Saturday, 31 October 2009

Tit In The Box

For several days this week, usually quite early in the mornings, I have been observing a delightful little blue tit flying into our nest-box in the garden. He tentatively flies in; pokes his head in and out for a moment; and then flies out, clings to the opening and pecks at it.

This is common enough behaviour in the spring months; hardly at the tail-end of October, though.

Could he be finding this unseasonal, mild weather somewhat confusing?

John Dory's Glory

My aunt called with us a few days ago and, to my astonishment, she proceeded to apprise me of the framed blog piece I wrote about John Dory's in March this year which adorns the walls of their chip-shops. I am delighted.

My warped sense of humour made me suggest that, the next time she is in Dory's, my aunt maintains a straight face and informs them that she is related to Lord Belmont. Ha!

Some may suspect that I receive preferential treatment - the odd free meal. No so. My profile, which declares that I am proud to be independent and without sponsors, remains true.

This means, my friends, that I generally speak from the heart and tell things as sincerely as is humanly possible. My integrity remains intact. I'd rather keep respectfully silent about some people or places than criticize them heavily.

Being Halloween, we "had the urge" for fish and chips, so I drove the shortish distance to John Dory's on the Holywood Road, Belfast. I invariably order one cod and chips (henceforth known as a cod supper in Ulster!), and one cod. This totalled £8.30.

I told the member of staff behind the counter that the blog was mine (no, I did not declare, in forthright terms, "I am Lord Belmont!"), but it didn't register with her. Perhaps I was not explicit enough. No matter.

What can I say? My review of March, 2009, still holds true. The supper was as enjoyable and flavoursome as ever.

Long live John Dory's! And, if you ever happen to peruse the framed commendations on the walls, mine is there as I write this article.

Evening In Belfast

Never let it be said that Timothy Belmont is not averse to a moderate dose of culture: I am a dedicated follower of Messrs Albert and Harold Steptoe; not to overlook Basil and Sybil Fawlty, I'll have you know. Today's "comedians" are no match for the Steptoes and the Fawltys, Ricky Gervase and Peter Kay excepted.

Bearing that in mind, I motored into town yesterday evening, having reserved a seat in the opera-house for Opera North's production of Così Fan Tutte. I'd hoped to have a meal at Molly's Yard in Botanic Avenue, but my plan was foiled when they told me that they were fully booked in the little bistro downstairs, despite the time being only five forty.

Instead, I indulged in a modest restorative upstairs in the Europa Hotel, which was was quite busy. There seemed to be some sort of journalists' function. I think there was a shortage of waiting staff, because the bar man doubled up as a waiter; and my table was scruffy, not having been wiped and bearing the crumbs of the previous occupants (attention to detail...). It remained unwiped for the duration.

Shortly before 7pm, I made myself as comfortable as possible in seat E12 of the front stalls, which is very close to the stage in fact. I prefer the dress circle. Still, I thought I'd give a different part of the auditorium a try on this occasion. The arms of my seat were almost threadbare, a sign of the eventual need for refurbishment! It's such a shame that we haven't the same largesse at the Grand Opera House as at the Royal Opera House, which is so sumptuous. I suppose it is unfair and unreasonable to compare the two.

With a fine cast of six, the Mozart opera was well done indeed. It was sung in English, omitting the need for subtitles. Costumes and orchestra were good, too; except I felt that the props were not particularly extravagant. Still, they served the purpose.

It was a good evening and I arrived home at about 10.20pm.

Friday, 30 October 2009

The Restaurant

I watched the first episode of The Restaurant last night on BBC Two. What a bunch - one of them was reminiscent if Miss Piggy; and her partner looked remarkably similar. Monsieur Blanc seemed to be quite underwhelmed by most of them, and I do not blame him. The pair of army chaps and the two male Blondes were akin to the proverbial chalk and cheese.

Blanc asked one of the male Blondes: "Why are you winking at me? Do you wink at everybody?" The Blonde replied that he was a bit nervous. A nervous tic!

