Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Taxing Issues

I was in central Belfast again today for my appointment with the Tax Office. All the pertinent and requisite certificates were produced and it all seems most sanguine. I hope to receive a letter from them in September.

Thence I walked over to W H Smith, stationers, and bought some Thank You cards. They have a fair selection.

The larger bedroom I'm now using at home has ghastly curtains; or, at least, they do not fit properly. I ambled into the Spinning Wheel and chose a pair which should suffice in the interim, though I might require extra "black-out" lining later.

I'd intended to lunch in Town, though it was far too early and I wasn't particularly hungry anyway.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010


I motored up to the swimming-pool yesterday evening in the expectation that I'd be able to enjoy some swimming prior to the old school's closure at the end of term.

Disappointingly, and for the umpteenth time, the place was deserted, scaffolding lined one wall and the cover was on top of the pool.

Members had been told, by email, that the pool would be closed last week for pump maintenance. I understand the Sports Club when they would say that the matter is beyond their control.

I have no confidence in the day-to-day supervision at the swimming-pool; moreover, I'd have sacked at least one person many years ago.

Earlier on Monday I moved my main computer and printer into another bedroom in order to see whether it would be preferable there, or not. By the end of the day I'd taken it all back into its old location!

Monday, 28 June 2010

Sunday, 27 June 2010

A Sunday Occupation

I have been moving bedding and furniture into a larger bedroom today. I dislike teak. I'll phone the Council in order to have it removed imminently.

That was my principal exercise of the day. I simply could not be bothered making myself a dinner so, instead, I have made smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches on wholemeal bread; with a few glasses of Chardonnay and a Cognac.

I am listening to Purcell on my hi-fi system, which consists of large KEF 3 or 4 foot speakers, Musical Fidelity Class A amplifier and Marantz Signature CD player.

Royal Swan Upping

Swan Upping, the annual census of the swan population on the River Thames, was announced yesterday by David Barber, The Queen’s Swan Marker.

This year’s Swan Upping will start on Monday 19th July, departing from Sunbury Lock and ending at Abingdon, Oxfordshire on Friday 23rd July.

The ceremony of Swan Upping dates from the twelfth century and takes place during the third week of July every year. In 2010 The Queen travelled up the River Thames to witness the historic ceremony for the first time.

It has always been the duty of the Sovereign’s Swan Marker to count the number of young cygnets each year and ensure that the swan population is maintained. With the assistance of The Queen’s Swan Warden, Professor Christopher Perrins of the University of Oxford, the swans and young cygnets are also assessed for any signs of injury or disease.

Swan Upping dates from medieval times, when The Crown claimed ownership of all mute swans which were considered an important food source for banquets and feasts. Today The Crown retains the right of ownership of all unmarked mute swans in open water, but The Queen mainly exercises this right on certain stretches of the River Thames and its surrounding tributaries. This ownership is shared with the Vintners' and Dyers' Livery Companies who were granted rights of ownership by The Crown in the fifteenth century. The swans are counted but are no longer eaten.

The Queen's Swan Marker and the accompanying Swan Uppers of the Vintners' and Dyers' Livery Companies use six traditional Thames rowing skiffs in their five-day journey upstream to Abingdon. By tradition scarlet uniforms are worn by The Queen's Swan Marker and Swan Uppers, and each boat flies the appropriate flag and pennant.

The cygnets are weighed and measured to obtain estimates of growth rates and the birds are examined for any sign of injury, commonly caused by fishing hook and line. The cygnets are ringed with individual identification numbers by The Queen's Swan Warden, whose role is scientific and non-ceremonial. The Queen's Swan Marker produces an annual report after Swan Upping detailing the number of swans, broods and cygnets counted during the week.

Apart from Swan Upping, The Queen's Swan Marker has other duties. He advises organisations throughout the country about swan welfare and incidents involving swans, he monitors the health of the local swan population and advises fishing and boating organisations how to work with wildlife. The Queen’s Swan Marker works closely with swan-rescue organisations and supervises the rescue of sick and injured swans. He also co-ordinates the removal of swans from stretches of the river Thames used for summer rowing regattas.

