Friday, December 30, 2011

Cleethorpes - Kind of Surreal

Man in the Moon display on the beach, Cleethorpes, UK

The location of the English wedding reception for my daughter and her new British husband was in Grimsby, England.  My wife and I decided to look for a hotel or guest house nearby.  Before leaving the US, I did my research on the internet, or the interweb as I heard it called in UK.  I found a guest house not far away in a seaside resort named Cleethorpes.

We booked a room at Ginnie' Guesthouse.  Ginnie's turnout to be a gem.  Our room was great.  It had its own toilet, sink and stall shower.  A large window provided great light.  There was both a double and single bed.  A large wardrobe closet was more than ample for our needs.  Enough electrical outlets for my camera charger and my CPAP.  A modest sized TV with remote and free cable that carried British and a few familiar US shows added just enough sparkle .  Overall our second floor room was wonderful.

That night, we were invited to dinner at my daughter's in-laws and I am not sure if it was the conversation or the pain but after dinner my wife decided to go to the hospital to have a health professional look at her foot.  (See the previous post about her foot)         

It was a week and a day of pain since her fall in London.  She didn't see a doctor before this because she had a fear the doctor's and hospital' bills would drain our wallets.  A visit to the ER in the US would cost at least $400 without any doctors' or X-ray bills.  Without money our stay would be, shall I say, uneventful, boring.  We would all be looking out the window at the canal traffic, Olympic construction and watching Friends on Comedy Central on British TV back at my daughter's apartment until our flight home.  It turned out that with the socialized medicine in UK, if there was no hospital stay we didn't need to pay anything.  Nothing.  Nada.  Free.  Even though we were foreigners.  Thank you your majesty, Queen Elizabeth and all your loyal subjects.

We returned to Ginnie's from the hospital with a plaster cast and crutches.  As we noisily asended the stairs after midnight, with me reminding her that people were asleep, my wife remarked of how her life would be so much easier if we had the first floor room at the bottom of the stairs.  Nonetheless, she clumsily hobbled to the second floor, having never before used crutches, even though she had both knees replaced just three years ago.

At breakfast the very next morning, Kim, the owner of Ginnie's, moved us into that first floor room.  It was a nice room but not as great as the second floor room.  The move, however, did make our lives easier.

Our first breakfast was the full English breakfast that included, fried eggs, two rashers of bacon, two bangers (sausages), a small fried tomato, beans, mushrooms and our choice of white or whole grain toast.  My coffee arrived in a small french press pot and my wife received a hot pot of tea.
Source: Two Guys Breakfast Blog
It was great.  The beans kind of blindsided me though.  As an American living in the NorthEast/Mid-Atlantic region I am more familiar with potatoes and not beans with my breakfast.  Beans are saved for hot dogs or maybe outdoor grilling.  I ate them just the same, thank you.

We didn't get to see many sites around Grimsby or Cleethorpes on Friday, except those along the way to the in-laws house, a few miles inland from the beach.
Steel's Corner House Restaurant

Friday evening we had reservations at a well established restaurant in Cleethorpes, renown for their fish and chips, Steel's Corner House Restaurant.  The menu was not huge but varied and included a few vegetarian entrees.   We narrowed our choice down to Small Haddock and Chips, Medium Haddock and Chips or Jumbo Haddock and Chips.  My wife and I settled for the Med Haddock and Chips with a choice of Mushy Peas or no Mushy Peas.  We opted for the Mushy Peas which are just as is sounds, mushed peas.  The food was great and plentiful.  We were glad we didn't go for the jumbo.  The jumbo overhung the plate and those that ordered it, found it difficult to finish.  A few Carling beers were consumed and dinner went well.

We took a taxi from the house in Grimsby to Steel's.  Seems taxis are used quite a bit in UK, even in small towns.  Whereas, finding a taxi in suburban Philadelphia would be a challenge, to say the least.  The route back to Ginnie's followed along the beach.  It was soon after turning onto Kings Way that I saw the sequentially lit electric display called the Man in the Moon, as seen at the top of this post.  I was struck by its grander, that I had stepped back in time.  It was kind of surreal.

