Saturday, October 01, 2011
According to the official website...
...'Holidaymakers first tripped the Lights fantastic in Blackpool in 1879 when just EIGHT arc lamps bathed the Promenade in what was described as artificial sunshine.'
The idea came about because the resort was only busy during the short summers. The city wanted to have an attraction to draw tourists during the off-season. Hence, the Illuminations, which run from about the end of August - when kids go back to school - until about the first week of November.
They were halted in both the World Wars, but other than that, there's been a light show of one kind or another for 132 years now. The Illuminations are a lot more energy-efficient than they used to be, as they use 'cool-lights' and lower energy bulbs, and the organizers have arranged alternate forms of power (wind turbines are a biggie, as is hydropower) and computer microprocessors to reduce the power use. Blackpool claims that the Illuminations use only 'green electricity' now.
Each season there is a big ceremony for The Switch-On. A celebrity does the honors - mostly these are people I'm not familiar with. This year Leigh Francis was the guest of honor. I never even heard of him, and had to look him up to find out whether 'Leigh' was male or female.
As you start down the route, almost the first item of business is The Collection:
There's no admission, per se, just 'suggested donations.'
I think I mentioned in yesterday's blog that each year there's a new, major addition to the Illuminations. Because we don't go every year, when we do, we can spot the ones that have been added since our last visit.
I liked this one, which was simply labeled 'Bling':
This next one was also new to me. Each section of panels featured a famous person with various wigs, unusual contrasts, and bright colors:
It didn't do much for me, though part of that could be because so often I don't recognize celebrities from old British television shows or sports stars and so on. In this group there was only one person whose name I knew.
There are always a number of 'tableaux,' stage sets that sometimes have animatronics, sometimes have lights blinking in sequence to show 'action.' The haunted house set is larger than lifesize:
As is the Egyptian tableau:
One of the first I remember seeing is Alice in Wonderland. It was badly damaged in a windstorm a few years ago, so I don't know if they will ever fix it, or if it's been retired.
It wasn't on display Thursday night, so it's anybody's guess.
A line of panels:
Unlike the overhead light displays, the tableaux are always off to the side, along the promenade.
The Illuminations are often planned with a theme - a couple years ago, it was UFOs. They had some neat spaceships, but unfortunately I don't have any pictures of them, and I didn't see them this year. (I heard that Blackpool has set up the street that parallels the coast road with the 'leftovers,' the ones they don't have room for. We didn't go down that street, so I'm not sure.)
I found a picture of some of the 'spacemen' from the UFO season:
Some of the Illuminations are motorized. On the right in this photo you can see a lighted spiral - it's on a bracket and spins around:
Most of the 'moving' Illuminations are illusions created with sequencing lights. This light fountain:
...is probably as tall as a three-story building. In this section:
...the sequencing makes it appear that the cupids are shooting arrows, and the devils are tossing pitchforks.
There are several trolley-cars - trams - that run on tracks beside the promenade. Each season they too are dressed-up for the Illuminations. An elaborate boat:
An old-fashioned locomotive:
And a bus done up as a Mississippi stern-wheeler:
This next picture is one that came from a Blackpool website. I couldn't get any photos of this display. Each of the orbs has a different pattern - some of them run in 'spirals,' depending how the lights are sequenced. Some flash, blinking off and on, and some change colors, while still others are static, but colorful:
I like the Union Jack orb. Himself's favorite is a stunt-motorcyclist who appears to run up a ramp then do a flip:
We had to take a second trip down the avenue because he missed it the first time and wanted to find it. That's the kind of thing that convinces me he's just an overgrown kid - which he is.
There's a tableau I enjoy even though it doesn't 'do' anything. It's quite large. It has figures depicting the four seasons. You can only see autumn and winter here:
And from the last time we'd gone are these stylized mermaids:
As much as anything, I like the lacy lights strung across the middle.
One of these years I'm going to have to walk along so I can actually take good photographs. Thursday night would've been the night to do it - it was so warm and clear. It was wonderful to see people out strolling around or sitting at sidewalk cafes. I don't generally like crowds, but it was such a pleasant evening I was glad to be with the human race.
