Wednesday, 31 December 2008

End of the Year Ponderings....

The end of the the year often makes people looks back at what's been happening over the last year and forward to what they hope for in the year to come, and I'm no different, so here's my stream of consciousness take on 2008 and the year to come.

2008.....Biggie of the year was retiring, which has totally changed my life. much less stress, a weight has been lifted..... don't have to scrape the car on these icy mornings.....lots of free time to do other things I enjoy but didn't have time for..... Cons.....less money.....erm, that's it really!

Learned to appreciate my friends all the many good wishes when I retired.....treats in Dublin.....I am blessed.

Travelling, always a love of mine, I was able to do lots.....Greece - beautiful beyond words.....Ireland - Dublin as fun as ever.....USA - Florida road trip a real adventure in the sun.

New arrival Pepsi.....sweetheart!

Generally a good year.

2009.....U2 album and tour yay.....means shows, travelling, seeing friends, fun.....hopefully will love the new music.

Get more structure now I've retired.....voluntary work.....write more.....classes.....lady who lunches.....get back to weight watchers - make that lady who lunches sensibly!

Health and happiness.....those are the most important.

Happy New Year to you all!

Monday, 29 December 2008

The Clarence Hotel Penthouse - Luxury and Leaks....

My friend Debbi and I had a three day break in Dublin just a week after I had returned from Florida (globetrotter that I am!) We were staying two nights at the Tara Towers Hotel (where we had a room that had a fabulous view over Dublin Bay) and one night in the penthouse at The Clarence Hotel. We had started saving to stay in the penthouse once more immediately after our last stay there in May 2007. By the end of November this year we had enough money to spoil ourselves once more.

We got all dressed up to look the part and took a taxi to the Clarence Hotel where we were greeted warmly by the staff and asked to sit in The Study (the lounge for hotel guests) and our complimentary Cosmopolitan cocktails were brought in for us.

After a short while the General Manager of the hotel, Oliver Silvestre, came in to see us. We were wondering what was up as normally someone like him would not come to see guests. He was extremely apologetic and said there was a problem with the penthouse. During the night a pipe above the master bedroom had sprung a leak and they had been unable to mend it in time for our stay so that room was not usable. He offered us the use of a two bedroom suite two floors below as well as the rest of the penthouse, then he left us for a while to discuss it.

We did not want to spend time in separate places, especially when one was two floors below so we decided we would ask for the other penthouse bedroom's king bed to be made into twins and not use the two bedroom suite at all. Oliver came back and said that there was no problem making up twins. I thought I'd ask if we would get a discount as we were not getting what we are paying for. He said that of course there would be a discount - which turned out to be very generous and we were very happy with that.

Welcome to the Clarence Hotel Penthouse!

He took us up to the fifth floor and into the penthouse and showed us the master bedroom which had a big hole in the ceiling and a bucket on the floor catching drips that were coming down. When we were in the loft area we noticed that the hot tub on the back balcony had no towels or gowns beside it, so we asked if we could use it. For a second Oliver looked surprised, then said yes, no problem there either and he would get that sorted. Despite the icy weather we were determined to go in the hot tub - I think Oliver thought we were mad! But it was also clear that he was very relieved that we took it all so well.

A battalion of staff appeared out of nowhere and discreetly sorted out the bedroom and the hot tub, and then quietly left and we were finally alone in the penthouse. It was lovely to be back, the first thing we did was change out of our posh clothes into lounging gear. Then we opened the bottle of complimentary pink champagne and ordered some sandwiches.

The penthouse was just the same as when we had been there last, luxurious and spotlessly clean, you could see your reflection in the wood of the piano! The fittings and furnishings were all the best, beautiful oak floors and doors, an elegant spiral staircase linking the ground floor and the loft area, muted colours, fantastic floral creations, Guggi paintings throughout. A well stocked bar groaned under the weight of spirits, wines, champagne and beers, complete with lots of ice and a tray of cut lemon. From the balcony running along the front there were fabulous views of the River Liffey and it's bridges and the city.

We were brave and went into the hot tub which was lovely and warm once you got under the water. But boy was it cold when you got out, the lovely thick dressing gowns were a blessing then! Afterwards we relaxed on the large beige velvet sofas in the fabulous loft area of the penthouse hardly believing we were back there again.

Later we got all dressed up again to go for dinner in The Tea Room. The restaurant manager greeted us and said "Just out of the hot tub ladies?" I smiled to myself, the fact that we wanted the hot tub working had obviously filtered through the hotel staff, the phrase "Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun" came to mind!

The Tea Room was busy, and we had a table near the door which I was pleased about as I was tottering in my high heels and the less to walk the better! We had a delicious meal, one of the best I've had there, it is always of a high standard and if you buy off the Market Menu not too expensive either. Afterwards we went to sit in The Study for a while before returning to the penthouse.

We found a CD that had Christmas 2007 on it so we put it in the player to see what was on it, it was old Christmas songs, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Nat King Cole and the such-like. It was very Christmassy and I'll never forget Debbi dancing along to It's Beginning To Look A Lot like Christmas!

We chilled and drank more champagne and watched DVDs of U2, Ab Fab and Father Ted that we had brought with us. The life of luxury really suits me! We sat on the balcony (well wrapped up there was an icy wind blowing) and watched the Dublin nightlife below us. At 4am we got back into the hot tub.....mad dogs and Englishwomen go in the hot tub in the icy night! But this day and night was all about doing different things and living a different life for a while and we weren't going to miss out on anything! But by 5am even we were flagging a bit and reluctantly went to bed.


Next morning we had a delicious breakfast in our very own dining room in the penthouse, savouring our last couple of hours there. Then sadly packed as the time had come to go back to normal life.

We met with Oliver again as we were leaving, he thanked us once more for being so understanding and told us the good news that The Clarence would not be closing in February 2009 as we'd thought, but in about two years time. So, us mad Englishwomen, have immediately started saving for another stay in the penthouse - 2010!

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Don't Forget the Older Fans Though Bono!

Bono and Ali attended the racing at Leopardstown on December 26th as usual. A reporter from the Independent got a short interview with him, you can read it here

And more photos here - hope the cardie is not part of the new image!

Florida Holiday Part 6 - Key West, Shopping, Ghosts and Relaxation!

We left Grassy Key and headed south west towards our final destination, Key West. The southernmost part US 1 within the Keys is one of those American roads trips you should take. The road is a marvel of construction and the 113 miles passes through the coral and limestone islands from Key Largo to Key West crossing 42 bridges, including the graceful seven mile bridge. I thought that this southern part of the highway from Grassy Key was the most scenic, passing over and beside the sparkling azure blue ocean, palms trees, wooded islets and little habitation.

As we approached Key West it got busier and built up, but it was still clear this was not a big city. At mile marker 1 (everything in the Keys is measured from mile marker 0 in the centre of Key West to mile marker 156 in Miami, distances and addresses are measured by these markers - which are small green and white signs by the roadside) we knew we were close to our accommodation. And soon we found it, Authors Guesthouse on White Street.

The Guesthouse was lovely, a typical Key West wooden house with small cottages in the garden. there was an inviting jacuzzi and and lovely area to sit amongst the luscious vegetation in the garden. My room was upstairs and there was a wooden terrace area where you could sit and eat outside that looked down over the garden. The room was very comfortable, all the rooms were named after authors, mine was Wilder.

We decided to walk into the town centre to see the famous sunset celebration at Mallory Square, a must if you go to Key West. The one thing against our guesthouse was that it was quite a way out of the centre, it was a 25 minute walk. But having said that the walk was through the peaceful streets of old Key West past its lovely old white painted wooden houses. They were so pretty, some with intricate woodwork, others with turrets, lovely terraces or balconies. Being close to Thanksgiving some had displays outside.

Duval Street, the main party/shopping area of Key West was manic, a real onslaught of the senses. Loud music - rock, Caribbean, Latino, swing, buskers, shops selling everything from upmarket to tacky, people from all over the world, many eccentrics, cars covered in shells, psychedelic bikes, this was the off the wall Key West I'd heard about.

