Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The Fairy Mound

When I was a teenager, I used to cycle to this mound and imagine it was the gateway to an underworld. That if you lay on the grass and listened hard enough you would hear unearthly music coming faintly from below.

Where elves and gnomes waited to ensnare the unwary or lovely elven maidens with large eyes and few clothes offered enticements to cast off a familiar and comfortable life... That on moonlit nights the crown of the mound would lift on columns for the creatures of mythology and wonder to come out, looking for those who strayed...

Then I'd think... "Nah!" But... what do you think?

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Saturday, 26 September 2009

Another Random Offering...

The slides are still going through the scanner slowly but surely. But still as mixed up as ever! So today's offering is a mixed one again!

Starting off with a visit to Blackpool Tower Circus sometime around 1979/1980. I'm not quite sure of the year. The photo is of an acrobatic troup who had the spot right at the end of the performance after the circus ring has sunk down to allow sea water to flood in.

It was always a spectacular end to the seasonal circus show but this troupe were quite spectacular themselves - semi-naked and coated in oil and glitter, they were almost as erotic as they were acrobatic - though you get some idea of the balance and strength required for their act in this photo... Try that with the missus, later tonight!

The next photo couldn't be much more different! St Chad's church, the Parish church of Rochdale, my birth town, taken again in 1979, several years after we had moved to Blackpool. Rochdale is an old town - mentioned in the Domesday Book and, of course, the place where Alan A'Dale comes from in the Robin Hood legends.

St Chads has a strange legend that it was to have been built at the foot of the high hilltop that it occupies, but that the collected building materials were moved each night to the top of the hill by supernatural means!

The next shot is from 1990 and one of Fleetwood's Tram Sunday events. These events invariably involve far more cars and buses than they do trams - in fact these days more than ever, due to Health & Safety rules keeping the trams from trundling slowly down Lord Street whilst visitors are wandering all over the road.

Back in 1990 we just used to push the crushed and dead bodies to the kerb with the side of a foot whilst we took our photos of the parked cars.

Like this 1950s Ford Popular. This was the last Ford "sit-up-and-beg" model before more modern styling gave them a flat boot that stuck out behind and a flatter shape to the bonnet that curved gently into the wings. Dad had one of these - his first car and I remember the great excitement when he came home with it. I must have been 5 or 6 at the time. I remember he spent as much time lying under it with a spanner in his hand as we did riding inside it...

And to finish with - a disdainful opening sentence with the word "and" at the front... and a shot of a 1940s London Routemaster bus on Blackpool's Golden Mile in (I think) 1985.

It was the start of the Routemasters disappearing from London streets and it was to the advantage of Blackpool as the Routemaster made a fabulous sight in its old Blackpool livery.

A Rummage in the Attic

Well that's the end of Summer for another year. Can't remember when (or if) it actually started this year. I suspect we went straight from Spring into Autumn...

Anyway after several nights shivering I was persuaded to climb up to the attic and bring down the heavier duvet.

It took ages. There's all sorts of interesting stuff up there, from old computer bits and books and magazines to my old stamp albums and 78rpm records and slide projectors, Super8 film projectors, old cameras etc.

There's stuff that would make people on Ebay slather with desire I'm sure...

Like 4 bound volumes of Film Review magazine from 1977-1980. Only the January 1978 issue is missing. What would that collection be worth now, covering Star Wars films, Close Encounters, Roger Moore as James Bond, Saturday Night Fever and Grease and Mary Millington, Bo Derek and The Muppet Movie... Plus more Joan Collins and Burt Reynolds than you could shake a stick at! Priceless!

Wading waist deep through a huge pile of empty boxes for Lilliput Lane cottages I came to several large record boxes containing my collection of 78rpm records - Elvis, Little Richard, Buddy Holly vie with Doris Day, Teresa Brewer alongside Russ Conway, Winifred Atwell and Joe Loss. Not to mention Jack Hylton, Bing Crosby, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Sid Phillips, Ted Heath, Frank Sinatra, Guy Mitchell, Max Bygraves, Debbie Reynolds, Lena Horne, Les Paul & Mary Ford, Gracie Fields, Spike Jones & His City Slickers, Chris Barber, Anne Shelton, George Formby, The Platters, Bill Haley & the Comets, Louis Armstrong, Lita Roza, Frank Crumit and Enid Blyton reading her own Noddy stories... I wanted to bring them all downstairs and play them!

Then there was the Commodore 64 computer - almost directly responsible for the direction my career took after I bought it with my redundancy money in 1981 when the wholesale Cash & Carry warehouse I helped manage was merged with another following a takeover (no such thing as "mergers"...)

