Saturday, 31 March 2012

Back in UK

I am home. The flight was on schedule, arrived at seven and I was home at about eight-fifteen. I got through Customs and Passport Control in record time, too.

It was a good holiday and I'm well browned off!

Don't tell me the Met Office is predicting 7c next week.

Corralejo: XI

Yesterday was spent at El Cotillo beach. We Belmonts generally tan easily, though I have been caught out on this occasion with the old sun and wind. I am minded to buy fresh sun cream and after-sun cream when I arrive at a resort, in future, rather than bringing it in the hand luggage.

Hand luggage regulations permit only 100 ml of liquids in any one bottle at present. The stuff adds to the weight of one's baggage, too.

Well I enjoyed another great meal at The Temple last night. With the old nose-bag neatly affixed, Timothy tucked in to a hearty dinner consisting of slowly-cooked lamb shoulder and vegetables, followed by home-made cheesecake with fruits of the forest.

John's brother Michael joined me and we had a decent chin-wag during our nosh-up. John is driving us both to the airport. Incidentally, Michael had The Temple's sirloin steak, reputedly the best of its kind in the resort.

The chef, Colin, is a veritable master of the culinary taste-buds. I am minded to write a separate article about The Temple later.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Corralejo: X

Timothy Belmont has been lying doggo for the last few days. It has been overcast, though with sunny intervals. Today seems more promising.

Have any readers viewed Julian Fellowes' latest blockbuster, Titanic? What is your verdict? Hit or flop?

I see that Lord Fellowes has been in Belfast, at the brand new Titanic Belfast complex.

Titanic Belfast has cost more than £90m and tells of the building of the liner to her maiden voyage from Southampton and her tragic end.

It is the largest and most expensive tribute to the Titanic in the world and taken three years to build.It will be opened on March 31st by the Province's First Minister, Rt Hon Peter Robinson MLA.

The attraction is expecting 425,000 people to visit in the first year.

Nine galleries chart the story of Titanic. The first starts with life in Belfast in the early 1900s. The next with many interactive and audio-visual affects charts the building of the ship.

Visitors then look at life on board with reconstructions of first, second and third class (steerage) passengers.

Areas also cover the departure from Southampton of Titanic through to the collision with the iceberg.
Trips end with a look at the recent dives to the wreck and the latest pictures from the site two miles below the sea.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Crom Becomes Blandings

A few readers have told me about a new BBC production filming at Crom in County Fermanagh, ancestral seat of the Earls of Erne.

The Victorian mansion has been transformed in recent days, as filming gets under way for the BBC production Blandings, starring Jennifer Saunders and Timothy Spall OBE.

Northern Ireland Screen has collaborated with the Corporation in the production.

The tranquil and picturesque settings of Lough Erne are providing the perfect backdrop for the TV show, based on the work of Sir Pelham G Wodehouse KBE.

Wodehouse wrote several stories about a fictional estate called Blandings Castle.

Timothy Spall plays Clarence, 9th Earl of Emsworth, while Saunders – known for her role in Absolutely Fabulous – will star as his formidable sister, Lady Constance Keeble.

Filming for the series, set in 1929, began on Monday, 26th March, 2012, and is expected to last for the next six weeks.

The manager of Crom Castle, Noel Johnston, said it was an “honour” that producers had selected the location for such a high-profile venture.

He confirmed it was the first time the venue had been used for such a “huge” project, having primarily only played host to numerous weddings in the past.

Mr Johnston said:
“We are delighted that they chose Northern Ireland. For star actors and actresses to come to Crom is an amazing thing. It is a huge boost for Fermanagh. The spin-off from it is going to be huge I would imagine.The whole county is buzzing and loads of people have been cast as extras.”
An open casting day for extras was held in Enniskillen earlier this month.

Mr Johnston said he first became aware of interest in Crom estate last summer. He said:
“We got a phone call asking could the producers come and look at it. They just fell in love with the place. They couldn’t believe it. Nothing was confirmed until January when we received the news that we got it.”
While Crom estate belongs to the National Trust, the Castle itself is the seat of Lord and Lady Erne.

