Sunday, 28 September 2008

Fuerteventura: Day Nine

His lordship may be a few thousand miles away from all the action in the United Kingdom, but he is well able to keep the old finger on the British pulse whilst basking in foreign sunshine.

As I tap away at Stefan´s keyboard in the Café-Lounge Bar, Corralejo, with a substantial beakerful of Beefeater-and-tonic, I have been keeping abreast of the woeful fiscal circumstances pertaining in Old Blighty. Apart from certain bankers, I blame Brown who ruled over us as Chancellor of the Exchequer for over ten years.

Mr Brown had the power to control the economic situation for that length of time. He encouraged the banking industry to lend people money recklessly. How, on earth, could a major bank be permitted to lend people 44 million pounds-worth of mortgages with only half that in deposits? Irresponsible and it took place on Brown´s watch too.

And, while I am getting into the swing of things, under Mr Brown we are paying more than 60% tax for fuel; and the man refuses to admit it. I heard him interviewed by Jeff Randall and he prevaricated around this very issue without being "up-front" and honest about it.

I must return to my Beefeater now...

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Fuerteventura: Day Six

The weather has been fine until today. I arose to witness cloud, showers, strong winds and a temperature of 24c this morning. A trip to the island´s capital, Puerto del Rosario, was called for.

Yesterday, I splashed out on a pair of Croc´s flip-flops which set me back 34.50 euros; is that cheaper than the UK? At any rate, the old euro doesn´t last as long, these days, for us Britishers. I've brought hundreds of them with me; nevertheless, they are depleting faster than anticipated.

Back to the island´s capital: I paid a visit to the Rotundas shopping centre, owing to the inclement weather. At lunch-time, I called at Burgerking for a Steakhouse burger, fries, coffee and onion-rings; and that set me back about eight euros. In the queue in front of me, there was a most ignorant and ill-mannered Irish man who, I felt, treated the black staff member most discourteously: he was with his partner and infant and he was wearing a dark green t-shirt emblazoned with the legend "Guinness" and "Dublin". I watched this ignoramus throw a coin on the counter towards the poor assistant. Disgraceful. I knew the man was Irish because his accent gave him away.

The old tan is already replenished. On the satellite television, I have been suffering Brown and his cronies ranting on about how they are going to save our economy in the United Kingdom; just as well I am 2500 miles away!

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Fuerteventura: Day Two

Well, here I am. The old tan is shaping up well already and I am in the Café-Lounge Bar, Corralejo, courtesy of mine host Stefan; and, incidentally, Stefan has the requisite equipment for his celebrated home-made Doner Kebab which is a real snip at four euros.

I spent the day at the beach. The sea is warm, the sun shining. One minor snag has been that the supermarkets have been closed a lot over the weekend owing to a public holiday on Saturday. I have not been able to stock up on coffee, butter, all the staples you know. I indulged in a large, Spanish brandy at Torino´s beach bar during the lunch-hour.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Off To Sunnier Climes

I'm literally half-awake as I write this last posting, before I pack up and head for the airport. A taxi has been booked for an unearthly hour, not far away.

I will endeavour to send the occasional posting and there is a computer which is available for the patrons' use at the Café-Lounge Bar near my accommodation - it's an old haunt, home to mine host Stefan who, incidentally, cooks his own home-made doner-kebabs on Sundays.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Who Really Owns Your Bank?

I've just come across an interesting article in Moneyfacts. It provides us with the ultimate proprietors of most UK financial institutions. Fascinating.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Coffee-Mate: How Good Is It?

In preparation for my imminent vacation I am wondering whether to take along a jar of Coffee-Mate instead of having the usual bother of buying a large carton of milk from the supermarket which becomes rancid swiftly.  I'd simply drink coffee for breakfast in lieu of tea.

I bought three packets of Sainsbury's excellent streaky bacon rashers yesterday and whacked 'em into the freezer. I think I'll take a frozen packet with me to Fuerteventura; it can thaw out in the suit-case.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Lloyds TSB Speculation

As a shareholder in Lloyds TSB banking group I am following the news, that they might merge with HBOS, with interest.

The current Lloyds share price would need to increase by several times before I'd think of selling my shares.

Tesco: Its Customer Service In Northern Ireland

I've lost count of the number of times I have walked up and down the aisles of Tesco stores in east Belfast for a particular product - often a firm favourite or staple - only to find that it is no longer stocked. I cannot help wondering if this occurs throughout the Tesco empire?

