Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Powerscourt Arms

Did any readers watch the BBC's Antiques Roadshow from Castle Coole recently? A gentleman brought several silver trophies or cups, 18th century, I think.

One trophy bore a crest and coat-of-arms.

I immediately recognised the insignia as being that of the Viscounts Powerscourt.

New Londonderry Series

I've received a number of absolutely fascinating documents relating to Londonderry House, Park Lane, former town residence of the Marquesses of Londonderry.

The documents include a guest list for a ball held at the House in 1959 (including many familiar Ulster names); a detailed article about the House; and important family photographs.

I will begin the new series shortly.

Sports Personalities

Two of our most outstanding Ulster golfers, Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy, are nominated for BBC Sports Personality this year.

Ten of the United Kingdom's top sports stars have been nominated for this year's BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, representing the very best of British prowess and achievement in their sports.

Hailing from the four nations of the Kingdom and representing six very different sports, the ten have thrilled audiences around the world in 2011 and each now has a chance of being crowned the 58th BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

The winner will be selected by public vote during the live show on Thursday, 22 December, 2011, from 8pm.

The short-list (in alphabetical order) is: Mark Cavendish (cycling), Darren Clarke (golf), Alastair Cook (cricket), Luke Donald (golf), Mo Farah (athletics), Dai Greene (athletics), Amir Khan (boxing), Rory McIlroy (golf), Andy Murray (tennis), Andrew Strauss (cricket).

The Banker


Mark Twain

Monday, 28 November 2011

NI Pubs of 2011

Cordial congratulations to the Dirty Duck Ale House in Holywood, County Down, an establishment Timothy Belmont is known to frequent, which has won an award for Best Food Pub in Northern Ireland.

Well done to everyone else, too.

Pubs of Ulster is the trading name of the Federation of Retail Licensed Trade NI. They have announced the winners in various categories hereunder:-

The finest pubs from across Northern Ireland gathered at Belfast City Hall on 16th November to toast the best the industry has to offer as the search to find our top pubs came to a dramatic conclusion at the annual Pub of the Year Awards 2011.


Northern Ireland Pub of the Year 2011:
Winner: Dorman's and The Opera, Magherafelt

Outstanding Bar Person of the Year:
Winner: Liam McEldowney, Jack's Bar at Walsh's Hotel, Maghera

Best Neighbourhood Pub:
Winner: Rafters and Friel's Bar, Swatragh
Finalist: The Devenish Bar, Enniskillen
Finalist: Sally McNally's, Portadown

Best Food Pub:
Finalist: Mary's Bar, Magherafelt

Best Family Friendly Pub:
Winner: Wild Duck Inn, Portglenone
Finalist: Lily's Pub and Eatery, Belfast
Finalist: Molly Brown's Kitchen and Bar, Newtownards

Best New or Improved Pub:
Winner: Horatio Todd's Bar and Restaurant, Belfast
Finalist: The Devenish Bar, Enniskillen
Finalist: The Light House Bar and Wine Store, Whiteabbey

Most Innovative Pub:
Winner: Ryan's Bar, Belfast
Finalist: Dorman's and The Opera, Magherafelt
Finalist: Wild Duck Inn, Portglenone

Best Tourism / Visitor Pub
Winner: The John Hewitt, Belfast
Finalist: The Anchor Bar Complex, Portstewart
Finalist: Horseshoe and Saddlers, Enniskillen

Sunday Life Reader's Choice Award
Winner: The Head O'The Road, Portadown
Finalist: The Derg Arms, Castlederg
Finalist: The Harbour Bar, Portrush

Christmas Wines

Victoria Moore at the Daily Telegraph recommends a selection of wines for Christmas, 2011, which ought to be widely available in Northern Ireland:-

  • Tim Adams Sémillon 2008 Clare Valley, Australia 12%; Tesco, £11.29 
This superb sémillon reminds me of dried limes on a sand dune. There’s also a hint of new leather and sweet hay. Textbook stuff from an excellent producer. One for the hot smoked salmon with horseradish.
  • Pernand Vergelesses Les Combottes 2009 France 13%; M&S, 150 stores only, £25 

Very stylish white Burgundy from the underrated Pernand Vergelesses (the most northerly appellation of Burgundy’s Cote de Beaune). This has some new oak, which gives a sensation of careful, neat, tailoring, and really opens out, like vivid yellow sunlight, once decanted. 

  • Tingleup Vineyard Great Southern Riesling 2010 Australia 11%; Tesco, £8.68 

Riesling offers a sprightly change of pace at this time of year. This perennial favourite smells of petrol and lilac, an odd-sounding combination but it works for me. It’s off-dry, succulent, juicy and has the tang of sweet stewed apples and tangerine. 

  • Yalumba Y Series Viognier 2010 Australia 13.5%;  Sainsbury’s, £8.49 

a bone-dry white underneath a gently floral nose. Viognier can be oily and cloying. This one isn’t.


  • Asda Corbieres 2010 France 13%; Asda, £3.56

This Christmas carol of a wine is all you need for mulling, cooking and drinking out of tumblers on sausage and mash evenings. 

  • Crozes Hermitage 3 Lys Cave de Tain 2009 France 12.5%; Sainsbury’s, £7.49 down from £9.99 until Dec 6 

Dark, imposing syrah from the on-song Cave de Tain co-operative. About a fifth of the blend is aged in oak. This would be great with a dense casserole – say venison or beef with chestnuts. 

