Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 - A Year In Review....Kinda.

I'm going for the sympathy 'votes' today but doubt I'll get any.

Here in (normally) hot and sunny Buttonwood Bay in Florida, USA, we're experiencing a bit of a cold snap thanks to those naughty northern states (and Canada) sending their chilly winds our way. It dropped to 45F overnight and right now at 11am, it's a bone numbing 55F.

Yes, yes I can imagine the outrage from those of you who would LOVE to have 55F as a high but come on, this is NOT what I signed up for when I bought my plane ticket. In the Terms & Conditions it clearly said that it would be hot in Florida and it was on that basis that last August I handed over my hard earned pension for the next 5 years and bought an inside seat on that Virgin Atlantic plane.

It's so cold in here that I just now picked up my smartphone and it was like picking up a choc ice. I wonder if that means I'll be getting lots of cold calls today ?

(A bit of light humour to warm me up there)

But ever the optimist, it's dry, the sky is blue, the clouds are fluffy and it's to be 80F by Saturday. Hurrah.

After that, it'll be time for 2012. No I'm not going to watch the movie. I mean the year will be 2012. Sometimes the change to a new year takes a while to sink in but I think the move from 2011 to 2012 will be easy. Being retired (no work) and using online banking (no checks) means far fewer occasions when I need to even write down the year.

Then there is the act of saying the year. 2011 has 5 syllables if said as Twenty Eleven. 2012 has only 3. Rolls of the tongue smoothly. 2012. Twenty Twelve. Easy !

Well that's the New Year sorted. What next ?

I'm not into doing annual reviews at this time as they remind me a little of work appraisals which I used to dread. As an employee I never liked being told how I'd done the previous year and as a boss, I disliked even more telling others how they'd done. With salary reviews based on the outcomes, it was just much too stressful for me. Plus it was never nice having to smack my boss !

But I guess 2011 has been another decent year for me.

Travel wise I've had 6 months in America, 2 weeks in France and Spain, a week in Northern Ireland and a fair bit of exploring the beauty all around me in England. I can't remember stepping foot in Wales or Scotland so maybe they deserve a visit in 2012.

Health wise, no scares, although I do remember having a runny nose last May. Man flu, rickets and athletes foot were all avoided and I got no mozzy bites from May-Oct. Senility continued apace but apart from missing somesortof appointment with whatshisface at whereveritwas, I don't recall any other issues.

Money wise.......well we'll gloss over that heading. A little comes in but more goes out. Hey ho. All that travelling has to be paid for ! Maybe 2012 will bring me a sugar mommy. As long as next door keeps my house frost free during the winter and they don't spot the extension cable to their house in the summer, my utility bills should continue to be minimal and I'll put in a good word for them in the bankruptcy court.

I had clothes to wear, food to eat, water to drink and a bed to sleep on. I was safe from civil unrest, wars, uprisings and football hooligans. I experienced no tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes or snow. I wasn't in a flash mob, never listened to Lady Gaga, and until a week ago, was blissfully unaware of Tim Minchin. I never watched X Factor, any show with the word Dancing, Celebrity or Ross in it but I did 'discover' the shear delight that was "Gavin & Stacy."

Yes I should be thankful.

So apart from tv on both sides of the pond being pretty naff, no good movies to be seen in theatres and my footy team looking like they don't want to get to the 'Top Table' any time soon, I guess 2011 was ok.

If years had report cards, 2011's would've said "could've been better but on the whole, for a 5 syllable year, not too shabby."

(Note : those are only MY memories and experiences as of course I understand that for many thousands, if not millions around the world, 2011 has sucked big time and I don't mean to belittle the many awful and tragic events, both natural and man made, that have devastated them.)

Best wishes to everyone for a 2012 you'll remember for all the right reasons.

Me ? I'll just be happy that, come next December, I'll be able to remember any of it at all !

Btw, I've added a 'chat with me' widget over on the right of this blog so if I'm showing as online, feel free to say hi. Doesn't have to be a War & Peace chat...just a hi from anyone from the 140 countries that have visited the blog would be cool. Just be warned, I can only understand English so if you're from Newcastle or Liverpool or most US southern states (and Puerto Rico), my reply might take a while as I'll need to use Google Translate.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Heroes And Villains

Mutter, mutter, splutter, splutter.

