Thursday, 30 June 2011

Off the Rails, On the Road

Dear diary...

The week started with a train ride up to Bonnie Scotland. Edinburgh in fact. The train was packed with people lugging heavy suitcases - ye gods, how did those poor people manage in the 1950s and 60s with those tiny flat leather suitcases? At least in the 1930s and 40s they had trunks. Not the swimming kind you understand... those knitted wooly things with a gusset that hung down to your knees once wet would have been useless for carrying clothes about on holiday. These days though people drag hard plastic cases of the size you might see on the back of a lorry having just brought it from the port. Anyway there were lots of those on the train. And the journey was enlivened by a loud American telling a woman, who insisted her dog had to have a seat, how to react when coming face to face with bears, moose and wolves. All of which roam the streets of Edinburgh I expect...

I was staying in the Travelodge on St Mary Street which has the advantage over lots of Travelodges that it has a place to eat in. Not that I used it at night but it did mean I got a breakfast on the two days I was working in Edinburgh!

At night I mooched along the Royal Mile and ate both nights in a Garfunkels. The prospect of an Eastern European trying to explain to a German couple what mushy peas are was quite amusing. He obviously had no idea apart from the main ingredient... Just for the record, you do not prepare them like mashed potatoes... Although just down the road a bit they prepare Mars Bars like fish and chips I suppose...

Anyway I arrived home by another train which was much less crowded on Wednesday night in time to hear about the cat having been taken ill on top of my desk (note to colleagues - that's why I had to ask for replacement memory sticks to be sent...) We may have to replace the telephone too... Luckily the puddle didn't reach as far as the computer!

Then today I've been in Manchester at the JISC Regional Support Centre Northwest's annual conference held this year at Manchester University. Nice car too - the hire company dropped off a brand spanking new Hyundai i30 with only 19 miles on the clock. I haven't smelt that new car smell since I was a lad and Dad bought a new Mark 1 Escort in the 60s.

Once in Manchester I found the car park dead easy, despite only asking Chrissie where we were late last night once she was already tipsy! "I'll be there from half seven! she said.
"I won't..." I responded wittily.

Found the campus map dead easy. Alas someone had been round all the campus maps, knicking the red dot and the "You are here" sign. Coupled with the reluctance of local authorities to pay for street name signs - or the reluctance of owners of new buildings to allow them to be sullied with street name signs - that made finding where I was going rather more difficult than it should have been. It was the Barnes Wallis Building, but whichever way I looked I couldn't see a building with water pouring from a breech in the wall...

There were only a few exhibitors besides myself and the stand that probably got most notice was this one with the massive screen with a new material that could be stuck to either plastic or glass and allowed you to project either from the front or rear.

They were showing a video loop taken in some huge aquarium in Okinawa which included several whale sharks swimming about. I couldn't help thinking how brilliant it would be though to have your mates round for a bar-b-que and sit lolling in the garden whilst your entire bedroom window showed Lord of the Rings...

And now I'm in Telford again - it's becoming a second home as I try to stay in every single room in this Premier Inn near the station. The travel should start to dry up for a few weeks now as summer approaches and college and university staff start to think about holidays. Tomorrow I shall be teaching some eager folks all about Managing Multiple Projects in a Complex Environment.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Creeping Bentgrass at Larbreck Hall

Last night we played Larbreck Hall Caravan Park. The residents had created a stage area for us and there was a brilliant crowd sitting to clap and hand jive, singing, or up on their feet to dance.

Someone had spent a lot of time constructing the stage and there were rope lights, fairy lights and mirror balls all over the place!

Thanks to the Larbreck residents, summer visitors and holiday makers for making our night such a pleasure - hopefully we did the same for you!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Blackpool Winter Gardens

A few weeks ago I published an article that included this photograph of the Winter Gardens in Blackpool.

This was taken in April this year, but as I've been scanning my old negatives I've come across a couple of views taken from almost the same position and allow for a bit of comparison.

