Friday, 30 April 2010

A Day in Cyprus

25 April 2010. The Ocean Village docked at Limassol in Cyprus and we had a lazy start to the day, waiting until all the excursions had left before heading for the gangway ourselves to go exploring.

We found a mass of taxis and buses waiting outside the port entrance and hopped on a bus with several other cruisers for the trip into town. It was quite a way, I have to say. We'd been told it would be a 40 minute walk but we were on the bus for a good quarter hour!

Anyway the bus driver dropped us on a roundabout and pointed out the way to a castle, the way to the beach and offered to take us up into the mountains if we wanted. Only a few said they wanted to go and he arranged to meet them back at the roundabout in a couple of hours and - as we were looking round the nearby market at the time - he turned up and waited and none of the ones who had asked him to come back bothered to turn up.

We walked up to the castle and had a brief look around. There was an old olive or lemon press in the grounds of the castle - I wasn't too sure which, but there were lemon trees nearby. There was a huge stone pit to collect the juice - you could have swum in it... We couldn't as it was empty... Come on pay attention - if it had been full it would have been obvious whether the press was for olives or lemons!

We went back to the roundabout - it being a sort of focal point and headed for the beach area. After a wrong turning led us to the old port we found a pleasant Promenade along the sea front. An ice cream van was parked at the entrance to a wooden decked pier but for the moment our thoughts were more on walking than ice cream.

We had a stroll alongh the pier and sat down on one of the many benches. After a while a couple sat on the bench behind us, out of breath and speaking English. It turned out that they had walked from the ship, the "40 minutes" walk having taken them a gruelling two hours...

We went back to the roundabout, bought some drinks and sat there to see if a bus would turn up to take us back to the ship. None did except for the "go it alone excursion" bus that the ship had laid on and we had no tickets for that. We sat drinking our pop and watched several near misses on the roundabout until from the opposite side down the road off which we had found the seafront there came a loud crash. A van had ploughed into a couple of cars which had (correctly) stopped at a pedestrian crossing. One of the observers from the cruise went to have a look and related in great detail the damage, what had happened, that there were no injuries etc. I think it was the most exciting thing he'd seen in a while...

No buses were in evidence and in the end we grabbed a taxi back to the port which was a good move after seeing how far it would have been to walk!

We had a late lunch next to a window in the restaurant onboard the ship, watching a jellyfish in the harbour which was making heavy weather of the current. We watched it for a good half hour until the current had brought it right up under our window and then we realised the poor thing only looked to be pulsating because of the optical effect of the waves. It wasn't alive. In fact, it was a plastic carrier bag... But hey! If we had left just before we realised this, we would have had fond memories of watching marine life in it's natural environment...

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Palaces And Pyramids

We're now back in the UK after another fearless - well.. almost fearless trip abroad. I dropped my iPod off the balcony from Deck 11 and couldn't believe my luck when the headphone cable, which I managed to grab, didn't unplug itself!

Anyway, despite best efforts, my laptop refused to connect to the Internet via the ship's satellite so without further ado, here is the entry you should have been able to read last weekend...

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Like thousands of others we've been watching the antics of the Icelandic volcano over the past week or so with some trepidation. We were due to go off globe trotting last Thursday ourselves on a cruise on the Ocean Village.

Anyway, although Miss Franny was convinced we were not going to get out to Crete to pick the boat up and despite all my attempts to cheer her up saying things like "Well... we can go somewhere like Great Yarmouth...", we did actually manage to get out and onto the ship.

As I write this I'm sitting on a tiny balcony off our cabin with a gorgeous view of cranes, containers and lengths of railway line stacked into bundles on the quayside below me. We're in Limassol in Cyprus today and we haven't arranged any trips as yesterday was a long day. The description of the day in Limassol will come tomorrow!

We docked in Port Said yesterday at the mouth - or one of the mouths, as it's a delta - of the River Nile. We did a trip to see a few pyramids and such.

The first surprise was the number of gents in suits and dark glasses with guns very obviously sticking out of holsters under suit jackets. Our coach had one such, an affable chap who swapped smiles readily enough and who sat in the front seat, just in front of ours before going to sleep in a position that meant I could have drawn the gun much quicker between the seats than he could have hoped to...