European Union's Absurdity

The European Union will attempt to ban us selling eggs by the dozen or even half-dozen. Are they being serious? I noticed the article in the Telegraph, which I now read online instead of the Sunday Times (I ought to have begun years ago).

If I had any say in the matter I'd tell them to go and boil their heads, not their eggs. Who do they think they are, dictating what we must and must not do?

Utterly outrageous.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Super Dirty Duck

It was worth the ride. Three and a half hours of pleasure. The Dirty Duck's hard to beat in midsummer. Plenty of lovely girls to admire. Another bonus was a complimentary return journey, courtesy of Northern Ireland Railways, for Lord Belmont. A touch more velour upholstery and walnut panelling wouldn't have gone amiss, though. The chap who issued the tickets was distracted by teenage revellers.

I had the fare ready, though nobody collected it. Both ways.

The Dirty Duck Bar was as busy as usual. I had their "deli" hamburger with all the trimmings; and about five Bombay Sapphire gin and tonics!

I dumped the trusty bicycle in the bushes, as usual; and it was still in situ when I returned. Splendid!

Responsible Chief Constable

I applaud the Chief Constable for apprehending a speeding motorist. Indeed I find it admirable. I'd also like him to tackle motorists who habitually drive whilst using a mobile phone.

I was driving through Kircubbin in County Down last Monday when my phone rang. I stopped the car and answered the call.

A Divis Day

Timothy Belmont is presently imbibing a modest Chardonnay restorative, having laboriously shifted some furniture from one bedroom to another. I intend to use a larger bedroom, which has more wardrobe space.

I have just spent an agreeable day at the National Trust's Divis and Black Mountain property. We were working on a gravel path close to the Long Barn (above).

Notably we spotted a red kite hovering near Divis Lodge. I wonder if it had a nest nearby...

The Lord Bannside

I've been a bit behind the times this week; however, I noticed in a paper last night that the Rev Ian Paisley, 2nd First Minister of Northern Ireland, has chosen his title as the Right Honourable Ian Richard Kyle Baron Bannside PC. The barony is a life peerage and is non-hereditary.

The title was revealed on the 18th June and Lord Bannside will be introduced in to the House of Lords on the 5th July, 2010.

Lady Bannside has a life barony in her own right as the Baroness Paisley of St George's.

Lord and Lady Bannside's five children are all entitled to use the prefix "Honourable" before their names.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Life Carries On

My life is gradually returning to normal, if that's the right word. I have already begun putting my mother's belongings in black bin-bags, almost a dozen. My aunts will help me to sort out the wheat from the chaff, as it were.

I have made another appointment with the Tax Man next week. I am going to a concert this evening.

I reiterate that I wish to express heartfelt thanks to everyone who has helped and supported me, including messages from friends, bloggers, followers and others.

I know that my mother would have wanted me to carry on and enjoy myself.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

The Funeral

It is over. It began at the usual hour this morning, when I showered and spruced myself up; then pootered about a bit.

Some members of the family arrived at ten o'clock. The limousine picked us up at ten-thirty and we were driven to the funeral chapel.

Without going in to the detail, it was a lovely little service. I was heartened to see so many old friends, colleagues and cousins.

Quite often, matters do not turn out as one had feared, and I bore up reasonably well. My uncle gave a fine eulogy. Everyone was invited home after the funeral and we had tea, coffee, drinks, sandwiches and some cocktail sausages. I particularly wish to thank my aunt and uncle for arranging the sandwiches; and Craig and Anna, who most kindly provided a tray of scones.

I'll most likely have an early night tonight and, hopefully, waken refreshed on Friday morning.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

HSH The Sovereign Prince of Monaco

His Serene Highness The Sovereign Prince of Monaco is engaged to a former South African swimmer, Charlene Wittstock.

The Royal Palace officially announced the engagement of the couple on Wednesday morning.

Prince Albert, 52, began dating the former schoolteacher and backstroke champion, 32, four years ago, after she visited Monaco for a swimming competition.

