Tuesday, 28 February 2012


Monday 20th February to Sunday 26th February 2012

Diane’s cold/flu has not got any better – in fact it was worse, so nothing for it but to confine her to bed – which of course then made me the nurse – I didn’t mind the work so much but it is those damn heels and the uniform which I have the most trouble with.

Tuesday she felt much better and before I could see how she really was, she was out of bed, showered and dressed – it was about 11am that it hit – “I don’t feel so well” – a bit of a false hope earlier on was now replaced with the fact that she should have stayed where she was on Monday.

So Wednesday came along and it was back to bed with her and it was under very strict supervision – toilet breaks were the only excuse for leaving bed.

Thursday was such a brilliant day – warm and sunny – and of course the no.1 son was coming later on; she who must be obeyed (except in times of illness) was most definitely looking much much better and so she was allowed out of bed, but told to take it very easy. Off to the station about 3pm to pick up Mitch – Diane was even well enough to pull a joke on me, saying that he had missed the station and was still on the train – until of course he appeared from the overhead walkway.

Mitch was well, after his New York experience and a couple of days in Watford and London.

Back to the boat for a bit of a look around and something to eat and then we (Mitch and I) were off to Manchester for the match against Ajax. Diane was sad-faced as we left but she only had herself to blame for her Tuesday effort. In any event she wouldn’t have had the ability to climb the stairs to the seats – not with her coughing and spluttering.

The match was not much in the end – a 2-1 win to Ajax – congratulations to them for their persistence – a Man United team with a very young back 5 (average age - 21).

Mitch was off to Ireland the next day so I dropped him at his hotel near Manchester airport and arrived back at the boat at around midnight.

Friday came and the improvement from Thrusday continued and Diane was feeling much better – finally I could get out of the uniform, kick off the heels and put my feet up.

So well in fact she was that we went out to the movies that evening with Gill and Malcolm (nb Shoehorn) to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – it was an interesting film and reminding me a lot of the reactions of people who decide to take on living aboard a boat – some take to it and involve themselves in the culture, some want to dislike it and find reasons why not to do it but in the end it transforms them, whilst others adapt it to what they are used to doing, and of course there are still some who utterly detest it all and go back to what they are used to.

After the film we had a light dinner at the Weatherspoons in Stafford at The Picture House – which is the old Stafford Cinema after undergoing a modernisation with a retention of much of the character of the old building – a truly magnificent place has been created/restored.

Not much happened on the weekend – it was pretty much a routine couple of days – the weather though, was still very good – a little rain and a little sun – our seats for the stern of the boat are seemingly within our grasp and Jon paid another visit for more measurements and we keep our fingers crossed that they will be sitting in place (with us in them) in a couple of weeks time – we will finally believe all of this when it is a completed job.

 The good thing by Sunday night was that Diane was a lot better and had been for a few days now, so hopefully she is over the very worst of it all and the uniform stays back in the cupboard (until she feels like more role-playing).

Sunday, 19 February 2012

America Reprieved and Canadians Invade DC

 Sunday 12th February to Sunday 19th February 2012

I am pleased to say that I have warmed to America in this past week; we left the Disney resort on the 12th and during the taxi ride to the Orlando Amtrak station we engaged the driver in conversation – something that we had not previously been able to do – found out more about the general feeling of America and Americans about a number of issues.

The scene at the station was very much as I had imagined it would be for a smaller station on the Amtrak line - the waiting room was a cross-section of part of America and it was interesting just being able to sit and watch everyone – we did after all have over an hour wait for the train – I can hear Diane saying – “nothing unusual in that”.
The train trip was overnight; the seats were quite comfortable and we were both able to get a fair amount of sleep during the trip; we did also get to see a fair amount of the surrounding environs through to Jacksonville and a bit beyond there.

Arrived in the capital at about 7am; the weather was decidedly colder than that we had left behind in Florida. Breakfast was had – quite nice really – used Google maps to find the exact location of the B&B – not very far at all so we decided to walk and take in a bit of the city.

We were able to drop off the bags at about 8:15am and had a good chat with Keith Byrd (Mt Vernon Square Bed & Breakfast); picked up the key and got some valuable information about DC. Keith is a very engaging person and we had many conversations about many things - he was particularly interested in our lifestyle aboard the boat.

We took a walk around the city area to familiarise ourselves with the overall layout and the proximity or not of the various places that we wanted to visit.
We had not seen Canada Geese since we had left the UK - they were vistors to all locations and now we find them here.

The Canadians have invaded Washington

Along the way we found the Washington Monument – not able to get close as a 5.8 magnitude earthquake last year had caused some damage to the structure and consequently it was deemed too “dangerous” to have visitors – it was pretty easy to see the cracks in the obelisk on the outside.