Mr Johnston insisted, despite the obvious disruption, that the Ernes were “more than happy” to facilitate filming on their front doorstep.

Given the recent spell of good weather, he added that the crew and cast – totalling more than 100 people – had chosen perfect timing to begin filming in the Ulster Lakeland.

The cast are also expected to record various scenes at other locations in County Fermanagh.

Speaking ahead of filming, writer Guy Andrews described Blandings Castle as “dysfunction junction, the home of a chaotic family struggling to keep itself in order”.

Blandings is expected to be aired on BBC television in the autumn.

Corralejo: IX

John, the owner of The Temple restaurant in Corralejo, kindly offered me a lift to the airport when I depart. His brother happens to be travelling back to Belfast on the same flight.

I had their Mexican Fajitas last night, nose-bag firmly affixed, followed closely by their sublime cheesecake which, had I a ruler, must have measured three or four inches in depth.

The buses here are Mercedes-Benz. Passenger seats all have seat-belts and arm-rests.

They are fully automatic, with six gears, air-conditioning and all mod-cons.

Curiously, I wondered why they have a cigarette lighter at the driver's console, given that smoking on the bus is not permitted. Ought they not to be discouraging drivers from smoking?

Returning from El Cotillo to Corralejo, the driver was cruising along at up to 100 kph, whatever that is in mph.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Corralejo: VIII

One of my most loyal readers, Mad Pierre, apprises me that the UK, and Northern Ireland in particular, has been enjoying halcyon conditions for the time of year.

Oh, that it would last till the noble earl returns!

Readers and residents of the Exempt Jurisdiction of the Earldom of Belmont, be urged to make the most of what might prove to be Ulster's "summer".

I jest, by the way. Some of you might be glad to know that it was cool here yesterday evening and everybody wore coats or jumpers.

Monday, 26 March 2012


Another day at El Cotillo beach, though windy and more sand-blasting. Exfoliation!

I ate again at The Temple last night. The diligence of the staff there is exemplary and there are a mere four of them: John, the proprietor; Peter, the head waiter; Colin, the chef; and an assistant.

I fancied the roast chicken dinner last night. The Deal was a starter and main meal for €10, so I had the ham and cheese quiche slice (I cannot recall what they called it), followed by the chicken, consisting of several slices of chicken breast; a small disc of stuffing; creamed potato; a roast potato; a Yorkshire pudding; rich gravy; and a side dish consisting of peas, carrot slices and cabbage.

Timothy Belmont generally eats whatever he likes, so I will happily partake of Tapas, though I shan't have the likes of mussel, limpet, sea cucumber, oyster, winkle etc. Prawn, lobster, crab and the like are all fine, minus their shells.

The Canarian clocks went forward an hour yesterday, so the sun is rising now.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Corralejo: VI

I jumped onto the local bus today and travelled the forty minute journey - via a few villages - to El Cotillo. First port-of-call was El Goloso, a village patisserie.They happen to have another branch in Puerto del Rosario, too.

Ha! A gorgeous French tart was gazing fondly at me from behind the counter, a spectacle which Timothy Belmont found irresistible.

Thus, with the tart in hand and a freshly-squeezed orange juice, I took a table in this rustic and popular establishment.

The tart - more of a tartlet, really - was diminutive and crammed with four fruits, including grape, strawberry and some star-shaped affair.

Later I strode onwards to the beach and found a sunny, sheltered spot. This was my best day yet. After a fruit lunch, I ambled over to La Concha bar-restaurant, formerly Torino's, where I indulged in a modest refresher, viz. Bacardi and Coke.

This evening I have received an invitation to the first anniversary of the Kactus Cafe in the resort.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Corralejo: V

By Jove, it was windy today. I was well sand-blasted on the beach, to the extent that I got up and left after a while.

A number of establishments in Corralejo are struggling to survive, I am reliably informed, to the extent that one or two are going to cease trading imminently. Castaways, a bar on the sea-front, apparently closes down in April.

I gather the weather back at home is good, is it?

