Saturday, 28 February 2009

Silver Springs '93

Sunday 4 July 1993. We boarded another coach at what still seemed like a very early time in the morning and were welcomed on board by Charlie, a grizzled white haired courier.

As we moved onto the bus a young man beamed at me and said "Hi!" in what seemed to be the American equivalent of a somewhat effeminate voice. I said "Hi..." in my best (and deepest) reserved voice! He turned out to be Jonathan - a trainee courier - and was by far more interesting than Charlie, whose line in patter was along the lines of, "Well I guess you guys will be in need of a rest now so I'll let you contemplate the back of your eyelids and will be back with you later on..."

We drove through some rather run-down areas to Silver Springs, a mix between an area of outstanding beauty and a wildlife haven and a frequent movie lot. Johnnie Weismuller made his Tarzan films here in the 1930s and 1940s. Some of the monkeys used for those films had escaped and there is now a thriving colony of monkeys living in the park. The James Bond film "Live and Let Die" was partly filmed there, and the Tom Cruise film "Legend"

There was a show based on Tarzan and his distinctive call rang out electronically (and somewhat annoyingly after a while!) every 15 or 30 minutes. Mind you... probably not as annoying as Johnnie himself got later in life, as once he was in an old folks' home his mind got a bit befuddled, poor chap, and he used to give his Tarzan call several times a day to the great consternation of other befuddled old folks.

The park is a region of outstanding natural beauty. The springs that give it its name are underwater springs and a glass-bottomed boat trip gives you the chance to sit above them and wonder at just how deep down you can see.

The water is absolutely crystal clear - about 97% pure I think one of the crew said. There are a few fish, but we only saw tiddlers and, of course, the odd Florida alligator and crocodile. On the dryer bits we saw turtles, raccoons and an assortment of zoo animals that aren't found around these parts normally - unless they came with Tarzan...

Squirrels were running about over the tough and very stubby-bladed grass around the buildings of the park. I was wearing shorts - something the ladies found particularly hilarious... My knees, unused to the idea that they could see and talk to each other drove me mad all day...

Large version of photos: fountain, boat, gardens

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Coombe Abbey Coventry

I'm at the excellent Coombe Abbey Hotel in Coventry for a 2-day "away day" for the JISC Advisory Services, one of which, JISC infoNet, I work for.

The 6 Advisory Services plus the 13 Regional Support Centres (RSCs) support Colleges and Universities (and the RSCs, non-college Adult Education Providers) in their use of new technlogy to deliver teaching and learning, research, and better support their strategy making and business processes.

The hotel is based around some original buildings and later additions to what used to be an Abbey before King Henry VIII decided to shut them down. As you can see from the photos, it has considerable atmosphere.

This is a chance for us to understand the work of the other services and co-ordinate our materials and support. Also a chance for us to meet new staff and share knowledge. The sessions have been a mixture of that and deciding new directions and ways to work together. We have been using Twitter to give instant feedback to speakers during sessions.

Large versions of the photos: exterior, interior

Monday, 23 February 2009

Kennedy Space Centre

3 July 1993. After driving around International Drive to get to Sea World, we took the easy option of a bus tour to Kennedy Space Centre the following day.

First stop was at the independantly run Hall of Astronauts. Here were lots of displays of space suits and some of the early capsules. There were some tableaux also of the lunar surface, with actual moon buggies displayed, although none that had actually gone to the moon, as none were brought back.

It was dark in there so all our photos ended up blurred - we weren't sure whether you were supposed to take photos to be honest and no one else seemed to loosing off flashguns so we tried to be discreet!

There was an early capsule that you could sit in. Definitely not for the claustrophobic! Gillian took some convincing but eventually tried on a space helmet. She complained afterwards she thought it felt "stupid"! Well, to be honest it was sitting on her head instead of resting on the shoulders of a space suit so whilst I didn't say so at the time, yes Gill... it did look a bit stupid... But there were plenty of others looking stupid so it's alright! Some of them didn't even need a space helmet...

