Tuesday, 31 July 2012

No Dope!

How can any human being beat their personal best in a swimming competition by seconds? Is it humanly possible without some kind of unfair advantage?

Surpassing one's best time by milliseconds would be more credible.

The Chinese swimmner Ye Shiwen took seconds off her personal best to break the world record and win a gold medal in the 400m medley on Saturday, swimming faster in the last 50m than the winner of the men's event.

There is no evidence against her and all medal winners are drug-tested.

John Leonard - the executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association - said her performance was "unbelievable".

I do have my suspicions. 

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Mount Stewart Visit

I jumped into the two-seater and drove in a south-easterly direction towards Kircubbin, County Down.

My purpose was to visit Rubane (Echlinville) House, and it's not hard to locate. I spoke to the owner, who is restoring the property; and I am hopeful of acquiring some photographs for the blog.

Incidentally, readers, I shall be posting my Echlinville article next week.

Later I stopped off at Mount Stewart, which was heaving with Sunday jazz patrons; the overflow car-parks were filled.

The Keppel crest adorns the gate-posts into the formal gardens.

The property is currently undergoing a major restoration project.

The 9th Marquess of Londonderry was interred at Mount Stewart about three weeks ago; it is said that about forty family members attended a private service at the family chapel in the house.

I had a slightly disappointing bar meal at the Saltwater Brig pub earlier. The scampi and chips bore no comparison to the equivalent dish at another bar I've frequented before, the Dirty Duck Ale House.

The staff, including the lovely Olive, were friendly and attentive, though my meal was served too promptly - within five minutes - given how busy it was. It must have been done hurriedly.

The scampi pieces were small - make that tiny - in some instances; and the chips did not appear entirely home-made to me. I could be wrong. This meal and a glass of orange juice cost about £13.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

At Gibb's Island

Timothy Belmont was out in the field again today, at Gibb's Island on this occasion. Gibb's Island, formerly part of Delamont estate, now belongs to the National Trust.

There were about eight of us today. We were uprooting ragwort and creeping thistle.

We have made wonderful progress at Gibb's and the wild flower meadow is thriving. There's still some way to go, though weeds have been uprooted manually, in order that the precious wild flowers are protected.

Before lunch we planted an oak sapling, donated by Richard, a veteran volunteer. Salt Island can be seen in the distance.

Later we painted a wooden fence with preservative.

I noticed a fledgling wren chick. Click on any photo to enlarge it.

During our lunch break, a grasshopper landed on my haversack.

XXX Olympiad

I viewed the entire Olympic ceremony last night and it was indeed spectacular. So it ought to have been, given the cost, some might say.

One of the most remarkable moments for me was the short film featuring a cameo role at Buckingham Palace, where Her Majesty met a certain Commander James Bond CMG RNVR, Agent 007. He did not kick the corgis.

Her Majesty gave a reception for the Olympic heads of government:-

"On the occasion of the opening of the London 2012 Olympic Games, Prince Philip and I would like to extend a very warm welcome to you all.

As leaders of the many nations competing in the Games, you have come from around the world to witness this global festival of sport.

I hope that you will enjoy your time in the United Kingdom, and I am sure that you will find a warm reception awaiting you, your athletes and the visiting spectators.

This will be the third London Olympiad: my great-grandfather opened the 1908 Games at White City; my father opened the 1948 Games at Wembley Stadium, and later this evening I will take pleasure in declaring open the 2012 London Olympic Games at Stratford, in the east of London.

Over recent months, many in these islands have watched with growing excitement the journey of the Olympic Torch around the United Kingdom.

As the Torch has passed through villages and towns it has drawn people together as families and communities.

To me, this spirit of togetherness is a most important part of the Olympic ideal; and the British people can be proud of the part they have played in keeping the spirit alive.

Many sports played in these Games have their historic roots in this country; and as a nation we have an abiding passion for sport, as well as a tradition of fair play and a good-natured sense of fun.

In all our national Olympics teams there is so much of which we can be proud: groups of young men and women dedicated to excellence and achievement across numerous sporting disciplines.

