mind of the designer anyway.

"Lets build a wall across England so those dumbass Jocks will wear themselves out running along it and be too knackered to fight."

"But what if they just climb over it ?"


So I'm relatively healthy and 58. My mind is still a steel trap and I can follow the plot of Coronation Street and do the Times Crossword - although to be fair, I do it the next day ! Of course there are a few things I don't understand.........

I don't understand how we can communicate with a spacecraft more than 10billion miles away and yet a refund cheque from the AA takes 3 weeks to get to me. Speaking of which, things like that still blow my steel trap mind - Voyager 1, launched in 1977, is the 10billion mile distant spacecraft I was referring to and although travelling at over 38,000 mph, it'll be another 73,600 years before it gets close to our nearest star, not counting the sun.

I should think I'll be seriously ga-ga by then and so won't care a jot. Anyway I'm sure Voyager will come up against some intergalactic traffic cones along the way as they tell us the universe is constantly changing so the 73,600 years could be an estimate at best. Probably. Of course Voyager might also follow Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen into a time warp and be there by teatime next Friday. Or would that be last Friday ? Who knows.

So the future. Is it worth bothering about ?

Well financially, yes.

It's one thing to be senile, it's another thing to be broke and senile. But these days is it worth it to be frugal and even HAVE savings ? Should we be like 1961 pools winner Viv Nicholson and live only for today ? Well bless her holed cotton socks, she may not be the best example !

The annoying thing about the future is that few of us know just how much of it we'll have !

"How long have I got then, Doc ?"

"Well have you kept the receipt for the Lord Of The Rings Trilogy ?"

Yes apart from those with a finite timespan due to a terminal illness, we just never know when the hooded guy with the big scythe is coming for us.

I guess the only sane way is to not even think about him. Personally, despite him having a couple of swings in my direction, I'm really hoping he'll leave me alone for a few decades.

I've also never been a "live each day as if it's your last" sort of person otherwise I'd never do much of anything.

Library book ? Why bother.

New tv series ? Nope.

Big Brother ? Hell no.

And remember, the future is just the past that is still to happen.

Ok I just made that up and although sounding profound, makes no sense at all. But I'm still sending it to Reader's Digest as they'll cough up money for any old rubbish. I'll tell them Churchill said it.

I've just read all this back and I fear the early signs of senility are there for all to see. It's a ramble and like the best rambles, has no direction.

Unlike the future. Which HAS direction.

So there you have it, dear reader. I have (finally) reached a conclusion after all.

The future, my future, is like my car's GPS.

I have no freaking idea where it's taking me !

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Colourful Black & White Memories

Back in the summer of '52 when a slippery but still loveable little Silverback came kicking and screaming into the world, many things were a whole lot different from how they are today. Considering the geek I am now, the obvious examples tend to be electronic items like computers, televisions, mp3 players and the like.

But my world in post war Norn Iron was even different from other parts of the UK and before my memories become completely replaced by fluffy clouds and butterflies, I'll try and leave them here for posterity....or to put it another way, my 3 regular readers.

I think that in the 50's and early 60's, my brain hadn't evolved enough to cope with colour and as a result, I can only recall my childhood memories as a mix of sepia and black & white. The few photographic aids to my memories are also, of course, in black & white as either colour film hadn't been invented then, or more likely, we couldn't afford it.

And so I grew up in the Norn Iron version of "How Green Was My Valley" except there were no mines or people singing at the drop of a slate and actually nothing similar at all except for the sheep. We had sheep. And cows. Lots of cows.

Because although we lived in a town, a very small town, the area around us was agricultural and most of my relatives were farmers. My mum was 1 of 12 and her family home was a farm we revisited religiously every Sunday.....after Mass as it happens. Or more accurately, after the Sunday morning fry up which came after Sunday Mass.