No date has yet been set for the wedding, which will be the first of a reigning prince of the Grimaldi family since Prince Albert's father, Prince Rainer III, married the Hollywood actress, Grace Kelly, in 1956.

Final Preparations

I have been "on the go" all day today. I received about six letters of condolence in the post; paid a visit to the gym; revisited the shops in order to buy some wine, Scotch whisky and tonic-water (utterly essential); popped in to the Tax Office again; and I've mown the lawn, too.

There is no doubt: folks rally round and are most supportive.

Swedish Royal Wedding

Her Royal Highness The Crown Princess of Sweden, Duchess of Västergötland, was married at Stockholm Cathedral to Mr Daniel Westling, who has assumed the title HRH Prince Daniel, Duke of Västergötland.

TRH The Earl and Countess of Wessex represented HM The Queen.

More than 1,000 guests were invited to the wedding ceremony which took place at Storkyrkan. A wedding banquet took place at Drottningholm Palace two days before the wedding with a concert at the Concert Hall, where the Nobel Prizes are handed out. A royal parade aboard the Vasaorden also took place. Operakällaren (The Opera Cellar) was the restaurateur for the Crown Princess Couple’s wedding banquet on June 19th. Royalty and statesmen from all over the world were present. The wedding was covered by 2300 media representatives, most notably from Norway (76), Finland (57), Spain (42), UK (38), France (36), Denmark (34), Japan (22), The Netherlands(19) and Belgium (17).

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Duchess of Gloucester in Ulster

Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Gloucester, Countess of Ulster, GCVO, today visited Fleming Fulton School where, as Patron, she opened a new Home Economics facility. Her Royal Highness became Patron in 1987 and takes a keen interest in the development of the school and has visited the premises on a number of occasions.

On arrival HRH was greeted by Sir Nigel Hamilton KCB DL, Vice Lord-Lieutenant of the County Borough of Belfast.

Her Royal Highness, accompanied by the School Principal, Mr Jeremy Taylor, met representatives of the Board of Governors and examined the plans of the new school playground and viewed the proposed site.

In the Primary One classroom HRH met Mrs Barbara Boyd, Primary Teacher along with classroom assistants and a number of pupils aged five to six years engaged in classroom activities.

In the Home Economics facility HRH met Mrs Mura Kennedy and Mrs Catherine Foster, Home Economics teachers and a number of pupils engaged in Home Economics and cookery activities.

In the Main Hall HRH viewed pupils performing a short musical piece from “The Wizard of Oz” and watched a short film entitled “Class Clowns” directed by Year 8 pupils for the 2010 Teaching Awards. After the performance HRH went on to meet Mrs Nora O’Baoill, Art Teacher, and the pupils who produced the film.

After a few words of welcome from Mr Taylor, HRH was invited to unveil a plaque to commemorate the visit and the opening of the Home Economics facility. Daniel Wake, a post-16 programme pupil, then presented HRH with a gift of a framed print produced by himself for his GCSE Art & Design examination.

Marking the end of the engagement HRH accepted an invitation from Matthew Smyth, former Head Boy, and Chloe Halligan Head Girl, to cut a celebration cake.

More Preparations

It has been another day of preparing the house for mourners after my mother's funeral. Some furniture has been re-arranged; silverware polished (which is detested); ensuring that an adequate amount of crockery is clean and ready.

Guests will be offered sherry and tea, so I bought another bottle of pale cream sherry; a bottle of VSOP Cognac; a bottle of Tanqueray gin; vodka; fruit juice and some disposable cream serviettes.

A slightly flippant observation: weddings and funerals are expensive!

Monday, 21 June 2010

Advance Plans

My cousin came over this evening in order to help me move a bed and dining-table into other rooms. Musical chairs! Well I'm pleased that it is now done.

Tomorrow I'll get the house ready for visitors on Thursday after the Service. I have no idea how many to expect, though my uncle and aunt have arranged for Randal's coffee-house to provide the food.