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Corralejo: IV+

Whilst exercising the trusty gnashers at The Temple last night, I enquired as to an appropriate establishment where I might meet some convivial female company of a not dissimilar age-group to self (keep rocking, Ronnie Wood!); viz, an agreeable bar of some sort.

I was advised to try The Rogues' Gallery or Robin's Nest. the latter being en route to the temporary Belmont GHQ, so I paid it a visit.

Now this is indeed an unpretentious, cosy enough English pub and, you've guessed it, the publican's name was Robin.

I'd already had my quota of gins for the evening, so I ordered a tonic-water, which Robin duly poured out of a large bottle.

Gazing round the establishment, I noted no ladies of particular note, apart from three silver-haired pensioners enjoying themselves in a corner.

Timothy Belmont, cognizant that he is no spring chicken, is, nonetheless, youthful and vigorous enough when required. Most of the clientele were senior citizens or couples; an ancient version of Chris Rea was churning out the old Numbers on an equally ancient guitar, and crooning for good measure.

Hence, dear readers, you get the picture. No joy for Timothy there. I decided I'd had enough after a while and took my leave.

Corralejo: IV

Fool, Belmont! I decanted what I believed to be Factor 15 or 20 into a 100ml bottle for the hand luggage; and, despite slapping the stuff liberally on the estimable Belmont figure, I have suffered a degree of sun-burn.

I was compelled to buy a bottle of Aftersun yesterday, since the stuff I brought with me was considerably depleted.

Never mind, all is fair and well in the Belmont household. I revisited The Temple last night, feeling an urge to get the trusty gnashers into their well-known slow-cooked lamb shoulder, though another party had eaten the lot; so I donned the nose-bag for the Fillet of Beef Rossini instead.

Methinks I shall stay out of the sun's full glare for a while.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Killynether Dinghy

This is the hand-crafted little boat that Bruce created  from hazel coppices at Killynether Wood, a property of the National Trust and a spot I have frequented many times.

Is it a coracle or a curragh? Do tell.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Corralejo: III+

Timothy Belmont has succumbed to Temptation and is sipping a Bombay Sapphire and tonic at a little cafe-bar with two cheerful young ladies running the joint, friendly service and wi-fi. Wi-fi is not hard to find here, in Corralejo.

I have Joy In The Morning, by PG Wodehouse, with me.

I am endeavouring to stay out of the sun's full glare today, having overdone it a touch yesterday. Ha!

Corralejo: III

Well, dear readers, I lazed on the beautiful grand beach, south of Corralejo, yesterday. It has been breezy and the sea was choppy.

Yesterday evening I walked to the Kactus tapas and cocktail bar, where I was was greeted by the lovely, charming young couple who own it. I had my usual Tanqueray and tonic, served with large ice-cubes, a thick slice of lemon, in a tumbler.

It has been a touch cooler in the evenings, so I wore my striped shirt with a fine woolen v-neck sweater draped over my shoulder.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Corralejo: II

I had a terrific meal at the Temple Restaurant in Corralejo last night: Quail's eggs with Camambert cheese and salad; a very good cod-fish with home-made thick-cut chips.

The proprietor John is originally from Belfast and knows what his diners like. Service is excellent. They were heavily booked last night, though I'd reserved a table, so they greeted me like an old friend, given that I have eaten there before.

Earlier I met the Athlone couple at a beach bar called Waikiki Beach, which, incidentally, had some very pretty waitresses. Ann-Marie told me I didn't look my age! How delightful.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Corralejo: I

At last I have an Internet connection! Amen. Well, readers, Timothy Belmont is far from the madding crowd - or, rather, with another madding corwd - in the Canary Islands.

I arrived yesterday.  The weather has been cloudy, though agreeable enough - gives one time to acclimatize, don't you know.

I met a nice cultured couple from Athlone, who happen to have been on the island for a month. We are meeting today at luch-time in an establishment called Waikiki Beach.

I sang for my adoring fans at a Karaoke bar last night (!).

I am away and shall report back later..

Friday, 16 March 2012

Prince Philip at Hillsborough

His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh today met one hundred Duke of Edinburgh Award winners at a ceremony in Hillsborough Castle, County Down.

