Sunday, 30 October 2011

Stewart Silverware

An item of silver presented to James Stewart of Killymoon, Esq. Click to enlarge.

Photographed in the Ulster Museum on Sunday, 30th October, 2011.

Ahoy, Dirty Duck!

The Dirty Duck (bar-restaurant in Holywood, County Down) was in particularly festive spirit last night. Devilish spirits, in fact. The theme was Halloween and many revellers were wearing fancy dress, including one female impersonating Holywood's famous son, Rory McIlroy.

There was karaoke, too. Not shy at exercising the old vocal chords, Timothy Belmont stood up and gave the lucky (!) patrons a rendition or two.

We were seated in close proximity to the speakers, too close indeed. The customary musical entertainment (two guitarist singers) arrived after ten o'clock and it was all terrific, foot-tapping stuff.

It is believed that the publican himself joined in.

The grub at the DD remains very good indeed and last night was no exception. I had a sumptuous large lamb shank in a fruity jus with onion mash and batons of carrot and parsnip. This was superb and cost £13.

BP, the drinking compadre, donned the old nose-bag and got stuck in to chicken fajitas with all the trimmings.

It was a truly enjoyable occasion and well done to all the staff.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

EU Membership

It has been reported that senior Civil Servants are urgently reviewing every aspect of the UK's membership of the European Union to support the Prime Minister's pledge to bring back powers from Brussels. 

It includes social and employment law, financial regulation, the EU budget, policing, crime and immigration. Other areas include the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies, environmental legislation and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. 

Might I also suggest such areas as the repeal of the Metric System, including its place within the National Curriculum. 

The reintroduction of traditional British Passports in their distinctive hard-back navy blue with gold lettering would also be welcome.

Any more contributions from readers for further reforms?

Friday, 28 October 2011

Mobile Saga

The saga continues regarding my old mobile phone. My provider tells me that it still has over £15 of credit on it, so it must by lying unused somewhere.

No matter. I have contacted the airport again. My provider is sending me a new SIM card and thereafter the balance will be transferred.

How does one back up names, contacts and data? Apparently I must start from scratch with the new phone. Unless, of course, my old phone turns up...

Thursday, 27 October 2011

New Mobile Phone

I have bought a new mobile phone. It is a Samsung Tocco Lite. I purchased it at the Carphonewarehouse and the whole pack, including two year warranty, headphones, battery, charger and a provisional SIM card with ten pounds' worth of credit, cost £60.

I expect to retain my old number with my current provider, though it would seem that I'll need to start from scratch regarding contact numbers!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Back to Porridge

It will be good, simple traditional British comfort grub for Timothy Belmont tonight. I fancy classic bangers and onion mash, with carrot or broccoli.

For pudding, perhaps a blackcurrant sponge with cream or a Kent apple tartlet.

My goldfinches have all deserted me, so I have replenished the feeders forthwith.

I'm hoping to get up to the Sports Club for my sixty lengths of the pool later.

Deputy Lieutenants


Mrs Joan Christie OBE, Lord-Lieutenant of County Antrim, has been pleased to appoint:-

Mr Steven Montgomery, 53 Grove Road, Kells, Ballymena, County Antrim BT42 3LR

Mrs Camilla Jane Cole, Broughgammon, 50 Straid Road, Ballycastle, County Antrim BT54 6NP

To be Deputy Lieutenants of the County this Commission bearing date the 5th day of October 2011

Joan Christie, Lord Lieutenant of the County
18 October 2011.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Fuerteventura: Finale

for the benefit of novices to the Internet - not excluding self! - I have been able to check-in for my flight tomorrow online. I logged on to the airline's website with my little Dell Mini 9; entered my name and reference; answered a few more questions; and received my Boarding Pass (I am in Seat 6C).

I saved the Pass to my documents; thereafter emailed it to my apartment administration. They have a printer.

I am optimistic that following this procedure and having no baggage to check in - merely a holdall - will mean that I can bypass any queue at the airport.

Simple as that, one expects.

