Thursday, 30 April 2009

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Free Sample

Tesco's building-site store at Knocknagoney, Belfast, was giving away free samples yesterday, viz. Nestlé Oat Cheerios. They were in mini, 30g cereal packets.

When we got home, the Dowager remarked about the 50p off voucher at the back of the packet.

I have eaten them this morning and, I can say, I'm nonplussed about them! They are perfectly acceptable; just not sufficiently tasty to persuade me to change from my current cereals.

About the voucher: on closer inspection I noticed "ROI Only" on it, and what we had misread as 50p Off really said 50c - Euro cents - Off. I felt swindled! Presumably the big cereal manufacturers all have strong connections with the Irish Republic. Tesco, it is thought, are not doing so well there during the Recession; I expect they're attempting to get rid of these surplus free samples in Northern Ireland. I have no idea.

Nestlé UK holds a royal warrant and there is no evidence of this on Nestlé's mini Cheerio packet. There is, however, a UK phone number (as well as the Eire one).

No matter. We shan't be buying the Cheerios again at any rate. Still, I appreciated their gesture of a free sample.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

By Appointment

I have added a new category, or label, to my blog: By Appointment To The Right Honourable The Earl Of Belmont.

The warrants may be approved or removed at any time.

I'll start the proverbial ball rolling by the first Entry: Wilkin Tomato Sauce, purveyors of tomato sauce to the Right Honourable the Earl of Belmont.

A week ago I decided to try Heinz tomato ketchup, highly rated by many. Frankly, I was disappointed. I am no connoisseur of ketchups; however, I do know what I like.

Wilkin ketchup has a richer taste; is thicker and less viscous than Heinz; and it has more substance to it as well. I shall retain the Heinz ketchup in the fridge for culinary purposes.

I am aware that there are many other ketchups on the market, so I welcome nominations.

Botanical Trail

I parked at the Stranmillis Road, Belfast, this morning, adjacent to the Botanic Gardens. I strolled up to the Ulster Museum, still obscured by hoarding though, I understand, due to open this summer.

Continuing along University Road, I passed the Sir William Whitla Hall and the foundation stone caught my eye. It was laid by Lord Londonderry seventy years ago. They have his lordship's post-nominal letters in the wrong order, too: the MVO precedes PC!

I walked on to Shaftesbury Square and made a right turn on to Botanic Avenue. At the far end I passed Molly's Yard restaurant and bar. The depiction of the headless black dog is still visible at the entrance. I think they could make the sign of the headless dog a feature. A painted, wooden pub sign could hang on a wooden post outside the door with a black, headless dog. It would add even more character to Molly's.

From Molly's, I ambled further along the Avenue till I passed a side entrance to the Botanic Gardens; and spotted an original stone plaque emblazoned Royal Botanic Gardens. Someone has craftily obscured the adjective with plants.

Eventually I came full-circle, noticing four wood-pigeons and a squirrel in the Gardens.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Triumphant Allen

Hearty congratulations and expectations to Mark Allen from the town of Antrim. He was the underdog in his snooker match against the reigning world champion, Ronnie O'Sullivan; and he has just gained a place in the quarter-finals of the world snooker championship, having beaten O'Sullivan by 13 frames to 11.

This has been a most wonderful achievement, so far; I have a feeling that Mark Allen's career winnings will rise by a great deal.

Apethorpe Hall

I viewed a new series on BBC Two last night called English Heritage, the first part entitled A Very Grand Design. It was about the future of the largely, though not entirely, restored Apethorpe Hall, a very large, rambling, historic Jacobean pile in Northamptonshire.

I love these sorts of programmes. I find them irresistible. One thing was clear, though: English Heritage (EH), which has spent millions of pounds worth of taxpayers' money, is somewhat desperate to recoup their investment forthwith, if not within the next few years. The programme focused on EH's head honcho, Simon Thurley, striding round Apethorpe, seeing what required to be done in order to make it saleable.

The sale has a number of snags attached; viz, that the new owner, preferably a sympathetic billionaire, is prepared to accept strict planning restrictions; that the sale includes a mere fifty acres; and that there is an enormous clump of Leylandii trees beside the front ornamental gates, thus restricting the fine prospect. The Hall must open its doors to the general public 28 days a year, too.

