Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I Would Like To Thank...........

A few minutes ago I was looking at the latest stats on visitors to my blog and how they found it and noticed a few had arrived from the same site.....one I didn't recognise. So I went there and lo and behold I found I was in a list of their Top 25 Retirement Blogs.

Now although I've no idea what that OnlineMBA site is all about, I suspect it has nothing to do with basketball.

Anyway this is just a short blog post to say thanks to the obviously perceptive staff on that site. Having said that, I don't think any of my 724 blog posts answer any of the questions posed on the site so in a typically self deprecating vein, I have to say I donno why my blog made it to the list !

Is my statuette in the post ?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Clayderman Mystery

A couple of evenings ago on some minor tv channel, I came across an old concert given in this country by French pianist Richard Clayderman. Now most Brits have probably never heard of Clayderman as he's one of those artists who have had great success all around Europe but little in the UK or the US.

When I say great success, I mean 267 gold and 70 platinum discs and that up to 2006. Given his prodigious output (ohh err), he's probably added a few more since then.

He's made so many albums because Clayderman is to the piano world what Canon is to the written word. He copies everything. Sure he puts his own distinctive middle of the road style on tunes, but they are copies none the less. Actually middle of the road doesn't do the term justice. He comes out on stage with a white line down his back and makes artists like Cliff Richard seem like heavy metal rockers.

Anyway the reason I know of Clayderman goes back to a trip I took back in 1972 just after the invention of the aeroplane and package holidays. I had just started my first job straight from Leicester Polytechnic and in the summer of that year, I splashed out on a summer holiday to the Spanish island of Majorca. I'd just passed my 20th birthday, had a full head (and face) of hair and this would be my first trip to foreign parts. An innocent abroad in lots of ways !!

Despite staying in an instantly forgettable hotel at the beach resort of Arenal (which I kept calling Arsenal) , it was set in a beautiful location a few paces from the water and about 10kms from the main city of Palma. Back in those days I couldn't swim but I enjoyed paddling in the warm water, sunbathing for hours on the beach and watching the world go by.

Back in the hotel, there weren't many evening events to entice me to stay in but one did take my fancy. Ok it was the ONLY event laid on over the whole 2 weeks and so it wasn't a hard decision to take up the offer of this act. It was a magic show and although I'd quickly change channels if such a show came on tv today, this was live, I was young and unused to the glamour of the entertainment world and, let's face it, it was free.

I remember little of the show except for the music. The same instrumental piece was played over and over as background music by the magician so I've never been sure if I liked it because of this repetition or because it was memorable because it's simply a good tune. In any case, at the time, I liked it so much I spoke to the magician after his show and despite both knowing nothing in the other's language, I managed to get across to him that I liked 'his' background music and what was it called.

He wrote the song name down on the back of a playing card he'd used in the show (so I hope he replaced it before his next show !!) and I still have that card to this day. The name of the song was Ballade Pour Adeline and the next day I went off to the local music stores to track it down. After quite a search, I found a copy as a single with it's middle missing which meant it had been used in a jukebox. I didn't care and after handing over a few pesetas, the copy was mine.

But now we come to the mystery.

That was in July 1972. Yet having read details about the song online, it wasn't officially recorded until 1976. Something obviously doesn't add up but I'd put my mortgage (if I had one) on buying that copy 4 years before it was recorded ! A demo version ? Donno but I do know that the official release is exactly the same as my copy.

Prior to winning the right to record this tune from 20 other pianists, 23 yr old Clayderman was known as Philippe Pages but he must've known that the recording would bring success and fame and so he wanted his name to be easier to pronounces outside of his native France. And succeed it did, selling 22 million copies in 38 countries. I wonder if my 'early' copy was counted ?

I've spent some time today looking around my house for that copy as I'd kept it with my small collection of singles mostly bought during my school years. But sad to say I've not found the singles and may have thrown them in the bin when decluttering my house a few years ago. I decided that downsizing took precedence over sentimentality and so, in the bin they probably went.

And so I have no physical proof that my copy of Ballade Pour Adeline was somehow created prior to 1976. I'm not even sure if, with the middle part missing, there would've been any proof anyway as that's where the recording information tended to be.

