Sunday, 31 August 2008

Georgiana, The Duchess Of Devonshire

It's a long time since I've gone to see a movie in the cinema. I've been waiting patiently, though I'm eager to go for a meal and movie at Victoria Square in Belfast; perhaps to Gourmet Burger Kitchen, followed by a trip to the new Odeon cinema.

One film has caught my eye: The Duchess. If it's one of those sentimental, romantic movies it may well not be entirely to my taste; nevertheless, It will doubtless be a plausible excuse to see the new cinema and have a meal out.

Lady Georgiana Spencer, an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales, was the first wife of the 5th Duke of Devonshire. She was reputedly a great socialite in her day.

Incidentally, the film has been funded by the BBC and Pathé jointly; and one of the locations was Chatsworth, the palatial seat of the Dukes of Devonshire.

The film opens in cinemas on 5th September, 2008.

Fewer Than Ten Items, Sir!

All right: Sir or Madam. You get the gist. Tesco wishes to provide us with crystal-clear clarification: so, instead of "ten items or less" the signs on certain check-outs will read "up to ten items".

Is that clear? Obviously not for some ignoramuses who blatantly disregard such notices and invariably get away with 15 or 20 items.

Confidence In The Skies

I've read an article this morning which does not exactly inspire confidence, in some quarters at least.

If it is true, it would be judicious for us to consider our families and loved-ones before booking a "bargain flight".

I know how it feels to be without sufficient reserves of petrol: driving along a lonely road in the Scottish highlands, miles from nowhere, continually keeping an eye on the petrol gauge, wishing I had re-fuelled at the last petrol-station. It is stressful and does not foster relaxed driving. If you are a pilot, how much worse must that scenario be?

If an airline has been accused of this insane policy, it must move quickly to reassure the general public, let alone the authorities, that this is not the case. It must prove beyond any doubt that the tanks of its aircraft keep plenty of reserves in fuel.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Princely Carpet Sum

I received my first quotation for the hall carpet today and it's a frightful amount: well into four figures. I'd absolutely no idea and thought it may have been half that sum. The quotation includes carpet, under-felt and fitting. I'm awaiting one more estimate and I might obtain a third.

I imagine, if one is being philosophical, it will last for several decades.

The Art Of The Ottoman

For a considerable time now I've fancied an Ottoman to replace our old coffee-table in the living-room; that's one reason why I've been nipping in and out of Ross's auction-house on a regular basis.

I've virtually decided to order one I like the look of: the Derwent Winchester; and it's now a matter of choosing the fabric. Following much cogitation and deliberation, I think I'll order their Venetian red stripe which would complement the other upholstery in the room.

I paid our local retailer a visit, at Knock on the Upper Newtownards Road in Belfast, and obtained a quotation; then I contacted Fulton's in Belfast - the splendid store with the excellent self-service restaurant - and they quoted me £17 pounds less, including delivery. The local furniture shop wasn't prepared to budge, so I am pleased to give Fulton's the custom. By the way, the local store wouldn't even provide me with a price for carpet despite Brinton's being on their list of stockists: the price-list they had was three years out of date! How badly do they want to do business?

This morning we motored into Holywood, County Down, where I gingerly drove the two-seater through the little entry beside the Bay Tree coffee-house. It was tight enough and the side-mirrors were close to the walls, but we made it and managed to get parked beside the hedge without causing any inconvenience to other cars. Incidentally, the Bay Tree was busy this morning; the aroma of bacon and coffee greeted us as we entered.

I meant to add that the bill for a regular coffee and cinnamon scone is £3 - easy to remember till the price rises, that is!

Friday, 29 August 2008

The Timeless Charm Of The Goldfinch

What a wonderful, lovely little bird. Always a joy to behold, its captivating song brightens the spirits. It's a song which is recognizable before you even see this glorious small bird. I simply adore them.

This morning, there were about eight of them at my nyger feeders, two of them juveniles. The juvenile doesn't have its parents' red face and it boasts a speckled breast; its song distinctive and different from the adult. It's certainly a more demanding song which seems to say "I'm here! Feed me, I'm waiting impatiently!" These juveniles are well able to feed themselves but haven't lost their infantile behaviour and characteristics.

There's a juvenile goldfinch on the left; and an adult to the right.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Carpet & Paint

I've been preoccupied lately: stripping off - don't get too excited - the old, vinyl wallpaper on the hall and landing this week. I had hoped to simply paint over it; however, I'd been advised against this procedure and, to my surprise, it peels off easily. I'm taking my time at it.

