Friday, 30 January 2009

Odious Verruca

I have a suspected verruca on my big toe. These growths are odious, though the one in question is small. I always wear flip-flops at swimming-pools, changing-rooms, terraces etc. and the phenomenon still recurs.

I have been trying the garlic remedy; and, today, I have applied a bit of banana skin thereon with a plaster.

In my experience, liquid nitrogen is the most effective technique; however, since my doctor's practice is too stingy to perform such a minor application on a small verruca, that is a non-starter. I think you'd need to have about a dozen carbuncles before they acquiesced.

There is stuff that can be bought which, I believe, is called Wartner's and it is fairly good, too. Nevertheless, I'll try the cheapest method first.

Research At Public Record Office In Belfast

I spent an hour carrying out some research in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI), in Balmoral Avenue, yesterday. Most of my time was actually spent waiting. I sought an old chart of Strangford Lough or, in particular, Salt Island and Gibb's Island.

When I obtained the reference number for a 1932 map (about three feet square), I waited quite patiently for about twenty minutes till it arrived. I really wished for a photocopy of the two islands; however, they were not prepared to do this so the entire chart must be copied at a cost of £5.40. Moreover, it shan't be ready for ten days.

Presuming that the photocopy will be of satisfactory quality, I intend to photocopy the A4 part with the islands thereon; and then offer the large chart to the National Trust at Strangford Lough. It may laminate well.

While I was at PRONI, I took the opportunity to study some old Belfast street directories; and discovered that the very first entry for the Golden Crumb home bakery, 53, Belmont Church Road, Belfast, was in 1948. The entry states: " K H Murdock, Bakery".

Striding back to the two-seater which I had parked across the road, at Shrewsbury Gardens, I motored on to Boucher Road, where Fulton's Hawthorn Restaurant is located. I had a lasagne, salad and coleslaw meal with their sublime mustardy dressing and, en route, nodded at the regular pianist there who now recognizes me. I didn't have to queue today since I was so early.

On Thursday evening I attended a BBC concert at the Assembly Building in Fisherwick Place, Belfast. It was a good concert, practically full. The theme was Schubert, and I had a good seat ten feet away from the pianist. The Ulster Orchestra's Steinway concert grand piano is starting to show its age (perhaps none the worse for that, tonally) : little pieces of the ebony wood have chipped off, probably in transit to various venues. Could some benefactor not treat them to a brand new, top-of-the-range one? Fat chance, I suppose.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Swimming Dilemma

I swam seventy lengths up at the old school last night. The plan is to attend another BBC concert tonight, so I'll miss my Thursday swim. I spoke to the most senior swimmer in the Club prior to my swim and he apprised me of the Society's AGM. Not particularly sanguine news for the swimming branch, which is somewhat dismaying since I've been a regular swimmer here for thirty years.

They say that membership in the Club has shrunk to fewer than fifty members. This calls in to question the sustainability of the very Club itself; or, at least, the swimming section. The Committee will, apparently, review this predicament in May, before the swimming-pool would re-open at the start of term in September, 2009.

The Club now has to employ a fully qualified life guard and a deputy for the swimming, a costly measure. This has been compounded by technical problems a few years ago, when the pool was closed for months; and as a consequence of this, many regular members drifted off and joined other clubs. I, and a few others, have remained steadfast.

Yet again, I may have to consider joining David Lloyd's club in Dundonald. Since Fitness First has no swimming-pool, I'd rule them out; especially since I'd be tied in for at least twelve months.

There's still hope that the swimming-pool at the old school will remain open, however. The most sensible thing to do would probably be to continue with my membership of Castlereagh leisure centre until the matter becomes clearer in, say, June when I should know whether to join David Lloyd's health club or not.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Cuts Of Beef: Supermarket Vagueness

I motored over to Sainsbury's supermarket at Holywood Exchange this afternoon. Having re-fuelled the roadster - noticing that petrol has increased in price by a few pence - I ventured in to the store itself and filled the trusty shopping-basket with shallots, "casserole" beef and lean minced beef, among other items.

In my experience, Northern Ireland supermarkets are always vague about certain cuts of beef. I can never buy chuck steak, for instance. They describe much of their beef as "stewing steak" or "casserole steak". Is this an appropriate trade description, I wonder? Why not be more specific? I'd like to see chuck steak being sold in supermarkets.

I'd need to visit a real butcher's shop for that, I imagine. I must confess that I buy most of my groceries under one huge roof these days, viz. supermarket chains.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Free Parking In Northern Ireland

Now here's an added perk for those Irish motorists and shoppers who are flocking to the Province to shop and take advantage of the weak pound (and who can blame them there) . Whereas we are not, technically and legally, permitted to park on double yellow lines, urban clearways, junctions and other restricted zones - with the exception of Blue Badge holders - 94% of motorists from the Irish Republic can, apparently, park anywhere with impunity.

