Thursday, 31 December 2009

100,000 Thanks!

I've done it! You'd think I'd won the Lottery; but no, Timothy Belmont has just passed the 100,000th visitor at 16:50 hours today. Could that visitor please get in touch for a prize ... only joking!

My blog has been in existence since December 2nd, 2007.

Molly was Off-Colour

I popped into Molly's Yard today, en route to Belfast city centre. I'd assumed it was open so, when I darkened the threshold shortly after midday, the place was empty. Not one soul. A member of staff approached me and I inquired whether they were open. "Yes, we are". I settled myself at a seat opposite the bar, downstairs.

I was brought a menu and advised that the choice was limited; so, having had a look, I chose the gammon and champ, which was not what I'd have selected under normal circumstances. Still, I thought it would be fine.

The waitress left and returned almost immediately, "sorry, the gammon is off"; so I perused the menu again and tentatively asked for the stew which, it transpired, was available. I ordered it with a glass of sparkling water.

Frankly, I regret not having got up and left Molly's because they were obviously not "geared up" for their patrons at lunchtime; which makes me wonder why they opened at all. The waitress spent a fair bit of time on the phone to customers who had reserved tables this evening, so they are open tonight.

The stew - venison, I was told - was, I have to say, tasty; though it seemed to be a "hotch-potch" of soup vegetables and even a dollop of cranberry sauce atop! I settled up (£8.50) and left.

I still like Molly's Yard; I simply thought they weren't at their best today at lunchtime.

Later on, as I passed Alden's in the City, I noticed that they were doing a brisk trade; it seemed full.

New Year Honours 2010

The New Year Honours List for 2010 is headed by the Lady Carswell, OBE, lately HM Lord-Lieutenant of Belfast, who has been appointed a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO).

It seems to have become a tradition now that Deans of Belfast are appointed Officers of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE). This honour is, I feel, well deserved; particularly in recognition for the charitable work done and the annual "sit-out".

So the Dean of Belfast, the Very Reverend Houston McKelvey, QVRM, TD, is now, also, an OBE.

The Honours List published by the mass media is not comprehensive, because it excludes appointments to the Royal Victorian Order.

Kenneth Montgomery, Principal Conductor, Ulster Orchestra; for services to Music in Northern Ireland. (Amsterdam, Netherlands) becomes an OBE.

David Anderson, MBE, formerly Hospitality Manager, Hillsborough Castle, Northern Ireland Office, is appointed a Member of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO).

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

The Ultimate Mattress?

I have used the same bed and mattress for my slumber for as long as I can remember; since time immemorial. I have never given a second's thought to purchasing a new one. Why should I? The present one seems comfortable enough to me and I've never had cause to complain. No sore back, or anything else.

Nevertheless, I was intrigued to see what was on offer at the bed store beside my health club this morning; so I popped in to have a look.

One particular bed drew my attention, manufactured by a company called Hypnos. Its price, however, astounded me: £2,300 for a single, three-foot bed. And that was the sale price.

I think we can safely assume that these are considered to be "the Rolls-Royce" of beds. Are they really worth the price? Mind you, bearing in mind that some of us spend a third of our lives in bed...

Miss Enid Blyton

I watched rather a good drama about the life of the famous children's author, Enid Blyton, last night. It was on BBC4 at 9pm, though I have a feeling that it was shown on another channel prior to that.

I think many of these biographical dramas need to be taken with a little pinch of salt; though I enjoyed Helena Bonham Carter playing the title role.

I imagine that Enid Blyton must have been the J K Rowling of her day; for she lived in some style in a large country house with plenty of staff, including a poor chauffeur who was threatened with dismissal if he didn't get rid of his cold! Whether this little episode was made up for the viewers' benefit, or whether there was anecdotal evidence of its veracity, I am unable to confirm.

Enid Blyton was a bit of a paradox. She seemingly invited children - her young fans - to parties at her country home, an act she obviously relished; yet her own little daughters were banished to the nursery. Moreover, she didn't seem to love them and came across as an unkind mother.

As I say, I enjoyed it. I loved her books, particularly the Famous Five series; and I had them all.

Monday, 28 December 2009

NI Honours Speculation

Two Lord-Lieutenants in Northern Ireland have retired recently, viz. Lord O'Neill and Sir William Hall; both having been appointed Knight Commanders of the Royal Victorian Order.

During 2009, the Duke of Abercorn and the Lady Carswell have also relinquished the Lieutenancies of County Tyrone and the City of Belfast respectively.

In addition, the Duke has served the Queen in a personal capacity as Lord Steward of the Household. His Grace's late mother, Kathleen Duchess of Abercorn, DCVO, was Mistress of the Robes to HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother from 1964-1990.

I shouldn't be at all surprised if there are conferments of Knight Grand Cross (GCVO) and Dame Commander (DCVO) to the Order.

The Great Fermanagh Estates

I am going to begin writing about the great country estates and landowners of County Fermanagh shortly. I've always had a great affection for Fermanagh; ever since I spent holidays there as a boy. Indeed I wrote a nostalgic article about Castle Archdale earlier this year.

There is an abundance of rich material and truly beautiful demesnes in the county to dwell on. Some remain private and still owned by the families; others are forgotten or have been transformed into forests and country parks.

I intend to commence the series with Blessingbourne estate, which is technically in County Tyrone though a substantive part of the demesne was in Fermanagh.

Castle Irvine - now known as Necarne Castle - was a large estate near Irvinestown; now an equestrian centre.

Rosslea Manor, home to the Maddens, was burnt in 1885 and finally demolished in 1914; and, it is believed, is now mainly forestry.

The manor-house at Killadeas was another substantive estate, extending to over 11,000 acres; now a hotel.

The lovely Belle Isle estate, near Lisbellaw, belongs to the Duke of Abercorn - or, rather, the Duke's second son, Lord Nicholas Hamilton; now a holiday leisure complex and catering school.

The aforementioned Castle Archdale - with its noble manor-house - used to be one of the biggest estates in the county; now a holiday camp and country park.

Colebrooke Park , a stately home near the village of Brookeborough, remains the seat of the Viscounts Brookeborough to this very day.

Florence Court, a property of the National Trust and once the seat of the Earls of Enniskillen, was formerly a very large estate.

Crom still remains the seat of the Earls of Erne, though the country estate has been a property of the National Trust since 1988. Lord and Lady Erne live in the stately Victorian mansion which is private; though, like Colebrooke, run partly on a commercial basis as luxury accommodation in its west wing.

Ely Lodge, near Enniskillen, was once a seat of the Marquesses of Ely; then purchased by Lt-Col Robert Grosvenor about 1948. The Westminster family's connection with Ely ended about 1987, when Voila, Duchess of Westminster died in a tragic car accident; and it is now privately owned. Lord Ely was the largest landowner in County Fermanagh, with 34,879 acres.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Queen's Quarter Amble

I felt like an urban stroll today, so I motored over to University Square, adjacent to the Queen's University of Belfast, and parked the baby two-seater there.

Ambling round College Green, I had a look at the recent damage inflicted to the Union Theological College; then I passed that agreeable little bistro-restaurant, Molly's Yard, which is entered from Botanic Avenue. Click on the image to read the bistro menu.

Thence my route took me up Mount Charles, turning right at University Road, and along Upper Crescent, parts of which are still in a deplorably neglected state. Who, might I inquire, owns 16, Upper Crescent? It is in a most dreadful condition due to the negligence of its owner. In 1974 it was owned by the University.

Carrying on along Lower Crescent, I crossed and walked up Lisburn Road; and up Fountainville Avenue; down Claremont Street; up Camden Street; and down Fitzwilliam Street; finally strolling along Elmwood Avenue.

