Wednesday, 27 February 2008

What? A Week???

Ah yes... perhaps a little remiss of me, but it has been a busy week.

Since my last missive I've been to Glasgow, Lancaster, Newcastle and Edinburgh for work and there's not been a lot of time to devote to the blog! I've not taken the camera with me either on the trips I've been on.

Last weekend Fran and I drove up to Anchorsholme for a walk along the cliffs and a view of the Riverdance which is still there. As you can see from the photo it is now well and truly on its side and as fast as they empty the fuel out, it has to be filling up with seawater as the tide half submerges it twice a day. My guess is that if the March spring tides don't let the salvage people float her then she will end up being dismantled where she lies - or Cleveleys will have a new permanent tourist attraction.

The roads in and out of Cleveleys - which is the main Fleetwood peninsular road - has been horrendous at weekends with sightseers coming in to have a look.

In an non-customary fit of junk-throwing I unearthed a folder containing a load of old photography magazines from the early 1980s last weekend which have provided a few hours of fun reading through them again.

I used to buy Practical Photography every month, Amateur Photographer every week and Photography most months in the 70s and 80s. Practical Photography I see used to cost 80p in 1982... It brought a load of memories back, of sending off loads of photos and the joy of seeing one in print every now and then. Ex-PP editor Robert Scott also used a couple of photos in the Club Canon magazine and I came across a couple of photos of the gorgeous Collette Caton, a model who got noticed through Practical Photography's annual Photo Girl contest one year. I met her on the PP stand at a fair in Haydock and have a hideously underexposed slide somewhere that totally fails to do her justice!

Ah well, so now at least you know what I've been up to and now I've got to get ready for another trip. Shrewsbury, here I come!

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

1000 Views Clocked Up

A landmark day!

According to the statistics on my Flickr account, this photo passed the 1000 views milestone today.

The photo was taken in September 1982 at Blackpool Zoo and from the time I uploaded it to Flickr has been a favourite with viewers. I uploaded it on 12 January 2007 and so far it has had 43 people flag it as a favourite and it's also my most commented on photo.

See the larger version at my Flickr account

Monday, 18 February 2008

The Two Shipwrecks of Anchorsholme

I've mentioned both of these before, but here's a photo of both of them!

It's not one of mine this time, it was taken by my best mate, David Lancaster on Friday. I've not found the time to get down again since the week after the Riverdance beached.

The photo show the few remaining timbers of the Abana, wrecked in 1894 and just a little further north, the ferry, Riverdance, now listing heavily as work continues to empty out the fuel in the hopes of refloating her later this week.

Rehearse? What's That About?


With another year of gigs about to start at the beginning of March, we decided we had better get together for a bit of a rehearsal.

After all, the last time we all played together was 24 September last year!

We don't do a great deal of rehearsing to be honest - after 6 years together we just fall into it again, but with it having been so long we just wanted to have a bit of a run-through.

In addition I'd put together some new songs on the keyboard and we had our first play of Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire, Kenny Rogers' The Gambler, Creedence Clearwater Revival's Have You Ever Seen The Rain, Status Quo's Rockin' All Over The World and one I stuck in as an experiment but it sounded great - er... The Ronettes' Be My Baby!

"Well I thought you wouldn't be able to surprise me any more," David said, "but..."

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

A Touch of Elegance

I like exploring cities as many of our older cities have a character all of their own.

It's not necessarily whilst deliberately walking the streets and looking for features though that you come across them.

I've been in Newcastle for three days now and today whilst walking into the office I noticed this elegant cupola on what appears to be a more severe modern building. When I got round the corner I was able to see that it matched the gates and canopy over the entrance to the Monument Mall.

The old Victorian shopping malls that you come across are often architectural gems. I must dig out some photos I took of Miller Arcade in Preston one day for instance.

Anyway it brightened my morning up a little so I thought I'd share it with you!

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Don't Sweep It Under The Carpet!

This is really neat!