Music helps me remember so many times and events in my life and whenever I hear this song, I'm taken back to that very first foreign holiday in Majorca. I've not found a very good video version online and I don't want to just insert an audio version here. You really need to see the man in action ! So a bit dull as it is to watch now and in fairly low and fuzzy quality, here is Richard Clayderman performing his most successful recording back in 1984.........Bobby Crush, eat your heart out !

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Licence to Kill

Anyone know where I can get one - cause I'm so pissed off I could spit.

Ok a bit of background.

In the UK, the BBC gets its revenue from the fact that every household with a television, or any device that is capable of receiving television reception, has to have a tv licence. This funding means the BBC doesn't need advertising during its broadcasts which is very nice indeed.

But the licence costs £145.50 a year so a lot of people try and get away without buying one and over the years this has caused the licencing company to develop more and more advanced methods for catching them. The most widely used method is for them to use 'detector vans' to cruise around seeking out households watching TV with no licence and so sophisticated are they that they can even tell what channel you're watching.

But how do they know in advance which households haven't got licences ? Well for a start, every time you buy a TV, your details are passed to the licencing company. Over the years they have therefore built up a database of every household in the UK and whether or not they have a device capable of receiving television and this is where 'the problem' arises.

I may be demonising this database and its developers but in my mind anyway, based on years of experience, it simply isn't programmed to deal with a household that can exist in the UK without a licence and like some sort of avenging megabot, it's doing its best to rectify that situation.

For the last 10 years I've rung them before going to America for 6 months to inform them that I'll be away, no one will be in my house and can my licence be cancelled and a refund paid into my bank account for the unused months (I pay annually as I'm never sure if and when I'll be returning to America at the time of starting up the licence again).

Despite doing this and the refund appearing in my account a few days later, I always find a series of letters from them on my return. These are always addressed to 'The Occupier" and start mildly enough with a note that according to their records, I have no licence and what to do about it to avoid a fat penalty. As time, and these letters, go by, the tone gets more and more threatening and finally, after 4 or 5 months, the letter says someone will call at my house. Several times over the last decade (upon my return) I've found that someone HAS called at my house and left a note along the lines of "we told you we'd call so get a licence or else......."

I have rung them so many times to complain about all this but always come up against a woman who sounds like she's polishing her nails whilst talking to me. She always tells me that as long as correspondence from them is sent to "The Occupier" and not my name, then I can ignore it.

"So why send these letters when I've told you I'm not at home ?"

"It's the computer. It sends out letters to every house without a licence. Just ignore them."

"What a waste of resources and paper. Surely it can be programmed to deal with this ?"

"It's the computer. It sends out letters to every house without a licence. Just ignore them."

"I don't appreciate threatening letters AND someone coming to my house to hand deliver an even more threatening note."

"It's the computer. It........."


As they have no freephone number and have a website designed to not make it easy to email them, I'm left to accept this situation and I donno why it makes me so mad, but it does.

This year I've experienced a new twist. Yes I got the letters, although only 3 this time. No caller. Things getting better maybe ? Not a bit of it.

My first task on my return was to go online and get a new licence. No problem. Credit card....sorted. Got an email linking me to my new licence which I could print off if I wanted. No need, so that was it.

A week later, got a warning letter to "The Occupier". Our records show....etc etc.


So I ignored it of course.

Yesterday I was sitting watching the telle when a flyer type item was posted through my letter box. It wasn't pushed right through and so dangled part way in....another thing that pisses me off. As the postman had already been, I assumed it was a flyer for some local takeaway as I've been getting a ton of those recently. I never saw the deliverer as he went on down the street out of my view from my chair.

An hour later I was up and went to get the 'post' and saw this on the front..........

WTF x 2 ???

So this is what happens when someone calls. No knock. No fancy instrumentation proving I'm watching tv. And obviously no clue I've a licence !!! Just some low paid leaflet deliverer who is "only following orders, mate."

So that's why I'm pissed. I get letters when I haven't got a licence but have told them no one is here for 6 months. I'm now getting letters and callers despite HAVING a licence !