Upon arrival, HRH was greeted by the Vice Lord-Lieutenant of County Down, Mrs Fionnuala Cook OBE DL, and went on to meet Mrs Ann Mackie, Sheriff for County Down and Ms Kate Thompson, Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Director, Northern Ireland.

In the Drawing Room Prince Philip met Ms Karen Carson, Room Steward,, Mr Edwin Parks, Deputy Room Steward,  and Group Marshall Heather Best. HRH had the opportunity to chat with approximately forty Gold Award recipients, their families and friends.

In the Small Dining Room His Royal Highness accepted an invitation to present Operating Authority Licence Certificates to the following organisations: Queen’s University Belfast, Officer Training Corps, Northern Ireland Church Lads and Church Girls’ Brigade, Scout Council for Northern Ireland, the Royal School Armagh and the Probation Board for Northern Ireland.

HRH was invited by Ms Thompson to present gifts of a Certificate and a Photo-book to recently retired DoE office holders Mr Gordon Topping OBE, retired Chairman, Northern Ireland Ambassador Network and Mr Brian Dillon, retired DoE Manager, North Eastern Education and Library Board.

Prior to lunch Prince Philip also met Dr Robson Davison, Chairman, Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Northern Ireland Ambassador Network and a number of current and recently retired members of the Ambassador Network and  Funders.

Before departure HRH signed the visitors’ book bringing the engagement to a close.

Royal Pageant


The Daily Telegraph reports,

 It's going to be the biggest royal event on London's river in decades, possibly centuries: on Sunday June 3 more than 1,000 vessels will leave Battersea for the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant, a stately progress downriver to Tower Bridge.

Ten groups of boats – including the 88ft rowing barge Gloriana, the "Little Ships" of Dunkirk and the replica Golden Hinde – will be led by music herald barges. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, on the royal barge The Spirit of Chartwell, will be in the third group.

All bridges will close to the public, so spectators will need to decide whether to watch from the north bank or the south, just as they did in medieval times, when the only way of crossing – bar London Bridge – was to be ferried by a waterman.

Londoners of those days would have been used to seeing the royal barge being rowed between Richmond, Westminster and the Tower; the river was a quicker thoroughfare than the appallingly congested streets.

Times have changed. The Queen and Prince Philip are unlikely to see bloated rats and cow carcases floating in the water. Instead of busy wharves, the modern river is lined with open spaces, cafés, bars, restaurants, hotels and galleries.

The excellent Thames Path runs along both banks and half the route can be seen from Victoria and Albert Embankments, both with huge pavements and walls to lean on. 

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Go, Fatso!

Oh dear, our larger police officers are going to be persecuted. A new review has advised that all police officers (would this apply to Northern Ireland police officers?) should be required to take an annual fitness test; failure resulting in a pay cut.

Those who fail the test three times should be subject to disciplinary procedures and a pay cut.

Chief constables should be able to make any officer redundant as part of budget cuts, ending the prospect of a job for life, the report said.

"... the public will be surprised that after passing a fitness test at the point of entry, except in special units like firearms, physical fitness is not tested again in a 30, 35-year career."

An initial annual test requiring officers to reach level 5:4 on the bleep test should be brought in by September next year, he said.

This is equivalent to an average speed of 8.8kph (5.5mph) for three minutes 35 seconds, he said.

But this should get tougher by September 2018, along similar lines to the test currently used in Northern Ireland.

This includes climbing over walls and pulling bodies and was designed to reflect situations which "police officers do and can become involved in".

Suffice it to say that Timothy Belmont concurs with the findings.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Lord Mayor

In the United Kingdom, the Lord Mayors of London and York have been styled "The Right Honourable" since time immemorial.

Other Lord Mayors are thus styled only when granted this privilege by the sovereign: These are Belfast and Cardiff. The remainder are styled "The Right Worshipful".

Therefore, the Lord Mayor of Armagh is styled "The Right Worshipful the Lord Mayor of Armagh".

The Lord Mayor of Belfast has been accorded the prefix "Right Honourable" because he, or she, is accorded ex officio the rank of baron - not  privy counsellor.

