Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Snow Across the Atlantic

The Ladies-Over-The-Water have been scoffing at my precious inch of snow (now almost totally gone) and sending photos of their collection that they have been storing in freezers from winters over the last ten years or so. They have spread it about and photographed it and will now no doubt be parcelling it up to go back in the freezer for next year...

Amanda started the snowball rolling with this shot of Virginia Beach taken on Boxing Day.

Marlene up in Canada semed to have so little snow she was forced to don a Santa hat to give the photo a bit of interest. I mean... We had that much in Blackpool!

But then in the middle of the night whilst I was tucked up in bed (they keep strange hours over there), Amanda sent this to show it was still snowing in the USA (Under Several Accumulations). This is her hubby, Paul, hard at work digging the snow and putting it in sacks ready for the freezer and Amanda has cleverly thrown a handful of cotton wool balls up in the air to make it look like it is snowing!

And here she is the following day when they emptied the sacks briefly into the back garden to take her photo! Nice try, ladies... but we're not so easily fooled in England!

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

Whilst Edward and John tried to give some semblance of knowing what was going on,
Tigger had totally failed to grasp the concept of Mario Karting...


A very Merry Christmas to all readers, regulars and passers-by. I think it's fair to say my son-in-law trounced me...

Hope everyone had a good day and don't forget there's a whole Boxing Day to recover!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

The Books of 2010 Part 2

The second entry looking at the books I've got through this year.

Starting with another childhood favourite Biggles. Capt William Earl Johns fought as a pilot in the First World War and the books about the young Biggles during this period are by far my favourites.

Mum had a large collection of Biggles books (there were 96 of them not counting omnibus editions) and they all got thrown out at some point - probably when we moved to Blackpool in the mid 1970s. I found the one on the left in an antiques warehouse and paid quite a lot for it and then found that a lot of the early books have been reprinted and can be bought from Amazon! Most of the WWI books are collections of short stories with only a couple having a single storyline throughout.

Then there were several more series that I was partway through. Simon Scarrow's Cato series follows a couple of Roman Centurions through their adventures in Britain and the wider Roman Empire. Clive started me off on these and I'm now up to date and reading them as they are published. Gladiator has a good story but it depends on a rather unlikely coincidence...!

The Burning Land by Bernard Cornwell is the latest in a series that I've been reading since it first started so there have been gaps throughout the reading as I wait for him to write each book! Set in the time of King Alfred it deals with the rise of Wessex from the brink of disaster whilst being centred around a disinherited Saxon lord from Northumbria who is determined to win back his land. This is the fifth in the series, which started in 2004, from the author of the Sharpe series.

Mr Midshipman Fury is the first in a series of two (so far) about John Fury and written by G.S. Beard. I bought the second in the series as a make-up in a 3-for-a-fiver cheap bookshop about two years ago and had been looking for this one since then. Similar stuff to the Bolitho books and covering the same period of the Napoleanic War.

Stephen Leather's series about undercover cop Dan "Spider" Shepphard is a tough, no punches pulled set of books. I've lost all sense of order of the books but this was the second one I'd read.

And so on to authors I haven't read before. Ben Elton's Blast From the Past was a non-challenging read but never quite achieved that sense of not being able to put it down. It won't make me search out his others I'm afraid, but as I always say: my opinion only!

Clive was raving about this one too and I have to admit he was right. It's about a boy with a blood mark in his eye who takes up with a band of Vikings and starts with a squirmingly vivid description of the infamous Blood Eagle rite. There's another in this series. I wouldn't be at all surprised if I buy it soon! If the name Giles Kristian sounds familiar, then it should. He was lead singer of the boy band Upside Down whose formation was the subject of a BBC documentary and who went on to have four top-20 hits in the UK. A cracker of a book too!

That Clive has a lot to answer for... How many new series can he introduce me to?!? Wounds of Honour by Anthony Riches is again, the first of a series which I'm going to have to follow. I'd not like to have to decide between this and the Cato series so will not try and will follow both! The next one is out already, but I have a good half of 2011's reading already lined up...