I know this isn't a battle I'm ever going to win as the TV licencing lot are obviously lazy, incompetent idiots who see no need to change their procedures. I was a computer analyst for most of my 27 year IT career and know it's not rocket science to update programs to make better use of the information held in databases. If this was done, they'd be able to factor in households that may have a television, but no residents for a period of time. Thousands of retired people leave the UK for winter like me. The paid for licence period could then be suspended and reactivated upon the resident's return to the house. No need for a refund.


Will they do it ? No.

Would it save money if they did ? Absolutely. Paper, postage and person.

Ironically I rarely watch a BBC station but when I do these days, the red mist begins to fall. No doubt, as in previous years, these feelings will subside as time goes by.

Unless the letters continue to arrive, that is. And if someone, low paid or not, drops another of those leaflets through my letter box, I'll follow the example of Mr. Burns......


Monday, May 23, 2011

The Power Of Positive Thinking

Today the weather is gloomy, cold and very windy and as I had a well dodgy curry last night, I feel much the same. Over the past week when I've headed upstairs to bed, I've told myself that in the morning, I'll get out and do something in the fresh air and then I wake up and face weather like this.....overcast, usually rainy, cold and windy.

Right now the trees are bending dramatically and heavy rain is lashing the house due to VERY strong winds. I miss Florida !

In an effort to cheer myself up, I'm planning trips. Hopefully warm and sunny trips....even though three of them so far are still in the UK. A weekend in the Lake District, a few days in Wales and a week in Northern Ireland.

I haven't been to Norn Iron since my mum's funeral in 2003 and never went over much before then anyway. But absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that good stuff and these days, I'm looking forward to showing off the beautiful parts of the country to my friends.

Having spent almost all of my non UK time in America since 1989, I've done very little exploring in Europe. So over the last couple of years, we've gone across that somewhat smaller pond to do a bit of touring there too. Holland, Belgium, France and Italy have all been toured and conquered (Ha ! Take that Caesar. Payback's a bitch) and this summer we plan on driving down through France again but this time touring mostly in Northern Spain.

An ex ASDA/IBM work colleague has a restaurant south east of Perpignan and just over the Spanish border so as our route to Barcelona would take us very close, it'll be a great opportunity to pop in for a meal and a catch up. I've always wanted to visit Barcelona but I'm not a city person as such and so I'm more looking forward to exploring the Spanish countryside and small villages. Our trip around Tuscany in 2009 set the bar very high but despite knowing nothing about Northern Spain, I have high hopes for that region too.

I took a blog writing break there to fix a late lunch and it would appear that all this talk of holidays has had an effect on the weather here too. It's a lot brighter now, the wind has died down, the rain has stopped and there is actually sunshine. Maybe I'll be able to put last night's plans into action after all.

The power of positive thinking.....or holiday planning at least.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Rapture ? It Could Really Happen !!

In keeping with my previous posts mentioning Susan Boyle, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson in their titles, I've decided once again to try and garner more new visitors by putting today's most trending word into this title......Rapture.

Adding the slightly alarmist and controversial bit afterwards can only help too. Yes I really am such a slave to readership statistics !

So what's this Rapture malarky all about then ? Well for anyone who doesn't know about the importance of today's date in Rapture history, nip off to Google and do a quick search. You'll find that adding "Harold Camping" to the search criteria will help enormously.

Now that we're all on the same page, is it likely to happen ? Who knows. Certainly not Harold Camping as he's had one go at guessing the "End Of Everything" date already. His idea seems to be that if you get it wrong, you just pick another date and so sometime tomorrow morning we can expect news from his Californian home that the 200 million chosen ones can stand down and unpack. He'll email The National Enquirer with the new date in due course.

I think the fact that he lives in California speaks volumes about the validity of his prediction. And we'll probably learn that he was downwind at Woodstock and so can't really be trusted about anything he's said since then. Anyway as the recent governor of that state has proved, you just can't trust anyone there.

Oh get me being current !!

Of course there is even disagreement among (or amongst) those who believe in the details of a second coming. One event or two ? One event with two stages ? And just where do I stand on this topic ?

