Monday, 30 May 2011

Back in Witton Park

Today we were back in the courtyard at Witton Park Blackburn for the Family Fun Day.

Whilst we had an audience throughout the afternoon the weather had not been so good. We clocked just 9 degrees temperature as we drove to the park. It was fine but dull and cloudy so no big crowds today. Frustratingly the sun came out half an hour before we finished - just that bit too late to tempt people out!

A huge thank you to those who came to see us. We will next be at Heskin Hall in Chorley in the marquee following the Annual Steam Fair on Saturday 4 June and the following day at Myerscough College's Open Day.

Sunday, 29 May 2011


15 May 2011. The Thomson Destiny docks at Naples and we are booked on an excursion to see the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum. Like its near neighbour Pompeii, Herculaneum was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in August AD79.

Unlike Pompeii, Herculaneum was not subject to the intense rain of heavy ash that brought down the roofs of Pompeii's buildings.

Herculaneum was buried by molten rock from successive pyroclastic flows to a depth of 50-60 feet and Naples was built over it, the builders having forgetten its existence. It was buried deep. I was standing between Herculaneum and the coast on top of today's ground level. Those buildings at the bottom of the photo are boat houses... This point was close enough to the coast then to sail right out. Unfortunately for around 300 people, whose skeletons were found in the boat houses, there were not enough boats for them all to escape.

Whilst sheltered from the direct impact of the surging ash and molten material, the intense heat (around 500 degrees) caused instant death and sucking all moisture from the structures which were then buried and preserved for us to see.

The remains were discovered by builders digging a well over one and a half millenia later, in 1709. Much of the site still lies beneath modern Naples.

A mosaic floor showing Neptune. I couldn't get to the bottom of the artwork and so had to turn the photo upside down to view the image properly. That's why it looks more like a ceiling... The flooring in this building showed sagging and breaks caused by earthquake motion during the eruption. At one point the floor elsewhere in this room had broken, falling into the hypocaust.

The College of the Augustales. In this building with its fresco of Hercules, after whom the town is named, it looked as though the roof had lurched sideways. The top of the fresco leans out and in the adjoining room the top of the wall correspondingly curves inwards.

A stack of amphorae in the remains of a shop.

Some of the buildings have remarkable treasures. Wooden staircases, partitions and doors, albeit somewhat carbonised by the heat of the pyroclastic surge. One room still contains a bed frame.

This would have been a beautiful place to live, with views of the Bay of Naples and the mountain behind. Vesuvius had been inactive for 800 years prior to the AD79 eruption. No one even dreamed of it being a volcano. Few people had any idea that such things existed. It has erupted around 40 times since that fateful day. They say a large eruption is overdue...

Large versions of the photos: at this set at Flickr.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Docked in Trapani, Sicily

14 May 2011. We arrived back at the Thomson Destiny around lunchtime following our visit to Segesta, covered in my last entry.

We couldn't have been moored any closer to the town. I took these photos from the Promenade Deck - Deck 7, which meant looking down on the roofs of all but the highest buildings.

A wide boulevard ran along the side of the ship with some fine civic buildings, a tree-lined walk with sculpted trees and a statue of Grimaldi in a square between a park and the trees.

I dug out the sketch pad - for the first time this year - and spent around half an hour sketching the view over the side of the ship.

As always this activity led to a few new acquaintances and conversations, though equally many people just look over the shoulder without disturbing me. Quite a few from the comments I got the following day!

"What happens if we sail before you finish?" someone asked.
"Well I count the windows and as long as I draw the detail of one I know to add another seven in the row..." I said. He didn't seem at all impressed by this!

Six o'clock came and officials and dockside workers gathered to cast off mooring ropes and wave up at the passengers watching from the ship's rails.

I always enjoy watching a ship glide out from the mooring and then inch its way forward and out of a harbour. A chance to cast an eye over other ships and ferries docked in port and then to escape out of the wind that inevitably picks up as the ship leaves the harbour for the open sea.

Tonight will be an enjoyable meal and watching the show in the Can-Can Show Lounge. After that, we'll see. We had found a nice bar called the Clipper Bar which had a nautical theme and live entertainment from a trio. Tomorrow we will visit Italy and have booked an excursion to Herculaneum, the Roman city, buried for centuries by the volcanic mud flowing from the same eruption of Vesuvius that devastated Pompeii.

We'll have a look at it in the next entry.

