Friday, 31 July 2009

Store From Hell: Part Two

I motored over to Sainsbury's store at Holywood Exchange this afternoon in order to replenish the Tanqueray gin among other items. You inevitably buy more than you originally intended in these places. Sainsbury's is still a fairly relaxed experience, as far as supermarket shopping goes.

Subsequently I drove on to Tesco's leviathan Knocknagoney store, which I now regret. I've been avoiding it for many months; and I just wish I'd continued the habit. I'm minded to shun it in future.

If you enjoy spending your time in departure lounges at Heathrow or Gatwick airports, Tesco Knocknagoney is the very place for you. I thought it would have improved by now; however, there were two elementary own-label items I sought which weren't on their shelves. I remain to be convinced that this store has a bigger range of groceries than, say, their Connswater branch. From what I can see, a lot of the space is taken up with clothing and white appliances.

It took me five minutes to find a shopping-basket when I arrived. I asked two assistants, only to be told that there were none left where they should have been! Eventually I obtained one from a check-out counter.

Oh, how I hate this place. It is rotten.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Chapel Island Dig

I spent a few hours with many other National Trust volunteers on Chapel Island (above) today. Chapel Island lies directly west of Greyabbey in County Down. This is a small island in Strangford Lough, barely a dozen acres I imagine, with the remains of a ruined chapel connected to Movilla monastery.

Strangford Lough has another island of the same name further south, beside Jackdaw Island and near Audley's Castle.

At low tide, the island is accessible by foot from the mainland, the short walk taking about fifteen minutes.

All that remains of the church is a pile of stones spread across a small area; and it's totally obscured by briar, nettles and other weeds. Our task today was to partially clear the area in preparation for an archaeological dig later in the year.

I had to leave the party shortly after two o'clock in order to get back to Belfast for three. I stopped off at the Asda petrol station and re-fuelled, their price being 99.9p per litre.

The aerial photograph atop - courtesy of Fat Tony.

Clare Smyth, Chef de Cuisine

Clare Smyth, who left her parents' farm near Bushmills in County Antrim when she was 16, is going from strength to strength at Gordon Ramsay's flagship restaurant in Royal Hospital Road, London.

Clare has created a new, Seasonal Inspiration Menu. She is currently Head Chef at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The Country Master

I cycled into Belfast again today, via one of the worst streets in the city - Mersey Street - thanks to the Roads Disservice (are they aware of the state of this street?). I called at Millett's and Tiso's; and neither of them stocked the walking shoes that I was interested in.

Finally I cycled over to Jackson Sports shop in High Street. I know they had a pair of the Brasher Countrymaster boots. I spent about fifteen minutes trying them on - with thick socks and thin socks; asked the sales chap a few questions; produced a piece of paper which I'd printed from my computer with the best price I could obtain; and Jackson's matched the price without any quibble, to their credit.

We have a slight disadvantage in Northern Ireland insofar as delivery costs are concerned: many retailers charge us more to deliver an item to the Province. Still, I got 11% off which isn't bad. That is £11.

The boots are made in Portugal, by the way.

Roving Footwear

During my break on Rathlin Island last week, I undertook a fair amount of walking - by my standards, at least. I stupidly brought one pair of shoes with me, the ones I travelled in. My holdall was full with other gear, including flip-flops, so I deemed it sufficient to wear one good pair of very heavy leather brogues. I was mistaken.

I encountered some sustained periods of rain and, whilst I had waterproof leggings, outer shall and cap, the rain-water all seemed to end up on my shoes! Stout as they are, they couldn't withstand such conditions in the field.

When I got home I realized that I don't really possess a pair of real walking boots, or shoes. I have very heavy hiking boots for the Mourne mountains; and light trainer-type footwear.

Enter a company called Brasher. I've been seriously considering their Countrymaster boots. I'll most likely cycle to Jackson Sports shop in High Street, Belfast, today to have a look at them. If they fit, I'll see what sort of deal Jackson's can come up with because I've done research on the Web and have a price to beat (about 15% discount online).

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

NI: Rapid Broadband

According to the telecommunications regulator, OFCOM, Northern Ireland has achieved the fastest broadband speeds in the United Kingdom. How reassuring. I can't moan too much myself; my broadband speed seems to be reasonably quick these days. There are so many variable technicalities too, aren't there? Like the set-up of one's system, the kind of software installed etc.

I must log on to a speed-checker to see...

Addendum: I've just carried out three speed tests and the average speed on my system is currently 4.8Mbps.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Cycling Freedom

It's remarkable how much you can get done on a bike! I cycled from home into Belfast, to the Linen Hall Library; thence to the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society in Donegall Pass; and from there I rode along the River Lagan path-way, on to the main road to my destination on the Belmont Road - in the earldom, don't you know - Tesco, for a loaf of bread.

I cycled up the road and called in to the Help Computer Centre; and finally checked an appointment at my dentist's surgery further up the road.

All within two and a half hours. Not at all bad. I wonder how many calories were expended...

Netbook Dilemma

I am still slightly perplexed with the issue concerning wi-fi connectivity, the mobile broadband and netbook computers.

It is a complex matter, for me at least. I can imagine how many inexperienced - or naive - people are sold laptops only to discover that getting mobile broadband is not quite as straightforward as they thought!

Indeed, it is true that I could get mobile broadband via BT's Openzone hot-spots. I have Option One, so I believe I am entitled to 250 free wi-fi minutes per month.

However, in order to enable mobile broadband outside these hot-spots I'd need to buy a dongle. These are small, marker-pen sized modem-type contraptions sold by the big mobile phone companies. According to OFCOM's 3g coverage map, the Three Company has currently the best coverage in Northern Ireland.

I am loath to become involved with contracts, so a pay-as-you-go dongle from Three would seem the preferred option. The snag, for me, is that their dongles have expiry times of one month or three months with PAYG. Vodafone sell a dongle without this condition; however Vodafone's coverage in the Province for 3g is not brilliant presently. Alan In Belfast posted a good piece about this recently.

Regarding the netbook, I like the little Acer Aspire One in sapphire blue. I could buy a brand new one in white for £150; but the snag is that it a has a Linux operating system. To buy an Acer with Windows would cost a lot more, perhaps £70 more! The Three Company states that their dongles operate with Windows or Mac based systems.

A third way for me would be to buy a refurbished netbook, with a warranty, on Ebay; or at my local shop at Belmont. I could buy a Dell Inspiron Mini 9 that way (or an Acer).

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Achieve A Parade Gloss

For anyone interested in achieving a mirror, Guardsman's shine on their footwear here is a most instructive and satisfactory method obtained from a military source:-

First, take your duster and wrap it around your first two fingers.

Now lick the end. (If you prefer you can dip it in water but don't use too much).

Rub the duster in the polish until you have a small circle on the end.

Now start to gently rub the duster in small circles all over the area until you start to feel resistance and the polish goes dull.

