Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cold, Wet & Windy. Yes I'm Home !

I've been home about 8 hours now and as I was last in bed over 30 hours ago, I'm not too sure why I'm still awake.

Of course the state one is in after 30 hours awake can hardly be classed as.....awake. Right now I would confess to any crime if pressed. A while ago I was standing in the kitchen with no idea why I'd gone there. Six hours ago I fixed a large mug of tea and it's still beside me, untouched. I 'watched' two back to back footy games and couldn't tell you the scores to save my life. Not too sure who played.

Yes I'm in the transatlantic twilight zone. But I WILL be going to bed soon. After I fix something to eat. Something simple. Something I remember how to cook. If I can find the operating manual, toast seems favourite.

I'm also cold. It's taken those 8 hrs to get the house up to 64.5F. I've an electric blanket warming my bed though so once I actually get up the stairs and into bed, I'll be golden. Today, as with most days in April here it seems, has been cold, wet and windy. The weather in Buttonwood Bay is already a distant memory. Fading as fast as my tan.

Anyway this was just a post to report that I'm back home, safe and sound after a pretty awful but uneventful flight. I just need to sleep, get used to long pants and not try and use the car until after I tax it on Tuesday, being as that's the start of the month.

Anything else I type now will be ramble. Waffle. Possibly jibberish. I know, more jibberish.

That is all.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Return Of The Snowbird

I've just opened my last Amaretto flavoured creamer, I'm down to the final dregs of my coffee grounds and my supply of puffed wheat is almost out of.....puff.

What do these odd facts mean ?

They mean that in two days time, I'll be off to Orlando airport to return home as my 6 month winter sojourn will be over. Next winter I really will experience a cold winter for the first time this century as I plan on staying in the UK. It's been so long since I spent winter at home that I seem to have developed Dickensian images of experiencing Christmas in England. A warm glowing log fire, a heavily decorated Christmas tree in the corner, rosy cheeked kids opening presents and a dining table groaning under the weight of a huge turkey meal with all the trimmings. Oh and the Queen on telle at 3pm with the sound muted !

I'm not sure if old Charlie boy wrote about such scenes but then again, Hollywood has messed so much with my mind that I donno what's real and what's made up anymore. Certainly seeing the Queen on tv didn't appear in the plot of any Dickens novel I read.

Of course I might be somewhere completely different next winter. I don't really 'do' cold weather after being in Florida for half of the last 12 years. For instance, even though it's April, the temp here tomorrow is due to be spot on 90F and the temp in Leeds......45F. Even with my maths skills, that's half as warm ! I doubt my sun kissed ebony knees will be exposed to the English population until sometime in mid August - by which time they will be pale and uninteresting again !

Will I EVER return to Florida ? Never say never but a return is not on my radar at the moment. I'm still (relatively) healthy and I want to travel while I can still walk up an incline without a rope around my waist. For the last few years I've been fortunate enough to combine spending the winter months in Florida with travelling around Europe in the summer. Ok that sounds a bit grand as in the summers we've only gone to a few European countries and only for a few weeks at a time but still......the statement stands.

We've (Daphne, Stephen and myself) visited Belgium, Holland, France, Italy and Spain in the last 3 years and I have to say these all too brief visits to Le Continent have only whetted (I love that word) my appetite for more travelling, either solo or with friends. Of course touring during the winter months is a different matter, which is why I've been more than happy to have been here in sunny Florida.

But it's time to more on. On to pastures new maybe. Where do most retired Brits go for the winter ? SPAIN !!

I may have said it before on here but when I'm abroad, I like to steer clear of my fellow Brits as for the most part (and I know this is a terrible generalisation), Brits abroad are best avoided.......even those NOT wearing Man Utd shirts ! So to spend an entire winter in a sort of 'Brit community' in somewhere like Benidorm would be like hell on earth for me. When abroad, I like to BE abroad and mix with the locals (English speaking ones of course) and sample the local food (fish and chips, roast beef and Yorkshire pud, curry etc......all locally sourced) and even watch local tv stations (showing Coronation Street and Premier League footy). I like to blend in you see ! Oh yes.

So if that rules out vast tracts of Southern Spain, where else could I go ? Well there's always Australia I suppose. They speak a form of English there, love us Brits (!?!) and share my passion for a good bbq. Just not shrimps, please. Yuck.

Sadly they're pretty crap at cricket and swimming and footy - most sports really. In fact, they favour a strange version of footy which is a mix of soccer, rugby and street brawling and they believe that riding large waves on polished slabs of timber is fun. We Brits think waves are for looking at from the comfort of a beach deckchair so the idea of standing precariously on a glorified Ikea wardrobe door is totally alien to us.

No, I don't think wintering in Australia would be for me. Too far, too expensive to get there and full of Australians. And spiders. And jellyfish. And Koala bears.

Ruling out most tropical islands and not wanting to create further argy bargy with Argentina by spending the winter in the Falklands, I need to look closer to home but still somewhere south enough to be warm.

Tenerife ? Hmmmm.

Who ? What ? Where ?

