Sunday, 27 January 2008

Spudmatic!

Talking of toys, there was a mention in the magazine about spud guns.

I used to have one of these Spudmatic guns. It was a cap gun - you could cock the hammer and it would happily bang caps and you could use it as a water pistol by placing the red cap over the barrel. This, sadly, never seemed to work very well on my example but it didn't matter too much because the whole point of a spud gun is to fire little chunks of potato at your mates, family, or whatever!

You jammed the gun barrel first into a potato and then snapped off sideways so that the barrel became plugged with a chunk of potato. Pulling the trigger pulled the front part of the barrel backwards, building up air pressure inside until the piece of potato shot out.

Wonderful! Sticking ears and eyes and noses on potatoes was for wimps! I made a shoulder holster for my Spudmatic out of a leather comb case and some strips of polythene cut from a carrier bag. It went to school with me, under my blazer and woe betide playground bullies who tried it on with me. PING! A little potato pellet would get them right between the eyes!

"Who are you?" girls would say admiringly.
"Burke..." I'd say, in my best Sean Connery accent, "John Burke..."
"Why do you keep a shrivelled potato in your pocket?"

Girls... They just don't enter into the spirit of the thing do they?

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Dinky Cortina

I've almost given over buying magazines these days as there's so many interesting articles, blogs and so on to be found on the Internet.

However, browsing online at random without something in mind is a bit mind numbing and also burns time like nothing else. We were in WH Smiths this morning and I saw a toy collector's magazine and thought "why not?"

Sure enough there were a number of illustrations of cars and toys I have had and on seeing the photo of the Dinky model Ford Cortina, by lifting my head upwards to the shelf over my computer I found the actual article!

Mine (of course) is the one without a box and without a full covering of paint... The photo in the magazine showed a model issued in South Africa, which may account for the green colour instead of the blue. It had sold in 2006 for 2,230 UK pounds.

[cough!] [splutter!] Wow!!! Two and a quarter thousand pounds!!!

I should take more care of the few cars I have left from my childhood! The boxes were all thrown away as soon as they were opened for the first time and the car taken out so mine would never reach those lofty heights but even so...!

I took the Cortina from the shelf and gazed at it lovingly. I opened the doors - the first Dinky toy I remember with opening doors actually. The plastic dashboard and steering wheel fell out.

Lovingly I fitted it back where it had come from and it went back as good as gold, slipping into place as easily as it must have done for the original Dinky engineer. The seats were a bit dusty so I gave it a dusting....and broke the back of one of the tip-up seats... It's lying now on my desk in two parts and I'm looking at it and feeling more aggrieved than 5 minutes ago. That's knocked a good 2,229 pounds and 70 pence off the value...

Extreme Dreams

We've watched Extreme Dreams this week, (BBC2). Ben Fogle leads a team of ordinary folks to one of the most inaccessible places on Earth, some sacred lakes high up in the Himalayas, a ten-day trek from civilisation.

They were ordinary people but it's amazing just what ordinary people can achieve. One of the team, Yonna was a lupus sufferer and yet made it through the trek to the end goal. Not without a great deal of pain and suffering but that made her achievement all the more sweet.

Another of the team was a 51-year-old hairdresser called Paul. A bit younger than me but maybe there's hope yet! Ha ha! Where's the nearest mountain...?

They suffered exposure, landslides, tummy bugs, pulled muscles, sleep deprivation and altitude sickness. Watching the final programme where they reached the lakes, it all looked to have been worth it.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

The Radio Says...

It was early morning. About the time when conciousness struggles to overcome unconciousness even though the radio alarm has started a rather annoying yet persistant Scissor Sisters noise.

Thankfully the Scissors snipped and were replaced by the drone of the news. I had groped around enough to switch the lamp on but now as the music faded, darkness once more started to take over. I let it do its thing, gratefully.

I was then rudely erupted by Fran bursting out laughing.
"The radio says your school is closed!"

Perhaps I should have said "my sleep was interrupted" rather than "I was erupted" but to be honest that's what it felt like a bit anyway...