We have selected an Axminster carpet by Brinton called Parterre Blue with a matching runner carpet for the stairs; I don't want a particularly light-coloured carpet for the hall, what with all that pedestrian traffic. I'm in the process of obtaining two quotations for that.

The paint we have chosen is called Regency White, for the ceiling; and Porcelain Blue for the walls. I'd been considering the Dulux Heritage range and, whilst browsing in the shop, as one does, a nice little range called 1829 caught my eye. It shall do the job well, hopefully.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

On The Great Shirt Trail

It's getting to be a habit, cycling into Town for a browse round Ross's. They did have a footstool there this morning; but it was made of heavy oak legs with padded green upholstery. Not bad at all; just not quite what I'm seeking.

I feel as if I am fast becoming an endangered species, since T M Lewin no longer stock the size 14.5 in their shirts; nor does Thomas Pink, at least not in Belfast. Nor does Gieves and Hawkes. It's their loss. I want a Bengal stripe royal blue shirt, size 14.5, button cuff (I'm bored with double cuffs and have too many of them anyway). Turnbull and Asser sells the particular shirt at a premium of £115 plus an extortionate £10 delivery charge for Northern Ireland. I doubt if they'd entertain a reduction or concession, because the shirt in question is a "classic". I'll try though.

I bumped into my old fellow-swimmer, Robert, in Donegall Square and expressed hope that the pool would re-open on the 1st September. Robert was doubtful since, apparently, a life-guard has to be appointed. The Club shan't get one penny from me until I'm certain that it's up and running.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

HRH The Duke Of Gloucester KG GCVO

His Royal Highness Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Earl of Ulster and Baron Culloden celebrates his 64th birthday today.

HRH was a grandson of HM King George V and is The Queen's cousin. HRH's son and heir is Alexander, Earl of Ulster who is a captain in the King's Royal Hussars; and Lord Ulster, in turn, has a son Xan, Lord Culloden.

HRH is a Royal Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter; and a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order.

TRH The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester live in a royal apartment at Kensington Palace, London.

Monday, 25 August 2008

His Majesty Mr Brown!

Despite the gimmicky golden nose on the jumbo jet bringing our victorious Olympian athletes home, I applaud their prowess on water, field and track. They have made us all proud. Indeed, the medallists all deserve encouragement and national recognition for their outstanding achievements.

Betraying my slight bias, it was clearly stage-managed for the Prime Minister and his ministerial minion, Miss Harman, to stand with Cheshire cat grins and welcome home our athletes. Mr Brown has already proclaimed that the medallists shall be honoured with knighthoods and various degrees of the Order of the British Empire. He has deliberately ignored the protocol whereby the announcement of these Honours is the prerogative of the Crown! Will this gesture make him less unpopular than he already is? I think not.

To Haggle Or Not To Haggle?

I have to confess that I attempt to get a discount off some items these days. Not everything. I do most shopping online nowadays. The Barbour cap I got last week was bought online.

That said, there still seem to be stores where bargaining, or haggling is, shall we say, discouraged. To take one example, I'd be slightly reluctant to haggle at Turnbull & Asser where I get some of my shirts. I imagine it would be worth a try - nothing lost, nothing gained and all that.

I wonder how you'd go about haggling at Marks and Spencer? Would you look for a blemish on something and exploit that, for instance? How many people haggle at Marks & Sparks, I wonder?

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Great British Victory

It only occurs every four years; it's the most spectacular sporting event in the world. So I cannot take leave of the 2008 Olympic Games without mentioning our wonderful performance: fourth in the medals' table which, for a country the size of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is, indeed, a marvellous achievement. Only China, the USA and Russia surpassed us and, given their size, that is really remarkable.

Let us look forward, now, to 2012 when our great capital city and metropolis, London, hosts the Games.

The Baroness Thatcher LG OM PC

I am saddened to learn of Lady Thatcher's declining state of health. I read this article in a Sunday newspaper by her daughter Carol (the Honourable Carol Thatcher).

The illustration above shows the Order of Merit.

The Right Honourable Margaret Hilda Baroness Thatcher, LG, OM, PC was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 until 1990. Her formidable strength of character in putting across her political views has attracted veneration from conservatives and detestation from socialists in equal measure.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Ballyquintin Point

I rose from my slumber fifteen minutes earlier than usual this morning, prepared a packed-lunch of ham-and-cheese granary rolls and left home at nine o'clock in a southerly direction, the first meeting-point being Mount Stewart.

We assembled at the car-park and shared lifts onwards to Ballyquintin Point, at the very tip of the Ards Peninsula in County Down. I'd never been there before. It's not really that far beyond Portaferry. Ballyquintin is flat, windswept farmland, largely unspoilt. The National Trust is using traditional practices to re-grow indigenous hedges and fields which are partly meadows. It's worth a visit; there aren't any facilities except a small car-park.