If you read Page 30 in this week's Radio Times, Raymond Blanc imparts a measure of his culinary experience and wisdom on eight ways to spot a great restaurant, great being the operative word.

The Telephone Test is first on his List: Does the establishment inquire whether the reservation is for a special occasion - like a birthday; or do they simply say something like "Hello ... yes, great."?

The Pavement Test: Is the outside of the restaurant impeccable, including the pavement?

The Speed Test: How efficient are they when you are seated?

The Bread Test: How generous are they with the bread? And are there several types?

The Butter Test: Is it wrapped with the maker's label all over it? Or in a butter dish?

The Boil-In-The-Bag Test: Seemingly many Michelin-starred restaurants use an "under-vacuum" method, cooking the contents slowly at low temperatures.

The Stock Test: Monsieur Blanc is particular about real stock.

The Visibility Test: He's a fan of open-plan!

I have condensed Blanc's list (now there's a pun!), but you get the gist, don't you? Perhaps it is just as well that he doesn't visit Belfast or Northern Ireland too frequently! His criteria might go some way towards explaining why we have one mere Michelin Star establishment in the Province.

Attention to detail is clearly paramount in Pop Blanc's book.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

The Bangor Succession

Might the Bangor viscountcy become extinct? Lord and Lady Bangor have no offspring, only a half-brother who is five years younger and living in London.

The half-brother, the Hon Nicholas Ward, has two daughters.

I am no expert on these matters; but, unless some obscure cousin, several times removed, pops up, is the likely scenario that the viscountcy becomes extinct eventually?

The Annual Bash

Our annual NT Volunteer (Strangford Lough) bash shall be held, once again, at the Villa Vinci Restaurant in Newcastle, County Down.

Craig and Anna, affianced and with the wedding imminent, shan't be able to attend the yearly donning of the feedbags.

Mind you, it proved to be most enjoyable last year, the staff being singularly attentive; and the food of a good standard, too.

Equine Humour!

Here is a hilarious video, which lasts about 24 seconds, concerning a romantic trip into the forest by horse and carriage for a young couple.

Watch it and have a good laugh!

Simply copy and paste the following link:-

Simmy Island Boathouse

Whilst munching away at our packed lunches yesterday, one topic which "came up" related to Simmy Island on Strangford Lough.

Simmy Island is almost a peninsula. It is privately owned by one of Northern Ireland's most prominent hoteliers. It is exceptionally picturesque, overlooking the National Trust's Island Taggart several hundred yards off-shore.

The Boathouse on the island can be clearly seen from Island Taggart. Seemingly, about two years ago, this little building was converted into a dwelling with a septic tank; and the jetty was also extended. Planning permission was retrospectively applied for.

The matter has become controversial, because a local councillor wants the application to be examined; and the planning department has said that it will pursue the matter.

I am curious to know if there have been any further developments since then: Does anyone know about this?

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Gibb's Island: Stone Walling

I have spent a day at Gibb's Island at the edge of Strangford Lough, working with other volunteers on the dry stone wall which traverses the island.

It is encouraging to report that we are making excellent progress since we began a few months ago. I'm really quite surprised that we have managed to erect so much.

There were six of us today, accompanied by a small herd of Galloway cattle. The rooks were cawing at the top of the trees nearby; and we saw various gulls, red-shank, green-shank and curlews. Two seals swam near us, too.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Enlightened Tesco!

I have just returned from a visit to Tesco's giant store at Knocknagoney which has, I think, improved somewhat since the major extension.

A "low-energy" light bulb expired in our hall yesterday and I needed a replacement.

Tesco sells them in abundance and - low and behold! - they are on offer as I write, at five standard, bayonet-type ones for a pound. Indeed, you have read me correctly: five low-energy light bulbs for one pound.

Their offer confused me at first, because they cost a pound each and, despite this, they were offered at five for a pound; while stocks last, presumably.

The Currans at Port Bradden

The local historian, the Reverend McConnell Auld - Con Auld - spends much time at his old mill-house, in the picturesque hamlet of Port Bradden in County Antrim.

