Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A New Beginning.

I have moved to a new blog site on Wordpress so if you'd like to follow me over there, I'd be delighted to have you accompany me on my future blogging journey.

                      Click Here :

Thursday, October 03, 2013

The Season Of Mist And Mellow Mistiness

Blimey it's been 2 months since my last post.  Clearly trying to post a photo-a-day didn't stir my blogging gene and even more clearly, I don't live an interesting enough life to blog about it regularly, so what to do ?   Post when the mood takes me ?  Give up completely ?

For now I'm taking the former route and today I'm posting because I got up at 8:10am and so I'm grumpy !

Being up and about......well up at any rate as so far there isn't much "abouting" going this ungodly time of day has only served to push me further into my SAD state of mind.

SAD is Seasonal Affective Disorder and according to my font of all things medical, Wikipedia, the symptoms may consist of  :

- difficulty waking up in the morning. Absolutely.
- morning sickness.  Thankfully not at all.
- tendency to oversleep and overeat. Definitely.
- a craving for carbs leading to weight gain. Oh hell yes.
- lack of energy. Can't be bothered answering that one.
- difficulty completing tasks.  Ha !  I don't even start tasks.
- withdrawal from social activities.  See above.
- decreased sex drive.   Decreased ? Mine is in neutral and heading for reverse. 

So with all this in mind, I woke at 8:10am and decided to get up and see if an early start would help my mood. Now you need to bear in mind that I never go to bed before 2am and never go to sleep before 3am so rising around 8am is VERY unusual for me.

Has it helped my mood ?  Not so much !  All it's done is give me more hours to be SAD !!

It's October.  It's cold and damp and, this morning at least, very very misty.  So misty in fact that I can barely see the house across the road.

And no, I don't live out in the countryside where my neighbour is 3 miles away and yes, I have opened the curtains.  

It's just freakin' misty.  Proper pea soup misty.  Foggy even.  Yes it's foggy.

And I can't even look forward to the sun burning it off anytime soon.  We probably won't see the sun here again till next summer and even then, only for a fortnight before the nights draw in and it starts all over again. Don't get me started.

As if I needed more reasons to be SAD, Virgin Media has given me one.  They provide my broadband, tv and landline phone service and last weekend, just before midnight on Saturday, the broadband part of this service went down for about 30 hours.  I say "about" because I was asleep on Monday morning when the service returned so I can't be more accurate. But it was over 28 hrs for sure.

Everytime I rang them, I got a recorded message acknowledging the outage in my postcode area, informing me that an engineer was on his/her way and that the approx time for the service being available again would be XX:XX.......a time which kept moving along with each phone call.  Then after 18 hours the message was updated to inform me that the engineer was on site (he/she must've been flown back from their foreign holiday) and they stopped giving an availability time !  

Since its return on Monday morning, I've been trying to find out what caused this outage and why it took so long to fix the fault. I pay Virgin Media £1200 a year for this service and I feel it's only right that they explain such a long break in said service.

I've written to them twice but my emails go to India where their support people live and I think we all know what that means.  I get polite, stock replies which have been pasted into the email and are full of "we understand your concern" and "we are sorry to hear this" type sentences but never do they answer my query. The latest one was a gem.........

"As we're an e-mail support team we do not have the necessary expertise to be able to offer technical advice but we have a technical support team of specialised advisors who will be happy to help you out".

Brilliant. This coming from the contact address on their web site that you are supposed to use for broadband issues.  Don't have the necessary expertise ?  So why is your email address on the web site !?!  And anyway, I'm not asking for technical advice.


So yes, this morning I'm SAD and grumpy and frustrated and even a tiny bit angry. Not good reasons for posting a blog but as I can't shout at the Indian call centre staff, I'm using Blogger as my escape valve.  And do you know,  it's working.  The steam is slowly escaping with every letter typed.  

Of course it could be the neat Amaretto in my coffee that's slowly making me more mellow.  Or pissed.  Probably both !!

It's now 10:10am so basic maths tells me 2 hours have passed since I got up and what's occurring ?  Well I've had my coffee and my date & coconut porridge but I'm still half asleep, still half pissed and still can't see the house across the street.  

On second thoughts, I think the mist has gone and I can't see the house across the street because my windows are filthy.

I'd clean them but as you know, I've no energy and can't complete tasks.

That's so SAD.  

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Is It Monday Yet ?

Well, thinking that uploading a photo a day from my extensive collection would get my blogging juices flowing again clearly didn't work very well !

I'm pretty much the same with most things I do.  Take exercise for example.  For 3 weeks in July, admittedly when the weather was fantastic, I went out for a 50 minute walk EVERY day and it was great.  The idea was to take it steady and build up my speed and hopefully I'd get fitter AND lose some weight too. Then I missed a day and I totally lost momentum. I've not exercised now for over a week.

Converting my VHS home video to dvd ?  Yeah that also started with great enthusiasm but after creating 7 or 8 dvds, I lost interest and am still stuck back in 1991. 

