Wednesday, 30 September 2009

At Horse Island

I have spent most of the day working at a piece of land owned by the National Trust beside Horse Island. Horse Island is about two miles south of Kirkubbin on the Ards Peninsula. The townland is called Rowreagh.

I'd say that Horse Island is equidistant from Kircubbin and the Saltwater Brig Pub.

We have spent months - though only the odd day - clearing this land of gorse, thick undergrowth, ivy, briar and overgrown bushes; and we are almost finished. The boundary is nearly clear and the perimeter shall soon be ready for new fencing.

It was hard work; but, despite there being a mere three of us, we got a lot done. Everything in the picture has been cleared; and that is just a small section.

Lord Nicholas Hamilton

I see, somewhat belatedly, that the Duke of Abercorn's younger son, Lord Nicholas Hamilton, has become engaged to Miss Tatiana Kronberg, a Russian-born professional photographer who lives in the USA.

The future Lord and Lady Nicholas Hamilton will live at Belle Isle Castle in County Fermanagh.

I have written a short article about the Duke and His Grace's Belle Isle Estate here.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Two New Links

Regular visitors shall possibly notice that I have added two new links to the left-hand side of the blog.

One seems to be an occasional blog by Tim Heald of the Daily Telegraph; the other comes from Country Life magazine and is not, strictly speaking, a blog; though it may be of interest, so we'll see...

Monopoly: Noble Version

I see that a National Trust version of our world-famous board-game, Monopoly, has been introduced. At least one Ulster property, the Giant's Causeway, features in lieu of the Oxford Street site, I understand. Those are the green properties, aren't they?

It is a most innovative idea, because sales of the game will contribute towards the maintenance of the actual properties themselves.

It is years since we last played the great game. We still possess the original London version which we purchased in the mid-sixties.

A British Empire version would be splendid, wouldn't it? Never mind; I'll stick to the good old London version, the original and best.

Monday, 28 September 2009

PM Medicated?

It is only human nature for any ambitious person, whether on the lowliest rung of the ladder or at the summit of their career, to deny taking any form of medication - especially for anxiety or depression.

I had an awful bout of anxiety decades ago, when I had just started a career in banking. I was prescribed that old stalwart Diazepam, also known as Vallium. Even then, and in such a junior position, I said as little as possible; didn't tell the branch manager I was on medication; and my doctor scribbled something vague on the note, like general debility!

The unfortunate fact is that many view it as a sign of weakness. I, personally, consider this to be an unfair prejudice. It is more complex than that, in most cases.

The current Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was asked by a senior broadcaster whether he was taking medication at the weekend. Naturally Brown denied this. I have absolutely no idea whether he is on medication, or not.

The irony is that he may well feel more vulnerable, now that he has been questioned about it; and has had to deny it.

In the long run, it is most likely the best policy to be honest about it, rather than economical with the truth. Of course I can understand why he feels the need to deny it; worse still that it may all be a mischievous smear.

The PM has denied it; so will speculation and suspicion persist? There are many from within his own Party who would wish him to go; even more so, perhaps, than those in the Conservatives and from within the electorate.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Belfast Castle

Belfast Castle is really rather an agreeable place to visit of a lazy Sunday afternoon. When the Castle was completed in 1870, the third Marquess of Donegall and his family moved from Ormeau Park to Belfast Castle, his lordship's new seat.

Like many Victorian piles, it is not actually a castle in the strict sense: it is a Victorian mansion with castellated features.

Despite a rapid decline in the Donegall family's wealth, the 3rd Marquess just managed to complete the Castle; and he died foureteen years later, in 1884 when the Estate was inherited by the 8th Earl of Shaftesbury, Donegall's son-in-law.

The Donegall coat-of-arms features in abundance throughout the stone-work of the Castle: Two wolves, ducally collared and chained, being the Supporters; and a stork with an eel in its bill - perhaps an indication of the Donegall connection with Lough Neagh - as the Crest. Note, too, the heraldic depiction of the coronet of a marquess.

Invitum Sequitur Honor - Honour follows, though unsought for.

Belfast Castle, and the surrounding park, was presented to the City of Belfast by the 9th Earl of Shaftesbury in 1934.

Just beyond the porch, at the main entrance, there is a plaque with the names of city councillors; and I couldn't resist taking a snap thereof, because my uncle was one of those aforesaid councillors.

Swimming Resumption

Like the proverbial duck to water, my swimming has resumed at the old school. I am still swimming two hundred lengths per week. I have no idea, but I imagine that my lungs must be relatively strong due to the constant holding of breath whilst skimming through the water free-style.

I simply adore swimming. I find it truly therapeutic, whilst gently exercising a multitude of muscles. I have probably been swimming two hundred lengths weekly for fifteen years. Prior to that - since the late seventies - I swam fewer lengths.

