Sunday, 30 May 2010

The British Lettuce

When we were nattering over coffee and cinnamon scones at the Bay Tree yesterday morning, I told the others a trivial story about a visit to the supermarket and quest for some lettuce.

I really wanted a pair of Little Gem lettuces though, after a little cogitation, bagged an Iceberg lettuce instead.

The influencing factor was the Union Jack mark; or, rather, the lack thereof on the Little Gem lettuces. Had the Gem lettuces been clearly and unambiguously labelled as emanating from the United Kingdom, I'd probably have chosen them.

The term "Ireland" is, to my mind, ambiguous because a product could come from the Irish Republic or Northern Ireland. Whilst this factor may not be of any consequence to some, it matters to me!

Bacon Breakfast

We enjoyed a few rashers of really good bacon with our toast this morning. It's the first time we've tried this particular brand, Case and Sons.

It was fried in a little oil for five or six minutes. Despite it having been "traditionally matured for a great tasting, drier and more meaty bacon" there was still watery fluid, which was poured off.

This bacon, to my mind, is good: thick cut, smoked, traditional Wiltshire cure, very lean; and a delicious flavour, too.

I very much approve of the royal warrant and the Love Bacon Quality Union Jack standard mark thereon.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Shortie Wetsuit

The "shortie" wetsuit I bought in Sainsbury's last week is a perfect fit. It's skin-tight, though I can move my arms freely. It seems to be well made, too, in - you guessed it - the People's Republic of China.

I can see why many surfers wear full-size wetsuits at this time of year, in Northern Ireland. The water is still absolutely freezing! I managed to walk into the sea up to my chest and that was enough.

I think my new wetsuit is a bargain, because a well-known surfing shop in Portrush was selling similar shorties for £45-£50; and I purchased mine for £25.

The manufacturer, the Wetsuit Factory, Cornwall, established in 1969, sells them online for £39.99.

Friday, 28 May 2010

2010 Dissolution Honours

Brief perusal of the 2010 Dissolution Honours List provides no surprises in Northern Ireland whatsoever.

Ian Paisley becomes a life peer as the Right Honourable Ian Richard Kyle Baron Paisley PC; that is assuming he uses his own name for the title. I suppose he could be Lord Paisley of Ballymena or wherever.

Nigel Dodds OBE MP is appointed to the Privy Council as the Right Honourable Nigel Dodds OBE MP.

There are many others on the List who remain unspeakable and insufferable Labour cronies, thugs and minions. One simply has to use one's imagination. Speaking of which, has Prescott punched anyone else this year? Sir Ian Blair, now a life peer, is, according to his erstwhile paymaster, a "distinguished public servant". Ha ha.

Ducal Disharmony?

There is a slight differing of opinion between two of our great northern dukes, viz. Their Graces the Duke of Northumberland and the Duke of Roxburgh.

Apparently Guy Roxburgh wishes to go ahead with a wind turbine project on the Lammermuir Hills, south of Edinburgh; and his neighbour, Ralph Northumberland, whilst not opposed to wind farms in principle, considers that such a project would be detrimental to an area of outstanding natural beauty.

I have a measure of sympathy with Northumberland, despite that old cliché, NIMBY, springing to mind.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Mathematical Genius

When I am researching articles about property values and their monetary equivalent for today's values, regular readers shall be aware of my considerable mathematical prowess, despite never having achieved the requisite grade thirty-five years ago to "Wee Jimmy" Thompson's eternal dismay. Fear not!

You didn't really believe that I had worked out all those sums in the old head, which takes an extra hat size thanks to all that fish I consume, did you?

Instead, I make good use of the Bank of England's ingenious Inflation Calculator. Try it and see.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Home Again

We got home at about one-thirty this afternoon. The baby two-seater is a diminutive "flying-machine", effortlessly cruising at 70mph - at least - and passing most other vehicles.

A sort of sea mist arrived at Portballintrae yesterday evening and, consequently, the temperature dropped. This morning it was cloudier and cooler.

We had intended lunching at the very good Bushmills Garden Centre, though decided to drive straight home. Meals out have been generally a touch disappointing; no match for, say, Beatrice Kennedy's shoulder of lamb. We try to vary our restaurants whilst up at "the Port", so didn't make the Bushmills Inn or Ramore on this occasion.