Of 20,000 parking fines issued, 18,898 remain unpaid. In fairness, I am sure that most responsible drivers park lawfully. Nevertheless, this figure is scandalous.

Surely this could become a prime part of cross-border co-operation between the authorities, thus ensuring that the culprits pay their fines plus added penalties for each day the fines remain unpaid?

I imagine the retailers in Northern Ireland do not mind too much.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Sydenham Fuels, Belfast

Whilst chatting to my neighbour recently, he told me about a coal merchant at 72b, Connsbrook Avenue in the Sydenham area of Belfast where he got his coal from. It cannot be much more than five minutes' drive away. I drove there again, this morning, for some coal. I simply reverse the roadster into their depot; pay them the £7.50 for 25 kilos of the black stuff; the lad whacks a sack into the boot; and away I happily go.

They'll sell you a sack of coal and a sizeable sack of kindling sticks for a tenner. Very handy and good value, too.

Adamant Fitness First

I was at Connswater this morning and called in to the health club, Fitness First, yet again in an attempt to extract further concessions from them. My membership of another health club expires imminently.

To my dismay and disappointment they are still quite adamant that the "administration" fee cannot be waived; and the only other concession they seem prepared to offer me is one free training session. I do not require this: I've got thirty years' experience under my belt.

The young sales girl left me and came back with the general manager, who tried to persuade and reason with me, to no avail. I told him that I could re-join my present club but that I'd consider his proposal, yet again.

I wonder if I am asking too much of them; or being unreasonable? I must confess, I thought they'd have bent over backwards to recruit new members.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Lord Antrim At The Antiques Roadshow

The BBC's Antiques Roadshow was broadcast at the Bishop of Bath and Wells' Palace in Wells this evening. Anyone watching it would have spotted Lord Antrim, who had brought along two valuable items of jewellery for appraisal by the experts.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

The Cinnamon Loaf

I visited the local library at Ballyhackamore this morning in order to get something photocopied. It was double-sided, so twice the price at 30p. On the way home, I drove on to Belmont Church Road, close to the Golden Crumb home bakery. I suddenly remembered my fellow-blogger, Alan In Belfast, hailing their cinnamon bread; so I stopped and strode over to their premises at number 53, Belmont Church Road. These are small loaves coated in icing on top, with a soft crust. They were on display in the front window, at the far right-hand side near the door.

Alan, Thanks a million for your contribution to increasing our household's waistlines! I spread some butter on a few slices and, after a bite, this bread is irresistible. We'll have to ration ourselves in future.

Dinner At The Bay Tree

When Godmother rang me at the beginning of the week, suggesting that we dine at the Bay Tree coffee-house and restaurant in Holywood, County Down, I jumped at the idea. I have been to the Bay Tree many times before; not for dinner in the evening, though. It is up a narrow alleyway, directly opposite the town's police station.

I was slightly whacked from my hedge-laying activity earlier in the day; however, having showered and spruced up, we left home in the two-seater and met Godmother as pre-arranged, at 7 pm in the Bay Tree, on Friday evening.

I like the Bay Tree. It's a thoroughly civilized place and the food always seems to be tip-top. We all decided to skip the starters and proceeded directly to the main course. Godmother and I had the Beef-steak braised in Guinness with shallots, mushrooms and bay, served with mash; the Dowager had pan-fried haddock with parsley butter and mash. We shared a dish of sugar-snap peas, broccoli and parsnip mash. Chef relishes mash!

For pudding, I had the raspberry cheesecake; and the others shared meringue with fruits of the forest and cream. We had a bottle of Chilean red wine, too.

We all enjoyed our meal. The standard was very good: well cooked, tasty, well executed and accomplished. The braised beef melted in the mouth. The haddock seemed fine, too. Needless to add, the puddings were all very good, as well.

Service was friendly, helpful and attentive. What more can I say?

I chatted to John Self, a fellow-blogger, last year and concur with him that the ambiance remains that of the good old Bay Tree coffee-house. I think that, perhaps, placing table-cloths on the tables with silver dinnerware and flowers would enhance the prandial experience; simply making the excellent cuisine and service in the evenings feel like a more special occasion. No matter, that's my own view.

I shan't recite the bill. It's all here on their fine website.

