Friday, 29 February 2008

Get A Website, Gourmet Burger Bank!

Almost every well-known restaurant has its own website nowadays. The menus, special offers, opening hours, ethos, values etc are all publicized in this manner.

A new restaurant is opening at Victoria Square shopping centre in Belfast soon: Gourmet Burger Kitchen, or GBK. It, like most others, has a very informative website with lots of details about itself. I look forward to sampling their fare whenever it opens.

I notice that Gourmet Burger Bank, on Belmont Road in Belfast and quite close to where I live, does not have a website. Presumably they've thought about it and decided not to bother; or they reckon it's not worth the money. How prudent is this, given the internet age we now live in?

Website titles are much sought after globally these days, so a new one needs to be registered quickly, or someone else may beat you to it! Tesco must have registered theirs as soon as the web was conceived, and their legal team would have been proactive there.

Sunniest February Since Records Began

The United Kingdom has enjoyed its sunniest February since records began, according to the Meteorological Office at least. You could have fooled me. Perhaps I'm deluded, but it has seemed a fairly typical month, weather wise, to me. We'll simply have to take their word for it and hope for a sunny, dry and warm summer.

It was good to see the Ulster chap, Jonny Stevenson, doing so well to reach the Final in Masterchef yesterday. I'm sure he will attain his ambition to open a restaurant in Belfast or, indeed, Lisburn. The three finalists were all so excellent; shame they couldn't all be joint winners really.

We had Tesco's Finest Shepherd's Pie, accompanied by fresh spinach, yesterday. I was non-plussed about the pie; reminded me of school dinners in the sixties and seventies. I could easily have cooked a better one myself (but couldn't be bothered!).

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Withdrawal Symptoms

I've been frustrated for the last few weeks by the closure of the swimming-pool at the Old School. I swim sixty lengths every time I visit the complex and, oh, how I miss it! The cause for closure this time is a faulty pump. Make do and mend, it is known as.

The showers in the male changing-room are still in a dreadful state too; suffering, believe it or not, from vandalism. There are about five shower-heads and most of them have been forcibly pulled off. Trouble is, they're left like this for weeks on end and whoever is responsible doesn't bother to do anything quickly. It's been like this for years on end now. You'd have thought that somebody in authority would have cottoned on to this by now.

I had an appointment with Carers NI today. I cannot speak highly enough about them and how helpful they are. They are prepared to get involved with carers proactively and supportively. Wonderful.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Victoria Square: Belfast's Commercial Crown Jewel

It finally opens with a "spectacular launch party" on Thursday, 6th March. It has taken six years and the manpower of six thousand people to construct. It is Victoria Square.

This building is colossal, by local standards at least. It takes up a substantial part of Chichester Street and runs right back to what used to be Victoria Square. In 1911, this was an attractive red-brick veterinary surgery on Chichester Street, with cobbled yard and stabling; it's changed unrecognizably since then.

If you turn up at 10am on Thursday, 6th March, you'll be entertained by the Ulster Orchestra, acrobats and others.

I may well be tempted to go and see what all the fuss is about...

Monday, 25 February 2008


Ever a fan of the original Inspector Morse series, having the whole series on DVD, I certainly couldn't miss Morse's natural successor, Lewis. Inspector Lewis, as he now is, has taken the baton from his boss seamlessly and with flair. Lewis didn't particularly like his old boss, but he greatly admired and respected him as a detective. Lewis was protective and faithful towards Morse too.

To borrow the BBC's current catchphrase, I find Lewis unmissable. It is great British drama at it's very best. I believe we produce the best drama and have done since the advent of television. That explains why I increasingly now watch ITV3, with classics like Sherlock Holmes, Jeeves & Wooster and older episodes of Lewis.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

The Tardiness In Presenting A Knighthood

Bruce Forsythe, CBE, is an Institution National Institution. He celebrates his eightieth birthday this year. He has entertained us in an outstanding way for sixty years. To my mind, a knighthood ought to have been bestowed upon him at least a decade ago. It is said that it's never too late, so the government should, I believe, grant him this honour without delay. If anyone deserves it, it's Bruce Forsythe.

