Monday, 30 April 2012

Brackenber in 1949


I received a message from an Old Brackenbrian, James Whitla Gracey, who was head prefect of the school from 1948-49. James has kindly sent me several images of times spent at Brackenber in the 1940s.

HOME GUARD, 1940-41!

James Gracey joined Brackenber House School's Kindergarten with Miss Zena Rankin until the 2nd World War, first moving for a holiday or evacuation to Professor Newark’s Ballycastle  summer home; then to Ballywilliam, County Down, where he attended Donaghadee Primary for a year before returning to Brackenber.

The exciting arrival of  John Craig occurred during this period, with his two huge, three-dimensional, topographical maps of Ireland.

James's years were full of fun in all organized sport, and staying on to play with whoever stayed on, rarely going home until everyone else had gone. He was soon climbing to the top of a chestnut tree every year and playing in and out of the air raid shelter when he wasn’t playing football in the playground. 

His last year is difficult to describe briefly, being influenced by Wadman to some detriment, and brought back to an even keel by John Craig, particularly in his last term, and then Campbell College.

BT Broadband Problem

I turned the main computer and hub on this morning, as usual, and my BT broadband connection appears to have conked out.

I have gone through the banal trouble-shooting process so, in the end, I phoned BT and was connected to a chap with an Indian accent which I found tricky to decipher.

I must have been on the blower to this geezer for about thirty minutes. Eventually he advised me that he was handing me over to their technical department.

They phoned me five minutes ago and asked me to unplug all my sockets while they investigate the issue (!).

We shall see. In the interim, I am using BT Fon from my netbook.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Island Taggart Day

I've spent the day on Island Taggart, 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 widest point; a total area of about ninety-four acres.

We were supplemented today by a group of archaeologists from the Ulster Archaeological Society, so there were almost thirty of us today.

The dinghy held only six persons, so Craig had to operate a shuttle service, which took some time. Thompson's Quay is directly opposite Island Taggart.

The archaeologists were surveying several features on the island, including a large kiln on the east side, and a well. The well had been concealed under overgrown grass for decades or longer, so it was rather gratifying to re-discover it.

Island Taggart is one of the largest islands on Strangford Lough. Visitors are welcome. There are good anchorages off the eastern shore and at the north-west corner of the island, depending on the weather, although care on a falling tide is advisable.

Old farm buildings give a good indication of life on the island and, indeed, it was used by Little Bird Films to make December Bride, a story about County Down folk at the turn of the 19th century.

Thick hedges full of bird life, relatively unspoiled meadows full of wild flowers, and small marshes bright with Yellow Flag iris and orchids make this a lovely island to visit, whilst in high summer it is full of butterflies including large numbers of Common Blues and Small Coppers.

Simmy Island (Sir William and Lady Hastings) lies at Island Taggart's north-western tip; while the Dunnyneill Islands are to the south-east.

One small, ruinous cottage is at the northern tip of the island; two other cottages, which are within fifty yards of each other, lie at the eastern side of the island about two-thirds of the way up from the southern tip; and the main farm sits at the top of the hill in the middle of the island.

The main farm, with farm-house, outbuildings directly opposite, farm-yard, walls and pillars with "bap" toppings, an old orchard, a stone well, privy and other features, is substantial enough and could conceivably be restored at some future date.

A lane ran from this farmstead down the hill, past the well (marked on the map), to the eastern shore and still exists today. Two further wells served the cottages to the north of the island.

Friday, 27 April 2012

John Le Mesurier

I shall be watching It's All Been Rather Lovely this evening, a one-off special documentary.

BBC Two (9pm) tonight looks back at the life and work of the debonair actor John Le Mesurier (1912-1983), star of Dad's Army, and one-time husband of Hattie Jacques.

John Le Mesurier (born John Elton Le Mesurier Halliley) was a BAFTA Award-winning actor, best remembered for his role as Sergeant Arthur Wilson in the BBC situation comedy Dad's Army (1968-77).

In private life, Le Mesurier was a heavy drinker, often seen with a drink in his hand but never noticeably drunk. His second wife, Hattie Jacques, claimed that his legendary calculated vagueness was the result of his "reliance on extra strong cigarettes".

Towards the end of Dad's Army, on medical advice he gave up alcohol but became seriously ill, and lost a great deal of weight. Friends relate that when he returned to drinking he had seven more years of life and regained his joie de vivre.

His last words before slipping into a coma were reportedly, "It's all been rather lovely."

Royalty in Armagh

Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, on the second day of engagements, attended Irwin’s Bakery, Portadown, 100th Birthday Celebrations.

Upon arrival TRH were greeted by the Lord-Lieutenant of County Armagh, the Earl of Caledon.

Throughout the day TRH were accompanied by the Rt Hon Hugo Swire MP, Minister of State, NIO.

2012 marks the centenary of the Irwin Family business, now in its third generation, based in Portadown and employing approximately 450 staff. The business has grown from its days of horse and cart delivery to now exporting branded products across the UK and Ireland with major supermarkets.

It has grown 300% in the last 15 years and is in operation 24 hours a day, only ceasing production on Easter Sunday and Christmas Day.

Moving inside to the Training Room and accompanied by Brian Irwin, Chairman, Irwin’s Bakery and Niall Irwin, Technical Director, Irwin’s Bakery, TRH  met company directors and their spouses.

