Saturday, 28 February 2009

Halford's In East Belfast

I passed through Connswater retail park in east Belfast this afternoon and I see that Halford's, the car and bicycle accessory retailer, is opening a brand new east Belfast store. It is located beside the Laser electrical store. The signage is up already, so it should open imminently.

Halford's takes its name from Halford Street in Leicester where the first cycling goods shop was established.

Working At Divis

I had intended to prepare a round of smoked salmon sandwiches, either last night or this morning, for our NT volunteer day at Divis today. Frankly I didn't feel like it; then I got a text message from Patricia, who must have read my mind. She most kindly suggested that she could bring two rounds of fresh, hand-made chicken tikka sandwiches from the shop she passes in Ballynahinch, County Down. Patricia, my saviour. "Yes, please!" said I.

We all met at the Divis car-park, at about nine-thirty this morning. There were about ten of us today. We had hot drinks in the warden's office before driving to the Long Barn, which has been restored and will soon become the new warden's office and visitor centre. The official opening is on Friday, the 27th March, 2009.

It's a fine building, with two foot thick walls, heating, new floors and plasterwork, electricity - all "mod-cons" in fact. There's even a special disabled toilet adjacent to the barn. Divis Lodge itself shall be restored as soon as funds become available. I believe that the temporary roof will be removed in 2010 and a new, vernacular slate roof erected. It is intended that the Lodge will be used as a tea-room and function room eventually. It is understood that an area behind the lodge shall be levelled in order to enable the erection of a marquee.

Our task today was to assist the warden in removing temporary barbed-wire fencing beside the stone wall. We lunched inside the Long Barn. By Jove, it was cold today; Divis is exposed to the elements so, although it may have been 7c, it felt a lot colder!

After lunch we all finished off and departed. I'm off to La Traviata in the opera house tonight.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

The Restoration Of City Hall, Belfast

In the 18th century it was the cherry garden belonging to the original Belfast Castle, seat of the Earls of Belfast; then the White Linen Hall was built on the five acre site.

Since 1906 the site at Donegall Square has been the location of the finest Edwardian edifice Belfast has ever known, proud home to our city fathers. Sir Alfred Brumwell Thomas used only the choicest materials in its construction, including £22,000 worth of Italian marble; £10,000 spent on carving and sculpture; and £7,000 on plasterwork. The total cost was in excess of £360,000, most of it raised from profits generated at the Belfast gasworks.

Portland stone was used to build the new city hall. The copper dome rises to a height of 173 feet; and the central, pedimented bay proclaims "Hibernia Encouraging And Promoting The Commerce And Arts Of The City".

The town of Belfast was granted city status by HM Queen Victoria in 1888 and the new City Council made immediate plans for a lavish city hall which reflected this status, the old town hall in Victoria Street being considered too prosaic.

It is most gratifying to see the restoration and imminent re-opening of the City Hall, Belfast's greatest building, following an £11 million pound refurbishment programme.

Which Farl?

We're having a mini Ulster fry this evening, one with a twist: Potato farls, eggs, fillet steak and wheaten farls.

I spotted the wheaten farls on the supermarket shelf. They sound healthier than the more traditional soda farls. I cannot say whether they'll taste similar or not yet.

One throw-back to my school-days is the sad fact that I squirt tomato ketchup liberally at the side of the plate. Still!

BBC Weather Site

When I logged on to the BBC weather site the other day I thought there'd been a technical error, like one of those provisional websites awaiting normal service to resume shortly. Apparently not. The BBC seems to have given their weather site a complete revamp.

At the risk of being accused of a knee-jerk reaction, my initial response is that I do not like it. It shall certainly take time to get used to. The previous weather site was clear and simple; straightforward, with easily recognizable colouring ranging from blue for freezing, to red for hot.

I often refer to both the BBC weather site and the Met Office's site, too. In future, I may well find myself shunning the new BBC weather site. Perhaps I'll grow to like it. Who knows...

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Stone Wall Day

Today has been my dry stone walling day. The weather was much more clement today: dry, mostly sunny and milder. We all assembled at the old, ruinous farm in Tullyratty and made our way - a hundred yards - to the wall itself.

The wall's reconstruction is progressing very well indeed. It's really a retaining wall; I'm sure we must have done another twenty or thirty yards today. I'm a little more confident now; I'm gradually getting a feel for the task. Most of us are novices anyway.

