Sunday, 30 September 2007

It's Been That Sort of Day...

And this is before I opened it...

I started the day full of good intentions to strip the remaining wood board panelling from the entrance hall, the stairs and the landing.

Once I gathered all the tools, I realised that the battens that the panelling is fastened to go all the way up to the ceiling, which is a bloody long way up above the bottom of the stairs. My stepladders don't do stairs...

I could tear and twist at the bottom I thought, but then the battens are only 1/2 inch square and would probably break off leaving a bit at the top. In any case there would be huge holes ripped out of the plaster where the rawl plugs are fixed...

So I abandoned the idea and resigned myself to a day of fun...

"You can plaster the holes you left in the hallway then," Fran said logically. I hate logic. I hate D-I-Y too but I did have some plaster in the outhouse.

So I spent a couple of hours filling up holes, smoothing out cracks and knocking out a load of loose plaster in the ceiling corner near the door. I actually managed to replaster that too. I was quite impressed with myself...

Not quite sure how I'll deal with all the lumps and bumps yet but plenty of time for that next week or the week after.

So thought I'd open a bottle of wine to celebrate my success and felt drunk before any of it passed my lips...

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Lois Maxwell - the Miss Moneypenny. R.I.P.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

A Wizard Encounter

There's a story behind this one.

This is my daughter, Gill, with actor Chris Rankin who plays Percy Weasley in the Harry Potter films. We were at a Memorabilia show at the NEC and it was 24 July 2003.

Too shy to ask him for an autograph she got me to do it. However Chris's manager phoned her up and said she had to come herself and they were holding her dad hostage until she came!

She turned up with a very red face and then, when he realised it wasn't a child they were teasing, Chris too went very red!

However the photograph made up for Gill's embarrassment!

Bayko Building Toy

Out of all the toys I remember from being a child, this has to be one of the favourites.

Before the Danes took off their horned helmets and stopped pillaging long enough to think up Lego (and Danepak bacon), this was the building toy.

You had a green base plate with holes in it and you stuck thin metal rods (oh my word, how dangerous!) into the holes and then slid the plastic bricks down between the rods.

I must have spent hours and hours playing with my Bayko set.

Apart from bricks there were the usual array of other building bits - doors, windows etc. It has to be said that the buildings you could make with Bayko tended not to be the terraced houses most of us lived in at the time but still...

In fact it was only the bigger sets that you could build more than one design of house if I remember rightly. I think I had three different types of roof - one house-sized roof, one L-shaped roof for bungalows - well I can't remember seeing an L-shaped two storey house anywhere round us so always built bungalows L-shaped.

Then there were two flat pieces that you could build shed roofs with.

I gather the sets are much in demand now and I do remember reading about some enthusiast who was trying to make a model of Buckingham Palace with Bayko pieces!

Hope he doesn't poke his eye out...

Coin Slot Mini-Golf

The other day I mentioned a 1959 tenpin bowling game housed in a pinball cabinet.

Today it's the turn of golf to come under the playfield glass. Again, this is a game made by Williams, one of the big three pinball manufacturers although this was a 1960s game.

The player turned the mini golfer towards the intended hole by twisting a golf ball shaped knob on top of the cabinet. The 9 holes had to be shot in order and the game ended when all 9 had been sunk, or the player had used up the 27 balls allowed.

Two buttons allowed the player to decide to play a hard or an easy putt.

It was a two-player game. We take them for granted now. With electronics it's easy to remember all the current scores and settings for two or more players but on these electro-mechanical games the electricity merely moved reels or shot solenoids and the ability to play against someone else during the same game was novel at the time and required real ingenuity on the part of Williams' designers and engineers.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Blackpool's New Prom Last Time

No I don't mean I'm not going to talk about it again.

I mean it's not the first time Blackpool has had a new promenade. Also not the first time that having decided to build a new promenade that they took the opportunity to build out to sea, reclaiming land back from the beach.

It's just over a hundred years since the last time the Promenade was widened. Most of it was opened in 1906. The final part around the Metropole to Cocker Street was completed 1910-1911.

The postcard shown above has the middle circle segment labelled "New Promenade". The five photographs used for the postcard have been hand-coloured.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Ring Pull Technology

I really can't remember why I took this particular photo - it must have been on some extremely boring afternoon in or around 1980.

The cans of drink have a new-fangled thing (probably not all that new by then actually) called ring-pulls. As can be seen clearly, they pulled totally clear of the can.

To avoid dropping litter, the usual method of disposal was to drop the detached ring-pull into the can and then drink from it. Two minutes later your friends could practice the kiss of life (or CPR as the Ladies Over The Water might have it) as you stopped breathing due to "drinking" the ring-pull. Many an amateur tonsilectomy was performed accidentally during the act of removing one of these from the back of someone's throat...

