Saturday, 30 July 2011

Holidays on Blackpool Beach

I've delved into the big plastic box that contains Miss Franny's life secrets from before she met me... I've selected a couple from the late 1950s or early 60s, that show her on holiday with her parents and brother, Bob. Sorry about this Bob... I'm sure Mary might possibly have a good laugh though...

Fran thinks both of the photos may be of Blackpool. It was a regular holiday destination from Rochdale - I know because my parents did the same thing with my brother and I.

Even if we had a week in Great Yarmouth, we nearly always had a few days in Blackpool aswell.

We think this is Blackpool because you wouldn't be able to make sand pies like that in Great Yarmouth!

Bob and Peggy (on the right), Fran's parents, would go with an extended family group to Blackpool and would choose the same spot on the beach so that if any children wandered off or any adults wanted to spend some time doing their own thing, it was easy even well before mobile phones were thought of, to find the family again. Well... relatively easy. The beach, as you can see, used to be pretty tightly packed with deck chairs! Mobile phones! Ha! At the time of this photo you were "posh" if you had a telephone in the house!

The preferred spot was just south of the Central Pier. Here I presume Bob is taking the photo and young Bob, then known as "Rob" has joined his mother and sister. Ice cream has been secured by the looks of things!

Monday, 25 July 2011

Ibiza - Sun, Sea and Sadly Nothing Else...

11 August 2006. Our last day on the cruise! We visit Ibiza, island of sun, sea and Sky TV crews trying to catch people being mucky!

We hadn't booked a tour this day so again got off the ship and made our own way around.

Another very hot day, meant that I was soon looking for something to drink. Luckily bars and pavement cafes are not that uncommon in Ibiza!

However this is very early morning. Ibiza seemed almost deserted! Those holidaymakers who come for the night life are not going to be up and about at 9 o'clock in the morning!

We found a series of small shopping pedestrian streets and wound our way up and down them. As expected there were lots of music shops selling CDs of club music. Clothes shops too with some stunning linen skirts and dresses but the prices were quite stunning too!


As an ex-leatherworker, Fran's nose always seeks out the leather shops! I was almost tempted to buy a suede waistcoat, but the UK, or perhaps all of the aviation world, was in the crisis of a new type of terrorist threat and all hand luggage had been banned on flights so our suitcase space was at a premium as cameras would have to go in!

We had a wander through some deserted back streets, full of character and populated only by a few thin cats.

The morning approached the afternoon and the streets were still deserted.

It felt a bit eerie somehow and we made our way back to the port area and the ship.

As it was our last night we treated ourselves to silver service treatment in the Island Star's Steak House restaurant. Then the packing was interesting with my camera and lenses, Fran's handbag and all our books, stereos and phones having to go in the suitcases.

It was an absolute joy to get on the aeroplane though. No one standing for ages blocking the aisle whilst looking for that last minute thing they desperately needed from their hand luggage that had already been placed in an overhead locker... I was pleased to see everything undamaged once we got home. At Manchester airport a girl had opened her case immmediately to find her phone had melted in her case!

That was the first of four cruises we took on the Island Star. You can find the others on this blog.

Large versions of the photos: all the photos from this holiday are in a special set at my Flickr account.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Barcelona by Bike

10 August 2006. The Island Star has brought us to Barcelona on our first ever visit to mainland Spain.

The port is a mixture of industrial and cruise terminal with several office blocks and a cable car overhead that comes from the top of a nearby hill, and over to a tower built on a man-made island wharf. Presumably no one gets off there but stay on as the car turns round for the return journey.

We were being incredibly active that day... The ship carried a compliment of mountain bikes and today we were going to join the two Austrian bike guides - Ollie and Alex and spend half a day riding round Barcelona.

27 of us went out to tour Barcelona by bike. Our group of 15 was led by Alex, who was far too fit. If I do a tour again I want it to be led by someone as knackered as me!

There wasn't much chance to take photos as you can imagine. When I wasn't pedalling and needing to keep hands on handlebars, I was panting and needing to keep hands on knees... Hey, no, come on... I'm not that bad! Here we are at Gaudi's unfinished cathedral, La Sagrada Familia.