We spotted a number of buzzards hovering above the adjacent fields. One of the first things I did when I got home was to turn on the oven for a pizza. Nice and easy; especially since my routine dictates that I head up to the swimming-pool for six o'clock.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

HRH The Crown Princess of Sweden

It has just been announced that Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Victoria, Duchess of Västergötland, has become betrothed to Mr Daniel Westling.

When they are married, Mr Westling shall assume the style His Royal Highness Prince Daniel, Duke of Västergötland.

Princess Victoria
is the eldest daughter and heir apparent of Their Majesties The King and Queen of Sweden.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Gordon Ramsay OBE

Love him or loathe him, one must admire Gordon Ramsay's invincible culinary prowess. I hereby admit that I am frequently glued to the telly when his programmes are broadcast. I gravely doubt if I could work with, or for, the great chef; I have, however, dined at one of his restaurants in London at the Savoy Hotel.

I cordially urge Mr Ramsay to consider opening a restaurant in one of the most progressive and vibrant cities in the United Kingdom: Belfast. I believe that he could thereby increase the standards here. I hasten to add that there are many restaurants in Belfast which are very good indeed. Nevertheless, Belfast is now a seat of regional government and one of the principal cities in the United Kingdom. Belfast deserves excellence.

Boot Mystery Solved

Awhile ago I told of my safety shoe purchase in Lidl's. I wondered where they had been manufactured and, at the time, discounted the People's Republic of China.

The mystery has been solved: They were made in Romania, by a company called Astra.

My new boots shall be christened on Wednesday at Tullyratty.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Lunch At Balloo

The thermometer read 10c; weather was fair and dry; so we jumped into the roadster and headed off in a southerly direction towards my beloved Gibb's Island.

Gibb's Island sits on Strangford Lough, near Delamont Country Park in County Down. I donned the wellies and strolled on to the island to inspect the hawthorn hedging and the old dry stone wall. When I see a stone lying on the ground now, I view it from a waller's aspect! I look to see its length - which would go inwards - and if it has a face, as opposed to a rounded or craggy end. The face would be on the outside skin. Does the face have a slant which could be placed in order that any rain-water could drain away? That sort of thing.

We motored back to Balloo, where the well-known restaurant and pub, Balloo House is located. We fancied a snack lunch. Inside, the place was heaving with customers; and we were asked if we'd booked (which we had not). Having waited ten minutes, we were shown to a small table at a far corner of the bistro dining-room where we ordered crab cakes and County Down venison shepherd's pie with celeriac mash and winter vegetables (carrots and cabbage).

My pie was served in a large kind of deep-sided soup plate. This is a hearty meal. Minced venison makes a good substitute for lamb or beef, I feel. It was tasty and ideal for a winter's day. We washed it all down with sparkling apple juice. The pie was £10.95; the crab cakes £5.95. The total was £19.60.

There was a lovely fire blazing in the pub as we arrived. In fact, where we were sitting, tucked away in a corner at the far end, was slightly claustrophobic and stuffy; the Dowager found the heat somewhat overpowering, to the extent that she threw one of her wobblies. I'm glad to say that she made a swift recovery when we left and got in to the open air.

Balloo House proudly displays a plaque presented by Georgina Campbell for the Best Pub Of The Year 2009.

Sissinghurst Castle

Sissinghurst Castle in Kent was formerly the home of Sir Harald Nicolson, KCVO, CMG, and his wife Vita Sackville-West, the Honourable Lady Nicolson, CH. It's now a property of the National Trust.

One programme I'll be watching tonight is Sissinghurst on BBC Four, a documentary about the working relationship between Sir Harald's grandson, Adam Nicolson, and the Trust.

It clashes with another programme I enjoy, Richard Hammond's Engineering Connections, which I'll record.

It promises to be two hours of high-calibre viewing, with Antiques Roadshow on BBC HD at seven; followed by Sissinghurst on BBC Four at eight.

Dump And Be Damned

The good citizens of Belfast have received some substantial correspondence from Belfast City Council, asking them for advice about proposed, new "waste treatment facilities" in the city. They want to utilize reclaimed land on the North Foreshore in order to build either a "mechanical biological treatment" (MBT) plant; or an "energy from waste" (EFW) plant.

How on earth do they expect me to advise them about that? I'm not a scientist, nor am I obsessed with "green" issues. The rate-payers elect councillors who, in turn, recruit qualified staff to make such decisions. I dare say that they feel the rate-payers should have a say, given its likely exorbitant cost. How much would it cost, by the way? The financial estimate is not even mentioned in their questionnaire.