Earlier drinks cans had no ring-pull or self-contained opening mechanism at all and required one of these fearsome weapons which hooked over the rim of the can so the pointy end could be levered down to puncture the tin. This, for any fizzy can of drink, caused a huge geyser of sticky sugary drink to fall all over the person standing opposite who up until that point had been enjoying the sight of you wrestling with it.

The other, blunter, end is for taking the crimped caps off bottles of coke and other similar bottles. Sterilised milk used to come with such caps in pint glass bottles. I remember it tasted horrible and I could never understand as a kid why anyone's Mum would torture them so...

Pinball At Home

Way back in 1990 I had decided that I really wanted a pinball machine in the house.

We had one in the late 1970s when Mum and Dad had a hotel in Blackpool and it provided us with hours and hours of pleasure.

After lots of searching I found a firm in Preston that had half a dozen old pinballs in a state of disrepair and Dad and I made an offer for them as a job lot and the firm, once they could stop laughing, accepted.

We hired a Transit van and brought them home and against all expectations managed to get one working on the very first night.

We had six machines of which we were eventually able to play five of them, which wasn't bad considering we had two of one model anyway. One with loose wires all over the place and the other had... er... been on fire...

Four of them were early electronic pinballs and two of them - the first ones we worked on - were electro-mechanicals. They had scoring reels rather than the electronic displays and had chime bars inside for sound, although we only got the chime bars working much later. In fact on one of them I dismantled a doorbell and put the chimes from that inside the pinball!

They were a great success with our cat, who loved to dash about on top of the playfield glass, trying to catch the silver balls below his feet!

You can read the story in more detail on my pinball web pages.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Beeping Reversals!

Conversation between the women in the library at work this morning. One had been off for the day and her husband was expecting a delivery of gravel or something. They hear a loud beeping outside.

"Grab the dogs and shut them up, " cries the husband, "my gravel must be here!" Frenetic activity for a couple of minutes then hubby comes back into dishevelled and exhausted wife.

"No... it's Lily next door, reversing her disabled person's scooter..."

Leo's Lovelies

Whilst I'm in a postcard mood...

This is No.139 of a series of postcards, photographed in France sometime around the 1920s. Now Leo did have an eye for a pretty girl, unlike our previous postcard photographer!

He was also not averse to the girls removing some clothing, it has to be said... This must be one of those series with which the French were supposed to sidle up to you in the street and say "Would you like to buy some postcards, M'sieur?".

"Get away, filthy postcard seller!" you would cry. But then when the wife wasn't looking, "Mais oui! Combien?"

Monday, 24 September 2007

Blackpool Postcard

One of several old postcards of Blackpool from my collection.

I can't claim to be a serious postcard collector, although I have several hundreds of them in albums and scanned onto the computer. At one point I used to make a point of buying postcards everywhere we went and I've bought several vintage ones at collectors' fairs and car boots.

This one shows some saucy minxes lifting their skirts up to paddle at Blackpool in the early 1900s. Probably very racy at the time...! Has to be seen to be believed particularly for the sheer ugliness of the women chosen to pose... Ye gods, that photographer needed glasses...

Golden Wedding Gig

Creeping Bentgrass were out at Garstang Golf Club last night, playing for a Golden Wedding party.

It all went down very well, though I had a couple of small mishaps - the keyboard refused to work at one point and it was one of those songs where I play a guitar intro first so we had to play the entire song without any help from the keyboard so no drums or backing fill, but no worries!

Thankfully the keyboard worked after pretending it was a Spectrum ZX and switching it off and on again! Then the guitar went silent until I fiddled with the cable at the guitar end. That cable has now been ditched!

And after all that I started to play the intro for I Will Love You on the keyboard and totally forgot the tune. The old befuddled mind went blank and I busked a fairly nondescript but compatable intro, trying to ignore David killing himself next to me whispering between the laughter "You've forgotten the tune haven't you?" I remembered it once he started singing the first verse...!

If we didn't make mistakes, how would you know it was live? Ha ha! Anyway I don't think anyone else noticed apart from us.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Young Pops!

Hey, groovy, Man!

I love playing vinyl and have a saddening and somewhat scary ability to splash out on old decrepit record players so when I came across this old album cover on Flickr I sort of empathised with it straight away.

Although this couple do seem to have several day's worth of records stacked around them totally devoid of covers and protective sleeves... Probably not the best way to keep them in pristine condition!

Come to think of it if any girlfriend of mine had grasped a handful of records and ground them together I'd have done my nut... And what is she wearing for Pete's Sake - is that a travelling rug she's wrapped round her to cover her knees?

My Dansettes are currently up in the attic, as we had a bit of a space crisis at the Burke household. Not a space crisis as in Buck Rogers racing around the living room firing ray gun blasts but more of an ultimatum from Fran that she needed to see a minimum square footage of carpet in the spare room.

Question: how can it be spare if it's full to the brim???

I must get them down and have a play sometime soon...

