Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Belmont Chicken Risotto

What the blazes! If you can't share some of your favourite recipes with your cyber-pals, je ne sais quoi.

Here's a Belmont Special: Rich Chicken Risotto.

Firstly, assemble the ingredients. This serves two. Chop half an onion and a clove of garlic. Whack 'em into a hot saucepan with some cooking oil. Fry them till going brownish. Sprinkle on some brown sugar (if, like me, you've a sweet tooth); add sultanas to taste; chopped mushrooms, which you can get frozen, in packets, from Tesco; then add your rice - we use Basmati, a small cupful. Squeeze in a dollop of tomato purée and a teaspoonful of Dijon mustard. After that, add the stock - Bouillon Swiss Vegetable is good.

Simmer the lot for perhaps ten minutes or so. Add the chicken. It's almost ready! Let the chicken heat up in the mixture on the hob. Now, most importantly, add a few tablespoonfuls of French mayonnaise. This makes it rich and creamy.

Finally, dole it on to your plate with a knob of butter. Hey Presto!

Bon Appetit.

The Simple Joy Of Receiving An Ebay Parcel

It was a good day yesterday. I had a task to perform on behalf of the Dowager, which entailed a visit to Connswater, and it all went very well. I just hope the garments fit. I'd been to the gym earlier.

When I was up at the computer, tapping away at my Mount Panther article, I heard the familiar sound of mail arriving; sure enough, it was a parcel containing the little pocket radio I 'd bought for the Dowager on Sunday, only two days ago. It's a Sony, and it was a fraction of the high street price. What's more, I'm delighted with it. It's similar to the old one, which is clapped out. We've done well out of Ebay - a mutual benefit, no doubt.

The swimming is going well too, the water-temperature being not too warm and not too cold. I swam my usual sixty lengths last night. A fellow-swimmer, George, let the cat out of the bag by asking Robert what he was doing on his eighty-fifth birthday today; I didn't fully appreciate how old Robert is. Splendid stuff, and long may he stir the pure waters of the old school! I hope he enjoys his dinner at the Iona tonight too, and the bring-your-own-wine perk!

Monday, 28 April 2008

Mount Panther May Be Trumped

Whilst motoring home yesterday, through Dundrum and towards Clough, my eyes were momentarily drawn to what was, at one time, one of County Down's finest estates, Mount Panther. The noble mansion-house, or what remains of it, still stands proudly at the top of the hill and overlooking the beautiful countryside.

Mount Panther House was built ca 1770. It is reported to have had very fine rooms with Adamesque plasterwork on the walls and ceiling; now it is, sadly, ruinous. Former owners were reputedly the Earls Annesley. As recently as 1963, Princess Margaret and the Earl of Snowden were erstwhile guests; not to mention Joan Collins.

The House was abandoned in the mid-sixties and, perhaps a decade or so later, the roof was removed in order to avoid the need to pay rates. Consequently, little remains of the interior except a huge pile of rubble.

The House and Park, extending to a hundred and seventy acres, are now for sale, the asking price being in the region of eight million pounds. Add renovation costs and that figure could be multiplied considerably. Enter the personage of Donald Trump, Esq, who is apparently interested.

I shall follow this story with great interest, hoping that Mount Panther discovers a sympathetic new owner willing to restore the mansion to its former glory.

Hands Up For The Ulster Fry!

After the hike yesterday, I decided to give the lawn its first dosage of lawn-feed. That should give it a boost. Shortly thereafter, we enjoyed a few modest glasses of our regular red plonk: Tesco Sicilian. Cheap & cheerful stuff. I'm no wine snob; as long as it's gluggable and not too obnoxious, it's OK.

I'd taken a few fillet steaks out of the freezer the previous evening for de-frosting in the fridge. Sunday was to be a Red Letter Day in the Household: my celebrated Ulster Fry, except we indulged in fillet steaks instead of bangers on this occasion. Delicious it was, too. I simply cannot get enough potato-bread. I love it! Must have eaten six farls, plus a portion of soda-bread and an egg.

I have found, by a modicum of experience, that the trick is to have a hot grill ready. Fry the food in a hot pan; and shovel it under the grill whenever the food is fried. That prevents it from getting soggy. The trouble with frying is that your shirt reeks of the fry-up afterwards! Perhaps I use too much cooking-oil.

So that's the monthly Ulster Fry; cannot wait till the next one!

