Monday, 31 March 2008

Aerial View, Part Two

As I mentioned on an earlier blog, my old aerial was broken and hanging off the chimney. A fellow blogger, Alan in Belfast, intimated that he'd soon be needing a new aerial too. Although the signal in the Greater Belfast area is strong, the Divis transmitter literally overlooking the city; and despite the old one hanging off, we still had a fair reception. Not excellent, but OK.

Our local aerial expert Adrian, who owns Ultrabeam Aerials, arrived at half-past twelve and had the new, digital one up in a jiffy as the expression goes. He has a special meter which shows him the strongest signal and he could see the transmitter from our roof too.

Adrian took the old aerial away, and it must have been forty years old ; the pole it was attached to was rusted through and had snapped off. He fitted an aluminium pole along with the new aerial.

The whole job took about forty-five minutes and cost sixty-five pounds, which I deemed a fair price.

For anyone living locally, I was very pleased with the job Adrian Patterson did. He was a decent, honest chap and straightforward. We had a chat about digital television (and my car!) as well. I noticed on his business card that there's a two year guarantee.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Drive To Castleward In County Down

We brought a flask and some fruit with us this morning and drove to Castleward, the wonderful National Trust property in County Down. Traffic was very light on the way and we drove straight to the village of Strangford first; parked near the old harbour, we sat in the lovely Spring sunshine for awhile; then I had a walk round the village.

The Lobster Pot restaurant and bar has expanded by buying two adjacent terrace properties and on the right-hand side they have a guest-house called The Manse; on the left-hand side there is a traditional bar called The Pot. We have fond, nostalgic memories of the Lobster Pot going right back to the early seventies, when real scampi was served in a wicker basket with chips and cost £3.65! There were two very attractive teenage waitresses too, one called Julie. I sent her a Valentine card once, when I was about sixteen or seventeen and wrote "Julie the Sensuous Barmaid" thereon! The other waitress was pretty too and I saw her today, thirty years later. I smiled and nodded to her and she smiled back. I wonder if she remembered me.

We drove on to Castleward. Parking at the old farm-yard, there was a group of people enjoying an organized barbecue and the aroma of the sausages made me so hungry that I felt like going over to them and offering a few quid for a hot-dog! The farm-yard is the base for Clearsky Adventures and I think they organized it all.

It was so sunny by now that I lowered the soft-top of the car. I had a brief walk to Temple Water and back via Terinichol Cottage. We drove up to the main car park and I had another walk to the stable-yard, where I was delighted to meet Laura (a fellow-volunteer) who was on duty in the shop. We chatted for five or ten minutes and I learned that Laura is leaving us for about three months to spend some time on an Irish island called Rockabill.

The stable-yard was quite busy and it was sunny. I went in to the second-hand book shop to see if they had any P G Wodehouse: no joy there. The white marquee which is situated beside the theatre is still there; perhaps it's a semi-permanent feature now. I'll be there on 19th June for the opera.

So we must have spent a few hours at dear, old Castleward before motoring home; we stopped off at another fond spot: Quoile Countryside Centre, near Downpatrick. They had a welcoming fire blazing inside the centre itself which used to be a cottage. What a really lovely place. The picture here is of the Quoile Centre.

I cannot be bothered doing much cooking this evening, so I think I'll whack some scampi, chips and onion rings into the oven for dinner; there are two sponge puddings in the fridge too.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Heating Oil Costs High As Ever

The Bay Tree coffee-house in Holywood, County Down, was buzzing as usual this morning. Four of us arrived at about elevenish and managed to get a table in the main body of the café. I enjoyed the customary "coffee and a cinnamon".

Afterwards we drove up the main street and parked outside the off-licence, just to dart into Stewart Miller the news-agency; I remained in the car which was just as well because a parking attendant approached and I heard him telling the car behind that they were parked (like us) on a bus-stop. I took immediate remedial action and motored off before he could do anything.

We'll shortly be needing more heating oil and the price seems to be at its highest ever. We've been buying ours from Valueoils, which is very competitive. There is an oil price comparison site in Northern Ireland on the internet now called and I'll stick with Valueoils, having seen the comparable prices. The cheapest current price for nine hundred litres is around £450.

Friday, 28 March 2008

NI Driver & Vehicle Agency Competence

When I received a brown envelope this afternoon I was sure that it was my new car tax disc. They sent me a form around the 18th March with the fee clearly stated. I had fulfilled everything they requested of me and had sent it off immediately.

