Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Creeping Bentgrass Cancer Research Night

On Saturday night Creeping Bentgrass played at the Coast Riders bar in Blackpool.

This was one of the rare charity events that we arrange ourselves. They happen roughly every two years and this year marked a move from Staining Village Hall to the Coast Riders bar on Cropper Road, south west of the end of the M55. A massive thanks must go to Peter, Janet and team at Coast Riders. They were really superb and very accommodating.

Around 70 people gathered and as we knew at least one person in every party, it was a very jolly start to the night as we welcomed lots of friends. A few friends of friends had travelled a long way: two ladies from Spain and a party all the way from Australia!

We unveiled a couple of new songs including Roy Orbison's Leah, one of his B sides that was especially requested by Pete from Coast Riders and I played my own version of a Bert Weedon instrumental, Red Guitar which is very lively and seemed to go down very well with the audience.

We had a few special guests. Peter and Shelagh Cooney have supported us several times and we have developed a couple of songs to do together as a foursome.

Chrissie Turkington joined me for the first time to perform the Dolly Parton bits of Islands In The Stream. We played it once years ago at an informal party night in Edinburgh but this was her first performance with me on a club stage and she nailed it, making the song a very memorable part of the night.

Miss Franny and Miss Jeannie were kept busy with a raffle, bottle tombola and hot pot supper to sort out and by the end of the night we had raised £425 for Cancer Research and had a load of fun doing it. In fact reaction from both the venue and the audience has been such that a much earlier return than the usual two years may be called for! Watch this space. Our dates can be found on the band blog's side column.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Atlantic Dolphins Come To Look At The Humans

Tuesday 8 April 2014. Thomson Celebration spent a day at sea as we sailed from Madeira to Agadir on the coast of Morocco. We were making good use of our balcony and, having missed out on our previous dolphin and whale sighting, I had hung the camera strap over my chair with the telephoto lens attached so I could grab it in an instant.

Staring at the sea for hours is pretty boring after the first 20 minutes of anticipation wears off. So I was reading (or dozing) when I became aware that a small crowd were gathering and pointing on the deck above me.

I peered out to where they were pointing and saw in the distance a bit of disturbance on the surface. Dolphins in the wild do jump out occasionally but not to order. They do surf as a group too, coming out and diving back in unison but generally these are shallow dives without clearing the water altogether.

So most of my shots show them under the water. Also we were on Deck 9 - something like being on the 9th floor of a building, so we were a long way above them! The telephoto lens was very necessary but meant that finding the very fast-moving critters was just a touch difficult!

This was my only shot of a dolphin out of the water and this one was quite a distance from the ship. They did come quite close to the side of the ship. I suspect they like to swim and jump the troughs of the wake that ships create from cleaving through the water. But to do that they are swimming fast and difficult to follow with a long lens.

This is my best shot and just a split second after the head of the dolphin fell back into the water. So close and yet...

Monday, 21 April 2014

Thomson Celebration in Funchal, Madeira

Monday 7 April and by the time we surface out of our bed the Thomson Celebration has arrived at Funchal and is moored in the harbour close by other cruise liners, Aida Stella and the Braemar. The crews of these had arranged a 3-way football tournament.

We have been to Madeira twice before, on the tiny ship Carousel of Sun Cruises. The first time Sahara dust turned it into a foggy place of only a few hundred yards visibility and the second time we got soaked by rain which came on as we started to walk back to the harbour from town. Today is much kinder!

Opposite the ship a large fortress, Fortaleza do Pico, occupies the hillside. In 1566 Bertrand de Montluc led a force of French corsairs in eleven ships to attack Funchal. They moored outside Funchal and attacked overland which meant that the defences of the town were unable to bring any large guns to bear as they were all sited to fire out to sea. Small pockets of resistance were dealt with easily and the city was subjected to a violent sacking for a fortnight. A community of nuns fled the town and took refuge high up in the mountains of Madeira. Their sanctuary, Curral das Freiras, is spectacular and a feature of excursions to this day. The fortress in Funchal was constructed between 50-100 years after the pirate raid.

We hadn't booked a tour for today and instead got off the ship and walked into the town. I was going a little gingerly due to still having the blister from a couple of days ago, but it behaved itself and I stopped worrying about it after today!

We found Funchal filled with street musicians, some of them quite large bands and this one featured this curious instrument with bright red plastic tubes. They looked like and probably were drainage tubes. The ends were open and the musician whacked them with a sort of paddle and startlingly it sounded just like a bass guitar!