For the past couple of days I've been working at my head office in Newcastle and just down the road outside the Laing Gallery is an area of ghreat architectural fun where the flooring has been designed to look like a carpet, the corner of which is curled up against a building!

Elsewhere on this little square, strips of paving look as though they have been ripped up and folded back - the lifted portion forming a bench where people can sit. The area revealed by this rectangular strip of paving has a glass section under which can be seen lit wiring cables as though looking at a printed circuit board.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Along the Champs-Elysées

First we had to get there...

Seeing as the Metro station nearest the Eiffel Tower was closed we decided to hoof it to the Arc de Triomphe, so crossed the river and headed to the right of the Palais de Chaillot with my trusty street map to hand. It was further than I thought...

If you ever want to test your nerve, or your skill at driving, then there is no better place than the Place Charles-de-Gaulle. This huge roundabout has the silliest rule on Earth.

This is that traffic already on the roundabout has to give way to traffic trying to enter it. So if it is already choked, anyone trying to get off can't because of a never-ending stream of suicidal Citroen jockeys all heading at 50 kilometres an hour for the central lane so they can ogle the Arc de Triomphe.

Fran gave a shriek at one point as a bloke in nerdy spectacles zoomed in front of four lanes of moving traffic and cut right to the kerb of the island in the centre. The percentage of Parisian cars with dented bodywork is quite high and this roundabout is the main reason. Well, that and the fact that French people have a thing about having to detour around other people...

Having reached our starting point we set off to walk a straight line, all the way down to The Louvre a distance of somewhere in the region of 4 kilometres. It's a straight line route through quite a bit of history, as we shall see. Actually, you won't see all that much but I'll tell you. There's not a lot along the route to tell you any of the history.

The Arc de Triomphe de l'Etoile, to give it its full title, was built by Napolean along the lines of ancient Roman archways as a monument to his victorius armies. Building was completed in 1836, 20 years after the Battle of Waterloo brought a fin to his ambitions. His remains were housed here for a while.

In 1919 someone flew a biplane under the archway. The year after, an eternal flame was lit before the grave of the unknown soldier, who was given a place of honour at the site. A chap was arrested in 1962 for frying eggs over the flame.

First landmark along the road is Fouquet's. Apart from having a name that instantly causes Brits to laugh and mispronounce it, this is one of the more famous restaurants of Paris and if you have some celeb spotting in mind it's as good a place as any.

Staying here may cost a bit more than your local Premiere Travel Inn, but you can have your own personal butler - ah, Jeeves, can you furnish kitty with a saucer of milk and a plate of froi gras, please...

The French call this, "the most beautiful avenue in the world". They don't get out much perhaps... It has lots of shops, although admittedly thay have attempted to resist it looking like anytown anywhere by banning the opening of some chain stores.

The avenue has seen some notable parades. The Germans marched down it in 1940 to celebrate the Fall of France and the Free French and American armies marched down it once they had picked it up again in 1944.

Every year the French march down it on Bastille Day, July 14th in remembrance of the day the French Revolution began with the storming of the Bastille prison.

As the shops run out and the majority of pedestrians disappear, the avenue none-the-less continues. The rows of trees, set out in straight lines are much as they must have been when Marie Antoinette drove along in her carriage on her way to her music lessons.

The roadway however is leading us to a place she must have dreaded and with very good reason.

The Place de la Concorde was known under a slightly more gruesome name during the Revolution. It was the Place de la Guillotine.

It was here that the King amongst many of his nobles lost their heads on the guillotine. As the blade was raised above him the king said "May my blood bring happiness to France." He must have suspected that it would not.

The avenue comes to an end here and traffic has to veer to the side. The pathway carries on through the old gardens of the Tuileries.

They were laid out in the 16th Century by Catherine de Medici and a carriageway was laid through them by Marie de Medici in 1616.

In this area someone sat on a deckchair for the very first time and also the saxophone was first heard; being played by its inventor, Mr Saxophone.

Today the gardens have been restored and it is a pleasant walk of ponds and fountains whilst you can look either way along the old carriageway and see a triumphal archway.

