Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ancient News - You Heard It Here First.

As my old mate Erasmus once said...."In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is King."

Actually what he said was..... "In regione caecorum rex est luscus" but he was a clever clogs and liked to show off by speaking in Latin.

It's a little known fact, but I was taught Latin and Greek at school. And Ancient History.

I actually chose two of those and the other, Latin, was thrust upon me. I think that back in the day in Northern Ireland, every Catholic child was taught Latin if only to make the Mass a bit more interesting as you could translate as it went along !

Sadly this never worked for me and going to Mass EVERY day, I simply 'learned' the words parrot fashion and hadn't a clue what they meant. Thus I could recite large chunks of Latin to anyone who cared to listen but couldn't order a case of wine from an Italian vineyard if you paid me. Not that they spoke Latin either but my point is, combining the Latin from the Mass with the Latin I learned in school has been as much use to me in later life as the high hopes I had for the condom I bought in the hot summer of 1968.

Basically.....no use whatsoever.

And then there was Greek. Oh not modern Greek which might have been useful on a later trip to Greece. No, this was Ancient Greek. Another dead language. I could talk about battles and generals and what Leonidas wore to a Friday night orgy (not much as it happens !) but as for shopping at a modern Athenian mall, I'd have been clueless.

So why pick it ? Well it was a choice between Greek or Irish so for me it was a no brainer. I always felt a bit sorry for the 98% of the Greek class who had actually chosen Irish but to even out the numbers and ensure the 2 of us who chose Greek weren't lonely, they were forced to learn Greek. Hehe. No actually I didn't feel sorry for them at all.

Since leaving school in 1970, I've never uttered a word of ancient Greek and to my knowledge the only Latin words I've spoken have been a few temper fugits and the occasional semper fi (semper fidelis really) when getting into a modern war movie. Oh and I may have thrown in a few other well known phrases ad nauseam.

Including ad nauseam if fact.

Now I know a lot of legal and medical terms have Latin or Greek roots but then again I'm not a lawyer or a doctor so it's hard for me to take comfort from that fact. I guess my 45 year old knowledge of Latin/Greek can come in handy when I hear some new technical word as I can have a decent stab at what it means.

But I've never regretted choosing Ancient History as a school subject. As a teenager I loved Homer's stories long before they were used as a basis for The Simpsons. Being a shy child at boarding school, I'd often transport myself to the golden age of classical heroes and battle with the Cyclops and Medusa and sail the Aegean Sea finding adventures and excitement galore. Often I'd be a Spartan warrior with my helmet and shield (and not a lot else it seems) and fight anyone who glared at me. School bullies beware !

In reality, I'd probably have been one of the many babies thrown off the cliffs when it became clear I'd need glasses and be bald in later life ! Only the bestest kids survived in Sparta.

(I know, I know. This myth has been debunked by experts now but once again, this is MY blog)

Strictly speaking, Ancient History wasn't really about all that but it did give me a life long love of The Iliad and The Odyssey and I think everyone should read them in some form. Just don't watch any version of Jason And The Argonauts. Hollywood crap.

Now if you're wondering when I'm going to get to the point and tie all this Latin/Greek/Ancient History stuff in with something that maybe happened on, say, the golf course yesterday.........well you'll have a long wait.

I just woke up this morning and for some unknown reason, that "one-eyed King" phrase popped into my head and a blog post was born.

Sometimes, just sometimes, a blog post can be that random.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dog Days In Florida

As the temp hits 85F/29.4c outside and a rather too warm 82F/28c inside, it's time to close the doors and windows and turn on the air conditioning.

Apart from not being able to see the laptop screen for sweat in my eyes, the other sign that it's too warm in here is to look at Pixie, our small long haired dachshund. She just flops down on the carpet wherever her little legs have taken her.

She has several bed options and when the mornings were chillier a few weeks ago, she loved to leave her living room bed and stroll out to the lanai and lie in a sunbeam. She'd even move as the sunbeam crossed the floor as the morning passed into the afternoon.

A dog's life ? You betcha.

But as well as protecting us from rogue sunbeams, she also "protects" us from the approach of strangers. And friends. And the Fedex driver. And other dogs. And cats, rabbits, birds and gators. Basically she'll bark at the approach of anything with a pulse. Us included.

Of course once a human actually comes right up the drive to the screen door, she'll stand threateningly on the other side until they speak to her and then she'll roll over on her back and all four stumpy legs will quiver with excitement at the idea of her tummy being rubbed.

Experts in canine evolution are as yet uncertain if this survival policy is any use whatsoever but as long haired dachshunds are not an endangered species, I have to think it's a pretty damn clever policy.

I suspect possums learned it from dachshunds and then took it one stage further.

But like most teenagers, Pixie has to earn her keep around the house so as well as fending off over friendly gators and directionally challenged snakes, she does her chores. One of these chores is to vacuum the kitchen floor and this she does with enthusiasm after the preparation of every meal.

Be it fixing basic cereal or using a multitude of ingredients to prepare a mouthwatering evening meal, once we've left the kitchen for the dining table, Pixie moves in to sweep up. Actually she likes to move in BEFORE we leave but tends to get shouted at and runs the risk of being stepped on. It's often a risk she feels is worth taking !

In the kitchen, she comes into her own. Nature may have given her short legs and an undersized body but these are perfect physical attributes for getting her snout into every corner of the kitchen floor. Speaking of snouts, her's would put an anteater to shame.

It's like the attachment on a vacuum cleaner and she uses it just as effectively.

The downside to this behaviour is that she often picks up items that are both unwanted and inedible as her hovering isn't confined to the kitchen floor. The lanai itself is fair game as is the laundry room, bathrooms and bedrooms. Ironically she's worked out that 'goodies' are seldom if ever to be found around the carpeted edges of the living room so we just have to vacuum in here ourselves ! Pah !!