I've thousands of photos to name and catalogue because if anyone asked me for a photo of Whitby Abbey, it would take a day of searching to find one.  Same with music.  I've hundreds of downloaded albums but many need to be edited so they can be quickly found.  
The list of things that need to be done around the house grows and grows.  I've needed new curtains for 20 years; a new fireplace is on the list, not to improve the look of the living room but because the current fire is so old, British Gas won't service it anymore and on full power it puts out less heat than a candle.  A small candle that only gets lit on a Tuesday. 

It was in my yute that I took the maxim "never put off till tomorrow what you can put off till the day after" and merged it with the old song lyric "till the 12th of never" to create my life mantra.

So what to make of all this ?  Am I lazy ?  I think that much is clear.  

I also like to start projects but quickly lose interest in them.

So I'm going to make a start on things again.  But it's Thursday so no point in doing so this week.  I mean, it's nearly over.  So Monday it is then.  I'll go and check out new fire places.  Pop into a curtain shop and see what's what.  I might copy another vhs tape to dvd.  That'll be enough for one week I think.

Just not sure which week !

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Photo-A-Day 16th June 2013

As I stated in the previous post, most of the Farne Islands are actually just rocky outcrops and the low lying ones make navigating around the area very treacherous indeed.

After many discussions and requests, the Longstone Lighthouse was built in 1826 and was manned by William Darling and his daughter Grace on 7th September 1838 when the paddlesteamer "Forfarshire" hit the nearby rocks at 3am in terrible weather and broke in two.

Knowing the weather was too bad for the lifeboat to leave nearby Seahouses, William and Grace set off in a 21ft rowing boat to help the survivors. They returned to the lighthouse with 4 or 5 survivors (reports differ) and while Grace remained with the sole female survivor, William and the other 3 (or 4 !!) went back and gathered up 4 more.   

There were other survivors who managed to leave the ship in a lifeboat but a total of 42 of the 62 people on board, died that night.

Grace Darling, whether because of her age (22) or the fact she was female, became an instant heroine and was praised by the nation and received a large financial reward for her courage.

Last week we passed close to the lighthouse on the boat trip to see the birds on Inner Farne and despite the choppy waves, I managed to get my own photo of it.

The name of Grace Darling is almost as well known here today as that of nursing pioneer, Florence Nightingale but while Florence lived to the ripe old age of 90, Grace died of tuberculosis at 26.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Photo-A-Day 15th June 2013

Well I've been back a few days after my "sudden impulse" 6 day tour around the NW of Scotland and what a trip it was. The weather was perfect every day and the scenery was absolutely spectacular.

In all, I took 624 photos and video clips so for the next few blog posts, I'll put up a photo from the tour despite putting most of them up already on my Facebook page.  I know there are blog readers who don't use Facebook so for those who do, sorry that you have to see them again !

Actually this first photo is from the first day of the tour before I actually reached Scotland.   I went up the east side of England, through Newcastle to Whitley Bay, a seaside resort I'd last been to about 30 years ago. Then I drove on to Seahouses where I'd booked online to go out on a 2.5hr boat trip to Inner Farne, one of the many Farne Islands that lie just off the coast of Northumberland.

These islands are famous bird sanctuaries and my main reason for going on the boat trip was to see some puffins as it was breeding season and many thousands were on Inner Farne.

The boat was due to set sail at 2pm and after spending too much time in both Newcastle and Whitley Bay, I only just made it.  Once onboard I was able to relax and soon we were passing the smaller islands, just a collection of rocks really, which were covered in both birds and their poop.  A LOT of poop.  In fact from a distance it seemed there was snow on the rocks !

As we approached Inner Farne, I wondered why the people from the previous boat trip were waiting at the dock with umbrellas up and wearing waterproofs. Then I noticed the people on 'my' boat were doing the same and as we disembarked, I found out why.

All along the edge of the long wooden pathway up to the main viewing area, Arctic Terns had nested and while one sat on the egg(s), its partner would dive bomb anyone passing by. They used their long needle like beaks to stab any part of our bodies that they could, usually our heads, and if that didn't work, they'd follow it up with pooping on us.   

It was like the school hill scene from "The Birds" except in our case, ALL the birds were real.  Parents covered their kid's heads with anything they could and I was glad I'd taken a baseball cap and a light hooded rain jacket (a golf jacket actually as I thought it might rain) as I needed both !  Maybe it was the jacket's black colour but in any case, having run the gauntlet twice, I was relieved that I avoided any poop and despite some close calls, my head was intact.  Others were not so lucky and many were liberally covered in the white stuff.    

Up at the viewing area on the very edge of the cliff, birds were everywhere, on every surface.  From Cormorants to Black-Headed Gulls, Guillemots to Razorbills, it was a twitcher's dream !  Of all the breeding birds on the Farnes, Puffins are by far the most common with over 36,000 pairs last year. There were several Shag fights going on over nesting areas and some were pretty vicious.  Eggs were bumped out of nests as parents fought for possession of a nest and residence was no guarantee.  The noise was deafening and off to one side, the superior Puffins were keeping their distance and did not want to be involved with the rough stuff.  Being burrow nesters, they didn't need to.

They were settled quite some distance away but with my 200mm zoom lens, being able to rest it on a solid fence and then enlarging the resulting photos via Photoshop, I got some decent photos.  This one is my favourite.

Being on the rocks, the Puffins were all adults as the Pufflings would've been safe in their burrows further away. I really wanted to see and photograph Pufflings but it was not to be. 