Mr Auld has written numerous books, one of them entitled Letters to a Causeway Coast Millhouse.

Chapter 16 - A Letter from a Grieving Mother - concerns Lady Curran, whose son, Michael, bought a cottage at Port Bradden. They holidayed there between 1961 and 1968, in fact; and would have been well acquainted with Con Auld.

Lady Curran's husband was the Rt Hon Lord Justice Curran, and Sir Lancelot was a Lord Justice of Appeal in Northern Ireland until the mid 70s.

Monday, 26 October 2009

The Scapegoat Drama

I watched the BBC Northern Ireland drama, Scapegoat, for about thirty-five minutes this evening on BBC HD. I'm afraid I simply did not find it sufficiently captivating and, instead, switched over to BBC2 for Newsnight.

Scapegoat refers to Iain Hay Gordon, who was wrongfully convicted of the murder of Miss Patricia Curran, daughter of a prominent High Court judge in Northern Ireland, the Honourable Mr Justice Curran.

The first error I immediately noticed by the scriptwriter was that the actress who played Lady Curran referred to herself on the phone by saying "this is Mrs Curran"; and, in the dining-room of their home at Whiteabbey, near Belfast, the commentator described them as "Mr Curran" and "Mrs Curran".

Had the scriptwriter researched the story properly, he or she would have learned that High Court judges are invariably granted knighthoods; so the Currans would have been known as Sir Lancelot and Lady Curran socially.

Newsnight, on BBC2, wasn't much more entertaining this evening, either: We were treated to a debate about whether, or not, Tony Blair would be enthroned as President of the European Union. I find the subject so boring and irrelevant myself. Who cares? If we left the EU tomorrow and forged closer commercial links with our Commonwealth and American friends, I'm sure that would be fine by me. The most appropriate EU president would be somebody like Nigel Farage!

Queen Sofía in Fuerteventura

I was interested to read an article in a local newspaper, whilst in Fuerteventura, concerning a visit to the island in September, 2009, by Her Majesty The Queen of Spain.

Her Majesty paid a visit to the little island of Los Lobos, near Corralejo, to observe the release of twenty-two loggerhead turtles.

HM and the royal delegation stayed at the Atlantis Bahía Real Gran Hotel in Corralejo, a suite of thirty rooms having been reserved for them.

Here is the official website of the Spanish Royal Family.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Hard Feet

It is remarkable how much hard, superfluous skin is shed when you walk on your bare feet; especially on rough ground like tarmac, sand and footpaths.

This phenomenon is particularly pertinent if, like self, you have been habitually wearing socks for a life-time. The consequence invariably results in the soles of your feet becoming soft. That's my experience.

Cognizant of this, I decided upon a regime, whereby I continually walked about, during most of the day, in my bare feet! I had to don my flip-flops occasionally, of course; but, whilst showering in the bath prior to the customary restorative, paying extra attention to my dirty feet - and when drying them - the amount of dead skin was, truly, remarkable.

I have begun to accelerate the process by the application of a foot-file at home. I think I've spotted a tiny verruca I never knew existed until now!

Moreover, you know that the regime is working when tiny stones and rough paths become less uncomfortable and more tolerable; whilst obviously keeping an eagle eye out for shards of glass.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

A Rough Landing

Our flight experienced considerable buffeting from cross-winds as we landed this afternoon, around 5pm. The journey had taken less than four hours, though.

At least I have opened all the mail; still haven't unpacked yet - that can wait for awhile.

I watched a repeat programme on BBC2 this evening entitled Balmoral, which was moderately interesting. One of the interviewees happened to be a well-known royal biographer called Sarah Bradford, the Viscountess Bangor.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Laptops Abroad

There are abundant Internet "hot-spots" throughout Corralejo. Many cafes, restaurants and hotels openly advertize them. I can only assume that one's laptop picks up a connexion from the restaurant's router or "hub". Is this an advance on our network in the UK? Surely we require to use BT Openworld, BT Fon or a dongle whilst "out and about" at home?