At this point I personally spit on the shoe although again, you may dip the duster in a little water if you prefer. (Although spit gives a better shine - this is where the term 'Spit & Polish' comes from)

You now carry on bulling in small circles. Keep on going until the leather starts to shine. All you do now is apply more polish to the duster and repeat the bulling. Please note that it takes quite a few hours work to achieve the mirror shine you are after.

Once your shoe has a smooth layer, you will notice that the surface has a slight oily sheen across it. This is just a very small layer of polish left on the leather. By taking a small amount of cotton wool soaked in water and then bulling gently as before, this will be removed and your shoe is finished.

Just blow any water that is left off your shoe and that's it.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Mobile Broadband

I'm still considering a small netbook computer. I called at the local computer retailer, Help Computer Centre, on the Belmont Road in Belfast in order to make a few inquiries.

They suggested an Acer Aspire One. I told them that I didn't wish to spend too much - even a re-furbished or ex-demonstration netbook would suffice - so they are going to contact me next week with more details. Apparently the Acer will be new, with warranty and a Linux system.

If I decide to go ahead I'll get free wi-fi time from BT; and I'd buy a pay-as-you-go dongle from the Three mobile broadband company. Seemingly Three has the best 3G coverage in Northern Ireland presently.

Church's Brogues

Rather stupidly, I only brought one pair of shoes with me to Rathlin, a very heavy pair of tan brogues by Church and Company. I bought them in Austin Reed's shop almost thirty years ago. Austin Reed had a small branch in Belfast at the entrance to Queen's Arcade in Donegall Place.

Despite being fairly well prepared for the worst weather, with Peter Storm leggings, waterproof cap etc, the shoes were unable to withstand a sustained period of heavy rain out in the field. It took ages for them to dry out; in fact I put them on top of the radiator in my bedroom overnight!

Today I spent half an hour using the age-old Spit-and-Polish technique, which appears to have restored them to a perfectly acceptable state again:-

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Lying Doggo

As the missing Lord Lucan infamously scribbled before his disappearance, I'm lying doggo for awhile. I'm off to the great outdoors and wildlife for awhile. If there's free use of the Internet - unlikely - I'll post an article or two.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Two Bird Books

Here are two of my favourite bird books. They aren't particularly academic; but they are quite fascinating.

Somebody gave me The Bird Table Book, by Tony Soper. I think it's a good, rudimentary little book providing the reader with plenty of information about most of our garden birds.

I acquired my second, older book in a second-hand book-store - I think in North Street, Belfast. It is entitled Our Garden Birds, and it's written by H Mortimer Batten. It was first published in 1930 and my hard-back cost five shillings in old money.

This book contains lovely, full-page colour plate sketches of most garden birds and many more. My book has occasional hand-written notes along-side some pages; it had been owned by a man of the Cloth, the Reverend J Cullen. He has written a note on the back page as follows: "calling (of) the bat and tree creeper are inaudible to many people who have not got a very sensitive ear. They both have a very high frequency".

In his chapter about the blackbird, the author writes: Personally I think the blackbird stands higher than the mavis as a songster. His sweetest notes are singularly sweet, and he flings his song forth across the morning in a carelessly chosen chaos of spontaneous notes...
The book's then owner, Mr Cullen, scribbled at the side: "Exactly the opinion of the late Rev. W Butterly" (or Battersby; it's a bit illegible). The mavis is, incidentally, a colloquial term for the song thrush.

Whatever I paid for this book, and it wasn't much, it was worth it. It may have been £4.

Monday, 20 July 2009

The Sugar Arms

It is not known, yet, whether the Lord Sugar has applied to the College of Arms for his lordship's coat-of-arms; or if the new Arms have been granted.

One suggestion for a suitably apposite coat-of-arms has been as follows:

Crest - a flying lady, as on the bonnet of a famous motor-car.

Supporters - Dexter, Nick Hewer, Esq; Sinister, Ms Margaret Mountford.

Arms - Quarterly argent or cross formy flory sable surmounted of a computer's keyboard erased gules.

Motto - Vos Es Licentio

Sweetening Up Sugar

Today Sir Alan Sugar has been ennobled with a seat in the House of Lords. He becomes a life peer in a new creation as the Right Honourable Alan Michael Baron Sugar (of Clapton).

Gawd help us. Lord and Lady Sugar; whatever next? I hope he doesn't expect us to bow and doff the cap every time he is driven to Parliament in his limousine.

Employees, he must be addressed as "your lordship". It's a pity that his title doesn't expire along with Gordon Brown's term of office.

ScUBI Doo!

This nifty little gadget caught my eye yesterday. I'm interested in the concept of being able to surf the web and email practically anywhere, at an inexpensive cost.

Enter the DataWind UBISurfer. It has a 7" screen; battery last 3-4 hours; weighs 700g; costs £150; and web-surfing for 30 hours per month for the 1st year is free. 2nd year subscription is £30. Is this for 30 hours a month too, I wonder?

Roaming in Europe & the USA is 5p a minute. Is this good value?

What concerns me is the cost, per annum, for future years. I've emailed them and await the reply.

Are there any comparable alternatives to this pc?

Dump Road Humps!

I have just opened a letter from the Roads Disservice NI, informing me of a "residents' consultation on the traffic calming scheme" for our road. What an utter waste of money. They're going to proceed with it anyway, whether residents object or not, aren't they?

They talk about reducing deaths. What about reducing the speed limit on motorways to 50mph (which I don't advocate)? What about dedicated cycle-lanes with kerbs to separate them from the main road, in order to reduce deaths? Where does it all end? How much do these expensive policies cost the taxpayers? Can we really afford it? How much has the entire exercise cost, from civil service time and resources; to letters and stamps; to design and printing the consultation notices; to employing consultants, designers and draughtsmen; to the reimbursement of contractors for creating humps on our roads?

The baby two-seater isn't keen on road humps. Doubtless, given the pot-holes and sunken trenches on many NI roads, that ought to suffice in slowing down many drivers. You'd need air suspension, a Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Range-Rover or some other monstrous vehicle for them. I consider myself a fairly responsible motorist insofar as I tend to stick to speed limits; that means I travel at 30mph on urban roads and I also observe maximum speed limits on other roads. The baby two-seater prefers to drive over humps at closer to 10mph, despite the legal speed limit of 30mph. This sometimes frustrates impatient drivers who are in a hurry to get somewhere.

Only yesterday, an impatient driver overtook us when we were driving carefully over a hump near Ballyholme.

Road humps are a blunt and crude weapon in the fight against speeding and road deaths. To my mind they are a waste of public funds, when resources should be pumped into more traffic policing and speed cameras.

These obstacles generate more pollution, too, by causing more deceleration, braking and acceleration.

Road humps exist for irresponsible imbeciles and cretins who travel in excess of 40mph on residential roads. Instead of humps, the reckless drivers should be targeted directly.

I'd like the Roads Disservice to spend our money on re-surfacing our roads smoothly before they pile heaps of tarmac ramps on them. Is that blunt enough for them?

Sunday, 19 July 2009

My Old Capri

I was delighted to watch the BBC's Top Gear this evening, when James May - a chap of some taste - chose a venerable Ford Capri 2.8i Injection to compete against the others.

