Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Frog Went A Courting............

Over the Thanksgiving weekend I was 'home alone' here in sunny Buttonwood Bay as Deb/Den had flown to the frozen North, also known as Wisconsin, to visit with family and to see their newest grand child.

On Sunday evening, in preparation for their return and in the knowledge that we'd all need coffee as usual the next morning, I rode the golf cart over to the park's water 'machine' to refill our gallon containers (ex milk jugs) and the large 3 gallon 'bottle' that goes on the cooler unit we keep for drinking water.

It was just after 6pm and darkness was falling. It's at this time when dozens of tiny frogs come out from wherever they spend their day (where DO they spend their day ?) and sit on the driveway waiting for something to happen to them. They sit and look very cute and then........they sit a bit more. When it gets too dark to see them, they probably all leap on each other and have rampant and violent sex but I don't know this for sure. It's one of those 'boiled kettle' kinda things.

"A watched frog never mates" or something along those lines.

The problem, mostly for the frogs, is that if we need to use the golf cart or worse still, for the frogs again, the car.....then sitting on a driveway is not the best place for them to be. I think Mother Nature has failed them in this respect as although sitting on a driveway makes it very easy to spot a potential mate, the downside is that it also makes it very easy for that same mate to become a flat mate. And I don't mean in a "moving in together" sort of way.

I mean in a "wow I fancy her and I think I'll hop over there and........offs" sort of way.

When I set off to get the water (and before you ask, yes we do have perfectly serviceable drinking water from the taps here but we prefer the 'treated' stuff that has all the nasty natural elements removed and replaced by totally unnatural elements instead !) the driveway was clear.
On my return, only about 20 minutes later, I encountered a scene of plague like proportions.

Biblical in fact.

There was simply no clear route to the cart's parking spot up near the outside power point as it needed to be recharged overnight. I stopped out by the roadside and tried to move a few frogs. This was no easy task as, in Maggie Thatcher fashion, these frogs were 'not for moving.'

I poked; I prodded; I failed. Miserably.

Short of actually lifting them and relocating them on the grass, they were obviously set for an evening of passion, froggie style, once we weren't looking.

So I moved a few onto the grass and managed to clear a path to the house. But by the time I returned to the cart, they'd hopped back onto the drive !

The next 5 minutes can best be described as a frog version of that spinning plate act we all saw back in the day. The performer, aided by his scantily clothed female assistant, would set plates spinning on a line of flexible poles and keep us all in a state of cruel anxiety by running back and forth along the line to keep the initial plates spinning whilst adding more to the end.

I do believe that watching this act during my formative years was fundamental to at least one of my heart attacks in later life. I'm convinced my heart was weakened by the stress I experienced never knowing if the very first plate would fall to the ground whilst The Amazing Plato was down the other end adding 'a plate too far.'

I always feared that the scantily clad assistant, having been refused a pay rise, would simply add an extra plate/pole to the act, thus ensuring that the initial plate would topple off its pole to loud gasps from the audience and mortification for the bemused El Plato. He would never be seen on tv again and be reduced to spinning the roulette wheel at Barnsley Working Men's Club on Saturday nights.

Anyway back to the frogs. Remember them ? Yes well as fast as I moved them to the grass, they'd hop back onto the driveway. In the end I had to get to the house in stages. I had to move a few frogs, dash back to the cart and drive it a few feet, stop before squishing any returning frogs, get out and move a few more and so on. It was slow progress but I'm happy to report that no frogs were hurt in the parking of the cart.

Sadly, unlike in a true fairy tale (oi, who am I calling a fairy ???), there was no happy ending.

Pleased with the success of my endeavours, I parked the cart by the house, climbed out.......and promptly stood on a frog.

D'oh !!!!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Black Friday And Decorated Golf Carts

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day here in these United States and as Deb/Den are leaving VERY early in the morning to visit family in Wisconsin, I'll be 'home alone' in sunny Buttonwood Bay for a few days. Home alone with Pixie I mean.

Hope she likes turkey.