I've been somewhat irritated this week, by a new postman who doesn't push the mail right through the letter-box. This causes cold air to enter the house and may alert strangers to believe there's nobody at home. I've sent the Royal Mail a message about this. Am I being a bit petty? At least the new post-man is delivering the mail much earlier than before. I haven't had an opportunity to talk to him yet.

Friday, 23 January 2009

A Day At Gibb's Island

Craig and Natalie had already begun work on our hawthorn hedge when I arrived this morning at ten-thirty. We are making really good progress; much of the new hedge surrounding the old wall is now complete.

The three of us must have laid about thirty-six hawthorn trees today, with saws and bill-hooks. I love it; and I love Gibb's Island, too. A little robin stayed with us most of the day, finding worms and insects from the disturbed ground where we toiled.

Gibb's Island is just south of Delamont Estate, on Strangford Lough in County Down.

We ate our packed lunches at about one-thirty - roast beef sandwiches for me.

I arrived home at five o'clock. Craig arrived in his car shortly afterwards to collect our old, wide screen television. We have donated it to the National Trust; and I hope that all who watch it shall get as much pleasure as we've had for the last eight years.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Tesco Finest British Roast Beef Sandwiches

I've never been a great fan of horseradish. It's a touch fiery for my palate. That is until I came across Tesco's Finest British Roast Beef Sandwiches whilst on a recent trip to London. I've seen the light!

I consider £2.50 expensive for a round of sandwiches; I certainly don't spend that much on a sandwich all the time. Seldom, in fact.

Nevertheless, I can recommend these sandwiches. Each pack contains a considerable 400 calories, 17% fat and 45% of your daily salt requirement! So they'd be an occasional treat.

Their description is: "roast beef with lettuce, creamed horseradish sauce, mustard mayonnaise and salad cress on malted brown bread". Try uttering that after you've had a dram or two!

I have just bought a pack of them today at the building site called Tesco Knocknagoney, in case I go to Gibb's Island for a spot of hedge-laying tomorrow. Incidentally, anyone who likes shopping at Tesco Knocknagoney at present must be a masochist! Their construction work finishes on the 9th September, 2009, according to the notice-board.

British Bank-Notes

The head honcho of the Financial Services Authority (FSA), Lord Turner, has stated that the whole British banking industry needs a major overhaul. I have no doubt that this is true; it's a terrible indictment of the Government, too, because they have allowed us to reach this sorry state of affairs.

If there is to be an overhaul, I'd like them to examine the regulations and Act of Parliament whereby Scottish and Northern Ireland banks are enabled to print their own bank-notes. This phenomenon is an anomaly to me. As far as I can see, the local banks began to print their own notes in order, simply, to make a profit; and a massive one at that.

It has been explained to me before, about how this actually happens. It has something to do with a local bank depositing the equal amount of funds with the Bank of England and then printing that amount in bank-notes. Consequently, they make a neat profit in interest from this. I don't fully understand the process, but it is a bit like that.

It begs the question: why can't Barclay's Bank or Lloyd's Bank print their own notes? This is an anomaly.

I reckon there should be one issuing authority for bank-notes in the UK; one bank-note. Personally, I'd be quite happy with Bank of England notes. I haven't heard many complaints from Welsh people about them.

The Government and the FSA ought to re-examine the regulations which mean that regional banks in the UK can print their own notes. It would be so much simpler, too. There'd be no more confusion arising from retailers and others re the acceptability of local notes, which is a nuisance to those of us who try to spend a local note elsewhere or, indeed, abroad.

How many other countries permit commercial banks to print their own notes?

One United Kingdom, one bank-note.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Honey Nut Bran Flakes: Tesco's Response

I have received similar replies to my inquiry about Honey and Nut Bran Flakes breakfast cereal from Sainsbury and Tesco. Here is Tesco's response:-

Thank you for your email.

Our Buying Managers decide what we sell in our stores, so I've passed your request to their department. Unfortunately, I can't guarantee that we'll stock this product again, but I can at least assure you that our Buying Manager will consider your request.

Thank you for taking the time to contact us.

If you have any further queries please do not hesitate to contact us at quoting TES6044353X

A Sale Offer Or Simply A Bargain?

I was at Connswater this morning, paying a visit to the Tesco supermarket and, at the aisle where they sell their pots and pans, a rather fine frying-pan caught my eye. Our current large frying-pan is beginning to show its age - wear-and-tear and all that - so I was keen to buy a new one.

I noticed this pan because it was Tesco's "Professional Cook, 30cm Tri-Ply Sauté Pan" with two handles and a 25 year guarantee.

It was lying on its own and there was an assistant near by, so I inquired as to the price and it was £8.75. This sounded a bargain to me; there was no price displayed so I didn't know its original cost.