So I've been at work today from my own desk and computer, through the wonders of modern technology, as able to access files in Newcastle from Blackpool as I would be from an office in Bilsborrow.

Meanwhile homes all around me were having power cuts and water cuts. I could have had to swap my dedicated slog for standing in a queue with a bucket and I'm just as pleased not to have had to resort to that. Selfish I know.

The college is open again tomorrow. The tide's gone out.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Evacuated!

Ooh, a bit of excitement at the office today.

I live in Blackpool and work for the University of Northumbria so I rent a room at a local college and am a "remote" worker.

This morning we had our usual Monday morning telconference meeting and when I looked out of the window afterwards, this was the sight that greeted me.

The road had turned into a river and there was quite a spectacular waterfall over the sleeping policeman! I popped into the next office to find we were being evacuated as the water was coming from the river that had burst its banks and water was rising rapidly at the main entrance.

In fact there were only 2 minutes separating these photographs which show the same view.

We went out the fire exit and waded out to dry land. Then it was a case of find the shallowest route to the car and hope I could get home wihtout any problems! The A6 and the West Coast railway line were closed nearby but I was heading for Blackpool and managed with a few slowdowns for flooded areas, one being a bit longer than the others whilst a tractor dragged an eejit out of the middle. See, making all that spray wasn't a good idea then!

Addendum

The Ladies Over The Water are killing themselves laughing at the "sleeping policeman". It's what we Brits call speed humps... This one is missing, presumed lost at sea...

Back In Touch!

After the second time BT said they'd fixed our problem but without anything happening at this end I bit the bullet and phoned them on the mobile.

The phone worked if I unscrewed the BT socket and connected to the test socket but not from the main socket. This still managed to be mainly because of something BT had no responsibility for although as previously said it is working temporarily. For some reason our predecessors at this address had the telephone socket upstairs and there's a cable down the outside of the house that will cost us 50 quid to have fixed - or 300 quid if BT do it...

I'm going to take a while to think that one over...

Ok, I'm ready for the question, Noel!

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Out of Contact

If anyone's trying to get hold of me then please be aware our phone isn't working. You'll have to try my mobile number.

This also means I can't log into my main email account so please use the Hotmail one - this is linked from my main webpage (see left).

BT allow you to order a test of your phone on their website. Luckily I can access the Internet from my laptop using a 3G card. Anyway once you have said you need a test there is no way to comment on their results and the original form only gives you 500 characters which is hardly anything at all. Anything less would limit you to "my phone is duff" and there's no chance to put any details on.

It also appears that having ordered a test they do one and then close it no matter what.

Eg - "We have to test this number"
"Ok"
"Is it broke?"
"Yes"
"Ok that's the test done then..."

That appears to be what happened to us anyway. Our phone is still dead but our job has been closed. I've reported it again but in 500 characters couldn't exactly make my feelings known... Customer service??? Don't make me laugh!

Friday, 18 January 2008

Rain? In Manchester???

Well it goes without saying doesn't it?

This was the view from my hotel window, first thing on Thursday as we prepared to introduce another set of delegates to the delights of Risk Management. The drive from London had been a tad prolongued the night before - it took us three hours to get from around Euston to the M1 motorway and we didn't reach our hotel until a quarter to midnight.

It was nice therefore to be staying in the same hotel that was the venue for the workshop as it meant we didn't have to be up at the very crack of dawn and we could have a leisurely breakfast. The conference centre was in the basement and the lift had a strange habit of immediately answering the call of a pressed button - which meant when you reached the basement the voice announced where you were but the doors didn't open and you went back up again to pick up the next set of passengers...

Funny the first time...

Anyway the day went well and it was a thankfully shorter journey back to Blackpool and home to my own bed!

The Trans-Pennine Express

A more unlikely express is hard to find possibly, fast it is not, but there is something about the train journey across from Blackpool to Hull.

Not that I've ever travelled that far on it, but the other day I took the train to York and used the time to write up an activity scenario for a new workshop that we are planning to run at work.

The weather was a trifle wet - probably not quite as wet as it has been in lots of other areas of the country, but bad enough. Once you get to east Lancashire and then Yorkshire and are climbing up and over the Pennine range of hills, the views from the window on the Trans-Pennine route can be stunning.