I've had so many things on my mind that I often lose track as to which day it is! By and large, I feel that I'm bearing up well, so far. On Thursday, I'll most likely need to be drugged up to the hilt, demi-sozzled or both.

I intend to wear my morning-coat, striped trousers, grey double-breasted waistcoat and black tie; and possibly carry my black top hat. I really do not care what anyone thinks. If I wish to dress that way, I'll do it. Others can do like-wise.

The Reverend Joan Scott visited me this evening and I was most impressed. She's a truly lovely person.

Thank You

I simply wish to express my sincere appreciation to friends and readers for your support and encouragement at a difficult time for me.

The funeral will be on Thursday. I have been at the hospital today to collect a document; then the Register Office; thence to the funeral director.

Heartfelt thanks to everyone.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Margaret Johnston 1925-2010

My dear mother passed away peacefully at 22:00 in hospital this evening.

The Dowager

I received a phone call from the hospital at lunch-time asking me to visit immediately because my mother was unwell.

My mother is gravely ill and my uncle and aunt have travelled from the Mournes to mount a bedside vigil with me.

I am desperately concerned.

Ulster Hall Concert

I attended my first concert in several months last night, at the Ulster Hall in Belfast. It was a BBC Invitation Concert with the Ulster Orchestra. The conductor, Courtney Lewis, and the soloist, Cathal Breslin, were both born in Northern Ireland.

The Hall was about 90% full. I handed my e-ticket in as I walked past and up the stairs; then realized that I hadn't received a programme, so I reserved my seat and ran downstairs. There was a big girl standing with programmes at the foyer counter, propping it up - or so it seemed. I thought that she could have lost a few calories and gained a modicum of exercise, had she plodded over to the people arriving and handed out her programmes instead of nonchalantly chatting to a colleague.

The layout of the orchestra was different last night, the cellists now directly opposite the conductor; while the double bassists were separated, several to the left of the conductor and a few to the right. Bandanna Man, the fiddler, has relocated to the right of the conductor, too.

The programme consisted of Brahms' Tragic Overture, Tchaikovsky's 1st Piano Concerto and Beethoven's 4th Symphony.

Restore the Lobster Pot!

I know I'll undoubtedly be accused of being nostalgic, regressive, idealistic and unrealistic - have I left anything out? - nevertheless, if the Lobster Pot bar and restaurant in Strangford, County Down, ever wishes to restore its old magic of the 70s and 80s, it surely needs to get rid of the hard surfaces, bare floorboards and stone. There must be photographs and documents somewhere with the decor and menu of the original Lobster Pot. As somebody once said, let's have thick carpets, thick curtains, thick upholstery and thick, rich mahogany.

Somebody needlessly and unwisely destroyed its essential character fifteen or twenty years ago when they gutted it out and dumped its features in a skip. They went on to waste money on its infrastructure.

Why not restore it? Give it back its original nautical theme, the original layout with the lounge-bar to the rear; velour, semi-circular banquette seating with crescent-shaped mahogany tables and thick carpeting; and many more features which made it what it was thirty years ago. Consult former owners of the 70s and 80s, if necessary.

The à la carte menu was exemplary, with every conceivable vegetable and dish. The owner's wife personally attended to diners, with the large padded and bound menus under her arm. Such personal attention contributed in establishing the restaurant as one of the very best in the county.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Shameful Restaurateurs

The former owners of the The Lobster Pot restaurant in Strangford, County Down, have been banned from acting as company directors. The restaurant collapsed in 2008, owing its creditors an utterly disgraceful £1,241,950. Bad lending by bankers? A Department of Enterprise probe found it had been trading while insolvent for more than three years.

Plunkett Caldwell, 58, of Banns Meadow Downpatrick accepted a six year ban. Elizabeth Caldwell, 36, of the same address, accepted a five year ban.

The Lobster Pot was one of the most successful restaurants in County Down throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The Caldwells bought the business, which operates from the Square in Strangford, in 2003. The company went into liquidation in September 2008.

