Thursday, 31 July 2008


Quite some time ago I made a couple of entries on the blog about building toys.

One was about Meccano which is just about still going (but not particularly as I remember it) and the other described Bayko which was the building toy before Lego came on the scene.

There was a third toy I have fond memories of but for the life of me I couldn't remember its name or find any photos of it on the Internet. It had yellow rods that you could connect by using red plastic wheels - it was great for building cubes, cars, aeroplanes etc.

But it's strange how things work out in this world and I got a message from a work colleague, Dave Webster, who works at Sunderland after he had seen my photographs at Flickr and after having a look through his own photos I came across this one which I've cropped drastically above but which shows him as a young lad at school with that self same toy which I now know was called Bildit and on seeing the photo I immediately recognised the tube it came in.

Many thanks for filling that gap in my memories Dave!

Storm on the Motorway

Tuesday saw me coming back from Newcastle after attending a workshop given by one of the other JISC Advisory Services to the staff from my own advisory service, JISC infoNet.

The journey was fairly uneventful and easy - down the A1 to Scotch Corner, along the A66 to Brough then onto the cross country small roads through Kirkby Stephen and then onto the B roads to Sedbergh and from there to join the M6 heading south from Kendal.

The sky had changed from blue to grey and now almost to black as I pulled into the services at Killington Lake for a spot of tea. I sat at a table with an older couple at the other side of a low and very narrow partition. We could almost have been sitting at the same table really.

"My word, look at that rainbow!" he said suddenly. I had my back to the window and felt it impolite to just turn round in case they thought I was listening to them (no choice actually!)

Anyway when I did turn round it was a rewarding sight. I have never seen such vivid colours in a rainbow and this against a very dark sky. There was just the one patch of sunlight on the far side of the lake that gives the services their name.

And wouldn't you know it - I had no camera with me. Sorry. To be honest, I had a half unfinished plate of food in front of me anyway so you may have lost out in the priority stakes even if I had have had a camera!

I know... I'm tough on my readers. Sometimes I have to be!

Last Hours on the Island Star

11 July 2008.

The Island Star leaves Barcelona and we go for a final meal in the Steakhouse restaurant. We asked for a window table and sat near to the salad buffet, idly watching the occasional ship and the endless movement of the waves whilst we ate and talked about what we had seen and done on the holiday.

There wasn't any great sense of it coming to an end because we are already booked to return to the Island Star later this year, this time taking my mother along. That could be an experience in itself. I might ask the captain if he has a plank he can stick out from the side, or should I take my own?

We went to the Ocean Theatre and watched the show, then wandered for a while, taking in the ship for one last time. The Pub, the Bounty Bar, the casino, the shops and "Harbour Walk", the decks and the Beachcomber Restaurant for a late night coffee.

The following morning sees us back at Palma in Majorca.

Fran does the usual squinting from the decks to see if she can spot our suitcases which have been taken off the ship and lined up with about a thousand others waiting for us to collect them and take them to our coach for the trip to the airport. The ship has fooled her this year - they are inside one of the buildings on the portside.

The trip to the airport is uneventful and the flight is on time. Manchester is grey, cold and wet. Not much new there perhaps, but enough to make us shiver!

We arrive back at home and make a fuss of the cats who waver between being glad to see us and a desire to ignore us as punishment for leaving them behind. Gill and Eddie have been taking good care of them though.

And that's the end of the holiday. For now. Can't wait for the next...

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Ford Zephyr MkIII

I've been uploading more photos to Flickr from the Fleetwood Tram Sunday event and reached this one of a superbly kept Ford Zephy 6 MkIII estate car.

Being working cars, estate cars tend not to remain in such good condition so I'd guess this is a fairly rare example.

It brought back some wonderful memories for me though because back in 1971, aged only 17, I bought a Ford Zephyr of my own.

This was a saloon model - a Zephyr 4. The number represented the number of cylinders - the Zephyr 6 had a six-cylinder engine whereas the Zephyr 4 had a 4-cylinder 1700cc engine.

Delving way back to those days, here's a photo of my Zephyr from a colour slide taken at Hollingworth Lake near Rochdale. It was in Lancashire then, it is now part of Greater Manchester, though I still think of it as Lancashire.

