Monday, 30 December 2013

Royal Coal

I happened to be passing a discount retailer called B&M Stores today and noticed that they were selling domestic coal at £2.99 for ten kilograms.

Is that a bargain?

The supplier is CPL Distribution Limited, coal merchants, by appointment to HM The Queen [Privy Purse].

CPL Distribution is the UK’s largest coal merchant and solid fuel supplier, having merged with two of the country's longest established and most widely known coal suppliers, Charrington's and British Fuels.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

New DLs


Dame Mary Peters DBE, Lord-Lieutenant of the County Borough of Belfast, has been pleased to appoint the following to be Deputy Lieutenants of the County Borough of Belfast, their Commissions bearing the date the 8th day of December 2013:

Dr Nigel John CARR, Newtownards, County Down

Professor Dame Judith HILL, DBE, FRCN, Holywood, County Down

Dr Philip Joseph McGARRY, FRCPsych, Belfast 

Signed: Gary Smyth MBE, Clerk of the Lieutenancy

Monday, 23 December 2013

The Mushroom Soup

Large flat mushrooms were procured; plentiful parsley; a clove of garlic; granary wholemeal breadcrumbs; butter; and a pinch of nutmeg.

Having slowly cooked this mixture in a large, heavy pot, it was given a blitz with the hand-held liquidiser; then the single cream was added.

The pièce de résistance will be the dried Porcini mushrooms, with will be re-hydrated and sprinkled on top of the soup.

Thus, the gourmand (!) Belmont cream of mushroom soup is prepared for Christmas.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Gourmet Scampi?

Freshly-battered raw king prawns, onion rings, triple-cooked chips, all the trimmings.

Is it worth the effort?

No! Better leave it to the professionals.

I went to a lot of trouble: Making batter, slicing an onion, refrosting raw king prawns, parboiling chunkily cut potatoes.

I deep-fried the chips once at about 250F for five minutes; drained them; cooled them.

I tossed the raw prawns in flour; coated them in batter.

I deep-fried the onion rings, having tossed them in the batter.

I deep-fried the "scampi".

I fried the chips a third time, at a high 350F, for about seven minutes.

The result is above, in the photo.

Despite what celebrity cooks tell us, they have the facilities, the professional equipment, the expertise.

As far as gourmet scampi and home-made triple-cooked chips are concerned, leave it to a good chef.


Google has generated a birthday logo for me.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Nonagenarian Aunt

I called over to see my Aunt Elizabeth this morning, the very first time I've seen her for a dozen years.

She is 94 years old and as bright as a button. Her memory is quite remarkable.

I spent about forty minutes with her, reminiscing about relations and family. One of my aunt's sons lives relatively close to the care home she now resides in.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Killeavy Restoration

The BBC reports that the new owners of a dilapidated castle in County Armagh are planning to build a hotel within the castle grounds.

Killeavy Castle was sold at auction for £1.19m in March, 2013.

It was bought by an Australian couple who have strong links to the Killeavy area of south County Armagh.

They have appointed architects to design a 36-bedroom hotel close to the castle and to restore the 19th century listed building "to its former glory". They said it could create 85 jobs.

The couple, who wish to remain anonymous, are hoping to apply for planning permission for the project early next year.

The castle has not been occupied for more than ten years and was sold in a poor state of repair.

The 330-acre estate backs onto the slopes of Slieve Gullion and includes a farm and woodland. In a statement, the new owners said,
Our vision is for Killeavy Castle and Demesne to be restored to its former glory, within a financially viable hospitality and agriculture business, so that it can be maintained and be available for use by the public for many years into the future.
It is understood there are plans to incorporate the two-storey castle into a new wedding venue.

The couple have appointed a design team which is being led by Newry-based architects P O'Hagan and Associates.

The owners said the team also includes,
conservation surveyors, hotel and hospitality consultants, quantity surveyors, landscape architects, structural, mechanical and electrical engineers, arboricultural and transport consultants. As you can imagine the plans for the site are still developing and are at an early stage. We think we know what will be successful, but the team is working with various statutory bodies, including Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) Invest NI and Newry and Mourne District Council, to refine the plans and ensure a sustainable development for Killeavy Castle and Demesne.
The couple have strong family ties to the area as the man's parents both grew up within four miles of the castle, before emigrating to Australia in the 1960s.