This is the doorway of City Hall. It has some nice ironwork and leads through to a courtyard with a statue. It was just one of several pleasing buildings in the centre of the town.

Being on the side of such a steep hillside, Funchal has a few rivers flowing down from the interior to the sea. This was taken from Ponte Do Bettencourt, "ponte" meaning "bridge". The river did not look as if it warranted such a deep ravine, but in 2010 a deep depression over the Atlantic and a few other factors led to Funchal experiencing several months' worth of rain over a short period. The rivers flooded, causing damage except where they were contained as here. They washed so much material down that there is extensive building work going on now to rebuild the Promenade which was badly damaged. Much of it is being rebuilt with the material washed down by the swollen rivers!

We dropped into seats at a table and ordered a drink opposite another similar cafe that seemed to be occupying a building originally a cinema or theatre. A beggar was moving from table to table, telling some sob story. I just thrust out a hand, palm out as he approached our table and motioned him away. It worked so well I must try it again...

After a couple of hours we were ready to start moving back to the ship and instead of going back down to the Promenade we walked along the back streets for a while. This was a wide pleasant street with cafes, bars, hotels and a few shops on one side and a park on the other.

Looking down a side street I saw the panels on the side of a hotel, filled with blue ceramic tiles which showed scenes of Madeira. One was of the wicker toboggans that can be taken down the mountain, being pushed and guided by two "gondoliers" who scoot the toboggan and just hope no motorised traffic will cross their path from a side street! We did it once and it was great fun.

We were back on the Promenade walk and nearing the harbour and I was just putting one foot in front of the other, happy in my own little world when I heard a voice say "We think we know you!" I came out of my daydream to find Tomas and Maris smiling at us. We laughed and chatted and Tomas took this selfie of the four of us. I put my camera on the wall and used the self-timer and managed to chop off the top of our heads... I'm sure Tomas won't mind me using his photo!

Back on the ship, later that afternoon we watched the replica of Christopher Columbus's ship Santa Maria return with her cargo of tourists who had gone out for a spot of dolphin watching, swimming and deck swabbing. They must have been friendly as the fortress guns remained silent. Next time, we'll have a look at a few dolphins ourselves!

Oh and our crew lost the football tournament...

Saturday, 19 April 2014

La Isla Bonita

Strains of Madonna flit through my head. It's Sunday 6 April and we have arrived at La Isla Bonita or La Palma as it's more properly known.

The Thomson Celebration moors up in the port of Santa Cruz de La Palma and we have an early breakfast as we are taking an excursion tour today.

Our first stop is at the Caldera de Taburiente National Park. The Caldera is a massive crater. Whilst it looks volcanic - and probably is - the crater was actually formed by natural erosion not a mighty cataclysm. It is huge though - 10 kilometres across and, at its highest point, almost 2.5 kilometres from the peak to the floor.

It is home to some pretty tame ravens as seen in our photo above. A few more photos are called for...

We set off as a group walking around to a viewpoint. They set off at a pace though and I found I was starting to feel the old angina making its presence felt after a bit, so we stopped and started back at a more leisurely pace. In fact the pace had been too much to actually admire the view - the ground was rocky and the drop at the side of the path extremely deep, so you tended to walk with your eyes firmly fixed as to where to place your feet! Taking it a bit easier meant you could enjoy the view a lot more.

Another couple joined us coming back. They were also struggling with the pace and she said she was quite relieved when we turned back as she didn't want to be the first.

We got back safely to the coach and had time to sit on a wall and relax a bit whilst the rest of the party came back.

Coming back we passed a sleeping giant...

Can you make him out? He's gone to sleep holding his pride and joy...

The Mirador de La Concepcion. Overlooking some brave souls who have built their houses around the crater of a volcano! It a few thousand - tens of thousands - of years since it made any fireworks, but still...

Form the viewpoint we could see Tenerife's Mt Teide floating in the haze above the sea. You could make out snow on the slopes near the summit. Once we got back on the ship I twiddled the pencil for a bit from our balcony. This wasn't a large sketch - I drew it across the top of the A5 pad so it only took a few minutes.

We also visited a small church - the Santurio Virgen de Las Nieves, the Sanctuary of the Virgin of the Snows. This was quite crowded and we found out that a christening had been taking place. Just what you want in the middle of a family event - a load of camera toting tourists turning up...