And with that, I'm outta here - I'm tired as we spent nearly all day out in the yard. We figure we better make hay while the sun shines. I've started cleaning up the flower beds, but I don't dare plant any bulbs yet. It's still too warm for that. Record-breaking temps today for the first of October.
Goodnight, Sparklers, wherever you are!
Friday, September 30, 2011
Yesterday's weather made for one of the most perfect days I can remember, especially for this time of year: it was warm with low humidity, so mild even the breeze was gently warming, and the phrase 'drenched in sunshine' must've been coined on such a day.
So with the serendipity of the glorious warmth we decided to go to Blackpool, visit a beach, and top off the trip with 'The Illuminations.' Ours was a double purpose, since the sound of three - count 'em, three - garden people* with their hedge trimmers and leaf blowers and saws was getting rackety (pity the neighbors); we figured we might just as well get out from underfoot and save our hearing.
*The tree-pruning work expanded into removing two dead trees, cutting out a lot of the deadwood on some smaller trees, and removing or shaping numerous shrubs and bushes. That was ten years worth of work in one dose, but boy, did the yard need it. And boy, does it look better!
The Illuminations are a kind-of light show, with displays along the coast road (the main street) thru the Victorian resort of Blackpool. I suppose it's all a bit tawdry and tacky now, since a lot of sun-seekers go to Turkey or the Canary Islands or the Costa del Sol or Greece for their seashore vacations. But for a long time many of the factory towns in the north of England would have one week's standard vacation, with the entire factory (or two or three, if it was a major manufacturing center) and nearly all the town population 'on holiday' at the same time.
Everyone would pack up the whole kit 'n' kaboodle and trundle over to Blackpool for 'The ABC Mill Holiday.' They would stay in one of the hotels, go out on the beach every day, take the kiddies on donkey rides or help them make sand castles... and at night they would walk along the promenade (to my mind, it's a kind of boardwalk, but it's not wooden, so - promenade it is), perhaps have some fish 'n' chips from one of the stands, or go out onto one of the piers and ride the Ferris wheel or play some of the arcade games.
If Blackpool can be said to have an icon it would be their tower: inspired by the Eiffel Tower, it opened for its first season in May, 1894.
People still go to the top (there's an elevator, though there are also stairs) for the view, and in the building at its base are an historic ballroom / auditorium...
...and the circus is still going strong - the old poster depicts it as an 'aqua circus.' I don't know how much aquatics are included these days, but I have met a fellow who was a performer, a juggler, at the Blackpool Tower Circus while he was in college. There are worse summer jobs, lol.
I haven't done the Tower. I will, one of these days. We generally go to Blackpool every two or three years (the Illuminations have one new feature each year, with the others being 'repeats,' so we don't go every year as so much of it is the same each season), and although it isn't very far away - maybe an hour, or a little over - we usually make a day of it, taking a picnic supper along. We spend the afternoon and evening at the beach, where we eat supper, then meander up to the main drag and view the show.
The beaches along Blackpool itself are okay, but I've seen some fairly grungy things there so our habit is to go to a seaside town just south of Blackpool - Lytham-St Annes - and go to the beach there.
They also have a pier - not quite as elaborate as the ones in Blackpool, but so many of the Victorian piers were demolished in the '50s and '60s that it's a wonder it's still there and still open.
We don't really go in, but since the beach we want is right beside it, it's a good place to park.
The website for the area says "St Annes beach is justly famous for its extensive golden sands, and because the sea lies a good way out, the tidal race is slow and gentle, it is an ideal place for small children and families."
Yes. You notice there's no water in sight.
In fact, you may notice there's no water anywhere near the end of the pier. (I'm not sure if it will show up in this pic, but there's a small wooden structure in the distance, beyond the end of the pier. At one time, THAT was the end of the pier; it had a jetty where small craft could tie up and where people could hire boatmen to take them for a short trip. The middle section of the pier deteriorated so badly that it was finally removed, so the jetty was left stranded.)