Based on the fact that I didn't trash the car the other day when I drove it for the first time, I'm being allowed to 'have it' whilst they are up in the frozen north. I'm already Mapquesting the route to Grand Canyon ! See previous post.

As well as being a semi decent movie, the day after tomorrow is Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, if you believe the retail industry. Maybe that's the last Saturday before Christmas, which would be my guess. In any case, delusional, sorry, hopeful bargain hunters will rise on Friday at the crack of 2am, stand for hours outside the major stores and then run like Usain Bolt when the doors open to try and get to the big sale items which in reality were snapped up by the employees the day before.

So instead of the 55" LCD 3D Sony TV for $199 which is now residing in some pimply salesman's living room, they'll have to settle for a 37" Plasma Vizio for $499 which was the price last month. BUT as you'll get it on Black Friday it'll be a steal.....yes ?

Since the advent and growth of online shopping, Black Friday has had to be reinvented. Many deals can now be found online as well as in the stores and so only your fingers need to be awake at 2am. Seriously proficient multitaskers can remain blissfully asleep or even doing other things that adults do in bed whilst they max out their credit cards on items they don't really want but feel they need due to the deal prices.

But things change every year. Nowadays, there are online ONLY deals on Black Friday. And some stores start their deals at midnight on Thanksgiving. Others start in the week leading up to Black Friday. It's an evolving trend that may end up affecting the whole Nov/Dec retail period.

As I see it, next year Black Friday will be replaced by Black November which will start in late October. Thanksgiving Day will be merged with Christmas Day (to be named Thanks For Christmas Day) to give the endangered turkey population a chance to regroup and this will fall on the last Thursday in December so that workers can have a long weekend as no one will ever turn up for work on the Friday anyway.

As an aside, US citizens will be outraged when Facebook and Twitter messages announce that the White House plans to name their tree the "Thanks For The Holidays Tree." Snopes and Urban Legends will add to the storm of protest by finally going along with the scam by saying it's true. Very naughty.

There will be a new public holiday called Returns Day which will fall on the Monday AFTER Thanks For Christmas Day when people will get up at 2am to line up outside those very same stores to try and get their money back for all the items they bought in Black November and which are now on sale at even lower prices.

It's all good fun but Pixie and I plan on giving it all a wide berth this year. If she gets up at 2am on Friday, she's on her own !

Another approaching tradition is the Buttonwood Bay Christmas Golf Cart Parade which will start at 5:30pm on December 11th.

I only mention this event as from early November, my blog gets a dramatic surge of new visitors who have used any combination of 'cart' 'parade' 'golf' 'decorate' and 'Christmas' in a Google Search as my post from 2007 will pop up on the first page of the search results.

If I get some decent photos of the 2011 event, I will have to publish them in a new post as one has to be relevant you know and a post from 2007 is just so "back in the day."

Actually we're thinking about decorating our golf cart as a mobile WalMart store. Dennis will be the greeter, Debby will be the checkout lady and I will be the stressed returns guy, shouting obscenities at everyone along the parade route.

It'll be a sure winner in the Black November Thanks For Christmas Holiday Returns Day Buttonwood Bay Golf Cart Parade.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dalai Lama, Disney and Jesus Christ

As I sit here in my reclining swivel armchair, sipping my coffee and gazing out at the clear blue sky, I'm reminded of the famous Dalai Lama quote when he visited Disney World for the first time....."dammmmmmmm but this place is bitchin' ."

Well he COULD have. If he HAD visited. Who's to say ?!

Here in sunny Buttonwood Bay, it IS bitchin'. Glorious weather at least. I spent about 90 mins gently riding around the park yesterday. Or was it riding gently ? Whateva, it wasn't very taxing as I stopped often to take photos, mostly of the wildlife, as we have several resident birds here who will happily pose for me. And I don't just mean the senior citizens ! Hardy har har.

I know I've probably posted too many similar photos over the years so this winter I'll try and limit them to ones where the bird/critter is doing something a little different. Standing on one leg perhaps. Or no legs....although that might be classed as flying. But not when it's a rabbit. Could be a squirrel. They fly. Kinda.

Anywhichway, here are a couple of birds, in the water, on all their legs. Feeding.