The EFW plant seems to be a more expedient proposal, since it can generate electricity. How should I know? One thing I do know is that the whole exercise is costing the rate-payers a ruddy fortune.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Dig Those Bovver Boots!

I am not keen on Lidl supermarkets in Northern Ireland, for ideological reasons; not because they sell inexpensive products, nor that they are a German business. I object to the perceived sense that they do not treat the Province in the same way as the rest of the United Kingdom; hence the Republic of Ireland web address they use, .

Nevertheless, I visit them occasionally. I called in today, in order to buy a loaf of bread; and as I ambled further along the aisle some pairs of safety boots caught the lordly eye. I fancied a pair of steel toe-capped boots for my dry stone walling.

I found the appropriate size and tried 'em on. Fine. Better still was the price: £14.99! There must be a sweat-shop somewhere churning them out. There is no mention of China on the confusing, multi-lingual labelling.

Lord Belmont's Development

It may - or may not - have been noticed that I have been endeavouring to make some gradual and minor improvements to LBNI. I am happy with its fundamental layout; I do not believe in altering something unless there is a particularly good reason! So the ethos shan't change.

I have added a Contact Me section. There is now a Followers section, too. They are on the left-hand side of my blog. It seems fair that, if anyone seeks to visit LBNI occasionally - or even regularly - they might wish to consider adding themselves to the list!

LBNI seems to be increasing its number of visitors; I am in no doubt that many stumble across his lordship accidentally when searching about a particular subject. My feet and shins ought to be constantly aching. At any rate, visits this month are currently 3,071; that's about 162 a day.

I am open to suggestions as to how the format of LBNI could be enhanced. I read other blogs and I have no idea how they operate some of their features!

Thursday, 19 February 2009

The Tullyratty Lead Mine

Further to my previous article about Tullyratty last week, I have discovered yet another piece of local folklore written by Brian Fitzsimons in 1999:-

"In the late 1820s there were at least 14 lead mines working in the east of Co. Down, from Conlig to Dundrum. One such mine was located in the townland of Tullyratty on the farm of one Thomas Smith. It was first opened in 1827 and the shaft reached a depth of 102 feet. There were several horizontal drifts, which are veins of ore. The mine had both lead and silver but the silver content was small at 10 ounces, pound of silver to one ton of lead. Thirty tons of ore were extracted from the mine and were sold in Liverpool. It was assayed both there and in London to have between 75% and 80% lead content.

The ore would have been shipped from Strangford as the proprietor of the mine was the Right Hon. Lord de Ros of Old Court who also owned Strangford Harbour. It was said that one cargo of ore sank at the bar mouth of Strangford Lough. Whether this happened in 1830 when work stopped, to be resumed in 1842 , is now uncertain.

The mine was working again in 1853 however and this is substantiated by the registration of two children baptized at Christ Church in Ballyculter. A daughter Mary Anne born 11th March 1853 to Nancy and Alexander Hershen a miner and a daughter Elizabeth born 18th March 1853 to Grace and John Patton a labourer at the lead mine in Tullyratty.

I have no idea when the workings ceased but my great uncle Felix Rogan born 1872 from Ballintlieve, who often visited Johnny Lawson at Tullyratty, told Richard Sharvin who is the present owner of the farm where the mine is located, that he remembered the shaft being filled in. The iron ladder in the shaft which was made b a blacksmith was too heavy to be removed and so it was buried. Flooding in the shaft was a problem but as the land there is elevated it was proposed that a horizontal shaft be dug to drain the mine to Cromie's Bog bear Carlin but it was probably too expensive.

The entrance to the mine and the horse walk are in a field called Mine park which is at the rear of Richard Sharvin's farm yard. The horse walk was where one or two horses were harnessed to a horizontal pole and they walked around in a circle The pole turned machinery which was used to pump water from the shaft or to winch the ore to the surface. The remains of the store house , in which the tools and equipment were kept, are still visible.

The powder house in which the explosives for blasting were stores is situated high on the north side of Slieve Triplog at a safe distance from the mine shaft. It is completely constructed of stone with a corbelled roof and when inspected in November 1998, during a very wet spell, the walls and floor were completely dry.

The spoil from the mine may have been dumped at Buttony beside Tullyratty and Ballintlieve. When the ground was cleared about two years ago a large amount of broken stone was found there.

Lead and silver traces can still be found in rocks and stones around Tullyratty to this day. Some years ago, when excavations were being dug for the building of a shed in Richard Sharvin's yard, I remember noticing the rock that was removed had a high quantity of lead in it. I doubt if the Tullyratty mine will ever be worked again, but who knows?"