Coming out of La Palma was a, or the experience of the cruise. Half an hour out of the harbour we were watching dolphins playing about in the sea from the balcony. I didn't have the camera to hand (but there will be some photos of dolphins from another day). However the real star of the show this day was a huge whale which majestically emerged from under the ship, which it had crossed beneath, and it was easily ten times the size of the dolphins, some of which were playing above it and not much more than the size of half its tail flukes. Awesome!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Gran Canaria Sunshine

Saturday 5 April. The Thomson Celebration docks in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria and we have a lazy start, trotting down the gangplank mid morning to go for a walk along the beach at Playa de Las Canteras on the opposite side of the short peninsular.

The walk takes us past lots of busy people setting up for some sort of fair or festival. Signs tell us that it is a Festival of the Sea and there are some snazzy looking boats being displayed. We'll take a closer look on our way back once the festival is properly up and running.

Having reached the beach around halfway along it, we turn right and walk slowly up almost to the end of the Promenade, taking in some of the strange and bewildering sights along the way. Not that there's anything strange and bewildering about Playa de Las Canteras - it's a great sandy beach with a few palm trees, a clean sea, lots of deck chairs and bars and shops all along the sea front.

It was more the antics of the "keep-fit" brigade who seem to haunt this stretch of beach that had us in stitches at times. Even if we ignore the blokes in lycra who jog desultorily along the Prom until they spot a good-looking girl on the beach and then stop opposite her to place one foot or hands against the sea railings and proceed to pretend they are stretching muscles, there were some really weird exercises going on...

One chap caught my attention by racing sideways along the beach near the sea's edge, doing starfish impersonations. He would do two side-steps facing the sea and then turn and do two side steps facing the Promenade, waving his arms up and down like a crab doing star jumps. He certainly was shifting though!

You could also tell where there was a topless sunbather by the small gatherings of blokes old enough to know better who congregated against the railings "looking out to sea"...

"God, she's not bothered, is she?" said Fran as one well-endowed girl bent over at right angles, to dry her hair after coming out of the sea, whilst at the same time doing a good impression of a four legged animal... By heck... time to move on and head back!

We stopped for a drink and I remembered that the Spanish word for orange is naranja, but they hadn't any anyway. They did have something that looked as though it was loaded with a few thousand E numbers, but it had mango and a few other ingredients. Miss Franny approved of it thankfully and I settled for a small beer.

We were going to walk all the way down the Promenade to the opposite end, but this was the first time I had worn sandals since last year and I could tell that my right foot was starting to rebel. We had passed the point where we joined the beach from the ship, but by then I had a blister and we decided to head back over the peninsular, getting slightly lost in the process but eventually coming out to somewhere recognisable.

By now the Festival of the Sea was in full swing and we stopped for a quick look. There were lots of sales people willing to tell you everything about their inflatables (ooh-er...) and rigid bottoms (even more ooh-er...) but a look at the price tags even allowing for the fact they were in Euros not sterling, made me decide quickly that a purchase was not feasible. Besides I'm not sure I could have convinced the Captain of Thomson Celebration to tow any purchase behind us for the week...

Meanwhile in the harbour there was even more activity going on. Small yachts were sailing to and fro and in the motor boat on the left a group of men with radio control sets were racing even smaller yachts around a set of bouys.

A crowd of enthusiastic youngsters were paddling kayaks up and down the harbour side, watched and cheered on by a few groups of onlookers, most of whom had no idea (like me) what they were doing. Just visible at the top of the photo is a small Spanish Naval gunboat that was open to visitors.

Several holidaymakers were joining the ship that day so it was late by the time we set sail again. We spent the afternoon enjoying our balcony and reading and then found Manny in the restaurant for our evening meal. Then we spent time in Horizons bar listening to Tom and Maris and chatting with them between sets.

Then we wrapped up a bit and went back on the balcony to watch as the officers on the bridge got ready to guide the ship away from the dock and out of the harbour to head overnight for our next destination, La Isla Bonita - La Palma.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

2014 Reading Part 3

You know, I think I must have been going a bit doolally over the last few months. (No, you don't have to leap in to agree...) The reason is I realised when reading a couple of books over the last few weeks that I must have read books that I had missed putting in my log of what I'd read. So there's a couple of titles this time that make it appear as if I was so besotted in their series that I had to move quickly from one to the next.

And here's the first example! I must have read Jasper Fforde's Well of Lost Plots last November or December, but had missed saying so. The follow-up in the Thursday Next series made me realise. These two see our heroine, Thursday, enter the world of books, hiding from the Goliath Corporation by taking up residence within the text of an unfinished and unpublished book. The premise of these books is that the characters in books act out their lines whenever someone is reading their book, but at other times they can please themselves what they do. They are very clever and very funny. Whilst in bookworld Thursday becomes a literary detective, working for the organisation Jurisfiction.