My Cortina RIP

Still sorting through several thousand old photographic negatives and came across this one.

This was my 1972 MkIII Ford Cortina, bought second-hand in 1985 for a mere £250 when I was working at my first college, the Nautical College in Fleetwood.

The photograph was taken shortly after I bought the car, which had been resprayed in these colours which were then current Ford colours. The colour scheme made the car unique and everyone who knew me would pip their horn and wave as we passed them.

We'd park it somewhere and come back to find notes under the windscreen saying "Hello John, missed you but found the car!"

It was one of the best cars I've ever had. Even MOT mechanics would drool over it whilst tapping the sills energetically to see if they caved in.

It was a trifle under-powered though as it was the 1300cc basic model and sadly this contributed to it being written off in a collision some three years later.


Williams' Ten Strike

Carrying on the series of entries on coin slot machines from Blackpool and other seaside town amusement arcades of the 1950s-60s.

This is a 1959 Ten Strike, made by Williams who were one of the big three pinball manufacturers (the others being Bally and Gottlieb).

Based on a pinball style cabinet this game featured a small mannekin figure which could be swivelled to aim his bowling ball. A push on a lever caused his arm to bowl the large steel ball (coincidentally the same size as a pinball!) towards the miniature pins at the far end of the playfield.

These were attached by strings to the mechanism above allowing them to be hoisted up and dropped back down ready for the next frame.

Ten Pin bowling was never quite as big in the UK as it had been in America although for a while it featured on TV every week during the main Saturday afternoon sports programmes. At a time when the only available channels were BBC and ITV (no numbers necessary as they only had one channel each) this made it quite a popular sport!

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Cruise Photos at Flickr

I know, how sad it this?

We've come to the end of the tales about the cruise and the wonderful Cissie and Ada and all the places we visited...

Never mind! I'm sure I'll find something to blabber on about over the next few weeks!

If you are really missing the sights of the Mediterranean, then have a look at my special collection of photos of the cruise (more than appeared on this blog) all available at 1024x768 pixel resolution.

Have fun!

Friday, 21 September 2007

Final Night Onboard

It was our last night on the Island Star.

As we left Valencia to head back to Majorca, we booked a table in the Steak Restaurant and enjoyed a sumptious silver service meal.

The excellent starter was followed by a salad course and then the main meat course. The knives they brought could have done serious damage - I think they get them from the same source as the lumberjacks...

Fran had slivers of lamb, I went for the filet mignon and we had a superb meal, helped along by an easy going conversation with our waiters and a bottle of wine, drunk from some generously-sized glasses!

Fran let me have the lion's share, luckily the lion didn't mind and soon I was beyond caring that we had to go home on the following day!

It had been a superb holiday; relaxing, some new sights to see and new places to visit, some new friends made, excellent food and entertainment onboard a cruise liner is pretty good! There was a full theatre show every night, whether it was the ship's company or a cabaret night. There was a pub with gentle cabaret. There was the Bounty Club bar with SP3, bingo and game shows, there was a cocktail bar with a pianist...

We had also spent a bit of time losing money in the casino, although it was more a case of Fran playing the machines whilst I settled for just watching the roulette table. It's more fun watching others lose money than it is losing yourself...

We had enjoyed it so much that Fran decided in a moment of madness we should book another for next year and -eek- we're going to take my mother along! So tune in this time next year as we take our very own equivalent of Cissie and Ada along! She'd get along very well with those wine glasses though...

We booked with a nice young lady who spent the rest of the week saying "Hello" to me every time we passed and therefore getting me in a great deal of trouble... Although not as potentially disastrous as the day a young lady had walked past our table in a very (and I mean very small bikini).

I pulled my best leering face once she had safely passed only for Cissie to boom out at the top of her voice;
"Oh! Liked her did you?!?" I didn't look round to see if she'd heard...

And so Saturday 1st September dawned and we found ourselves back in Palma, Majorca where we had set off on our cruise one week before. We breakfasted with the two ladies we had had so much fun with.

"Tell him what you did last night!" urged Ada.
"I went to the loo and forgot to pull my nightie up," Cissie confided. "I only noticed when I stood up..."

Our flight was called. We said goodbye to the ladies, who had another week left on the ship, and they waved us off from the Pool Deck as we collected our luggage and got on the coach to the airport.

In the event, we could have stayed onboard another 5 hours...

Motorway Idiots

I spent yesterday evening driving back from Glasgow in a tropical rainstorm.

It never ceases to amaze me how suicidal some drivers are. I must drive 35,000-40,000 miles a year and doing that sort of mileage you see your fair share of smashes, upside-down cars and even cars/lorries on fire.

Unfortunately they are not always the ones who deserve it.

I'm not a slow driver but if you are driving fast then you have to look a long way ahead and react to what is happening. At one point 60-65 was as fast as it was safe to go in the weather conditions. The road was absolutely covered in water and anyone on worn tyres is straight away at more risk of aquaplaning.