We got a little diverted by the shops and by time we'd got to Mallory Square the sun had slipped below the horizon of the Gulf of Mexico. To be honest I wasn't bothered as I'd already seen such beautiful sunsets at Chokoloskee and Key Largo. Mallory Square was full of action with street performances by fire-eaters, clowns, escape artists to name a few. There were stalls selling everything under the sun, paintings, photographs, jewellery, food, the choice was endless. It was vibrant and fascinating, like Duval Street a place to see in Key West.

On our way back we stopped off for something to eat in a restaurant in the old Town about half way back to our guesthouse called Mangia Mangia. It was away from the tourist trap places on Duval, family run and served freshly made pasta. We sat is a delightful our door patio area with subdued lighting and lots of little fairy-lights in amongst the trees. Our meal was absolutely delicious, lots of it and reasonably priced, it you are ever in Key West I'd recommend going off the beaten track a little and eating here, you won't regret it.

Next day Sylvia and I did our own thing for part of the day as we wanted to do different things. I walked through the warm sunshine and quiet, pretty streets to visit the southernmost point of the mainland USA. It was marked by large capstan-like structure painted in red, black and yellow stripes. Of course I had to have my photo taken there!

I did some shopping at the quieter end of the Duval Street before walking back to the guesthouse and spending the afternoon chilling in the jacuzzi and reading in the sunshine. This was the life!

That night Sylvia and I walked back into the town centre to the La Concha Hotel on Duval for The Original Ghost Tour. I always like to go on ghost tours as you find out strange and quirky things about places that way, also, I have an open mind about the paranormal.

Our guide was a tall, imposing young man called J, dress in black Victorian top hat and tails and a belt with a skull buckle. He set the scene well with much melodrama, but he also made it fun. He told us that if we got heckled when out in the streets he would count one...two...three and we were all to shout "you're doomed!

We went to various locations one being beside the Dean Lopez funeral home where we heard the story of Count von Cosel and a young Cuban-American called Elena Milagro Hoyos - don't read the next few paragraphs if you are squeamish! Von Cosel worked as an xray technician at a hospital in Key West and Elena, who was suffering from tuberculosis, became his patient in 1930. Though she was only 20 and he was 53 he became infatuated with her and was convinced she was the person "visions" he'd when young said he would marry (though he was already married). He showered her with gifts and tried everything to cure her but she died a year and a half later. She was buried in an above ground mausoleum that von Cosel paid for and which he visited almost every night.

Two years later von Cozel removed Elena's body and brought it to his house where he reconstructed it, replacing the skin with silk cloth soaked in plaster of Paris and wax and replacing the decomposed eyes with glass ones. He made a wig from Elena's own hair (that had been given to him by her mother after the burial). Von Cosel filled out the body with rags and dressed it in Elena's own clothes. He kept the corpse in his bed.

Seven years later 1940, Elena's sister Florinda heard rumors of von Cosel sleeping with the stolen body of her sister, she confronted him and found her sister's body at his home. Florinda notified the police and von Cosel was arrested and detained in prison.

Amazingly von Cosel was found mentally competent to stand trial on the charge of "wantonly and maliciously destroying a grave and removing a body without authorization." But after a hearing on October 9, 1940 at the courthouse in Key West, von Cosel was held to answer on the charge, but the case was eventually dropped as the statute of limitations for the crime had expired.

Afterwards Von Cosel moved to another part of Florida where he died in 1952. Elena was re-buried in a secret unmarked grave in Key West Cemetery. Not exactly a ghost story, but pretty weird!!

Outside the beautiful typical old-style Key West Artist's House Guesthouse we were told the creepy story about Robert the Doll who came to life and caused distress for many over many years.

Then beside St Paul's Episcopal Church is a small graveyard which includes the Sea Captain's grave amongst others. Many ghostly sightings have been witnessed here and on one of my photos (I took quite a few photos) there were lots of "orbs!" Orbs are said to appear on digital photos when spirits are around. It's the first time my camera has ever photographed orbs, so who knows what caused them eh? I've put the photo here, but you can only see some of the orbs on this reproduction.

J was very entertaining as we went on with the tour, we were frequently heckled and shouted back "You're doomed" with a laugh. J made sure that we were well frightened, fascinated and truly gobsmacked by some of the weirder stories from Key West's past.

So this was the end of my Florida road trip, the two weeks had passed by so quickly. Highlights? There were so many: The Kennedy Space Center that fed the fascination I have always had for space travel and the universe - astronauts are true heroes. The quiet beauty of Chokoloskee Island. The vast, alien world of the Everglades, heaven for those who love wildlife. Relaxing on a beach in Key Largo. Being in the water with dolphins at Grassy Key. Driving over the Seven Mile Bridge with turquoise blue water on either side. The contrasts of vibrancy and stateliness of Key West.

The ultimate highlight? That's easy, being "kissed" on the cheek by a dolphin called Santini!

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Happy Holidays!

Just a few words to wish everyone Happy Holidays, I hope you have a great time with your friends and family. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog I'll be back soon with more musings!

Monday, 22 December 2008

I'm Sure It Was In Here.....

My puppy Pepsi exploring a toilet roll, cute or what? If you want loads of laughs every day get a puppy!

More Eyeliner My Oh My!

There's a Q Magazine site that is almost fully live (except the Gallery) that includes a video showing a recent photoshoot in London, an article about some of the songs on the album (loads more new info), and a U2 quiz. Adam gives a great commentary during the video. For me all this bodes very well for the album, it almost has that feeling there was before Achtung Baby, that something really new was going to happen with the new music and image. I'm having problems at the moment with direct links to sites but here's the url for you to copy

Just three things though:-

1. Don't let Bono loose again in a car in London, even with a Tom-tom, scary.

2. Don't keep that hat Bono

3. Do keep the eyeliner - love it

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Florida Holiday Part 5 - A Dolphin Encounter....

We continued driving down the Keys to our next accommodation, the White Sands Inn in Grassy Key. This was another lovely, laid back place right with a long jetty right on the shore of the Atlantic. Again the rooms were really nice with everything you need.

It was another pleasantly warm, sunny day as we drove to the Dolphin Research Center which, conveniently, was only a couple of miles form our accommodation. We'd booked a Dolphin Encounter where you actually spend time in the water with dolphins, something I'd always wanted to do, so this was going to be a special day for me. We chose the Dolphin Research center carefully to do this as we wanted to make sure that the dolphins were not being exploited in any way.

The center was smaller than I thought it would be and consisted of various building and netted off lagoons where the dolphins lived. The nets were not high and if they had wanted it would be very easy for the creatures to jump over them to the freedom of the ocean, but they chose not to. Most of the dolphins at the center now were born there, and there are also a few that were rescued and this place became their home.

We got there early and were free to wander around the center. We watched sessions with the trainers and dolphins and learned a lot about the creatures. Such as that they shed their skin every two hours to keep ultra smooth, they vocalise through their blowholes not their mouths, they have unique skin markings (you can only see that close up)to name a few things I remember. There were also various film you could watch throughout the day.

There was a Dolphin Encounter session in the morning (ours was in the afternoon) so we went to watch that so we'd know what to expect later. It was wonderful to watch, the dolphins seemed to love every minute and the people involved had big smiles over their faces for most of the time. Seeing the session made me all the more excited for ours in the afternoon.

After lunch we got ready and had our pre-encounter talk with a member of staff. She told us about the dolphins, do's and don'ts and to always do what the trainer tells us to do.

We then went to the lagoon, I noticed the dolphins really checking us out when we arrived, they rolled slightly to one side to look up at us. There was an underwater platform attached to each side of the small jetty. The platforms were about 3 feet below the water level and considering it was a very warm day the water was surprisingly cold! Luckily Sylvia and I got a platform to ourselves so we had lots of room to move about and had a good view of what was happening.

"Our" dolphins were Santini and Ras, mother and daughter. The first thing we were able to do was stroke their backs (careful not to touch the blowhole) as they slowly glided past us. Their skin was cold and smooth, a bit like rubber. Then we could "shake" flippers with them, they would rise out of the water and let you touch their flippers. They would also mimic you, I danced around and the dolphin "danced" in the water. Sylvia spun round she too was mimicked. The most amazing thing for me was being "kissed" by Santini. I bopped down a little in the water and she came to within a foot of me, then I put my hand under her chin and guided her to my cheek, it was such an amazing moment for me I almost cried! Afterwards I gently pushed her away and she swam off.