Large versions of the photos: They have not all been uploaded yet but are making their way in a dignified manner to this set at Flickr.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Segesta, Sicily

Saturday 14 May 2011. Thomson Destiny docks in Trapani in Sicily and we are up early to undertake the first of three excursions we have booked for the week.

We are doing a half-day trip to see the ancient Greek temple and amphitheatre at Segesta. I'd never heard of it myself, but Fran segesta'd it might be good...

The temple was built around 500BC and has stood since then, untouched by the restorator's hand. Other more well known and larger temples such as The Parthenon have at least been partially reconstructed. This one is just as history has left it. Literally, because it never had a roof.

Apparently the Segestan population felt threatened by a Greek community nearby and (as Greek factions were almost always at war with themselves) asked Athens for help. In order to present themselves in a better light they passed themselves off as a rich community and built the temple to prove it to the emissaries of Athens. Once those emissaries had left, work stopped on the temple...

We climbed up the hill towards it, more and more of it becoming visible as we climbed. 36 doric columns arranged 14 to each side and 6 at front and back would have held up a roof I'm sure. We looked at it, prodded it, walked round it and looked down the hill to the river behind it and waited for one foolhardy show-off to fall down the cliff as he just had to be photographed way past the point of sensible safety...

Then we set off down the tricky but far less steep slope in front of the temple back down to the small village from where a shuttle bus constantly ferried people up and down from the refreshments shop to the remains of the village and the amphitheatre on the opposite hill.

The remains of the village were confined mainly to floors and stumps of walls, but what can you expect from a people who disdain to add a roof...

The amphitheatre was quite impressive though. Apparently it is still in use for its original purpose and ancient Greek tragedies and comedies and dramas are played out (in Italian) within the orchestra. I have to admit I've never attended a Greek comedy, but I suppose it'll be full of jokes like "I married a hydra, thinking at least one head should be beautiful"... Or, "Don't you 'look darling it's Pegasus' me - just you look at the state of my washing!!!" Or having Medusa say, "Are you putting the kettle on, you lazy bugger? What's the matter? Turned to stone?"

There was an excellent view of the main road from Trapani to Palermo snaking its way across the countryside towards the coast on the horizon.

We made our way onto the rather small shuttle bus. Our guide wanted the driver to wait for the rest of our party but the bus was full anyway and she eventually got off with bad grace to wait for them and bring them down on the next trip.

We sat with a young French couple and their very shy young son and he told us they had seen two different tour parties come to blows earlier because they each thought they should have exclusive use of the bus... One wonders whether the driver woke up next morning lying next to a horse's head... or cylinder head...

I managed to sneak a shot of the temple out of the shuttle bus window as we twisted and turned round the hairpin bends descending back to our own coach.

Large versions of the photos: Slowly but surely (more slow than sure at the moment...) the photos from this holiday will be uploaded to Flickr

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Jewels of the Mediterranean - Thomson Destiny

A few days went by without any updates there. Mainly because we've been gadding about the Mediterranean Sea again.

On 12 May we were picked up by taxi at some unearthly hour to fly out to join the Thomson Destiny at Palma in Majorca.

We were onboard by early afternoon and walked round in a sleepy daze for most of the first day until at around 9:30 we had to give in and go to bed. Or to bunk, I should say...

We had a rather romatic L-shaped sleeping arrangement, Fran under the window and me under a shelf that held a cupboard with the safe in it and ran along the length of my bunk, projecting out a few inches. Ok if I slept on my left side.

Unfortunately at the point an hour later, when I'd nicely dropped off and the Captain announced we were ready to sail, I had turned over to face the wall...

This incredibly loud voice shouted at us from a hidden speaker somewhere in the ceiling of our cabin and I shot upright, banging my forehead on the edge of the shelf. I had a lump the size of an egg for a couple of days. Only an ant's egg fortunately but it bloody hurt and the goldfish peered hopefully at me every time I passed their tank and I swear they were licking their lips... (That wasn't entirely true - there are no fish tanks on Thomson Destiny - Legal Dept...)

So our first port of call after a day at sea will be on Saturday 14 May at Sicily!

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Witton Park Country Fair

Last Sunday saw us in our usual spot at Blackburn's Witton Park. That spot, more specifically is in the old courtyard near to the cafe in the doorway of one of the stables.

We've been honoured to be asked to play at Witton Park for several events during the year over the past five or six years and when the weather is good to us we always get a large audience. In fact even when it's tippling down and we are dry in our stable, people are often willing to sit or stand in the rain to listen! Hardy folk in Blackburn!