Once back at Ginnie's, I helped my wife to the room and got her settled.  I told my wife I was off to capture some photographs of the illuminations.  I needed to see these lighted works of art up close.

It was only 300 yds east on Queens Parade to Kings Way.  I stopped at the intersection.   Along the beach in both directions I saw several sequentially blinking displays of lights; dazzling lights depicting windmills, seals playing catch with a beach ball, a sailboat and the Man on the Moon, among others.  These illuminations have been around for some time.  You can see some here on YouTube in a 8mm film starting at 7:48, taken in Cleethorpes in the 60's .

Two types of lights were used on the displays.  One type was mini rope lights, the other was large faceted bulbs.  This latter type reminded me of light bulbs used on carnival rides made in Italy I saw in shopping malls in the US.  

Fabbri Group
Those bulbs and their connection to Italy flashed images of Fellini movies into my mind, La Strada, Nights of Cabiria, 8 1/2.  As a matter of fact, the whole town had a Fellini feel; a post WWII carnival feel.  At that moment, I really wasn't sure I was awake or dreaming.  I didn't hear any Italian being spoken or see any females wearing huge hats.

Juliet of the Spirits
Juliet of the Spirits

Actually, I didn't see anyone at all.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lincoln, Lincolnshire Stop for Tea

During our three hour trip to Grimsby, we stopped in Lincoln, Lincolnshire for tea and some sightseeing.  Lincoln has an historic large cathedral and a castle.  
Lincoln Castle

The castle, Lincoln Castle, was built during the late 11th century by William the Conqueror on the site of a pre-existing Roman fortress.  The cathedral, Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln, and seat of the Bishop of Lincoln in the Church of England, was the tallest building in the world for 249 years (1300 - 1549).
©  English Heritage.NMR

Lincoln, Lincolnshire
We stopped for tea in a quaint shop just down the hill and on the same side of the street as the building in the photo named "Magna Carta".  The building was old with the doorway low enough that my son needed to duck to enter the shop.  The food was good, the service quick and we had a nice meal priced for the tourist trade.  We didn't stay long for the meter at the nearby parking lot was running out of time.  We squeezed back into the car and were on our last leg of the trip to Grimsby and Cleethorps.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Monday, December 26, 2011

The UK A1- Not a Highway by US Standards

Thursday we took the A1 from London to Grimsby, a three hour trip.  Grimsby is on the east coast not quite halfway between London and Scotland.  The five of us were driving most of the trip on the A1.

The A1 is no major highway by US standards.  It was two lanes wide in each direction.  Very small shoulder on the side of the road and the shortest entrance ramps I have ever seen, excepting the eastbound Girard Avenue ramp of the Schuylkill Expressway.

We hired a larger car, by Euro standards.  The car was a Vauxhall with us sitting two abreast three deep.

Here was the seating arrangement.  My son-in-law driving, my 6'4" son beside him in the front.  I was behind the driver and my wife beside me with her bad foot elevated on my left thigh.  My daughter was trapped in the rear behind me along side the sandwiches and drinks, luggage, gown, suits and of course my CPAP machine.  It was a snug fit, by US standards.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Wings of Ikarus - blue cheese and bacon infused vodka

I was wearing wings of feathers and wax.

Daedalus und Ikarus, Relief in der Villa Albani, Rom
I was on my way to meet my friends.  In my jacket pockets were two containers.  One was vodka infused with blue cheese, the other vodka infused with bacon.  We were going to fly.

I met them at a bar.  In Pennsylvania it is unlawful to bring alcohol into a bar.  As I entered, I kept the infusions out of sight, in my jacket pockets.  I hoped I would escape being found out.  The room was fairly large, I'd say about 25'-30' wide by 40' deep. A rectangular bar was situated in the center of the room and touches the far wall, where the beer taps are located.  A 10' wide area surrounded the bar on the left and right sides, a 15' wide area at the near end of the room.  Within those areas were tables, each table seated four.  There were already enough people near the door and with the lights down low that I felt confident I wouldn't be confronted about my creations.