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Mind The Gap

The birds were singing their hearts out in the trees; the young leaves swaying in the gentle breeze. Didn't know I was a poet, eh? Despite the weather forecast, for light showers, I assembled my hiking gear, threw in a folding seat and a rug, and we headed of in a southerly direction towards the legendary Kingdom of Mourne, one of Ulster's most beautiful spots.

It took about an hour to reach our destination, the Hare's Gap. The last time I'd hiked there was back in 2004. It's relatively easy to find: pass through the village of Dundrum, County Down, and turn right at a junction just outside the village. It's sign-posted for Bryansford, a tiny village where Lord Roden once lived - whose family seat was Tollymore Park.

the car-park at Trassey Road was full; however, someone was just leaving so we nipped in. I donned the old hiking attire and left the Dowager to hold the fort. It took me about forty-five minutes to reach the Gap itself; there's plenty of life in the old dog yet - I overtook a number of folk on the way.

I think the Hare's Gap is a great trek for the novice to the Mournes. Today, it was spectacular at the col itself; wonderful views, a cooling breeze too. There were only about five others there. I didn't linger. After ten minutes, I made my way down again.

I remembered to bring my camera, so the snaps were taken at the top!

I'm really glad I pushed myself to have the hike today, after such a long time. Now I hope to continue hiking from different places in the Mournes. Perhaps the next time it'll be Bloody Bridge or Donard Park - for Slieve Donard.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Orpheus Thrives At The Grand Opera House

I'd seriously considered dining out yesterday evening before the show, which began at seven-thirty. I perused Deane's dinner menu online, noticing that they automatically add ten per-cent to your bill as a service charge, whether you like it or not. Still, it was tempting; however, in the event, I opted to have a meal at home - a very good prawn open salad - instead.

I left home at about six-twenty. Following my usual habit, I made a bee-line for the Piano Bar upstairs in the Europa hotel. I don't like the opera house extension at all; the lounge-bar at the hotel is much more comfortable and opulent. There was a good choice of seats too, at that time: I found an armchair overlooking the Crown Bar on Great Victoria Street.

I finished the restorative and, at seven twenty-five, shimmered across the street to the theatre. Managing to avoid the horrible extension, I entered, took a hard-left, and strode straight through to the original splendid building. My pew tonight was B23 in the dress circle.

It was a good seat. The auditorium was almost full. I was seated beside two very pretty girls, somewhat younger than me! The one beside me seemed preoccupied with her mobile phone.

I knew that my aunt and our friend, Ann, would be there so, at the interval, I scanned the seating and, sure enough, they were not far away at all; in row C of the dress circle. Hurdling over the row, I ventured over for a chat with them during the interval.

The show itself, Orpheus In The Underworld, was, I thought, another fine production by Belfast Operatic Company. Indeed, several of the characters were quite outstanding. The chorus deserves praise too. Most enjoyable.

So it turned out a jolly good evening. I arrived home about ten-thirty.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Final Curtain For Britblogs

It's all over. For Britblogs, at any rate. I wonder if there are any other UK blogging sites to join, other than British blogs? Any ideas?

Online Mail-Order

I'm keeping the Royal Mail and its loyal staff in jobs: yet another two online mail-order purchases this week. I bought eight Gillette Fusion cartridges on Ebay for £8.49 including delivery; and I've finally got Jeeves And The Feudal Spirit from Julie's Book-shop, costing four pounds. Can't wait to start reading it!

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Brief Sortie Into Belfast

It was relatively quiet in Town today. I'm still on the look-out for an Ottoman, so I ventured into Ross's auction-house to have a browse. No joy there. I had trouble parking and had to circle round Upper Arthur Street, Montgomery Street and May Street several times before I managed to park in Adelaide Street.

From Ross's, I ambled across the street to Marks and Spencer and, I can say, my wallet remained fully intact. I moved on to a vintage clothes shop in Wellington Place - didn't see anything that took my fancy.

It was a fine, sunny morning; I intend to head for Holywood Exchange this afternoon.

His Royal Highness Prince William Of Wales KG

I've been keeping an eye out today, being St George's Day, for new appointments to the Most Noble Order of the Garter; nor have I been disappointed.

Prince William, or, to give him his formal title, His Royal Highness Prince William of Wales, has today been appointed a Royal Knight of the Garter which is the most senior order of chivalry in the United Kingdom.