Made In Belfast

I was in Belfast this morning, in order to collect a book from W H Smith about dry-stone walling. I'm interested in the craft and I'm on a National Trust dry-stone walling course at Tullyratty.

I subsequently walked over to Wellington Street and lunched at Made In Belfast. This was my first visit, though I've read about it on other blogs. The waiter promptly showed me to a table near the counter and I ordered the venison burger on very thick toast accompanied by onion marmalade, blue cheese and chips; with a glass of apple juice.

This is a fascinating bistro. It exudes lots of character. It is definitely worthy of a visit occasionally. My meal arrived within ten minutes and it was served on a sort of wooden chopping-board! The chips were served separately in a tin enamel mug. Most amusing and imaginative.

It was quite busy when I was there, though there were some tables available. My meal cost £11.75. I meant to add that the meal was most enjoyable, as were the staff. The helpings are substantial.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Thomas Cook Luggage Advice

I have just received a receipt for a holiday I booked and I quickly spotted the Thomas Cook luggage allowance: 15KG. Tour operators are becoming increasingly ungenerous and penny-pinching in this sense. It is obviously a crafty way of generating more income for them.

The last time I travelled with Thomas Cook Airlines, in September 2008, the allowance was 20KG. Beware of exceeding the limit! It would be costly.

I always weigh my luggage on digital scales anyway. I am determined to stay within the limit.

I see that meals are not included on my flight, either. No matter: fresh, smoked salmon sandwiches would be much superior to their paltry offerings.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Viva España

I bought some groceries at Tesco today. We're going to have an ox tongue salad this evening, so I sought several salad ingredients.

Here's an interesting, not to say surprising, observation: the cucumber, little gem lettuce, tomatoes and broccoli are all from Spain. The clementines are from Spain, too; and the Pink Lady apples emanate from France, along with the French Exquisa potatoes.

Talk about the slogan, Buy British! Tesco buys from wherever they can get the goods. What a cosmopolitan and continental shopping-basket. Never let it be uttered that his lordship isn't multi-cultural.

Welcome Feathered Visitor

during the last week I've been watching a little blue tit at our nest-box, clinging on to the opening, poking his head in and out, pecking at the surrounding wood and looking from left to right for a mate.

The little chap is seeking a mate and this is his way of doing it. It is as if he's saying: "This could be our new home! It's vacant; let's build a nest here. Come and join me!"

There was a great tit harassing him the last time; tits are quite territorial, so this must be that great tit's patch (though the opening in our nest-box is too small for great tits to fit in).

Monday, 16 February 2009

Sports Club Closed

I drove up to the sports club this evening, only to find the gates firmly closed. I'd intended to swim my usual sixty lengths.

Obviously the school is closed for half-term. Is it assumed that members know this? I've just read the Easter term times on their website and there is no mention at all of swimming-pool closure at half-term.

It's little wonder that there are now less than fifty members. A notice could, at least, have been clearly displayed at the door last week, to remind members like me. It is simply not good enough. I was up there last Thursday and there was no mention of it being closed this week.

Who is running the sports club? And do they care? How involved are they in the day-to-day running of the complex? At this rate, there'll be as many as thirty members next year.

Incompetent Roads Service

Every time I drive along most main roads in greater Belfast and County Down these days, I encounter innumerable pot-holes and sunken man-hole covers; uneven surfaces caused by the shoddy workmanship of utility companies, too.

Someone must bear responsibility, not to add liability, for the poor road surfaces in the Province: Roads NI.

They allow businesses like the Water Service, BT, Phoenix Gas, Virgin cable, NI Electricity and others to dig up our roads without satisfactory reinstatement to previous standards; consequently, a few years later, the tarmac disintegrates.

As far as expensively paved pedestrian zones are concerned, no sooner do the Roads Service spend a fortune of taxpayers' money on re-laying them, than a gang of squaddies from a utility company digs part of it up and throws costly, polished granite slabs in the back of their lorry. The Roads Service's utter and pathetic incompetence is responsible for this; and their total lack of follow-up inspections.

I cannot finish without mentioning those wretched humps which are appearing everywhere. This is simply another case of responsible drivers being affected while the Roads Service ruins our roads in an attempt to slow down imbeciles.

I was unopposed to humps until now; our roads are being overwhelmed by them.

It is about time that the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly got to grips with the terrible state of our roads and, as Americans say, kicked some ass.