Well it may be the season of goodwill but that isn't stopping me needing to vent - but I'll try to make it short.

One of my many pet peeves is the overuse of the word 'hero' and once it was used to describe any player who scored a last minute goal, I felt it had been taken as far from its noble beginnings as it possibly could.

I won't go into other examples of its current trivialised use as there are many and it's so sad. Now before you have a pop at me, I know my definition of a hero is not what you may find in a dictionary but this is MY rant so there. For me, a hero is someone who is prepared to or actually does risk his or her life for others. There. That is all. A hero.

The reason for this outburst this morning is down to an article in my hometown newspaper, the Yorkshire Evening Post. The headline states : "Community Offenders To Clear Leeds Town Of Snow." Ok so far.

The first line of the article then says........Convicted offenders are to turn community Christmas heroes – and help clear a Leeds town of snow.


Ok so we have a bunch of (probably young) convicted criminals who got a few hours of community service as part of their sentences. Probably all of their sentences if our pathetic justice system was involved. With snow possibly on the horizon, someone has had the bright idea to have them serve some of their hours of community work by clearing the snow from around Leeds. Fine by me. I'd have them in t-shirts, shorts and flip flops and chain them up together while they do it but that's just me.

But come Christmas HEROES ?!

I give up. It's a disgrace to use the same word to describe some thug who may have mugged a granny for her pension money as someone who may have rushed into a burning building to carry out an unconscious resident with no thought for their own safety.

I understand that our language is constantly changing and evolving and that the meaning of individual words can change over the years. Certain words can now be deemed offensive when decades ago they weren't. There is now a long list of words and expressions that we have to avoid using or the racist or PC police will be on to us, closely followed by the bandwagon brigade who love to jump on board when such words are uttered in public.

That's a different peeve of mine !

So that was it. A mini rant by my standards.....and by keeping it short, I hope you will applaud my heroic effort.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Is Vesta A Good Match ?

I used to want to be an astronaut. Not a cosmonaut. Their rockets always looked well dodgy to me. Like they'd been put together by the lowest bidder and that bidder was affiliated with Meccano.

No, NASA was my team. That was why I got into IT from school and made a career out of it. Of course working for a supermarket chain and then IBM wasn't exactly rocket science ( mind) but I think it helped me to better understand the technical complexities involved in 'sending a man to the moon and returning him safely to the earth.'

Oh who am I kidding ? I've no flaming clue how they did it. But if they ever wanted someone to help with their supply chain or payroll systems, I'd have been their man.

Despite never getting their call, I've always fiercely defended every manned mission from Mercury, through Gemini to Apollo and on to the Space Shuttle and the ISS. I've thrilled at the launches on tv, been fortunate enough to have seen a few in 'real life' and been up close and personal with a lot of the actual hardware that is spread out around museums in the US and beyond. I've even been inside a capsule.

Mockup, smockup. It was a capsule, ok !

But non manned missions ? Those I find very hard to fight for and it seems for most of them, the reasoning from NASA is always the same - to shed more light on the origins of the universe.

I'm not sure anyone really needs to shed more light on the origins of the universe. It happened a long time ago so let's move on. Big Bang or no Big Bang, what possible use will it be to know what happened ? It's like the origins of Strictly Come Dancing. Nobody really understands WHY it happened but we all accept we now have to live with it.

I know we're an inquisitive bunch. We're also explorers but unlike back in the day, we now have the technology to send machines out to do our exploring for us. But these machines, amazing and complex as they may be, can never replace a man walking around a new, distant location, picking up local 'stuff' and bringing it back for examination.

A bit like a wife sending her hubby to a flea market.

"What rubbish did you get this time ?"

"Look, dearest, some nice dirt, some pointy rocks and a thing that opens its mouth and another thing comes out......looking like your mother."

"You useless lump. Next time, I'm sending the Dyson."

Exploring foreign bodies is nothing new. Casanova was doing it centuries ago and if we've learned one thing from his exploring, it's that you can return with more than you bargained for. So by all means use machines to 'go in first' and do the initial recce. Saves time, saves money and possibly saves a trip to the CDC.