  • Marananga Dam Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2008 Australia 14.5%; M&S, £12.99

This great big Down Under version of a Rhône blend is wonderfully luxuriant. It has layer upon layer of flavour, from powdery drinking chocolate to raspberry, all underpinned with a savoury, spicy note. 

  • Château Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac St Emilion Grand Cru 2006 France 13%; Sainsbury’s 55 stores only, £19.99 

Sumptuous right bank claret. Think crushed crimson velvet and 40-year-old vines. This is merlot-based but there’s also about a third cabernet franc, which contributes an aerating, leafy, redcurrant freshness and scent. 

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Country House Opera

It is more than two years since the august Arts Council of Northern Ireland axed what was uniquely one of the Province's most established and premier events, Castleward Opera.

There has not been any event to match Castleward Opera since then.

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland has seen fit to spend our money on other projects, instead.

A vacuum has been left for an opera festival which could be held in one of our great stately homes. Such a venue would be eminently fitting for al fresco picnics and cuisine or, should patrons prefer, a grand marquee.

Dinner jackets would naturally be comme il faut.

There are splendid stately homes in every county of Northern Ireland and I  have written on this blog about all of them. Simply enter the key word in the white Search box at the top left-hand corner.

My suggestion would be that sponsorship might emanate from the travel industry (airlines, shipping lines); the catering industry (hotels, restaurants); and luxury goods manufacturers and sellers (jewellers, watch makers, writing instrument makers, motor manufacturers); private individuals, including philanthropists, wealthy benefactors).

Dirty Duck Tuck

The 22:16 train from Holywood arrived. BP and self were conveyed to our destinations, having enjoyed an evening at the favoured hostelry, the Dirty Duck. BP has a fondness for the House ale.

I had the roast pork dinner and BP had the customary scampi and chips, both commendable.

There was musical entertainment, as usual, and they were playing popular hits from the sixties and seventies.

Princely Rescue Mission

Prince William helped lead rescue efforts for eight sailors on board a cargo ship which sank in a storm off the coast of north Wales.

The Duke of Cambridge, a flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force, co-piloted an RAF Sea King helicopter which lifted two crew members from the Swanland to safety in the early hours of Sunday.

The body of one of their fellow seamen was later recovered from the Irish Sea amid gale force winds after the vessel’s hull split in half off the Llyn Peninsula.

HRH's rescue helicopter crew managed to lift the two survivors to safety after the captain sent out a Mayday shortly after 2am. 

Roadshow at Castle Coole

The BBC's Antiques Roadshow comes from Castle Coole in County Fermanagh this evening, on BBC1 HD. I'll record it.

Castle Coole is the ancestral seat of the Earls of Belmore. The Belmores still live on the estate, at the Garden House.

Fiona Bruce and the team visit Northern Ireland for a busy day of evaluations.

Amongst the objects catching the experts' eyes are a pair of tea caddies that raise suspicions, a valuable carriage clock with royal association, and a watch and two rings accepted as payment for an unpaid bar bill which provide a surprise ending.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Hansel and Gretel

It's a night at the opera for Timothy Belmont tonight. Fortunately I was able to find one parking space in Amelia Street.

I'm presently seated in the Piano Bar of the Europa Hotel, Belfast. Service at the bar was annoyingly slow, given that there was a waiter chatting and joking to a waitress at the far end of the counter. Eventually I had to walk over to him and request a drink.

Given that about a dozen people stand up at the counter, effectively blocking those of us who wish to place an order, is unhelpful.

Thence I strode across the street to the Grand Opera House. This evening's production is Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel. I am seated in A3 in the Dress Circle.

The scarlet curtain raised. I groaned despondently. Indeed, the Ulster Orchestra has been splendid as usual. The singing is most satisfactory. However, the props and costumes are spartan and contemporary. Humperdinck may well have turned in his grave.

Frankly, had I been aware that this was going to be a modernized production, I'd have saved my £27. That could have bought a cheap seat at the London Coliseum for Eugene Onegin.

I do hold a grudge against the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and its offspring, NI Opera. I certainly have not forgiven them for their maltreatment of Castleward Opera and its consequent demise.

Tonight's production of Hansel and Gretel, in its contemporary form, has been a disappointment to me. In future I shall inquire as to the kind of production before I part with any money.

It's such a shame that we cannot afford grand opera of the calibre and standard of the Royal Opera.

Moreover, many dress casually or informally in denims and bovver boots or whatever they are called. Coughing, spluttering, talking during performances. Oh, by the way, I am writing this review as I sit in A3 at nine o'clock!

Never mind!

Duke of Gloucester in Bangor

Duke of Gloucest at RUYC

His Royal Highness The Duke of Gloucester today visited the Royal Ulster Yacht Club (RUYC), Bangor, County Down.

HRH is the Commodore and shows great interest in Club activities.

The Ulster Yacht Club, formed in 1866, was granted a Royal Warrant in 1869. In 1953 Her Majesty The Queen became Patron of the Club.

A strong link exists between the Royal Ulster Yacht Club and the America’s Cup, with Sir Thomas Lipton’s five challenges between 1898 and 1930. In 1970 the Club provided a trophy in his memory which is presented, on the occasion of each challenge, to the Yacht Club which has won the Challengers races and is about to race for the America’s Cup.