The owners said they have been regular visitors to south Armagh over the last 30 years and have lots of family and friends living in the area.

Killeavy Castle started life as a country farm house, built in a gothic style by the Foxall family between 1810-20.

In 1836, Powell Foxall commissioned the Dublin-based architect George Papworth to extend the building, adding four stone towers, outbuildings and Tudor-style windows.

The extended 4,000 sq ft house then became known as Killeavy Castle.

By 1881, the castle was the home of the Bell family, who owned it until recently. It is located within a government-designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Saturday, 14 December 2013

ROH Programmes

Grand Opera House, Belfast, and Arts Council of Northern Ireland: Read, learn, and inwardly digest.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Schoolhouse Lunch

I was at the old Mount Stewart gas-works today. It's almost opposite the main entrance to the estate.

We spent the morning cutting away scrub from the area beside the gasworks itself.

This afternoon we all assembled at the schoolhouse, where we enjoyed a delicious lunch comprising sandwiches, steak pie, soup, nibbles, buns, crisps, and Echlinville apple tart.

Hugh and I picked the apples ourselves on Island Taggart a few months ago.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Hillsborough Castle

The Northern Ireland Office has today declared that plans are underway to pass Hillsborough Castle's operation over to Historic Royal Palaces, securing its future on a financially sustainable basis.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP, has announced plans for the future guardianship of the Castle.

Ms Villiers said:
Hillsborough Castle has a unique place in the history of Northern Ireland and the government is determined to ensure that its potential is fully realised, for the benefit of the whole community. Plans are now well underway to pass the operation of Hillsborough Castle to Historic Royal Palaces, who have an impressive track record in running similar properties. Their team brings a wealth of expertise and specialist skills to care for, conserve and maintain this wonderful heritage asset. This is an exciting new chapter in the history of Hillsborough Castle as both a working Royal residence and a great place for the public to visit.
The plan is to increase public access to Hillsborough Castle and improve the visitor experience.

However, the Castle will remain the official royal residence in Northern Ireland and continue to provide residential and office accommodation for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Hillsborough Castle currently receives significant support from the taxpayer.

Under the guardianship of Historic Royal Palaces it will operate on a more cost-effective and financially sustainable basis, reducing the cost to the taxpayer.

Subject to contractual agreements, the Castle’s transition to the new business model will commence at the beginning of April, 2014, although many of the changes will not take effect for 2 or 3 years.

Further announcements will be made in due course.

Michael Day, Chief Executive of Historic Royal Palaces said:
Historic Royal Palaces is delighted to be working with the Northern Ireland Office to explore how Hillsborough Castle, with its fascinating history and glorious gardens, can be opened up for the benefit of the wider community. We look forward to bringing our experience in managing historic properties, such as the Tower of London and Kensington Palace, to conserving and telling the stories of this unique heritage site for universal public enjoyment, while maintaining its role as a Royal residence and base for the Secretary of State.
The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) and Historic Royal Palaces have been working very closely on this initiative with the Royal households.

Historic Royal Palaces is the independent charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace.

It aims to help everyone explore the story of how monarchs and people have shaped society, in some of the greatest palaces ever built.

Historic Royal Palaces depends solely on the support of visitors, members, donors, volunteers and sponsors. It receives no funding from the government or the Crown.

Hillsborough Castle is a late 18th Century mansion house and a Grade B+ listed building.

It was the principal County Down seat of the Marquesses of Downshire for over 200 years and passed into public ownership in the 1920s.

The estate consists of approximately 100 acres of parkland. Since 1972, the NIO has been responsible for the day to day running of the Hillsborough Castle estate.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Crawfordsburn Inn

I have spent a splendid twenty hours at The Old Inn, Crawfordsburn, County Down.

I honestly cannot find anything to criticize. The hotel is a joy to stay in. The same family has run it for decades and they have obviously expended a great deal of effort in creating an establishment which is traditional, homely, warm, cosy, opulent, stylish, characterful - I'd better cease the abundant praise.

