Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Best Overall Photograph

A bit of good news yesterday when I found one of my photos had won Best Overall Photograph in a photo competition at work.

This was the first such competition organised by the University of Northumbria and I suspect there may be more entries next time... But, having said that, I don't want you to get the impression that it was the best out of only three entries or anything! There were some excellent photos on display in the foyer of Northumbria's Ellison Building in Newcastle and I'd not have liked to have been the judge!

I like to think of myself as a serious photographer so it's perhaps a little embarrassing to have to admit that this was taken on my phone! It shows the Tyne Bridge silhouetted against the sunset and was taken as I crossed the river on the Millenium Bridge.

Thanks to Northumbria University and their judge for excellent taste and to Janette Hillicks for wielding the camera to take my photo with my photo for the photo ...er... at the top of the page!

Thanks also to Northumbria for the Boots gift voucher that was the prize. Miss Franny has now given me a list of things to buy with it... She has allowed me to spend some of it on myself too! The list includes razor blades...

Large view of the winning photo at Flickr (click "All Sizes")

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Aughton Institute

Last night we played the Aughton Institute. With Bob we were back to a trio for the night.

And what a great night it was too. The organiser had started out by apologising that the audience would be smaller than normal because of half term, but there were plenty of folks there and we had a great night, with a few request, a full dance floor and a return invitation for 13 March next year!

So any of you in that area know where to find us next year!

Farewell to a Young Friend

We said goodbye to a young friend yesterday. Christian was only 24 and had been severely disabled all of his life. Unable to talk, to move independantly or even to eat easily because of a problem with swallowing, yet with a huge IQ that made his problems so much more a frustration.

His gift was in showing people how much reserve they had, how much patience and fortitude and capacity for love.

We got to know Christian and his sister Hollie, who suffers from the same syndrome a few years ago when we were asked to play a garden party for their birthday celebrations. We have played several such parties and have got to know many in the family. Indeed, we were always treated as family, rather than as paid entertainers and it has been a pleasure and privilege to go and entertain them at those events.

It introduced us to such things as wheelchair dancing, as Hollie and Christian have many friends from schools and care centres who are less fortunate than the majority of us.

We were immensely touched to be asked to sing at Christian's funeral and we found the service very moving. Christian's parents are two of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet and our thoughts were and are with them and the rest of the family last week and onwards.

Rest In Peace, Christian

Monday, 19 October 2009

It's Monday, It's Plymouth

It's the start of a new week and I'm in Plymouth. Not an easy place to get to from Blackpool either by car or train, so I'm afraid I added a bit to my carbon hoofprint and came down by plane from Manchester.

It meant a very early start to the morning but then again both the train and car would have meant that and by flying down I was in my hotel by lunchtime and able to get on with some work this afternoon.

Tonight I've been out briefly to walk around the Barbican area and found it a place full of all sorts of restaurants and interesting shops and galleries. There's a marina full of boats - all deserted of course! It can't be long before any would-be invader has to parachute in as the country will soon be ringed with marinas without a break and, as none of the boats ever move, the invading army would have to sail back and say "Sorry - we couldn't find anywhere to park..."

I was up not long after 5 o'clock, so I'm knackered! I settled for a plain simple fish and chips, choosing a chip shop and cafe that had a steady stream of locals queueing up and it was a good choice. I can recommend the Barbican Fish Bar.

And now I'm going to kick off my shoes and lie back on the bed with my book, waiting for Clive to get here. If I don't fall asleep, we'll grab a pint or two before we head for our beds. Then we have two days of running Project Management workshops at the university to come.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Happy Birthday Jeannie!

Last night was Jeannie's 60th Birthday Party. The band played (with Bob on stage with us). Fran did the catering - and picked up so many compliments for the wonderful buffet spread she put on.

It was a very busy and very full day but all the effort over the past few weeks came together to good effect and it was a brilliant night that seemed over almost as soon as we started! Jeannie's birthday is during the coming week, but we chose the weekend for the party to ensure as many people could come as possible - mainly me I think at the moment!