The main external difference between the Zephyr 4 and Zephyr 6 was that the front grill was divided for the Zephyr 6. On the Zephyr 4 it was a single wide grill. The top of the range Zodiac had twin headlights and the rear window struts were much narrower so it had better rear vision.

The Zephyr had a bench front seat that could easily fit three people and had a gear lever coming from the steering column with a handbrake lever coming from under the dashboard. It had style, it had class, it had rust. Eventually the rust around the suspension points under the bonnet got so bad that when closing the bonnet the hinges didn't so much close as they bent the metal they were attached to and sunk downwards. This meant that the front end of the bonnet would close ok but the rear end would finish up halfway up the windscreen. This was the reason I eventually had to get rid of it. It remained for many many years my favourite car of all time and still ranks up there. But perhaps two cars surpassed it in my affections. One is mentioned here and the other? Maybe that will have to wait for another day!

Monday, 28 July 2008

La Sagrada Familia

11 July 2008. The Island Star reaches Barcelona, the last port of call of the week before returning to Palma.

We've been to Barcelona a couple of times before, the last time just getting off the ship and walking up Las Ramblas. We had wanted but failed to find Gaudi's cathedral La Sagrada Familia and so had decided that today would be all about finding and seeing the cathedral.

When we looked on a street map it was much further away from the port than we had originally thought. We would need some transport.

Having got off the ship though, we saw the familiar red double decked bus of a city tour and got onto that. We knew we would have to transfer from the blue line to the red line. That was the first problem...

"Blimey! Look at the queue!" We dashed across to join the queue which almost immediately suddenly became at least three times longer. However a steady stream of buses kept taking away sizeable chunks of the queue until we were able to get on one ourselves.

We then realised that our day was rapidly being eaten away. It took us an hour and a half to get to the cathedral. Worse, the routes were one-way. The cathedral was only a quarter of the way around the red line which meant it could take hours to get back to the transfer point and then the blue line was also only a quarter (if that) into its journey by the time it carried on from the transfer point.

We decided we would have to get a taxi back to the port and do away with the rest of the bus tour. An expensive bus ride to the cathedral then!

Anyway, the cathedral itself is well worth seeing. I've heard from people who love it and people who hate it and who think a ridiculous amount of time and money is being spent on building it.

The building work was started in 1882 and is not due to be completed until 2026. The famous towers shown in the top photo are there to frame a larger tower of Jesus Christ, still to be built.

The carvings of the facades, of which there will eventually be three, are fantastic in their complexity and imagination.

Part of the appeal for me is that every time we see it, we can identify new bits. This time carpenters were busy building a wooden frame for something - a screen, a balcony, maybe even the top of a tower?

We found a taxi without any difficulty. He must have oiled all the hinges, I've never known a car door shut so easily. Consequently Fran slammed it much to the driver's disgust and he gave a long protest in Spanish that was totally beyond us.

When we got out I gave it a gentle push and it slammed again so we walked away to the sound of his anguished protests... Sheesh! Let it rust a bit!

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Mediterranean Sunset

10th July 2008. We had left Toulon (see previous entries) behind and were back at sea on the Island Star.

Somehow the week had almost gone and tomorrow would be our last day in a port of call so for now we are making the most of the serenity of being at sea.

The sunset tonight was particularly spectacular and we spent some time out on the deck, watching until the sun disappeared.

We had been to the Returners' Party in the Ocean Theatre - an event for people who had been on the ship before. This was our third such trip but someone admitted to 15 of them!

We've found on previous trips that sunset or twilight is a good time for spotting dolphins. We kept watch for any tell-tale spouts of spray but nothing. Then we spotted more shadows than usual and had just voiced our wonders when a grey head suddenly popped up vertically from the waves to briefly check us over before it was gone again.

Caroline Munro in Blackpool

Bond Girl and fantasy film actress Caroline Munro was in Blackpool yesterday for a signing at the Who shop on Victoria Street.

The event was arranged by Graham Groome and Caroline brought her good friend Jayne Crimmin along with their families for a good weekend in Blackpool.