Well you may not know this, but I'm not a dispensationalist premillennialist. Too many rules and I found the mask chafed. That's not to say I'm an amillennialist either. Didn't like their initiation rites for a start and it was just too far to drive for the weekly meetings.

So I guess I'm a disbelievalist. I know....just made that one up. I don't believe in Rapture and even less in anyone alive today knowing when it will be.

But if religious history has shown us anything, it's that there will always be post Woodstock nutters who are prepared to stand up and be counted. Counted as nutters that is. Just how these people attract followers is beyond me but then I'm not from California.......or Utah for that matter. I suspect that those who follow the likes of Camping and also join religious sects are the same people who buy as-seen-on-tv items and believe in UFO's.

Why they get media attention is also beyond me but then that is the kind of world we live in now. A normal everyday hard working person may occasionally get 15 minutes of fame but the religious nutter who claims he has the exact date of the second coming gets more media coverage than Paris Hilton.

(I've found I get extra readers if I mention her name too. Sorry.)

So when tomorrow follows today and we're all (mostly) still here, what can we learn ?

Well to not give Harold Camping and anyone like him any more coverage for one thing and then if he falls over in that forest, no one will hear him or care less.

As for Rapture, well the jury is still out on that one. The Earth definitely has a 'use by' date because when our sun packs in, so does the Earth. That'll be in a few billion years so I'm not too worried on a personal level.

What does worry me is that it leaves more than enough time for Rapture merchants to pick plenty more dates for the event. Going down the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em"route, I'd like to put forward 25th June 2052 as a good date for the next Rapture watch.

I'll be 100 and probably more than ready for it.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Salmon Rush Day

Enough already. I'm fed up having senior moments. I should have grown out of them by now !

This morning I decided to have salmon for my supper and having made that decision, I simply moved on to other things and thought no more about it. Why not ? Well because all my salmon portions are solid blocks in the freezer, that's why not ! I should've taken a portion out to defrost.

When it got to 4pm and once again my mind, and my stomach, focused on supper, it suddenly hit me.

"You prat....you never got the salmon out to defrost" I said to myself.

Ok so I also talk to myself but it doesn't matter as I never listen.

I never like to defrost food in the microwave as with its ability to cook from the inside out, it's just not the best way. Especially not good for a 'delicate' food item like salmon. So over the years I've developed a relatively fast and acceptable method of defrosting small portions of frozen food.

It's called The Front Porch Method but works equally well with a lanai, extension or even a greenhouse although that might provide too much power for a small portion of food. I think you should reserve greenhouse power for large joints of meat like a leg of lamb or something !

The method is simplicity itself. Place the frozen food item on a plate and leave it in the porch/lanai etc. Add sun and leave for a couple of hours, turning frequently. Once the item bends, it's done.

The downside to needing to use this defrosting method in England is that the power source isn't often available. Solar power is a strange and wonderful foreign concept to us and with good reason.

But a closed porch does have a secret weapon that can be utilised at times when the sun isn't playing ball. By mid afternoon, if the inside door hasn't been opened, it is still a lot warmer than any other part of a house even on a cloudy day.

Without the sun though, you may be struggling to have your food ready for supper so getting it into the porch in time becomes even more important. On a cloudy day with only 2 hours to go, you'd better have a plan B or at least have the local Chinese takeaway on speed dial.

As the sun hits the front of my house just after 1pm and today has been a sunny day, at 4pm my porch was nicely pre heated and ready to accept the frozen salmon portion.

I've just checked it and after barely an hour, some flexibility is there already and I'm confident it will be totally defrosted by supper time.

Then, with some new potatoes, processed peas and a wedge of lemon, once again I'll be able to enjoy my porched salmon.

(always go out with a laugh.....or a groan !)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Catching A Cold.

Don't worry, you won't get a virus from this blog post as the "cold" I'm talking about isn't THAT sort of cold.

I'm talking cold calls and cold callers.

Ah yes, I've struck a chord with most of you. We hate them and yet they still exist. Why ? Well like other pests we'd love to see eradicated, from Paris Hilton and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson to anyone who does double glazing ads on tv, they seem impervious to our attempts and will probably be around long after those other infamous survivors, cockroaches, have finally given in to extinction.