Our first stop was at the stepped pyramid at Sakkara, built by King Zoser a long time before Cheops got cracking with his effort which we would see later.

The time scales dwarf our own history in Britain. We were still happily building houses by digging pits and roofing them with grass whilst the Egyptians were building these impressive stone structures. In fact we would still be doing so for a few thousand years to come...

Although here's a quick aside for you! How many of you know how to count to four in (one of) the language(s) that the people who built Stonehenge used? Shall I count to two and see if you can carry on to four? Ok? Eeny, meeny.....

King Zoser merely got on with it, studiously ignoring all the tradesmen who were trying to get him to buy plastic models of his growing pyramid. "One euros, souvenir, you take home, stick on mantlepiece, yes?"

We went in one tomb of a Princess (that should be "the tomb of one Princess"... she didn't have a string of tombs...) and admired (and I use the word sincerely) the incredible detail on the bas relief carvings of scenes showing everyday life from that time. Hippos and crocodiles were happily sharing the Nile whilst men were fishing or being fished - "...watch out for that croc Achmed... Ooh... that's got to hurt..."

Bas relief carvings stick out of the wall rather than being carved into it - it takes far more effort and skill - try drawing a black sky round the moon and stars and see how long it takes before you get fed up... and - oops - you drew over that space where the moon should be...

The guide was strict about not letting us touch the wall carvings. "Mind your backs, dont let your bags scrape the wall!" she said. "Right, now this scene..." she emphasised her area of attention by banging the carvings vigourously with the plastic handle of her guide's flag...

We got back in the bus - a relief as I had left my camera bag in it. That wasn't a problem but my glasses case was in the bag with my normal glasses in it, so I'd had to stumble round the dark tomb in sunglasses - a choice of dark or very blurred...

Then it was to a hotel for lunch. I did the same trick again with the glasses and stumbled about gathering weird buffet concoctions onto my plate - cheese with sardines and pasta with waiter's cleaning cloth... I managed in the toilets ok - someone screamed at one point but it was a chap so I knew I'd gone in the right door...

Fran was chuckling when I came out. "One of those blokes with a gun just came out with wet streaks all down his trousers... here... don't rush me... What's the hurry?!?"
"Come on," I urged, "We don't want to miss the bus!"

Then onto Giza and the most famous pyramids of all. There are 140 plus of the pointy things dotted all over Egypt but how many of you could name them all and spell them correctly? Me neither...

Lots of camel jockeys, postcard and jewellery sellers, enthusiastic would-be guides. Most Brits make the mistake of saying a polite "No thanks... which results in the invisible glue between yourself and your new best persuasive buddy getting stronger. Best way to avoid them is to ignore them totally. It's their culture. They find ours just as mystifying. "Hey if we just ignore them maybe they will come to us and ask to buy!" "Oh yeah, right, sure - I think your brain fell off with your fez!"...

Luckily there are Tourist Police here to protect us. One saw Fran stumble and indicated a safer way down from a pile of rubble. Then he grabbed her arm and led her off to look more closely at the stones of the Great Pyramid. I uttered an authoratitive "Fran!" and he let go, cursing me that I'd realised he was about to charge around 20 euros for whatever insignificant fact he was about to impart... They are all at it!

We wandered around the pyramids and piles of attendant rubble for a while until the colour of my shoes had changed to the colour of our surroundings. When it started to creep up my legs we headed back to the bus which was now about to head slightly down the hill to another ancient monument that I had wanted to see for a while.

The Sphinx pre-dates the pyramids by a couple of thousand years. It wasn't built to guard them at all but it is possible that they were built to be guarded by it. Not necessarily though - if you look at any Egyptian image of a bird, god, animal, or person it will be a profile - a sideways view. So the Sphinx is definitely not intended to be guarding the pyramid that sits right behind it.