I was chatting to one of the NT volunteers on Chapel Island yesterday. She told me that she swims quite regularly in the open sea. I'd be keen to try that; except I'd need to be encouraged! The best I could manage recently was a tentative walk into the sea-water at Portballintrae till the water just covered my trunks! Thence I turned on my heels and walked back.

That blighter, Belmont, has feet of clay I hear you exclaiming.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Chapel Island, Greyabbey

We had a great day at Chapel Island - that is the one near Greyabbey in County Down. We all mustered at the car park just outside the village, gathered our tools and equipment and began the trek along the foreshore towards Chapel Island.

There were two dozen of us today, many from the Ulster Archæological Survey. Incidentally, there was no dig today - the remains of the chapel are classified as being a historic monument - so it was purely a survey.

Our job, as NT volunteers, was to clear the remains of the chapel of all the nettles and scrub. One of the sites of the ancient kelp kilns was also cleared.

The aerial photograph atop is courtesy of Fat Tony. The other pictures show what we believe is the door-way.

We are really none the wiser than when we arrived! There was naturally an abundance of amateur speculation; and we did discover what appeared to be the original doorway of the chapel. The relevant parts of the island were surveyed and, no doubt, will be inwardly digested in the coming weeks and months with a view to further exploration.

The local environmentalist and broadcaster, Brian Black, was with us along with his two fine dogs - one, a pedigree Dalmatian. Mr Black had camera equipment and took hours of video film. I think he is freelance, so perhaps some footage will be shown on television at a later date.

On the way home, driving along the Portaferry Road towards Newtownards, some unidentified object hit the side of my car with force. I couldn't stop, and when I got home there was a dust mark and slight score on the door which is hardly discernible. Still, I have no idea whether the object was a bird, animal or something thrown out of a passing car.

Friday, 25 September 2009

The Nutty Earl

Hallelujah, Praise Be to God and thank Heaven! My favourite peanuts are on the shelves at last. About time too. I stocked up on them last spring; however, they swiftly became depleted by the month of May.

I just cannot get enough of these KP Honey Roast peanuts. Why are they only sold on special occasions, like Christmas and party times? I think KP - United Biscuits - are missing a trick here.

Well, I was at the gym this morning. In the spa-bath afterwards I flirted - Yes, flirted! - with a couple of nurses from Musgrave Park hospital. Feminists, avert your eyes now. We laughed and chatted; and I cheekily declared that I'd been watching Carry On Matron recently featuring the wonderful Hattie Jacques; and I preferred nurses in the uniform they wore twenty years ago. We all had a good laugh when I asserted that the former attire was sexy and suited the female figure more.

They both agreed with me, by the way.

Back to the peanuts: I bagged four large containers, which were on offer; and the sell-by date is January, 2010. I fancied a few bottles of plonk, too; along with Bakewell Tart; Twinings tea; tonic-water and other stuff.

Those of you who are eagle-eyed shall discern the opened bottle and glass of wine.

The Humble Haversack

Call them whatever you wish: Rucksack; Haversack; Backpack; Daypack. I usually vary their name. At any rate, I decided to treat myself to a new one.

I have three backpacks: an old one which I take on holiday because it is very light and can fold easily into the suit-case; a bigger one for more serious hikes in the Mournes; and a third one, which I use for National Trust volunteer days.

It's the volunteer haversack I wish to replace, so I paid a visit to Millet's store in Cornmarket, Belfast, yesterday morning with this purchase in mind. They have a fair - not huge - selection. I wanted a slightly roomier one, large enough to carry a first-aid kit; whistle and pen-knife; Peter Storm anorak and leggings; gloves; hat; lunch-box; Thermos flask; and a miscellany of smaller things.

One haversack, the Karrimor Zodiak 20 in navy blue, caught my eye. The colour was perfectly acceptable; and the little rucksack seemed to be well put together. So I noted down the details, left the store and crossed the street, where Graham Tiso's store is located. They had a bigger selection, though not the Karrimor Zodiak. They sold an own-label rucksack, though I felt that the Karrimor simply looked better.

I revisited Millet's to have a final look, then drove home to search on the Web. It's about the same price online - including delivery - as in-store, so I decided to go ahead and buy it.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Archæological Dig

This Saturday, the 26th September, 2009, there will be an archæological survey on Chapel Island, near Greyabbey, on the Ards Peninsula in County Down.

The aerial photograph atop is courtesy of Fat Tony.

Here is the entry on the newsletter:-

26th September: Chapel Island Archaeology day. The Ulster Archaeological Society is planning to do some exploratory surveys on the ruined stone structures on Chapel Island. The volunteer group will be helping to remove some vegetation to uncover the site and assist with the archaeological survey. Meet at Mount Stewart car park at 9.30 and bring your wellies.