Generally speaking, these streets have an air of neglect about them, possibly due to either irresponsible landlords, tenants or both! I passed Queen's red-brick Lanyon Building: I do wish they would reinstate the iron railings round the perimeter with replicas. There must be pre-war photographs somewhere. This would considerably enhance the appearance of the area. The "stumps" of the old railings can still clearly be seen.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

The Definitive Holmes?

It's a wonder I don't own the Sherlock Holmes box-set collection. I do have about three videos; no DVDs, though.

I suppose whomsoever one considers to be the definitive Sherlock Holmes actor is entirely subjective, as is the case with the James Bond characters.

For me, the ultimate Sherlock Holmes portrayal has been - and will probably remain - the late Jeremy Brett.

Jeremy Brett (3 November 1933 – 12 September 1995), was born Peter Jeremy William Huggins.

Brett was born at Berkswell Grange in Berkswell on 3 November 1933; son of a Lord-Lieutenant of Warwickshire and an heir of the Cadbury Chocolate family. He was educated at Eton.

Perhaps I am biased, for I've seen photographs of the latest version of our great detective played by Robert Downey. How does Downey portray Sherlock Holmes? Should I even bother going to see the movie?

Friday, 25 December 2009

A Very Merry Christmas

I wish readers and friends the compliments of the Season. Eat, Drink and Be Merry!

I attended the annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at Belfast Cathedral last night, which was well attended. The Dean of Belfast, the Very Reverend Houston McKelvey, led the Service.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas Eve

It's freezing in Belfast again this morning; so yet another opportunity to light a hearty, roaring fire at home courtesy of Timothy "one match" Belmont! The fire is well lit already.

I think I'll buy some more fuel for the fire today. I'd really prefer logs, though they are more readily available in the country than in the town.

It was customary for me to attend the traditional Christmas Eve carol service at Belfast Cathedral in times past; so I might well consider that this evening. The preacher at the main Christmas Day service in the Cathedral is the Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of Down and Dromore.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The Birthday Dinner

Don't have your birthday in December. The weather is inclement; the days short; and, if you are young, your birthdays presents occasionally "double up" as Christmas gifts, too.

I'm beyond caring about the latter. We dined, yesterday evening, at Alden's Restaurant in Belfast. It is ten years since we last ate there, so a visit was long overdue.

Beware: parking is difficult. There is a single yellow line outside Alden's with a notice which states that parking is prohibited between 7am and midnight, or thereabouts. Parking is available in the side streets, round the corner.

Service at Alden's is efficient and courteous, as you'd expect. We were shown to our table forthwith. Ambiance is contemporary; the walls are off-white; and the seating a mixture of maroon banquette and armless cushioned chairs.

In a previous incarnation, this premises had been a grocer's shop or supermarket forty years ago.

We were served about three or four pieces of fresh, thinly-sliced bread - possibly home-made - with butter and chopped olives; and this was good.

I ordered a half-bottle of Sancerre wine from the extensive wine-list. I proceeded to order the roasted pigeon breast with crisp pancetta, black pudding and beetroot dressing for my first course. The Dowager opted out.

By the way, game features strongly on the menu. I thoroughly enjoyed my pigeon, feeling that the black pudding and beetroot dressing complemented it well.

For our main course, the Dowager went for the pan-seared salmon with asparagus and pea emulsion; while I had the breast of pheasant with spiced red cabbage and blue cheese gratin. We shared a special mashed potato and mixed vegetables consisting of fine beans, carrot, peas and broccoli.

Once again, we both enjoyed our food. The plates weren't particularly hot, though the food was warm enough. My pheasant was delicious. You are advised that it is normally served slightly pink, though I didn't notice any pinkness myself. No matter, it was very good.

I indulged in egg nog brûlée for pudding. I felt, personally, that this was the weakest link. It wasn't creamy enough for me; slightly bland. The top seemed cold, as if it hadn't been under the grill long enough. Acceptable enough, though.

We rounded the evening off with coffee and this came with complimentary truffles. Incidentally, it was busy in this restaurant; not too crowded, but busy enough. most tables were occupied within our eyesight.

All in all, an enjoyable evening.

Cigarette Case Solved

It is gratifying that a silver cigarette case which once belonged to Lord Enniskillen - then Lord Cole - has been returned to its rightful place at Florence Court House.

An excellent Christmas present for the National Trust at Florence Court, the eloquent kleptomaniac wishes to remain anonymous.

I'm looking forward to my forthcoming series about the great landowners of County Fermanagh, Florence Court and the Enniskillen family.

Ill-Health of the Duke

The 10th Duke of Roxburgh's first wife, Lady Jane Grosvenor, shall be familiar with Ely Lodge and County Fermanagh. She is also the mother of the Duke's heir, Lord Bowmont.

Lady Jane is, herself, rather appropriately the daughter of a duke and sister of the present Duke of Westminster.

His Grace is having to endure the ordeal of chemotherapy in London for cancer presently, while still supervising the management of his 60,000 acre estate in Scotland, the nucleus of which is Floors Castle at Kelso.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Fifty Winters

I have had an absolutely wonderful birthday. Everyone has been so kind. I really wasn't expecting anything at all. However, this expectation turned out to be quite wrong.

Through this website I wish to express heartfelt thanks - in no particular order - to: Pamela and Fred; Margaret; Joan; Beatrice; Carmel and Brendan; Patricia; Heather and Jim; Judy and Malcolm; Allison and Paul; Diane and Kingsley; Debbie and David; Shirley and Charles; Pete; John; Mark; and anyone else I have forgotten to mention.

We are dining at Alden's Restaurant in Belfast this evening.

The First Fire

We lit our very first fire in the sitting-room today and, I am gratified to say, it lit with one match immediately. I haven't lost the old touch!

There is no mystery to my technique at all: Screw up half a dozen pieces of newspaper; throw in some fire-lighters, if you have them; arrange half a dozen kindling sticks gently on top; and then, with tongs, place a number of coals strategically.

This method seldom fails me.

I had to place an order for heating oil on Saturday. The last delivery was about June 2nd, so it has lasted very well.

Cadbury's Caramel

Like so many things in life, opinions and personal tastes vary. They are subjective. For instance, the finest chocolate in the world, to my mind, is probably Lindt 70% Excellence due to a number of factors: depth of flavour, balance - neither too bitter, nor too sweet; a lingering taste in the palate.

Despite that, I remain a Cadbury's Caramel Loyalist; or, to give it its formal name, Cadbury Dairy Milk with Caramel. It is simply heavenly and sublime. If I'm lucky, the supermarkets sometimes have a "two bars for two pounds" offer.

Whilst checking out of my apartment in the Canary Islands recently I gave Reception two bars of it!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Wintry Scene

By Jove, it isn't half nippy this morning in Belfast. It is snowing lightly as I write this blog. We cooked some nice, crispy bacon this morning. I like it with wholemeal buttered toast and Acacia honey.

I donned the fleece and wellies awhile ago, in order to replenish the bird feeders. My goldfinches were all in an utter frenzy this morning, squabbling for the Nyger seeds. Some of these beautiful little birds resorted to eating the spillage on the ground.

Now I'm going to scan the Sunday Times online. When is Murdoch going to impose charges for it?

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Oil Tank Blaze

When I was driving home last night, along the Saintfield Road opposite Knockbracken (formerly the Purdysburn Estate), a substantial amount of bellowing smoke caught my eye. It came from a housing development opposite Knockbracken.

I wondered what, on earth, it could be at the time.

