Monday, 31 May 2010

National Family Week, Picnic Day at Witton Park

Another fabulous afternoon for Creeping Bentgrass at Witton Park today as we played in the courtyard for a Family Picnic Day as part of National Family Week.

We unveiled two new songs. David has been wanting to sing Tell Laura I love Her ever since we got together - he has a thing for songs with a death in them...!

Actually he's been suffering from a chest infection all week so he did really well today. The wives overheard a member of the audience saying "I wish I could sing like that even without a chest infection..."

Bah! I'm sure he was just out to get the sympathy vote!

The other new song was Concrete and Clay familiar to any 60s child but not often heard these days. You'll definitely hear it from us in future!

Blackburn's fast becoming our second home this year - we're at Turton Tower on Saturday 24 July 2010 and will be performing at the Walking Festival Showcase at Sunnyhurst Wood on the evening of Friday 30 July.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

A Walk On The Arnside

We both had a day off work on Friday which, combined with tomorrow's Bank Holiday gave us a nicely elongated 4-day weekend. Well it did me anyway...Fran had to work on Saturday!

On Friday we took a ride up to Arnside to visit Gill and Eddie who had been up there for the best part of the week. They had, of course, been down to Wembley last weekend as my son-in-law is a die-hard Blackpool fan and consequently is in a bit of a euphoric state at the moment. Though that was tempered on Monday when his colleagues phoned him at Arnside to tell him that the Blackpool football team were boarding an open-topped bus for their victory parade along the Promenade - right outside the window of his office...

For anyone who doesn't know where Arnside is - and let's face it, until Gill and Eddie started going up there that included me - it's in Lancashire just before you crash into the Lake District. Go to Milnthorpe and turn west basically.

So we did. It's one of those remarkable places where the incoming tide comes in so fast that there is a bore, a wave that immediately raises the water level by a foot or two. We missed it by about five minutes...

Eddie and Gill had the use of a cottage right overlooking the cove and I have to admit it was an excellent view from the cottage windows. It was so nice I could easily have stayed in the chair by the window and had a nap for the afternoon, but that wasn't going to be allowed...

Fran and Gill decided we could go to the sandwich shop and buy something for lunch. Or rather that they would do that whilst Eddie and I went to book a table at the pub on the corner for later on in the day. They trotted out whilst Ed and I got ready at our own speed and following on, we found the pub as yet unopened which meant we had already failed our part of the duties.

Undeterred, we went off to find the two ladies, looking in every sandwich shop Arnside posesses (there aren't that many. We still totally failed to find the two missing wives and walked across to the jetty to have a vague look to see if they had fallen into the sea or were being held by pirates or used as bait by anglers or anything like that.

None of these possibly implausible things had happened as it turned out. They had, of course, found other shops of interest and were immune to our anguished searching of rock pools and tidal races. Sheesh! They hadn't even been to the sandwich shop yet!!!

Why is it too, that when faced with a choice of two or three cafes or sandwich shops it's a darn near impossibility that the female sex are able to make a choice between them? It mesmerises me. I'd look at a menu and if there was something I liked I'd go in. But women always have to look to see whether the next one might have spelt the menu in a way they might like more...

I reckon if I was a cafe owner I'd put in brackets after every menu item: (we'll make it the way you like!) That would get them in. And of course if anyone did ask you could just laugh and say "I always make it like that"!

We ate our lunch watching trains going over the long bridge over the inlet, there being great excitement when one came from each direction, crossing each other midway along the bridge!

Arnside... it's the sort of place for simple pleasures... Thanks Gill and Eddie - we had a great day!

The photos date from August 2005 - I didn't take any on this visit.

Large versions of the photos: You'll find them in my North West set at Flickr.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

More from London, 1981

In the previous entry I finished with a couple of shots of a hotel room I stayed in back at the end of January 1981. It was my first trip for work and my first stay in a hotel with more than 12 rooms...

It's hard to take photographs of London that will have changed a lot in even thirty years. London does have some buildings that have disappeared in order to make space for things like more modern office blocks mainly. The gherkin building etc.

