Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Morale Booster: Bangers in Florida!

  I needed a morale booster today - as we all do. For me few things hit the spot better than proper British bangers for lunch. Slightly burnt, slightly crispy, sizzling and popping in a pan. This is something I went without on this side of the pond for so many years. I tried every food shop, supermarket, website I could find but there was nothing even approximating to the true banger. I used to have several for breakfast at Heathrow before flying back as it would need to keep me going for  long, long time. Once on one of our road trips sister-in-law and I found a tiny cafe. It had no menu, just the owner who said, "What would you like and I'll see what I can do".
 "What I would like is British bangers", I said without much hope. And he did produce something which for a long time held the prize as the nearest to a banger I could find in America. The taste was good but it did not have a skin. So therefore not a banger. I thought I was destined for a life of longing until something extraordinary happened.
  Hubby and I went to the local German butchers' looking for real frankfurters - I'll always the remembered the frankfurters I ate as a starving student at the railway station in Salzburg - long thin and yellow with a dollop of mustard and a proper kaiser roll - with a great deal of affection, though of course not the deep enduring love I have for bangers. After we'd found the frankfurters I wandered around the shop and ended up at the fresh sausage counter. I did a double take. There, miraculously, unbelievably, among the Italian, Spanish, German stuff was a sign saying "British Bangers". I shrieked, I nearly collapsed. When I'd composed myself I gasped, "Real British bangers?"
 "Of course", said the man, "we get lots of people in here with your accent".

So we stocked up the freezer with the bangers, which were truly authentic. So now, when desperate times call for desperate measures I get a couple out and indulge. And the ultimate irony, which an English football fan would appreciate, is that they came from a German shop!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Florida in High Tourist Season

Well we are hanging in there and life could certainly be worse. There are a few things we can still do outside our homes, namely go for a walk, go for a bike ride, play golf, garden; if you're lucky you can take your boat out (but see below) and fly a small plane. And, bless them, the Cathedral priests are having drive-thru confessions on Saturday. I noticed they are stipulating "only one person in the car". Well yes. But people have to be reminded I suppose. America does have a drive thru culture. Fast food. Coffee. Pharmacy prescriptions. Banking. Dry cleaning. Confessions are a natural progression and we certainly need them. Maybe a drive-in Mass will be next.
  But we now live in a world of signs. Everyone has received a postcard from the President, "President Trump's Coronavirus Guidelines for America" with helpful advice. Meanwhile these signs are on the pavements.

And people are certainly spacing themselves out, even going for a walk, looking very suspiciously at anyone who gets too close. Of course with an older than average population here, people are naturally concerned. After years of entreating them to come, they are now begging their grandchildren NOT to visit.
  Today we heard on hubby's marine radio that two white whales are romping in the sea near the town beach. Boaters watch out. Pity we can't go down there and see them. All the beach access points are closed.

And beach car parks empty. If someone landed in all this not knowing what was going on, they would be flabbergasted. Empty in March, the height of the tourist season?

Yes, all the locals who complained about the traffic and the crowds are getting what they wished for and wishing they hadn't. So sad for the local businesses. Some restaurants are offering take away but they must be in despair.
  Oh and some beaches appear to be more closed than others.

Just to make sure some desperate beach bum doesn't ram through the barriers.
The state nature parks are closed too, including the entire road down to beautiful Caspersen Beach.

Oh and another thing you can still do is go to the supermarket. They have instituted special early hours for oldies but as, let's face it, most people who live here are oldies, it's apparently the busiest frenzy of all. Best to go just before it closes, someone advised. But then there might not be anything left on the shelves.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Our Little Squatter

Beaches closed, people veering away from each other as they pass on their morning walks, but for this mourning dove,  who cheekily built her next in the tree at the side of the house...

. goes on.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Goodbye to the Beaches

Here, to try and cheer everyone up is another shot of the orchid tree.