We started at one and we approach the end of our walk with the other one.

The Arc de Triomphe du Carousel is smaller than the Arc de Triomphe de l'Etoile. It was built in 1808 by Napolean to commemorate his victories in Austria.

The statue of the horses on the top replaced the original statues of horses which he stole from St Marks in Venice. This was returned to Italy after Waterloo.

Having walked under the archway we are now standing before the glass pyramid of the Louvre. The buildings of the palace of the Louvre, the original royal residence before Louis XIV built himself a plusher place at Versailles, originally plugged a gap in the old city wall.

The Louvre museum famously houses the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. One is a woman without eyebrows, the other a woman without arms.

The Louvre and Mona Lisa have had a fresh rush of tourists since the success of Dan Browne's novel The DaVinci Code. By now, my feet are reminding me that not only have we walked further already than on most days but that this is the third day constantly on our feet.

I ignored their moaning enough to head off up towards L'Opera and we piled into a cafe and ordered some lunch.

A few more photos...





Thursday, 7 February 2008

Up the Eiffel Tower

We arrived at the foot of the Eiffel Tower and joined a small queue that was zig-zagging along the railings towards the ticket office.

The ticket office was having no problem at all keeping up with the queue for the lifts. A large party in front had pre-booked so were ignoring it so I nipped up the few steps upon which the Italian couple who had been in front of us decided they too needed tickets.

I waved them forward and he stammered "Gratzi! ...er... merci!" so I showed off a bit of multi-lingual skill.
"Prego!" I grinned and they laughed and then again as I spoke in English to Fran.

The large party were climbing the stairs, which meant single file, so we hadn't long to wait for the lift. We piled in and set off upwards.

Unfortunately the Eiffel Tower was only open to the second level which meant we couldn't go all the way to the top. But even the second level is 115.75 metres (about 375 feet so not as high as Blackpool Tower!)

High enough for superb views though. And with the brilliant sunshine we made the most of it, picking out the landmark sites. Sacré-Coeur was easy to spot on its hill on the horizon. The golden dome of Les Invalides also was easy to spot and when I swapped my camera lens for the telephoto was stunningly impressive.

It took us quite a while and gave us a bit of fun before we managed to spot the Arc de Triomphe. This was to be our next destination after leaving the Tower and I wanted to walk from there down the straight line along the Champs-Elysée through Le Jardin des Tuileries down through the smaller Arc de Triomphe du Carousel to Le Louvre, the famous museum that houses the art collection including the Mona Lisa.

Before we do that walk, however, let's have a look at a few of these buildings from the Tower!









Heading Into Paris

Thursday 31st January 2008 dawned cold and frosty.

I sneaked a look out of the hotel window and shivered. We had decided to have a day in Paris itself and, given that we had already spent a day in the Disney Studios and another in the Disneyland Park itself and given further that it was our last full day in France, there was no choice but to pull on the woolly hat which had tried all of its own accord to emulate Mickey's ears all week.

We started off by catching the free shuttle to the Disney Village and railway station. Then in mine bestest French I managed to secure day passes for the trains to include the metro and buses in Paris. These are called Mobilis tickets although it's a different ticket for a two-day pass.

The train terminates at Marne la Vallée station, so it came in one way, we got on, and it left again in the direction it had come from. We swapped seats to face forward and settled down. As we stopped at the various stations the train started to fill up. A young woman sat opposite us and pulled out a Nintendo DS and that kept her happy for a full half hour until she got off.

"If you'd have brought yours, you could have linked!" I said to Fran.

We went around 17 stations to Charles de Gaulle Étoile where we swapped to another line and headed for the Eiffel Tower. We got on the Metro train, where I saw a poster and my French was just about enough to realise the station we wanted was closed. We had to go past it to the next one and then walk back. It was cold, but very sunny and so it wasn't an unpleasant walk. It took us around 15 minutes to get to the Tower that we had decided we were going to go up!

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Disneyland Paris

In the words of the old song: "I love Paris in the Springtime".