The contents inside the envelope contained everything I'd sent them and a letter telling me that the payment I'd sent them was incorrect and was now five pounds more, due to the 2008 Budget.

Despite my original prompt payment and owing to them entirely, I had to write them a new cheque for five pounds more; and I shan't receive my new disc till April so I'll technically be driving without car tax until they send me the new disc.

I dare say they'd remind me that I could have taken the payment personally to a post office or road tax office. The whole point of sending them a prompt payment was to avoid the need for this.

They must have known of this probability from previous budgets; and yet their letter explicitly stated the payment amount. Has anyone else experienced this disservice from the Agency, I wonder? All for the sake of five pounds; I wish they'd begin to spend it on Ulster's roads.

Belfast Has The Monopoly

You've got to hand it to the manufacturers of the famous board-game, Monopoly. Or, at least, to Hasbro's marketing department. They know how to diversify and give consumers what they want.

The latest version of the popular board-game features the city of Belfast and even uses replica miniature NI bank-notes.

I always assumed, wrongly, that the London version has always been the original one. I 've had a look at their history and it all began in the USA.

We have a 1960s London version which is still perfectly serviceable. Call me an old-fashioned British traditionalist - I'm happy to stick with the one we have. I'll always associate the navy blue sites with Park Lane and Mayfair; and the brown ones with the poorest roads! I wonder if the Belfast version has Malone Park in navy blue? Doubtless they'll consider the sensibilities of those who feature on the brown sites. Then again, in this world of Political Correctness they may have changed their policy on colour-coded wealthy streets? If anyone has seen a Belfast version, please let me know.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Maze Stadium Doubt

Who really wants a massive sports complex outside Belfast on the site of an infamous prison? This seems a fair question, since the plan is clearly controversial. The GAA, soccer and rugby governing bodies support it; do their grass-roots supporters?

I'm no zealous sports fanatic myself so I am utterly indifferent towards it all. It's inconceivable to me that I'd wish to travel to the Maze for any form of entertainment. The city of Belfast is the place for that. How much is this great stadium going to cost, and will it all be worth it? Surely the existing facilities could be improved? Where there's a will there's a way, as they say.

New Restaurants In Belfast

Ross's auction-house had no sale this morning. I managed to park at Upper Arthur Street, being fortunate enough to nip into a space somebody was just vacating. I'm on the lookout for an ottoman and had intended to have a look at Ross's. Never mind, I ambled over to Marks & Spencer for some more euros and had a little walk around the gents' department.

Leaving the store by the Callender Street exit, Alden's new establishment caught my eye. It's called Alden's In The City and it's on the site of the former Skandia Restaurant (as a boy, going to a Skandia restaurant was a treat for me and I recall the ones in Howard Street and Bangor, County Down).

I look forward to having a snack at Alden's new restaurant. It's informal and breakfast, coffees and scones are all served from eight in the morning. The main menu looks good too, with prices ranging from £4.50 for soup to £9.95 or thereabouts for sirloin burger with fries and garlic mayonnaise. The pig sandwich is reminiscent of a meal with a similar name at the Hard Rock Café which I really relished! I definitely wish to get the old gnashers into that.

At the brand new House of Fraser department store, the oyster bar and restaurant interested me too: the oyster bar opens at midday and, perusing the menu, I liked the look of it. Obviously there were oysters; an abundance of similar seafood dishes like smoked salmon from Walter Ewing on Shankill Road, Belfast; prawn open sandwiches; seafood cocktails and more. A glass of chilled champers costs £6.50.

On the third floor they have their main restaurant and its menu is attractive too.

I have resolved to return and sample the fare in these restaurants in the summer or sooner.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

NI Cyclists Beware!

I happened to be passing the Silver Leaf Cafe on Belmont Road, Belfast, this morning and noticed a sign on the window advising passers-by that it is under new management, again. How many times has this chip shop changed hands in the last ten years? I sampled fish and chips there twice in 2007: the first time it was very good; the second time a bit disappointing so I didn't return.

There is so much competition between chip shops locally that a new one must be exceptionally good: fresh, generously-sized fish which needs to be properly cooked; sufficiently crisp batter; chips of the right consistency and quality; friendly, efficient service; spotlessly clean. Have I missed anything there? I intend to try the new Silver Leaf at any rate, and I'll report back.