This service is free, apart from the obligation to buy a cup of coffee or a drink.

I could have brought my little Mini 9 (Dell Inspiron Mini 9) after all.

Fuerteventura: Day 12

The island experienced its first rain yesterday for a while. I was lying on the beach at El Cotillo when the very first drops descended. It lasted for about two hours. I had nowhere to shelter, so took refuge in a "portaloo"!

I have deliberately been walking in my bare feet throughout this holiday, even on the streets, tarmac and pavements. I am convinced that this regime is most beneficial, in so far as it is a contributary factor in toughening up decades of feet softened with socks and footwear. I know how effective this is because, every evening I shower, the dead skin is removed from the soles of my feet.

Other blemishes become apparent too, viz. a tiny verucca I never knew existed! My trusty old feet are now rejuvenated!

I have finished reading the Alan Clark Diaries and am about to start The Code Of The Woosters. I noticed Tim Heald's name on the list of credits at the end of Diaries Into Politics, incidentally. TH runs the royal blog in the Daily Telegraph, which is listed on the left-hand column of my own blog. I must send him a message when I return; I'd no idea about this connection.

Interestingly, Sky News had a piece about electronic, digital "i-readers" or "e-readers" like Kindle earlier. I must call into Waterstone´s book-shop next week to have a look at them. My personal "litmus test" will be whether they have the Jeeves and Wooster series by P G Wodehouse; the Alan Clark Diaries; and Evelyn Waugh novels available.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Fuerteventura: Day 10

The climate here is still remarkably warm, sunny and dry; though I have been told that this is fortunate for the time of year. Winds have been fairly calm, too.

I still cannot "get over" the rate at which the euro dissipates for "us Brits". Virtual parity. I brought hundreds of euros with me; most of the cash has evaporated quite speedily in food and drink. And I certainly haven't been extravagant, by any means. I wish to buy the reception staff at my accommodation a "token" of my benevolent goodwill - some chocolates probably - so, anticipating this act, I shall need to have a few euros left for this. Of course I have VISA cards, though I'm too mean to use them lest I am charged.

The Irish are seemingly a "force to be reckoned with" in Corralejo. They have their spurious pubs, several in the town; and scheduled flights from Dublin. The Fuerteventura islanders are sanguine that Ryanair will shortly be permitted to resume flights to the island. They are welcome to O'Leary, as far as I am concerned. The popularity of Irish pubs abroad never ceases to astound me; I shouldn't be seen dead in one.

I have frequented three establishments whilst in Corralejo and El Cotillo: La Taberna, restaurant and grill; the Casbah, "eatery and house of pizza"; and Torino's beach bar at El Cotillo beach.

I have become fond of La Taberna. It was first established about twenty years ago by Juan and his wife, Ana. The restaurant is located at 3, Calle Hernan Cortes, Corralejo. Juan is exceptionally assiduous in his courtesy towards patrons. Their formula hasn't changed for many years; and they adhere to it, due to its success. Really fresh rolls of bread with exquisite alioli: excellent fillets of beef, trimmed to perfection, with fried saute potatoes; a little ramekin of finely-sliced salad - and another ramekin of mayonnaise; and the steak cooked to perfection without any fat at all. These standards never seem to change. Their prawn cocktail is also superb: reminiscent of the seventies at home. Thoroughly recommended.

The Casbah is a mere two years old. It is in Calle La Iglesia and the chef-proprietor is Michael, along with his wife Leann. They live in Villaverde, having originally come from Lancashire. This is a more casual type of place, though the cleanliness of this little restaurant - its spotless windows, for instance, has impressed me. They specialize mainly in home-made hamburgers with home-made chips, coleslaw and all the other trimmings. He also cooks "southern-fried" chicken; and pizza.

Torino's beach bar is a captivating - and most popular - beach shack at El Cotillo beach. Torino, a former fisherman, runs the place with his family - his English wife and the irrepressible Bill, his father-in-law! Bill's energy remains boundless.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Fuerteventura: Day 7

I am seated in one of those local locutorios where one can avail of inexpensive phone calls and the Internet. The connexion seems to be woefully slow; still, mustn't grumble.