You could also have a dorsal fin tow around the lagoon. Unfortunately I couldn't join in with that as I'm having problems with my shoulder and wasn't able to swim out from the platform to hitch a ride with Santini and Ras. I was a little envious of the other people who were able to do that, it was amazing how the dolphins worded in unison to come each side of the person, close enough for the person to be able to hold onto their dorsal fins. It must have been such an exhilarating experience!

All through the Encounter Santini and Ras seemed to be having great fun, their bright, intelligent watching everything, they showed off leaping high into the air with ease, "walking" on water. I noticed that their tongues were very pink and had kind of frilled edges and they had lots of very small, conical teeth.

All too soon our time was up and after having a fun splashing fest with the dolphins we left them in peace in their lagoon. I felt really privileged (and lucky)to have had the chance to interact with these wonderful creatures, humans and dolphins really do seem to have some kind of natural "connection". I'll never, ever forget the time I spent with them, I won't even try to put it into words, all I can say is this was the highlight of the trip for me.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Bono Parties in London

Bono attended the annual Freud Christmas Celebration in London last night. The event was hosted by PR pioneer Matthew Freud and his wife Elisabeth. Amongst those also attending were Guy Ritchie, Mick Jagger with girlfriend L'Wren Scott, Lily Allen, Claudia Winkleman and Piers Morgan.

Yer Man's looking very dapper nowadays! Nice.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

The Big U2 News is Here!

Let the countdown begin! At last the big news has been announced, below is the announcement from of the new album's title and release date:

No Line On The Horizon, the new studio album from U2, will be released on Monday 2nd March 2009.

Written and recorded in various locations, No Line On The Horizon is the group’s 12th studio album and is their first release since the 9 million selling album How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, released in late 2004.

Sessions for No Line On The Horizon began last year in Fez, Morocco, continued in the band’s own studio in Dublin, before moving to New York’s Platinum Sound Recording Studios, and finally being completed at Olympic Studios in London.

The album calls on the production talents of long-time collaborators Brian Eno and Danny Lanois, with additional production by Steve Lillywhite

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Bono and Edge are The Everley Brothers!

Here the video of Bono and Edge's performance at the O2 in Dublin of Van Diemen's Land . It was recorded ten days ago and shown last night on The View TV programme on RTE. Is Bono's guitar just for decoration? Good percussion work though.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Re Big News

Heard that it's tomorrow now - the guys are on Irish Time........

Monday, 15 December 2008

Big U2 News Imminent???

@U2 is saying that there will be some big U2 news within the next 24 hours ..... the single release date? Don't keep us hanging on let us know soon U2!!

Friday, 12 December 2008

Bono Receiving the Peace Summit Award in Paris

PARIS - Nobel peace laureates gathered in Paris today, 12th December, to award Bono the annual "Man of Peace" prize for his crusade to tackle African debt, poverty and disease. He was given the Peace Summit Award by the Mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoe, who hosted the event, in presence of five Nobel winners, in recognition of two decades of global anti-poverty activism.

Read the full article here

Photo: The Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe and the former Mayor of Rome Walter Veltroni with Bono at the award ceremony - the B-man looking very good I must say!

Florida Holiday Part 4 - To the Florida Keys and Paradise on the Beach

Next morning we sadly left the serenity of Chokoloskee behind and headed off on Route 41, The Tamiami Trail. Our first stop en-route was Ochopee Post Office, said to be the smallest post office in the USA, and yes, it was tiny!

Route 41 was another very straight road that was easy to drive. There was slightly more habitation than on Route 75, but it was still quite a desolate road in parts. We stopped off at Shark River Visitor's Center and took one of the bus rides into the Everglades. There was a narrow seven mile road that was specially built that went to a 50 foot viewing tower where you could view the Everglades.

The driver was full of information, the main thing I remember is of how the Everglades got it's name. When it was under English rule, one man explored the area which reminded him of glades at home and called them the "forever glades" and this became the Everglades. That's an interesting snippet for you!

It was typical Everglades, flat, with occasional low mounds, grasses, mangroves. We saw countless alligators, from a massive ten footer to little babies merely a foot long and birds of all kinds. The view from the 50 foot tower was amazing, and close to its entrance an alligator lay sunning itself, no one went too near!

We continued on our journey and reached habitation once more in the form of Homestead and Florida City, neither looking too appealing, we were glad to be only travelling through. We had thought of staying in that area to access the Everglades, but had decided on Chokoloskee instead and now we realised what a wise decision that had been.

It wasn't long until we entered the first of the Florida Keys, Key Largo. To be honest it, didn't look that exciting at first. There were a lot of trees that blocked out the gulf/ocean views, there were buildings flanking the highway, not my image of the Keys.

We soon found our accommodation, the Bay Harbor Lodge, just off the Overseas Highway (the road that runs the length of the Keys). And there we found a little paradise! Situated right on the Bayside beach, lush vegetation, palm trees. The rooms were lovely, all had their own outside seating, and there were barbecues for visitors use. By the beach were sun loungers, tables and a tiki hut, there were also canoes and paddle boats for guest use. There was also a heavenly warm pool. It was gorgeous! I was so glad that we had our first three night stay in this lovely place. The delights of Key Largo are certainly well hidden!

We decided to have some retail therapy, as Key Largo is long and straggly and there's no real "centre" the shops are strung out over a few miles so you do need a car. I found my shoe heaven in a sandal outlet (won't tell you how many pairs I bought! LOL!). Then I found a designer outlet, oh dear! I loved every minute of the shopping.

Next day we had breakfast under the tiki hut by the water the next day, accompanied by cheeky squirrels and elegant egrets. The water of the gulf was calm and it was pleasantly warm., we saw the fin of a dolphin as it passed by. What a way to take breakfast!

We were taking a glass-bottomed boat trip to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef which lies a few miles off Key Largo. On the way through the narrow waterway from the dock to the open ocean we passed some fantastic houses, the rich certainly know where to live! Just as we entered the ocean proper the weather closed in and it got very windy, wet and surprisingly cold.

We chugged and rolled to the reef despite the weather. It slowed down when we got there and we all stood around the glass bottom to view the underwater scene. I found it a bit disappointing really, we saw quite a few fish. lots of jellyfish, various corals, but it wasn't as colourful and varied as I had expected. There were also large areas where the reef was dead which was sad to see. Maybe the inclement weather had something to do with it, possibly we couldn't get to the best parts of the reef because of it. The boat was rolling about a lot and quite a few people were seasick including my friend Sylvia - I felt a little queasy myself.

Most of the rest of the time I spent chilling at the Bay Harbor Lodge, it was the kind of place you could go to to totally unwind. Also, as it was not a large it was always peaceful and uncrowded and you never had to fight for a sun lounger! Also, being bayside we had glorious sunsets each night. So, once more, it was hard to leave when we had to head off down the road to our next destination.

Right - a particularly calm evening at the shore of the Bay Harbor Hotel

Bono And U2 on UK TV (Sort of!)

Bono and U2 are going to be the subjects of the spoof comedy mockumentary Star Stories on Channel 4 on Saturday 27th Dec at 22:35. Its quite an amusing show, though very irreverent and focuses on real events from the subjects' lives. Should be a laugh. I'm sure for those of you overseas someone will put it up on Youtube - unfortunately I'm too technically illiterate to manage that myself!

Thursday, 11 December 2008

U2 Making a Video in London has reported that U2 were making a video yesterday in London with Alex Courtes. It is said that "there may have been some marching girls involved. With their boots on."

There was an article in Q Magazine saying that a song called "Get On Your Boots" described in this (also described as "Sexy Boots" in some places) was one of the possible songs on the new album. So could this be the first single?

Read the full article here

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

First Performance at Dublin O2

Well Bono and Edge did get there first - they have performed at the new O2 venue (due to open offically next week) in Dublin. Irish radio RTÉ 2FM said that they made a surprise appearance there on Sunday night. They performed two songs, Desire and Van Diemen's Land in the empty arena. The performance was filmed and will aired on the programme The View on RTE Television in the near future. They were also interviewed and discussed the new album and the late Ronnie Drew. Unless you are lucky enough to live in Ireland and see the programme on TV, we'll have to look out for this on the Net over the next few weeks.