And these teams are ably supported by thousands of organisers, volunteers, and supporters who will be following the action not just at the Olympic venues here in the United Kingdom but throughout the world.

For all these reasons, I wish you and your countries a successful, enjoyable and memorable Games."

Friday, 27 July 2012

The Golden girl

It was a pleasure to listen to Dame Mary Peters, Ulster's Golden Girl of the 1972 Munich Olympics, who was interviewed by James Naughtie at seven forty-five this morning on BBC Radio Four.

Dame Mary spoke, with great eloquence, of her memories: the Olympic village; the medal (which, incidentally, is on display at the Ulster Museum); her fondness and empathy with the present generation of sports men and women; her pride at competing for the country and the playing of the National Anthem.

We, in Belfast and Northern Ireland, are all so fortunate in having such a wonderful ambassador in Dame Mary Peters DBE.

Dame Mary Peters DBE is HM Lord-Lieutenant for the County Borough of Belfast.

The Red Arrows will perform a fly-past in Belfast today. They will fly past the city centre, over City Hall and Donegall Place, at one o'clock.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

New Radio

I have ordered a new clock radio for my bed-side table. It is manufactured by Roberts Radio and the model is called ChronoDAB.

Do any readers own DAB radios? 

Roberts, a subsidiary of Glen Dimplex, hold two royal warrants, as suppliers of radios to HM The Queen and to HRH The Prince of Wales.

Roberts has offices in both Surrey and Yorkshire. Glen Dimplex Group is based in the Irish Republic.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Darragh Island Trip

I spent the day on Darragh Island with seven other National Trust staff and volunteers.

Darragh Island, a NT property on Strangford Lough, lies east of Killinchy. Its shape reminds me of a lobster. It comprises almost 19 acres and was acquired in 1978 from John Metcalfe.

We passed Conly Island on the way, a heavily wooded isle with a holiday cottage in a secluded location overlooking Darragh.

Our task today was to create three new ponds for livestock. Some of us did this, while others strayed Azulox on the bracken. White body suits had to be worn for this.

This little island has many butterflies and we also spotted burnet moths.


Darragh Island has few features, though there is a small kelp kiln, ruinous, and a kelp store (seen in the picture), partly used for other purposes nowadays. It is believed that there are the remains of a dwelling at the northern end of the isle.

Potato Farls

Authentic potato bread, or farls, made simply with potatoes, flour, butter and salt. It was produced in the kitchen yesterday.

They are all uneven, the sizes varying; obviously not produced by a machine!

What remains to be established is whether they were worth the time and trouble expended, viz. buying potatoes, peeling and boiling them; mashing them etc.

It also takes time to mix the requisite amount of flour; then roll it out on a board.

Doubtless nothing beats the home-made variety, though I suspect that this experiment shall be short-lived and that Belmont GHQ will resort to shop-bought farls.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

8th Earl Castle Stewart

The Castle Stewart coat-of-arms provides an indication of the Stuart family's ancient and historic lineage: Split into four, the first quarter depicts the royal arms of Scotland; the second quarter, Stuart; the third, Lennox; and the fourth, Macduff.

During the 15th century, Andrew Stuart, the founder of the Castle Stewart/Stuart family, whose progenitor was none other than ROBERT II, King of Scotland; hence the Earls Castle Stewart can boast an illustrious pedigree.

The Rt Hon Arthur Patrick Avondale [Stuart] is the 8th Earl Castle Stewart and 15th Baronet.

Lord Castle Stewart is a retired farmer. He served as a lieutenant in the Scots Guards in 1949; Fellow of the Institute of Management, 1978.

His mother Eleanor, Countess Castle Stewart, was daughter of Solomon R Guggenheim of New York, USA.

Lord Castle Stewart for the second time in 2004, at City Hall in Belfast, Gillian Savill, now the Countess Castle Stewart. He lists his hobbies as being woodland management, travel, walking and singing.

The 8th Earl has one son, Andrew Richard Charles Stuart, styled Viscount Stuart; and one daughter, Lady Bridget Wadey.