Today we were clearing away grass and weeds from a plantation of saplings; and in the afternoon we cleared a large field of ragwort. I've never seen so many ladybirds in one place before. We lunched at a second world war look-out post. We had quite a good turn-out today: there were about ten of us altogether. We spotted a kestrel hovering above a field.

Here is the National Trust description of Ballyquintin:-

Ballyquintin Point

Ballyquintin is a 64 acre farm set amid rolling drumlin countryside at the southern tip of the Ards Peninsula, beside the Ballyquintin National Nature Reserve. The property is located in one of the most secluded parts of Northern Ireland and is great for walking with stunning views across the Strangford Narrows to the Isle of Man, and of the Lecale coast stretching south towards the Mourne Mountains.

A path, suitable for wheelchair use leads to an old World War Two lookout tower.

The land is let for farming and is managed to provide habitats suitable for the Irish Hare and a number of species of bird that are declining nationally. An increase in the quality and quantity of the hedgegrows is particularly important towards achieving this aim.

One point of note: it is exactly the same distance to drive from my house and back to Rowallane as it is to Mount Stewart: 28 miles. Now that is a coincidence.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Kirstie Is Well Located

Lord Belmont assiduously scans the Media for tasty little tit-bits. It's just come to my notice that Kirstie Allsopp, of Channel Four's Location, Location, Location fame, is the eldest daughter of the 6th Baron Hindlip. Lord Hindlip is a former chairman of the world-famous auctioneers, Christie's.

According Kirstie her full title, the Honourable Kirstie Allsopp was born in 1971.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Order Of St Patrick E-Petition

There is still plenty of time to sign the 10 Downing Street e-petition for the Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick. Two hundred signatures are required before officials pay any heed to it.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008


I endeavour to be as transparent as possible on my blog; I've little to hide so why not?

Regrettably, this morning, I was at my dentist, Ivan, for a filling. It was the most painless filling I've ever had! Now that is progress. So the filling and a blast-clean set me back a veritable snip at £45.96, courtesy of the National Health Service.

I'm delighted with my new cap, and I'd definitely buy from Country Attire online again. Impeccable service. They seem to be intimately affiliated to Barbour themselves; are they a part of the Barbour Empire, I wonder?

Getting Ahead Already

The Barbour wax cap has arrived already; Sam the postman delivered it at lunchtime. It's perfect.

I cycled into Town this afternoon to have a rummage around Ross's auction house - nothing of interest. Abandoning the bike opposite W H Smith the stationers, I had a look at their social stationery, Three Candlesticks still being my favoured writing-paper. It was awfully busy, what with the blighted back-to-school crowd.

Sound Advice From Cousin Peter

My Cousin Peter, who lives in West Sussex, read my postings about run-flat tyres and home bakeries. I hadn't considered Peter's tip about motor insurance and the requisite disclosure of vehicle modifications, so it's definitely worth publishing:-

"I read your recent blog about run-flat tyres. (Incidentally, if you put Lord Belmont into Google you come out on top!). If the Z4 has run-flat tyres as standard (as my 530 does) changing them to ordinary tyres could change the handling quite significantly, as run-flats have much stiffer side walls (to take the weight of the car when flat) and so the suspension is set up to match. The new 5 series was criticised for hard riding when it was first launched because of its tyres, but later versions like mine seem to be better (although when I bought mine I tried a sports version with low profile tyres and that was very uncomfortable). The hard ride is more noticeable in wet weather, when the cooling effect of the surface water prevents the tyres from reaching their normal operating temperature. If you change the tyres you should also inform your insurance company, as the run-flats are considered to be part of the BMW safety system (or so my local BMW dealer tells me) - if you don't they could use the "unauthorised modification" as an excuse to refuse a claim! I haven't had to replace any of mine yet - they've done about 9500 miles but still look quite good - but I don't expect them to be cheap, as they're not the sort of thing many cut-price tyre dealers would stock.
Your other recent blog about home bakeries brought back memories of Bells of Holywood. Around here all you can get are chain bakeries, all mass-producing identical "cakes" and the like - you have to go out to the more rural parts to find anything different."

If you are reading this Peter, there are still a few home bakeries in Holywood!

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Greatest Olympic Achievement

Gosh, what splendid results we are getting at the 2008 Olympic Games. Third on the medals table so far, with only China and the USA ahead of us. The political investment via the National Lottery has paid handsome dividends.