My friends and I were meeting a small group of people that work together.  They were having an unofficial company Christmas party.  These days, most companies look poorly upon officially condoning the inbibing of alcohol.  Or maybe it was the companies' insurance companies that protested?  Contrary-wise, I have it from a reliable resource, that at the company's annual convention in Las Vegas, quite a bit of drinking goes on amongst upper management.  I guess upper management can handle alcohol better than these low paid employees.  Nonetheless, there were thirty workers enjoying themselves with their own money.  They were celebrating their camaraderie.  They were celebrating life.

Upon finding my friends, I ordered a few doubles for a toast.  I delivered the drinks to a table on the west side of the room.  We wished each other cheers, clinked our glasses and downed the doubles.  Standing with our backs to the bar and bartenders, I poured some of each infusion into two of the empty double shot glasses.

My friends had arrived at the bar about half an hour before I.  They started drinking as soon as they arrived.  I was handicapped, they had a half hour head start celebrating.  Once I had a Yuengling Lager in hand, I asked for the tasting to begin.  Jimmy went first, he sipped the blue cheese infusion.  He didn't consciously choose the blue cheese infusion, but because of the low light and his vision already impaired, he now had his fist wrapped around that glass.  The resulting moments after his sip may have been influenced by his surroundings.  There were some thirty fellow workers there, a few of which were women.  He desired one of the women.  With another woman, he had a past.  There were also men there.  Manly men.  He didn't have any desires for them but he did have a manly reputation he needed to uphold.  For whatever reason he swallowed the sip of blue cheese infused potato vodka.  It seemed against his better judgement.

He spun around and looked me straight in the eye.  If looks could kill ...  At that point in the evening the room already had reached a level of noise that we had to nearly shout to communicate with each other.  He leaned in towards me and in a loud voice, squirted out, " It tastes like dirty dishwater."  Dirty dishwater?  Just to let you all know, I have never drank dishwater, deliberately or otherwise.  So I had no way of comparing the taste of this infusion to dishwater.  There was only one way for me to know of what Jimmy spoke.  I had to try the blue cheese infusion.  I took the glass from his hand and poured more infusion.  I swished it around the glass.  Even in the low light I could see there was still plenty of cheese particles in suspension.  I put the glass to my lips.

There was no longer the over powering whiff of hospital disinfectant from the alcohol.  There was a sour smell, like milk past its date.  I took a sip.  I swallowed.  Let me say this.  The taste was not pleasurable.  It was not what I would want to drink as a cheese course in a meal of cheese and bacon.  I wouldn't want to drink this at all.  It was foul.  Not foul in the chicken sense.  Foul as in the New Oxford American Dictionary defintion - "revolting, repulsive, repugnant, abhorrent, loathsome, offensive, sickening, nauseating, nauseous, stomach-churning,stomach-turning, distasteful, obnoxious, objectionable, odious, noxious, vomitous; informal ghastly, gruesome, gross, putrid, yucky, skanky, beastly;literary miasmic, noisome, mephitic.", foul.  I could see feathers floating to the ground.

Jimmy was the one person that really liked the idea of bacon infused vodka.  So, I offered him the glass containing the bacon infusion.  Again, he looked my directly in the eye and shouted, "Are you trying to poison me?"  He really didn't need to say any more.  I got it.  The blue cheese infusion was bad.  It was a mistake.  I was wrong.  The bacon infusion didn't have a chance.  Blue cheese killed my credibility.  I flew too close to the sun.  I was dropping headlong from the sky.

I couldn't just throw away both vodka infusions.  I had near $50 tied up in this experiment.  At the very least, I had to taste the bacon infusion.  With spectators in the stands, I took a sip.