That computer and this book by Peter Gerrard (where is that man today? I want to shake his hand!) gave me the insight to take an old Commodore Pet at the first college I worked at and I wrote an accounting package to deal with orders and invoices. That led to work on Student Records systems, to managing departments and administration in colleges, then to networks and managing IT and the fledgling e-Learning, to a national award and then to working as Senior Adviser in a support organisation hosted by a university. That book was the kick start in all that.

Oh... and having brought the duvet down I'm too bloody hot at night now...

Monday, 21 September 2009

Scanning! I'm Scanning I'm Scanning I'm Scanning...

Yikes, I've taken a lot of photos over the years! I'm currently up to 13,750 files on my hard drive with 4,161 of them currently available from my Flickr account but with many more still to scan from years gone by!

I'm currently scanning slides of the Lake District and some of those are finding their way to Flickr. I'd collated lots of slides into collections of the same subject for projecting (remember those nights spent in the dark watching a big screen?) and that means they are jumbled up a bit so I can't easlily tell which were taken when.

So I'm having to cross reference with my black and white negatives and do some intelligent guesswork (that doesn't come easily!) as to when each one was taken.

I've gone through around 10 projector magazines each of 50 slides and am currently scanning through the albums of slides that I didn't have spare magazines for. I have 4 albums for slides each containing 20 sheets of storage pages each page with pockets for 20 slides. So that's 400 to an album and I'm on the third album.

Fans of the Blackpool photos may be interested to know that the fourth album is the one that contains most of the older Blackpool photos. And after that I've got four albums of black and white negatives to go at, each of which contains around 400 strips of 5 negatives - so around 8,000 black and white images! So a few months spare time still to go then...!

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Slob-Around Day

Miss Franny has decided we are going to have a "slob around in PJs day" as this is the first day since getting back from holiday that we haven't had anything planned on the agenda.

Our slobbing around so far has included tidying up after the pots were left last night, emptying and repacking all the cables, foot pedals, microphones and spare guitar strings into the band's gig bag - I can actually shut it now! Also I've finally created the Recovery DVDs for my computer that is over a year old...

And now the Dyson is leaping up and down with excitement, waiting for me to help it fulfil its function...

Bloody knackering, these slob-around days...

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Blackpool Zoo in the 1980s

It's been a busy few days and not only have I not been posting here but regular visitors will know even the Flickr account has been a bit quiet!

So I'm delving into the past here going back 28 years or so which is a little frightening because that only takes us back to 1981 - sheesh, I'm in danger of becoming a Crumbly!!!

I used to take a lot of black and white photos back then as I was freelancing to magazines quite a lot. However I did take a few colours as well - on a variety of film stock! I used to use Ektachrome 64 a lot for colour slides as I used to process the film myself with some rather nasty chemicals and a bath full of hot water to keep them at the right temperature! It was a finicky business, but I'd been processing my own black and whites for years and wanted to have a bash at colour too.

Blackpool Zoo had a couple of tigers at that point and they are seen above making the most of the sunshine!

The camels had a spot near the entrance - as the entrance to the zoo at that time was along the path past the elephant enclosure. The elephants in those days shared the outside enclosure with giraffes and rhinos. Indoors were three different pens and only one species was allowed out at any one time of course!

All these photos are from colour slides, but when it came to colour print film I experimented with all sorts of stuff! Technicolor, Kodak, Agfa, Barfen (which I bought in 100ft rolls and loaded 35mm cassettes myself), Sakura, and loads of other weird names produced film that I tried out. Some of them were really grainy, lots of them have now discoloured making scanning the negatives a nightmare!

Azimat was the name of the zoo's most popular orangutan at that time. She had her little baby, Victoria, in the very early 1980s and I was there to celebrate! Azimat gave me a set of pictures that I had published in She magazine and the American National Enquirer and so was a favourite of mine!

Sadly she is no longer with us but Vicky is still at Blackpool and is now the matriarch of the orangutans at the zoo.

Kumba was the star of the gorilla pen and was the male silverback gorilla with the haughty stare and a disquieting way of handling his own droppings as though considering lobbing them over the wall at you...

Lomie, one of his female companions was another favourite of mine. She and Azimat both got used to me, I used to visit that often and they would be quite unperturbed at me pointing a "long tom" at them. I had a 400mm lens that was around a foot long on the front of my camera!

Who would have thought then that not only would miniature cameras be able to zoom into such faraway details but that film would not be necessary and that you would be able to take photographs on a telephone that you could carry in your pocket!!!