I shall have my sixty-length swim at the Sports Club, as usual, this evening.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Seaport Walk

It has proved practically impossible to get an Internet connection in Portballintrae, which seems to be "wi-fi unfriendly" or backwards in that sense! The only place where I can get a connection is in the Bayview Hotel, where I sit presently sipping a small shandy. I drove round the village and down several avenues to no avail. Have none of the residents got BT Broadband, Openzone or signed up to BT Fon, the online community with free wi-fi?

I went for a walk after breakfast this morning, towards Seaport Lodge. The builders have been working on the house for a few years, as can be seen by the girders skewering through it.

Continuing down to the shore, I walked back past the sand martin colony at the cliff. Had I equipment like Craig’s, it would have been easy to take a snap of these fine little birds flying in and out of their holes in the cliff-side. Instead I have a modest Canon Powershot A480.

I am minded to drive into Coleraine, County Londonderry, later.

Later we drove over the bridge at the River Bann and headed towards Downhill demesne. It's ages since I last was here and the weather is so fine today. I walked through the walled garden, past the dovecote and across the field to Mussenden Temple; then inland to the ruin of the Earl-Bishop's once-great palace, now bereft of its treasures, masterpieces and statuary.

I have bought a "shortie" wetsuit! I found one in Sainsbury's at Coleraine. It fits perfectly. The only trouble is that the sea is still freezing! Even with a wetsuit.

Friday, 21 May 2010

At Portballintrae

We motored up to Portballintrae at the north coast of County Antrim this morning and arrived about eleven forty-five. Hurrah! The Bannaghmore Road, which runs from Bushmills to Portballintrae, has been re-surfaced at last.

We stopped at the Bayview Hotel and I reserved a table for this evening.

After lunch at my aunt's house, we drove into Portrush where, at a shop called Trogg's, I tried on several pairs of "shortie" wetsuits; and, in the process, stubbed my little toe on something in the shop, causing a bit of a bloody gash - I was wearing flip-flops.

Thence we motored into the lovely village of Bushmills and I bought some groceries.

We have just finished our meal at the hotel and the dining-room is "buzzing" with noise and very busy indeed. They have free wi-fi, which is handy because I am unable to get a connection at my aunt's.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

The Mighty Ocelot

Whilst, aesthetically speaking, it is no beauty, this could be the Army's successor to the Land Rover "Snatch". Here is a review and video.

It is called the Ocelot. It looks a bit like a Caterpillar dumper truck with the back cut off!

  • 7.5 tons fully loaded
  • 3.2 litre turbo engine
  • £500,000 each
  • 215 bhp
  • 75mph, governed
  • 0-50mph in 19.75 seconds
  • 18mpg

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Prime Ministerial Car

The new Secretary of State for the Home Department already has one and the new Prime Minister awaits one, too.

It is the brand new Jaguar XJ; doubtless armour-plated and long wheel-base for the PM.

I presume that, unlike our lot up at Stormont, they were not tempted by a fleet of Skodas, good as they (the Skodas!) are.

I, for one, am glad that the Government, unlike the Folks on the Hill, is supporting British Industry.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

PC Installation

The new computer is, more or less, installed and functioning. The Microsoft Easy Tranfer seems to have done its job very well, my files and settings all magically appearing.

Outlook Express has disappeared, though. They urged me to transfer everything to Windows Live which I have, accordingly, done. I have also added my webmail - Hotmail - accounts to Windows Live, which is progress, I suppose.

I have removed the old computer and I'll store it upstairs for a few months before I take any drastic action.

I'm still trying to figure out how best to open new windows in Windows 7. I know that sounds elementary, but there are now no Quick Launch icons to click on at the bottom. It will take awhile to get accustomed to.

The new PC seems good, however, being largely wireless; so it connects to the Home Hub wirelessly and there are less cables and wires hanging down.

Monday, 17 May 2010

DVLNI Progress

I have received an encouraging reply from DVLNI about online payments:-

"Vehicle licensing is not a devolved matter and responsibility rests with the Department of Transport in London, which, in turn has delegated this function to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) in Swansea. In carrying out vehicle licensing in Northern Ireland the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) is effectively working for the DVLA.

