Monday, 29 June 2009


24 August 2005. Back to the Sorrento holiday!

After we left Amalfi the coach took us up into the hills and we stopped for lunch (which was pasta, which I don't like - yeuch!) and then onto Ravello.

The village is gorgeous, but we have come here in particular to visit Villa Rufolo, famous for both its gardens and as a venue for open air performances from opera to Elton John.

He wasn't there at the time we visited though, so I took advantage of an empty stage to stand on it myself and give a short but extremely worthy aria... or something...

The stage actually overhangs the cliff and couldn't be in a more spectacular setting. Wagner wrote part of his Parsifal here.

Villa Rufolo originated in the 13th century as a convent.

There is still plenty of evidence of that time of quiet religious contemplation, but try as I might I could find nun of the original inhabitants...

Never the less, these quiet remains of a previous way of life gave the place an alternative character and the cool of this vaulted room was welcome after the heat and glare of the sunshine outside.

In the next instalment we have a last look at Sorrento itself as the holiday comes to a close.

All the photos from this holiday are available as a set of montages at Flickr.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Happy 21st Birthday!

Today we played for a 21st Birthday Party out to the north of Preston. We've played this one a few times now - not always for a 21st of course, but we did the young lady's 18th and her brother's 21st and this year was her turn to be the magical 21.

The garden party started in fine form with brilliant sunshine as you can see.

By the time the champagne cork popped and smacked David in the face - were they trying to tell him something - anyway, two and a half hours of his singing had not done much for the weather, as can be seen here as he poses with the wayward champagne cork.

Not long after this, thunder rumbled and then the heavens opened and stayed open and we had to quickly drag everything back into the tent/gazebo. The rain wasn't going anywhere though and we had to dismantle and start to dry everything out.

At least we had managed to do a brand new version of Bridge Over Troubled Water for the party girl's gran - as promised a couple of years ago!

Blackpool Zoo

On Friday we met up with David and Jeannie and we all went to spend the day at Blackpool Zoo. It was a gorgeous day and a brilliant day out. We spent 5 hours at the zoo and had a great time. It would have cost a fortune in the days of films and developing costs!

End of words - photo flood follows. In the interests of space I've kept it strictly to one photo of each animal. You'll find the others at Flickr. There's 125 photos altogether.


Lioness and Cubs

Giant Tortoise

The Clicky Monster!




Sea Lion with 3-Day-Old Pup

King Colobus Monkey

Black Faced Spider Monkey

Orang Utan

Red Panda





Ring Tailed Lemur



Baby Donkey

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Day Trip to Wales

Apart from Wednesday and Thursday when I've been at a conference, I've been off work this week and on Tuesday we had a drive down into North Wales.

The view of Conwy Castle as you approach over the bridge that spans the River Conwy is stunning and I've never taken the trouble to walk back over to get a good shot. So I did this time!

We had lunch in a cafe housed within one of the towers on the city wall and bagged a window table overlooking the RNLI Lifeboat House and the river harbour. A stunning view.

Then a walk along the harbour wall. Britain's smallest house is said to be this tiny red painted cottage along the city wall. There was a group of schoolchildren sitting opposite it, all illustriously drawing it. That takes me back - remember going out to draw something from school, being very self-concious and hating it if anyone tried to look over your shoulder?

We exchanged a few words with the lady in Welsh National Dress (she didn't sound Welsh to be honest) and had a walk through the city wall and then up a steep hill to re-enter the town through another gate in the wall.

Fran bought a Liliput Lane model of the smallest cottage - the woman in the shop sounded more Merseyside than Welsh too...!

Then we drove towards Snowdon, Yr Wyddfa, Wales' highest mountain and Britain's highest mountain south of Scotland.

We were fancying a ride on the Llanberis Lakeside Railway, having last done this in 1992. It was an extended railway from the 1992 layout. It is one of the Great Little Trains of Wales and is a pleasant way to spend an hour and a bit!

From the railway you get good views of the Snowdonia mountains and travel alongside a couple of lakes, though many visitors, I'm sure, as I did will think of them as one.

A small steamer passed by in the opposite direction on the lake, passengers exchanging waves with those on the train whilst the two steam powered vehicles exchanged polite toots on their whistles!

We had our evening meal in a cafe in Llandudno - an absolutely huge chunk of gammon steak that even I had to admit defeat over... And I was always taught to clear my plate! (Looks at waistline and thinks "and see where that got me!!!")

Corporate Event Gig

Last night we played for the JISC Regional Support Centre (RSC) Northwest annual conference at Southport Theatre and Convention Centre after I had been involved in the event with my work hat on!

A few people were wondering what to expect and some were possibly a bit gobsmacked but lots of nice comments folks so thanks for that!

A birthday party on Sunday will make the 3rd gig in 8 days!

Large version of photos: creeping bentgrass

Monday, 22 June 2009

Birthday and Charity Night

Saturday was my Mum's 75th birthday.

Ever since Dad died five years ago she has organised a charity bash at the caravan park where she lives in aid of Cancer Research. Over the years she has raised somewhere around £3000 at those events.

The afternoon is devoted to raffles, tombola, name the doll, the whisky wall and a bring and buy.