Although the blue cheese infusion was terrible the bacon infusion wasn't as bad.  It had a strong bacon taste.  I'd have to say, too strong.  The infusion tasted heavy, heavy with oil, or better put, grease.  Maybe half a pound of bacon was too much for the amount of vodka?  I wish I had more patience and figured a way to remove all the grease from the infusion.  Jimmy may have enjoyed the bacon infusion, if he hadn't first tasted the blue cheese infusion.  There were no cheers from the spectators as I crashed into the ground.
Boyd and Blair Vodka

No matter what transpired, I took a risk.  This time I failed.  I don't think I will continue to experiment with blue cheese, bacon and vodka.  I will collect my feathers and place them in a box.  I'll purchase a new bottle of Boyd and Blair.  I'll drink it straight.  I'll fly without the need for feathers and wax.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Date with the Prime Minister, David Cameron

My wife's foot was hurting again after our day out on Tuesday.  She decided to stay in the apartment and keep her foot elevated.  We left my wife to watch British TV, Olympic 2012 construction and boat traffic on Hertford Union Canal.  My son and I had a date with the Prime Minister.
UK Prime Minister - David Cameron
A few years ago, my son-in-law was a campaign volunteer for a candidate to Parliament.  He kept in contact with a friend he made back then, who is now an aide to an MP.  Every Wednesday at noon in the House of Commons there is an official session called Questions to the Prime Minister during which the prime minister spends half an hour answering questions from the members of parliament (MPs).  Tickets to the Strangers' Gallery (visitors' gallery) for Wednesdays PMQ are the highly sought-after.  My son-in law scored us tickets to this PMQ.
Portcullis House on the right
We needed to enter through Portcullis House, the PMs' office building, across the street from the Palace of Westminster, other wise known as the Houses of Parliament.  

Upon entering Portcullis House we spoke with a receptionist who allowed us to enter.  Once inside we went through a security scanner, were patted-down by machine gun toting officers, photographed and given a photo ID to wear.
We then talked with the inside receptionist who called up to the aide.  We were shown a bench to sit upon while awaiting the aide.  When the aide arrived it was already 11:58 and we were late.  We had to hurry under the street through a tunnel, through several hallways, then outside over a driveway, then back in more hallways 'til me were met by an usher outside the House of Commons.
House of Commons from the Visitors' Gallery
Source:Druid City Press
We rushed up a few flights of stairs, checked my camera bag and my son's backpack just before we entered the visitors' gallery.  Once inside, the usher requested the seat holders move to make room and seated us on the end of the row.

My first impression was, the room was grand but small.  My eyes wandered around the room.  There were seemingly 6" thick glass panels suspended from the beautiful old ceiling to shield us strangers from the MPs.  There must have been some serious structural changes to allow these panels to hang from the ceiling.  They looked heavy.  

The proceedings were full of partisan politics; patting the prime minister on the back, requesting praise for helping constituents and of course attacking the ruling party by the other side.  I almost felt as though I was in a Philadelphia City Council meeting.  I guess all  representative democratic politics are alike, no matter what level.

12:30 arrived quickly and so our date with David Cameron ended.  I don't believe we made any impression on him.  Mr. Cameron, my son and I departed the House of Commons, by different doors, together.  We were on our way to meet my daughter outside Westminster Abbey.  I can only assume David Cameron had something scheduled for the remainder of his day.  

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Friday, December 23, 2011

My Vodka Infusions - Bacon and Blue Cheese

I had all the ingredients for my vodka infusions.  One pound of bacon, eight ounces of a Spanish blue cheese and one bottle of 80 proof Boyd and Blair potato vodka.  I found two Mason jars in which to infuse my vodka, one for blue cheese, the other for bacon.  I put my cast iron skillet on the stovetop and turned on the heat.  There were plenty of Melitta type coffee filters to go with the Melitta pour over cone.  I was set to infuse.
I fried half the bacon strips until they were crisp and most of the fat rendered off.  The frying bacon filled the house with its sultry smokey aroma.  Everyone had their noses in the air.  With several requests and two pairs of sad eyes, I relinquished that ration of rendered rasher to my salivating spouse and son for some snacking of Stilton and sourdough.  (Phew!  I can't believe I just wrote that.)  I put the remaining uncooked bacon into the pan and started over.  When fried, I placed the newly crisped bacon on a double layer of paper towels, covered the bacon with another double layer of paper towels and applied pressure with the palm of my hand.  I wanted to remove from the bacon as much of the grease as possible.  When the bacon was dry, I was ready to begin the infusions.