This rank was conferred upon the Lord Mayor of Belfast by GEORGE V in March, 1923.

In the Irish Republic the posts of Lord Mayor of Dublin (granted under the kingdom of Ireland) and Lord Mayor of Cork (granted when this city was part of the UK) still exist.

Lord Mayoralty Conferral

The City of Armagh will from now on have a Lord Mayor. Many congratulations indeed.

The conferral has been made by HM The Queen on advice from the Deputy Prime Minister and Lord President of the Privy Council, the Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP.

The award of city status or a Lord Mayoralty is an honour bestowed by the sovereign only on rare occasions.

The decision to award  a Lord Mayoralty in Northern Ireland was made in recognition of the significance of every part of the United Kingdom in the Diamond Jubilee year; and reflects the high quality of the bids submitted.

The Deputy Prime Minister said:
“Congratulations to Armagh, Chelmsford, Perth and St Asaph who have been granted these rare honours from a field of exceptional entrants. Across the United Kingdom, I have been moved by the pride and passion which people have shown in putting their nominations forward.”
“The standard of application was very high, and those who missed out should not be downhearted.  I hope the competition has given the residents of all of the places which applied a sense of civic pride, of collective ownership and of community spirit.” 
Her Majesty will formally confer the Lord Mayoralty by Letters Patent in due course.

The conferral of Lord Mayoralty is purely honorific and bestows no additional powers, functions or funding.

The last civic honours competition was held in 2002 to mark the Golden Jubilee when Preston, Stirling, Newport, Lisburn and Newry were awarded city status and Exeter was awarded a Lord Mayoralty.

The Deramore Oak

The Woodland Trust has published a fascinating article about Belvoir Park at Newtownbreda, Belfast:-

The estate of Belvoir was created in the 1730s, though we know from records of 1625 that there were already trees in these townlands at the time. 

The oldest oak so far found in Northern Ireland is at Belvoir, and has been dated to 1642 using dendrochronology, a form of analysis carried out by counting the rings within the tree’s trunk which indicate seasonal growth patterns. 

Measurement of trees at Belvoir found 270 trees with a girth of three metres or greater, nearly half of which were oaks.

Belvoir also boasts a stump of around 8.5 metres [28 feet] girth, the remains of the Great Oak or Deramore Oak (a name meaning ‘big oak’), from which Lord Deramore, who owned Belvoir in the late 19th century, is thought to have taken his title. 

While this tree is sadly no more, its name has been transferred to another of the park’s mighty trees. 

Genetic analysis of the old oaks at Belvoir has shown them to be very like native oaks found in old woods such as Breen, in Co Antrim, suggesting that they are of native stock rather than introduced.

In the woodland and parkland at Belvoir you might catch a glimpse of red squirrels, and it is also a good site for fungi enthusiasts. 

The ancient oaks rub shoulders with more recent plantations, and there are also a 12th century Norman motte, a ruined graveyard dating back to at least the 15th century, and the remnants of the former estate buildings.

 First published in September, 2010.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Contented Lawson

Cordial congratulations and best wishes to Nigel Lawson, who has spoken of his “happy” relationship with an Oxford University academic who is 37 years his junior. I am pleased for him.

Lady Thatcher’s former Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted he was lucky to have met Tina Jennings, a multi-millionaire’s ex-wife, when she attended a lecture he gave on economic policy.

The Rt Hon the Lord Lawson of Blaby PC, 80, told the Evening Standard:
“Yes, she is a lot younger, but she’s, what, 43, with three children, two of them teenagers, so she’s a fully mature person. We live separately, of course. She has her life, her job in Oxford, and two of her children are at school in Oxford – so we live separately. When I have to travel, we often travel together. But we’ve been together for just over a year and, touch wood, I’m a lucky man.”

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Portavo Day

I have spent most of the day planting trees at the National Trust's new wood beside Portavo reservoir. Thank heaven it was fine and sunny intervals. There were about seven of us.