In the evening the band has played. Outside if the weather is fine and in a large barn if it's cold or threatens rain.

This weekend we were in the barn and David and I gave the residents and holiday makers 3 and a half hours of country, folk, sixties and rock and roll. We started with Don Williams' Gypsy Woman and ended with everyone in a circle singing You'll Never Walk Alone with a whole host of stuff along the way, including a first airing (without even a rehearsal) of Billy Fury's Maybe Tomorrow as part of a five-song tribute to Billy's memory.

Large versions of the photos: Mum, John and David

A Day in Zakinthos

6 May 2009. Our last day cruising on the Ocean Village II brings us to Zakinthos in Greece.

We got off the ship to a display of Greek dancing on the quayside.

The girl in the middle had a face like thunder for some reason - probably not helped by the two morons watching who were saying loudly "Oh, she's not a happy bunny in the middle!", totally ignoring the fact that just because they didn't speak Greek it was quite possible she could understand what they were saying...

Today we weren't going to do a trip. After all the excitement of Corfu I might never do one again... Anyway, we just got off the ship and wandered off on our own to see what delights Zakinthos could offer us.

It was a bit early in the season perhaps - or all the Brits that haunt the bars and fling their clothes off for the late night Sky One shows were still sleeping it off and hadn't yet woken up to think "My God - who's he/she/them?"!

A walk around the back streets and shopping streets gave us a mixed sense of Zakinthos. The shopping streets had some large shop windows and marble pavements with cool arcades to shelter shoppers from the sun whilst elsewhere, even on the same street were older, smaller shops with broken pavements and many with fish displayed outside, strong smelling and not particularly appealing except to cats and, I suppose, the locals. Though I have to point out that when it comes to fish, we don't particularly eat a lot of it anyway and of what we do probably more than half comes wrapped in batter from the local chippy!

There was a large amount of building work in evidence - I said that deliberately rather than "going on"... This probably added to making the atmosphere a bit dusty. It wasn't dusty enough to be unpleasant or to even be aware of it, but most surfaces and cars were caked in dust. Perhaps they just conserve their water, I don't know. Car parking seemed to be a challenge to many drivers. One chap found the space between two cars less than he needed, so he just left his car in the middle of road, next to them and wandered off down the street to do his shopping.

Someone else had parked nose to the kerb in order to use a small space. There were loads of cars double parked, sometimes whole rows of them, making it impossible for anyone parked next to the kerb to drive away. Your average British traffic warden would have loved it - I'll bet they all go there for their holidays, just to dream. Probably leave notes on the windscreen saying "if only this were on my patch..."

We made our way down to the seafront and walked along the Promenade for a while.

We kept meeting couples from the ship who all asked the same thing - "Is this it?". We told them about the shopping street we had found and they tried to look excited, but yes, as nice as the seafront was - that seemed to be it.

We walked for another quarter hour and then turned and walked back all along the front, buying a drink from a stall. The dancers had packed up and gone, perhaps leading away an inconsolable young woman from the middle with the words "I know I shouldn't have stepped on your foot, but if you could just look like you are enjoying it...?"

We went back to the ship and found a quiet spot to read for the afternoon. Then we had a last meal in the La Luna restaurant, served with steak by Epris and able to relax and watch the sea glide past through the window.

We ordered this gigantic banana split - 4 bananas, 6 scoops of Walls Carte D'Or vanilla ice cream, 4 chocolate twirly sticks, chocolate sauce, strawberries and cream. By heck!!! The average cruiser puts on a stone in a week. We were careful all week and put it on all in that one dessert!

Tomorrow we fly back to England. And that sorry tale I have already told...

Large versions of the photos: dancers, arcade, seafront, banana boat

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Old Postcard Messages

There was an antiques fair on in the Winter Gardens today and I nipped in to have a look, coming away with a whole bag full of 15 books for a tenner - that'll keep me going for a bit - and half a dozen old postcards at 25p each. They are a bit tatty around the edges but what does that matter?

This one shows an idyllic scene of Arthog, near Barmouth in Wales and was sent on 20 August 1918 from the Vicarage to an address - beautifully simple: "The Bungalow, Llanwygwril" is all that's given.

In the picture two children are standing at the side of the road in the distance and the woman in the foreground is pouring water into a bucket, perhaps to give the children a wash which is why they've run off up the road?

One of the other postcards shows the London Embankment at night with Cleopatra's Needle in the middle of the picture.

It looks more like a painting than a photograph this one, though many postcards were a good mix of both with a painted image over a photographic background. This one was sent on March 10 1904, the postage being, at a ha'penny, half the price of the one sent ten years later.

Again no house numbers used in the address which was sent to "Moat House" somewhere in the Midlands and with a rather apologetic message:

My dear Ellen,
I was so sorry I could not send a card before but I could
(then he realised this excuse wouldn't wash as he was in London and crossed out the word "could") did not go into a shop.
With love D.C.T.

You cad, Sir! Did Ellen give him the order of the boot? I shall keep an eye out for a card from 1910 that says "D.C.T. Thank you for your card of the 10th inst. Bastard..."

