Thursday, 31 December 2009

100,000 Thanks!

I've done it! You'd think I'd won the Lottery; but no, Timothy Belmont has just passed the 100,000th visitor at 16:50 hours today. Could that visitor please get in touch for a prize ... only joking!

My blog has been in existence since December 2nd, 2007.

Molly was Off-Colour

I popped into Molly's Yard today, en route to Belfast city centre. I'd assumed it was open so, when I darkened the threshold shortly after midday, the place was empty. Not one soul. A member of staff approached me and I inquired whether they were open. "Yes, we are". I settled myself at a seat opposite the bar, downstairs.

I was brought a menu and advised that the choice was limited; so, having had a look, I chose the gammon and champ, which was not what I'd have selected under normal circumstances. Still, I thought it would be fine.

The waitress left and returned almost immediately, "sorry, the gammon is off"; so I perused the menu again and tentatively asked for the stew which, it transpired, was available. I ordered it with a glass of sparkling water.

Frankly, I regret not having got up and left Molly's because they were obviously not "geared up" for their patrons at lunchtime; which makes me wonder why they opened at all. The waitress spent a fair bit of time on the phone to customers who had reserved tables this evening, so they are open tonight.

The stew - venison, I was told - was, I have to say, tasty; though it seemed to be a "hotch-potch" of soup vegetables and even a dollop of cranberry sauce atop! I settled up (£8.50) and left.

I still like Molly's Yard; I simply thought they weren't at their best today at lunchtime.

Later on, as I passed Alden's in the City, I noticed that they were doing a brisk trade; it seemed full.

New Year Honours 2010

The New Year Honours List for 2010 is headed by the Lady Carswell, OBE, lately HM Lord-Lieutenant of Belfast, who has been appointed a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO).

It seems to have become a tradition now that Deans of Belfast are appointed Officers of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE). This honour is, I feel, well deserved; particularly in recognition for the charitable work done and the annual "sit-out".

So the Dean of Belfast, the Very Reverend Houston McKelvey, QVRM, TD, is now, also, an OBE.

The Honours List published by the mass media is not comprehensive, because it excludes appointments to the Royal Victorian Order.

Kenneth Montgomery, Principal Conductor, Ulster Orchestra; for services to Music in Northern Ireland. (Amsterdam, Netherlands) becomes an OBE.

David Anderson, MBE, formerly Hospitality Manager, Hillsborough Castle, Northern Ireland Office, is appointed a Member of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO).

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

The Ultimate Mattress?

I have used the same bed and mattress for my slumber for as long as I can remember; since time immemorial. I have never given a second's thought to purchasing a new one. Why should I? The present one seems comfortable enough to me and I've never had cause to complain. No sore back, or anything else.

Nevertheless, I was intrigued to see what was on offer at the bed store beside my health club this morning; so I popped in to have a look.

One particular bed drew my attention, manufactured by a company called Hypnos. Its price, however, astounded me: £2,300 for a single, three-foot bed. And that was the sale price.

I think we can safely assume that these are considered to be "the Rolls-Royce" of beds. Are they really worth the price? Mind you, bearing in mind that some of us spend a third of our lives in bed...

Miss Enid Blyton

I watched rather a good drama about the life of the famous children's author, Enid Blyton, last night. It was on BBC4 at 9pm, though I have a feeling that it was shown on another channel prior to that.

I think many of these biographical dramas need to be taken with a little pinch of salt; though I enjoyed Helena Bonham Carter playing the title role.

I imagine that Enid Blyton must have been the J K Rowling of her day; for she lived in some style in a large country house with plenty of staff, including a poor chauffeur who was threatened with dismissal if he didn't get rid of his cold! Whether this little episode was made up for the viewers' benefit, or whether there was anecdotal evidence of its veracity, I am unable to confirm.

Enid Blyton was a bit of a paradox. She seemingly invited children - her young fans - to parties at her country home, an act she obviously relished; yet her own little daughters were banished to the nursery. Moreover, she didn't seem to love them and came across as an unkind mother.