Upon arrival Prince Richard was greeted by Lord-lieutenant of County Down, Mr David Lindsay.

Upstairs HRH met the RUYC officers and their spouses who were presented by Dr Stanton Adair, Vice-Commodore, Royal Ulster Yacht Club, who accompanied His Royal Highness throughout the engagement.

Later, in the Lounge during a buffet lunch, Prince Richard met one hundred and fifty current members.

Dr Adair said a few words before inviting HRH to present a gift of an engraved crystal vase to long serving member of staff Heather Hamilton.

Dr Adair then invited HRH to say a few words and to sign the Visitors’ Book.

Before departing the Club, HRH met a number of key RUYC staff.

Christmas Cards

I purchased my 2011 Christmas cards yesterday. I took a jaunt into town and, venturing in to W H Smith's, I spotted boxed cards of a painting by Joseph Farquharson (1846-1935) called Beneath The Snow Encumbered Branches.

These I rather liked, since they caught my eye, so I bagged three boxes (3 for 2).

Earlier I had been doing some research at the Linenhall Library in Donegall Square.

At Sawyers tight little emporium in College Street, their fine battered scampi was in at last, so I took a fiver's worth. Little tins of Barkley's "tastefully intense" cinnamon mints looked worth a try, so I impulsively purchased a tin.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Duke of Gloucester in Belfast

His Royal Highness The Duke of Gloucester KG GCVO, on the 23rd November, 2011, attended, as Guest of Honour, the 95th Anniversary Battle of the Somme Dinner at Belfast City Hall. HRH is the Somme Association President.

Upon arrival Prince Richard was greeted by the Lord-Lieutenant of the County Borough of Belfast, Dame Mary Peters DBE.

Accompanied by Dr Ian Adamson OBE, High Sheriff of the County Borough of Belfast and Mrs Carol Walker, Director, Somme Association, HRH proceeded upstairs to the Reception Hall and met a number of invited guests, including representatives of the Royal Army Medical Corp (RAMC) at a private reception.

Later His Royal Highness met over two hundred guests during pre-dinner drinks in the Rotunda and Banqueting Hall attending the 95th Battle of the Somme dinner.

HRH proceeded to the Great Hall for Dinner piped in by a Piper from the Royal Irish Regiment. Dr Adamson said a few words of welcome and proposed a toast to The Queen.

During dinner the Band of the Royal Irish Regiment (TA) provided background music. Following dinner an Entertainment Programme was provided by the Bugles, Pipes and Drums of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment and the Band of the Royal Irish Regiment (TA), followed by a screening of a DVD presentation by the Somme Association and a ballot.

This brought the engagement to a close.

Insurance Comparison

Groan! I received my annual motor insurance quotation from Hugh's Insurance today. It is for £615.68.

I have entered my details on a comparison website and, Lo and Behold! They have come up with Halifax insurance which is quoting me £364.29.

Needless to say, it does pay to "shop around" in this instance.



Greetings to our cousins in the United States of America today, Thanksgiving Day 2011.

The Crom Yews


The yews at Crom [Estate in County Fermanagh] are probably the oldest trees in Northern Ireland. Lord Erne claims they are 800 years old and he may well be correct.

They are inseparable siblings, one brother, one sister, planted together so that now, from the outside, they appear to be one huge dark green mass. Within, branches sweep down and twist around, traces of training in the past now long abandoned.

In the late 1840s the tree is described as having its horizontal spreading branches supported on wooden pillars with gravel walks between them. They spread over an area about 75’ across and it was said that “A party of 200 have often dined under the tree”.

The trees are close to the ruins of the old Crom Castle which they pre-date by hundreds of years.

One of the great O’Neills of the sixteenth century is believed to have said farewell to his lady love under the already mature Crom Yews.

It may have been Shane O’Neill later killed by the MacDonnells of Antrim, or more likely the great Hugh who battled against Queen Elizabeth I and eventually left the country in the `flight of the earls’ in 1603.

When Cecil Kilpatrick, former Chief Forest Officer, measured the trees in 1977, the eastern tree had a girth of 14’ 11” and a height of 30’, the western tree 13’ 8” round and 37’ tall.

Since then they have been ‘tidied’ and have lost some of their mystery: it is now easy to get under and through their combined canopy.

Although the grounds are now with the National Trust, the present house and immediate garden with its fine specimen trees are still the property of Lord Erne.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Prince Richard in Ulster

His Royal Highness The Duke of Gloucester today attended the annual celebration of the life of Columbanus at the Clarion Hotel, Carrickfergus, County Antrim, hosted by The Ullans (Ulster Scots) Academy.

Prince Richard's son is styled by his father's subsidiary title, Earl of Ulster.

Arriving at the Clarion Hotel, Carrickfergus, HRH was greeted by the Vice Lord-Lieutenant of County Antrim, Mr Richard Reade DL.

Throughout the engagement Prince Richard was accompanied by Dr Ian Adamson OBE, President, Ullans Academy.

Moving to the Glendun Suite for pre-lunch drinks, HRH met over one hundred and fifty guests attending the “Feast of Columbanus” lunch.