There's a few more celebratory events to come this week. Jeannie and Fran are going off for the day on Tuesday for an all-day pampering at a local beauty salon. David and I were turned down as the staff said they had to have a fighting chance... Couldn't understand that...

Then at the end of the week we're taking a couple of days off work to have a meal and perhaps fit in a trip out somewhere. On Saturday the band have a club date in Ormskirk.

Today we have been unloading the cars - last night we were so knackered that we left everything in the car. Although Fran just wanted one bag out of the back seat. This was so crowded I opened the door very carefully as it was around 1:30 in the morning. Unfortunately whilst I caught the bag that wanted to fall out, it didn't much matter as it was upside down... A large Quality Street tin, which had cup cakes or something in it, fell out with the loudest crash I've ever heard and trundled off down the once-silent street! Sorry neighbours...

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Back in the Capital

Wherever I end up in all my travels for work, and that's a lot of places, I hardly ever get the chance to see anything of them. Waking up in a Travel Inn you know you're in a Travel Inn because they all look the same. But is it Nottingham? Cardiff? Edinburgh? But there's just something about London that makes me want to get out and walk miles. Too many miles.

I normally stay in the Tavistock - an art deco ground floor and a few staff who have got to know me over the years. But to eat I always trot (stroll/crawl...) out of the door and down to Leicester Square to see if there's a premiere about to happen or anyone famous knocking about, or just to soak up a bit of atmosphere.

There's so much close by. The Waterstones on the corner of Trafalgar Square is open late enough for a mooch and there's the pillock-of-the-hour on the fourth plinth at the moment too... Standing still whilst painted as a statue has always struck me as a moronic way to earn a living and the result of too many students allowed to choose theatrical studies as a main course, when we need engineers, entrepreneurs and (desperately) people who can think of things we can make that the rest of the world might want to buy. We need living statues like we need our eyeballs pecked out by crows...

Anyway, far too often these London walks leave me with sore feet. So last night I decided to hail a cab and return to the hotel in a slightly easier manner. I ended up with one of those brilliantly witty London cab drivers, who kept me entertained throughout the journey. He told me how his son was a water polo player of county standard. His wife was from Serbia and whilst on a visit there, their son had been invited to play with a Serbian water polo team. The lad's verdict was that not a single member of his county team would stand a chance of getting onto that team. They trained 6 nights a week for 3 hours, warming up by swimming at a pace for a full hour.

That's dedication to the exclusion of any other pursuits and an acceptance of pain of endurance that does away with what most of us would term "fun".

Then we got onto the subject of cab drivers and their knowledge and he told me tongue-in-cheek how it was all for the good of the public and not for financial gain.
"We're a service for the good of the people, Sir, we don't do this for the remuneration..."

"Ah good," I said, "because I've got no money..."

"Ah well, Sir..." he said with a slight sigh, "You can f**k off and walk then..."

Monday, 12 October 2009

Confessions of a Studio Photographer

My very first job - as opposed to collecting football pools whilst still at college - was as a photographer, working in a small studio in a northern mill town.

I was 19. I'd been interested in photography for years, had bought all the relevant magazines on subscription and, as most teenagers would be, was easily self-persuaded that life as a professional photographer would be either hob-nobbing with the rich and famous, or an endless succession of naked or near-naked females parading in front of my lens, from which every now and then I would have to wipe the steam...

It was nothing like that. For a start, the studio owner, who was incredibly handsome and well coiffured, had a monopoly on the naked and near-naked females - and an incredible method for persuading even the reluctant ones that they should be... "Brought a change of clothes? Oh... well never mind we'll do some bare-shoulders shots..."

For seconds, as the junior of the establishment, my job was mainly being up to my elbows in foul-smelling chemicals and in either near or total pitch darkness, developing films and printing black and white prints by the hundred. Most of these were incredibly boring passport photos, interspersed with head and shoulders portraits of the town's new but large immigrant population, destined to be sent back to relatives overseas and once in a while something that made me perk up (sorry for the choice of words) and smile!

When the owner went out doing weddings or other work I was allowed into the studio to take passport photos or to make appointments for portraits. Only if it was a rush job was I allowed to take the photos myself. However, one Saturday afternoon an asian gentleman came in, adamant that he needed photos taken and delivered as soon as possible.