Surviving the fierce Terns on the way back to the boat, we headed to shore and then I drove up the coast and crossed into Scotland. A couple of miles further on I got to my b&b by 7pm. This was the only one I'd pre-booked as I knew they were plentiful in Scotland and I didn't want to be tied down each evening.  I'd just start looking from about 6pm or 7pm and that way I was free to go as far along the route each day as I wanted.

That plan worked out perfectly as I got great b&b's every evening ranging from £25 to £35 which I thought was excellent value for money.

More tomorrow.............  

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Photo-A-Day 4th June 2013

No time for much of a byline today as I'm getting ready for a sudden departure in the morning as I'm off on a road trip to the tip of the UK, John O'Groats at the top of Scotland.  

The weather forecast is semi decent for the next few days so I'm being all impetuous and just going !

Anyway here is a photo I took yesterday inside the ruins of Fountains Abbey on a glorious day which wore me out as I walked miles.

That's it.

Donno when I'll be back so there may or may not be regular posts or "photo-a-day" posts for a wee while, the noo.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Photo-A-Day 3rd June 2013

The following is a classic example of how, when I'm leaving some 'exotic' location, I sometimes say "well I'll never be back here again" as those words seem to ensure that I will be !

In December of 2005, Deb, Den and I went on a cruise which took in 9 Southern Caribbean islands.  One of the first was St. Maarten or to be more accurate, Sint Maarten as we went to the southern half which belong to The Netherlands and not the northern half which belong to Ze French !  Zut alors.

With our cruise ship berthed with several others at Wathey Pier, we got a water taxi across Great Bay to the capital 'city' of Philipsburg. We strolled along the main street with all its gaudy tourist shops and then hit the beach for a spot of R&R before heading back to the ship.  

You don't get much time when visiting 9 islands on a cruise !

It was only when we were sailing to our next destination that I remembered the main claim to fame of Sint Maarten, namely Princess Juliana International Airport, or more precisely, its airstrip.

Yes this is the airport where pilots have to come in so low over the beach that lies just by the start of the airstrip that those on the beach can almost touch the undercarriage.  Then when large jets are taking off, they use the same airstrip and as they increase power for the start of takeoff, the hardy, or foolhardy souls on the beach line up to be blasted back down the beach and, in some case, end up in the water.

None seem to care that a stone or other object could also be blown back at them with potentially fatal results.  This is the jackass generation after all and they live for the thrill.

So in 2005 as we headed towards another awesome Caribbean sunset, I uttered those infamous departing words as I really did want to return to go onto that beach when a large jet was landing. I really didn't think it would happen though.

Ha !

Fast forward to April 2010 and as part of a more relaxing cruise (only 4 islands this time), we were back in Sint Maarten.  This time I wasn't going to miss the opportunity of going to the airport and Maho Beach and so we hired a taxi and went straight there. As they approach the beach, car drivers have to look carefully to make sure no planes are about to take off or else they could end up closer to the beach than they'd like to be. 

Our driver dropped us off at the Sunset Bar, just past the beach and we walked back to the mid point to wait for the Air France jet that was due to land just after noon.  As the time approached, the word soon went around those on the beach and all eyes scanned Simpson Bay towards the horizon.  Suddenly a sharp eyed kid next to us said he saw it and in no time the dot became a recognisable plane.

I was poised with my still camera and passed my video camera to Deb so we'd be sure to record the event one way or another......or even both.  I wanted to pan around to follow the plane to get the classic view I'd seen so often on the internet.  I also wanted to zoom in as much as possible so the plane would fill the viewfinder but in doing so, I overcooked it and chopped off the tail of the plane !

I was so annoyed with myself and although I fired off a series of photos, this was the side view I really wanted to be perfect. Hey ho.

Maybe third time lucky !  Who knows.

 Not long afterwards, a large jet taxied to the end of the airstip close to the beach, turned around and lit up its afterburners !  From the relative safety of the side of the beach, we watched dozens of people lining up to be blown away and getting their wish.  Some did in fact get blown into the water but I think theyere showing off and did the last few yards themselves with no help from the rapidly departing jet.

It was quite an experience and one I'll remember for a long time. Worth going back for !

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Photo-A-Day 2nd June 2013.

Between 1989 and 1998, I'd visited the US 13 times and been to every state except Alaska and Hawaii. On 9 occasions, I'd gone for 3 or 4 weeks in the summer and on 4 other occasions, I'd spent 2 weeks over Christmas with friends in Georgia.

Then in April 2000, I decided I wanted to go for a longer trip and so I took a 6 month work sabbatical and had a fabulous time with friends Debby and Dennis in Michigan.  We crammed so much into those 6 months that hardly a day went by without us being off touring somewhere.

We went on a long "trip out west" by driving across the northern states to Seattle, then down the coast to San Francisco before heading east through the southern states and finally turning north back to Michigan.  More full rectangle than full circle !

We also went on a family float trip which involved blowing up huge inner tubes and gently floating down a river on a blisteringly hot summer's day with a stop for a picnic along the way.

A drive down to the Florida Keys was also a highlight as it was my first time in Key West and we also found time to get tickets to watch the launch of shuttle mission STS101 from the Kennedy Space Centre on the drive home.