Speaking at the lunch in the Causeway Suite were Ruairí Ó Bléine welcoming guests in Irish and Dr Adamson welcoming guests in Ullans later.

The Rt Hon and Rev the Lord Bannside PC delivered a speech on Columbanus. The Master of Ceremonies, Sammy Douglas MLA, then invited HRH to speak.

During Lunch light entertainment was provided by children from two Belfast Primary Schools.

Following farewells HRH departed for the next engagement

Taggart Pond

 I spent the day with five others on Island Taggart in Strangford lough.

Island Taggart is now a property inalienably held by the National Trust. It lies between Ringdufferin directly to its north and Killyleagh, the nearest substantive village, to the south. The island is one mile long and a quarter of a mile wide at its broadest point; a total area of 94 acres.

Today we were digging out the old pond at the north-west of the island, beside a tiny ruinous dwelling. The pond features on an old map. We made very good progress and must have excavated several tons of earth.

The old neck still aches slightly! Timothy Belmont enjoyed a beaker or two of Assam tea, accompanied by smoked salmon sandwiches, for lunch.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Memorial Garden

I'm glad the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office, the Rt Hon Hugo Swire MP, paid a visit to the Palace Barracks Memorial Garden today.

Frankly I hadn't been aware of it at all.

A quiet corner of the army base, just outside Holywood, County Down,  has become a poignant place of pilgrimage for the bereaved families of the security force personnel killed in the NI Troubles and other conflicts around the world.

The foundations for the one-and-half-acre site of the memorial garden in Palace Barracks were laid in 1994.

The main granite memorial Stone was mined in the west coast of South Africa, north of Durban, as is every stone in the memorial garden.

It was then brought in blocks weighing 10 tons from South Africa to Holland by Sea. Its journey then continued on to Warrenpoint, County Down.

Visits can be arranged by contacting:-

Memorial Custodian
Palace Barracks, Holywood
BFPO 806

Site Traffic

Clearly there has been a fair degree of interest generated by my piece regarding the intended fate of the Athletic Stores Building.

Lord Belmont yesterday had 1,300 visitors.

The plight of our built heritage and its insecurity at the hands of expedient planners is a challenge and an opportunity, for those of us who care, to send out a strong signal to these so-called planners that we are not lightly prepared to accept their rotten decisions in such matters.

A considerable number of buildings popping up are veritable eyesores, viz. the carbuncle attached to the Grand Opera House; which, presumably, attained the consent of Belfast "planners".

Monday, 21 November 2011

41 Queen Street Belfast


Subject: Athletic Stores Building


21st November, 2011

Dear Mr Attwood,

I deplore the decision of Belfast City Council to approve permission for the Athletic Stores Building in Queen Street to be demolished.

This building features in Marcus Patton’s Central Belfast Gazetteer and there are a number of features which are of merit, to my mind.

Belfast is essentially a Victorian city and any attempt to destroy the character of such edifices should be treated with great caution, I believe.

Please support the heritage of Belfast by preventing the demolition of this building.

Yours sincerely etc

The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society is on record as stating that
the building makes a material contribution to the character of the conservation area and should be defended vigorously by the Department charged with protecting the environment. Belfast Planning Division's own Conservation Officer also concluded that replacement of the building would result in harm to the conservation area.  

Sunday, 20 November 2011


What a thoroughly decent publication The Spectator is. There's a very good article in it by James Delingpole about the UK Independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage and David Cameron.

Delingpole takes deserved swipes at the BBC and the fact that most of the mainstream Media has ignored the creditable success of UKIP, which is currently a mere one point behind the Liberals.

The point is that Mr Farage is, and has been, a Conservative himself.

Taki, too, in his column, proclaims that
the scum who failed to win power [in Europe] over us through force of arms are now leading us by the nose through stealth and the EU Trojan Horse. Somebody wake up Mr Cameron.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Autumnal Nymans

My cousin  - who, incidentally, took these photos - and family took me to Nymans today; fine and sunny it is, too. My cousin lives fifteen minutes' away from Nymans in West Sussex. 

We had intended to have a sandwich in the restaurant, though it was too late and the variety was depleted.

We all strolled in the superb landscaped grounds. A large part of the mansion is ruinous, having suffered a disastrous fire in the 1940s.

In the late 19th century an unusually creative family bought the Nymans estate, in the picturesque High Weald landscape of Sussex, to make a home in the country. Inspired by the setting and the soil, the Messels created one of the great gardens, with experimental designs and new plants from around the world. 

Here they entertained family and friends, enjoying relaxing times, strolling in the garden, playing, picnicking and walking in the woods. The National Trust is reinventing Nymans for the 21st century by running the estate in a new, greener way.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Day in London

By Jove, Madame Tussaud knows how to charge! I visited the establishment this afternoon for the first time in a few decades. It cost me the princely sum of £28.80. I was in good company, though: Churchill, the Royal Family and their antecedents, celebrities, sports personalities and many more.

Earlier I spent an hour in the Banqueting Hall at Whitehall, its pre-eminent feature being its magnificent, painted ceiling by Rubens. When I left, I walked over to the Cenotaph and took a  photograph of the poppy wreaths.

Well I never! I accosted Lucy Worsley, looking  very well in a scarlet overcoat, at Nelson's column. She was doing an outside broadcast.