The cut down version of the Washington Monument - the top really is still there
See, there it is - and some woman in the foreground

Further on we spent time in the Smithsonian museums for American History and Natural History, after which we headed for the National Air and Space Museum – this was impressive – you walk into the foyer and immediately confronted with the returned command modules of the Mercury and Gemini missions as well as the Apollo 11 CSM.

The original Wright Brothers biplane that flew at Kittyhawk

The Apollo 11 module

The staff were marvellous in explaining what was where – but in a much more jovial manner.

We really are not in Kansas - although these red shoes want to be.
(from The Wizard of Oz)

We sadly were starting to lack enough stamina to continue through the whole of the exhibit and returned to the lodgings for a much needed nap (we are getting old).

Revived and reinvigorated we headed out to dinner and it was thoroughly enjoyable – Busboys and Poets – just around the corner from where we were – can highly recommend this eatery.

Our morning companions at breakfast were reasonably chatty and we warmed to them – gaining valuable information about how they found the country as residents and naturally gaining further insight into this land.

We headed off to the Metro this was built sometime in the 1960’s and we have found it to be a wonderful well-run system; very efficient and at a reasonable cost, even for the visitor to the city – Diane on a mission to visit a JC Penny looking for a particular coat (I thought it would simply have been easier to nick off with Sam’s). Alas we had misunderstood directions from the previous day and ended at Greenbelt – no relevant store – then back to Prince George’s Plaza – it was all good in the end – no coat but plenty of people watching.

Just one of the immanculate Metro stations
- they really were all were like this
We trained it back into DC city and thought that we might be able to get a reasonably close photo of the White House – we knew that not being Americans and not having a 6-month background check, we wouldn’t get onto the tour – but even as we got close, the security people were closing down the access areas which were normally open – no explanation, just a stern and uncompromising “move along” – with which we of course had no option but to comply.

Anyway we were able to get some shots (oops wrong word there!!) – I mean photos – of the White House – but from a considerable distance – all the while there were just so many security people – DC police; Federal police and Secret Service (not really very secret – it was written on the cars).

The White House from afar - about 500 metres was as close as we could get
In fact we have seen so much security personnel at all government buildings; and so much checking of people going into buildings and rules and regulations that it is easy to see that there can be no end to this upgrade of security – it does seem that the enemies of the US have really have won – the viewpoint is that everyone is potentially an enemy of the state.
The government is certainly in a state of heightened alarm and "fear".

Despite all of this we have found Washington as an extremely enjoyable city to visit, with so much going for it, so many friendly people who have a sense of humour about them – even in their official roles.

The ubiquitous American yellow school bus - Diane just wanted
to get a photo of one - she had hundreds to choose from
A more solemn visit was to the Arlington National Cemetery – this defines a lot about America – the history; the gratitude of the nation; the pride of the nation; the understanding of the future governed by their past.

The view from the Arlington Mansion in The National Cemetery

The changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; the mansion of Arlington (at one time it was the home of Gen Robert E Lee); the tomb of President Kennedy as well as many many others – all heroes in America.

Changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
We past a group of obviously young Armed Forces recruits touring around the site – a most probable part of their induction.

Onto the memorial to another hero of the Republic – that which was built to honour Lincoln – this is an inspiring site – the words of the Gettysburg address resonate as clear today as they would have done almost 150 years ago.

Diane and friend - I think he is quite well known

at 60 feet tall - this is imposing
and incredibly poignant

And the memorial from afar

We decided that we would not get into the Capitol visitors centre – “No Food allowed” – we suspect that there might have been an internationally wanted terrorist slug in the salad.

We did manage to get just a little closer than this

For our last day in Washington we only had a couple of places that we really wanted to go – two more memorials.

The first was the memorial to World War II

WW II memorial - surprisingly only opened in 2004
The second being one that no-one visiting Washington should miss – the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial.

see the whole memorial - it really makes you think about this very special man
Both are impressive in their own and unique ways.

And then it was back to pick up the cases and off on the Metro to the bus stop for the trip out to Dulles and back to Heathrow.

Keith had been able to advise that there was a bus direct to Dulles from DC for about $6 – a lot better than the probable $50 taxi fare.

We were not too early, but just enough to allow for the endless searching that we knew was likely to happen at an American airport.

Alas - time to come home
Do we have an impression of America?

Yes we do – after a start that was less than welcoming and a numbing week of getting used to “Can’t do enough for you” greetings in a tourist city (Orlando), we started to find a bit more about a part of America which is more down to earth – still very welcoming and friendly and warm.

We saw how concerned and in some ways frightened America has become – security is very tight in all federal buildings.