Steep dark hillsides climb up and then engulf you so that the train has to travel through tunnels bored into the imposing crags and turfed peat and rock.

Particularly after rainfall wild tumbling streams flash past, most times only glimpsed as they have spent centuries cutting deep grooves and gulleys into the hill so that you just catch a quick flash of white and silver just a few yards from the window as you rush by.

It is Britain's answer to the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, with station names like Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd, then Halifax with the big signs for Eureka!

"What's that?" someone says and is immediately answered by a young mother.
"Oh it's a great place for kids - lots of interesting things to do and see and get involved with." It's a science playground.

Then Bradford Interchange, where the train goes in forwards but comes out backwards - a nightmare for anyone who likes to sit facing a particular way. Leeds is next, approached at high level on the viaducts, then Garforth and York.

During the latter part of the journey the steep hills are replaced by wide valleys. The wide rivers afford a different view. The Wharf in particular, is worth a moment to look up from your book.

There aren't many great train journeys in this country - feel free to suggest some. This is one.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

King Arthur's Round Table

Strange that only a week ago I mentioned King Arthur as yesterday I had an email from Switzerland, where there is to be an exhibition called King Arthur and his Knights from April through to October 2008.

The exhibition is to be a joint venture between Schweizerisches Institut für Kinder- und Jugendmedien (the Swiss Institute for Children's and Youth Media) SIKJM and Museum Aargau and will be shown simultaneously in two venues: Castle Lenzburg and Castle Hallwyl in Kanton Argau, Switzerland.

The organisers wrote to me, asking to use the photograph shown here of the henge earthworks known as King Arthur's Round Table at Eamont Bridge near Penrith in Cumbria. It appears on my Stone Circles web page.

I took the photograph on slide film in 1984 and over the 23 years of its existence I'm afraid it has attracted a great deal of dust and grime. Anyway I cleaned it up as best I could and sent the largest scan I could and for good measure sent some more recent photos taken in better weather which were a bit sharper.

We think of King Arthur and his knights as riding around in medieval armour, because the main stories about him were written (and the majority made up) some 600 or so years after he would have lived and they were a bit - how should I say - modernised by Geoffrey of Monmouth, to extol the virtues of 12th aristocracy. He introduced most of the characters that we associate with Arthur, including Merlin, Uther and Ygerne and even the associations with Tintagel and Avalon. A bit like historians of the future taking the film Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves as the basis for their understanding of 13th Century England...

Sunday, 13 January 2008

The Christmas Wreck

It was Christmas 1894 that this tale has a beginning.

One of the worst ever storms crossed the Irish Sea and a Norwegian barque got into trouble off North Wales, drifting with torn sails until it finally beached in the sand off Anchorsholme.

With huge waves crashing over, bringing down the main mast and with 17 men and a dog on board the ship sent up distress flares.

Blackpool's lifeboat, Samuel Fletcher, was taken over land from the old lifeboat house on Lytham Road, behind the Manchester pub, to Little Bispham where it was launched with a crew of 16. Reaching the Abana was no easy business for a large boat under oars, trying to get close to a ship whose mast and rigging were hanging over the side. The lifeboat was large enough to take all of the Abana crew, who were taken to the Red Lion inn to dry out and recover following their ordeal.

The Abana's bell was salvaged and can still be seen in Cleveleys parish church. The original lifeboat house still exists on Lytham Road and even the Samuel Fletcher survived as a pleasure boat on Stanley Park lake. The ship's dog was given a home by a Cleveleys local when the ship's crew returned to Norway.

The wreck of the Abana can still be seen off Anchorsholme and is easily reached at low tide.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Floods and Aftermaths

No, in this case I'm not referring to the current weather, but rather to the subject of a few photos of Blackpool I've taken in past.

Yesterday I uploaded a couple of photographs of flooding to my Flickr account. Almost immediately someone commented asking if I had any similar photographs.