But the buildings that get demolished in London tend not to be the ones that you would photograph as having some great architectural features anyway. So to illustrate the point...

Admiralty Arch in 1981 looked exactly as it does in 2010. The thing that makes this photograph so nostalgic is that Austin Princess, heading past the Mall into Trafalgar Square.

My Dad used to have one of those Austin Princesses. He bought it after having a purple (yeuch!) Austin Maxi. The thing I remember most about those two British Leyland cars is that you could take hold of the gear stick and move your fist in a large circle of about a foot diameter and the gear lever would not snag at all but would happily perform the same circle. It's just not right...

My brother used it after Dad had finished with it, until the point where the rust had disappeared into one or two rather gaping holes in the doors and body... It was either going for scrap or... actually he sold it to a visiting Monster Truck show and they crushed it in their show by driving over it in a pick-up truck with rather large wheels...

Likewise the interest in this shot taken on the same trip is the already rare Commer Karrier van parked on the kerb. These were once seen everywhere. The forerunner I suppose of Ford's hugely successful Transit van. They were used a lot by the Post Office and could be seen beetling around the train station, picking up mail and packages delivered by rail.

In fact the only photograph from the trip that had any architectural or non-vehicle-related interest was this one.

Piccadilly Circus, with the traffic still passing either side of the statue of Eros (even though it wasn't meant to be Eros in the first place). Also the familiar neon signboards have yet to be replaced with video walls. JVC were about to become giants but at the time were only known for those new-fangled VHS tape thingies. And Wimpy - ah... Wimpy! Britain's own burger chain where burgers were served on a plate with chips and peas and cutlery... Or you could have a sausage bender, where the sausage was nicked and cut so that it could be rolled into a circle...

McDonalds and Burger King were on the horizon but had not yet ousted Wimpy who in this photograph are still advertising hamburgers in the window.

The Trades Descriptions Act came out in the late 1960s but it had taken them a while before they decided that as burgers were made of beef not ham, they should be termed beefburgers!

Actually hamburgers were so known because they were mainly introduced to America from the German port of Hamburg... They were introduced into Germany by that most gently persuasive of salesmen, Ghengis Khan, whose hordes didn't stop to eat so they had to eat hand held food whilst riding. To help them do this they ground their meat and shaped it into patties, placing them under their saddles so that they would be tenderised by the continous bouncing of their bodies. I'm sure McDonalds have a different way of tenderising their burgers these days though...

And finally...

...because I knew you really wanted to see this! This is the remains of the Austin Princess with my nephew standing proudly in front of it, following its demise under the wheels of the monster truck. It was now a wedge at both ends instead of just one...

Sunday, 23 May 2010

A Trip Back to 1981

Sheesh, me old kebab! There's a few memories going through the scanner at the moment from 1981. I was still taking mostly black and white photos at the time, which I processed and developed myself, blacking out the bathroom with thick plastic over the windows and getting giddy on the heady aroma of chemicals in which I sloshed prints about with gay abandon.

First offering today is this one of the then new market stalls in Rochdale. We came from Rochdale originally and whilst Fran's parents were still alive made fairly regular trips back to see them.

The market had recently moved from the bottom of Yorkshire Street to a new spot near the brand new indoor market and the council had provided these new stalls with rather garish plastic canopies in a choice of bright red or bright yellow. The locals hated them and quickly dubbed the new market Toytown!

Meanwhile in Blackpool, this is a shot of the Hounds Hill shopping mall. It felt very futuristic at the time. Mothercare is the large shop on the left and had a front both in the mall and on Adelaide Street West (Adelaide Street having been cut into two portions by the development).

This was my first set of stereo headphones, in ivory plastic with brown foam pads. They were identical to the pair owned by a lad called Paul Fitton, who went to the same school as me and a mutual friend had introduced us way back in 1969. He played me several Moody Blues albums through the headphones and I was knocked out by the clarity of the sound and the stereo effect.