As I say, I enjoyed it. I loved her books, particularly the Famous Five series; and I had them all.

Monday, 28 December 2009

NI Honours Speculation

Two Lord-Lieutenants in Northern Ireland have retired recently, viz. Lord O'Neill and Sir William Hall; both having been appointed Knight Commanders of the Royal Victorian Order.

During 2009, the Duke of Abercorn and the Lady Carswell have also relinquished the Lieutenancies of County Tyrone and the City of Belfast respectively.

In addition, the Duke has served the Queen in a personal capacity as Lord Steward of the Household. His Grace's late mother, Kathleen Duchess of Abercorn, DCVO, was Mistress of the Robes to HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother from 1964-1990.

I shouldn't be at all surprised if there are conferments of Knight Grand Cross (GCVO) and Dame Commander (DCVO) to the Order.

The Great Fermanagh Estates

I am going to begin writing about the great country estates and landowners of County Fermanagh shortly. I've always had a great affection for Fermanagh; ever since I spent holidays there as a boy. Indeed I wrote a nostalgic article about Castle Archdale earlier this year.

There is an abundance of rich material and truly beautiful demesnes in the county to dwell on. Some remain private and still owned by the families; others are forgotten or have been transformed into forests and country parks.

I intend to commence the series with Blessingbourne estate, which is technically in County Tyrone though a substantive part of the demesne was in Fermanagh.

Castle Irvine - now known as Necarne Castle - was a large estate near Irvinestown; now an equestrian centre.

Rosslea Manor, home to the Maddens, was burnt in 1885 and finally demolished in 1914; and, it is believed, is now mainly forestry.

The manor-house at Killadeas was another substantive estate, extending to over 11,000 acres; now a hotel.

The lovely Belle Isle estate, near Lisbellaw, belongs to the Duke of Abercorn - or, rather, the Duke's second son, Lord Nicholas Hamilton; now a holiday leisure complex and catering school.

The aforementioned Castle Archdale - with its noble manor-house - used to be one of the biggest estates in the county; now a holiday camp and country park.

Colebrooke Park , a stately home near the village of Brookeborough, remains the seat of the Viscounts Brookeborough to this very day.

Florence Court, a property of the National Trust and once the seat of the Earls of Enniskillen, was formerly a very large estate.

Crom still remains the seat of the Earls of Erne, though the country estate has been a property of the National Trust since 1988. Lord and Lady Erne live in the stately Victorian mansion which is private; though, like Colebrooke, run partly on a commercial basis as luxury accommodation in its west wing.

Ely Lodge, near Enniskillen, was once a seat of the Marquesses of Ely; then purchased by Lt-Col Robert Grosvenor about 1948. The Westminster family's connection with Ely ended about 1987, when Voila, Duchess of Westminster died in a tragic car accident; and it is now privately owned. Lord Ely was the largest landowner in County Fermanagh, with 34,879 acres.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Queen's Quarter Amble

I felt like an urban stroll today, so I motored over to University Square, adjacent to the Queen's University of Belfast, and parked the baby two-seater there.

Ambling round College Green, I had a look at the recent damage inflicted to the Union Theological College; then I passed that agreeable little bistro-restaurant, Molly's Yard, which is entered from Botanic Avenue. Click on the image to read the bistro menu.

Thence my route took me up Mount Charles, turning right at University Road, and along Upper Crescent, parts of which are still in a deplorably neglected state. Who, might I inquire, owns 16, Upper Crescent? It is in a most dreadful condition due to the negligence of its owner. In 1974 it was owned by the University.

Carrying on along Lower Crescent, I crossed and walked up Lisburn Road; and up Fountainville Avenue; down Claremont Street; up Camden Street; and down Fitzwilliam Street; finally strolling along Elmwood Avenue.

Generally speaking, these streets have an air of neglect about them, possibly due to either irresponsible landlords, tenants or both! I passed Queen's red-brick Lanyon Building: I do wish they would reinstate the iron railings round the perimeter with replicas. There must be pre-war photographs somewhere. This would considerably enhance the appearance of the area. The "stumps" of the old railings can still clearly be seen.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

The Definitive Holmes?