When I got home I checked Tesco's website and it is still on sale at £34.25. I appear to have saved £25.50!


Monday, 19 January 2009

Who Is The Stig?

Anyone who regularly watches the BBC's flagship motoring programme, Top Gear, will be immediately aware to whom I allude: The Stig, an arcane, invisible man who always wears a Formula One white racing suit and who remains mute.

The question has been pondered often: Who is the Stig? Well, a Daily Telegraph journalist claims to know. They think it is none other than Ben Collins, a professional stunt-driver.

Who am I to argue?

Welcome Back, Mr Clarke

It is gratifying to see the Right Honourable Kenneth - Ken - Clarke, QC, MP, finally returning to his rightful place on the front benches of Her Majesty's Opposition. Mr Clarke has always had a refreshingly direct and frank political style, unlike most senior politicians nowadays.

Mr Clarke has always held strong pro-Europe views, and this stance does tend to alienate him from those who wish to keep our European cousins at arm's length.

No matter. I'm just pleased that he's back; and I am confident that Mr Clarke shall prove to be a formidable opponent against his ministerial counterpart, the Lord Mandelson. I have no doubt as to whom I'd consider the more trustworthy of the two; and it's not the scheming Machiavellian, Peter Mandelson.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Heathrow's Proposed Third Runway

I have no objection, in principle, to reasonable improvements and extensions to the infrastructure of airports, provided that there is the capacity and space to realize such a development. I'm generally in favour, for instance, of an extension of the runway at Belfast City Airport, as long as it fulfils planning guidelines and restrictions.

As far as the proposed third runway at London's Heathrow Airport is concerned, whilst I am not opposed to another runway, I would object to the destruction of historic villages and bulldozing of ancient graveyards; the annihilation of listed buildings and devastation of woodland; and generally wiping out generations of livelihoods and villagers' way of life.

If the Government and others wish to do this with such consequences, I oppose it.

Indian Meal At Odyssey Pavilion, Belfast

The severe gale had eased off by the time I left home yesterday evening for a trip to the Odyssey Pavilion in Belfast. I'd arranged to have a meal with a friend from my school days whom I hadn't seen for ages. I drove.

The giant Odyssey complex, at Queen's Quay, was heaving. The main car park was almost filled to capacity and there were crowds of people. Obviously there was a major concert or event at the arena.

We wondered whether we'd be able to get a table at the Indian Ocean restaurant on the ground floor of the Pavilion. It's a large restaurant and it was almost full with diners; however, we only had to queue for ten or fifteen minutes in order to get a table. Our table was opposite the bar counter.

It's quite awhile since I've dined at an Indian restaurant. I seem to recall generous helpings, with sufficient portions to share. This was not the case here. I had Chicken Korma with pilau rice, and this was the perfect amount for me. I ate the lot, with no wastage at all; no need for a Tupperware container or doggy bag! My meal tasted fine, though I thought the sauce was slightly runny with no sign of any onion, almond, sultanas or anything. Is this usually the case with a restaurant Korma sauce? The menu was lengthy, so perhaps I should have chosen something else. Still, I enjoyed it and that was what mattered.

We shared a garlic nan bread. Personally I couldn't see or taste much garlic; but, as I've said before, I like garlic and lots of it. I always thought Indian people liked copious amounts of garlic too, so given that, if someone orders anything with garlic - and they presumably like garlic - why don't they serve garlic nan with liberal heaps of the stuff? Better still, it could be steeped in garlic butter. Our nan bread was quite dry.

Despite this, it was enjoyable. It is a popular place; so, too, is the Pizza Hut branch at the Odyssey because there was a snake-like queue outside waiting to get in.

The bill for two curries, one nan bread, one beer and one half shandy came to about £34.

Exiting the Pavilion, I paid my car parking charge of £3 and we left.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

A Little Elbow Grease On The Shoes

I finally got round to polishing two pairs of black shoes today. This chore, like many others, requires a considerable psychological effort on my part; however, once everything is prepared and laid out it's easy and satisfying. They weren't particularly dirty; they just hadn't been treated with polish for a very long time.

I contacted Cheaney about the Nicky R shoes and, it transpires, they have been discontinued. All the better for that, in many ways. It does go some way to explaining the substantial discount offered in Bond Street, though. I paid another visit to a local retailer today in order to try on shoe sizes 6 and 6½. As a consequence of this I can recount that the fit of shoes is an inexact science! Some sixes were almost too roomy; others were fine. One pair of Barker moccasins, size 7, seemed to fit me. I think it would be wiser to wait.