I have read, this morning, about a blaze last night which destroyed two homes there. How terrible for those families just at Christmas; and what would have caused it?

Newcastle Dinner

Last night was the occasion of the annual National Trust Strangford Lough-Murlough Christmas dinner. The venue was the same place as last year, Villa Vinci's restaurant in Newcastle, County Down.

Of course it was a very cold night - on the way home the temperature dropped to -2 Celsius at Ballynahinch. I drove and, as a consequence of this, remained as sober as a judge the whole night. I continually sipped glasses of tonic water with ice and lemon, sad to recount!

There must have been about two dozen of us, most from the Murlough group; so I was only acquainted with five people. For some reason I wasn't on "top form"; I don't always feel comfortable at social gatherings like that. Still, perhaps I'm out of practice; and, had I been able to indulge in a proper drink, that might have helped.

The meal was perfectly acceptable. There was a reasonably good choice, and I chose the exactly the same courses as last year: Prawn cocktail; turkey with all the trimmings; plum pudding with custard; and coffee. I noticed others having duck and salmon.

Villa Vinci's was full. They're bound to have been "stretched" and there was occasionally slight confusion from the waiting staff - not to mention the diners - as to whom had ordered what! I think they did fairly well though, under the circumstances.

I cannot recall the precise time I left. I'd been hemmed in somewhat, sandwiched between others at the rear seating; otherwise I might have left a bit sooner. However, I got home safely about eleven-fifteen.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Yuletide Gifts

I paid a visit to the Ulster Historical Foundation's new office at 49, Malone Road, Belfast, this morning. Some of their publications interested me. Their new office is beyond the Botanic Inn bar.

I think my amateur research of various country houses and estates, particularly in counties Tyrone and Armagh, has whetted my appetite.

I purchased the Plantation of Ulster by Philip Robinson; and Early Belfast, by Raymond Gillespie.

I was intending to pay them by debit card and, when I inserted it into the machine, the card was rejected because the PIN number had been locked. This is the second occasion when this has occurred.

I recall entering an incorrect PIN number with it several times at Donaghadee Garden Centre recently; and then having to use another card or cash. What a confounded nuisance! Still, I imagine its all for my own good.

I've contacted my bank about it.

State of the Palace

The condition of the stone-work on sections of Buckingham Palace is concerning and deplorable. Richard Kay has written an article about it today in his column.

This has been a gradual process over many decades. Buckingham Palace, unlike Sandringham and Balmoral, is a State building; and, consequently, ought to be cared for by the State.

Is the Government seeking to extract some sort of "deal" from the Royal Family, whereby the Palace is kept open more often to paying visitors? Is State assistance conditional on some sort of concessions?

Doesn't the State look after other historic royal palaces, like the Tower of London and Hampton Court? Since Buckingham Palace is still inhabited, its preservation ought to be doubly important.

I'm sure that our national museums and galleries are well cared for. Surely Buckingham Palace, renowned the world over, deserves similar attention?

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

At Ross's Again

I was in central Belfast briefly this morning. The upstairs sale-room of Ross's auction-house was open. I still cannot find quite what I'm looking for, in terms of a very narrow hall table which needs to be big enough to fit over a double radiator.

I spotted Peter Maxwell viewing a pair of items whilst I was there.

Cerebral Nourishment

Does anyone have one of those "brain-training" devices? You know, the Nintendo DS type ones as advertised by Ant & Dec on television.

They seem quite a good idea to me; or the concept, at least. I think they could prove beneficial, depending on the cirmcumstances.

I wonder how long the batteries last in them? I suppose rechargeable batteries could be used.

Are they worth £100 plus?

Monday, 14 December 2009

Canon Can!

Stop Press: My Canon camera has literally just arrived twenty minutes ago! Well anticipated, Amazon and Royal Mail.

Seasonal Duties

I still await the delivery of my little Canon camera. I ordered it over a week ago from Amazon, the Internet mail order company. I expect that delays are inevitable during the busy Christmas period.

Thank goodness I managed to complete some essential Christmas shopping this morning; and the supermarket wasn't too crowded, either: A "ten-pack" of beer for the dust-bin men; a half-decent bottle of Bordeaux wine for a family dinner on Sunday; and some chocolates for persons in the service of the Belmont Household (ha!).

What a relief. The Christmas card lists have been completed, too. Being able to print labels and the ability of the computer to remember names and addresses is a great help.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Hovis Seed Sensations

Hovis Seed Sensations "Rich and Roasted" is still a firm favourite in the household. It's better value now than over a year ago, when a loaf cost £1.53. It weighs 800g. It's not wholemeal bread, though it is brown.

It is described, for trade description purposes, as being "multi-seeded bread with linseed, sunflower, pumpkin, millet and poppy seeds". The fibre content is twelve percent, which equates very well compared with wholemeal bread.

This bread is literally filled with wholesome seeds, toasts well and is, to my mind, delicious. Highly recommended.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Killynether Coppicing

I've been out all day, at Killynether Wood near Newtownards in County Down. Killynether is a truly beautiful spot. I've written articles about it before; and about the Victorian mansion that was once there.

We numbered about a dozen today, assembling at the car park at about nine-thirty. Alan had brought along plenty of saws, loppers and gloves.

We were coppicing in the middle of the woods, on a steep slope. Having lit a bonfire, this enabled us to dispose of surplus branches.

Lunch for me today was a round of prosaic cheese-and-onion sandwiches, washed down with hot tea!

Friday, 11 December 2009

Landowner Series

I'm looking forward to writing about the biggest Victorian landowners in the remaining Northern Ireland counties; so much so, that I'm actually quite excited about the prospect...

...about the wealthy banker, rich as Croesus, who bought a mountain estate with a hunting lodge; and the illegitimate son of a marquess who became one of the greatest landowners and philanthropists, whilst travelling by private train from his rented castle.

Can't wait.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

100,000 by New Year?

I'm watching my Visitor numbers with a fair measure of eagerness. Will Timothy Belmont achieve the magical figure of 100,000 by January 1st, 2010?

Let's see.

The Hospital Trip

I'm impressed by the Patient Care Service (PCS) transport organization in Belfast. The Dowager had a routine appointment at Belfast City Hospital this morning. I'd arranged for an ambulance call well in advance, due to the little accident she had several weeks' ago, causing a heavily bruised ankle.

I usually drive the Dowager to hospital appointments myself; however, in this instance, I decided to take advantage of the PCS.

If your consultant's department is aware that you are utilizing the PCS, they are flexible with appointment times. The Dowager's appointment was at ten-thirty; though we didn't arrive till after eleven, and she was seen by the doctor within five minutes!

They seem "geared up" for this arrangement. And it seems to work very well. It is less stressful for the carer, too. You do require stoical patience, though. We had to wait for awhile before the PCS came to collect us; so we were home by shortly after one o'clock.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Great Tyrone Landowners

I am beginning a new series about the great landowners of County Tyrone. I intend to focus on the largest landowners, notwithstanding the fact that there were many with between five and ten thousand acres.

The greatest landowners in the county were, and probably still are, the Dukes of Abercorn. The Dukes, whose ancestral seat has been the stately Baronscourt Estate near Newtownstewart for centuries, held 60,000 acres in 1872. Even today, the present Duke holds a substantial 15,000 acres.

The Earls Castle Stewart, whose seat remains at the Stuart Hall Estate near Stewartstown, owned 32,615 acres.

The Earls of Caledon held vast amounts of land amounting to 29,236 acres.

The Church of Ireland - the Church Commissioners - held 28,002 acres.