Two other Knights Companion have also been appointed: Lord Luce and Sir Thomas Dunne.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Shame On You, BBC

I hold strong values and views about certain matters, and one of them is our Royal Family. Since what is probably the most respected broadcasting organisation in the world, the BBC, has not so much as acknowledged our Sovereign's birthday today, I'm doing it myself.

I have immense respect for the BBC. As a broadcaster it upholds and fosters the Right, to peoples throughout the world, of free speech; it casts light on abuses of power and injustices, wherever it can, by casting its spotlight on them. The BBC is the first broadcaster I tune in to, if I'm abroad.

And, yet, the BBC has ceased to acknowledge The Queen's birthday by even so much as a mention. Here's their front page now, and there's no word at all.

I can only conclude that they believe, in their politically correct wisdom, that an insufficient number of people are interested; and that the BBC accurately reflects the license-payers views. Really?

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Coffee Morning At Holywood, County Down

There was a buzz and bustle at the Coffee Yard, where we enjoyed coffee and scones, this morning. It's a popular café with a regular crowd. We share our patronage between it and its rival up the road, the Bay Tree. The ordering system differs between the pair: In the Bay Tree you find a seat first; then waiting- staff take your order and you settle up at the till when you leave. Whereas at the Coffee Yard, you order your coffee (or whatever) and scones and pay for them as you enter the café. The Coffee Yard is much more self-service in fact, unless you order a cooked meal; in which case they'll bring it to you when it's ready.

We're always forgetting to bring something to our table, whether it's sugar, milk, butter, extra spoons or knives; this necessitates re-tracing one's footsteps backwards to the front-of-house area in order to fetch the item! In that sense, I prefer the arrangement at the Bay Tree which is simpler: find a seat, be served, pay the bill when leaving.

The scones at the Coffee Yard are very good indeed, as is the excellent jam which is served in tiny, plastic containers; it's usually raspberry I think, a favourite of mine. I invariably have the fruit scones. The coffee is good too, although mine was less than piping hot today. The bill for four of us was just over twelve pounds. Incidentally, the cooked breakfasts seem to be particularly popular and I must treat myself to one some time.

As far as coffee top-ups are concerned, the Bay Tree does 'em; the Coffee Yard doesn't seem to.

The Coffee Yard has a family following too, what with children of all ages; some exercising their young vocal chords to a fair extent!

We drove on to Church Road in Holywood. The well-established home bakery, Knott's of Newtownards has a branch there and I noticed that they sell a tempting range of chilled ready-meals like their celebrated stew in 500g cartons; prawn open sandwiches in little plastic containers; coronation chicken open sandwiches too; all costing around three pounds. Very handy for the fridge at home, saving the need to cook a meal for yourself if you're alone or whatever! Unless, of course, you purchased two.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Automobile Ailment

We're just back from a drive to Lisburn. The fun all began yesterday, when I started the old two-seater to reverse out of the garage. On ignition it started misfiring and the engine warning light illuminated.

I made my way slowly to the local mechanic and he didn't want to know about it. He was too busy, on holiday the next day and couldn't look at it till Monday. This perplexed me a touch; I told him the symptoms and asked whether he thought it could be driven safely until Monday. He replied that it was probably something like an ignition coil problem and it should be OK to drive.

I drove home and got the details of my aunt's car mechanic, who said he'd come over and have a look. At any rate, the gist of it all is that a new ignition coil was needed; and I was charged ninety-five pounds for the part as well as his time and labour.

The warning light still had to be reset and he gave me the address of a car showroom-cum-garage in Lisburn. Consequently, we were there this morning and they plugged in one of those diagnostic meters to reset the warning-light at another cost of twenty pounds.

C'est la vie...

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Jolly Frivolous Romp

I've booked a ticket, online, today for Jacques Offenbach's Orpheus In The Underworld. I managed to get a half-decent seat in the Dress Circle of the Grand Opera House, Belfast; the requisite method being to persevere with the booking-form in a particular section of the auditorium until you attain the optimum seat. It necessitates putting lots of seats in your basket till you get the one you want; then deleting them all except your selected one.

The operetta plays next week. I was very nearly a member of Belfast Operatic Company: they auditioned me for the chorus once and asked me to sing as a bass. Since I have always been happiest singing as a tenor, I virtually walked out after the first rehearsal! I gather that my vocal chords must be fairly broad-ranging if they felt I could sing as a bass; of course, the other thing was that they had an abundance of tenors.