About the acreage: a very large house like Apethorpe would have been surrounded by a vast landed estate of 20-30,000 acres a hundred years ago, generating plenty of income for the owner. Fifty acres is actually small; sizeable enough for formal gardens, not shooting parties or hunts. I expect a billionaire would have preferred an estate of a thousand acres or so, at least.

As for the Leylandii, the former occupier, the Lord Brassey of Apethorpe, owns the trees and seems to be intent on retaining them as a sort of bargaining chip with a future owner, should they be prepared to pay his lordship sufficient funds to have the unsightly trees felled.

I look forward to the next episode.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Gurkha Maltreatment

The Gurkhas have devoted nearly two hundred years of loyal service to the Crown and United Kingdom. The list of recipients of the Victoria Cross is lengthy.

As a matter of honour and respect, I feel that we ought to treat the Gurkhas with considerable esteem. They have fought and died for our Nation.

A number of Gurkhas wish to settle in the United Kingdom and make it their home. They are most welcome to settle in Northern Ireland, as far as I am concerned.

However, the wretched, rotten government currently in power denies them their wishes. This government turns a blind eye to illegal immigrants, many of whom live here freely; incidentally, how many illegal immigrants are estimated to reside in the UK?

This government has encouraged an Open House policy, regarding immigrants, since they came to office. How many immigrants with no connection to the United Kingdom live here now? And what have they done to earn citizenship?

Yet the Gurkhas and their families are, apparently, denied entry. If they are to be allowed to settle, they have several proverbial hurdles to jump over first.

Shame on you, Mr Brown.

Nesting Blue Tits

Viewing through the telescope this morning, across the road where I erected a home-made nest-box, I spotted a blue tit entering the tiny aperture holding some foliage in its beak. The box faces in a northerly direction, so we can see the birds entering and exiting quite clearly; except some leaves have grown across it, obscuring the view somewhat!

The goldfinches still come to our feeders daily; and, since I have provided black sunflower hearts, we are getting a few greenfinches too.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Sneaky Act

I made a brief sortie into Belfast this morning in order to see if Ross's first-floor sale-room was open. It's never open these days, for general sales.

I wished to refer to some directories at the Linenhall Library in Donegall Square North and, striding purposefully up the stairs to the second floor, I spotted an old fellow-swimmer, Robert. He was perusing the newspapers, so I thought I'd sneak up on him from behind and feign to read the papers unannounced.

From behind his shoulder I proceeded to read the paper and muttered about how interesting it all was. Robert looked round and I laughed heartily!

I was home within the hour.

Mt Stewart Pool: Part Two

I spoke to Richard on the blower last night - he is a volunteer friend whom I've worked with since the mid-eighties when we restored the swimming-pool at Mount Stewart in County Down - and he provided me with a few fascinating anecdotes about the pool.

It appears that the pool and its environs became frequented by drug users, among others; several claims were made at the time for, presumably, personal injuries; and the owner, Lady Mairi, felt compelled to act by the eradication of the problem. Mount Stewart House and Gardens belong to the National Trust; Lady Mairi owned the pool.

The pool was filled in, I am told, with sand. There were a number of stone features, including large birds resembling swans. These features were saved and, quite possibly, they may be on display at Mount Stewart itself where the new outdoor café now operates.

Richard reminded me that we worked on the swimming-pool project until 1990 or 1991. I thought we'd worked there about the mid-eighties. No matter. I do, however, recall a barbecue party and treasure hunt we had at the pool to celebrate its restoration.

Richard told me that a photograph existed somewhere of Sir Winston Churchill floating in the pool on a lilo. Apparently, when the pool was built during the 1930s, Lady Londonderry enlisted the help of army soldiers in its construction.

Edith, Lady Londonderry was Lady Mairi's mother. She died at her beloved Mount Stewart in 1959; and she was buried beside her husband Charles, the 7th marquess, at the family burial ground above the Lake.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

National Anthem: BBC

Jolly good institution, the BBC. They are all, mostly, good eggs. Mind you, I have a little bone to pick with them of a musical nature.

When I heard the BBC's rendition of the National Anthem at 7 o'clock this morning on Radio Four, it almost induced me to slumber again. Some loyal employee must have been on the blower to seek the advice of Lord Stansgate or Red Ken Livingstone.