Yet people were zooming past me, doing the odd thing like heading off to overtake a lorry who was in the centre lane then slamming on brakes when they suddenly couldn't see anything because of the spray from its wheels. Or driving up at 80-90 behind someone doing 60-70 overtaking in the fast lane and leaving it until the last minute to brake instead of slowing down gradually. Or forcing a driver in the central lane to suddenly brake down 20mph because they were unwilling to slow down 5mph themselves.

As far as I'm concerned if you're are doing more than 70, you should be watching for people needing to pull out into your lane and it should be you that slows down if necessary.

Consideration - that's what it's all about.

Still, all in all it was a quiet night. 193 miles and I only saw two accidents... There again, from those 4 cars that probably left at least 8-16 disgruntled or frightened or hurt people, counting occupants and immediate family at home wondering where someone was.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Glasgow City

As the new academic year starts, I'm back travelling the roads and rail networks of Britain again.

Tonight I'm in Glasgow, overlooking Glasgow Central Station - not an imposing view as these things go, but the double glazing is doing a good job of keeping the noise out!

Tomorrow Clive and I are delivering one of JISC infoNet's Project Management workshops to an audience of librarians. It's a while since we saw each other actually and at the moment he's still negotiating the M8 so who knows where he might end up.

My satellite navigation system needs a serious talking to, as it has a totally different idea than do Glasgow's city planners as to where the one-way streets are or which way you drive down them. It would have had me down three bus-and-taxi-only streets had I stuck to it rigidly...

Crackers At Sea

Back to Friday 31 August again.

We emerged from the caves at San Jose and into the sunshine and heat of Spain. The coach took us back to the Island Star where we got a bite to eat and then went to join Cissie and Ada as usual on the Pool Deck.

We made a note of their address, but can I find it? (Stupid question!) So, ladies, if you do read this please email and let me know the address again for S so I can send you a Grumbleweeds - er... sorry - Creeping Bentgrass CD!

They had a final gem to tell us. First of all let me explain something about the ship's toilet system... Ships have a different flushing system that works on a vacuum rather than just a simple flush of water. Connecting toilets to an outlet to the open sea can have disastrous siphoning effects where the toilets can turn instead into fountains of spectacular proportions. The vacuum makes a wierd and quite noisy PHHHHT-POOOOOSH! sound.

Having a vacuum system means it's safer to get off the toilet before flushing of course as otherwise you can find yourself slightly shorter... Hence the old joke about the lady who gets stuck and her husband has to call for help.
"But they'll see me with my pants down!" cries the lady.

Her husband chivalrously places his cap over his wife's lap and the ship's engineer comes to deliver his verdict.
"Well, we can get your wife up without any problem, but that chap's a goner..."

Got the idea? So, the vacuum system is prone to blockages because the pipes are smaller than usual and during the week both we and the ladies had experienced a couple of problems when the system became blocked somewhere along our corridor and the ship had cleared it without problem once it was reported.

Cissie and Ada though seemed to have a wierd problem with the flush operating after some delay once the knob was pushed.

And so to today's tale of woe and hilarity...

"Eeh, I just fancied some crackers!" said Cissie. "It was about half past one and I'd just been to the loo but it wouldn't flush. Anyway, I didn't want to get crumbs in my bed so I took my crackers and went and sat on the loo to eat them."

Yes I know... it's not what you were expecting is it...?

"Well I was sitting there in my nightie on the loo, enjoying my crackers when all of a sudden: PHHHHT-POOOOOSH! I jumped out of my skin and got crumbs all over me!"

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

San Jose Caves

Friday 31 August.

We left Sagunto and travelled along some fairly rough and ready roads to visit the San Jose caves. These were formed by an underground river and the visit was by way of a boat ride, punted by a boatman.

We had a short wait before going into the caves and used it to get a drink and sit for a while.

Our time came and we made our way into the caves, getting into boats shaped so that the front and back were exactly the same. The boatman nudged them up to the landing stage and simply swapped ends.

There were 14 of us in the boat and it was a strangely silent first few minutes. Presumably the Spanish boatman didn't speak English, and it meant that the least little noise came loud and clear.

"What was that?" a young girl gasped as a distant echoing booming was heard.
"That'll be the underground river monster," I said kindly...

The boat ride took quite a while and then we all got off and trooped down a fairly well lit but narrow pathway on our own. There weren't any side turnings or alternative routes to ponder over and when we came to the other end the boat was waiting for us to embark again.

Photography wasn't allowed, but then I suppose most people would have used flash and then ruined their dark vision and be bumping into other people or failing to see the bits where the ceiling came down low over the boat, requiring passengers to duck or...
"Ouch!" came a cry...

"Where are the bats, Dad?" asked an eager boy several times.
"Never mind the bats,'s the orcs you have to worry about..."

I drew the sketch from a postcard once I was back on the Island Star.