So all in all I'd had a fabulous time and as a thank you to my hosts and also to cram in one final trip, we flew to Las Vegas in late October and stayed at the newly opened Aladdin Hotel & Casino. In fact it was so new that final touches were taking place and some areas were still to complete.

It was a fabulous hotel with 37 floors and 2,456 rooms and we had stunning views overlooking the Vegas Strip and were able to look down on the beautiful musical water display at the Bellagio "across the road."  It was even better at night, as most things are in Vegas. 

I only had my little 1mp Kodak digital camera back in those days so the quality of the photos weren't great but this one will always remind me of both that Vegas trip and also the US 2000 holiday as a whole.

The Aladdin had 2 rooftop swimming pools and during our stay, I got some great outdoor views looking down on the Strip. Sadly most of those Vegas photos were lost when my external hard drive was corrupted so I'm left with just the one above, taken through the room window with the associated reflections.

But I guess that, in a way, knowing this was the exact view we had from the room window adds to the memory.

Nothing lasts for long in Vegas and within 3 years, The Aladdin had gone into bankruptcy, to be sold to Planet Hollywood. By 2007 it was fully rebranded as The Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino which, amazingly, it still is today ! 

Anyway, when we got back to Michigan, it was very hard to think I was at the end of this wonderful US trip.  So I started to find out what would be needed to stay longer !  The IBM sabbatical 'rules' said I could have a year off and so they had no problem giving me another 3 months to add to the initial 6.  The US authorities were ok with this too but as a visitor visa is only good for 6 months, I had to pay a fee to have it extended.  Finally I paid $100 and had my return flight date altered.


Did we sit around for those 3 months ?  Hell no.  In November we had another road trip to Key West and in December we went on a Caribbean cruise, my first of many !!

I vividly remember getting back to my desk in January 2001.  I stood for some time looking at it and thinking "I don't want to do this anymore."  The time off hadn't fired me up for a return to work.  Quite the opposite. Despite being only 48, I started planning for my retirement at 50, the earliest date possible. Fate was with my plans as a few months later IBM wanted volunteers for early retirement and my hand shot up so fast I almost pulled a muscle.

And so it was that on 25th June 2001, on my 49th birthday, I retired.  I got a sweet package from IBM which included a generous lump sum to cover me for the year before I would be able to get my private pension. 

And where did I go for my first trip as a retiree ?

On 7th November 2001 I flew to America for 4 months !!

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Photo-A-Day 1st June 2013

Five years ago this month I went on a short canal boat trip with Daphne and Stephen along a stretch of the Leeds - Liverpool canal starting just south of Skipton and turning around at Barnoldswick. 

Despite crossing from Yorkshire into Lancashire, it was probably only a round trip distance of about 15 miles as the crow flies but as canals don't go in straight lines, it was more like 26 miles we travelled.  Also, if that crow had been on a canal boat going at about 4mph and also been able to work the many locks that raise and lower the canal waters up and down the sloping terrain, it would've taken it 3 full days to make the trip.  

Which is how long it took us. 

As long as you have someone with you fit enough to work the locks, a canal trip is a wonderful way to chill out and see the stunning countryside of the UK from a unique perspective. After years of volunteer work cleaning and restoring many disused stretches, there are now 2,200 miles of navigable canals in the UK with the vast majority of these miles being in England.  The Leeds - Liverpool canal is 127 miles long so we only saw a very small part of it but it was more than enough to make me want to see more.

Despite occasionally crossing over or under a main road, the canal took us out into the countryside, well away from the busy traffic on those congested roads and after just a short time from setting off, the loudest noise we heard was the relaxing (and comforting) putt putt of the boat engine as it pushed us gently along.  Wildlife took no notice of our peaceful passing and swans and other waterbirds were our constant companions. 

As it got dark, we'd simply tie up by the side of the canal for the night and have supper in the cozy surroundings of a local pub before returning to the boat to sleep.  

It was an idyllic break and often I'd just stretch out on the top of the boat and watch the world go by at 4mph.    

Here is a 15 minute video I put together at the time and it gives a good impression of the relaxing weekend we had.....well apart from working those damn locks !

Friday, May 31, 2013

Photo-A-Day Friday 31st May 2013

In the late summer of 2010, on our 2nd foray into Continental Europe (Italy the previous year), Daphne, Stephen and myself got the ferry from Dover to Dunkirk and drove North for a few days in Bruges and then Amsterdam. 

Then we drove down and toured the East side of France before making our way up the West side and back to Dunkirk for the return ferry.

This was my first time touring France and I loved every moment of it.  The roads, major and minor, were so empty of vehicles that it was a joy to drive on them......even with the toll charges.

But it was the countryside that took my breath away, and of course the beautiful, hot weather made even better.

On the return leg we were in the Dordogne area of France and spent several hours relaxing in the scenic town of Brantome. Actually scenic didn't do it justice as it was a photographer's dream with stunning views everywhere.  Majestic buildings, clean clear water and my usual criteria for a good tourist photograph, blue skies.

This photo sums up Brantome.

As we left, I glanced back to try and take it all in one last time as I never expected to be back there again.

