Tuesday, 31 March 2015

More About Morecambe's Polo Tower aka Blackpool's Space Tower

This is by way of an update and correction to my article on Blackpool's Space Tower on 15 March 2015. I ended that article by saying the Tower had now been demolished at Morecambe. Thanks to a response on Facebook by Dave Oldfield, I now know that not to be the case.

The tower itself is still there, fulfilling its secondary and contracted purpose of mobile telephone mast. These photographs were taken yesterday on 30 March as I found myself in the Morecambe vicinity and stuck the camera bag in the car boot to take advantage of being near!

The revolving gondola has indeed gone but the tower is indisputably still there. A rather sad remaining reminder of the Morecambe Pleasure Beach or Frontierland as it became in its later years.

There are a few other elements of the park remaining too as this photograph shows. Thank you Dave for posting a response via Facebook and giving me a chance to give the true facts. I know... it's rare I allow facts to get in the way of a good story...

Of Witches and Slaves, Lovers and Ghosts

Monday 16 February 2015 and we are starting out on the only paid excursion of the week, a trip to two of Jamaica's slave plantation great houses. After an album of Bob Marley and the Wailers on the coach sound system, we arrive at Rose Hall Great House.

Whilst our guide is sorting out our entry we have a quick look at the flora. There's a lot of it about...

This is where your palm oil comes from. Palm oil from the right makes you go and palm oil from the left...

The pond on the front lawn of the house is fed from above and behind the house via a series of cascades. Our guide turns up with our tickets and leads us off towards the house.

The house has been nicely restored - at one point it had got to be a bit of a mess... We will come out of the archway at the top of the stairs but for now we climb up the side and into the entrance on what seems to be the first floor - due to the slope of the hill it is actually the ground floor at the back of the house.

Rose Hall was owned by John Palmer, who took as his wife the diminutive Annie Patterson, an Anglo-Irish girl who had been orphaned in Haiti and brought up by her Voodoo priestess nanny. Well-versed in Voodoo, she became known as the cruel and sadistic White Witch of Rose Hall.

Tiring of her husband, she took to taking slaves as lovers, murdering them after three months or so and then moving onto another. Perhaps her husband caught her out, or perhaps the murders were becoming easier to her, for he suffered their fate, being poisoned by arsenic.

Another two wealthy husbands suffered the same fate, one being stabbed and the other strangled. She had them quickly buried on the estate in unmarked graves by gangs of slaves, who were themselves waylaid and killed on their way back from the burials to prevent them ever giving evidence as to where the graves were. Thus she hid her crimes from the authorities. In the hot climate it was natural for corpses to be buried quickly.

Each husband was murdered in a different room from this upper floor landing. Perhaps she didn't want their ghosts to warn their successors what was in store...!

Her current slave lover, a Voodoo priest called Takoo, learned that she wanted to marry another wealthy husband - one that was courting Takoo's granddaughter. He recognised that Annie had cursed her with a Voodoo spell and once the girl had withered and died, he took his revenge.

He killed Annie as she lay in this very bed. It has been claimed that several photos have shown her ghostly form, lying on it. She must have gone out this day though...

The slaves had the unenviable job of carrying the chamber pots away to empty them well away from the house. Bad enough in any climate but in a hot one, the task of carrying someone else's daily toilet contents would not be pleasant. And it had to be carried a long away from the house before being buried so that Annie did not have to suffer the smell on hot days. Annie had a strict, indeed a sadistic, manner towards her slaves. Slave children were trained from the age of six to carry water in a bucket weighing 10lbs when empty. If they spilt any they were whipped. By the age of ten they were strong enough to work on the plantation.

From this balcony vantage point Annie would issue her orders for each day and watch the slaves being punished - this being her form of entertainment. She had dungeons created in the cellars of the house where slaves were taken for more elaborate torture than mere whipping. She was not what you might call anyone's favourite auntie...

From the rear of the house a narrow series of steps leads into the ground and to the cellars and dungeons of the house. The dungeons are now toilets - well I suppose they were before as well, but you don't have to live in them any more...

From this room we entered another room where there was a bar and a cheerful old lad playing guitar and singing a medley of calypso tunes, about three quarters of which rang bells or sounded familiar. We had a drink and exited through the archway at the front of the house that we saw earlier.

We were led around the house to this tomb, the tomb of the murdered Annie. A voodoo ceremony was held over it at her burial, intended to trap her spirit within the tomb. Perhaps the Voodoo priest Takoo was distracted at having murdered his mistress and lover. The ceremony was not wholly successful as the ghost of the White Witch of Rose Hall has been seen floating round the house, lying in her bed and riding wildly on a galloping horse in the grounds...