I stayed in the lovely Azalea bedroom, which has a sort of faux two-poster bed, and every conceivable luxury one could wish for, to my mind at least.

There was no mini bar or fridge, though I'm sure something could be arranged if a particular resident so desired. I certainly didn't need it.

Later in the evening I attended The National Trust's annual Christmas dinner for Mount Stewart staff and volunteers.

I chose the traditional turkey dinner, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I must admit to a certain prejudice, in that I am fond of The Old Inn. It is unique.

Breakfast was served in the fine surroundings of the dining-room on the ground floor, overlooking the village.

The old nose-bag found it challenging, though I triumphed in the end. Waiting-staff will testify that Lord Belmont left not a morsel of the inn's celebrated Ulster breakfast.

Moreover, I had two pieces of buttered toast, a glass of well-chilled orange juice, and a good hot pot of tea.

Monday, 9 December 2013

The Country Club

Ahhh, memories of the old Crawfordsburn Country Club. In the 1960s, my late parents were guests here quite often.

Now the premises appear to be derelict.

The Old Inn

I have arrived at The Old Inn, Crawfordsburn, County Down.

Above is a photograph of the foyer at Reception this afternoon, with a cheery little fire.

The Green Check

The subtle green check lounge suit and light blue shirt, hanging in readiness for the annual National Trust Mount Stewart Christmas bash.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

The Old Fossil

Or "LORD 'PLUCKY' BELMONT ~ THE OLD FOSSIL". Interchangeable, what?

The inscription on a silver watch with the message,
'Presented to Lord 'Lucky' Lucan ~ the Old Fossil ~ by his friends at the Clermont Club, Mayfair, 18 December 1967'.
The 7th Earl of Lucan

The name refers to none other than the Right Honourable Richard John [Bingham], 7th Earl of Lucan, missing (presumed dead) since 1974, following the murder of his children's nanny, the unfortunate Miss Sandra Rivett.

"The Old Fossil" rings a few bells. Perhaps I ought to adopt it!

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Lucan Week

The 7th Earl and Countess of Lucan

An ITV two-part drama entitled Lucan is to be broadcast next week. I gather that the Lucan family and, indeed, the hapless Sandra Rivett's family, have not endorsed the production.

Nevertheless, given that it is being shown next week - possibly on Wednesday, the 11th December - I will re-issue my articles on the Binghams, Earls of Lucan.

It is my firm belief that the missing 7th Earl fell on his sword on a motor-boat in the English Channel within 48 hours of the murder of his children's nanny, the unfortunate Sandra Rivett.

Personally, I remain unconvinced that the 7th Earl committed the murder himself.

A more cogent explanation might be that Lord Lucan hired a hit-man to carry out the heinous deed.

The Bay Tree

It's far too long since I've been to the evergreen Bay Tree café and restaurant in Holywood, County Down.

This has always been my favourite coffee-house in the town and the grub is second-to-none.

I arrived at about ten forty-five and sat at a window table. The others were to join me fifteen minutes later.

Service was prompt and I ordered the signature "Coffee and a Cinnamon", the "Cinnamon" being their celebrated cinnamon scone.

This is not one of your ordinary common-or-garden scones, mark you. It is a North American kind of spiral, doughy affair, with caramelized sugar and a good knob of Ulster butter.

I accosted Sue Farmer, the diligent owner, grafting away in the galley. If you're reading this, Sue, jolly good show.

The Bay Tree's Christmas dinner menu looks delightful, as does today's lunch menu, with the signature creamy smoked haddock and mash.

Brackenber: 1973


Apologies to anyone uninterested in these old images; they will be fascinating to anyone who went to Brackenber around 1973. They show the teachers, too.

Sorry, too, about the quality of the pictures.

I believe that the main school photograph was taken in 1972-73.

I'm four rows from the bottom, between Mr McQuoid and Mrs Dunlop; so if you draw an imaginary line between them and head upwards four rows from the bottom, that'll be self!

John Craig, the headmaster, sits in the middle wearing a dark suit. To his left are Frank McQuoid; Dorothy Dunlop; Mr Maguire; Mr Bull; and Harvey Cross.

To Mr Craig's right are: Zena Rankin; Bunny English; Jack Magowan; Mrs Horne; Mr Sheehan; and someone else whose name I cannot recall. Do you know anyone in this picture?