We figured, okay, low tide, well, instead of walking parallel to the shore, we'll just walk straight out to the surf. We started walking.
Himself took a picture of me:
I took one of him:
And we walked some more.
I found some neat seashells - not many, as the best ones are found in warmer climes - and a teeny tiny crab that worked to stay under the sand away from us. Seagulls and other seabirds have a field day on the mudflats, so I can't say as I blame him for hiding.
I looked back to see how far we'd come:
Mmm hmmm. And how far still to go:
We found a jellyfish:
Now, I've seen puh-len-tee of jellyfish, on both the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts. I've even seen a Portuguese man o'war, in Daytona Beach, and I have a very healthy respect for them. I know they have one or two 'swarms' each year hitting the British coastline, but I'd never seen any. And this was a pretty good-sized blob, let me tell you. Note my toes:
Himself doesn't seem to understand the concept of 'long tentacles that may be hidden with the thinnest layer of sand.' No way was I putting my foot down beside that thing. I said 'If it's close-up perspective you want, YOU put YOUR foot beside it, and I'LL take the picture.' He declined. Notice my foot is not really resting on the sand - let alone close to The Blob.
At this point, at last we could finally hear (!) the surf. We still could barely see it, and it looked as distant as ever. We'd already been walking for 45 minutes. So Himself said 'I can walk that much faster than you (true); I'll go on ahead and see if it's ten minutes ahead of us, or more like half-an-hour.'
Okey-dokey. I was poking along, looking for shells again. When he got some distance ahead of me, he turned back to take my picture:
Uh huh. Can't find me, can you? Even with the red shirt. Try this enlargement. I'm left of center:
He waited, and I caught up with him - and the surf looked as far distant as it had when we set out. We decided it was a mirage. Deserts are dry sand, and you can see a mirage of an oasis ahead. This mudflat was wet sand, and this mirage was one of surf ahead.
Walking an hour out meant walking an hour back, and it was nearly suppertime, so... we abandoned all hope of reaching actual waves. I took a picture of the setting sun:
Himself took a picture of the setting sun:
And we walked back to the car. Now, he had his phone in his pocket, and has a tracker application on it. He'd set it to record the track when we set out, so he could see how far it was and how long it took us to walk the distance:
From the time we left the parking lot and climbed over the dune toward the beach till we turned back was 1.68 miles. I mean, get a load! Over one-and-a-half miles and we STILL didn't reach the water! I know, low tide 'n' all, but geez... the Lytham-St Annes website wasn't kidding about 'the sea lies a good way out.' Don't it just, lol!
I've been at this blog for a little over an hour, and I still have to do a few things before I toddle off, so I'll call it here, and finish up with the Illuminations pictures tomorrow.
Goodnight, Sparklers, wherever you are!
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Well, we went to Lytham - St Anne in search of seashore, plus Blackpool for the Illuminations. But late back, so it will all have to wait till tomorrow, complete with pix.
Goodnight, Sparklers, wherever you are--!
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
I didn't find any trouble... er, I mean, mischief, to get into today. Tomorrow is a fair promise, tho. The weather is supposed to be glorious, warm and sunny, so we're off in search of a beach.
Early night tonight, as tomorrow's a busy day even without the wandering addition. The tree-trimming people are coming in for two or three days; it's grocery day; and I've got a picnic lunch to pack.
That's it from me. I don't know that I'll have time tomorrow night to do more than a dinky blog, but the day after, if all goes well, should be blog plus pix.
Goodnight, Sparklers, wherever you are!
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
'CROY-so eee COOM-ree' - welcome to Wales.
...so I said to Himself 'It's a beautiful morning. The sky is blue, the temps are forecast to be perhaps as high as the upper 70s. What say we go to a beach for me to dip my toes in the water?'
I have this annual thing where, if I don't do a bit of shallow paddling, I feel I've missed summer entirely. Later than September would mean I missed it, and Saturday's October 1st, so - time's a-wastin', ain't?