The Stewart Baronets, of Athenree in County Tyrone, owned 27,905 acres; and their residence was Ballygawley House.

The Cole-Hamilton family lived at Beltrim Castle, near Gortin, and had 16,682 acres.

The McMahon Baronets, of Dublin, owned 16,326 acres. The village of Mountfield, near Omagh, was developed mainly in the 1800s by Sir William McMahon, Bt, and today is a quiet, tranquil place with its economy dependent on agriculture. Their residence was Fecarry Lodge.

The Verner Baronets, of Verner's Bridge in County Armagh, had 16,042 acres.

Although the Earls of Belmore lived principally at the palatial and stately Castle Coole in County Fermanagh, they also had 14,359 acres in County Tyrone.

Mr Thomas Arthur Hope, of Wavertree in Lancashire, owned 13,995 acres.

The 1st Lord Dorchester owned 12,607 acres. Born in Strabane in 1724, Sir Guy Carleton went on to become Military Governor of Quebec and was instrumental in successfully challenging an invasion of Canada by the rebel forces of the American Colonies in 1776. Ironically his opposite number was Donegal man Richard Montgomery.

The Knox-Browne family owned 10,125 acres at Aughentaine Castle, near Fivemiletown. The Castle was sold to the Hamilton-Stubber family in 1954.


Mrs L E de Bille. of Slaghtfreedan Lodge, near Cookstown, owned 12,680 acres.

Monday, 7 December 2009

New Camera

I've gone ahead and ordered a new Canon Powershot A480 digital camera. Frankly, I Don't have a huge interest in photography, seldom - if ever - taking a camera with me on holidays; though the current camera simply doesn't have a large enough memory. I use it for the blog.

I've read enough about the little Canon to know that it is straightforward, easy to use and very good value for the money. I have a collection of SD memory cards, which should do the trick.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Jolly Fine Grub!

I don't think the cost of wild bird food has increased much, since my last visit to Jollye's about six months ago. We called with them this afternoon, on our way back from Donaghadee and Groomsport in County Down. A sack of Niger seeds cost £34.99; and likewise with black sunflower seeds, £12.49. Goldfinches do have expensive tastes! They are the only birds that eat Niger seeds, with us at any rate. During harsher weather in the winter, redpolls and siskins usually make an appearance, and they enjoy Niger seeds, too.

I put the sacks in the boot of the baby two-seater with ease.

Earlier, we lunched at the café in Donaghadee Garden Centre. This place is deservedly popular. We arrived promptly today and donned the feed-bags not long after it opened at 12.30pm. They claim: "We take our food and coffee very seriously, and are proud to say we offer the best in traditional home cooking at both our centres. Scrumptious scones and a huge range of pies, cakes and deserts [sic] are all baked on a daily basis". I shan't argue with that statement. This place seems to be popular with everyone: families; children; older people; those with a disability, too. They provide a number of wheel-chairs.

I think the key to their perennial success is consistently good, no-nonsense, tasty, home-made, traditional Ulster food. If you feel like a sumptuous beef-steak pie with mash, carrots and peas, with plenty of butter and other condiments, I doubt if you'll be disappointed.

And that is just what I had today: all of the above; and the Dowager enjoyed a small dish of a good stew. We shared their popular lemon meringue pie with lashings of whipped cream for pudding; which could, to be truthful, have been more lemony. It would have required more zest, I felt. Still, it was also very good.

The café was moderately busy when we made our departure. The steak pie was £7.65; the ½ stew, a snip at £3; and pudding (ample for two!), £3.60.

They have a sister café at their Bushmills Garden Centre, where we've been many times. The grub is equally good there, too. We'll be back.

Bird's-Eye View?

I've been browsing through the Sunday Times - online - this morning; which is fine, till Murdoch starts charging. Reckon I'll pay him? Not on your nelly.

A few pieces have caught my eye: One is about the big supermarket Tesco's battle with rivals to retain the "premium" food market. Obviously Tesco is not merely content with the "value" market, or the markets in the middle. They want the lot! Seemingly they are aggressively discounting "high-end" products like king prawns and their lobster, by halving the price. The other protagonists - antagonists! - would appear to be the likes of Waitrose and Marks and Spencer.

The second article that - somewhat aptly - caught my eye is about the arrival of "20/20 vision", virtually perfect eyesight by means of lens implants which use a technique similar to cataract lenses. These lenses are already available in America and Germany, retailing at £600 per lens. However, the London Eye Hospital has begun private operations for those willing to pay £3,000 per eye.

It sounds good to me.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Top Gear in Belfast

Top Gear sounds as if it'll be good this week: The BBC flagship motoring programme sees Jeremy Clarkson testing a Renault car in a huge tunnel under Belfast; and then, apparently, firing the car off the dock-side at a departing ferry!

The show is on BBC2 tomorrow at 8.30pm; and BBC HD at 10.30pm; finally being repeated next Wednesday at 8pm.

Tree Installed

This morning I unearthed our Christmas tree from the basement and, generating a modicum of effort, manhandled it to its customary position in the living-room. Amen! The lights are all working. The decorations are all up in the attic, so that shall be the next job.

I'm still interested in writing an article about Stuart Hall in County Tyrone ( I mentioned it on the blower last night to Richard, a fellow-NT Volunteer - and hastened to add that I alluded to the country house, not the It's A Knockout compere).

When I was talking to Lord Castle Stewart this morning he suggested that the local post office in Stewartstown had a few picture post-cards and things about the Hall. I must make a point of paying Stewartstown a visit; I cannot recall ever having been there.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Free Stamps!

It never ceases to astonish me how often, at Christmas, the Royal Mail's machinery fails to frank postage stamps. Waste Not, Want Not, as the saying goes. I remove unmarked stamps from the envelopes; soak and float them on a saucer of water; carefully peel them off after a few hours; dry them; and re-use them with gluey gum.

Within the last year or so I have accumulated 23 stamps, 6 of them first class. That equates to £7.44.

Given that the population of the UK is roughly sixty million, if a mere 1% of people "do what I do", the Royal Mail has lost £4,464,000 in revenue.

Thank you very much, Royal Mail.

Badger Extravaganza

I was motoring up the drive of the old school earlier this evening for my customary sixty lengths when, as I turned the bend, what I suddenly saw was quite astounding: Two adult badgers sparring with each other on the grass verge.

I slowed down in order to observe them in the headlights; then, after a few seconds, they both ran into the undergrowth.

What a remarkable sight.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Prince Edward in Ulster

His Royal Highness The Earl of Wessex has arrived in Belfast and has attended a memorial and thanksgiving service at Belfast Cathedral, marking the return of 19 Light Brigade from operations in Afghanistan.

Prince Edward personally represented Her Majesty The Queen.

Amongst the other dignitaries were:-

Dame Mary Peters, DBE, HM Lord-Lieutenant of the County Borough of Belfast

The Rt Hon the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor N Long

The High Sherriff for the County Borough of Belfast, Councillor F McCoubrey,

The Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal,

The Rt Hon Bob Ainsworth MP, Secretary of State for Defence,

The Rt Hon Peter Robinson MP MLA, First Minister of Northern Ireland,

The Rt Hon Paul Goggins MP, Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The Very Reverend the Dean of Belfast, Dr Houston McKelvey, QVRM, TD

The Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, GCB, AFC

Brigadier Tim Radford, OBE, Commander 19 Brigade.