I should've known better as we did indeed pass near Brantome last summer on the way back from Spain and it was a unanimous decision to spend a few hours there again.  We had a lovely outdoor meal at a small restaurant on one of the main streets leading to the location in the photo and when we got to the water area, it was a complete deja vu experience as everything was the same........including the clear blue sky and the bright yellow canoes.

Hopefully I'll get to France again this summer and it remains to be seen if Brantome will be on the route.  It'll be hard to pass it by !

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Photo-A-Day Thursday 30th May 2013

At the end of September 2004, I was almost half way through another 6 months staying with my friends in Michigan (they now live in Florida) and on the spur of the moment we decided to go on a cruise to Hawaii.

As you do.

I can't remember exactly how it came about but we saw a great last minute 13 day cruise deal online and we just went for it.  Things became a bit hectic after that as once we'd booked it, we only had 3 or 4 days before we were due to fly to Vancouver to catch the Carnival Spirit which would take us to Hawaii over the course of the following 5 days.

The next 8 days would see us going island hopping as we'd cruise from one to another before finally docking again at Honolulu for the flight back to Michigan.   

This was my first time leaving America whilst already on holiday there since my run in with immigration the previous year and I know my name was on their list after that fiasco. So it was that I was again questioned at length before finally being allowed to board the cruise ship and there and then I made my mind up to contact Homeland Security on my return from the cruise to complain about my treatment.

I won't go into the details here but some months later I got a letter back apologising for my treatment and was assured I'd never have trouble again.

And I haven't. 

From Vancouver we had a wonderfully relaxing cruise to the Hawaiian Islands and I was able to cross that state off my list, leaving only Alaska still to visit. The ship docked at the 4 largest islands - Hawaii, Maui, Oahu and Kauai - and we had plenty of time to explore them all.  

We'd hired cars for 'the big island' (Hawaii) and for Oahu (our favourite) and this is my photo at the Hard Rock Cafe at Lahaina, Oahu as it always reminds me of our time there.  This has to be the best HRC in the whole world if location is a factor. It's right across the road from the Pacific Ocean with stunning views from the patio where we had our meal, watching the occasional cruise ship out on the water. If you click on this link and pick the patio still on the right, you'll get a view of where we were in this photo.

On the last day, having cruised full circle back to Oahu, we used the rental car and went to Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbour and The Honolulu Hard Rock Cafe on a packed day before heading to the airport for the flight back to Detroit.

It was easily the best cruise I've ever been on and it was a great way to see the main islands which are all so different.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Photo-A-Day Wednesday 29th May 2013

Starting in 2009, and after 20 years of always touring America, I decided I'd missed out on trips to Continental Europe and so, with my friends Daphne & Stephen, I went to Italy.

We flew directly to Rome and spent 3 days there before driving off for 2 weeks of touring the stunning countryside and historic cities of Northern Italy.

On our first full day in Rome, we went to The Vatican and when we got to the end of the Via dei Cavalieri del Santo Sepolcro and turned left onto the Via della Conciliazione, that first view of St. Peter's Basilica will live long in the memory.

But even more stunning was the classic outside view from the top of the dome and that is my photo for today. Millions may have taken it before me but this is MY view and MY memory.

I'll remember it mainly because I could hardly keep the camera steady as I was so pooped from the climb up to and then around the dome. If I'd realised that being a tourist in Rome meant such exercise, I've have trained for the trip !   

It was the first of many signs that I was 'getting old.'

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Photo-A-Day Tuesday 28th May 2013

As I can't seem to find the blogging muse these days or maybe because I'm still in a sort of pre summer hibernation funk due to this cold, wet, crappy weather, I thought I'd cheat and create an easy daily theme for myself.

Many personal sites and blogs post a photo a day taken on that day but I've many thousands of photos taken over the decades that have rarely, if ever, been illuminated by the light of the internet and so I thought my theme could be to post a random photo a day and try and say a few words about it.

The downside to this idea is that with my bad memory and the lack of any data from the photos themselves (being pre digital or the data being lost due to being copied and edited many times), I may often post photos I can say little about - apart from where they were taken.

My digital experience started with a 1mp Kodak camera back in 1899 or sometime (ok 1999) and so the quality of some photos may appear a bit iffy on modern computer screens.

Anyway to not be egotistical in any way, the idea is simply to post a photo a day and if any are interesting to anyone, then that will be a bonus.  

And it'll get me blogging again !  Ok maybe that's a downside too !

So first up, a scanned copy of a pre digital photo from about 1991 when my annual summer tour that year took me through Texas.  Once in Dallas I just had to drive a few miles north to visit the location of the hugely popular hit TV series of the same name.

Despite the show having ended a few months earlier, it was still uppermost in many people's minds and as I'd been a fan and watched every episode, it was very cool to go there.  The house and the land around it was private property and in any case, the interiors were filmed back in the studio in California so I didn't need to see inside.

There was a gift shop run by the owners to the right of the house and when I was there, the mother was serving behind the counter.  Of course she herself wasn't famous but I still asked her for a photograph and she was happy to oblige.  Sadly that one has gone AWOL over the years.

The photo....not the woman.  Although maybe she has too !

I also managed to get a photo of myself in front of the main gates but it's in a frame and I've never bothered to scan it.  It was also to the left of the gate in this photo and led straight to the front of the house and it didn't have the ranch name over it like this one does.

