Saturday, 31 May 2008

Gibb's Island: Path Maintenance

The weather was simply perfect today: sunny, dry , warm, 23c. I left home at eight fifty-five and we all met at Gibb's Island, near Killyleagh in County Down, at about nine thirty. There were a mere five of us today, viz. Craig, the warden, and four volunteers. Our task was to lay out a large pile of 30mm stones along the path at the island. Gibb's Island isn't really an island at all, it's more of a peninsula; it's one of my favourite National Trust properties in Northern Ireland.

Having parked our cars on the island, we spent most of the day shovelling the stones on to wheel-barrows and dumping the loads along pot-holes and the edges of the path. We enjoyed our packed lunches close to the shore, overlooking another NT property, Salt Island; incidentally, Craig informed us that the bothy there could be ready for occupation from the first of July, 2008.

After lunch, we had a walk round the island. We spotted grey herons, oyster catchers and swans; and we heard the croaking of rooks high up in the canopy of the trees. The wild flower meadow on Gibb's is progressing well and will be worth another visit later in the summer.

At the end of the day, Craig suggested that we stop off at a pub for some well-earned refreshment and Daft Eddy's on Sketrick Island was proposed; so, some twenty minutes later, we were seated on the beer terrace sipping Carlsberg shandies! I was sorely tempted by the bar meals being served outdoors; however I resisted and decided to wait for a Chinese takeaway at home.

It was a wonderful day; I just wish they could all be like this. Eventually we did indulge in our takeaway this evening courtesy of the Castle Hill: prawns kung po with fried rice. Mmmm!

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Sloppy Journalism

I know this is a pet hate of mine and I'm prone to be accused of pedantry; however, I see more examples of erroneous grammar and terminology from BBC Northern Ireland daily.

Today, on their web page, we have an article about empowering older people. The Lord Mayor of Belfast is described as "Belfast Lord Mayor" [sic].

In another article about the Troubles group, the Lord Eames is termed "Lord Robin Eames" [sic]. Just in case they didn't know, and I don't expect everyone to know, the title "Lord" followed by a Christian name indicates that the person is a younger son of a duke or marquess. Since Lord Eames is neither the son of a duke nor a marquess, his title is Lord Eames; or I suppose one could say, in writing, Lord (Robin) Eames; or Robin, Lord Eames.

I imagine that those employed to edit or write on BBC NI have first-class degrees in English. Ironic, isn't it?

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Lagunilla Reserva 2003 Rioja

I was at Sainsbury's today, stocking up on a few favourites. I have been unable to obtain their own-label Honey & Nut Bran Flakes for months; Tesco has ceased to sell them too. Are they that unpopular?

I wandered in to Sainsbury's wine department, seeking a gluggable bottle of plonk. Suddenly I heard a voice recommending the Lagunilla Rioja. He was wearing a shirt and tie, so may have been managerial. At any rate, their shelves were heaving with this stuff; dozens of bottles of it. It was on offer, reduced from £9.99 to £4.99 I think.

I let myself be persuaded and purchased a bottle. I'm drinking a glass of it now and, I can tell you, it's ruddy awful. I wouldn't have paid 99 pence for it, let alone £4.99 had I known. I'll not attempt to describe its flavour - I don't like it! They must have so many cases of it that they're panicking for fear of its gathering too much dust.

Two Unexpected Occurrences

I've had a couple of rummy experiences in recent days; totally out of the blue too. I was up at the Port, seated on a dodgy folding-chair at the back garden perusing a map, and the bally thing collapsed! I made an undignified split-second direction southwards towards gravity, landing abruptly on my posterior! One of the canvas straps on the chair was missing and I managed to find the missing part; and with the help of a hammer, got it fixed I'm glad to say.

I enjoyed my sixty lengths up at the pool last night, made a cup of tea at home and settled down to watch the BBC's Springwatch when, suddenly, there was a power-cut! It happened at about eight forty-five. I rang the electricity service and they told me it may last till one-thirty in the morning! In the event, it wasn't as bad as that: it came on again within the hour. Just a simple matter of re-setting a few clocks and the burglar alarm.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

At The Port Again!