The weather here is still wonderful. I've finished reading one of my P G Wodehouse books; and now I've begun Diaries Into Politics, by Alan Clark. AC died prematurely - such a shame. He has been irreplaceable as a parliamentarian in the Houses of Parliament; and doubtless his style and views would hardly be tolerated by the Leadership these days. Such a pity. Whilst he may well have been a bit of a bounder, AC held solid right-wing views on many matters which still irritate Timothy Belmont; viz., our membership of the EU, immigration and others. AC would have been utterly horrified at our circumstances today: those loony directives pertaining to Health and Safety, Fishing Rights ... it all infringes our erstwhile way of life and has been so detrimental to the country.

The only English-speaking channel I can obtain in my room is Sky News; and there has been wall-to-wall coverage, ad nauseum, of the Gately funeral. Why, oh why, is the media so obsessed with these kinds of celebrity funerals? Is it a reflection of some dysfunctional, national obsession? I became so bored with the whole thing, including Enya Brady's voice, that I switched the telly off.

One topic Sky did touch on was the "makeover" of Blackpool. I have never visited the resort, though I simply cannot resist a quotation from AC's diary about his trip there in 1973: "...appalling 'steak sandwich' at a roadside pub in Preston on the way back from the Blackpool conference. Isn't Blackpool appalling, loathsome...? Impossible to get even a piece of bread and cheese, or a decent cup of tea; dirt, squalor, shanty-town broken pavements with pools of water lying in them - on the Promenade - vulgar common 'primitives' drifting about in groups or standing, loitering, prominently...". Brilliant prose from AC. I really must start to borrow some of his phrases!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Fuerteventura: Day 5

I am glad to recount that I'm well settled and established at my accommodation now. I had a mighty thirst for the first four days; though that has subsided somewhat today.

The climate here is fine: dry, sunny and warm. The sea is warm too. The resort of Corralejo does seem to be on the quiet side. The Euro definitely doesn't buy as much as it used to - at least not for those of us from the UK. An average meal in a half decent restaurant sets you back in excess of twenty euros, excluding wine and pudding. The Lacoste shop is trying to sell their polo shirts for 75 euros! What a confounded rip-off: they're cheaper at home in Warnock's.

The milk they sell in the supermarkets comes in large, one litre Tetrapack-type containers; and it invariably goes off very swiftly, in my case. However, I've made a discovery: cans of leche condensada - sweetened, condensed milk. This stuff keeps very well in the fridge; thickens when chilled, thus making it easy to dispense; and omits the necessity for sugar or saccharin. I use it with coffee. I refrain from tea altogether.

The local supermarkets also sell a brand of streaky bacon which crisps up very well indeed. I think it's called Oscar something-or-other. I encountered a major snag though: Having placed the rashers directly on the microwave oven plate; placed some tissue thereon; and proceeded to cook them on the highest setting for a few minutes, the plate shattered! Admittedly the thought did occur to me to nip into another room and sneakily acquire a plate there; however, I decided that, in this instance, honesty was the best policy. I reported the breakage to Reception immediately and, to their credit, they replaced it without any quibble.

There ends the first overseas' bulletin. I'm off now to don the feedbag.

Hasta Luego.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Lord Belmont Abroad

I'm off to the Canary Islands for awhile. I shall hopefully be able to send the occasional update, since I know of a little bar with free Internet.

Friday, 9 October 2009

A Hectic Day

I have been packing; ensuring everything is in order for the Dowager; paying a last visit to the gym; at the supermarket, buying All Day Breakfast sandwiches for the flight (which cost £2.50: a fraction of the rip-off price for food at the airport and on the flight) and incurring a 625 calorie penalty or thereabouts; and no need to wash the car, the Galloway cattle having made love to it, following all that heavy rain!

Now I am recovering with a modest restorative beside the noble left hand.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Gibb's Island: Stone Wall

I've been away all day at Gibb's Island, Strangford Lough, dry stone walling. We have been reconstructing an old wall which runs from one side of the little island to the other. It is badly dilapidated and requires much attention.