Get Ahead To Get A Hat

I've just splashed out on a new wax, peaked cap; apparently it's a rustic colour. Up until now, at my NT volunteer forays, I've been wearing one of my lesser tweed caps, or an egalitarian, cotton peaked cap. The weather and our so-called summer has been so ghastly that I've felt compelled to take appropriate action.

I might even get the new headgear in time for Ballyquintin this weekend.

A Call At The Door

I had barely changed into my dressing-gown and slippers at about ten-thirty last night and I was upstairs when the door-bell rang. At the front-door, I put on the security chain and opened it. A touch surprisingly it was the police. As soon as the constable explained the circumstances and mentioned Vee, I knew immediately.

Vee had phoned me yesterday three times; and she was utterly blotto. The Pc told me that she'd just been thrown out of where she lived, by her partner I understand, and she had mentioned me to them. Her mother is in hospital; her brother is estranged from her, mainly due to her alcoholism; no hostel in Belfast was prepared to accept Vee in her state; so, as a last resort, they darkened my door.

I felt unable to take Vee in her sozzled condition too. The policeman understood and said they'd have to put Vee up for the night at Her Majesty's Pleasure - in a cell, in other words.

Dreadful situation; perhaps I'll phone the police later.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Running Flat Out

The sprightly two-seater exercises itself on four run-flat tyres; there is no spare tyre in order to save valuable space and weight. There's a run-flat indicator on the dashboard with a warning light and a buzzer. They've thought of everything.

The other day, having a puncture fixed, I noticed that they are beginning to show signs of wear; and I read on the web that some people replace their run-flat tyres with ordinary ones, and carry a mini compressor along with a can of tyre sealant.

I was in Halford's at Downpatrick yesterday and had a chat with a sales assistant about this. He told me that the police use run-flat tyres a lot, especially in Northern Ireland!

Indeed, Halford's sell canisters of Holt's Tyreweld, which temporarily seals your puncture till you get it repaired. Great idea. It's an option I'd consider and I'll check the price of a run-flat tyre with a standard tyre whenever the time comes.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Sunday Drive

The fuel gauge was reading a quarter full and, as we drove into Downpatrick, I remembered that the county town has an ASDA petrol station so we made a small detour in order to fill up. Unleaded petrol cost 109.9 pence a litre. I had no idea how substantial the commercial park was there, what with a Halford's store, Argos, McDonald's and more.

We motored on to Ardglass. They are making major improvements to the streets in the village, and the area close to the golf club and Aldo's - an erstwhile favourite restaurant of ours which is long overdue a visit - will be greatly improved when they finish the roadworks. I walked over to Aldo's for old time's sake to read the menu, but there was a little notice which advised patrons to venture into the main reception area to read it. I invariably go for the scampi anyway!

We left Ardglass and cruised northwards towards Strangford. I'd intended to stop at Curran's Bar for a snack and we pulled in while I inquired if they were serving bar snacks. Should have known better: it was Sunday and, therefore, Carvery Day. The bar snack menu was off. In fairness though, they were very busy and prepared to accommodate us had we wished to have a snack. I decided to drive further on and into Strangford.

It's about 18 months since we last ate in the Lobster Pot. We used to frequent it most weekends every summer for twenty-five years: 1972-1997. I think it's quite unrecognizable now, inside at least. When we started going, a Doctor Johnson ran it; then Seamus McMorrow was mine host for a lengthy period. Seamus didn't miss a thing; you should have seen his eyes darting from one corner of the lounge-bar to the next. At Christmas-time he invariably had a waiter deliver a tray of drinks to us on the House. He may not have described himself as a restaurateur - which he was in reality - but Seamus was a great one and it's little wonder that the LP was one of the best-known restaurants in County Down (as I'm sure it still is). When I was a teenager, Seamus's kind and friendly wife dealt mainly with the diners and a la carte orders and I affectionately referred to her as "the wee lady" - not to her face, I hasten to add! She always had a most pleasant expression and it was a joy to meet her.

The LP was sold in the late eighties, I think, to an Austrian chap and it went directly downhill from thereon in. I could tell more but I shan't. The old girl has changed hands a number of times and, frankly, I preferred her in her original state which, to my mind, had a lot more character; though it must be acknowledged that different generations have differing tastes. She was practically gutted out ten or so years ago and there is little of her former character remaining except the odd life-belt and lobster-pot adorning the walls. There, I've fired the old reactionary salvo; I've got that out of my system.

I don't know whom the current owner is, except that a small fortune has been expended on it. It's been extended on either side. The LP's main rival is the Cuan across the Square. We parked in the Square and strolled in to the bar, which is the first door on the left. It is quite small - compact; it used to be the main dining-room in the original LP. There was only one barman on duty, taking food and drink orders and serving them.