We register our phone numbers with agencies that cheerfully assure us this will stop cold calling but you can be pretty sure that if you get a call from an unknown number on a weekday between 6pm and 8pm, it will either be a wrong number or else he or she is a dreaded cold caller who has slipped under or over the agency firewall.

What do these people want ? Why do they do this job, a job more hated than those of estate agents and traffic wardens combined ?

I donno. I don't think I've ever actually listened to one to find out. Oh I've asked them to tell me but then I've placed the phone down and gone off to do something more interesting in the kitchen for a while. Sometimes they're still talking when I return which either makes them incredibly desperate - like a Jehovah's Witness who actually gets invited in - or else they are too dumb to break into their spiel to notice there isn't anyone with a pulse at the other end. If I'm bored, I've deliberately returned to the phone and said "uh-huh.....uh-huh" a few times and then left again. It's a fun game.

I particularly hate it when they can't even get my name right. I'm not worried anymore that they even KNOW my name as in this digital day and age, it's not hard to find out my name and where I live. Well except for my postman it seems but he compensates by often delivering my neighbour's post to me so fair enough.

So when someone, with or without a foreign accent, calls at 7pm and starts by stumbling over my name and finally asks if the bastardised version they've ended up with is me, I have many responses depending on my mood at the time. Hearing lots of other phone conversations going on in the background never helps my mood but at least it helps confirm that the caller isn't ringing to invite me for a meal or a movie and then back to his or her house for a coffee.

I do like it when they immediately give you an 'out.'

Ring, ring........

"Oh good evening...is that Mr. ahhh..ummm...mumble, splutter, what-sort-of-fucking-name-is-this-anyway xxxxxxxx ?"

"Well if you got it right it might be. Why ?

"Well I'm Dave and how are you this evening ?"

"I'm just fine and bless your heart for ringing me to find out."


Does anyone EVER say...."oh lovely to hear from you. Tell me all about your product/service and I might be interested ?"


And then we have what Americans don't have - cold callers who actually call.......at your door.

It's one thing to see them coming up the driveway with clipboards or a bag of leaflets as you can always just ignore them and they'll have to go away. But you can't be looking out the window all the time and so often only know they are there when they knock. And then you open the door to clipboard man or woman or even worse, identity badge man or woman.

ID badge callers try to give off an air of importance by flashing their usually home made badges at you but in such a way that even a supermarket barcode scanner would be hard pushed to read it. They're talking in your face at the same time so you donno where to look and so the badge, legit or not, has gone back before you can say "get off my doormat."

The worst lot by far, are those who may or may not be 'working in your area' doing anything from hedge trimming to chimney sweeping and are prepared to offer you a great deal if you want your chimney trimmed today. Often these deals are offered in a broad Irish accent and the caller looks and smells like he's not had water on his body since Ireland used punts.

And when you tell them you'll think about it and ask for their business card, they conveniently never seem to have one left on them. Sadly, after a sobering personal experience, my rule now is NEVER to consider ANY offer from ANYONE cold calling at my house. If I want to shove a kid up my chimney, I'll find my own thank you very much.

If the Pope called to sell me a subscription to Childminding Weekly, I'd close the door.

If Jensen Button turned up offering to drive me to Sainsbury's, door close.

If Pamela Anderson turned up to.....well you get the idea.

No, no, no. Cold callers on the phone ? Not interested. At the door ? Even less interested.

But stopping both is the bane of my life. Cancelling my land line would solve the phone issue but that's a bit like overkill - despite me not needing it due to having a cell/mobile. I actually need it to get me a discount on my cable and internet. Go figure.

As for the personal visits....well I'm considering locating a vat of boiling oil in the room above the door as it seemed a valid way of repulsing intruders back in the day. And as we're always told that an Englishman's home is his castle, that solution has a nice ring to it.

Now where is an Irish Jehovah's Witness selling double glazing when you want one ?

Monday, May 09, 2011

Cleaning Is A Dirty Word

I've been back home 5 days and my suitcases are still on the living room settee.