Nor, apparently, was its nose shot off by Napolean and his band of lager louts on their away tour through Europe. I was rather disappointed by the Sphinx I am sad to relate. For one thing the sun was behind it so it wasn't all that easy to see any detail on it - I've increased the contrast of the photo by several times to get it as clear as this. But also it's smaller than I imagined. The head is incredibly small for its body and it is thought by some that it did have a lion's head originally to match the body but that some lordly "Hey look at me, I'm a Pharoah!" type such as Ramases II had the head re-whittled in his own image.

Then it was back through the Cairo traffic. Ha! This has to be seen to be believed. And I thought it was bad in Naples or around the Arc De Triomphe roundabout in Paris! Cairo traffic is a doozie! Almost as entertaining as the Pyramids themselves... And why did most pick-up trucks have either a couple of cows in the back or a pile of stuff reaching as high as a double-deck bus?

Once on the freeway on the way back to the port, a siren-blaring military-looking police van with three armed guards in the back waved us into the kerb and then led us in a convoy of coaches back through the traffic, which was stopped at every junction to let us through unimpeded. This apparently is a regular occurrence and has been for a number of years but when you're not expecting it is a bit of a facer. Fran described it as "a bit scary" but the armed escort on the seat in front of me didn't seem worried and the guards in the back of the open truck in front looked bored so I wasn't too bothered. Although if they had marched us off to a brick wall whilst handing out blindfolds, our friend in the seat in front would probably have just joined them and taken aim...

We got back to the port and ignored the vendors wanting to sell us more souvenirs. "Two Euros for you all to go back to England!" muttered one as a joke for his mate. They'd had a long day at the port. "Ten!" I tossed back, wittily...

Sunday, 18 April 2010

70 Years of Billy Fury

Yesterday found us out at the Billy Fury event in Liverpool. 17 April 2010 would have been Billy's 70th birthday but for the tragedy of his early death in 1983.

We met up with David and Jeannie for breakfast in Blackpool and then drove down to Liverpool where the Billy Fury, In Thoughts of You fan club were celebrating his life at a meeting at Billy's statue on the waterfront next to the Mersey on which he worked for a short time.

There were already a number of people gathered at the statue which was covered in flowers, cards and balloons. As one o'clock drew near it was hard to count everybody but I'd have reckoned between 150-200 people.

The fan club arrived with refreshments and set up tables and Billy's Mum, Jean Wycherley arrived looking and sounding cheerful, smiling and chatting to Billy's fans and friends. A chair was found for her and she sat at the foot of the statue whilst cameras blazed away from all sides.

Colin Paul, the well-known performer, who includes a Billy tribute in his act, hosted the day for the fan club and called everyone over to the Maritime Museum on the nearby Albert Dock where a room had been booked.

There was a raffle, a quiz to identify Billy's songs from a split second of the opening - we decided we wouldn't stand a chance given we were surrounded by hardcore Billy fans, but in the event we'd have made it into the bottom ranks of prize winners had we written our ideas down!

Then a few songs from Colin Paul before another refreshment break, following which we had a bit more music.

Colin sang a new tribute song to Billy, The Gentle King which was superb. He had written the words to the song himself and I'm sure all Billy fans will be delighted if they order a copy of his CD, available through billyfury.com.

Then Colin called a few performers from the audience. Jean Wycherley sang In Thoughts of You to rapturous applause. The big man with the big heart, Paul Staines from London gave us a song, there was one from someone whose name I didn't catch and then Colin was calling David and myself up. Talk about a build up! "...privileged to work with them at Sunnyside..." and more - thank you Colin. All we can say is that if Billy was the "Gentle King of Rock and Roll" then you are the true Gentleman of Rock and Roll, it is likewise a privilege for us to know and work with you.

We had no instruments of course and we don't do backing tracks or karaoke, so we did an acapella version of Billy's Like I've Never Been Gone, sharing a mic as there was only the one - I got horrendous bristle burns from David's beard...

The only disappointment of the day was that Billy's brother, Albie, was too ill to join us. He has to have dialysis several times a week and was in hospital on the day. Albie, we wish you well and hope to see you at some future event.