Today we were mainly unearthing the original stones from the wall, which had fallen to the ground over decades. It is laborious, though fulfilling, work; a task that I thoroughly enjoy.

There were five of us today, and the weather was fine and sunny. We had an audience of Galloway cattle - and calves - which seemed to take a liking to the baby two-seater, judging by the lick-marks!

I arrived home by about five o'clock; whacked the dinner into the oven; changed; and drove up the the sports club for a quick twenty lengths.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Ruth Watson, Hotel Saviour

I enjoyed Ruth Watson in her role as The Hotel Inspector on Channel Four. She was always going to be a hard act to follow, as they say, when her successor took over. To my mind - and without any disrespect to Alex Polizzi - I watched the first few episodes with Alex at the helm and lost interest thereafter.

All is not lost, however: Ruth Watson has found a niche in a new Channel Four series called Ruth Watson's Hotel Rescue.

Judging by last week's commendable episode, this series promises to be good. Ruth casts her spell on the owners of Stubton Hall in Nottinghamshire tonight.

I shan't miss it.

A Plummy Tale

I don't know what to make of the plumber who called with us yesterday. He installed a new water tank for us a few years ago - a good job and at a good price. A few people had recommended him to us.

Our living room still has quite old - certainly in technological terms - radiators: 77" x 20" and slim as a soda farl. They are inefficient and don't heat the room quickly enough on cold, winter mornings. I fancied double radiators - you know, those convector types. We have them in other rooms and one doesn't half notice the difference.

The plumber measured the room; borrowed my calculator; did a few sums; and then advised me that he could either fit one double radiator, measuring four feet; or two radiators three feet long.

I queried this, because a three-foot radiator along a conspicuous wall in the living-room - replacing a 77" radiator - seemed peculiar; particularly since the area behind would be exposed after forty years and, consequently, require re-decoration.

He told me that a four-foot radiator was the biggest; that there were occasionally larger sizes but there were hard to obtain and costlier. So that was that. I hesitated, and he suggested that I think about it. Was he taking me for a fool?

I was a fool. I went ahead and booked a date for the job at the end of the month.

Then, after consideration, I had second thoughts. I remembered the double radiator in the dining-room; measured it; and it measured 69" long - more than four feet! I rang the plumber back and told him to cancel the job while I had time to think.

To cut a long story short, whilst in the gym yesterday I was urged to pay a visit to a plumbers' merchant down the road, which I duly did. They gave me lots of information, including various types of radiators, some 77" long.

They gave me the phone number of a plumber; I rang him; he called that afternoon, did calculations, phoned the plumbers' merchant while I sat there; went over various options; and he can supply me with a much longer pair of double radiators - less decorating for us - at £100 less.

Moreover, we have a pair of room thermostats; so, if the new radiators get too hot they can always be controlled by adjusting the thermostats thereon.

The second plumber said he could do the job on Friday; though this date doesn't suit me, so I'll contact him at a later date.

We may yet get a third estimate, though I am minded to proceed with the second plumber.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

The 7th Earl of Lucan

The mysterious case of the missing 7th Earl of Lucan has always fascinated me. To this very day, his son and heir, Lord Bingham, cannot succeed to the title. The Right Honourable Richard John Earl of Lucan, was found guilty of murder by an inquest jury more than thirty years ago; and Lord Lucan has been missing since the 7th November, 1974.

The 7th Earl's son George, Lord Bingham, cannot yet become the eighth earl because a death certificate hasn't been issued.

For what it's worth, I firmly and strongly believe that Lord Lucan did not actually murder their nanny, Sandra Rivett. I believe he hired a hit-man to do the dirty work; and the hit-man killed the hapless nanny instead of the intended victim, Lady Lucan. When Lucan returned to clear up the mess and dispose of his wife's body, he realized that the hit-man had killed Miss Rivett by mistake.

The author, Patrick Marnham, has written an excellent book about the mystery entitled Trail Of Havoc, which I still read occasionally.