This is the 300 yard queue for the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition at the National Gallery.

I had a snifter in a trendy bar at Berkeley Square called Babbles (large Tanqueray and tonic, £10.80); then walked on to another, more traditional bar called the Guinea near by.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Crawley Visit

I have arrived in Crawley, West Sussex, where I am staying with my cousin. The Horsham train takes a mere nine minutes to reach Crawley from Gatwick Airport. £2.80 single.

We are close to Goff's Manor bar-restaurant and an adjoining public park complete with duck pond, playground, model railway and other facilities.

I intend to take the train into London tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Toast Sandwich

It is not the most elaborate sandwich ever created - toast between bread and bread – but the Royal Society of Chemistry believes there isn’t a cheaper meal in Britain.

The RSC has recreated the toast sandwich (featuring salt and pepper), first promoted by the celebrated Mrs Beeton in her cook book published 150 years ago next month.

So confident is the society that it has come up with the cheapest meal in the country that it is offering £200 to the first person who can prove them wrong by devising a more economical - but edible - lunchtime meal.

The toast sandwich is taken from Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management which became a best-seller after its appearance a century and a half ago in 1861.

Planning an anniversary feature for its website, the RSC had combed the tome for recipes reflecting her astonishing range, which also addressed meals for less well-off Victorians.

Dr John Emsley, of the RSC, said:
"We could have gone for one of the thousands of recipes that Mrs Beeton employed, most of them being table-groaning creations full of meats.

"But, given the stern days we are yet to experience, we decided to go for an unknown dish that requires little money and little time, and which she devised to cater for less well-off people.

"You simply put a piece of dry toast between two slices of bread and butter, with salt and pepper to taste. I've tried it and it's surprisingly nice to eat and quite filling.

"I would emphasise that toast sandwiches are also good at saving you calories as well as money, provided you only have one toast sandwich for lunch and nothing else.

"The RSC decided to promote Mrs Beeton's toast sandwich because it might just be what we need to get us through the harsh economic times that are forecast.

"Nor need you use butter; margarine will do just as well. That option was not open to Mrs Beeton because she was writing a few years before margarine was invented. That was first produced in France in 1869.

"Of course, when we finally emerge from these dark days we will seek something more celebratory from Mrs Beeton's pantheon of rich recipes to welcome back the good times."

RSC employee Jon Edwards adds: "In my student days I thought a meal of '9p noodles' from Tesco was the epitome of thrift - but a toast sandwich is tastier, quicker, has more calories and comes in at just 7.5p.

"Maybe more students should turn to Mrs Beeton for meals on the cheap."


Mrs Beeton's Toast Sandwich

Toast a thin slice of bread.

Butter two slices of bread and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Place the slice of toast between the 2 slices of bread-and-butter to form a sandwich.

Nutrition: 3 slices of white bread = 240 Calories. Butter = 10 g = 90 Calories

Poirot's Finale

David Suchet CBE is to star in ITV's final five films based on Agatha Christie's Belgian sleuth, Poirot.

The actor has played the character for the past 22 years starring in 65 films.

The new films, based on the remaining Poirot novels and short stories which have yet to be adapted, will begin production in 2012.

It includes Curtain, which is the detective's last tale and sees him return to the scene of his first case in a bid to prevent another murder.

Suchet said:
"I'm more than delighted to be reprising my role as Poirot. It's been my life's ambition to bring this amazing canon of works to completion. Poirot is a brilliant, yet profoundly complicated character and I've always loved playing him. He's considerate, with a love of elegance and precision, but he is also so maddeningly frustrating to play as he's so vain and pedantic! For all his faults he is one of the greatest listeners in literature. I've been so fortunate to play him."

The other four films will be Labours of Hercules, Dead Man's Folly, The Big Four and Elephants Can Remember.

Mathew Prichard, chairman of Agatha Christie Limited and the author's grandson, said:
"It is tremendous to renew our partnership with ITV and David Suchet as Poirot, and these five films will be a magnificent climax to over 20 years of David's portrayal of Hercule Poirot."
 ITV's Michele Buck added:
"We can promise the final five Poirot films will be a fitting tribute to a much-loved literary character. When the ending comes it'll be very dramatic and incredibly emotional. We've been on a remarkable journey with Poirot."
Clocks, the most recent Poirot film to be made, will be broadcast on ITV this Christmas and features Phil Daniels, Jaime Winstone and Lesley Sharp among the supporting cast.

It also features the late Anna Massey CBE (Mrs Jeremy Brett), who died earlier this year [2011], in one of her final roles.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Hillsborough Castle Lecture

I have attended a lecture by two members of Hillsborough Castle staff about the Castle and its role, both royal and ceremonial.

It took place in the Lecture Room at the Ulster Museum.

We were treated to a slide show and various procedures, including protocol and preparations, were explained.

I learned that the Castle has about a dozen main bedrooms.

The Household during any royal visit might include: the Private Secretary; equerries; valet; dresser; lady-in-waiting; footmen and other minions.

A number of items were on display. including the ceremonial spade, photographs and albums.

Monday, 14 November 2011

The Downton Girls



Eight of the actresses who appear in the ITV1 drama posed together in a photo-shoot for Marie Claire magazine.

Alas, the Dowager Countess of Grantham does not feature (!).