Nice to see Colin again, Marie, Frank and Pat, Margaret, Mags, Paul, Mike, Mark (Little Elvis!!!) and to meet new friends too. Several people were heading down to Mill Hill where Billy rests and where there will be another meet and event today. We can't make that one but send our love to all our friends who will be there.

Photos will eventually appear at Flickr, hopefully later today.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Conference Going

During the course of my work I attend a number of conferences during the year. One of the highlights for me is always the JISC Conference. Now I know that to anyone not familiar with UK Higher and Further Education the word "JISC" will be meaningless, but JISC is an organisation that supports colleges and universities with their various uses of Information Technology. This includes computers and all the technical bits that go with them - setting up networks both inside the institution but also the wider networks. Colleges and Universities access the Internet via a super-fast network called JANET, the Joint Academic Network.

JISC also supports what institutions do with their computers and networks - things such as funding projects to test ways of working so that the whole academic community benefits from the learning of the project rather than 600 institutions all trying it for themselves and making the same mistakes. (As well as the mistakes JISC ensures the institutions benefit from identified good practice and successful ways of working of course!)

Then there are the JISC Services which exist to provide expert advice on all manner of things computing. I work for such a service, JISC infoNet which provides advice and guidance on how to write strategies, link them to business change, run projects, assess and manage risks, assess and use new types of web services, store information to best allow clear and uncomplicated access routes, understand new uses of technology for learning etc. etc.

The JISC website is open to everyone and you can get an idea of their activities - which are many - by having a look.

Anyway, from Monday evening through until the end of yesterday JISC held their annual conference. It was in London at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster, just across the road from Westminster Abbey.

Friends were saying things like "Lucky you!" with varying amounts of envy. But whilst there were indeed some nice views from the windows (on the rare occasions I was standing in a room that had any windows), there was no chance of any sight-seeing or boat trips up the Thames or anything like that!

Instead it was still a very enjoyable and informative day, meeting up with colleagues from other services, academics and managers from institutions who I've known either through projects or through their attendance on my workshops.

We had lots of sessions on various projects that are either currently ongoing or just finished, sessions on what various JISC services have to offer the sector - I ran a couple of these myself - and at break times there were touch screens set up where you choose from a number of short videos giving an overview of more of the same! Again I was featured on one of those videos and it is a weird experience to be walking round and spot yourself on a monitor screen with people watching! From a distance (that made it impossible to hear what I was saying) it actually looked as though I was talking sense...

The furthest I have ever been to a conference was Alicante in Spain for which I flew to Alicante, got a taxi from the airport to the hotel, went out to eat (it being around 10:00pm by this time), went to bed just after eating (never a good thing), got picked up by a bus at the hotel the following morning to go to Alicante University for the conference and then got a taxi at the end of the day straight from the university back to the airport to fly home. Friends were green with envy... I was just green...

Large version of the photo: Westminster It was taken on my phone and through window glass so no great quality I'm afraid!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Blackpool in the Mid 1970s

More photos from 1975 have been going through the scanner. In fact there's quite a few photos been going up to my Flickr account where you can have a look at them in large versions.

We'll start off with this one of a "Boat" tram of 1934 on the Promenade. Blackpool is due to get some new trams next year. The artists' impressions I've seen fill me with dismay.

Blackpool was the first town to have electric trams running down it's streets in 1885 and the only town in England to have continuous tram operation since the heyday of trams. It must require Herculean effort to keep a fleet of public service vehicles running after 70+ years of service, but if they required replacing surely you would want the replacements to still look like the distinctive originals? Instead Blackpool is set to order sleek, multi-carriaged "anywhere" trams. I despair. The London Docklands Light Railway will be more exciting.

The Boats had replaced earlier open decked trams called Toastracks - because they had minimal body work and the rows of seats on a moving platform looked like a moving toast rack... "Toastrack" was the original official name for these, but the elegant prow suggested a boat and "Boats" they became.

Mr B's on the Golden Mile was almost the first purpose-built amusement arcade as opposed to canopies or glorified sheds built onto the front of what had once been hotels or houses. It was modern, it was two-storied, it contained rides such as waltzers and dodgems as well as slot machines and pinball.