At the time Dad had a stereo set-up, but with a huge cinema speaker at one side whilst for the right hand channel the stereo valve amplifier was plugged into the large 1950s radio set. Not a good match... I bought the headphones and would spend many a night in my own world of Moody Blues, The Supremes and other stuff which would embarrass me greatly to reveal it now... My God, how could I...

Finally a couple of shots from a trip to London at the very end of January 1981. This was the first time I had ever gone away for work, the first time after 5 years of married life that I'd spent a night separated from Fran and the first time I'd ever stayed in a large hotel.

Holidays were spent in the UK at that time and we always stayed in guest houses rather than hotels. This was an eye-opener and I remember feeling ridiculously impressed with the lavish richness of my surroundings! Even the experience of walking up to a Reception Desk was something I'd ever only seen in James Bond movies...

There was a telephone!!! In the room!!! Look at that natty 1970 wall-phone design too! Push buttons were still a definite luxury - and it wasn't that posh a hotel! I can't remember which hotel it was I'm afraid...

It did have a mini-bar though, although of course I had been warned not to use it as they were unbelievably expensive! Can you make out the prices in the photo? Wish you could find one in a hotel priced like that now?

Friday, 21 May 2010

Club Night in Blackpool

It's not actually all that often that we play in our home town of Blackpool. But last night was one of the exceptions.

We were at the Highfield Road Club for a social evening for ex-servicemen and their wives. So did they want nice easy relaxed music? No...

"Status Quo!" came a shout from the audience as we threatened them with Cliffy... So Status Quo they got!

We had a great night, singing, playing and joking our way through an hour and a half of good old-fashioned fun! Fran and Jeannie seemed to mop up in the raffle too... We came away with a bottle of brandy and one of Martini... Honestly... you can't take them anywhere!

Sunday, 16 May 2010

The Sweets and Tobacconist Shop

Because of all the chasing about for work there's not been a great deal of scanning going on recently.

Yesterday though I came across a few shots from 1980 when Mum and Dad had a sweets and tobacconist's shop on Common Edge Road, Blackpool. I'd taken a few shots inside the shop and looking at them now brings a few memories back!

That's the me of thirty years ago, helping to re-stock the shelves with chocolate and sticky sweets! There's a closer look in a moment for those of you who want to spot any discontinued lines and brands!

You can have similar moments of nostalgia if you are a smoker with this display of long since disappeared cigarettes.

I gave up smoking in 1976 when Fran was pregnant with Gill. Cigarettes had anyway risen in cost and were somewhere around 30 pence a packet. By 1980 they have risen to the ridiculous heights of between 65 and 75 pence per packet of 20. That's four years to double in price. Blimey... They must be over five pounds a packet now!!! (and indeed...!)

My old favourite brand of Players No.6 can be found on the shelves still, accompanied by the king-sized version that I occasionally smoked.

Fran stands behind the ice cream counter. A favourite spot of her own Dad, Bob, when he was alive. It was, I have to admit, an intensely entertaining spot for a fella to stand as all the women and girls came in their low cut summer tops and bent over to search for their block of Walls Cornish or Neapolitan, affording a generous view of their tutti fruities... I made a point of staring at the ceiling of course...

A closer look at the confectionery shelves. At the bottom left a box of Tudor Crisps (remember them!!!) can be seen. Lots of still-familiar chocolate bars there but Snickers are still called Marathon and I'm not sure that Star-Bar and Take2 are still going.

The biggest change has been in boxes of chocolates. Spartan hard centres and Contrast are no longer with us for instance.

It always amused us that people would leave buying Christmas presentation boxes and Easter Eggs until the very last minute on Christmas Eve or Easter Sunday and then complain if we had sold out. Why would we want to have some left?!?

Ah well... another slice of the past there.

Large versions of the photos: me, cigarettes, Fran, chocs!

Video Killed The Conference Star

It's been a busy old time recently. This last week saw a two day trip to Lincoln, coping with a hotel down a road that had been closed and a rather convoluted diversion, heavy sleet coming back around the Leeds/Bradford area which was also the site of a 50mph stretch of motorway equivalent to the distance between the borders of Scotland and Greece.