The period drama series, created by Julian, now Lord Fellowes, has become one of ITV's most successful productions.

Laura Carmichael, who plays shy Lady Edith, chose the most revealing look in a pair of lurex hotpants and off-the-shoulder top.

She was joined by Jessica Brown-Findlay and Michelle Dockery, otherwise known as Lady Sybil and Lady Mary, and Zoe Boyle, who played Lavinia Swire.

The actresses who play Downton's dowdy maids were also given the opportunity to dress up for the day.

Glamorously attired in a sparkling cocktail dress, Sophie McShera bears little resemblance to her character, the downtrodden Daisy.

Joanna Froggatt (Anna), Amy Nuttall (Ethel) and Clare Calbraith (Jane) completed the line-up.

The second series of Downton Abbey ended with a record 10.7 million viewers and a third is in the works, with eight episodes planned for 2012.

Fans will get another fix in December, when the drama returns for a Christmas special.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Woodland Path

I was out with the National Trust weekend volunteers today, the second time this week. We were at Minnowburn, near Belfast.

This morning we were creating the basis of a new woodland path, right in the heart of the woods.

Much of the enjoyment springs from the camaraderie between us, a good chin-wag about topics of common interest.

Alas, I was unable to get logs on this occasion!

Friday, 11 November 2011

Armistice Day


Thursday, 10 November 2011

Sloane Lecture

I attended a lecture by Dr S A Hawkins, consultant neurologist and reader, Queen's University of Belfast, at East Belfast historical Society, Belmont Tower, this evening.

The subject of his talk was Sir Hans Sloane Bt, whom I have written about on the Blog.

The Chairman announced afterwards that the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society is having an open day at its headquarters in Donegall Pass, Belfast, on Saturday, 3rd December, 2011.

Mulled wine will be served and publications shall also be available for purchase, some at a discounted rate.

Princess Royal in NI

Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal has been carrying out a number of engagements in a one-day visit to Northern Ireland.

HRH began by visiting RFD Beaufort, a firm that makes safety equipment for ships and airplanes, in Dunmurry.

Upon arrival Princess Anne was greeted by the Lord-Lieutenant of County Antrim, Mrs Joan Christie OBE and Mrs Moya Johnston, Managing Director of RFD Beaufort Ltd, who accompanied HRH throughout the company visit.

Throughout the day HRH was accompanied by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP.

Princess Anne then moved on to Oakfield Community Centre in Carrickfergus where she planted an oak tree with primary school children.

It was part of a scheme to plant six million trees across the UK to mark the Queen's diamond jubilee next year.

The Princess Royal's visit finished with a trip to the new Belfast Metropolitan College in the Titanic Quarter.

HRH took part in the official opening of the new £44m college building which will cater for up to 5,000 full and part-time students.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Overlooking Simmy

I have spent the day on Island Taggart, a property of the National Trust on Strangford Lough. We all met in Killyleagh and drove to an old quay adjacent to the ninety acre island.

Today we were clearing gorse. Lots of it. Six of us made good progress, though there remains abundant amounts of the stuff. Unfortunately we got drenched with heavy rain and, as a consequence, were unable to light a bonfire.

We lunched at the north-western end of Taggart, overlooking Simmy Island, Sir William and Lady Hastings' home (top).

Cheese and onion sandwiches, a Topic bar and a beaker of tea were consumed by self today.

We were all informed that the Trust's annual Christmas bash will be held at the Old Inn, Crawfordsburn, in December.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Keith Willis, 1962-2011


MOURNERS at the funeral of a well known Caledon man who was killed in a tragic accident last Wednesday have heard how he "died doing what he loved best".

Keith Willis, a country estate manager for Lord Caledon, lost his life in a freak tree felling accident at the 5,000 acre Armagh Road property, where he had worked for 34 years.

On Friday, the hundreds of mourners who packed into St John's Parish Church in Mr Willis' home village, heard the 49-year-old father of two described, in a tribute by Lord Caledon, as a man who was devoted to his wife and family.

Lord Caledon, who flew back to Northern Ireland from England on Thursday afternoon, said he was honoured to have been asked to lead the tributes at Mr Willis' funeral service.

“Keith died so tragically on the estate on Wednesday, doing what he loved best," Lord Caledon told heartbroken mourners. 
“When I think of Keith, what shines out was that he was a loving husband, an adoring father, a kindly uncle and a devoted son.
“He was enormously proud of his girls, Laura-Jane and Katherine, just as he was of his nephews, David and Andrew.
“Keith was a quintessential family man, through and through - always protective, loving and supportive of Pauline."
Lord Caledon also spoke of Mr Willis' dedication and commitment to the community in which he lived.
“He loved the church, and was a member of the Select Vestry and served on the Church Hall committee. He always pumped energy into raising money for the church and the community as a whole.
“He was knowledgeable and served through difficult times in the UDR. He loved to do his annual fly-ins as Father Christmas (to the local primary school on Lord Caledon's helicopter), and there was no better man for the job."
Lord Caledon went on to describe Mr Willis as a good human being, a great example to the community and someone who will be missed greatly by everyone who had known him.

Mr Willis started working part-time on Lord Caledon's estate at the age of 13 and had recently been presented with an RUAS award for long service.

The funeral service was conducted by Reverend Johnny McLoughlin, Curate Assistant for St Mark's Church in Armagh.