What I wish for at that time of the morning, or any time for that matter, is a buoyant, stirring version. I suggest they get in touch with the Director of Music in the Guards Division pronto.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Alma Mater: Old School

I dashed up to Alma Mater's swimming-pool this evening, the first time since end-of-term; and, thank heaven, it is as warm as a proverbial bath.

I have had my sixty length fix, the first proper swim for almost a month.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Sneaker Revival?

Don't tell me Sneakers, those dated gym-shoes, are making a comeback? I must have a rummage up in the attic again. I may well have a pair gathering dust somewhere.

Most of my favourite clothing is almost thirty years old, including now-vintage black Levi denims, three Turnbull shirts and ties, a Burberry trench-coat and a grey worsted three-piece lounge suit.

The old dinner jacket, which will get an airing at Castle Ward in June, is 76 years old. The trousers and bow-tie have no date label; I expect they are of a similar vintage.

Ugly Carbuncles

I concur wholeheartedly with Prince Charles and his sensible views about modernist architecture (and, for that matter, modern art). The abundance of structures appearing today have utterly no aesthetic value whatsoever, to my eyes at least. They are, presumably, functional; that, at least, we can say.

There are, of course, worthy exceptions. Nevertheless, to view an admirable Georgian or Victorian edifice standing proudly beside a concrete block reminds me of chalk and cheese.

One example in Belfast is that hideous or, should I say, plain extension to the Grand Opera House. What aesthetic merit does a square block of coloured concrete and a few plates of glass have beside one of the best-loved buildings in the city?

My preference, where possible, has always been for restoration instead of demolition. This principle of mine applies just as much to a vernacular cottage in the countryside as it does to an old, decrepit building in a city which could easily be renovated or retained. I accept the tendency for developers to get round planning regulations by the retention of an old building's façade or shell whilst building behind it.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

At Ballymacormick Point

Today was a Volunteer Day; an NT Weekend Group volunteer day, at any rate. We weren't meeting till 10 am, so I had a leisurely drive via the Craigantlet Road, skirting the lovely Clandeboye estate; which reminds me, they said they'd send me some promotional voucher for Lady Dufferin's Clandeboye Yoghurt, her latest enterprise, and I still eagerly await it.

We all met at the Banks car park, at Ballyholme Bay, and proceeded to a location near Ballymacormick Point where we removed a section of old fencing. The National Trust owns and protects the coastline at this point in County Down.

The weather was absolutely fine: sunny, dry, calm and quite warm. The birds were all singing away happily as we toiled away.

We lunched back at the car park, carrying our packed lunches down to the retaining wall at the beach; and the prospect today was beautiful, viewing the maritime traffic on Belfast Lough, the Brent geese on the shoreline, and dog walkers playing with their canine friends on the beach.

I had my usual cheese-and-onion sandwiches, washed down with a few beakers of tea.

After lunch, reinforcements arrived and, armed with black bin bags, gloves and those aluminium things which assist you to lift litter without bending down - what are they called? - we managed to collect twenty-two bags of litter from the shoreline.

I drove home with the hood down, the weather was so fine today.

Friday, 17 April 2009

A New Razor

I've purchased a new razor with cartridges this morning, called Azor by King of Shaves. It cost £4.88, including three cartridges. I'm all for new products; it is the durability, sharpness and smoothness of the blades that really matters. I shan't begin to use it till my present Mach 3 cartridge has worn out.

I find the Gillette Mach 3 a good, affordable product. I have used their Fusion and it is probably the best of the lot. It's expensive, though. The trick is to buy them when they are on offer at some reputable retailer.

Even Ebay has cracked down on fake cartridge blades, which is welcome because fakes are useless, in my experience. I unwittingly bought some fake cartridges on Ebay a few years ago and the difference in quality became apparent almost immediately.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Cleopatra's Lost Tomb?

An archaeological dig begins next week, to the west of Alexandria in Egypt. Teams of archaeologists from Egypt and the Dominican Republic have, seemingly, been excavating here for three years; and some intriguing artifacts have been unearthed.

The indication is that a series of shafts may lead to the tombs of Queen Cleopatra and Mark Anthony.

I shall be following this story with some interest.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

The Four Great Ulster Marquessates

A marquess is the second-highest rank in the Peerage, after duke and above earl. A marquess's robe has four bars of ermine on the right and three on the left. Peers have two kinds of robe, a coronation robe of crimson velvet lined with miniver and a parliamentary robe (for those now-gone days when they all sat in the House of Lords) of scarlet lined with taffeta.