Another Shop Closure

Striding back from Sydenham railway station this morning, I noticed the large, To Let notice affixed to the roof of the former hairdressing salon, Indian Red. It's a corner unit at 303, Holywood Road, Belfast. During the sixties it was the premises of T J McCleery, grocer.

Either the hairdresser has re-located to other premises; or they could be another casualty of the current recession. I imagine florists and some hairdressers have been adversely affected by the economic circumstances.

A chip shop has just opened and a hairdresser has closed. I left the roadster in for its annual service at a garage in Ventry Street this morning.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Snide Wretchedness

If there is one thing, or person, I cannot stand it is whose who make snide remarks behind one's back. Most of us aren't even aware of the act; I'm old enough to know that it happens. It's despicable and I try to avoid those who do it like the plague. It is puerile, nasty and gratuitous.

Lord Frederick Windsor

It has been a fairly mundane day, today. Having finished a few domestic chores, I gave the two-seater its exterior spring-clean; abundant elbow grease there. She is having her annual service tomorrow, at a garage in Ventry Street, Belfast.

It has just been announced that Lord Frederick Windsor, son of Their Royal Highnesses Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, has become engaged. Lord Frederick - first cousin once removed to HM The Queen - is to marry Miss Sophie Winkleman later this year.

Miss Winkleman shall become Lady Frederick Windsor.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

The Fate Of Miss Goody

Whilst not an acquaintance, nor one who necessarily approves of Jane Goody's lifestyle and behaviour, I am greatly saddened and dismayed to learn of her terminal illness. I became aware of her when she appeared on the Channel Four series, Big Brother. It is a truly terrible situation for her friends and family.

Horse Island: Gorse Clearance

We met at Mount Stewart this morning and shared a lift to our destination further down the Ards Peninsula, Horse Island. Horse Island lies between the village of Kircubbin and Saltwater Brig public house in County Down. We all agreed that it would be a good idea to head to the pub for a shandy and snack the next time we visit the area.

Our task today was to burn gorse at an area on the mainland adjacent to Horse Island. It has been literally overwhelmed by the gorse (also known as furze or whin); there must be acres of the stuff. The idea is to control the amount of gorse, not to eradicate it completely; thereby encouraging more delicate flora - such as indigenous heather and fern - to thrive.

We lit a mighty bonfire at the site. It was easily controlled because the gorse was damp. There were seven of us today; no new volunteers. I had Sainsbury's cheese and celery sandwiches (which were not as tasty as Tesco's cheese and onion) and tea. Craig handed round some fresh coriander cake which Anna had made herself; and it was very tasty, so thanks Anna once again!

It was another enjoyable day. I'm going to try the new chip shop this evening, For Cod & Ulster.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Tullyratty: Prospecting For Silver

I know I'm really just reproducing what is already available on the internet; however, in this instance, it is quite interesting. I allude to the County Down townland of Tullyratty, where I was dry-stone walling on Wednesday.

Without further ado, I have found an article by Habitas about prospecting at Tullyratty during the nineteenth century:-

"There have been very few mineral mines in Northern Ireland that were more than one or two man trial pits but the mine at Tullyratty was one. The mineral vein here was discovered in 1828 and by 1842 12 men were employed and there were ambitious plans to take on more. After an attempted revival in 1853 it appears that interest ceased and the mine was abandoned.

All that now remains is a ruined stone house 50 m north east of the farm with a stone shed upslope to the north, the mine house and the powder house respectively. There are also overgrown spoil heaps. There were two shafts, an inclined adit with a circular horse walk near the mine house and a vertical sinking 12 m deep across the road beyond the farm. The ore source was a crushed and fragmented vein of the local bedrock, a green, mineralised Silurian mudstone containing galena (lead sulphide), sphalerite (zinc sulphide) and small amounts of chalcopyrite (copper iron sulphide). Silver, normally found in galena, was almost non-existent here. The minerals were deposited from hot, deep brines circulating through the rocks in Carboniferous times around 300 million years ago. As one of the few sites preserving mining infrastructure, with spoil heaps still capable of providing good examples of the chief ore minerals, it deserves protection."

The National Trust could well be sitting on a silver mine!

Interesting Groceries At Sainsbury's

Two items caught my eye at Sainsbury's supermarket this morning: Clandeboye yoghurt and Higgidy quiche.