To cut a lengthy story short, Lord Lucan would have found the guilt, humiliation, trial, shame and everything else unbearable, so he fell on his sword, figuratively speaking. He made off on his boat, to the open sea miles out, and scuttled it. He found life intolerable without custody of his children at any rate.

The 7th Earl's wife, Lady Lucan, has her own website which gives her side of the story.

That's my theory, at any rate.

Roads Gripe Vindicated

Any regular reader of this blog shall be aware of his lordships's deprecation of what, in Northern Ireland, is called the Roads Service. That is what they call themselves, at any rate.

I prefer to call them the Roads Disservice.

I feel that my somewhat harsh criticism of them has, to an extent, been vindicated; especially having read the media reports today.

I'd be most curious to learn, specifically, what claims motorists are making for damage to their vehicles. Broken parts, could it be presumed? Coil springs, windscreens...

Monday, 5 October 2009

The Royal Blog

Lord Belmont gets a mention on Tim Heald's Royal Blog in the Daily Telegraph today!

Tim has just reminded me - inadvertently - that I must select one of Alan Clark's books for the forthcoming vacation.

By the way, anyone interested in Motoring in general - and classic cars in particular - ought to obtain a copy of Back Fire by the late, great man. Thoroughly recommended reading.

National Trust Tax Disc

Many years ago. the National Trust sold car tax disc holders. The outside was white, displayed the NT logo in dark green; and the tax disc could be displayed. Inside the car, there was a pouch for membership cards.

I must have purchased mine almost twenty years ago and, curiously enough, I am rather fond of it. I have found it most useful; and it has remained sticky so that I've been able to transfer it to four consecutive cars.

I have never noticed these little items for sale in National Trust shops. Presumably they are no longer made.

In an open plea to the Trust, would their Enterprises Department ever consider selling such an item in future?

I, personally, have been immensely proud to be a life member of the Trust for over thirty years.

His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, in his role as President of the National Trust, has written an article here.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Ards Peninsula Tour

What a fine autumn day. We decided to make the most of it, setting off in the baby two-seater in a southerly direction towards Mount Stewart. That new kind of by-pass round Newtownards does make a difference.

We stopped off at the Mount Stewart car park in order that I could have a look at the shop. I viewed the 2009 National Trust Christmas cards. I didn't find them particularly striking so, sadly, I didn't purchase any; and, instead, I bought one of those jute NT carrier bags.

Click on the image above for opening times.

From Mount Stewart, we motored further down the Peninsula, passing through Greyabbey and Kircubbin till we came to Horse Island, where I had a quick look at our handiwork earlier in the week. All is fine.

We drove on towards Quintin Bay and I had a glance at the Castle (below).

At Portavogie, we lunched at the Quays Restaurant. We had our usual prawn cocktails - served as a main course - and shared a little bowl of chips. The prawn cocktails were somewhat disappointing on this occasion: the prawns were fine and juicy; however, the oblong slab of barely-buttered wheaten bread was not like home-made bread; the prawns were barely coated in sauce which was hardly discernible; and the salad was less generous than on our previous visit. In hindsight I ought to have asked for more sauce.

Nevertheless, I still like the Quays; so we shall return again, though I shan't order the prawn cocktail.

Generally speaking, consistency is absolutely essential in catering; inconsistency has a deterrent effect. Thus, one mere restaurant in Northern Ireland - Deane's - with one Michelin Star, to their credit.

On our way home, we stopped off at Groomsport harbour, where I treated the Dowager to an ice-cream cone.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Working Wellies

Until today I possessed three pairs of Wellington boots. Now I have four.

I have an old pair of Dunlop wellies for working in the garden and with the NT volunteers; a second pair of rather old Royal Hunters with hob-nailed soles; and a relatively recent pair of olive green Hunter Balmoral Classic Wellingtons for smarter occasions.

The old Dunlops are too small and tight. If I happen to be out on an island working all day, they can be quite uncomfortable.