Given this ability to get into every corner of the house, we're used to seeing Pixie wandering around with all sorts of things 'stuck' onto the end of her nose. These are usually small bits of tissue, paper or fluff and it's only after this sight has given us a good laugh that we restore her dignity by removing them for her.

A few minutes ago the heat got to her and I heard a little sighhhhh as she plopped on the carpet near my chair. This is the sight that greeted me.........

Who's a good little hovering up girl, then ??!!!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Watch The Birdie

I've noticed a bit of "doom and gloom" creeping into my posts of late and I'm not 'aving it.

No, no, no.

I'm in sunny Florida in January and most days it's over 80F outside. Those facts alone should banish all thoughts of gloom.

But then I am in Buttonwood Bay so maybe a bit of doom is warranted !

Anyway, I went for my walk yesterday and after a little rest at the Cafe by the Lake where I may or may not have refuelled myself with a burger deluxe ( the deluxe meaning it came with lettuce, tomato and onion....oh wait, sorry.....with lettuce, tom-aye-to and onion ), I moved on to the edge of the lake and sat on a swing seat contemplating life and its great mysteries.

As usual I had my trusty compact camera with me and after a while, the local wildlife worked out I posed no threat and closed in to pose themselves !

I quite like this shot of the bird with the very photogenic pier in the background or the pier with the very photogenic bird in the foreground. Whatever. As it was almost a silhouette, I was tempted to 'make' it a black and white shot but decided there was just enough colour to leave it alone.

After sorting out world hunger and poverty and solving the Eurozone crisis by deciding Greece needed to be nuked asap, I got up and walked along the channel that leads off the lake and where all the boats are docked. This is also where most of "our" regular wildlife can be found as many of the residents simply fish from the back of their boats without either ever needing to expend energy by actually going out onto the lake.

All these birds have names but I have enough problems remembering human names without getting into bird ones !

Here is a close up of Fred. Not likely his real name. It's probably Mitt. Or Newt. Not Bubba though.

That'd be silly.

Fred was in the water at the edge of the channel, patiently waiting for a caught fish to be tossed his way. We engaged in a bit of basic line dancing for a while; I'd slowly approach him and he'd slowly wade away. I'd retreat and he'd return to his starting point.

That pretty much sums up line dancing for me although I fear I've made it far more exciting than it really is.

Before we were asked to get a room, I stopped the dance and settled where I was to take this close up.

The background is a bit distracting but as he was down the bank below the level of my feet, the water was the only background available !

The problem with carrying a camera on my park walks is that although I see loads of photo worthy views, I know I've taken them all before. Oh I might be a few inches away from where I was on a previous occasion but really, how many photos of the place do I need ?

Maybe I should go up the road to Disney World, Universal or Sea World and vary my photos a bit.

For now though, you'll have to settle for an unknown bird, a pier and......Fred.

A Death "In The Family"

In the past, I've jokingly called Florida God's Waiting Room and as such, Buttonwood Bay would be positioned very near the door. Given that there are about 1800 seniors in here, the sad fact is that hardly a week goes by without one of that number exiting that door.

The internal roads don't have a bike lane....they have an ambulance lane !

Lets put it this way: when you are told that so and so has gone North for good, it doesn't necessarily mean they've left the park and returned to Michigan or Canada !

Sometimes it does though and so sometimes that news can be ambiguous.

Great is the pull of grandkids and great grandkids upon the emotions of this community. Many residents do leave as they miss their families so much and that is very understandable despite the use of email, Skype and cell phones to keep in touch. None of those can make up for missing out on precious moments with little Mitt, Bubba or Newt !

I know of some friends here who are leaving as soon as their houses sell as they just miss their grandkids so much and more to the point, vice versa.

Of course human nature being what it is, we all expect them to be back down again once those same grandkids have driven them to distraction. The idea of seniors being with kids is often a lot different from them actually BEING with kids. After a few years of being here playing cards, baking cakes and taking gentle strolls alongside the lake, it's a bit of a shock to have screaming grandkids in your face day in, day out.

So anyway, those people ARE leaving the park to go North and are doing so under their own steam, so to speak.

But I currently know of a couple of residents who are really making the journey North for the last time. One will be in an urn and I'm not sure about the other one yet.

When someone you know suddenly drops dead, it tends to put many things into perspective. It's certainly a much bigger incentive to go on that diet or step up the exercise than having a big crystal ball drop in Times Square. I've never been one for making New Year Resolutions as it's always been someone or something that has caused me to 'do something different' in my life. Certainly not a calendar date.

And I have a few extra issues to worry about if it happened to me here. I'm a stranger in a strange land, remember. What to do with my body ? Who to inform and how ? Have I insurance cover to pay for everything on this side of the pond ? What are my wishes ?

Actually that last one is easy. I don't want to die. Ever. Ok ?

And despite having hospitals and medical centres up the ying yang here in Sebring, it seems that anyone with a condition other than a cough gets airlifted to Tampa at a cost of $10k. Far be it for me to suggest that this is down to the US medical system but I find it hard to understand that a town with a population of over 10,000 (which increases dramatically in winter when we "snowbirds" arrive), 28% of whom are 65 and over, hasn't got the medical facilities to deal with the after effects of something as common as a heart attack !!

But wait. We have a helicopter service that will whisk such patients to Tampa....for $10k thank you very much.

So what can we learn from all these barely related and mostly depressing facts ?

1) If you feel a heart attack coming on in Sebring, drive like crazy to Tampa.

2) Make sure someone knows what to do with your body if you don't make it.

3) Never use the expression "they've gone North for good" in this park.