On Sunday it did rain a couple of times but not for long and there was a really good atmosphere in the courtyard.

There was a fairground farther down from us, displays of birds of prey and small animals, tractor rides and Myerscough College had lots of displays on too.

We tried out a few new songs for the first time - if young girls start to film us doing a Take That song we couldn't have been too bad... unless it's now on YouTube labelled "Two old wrinklies try to do..."

We'll be back at Witton on Spring Bank Holiday Monday.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Voting Behaviour

Yesterday was voting day in UK. The Blackpool Evening Gazette front page showed a photograph (blurred) of a naked woman (35, not sure of other statistics...)

Apparently she had gone voting and they wouldn't allow her in with her dog. So she took all her clothes off. As you do...

Lyme Disease Rally in Ottawa

I mentioned about three weeks ago the problems Marlene, one of those inimitable ladies-over-the-water was having getting treatment for the illness Lyme Disease.

This week, yesterday in fact, was the rally in Parliament Square, Ottawa to raise awareness of this crippling disease. She sent me an email with photo attached saying "You can see me on the webcam!" All agog I opened the photo...

I... er... hmm...

Anyway this other email came with the following message - this is where I go serious for a bit. It should not be so hard to get treatment for a disease that is so debillitating.

"Trudy (middle) organised the rally, weak and walking with a cane. Kim (right) is 2 months antibiotic free and fine so far after years of treatment in the USA. All three of us are getting treatment not in our own country.
This must change!
About 50 or 60 people here, with canes, in wheel chairs, wearing signs, etc.

Memories of Ingrid Pitt

I got back last night from a works trip that had taken me to Swansea and then Telford in Shropshire to find a message from Tony, the husband of actress Ingrid Pitt who so sadly passed on last November.

Tony enclosed the above photo and as part of the message he had written on the back said "Remember Wigtown and the Kirroughtree Hotel?" Ha! As if I could ever forget! This, then, is the story of one of the most amazing, happy, frightening, funny, frustrating and altogether fabulous weekends we've ever spent.

It was Mayday Bank Holiday weekend, 2006. We had heard that there was a celebration going on in Wigtown in Scotland. It is Scotland's National Book town. Almost every second shop is a bookshop and when we arrived in the late morning of 29 April 2006 there were books everywhere you looked. On the village green was a maze made up of old obscure books that were being sold off for next to nothing.

We weren't exactly there to celebrate books however. In 1972, the area around Wigtown had been home to a film production. The film, whilst not a huge success at the time, went on to become a cult classic. The Wicker Man.

The film starred Edward Woodward as a police officer conducting investigations into a kidnapping then running into a pagan cult led by Lord Summerisle, who was played by Christopher Lee. Ingrid played a rather sexy librarian (discovered at one point playing with herself in a hip bath) and was billed 5th behind Woodward, Lee, Britt Ekland and Diane Cilento.

A drive through the town showed us this straw man - close enough if you use your imagination - by the side of the Bladnoch Distillery. They were to host a showing of the film on the Sunday night which would be attended by Ingrid and the film's director, Robin Hardy.

We hadn't told Ingrid that we would be there and met up with her on Saturday night as she arrived to be interviewed in front of an audience as a build-up event to the showing of the film. She received an enthusiastic ovation from a very decently sized crowd inside the hall, where we had found ourselves front row seats.

Writer Allan Brown as the interviewer gave Ingrid a hard time, wanting her to recount wartime memories when she was incarcerated in a Nazi concentration camp. Whilst this admittedly produced moments of great drama, it didn't endear him either to her or to the audience.

Afterwards we joined Ingrid and Tony behind the stage and were introduced to Robin Hardy (seen dancing with Ingrid above)and his wife.

We were there longer than we thought we would be. Wigtown is in the middle of a coastal and rural area. It took half an hour for a taxi to come and take them back to their hotel. Now came the frightening bit. As we went down the steps from the hall doorway Tony slipped and rolled, very elegantly I have to say, down the steps until the elegance stopped with his head banging the door sill of the taxi. He assured us all he was alright but we worried about it until we saw him the next day when, sure enough, there didn't seem to be any lingering effects at all. Phew!

We were staying in a small hotel, the Wigtown House Hotel. I'd recommend it to anyone it was wonderful. It overlooked the church and was quite close to the salt marsh that led eventually to the sea and had been the scene of a horrendous execution of two women in 1685. I've previously told the story on this blog.

We were back at the whisky distillery early enough to get fairly near the front and were looking forward to the evening.