But if the sole purpose of a NASA mission is to find out more about the origins of the universe or even our solar system, then like a lot of people, I lose interest. Worse still, I have no interest TO lose and I find myself jumping on the 'waste of money and resources' bandwagon.

These flyby missions where they get all the way to a planet (or moon or passing comet) and take photos or scoop up gases (if humans went, the gases might be a lot more interesting) don't exactly get my geek juices flowing the way the Apollo missions did.

On a side note, when I read about the latest robotic interplanetary pooper scooper breaking down or going AWOL after a landing, I become more and more impressed by the success of those Apollo missions when NASA used the all the computing power of a calculator to get 12 men onto the moon and, more amazing still, got them all home again. Ahh the glorious 60's. Anything was possible - especially if you had a Hollywood soundstage, tons of sand and a gullible world audience with low spec b&w televisions.

Kidding. Really.

Just today I read about the latest of these "what's it all about" missions. NASA has released photos sent back a week ago from its Dawn spacecraft on its low level mapping orbit of the giant asteroid, Vesta. Ever heard of Vesta ? No ? Me neither.

The mission's main objective is to take low level photos of Vesta and its neighbour, Ceres, two protoplanets in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Is this an educational blog or what !?! Shuddup and stay awake.

With the photos and report, came this paragraph which formed the whole reason for this post today.

"At this detailed resolution, the surface shows abundant small craters, and textures such as small grooves and lineaments that are reminiscent of the structures seen in low-resolution data from the higher-altitude orbits. Also, this fine scale highlights small outcrops of bright and dark material."

Stunning report. Hell I could've told them that without leaving my armchair ! What did they expect ? Lush pastures ? Crystal clear lakes ? ET and his friends waving at the camera ? Just reposition the bloody Hubble telescope ffs and get the same photos ! Clearer. Cheaper. In colour.

By looking at and analysing these photos, maybe mankind's knowledge of the origins of the solar system will improve. Do most of us care ? Probably not.

Now if NASA sent a Bruce Willis led team to land on Vesta and do their thing, then I'd be interested.

But I'd still be suggesting to NASA that they take a Dyson. There is no messy bag, its filter system is awesome and that ball idea would be brill at getting around the rocks.

"That's one small sweep for a man, one giant cleanup for mankind."

Armstrong, eat your heart out mate. Mine makes sense.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Ho Ho Not So Much

T'was the Monday before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a gator.

Seems to be missing a bit of poetic rhyming there, don't ya think ? Accurate though. I've never seen a mouse here in sunny Buttonwood Bay but I've seen lots of gators. Not in the house, I need to add quickly. At least none I've seen. Who knows what critters come in ( and thankfully leave again ) in the wee small hours !

So this is Christmas week.

Back in the day, we used to say it was so many shopping days till Christmas but with the advent of everyday shopping and then t'interclacker, we might as well just revert to how many actual days are left till Christmas. Or the holidays. Oh hell, I'm not getting into THAT discussion again.

So it's 6 shopping/actual days till Christmas or 5 if you're in Australia or 7 if you live in a city with shops open on 25th. Fancy buying a few last minute gifts on the day itself ? Absolutely. Plenty of places are open after all.

Mind you, the gift may have to be a lukewarm pancake from IHOP or a bunch of slighly mouldy chocs from the gas station but hey, it's the thought that counts and what better thought is it than to have bought the present on Christmas Day itself ? Well ok a pretty crappy thought I guess. A last minute tthought. A 'oh crap he bought me a present so now I have to buy him one' thought.

We do the same with Christmas cards, don't we ? Yes we do and don't you pretend to be all high and mighty and tell me you don't do it. We dutifully send out our batch of cards trying to remember who died during the year and bless the savings. Of course we might've made new friends but are they close enough yet to warrant a card ? Oh dear it the wedding invitations fiasco all over again. Who do we risk upsetting ? Did Aunt Maud die or was that two years ago ? When are kids old enough to get their own cards ? Who gets the good individual cards with all the glitter and decent rhyme and who gets the 50 for $2.50 charity cards made from recycled paper and with the dubious unseasonal limerick ? It's very stressful.