During this bit where the roadworks were only intermittantly in evidence, I was forced into the middle lane by traffic joining the motorway, where I was hassled by a maniac who thought it was a 55mph area and thought that one inch from my bumper was a safe distance. He was wanting me to pull into the left hand lane of course but it wasn't safe to do that - certainly not as safe as him pulling into the empty right hand lane would have been...

On Wednesday I spent 13 hours putting an audio commentary together and producing a short video to cover the fact I'd double-booked myself on Thursday. It took a long time but was actually really good fun to do and I must find the time to put the video up at YouTube sometime!

After that I had nine hours on trains on Thursday, going to London from Blackpool and then heading up to Glasgow following the conclusion of my business in the capital. On the way up to Scotland I spoke to the co-ordinator of the other event who told me the audio and particularly the video had gone down "a storm" and that people were wanting to be able to download it... Must have been better than me being in person by the sounds of it...!

Friday I ran a Project Management workshop in Glasgow and worked the video into it to see what would happen. People laughed in all the right places and there was a round of applause at the end that was very gratifying!

It's hand-held and horribly wobbly and the title reflects more the original conference subject than the video content. So for Change Management read Benefits Management.

So of course, it's been uploading whilst I wrote this, so have a look...

Monday, 10 May 2010

Creeping Bentgrass at Witton Park, Blackburn

Yesterday was the band's first visit of the year to Witton Park in Blackburn. It was for an Open Day event arranged by Myerscough College and there were all sorts of things going on. We had reptiles, snakes and a hog roast going on near us and there were carriage rides, tractor and trailer rides a large fairground and lots of stalls throughout the park showing the different courses and career paths the college caters for.

We were in our usual spot in the courtyard and what a fabulous day we had. People were waiting for us when we turned up in the morning. "We saw you last year and hoped you'd be back!"

We set off at 11:00am and apart from a 20 minute break for lunch we played straight through until gone 4:00pm. I know my fingers were smarting somewhat from the guitar strings!

A string broke during Cliff Richard's Move It and I finished the song on keyboards with a piano sound. Of all the songs... It's in the key of E with far too many black keys involved!!!

Apparantly 8,000 came through the gates and whilst they didn't all come to see us, we had a decent sized crowd watching us all day with a few people staying with us for the full day.

We're back at Witton on Spring Bank Holiday Monday. It's a family picnic day event so bring your picnic or buy it from the cafe in the corner of the courtyard and come and join us for another day of music!

Saturday, 8 May 2010


By heck! These were a staple part of my diet as a schoolboy! I wasn't keen on the lime flavour and don't actually think I'd ever seen a lime at that point. Lime was something you had in a lemon and lime drink or was a ghastly threat in a bottle of Robinson's lime cordial. Why a lime Spangle is being held out as though it were the best is beyond me! Orange and strawberry were my favourites.

How about you?

A big thanks to Bruce Seaton for reminding me about these!

Thursday, 6 May 2010

In the Port of Piraeus

Wednesday 28 April 2010. We dock in the port of Piraeus, Greece. The Gateway to Athens.

The Ocean Village is berthed next to Costa Victoria which I presume is fairly new to the Costa line as it was the first time we had seen her.

It was window cleaning day on the Costa Victoria - fancy that as a job? We have been to Athens before and therefore were planning on just having another day walking around the area of the port. Lots of taxi drivers touting for business with some bizarre conversations as they saw it...

"Taxi? You English? You want to go to Athens?"
"No we're just going to walk..."
said in an astonished tone of voice, "it's 10 kilometres!!!"

The port itself is huge. We walked around about 2 and a half sides of it then retraced our steps and that took 2 hours solid walking. But it's a pleasant walk. We stayed on the side of the port only crossing roads wherever there was an entrance to the port. There are trolley buses here - a sight I just about remember in Manchester as a boy, though the Manchester trolley buses were double deckers.

The main road was fierce with traffic and even crossing the port entrances - even when the little green man was lit(!) - was not always straightforward. Whilst the green pedestrian man is lit, the main traffic lights still allow traffic to turn right into the road you think is safe to cross!