Interesting how people are starting to send each other funnies. I had one from friends in Britain, which I've been wary of sharing with American friends as it's a bit politically incorrect but here's the start:

 "The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent virus threat and have therefore raised their threat level from “Miffed” to “Peeved.” Soon, though, level may be raised yet again to “Irritated” or even “A Bit Cross.”
The English have not been “A Bit Cross” since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out.
The virus has been re-categorized from “Tiresome” to “A Bloody Nuisance.” The last time the British issued a “Bloody Nuisance” warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada....

And so on and so forth...

Anyway the biggest sadness here has been closing all the churches. You can't even go inside. And hot on the heels of that, closing the beaches. They were encouraging people to go to the beach and get some fresh air. Then that changed to groups of less than ten and keeping one beach towel's length apart from the next group. Now they are closing completely. The reason for this, I suspect, is to encourage short term holidaymakers, of which there's always a big influx in March, to go home, especially the students on spring break from college, who are not the most conscientious about social distancing. The county north of us closed the beaches first so our county had to follow suit. Otherwise I suppose everyone would have crowded down here.

Still there's always gardening. I went off and bought eight sacks of mulch which should keep me busy, as well as more Mexican petunias, which do well here, as long as the rabbits don't eat them, which is a bit of a forlorn hope. Things have been complicated by an inconsiderate mourning dove building a nest in the tree at the side of the house and exploding in a furious flurry every time someone comes near. So now I have to drag everything round to the back the long way.

But I always tell myself, things could be worse. The supermarket is all out of liquid soap but I've just listened to an interview I did in 1988 with the Russian dissident poet Irina Ratushinskaya. She spent four years in a Soviet labour camp, sometimes in solitary, sometimes squashed in a cell with ten others. She wrote her poems on slivers of soap with a matchstick and whispered them down the pipes to her fellow inmates. Yes things could definitely be worse.

Au revoir...

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Looking on the Bright Side

Sadly Irish eyes aren't smiling at Golden Beach

So no corned corned beef and cabbage for us this year. And with the world in turmoil it's tough finding something to cheer us up but I'll try.

Well for one thing, the white orchid tree in the back garden is bloomin' marvellous..

....And the politically incorrect Confederate jasmine is getting going.

There have been bird fights over the bird bath - the woodpecker pushing the dove off the rim, then the dove diving in and splashing around spilling all the water. I don't blame them. It's been very dry
Meanwhile the mocking birds seem to have multiplied and upped several gears, going through their high-decibel repertoire of any bird song ever heard in these parts, plus an encore from the one that disturbingly knows how to mimic the telephone.
  Birds don't read the news - not our news anyway - so they are enjoying life as usual. Here were some unusual visitors to the beach

They flew like ducks, dived like ducks, so they must be..... I didn't hear them quack, though, so they may have been imposters.
  The beach early in the morning was peaceful as ever with just a few people looking for sharks' teeth. 

No one had found my phone though. Maybe it was eaten by one of these chaps.

There were more pelicans this morning than I've seen all winter. Must be something good there. Can I have some?

Other reasons I can think of to be cheerful:
There are still loo rolls at the supermarket though for some weird reason they had run out of potatoes.
Also soap, which is more understandable. Plenty of strawberries, blackberries and blueberries though. "Please take them off my hands!" the chap begged, "I've got loads here". Clearly someone in Buying clicked on the wrong button. Strawberries instead of soap. "Glad to hear people haven't started stockpiling those yet", I said, "Oh we want to make sure our customers get what they want!" he beamed. Unless it's soap. And there may be a bottle of rubbing alcohol in a museum somewhere but there certainly isn't any on the shelves, though there is a forlorn sign, "Only Two Per Customer Please". "I only wanted one", hubby said sadly.
On a more philosophical level, were are rediscovering things: good books, binge watching silly old films, emailing old friends, the fact that, as a human race we are all in the same boat, that we don't know it all and may need in the future to shed a part of our egos. Maybe some good will come out of this. Stay happy and healthy everyone!