It's the same every year. I tend to do very little the first week back and that includes unpacking. It must have been different in my working days but after being retired for almost 10 years, I've forgotten those days !

I'm sure the first priority for most people returning after a holiday would be to do the laundry. Not for me. My checked case WAS full of clothes but all of it clean. Just needs to be put away.

No my workload on returning is somewhat different and involves work I hate to even think about doing, never mind actually doing. Actions like cleaning, dusting and vacuuming don't come easy to me at any time and certainly not after being in Florida for 6 months. It needs to be done but I'm an award winning procrastinator so it'll just have to be done when it's done. I have cleaned the kitchen already and that took several hours as, once again, I forgot to put my daily utensils and cutlery away before I left and so they were 'coated' with 6 months of neglect, shall we say. Everything had to be washed and once you start, it doesn't end till the whole kitchen is sparkling again. Worktops, tiles, units.....you name it, it got cleaned.

So of course after that, I had to take a rest from work and I'm still resting ! I did make more progress this morning.......took all my clothes out of the big case and placed them on another part of the settee. In fact I've emptied the whole case and hey, despite nothing being actually put away, I've an empty suitcase on the settee now. That's progress.

My fridge/freezer is almost empty so a trip to Costco is planned for this afternoon where I'll stock up on bulk items. This will be an expensive business but in the past, the frozen food I get lasts me until I leave for Florida again.

As I'm not planning on returning, that won't be the case today. My last winter in the UK was in 2003 and I think for various reasons that I won't go into here, I'm ready to try it again. Yes it'll be cold, maybe with snow but vive la difference and all that. If I miss warmer weather, I could always winter with the other retirees on the Costa Del Seniors in Spain. Too many Brits for my taste though so probably not.

But first Daffy and I are off to The Queens Arms for a spot of buffet lunch. I've already had my fish and chips and Chinese takeaway and this will be the next on my bucket list of gastronomic delights that I miss when in America.

A good old British carvery in a good old British pub.

Home may not be where my heart is, but right now my stomach is happy to be here.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Driving To Florida ? Why Not !?

Greetings from not so sunny and certainly not so warm Leeds, England. In fact right now, it's pouring down and 57F outside.

But it's home.

Mind you, since returning I've had a few problems; turning on the water caused a flood in the loft thanks to a hole in the pipe leading to the hot water tank. It poured down into the middle bedroom like a vertical tsunami but by dashing down to the stopcock like an aged Usain Bolt and turning off the water supply, not too much damage was actually done. A friend then came over and mended the pipe and water flowed to the tank again.

Sadly that wasn't the end of the water related issues as this morning I couldn't use the shower pump so I guess air got into the pipework and the motor wasn't happy dealing with air rather than water and decided to pack up. I still have a bath so I can still be clean until such time as the pump bursts (unfortunate choice of verb there) back into action or gets replaced. Hopefully the former and hopefully very soon.

Last night, being a wuss, I turned on the electric blankie to warm up the bed. I'd been up for 34 hrs by then so when my head hit the pillow, I was asleep. This wasn't good really as a few hours later I woke up thinking the pipe had burst again as I was feeling a bit moist ! No such drama and it was simply that the electric blankie had been slowly broiling me and I was just covered in bodily fluids.

TMI, I know.

Off went the blankie and I slept like a log (why DO we use that expression ??) till 7:30am when it was time to get up and take the car for its annual service and test so it could be taxed. All cars here over 3 years old must be tested and just about every part gets checked out. After passing, I took it to be taxed and so now it's all legal again and I don't need to duck below the wheel when a police car approaches.

Over the next few days I'll be trying to remove 6 months of dust from everything and everywhere - oh ok, maybe 7 or 8 months worth as I'm not really very house proud. Lets face it, as long as the fridge, cooker and tv work and I have water, food and the internet, I'm pretty much sorted here. Dusting, polishing and vacuuming generally take a back seat......a very far back and usually dusty back seat. Priorities y'know.

Oh and whoever tells you that dust is just dead skin that's fallen off the human body, well my house has been empty for 6 months and it has lots of dust.

Florida seems a long way away right now. And that reminds me............