I don't often photograph birds with their 'mouths' open. No comment !

And speaking of one leg, here's one.....photo....and one leg.

In other news (always wanted to say that), the work on the house finished last week and we now have a lovely extended roof to provide extra shade at the front and right side. The side shade is for vehicles and the front is for us.....so we can sit out and watch the world go by without the risk of skin cancer !

We can get the car and golf cart parked together under the extended side roof and this is great for keeping the sun off the car (which can damage the paintwork and ruin the tyres) and for keeping the morning dew off the golf cart which saves having to wipe it off the seats. It's the little things in life.....

Here is a panorama of how it looks now, so click and enlarge. DO IT, DAMMIT !

The golf cart is parked where it is in this photo as it was being charged at the time so needed to be close to the outside power point.

Last week 4 new homes were delivered to the park. They arrived on flat bed trucks and were located on sites previously used for short stay RV's. These basically empty park models then get fitted out with every imaginable convenience so they will be ready for rental.

Switching topics again and while I remember.....I went shopping on my own yesterday. Not usually a post topic worth mentioning but I've not driven here in these United States for a few years. In fact I believe it was in December 2006 when I rented a car and went to visit friends in Georgia. I've missed driving here ever since.

But we found out the other day that I was covered (insurance wise) to drive Deb/Den's car and so for the first time in almost 5 years, I was able to go into Sebring all on my ownsome and how liberating THAT was. Woooohoooo. I had brunch at The Diner and then a leisurely shop around Walmart.

Yes, yes I know. Not the stuff of dreams but small steps eh. Sebring Walmart yesterday, Grand Canyon next week ! I may struggle with that in one day but if I stick to the interstates, wear my 'bag' and pack sandwiches, it could just work.

Anyway I was glad it all came back to me, driving over here I mean, and I only fell off twice.

Finally, to end this rambling post, here is a photo I took of a painting in, of all places, a furniture store in Sebring. It's one of those paintings where a face makes up a scene or the other way round, depending on which you 'see' first. I couldn't take the photo straight on due to the store's ceiling lighting but you still get the idea.

Not something I'd ever want on my wall but interesting none the less.

And there you have it. What a post. From the Dalai Lama to Jesus Christ and all for free.

I really need to make this a subscription blog !

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Sands Of Iwo Jima........And More.

After the sombre topic detailed in the last post, it's time for a much more light hearted one today - sand sculpting.

Yesterday we went across to Siesta Beach on the Gulf Coast near Sarasota to see The Siesta Key Crystal Classic, billed as a master sand sculpting competition. Because of its 99% quartz crystal sand, Siesta Beach is one of the finest locations in the world for sand sculpting.

I'd no idea my watch was made of sand. You live and learn.....and I must remember to keep it out of the shower !

We left at about 10am and made it to Lake Placid for breakfast ! Well it saved fixing it ourselves.

Then came the almost 90 minute drive westwards to Sarasota and a stop off for a bit of retail therapy. I went into a nearby pet store to watch the animals while Deb 'retailed.'

As we'd been advised that the car parks at the beach would be packed, we headed for a shuttle bus area at Phillippi Park where for $5, we were able to park the car and get a free shuttle bus to the beach and we arrived just after 2pm.

The shuttle bus let us off inside the beach main car park and we saw just how packed it was. New arrivals were just going round and round hoping for a spot to become free but without much hope. We'd paid $5 each before boarding the bus which got us wrist bands allowing us to enter the sand sculpting area so we could get up close to the exhibits.......which were still being worked on as it was a 3 day competition and all were works in progress.

The first sculpture WAS compete however and was a representation of the iconic flag raising on Iwo Jima back in 1945.

After that, we just walked around the other sculptures and tried to work out what they were.....not an easy task as most were a bit abstract or themed and being unfinished, were hard to decrypt. I just enjoyed them as glorified "sand castles" and it was cool to see the sculptors working on them with their specialised tools and fine spray water jets to keep the sand both moist and compact.

I'm not sure what this first one was going to be as no more sand could be added to the top. The sculptor seemed to be carving the torso into a castle turret so maybe it was to be 'the body of a castle' !!