DVANI Dinosaur

I see that the Northern Ireland politician, Simon Hamilton MLA, has urged Driver and Vehicle Licencing to introduce online payments forthwith. I called for this almost six months ago.

I received a car tax disc reminder from the Driver & Vehicle Agency of Northern Ireland and, somewhat disappointingly, they still haven't advanced technologically to the elementary stage whereby car tax can be paid online.

 The current methods of payment in the Province are by cheque (!); postal order; cash (!); vehicle licensing stamps (eh?); or by plastic at selective local vehicle licensing offices. Impressive, what?

Would it not be more cost productive and efficient if they were to integrate their operations with Swansea which, I feel confident, has a means whereby drivers can pay online?

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Fuerteventura:: VIII

It has been hot and sunny here for the past few days, well into the 30s. I was at the beach yesterday.

I dined at a tiny Italian bistro called - I think - Lori del Mar - where I had herb garlic bread, meat ravioli with a walnut sauce and a glass of wine; followed by Panna Cotta for dessert. The bill came to about €20.

On a completely different topic, I am unimpressed by Tesco's new cardboard sandwich containers (doubtless introduced in lieu of the serviceable transparent plastic ones in order to "save the planet"; some brilliant directive from the European Union imposed on the UK).

I bought a packet of cheese and onion sandwiches from them for my journey to Fuerteventura. They were in my holdall, which had been pushed and shoved a few times inevitably during transit.

When I brought the cardboard pack out, it had split and some of the cheese filling and stained some items in the holdall.

I doubt if this would have occured with the former plastic pack.

Tesco: either strengthen your cardboard; make it more robust and less flimsy; or revert to the plastic, transparent packs as before.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

UK's Future Within EU

If there were ever a time for the United Kingdom to consider leaving the EU, it is now. I have absolutely no love for the institution at all.

Let us remember the late, great Sir James Goldsmith, son-in-law of the 8th Lord Londonderry; husband of Lady Annabel;  founder of the Referendum Party.

Jimmy Goldsmith was a "Francophile". Despite this, he recognised our position within the European Union as being detrimental to our fundamental interests. Lord Belmont has always admired Sir James and concurs.

The Prime Minister seems to be reluctant to hold a referendum on our future within the EU; mainly because, I suggest, it is feared what the inevitable result from the electorate would be. Grasp the poisonous nettle!

I cannot see any reason why we could not continue to trade with Continental countries, having left; moreover, we could do more business with the Commonwealth and former countries of the British Empire.

Daniel Hannan MEP has provided us with ten reasons to get out:-

1. Since we joined the EEC in 1973, we have been in surplus with every continent in the world except Europe. Over those 27 years, we have run a trade deficit with the other member states that averages out at £30 million per day.

2. In 2010 our gross contribution to the EU budget was £14 billion. To put this figure in context, all the reductions announced by George Osborne at the Conservative Party Conference would, collectively, save £7 billion a year across the whole of government spending.

3. On the European Commission’s own figures, the annual costs of EU regulation outweigh the advantages of the single market by €600 to €180 billion.

4. The Common Agricultural Policy costs every family £1200 a year in higher food bills.

5. Outside the Common Fisheries Policy, Britain could reassert control over its waters out to 200 miles or the median line, which would take in around 65 per cent of North Sea stocks.

6. Successive British governments have refused to say what proportion of domestic laws come from Brussels, but a thorough analysis by the German Federal Justice Ministry showed that 84 per cent of the legislation in that country came from the EU.

7. Outside the EU, Britain would be free to negotiate much more liberal trade agreements with third countries than is possible under the Common External Tariff.

8. The countries with the highest GDP per capita in Europe are Norway and Switzerland. Both export more, proportionately, to the EU, than Britain does.

9. Outside the EU, Britain could be a deregulated, competitive, offshore haven.

10. Oh, and we’d be a democracy again.

GCVO Appointment

St. James’s Palace, London S.W.1.

21 October 2011

The Queen has been graciously pleased to give orders for the following promotion in the Royal Victorian Order:


To be a Knight Grand Cross:

Sir Michael Charles Gerrard PEAT, KCVO; on relinquishment of his appointment as Principal Private Secretary to The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall. (To be dated 17 October 2011.)

