Friday, 29 May 2009


I shall be incommunicado, or lying doggo as the missing Lord Lucan once infamously said, for a few days whilst we are basking up at Ulster's Sunshine Coast at Portballintrae in County Antrim.

Solied Tie Method Works!

The Soiled tie method I described on Wednesday has worked remarkably well for me. I used some detergent stuff called Bio-Tex with warm water in a Tupperware bowl; shook the mixture till there were suds; immersed the ties; and twelve hours later Hey Presto! Just follow the instructions for polyester ties.

My Old Brackenbrian tie, which is thirty-six years old, is now like new again.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Puncture Kit

I darted into Belfast this morning to buy a Tyre Puncture Repair Kit for the baby two-seater. It doesn't have a spare wheel so, although there is a breakdown recovery service included, I'm taking no chances; quite often I drive without my mobile phone.

I considered the repair kit good value at £9.79.

I phoned my insurer yesterday in order to transfer the motor insurance details and request a new certificate. They apprised me that it would be sent first class and I thought I'd receive the blasted thing today. No joy.

The car dealer also phoned to inform me that an accessory I'd ordered for the new car, the Chrome Pack, had not arrived yet. What a blasted nuisance - they've had almost three months to obtain it, haven't they?

There really is no rush; I may phone the dealer in the morning and tell them I'll take delivery of the new car next week; especially if the weather is good and we motor up to the Causeway Coast for the weekend. I'd hoped to reclaim four months' car tax; however, that puts a spanner in the works. The car tax works out at roughly £20 per month, so I'll be able to claim for only three months - they operate on whole months and we're into the month of June next week.

The dealer proposed that I take delivery of the new car; and, when the Chrome Pack arrives, revisit them to have the parts fitted. Any thoughts on that?

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Soiled Tie?

I've just found this most helpful site with tips on cleaning polyester ties safely. I have followed their method with my blue National Trust tie - the one with the R marks.

Mind Your R*marks!

I received the three National Trust classic ties I'd won my bid for this morning. Although used, they are all in great condition except the blue one, which has a white letter R stamped right down the whole tie! I believe this indicates a reject.

I successfully managed to remove these marks by brushing them carefully with a nail-brush, using cellulose thinners.

The 90p stamp on the package wasn't franked, either; so I got a bargain.

I checked the item description and photograph again; and, although the illustration is technically correct, the seller did not alert buyers to the letter R marked on the blue tie. They were all described as being "in good condition". I did notice the mark on the tie, which was so obvious that I thought it wasn't literally on the tie; rather that it was a digital mark you occasionally get on digital pictures. Caveat Emptor!

Cognizant of this, my strategy has been to send a message to the seller, letting them know my views, but that I'd still give them positive feedback because the items were great value, delivery swift and their communication good.

The seller has apologized, saying that they thought the R mark indicated a National Trust property! I left positive feedback; however, I marked the seller down on the Description Accuracy column; and stated, in my comments, that I managed to tamp off the Reject marks with thinners. I wonder what others would have done? Given negative feedback? The bottom line is that I got the marks off and I'm delighted with these classic ties which are no longer sold.

All's well that ends well.

No Royal Warrant

I've been looking at tonic-water in the supermarkets. I usually buy their own-label stuff, which is tolerably acceptable at a fraction of the price of proprietary brands, viz. Schweppes.

Schweppes in Great Britain appears to be part of the Coca-Cola Company and holds a royal warrant. Accordingly, whether you are on a flight; in a bar or hotel; or simply at home, in the Mainland Schweppes products proudly display their royal warrant with Her Majesty's coat-of-arms.

Not so in Northern Ireland. And why would this be? A company called Coca-Cola Bottlers (Ulster) Limited "acquired the rights to bottle, market and sell Schweppes products in 1991". This is under license, so this would seem to be the reason why the royal warrant is omitted.

Even the miniature cans of Schweppes tonic-water sold in Northern Ireland don't display the royal warrant. I shall continue to buy supermarket own-label tonic-water! The curious fact is that some establishments in the Province sell Schweppes tonic-water in little bottles which display the warrant; which indicates, presumably, that they are supplied from the Mainland.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The Clever Rookie

Anyone reading my blog will be aware of my love of wildlife and, particularly, birds. I'm fond of all birds. I don't really discriminate at all. There are a few that I'm less enthusiastic about, viz. feral pigeons.

Nevertheless, I love 'em all. I can name at least seven species of crow: Jackdaw, Chough, Rook, Magpie, Hooded Crow, Carrion Crow, Jay and Raven.