We went on the Shuttle to Tomorrow - a full sized space shuttle that was in fact a simulator. We all got strapped in and put on stereo headphones. Only one ear worked on mine and I could hear all the "oohs" and "ahhs" of the other passengers...and the creaky old machinery doing all the jiggling the floor about...

But now we are off to the actual Kennedy Space Centre and the Rocket Garden. It's a sad fact but actually whilst a space ship of the type in sci-fi films would be dead good, a space rocket is actually a pretty boring piece of kit. Too big to look over in detail and a space engine is just nothing like any other kind of engine so just looks like a mass of pipes and inverted funnels sticking out. I found it hard to get into the spirit of it.

We did a bus tour to the launch pads - well... to a close enough distance to tell there was a space shuttle being prepared, if you had 20/20 vision and a pair of binoculars. The bus driver had a good line in patter though and was quite amusing and because there were three of us I found myself sitting next to a stranger. She was a 15-year-old girl from Arizona who was only too keen to chat, especially after I pointed out a buzzard who was circling us, waiting for the bus to break down.

She thought it was "really neat" that we were from England and said that although they were used to the heat, the Florida humidity was wearing.

The space shuttle that we saw on the launch pad was due to blast off a couple of days after we returned to England. We felt somewhat better though when something went wrong and the launch was delayed another few days! Imagine going out all that way to see it only for some technician to look bewildered at a button and say "Well... it ought to work..."

Large version of the photo: Space Cadet Franny

Sunday, 22 February 2009

So Much To See In America

And as the negatives keep zipping (hardly...) through the film scanner I've reached a set that were taken between 1-14 July 1993.

It was the first time we had left British soil. The first time we set foot on an aeroplane. The first time the Memsahib and myself visited the colonies...

America in fact. Orlando, Florida to be precise. The heat hit us like a slap in the face with a furnace as we got off the plane. We were bussed to Dollar Rent-a-Car where we picked up a Mitsubishi - hey! same make as my camcorder! - and then we coped with turning left across six lanes of traffic after I was pleasantly surprised to find the usual combination of accelerator, brake, ah... no third pedal as it was an automatic! Given that it was a camcorder manufacturer it might well have had a ► to go, a ►► to go faster and a ■ to stop...

Anyway, the rest of that first day we were somewhat jet-lagged. In fact Fran stayed jet lagged for about 3 days but that was more to do with giving in to it and going to sleep whilst Gill and I rented videos to watch in the room and forced ourselves awake until it got close to bedtime.

We visited Sea World on the next day and loved it. I'm afraid any qualms about seeing killer whales in captivity were firmly at the back of my mind and the daytime show was quite educational anyway. As in "Wow I never knew a killer whale could do that!!!"

By mid afternoon we were walking around holding a sleepy Fran up but what a great place. The shark tunnels, the aquaria, loved it! I had a camcorder with me that we'd bought specially for the holiday and I'd never do that again as I "saw" almost the entire holiday on a 1.5 inch black and white screen... All the photos have come from Gill's camera which I occasionally borrowed. It was a Canon AV1 I think. Fran had an Olympus Trip camera which was crud in the light metering department and also had a noticeable light drop-off as you got to the edge of the photo. So even where they were well exposed in the centre, the edges of the photos came out dark!

Anyway, what I'm saying is that there won't be masses of photos from this trip, though there is a 6-hour video condensed to a 3-hour short version that we never watch these days as it's just far too long and I wish I'd just taken my normal camera...

We marvelled at the tropical plants, we marvelled at the constant music coming from loudspeakers hidden inside moulded plastic rocks (we called them singing rocks and constant background music in public places annoys the hell out of me now...) and we marvelled at the sheer size of a beaker of Coca-Cola, enough to take a photo of one, though sadly the same is all too common here nowadays and is swelling us all to the same bloated size as our American counterparts - that was something else we marvelled at...