I ordered a small shandy and a vodka and tonic for the Dowager and took a copy of the bar menu which was simple and straightforward. Fine. You know what I ordered - scampi and chips. The Dowager had soup and fresh bread.

It seemed to take ages for it to arrive, I suppose they were busy in the main dining-room. The scampi came on a large, oblong plate. There was a fair-sized side-salad, dressed, two lemon quarters, crisp & dry chips, and the scampi seemed to be freshly battered. It was good. The portion was just right for me; I left some chips as I usually do. I like my tartare sauce by the bucket-load so, inevitably, there wasn't enough and I had to request more. I always find those little receptacles they use - which hold about a tablespoonful - so mean anyway. The original LP was worse (I'll forgive them that misdemeanour): in the bar they brought you a frightfully minute, sealed, plastic sauce pack about two inches square which was transparent with a turquoise label emblazoned Frank Cooper, I think. I needed about six of them; now you know how much I relish my sauces.

The Dowager had home-made soup and was not forewarned that it was piping hot. She needed to take a cold drink. The bread came in a basket: really fresh, sliced french bread and their delicious, gingery wheaten bread. Fresh butter too. It was very good indeed.

We enjoyed our meal. The bill for food amounted to £18.60 and the scampi was £14.95 which I deemed a little pricey, since the scampi in the dining-room was the same price. Perhaps I'm not comparing "like with like"; however the bar scampi could have been a couple of pounds cheaper. That said, the scampi across the Square at the Cuan was the same price, though breaded.

  • Cosy little bar with a friendly atmosphere
  • Good bar snack menu with meals ranging from about £3.50 to £14.95
  • Really fresh basket of home-made breads, still warm
  • Situated in a prime location in one of NI's most spectacular coastal villages
  • Parking relatively easy
  • One bar man today and it took ages for our meals to arrive
  • Large plasma telly on the wall showing a soccer match
  • One-armed bandit machine
  • Either the tables are too high or the seating too low for eating meals - unless you are Jeremy Clarkson
  • Scampi could have been a few quid cheaper - it was the same price as scampi in the main dining-room
  • There were a few peanuts and a wrapper on the counter behind us which hadn't been swept up
I stress that some of the above points are relatively minor and all my own personal opinion. All in all, it was a good day out and I'm glad we darkened the door of this old, though rejuvenated, haunt once again.

Thriftiness Can Be A Virtue

I couldn't resist sharing this article with everyone. The tips therein may not always be followed to the letter; nonetheless it still makes for impressive perusal.

As a wise, old school-master once said: Read, learn and inwardly digest.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

A Coffee & A Cinnamon Please

This really is awfully dull weather we've been having. We've already had our summer, in May. This morning my aunt kindly picked us up and we all went into Holywood, County Down, for the customary coffee and a cinnamon scone at the Bay Tree.

It was fairly busy, though not overcrowded. We managed to get a large table easily enough. The Dowager felt faint and had one of her little "turns"; nevertheless, I'm glad to say, she rallied round soon after we got home.

I had my usual coffee and a cinnamon; the Dowager ordered tea and a cinnamon but left it; Pat and my aunt both had cappuccino coffee and cinnamon scones. I thought the scones were fine, though I didn't disagree with my aunt who felt that they were slightly dry - perhaps they'd been in the oven a minute too long. There was not a liberal enough amount of butter at any rate, so we asked the waitress to bring us more. Still, it was fine otherwise. The serviettes today were white and twice the size of the green variety a year or two ago! There are so many cafés in Holywood that there is a deal of competition. Keeps 'em on their toes, you know. The bill was £10.65.

My aunt had been to Café Kina earlier in the week and said she enjoyed the lunch there; I must try it some time.

This afternoon I've been de-cluttering one of our bedrooms. I have about four bin-bags to take to the dump for re-cycling next week.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Disappointing Scones

We were entertaining a visitor this morning so I decided to get on my proverbial bike and cycle to the home bakery we usually frequent, the Golden Crumb on Belmont Church Road, Belfast.

The Golden Crumb had a good display of products in their window and I bought two fruit scones and two Viennese whirls. We've been giving this home bakery our custom for many years. The first thing I thought curious was that the scones were a decidedly yellow colour; they were quite flat too, perhaps an inch thick - I didn't measure them!

When I got home I cut them in half - they were very fresh - and buttered them; then spread home-made raspberry jam thereon. Excepting the butter and jam, I'm afraid I didn't appreciate their flavour at all. There could only be one reason for the yellowness, and I discount artificial colouring: the liberal use of margarine. In my book, scones ought to be basically the colour of flour: white. Personally I prefer butter in their manufacture as well.