Friday, 19 June 2009

Ocean Village II Decktop Show

5 May 2009. We were back onboard Ocean Village II as she made her way down the Adriatic from Croatia towards Greece. Zakinthos is our port for tomorrow.

That night there was a show on the main pool deck with the acrobats and showteam. We were up there early to get a good spot against the rail on the top deck and there was a stiff breeze blowing which soon chilled us right down.

"Don't worry, the captain will steer the ship round for the show so the wind won't be felt." He must have forgotten... The show opened with singer/guitarist Chris O'Leary - a lad after my own heart!

Laser beams were shooting out, writing "PLANET" - the name of the show - against the chimney stack of the ship. I always think lasers are more spectacular if you ignore what they are writing or drawing. It's the beam itself that's more spectacular.

Then whilst the showteam sang their hearts out and danced about in futuristic costumes, the acrobats gave their performances on trapeze, cloth, swinging hoops and other apparatus way up there in the night sky on the 40 foot framework on top of the deck. One wrong move and splash!...

It was very spectacular - the acrobats were mainly from Colombia and they definitely have more nerve than I do!

By the end of the show my teeth were in danger of chattering and I had to wonder how the acrobats had managed in skimpy costumes and trying desperately to hang onto each other whilst dangling from a trapeze by their feet.

"Sorry, love, I was cold..." wouldn't quite have cut it had one of them been catapulted over the side in the dark...

After the show there was an opportunity to have your photo taken with the cast. Ever the cheapskate, I took my own. I've no idea who the people in the middle are, but they looked to be enjoying themselves anyway!

We went down below and ended up in the casino. Fran loves playing the slot machines. It doesn't do a lot for me so I usually just sit and watch our money disappear! Anyway she was down to her last 10 tokens and the woman from the next machine moved and Fran gave me half the coins and I promptly won 72 pounds much to the disgust of the woman who had simply moved behind us... Sorry, dear, if you snooze, you lose...

Large versions of the photos: Chris O'Leary, laser, acrobat, cast

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Escape from The Corfu Excursion

5 May 2009. Corfu. The excursionists are being transported by coach from monastery and museum, where we have been brow beaten into enduring the museum and a dreary commentary, then rushed round the gardens which were the best bit. We are mutinous. We are desperate. In the eyes of guide-i-poos we are obviously in need of culture and knowledge...

The coach arrives at Corfu town and pulls to a halt near a marvellous old fortress, set on a cliff and surrounded by a moat.

Guide-i-poos sets us off at a brisk walk, her alsatians running round to keep the pack in some semblance of order. We walk away from the wonderful fortress without a word other than we will come back here for the coach.

We walk past a large park about which we hear a lot, stopping in a huddle as the alsations growl and snap at ankles, pushing us into a tight group around our commandant... er... guide...

We are promised another church visit and a look at the old Colonial House, remnant of Britain when she was Great.

There's a cricket pitch she wants us to see. I've seen one before and wasn't particularly thrilled then... Cricket has a lot in common with this tour - takes forever with brief bursts of interest set in a series of long boring interludes...

Wait! This could be her undoing! She's taking us through a couple of streets! We hang about until we reach the back of the group and... Yes! An opportunity! As the group carries on forwards, we suddenly make a run for it down a side street, fearfully looking over our shoulders, trying to mingle with locals and hoping they don't give us away!

We spend a bit of time exploring the streets and then head back towards the old fortress that I have been fancying trying to sketch.

The Old Fortress, for such is indeed its name, was built between the 6th and 19th centuries, presumably by workers whose supervisors were asleep most of the time... 1300 years to build... oh... I think they built a fortress and then it got added to every now and then!

In fact even the island that it stands on is man made according to some sources, although frankly, looking at those cliffs I suspect what they mean is that it used to be part of the mainland and the moat was dug out to make it an island. That sounds just a bit more practical - or if they did make the island, that explains why it took 1300 years...

I was quite happy doodling away until the sound of a whip cracking and the scraping of shuffling feet announced the return of guide-i-poos and her not-so-merry band of tourists. The coach took us back towards the ship. It took a while for all the passengers to get on board, stopping as they did to hug and weep over every officer and crew member near the gangway...

Monday, 15 June 2009

They're Back! The Nolans!

Ohhhhh.... I'm in the mood for dancing! They are back!

Yes! The Nolans! They've split up, reformed, always had another sister ready to step in if one stepped out, battled illness, been derided, but I love them! And they have reformed to go on tour again!

So as an owner of all seven chart singles and a few more besides, plus around the same number of albums, will I stir myself to see them when they play their home town of Blackpool? Anne, Bernie, Linda, Colleen and (ooh...) Maureen - you betcha!

I've gotta pull myself together, don't make waves 'cos we got the chemistry right so pay some attention to me and be gentle, don't love me too hard because who's gonna rock you? Right! Me! Spirit body and soul...

Think I got them all in... Wonder if they need a guitarist...

The Sands of Tampa Bay

Amanda, one of the Ladies-Over-The-Water spent this weekend in Tampa Bay, Florida and sent this pic to Marlene, Evy and me!

A handwritten note by email!
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