We managed to get 1,000 saplings planted today; and we erected two bird-boxes on telegraph poles in the middle of the field.
Portavo House, the new mansion which has been built on the hill amidst dense woodland, is 12,000 square feet in size; its owners, the Tughan family.

It is impossible to see the house from ground level or, at least, from the main Groomsport-Donaghadee Road.

I called at Jollye's for a sack of nyjer seeds on the way home, which set me back £35. That ought to keep my wild goldfinches happy.

Friday, 9 March 2012

UK Tourism

Forget about so-called "Tourism Ireland" nonsense and their squandering of our hard-earned cash. Shame on those politicians in the NI Assembly who support it.

Here is the best television advertising campaign, to encourage us to holiday at home, sponsored by the four tourist boards of the UK.

It begins with Stephen Fry and continues in various parts of the country. The Downton Abbey actress Michelle Dockery is featured at the Giant's Causeway in County Antrim.

The £5m campaign is being led by VisitEngland with the support of the tourist boards of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Fry asks the viewer "Why on earth" anyone would want to go abroad in 2012 while Walters attends a garden party in the Cotswolds.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Despicable Road Humps

The Earldom is being overrun with so-called road humps or ramps. What a confounded nuisance, especially for those of us who drive within the legal limit on urban roads.

The Bureaucrats have deemed it appropriate that our roads be made even worse with these monstrosities, courtesy of gypsies on behalf of the roads disservice.

Who wants them?

Certain politicians and bureaucrats wilfully ruin urban roads with these uneven surfaces (their condition is poor enough, anyway).

Lord Belmont will be amongst the first in the queue at Castle Place to horse-whip the culprits. Let us line them up and treat them to six of the best, each.

Does the European Union have any say in this matter?

Princess Anne in Co Down

Wednesday, 7th March, 2012

Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal viewed the SOS Bus and attended a reception for volunteers and sponsors at Hillsborough Castle, County Down. Upon arrival HRH was greeted by the Vice Lord-Lieutenant of County Down, Mrs Fionnuala Cook OBE DL.

Later, in the Throne Room of the Castle, Princess Anne met a number of Funders and Suppliers associated with the SOS Bus. HRH also met a number of Team Leaders and Volunteers who staff the SOS Bus on a regular basis.

Mr Stephen Kingon, Chairman, SOS Bus Northern Ireland, said a few words and presented Her Royal Highness with a gift of a specially commissioned piece of Halcyon Days pottery, before inviting HRH to sign the SOS Bus visitors’ book.

Prior to bidding farewell, The Princess Royal also signed the Hillsborough Castle visitors’ book.

The Princess Royal later attended the “Innovation in Practice” Occupational Therapy Conference, Parliament Buildings, Belfast. Upon arrival HRH was greeted by the Speaker, Northern Ireland Assembly, Mr William Hay MLA.

Accompanied by the Speaker and proceeding to the Members’ Dining Room, Princess Anne met Mr Edwin Poots MLA, Health Minister; Naomi Hankinson, Chairman of Council, British Association and College of Occupational Therapists; Julia Scott, Chief Executive, College of Occupational Therapists; Liz McNabney, Chairman, Occupational Therapy Managers’ Forum, Northern Ireland; and Carolyn Maxwell, Chairman of the NI Board of the College of Occupational Therapists.

Moving to the Private Dining Room, HRH was invited by the Speaker to sign the visitors’ book. The Princess Royal then joined the Conference in the Long Gallery and heard Mr Edwin Poots MLA and Mrs Liz McNabney address the Conference before Her Royal Highness addressed the Conference.

Departing for the final engagement, HRH attended the “Project 500: Public Libraries as Science Learning Environments at Holywood Library, County Down. Upon arrival Princess Anne was greeted by the Vice Lord-Lieutenant of County Down, Mrs Fionnuala Cook OBE DL.

Moving inside and accompanied by Irene Knox, Chief Executive Libraries NI, HRH met invited guests representing the Queen’s University of Belfast, Sullivan Upper School and Priory Integrated College, Libraries NI Board members and Libraries NI staff.