This afternoon has turned out sunny so I cycled to Sainsbury's store at Holywood Exchange, Belfast. They've spent a fortune on re-vamping the store and I honestly cannot detect any real improvement. It was perfectly acceptable as it was before the costly renovation, to my mind. Now customers must become accustomed to all the groceries being at different ends of the store!

Cycling home I had difficulty at the new road layout on Holywood Road/Parkway. The NI Roads Service, in their wisdom, appear to have no provision for cyclists at all. Two lanes go to Parkway; one lane is for Holywood Road. So where does that leave the poor cyclist? Are cyclists meant to ride on the far right-hand side if they wish to cycle along Holywood Road? I couldn't see any cycle lanes at all on this brand new layout. Roads Service still reckons that the Car is King. I'm a motorist and a cyclist. Does the Roads Service want to force cyclists on to the footpaths?

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Aerial View

Whilst turning into our drive this morning, the ancient television aerial attached to the chimney has finally thrown in the white towel. It is literally hanging by a thread cable. I've been keeping an eye on it for several months since it has been gradually drooping towards the ground; each gale making its position ever more precarious.

Erecting a new aerial is a job I don't intend to do. Poor old Rod Hull (the emu man) perished a few years ago while he tried to re-attach his aerial to the chimney. No, This is a job for the professionals. There's a local aerial services company called Ultrabeam; I suppose I'll need to get a digital aerial installed, even though we have a satellite dish.

We usually watch programmes via satellite nowadays; however, an aerial is an essential back-up.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Bayview Hotel's New Owners

I've just learned that the successful and popular Bayview Hotel in Portballintrae, County Antrim, has no connection with Seymour Sweeney at all: it is owned and operated by The Kanes and a Mr Menary.

Presumably Sweeney's Bar is still owned by Seymour Sweeney? Sweeney's website is presently inoperable.

St Anne's Needle

Whilst motoring home yesterday along the M2 towards Belfast (the very wide section you could land an aircraft on), we had a good view of Belfast Cathedral and its new spire pinnacle. I criticized it last year on television; so having become accustomed to it I now accept it. Nevertheless it is no spire, by any stretch of one's imagination. It's more like a needle or pinnacle. To call it a spire is a misnomer.

I still consider it quite incongruous. I am well aware that St Anne's Cathedral is an architectural hotch-potch, gradually completed in sections over one century; nevertheless, the Needle does not work for me.

To touch on a different topic, Belfast Cathedral has a dean, an archdeacon and chapter. Logically speaking, there should really be a Bishop of Belfast, thereby splitting up the large Connor diocese.

Ecclesiastical Attire

In a previous posting I suggested that the Most Reverend Alan Harper, OBE, had resurrected the Anglican episcopal tradition of wearing mitre and cope in Northern Ireland and in the Irish Republic too. Not so. I have seen a photograph of his counterpart, the Most Reverend John Neill having been enthroned as Archbishop of Dublin in 2002 at Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin; and His Grace is seen wearing a mitre and cope.

It seems that the Archbishop of Armagh was beaten to it. His Grace the Most Reverend Alan Harper is Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland and Metropolitan.

Portballintrae Weekend

It was bitterly cold at Portballintrae, County Antrim, despite layers of thermal clothing. Still, it was dry and there were sunny intervals. We arrived about four o'clock and, whilst driving past the Bayview Hotel in the village, darted in to reserve a table that evening. The front entrance was firmly closed due to the weather; the sea was particularly rough. Instead, we drove to the rear of the hotel and entered there. We intended to dine that evening at the Catering College's Academy Restaurant, but it was closed.

There have been a few changes at Portballintrae in the sense that Sweeney's Bar has just re-opened after being closed down for a while; it's a transitional period while they change the management of the place. The previous management appear to have re-located up the road to the Bayview Hotel, so the Kanes now run the hotel and the proprietor of both the hotel and pub appears to be Seymour Sweeney, Esquire.

When we arrived at the Bayview Hotel, at about half-past seven, it was busy. Our table was just outside the front conservatory. By the way, the waiting staff have changed too. The Dowager and my aunt both ordered the same starters: smoked salmon salad with wheaten bread. I had the scampi and there were about ten little pieces resting on a substantial bed of shredded lettuce. I felt that the portion of scampi was less than generous; and that's saying something, for me! We all shared garlic fries, French-fried onions and sauted mushrooms.