This one was taken in June 1982 and was taken in black and white as, at the time, I was freelancing to magazines and there was far greater use of black and white photographs in magazines then. Unfortunately that doesn't allow us to admire the colour scheme so much, but it does remind us that the comedy act Little and Large were topping the bill at the Opera House and the Irish singer and Eurovision winner, Dana was supporting them.

Fast forward to April 1998 and there's some screening to the right. I'm wondering whether this was the point where they took the doors of the men's toilets - they hid an immediate flight of steps that it was very easy to fall down after walking through the doors. I know from painful experience!

Our view is blocked by the kiosk in the centre but luckily I took another photo after walking past it!

Whilst I'm not sure who was on for the summer season at the Opera House in 1998 there's a poster here advertising a one-nighter by The Hollies.

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Sunday, 19 June 2011

A Wedding Gig

Last night Creeping Bentgrass played at a wedding at Garstang Golf Club.

We set up our gear and then managed to have a sit down for a while as the meal was finishing and the speeches and then some family entertainment was still to come.

We played for the early part of the night before resident DJ Ricky took over. Generally the early spot is before people feel ready to dance, but in our case it went up to 11:00pm so we had a few people on the dance floor before we were done. If nothing else the dreaded Amarillo can always be relied upon to get a few people on their feet!

Here David is imploring me to play the next song in "his key!" - whatever that is...

Oh yes... and I've bought those shoes!

Monday, 13 June 2011

Barcelona Aquarium

Wednesday, 17 May 2011. Our last port of call on the cruise is Barcelona. Having been a few times and walked our feet off, we had decided not to go into town this time but to walk along the harbour and try to find the aquarium.

The ship had it on as an excursion, but at thirty pounds each we thought that sounded a bit steep and a look at the map seemed to place it quite close to the port anyway. It was a gorgeous day and we came to the aquarium after an easy 20 minute walk. In fact for a while we ignored it and carried on to stretch our legs a bit.

We came back to it about an hour later and bought tickets from the building opposite - a rather strange arrangement, but I suppose there's more room in the courtyard between the two buildings for queueing. It was still quiet at this time though so we joined the queue behind the people currently buying tickets. The young lady in red was perhaps away from her mother for the first time - or maybe she just hadn't got the hang of buttons, I'm not sure...

The tunnel through the shark tank had a moving walkway to deter people from blocking it entirely and this fella was easily a couple of feet longer than I am.

A quick spat between octopussy and her pal... How do you tell a male octopus from a female? I've no idea, but as I've never really fancied an octopus, it's not been an issue so far...

One to make you go "Ahhhhh". A sea horse surrounded by tiny offspring, itself only a couple of inches long, curls around a branch and drifts to and fro in the current from the bubble filter.

The rather startling looking Sunfish. Adults average a length of 6 feet and can be over 8 feet from fin to fin. The largest ever found was over ten feet long with a measurement of 14 feet fin to fin.

We came back out of the aquarium onto wooden decking leading to a swing bridge to get back to the ship. Three hours have passed since leaving the ship and it's time for our last afternoon lazing on deck with a book and a drink

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Thursday, 9 June 2011

A Night With Destiny

Well I like a bit of drama, but perhaps the title should more realistically be A Night Onboard the Destiny!

It's Tuesday, 17 May 2011 and we have left Toulon - you can't stay too lon-g in toulon - and having had a quick wash and brush up, straightened my jacket and curled my hair and teeth, we find the evening meal enlivened by the waiters and chefs parading the baked alaska around the dining room.

Here Pipit, our Head Waiter presents Fran with a silk rose - she blinked at the wrong time here and once we got back and realised I have had to refuse firmly as she wanted to go back for another week to retake the photo...

Here he... well I'm not sure what he was doing really but anything involving fire and napkins is a welcome diversion as we await the next course!