Cordial congratulations to Sir Michael.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Fuerteventura: VII

It has been overcast here all day, which suits Timothy Belmont rather well since I indulged in one large gin too many last night. Consequently it has taken me the whole day to recover. Ha! 

I'm sipping a large cafe condensado in a pavement cafe which overlooks the little island of Los Lobos.

Wednesday appears to be the day off for a number of restaurants and cafes here in Corralejo.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

8th Earl Bathurst 1927-2011

The Daily Telegraph has published the following obituary of the 8th Earl Bathurst:-

"Barmy" Bathurst, as he was known, inherited the earldom and Cirencester Park in Gloucestershire from his grandfather, the 7th Earl, in 1943, the year after his father, Lord Apsley, DSO, MC, MP, had been killed, and was a keen countryman who rode hard to hounds, as well as a just and jovial landlord.

He followed in the footsteps of the 1st Earl, – a former Tory MP for Cirencester and friend of Pope, Swift and Congreve who afforested 3,000 acres of the estate in 1720 – by becoming a keen forester himself and President of the Royal Forestry Society as well as Councillor for the Timber Growers' Association.

An apiarist and an able farmer, Bathurst was also the owner of "Jim" and "Joe", the last working oxen in this country. He ran Cirencester Park Polo Club and was active in local affairs – it was his job, among others, to hand out the Bledisloe Trophies to well-kept Cotswold villages. He was also a governor at the Royal Agricultural College for many years.

Henry Allen John Bathurst was born on May 1 1927 the eldest son of Allen Bathurst, Lord Apsley, and his wife Violet. He was educated at Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford. In 1948 he joined the military and served as a lieutenant in the 10th Royal Hussars and as a captain in the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars (TA).

In 1957 Bathurst became honorary secretary of the Agricultural Committee in the House of Lords and a Lord-in-Waiting to the Queen. He was Chancellor of the Primrose League from 1959 to 1961 as well, and, during this time, at was President of the Gloucestershire Branch of the Council for the Protection of Rural England.

His political career was short-lived, however, and reached its peak when he was appointed Joint Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office in 1961, only to be discharged the following year by Harold Macmillan in the "night of the long knives".

Thereafter, Bathurst retired to the family seat, though his work for the Tory Party continued under other guises: in 1968, to raise funds for the Party, he sold a 2nd Century Samian cup that had been found among Roman ruins on the estate in 1891.

Bathurst's duties at Cirencester Park included riding as Master of the Valley of The White Horse Hounds, the Gloucestershire pack kept by his family since the 1830s. He cut a dashing figure on a horse, and became the first English peer to ride a Russian horse to hounds, so keen was he to introduce Russian-bred horses to the local hunting fraternity.

In 1965, however, in order reduce costs for both hunts, he merged his own twenty couple with the local Vale of The White Horse pack. But he diversified into other equestrian pursuits, founding Cirencester Park Polo Club – venue of the famous chukka which saw the Prince of Wales come a cropper mid-swing and break his arm.

Scandal struck in the Eighties when, twice, (in 1982 and 1988), plantations of cannabis and opium poppies were found to be growing within the Park walls, tended by local opportunists who were later jailed. Bathurst weathered the ensuing press attention with the same grace as he employed in 1989, when he lost his driving licence for 15 months after a four-hour lunchtime "jolly" with friends.

In 1988 Bathurst had moved to a farmhouse on the estate to make way for Lord Apsley, his son and heir, yet he remained involved in the running of things. In 2003, driving through the Park on his way home from a polo match, his Landrover was overtaken on the grass verge by a Volkswagen Golf travelling at 40 to 50mph.

Roused to heights of fury by this flagrant breach of the estate's 20mph speed limit, the 76-year-old Earl gave chase, flashing his lights, sounding his horn and engaging in off-road manoeuvres to try and get the offender to stop. But it was the Earl himself who was forced to stop – by the security team protecting Prince William, the car's driver.