To aggravate the matter, whenever I make a request at their service desk, filling in the requisite details, they never bother following the process through. What sort of customer service is that? Here are two recent examples:-

  • Tesco own-brand Honey & Nut Bran Flakes
  • Patak's Canned Korma Cooking Sauce
Why are they so unforthcoming when it comes to a simple request to continue stocking a favourite product? For them to state, simply, that it doesn't sell is somewhat spurious and unconvincing to me. I wish they'd be more transparent.

Irresponsible Prime Minister

The Prime Minister has called for local politicians to reach agreement on the transfer of policing and justice powers. Plausible, perhaps; except that Mr Brown has abrogated his governmental responsibility when he says that local politicians could deal with anti-social behaviour and other matters themselves. Why hasn't he dealt with it? Why does the prime minister want us to have our own justice minister anyway? We've never had such a minister. Such powers were the responsibility of the Home Office. Policing and justice is divisive in Northern Ireland. Why can't the Brown Administration deal with youth issues throughout the Kingdom? Isn't that what he receives a salary for?

Holiday Preparations

I've been preoccupied with preparations for my long-awaited vacation to the Canary Islands - Fuerteventura - this week. I didn't bother painting today. Fulton's Furnishings arrived at ten this morning to measure the hall and landing for the Brinton's carpet: it will be interesting to receive their quotation because I don't expect it to be the cheapest!

I purchased more Euros from the Post Office. I simply adore their latest advertizing campaign with what's-his-name and Brucie: "leave it out Brucie, it's one of the best rates..."

Tomorrow we'll pay Sainsbury's a visit, for gold-blend tea and their excellent smoked streaky bacon which beats Tesco's by miles.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Portballintrae: Weekend Break

It was such a fine afternoon at my aunt's house in Portballintrae, County Antrim, yesterday that we sunbathed in the gentle autumn sunshine. We called at Ramage's supermarket in Bushmills earlier, where I bought two bottles of the excellent Australian red wine by McGuigan's, Black Label; and a Daily Telegraph.

I phoned the Bushmills Inn Hotel and the Causeway Hotel to make dinner reservations for the Friday and Saturday. 

Our dinner at the Bushmills Inn was very good. The Dowager enjoyed a prawn starter, served as a main course; and I had a delicious loin of lamb, served pink with various vegetables including sauté garlic potatoes. We shared sticky toffee pudding with whipped cream for dessert. The meal, including one round of drinks, set us back £46.60.

On Saturday morning, having indulged in a breakfast consisting of very crispy bacon with Hovis Seed Sensations bread, butter and honey, we motored in to Coleraine, County Londonderry, where I went walkabout while the Dowager rested in the two-seater. I'm really very fond of Coleraine.

Following an idle afternoon spent lapping up the sunshine in the back garden, we drove to the Causeway Hotel for dinner at seven-thirty. This place is another favourite haunt of mine: traditional, cosy, welcoming, a constant buzz with patrons, unpretentious. The grub is wholesome Ulster fare and this hotel's popularity says it all. 

The dining-room is very large indeed: part of it was probably once the ball-room. It's spacious and comfortable. I had an old favourite, yet again: scampi with garlic fries, onion-rings and roast vegetables. The helpings here are fit for an Ulster farmer - ask about their famous mixed grill! We hadn't room for pudding, so the bill was £23.10.

Today we packed up before midday and had intended to lunch at another favourite establishment, Bushmills Garden Centre. Since it did not open till twelve-thirty, we decided, reluctantly, to drive home. Still, we enjoyed our dinner at home: breaded plaice, baby potatoes with garlic butter and chives; and petit pois.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Causeway Coast

We're heading off to Portballintrae, County Antrim, for a few days so I'll be deprived of my trusty computer! Hopefully we'll be dining out at a few places.

Google Chrome Update!

I've been using the brand-new Google Chrome browser all week and it has not, for me, been utterly plain sailing. Like every change, it takes awhile to get used to, which is fair enough. Perhaps it's simply a phenomenon of my computer and its software, but occasionally Chrome has a delayed reaction if I click on something. Furthermore, it has frozen and crashed with me several times. 

I do like it, though. It has a number of innovative benefits, like the way a row of bookmarks are displayed above a web page; and plenty of space for other bookmarks.

It's still too early to say whether I'll return to Firefox or not. If the aforementioned glitches do not settle down, I may well do that.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Poignant Moment For Two Former Prime Ministers

It was quite moving to see Tony Blair assisting Lady Thatcher into St Paul's Cathedral yesterday, for the service to commemorate our Armed Forces during their thirty-year campaign in Northern Ireland. 