Lord Belmont's Official Birthday

I am two years old today! Gosh, that is nifty stuff for a two year-old, I hear you say. Here is my very first entry on the 2nd December, 2007. If I may crave your indulgence with a few salient facts and figures:-

  • 67,267 hits in 2009 (25,009 in 2008)
  • 6,200 profile views (2,500 in 2008)
  • 565 postings (465 in 2008)
The majority of visitors are from the United Kingdom, with 62%; USA, 11%; Canada, 5%; Ireland, 4%; New Zealand, 3%; Australia, 3%; Holland, 2%.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

HMS Caroline

I am hopeful that the veteran warship and erstwhile GHQ of the Royal Naval Reserve in Northern Ireland, HMS Caroline, shall remain in the Port of Belfast.

I think it's important that we keep her here, as a valuable piece of maritime heritage; and even as a floating museum - like HMS Belfast moored in London.

There is an article in the Belfast Telegraph today about the future of the 1st World War light cruiser; though they have omitted the small matter of funding, despite the fact that the Royal Navy has confirmed that HMS Caroline, which has been moored in Belfast since 1924, needs around £3.5 million worth of refurbishment, which it cannot afford.

Three million, five hundred thousand pounds is nothing compared to the vast sums spent on irrelevant quangos and commissions. I'm sure the funding can be raised.

One final thought: HMS Belfast is a branch of the Imperial War Museum in London. Why shouldn't HMS Caroline become a section of Museums and Galleries Northern Ireland?

Monday, 30 November 2009

Remove the Big Wheel

The elephantine monstrosity, which still occupies the grounds of Belfast City Hall, has overstayed its welcome and must be re-located somewhere else. I have complained about its siting previously, because I believe that the grounds of the City Hall are singularly inappropriate for such a structure.

The Belfast Titanic Society has, quite correctly, complained about it. The structure obscures - even blocks - the Titanic Memorial in Donegall Square East. The Lord Mayor of Belfast's response yesterday to this criticism was, to my mind, inadequate; speaking of which, how did Councillor Long vote, presuming there has been a debate about the structure's location?

For the Lord Mayor even to suggest that the Titanic Memorial could be re-located is surely an indication as to her thinking on the matter; and where her priorities lie.

I wish the Lord Mayor to make a statement today, saying that the grounds of City Hall are inappropriate for these kinds of structures; and that she will actively lobby for its removal forthwith.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

London Flights

I've been having a quick look at the various airlines and flights from Belfast City Airport to London. FlyBe remains competitive, it would seem; British Midland - BMI - is another option, though availability and flight times are naturally a factor. A flight at 06:50 in the morning wouldn't be my first choice, lest it were literally free, or a couple of quid.

The other factor to take into account is the journey from the airport into central London; so it is the overall figure, including taxes and flight times, that is of more relevance to me. I may well be able to get a flight from one airline that costs £51 return; though the onward trip by train could cost another £20.

Incidentally, a small hotel in Bloomsbury - a part of the metropolis still largely owned by the Duke of Bedford, it seems - which attains a high rating on TripAdvisor, has caught my eye: the Ridgemount. I am a great believer in TripAdvisor, by the way. I invariably check a hotel's ratings with them before I book anywhere.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Canon Powershot

I'm wondering whether it might be a better idea for me to consider a more up-to-date compact digital camera. My Kodak C310 simply refuses to recognize any SD memory cards at all.

I 'm thinking along the lines of something like a Canon Powershot A480, which does accept SD cards and is, I think, 10 mega-pixels. They can be purchased from Amazon for £81.50.

Surely my Dell desk-top will accept uploads from this little digital camera?

Friday, 27 November 2009

No Memory

Amazon, to their credit, have sent me an email informing that they will refund me the full amount for the Flip camcorder, plus postage costs. This service is more than fair; very good indeed, in my book. There was, after all, nothing wrong with the camcorder, except the fact that it took an inordinate amount of time - 100 minutes - to upload a 6-minute video.

This problem, I suspect, now lies with my five year-old computer, which may not have high-speed USB ports. Perhaps I need to be considering a state-of-the-art desk-top computer instead! That all-on-one Dell Studio One 19 looks handy...

In a final, last-ditch attempt to get my Kodak C310 camera to accept a memory card, I have bought a Kodak 258mb memory card on Ebay for £3.99. If that doesn't work, nothing will. I already have a useless collection of SD memory cards: one 1gb and one 512mb.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Enter The Demesne

One of the joys of keeping a blog like mine is that, from time to time, I receive messages from folk who tell me that they have stumbled across it whilst searching for something else. It's hardly surprising, I suppose, since my scope of topics is practically limitless; and I basically write about whatever takes my fancy.

I have written articles about Donard Lodge, the former marine residence of the Earls Annesley. Of course the mansion is long gone; though remnants of the demesne can still be traced. The present Donard car-park formed part of the grounds.

One such person to encounter my blog has been John, who now lives in Staffordshire, though has strong connections with Newcastle in County Down. John sent me this lovely poem which evokes fond memories of his childhood spent near the old demesne:

Enter The Demesne

Just to enter the demesne amongst the thickness of the trees

My minds still active my memory still sees

I remember the Annesley family’s summer home, in ruins but the building still standing.

To have it demolished there’s just no understanding

It was damaged in the sixties by fire

But as a boy to go inside was my only desire

Empty haunted dangerous and falling

Id get closer and closer to going inside, then I would here my dad calling.

It stood with the trees tall and proud,

But look at it dad I would shout out loud

It was such a beautiful building to knock it down I am sure they regret

But it's still part of me and I'll never forget

We had such good times as children following all of the paths

I can recall all of the fun and still here the laughs

But there’s another side to the demesne a darker side that I find daunting

I always feel a presence, something haunting

You here things in the bushes but never quite see

I always get the feeling there’s something watching me

Was it a trick of my imagination or something I saw?

Perhaps a banshee a big cat or maybe even a wild bore

John Lenaghan

Putting Fitness First

I have joined the health club, Fitness First, today. I was a member a few years ago and, since then, I've belonged to two other clubs.

Are there Fitness First clubs in the USA or Canada; or Australia?

In my experience they all have their deficiencies; and, sometimes, it can be a case of "out of the frying-pan and into the fire", "the devil you know..." and all that rot.

Still, I wish for a change again; so I called with them today and suffered the usual sales pitch, the obligation to disclose my phone number et al. I provided my mobile number: I rarely have it with me, so it is almost as good as no number! They can always pester me by my tertiary email address.

It never does you any good to discuss what deal you negotiate - or strike - with fellow members, since the deals vary so much. I was sufficiently satisfied with mine to go ahead: £23.33 per month for twelve months - no administration or joining fee either. They all probably seek new members, especially at this time of year; so I didn't have to try hard.

The Connswater branch doesn't have a swimming-pool. No matter, I swim at the old school anyway.

I'd better say my "goodbyes" to a few chums at the old club tomorrow.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

At Linen Hall Library

I was in Belfast briefly this morning, in order to do a bit of research, again, at the Linen Hall Library in Donegall Square North. What a most civilized place it is. I entered by the Donegall Square entrance and complimented the door man on the gleaming brass-work. There is something comforting about this old library - it's definitely evocative of times past, with its carpeting, brass features, wood panelling; even creaky floor-boards. I am fond of the old girl.

Whilst there, the large, hardback book by Sir Charles Brett about the Buildings of County Armagh caught my eye. If you really wish to study Armagh's historic buildings, look no further. My modest articles "pale into insignificance", by comparison.

I endeavoured to find some information about Lizard Manor in Aghadowey; and Stuart Hall, near Stewartstown, erstwhile seat of Lord Castle Stewart.

I'd considered having a bite to eat at Alden's in the City; however, in the event, I ambled into Marks and Spencer's and dashed out again with three packets of fish; a packet of chicken legs; and two packets of their most excellent fruit pastilles under my arm, literally (I'd forgotten to bring a carrier-bag).