Please bring suitable clothing, waterproofs and a packed lunch.

Strangford Lough Map

This chart provides a useful guide to the National Trust islands and properties surrounding Strangford Lough in County Down.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Salt Island

Six of us spent the day on beautiful Salt Island, a National Trust property on Strangford Lough. Craig collected us from the slipway at Killyleagh Yacht Club and we made the ten minute journey over to the island, landing on the Killyleagh side.

The picture above is a view towards the mainland from the bothy.

The bothy has been well used this year. It was in fair order, perhaps a little untidy; though every group which stays at the bothy is supposed to clean and tidy it up - including the removal of all rubbish and litter. One window was broken and will need to be replaced; and a loo is blocked up; but apart from that, everything else is satisfactory.

Today we were working on the dry stone wall beside the bothy. The other task was to tidy up the front camping area and we created a sort of base for camp-fires, excavating a shallow circle, removing the turf and surrounding the circle with big stones.

We brought out chairs from the bothy at lunch-time, sat and ate our sandwiches (cheese-and-onion for self). I had brought along a dozen mini chocolate chip muffins, which we all enjoyed too.

We locked the shutters, made the bothy secure and packed up at about three pm.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Scotland's Shame

If the Attorney-General, Lady Scotland, possessed sufficient integrity, she would have resigned immediately; and Lady Scotland, given her position in the Cabinet as the Government's chief law officer, obviously ought to have used the process of due diligence when employing staff.

It is a sad reflection on most politicians in the United Kingdom today that they feel it unnecessary to resign; more deplorable because we have a Prime Minister who sees no need for her to leave the Government.

The Right Honourable Patricia Janet Baroness Scotland of Isthal, PC, QC, is currently the Attorney-General for England, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Blog Advertizing

I have been approached by some sort of agency, inquiring as to my interest with regard to their clients using his lordship as a kind of conduit to market their business.

It seems to work whereby I'd be contacted by the agency to write an article - a form of advertizing - for a particular company. I'd be free to accept or decline; though, if I accepted, I'd get paid an unspecified sum, probably dependent on the amount of visits generated.

I am reluctant to become involved in such an enterprise. As I state on my profile, I am totally independent and free from sponsorship. I hope and trust that readers appreciate this principled stance.

I do endorse products and companies, via my Food Heroes and By Appointment To labels; however, I do so independently, without sponsorship, reimbursement or any favours.

I place a strong emphasis on the integrity of this blog. That remains my position.

What is your view?

Back With Car

Agnew's had the baby two-seater all day on Monday. Despite the fact that they told me they'd phone at lunch-time as a matter of courtesy, in order to let me know what was happening, the telephone didn't ring till after two thirty; and even that was after I'd emailed their service department earlier.

They operate a slick, though not perfect, service. The baby two-seater required a new oil sump gasket. The old one was the cause of the oil leak; bearing in mind that the car is three months old with 1,950 miles under its belt.

To Agnew's credit, they will collect customers by taxi and take them to Boucher Crescent, which is miles out of the way for those living in east Belfast. The customer adviser raised her eyebrows when I told her it had taken me almost an hour to get to them that morning. All right, it may have been closer to fifty minutes, I cannot be certain. Still, I didn't like that.

To get back to the car: For a sump gasket to require replacement in a new car reflects poor quality control standards and workmanship at the factory, does it not? I once owned a BMW for eleven years and I never encountered any problems with it at all, apart from the wear-and-tear you would expect.

An apology from Agnew's on behalf of the manufacturer, whom they represent, would have been gratifying. Although, in fairness, they supplied two taxis; an opulent show-room with fresh coffee; courteous staff; and a complimentary car valet inside and out; I received no apology for my time and trouble, due to the manufacturer's questionable workmanship.

Rest assured, I shall be keeping a very close eye out for any more oil leaks! I might just pay a visit to Halford's and buy a small bottle of whatever oil the car consumes, to keep in the garage.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Traffic Misery

I'd forgotten how busy the Sydenham Bypass in Belfast can be at eight forty-five on a damp Monday morning. This traffic congestion was compounded, not to say aggravated, by yet another hold-up on the West Link caused by a "collision", according to the digital sign.

In the event, it took me almost an hour to drive from east Belfast to Boucher Crescent; and these circumstances, combined with an oil leak in a brand new car which is a mere three months old with 1950 miles on the clock, did not greatly amuse me as I indicated to the assistant who booked my car in.

They asked me whether I could do without my car, should the part be out of stock. Most inconvenient, I intimated. Hopefully the part will be in stock, if the baby two-seater requires a new part.