He said yes. The first round of discussion centered on setting out soon (it was already 10 AM) and taking a picnic lunch along.
There followed a round-robin of 'Maybe we should go over to Yorkshire, someplace like Whitby.' 'How about somewhere near Hartlepool? Catch up on some of the genealogy research in that area.' 'Good idea! How about I throw some things in a bag, and we could spend a night or two over there?' 'Actually, we haven't spent much time there. We could see a couple of the historic sites before they close for the season.'
'Oh. Wait. I forgot: I have a doctor's appointment tomorrow.' 'Hmm, yeh, I'd forgotten all about that. And I wanted to get a haircut.' 'Dammitoll. I don't want to cancel the doctor. I still haven't gotten anything back about my knee x-ray.' 'Well, I can call and ask them to re-schedule. It's still more than 24-hours notice.'
'I've been putting it off so long. I need to do something about it. It's getting really bad.' 'What if we keep the appointment and leave right after? We could spend Wednesday and Thursday nights, instead of Tuesday and Wednesday.' 'I don't think that would work: when I first made the appointment, it was for 9:10 in the morning. SOMEbody called and changed it to 3 PM. How long's it take to get to Whitby and Hartlepool?'
'Oh. Well. Yeh. Probably the better part of three hours.' 'See, that won't work. Besides, I'm supposed to see the nurse for a BP check on Friday, so we can't really spend Thursday night anyplace as I really need to have that done. I don't want to cancel it.'
And that's exactly how it went, back and forth, should we - shouldn't we, what if we--? Until it got to be 11:30 and I said 'Look, it would be stupid to rush around and try to pack a lunch, and I don't have anything together for one overnight, let alone two. Let's just forget it.'
'No, no, tell you what: I'll go get my haircut, you fix lunch now, and we'll eat it here, then go.' 'Fine, but - where do you want to go? If we don't leave here until 1 o'clock it will be getting late in the day by the time we get anyplace.'
'Well, we'll just go over to North Wales, you can splash in the water, we'll meander around for a little sightseeing, then be home in time for supper.' 'Okay. I guess that'll do it. But get moving, or it'll be too late to go.'
It took over an hour for him to get his haircut. His hair wasn't all that long or anything, but apparently there were quite a few people ahead of him, so by the time he got back it was almost 1.
I'd gotten my beachy-shoes (old shoes that I don't care if they get wet or sandy) and an old towel to take with me, and we had our cameras and our windbreakers. Finally we set out.
First, his GPS started acting up. Then we ran into traffic. Next he had to get gas. And so it went, on and on, one niggling delay after another, one disruption after another. It was just one of those days where nothing fit. It didn't go terribly wrong, it wasn't a disaster, but... nothing was right, either. You know?
The first places we hit were Prestatyn and Rhyl. That was fine. The 'net had assured me we'd find some beaches there. What the 'net failed to explain was the number of 'caravan parks' (campgrounds, essentially, for trailers and travel-vans) that've sprung up over there during the last several years.
Cheek by jowl, one after another, with the shore road lined with tacky amusement parks and gaming arcades and playgrounds and train rides (you know, the little type for kids, not historic railroad lines or anything). Because the kids are back in school, most of the places were closed - the season is effectively over.
Now, I wasn't interested in going to any of the entertainment venues, so that in itself wasn't a problem. The problem was getting to a beach. Most of them have been commandeered by the parks, so the access routes are (technically) private property.
We walked along a short stretch of the promenade (think boardwalk) in Rhyl's town center. We got a good look at the seawall, but found nary a path down to the actual beach. We drove back and forth along the coast road... nada.
Finally, down one of the side roads, we found one tiny place, the only area with any kind of beach access. It was situated along a stretch of 'shingle,' as the Brits call it. Shingle is usually a gravelly beach - mostly I find them unpleasant to walk on, unless you're wearing sturdy shoes or boots. Certainly not great to walk on barefoot and paddle along thru the waves.