There were a lot of big ships in the harbour, at least one other cruise ship, the Silver Whisper, and a row of four liner-sized ferry ships.

The path we walked on was separated from the main road by a screen of bushes and trees and there were few people wandering about. More or less the only ones we saw struck up a conversation with a hesitant "Excuse me - do you speak English?"
"Eengleeesh? Ah yesss, I speeek Eengleesh!"
I answered in my best Mexican bandit accent (see any spaghetti western for examples) "We come from Blackpool...!"

Oh look! Little red toilet brushes on a bush!

When we returned to the ship, the Ocean Village was being refuelled. Access to balconies on that side was forbidden due to the risk of fumes. Luckily we were on the other side! So we spent our final afternoon once more on the cabin balcony, reading, listening to music, my iPod safely tucked in my shirt breast pocket for safety! (see the entry for Rhodes)

Tomorrow we would return to England from Crete but it had been a relaxing holiday which was what was needed. In fact I was on my fourth book of the week. After three of the Bolitho series by Alexander Kent (only I could spend a week at sea reading about sea battles...) I had started the third in the Jason Bourne series, The Bourne Ultimatum.

There's one more article in this series to come and in that we'll take a look at the Ocean Village herself.

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Monday, 3 May 2010

Turkish Delights

Tuesday 27 April 2010. We docked in Kusadasi, Turkey and joined the second of our two excursions of the week from the Ocean Village Palaces and Pyramids cruise. This was a tour we had done before as a full day last year, but we were doing a half-day version today, visiting the Virgin Mary's house and the city of Ephesus.

The Virgin Mary's house is a 6th or 7th century AD reconstruction on top of 1st century AD foundations which are marked on the side of the building with a red line. All the evidence for this simple building being the last residence of this most venerated Lady is given in my blog entry of our previous visit, but however sceptical you are, it is fairly compelling if only for the reason that there was a church to the Virgin Mary here since a very early time, when dedications could only be made to saints who had lived in proximity to the church.

It was a fairly dull day to begin with. In fact on our arrival at Ephesus it started to rain just as we had entered the city with a full hour's walk ahead of us. It only rained for five minutes though and the wetness soon evaporated.

Again, there is an entry in the blog of a previous visit which you can read in conjunction with this one. It was an ancient city even when the Romans came and virtually rebuilt it. It housed the Roman world's third largest library and is so well documented that we know the names of its streets. This is Curetes Street and it leads downhill towards the Library of Celcus and the great theatre of Ephesus.

It was lined with shops and temples. This is the Gate of Hercules. On the left hand pillar he is pictured holding the head of the Nemean lion. No ordinary lion, it's fur could stop any sword and its claws could cut through armour. Hercules kills it as told in the legend of the First Labour of Hercules. Stunning it with a blow from his club, he strangled it with his bare hands then skinned it, using one of its own claws - his knife unable to pierce the pelt which he later wore as his armour. In fact there actually once did exist a sub-species of lion that lived in south eastern Europe!

This mosaic floor shows how well preserved some of the remains are. Whilst the structures have had to be recreated using fallen stone, this flooring is virtually intact and is still home to this little chap, who demonstrates how lions have shrunk over the centuries...!

This is the Temple of Hadrian - the same Hadrian who had the wall built across the north of Britain.

The impressive but reconstructed front of the Library of Celcus faced East so that the reading rooms were lit by the morning sun. Directly opposite this (so behind my back as I took this photograph) was the brothel... Hence the saying "Just popping out for a read at the library, love! I'll be a good hour or so because the Gazette's got an exclusive article about Ephesus United and their chances in the play-off against Alexandria Rovers..."

The Library of Celcus was the third biggest library of the Roman world after Rome itself and Constantinople. It contained over 12,000 scrolls. Many is the man who returned from the library and brothel, fending off the wife with the phrase, "Not tonight, Love - I think I've got the scrolls..."