I've been up at the Port - Portballintrae, County Antrim - again for a few days. The weather has been fine until today, when I returned back to Belfast.

On Sunday evening, I drove to the Smuggler's Inn for a bar meal. It wasn't too busy and I had a choice of tables. We hadn't been to this bar for quite some time; I ordered the peppered chicken, which consisted of a chicken breast in a peppery sauce with a slice of garlic bread below it. There were two onion rings included, and a bowl of garlic fries. The meal had a modest salad garnish. It was satisfactory though I couldn't detect any garlic on the fries, which were fairly dry; certainly no evidence of garlic butter. If you're not fond of too much garlic, go for their garlic fries! The bill was £10.95.

On Monday I motored along the coast to the National Trust's Carrick-a-Rede and its famous rope-bridge which I crossed. What a truly beautiful stretch of coast-line! It was like the Mediterranean with its turquoise sea. I walked from the car-park to the bridge in about twenty minutes. The birds I observed included kittiwakes and razorbills.

That evening I treated myself to a meal at Ramore Wine Bar. This is one of my favourite haunts on the North Coast. We've been coming to Ramore for twenty years. This was the best meal I'd had, of all the places I've been to recently. It is justifiably busy, with a distinct buzz and atmosphere. I was shown to a table at the back - I was on my own and it was busy after all. I liked the sound of the home-made rump steak cheeseburger with Pancetta, so ordered it with coleslaw and Parmesan fries. It was absolutely delicious, the tastiest and best meal of my vacation. Good coleslaw, crisp and dry cubed fries with Parmesan cheese sprinkled over them; and a great, meaty, home-made burger. Perfect. The bill for the burger, fries, coleslaw and a small glass of Chardonnay wine came to £12.65. I can't wait to return ASAP!

So it's back to porridge again. I'm home and catching up with a few chores; hopefully the old school is open tonight for a swim.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Smarter Than A Razor Blade

I've given the Gillette Fusion razor a thorough testing and it has convinced me. I bought an eight-pack of cartridges in Sainsbury's for fourteen pounds, which was the least expensive price I could readily find; so if anyone knows of a store which sells them cheaper, let us know please. I reviewed the blades in an earlier posting so I shan't comment any further.

I'm still interested in the tiny Smart car. I took a test-drive back in February and they offered me a trade-in quotation against a Passion 84bhp model with lots of extras; however, I was less than impressed by the figure they were allowing me against my present car, so I "walked".

I've been in touch with them again, intimating that I "may be interested" if the price could be improved.

I'm intrigued by the forthcoming Micro-Hybrid-Drive models, which operate along the lines of BMW's Efficient Dynamics; whereby the engine cuts out if you come to a stop and automatically re-starts when you touch the accelerator.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Short Break At Portballintrae, County Antrim

I'm just back from a few days' break at the village of Portballintrae in County Antrim. I drove up on Tuesday afternoon. The grass at my aunt's place was long; however, I just happened to encounter the same pair of grass-cutters as my cousin a month ago. They were in the park and I got them to cut the lawn for a tenner.

That evening, I made my way to Sweeney's bar. It was really quiet; in fact I had the place to myself, apart from two other couples in the conservatory. I ordered chilli beef tortilla and a side portion of tobacco onions, along with a g-and-t; the total coming to £15.70. It was fairly enjoyable, although the chilli beef was swimming in a brown sauce or gravy which was, I felt, too much. There were other sauces with it too. Still, it was substantial though, as I say, I've tasted better.

The next morning I drove into Coleraine, County Londonderry, for a walk round the town. The parish church was open and I enjoyed a chat with a friendly lady warden. They've unearthed ancient foundations which may be fourteenth century; probably the original church. Most interesting.

On Wednesday evening, I motored up to the comfortable and popular Causeway Hotel which is beside the Giant's Causeway. I chose from the high tea menu and ordered battered scampi with chips. Tinned peas were served (judging by their colour) along with a garnish. There was plenty of tartare sauce too. The meal was served with wheaten bread and a choice of tea or coffee. One German lady was tucking into their celebrated Mixed Grill and I wondered if she managed to finish it! The waiting staff were friendly and attentive. I like the Causeway Hotel.