The rook is undoubtedly an intelligent bird, as far as bird-brains go; much cleverer than, say, a pheasant, chicken or feral pigeon. The rook is not a handsome bird, with its long, grey hooter and its distinctive cawing sound.

New research suggests that rooks are as intelligent as monkeys. Here is a great article about them.

Smart Arrival Imminent

I received a call from the car dealership this morning to apprise me of the new baby two-seater's arrival. They've issued me with a registration number; I've phoned my insurer to arrange for a certificate to be sent; and I expect to collect the new car on Friday.

I haven't forgotten to remove the current car tax disc, the chrome locking wheel nuts and some other paraphernalia from my present car. The car tax office shall be my first port-o'-call, in order to re-claim four months' car tax and notify them of the older car's change of ownership.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Fine Ties And Pies

Our Sunday drive yesterday culminated with a visit to Donaghadee Garden Centre in County Down, where a bee-line was made for their excellent self-service restaurant. I think it's not dissimilar to Fulton's Hawthorne Restaurant, in terms of food quality and the kind of food served; though Fulton's is bigger and places more emphasis on salad accompaniments.

We consider the nosh here to be tip-top. Great, traditional, Ulster cooking and no nonsense. The portions are generous, so I asked whether they served smaller helpings and, accordingly, received a small bowl of Irish Stew for the Dowager. I ordered the Steak and Guinness Pie accompanied by mashed potato; sweet, shredded red cabbage; and cauliflower Mornay. Sheer indulgence.

By the time I'd shown the Dowager to her seat a queue of ten had built up, so I waited impatiently for 8-10 minutes! It's a family restaurant; however, the atmosphere was tolerably quiet and we had no trouble finding a table. Empty plates and cutlery seem to be cleared away quickly.

By the way, wheelchairs are readily available adjacent to the tills as you enter.

We enjoyed our meal, as usual. The consistency of the stew was just right and the meat was lean. My meal was tasty and I cleared my plate, as ever. It really is just like good, home-made food - without the time and trouble! We cogitated over having one of their sumptuous puddings, including a range of crumbles, tarts, cheese-cake and strawberry Pavlova; however we'd had sufficient to eat.

The small stew cost £3; and my meal was £7. We had tumblers of Château Silent Valley!

Later that evening, I won an Ebay bid for three classic National Trust ties. I got them for a song. Presumably ties are less popular nowadays, especially less formal ones which are worn mainly at weekends. I hasten to add that I don't make a habit of wearing ties at weekends; these NT ones proved irresistible at the price, though.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Countryfile In Co Down

Did anybody see the BBC's Countryfile programme this evening? Part of it was broadcast from Strangford Lough in County Down. Splendid little Salt Island was featured; in particular the Bothy, where I have stayed several times, received some valuable publicity. David Thompson was already there when the television crew arrived ashore; I wonder if he had stayed in the bothy overnight?

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Coffee And A Cinnamon!

We're just back from the Bay Tree coffee-house in Holywood, County Down. I managed to squeeze the two-seater through the narrow entry, to the car-park at the rear. It's a close shave, isn't it? I always drive at a snail's pace, continually keeping an eye on the side mirrors; and there are literally inches to spare.

We all enjoyed the usual order of two regular coffees, two cappuccinos and three cinnamon scones. The lunch menu looked particularly attractive today: it contained about eight items, including the signature haddock and champ.

We haven't been disappointed here yet. The Bay Tree simply thrives; deservedly so, too. They all work hard to serve their patrons.

The Bay Tree is evergreen!

Big Screen 2009

The Big Screen event, in conjunction with the Royal Opera House, BP and Belfast City Council takes place once again at the Botanic Gardens in Belfast on Wednesday, the 3rd June, 2009.

Ondine, also called Undine, is a ballet by Hans Werner Henze; and its première was at the Royal Opera House in 1958. To be truthful, neither Ondine nor Henze are familiar to me! I wonder if the music will be to my taste... has anyone else listened to, or seen, this ballet?

Personally I prefer opera; and generally well-known opera at that. Still, if the weather is clement (unlike the last few years), I may attend it as it is always a most agreeable event in the city. It's a touch irksome that glassware is banned - despite some revellers still being able to secrete it - although it is understandable as to the Council's motives for the ban.

The gates open at 5.15pm; the performance, relayed live from Covent Garden, starts at 7.30pm.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Relocate The Big Wheel

A monstrous tourist attraction, such as Belfast's Big Wheel, clearly has a recreational role to play; though how many visitors it attracts to the city is debatable.