I was at the yoghurt shelf, about to grab a tub of Sainsbury's Greek-style yoghurt with honey, when I noticed the Clandeboye brand. There were two varieties: natural; and Greek style. They are competitively priced. I'd definitely have bought a tub, if it had contained honey; however, I opted for the usual own-label stuff (which, incidentally, is very good indeed). I've just sent Clandeboye an email, suggesting the addition of honey in their Greek yoghurt.

The other item which seemed attractive was a rather fine-looking quiche by a company I'd never heard of before: Higgidy. The quiche looked delicious, especially since the description stated:-Smoked English Bacon and Mature Cheddar Quiche, Seeded shortcrust pastry crammed with mature cheddar and sautéed onions in a creamy free range egg filling, topped with smoked English bacon lardons. It's not particularly cheap, at £3.79. I look forward to tasting it within the next few days.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Visit To Belfast City Hospital

The Dowager had a routine appointment at Belfast City Hospital this morning at 9.45, so we left home at five to nine cognizant of the rush hour.

Having arrived at the hospital at 9.25, a half hour journey, we were fortunate enough to find a parking space immediately. We walked into the lobby, where I requested a wheel-chair. It was ordered but, after ten minutes, we decided to walk instead! How easy is it to get a wheel-chair in this hospital? Perhaps they require a day's notice!

Everything went well after that, although the doctor was half an hour late and saw us at 10.15. No apology, of course. On the other hand, if we were a half hour late they'd politely tell us to get lost. Mustn't grumble, I suppose.

We motored on from the hospital and up Lisburn Road, turning at Balmoral Avenue where I stopped at the Public Record Office in order to collect a photocopy - £5.45 - of a large map. I've had a look at the copy, and it's vaguer than the original; some small details - like springs and wells - are unclear. It must be a case of "original is best", presumably.

I 'd intended to drive on to Fulton's for lunch, but it was too early so we just came home.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Tullyratty: Dry Stone Walling

Today was a Field Day for me. I drove southwards to a townland, very close to the Castle Ward estate in County Down, called Tullyratty (right). It's beautiful and picturesque, a vernacular, old, ruinous farm with a stone wall running along the lane.

There were about nine of us re-constructing an ancient dry stone wall. It is quite an art, somewhat akin to assembling a jigsaw puzzle. It's probably a craft that, with practice and experience, some people would have an aptitude for.

At lunchtime, we drove a short distance into Castle Ward and had our packed lunches in the staff kitchen near the stable-yard.

We began clearing up at four-thirty and I got home within the hour. Having whacked a pizza into the oven, we enjoyed a quick meal with coleslaw; followed by sticky toffee pudding and cream!

I still managed to get up to the old school for six o'clock and my customary sixty lengths.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The Earldom Has A New Chip Shop

As Earl of Belmont, Viscount Sydenham and Baron Ballymisert I feel it incumbent upon me to inform readers that my domain has a brand new fish and chip emporium; namely, the legendary For Cod & Ulster. That is correct; that's its name. It opened yesterday, that's Monday the 9th February, 2009. At lunchtime today, I noticed about two dozen Ashfield schoolchildren queueing outside.

The proprietor has another branch at Albertbridge Road; this one is at 301, Holywood Road. Forty years ago, the premises operated as a pharmacy (McCollum's). For Cod & Ulster is now wedged between a hairdresser at the corner, and a Chinese takeaway at the other side. The Boulevard newsagency is at the end of the block.

I wish For Cod & Ulster well. They shall be aware that their primary rival is John Dory's chip shop, which is further up the road. In his lordship's experience, John Dory's is very good and will be hard to beat. Nevertheless, I hope they are of, at least, an equal standard; or even surpass Dory's if that is possible.

I might give 'em a go on Saturday evening. Watch this space. By the way, if anyone has eaten there, do send a comment.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Made In Belfast

I've just read an interesting review by a fellow-blogger, John Ferris, who is enthusiastic about a restaurant in Wellington Street, Belfast, called Made In Belfast. John and his companions enjoyed a meal of Lancashire Hot Pot with red, braised cabbage; County Down venison burger; and fish-finger sandwich.

I have had a look at their menu and it does seem worthy of further investigation, viz. a visit from his lordship some lunch-time.

When I was a young lad wearing the distinctive Brackenber House uniform of grey and scarlet socks, grey shorts, scarlet blazer and scarlet cap ( and I must have stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb), the Dowager used to take me to a little restaurant in Wellington Street called the Piccolo. The site now forms the back yard to a bank which and has unwittingly become infamous for the great Belfast bank robbery which took place there some years ago.