You never know; I may darken their door again some time, if the mood strikes.

Valuecabs: A Decent Goodwill Gesture

You'll recall that, as mentioned in my posting on the fourth of April, I missed the bus to take me to the airport due to the late arrival of my taxi. At the time I expressed my annoyance and wondered whether to bother writing to Valuecabs or not.

There was no need. Valuecabs contacted me and, I'm gratified to add, everything has been resolved most amicably. If you cast your mind back, the taxi arrived at about four in the morning; my bus left the bus-station at that time, so I'd missed the bus. The taxi-driver offered to take me to the airport for a concessionary fare of twenty pounds, which I accepted.

At the airport, I paid the agreed fare plus a tip of two quid (it wasn't the driver's fault after all).

As a consequence of this, Valuecabs have paid me the difference between the twenty-two pounds fare and the return bus fare which would have cost me nine pounds - thirteen pounds. They've also expressed their sincere apologies and given the young operator, who took my original booking, a rap on the knuckles.

As I told Gillian, their Operations Manager, I'll still use Valuecabs because I think their service is good, the staff are pleasant and well turned-out, and the cars are clean. Mind you, I'll be particularly explicit the next time I book a taxi to take me to the station!

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Lethal Vitamin Supplements?

The conflicting multitude of advice and warnings following academic studies by scientists never ceases to perplex me. The latest threat concerns vitamin supplements which, it is now claimed, can potentially shorten your life.

Everything in moderation is a judicious mantra; I'm a firm believer in it. Whether I always practise it is another matter!

I take one multi-vitamin tablet and one omega three fish oil capsule every day and I intend to continue with that regime, for the time being at any rate.


I've just given the old two-seater its bi-annual spruce-up today, outside at least. I'll clean the interior later. The exterior paint-work wasn't too bad at all; just a slight film of tar on the sides which came off on the cloth. It's a good opportunity to notice any tiny chips too. I found several tucked away. The job took me about two and a half hours.

There are a few domestic chores which require attention; I've been procrastinating a bit till I feel in the mood!

Hallo, Hallo, Hallo, What?

Sir Pelham Wodehouse, KBE, or P G Wodehouse, as he was more popularly known, was, indeed, a prolific writer. When I was at school one of my pals read his books; I bought one and tried to read it - couldn't fathom it at all! I suppose Wodehouse has a certain style of writing, and it's an old-fashioned style at that; some of the archaic words and phrases he uses take time to appreciate.

I rediscovered P G Wodehouse or, to be more accurate, the Jeeves and Wooster sagas recently and I have acquired most of the Jeeves series - I suppose there must be approximately sixteen of them although that depends on whether several books, which have only one or two Jeeves stories therein, are counted. The first book was published in 1917 and the final one in 1974.

I have thirteen of them, acquired mostly by browsing in second-hand bookshops; and on the internet auction site, Ebay too. I'm presently seeking the remaining three books: Jeeves And The Feudal Spirit; My Man Jeeves; and The Man With Two Left Feet.

I'm keeping an eagle-eye on Ebay presently; must pay a visit to Stacks in Dundonald shortly, and there's another good second-hand bookshop in North Street, Belfast, where the bird (a Wodehouse term to keep you on your toes!) has a habit of addressing his callers as "my good man".

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Vintage Onoto Pen

I've been attempting to get my Onoto fountain pen fixed, at intervals, during the last three or four years and, so far, nobody has been able to do it. Several weeks ago I sent it to the Pen Museum and was told that it required a "complete new plunger rod". Mr Twydle had none of these, so he returned the pen to me.

I contacted the Onoto Pen Company and their boss put me in touch with Dr Laurence Oldfield, who has a business called the Pen Practice. Laurence told me he could fix it. Good news.

I was in for a pleasant surprise. Laurence and his wife, Ann, live in Malvern; and my old school pal, the Rev John Barr, is vicar of the Priory church in Malvern so I asked Laurence if he knew of John. They know him very well and Ann was church-warden there! What a remarkable coincidence; it's a small world.

I've just sent the pen off to Laurence and he has such a backlog that it may take three or four months till he assesses the pen; I'm in no hurry.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

A Little Local Cycling Difficulty

Last month I was critical of the NI Roads Service and their new layout at the junction of Holywood Road and Parkway in Belfast, there being no provision whatsoever for cyclists. For those who may be interested, I did receive a response from the Cycling Officer as follows:-

"Your message was passed to me for attention. I apologise for not
replying sooner; I wanted to see the site and check legislation before
doing so.