All went well until he started to strip off his clothes... "Er... what sort of photos did you have in mind?" I stammered, looking slightly aghast at the trouser belt being unbuckled.

It turned out he was a wrestler - it was very popular on Saturday afternoon TV at the time and he was wanting promotional photos. He had on his wrestling tunic underneath his clothes. I was very relieved at that.

Later that day when the owner came back and asked with a grin; "So did you get anyone's clothes off then?" I was able to look back at him, calmly and coolly, and nod sagely...

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Introducing the Duo

Well it's now official that Bob will be leaving Creeping Bentgrass to concentrate on his work with The Old School Band.

David and I wish him every success in the ceilidh band which has become extremely successful and in demand for parties, making it difficult for him to perform with us on Saturday nights!

However David and I are well used to performing as a duo, having done so on and off since 2004 and that is how we are going to continue for the forseeable future. We have a few club bookings coming in and bookings for 2010 are looking as though it will be a good year again for us.

We'll be travelling about a bit too - February sees us up in the Lake District performing for a wedding reception and March sees us back in Northampton at the big Billy Fury gig of the year - Sunnyside. But we hope to see our regulars at the usual regular bookings at Myerscough, Witton Park, Garstang, Heskin Hall, Larbreck etc.

A return to Highfield Road is on the cards too, as apparently club members have been asking when we were to be booked again. Given that David had flu that night (and gave it me too, grrr...) we can't have been too bad! Also clubs in Eccleston and Ormskirk are in the calendar.

The new album will be completed as a duo - it's been a long time coming, but I've released a few tracks from it now - in the left hand column of the band's blog you can download The Gambler, Have You Ever Seen The Rain, Be My Baby, King For Tonight, Forever Autumn and 24 Hours From Tulsa.

The album will be a full hour of music and, of course, I'll let you know when it is available.

Incidentally, the music downloadable from this blog is of me on my own. Top download currently is the Christina Aguilera song The Voice Within which gets around 50 downloads a month with I'll Stand By You close behind.

The band's music is downloadable from the band's blog and I reckon the new tracks may alter the stats somewhat there!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

A Brief Time in Fleetwood

Fran was crafting. Making cards until she left the room and I vaguely heard the unmistakeable sound of boxes, drawers and beds being flung about upstairs.

"I can't find something I was looking for," she said. I made the mistake of asking what it was - as if I'd know where it was for Heaven's sake! So I ended up offering to take her out to a craft shop to buy some more.

I picked the camera up and we headed to Fleetwood. It's been said that the trams will not be allowed down Fleetwood's streets after the close of the 2009 season so I thought I'd see if there were any trundling up and down as the chance of seeing them on the street if the reports are true will be just a touch zilch...

Fran went off towards the craft shop and I walked down towards the Ferry terminus. I took a photo of the Pharos lighthouse just in case Health & Safety decide the risk of it skipping sideways a few feet and bruising someone's shinbone cause it to be demolished...

I mean - it's downright dangerous right there in the middle of the road. A driver with his eyes shut might run in it...

In fact the road only goes round one side of it these days because they've made the tram tracks into a tram only road which looks quite attractive I have to say. There's even one of the old original Victorian tram shelters at the stop there, looking really rather repulsive with no glass, some of the window frames missing and the whole in need of a coat of paint, preferably in some brighter colour than the multiple shades of dull matt black-and-chewing-gum that is its present state.

The road is in fact shared by buses which can whiz up unexpectedly behind you when your ears are attuned to warn you of the clanking noise of metal wheels shrieking on a track... I wonder if Health & Safety are aware of this?

Down at the Ferry terminus the restored Standard tram 147, Michael Airey, was looking wonderfully nostalgic whilst a new driver received training in trolley turning. He completed the task without any mishap, but a fat lot of good it did him because it's a one-way loop on the track at that point so he had to turn the trolley again. They've fitted the restored tram with a beeper alarm that goes off as soon as the trolley leaves the wire. Now call me stupid if you like, but surely if the trolley came off the overhead wire the driver would know about it because the tram would lose its electric supply and stop??? Must be a Health & Safety thing...