For pudding I ordered sticky toffee pudding which we all tasted and deemed quite dry; not moist enough. Its flavour was OK though. Including a bottle of red wine, our bill amounted to about fifty-one pounds. An enjoyable enough meal.

The next morning we drove to the East Strand car park in Portrush, County Antrim, which has 350 spaces. Parked opposite the beach we watched the hardy surfers, kite-flyers, walkers and footballers for a while before going for a walk into the town. In the White House store, which is greatly improved, we browsed and spotted the brand new elevator! The ancient, original one with wood panelling (and the door kept jamming so the old lift wouldn't budge until the door was properly closed!) has been replaced by a shiny modern one. Incidentally, the White House has a very good self-service cafeteria upstairs, serving home-made food.

From Portrush we moved on to the lovely village of Bushmills, County Antrim. Bushmills is one of my favourite villages in Northern Ireland. It has the Bushmills Inn Hotel which, to my mind, is one of the very best hotels in the Province; and too many shops and eating-places to list here. There's a splendid little second-hand book shop cum curio shop on the main street which we always visit. There are two good fish & chip shops, a family butcher, three or four small supermarkets and a variety of pubs too. I am very fond of Bushmills.

On Saturday evening we ate at Bushfoot Golf Club in Portballintrae. The clubhouse was busy with diners and golfers. Their system is that one goes up to the bar counter to order one's drinks, including wine. At out table, I ordered a plain fillet steak and the others shared a steak between them. we all shared the chips, onion rings and side salad. I went up to the bar and bought a bottle of red wine. We also shared two desserts, "Lemon Lush"(a sort of roulade) and strawberry Pavlova. I'm afraid I cannot recall the overall cost; however it was reasonable. I think my steak cost £14.50 and the vegetables were extra. We retired to the lounge bar and were entertained by a man who sang and played the guitar.

On Sunday it was still extremely cold and I went for a brisk walk. Later on we drove to the tiny hamlet of Portbradden, County Antrim, and spotted the Reverend McConnell Auld seated on his chaise longue and looking out to sea. His miniature St Gobban's church was open. We motored on to Ballintoy harbour where there was a fair number of cars. Roark's harbour tea-room was open, serving fresh mackerel with wheaten, various pies etcetera. We ambled to the harbour for a walk. I had noticed in the newspaper that some local Christians had organized a dawn service at Ballintoy harbour, at half-past six that morning followed by breakfast in the village of Ballintoy. I hope it was an Ulster Fry! There is a picture of Ballintoy harbour above.

That afternoon we packed up and had a snack lunch of assorted sandwiches in the Bushmills Inn Hotel; including egg and crispy bacon mayonnaise, chicken and chutney, and real ham & cheese. Delectable. They cost £5.45 per round. We sat in the front lounge bar. It was busy and very cosy indeed, what with all those log fires generating such a prodigious heat! Full blast. Ending up at the hotel was, yet again, a change of plan because we intended to have lunch at Bushmills Garden Centre whose gates were firmly shut for Easter Sunday. Their loss was the hotel's gain; mind you, they deserve a break like everyone else. They are open most days of the year.

So that's our Portballintrae weekend. We enjoyed a straight and trouble-free run back to Belfast by late afternoon.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Photographs Of Royal Visit

I have just seen these splendid pictures which have been published of the Royal Maundy Service at Armagh.

The Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Rev Alan Harper, appears to have reintroduced the practice, in the Church of Ireland, of wearing a mitre and ceremonial robe. This is most welcome and has never been the case for many years indeed. I thought it died out after disestablishment, when Church of Ireland bishops were entitled to sit in the House of Lords.

The Personalities Behind Steptoe & Son

The Curse Of Steptoe on BBC Four last night gave us an interesting insight into the animosity fostered between the two actors who played the characters.

Harry Corbett and Wilfred Brambell disliked each other. They were "chalk and cheese", Corbett being a womanizer and possibly leaning leftwards, politically speaking; Brambell being conservative in nature, dapper, old-fashioned in outlook, a confirmed bachelor. They hadn't very much in common; ironic really, since this made their characters so credible on television.

I thought that Brambell was ultimately a somewhat tragic character himself, never completely reconciled with himself, personally. He drank heavily, which was frustrating for his co-star, Corbett, since he forgot his lines occasionally.

And yet they both needed each other to be Steptoe and Son, one of the most successful double acts on television at the time. I always enjoy watching them; never tire of the legendary Steptoe and Son.