Unfortunately, for several reasons, DVLA have not enabled the DVA to provide a number of facilities in Northern Ireland (although these services are currently available in Great Britain).

However, I am pleased to tell you that DVLA have recently agreed that certain services should now be developed for customers in Northern Ireland. This most certainly will involve looking at providing an on-line service. It is anticipated that work will commence on this project shortly."

New PC

My new desktop computer has arrived, just before lunch-time. It's a Dell Inspiron One 19 and I expect it has the latest technology including Windows 7. It is an "all-in-one" computer.

The Microsoft Windows Easy Transfer method facillitates the tranfer of files and settings from the old PC to the new one without a cable.

Hopefully I'll have it up and running soon.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

At the Dirty Duck

I was at the Dirty Duck Ale House in Holywood, County Down, last night. I'd arranged to meet up with an old school pal, so I cycled down to Sydenham railway station, left the bike among the bushes (locked), and waited for the 6.21 to Holywood.

Slight snag: I was waiting on the wrong side! The train approached and I hadn't time to scramble over the foot-bridge in time, so I missed it and had to wait for the 6.51.

Pete had missed the 6.21 too, so we both alighted from the 6.51 at the same time. I haven't been in the Dirty Duck for ages, so it was good to see it once again. The proprietor's wife and I used to work in the Bank many, many moons ago. I didn't spot her on this occasion.

We got a table downstairs, ordered a round and meal. We both had the scampi, which was excellent: light batter, good sized scampi, home-made chips of varying sizes, good tartare sauce, a dressed side-salad. most enjoyable, the best I'd had for a long time and a nice crowd, too. This establishment specializes in ales to the extent that there is even one called the Dirty Duck.

I've written a very brief history of these premises. I'd forgotten that it formerly traded as the Waterfront, to add to all its other past names.

A musician began to play at about ten-thirty, though we had to leave because the last train departed at 10.46 or thereabouts. By the way, the Dirty Duck seems to have musicians most weekends and one which caught my eye was the Alan McKelvey Band. I was at prep school with an Alan McKelvey and we were good pals. He had a brother called Reuben and they lived at Malone Park in Belfast. Could this possibly be the same person I was at school with?

The meal and four or five rounds cost almost £50. My bike was still in its place when I went to retrieve it, by the way; and I managed to cycle home without any mishaps!

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Backward DVLNI

I received my annual car tax reminder from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency of Northern Ireland (DVLNI) by snail mail during the week.

Car Tax can be renewed online in England and Wales. I saw an advertising campaign about this recently on the television. Is the service available in Scotland?

So, it seems, one rummages through the wardrobe, unearths the cheque-book, writes out a cheque with the old fountain pen, completes their form, encloses the cheque and insurance certificate in brown envelope provided, sticks a stamp thereon, and finds the most convenient pillar-box.

What has changed with them in fifty years? Might one gently suggest that they enter the 21st century?

I can certainly be reactionary in some instances - resistant to change, especially if it is retrograde; nevertheless, I do embrace new technology.

Here is the response I received from :-

"It is unknown, at present, if Northern Ireland will introduce this facility. If you have any further queries, do not hesitate to contact me. Regards, Lesley, Vehicle Licensing Enquiries".

I have sent a copy of this article to the Department of the Environment NI for the attention of the Minister; and to the relevant agency.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Prince Charles in NI: Day Three

His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales has met former Royal Ulster Constabulary officers during the final engagement of his three-day visit to Northern Ireland.

Prince Charles was shown around a RUC memorial garden at the police GHQ in east Belfast.

The Garden contains a roll of honour with the names of officers killed or who died in service from 1922 to 2001, when the RUC was replaced.

HRH helped to plant a yew tree in the headquarters' grounds.

He had been greeted by Dame Mary Peters DBE, HM Lord-Lieutenant of Belfast and went on to meet the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP; the Lord Mayor of Belfast; NI Justice Minister, David Ford; and the Chief Constable, Matt Baggott CBE QPM.

Following a private meeting with the chief constable, HRH met the police senior command team, injured officers and police families.