And at the time this photograph was taken part of the upper floor had been given over to a display of puppets and vehicles from Gerry Anderson TV programmes. From Supercar to Thunderbirds and beyond to live action programmes such as UFO and Space 1999 this was a fabulous attraction. I can't remember how many times I went in to look at Lady Penelope, Mike Mercury, Steve Zodiac, Troy Tempest etc. But it was a lot!

There was one earlier purpose-built edifice on the corner opposite the Central Pier that was partly demolished to make it possible to widen Chapel Street. This led to the loss of Fairyland, a children's dark ride full of elves and fairies that I remember from my own childhood. Another part of the building housed a cinema that showed a continually repeated hour's programme of cartoons. If we were on holiday as kids in Blackpool we always wished for one day of rain so we could watch the cartoons in the morning and go in the Tower in the afternoon!

And of course we used to throng on the beach, struggling to find a tiny spot of sand where we could set up Mum and Dad's deck chairs hired from a great pile on the Promenade. Canvas or raffia windbreak was added if it was windy. Buckets and spades and a ball and that was us set for hours. We built sand pies, sand castles, great mounds containing chutes, tunnels and dips that we could roll the ball down. Kids on beaches these days? Pah! They wouldn't have a clue what to do. "But it doesn't plug in!" they would wail...

And the ice cream vans of the day kept their wares frozen with nothing more than insulation and huge chunks of ice that rapidly turned to water. Ice cream was frozen so much at the start of the day that a gob full of crunchy ice cream was often what you got! Oh, the nostalgia!

And the railings along the edge of the Promenade would groan under the weight of pensioners, looking out to sea as though sighting a whale were a regular occurrence. Overheard conversations would be along the lines of "Eeh, she might just as well have not got anything on at all! Look at that bit of string she calls a cossie, Elsie! Bert! Bert! You takes your eyes off her!"

The massive waste bins were necessary to contain all the rubbish generated by the tens of thousands of people on the beach and Promenade on a sunny day. Even then, piles of waste would surround them once they became full. Wasps would come on their own holidays just to hover around them!

Happy days... I wonder what the next few negatives will bring?

Large versions of the photos: Boat tram, Mr B's, ice cream van, Promenade railings

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Bygone Blackpool

Negatives from 1976 were going through the scanner last night. It was the year Fran and I were married and moved to Blackpool and I can't believe how long ago it is now. Blackpool has changed a lot since then and the change continues and will forever continue.

Here's an image that illustrates that point very well. It was taken in May 1976, probably over the Spring Bank Holiday, though I'm not certain of the exact date. There's a fair number of poeple on the Promenade though!

The pedestrian footbridge was built towards the end of the 1960s, the only one of a planned number of bridges to be built. It looked ok on the Promenade side but led to a grotty dingy platform of concrete on the other side that was isolated and not pleasant to walk past in order to get down to street level. The bridge was finally demolished earlier this year. Gone is the wonderful viewpoint for taking photos of the Illuminations, trams, parades, storm waves...

However progress continues - it is Blackpool's official motto, let's not forget! And so the sea wall curves that caused those fantastically high smashing waves during stormy high tides are now in the process of disappearing themselves and Blackpool's seafront will be a graceful sweep of steps that for some reason the Corporation want to call the Spanish Steps, as though Blackpool has any reason to feel fondly for our European cousin that has taken so mch trade away from the town's hotels and guest houses!

Once they are in place the high smashing waves soaring up to wet the tops of the lamp posts will be things of the past. Storms will be a lot less spectacular - but perhaps will cause less loss of life. I hope so. Far too many people have been swept out by a wave they were dodging...

On the left of the photo is something that was to disappear from Blackpool not all that long after the photo was taken. The pleasure boats and the ancient World War II vintage lorries that towed the boats to the sea and then ferried passengers to them from the beach.

Boat trips from Blackpool were not spectacular I'm afraid. It's a long straight piece of coast. No rocks, no seals, no dolphins or sharks, no corners to go round for a different view. Just the long line of Blackpool that for 15 minutes got thinner between sea and sky and then got fatter as the half hour trip returned. "That were nice!" someone would say. But it was just the boatman trying to cheer passengers up...