The Viennese whirls had little flavour too; very little cream or whatever in the centre of them.

Most disappointing. I am wondering if they have a new baker, or have changed ownership? At any rate, I've lost confidence in them, regrettably.

I am going to initiate a survey of home bakeries in the Belmont, Strandtown and Ballyhackamore areas of Belfast. In the interim, if there are any suggestions or recommendations for readers do, please, feel free to leave a comment here.

Exhortation To Remain Monogamous

Now here's a wise old chap with a spot of timely advice: Don't follow his example by marrying 86 women. I imagine the old boy has so many virile potions and witch-doctors at his disposal that a huge load of Viagra becomes unnecessary. He is 84 years old, so that's more than one gal a year. He must be physically worn out or, at least, a part of him must be.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

The Right Honourable John Prescott MP

I send my cordial compliments to the Right Honourable John Prescott MP for services to Croquet. Would it be presumptuous to suggest that the British Croquet Association nominate Mr Prescott for an MBE for such beneficial services? I always knew the man had at least one worthy cause to his name.

Croquet is a game that I have always enjoyed playing. An old school pal of mine had a croquet lawn at Tranfield Hall, near Guiseley, where I stayed thirty-one summers ago; and I've bashed a croquet ball or two at Kensington House, now sadly demolished.

Never let it be said that his lordship hasn't had a good word, literally, to utter about Prescott.

Triumphant Olympic Result

Hearty congratulations to Rebecca Adlington for winning an Olympic gold medal in the women's 400m freestyle in Peking Beijing.

We're doing remarkably well in the face of the stiffest competition.

Letter To Contractor

I got the bill from our alarm company today for the call-out last week. The contractor's electrician knocked the tamper function on the Control Box and it had to be re-set.

The invoice arrived today and, as suspected, it was expensive: £94. That was for fifteen minutes' work. I have phoned the alarm company to apprise them of what I'm doing: I've simply sent the invoice on to the contractor with an explanatory letter, letting them know that it be paid within 14 days. I sent it by recorded delivery - £1.08.

I'm certain they'll dislike it as much as myself but why should we pay for their mistake? Watch this space...

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Research Day At Rowallane, Saintfield

The rain was torrential this morning as I drove to the National Trust's GHQ in Northern Ireland, Rowallane, near Saintfield in County Down. Craig had been delayed by an accident, so I waited at the reception area and was brought a beaker of coffee.

Craig and I were undertaking research into the islands owned by the Trust in Strangford Lough. Rowallane holds most of the legal documents proving ownership, Rights of way, original charts et cetera. We delved through a mountain of paperwork and a few interesting facts became apparent: some land at the River Quoile, 5.75 acres, was gifted to the Trust by Lord Dunleath in 1972; Salt Island and Green Island were once owned by Lord Glentoran; Gibb's Island was acquired in 1979 from Delamont Estates and comprises 15.53 acres.

We lunched at the Lemon Tree in Saintfield, sweet chilli chicken paninis being the order for us; and very tasty they were too.

Monday, 11 August 2008

I Hail The Best Produce From Northern Ireland

I've said it before, and I'll utter it again: A lot of Northern Ireland products rank among the world's best. I shall tenuously raise the old head above the parapet and name but two.

Omitting home-made stuff, Country Kitchen's Select Coleslaw is hard to beat. It's as close as you get to anything you'd make in your kitchen. Try the standard or cheese variety. I love it.

Tayto crisps are an enduring Ulster success story. That mighty grocery bastion, Tesco, emblazons their name on the finest range, made by Tayto.

My blog is now open for more worthy nominations. Watch this proverbial space.

A Tiresome Experience

We were motoring along in the old two-seater this afternoon, as one does, when there was a bleep and the run-flat tyre light illuminated. Most unusual; could there be a puncture? I got out and looked at the tyres. Nothing peculiar there.

We got home and I began taking the metal dust-caps off the tyres when I sighted the culprit: a nail in the front tyre and the pressure was 23.5 - down from 30.

Without undue delay - no procrastination - I headed for my pals at Gilnahirk Tyres in Belfast. There was a queue so I waited patiently. They charged £7.50 for the service. I noticed that the young chap had fitted a plastic dust-cap on the tyre instead of my metal one, so I pointed this out. They appear to have lost the original one; however I got a brand-new identical one which was even better.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

They Are At It Again

I just happened to be studying the Best Buy tables this morning, after breakfast, and see that my building society has issued yet another new account with higher rates of interest.

I've been a customer with them for years. Nevertheless, they still do not let existing customers know about these new accounts with better rates. Sharp practice. Customers must be canny, sharp themselves and really keep a beady eye out for this.