I certainly do not object to its existence in principle; though I do find its location beside Belfast's finest Edwardian edifice incongruous and objectionable, in an aesthetic sense.

I urge City Councillors to reject any planning application for the Wheel to be sited at Donegall Square; and, instead, to recommend that it receives permission to be re-located to the Titanic Quarter in Belfast.

Dame Joanna?

According to the Daily Mirror newspaper, my crusade to have Joanna Lumley, OBE, appointed DBE has been pre-empted and has, accordingly, become redundant.

A Daily Mirror reporter predicts that Miss Lumley will become Dame Joanna Lumley, DBE, in the 2010 New Year Honours.

Were this to be true, it would mark yet another humiliation for Mr Brown. How many more can the man take?

Blackwood Golf Centre

Blackwood Golf Centre, set in one of the most beautiful parts of County Down, at Clandeboye Estate, has encountered a most welcome reprieve. Here's the article.

Lady Dufferin, who owns the Estate, has saved the day by purchasing the golf centre. The golf club comprises 234 acres of the beautiful 2,000 acre Clandeboye demesne.

I wonder if any thought has been given to resurrecting a restaurant of Shanks' calibre, cognizant of the tragedy which caused its closure some years ago. Shank's Restaurant operated within the clubhouse and was awarded a Michelin Star (one of a mere three 1-star restaurants in the Province at that time).

Blackwood takes its name from the family surname of the Marquesses of Dufferin and Ava.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Lumley Recognition

Three cheers for Joanna Lumley, OBE. A petition should be initiated to ensure that Miss Lumley becomes Dame Joanna Lumley, DBE.

This national recognition, for Services to the Nation and to the Gurkha Regiment, would be despite a campaign by the Labour government to deny the Gurkhas their entitlements. We are grateful to Miss Lumley.

It is suggested that appointment to Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire would acknowledge Miss Lumley's valiant and triumphant efforts.

Darrell Lea Liquorice

Lord Belmont is pleased to make the following announcement:-

By Appointment to the Right Honourable the Earl of Belmont,

Suppliers of Soft-Eating Original Liquorice,

Darrell Lea Limited, New South Wales, Australia

Lloyds Share Offer

I have received documentation from Lloyds Banking Group today, inviting me to apply for shares in a new scheme of theirs in order to raise more capital.

They are issuing 10,408,535,000 new shares at a cost of 38.43 pence each: Multiply that to see how much they want! This is called a Placing and Compensatory Open Offer.

I already have sufficient shares in Lloyds; thus there is a distinct lack of enthusiasm on my part, whether they rise to £10 per share in the long term, or not.

Their shares are languishing at 68p presently. I sold some about ten years ago at over £8 per share.

Sir Ranulph's Triumph

Heartiest congratulations to Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Bt, OBE, 65, who has just ascended the summit of Mount Everest.

Perhaps our greatest adventurer, Sir Ranulph's intrepid achievements have been inspirational and hugely admirable.

Sir Ranulph Twistleton-Wykeham-Fiennes is the 3rd Baronet. His grandfather, the Hon Sir Eustace Fiennes, 2nd son of the Lord Saye and Sele, was a politician and erstwhile Governor of the Seychelles.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Tesco Self-Service Machines

The Tesco self-service check-out machine I used this morning was an absolute disaster. I wish I had gone to a human check-out instead.

The first problem it had was accepting my own carrier-bags, which it initially rejected. This difficulty persisted.

Then it would not accept a coupon for bananas; it advised me that the coupon was invalid because I hadn't bought a Pound's-worth (which I had).

The machine kept telling me to call for an assistant from then on, every time I tried to weigh grapes and limes.

The human assistant must have come over with her swipe-card about ten times; and the transaction wasted about fifteen minutes of my time. In fairness to these self-service machines, they do often work well, with straightforward transactions at least.

I reckon some of them require more modification or tweaking for the benefit of customers. Why, for instance, won't they readily accept customers' own bags without all that rigmarole?

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Energy Bulbs Complete

The transformation is virtually complete. We changed most of the household's light bulbs to the Low Energy variety several years ago. The only room without them was my bedroom, where the small chandelier uses candle bulbs with a small bayonet cap. Puzzlingly, this type of bulb isn't readily available presently.

I bought four 11 watt bulbs several days ago, online, from Brightlight Electrical; and the Royal Mail van driver has just delivered them. I plugged them in and they are all working. Brightlight's packaging was exceptionally good; talk about padding!

Lindy Lady Dufferin

W Magazine has sent me a link to their excellent article, including an interview, with Lady Dufferin at Clandeboye Estate in County Down. It is dated the 9th February, 2009.