Before showing more of the sculptures, here is a panorama of the area with my back to the water. The shadows on the extreme left and right of this 180 degree shot are from the advertising hoardings behind me which formed the fence keeping out those who didn't want to pay the $5 entry fee.

I'll just put up a series of photos of the various sculptures as I've no idea what any of them were meant to represent but that didn't diminish the time, effort and skill required to create them.

I did like the idea of the snowman though as standing on the white sand, the onlookers were the only clue that it wasn't built on snow.

I'd made the mistake of not taking a hat or even sun screen so my time on the open beach had to be limited. There actually weren't that many sculptures and some of these photos are just close ups to show detail.

Finally, I captured these 4 stills from the video footage I took so although the video was in HD, the images are not great quality. A couple of them better show the sculptors in action, one using a scraping tool to carve out whole 'slices' of sand from a new block and in another still, you can see the fine spray water jet used to keep the sculpture moist and therefore compact.

Notice the untouched sand under the horse's eye here and then go back to a previous photo where lines have been carved in. Yes the video was taken first !

By now it was 3:15pm and my unprotected head had been out in the sun for over an hour so it was time to find shade. We also needed to eat so we left the sculpture area and went along the food stands before making our choices.

After that we lined up for our shuttle bus, returned to the park, picked up the car and drove off for more retail therapy before heading home.

I really enjoyed the day out as I'd always wanted to see sand sculptures and in any case, I rarely need an excuse to go to Siesta Beach which has to be one of the best in America.

Next time I'll be hatted, sun creamed and wearing my swim trunks !

Sarasota beware !

Friday, November 11, 2011

Lest We Forget - Oradour-sur-Glane

Many times over the last few months, I've thought about how to compose this post. It's not been easy.

As you know, I've been slowly recounting our summer travels around France and Spain and posting my recollections and photographs on a day to day basis and so far I've only reached Day 5 when we were still enjoying the delights of Provence.

But Day 13 was memorable for a much different reason and considering that I'm typing this at exactly 11:11 on 11.11.11, I feel it appropriate to skip ahead to that summer's day when the 3 of us, myself, Daphne and Stephen, had a relevant experience that will never be forgotten.

Here is the story behind that experience......

In 1944, WWII was nearing its end in Europe. France was occupied by the Germans and shortly after D-Day, most of their troops were ordered north towards Normandy to try and repel the Allied invasion forces. Nestling in the Limousin region of west central France, lay the small idyllic village of Oradour-sur-Glane with a population of only a few hundred.

On 9th June, a German officer was reportedly kidnapped by local resistance fighters and at this point in the story, for reasons that will become obvious, the facts become confused to say the least.

What is not in dispute is that the Germans, or the Waffen SS to be precise, wanted retaliation for this outrage and so on 10th June 1944, they entered the village and rounded up all the inhabitants. Anyone passing through the village or visiting friends there were also included. To avoid panic, they told the village mayor that this roundup was for the sole purpose of doing identity checks and this is why the inhabitants, including children taken out of the schools, were not particularly worried and were even 'asked' to sing to ease any build-up of tension.

After assembling in the village square, the men were taken to 6 nearby barns and the women and children were escorted to the village church. There may have been little anxiety but the women and children were still uncomfortable as the church was relatively small and not built to hold that many people.

A short time later, that lack of anxiety changed to terror when gunfire was heard. The men had been lined up in front of machine guns and, as some reports claim, were deliberately shot in the legs to prevent escape before being covered with wood and straw, doused with petrol and set on fire.

Only 6 men escaped from the barns; one was shot dead, ironically walking towards the cemetery and the other 5, although all wounded, managed to get away under cover of darkness.

Meanwhile, some sort of explosive smoke bomb had been set off inside the church, with the purpose of asphyxiating all the women and children. In the ensuing panic, it became obvious that the bomb hadn't worked effectively so again machine guns and hand grenades were used to 'finish the job'.

With many not yet dead, wood was also piled on their bodies and set on fire. Only 2 women, one carrying her child, managed to climb out of a shattered window behind the altar. The mother and child were shot and killed and the sole woman survivor managed to reach some nearby bushes and remained there overnight until rescued.