The present account pays 6.15% gross. The new account shall pay 6.51% gross.

The moral of it is: you must help yourself; they won't do it for you. It's easy to open a new account and transfer online from the old one.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Minnowburn Hardcore

It was pouring when I left for Minnowburn, near Belfast, this morning; however, by the time I arrived at the Warden's office the sun shone.

Only Kevin and I were present today; Shaun was supervising. We drove up to the Rose Garden, parked and walked to Freddy's Steps, where we had planted a young oak and beech plantation eighteen months previously. The saplings were utterly overwhelmed by a jungle of brier, laurel and other large weeds; so we went on the offensive armed with our lengthy slashers! My chopper was unnecessary on this particular occasion; last time I used it I almost hit Louise in the face with it.

About three hours did the job and we headed back to the office for lunch outside the office: tuna and cucumber sandwiches with a flask of tea today.

Central Heating: Head Of Steam

I am glad to recount that practically all the remaining problems appear to have been resolved with our new central heating system. A squad of them called yesterday to fix the garage roof where the new flue protrudes; to install skirting in the dining-room; to correct the piping at the hot towel-rail in the bathroom and renew a plastic pipe in the loft.

The plumber turned on the heating yesterday at lunchtime to test the system. This turned out to have caused another problem - after they'd gone, of course. The heating remained on full and, although the timer said off, the boiler ignored this and carried on regardless. That evening I decided to turn it all off at the main power switch in the boiler-house.

I tried it again this morning: still the same problem. When I returned from Minnowburn, I phoned one of their plumbers who advised me to go to the hot-press, check under two, white boxes and ensure that the metal levers were at automatic. They weren't: they were at manual; so the plumber had not reset the levers the other day.

What a relief; problem resolved. All is cooling down now, including me!

That just leaves the matter of the invoice I expect to receive from our burglar alarm company for the call-out to reset the tamper light which the electrician accidentally hit. I'll send the contractor the invoice and let ADT know what I've done. I'll send it recorded delivery.

Snails Like Pasties Too

Poor Simon Enticknap. He bought a Ginster's chicken and mushroom pasty from a petrol station and, while munching away, encountered a loud crunch: a snail.

Simon was sick outside the van; however, his pal found it hilarious. Ginster's have since recovered the offending article, apologized to Simon and offered him twenty-five pounds.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Know Of Any Poor Road Surfaces?

Poor road surfaces on our roads are the cause of an increasing amount of vehicular damage, including punctures, chipping, suspension and other related things. So reports the RAC.

Much of the damage has been caused by the Utility companies: water, gas, electricity, cable and phone lines. I've always maintained that they ought to be punished for this damage to public carriageways and completely re-surface an entire section of road if necessary; there should be legislation for this.

However, Roads Service contractors are not always re-surfacing roads to good standards either. One, mere, example is a small stretch of road near me at the Tillysburn/Parkway junction in east Belfast and the new asphalt surface is literally rough. Totally unacceptable; and roads' inspectors ought to be checking up on this and compelling the contractors to re-surface it again, on behalf of taxpayers. Payment could be withheld too, until a proper job is done.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Fine Concert At Whitla Hall, Belfast

I attended another BBC Summer Invitation Concert at the Whitla Hall in Belfast, last night. It was the second one within a week, and it turned out to be most enjoyable. Most of the seats were taken.

The first piece, Sir Charles Stanford's Piano Concerto Number Two, was played by the talented young Irish pianist, Finghin Collins. Mr Collins wore full evening dress - white tie - and this was an accomplished and compelling performance; he really made the Ulster Orchestra's Steinway concert grand piano work to its full potential. Mr Collins is expressive too, while he tickles the ivories.

After the interval, we were treated to Vltava by Bedrich Smetana. Here was an ethereal performance by the orchestra conducted by an erstwhile east Belfast man, Kenneth Montgomery. In fact, Mr Montgomery hailed originally from Wandsworth Parade. His style seems informal, preferring not to use a baton and wearing a slightly prosaic lounge suit. Of course he's a well-respected musician with an international reputation.

The next invitation concert is in Lisburn, next week; I'll give it a miss I think.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Debris Of New Heating Installation

The new state-of-the-art energy-efficient heating system is up and running; and appears to be excellent. It's still the summer, in theory at least, so the system hasn't been used to its full potential.

We needed to get an ADT technician out to reset the alarm because the electrician had accidentally knocked the panel, causing a "tamper" fault. It's functioning again and always activated when we're out. I've courteously forewarned the contractor that we'll have an invoice.