It's a wonder I don't own the Sherlock Holmes box-set collection. I do have about three videos; no DVDs, though.

I suppose whomsoever one considers to be the definitive Sherlock Holmes actor is entirely subjective, as is the case with the James Bond characters.

For me, the ultimate Sherlock Holmes portrayal has been - and will probably remain - the late Jeremy Brett.

Jeremy Brett (3 November 1933 – 12 September 1995), was born Peter Jeremy William Huggins.

Brett was born at Berkswell Grange in Berkswell on 3 November 1933; son of a Lord-Lieutenant of Warwickshire and an heir of the Cadbury Chocolate family. He was educated at Eton.

Perhaps I am biased, for I've seen photographs of the latest version of our great detective played by Robert Downey. How does Downey portray Sherlock Holmes? Should I even bother going to see the movie?

Friday, 25 December 2009

A Very Merry Christmas

I wish readers and friends the compliments of the Season. Eat, Drink and Be Merry!

I attended the annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at Belfast Cathedral last night, which was well attended. The Dean of Belfast, the Very Reverend Houston McKelvey, led the Service.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas Eve

It's freezing in Belfast again this morning; so yet another opportunity to light a hearty, roaring fire at home courtesy of Timothy "one match" Belmont! The fire is well lit already.

I think I'll buy some more fuel for the fire today. I'd really prefer logs, though they are more readily available in the country than in the town.

It was customary for me to attend the traditional Christmas Eve carol service at Belfast Cathedral in times past; so I might well consider that this evening. The preacher at the main Christmas Day service in the Cathedral is the Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of Down and Dromore.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The Birthday Dinner

Don't have your birthday in December. The weather is inclement; the days short; and, if you are young, your birthdays presents occasionally "double up" as Christmas gifts, too.

I'm beyond caring about the latter. We dined, yesterday evening, at Alden's Restaurant in Belfast. It is ten years since we last ate there, so a visit was long overdue.

Beware: parking is difficult. There is a single yellow line outside Alden's with a notice which states that parking is prohibited between 7am and midnight, or thereabouts. Parking is available in the side streets, round the corner.

Service at Alden's is efficient and courteous, as you'd expect. We were shown to our table forthwith. Ambiance is contemporary; the walls are off-white; and the seating a mixture of maroon banquette and armless cushioned chairs.

In a previous incarnation, this premises had been a grocer's shop or supermarket forty years ago.

We were served about three or four pieces of fresh, thinly-sliced bread - possibly home-made - with butter and chopped olives; and this was good.

I ordered a half-bottle of Sancerre wine from the extensive wine-list. I proceeded to order the roasted pigeon breast with crisp pancetta, black pudding and beetroot dressing for my first course. The Dowager opted out.

By the way, game features strongly on the menu. I thoroughly enjoyed my pigeon, feeling that the black pudding and beetroot dressing complemented it well.

For our main course, the Dowager went for the pan-seared salmon with asparagus and pea emulsion; while I had the breast of pheasant with spiced red cabbage and blue cheese gratin. We shared a special mashed potato and mixed vegetables consisting of fine beans, carrot, peas and broccoli.

Once again, we both enjoyed our food. The plates weren't particularly hot, though the food was warm enough. My pheasant was delicious. You are advised that it is normally served slightly pink, though I didn't notice any pinkness myself. No matter, it was very good.

I indulged in egg nog brûlée for pudding. I felt, personally, that this was the weakest link. It wasn't creamy enough for me; slightly bland. The top seemed cold, as if it hadn't been under the grill long enough. Acceptable enough, though.

We rounded the evening off with coffee and this came with complimentary truffles. Incidentally, it was busy in this restaurant; not too crowded, but busy enough. most tables were occupied within our eyesight.

All in all, an enjoyable evening.