Stuart Hall Estate actually has a phone number, so I called them and left a message on the answer machine.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Gloom & Despondency

I have been feeling a bit gloomy lately, what with the incident concerning the Dowager a week ago and all that that entailed. You're cruising along quite happily, and then this sort of "challenging" matter occurs.

The stress of the Dowager Incident, coupled with my futility and frustration at being unable to upload images satisfactorily with the new camcorder; and returning it; trying desperately to get SC memory cards to work on the little Kodak camera - seemingly the camera is technologically obsolete and I kept being asked what age it was, as if it was a Kodak Brownie! It cannot be much more than five years old.

So there it is. I can only hope that life gets back to the old routine again soon. At least I'm still posting these dispatches on the blog.

I've been doing a spot of research on country houses in County Londonderry. Is there anyone reading this from that county? This shall be the subject of a future project. A few familiar names are popping up, viz. Drenagh, Ballyscullion, Bellarena, Downhill and, of course, Springhill.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Flip Flop

My expectations were too high. Typical. I do not doubt that the Flip Mino HD camcorder is able to take videos of up to an hour in length; that, for its size, it takes very good pictures; and that it is "user-friendly" - simple to operate - also.

What I didn't realize was how long a five-minute video would take to upload. Blogger accepts AVI, MPEG, QuickTime, Real and Windows Media, up to 100 MB maximum size. How does the Flip relate to this, if it is so blogger-friendly?

Must I accept that any video I take can be a mere couple of minutes' length?

I started to upload a five-minute video to You Tube last night and it indicated an upload time estimate of 100 minutes!

Is there an answer, I wonder? Will I lose interest in taking short video clips and let my £120 Flip gather dust in its box?

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Upload Failure

I have been trying to upload my first video all morning and I just want to remove the software completely! It simply shan't upload. I have a video of my goldfinches.

There must surely be an easier means of uploading Flip videos to my blog...

The Plum Pudding

Despite the fact that I only ever indulge in it at Christmas - usually - I adore plum pudding. That is the old-fashioned, traditional - even archaic - name for it. Call it Christmas pudding, if you prefer.

There are some very good plum puddings on the market, without the need to make one yourself.

Marcus Wareing, Gordon Ramsay's erstwhile protégé, has been out and about testing several of the best supermarket ones and, unsurprisingly, the Tesco Finest, 18-month Matured pudding is impressive. Tesco are proud of their "premium" plum puddings; especially since Her Majesty has presented them to her staff - or some of them - at Christmas in the past. That's what I've heard, at any rate.

Wareing's comparison is selective and he tries a mere six puddings. Nonetheless, it is still quite interesting. Judge for yourself...

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Royal Promotions

I have learned today that Rear-Admiral HRH The Princess Royal is to be promoted to the rank of Vice-Admiral in the Royal Navy with effect from the 1st December, 2009.

Captain HRH The Duke of York, Royal Navy, is to be promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral in the Royal Navy on his 50th birthday, the 19th February, 2010.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Burlington Arcade

Rejuvenated from her official visit to Canada, the Duchess of Cornwall has switched on the Christmas lights at the splendid Burlington Arcade in the metropolis.

The arcade was built to the order of Lord George Cavendish, younger brother of the 5th Duke of Devonshire, who had inherited the adjacent Burlington House on what had been the side garden of the house and was reputedly to prevent passers-by throwing oyster shells and other rubbish over the wall of his lordship's home. It consisted of a single straight top-lit walkway lined with seventy-two small two storey units. Some of the units have now been combined, reducing the number of shops to around forty. The ponderous Piccadilly façade, in a late version of Victorian mannerism, was added in the early 20th century.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Flippin' Heck!

I have "splashed out" on a little camcorder called the Flip Mino HD. The best deal I could find was on the mail order company, Amazon.

This tiny, mobile-phone-sized camcorder sounds impressive to me, at £120. My fellow-blogger, Alan in Belfast, wrote a review of it in May, 2009; and there are innumerable positive reviews of it on the Web generally.

It will arrive imminently. Watch this space...

The Hospital Trip

I must give credit indeed to the Ulster Hospital; particularly their Casualty Unit and Observation Ward, for a competent, efficient and assiduous process from Tuesday through to Wednesday. This competence and impressiveness was not reflected at the GP surgery end, if you know what I mean - district nurse excepted.

The first ambulance - non-emergency - failed to arrive on Monday afternoon, because the GP at the surgery forgot to inform them. I phoned the next morning to let them know. The second ambulance arrived when I was out at an appointment - and I had expressly told the doctor that I'd be out between 10.30 and 12.30. The third ambulance did turn up mid-afternoon and the Dowager was taken to "A&E".

I know that surgery receptionists have a job to do, apart from protecting and shielding their doctors from "nuisance patients"; and, consequently, they operate a rigorous regime. Nevertheless, they can, in stressful situations, be utterly insufferable and tiresome. Little wonder people can resort to superciliousness with them, as opposed to rudeness.

However, at the hospital the Dowager stayed in the ward overnight; and I collected her on Wednesday afternoon. To one's relief, she only has a sprained ankle - no fracture - so she has been provided with a "zimmer" and a carton of co-codamol tablets. We have Ibuprofen ointment at home as well, and this could be beneficial.

The administration of the Ulster Hospital persists in ripping off and depriving patients and their visitors of cash perennially by means of car parking charges. I paid £1.80 on Tuesday; and £1 yesterday for about 15 or 20 minutes. If the Northern Ireland Assembly and its Executive is worth its salt - or anything at all - it is long overdue the time that this extortion was prohibited and that the senior executives running our hospitals made accountable for such disgraceful tactics.

I've been told that some Ulster hospitals even charge in-patients for the "privilege" of watching television! The present Health Minister and his colleagues are sitting on their hands, as far as these scandals are concerned.

They keep claiming that they have no money or insufficient funds. Eh? They seem to have an abundance of funds for innumerable commissions, Ombudsmen, quangos, certain dubious benefits ad nauseum.

I compliment the nurses and staff at the hospital; I condemn the administration for the bureaucracy.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Valete: Lady Mairi

The sole surviving daughter of the Most Honourable Charles Stewart Henry Marquess of Londonderry, KG, MVO, TD, and Edith, Marchioness of Londonderry, Lady Mairi Bury was married to Viscount Bury who, in turn was heir to the 9th Earl of Albemarle.

Lady Mairi lived at Mount Stewart House and estate, near Newtownards in County Down, throughout her life; Mount Stewart is now a property of the National Trust. Her nephew was the 9th and present Marquess. Lady Mairi's niece was Lady Annabel Goldsmith.

A memorial service was held for Lady Mairi's father, the aforementioned 7th Marquess, at Belfast Cathedral on the 16th February, 1949; and at Westminster Abbey the following day. Lord Londonderry was buried at the Family's burial ground above the lake at Mount Stewart, Tir-N'an Og.

Lady Mairi's interests included philately.

The Londonderry Family once owned one of the grandest homes in London, Londonderry House, in Park Lane, which is now the site of the Hilton Hotel. The title is, incidentally, pronounced "London-dry".

Lady Mairi Bury 1921-2009

I am saddened to learn that Lady Mairi Bury, from Mount Stewart House and sole surviving daughter of the 7th Marquess and Marchioness of Londonderry, has died. It is believed that Lady Mairi passed away on Monday evening.