We took our leave of Rose Hall Great House and headed off in the coach towards the second of the two plantation houses we were to see. A few Bob Marley songs later we arrive at a small tourist market. I saw a bright blue, yellow and red shirt (subtle it wasn't!) but she didn't have my size.

"You can try it on in there" she said hopefully, pointing into the two-foot recess of her hut.

I wagged my finger in front of her face. "No peeking!" I said, which elicited a huge cackle of laughter and made a show of trying the shirt on without attempting to button it, which would have required the intervention of one of Annie's Voodoo spells... I bought it anyway for $15, she was a nice old lady and was obviously very grateful at making a sale.

Next - we have an appointment at the Jamaican home of the Barretts of Wimpole Street.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Diversion at Jamaica

Monday 16 February 2015. We are up early and have breakfast in time to get up on deck to watch the Thomson Dream arrive into Falmouth, Jamaica.

We brave the considerable wind blowing over the bow of the ship and watch as we are joined by tugboats which attempt to help us into harbour. They are not having much effect against the waves and headwind. After a while there is an announcement over the ship's speaker system. Due to the heavy weather, it is too dangerous to try to get into the harbour at Falmouth and the decision has been taken to head along the coast of Jamaica to Montego Bay, where we were due to arrive tomrrow. The two ports are only a short distance apart and tours will still go ahead, with the half-day tours taking place in the afternoon rather than the morning. Good... Because today's excursion was to be the only one of the week!

So we find our usual spot up on Deck 11 and spend the morning reading, talking and waving at people we have made friends with. The coast of Jamaica slides slowly past us as we sit in a sheltered spot away from the wind.

Then as the announced time of arrival at Montego Bay approaches we again head out to the Promenade Deck to have a look as we edge closer to the land. The reef around the little promontory of land is clearly visible beneath the water.

Looking back over the stern of the ship we watch a plane descend, heading for one of the island's two airports. You can see it just above the horizon on the far left. By now we are nosing our way into the bay and the colour of the sea has changed as the sea bed shelves rapidly and we move into shallower water.

And look at this! Looking through the clear waters of Montego Bay you can see the coral reef on the sea bed. Many people come here on holiday to dive these reefs, which present them with colourful corals and all sorts of fish. And you know... despite all the times they crop up here in the James Bond novels of my teens and despite all the cruises we have taken over the last decade and a bit - I've yet to see a shark swimming in the sea...

We slide further into the bay and admire holiday villages both completed and under construction. The ship slows and starts to turn round to moor with its bow towards the sea.

The cruise terminal. This is where we joined the ship six days ago and we shall leave it at the end of this cruise here tomorrow around lunchtime.

The coaches are starting to arrive for the excursions. We are due to visit two of Jamaica's infamous slave plantation great houses. We check with the Destinations Desk and our excursion will leave at 1:30pm. Time for some lunch then! We'll have a look at the excursion next time.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Gigging In The Caribbean

Saturday 14 February 2015. We are aboard the Thomson Dream which is moored off Roatan, an island about 30 miles off Honduras in the Caribbean.

Towards the end of the afternoon just before we sail we go up onto the rear of Deck 10 where Tomas and Maris are playing.

Now it's not often that this happens, but I had gone prepared with a memory stick with some of my backing tracks from the keyboard so I was happy to be invited up and played a couple of songs, Concrete and Clay and Gerry and the Pacemakers' I Like It. They went down well and Tomas and Maris said they enjoyed how my guitar solos sounded part of the backing (they weren't - I hasten to add...!)

Then it was time to sail away. Tomorrow would be a full day at sea as we crossed the Caribbean from Honduras back to Jamaica. Mahogany Beach, now that all passengers were back on the ship, was deserted and just a few staff could be seen closing the bars and shops.

The tide was in again and the wrecks in the harbour mouth were less in evidence as the water rose. We left Roatan behind and sailed off into the seeming vastness of the Caribbean. Once the ship is moving and at sea there is always a strong wind blowing from in front. In reality those two larking about on the front of Titanic would have been plastered against the superstructure... There's no way Kate Winslet could have dragged herself to the pointy bit with a full skirt acting like a sail...

The following night in the restaurant was the Parade of the Baked Alaska and the chefs traditionally come out of the galley to enjoy their one night a week in the limelight. I have the utmost admiration for any member of ships' crew - they work tremendously hard, all of these people.