The 5th Earl of Lichfield - the late Patrick Lichfield, photographer - is pictured in his coronation robe, holding his coronet, below.

A marquess's coronet, pictured above, is a golden circlet with four strawberry leaves around it (pointing up from it), alternating with four silver balls (called pearls) on points. The coronet itself is chased as if in the form of jewels (like a royal crown) but is not actually jewelled. It has a purple cap (lined ermine) in real life and a crimson one in heraldic representation. It has a gold tassel on top. The alternation of strawberry leaves and pearls is what distinguishes a marquess's coronet from those of other ranks.

The four great marquessates in the Peerage associated with Ulster have been as follows:-

The Marquess of Downshire
- creation 1789. Heir: Earl of Hillsborough; heir's eldest son: Viscount Kilwarlin. County Down landowner. 115,000 acres.

The Marquess of Donegall - creation 1791. Heir: Earl of Belfast; heir's eldest son: Viscount Chichester. Landlord of Belfast. 250,000 acres, mostly in County Antrim.

The Marquess of Londonderry - creation 1816. Heir: Viscount Castlereagh; heir's eldest son: Lord Stewart. County Down landowner. 27,000 acres.

The Marquess of Dufferin and Ava
- creation 1888. Heir: Earl of Ava; heir's eldest son: Viscount Clandeboye. County Down landowner. Marquessate extinct 1988. 18,000 acres.

Hillsborough Castle

I thoroughly recommend a booklet published by the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society entitled Hillsborough Castle, which explains the history of the Castle and its association with the Marquesses of Downshire.

Incidentally, the Downshires spent a lot of time at their seat, Easthampstead Park, in Berkshire; their London home was in St James's Square.

Murlough Walk

Murlough National Nature Reserve lies on the coast directly to the east of the main road between the village of Dundrum and the town of Newcastle in County Down. It has been several years since I last paid it a visit. It is a property of the National Trust.

The occasion on Easter Monday was a guided walk which began at the car park in Murlough. The weather was clement: dry, breezy, sunny intervals. Our guide was twenty minutes late, due to heavy tailbacks of traffic en route. This I can well understand, because there were tailbacks approaching every town and village from Belfast, particularly at Ballynahinch. Bank holiday woe!

Before I reached Murlough I stopped at Dundrum, an historic little village mainly developed by the Marquesses of Downshire in the early 19th century. Indeed, several notable buildings including the parish church and the former Downshire Arms Hotel were established with their lordships' funds.

Here is a splendid website I have found about the village and its facilities.

One booklet has described the 1886 parish church as "a handsome stone church with a pinnacled tower, set in an uncommonly attractive church-yard laid out like a gentleman's park with yews, monkey-puzzlers, bamboos, parkland trees and rhododendrons..."

I had a somewhat prosaic lunch of fish and chips at the Mourne Seafood Bar in the Main Street. I was more interested in the building, the former Downshire Arms Hotel emblazoned, rather aptly, with the heraldic coat-of-arms of Lord Downshire.

A brief word about the Downshires: they used to be one of the greatest landowning families in the British Isles, holding 115,000 acres in Ireland alone. Their main residence in Ulster was Hillsborough Castle; and they spent their summers mostly at Murlough House - pictured above - and Estate. The House is now a Christian conference centre. During the Georgian and Victorian eras, the Downshires' wealth was incalculable and virtually boundless; thus the largesse in patronizing with lavish expenditure such modest villages as Dundrum, which the then Lord and Lady Downshire wished to transform into a spa resort with a large harbour for the export of grain etc.

About our guided walk: there were about two dozen of us, and the tour lasted two hours. We were shown various flora and fauna, including sea buckthorn, Exmoor ponies and Galloway cattle. Back at base, the car park was busy with an estimated 80-100 cars.

The 9th and present Marquess of Downshire is about my age and his heir has the courtesy title, Earl of Hillsborough. If and when Lord Hillsborough eventually marries and has a son, he shall be known as Viscount Kilwarlin. To the best of my knowledge, any tangible links the family now has with Northern Ireland are tenuous; though their influence remains indelible at Dundrum and Hillsborough in County Down, where they are the Hereditary Constables of Hillsborough Fort. Their address in my Debrett is Clifton Castle, Ripon, North Yorkshire.