Farewell, Your Majesty

I understand that HM The Queen and HRH The Prince Philip have now left the Province, following a busy three day schedule.

It must have been a busy time for Her Majesty's Lord-Lieutenant of County Armagh too, Lord Caledon. Lord Caledon isn't seen in Northern Ireland much these days. Perhaps it has been an opportunity for the new Countess of Caledon to meet the royal couple; and a chance to enjoy a few days at Caledon Castle in County Tyrone.

Maundy Thursday

This is the very first time that the Royal Maundy Service has been held in Northern Ireland and, indeed, outside England and Wales. The weather is dull and damp presently in Belfast; hopefully it will brighten up for the cathedral service being broadcast live by the BBC this morning from St Patrick's Cathedral in the City of Armagh.

I presume that the service shall be lead by His Grace the Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Rev Alan Harper, OBE; readings will be given by His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh and His Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop of Armagh too.

The Queen will distribute purses to 164 people, each white purse containing eighty-two coins representing Her Majesty's age.

The choir of the Cathedral will be joined today by the choir of the Chapel Royal.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Blog Recognition

My blog should be a bit more accessible now via two blogger directories, and

Apologies, Translink!

I brought out the trusty bicycle this morning and rode down to Holywood Arches, Belfast, for an appointment with the excellent charity, Carers NI, this morning. They are so helpful. Thence I made a quick detour to the Wyse Byse shop for a couple of Lindt Easter bunnies!

I wrote a somewhat irate blog last Friday about the Belfast bus service and realized, later that evening, that my watch had been adjusted wrongly by about five minutes (I'd just returned from the Netherlands which is one hour different in time). I'm sure it's a rare occurrence for Translink to obtain an apology from a passenger; however, here goes: Sorry, Translink.

Here's their response to my complaint:-

"Hello Timothy

Thanks for your e-mail.

Thank you for contacting Translink regarding this matter. I sincerely
hope that future Metro experiences will prove to be of a much more
satisfactory and positive nature. I have checked our records for the
date and journey in question and can now report as follows. On 14th
March the 19.15 service to 3A departed from Donegall Square West at
exactly 19.15. I would advise that the data stored and extracted from
our Wayfarer ticketing system is taken from G.P.S., (global satellite
positioning) which ensures that timings on our ticket machines are
accurate, as they are taken from Greenwich Mean Time and cannot be
altered by any members of staff. I have attached a copy of the relevant
data which confirms this information.

Thank you for contacting Translink regarding this matter.



Susan Thompson
Metro Customer Service Co-ordinator"

Monday, 17 March 2008

Cycling The Dutch Way

It's been a fairly uneventful day. I have my eye on a little, pocket Sony radio on Ebay, for the Dowager.

I got my bike out of the shed and rode to Holywood Arches, Belfast, for some provisions. I'd dearly fancy one of those traditional Dutch bikes, the classic sit-up-and-beg types with dynamo lighting, all-black. I had a look on Ebay; didn't see any today.

The swimming-pool is closed today, which is a shame.

I read on the BBC website that Shamus Jennings, CBE, and his brother have sold the Cromwell Hospital in London to BUPA for ninety million pounds.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Long Live The Queen Of Traditional British Cooking!

Whilst on our way towards Island Hill and Castle Espie this afternoon, both near Comber in County Down, I called in at Ards Shopping Centre and, at Easons book shop, noticed Delia Smith's latest publication Delia's How To Cheat At Cooking. We have Delia's original 1970s paperback "how to cheat at cooking". I've been watching her new series on the telly too.

In her new book she recommends various stores and brands for her recipes like, for instance, Marks and Spencer for canned mince beef. M&S must be most grateful to Delia, privately at least, due to the upsurge in sales; even I stopped at their food store in Ballyhackamore to stock up on tins of mince lamb and mince beef! Perhaps I'll go to Iceland for Auntie Bessy's frozen mash next. I bought a Cumberland pie for our freezer too; I'd forgotten about their policy on plastic carrier bags and ran out to the car for our own carrier bag.

We'll have chicken risotto tonight; I admit that I've been influenced by some celebrity chef and I bought a bottle of truffle oil, so some of that will be drizzled over the risotto before serving. I wonder what difference it will make...

Saturday, 15 March 2008

A Happy Birthday, HMS Belfast

His Majesty's Ship Belfast was launched on St Patrick's Day, 1938, at the Belfast Shipyard by the then Prime Minister's wife, Mrs Chamberlain. It cost £2.14m. His late Majesty King George VI reigned then.