Then we went into the Can-Can show lounge to watch the night's show. The cast posed on stage following the performance for people to take photos. There was one who posed every night come to think of it... He reminded me of that advert with Cilla Black where she looks like she's had the sides of her mouth sewn up and just the middle bit opens... Every night I wanted to tell him "For Heaven's Sake, stop simpering, man!!!" And one of the girls was the only person I've ever come across who sings slightly sharp... But apart from that they were quite good really!

Then after the show we went for drinkies in the Clipper Bar then as usual made our way up top for a shufti over the side (a look not a chuck) and found a romantic full moon reflected from the far horizon.

I turned to Fran to whisper something suitably seductive only to find her sitting waiting for me to bring a coffee from the self-service restaurant behind the pool deck... Where has this week gone? Tomorrow we will be in Barcelona for the last day of our cruise!

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Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Creeping Bentgrass Gigs

It was a busy weekend for us.

On Saturday night we were at Heskin Hall for the annual steam fair and played in a packed marquee. Always a good audience, they were in a terrific mood this time and lifted us so that we were on the top of our game as well.

One of those gigs where we could do nothing wrong and we ended with no less than four encores!

It was 2:00am when we got home to bed and then we were on site for our next gig at 9:00am Sunday morning...

After several days of warm sunny weather it dropped a good 10-12 degrees of warmth on Sunday for an outdoor gig at Myerscough College's Open Day.

This is where we all got together as a band so it's always a pleasure to go back to Myerscough. I'm told there are few letters received after an open day that don't mention us specifically. We had a great, if cold, day and started playing around 10:30am going all the way through to 4:30 with just a short break for some lunch. Must be a record for us... my fingers certainly knew about it by the end of the day!

Loads of interest shown, lots of friends to see and lots of folk commenting favourably. Thanks go to the enthusiastic dancing girls who kept coming round from whatever they were doing and adding to the fun!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Bandol and Sanary-Sur-Mer

Tuesday, 17 May 2011. The Thomson Destiny docks in the French naval port of Toulon and we have booked an excursion out to two different resorts, Bandol and Sanary-Sur-Mer.

It took us a while to get to Bandol. First there was the problem of the two passengers who were somewhat wider than the door of the coach. The driver had to get off and push the two ladies on from behind... Then he had to push them up the steps... I've never seen a man in such an intimate position with a woman look so aghast... Once back in the driver's seat, the courier had to prod him before he could move himself to set off...

Then we immediately joined a traffic queue. A cyclist had been involved in an accident. 15 minutes later we had crawled past the accident enough to join another queue. This time it was a bus with a very flat tyre!

Eventually we reached Bandol about halfway from Toulon to St Tropez. It was a nice looking place, but we didn't see too much of it as all the women on the bus made a beeline for the market along the marina. It did have some nice stuff on some of the stalls. Mainly because it was French. I suppose the locals were mooching around saying "It's all the same as always isn't it?". Seeing the rolls of bin liners on Preston Market would have excited them no end. And their market did the same for us. Miss Franny called upon my meagre knowledge of French to buy a shawl styled top for a wedding later in the year.

We thought the crockery might have weighed a bit much, quite apart from the risk of opening cases in England to find it was now a 532 piece set... The bus returned - he had had to drive somewhere else as the road didn't have the space for him to wait. Or perhaps he just needed to settle his nerves before helping the two women back on the bus again. Anyway, it was no easier a time for him. They were late. Not just late but a quarter of an hour late.

A gendarme had created a space the coach could wait in and the two ladies eventually returned after the courier had almost torn his hair out, making lots of frantic calls back to the ship and the bus company. They had "had to go to the toilet"... So had most of the rest of us I presumed, but we had got back on time. Anyway the driver went through the same palaver as before, which took another good quarter of an hour and sat muttering feverishly about taking up his cousin's offer of fishing for sharks from a rowing boat in the mid Atlantic... He was not a happy homme...

Sanary-Sur-Mer turned out to be one of the most delightful places I've ever had the luck to find myself. I could easily have spent the full day there rather than the mere 45 minutes that we had.

Even that was long enough to walk the length of the Promenade and back, drinking in the sheer delight of the scenery. The buildings, the boats, moored against the sea wall and floating piers of the marina, the pavement cafes with the bright table umbrellas.