4) Grandkids and Skype were made for each other.

5) Mitt, Bubba and Newt are just silly names.

Right, I'm off out for a Bigmac, large fries and coke. But with the Sebring chopper probably hovering over McDonald's, I'll order a diet coke and no pickle on the burger.

And hold the urn !

Friday, January 20, 2012

When Two Worlds Collide.

If you read my previous post, you'll know I've just started reading "The Hobbit."

But from the opening line, I've had a very peculiar in-head sensation which just won't go away.

I'm calling it Postgate-itis because the effect is as though I'm reading the book as if it was being spoken by Oliver Postgate ! Very bizarre but stick with me on this..........

Oliver Postgate was a British writer, animator and puppeteer (1925-2008) who created and narrated some of the best children's stories ever to grace UK tv screens when I was growing up.

Ivor The Engine, Bagpuss, Clangers and Pogles' Wood were all his creations and Bagpuss was voted the most popular children's television programme of all time.

He also created and narrated my particular favourite, Noggin The Nog, and this is what is coming into my head when I read The Hobbit.

Postgate's voice mesmerised me as a child. He was to narration what J.K. Rowling has been to wizards. He brought the stories to life for me and back in the day, his little cut out characters that jerked their way across beautifully drawn backgrounds laid the foundations for animations to come, including South Park.

I shouldn't mention South Park in the same breath as the creations of Oliver Postgate as by and large, his stories were as gentle as South Park's are aggressive.

Despite being set in a Viking type era complete with dragons, flying machines and talking birds, Noggin was a good natured King of the Northmen and the stories always had happy endings. As a child I remember the 'baddies' had large pointy noses and chins so that there was no doubt that they WERE baddies. Even today I never trust people with large pointy noses and chins.

Maybe this is why I have issues with Bruce Forsyth and to a lesser extent, Jay Leno !

Mind you, it helped when these 'baddies' had names like Nogbad the Bad.

Well I never said it was subtle and we children of the 50's needed all the help we could get.

There aren't many tv shows from the 50's that would enthral children these days but I think that Postgate's stories and the animated shows were so timeless that they would still be popular today. Sadly kids are now being fed a diet of fast action shows with such tight edits that a 2 second burst is deemed too long. In fact all tv is like that now. Watch any commercial or action show and if a scene lasts more than a couple of seconds, they assume the audience will switch over.

Previews of upcoming movies are the worst for this. They cram in all the nonsense about what critics are saying about the movie and how they are already calling it 'the best movie of the year.'
Not much of an accolade when we're in the 3rd week of January !

Meanwhile, we're being assaulted by one second bursts of the best action clips, so fast in fact that they are borderline subliminal. And finally we get to when the movie is due to be released but those words are lost to the human ear as they are spoken by the same guy who tells us in 5 seconds about the possible side effects of every medicinal product advertised on tv.

"Possible side effects include......blah......blah......blah......death.......blah......blah....blah."

So I think modern kids should be introduced to Noggin The Nog and the other creations of the brilliant Oliver Postgate. They'd be transported to magical lands full of colourful characters and best of all, given the time to let their own imaginations fill in any gaps.

A child's imagination is a wondrous place which can only be improved with characters like Noggin, Bagpuss, Ivor and even a few Clangers.

Trust me. The memories of them will last a lifetime.

So have a watch and more importantly, a listen to this video clip from a later episode when they were produced in glorious colour. Then think of hearing that voice as you read The Hobbit.

Bilbo Baggins.....meet Oliver Postgate.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Story So Far.............

I'm a modern kinda guy. Love new tech stuff and all that. Can't afford most of it, but love it all the same.

When ebooks came along, I embraced the idea. I could download and read books on my laptop.


Of course despite being pretty portable, it's not easy to curl up in bed with a laptop and mine got particularly cumbersome when its battery pack died and it became a mains powered device only ! Beds and cables do not mix well.

Then I got a smartphone and the Kindle app and suddenly I was in heaven. Well ok in bed actually where I do most of my reading but now with a much smaller hot throbbing device with me.

(You people make me sick !)

Anyway, as I'm tight and wanted only free books, I was mostly restricted to the classics. This turned out to be a good thing as I discovered I'd not actually read most of the classics I thought I had read. Seems I'd watched the movies but not read the books ! For shame.

And so, over the years, I've worked my way through Treasure Island, A Tale of Two Cities, Dracula, Great Expectations and so on. Brill......and there are plenty left to get through.

Now reading a book on a smartphone is all well and good but the screen is a tad on the small side. If I could afford a tablet, that would be better but of course they are bigger than books so why bother ? Well you get a bucket load of books on one tablet so that would be reason enough.

But I haven't got a tablet so the point is a moot one.

I love that word.





Moving on.

So last night I finished another classic on my smartphone and really didn't fancy starting another. I fancied a book. A proper paper book. I went looking on the shelves. Bookshelves.

I came upon a paperback version of The Hobbit and despite the cover being curled and the pages being more yellow than white, I took it to bed with me like a treasured friend.

Whoa. Dammit, that didn't come out right. Oh well.......

So after taking my pills (the only tablets I can afford) and lying on the bed so the ceiling fan could cool me down, I started reading this 1974 printing of The Hobbit.

Chapter 1

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."

I was hooked immediately but I have to admit, the image of Bilbo Baggins going into his des res hill house at the start of Lord of the Rings popped into my head. A bit different from a simple hole in the ground which is what I'd have been imagining if I'd never seen the movie.