I was at a BBC Invitation Concert last night, at the Assembly Building in Fisherwick Place, Belfast. It was all mostly Sibelius and the soloist was a well-known cellist, Raphael Wallfisch. Whilst the Assembly Building may well be suited to BBC Radio Three recordings, it has its deficiencies for the audience. Normally the Beeb uses the Ulster Hall, which is closed for renovations. I sat adjacent to the French horn players and one of them was pointed right at my ear! Still, it was a free concert and entertaining too. These productions must cost the BBC a lot of money - hiring the venue, paying the orchestra and soloist, sending out tickets to applicants etc. The Corporation is to be praised and commended for this.

The Ulster Orchestra, like many organizations and, indeed, individuals these days, has become lax in terms of evening wear. I am a traditionalist. I still believe that one ought to dress for the occasion. I don't care what others do. The Orchestra's code ought to be dinner jacket, white shirt and black tie for men; black evening dress for women - at informal concerts. Whoever started the habit of wearing black shirts? I imagine they can get away with wearing black shirts for a whole week without washing them.

At formal concerts - at concert halls, for instance - full evening dress should be worn: evening tailcoat, white dress shirt, white tie, white waistcoat. I am in no doubt that some may find this attire too un-egalitarian and old-fashioned. What's wrong with that? We see slovenly standards in all walks of life nowadays - snooker being a prime example. Banning black shirts and insisting upon black bow-ties would be a start.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Homage To The Monk Shoe

When I was in the metropolis last week I called in to several shoe shops. In Church's Jermyn Street branch a pair of fine, sturdy slip-on shoes by Cheaney caught the eye. They were in heavy mahogany grain burnished calf leather with Dainite soles. Their name is Nicky R. They were reduced from about £195 to £111.

The only snag was that they hadn't my size. I proceeded to try other branches - one in Bond Street - to no avail. They appear to be unobtainable in Belfast because I have contacted Reid's and Langford's about them. It's just possible that Bishop's in Coleraine, County Londonderry, may stock them. I know not.

I have been researching these shoes on the web and have come across an online retailer called Solely Shoes which stocks my size and is prepared to offer me about 18% discount and free delivery. Solely Shoes has a Returns Policy and it is possible to return the new shoes for another size.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

The New Presidential Limousine

What a monstrous car! It certainly was not built as a thing of beauty. Of course, its main purpose is to convey the new President of the United States as securely and safely as possible; not to mention the state-of-the-art communications. I imagine the thing must drink fuel at a monstrous rate, too. It is probably tougher than an armoured tank; equally ugly.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Bentley Continental: The Footballer's Car

It's the car of choice for many premier-league footballers nowadays. They use it as a runabout; it takes them to their practice sessions. It is the Bentley Continental. If the lads want to show off to their peers and others, they'll take the Ferrari (just so long as it isn't written off en route). How else is a 23 year-old, getting wages of £150,000 a week expected to waste his hard-earned money?

Don't be totally put off by the Bentley marque though. They still manufacture fine cars, as the Germans always have done. Leave the Continental to footballers and their girl-friends; spend your money on an Arnage, Brooklands or Azure instead.

Better still, opt for a vintage, classic car; though, admittedly, these may not be ideally suited for every-day usage. I wholeheartedly commend the late Alan Clark's book about motoring, Backfire: A Passion For Cars And Motoring. Clark had so many cars that he almost literally ran out of space for them all! That's astounding, bearing in mind that Saltwood Castle and Estate, in Kent, is a sizeable pile. Clark had quite a collection of Bentleys, by the way. No footballers' cars, to the best of my knowledge.

Sprucefield Re-Visited

The last time I was at Marks and Spencer's store in Sprucefield, County Down, was on the 20th November, their 20% Day. I bought the Dowager two coats as gifts; then motored in to lovely Hillsborough for lunch.

The Dowager accompanied me today. It was felt that the coats were too neat a fit, so the intention was to exchange them both for the next size up. I'd already been to the Belfast store on about the 2nd January; however, they didn't stock the particular coats. So, if I wanted another size, I'd have to return to Sprucefield.

M&S Sprucefield was a lot quieter today. I enlisted the help of an assistant, who checked and proceeded to tell us that the coats in question were no longer stocked - sold out. What an utter waste of my time. All I could do was to obtain a refund; nor shall I get the 20% off the next time.

I am disappointed in Marks and Spencer; not least because they no longer sell winter overcoats - and we are in the middle of winter. Blast them. At least I have a refund, so I'll buy the Dowager an overcoat elsewhere.

The good news is that the Dowager was fitted out by a lingerie assistant for some underwear, saving me a deal of trouble and awkwardness. That I greatly appreciated.