Mr Brian Irwin spoke a few words of thanks before inviting HRH The Prince of Wales to unveil a plaque to commemorate the visit to the Bakery and HRH The Duchess of Cornwall to cut a cake to celebrate the Bakery’s Centenary.

Garth King, a bakery operative, was invited to present TRH with the gift of a hamper of Irwin’s produce. TRH signed the visitors book before departing for the next engagement.

On the second engagement of the day HRH The Prince of Wales visited Armagh Gaol. Upon arrival HRH was greeted by the Lord-Lieutenant of County Armagh, Lord Caledon.

Armagh Gaol dates back to between 1780 and 1819 and is an integral part of Armagh’s history – historically, politically, socially, architecturally and aesthetically. It ceased to exist as a prison in 1984.

Armagh City and District Council is currently promoting a major urban regeneration project involving the old Armagh Gaol.

The Council has partnered with a private property development company which previously completed, in partnership with The Prince’s Regeneration Trust, a very successful similar project in the old Gaol in Oxford.

Inside the Gaol HRH heard an outline of the building’s history from John Briggs, Chief Executive, Armagh City and District Council.

Viewing a scale model of the regeneration project, Prince Charles heard an overview of the project from Trevor Osborne of the developer, the Osborne Group. Moving on HRH viewed the East wing, including three of the cells which will be developed into an en-suite bedroom.

Prior to Farewells and departure for the next engagement HRH had a brief discussion on the development proposals.

On the final engagement of the two day visit, HRH The Prince of Wales attended the 2012 Built Heritage Conference in the Armagh Planetarium. Upon arrival HRH was greeted by the Lord-Lieutenant of County Armagh, Lord Caledon.

In the reception lobby Prince Charles heard an overview of the morning’s Conference session from John McMillen, Chief Executive, Northern Ireland Environment Agency and viewed the trophies for the Built Heritage Schools’ Competition.

Later, in the Main Hall, The Prince of Wales addressed the Conference and Christopher Balmer presented HRH with a gift of a “boot scraper” which he designed and manufactured.

HRH The Duchess of Cornwall attended the Big Jubilee Lunch at the Palace Demesne, Armagh.

Upon arrival HRH was greeted by The Deputy Lieutenant of County Armagh, Mrs Jill Armstrong DL, and the Deputy Mayor, Councillor Mealla Campbell.

The Big lunch is a very simple idea from the Eden Project – encouraging as many people as possible to have lunch with their neighbours once a year. In 2012 the event will support The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations on Sunday 3rd June and will be called The Big Jubilee Lunch.

HRH is Patron of The Big Jubilee Lunch.

Accompanied by the Deputy Mayor, HRH alighted a horse-drawn carriage for the short journey to the Palace.

After a busy schedule, Her Royal Highness met Councillor Freda Donnelly, Mayor, Armagh City and District Council who said a few words of welcome before presenting HRH with a gift of a hamper of local produce and invited HRH to plant a native oak tree to celebrate the award of Lord Mayor Status to the City of Armagh.

During the tree planting ceremony singing was provided by The Saints and Scholars Integrated Primary School Choir.

Proceeding inside the Palace, HRH met a number of Council staff in the Armstrong Room  and was presented with a gift of a leather bound book by the Mayor, entitled “ Saint Patrick’s City – The Story of Armagh” by Alf McCreary and was invited to sign the visitors’ book prior to departure.

Dirty Duck Night

I waited patiently at Sydenham halt and the seven-o-eight arrived punctually, conveying me to Holywood. BP was aboard.

We alighted and made straight for the Dirty Duck Ale House, a hostelry frequented many times indeed.

Business was steady, though we managed to get a table on the ground floor at the rear. I went up to the bar and ordered a Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic; while BP had his usual Dirty Duck ale.

We perused the menu forthwith. Although we had both decided to have the scampi, this was sold out; so, instead, I had a Special, viz. salmon in mustard cream sauce with lardons, accompanied by creamy mash and extra fine broccoli (top).

BP had the chilli con carne.

My salmon was supreme, perfectly cooked, flaky and moist. The sauce was ideal, too. I couldn't fault it at all. I think it cost about £13.95.

Little wonder that everybody in the DD is contented.

There was a pub quiz at about nine-thirty. BP and self considered participating, though decided that it would be wiser to opt out. Complimentary baskets of chips were provided to participants.

Thus we took our leave at about ten-forty, in order to catch the last train from Holywood, County Down.

Royal Visit to St George's

Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall yesterday visited St George's Church, High Street, Belfast.

St George's dates from about 1816.

I paid a visit to St George's myself in 2011.

When His Royal Highness visited the Church twenty-one years ago it was in a perilous condition due to the bombs and trouble that the city had endured. Ambitious plans for its restoration commenced and are now virtually completed.

Moving inside the Church and accompanied by the rector, the Rev Brian Stewart, and Rev William Odling-Smee, Honorary Assistant Priest.

The royal couple were met at the entrance to the church by the First Minister, the Rt Hon Peter Robinson MLA and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP, as well as the Lord-Lieutenant of the County Borough of Belfast, Dame Mary Peters DBE.

During their hour-long stay, TRH met members of the church congregation and those involved in the ongoing restoration, while they also heard a performance by the church choir.

The Rev Brian Stewart presented TRH with Church of Ireland prayer books, published in both English and Irish.