The village was a stopping point on the Limoges to St. Junien tram route and with 5 trams a day passing through, one came along while the massacre was taking place. The passengers were taken off but for some reason, were allowed to re-board and continue on their journey.

In total, 190 men, 247 women and 205 children were massacred that day. The town was almost burned to the ground that evening to try and hide what had taken place.

With so few survivors and no one on the German side wanting to offer up any information, some facts surrounding that dark day are a bit muddled. Some reports say the wrong village was picked for this retaliation as Oradour-sur-Vayres, a very similar looking village 35 miles to the south, was where the German kidnapping had taken place. It was also said that the initial order had been to 'just' make an example by picking out and killing 30 inhabitants.

But any hazy sub plots do nothing to diminish the atrocities committed that day.

After the war, General Charles de Gaulle decided that the village should never be rebuilt, leaving it as a lasting memorial to the cruelty of the Nazi occupation. A new village was built north of the original and today has a population of a few thousand.

I'm not sure what the current population must make of having such a memorial right on their doorstep with thousands of tourists keeping the memory uppermost in their consciousness.

And so on that overcast summer's day in 2011, we entered the ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane and no war memorial has ever affected me so much. I have only edited the photographs I took in one way - by changing them to black and white as I think that best sums up what I saw in my mind as I walked silently along the village streets. The sign at the entrance had requested our silence but it wasn't necessary. Any words were caught in my throat as the experience of reliving what had taken place there 67 years ago overwhelmed me.

The shells of burned out cars; sewing machines lying within ruined living rooms; pots and pans forever resting on the rubble of kitchen floors; the heartbreaking remains of prams and bicycles telling silent stories of young lives brutally cut short; overhead tram lines creating cruel mental images of happier times; the ruins of the homes, once full of family laughter and now remaining as stark reminders of a wartime tragedy that few even know about.

If walking along the village streets wasn't upsetting enough, entering the remains of the church took my senses to a whole new level. Probably because of my upbringing, churches have always had a fascination for me and I've always felt closer to God in a church, an empty church, than anywhere else. Not surprisingly I've rarely felt further away from God than I did in L'Eglise D'Oradour-Sur-Glane.

The atmosphere was heavy with the ghosts or souls or spirits of all those massacred women and children. Take your pick. It was palpable. Overwhelming. Disturbing.

Approaching the altar above, I was looking upwards at the window, thinking about that mother and her baby who had thought they had escaped, only to be brutally shot down a few feet away from the church. Suddenly I looked down and saw the remains of a pram almost melted into the concrete floor, such was the heat created by the burning of the bodies. If there was one image that will remain with me forever, it was the one of that pram.

Today is Veterans Day in the US and Remembrance Day in the UK. Many other countries also remember those who served and died in wars around the world. I'm not going to get into the politics or even the necessity for war as it seems to be the human way throughout history to kill each other over everything from possessions and territory to personal beliefs and religions affiliations.

But today, I'm taken back to that small village in France where 642 lives were taken in the name of retribution. Where 205 children never got to grow up and never got to know the reasons why.
Where the worse of human nature has been left exposed for future generations to see and experience and maybe, just maybe, affect enough of us to try and ensure it never happens again.

Should children be taken there ? Should they be told what happened on that day back in 1944 ?
It's certainly much more effective than simply reading about it in a book or even seeing it on tv.

Oradour-sur-Glane may be a memorial to those who perished there but it will only serve its true purpose if people get the message being silently shouted from the remains of the homes and the ruins of the church.

It's a poignant message from 642 dead souls to 7 billion living ones but sadly if history has taught us anything, it's that this is one message that usually falls on deaf ears.

Footnote : Adolph Otto Diekmann (Dickmann), the battalion commander who was the highest ranking officer present at Oradour that day and therefore the man responsible for the massacre, was himself killed in action at Normandy 19 days later. As he was due to be court-martialled for exceeding his orders at Oradour, his fellow officers said he was distraught and they believed he comitted suicide by deliberately getting himself killed in action.

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