We went along and at lunchtime whisked her and Jayne to Quilligan's which we consider to be the best cafe in Blackpool. Fran and I had already had breakfast in there with David and Jeannie but we were all ready for a spot of lunch. We introduced Jayne to the delights of proper northern chips and she was definitely impressed!

Then it was back to the Who shop where Caroline met up with more fans who came to see her and chat and have their photo taken with her.

There's a number of photos of the event at my Flickr account

I've been with Caroline at more signings than I can remember now and she always takes as much time as her fans want to take and makes sure they go away with great memories of meeting her. One little boy soon took to her and was starting to tell her who he did and didn't like at school before his Mum told him that perhaps he shouldn't tell!

The Who shop on Victoria Street is a treasure trove for anyone who like comics, cult TV or movies, science fiction or fantasy. There are toys, figures (some of them life-size!) and a wonderfully enthusiastic staff. "You have to be a fan yourself to manage a shop like this!" the manager said and his own and his staff's enthusiasm certainly makes the place a friendly and wonderful place to visit.

We spent the rest of the afternoon with Caroline, Jayne and Graham and then took our leave, having had a great day!

Friday, 25 July 2008

Port Grimaud

Following our look around St Tropez, the coach took us to Port Grimaud. This is a fairly modern town, having been created in 1966 by Fran├žois Spoerry, who wanted to recreate something of Venice.

He created a town that has waterways instead of roads, where every house has a mooring point for the owner's yacht. Consequently the residents are fairly well off. Joan Collins is an example.

We only had an hour here, so we didn't call round to see Joanie. What you actually find here isn't all that much like Venice but is quite pleasing never-the-less. Cars and vans are kept out unless making deliveries. There are huge coach and car parks just outside the main entrance and the lack of traffic on roads and the numerous waterways means that you can wander at will over numerous hump-backed bridges over the canals, looking at the brightly painted houses with their boats and yachts.

Port Grimaud is a bit like every marina. The boats (and in this case the houses) are owned mainly by people who don't live here. They just come every now and then and so the boats stay tied up and unmoving, the property of people with too much money to value their ownership.

We had a walk and I bought a few postcards - it looked the sort of place I could have sat and sketched but with only an hour overall, we settled for a can of coke and a stroll instead.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

St Tropez

Ah... St Tropez! The name conjures up glamour, luxury, the rich and famous. Will it live up to the image?

We have moved on now to the French Riviera and it is Thursday 10 July 2008. The Island Star docked in Toulon where we got off the ship and boarded a coach for the 90-minute ride to St Tropez. One passenger felt aggrieved at this... "90 minutes without a toilet stop?!?" Good job you're not in my car pal! He was a bit eccentric anyway - we had noticed him a couple of times on the boat wearing the most bizarre clothes you've ever seen. I swear he was dressed as Robinson Crusoe one night...and there are no fancy dress nights on the Island Star...

Can we carry on? Well yes, we're going to anyway as the French guide has merely stared at him and said "That is correct..." We were on the front seat and my French is just about good enough to understand the driver saying "I think he should have gone before we left...!" I did learn some new swear words as a motorbike cut us up!

And so we reached St Tropez. Again we dispensed with the walking tour and set off to walk from where the coach dropped us along the coast and into St Tropez itself.

We admired all the boats - there were indeed some luxury millionaire-only type yachts. We walked to the far end of the harbour wall and then decided to get a bite of lunch as this was our only full-day tour of the week. We found a nice pizzeria and ordered a couple of pizzas. The loo was an experience for Fran as there were two toilets but one had no light working. She waited for the one that had a light, but some other bloke came and went in the other and merely left the door wide open...

We had a look around the shops to have a laugh at the prices. All the big name fashion shops were there. A half-recognised face (which looked much younger than her arms...) came out of one, glanced at me and hurried on.

We saw quite a few of these cars. I'm afraid I mistook them for mini mokes as made in the 1960s and used in TVs cult hit The Prisoner. Perhaps someone had bought a job lot and transported them here after the sixties were over?

But then someone has commented on the photo at Flickr that they are modern cars, based on a Citroen 2CV chassis. So they lose a number of glamour points for that then! Tres chic though!