He said.
“The last time you [Prince Charles] were here in 1991, you saw the scars of the Troubles on the church building.Today, I am sure you see many changes. Northern Ireland has undergone a transformation and this church is a reflection of that.”
Mrs Fionnuala Jay-O’Boyle CBE DL, from the Prince’s Regeneration Trust, said she was “delighted” to see the royal couple at the Belfast church:
“There were three key areas of interest for the Prince on this visit here to St George’s: architecture, the wonderful music from the choir, and the work of all the groups involved with the church,” she said.
“This little church, which you could almost miss, is right at the heart of Belfast city centre. It is a wonderful church which reaches right across the community and plays such an important role in so many people’s life.
“It stands as a shining symbol of the progress this city has made; it is truly one of the glories of Belfast.
“Today’s Royal visit has been a tremendous success. It’s a great day for St George’s and another great day for Belfast,” she added.
For 17-year-old Jamie Pawson yesterday’s visit was a poignant occasion.
“This is my last engagement as the Lord Lieutenant’s Cadet, so it is a bit special,” said Jamie.
“This is my second time meeting Prince Charles and Camilla; the last time was at Buckingham Palace.
“It has been a great privilege to be the Lord Lieutenant’s Cadet for the last year. I have been able to meet some great people and they are experiences which I will always remember."

Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Sensuous Barmaid!

I frequented the Lobster Pot, hereafter called the LP, a former restaurant and bar in Strangford, County Down, forty summers ago, till about 1998.

This notable establishment used to be one the finest in the county, during the sixties and seventies.

1976 was a vintage year for self and old school chums, including BP. We darkened the LP's doors from time to time, indulging in the superb fresh battered scampi and chips in the lounge bar. We took it in turn to drive our mothers' Mini cars.

Young Timothy Sydenham ( as I was then styled!) had a serious crush on one of the teenage waitresses, viz. Julie. Moreover, I sent her an anonymous Valentine's card, the envelope addressed to "Julie, the Sensuous Barmaid, c/o The Lobster Pot, the Square, Strangford, County Down."

I checked my spam mail the other day and noticed a message from "Julie". I opened it and, to my utter astonishment, it was from my heart-throb of thirty-six summers ago!

Thus the power of the Internet manifests itself, dear readers.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Anne's Point Day

I have spent the day at Anne's Point. Anne's Point, a property of the National Trust, is located at the opposite side of the main road from the Temple of the Winds at Mount Stewart, County Down.

Anne's Point, consisting of almost 15 acres, was acquired in 1988 from S and K Hamilton.

If you walk along the footpath you'll notice a former willow tunnel, which runs alongside a little river and towards the man-made lagoon.

Attention, keen ornithologists! This is fast becoming a rural version of the RSPB's Belfast Harbour Reserve; though, admittedly, we cannot boast their excellent luxury viewing hide, yet.

There were six of us today.

We managed to get the work dine relatively swiftly, given that we used a chain-saw. Unfortunately the willow tunnel has been unable to fulfil its original purpose, so we decided to lop it down to a manageable height.

Incidentally, we received new uniforms today, viz. navy blue fleeces, polo shirts and sweat shirts with the NT logo and Ards Peninsula inscribed thereon.

I had my usual cheese and onion sandwiches today.

Lissan Opens

Lissan House, near Cookstown, County Tyrone, has been officially opened to visitors.

Lissan House & Demesne Opening Times for 2012 ~


17 March to 30 September ~ Daily ~ 10am to 8pm
1 October to 16 March ~ Sat & Sun ~ 10am to 4pm


17 March to 30 June ~ Sat & Sun ~ 11am to 5pm
6 April to 15 April (Easter) ~ Daily ~ 11am to 5pm
1 July to 31 August ~ Daily ~ 11am to 5pm
1 September to 30 September ~ Sat & Sun ~ 11am to 5pm

Last admissions 1 hour before closing
Also open Northern Ireland Public & Bank Holidays
Pre-booked groups welcome all year round

Entry to the estate is £3 per vehicle and Gift Aid admission to the house for an adult is £4 (standard £3.60), for a child is £3 (standard £2.70) and a family Gift Aid admission is £12 (standard £10.90). 

Lissan was the seat of the Staples Baronets, whom I have written about here.
The 17th century country house on the banks of the Lissan River has been restored by Lissan House Trust (LHT) at a cost of £1.2 million and opened to the public as a new tourist attraction and heritage facility.

The NI Minister of Agriculture said:
"This restoration project is a prime example of why it was important to have a strand of funding within the Rural Development Programme for the conservation and upgrading of the rural heritage." 
"The work on Lissan House will preserve a part of the heritage of this area which stretches back some 400 years. As a significant tourist attraction it will also boost the local economy bringing visitors, tourists and schools to explore and enjoy the historic facility and its extensive grounds."

"The Directors of Lissan House Trust are to be congratulated on the realisation of their dream for the building. My own department's contribution, through the Rural Development Programme, is evidence of our long term commitment to this area and to rural development throughout [Northern Ireland]."
The renovation project involved internal and external restoration of the House and forms part of an overall £5 million redevelopment plan which will include renovation of the outbuilding creamery to create exhibition and gallery space, conference facilities and a cafe.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Victorian Scrapbook

A new website about Queen Victoria's life, using material from the Royal Archives, has been launched by Buckingham Palace, as an educational and public resource to mark the Diamond Jubilee.

Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee Scrapbook is focused on Queen Victoria’s life and reign, in particular her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. It contains documents from the Royal Archives, paintings and photographs from the Royal Collection, as well as audio and film clips.

The archive material is divided into nine sections, including Queen Victoria’s childhood as a young princess, her life as a wife and mother, her role as Queen, and her Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 1897.

Each of the sections features a selection of thumbnail images of documents from the Royal Archives, including extracts from her diary, letters, memoranda, bills and souvenir items, in addition to photographs and paintings from the Royal Collection and newsreel film.

Clicking on each thumbnail takes the user to a large image of the item, with an explanatory paragraph and, where necessary, a transcript. Some of the archive letters and diaries have been recorded as audio files by professional actors and actresses.

The Scrapbook will be of particular interest to teachers and students. Many of the pages have activities for children attached.

The website complements the material about Queen Victoria and her Diamond Jubilee already on the official British Monarchy website – – and the official Diamond Jubilee website –

Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee Scrapbook can be found at

Honey & Nut Bran Flakes

Polite Request to Tesco and others: Please would you consider re-introducing honey and nut bran flakes?

Most supermarkets sell honey and nut corn flakes.

Does any supermarket or retailer now sell them? This was my favourite breakfast cereal until, quite suddenly, it disappeared from the shelves several years ago.

The supermarkets may have used the same supplier or source for honey and nut bran flakes, because Tesco and Sainsbury ceased selling them at roughly the same time.

Can this cereal have been so unpopular? 

Monday, 23 April 2012

Titanic Belfast Visit

I spent four hours at the brand new Titanic Belfast exhibition centre today, a cross between an indoor theme park, museum, exhibition, shop, restaurant, café and function rooms.

I was with two friends, one of whom hailed from the United States of America.

This is indeed a large exhibition. We all enjoyed it and found the history of Belfast's shipyard, Harland and Wolff, and the fateful story of RMS Titanic, particularly fascinating (avoiding the awful pun, riveting).

Highlights include a short film, shown on a huge screen, taking one past the ship-wreck itself, from bow to stern; and replicas of first, second and third class cabins.

There is also a ride in a kind of pod or capsule, which moves through various stages of shipbuilding, upwards and downwards, on a journey. This takes about five minutes. I was slightly underwhelmed by this. Still, it was well done and I'm sure there will be room for development as time passes.

The shop deserves a mention. This must rank as the ultimate Titanic Shop in the world, not that I've ever visited any. It contains every conceivable souvenir, apart from the great liner itself. Items on sale include Waterford crystal, titanic fudge, reading material, crockery, linen and apparel.

Thus, at five-thirty, I bade farewell to my friends and rode homewards on the trusty two-wheeler.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Poll Result

The reader poll which posed the question, Are You In Favour of Road Humps, has concluded and the result is as follows:-

Those in favour, 25%
Those against, 75%

Belfast Buzzes

I have spent most of the weekend at the Europa Hotel, Belfast, with friends, one of whom is on a visit from New York, USA.

On Friday evening we dined at Deane's restaurant. Thence we walked back to the hotel and spent the rest of the evening in the Piano Bar, which was very jolly.

The hotel was completely full, with something like 475 guests staying. Belfast is indeed buzzing.

We took an open-top bus tour round the city on Saturday. Alighting at Elmwood Avenue, we walked across the road to the Botanic Gardens, where our American visitor was shown the Palm House and the museum.

Later we returned to Elmwood Avenue and awaited the bus, not before we enjoyed a refresher in the Parlour Bar, a stylish establishment adjacent to the Elmwood Hall, with comfortable distressed-leather sofas, pictures of old Belfast and an "authentic wood-burning oven."

Later we ate at Tony Roma's on University Road. This restaurant was heaving with patrons, on three levels. The helpings are large here, be advised! We had to wait ages for a table and service, though efficient, was slow insofar as we seemed to be waiting more than anything else. It was busy, though.

We ended the night in the Lobby Bar, on the ground floor of the Europa Hotel. It, too, was packed, with a two-piece band playing and folk of all ages and varieties revelling on the dance-floor. One big girl boasted an impressive girth, her waist being only slightly smaller than the old city gasometer.

Thus the weekend concludes and Timothy Belmont spends a quiet evening at home.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Top Ten Lada Jokes

What's the difference between a Lada and a golf ball?
You can drive a golf ball 200 yards

What do you call a convertible Lada?
A skip

What do you call a convertible Lada with twin exhausts?
A wheelbarrow

A man goes into a car accessory shop and says to the assistant, 'Can I have a hub cap for my Lada?'
The assistant thinks to himself for a moment and then replies, 'OK, it seems like a fair swap'

What do you call a Lada driver who says he has a speeding ticket?
A liar

A man buys a Lada but after only one day of ownership returns it to the garage.
'It's no good mate, the car's no good for me,' says the man to the car dealer.
'Why not?' asks the car dealer.
'Do you see that steep hill over there?' says the man, pointing. 'Well it will only get up to 75 up there'.
'That's not bad really sir, especially for a Lada. I can't see a problem with that'.
'Trouble is,' said the man, 'I live at 95'

How do two Lada drivers recognise each other?
It's easy... They already met at the garage this morning

What do you call a Lada at the top of a hill?
A miracle

What do you call several Ladas at the top of a hill?
A scrapheap

What do you call 100 Ladas at the top of a hill?
A car factory

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Parking Fines Up!