We bought an ice cream and sat on a bench, drinking it all in until the wind got up and one of the table umbrellas detached itself from its weighted foot and knocked over three tables, on a wild flight from its original spot towards us! Luckily it caught on another table and stuck, the pole bent and useless. The cafe owner rushed out in haste somewhere around ten minutes after...

We walked back to the coach the long way to stay near the seafront as long as possible. Our way took us through a small park with a formal garden with an oblong pond into which twenty fountains sprayed an arch of water.

Back at the coach the courier was consoling a weeping driver saying "It's the last time Jacques, the last time," in French over and over.

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Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Ajaccio, Corsica

Monday, 16 May 2011. The Thomson Destiny sails into Ajaccio on the island of Corsica.

We have not booked an excursion for this day and set off by walking around the harbour, which gives us this great view of the Destiny. Halfway up the chimney stack is a small bar that gives great views in all directions, though with only limited space so after having a look we didn't bother with it again.

The Clipper Bar was our favourite, with its nautical theme and ropes, halliards and mock ratlines as decoration. More or less from the same spot, but taken after twirling round to face the other way. Ajaccio was absolutely lovely.

We walked the full width of the harbour to where the harbour wall sheltered the moorings from the sea and then went back to the centre to explore the town a little.

Old street furniture - one of my great pleasures! Street lighting, signboards, road signs, advertising on walls, bollards, traffic lights, street name plaques... In England the latter are disappearing rapidly from our cities as new modern builds go up and owners or architects refuse to have them "disfigured" by street names. Madness. And maddening for strangers to a town or city, trying to find out where they are in relation to the map they are using.

A last look at the port and harbourside before we head into the town for a look round. There are statues of Napoleon Bonaparte all over the place. He was born in the town over a little shop a short way from the waterfront, which I think was either a dress shop or a tanning salon when we went past it - I should have taken more notice!

This statue has him dressed as a Roman emperor, one of his favourite fantasies so I believe - Josephine must have had an exciting time of it... This diminutive would-be Alexander the Great conquered a sizeable portion of Europe until his march into Russia ended disastrously and even once defeated and imprisoned he managed to escape and gather his devoted armies until he was finally defeated for good by Wellington and Blucher at Waterloo in 1815. Without him where would Sean Bean be today...?

So many inventions and everyday sayings came out of those horrendous war years when the whole of Europe including England were either conquered or convinced it was only a matter of time before he turned his attention their way. Tinned food, rifles, baguettes, "Going off at half-cock", "freezing the balls off a brass monkey" - actually the stand of brass on a fighting ship that held cannonballs ready for use.

We found a small road train and took a trip on it for a couple of hours for a very reasonable price. And look at the phone box too! Nice that a town so proud of Napoleon can find place for a reminder of the country that brought him to a halt!

We sat right at the back of the road train so that every little correction of steering at the front made us sway out into the middle of the road or to the kerb... A small party of French or Corsicans came late and a tiny woman squashed beside me. The commentary wasn't working so well in our carriage so they sang instead, doing drum and symbol noises for added effect. It was very jolly! At first...

The train stopped for photos at a few places then retraced its way along the coast back to where we had got on. The little woman was by now dozing and in grave danger of actually resting her head on my shoulder. I say, this entente cordiale is fair enough, but... with the memsahib sitting on my other side you know...

We returned to the ship and I had time to risk ridicule again by sketching the harbour wall from the Promenade Deck. From Corsica our next stop is Toulon. In Napoleon's time it was a huge French Naval Base - it remains so today, but during NB's war it was the scene in 1793 of a would-be rebellion in favour of restoring the French King which was foiled, resulting in the British Navy under Admiral Sir Samuel Hood, having to scarper as Napoleon retook the city. Napoleon was wounded and missed the brutal massacre of Toulon's rebels. Around 800-2000 people were shot or bayonetted to suppress the rebellion against... er... the rebellion.

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