Tenerife is the largest of the 7 Canary Islands which lie off the west coast of North Africa so it would seem only appropriate to be a snowbird there. Get it...snowbird......canary ? Oh please yourselves !

It 'belongs' to Spain and best of all, there are direct flights from my local Leeds/Bradford airport !

A work friend (Daz) moved there with his family and now runs his own mountain bike operation as I believe that unlike in Florida, there are a few hills in Tenerife. Spookily enough, being almost exactly on the same latitude as Sebring, it's pleasantly warm there in the winter, renting a condo for 6 months wouldn't bankrupt me and once again, I'd not be in England.

Ok I'd not know a soul (apart from Daz), not many people would speak English, the food might not be agreeable to me or my delicate stomach and I might have a problem keeping up to date with the goings on in Wetherfield but hey, once again, I'd not be in England.

I do know they have t'interclacker as I can Skype with Daz so that generally means electricity. Hopefully clean running water and good indoor sanitation are also available (you can tell I know little about Tenerife) so as long as I don't develop an aversion to all things pasta, I should be good to trot. Well not literally !

Anyway that's all in the future. My immediate problem is how to get everything back home that I've accumulated over the last decade of coming here every winter. To keep the baggage costs down, I'm thinking my bike, golf clubs and lots of clothing will have to be sacrificed. The clothing loss will be lessened with the knowledge that I'm not exactly the same shape as I was 10 years or so ago. Many items should've been discarded already but you know how it is.......I told myself I WOULD get into those size 28 waist pants again one day. Ha ! Those days are LONG gone.

So packing will be....interesting to say the least. A challenge at best and a nightmare at worst. At £32 for the first extra case (thank you Virgin Atlantic), a few essentials may fall by the wayside. Or the next garage sale to be more practical.

Of course I may return here at some point so hopefully all relatively important items can be packed away in crates for that eventuality. I'm hoping that I can say 'au revoir' and not 'adieu' to the friends I've made here in sunny Buttonwood Bay although only the French Canadians would know the difference and, being snowbirds, they all went back home weeks ago.

I'd like to say a huge thank you to Deb and Den for letting me share their lives here for so long. Never has so much been owed to so few by even less few.

Catchy eh ? Yeah I know, not as pleasing as that other guy's quote.

As you may have gleaned from my many blog posts and photographs from this park over the years, it's a beautiful place and I'll be sad come Saturday when I leave. But I have a homecoming to look forward to - maybe a burst pipe or two, the house like an icebox, 6 months of accumulated dust and no palm trees in the garden. Sighhhhhhh.

On the up side, I'll get to hug old friends (even if they don't want to be hugged), have transport again, be able to get traditional English takeaways like Chinese and Indian and watch tv adverts that don't mention trucks with impressive torque stats, medications with life taking side effects or someone called Gary who insists he be my first port of call if I have an accident or need a lawyer or both.

Speaking of adverts, I may just watch the BBC for a few hours so as not to get ANY. Wooohooo.

So my next blog post should be from sunless olde England where we drive on the left which is right, use both the fork AND knife to cut meat and can speak English without the need for subtitles - cause it's OUR language. We invented it so there.

I'll say au revoir for now (as adieu will be my next door neighbour) and 'see' you all again from t'other side of the pond.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Return Of The 'Boy Racer'

Yes hello. It's me. Remember me ? No ? Don't blame you. I've been AWOL for 3 weeks so thank you for sticking with me.

If anyone has !

So yesterday I biked into town again. I say again as I've done it twice before on this trip and I have to say, it's been easier each time. Either I'm getting fitter or, and this is much more likely, it helps that I have been taking it easier/slower each time !

Now first up, I have a question to ask all budding meteorologists out there. When one is peddling into a decent head wind on the way somewhere and looking forward to the return trip when one fully expects that wind to be at one's back when one is much more tired......WHY DOESN'T IT FREAKIN' HAPPEN ???

Can wind blow in opposite directions at about the same time ? Cause it damn well seemed so yesterday. Thankfully it wasn't too strong but I really could've done with it at my back as after 20 miles or so in mid 80's temperatures, I needed all the help I could get.

I'd initially wanted to make the trip sans backpack as it can end up being quite heavy and it makes my back sweat. But I wanted my phone. I wanted my camera. I wanted at least 2 bottles of water. I wanted some sweeties. I wanted a new iPad and desktop computer but that's a different story.

So backpack it was.

I set off at 11:20 and within seconds was out of the park and onto the back road into town. For the first 25 minutes I saw no other vehicles. Nothing passed me and understandably, I passed nothing.

Actually no. I passed a snake but it was very dead, and flat, and therefore not going very fast at all.

And I loved it. The flat open road, the sun beating down and Val Doonican on the mp3 player. Now you've really never experienced life if you've never biked along in Florida listening to Val Doonican crooning about Delaney's Donkey or Paddy McGinty's Goat. The whole experience was surreal and brought a smile to my lips which helped me coast along at a decent pace, despite the wind and having to process the large bowl of puffed wheat I'd foolishly consumed before setting off. Thinking about it, one may have caused the other.