I'm almost certain that Jay Piggott - former headmaster of Campbell College - is in the same row as self: four rows from the bottom, at the extreme right, with a white breast pocket patch (school Colours).

First published in August, 2009.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Field Marshal's Baton

Field Marshal the Right Honourable Charles Ronald Llewelyn, Baron Guthrie of Craigiebank, GCB LVO OBE DL, was received by The Queen yesterday, 4th December, 2013.

Her Majesty handed Lord Guthrie his Field Marshal's Baton.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Taggart Fencing

I spent the day on Island Taggart. Today there were six of us. Posts, stakes and quick-drying cement had to be taken over in the dinghy, which necessitated making two trips over.

I think the slip-way we use is called Cunningham's Quay, and we can motor across to the island directly in less than ten minutes.

The National Trust relies greatly on volunteers and we could get a lot more conservation and essential tasks done with more help.

My new "sit-mat" does its job very well indeed; in fact I used it today at lunch-time.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Amazon Drones

Amazon, the online retailer, wishes to use its own unmanned drones to deliver goods to customers. Whatever next.

A drone, in this sense, being an aircraft which is navigated by remote control.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Turkey Lunch

I lunched at Donaghadee Garden Centre - Creative Gardens - this afternoon. The "Special" happened to be turkey with all the trimmings.

It looked good, so I ordered that, with a little pot of tea.

I wasn't disappointed.

The meal was particularly toothsome, comprising sliced turkey breast, two cocktail sausages, thick lean ham and stuffing, mashed potato, little roast potatoes, carrot batons, pickled red cabbage, and home-made cranberry sauce.

Everything was truly delicious, in particular the sweet red cabbage and cranberry sauce.

This lunch cost 25 pence short of a tenner. I complimented the staff on my way out.

AFTERWARDS, I wandered into the garden shop, where I treated my wild goldfinches and tits to new heavy-duty feeders.

AT a well-known electrical store, I spent about ten minutes viewing a state-of-the-art "Ultra HD TV".

These sets are four times more detailed than standard high-definition. Mind you, the one I admired was 55" and £3,200. Not a mass market product, as yet.

Friday, 29 November 2013

The Yorkshire Pasty

Belmont has excelled again, with grub fit for a gnasher which has suffered dental surgery in preparation for the noble crown thereon.

We have before us the Yorkshire pasty, onion mash, broccoli, tomato, and lashings of farmhouse butter.

The nose-bag performed well.


All is well, readers. I spent an hour in the Dentist's Chair this morning. The rear gnasher - the one that broke - was being prepared for a crown.

Abundant drilling, grinding and scraping ensued; before a temporary crown was fitted.

The numbness is beginning to disappear.

LATER, I happened to be at Knocknagoney, County Down, replenishing the jalopy's petrol-tank. I ambled into the supermarket.

Two ladies stood at the entrance, handing out food-bank leaflets.

This is a dashed good idea. I made a point of buying two cans of value meat-balls and curry; and handed them to the food-bank staff counter on my way out.

I'm glad to support those who genuinely need extra food this winter. A can of "value" meat costs a mere 50p or 70p.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Stuart Hall Billets

A reader has kindly sent me this photograph of Stuart Hall, County Tyrone, dated ca 1941.

Nissen huts seem to be in the process of construction, presumably for troop billets during the 2nd World War.

Stuart Hall estate is the ancestral seat of the Earl Castle Stewart.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Right Hon Michael

I'm looking forward to the Right Honourable Michael Portillo's Great Continental Railway Journey from Prague to Munich this evening.

Mr Portillo has proved himself to be as able and competent in his railway journeys throughout the British Isles and Europe, as his political prowess, as an erstwhile cabinet minister, in the Conservative interest.

Next on my televisual agenda shall be Morcambe & Wise: The Whole Story.

Both of these productions are on BBC Two.

I HAD a bizarre dream last night: None other than Sir William Hastings, CBE, knight and celebrated Ulster hotelier, had received new armorial bearings from the College of Arms; and his coat-of-arms was henceforth replacing the Guinness harp logo throughout his hotels.