Purcell, Flights And A Newt

I'd just finished my customary sixty lengths of the pool last night and was showering when something caught my eye. It was none other than a newt. Most extraordinary. Mark - the pool supervisor - persuaded the tiny creature to move into a container and helped it out. Bertie Wooster's pal, Gussie Fink-Nottle - earnest newt-fancier - springs to mind.

I've heard that Thomas Cook is ceasing its flights from Belfast to Fuerteventura in 2009. Can this be true? It's a confounded inconvenience at any rate; even worse for travellers who own accommodation there. 

I received my Ebay CD of a recording by Purcell today. It was a snip at £2.99 including postage. I just hope it plays OK!

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Up The Walls With Painting

I'm presently preoccupied with painting at home. I had bought a medium-sized tin of Porcelain Blue; and, when I applied it to one wall, I changed my mind thinking it wasn't sufficiently subtle. So  I've applied the first coat of Adam Cream this morning. There is old backing-paper, the remnants of the vinyl wall-paper I stripped off, and when I paint over it the is a little blistering in the odd spot; however, it seems to disappear and I'm hoping to get away with this solution.

The old, asbestos flue, a relic of the erstwhile central heating, has been collected too this morning. We've had it for six weeks and, eventually, I shattered it into pieces with a sledge-hammer and threw it into a black bin-liner. I'm glad they picked it up: I was just about to throw it into our black wheelie bin, what with my healthy respect for the health and safety police.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Alarm Invoice Update

When our new central heating system was installed the electrician accidentally knocked the control box of the intruder alarm, causing it to go off and require re-setting.

I received a bill from ADT for £94, for fifteen minutes' work; so I forwarded it to the 
heating contractor along with a covering letter. The contractor informed me that they had, in turn, sent the invoice to the electrical sub-contractor.

To their credit, Tonagh Electrics sent me an apologetic letter with a photocopy of the cheque for £94 they had sent to ADT. All's well that ends well.

The new central heating is performing very well, by the way. The oil in our tank seems to depleting very slowly indeed.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Belvoir Forest Park: Missing Feeders

We're just back from a short drive to Belvoir and Minnowburn. To our disappointment the bird and squirrel feeders, which are a permanent feature of the car park, have been removed. Another visitor informed me that they had been removed due to a chronic problem with rats.

I am making enquiries and shall comment further when I have been apprised of the facts.

Evening Spent With The Duchess

The weather had cleared up, thank goodness, by the time I drove into Belfast for a meal and a movie. Parking at the new, Victoria Square shopping complex is difficult, unless you park at their underground car-park and pay for that privilege. Since I don't like paying to park my car anywhere I circled Victoria Street, Oxford Street and Chichester Street until I found a space in Gloucester Street, a stone's throw from Ross's auction-house.

I'd made a conscious decision to dine at Gourmet Burger Kitchen which is on Level Two, adjacent to the Odeon cinema; so I headed across the mall to purchase my ticket for two hours'-worth of The Duchess. The fun was to start at eight o'clock.

I've never darkened the door of any Gourmet Burger Kitchen diner before, so this was to be a new experience. The Belfast branch seems fairly compact. Initial impressions were of somewhere akin to a high-street burger chain. Its decor seemed a bit spartan: plain, shiny, wooden floor; plain, hard seats and tables bedecked with salt, pepper and ketchup; bare walls. Think minimal and characterless. I know that sounds somewhat harsh but it's true, from my perspective. There's no luxury here, it's utilitarian and casual.

The two waitresses I encountered were very friendly and welcoming. I was greeted immediately and shown to a square table near the wall. Service is very prompt indeed; possibly, this evening, because there only appeared to be about a dozen other diners. Despite being a small restaurant, many of the tables were vacant at 6.30pm.

I opted for a blue cheese burger with fries. I enquired about coleslaw and it wasn't available; nor were onion rings. However, when my meal arrived about five minutes later, I was not disappointed: the fully-dressed burger was delicious, flavoursome and came heaped with lettuce, tomato slices, blue cheese and a few slivers of raw onion. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The chips were medium size, crisp and dry; they were served in a white bowl. By the way, I thought the white dinner-plate  was rather small for the size of the meal. I washed it all down with a half-pint beer-glassful of Earl Grey tea - appropriate given that Grey was Georgiana's lover! The meal cost £11.60 and I left a generous tip for the good service.