Fran caught me up. The craft shop was shut. We ended up having to go to (ugh!) Freeport.

I'm never quite sure what it is that women see in such places. How many clothes can you look at for Heaven's sake? There should be a law that for every 2 clothes shops there should be a shop of interest to men. Let's see... there could be a toy shop, a musical instruments shop, a DVD/CD shop, a book shop, a shop with naked women in the window... The fact is that most retail villages, malls and wherever else shops tend to gather, only have one such shop to 100 clothes shops and the only place I've ever seen naked or semi-naked women in a shop window was round the Amsterdam red light district on a guided tour. And then my complaints that it must surely be rude to look and not buy were ignored by Fran who kept me safe by way of grasping my ear throughout the half hour we were there...

Anyway the craft shop at Freeport didn't have what she wanted either. I had a look at the marina at the boats that rich people buy and thereafter ignore and then went into the cheap book shop and bought three books for a fiver. I had no money with me so I had to wait for Fran to catch up with me and pay... heh heh heh...

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Blackpool's Historic Trams, 1985

1985 was a great year for tram enthusiasts in Blackpool. It was the centenary year of electric trams. Whilst other places had displayed electric trams, Blackpool was the first town in the world to run them on public streets and, of course, the only English town to have kept its trams in service to the present day.

The year was marked with the visits of several restored tramcars from different parts of the UK.

This one was a Blackpool Standard and stayed in Blackpool for quite a while, becoming a favourite sight on the Promenade. It is not the same car as the current Standard restoration 147 now named Michael Airey.

The Manchester single decker originally ran between Cheetham Hill and Belle Vue, where there was a large Amusement Park.

Glasgow was represented by one of their trams in its distinctive livery of cream, green and brown.

Not to be outdone, Edinburgh had one of its trams at Blackpool too. As I write, they are about to get them back! The last time I was in Edinburgh they were cordoning off Princes Street ready for tracks to be laid. I'll be interested to see developments when I go again!

But what about Blackpool's own historic trams? Well, they don't come any older than this. This orange tramcar was one of Blackpool's original fleet. It doesn't have a pole or a pantograph to pick up current from the overhead lines because Blackpool's original trams used a conduit system and picked up their electricity from a slot in the ground running between the wheels.

This, of course, used to fill with blown sand from the beach and every now and then there would be a short and a burst of flame from the ground, which made crossing the tram tracks quite exciting. They soon switched to the overhead lines which, whilst far less pretty, were quite a bit safer...

"Will I get a shock if I stand on the line?" asked an early female visitor.
"Only if you hook your other foot over that line up there..." came the reply.

A Coronation tram had been restored for service. These trams were first brought into service in 1953 when the Queen had her coronation. They were heavy trams and fitted with the unreliable Vambac equipment. Most disappeared but one or two are still about, though the Vambacs have been replaced by railcoach equipment.

The number of "boat" trams has dwindled too, since then, though public outcry saved some of them. They are the oldest public sevice vehicles still in service, having been built in 1934 and never having been totally withdrawn from service.

The mighty Dreadnought tram was a Blackpool original and the first tram to have been conciously preserved. The conduit car was preserved only through the happy accident of having been drafted as a works car, which also accounts for the continued existence of Standard 147 and Marton Car 31, which you can find at Beamish in the North East...

This tramcar is of a design that first ran on the conduit system and remained in service until replaced by the familiar double decked balloon cars in 1934.

Blackpool OMO (One-Man-Only) car 11. They were dubbed "coffin" trams because of the elongated nose and - as they had been built from stretched railcoaches and brush cars and the bogies were still fairly close to the centre - they had a tendency to start breaking their backs. This is their second livery in red and cream, after a sort of sickly plum and custard livery was quickly withdrawn.

The year also saw the unveiling of Blackpool's first named tram, the Princess Alice, only saved from scrapping due to a well-worn upper deck saloon when someone said "Well... we could take the top off...?"

1985 saw a grand parade of the historic trams on the actual day of the centenary - but that will have to wait for another day... and for the slides and negatives to go through the scanner!

Photo set of Blackpool trams at my Flickr account.
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