So, all that's left to fix is an inadequate plastic pipe connection in the loft which leaks occasionally; leakage from the garage roof where the new flue protrudes; a stone-cold bathroom radiator; and skirting in the dining-room, if they'll stretch to that. Otherwise, I'll employ a professional joiner to do the job.

Sports Club Annual Subscription

The old school Sports Club emailed the annual membership application to me the other day. It's increased by a fiver; not too bad.

I'm too prompt a payer for my own good - as Ebay sellers shall testify - and last year, as usual, I remitted the fee well in advance only to discover, subsequently, that the complex was closed till further notice. In fairness to them, I received a rebate; however, my old swimming compatriot, Robert - retired solicitor you know - is a slightly more tardy payer than me and hadn't the bother.

I've learned the lesson: I'll withhold payment till the opening night in order to ensure that the place is open. It's the only way.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Our Heroes In The Home Guard

I've been avidly watching the BBC tributes to their most successful erstwhile comedy drama, Dad's Army, celebrating its fortieth anniversary. I'm a devoted and loyal fan of the series and have many DVDs of them. I watched Mr Ross in military attire last night interviewing the actors who played the Reverend T Farthing, Mrs Fox, Hodges, Pike and, not least, Corporal "they don't like it up 'em" Jones.

I salute the memory of Captain Mainwaring, Sergeant Wilson, Private Godfrey MM, Fraser and the other indispensable characters in that wonderful classic series. I particularly enjoyed the spiv, Walker.

God bless them all for giving the British Nation so much joy.

His Lordship On The At-tack

If anyone would care for some salutary advice about new central heating systems and the subsequent upheaval it causes, look no further. I spent all day yesterday screwing down floor-boards properly, fitting carpets, moving furniture, hammering tacks - notice the pun in the title? - and is it really necessary to continue?

I have a list of nine faults, ranging from a stone-cold bathroom radiator to a leaky garage roof where they erected the new flue; and asbestos piping for collection.

For me it is somewhat stressful. I am uncertain as to whether, or not, I'd make an ideal property developer.

The new system itself seems exceedingly efficient: we have the hot water cylinder on from 06:30 till 08:30 - two hours - once a day and the water is still scalding. The water thermostat is at 63c; I might turn it down to 60c and have the water heating on for an hour instead. We haven't required the radiators on anyway.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Minnowburn: Allotment Field Creation

I met the other NT Volunteers at nine-thirty on Saturday morning for a half-day's toil at Minnowburn. There were merely three of us today with Mick. It was lovely and sunny; and, after the customary beaker of coffee, we walked to the field at the rear of the Warden's office.

Part of an old, red-brick path was visible and we started digging to see if the path led any further. Indeed it did: it carried on towards the edge of the field, so we dug away the grass and earth above it. Mick told us that they are going to turn the field into a sort of community allotment, where willing growers take responsibility for planting their own vegetables and share it with others. For instance, one person could grow onions and leeks; another might plant carrots and peas; and so on. Great idea.

We ate our packed lunches up at the Rose Garden; I had cheese & onion sandwiches with tea today.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Christopher Blake, Oboist

I attended a BBC Summer Invitation Concert at the Whitla Hall in Belfast last night, the theme being the music of Ulster composers.

I think it was my first visit to the Whitla Hall, and I found it sufficiently comfortable and spacious; although I'm eagerly awaiting the grand re-opening of the rejuvenated Ulster Hall later this year.

I got a seat on the ground floor about six rows from the orchestra. The conductor was Brazilian - the BBC proudly proclaimed that we were in the presence of the Brazilian ambassador to Eire. The two soloists were Hugh Tinney and Christopher Blake: both were excellent.

I particularly enjoyed Mr Blake, who is the principal oboist in the Orchestra. He was outstanding. He played Orientale from three pieces by Sir Hamilton Harty and it lasted a mere six minutes (I could have listened to it much longer).

The first piece was a BBC Radio 3 world première by a Belfast composer called Stephen Gardner. It lasted five minutes which was four minutes 59 seconds too long for me; it was abominable and I did a crossword while it lasted. Ghastly stuff. The other pieces were all agreeable indeed.

I cannot sign off without a reactionary gripe: the casual dress of the orchestra. The men wore black trousers and black open-necked shirts. The traditional attire for leading orchestras has always been full evening dress - white tie. Perhaps this is too much to expect of them; nevertheless, they could, at least, wear dinner jackets and black tie. The way they dress down now is too egalitarian.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Petition To Revive Order Of St Patrick

I've just received an email from Downing Street informing me that the petition to revive the Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick is now on their website.

Should you feel that this part of our heritage should be restored I urge you, please, to sign the petition. The link is as follows:-

Thank you.