However...

It's winter. It's icy cold. It's throwing it down with rain. But hey! We're in the magical environment of Disneyland, right?

Well... right... but I do have to observe that the magic is diluted a bit by a day of non-stop rain! As I noted the other day - there is no evidence and no chance in the rain of street corner musicians to cheer us a bit and so we trog round the park, getting wetter and colder and footsore.

The rides were still as great as they always are - we headed first for the Pirates of The Caribbean and then Peter Pan's Wild Flight and Pinnochio.

We rushed through the castle on our first entry but will come back for a closer look this afternoon.

It was still fairly quiet even at 11:00am, so perhaps other guests had looked out of their hotel windows and thought "Nahhhhhh!" We were made of sterner stuff though! Well Fran is... I was pushed and prodded and "Come on we're going"ed!

"But it's cold... I'm wet... my feet hurt..." No, you're right! I was racing round splashing in puddles and squealing with delight whilst kids pointed and asked their parents, "Regardez la! Qui est le stupid homme???"

It's a bit disconcerting when Les Pirates (pronounced "pee-rats") speak in French, but you do soon get used to it.

There was a look-a-like Johnny Depp - very good indeed in fact - posing for photos as we got off the ride but he didn't recognise me, so I didn't let on to him either! The cheek!

The song is still in my head even as I'm writing this... Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me...

I dragged Fran round all the bits with waterfalls but by then even her enthusiasm and immunity to rain caused her to moan that I was taking her nearer even more falling water.

She ignored altogether my suggestion we should run over the suspension bridge...

Gill our daughter had said we should make sure we went on the ride Buzz Lightyear's Laser Blast.

She was absolutely right - it was excellent. On the front of the little pod we sat in we had a ray gun each and had to shoot at various targets on aliens and the Evil Zurg as we went round. We even had a lever that allowed us to swing the pod from side to side!

Laser spots showed where we hit so we could correct our aim. Or at least so I could... Fran scored abysmally. I scored 30x her score and that was with a spell ignoring the targets to exchange deadly laser fire with the occupants of the pod in front... They got off with little wisps of smoke rising from their coats...

We had some lunch and then went to see the excellent Lion King show in Discoveryland.

Before the show started a team of drummers in African tribal dress entertained the audience who were sitting cheerfully dripping down the aisles until small waterfalls cascaded over every step.

The show itself had lots of dance and music and some animated characters led by a cast member, dressed in a Timon costume.

Look carefully in the programme as the show is performed in different languages, so make sure you attend the right one for you!

We squelched back to the castle and had a look around, admiring the crystal glass figures and watching the glass blower making some small animal character.

Then it was down into the cavern beneath the castle where the dragon woke and lifted his head, roaring his displeasure at my use of flash!

We went on the paddlesteamer, trying to decide whether it was wetter on the boat or under it.

Fast food only or not, I needed something to warm me up. Besides, Fran was planning a shopping marathon along Main St USA. I nipped in a shop myself and settled down with a coffee. Oh... and a chocolate chip cookie... Grand as owt...

It was still throwing it down with rain. We made our way to the beginning of Main St, then climbed up to the balcony of the steam railroad station. The daily parade was about to make its way down Main St and then past us.

So we'll finish with a few photos of the parade. Tomorrow will be the 31st January - last Thursday and our last full day before returning to the UK. We are planning to have a day in Paris itself.









9 inches?!?

I've just had an email from a total stranger with a rather unlikely name.

I'm afraid I didn't even open it before deleting but the subject did make me laugh...

It was: "What is a real man without a 9 inch manhood?"

I would have thought the answer was "totally normal"...

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Disney Studios

Tuesday morning, 29 January 2008, found us up, washed, and fed and back at the Disney Complex for a day in Disney Studios. This hadn't existed the last time we were at Disney Paris back in 2002, although we had visited the studios in Florida 15 years ago.