Hedge-Laying At Gibb's Island

We were meant to be goatherding on Darragh Island yesterday. In the event, there was a change of plan at the last minute owing to inclement weather so Craig texted me that morning and we all met at Gibb's Island. There's a photo to the right.

Gibb's Island is a truly beautiful spot close to Delamont Estate and the village of Killyleagh in County Down. There was quite a crowd of us today: about fifteen volunteers who were staying at the old gamekeeper's cottage in Castleward, and about a half dozen of us, making over twenty people.

We, or at least some of us, were endeavouring to practice the ancient art of hedge-laying. Some of us were novices and others had varying degrees of experience. I found it most interesting, not to say satisfying. It involves making a deep cut, at a certain angle, about a third of the way up a small tree. You make the cut almost right through, but without severing it completely. Then you use special axes, or adzes, Staffordshire billhooks to cut more of the wood away above the cut until the tree can be bent over horizontally. You overlap it with other bushes in order that it remains in place. I'm tempted to make some double entendres about the substantial chopper I had and the girls smiling beside me but I'd best cease now! Timothy Belmont's sense of humour is wickeder than previously thought.

Now I have an elementary knowledge of hedge-laying. We laid about one hundred yards of hedge yesterday. I'm looking forward to going there again next month for more. Once I have that chopper in my hand there is no stopping me.

We shared a Chinese takeaway last night: Prawns Kung Po with fried rice.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Petrol Price Up!

Passing Grand Parade petrol station today, on my way to the gym, I observed that the price of unleaded petrol has risen from 99.9 to 101.9 pence per litre. Drat!

Is this still currently the cheapest petrol in east Belfast?

Smart Fortwo Passion 84 Bhp Test Drive

Having left home at about half-past ten this morning, I drove to the Smart car showroom, which doubles up as the Mercedes-Benz showroom, on Boucher Crescent, Belfast. I arrived at eleven. They kept me waiting for ten or fifteen minutes before my car was ready: a Smart Fortwo Passion 84 bhp in metallic silver with leather seats and a Brabus pack ( sports alloys, chrome exhaust pipes etc).

The salesman suggested we drive to Lisburn, along the M1 motorway. This little car is very nippy; it reaches thirty mph swiftly; 0-60 in 10.9 seconds. I cruised along the motorway at sixty mph easily. It doesn't seem like a three cylinder engine; it's quite refined and smoother than I'd have thought. I noticed some wind noise at this speed, but it was very windy today. The little car was buffeted by the gales a touch! I found it comfortable and roomy; there were no squeaks or rattles. The ride is quite firm, like my BMW Z4. The Smart feels light, as you'd expect.

I liked it, and reckon I could live with it too. I think it would look particularly well in black with the silver tridion cell and the chrome package. Black would usually be one of the last colours I'd choose; however, it looks very well in this colour if kept clean.

If I decide to go ahead and order one I'd need to sell my present car privately, because I could get over £1,500 more privately than by trading in. And they'd give me a discount if I bought "straight" too.

I'll sleep on it...

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Grimes Shines At The Grand Opera House, Belfast

We got home yesterday about four, after our gourmet burger and chicken at GBB. I reckoned I'd leave about half-past six for the opera. So I changed into a lounge suit and, at the premeditated hour, ventured out in a northerly direction towards Belfast's Grand Opera House.

I strolled in to the Europa Hotel first, for a little aperitif; climbed the stairs to the first floor and the rather opulent Piano Lounge Bar. I ordered a restorative and sat down at a big armchair overlooking Great Victoria Street and Robinson's Bar. There was a party of four at the adjacent table and I could overhear the Belfast man nattering about his trip to Barcelona with its marina and large motor-yachts. He must have been a biker because he was heading for the West Midlands that weekend to buy a motorbike and he was describing, in some detail, his plan for returning home via Holyhead.

At twenty past seven I got up and left for the opera house. I managed to avoid most of the ghastly add-on extension by turning a hard left when I entered and walking straight into the original building, up the wide, sweeping stairs to the first floor where I aimed for my seat in the dress circle, B7. The auditorium was ninety-five per cent full. I still find the beauty of the Victorian auditorium astounding; it must be one of the finest in the Realm.