Parking fines in Northern Ireland will rise from £60 to £90, with effect from June, 2012.

The Minister for Regional Development, Danny Kennedy MLA, said the move followed a rise in illegal parking during the past year. At present, a £30 discount is applied if the £60 ticket is paid within 14 days.

The minister said his decision to increase penalties to £90 would still allow law-breakers who cleared their fine within a fortnight to pay a reduced fine of £45. 

Figures from the NI Department for Regional Development show that there were 125,848 parking fines issued in the Province between 1 January and 31 December, 2011. The figure was much higher than the previous year, when 116,009 tickets were written.

The Minister said:
"I welcome any comments the committee may wish to make on these proposals and I plan to explore other options with executive colleagues to help town centres during this difficult economic trading period. However, the additional revenue needed to maintain front-line services, such as pothole repairs and street light maintenance, must be found to avoid further annual increases in car parking charges over the lifetime of the budget."

Ha! Perhaps if more funds were spent on re-surfacing carriageways, rather than erecting bumps or humps thereon, such a substantial increase may not have been necessary.

I cannot recall the last time I parked in Belfast city centre. I tend to cycle in now, an occupation I find most refreshing and less stressful than seeking out a parking space.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Titanic Belfast

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, 15th April, 2012, I visited the surrounding area of Belfast's latest tourist attraction, Titanic Belfast.

Titanic Belfast is also a monument to Belfast’s maritime heritage on the site of the former Harland and Wolff shipyard in the city's Titanic Quarter.

It tells the stories of the ill-fated RMS Titanic, which sank on her maiden voyage in 1912, and her sister ships, RMS Olympic and HMHS Britannic.

The building contains more than 12,000 square metres of floor space, most of which is occupied by a series of galleries, plus private function rooms and community facilities.

In front of the building is Titanica, a sculpture by Rowan Gillespie depicting a diving female figure.

Made of bronze, it is mounted on a brass base, evoking the design of figureheads on ships' prows, and is meant to represent hope and positivity.

La Scala Bistro

I dined with some friends at La Scala Bistro in the Stormont Hotel, Belfast, this evening. Having had an aperitif at the lounge bar, we headed to the restaurant. We were shown a good table adjacent to the window.

To be honest, I didn't really observe the restaurant itself much, though the ambiance is contemporary.

We didn't have wine on this occasion. I ordered the Kilkeel Scampi, which was battered, served with tartare sauce and a small poke of chips.

Following this I had the Dexter Beef Burger, garnished with lettuce, tomato, chutney and hand-cut chips.

For pudding I had Sticky Toffee Pudding with whipped cream.

I enjoyed it. Service was attentive and courteous; the food was of a good standard, too.

I must have been in the hotel for almost five hours. This evening the Stormont Hotel appeared to be fairly quiet, which suited me.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Jubilee Route


Buckingham Palace today published details of The Queen’s processional route from Westminster Hall, the Palace of Westminster, to Buckingham Palace on Tuesday, 5th June, 2012.

The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh, The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Henry of Wales will travel by carriages following a Diamond Jubilee lunch at Westminster Hall, to be given for The Queen by the Livery.

The three carriages will leave New Palace Yard and process up Whitehall, to Trafalgar Square, through Admiralty Arch and down the Mall, through the Centre Gates at Buckingham Palace.

The Queen and Prince Philip will be using the 1902 State Landau in this procession.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Titanic Memorial Garden

I cycled into town today in order to see the new Titanic Memorial Garden at Donegall Square East, within the grounds of City Hall, Belfast. 

It was a fine, sunny morning, with many people enjoying the occasion and, indeed, the great city of Belfast.

The Queen's Most Excellent Majesty, VICTORIA, stands augustly in front of the great portico, keeping watch over the grounds and Donegall Place.

The brand new Titanic Memorial Garden is beautiful, a fitting tribute to those who perished aboard RMS Titanic a century ago.

Within the grounds, I spotted a little goldfinch singing merrily on a branch, just above a family with an infant. I pointed the tiny song-bird out to them.

The splendid bronze of Lord Pirrie stands directly behind the Garden.

Belfast was proud, respectful and reflective today in the bright spring sunshine.

2 Churchill Ripostes

Lady Astor to Churchill: "Winston, if you were my husband I would flavour your coffee with poison."

Churchill: "Madam, if I were your husband, I should drink it." 


Bessie Braddock to Churchill: "Winston, you're drunk!"

Churchill: "Bessie, you're ugly, and tomorrow morning I shall be sober."

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Minnowburn Encounter

It has been such a fine spring day that I decided to jump into the two-seater, take the roof down and motor over to Minnowburn, near Shaw's Bridge, Belfast.

I made a bee-line for the pond. Firstly I have to say that the National Trust staff at Minnowburn have accomplished a tremendous amount at this property.

The paths, pond, surrounding fields, new plantations, Rose Garden - everything is looking magnificent, mainly due to the diligence and dedication of a small team at Minnowburn.

I bumped into Craig, the warden, and his lovely family, who were foraging at the edge of the water.

Adjacent to the pond is a brand new sculpture of wood art, a kind of mythical reptile.

I walked through the property, admiring the work achieved at the rose garden atop the hill.