I must be steeped in Heraldry.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Acapulco Restaurant

Ballyhackamore, a "village" on the eastern outskirts of Belfast, was buzzing last last. It has a considerable number of restaurants, as divers as Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Indian, and last but not least, traditional British fare like good old fish & chips.

I was with a pal from the old sports club.

The intention had originally been to dine at an establishment called Graze, though it was full; so, instead, we ambled across the Upper Newtownards Road to a little bistro-type restaurant by the name of Acapulco, which serves Mexican grub.

We were seated beside a birthday party of ladies, who, as it happens, were all in a rather festive mood.

We ordered the burritos. I chose the beef; NCS had the pork version.

Having perused the wine-list, I quipped that the Hamster (Top Gear) suggested the second-cheapest on the menu; which we proceeded to do. And we were not disappointed, either.

The staff are lovely here: They bring little samples and even a tiny glass of the wine before we decided to "go for it".

My nose-bag was firmly attached and the trusty gnashers were in overdrive for my tasty beef burrito.

So far, so good.

During the meal, we befriended one of the girls beside us and we all had a very jolly time. They very kindly gave us a few pieces of the birthday-cake.

Pudding was churros with a cinnamon dip: a kind of doughnut, though crispier, with abundant sugar-coating.

We were the last to leave Acapulco. I cannot even recall what time it was, though it was surely after midnight.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Lord High Commissioner

THE QUEEN has approved that His Royal Highness The Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex KG GCVO ADC be appointed as Her Majesty’s Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 2014.

The Lord High Commissioner is the Sovereign’s personal representative to the Annual General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

He attends the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on behalf of the Sovereign.

He makes the opening and closing addresses to the Assembly, and carries out a number of official functions at the Palace of Holyroodhouse and official engagements around Scotland as the Lord High Commissioner.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Another Crown

I don't know whether you recall my telling you about a tooth breaking last Thursday?

I had an appointment with my dentist this afternoon. He X-rayed the tooth and advised me to have a crown fitted.

Consequently, I'll revisit the surgery in about ten days time (unless there's a cancellation, in which case I could be seen sooner).

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Shoulder of Lamb

Slowly cooked shoulder of lamb is the bill of fare at Belmont GHQ this evening.

It has been cooking since ten o'clock this morning, with whole shallots, carrots, parsnips and thyme sprigs.

It literally falls off the bone, like snow from a ditch.

Pudding will be home-made blackberry sponge with crème fraîche.

LAST NIGHT I motored into town in the two-seater and endeavoured - in vain -  to find an on-street parking space.

The intention had been to spend the evening listening to the live musician in Bert's bar at the Merchant Hotel.

Despite circling round the block thrice, there were no available spaces at Skipper Street, High Street, Bridge Street, or Waring Street.

I threw in the towel and drove home.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Whalley's Scone

A small cup of regular coffee with a freshly-baked fruit scone, butter, raspberry jam and thick cream.

I have to say that it was very good indeed.

Whalley's Cafė is at High Street, Holywood, County Down, near the may-pole.

Unfortunately wi-fi still seems to be unobtainable here; even BT wi-fi.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Broken Tooth

A large chunk of my tooth broke last night. The tooth at the bottom right, second from the end, that is to say.

I was vigorously brushing my teeth when it happened.

In a way I'm quite glad because the tooth was causing me some pain; not chronically, though every time I bit into a peanut, roll and so on.

I phoned my dentist and I've an appointment on Monday.


I nipped into town for a few hours this morning. Having spent an hour in the Linenhall Library, I ambled hither and thither.

I passed a restaurant at 12 Callender Street, called Bubbacue. The length of the queue outside - about fifteen yards - was impressive.

Inside, eager diners were tucking in to succulent meat with all the trimmings.

I felt I ought to give it a try some time.
Callender Street dates from about 1791. Numbers 8-14 are now the location of Bubbacue restaurant on the ground floor. In 1888 it was the site of Murray, Sons & Company's tobacco factory, when there must surely have been a heady aroma of that addictive leaf for passers-by. When Murray's relocated, it was occupied for a period by Hanna and Browne's furniture showroom. This premises, like others on the street, has been linked by common ownership to adjacent buildings in Arthur Street.
The "sit-mat" which I ordered on Ebay arrived today. It's an olive colour, folds up with velcro and shall be most useful for my volunteer days with the National Trust.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

The Bargain

By Jove, £52.50 for bed and full Ulster breakfast at the Old Inn, Crawfordsburn, County Down, in December.