I owned exactly the same model - and two-tone colour - in 1984. I recall the Recaro seats well. Curiously enough, these cars were the choice of several police forces in those days: our constabulary's traffic branch maintained an unmarked fleet of them. It was a powerful car in its day.

It amused me when some other motorists were wary when overtaking me in my Capri at times. I wish I could remember its registration number...

Bangor's Guillemots

A brief walk along Bangor's main pier this afternoon really brightened up my day. Lining part of its edge and chatting to each other, making their soft, plaintive cries were Bangor's population of black guillemots. Their residence in Bangor, County Down, is largely due, in great part, to the diligent efforts of the RSPB and others. Black guillemots have been visiting the resort since 1911.

Do pay a visit to Bangor to view these wonderful little birds. Their cries are as captivating as the conspicuousness of their bright red feet and sooty plumage. They seemed content for me to stand within a few yards of them.

I forgot to bring my camera with me, as usual, so credit to Ladyb for the picture.

We motored on in the baby two-seater towards Donaghadee, where we donned the feed-bags for some glorious grub at Donaghadee Garden Centre. Today I had the beef-steak pie with mash, carrots and turnip; while the Dowager scooped up a load of Irish stew. Tip-top; busy, though, which is always a good sign.

We drove homewards via Jollye's pet-food store. I needed to replenish the wild bird-seed; since my goldfinches sit at the feeders most of the day eating his lordship out of house and home. The little tits and greenfinches are fond of black sunflower seeds, too. 20kg of nyjer-seeds set me back £34.99; while 13kg of black sunflower seeds cost £12.49.

The Big Lunch

Is anyone organizing a Big Lunch in Northern Ireland? The Big Lunch Project aims to encourage us all to get to know our neighbours better throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. Street parties were, of course, all part of our great British traditions during and after the war; and to celebrate royal jubilees.

The founders of the Eden Project are behind the idea. I know of one Big Lunch barbecue being organized by the National Trust at Minnowburn today; the wardens invited us to it yesterday.

I have just entered our post code in the Big Lunch website and, unsurprisingly, there shan't be one on our road; fat chance of that. Perhaps we're not as neighbourly as we think!

Saturday, 18 July 2009

The Annual Balsam Bash

Himalayan Balsam is a particularly prolific weed. There are areas of the meadows at Minnowburn where it returns every year. We were endeavouring to eradicate the stuff at a spot close to the old Shaw's Bridge today. The newly-built boat-house could be seen too. Minnowburn is a National Trust property beside the River Lagan at Shaw's Bridge, Belfast.

Six or seven of us met at the car-park this morning at ten o'clock. No tools were necessary; just gloves. I mistakenly wore shorts, as I was stung repeatedly by nettles! Still, we managed to uproot a large amount of the Himalayan Balsam. At one spot, we came across a wild raspberry bush, so that was my dessert, having eaten the sandwiches half an hour earlier. I must have consumed a few dozen of the berries; indeed, I must make a mental note of that for July next year.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

8-14 Callender St. Belfast

Callender Street dates from about 1791. Numbers 8-14 are now the location of Aldens In The City restaurant on the ground floor. In 1888 it was the site of Murray, Sons and Company's tobacco factory, when there must surely have been a heady aroma of that addictive leaf for passers-by. When Murray's relocated, it was occupied for a period by Hanna and Browne's furniture showroom.

This premises, like others on the street, has been linked by common ownership to adjacent buildings in Arthur Street.

Why, I wonder, is it spelt with two letter Ls? A calender is a machine consisting of two hot rollers for pressing paper or cloth - such as linen - smooth and glossy. Perhaps the spelling with two Ls is simply an anomaly, since words and names were often spelt as spoken or as they sounded. I'm open to suggestions...

Bicycle Ride

In my quest to maintain my fitness level - I've not been swimming because the sports club is closed for the summer - I rode over to Warnock's on the Lisburn Road, Belfast, this morning. I suppose it took me twenty-five minutes.

Warnock's is almost directly opposite Malone Park. They are a long-established clothing retailer, formerly at Queen's Building in Royal Avenue (recall Waterstone's there?). I tried on a Lacoste Size 4, which was too roomy; then a size 3, which was the correct size for me. They wouldn't - or couldn't - budge from their price of £50 per shirt.

I thanked them, mounted the trusty cycle and rode across the road to Maryville Park. I spotted a little white van emblazoned with the wording Pet-Serve. This is a great idea: David, a former USPCA officer, calls at your home and minds, feeds, checks and tends your pet for you while you are on holiday or whatever. Since I'd love another cat, this service would interest me.

I cycled onwards along the length of the Lisburn Road and Great Victoria Street, turning up Wellington Place. I finally arrived at Callender Street, my destination for lunch being Aldens In The City.

It is awhile since my last visit to Alden's city branch, and a true pleasure to return. I like this place. Nice Food, Nice People, Nice Service and Nice Place sums it up. Once again I had the Hot Pig Sandwich, a dish of the most divine chips I've eaten anywhere; indeed Heston B would be impressed. The chips were hand-made, crisp and dry on the exterior, chunky and fluffy inside; what more could you wish for?

The sandwich was equally good, the ingredients including lean pork pieces and dressed salad, all in a tangy, mustardy, saucy dressing. I washed it down with a glass of chilled white wine.

The bill was a very reasonable £11.45: £7.95 for the sandwich and £3.50 for the wine.

Before I left I chatted with Jonathan Davis, who owns this restaurant and its slightly more formal sister restaurant, Alden's, at Ballyhackamore in east Belfast. Being a fellow Old Brackenbrian, Jonathan recognized my tie! I knew he'd been to Campbell (Alden's House); didn't realize we'd both been at Brackenber, though.

Incidentally, my repast here bore absolutely no comparison to last week's bangers and mash. I mean that in every sense, including standards of cuisine, service and value. Very well done, Jonathan; and keep to the great work.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Genuine Lacoste?

Lacoste polo shirts are notoriously chosen by con-men and dishonest fraudsters to copy cheap fakes, churned out in Asia by the thousands. There used to be lots of them for sale on Ebay, though it has tightened up on this practice following complaints by innocent buyers.

Genuine Lacoste polo shirts are relatively expensive. I've been searching the web and the best prices are around £45-£50 here in the UK. If anyone knows of a genuine and reputable retailer who sells them for less than this (and has a decent selection), please let us all know.

This evening I have found an online retailer called which appears to sell the complete range of Lacoste polo shirts. They advertize a price of $59.99, reduced from $79.99. Inserting a "My Voucher Code" of "5discount"; and including flat rate shipping to Europe of $9.95 amounts to a good deal for British consumers, so it seems.

If I bought two shirts, say a light blue and a dark green, the grand total would come to $113.98 including postage. That's about £69, or less than £35 each. I doubt if any UK retailer could compete with this, could they? I phoned Warnock's shop in Belfast and the best price they quoted me for one shirt was £50.

I wonder where they are manufactured? Has anyone heard of this company at all? According to Wikipedia, "after a two year search in the Central American region, Lacoste established production for its U.S. customers in the Miramar Free Trade Zone in El Salvador. El Salvador operations will be managed by a new the local subsidiary, Textil El Salvador (TRANS)."

No Contacts

I've decided not to go ahead with daily disposable contact lenses, the main reason being that I am unable to focus clearly at objects within a few feet when I'm wearing them.

Some examples could be hammering, sawing, cutting, reading. So I'd need to wear reading glasses every time I performed such a function. I simply cannot be bothered. It was, however, worth a try.

It is easier to continue in the present circumstances by wearing glasses as and when necessary; viz. watching television - especially high definition - and certain events, like concerts. Or driving at night; in which case I have no need for reading glasses, yet.

It was worth a try; nothing lost, nothing gained.

Tesco Honey Nut Bran Flakes

I have been pestering Tesco customer services to re-stock their excellent own-label Honey and Nut Bran Flakes, which they ceased to sell a few years ago. Personally I find it very hard to believe how unpopular this cereal was; why else would Tesco stop selling them? Curiously, Sainsbury stopped selling their honey and nut bran flakes at about the same time.

At any rate, here is Tesco customer service's standard, stereotype response:

"Dear Timothy

Thank you for your email.

I'm very sorry that you can no longer buy Tesco Honey & Nut Bran Flakes from our store. I can understand how disappointed you must be.

We really do our best to stock as many products as we can and most of our stores carry over 20,000 lines. However, space is limited and many new and exciting products come on the market regularly. To make space for these, we sometimes need to make the decision to stop selling some of our less popular lines to make room for the new product ranges.

However, our Buying Team decides what we sell in our stores, so I've requested them to stock the product at your local stores. Unfortunately, I can't guarantee that we will stock this product, but I can at least assure you that they will consider your request.

Thank you for taking the time and trouble to write to us.

If you have any further queries please do not hesitate to contact us at quoting TES6632774X.

Kind Regards

Kavitha Shadaksharaiah
Customer Service Manager
Tesco Customer Service"

The irony is, of course, that honey and nut bran flakes were more nutritious, with more fibre, than the corn-flakes.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Coronets: A Guide

The five degrees of the Peerage all have different coronets. In practice coronets are rarely, if ever, worn today except at coronations. They are, however, depicted on the majority of noble coats-of-arms.

A duke's coronet is a golden circlet with eight golden strawberry leaves around it (pointing up from it). 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 number of strawberry leaves and no pearls is what distinguishes a ducal coronet from those of other ranks.

Alternative description: The ducal coronet has undergone several modifications in form since it was first introduced in 1337. when Prince Edward of Woodstock, better known as the Black Prince, was created Duke of Cornwall by his father, Edward III. As now worn, it has eight golden leaves of a conventional type-the "strawberry leaves," so called - set erect upon a circlet of gold, and having their stalks so connected as to form a wreath. Of late years this coronet has enclosed a cap of rich crimson velvet surmounted by a golden tassel and lined and "guarded" with ermine.

A marquess's coronet is a golden circlet with four strawberry leaves around it (pointing up from it), alternating with four large 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 coronet of an earl is a golden circlet as above but with eight strawberry leaves alternating with eight silver balls on tall spikes.

It has also been described thus: The coronet, which is one of the most striking, has, rising from a golden circlet, eight lofty rays of gold, each of which upon its point supports a small pearl, while between each pair of rays is a conventional leaf, the stalks of these leaves being connected with the rays and with each other so as to form a continuous wreath.

A viscount's coronet is as above but has sixteen small silver balls, called pearls, all set closely together directly upon the circlet.

The coronet of a baron is as above but has six large silver balls - pearls- set at equal distances on the circlet.

Monday, 13 July 2009

What To Eat Now?

Episode Two of the BBC 2 food series being shown in some regions this evening, What To Eat Now, takes Valentine Warner to the country home of Lord and Lady Downshire, Clifton Castle, near Ripon in Yorkshire.

Lord Downshire's ancestors' seat in County Down was formerly Hillsborough Castle; and their marine residence was Murlough House, near Newcastle, in County Down as well.

Coughs And Sneezes

The Ministry of Health initiated a campaign, possibly during the Second World War, using the slogan, "Coughs And Sneezes Spread Diseases...Trap Your Germs By Using Your Handkerchief".

At no time is this judicious and sensible advice more pertinent than today, particularly in public places and transport.

With all this talk about Swine Flu, many people still ignore and disrespect others by coughing and sneezing in public without covering their noses or mouths with a handkerchief or tissue. It's pure, unadulterated ignorance; ill-mannered through a lack of education and up-bringing.

Why doesn't the Government revive such a campaign? Perhaps they fear being a "Nanny State"; or they deem it politically incorrect, which is all utter drivel of course. It's simply common sense; ironically, it's political correctness that deters them from reviving the slogan. Having said that, the sort of people who behave in such a manner would doubtless continue to ignore and resent such advice.

Who said that cleanliness was next to godliness? There is probably a grain of truth in that phrase. At any rate, in my perception public standards of hygiene, generally speaking, have dropped considerably since 1945. It was probably second-nature for people to wash their hands and use handkerchiefs in those days. Why not now?

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Salt Island: A Guide

This is the most comprehensive information I have published, to date, about the National Trust's most wonderful little gem of an island in Strangford Lough.

If any reader wishes to contribute anything which they feel may be of further interest - historical, anecdotal or otherwise - please do feel free to share it on this site at the Comments section.



Salt Island is a truly special place.

Those of us who visit it regularly cherish it as an unspoiled haven for wildlife, wild flowers and even a place to escape the pressures of everyday life.

It’s a little island which instills a sense of adventure combined with relaxation and peacefulness.

Brandy Bay, on the western side of the Island, may well inspire those of you with a vivid imagination to think of smugglers several centuries ago, who might have used the Island as a stopping-off point for illicit liquor on its way to eager customers on the mainland!

The Island itself is small, comprising about 51 acres.

It was acquired freehold in 1980 from William Thompson.

It lies 1¼ miles east of Delamont Country Park and 1¼ miles south of the nearest village, Killyleagh.

There is a small jetty near the Bothy, on the south-eastern side of the Island, which is accessible for up to 2½ hours either side of high tide.

This side of the Island has shallow water and extensive mud-flats at low tide which can be treacherous.

However, Brandy Bay, on the western side, is accessible, with care, at all times and is about five minutes' walk to the Bothy.

Brandy Bay has no jetty, so if you arrive by boat you may still need to step into shallow water or, indeed, row ashore in a tender.

Salt Island is one of eleven canoe access points of the circular Strangford Lough Canoe Trail.

This trail was officially launched at the Bothy on the 2nd July, 2008.

Three other National Trust access points are located at Castleward, Island Reagh and Horse Island.

For further information visit Canoe NI.

Directly behind the Bothy you will see a plantation of trees.

These were planted by volunteers in about 1987.

There is a stile at the rear of this plantation.

You shall also notice a small, fresh-water pond at Brandy Bay; and there are signs that it is being used by the occasional otter.

The Island consists mainly of clay soil.

The highest point, at the northern end, is 54 feet above sea-level.

In the past, there were several wells on the island as indicated by old maps.


Research is still being undertaken to discover more about the history of Salt Island.

However, we know that, in 1836, the island was owned by Lord Bangor (who lived at Castle Ward).

Salt Island changed hands several times before the National Trust finally purchased it in 1980.

It appears that there were no dwellings on the Island in 1836.

A cottage did exist, though, at some time thereafter; and its stones were used for the construction of the present Bothy.


The Bothy was built in the 1980s.

Its construction is triple-layered, up to one foot thick and stones from the original cottage were used on its exterior.

The Bothy provides basic shelter for visitors, ranging from campers to canoeists; youth & school groups; families and adventure organizations; indeed anyone can stay there.

It can accommodate up to ten people and offers running water, toilets, a wood-burner stove, kitchen area, table and chairs.

There is no cooker, so you need to bring your own cooking equipment, such as a Trangia or gas stove.

The Bothy has a drying-room beside the toilets.

The National Trust has provided a modest supply of kitchen utensils, cutlery and crockery.

However, it is best that you aim to be self-sufficient and bring your own.

Don’t forget to bring everything you need with you to the Island, including toilet paper, washing-up liquid, pots and pans etc.

Whilst many of these items may be in the Bothy, this cannot be taken for granted!

In fact, the National Trust would welcome any donations of useful items of furniture, cooking utensils, even the odd bottle of cooking oil or ketchup would be greatly received for future visitors.

The Island has no electricity supply, so you are welcome to bring your own portable generator in order to provide power to the Bothy’s existing power-points and fittings.

There are two permanent barbecues outside the Bothy.

One is situated at the corner of the wall in the grassy area to the front of the Bothy.


There is no charge for rough camping at the northern part of the Island, near Brandy Bay, although this means that you do not have access to the Bothy facilities.

For rough camping, there is a drinking-water tap, close to the water trough, at the fence surrounding the plantation behind the bothy.


Otters are known to pay occasional visits to Salt Island.

They use the pond near Brandy Bay for fresh drinking water.

Otters are shy creatures and mostly nocturnal.

Porpoises are regular visitors to Strangford Lough.

They are closely related to dolphins, but smaller; and they often swim in small groups, or “schools” as the collective term is known.

The Irish hare, Lepus Timidus Hibernicus, was once prevalent on Salt Island.

These animals have long ears with black tips; the body is russet brown; and their hind legs are longer than rabbits too.

They seem to have died out, although there are still plenty of rabbits here.

Why not keep a record of the birds, insects and animals you see in the visitor-book?

Other visitors will find it fascinating and useful.


Salt Island Bothy provides an exciting overnight camping experience for groups.

The bunkhouse provides basic shelter, accommodation and camping facilities.

It is very popular with canoeists, boat users, youth groups and families.

Salt Island is one of 11 canoe access points on the circular Strangford Lough Canoe Trail.


The bothy can accommodate up to ten people sleeping inside and offers toilets, an outdoor barbecue and a lean-to area for hanging wet gear etc.

There are no mattresses or bedding.

There's a small table and some chairs, a wood-burning stove, a kitchen area with sink but no cooker.

Users must bring their own means of cooking such as a Trangia or gas stove, along with any fire-wood needed and drinking water.


All bookings for the Bothy are coordinated through Mount Stewart (Tel. (028) 4278 8387).

The charges, which go towards running, administration and maintenance costs, must be paid in full before your stay.

Charges for 2019 were as follows:
£10 per person per night sharing
£80 for exclusive use of the bothy

The Bothy can be booked by contacting Mount Stewart Estate (Tel. (028) 4278 8387).

These charges include full use of the walled camping area at the front of the Bothy.

Please note that, if you have booked exclusive use of the Bothy, you have the right to ask others to vacate these areas should you so wish.

Rough camping at the northern side of the Island is free, but does not entitle you to use of the Bothy or its facilities.


We want you to have a wonderful time on Salt Island.

We’d really like you to help us to keep the Island and the Bothy in good condition for others to enjoy.

Here is the Salt Island Code:-

  • Please respect the Island, the Bothy and its contents during your visit for others to enjoy. Treat others as you’d wish to be treated yourself.
  • Do leave the Bothy and its surrounding area clean and tidy during and after your stay. In particular, leave all utensils and surfaces clean and please wash them before you leave.
  • Any breakages must be reported to the National Trust wardens.
  • Cutting or felling trees and branches on the Island is forbidden. The plantation and woodland will be unsustainable otherwise. Although there may sometimes be a small supply of fire-wood, this is not guaranteed. Fire-wood can be collected from the shore-line or from dead wood lying around the Island.
  • Please bring your own fuel and fire-wood to the Island. Coal may also be burned.
  • There is a brush, mop and bucket provided. Please wash the floor before your stay ends.
  • All litter must be taken off the Island before you leave, so please bring bin bags with this in mind.
  • Dogs are welcome on the Island, but must be kept under control due to sheep grazing.
  • Smoking is not permitted in the Bothy.
  • Please don’t climb on to the dry stone walls; the stones are heavy and loose, and accidents may occur.
  • Please remember to keep the gate at the front of the Bothy open, so that the sheep can enter to feed on the grass, thus omitting the need for a lawnmower!
  • You can help us, and others, by replenishing stocks of fire-wood. You can do this by scavenging throughout the Island for fallen branches etc. please try to keep the fire-wood container, outside the Bothy, well filled at all times.
  • Aim to leave Salt Island in an even better state than when you arrived! Good campers never leave any trace of their whereabouts. Why not spend an hour picking up any litter from the shore? This would be a great help to us; do remember to take it away from the Island when you leave, though!
  • Take care when lighting camp fires; keep them well under control and tidy up the area the next day.
  • In the event of an emergency, contact the National Trust Wardens.


Seven principles which we can all aspire to:-

  • Plan ahead and prepare
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Leave what you find
  • Minimize impact and use of fire
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of other visitors


You may be interested to know that the National Trust has established a “Friends of the Bothy” group in order to help keep Salt Island and the Bothy in good condition.

Why not spend a few hours with one of the National Trust Volunteer Groups each month?

It can be rewarding and an opportunity to meet new friends with similar interests.

A typical volunteer day might even include a trip to one of our islands, building dry stone walls, hedge-laying, or possibly herding goats!

There is always plenty of wildlife to observe. Contact the Warden for more details.


The National Trust is a charity and is completely independent of Government.

We rely for income on membership fees, donations and legacies, and revenue raised from our commercial operations.

We now have 3.5 million members and 52,000 volunteers who gave 2.3 million hours in 2007/08.

More than 12 million people visit our pay-for-entry properties, while an estimated 50 million visit our open-air properties.

We protect and open over 300 historic houses and gardens and 49 industrial monuments and mills.
But it doesn’t stop there.

We also look after forests, woods, fens, beaches, farmland, downs, moorland, islands, archaeological remains, castles, nature reserves, villages - for ever, for everyone.

Salt Island: July 2009

We met at Killyleagh Yacht Club, County Down, yesterday morning, where Craig ferried us all over to Salt Island. Salt Island is in Strangford Lough and is owned by the National Trust. Craig was using one of the smaller boats, so he ferried us over in two sailings.

We anchored off the north-west shore of the island, the opposite side to where the jetty is, and our tasks were both close to this spot. This low-lying part of the island is a designated camp-site and our task was to construct a basic latrine nearby. We found a suitable spot and dug a ten foot trench about one foot in depth; then erected pre-prepared wattle-screens (from branches at Anne's Point) around the trench. This, basically, was the latrine. I suggested that we placed a notice - Squatters Only - on a tree beside it!

Later on, we worked at the small pond close by. There is evidence that otters have been here. We enlarged the pond and tried to remove as much weed and undergrowth as possible.

The bothy, at the other side of the island, was being used by a group of scouts this weekend. Their tents were all standing in the enclosed ground at the front.

We had a relatively good turn-out yesterday, numbering about a dozen. Anna had brought some of her delicious home-made ginger-cake. I was delighted to learn that Natalie and Hannah shall be on Rathlin Island at the same time as myself in ten days' time. That will be a great excuse for a drink or two. They'll be staying at a hostel.

Salt was looking wonderful; we heard skylarks and watched swallows feeding. I didn't get an opportunity to have a walk round the island because we always seem to be pre-occupied doing the day's tasks. Ideally I'd like to stay on Salt for a few days with the others, in the bothy. It's good to see the bothy so popular with youth groups, canoeing clubs and organizations now. Of course anyone can book the bothy and enjoy the island life of peace, tranquillity, nature and wildlife.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Smart Fortwo 84bhp Turbo


I call it the baby two-seater. To give it its full title, it is the Smart Fortwo Coupé Passion 84bhp Turbo. I'm publishing this review having owned the car for five weeks. Has anyone worked out where the above picture was taken? I'll give you one clue: It's beside a grand side entrance to one of the most iconic buildings in Northern Ireland.

My little car came with loads of optional extras, like grey metallic paint; power steering; electric heated door-mirrors; black leather, heated seats; velour floor-mats; front fog-lights; two-tone horn; chrome pack (front grille, side mirrors and rear trim); and glove-box.

Standard features include unconventional automatic transmission called "softouch"; electric windows; air conditioning; radio/CD player; alloy wheels; and many other features.

It's a quirky little car; certainly a big change from my previous car, a BMW Z4 2.2i automatic. I grew tired of big bills for maintenance costs like coil springs, injection coils and the prospect of new tyres; car tax and 22-23 mpg due to my urban driving. I wanted a change.

The performance in my Smart 84bhp turbo is good; in fact it's really rather nippy, considering I've driven a Z4! It can easily keep up with other cars on the roads. They say the 0-62 time is 10.9 seconds and I can believe that. It can cruise effortlessly at 60mph. I haven't driven any faster so far - it's merely five weeks old. The brakes are OK; obviously not as effortless as the Z4, but competent.

Comfort is good; as good as the Z4 at least. The driving position is high and large front and side windows mean that visibility is excellent. The seats are supportive and comfortable too. There is plenty of legroom, given that it is a two-seater. We've been living with it for a month and we've had no difficulties with boot space for shopping. The suspension, however, seems firm like the Z4. The little Smart car doesn't take kindly to the humps provided by the Roads Disservice. I invariably slow right down when crossing them. The quirky transmission stutters a bit too, at that speed. I imagine that, had it been a conventional automatic, the economy wouldn't have been half as good.

Fuel economy is where the baby two-seater excels. The most I have ever had to spend to fill the tank - so far - has been £22.70. Mind you, the tank wasn't in the red; still, we probably are achieving twice as many miles to the gallon as we got in the Z4. £20 in the Smart car gets you a fair distance! So the running costs have been frugal, with annual car tax at £35 and insurance at about £165. The car tax might even be reduced when Mr Cameron becomes Prime Minister next year! I haven't had it serviced yet at Agnew's; so watch this space!

Parking is a cinch. The car's diminutive size gives you confidence to try parking in spaces you otherwise would not even consider. It feels a bit cheeky actually!

The gear-change is heavy and requires a lot more pressure than conventional automatics to push into reverse, drive or neutral. I also need to press a little "A" button every time I drive forward in order to engage the Softouch automatic. This I have found tiresome; though one does get accustomed to it.

Apart from the chunky gear-change which can be mastered, to an extent, with practice; the quite firm ride; and its consequent aversion to road humps, it is really a very enjoyable, well appointed and quick little car. A little gem.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Valete: Mollie

A most affectionate little cat called Mollie, who visited our garden frequently and played there, was hit by a vehicle on our road at about nine-thirty this morning and died. I didn't know till I saw several passers-by stopped at the scene.

The driver who hit Mollie didn't bother to stop.

I cannot believe how upset I am; I did become very fond of Mollie though. I shall miss her.

Our neighbour has contacted the owners and left a note; and I have covered Mollie with a tarpaulin in our garden.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Countrywise In NI

Did anyone watch ITV1's excellent Countrywise series from Northern Ireland this evening? It was broadcast at 7.30.

Tonight Lough Erne and its environs featured, including articles about the coastguard, RNLI and Belleek Pottery.

From County Fermanagh the programme ventured in a north-easterly direction to Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland's largest off-shore island. The multi-talented Liam McFaul, who has five jobs on the island, explained his roles as a coastguard, fireman, fisherman, farmer and wildlife warden.

Rathlin Ahoy!

I have reserved two nights' bed and breakfast at the Manor House on Rathlin Island in thirteen days time. Just to be on the safe side, I booked a place on the ferry too.

Rathlin Island's closest town is Ballycastle in County Antrim. We have visited the island before, on a day trip. We had a snack lunch at McCuaig's Bar.

I hope to hire a cycle and tour the island by that means.

The Manor house is owned by the National Trust.

Lunch At Muriel's

Who, in Belfast, sells Lacoste polo shirts? There was no sign of them in the House of Fraser or Debenham's stores. I've a feeling there used to be an outfitter's shop at Lisburn Road who sold them ages ago. Warnock's! That's the place.

I cycled here and there on my bike, which is quite an advantage if you can be bothered; it instills a feeling of freedom, and there is no concern about car-parking.

At about ten past twelve I parked the cycle at Muriel's Café-Bar in Church Lane, perused the menu outside and tentatively walked in. It was still quiet, being early. I inquired if the room upstairs was open; so wandered up to have a look. Muriel's is rather Bohemian in character, the first-floor lounge-bar more akin to a Parisian salon. There are velour-cushioned, coloured sofas and arm-chairs; so it's really quite flamboyant.

My initial impressions were slightly negative, because none of the staff came near me for ten minutes. In fact I decided to sit downstairs. I found a table at the rear and sat down with a menu. I was just about to walk out when a member of staff approached me and took my order, bangers and mash accompanied by Martin Miller's gin and Fevertree tonic: quite a concoction altogether.

While I waited, I had an opportunity to study the surroundings: three or four tables; six customers seated and one on a bar-stool; washing lines suspended from the ceiling with women's knickers and thongs (all freshly laundered, no doubt) on clothes-pegs; old photographs attached to the ceiling horizontally; display cabinets with items of millinery (was Muriel a milliner?); and a sort of parquet floor.

One good point is that the bar is well stocked with premium spirits. My Miller's gin cost £3.60; however, the Fevertree tonic-water set me back a whopping £2.70! The bangers and mash came to me suspiciously swiftly. Surely the meal must have been re-heated? What was it like? It was like bangers and mash, no more and no less. It cost £7.50.

I think Muriel's would be a lounge-bar to consider for a few drinks now and again. It's certainly not a run-of-the-mill establishment by any stretch of the imagination.

I cycled home via Mersey Street, which was not an agreeable experience given the uneven surface, pot-holes and humps courtesy of the Roads Disservice.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Contact Lens Trial

I cycled to my optician this morning in order to have a new contact lens fitting and trial. They are daily disposable lenses - Coopervision toric. I'm attracted to the idea that I could wear them occasionally, when it suits me.

I tried the monthly contact lenses almost exactly two years ago and didn't go ahead because I sustained a nasty cut whilst chopping an onion at home, wearing the lenses.

That has been the major snag for me: I need to wear reading glasses - not just to read, but for near sight - when I'm wearing contact lenses. I think it comes with age! I'm wearing reading spectacles as I tap away on this very key-board.

So it's a compromise; and that's why I'd get daily disposables, just to use occasionally. I shall even attempt to squeeze two days out of them by storing them in a case with solution overnight. Hygiene is, needless to say, of paramount importance.

There'd be no harm in buying an initial supply from them and also ensuring that I get the contact lens prescription. They checked my eyes and that cost £17.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Prince William, Barrister

In what has become an honorary and traditional appointment, Prince William has become a Royal Bencher at the Middle Temple in the City of London.

HRH has assured us that he shan't practice, except for the odd speeding ticket!

Monday, 6 July 2009

Cycling To BK

Cognizant of the angry-looking skies this morning, I put on the aged Barbour jacket and tweed cap and wheeled my bike out of the shed. It was dry when I left.

I wished to treat an exceptionally kind friend and her husband to a nice meal at a favourite restaurant of mine, Beatrice Kennedy's, in University Road, Belfast. The last time we dined there was on my birthday, on the 22nd December, 2008; so I'm overdue another visit. Perhaps I'll have a meal there next month, when I'm at an Ulster Orchestra concert.

From the Albertbridge Road I turned on to Ravenhill Road; and turned right on to the Ormeau Embankment. If you are a cyclist you'll be aware of the disgraceful state of the Ravenhill Road with its uneven surfaces, pot-holes, sunken trenches - have I left anything out? - courtesy of the Roads Disservice! Why don't they spend as much time on re-surfacing main arterial roads as they devote to their beloved humps?

The staff at Beatrice Kennedy's were busy preparing for the day when I arrived. I had a good chat with Jim McCarthy, the chef patron (I almost in my guise as Lord Belmont; maybe I should change my name by deed poll!). The standards of service and cuisine at BK's are second to none, in my experience. I know my friends will enjoy a really special evening there.

I cycled home via University Street and the heavens opened: I got soaked to the skin! When I arrived home, I literally had to wring my socks of rain-water; that's how heavy it was. I have my socks, trousers and shoes in the hot-press as I write.

I'm not bothered in the slightest: I've been through a lot worse than a heavy shower.

Like Hot Dogs?

Joey "Jaws" Chestnut certainly has a taste for them; hot dogs, that is. He has just beaten the world record and consumed 68 in ten minutes, equivalent to roughly 19,000 calories.

That must be one hot dog every ten seconds or so. I shouldn't think I could beat that!

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Brief Divis Walk

I wanted to get home in time for the Wimbledon men's final this afternoon, so we didn't venture far at all from base today. I hadn't been to Divis for awhile and, on this occasion, we drove via the West Link road.

The car park at Divis was busy today. There was some sort of cycle race taking place. I donned my light walking shoes and left the car park. Along the way I spotted a pair of lovely little stonechats, the male bird (left) perched on a barbed-wire fence watching me; and his partner - I presume - preening itself on a tree further along.

There was also a flock of swifts feeding on the wing. I ambled over to Divis Lodge, which is still sealed with breeze-blocks and a temporary roof. Judging by its condition - the brickwork, guttering etc - I expect that, when the requisite funds are eventually raised - it shall be an expensive restoration task.

The one year old stone wall surrounding the pond is dilapidated in a few places; though there's a notice explaining that it will be repaired in due course. This could possibly be a job for volunteers.


Much as we appreciate the help offered by the Republic of Ireland's maritime helicopter rescue service - many lives have been saved by them in Northern Ireland - it is frustrating that the Royal Air Force's Search and Rescue Force (SARF) does not have a presence in the Province; and that, as a consequence of this, HM Coastguard feels the need to liaise with the Irish Republic's maritime service instead.

I believe there used to be a search and rescue squadron based in Northern Ireland; and, when it left the Province, there was active opposition from some politicians including Jeffrey Donaldson.

I feel that we, as taxpayers and British Citizens, have been badly let down by the authorities in this regard; viz. HM Government, including the Ministry of Defence, the Northern Ireland Office and, to a lesser extent, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. I am well aware that HM Coastguard utilizes the Irish rescue service because, they maintain, Irish helicopters can get to the Province more quickly than RAF SARF helicopters based in Scotland.

It is an abrogation of the RAF's responsibilities not to have at least one SARF helicopter based in Northern Ireland. Some might think that they are more concerned about saving money than the citizens of Northern Ireland. Presumably that is the reason why we have no SARF base in the Province, is it not?

Incidentally, do we pay the Irish coastguard for this service? As taxpayers, surely we, in Northern Ireland, are entitled to the services of the RAF Search and Rescue Force?

The Real Stig

When Jeremy Clarkson finally revealed the long-awaited identity of the Stig on the BBC's flagship motoring series, Top Gear, a few weeks ago as that of the world-famous multi-millionaire racing driver, Michael Schumacher, it wasn't long before I began to have doubts. I am old enough to take publicity stunts with a pinch of salt; experienced enough to view some things with a little scepticism.

The revelation seemed too good to be true. Why would a youthful, busy, very wealthy former Formula One racing driver be prepared to act as an invisible, anonymous test driver for the BBC and also accept all the inconvenience of the media pursuing him, trying to discover the Stig's true identity?

Jeremy Clarkson dropped a number of hints towards the end of the interview, casting doubt as to whom the Stig really is. Of more concern to viewers is the implication that the Schumacher Interview was done in order that a famous brand of rum could be promoted. Were this the case, would it contravene BBC guidelines about advertizing? Personally I have no idea. I imagine they'd argue that they didn't name the rum; the interviewee did.

Nevertheless, Top Gear remains one of my favourite programmes. I enjoyed the theatre of the Unmasking of the Stig - whomsoever that is; and we are all none the wiser because many of us still wonder who the Stig really is.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

14, Church Lane, Belfast

The premises at number 14, Church Lane, Belfast have been home to public houses for many decades. In 1974 the street directory lists "McKenna & McGinley, Publicans" at 14; then it became known as the Boreen which, at a mere seven feet wide, was said to have been the smallest bar in the city. Can anyone recall its business prior to 1974?

More recently, it changed its name several more times as the Glass Jar, Nicholls; and today it has successfully found its niche as Muriel's Café-Bar. The well-known painter, Andrew Nicholl, lived in this street and his father was a boot-maker.

The White Hart Inn, one of the city's most popular watering-holes c1800, was located in Church Lane.

The terrace at numbers 12-14 dates from 1840. Further along the street, towards High Street, the terraces are even older; and a well-known tobacconist's shop dates from 1780.

This street was originally called School-house Lane after the school-house which was built behind the Corporation Church (now St George's). By 1788 it was known as Church Lane.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Muriel & The Spaniard

Whilst I have never frequented either the Spaniard Bar or Muriel's Café Bar yet, it is believed that they are owned by the same proprietors. Have any readers ever had a drink or meal in either of them?

The Spaniard, in Skipper Street, Belfast, has a particularly innovative website; and its sister bar, Muriel's, which is literally across the street - High Street - and up Church Lane, gets a brief reference.

Both Muriel's and the Spaniard's menus can be perused on this website.

Home To Roost

I've always enjoyed singing. So Why, on earth, don't you join a choir then? I hear you deafeningly ask. That's a fair question. I've often thought of joining a choir - I've even been to a few for auditions - in the past, though I shy away from the commitment of being required to rehearse at a certain time every week throughout the year.

One means of singing without the commitment is karaoke. There seems to be a dearth of good karaoke bars in Belfast nowadays - or anywhere, for all I know. I tried one in University Road last year and didn't like its atmosphere, essentially that of a Student Bar.

Last night, when I could easily have remained glued to the armchair watching the telly, I took a momentous decision to visit a bar whose doors I haven't darkened for twenty years: The Roost. We used to enjoy our Friday lunch at the Roost bar in Church Lane when I worked in the bank; Ozzie (my assistant manager) and I both used to spend an hour there, Ozzie often eating minute steak and chips; while I had scampi and chips.

Last night I parked in Skipper Street and walked across to Church Lane. Muriel's Café Bar was absolutely heaving, with a crowd on the street imbibing and listening to jazzy music. Some revellers appeared to be in fancy dress - you know, a sixties theme or whatever. Intriguing.

Further up the street I came to the Roost bar, which wasn't busy at all. I walked in. The atmosphere was chilly and dark. It hasn't half changed since 1989! The air conditioning units were literally hanging from the ceiling with their piping; so Lord Foster, the architect, would doubtless approve. Foster likes the Inside-Out style, don't you know. Inside this bar it felt like a fridge. The floors were bare wood; and I noticed four or five stuffed deer heads gazing down at me. They didn't miss much. Other than that, it was hard to see much more detail since the room was so subdued. A disc-jockey played loud music.

I approached the bar-counter, asked for an orange-juice - which tasted watery and cost £1.70 - and sat down on a sofa. Perhaps the abundant ice-cubes affected the drink.

Given that a bar advertizes a regular karaoke night why don't they make more of an effort to encourage singers? There were no folders on the tables, providing details of the song-lists and reference numbers; no pencils or pens evident; no pieces of paper for writing down requests. That's the way many karaoke bars do it abroad certainly; but not here. Little wonder nobody sang except the DJ! Perhaps I'm being unfair. I left before ten, when there were about sixteen customers including the staff.

Neither the Roost nor Muriel's have websites, or I'd have provided links to them.

I got home in time to watch Psychoville. Muriel's seemed interesting, though.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Bullfinch Sighting

Whilst seated watching a Wimbledon quarter-final yesterday evening, I glimpsed out of the window briefly in order to view the bird-feeders. The goldfinches were perched there, as usual, feeding away at their nyjer seeds.

However, another bird and its distinctive plumage caught my eye: a male bullfinch. In my experience bullfinches are elusive and shy creatures, certainly where we live. This one probably spotted me reaching quickly for my binoculars in order to see it! He didn't linger at the black sunflower seeds for long, perhaps 20 or 30 seconds.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Prince Edward Visits NI

His Royal Highness The Earl of Wessex has just arrived in the Province, his first port-o'-call being County Fermanagh.

HRH was met by Lord Anthony Hamilton DL, who is the Vice Lord-Lieutenant of the county and deputizing for Lord Erne. Lord Anthony is the Duke of Abercorn's brother.

On Your Bike, Belmont!

If there is one thing that Timothy Belmont is not averse to, it's a spot of invigorating exercise. The swimming has ceased for the summer; so the noble posterior has rested itself on the saddle instead. The tyres have been pumped up to 60psi; the panniers unearthed from their resting-place; and off I peddled to my first destination this year, Connswater Shopping Centre, on the trusty bicycle.

It pays dividends to inflate the tyres to maximum pressure. I rode down to the Connswater river walkway which leads directly to the shopping centre, which is on the site of the former world-famous Belfast rope-works.

En route I noticed the makings of an enormous bonfire at the King George V playing-field beside the Oval football ground. As is the tradition in these parts, the bonfire shall be lit on the eve of the 12th July.

At Connswater I called in to Specsavers' opticians to inquire about daily disposable contact lenses. They reminded me - to my dismay - that it has been two years since my last eye test; so I expect that will cost £20 or so for starters. I'd like to have daily lenses for occasional use only; even squeezing two days out of one pair if, with due diligence, I only used them for part of the day. Is this feasible? I am aware that opticians frown upon this practice and they advice customers not to do it for hygienic reasons; and because daily lenses are thinner, flimsier and designed to last for one day only.

I have an appointment with them tomorrow. They suggested an appointment this afternoon but, since our only hope at Wimbledon this year, young Mr Murray, is playing in the quarter-finals today, I declined on those grounds.

British Rail

Another title for this article could be Re-Nationalize British Rail.

If there is one thing most of us agree about, it is the deplorable demise of British Rail - as a single network - fifteen years ago. I believe it was a mistake, albeit with right and proper intentions, because British Rail - operating at a considerable loss - was being subsidized by the taxpayer hugely.

Contrary to popular belief, Lady Thatcher had retired as Prime Minister by the time the process began; Sir John Major made the decisions. But we are still supporting the private railway companies heavily, in a financial sense, to this very day, aren't we?

It was predictably inevitable that the railway network would become disjointed with synchronization of time-tables and other things impossible and confusing, let alone tariffs. Personally I'd like to see the whole of the United Kingdom run within a revived British Rail network. That vision remains highly unlikely, especially since Northern Ireland is practically detached from the rail infrastructure; and now that devolution has been restored to the Province. That debate is for another day!

The Government is taking the East Coast Route, run by National Express Group PLC, back into public ownership. Surely this is a golden opportunity for the Prime Minister and his government to begin the process of re-nationalization?

More to the point, has Mr Brown the courage and determination to take such a bold step?