The Spong Meat Mincer

I was rummaging through a box in the cellar the other day when I happened to find our old meat mincer. It's a Spong 301 model, manufactured in Basildon, Essex.

The main body of it is painted white, with four rubber suction pads on the legs. The rest of it seems to be cast iron or steel in construction.

I have a feeling that I endeavoured to use it many years ago and, for some reason, I became frustrated with it and put in moth-balls, so to speak. I'm going to give it another go.

While my aunt was in the doctor's surgery this morning, I strolled in to the local supermarket and made for the meat counter, where the butcher was trimming beef. I inquired as to whether he had any chuck or blade steak - which he answered in the affirmative - so I bought a half-pound of lean blade steak which I intend to cut into chunks and feed into the Spong-beast.

It's all very well for celebrity chefs performing in television studios, what with everything prepared in advance. They do not have to clean and tidy up afterwards; there is such a mess, too. Cognizant of this chore, I shall have to wash and rinse the Spong-beast afterwards, as well.

I think I'll use the mince to make a cottage pie; or even real hamburgers.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

The Full Bay Tree Fry, Please!

Despite the Arctic weather we are experiencing, the Dowager and I motored over to the Bay Tree coffee-house in Holywood, County Down, this morning; the purpose being to meet up with my aunt and an old friend for coffee. I'm fond of this place.

I managed to get a parking-space in the little car-park at the rear of the café. Inside, the others all had the usual cappuccinos accompanied by the irresistible cinnamon scones; while I treated myself to the celebrated Full Bay Tree Fry.

This substantial feast takes the form of two lean, back bacon rashers and a fried egg; a good-quality sausage; half a tomato; a good portion of fried, sliced mushrooms; a half slice of fried wheaten-bread; a half slice of potato bread; and a piece of soda bread.

I had to wait a little longer for this, because it is freshly cooked and definitely not too greasy. It's worth waiting for. It looked delicious and, having devoured it, I can attest that it tasted equally delicious. Bearing in mind that the ingredients were all of a high standard, it was £5.95; just the ticket for keeping the old human boiler well stoked up during this freezing weather.

On the way out I spotted another regular, who happens to be a former, very senior civil servant and a KCB - Knight Commander of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath!

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Keeping Abreast Of Matters

I could not help but laugh endlessly last night, while I watched a most entertaining programme on Channel Four called The World's Most Enhanced Woman. Most amusing, if somewhat superficial. These women's bosoms were so freakishly large and unnatural that the whole programme was hilarious, in a rather grotesque way. If there's one thing his lordship cannot be accused of, it's prudishness.

I should think it inadvisable to approach little Minka brandishing a pin, at any rate. That's his lordship's suggestion, by the way.

One can discern that she relishes body-building, in a sense.

Clearly the Korean lady called Minka (right) was being exploited by her partner, taking advantage of her sweet, Asian demeanour.

Great entertainment.

The Wright Group: Great British Success

The Enterprise Minister of Northern Ireland has announced yet another substantial order for the Ulster company which makes buses, Wright's in Ballymena, County Antrim.

The deal is to supply a further 57 buses for the use of London Transport; and the order is worth eleven million pounds.

Wright's is a family-owned business. I think this is yet another major achievement for one of our finest companies.

It represents an outstanding success; not just for Northern Ireland, but for the United Kingdom as a whole.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Seasons Restaurant, Belfast

Several months ago an old friend of ours mentioned a restaurant she had lunched at. She seemed impressed. It is called Seasons Restaurant and it is located at Woodstock Link in east Belfast. Seemingly they specialize in dry-aged sirloin steak. I see it opens for dinner from 6-10 pm during the evenings, too. I'd be interested to hear if anyone has dined there in the evening.

They have published a non-existent web address: . What, on earth, is the point of doing this before a website is up and running? Utterly pointless, if you ask me. They can be found on page 51 of the Belfast Restaurant Guide.

Incidentally, Molly's Yard, off Botanic Avenue, is not mentioned at all in this "definitive" guide. I have heard very good reports about Molly's and hope to pay them a visit shortly.

Brief Encounter In Donegall Place, Belfast

I ventured in to Ross's auction-house in Montgomery Street, Belfast, this morning in order to see if the main sale-room on the first floor was open. Still no joy there. They don't appear to have had a general sale on the first floor for several months. There was nothing of interest on the ground floor today for me.