I'd never seen the opera, Peter Grimes, before. I'd listened to the music with its haunting main theme. Now that I've seen it, I can say that it's definitely not my favourite opera: the props were somewhat austere. The stage was largely bare and dozens of wooden soap-boxes were used in a variety of ways. I suppose they spent their finite budget on the orchestra and the cast. I wondered what the props would have been like at the Royal Opera House, for instance. At any rate, the ambiance of the production was good enough, reflecting a bleak, close-knit fishing community.

The overall performance was very good, judging by the cheering and applause at the final curtain. I noticed that the old red curtain with gold braid wasn't being used; an assistant assured me that it was still there but wasn't in use for Peter Grimes!

So I managed to avoid the monstrous characterless attachment added on to the opera house; I have no idea how many patrons were utilizing it. I enjoyed my refreshments across the street in the Europa Hotel instead.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Gourmet Burger Bank, Belmont Road, Belfast

It does what it says on the tin, so the saying goes. We've been to GBB several times since it opened some years ago. I don't think it has changed, so full marks for consistency. It used to be a bank, and my late uncle was one of its last Managers. This afternoon we sat close to where his office would have been!

We arrived about three o'clock. There were about a dozen other diners, and we were given a choice of tables; we chose Table Twelve.

We ordered a Blue Cheese Burger with coleslaw and onion rings; a Junior Chicken which, take note, was free-range; tea and water. The burger cost £6.50; the coleslaw £2; and the onion rings £2.25. Tea was £1.20.

The portions in this establishment are generous, so arrive with a good appetite. My burger was meaty and dressed with plenty of lettuce, onion and tomato; there was a tomato relish too. The baps were large with sesame seeds. The French-fried onions were home-made, just the right size and tasty. They came in a little bowl, as did the coleslaw which was exceedingly creamy. I mustn't grumble though: I enjoyed it! I merely managed to finish my meal, having left about one third of the coleslaw. My English breakfast tea was good and came in a small tea-pot.

The Dowager had Junior Chicken at £3.75. I'd like to see a kid finishing this, because it was generous: free-range chicken breast, fries, garnish and a bap. It filled the plate.

The service is no-nonsense here and efficient enough. I left them a tip of about ten per cent.

Incidentally, I recall that this building was a car showroom in the seventies.

Our total bill amounted to £15.70. I had to stop at the nearest petrol station on the way home for a fiver's worth of petrol; I was in the red (I'll fill up at Grand Parade where the petrol is cheaper).

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Airport Railway Line Inertia

My message today to the NI Government is: Hurry up and build a rail connection to Aldergrove Belfast International Airport. Do it now, not in two years' time.

The only reason the airport bosses don't want it is because they are generating profits from their car parks. In the long term, though, a rail link must be in everyone's best interests for a variety of factors.

Aldergrove's car parks are probably the dearest anyway. I haven't used them for many years for that very reason. It's mainly used by business people spending their companies' money, I assert.

A rail link directly to the terminal at Aldergrove makes sense. Get on with it now.

Make Gatwick Airport Your Home

During 2004, Anthony Delaney paid a visit to Gatwick Airport. Mr Delaney appreciated its facilities so much that he decided to make it his home; and he has been there ever since. The only time he leaves Gatwick is when he collects his benefits.

The trouble for Mr Delaney now is that the airport doesn't want him, to the extent that they have had a court order slapped on him banning him. He ignored that.

So now he is in front of a judge who declares that this is a strange case indeed!

Monday, 18 February 2008

IKEA Revisited

Given that my first visit to IKEA's Belfast store turned out to be a flop last week, I decided to give it another try this morning. I deemed it a smart move to arrive there on a Monday morning at about nine-thirty, thus avoiding the coachloads of Irish shopping tourists.

I managed to obtain a sneaky parking space as close as possible to the store; walked in and was immediately informed that the store didn't open till ten o'clock! They redirected me up to their cafe; however I'd just had breakfast, so I browsed until ten o'clock. By the way: how, on earth, can they sell an Ulster Fry for ninety-five pence? Gosh.

I sought a duvet filled with goose down and I thought, mistakenly, that they sold these with a 13.5 tog rating. Little wonder the assistant couldn't find it on her computer.