The City of Belfast naturally has strong bonds with HMS Belfast. I am proud of Her enduring heritage and salute Her seventieth anniversary.

Translink Metro: The Bus Service In Belfast

I've just read a critical letter, published in today's Belfast Telegraph, regarding the standard of service on Belfast buses. This interests me. I don't use the "Metro" service hugely; however, I had to use it last night because the trains weren't running.

I walked towards the "3a" bus-stop at Donegall Square just before ten past seven, and saw the rear end of a 3a bus leaving. I checked the time-table, which stated that there would be a 3a at 7pm and 7.15pm. Was this bus the 7.15? Did the driver simply drive on ahead of schedule because there were no customers waiting?

I waited till 7.35 when a number 28 arrived and quite a number of passengers were, by that time, waiting.

Does this poor service happen often, I wonder? That is, a driver simply doesn't wait till the precise time of departure on the schedule if nobody's there at the time? If that's the case, what sort of service is this? A service like this may well depart a few minutes late but certainly not several minutes early because the driver cannot be bothered to wait.

Home, Safe And Sound

Great Victoria Street Railway Station in Belfast was in a somewhat chaotic state at seven o'clock last night. I'd just taken the very good Airbus 300 service which, at nine pounds return, works very well indeed; and it took me to the Europa Bus Station at Glengall Street. I made a bee-line for the trains. There was a crowd standing at the entrance and several staff trying to explain what wasn't happening: no trains.

So I strode out with my luggage towards the buses at Donegall Square and one eventually turned up. My journey had begun, leaving my inn, the Old Nickel, at three. My journey ended at eight, arriving home. Trains, planes and buses.

The Old Nickel is a very handy little inn in central Amsterdam, about five minutes from central railway station. I'll not go into too many details (they're all in; however it's cosy, quite friendly, great value and very convenient.

Two places I visited this time were the Tropical Museum, which was worthwhile; and the Amsterdam Dungeon which I don't think I'd revisit.

So it's now back to porridge for another few weeks till I'm off to the Canary Islands.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Amsterdam Trip: Day Two

It's a better day, weather-wise, today. After breakfast I strolled along the Dam and Rokin to the Amsterdam Dungeon. I really ought to have checked the opening times because it didn't open till eleven o'clock; so I walked back to the central railway station to check train times for Zaandam. Thence back to my inn to freshen up and dry my feet (having chosen the wrong pair of shoes for this trip).

I decided to return to the Amsterdam Dungeon and I had a discount voucher for five euros, so it cost fifteen euros. The dungeon seems to linked to Mme Tussaud's. It was all a bit of good, harmless theatre. I don't think I'd wish to revisit it.

I'll head back to my hotel now for a breather and a fruit snack; and to dry my shoes out again!

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Amsterdam Trip: Day One

I left home an hour sooner than planned yesterday, at 10.40 instead of 11.40; however there was no harm done. There were major roadworks on the M2 motorway.

I treated myself to a Burgerking Whopper with cheese, fries, a hamburger and coffee at Belfast International Airport - am I imagining things or does Burgerking charge more for their meals here? I paid over seven pounds for that. I suspect everything costs more at airports because there's not the same competition.

The flight to Amsterdam was good: we had a strong tailwind so we arrived a half-hour ahead of schedule. At my modest little inn, I ordered a Dutch witbier. They had allocated me Room One, overlooking the street. I'll review my hotel on my blog when I get home.

After breakfast today I got tram nine for the Tropical Museum, which I've never been to before. Incidentally, I chose the wrong pair of shoes for this trip: suede Oxford brogues. It has been wet and they have, regrettably, soaked up the rain like a sponge! I find most Dutch people exceptionally courteous and helpful. I spent a few hours at the museum and headed back to my inn to dry my shoes and socks on the radiator!

I'm out and about this afternoon; time for a modest restorative shortly...

Monday, 10 March 2008

Gillette Fusion Razor Review

Since I started using my new Gillette Fusion razor on 25th January it has simply gone on and on till now, a remarkable forty-five days later. That's just one single cartridge. I sustained a very negligible cut on the chin yesterday, so decided to stop using it.

I can now say that the Fusion endures easily twice as long as the standard Mach Three. I don't think I have ever used the Mach 3 for much more than three weeks, at most. It varies from blade to blade.