Agnew's would need to collect me at home, by taxi; give me my car back; then I'd need to return the car to them when the part arrives. Alternatively, they could pay for my taxi bills or lend me a car.

Oh, and, by the way, while I was stuck in the traffic this morning, the petrol gauge went from a quarter full to the reserve of 0.5 litres; and down to 0.45 litres, which it stands at now in Agnew's.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

The Antiquated Hour

Guess what Timothy Belmont will be doing at eight this evening? I'll naturally be seated comfortably on the noble pew (No, not the thunderbox!), tuned in to the new series of the BBC's Antiques Roadshow on BBC HD.

I'm looking forward to it. They start the ball rolling in Jersey on the Channel Islands. Fiona Bruce seems to have fulfilled Michael Aspel's role both seamlessly and effortlessly.

Drive To Glenarm

We enjoyed a most relaxing and leisurely Sunday drive up the County Antrim coast to Glenarm and Carnlough today. The sun shone and many cyclists and bikers were taking advantage of this warm September weather.

Our first stop was at the charming little village of Glenarm, situated directly beside Glenarm Castle, the seat of the Earls of Antrim. We drove into that part of the Estate where they run a tea-room. I peered into it and it, too, seemed charming. Just as you'd expect of the Antrim family, particularly Lord and Lady Dunluce who live in the Castle now, it appears immaculate, neat, tidy and the staff are smartly dressed.

The Antrim monogram is pictured to the right. Click and enlarge it to see the finer detail and coronet of an earl.

We didn't stay for tea, though we were tempted. Instead we motored on, in the baby two-seater, along the coast towards Carnlough. I strolled into McKillop's confectionery store in order to treat the Dowager to a home-made ice-cream. We parked outside the Londonderry Arms Hotel, whose Coach-house bar was doing a steady trade in lunches and snacks. Incidentally, I noticed that scampi and chips cost £12.50 - £2 cheaper than Sweeney's bar in Portballintrae!

So now we are safely home. I must take the baby two-seater to Agnew's in the morning for a suspected oil leak.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Minnowburn: The Gazebo

There was quite a number of us today at Minnowburn; well over a dozen, at least. We were working at the Community Garden, which is situated in a field behind the warden's office. The National Trust has created new allotments here. Today, our task was to continue work on the poly-tunnel and a brand new gazebo.

I spent the day with three other volunteers erecting the wooden framework for the gazebo, which will be used for shelter and social purposes by the allotment-holders. We made good progress and the framework is largely completed. The roof itself still needs to be fitted at some later date; and shingle tiles are being hand-made by staff and volunteers for this. it is reckoned that in excess of 400 tiles will be required.

We enjoyed a barbecue al fresco in the afternoon.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Gibb's Island: Stone Wall

I have spent most of the day on Gibb's Island, which is located on Strangford Lough beside Delamont Country Park in County Down.

There is an old dry stone wall there, which runs from the shore at one side of the island to the other side. It is badly dilapidated, with decades of neglect; overgrown with brambles and briar; and tons of stones have fallen to the ground at each side. This is laborious work, because the stones have been sunken deep into the ground by the hooves of heavy cattle and other livestock.

We used crow-bars and pick-axes to dig the surrounding ground and extract the stones; or, at least, a few tons of them. This is a project that will probably take a year or more to complete. It depends on how many people we can get, including volunteers, to assist us.

We lunched at the shore overlooking my beloved Salt Island in the distance. I could see the sheep grazing in a field, in fact. Today I had home-made salmon sandwiches; and I'd brought a few boxes of jam doughnuts for us all to munch on, which were surprisingly good. I'd bought them in Sainsbury's yesterday. I lent Craig a book about dry stone walling by Andy Radford.

This evening, despite my fatigue, I still had time for twenty lengths of the swimming-pool.

Now I can relax.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Waspish Mood!

I've just been stung by a wasp! I'm wearing flip-flops and the little devil got me at the side of my foot. That is the first time I've been stung for many years. It's still sore and throbbing.

I bought a new beach towel yesterday, by the way. I was in central Belfast and I visited House of Fraser, Debenham's and Marks and Spencer. The former two have a very good selection of towels; M&S have a smaller choice, though I decided on an Autograph Collection plain pure cotton velour bath towel in a shade they call raspberry.

The trouble with many towels generally is that they contribute considerably to the weight of one's luggage, given that some airlines permit a mere thirty-three pounds - or 15kg in euro-tosh!

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Pop Prescott

I read that the Rt Hon John Precott, MP, shan't be sitting by idly at the forthcoming General Election. Instead of saving his own seat, the man threatens us that he shall be canvassing actively against the Conservatives.