What a strange place the world seems now if looked at from the perspective of 30 years ago!

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Wedding Bells in Durham

Last night we stayed over in Durham, after joining in the wedding celebrations of one of my work colleagues, Andy Stewart who married Verity amidst the wonderful setting of Durham Castle.

We motored over from Blackpool yesterday afternoon and met up for a meal with other friends from work. We had an excellent meal then a quick drink in a packed and noisy pub where I expected to be called "Grandad" at any point and then climbed the hill to the castle.

The reception was being held in a hall worthy and remeniscent of Hogwarts dining room! In fact after a few glasses of wine, I wouldn't swear that the paintings weren't wandering about and trying to converse with us...

Verity looked beautiful, Andy, every inch the proud husband. It was a good night.

This morning Fran fancied a swift look around the shops before we came back. I made sure she knew where she was going and then went back towards the river and along the bank to a sheltered spot from where I could sketch the hill and castle from the river bank.

I was under the shade of overhanging trees which was quite lucky as at one point it was raining heavily - the splashes in the river before me showing just how heavy. I hardly got wet and was able to carry on sketching.

This took about an hour to do on an A5 size sketchpad. I left a few details of shrubbery blank to finish later when Fran had found the shops she had wanted to look around were either not open or hadn't got what she wanted. I finished them off once we got home.

A good weekend!

Saturday, 12 September 2009

A Hot Morning in Corfu

Friday, 28 August 2009. The ship returns to Corfu and we must prepare to return to the UK. However, our flight is a late one. We are not due to leave the ship until 7:30pm and so we go out to walk into Corfu.

It is first thing in the morning and yet the temperature is soaring way into the 90s. By the time we reach the old - sorry make that the New - Fortress, we are hot, a little footsore and wanting a drink. We walked past and then up the side of the fortress. It was built between 1572 and 1645 by the Venetians, with further work done to the defences by both the British and the French. Above the gate that is behind the palm trees there was a carving of a winged lion that I found later to be the emblem of St Mark. In fact it's official name is the Fortress of St Mark, but everyone calls it the New Fortress because there is an older one that we saw on a previous cruise.

We reach the Old Town, a place of narrow streets, marble paving underfoot and full of character. Arcaded walkways shelter you from the sun and provide some cool against the glare and heat of the sun. We walk past a large pile of boxes on the pavement. A van has made a delivery to a shop and unloaded quickly and moved off. On roads of this width even one parked car means the road is blocked until it moves.

It's too early for there to be many tourists about. Almost everyone we see is a local, hurrying to get their shopping done before the heat of the day becomes too unbearable.

The old town of Corfu has some interesting corners - or perhaps I should say curves... Those shorts are miraculously defying gravity! The Old Town is full of little squares like this - if not all so splendidly adorned by near-naked maidens... In the centre is an old covered well.

A larger square gave us a chance to rest our legs and admire the scenery. From here we retraced our steps until we hit the edge of the more modern town where we sat on a corner and ordered drinks at a street cafe. Two other passengers, Robert and his grandson Ryan came past and joined us for a while. Having had our rest we walked slowly back to the ship, my shirt almost entirely darkened by sweat as the temperature was now over 100 degrees. Our cases had been taken from the cabin late the night before, ready for going to the airport so there was nothing we could do about getting changed. But once back into the air conditioning onboard we started to cool down and feel better.

We had lunch and then wandered the ship for a last look round before heading for our usual refuge in the Horizon bar. I read for most of the afternoon - finishing the book that I had meant to read on the flight home... Then the usual wait at the airport, enlivened for a moment as I walked through a cloud of what I thought was smoke, as I was walking behind a lady and her son. She dropped her "ciggy" in a bin and there was a shout of laughter from her family. She had been spraying deodorant to cool herself and then realised she shouldn't have still had it, having already passed through security! Christopher Biggins was waiting to fly back home and was incredibly patient with the queue of people who lined up for an autograph. No one asked for mine... Homeward bound!

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Thursday, 10 September 2009


Thursday, 27 August 2009. We returned from Ancient Olympia to the port of Katakolon and as usual we had some lunch and then disembarked once again to walk around the port.

There was an excellent view of the ship and what there was of Katakolon was only a few steps away. In fact the village only exists to serve visiting ships.

There is a street of shops and at the rear of the shops that back onto the harbour, a row of cafe bars. But once the last ship leaves they turn out the lights, close up and all go home, leaving the village deserted.

The shopping street is filled with pretty much identical shops. They are all aimed at the tourist and therefore all seem to sell the same stuff. They all had photo calendars, guide books, postcards, belts, jewellery...