Florida Holiday Part 3 - The Back Country and Everglades

We had a long drive from Cocoa Beach to our next stop Chokoloskee Island on the West Coast about forty miles south of Naples. An American friend said that it was really away from it all but that's what we wanted for the Everglades part of the trip. There were places we could have stayed in Homestead/Florida City that were near a visitor's centre but we wanted to stay somewhere different, somewhere from where we could access the Everglades easily.

It was a long drive, six hours, but the roads were good and it was straightforward. Americans drive a lot slower than Europeans, the speed limits are lower too. I've also noticed that in general they are more patient and don't tailgate very often, so, though I was initially nervous about driving in the US (on the "wrong" side of the road!) I soon was very comfortable with it. Route 75, the Everglades Parkway, also nicknamed Alligator Alley, went straight through the Everglades, east to west. There were very few signs of habitation along the road, most of the time the road was just flanked by mile upon mile of Everglades grasses and mangroves.

We rolled into Everglades City, close to Chokoloskee Island. "City" was a bit of a misnomer which often happens in the US, the names of places often sound bigger than they actually are. Everglades City was a very small town, picture perfect, wide streets, wooden houses painted in bright colours, picket fences, very pretty - and very quiet.

After a couple of wrong turnings we found the road to Chokoloskee and were soon on the causeway over the sea that links the two places, being a small island we found our accommodation, the Parkway Motel and Marina, easily. The rooms were lovely, large (we had what the Americans call an efficiency - with cooking facilities), spotlessly clean, with chairs and table outside on the porch. The area was a mix of private housing, rentals, and motels centered around fishing which the area is well known for. It was neat and tidy and so peaceful. The sea was a short walk from our accommodation and we went there to watch the sunset. Chokoloskee is at the southern end of the area known as the 10,000 Islands, and there were various green flat islands on the near horizon. The sunset was breathtakingly beautiful, the only sounds were occasional bird cries.

The owners of the park were lovely and very helpful and we went to a restaurant in Everglades City they recommended. The Camellia Lounge was situated right on the Barron River and boats kept passing by. Being "in the sticks" the restaurant was full of friendly locals which gave it an authentic small town American feel. Whilst there a man was singing country songs on an acoustic guitar, now I'm not a country music fan, but here it was right somehow. We had a wonderful meal with the owners famous salads - all ingredients from her garden including orange marigold petals which made it look so pretty!

Next day we had a delicious breakfast at the Back Country Cafe in Everglades City before going to Speedy Johnston's place just up the road for an airboat ride in the Everglades. The boat we went on was small it took just six passengers (later in the trip we saw huge boats on the eastern side of the Everglades with at least 20-25 people on board). We left the dock slowly and the driver stopped and stood on his seat and looked around. Then he pointed out a large wake in the water and said "Look there, it's a manatee!" I was really excited and had hoped to see one in the wild. The manatee, on cue, slowly lifted it's head out of the water and looked at us, then he slowly dived down and with a flip of his thick rudder of a tail was out of our sight. A brief glimpse, but it made my day! The driver said that in January there are lots of manatees in the area.

We then continued on into the maze of narrow waterways flanked by mangroves, if you didn't know your way it would be very easy to get lost. But our driver knew every inch of the waterways, and at times really pulled out the throttle and we got a bit damp at times as we whizzed along, it was very exhilarating! He was also very knowledgeable about the Everglades.

The mangroves were amazing, their roots twisted into weird forms both above and below the water - the effect doubled by the crystal clear reflections in the water. Amongst these we saw plenty of alligators, seemingly nonchalant about the noisy boats passing by, not moving at all. Amazing vegetation, alligators, a manatee, egrets, herons, and turkey vultures circling on thermals high above made this a nature lovers paradise.

Afterwards we returned to Chokoloskee and visited Smallwoods Store/Museum. Ted Smallwood came to Chokoloskee Island in 1906 and opened a trading post and post office there. This store remained active, run by Ted and then his daughters, until 1982. Ted's grand daughter re-opened it as a museum and many of the items on show now are those that were there when the store closed.

Smallwood's was an amazing place, built on stilts reached by a flight of steps. Inside it was quite small and I felt like I stepped back in time when I entered, it was crammed with everyday items from the past, foodstuffs, magazines, household items and a life-sized model of Ted sitting in the rocking chair he always sat in when he was alive. There were ledgers and lists written by Ted, Smallwood family items and photos and a room that his daughters had lived in that was touchingly personal.

There was also an area dedicated to the history of South West Florida, and Ted's close relationship with the local people - he even spoke their language. The island was created by the Calusa Indians by making a shell mound, and indeed I noticed the white shells on the ground close to the museum.

In one corner there was a DVD playing showing how difficult life was in Chokoloskee in the past, Only the hardy could cope with life on the island then. Even electricity only arrived in 1955 when the causeway between it and Everglades City was built. All in all the small museum was an absolutely fascinating place that gave a good insight into life in this island in the past.

I again went to watch the sunset, as the sun dropped below the horizon a beautiful red glow illuminated the landscape. Chokoloskee was a place where nature still ruled, beautiful, sometimes harsh, but with an incredible timelessness and peace about it. I just loved it's quietness, the sense of being far, far away from the mad, modern world and I was sad to have to leave that all behind the following day.

Sunset on Chokoloskee Island

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Welcome to Pepsi!

I've got my new puppy! He's a little sweetie and doing very well considering that he has left his mother and brothers and sister only today. My other Dachshund Max has been brilliant with him, very friendly and patient, so different to how he was with the greyhound, but of course little Pepsi is no threat at all to him. I got Pepsi a little bed but he much rather goes into Max's basket and Max squeees into Pepsi's! Dogs eh? My friend Debbi thought of the name Pepsi, so now I have Pepsi Max!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Florida Holiday Part 2 - Kennedy Space Center

We arrived at our destination, Cocoa Beach, in the dark due to the three hour delay at the car hire office in Miami. Because of this it took us a while to find our accommodation, but eventually - and with a huge sigh of relief - we found it. The Luna Sea Motel (great name eh?) was a nice place and much better than the hotel we stayed at in Miami.

Next day it was a short drive to Cape Canaveral to visit the Kennedy Space Center. For me it was a dream come true to go to this place. As far back as I can remember I have been fascinated by space, astronomy, the stars, planets, and space travel. I'd always followed the Apollo missions and can remember clearly staying up into the early hours to watch Neil Armstrong take the first human step onto the moon on TV. As a youngster I used to watch the wonderfully eccentric Patrick Moore on The Sky at Night (which is still running today, the BBC's longest running TV programme) to learn more about the cosmos. I even wanted to be an astronomer, but had to give up on that when I realised that maths was not an strong point of mine! But to this day I still am fascinated by the night sky and humankind's journey's into the unknown.

The Kennedy Space Centre was quite busy, but as it was extremely well organised it didn't feel crowded, there were plenty of places to eat, sit and loads of toilets, Americans are so good at organising places like this.

The first thing we did was take the tour around the site. We drove past the huge building where they "stack" the rockets and Shuttle Orbiter. Nearby was a "crawler" the machine which take the orbiter from the building to the launch site. It travels at one mile per hour and each tread on the "caterpillar" treads weigh one ton. We stopped at a point which is as near as we could get to the launch pad and we could see the Shuttle Endeavour on the pad ready for it's blast off on 14th November.

Our next stop was the Saturn 5/Apollo building. We first saw a film about the development of rocket propulsion, the Saturn 5 rocket and the Apollo space programme. They showed a blast off at very close quarters and it was awe-inspiring, the power of it sent shivers down my spine. It was very interesting and quite moving at times and made me realise all the more just what heroes astronauts are.

We went through a door and what I saw took my breath away. In front of me were the five massive engines at the base of a full size Saturn 5 rocket! I walked under it in sheer amazement. It dwarfed the people in the building. The command module and lunar module were also there. All the badges from each Apollo mission were on display too. I remember I collected those badges when I was a youngster.

The next stop was was the area that is involved with the Space Station. You could walk through one of the modules and also watch people at work on projects for the Space Station from a viewing gallery.