The footways on both sides of Holywood Road between Knocknagoney Road
and Parkway were designated in 2004 as shared pedestrian/cycle tracks.
There is no evidence of signing, and I cannot say whether it was
ommitted, or whether it existed, and subsequently disappeared. (More
recently the east footway between Parkway and the more southerly
junction with Circular Road was also converted to joint use, but to date
no signage has been erected).

I am aware of the difficulty for Belfast bound cyclists in crossing the
two lanes which go to Parkway; there is no obvious way to get around
this, other than to use the footway and the crossing. (For those
cyclists who do not wish to do so, there is a short cycle lane on the
immediate approach to the signals for cyclists going straight ahead.
Again, I noticed that there is no signage or road marking to indicate

I trust that this goes some way towards answering your query; if you
have any other comments or suggestions I will be happy to hear from you,
and I will arrange to have appropriate signing put up for the facilities
mentioned above.

Yours ..."

At least I got a courteous reply; it's still shameful that provision wasn't made for dedicated cycle lanes at this new layout, and merely reaffirms my view that cycling is far down the list on the NI Roads Service agenda.

Spring Is In The Air

We cobbled together two rounds of sandwiches, two tea-cakes, a clementine and a flask of tea this morning, having decided to go for a Sunday drive. The destination today was the lake at Ballydugan, near Downpatrick in County Down. On our way there I paid a short visit to Gibb's Island to inspect the hawthorn hedging and saplings which I planted several weeks' ago with the NT Volunteers. Everything seemed fine.

We drove on towards the historic county town of Downpatrick, where I parked the car opposite the old gaol, now a museum. I ambled up to Down Cathedral and immediately spotted Billy Hastings' gold Rolls-Royce and his wife Joy's little Mercedes-Benz, the registration numbers - the Battle of Hastings date - making them easily identifiable; Dr Hastings being probably the Province's best-known hotelier. There was a Service taking place in the cathedral as I passed. I strolled down the street, admiring the old, granite buildings.

A moment later, we drove on to yet another of my favourite scenic places; a true beauty spot hidden away in the Ulster countryside, the lake at Ballydugan. This is close to the family home of the late Lord (Brian) Faulkner, the last prime minister of Northern Ireland (tragically killed whilst riding his horse not long after he retired). There's an old mill nearby which has been sympathetically restored and is now a hotel. Adjacent to the lake there is what an American would describe as a quaint little pub, the Lakeside Inn. Sadly it's never open any time we're there (perhaps just as well) - it opens during the evenings daily, except Sundays. We parked at the lake and I watched the birds with my binoculars; plenty of ducks, blue tits, chaffinches, sparrows, jackdaws, a coot, a moor hen, a swan and a rather large rat! I chatted to a chap who works as a photographer for the Daily Mirror.

An agreeable way to spend a Sunday. I've a picture of Ballydugan Mill above.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Heavenly Minnowburn

Despite only getting home yesterday after ten o'clock at night and dashing to Tesco's for essentials, I still rose at seven forty-five on Saturday morning. The NT Volunteers were meeting at Minnowburn for a spot of path maintenance. Our numbers are dwindling a bit, there being a mere four of us with Mick, the acting warden.

We took the trusty, white Land-Rover up to the Rose Garden at Minnowburn and our task was to level off a soil border beside the new gravel path which had been created. The Rose Garden really is taking shape. What a magical place; well worth a visit and wonderful views across the valley to Malone House and Barnett's Park, Belfast.

You'll have gathered, by now, my great fondness for Minnowburn. What a treasure it is for the citizens of Belfast.

The sun shone for us the whole time; I dropped the hood on the old two-seater on the way home.

Thomas Cook Airlines Flight Delay: Pilot Caught In Traffic

I'm home at last. The vacation began with a somewhat shaky start, my taxi failing to turn up in time to take me into Belfast. Now it's Thomas Cook's turn for some flack from me. My flight yesterday, from Tenerife airport, took off on time. The confounded nuisance was that it stopped en route at Bristol. In my experience it's unusual to share a flight like this, with about a hundred and fifty passengers from Bristol and thirty from Belfast.