So already the movie of the NEXT book was forming images in my mind and on it went. As the book in my hand described the layout of this 'hole' with all its twists and turns and furnished rooms, I was so there. So there in the movie version of the 'hole' that is. A very Hollywood hobbit 'hole'. Lovely wood everywhere, fitted kitchen, luxury fixtures and fittings - so much so that if you'd stopped off at the concession area for popcorn and a drink and arrived in the theatre after Bilbo had entered his 'hole', you'd have thought he was in a modern apartment in Manhattan !

This brings up the whole can of worms that is.....movie first or book first ?

The only time this applied to me was with The Sum Of All Fears by Tom Clancy. I'd bought the book at an airport store for reading on a long flight and then saw the movie on tv some years later. That was enough to tell me never to do that again. Bits cut out, bits added, characters removed and new ones inserted.

No, for me its either/or.......but not both.

Hmmm if this blog post had a point, I seem to have forgotten it. Lost the plot, you might say.

Oh yes, paper books versus electronic books.

Well unlike with books versus movies based on those books, I'm coming down on the side of.......both.

Both have their place and obviously if you want to have reading material for a 6 month holiday you'll want an ebook device or risk a hernia and excess baggage charges with all those books.

But now and then there is nothing like reading the real thing. The smell alone is worth it. I'm not sure what Bilbo's 'hole' smells like (dammit again) but reading about it has come to life already in this well thumbed 1974 edition of the story. Slighty musty with a faint aroma of sweaty feet.

Well I did say I was lying on top of the bed so those were probably mine.

Now would that have happened with an iPad ? I think not.

Monday, January 16, 2012

My Dad - The Centenarian

My dad was born on January 16th, 1912 which makes today his 100th birthday.

Happy birthday dad.....wherever you may be !

I say that because he died in 1986, when he was 74 and I was 34.

Some of those ages and years surprised me when I thought about them today. See, I never thought of my dad as old. He never looked it. I realise that these days, 74 isn't THAT old but he had a youthful face. He was also very active. Not in a keep fit, sporty way as he had no time for such things.

Dad worked just about every waking hour. He had his regular job with a painting/decorating company and then did private jobs in the evenings to bring in the money needed to get two sons through boarding school. My mum did about 3 low paid jobs as well AND we took in the occasional lodger.

With all that going on, how come we weren't rolling in disposable income ??!! But we weren't.

Dad was a great painter and decorator but he barely charged more than he'd paid for the materials. This made him very popular but never made him much money. That was just how he was.

We barely got by with both my parents working their socks off from dawn till dusk. This upbringing, although we boys never really knew how many sacrifices were being made for us at the time, forged my attitude to money in that I've never bought what I couldn't pay for up front; I've never been in debt and I've always been a saver.

Dad was a kind, gentle man who never raised his voice and if we did something wrong, he showed his displeasure by telling us he had obviously failed as a parent. Man was that a powerful guilt giver. To this day I still remember how terrible I felt about misbehaving in church after getting one of those speeches from him. To think I'd let down this wonderful man was almost more than I could stand and led me to berate myself for my actions more than any punishment could do. When it came from my mother too, oh my God. Both barrels at once ? I felt so low I was under the belly of a worm that was under the belly of another worm.

I donno if dad had a happy life. It was certainly a hard life but we had lots of fun too. He loved my mum more than life itself and vice versa. How she lived on for another 16 years without him was anyone's guess. Within the family, most money was on weeks, not years.

That's not to say she ever forgot him, not for one second. She wanted to be with him but wasn't going to help the process along in any way. She was too much of a catholic for that. But as she approached 80 and her health had failed so much that she had to go into a home, she wasn't going to hang about any longer. Not wanting to be a burden on anyone, it was no surprise then, that within a few weeks of entering the home, she slipped away to be with dad.

Dad didn't want much out of life. He was a simple man who lived without luxuries and never sought them. He didn't leave a rich legacy of sage quotes but rather, left his life itself as a testimony to the man he was. He also left me with indelible memories of a man at peace with himself and with a firm belief in his faith. He loved his God, his wife and his family above all else.

And his God, his wife and his family were all the better for that love and that life.

I just wish I'd told him that more often.

Happy birthday dad.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

From One Island National To Another...........

Despite it being 'owned' by France, I've suddenly become very fond of a small island in the Indian Ocean called Reunion. It's had several names over the centuries, as often happens with small islands in the Indian Ocean but for now, it's called Reunion.

Yesterday, someone from that small island (in the Indian Ocean) put in a Google search for a description of tangelos and up popped my blog post from this time last year. He (or she) got a very informative post about tangelos and I got my 142nd visitor from a different country.

The island is only 39 miles long x 28 miles wide but has a population of over 800,000. Its closest neighbours are Mauritius, 120 miles to the NE and the much larger Madagascar 450 miles to the west. Of course we all know that Madagascar is full of funny animated animals, many not exactly indigenous to the island including a lion, a giraffe, a hippo and a zebra. Sightings of several penguins have been reported but conservationists remain sceptical.

So anyway, thank you, Reunion Islander. How are things in the Indian Ocean ? Damp ?

On that topic, Reunion does hold a world record though. Two in fact.

Between 15th and 16th March 1952, the town of Cilaos 'received' 73.62in of rainfall, the greatest 24hr precipitation total ever recorded on earth. And the island also holds the record for the 72hr total in March 2007.

I guess what we must take from these facts is......never EVER visit Reunion in March !!

Oh and for all those interested, clearly I cheated death again last night. And I woke with my spleen intact. Win, win.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

To Sleep, Perchance To Dream ?

Well I woke up this morning...........

(Sing the rest of the various songs that start with those words if you like but I'm just stating a fact.)

I woke up this morning.

Always a good thing to do if you want to get the day off to a good start and I try to do it as often as possible. NOT waking up prays on my mind a lot.