This was our version of the Ulster Fry and started out using the mostly solidified leftover lard which had congealed nicely in the big pan from the previous fry. The little left over bits of meat and egg were just a bonus and were supplemented by new thick rashers of bacon and sausage links freshly acquired from a visit to the local butcher's (Olpherts) on the way home from church.
A few duck eggs and thick slices of soda bread (thrown into the pan when all other items had been removed to soak up the juices and crisp up the edges) would complete the meal.
That was the normal Sunday, butchers, fry up and off out to 'home farm' to see granny and whoever else happened to be there. All in black & white remember.

I have no memories of granny in colour at all. The farm house living room is also just a black & white memory for me as it was perpetually dark and granny would be sitting in her chair in a corner, knitting or praying or......well that was it really. The huge peat burning Aga range would be giving out heat and delicious smells if we'd arrived at the right time and even a bit of light when the front 'door' would be opened to throw in a few more blocks of peat.

I'd be in a (dark obviously) corner somewhere trying to avoid being seen or spoken to as granny, due to her exalted position as head of this large and getting larger dynasty, was quite a scary figure to me. I think this is why, years later, I could relate to how young Pip reacted to Miss Havisham in Great Expectations and although the farm wasn't exactly a copy of Satis House, in many ways it always remained a dark and unwelcoming place to me and I had very mixed emotions having to go there.

That's not to say I didn't have many happy times there. I did. Pointedly when I'd be on my own, wandering around the outbuildings, the lanes and the fields in one of the many worlds created by playing kids everywhere. I also had fun helping out when help was needed, with hay bailing and potato picking days to the fore. I'd be in the field with 'the others' walking behind the huge red Massey Ferguson combine harvester and when it dropped a bale of hay like some sort of mechanical pooping machine, I'd help to position it with others to form stacks all over the field.

I don't ever remember the days of loose haystacks and I left farm work long before the days of those huge circular rolls you see in fields now. I was a child of the hay bale and THOSE memories are in vivid colour. The yellow hay fields seemed to fill my view, broken only by the green hedges which divided them. The bright red combine harvester stood out against the clear blue sky as every bailing day seemed to be a gloriously hot day back then.

On my solo excursions, I'd move the bales around to form a fort or a long tunnel of some sort and had great fun with these natural lego bricks. In those pre Narnia and definitely pre PC days, I could enter my own exotic worlds, impossibly populated by red Indians and spacemen, eskimos and cowboys and be taken away from the black & white world I lived in the rest of the time.

The potato machine was something else. This slow moving behemoth went along the rows of buried potatoes, dug them up and deposited them at the start of a conveyor belt which vibrated to dislodge the soil that came up with each spud. We'd all be standing along the length of this belt and would feed the potatoes down our own small shoot and into bags. Once full, these heavy bags would then be tied and moved aside so another empty bag could be positioned under the shoot and so the process went on. Everyone had a task to perform and when working smoothly, it was an impressive sight to behold.

This farm work would easily offset the Ulster fry ups and other 'unhealthy' meals we ate back then and despite the majority of my family suffering from and dying from heart related diseases, they mostly lived to ripe old ages and that has to be down to leading active farming lives.

Farming is not an easy career path or at least it wasn't back then and was even worse before the advent of mechanical aids. I'm not so sure about it now as European farmers seem to make fortunes from NOT farming their land and being paid for NOT growing crops or producing produce. Subsidies is the watch word and more and more land is being turned over to the creation of holiday homes so that townies can spend a few days becoming rural versions of City Slickers.

Here are 3 old photos I've dug up from an external hard drive. The first is one I've posted before and shows my maternal grandfather and grandmother and their 12 children. Seeing as I've just mentioned granny, I thought it only fair to show her. She is second from the left on the back row and the girl holding the baby is my mother.

Next up is another photo I've posted before but, as it is relevant, here it is again. The nun driving the combine is my aunt Louisa but sadly, I can't pick her out in the previous group photo.