There were rather odd looking fences around the buildings that curved over. The guide told us these were to stop the alligators from climbing over them. As well as being a space facility the Cape Canaveral area is also a massive nature reserve. The very nature of the place, being secure and keeping the public away from most areas means it is a paradise for wildlife. Some, like the alligators, try to get too close for comfort hence the curved fences.

Back at the Visitor Centre we went to the Shuttle Launch Simulator. First you watched a film of a launch to let you know what to expect - to some degree. Then we went into the simulator and were strapped into the seats. The first thing that happened was that the simulator tilted you 45 degrees, then there was a massive roar and then the shuttle started to shake violently - we'd blasted off! The shaking was strong, but of course the G forces that the astronauts endure as they shoot into space at 17,000 miles per hour couldn't be simulated.

Then very suddenly after eight and a half minutes the shaking stops and there is silence. We are in space. The roof of the "shuttle" opens and there above us is the beautiful blue earth, a breathtaking sight. The simulator gave us a little insight into what it is like to go into space in a Shuttle. The thing that struck me most was that after just eight and a half minutes you can be in orbit in space!

Our next stop was the IMAX theatre to watch a film about the development of the space programme to get men on the moon. It included many of the astronauts who were part of that programme. Again I found it fascinating and admired those space pioneers from the 1960's who eventually achieved that goal.

By now it was almost 4pm, we'd been at the Kennedy Space Center for seven hours! The time had flown.

Our last port of call was to attend a Meet an Astronaut talk. the astronaut today was John Blaha who amongst many other things had flown on five Shuttle missions and had spent months on the Space Station.

He gave a good talk, and considering all his achievements was very down to earth (can an astronaut be down to earth??!) and unassuming. He talked about his time in the Space station with accompanying slides. He told us about some of the experiments they did. He also talked about how long periods in space affect the human body - it causes muscle wastage and loss of bone density. Even when they undertake exercise programmes to reduce this it still happens to a degree.

After the talk John said he would be happy to pose for photos for anyone who wanted one so I got my photo taken with him (not the most flattering picture of me unfortunately).

And that was it, the end of a long day at the Kennedy Space Centre. It was everything I'd hoped for and more. It was informative, fascinating and well worth the money. Being there took me back to my childhood, to the days when, as a wide-eyed youngster in times when anything seemed possible, I'd followed every step of the space programme. I still feel some of that wonder when I look up at the night sky even now. NASA wants to get people on the moon again and to venture further afield. Maybe some of the boys and girls that were at the Visitors Center that day will be inspired to become the astronauts of the future.

Back to Reality

Well, after my few weeks of galavanting abroad I'm home for the forseeable future. I so enjoyed my trips to the USA and Ireland and over the next few weeks will be writing about them in here in my blog, so keep checking in here.

On Thursday I'm getting a puppy. He's an eight week old mini wire-haired Dachshund, as yet nameless. Seeing my dog Max couldn't cope with a huge greyhound I went the other way and am getting something that is actually smaller than him! I don't think there will be any problems this time with Max, he's been fine with friends puppies. No Name is just so cute, here's a photo of him.

Monday, 1 December 2008


U2 have recorded a cover of Greg Lake's I Believe in Father Christmas for (RED)WIRE. This is a subscription music site where some of the proceeds go to the RED organisation to help those in Africa. It was launched today.

U2's version of the song is great! You can find out more about the site and listen to U2's song (and others) here

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Florida Holiday Part 1 - Miami!!

Well I've found time to start blogging about our wonderful holiday in Florida - what amazing times we had!

As I stepped out of the plane warmth hit me, Sylvia and I had left the cold behind and here we were, after months of planning, in Florida. Being a true U2 fan I had the urge to shout MIAMI! but I resisted.

Our first two days would be spent here in Miami. Our hotel was The Beach Plaza Hotel on Collins Avenue, to be honest I wasn't very impressed with it, (all the other accommodations during our trip were great) it was frayed round the edges, the hot water shower tap fell off when we tried to use it and then when that was sorted there was no hot water for two hours! The best part of the hotel was a lovely Moroccan-style garden where you could take breakfast and relax.

We really only had one evening and one day in the city. We didn't stray too far having heard some scare stories about parts of the city. We first went to the famous Ocean Drive on South Beach and saw it's beautiful pastel coloured Art Deco buildings, all lit up at night. Then we went back onto Collins and on to Lincoln Avenue that was the main shopping area in this district. There was a lively yet relaxed vibe, great shops and lots of restaurants with outside dining areas on the pavements.

Next day we were up early after a good night's sleep to get over the jet lag of the long flight. We went back to Ocean Drive and the famous South Beach which was fabulous in the daylight. The brightness of it all struck me, and it was all smaller than I imagined. There were the beautiful people and also everyday people. The beach was sandy, the sea a brilliant azure blue, the weather was hot, but there was a pleasant breeze and plenty of shade from the palm trees.

We did some shopping in Lincoln Avenue, a lot of the things were quite expensive so I didn't buy very much. I noticed there were lots of people with their dogs, some dressed up, yuck! We had a delicious meal in a place called Books and Books, it felt strange to be eating al-fresco in November, but that's the norm here of course!

Next day we went to the Alamo car hire office which was a long walk from our hotel. It was chaos there, lots of customers, one person in the office and hardly any cars! People were waiting ages for their cars, we ended up waiting three hours for our car and didn't get the one we booked even then. I'd had to take the long walk back to the hotel to check us out and collect the cases and get a taxi back to the office during this time to avoid being charged for another day at the hotel - we weren't the only ones who had to do that. The letter of complaint is being drafted!

So it was three hours late when we were driving north to our second stopover at Cocoa Beach. In all honesty the drive was rather boring, through a flat, monotonous landscape and we were glad to reach our motel.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Bye For a While!

Well I'm off galavanting on holiday to Florida next week for a couple of weeks (sun sun sun!!!!) followed shortly afterwards by a trip to Dublin, so there will be no updates here or on my sister site Luminous Times for a while. Check back from early December when I'll be back blogging once more!

Monday, 27 October 2008

A New Arrival .....Maybe Update

Unfortunately I have had to decide not to adopt Gemma the beautiful greyhound. She was an absolute sweetheart, but my Max is too feisty to risk taking her on, he may just push her too far one day and she might turn on him. I must say she showed no sign of aggression, but I know I would worry as I know Max can be bolshy with big dogs. If I didn't have Max Gemma would be already living in my home. But she's such a gorgeous girl that I just know she'll find the right home very soon and she deserves it. I will join the Dumfries and Cumbria Greyhound Rescue and do some voluntary work for them, they do a brilliant job

I still hope to get another dog, but will look for a smaller one that doesn't freak Max out - he is ok with smaller dogs I know that. I'm sure somewhere out there the right dog is waiting for Max and I.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

A New Arrival .....Maybe

I always said to myself that once I retired I would get another dog, preferably a greyhound. I used to walk dogs for an animal rescue organisation and many of these dogs were greyhounds, dumped because they were no longer of use racing (they are retired from racing aged 3-5 years in general).

Well at the weekend the Dumfriesshire and Cumbria Greyhound Rescue had a Meet a Greyhound day at the local Pets At Home store. I talked to Al who runs the organisation and arranged for him to come round to assess me and to talk further about it.

He and Jenni came round accompanied by Gemma, a gorgeous six year old brindle greyhound. She was very sweet and gentle and wasn't bothered by my feisty Dachshund Max. Unfortunately Max was less welcoming, but I really do think it was because he was scared by this huge dog that had entered his territory. He did relax more as the meeting went on.

Al could see no reason why I couldn't have one of their greyhounds, I have a lot of experience with dogs and know how to look after them. So I've been provisionally allocated Gemma, but we all agreed that she and Max are going to need longer to get to know each other to see if Max will fully accept her. So Gemma's foster mother Jenni is going to bring her round and we are going to walk the dogs together and let them spend more time together in my apartment. I hope it works out, it's really up to my Max whether it does!

Here's a photo of Gemma taken from the Dumfriesshire and Cumbria Greyhound Rescue Website

Monday, 20 October 2008

Cider With Fat Boy - Gave me my best laugh over the weekend!

A pony had to be rescued by firefighters after becoming 'punch drunk' from gorging on too many fermented windfall apples and falling into a swimming pool.