By turning to my right and walking down Marble Street we arrive at the magnificent theatre. Seating 24,000 spectators, it was the site of sermons by both Apostles St John and St Paul and was the site of the Riot of the Silversmiths, described in the Acts of the Apostles in the Bible. Marble is a slippery surface to walk on. I stood on a sloping piece and my sandalled foot slid forward quickly only coming to a stop when my second toe collided with the edge of another solid chunk of marble... Several people went "Ooh..." but let me tell you, dear readers, that their sympathy was lost on me just for the moment...!

Leading between the theatre and the harbour (which has silted up - the sea is now 6 miles away) is the Arcadian Way or Harbour Street, an 11-metre wide thoroughfare along which many notables of the time must have walked or ridden. Mark Anthony and Cleopatra walked hand in hand down the road, but there again, so did I and Fran! And strangely none of the guidebooks mention that!

We returned to the port and I quickly declined the attempts to wave us into a carpet shop for a demonstration (hard sell) and Turkish hospitality (which you are asked to pay for afterwards...)

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Sunday, 2 May 2010

All Rhodes Lead to... er... Rhodes

Monday 26 April 2010. We sail into the harbour at Rhodes.

This is another of the sites of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Colossus of Rhodes was a giant statue of the god Helios. He held a bow in one hand, a torch in the other and straddled the entrance to the harbour, with a foot on either side so that ships had to pass between his legs. He had an expression that said "Mind that mast! MIND THAT MAST!!!"

The statue was built of iron and brass between 292 BC and 280 BC and survived all of 56 years before an earthquake brought it tumbling, the statue breaking at the knees and then falling into pieces as it fell. I've used dates from Greek sources here as Wikipedia unhelpfully and somewhat confusingly says that it was built "between 304 and 293 BC, which took 12 years and was completed in 282 BC"...? There was no sign of it as we sailed in, perhaps just as well, as the statue would surely have closed its eyes and gulped at the sight of a mast standing 12 storeys tall... In fact the rubble stayed in the harbour, a hazard to shipping for an amazing 800 years before it was sold for scrap and taken away on the backs of 400 camels.

Even without a gigantic man's gigantic dangly bits dangling gigantically over our heads, the approach to Rhodes is impressive. The Knights Hospitallers came here to avoid the persecution of the Knights Templars in 1307 and built impressive defences which were to become the most solid Christian fortifications of their time.

The city is only a short walk from the harbour and we had elected to make our own way again rather than book an excursion. We found ourselves in a procession of cruisers, skirting the city wall to a convenient gate into the streets of the city.

The medieval city is so well preserved it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and justifiably so.

It was a joy to walk through the streets of the city, which are light, airy and interspersed with occasional piazzas, the greenery of trees and plenty of street cafes and bars where you can just sit and people watch with a glass of something cool or warm as to your taste.

We are inside the city but the towers of one of the main gateways can be seen over the roofline of the Greek steak house that also offers pizza and spaghetti and all sorts of other traditional Greek fare... er…

We found a table at the cafe on the left - which was the same as the cafe on the right - and happily spent 40 minutes or so just letting the mind detach.

There were plenty of craftware on sale in shops from finely embroidered linen to leather goods (Fran as an ex-leatherworker can never resist stopping to just sniff in the rich aroma of leather - it's a fetish I've yet to exploit, but who knows...)

The connection with the Knights Hospitallers is acknowledged in the presence of several shops selling swords, armour and other goods that are likely to be confiscated by customs or ship's security personnel.

This was a very relaxed day and we had the luxury of not being tempted to try to see everything as there is another trip to the area in the offing later in the year and I want to go up to see the remains at the Acropolis of Rhodes then.

For now we retrace our steps back to the gate through the walls and stop to buy the inevitable fridge magnet (I can just about remember when the fridge was white...)

We sat on our balcony for the afternoon and I listened to music on my i-Pod before taking the headphones off and almost falling asleep. The thing that stopped me was the iPod slipping from my grasp and hitting my shin which deflected it to cleverly miss the railings of the balcony and shoot straight off the side of the ship... I grabbed the headphones at the last minute and somehow, unbelievably, the headphone plug didn't come out of the socket. I was a bit aghast with relief as I brought the i-Pod safely up and back onto the balcony! Otherwise someone on the dock below might have been brain damaged by music...

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