Showing that my wit didn't just start recently, the title I gave to that photo was "Louisa Combines Both Her Habits." Maybe I should've stuck to farming !

And finally, here is a compilation image combining (again with the combining !!) several of those tiny b&w photos you'd get back from the chemist back in those days. I'm not sure why they had to be so small when the negatives were standard 110 (no idea what that means but it just popped into my head) but maybe we still had rationing so soon after the war as Kitchener had used all the paper supplies for his poster campaign ! Just a thought.

Anyway in any individual photo in this montage containing kids, I'm the smallest one and the bigger male would be my brother. And before you ask, it was the done thing in my world to be posed with my hands joined in prayer in pretty much any formal photo. Apologies for the knees but I wasn't allowed to wear long pants till I was 27.

I plan to return to Norn Iron this summer to show a couple of my friends the places that I've talked about both in this blog and face to face. Ballymoney, my town home for 18 years, the house there where my father lived for 36 years and my mother for 53 years before their respective deaths, my primary school and adjoining church, my old and thankfully much changed boarding school and, of course, THE farm.

I may be showing them everything with rose coloured glasses but I'm sure when it comes to the farm, I'll still be seeing it in black and white. I'll let you know.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Even Educated Fleas Do It.........

I have been to Mordor and I can tell you now, I didn't like it. Nope, not one little bit.

Before you scour Google Maps looking for it, I'm referring to the realm of the Dark Lord Sauron from The Lord Of The Rings as I need to describe a place of darkness and fear and Mordor comes to mind.

Since 2pm yesterday I have been without wifi and if that isn't like a day trip to Mordor, I donno what is !

22 hours without t'interclacker was a lifetime for me as, despite having tv available, I still felt cut off from the world, or at least the important aspects of Twitter, Facebook and my weather sites ! I mean how the hell was I supposed to sleep last night when I didn't know the temp in Leeds ? I tossed and turned as I hadn't even had the closing FTSE and NASDAQ figures !

It was hell, I tell ya.

I won't bore you with the technical details and the heroic efforts I went through to sort it all out but suffice it to say, and pretty obviously too, it's all good now and already Mordor is becoming a distant memory. Then again, so are most of my memories these days.

Anyway, while sans internet, I used the time yesterday when not weeping to look at life around the park in more detail. Actually I sat in my chair and looked out the window a lot but it's the same thing really and it got me to thinking !

I love all those BBC/Discovery Channel nature shows and it's often struck me how the experts can look at two animals running around with each other and can tell us when they are fighting, courting or just playing. Sometimes it's not easy to know the difference with two humans but putting aside rough sex which can bring all three together, I'm clueless when watching animals.

And birds.

For some reason, our driveway here is a favourite place for birds of a feather to cavort around pretty much all day long. Different pairs I mean. They'll fly in, sometimes locked together in a frenzy of wings, tails and landing gear like two planes on the tarmac at JFK.

Ohhhhh how current am I ???

Delta bird and Air France bird (oh go on, Google it) then dance around each other and like I said, I've no idea if it's in fun, anger or for reproductive purposes. The fact that it happens so often suggests to me I'm watching a bit of courting going on but as no posturing or colourful displays are forthcoming, I think I've missed that bit of the process and the birds are just getting down and dirty on the driveway.

Disgusting ! I mean there are grandkids on summer break here right now. Innocents.

I do have one bird related story to update. The early morning roof pecking woodpeckers have gone at last and if you ask me, the dawn chorus is well rid of them. They were the temporary heavy metal members of the winged glee club and now the much less abrasive ballad members are free to serenade us over our morning coffees. Bliss.

But now I've got my beloved wifi back again, I've no time for such aerial shenanigans. I mean if I want to see THAT sort of thing from my armchair, I'll stick to my own species and make use of my subscription site !

Monday, April 11, 2011

I Want To Ride My.....Bi-Cycle.

Last Saturday I left the park...on my bike !