I've always said that was the warmest day I've ever experienced anywhere and I was sweating so much, I could hardly see to take photos. Lugging around a full size VHS camcorder didn't help either.  How the actors did their thing in suits etc is beyond me.  No wonder they were always drinking !

So there you have it....random photo No.1

Until tomorrow.............

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Brimham Rocks

Last Thursday the sun rose early, stretched and decided to hang around for the day.  And so it was that I decided to go for a drive as it was the first day of decently warm weather we'd had so far this year.

As I'm planning on exploring the UK this summer, I'd been thinking about becoming a member of a couple of the organisations that would allow me free access to stately homes, historic houses, beautiful gardens and scenic locations up and down the country.  

Fancying a spot of exercise as well as a drive, I decided to revisit Brimham Rocks as they were only 50 minutes away and if I joined the National Trust, I could park for free and thus 'save' on the £4 charge.  I became a member online, paid the £41.50 fee, got a temporary access card via an email which I printed off and I was set to go. 

First up, I needed lunch so I went to the Crown Carvery pub, The Wellington, on Wetherby Road and ate outside in the glorious sunshine.  A good start.

Putting Brimham Rocks into my GPS, I headed off NW to Harrogate Road and once through the town, went west on the B6165 towards Pateley Bridge.  

I'm glad I had the GPS as signs for Brimham Rocks were as rare as squirrel eggs as far as I could see. I knew I was eventually turning right onto Brimham Rocks Road (the clue is in the name) but a sign at the start of the B6165 at Ripley would've been both informative and helpful. 

Anyway there was a good clear National Trust sign at the turnoff onto Brimham Rocks Road so better late than never I guess.

This road was delightful with open Dales fields on both sides and on a sunny early spring day like last Thursday, it was a joy to have it to myself. Any Americans bringing their RVs over to explore this area.....beware.  This road is NOT for you. Actually it would be a tight fit for a good old British caravan but like I said, I had it to myself and my little Clio purred along with its recently replaced timing belt showing no signs of wear !

Finally I arrived at the car park and despite the presence of 3 others cars and a school van,  I found a spot and parked up.  Ok one little niggle right away.  In an effort to be all ecological and green, they've used wooden 'beams' to mark out the parking bays on this otherwise gravel parking lot but have used metal nuts and bolts to secure them into the ground. I dread to think what this could do to your tyres if you go over them and, say, turn the wheels a few times to get properly into the bay.

After placing my newly printed temporary NT membership pass on my dashboard, I noticed a man going to the pay and display machine and then looking a bit confused as he wandered back to his car where his wife and 2 young kids were waiting. As I got out of my car he came up to me and in slightly broken English, asked if there was a charge for only staying an hour as that's all the time they had for their visit.

I knew already that the minimum charge was £4 for 3 hours and I'd remembered thinking that was a bit unfair for anyone wanting less time for less money. The man opened his hand and showed me 3 pound coins and before I'd thought about it, I fished a pound coin out of my pocket and gave it to him. It was only later that I doubted that he only had £3 on him but maybe that was all the change he had. Anyway, it was my good deed for the day and hopefully they enjoyed their hour there !

So I walked the very short distance to the rocks and sure enough, they'd not changed much since my last visit, several years earlier !  Actually I'd been several times before as I've always been a bit of a climber and the rocks were perfect for my level of fitness.

Sadly I soon discovered that those days are gone and at 60, I looked at some high ledges and spaces between the rocks and thought......hmmmm, I could do myself a mischief here or even....hmmmmmm not a chance in hell !  Then again, I was wearing jeans so didn't have much in the way of "freedom of movement" so that'll be my main excuse.

With so few people around, it was great to be able to take photos without anyone (else) clambering over the rocks. I didn't mind the occasional visitor as they'd help to give scale.

At the top of one particular rock I found two half drunk bottles of pop, probably dumped by two of the kids who were now gathered around the school van in the parking lot ready to leave. As it wasn't far, I picked up the bottles and walked down to the car park intending to put them into a bin.

Well I would've done if there HAD been a bin.  Not one.  Two car parks and not one bin !
With the British attitude concerning litter (even if there is a bin nearby I'll just drop my litter on the ground as someone is paid to pick it up anyway), it might be reasoned that bins are pretty useless but at least have them for those of us who do like our scenery unspoiled by litter. Without them, there is no option. The NT told me they have daily collections by volunteers but come on, surely that's playing into the hands of the litter louts AND does nothing for the views between those daily collections. 

End of rant.

I left the bottles behind the pay and display unit so at least they were hidden from most views.

Backup up at the rocks, there were a few 'proper' climbers doing their thing and despite the rocks not being that high, many had sheer sides which were a decent challenge and good for training purposes for future harder climbs.

 It was while at the top of one of the taller rock formations that I had an epiphany.  Always happens to me when nowhere near a restroom !

To be serious, it came as I glanced across to my right, away from the usual views over the Dales.  It came about as there were no leaves on most of the trees so I could see much more than on any previous visit.  I saw more rocks !

Holy crap on a stick !!  There were dozens more formations spreading as far as the eye could see.....and last Thursday, on top of that rock, with no leaves in the way, I could see quite a distance. 