Prince Charles opened the garden in September 2003.

HRH is Royal Patron of the RUC George Cross Foundation, and he was accompanied on a tour of the garden by its chairman, Jim McDonald CBE LVO JP DL.

"The royal connection is there because the RUC was among a very small number of royal forces: it is something we cherish and we won't let go," he said.

Squire Swire!

I note that Hugo Swire MP, 50, has been appointed Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office. He used to be a director of Sotheby's, the famous auction-house in Bond Street.

Bill Montgomery, at Grey Abbey, springs to mind. He has been Sotheby's representative in Northern Ireland for many years; so I'm sure he'll know the new Minister.

Councillor Danny Kinahan MLA, formerly Christie's representative and whose family seat is at Castle Upton, also probably knows Mr Swire who used to work at the National Gallery in London.

Swire married Alexandra (Sasha) Nott, the daughter of John Nott, the former Secretary of State for Defence in December 1996, at Kensington. The couple have two daughters (born June 1997 and August 2001).

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Prince Charles in NI: Day Two

His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales visited the National Trust today, the second day of his trip to Northern Ireland.

HRH met staff and volunteers at Mount Stewart, County Down, and enjoyed a tour of the unique and extensive gardens. He also planted a Japanese Katsura tree to commemorate the occasion.

The Trust's Spade Maker, Colin Dawson, assisted with the planting. The spade used was made at Patterson's Spade Mill in Templepatrick, County Antrim.

After sampling local lavender-flavoured ice cream, the Prince viewed the 18th century house, including portraits, sculptures and memorabilia. The paintings included the Hambletonian Rubbing Down by the 18th century artist George Stubbs.

HRH was welcomed by the National Trust regional chairman, Mr Roy Bailie, at a reception with around eighty guests. He accepted a gift of a handcrafted wooden bowl made from Mount Stewart yew.

Prince Charles also visited the award-winning Barnwell Farm in the Ards Peninsula, County Down.

The farm owner, Michael Calvert, beat national competition to win the 2009 National Nature of Farming award for his management of the Greyabbey farm which can trace its heritage back more than 200 years.

HRH toured the farmland, taking a special interest in the rough grass margins habitat and restored coppiced hedge.

He spoke to a local hedge-laying expert and discussed a small display of traditional and modern hedging tools.

At a separate meeting, HRH talked with the RSPB about the importance of providing habitats for declining bird populations.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Prince Charles in NI

His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales has arrived in Northern Ireland.

HRH travelled to the Royal Ulster Agricultural Show (RUAS) at the King's Hall complex in south Belfast.

He was greeted by a number of dignitaries, including the Lord Mayor of Belfast and Dame Mary Peters DBE, HM Lord-Lieutenant of Belfast.

HRH also met Dr Malcolm McKibbin, Permanent Secretary, DARD, Robin Morrow, John Bamber and Colin McDonald from the RUAS.

At the show, Prince Charles toured and met livestock exhibitors, judges and stewards.

In the Garden Village at the complex, HRH will also have the opportunity to view the flower arranging, bee keeping and Young Farmers Club (YFC) exhibits.

HRH is due to present prizes to breed champions in the course of the afternoon.

Lady & the Tramp!

We always what a great actor he was. Now the general public genuinely believed him to be a tramp! None other than Sir Ian McKellen, CH, CBE, was getting a bit of fresh air outside the theatre when a passer-by gave him some cash!

County Down Landowners

Continuing with my county series of great landowners, I arrive at the county of Down. This county has had a high number of country estates, some vast and others more modest. This is a relative term in the 21st century, because many demesnes in the county were between five and ten thousand acres, which is very large indeed by today's standards.

I propose, initially, to focus on the ten biggest demesnes in the county. Thereafter, as with the other counties, I shall probably revisit them and write about any felt to have been inadvertently omitted.

Narcissus Batt, the Belfast banker, lived at Purdysburn House outside Belfast. Coupled with a large estate in the mountains of Mourne, Batt owned 12,010 acres. I have a paucity of information about Purdysburn House so, if anyone reading this can help, I'd be greatly obliged.