In the main Library, HRH met Valerie Christie, Children’s Services Manager, Libraries NI; Dr Ruth Jarman, Co-Director Project 500; Dr Joy Alexander, Co-Director, Project 500; and Sue McGrath, Director, Science2Life.

The Princess Royal went on to meet the pupils and teachers of Sullivan Upper School and Priory Integrated College.

Ms Knox thanked Her Royal Highness for visiting Holywood Library, before inviting the pupils Natasha Smith, Priory Integrated College, and Peter Adams, Sullivan Upper School, to present HRH with gifts of two books.

The Princess Royal was invited to sign the visitors’ book, bringing the one day of engagements in Northern Ireland to a close.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Order of the British Empire Service


Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh led worshippers at a special service of dedication and thanks for the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

Around 2,000 people holding the honour filled St Paul's Cathedral, where they made an act of personal dedication led by the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev and Rt Hon Dr Richard Chartres KCVO.

The Queen, who was wearing a full-length red state dress and the sovereign's mantle of the Order of the British Empire, entered the cathedral before the start of the service with Prince Philip using the Dean's Door - with an internal staircase - on the south side rather than the famous West Door.

The Order was founded in 1917 by GEORGE V with the motto For God and the Empire, and has more than 100,000 members throughout the world.

The Order recognises distinguished service to the arts and sciences, public services outside the Civil Service and work with charitable and welfare organisations of all kinds.

Senior public figures with the ranks of Knights and Dames Grand Cross (GBE) took part in a procession at the start of the service, including the Governor of the Bank of England, Professor Sir Mervyn King GBE, former president of the High Court Family Division, the Baroness Butler-Sloss GBE PC and the first Speaker of the House of Lords, the Baroness Hayman GBE PC.

Sir Ronnie Flanagan GBE QPM, former Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, is a Knight Grand Cross of the Order.

Princess Royal in NI

Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal has arrived in the Province for a series of engagements.

Princess Anne's visit began at the Pony Club's national conference at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast. HRH has been Royal Patron of the club since 2009.

The Princess Royal was greeted by the Vice Lord-Lieutenant of  Belfast, Sir Nigel Hamilton KCB DL, and later addressed 350 delegates inside the hall.

In Northern Ireland, the Pony Club has eleven branches with 981 members.

HRH listened to a number of presentations - which gave insight into life as a Pony Club member.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Ormiston Planning Permission

The BBC reports that planning permission has been granted to convert Ormiston House into apartments.

Ormiston, a listed 19th century building in east Belfast, cost the assembly £9m in 2001; it went on the market in 2011 with an asking price of just £2.5m.

The granting of planning permission makes a sale much more likely.

The planning permission will allow the house, its gatehouse and mews to be converted into eleven apartments.

In addition a new block of twenty apartments will be built in the grounds.

The planning application is due to be discussed by Belfast City Council's planning committee this week.The assembly bought the property in 2001 from the Police Authority, the predecessor of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

It was purchased with the aim of providing offices to ease space pressure in nearby Parliament Buildings. However, the assembly came up against planning hurdles for the site, and was unable to secure approvals for proposed office use and previous apartment developments.

It has been largely unused but has run up security and maintenance costs of more than £1m.

The property was previously owned by the shipbuilder Sir Edward Harland Bt who remained there until 1887, when it was acquired by his business partner William, later 1st Viscount Pirrie, who later became the chairman of Harland & Wolff.

Shortly after Lord Pirrie's death in 1924, Harland & Wolff came into sole ownership of the property, selling it in 1928 to Campbell College, which held it until the mid-1970s.

Newtownards Visit

I was at Newtownards in County Down today, the first time for quite a few months. I lunched at Knott's, where I tucked in to braised beef with mashed potatoes, carrot and cabbage. I always enjoy lunch there.

Afterwards I ambled past the Georgian town hall (top), erstwhile market-house. It was erected in 1770 by Robert Stewart Esq, later 1st Marquess of Londonderry.

Its designer was Ferdinando Stratford and it was regarded as the finest market-house in Ulster.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Nomadic Walk


SS Nomadic is looking very well indeed today, 4th March, 2012.

The superstructure appears to be complete and the ship has been painted recently.