And now they are all trying to get in on the act!!! Chrissie leant me this one by Philip Pullman. Northern Lights was filmed a couple of years ago as The Golden Compass but, as always, the book is easily 100x better than the film and I can't wait to read the next of this trilogy!

I'm currently halfway through the second in the Crowner John series mentioned yesterday and there's a definite must-buy due out in paperback on 6 January: Jasper Fforde's Shades of Grey!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The Books of 2010 Part 1

We're getting towards the end of the year I suppose. Just 3 days to Christmas and in 10 days it will be 2011.

So I look back over the diary, which is contained in web pages on my hard drive these days plus the entries in this blog, to see what lists come out of the year.

I've read 40 books so far this year, though I'm hoping to make it at least 41 before the end of the year. Most of my reading is done on trains or in hotels and any reading at home is in bits between watching the TV, listening to music or fiddling at this keyboard. I used to read in bed but these days just seem to zonk out as soon as my head hits the pillow!

I do tend to read series of books too which is great in retrospctives but frustrating when reading current series as sometimes you wait so long for the next that you can't remember what was in the last! But there have been a few individual books this year some of which we'll cover in this first entry and some of which will have to wait for another day!

There are almost 30 books in the Bolitho series written by Douglas Reeman under the name of Alexander Kent.

I first read them in the 1980s and decided I'd have another go at them last year when I read the first 11 books. My first book of the year was No.12 in the series; The Flag Captain and I read up to and including No.24; Second to None. The series concerns itself with the exploits of Richard Bolitho and his nephew Adam who are both officers in His Brittanic Majesty's Navy during the late 1700s through to the post Napoleanic period. Their lives at sea and relationships with officers, men and family at home are punctuated by descriptive battles at sea which make up some gripping tales of those days of wooden fighting ships. The background to the tales and many incidents featured are drawn from real-life naval and world history.

Last year for Christmas I got an omnibus edition of the first four Jennings books by Anthony Buckeridge.

These were books I remembered from childhood and concern 10-year-old Jennings and his friend Darbyshire who start at Linbury Court Preparatory School in the opening of the first book. The two boys and their friends managed to spend a good 45 years in pre-pubescent innocence at Linbury Court. I think I must have read about ten of the Jennings books as a child and it was fun to read through the first four again this year. I'll keep an eye out for the next omnibus of books 5-8!

It wasn't all long series slogs though. I like to read one or two "worthy" books in a year that teach me something. Bad Science by Ben Goldacre explains in a simple and quite amusing way how scientists undertake trials to give the weight of evidence to their findings and debunks those who take a less than robust approach to their science. He also exposes those who try to blind us with science, sometimes at the expense of attracting large corporately-backed writs for damage to reputation. It was here I first read the line "Gillian McKeith or, to give her her full medical title: Gillian McKeith..."

The second book, Family Britain documents the period just before and during my very early childhood, 1951-1957, using the diaries of famous and ordinary members of the public to illustrate attitudes and feelings of the British.

After that I needed a bit of light relief and found it only by delving deep behind the first row of books to the layer behind on a high shelf in a second hand book store. As a teenager I had the full series more or less of the Timothy Lea Confessions books by Christopher Wood. They got sold off or thrown probably at some house move in the 1970s but I loved their wit and the dreadful puns and names so this was a short wallow in nostalgia!

The Crowner John series by Bernard Knight concerns a 12th Century coroner in Devon and I'd read a couple of the series last year. This is the first of the series though and I am currently reading (ie the 41st book of the year) No.2 in the series; The Poisoned Chalice. They are a trifle slower than some of my other reading but they are good murder mysteries and you wonder throughout how Crowner John will solve them!

That's all for today. The next entry will have another revisiting of childhood reading and new books in ongoing series and I'll give an opinion on some authors who were new to me during the year.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Have I Mentioned the Weather?

Cor! Snow is normally an event in Blackpool. Just every now and then we get some. I used to reckon about every six years but we had some last year around the end of November and this year the entire country seems to be under a layer of the white stuff.

It's the temperatures that have gone with this lot that has been the eye-opener!

Last night we took Mum out for a meal with Gill and Eddie and had a great night at the Red Lion in Bispham.