The Hon Sir Robert Henry Meade GCB, 2nd son of 3rd Earl of Clanwilliam, inherited the Meade family's Rathfriland Estate, extending to 13,492 acres.

Ballywalter Park, the fine demesne of 1st Baron Dunleath, comprised 13,506 acres in Victorian times.

The Marquess of Dufferin and Ava's principal country seat was Clandeboye House, near Bangor in County Down. It extended to 18,238 acres.

The Forde family owned 20,106 acres of land and their residence was Seaforde House.

Montalto House and its fine demesne was acquired by the Ker family, having purchased the estate from Lord Moira. It was 20,544 acres in size.

The Marquess of Londonderry was a very substantial landowner, not merely in County Down but also in County Durham. In Ulster the Londonderrys owned 23,554 acres.

Castlewellan Castle used to be the seat of the Earls Annesley. They owned much of the Mourne Mountains and the surrounding area. Their land holdings comprised 24,221 acres.

The Earls of Kilmorey owned huge amounts of land and their country seat was at Mourne Park, near Kilkeel. 40,902 acres.

The greatest landowner in County Down was the Marquess of Downshire, whose seat was Hillsborough Castle. Lord Downshire at one time owned almost 13% of the county, with 78,051 acres. This holding made the Downshires possibly Ulster's greatest landowners.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Appointment of New Prime Minister

The following statement has been announced from Buckingham Palace:-

The Queen received the Right Honourable David Cameron this evening and requested him to form a new administration. The Right Honourable David Cameron accepted Her Majesty’s offer and Kissed Hands upon his appointment as Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury.

Prime Minister's Resignation

The following statement is from Buckingham Palace this evening:-

The Right Honourable Gordon Brown had an Audience of The Queen this evening and tendered his resignation as Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury, which Her Majesty accepted.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Greenfinch Deaths

We heard a banging noise from one of the windows five minutes ago, and that only means one thing - a bird hitting the window.

I immediately went outside to investigate and there were two male greenfinches, both lying within a foot of each other, dead, on the ground. Two.

I wonder if one was pursuing the other; or if they were having an argument...

The 46" Belt

Does such a belt exist? I imagine it does. I was in central Belfast briefly this morning, undertaking some research at the library about the Batt family, of Purdysburn House; subsequently paying a visit to Marks and Spencer in order to buy a belt.

An acquaintance of mine suffered a stroke and is presently recuperating at a residential home. He requires a size 46" belt in order to prevent his trousers from falling down (which actually happened last week!), and advised me that they were available at M&S. He told me they were plastic and cost £3.

I ventured in and found quite a selection of belts, the cheapest being £5, plastic and made in China. No Size 46, though.

Oh well, I shall try elsewhere before reporting back to him! He was adamant that the belt was to be from Marks and Spencer.

First Chick

When I got up and looked out of the bedroom window on Sunday morning, something immediately caught my eye. The bird feeders are usually the first thing I look at, and there was a female sparrow pecking at the peanuts.

Then I noticed a sparrow chick on the ground some feet away. The adult flew down and began feeding its youngster, which was fluttering its wings and opening its beak. Every time the chick turned round, the adult hopped over in the same direction!

Wasn't that a wonderful start to the day?

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Jollye PC World!

Silly pun, I know. We went for a drive to Groomsport and Bangor today. I treated the Dowager to a whippy ice-cream at Ballyholme. We motored down to Groomsport harbour, where there was an enormous motor-home complete with satellite dish attached to its roof!

We drove home via PC World, the computer store at Clandeboye Shopping Centre, where a neat desk-top computer intrigued me. The Dell Inspiron One 19 is an all-in-one computer and they were selling it with a touch-screen for £499. I see that Dell sell the non-touch-screen version for £50 less by mail order. What does one do with the old computer? Similar problem as with old televisions, I expect.

From there we went across to Jollye's, the pet food store, where I replenished my stock of bird food with a sack of nyjer seeds and a sack of black sunflower hearts, which set me back £46!

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Piratical Romp

I was in Belfast yesterday evening for a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance at the Grand Opera House.

I dined at Beatrice Kennedy's on University Road, opting for the Express Menu which offered a fair selection. I chose the smoked salmon salad for a starter; followed by slow roast shoulder of lamb with mash and some concoction of vegetables.