Although Clarence House issued an apology, the Earl remained unrepentant: "There are rules in the polo club about driving on the estate, and people have to stick to them", he told an interviewer. "I don't care who it is, royalty or not – speeding is not allowed on my estate. If I was to drive like that in Windsor Park, I'd end up in the Tower." He did not recognise the Prince, he explained, observing that he "thought he was some young yob in a beat-up car".

Bathurst was Chairman of the Gloucestershire branch of the Country Landowners' Association from 1968 to 1971 and a Deputy Lieutenant for Gloucestershire from 1960 to 1986.

He married first, in 1959, Judith Nelson; they had two sons and one daughter. The marriage was dissolved in 1977 and the following year he married, secondly, Gloria, widow of David Rutherston.

His son Allen Christopher Bertram Bathurst, Lord Apsley, born in 1961, succeeds to the Earldom.

The 8th Earl Bathurst, born May 1 1927, died October 16 2011

Fuerteventura: VI

Dear readers, Timothy Belmont still uses sweetened, condensed milk in lieu of ordinary milk for the coffee at breakfast. Its durability is far greater than milk. I used to buy cartons of milk and it went "off" too quickly.

As a consequence I have ceased to bring English tea-bags with me; I have cafe condensado, as the natives call it, instead. No need for sugar or milk.

Doubtless you shall be relieved to hear that!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Fuerteventura: V+

Timothy Belmont has revisited the Kactus Tapas Lounge Bar, Calle La Iglesia, Corralejo, this evening, a strategic spot for a refreshing G and T and also for watching the World pass by.

The old Tanqueray and some choice nibbles await me.

Would any readers be interested in my taking a photograph of the Tapas menu on the next occasion?

Dear readers, I might have to acquire a new mobile phone, should the Nokia flip-phone not re-appear. Which? Magazine recommends the Samsung Tocco Lite as a good, basic mobile.

I am not "in the market" for a so-called smartphone: A good pay-as-you-go mobile would be fine. And I do not wish to spend a fortune on it, either.

Any recommendations?

Fuerteventura: V

This is the first overcast day I've had since I arrived. At last I've found a cafe - the Avelino - which has a strong Internet connection.

Alas there is no indication as to the whereabouts of my old mobile phone. I have contacted the airline and two other companies; I might as well contact the airport, too. The only consolation is that I am not reliant on it - even in the UK - and it is an older-style phone, pay-as-you-go, with about £16 worth of credit. The SIM card would have been of use to me, though, with my contact names and numbers.

Yesterday I spent at El Cotillo beach. Torino has sold his beach bar and it continues under new owners, called La Concha. I've already made pals with Linda and Jemma, two staff.

Last night I discovered a pleasant little Tapas bar-cafe called the Kactus Cafe. It is located on Iglesia Street. I had a prawn and avocado salad, bread and alioli; and the requisite Tanqueray and tonic-water!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Fuerteventura: IV

I have removed Skype from the diminutive Dell Mini 9 netbook. It is taking up too much disc space and prevents other programmes from loading properly. The Mini 9 is a wonderful little piece of kit, though it has its limitations.

I can always keep in touch through Facebook and emails.

Last night I enjoyed a very good meal at La Taberna, an old haunt of mine whose proprietors are Juan and Ana. They always welcome me effusively. I had Solomillo al Roquefort - fillet steak with a Roquefort cheese sauce, saute potatoes and their ramekin of home-made coleslaw.

La Taberna does one of the best pan con allioli in the resort.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Fuerteventura: III

The internet connection where I am staying is rather weak and inconsistent. Hit and miss. Still, better than none at all.

I drink copious amounts of fluid daily while I'm becoming acclimatized, viz. one, litre carton of Spanish orange juice - with bits; coffee; a litre of water; and, of course, Tanqueray and tonic-water, which, I imagine, doesn't count.

It is doubtless caused by lying on the beach in the sun, dehydration of a kind. I tend to get an insatiable thirst during the night, find that my glass is empty; then stumble over to the fridge for replenishment!