We made our way back onto the coach and then waited for ten minutes past the time for a couple to roll up. They claimed to have got lost but they were not exactly hurrying back...

Livorno's Old Fortress

Now here is an impressively old fortress built - somewhat startlingly - of red bricks. Old Fortress is actually its name too. The new one was built at the end of the 16th century, whilst this one has been standing since the beginning of that century.

It does look a little held together by pins and braces, but that's as much down to Second World War bombing as to the ravages of time.

You may remember that at the end of my previous post we were dropped off on a stone pier sticking out of the massively solid wall, water to every side except for a closed and formidable iron gate leading into the fortress.

Luckily, when pulled, it swung open...

Not that this led to an inviting hallway. Oh no... We were now in the catacombs under the fortress. They were in the act of installing a lighting system and my photo is much, much, lighter than it seemed at the time.

We couldn't see to the far end of the tunnel and whilst they were probably built to store food and goods rather than prisoners, you couldn't help but wonder...!

Happily we came out, squinting and shading our eyes into the bright sunshine. Our guide whisked us briskly past a small but inviting bar set up in a courtyard and into the main part of the castle itself.

I love history and old buildings and things but guides have a habit of traipsing out a long string of dates and architects you will never have heard about and never will again so I'm afraid we ignored her and wandered about a bit, looking at photos showing the castle from before the bombing. There was indeed a lot more of it then!

The round tower was still standing and accessed through a door made for dwarfs only from a small room that was still roofed and gloomy.

"There's a climb of around 40 steps," warned the guide. Miss Franny hates spiral staircases and went out to find the little bar, where I could catch up with her later to find her surrounded by bottles and glasses, standing on the table and roaring out at the top of her voice "First I was afraid, I was petrified..." whilst egged on by a crowd of similarly drunken women. (I may have made that up...)

Anyway, I ducked (that's me with my lofty frame of 5 feet 4 inches and a smidgeon!) under the dwarf's doorway and started up the very dark stairway to the top of the tower. It felt slightly more than 40 steps and in fact I counted them going down. 72 in fact... The Italians are a modest race...

There was a great view from up at the top. Here is the Island Star moored next to the deserted Royal Princess and in the foreground bits of the fortress.

The top of the tower was not much wider than the diameter of the spiral staircase itself. Wandering around the perimeter took probably fewer steps than it had to climb the staircase and so I headed downwards, hardly able to see in the gloom after the sunshine and starting to appreciate Fran's dislike of spiral staircases!

Oh, disappointment - she was sitting quietly with a can of coke, but quite chuffed that she had managed to make the bartender understand her. (Isn't "Coca Cola" the same in any language?) Anyway I congratulated her and then I went to get a drink for myself too. Hang on... he speaks English!!!

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

The Canals of Livorno

Back to the 9th of July!

We watched the excursions go off to Florence and Pisa and then those of us who were left, walked a few yards from the Island Star and got onto a boat of much more modest proportions.

This was to take us on a tour of the canals - Livorno was built by the Medicis and based around sea trading, so the canals were a way of bringing goods right into the city. The canals form a pentagon with each corner having a defensive structure and a massive fortress constructed at the entrance from the harbour. We shall see more of that in the next entry.

The canals were very quiet. We weren't jostling for position or continually going past boats coming in the other direction as you would be on the canals of Venice. (Livorno was based on the Ventian canal idea and the old quarter, built in the 1600s, was known as Nuova Venezia or New Venice).

There were certainly lots of small boats that were moored alongside small businesses that looked more as belonging to working people than pleasure craft and the sun was beating down, making the trip a pleasant and non-taxing trip. The buildings were in the main just typical city buildings hardly deserving of the title palace which is how the guide described them. If they were palaces then every apartment building in Paris is a palace.

One of the problems with city canals though is that the city tends to be built over them rather than on the same level so the view from a small boat is restricted to say the least. It was a pleasant hour, but not an exciting hour if you see what I mean!

Now though, we moored alongside a small pier jutting out from the massive base of the huge fortress at the entrance to the harbour. Either the boat or a formidable iron gate through the vast brick wall of the fortress were the only means of escape from the small stone jetty - and the gate looked very, very, closed!