By Richard Savill of The Telegraph

The pony, named "Fat Boy", escaped from its stable, broke into a nearby garden with another pony, and began munching the fallen apples. It is thought that the rotten fruit had begun to ferment, causing the animal to become 'drunk'. Twelve-year-old Fat Boy stumbled across the garden, and fell into the outdoor swimming pool which was covered by tarpaulin.

Sarah Penhaligon, 28, owner of the bungalow in Newquay, Cornwall, was woken at night by a "huge" splash and found the Moorland Pony in the shallow end.

She said: "I looked outside, saw this massive animal in the dark, and thought the Beast of Bodmin was in the pool. I was terrified, but when I took a closer look I realised it was a horse.

"I didn't have a clue what to do next - who do you call when there's a horse stuck in your swimming pool? I dialled 999 and they asked which service I wanted and I said I didn't know, I just had a horse in my pool and needed help."

Fat Boy Having His Dip! Photo: SWNS

Fire crews spent two hours building a set of hay steps in the pool, and hoisted the animal out of the water at 5am with the help of several harnesses.

The pony had escaped from the nearby Trenance riding stables. A spokesman said horses were known to get 'punch drunk' from eating too many apples.

She said: "It looks like he was scrounging for apples in the garden and fell in when he trod on the tarpaulin over the pool. It's a good job he's got a lot of bulk, as it kept him warm while he was stuck in the water. After he got out he was taken back and checked over by a vet, but luckily he's fine."

Friday, 17 October 2008


It's a while since I've written in my blog. since returning from Dublin it's been a time of adaptation for me, adapting to being retired. Initially after the holiday I had a "Well, what do I do now?" phase, I was a little at a loose end for a while. I knew watching daytime TV was not going to be a good way to fill my time! But gradually, things have changed. Firstly I've started sorting improvements to my apartment and that is keeping me very busy. It's really good that I have the time to start something and really keep at it until it's finished without having work to slow the process down.

Secondly I've started catching up with all my friends and see them regularly. I've lost the social side to working so getting together with people is all the more important - as well as very enjoyable! I'm finding now that I sometimes can't fit things in my diary which can only be a good thing. I also hope to start classes in the New Year and I'll probably get to know new people who are in the same position as me that way as well.

I'll be honest, I do miss aspects of my job. I miss some of the people I worked with and I miss the caring side of my work. The latter has surprised me but it shouldn't have really, I nursed for 30 years, it's a part of me and I miss that. I have a couple of holidays to look forward to in the next few weeks, but after them I am going to do some kind of voluntary work which will be an outlet for the "nursey" side of me.

So, here I am five weeks after my last working day, still adapting to this new life, but I can truly say that, for me, the pros of retirement have outweighed the cons and I'm enjoying being a "lady who lunches." Cappuccino anyone?!

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

U2 Nominated in Best Act Ever Catagory in MTV Awards

U2 have been nominated in the best act Ever Category in the European MTV Awards to be held in Liverpool on November 6th. The others nominated are:

Green Day

Tokio Hotel

Christina Aguilera

Britney Spears

...... and Rick Astley

Rick Astley??? LOL I've heard it all now! I also must admit I've never heard of Tokio Hotel, showing my age there I think!

You can vote for U2 here

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde

We always try to go to the theatre to see a play when in Dublin and this time we went to see Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband at the famous Abbey Theatre.

The play was first performed in London in 1895 and is set in the world of the upper class in that city. The main characters are Sir Robert Chiltern, a supposedly wholesome, honest rising star in the House of Commons, and his wife who is involved in women's rights. Lord Goring, (named after where Wilde started writing the play), a witty playboy bachelor, the scheming Mrs Cheveley an old schoolmate of Lady Goring's each of whom have a dislike of each other.

Basically the plot is centred around Mrs Cheveley who tries to blackmail Sir Robert Chiltern with evidence she has of political corruption from his past that helped him on the road to success and fortune. She wants him to support a scheme she has invested a lot of money in that would fail without government support.

From this basis emerges a brilliant play of numerous twists and turns that looks at all sides of humanity. It's about trying to live up to other people's expectations, compromise in difficult situations, manipulation, accepting people's faults, loyalty, snobbery, wisdom, to name a few of the traits it explores. The character that initially seems most vacuous, Lord Goring, actually turns out to be the wisest and most loyal, and he has some of the best lines in the play:

"To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance."

"One should never give a woman anything that she can't wear in the evening."

"Fashion is what one wears oneself. What is unfashionable is what other people wear."

The mix of seriousness and humour is perfect. It would have been very easy at times for the play to fall into farce with all the people involved and the mixed messages and misunderstandings in the plot, but that never happens and that's the genius of Oscar Wilde's writing.

I really enjoyed this production by the Abbey Theatre, and I must say the posh upper class English accents were perfect. The costumes were lovely and true to the era and the acting was superb. If you ever get the chance to see this play go along, you won't regret it.

Photo: Mrs Cheveley and Lady Chiltern (From the Abbey Theatre website)

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

A Night of Surprises!

September 20th, my birthday and official retirement day, and I was in my favourite city Dublin. I was there with my three friends Debbi, Dianne and Julie for this celebration and also for a week's holiday.

A lot of subterfuge had been going on since our arrival in Dublin, whisperings behind my back, conversations stopping when I went into the room. My friends had told me that they were treating me to a night out and to dress nicely for the evening, I could even wear high heels as we would only be walking from a taxi to the building. I did not know what they had lined up for me, though I had an idea of where we may be going.

In the evening we all got dressed up to go out and I must say we looked really lovely - we are getting good at this dressing up lark nowadays! I came through to the living room and there were my presents and cards along with an "enthusiastic" rendition of Happy Birthday. I got fantastic presents, a silver necklace with a key on it (the key to a new life), a lovely handbag, a purple stone necklace and a beautiful bracelet which had a charm on it that symbolised nursing. Their cards were special too - and they even had a huge card made from the photo of Bono and me from when we met him last year! What great, thoughtful friends I have.

The taxi drew up outside our accommodation in Dublin and Debbi ran out to tell the driver where to go without me hearing. We piled in and drove into the city centre and headed for the place I thought we might go - The Clarence Hotel. We went in and Debbi got a bit furtive and hung back and told us to go down the corridor, Dianne, Julie and I moved on and kind of hovered, then Debbi called us back and we were ushered into The Study. On the table there were four Cosmopolitan cocktails and nibbles. That was such a big surprise, only residents are normally allowed to go into that room, so we were really honoured to be able to go in, Debbi had arranged that with a member of staff from the hotel.

The bar manager, a pleasant young man called Jordan, came in to see if everything was ok. He said he'd mixed the drinks himself, we said they were perfect, (as they were) just the way we like them.

We sat in The Study for about an hour chatting and drinking our cocktails which went straight to our heads as we had eaten very little that day! We tottered through to The Tea Room Restaurant at 8pm (not an easy task when you are tipsy, unused to high heels and are walking on slippy wooden floors!) We got there without any undignified stumbles or trips and were seated at the same table we had last year when we dined there when we stayed in the Clarence Penthouse (when got champagne and drinks from Bono!) we all sat in the same seats as well.

We all had the tuna starter which was rather salty but ok. I had the duck for the main course and it was delicious, so tender. After a break we got the menus to order our desserts, I chose mine but the others were taking their time. I asked if everyone was ready to order but they weren't, they seemed a bit distracted, but I said nothing, after all we weren't in a rush. Then the head waiter came across to Debbi and she said something to him quietly. Big mouth me asked, "What did you say to him?" and she said that it was that we'd just like to wait another ten minutes before ordering. I then noticed Debbi and Dianne take out their cameras and realised something was up!

Sure enough shortly afterwards the waiter brought across a gorgeous cake and put it in front of me. It was chocolate and had Happy Birthday Sue and Enjoy Your Retirement written onto a scroll of white chocolate on the top. They kindly only put three candles on it so it wasn't too many to blow out! Also mercifully the girls didn't sing Happy Birthday for a second time either! (Sorry girls!)

The cake was such a work of art it seemed a shame to eat it! But that didn't stop us for long and we were soon tucking into it. It was as delicious to eat as it was beautiful to look at. It was a chocolate mousse on a base of thin pastry. There was an occasional crunchy bit in the mousse and the cream around the base was violet flavoured - all the tastes and textures went together so well!