I was at B&Q, the D-I-Y store, a few days ago and a rather good-looking pair of wellies caught my eye: the Dunlop Nature Wellington Boots (pictured left). I tried them on and, surprisingly, they were remarkably comfortable. They are olive green and they look well. More to the point, they will do well on my Volunteer Days.

So I revisited B&Q this afternoon and bagged a pair for the asking price of £15. Incidentally, B&Q at Holywood Exchange, near Belfast, now have self-service tills similar to Tesco. Pity the poor, redundant staff; still, I find it most convenient myself.

BBC Viewers' Survey

The BBC Trust is appealing to viewers for their feedback and opinions of the BBC and, specifically, its channels.

I completed the online form this morning and, unsurprisingly, I have strong views about BBC One, BBC Northern Ireland; the calibre and content of programmes in relation to the former; and the very existence of the latter.

Suffice it to say that I watch a mere six BBC One programmes per week; and don't watch BBC NI at all. Instead, I watch BBC One London; and BBC Two England.

I do visit BBC NI's web site daily, though.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Shameful Planners

Cordial congratulations to The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society (UAHS) in their struggle to save the old warehouse building at the corner of Queen Street and College Street in central Belfast.

The UAHS is fighting tirelessly and admirably to preserve and conserve the city's heritage. They have just achieved High Court permission to challenge the planned demolition of the warehouse at 41-49, Queen Street.

The building's finest feature is a carved stone doorcase, the archway being supported on red granite colonettes with grape and acanthus capitals. The keystone boasts an Elizabethan gentleman's head, sporting a long beard, ruff and hat; flanked by shields, oak-leaves, roses and acorns; with bosses of thistles and shamrocks.

The planning department has got away with too much institutional vandalism, permitting developers to demolish our heritage.

What the bombers missed during the Troubles, the planners made up for!

The Dowager's Birthday

The Dowager celebrates her 84th birthday today. We are having a special dinner at home, courtesy of Marks and Spencer PLC.

The Number One cutlery will be used; and the candelabra lit for the occasion.

The menu will be as follows:-

  • soufflé de langoustine
  • filet de boeuf Béarnaise
  • pommes frites
  • oignons frits a la Français
  • chou-fleurs au gratin
We have a choice of puddings in the fridge; though we may have sufficient to eat!
I also have a bottle of cheap-and-cheerful bubbly chilling away.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Royal Ballater

Tim Heald writes an interesting piece here about Prince Philip, royal patronage at Ballater and grouse stuffed with haggis.

Mmmm... yes please.

On the Warpath

For some reason I've been in most excellent grumpy form today. I motored into central Belfast this morning, finding a space in Upper Arthur Street; and strode up Music-Hall Lane, taking a right turn towards Ross's auction-house. Its upstairs sale-room is closed today, so no joy there.

So far, so good. I ambled in to the Bank of Sandtander - or is it called the Abbey Bank? - in Donegall Square East, in order to procure a fistful of bank-notes for Euros. The Abbey still issues Bank of Ireland notes: Why so? To my mind they ought to be issuing Bank of England notes, since they are not the Bank of Ireland. I got Bank of England notes for pocket-money at the Halifax bank in Donegall Square North.

I got my Euros in Marks and Spencer; and they are shrewd enough to be selling their beach-towels opposite the currency kiosk! I returned a towel I had purchased for £19 last week; and, instead, bought a blue "beach towel" at a fraction of the cost - £4.88 - which is like velour and considerably lighter than the last one.

Motoring home via Chichester Street, near Gloucester House, the road had obviously been dug up and shoddily filled in by some unknown contractor. Why, oh why, does the Roads Disservice tolerate this bad workmanship from irresponsible contractors? On behalf of the Taxpayer, surely they ought to compel the contractor to repair the road to the same standard as before?

Personally I'd make them re-surface the entire stretch of road, since they are clearly incapable of anything else; or the roads disservice could do it themselves and invoice whoever dug it up in the first place.

My Radio Times is late this week. It normally arrives by post on Tuesdays. The cause? Industrial action by Royal Mail workers, one presumes.