And then the waiter brought round the baked alaska, flaming erm... flames... coming from them! This is ice cream baked into a sponge and covered in meringue. The bake is such that the ice cream remains frozen - have a go and watch the liquid ice cream ooze out...

Kahia shows me how to rid myself of unwanted nasal hair!

And then the feats of derring do - one of the waiters balances two bottles together at the neck.

As if this wasn't amazing enough, he prepares to do the same whilst blindfolded!

Success! Cue huge applause which he acknowledges by giving the game away... Cue laughter and more applause!

We make our way to the Tides Bar where Tomas and Maris are starting their first set of the night. Four sets, each 45 minutes every night, seven nights a week which take them to 1:00am.

As their first set finished this trio - Tunesmith - came in. They are an acoustic trio and moved from table to table asking for requests. When they came to our table I said "Let It Be Me" and as the second verse started I joined in with a high third part to the harmony, causing heads nearby to whiz round and the trio's grins got a lot wider! When it came to the middle8, they gestured for me to sing it and we finished with a final flourish to a warm applause!

Tomas and Maris came back for their next set and Tomas whispered that I could do another couple of songs if I wanted.

Unfortunately I left the flash down on the camera and Miss Franny wasn't sure how to turn it on. Someone had asked previously for some rock and roll and whilst I had no rock and roll backing tracks on my memory stick, I played Cliff Richard's Move It whilst accompanying myself on Tomas's guitar - which has a much wider neck than my Fender and caught me out a couple of times with strings being further apart than I was expecting! I also played Joe Brown's Picture of You and came off to a roar of applause and shouts for more! I should do this more often ha ha!

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Mahogany Beach, Roatan

Saturday 14 February 2015. We are on Roatan, an island some 30 miles off Honduras in the Caribbean. As previously described we have looked round a small shopping village and are now about to sample the delights of Mahogany Beach which lies on a very small island reached by a bridge over a tiny strait.

We had a look at a chair lift that took passengers to and from the beach, but decided that a walk would be pleasant and we decided to walk there and then catch the chair lift to come back. Crossing the bridge we get a good view of the Thomson Dream, moored at the pier. The chair lift crosses the strait at the side of the footbridge.

Looking back at the bridge once we are across. There is no access to the island for vehicles and if there were, there is nowhere for them to go - it is beaches and forest and that's about it!

We approach the beach which looks like a typical tropical beach of the sort you drool over in holiday brochures!

Palm trees, white sand and sun loungers all set in rows, inviting those with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to spend a couple of hours walking round nudging them into perfect position... I did wonder whether if you tipped one up, could you make them all go over like dominoes...?

Sign posts pointed the way to various amenities. Bar: lots of choice in fact, there were lots of bars! Pool Tables: that's the cue for a game... Free A/C: for those in need of a charge. Cold Coconut Water, Massages, Fresh Fish and Ping Pong: well it all makes for an interesting massage I'm sure... Not so hard with that ping pong bat, you mean thing!

Meanwhile, back on the beach - that's going to be sore in the morning...! The sun-lovers are baking in the heat. Some are covering themselves in oil and are frying in the heat...

Miss Franny finds a viewpoint that ensures we won't forget where we were!

Floating sunbeds were available for hire. For an extra charge they would tether you to the beach. We picked up some of the more miserly cruise passengers 60 miles out to sea during the night...

Agh, the chair lift cannot be paid for at this end, so can only be joined by those who had already paid and jumped off at the beach! Not really a problem, the walk wasn't a long one so we were happy to walk back and then after a drink at one of the bars we decided to have a go on the chair lift anyway. It was $14 each, but for that you could hop on and off all day if you wanted.

Like a ski lift you stand in the way of the approaching seat and then sit on it as it hits the back of your legs!

We saw more of the raptors that we had noticed, rising in spirals on the air currents from Mahogany Bay shopping village earlier. They were now coming closer.

In fact we were starting to think it might be disastrous to look round and find one sitting on the back of the chair lift, eyeing you up for dinner...!

But this is as close as we came. I'm no expert in birds of prey - they are a bit like flowers are to me... Someone said they were ospreys, but I put it down to a spot of rain... ewww....

We passed over a group of women who had been singing as part of a group on the beach. I got caught taking the photo and gave a cheery wave which was instantly returned with a smile.

Ooh... now that is going to be sore tomorrow morning... My legs, usually encased in material to protect the sensibilities of the world's population, get an uncommon dose of solar radiation and change colour overnight...

Ok, time to return to the ship, get some lunch - which consists of a pile of mixed pineapple, melon and watermelon and get through a few more pages of my book!

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