I'm attending an annual National Trust bash.

That's not far off the price of a dress circle cost for a grand opera or Gilbert & Sullivan at the Grand Opera House, Belfast; when they used to produce decent grand opera in our capital city.

Of course, the polyester suits and skirts in the GOH now appeal to the more popular - or populist - taste.

Ooops. Sorry; that is not politically correct.

Blackberry Pudding

The signature blackberry sponge pudding, made with the finest County Down berries - from Rowallane and Portavo - is baking at a very low temperature in the Belmont oven.

The time-honoured nose-bag is well prepared for said repast this evening.

Down Lieutenancy

Cordial congratulations to the County Down lieutenancy in establishing a website, the first that I'm aware of in Northern Ireland.

Let us hope that this initiative only encourages the remaining seven Ulster lieutenancies to follow suit.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Old Gas-Works

I 've spent the day at the Gas-works, a part of Mount Stewart estate managed by the National Trust.

The Gas-works is almost opposite the main public entrance to Mount Stewart, where the little Gothic gate lodge is situated.
This is the only surviving gas-works in Northern Ireland, built about 1850 for Lord Londonderry in order to generate gas for the estate. Coal was brought to the works by boat and the gas was piped into the house, to fire ovens and provide lighting. It was in operation until the early 20th century.
There were about eight of us today. We were clearing scrub and filling in some pot-holes.

We had our packed lunches at the site and I enjoyed my usual cheese & onion with a good beaker of tea.

A sycamore tree had to be felled.

3rd Viscount Brookeborough

The Rt Hon Alan Henry [Brooke], Viscount Brookeborough and the Viscountess Brookeborough live at the stately mansion and demesne of Colebrooke Park in County Fermanagh.

The estate extends to 1,000 acres.

Colebrooke Park is situated in east Fermanagh, roughly between the villages of Fivemiletown and Brookeborough.

Like many of Ulster's country estates, Colebrooke used to be considerably more sizeable, at 28,000 acres in 1876.

This figure was not uncommon in the county: Castle Archdale comprised 27,410 acres; Ely, 34,879 acres; Florence Court, 29,635 acres; Crom, 31,389 acres; and, at one time during the 19th century, Lord Belmore, whose seat was Castle Coole, owned in excess of 70,000 acres.

Lord Brookeborough's grandfather, the 1st Viscount, was the Rt Hon Sir Basil Brooke Bt KG CBE MC, third Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. The present Lord Brookeborough is also the 7th Brooke Baronet.

The Brookeborough family has always maintained strong connections with the Army, Unionism and Agriculture.

Alan Brookeborough has been Lord-Lieutenant for County Fermanagh since the 9th July, 2012.

Since 1997, Lord Brookeborough has been a Lord-in-Waiting to HM The Queen; he also became an honorary Colonel of the Royal Irish Rangers.

Lord Brookeborough's heir is his younger brother, the Hon Christopher Brooke.

First published in September, 2009.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Princess Anne in NI

The Princess Royal has today visited the University of Ulster at Jordanstown, County Antrim, to meet staff and students at the occupational therapy training centre.

HRH was received by Mrs Joan Christie OBE, Lord-Lieutenant of County Antrim; the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Richard Barnett, and Professor Alastair Adair, Provost of the Jordanstown campus.

While on campus, The Princess Royal, who was joined by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP,  toured a workshop and exhibition showcasing the work of the University in the fields of occupational therapy, research innovation and knowledge transfer.

HRH met University staff and students as well as senior representatives from the College of Occupational Therapists, charities, voluntary and community groups and companies whose work has benefited from the knowledge, expertise and innovation of University researchers.

Her Royal Highness, Patron, the Royal College of Midwives, this afternoon visited the Maternity Unit at Lagan Valley Hospital, 39 Hillsborough Road, Lisburn, County Antrim.