Driving on into Hillsborough, County Down, we parked in the car-park of the Plough Inn; and the rain was pelting down by this stage. It was busy. We were seated at a small table near the fire-place. The Dowager had broccoli and blue cheese soup with wheaten bread; and I had the ploughman's lunch, which looked quite austere. However, this was deceptive because it included two types of cheese, an egg, pickled onion, paté, salad, sweet pickle and a plateful of fresh wheaten bread and butter. I wish that more Ulster pubs served ploughmen's lunches.

We drank mango and apple fruit juice; and the bill came to a reasonable £14.95. I cannot speak highly enough of the two lovely waitresses at the back lounge-bar.

We had a somewhat unpleasant journey home on the motorway, due to the atrocious conditions and massive juggernauts.

No Deal From Fitness First

For the past week I've been endeavouring to obtain a half-decent deal from the health club, Fitness First. So far they have offered a one-off payment of £348 for 15 months; or off-peak membership for £26.50 per month plus the rotten £30 "administration charge".

I wish them to waive the joining fee and offer me the off-peak rate - £26.50 with three months free; in other words, the first direct debit would be paid in April or May. Perhaps that is a bridge too far for them. I'm not the greatest negotiator in the world at any rate.

As a friend suggested to me, I may have been wiser to strike a deal with them before Christmas. Who knows?

To be frank, I thought they'd have been tripping over themselves to enlist me as a new member, given the current economic climate. Perhaps I am deluding myself.

I have tried to call their bluff by telling them that I may well re-join my present health club ( which is true). That unsubtle ploy hasn't, so far, produced a result.

I have emailed them, again, this morning. It's hard to know whether to sit back and wait for them to contact me again or do as I have done, by emailing them. One thing is for certain: Fitness First, and their sales staff, aren't that desperate to attract new members.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Oz And James: A Splendid Partnership

Here is a programme I really enjoy: Ozzie Clarke and James May are off, yet again, on their travels in a Grand Tourer; namely, a Rolls-Royce Corniche Convertible in British Racing Green; coupled, literally, with an ancient Sprite Alpine caravan. The duo are travelling the length and breadth of the British Isles, on this occasion supping various beers and ales.

Each episode lasts a mere half hour. I wish it was an hour long. I could watch a lot more of this pair.

Great viewing.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Made-To-Measure Shirts

Has anyone bought one of these shirts online yet? It is my intention to order one eventually. According to Which? - the consumer magazine - they are worth considering, even compared with Savile Row.

Roast Beef And Kensington Flask

I bought virtually nothing during my trip to London. Turnbull and Asser did have a sale of selected shirts; but not the classic ones I was interested in. I sought a royal blue Bengal stripe shirt. I already have one with a white collar.

I ventured in to several shoe shops, including Church's. I fancied a pair of slip-on thick leather monk shoes; but they hadn't my size. I'll go back to Reid's in Belfast instead soon.

While I was at Kensington Palace, a diminutive waistcoat flask caught my eye. It was monogrammed with a crown and the Palace's name (the one to the right has another royal palace) ; and it wasn't an unreasonable price. I bought it. It shall suffice perfectly well for a dram of my Rusty Nail concoction.

As I mentioned previously, there was a Tesco Express supermarket on Tottenham Court Road, near Warren Street tube station. I noticed the Finest Roast Beef Sandwiches on the shelf; they looked appetizing enough at about £2.50, so I bagged them. I ate them back at my accommodation and, I can say, they were delicious! I'm looking forward to buying them again, if they are sold in the Province. They were well filled with lean beef; just the right amount of creamy horseradish sauce, which was not too fiery. Sumptuous.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Operatic Bookings

I checked Castleward Opera's website again today. Hopefully tickets shall be on sale shortly for this summer's anniversary season.

I already have a ticket reserved for La Traviata at Belfast's Grand Opera House in February; and today I booked another seat in the Dress Circle for HMS Pinafore in May.

More Hedge-Laying At Gibb's Island

I only took an apple and a banana with me on Saturday. It was the first meeting of the National Trust volunteers' weekend group since Christmas. I usually bring sandwiches; however, since I've been indulging in big breakfasts and a lot more this past week in London, I wanted to ease off a touch. This notion was in vain, as it tuned out, since Patricia offered me two fingers of Kit-Kat (irresistible) and Anna passed round her home-made fruit-cake into the bargain!

I arrived at beautiful Gibb's Island slightly late, at about 9.40 am. Initially there was no sign of anyone; Craig's pick-up vehicle is normally parked in view. I walked along one side of the island, the wrong choice it transpired. They were all at the leeward side, because it was so windy on the other side.