And we can't sit back and relax even after the cards have gone out. Oh no. We have to hold some blank ones back for the late arrivals, don't we ? A few cards arrive in this week before Christmas and we fly into a card panic. Who the hell are Bill and Mavis ? Why don't these people use return address labels ? I don't know any Bill and Mavis. Wait, were they the smokers we tried to avoid on the ferry to Calais last summer ?

Well I donno where they live so sod 'em. He stank of ciggies and she stank of Eau de Kyle Minogue so yes, sod 'em.

It may come as a shock to learn, but I'm not a party animal. Never have been, never will be. I can't imagine the stress involved in holding or even going to several parties over Christmas. All that false bonhomie. People standing around talking about this or that and really all the men want to do is get upstairs with the host's au pair or drink all their plonk, eat all their food and go home pissed as a newt and stuffed as a pig. I've no idea what the women want to do but I'm sure it involves clothes, jewelry and discussing I'm A Strictly Come Dancing Celebrity On Ice, Get Me Out Of This Jungle....Idol.

I can't play the cross talking game either. You know, when there are so many people at a table or in a group that multiple conversations open up. I'm there frantically trying to work out which conversation I might find remotely interesting but end up not wanting to listen to any of them and wishing I was at home in my slippers watching reruns of Family Guy with a beef in ok sauce and a Pepsi Max. I'm easily pleased !

I know I'm not very sociable. Given the choice I'd nearly always want to be on my own. Which is just as well as that's mostly how it works out !

So Christmas is a bit of a 'challenge' for me really. But it's not a case of me being all bah humbug about it. It's just that I don't enjoy being in a crowd of people and as the numbers increase, so do my anxiety and discomfort levels. A few friends....ok. Maybe 5 or 6. Anymore and I know I'll be spending an evening listening. Maybe I'll answer a request for what I'd like to eat or drink but mostly, I'll be just listening. It's what I do.

Putting aside religious beliefs, they tell us Christmas is for kids....and families getting together. Partly through choice, I have neither. My bed and I'm sleeping in it.

It rarely makes me sad but I do admit that, thanks to tv ads mostly, I feel that I've missed out. I know I've missed out. I'll never be called dad, daddy or f*** off, you're not my REAL dad. I'll never know what it's like to have a small child run towards me without thinking it's entrapment. I'll never be able to have a teenager on my lap without entering the priesthood.

But that's the way my cookie has crumbled and there is always an up side. I know I'll be able to get an individual Christmas pudding from the local gas station on Sunday and if that doesn't fill me up, there is always the chance of a pancake.

When it comes to being thankful at Christmas, I'm sending my thanks to BP and IHOP.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Weighty Post

For the last 11 years, each winter I've swapped snow showers, freezing temps and 7 hours a day of gloom for palm trees, swimming pools and over 10 hours a day of blue skies.

No SAD for this Brit. Oh no, no, no.

After my 2nd heart attack a few years and then being diagnosed (I think incorrectly) with pre diabetes in October, I need these long days of pretty much guaranteed sunshine to encourage me to get out walking, cycling and swimming. I do NOT need diabetes in my life.

Ok before anyone else "outs me" I admit I really do very little of the first two and none at all of the last one but still, I COULD do them if I wanted to and that's the point. I just choose to be as lazy here as I am in Leeds but the views from my chair are much better !

And that alone has to be good for my health.

Actually I must be doing something right as I stepped on the scales this morning and woohooo, I've lost 6 lbs since getting here. Of course it would've been even more if I'd not had the steak and ribs combo at Outback Steakhouse last night. Hey, who are YOU to judge ME ?!

It doesn't seem that long ago that I was a skinny youth, always having sand kicked in my face. Quite bizarre really as Leeds is 70 miles from the nearest beach. I wore pants with a 28in waist well into my 30's and now a few inches have been added to my girth (shaddup), I'm in danger of bypassing L and entering the realms of XL, XXL and even XXXL. I already get my tops handmade by sail makers and not tailors. I last saw my feet in 2007 and I only know how much I weigh as digital scales thankfully retain the display for several seconds after I get off them.