Ambling along the tow path, I encountered a passer-by who accosted me. To my absolute delight it was Harvey Cross, a former master at Brackenber House School, my old prep school.

Now I haven't met Harvey Cross for almost forty years. He looked well and we chatted for five minutes about this and that, the Old Boys' dinner; and I urged him to come to the dinner in 2013.

Spitfire Repatriation

Here is an interesting story in the Daily Telegraph  about twenty old Spitfire aeroplanes which have been buried in Burma since the Second World War and are to be returned to the United Kingdom, thanks to David Cundall, facilitated by David Cameron, the Prime Minister.

Mr Cameron secured a historic deal that will see the iconic aircraft dug up and shipped back to the UK almost sixty-seven years after they were hidden more than forty feet below ground, amid fears of a Japanese occupation.

The plight of the buried aircraft came to Mr Cameron’s attention at the behest of a farmer from Lincolnshire. David Cundall, 62, spent fifteen years doggedly searching for the Spitfies, an exercise that involved twelve trips to Burma and cost him more than £130,000.

When he finally managed to locate them in February, he was told Mr Cameron “loved” the project and would intervene to secure their repatriation.

Mr Cundall told the Daily Telegraph:
“I’m only a small farmer, I’m not a multi-millionaire and it has been a struggle. It took me more than 15 years but I finally found them. Spitfires are a beautiful aeroplane and should not be rotting away in a foreign land. They saved our neck in the Battle of Britain and they should be preserved.”
He said the Spitfires, of which there are only around 35 flying left in the world, were shipped to Burma and then transported by rail to the British RAF base during the war.

However, advances in technology and the emergence of more agile jets meant they were never used and in August 1945, officials fearing a Japanese occupation abandoned them on the orders of Lord Mountbatten, the head of South-East Asia Command, two weeks before the atom bombs were dropped, ending the conflict.

“They were just buried there in transport crates,” Mr Cundall said. “They were waxed, wrapped in greased paper and their joints tarred. They will be in near perfect condition.”

The married father of three, an avid plane enthusiast, embarked on his voyage of discovery in 1996 after being told of their existence by a friend who had met some American veterans who described digging a trench for the aircraft during the Allied withdrawal of Burma.

He spent years appealing for information on their whereabouts from eye witnesses, scouring public records and placing advertisements in specialist magazines.

Several early trips to Burma were unsuccessful and were hampered by the political climate.

He eventually met one eyewitness who drew maps and an outline of where the jets were buried and took him out to the scene.

“Unfortunately, he got his north, south, east and west muddled up and we were searching at the wrong end of the runway. We also realised that we were not searching deep enough as they had filled in all of these bomb craters which were 20-feet to start with. I hired another machine in the UK that went down to 40-feet and after going back surveying the land many times, I eventually found them. I have been in touch with British officials in Burma and in London and was told that David Cameron would negotiate on my behalf to make the recovery happen.”
Mr Cundall said sanctions preventing the removal of military tools from Burma were due to be lifted at midnight on the 13th April, 2012.

A team from the UK is already in place and is expecting to begin the excavation, estimated to cost around £500,000, imminently. It is being funded by the Chichester-based Boultbee Flight Acadamy.

Mr Cundall said the government had promised him it would be making no claim on the aircraft, of which 21,000 were originally produced, and that he would be entitled to a share in them.
“It’s been a financial nightmare but hopefully I’ll get my money back. I’m hoping the discovery will generate some jobs. They will need to be stripped down and re-riveted but it must be done. My dream is to have a flying squadron at air shows.”

Friday, 13 April 2012

New DL


Mr Denis Desmond CBE, Lord-Lieutenant of County Londonderry, has been pleased to appoint:

Dr John Gerard Daly, Eglinton, County Londonderry

To be a Deputy Lieutenant of the County, his Commission bearing date the 30th day of March, 2012.

Denis F Desmond, Lord-Lieutenant of the County

The Infamous Road Hump

I've had a fairly full and frank exchange of views - through my MLA - with the body which calls itself the Roads Service, about the benefits or otherwise of road humps, speed bumps, sleeping policemen - call them what you will.

I detest them. I make no apologies for that stance. I consider myself a largely law-abiding motorist. The two-seater has firmish suspension, hence I am in the habit of slowing right down at the aforesaid humps, to between 10-15 mph, despite the urban speed limit, which is technically 30 mph.

There would appear to be a cabal of senior civil servants, with the acquiescence of the Minister, presumably, who are utterly obsessed with the imposition of these ghastly obstructions. I wonder if these people have them directly outside their homes?

Somebody told me this morning that they are being removed from some parts of England.

Earlswood Road, off Belmont Road, named in honour of the ancient ancestor, the 1st Earl (!), had road humps a year ago; then they were removed and the road has been completely re-surfaced to a high standard.


I'm conducting a poll, to the left-hand side of the Blog, posing a simple question: Are You In Favour Of Road Humps?

Belfast £1 Coin

I received a lovely email from a reader in Lincolnshire today, which reminded me of the article I posted in June, 2010:-
 "I have found a  Pound Coin in my change  ... looked just like a *new from the mint  Pound coin * on examination. I find it is a Belfast Pound coin dated 2010 exact in every detail to the one you describe on your web site. I live in a very small village in Lincolnshire and it was in my change from our local small Cooperative Store. Now I am wondering ....What to do with this lovely coin ? How did it get in the cash register of my village store? Just thought this little story may be of interest to you .."