We did not see any troubles on the streets – we felt safe in both Orlando and in Washington DC – we also know that this is such a small part and the outcomes here could not be extrapolated to the rest (neither of the kids experienced any problems in LA or Las Vegas either and Mitch has had no problems in New York).

Would we go back there again? We have already marked it in as a country we would go back to and see more of – maybe around the New England area.

The flight back was only 6 and ½ hours instead of the original 7 and ½ hours.

We arrived back in England and it felt like we had come home – we were off to visit Maggie and Paddy in Watford and then train it back to Stone – we had booked a taxi to meet us at the station earlier in the morning and a more lovelier sight we could not have seen at the station – within 10 minutes we were back on the boat – home at last!!

In the process of our travel to Washington, Diane managed to pick up a rather serious cough which has become a bit more serious, so she will need to take it a bit easier for the next few days to get over it.
We were exhausted and slept for 12 hours, but glad to wake up in our own bed.

Saturday was then filled with unpacking and washing and of course we needed to pick up the dog – thanks to Andy and Jean who were so kind to give us a lift to the kennels and back.

A rather relaxed Sunday for both of us – we had intended to walk to Aldi, but Diane was still feeling unwell so she stayed back on the boat and left me entrusted with the list and the trolley.
Gill and Malcolm had saved some of the snow which had fallen whilst we were away and Diane decided to make a very small snowman.

Later on we watched the FA Cup tie between Stevenage and Tottenham and then the draw for the Quarter Finals – after which it was another reasonably early night.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

To America and Beyond (well just a little bit past the start)

Monday 30th January to Saturday 11th February 2012

I am sure that I have mentioned this before, that her indoors has been very industrious in the past and has not only cutback the paintwork to remove the oxide layer but has now twice polished the boat.

We have been told on a number of occasions, the latest of these being Mo (nb Balmaha) when we saw them last week that you can use some baby oil to maintain the shine to the appearance.

As you get older I have found that it can become a bit of an ordeal to ask a young female shop assistant where the baby oil is, and so it came to pass this week that I needed to leave that easy transferrable task to the good lady wife.

How to fit in things to do into an already reasonably busy week (lesson 1) – throw in a football match with ManU v Stoke where Rory DeLap may be playing and then “she who must be obeyed” will be asking for tickets and making plans on how we will get there.

Man United and Stoke on the way out - as close as it was all night

Tickets acquired – check off the list
Car arranged – check off the list
Plans sorted and dog being dog-sat – check off the list

It was actually a very good idea to do this as we needed to sort out a better way to see mid-week matches than trying on the train – there is literally no way to get home at that time of night. So now we have found a safe decent place to park; right near a decent pub; within easy walk of Old Trafford; and relatively easy to drive away from after the match – we were back on the boat by midnight, safe with the knowledge that the “reds” had won again and that the blue side of Manchester would be crying in their beers with an ex-Red (Darron Gibson) scoring for Everton to beat City.

Dog was disposed of the following day – not literally - but driven to the kennels – he doesn’t like change and hates being away from Diane, but he is not able to come with us; which just left Diane with the packing – mine was done in about 2 minutes flat – she was just a little bit longer than that.

We headed off on Thursday to Stafford to catch the train down to Gatwick – as we had an 11:30am departure on Friday – the trip down was very good with no problems – managed to find our way through London to Victoria via Euston.

We very much liked the twilight check-in that Virgin Atlantic have – so we were able to deposit our luggage there and then; fixed up the boarding passes and so then we were off to the Ibis and able to relax a bit.

Friday morning was no problem whatsoever – knowing that we didn’t have to particularly rush – with no bags to have to worry about. We were there in plenty of time but not too early.

The flight was not long by our standards – just 9hrs and 30 minutes – pity that it was an older style plane with the older entertainment system – the controls were fixed into the side of the chair arm – I really couldn’t get at them – so didn’t bother.

We touched down in Orlando about 20 minutes early, so we then needed to clear US Customs and Immigration – as nice as Americans try to make you feel welcome, it really didn’t work for me – I think the process is designed to make you feel intimidated and the officials don’t raise a smile at all. Coming out of the shuttle train into an area leading to the general airport concourse, gave me the feel of being under close scrutiny all of the way – way too many officers and officials on one side and the other was glass with people lined up to look in at you the whole way – not having had the experience, it felt a bit like what I would describe as the arrival at a prison as a new inmate.

However, once through all of that it was very relaxed.

The kids soon arrived – Mitch from Las Vegas and Sam from Los Angeles – sorted out a taxi to take us to the resort which was very nice and much larger than we have seen in our past exchanges.