For as long as I can remember, which admittedly isn't long these days, I've had a fear of going to sleep and not waking up. Dying in my sleep in other words. I don't mess about with being in a coma or even worse, being alive but totally paralysed so no one knows I'm alive.

No, I just worry about dying. Always have. For as long as I can remember, remember !

This may be the reason for the 'night terrors' I experience from time to time. Thankfully rarely.
I'll wake up suddenly and jump out of bed to somehow prove I'm not really dead (yet) and then stand at the side of my bed feeling rather foolish and wondering what other people do at 3am.

I'm embarrassed enough when this happens in my own bedroom but when I'm elsewhere, the relief of discovering I'm not dead is compounded by the guilt of waking up the rest of the house with my shouting.

Oh I forgot that bit. I invariably shout out something as I exit the bed. Usually something vaguely related to not being ready to be dead....yet. I call it Thanatophobia Tourettis.

And before you try and Google that, I've just mixed Tourettes with the fear of death phobia.

So I lie in bed of a night, as we say in Yorkshire, and while most of me wants to fall asleep, part of me doesn't.....as it may lead to death.

Now most people, if given the choice, would be more than happy to "slip the surly bonds of earth" by dying in their sleep when their time is up. Ironically I'd be one of them.

So why the hell do I fear dying in my sleep ??!! Irrational ? Just a tad.

I partly blame tv. I've tearfully watched all those bedside deaths where friends and relatives come out of the woodwork to say what a great chap you are and how you'll be sorely missed. If I died in my sleep, I'd be robbed of those touching scenes !

It's no wonder I stay up so late every night.....well after midnight on most occasions. Logic tells me I could just as easily peg it in my chair whilst watching Two & A Half Men and if so, no autopsy would be needed. But I think statistics show that bed is the place to be if you wanna permanently avoid those 2.5 reruns.

"Died peacefully in his sleep" seems to be the popular way to go and I really need to embrace this concept and stop worrying about it. And my spleen.

My spleen ? Yes, indeedily.

I think a lot about my spleen too.

Again it's tv to blame. I've seen too many shows and movies when, after an accident, the victim recovers only to be told "we had to remove your spleen." It's a particularly popular result when a child is involved. "Jenny is fine, Mrs Papadopoulos, but we had to remove her spleen." This is usually followed by a flood of tears from the aforementioned Mrs Papadopoulos who is relieved that her precious Jenny is alive but slightly concerned that she may never again play the violin because of her missing spleen.

Greek tv can be so dramatic !

So what's a spleen then and why do we seem to cope pretty much ok without it ? And more relevant, why does it seem so easy to damage it in an accident ?

Everything from spilling coffee on yourself to surviving a plane crash seems to carry the risk of having your spleen removed. I think there is a Far East market for spleen soup or something. Maybe ground up spleen is an aphrodisiac. Certainly surgeons seem to whip them out without so much as a by your leave. Maybe it's useful as a teaching aid !

"You need to hone your surgical skills, Patterson. Here, take this patient in cubical 10. Ingrowing toenail. Off you go and whip out his spleen."

Never your appendix though. Oh no, that useless organ is damage proof. It'll survive any accident totally unharmed. You could lay it out on the kitchen table and whack it repeatedly with a meat tenderiser and that damn organ would carry on doing......well whatever it does.

" Jenny is fine, Mrs Papadopoulos, but we had to remove her appendix. "

" You did WHAT ? OMG my poor little girl. Why didn't you just let her die ? "

Of course the spleen performs a valuable role within the body. It's just that with all the current medical knowledge at our disposal, no one quite knows what that role is. Something about red blood cells and the immune system but clearly nothing vital. We can live without it and this is just as well, given its propensity for keeling over at the slightest mention of 'accidental damage.'

Ok and you wonder why I don't sleep easily every night ! Jeez it's a wonder I can sleep at all. Forget the problems with the Eurozone and who will win Celebrity Big Brother, I have much bigger worries on my mind every night.

Will I wake up in the morning and if I do, will I still have a viable spleen ?

Great. Now I have an image of someone discovering my cold, dead body in the morning with a dirty great gash in my left side.........and an Asian looking guy in scrubs high tailing it down the street with my spleen in a Ziplock bag.

I don't think Lunesta is going to cut it tonight.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

When Are Two Wheels Better Than Four ? NEVER !

Yesterday, for the want of anything better to do, I decided to bike into town.

Now I like biking as it gets me around the park quicker than walking AND I get exercise. I love the feel of the wind through my hair and........

Ok I'll stop right there before I lose credibility altogether !

But I do like biking.

So as it was a little bit chilly, I donned my hooded fleece, slipped on my ENGLAND baseball cap to protect my bald pate from the sun and made sure the batteries were fully charged on my portable gramophone, or mp3 as you young 'uns would call it.

Within seconds, I was out of the park and on the backroad. As in, collapsed in a heap as I'd paused at the stop sign and fallen over ! Only kidding. I was out on Skipper Road with a 2 mile stretch ahead of me as straight as if the Romans had built it.

Flat too, but then all roads are flat here. That's why I like biking.

At the end of Skipper Road I crossed over onto Sparta Road which would take me all the way to US-27 and Sebring. I'd decided to set off at a leisurely pace and then, once warmed up, increase it to...a leisurely pace. If it's one thing I've learned about biking as I've gotten older, it's to pace myself. Start slowly and keep it that way. My days of explosive bursts of acceleration are long gone and anyway, they only tended to happen after cresting a steep hill and freewheeling down the other side.

When I was in my 30's, I once got to 38mph on a downhill near Otley. I also got a free facelift, several bugs in my teeth and shattered nerves when I realised that putting on the brakes at that speed would probably set fire to the rubber, rendering them useless. My whole life flashed before me, as did 3 astonished pedestrians, several birds devouring some road kill and the "No Trespassing" sign I totally ignored as I shot like a WMD into a field handily placed at the bottom of the hill.