We were already standing and putting coats on when the carol singers arrived but I don't think they minded as I assured them as we walked past that we hadn't heard them before...!

We took Mum back home and the car registered -14°C on the display. Brrrr! No comments about yellow snow thank you... it's the artificial light!

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Blackpool Snow

It's not too often we get the white stuff in Blackpool but today threw a bit at us!

Early morning in the town centre. This is the (fairly) new sculpture in the new pedestrianised town centre around St John's Square.

I'd like to say "I walked" but actally I tottered and slithered down to the Promenade in order to take this photo looking towards the Central Pier from the corner of Mr Bee's arcade on the Golden Mile.

The Promenade is closed to southbound traffic until (wait for it) July 2011. Actually you have no choice - you have to wait for it... The current work will see the completion of the headland near the North Pier and the sea defences and the roadway will be single track rather than two lanes in each direction, allowing for "exciting" events to be staged on the town centre headland. Look, I don't know... perhaps they'll move the Birdman competition from the North Pier or something... It might make people think twice if they have to bounce down the new stepped sea defences before landing in the sea...

Likewise the Tower is covered in a fair bit of scaffolding (as well as snow!) as it undergoes a major refurbishment inside and at the top.

The old fish tanks in the ground floor aquarium are to disappear which in a way seems a shame. They were on the site before the Tower was! The fish are being given a home in the Sea Life Centre on the Promenade. I'm not sure how they feel about it - seems a bit like a move to an old folks home I guess. Some will look forward to it and meeting new friends and some will be fearful that there will be too much noise and that they'll have to go to bed earlier than they do now... I gather that when the fish were told the electric eel got a right shock...

As you may gather from some of these photos, Blackpool Council haven't put themselves out to grit any pavements or clear snow from the town centre... People slipping and sliding all over the place. All around the country other councils were gritting major roads at least. In Blackpool where were the grit carts? I give up... where were they???

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Harrods Story Debunked

A nice story going the rounds about a disgruntled worker getting revenge on the Harrods store.

Apparently the chap barricaded himself in the room with the controls to the 10,000 bulbs of the store's Christmas lights and managed to create this message.

Which is quite funny until you start to think about it and realise that there would never be a room with 10,000 individual switches and, even if there were, it would take some unique skill with a switch toggle to curve the strings of lights into the curves shown for the letter "K"...

A search on Google for "harrods" lists the story quite a lot - but only from blogs and joke sites. Not a single news site is mentioned.

And what a disappointment...

Do a search on Google Images for "harrods christmas lights" and look what is the very first photo to come up - taken on Oct 29 2009.

Please try harder...

Debunked!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

In the Land of Ice and Snow...

Well actually it's just about all gone.

I've spent the last two days in Newcastle. There was snow on the way - a few isolated drifts of grey, dirty snow piled up against walls and grassy banks on the A66 going over the moors and even more at Durham Services were I stopped on the way on Monday morning to wake myself up.

They had cleared the paths but the car park still had two inches of ice with a slushy top that made the car lurch sideways when I set off again and had to climb out of the hole in the ice it had settled into.

The snow is apparently coming back on Thursday. That's ok becuse I should have finished charging about the country by then and can knuckle down to planning an online delivery of the Project Management workshop which I've rashly agreed to do in four hourly instalments in the New Year.

Whilst I've been away Fran has put the Christmas tree up. Early reports were that it had survived the cats' attention for the first day...

Thursday, 9 December 2010

All White in the End

Amanda, one of the infamous Ladies-Over-The-Water, has sent photos of an accident that happened in South Africa. Luckily it seems not to have been a bad accident but the experience turned people white...

It turned out that the people in the blue car were carrying a 25 litre tub of white paint on the back seat at the time of the accident.

Apparently an ambulance driver refused to allow his female paramedic to leave their vehicle as she couldn't stop laughing...

It's nice when things turn out all white at the end though!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

My Life, the Museum

It's a sobering thing to walk round a museum and find loads of things that you remember and that some of them are from what you consider your adult life, not just childhood!

So it was when we had a look around the Science Museum in London last weekend.

Certainly there were loads of things from well before I was born. But then...