Lord and Lady Castle Stewart have homes in London and at Stuart Hall estate, near Stewartstown in County Tyrone, the ancestral seat. The mansion was destroyed by the IRA in 1972 and a bungalow was built in its place in 1987.

I have compiled a collection of photographs of the old mansion here.

The illustration of Stuart Hall courtesy of BQ Postcards. First published in December, 2009.

Sir Paul Maguire QC

The Queen has been pleased to approve that the honour of Knighthood be conferred upon Paul Richard Maguire Esq, QC, on his appointment as a Justice of the High Court in Northern Ireland.

The Hon Mr Justice Maguire was called to the Bar in 1978 and became Queen’s Counsel in 2006.

He was elected to Belfast City Council for the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland in 1981; then elected at the Northern Ireland Assembly election, 1982 for North Belfast.

He stood for the party in the Westminster constituency of North Belfast at the 1983 general election, taking 9.1% of the vote, then again at the Belfast North by-election, 1986, when he increased his vote share to 16.7%.

In the mid-1980s, he left politics and focused on his legal career, rising to become Queen's Counsel by the 2000s, and representing the Government in a number of high-profile cases.

In 2010, he was appointed to head an inquiry into Peter Robinson's knowledge of his wife's improper financial affairs.

He is also a member of the human rights advisory committee of the Bar Council.

Wright's Buses

I am delighted that Wright's of Ballymena has secured the contract for London buses for the next four years.

The BBC's Stephen Walker reports that, in a letter to the Hon Ian Paisley MLA, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, said he remains committed to "the roll-out of 600 production vehicles between now and 2016".

Mr Johnson said the deal marked "good news for manufacturing jobs in NI and for travellers in London".

There are currently eight prototype buses being used across the streets of London, built by firm Wrightbus. If the trials go well, staff at the County Antrim company hope a substantial order will be placed.

Discussions are ongoing between Wrightbus and Transport for London, the organisation which has responsibility for public transport in London.

Wrightbus was originally awarded the contract in January, 2010, to design a new bus for London. It was the first time in 50 years that a new bus has been designed for London commuters.

A team of engineers at the factory's plant at Galgorm outside Ballymena came up with a design for the double decker which has three entrances and a double staircase.

The design is similar to the classic Routemaster bus which was withdrawn in 2005.

Mr Johnson, who has long campaigned for a new bus for London, visited Wrightbus last November
and described the design as a piece of "world class technology".

He said: "I remain committed to the roll-outs of 600 production vehicles between now and 2016."

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Fulton's Fate

Fultons on Boucher Road

I am surprised and dismayed to learn that Fulton's furnishing stores have been placed in administration. I missed the local news yesterday and the development caught my eye this morning.

I was in the Belfast store a mere few weeks ago, enjoying one of their delicious lunches in the Hawthorn self-service restaurant.

According to David Elliott of the Belfast Telegraph, staff face an uncertain future after the company went into administration.

Fultons Fine Furnishings, which has traded for fifty years, is the latest locally-owned store to hit financial difficulties during the recession.

The furniture division consists of two shops at Balmoral Plaza in Belfast and another at Queen Street in Lurgan, from where the company was established half-a-century ago.

The move puts a total of 57 jobs across both the retail and property divisions at risk, but administrators PwC in Belfast have pledged to continue trading before deciding whether to sell the business or liquidate it.

Stephen Cave, joint administrator, alongside Paul Rooney at PwC, said,
“The intention is to continue trading. Once the immediate assessment of the trading and financial position is complete, we will have a clearer picture of future options. Our immediate priority is to communicate with the key stakeholders of the business, including employees, customers, suppliers and tenants.”

Fultons’ downfall follows a perfect storm consisting of downturn in the retail sector, in particular at the high-end level, and in both the commercial and residential property sector which the company has also been heavily involved in.

Still, the property business recorded a profit in the latest accounts filed at Companies House for the year ended February 2010 of just over £12,000, but that is sharply down on the £1m it made in the year to the end of February 2007.

The opulent Boucher Road unit in Belfast, which houses both a retail offering and a popular restaurant, epitomises the high-end flavour of the brand.