We couldn't have eaten another thing after the cake, and just sat and relaxed and chatted. It was quite late when we decided to leave (along with the rest of the cake) and as we passed The Study to order a taxi from reception Debbi and I saw Edge in there with some other people. It was only a fleeting glance but we were both pretty sure it was him. There were two large security types hovering at the door so thought that Edge probably was with some VIP in there as I doubt the security would be there for him. Pity he hadn't come in there earlier!

It had been a wonderful evening. I can honestly say that it was the best Birthday I've had, no one has ever gone to such lengths to make it such a special occasion for me before, I loved it and felt so special. I couldn't ask for more wonderful friends and thank you girls for helping me start my retirement in style and for the most brilliant Birthday ever!

Me, Debbi, Dianne and Julie in The Tea Room Restaurant at the Clarence Hotel in Dublin

Monday, 29 September 2008

U2 - A Diary, Interview with Matt McGee

A lot of you will know of Matt's great U2 website @U2 which has kept us U2 fans entertained and well informed about the band for many years. Matt has now written a book about the band called U2 - A Diary which will be published around 13th October 2008 and is now available for pre-order on Amazon. It sounds like a brilliant book by a fan for fans, I'm really looking forward to getting it.

Below is a short interview with Matt where he answered some questions I put to him which I'm sure will help you get a feel of what the book is all about.

1. How long have you been a U2 fan, and what made U2 stand out for you when you first became aware of them?

I first heard and liked U2 in 1981, when WMMR-FM in Philadelphia played "I Will Follow" occasionally. What stood out then was the same for me as it was for a lot of people: Edge's guitar. The song sounded totally unique compared to the other rock music that was getting airtime. But I didn't go out of my way to find the BOY or OCTOBER albums, and it wasn't until "New Year's Day" that U2 had me hook, line, and sinker. I'm a sucker for any rock song with a piano, and that's still one of my all-time faves. I bought the WAR album, started to read up on who these guys are, and the fact that their music had substance and meaning also stood out then. So, it was about 1983 when I stopped dating other bands; U2 was the one for me. I made a good choice!

2. You already run a U2 fansite, @U2, writing a book is a massive undertaking, what made you decide to write U2 - A Diary?

It was a pretty easy decision, because I've always considered myself a U2 historian and am fascinated by their development year-to-year, album-to-album, and so forth.

Thanks to @U2, I had an idea for a different book in early 2005. The idea was pretty well developed -- with great help from the @U2 staff, I should add -- and I was pitching the book to a few agents and publishers. One of the publishers high on my list was Omnibus Press, because of their experience doing books for the U2 audience. (They've published U2 Live-A Concert Documentary, U2 Touch the Flame, and others.)

Omnibus wasn't too keen on the idea I was pitching, but they had done a popular "Beatles Diary" book and had an idea to do one about U2. They asked me if I was interested in writing that book, instead, and I jumped at the chance! We already had a U2 Timeline feature on @U2, which was my favorite part of the site, so it was a perfect fit. The timeline was a big help getting started, but ultimately only makes up about 25% of the book. What we had online was about 50,000 words, and the book is just over 200,000 words -- so, it grew quite a bit.

3. How will U2 - A Diary be different from other books on the band?

I hope the main difference readers recognize is that it's written by someone who's a fan first, author second. As a fan, I have ideas and opinions on what matters and why it matters -- things that a journalist or author may skip over, or even things that the band themselves didn't discuss in U2 by U2, which I think is an amazing book. But as great as it is, I don't think it's the full story. As an example, in U2 - A Diary, you'll read a quote from one of the bands that U2 beat in that 1978 talent contest in Limerick, Ireland. The guy says no one could believe U2 won! It's a great quote and adds something new to the story we've all heard about that important day in U2's development.

4. Did you have any direct contact with any of U2 whilst writing the book?

That depends on how you define "any of U2." :-) Early on, we notified Principle Management that the book was being written. During research, on a couple occasions I contacted some of the band's associates to confirm a date or fact; one was when I contacted Willie Williams to confirm the date of his first U2 concert, for example -- little things like that. And then we had some contact with Principle again during photo research, and they were helpful with putting us in touch with some photographers.

5. Does U2 - A Diary cover U2's career worldwide or does it mainly concentrate on the USA?

Worldwide for sure! In fact, that was one of the real challenges during research -- finding old newspaper and magazine articles from other countries. We have a great archive on @U2, but it's nowhere near the full breadth of worldwide news coverage on the band. But what was amazing was how fans chipped in with articles from their own collections and research that I couldn't do on my own. A guy named Donal Murphy in Ireland actually made several trips to his local library to look up old Irish news articles on microfiche ... a guy named Scott Cleaver in New Zealand shared some great material related to Greg Carroll's funeral ... and on and on and on. The help from U2 fans around the world was incredible. I'll never be able to thank them enough.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Off to Dublin!

Well I'm off on holiday to Dublin tomorrow, really looking forward to it, it's been a while since I've had a long break there. I won't be updating my blog when I'm away (I like to take a break from the Internet when I'm on hols!). But I will be writing all about it when I get back!

Saturday, 13 September 2008

ZU2 Tribute Band

Ever since our favourite U2 tribute band NU2 split up earlier this year my friends and I have missed seeing a U2 tribute band every now and then for a fix of U2 music. So when my friend Dawn asked if I wanted to see ZU2 I jumped at the chance.

They were playing in a small Scottish town called Langholm, not that far from where I live. I met Dawn there and fist of all we decided to have a meal. Langholm closes in the evening and there were just two places open. The first place we walked into seemed to have been suspended in the late 70's, complete with garish, flowery carpets. We walked into the bar and there were three people in it who all stopped talking and just turned and stared unsmilingly at us. Dawn and I looked at each other and turned and walked out!

A short distance up the street was the Douglas Hotel and we went into the restaurant there. It was lovely, modern, full of people with friendly staff. We had sausages and mash which was absolutely delicious.

After this we drove the short distance to the Buccleuch Centre where the gig was being held. The venue was small but very nice, modern with a bar and large seating area and spotlessly clean toilets. The auditorium too was small but comfortable and perfect for the gig.

ZU2 came on at 7.30pm. The beginning of the show was based on the Popmart Tour opening with a screen at the back of the stage showing various graphics accompanied by Pop Muzik by M. It all brought back the feeling of excitement I'll felt at the real Popmart shows as this opening number blasted out. Can't believe all that was 11 years ago now!

The band came on and started with Vertigo. They were very good, and "Bono" was very like the real thing from the side with his glasses on. He had a good voice too, again very close to the real Bono's. He had Bono's movements off to a tee, all the little nuances were there.

The band did a very varied, well-balanced set which included surprises like When I Look at the World and Spanish Eyes - it was really nice to hear them played live. They did a scintillating Bad which gave me goosebumps! Just before the interval the band asked the audience to write down any requests during the break and hand them in at the merchandise stall and then the band include some of the requests in the second half of the set, a really good idea.

ZU2 are a full time tribute band and are very professional with the screen at the back showing animations throughout the show and very good lighting too. They even had souvenir tee-shirts and CDs for sale as well. I really enjoyed the gig I'd recommend them and would definitely go to see them again.

That's It - I'm Officially Retired!

So, finally, I've worked my last day as a Community Psychiatric Nurse. It was very emotional saying goodbye to my workmates. They are special, caring people who all do their best for their clients. They have huge caseloads and limited resources available, yet they do a brilliant job. It was especially hard to say goodbye to my dear friend Margo. We've worked together for ten years now and shared good and bad times. Of course I'll still see Margo as a friend, but I'll miss working with her as well.

I'll miss being a nurse, I've dedicated 31 years to doing that job in various places and areas of speciality. I've enjoyed most of those years, only recently it has become less enjoyable because of staff cuts and the resulting larger caseloads and increase of stress. I feel i've done something useful with my working life, it's more than just a job, I've assisted people through difficult times and helped them get their lives back to normal.

I know this is the right tiem for me to leave psychiatric nursing, though rewarding, it is also very stressful at times and I'm ready to leave that behind now. So now I've closed the door on one part of my life and from today am opening the door on next part, it's all quite exciting!