Monday, 17 September 2007

The Blackpool Belle

Ah, the Blackpool Belle!

An illuminated tram, one of several built in the first half of the 1960s, this was a paddle steamer with the lights in the paddle wheels simulating movement.

For some reason it was sold off to America in the later 1970s, leaving Blackpool with a rocket, a ship, the hovertram and the wild west train as its illuminated fleet.

Prior to these there had been a couple of standard trams, trimmed up with sets of external lights. One of these could be found at the transport museum at Carlton Colville near Lowestoft in Norfolk, where I last saw and rode on it in 1995.

Trip to Sagunto

It was Friday 31 August, the last day of August and the last full day of our cruise.

The ship pulled into Valencia, and we piled off onto a coach which was taking us for a morning's excursion to roman and medieval Sagunto and the San Jose caves.
"I hope he knows the way..." I said brightly, the only one daring enough (or stupid enough) to actually say it out loud.

We hadn't noticed, but the excursion had been clearly labelled as a grade 3 excursion, meaning steep hills and more walking than other tours. Great stuff! Let's fly at it!

However perhaps the tour guide wasn't as enthusiastic, because he stopped every five paces to tell us something that we could have figured out for ourselves...
"These trees," he said solemnly, as we came to a small square with trees planted in large pots, "have to have water brought to them."

A little put out perhaps at the lack of oohs and ahhs, he moved off for another five paces...

Waiting for us at the top of what was quite a steep climb, was a roman amphitheatre. With an easy grace he led us up a flight of stairs to a locked gate.
"Well they told me to come up here..." he grumbled as we puffed and panted all the way down, round the back of the building and up the other side.

Council workmen were hosing down the rubbish bins outside, the hosepipe coming from the ladies' toilets. One of the workmen went in to undo it from the tap and take it out. There were a few grumbles from the ladies. Fran, who was in the queue, said "It's ok, he just wants to take his water pipe out!" Screams...

Astoundingly the amphitheatre had been rebuilt.
"Ah, well, it is illegal of course," our guide told us. "The architects have been told to dismantle all the restoration work next January..."

In a way it's a shame, but I couldn't agree with the way most of the roman remains had been covered up. Sometimes I feel that a bit of restoration wouldn't go amiss to give the vistor an idea of what it may have been like in its heyday.

The accoustics were superb. I climbed up the stepped seating and could still make out conversations people were having below. I'll get even with them later...

Why Pinball is Pinball

Every now and then someone will read my Pinball Web Site and email to ask "why are they called pinballs then?".

I hope the photograph will help make the answer clear!

The pinball shown is a German Rodello that I saw for sale at a 1998 event. Pinball started out as an extension to the small bagatelle games where the balls where propelled up the side ramp with a short cue, like a miniature snooker cue. For the coin slot version this cue became a spring-loaded plunger that you had to draw back against the spring and release. This same mechanism in use in the 1920s and 1930s is still the same mechanism used on today's pinball machines.

The early machines did not use electricity and were generally smaller than the games we know today. They used ballbearings the size of small marbles. In some cases they did use marbles! Scoring was done by the ball falling into holding places made from hoops or baskets of small nails - the pins of the pinball.

There wasn't much the player could do to keep a ball in play. There were no flippers until 1947 when Gottlieb employee Harry Mabs invented them for a game called Humpty Dumpty. There had been mechanical bats on baseball games before but these were the first electro-mechanical flippers.

They weren't the most powerful of flippers. Humpty Dumpty had three sets of flippers and you had to relay the ball from the bottom set up to the middle and then up to the top - a feat calling for not a little skill and practice! It was the start of things to come!

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Drama at The Quayside

Both Fran and I as well as Cissie and Ada were invited to a special Captain's Reception for returning cruisers that night.

We went down early to get ready so that we could watch the ship leave the port and then not be rushing to get ready. The ship pulled away from the quayside and then...
"We're going back!" said Fran.

The ship did indeed head back to its mooring, after having swung both ends clear. We waited a moment and an ambuance could be seen heading along the port road. This was the second such night - in Marseilles a crew member had to be put ashore into an ambulance. Tonight it was a woman who was stretchered off and into the waiting ambulance. She had a drip feeding into her arm.

We both thought the same.
"She's had too much sun!" Fran said it first. It had been an extremely hot day and it would have been all too easy to have gotten too much sun up on the Pool Deck. I can't recommend it simply as a way of getting value from your holiday insurance...

The ship had another go at leaving Barcelona and as we got to the harbour wall we had to chuckle at this graffitied farewell!

The Captain's Party was being held in the Bounty Club on Deck 7. We hadn't been in there too much but the entertainment in there was a mix of nightly bingo, dancing to SP3, the resident band, and recreated game shows such as Mr & Mrs, Deal or No Deal and The Generation Game.