It provides the reader with a fascinating insight into Lindy Dufferin's lifestyle in London and at Clandeboye, probably the finest private country estate in County Down (not to mention Ballywalter Park!).

Lindy Dufferin's mother-in-law was Maureen, Dowager Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava, who had homes at Hans Crescent, London; the Owl House, Lamberhurst in Kent; and on the island of Sardinia.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Noble Repeats

Somewhat akin to repeat classic series or documentaries being broadcast on television, I am minded to re-publish occasional articles which I feel may be of interest to new readers. For instance, there may have been a particular piece I published eighteen months ago which, I feel, is still pertinent today. Perhaps there might be a topic, dear to my heart, which I'd like to publicize again, on the other hand.

I am keen to receive your thoughts about this; I emphasize that any repeats will be infrequent.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

A Wattling We Shall Go!

I was out with the National Trust Weekend Volunteer Group today. We assembled at the former gasworks, opposite Mount Stewart Estate on the Ards Peninsula in County Down.

It is a short walk from the gasworks southwards, past the Temple of the Winds; then crossing the road into a field where there is a willow tunnel. Beyond the willow tunnel there's a lagoon which is becoming increasingly popular with sea birds.

The Trust is in a difficult position here due to the dangerous main road. It had been intended for the general public to gain access to Anne's Point by means of a path in the Estate which leads down to a blue gate; thence crossing the road at that point and reaching the lagoon via the willow tunnel. Regrettably the authorities forbade this proposal, including the erection of signage and a bird hide.

This spot is otherwise a very good location for ornithologists and bird-watchers. Today some of us wattled. We used flexible willow branches to make a screen overlooking the lagoon.

I had my usual cheese-and-onion sandwiches with a flask of tea for lunch. There was a big craft fair taking place at Mount Stewart. There were eight of us today; by the way, we're keen to recruit new volunteers so, if anyone is interested, contact the warden at

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Mourne Seafood Bar

I am not very keen on Bank Street in Belfast. To my mind, it appears shady and insalubrious; the sort of street you'd give a wide berth to, if you happened to be in central Belfast at night.

Nevertheless, I braved it fortuitously today and lunched at the Belfast branch of the Mourne Seafood Bar (MSB). They have an intriguing fishmonger's shop at the window, as you enter.

The MSB has no pretensions to being the Ritz or the Savoy hotel restaurants. The décor is mainly black; even the waiting staff are dressed in black. Although the MSB is tucked away in Bank Street, it seems popular; especially for those of us who enjoy our mussels and oysters, self excluded.

The staff are friendly and welcoming. I could be seated anywhere I pleased. Without any further ado, I ordered Walter's Smoked Salmon and a glass of sparkling water. It arrived within five minutes.

This meal is technically a starter; though I found it rather substantial. It consisted of smoked salmon; dressed, sliced lettuce; a generous portion of cream cheese with chives; a ramekin of sliced gherkins and capers; two slices of buttered wheaten bread; and a lemon wedge.

I enjoyed it. Like the sea-food bar, it was plain and unpretentious. The wheaten bread was reminiscent of the kind they sell in supermarkets though, thinly sliced and solid (as opposed to crumbly). They ought to take a leaf out of Beatrice Kennedy's book (BK pride themselves - quite rightly - on their home-made wheaten bread which is, incidentally, truly delicious). The calibre of the wheaten bread marred an otherwise good meal.

Had the Mourne Seafood Bar cared to ask, they'd have learned that I enjoyed my meal. The bill was £6.50 for the salmon; and £1.55 for a glass of fizzy water (there was no ice or lemon). I left a 50p tip.

The BBC's Incorrect Form

In Northern Ireland, the Member of Parliament for North Down is Lady Hermon MP. Pure and simple. Not so straightforward if we're talking about the BBC, though.

The BBC has elevated Lady Hermon to the socially esteemed position as the daughter of a duke, marquess or earl, by called her "Lady Sylvia Hermon" [sic].

I suppose we cannot expect many of those now employed by the Corporation to comprehend such intricacies of the British ways of life. They could, however, refer to the multitude of directories and guide-books in the BBC library, were they bothered.

Permit me to give the BBC in Northern Ireland a concise lesson about Correct Form: Lady Hermon is the wife, or widow, of a Knight Bachelor. The correct form of address, therefore, is "Lady Hermon". Variations, in writing, could include "Sylvia Lady Hermon"; or Lady (Sylvia) Hermon; or even simply calling the lady by her Chrisitan name, if one knew her personally.