I have always been sceptical, not to say cynical, about Gillette's sales hype fronted by Messrs Beckham, Woods and Federer; nevertheless it is fair to say that the Fusion is the best blade by Gillette, so far.

Apart from its longevity, it remains a smoother shave for longer; exceptionally smooth. It feels more bulky and substantial initially, however one gets used to it quickly.

It does not shave any closer, to my mind. It does shave as close, for longer.

To conclude, if you can buy these Fusion blades at the right price ( buy them on Ebay - just ensure they're genuine first) they'd potentially be better value because they last longer than the Mach 3 blades.

I still like the Mach 3 and its compactness; however, if I can obtain genuine Fusion blades in bulk at the right price, I think I'll do it. Very shortly.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Sunday Luncheon At Donaghadee

When we left home at about half-past one today the temperature was 8c. On our way home via Groomsport, it had dropped to 5c! There had just been a heavy hail shower while we were dining at Donaghadee Garden Centre in County Down.

I always enjoy the home-made meals at Donaghadee Garden Centre (and Bushmills GC too - it's owned by the same company). It's almost always busy. I think the standard of cooking and the type of food is quite similar to Fulton's restaurant in Belfast, though Fulton's places a little more emphasis on salads. The fare is good, traditional Ulster cooking. Today we had fresh, honey-roasted ham with mashed potato and cauliflower cheese; and lamb hotpot with garlic potato; followed by rhubarb crumble and whipped cream. We shared a bottle of elderflower juice.

My only gripe is that, having queued up, there was time spent waiting to order the pudding; then waiting for it to be heated; and finally waiting a few moments for the bill, by which time our meals were less than piping hot at the table. Fortunately I'm not to bothered about that, as long as it's not literally cold! Nevertheless, the meal was truly tasty and delicious, particularly the hotpot. The bill came to £19.60.

We drove on to Groomsport and sat in the car watching passers-by and the black-headed gulls. I thought I spotted a carrion crow too.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Tree-planting On Gibb's Island

It wasn't half windy today, nor am I referring to the Indian meal last night; incidentally I find the Patak's cans of Korma sauce very good indeed. Great value and spicy. The wind I allude to was at Gibb's Island which is somewhat exposed to the elements. Six of us were in attendance today and we planted lots of pine saplings in the wood.

After lunch, we planted hawthorn saplings along the old stone wall. Craig showed me a picture of the bothy at Salt Island, which I really look forward to staying at later this year. Can't wait to return for the great outdoors, cosy log fires, restoratives and good crack.

The tide today was exceptionally high, so much so that Gibb's was a genuine island whilst we were on it! Eric's Land-Rover made light work of that. We collected plenty of large logs for the fire at Terinichol: are you lighting a fire tonight Laura? We weren't hedging, as expected, today so I didn't get a chance to use my big chopper.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

No Sign Of Chuckle Bros At Victoria Square Belfast

I ventured into Belfast today in order to buy some Euros at Marks and Spencer for my annual trip to Amsterdam next week. It seemed quite subdued; unsurprising really, since everyone was at the launch of the massive new Victoria Square shopping mecca.

I bought my Euros and, on the way out, a pair of their boat shoes caught my eye. They were brown and fitted me well; more to the point, they were half-price! So I went ahead and made the purchase. My present boat shoes are very down-at-heel.

At Victoria Square there were, indeed, crowds of onlookers, police and officials. No sign of the Chuckle Brothers, aka Ian & Marty: I believe they attended a VIP event last night. Shame that, I had hoped to get a good laugh. I spotted the Lord Mayor grinning like a Cheshire cat. Incidentally, I'd have preferred a member of our Royal Family to open the Centre.

It's an impressive place. Too crowded for my liking today. I had an amble through the House of Fraser store, the largest in the Kingdom. I'll return in a few weeks, when the proverbial dust has settled. Outside, the restored Jaffe Memorial Fountain looked very well at the Victoria Street entrance.

I was home within about two hours. I drove up to the swimming-pool at the old school. I hadn't swum there since the seventh of February. It was stone cold and the showers were cold too and still useless due to vandalism. They have been in a state of disrepair since at least the 7 Feb. Nevertheless I swam thirty lengths, with my mouth firmly closed.

Dear oh dear...

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Johnny's New Kingdom

I've swiftly become a fan of these wildlife series hosted by the indefatigable and enthusiastic Johnny Kingdom. Kingdom is quite a character, having been a gravedigger, farm worker, poacher and quarryman previously.