Eh? Pop Prescott has to be one of the finest recruiting sergeants for the Conservative Party still in existence. Each time the cove opens his mouth, expect the socialists to lose a hundred votes: and it opens countlessly; you had better believe it.

I can envisage David Cameron and his colleagues chuckling at the prospect already.

Is Prescott even standing at the next election? Blighters of his stature usually get offered a life peerage, at any rate.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Unsmart Oil Leak

The baby two-seater has an oil leak. I initially couldn't believe it, when I noticed a few oil stains on the drive. I presumed it must have been the previous car.

How can a three month-old car develop an oil leak so quickly, I wonder? I owned a new BMW 3 Series car for almost eleven years and it was utterly trouble-free, apart from a new exhaust system.

How tiresome, not to say inconvenient. I phoned Agnew's immediately and it is booked in for next Monday.

Waitrose: By Royal Appointment

Waitrose, Limited, is one of the few grocers which hold a royal warrant. Waitrose's warrant is as grocers, wine and spirit merchants. They are a company that doesn't seem to advertize hugely on television, which isn't a bad thing at all. Their competitors, including Marks and Spencer; Sainsbury's; Tesco; Asda; the Co-Op; and Morrisons all promote themselves widely on commercial television.

A mere four businesses currently hold royal warrants as grocers: Darville & Son, Ltd; Partridges; Fortnum & Mason PLC; and Waitrose Ltd.

Waitrose could, of course, plaster their warrant all over their stores, bags and company vehicles. However, unlike Harrod's, which used to exploit its royal warrants (till its Egyptian owner fell out of favour with the Royal Family), Waitrose is seemingly more modest.

I see that Waitrose has just agreed a deal with Duchy Originals, one of Prince Charles's companies.

It's a pity that Waitrose doesn't have a presence in Northern Ireland.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Back Home

What a wonderful spell of weather we've been having. I have to say that I have made the most of it. I was working in the sunshine all day Wednesday, at Horse Island; and, since then, we've been staying at Portballintrae, one of the Causeway Coast's most popular resorts. For anyone who doesn't know, Portballintrae is a small village lying between Portrush and Bushmills in County Antrim.

On Thursday evening we ate at the Ramore Wine Bar, which is part of a complex of restaurants at Portrush harbour. I think we arrived too early because, as they say, the ambiance was lively with young families and their infants!

We motored into the fine town of Coleraine, County Londonderry, on Friday morning. I required a pair of sports in-soles for my old trainer shoes; and, thanks to Bishop's shoe shop, managed to buy the ideal pair of them for a most reasonable £4.99 (I have inserted them into the shoes already and they fit perfectly). That should save me forty or fifty pounds, which a new pair of Reebok trainers would have cost.

In the afternoon we basked in the warm sunshine in the back garden. Heavenly; and we sipped some chilled white wine, too. That evening we enjoyed a substantial bar snack in the lounge bar of the Causeway Hotel.

On Saturday, we went for a drive to Ballintoy Harbour (above) and, to my mind, this place is absolutely essential for taking guests and friends visiting Northern Ireland. Roark's Kitchen is still open for business, serving the customary home-made pies, tarts, sandwiches and other tempting dishes. We were tempted - as ever - but didn't partake since we were eating at Sweeney's later that evening. Sweeney's charged me extra for the chunky chips I had with my scampi, by the way; so the total price for scampi and chips there amounted to £14.50. What is the most you've ever paid for scampi and chips?

Incidentally, I spotted a conspicuous notice in the window of a restaurant in Bushmills - near the Diamond - which advised would-be diners that, due to circumstances beyond their control, tap water was unavailable! How mean - I shan't be frequenting their premises in a hurry.

We tidied up, packed the baby two-seater and motored back to Belfast at about eleven forty-five this morning. We had intended to have lunch at the splendid Bushmills Garden Centre (whose sister restaurant is at Donaghadee Garden Centre); however I continually forget that it doesn't open on Sundays till one o'clock, so we decided, reluctantly, to drive straight home.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

His Lordship on Vacation

Does BT Fon stretch its tentacles as far as Portballintrae? I shall soon make that momentous discovery, because we'll be away for a short break.

I'll turn the little netbook on when I'm there, and we shall see.

Watch this space!

Station Closures

A chief superintendent of the Northern Ireland police constabulary claims that Ballyclare police station "has been attended by an average of fewer than six callers a day". Following that logic, if the station is closed down, there shall be no callers at all.

If the general public knows that a station has limited and inconvenient opening hours, they shan't have the confidence to pay it a visit.

What on earth are these so-called representatives on the police Authority - they call themselves the policing board - doing? How can it be in the interests of the general public for any police station to close? What sort of police service is that?

Must we be satisfied with a couple of young, inexperienced coppers driving through a village or town in their comfortable car, hardly stopping for anything except a takeaway?