This is the last White Star Line vessel afloat in the world and is directly linked to RMS Titanic. Built alongside Olympic and Titanic in Belfast, during 1910/11 at Harland & Wolff, she was designed with one purpose in mind: to carry 1st and 2nd class passengers out to the three 'Olympic' class liners, RMS Olympic, Titanic and Britannic.  

These huge vessels were too large to moor alongside the dock in Cherbourg, so they laid anchor out in the harbour and passengers were taken out by Nomadic and her smaller sister 'Traffic'.  More importantly, some of her interior fixtures and fittings are identical as those on the famous liners and were made and installed by the same craftsmen. 

Nomadic served in both World Wars, then returned to her original duties and continued in service until November 1968 when she ferried passengers out to Cunard's Queen Elizabeth for the last time. Bought by a French businessman, she was converted into a floating restaurant and moored just opposite the Eiffel Tower, Paris from the early 1970s until 1999 when she was forced to close due to legislation change by the Paris port authorities. 

In January 2006, Nomadic was purchased at auction by the Northern Ireland Department for Social Development, who returned her to Belfast.  

At the beginning of August 2009 Nomadic returned to her birthplace at the Hamilton Dock to undergo restoration.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Sweet Vengeance


SPARE A THOUGHT for Michael O'Leary, Chief Executive of 'Ryanair'... 

Arriving in a hotel in Dublin, he went to the bar and asked for a pint of draught Guinness. The barman nodded and said, "That will be 1 Euro please, Mr. O'Leary."

Somewhat taken aback, O'Leary replied, "That's very cheap," and handed over his money.

"Well, we try to stay ahead of the competition", said the barman. "And we are serving free pints every Wednesday evening from 6 until 8. We have the cheapest beer in Ireland".

"That is remarkable value" Michael comments

"I see you don't seem to have a glass, so you'll probably need one of ours. That will be 3 Euro please."

O'Leary scowled, but paid up. He took his drink and walked towards a seat.

"Ah, you want to sit down?" said the barman. "That'll be an extra 2 Euro. - You could have pre-book the seat, and it would have only cost you 1 Euro. But I think you may to be too big for the seat sir, can I ask you to sit in this frame please"

Michael attempts to sit down but the frame is too small and when he can't squeeze in he complains "Nobody would fit in that little frame".

"I'm afraid if you can't fit in the frame you'll have to pay an extra surcharge of 4.00 Euro for your seat sir".

O'Leary swore to himself, but paid up. "I see that you have brought your laptop with you" added the barman. "And since that wasn't pre-booked either, that will be another 3 Euro."

O'Leary was so annoyed that he walked back to the bar, slammed his drink on the counter, and yelled, "This is ridiculous, I want to speak to the manager".

"Ah, I see you want to use the counter," says the barman, "that will be 2 Euro please."

O'Leary's face was red with rage. "Do you know who I am?"

"Of course I do Mr. O'Leary,"

"I've had enough, What sort of Hotel is this? I come in for a quiet drink and you treat me like this. I insist on speaking to a manager!"

"Here is his E mail address, or if you wish, you can contact him between 9 and 9.10 every morning, Monday to Tuesday at this free phone number. Calls are free, until they are answered, then there is a talking charge of only 10 cent per second"

"I will never use this bar again"

"OK sir, but remember, we are the only hotel in Ireland selling pints for one Euro".

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Tree Day

Sometimes I get a feeling that tree roots are beginning to sprout from my fingers. Ha! We got another 750 trees planted today at the National Trust's new wood between Portavo and Orlock. There were between five and eight of us.

Saplings included, oak, ash, rowan, hawthorn and Scots pine.

So far we have planted about 5,000 trees out of the total of 8,000. Not bad, considering our finite numbers and limited resources.

It was really fine today, when the sun shone. I had my usual cheese and onion sandwiches, washed down with château Punjana.  Ron, were those more sardines I sniffed? Methinks metamorphosis from homo sapiens to sardine.

Ron and I shared a little joke, as to whether I'd be able to remember all the different species of trees planted.

Five out of five, then?