The BBC has an article here. The coat-of-arms is shown by kind permission of European Heraldry.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

A Terrible Day

I've had a ghastly day. The Dowager sprained her ankle on Sunday, while we were at Daft Eddy's on Sketrick Island. I've endured a steady stream of calls from the district nurse; the doctor; the ambulance service ... and I've had to be "in attendance" all day.

The first ambulance didn't turn up because the doctor forgot to inform them. The second ambulance turned up this morning while I was away - and I expressly told the doctor that I had an appointment between ten-thirty and noon.

The third ambulance arrived mid-afternoon. I followed it in the baby two-seater; accompanied the Dowager into Casualty in the Ulster Hospital; waited for a few hours; and, when they x-rayed the ankle, there was no fracture.

The Dowager is being kept in an observation ward overnight; and I'll collect her tomorrow.

I still managed to swim my sixty lengths this evening. On the way home, I stopped at a new kebab house, Lydia's, at 38, Belmont Road, fancying some comfort food. This takeaway seems clean and tidy; and the staff also seem to be agreeable.

I ordered a doner kebab with pitta bread and garlic mayonnaise. It was the best kebab I have eaten for many years indeed: Crispy, fresh salad; lots of meat; and thick, tangy garlic mayonnaise - not that runny, diluted stuff you sometimes get. Great value for £3.50. I shall definitely return.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

3-D Week

Picked up your free pair of 3-D glasses from Sainsbury's this week? I have! There was a pile of them in a tall carton at the entrance of the store.

3-D Week begins on Channel Four from next Monday. Tim Heald tipped me off about it; and the free glasses.

I'm certainly curious to learn how effective the experience will be.

And don't forget that the new series of the BBC's flagship motoring programme, Top Gear, begins tonight at 9pm on BBC HD and BBC2.

The Panda Encounter

I phoned up Alden's Restaurant yesterday in order to reserve a table for my birthday next month. I enjoyed a good lunch at their city branch during the summer; and it's ages since we last ate at their main restaurant.

Last night I met up with an old school chum, Pete, at the Odyssey Pavilion in Belfast. Despite there being an ice hockey match, the ambiance in the pavilion was subdued and quiet - no buzz about that huge Mecca of entertainment at all.

We dined at the Red Panda Chinese restaurant on the first floor, which was certainly doing a steady trade. Although the outside seating was empty, the restaurant was moderately full; though we were shown to a table immediately.

We shared a starter of shredded crispy duck with very thin pancakes, finely cut celery - was it celery? - and a sort of hoisin sauce. You make it up yourself by placing the ingredients inside the open pancake and rolling the lot up. This was very tasty indeed.

Pete had chicken with chili and honey sauce; while I ate the chicken with Peking sauce. My meal was, ironically, hotter than Pete's! I wondered whether they'd brought me the wrong dish, because any Chinese meal I've had with Peking sauce is usually sweet, rather than hot. I still enjoyed it, though.

The portions were fine; the bill, including two drinks and coffees, came to about £40.

The atmosphere in the Red Panda was quite jolly, there being a birthday party.

Pete was telling me about the neighbours beside his old family home on the road into Donaghadee in County Down - the road which looks on to the Copeland Islands. Seemingly the neighbour is a wealthy "builder" (read developer) and Pete initially wondered whether they were building a small hotel! It's no hotel: it's their residence. And it boasts a heli-pad; and a games-room with a billiards table at one corner of the room. It appears that this chap owns - or partly owns - a race-horse called Monty's something-or-other which won a few races.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Poor Memory

Not self, I hasten to add, on this occasion! Timothy Belmont's memory is tip-top, I am glad to report.

I refer to an inexpensive digital camcorder I purchased about ten days ago at a prominent stationer's in Donegall Place, Belfast.

I used it for the first time the other day and its internal memory is utterly pathetic! Eighteen seconds, or thereabouts. It would have required an SD Card for extra memory. I returned it today, in its original packaging; and, to the stationer's credit, they didn't quibble at all. The £39.99 was credited to my account.

I have a trusty little Kodak C310 digital camera, which suffices for me. Remarkably enough, its internal memory is quite good; and it would improve a deal more with an "SD Memory Card".

1GB should be sufficient for me. That is the maximum size of memory recommended for my camera anyway. I have just bought a new one from a business seller on Ebay, for £2.99 including free postage.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Royal Trip to Canada

TRH The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall have completed an official visit to Canada by planting a commemorative oak tree at the Governor-General's residence in Ottawa yesterday.

They have timed it well: Prince Charles's 61st birthday is tomorrow.

Princess Royal in Ulster

Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal is in Northern Ireland today, presenting medals to Territorial Army soldiers at Hillsborough Castle in County Down.

The new Lord-Lieutenant for County Down, Mr David Lindsay, welcomed HRH.

A Pee Please, Bob!

I always suspected as much. It's good for something, at any rate. After dinner in the evenings, we always used to blame the ringworm after urinating on the lawn in front of the odd country house, lest it discoloured the grass.

Now I am relieved to hear it!

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Coal Tit Frenzy

I've been viewing a pair of delightful coal tits, darting to and fro from our feeder station in the front garden. If you blink an eyelid you'll miss them!

They are fond of black sunflower seeds. I've been told that coal tits are like squirrels, in so far as they are hoarders; and they habitually secrete their food stocks for the winter months.

"My" goldfinches happily perch at their nyjer seeds, munching away; oblivious to the tits in their frenzy.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Civic Pride

Perhaps I'm being a trifle paranoid, but I am sure that the City of Belfast's Christmas tree - the one erected at the front of City Hall each year - is diminishing in size.

I seem to recall the tree being loftier a few decades ago. Could the dimensions of the tree be a reflection of the city's lack of pride or self-esteem? Or is this yet another cost-cutting measure by Belfast City Council? Health and Safety "Euro-Gobbledygook"?

The Council, in its wisdom, sold their last great motor-car, viz. the Rolls-Royce Phantom VI.

I happened to be at the Linen Hall Library today, undertaking some research pertaining to County Armagh.

I have selected an old, traditional font for what you are reading now: Garamond.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Hard Disc Space

I have been experimenting - as you may, or may not, have noticed - with new fonts for my title and description. I have chosen Edwardian Script for the former; Copperplate for the latter. My original preference was for a font called "Palace Script"; but since this isn't available on Microsoft Works 9, I've settled for the other.

When I was using my diminutive notebook computer downstairs a few days ago a message popped up advising me that there was less than 5% disc space remaining. I haven't even been able to de-fragment it because, seemingly, it is ineffective if the available space drops below a certain level.

I "surfed the Web" in order to see what was recommended; and I encountered this article, Six Ways to Increase Available Disc Space.

Most of the recommendations are utterly incomprehensible to me; nevertheless, I persevered and did what they said.

It has worked. So far, so good. My disc space has increased from about 5% to 45%. That's remarkable, isn't it?

If any readers try this, I'd be most interested to hear how you get on...

Monday, 9 November 2009

The Brown Misspelling

I think I'll give the Prime Minister, Mr Brown, the "benefit of the doubt" in this exceptional instance. He wrote a letter to the grieving mother of Guardsman Janes, killed on active service last October whilst in Afghanistan.

Mr Brown is practically blind in one eye; and, to be fair, this is the most likely reason for the misspelling (presumably he wrote "James" instead of Janes).

Having said that, surely it must be of the utmost import that Mr Brown gets this kind of personal correspondence checked, either by his wife or by an aide, owing to his handicap?

My distaste for Mr Brown and most of his socialist colleagues is doubtless reciprocated, in equal measure, by their loathing of the Great Lady, whom I hold in inestimably higher esteem!