The new attraction is the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in which you ride a lift or elevator which suddenly plunges 13 floors. Whilst it sounded fun (or terrifying) from the screams we could hear, the doctors have diagnosed high blood pressure so I was trying to be good and we didn't try it out.

You enter the park through a large building in which it is perpetual night time. This has shops and a fast food outlet. "Fast" is a relative term when applied to food in France. They don't particularly understand why anyone would want to approach food in a rush and I suspect the vast majority of burgers bought there are by us foreigners.

In fact I did wonder over the week whether America has decided there's no way the majority of its citizens are ever going to be slim and attractive and therefore are on a mission to fatten up the rest of the world? It's almost impossible to buy anything other than a burger or hot dog to eat in the parks, sandwiches are just about non-existent and other food outlets very hard to find except for those selling cookies and cakes.

Anyway we only visited this outlet to buy drinks and it was in the middle of the afternoon. There were large queues at just two open tills out of the 20 or so there must have been.

The Studios had a decent restaurant but it was an "eat all you like" buffet which meant you paid for a huge meal whether you ate one or not. It did (for a while anyway) have live music in the form of a jazz band who were truly excellent and it went some way to make up for the lack of live street entertainment that had been everywhere we looked in the Disney parks in America but had been missing everywhere we looked in Paris.

In fairness it was winter of course and no musicians could have played outdoors for very long, but they could have had a go for 15 minutes then nipped inside for a brew! Florida and California don't have to put up with temperatures measured with a minus sign in front and Disney doesn't appear to have given this much thought. Ice cream stalls were still open but I'd have given my right arm at times for a little paper cup with some tomato soup in it!

Given that I was trying to avoid going on rides that may have driven my blood pressure even higher (though we did go on the excellent Nemo ride - more later) we went into most of the show-type attractions.

CinéMagique was excellent and I'd recommend it to anyone. We also went in Animagique which was the Disney characters show. Again excellent for kiddies and entertaining enough for adults, though the somewhat random noise and laughter soundtrack playing incessantly before the show started was so annoying I'd recommend rushing in at the last minute just before the show starts!

We also went in the Moteurs...Action! Stunt Show Spectacular which was well worth sitting in the freezing cold for an hour. It was absolutely superb and the stunt drivers were unbelievably good and hellishly fast in such an enclosed space!

As already said, we went on the Nemo ride and had a 20 minute queue for this, though it went quickly enough, mainly thanks to the two girls in their early teens who were behind us who queued with us for 10-15 minutes then saw a sign which mentioned sudden twists and drops and there was then a prolongued conversation which went along the lines of:

"Do you want to go on it?"
"Yes I'm fine."
"'Cos we don't have to if you don't want to..."
"Do you want to?"
"Oh yes, but, you know, if you weren't sure..."
"Is it the drops?"
"Well it is a bit, but I don't mind going on."
"I don't know do you think we should?"
"I don't know... what do you think?"

...and so on for a while longer until at the last minute they reached a decision and sped back down the line of people and out before they could change each others' minds again!

We watched the parade and I couldn't help but feel sorry for the performers who were trying to give it their all, but again in Florida and California, they do not normally have to perform to "guests" who are freezing cold and struggling against the odds to look enthusiastic and give the impression they are enjoying themselves in rain and typical European January greyness.

Sunny weather definitely helps get in a Disney mood. Going in winter means fewer crowds and less queueing but more discomfort!

There was some consolation in spotting the tell-tale lumps and bumps of layers of thermals under the flesh-coloured tights and bodystockings!

I couldn't help but think there should be more shows with pyrotechnics as I'm sure half the people on the tram tour were just there to warm themselves up a bit when the lorry explodes into flames in the earthquake bit!

And so it started to go dark. In the winter months the parks close at 6 o'clock and there are no firework displays which was a shame.

We made our way to the gates and I turned back to take a final photo, which, even if you can't find any artistic merit in it, at least gives the explanation for the shot the other day of Fran with Mickey Mouse ears! We caught the free shuttle back to the hotel with only a minimum of waiting and were soon back and heading for a meal in the hotel restaurant.

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