I haven't received any word from the airline regarding my mislaid mobile phone, as yet.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Fuerteventura: II

There have been a few changes in Corralejo. Businesses have closed down; one or two new restaurants have opened. I went for a walk and accosted a few familiar faces, viz. restaurant owners.

They all tell me that business is good, though Michael didn't do too well in September.

I had a few drinks in a local bar called the Blue Rock last night and met two thirty - or even forty -something women, attractive and dressed in bikinis with hot-pants!  I endeavoured to befriend them, as one does, with a modicum of success, though they departed later.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Fuerteventura: I

Well I had a smooth and uneventful flight. I must have been "on the go" for almost twelve hours, sitting on the noble posterior for most of the time. Ha!

The noble Earl is now comfortably installed and awaits a cooked breakfast outside the restaurant. The sun is dazzling; the climate a most agreeable 22 degrees Celcius at eight forty-five this morning.

I have some shopping to do after breakfast. Now I shall enjoy my cafe con leche.

Thus ends the First Lesson.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Welcome Home

16 Air Assault Brigade received an appropriately warm Ulster welcome yesterday in Newtownards, County Down.

1st Battalion, Irish Guards, is an element of the Brigade.

Hundreds of people lined the streets to welcome them home following their tour of Afghanistan. They marched through the town after a service at St Mark's Church before attending a civic reception.

Lieutenant-Colonel Prince Christopher Ghika OBE, Irish Guards, said
"I think it has been a great thing we have been looking forward to, wonderful. We started with a church service in St Mark's then we marched round the town. It's been a busy week, but an amazing uplifting week, and the welcome we have received everywhere has done away from any sort of tiredness. The tour of Afghanistan was clearly very demanding, and really tested people emotionally and physically, but I think knowing that we have something like this at the end of our tour is something to aim for."

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Lady Carnarvon at Home

The Countess of Carnarvon treats Daily Telegraph readers to a four-minute fleeting "tour" of Highclere Castle in Hampshire, the family home perhaps better known to some as Downton Abbey.

Highclere Castle dominates its Hampshire grounds as imperiously as its incarnation as Downton Abbey rules the Sunday night TV schedule.

The Victorian country house is one of the stars of the award-winning costume drama penned by Julian, now Lord, Fellowes, which has millions tuning in to watch the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants endure the hardships of the First World War.

The programme, now in its second series, is filmed at Highclere, which has been the family seat of the Carnavon family for over three centuries.

Find out how the family use the rooms featured in the drama, the rare antiques that furnish them and what the film crew have and broken along the way.

Highclere is hosting a Heroes at Highclere event to raise money for various services charities on October 16.

Friday, 7 October 2011

BBC Resources

It has been reported that BBC Northern Ireland is to lose between fifty and seventy jobs.

I have no wish to be unkind or insensitive; however, why do they require two presenters to run their Newsline flagship when one presenter is used on the national BBC News?

I say that impartially and do not "single out" any particular personality.

Don't Tell the Queen!

An agreeable little piece in the Daily Telegraph, featuring Prince Philip, Gwyneth Paltrow and Cameron Diaz.

Those girls must be tall; the stilettos help, presumably.

HRH was said to have had a twinkle in his eye. I don't blame him.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Country House Rescue

The well-known television series, Country House Rescue, the original presenter of whom was the formidable Ruth Watson, is returning and wishes to find a suitable mansion or large house in Northern Ireland. 

I have been approached by a production company on behalf of Channel 4. They are working on the new series of Country House Rescue for Channel 4 and are looking for properties in Northern Ireland to feature on the show. 

They wondered if I might know of a country house owner who would be interested in getting some very good advice and support to keep their property going. 

Frankly, I do not. So, readers, please send me some feedback.

Ideally it will be a family-owned house where they haven’t tried much in terms of diversification and who are struggling to stay on top of maintenance and restoration.

However, this is not a rule.

If you are not familiar with the series, it is an hour-long programme which features one property per show and follows the journey of a large country house in need of help or a fresh approach through various business ventures, to a house which is hopefully thriving and financially secure. 