The Department of Enterprise investigation found that, as well as knowingly trading while insolvent, the Caldwells failed to file accounts and misused an Ulster Bank account by bouncing a total of 164 cheques in two years.

The Lobster Pot is still open and is being run by Botanic Inns on behalf of creditors.

No BP Big Screen

It is somewhat disappointing to many citizens of Belfast that the BP Big Summer Screen event has not taken place in the city this year. Why would this be so?

The event has traditionally been held in the Botanic Gardens. Can we presume that Belfast City Council, in its infinite wisdom, is responsible for this? Or am I being unfair? I contacted City Hall and was apprised that "Unfortunately due to financial constraints we are unable to stage this years event".

This year, 2010, it has taken place at the following venues:-

London, Trafalgar Square
Aberdeen, Duthie Park
Bristol, Millennium Square
Derby, Market Place
Dover, Mark Square
Liverpool, Clayton Square
Manchester, Exchange Square
Middlesbrough, Centre Square
Norwich, Chapelfield Plain
Plymouth, The Piazza
BP ICBT, Sunbury
Swansea, Castle Square
Swindon, Wharf Green
Waltham Forest, Walthamstow Town Square

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Laser and Tax

I had an appointment with HM Revenue and Customs at Wellington Place in Belfast this morning, ever hopeful of clawing back tax on savings for about five years. This has required me to rummage through dusty drawers, gathering up old share certificates and deduction of tax certificates. The effort could well prove to be worthwhile. I phoned the now-defunct Bradford and Bingley and they are going to send me certificates going back several years.

Thence I walked over to Donegall Place, where I paid Optical Express a visit. I have booked an appointment for next Wednesday, when I'll discuss optical laser treatment and get an eye test. I have already had a radial keratotomy operation in 1988, carried out at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast by Mr Eric Cowan. Perhaps I could arrange a discount for a "write-up" about the procedure on the blog!

Dowager Update

The Dowager is reasonably comfortable in hospital, despite a fall in the ward causing a gash to her eyebrow requiring half a dozen stitches and some bruising.

Her condition is unchanged since she was admitted.

I have been visiting every day.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Salt Island Map

Click to enlarge

Salt Island

I have spent most of the day on Salt Island, a property of the National Trust on Strangford Lough near Killyleagh, County Down.

Craig picked three of us up on the boat from Killyleagh Yacht Club and we motored the short distance over to the island. The weather was idyllic.

We were undertaking routine maintenance mainly at the bothy. We lunched in the sun outside the bothy and I had a wholemeal ham and chutney sandwich, washed down with tea!

Swallows have built a nest inside a wooden extension to the left of the bothy and there were several eggs. We also spotted a grey heron and, I think, a pair of ravens.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Pool Closure

I see that the swimming-pool at the old school is closed to members next week, due to "essential maintenance to the pump system".

It simply would not do to cause any inconvenience to Mr Acheson's profitable Summer Sports weeks. I have only been a member of the Sports Club for a mere thirty-two years.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Taxing Man

I paid a fleeting visit to the Tax Man - or should that be Tax Person? - at their GHQ in Wellington Place, Belfast this morning. I had to make a blasted appointment with them for Thursday. Their first offer was for nine, though I swiftly suggested nine-thirty, which was available.

I strode across the street and over to Howard Street, where I ventured into T M Lewin's shop and treated my self to a silk navy scatter spot tie.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Name Those Eggs!

Ornithologists, twitchers and bird-watchers extraordinaire everywhere, we spotted this little nest among the Briar and undergrowth about three feet from the ground at Minnowburn. The four little eggs are blue with black speckles.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Trooping the Colour

Flight-Lieutenant His Royal Highness Prince William of Wales KG and Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall en route to the Queen's Birthday Parade.

Dowager Update

I have visited the Dowager twice today and she seems comfortable, sitting up in bed and fairly cheerful. I expect that the circumstances shall become clearer next week. Patients' laundry is not the responsibility of the Hospital, so one is required to remove soiled clothing and return clean night-ware etc!

I have a home-made cottage pie in the fridge, which I shall have with asparagus and broccoli this evening.