The meal was truly sumptuous. I had the most delicious lamb, mouth-wateringly tender, served in a sort of cylindrical roll similar in shape to a small cola can. There was plenty of it, too. I can honestly say that I have not had such a good meal for ages.

The bill, including a bottle of Italian sparkling water, came to £16.75 and I left a £2 tip - feeling generous! Thence I travelled along University Road and Shaftesbury Square to Great Victoria Street, where I managed to get a parking space opposite a Chinese establishment called the Red Panda.

The Europa Hotel
was busier on Friday night. There was a black tie function hosted by an institute of some sort. I went up to the counter and ordered a modest restorative, viz. a Bombay gin and tonic; took out the Mini 9 and I am presently writing this article in the Piano Bar.

I moved onwards to the opera house and found my seat, B2 which, though far from ideal owing to its position, had a fairly good prospect. This amateur production of The Pirates, by the New Lyric Operatic Company, was very well done indeed. I do not wish to single out any particular player because, on the whole, they all did very well. The "New Lyric's twenty-piece orchestra" was good, too.

There was some crackling and interference from the audio system at times! Other than that, I've no complaints at all. The costumes they hired were impressive, the pirates dressed in scarlet robes and coronets at the conclusion - barons, viscounts and earls!

Friday, 7 May 2010

Electoral Result

How must Peter Robinson be feeling this morning, having lost a Westminster seat he has held for thirty-one years? The Earldom of Belmont lies within the constituency of Belfast East.

I can just recall Robinson's predecessor, William Craig, who complacently let the solidly Ulster Unionist seat go to Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists for sixty-four votes.

I am a Conservative and Unionist. That should come as no surprise to anyone who regularly reads this blog. I have been conservative in outlook ever since I stopped wearing shorts.

I must, nevertheless, congratulate Ms Long, now the Member of Parliament for Belfast East, in what must have been a well-fought campaign. I watched the Election 2010 on BBC HD till about two this morning and certainly raised my eye-brows when I heard the astounding news that Robinson had lost his seat. I'm wondering if Loyalist voters have given their support to her, erstwhile Progressive Unionist Party voters? It shouldn't surprise me at all.

East Belfast has had Alliance Party tendencies for many years. Dr John - now Lord - Alderdice usually received a plausible number of votes in the constituency; though I must say I never thought they'd actually win the seat.

The bigger picture, throughout the United Kingdom, is more muddled and the result is disappointing for everyone. I'd like to have seen a substantial Conservative majority, putting beyond doubt the end of thirteen long years of the Blair-Brown regime.

Perhaps there shall be another general election sooner than we thought; in which case I shall re-evaluate my voting strategy in East Belfast in the hope that at least a Unionist candidate is returned, not a Party which sits on the fence and is deemed to be "Pro-Union".

Thursday, 6 May 2010

The Search Feature

A quick mention, for those who are new to the blog and anyone else unaware of a most helpful Search facility at the top left-hand corner of my blog. Simply enter any key word in the empty white box, click on the magnifying-glass symbol immediately beside the box and my articles with that word will appear. I have written 1,357 posts so you never know - you might even have been mentioned!

I encountered my veteran swimming pal, Robert, yesterday at the Linen Hall library. Robert must be almost a nonagenarian by now, and still swims a few lengths most days at the sports club. He collapsed at the top of the library stairs awhile ago and fainted. He seems fine now and awaits the result of some tests which his doctor will disclose. Robert told me that he might have to get a heart pace-maker fitted and I flippantly quipped that he'd get stopped and searched at every airport security desk! I know he shan't be reading this, but I wish him well and hope he, and his wife, are able to get away to the sun later in the year without any difficulties, including insurance.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Portillo Moment?

I wonder if there'll be any Michael Portillo Moments at the General Election on Friday? For the benefit of readers living overseas, Michael Portillo was a senior Cabinet Minister who unexpectedly lost his Enfield Southgate seat at the 1997 general election; political commentators widely believe that he would have been elected Conservative leader had he retained it.