Hillsborough Castle was sold to the Government in 1922 by the 7th marquess; Murlough House was made available during the 1950s to the Church of Ireland for use as a conference centre and residential home for families and friends. Murlough lay empty for most of the year, at any rate. It was eventually sold to the Queen's University of Belfast; Project Evangelism bought the house in 1994 for £300,000.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Seaham Hall

I've been viewing the BBC's food series, the Great British Menu, this week and it is now the turn of the North East region.

One of the two chefs, Kenny Atkinson, is chef at Seaham Hall resort in County Durham.

Intriguingly, there has been a tenuous link between Seaham Hall and Mount Stewart in County Down: they were both seats of the Marquesses of Londonderry.

The Londonderrys made much of their fortune through coal-mining in County Durham; apparently the family preferred to spend more of their time at Mount Stewart, though.

Seaham Hall is now part of the von Essen Hotel group. I had a look at their nine-line "history" of Seaham Hall and its former connexion with the Londonderry family is not mentioned.

The coat-of-arms is shown by kind permission of European Heraldry.

Ulster Golfers

Despite my lack of interest in Sport generally, there are a few exceptions. These include the Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games, major snooker tournaments, Wimbledon, world darts and boxing.

I invariably enjoy the annual United States Masters Golf championship, held at that fabulous golf course in Augusta, Georgia. I never fail to be astonished at the virtual perfection of that course, where even the needles of the pine trees appear to be manicured.

I've been following the progress of the Ulster golfers with particular interest; viz. Graeme McDowell, who finished off at seventeenth position with -3. Hopefully he'll continue to go from strength to strength.

Young Rory McIlroy did very well, too.

Salt Island: 28 March 2009

My volunteering colleagues had quite an eventful day at Salt Island on Strangford Lough, according to Patricia. She sent me a résumé at the weekend; I have edited a few words:-

Salt Island was beautiful as usual but it was eventful. I think you would
have enjoyed the excitement.

It started out as a cold windy morning and Craig had trouble even rowing out
to the NT boat at Whiterock but after a long delay he arrived at Killyleagh
and took the volunteers over in two runs.

We didn't arrive to start work till after 11am. There were about ten of us
all together and whilst some cleared some dead wood from the trees in the
small wood behind the Bothy the rest spread three large bags of gravel (left
over from the building work) to form a path to the bothy from the jetty.

We stopped for lunch around 1pm and the sun shone on us. We all sat outside
and enjoyed the heat and the views!

After a beach tidy Craig decided we should leave around 3 from the far side
of the island as usual because of the tides but that's where we ran into
trouble. The small motor on the boat wouldn't work and what with the wind
the tide and the seaweed we couldn't get into open water.
A couple of the volunteers (two new lads) were soaked pushing the boat off
shore whilst the rest of us, yes all of us, were in the boat, as Craig
didn't want to risk two journeys back and forward. But the boat kept getting
blown back into shore before we could get the motor started and out of the
weed, so on about the tenth attempt Craig was just about to call for a tow
when we got going and finally got to Killyleagh about 4.30pm. The boat had
to be moored at Killyleagh until Monday.

To add to the excitement earlier in the day Kevin found a rowing boat just
off the island and waded out and brought it into shore it still had the
rowing bracket things (can't remember their name) in it and a mobile phone
(very wet). Kevin and Craig reported this to Killyleagh Yacht Club but it
was on the news later in the day that the RNLI had rescued at man from a
rowing boat just off Killyleagh at 6am that morning. So it must have been
his boat.

Perhaps my absence several thousand miles away was timely!

Sunday, 12 April 2009

A Spot Of Fresh Air

Still not fully recovered, we ventured up to Divis in the two-seater this afternoon. The weather was fine: dry, clear, sunny intervals and fresh.

At the newly-opened Long Barn I spotted Craig, one of the wardens, whom I chatted to for ten minutes. Interestingly, a swallow whizzed past us as we stood outside the barn.

Further along the track three archaeologists were marking out an small area into grids. Perhaps they intend to start a dig there soon.

The car park at Divis was as busy as I've ever seen it today.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Off Colour

We've both been hit by some sort of bug or other. It hit the Dowager on Thursday, and it caught up with me this morning.

I was advised to buy Imodium Instant tablets so, instead of cycling to the shop I opted for the quicker two-seater.