The Royal Mint  issued its "Belfast" One Pound Coin in June, 2010.


Obverse: Rank-Broadley head, inscription ELIZABETH II DG REG FD 2010, starting below, IRB directly under the bust.

Reverse: Circular Coat of Arms of Belfast, BELFAST above at top, ONE and POUND around each side of the Shield. Small Coats of Arms of the other three capital cities of the UK in the intended set along bottom (left to right; Edinburgh, London, Cardiff).

Edge inscription: PRO TANTO QUID RETRIBUAMUS ("For so much, what shall we give in return?" – the Latin motto of Belfast).

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Clarke Wedding

Many congratulations to the distinguished Ulster golfer, Darren Clarke OBE, and his new bride, Allison Campbell, on their marriage in the Abaco Islands, Bahamas, where they have a home.

The Clarkes now live near Portrush in County Antrim.

The wedding was held at a beach on one of the islands.

According to Clarke's website, the ceremony was a private family affair attended by his sons Tyrone and Conor, other family members and his manager, Chubby Chandler.

It said the "top secret plans have been kept under wraps for a good while now".

The couple met in 2009 after being introduced by Clarke's fellow Major winner, Portrush's Graeme McDowell MBE.

They became engaged just before Christmas 2011

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Spade Power

I took this photograph several weeks ago at the National Trust's newly-planted wood between Orlock and Portavo, County Down.

Stubborn Verruca!

I've had this confounded verruca on my big toe for several years and simply cannot get rid of it.

I have endeavoured to compel it to depart from the noble toe by means of such remedies as two kinds of proprietary freeze-drying canisters; a liquid gel; garlic; banana skin; and even vinegar. All to no avail.

Consequently, I called impulsively this morning and my physician is going to send me for a decentish blast of the old liquid nitrogen.

If that doesn't do the business, nothing shall.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Narrow Water Stamp

A famous Ulster tower-house features on a collection of stamps highlighting some of Britain's most significant sights. The collection - A-Z of the UK Part 2 - was issued on Tuesday.

Narrow Water Castle, not to be confused with new Narrow Water Castle across the road, is near Warrenpoint, located on the County Down bank of the Clanrye River, which enters Carlingford Lough a mile to the south.

It was given into state care in 1956 and is one of the finest 16th-century buildings in Northern Ireland.

There has been a keep on this site since 1212. It was originally built to prevent attacks on Newry via the river by Hugh de Lacy, first Earl of Ulster, as part of the Norman fortifications built in the area.

The original was destroyed in the 1641 Rebellion. The Castle was built for military purposes during the 1560s. It cost £361 to erect (about £62,000 in today's money); the Captain's pay was two shillings (£17) a day.

Junk Mail!

Sir Richard Branson's companies must spend a fortune on marketing. I invariably receive unsolicited mail from their Virgin Media weekly. They are evidently keen for the Belmont GHQ to sign up with their broadband, television and telephone service.

I am in no doubt that their fibre-optic cable broadband and the rest are all very good indeed. I am a big admirer of Sir Richard and the business empire that he has created.

Nevertheless, I do find weekly mail from them tiresome and somewhat futile; indeed a waste of money and paper.

My television and DVD recorder are both integrated Freesat and I am perfectly content with this service. I've had BT broadband for many years and, despite the speed being sometimes erratic, I am fairly satisfied with them.

Mind you, you've got to hand it to Virgin Media for their persistence and perseverance!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Titanic Menu


While we were at Deane's on Saturday night, I picked up a copy of their Titanic Menu, which features such culinary delights as clear lobster broth, parfait of goose liver, roast pigeon, poached salmon mousseline, gin and tonic sorbet, fillet Mignon Lilli, Roquefort cheese, and warm chocolate fondant.

Five courses, £60; matching wines, £30
Eight courses, £80; matching wines, £40.

Head chef, Simon Toye.


The Queen has appointed The Duchess of Cornwall to be a Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO).

This greatly esteemed appointment, the personal gift of the sovereign, coincides with the anniversary of Her Royal Highness's marriage to The Prince of Wales.

The Order consists of five grades, viz. GCVO, KCVO/DCVO, CVO, LVO and MVO.

At formal events, or collar days, of which there are 34 throughout the year, such as New Year's Day and royal anniversaries, Knights and Dames Grand Cross wear the Royal Victorian Order's livery collar, consisting of an alternating string of octagonal gold pieces depicting a gold rose on a blue field and gold oblong frames.

The chain supports a larger octagonal medallion with a blue enamel surface edged in red and charged with a saltire, over which is an effigy of Queen Victoria; members of the order suspend from this medallion their insignia as a badge pendant.

Though after the death of a Knight or Dame Grand Cross their insignia may be retained by their family, the collar must be returned.

Knights and Dames Grand Cross also wear a mantle of dark blue satin edged with red satin and lined with white satin, bearing a representation of the order's star on the left side.

There are variations on the badge for each grade of the order: Knights and Dames Grand Cross wear the badge on a sash passing from the right shoulder to the left hip.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Active Easter

Timothy Belmont has enjoyed a terrific Easter. I was at the newly-built Lyric Theatre, Belfast, on Friday evening for a performance of Carthaginians.

On Saturday I attended a matinee performance of Blood Brothers at the Grand Opera House, Belfast, which, by the way, was excellent. The cast received a standing ovation at the conclusion and they came back on stage about four times.