If they have stooped down to the level where they want to close down police stations, they obviously require more constables.

Enter the Northern Ireland Office, their paymaster. If the NIO - and the Brown Government, for that matter - really wished to save money, they could easily disband a few dozen of their precious quangos and commissions. I have a few prominent ones in mind, as I write.

I propose that more police officers be employed; the current police stations be re-opened and fully active twenty-four hours a day; that there must be a presence in villages like Strangford and Dundrum, where the stations closed down many years ago.

Despite what the do-gooder liberals, thugs and anti-social classes may demand, there are places where a police station helps to maintain a presence, gives comfort to law-abiding citizens, and acts as a deterrent to felons.

Beginning at the top tier, the NIO; chief police officers and their mouth-pieces; Police Authority; and the so-called policing partnerships are all doing a grave disservice to the people of Northern Ireland if they believe that the closure of more police stations is the answer.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Alcoholic Advertisements

The British Medical Association (BMA) is urging the Government to ban advertisements for alcohol comprehensively.

A similar ban was imposed on the promotion of tobacco products some years ago.

I seem to remember that the tobacco ban was a very gradual and slow process. It took years to come to ultimate fruition.

I expect that there would be a similar scenario with regard to the prohibition of adverts on alcohol. Expect sustained and determined resistance from not only the big brewers and distillers; but also the mass media and ITV in particular. ITV's advertising revenue would slump, should this ban occur.

I have no strong view on this. I see no reason to gainsay the BMA, though. The big brewers and distillers are capable of generating abundant profits for their shareholders simply by sales of their products. It is most likely that the mass media would be the greatest losers.

Horse Island, Kircubbin

It wasn't half hard toil today. A labour of love, really. We all met at a site adjacent to Horse Island, which is a few miles south of Kircubbin in County Down.

There were twelve of us today - a very good turn-out.

We have been clearing the perimeter of this piece of ground, on and off, for several months now. It has been overgrown with gorse, mainly. The perimeter needs to be cleared in order to allow plant access for the mechanical erection of wooden fencing.

There must be seven or eight stacks of felled gorse and other bushes in the field now; and we managed to light about three bonfires today. Although it would be quicker to set light to the lot, there have been complaints from neighbouring farmers about the smoke; so, consequently, we must limit our bonfires accordingly. The National Trust is, I am sure, anxious not to alienate the locals any more than absolutely necessary!

As a volunteer I can say personally that, occasionally, these bonfires need to be lit in order to eradicate the gorse, in a controlled manner. It is a shame that some people seem to resent these conservation measures which are, ultimately, to the advantage and benefit of everyone. The Trust goes to great lengths to consider local neighbours, farmers, residents and everyone else involved. Perhaps we may need to check with the Met. Office to confirm the wind direction at some future stage!

We lunched at a grassy spot close to Horse Island. I spotted swallows again. Home-made egg salad sandwiches were gobbled down voraciously; and washed down with a mug of tea! I chatted to Rebecca about Crom Estate, County Fermanagh, where she lives and works. It was great for me to reminisce about Crom, the Castle, the Estate, a former house-keeper who reads tea-leaves and the Erne family.

It was hard work today and I arrived home quite whacked! I immediately jumped into the shower to rinse off the saw-dust and foliage from tree branches.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The Hon. Alan Clark, 1928 - 1999

I am convinced that, had he survived and been so inclined, Alan Clark would have made a brilliant blogger.

Although he achieved high - though not the highest - office as a Minister of State, the late Alan Clark had a refreshingly independent streak as a politician and member of Parliament. Indeed, he could sometimes appear a maverick! Despite these characteristics, Clark's loyalty remained steadfast and exemplary towards the Great Lady while she was in Office. His attitude to some of his disloyal ministerial colleagues, when Lady Thatcher was deposed, was one of contempt.

I liked him all the more for this. Admirable; and he was undeniably a great diarist, not least due to his candour and literary prowess. I approved of his politics, to a large degree, as well.

I have his complete diaries; and an excellent book he wrote about motoring and classic cars - his passion - called Back Fire.

He became the Honourable Alan Clark when his father, the Lord Clark, was elevated to the Peerage as a life baron; and subsequently became Right Honourable when he was appointed a Privy Councillor.

The Right Honourable Alan Clark, MP, died in 1999.

Monday, 7 September 2009

A Titanic Venture

The latest announcement of another boutique hotel for the city of Belfast - on the County Down side of the River Lagan - has come from the Titanic Quarter Limited.

It will be located at the old GHQ of Harland and Wolff at Queen's Island; and it shall have ninety bedrooms. The building itself is a hundred years old; and shipyard directors, such as Lord Pirrie, had their offices here.