Tesco sell Imodium Instants on small packets of six, at a hefty enough cost of about £3.65. They melt in the mouth so, as soon as I got back to the car, I opened the packet and took two immediately.

So far, so good. We're feeling off-colour, though.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Holiday Fun

I told you I enjoyed myself on holiday...

Bar Service: Ten Tips

Here's an amusing piece by BBC News about trying to buy a drink at a very busy bar. The theories seem plausible enough...

Seasons Restaurant Belfast

I fancied lunching out today. If the weather had been more agreeable I'd have headed into Town and eaten at the Mourne Seafood Bar in Bank Street.

A friend of ours had spoken well of a place at Woodstock Link, in east Belfast, called Seasons Restaurant; so I jumped into the roadster and made directly for it. It is on the ground floor at the Mount Business and Conference Centre.

The first thing that struck me was the abundance of Porshe, Mercedes and BMW cars in the car park. There was no problem parking, by the way. I entered Seasons and waited to be shown to a table. The ambiance is contemporary and the cleanliness struck me. It seemed clean and tidy; spacious too, with a number of diners.

At lunchtime Seasons is basically self-service. The waiter shows you to your table; produces the menu; and you head up to the self-service counter where you are served the meal of your choice. It's all quite informal and relaxed. Today they were serving fresh salmon, roast chicken in a sauce, lasagne, cottage pie, a veggie dish and something else I cannot recall.

Then you are given a choice of boiled potatoes or rice; following which you make for the opposite counter and help yourself to fresh coleslaw, potato salad, mixed leaves, dressings, very fresh French bread and brown bread; butter or margarine. I went back for more bread so, within reason, I'd say that you could have as much as you liked. Every table had a large jug of chilled water.

I enjoyed it, and I told them as I settled my £8 bill. I opted for the lasagne, by the way, which was tasty - especially with all those accompaniments.

I enquired if they had a web site and they responded in the affirmative; however, their website seems non-existent to me ( I apprised them that this was my first visit, and threatened them that I'd be back!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Dame Mary Peters DBE DL

I have just learned that Dame Mary Peters, DBE, has been appointed HM Lord-Lieutenant for the County Borough of Belfast with effect from August, 2009.

Dame Mary succeeds the Lady Carswell, OBE, who has been Lord-Lieutenant since 2000.

Dame Mary is a Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

The Cost Of Honey

Is it merely my imagination, or has the price of honey increased sharply recently? I was in Tesco's this morning, at the honey shelf, and there simply isn't the choice that there used to be, either. Tesco certainly used to have a large range of own-brand honey, viz. the acacia honey that I particularly favour.

This morning I bought some Rowse squeezable honey and it cost £3.19. I hear that there has been a problem with some disease that honey bees have suffered from; perhaps that is a factor, or cause, of the price rise.

I sent a letter off to the audiology department of the Ulster Hospital this morning, requesting a supply of hearing-aid batteries for the Dowager; and I see that, from this week, postage prices have increased as well, a second class stamp being 30p and first class 39p.

I bought a bar of my favourite chocolate too, Lindt Excellence 70%. A programme on Channel Four last night did the trick. There were small bars of Prestat Choxi at half price, so I purchased one to try. I've already tried a piece and still prefer the Lindt 70%!

Electric Car Technology

The Prime Minister appears to be emitting signals about government support for electric vehicles and shall demonstrate this support in the forthcoming budget, it is believed.

Electric car technology fascinates me. I understand that many electric cars are already in the pipeline, in a technological sense; though the battery size in relation to the durability - in terms of how long they will last until re-charging becomes necessary - has been a tough nut to crack.

Smart Cars, a division of Mercedes-Benz, are introducing an electric version of their little car soon. The snag, for many, will be that the car is a two-seater; and that the battery range will be a mere eighty miles.

The scientists and motor manufacturers are getting there, though. The Mini E sounds promising, with a potential range of up to 150 miles. It's necessarily a two-seater, also, due to the bulky batteries which take up the space where the back seats would have been. Mini is a BMW brand, as if you didn't know.

The Prime Minister wishes to encourage local councils to submit bids to become our first "green cities". Whilst I do not exhort the City of Belfast to rush into a decision about this, I believe it ought to be seriously considered. Why not?