Each case is unique and is treated to make the most of the property and owner’s strengths and preferences.

The new series presenter is Simon Davies, who has a strong background in events and hospitality and is director of the London Restaurant Festival 

This is his first series of Country House Rescue and he is keen and enthusiastic about bringing new ideas to the table. Though his background is in food, he doesn’t want to turn every property into a restaurant by any means.

Simon Davies will be supported by the company consultant, Simon Foster. He is an experienced manager and consultant for large estates such as Chatsworth House. 

The production will be filming from November, 2011, and will visit the property sporadically over the winter, finishing with beautiful shots of the successful house in the spring, 2012.

Here is a short article about the effect the series has had on one property. 

This is a wonderful opportunity for large country house owners in Northern Ireland to show off the properties and also a chance to present the Province at its best. 

Bethan Bailey can be contacted at: Betty, The Heal's Building, 8 Alfred Mews, London, W1T 7AA. tel:0207 907 0867 fax:0207 290 0679

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Duchess of Alba

Congratulations to the Most Excellent the Duchess of Alba de Tormes, who is to re-marry today, I have learned.  It is said that the extremely wealthy Duchess is to marry a civil servant 24 years her junior.

According to Guinness World Records, the Duchess - whose full name is Maria del Rosario Cayetana Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Francisca Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva - has more titles recognised by an existing government than any other nobility.

She has wealth to match, with estates, palaces and treasures including art masterpieces estimated to be worth up to £3 billion.

A mere 30-60 people are thought to be attending the lunchtime service today in the chapel of the Duchess's 15th century Palacio de las Duenas in Seville, Spain.

The Belmont Crumble

While Timothy Belmont was swimming his constitutional sixty lengths last night, the veteran fellow-swimmer Robert had left a bag of cooking apples atop the clothing.

Consequently, they have already been peeled, cored and sliced; tossed into a pan with some sugar, cloves and cinnamon; gently cooked until soft.

The crumble topping, 50% wholewheat flour, 50% oats, brown sugar and butter, has also been prepared.

Thank you, Robert.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Decoder Triumph

Congratulations to Karen Murphy, landlady of the Red White & Blue bar at Southsea, near Portsmouth, Hampshire, on winning the latest stage of her fight to air Premier League games using a foreign TV decoder.

Karen Murphy had to pay nearly £8,000 in fines and costs for using a cheaper Greek decoder in her Portsmouth pub to bypass controls over match screening; but she took her case to the European Court of Justice.

The ECJ now says national laws which prohibit the import, sale or use of foreign decoder cards are contrary to the freedom to provide services.

We ought to be able to ban this sort of nonsense ourselves anyway, without having to resort to the European Union.

The decision could trigger a major shake-up for the Premier League and its current exclusive agreements with Sky Sports and ESPN, and pave the way to cheaper viewing of foreign broadcasts for fans of top-flight English games.

Organizations like Sky Sports and the Premier League have far too much power and influence. Why shouldn't David challenge Goliath?

Monday, 3 October 2011

Prescription Charge

The Northern Ireland Health Minister, Edwin Poots MLA, has indicated that he is minded to recommend the reintroduction of prescription charges in the Province.

The charge could be as little as fifty pence per prescription. It would be used to fund life-saving drugs for us all.

Mr Poots believes the charge, which initially could raise several million pounds, could pay for drugs which treat cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.

Anti-TNF therapy (tumour necrosis factor) is one of a new class of drugs that target specific proteins in the immune system known to increase arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.

Presently, there are 400 people waiting in NI for the anti-inflammatory TNF drug, compared to England where waiting lists for the same medication do not exist.

I believe that very few would object to such a charge being applied.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Castle Coole Range

The National Trust has acquired an old kitchen range for the basement of Castle Coole in County Fermanagh. It was originally installed in the kitchens of Lincoln Cathedral.

Apparently the stove, six feet in width, matches the mansion's original range very closely. It has been fitted by the same company which removed it from the Cathedral.

The new range will use seasoned wood from the estate so, as a consequence, the very first hot meal can be prepared in the basement since about 1960.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Royal Valediction?