Although momentous, this wasn't the first time I'd left the park since coming here several years ago but it was the first time this season. You see with over 1,000 homes here, this park is large enough to ride around to provide enough exercise for anyone.

But most streets end with stop signs and so you can never really get a good sustained ride going as although you can easily see for some distance at these junctions and therefore not need to come to a complete halt, the park rules say you must stop. The last thing I need to do with my dodgy heart is to have to keep setting off from zero every few hundred yards so, and please don't tell on me, I tend to use a "rolling stop" policy at such junctions.

But last Saturday I was riding along the street closest to the outside world and in a moment of unusual impulsiveness, I made a break for it ! Within seconds I was on the open road, literally, with the wind in my hair (shut it !) and my little legs pumping like a Tour De France cyclist.

Admittedly a Tour De France cyclist trailing at the rear of the field as his drugs hadn't kicked in yet.

But it was 92F in the shade and having made this impulsive move, I'd no ideas or plans to draw on. I'd only gone around inside the park a few times this year so my fitness levels were pretty much set by trips to the fridge for food/drink. I knew I had to be sensible but a lifetime of loving to push the limits when on any form of transportation kept wanting to take over.

I decided I'd ride for another 20-25 minutes and then turn back no matter what and with that simple plan in place, I focused on enjoying the experience. As I've said many times before, despite Sebring being in Highlands County, this area is as flat as every other part of the state and on Saturday I was glad of it. The road before me stretched out long and straight as if the Romans had been responsible for it. The only slight high point I encountered in the first few miles was a bit of roadkill that the vultures hadn't quite finished off. I was able to peddle and coast, peddle and coast, peddle and coast for most of the ride and so expended little energy.

I crossed Rt66 and headed in the general direction of Sebring but I'd no idea how far away it was. Not a problem in a car, but for an unfit and overweight Brit on a bike in those temps, a definite problem. So despite my natural desire to keep going till I got to town, common sense and my plan of action both held firm and I did indeed turn around after 25 minutes.

The ride back was still enjoyable as of course being on the same flat route, I was able to invoke the same peddle/coast procedure I'd perfected on the outward leg. Well both legs actually, physically and geographically !

I still arrived home drenched in sweat but was relieved and a little surprised that I didn't feel tired at all. In fact, quite the opposite and decided if I had no adverse effects from the ride, I'd try and make it to town the next time. I looked at Google Maps and worked out I'd gone 4.5 miles before turning round and had only been about 2 miles from town at the time. The road led right to US-27 and came out by Lake Jackson, just where I wanted to get to.

Next day brought the next time and by noon yesterday, I was twitching to get on the road.

Mad dogs and Englishmen, remember !

So just before 1pm, I slapped on the sunblock, took a big slug of water (have no water bottle carrier on the bike) and set off with Burger King in mind. My mind often turns to food when left to its own devices and so this was to be my destination. I still had visions of collapsing in a drenched heap by the side of the road and with little traffic on this backroad and no phone, I'd be cooked to a crisp in 5 minutes if the gators or snakes didn't have me for lunch before help arrived.

Of course I might also have had a fatal heart attack and then wouldn't really care.

With these happy thoughts in place, off I went and within seconds was out on the open road can be seen from this map of my route.

View Larger Map

Before anyone asks why I didn't just go out onto US-27 for the much shorter ride to town, if you've EVER watched people drive on a 2 lane road in Florida, you'll know that a bike lane, if there even is one, often gets used as a 3rd lane by senile old drivers who shouldn't BE driving or yutes who are so busy texting or tweeting that they stray off lane too.

Anyway I loved the backroads. For one thing, I was constantly near the undergrowth where my passing initiated movements ranging from small (birds, rodents, snakes) to large (gators, elephants, dinosaurs). You get everything in Florida, y'know and it doesn't half make you want to keep peddling !