After the show, we went to Deane's new seafood restaurant, which is immediately inside the main entrance on Howard Street.

We enjoyed artisan bread, butter, olive oil; fine, silky smooth pate; battered squid; rather agreeable retro-style prawn cocktail. The culinary maestro himself, Michael Deane, was cooking in the kitchen.

I have also indulged in very hearty cooked breakfasts for the last two days, consisting of egg, bacon, sausage, black pudding, white pudding, mushrooms, tomato, potato bread, soda bread, baked beans.

Well it is not often that I enjoy these big breakfasts, so this was a treat.

Methinks I shall spend the rest of Easter recovering.

Friday, 6 April 2012


Timothy Belmont is presently at the Europa Hotel, Belfast. Having enjoyed a few refeshers in the Piano Bar, we are getting a cab to the Lyric Theatre, Belfast this evening.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Maundy Thursday

Her Majesty The Queen received a rapturous welcome in York today as she prepared to hand out the traditional Royal Maundy money to pensioners from all over the Kingdom to mark her Diamond Jubilee. 

Thousands of well-wishers lined Queen Street and Micklegate and cheered loudly as Her Majesty, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and HRH Princess Beatrice of York stepped out of the royal car.

HM was given the time-honoured monarch's welcome to the city in a medieval atmosphere conjured up by traditional musicians and musketeers.

She met the Rt Hon the Lord Mayor, David Horton, and the town clerk, Kersten England, read out a proclamation of welcome.

HM was on her way to York Minster for the traditional Royal Maundy service. To celebrate her 60 years as Sovereign, the Queen will hand out money to people from all of the UK's 44 Christian dioceses.

Usually, the Maundy money is given to pensioners from one diocese each year. But this year, 86 women and 86 men - one for each of the Queen's 86 years - will receive the money in recognition of their services to the Church and their communities.

The Royal Maundy ceremony traces its origins to the Last Supper when, as St John recorded, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.

The royal party arrived at York Minster in bright sunshine cheered on by thousands of well-wishers.

The royal procession included the Archbishop of York, the Most Rev Dr John Sentamu; the Lord High Almoner, the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch (Bishop of Manchester); the chancellor of the diocese of York, His Honour Judge Collier QC; the Dean of York, the Very Rev Keith Jones; and other dignitaries and officials.

A short time later the Queen began distributing the Maundy gifts to the first set of recipients on the south side of the Minster as the Yeomen of the Guard followed closely behind.

After the second lesson was read by the Archbishop of York, the Queen distributed the Maundy gifts to the second set of recipients on the north side of the cathedral as music by Handel was played.
Each recipient receives two purses - one red and one white - in the centuries old tradition.

The red purse will contain a £5 coin commemorating The Queen's Diamond Jubilee, and a newly minted 50p coin.

The white purse will contain uniquely minted Maundy Money of silver one, two, three and four penny pieces, the sum of which equals the Queen's age.

The invited guests in the Minster strained to get a glimpse of the royal party and the distribution of the Maundy gifts during the hour-long service.

Following the prayers and singing of the national anthem, the processions moved through the Minster to exit as music by Bach was played.

The royal party was greeted with rapturous applause and cheering as they emerged on to the steps of the Minster.

Mammoth Task

I viewed an utterly fascinating programme last night on BBC2, presented by Professor Alice Roberts PhD BSc MB.

I have a slight infatuation with dear Alice, despite only ever having seen her on television!

Nevertheless, the documentary in question was about the amazing discovery in Siberia of an intact juvenile Woolly Mammoth.

I relish these kinds of programmes and wish to see a lot more of them.

It is hoped that it might be feasible to extract the DNA from these extinct creatures, impregnate the sperm or egg into a female elephant and thus create the Mammoth again.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

First Stripe

I gave the lawn its first striping with the old Ransomes this afternoon.

Dauntless Sets Sail

HMS Dauntless leaves Portsmouth later for a six-month deployment to the Falkland Islands.

Dauntless, a Type 45 destroyer, is the most advanced anti-aircraft and anti-ballistic ship in the world, equipped with 48 Sea Viper missiles and the Sampson radar, which is more advanced than Heathrow air traffic control.

She is in a league of her own in air defence, with the capacity to track dozens of multiple targets.

The deployment comes as the Argentines have stepped up their sabre rattling over possession of the islands with a ban on all Falkland registered ships in South American ports.


Sending our £1 billion war-ship on her first mission to the area will reinforce our position, although it will cause difficulties for the Foreign Office, which is trying to downplay the rhetoric.

Admiral Lord West, former First Sea Lord and Falklands veteran, said the Type 45 has an “amazing anti-air warfare capability.”

He also sent a warning to the Argentine government. “Should there be any foolish nonsense from Argentina, Dauntless can sit just off the airfield and take down any aircraft coming in. It’s a game-changing capability.”

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Proof 66

I've stumbled upon an interesting website which provides ratings on various spirits, including gin, whisky, vodka, brandy and liqueurs.

For the benefit of those readers who enjoy a modest restorative occasionally it is called Proof 66.

This is an American site. The top rated gin, according to their statistics, is Hendrick's. Beefeater acquits itself very well, coming ahead of Tanqueray.

Of the Irish whiskeys, Bushmills is prominent, with their ten-year-old a winner. Black Bush does very well, too.