My plan was to continue on the back roads until I was about half a mile from the junction with US-27, the main 6 lane road through Sebring and then branch off to the golf course we go to every Monday. I was hoping I could weasel my way to getting a cart and going out to take photos of certain holes for nostalgia purposes. This was not to be.

The course was almost empty (a good sign) but so was the club house (a bad sign) and so there was no one to ask. I took the opportunity to have a short rest and then I rode on to join US-27.

By now it was 12:25 and I was hungry again. From previous rides into town I knew I was pretty much limited to using a fast food drive thru for my food choices as I've no lock for my bike. I knew it wasn't likely that anyone in a car driving US town with an aged population would want to 'borrow' my bike but I couldn't take the risk. Some migrant orange picker might find himself on the run from the border police and decide he'd get to Mexico faster by bike !

Hey, it COULD happen !

As I approached the nearest Burger King, I saw there was an RV park across the road. At the first property, right by the entrance, an old man was cutting his lawn and I asked him if I could leave my bike at his place while I nipped over and had something to eat. Of course when he heard my accent and found out I was from England, he asked me if I knew so-and-so as he'd been based in England during the war and made lots of friends there.

Telling him that I knew lots of so-and-so's in England (!!) I inched away slowly and said I'd be back soon for my bike.

I have to admit it was wonderful to walk into that BK with no bike worries (I'd left the old man talking earnestly to it about the women he'd met in Gloucestershire in 1944) and I immediately recognised a friend from Buttonwood Bay in the line. Knowing Hank would never be out without his wife, I scanned the seats and there was Sharon reading the supermarket ad papers over in a corner. Small world.

I put this phone photo up onto Facebook and have just taken it from there to save time so it's not great quality but shows Hank & Sharon in Burger King and that's what matters !

I got a kids meal so that I wouldn't be processing a lot as I continued my riding. Always thinking you see.

The old man had gone inside when I returned to his house and so I quietly recovered my bike and rode away, my guilt at not being able to thank him being easily offset by not having to listen his war stories.

The ride from there into Sebring Old Town was wonderful as there is a cycle path (ok it's a sidewalk but well used by cyclists) and it goes along the south and east of Lake Jackson. After only about 10 minutes I was at my destination, Sebring Circle, which is a roundabout at the focal point of the old town with 6 streets leading to and from it like the spokes of a wheel. This is classic old town America as beloved by Bill Bryson with Ma & Pa stores, small family run eateries and wonderful emporiums where you can buy anything from a hub cap for a '69 Corvette to a pack of scented ribbed condoms. In Sebring, there would be many more enquiries for the former over the later.

And right by the Circle there was a fire hydrant and it was spewing water ! Now I know this is a tad silly but I was overly thrilled as I'd never seen this before. Not personally. Not in real life. I'd seen all those movies when little kids would dance happily through the gushing waters of an open fire hydrant in mid town New York during a hot summer. Now it was MY turn.

But the Sebring locals were spared this experience and I was probably spared a night in the cells as the water pressure was so low that I'd have been hard pushed to get my feet wet. I've seen more pressure from a drinking fountain.

But it was still cool.

Minutes before, the water had been a rusty brown colour, so hot as I was, I didn't fancy taking a drink. You're probably not supposed to drink water from a hydrant at the best of times so I returned to my backpack and had some of the bottled variety instead.

Then I crossed over into the little park created in the middle of the Circle and sat down on a bench to rest and take in the views. As always, there was a humungous flag pole in the centre, towering over a memorial to the Sebring soldiers who had gone off to fight in various wars, never to return alive.

Behind me I looked along the path that led to one of the 6 streets leading from the Circle and noticed a classic street clock right out of Back to The Future. The face of the clock was in deep shadow as there were numerous tall trees within this little park area but hopefully these photos give an idea of the style of the clock.

Just beyond it, I liked the view down the street so zoomed in for a better image......

By now I'd been out in the hot sun for almost 3 hours, discounting my time in Burger King, so it was time to head back to Buttonwood. Just a few yards from the Circle, I came upon a police car parked up with its lights flashing. In front was a small truck with someone sitting in the back (don't think that was the crime) and the officer was handing over a ticket to the driver. I thought it best not to try and take a photo of this incident as for one thing, by the time I'd taken my backpack off and got out the camera, both parties would be gone. It'll have to be my little memory, and thus probably forgotten by this time tomorrow !

I don't know if it was the rest I took, the BK kids burger with small fries or the Cherry Coke Zero I'd just finished off, but something gave me the energy to ride the 10 miles back with ease, not stopping once. Even the wind in my face couldn't slow me down. I was Lance Armstrong for those 45 minutes.

So it WAS probably the Coke then !

I returned hot, sweaty but only slightly tired. I used MapMyRun to work out how far I'd ridden and it was 21.88 miles. Not too shabby for an old guy who has to pay a fortune for medical insurance as I have 'a pre-existing medical condition'. Pah.

I think when I go home I'll ask for a partial refund.

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