After 20 minutes I'd passed my point of return from the previous day and was feeling great. I'd forgotten my MP3 player so was doing extremely bad versions of every 60's upbeat song I could remember and as you know, I remember a lot.

After 30 minutes I'd arrived victorious at US-27 and could see the lake. Hurrah.

Being used to the silence of the backroads, the noise from the few cars out on US-27 came as quite a shock. I was still about 5 minutes ride from Burger King and as its location meant I had to cross US-27, it was a well dodgy 5 minutes. I kept to business premise drives wherever possible because as expected, I saw plenty of drivers veering onto the southbound bike path.

By 1:35pm I was outside Burger King and then it hit me. What to do with the bike while I went inside ? I'd no chain or any other way to lock it up but decided in this land of private transport, no one was likely to arrive on foot and decide.....oh look, there's a bike...I'll have off with it.

So I left it in full sight of the large window, went inside, ordered my meal and ate it while keeping a beady eye on my property. Of course if any kid made off with it, I'd be in no position to give chase and would have to content myself with standing by the door giving out lots of loud 'tuts' as is the British way. And then walking home !

But fortune favoured the idiot and 20 minutes later, I mounted my trusty metallic steed and was on my way again. I did fancy a ride along the edge of the lake as an excellent bike route around it does exist, kept well away from the main road. But again common sense stopped me and I worked out that a mile around the lake would mean a mile back again when tiredness could be setting in. I'm clever like that.

So I just went back the way I'd arrived and despite being a little bit tired and extremely moist all over, I was home for 2:30pm and able to watch poor Rory Mcllroy implode at The Masters and then have to read platitudes on Twitter like "whatever doesn't kill you will make you stronger." I'm sure that knowledge was a great comfort to him during his evening meal.

So my great bike ride of 2011 was over. Almost 15 miles and I have no....repeat NO...intention of doing it again any time soon. Yes I loved it at the time. Yes I thankfully had no adverse after effects at all. Yes I probably sweated off about 2 lbs but there are still plenty left.

No it's just that I did it so I see no reason to do it again.

Anyway I have a new destination in mind.


S'only 180 miles away. Peddle, coast. Peddle, coast. Peddle, coast. Coast.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

A Report From The Sebring Storm Team

Being British, I'm naturally obsessed with the weather. We gets lots of weather in Britain but despite it being in our genes (and jeans), we'd rather not have most of it. Especially the rain.

Great for ducks, frogs, wetsuit and umbrella sellers but not for the rest of us.

Here in normally sunny Florida, it's coming into the rainy season by which I mean we get regular afternoon t-storms which pass over in an hour or so and then things return to normal. This is obviously nature's way of watering lawns, filling up lakes and rivers, washing the dust off vehicles and, this being Florida, sweeping unwanted old people off into ditches as part of the overall circle of life. It's not a big inconvenience really (the oldies in the ditch might disagree I guess) and part of this is down to the awesome weather radar systems we have here.

The local tv companies love to try and outdo the competition by beefing up the names of these systems and the presenters who bring them to us.

For example, Ch13 has their Skytower Omni Radar and Ch8 has their Storm Team with their VIPIR Interactive Radar. So coooool.

All these radar systems can be accessed online and for a state that usually has sunshine 16/7 and darkness 8/7, you'd think such advanced weather technology would be a bit over the top and unnecessary.

Not a bit of it. I love it. I could watch the colourful HD radar images all day. Yes I'm that sad.

Today has been a perfect day for radar watching. A big t-storm was passing across the state from NW to SE and thanks to these radar systems, I could almost pin point to the minute when the first raindrops would be arriving.

This is a still image of what I mean. Clearly a band of light rain (dark green on the radar but not to be confused with the light green of the land !) followed by heavier rain (yellow on the radar) with a dash of very heavy rain (red on the radar) was about to hit us in south Sebring but with such advance knowledge, we were prepared.

The radar is animated and so we can see the storm line moving down the state towards us which makes for really exciting online viewing.