At any rate, the whole IKEA Experience took me over an hour, if the return journey is included. I left empty-handed. I imagine there are doubtless tens of thousands of IKEA fans: not Timothy Belmont, I'm afraid. It's not a shop to visit if you are in a rush. Allow a few hours for the Experience.

Instead, I purchased a new goose down 13.5 tog duvet on Ebay. Along with a cover, it cost seventy-nine pounds, including delivery.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

The New Promenade At Sunny Newcastle

Newcastle, County Down, hasn't half changed. For the better too, I think. The new promenade, or Seascape Project as it's officially known as, is a fine improvement.

We drove there today and parked at the car park beside the Percy French pub. Cosily installed overlooking the sea, we munched away at our egg mayonnaise sandwiches and tea (egg mayonnaise is too bland for me; I don't think I'll use that filling again). To use an old Ulster saying, the World and His Wife were there today, although the upgrading improvements to the town won't be finished till this summer; so there is practically a single lane for part of the main street.

I walked along a good part of the new promenade and it was pleasant to see so many happy, smiling families, young and old, strolling along in the sunshine.

I'd originally pondered us having a meal out, however this didn't happen in the event. We could have gone to the Burrendale Hotel, where we enjoyed a very good snack almost a year ago.

Red Light District

The city of Belfast, along with every other major city and town in the Kingdom, is now a Red Light District. I refer to traffic lights, of course. Perhaps they are a necessary evil; nevertheless I detest them.

I am invariably detained by "the lights" at the junction of North Road and Upper Newtownards Road; and, further along, at the lights on the Grand Parade/Castlereagh Road junction. It must add five minutes to an otherwise short journey within east Belfast.

Traffic lights are not at all smart or clever: they detain us when there is no traffic on the road at all. Do they really prevent accidents, and to what extent? Do we really require so many? Would it be cheaper to have a human being at major junctions than spending thousands of pounds in the maintenance of traffic lights? How many drivers depress their accelerator further to jump an orange light? Could many lights be turned off during daylight hours?

If you read the article in today's Sunday Times it's certainly food for thought.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Long Live Ebay!

Four of us drove into Holywood, County Down, this morning to have coffee and scones at the the Coffee Yard cafeteria. I must say that the coffee and home-made scones are excellent, the scones being freshly baked with butter and home-made jam too. It does no harm at all to have a change from the usual haunts, like their rivals the Bay Tree up the street.

I've been on a spending spree recently; the culprit being Ebay. I've acquired so many genuine bargains on Ebay that I am now a dedicated and faithful follower! My purchases have ranged from such obscure items as a copper, helmet coal scuttle to PG Wodehouse and through to my most recent purchase, an oven light bulb.

I upgraded my trusty computer this week with two 512mb RAM parts, so my PC is now 1gb, up from 256mb. It is speeding along like the proverbial clappers now! You can guess where I bought the extra RAM and the upgrade cost me thirty-two pounds.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Sherlock Holmes

We are inevitably offered too many repeats on television. However, I hasten to add that many of them are of exceedingly good, not to say superb, productions.

One admirable, classic production I never tire of watching occasionally is The Return Of Sherlock Holmes on ITV3. The episode last night was entitled The Empty House, the tale of how Holmes cheated death during a fatal struggle with his arch-enemy, Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls.

Surely the late Jeremy Huggins Brett is now the definitive Sherlock Holmes? Appearances can be deceptive: although Brett appeared fit and healthy, he was a heavy smoker throughout his life and this was aggravated by a chronically weak heart. These facts were compounded by manic depression and, sadly, Brett died prematurely at the age of sixty-one.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

IKEA Or Airport

I spent twenty minutes on the rowing machine at my gym today, had a quick soak in the hot tub and showered. Irritatingly, the swimming-pool at my old school is closed for half-term. I miss it considerably.

I ventured upstairs to have a look at the cafeteria (in the Robinson Centre) and it seems similar to most municipal leisure centre cafes: slightly greasy smell, chips, sandwiches, chips, sausage rolls, chips.