Its furniture found willing buyers throughout the boom years in Northern Ireland up to 2008, but tightening disposable income over recent years has meant fewer people are able to afford such tastes.

Donald McFetridge, a retail analyst at the University of Ulster’s Ulster Business School, said customers are nowadays becoming increasingly canny.
“Consumers have been forced to shop around for bargains in all sectors — including furniture and electrical — and, unless they find attractive or tempting deals, they are reluctant to part with their cash. Competition in Northern Ireland in the furniture sector is extremely tough with Lurgan (where Fultons have their base) possibly being one of the main towns in the region with an over-abundance of furniture outlets.”
Fultons’ demise follows on the heels of Dekko, another relatively high-end furniture retailer, which didn’t go in to administration but decided to close its doors in 2011, blaming cheaper competitors.

Another locally-owned store, Laser Direct, went into liquidation in 2010.

To my mind, there is no comparison, in terms of stock and customer base, between Fulton's and Ikea. Chalk and cheese. Nevertheless, I'd concur that it is a sign of the tough economic times we live in.

Donald McFetridge felt more retailers could go the same way as Fultons.
“This latest casualty will come as something of a blow to retailers trading at the high-end of the market. It is now clear and apparent that no one is exempt. Every retailer in every sector remains vulnerable as markets, nationally and internationally, remain volatile.”
The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association said local stores experienced the worst of the recession.
“The non-food retail sector is experiencing the worst of the recession as people don’t have the same disposable income and those who do are putting off buying non-essential major household furniture. With Ikea and the UK supermarkets taking a large part of this market, it is putting immense pressure on furniture retailers.”

And he was worried that if Fulton's close, the trend could continue: 
“In 2011, over a thousand independent traders in Northern Ireland closed. We are worried that this trend could double in 2012,” Mr Roberts added.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Weekend Activity

Timothy Belmont is now at home, having spent the last twenty-four hours on the prowl with Lady A and another couple in central Belfast. We certainly enjoyed ourselves.

On Friday afternoon, I met my pals at the Premier Inn, Alfred Street, where we spent a few hours in the lounge bar.

Later, we attended a musical show at the Lyric Theatre. The Lyric has improved greatly and now has a more spacious auditorium and bar. Lady A adores the theatre and accosted several of the actors after the show.

Today, we rose later than usual and had a substantial breakfast, consisting of fruit juice; cooked breakfast ~ sausage, bacon, egg, plum tomato, baked beans, mushroom, hash browns and toast; and tea.

There was no potato bread and soda bread. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it.

After breakfast, we got a cab to the Ulster Museum, where we saw the dinosaur exhibition and the Leonardo da Vinci paintings, courtesy of the Royal Collection.

I have had my quota of gin for the weekend, so the preferred beverage this evening shall be tea, whilst viewing Henry The Fifth on television.

Friday, 20 July 2012

The Blue Uniform

I allude to that item of apparel as worn by those of the political class who aspire to greatness. It is, of course, the plain, dark blue, single-breasted suit.

Most senior politicians wear The Blue Uniform nowadays. It consists of the aforesaid suit, probably bespoke. Other essential accessories include a white shirt, a loudish, plain coloured tie in some primary colour (purple is in vogue currently), and shiny black traditional shoes.

I can just imagine one of these statesmen opening their wardrobe to find a row of Blue Uniforms, presumably numbered or identified in some form, because they are all identical.

It is evocative of old communist Chinese regimes, whereby the old boys lined up and waved at military reviews, wearing their standard issue grey outfits, something akin to tunics.

The Blue Uniform, too, is egalitarian, cautious, aware of public relations, so-called "spin-doctors".

What would happen, were they to arrive for work one day, wearing a fine, subtle, grey flannel chalk-stripe suit? This could not happen, because they would look different from their peers.

What is my point? Individuality in these circles has vanished. Anybody who dresses differently is castigated as being eccentric, not fitting in.