The Princess Royal later opened Bangor Aurora Aquatics and Leisure Complex, 3 Valentine Road, Bangor, County Down, and was received by Her Majesty's Lord-Lieutenant of County Down (Mr. David Lindsay).

Her Royal Highness afterwards opened the new Gymnastics Centre, Rathgael Gymnastics and Tumbling Club, Unit One, Saba Park, 14 Balloo Avenue, Bangor.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Alcohol Substitute

Listening to the BBC's Today programme this morning, an interview with Professor David Nutt aroused my interest.

An alcohol substitute that mimics its "pleasant buzz" without leading to drunkenness and hangovers is being developed by scientists.

The new substance could have the added bonus of being "switched off" instantaneously with a pill, to allow drinkers to drive home or return to work.

The synthetic alcohol, being developed from chemicals related to Valium, works like alcohol on nerves in the brain that provide a feeling of wellbeing and relaxation.

However, unlike alcohol, its does not affect other parts of the brain that control mood swings and lead to addiction. It is also much easier to flush out of the body.

Finally because it is much more focused in its effects, it can also be switched off with an antidote, leaving the drinker immediately sober.

The new alcohol is being developed by a team at Imperial College, London, led by Professor David Nutt, the UK's top drugs expert who was recently sacked as a government adviser for his comments about cannabis and ecstasy.

He envisages a world in which people could drink without getting drunk, he said.

No matter how many glasses they had, they would remain in that pleasant state of mild inebriation and at the end of an evening out, revellers could pop a sober-up pill that would let them drive home.

Professor Nutt and his team are concentrating their efforts on benzodiazepines, of which diazepam, the chief ingredient of Valium is one. Thousands of candidate benzos are already known to science.

He said it is just a matter of identifying the closest match and then, if necessary, tailoring it to fit society’s needs.

Ideally, like alcohol, it should be tasteless and colourless, leaving those characteristics to the drink it’s in.

Eventually it would be used to replace the alcohol content in beer, wine and spirits and the recovered ethanol (the chemical name for alcohol) could be sold as fuel.

Professor Nutt believes that the new drug, which would need licensing, could have a dramatic effect on society and improve the nation's health:
 “I’ve been in experiments where I’ve taken benzos. One minute I was sedated and nearly asleep; five minutes later I was giving a lecture. No one’s ever tried targeting this before, possibly because it will be so hard to get it past the regulators. Most of the benzos are controlled under the Medicines Act. The law gives a privileged position to alcohol, which has been around for 3,000 years. But why not use advances in pharmacology to find something safer and better?”
Getting the drug approved could be hard for the team as clinical trials are expensive, and it is not clear who would pay for them, according to Professor Nutt.

He said that the traditional drinks industry has not shown any interest, however some countries might be persuaded to sponsor the team.

Some countries have more liberal regimes than others, though, and Professor Nutt thinks Greece or Spain could lead the way.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Castle Ward Visit

I spent a very agreeable afternoon at Castle Ward estate, formerly the seat of the Viscounts Bangor and now a property of the National Trust.

The estate was looking splendid. The former estate forge or smithy is above.

I parked the two-seater in the old farm-yard, donned the wellies and began my walk, in the direction of Temple Water.

I wandered through the woods until I emerged at the Downpatrick gate lodge, now a holiday cottage.

I'm not entirely convinced about the brown paint on the trellises, door and windows. What, I wonder, was the colour in Victorian times?

The armorial bearings of the Viscounts Bangor adorn the gable of the lodge, overlooking the main gates.

I christened my new Jack Pyke Wellington boot socks and I can apprise you, readers, that they remained "up" the entire two hours. I like them and intend to wear them every time I have the wellies from hereon in.

There is a little duck-pond near the farm-yard.

There was a craft fair at Castle Ward today. Many craftsmen and women had their stalls in the mansion-house.

This afforded me a wonderful opportunity of viewing many of the more obscure portraits of such coves as an Earl of Peterborough, a Viscount Claneboye, and a Lord Bishop of Meath (Maxwell).

Within the old Castle Ward in the farm-yard, there was a permanent exhibition and studio run by two artists, possibly mother and daughter.

I had a lovely chat with them and reminisced about the property manager's father and brother (whom I was at school with).