Into each Mason jar I poured half of the vodka.  I put about two ounces of the Spanish blue cheese in the one jar and all of the remaining bacon in the other jar.  I turned on the lids and shook each jar.  I repeated shaking each jar once per day for three days.  On the fourth day I was ready to filter the infused vodkas.

I placed a Melitta type paper filter into the Melitta pour over cone, as I would to filter my drip coffee.  The filtering device was placed atop a clean glass tumbler, a tumbler with a wide enough rim to stabilize the filtering device.  I didn't want to loose any infusion because the cone tilted or fell off the top of the glass.  Now I was ready to filter.

I started with the blue cheese infusion.  I poured the blue cheese-vodka solution into the filter.  Quite a bit of the cheese had dissolved into the vodka.  This solution all but stopped the filtering process with just a few ounces in the filter.  I rocked, jiggled, tapped and lifted the filter to try and get the flow started again.  No luck, the filter was clogged.  I grabbed each side of the paper filter until all four sides were gathered together over the center of the cone.  I lifted the clogged filter trying to keep the vodka from spilling.  With the agility of a prestidigitator, I had the old filter out, the new filter in and the unfiltered vodka poured into the new filter without loosing a drop of the precious liquid.  I scraped all of the cheese from inside the filter onto a plate.  I then squeezed the clogged filter to save every possible drop of vodka.  I must have repeated the above procedure at least four times until the liquid ran freely through the paper filter.

The bacon infused vodka was not as difficult to filter.  The bacon didn't breakdown into fine particles as did the cheese.  Once both solutions were filtered I had two glass tumblers of infused vodka on my kitchen counter.  One was cloudy with a white overcast, the other a transparent amber color.  I transfered the two liquids into two clean plastic Snapple Iced Tea bottles.  I chose plastic bottles because plastic won't break if it freezes.  With the lids snug, I placed both of the bottles into my freezer.  

I saved the vodka infused bacon and blue cheese for future uses in recipes: recipes that will include debauched bacon, possibly a dip, and Bacchic blue cheese, probably a spread.  I couldn't see myself discarding either of them.  I placed each into its own container, then into the refrigerator.    

I expected the vodka infusions to separate in the freezer.  I regularly place fried ground beef into the freezer where the fat solidifies, rises to the top and is easily skimmed off.  But my expectations were unfounded.  It seems that alcohol is lighter, less dense, than bacon grease.  Therefore, the alcohol rose to the top leaving the little bit of grease on the bottom of the bottle.  I guess I could have figured a way to remove the grease, like with a grave pitcher.  But I don't own such a pitcher and being a little impatient, I figured that little bit of grease would be OK and left it in the bottle.

Before I started this project, I told several friends that I was infusing vodka with bacon.  Two of them were intrigued with the idea of bacon in vodka, but repulsed by the sound of blue cheese in vodka.  We planned to the Friday before Christmas, just to spread some cheer.  What could be cheerier than bacon infused vodka?  I planned to bring the infusions to our meeting.  I hadn't tasted either of the infusions.  Together, we would try them on Friday.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sightseeing in London - British Museum

Tuesday, we planned our sightseeing around another restaurant.  This time the restaurant offered a buy one meal get the second meal of equal or lesser price, free.  The location of the restaurant was very close to the British Museum.  Guess were we went before lunch?

We entered the grand court and found some folding stools that could be carried through the museum.  My wife sat as my daughter talked of the Rosetta Stone on the far side of the lobby.  Seeing the dramatic architecture, I stood up and wander through the crowd to find some images to capture.  I had captured a few images and walked back to where I left my family.  No one there.  I pivoted from left to right.  I saw no one.  Well, I mean of my family.  Not even my 6'4" son, who should have been easy to pick out in a crowd.  The lobby was packed with students, parents and other tourists making it difficult to pick out my family, even my tall son.  So I started out on my own.  I thought they mentioned the Egyptian room, so off I went to find it. 