We were met by the Captain and ship's officers and shown to a table with a choice of bucks fizz or champagne. SP3 were playing - I tried really hard but still couldn't hear the guitarist... Waiters were bringing trays of nibbles; canapes mostly. The ladies weren't for trying them.
"He'll have some!" Cissie told each and every waiter or waitress, waving at me as though I were some ravenous canape fetishist.

Barcelona Round-Up

Meanwhile, back on the cruise...

It's still Thursday 29 August and we are walking through Barcelona city centre, overdosing on architecture and street furniture such as this wonderful street lantern.

We were hoping to find Gaudi's wonderful cathedral de la Sagrada Familia. However we had no street map and unfortunately in a city full of tall buildings you cannot see very far at all.

We followed signs for "Cathedral" and found ourselves at a totally different building. We had walked quite a long way, the temp was 35 degress centigrade and we were thinking fondly of the pool deck on the Island Star!

Our mistake had been in walking back along Las Ramblas after finding the Gaudi House. We should have immediately headed east and then would have found the cathedral. Next visit then!

We were that desperate for a drink, I even forfeited my usual strongly felt detestation of MacDonalds and got a Coke from there. If that needs explaining, you can visit all sorts of wonderful places in the world and then suddenly come across the garish, plastic and totally out-of-place MacDonalds signs. They think the entire world should be coloured and textured as though you were on a high street in New York or Disneyland. I think their food is awful too, but then American culture is penetrating England to an enormous - and I use the word deliberately - amount. Who needs a pint of coffee for Pete's Sake? Whatever happened to cup-sized cups? We'll be drinking from buckets soon.

So we arrived back at the Island Star and headed for the Beachcomber Restaurant in search of some lunch. Lunches for me during the week were mainly salad with a bit of cheese and some fruit. I actually lost 4 pound in weight whilst we were on holiday! (Pauses to cheer!)

Cissie and Ada were sitting at a table. Ada started chatting away but Cissie was strangely quiet.
"Are you alright?" I asked brightly. A grin came over her face but her mouth was still tightly clamped.
"I can't chew my meat!" she eventually confessed. I can't remember whether it was beef or lamb but anyway it had gotten the better of her.

We ended on our usual table on the Pool Deck and were talking about past holidays. The ladies had apparently been cruising on the Carousel around the Canaries as had we.

"We met up with this couple," said Cissie, "he had no voicebox, he could only make noises."
"Did he not have an electronic voice thing?" I asked, remembering a wonderfully lively 86-year-old on a weekend trip to Paris.
"No, he could only make little squeaking noises but you could normally tell what he was saying," Cissie continued. "Anyway we had all got sloshed one night and we went down to our cabins and his wife walked past their cabin and he got all excited and started making these noises really loud and it was just like squeaks. It was so funny I couldn't help myself and I laughed that much I dribbled all the way to our cabin!"

She broke off looking at me in a hypnotising manner, worried in case I hadn't got her meaning.
"You know? I was weeing!"
"Yes, Cissie, I've got the idea!"
"Well, he or his wife must have had the same problem because the next morning he knocked on our cabin door and gave me a huge pile of incontinence pads!!!"

A Winter's Tale

Yes I know it's only September!

That's the title of the second Christmas song we are doing for the Billy Fury web site this December.

A Winter's Tale was a hit for David Essex in the days when he had hair on his shoulders. Well... so did I! None on my head, but there was some on my shoulders...

I've used the Korg keyboard on this one and it will be our first track using the Korg rather than the Yamaha. Very orchestral and quite different to our normal stuff. Moya! Have you got your Billy alerts tuned in? It will be BILLYant!!!

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Blackpool's Illuminated Tram

This is Blackpool's illuminated tram.

Well, I suppose I should say it is Blackpool's only illuminated tram still in service. If you visit the Rigby Road tram sheds and peer in (they won't let you in these days in case you fall and sue them - have I mentioned I hate the Compensation Industry?) then you can make out the rest of the illuminated fleet mostly if not totally from the 1960s, each of which looked superb.

The current one looks like what it actually seems to be - a normal tram with the top cut off in a fancy shape and a bit more fancy stuck on top. Sigh...

There was talk a few months ago in the paper of the Wild West Train tram being restored and brought back into service. I hope so, but my favourite was the 1950s style rocketship! I wait in hope.

My Jukebox

I'm feeling mellow this morning...

I'm sitting here at the computer with my jukebox playing 1960s sounds (Good Vibrations at the moment).

It's a Rowe Ami RI-2 and dates from 1979, although I usually have it loaded with 1960s records. Currently (I've just noted with a twinge of guilt) half of it seems to be loaded with Christmas songs...

It does take a while to reload it to be honest. Well it does if, like me, you keep your records in specific boxes so they can be easily found again. Changing the 60 records that the Rowe Ami holds means getting out all the boxes, and then finding the sleeve, removing the title strip from the jukebox display and filing the record away in the correct place in the correct box.