Annual Balsam Bash

We assembled at the Minnowburn car-park this morning in preparation for our annual offensive on Himalayan Balsam. There were a mere four of us. We were concentrating on an area known as the Meadows, adjacent to the new Belfast Activity Centre at Shaw's Bridge (above).

The Balsam wasn't so abundant this year; however, one must keep on top of it.

Minnowburn is a truly heavenly spot, undoubtedly one of Belfast's treasures.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Earl & Countess of Ulster

I have learned today that Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, Earl and Countess of Ulster, have a new grand-child. Lady Cosima Rose Alexandra Windsor, whose elder brother is Xan, Lord Culloden, was born on the 20th May, 2010.

Lady Cosima's parents are Lord and Lady Ulster, a courtesy title borrowed from HRH Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester KG GCVO.

The Dowager

I have had an exceptionally challenging week. The Dowager has been unwell and I am increasingly concerned about her condition.

Normally I would post an article about a country estate on Fridays; however, on this occasion, I have been unable so to do.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

XV Duke of Hamilton and Brandon

I am sorry to have learned of the death of His Grace the 15th Duke of Hamilton, 12th Duke of Brandon and Premier Peer of Scotland.

Following the 15th Duke's funeral, he shall be succeeded by his son, Alexander Douglas, Marquess of Douglas and Clydesdale.

The Hamilton arms are not dissimilar to those of the Dukes of Abercorn. Indeed, the two dukedoms both claim as of right the French title, Duke of Châtellerault.

1st Duke of Hamilton's arms courtesy of European Heraldry.

Rathlin Complaint

I urge regular readers to contact the National Trust's Regional Director, at 028 9751 0721, to complain about the incident at the Manor-house on Rathlin Island, should they feel as strongly as self.

I have already done so.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Rathlin Manor-House a Disgrace

I always believed that the National Trust owns the Manor-house on Rathlin Island. It certainly features on their website.

The BBC describes Damian McFaul as "its owner".

I find the man's excuses for denying the royal party luncheon totally unconvincing, spurious and an insult.

Was the chairman of the National Trust in NI, Roy Bailie, present? The National Trust ought to start looking for new management forthwith.

The Wessexes: Day II

Their Royal Highnesses The Earl and Countess of Wessex have begun a second day of engagements in the Province with a visit to the Giant’s Causeway Visitors’ Centre and World Heritage site.

TRH were greeted by Mrs Joan Christie OBE, HM Lord-Lieutenant of County Antrim, and went on to meet Mr Roy Bailie OBE, Chairman of the National Trust in Northern Ireland and Ms Hilary McGrady, Northern Ireland Director.

TRH then walked the short distance to the Causeway stones before returning to the Visitors’ Centre and joining a reception hosted by the National Trust in their honour. Guests included representatives from the Project Team and fund-raisers for the new Giant’s Causeway Visitor Facilities, and local National Trust staff and volunteers.

Mr Bailie offered a few words of welcome to TRH before inviting Mrs Biddy Carson, a National Trust volunteer and former tea-room manager at the Giant’s Causeway, to present gifts of a lithographic print of a painting of the Giant’s Causeway and a pack of National Trust Causeway Leaf Tea to the royal couple.

Departing from Ballycastle Harbour, TRH sailed to Rathlin Island and were accompanied by HM Lord-Lieutenant of County Antrim; Mr Robert McIlroy, Vice-Chairman Moyle District Council; and Mr Richard Lewis, Chief Executive. TRH were welcomed ashore by Mr Noel McCurdy, chairman of Rathlin Community Development Association (RCDA) and Miss Marianne Green RCDA Youth Representative.

The royal couple attended a lunchtime reception in the nearby ‘Bruce’s Restaurant’and met a number of guests representing the varied community life on the island. TRH are expected to spend the afternoon touring the island.

The Wessexes in NI

Their Royal Highnesses The Earl and Countess of Wessex were in Northern Ireland yesterday and were Guests of Honour at a Garden Party in Hillsborough Castle, County Down, hosted by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

TRH were greeted Mr David Lindsay, HM Lord-Lieutenant of County Down, and went on to meet Mr David Corbett, High Sheriff of County Down and The Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland .

In the Rose Garden, TRH met Judith Gillespie OBE, Deputy Chief Constable, Northern Ireland Police, and a number of Police Officers and their guests. The royal couple also met Brigadier Edward Smyth-Osbourne, Commander 38 (Irish) Brigade, and a number of personnel serving in Northern Ireland and their guests.

In the main garden the Earl and Countess of Wessex received a warm welcome and, following the National Anthem played by The Band of the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, The Secretary of State invited TRH to plant a tree to commemorate the visit.

TRH spent the afternoon at the Garden Party and meet many of the 2,000 invited guests.

38th (Irish) Brigade is now the Regional Brigade responsible for administering the TA in Northern Ireland. This was the culmination of a draw-down of military headquarters in the Province which had seen the disbandment of 3rd Infantry Brigade, 8 Infantry Brigade, 39 Infantry Brigade and 107 (Ulster) Brigade.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Car Service: II

Agnew's didn't phone me first thing, this morning. I had, yet again, to contact them. I asked to speak to the Service Manager, who was on holiday; so I spoke, instead, to the very nice assistant manager and I explained the circumstances to her. She apologized and assured me that she wished to look after me personally; offered to lend me her car tomorrow, which didn't suit me. So I will be motoring back to Isaac Agnew's on Thursday morning.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Car Service: I

I took the baby two-seater in for a routine oil service last Thursday. Having arrived home, I noticed oil stains on the drive. I peered underneath the car and saw a drip of oil about to drop.

I waited till Friday morning to see if it was still there. Having placed some cardboard under the engine, I had another look and there were more oil stains. I phoned them at nine-thirty and they told me they would call me back.

They called me back at the end of the day and wondered whether it was just some surplus oil from the re-fill; so I was told to phone back if any oil continued to leak.

Today I looked under the car this morning and there was a new stain on the cardboard as well as a drop. I phoned and asked for the particular person I'd dealt with on Friday. He was on another call, so I was told that he'd call me back.

Today at five I phoned back and was told that the particular person had gone home. I told them that he hadn't called me back. They said they'd leave a message for him first thing tomorrow morning.

The name of the dealership? Isaac Agnew.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Castle Ward Barbecue

Now let me see, how many of us were there...not that many. About thirteen. It was good to have a chin-wag with three or four regular volunteer pals.

Craig lit the barbecue itself at about six-thirty. Earlier I had parked the car at the old farm-yard car-park, since we were having the BBQ on the grass beside the Barn (also known as the Countryside Wildlife Centre).

There was an abundance of food, including fresh garden salad, sauces, coleslaws, plum chutney, rolls and, of course, the obligatory burgers and sausages. I'd also brought along a carton of apple-and-mango fruit juice.

It happened to be Anna's birthday, so we also indulged in a chocolate sponge birthday cake.

At dusk we took our seats at the rear of the Barn, armed with so-called bat-boxes, and waited patiently. The bats emerged from the apertures of the slate roof very gradually over a long period. The grand total was about forty-seven, slightly disappointing since there were double that number of bats at this time last year. However, there could be other factors involved and, in a week's time, their numbers could double.

There was plenty of food for them! The midges were out in force last night, I can vouch for that. We could actually see them around us.

At about ten forty-five we decided to leave and we all headed over to Temple Water. It was an exceptionally calm and still night and we could see hardly anything in the water.

I arrived home at ten past midnight.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Noctilionine Barbecue

His lordship is off to a barbecue at the Castle Ward estate this evening; so I'll issue a full report tomorrow, possibly even with an evidential photograph!

The Dawn Chorus

The old slumber was particularly unsound last night. I had the bedroom window open because it was warm and stuffy. At dawn this morning I heard a chorus of feathered friends, including rook, woodpigeon, goldfinch, greenfinch, robin and collared dove. I peered out of the window and saw a goldfinch munching away at the nyjer seeds.