There was the iron that my Mum used to use. I remember exactly the feel of the dial and the little rocker switch on the front, even if I can't remember what the rocker switch was supposed to do.

Of course, when I played with it (and I'm not sure at this point, memory failing me a little, whether I was supposed to be playing with it at all...) it wasn't an iron but a hover-transport-cum-spaceship for Dan Dare in which the Mekon was imprisoned and taken away to the penal colony on planet Zongo.

As the spaceship pulled off against considerable gravitational pull (the iron was heavy...) I was able to communicate with the Chief Warder on Zongo (my brother Frank) by means of my Dan Dare communications tower.

This didn't exactly pass the stringent tests of expectation. The searchlight had a torch bulb, rather than a powerful beam that could be seen as you looked sideways at it. The walkie-talkie had only short wires and you had to remain so close to the Chief Warder that you could hear him talking anyway, without relying on the distorted buzzing coming from your handset. And the Morse Buzzer... well who wanted to use a Morse Buzzer anyway?

I've shown the box lid of this toy previously on the blog but here it was, complete and just waiting for me to smash the glass, load the spinning discs, turn it against the spring to a maximum of 8 clicks and dispatch the hordes of Treens who were trying to rescue the Mekon from the innards of the iron. I mean Prisoner Transport...

Now that was all very well and it all brought childhood memories flooding back. But then...

This was the adding machine that Mum and Dad bought to do all their calculations to add up hundreds of football coupons every Friday night. Dad was a main collector for both Littlewoods and Vernons Football Pools. He collected the packets of coupons from other collectors and then had to open each, add up the value of the coupons, check it against the money that each collector had handed in, deduct their commission, calculate his own share and then bag up the money for banking before taking the large bag of coupons into the Manchester office in Ancoats. The deadline was 2:00am and it would always be towards 1:00am by the time we got there.

The adding machine enabled Dad to recruit more collectors as it saved him time in adding up long lists of payment amounts manually.

And then if being reminded of teenage years wasn't enough, things got worse!

This was our first video recorder. It came out in 1972 but it would be around 1974 when we got ours I think. The big cassette tapes had the two spools set one on top of the other, a messy arrangement that quite often fouled up. You could record TV for an hour on each cassette, which were hideously expensive. The quality though, was excellent for the time. Far better than the VHS machines that came out a couple of years later and became the standard format.

I wonder whatever happened to my tape of Benny Hill...

Monday, 6 December 2010

Freezing in London

As the cold covers the entire country we risked the journey down to London for the weekend. I figured it was all motorway anyway so if any roads were going to be kept open and free from ice it would be the M6/M1.

And so it proved to be, despite the dashboard telling me it was -8 outside as we passed through Staffordshire.

It was just a mite cold in the Capital too! We shivered our way down to Trafalgar Square on Friday night to empty a few shelves in Waterstones and the fountains in the Square were quite spectacular. Any lower temps and they'd have been spitting lumps out I imagine!

I'd not taken my camera out during the night so I had to take these two on my phone, trying not to shiver and induce camera shake...

The Christmas tree had made an appearance in Trafalgar Square, an annual gift from the Norwegians in recognition of our efforts to deliver them from Nazi rule in World War II.

On Saturday morning we caught a bus down to Kensington and went into the Science Museum. It's both exciting and depressing to see how much stuff I remember is now classed as a museum piece... A separate entry will dredge up a few more memories of my earlier life.

There's lots of stuff in the museum that I'm not old enough to remember personally, though even so, it's thrilling to stand next to Stevenson's Rocket or to walk through the aeronautical galleries and see the majority of flying machines that were in Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines and to be able to admire the First World War vintage SE5a and the Vickers Vimy that Alcock and Brown flew across the Atlantic in. It's been straightened a bit because they crashed it into a bog in Ireland... That must have been a dicey moment:

"Is that Ireland down there?"
"Whatever it is, old chap, we're going to hit it!"

We walked back through Hyde Park. Nobody was exercising horses and the usual mud was glistening white and rock hard in most places so apart from a tendency to slither here and there, we didn't get too mud-splattered.