I ambled through Marks and Spencer en route to Donegall Place. It was remarkably quiet; in fact, as quiet as I've ever known. Crossing the road, and taking the escalator up the the Belfast Visitor bureau, I picked up a few 2009 eating-out guides; then headed over to the retailer Next, where I recognized the familiar face of the greeter - or whatever those people are called who stand at the entrance to certain shops, welcoming customers and trying to generate more trade for their employer.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Royal Visit

Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall are on a one-day visit to the Province.

The royal couple are visiting the village of Glenarm in County Antrim; and the Castle beside the village, which is Lord Antrim's seat and home to his son, Lord Dunluce.

East Belfast Retail Closures

The recession has begun to bite in east Belfast. At Connswater Shopping Centre, the shutters are down at Easons the stationers, Jayne Bentley the florist, Mr Pickwick's café, Woolworth's store... who is next? Barratt's shoe-shop is, presumably closing; there has even been ominous talk about the future of Dunnes store, which is the second-largest unit at the Centre after the anchor store, Tesco.

Ironically enough, Connswater Shopping Centre has only just completed a multi-million pound expansion at the main entrance, with a first-floor food court. Despite this recession - and no consolation for those whose jobs are lost - the long-term outlook must, surely, remain optimistic.

On Belmont Road I am told that Valentine the florists has closed down, too. How many more shop-keepers are on the brink of closure, I wonder?

Monday, 2 February 2009

Northern Ireland Michelin Star 2009

Once again, to his credit, Michael Deane has retained the coveted Michelin Star for Belfast and Northern Ireland. Here is the 2009 List for the British Isles.

Some clues as to the arcane requisite criteria for the achievement of Michelin Stars can be read here. One fundamental principle is the use of local ingredients, for instance.

Deanes is the only restaurant, which meets the Michelin standards, to be awarded one star.

I know that there are many good restaurants and so-called gastro-pubs throughout the Province. How many of them even apply for a Michelin Star; or are turned down?

I still think it is disappointing that we have only one restaurant with a Michelin Star. My conclusion is that the culinary standards in Northern Ireland are simply unworthy of the Star - let alone two or three.

It begs the question: How can Deanes consistently retain the Star; whereas others are, apparently, incapable of this feat? Are Michelin standards too high for most restaurateurs here? Are they frankly not bothered about achieving a Star? Are they more motivated about churning out meals with high profit margins?

I specifically allude to restaurateurs, as distinct from chefs, because the proverbial buck stops with the proprietor. There are doubtless many exceedingly talented chefs in the Province who simply haven't been provided with the resources to achieve three-star standards.

How can Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal earn two stars and three stars for their establishments, while restaurateurs in Northern Ireland cannot?

I seek enlightenment and would welcome views about culinary standards of excellence in Belfast and Northern Ireland. Am I being unfair? I have just read an interesting insight here, by Michael Deane himself.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

His Majesty's Ship Victory

It is most significant that the remains of the fourth ship to bear the name HMS Victory have been located. This was not Admiral Lord Nelson's - Vice-Admiral the Right Honourable the Viscount Nelson, KB - flag-ship; however, it bore the same name.

This ship sank in the English Channel in 1744. This discovery is of the utmost import to the United Kingdom and our heritage. Her Majesty's Government must take immediate steps to secure the future well-being of HMS Victory, its contents and place as a war-grave.

Yorkshire House, Belfast

Yorkshire House in Belfast, at 10, Donegall Square South, is better known nowadays as Ten Square Hotel. It is in a prime location, opposite the rear entrance to the City Hall.

I am interested to learn of the hotelier's plans to further develop and extend the hotel, from its present 23 bedrooms to 108; with a basement swimming-pool, too. This expansion shall cost about sixty million pounds.

Yorkshire House was built in 1862, thus making it the same vintage as the Ulster Hall in Bedford Street. It has three storeys and nine-bay frontages which overlook Donegall Square and Linen Hall Street. The building itself is quite modest in size; none the worse for that, though. It's a fine building and those responsible for its restoration deserve praise and credit. Accordingly, the hotelier intends to demolish two adjacent buildings: Lancashire House at 5, Linen Hall Street; and Scottish Amicable House, at 11, Donegall Square South. Yorkshire House is, indeed, surrounded on both sides by the two.

Scottish Amicable House is unexciting, at any rate. It was built in 1970 and is currently a six storey office block.

Lancashire House was built in about 1956, is of seven storeys and has always been associated with Yorkshire House since it was originally built as an extension or annex.

From an architectural perspective, this development should prove to be imaginative. Completion is anticipated by 2012.