The two munchkins - Mitch and Sam

Of course, we found out about all of the wintry conditions that have beset all of Britain, and then found out that if we had been a day later in setting off, we may not have made – a train derailment on the line into London and the conditions could have combined to prevent us getting away in time – but we did make it out.

An email from Gill and Malcolm (nb Shoehorn) advised us that there was 6” of snow on the boat, so we have some disappointment at missing the snow, but we do feel a few degrees warmer at the moment.

Look what we have left behind

and this too looks cold - even from here

Hope you are all coping OK with the conditions and that there are no problems there.

Getting familiar with new surroundings is always a bit of a time consuming job, but the staff here made it much easier and we felt a bit easier after a short while – even though we were all very tired from our travels for the day.

One of the outdoor guests where we first stayed

Saturday turned out to be a bit of a sleep in day for Diane and I – well at least for me – not up until 830. We had a relaxed breakfast before tackling Day 1 of Disney.

Off to Magic Kingdom – despite everything seeming to be around the area it still takes a fair while to get to anywhere – we used the facilities of the shuttle bus (at a cost).

Magic Kingdom - Disney day 1

Three of the four of us on one of the rides

The hat maketh the man ?

It turned out to be a particularly long day as we didn’t read early enough the times that the bus returned for pick up – no way we could get to the 17:30 bus and the next was at 22:45 – so another late night.

It was a great day at Magic Kingdom and we enjoyed it immensely – I have completed Sam’s need to drag me onto some roller-coaster rides, so I can sit back and pick and choose a little bit from now on.

Sunday is Super-Bowl day here in America and all the news and talk is about who will win and who will play well.

Mitch was a long-time follower of the Patriots and naturally he needed someone to take the other side as their own – which I did – expecting to have some of his jokes directed at me as to their worthiness to be there.

Well, always pleased to say that the underdog won the day – 21-17 result for the Giants.

Monday was back on the Disney trail with a trip to Epcot – which was originally designed to be a showcase for what the future would hold – it has however not worn well and is a bit dated.

Just a big kid at heart

The international area with an insight into many different countries was a change and one that was pleasing to visit – although on this day we restricted ourselves to Canada and England – having lunch in the English pub – the beer was OK and lunch was fine – the price however was a bit on the high side.

We have to say that what we are seeing here at Disney and surrounds (including where we are staying) would not / could not be construed as anywhere near to being representative of America – it is very much skewed to the more well-off of the population.

Tuesday was a “relaxation” day for three of us – Sam in her infinite enthusiasm for all things Disney went solo for the day to Animal Kingdom; the remaining three of us (well me at least) stayed behind for a truly relaxing day.

Gorilla(s) of the forest - no mist to be found

Please smile for the camera

Birds of a feather - all these one-legged flamingoes
The drumsticks must be quite tasty.

Amongst my many definitions of pastimes and fun, I do not include shopping as meaning anything remotely associated with rest and recuperation.

Diane on the other hand found it a perfect day to capture the talents of Mitch and I at carrying around packages.

Wednesday we returned to the fold with a trip to Hollywood Studios land – having completed my allowance for rides involving free-falling I opted away from the Hollywood Tower of Terror with its promised 100 feet fall and the intensity of the screams of young (and older) women, and most likely a number of boys and men.

The weather has been what many would describe as perfect – sunny, warm and with a light breeze (mine would be a slightly different description, but it was nice).

We have gone again to visit Animal Kingdom, been back to Magic kingdom and re-done Epcot – to see parts that we missed the first time; to re-do things that we have already enjoyed; and to have a good time.

A local at Epcot

The three Cabaleros - plus a mate
Balou and King Louie with friends

and Tigger too !

Everything we have seen and encountered and everywhere we have been, everyone of the people we have come across, whether it be in the hotels and resorts, the buses, the restaurants and cafes, the parks and attractions, has come out to be without imperfection.
Oh how I am craving for something not to go just perfectly – a little bit of not quite right will do me just fine, as will a dose of practicality and improvisation – anything resembling true life.

Saturday started off brilliantly – the Man United v Liverpool game was on live (7:45am) – of course a 2-1 win makes it worthwhile; Diane and Sam were off to the parks again – their last day – Mitch had left yesterday for New York so we couldn’t sit down quietly for a couple of beers – but we have already had done this – just the two of us together.

I had a chance to complete all of this for the blog update and just to sit and watch everyone else for a change – without being part of the cast.

I have not warmed to America, but I have enjoyed the efficiency of what people do; there are many aspects of life here which I have so-far found to be what I would imagine that I couldn’t tolerate for a long time – I do enjoy the Australian ability to find fault with oneself and to enjoy a bit of a laugh at your own expense – it just doesn’t feel like something that people here would be able to cope with – I have found far too much seriousness amongst people.