All those times I'd been to the rocks, I'd thought the small group near the car park were the only ones.  What an idiot.  I should've known.  I'd never seen any of the ones on the website and as for the visitor's centre and gift shop etc........nope, I'd never seen them either !

So I went exploring and what a to the right of me, rocks to the left of me and so on. In fact you couldn't move more than a few feet without coming across another formation. And again, with so few people around, I felt I had them all to myself.

I found the balanced rock, similar to the one in Arches Natl Park in Utah and one with strange eroded notches in its side which made it look like the portholes of a ship.

As you can tell from these photos, and the ones to come, there was a sort of main path that would take you past many of the rock formations; to see them all, you had to get off this path and go on ones created by the feet of the thousands of visitors who had explored the location over the years.  Some were grassy and easy to walk along but others you had to make yourself by walking over smaller rocks and navigating around trees, rocks and other natural obstacles. It was great. I loved it.

Finally I came upon the visitor's centre which I knew wasn't open during the week at this early part of the season. It all made sense now. I finally understood why you'd need to spend several hours there. The rocks covered a vast area. By now i'd been there just under 3 hours and there was still so much to see but I needed to get back home.

I'll include one short video clip as most were too long for Blogger to deal with here. There is no commentary from me except for occasional heavy breathing as I'd climbed over pretty much every rock between the car park and the visitor's centre and, technically speaking, I was knackered. 

Sad to say, uploading it to Blogger has reduced the original HD quality so much that you really should leave it at this small size. If you click to make it full screen, you'll get something like from a BBC documentary from 1947.

Four final shots. 

First up, my initial view of the visitor's centre off to the left in the distance, taken from the top of a rock. Then on the way back, a black & white view of a tree growing out of another formation. The penultimate photo shows a formation looking like an Egyptian Sphinx (and later I learned it was called....the Sphinx !) and finally I came upon a pair having a read/nap in the late afternoon sunshine. 


Back in the car, I really didn't fancy the drive back through Harrogate at rush hour and the A61 to Leeds at that time would've been pretty awful too.

Well it was as if my GPS knew that, as it took me back a different way which totally avoided Harrogate and instead, took me along delightful Dales roads, one as straight as an arrow for miles so clearly 'made' by those Yorkshire Romans !  

It also took me along the B6451 past Menwith Hill, the joint UK/US 'listening station' with it's 30 distinctive golf ball shaped radomes. I'd never been that close to them before but resisted the temptation to stop for photographs as somehow I knew doing so would add about 2 hours to my home time !  Or maybe 2 years !!

I wanted my supper.

So that was it.  A grand day out as Wallace would've said...if he'd been a real person and with me. The sun shone, the rocks were brill and I got a lot of much needed exercise.  

I slept like the proverbial log that night. And I'll be going back for sure.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

One Direction - As Long As It's Left.

Yes I know, another 'clever' title that I'm hoping will get me pop fan readers !  Desperate times etc but it IS sort of relevant.

Anyway, no one has asked me, but I'm claiming that yesterday was the first day of Spring here in the UK. 

Given the winter we've had, my recipe for Spring was a hint of sunshine, a drizzle of blue in the sky all coming together with a soup├žon of heat.

Yesterday we got all that although personally, I could've done without the gale force wind which blew my hair all over the place...a bit like Mick Miller in a wind tunnel !

Given my penchant for staying up till 3am and thus not rising till about noon, I was a bit annoyed that the weather was so good and half the hours of daylight had already passed me by. Still, I'm nothing if not adaptable and no sooner had I showered and come down the stairs than I was planning on having a trip out.

I fixed some coconut and date porridge (highly recommended) as it only takes a few minutes and is very filling - a good idea as I'd no idea when I would eat next.  

12:15 and I was off.

Off where ?  I'd no idea.....not a clue.

Back in the day when I got my first car and petrol was (relatively) cheap, I used to go off with little clue as to a destination. I just fancied touring the countryside without a care in the world and lots of 60's cassettes to keep my fingers drumming on the steering wheel. Ahhhh cassettes. Google them.

For obvious reasons, I've rarely done it since.

So it was that I sat in my car in my driveway and tried to think which way to go for my first move. When in doubt I always pick left, being that I'm left handed I suppose. Thus my neighbour on my left was quite surprised when I pulled up onto her driveway and her net curtains twitching couldn't disguise her look of horror ! 

Deciding to go a bit further afield, I set off again and kept turning left when I had a choice to make. I found myself at a junction with the A58, the main road between Leeds and Wetherby and remembered that just a few hundred yards to the right was The Wellington, a carvery pub I used to frequent in the days before I discovered the slightly better, although more expensive, Queens on Harrogate Road.

I'd been on the road for all of 7 minutes and clearly I needed a break and what better way to have a break than to rest and stuff my face at the same time.

The Wellington do a 'small' carvery for £3.49 which I think they expect only children to take up. Ha ! For £3.49 I'm your man.

The carvery choices are exactly the same, it's just that the plate is smaller for the small price.

Evidently The Wellington hadn't heard of my food stacking ability and I managed to get my usual quantity on board despite the size of the plate. Ok so I left a trail of carrots and peas in a rich, dark gravy as I carefully made my way back to my table but hey, them's the rules.