In truth it was good fun and not too strenuous. We rode about 12 miles over a period of about 3-4 hours and had 3/4 hour to stroll about and visit a pavement cafe for a drink. Here, Miss Franny regards the camera with a look that says "I want to do this again"...

And so after a whiz around the city we arrived back at the ship for lunch. The afternoon was spent reading and soaking up fresh air and sunshine.

As we finally left at the end of the day we looked over the ship's rail at this unloaded cargo ship riding high in the water with the shadow of Island Star's funnel stack against it's bow.

We are heading for Ibiza with its clublife, topless girls and sun, sea and sex... Well... I can hope... Hmmm - was that the reason for Fran's expression...?

Large versions of the photos: all the photos from this holiday are in a set at Flickr.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

A Day on Lake Windermere

Yesterday we took advantage of both being off work on the same day and drove up to the Lake District.

There wasn't a surplus of parking spaces to be found in Bowness, but I managed to squeeze the car into a space and we paid to go up to Waterhead at the top of the lake on the regular sailings.

These go every twenty minutes from Bowness Pier and you can get off at Waterhead and return on a later boat which is exactly what we did.

It's a half hour journey from Bowness to Waterhead and here we are, approaching Waterhead Pier. We took the small somewhat ramshackle bus into Ambleside. The bus is an electric vehicle and I suspect may have started life as a milk float... Still, it's cheap and cheerfull and takes you from the pier to the Lion Hotel in the centre of Ambleside.

We had some lunch - well a breakfast actually - in Daisy's Cafe with a mug of "milky Nescafe". Ooh! Much better and far less pretensious than Star(after your)bucks or Costa(fortune). And we got a decent normal sized mug of excellent coffee instead of having to buy a bucket full of froth over too-strong espresso!

We walked the mile back to the pier at Waterhead to catch the returning boat to Bowness.

On the way Miss Franny graciously ordered - er... I mean allowed - me to buy an addition to the Lilliput Lane cottage collection which over the years has grown from a hamlet to a sprawling conurbation. She came out with three new cottages. Three!!! Well, to be fair one was a freebie, but even so, where she's going to put them I don't know... It's a good job they don't come with streets and cars because there's no space between the houses to drive anything wider than a scale pram...

We had an ice cream at Waterhead whilst waiting for the boat to come. They do a chocolate dip ice cream. Which means an ice cream cone dipped upside down into molten chocolate which solidifies all round it. Somewhat scrummy, though quite messy to eat. I had my other hand full of camera and bags of cottages so had to put up with Miss Franny laughing whilst cracked chocolate stuck out from my mouth and melting ice cream ran down my chin... At least I had the camera and could avoid photographic evidence...

Half an hour later we arrived at Bowness again.

Miss Cumbria was just setting off with a full load of passengers on her tour. The "Lakes" attract people from far and wide. You are as likely to hear Japanese and American accents as northern English accents. The Lake District was famous for its poets and artists and authors.

We walked back to the car, past the rapidly growing funfair being set up next to the car park and thanked our lucky stars we had not gone up there today. There's a huge air show today at Windermere with the Red Arrows appearing. Unless you arrived about 7:00am this morning there won't be a single car parking space available or a single road without a massive nose-to-tail queue...

Large versions of the photos: Lake Windermere, Waterhead Pier, Waterhead hire boats, Miss Cumbria

More Lake District photos from my Flickr collection.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Preston Curiosities

I've had a couple of days off work with Miss Franny this week and to celebrate I caught a horrendous cold and sneezed my way through the night and most of yesterday.

This didn't stop Miss Franny from allowing me to take her out to Preston for a look round though - she's made of sterner stuff than to allow a simple cold to keep her in. Even when it's mine...

Ages since I was in Preston though. I worked at Preston College for 12 years and used to go down to the town centre at least once a week, preferably when the market was filled with junk stalls!

The above photo is the Harris Museum and Art Gallery.

I took the camera with me to take my mind off coughs and other violent expulsions and left Miss Franny going round the shops whilst I went off to find ... er... these shops...