Cigarette Case Solved

It is gratifying that a silver cigarette case which once belonged to Lord Enniskillen - then Lord Cole - has been returned to its rightful place at Florence Court House.

An excellent Christmas present for the National Trust at Florence Court, the eloquent kleptomaniac wishes to remain anonymous.

I'm looking forward to my forthcoming series about the great landowners of County Fermanagh, Florence Court and the Enniskillen family.

Ill-Health of the Duke

The 10th Duke of Roxburgh's first wife, Lady Jane Grosvenor, shall be familiar with Ely Lodge and County Fermanagh. She is also the mother of the Duke's heir, Lord Bowmont.

Lady Jane is, herself, rather appropriately the daughter of a duke and sister of the present Duke of Westminster.

His Grace is having to endure the ordeal of chemotherapy in London for cancer presently, while still supervising the management of his 60,000 acre estate in Scotland, the nucleus of which is Floors Castle at Kelso.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Fifty Winters

I have had an absolutely wonderful birthday. Everyone has been so kind. I really wasn't expecting anything at all. However, this expectation turned out to be quite wrong.

Through this website I wish to express heartfelt thanks - in no particular order - to: Pamela and Fred; Margaret; Joan; Beatrice; Carmel and Brendan; Patricia; Heather and Jim; Judy and Malcolm; Allison and Paul; Diane and Kingsley; Debbie and David; Shirley and Charles; Pete; John; Mark; and anyone else I have forgotten to mention.

We are dining at Alden's Restaurant in Belfast this evening.

The First Fire

We lit our very first fire in the sitting-room today and, I am gratified to say, it lit with one match immediately. I haven't lost the old touch!

There is no mystery to my technique at all: Screw up half a dozen pieces of newspaper; throw in some fire-lighters, if you have them; arrange half a dozen kindling sticks gently on top; and then, with tongs, place a number of coals strategically.

This method seldom fails me.

I had to place an order for heating oil on Saturday. The last delivery was about June 2nd, so it has lasted very well.

Cadbury's Caramel

Like so many things in life, opinions and personal tastes vary. They are subjective. For instance, the finest chocolate in the world, to my mind, is probably Lindt 70% Excellence due to a number of factors: depth of flavour, balance - neither too bitter, nor too sweet; a lingering taste in the palate.

Despite that, I remain a Cadbury's Caramel Loyalist; or, to give it its formal name, Cadbury Dairy Milk with Caramel. It is simply heavenly and sublime. If I'm lucky, the supermarkets sometimes have a "two bars for two pounds" offer.

Whilst checking out of my apartment in the Canary Islands recently I gave Reception two bars of it!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Wintry Scene

By Jove, it isn't half nippy this morning in Belfast. It is snowing lightly as I write this blog. We cooked some nice, crispy bacon this morning. I like it with wholemeal buttered toast and Acacia honey.

I donned the fleece and wellies awhile ago, in order to replenish the bird feeders. My goldfinches were all in an utter frenzy this morning, squabbling for the Nyger seeds. Some of these beautiful little birds resorted to eating the spillage on the ground.

Now I'm going to scan the Sunday Times online. When is Murdoch going to impose charges for it?

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Oil Tank Blaze

When I was driving home last night, along the Saintfield Road opposite Knockbracken (formerly the Purdysburn Estate), a substantial amount of bellowing smoke caught my eye. It came from a housing development opposite Knockbracken.

I wondered what, on earth, it could be at the time.

I have read, this morning, about a blaze last night which destroyed two homes there. How terrible for those families just at Christmas; and what would have caused it?

Newcastle Dinner

Last night was the occasion of the annual National Trust Strangford Lough-Murlough Christmas dinner. The venue was the same place as last year, Villa Vinci's restaurant in Newcastle, County Down.

Of course it was a very cold night - on the way home the temperature dropped to -2 Celsius at Ballynahinch. I drove and, as a consequence of this, remained as sober as a judge the whole night. I continually sipped glasses of tonic water with ice and lemon, sad to recount!