School Prom Night

Monday night saw David and I playing at a junior school prom.

I think that an apt description of the audience would be "wildly enthusiastic"! In fact so loud we could hardly hear the music ourselves. We'd had to turn the speakers away to avoid feedback, it was cranked up louder than we'd ever had it before just to cut above the noise from the kids.

They weren't particularly running wild or anything, they were singing along, cheering, in fact giving us an amazing reception. Thank you to the kids and teachers at Blackpool's St John Vianney. We finished off an exuberant night with the Blackpool Football Team's anthem - the old Dave Clark Five hit, Glad All Over and I think everyone was!

As David said afterwards, "I can cope with 11,000 coming through the gate at Liverpool but that was scary!!!" An excellent night!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Sailing Into Livorno

The morning of 9 July 2008.

The Island Star is making her way into Livorno harbour as we make our way up onto the deck. We have been here before a couple of years ago but the only thing I could remember about it was that the harbour was as much an industrial port as a tourist port and that there were large piles of gravel waiting to be loaded onto cargo ships.

We sail past this pier with port authority buildings on it. Someone had taken the trouble to design a bit of landscaping and grass on it - a nice touch!

It's always fascinating to watch other people work and in particular to see how other industries that you aren't familiar with go about their business.

In addition there's a strong design element to dockside cranes and floating pontoons, small islands and blue sea that a photographer can't ignore!

It must have been fascinating in the days before those huge containers that you see everywhere these days. Watching cargoes being swung up out of ships, wondering whether a car, or a piano, or a large unidentifiable piece of machinery would emerge from the hold, swinging on the end of a chain.

The cranes shown here are huge, mounted on rails to move them along the wharves and totally dwarfing the lighthouse standing behind the one on the right.

Some rather strange ships too!

I can't recall ever seeing something that lay quite so flat on the water as this green-decked curiosity that came by! Does anyone know what it is or what it does? Leave a comment and put us out of our misery!

Ships and boats of all sizes come into Livorno. There is a large marina attached to the harbour, which anyway, leads into a series of canals. More about those in a future posting.

We carried on along the deck and headed for the Island Star's Beachcomber Restaurant. The previous night we had dined in the Steak Restaurant and someone had a birthday. A group of waiters had come in to sing an elongated and exuberant Happy Birthday to her and afterwards (so Fran says) the waiters nodded the guitarist over to me.

"I have a song for you, Sir" he said and started to sing Don MacLean's Vincent (Starry starry night). I knew it would surprise him so I joined in loudly to sing harmony with him. The room went dead silent and a lot of applause burst out as we finished. His eyes were twinkling - there is always a special bond that quickly forms whenever people sing or play music together.

Now as we entered the restaurant, any waiters who had been in the Steak Restaurant at the time came forward to say hello and to point out empty tables or just to talk. My guitarist friend made a point of passing a couple of friendly words each time he saw us afterwards.

Breakfast over with, we came back out onto deck to find another cruise ship, the Royal Princess, on the opposite side of our pier.

She seemed absolutely deserted. Was she at the start of a cruise, or had they made going on excursions compulsory?!? There are some excellent excursions from Livorno, including both Florence and Pisa. Again though, we had done both of these in the past and were looking forward to a boat trip along the canals of Livorno itself.

Will we be boarded by pirates? Will our canal trip end in disaster? Will I just make something up for dramatic effect? Hmmm... no somehow I never seem to have to do that... Life as a nutter is interesting enough!

Monday, 21 July 2008

Fleetwood Tram Sunday

Given the title of this entry, which is also the title of the event, I'd better have a photo of a tram here I suppose. However, seeing as I live in Blackpool, I can see the trams any day. What makes this day special for me are all the old cars, buses and lorries that make their way to Fleetwood for the event.

It's years since I've been to Fleetwood Tram Sunday. Usually it clashes with the band's gig at Croxteth in Liverpool, but this year for whatever reason Croxteth was a week earlier. The organisers at Fleetwood said their event is always the third Sunday in July so I've registered the band's interest in appearing next year if the two events don't co-incide!