The event was to start with Robin and Ingrid welcoming everyone and talking about the filming of The Wicker Man. Then the film would be screened and following that Ingrid was to set fire to the straw man we saw earlier.

All started according to plan and the two of them kept the audience enraptured with some hilarious tales including one about one of the film makers knocking up the owner of this very distillery early one morning, coming to an agreement to buy it for a six figure sum. This same film maker's first words the following morning were: "I did WHAT?!?"

The film was screened and we were the last out as Robin and Ingrid were in great demand for autographs and to chat to locals some of whom had been extras in the filming.

Then one of the frustrating bits. Some TV news crews, waiting for the straw man to be set ablaze had decided not to wait because it had started to rain outside. They had set the thing on fire and had gone. By the time we got out there, flames were shooting a hundred and fifty feet into the air!

"Noooooooooo!!!" cried Ingrid and dashed off through the crowd.
"Hey, where's she gone?" said Tony, "Go after her John!"

By the time I forced my way through - strange but the crowd that had just opened to let Ingrid through didn't do the same for me - she was far too close to the blazing figure and striking dramatic poses with a big grin. She had her back to it of course and could not see all the burning bits of straw flying through the air and landing near her!

The crowd were loving it and flashguns were going off on all sides. We managed to convince Ingrid to move away from the fire, but the straw burned quite quickly anyway. Either that or the rain was putting it out...

Well the jollity went on for a while until the crowds started to dwindle. It was raining and it was getting cold and Ingrid had undergone surgery not too long before all this. We knew it was likely to take at least half an hour for a taxi to arrive, so I offered to drive them back to the hotel.

"Do you know where it is?" asked Tony.
"Er... well don't you?" I said...

I got some directions from the organiser of the event. They sounded very complicated! Things went a bit surreal as Ingrid found a piper in full regalia and had to be photographed with him.
"John! Sing with him!" she said excitedly. He didn't know Johnny B Good though...

We set off down pitch dark country lanes. Then more country lanes... Then a l-o-n-g country road.
"I must say you're driving very confidently!" Tony said cheerfully, "I've no idea where the hotel is from here..."

We passed through a town and... "I don't think it's this far..." said Ingrid. I went back to talk to the smokers outside the town's pub. It was that far plus a bit...

We reached the hotel, the Kirroughtree House Hotel. It was 11:30pm and Ingrid and Tony had not eaten before going to the evening's event and so were starving. "Come in and eat with us!" they insisted. Well we all went in but, perhaps unsurprisingly the kitchen staff had long gone. The porter offered to make some sandwiches and bring them to the lounge so we went into this large and very nice lounge where another small family party were sitting.

Then followed one of the most excellent hours I've ever spent as both Ingrid and Tony regaled us with tales of TV, films and motor racing (Tony's background). We were, perhaps a little noisy for the other party but I settled them for the night when I mentioned to Ingrid that I had recently run a training event in the room that was used as the location for the nude wrestling scene between Ollie Reed and Alan Bates in the 1969 film Women in Love.

"Ohhhhhhhhhh!" Ingrid exclaimed at the top of her voice, "before they filmed that they went off to look at each other's pee-pees so they wouldn't be bothered when it came to filming!"

The other party hurriedly left the room...

Ingrid, you were one of a kind! We'll always cherish those memories! Tony, thanks for the photo and memories. We think of you often!

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The Seaside Bathing Beauty

There was a sudden rush to view my photos at Flickr the other day. A normal day recently has seen viewing figures of between six and seven hundred. Last Tuesday they jumped up to just short of 1400.

Was it, I wondered, because I'd added a shot of North Pier organist, Raymond Wallbank? Here he is playing in the Sun Lounge on 27 May 1982.

Was it perhaps because on that day, skater Robin Cousins was in the audience, well wrapped up against the Blackpool sun? Obviously a lad who takes his complexion seriously!

Surely it couldn't have been anything to do with the fact that Robin was there to judge a heat of the Miss Blackpool contest, could it?

Well perhaps it could... The viewing figures started leaping the moment I'd uploaded the photos!

The winner on the day was Wendy Phizacklea from Barrow. Quite deservedly I thought...

Large versions of the photos: both Raymond and Robin feature amongst the 36 photos in this seriously documentary set at Flickr. If you like you can bump my figures up for today too...

See the large size by clicking the small photo, then clicking again the medium photo that opens. It should now appear on a black background with an option to "View all sizes" - this rather complicated procedure being Flickr's doing, not mine...
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