Whilst the answer is 'yes', as the photos were taken in the late 1970s or early 1980s, they are on film negative and the only scans I have are somewhat more modest in size. The negatives are up in the attic and I will definitely dig some out over the weekend, but for now I had a small scan of lumps of seaweed, left all over the Promenade roadway by a high tide in or around 1979.

The Promenade tends to be closed to traffic when weather like this is forecast with any certainty but every now and then a high wind (and there are plenty of those in Blackpool!) whips the tide up an extra ten feet or so and can wash over the Promenade.

At the moment the sea defences are being made a little more effective in an attempt to reduce the probability of this happening. Although with the sort of rain we've been having over the past few days the flooding need not necessarily come from the sea...!

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Weird Weather

A spot of strangeness last night. We were sitting in the living room all nice and quiet when Fran, who was sitting facing the curtains, suddenly said "What was that?!?"

Next moment a huge clap of thunder outside closely followed by a hailstorm that was so loud against the windows that both cats were spooked and we were peering out into the dark trying to see what was going on.

I was in the middle of my brain-age test too on Fran's Nintendo... Consequently I now have an aged brain age, despite having had it down into the thirties consistantly for days! Fran thought this was quite funny until I reminded her about her 70-year-old brain a few days ago...

I'm hoping to be let back into the house today at some point...

Monday, 7 January 2008

Who's Gonna Rock You?

Spent most of yesterday, surrounded by old CD cases as we emptied the CD jukeboxes to restock them in some semblance of order.

Now, in case that sounds far too grand I have to point out that although we have two of them and they each take 200 CDs, they are not huge things with bubble tubes and lights. They fit into a standard hi-fi cabinet and are roughly twice the height of a standard CD player. Just tall enough and wide enough for a carousel of CDs standing on edge in fact.

Having 400 CDs spread all over the place though makes for some chuckling at remembering some of the ones we haven't heard for ages. If I play the CDs these days it tends to be by pressing the random button which plays one track at random from a CD then finds another CD and repeats the process. Some of them you might not hear for years...

Anyway it was a prompt to play a couple of CDs all the way through. Aaaaaaahhhh!

Saturday, 5 January 2008

2007 Review

2007 was the point at which I decided to stop writing web pages from scratch and start to use some of the new tools that were becoming available.

This blog and the others listed in the column to the left are the result of that, as are the 1100+ photographs at my Flickr account.

The original websites still exist though, a legacy that started in 1996, with the first web page about Blackpool.

I'm not sure how many photographs I took in 2007 because I throw out mercilessly, anything blurred, uninteresting, too dark/too light or that duplicates too closely another photograph. I do know that I kept 1401 photographs on my hard drive, some of which will have been donated by friends. Together with previous years and the odd photo filched from the Internet or scanned from books makes up 15,734 images at full screen resolution.

You can add to that a further 37,886 photos at smaller resolution that I have included within the 4,085 web pages, all of my own creation that exist on my hard drive.

That makes the 500 or so web pages available from my online index pale into insignificance. However the previously mentioned Blackpool pages alone include 886 photographs on 103 web pages. Each of the holiday web sites have around 200 photos included. All in all, there's a few hours reading material on the website!

In 2007 I started this blog, originally known as John's Place until I decided there were just too many Johns in the world for this to allow people to find me easily. Even with the current name there are so many John Burkes that any friend looking for me would probably find it hard to find this blog. The web page though is normally No.1 listed on a search for John Burke at http://www.google.co.uk.

See - shown up as a liar, I've just looked and I've dropped to No.2! Happily though four of my pages come up within the first ten entries. There's an incredible number of John Burkes listed, many of whom are interested in music and/or showbiz. One makes Northumbrian pipes and another, probably my favourite, performs in German circuses with a troupe of sealions!

In 2007 I created 357 blog entries and ceased to publish the monthly web page updates which I wrote for 10 years. The first monthly update appeared on my website in May 1997 and the final one in May 2007 when I realised that all I was doing was trawling the blog for material for the monthly update!

Anything is fair game for the blog. A colleague losing a yoghurt in the office at the end of October started a series which is still ongoing and which has generated so much interest and suggested storylines from others that I was amazed. One person said they were going to write to yoghurt manufacturers Danone about it. I'm not sure whether they did or not but if so then the manufacturers have stayed aloof, probably wisely!