This is the Miller Arcade, a Victorian shopping arcade based on the Burlington Arcade in London. It is, as can be seen from the photos, a little quieter than I remember the Burlington Arcade being!

Outside the main entrance, offset to each side is a matching pair of oblong spaces, surrounded by railings and what appears to be an entrance arch.

No one seems to admit to this but they remind me very much of entrances to underground toilets, lots of which used to exist. The provision of public toilets these days is a dying art, helped along by the main use of them these days seeming to be the sale and intake of drugs, with any poor unfortunate who just happens along at the wrong moment to wash the stones being at substantial risk.

Anyway, if anyone can confirm whether these oblongs were once staircases leading down to palaces of relief, please add a comment!

This is Stoneygate, looking back towards the centre of town. Preston had several gates, and a few streets are still named appropriately: Friargate and Fishergate etc.

This was once the most pleasant approach to Preston, having come from the bridge over the River Ribble. Of course that was contested at times in the past - Preston has hosted not one but two battles... One on the Civil War and one when the Scots came down, only to be defeated and then hunted down ferociously - there's enough to devote a future entry to these at some time.

Somewhere near Stoneygate as remembered by this "Near this site" blue placque, the Cock Pit was where Joseph Livesey first drew up the public pledge and started the Temperance Movement. He said "I can't be doin' wi' all this drunkeness when we're tryin' to concentrate so as we can bet on which bird'll rip t'other to shreds..."

Also very close to here is the Arkwright House. The white portion of the building shown was the house of Richard Arkwright. Born in 1732 he kick-started the Industrial Revolution by inventing a spinning and carding machine that produced a thread from raw cotton. Cottage industries became replaced by large mills, with housing being built around the mills to house the workers. Not everyone was overjoyed at this.

It was a time of unbelievable change for the English way of life. We now live through another similar age of great change. I remember being shown around the engineering department of a large college in 1986 being shown lots of empty rooms with computerised equipment whilst the Head of Engineering pointed out each one saying, "This one will do the work of a hundred men..." Those hundred men today are all out of work and it doesn't stop. Self-scan tills, computers where you can self-register a visit to the doctors or check-in at the airport. People won't be necessary at all in the future and the chances to meet someone else and share a conversation is doomed to become a dying art. I'd predict, because I see the beginnings of it already, that people will become more and more isolated and distrust anyone else, becoming either fearful or aggressive. I don't want to be around to see it and in that I'm sure I'm echoing every other generation since Richard Arkwright's time if not before.

The Industrial Revolution caused lots of resistance against machinery, long hours and exploitation. Those who found themselves out of work were put into the workhouses, to be separated from their wives and husbands and set to work on a diet of thin greasy leavings.

Workhouses were meant to be harsh - they were meant to give people an incentive to work as they were the last resort of starving families. There's no easy answer to this because our less harsh regime today means lots of out-of-work families get more in benefits than some workers could ever hope to earn.

In Preston, mill owners acquired mini arsenals of weapons and ammunition to defend their factories from smashers and machine wreckers.

In 1842 there was a strike by workers after wages were cut by 25%. A crowd gathered and was opposed by a troop of militia. Sam Horrocks read the Riot Act but was hit by a flung stone. The troopers levelled their guns and fired over the heads of the crowd. Thinking they were firing blanks because no one had been hit, the noisy crowd advanced. With the next volley five fell dead. The sculpture commemorating the event outside the Corn Exchange is close to the exact spot but the protagonists are facing the wrong way - they were the other way about.

Lively place, Preston...

Large versions of the photos: Harris Museum, Miller Arcade (ext), Miller Arcade (int), railed area, Stoneygate, blue placque, Arkwright House, riot sculpture

Other photos from the day included in this North West set.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Marseilles Vieux Port

9 Aug 2006. Wednesday morning finds us back in France, in Marseilles. Not having booked any tours, we left the Island Star for a bit of exploring on our own.

The free courtesy bus, provided by the cruise company drops us off at the Vieux Port - the Old Port of Marseilles.