This does have one benefit as I never get to see the first display that states (rather uncharitably I feel) "One Person At A Time."

It's coming up to a New Year when many of us make resolutions to do all sorts of things differently and then by the 2nd week in January we all say sod it and return to the status quo. No doubt I'll be telling myself to buck up my ideas; get fit, lose weight and live longer.

The problem is, that last one isn't entirely guaranteed to result from trying the first two. In my case they HAVE to at least help. I've had two pretty obvious warnings and if getting out into the warm sunshine for daily walks and bike rides and yes, even dipping this pale obese body into a swimming pool helps, then I should heed them.

Lets face it, it could be a case of third strike and I'm out.

And what excuses do I have anyway ? This park is as flat as the rest of Florida which is very flat indeed. If there were no buildings in the way, I could see Georgia. It's THAT flat. So walking and cycling are a dream.

The park has 2 heated, yes HEATED, swimming pools and the larger one is so close I could throw a small child into it from this chair.

So come on, me. Never mind waiting till January 1st and making it a New Year's resolution. Get out walking, cycling and swimming now. There's no time like the present. Strike while the iron's hot. Never put of till tomorrow blah, blah, blah.

I'll just have lunch first. Then a nap. Then it'll be supper time, a bit of telle and bed shortly after.

I'll start tomorrow. Oh wait, I'm golfing. And anyway, who starts things on a weekend ?

So Monday it is then. Oh wait I'm golfing on Monday too. So Tuesday. Yes Tuesday should be fine. Oh wait, I'm going to the Sebring Yacht Club to be fitted for a new t-shirt on Tuesday.

Hmmmmm.......I think January 1st sounds perfect !

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

2011 Christmas Golf Cart Parade

Yesterday evening we had the annual Buttonwood Bay Christmas Golf Cart Parade (BBCGCP), postponed from Sunday evening due to inclement weather.

I KNOW ! In (normally sunny) Florida ! Well it happens sometimes.

Yesterday was also a bit overcast with threats of showers but the brave souls of BB went ahead and their courage was rewarded with nothing worse than dull skies and a few spits of rain at one point.


First up, I have to say BB is infamous for timekeeping. Few things here start on time and mostly they start well before time. The cart line up was due to begin at 5pm and the parade was due to start at 5:30pm but at 5:10pm it set off, and caught me completely flat footed........and with only half the carts and participants photographed.

Hey ho, as Santa would've said.

Last year it wouldn't have taken me 10 minutes to photograph all the carts, the turnout was so low. This year was different with over 20 carts and trailers all displaying a very high standard of decoration. These are golf carts remember. They aren't built to be decorated and have minimal parts for actually attaching anything of note - but did that stop Christmas themed decorations BEING attached ?

Hell no.

The BB residents have inspiration to spare and everything from full size Santas, moving reindeer, a tiki bar and Christmas trees were attached to these carts. Oh and a boat covered with Christmas lights, complete with a large blow up fish on a fishing line !!

Amongst the participants, there were a few Mr. and Mrs. Santas, an angel, a Rudulph and some elves. It was a whacky scene to be sure.

Then it was like the Le Mans 24 hr race back in the days when the drivers all had to run to their cars at the start. The lead carts moved off leaving huge gaps all down the line as people were taken by surprise and many were still standing around socialising. I ran along the line as best I could, taking photos of the now moving carts as I couldn't wait for them all to pass me as I needed to get to another point along the route to take video footage.

Then I jumped into our own cart and high tailed it to a junction point near the Community Centre where the carts would be turning a corner and I would be able to video them both straight and side on as they'd pass the camera.

This worked out fine until Mad Rudulph, the driver of the tiki bar cart, headed straight for me and so threw out my careful pre focus setup ! Revenge will be mine, Clair.

With the last cart heading off into the distance, I packed up the camera and in my haste, didn't manage to turn it off. So I have about 45 seconds of Blair Witch type footage showing jerky ground shots from acute angles as I walked back to the cart. At one point I meet and greet some parade spectators and a handshake can be seen; well it can be seen if you tilt your head at an angle guaranteed to have you in a neck brace for the next few weeks.