I left and drove on to IKEA. I'd never been to IKEA yet, so this was to be a novel experience. In the event, it turned into a non-starter: first impression was of a place so monstrous that it resembled a large airport. Ironic that, since Belfast City Airport is directly opposite.

I drove miles yards into the car park, circled around looking for a space near the shop, which was practically impossible unless you park in the multi-storey park. I refuse to park in these multi-storeys because the spaces between cars are too close, and I don't want a careless child or an ignoramus opening the door of their old banger against my car.

Perhaps I'll never experience the joys of IKEA. The thought of missing out on those Swedish meat-balls...

The shopping centre beside IKEA, Holywood Exchange, seems as if it'll open imminently. I'll look forward to that.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Divis Walk

What a fine day it is. The sun is shining; blue sky; no breeze at all. We impulsively decided to drive up to the National Trust's wonderful amenity above Belfast, Divis and the Black Mountain.

The Trust has constructed a fairly new car park which is spacious; indeed there were only a few cars there when we arrived. I put on my hiking boots and set off. I passed the old farmhouse and its outbuildings, Divis Lodge which still awaits restoration by the Trust. They've put a temporary but robust roof on it for protection.

I ambled onwards towards the Divis Transmitter and veered leftwards, along the path which eventually led me to a wooden post indicating a left turn, onto the heathland. It was squelchy enough. This circular route eventually takes the walker back to the main track close to Divis Lodge.

I'm glad I made the effort; it was so glorious today. I saw a flock of hooded crows, roughly a dozen, along the way. Fine birds, the hoodies: there's a picture of one above.

It must have taken us a good half-hour to get home, what with the heavy traffic.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Smart Move?

When visiting car showrooms I really feel I'd like to have somebody like Dominic "don't get done, get Dom" Littlewood accompanying me. It's relaxing enough and most of the staff are ostensibly pleasant. I simply don't enjoy haggling.

The miniature Smart cars are at David Agnew's Mercedes showroom on Boucher Crescent, Belfast. There were two on display today: a black cabriolet passion and a blue pure, both 71bhp. I'm interested in a 84bhp passion with extras like leather, alarm, power steering, chrome etc.

They're getting an 84bhp model in shortly, so I'll test-drive that. Meantime, the salesman appraised my car and, predictably, offered me somewhat less than I expected. I'd checked Glass's Guide and had an idea. At present I'll get a better deal if I sell my present car privately. I'll try twisting their arms a bit to see if they'll improve their offer.

I'm impressed with the little Smart car and look forward to test-driving it.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Villa Italia, Belfast

It must be easily twenty years since we were last in the very well established Villa Italia restaurant in University Road, Belfast. The Dowager, my aunt and I arrived by taxi at five thirty and made our way through the dining-room, to the lift which took us to the first-floor dining-room. The restaurant seemed busy, which doesn't surprise me given its popularity with the good citizens of Belfast.

The occasion was my uncle's eightieth birthday bash and there were sixteen of us, ranging from great-aunts, uncles and aunts and cousins. I thought my uncle would enjoy (the Hon) Michael Faulkner's book about life on Islandmore in Strangford Lough, the Blue Cabin, so I gift-wrapped it with a card.
I think most of the youngsters had pizzas; I opted for Maiale Mostardo, medallions of pork fillet in a tangy mustard sauce with garlic potatoes and a small side dish of vegetables, which was really delicious and cost £10.95. The Dowager had Ravioli Porcini, ravioli filled with mushroom in a creamy tomato sauce. It cost £8.95 and was very tasty too. My aunt had Spaghetti Carbonara at £7.95. Pudding was Torta Di Formaggio Al Limone, lemon cheesecake. It was good enough and cost £4.15.

We drank liberal amounts of red wine and my sore head this morning is testament to that!

We must have been there for four hours, having enjoyed ourselves so much. A memorable evening and I liked Villa Italia: a cosy ambiance.

Our taxi, Valuecabs, arrived within minutes of my ringing them, the taxi was very clean and the driver courteous. It was metered too. A good service, on Sunday evening at any rate.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Minnowburn Tree Planting

It turned out such a lovely day: very mild, sunny intervals and dry. We met, as usual, at the warden's office in the woods at Minnowburn and had coffee. There were five of us today, all regulars.