Last night we watched him on his own fifty-two acres of land near Exmoor in Devon. He was creating a large pond, ably assisted by a very large digger!

His accent intrigues me: it's almost like a cross between an Ulster and Devon lilt. I notice Johnny has lots of tattoos on his arms and wondered if he'd been in the Army. Perhaps he has no Ulster connexion at all.

Gillette Fusion Update

Ever since I began using my new Gillette Fusion blade on 25th January it has gone on and on. Quite remarkably I'm still using it daily and I have no cuts or razor-burn.

I'll refrain from giving any further details until it finally gives up the ghost; surely that cannot be far away now?

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

The Right Honourable the Lord Paisley, PC, MLA?

It has just been announced that the First Minister of Northern Ireland, the Rt Hon Ian Paisley, MP, MLA, is to resign from Office in May, 2008.

I normally steer well clear of politics on my blog; nevertheless, my prediction is that the Rev Ian Paisley will be elevated to the peerage in the House of Lords as the Right Honourable the Lord Paisley, PC, MLA. He says he intends to remain as an MP, but for how long? I should not be surprised if the future Lord Paisley is also bestowed with an honour such as the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (like the Lord Molyneaux, KBE, PC) or the Companion of Honour. I make this prediction without any bias at all.

Watch this space...

Castleward Opera

It's been a relatively quiet week so far. I'm intending to venture into Town on Thursday, to have a look at the new Victoria Square centre in Belfast; I require some euros too, so I'll pay Marks and Spencer a visit.

I've reserved a ticket on the nineteenth of June, as close as I could attain for midsummer, for Castleward Opera's 2008 production of Cosi Fan Tutte. They usually allocate me Row D at the front; I told them I did not mind where I sat really. It's a shame there aren't two operas each season now; apparently their budget restricts them presently.

One of the visiting National Trust volunteers, based at Terinichol on the estate, told me about the apartment in Castleward House which is maintained for the Viscount and Viscountess Bangor. Apparently the Bangors have been irritated by several items of furniture, which are moved by NT staff without their approval. Lady Bangor is, of course, the celebrated author Sarah Bradford and wife of the eighth Viscount Bangor.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Minnowburn & Belvoir

There were quite a few cars at Minnowburn today. We brought a flask of tea, some fruit and Tunnock's Teacakes with us. I walked up the steep steps to the Rose Garden, to have a look at the adjacent field where we had planted some saplings several weeks ago. All present and correct. I encountered a fellow-volunteer, Richard, whilst strolling about; it's the second time within three days that we have met.

We had our snack in the car and drove on to Malone House; thence we motored on to Belvoir Park Forest. We parked opposite the bird and squirrel feeder and were entertained for an hour by three grey squirrels performing acrobatics whilst munching nuts! Abundant great tits, magpies, hooded crows, robins, coal tits, blue tits, blackbirds, a lovely jay and two big rats.

I ambled over to the former caravan site, now sadly neglected and closed down. Hopefully they'll have second thoughts and re-open it soon. The infrastructure is there, so it wouldn't be hard. They'd need a proper toilet block, which could be used by all visitors to the park.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

St David's Day

I hope that baby leek was plucked from the gardens at Highgrove! Prince Charles was photographed today, speaking about the pride he feels for his son, Prince Harry.

Towering Performance By Day-Lewis

Despite the intemperate weather last night I went ahead as planned, and drove to the Odyssey Pavilion, Belfast, to see the film There Will Be Blood.

I'd read the positive reviews about it and, particularly, one of the very best method actors of his generation, Daniel Day-Lewis. The movie was being shown on screen five and I didn't have to queue for a ticket (£5.80). Screen five is one of the larger auditoriums, and it was not even a quarter full. A touch surprising, especially since the film had had such rave reviews.

This was awesome and epic. It lasted three hours 158 minutes, and Daniel Day-Lewis was the only actor I recognized. Day-Lewis portrayed an American oil prospector at the turn of the nineteenth century who was obnoxious, ruthless, mean, cruel and murderous in order to achieve his goals; and woe betide anyone who betrayed him. I don't think I've forgotten too much there! His performances are invariably the most convincing you will ever witness; that's why he scoops up so many awards.

I enjoyed this film, so much so that, when it ended, I checked my watch because I couldn't believe we'd been through two and three-quarter hours! It was, for me, riveting.