We were given a free pass to go back to Sea World and decided we would do that some other day. So there are some photos of fish to come but not today!

We were saving Disney up for later - the next day we had arranged a trip to Kennedy Space Centre.

Large verions of the photos: Shamu the killer whale, landscaped pool

Friday, 20 February 2009

Film Scanner

Yesterday someone left a comment asking about the film scanner I use to scan my negatives.

It's a PrimeFilm 1800u which I bought in 2000 from Jessops.

At first I was a little disappointed but the software drivers, or my technique seem to have got better as I've upgraded through Windows95 to XP and now Vista.

It seems to make a better job of colour negatives than it does black and white, which like colour slides have to be spot-on exposure otherwise trying to adjust seems to reduce the number of shades/colours to around eight giving a somewhat Salvador Dali effect...

For that reason I scan black and white negatives as colour and then convert to black and white once the image is in Paint Shop Pro. When scanning negatives and particularly slides which aren't stored in close fitting containers, dust can be a problem. Some of my slides are so dirty I just can't be bothered trying to clean up the thousands of black dots and just try to get rid of the larger blobs! On negatives the black spots are white of course. If the same mark shows on several photos it's because dust has fallen off a negative onto the light tray of the scanner. I keep a small artist's paintbrush that I use to periodically clean the tray.

Similarly if lines appear on the scanned picture it's a piece of dust that has got onto the moving lens that trundles out and over the negative so the paintbrush does for that aswell. In nine years it's amazing how many particles seem to have fallen into the scanner and onto the white surface under the glass but, whilst I've worried about them and tried blowing through whatever gaps in the casing I can find in an effort to dislodge them, they don't seem to have any effect on the scanned image.

Nine years life for something like this isn't bad. It's been hammered over that time. I have around 30,000 negatives and slides and they are not quick things to scan. I still have a lot that have yet to be scanned, although I'm getting through them slowly!

As technology moves on and monitors have got better resolution (and gone widescreen!) I find I now want to go back and rescan stuff that I did at the beginning! A never-ending job! Hope that helps, Travis!

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

North Pier Carousel

The photos are from 1991, probably August. There was a Motive Power display going on along the Promenade, but a Google search failed to tell me the exact date!

The North Pier had just installed this magnificent two-storey carousel. It would later be partly obscured by some glass screens that were put around it to shield it from salt spray from the sea and the harsh winds that Blackpool is prone to.

I've seen similar carousels all over the place. In fact here's an example from St Tropez on the French Riviera!

The decking of the North Pier at the time was being taken up to lay a track for a tram that would take passengers from the entrance to the pier along to the theatre at the far end.

The tram would be mainly used at theatre time and at other times was destined to trundle up and down the pier with a handful of passengers.

And as if all this excitement wasn't enough, a helicopter was landing on the end of the pier to take passengers on a (very short) trip all the way down the Promenade almost as far as halfway to the Central Pier...

This did not do a lot to excite those who had been accustomed to fishing from the end of the pier...

In a blindingly obvious statement a sign reads: "helicopter rotor blades are dangerous".

Large versions of the photos: carousel, St Tropez, decking work, helicopter

Monday, 16 February 2009

Bygone Times Chorley

Now whether you're a big fan of antiques or not, this place has something to interest you. When we first visited in 1991, old pinball machines were top of my list and they did have a few, but mainly beyond hope of redemption!

But there were all sorts of antiques and collectables. Antiques normally brings furniture and pottery to mind doesn't it? Here they had a much wider selection of goodies!

See what I mean? I did actually consider for a wild abandoned moment buying a couple of these to convert them into two-seater settees... But then reality hit - or was it Fran... anyway, you're right, with my track record of D-I-Y (Destroy-It-Yourself) I'd have only been taking on a load of trouble!