It would seem that restoration and any extensions to the building will be sympathetic; and its theme will be evocative of the great liner herself, RMS Titanic.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Doggy Bag? Bring Tin Foil!

Three cheers for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, a dashed good egg! Hugh reckons we all ought to ask for doggy-bags every time we cannot finish our meals at restaurants. Why not? So much food is wasted nowadays - one only has to look at the piles of unwanted food left on plates.

I'd go a stage further: why not bring some tin-foil in your pocket? I hate to leave good food on my plate, whether it's because there is too much of it or whatever. My mental mantra is Waste Not, Want Not.

It could even be brought home as a treat for the pet - which probably explains the term Doggy-Bag - or, in our case, the magpies!

What Really Is Scampi?

Whilst having my coffee this morning, I turned on the telly to see what they were doing on BBC2's Something For The Weekend. The chef, Simon Rimmer, was preparing a scampi dish and they were discussing its definition.

Now, we know the definition of real scampi: a quick look on Wikipedia or Google will provide us with that. However, what passes as scampi in pubs throughout the length and breadth of the British Isles is quite another matter; or so it seems.

Simon Rimmer made a valiant attempt at it and his answer was necessarily vague. He explained that our pubs used to serve lobster tail-ends as scampi; then monk-fish, which became too costly; and now they pass off any white fish cut into goujons as scampi.

Perhaps I am being nostalgic yet again; but the battered scampi which was served in the original Lobster Pot, Strangford, certainly appeared sumptuous and juicy. That was thirty years ago, incidentally.

I am still unclear as to what we are really eating when we order scampi in a country pub today. Presumably most urban pubs simply empty it out of a packet, the way we buy it from supermarkets. Many establishments cannot be bothered to remove the black intestinal tracts which run down the prawns - if that is what so-called scampi really is.

I am convinced that there is a percentage of pubs - particularly town ones - which have not got a clue as to what it constitutes. Is it a closely-guarded secret within the catering industry? May I invite a local publican or restaurateur to disclose the true contents of the dish known as scampi on bar menus? Or do they simply trust their suppliers?

No matter what the catering industry passes it off as, I'll always enjoy it: battered, with triple-cooked hand-made chips, Heston Blumenthal-style; bucket-loads of tangy sauce tartare; and a dressed garnish.

By the way, the original Lobster Pot always served their scampi and chips with a small garnish of lettuce and a tomato wedge. And peas too, if I remember rightly.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Giant Aircraft Passes By

A mere five minutes ago, what I believe to be the world's largest passenger aircraft, the A380, passed my bedroom window and over Belfast City Airport in east Belfast. I had spectacular views of this giant aeroplane as it passed by. The Airbus colours were painted thereon.

It had been to the north coastal resort of Portrush in County Antrim as part of an air-show.

Our Friends, the Whites

At what shall probably be my last Friday evening concert for a while, I attended another BBC Radio 3 Summer Invitation concert at the Ulster Hall in Belfast last night. I didn't bother to dine out.

The conductor was Pascal Rophé, from France; and the soloist was the young Northern Ireland pianist, Michael McHale. The pieces played included compositions by César Franck, Florent Schmitt and Dr Ian White, a composer originally from Northern Ireland.

Being truthful, I can't declare that it was one of my favourite concerts; nevertheless, the Ulster Orchestra played outstandingly as usual.

I know the White family. They lived in Holywood, County Down; indeed, Ian White's mother still lives there. Our late fathers both knew each other well and were cogs in Holywood's big wheel - in a sense. I was a childhood friend of Ian's sister and we kept closely in touch till about three months ago, when she died suddenly and tragically aged 48. How truly sad.

I didn't know Ian at all. He must have left the Province when he left school, which would have been circa 1973 I imagine. I do know that Ian's personal achievements have been both impressive and remarkable: professional and orchestral trombonist; a doctorate ; composer; husband; homes in Surrey and France; and, most recently, newly-qualified barrister.

In fact, his mother told me that he was due to attend an initiation ceremony at one of the Inns of Court in London at the time of his sister's sudden death. One of the few times I had the pleasure of meeting Ian was actually at his sister's funeral in June, where he delivered a most fitting and eloquent eulogy.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Bazooka That Speed!

Speeding is a habitual problem on our roads. The Bureaucratic civil servants running the Roads Disservice in Northern Ireland know this more than most of us. Their diligence in maintaining Ulster's roads as the pride of Europe is boundless.

Nevertheless, a novel method has been developed to focus on the reduction of speeds; and, it is suggested that it be adopted in the Province.

We are most grateful to our cousins in Denmark for this splendid idea.

Here it is. Do cast your votes in the message-board...