I wandered through the Egyptian rooms fighting the crowds and exited near the restaurant at the top of the cylindrical structure in the center of the grand court.  
I captured a few more images and began to walk down the ramp on the right side of the grand court, still looking for good images.
Near the center of the ramp I heard a familiar voice.  There again in the place I left my family, they sat.  My wife's foot hurt.  She was uncomfortable.  She was not happy with my disappearing act.  We decided to eat lunch.
Taste Card

Again, using the Taste Card, we climbed down the steps to the quaint Tea and Tattle.  Traditional Tea for Two costs £23.00 list.  That is close to $35.00 at half price just $17.50.  I settled for a sandwich and desert with a cup of tea.  Sandwiches in London are what I would call skimpy, the prices, however, are not.  Two pieces of bread with one slice each of cheese and meat.  
Primo Hoagies

A hoagie, it was not.

We ventured out onto the streets again after lunch.  My wife's foot really hurt.  She wasn't able to walk 100 yds without stopping to take the weight off the foot.  The two of us split once again from the kids and made our way back to the apartment.  The day out was over for us.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Infusing Vodka

I caught part of a radio broadcast the other day, The Dinner Party on my NPR affiliate, WHYY-FM.  On this show was talk of the best non-Polish vodka available in the US and infusing vodka.  After going online and listening to the whole broadcast, I decided I wanted to infuse this potato vodka distilled right here in Pennsylvania.

The infusions they spoke of that intrigued me most were bacon and blue cheese.  I like both bacon and blue cheese.  I thought if I have bacon vodka and blue cheese vodka I could have a balanced meal with just two shots.  I went to the PLCB site to search for Boyd and Blair vodka, the aforementioned best non-Polish potato vodka available in the US.  The results were that all my local state stores should stock the 80 proof Boyd and Blair.  Since there are four state stores nearby, I figured there was a good chance one of them would have a bottle.  I then concentrated on finding some good blue cheese and bacon. 
There are no cheese shops near my home.  The Chestnut Hill Cheese Shop is in my old neighborhood about 12 miles and half an hour away.  Just a bit too far.  I went to Wegmans supermarket in Collegeville, they have the best variety of cheeses compared to any other local supermarket.  I purchased some Spanish blue cheese and a pound of bacon.  I stopped in the Collegeville state store and bought a 750ml bottle of Boyd and Blair 80 proof vodka.  I now had the ingredients to infuse.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Boyd and Blair - Best Potato Vodka Outside of Poland

Boyd and Blair
I was listening to WHYY-FM, the default station on my car radio, when I heard that Boyd and Blair vodka, made in Pittsburgh, PA was voted the best non-Polish potato vodka available.  Imagine that, the best non-Polish potato vodka made in my own state, a mere three hundred miles from my home.  

I don't really drink vodka.  I think of vodka as fire water; no taste just fire.  The law requires all vodkas be double charcoal filtered.  How can there be any difference in taste if they are all double charcoal filtered?  Doesn't the charcoal filter out all the taste?  But I pride myself on being open minded.  I was willing to try this vodka voted best non-Polish potato vodka.  I like to support local businesses.  After all, Pittsburgh is more local than Warsaw or Vladivostok.
Boyd and Blair distills two strengths of vodka, an 80 proof and a 151 proof.  The distiller recommended using the 151 proof to create your own cordials, like Limoncella and Creme De Menthe.  Both recipes are on their website.

The discussion on the radio show later turned to infusing vodka. 

I remember the first time I saw infused vodkas, probably thirty / thirty-five years ago.  It was on a visit to a fund raising bazaar at Saint Andrew's Russian Orthodox Church in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia.  (My parents are Russian Orthodox.  My paternal grandfather helped start St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox church nearly 100 years ago.  Just two city blocks away, St. Nicholas relieved the overcrowding at St. Andrew's from the influx of eastern European immigrants at the turn of the last century.)  At the bazaar there were four or five, five gallon glass bottled water jugs behind a table.  Each was partially filled with a liquid and marked with its flavoring agent.  Pepper, lemon and black tea were the flavors I remember.  The more I listened to the radio show, the more I yearned to infuse vodka.