Belt up, yes it does !

Sand bags by the doors, tinned food stockpiled on the kitchen floor....we were ready.

Ok maybe not. But it was useful to know exactly when the t-storm was coming and sure enough it came, dumped a ton of rain and passed over. The sun hasn't quite returned but it won't be long now.

Back in Britain where we get more rain than most, such radar systems would be well used if not actually overworked. It's not that long ago that our tv forecasters slapped big magnetic sun and cloud discs onto the relevant areas of a map of the country as if we didn't know what either looked like in real life.

"I can't see Ballymoney as there is a huge dark cloud on top of Norn Iron" I used to say in my yute, indicating that scale hadn't been taken into account when these discs were created. It might've been quite sunny in parts of Norn Iron but the disc sizes didn't allow for such hair splitting information so, sorry, but according to ITV, ALL of Norn Iron will be cloudy today as it's too small an area for more than one disc. Suck it up.

I know various technological updates have taken place since then but although we now get sweeping computerised forecast views taking us around the whole of the UK, we've still not quite got it right yet. These graphics are worthy of the boffins at Industrial Light & Magic but I'd still prefer our own simple version of the Skytower Omni radar with detailed info presented by, say, the BBC Storm Team in dayglo jackets with their names on the back.

21st century, people.

Gotta go, there is a storm front heading for Boise, Idaho and someone needs to be keeping an eye on the radar images. It's a job for (drum roll).....the Sebring Storm Team.

That'll be me......untrained, unpaid, unheralded and unsure why I do it !

It's in the genes.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Money Makes The Drum Go Around

Even in paradise one has to come down to earth now and then and yesterday was laundry day for yours truly.

That's me by the way.

Well a lot of nice readers from numerous countries read this blog and 'yours truly' may not be a familiar term to them. I'm happy to help.

So yesterday afternoon, as we were expecting some friends from Michigan to arrive at 8pm to stay for a couple of nights and I was giving them my bedroom, I needed to wash the bedding and took the opportunity to throw in a few items of clothing at the same time. As you do.

Now it has to be stated at this point that I'm usually very good at ensuring that all pockets are empty and there are no coins, paper clips or sharp objects in my turnups ( I know shorts don't HAVE turnups but go with the story, ok. It's my blog so my rules......)

On went the water, in went the detergent, down went the lid and all went well with the wash. When finished, I removed all the clothing and moved it to the dryer which, as is usually the case, was next to the washer. Brill.

I then went out to sit on the front patio as stated in my previous post and, with glasses removed, was blissfully unaware of any sights and sounds for the next 45 mins.

I went back inside and checked the dryer and it had stopped its cycle so I opened the door and made a start removing the clothes to hang up the polo shirts before they wrinkled. The first shirt out brought a few other items with it and then onto the floor fell a dollar bill. It was neatly folded, with colours slightly less vibrant than usual and feeling rather warm to the touch.

Having no idea where this financial manna from heaven had come from and determining not to let this sudden and much appreciated windfall change my life, I pulled out more clothes and would you Adam & Eve it......another neatly folded hot dollar landed on the floor.

This really was in danger of becoming a life changing experience but sadly, the remaining clothes and bedding offered up no more fiscal bounty. My 'winning' streak was at an end at $2.

Being a careful soul at all times, I was pretty positive that there was no money already in the washer and dryer before I started using them. I always remember my mother's sage advice when starting to do the weekly wash....."son, always check for dollars BEFORE you start the wash and if you find any, they're mine."

I never fully understood this advice as we didn't have dollars in Norn Iron but sage advice is sage advice and should never be ignored no matter how illogical it seems.

So now I have the great washed dollar mystery. Where did this money come from ? I'd only washed the bedding, a few polo shirts with no pockets and a pair of shorts with pockets actually turned inside out to be absolutely sure they were empty.