As I mentioned earlier, the flight left on time from Tenerife and landed at Bristol about four hours later. The Bristol passengers disembarked; we were told that the plane would take off forty-five minutes later. Some moments after this announcement, they dropped the bombshell (a favourite Topgear catchphrase): the Captain was caught in traffic on his way from Gatwick and we would not be leaving for another two hours! We were considerably unhappy about this utterance from Thomas Cook, I can tell you. There were gasps and shock from most quarters. What's more, the First Officer was caught in traffic too.

Let's do a spot of role reversal: if a passenger turned up too late for check-in, explaining that they were delayed due to traffic conditions, would Thomas Cook Airlines find this reason acceptable? Or would they tell the passenger that it was the passenger's responsibility to turn up on time? Is it any more acceptable for a pilot to delay a flight because he'd been caught in traffic?

There'll be a few irate letters landing on Thomas Cook's desks next week. Personally, I feel it would be a waste of time and energy, although I've sent them a complaint by email today.

We, the stoic Belfast passengers, received a verbal apology from the Captain on the aircraft. Oh, and a little cup of coffee too.

Our flight finally landed at eight-twenty in Belfast, having been on the plane since one o'clock. I managed to get the air bus at eight-forty; and the train at nine-thirty, so I arrived home at five past ten, safe and sound as the expression goes.

Friday, 4 April 2008

A Dose Of Sunshine

This posting comes several thousand miles from the UK, in the Canary Islands. I'm spending a week in Tenerife to recharge the batteries.

I'd booked a taxi for 3.40 am this morning and the driver failed to turn up on time! He'd been given the wrong directions and ended up at a similar address in Cultra, beyond Holywood in County Down. What a shambles. Whoever took my booking obviously took the wrong details or misunderstood me. So the taxi didn't arrive till 4am , the time my bus left from the bus station. I was furious and made them aware of my annoyance.

It wasn't the driver's fault : he'd been given the wrong details. I was about to get the jalopy out of the garage when the taxi driver arrived and offered to take me to the airport for twenty pounds. Not wishing to dither any longer, I went ahead.

Clearly I'll have to be more explicit to them the next time, providing post code if necessary. I might write a complaint to valuecabs when I get home; then again, would it be worth it? I may just forget about it and put it down to experience. I complained to them verbally but I was badly let down.

I had a good flight, via Bristol ; weather is fine here and I've been sunbathing already this afternoon.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

My Inebrious Friend

We all enjoy a drink. I most certainly do. I sometimes joke that a certain spirit runs heartily through my veins. Jesting aside, I am seldom, if ever, blotto.

I have a dear friend and, for the sake of discretion I'll call her Vee. We've known each other since childhood. Vee has always been vulnerable, despite having held down a job as a public servant for many years. She started drinking white wine; you know, the cheap stuff like anti-freeze or whatever. She became addicted and it has been a downward spiral ever since.

She fell into bad company whilst living in a flat, and among her circle of acquaintances met a person called John. Bad move. He hits her occasionally.They live together now and have moved house about half a dozen times. Vee is no proud house-keeper; if you've ever watched programmes like How Clean Is Your House, or had the misfortune to be burgled you'll know the ransacked state your property is left in. Vee's homes are like that.

She phones me a few times a week, so we keep in touch. Sometimes she is incoherently drunk; other times she's fine, like Jekyll and Hyde. We haven't been out socially for many years. Vee has even dabbled in prostitution. And here's the thing: Vee is one of the nicest, most caring and generous people I know. I've tried to persuade her to move back home with her mother, but she says they don't get along. Vee is forty-eight years old now, and I'm concerned that her health will deteriorate due to her lifestyle. We spoke yesterday and she was totally sozzled. She tells me that her partner's sister has demanded that Vee vacates the house she's living in presently (Vee doesn't own the house or rent it). I really do not know where it will all lead.

I've booked a taxi for tomorrow morning at three forty. All will be revealed!

Small Change

The Royal Mint has revealed the new design for our coinage which shall be introduced this summer, the current coins being gradually withdrawn from circulation (this is a burden for bank officials who have to practically implement the change by bagging, weighing, checking, loading and all the tasks associated with introducing new coinage - I know because I was in Banking).

I find the coppers a confounded nuisance and could easily do without them. For years now, I have put the pennies in charity boxes at shop counters; or let them mount up at home for charity callers. I gather that the coppers must be essential to our economy, otherwise the government would presumably have stopped production - like halfpennies.