Then you find another 60 and start to fill it again. If I had any sense I'd put all the records from a single box (they only hold 50 but let's not quibble) as this would make it much easier. I could then swap one box for another.

At one time I used to swap them every fortnight. Now... well it was obviously Christmas... I'm trying to remember which one...


Thursday 30 August.

The Island Star steams/diesels or somehow or other gets into Barcelona. We have decided not to do an excursion today and eagerly donning suntan lotion we jump ship and set off to find our objective of today - a Gaudi House.

Close by the port is a tall statue of Christopher Columbus. He may have been born in Genoa, but it was from here that he set out on his Voyage of Discovery.

His statue stands pointing towards the New World, although he rather looks as though he's pointing accusingly at a pigeon and shouting "Come back here you bastard! Look at my bloody head!!!"

We had quite a long walk up Las Ramblas to find Casa Battló, one of several buildings designed by the artist Gaudi. There isn't a single straight horizontal line. Probably to the builders' frustration!

Barcelona has some wonderful architecture and street furniture. As I've been writing this series of entries about the cruise, I've been adding photos to a new album at Flickr. There are still a few to come over the next few days but have a look and perhaps leave a comment.

Friday, 14 September 2007

The Virgin Festival

Well that's enough to make my ears prick up... It was last week when Evy, one of the Ladies Over The Water, made a tiny comment in an email:
"I also received a weekend pass to our Virgin Festival here on Toronto Island."

Blimey, I thought, because I know she has a string of children, 5 ex-husbands, 3 or 4 lovers and a steady stream of workmen - although she's gone quiet about those recently... (I may have exaggerated here...)
"Evy - do you qualify???"

Then I got to thinking - what would the activities be at a Virgin Festival??? Hey! You!!! Keep it clean!!! But you see what I mean?

Then it got worse. She said, "I think I have decided to go to the Virgin Festival for just the one day. They are suppose to have a goody bag for me." Ok - now your minds are working overtime - a goody bag for virgins... What would be in... whoops - there's more:
"Anyway, I don't plan on staying long but I've never been and want to see what it's all about."

See I told you she didn't qualify! She's forgotten what it's all about!!!

And then afterwards:
"I went to the Virgin Festival yesterday at Toronto Island. Yes John, they did let me in. LOL It was a pretty good day. My daughter went with me."

Now that's just taking the mickey!!

"We didn't get to see all that there was to see but that's okay." Well yes, being a virgin you wouldn't know what you were missing I suppose?

The mind boggles...

A Night on the Island Star

We got back from Cassis to the Island Star and found our favourite spot by the pool.

I'd got through the Bernard Cornwell book and was starting Bill Bryson's "The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid" and so was chortling happily when a look of concern came over Fran's face.

Cissie and Ada were struggling to the table. Cissie was bent over to the right and Ada was holding onto her as they crawled over. I went over to help.
"What on earth have you done?"
"It's only my back, it's gone!"

We got her sat down - lucky I was there otherwise she'd have done a sideways somersault over the arm of the chair... I'm still not sure exactly what she'd done but:
"Heineken Light - two for one!" she hailed a passing waiter. After half an hour she was as right as rain. It really must reach the parts other beers can't...

"Are you going on the talent show?" asked Ada. I was a day late in asking if I was going to and I wasn't all that bothered anyway.
"Is it..." Cissie leaned over, either because of her back or to look into my eyes in a vague hope of reading my mind "...Grumbleweeds?"

We were sitting later in the Casino bar watching the photographers at work when the family from Northern Ireland who had been in The Great Sea Battle came to have their photos taken, resplendant in dress suits and ball gowns. They really did look splendid.

"I'm standing up," I said as they came over to exchange a word afterwards, "I'm in the Presence!"

Walking Race Up The Lights

Ow, ouch, oh my bones, agh, need hip replacements...

We walked the entire length of Blackpool Illuminations. Over 5 miles according to the map but either it is more or the average speed of walkers is nothing like the 4 miles an hour they say it is...

We were with a group of women (hmm, yes I was the only bloke!) from Sainsburys where Fran works and as some of them were seasoned walkers we set off at the boggart. (translation - we were walking bloody fast!)

We had tagged on to a party from some ramblers' association and we took a tram down from Bispham to Starr Gate near the airport and almost as soon as we set off with some of the ramblers in front someone said "I'm not going so slow..." and we moved up eighteen gears.

I had taken the camera but there was little chance of taking photos if I wasn't to fall way behind. As it was, I nipped to the loo when we reached the North Pier and then had to step up until I looked as though I was in a speeded up film to catch everyone up!!!

I took just one photo of the Illuminations and had to run to catch up with the ladies who were by then just little orange dots in the distance...

"Do you want a jelly baby?" one asked. So who's got extra energy for chewing???

It took us just less than two hours to walk all the way back to Bispham by which time my shoes were smoking... Someone said they must be new because they had been squeaking... That was my joints for Pete's Sake!!!