The Serpentine was quiet - nobody rowing boats up and down and the ducks had a choice of swimming or walking depending on which bit of water they chose. Some workmen were dismantling a dog from a tree...

A continental market was in full swing with far more people than it's healthy to have all in one place at the same time. At least it was possible to buy some food without having to Google it to see what it was... This I find is a common failing in London where iceberg or flat lettuce (or almost anything edible) is passe and salad has to look like grass stalks to excite the locals.

"We're fanatical about food" advertises one food chain and they are not bloody kidding... Usually at meal times in London I feel as helpless as a 7-year-old whose school has been invaded by Jamie Oliver. I noticed indeed that he had a place in the park so we avoided that like the plague...

Those continentals know what it's all about though so there were plenty of chips on offer and none of them ruined by Spry Crisp and bloody Dry! In fact I went for a bowl full of potato scallops with bits of bacon and onion (though it would have done a blind man good to see any onion in it).

We had to push through the crowd until we came to the end of the market and found a bench, because any seats within the markets were full of people doing anything but eating. "My Goodness James, there's no hummus!"
"Never mind, Daphne old girl, just have a sit down and we'll whisk up a bowl of tofu and celeriac later!"
"Ugh, yes I couldn't eat this stuff they are selling - eew! I bet it has a taste!"

London does things to my feet. By the time we got to Marble Arch I was limping and footsore and ready to sit down (ha! no chance!) The Christmas rush on Oxford Street is yet another of those places where there are far too many people crammed into a space to be good for you.

I took refuge in the DVD department of HMV and made a few purchases that Miss Franny decided later I could have back on Christmas morning with some wrapping paper on...

We were going to head for Regent Street but there were so many people we diverted into a side street and zig-zagged until we came out onto Regent Street.

There had been an accident and the police had closed all roads leading to Oxford Circus so it was a total gridlock of cars, honking horns and people doing three point turns. Being on foot and therefore able to shake my head in amusement at all these antics almost made up for the fact that the said feet were almost dropping off!

We ate in the Mermaid's Tail on Leicester Square, a wonderful place with not a hint of couscous and, stuffed to the gunnels with steak and apple pie, we hailed a cab and headed back to the hotel.

Friday, 3 December 2010

The Magic Robot

Last week I was out and about for work and had driven after delivering a Process Review training session from Aberystwyth to Shrewsbury where I had a meeting the following day.

Having checked into the hotel I went out for a meal to find Shrewsbury was still very busy with people walking about and loaded with shopping. It turned out that they had just switched on their Christmas lights in the town centre that night.

Walking back to the hotel after eating I came across this charity display in a toy shop window.

An Amazing Robot! I remember them being "Magic Robot" but whether that was an alternative name or my befuddled memory I'm not sure! This was a favourite toy when I was small. In the late 50s and early 60s this simple toy indeed seemed magic.

The robot figure went into a socket circled by questions and you turned it until the rod held by the robot pointed to the question that you wanted answering. You then took the figure from the socket and placed it on a circle of mirrored foil surrounded by the answers to the questions from around the socket and "by magic" the robot spun until the rod pointed at the correct answer!

It was done with a simple magnet - a staple tool of toys in the 1950s and 60s. The robot was fastened into a swivelling base and that, when fitted into the socket, was held fast so that when you turned the robot to your question you were turning it within its own base. This meant that the polarity of the magnet in the robot was positioned so that when it aligned with the magnet beneath the mirror, the robot would swivel to the correct answer every time! Clever!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Ingrid Pitt 1937-2010

Putting the loss of the PC totally into perspective was the death last week of a lady I've been privileged to know as a friend for some 13 years.

I met Ingrid for the first time in April 1997 at the Memorabilia show in Birmingham's NEC. We had gone down to look at comic stalls and Fran had gone off with Gill down another aisle and I stopped in my tracks at the sight of two of my favourte ladies of film. Ingrid was sitting next to Caroline Munro. I'd been a fan of Caroline's since she was a model in the photographic press in the late 1960s. I'd been a fan of Ingrid's since seeing Where Eagles Dare at the cinema and a total fan after The Vampire Lovers of 1970.

So I said hello and took this photo which despite being the first photo I took of her, is still my favourite and I think was one of hers too as she used it on the cover of her fan magazine a few years later.