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Conservation at Glastry

Yet another day of toil; a labour of love. We - the NT Volunteers - met at Glastry today. Glastry is a very small hamlet, about a mile from the fishing village of Ballyhalbert in County Down.

It is generally unknown to the general public that the National Trust owns the land which was once the old brick-works at Glastry. It closed a long time ago, in 1872.

The former clay pits filled naturally with rain-water; and now form a series of ponds surrounded by a lovely nature reserve.

We were cutting away gorse bushes today; and removing long, coarse grass from a row of saplings. There were about twelve of us today, and it wasn't half muddy! I munched contentedly at my smoked salmon sandwiches. I'd brought a dozen mini muffins along, too; so I handed them round at lunch-time.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Great Armagh Landowners

My small piece about the Earls of Gosford and their former seat, Gosford Castle, has whetted my appetite for a little more research; so I shall be writing and, indeed, focusing during the next few weeks, from time to time, on the topic of the great landowners of County Armagh a hundred years ago.

As a general introduction, I shan't dwell on any particular country house or family.

Among the greatest landowners in County Armagh during the 19th century was the Viscount Charlemont and his descendants. They owned Charlemont Fort; and their seat was Roxborough Castle, which was actually in Moy, County Tyrone. In 1876, Lord Charlemont owned 20,695 acres.

The 2nd Baron Lurgan built Brownlow House, near Lurgan. Lord Lurgan and his successors owned 15,166 acres. Brownlow House was sold to the Orange Order in 1903.

The Dukes of Manchester owned large amounts of land in County Armagh. Their Ulster seat was Tandragee Castle, which is now the premises of a well-known potato crisp factory. The Dukes of Manchester owned 12,298 acres.

The Earls of Gosford, whose seat was Gosford Castle, near Markethill, boasted a fine estate which extended to 12,177 acres.

The Synnot family lived at Ballymoyer House which, I think, is near the village of Bessbrook in the county. They owned 7,371 acres.

The Verner baronets lived at Verner's Bridge, of which I know little or nothing. Do any readers have any further information? The Verners owned land at Churchill, near Loughgall, amounting to 5,436 acres.

The Stronge baronets, of Tynan Abbey, near the village of Tynan, owned 4,404 acres.

The Molyneux baronets, of Castle Dillon, owned 3,416 acres. I am presently researching Castle Dillon. A sumptuous new country house has been built in the county, and it has been called Castledillon House. Do any readers have further knowledge of this?


I inadvertently omitted two major landowners in the county, which I now include as follows:-

The Cope family owned 9,367 acres at the Manor, Loughgall.

The Close family's estate, Drumbanagher,near Poyntzpass, comprised 9,087 acres. The Drumbanagher Shoot is still flourishing though, sadly, the great House was demolished many years ago.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Tesco Belmont Closure

A significant matter has just been brought to my attention this morning, which concerns people living and working in the Earldom.

The Tesco store at numbers 1 to 3, Belmont Road in Strandtown, Belfast, is to close down on the 31st December, 2009. It may, or may not, re-open in eighteen months' time. I phoned the store today and this news has been confirmed.

Eighteen months seems a long time for a small supermarket to be closed to me; indeed it dismays me. We do use this store occasionally.

So it would seem that the future of the store, and its staff, is uncertain.

If any readers have any more information about this, please do let me know.

I believe that the site at 1-3, Belmont Road, was a national school 100 years ago. It eventually became the premises of Buckley Brothers, hardware merchants; followed by a Stewart's Supermarket.

Medal Polishing

I took my late father's medals out of their cabinet this morning in order to polish them. I had the miniature ones re-mounted several years ago; and these are the ones I occasionally wear at Remembrance ceremonies.
You are supposed to wear full-size medals with overcoat or lounge suit!, I hear you exclaim; which is correct. However, it is not so important because they weren't awarded to me and I wear them on the right-hand side.

I think miniature medals and decorations are only meant to be worn with dinner jackets, mess dress or full evening dress.

The CVO - Commander of the Royal Victorian Order - in the cabinet belonged to another ancestor.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

At Horse Island

I'm just back from a sixty-length swim up at the old school, having whacked a pizza in the oven earlier.

I spent all day, with five other volunteers, at National Trust land beside Horse Island, near Kircubbin on the Ards Peninsula.

We are making satisfactory progress. This is quite a large plot of land, and the perimeter is overgrown with gorse, briar, ivy and other undergrowth. The perimeter will soon be ready for the new fencing.

The Property Manager turned up at lunch-time with a camera-man. The Trust is making a short film about volunteering in Northern Ireland which, seemingly, will be sold in their local shops. The camera-man filmed us during the afternoon; and then conducted short, two-minute interviews with us all!

On my way home towards Belfast, there was a police speed unit consisting of two policemen, one pointing a speed gun at the traffic as it drove down the steep hill on the dual carriageway towards Dundonald; the spot where the 70mph speed limit drops suddenly to 40mph. I was reducing my speed at this point. They didn't flag me down so, presumably, I was OK.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Morning at the Museum

I've been seeking a black silk tie with minuscule scattered white spots for some time now. These sorts of ties were in evidence last night on the telly, the actors playing Churchill and several members of his war Cabinet sporting similar ones; though I've been looking out for one since long before that.

I finally found one at T M Lewin's shop in Howard Street, Belfast.

Thence I motored in a southerly direction, up Bedford Street, Dublin Road and University Road to my destination, the Ulster Museum.

Readers from Northern Ireland shall know that the Museum has been closed for several years due to major refurbishment.

On this occasion, I stayed for about an hour, sufficient time to get a flavour of the new Museum. It must be said that its transformation is a great improvement, despite my being slightly disappointed that there were no "old master" paintings on display - and there shan't be for another three months.

I viewed some of the most notable items on display, viz. the insignia of the Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick which, in this case, once belonged to the 9th Earl of Shaftesbury; and the Toilet Service commissioned for the 19th Earl of Kildare (whose son became the 1st Duke of Leinster). Doubtless the newly-created Duke would have commissioned a new toilet service, as befitted His Grace's rank, with a ducal coronet on the silverware.

Sadly the mantle (below) and sash riband of the Order were not on display, though they can be seen on my blog!

The taxidermic bird collection is very good indeed.

I lunched at the new Girona Restaurant on the ground floor. To my mind it is more akin to a self-service café; though I am sure it compares well with its peers in many other provincial museums. Simply do not have high expectations and you shan't be terribly disappointed.

There was a short queue today at midday, so I waited for about ten minutes. The audible "pop music" being played did not agree with my ears! The staff all seem to be mostly anxious to please and reasonably diligent. I gave my order at the counter: breast of chicken, with small "roast" potatoes, carrot and turnip batons and some kind of sauce. I also ordered the citrus tart with double cream; with a pot of tea.

I told the cashier that I had ordered the citrus tart, which the chef advised he'd bring to my table later. The bill came to £8.70. Bearing in mind that the chicken was £7.50, I suspect that they omitted to charge me for the pudding which was, incidentally, quite good.

The chicken meal was perfectly acceptable. The potatoes were certainly in their "jackets", though didn't seem roasted to me. I'd get a similar result if I boiled them or cooked them in a microwave oven. The chicken breast was large, the number of little potatoes generous.

My main gripe was the temperature of the meal. By the time I sat down to eat it, it was lukewarm; and half-way through, it became cool. Believe me, I am not fussy about piping-hot food, so heaven knows what a fuss-pot would have done - taken it back for a "blitzing" in the microwave, presumably.

They had a very good display of scones, muffins and pastries, by the way.

I expect I'll revisit the Museum in three months' time, when the "old master" painting collection returns.