40 minutes later I was back in the car with a destination in mind. I'd used some of my eating time to check the map on my tablet (free wifi at The Wellington) and I decided to go to Pickering, a North Yorkshire market town where I felt I'd get some much needed exercise by exploring its delights on a sunny Monday afternoon.

The drive was delightful. My mp3 player was blasting out 100 Top Power Ballads, the roads were quite empty and the countryside was basking under the rays of a blinding sun. England is truly grand on a good day. We just don't get many.

Approaching Pickering I had an epiphany. I wanted to see the sea.

Just like that. I'd ruled out a trip to the sea when at home thinking where to go. Now I wanted it. Go figure.

The sign said Whitby 21 miles and that was good enough for me.

The great thing about going to Whitby meant I'd be going up over the North Yorkshire Moors and I'd recommend that A169 road to anyone who loves driving. The route also takes you past "The Hole Of Horcum" which, sniggers aside, is a wonderful natural depression that reminds me of Meteor Crater in Arizona, but with more grass !

I stopped for a bit of fresh air but it was a bit TOO fresh as the wind almost blew me off the ridge. I felt sorry for the ice cream van owner who was parked at one end of the car park surveying the only car there.....mine. But not sorry enough to buy anything from him.

At 3:30pm I arrived in Whitby and was just delighted that the weather had, if anything, improved. The wind had dropped a lot, there was much more blue in the sky and it was quite warm. 

I wasn't sure what to expect, tourist wise, for a Monday afternoon in April. It wasn't too bad at all. Whitby can be very crowded in mid summer but yesterday it was almost perfect. There were a few student groups (French and Japanese) but for the most part, I only had to wait a few seconds to get photos of the main sights with no one getting in the way.

I started off on the swing bridge over the River Esk as that view is always picturesque with the houses and the boats and, naturally, the water.

I then decided to go up to the church and abbey on top of the east cliff overlooking the town. This was clever thinking as to get there requires one to climb 199 steep steps and having been to Whitby many times, that climb is not to be attempted at the end of a day's exploring. Fresh legs are definitely needed. 

Most of Whitby's streets are narrow but on the way to the 199 steps, the aptly named Church Street is only wide enough for one vehicle - so a good idea that it's pedestrianised. Then it gets even narrower.

At the start of January, prolonged rainfall, plus a burst drainage pipe, caused a large portion of the cliff in front of St. Mary's Church to fall away. As this section contained part of the graveyard, the news headlines reported that the landslide opened up these graves, causing remains to slither down to the homes below. The link between the town and Bram Stoker's Dracula was gleefully brought up in this reporting.

There were men working on the cliff and the whole area was condoned off which was a shame as I used to love sitting on the benches near the edge, taking in the vista before me, the town and harbour below and the views across to the west cliff and the imposing statue of the famous maritime explorer, Capt. James Cook.  

I looked around the graveyard and was quite surprised at the age of some of the residents when they'd died. We tend to think of few people living beyond 50 or 60 in the 18th/19th century but clearly some were made of sterner stuff....

Back down the steps, there were many interesting speciality shops along Church Street and their windows were as interesting as anything at the top of the cliff.

Back in the town, everywhere you looked there was a photo op. I wanted to go to parts I'd never been to before and that took me out along a small stone pier on the east side of The Esk before strolling along the west side towards the lighthouse. 

I'd never been beyond the lighthouse before but as the setting sun was casting a lovely light on Whitby, I walked to the very end which gave wonderful views back towards the town.

Here is the final shot I took and just as well as after taking it, my camera battery ran out ! 

I was pretty drained by this time too and as it had been 6 hours since the carvery meal, I was ready for the Whitby food and chips.  Yum.

I took my takeaway to a bench by the harbour and was immediately pestered by seagulls, coming right up to my feet and continually squawking to get some of my food. I knew better than to throw anything at them as that would produce a fight and attract more gulls.

But when I'd had enough to eat, I still had loads of chips in the box so I did toss a few onto the ground before putting the box in a nearby bin.

Well what followed was a scene worthy of Hitchcock himself as the dozens of gulls on the ground suddenly went into a fighting frenzy and were joined by dozens more from above. I had to walk through them for a few feet and was only safe from them when I tossed the box in the bin. Then they all disappeared as quickly as they'd arrived !  

I returned to the car and could see from a distance that of all the cars in the park, mine was the only white one.  As such, it has 2 gulls on the roof and one on the bonnet (hood) and as I got closer and they cleared off, I saw plenty of poop on the car too.

A trip to the car wash will be needed and because bird poop is like acid, it had better be in the next few days.

The drive home was lovely too as there was still just enough light for half the trip to be able to see the countryside....even the Hole of Horcum again.  Going at 30mph through a small village a few small birds flew across my path and I couldn't avoid hitting the last one. I felt the bump as at least one wheel went over it and when I glanced in my rear view mirror, it lay unmoving in the middle of the road.

I was really upset about it but today when checking my car, there was no damage !

Sorry bird lovers.

So considering my late start and having no initial idea where to go, I'd had a brill day out and have decided to do it again as often as permitting.

Which probably means twice in July and once in August !

Most Recent Awards

Most Recent Awards