Friday, March 13, 2020

A Request

This is not your usual blog post. Being from Britain, the blog prefers not to wear its beliefs on its sleeve. However needs must and I would like to put forward a small suggestion to my readers.

Please join me in saying a short prayer for an end to coronavirus. For a vaccine, a treatment, spontaneous abatement, a miracle, whatever. Just 20 seconds. While you're washing your hands, instead of singing Happy Birthday yet again. Even if you don't believe,  it won't hurt you. Call it something else if you want. Just do it. Today. Now. Please.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

A Gallant Old Workhorse

The airport had an unusual visitor at the weekend.

The Ford Trimotor plane was the very latest in modern technology - in the 1920s. 

For one thing it was built out of metal (and was nicknamed the "Tin Goose"), not canvas and string and would have raised some oohs and aahs at the time. Travelling across country then took a couple of days or so in a very basic cabin without air conditioning (as they made a point of telling the Florida audience.)

- which meant that if you wanted things to get cooler you just went up a little. If things got too cold - well you had to remember to bring your fur coat. It did have some nice wood panelling though. 

Incidentally, in 1930,  a Trimotor carried the first cow to ride in a plane, a Guernsey called Elm Farm Ollie - in a publicity stunt she was milked en route, the milk put in cartons and parachuted to spectators below.
  And here's the back of the cabin. The seats are a natty shape. Let's hope Ollie remembered to fasten her seat belt.

The cockpit may not have been that high-tech but still looked complicated enough.

Here's a close-up from the pilot's seat

or the co-pilot's.  Not sure how this worked but it looked important.

It may not be the most beautiful plane ever built

But it did of course have three engines

Which must have been reassuring.

  In those days you found your way with the help of arrows painted on the ground. And since there were few airports, you often had to land in a field. But the plane had a secret weapon. It could take off extremely quickly from a short distance, almost like a harrier.
  This particular one

built in 1929, was used during its long working life first as a mail and passenger plane, including a route from Miami to Cuba, then for barnstorming, smoke-jumping and crop-dusting.  Now it's an ambassador for the Experimental Aircraft Association a group of aviation enthusiasts and gives rides. Not being as brave as I used to be and though the Trimotor's engines were modern and it displayed a prominent certificate of airworthiness, I decided there are enough things waiting to kill us in this world without tempting fate.
  Several people however had forked out 77 dollars each for a jaunt along the coast and I'm sure they had a wonderful time.
  We contented ourselves with watching it rev up

and taxi off. And sure enough, it was in the air in just a few seconds.

 There she goes! 

Friday, February 28, 2020


As opposed to mudlarking, which you do alongside the River Thames..
 It's always interesting to see what you're going to find on the beach.

The white strip, for example, is a huge dump of tiny shells. I noticed someone had collected a load in a bucket, presumably to use in the garden to keep the weeds down, or for those strange Florida front gardens that don't have any grass and are perhaps meant to look like a beach.
  Then,  further away from the waves, was a big stretch of larger shells

Including one you could wear on your face...
  Now this must have seen better days and some intriguing exotic climes.

And here was a very pretty crab, if that's not a contradiction in terms.

Later, I asked my expert friend, who confirmed that it was a calico, or leopard crab.
 Then I noticed someone else had been there before me.

I'm not that knowledgeable about tracks but I'm guessing it was a coyote, quite a few of which enjoy life on the island and terrorise people's small pets. Speaking of which, I don't know how this chap got in here..