Homage to Sir Pelham

It has been a moderately uneventful week so far, for Timothy Belmont; thus indulgence in a modicum of tangential rambling now and again.

I'm looking forward to my vacation in the Canary Islands next month; topping up the tan and replenishing Tanqueray Gin levels, don't you know.

As if you didn't know, my scribblings on this blog are somewhat influenced by Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, KBE, commonly known as P G Wodehouse. If you ever discern the occasional archaic phrase, word or term, that'll be it.

I'm an avid reader of his Jeeves and Wooster series, numbering about seventeen books. I am presently reading Thank You, Jeeves, which was first published in 1934; and it involves Jeeves taking leave of absence due to Bertie's banjolele-playing; Bertie's pal, Lord Chuffnell (known as Chuffy); the loony-doctor, Sir Roderick Glossop; and the Stokers' yacht moored in the bay.

Doubtless I'll bring a few of these books on the holiday.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Two Phone Calls

Two old pals have been on the blower within the last forty-eight hours. Most unexpected. The first call was from a former colleague with the same name as self: he's retiring next month and wants us to have lunch at the Water Margin Chinese restaurant in Belfast next week. I am particularly keen on Chinese cuisine, even good old sweet-and-sour chicken in batter with fried rice!

I haven't eaten at the Water Margin for a few years, so this celebration - if that's the word - will be a good opportunity to frequent the restaurant again. I might even be tempted to cycle there. The Water Margin is located at the former Donegall Pass Presbyterian Church, near the Ormeau Road.

The trouble with these heavy lunches is that we invariably have equally heavy drinking sessions too. I'd like to pace myself by alternating gins with fizzy water.

Last night, just as I was about to settle in the armchair to watch The Dragons' Den, an old friend from my school-days rang. We reminisced about nights out at the Lobster Pot in Strangford in the mid-seventies; the two very attractive waitresses at the time - one of whom was called Julie - and what a wonderful place it was then. I reminded the old chum that I had a crush on Julie at the time to the extent that I sent her an anonymous Valentine card with Julie, the Sensuous Barmaid scrawled on the envelope! Heaven knows how many Valentine cards Julie received.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Mr Monk

I've been taping an American crime/comedy drama series this week on BBC Two called Monk and watching it during the evening.

If you're reading this, Sharon, I can confirm that I do not suffer from OCD! Detective Monk suffers from the disorder, though this is, strangely, to his advantage in solving the crimes due to his meticulous sense of perception.

I have seen two episodes: Mr Monk And The Captain's Marriage; and Mr Monk And The Big Reward.

It's quirky, and I like it for that. The characters are likeable. Has anyone else watched it?

Bluetooth Failure

I have set up the Bluetooth connection easily enough on the main computer and the netbook. It acknowledges the link; and my mobile phone initially connects, then it almost immediately disconnects!

I have a feeling that the problem is with the phone. What a confounded nuisance. It seems that I shan't be able to send images by Bluetooth from the phone to the PC.

I'll take the adaptor back to Argos for a refund.

The Birthday Present

I am on the look-out for a singularly narrow hall-table, its principal purpose of which is to sit over a double radiator in our hall. Locking the trusty bicycle to Ross's railings in Montgomery Street, Belfast, I ventured upstairs to have a preview. No joy today.

I crossed Chichester Street and carried on, up the other side of Montgomery Street beside Victoria Square shopping centre. In Argos, I bought a tiny USB Bluetooth adaptor. I'm hoping this will enable me to send wireless images from my mobile phone to the computer. Mind you, it will be a surgical operation opening the diminutive dongle because, if it doesn't do the requisite job, I intend to return it.

I strode in to Marks and Spencer's Callender Street entrance in order to buy a birthday present for the Dowager, the big day being next month. I decided on a "funnel-neck knitted cardigan". I got the Dowager to try it on for size when I arrived home: it's fine.

We still have to decide about the birthday dinner. Alden's restaurant has crossed my mind; or she may prefer an informal lunch at a country pub instead.

That's not the Dowager on the right, in case you wondered!

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Swimming Suspended

I ought to have checked the sports club's website today, prior to motoring up there. When I peered in to the swimming-pool this evening it was as dry as a bone, the interior having been re-painted.

The pool was supposed to be open from today to members; however, due to "ongoing refurbishment" it would appear that it shan't be available till the 14th September. How frustrating, not to say annoying.

This has happened too often within the last number of years; and partly explains the decline in membership numbers - turning up, only to discover that the pool is closed for some technical reason or other. It should also be said that pupils are denied use of the pool also, their parents having forked out considerable sums of money for their sons' education and activities. It is no way to treat a membership, though I'd accept it is beyond the sports' club's control. Perhaps the club is privately as frustrated as self. Who knows?

I expect my cycling regime shall continue till then.