The only coin which remains unchanged in design is the two pound coin. All the rest have the Sovereign's head on one side (wonder if that'll be updated?) and the Shield of the Royal Arms, craftily divided in six for each coin. The one pound coin shows the whole shield.

Why not treat yourself to the Platinum Proof Collection, a veritable snip at £5,995?

The new design certainly doesn't offend me; perhaps it's time for a change, although there is nothing wrong with the current designs.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

A Close Shave

I opened the garage doors, as usual, this morning and reversed the jalopy out. Whilst reversing I heard a slight noise, stopped immediately and looked backwards. Nothing untoward, so I carried on.

I drove to the gym and parked in the normal spot. On returning later, to my horror I saw what looked like a score at the corner of the off-side bumper. It was light blue paint. Initially I thought somebody had hit me in the car-park; but I realized that the colour of the score was identical to that of our garage door.

It dawned on me that the door mustn't have been fully open or had blown open. Most annoying for one's old Pride-and-Joy.

When I got home I had a closer look and applied a few polishes from my considerable collection; and , thank goodness, the mark was merely paint. It came off completely so you wouldn't know it had been there. Phew!

Next Knight Or Lady Of The Garter

Since there is a vacancy for our oldest order of chivalry, the Most Noble Order of the Garter following the death of Sir Edmund Hillary, the most obvious candidate would appear to be none other than the former Prime Minister, Mr Blair.

There has been some speculation about this and the new Knight (KG) or, indeed, Lady(LG) of the Garter could be a personal friend of The Queen, a former prime minister, retired admiral, general or air marshal; someone who has distinguished him or herself with great service to the Nation. Even HRH Prince William's name has been mentioned as the one thousandth recipient.

His Grace the Duke of Abercorn, KG, is the only knight of the Garter in Northern Ireland. The first Viscount Brookeborough was Ulster's previous KG.

Her Majesty will probably make an announcement about this on St George's Day, 23rd April.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Prompt Oil Delivery

I know this is trivial, but impressive. I ordered heating oil from Valueoil today at 13:02; they delivered it before 15:00! Even I was surprised at the speed of service. They caught me wearing my slippers!

Safety First For Harman

Is this a war zone? Are our streets such a danger to human life? The Leader of the House of Commons, Lord Privy Seal and "Minister for Women and Equality" [sic], the Right Honourable Harriet Harman, QC, MP, seems to think so.

I listened to Ms Harman being grilled interviewed by Mr Humphries this morning on BBC Radio Four and she insisted that it was all being sensationalized by the Daily Mail newspaper.

It used to be like this in Northern Ireland too.


Blog Feedback

I've been getting steadily more feedback on my blog since it all began back in December, 2007. Just a quick note to say how much it's appreciated, especially the positive stuff! I don't expect everyone to agree with my outlook or thoughts; however, keep firing away!

My Handicapped Chaffinch

About a week ago I spotted a sprightly female chaffinch in our front garden. We get a fair number of chaffinches; they generally dislike feeders, preferring instead to hop along the ground underneath.

My lovely little chaffinch has got a severe handicap: a huge tumour on its leg. At first I thought the small bird had stepped on something sticky, like chewing gum, and was unable to shift it. On closer examination with binoculars, this growth appears to be the size of a small marble and is a whitish colour. It has enveloped the chaffinch's whole right leg.

I watched it this morning; it perches on one leg on our neighbours' Camellia bush for ages, till something disturbs it. The tumour must be sore to put weight on.

I've grown to love wild birds since I became interested half a dozen years ago. I really care about my disabled little chaffinch and pray that it will recover somehow, and survive.

Sad Day For Ulster Post Offices

It has been announced that our local post office at Belmont (Campbell Park Avenue) is earmarked for closure. This is very disappointing, not to say saddening news.

Belmont post office, with its staff, provides an excellent service to the community locally. It has been in existence there since I was born. Incidentally, does anyone know when it first opened? I have used it a number of times within the past year, mainly to post bulky items. It's easier to park there too, in comparison with Strandtown, because you can drive up the avenue beside it.

Presumably they're closing it for the obvious reason that the Strandtown office is relatively close by and one of the pair had to shut down. I can well imagine how many customers, of all ages, will miss it and its staff.

The Blair-Brown Combo has been spending billions of pounds of taxpayers' money on various projects (I won't be specific: just think of anything you don't like) and, yet, they refuse to support essential services like local post offices throughout the United Kingdom.