I'd also like Northern Ireland Electricity to begin a dialogue with Government about the roadside power-points alluded to in the article.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Big Ben Is 150

Speaking of the Clock Tower at the Houses of Parliament in the metropolis, Big Ben celebrates its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary in 2009.

Gelston's Corner Chimes

If you happen to pass the corner building at number two, Belmont Road, Belfast, popularly known as Gelston's Corner, at the appropriate time you'll have noticed that the clock has been re-instituted and it now chimes merrily generating the same notes as Big Ben.

It's good that this building has been renovated and restored. The clock has never told the time within my memory till now; I wonder if it originally chimed like Big Ben...

Many's a time I've darkened the threshold of that building, when it operated as a dentist's surgery. I always dreaded those visits; they actually had to physically restrain me when I was a little boy! Dr Herriott arrived and administered some sort of gas in order to knock me out.

Around the corner, on the Belmont Road itself, a relatively recent, contemporary bistro restaurant now operates called Bennett's On Belmont.

No Bishop Of Belfast

As part of the Anglican communion, the Church of Ireland has customarily been different in its diocesan organization, viz. many dioceses have been amalgamated and administered by one bishop for centuries.

For instance, the diocese of Down & Dromore has only one bishop; not that long ago, indeed, it operated as the diocese of Down, Connor & Dromore.

Belfast Cathedral, like St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, is really an ecclesiastical peculiar. At the tail end of the 19th century, the city fathers and others felt that Belfast's rising status as a city within the British Empire merited a cathedral, so St Anne's Cathedral was built.

A new diocese of Belfast was not, however, created. Instead, Belfast Cathedral was kept within the large diocese of Connor in County Antrim. It was decided that the Bishop of Connor would be the Ordinary, and that the Cathedral would be shared between the Bishop of Connor and the Bishop of Down and Dromore; thus there are two cathedras, or bishops' thrones, in the Cathedral.

I imagine that the most likely reason for this amalgamation of dioceses with one bishop may well be for reasons of economy. The Church of Ireland is much smaller in size and numbers than the Church of England. The Church of England is immeasurably wealthier, too, being able to afford the trappings of the office of a prelate with the palaces, staff, grounds etc.

The Church of Ireland sold its last great palace, Armagh Palace pictured at the top, seat of the Archbishops of Armagh and Primates, in the early seventies to the local council due, undoubtedly, to high and burdensome maintenance costs. The last archbishop to reside there, I think, was Dr Simms.

Nevertheless, it seems reasonable to me that Belfast ought to have had its own diocese with a Bishop of Belfast. The deanship of Belfast has existed since the Cathedral was consecrated in 1904. The archdeaconship of Belfast has been in existence since 2007.

Perhaps an office such as a suffragan Bishop of Belfast could have been created, although the Archdeacon of Belfast assists the Bishop of Connor in this respect. There has never been a tradition of suffragan bishops in the Church of Ireland, to date.

Monday, 6 April 2009

A Complimentary Drink

I meant to say that I was treated to a free drink on my flight home. While I was seated, a lady standing in the aisle was getting something from the overhead luggage compartment and some sand accidentally fell over me. She was terribly apologetic; what a lovely person.

During the flight, when the cabin crew were wheeling the drinks trolley down the aisle, I ordered my customary gin and tonic - with some peanuts - when the stewardess informed me that the lady in the row behind was footing the bill!

I turned round, smiling, and told her that there was no need; but she insisted.

Later on, when the trolley appeared a second time, I told the stewardess that I wished to offer the couple behind me a drink - one act of kindness deserves another, I felt - but she declined.

Cuckoo In The Nest

I have just learned that the old College of Technology shall be relocating to a new campus at Titanic Quarter, beside the river Lagan in Belfast.

Their present building, at College Square East, is about a hundred years old. It's not a bad edifice, architecturally; however, its location is utterly out of place in an aesthetic sense and always has been. When it was built, it spoiled the integrity of College Square and the prospect from the town-houses at College Square North. Interestingly, one of my forbears resided at number 22, College Square North during the Victorian era.

I'm sorely tempted to suggest that the old college of technology be demolished and that College Square be reinstated as was originally intended; however, there is too much money involved in the property and it may even become yet another hotel.

Wildlife On Fuerteventura

You shall recall that I alluded to a particularly hairy family, all sporting buck teeth, whom I encountered whilst on Fuerteventura. I am tempted to imitate that silly advertisement on television by a sofa company that invites us to Meet the Dillons.