Before I started to infuse the vodka, I needed to taste this exceptional vodka.  As I said earlier, I don't drink vodka so I had no experience with differentiating between good (read expensive) and bad (read cheap) vodkas.
In the past, whenever I purchased vodka, I usually purchased Nikolai, because I liked the label and it was inexpensive.  Because all vodkas, by law are double charcoal filtered, in my mind, all vodkas were the same.  So why spend more than I needed?  Being older and wiser, I was willing to taste the best non-Polish vodka available, to see if there is any taste in vodka.
(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
I found and purchased a bottle of Boyd and Blair in my local PA state store.  Since I have never tasted any premium vodkas - Finlandia, Stolichnaya, Grey Goose, Absolut, Ketel One or Chopin - I wouldn't be able to compare them to the taste of Boyd and Blair.  I could, however, compare it to other liquors I have tasted.  I poured myself a shot.
I put the shot glass near my lips and my first reaction was to the alcohol.  It filled my head with an antiseptic hospital aroma.  It was strong and made me a little light headed.  I lowered the glass down to waist level and took a breath.  I slowly and deliberately brought the glass back to my lips and the strong alcohol smell had subsided.  That or my nose was numb.  Either way, my first sip was nice.  It was like good Irish whiskey, smooth, mild and drinkable.

I had a fresh loaf of French bread on the counter and spread on it a bit of blue cheese.  The vodka paired well with the blue cheese and bread.  That second sip of vodka produced visions in my head of Russians wearing big fur hats eating caviar, sour cream and onions on fresh rye bread interspersed with shots of vodka and deep laughter.  I thought, "I could do this."  It was working for me.  I refrained, though.  I had infusions to make with the best non-Polish potato vodka available. 

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Monday, December 19, 2011

Getting Into Photojournalist Mode

I arrived in Heathrow Airport early Monday morning a blogger.  I needed to start thinking as a photojournalist.  So, before I disembarked the plane, I took my camera, housed in a Tamrac shoulder bag, from the gym bag that was in overhead storage.  I had to be ready for any and all photo opportunities.  I was a blogger now.

I hadn't slept at all on the plane.  I watched one movie, several TV episodes and listened to music.  I must have been too stimulated to sleep.  After the plane landed and the signs were turned off, I stood in the aisle waiting to get into the new BA Terminal 5.  Years ago I watched an impressive TV commercial about this building.  The commercial had seals, rays, whales and bottlenose dolphins swimming in a water filled Terminal 5.  I thought, "It must really be impressive!"

I proceeded to the end of the aisle where the flight attendants stopped me.  The door was open and sunlight was streaming into the fuselage.  "Direct sunlight into the fuselage?", I thought.  Once given the all clear to advance I realized why.  We disembarked the plane via open stairs to the outdoors.  Stairs?!  Outdoors?!  The last time I disembarked outdoors was in 1977 when the frozen finger at JFK was unable to connect to the plane.  We had to use the inflatable escape chutes and slid to the snow and ice covered Tarmac.  That was the coldest winter I remember.  I swear the temperature went down below freezing at Halloween and didn't go above freezing until Easter.  That was over thirty years ago!  I was amazed that we were disembarking outside, down open stairs to an awaiting bus in the year 2011.  This is a new terminal!  It was opened to the public in 2008.  Three years ago!  Nonetheless, I descended the stairs and got on the bus, put down my bags, leaned against the padded wall and prepared for the ride to Terminal 5.