When chatting with the kid (19 years old) in the car dealership this afternoon, he was very interested in my life in Florida. He asked lots of questions and when I said I'd love to have my little Renault Clio over there, I couldn't quite believe what he said next.

"So can't you drive it over there ?"

My brow furrowed. Maybe he didn't mean what I thought he meant ! Then as if to remove all doubt, he added........

"Or could you take a ferry ?"

I spluttered. I really did.

I said "to Florida ? Florida in America ?"

He then asked how far it was by plane and I said 8 hrs.

"Oh" he said. "And how far in distance ?"

"Well by plane it's 4300 miles"

"Oh" he said "I didn't know it was THAT far"

Now I could've overlooked his lack of detailed knowledge about the distance and flight time but how on earth he thought I could drive there is just beyond me. And a ferry ?

Well it gave me a laugh anyway and added to my thinking over the last 24 hrs. That no matter how badly off you think you are, there is always someone worse off.

And I think I found him this afternoon - he just doesn't know it yet !

Monday, May 02, 2011

A Non Bin Laden Blog Post

Leaving others to blog about the death of Bin Laden and no doubt mention AGAIN all of the jokes and puns that have appeared on Twitter since the news broke 14 hrs ago, I'll simply go about my business and blog about a recent day trip we made to the Floridian east coast.

Last Saturday we rocketed a bit north and a lot east (see what I did there ? Eh ? Eh ?) as it was the day after the shuttle launch had been scrubbed and I reckoned the place would be empty. By 'the place' I mean the whole area along the Space Coast which 24 hrs earlier would've been swarming with people wanting to get a view of the penultimate shuttle launch.

I just wanted to pop along to the Kennedy Space Centre and not actually go in as I've been fortunate enough to have 'been there, done the tour and bought the t-shirt' many times over the last 22 years. In fact when I first started my visits there in the late 80's and early 90's, admission was free. What a deal THAT was as it's now $43 + tax to get in.

So why go last Saturday and not go in ? Well the trip was really to go to the nearby coastal town of Titusville which has built its tourist industry on the fact that it IS the closest town to the KSC and over the decades has established many links with NASA and the astronauts. It's also a decent place from which to watch shuttle launches !

As we approached the long causeway leading to the KSC, a temporary electronic sign informed us that only badge holders could use the road and all other traffic had to exit onto US1 and basically get lost. I assumed this sign hadn't been removed since the previous day when its message would've been valid and so we ploughed on and planned on pleading ignorance if we were buzzed by F16's and stopped along the causeway. We weren't.

As soon as you get onto the causeway, it's time to leave it again if you want to visit the first attraction. The Astronaut Hall of Fame no less. Actually it makes more sense to visit it on the return trip as the admission fee is included in the $43 + tax that you pay at the main centre. I wonder how many uninformed visitors have fallen foul of THAT little nugget of info.

Again I didn't need to go into the building but wanted a few outside pics. I was glad we did stop as a new building had been added since my last visit, 29 months earlier. There is now a Police Hall of Fame (and Museum) and for the life of me, I've no idea why such a place should've been built at a Space location !!

But it was, and so there it is. Lovely.

And here is me facing said building with a much more interesting view behind me. If I have a choice of having my photo taken with a space shuttle behind me (albeit a mock up of one) or a Police Hall of Fame building, I know where my interests lie.

Like with most 'theme parks' the KSC gets updated to keep things interesting for returning visitors and it seemed to have had a new welcome sign since my last visit.

We drove into the huge Disneyesque car park and as the nearest available empty bay was somewhere near Georgia, Debby dropped me off near the visitor entrance so I could jump out and take some photos while she kept the engine running, so to speak.

Not a good idea as when I'm at the KSC, even just outside the entrance, time becomes meaningless. Over on the left I could see some of the historic exhibits from the Rocket Garden and I have to say, they did seem to have grown a bit over the last 29 months. Anything grows in this tropical weather I guess !!

Then in front on me were the entrance booths which were decidedly bereft of customers at this time. Early afternoon on a Saturday. Where was everyone ??!! Judging by the number of cars in the park, I guess they were all inside already.