He was not on the beach, though not very far away, in the park down the road, enjoying a snooze in the sun.
  But at the moment all I can think about is what I didn't find on the beach, which was my phone, lost on Saturday in a moment of inattention when it must have ejected itself from my pocket. In vain, hubby and I and various friends retraced my footsteps over and over again but never found it. I tried "Find Your Phone", courtesy of Google but it was too late. "Phone cannot be reached", it said pompously.
   Getting a new one wasn't easy. For days we trailed from shop to shop, from the phone shop (you'll get a better deal at Walmart) to Walmart (sorry we're not allowed to deal with the phones. There are special phone people and they haven't come in yet), to Walmart again (oops, sorry, not in stock) to another Walmart some 45 minutes' drive away (oh sorry you have to go to the phone shop so you can keep your number) to another phone shop (can't understand why Walmart couldn't do it for you but here you are). Add to that a morning of driving around the various beach accesses to put up Lost Phone signs. When I switched on the new phone I had nineteen voicemail messages, all large expanses of silence with the occasional groan of exasperation, which I realised came from me trying to call my lost phone. All except the last one which was me leaving a message in some vain hope that a savvy finder would be able to get into my voicemail.   So the loss remains a mystery. The phone could have dropped into the waves and be half way to Mexico by now. Or I'll find it next time I walk on the beach, new phone in hand. These tech things are works of the devil, as my father used to say.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Funny Old World

I sometimes miss the good old British sense of humour. A friend from Blighty sent me an extract from a phone-in programme that involved a man going on about chocolate mint biscuits and never getting to the point. It's far too complicated to explain in a few words but suffice to say I laughed till I cried, loving the sheer British-ness of it.  
   It's not that Americans don't have a sense of humour - we can laugh at each other's jokes - but it's not quite, not completely aligned with ours. I can't put my finger on what's different - perhaps a sense of irony, a certain subtlety, I don't know. Possibly American humour can be a little too obvious and in-your face. I sometimes have conversations with American friends and make an off-the-cuff remark that's intended to be ironic and not at all serious and find they've taken it literally and are giving me worried looks. 
   I don't know if Americans would find the biscuit sequence funny - well for one thing, they wouldn't understand "biscuit". To an American, a biscuit is akin to a giant mutant scone. But then a lot of them do love Monty Python - plus here I go again, generalising, as hubby is at pains to point out. "Not all Americans think the same way!" He understands British humour but he's an honorary Englishman. (And he laughed at the biscuits too.)
  Having said all that, I was strolling down our high street, aka Venice Avenue and saw this sign.

Now that made me chuckle. But then it was outside the Irish pub.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Time to Cool Off

 And here's Bree having her shower. Interesting that even Florida horses grow fuzzy winter coats - not as thick as those up north but still fuzzy. So they tend to get sweaty. This winter has had its warm spells - the photo was taken back in January although we repeated the process yesterday - and Floridians are shaking their heads and saying there have just been too many of them for the time of year. And this week it looks as though summer's returned again.

 It is however a blessing for people coming from up north for a few days' sunshine. You can't please everybody.  Here's someone else at the stables finding her own way of cooling off.

 The problem with year round summer is that you're never completely off the hook when it comes to gardening. The weeds are still growing, though a lot of trees are bare, so it's not true to say there are no seasons at all. But I do sometimes find myself missing those bright, cold, mornings in England, a walk across frozen fields, crunching underfoot. Then I think of shivering at bus stops and the quay where I used to pick up the Thames river boat to take me to work and I think, yes, sometimes I miss those mornings but not often. And as for shovelling snow in western New York, the less said about it the better. That I don't miss at all.

Friday, February 7, 2020

After the Storm

Dateline: Golden Beach, Florida

**UPDATE!** Definitely a lump of coral, as I'm told by our local expert. A nice specimen, he said. Well in Slovenia there is a saying "the blind chicken finds the grain.."  I just call it beginners' luck.

A hit-and-run storm blew in last night. Blink and you missed it,  though it caused a lot of damage in "the south" (that is north of us!). Fortunately the worst that happened to us was the outside dustbin blowing over, though the rain came down like Niagara Falls. 
  The beach this morning was exhilarating

The surf doesn't look that spectacular, though it made a lot of noise and the wind nearly blew my ears off. And it was mercifully free of dog walkers, though pelicans and seagulls were enjoying being blown about by the gusts. Various debris had ended up on the beach, including several coconuts

And this mysterious object

 It was about 6 inches long and weighed quite a bit. Here's another shot of it sitting on our drive.