Craig had about two hundred saplings for us to plant in a sloping field adjacent to the Rose Garden. There was a mixture of native oak, beech and witch-hazel, each of us taking a bundle and a spade.

It took us about five hours to plant them all and we had our packed lunches at the Rose Garden.

I managed to fill a sackful of logs to take home too. It was a great day which we thoroughly enjoyed; and I've a little restorative beside me as I write this blog.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Computer Hell

It's been one of those weeks when I've been sniffling a touch, endeavouring to shake off some sort of virus; and I've spent ages trying to fix my computer. Whenever the old PC is running well it's a dream; when it's slow, freezes and crashes it's a proverbial nightmare.
It appears that it's memory, or RAM, is now insufficient at 256mb and I am required to increase the RAM to 1gb.

Dell sell little memory chips for about £28 each and I want two. I noticed the same things on Ebay at £15 each, so I've chanced it again and bought a pair costing £32 including postage. They should arrive to-morrow and then the thing ought to go like the clappers!

Nor have I forgotten about the Razor Trial: it's still going strong, so I let you know.

The Temporary Royal Yacht

It was a shame when that the Royal Yacht, HMY Britannia, was decommissioned about ten years ago. Many citizens, including myself, were disappointed, not to say saddened, that a perfectly good royal yacht was to be, in a sense, scrapped (although she's now a tourist attraction). I'm one of those who feels strongly that our Royal Family ought to have the finest royal yacht, royal flight, royal train, royal transport that our money can provide, no matter what the cost. At the time, a group of patriotic businessmen offered to fund a replacement but this idea was rejected. Consequently, we have no royal yacht; not an official one, at least.

The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall will be on an official eleven day Tour of the Caribbean.

Sir Donald Gosling has come to the rescue by means of his luxury ship yacht, Leander. Leander is 245" long with about twenty-two crew and two chefs. It is fitted in the English country house style. It's more modest in size than Britannia, which was three times the weight. No matter, it's suitable enough. Seemingly it is more cost-effective and kinder to the environment than travelling around the Caribbean by aircraft on an official tour. I won't argue with that.

HM Opposition should be drawing up plans for the next royal yacht now, in order that it can be commissioned when they get into office. I hope you are listening, Mr Cameron!

Thursday, 7 February 2008

The Great Gothic Grand Design

After the sixty-length swim at the old school last night, I settled down to watch one of my favourite programmes: Grand Designs. It featured a youngish couple with two young boys who were building their own house in Monmouthshire.

The first few minutes of the programme showed them in fancy dress, attending a party at Warwick Castle.

Like a lot of grand designs, their new home certainly wouldn't be to everyone's taste, what with upwards of a dozen wooden gargoyles perched at strategic positions (they were hand-made & cost £400 each). There was an abundance of solid oak beams and rafters too; a huge fireplace which cost about £6000; and the carved oak stairs a bargain at £30,000!

When I saw the fireplace I quipped that they'd need substantial logs, and a plentiful supply at that, to do it justice. In the event, they installed a tiny burner inside the fireplace which, I felt, looked out of place. Never mind.

I enjoyed this episode a lot. I liked Jo and Shaun and thought their use of craftsmen, master carpenters, stonemasons and others was admirable.

It sounds as though they must be mortgaged up to the hilt, along with help from their parents.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

HM The Queen

Today is the anniversary of the accession of Her Majesty The Queen. On 6th February, 1952, His late Majesty King George VI died and HM Queen Elizabeth II succeeded to the Throne.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Keeping The Mini-Motorbike At Bay

On Friday afternoon I received a phone call from Betterhomes NI, inviting me to obtain a quotation for new double-glazing. I detest "cold-calling" and normally treat cold callers with impatience; however, since our front windows are beginning to fail what with moisture and condensation appearing between the panes of glass, I let them go ahead and a salesman arrived this afternoon.

He had a substantial window frame to show me and it was about twice the thickness of our present ones! There was a much bigger gap between the panes of glass too. Clearly there have been advances since the eighties.