There must have been about two dozen of us, most from the Murlough group; so I was only acquainted with five people. For some reason I wasn't on "top form"; I don't always feel comfortable at social gatherings like that. Still, perhaps I'm out of practice; and, had I been able to indulge in a proper drink, that might have helped.

The meal was perfectly acceptable. There was a reasonably good choice, and I chose the exactly the same courses as last year: Prawn cocktail; turkey with all the trimmings; plum pudding with custard; and coffee. I noticed others having duck and salmon.

Villa Vinci's was full. They're bound to have been "stretched" and there was occasionally slight confusion from the waiting staff - not to mention the diners - as to whom had ordered what! I think they did fairly well though, under the circumstances.

I cannot recall the precise time I left. I'd been hemmed in somewhat, sandwiched between others at the rear seating; otherwise I might have left a bit sooner. However, I got home safely about eleven-fifteen.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Yuletide Gifts

I paid a visit to the Ulster Historical Foundation's new office at 49, Malone Road, Belfast, this morning. Some of their publications interested me. Their new office is beyond the Botanic Inn bar.

I think my amateur research of various country houses and estates, particularly in counties Tyrone and Armagh, has whetted my appetite.

I purchased the Plantation of Ulster by Philip Robinson; and Early Belfast, by Raymond Gillespie.

I was intending to pay them by debit card and, when I inserted it into the machine, the card was rejected because the PIN number had been locked. This is the second occasion when this has occurred.

I recall entering an incorrect PIN number with it several times at Donaghadee Garden Centre recently; and then having to use another card or cash. What a confounded nuisance! Still, I imagine its all for my own good.

I've contacted my bank about it.

State of the Palace

The condition of the stone-work on sections of Buckingham Palace is concerning and deplorable. Richard Kay has written an article about it today in his column.

This has been a gradual process over many decades. Buckingham Palace, unlike Sandringham and Balmoral, is a State building; and, consequently, ought to be cared for by the State.

Is the Government seeking to extract some sort of "deal" from the Royal Family, whereby the Palace is kept open more often to paying visitors? Is State assistance conditional on some sort of concessions?

Doesn't the State look after other historic royal palaces, like the Tower of London and Hampton Court? Since Buckingham Palace is still inhabited, its preservation ought to be doubly important.

I'm sure that our national museums and galleries are well cared for. Surely Buckingham Palace, renowned the world over, deserves similar attention?

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

At Ross's Again

I was in central Belfast briefly this morning. The upstairs sale-room of Ross's auction-house was open. I still cannot find quite what I'm looking for, in terms of a very narrow hall table which needs to be big enough to fit over a double radiator.

I spotted Peter Maxwell viewing a pair of items whilst I was there.

Cerebral Nourishment

Does anyone have one of those "brain-training" devices? You know, the Nintendo DS type ones as advertised by Ant & Dec on television.

They seem quite a good idea to me; or the concept, at least. I think they could prove beneficial, depending on the cirmcumstances.

I wonder how long the batteries last in them? I suppose rechargeable batteries could be used.

Are they worth £100 plus?

Monday, 14 December 2009

Canon Can!

Stop Press: My Canon camera has literally just arrived twenty minutes ago! Well anticipated, Amazon and Royal Mail.

Seasonal Duties

I still await the delivery of my little Canon camera. I ordered it over a week ago from Amazon, the Internet mail order company. I expect that delays are inevitable during the busy Christmas period.

Thank goodness I managed to complete some essential Christmas shopping this morning; and the supermarket wasn't too crowded, either: A "ten-pack" of beer for the dust-bin men; a half-decent bottle of Bordeaux wine for a family dinner on Sunday; and some chocolates for persons in the service of the Belmont Household (ha!).

What a relief. The Christmas card lists have been completed, too. Being able to print labels and the ability of the computer to remember names and addresses is a great help.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Hovis Seed Sensations

Hovis Seed Sensations "Rich and Roasted" is still a firm favourite in the household. It's better value now than over a year ago, when a loaf cost £1.53. It weighs 800g. It's not wholemeal bread, though it is brown.