After that we bumped into each other once or twice a year at the Memorabilia fairs. On our second meeting she told me off for laughing when she told me someone was making a plastic kit of her in a nude pose from Countess Dracula. On our third meeting I joined her fan club and she made me come to sit next to her behind her stall and linked my arm as we talked.

Later that year we saw her again in Scotland and she met Fran for the first time. I was well aware of her wicked sense of humour by then and was again sitting next to her behind the stall when Fran turned up after searching for beanies and craft stuff.

"Oh! Is this your wifey?" she asked with a touch of impish delight in her voice.
"Yes!" I said, "so behave!"

"I'll give her something to photograph!" she declared and lunged at me in full-on vampire mode.

This was 2003. By now her husband Tony - the most wonderfully laid-back and likeable man - used to look for me turning up and would leave me to look after Ingrid whilst he had a turn around the rest of the stalls himself.

She had a field day with this jumper, taking great delight in zipping it up and down at such a rate that the friction was causing the hairs on my chest to smoke...

I started to write articles for the fan club magazine and got the occasional email from Tony who looked in vain for support for laptop problems - I know nothing about Macs and that's what they had. I think he just needed a sympathetic ear sometimes!

One of the best memories of Ingrid - and I'll not say a lot here as I'll do another entry in detail - was going up to Scotland on the 30th anniversary of the filming of The Wicker Man to surprise her as she was giving an interview in front of an audience and then introducing a showing of the film the following night.

That weekend was just so memorable for so many incidents it needs an entry to itself. But here is Ingrid in front of a burning Wicker Man, lapping up the adoration of a large crowd through which Tony and I had just dashed. She was loving it and flashguns were popping all the time. This was Ingrid the film star.

The last time we saw her was at her birthday party in 2008. The birthday parties were always memorable. Caroline was almost always there and we'd fallen into a habit of sharing a taxi back with her to drop her off at home before carrying onto our hotel.

One year I found myself sitting next to actress Fenella Fielding whilst being opposite the beautiful photographer and ex-model, Maureen Barrymore and, had looks been able to kill, would have shrivelled up and burnt due to the jealous looks from most of the other males in the room!

Ingrid loved a good story and after one of her friends in America featured my band, Creeping Bentgrass in a rave of a review in magazine Mondo Cult (thanks Jessie!) she announced to everyone at her party that year that we had "made it in America!".

Tony came round to where we were sitting a while later when the speeches were done and bent down to my ear.
"How many albums have you sold in America then?" he asked.
"One..." I said.

Ingrid Pitt had spent part of her childhood in a German concentration camp during the war. She lived with partisans in the forests of what became the Eastern Block. Found herself on the eastern side of the Wall but escaped to the West. Started making films in Spain and Argentina. Was left alone in a vault with Eva Peron's body to experience something... "Well I don't know what she (her hostess who had led her to the vault) wanted me to experience but I didn't!". Had wonderful stories of Clint Eastwood, Richard Burton and Liz Taylor, John Wayne and Yakima Cannutt. Karate trained with Elvis(!!!) Became an icon of the sexy vampire in the 1970s. Became an accomplished writer with books and numerous magazine credits. Was a cherished friend. I'm going to miss her. A lot.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Computer Woes - Again!

Ouch! I should have known. The PC was over three years old and had long since been taken for granted.

So it did what all computers do and the hard drive decided to spin no more as of Saturday morning. I swapped it to another machine but it was indeed the drive not the power.

Luckily I had backed up my photos (18,345), web pages (12,728) and music files (11,952) only a few days previously and what few photos I lost I had already uploaded to Flickr and was able to download them back to the new sparkly replacement machine. And I had backed up the main documents folder as recently as last April... ooh...

Still, what else is there other than music and photos? Oh yes... those... and those too... and those - yes alright, so I'll back this new computer up more often! After all, I do go around the country training people about risk management... [ahem!]