Our front windows, which face southwards, are the ones I'd replace; so he gave me a quotation for those, naturally wanting me to say "yes" immediately. Since I'm getting another quotation tomorrow from a local glazier, I'll wait and see. Mind you, that Pilkington K Glass seems impressive. Tempting.

I've also had Smart Cars on the phone, confirming my interest in the Smart For Two Passion 84bhp model. It really would be a major dilemma changing my car, because so many people have admired the Z4, which is in great shape with 18,000 miles.

The Z4 manages about 22mpg around town; the Smart manages 44mpg and, moreover, almost 70mpg on the motorway. does it matter, if I'm doing 4,000 miles per annum?

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Northern Ireland Michelin Star 2008

Trawling through the recently-announced Michelin-starred restaurants of 2008 I notice that, once again and to their credit, Deane's Restaurant in Howard Street, Belfast, has been awarded one star.

Deane's, where we dined about a year ago on my birthday, is undoubtedly one of the best restaurants in the Province and this star vindicates it. Whilst at a concert across the road a few weeks ago, I observed that Deane's has had a major makeover (downstairs at least). Have there been any renovations upstairs? Hopefully nothing too drastic, because we thought it was fine when we ate there for my birthday.

Deane's is the sole restaurant in Northern Ireland to win the coveted Star. It is a bit disappointing that there aren't more establishments in the Province with a star or two; not that it's the "be all and end all". Nevertheless, I wonder if this is an accurate reflection on the standards of catering in NI? Restaurateurs really have no excuse; it's up to them to push up their standards and employ chefs with the appropriate levels of excellence required to win more catering awards.

Friday, 1 February 2008

London's Most Infamous Barber

Cinema number eight at the Moviehouse in Yorkgate, Belfast wasn't full, by any means, for the seven-thirty showing of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street. I think it had been showing all week, so this was not so surprising.

This was the first certificate eighteen musical I'd ever seen before. It was quirky, starting off with dark, Gothic organ playing; a touch reminiscent of Sleepy Hollow. The two main characters, played by Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, wore white make-up and looked the part. Indeed, they both sang well.

There was also an excellent performance from Jayne Wisener, who played Todd's daughter Johanna. Jayne has a beautiful, sweet voice and comes from Coleraine, County Londonderry.

Without going into too many details, it was a tale of a desperate man's quest for vengeance against Society and, in particular, against the lecherous judge who had him transported to the colonies while he (Judge Turpin) helped himself to the poor man's wife & daughter.

Sweeney Todd's barber shop was above Mrs Lovett's pie shop. They became friends; he started cutting the throats of his hapless victims, pressed a pedal beside the chair and they slid down a trapdoor to the production line assembly where they were minced up for Mrs Lovett's pies!

There was an amusing scene where dozens of customers were tucking in to Mrs Lovett's "meat" pies and her shop became so popular that some folk were turned away!

When Todd discovered that Mrs Lovett had lied to him about his wife, whom he believed to be dead (he tragically killed his wife accidentally with his razor), he threw Mrs Lovett into the kiln and burned her alive. Todd, himself, was killed with his own razor by the boy who was their assistant. I'm sorry if all this doesn't make sense: go and see it!

I'm glad I went to see this film. It was gory and macabre; however, there were most credible performances by the whole cast. I understand that Depp underwent a barbering course with one of London's finest barber-shops of today, Trumper's of Jermyn Street.

I've walked past Trumper's many times, never having ventured inside. I do have one of their ivory razors though!

The Isle Of Eigg

This is a momentous day for the islanders of Eigg, and it can be summed up in one word: Electricity. I listened to BBC Radio Four's Today programme this morning and thought this was very interesting.

Eigg is a small Scottish isle with a population of about 65. It is roughly twice the size of Rathlin Island which is off the north coast of Northern Ireland. The Eigg islanders, until now, have never enjoyed the luxury (which most people take for granted) of electricity. They have used small generators along with all the bother that entails: Fuel to keep them running; only using them when really essential; breaking down occasionally etc.

I listened to a few islanders joking about not being able to use toasters, electric kettles, even washing machines. One man talked of having to run out to his generator in his underwear to start the contraption during an emergency.

So let's spare a thought for Eigg and its hardy islanders; and the electricity supply which has transformed their lives forever.