Typically in these days of Health-and-Safety-Nanny Tram Sunday is a day without trams unless you walk all the way up Lord Street. The only tram allowed to go down is the one in the parade.

I took loads of photos and they will eventually appear at my Flickr account (once the cruise photos are fully uploaded).

For now though here's a superb, if slightly garish, 1960s Vauxhall Velox. Alex Dyson's dad used to have one of these but I can't remember if it was this rather Sheila's Wheels shade or not... Alex? Leave a comment? I always thought these were amongst the best looking of the UK's 1960s cars though, along with the MkIII Zephyr as used in TV's Z-Cars.

Another highlight was an old Sentinel steam bus. This was taking passengers on short trips along Fleetwood's promenade road. Nice day, cold wind. I'd not taken a jacket and was shivering nicely by the time we left!


We'll move on from Taormina. The following day, 8 July, sees us docking in an overcast Naples. Excursions go off to Pompeii, Sorrento and Capri.

We decide we'll just get off the ship and have a wander and we are met out of the port by this impressive pile of a fortress.

Traffic is unbelievable. Cars, taxis, buses and, most of all, scooters are vying with each other for each bit of roadspace, not caring which side of the central line they are on or whether they are moving in the same direction as the road. Changing lanes here means two or three at once and horns are blaring continuously. I apologise to all Parisians - I thought you were terrible and inconsiderate drivers but these guys have you beat!

We walk into a park and as we get away from the edges we suddenly find that almost every tree has a tramp or vagrant wrapped in sleeping blankets or huddled together in twos and threes staring at us.

"I don't like this - get us out of here!" said Fran. We changed direction slightly towards a fairground and out of the park. Definitely a bit dodgy! I don't want to take the old saying "See Naples and die" literally, ha ha!

We ended up taking an open-topped bus tour which was interesting.

This is a set of traffic lights and obviously one direction is showing red, yet every one of these vehicles is moving... The bus driver seemed oblivious to overhanging trees also. We were all having to duck at the side of the bus as branches whipped into our faces!

It took forever to move the first half mile as we were in the city traffic. We passed one bus, surrounded by cops, deserted by passengers, a huge dent in the front bumper and a shattered bulge in the windscreen glass suggesting that when it hit something some poor soul was standing and was thrown forward into the glass from inside.

The tour took us along the coast - though more than half of it was down uninspiring back streets with little of interest.

The better part of the day came later, on the pool deck with my James Herbert book, Nobody True. Brilliant read!

Sunday, 20 July 2008


Yes I know there's been lots of entries about Taormina but there were a few different topics that merited their own post!

As we came away from the ampitheatre we were starting to feel the effects of the sun and reckoned it was time to apply more suntan cream. We sat on some stone steps to put it on and, two scorched bums later, we got up rather quickly. Phew those steps were hot!

The main street had lots of shops and there were plenty of antiques shops amongst the more usual tourist knick-knack places. Some of the side alleys (on one side they went up and on the other side down, due to the town being on a hillside) had some delightfully narrow but quite colourful shops and displays.

Fran had seen these marzipan fruits and whilst wondering why people would eat the stuff rather than an actual fruit, it still made an interesting display!

We met up with another couple from the boat that we had met at dinner last night. Phil and Pat were from Leigh in Lancashire - not too far away from us. We got back to the meeting place early and went to sit outside a local cafe bar and ordered a couple of beers! This is the life...

More Taormina Balconies

Whilst we are talking of balconies - which we were in the previous post - there were several examples that caught my eye in Taormina. None of them as splendidly adorned with pretty girls, but you can't have everything!

The locals obviously take great pride in their balconies though. We saw lots of flowers, potted shrubs and hanging baskets and many of the balcony supports were carved with figures, faces and designs.

There were hardly two alike. Why don't I have a balcony from my bedroom at home I wonder? Would it look slightly out of place perhaps in an English end-terrace? I suppose there wouldn't be all that much to look at either in my quiet street. Quiet. Ah yes... that's why I like living there!

Girl On A Balcony

It was the 7th July 2008 and we had left the amphitheatre at Taormina and were walking slowly back into the town in the general direction of our pick up point to rejoin the coach for the trip back to the Island Star.