The title "Lady" followed by the Christian name indicates the daughter of a duke, marquess or earl.

The Hippodrome

I wasn't aware that the Grand Opera House, Belfast, had another restaurant on the top floor of the carbuncle extension: The Hippodrome Restaurant. I knew about their Luciano's cafeteria on the ground floor and assumed that it was the theatre's sole restaurant. Is the Hippodrome new? Has anyone tried it yet?

They've taken the name from the Royal Hippodrome theatre which stood on the site of the Carbuncle in 1907; the Fitzwilliam Hotel and the Carbuncle occupy the site of the old theatre.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Who Owns What?

This is a question which occasionally enters my mind when I buy a product; not always, but sometimes. To what extent are we buying local, British, European or Global produce?

Take the locally-produced butter, Golden Cow, which is made in County Armagh. We lunched out recently and we were given a little foil pack of Golden Cow butter. I thought it had a good flavour. I have been curious to know more about it, so I began by searching the Internet. Golden Cow Dairies have no website. I didn't give up there, though.

I trawled down the web page and spotted an Irish company called Kerry Group PLC. This company's GHQ is in a town called Tralee in County Kerry.

Golden Cow is, in fact, owned by the Kerry Group although you'd expect Kerry Group's web address to feature on the packaging in the interest of transparency.

Here's a list of Kerry Group companies:-
A cursory scan of the list will apprise the reader that Kerry Group specializes in sausages, among other household names. Kerry Group's products, particularly the butter, are not to be confused with the Kerrygold Company which also produces butter.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Review: Lidl Onion Rings

I'd run out of onion rings, having sought some in the freezer last week; so I stopped off briefly at Lidl's Castlereagh store, en route to the leisure centre, in order to buy a packet.

We have tried them before and, compared to the big supermarket onion rings they are, surprisingly, even better.

No matter what type of onion ring you buy, it is not for those on a diet. Our local Tesco store only sells breaded onion rings and, to my mind, they're not up to much. I prefer the battered variety anyway.

Needless to say, home-made onion rings are the best; but, since I am too lazy to go through the rigmarole of making batter, heating the deep-fryer, cooking them and cleaning up the greasy mess afterwards it's easier and simpler to buy them! We only eat them about once a month , at any rate.

The Lidl onion rings are battered, taste of onion and cost 79p for 450 grams. That is what they charge in Northern Ireland; perhaps they're cheaper on the Mainland, since Lidl don't treat us as being in the United Kingdom, in a logistical sense, at any rate.

The Pauper Of Shaves

I started using the new Azor razor by King of Shaves a few days ago and took an instant dislike to it. In fact I used it once, then put it back in its packing and stuffed it into a drawer to gather dust! Another one bites the proverbial dust.

Quite frankly, I've had better disposable razors than the Azor. It feels cheap, plastic, light-weight, utterly disposable; but, more to the point, the blades themselves were poor and rough. I could elaborate more fully, but enough said.

I'm using the stalwart Gillette Mach Three again. As I said before, the Fusion is probably the best though it is expensive. I think the Mach Three represents comparatively good value for money.

The Azor, therefore, has been unsuccessful in achieving the Belmont Warrant!

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Castle Ward Drive

I'd intended to pack the stove and gas, crockery and cutlery, and a flask of tea; however, in the end we decided to go for a drive in the general direction of Castle Ward Estate in County Down.

En route we drove carefully down the tarmacked track to Gibb's Island, where I had a pleasant stroll through the wood and back by the hawthorn hedge. It's still too early in the season for the wild flower meadow; the Galloway cattle are grazing on the island for a month, though.

Closer to Castle Ward, I stopped off at Tullyratty to view the stone wall which, incidentally, looks very well indeed. I worked on it a few months ago with other volunteers.

Our next stop was the Castle Ward caravan site. It seems to be well run now and there's a full-time warden employed to run the site. He lives in a large touring caravan near the entrance with the National Trust's name and logo emblazoned on it. We chatted briefly and I told him about a wild raspberry bush that used to grow nearby; and how I used to gather the raspberries in late summer for our dessert! He didn't know about it, but seemed interested.

In the village of Strangford we parked at the Spinnaker Café. I was keen to see the menu; but, sadly, there was no menu displayed, not even inside the porch. Why do so many restaurants in the Province not display their menus?

To conclude our day out, we made for Castle Ward itself. The Estate looked wonderful today. We parked at the disabled car park behind the stable-yard - the Dowager needs a Blue Badge. We sat in the sunshine on a bench in the stable-yard, had a look in the shop; and I chatted to Natalie and Hannah, two fellow-volunteers staying at Terinichol. I strolled in to the Sunken Garden, which is being restored to its Victorian glory in stages over five years. The Eagles are now in place, keeping watchful eyes on the garden.