Mr Willis' death is the third tragedy to hit his family over the past 20 years.

The most recent was in November last year, when his brother-in-law Robert Wilson died in an accident involving a feeder at a pig farm where he worked near Killylea.

The Willis family also suffered tragedy in July 1990, when the victim's brother Cyril, an RUC officer, was murdered along with two other colleagues and a nun when an IRA landmine exploded on the Killylea Road outside Armagh.

Mr Willis, who lived on the Killylea Road in Caledon, is survived by his wife Pauline, daughters Laura-Jane and Katherine, mother Dorothy, brother Jim and a wider family circle.

After the funeral service on Friday, the victim was laid to rest in the adjoining cemetery at St John's Parish Church.

The Health and Safety Executive have launched an investigation into the accident, which occurred around lunchtime last Wednesday.

A spokesman said the investigation into the tragedy is ongoing and extended sympathy to Mr Willis' family.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Country House Cards

Can any readers suggest fine Christmas cards with a Northern Ireland country house theme?

The NI Heart, Chest and Stroke Association used to sell a good selection of cards; as did the National Trust, though the NT cards seem not to make the most of their wonderful houses and properties, in 2011 at least.

I shall be in London soon and I'm sure some establishments ought to sell their own ranges of cards there.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Estate Walk

Mount Stewart, the National Trust's property on the Ards Peninsula in County Down, was truly beautiful today. the sun shone down on us and glimmered on the tranquil lough.

I walked through the visitor entrance, had a brief look in the shop - where there was a disappointing assortment of Christmas cards - and passed on to the grounds. The croquet lawn had just been spiked or aerated for the winter.

Tír na nÓg, the Londonderry family burial ground, was so peaceful and heavenly.

Having arrived back at the restaurant, I opted for a hot bowl of their curried parsnip and apple soup, with a slice of wheaten bread and butter. This was tip-top and I received my 20% volunteer staff discount, too, bring it to £3.08.

After lunch, I walked out of the main estate, crossed the Portaferry Road and ventured out to the willow tunnel at Anne's Point.

As I motored home I couldn't resist "topping up" at the new Tesco petrol station, where petrol was £1.29 per litre.

ROH Patronage

, the Daily Telegraph's Royal Correspondent, reports that the Duchess of Cambridge has been making a number of visits to the Royal Opera House with her father-in-law, the Prince of Wales.

Prince Charles, a lifelong fan of the opera and the ballet, is understood to be encouraging the Duchess of Cambridge's interests in both art forms, with a view to her supporting the Royal Opera House in an official capacity as part of her future role in public life.

Her Royal Highness, 29, is keen to become a patron of the arts, and a move into the opera and ballet world would be welcomed within royal circles.

The Queen is patron of the Royal Ballet, with Prince Charles acting as president, and Lady Sarah Chatto as vice president. The Prince of Wales is also patron of the Royal Opera.

A Royal Opera House source, said: “The Duchess of Cambridge and the Prince of Wales have made several private visits to the Royal Opera House together, before and since the royal wedding in April, to watch several opera and ballet productions." 

The royal visits to Covent Garden reflect the strengthening bond between Prince Charles and his daughter-in-law.

Last month, His Royal Highness called upon his “darling daughter-in-law” to step in for him at the last minute for a charity dinner at Clarence House in her first solo engagement.

As part of her future role as a champion of the arts, the Duchess of Cambridge is also considering supporting a number of national institutions, thought to include The Tate, the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the V&A.

HRH is expected to become the official patron of several national museums and galleries and may also act as an “ambassador” for institutions that have existing Royal links, such as the Royal Opera House and the V&A where Princess Alexandra is a patron.

The Duchess of Cambridge has a long-held interest in the arts. During her gap year in 2001, she spent three months studying art history at the British Institute in Florence, before enrolling at the University of St Andrew’s where she met Prince William while reading a history of art degree.

She will also undertake a number of private visits to charities over the next few months to decide which she will take on in an official capacity.

An announcement on which institutions and charities she will support is expected in the New Year.

New Royal Apartment

The royal news this weekend is that TRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will move to Apartment 1A at Kensington Palace during 2013. This shall be their permanent London home.

Prince William spent his childhood at the Palace.

Their new London home has five bedrooms and three reception rooms, enough space to begin a family.

TRH are understood to have settled on Apartment 1A as the move will allow them to remain close to Prince Harry. Before their wedding, the couple shared living quarters with him at Clarence House. 

Occupied by HRH The Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, until her death in 2002, Apartment 1A has not been redecorated since she moved there in 1960 with her then husband, Lord Snowdon; and still features HRH's blue and grey colour schemes in several of the rooms.

It is currently used as offices for Palace staff and as storage space.

The Duchess of Cambridge is believed to be keen to take a "hands on" approach to decorating their new home, although she is also expected to consult interior designers.

A royal aide said:
"Renovating their new home will be a massive job and the Duchess [of Cambridge] will likely approach it as she did their wedding – taking advice where needed but ultimately making the decisions herself. The couple looked quite seriously at another apartment in St James's Palace, but decided on Kensington Palace as it meant they could stay together with Prince Harry. The accommodation also provides the right level of privacy for them and is sizeable enough for them to start a family and entertain both privately and in an official capacity. While [TRH] remain very close to the Prince of Wales, the move away was part of a natural evolution for them as a newly married couple."