I do not possess The Blue Uniform, I am glad to say. I have a wardrobe with a two flannel chalk-stripe double-breasted, one navy and one grey; an Oxford grey flannel three-piece flannel; a dark grey three-piece; a summer linen suit.

They are all quiet in colour, they do not shout at you, if you know what I mean. They are, however, individual and to my own personal taste, unlike the neutral Blue Uniform (it would be unkind to call it tasteless).

Indeed, I have white shirts. I have very few plain coloured ties. most of my ties are quiet in colour and pattern. I detest those ghastly purple ones as worn by many within the political class.

So there you have it. To our current political leaders, I say Take some inspiration from statesmen like Sir Winston Churchill, a gentleman who dressed well, with gravitas and decorum, with style.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Homage to Potato Bread

I crave potato-bread; ever since I began to wear short trousers. I imagine, in a culinary sense at least, potato bread epitomizes the very essence of Ulster and, indeed, has remained a great Ulster staple for centuries.

I relish it with crispy bacon; or baked beans; or as part of the traditional Ulster Fry. Sometimes I substitute sausages and bacon with fillet steak instead, though I never omit potato bread.

I have to admit that it is now bought ready-made in bakeries or stores for Belmont GHQ.

Nevertheless, here is a classic recipe for potato-bread:-


Six potatoes, boiled


Mash the potatoes well; add a teaspoonful of salt; a good knob of butter. Blend the mixture; roll to a thickness of a quarter inch.

Use a cake lid to make a round circle; cut into four neat segments; cook on a moderate griddle or large dry frying-pan until lightly browned on each side; cool on a baking-rack.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

£50 Choccies!

The fifty pound box of chocolates!

I owe a pal the said sum of money, and inserted the bank-note under the cellophane.

McNeill Research

I popped into town this morning, the principal purpose to undertake research on the family of McNeill and their most distinguished son Ronald, 1st and last Lord Cushendun.

Since the peerage was created in 1927 and Lord Cushendun died in 1934, I required a Burke's or Debrett's peerage running between those years.

Belfast Central Library produced a 1931 Burke's Peerage for me, with the McNeill lineage and an illustration of his lordship's armorial bearings.

Incidentally, Lord Cushendun had a town residence at 18 Cadogan Place, the street where the Rausings reside.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Wall Crack

I got an email from a neighbour this afternoon, letting me know about a bay tree of mine, the branches of which were causing such stress to a retaining wall that a large crack has emerged.

Cognizant of this occurrence, I sent round old Edmund Tuttle the gardener (!), armed with long-handled lopper and saw.

The tree has been largely removed, including branches, though they remain under the ground at the wall.

It appears that some kind of root-killer might be necessary, in order to stop the said tree in its tracks.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Salmon Supreme

Timothy Belmont is feeling tip-top this evening, having once again affixed the old nose-bag and scoffed a delicious baked salmon mayonnaise au parmesan, creamed potato and asparagus tips.

This was a repast most congenial for the dentally challenged, since the said fish virtually melted in the mouth.

I hasten to assure readers, however, that I still have my original gnashers.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Quiet Week

I had been expecting to be away this weekend though, alas, the arrangement fell through several days ago.

Perhaps it's for the best. I have had very little to drink all week, which is fine.

Hence I have been at home instead and the weather has been agreeably clement.

I still haven't made a decision on the new ipad computer, so continue to use the great little Dell Mini 9 netbook.

Lissan House, County Tyrone, is another place I still must visit soon.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Kathy Clugston

Kathy Clugston is the well-known Ulster newsreader and continuity announcer on BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service.

Born in Belfast, she attended Methodist College and then studied French and Russian at the Queen's University of Belfast.

Kathy Clugston worked as a continuity announcer and transmission director at BBC Northern Ireland from 1996 to 2003, announcing for BBC One Northern Ireland, BBC Two Northern Ireland, and appearing as one of three in-vision announcers on BBC Choice Northern Ireland between 1999 and 2001.

Prior to starting at BBC Radio 4, Kathy spent some years in Amsterdam, working as a reporter and presenter for Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

She began working on Radio 4 in 2006, and first read evening news bulletins in 2007.