It is described, for trade description purposes, as being "multi-seeded bread with linseed, sunflower, pumpkin, millet and poppy seeds". The fibre content is twelve percent, which equates very well compared with wholemeal bread.

This bread is literally filled with wholesome seeds, toasts well and is, to my mind, delicious. Highly recommended.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Killynether Coppicing

I've been out all day, at Killynether Wood near Newtownards in County Down. Killynether is a truly beautiful spot. I've written articles about it before; and about the Victorian mansion that was once there.

We numbered about a dozen today, assembling at the car park at about nine-thirty. Alan had brought along plenty of saws, loppers and gloves.

We were coppicing in the middle of the woods, on a steep slope. Having lit a bonfire, this enabled us to dispose of surplus branches.

Lunch for me today was a round of prosaic cheese-and-onion sandwiches, washed down with hot tea!

Friday, 11 December 2009

Landowner Series

I'm looking forward to writing about the biggest Victorian landowners in the remaining Northern Ireland counties; so much so, that I'm actually quite excited about the prospect...

...about the wealthy banker, rich as Croesus, who bought a mountain estate with a hunting lodge; and the illegitimate son of a marquess who became one of the greatest landowners and philanthropists, whilst travelling by private train from his rented castle.

Can't wait.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

100,000 by New Year?

I'm watching my Visitor numbers with a fair measure of eagerness. Will Timothy Belmont achieve the magical figure of 100,000 by January 1st, 2010?

Let's see.

The Hospital Trip

I'm impressed by the Patient Care Service (PCS) transport organization in Belfast. The Dowager had a routine appointment at Belfast City Hospital this morning. I'd arranged for an ambulance call well in advance, due to the little accident she had several weeks' ago, causing a heavily bruised ankle.

I usually drive the Dowager to hospital appointments myself; however, in this instance, I decided to take advantage of the PCS.

If your consultant's department is aware that you are utilizing the PCS, they are flexible with appointment times. The Dowager's appointment was at ten-thirty; though we didn't arrive till after eleven, and she was seen by the doctor within five minutes!

They seem "geared up" for this arrangement. And it seems to work very well. It is less stressful for the carer, too. You do require stoical patience, though. We had to wait for awhile before the PCS came to collect us; so we were home by shortly after one o'clock.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Great Tyrone Landowners

I am beginning a new series about the great landowners of County Tyrone. I intend to focus on the largest landowners, notwithstanding the fact that there were many with between five and ten thousand acres.

The greatest landowners in the county were, and probably still are, the Dukes of Abercorn. The Dukes, whose ancestral seat has been the stately Baronscourt Estate near Newtownstewart for centuries, held 60,000 acres in 1872. Even today, the present Duke holds a substantial 15,000 acres.

The Earls Castle Stewart, whose seat remains at the Stuart Hall Estate near Stewartstown, owned 32,615 acres.

The Earls of Caledon held vast amounts of land amounting to 29,236 acres.

The Church of Ireland - the Church Commissioners - held 28,002 acres.

The Stewart Baronets, of Athenree in County Tyrone, owned 27,905 acres; and their residence was Ballygawley House.

The Cole-Hamilton family lived at Beltrim Castle, near Gortin, and had 16,682 acres.

The McMahon Baronets, of Dublin, owned 16,326 acres. The village of Mountfield, near Omagh, was developed mainly in the 1800s by Sir William McMahon, Bt, and today is a quiet, tranquil place with its economy dependent on agriculture. Their residence was Fecarry Lodge.

The Verner Baronets, of Verner's Bridge in County Armagh, had 16,042 acres.

Although the Earls of Belmore lived principally at the palatial and stately Castle Coole in County Fermanagh, they also had 14,359 acres in County Tyrone.

Mr Thomas Arthur Hope, of Wavertree in Lancashire, owned 13,995 acres.