Maybe the notes had come from the detergent bottle as a bizarre promotion ? I think I'd have spotted them though. Maybe they'd been stuck to the top of the dryer drum from a previous cycle ? Much more likely.

In any case I'm keep it quiet. Finders keepers and possession is 9/10ths and all that good selfish stuff.

But I'm keeping it quiet mainly because (and I KNOW you knew this was coming but it's been a slow day so far for blog post fodder), I don't want to be accused of money laundering.

Oh shut your faces.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Audiospecticalitis - Is There A Cure ?

As I may have mentioned a few times recently, like over the last 5 months, it's hot and sunny and gloriously palmtreefied here in Buttonwood Bay, south of Sebring in the Sunshine State known as Florida.

Yesterday I was sitting outside on the new front patio area (on a nice soft comfy padded swivel chair actually) watching the world go by, seemingly just populated by seniors on bikes, golf carts and other modes of transportation.

I myself and I was wired for sound, as Sir Cliff once sang about, as I was listening to BBC Radio 2 on my phone which is still an experience I find hard to come to terms with. I love it when 'Sally Traffic' comes on with all the news about jams on the eastbound M25, breakdowns on the M1 just north of Watford and loose cattle on the A65 near Long Preston causing frustrated motorists to pull into their nearest pub and order the biggest steak on the menu.

Top of the food chain, Ma !!!

It's a world away from here as now that most of the snowbirds have gone, life here creaks along at an even slower pace and the area seems half empty. Less vehicles on the roads, many more parking spots at restaurants and no waiting for service. Smaller lines for the restrooms too !


Anyhoo, I was sitting outside, like wot I said, and this being a very friendly park, everyone waves at everyone when they pass by. Now I was catching the rays (cause I'm like, a cool dude) and so I'd removed my glasses with their flip up sunglasses attached and was half asleep and almost done to a crisp in the hot afternoon sun.

Now at this point you need to be aware that without my glasses, I make Mr. Magoo seem like a soaring eagle as everything beyond 3 feet is a blur as is everything less than 3 feet.

So as the traffic report ended, I opened my eyes to return from the gloomy news from Blighty and vaguely saw a golf cart cruising by. I saw blurred movement and heard a voice from the blurred driver of the blurred cart and assuming he, or she, was also waving, I waved back - all the time fumbling for my glasses which, because they too were blurred to me, I couldn't find.

Finally my fingers made contact, on went the glasses and I could then shout 'hi' at the cart and driver who had by then both left my zip code and were half way to the swimming pool.

The incident got me to thinking.

If, like me, you have worn glasses since fetushood (and before you spellers out there have a pop, fetus gets 19.3 million results on Google compared to 7.5 million for foetus so there...), you'll agree that for some unknown reason, we NEED to have our glasses on to speak to someone or even listen to someone. That infers that without our glasses, we cannot speak or hear which it a very odd medical fact indeed and as no one else seems to have devised a name for it, I'm calling it audiospecticalitis. Catchy, no ?

I did hear the cart driver saying something but could make no sense of it till I'd found my glasses and then it was as if I'd put on a translation device and everything became clear to me, aurally as well as visually.

In a moment of varifocal clarity, it suddenly hit me why glasses are placed on our ears and there was me thinking it was just to have the lenses handy for your eyes ! Not a bit of it. If it was as simple as that, the lenses could be lowered on a pulley system from the back of our heads but no.....they perch on your ears so you can HEAR better with them on.

This will make sense to any glasses wearer who gets a phone call through the night. Does the light go on first ? No silly, as you don't need to have light to answer the phone.

Do you grope for your glasses and if you knock them off the nightstand do you still lean down and find them before answering the insistent phone call ? HELL YES !!!!

There ya go. More proof if more was needed. We glasses wearers need to be wearing them to speak and hear properly.

Audiospecticalitis. I'm telling ya. I'm on to something here and I see a Lancet article in my future.

I'd say I'd stumbled onto something here but I can't. I'm wearing my glasses.

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