You can't believe the number of boats here! At least a thousand boats and yachts are sitting in the huge marina, with people on perhaps one percent of them. Does anyone, anyone at all, have a boat based in a marina that they take out every weekend for a sail?

It is a hot day - perfect holiday weather! There's a bit of a smell...

The fisherman has just landed his catch and his wife is laying fish out in trays of ice, lopping off heads and chucking bits into plastic bags that are being snapped up by enthusiastic buyers.

We resist with effort and walk around the marina, coming to one of the two forts that guard the harbour entrance.

The Fort St Nicholas was built by the Chevalier de Clerville for Louis XIV. Louis reigned from 1643—1715. The fort was 200 years too late to defend Marseilles from the Spanish of Aragon.

The harbour was protected in 1423 like most harbours by a massive chain suspended just above the water. We are talking big links here, not something you could unpick with your fingernails. They were designed to take the bottom out of any invading ships. The invaders in this case nicked the chain and took it back to Valencia. Yah Boo...

On the other side of the port entrance is Fort St-Jean. It was built by Louis XIV again at the same time as the other one. The Sun King of France said at the time (this is not a joke...) "We noticed that the inhabitants of Marseille were extremely fond of nice fortresses"

Ha hahhhhh! Nice try your Majesty. He actually built the fortresses to quell a rebellion in the city. The cannons of the forts pointed inland rather than out to sea!

During the Revolution the Fort St-Jean was used to imprison Louis Philippe II, the Duke of Orleans and two of his sons. During World War II the Germans turned it into an ammunition dump. This exploded and didn't do the fortress a great deal of good...

It was far too hot. We did the French thing and sat outside a cafe with a drink on the corner opposite the Opera House seen here. I breathed in deeply hoping for a little aria, but it was just too hot...

The shopping streets were probably a bit cooler as they kept out most of the sunshine. At least that was Fran's excuse.

Then after a mere lifetime, we made our way back to the colourful waterfront of the Vieux Port before catching the courtesy bus back to the ship.

Next, we take a bike ride through Barcelona on four wheels - that's two each, right?

Large versions of the photos: All the photos from this holiday can be found in this set at Flickr.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Florence's Ponte Vecchio

8 August 2006. After our look round the Duomo our hairy-armpitted guide walked us around to the Ponte Vecchio bridge and left us with an hour or so to wander around.

Florence is a city of statues. They are literally every few yards. They were littering the place so profusely that they set up a few arches in the Piazza della Signoria and bunged a collection of them there. Every one a masterpiece as it were.

Anyway, opposite this scrapyard of famous sculpture is Michaelangelo's David. Not the original, which is in the museum, but a copy. Exact down to the oversized hands - though if you were about to kill the giant Goliath then oversized hands might just have come in ...er... hand-y...

Anyway according to Hairy-Pits, it was Michaelangelo's way of saying "I made this with my hands" and more fool him... Should have used a chisel...

Pausing only to tie the end of her armpit hair to the whip aerial of a Vespa scooter that was stopped at some traffic lights, we went to have a look at the bridge. I'm kidding! I'm kidding! It was a Lambretta...

Ponte Vecchio is one of the great Medieval bridges of the world. This is what London Bridge used to look like at the time of the Great Fire of London. Only with more heads on stakes... The construction of a stone-built bridge was started in 1345. Most of the shops were butchers' shops until 1593 when the city's finest decided they would rather have something more elegant and stylish on their showcase feature and they moved in the goldsmiths, who have remained to this day (although they are very very old and feeble...)

The gold shops line both sides of the bridge, though of necessity, the shops are not very deep, even the ones that overhang the side of the bridge parapet!

You can, by the way, buy much of the same jewellery much cheaper a few streets away from the bridge. But it's not the same. Well it was for Miss Franny as just looking in the shops costs the same either on or off the bridge...

The view both up or down the River Arno from the bridge is very aesthetically pleasing. Another way of saying "nice".

It became for some reason a cool thing to do, for lovers to attach a padlock to the gates of the bridge. It has been there for 700 years so the act symbolised a wish for a long relationship. After the first few thousand padlocks again the city's finest stepped in and it's now an offence with a 50 Euro fine attached...