Windows 7 too. Ah - that means the sound recording software won't install. It was pretty old. But version 1.2 did everything I needed it to - except install on Windows 7... Oh, and the image processing software too. Paint Shop Pro v6... The new Corel PSP X2 that I bought last Christmas whacked out the entire machine and I had to take it off. I could try the new X3 - no... I'll go along with everyone else and have ordered a copy of Adobe Photo Shop. Waiting for it to arrive...

No rush because the ancient scanner (it did everything I needed it to!!!) won't work with Windows 7 either. No driver for it and no intention of making one so I gather...

Two hours spent on Sunday afternoon getting Citrix to work so I could connect to the university network on Monday morning. It does work but seems to take ages to start - there's a delay of coffee brewing proportions before the box that does nothing except say "click to continue" comes up.

And the new machine is ultra powerful. Well the memory is and the CPU is and the new gadget meters show they never go above 35% capacity but the hard drive, whilst being an impressively large one does not seem to save or read any quicker than a four year old reading Tolkein...

And my broadband is still painfully slow. It's upto 20Mb you know. I get around 300Kb which is due to the distance to the local telephone exchange which still has Big Bertha who has to rearrange her jackplugs when she sees I'm about to connect to the web. I now have a wireless connection from the PC to the router instead of the nice yellow ethernet cable. But that was faster than wireless so if ever BT sort out the infrastructure outside the house I'll be limited by the infrastructure inside the house. And by Miss Franny using the laptop to connect to QVC...

So I'm now faced with the thrill of going through the entire comics collection to check the database and add back any comics I've bought since April (not many but there again Chrissie gave me a couple of hundred...) and have a nice straight line on the graphs of Flickr and blog viewer numbers between April and October - tell you what... seeing as you are reading this anyway, can you drop me a line and tell me how many photos and blog pages you looked at with dates? Thank muchly!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Tithebarn Mayoral Evening

What a brilliant night we had last night! It was one of those nights where we could do no wrong!

Garstang's Tithebarn was full to the rafters (I know because I could see them!) and they were well up for a night of music and laughter.

I think David and I could have spent the night doing a comedy stand-up, but we got them singing along to our selection of country, folk and irish, fifties and sixties through to more modern songs and then after a hotpot supper, the dance floor filled!

Well alright - there wasn't a dance floor as such, but the space in front of the toilets became full of people swaying, stepping, gyrating and it wasn't because the toilets were engaged at the time!

Garstang's mayor, Gillian Lamb was pleased with the night and as the evening coincided with the official Lancashire Day we had a loyal toast to the Queen, the Duke of Lancashire.

To top the night off, as we were loading the car under a brilliantly dark sky, filled with stars, Jeannie and I saw a shooting star streak momentarily across the central sky. Well it could have been a lost spanner from the space station, but it made us both gasp and brought forth instant queries from the other two as to what we were doing...

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Blackpool

Well after the long run of memories from 1998 - it gave me 23 entries to the blog - it's time to think about what comes next.

I had promised one or two readers that I would take a proper look at my home town of Blackpool so here is a quick introduction to some of the topics I'll be covering about the town.

Blackpool is England's most famous seaside town. Big, brash, bold and in-your-face, Blackpool started out as a tiny fishing village, the insignificant neighbour to nearby Bispham which has a history going back to the Norman times and beyond.

It grew with a passion for sea bathing in the 18th century when stagecoaches ran from the mill towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire to the beach. Hotels and entertainment were not long in coming!

The Tower dates from the 1890s. Half the size of the Eiffel Tower that inspired it, the tower itself is only part of the fun contained wthin the building that surrounds it. As the owners pointed out pityingly, the Paris tower had "nowt t' tek brass!" (nothing to take money!)

Next to the Tower and the sands Blackpool is famous still for a few more things.

Not only was Blackpool the first English town to have electric trams running through its streets (in 1885), but it was the only town to keep them in operation to the present day.

The bulk of the fleet of trams to the present day has dated from 1934. The system is currently being overhauled and new trams are about to replace the older fleet, though some preserved trams will still be operated they tell us. Tram fans are not exactly over the moon about the new plans, fearing part of Blackpool's character is about to be lost, but we shall see...

Blackpool Pleasure Beach started in the very first years of the 1800s and has remained in the ownership of the same family throughout its history.