Sore feet, sore back, hip joints telling me they do actually exist and I should be aware of that... Sheesh, I can't wait to do it again... groan...!

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Cassis, the Town

After having a look around the harbour and the beach, we had some time left and started to walk up the road leading from the harbour into the town.

Fran found a biscuit shop and there was certainly a gorgeous smell coming from it. We ended up buying a tin of butter cookies and they are still a tasty reminder of our holiday!

The tin itself was quite attractive and we were able to choose it from a range of available designs.

There were all sorts of biscuits on display, and it was a temptation to go a bit berserk, trying lots of different flavours.

The road led up to a market square where the local market was in full swing. Amongst the vegetables and fruit stalls were the stall full of painted tiles, seen on the left of the photo and some other tourist souvenirs.

In the centre of the market square was a tall fountain upon which pigeons were looking over the throng, watching for any dropped food crumbs.

Cassis Beach

Cassis Beach was a clean sandy beach and from the looks of the lines running across it, it had been raked or smoothed out by tractor.

A row of bouys marked out a safe bathing area and there was a row of towels, beach umbrellas and sunbeds, with an equal row of people either under them or lying on top of them.

It wasn't gorgeously sunny, but it was bright and it was very warm, well up in the 30s and certainly enough to make us look for somewhere to sit for a while in the shade with a long cool drink!

We found this place, a small cafe sitting on the beach by the harbour and we ordered a drink and settled down for a while to watch the local total lack of interest in the row of pedallo boats lined up along the sea's edge.

We lingered for a while and then decided to use the loo before moving on. There were two wooden doors marked "Privé" and two rather large keys hanging on the wall outside.

A chap from our coach had taken No.1 and Fran therefore took key No.2.

"Non! Non! Les hommes en deux!" came a cry.

"He wants us to swap," said Fran. So they did. However they didn't swap keys and they were needed to lock the doors from the inside! "I had to sit stretched out holding the door shut!" Fran complained.

I found out later why men had to use No.2... It had a hole in the ground and a porcelain surround with two places for your feet. Ugh! But someone may have piddled over those little raised platforms!

I stood behind the porcelain and piddled over them myself, feeling vindicated when the flush failed to wash over the foot platforms...

Cassis Harbour

After our unexpected walk in Marseilles, the coach dropped us off in Cassis where we had to take a small road train from the coach park to the town.

It was a delightful harbour town with a beach under the cliffs at the far end and we had some free time to wander around on our own and enjoy the sights and sounds.

We found there were three distinct areas of the town; the harbour, the beach and the town itself. We'll have a look at each but for now we set off with a stroll around the harbour.

Standing between the beach and the harbour and looking back towards the town presents a scene of pastel coloured buildings and neat rows of small boats.

Fish were being chopped up and sold on small stalls along the front of the harbour opposite the row of buildings and there seemed to be an equal mix of buyers and onlookers around each one.

It was still quite early, the cafes were busy bringing out tables and chairs to set them up outside their doors. There was much shouting of greetings going on as the locals passed each other. Altogether a pleasing place to be - unless you were a fish...

I've Not Been Well, You Know...

I've had a bit of a bug...

Apparently there's one going about that gives you headaches, sore throats and ties your guts in knots.

It's had me for two days and whilst I'm now back at work, I'm still croaking and losing my voice so I'm working from home so as not to spread it about. Uncommonly non-generous, I know, but there you are.

I must have looked bad on the first day because Fran was actually sympathetic. I think...
"You look a bit queer..." is what she actually said...

By day two when I lost my voice she had changed to: "That's good!".

Our daughter, Gill, came round to visit after work yesterday and said something like "Are you being pathetic?"

I croaked indignantly that I couldn't talk properly, which evoked the response: "Ooh - that's an improvement...!"

Huh! Women just don't understand how we men suffer with illness...

Monday, 10 September 2007

An Unexpected Walk in Marseilles

Wednesday 29 August 2007.

The Island Star had docked in Marseilles and having walked around the Old Port on last year's cruise, we had opted for an excursion to nearby Cassis.

However, the tour guide asked the coach driver to stop whilst she pointed something out and that was long enough for the French Transport Ministry to board and decide they were going to do a spot check of the coach's condition. This would take half an hour.

The tour guide explained that there had recently been an accident resulting in many deaths and therefore there was a bit of a crackdown. I can remember a similar period in the UK when coaches were being stopped and tested and so we were just unlucky.

We spent the half hour walking around a corner of the Fort St Jean on the eastern side of the port entrance.

The guide (seen in the top photograph) was juggling trying to tell us something about the fort and talking on her phone trying to find out what was happening with the coach and telling the ship what had happened. The ship was just insisting that another bus be sent for us when the ministry officials decided to let our coach continue and Roger the driver met up with us and we all clambered on to resume the journey to Cassis.

And that's where we'll be for the next instalment.
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