Oh and a calendar showing scenes of pornography taken from ancient pottery jugs and bowls... Nothing left to the imagination there (I'm only aware of this from the covers of course - I didn't browse...) I did wonder whether to take one back for Grandma... "Hey! Gran! Look what I got for you!" But then I thought better of it. I don't have any grandparents left anyway...

There was another ship in port besides the Thomson Celebration. This was the Splendour of the Seas and with two cruise liners in port the cafe bars had a few customers to keep them going. In the eight years between first writing this and my 2017 revision of this series of articles, the Splendour of the Seas has been taken over by Thomson as Thomson Discovery and will shortly change the Thomson bit to Tui! It took us all of half an hour to fully explore the place...

We walked back to the ship and watched the Splendour of the Seas raising anchor, ready to depart. Then it was back to the Horizon bar as usual. "Sir John, are you going to draw me today?" asked Karen. Now... when asked this by a very attractive Filipino lady, you don't readily turn them down... My mind conjured with a certain scene with Kate Winslet in the film Titanic... But then she was working and didn't have an hour or so to disport herself in front of me and there were too many other people there anyway, including Miss Franny. So I drew the view from the window instead... The safer option you know...

I have to say that lounging in a comfortable leather armchair whilst sketching is definitely preferable to standing in 100 degrees of heat under a baking sun! People kept coming to look over my shoulder as I was doing this - I wasn't even aware of most of them, though quite a few struck up conversations and John and Sue from Poulton came in and he said "Oh wow Sue, look! Bispham!" (the part of Blackpool where I live) in a way that made it very funny. Anyway the afternoon passed very agreeably with some good conversation and a relaxing drink by my side!

Later that night we took a few final shots of the ship. The band were called The Nightbirds and did Shadows numbers and similar treatments of more modern tunes.

Not to be outdone... I've often though that a brilliant addition to a cruise ship would be a studio where passengers who are musicians can go to jam with each other!

As the sun goes down in spectacular fashion, we take the final stroll of the day around the Promenade Deck.

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Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Olympia and the Temple of Zeus

Thursday, 27 August 2009. Our port today is Katakolon and we jump onto a coach for a tour to the ancient site of Olympia. Not Mount Olympus, but the site of the ancient Olympic Games.

The Palaestra was built in the third century BC as part of the gymnasium complex, it was used to practice boxing, wrestling and jumping. And apparently still used for ducking practice (see below)... What makes this site somewhat different to some of the other sites we visited during the week is the fact that there's actually a bit of greenery knocking about. It is quite pleasant to walk around Olympia and there is some shade to be found. That's the plus side.

On the negative side there are so many lumps of what used to be parts of impressive buildings that it's difficult to make much out apart from the one or two bits that are obvious. Unless you like listening to guides rambling on I'd suggest learning a bit about the place and its history beforehand and what I wish someone had told me - find a map of the site and print it to take with you.

The Philippeion was an Ionic circular building of ivory and gold, built by Philip II, King of Macedonia. It contained statues of Philip's family, Alexander the Great, Olympias, Amyntas III and Eurydice I. Somewhere behind it is the place where they light the Olympic torch by sunlight reflected and concentrated by a curved mirror. Runners then carry it in relay to wherever the games are being held.

Miss Franny is giving me that look... She knows that any second now I will be so fed up with the drone of the guide's voice that I'll wander off to take more photos and worry about what I'm seeing later at home.

We were at Olympia for a limited time of course and so far hadn't moved for 20 minutes. I wandered off...

More about this particular tall standing column later, but it is one of the most exciting remains at the site.

The remains of an early building. There is evidence of religious worship here from the 10th century BC, but evidence of building only from around 600 BC. For 400 years apparently they sat around saying "It's freezing - shut that door!" only to get the response, "Door???"

The Crypt was an arched way leading to the Olympic Stadium. In the very early days the Olympics were for men only. They competed nude and women were not allowed to enter the site on pain of death and being chucked over the cliff into the river as well!

This is the actual stadium on the edge of the site. The site includes temples, bath houses, practice gymnasiums, the workshop of Pheidias, who sculpted the statue of Zeus for his temple - we'll hear of that in a moment - and a villa of Nero's. A chariot race was held between Pelops and King Oinomaos, whose daughter fancied Pelops. She had the pins taken from her father's chariot wheels. He was killed and Pelops took the throne. He was buried here in the 6th century BC. His tomb, the Pelopian, though, is in ruins.

There's a good map on Wikipedia that would be worth having with you. I've had to go looking to make sense of what we saw - I soon tired of the guide I'm afraid and anyway she had such a quiet voice that only those who were treading on her toes could hear her...