I told myself I had to realize I was in a foreign country.  They drive on the other side of the road.  They have a queen.  They speak a different language.  They have free healthcare.  They don't take care of their teeth.  I've got to relax, take it in stride, go with the flow.  When in Rome, do as the Romans do.  I enjoyed the ride.
Inside Terminal 5
After a short walk in Terminal 5, I found myself in line for border processing.  It was at this point I began thinking as a photojournalist; being a blogger and all.  I took my camera from the bag and started to capture some photographic images.  Unlike a paparazzo, I had an insecure feeling.  A feeling I wasn't allowed to be photographing in the border crossing area.  As soon as I had an image on the digital card, I put the camera back in the bag.  Because I was insecure, I missed some photo opportunities.  I wasn't thinking like a photojournalist 100% of the time.  I was trying to get my head into gear but I missed a few shifts.  As a matter of fact, I still find myself missing opportunities.  I often forget to carry my camera.  I forget to jot down notes.  I forget.  I forget quite a bit.

Once in my daughter's cozy apartment and not needing the flash equipment until the wedding reception in Grimsby on Saturday, I placed the gym bag with the Sunpak 611 system out of the way on top of a wardrobe of our rear bedroom.  It was off the floor and out of sight.  All I really needed in London was the camera; the camera and to think like a photojournalist.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Friday, December 16, 2011

Photography Equipment for Grimsby

One of the reasons for our visit to England was to attend a reception for my daughter and her British husband in his hometown, Grimsby.  I was invited to photograph the reception and an engagement type session before the reception.  

I last photographed a wedding in the late 80's when I was using a 645 film camera.  I used a Lumidyne system for an off-camera strobe light.  That system included a 400WS head with modeling lamp, a 200WS power pack and three mini-batteries.  Part of the system was a Stroboframe.  A Stoboframe holds the camera on a rotating platform and the strobe high above the camera.  The rotating platform keeps the lens axis of a rectangular format camera concentric even though you change from horizontal to vertical camera orientation.
Months before my departure, I found the Lumidyne was not working.  I assumed the flashtube was bad but without testing the whole system, I could not be certain.  The flashtube was the least expensive part in the system and I thought replacing it might be the easiest and most cost effective action to take.  I called around and no local store had a flashtube in stock.  I bid on several used Lumidyne systems on eBay but was unable to purchase one within my budget.  The Lumidyne was not a viable consideration.
Years before I purchased the Lumidyne system I used a system that consisted of a Sunpak 611 and a Quantum Battery1.  The Quantum battery recycled the strobe much quicker than four C batteries that the 611 was designed to use as a power source.  I had recently replaced the batteries in the Quantum for my son to use as a movie extra portraying a paparazzo.  This system was a viable consideration.

The last possibility, and the one I favored the most, was to purchase a new Nikon Speedlight.  Either an SB-700 or SB-910.  Both of those strobes would work automatically with my Nikon and control the flash used for a correct exposure.  However, the SB-700 would cost at least $320.00 and the SB-910 even more.  was going on a trip and London is an expensive city.  I thought it would be prudent to spend the least amount of money for the best results with little time remaining.  The new Speedlight was out.

I decided to take the Sunpak to England.  The Sunpak system was lighter in weight than the Lumadyne system.  The Sunpak was working.  I made my decision.  There were some issues with the Sunpak system.  Neither of the remote thyristors worked to control the light output, so I had to use the strobe at full power, all the time.  I actually had two Sunpak 611s and each had its own problem.  One didn't have a functioning on/off switch and didn't flash.  The other took a long time to recharge the condensers.  Plus the face of the strobe had a small surface area and couldn't be rotated for bounce flashes, resulting in harsh lighting.

I decided to purchase a light modifier for the 611.  It would be kind of a small light box fitted to the strobe head.  A light box creates a larger light source thereby softening the shadows on the subjects.  Two days before I departed on BA flight 68, I purchased a LumiQuest Softbox III at a Philadelphia photography shop.  It increased the size of the light source 20 times.  I believed I was set with a camera strobe.  I packed all the photography equipment into my gym bag shaped carry-on with wheels and a extendalbe handle.

I placed a list of all the equipment into the bag.  A check list reduces the chance of forgetting any items.  I use this list as does an airplane pilot, not that I don't know what is necessary but to be sure I have everything both on the outbound flight and on the inbound flight.
This bag is very similar to the bag which contained my flash 

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved