Monday, 31 August 2009

The Slug and Loafers

Anyone who noticed me cycling over to Botanic Boot and Shoe Repairs this morning must have considered me a loony; I was prepared, mind you. The weather was miserable. It started to rain and I had to alight on the Lagan walkway in order to don the leggings and Peter Storm. The new Brasher boots were christened today.

What is my primary motive in cycling? Exercise, pure and simple. Not any worthy or noble cause like saving the Planet. The old school re-opens tomorrow, so I hope to resume my 200 lengths-per-week discipline then, when I shall ease off the cycling.

The old shoes were like new: re-soled and ready for another ten years of misuse! I paid the shoe-mender the outstanding balance of eight pounds, having given him a £10 deposit one week ago. The shop fascia is traditional, with Botanic Boot & Shoe Repairs emblazoned in the middle; T Hughes at one side; and est. 1954 on the other.

The irony of wearing all those layers of protective clothing, for T Belmont, is that I invariably sweat like a pig! It might be better cycling the naturist way; perhaps not. I had to strip down to my under-pants when I arrived home, the effect of the cycle ride like being in a sauna.

About the slug: there was a small one crawling along our hall carpet this morning. Bizarre, that. I, most likely, brought it home with me yesterday on the sole of my shoe; I'd been to Gibb's Island. I used an empty Walker's Sensations crisp packet to scoop it up.

Got a Gas Guzzler?

Even with the baby two-seater, I've noticed the cost of petrol gradually creeping upwards. I re-fuelled on Saturday at Sainsbury's and, despite the tank still having some fuel therein, it cost £26. I dread to think what one of those off-road, air suspension, Chelsea tractor gas-guzzlers would cost to re-fuel - a hundred pounds, one imagines; that's money to burn.

Now there is one valid reason to possess a luxury Land-Rover, wealthy farmers and land-owners excepted: air suspension. It is most desirable on Northern Ireland's roads, thanks to the Roads Disservice.

Well, the bad news for private motorists - those who do not get their fuel free, gratis and for nothing, paid for by a company - is that there is going to be another rise in the percentage of Fuel Duty from midnight tonight.

Re-fuel forthwith!

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Breakfast Is Served

I've been trawling through the online Sunday Times this morning, as is my custom. It would seem that this habit of mine shan't last much longer if the Murdochs implement their great scheme for charging people like self. Sorry, chums, you won't get a penny from Lord Belmont.

The motoring section interests me today: an article about the Mini E and the new BMW 320d Efficient Dynamics.

Another piece about unhealthy cereals caught the noble eye, too. We do have cereals in the cupboard at home: a packet of Tesco Swiss-style muesli; Tesco crunchy oat cereal with tropical fruit (eh?); and Tesco Crunchy Nut cornflakes.

The big supermarkets all stopped selling one of my favourite cereals - Honey and Nut Bran Flakes - a few years ago; and, despite my pleas that they re-consider stocking it, they have done nothing, unsurprisingly, apart from the usual polite platitudes.

Our staple breakfast consists of good old tea and toast. I currently favour Twinings Everyday tea; and, as far as the toast is concerned, Hovis Seed Sensations and Irwin's Nutty Crust high-fibre plain bread have been consumed in the Belmont household for several years.

We enjoy our butter, particularly premium stuff from Jersey. Why don't Northern Ireland suppliers like Dromona, Fane Valley, Golden Cow and Ballyrashane make a premium country farmhouse product? We'd probably buy that, given the chance. The NI butters all seem to be "easy-spread": is that a euphemism for dilution? Speaking of which, do any of the farmers at St George's market in Belfast sell farmhouse butter or bacon?

Sunday is the one day of the week when we treat ourselves to tea and toast with good, very crispy bacon and, in my case, honey drizzled thereon!

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Friday Night Is Music Night

The BBC Radio 3 summer concert season is rolling on; and the rejuvenated Ulster Hall in Bedford Street, Belfast, is still pre-eminently suitable for such an occasion. The Ulster Orchestra with their guest leader, Morven Bryce, was in very good form last night for an almost full house.

The guest conductor was the admirable Jane Glover, CBE; and she received lengthy applause at the end. Hugh Tinney, the Irish pianist, was the soloist tonight: he played Hamilton Harty's Piano Concerto with great aplomb.

Prior to the concert, I dined early at Beatrice Kennedy's Restaurant on University Road. I ambled in, not having booked, and was shown to a good little table close to the window. There were about a dozen other diners in the restaurant. I opted for the Express Menu, which is served from 5-7pm, having the soup du jour, which was onion and thyme; followed by the Moroccan spiced shoulder of lamb.

I was slightly disappointed by the soup, finding it just a touch thin and bland. It must have been well blended because I couldn't detect any onion therein. Still, it was perfectly acceptable; and BK's home-made wheaten bread with butter is always a treat.

When I ordered the lamb, I was uncertain whether to order an extra side dish of potato or vegetables. I didn't bother and my judgement turned out to be correct: there was a substantial portion of very lean, well cooked shoulder of lamb. I like this cut. It is naturally fatty; however, the lean meat can be plentiful and has a very good flavour. I hasten to add that my helping had practically no fat at all. It was good.

The Express Menu costs £13.95 and they bring you the bill accompanied by their signature milk-chocolate discs - as a sweetener! I feel it's good value, bearing in mind that this is real food.

Friday, 28 August 2009

No Police Presence

I haven't had much faith in the police force in Northern Ireland since the 4th November, 2001. Shortly after Northern Ireland Police was created, we suffered a burglary and the theft of our car; and we found them less than helpful in the apprehension of the perpetrators - or even contacting us to keep us abreast of any developments in the crimes.

I have never recognized the outlandish badges of rank and cap badges they wear, utterly out of step with other British police forces - thanks to the Patten Directive.

Of course I fully support Law and Order, which includes effective policing.

My attention has come to this article about Strandtown police station in east Belfast.

How frequently do the police patrol the Belmont area of Belfast by foot? Let us take an example of Belmont Road at Strandtown: are there regular foot patrols there half a dozen times per day?

How can a credible and effective police constabulary operate without a base - or police station - open to the general public; where citizens can visit personally to report a crime or, simply, speak to an officer for advice?

I have listened to their spokesmen and women claiming that they are tackling crime; that crime rates are down; that we don't need police stations; and there is more public confidence in Northern Ireland Police.

I am unconvinced. I do not believe them.

Are they telling us that, because of modern communications like mobile phones, the Internet etc we no longer need police stations? Or would the truth be that they don't have enough money - resources - to do the job?

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Squashed Sandwiches!

It is imperative that I begin placing my sandwiches in a plastic lunch-box forthwith. Until now I've been wrapping them in cling-film; then some tin-foil.

Despite this practice, they were as flat as a pancake at lunch-time today! They'd been in my rucksack, along with all the other bits and pieces; so they looked as if a steam-roller, Grade One, had done its business.

Of course everyone else was using lunch-boxes, except self; so the proverbial penny has dropped!

Abundant Gorse at Horse

I was out in the field with the National Trust today, our venue being a large field on the mainland beside Horse Island.

Horse Island is located about a mile south of Kircubbin, on the western side of the Ards Peninsula. The townland is Rowreagh.

There were eight of us today, clearing the field of plentiful amounts of gorse. Loppers, saws, a chain-saw and gloves were the requisite tools; and we lit two large bonfires. This clearance will enable the Trust to erect new fencing; and graze the field with cattle.

There was a flock of swallows at the water's edge, skimming along whilst feeding on the wing.

I motored home using the brand-new by-pass, which skirts Newtownards thus avoiding the town centre. It's a good improvement for motorists.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

New Lord-Lieutenant

Her Majesty's new Lord-Lieutenant for the County of Down is David Lindsay, Esq. He succeeds Sir William Hall, KCVO, who retired on the 1st August, 2009.

There have been quite a few new appointments to the lord-lieutenancies in Northern Ireland recently, what with retirements. Most lord-lieutenants retire at the age of 75, unless ill-health is a factor.

Their uniforms are all mostly identical throughout the United Kingdom: dark blue uniform in the style of an Army Number One Dress, along with a cap and sword with a steel scabbard; though there are minor details which reflect the four Nations, viz. a thistle along with the crown in Scotland, or a shamrock in Northern Ireland.

New Mobile: Part Two

The new mobile seems to be functioning quite satisfactorily, I am glad to report. When I received the charger - they're diminishing in size, too - one of the first tasks was to delete the previous owner's downloads, contacts, phone numbers etc.

I am not, altogether, keen on the choice of ring-tones; still, that's egalitarian progress for you.

The Ebay seller sent me a message last night, requesting that I send them their photos by text. This irritated me, because a week ago I sent them three messages urging them to contact me in order to sort things out; and I got no response from them.

I advised the seller that, if they did not get in touch, I'd give them negative feedback and they would not get their precious images.

I meant what I said.

So I replied to them immediately, informing them that, since I had not heard from them a week ago, I had deleted everything.

Remedial Action

A week ago, a sole on one of my favourite shoes finally parted company with it when I was in Town; so, yesterday, I decided I'd better take remedial action. I cycled over to a little shoe repair shop I know of, at the end of India Street on Botanic Avenue. It is called Botanic Shoe Repairs.

I've taken footwear to this place before. He had a look at the offending article and concluded that both shoes would need to be re-soled. I feared as much; how much would this cost? £18 for the pair. In a hurry? No. They'd be ready on Thursday, then. The shoe-mender pointed to the rows of re-soled shoes neatly awaiting their owners, in the shelf behind him. He accepted a £10 deposit. I'd be back on Thursday or Friday.

There was a lovely little juvenile goldfinch lying on our drive this morning, below a window. This does occur occasionally: they are, perhaps, spooked by a passer-by or traffic; they fly off and hit the window. This is invariably fatal for small birds. Being too soft-hearted, the sight of a dead bird killed in this way always saddens me. C'est La Vie, I suppose. I gently placed the tiny goldfinch in a bag and into the bin.

Monday, 24 August 2009

The Leviathan is Growing

It's common knowledge on this blog that Lord Belmont has a modicum of distaste for that elephantine store on Knocknagoney's hill with Tesco's name emblazoned thereon. To my mind it was a sufficient size before; and now they seem to have doubled its size in order to flog clothing, white goods, appliances and optical wares. What has customarily been considered as primarily a grocery store now competes with Argos; or so it seems to me.

For the benefit of readers who have not heard of Knocknagoney, it's really a townland on the periphery of east Belfast; and, following its enlargement, the huge Tesco store there could possibly be the largest of their branches in the Province.

The BBC has inadvertently given them some publicity this morning. I suppose you could argue that I am, too; except they'll hardly use mine for any marketing purpose! How, in Heaven's name, can Tesco's key staff in Northern Ireland be contacted? Take Gary Mills, their NI Director, for instance: there isn't even an email address to contact him - or his secretary - publicly. It merely demonstrates the contempt Tesco has for the general public, when their corporate staff are practically impossible to get hold of.

The last time I darkened their doors was about a month ago; and this simple act - walking in - put me instantly in a mood because there were no baskets for customers. Eventually I obtained one from a check-out a few minutes away.

It is one of those monstrous places where you need a map to find anything. The additional extension to the building seems to have been used mainly for clothing ranges and white goods, not groceries.

I shall revisit them soon. Perhaps the Experience has improved; we will see.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Coronet of a Marquess

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. Coronets are rarely, if ever, worn now. Traditionally and customarily they are worn by peers at coronations. They can, however, still be seen depicted on peers' coats-of-arms as a badge of rank within the five degrees of the hereditary peerage. There are currently thirty-five marquessates extant.

Campbell College: Ormiston 1973

This photograph is dated 1973 and it shows the new boys who are about to begin their very first term at Campbell College. The first port-o'-call for new boys was Ormiston House, literally across the Hawthornden Road from Campbell's Hawthornden gate lodge.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

The Hawthornden Road was much narrower then, with a lot less traffic than today's dual carriageway. We could cross the road between Ormiston and the main school relatively easily. When the Hawthornden Road was widened, a section of Campbell's grounds had to be acquired and the boundary wall was re-built.

Back to the picture: it shows us all in 1973 outside Ormiston. I have most of the names; do you recognize anyone? Perhaps yourself! Young Timothy William (Viscount Sydenham!) is standing on several heads at the very top row, third from the left; and Charlie Lawson is in the row below. The masters include Chris Gailey, Mickey Caves and Mr Bushell.

Perusing the Wikipedia entry for Charlie Lawson, his date of birth is given as the 27th September, 1953: how, on earth, can this be correct given that most of were born circa 1960? I welcome and encourage a debate about this.

Campbell sold Ormiston in about 1974 or thereabouts. It had been a residence of the Belfast shipyard magnate, Lord Pirrie - or, to give him his full title, the Right Honourable William James Viscount Pirrie, KP, PC.

It may be of some interest to note that Lord Pirrie's London home in the early 1900s was Downshire House in Belgrave Square. It would not be unreasonable to presume that Pirrie either bought or leased Downshire House from the Downshire family, whose London home it once was. Perhaps a member of the Downshire family would know a bit more about this?

Here is a small article by the UAHS about Ormiston House.

What is probably the smallest road in Belfast borrows Lord Pirrie's title: Pirrie Road runs from 263, Belmont Road - where Ormiston's Belmont gate lodge still is - to Kinedar Crescent.

Addendum: I edited Wikipedia myself with Charlie's true age!

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Scanning Complications

The staff at my local library are clearly as clueless as self, when it comes to scanning and transferring a document to an email address. I hasten to explain that they are all exceptionally helpful and agreeable, to the extent that one or two of them must have spent a fair percentage of the seventy minutes it took me to fulfil the task.

You'd reckon on it being relatively simple to scan, save and transfer a letter, wouldn't you? Not so in a public library, seemingly. For starters, you require a memory stick; then, having scanned the document - which is easy enough - you must endure a rigmarole which entails opening different programmes; opening one's email account; composing an email to oneself; searching for the new attachment; and finally sending it to yourself.

I got there, in the end. It takes up too much time, though. I found it slightly embarrassing to be running back and forward to library staff seeking help. In future I think I'll only use the library scanner in emergencies!

The Leader's Farewell

I attended yet another BBC Summer Invitation Concert at the Ulster Hall in Bedford Street, Belfast, last night. We had a full house: I could see very few vacant seats.

In a sense, it was a special evening; certainly for the erstwhile Leader of the Ulster Orchestra at least, David Adams. Mr Adams has been offered a position as Leader of the orchestra of Welsh National Opera; so this evening he gave his valedictory performance for us with his very fine Johannes Gagliano violin dating from 1800. He was the soloist in Berlioz's Rêverie et Caprice.

He is a wonderfully accomplished violinist and I wish him well in his new position at Cardiff.

I wonder if a new Leader has been selected yet? We were informed, by the Management last night, that Lucy Drennan - the Associate Leader - is suffering from an eye condition and shan't be back for three months.

The Ulster Orchestra must be suffering from an acute shortfall in sponsorship or sales of seasonal subscriptions because, during an interlude when David Adams was presented with a framed picture of the orchestra, a manager urged us to support the orchestra by any means possible; viz. subscriptions and even legacies. He elaborated by explaining that 50% of funding comes from the Arts Council; 30% from the BBC; and the rest from sponsorship and subscriptions - or something like that.

Friday, 21 August 2009

The Lobster Pot Re-Opens

Well put, John. The old girl is up and running again. My fellow-blogger has said it all about the iconic Lobster Pot Bar and Restaurant at the Square in Strangford, one of the most picturesque villages in County Down.

I wish them well; and look forward to paying them a visit. As John says, I have written quite exhaustively on my blog about the LP.

Readers and new visitors to the Lobster Pot: do please feel free to leave any contributions on my message-board, won't you?

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Hail Jamaica

The prowess of the Jamaican athletes on the track at the World Athletic Championships in Berlin has been truly astounding and awesome.

Jamaica has a population of 2,826,000.

I watched the 200 metres men's final this evening and the brilliant performance of Usain Bolt, breaking the world record easily, or so it seemed.

Jamaicans seem such cheerful, positive, friendly and sunny people. Their athletes are wonderful ambassadors for tourism!

As I write, Jamaica tops the medals table with five golds, two silver and two bronze. The USA is second. We, in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, are currently in sixth place with two gold medals and one bronze.

What sort of sports facilities does Jamaica have, to attain such admirable athletic achievements?

If there's anyone from Jamaica reading this, please do leave a message.

In Memoriam

Is it possible to love a person, or an institution and its staff, retrospectively? Or am I simply being sentimental and nostalgic?

As a school-boy, I didn't know the meaning of love. Today, looking back on my days at Brackenber, I feel an immense fondness for the place and its teachers. I just have a feeling that they - or most of them - set us all an honourable and noble example for later life.

I earnestly wish to dedicate my articles about Brackenber House to the illustrious memory of John Craig and all of his colleagues.

Valete et Pro Virili Parte, as he would have said.

Mount Panther: Still For Sale

Almost sixteen months ago I wrote an article about the erstwhile stately mansion of Mount Panther, between the villages of Dundrum and Clough in County Down.

The asking price at the time was about eight million pounds. Regrettably for the sellers, the price has dropped to five million today. For those who could afford to restore such an estate, it would have considerable potential given its location.

Mind you, Mourne Park House, former seat of the Earls of Kilmorey, has been on the market, too: has it been sold yet?

The Audacious Intruder

Or the Agony and the Ecstasy, for Lord Gage. He must be blissfully happy with the new Lady Gage who is 38 years younger than the 75 year-old Gage himself; however Lord Gage, along with his household and guests (including a judge), suffered a daring burglary to the tune of more than one million pounds at his stately home in East Sussex, Firle Place.

The Right Honourable (Henry) Nicolas Viscount Gage is the 8th viscount; and the viscountcy was created in 1720.

Swimming Set to Resume

Alma Mater has sent me an email yesterday, along with an application form for the sports club. Great news: swimming appears set to resume imminently. I haven't been swimming since the pool closed at the tail end of June; so this is something I anticipate with considerable eagerness.

I'd best bring the application and annual sub. with me on the first night that I go to the pool, merely to ensure that everything is up and running. I usually pay promptly - which isn't always of benefit - because on one occasion the pool was still closed due to technical difficulties!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

The Broken Sole

Whilst walking briskly through the threshold of House of Fraser in Belfast today, I sensed something peculiar at the end of my right foot. I immediately looked down and, lo and behold, the sole of my shoe was coming apart.

I was wearing a pair of black leather tassel loafers which I'd bought in London many years ago. I'm quite fond of them because they slip on so easily; and they keep a very good shine.

I'd noticed the sole looking fragile at the tip of the show for many months.

I think I'll take it to a little, traditional shoe repair shop I know just off Botanic Avenue. I might even cycle there and stick the shoes in the pannier.

Ebay Spree

I felt obliged to leave negative feedback with the Ebay seller whom I bought the Nokia 2760 from: they sent me the phone despite their photograph clearly showing a Nexus charger beside it. And I needed a charger, because my present one is probably a three millimetre pin; whereas the new phone takes a smaller, two millimetre one. Moreover, the seller did not respond to three emails requesting that the matter be resolved. I offered to buy a charger on Ebay for £2.75 as long as they credited my Paypal account by the same amount. Still no response.

I have bought a new, "genuine" Nokia charger on Ebay this evening for £2.75, including postage. I called into two retailers in central Belfast today and they were charging about £12 for a similar charger. What's with the big difference in price? I've never had a problem with chargers; they have always done the job.

I feel a real dunce when it comes to new technology. I usually get there eventually; but I haven't figured out, yet, how to transfer my contacts and numbers from the old phone to the new one. I'd need a rudimentary step-by-step guide! And how to send images from the mobile to my computer: that's another conundrum.

I've been on a bit of a spending spurt with Ebay indeed: a bandanna, desert camouflage pattern, for the beach; and a GB Team, British Swimming Speedo polo shirt.

A Vile Desecration

Yet another gross act of sacrilege has taken place in Northern Ireland, this time in the city of Londonderry.

Young people stole a valuable oil-painting of the Right Reverend and Right Honourable Frederick Hervey (pronounced Harvey), 4th Earl of Bristol and Lord Bishop of Derry, who became known as the Earl-Bishop. The Earl-Bishop's main Ulster residence was Downhill Castle in County Londonderry.

Dozens of ignorant, depraved and criminal thugs treated this portrait without any respect at all; moreover they enjoyed the act of destroying a piece of local history. It is utterly outrageous.

I heard the Dean of Derry, the Very Reverend William Morton, interviewed about this vile crime yesterday.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

New Mobile

The little mobile phone I won a bid on with Ebay arrived this morning, the only snag being that it doesn't have a charger! It is as dead as a dodo; and my old charger doesn't fit it either.

I checked the item picture and there is a Nexus charger in the photograph with the camera, manual and box.

I see that genuine Nokia chargers can be bought on Ebay for £2.75; however, that is not the point.

The seller contacted me yesterday to tell me that they had accidentally left "precious photos" on the mobile's memory and asked me to send them on, which I cannot do without a charger!

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Cordial Appreciation

I had absolutely no notion whatsoever that my blog would have been given any consideration in a Top Twenty line-up.

I am touched, gratified and so appreciative to be included in a list of Northern Ireland blogs; though I consider mine to be a personal journal rather than political.

I particularly wish to congratulate three local blogs that I am familiar with; viz. Alan in Belfast, Chekov and O'Neill - in alphabetical order!

I wish to express my sincere gratitude to all my friends, fellow-bloggers and other like-minded souls.

The Winner In Majorca

I enjoyed reading this piece by the singularly fastidious Michael Winner, on holiday at La Residencia Hotel in Deia on the beautiful island of Majorca; or, should you prefer, Mallorca which is the Spanish, politically-correct spelling.

The Winners were guests of Lord and Lady Lloyd-Webber at their nearby summer residence.

New Telephone

I have just won a bid on a mobile phone to replace my venerable - but ageing - Nokia 8310: my new mobile is to be a Nokia 2760. My aunt was given one of these as a birthday present and the little phone impressed me (given that I still have an 8310).

There were 22 bids. I won the final bid by a pound and bagged the phone for £29.01. The seller says it can be used with any SIM. I take them at their word; though I could always nip over to the chappie operating at In-Shops - or wherever - and throw a few quid at him to unlock it.

I'm an incorrigible Ebay sniper: I open two windows for the auction with my bid on one; and keep an eye on the auction on the other. Less than ten seconds before the end, I click and bid my final offer. Naturally it doesn't always work; however, like any auction, one decides on one's upper limit and bids.

The phone I have won has been "hardly used", which suits me fine because I hardly use mobiles! I regard them like insurance: a necessary evil. Of course they have their essential uses; mind you, I frequently forget to bring mine with me. I use it mainly for texting occasionally.

The new phone has a camera, which I think I shall find useful when I am out in the field with the NT volunteers. Must keep Lord Belmont happy with photographic contributions!

I see that they can be bought brand new from the Carphonewarehouse for about £45, locked to another operator.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Long Barn, Divis

To read about the mindless, imbecilic brick-heads who forcibly entered the newly-restored Long Barn at Divis in Belfast is utterly sickening.

What is wrong with these creatures? Even if they were apprehended, Justice would certainly not be meted out to these disgusting sub-humans. They ought to be put down; that would save us considerable amounts of taxes, instead of clogging up HM Prisons.

The United Kingdom is far too lenient, liberal and tolerant of the criminal classes.

Kearney Beach-Clean

The day began with heavy rain; and ended sunny and temperate. The return journey from home to the National Trust village of Kearney was about fifty-five miles, including a detour to Knockinelder Bay. The best route for me was via Newtownards and Kircubbin; then veering left just beyond Kircubbin, at a well-marked sign-post to Cloughey; through Cloughey, along the coast to Kearney on the eastern side of the Ards Peninsula in County Down.

There were eight of us today. Armed with black bin-bags, gloves and litter-pickers we prowled along the shore collecting a miscellany of rubbish ranging from plastic bottles to bottle-tops.

We all lunched down at the shore - I had home-made egg salad sandwiches today.

After lunch, we motored a bit further along, to Knockinelder Bay which has a fine beach (though stony and pebbly at the beginning. There are fine views across the bay to Quintin Castle from here.

Knockinelder is directly east of Portaferry.

Friday, 14 August 2009

BBC Ulster Hall Concert

I was at another BBC Radio 3 Summer Invitation Concert in the Ulster Hall in Belfast this evening. It was a full house tonight, for a change. I sat in my usual spot, overlooking the stage.

I'd brought my little computer with me, to see if I could obtain a BT Openzone signal: no joy there at all.

The Ulster Orchestra was in great form, playing a range of pieces with a mainly French theme. The soloist was a young Irish pianist called Finghin Collins.

The orchestra had to play what, to my mind, was an absolutely ghastly composition called The Shipyard. It supposedly lasted eight minutes; though it felt more like eighty. One of the clarinetists actually put his fingers in his ears! He must have been too close to the percussionists for comfort, poor chap.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

NT Weekend Volunteering

The National Trust Weekend Volunteer group has recently published their activities for the next few months on the Strangford Lough website. Details are available at the right-hand side of the site, under Hot News, here.

Call This A Roads Service?

The roads disservice in Northern Ireland - they call themselves the Roads Service - really are a hopeless lot. They apparently permit irresponsible contractors to dig up public roads, do an inadequate job of filling them in with tarmac, and forget about it.

I reported a sunken trench on the Holywood Road in east Belfast well over a month ago; and they actually agreed with me that, having inspected it, it was not acceptable.

We still have that sunken trench, one of many on the road.

Might I be permitted to make the roads disservice a little suggestion? Why don't they repair the damage themselves and send the contractor a comprehensive bill - on behalf of the taxpayer - for time, trouble and materials? Moreover, impose a reasonable deadline for the job to be completed; otherwise sue them.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The Tullyratty Project

I have read the following article by the National Trust's biodiversity officer in Northern Ireland, Maurice Turley, which pertains to the townland of Tullyratty and its environmental importance:-

"An area of species rich grassland at Tullyratty has been restored following infrastructure and habitat restoration work, that began during winter 2007/08.

The site was suffering from under grazing, and encroachment of scrub following deterioration of the field boundaries. Following the construction of fencing and the restoration of stone walls using traditional techniques, the grassland was once again able to be grazed, which helped to control the growth of aggressive grasses. A spring and autumn grazing regime has been implemented resulted in a flush of flowers in the spring and summer, and the winter months are used to remove some of the gorse that was starting to swallow up the good grassland areas.

Our traditional herb rich meadows are sadly becoming less and less, resulting in an overall loss of biodiversity. Walking through the Tullyratty grasslands brimming with orchids, knapweeds, hay rattle, butterflies, beetles, grasshoppers, birds and animals you can really appreciate how important they are for wildlife when compared to the tired soils and grasslands of much of our improved agricultural land. The project was supported by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and DARD".

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Ancram Retirement

I see that the genial Michael Ancram, MP is to retire from Parliament. Mr Ancram was a Northern Ireland Office minister for about five years, between 1993 and 1997. I remember him fondly enough; and always thought of him as rather a good egg.

I described him as Mr Ancram because that has been his style whilst sitting as a Member of Parliament. He was really Michael Earl of Ancram, MP, holding a courtesy title, because he was heir to the 12th Marquess of Lothian. Courtesy lords are not peers; in legal terms they are commoners until they succeed to the title.

His style now, legally and technically, is the Most Honourable Michael Andrew Foster Jude Marquess of Lothian, PC, QC, MP, having succeeded to his late father's titles as the 13th marquess.

Hereditary Peers can now sit in the House of Commons because they no longer automatically sit, as of Right, in the House of Lords.

The Lothian family seat is Ferniehirst Castle, near Jedburgh in Roxburghshire; and Melbourne Hall in Derbyshire is another Lothian residence; as well as a London residence.

Londonderry or Derry?

Has the County of Londonderry, and the city, now unofficially changed its name to Derry? An increasing number of websites, documents, notices, papers and advertisements now allude to Derry by name. Many websites list the county on their drop-down columns between Armagh and Down, rather than under the letter L.

I know this is a contentious issue; I merely wish to know whether we are expected to recognize this name change; and that pro-Union people accept the name-change by dropping the longer title, verbally and grammatically? An Ulster Orchestra pamphlet I read last week advertized a concert in "Co Derry"; and even the popular quiz show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire recently had a contestant on from "County Derry".

Has there been any lobbying on the issue from Irish embassies, the Irish Government or the Irish Diaspora in general, asking heads of organizations, doubtless whilst being plied with a generous measure of liquor, to respect the wishes of the Irish people by dropping the official name?

Perhaps Chekov and O'Neill, fellow-bloggers, could offer me some guidance?

Monday, 10 August 2009

Gym Membership

I revisited the Fitness First leisure centre at the weekend, inquiring about membership again. Now they have no joining fee - unlike at the new year. Had they waived their joining fee then, I'd possibly be a member now.

Their current offer is a year's membership, off-peak, for £280. It's not bad, I suppose; however, I asked them for fifteen months for the price of twelve at that price since I am obliged to give three months' notice to my present club.

It's up to them. I can wait and bide my time. I am not that desperate that I cannot wait a few months; or even remain where I am.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Molly's Yard & Hilden

I have been somewhat vague as to the ownership of Molly's Yard Restaurant and Brewery in Belfast. Now I have the definitive answer: the Scullion family, brewers of Hilden fine beers and ales.

It's very much a family affair, with Owen and Siobhan Scullion running Molly's; while their parents, Seamus and Ann, run the Hilden Brewery near Lisburn.

While Hilden has its Tap-Room Restaurant, Molly's Yard is the sister restaurant in Belfast with its own micro-brewery, known as the College Green Brewery.

I have discovered a sample menu here; and the duck dish thereon sounds familiar to my meal at Molly's yesterday evening.

Balsam Bash: Part Two

We initiated another full-blown assault on the remaining Himalayan Balsam at Minnowburn today. Most of it was on a steep bank close to the road off old Shaw's Bridge.

At least it is easy stuff to uproot manually.

We ate our packed lunches at the warden's office; and then we ambled over to the allotments behind the office in order to admire the holders' handiwork. The National Trust's Minnowburn allotments seem to have been a resounding success. Plans are already afoot for a permanent gazebo with natural wooden roof tiles; and a poly-tunnel.

Friday, 7 August 2009

At Molly's For Tea

All right, not exactly tea. It would be too formal to call it dinner, though, since I ate early in the bistro downstairs. I arrived at Molly's Yard, located at the end of Botanic Avenue, Belfast, unannounced at about five forty-five and asked the bar-man if the upstairs dining-room was open yet. No, it didn't open till six. No matter, there was a table vacant downstairs in the bistro - what a cosy little place - so I settled down and perused the fine menu.

The blackboard had cream of broccoli and blue cheese soup accompanied by Molly's special wheaten bread; so I began with that. It was delicious. Moderately thick, creamy and full of goodness. The wheaten bread was very fresh too. I heaped the butter thereon!

While I awaited my main course, I had a discreet look round the room: there were about three couples; a mature lady dining alone; and self. A couple of pretty young girls arrived for a drink; however, the bar-man explained that this was not possible because Molly's is a licensed restaurant, not a bar; so they left.

I had the confit of duck resting on a bed of some sort of special lentils, like a thick consistency of risotto rice. It, too, was splendid. The duck simply melted in the mouth. There was a fair amount of it as well. I had a glass of Perrier water with my meal.

What a great little place Molly's is. I'm looking forward to returning already! The bill came to less than £18.

I motored on to the Ulster Hall in Bedford Street for a BBC Invitation Concert. The Ulster Orchestra were dressed in black, as usual. I expect this habit must save them a fortune in laundry bills, what with these hard times. Were they to dress properly in full evening dress, the laundry bill for white dress shirts would cost the Orchestra more. It's a shame they feel the need to skimp in this way.

The Intelligent Crow

Here is a fascinating tale about the ubiquitous rook, a member of the crow family. Aesop's 2,000 year-old fable was, indeed, true. Rooks may not be the handsomest of birds, nor the most attractive; though their intuitiveness and avian intellect is quite remarkable.

Ebay Seller Dispute

I've been slightly preoccupied recently with a dispute between myself and an Ebay seller. I bought a special nail-file from them (for the Dowager) and, when the letter arrived the other day, the item was not inside. Everything else was there - the invoice and a light plastic case - but no file! I can only presume that the sharp end perforated the light, non-Jiffy envelope during transit and slipped out; because the entire package was sealed in a Royal Mail transparent bag with "sincere apologies".

I have sent four emails to the seller and they have not responded. They probably feel that it is the fault of Royal Mail. It's not so simple, though: Did the seller pack my file with due care?

I said earlier that this is trivial, at least in monetary terms with the amount involved being £4.95. The Ebay Community reckons that the seller should either replace the item or refund me; and the seller ought to claim from the Royal Mail.

If I do not hear from the seller today I shall begin the dispute resolution process, which means a phone-call to the seller and then Ebay.

Any feedback I give the seller depends on the outcome of the matter. The seller's feedback is 100% positive, which indicates that they are reasonably good; so this must be the first time this has occurred. They probably believe that the Royal Mail is to blame.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Times Online To Charge

Every Sunday morning, for the last number of years, I have been accustomed to reading the Sunday Times online. I tend to scan certain sections which particularly interest me. The proprietor of this newspaper, Mr Rupert Murdoch, has announced today that he will shortly introduce a charge for the perusal of his newspapers on the web.

I can tell Mr Murdoch, here and now, that I shan't be paying him so much as a penny for such a privilege. He can go and boil his head, as far as I'm concerned. I'll find alternative online media to read when the time comes.

BT Fon

I've signed up to BT Fon, a conglomeration whereby members agree to share their Internet connection with others. It is totally secure and advantageous for those with access to mobile broadband. It means that I can theoretically use my netbook computer anywhere in Europe (including the UK) where there is a BT Openzone or Fon signal from other members' routers. Obviously there are conditions attached, viz. dependence on the strength of the signal in the vicinity.

I do not advocate roaming, or accessing the Internet on your computer outside the United Kingdom unless you are prepared to pay prohibitive costs in many cases. Some hotels do have wi-fi availability; just be careful. I'd need to check the BT Fon hotspots before I use my netbook.

I still have 250 wireless minutes of mobile broadband per month; and my cousin has alerted me to a new Orange mobile Internet deal whereby, in return for agreeing to an 18-month contract at £4.89 a month, Orange will supply a free dongle to existing customers and 500Mb 3g wi-fi per month - or 2g, if the signal is poor (as in Rathlin Island!).

£4.89 per month equates to £88.02 over eighteen months, which is not a bad deal for wi-fi. Orange has fairly good coverage - for 3g - in Northern Ireland; certainly better than a few of the others.

Hate Cycle Helmets?

Here is a salutary lesson from one of the Province's foremost broadcasters, Noel Thompson, who swears that a cycle helmet may have saved his life a while ago.

Read, learn and inwardly digest, as my old Latin master once said.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

At Carrstown Point

I was out with some National Trust volunteers today; and a fine day it turned out too. Some of us met at Mount Stewart estate and we shared a lift to our destination for today's task, an area known as Port Head.

Port Head is near the southern tip of the Ards Peninsula. It lies between Carrstown Point and Dogtail Point; Bar Hall Bay is merely round the corner.

The National Trust owns and protects the shore-line here as well as some land. Our job today was to clear part of a field of gorse. We managed this by cutting the gorse with saws and loppers; then throwing it on to a bonfire. It is a lovely spot - most scenic. Seals, curlews and oystercatchers could be heard close by.

Craig completed our task by smearing some sort of toxic substance over the stumps of the gorse in order to kill it off.

When I got home, the royal Mail had delivered a letter enclosed in a sealed, plastic wrapper, offering sincere apologies for damage. The main contents, an item I'd bought on Ebay, were missing. Now I am obliged to print the Paypal invoice, the Ebay item description; fill in a claim form; and send it to them or take it to the post-office. All for £4.95. Is it all worth it, I ask you? It's probably all more trouble than it is worth. It's the principle, though.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Hard Hat Biker?

When we enjoyed our usual coffees and cinnamon scones at the Bay Tree in Holywood on Saturday morning, I heard about an accident which had befallen one of our friends' sons. He had gone head-over-heels on his cycle and broken his collar-bone. Apart from that, and one or two bruises, he was all right apart from having been badly shaken. He had been wearing a cycle-helmet.

Our friend asked me if I wore a cycle helmet and, when I responded in the negative, she looked at me directly and told me never to ride my bike without wearing a helmet.

Perhaps she made a particularly good point; for she believes that her son would have sustained even more severe injuries, had he been cycling without a helmet.

Perhaps unwisely, I stopped wearing my old cycle-helmet many years ago. I probably found it bulky and cumbersome going about my business. I have taken immediate action though, having learned about the plight of our friend's son.

I checked the Internet, drove to the shopping centre and bought a new cycle-helmet. They aren't costly these days: places like Argos sell them for less than £9. So many children and youngsters ride about in their bikes nowadays without the essential kit and equipment, particularly at night. I have seen countless numbers of young people cycling in the dark without lights, for instance. Why should I care? Their parents or guardians ought to mind, though.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Portavogie Drive

Our original plan had been to drive to Kirkubbin, a small village on the Ards Peninsula in County Down, in order to lunch at Finnegan's. I stopped on the main street in the village and ambled over to the bar. Walking in, there was no sign of life till somebody asked if he could help. I inquired if they were serving bar snacks, only to be told that Finnegan's was now under new management and they would not be serving meals today. Seemingly the previous owner, or chef, has re-located to Comber.

No matter. We motored across the peninsula to a favourite of ours, the Quays Restaurant in Portavogie. They have a starter, classic prawn cocktail, which is tip-top; there's plenty of salad, juicy fresh prawns and wheaten-bread.

The Dowager and I ordered two prawn cocktails, served as a main course; and one portion of chips. We drank fizzy apple juice and orange juice as well.

This was an excellent choice and great value too. The prawn cocktail was more like an open prawn sandwich; and the chips were served in a little bowl. We thoroughly enjoyed it. The total bill came to £15 for the lot. We'll be back!

We drove northwards along the eastern side of the peninsula, eventually arriving at the P C World computer store in Bangor where I had reserved a diminutive Belkin 7" netbook neoprene sleeve. Despite my Dell Mini 9 being 8.9", I'd read on the Web that this sleeve is a perfect fit; and so it turned out. It literally fits the Mini 9 like a glove; better still, it cost me £2.97!

I have the new netbook up and running. It seems to be going very well; and I have spent awhile downloading anti-virus, anti-spyware, my email accounts and favourites to its memory.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Two Dongles

Choosing the appropriate dongle for mobile broadband is definitely not as straightforward as one would think. I've been considering pay-as-you go dongles from two mobile phone companies: one dongle from Vodafone which offers speeds up to 3.6Mb with virtually no expiry time limit; and costs £39.99 including a £15 top-up of 1GB.

The second dongle is from the Three company. It, too, boasts speeds of up to 3.6MB - in theory - and costs £19.99. A 1GB top-up costs £10, so the total cost would be £29.99. The big issue for me is that this expires in 30 days.

According to Ofcom's 3g coverage charts, Three currently commands considerably better coverage in Northern Ireland than Vodafone.

The snag for me is that I do not wish to be tied to a 30-day expiry time limit because I'm a light user.

Is there a solution?