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Leaving Lunch

It's my last working day tomorrow before my (early!) retirement. Yesterday there was a leaving lunch held for me at work. I had been quite nervous about it as I don't really like being the centre of attention, but it turned out that I really enjoyed it! My present colleagues were there and so were a lot of people I'd worked with in the past over the years. It was lovely to catch up with them again and I really appreciated them coming.

There was a magnificent array of food, for someone like me who has been on a diet for months it was heaven to splurge out and tuck in! One of the admin staff made a gorgeous cake with Happy Retirement Sue on it, it tasted lovely too.

My manager Kath gave a lovely speech before giving me my gifts which were, a Radley bag (I've always wanted one but they are rather expensive), vouchers for my favourite beauty salon and a fabulous bunch of flowers. I was really touched by my colleagues' generosity. I gave a little speech, but can't really remember what I said!

I know my dear friend Margo (who works with me) was the one who got the gifts and did all the organising for this day, and boy did she do a good job, she'd make a great PA! I'm a lucky woman to have friends like that and I'll really miss not seeing her every working day. But she's retiring too next year and we can be "ladies that lunch" together then!

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Confirmed - Next U2 Album Out in Early 2009

Bono confirms that the next album won't be out until 2009 on here . He's waxing lyrical as usual and I like some of what he says such as.

"The last two records were very personal, with a kind of three piece at their heart, the primary colours of rock - bass, guitars and drum. But what we’re about now is of the same order as the transition that took us from The Joshua Tree to Achtung Baby."

I really hope that is true - I need music like that from U2! Strange though that Daniel Lanois said that the album was almost finished way back in June.

Let's hope the longer wait will be worhtwhile. And, the great thing for me personally, is that the album won't be coming out when I'm away on holiday in November!

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

What U2 Could Learn From REM

Value for money (1)
Fanclub membership
U2 $45 includes occasional exlusives on 25% one off discount on store merchandise. Recently a free tee shirt/CD on re-subscribing.

REM $12 includes regular newsletters, exclusive interviews/photos, a Christmas package that includes card from the band, plus goodies such as CDs, videos etc. Discount on all store items for members.

Looking after and showing appreciation of fans:
With the fanclub tickets REM gave members wristbands that allowed them early entry into the venue so they could get prime places in the front enclosure. Excellent idea what a wonderful thank you that is to loyal fans.

Value for money (2)
Tickets for REMs gig in Manchester were £45 - very reasonable.

Why U2 can't do some of the things REM do for their fans - especially a reduction in the extortionate fanclub fee? I also think the wristband idea is wonderful too! I know U2 are on a bigger scale than REM, but I see no reason why they can't do similar things for their loyal fans.

REM Accelerate Tour Manchester

On Sunday my friend Dawn and I went down to Manchester to see REM play. We stayed at Jury's hotel which turned out to be the ideal place as it was close to good eating places and the tramline to where the gig was being held.

After getting sorted we went out to check where we would get the tram to the venue, it was very close to the hotel. As it was a Sunday the streets were relatively quiet and we admired the beautiful Victorian buildings that dominated this area. One had gorgeous decorative arches over the windows celebrating famous authors from the past.

We then looked for somewhere to eat. I knew that Deansgate Locks were close by and remembered the lovely meal Debbi and I had in the restaurant of The Comedy Store so we walked the short distance there. Unfortunately The Comedy Store was closed but various other bars and Restaurants at the Locks were open. We decided to go for The Pitcher and Piano and, as the weather was so lovely and warm sat outside on the boardwalk overlooking the canal. we both had fish and chips and I must say they were delicious! Dawn treated me to the meal as an early birthday/retirement present which was very kind of her. We just could not believe the weather, for weeks it has been rain, rain, rain and there we were eating al fresco in sunshine!

At 5pm we decided to head to the Lancashire County Cricket Club at Old Trafford where the gig was being held. We got on at the GMEX stop and it took less than ten minutes to get to Old Trafford. The LCCC is literally right beside the tram station, so it is very convenient, no long hikes today!

We got into the ground quickly and as it was all general admission could sit or stand. We decided to sit in the seats as Dawn had been at a wedding the night before and had sore feet from standing for a long time!

The cricket ground was round with some small stands that were completely open to the elements, luckily the weather was still sunny and warm. About one third of the place was cordoned off as they were replacing the turf. I looked around at the audience and they were much like a U2 crowd, very mixed ages across the generations.

My BIG complaint about the LCCC is the lack of women's toilets. I queued for 30 minutes then Dawn went shortly afterwards and was away for an hour! I was beginning to get worried about her but she'd been in the queue for the toilet all that time! That is ridiculous, Dawn missed most of The Editors set because she was in the queue.

The first support band was Guillimots who I had vaguely heard of but knew nothing of their music. I quite liked them, the singer had a good voice and I loved the strong drumming on many of the tracks played. Next support was Editors who I'd seen play at Glastonbury. I liked them too, again the singer had a strong voice, though as the set continued I was disapointed to find some of the songs rather samey.

REM came on at 8.30pm (there was an early curfew of 10.30pm hence the early start) opening with a blistering Living Well Is The Best Revenge. We were well back so relied on the two screens to each side of the stage. There were also a few smaller screens behind the band, very low key compared with U2 but that's ok, biggest is not necessarily the best!

The band were very together as you'd expect after almost 30 years of being together, there were also a lot of interactions between Bill, Mike and Michael which reminded me of U2. I have always liked REMs music as much as U2's (but I related to U2 more and so became a bigger fan of theirs) and the band were hot tonight. Some of the songs I did not know - I don't have all REM's albums, I didn't buy the last two albums before Accelerate for instance. But most were familiar, What's the Frequency Kenneth, Drive, Ignoreland, Electrolite (one of my favourites), Hollow Man. Pretty Persuasion was dedicated to the Gay Pride Festival that had been held in Manchester that weekend. There were a couple of rants from Michael against President Bush, he's certainly not REM's favourite person!

Michael seemed to be really enjoying himself, often doing wacky dancing - he can certainly move well! He asked the crowd to get out their "portable phones" and light the place up, it looked lovely.

For me the highlight of the show was when they played I've Been High and Let Me In. Both done almost acoustically, full of emotion and Michael's voice soaring in the latter song. Both songs really touched me and gave me goosebumps, gorgeous stuff and what a good concert is all about.

Orange Crush and Imitation of Life (another big fave of mine) got the crowd singing as loud as they could. The encore began with Supernatural Superserious. The show finished with the real crowd pleaser Man on the Moon which had everyone singing along and clapping, a great way to end the show. Unfortunately they did not play my two favourite songs Nightswimming and Find the River, but with a back catalogue as vast as REM's you are bound to miss out on some of your favourites they can't play everything!

I thoroughly enjoyed the gig, there was an intimate, friendly atmosphere and fantastic music. As with U2 there were fans from all over the country and beyond. I just love the gorgeous melodies so many of REM's songs have, the great musicianship and Michael's voice is totally unique, emotional and powerful. A brilliant night and I left on a high.

The Set List

1. Living Well Is The Best Revenge 2. These Days 3. What's The Frequency, Kenneth?
4. Drive 5. Man-Sized Wreath 6. Fall On Me 7. Ignoreland 8. Walk Unafraid 9. Hollow Man 10. I’m Gonna DJ 11. Electrolite 12. Pretty Persuasion 13. The Great Beyond 14. So Fast, So Numb 15. 7 Chinese Bros. 16. The One I Love 17. I’ve Been High 18 Let Me In 19. Horse To Water 20. Bad Day 21. Orange Crush 22. Imitation Of Life 23. Supernatural Superserious 24. Losing My Religion 25. Mr. Richards 26. It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) 27. Man On The Moon

REM at the End of the Concert at Manchester 24th August 2008 (Accelerate Tour) - Photo by M J Gray

We left the cricket ground and the police and stewards had the dispersal of the thousands of fans well under control. Within 30 minutes of the concert finishing Dawn and I were back in the centre of Manchester. We were really hungry and found a Chinese restaurant, Tai Wu, still open so we decided to go in and have a meal. It was really busy in there - it's the first time I've eaten a Chinese at that hour of the night!

Back at the hotel we relaxed, had a bottle of wine and chatted. A wonderful way to finish a day full of great REM music, delicious food and good company.