We finally ambled in to the Castle Ward café, which turned out to be a real disappointment I'm sorry to say. Whilst there was a good choice of sandwiches and puddings, the hot food consisted of soup, sausage-rolls, meat lasagne and vegetable lasagne. The Dowager had soup and a roll which, by the way, was dry and un-fresh. I complained about it and they brought a fresher roll. I had the meat lasagne and salad. The lasagne was too bland and flavourless for my liking. I also ordered tea for two, and I helped myself to a dessert (which looked like a sort of cheese-cake).

The tea was served in one of those ghastly, commercial-type teapots which must have held about two pints! You know the sort: they are so incontinent that a good deal of the tea pours down the side of it and causes a considerable spillage in the process. I could tell to look at it that it would misbehave.

The pudding was all right. Every time I used my spoon on it, a portion of the crumble fired on to my lap, though. It may have been lemon cheese-cake - that's a guess.

They had no price-list that I could see. There was a small black-board with about three prices on it. I had absolutely no idea as to the price of our meal. At the check-out, the bill came to £16.50, I think. I say that because I wasn't offered a receipt. I showed the cashier my National Trust Volunteer Card, which entitles volunteers to a discount, and she didn't even recognize it! She had no idea of how much discount I was entitled to; so, in the end, I was charged £15.

The person who served the soup was more interested in chatting to her friend over the counter than serving her customers. I waited while she conversed with her acquaintance. Just as well there wasn't a queue!

It is irritating that establishments, in general, do not display their menus with prices. I'm sure it is required by law on the Mainland; why not here in Northern Ireland? I know that many restaurants do willingly display their menus; nevertheless, many do not.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

The Birdman Of Belvoir

I'm going to make a point of paying Belvoir Forest Park a visit shortly. We have been visiting the Park less often since the authorities removed the feeder station beside the car park.

Nevertheless, they appear to have moved the feeders to another location and a dedicated RSPB worker, Michael Topping, henceforth to be known as the Birdman of Belvoir, has set up camp there - not literally - and is taking photographs of the wildlife.

Belvoir, on the outskirts of Belfast, still has a population of red squirrels, which can frequently be seen at the feeders, if you happen to be there at the right time.

In 1876 Belvoir Park demesne was the residence of Sir Thomas Bateson, Bt, and it extended to 6,348 acres. Sir Thomas was elevated to the Peerage in 1885 as the Lord Deramore.

The Deramore barony is now extinct.

During the early 1920s Belvoir Park, including the mansion house, was considered as an official residence for the Governor of the newly-established Northern Ireland; it was felt, however, that the demesne was too extensive and Hillsborough Castle was, eventually, chosen instead.

I am unable to find a picture of Belvoir House on the internet; if anyone knows of one which can be published online, please let me know. The picture above is of poor quality, I'm afraid.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Cpl S Binnie, 1986-2009

I am very saddened to learn of the death, on active Service, of Corporal Sean Binnie, 3rd Battalion, the Black Watch.

Corporal Binnie was married six months ago to his widow, Amanda. My sincere condolences are extended to Mrs Binnie and his family.

Primark Pronunciation

I had an amicable debate with a lady at the leisure centre today, the topic being so irrelevant and banal as the proper pronunciation of the clothing retailer, Primark. She started it! She was telling me about a building contract her son had for new Primark stores on the Continent, and said that she couldn't understand why "English people" pronounced it Prime Mark.

I retaliated by smiling and saying that I couldn't understand why people pronounced it Pree-mark!

Correct me if I am wrong, but I always assumed that the company took its silly name from the derivation of the words Prime and Mark; so what's wrong with pronouncing it Prime-Mark?

I heard a senior executive of Primark being interviewed last year on television and they pronounced it Prime-Mark. Surely they should know? They work for the company.

That's a weakness of mine; I can be a touch pedantic about grammatical pronunciation. I pride myself on how to pronounce many words correctly, viz. schedule, genuine, de Ros, Crom, Cadogan, Heathcote-Amory, margarine, heinous, contribute, and so on, ad infinitum. I cringe when some reporter on the BBC mispronounces a word, as occurs fairly often.

I'd never correct anybody, mind you. That's ill-mannered, in my book.

Now begins the Great Primark Pronunciation Debate!

Dental Inspection

I have received a letter from the Dental Referral Service, Stormont, today inviting me to attend a dental examination shortly - and I don't mean that in the academic or scholastic sense either!