Many in the Electorate yearn for more Portillo Moments because it makes the whole mundane process more exciting and entertaining. I even writhed myself when he lost his seat. They were all lined up on the stage and the returning officer exclaimed, "Michael Exayvier (that's how he pronounced it!) Portillo, xxxxx votes". I heard one senior Labour cabinet minister describing the current Prime Minister as being a "big beast". Well, out in the field, we take pot-shots at big beasts, putting them out of their misery and hanging their heads on the walls.

Many observers believe that Mr Balls is perched on a rather precarious seat. Who else could suffer that Portillo Moment? I'll savour watching it!

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Worst PM Ever

''I believe Gordon Brown has been the worst prime minister we have had in this country.

''It is a disgrace and he owes an apology to the people and the Queen.''

Not Timothy Belmont's words. The words of Mr Sood, Labour candidate for North-West Norfolk.

Need I say any more?

Monday, 3 May 2010

Post-Nominal Letters II

I have already posted my top 22 post-nominal letters. Here is my continuation of the list, which is selective and excludes some obsolescent awards:-

23    RRC
24    DSC

25    MC
26    DFC 
27    AFC
 28  ARRC
 29  DCM 
30   GM
 31  DSM 
32   MM 
33   DFM
 34  AFM 
35   SGM
 36  QGM
 37  QPM 
38   QFSM 
39   ERD
40   TD

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Lewis Wins

It is inevitable. During bank holiday weekends there are some half-decent programmes which clash on different channels.

This evening, while the 2010 World Snooker Championship, between Graeme Dott and Neil Robertson, predominates BBC2, Series Four of Lewis commences on ITV1 HD with The Dead of Winter, the setting a stately home with surrounding parkland, lake, summer-house and great characters. Joining Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox is a star-studded cast including Clare Holman and Rebecca Front; and guest stars Sophie Ward, Alan Davies, Rupert Graves, Nathaniel Parker, Diana Quick, Robert Hardy, Timothy West, John Sessions, Niamh Cusack, Nicholas Farrell, Juliet Aubrey and Stella Gonet.

I expect I'll watch the snooker till eight-thirty, when Lewis begins; then switch back at ten-thirty. The snooker does continue on Monday, the May Day Holiday, after all.

Snooker Bribe

If it is true that the current snooker world champion, John Higgins MBE, allegedly agreed to accept a bribe in order to deliberately lose four separate matches this year, such a shameful act would bring professional snooker into disrepute.

The World Snooker chairman, Barry Hearn, is quoted as saying: "If true, these allegations are a very serious matter indeed and a massive, massive blow to the integrity of the sport". He said an inquiry would be launched.

John Higgins reportedly has career winnings, to date, of £4.8M. Higgins was appointed MBE in the 2008 New Year Honours.

I find it all most deplorable.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

The Legendary Red Hand

The Red Hand is a main feature of the O'Neill coat-of-arms (above).

Long ago it was said that a Viking ship was approaching the coast of Ulster and the captain told his crew that the first sailor who touched the shore with his right hand would have it for himself. Two sailors then lowered themselves into coracles and rowed for the shore.

One of the sailors was called Niel, a popular Scandinavian name.

He was losing the race but was eager to have the land, so Niel cut off his right hand and tossed it to shore. Consequently, his right hand became red with blood.

The red hand of O'Neill eventually became the emblem of Ulster.

When JAMES I initiated the Plantation of Ulster he created the order of Baronet which His Majesty sold for £1,000 a time.

He chose the Red Hand as the Order's insignia though, unfortunately, a herald erroneously used the left instead of the right hand and there has been confusion ever since!

The present Lord O'Neill KCVO TD is 4th Baron and lives at Shane's Castle in County Antrim.

At the Bay Tree

We had our customary coffee and cinnamon scones at the Bay Tree in Holywood, County Down, this morning. It wasn't too busy and we managed to find a table easily. The Bay Tree still seems to be evergreen and thriving, their latest accolade being an entry in the Bridgestone Guide.

I parked the baby two-seater at the compact car-park to the rear of the Bay Tree and they opened the French window for the Dowager, which was good.

Oh, for simple pleasures! I received a post-card this morning, with a first-class stamp thereon, and it wasn't franked. I tore it off, soaked it in a saucer of water and then the stamp peeled off effortlessly, good as new.