The new Odeon was not, at all, busy. Despite the tickets - £6.20 -  being numbered, you could really have sat anywhere; in fact I moved to another seat when the movie started. The Duchess, which refers to Lady Georgiana Spencer who married the 5th Duke of Devonshire, was not, for me, a particularly uplifting film. It was well done, the costumes, props and settings were undoubtedly sumptuous; the Georgian grandeur magnificent. Still, I found it all quite poignant and sad. Their Graces formed an unhappy partnership. It was, nevertheless, an interesting tale and remarkable to watch His Grace living in the splendour of his ducal residences along with his Duchess, Georgiana, and their close friend Lady Elizabeth - ultimately to become the Duke's second wife.

Intriguingly, Lady Elizabeth was the daughter of the Earl-Bishop of Derry, one of whose residences was Downhill Castle in County Londonderry.

My rating for the The Duchess is a solid three stars. The acting was competent enough and Keira Knightly was ravishing, as usual.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Minnowburn: Weeding

En route to Minnowburn this morning I called at a tiny home bakery at Connsbrook Avenue, Belfast, I'd never tried before, Hamilton's,  and bought five potato farls and one soda farl. They were still warm - it was 09:05, and must have cost 50p each because the total bill came to £2.50. We intend to have an Ulster Fry tomorrow, with fillet steak in lieu of bangers!

Mick supervised at Minnowburn today; I was joined by Patricia, Kevin and Darren too. We'd intended to work on the new allotment at the back field; however, the ground was so saturated that we did some weeding in the Rose Garden instead.

We had our lunch at a picnic table. Patricia had her customary chicken tikka sandwiches from a shop in Ballynahinch; mine were Tesco salmon and cucumber, 
which I wasn't fond of at all. I didn't like their flavour.

I'm still working on the re-decoration of our hall and landing. I don't think I'll bother brandishing the brush and roller today.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Purcell, Katie, Curry and Edinburgh

Whilst preparing a fine curry - Patak's being the current favoured sauces - I was tuned in to Classic FM and they were playing a rendition of Purcell's When I Am Laid To Earth. Purcell is fast becoming one of my favourite composers; I was moved to tears as a soprano sang it. I really must acquire a CD.

I send my compliments and support to our great British paralympic team, representing Northern Ireland and Great Britain, in China. I watched Katie Price, our wonderful, caring girl with a couple of precious assets I'd like to get my hands on we all appreciate, signing autographs there.

I've just bought a pair of Edinburgh Crystal, thistle pattern, sherry glasses. They are possibly the finest crystal glassware that I have seen. I have my eye on the champagne flutes as well; such a distinctive pattern.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Swimming Again

Now that a new term has begun at the old school I motored up on Monday to see what was happening at the swimming-pool. Not particularly confident, due to their track-record, I wasn't expecting to get a swim. I was wrong. The pool was open for business and, what's more, the water was as warm as a bath! I wasn't expecting that.

I have swum 160 lengths already this week and it's fine; great to be back. I missed the old swimming. The showers are so hot that they're scalding, in fact.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

New Google Chrome Browser

About an hour ago I installed the new Google Chrome browser on my system: so far, so good. It seems to be extremely user-friendly, easy to operate and a refreshing change.

If you have been using the Firefox 3 browser, just make sure that you have kept your Favourites list; Google seems to import IE7 bookmarks OK.

I'll make a further posting about the new browser when I've got used to it.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Dump Punitive Hospital Parking Charges

I hail the announcement by the Scottish health secretary that hospital car parking charges will be abolished throughout Scotland.

Making patients and non-patients pay for the privilege of parking their cars in hospitals was introduced in a stealthy manner, initially to deter commuters from taking advantage of free parking. This regime has been blunt enough to punish genuine users, visiting their friends and relatives in hospital. It has been a money-spinner for health trusts since then.

I call upon the NI health minister, Mr McGimpsey, to reciprocate this new policy in Northern Ireland forthwith; while the NI Executive still meets!

Monday, 1 September 2008

Excess Luggage Tip

Whilst at the gym today I chatted to an acquaintance about holidays and travel. He told me an anecdote about checking in luggage at the airport which could be helpful:-
  • Approach check-in desk with luggage
  • When requested, lift and slide case on to conveyor-belt
  • Leave a few inches overhanging at your side in order that case is not completely on belt
  • When clerk activates conveyor-belt, keep an eye on digital weight display to see weight increasing by a few kilos!
I always weigh my case on digital scales at home anyway; however this could be helpful if you're homeward-bound and worried that you might be close to the limit - which could well be 20 kilos on some charter flights.