They wish to examine my teeth on behalf of the NHS in order to ensure that my dentist is up to scratch, putting it bluntly.

Rummy, that. I had an enormous filling earlier this week. Little wonder he took me so promptly!

The Dental Referral Service are going to reimburse me to the tune of a tenner, when I turn up. Pin money; still, sufficient funds towards a decent bottle of gin.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

At Balmoral Avenue & Road

I did a spot of research at the Public Record Office in Belfast this morning. They have a notice on the wall with an illustration of their impressive new GHQ at Titanic Quarter, which will open in late 2010.

Being an infrequent visitor to the place, I brought one of those pencils which has a rubber at its end: "Sorry, sir, no erasers allowed on pencils...sorry, sir, no jackets permitted on the furniture!" pronounced the attendant jovially, from behind my shoulder. The place must be Bureaucracy Headquarters as well!

I was researching Killynether House. There were a few interesting drawings and documents of 1864, from a firm of Belfast architects called Boyd & Batt, of 6, Donegall Square West, or something like that.

Seemingly, Killynether House suffered a serious fire some years prior to 1864 which "consumed the dining-room floor, a bedroom floor above, the roof and woodwork of the doors and windows"... The beautifully hand-written report continued: ..."The house has been by want of proper attention and has been allowed to fall into rather a dilapidated state... is very irregular in plan, throws a roof with a good many gullies and gutters - a style of roof difficult to keep in order".

The cost of carrying out all improvements would be £450. That's £20,000 in today's money.

I became impatient and bored; and it was lunchtime anyway, so I motored on to Fulton's and lunched in their Hawthorne self-service Restaurant, an old favourite of mine. I indulged in Savoury Mince Tart with dressed salad and coleslaw. Utterly divine! I cannot wait till my next visit, perhaps when the new car is ready.

Foreign Lottery Scam

I noticed a letter addressed to the Dowager this afternoon, in an ordinary white A4 size envelope, post-marked in Belfast with a 2nd-class blue postage stamp.

I'm particularly protective of the Dowager and, quite rightly as it turned out, opened the letter. Inside there was one, A4 letter entitled "Euromillion Lottery Premitiva S.A." and the address claimed to be in Madrid.

This letter was from "Kelly Royce, President" and was a "winning notification". They urged the recipient to contact them.

These sorts of fraudulent scams are nothing short of despicable, especially for those of a vulnerable nature. The criminal gangs which do this sort of thing should be apprehended immediately and dealt with in the most severe manner. Nevertheless, they appear to get away with it, with impunity.

I'm tempted to contact the police; however, since I have little faith in the matter being seriously pursued, I feel it would be a waste of my time.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

The Queen Visits NI

Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh are visiting Northern Ireland today.

The Royal couple have been undertaking several engagements in County Londonderry.

Airport Face-Lift

Aldergrove Airport, which now calls itself Belfast International, is spending ten million pounds on major renovations.

That is welcome news, if it facilitates and improves passenger movement.

I do wish that the NI Government would hurry up and get a move on with a railway connection directly to the airport terminus, though. I am in no doubt that car park operators, including the airport itself, would strenuously resist such a proposal. That's too bad; it is in the interest of travellers that we have a rail connection.

Belfast Visit

I'm just back from a brief sortie into Town. I managed to get a space in Upper Arthur Street, so I made for Ross's auction-house. Lo and Behold! The first floor sale-room will be open for business next Wednesday, according to a porter.

my main purpose was to pay another visit to the splendid Linen Hall Library. I'm researching the Weir family of stockbrokers whose residence was Killynether House, near Newtownards in County Down. Apparently Miss Weir bequeathed two paintings to the Library when she died; so I had a word with the Librarian, John Killen. He checked some documentation and it all drew a blank, disappointingly. Still, he said he'd have another exploration when he had the time. Mr Killen apprised me that Eileen Black of the museum had assessed their paintings and, had there been any Laverys - Sir John Lavery - they'd have known about it.

I later made for Marks and Spencer, bought a few groceries including baby Jersey Royal potatoes; and, upstairs, a new navy blue striped shirt.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Tooth Filled

Just back from the dentist and he decided to fill the gap with a special filling. I was advised that, should it break again, a crown would be required.

He didn't use an injection and I felt no pain - which was a blessing - however I was relieved of £42 at the conclusion.

I have two crowns; I wonder how much crowns cost these days. Best not to know!

Broken Tooth!