Another entry that created quite a bit of interest was the entry following an email from Blackpool's Margot Carey about the remains of the box where her father used to keep a telescope on the North Pier. Margot contributed several interesting memories of Blackpool and is still in touch.

The two ladies we met on our cruise, who I called Cissie and Ada on the blog have also kept in touch and were much tickled at their new names. We received Christmas cards signed "Cissie and Ada" and whilst Ada realised straight away we did receive one message from Cissie that finished "Which one am I?" Come on, flower, that one should have been obvious!!! They spent a week in Blackpool during one of the worst weeks for weather in October and we went down to the hotel a couple of times to have a drink with them.

The band I play in, Creeping Bentgrass, had a record number of gigs during the year and since March have been featured every month in the downloadable Sounds Special feature on the Billy Fury website. The site is superb and there's a whole host of friends there for anyone with an interest in Billy Fury.

Fellow Blackpool-based musician Les Cotton was instrumental (sorry!) in getting one of my solo songs featured on The Strawbs website. Thanks Les for your help with that!

I found somewhere on the Internet to store music and you can now download a selection of Creeping Bentgrass and solo tracks and older stuff from my music web page.

Then finally at the beginning of December we finished the band's third CD album which after a year and a bit of having the working title "Already Plastered" has been released with the title "Right On The Line". We feel it's our best yet. It took so long to make we're starting the 4th straight away!

So, here's to a new year full of blog entries. I hope you, the readers, will contribute, suggest, send photos, get in touch and most of all, provide lots of the ideas and anecdotes. I seem to have a bit of a reputation now with one person from the next office saying "Watch what you say - it'll end up on his blog!", but it's all in fun and what better way of remembering those one-off spur-of-the-moment things that happen or are said that would otherwise just be forgotten about?

Like the male colleague who responded to the usual January greeting with: "Oh my God, I've spent all Christmas sneezing my baubles off..."

To be continued...

Friday, 4 January 2008

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas...

On the twelfth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me

12 books a-gripping

Eleven legs but backwards

Ten librarians feasting

Nine things nostalgic

Eight chefs a-swearing

Seven glasses brimming

Six tomcats spraying

Five old things

Four annoying birds

Three French men

Two turtle gloves

And a pro-biotic yoghurt in a tree


Phew! Made it!

Thursday, 3 January 2008

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas

On the eleventh day of Christmas
My true love sent to me

Eleven legs but backwards
Ten librarians feasting
Nine things nostalgic
Eight chefs a-swearing
Seven glasses brimming
Six tomcats spraying
Five old things
Four annoying birds
Three French men
Two turtle gloves
And a pro-biotic yoghurt in a tree

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

On the Tenth Day of Christmas...

On the tenth day of Christmas
My true love sent to me


Ten librarians feasting
Nine things nostalgic
Eight chefs a-swearing
Seven glasses brimming
Six tomcats spraying
Five old things
Four annoying birds
Three French men
Two turtle gloves
And a pro-biotic yoghurt in a tree

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

DS Soundtrack Torture

I'm being driven mad...

Whoever invented these electronic games must have been some sort of extremist sadist! If you play them they drive you mad, yes, but if you are an innocent bystander then they are far far worse!

If you have two or more people who have synchronised them to play a single game then oh boy...!

Bad enough when the little tinny tinkle tonk noises drive you barmy. Worse when there's a musical soundtrack playing the same annoying little ditty over and over and over and over and over and... whoops... nearly fell for it...

These two have tinny little voices coming out which today keep shouting cheerfully every two seconds "Happy New Year!"

I think I'm going to go out in the rain and look for a lost yoghurt to stamp on...

On the Ninth Day of Christmas...

On the ninth day of Christmas
My true love sent to me


Nine things nostalgic
Eight chefs a-swearing
Seven glasses brimming
Six tomcats spraying
Five old things
Four annoying birds
Three French men
Two turtle gloves
And a pro-biotic yoghurt in a tree

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