It started to charge admission fees a couple of years ago and predictably has plummeted from its long-standing position as Britain's most visited tourist attraction.

And there are not one; not two; but three Victorian piers sticking out to sea so that people can walk over the waves. The North Pier (shown) is the oldest and most sedate. The South Pier had to change its name to the Central Pier when the third pier was built further south along the Promenade. They have survived fire, shipwreck and indifference to stand to the present day whilst other seaside towns are losing their piers at an alarming rate around the country.

There are the famous Blackpool Illuminations, an annual display from August Bank Holiday week to the first weekend in November. A tradition that started with the invention of electric lights - an early display was postponed until after World War One had finished and similarly they were reluctantly turned off during World War II - the Illuminations still choke the Promenade road with crawling traffic and yet how much more thrilling they must have been before computers and television!

And the town has its quieter sides too, a zoo and the glorious Stanley Park with its acres of gardens and boating lake, playing fields and sports facilities.

There are many entries on the blog already about Blackpool. There are many more to come!

Large versions of the photos: beach and tower, trams, pleasure beach, north pier, illuminations, stanley park

Friday, 26 November 2010

Moreton-in-the-Marsh Time

Friday 31 May 1998. The last day of our holiday. Fran and I left the hotel in Bourton-on-the-Water and headed northwards, passing through Stow-on-the-Wold and Tramp-on-the-Road (I made-that-one-up), stopping for a while in Moreton-on-the-Marsh, where I took a few photographs.

This quiet and picturesque village was a centre for the preparation for the invasion of Normandy on D-Day in the Second World War and a display in a shop window had photographs of the main street, full of rows of U.S. tanks.

Where the cars are parked in this photograph, the tanks were lined up side by side. It was a miracle that the Luftwaffe did not catch a glimpse of the preparations and warn the German High Command.

"Vas ist das?!? Panzer-in-der-Street!!! Achtung! Raus der Fliegers-in-der-Stukas!!!"

The building seen in the first photograph had a splendid sundial carved into the face of the stone. The weather at the time was such that it was seen to its best advantage. Sundials were in use long before governments decided to fiddle with time and have Summer Time for "saving light" and in fact as pubs weren't subject to opening hours back then farmers could work until it went dark then go for a firkin - whoops no, scratch that, looking at how it reads - then go for a pint no matter how early it was. Though there were one or two places where they could go for a - no!!!!! Keep it clean!

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes. In the days when sundials told the time and villagers were left standing outside the shop on cloudy days waiting for the owner to turn up, there was no such thing as Geenwich Mean Time.

Anyone mentioning GMT in the pub would have probably got a gin and tonic from a slightly deaf barman. Every town decided its time on factors such as when the sun came up. It wasn't until the railways arrived that people came round to the idea that for train timetables to make sense it had to be ten o'clock in Bristol at the same time it was ten o'clock in London.

You can imagine the chaos and confusion it caused when they moved from one system to another. There is a sign under the clock tower in Ramsgate that says:

"Ramsgate Mean Time is 5 mins 41 secs faster than this clock"

A bit like decimal coinage being brought in during the late 1960s. People had to stop saying "tuppence" and start saying "two pence" in order for others to understand which system they were using. How you do that when answering the question "What time is it?" I'm not sure, unless that marked the demise of "It's ten after three" for "ten past three"...

I do like to stimulate a touch of cerebral action in this blog. As Miss Franny's DS game says: it does you good to give the old pre-frontal cortex a workout!

And that pretty much brings this series about our 1998 holiday to an end.

We stopped briefly in Stratford upon Avon on our way home, to have a look at Shakespeare's birthplace and admire the formal brick patterned paving outside that he must have known and loved.

He lived there throughout his young life until his mother told him he was bard...

Large versions of the photos: all the photographs from this holiday can be viewed as a set at Flickr.

Addendum
I received a message from the lovely Mags, who says "'Moreton In Marsh' John.... I always thought it was 'In The...' until last year. Lovely place. x"

A lovely place indeed - and all the better for my erroneous "the"... Apologies to Moreton-in-Marsh residents and afficionadoes everywhere. However surely in the suggests something more substantial than a mere in...?
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