Why would a bridge have gates? Because they are a route for friends - or foes - across rivers and into cities. Armed forces the world over have a great affection for the heady combination of bridges and dynamite. Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge across the River Arno that the Germans left intact. Presumably under the express orders of Hitler who had either promised Eva Braun they would take a padlock there, or he had plans to number the bricks and transport it back to the Fatherland...

Our meeting place was outside the Basilica of Santa Croce which was started on May 3 1294 with the facade of marble added 1857-63. As if I can be bothered to remember that... Michaelangelo's tomb is inside it. According to our guide who was a bit red in the face with the effort of dragging a Lambretta behind her...

Large versions of the photos: can be found in this set at Flickr.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Florence and The Duomo

8 August 2006. The day started really early.

But the scenery as the Island Star sailed into the Italian port of La Spezia was well worth it as this 7:00am view shows.

The reason for this early morning scurrying was that we are booked on an excursion to Florence - Firenze, as the Italians call it.

The ship docks whilst we have breakfast and we troop off to join a coach. The fun starts straight away. First of all we find the tour operator is called Trumpy Tours which causes a ripple of very British humour along the coach.

Next, no sooner have we all got on than there is a bang and a large German camper van swerves and weaves all over the road in front of us, trying to control his shock at having taken off the mirror stalk from the front corner of the coach. He's not stopping. However he's held up in a queue at some traffic lights. Our driver hairs off down the road towards him... but the lights change and he gets away.

All this excitement and we haven't gone anywhere yet! Luckily the driver manages to fix the bits of broken mirror back onto the remains of the stalk with a huge roll of sticky tape! And off we go to Florence.

There is no let up to the excitement of the day as the look on this young lady's face clearly shows.

Here we are in Florence, still laughing at following this large Trumpy Tours paddle when there's a burst of laughter and gasps of disbelief coming from this group immediately behind the guide.

The young lady is drawing my attention to the incredibly long underarm hair of the guide... It is long. Incredibly long. You get the idea from looking at the expression on the face of the lady on the right who is staring at it as though she can't believe it... Neither could we. It was at least a foot long. She could have plaited it...

In entertainment terms we have had our money's worth from this trip already and we haven't seen Florence yet!

This is the impressive facade of Il Duomo. Officially, the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (...of Saint Mary of the Flowers).

It has one of the most impressive domes of the Medieval world. A cathedral had stood here since the 5th century but it needed replacing entirely by the late 1200s. Building commenced on September 9 1296 and was to last another 170 years, interrupted at times by various project managers growing old and dying and a small matter called the Black Death in 1348.

The facade is relatively new. Almost all of Florence seems to be constructed of white, green and red marble and the present facade was added only in 1876/87. The original facade had never been finished, never having gotten above the lower portion of the basilica and by the Renaissance was very old-fashioned in appearance. It was pulled down in 1587-88 and the front of the basilica remained bare for the next 300 years.

Some say it is excessively decorated. We just thought it was excessively dirty. It was in dire need of a good wash and brush up.

The guide took an incredible 3/4 hours to tell us all this, adding many names and dates that meant absolutely nothing to me and, to judge from the intense boredom on the face of our fellow travellers, to no one else either. If you were a scholar of Italian artists and architects it may have been interesting...

We were, however, stuck in the queue to go in! Once inside we could see up into the interior of the dome. The figures were painted elongated so that they appear in the correct perspective when viewed from below.

It doesn't look that big from below but it's a long way up to it! In fact the painting covers a massive 3600 square metres and took 11 years to complete. The original artist Giorgio Vasari started in 1568 and then selfishly died in 1574, leaving Federico Zuccari and a few friends to finish it off.

There's lots more to see in Florence yet. The place is full of sculptures and statues including Michalangelo's statue of David and there's the famous Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge that the Germans didn't blow up on their retreat in 1944.