Blackpool - as a borough with a Corporation - was 100 years old in 1976. Visitors had been going to Blackpool for a bit o' fun since before 1876, but some semblance of order, things like sewers and stuff, started to be seen in Blackpool from then. Well... started to not be seen in the case of sewers...

The tram was duly decorated for the year. The following year the words "Blackpool Centenary" were removed and the words "Silver Jubilee" were installed in their place. Progress moves onwards - but don't miss a trick!

Snow On Them Thar Hills!

At the end of last week I found myself travelling up to Edinburgh, to run a Project Management workshop to one of the local education institutions.

There had been snow up in Edinburgh. Flipping heck, there had been snow in Blackpool! In April!

In Blackpool of course, it was 5 minutes in the air and then after an hour all traces of it had disappeared, but up in Scotland there were all sorts of problems. I was on the train, however rather than driving up so I set off wondering whether I would see any snow or whether, as has happened so many times, it would be all "further up" and I'd be disappointed.

I wasn't disappointed. Up to Carlisle I'd not seen any white stuff at all and then settled my nose into a book. By the time I looked up again it was to behold a totally winter landscape of unbroken white fields and full raging streams and rivers.

Even looking down from the train window the rails beside our train were invisible - there were just lines cut like a white gorge into the snow! It looked wonderful - it always does from comparitive warmth and comfort...!

By the time I got to Edinburgh, the city itself was snow-free, though as this view shows, taken early the following morning, the hills around Edinburgh bore evidence that there had been quite a bit of the white stuff!

After just one day, as I travelled back down to Blackpool, the once white fields were now patched with random white splotches amongst the green. My nose went back to my book...

Friday, 2 April 2010

Blackpool Pleasure Beach 1974

The last few negatives to go through the scanner have been from 1974 and were taken on Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

It's fascinating going through the old negatives for several reasons. One because they show a world that has gone now. Many of the rides and architecture shown on these photos has disappeared - was soon to disappear like the round globe on top of the Big Dipper shown here, or was to disappear twenty years later, like the Log Flume.

The photos are also interesting for the people. The fashions of the day, the fact that so many of the photos are aimed at pretty girls (I was only 20 and single at the time!) and the fact that you can now look back and think "how did people manage before mobile phones, computers, texting, Rubik's Cube...?"

And it's worth thinking about the habits and what more modern habits have cost. The pretty girl behind the counter sells a small bag of popcorn. These days she would hand you a bucket full. But look at the size of most of the people in these photos - and not just the pretty young girls! In 1974 if you wanted a cup of coffee you bought a cup of coffee. Not a mug. Certainly not a pint or more. These days when fast food operators ask "Do you want to go large with that? they unwittingly are asking the exact correct question. Not "Do you want that to go large?" but "Do you want to go large with that?" It's a strange world.

Many of the rides featured in the photos still exist on Blackpool Pleasure Beach. They date back a long way in fact. The Big Dipper was built in 1924. The Grand National of 1936 was always my personal favourite ride, even after the Big One was built.

The Derby Racer, shown here was a simple large-scale carousel, but fast enough that the centrifugal force meant you had to have strength in your knees to stop you flying off the outside horses!

I wonder which of the two young gentlemen she favoured... Surely that's one of the Osmonds on the right...? Who??? Yes, alright, I'm getting on in age you know...

And did you know that the Pleasure Beach used to build its own dodgem cars? They had workshops where the cars were designed and moulded out of fibreglass... Dodgems were at first flimsy things. The idea was to dodge other cars, hence the name. The early examples in the 1920s had little or no protection for the rider but the ride changed over time so that the main aim by the 1950s was to continually ram other cars.

Happy days. And none of these people were worrying about what their friends were doing or wanting to phone them - which would have meant finding a public telephone box and hoping they were at home - and were blissfully unaware of what an email was never mind a text.

Large versions of the photos: Log Flume, Pop Corn, Derby Racer, Dodgems
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