I hadn't taken many photos as we were heading for the amphitheatre as we were walking in a large group so there were too many people too close. I had known we had some free time later so I could take photos at leisure without having to try to take over the heads of people.

I saw this young girl on a balcony and she made an intruiging subject. She was just leaning against the doorway, smoking a cigarette and watching the people below. What was going through her mind? You can weave almost any kind of story about her and that's what I like about chance sightings like this. Perhaps if by chance she sees this, she can let us know! Or make up your own story!

This is an edit of a much wider view...

Saturday, 19 July 2008


My thanks to the IET Lancashire and Cumbria Network.

Not only did they have the good taste to ask me if they could publish one of my photographs for their April newsletter, but they used it on the cover and also were good enough to send me two copies to keep in my collection of publications.

The first photograph I ever had published was a shot of the Rochdale canal, that I entered in a photographic competition in 1981 in the magazine Lancashire Magazine.

It won third prize and I then went on to win more prizes in future issues, including two first prizes.

This set me off working freelance to a number of magazines, both local and national until my first cover photograph came in 1982 in the Lakescene Magazine.

Again I had a number of successes with Lakescene, but now I had my eyes set on written work as well as photographs.

I had a number of illustrated letters published in The Field and This England. They were all about some of the curiosities to be found in the countryside - windmills, village pumps etc.

Once again though it was Lancashire Magazine that gave me a breakthrough by publishing a double page spread about the history of Blackpool Trams along with 7 photographs and then later giving me a running series along the lines of the illustrated letters, called John Burke's Curious Lancashire.

From then I went onto greater things. A series of photos of an orang utan yawning featured full page in She and was seen and then taken on by the American National Enquirer. By now I had made enough money to pay for my camera - a Canon AE1. Which gave me another idea and I sold a few photos to the Canon Camera Club for use in their member's newsletter!

By the mid 1980s it was a poor month if I didn't have at least one photograph or article published in a magazine somewhere. I had a number of successes with animal photographs used for caption competitions. Annabel was one womens' magazine that regularly published that sort of photograph. I bought a year-long pass to Blackpool Zoo and spent hours waiting for animals to yawn, as this made them look as though they were laughing or singing!

In 1986 I had three photographs in the 1986 Blackpool Gazette calendar, including the front cover. It is the only photo I have showing the inflatable King Kong that was tied to the front of the Tower in 1985!

Then work began to take more of my time up, and I let the photographs slide a bit until the Internet made me sit up and take notice around 1994. Many of the articles I had written became part of my website.

Have a look. You'll find all the curiosity articles and the history of Blackpool Trams and countless others. Nowadays the web site only gets updated very rarely and my writing tends to be limited to this blog or for work-related publication. Many photographs are available large size from Flickr.

But there's a novel in the drawer, waiting for me to have a bit of time to spruce it up. Who knows? I may publish the first couple of chapters on a blog and then invite you to buy the rest!

Taormina Excursion

Taormina, Sicily.

We got off the tour coach and found ourselves in a car park under a cliff. A lift took us up several floors and we then had a few steep paths and steps to climb before we came to a wonderful and ancient town, full of character.

The people who had not been to this part of the world before were making jokes about the name of the tour firm - Trumpy Tours. This was our third year of going on Trumpy Tours so we were above all that. However I did find out that they are so called because the firm is headed by a chap called Hugo Trumpy. So if anyone meets you and greets you by announcing "Hugo Trumpy!" then just remember that the polite response is "No, I insist... after you..."

Taormina is lovely; ancient walls with an archway through them where the town gate must have been, narrow streets where every building has a different style of balcony and an ancient amphitheatre.

Getting to the amphitheatre means a certain amount of climbing, but you are rewarded by views like this.

Mount Etna, seen in the distance with a plume of smoke emitting from it started erupting on 13 May 2008 and was still going quite happily. Europe's largest volcano, it reaches almost 11,000 feet (although the eruptions tend to make the volcano higher or shorter depending on whether it adds lava to the top or blows it up!)