Meet the Chipmunks! They resided in burrows inside the rocky cliffs near my hotel and they are the most endearing little creatures. I am apprised that they are really Barbary ground squirrels, though they're commonly known as chipmunks on the island.

These chipmunks must easily be half the size of a squirrel. Once they have your confidence, they'll dash over and grab a nut or piece of apple most willingly. I watched while one little fellow returned for three nuts from me and proceeded to bury two of the nuts for a rainy day (take note, Mr Brown). I viewed another chipmunk lifting its baby with its mouth and taking baby back closer to home.

Closer to the beach, on the dunes, I stood beside a pair of the most spectacular large birds I have ever seen: grey-crowned cranes. They walked about in a most stately manner, occasionally making loud, ear-piercing trumpeting calls. Apparently this exotic bird is a national symbol of Uganda.

Other birds I spotted were a hoopoe and a flock of parakeets, one of which walked over to me for several peanuts.

New Belfast Hotel

There has undoubtedly been a boom with regard to new hotels opening in Belfast. A few mere weeks ago, the five-star Fitzwilliam hotel opened beside the opera house; now it is the turn of the brand new Ramada Encore Belfast hotel which, I think, is graded as a three star. The Belfast Encore is in Talbot Street in the city centre, overlooked watchfully by Belfast Cathedral.

The new hotel is part of the larger Saint Anne's Square development, an island site standing on ground formerly occupied by old, narrow city streets like Edward Street and Hector Street. Saint Anne's Square lies within Exchange Street West, Academy Street, Talbot Street and Dunbar Link.

Talbot Street, the address of the new hotel, links Donegall Street to Dunbar Link. A certain Mr Talbot was agent to Lord Donegall in 1770, his lordship owning Belfast at that period. Talbot Street, therefore, dates from the late 18th century.

In 1776 St Anne's parish church, pictured to the left, was built; Lady Donegall's Christian name being Anne. Indeed, my ancestors were parishioners there. The Cathedral, to the right, was built, quite literally, around the old church; so, when the new cathedral church was built the old parish church was demolished within it.

This part of Belfast is now known as the Cathedral Quarter.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Jandía: My Verdict

I like the Canary island of Fuerteventura. Normally I stay in Corralejo, which is still basically an old fishing village; so it has an old town and its hinterland expands in to the wider tourist resort. Indeed, it is agreeable enough to stroll through the older streets of the town.

Corralejo sits in the north of the island. Jandía, on the other hand, lies in the south. I decided to stay at Jandía on this occasion, just for a change. I can tell you that I intend to remain loyal to Corralejo (if there were suitable accommodation at El Cotillo I'd try it, though).

Jandía has no heart. I suppose it could be called a resort. It is merely a two-mile long stretch of concrete beach-shops interspersed with the odd cafeteria. That's it. What it does have is a beautiful beach which is also miles in length.

Because Jandía isn't a town, there are no locutorios, those internet shops with rows of phone booths where cheap phone calls can be made. I missed this a lot, because I like to keep in touch at home; instead, I used the public pay-phones which are possibly three times dearer, or more.

Fuerteventura has a decent public bus infrastructure, but I could hardly find a bus-stop in Jandía! Bus-stops are few and far between there. So I only managed to use the bus once, happening to encounter one on its way to the nearby town of Morro Jable.

My hotel was very good, though. The residents were mainly German. The evening entertainment was excellent, the team putting on musicals like Grease and Starlight Express most nights. It was a friendly hotel, I felt, and all the staff were most diligent. The chambermaid service was exceptionally good. Meals were perfectly acceptable, too.

I spent most of my time on the beach, reading P G Wodehouse, basking in the sun and taking the odd dip. I did meet a Bavarian lady on the beach from Munich. We got on well and chatted - she spoke good English. I might have seen more of her, though she was leaving in two days. I asked her out for a drink in my bashful way; she politely declined. Nothing lost, nothing gained. Perhaps, unlike me, she didn't fancy a one-night stand!

I am sure it shan't be long till I pay Fuerteventura another visit.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Home Again

I have just returned home this evening; put the kettle on for a decent mug of château Silent Valley!

I made friends with an exceptionally hirsute family, and they all had buck teeth into the bargain! Their appetites were voracious, too.

Log on for requisite enlightenment tomorrow.