There was a good turn-out on Saturday: twelve, including some staff. We made very good progress with our hedge-laying, creating quite a few yards of new hedge from the hawthorn trees bedside the old wall which surrounds the wood. It is thought that the wall was originally built merely as a feature of the landscape. Gibb's Island was part of the Delamont Estate nearby. Of course it also would have afforded some protection to the newly-planted wood. Today the National Trust has reinstated the old practice of cattle-grazing at certain times of the year; Galloway cattle are used.

We carried on till about 3.30pm before departing.

I collected the Dowager at about 4.30. In the evening we didn't even indulge in a take-away meal! We munched away at freshly-made salmon and mayonnaise sandwiches instead. I may make a kedgeree this evening.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

London Visit

I'm back at last; I actually arrived home from London quite late last night. It was a pleasant flight, in an aircraft I've never flown on before: an Embrear 195 jet with 118 seats. The mini bottles of gin now cost a rip-off £3.50; and the tonic-water £1. I didn't buy that.

I was staying at the corner of Fitzroy Street and Maple Street, which was convenient for the Warren Street tube, about five minutes' walk. There was a Tesco Express nearby too, where I could buy food and drink, sandwiches and that sort of thing.

I used my Oyster card a lot. It's really handy on the Tube and saves time.

On Thursday evening I attended a performance of Turandot by Puccini, at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. I managed to get a fairly good seat: stalls circle 21a. This seat is practically four rows from the front, although it is at the side and at right-angles to the stage. I had a reasonably good view of the stage as well as the large resident orchestra (including two harpists!). The glossy programmes cost £6, by the way. The opera house was totally full, as it invariably always is anyway. A seat in the stalls costs about £180. The royal box, in the second tier and very close to the stage, had five occupants whom I did not recognize.

On Friday morning I paid a visit to Kensington Palace. It's quite a few years since I've been there. When I left the Palace, as I walked along the path between it and a formal garden, lots of squirrels were scampering about - in their winter plumage - and darting up to passers-by seeking crumbs and morsels. They are so tame. It's truly a joy to behold. One little devil snatched a piece of biscuit from a visitor's hand, ran away with it to a park-bench, stood on its hind legs and began munching away! Wonderful. These squirrels saw off the pigeons and a large carrion crow was standing, watching them and looking quite bemused too.

I also visited the completely restored church of St Martin-in-the-Fields at Trafalgar Square. It's like a new church; an astounding feat for a centuries'-old building.

I paid a brief visit to the National Gallery before walking down the steps to the Square. I stood and admired the panorama, including Nelson's Column. Admiral Lord Nelson still stands august and proud, gazing out towards Whitehall and the grateful Houses of Parliament; the greatest monument that a Nation can bestow upon one of its finest Heroes. The Trafalgar Square fountains were frozen solid, by the way; that's how cold it was!

I ambled down Whitehall to Downing Street. A grand, solid steel balustrade of steel is currently being constructed along this section of Whitehall; it will have a facing of elaborate sandstone - the iron fist in a velvet glove.

So I'm home again. It was enjoyable. I was up at eight this morning and drove to Gibb's Island to partake in a spot of hedge-laying. I'll post a piece about that tomorrow.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Flybe Online Check-In

I have checked in for my Gatwick flight with Flybe already. This can be done 36 hours before the flight. The seat seems to be at the back of the plane: 28a. 1a would have been more suitable; however, it shall suffice.

I'll be unable to check in online going home, unless I can find a public computer with a printer.

My flight arrives at 08:20, I think. I have my rail ticket for London Victoria, so I ought to be at my destination well before, say, 09:30; that's long before the accommodation check-in time of 2pm. In which case I shall leave my luggage with them and venture out elsewhere!

If I am near a computer in London, I'll continue to post some experiences.

Flight Restrictions

I was in Boots the Chemists today, having a look at travel-size cans of shaving foam. The only one they sell is the Gillette Fusion gel stuff, so I had to get that. Flybe hand luggage restrictions dictate that you must not have any liquid or fluid in your hand luggage exceeding 100 ml; so the standard size cans can only be carried in hold luggage, as far as Flybe are concerned.

While I was there, I checked the over-the-counter sleeping pills: Boots sell their own label ones, called Sleepeaze; and the 50mg ones are, according to Boots, just the same as Nytol One-a-night; except that you get 20 and they are cheaper too! I'll try them.

Sleeping Aid

On an earlier posting in November, 2008, I mentioned over-the-counter sleeping pills called Nytol, which a friend had recommended to me. I can be a light sleeper, so I thought I'd give them a try. I've tried a lot of the herbal remedies and tablets already, so I was sceptical.