I was standing in the living-room on Sunday evening, waiting for the snooker final to resume and munching a tea-cake in one hand whilst holding a beaker of tea in the other, when, suddenly, I bit into something very hard. I managed to extract the foreign body from my mouth, thinking about what action I'd take with that mighty tea-cake purveyor, Marks and Spencer, and the blasted thing belonged to self!

It was a largish bit of tooth from the top, back right-hand side. Thank Heaven it doesn't hurt. Consequently I'm about to get on the blower to my dentist so that he can assess the damage.

Will it be a third crown; or a filling?

Monday, 4 May 2009

Reliable Weather Forecast?

I usually have a look at the Met Office's five-day weather forecast on the Web every day. I used to follow the BBC weather site; but I dislike its new format, so I now watch the Met Office one.

Our weather is apparently so unpredictable and, consequently, difficult to predict at any rate. Still, most of the information is accurate.

Some villagers at Carrbridge, near Aviemore in Scotland, are particularly unimpressed with the BBC's weather service. The BBC response is to tell them that the BBC obtains its information from the Met Office!

Therefore, why bother following the BBC weather service on the internet at all when you can visit the Met Office site directly? Just do it.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Opera Ticket

I meant to mention that I've been using a miniature Beefeater gin bottle as a container for my milk on NT Volunteer days. It seems to do the job very well indeed; just the right amount of milk for two beakers of tea. Helen spotted it today and I responded by apprising her of my considerable collection of mini gin bottles, mostly obtained during flights.

My ticket for Castleward Opera's production of Die Fledermaus arrived this morning. I'm ten rows from the front and as close to mid-summer as feasible, the 17th June. The sun had better be out!

It really is a shame that they were compelled to cancel the second opera this season. I'd intended to attend it too. The cancellation has been due to financial constraints, apparently. Castleward Opera is such a wonderful annual Event in Northern Ireland; it deserves more commercial sponsorship and support. What about an oil company like BP stumping up the requisite funding? That's what is needed. When I read the long list of benefactors for the Royal Opera, it is impressive indeed.

I'm sure there are plenty of corporate patrons entertaining their guests to free hospitality at Castle Ward; they are the obvious candidates to look to for help.

Portaferry Shore Clean Up

We were blessed with fine, sunny weather today for our annual "Beach-Clean" at the shore just north of Portaferry, the small town on the Ards Peninsula in County Down.

The exact location was Ballyhenry Bay, where the remains of a ship-wreck are clearly visible at low tide.

We all met at the the car park beside the Northern Ireland Aquarium, Exploris. Today there must have been about eighteen volunteers, including Craig, Patricia, Helen, Kevin, self and the others. We collected a trailer-load of litter.

We had our packed lunches near the pond at the aquarium. I had Marks and Spencer British ham and mustard mayonnaise sandwiches, which were perfectly acceptable. Noisy black-headed gulls hovered overhead.

After lunch we were given complimentary tickets for the aquarium, which I had not visited since it first opened a few decades ago! Viewing some of those cod-fish put me in mind of a good fish-and-chip supper - plentiful numbers of the cod family goggling us from the relative safety of their water-tanks!

Friday, 1 May 2009

HMS Pinafore

The Carl Rosa Opera Company has produced another splendid show again, one in a glorious line of Gilbert and Sullivan light operas. I enjoyed a fine production of HMS Pinafore at the Grand Opera House in Belfast this evening.

Prior to the show I ambled in to the brand new Fitzwilliam Hotel, which sits beside the opera house. I wished to see what the lounge bar looked like. Thence I turned on my heels and made for the usual haunt for a modest aperitif, the piano lounge bar on the first floor of the Europa Hotel; I find the ambiance there tolerably congenial.

Ten minutes before curtain-up I crossed Glengall Street and darkened the threshold of the Grande Dame of Great Victoria Street, the main entrance of which is now at the carbuncle extension.

The auditorium seemed to be full enough, though the circle and gallery slips were empty; three boxes were vacant too. I thought the props, costumes and cast were all very good indeed. The star of the show, John Savident - the erstwhile butcher on Coronation Street - played the comic baritone in a most accomplished fashion as the Right Honourable Sir Joseph Porter, KCB, First Lord of the Admiralty.

I remained in my seat during the interval and read The Inimitable Jeeves. The performance didn't last too long and I arrived home shortly after five past ten.

Computer Woes

It has been one of those days when the old PC is turned on and something pops up to remind you of a new version of something; in my case the anti-virus programme.

I installed the new version and, since then, there has been a spanner in the works.

I've wasted the whole morning installing and un-installing three different programmes; however, hopefully, it appears to be resolved now. I'm back to where I started again!