The royal couple will share Kensington Palace with the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke and Duchess of Kent and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Snifter at the Fire!

A cheery, roaring log fire has been lit at Home and Timothy Belmont is well installed this evening. One still reminisces about the sublime lamb dinner at the Dirty Duck exactly a week ago.

I am listening to some classical music on the radio while the fire blazes.

I sip a modest Tanqueray. There is little difference between gin prices presently, at any rate. Twenty pounds a litre is not uncommon.

The weather has been fine today. The last three roses of 2011 bloom outside the Porch.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Boris the Bus-Driver

BBC Northern Ireland reports that the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is in County Antrim to unveil the prototype bus that will replace the traditional London Routemaster.

The contract to build the new bus for London Transport was awarded to the Ballymena company, Wrightbus, in January, 2010.

Twenty-five engineers and a production team of 40 are employed on the project. An initial order was placed for eight prototype buses, with the company hoping many more will follow.

A special feature of the bus is the reinstatement of the old-style hop on, hop-off platform:
"We've got this fantastic new bus which, amidst many other features, we've got the open platform back," Mr Johnson said.
"We're going to bring that back to the streets of London - it was wrongly taken away. This is a world-class piece of technology built here in Ballymena. It's the most amazing futuristic design, but it's also the cleanest, greenest bus that will ply the streets of London, indeed any city in the UK."
Mr Johnson launched the competition for a replacement for the old Routemaster three years ago. On Friday he came to Ballymena to drive the first prototype of its replacement off the production line.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Kindle Review

About one month ago I received an Amazon Kindle electronic book reader.

I have to admit that I'd been intrigued by the Kindle and similar devices for a year or two, so this was an opportunity to see what it was really like to live with.

Undoubtedly this is a clever little gadget. With the hard leather cover and light, I found it a touch heavy to hold after a period.

The device itself is light, though with the cover attached to it I found it bulkier and heavier. Do consider this before opting for the leather cover.

I never used the little light. I expect it would come into its own if one wished to read at night without disturbing one's partner.

I found the actual reading experience good. The screen is bright and legible, even in bright sunlight. The rechargeable battery lasts for a long time, too.

Frankly I don't read enough to justify the Kindle. Downloading books, magazines and newspapers certainly is not free. Despite the admirable Gutenberg Project and the very limited availability of free material - mostly Classics - all other reading material must be paid for.

In conclusion, it is simpler and easier to continue with one's own paperback collection. Old P G Wodehouse books can be picked up anywhere cheaper than a Kindle download on Amazon.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Metric Height

All right, Timothy Belmont does not expect any degree of sympathy on this one. I was asked for my height by a physician this afternoon. Naturally I replied in feet and inches.

The doctor asked me what that was in metres. Ha!

How should I know? The sooner we get rid of this euro-nonsense, the better. If pounds and inches are good enough for the United States of America, they are good enough for me.

I responded with my best guess, to the nearest metre.

New £50 Bank-Note

Today a new £50 note will enter circulation, featuring images of Matthew Boulton and James Watt, leading figures of the Industrial Revolution. 

The biggest change comes in the form of new security measures introduced by the Bank of England to deter counterfeiters.

Chris Salmon, the Bank of England's chief cashier, said in a speech last week to the British Numismatic Society that he had been determined that banknotes must be "instantly recognisable and hard to copy".

The £50 is the first new note to be released since Salmon took the job six months ago, and the first to feature two portraits on the reverse. It also brings a claimed three new authentication features over its predecessor.

Mr Salmon stated,

"As well as a first for our banknote art and being the first to bear my signature, the new £50 will deliver a significant update in security features, carrying eight features for cash users compared to the five of its predecessor," 

One of these features, called Motion Thread, includes semi-translucent windows woven into the note that show the £ symbol and the number 50 when held up to the light.

"When a note is tilted from side to side, the images move up and down. And when the note is tilted up and down, the images move from side to side and the number 50 and £ symbol switch.

"The thread, in combination with the other security features, reflects our intention to design a secure note. I would encourage everyone to take the time to examine this new security feature, whether seeing it for the first time next week or when receiving a note in five years’ time." 
"Unfortunately no matter how well we design our notes, whatever their quality, and however well educated the public are about authentication, there will be some level of counterfeiting."

Existing £50 notes featuring Sir John Houblon, the first governor of the Bank of England, will remain legal tender, but will eventually be recalled.

There are around 2.8 billion bank notes in circulation in the UK, including £9.9 billion in £50 denominations.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Rotten Website

I have endeavoured twice within the last two days to book a ticket for Hansel and Gretel on the website of the Grand Opera House, Belfast.

What a ghastly website it is! It is slow, ponderous, crashes occasionally; and finally, when it comes to payment, up pops:
We are sorry, but an error has occurred whilst trying to process your request:
Object reference not set to an instance of an object.


This has happened several times and, as a consequence, the GOH has lost revenue. 

I refuse to waste time and money phoning them. I might call at their box office the next time I'm in Belfast.

They need a new website with the technical capacity to enable it to cope with bookings and enquiries adequately.

Incidentally, they also persist in charging £1 for:
Please choose a delivery method for your tickets:
The cost of the selected delivery method will be 1.00 GBP.