At that time in the early nineties, the firm had several large warehouses on the site, some filled with small stuff and others with large stuff - like bars that had come out of clubs and pubs. It was fascinating wandering round.

Later they opened "Botany Bay" - similar venture but mixed with craft outlets, in an old mill alongside the M61. A lot of stuff from Bygone Times disappeared to Botany Bay, but the main warehouse (which is almost like 3 or 4 warehouses in one) is still a great place to visit.

These photos are from our second visit - I had black and white film loaded in the camera the first time we went. From left to right, an old Mills pinball - almost a coin-operated bagatelle dating from around 1931; A Lucky pinball from the 1940s, scoring is done through electricity in the simplest of ways, the ball nudging a coil against a central pin to complete a circuit and finally a Japanese Pachinko machine along the same lines as our more familar Allwin flick-a-ball arcade games.

There's probably more from Bygone Times and Botany Bay to come and some of the arcade games already featured were seen there!

Large versions of the photos: waltzers and boat, bagatelle, Lucky pinball, pachinko

Saturday, 14 February 2009

To Those I...

On Valentines Day...

To all the girls I've loved...
To all the girls I've fancied....
To all the girls I've kissed...
To all the girls I've looked at and thought "Pfoar!"...
To all the girls I've locked eyes with and shared a smile...

To all the girls who have loved me...
To all the girls who have fancied me...
To all the girls who have looked at me and thought "Pfoar!"...
To all the girls who have looked at me and thought "Yikes!"...
To all the girls who listened...
To all the girls who trusted enough to have me listen...
To all the girls in dreams...
But especially to my wife!!!

Happy Valentines Day!

Emmerdale 1991 Cricket Challenge

This was an enjoyable day. Sometime in 1990 or 91, my brother Frank and his colleagues had entered into some correrspondence with the cast and crew of Emmerdale. Originally describing themselves as "big in underwear", they eventually came clean that they worked at the DSS and invited the Emmerdale folk to a charity cricket match.

The Emmerdale folk took up the challenge and many of the cast and crew from that time including Frazer Hines (Joe Sugden), Richard Thorpe (Alan Turner), Stan Richards (Seth Armstrong), Jean Rogers (Dolly Skilbeck), Chris Chittell (Eric Pollard) and Leah Bracknell (Zoe Tate) came to test their leather against the Norcross team's willow.

Frank picked up a broomstick instead of a bat for some reason but all to no avail and he walked back to the pavilion without troubling the scorer to exert himself.

Meanwhile my Grandad had a thing or two to say to Pollard...

In fact I've still got a signed cricket bat somewhere - anyone want to make me an offer?

Large versions of the photos: Frazer Hines, Mum & Jean Rogers, Frank sweeps the pitch, Grandad and Chris Chittell

There's a few more photos at the Flickr site also.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Blackpool Promenade Works February 2009

It's quite a while since I went down to take photos of the work on the new Promenade. I think the last time I posted photos of the area opposite the Tower was in June last year.

At that time they were just driving in the upright sheets of steel as foundations for the steps that will replace the current wall as the first line of sea defences. So today I looked at the sunshine and thought 'I'll take my camera down to town with me and have a walk on the Prom!' I'll tell you what... it may look sunny but it was c-o-l-d!!! And a bit windy - my eyes were constantly streaming with tears (I always get emotional on the sea front...)

As you can see from the photo the opportunity is being taken to reclaim a bit of land back from the sea. The old steps that led directly down onto the beach are on the far side of the yellow Keep Out sign at the left of the photo.

The steps are now in place although behind them there is still a lot of work to be done.

So in the future, a high tide at Blackpool may not be much more spectacular than this. The sea washing up a few more steps than it would on a low tide. We'll wait and see.

So work continues. Currently the Promenade road is contra-flowed onto the south-running lane in preparation for works on the tram tracks on this section. The Tower is now flanked by two empty Woolworths buildings and we are wondering whether the rents are so high they are prohibitive for any kind of business.