Well, I have been using Nytol One-A-Night tablets the odd time since November and, I can tell you, they certainly do the trick for me. They haven't let me down once. I took one last night at about 11.30 and slept right through till 7.30, when the radio alarm woke me for the BBC Today Programme.

Apparently the one-a-night pills are equivalent to two standard ones; must check the price to see which is the better value.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

London Restaurant Short-List

I've drawn up a short-list of restaurants I'd like to visit when I'm in the metropolis soon: The Eagle Bar Diner; Sotheby's Café; J Sheekey's; and the Ivy.

I simply cannot be bothered reserving a table for any of them. I'll most likely go at lunch-time and take my chances.

I see that Turandot is playing at the Royal Opera House on Thursday. I may endeavour to buy a day ticket for that; the box office opens at 10am. I shall see what I feel like.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Christmas Crackdown Nonsense

Superintendent Mark Purdon, Northern Ireland Police, claims that 54 people have been arrested in central Belfast for theft. Do these statistics pertain to a three-week period; or closer to six weeks?

In a capital city the size of Belfast, I assert that this number is minute. How many of these criminals will be prosecuted; or given custodial sentences, one wonders?

The truth is that there is hardly one police constable to be seen on the streets of Belfast. Blink and you'll miss them. Considerably more police are required on the beat, in order to deter crime, lawlessness and disorder.

I challenge the superintendent to tell us how many police constables were out, on the beat, in central Belfast today. How many police officers were out, on the streets, in east Belfast today?

Cobbler Fish

I've just paid a fleeting visit to Tesco Knocknagoney - why do I dislike that place so much? - and, on the chilled fish shelf, a pack of "River Cobbler" Vietnamese fish caught the lordly eye (pictured on the right).

I took it over to the fish counter and asked the assistant about it. He told me that he had eaten it; and that it was a mild fish, like whiting. I was interested. I dislike strong-tasting fish. If you have tasted this fish, please let me know! I have put it in the freezer for future consumption.

Two fillets, lightly dusted with a coating of something or other, skinless and boneless, cost £2 I think. Sounded fair value.

So I bagged them, along with the raspberry pannacotta deserts, gin, sherry, corn flakes and more; and made my departure.

Awards And Medals: Frequency Of Wear

I always include post-nominal letters to a person's name, whether I be referring to them in correspondence or on LBNI. It accords to them the honour they deserve. I am curious to know how often recipients get the opportunity to actually wear their awards; excluding those who have the privilege of serving in the Armed Forces or have the honour of wearing Her Majesty's uniform. Navy, Army and Air Force personnel wear their medals quite often, at parades, functions, mess occasions etc.

I honestly have no idea whether serving Northern Ireland Police are permitted ever to wear their medals in public, or not, under the new dispensation - courtesy of the Lord Patten.

Miniature medals are worn on a dinner jacket, mess dress or full evening dress. Full-size ones are worn on all other forms of dress, including uniform, lounge suit, overcoat and morning-coat.

I'm really alluding to civilians. Somebody who has the MBE, for instance. How many times a year, on average, do they get the chance to wear it? I include countries of the former British Empire here, too; particularly Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Do let me know. I'd be interested.

Keeping The Home Fires Burning

We've been lighting occasional fires in the living-room over Christmas. It is most comforting, and also boosts the temperature up to 22-23c. The central heating is on, as usual. It is ironic that a fire is now regarded, by me, as a luxury. Most folks undoubtedly cannot be bothered nowadays, what with the time and trouble it expends. Many have had their fireplaces totally removed altogether; or converted to gas.

I think it's the time it takes, and the organization: the supply of fuel - coal, logs, paper, kindling - and the routine of clearing the previous day's ashes in to the ash-bucket below. I have a method which works well for me, and involves rolling sheets of newspaper up tightly; placing them on the grate; placing kindling on top; lighting it with one match, hopefully; and, when it's established, very gradually adding coal, one or two small pieces at a time.

It can be a laborious process, but if the fire lights within, say, five minutes, it can be kept alight for the rest of the day. I only bother lighting fires during the coldest weather; so I consider it a luxury really, and worth the effort too.

That large sack of logs I collected from Minnowburn only lasted for one and a half fires, by the way. I bought some coal from the local Spar supermarket: 25kg cost £9.79 and it seems to be good coal. I must remember to check the price at the big supermarkets.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

A Very Happy New Year

I send all readers, followers and fellow-bloggers best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2009.

According to the experts at the Meteorological Office and others, 2009 is expected to be one of the warmest on record. We'll see!