Speaking of road kill, I was no sooner tootling along Sparta Road, when I came upon 5 or 6 vultures tucking into some recently deceased critter that I didn't feel the need to examine too closely. Not that there was much left TO examine but judging by the amount of blood splatter on the road (thank you CSI), it had been a critter of serious proportions.

One vulture was standing off to one side so rather than disgust you with a photo of his mates literally tearing into their lunch, I'll give you a photo of him. In case you are eating. Ever thoughtful, eh ?

Feel free to gasp at its awesomeness. Marvel at its majesty. Recoil at its ugliness !

Due in no small measure to stopping to witness this a la carte feeding frenzy, it took me 45 minutes to get to the end of Sparta Road and the junction with US-27, a distance of just over 6 miles. And I felt as fresh as a daisy.

Feeling that way, I should've turned around and rode back, but did I ?

I hate hind sight.

I peddled about for a while, riding into motel car parks trying to get views around the lake that I'd never seen from the car. Most properties around the lake are private houses but occasionally there are hotels, motels and businesses which didn't seem to mind an old Brit on a bike wanting to go to the edge of their land to get photogenic views across the water.

Not that I ever stopped to ask.

There was a beach ! Who knew !?

By now I was hungry and not having taken any water with me, very thirsty. But I was in Sebring. The metropolis. Bursting with restaurants, cafes, bars and fast food joints. Ok you try going into any of those with a bike and you'll see my dilemma. I realised that with everyone driving here, my bike was very unlikely to be stolen if left outside but with no security chain and being 6 miles from home with no phone, I wasn't about to put that theory to the test. It would be a long, long walk.

Fast food ? Surely that would be my best choice. In and out quickly and perhaps able to keep an eye on the bike whilst ordering and receiving my food ?

So I set off northwards on the excellent bike path that "runs" around the lake. The buildings on the far side were casting lovely reflections on the water but were too far away to be of much interest, photographically. Then I came upon a couple fishing from their speedboat and with them in the foreground, the background took care of itself.

On the other side of US-27 stood the imposing Spanish style Harder Hall hotel and I'd always wanted a photo of it across yet another stretch of water called Little Lake Jackson. To do this I had to cross 8 lanes and a wide median and not being near to any traffic lights, it took me sometime to achieve this.

I went into a dentist's office and asked if I could go to the side of the building to photograph the hotel and was granted permission. This view is what patients would see whilst in "the chair" and it sure beats anything I'm likely to see from my dentist's chair in suburban Leeds !

The very pink 134 room hotel was built in the mid 20's during the boom years in Sebring but since 1982, it has been lying vacant after a series of owners either went bankrupt or simply ran out of funds for its restoration. Despite being close to being demolished a few times, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places and was finally purchased by the city - who also don't know what to do with it !

I had to cross US-27 again to get back onto the bike path and then I continued northwards to find somewhere to eat/drink. I did realise these were miles I would have to endure on the way back but at the time, the daisy freshness was still upon me.

I stopped off at a Panera Bread outlet as I knew it had wifi and I could share my adventures with the Facebook world ! I posted this photo.

Onwards and northwards I finally called it a day at a Dairy Queen. I really needed something refreshing and yet light as the last thing I needed on the return trip was my stomach trying to digest a burger, fries and drink with my little legs pumping up and down at the same time. Not a good combination. I knew from previous visits to this DQ that I'd never see my parked bike from inside so I needed inspiration.

Knowing my bike would never trigger the "Welcome to Dairy Queen....may I take your order" weighbridge, I waited until a car was going through the drive thru and I followed it to the pay and delivery window. As the girl leaned out to give them their food, I asked if she could take my order ? She laughed and said of course so I ordered a cherry blizzard and as she passed it to me, her smile give my now aching legs the impetus to get me around the corner where I almost collapsed onto an outdoor chair.

The blizzard was like nectar to my parched throat and I rested there for some time, eating it slowly and savouring every spoonfull - although the view wasn't the most memorable.

Now despite what THEY tell you, it's not always a good thing to get back in the saddle. My butt was sore, my thighs were sore, my stomach was very cold and the last of the daisy freshness was but a distant memory. A bit like Buttonwood Bay, a good 10 miles southwards.

You'll not be surprised to learn that I took NO photographs on the ride back. If the camera had been mounted on the handlebars and looking back at me, I could've been the poster child for the Spanish Inquisition. I had to stop 4 times to rest and anyone seeing me getting slowly and painfully off the bike would've dialled 911 and asked for an ambulance with a hoist !

I'd set off at 11:10am and got back to the park at 3:30pm. The vast majority of that time my ass had been sitting, bouncing and generally rubbing the sides of a piece of torturous pseudo leather designed, I am convinced, by the Marquis de Sade. I'd ridden 21.63 miles and felt every .3 of it.

The good news was that from the waist up, I felt great.

Sadly, from the waist down, I couldn't feel much at all. My legs were on fire and my butt cheeks were probably as pink as Harder Hall !

But 24 hrs later and I'm happy to report that I rode around the park again this afternoon. Ok so it was more .63 than 21.63 but I was back 'in' the saddle and feeling good.

Now then, where's this Orlando place I hear so much about and do they have parking for bikes ?!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Getting Into The Grove !

No that's not a typo in the header.........today's post is about me being in the 'grove' and not in the 'groove' but more of that later.

First up....SQUIRREL !!

Last Monday when it was still warm here, I was on Sebring's Harder Hall course playing my regular game of military golf (left, right, left, right up the sides of the fairways) and this time I'd remembered to take my camera with me. On previous visits, we'd been approached by squirrels (SQUIRREL !!) wanting some of our cheese nibbles so in return, I wanted a photo of them.