This particular beach (no wonder none of the caravan parks had claimed it) wasn't just gravelly; it was downright rocky.
There's a woman walking around down there - I enlarged it some, so maybe you can see her. She's wearing a blue jacket and has two dogs with her; if you can spot her it will give the rocks some scale:
My best guess is the rocks were piled onto it because there'd been an erosion problem. It definitely wouldn't have been a place to walk barefoot. Even clambering around on these mini-boulders would've meant risking a sprained ankle, let alone the complete ruination of my bum knee.
Back in the car. It's now after 4. Himself: 'I'm determined to get you to a beach today, even if it's for just five minutes!' Myself: 'Look. I don't even want to go anymore. Let's just give it up, cut our losses, and head home.'
I finally persuaded him to go - which was good, as by then I'd messed up some setting on my phone while trying to turn off the alarms to call my son (2:30 PM), call my aunt (3:30 PM) and take my pill (4 PM). Who knew my Tuesday schedule was so full? *sigh*
I started composing a blog for tonight on an antonym for serendipity - 'Malandipity: A series of events that converge on an unfortunate outcome.'
Driving back we passed a sign that said 'St Asaph.' I said 'Isn't that where your cousin is buried?' Hazel's father and Himself's father were brothers, and they happened to be very close, seeing one another frequently, so Hazel and her siblings spent a lot of time with Himself as the families visited back and forth.
Six years ago, in June, 2005, I threw a surprise party for Himself's 60th birthday. (For what it's worth, it's probably the best party I ever gave - and he was totally surprised. It was great.) Among others I'd invited Hazel; the cousins hadn't seen each other in some years, and I thought it would be a wonderful part of the surprise.
Hazel sent sincere apologies but said she couldn't make it. She sent a really nice card care of a neighbor's address I gave her, and said she hoped she would be able to come visit in the next couple of months. They had retired to the south of France (there are a number of British retirees living there or in Spain - sort of the European equivalent of Florida) and didn't come back to the UK very much.
What she didn't say, and what she disclosed sometime after Christmas, was that she was in the midst of fighting breast cancer, and wasn't doing very well. That was why she'd missed the surprise party, and she said she hadn't wanted to put a damper on the occasion, so held off telling us. But having gotten in touch she continued to email Himself often, and they wrote back and forth with family stories and various reminisces.
Her partner Terry emailed us in early spring to say Hazel was sinking. He had gotten in touch with her children (they'd both been divorced - second-time-arounders, like us) and now it was a matter of time. He called near the end of March, to tell us he was bringing her 'home' and where the service would be.
Terry was Welsh, though Hazel wasn't, but the place they'd chosen for her burial was St Asaph. One reason was because the cemetery there had set aside a section as a 'memorial forest.' People could be buried in that section with a simple numerical marker, instead of a gravestone, and a tree as their monument.
Hazel had directed that she be buried in a biodegradable casket - I suppose it was a kind of wicker, though it might've been woven rushes or straw - so she could fertilize the tree Terry would plant.
That idea was very new five years ago. There weren't many places allowing such burials, though for a long time people have requested their ashes be scattered and a tree planted somewhere as a memorial. But St Asaph's cemetery was one of the first to designate a section specifically for such burials and for the planting of trees. In fact, gravestones and monuments are not allowed. Eventually it will be a grassy woodland - and to me, the idea is a lovely one.
So when I said 'St Asaph - isn't that where Hazel's buried?' Himself brightened up. 'Yes, yes it is - shall we stop there?' 'Sure, why not. We can see how the tree's doing.'
Hazel's tree is doing just fine.
There are now about eight years' worth of trees in the memorial forest, all kinds of trees. (The mature ones in the back mark the boundary line for the cemetery.)
I don't think they restrict the type, so the effect is as varied as the individuals who are buried there.
With that moment of chance - passing a sign with an unusual place name - the day was turned around. It was a good day after all, even without a walk on a beach.
'Serendipity: the fact or occurrence of making an unexpected and fortunate discovery.'
Goodnight, Sparklers, wherever you are!
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