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.