I'm no expert of course but I'm led to believe they were monkey squirrels, or eastern fox squirrels, or cat squirrels or even stump eared squirrels. In any case, here is a shot of the only one that stayed still long enough to BE photographed. Frisky little critters.

But back to the park and sticking with the wildlife theme, I braved the arctic temps and went for a walk yesterday afternoon. Along the canal path, the 'usual suspects' were out in the sunshine trying to stay warm but as I've posted many photos of them before, I'll just upload this one.........

Walking on around the edge of the lake, I came to the grove, a lovely tree shaded grassy area used for large outdoor gatherings. It's also next to the cafe, the horseshoe pits, the shuffle board and bocce ball courts and now, the newly constructed pickleball court.

Pickleball ? Oh just Google it !

Yesterday afternoon the grove was empty and with most of the wooden picnic tables stacked over on one side, it was much more open than usual and so the low sun cast particularly long shadows across the grass.

I wanted to take some photos towards the sun and despite the camera having a 'backlighting' option, I found it better not to use it. For one thing, it would pop up the flash, assuming I wanted to take a photo of someone or something in the foreground. This can be very useful if you want to photograph someone with a sunrise/sunset behind them as the camera basically takes two exposures so you end up with the sunset AND the person both exposed correctly. Otherwise the person would be a silhouette.

Another benefit of using a different camera setting yesterday was that I achieved much deeper and, I think, more appealing shades of blue from both the lake and the sky. Certainly more dramatic.

When not looking into the sun, the blues reverted to normal but there were still pleasing views to capture. I love the long straggly 'stuff' that hangs down from many of the trees and almost touches the water. I also tried to capture the peace and tranquility of the area as it really is a lovely spot to sit and ponder life's deep mysteries, even on a relatively cold day like yesterday.

Like why do Jonathan Ross and Conan O'Brian have tv shows ?

There was a sun lit pine cone on one of the few picnic tables set up near the cafe and as it contrasted well with the greens and blues around it, I felt it needed to be immortalised.

By now it was close to 5pm and even in the sun, it was getting a bit nippy. Being a tough Brit, I was out in a polo shirt and shorts but as you can see from this trio of walkers, few others shared my dress code.

It would be another hour before sunset but I couldn't hang around. Let's face it, it happens every day ! As you can imagine, and as you've maybe seen from previous posts over the years, the grove becomes a magical place at sunset. It might also be magical at sunrise but I don't 'do' those. A sunset over water is always photogenic and as long as some lone bagpiper doesn't turn up, I love watching sunsets through the grove and across the lake.

Yes getting into the groove in the grove is one of the many aspects of this park that brings me back every winter.

Btw, thank you to the Anguilla islander who became a blog visitor from 'my' 141st country. Readers from new countries, states, principalities and so on are being added VERY slowly now but all are welcome. I'm still hoping to add The Vatican but so far His Holiness has spectacularly failed to answer my emails.

Maybe I should try Skype.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Park Life In These Here United States.

With only 7 blog posts in December, some people tell me I should post more often. I'm sure some also think I should post less often but I guess they know what to do !

My problem has been that I've never been sure WHY I blog. It was never intended to be a sort of daily diary as my life just isn't that interesting. When I go on trips to jolly johnny foreigner lands, it's quite a time consuming task to pick, edit and upload the photos and write text around them and so I lose a bit of interest after the first few days. You may have noticed a few European trip blogs have yet to be completed. Believe it or not, even no-trip posts can take me a while.

But I do have time I guess. And maybe I don't need to think that every post has to be a potential Pulitzer prize winner ! As if !!

So in an effort to get myself into a more regular post mood, I'll give this "what's going on in my life" angle a try and see where it goes. It may not always be pretty, but what the hell. If or when I reach zero viewers, I'll know it's failed.

If only the scriptwriters on Two & A Half Men could take such a hint !

So, a quick summary for new readers; I'm a 59 yr old Brit from Leeds, England. From 1989-2000, I took every work holiday I could touring the US and in that time, I visited every state except Alaska. Since I retired in 2001, at 49, I've been coming every winter to stay with my friends Debby and Dennis. They lived in Michigan but moved down here to Florida a few years ago and I've 'moved' with them ! We live here in a 'retirement community' park called Buttonwood Bay, a mile or so south of the town of Sebring in mid Florida and 90 miles south of Orlando.

The park is split between a 'manufactured homes' side with about 433 houses like we live in and an RV side which has a mix of about 536 'park model' trailer type homes and empty lots for any visitors who want to come with their motorhomes, trailers and 5th wheels for a day, a week or all winter. So when fully occupied, the park can have around 970 homes of one sort or another and assuming 2 people per unit on average, we can have a population of close to 2,000.

I've uploaded many photos from around the park on previous posts but here is a current one of the front of the house here.

Debby works in the sales office as there are always houses up for sale given the average age of the residents ! Dennis works on the maintenance team within the park and so most days, after they've gone off to work on their golf carts, I'm home alone with Pixie, their cute little 13 year old long haired dachshund.

All caught up now ? Good.

As I mentioned in the previous post, we're in a cold snap here in normally hot and sunny Buttonwood Bay (just south of Sebring and 90 miles south of Orlando) but it was only last night/this morning when it was supposed to get to the sub 32F level. Residents covered what trees, bushes and plants as they could as even a few hours of frost can kill them. Dennis harvested as many of the lemons as he could but left the oranges to their own devices. The potted herbs were brought inside.

All over the park, owners were doing the same and by nightfall, it looked like Christo had been at work !