Large versions of the photos: all the photos from this holiday can be found in a set at Flickr

Monday, 18 July 2011

A Look Around Villefranche

7 August 2006. We have arrived back at Villefranche after our excursion to Monaco and Monte Carlo.

Most of the passengers seemed to head straight for the tender boats at the quayside to go back to the ship. But it wasn't late at all so we decided to have a walk around Villefranche and see what it had to offer.

Just look at this! This covered passage runs parallel to the seafront at the rear of the buildings along the Promenade. Had they made Pirates of the Mediterranean instead of the Caribbean, this would have been an obvious location!

The place is an absolute delight with shops and cafes to look into and sit outside and watch the hustle and bustle of the boatmen and the steady to and fro of the Island Star tender boats out to the cruise ship in the middle of the bay.

Eventually we made our way along the stone quay and waited with the few other cruisers heading back to the ship.

Inside the tender boat on our way back. An excursion out and two free boat rides! Tonight we sail for Italy and the port of La Spezia, from where we have booked to visit Florence.

Large versions of the photos: All of the photos from this holiday are now uploaded to this set at Flickr.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Fylde Vintage Weekend

I've been reminded I missed a gig report! A few weeks ago was the Fylde Vintage Weekend, a chance for classic cars, tractors, traction engine and farming equipment to come together for a weekend of displays, some with real live sheep and some without...

David caused a bit of controversy shortly after we arrived. To our surprise we saw him crouched down with his camera lens poking through a tent flap.

"What are you doing?!?" we asked. "I was photographing birds!" he replied... What? By poking your lens into their tent?!? Is that not an arrestable offence?!?

Luckily not...!

We played in the beer tent marquee on Saturday night and had a cracking night.

I was starting to think we wouldn't get away - I don't think we have ever been shouted back for so many encores. It was a good night and a great audience!

A special mention has to go to Rosie the dog who barked her appreciation at the end of every song! I suspect it may have been the clapping that set her off, as she even joined in at the appropriate places in The Wild Rover! Or perhaps that's her boyfriend...

Friday, 15 July 2011

Monte Carlo

7 August 2006. We leave Monaco Ville in the coach and have a short ride down the hill to Monte Carlo. Wait a moment... those are rather strange road markings! We are on the Grand Prix circuit! In a coach!

More of that later. The coach leaves us in a coach park where we eventually find ourselves in gardens to the rear of the famous casino. We trotted round to the front to find yet more gardens.

We only had an hour or so. Not really time to go in and win a fortune from some thin Sicilian gangster, whose beautiful companion would glare at him before swaying gracefully over to my side. In any case, this is a daytime excursion and I'm in a polo shirt and chinos - not the elegant attire necessary to draw eyes for reasons other than amusement...

In 1873 a Yorkshire Mill engineer with a background in mechanics watched the wheels at Monte Carlo, analysing the results of every spin. He found that nine numbers kept coming up more than usual on one of the wheels. He won an astronomical amount for the day before the casino realised and moved the numbers on the wheel every night.

After several days of winning that netted him the equivalent of 15 million UK pounds, he went on a two-day losing streak, finally admitting the inevitable and getting out with a remaining profit of 160,000 pounds - say, 10 or 11 millions in today's money. Joseph Jaggers died in 1892, the year that the song The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo was written about him.

My car was waiting across the road... Well, I can wish! Aston Martins litter the roads around here. I didn't see a single Reliant Robin all the time we were there.

It was extremely hot. Miss Franny and I decided we would have an ice cream and having pulled some money from my pocket, I had to go digging again to pay for Fran's... You could buy an ice cream van for that sort of money where I come from...

We had a walk up the hill opposite the casino, through exquisite gardens with intricate fountains, no doubt financed by the ice cream seller. It really was lovely there. Even with the sun so hot that 50 pence worth of ice cream was melting away every second...

We got back on the coach and he drove around as much of the Formula One track as he could. Absolute rubbish - he made no attempt whatsoever to drive quickly...

We all got off for a few minutes at the tunnel to take photos and then to gawp over the edge of the road where the cars come out into bright sunlight with the sea and harbour just a long drop to the left!

Large versions of the photos: I've created this set at Flickr with all the photos from the holiday.
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