The 1st Lord Dorchester owned 12,607 acres. Born in Strabane in 1724, Sir Guy Carleton went on to become Military Governor of Quebec and was instrumental in successfully challenging an invasion of Canada by the rebel forces of the American Colonies in 1776. Ironically his opposite number was Donegal man Richard Montgomery.

The Knox-Browne family owned 10,125 acres at Aughentaine Castle, near Fivemiletown. The Castle was sold to the Hamilton-Stubber family in 1954.


Mrs L E de Bille. of Slaghtfreedan Lodge, near Cookstown, owned 12,680 acres.

Monday, 7 December 2009

New Camera

I've gone ahead and ordered a new Canon Powershot A480 digital camera. Frankly, I Don't have a huge interest in photography, seldom - if ever - taking a camera with me on holidays; though the current camera simply doesn't have a large enough memory. I use it for the blog.

I've read enough about the little Canon to know that it is straightforward, easy to use and very good value for the money. I have a collection of SD memory cards, which should do the trick.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Jolly Fine Grub!

I don't think the cost of wild bird food has increased much, since my last visit to Jollye's about six months ago. We called with them this afternoon, on our way back from Donaghadee and Groomsport in County Down. A sack of Niger seeds cost £34.99; and likewise with black sunflower seeds, £12.49. Goldfinches do have expensive tastes! They are the only birds that eat Niger seeds, with us at any rate. During harsher weather in the winter, redpolls and siskins usually make an appearance, and they enjoy Niger seeds, too.

I put the sacks in the boot of the baby two-seater with ease.

Earlier, we lunched at the café in Donaghadee Garden Centre. This place is deservedly popular. We arrived promptly today and donned the feed-bags not long after it opened at 12.30pm. They claim: "We take our food and coffee very seriously, and are proud to say we offer the best in traditional home cooking at both our centres. Scrumptious scones and a huge range of pies, cakes and deserts [sic] are all baked on a daily basis". I shan't argue with that statement. This place seems to be popular with everyone: families; children; older people; those with a disability, too. They provide a number of wheel-chairs.

I think the key to their perennial success is consistently good, no-nonsense, tasty, home-made, traditional Ulster food. If you feel like a sumptuous beef-steak pie with mash, carrots and peas, with plenty of butter and other condiments, I doubt if you'll be disappointed.

And that is just what I had today: all of the above; and the Dowager enjoyed a small dish of a good stew. We shared their popular lemon meringue pie with lashings of whipped cream for pudding; which could, to be truthful, have been more lemony. It would have required more zest, I felt. Still, it was also very good.

The café was moderately busy when we made our departure. The steak pie was £7.65; the ½ stew, a snip at £3; and pudding (ample for two!), £3.60.

They have a sister café at their Bushmills Garden Centre, where we've been many times. The grub is equally good there, too. We'll be back.

Bird's-Eye View?

I've been browsing through the Sunday Times - online - this morning; which is fine, till Murdoch starts charging. Reckon I'll pay him? Not on your nelly.

A few pieces have caught my eye: One is about the big supermarket Tesco's battle with rivals to retain the "premium" food market. Obviously Tesco is not merely content with the "value" market, or the markets in the middle. They want the lot! Seemingly they are aggressively discounting "high-end" products like king prawns and their lobster, by halving the price. The other protagonists - antagonists! - would appear to be the likes of Waitrose and Marks and Spencer.

The second article that - somewhat aptly - caught my eye is about the arrival of "20/20 vision", virtually perfect eyesight by means of lens implants which use a technique similar to cataract lenses. These lenses are already available in America and Germany, retailing at £600 per lens. However, the London Eye Hospital has begun private operations for those willing to pay £3,000 per eye.

It sounds good to me.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Top Gear in Belfast

Top Gear sounds as if it'll be good this week: The BBC flagship motoring programme sees Jeremy Clarkson testing a Renault car in a huge tunnel under Belfast; and then, apparently, firing the car off the dock-side at a departing ferry!

The show is on BBC2 tomorrow at 8.30pm; and BBC HD at 10.30pm; finally being repeated next Wednesday at 8pm.