Before the later Woolworths building the site was occupied by Lewis's 1960s building. Previously to that a theatre stood on the site. It would be nice to have a tourist-themed use of the site again, but what would draw enough tourists to warrant the investment these days? Most Blackpool folk would not want anything else that attracts more stag and hen parties...

Large versions of photos: keep out, old steps, stepped curved headland, closed Woolworths

Don't Splop!

The pile of negatives is slowly getting smaller, but not by much. There's not been a lot to show you recently as they have tended to be family oriented ones. Birthday parties, holidays etc. I think the last batch of films I've scanned have been from Fran's camera as I seem to feature on them a bit more.

Unfortunately that tends to mean photos like this of us on holiday at a campsite near Bude in Cornwall, 1991. I'm eating pineapple chunks straight from the tin and daughter Gill is waiting for the spill...

Large version of the photo: waiting for the spill

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Blackpool Postcards

Some more Blackpool postcards from my collection. I bought these three as a set, though I suspect there are more to find somewhere!

The first one shows Talbot Square, at the North Pier where a couple of charabancs - the coaches, commonly known as "sharras" until well into the 1960s - turn right into Talbot Road.

A number of double decked Balloon trams congregate around the tram stops at the North Pier whilst a single deck Railcoach tram approaches from the north.

The second postcard shows the gardens at South Shore, between the South Pier and the Pleasure Beach. A spectacular fountain is entertaining folks but that - and the open air baths seen in the background - has long since ceased to exist.

The final postcard shows the Promenade Gardens at the Gynn. The Savoy Hotel is in the background to the right. The gardens still exist and are home to a colony of rabbits that are often to be seen nibbling the grass of a summer's evening.

There used to be a branch off the tram track here to allow trams to travel along Dickson Road on the round town route.

The skies on all the photographs look to have had clouds painted on. And these sepia tinted postcards were not the only use made of these photos, as I came across the first photograph published as a coloured postcard - coloured with paint, I should add - which has been published to Flickr by 'Lady Wulfrun'. It can be viewed here.

Give Us A Suck Of Your Twister!

Do you remember Twisters? A refreshing (refreshing??? They had more kick than a Red Bull!!!) drink in either orange or cherry (I think - I only ever drank orange ones).

Here I am in 1980 with Gill who was most concerned that her dear old dad shouldn't go without his daily fix of orange Twister.

They were vividly orange in fact. Ah the good old days of additives E104 and E110, when a sip of this stuff or a suck at a Smartie or two could turn Gill into a virtual dynamo of unstoppable energy and had me staring at ceilings at night unable to sleep...

Even ice cream cones at that time were a uniform and almost pure orange colour due to the additives. Anything rather than have them appear to be unevenly baked...

Such stupidity is still amongst us of course - all these tomatoes on the vine... As anyone who has ever grown a tomato can tell you, they don't all ripen at the same time. Spray them with the right chemical and they will all turn red however...

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Creeping Bentgrass

Last night the band gave a performance to an invited audience of some 80 friends and family members at Staining Village Hall.

It was great to see so many people there, especially as some of them we don't see all that often. Old school friends had come from the Rochdale area, some family had come from the Chester area and Fran's brother and his wife drove up from Swindon to spend the night with us.

There were, of course lots of friends, family and colleagues from Blackpool, Cleveleys and Garstang to swell the numbers.

It was only the second time we had arranged a season-starter for ourselves and this time any excess funds will be going to Cat Rescue (Blackpool, Wyre & Fylde).

Each member of the band shares their house with 2 cats and so it's a charity close to our hearts.

We had fun with some of Fran's friends last night who were calling for some Abba songs. Abba don't normally feature strongly in our act, though John did his best and included a snatch of Waterloo in the keyboard instrumental in the middle of Hi Ho Silver Lining!

Large versions of the photos: view from the hall, close view
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