In April 2008, she began news-reading duties on the flagship Today programme.

As well as being a ukulele player who made a documentary for Radio Four in 2009, she came up with the idea for "Radio4minus1letter", taking a radio programme title and dropping a single letter to create a new title, while using Twitter.

The idea resulted in Kathy's book  A Brief History of Tim: The World Minus One Letter, based on the game.

Neuberger Appointment

The Queen has been pleased to approve the appointment of the Right Honourable David Edmond [Neuberger], Baron Neuberger of Abbotsbury PC, as a Justice and President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom upon the retirement of The Rt Hon the Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers in September 2012.

Lord Neuberger was appointed as Master of the Rolls with effect from 1 October 2009.

The Master of the Rolls is the Head of Civil Justice and the second most senior judge in England and Wales.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Foray into Town

Managing to avoid the showers, I popped into town this morning in the trusty two-wheeler and spent some time at the venerable Linenhall Library which, incidentally, currently has a photographic exhibition of several old stately Irish country houses.

They've a bit of catching up to do, in Timothy Belmont's estimation (!).

I gathered fascinating information about the lineage of the Earls of Egmont, landowners in County Cork and originally granted an extraordinary 101,000 statute acres of the kingdom of Ireland.

Thereafter I ventured in to Marks & Spencer, where I bagged the following groceries for Belmont GHQ:-

  • Vetivert room spray, for the bedrooms
  • Greek style honey yoghurt
  • Chocolate brazils
  • Jelly babies
  • soft butter, for toast
  • Asparagus tips
  • Belgian chocolates, for Lady A
  • Beef, potato and onion pasty
The pasty is "made in Yorkshire with crisp all butter pastry, British beef, Romano potatoes, swede and onions."

I have tried this pasty before and it is delicious, probably superior to most shop-bought Cornish pasties.

Beating Retreat Event

ABF, the Soldiers' Charity, is holding a Beating Retreat event in the fine grounds of Hillsborough Castle, County Down, on Friday, the 17th August, 2012, at 7pm.

The occasion will feature the Nottinghamshire Band of the Royal Engineers (TA).

The dress code is formal, viz. black tie, mess dress and miniature medals.

Supper and drinks are included in the price, £30. Call 028 9267 8112 to order tickets.

Friday, 6 July 2012

The Pub Crawl

Timothy Belmont was out and about in town last night. My first port of call was the venerable old Linenhall Library, though my timing was such that they were closing at five-thirty , not long after I'd arrived.

Thence I made a bee-line for The Cloth Ear, the bar which is part of The Merchant Hotel. Most of this bar runs along Skipper Street, though I entered on Waring Street.

I sat on a bar-stool up at the counter till the drinking compadre turned up; perused the menu - many of the items were about a tenner - and simply decided to have a Tanqueray and tonic instead.

A couple arrived and sat beside me; and it transpired that they lived close to me, so we chatted about this and that.

Philip arrived and we had a drink. Then we left, ambled up Waring Street and ventured in to the Premier Inn Hotel's bar at the corner of the said street and Donegall Street. It's not a bad place at all and we overlooked the War Memorial Building.

Our next venue, the Commercial Buildings at the corner of Waring Street and Bridge Street, was visible too. I had never knowingly been into this establishment before. However, there were plenty of blondes who didn't escape the Belmont attention.

As a consequence of last night's escapade, the old epistle is slightly tardier than usual, and one has a slight hangover.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

New Thistle Knight

His Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge, Earl of Strathearn, has been installed at St Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh, as a knight of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of The Thistle (KT).

The Thistle is the second highest order of chivalry in the United Kingdom.

Prince William is also a Royal Knight of the Most Noble Order of The Garter (KG).

Thistle Service

The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh arrive at St Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh, for divine service and the installation of The Duke of Cambridge, Earl of Strathearn, as a knight of The Thistle.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Viewing Schedule

I fancy I shall watch a recording of Country House Rescue this evening - the Bantry House episode - followed by a "repeat" of Lewis.

I recorded the Bantry House programme while I was on a boat trip on Strangford Lough, on Thursday evening.