I sped off to the Rec Hall where the carts were parked up. After a bit of mingling, everyone (participants, spectators and other residents) all went inside to await the results of both the best decorated carts in the parade and the best decorated homes in the park. This gave me the opportunity to take photos of the now empty carts as all those with lights, were still lit.

It also gave me a chance to photograph some individual decorations which show the amount of thought and work that went into the parade; a chimney top santa on a cart roof, Christmas mats in a cart footwell and even a battery powered row of candles on a cart 'dashboard.'

Of course I need to highlight my friend's cart. Clair & Mary K and Dennis & Debby went with the inspired theme of "Santa on Vacation." It's the day after Christmas and Mr. and Mrs. Claus (Dennis and Debby) need to chill and relax with Rudulph and one of the Christmas elves who has worked so hard (Clair and Mary K).

So being in Florida, they designed their cart as a tiki bar with Rudolph driving, naturally (just not so good on corners !!), partnered by the token elf with Mr. and Mrs. Claus sippling drinks at the back and getting merrier by the second.

It had clearly been a long stressful season and after keeping her old man and his army of elves fed and watered whilst they packed, wrapped and delivered all those presents, Mrs. Claus deserved to let her hair down and relax with a few drinks from the bar.

By the end of the evening, the poor dear was showing the effects of tiredness as well as copious amounts of alcohol from the free tiki bar.


It was a great parade and well done to all who worked so hard to make it so. From an inflatable fish on a boat to a Santa going down a golf cart chimney, the creative minds of a retirement park of seniors rivalled those of the more famous lot just 90 mins drive away at Disney World.

Congrats to the Buttonwood Bay Imagineers.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

A Very Walton Christmas

No this isn't another post about Walmart although God knows, going there always provides fodder for this blog. I donno what it is about that chain but it does seem to attract all the local nutters.

Anyway this post has more to do with those other Waltons, the ones who once upon a tv time lived in (not on) Walton's Mountain in Virginia and if you happen to recite all their names, for some reason you'll find yourself fast asleep.

Set during the first US Depression, folks then would make their own clothes, food and amusement and that last one may explain why they all had large families. Seems they were amused a lot back in the day.

Now that we're in the midst of a 2nd US Depression, where families have cut down on store bought clothes, only eat out 6 days a week and have to settle for a 60" LCD 3D TV for amusement, the expression 'home grown' only remains in folklore and on the USA Network channel.

But hold.......that is not true. No, no, no.

This morning Deb and my good self went a-shopping and ended up at a small farm store twixt Sebring and Avon Park called McCracken Farm Store which sold everything from veggies to ice creams, herbs to preserves, oranges to lemons and, naturally, palm trees to exotic birds.

Normal farm stuff y'know.

What a little gem it was too, run by a little gem of a woman who was presumably Lois, if the website is anything to go by. She wandered along the rows of wholesome goodies like a Floridian Gimli, although with less of a beard, no axe and nothing like as grumpy.

And what rows they were. Full of jars with appealing contents like plum jam, cherry jam and strawberry jam. Now those were the ones I would expect to see on any UK supermarket shelf but there were plenty of ones I would NOT expect to come across in the UK even if I went to M&S....maybe Harrods though. Maybe not.

I like anything to do with the Amish. I'm actually reading a book about them right now. Yes, yes so not RIGHT now as I'm typing this but you know. Currently. At night. In bed.

I've also seen Witness. Oh yes, Amish expert, me. Even been to Lancaster County.

Intercourse ? Been there, done that, got the baseball cap.

So I was delighted to see........

......and even though I didn't buy any, I liked the name. Black Buggy. Cute.

I'm still not sure about the seriousness of this last one but it made me laugh at least. Or groan. Or both. And having it wedged in a line of other more 'normal' jams only added to my feeling that the McCrackens had a sence of humour. Or humor.

And in case you want the ingredients -

It was all very "back in the day" and I half expected a little kid to arrive pulling his radio flyer wagon and picking up a home delivery of freshly picked tomatoes, oranges and strawberries.

When we left the farm store and tried to get to the northern part of Sebring, we discovered we were so far out in 'the boonies' that we couldn't get a GPS signal on the phone.

I think John-Boy would've approved.

Good night Waltons. Every one of you.

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