It is the first time we have ever seen an erupting volcano that didn't have either Tommy Lee Jones or Pierce Brosnan trying to save the day and I have to say it's impressive when you see it, even though on this occasion all we saw was smoke! However the cruise was to present us with more volcanic experiences as I've already mentioned.

We climbed up a series of leg trembling steps until we reached the very top of the ampitheatre.

It was first developed by the Greeks, who came here almost 400 years before Christ, but was expanded and rebuilt in red brick by the Romans. The setting is breathtaking (heck - the steps are breathtaking!) and the theatre is still in use for concerts and theatrical productions to this day.

I indulged myself and used up a proportion of my camera's storage capacity! More photos, as always, are in the process of being uploaded to my Flickr account. In case you are reading this sometime after the event, I've created a photo set for the cruise so by clicking the second link you'll go to all the photos from the holiday.

But for now it's far too hot. It's around 38┬║ so we see from a digital sign on one of the buildings once we leave the amphitheatre and we are in dire need of refreshment! Whoops, mind your way, some of these steps are steep!

Thursday, 17 July 2008

The Straits of Messina

Monday 7 July 2008

We had just had a day at sea, lolling about on the pool deck, mp3 player plugged into the ears, bodies of all shapes and sizes, some gorgeous, some horrific, some downright comical, passing by.

I took my own poor example off to be pampered a bit in the spa, the steakhouse, the bars...

The following morning saw us pulling into Messina - our first visit to Sicily. The Straits of Messina were bombed extensively during World War II, but little if any evidence of that hardest of times is apparent from the decks of the Island Star as we approach our docking point. A line of coaches waits to take passengers on the various excursions.

We are taking a half-day excursion to Taormina, a small town with an ancient ampitheatre and a view of Mount Etna, that we have been told is in the act of erupting.

At the foot of the gangway is a person in a dolphin suit and a photographer, both being ignored by the majority of passengers more eager to get to the tour coaches.

The tune from The Godfather is going round my head incessantly. Unconciously I begin to hum it, thus ensuring it will from that point also go round the head of everyone in earshot...

"That bloody song's going through my head now!" Fran complained. Told you...

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

We Are Sailing

Yes, off on our travels again, Saturday 5th July saw us at Manchester Airport at some unearthly hour waiting for a flight to Majorca to embark on the Island Star cruise liner once again for another trip on the Mediterranean.

This time the cruise was the Mediterranean Spirit and would take us to a few new places. More of that in the entries to come though.

For now we are checking in, being issued with the cards that allow us on and off the ship and act as our method of payment onboard, finding our cabin (an internal one this time but that's fine) and then checking out the ship and the food etc.

The marina is packed with boats again including the Lady Moura, above, which is the yacht of Prince Albert of Monaco. A party was being held aboard her as other posh-looking boats were coming around and guests were being tendered from them to the Lady Moura. We had to decline however as the Island Star was ready to sail!

Monday, 14 July 2008

Stromboli Erupts

Now this was a spectacular light show!

We have just returned from a week's cruise on the Island Star (in case you were wondering where I'd got to!) and one evening the captain announced we would pass by the volcano Stromboli around ten thirty that night.

It is Europe's most active volcano with an eruption around every 13 minutes. We went up on deck around ten o'clock and sure enough, once our eyes got used to the almost pitch dark of a Mediterranean night, we could see the vague outline of the mountain and then a red glow which intensified until a spurt of molten rock spewed out into the night. We saw around three or four eruptions, but the one at half past ten was the most spectacular.

I had no tripod of course and the camera was resting on the ship's rail. I wobbled a bit when this one became a longer eruption as the ship's hooter went off, making me jump out of my skin! So the photo is a little blurred but still a great reminder!

More about the cruise to come!

Creeping Bentgrass at Croxteth

A scorching day yesterday at Croxteth Park, Liverpool, where Creeping Bentgrass played for the sixth year running for the Open Day.

No fairground this time so we had less competition from other attractions and consequently had a good-sized audience in front of us for the day. They were good-natured and enthusiastic and we hope you all had as good a day listening as we had playing for you!

We have had confirmation now that we will be playing again at Garstang's Festival on Thursday 21 August - our usual spot near the car park and council offices on the corner of the main street.
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