Tree Installed

This morning I unearthed our Christmas tree from the basement and, generating a modicum of effort, manhandled it to its customary position in the living-room. Amen! The lights are all working. The decorations are all up in the attic, so that shall be the next job.

I'm still interested in writing an article about Stuart Hall in County Tyrone ( I mentioned it on the blower last night to Richard, a fellow-NT Volunteer - and hastened to add that I alluded to the country house, not the It's A Knockout compere).

When I was talking to Lord Castle Stewart this morning he suggested that the local post office in Stewartstown had a few picture post-cards and things about the Hall. I must make a point of paying Stewartstown a visit; I cannot recall ever having been there.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Free Stamps!

It never ceases to astonish me how often, at Christmas, the Royal Mail's machinery fails to frank postage stamps. Waste Not, Want Not, as the saying goes. I remove unmarked stamps from the envelopes; soak and float them on a saucer of water; carefully peel them off after a few hours; dry them; and re-use them with gluey gum.

Within the last year or so I have accumulated 23 stamps, 6 of them first class. That equates to £7.44.

Given that the population of the UK is roughly sixty million, if a mere 1% of people "do what I do", the Royal Mail has lost £4,464,000 in revenue.

Thank you very much, Royal Mail.

Badger Extravaganza

I was motoring up the drive of the old school earlier this evening for my customary sixty lengths when, as I turned the bend, what I suddenly saw was quite astounding: Two adult badgers sparring with each other on the grass verge.

I slowed down in order to observe them in the headlights; then, after a few seconds, they both ran into the undergrowth.

What a remarkable sight.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Prince Edward in Ulster

His Royal Highness The Earl of Wessex has arrived in Belfast and has attended a memorial and thanksgiving service at Belfast Cathedral, marking the return of 19 Light Brigade from operations in Afghanistan.

Prince Edward personally represented Her Majesty The Queen.

Amongst the other dignitaries were:-

Dame Mary Peters, DBE, HM Lord-Lieutenant of the County Borough of Belfast

The Rt Hon the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor N Long

The High Sherriff for the County Borough of Belfast, Councillor F McCoubrey,

The Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal,

The Rt Hon Bob Ainsworth MP, Secretary of State for Defence,

The Rt Hon Peter Robinson MP MLA, First Minister of Northern Ireland,

The Rt Hon Paul Goggins MP, Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The Very Reverend the Dean of Belfast, Dr Houston McKelvey, QVRM, TD

The Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, GCB, AFC

Brigadier Tim Radford, OBE, Commander 19 Brigade.

Lord Belmont's Official Birthday

I am two years old today! Gosh, that is nifty stuff for a two year-old, I hear you say. Here is my very first entry on the 2nd December, 2007. If I may crave your indulgence with a few salient facts and figures:-

  • 67,267 hits in 2009 (25,009 in 2008)
  • 6,200 profile views (2,500 in 2008)
  • 565 postings (465 in 2008)
The majority of visitors are from the United Kingdom, with 62%; USA, 11%; Canada, 5%; Ireland, 4%; New Zealand, 3%; Australia, 3%; Holland, 2%.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

HMS Caroline

I am hopeful that the veteran warship and erstwhile GHQ of the Royal Naval Reserve in Northern Ireland, HMS Caroline, shall remain in the Port of Belfast.

I think it's important that we keep her here, as a valuable piece of maritime heritage; and even as a floating museum - like HMS Belfast moored in London.

There is an article in the Belfast Telegraph today about the future of the 1st World War light cruiser; though they have omitted the small matter of funding, despite the fact that the Royal Navy has confirmed that HMS Caroline, which has been moored in Belfast since 1924, needs around £3.5 million worth of refurbishment, which it cannot afford.

Three million, five hundred thousand pounds is nothing compared to the vast sums spent on irrelevant quangos and commissions. I'm sure the funding can be raised.

One final thought: HMS Belfast is a branch of the Imperial War Museum in London. Why shouldn't HMS Caroline become a section of Museums and Galleries Northern Ireland?