I am much saddened, though realistic, that the forthcoming trip to Australia by the Queen and Prince Philip might be their last.

While Buckingham Palace aides refuse to rule out future visits to the second-largest Commonwealth realm, many Australians will treat the visit as a chance to bid Farewell to our most gracious Majesty, who is expected to cut back on long-haul tours following next year’s Diamond Jubilee.

The Royal Party will take a charter flight to Canberra, arriving on Oct 19, where they will be based for a week, making a day-trip to Brisbane on Oct 24. 

A charter flight? Utterly ridiculous, to my mind. HM Government ought to be providing our Sovereign with a Royal Flight capable of long-haul trips, royal entourages, personal valets and luggage; a Royal Flight painted in scarlet red with royal insignia; fitted out like HMY Britannia or the Royal Train. We, the British Nation, should be glad to fund it.

Although the itinerary for the trip has not been officially announced, HM will meet Australia’s Welsh-born Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who is an outspoken republican and has said that the end of QUEEN ELIZABETH II's reign would be “probably the appropriate point for a transition”. Really?

I sincerely trust that, by the Grace of God, the decent people of Australia prove J Gillard, and other committed republicans, wrong.

God Save The Queen.

Roundel Restoration

Hampton Court Palace is renovating some of its famous 16th-century stone roundels, including this clay bust of Tiberius.

After years of detective work and months of restoration, four of the palace's 16th-century roundels are about to be unveiled

Science has revealed a surprising truth about some of the earliest and most spectacular Renaissance sculptures in Britain: the stern-faced 16th-century Roman worthies scowling down from the walls of Hampton Court palace were made out of London clay like any common house brick.

Since they were made by Giovanni da Maiano, a contemporary of Michelangelo, they were assumed to have been shipped from Italy.

However forensic analysis of minute particles of the clay, part of a restoration programme which has saved some from collapse, has proved he must have set up a workshop in London in the 1520s when his grand patrons included Cardinal Wolsey and Henry VIII.

"Moving to London was his fundamental error," Kent Rawlingson, a buildings conservator, said. "These are really outstanding works by a major artist, but if he had stayed in Italy or even worked in the court of the king of France, there is no doubt that he would be far better known today."

After his time in England, Maiano vanished: there is no record of further commissions, or even when and where he died.

The roundels were carved in fantastic detail, which would not have been appreciated properly from ground level, but almost 500 years in the open air beside the Thames had taken its toll. Some were losing their hair and their laurel wreaths, others were riddled with cracks, the terracotta in places crumbling back into clay.

Now after years of detective work, and months of painstaking conservation including hand-carving replacement features in situ, the four judged most at risk are about to be unveiled, looking better than they have in centuries.

They will then have to be boxed in again within weeks to protect them from the first winter frost. Work judged less urgent will follow on the other heads.

Wolsey commissioned the roundels for Hampton Court, the home he made so disastrously magnificent that it attracted the covetousness of his king, and became a royal palace. Maiano's bill survives: he charged Wolsey £2.6.8d each – plus 20 shillings each to install them.

The restoration work includes the plaques with their names, which are almost certainly wrong. Known for centuries as the 11 Roman emperors, Rawlingson is convinced they are really military heroes and leaders including Scipio, Pompey, and a youthful Alexander the Great.

He has been trying to piece together their history: they were moved several times at Hampton Court, with inevitable damage, so some are 16th-century roundels in 19th-century frames, others 19th-century roundels in original frames.

Henry VIII placed some on a hunting lodge he gave to Anne Boleyn, and two remain in the improbable surroundings of Hanworth. One was recorded discovered "in a dark closet", of which the palace has thousands, in the 18th century.

Two more came from a lost Tudor landmark, the Holbein Gate at Whitehall, demolished in the 18th century for road widening.

"Since the palace first opened to visitors in the 18th century, they've always been admired – but we've never been exactly sure what they really were," Rawlingson said. "The truth is they are masterpieces of Renaissance sculpture hiding in plain sight."