And here's the underside.

A lump of coral? A bone? A fossilised mushroom? Who knows?

Saturday, February 1, 2020

The Last Day of Christmas

Well in some traditions it is, 2nd February being Candlemas. It's an excuse to include a Christmassy photo, which I forgot to post before.

The crib at Epiphany Cathedral (now dismantled, alas) I noticed was in the style of an old Florida farmhouse, with sloping roofs over a porch to keep cool in pre-airconditioning days. I don't know if that was deliberate.
  We have finally had a big dump of rain, so we can get in a wintery mood for a few days. It's funny how permanent Florida residents greet colder weather with statements like,  "Great! At last I can wear jeans/a scarf/ a down jacket/ a woolly hat!" People up north would think they were mad.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

A Good Beach Walk Spoiled

Dateline: Venice, Florida

It was an idyllic early morning on the beach, sea and sky mingling in perfect muted colours. The pelicans were flying 

Bouncing around on the water

 And busily scouting for fish

 There were shells for the taking, a gentle breeze, hardly anyone around until....

Oh no - not again.These dog walkers were even more brazen than usual -

Me: "Do you know dogs aren't allowed on the beach?"
He: "Yes"
Me: "Do tell me because I'm interested. How is it that rules apply to other people and not to you?"
He: "Lady you sure are having a nice day aren't you?"

  It's the sort of thing that puts me in an extremely bad mood.  There is a dog beach very close by which anyone can use.  But a few people think they are entitled to special privileges.  I would love to be so entitled - be able to park wherever I want to, ignore the speed limit, for example.  There are so many dog owners in our town - if they all decided to flaunt the rules, where would we be? I've got nothing against dogs but sometimes it's good to know that the beach is one place where you can get away from them. The implication of my conversation with the chivalrous dog-walking gentleman this morning was that I should just smile and laugh and let him get on with it - a good neighbour in his eyes. But sometimes being a good neighbour isn't just turning a blind eye.  There is a woman I've seen many afternoons, sashaying along the shoreline in her bikini with her little dog running around and and I'm always the only person who says anything. And she always responds, "Thank you", and just keeps going. Because she knows perfectly well that no one is going to do a darned thing about it.  What on earth is the point of having a rule if it can't be enforced? So the brazen few continue to get away with it. OK so people taking their dogs to the beach is not of world-shattering importance - but still, it's the small things that make for harmonious living.  I find it hard to understand their mentality. I would be so ashamed.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Cheeky Ospreys

 Our feathered friends in Florida seem to have an inflated sense of their own importance. Yesterday morning I looked up at the - well, not sure you can call it a spire - of Epiphany Cathedral

 And noticed it was under occupation.

 I know you can't see them too well from my phone camera but I can assure you that the penthouse suite has been taken. Mr and Mrs Osprey were looking snootily down at the parishioners trying to avoid bumping into each other getting out of the car park - as happens in church car parks the world over. I don't know if the ospreys are long-term tenants but there's something amusing about birds just taking for granted that some structure has been built especially for them. It's also wonderful how they've adapted to the modern world.
  Florida birds seem to be particularly presumptious. Whole flocks of ibises, the size of chickens  frequently descend on the garden and last night I was kept awake by a screech owl annoyingly hooting just outside the bedroom window like an extra in a horror film.  No, we're the ones who ought to get out of the way. I read recently that, some hundred years ago, the Florida bird population, particularly the snowy egrets,  was greatly depleted because people were hunting them for their feathers, feathered hats being big business. When the fashion for plumes filtered down to the less reputable classes, the upper classes stopped wearing them - as tends to happen.  Which was very good news for the birds. Perhaps they're now getting their own back.