My new suit is ready. David informed me that he had been displaying it in his shop-window. I'm meeting him on Monday.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Wheaten Loaf

A freshly-baked wheaten loaf, direct from the oven this morning. Treacle has been added for a distinctive flavour. It shall be halved: one half used for a prawn open sandwich this evening; the other frozen for future use.

Morton's ready-mixed flour was used. Morton's flour mill is now part of Andrews' group.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Messrs Agnew & Fulton

I am presently sitting in Fulton's exceedingly good self-service restaurant at the Balmoral Plaza in south Belfast. Earlier I left the baby two-seater in for its first service.

I decided to remain in the vicinity and pooter about. Oh, the decadence, the decadence. So I've wandered in to Cotswolds outdoor store among others, not before having a browse inside Agnew's Mercedes-Benz showroom; their Bavarian showroom; and the Mini showroom, where I had a chat with a young salesman who, it transpired, came from County Fermanagh.

He told me about selling Subaru cars to Lords Caledon and Belmore when he worked at another dealership. I, naturally, promoted Lord Belmont, as one does. I have written much about counties Fermanagh and Tyrone.

I have a photograph - which I'll publish later- of my meal at Fulton's which, as ever, I enjoyed enormously: Savoury mince tart with salad and their sublime mustard dressing. It came to about £9.40. A word of praise about the readily available free wi-fi at Fulton's. You simply go up to the counter and ask for an access code. What a welcome and admirable service to patrons like self! It is almost 12.30 and I await a call from Agnew's to inform me that my car is ready.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

On Chapel Island

Three of us met at the main Mount Stewart car park this morning and we drove a bit further southwards, where we turned right and up a country lane. Thence we parked, donned wellies and walked across the foreshore to Chapel Island (Greyabbey).

Craig had been told that lapwings were on the island, though we saw no sign of them at all. Plenty of meadow pipits, but no lapwings. We had our elevenses there and walked back to the truck; then we had our packed lunches in a nearby field.

After lunch we motored on to Anne's Point and removed some old fence-posts.

It was a fine day; the car park at Mount Stewart was quite busy.

The aerial photograph atop is courtesy of Fat Tony.

Clarence House Gardens

The gardens of Clarence House, the official home of the Prince of Wales and his family, are opening publicly this summer. Clarence House used to be the London home of Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother; and it is situated on the Mall, beside St James's Palace.

Visitors will be able to stroll among the neatly kept lawns of the rose garden and Prince Charles’s very own vegetable patch during a 12-day Garden Party to take place this summer.

Members of the public will also be free to meander in the neighbouring grounds of Lancaster House and Marlborough House during the event which runs from September 8 – 19, 2010.

Admission to the gardens will take place between 10am and 4pm with them staying open until 6pm.

Tickets are already on sale from or by calling 0844 248 5052. They are priced £15 for adults and £7.50 for children.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

The Belmont Coronet

Has anyone spotted the tiny icon beside my blog address? Timothy Belmont isn't backward in dabbling with self-promotional PR, you know. The Belmont Coronet is now my "logo".

Thanks to Peregrine, a fellow-blogger who pointed me in the right direction, I reckon I have managed the technical bit - not without much difficulty, I hasten to add. It took me ages last night and I made a few errors along the way. Trial and error.

I know it's a trifling thing, but most of the biggest websites have these Favicons (favourites icons) now and they are distinctive.

The High Earners List

I wonder how many listeners of the Today Programme will be visiting the Cabinet Office website today? John Humphries interviewed an official this morning about the disclosures, initiated under the auspices of "open government".

A cursory scan of the High Earners pay list tells readers that the List is varied, including the most senior staff from every department of state, including the CDS (Chief of the Defence Staff), CGS, First Sea Lord and many other senior military personnel.

The only entry for Northern Ireland would appear to that of Sir Jonathan Phillips KCB, lately Permanent Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, 2005-10.

The breast star, civil division, of Knight Commander of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (KCB) is at the top; while the Knight Commander (civil division) Badge is to the right.