This morning, my temp station showed the lowest temp had been 36.5F but as the outdoor 'probe' is close to the house, that may not have been the true low. Anyway that should be it as the forecast for the next 10 days shows temps climbing back to seasonal norms.

Due to the cold, there isn't as much outdoor activity around the place. A few well wrapped hardy souls will always walk in the early hours and I've seen two cyclists peddle by. But the park has gone into a sort of self imposed hibernation mode with the 2 swimming pools and the cafe being closed. A good time to catch up on emails, blog posts and quilt making !

Last night we watched the 2nd in the UK's Channel 4 series called Living With The Amish in which 6 English teens (3 boys, 3 girls) from different backgrounds come over to spend 5 weeks with a series of Amish families to learn their ways and participate in their lives. I'm fascinated by the Amish and have been ever since I saw Witness, the movie starring Harrison Ford. I even visited Lancaster County in PA when I was touring The States in the 90's and yes, I took a photo of the Intercourse town sign. You just HAVE to !

Our friends next door here come from that area and Carl is a Mennonite. His wife Jackie loaned me a book called The Riddle Of Amish Culture which is a bit of a heavy academic tome but is still full of interesting and informative facts.

I'd love to have seen the previous Ch4 series where some Amish teens went to the UK. In this follow up series, I was a bit worried that the selected UK teens would've shown the worst side of the UK.....being that they're all from the London area ! One girl had never had to lift a finger around the house so would find the Amish work ethic a shock. Another was a youthful feminist who certainly wasn't going to easily accept the woman's domestic role in Amish culture. The last was a worldly, party type who would probably find Amish life dull and repetitive.

It was a similar story with the 3 boys. Lazy, spoilt or unemployed.

So far the series has been a happy revelation as all 6 of them are embracing the Amish culture of early rising, hard work, simple pleasures and above all, community conformity. Gone are the electronic devices, differing clothes, makeup and jewelry and in has come a feeling of unity, teamwork and basic family values. I doubt any of the teens will rush home and want to set up an Amish community in London but hopefully they'll have learned a few simple lessons about an alternative lifestyle and take parts on board in their own lives.

Wow that was a bit of a plug for a tv series ! I hope someone at Channel 4 reads this and realises I'd appreciate a check in the post.

And here endeth today's diary entry ! Given that my 'skills' revolve around getting up late, sitting on my butt and surfing the internet, I think it's fair to say that I'm unlikely to be embracing the Amish culture anytime soon. I would've loved to have come from THAT town though so that when asked where I was born, I could repeat the name and then wait for the inevitable follow up question....

"No, I asked WHERE you were born, not.........."

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The Four Seasons - Or 2012 So Far !

Blimey it's only January 3rd and it seems like 2012 has been here for ages. I'm sure it's all due to the weather. Again.

On Sunday we did a bit of Spring Cleaning around the house. Cupboards were emptied, contents rearranged and then all put back again. The tv and furniture in the lanai were moved around to make viewing more practical and the new but temporary dining room table was set up and used at supper for the first time.

Yesterdsy, Monday, I was out playing golf in my usual polo shirt and shorts. Wait. I do wash them now and then. I was just giving some idea of the weather/temps here. Gloriously warm and sunny as befits the start of a new year in mid Florida.

So it was bye bye to Spring and hello to Summer.

Here is a bit of a dull photo I took just after 1pm on the approach to the dreaded 17th at Harder Hall. I'd already taken 2 decent shots to get to this point and the idea was to then lay up in front of the (unseen in this view) water hazard guarding the green. That idea went out the window at about the same time as my ball plopped gracefully into the hazard ! Score = 8.

Oh well, we had fun.

Later on yesterday evening I was watching Christmas ads on telle and with the temps dropping faster than the stock market, I again became confused about what time of year it was. I felt a bit less confused when the Christmas ads were down to us watching an old NCIS show from early December ! DVR's will be the death of me.

But today, 24 hrs after sweating on that golf course, I'm on my chair, huddled beneath a snuggle blankie and watching the occasional brave park resident walking by wearing more layers of clothing than Lawrence Oates when he left his tent. People are driving their cars to get their mail from their postboxes ! Palm trees have icicles on their fronds. An anhinga opened its wings 4 hrs ago and still can't get them closed ! This morning Debby sold 2 houses and an igloo.

It's cold, people. Cold. Stupid global warming.

Bye bye Summer and hello to Winter.

So I've "experienced" Spring, Summer and Winter this year already and if a palm tree could shed its fronds, then probably a bit of Fall too. It's no wonder the wildlife doesn't know what's going on. I'm sure I saw some Canadian geese going both ways yesterday !

Away from the weather, I've also been bravely suffering personal pain all year. I've got a hordeolum. Actually I've got two hordeolums. Or maybe one is a chalazia ! The hordeolum, or stye, was on the edge of the lower "eyelid" and the chalazia, or chalazia, is still on the inside of the same "eyelid". The one on the edge came and went within 24 hrs so I've been left with the nasty little hard chalazia on the inside which is really very painful indeed but as with man flu, I'm making light of it and suffering mostly in silence. I said mostly.

I'm sure they affected my golf game yesterday but probably not as much as my crap driving, crap chipping and oh yes, crap putting. It reminded me of the Q&A Luke Donald (I think) had on Twitter recently when someone asked him the easiest way to lower his usual score of around 100. Don't play the last 3 holes was his witty response.

I should've heeded that advice yesterday.

Finally back to the weather. The forecast is for a low of 27F/-2.7c at around 6am tomorrow morning before a gradual warm up to a much more seasonal 78F/26c by the weekend.

I may just stay in bed till then.

But before doing that, I'm off out the back to pluck a few oranges for a fresh drink.
By this time tomorrow, those remaining will be like cannon balls.

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