I'm nearing the end now of the Gregory Sallust series about the World War II spy by Dennis Wheatley. In this one Gregory goes off to Hungary to see if the country is ready to rebel against their German allies and runs into a past and very beautiful lover, Sabine, who has since become the mistress of Ribbentrop. This makes for an unlikely but logical alliance and after passing through many trials and tribulations Gregory has to explain himself to his great love Erika whilst risking all to save her rival for his affections. No pain, no gain, Greg my lad...

And then to a very different sort of book about World War II. Purporting to be a memoir this is, I suspect, an enhanced and fictionalised account of Sven Hassel's time in a penal regiment of the German army. Not for the faint hearted and with graphic details of atrocities and casualty it manages never the less to be a tale of comradeship and a warning to today's generation never to allow this to happen again.

Meanwhile in the unbelievable world of the Famous Five there is yet another girl impersonating a boy in this, the fourteenth, episode. What was it with Enid Blyton? At least in this one the girl in question does not want to be a boy, but is forced to take on a new identity to mitigate against risk of kidnap as she is the daughter of Professor Quentin's American partner in science. George conveniently gets kidnapped instead and they all gorge on an extra portion of lashings of tomatoes and ginger beer. Well, ok they go off and rescue her, capturing the baddies and trumping the police force once again. And as if two girl/boy confusions aren't enough, gypsy girl Jo makes her third appearance in the series.

Here's my other boo-boo. I read the third Matthew Bartholomew mystery A Bone of Contention back in January and cheerfully forgot about it as I'd been away when I finished it. In this the 14th century Cambridge Master tries in vain to convince a carried-away college house that the bones they have found are not those of a local martyr - who Matthew knows to have survived and scarpered.

In A Deadly Brew he has to deal with smugglers and a rash of deaths from a strange poison. I've got into this series now and have the happy prospect of several more books to come as this series is approaching the twenty books mark.

Well yes ok this is a strange one to be sure! The For Dummies series is actually for anything but dummies. This volume contains chapters from several previous titles and was compiled on the 25th anniversary of the first book DOS for Dummies. In the old early days of computers users had to know at least a smattering of the DOS programming language before Windows and the two-button mouse first came out to make things easier. Without icons to choose, users had to type in a command to do the simplest tasks like change directories (now called folders) and then a separate command had to be typed to list the contents which simply scrolled off the screen if there were more than would fit on a screen.

This free book for Kindle contains chapters covering the French language, wine, leadership, marketing, dating, sex, English and Canadian history and more. I now know what wine to drink when having sex with a historic French leading market stall holder...

The second in Philippa Gregory's series Cousins At War. This tells the story of the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III from Margaret Beaufort's point of view. She was the mother of the first Tudor king, Henry VII and grandmother to Henry VIII. In this she comes across as a rather arrogant would-be saint who interprets God's signs in ways that promote her son's claim and pathway to the throne throughout her life until the book ends with his success at the Battle of Bosworth. If this comes as a spoiler to anyone, you really should have paid more attention at school...

Colourful Coasts Cruise

On Friday 4 April we set off from Manchester Airport to fly out to Tenerife to join the Thomson Celebration on her cruise around the Canary Isles, called Colourful Coasts.

From Tenerife our itinerary would take us to Gran Canaria, La Palma, Madeira, a day at sea on our way to Morocco, then to Lanzarote and finally back to Tenerife for our flight back to Manchester.

We saw a friendly face straight away. Our transfer from Tenerife Airport took around fifty minutes. Waiting to serve tired passengers off the coach with chilled orange juice was our wine waiter from our last trip, Lito. And then as we walked onto the ship there was Manny, our waiter from last year, waiting to take us up to our cabin!

The cabin was another surprise. As Manny opened the door it was dark inside. In fact Fran's first thought was that it was an inside cabin and there had been a mistake. But then Manny pulled the curtains back and revealed that we had been upgraded and had one of Celebration's new balcony cabins!

This was to provide us with one of the great highlights of the week - but it was not today, so you'll just have to wait to see what it was!

We don't usually spend a great deal of time in our cabin except for night time, but perhaps we would use the balcony instead of sitting in Horizons during the afternoons!

Our sailing on the first day would be late because of the need to wait for the late flights coming over from the UK. It gave us a chance to see the port of Santa Cruz after dark, this photo being taken out of the window in Horizons Bar - hence a bit of reflection.

We had only just walked in and there was a squeal of welcome and our friends Tomas and Maris, who entertain as 2Intense in Horizons Bar, were there with hugs and smiles and we knew we were set for a great week around the Colourful Coasts!

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