NASA has adapted the expression "old astronauts never retire, they just run out of space" by getting a couple of them to suit up and look down on arriving visitors from a lofty vantage point on top of the booths. This serves two functions as not only does their presence excite the visitors but it lets the astronauts earn their retirement checks.

Over on my right, and here you'll have to take my word for it, was a hollow space suit, set up with steps around the back so that children of all ages could climb up inside and be photographed just as if they were kosher astronauts.

Of course I wanted to be one of those kids of all ages but who to entrust to take my photo ? As if by the magic of Disney himself, Debby appeared at my side as she'd managed to sit in the car and wait for a suitable parking spot to open up in the row closest to the entrance and when it did, she nabbed it and came to join me. Brill.

And so she photographed me in the suit and vice versa.....but as our faces came out too dark to really be seen, I'll spare you the evidence.

After a little more time taking in the ambiance, we left and headed up the coast to Titusville.

Now back in the day (in the summer of '89 in fact) when I first stepped onto US soil, I left Orlando airport and headed for a motel in Titusville as my very first tourist attraction the following morning was always going to be the KSC. Last Saturday, I returned to the town.

Sadly I couldn't remember the name of the motel and so didn't spend any time looking for it. I did, however, want to visit the famous Space View Park which didn't exist back then as not only is it the favourite free viewing location for the many hundreds of shuttle watchers who descend on the town on launch days but it also 'houses' many plaques, memorials and hand prints of just about every astronaut from the days of Mercury to the present day.

The park is right on the edge of a stretch of water with an unobstructed view across to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), the launch pads and the Atlantic beyond that. In the following photograph, which for once I've uploaded full size, you can just see the VAB building on the horizon (click to enlarge and then click again to enlarge more) and to the left of it, there are what seem like 2 white tipped towers. These are 2 of the 3 lightning towers built in 2009 around launch pad 39b for the next generation of rockets (Constellation Project) which were due to be considerably taller than the shuttle and as such, risked being struck by lightning during the numerous t-storms that occur locally all summer.

The project was cancelled last year but the 3 x 600ft towers, costing as much as a royal wedding to construct, remain for the US tax payer to enjoy looking at. Launch pad 39a with the shuttle still in place is between those towers and the VAB but I can't see it even when the photo is enlarged. There ARE a couple of structures but neither look like a launch gantry to me.

So feel free to have a look for it or even tell me that it can't be seen from the park.

There was a guy there trying his best to look for it. He had an astronomical telescope pointed across the water which can spot the rings of Saturn but he couldn't find it either ! I didn't feel too bad that I couldn't find it with my 200mm lens !

So as not to disappoint, here is a photo of me instead.

I'm the squat structure to the left of the very large structure (on the horizon) in case you get confused.

There is a special "7" section of the park dedicated to the 7 original Mercury astronauts with various plaques and their hand prints and signatures set in bronze.

Across the road, in another part of the park, there are more monuments and plaques and hand prints, this time of the astronauts who followed along the lofty path set by the Magnificent Seven.

One of the plaques, located prominently beside this bust of Kennedy, belongs to the reclusive but nevertheless most famous astronaut of them all, Neil Armstrong.

Ignoring the sanitary implications, I placed my hands 'into his' and wow.....they matched perfectly. He had two and I have two !

Actually the bronze was so hot that my hands barely touched the great man's imprints as, much as I admire him, I wasn't prepared to risk 3rd degree burns just to say I'd mixed my DNA with that of hundreds of others, none of which belonged to him anyway !

By now it was 4:30pm and we needed to get back on the road as we needed something to eat, do a spot of shopping and it was a 3hr drive home. The last photo I took was a close up of that bust of Kennedy...a name that will always be associated with NASA and all things spacey.

Except Kevin.

We arrived home around 10:30pm so it had been a long but very enjoyable day trip. When I left the KSC I didn't say "well I'll never be back here again" as I've learned over the years that phrase is rarely accurate.

With STS-134 scrubbed until 8th May at the earliest (and I leave Florida tomorrow), I'll not get to see any more shuttle launches but who knows what the future holds. One fact IS irrefutable though.

Bin Laden won't be seeing them either.

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