There were temples to both Zeus and his missus, Hera in the sacred area or Temenos. Shown here are the remains of the Temple of Zeus with that single column re-erected that we saw earlier. The temple held a fabulous statue of Zeus, made of marble covered with ivory and gold, seated with a small statue of crowned Nike, goddess of victory in his right hand and a sceptre in his left. The statue was considered one of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and stood for 600 years here before being either pinched and whisked off to Constantinople and perishing in a fire in 475 AD, or perishing in the fire that destroyed the temple in 425 AD.

The workshop was discovered in 1954 - a momentous year as that's when I was born - and it contained not only a cup with an inscription "I belong to Pheidias" (honestly!) but some of his tools, moulds used for parts of the statue and even an elephant's tusk from which some of the ivory was used. Rumours that the cup had an inscription on the other side "so keep your bloody hands off!" are sadly untrue... Pheidias did come in for a bit of criticism as apparently if Zeus had stood up, he'd have banged his head on the roof of the temple. I wonder if Pheidias was ever struck by lightning...? Despite the ancient destruction of the statue, so many images exist of it on coins, medals etc, that we can be fairly certain exactly how it looked.

And that's all for this article. Now I'm going to strip naked and dash three times round the Stadium...

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The Athens Acropolis

Wednesday, 26 August 2009. We sail into Piraeus and head for the breakfast restaurant extremely early - our coach to Athens and the Acropolis sets off at 7:30am!!!

Mind you, it was worth it as we were only the second coach to arrive at the Acropolis. The photo shows the Propylaea - gateway to the Acropolis. We had climbed up roughly 200 steps and several ramps to get here and we were feeling thankful it wasn't in the midday heat!

The Parthenon. Already the crowds were starting to gather and we ducked out of the lengthy explanations from the guide in order to grab photos whilst there was a chance of finding room to move about. The Parthenon is a temple of the Greek goddess Athena whom the people of Athens considered their protector. It was built in the 5th century BC and is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece.

Freshly dressed stone lying waiting to be used in the restoration of the Parthenon. In the 6th century AD, the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. After the Ottoman Turk conquest, it was converted into a mosque in the early 1460s, and it had a minaret built in it.

The Erechtheum, seen across the ruins of the fallen Temple to Athena. The temple as seen today was built between 421 and 407 BC. Its architect may have been Mnesicles, and it derived its name from a shrine dedicated to the legendary Greek hero Erichthonius. It may have been built in honour of the legendary King Erechtheus, who is said to have been buried nearby.

It has the famous "Porch of the Maidens", with six female figures supporting the porch roof. The figures are the caryatids and carry the weight of the porch and its roof on their necks.

The temple itself was dedicated to Athena Polias and Poseidon Erechtheus. Apparently there was a sacred snake of the temple, which lived in the foundations somewhere. The Athenians believed that its well-being was linked with the safety of the city. Consequently the pampered reptile was fed honey-cakes by the priestesses of Athena Polias and if it ever refused to eat the cakes this was seen as a disastrous omen.

Back to the Parthenon. On 26 September 1687 an Ottoman Turk ammunition dump inside the building was ignited by Venetian bombardment. The resulting explosion severely damaged the Parthenon and its sculptures. In 1806, the Earl of Elgin removed some of the sculptures, with Ottoman Turk permission. These sculptures, are the Elgin Marbles or the Parthenon Marbles and reside in the British Museum in London.

The Theatre of Dionysus at the foot of the hill of the Acropolis was dedicated to the god of wine and fertility. Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes have all appeared here - but not for a number of years...

The Acropolis makes a wonderful viewpoint over the city of Athens. This hill is the one that Cliff Richard sang "The Next Time" on in the film Summer Holiday.

I suspect Athens has grown a bit since the Acropolis was built!

In the distance are the remains of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. It took 650 years to build by which time Athens was under the rule of the Romans through Emperor Hadrian.

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is a stone theatre structure located on the south slope of the Acropolis. It was built in 161 AD by Herodes Atticus in remembrance of his wife, Aspasia Annia Regilla. It had a wooden roof, and was used as a venue for music concerts with a capacity of 5,000.

By the time we had seen all these sights the Acropolis was heaving with people to the extent that we had to push our way through people, particularly at the Propylaea and steps down from the gateway. Given that the steps are fairly steep and with no hand rails this made us a little wary to say the least!

We came to the bottom near the Odeon of Herodes Atticus which is seen from ground level here. The Parthenon peeps over the top of the Acropolis hill.

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