This morning, Thursday, I packed up early and drove home to see the Dowager who's in respite for awhile. Incidentally, I managed to get all the paraphernalia back up to the loft this afternoon after the new insulation was laid earlier in the week.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Ulster Folk Museum

I've just spent a lovely day at the Ulster Folk Museum in Cultra, near Holywood in County Down. The weather was fine; the sun shone all day. I arrived before midday and parked at the Town Car-park. First stop was the visitor centre, where I picked up a map. The Museum has expanded considerably since my last visit, many summers ago.

Most of the exhibits were open; there were welcoming fires lit in many of them too. There are now more than fifty places to see at the Museum, including a picture-house, dispensary, hardware shop, drapery, churches, tea-rooms, bank - too many to mention.

This Ulster theme-park really is at the top of the visitor-list. It was particularly delightful to see the livestock happily grazing and wandering among the small fields and hedgerows. The hens, geese, sheep, donkey and pigs all seemed so contented. The big sow - and I'm not referring to a manager in my old bank - greeted me with a gentle grunt, while her piglets basked in the late Spring sunshine.

In the Old Rectory, traditional soda-farls were being baked on a griddle at the fire.

At about three o'clock I strolled in to the tea-room, hoping to indulge in an Ulster Fry. To my disappointment this wasn't available. Fancy no Ulster Fries at the Ulster folk Museum! You'd have thought it would have been an obvious item for their menu, especially with so many tourists. I had the "chef's special" - beef Stroganoff and chips. Not great at all and probably cooked four hours earlier. It cost £4.50. I ought to have known better.

I finished off my trip with a visit to the exhibition galleries and left the Museum at about four o'clock.

The previous evening I'd been to the Queen's Film Theatre, Belfast, to see a splendid film called Happy-Go-Lucky. I parked at University Square and the show started at six forty-five. The ticket cost £5.50. The QFT has to be one of the most comfortable cinemas in the Province.

Coincidentally, the tickets for the Museum and the cinema both cost £5.50 each.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Ballymacormick Point, Groomsport, County Down

We assembled at nine-thirty this morning for a half-day of maintenance work at Ballymacormick Point, the National Trust's coastal land near Groomsport in County Down. Our meeting-place was the car-park at the Banks in Ballyholme. There was quite a good turnout today; there must have been about a dozen of us. It's always good to see familiar faces again; I wasn't in the best of form, though I still managed to bring the usual cheese-and-onion sandwiches, flask of tea and a tea-cake.

Armed with spades, loppers and a bolt-cutter, we began the principal task which was to remove old fencing along the path. Most of the stakes were deeply inbedded and rusty barbed-wire was attached to them. However, we managed to get quite a substantial section done, perhaps three hundred yards.

Ballymacormick Point is a lovely spot; unspoiled, natural and popular with dog-walkers and naturalists. There is a small inlet with a tiny, golden sand beach at the opposite side. Very pretty. Cars can easily be parked at the village of Groomsport nearby.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Lord Belmont, Navvy.

I now have an inkling as to what it must feel like to be a navvy, rigger or stoker in one of those old steam-ships. In preparation for new, state-of-the-art loft insulation, I've been clearing out the attic. What a task. It was like a Swedish sauna up there, below the rafters, too. The sweat was literally dripping off me. Not used to it, I hear you saying. Still fit for the task, though.

There must be forty years of junk up there, and most of it has now been sorted to an extent. I unearthed five or six old suit-cases and I've made good use of 'em: old photographs in one; clothes in another and so on.

I'm sure something blinked at me when I lifted a box! I've taken the opportunity to dump a lot of stuff. I took an old Hoover, baby chair, Christmas trees, hat-box to the dump; the clothing included an army tunic and trousers, fur coats and a dinner-jacket.

I found my full evening dress up there; you know, the tail-coat, stiff white shirt with wing-collar, white piqué waist-coat and white tie. I brought them downstairs. The top-hat and double-piped trousers are in another wardrobe.

There's still a lot of stuff, mind you; but at least it's been sorted and more orderly. The new loft insulation is to be fitted next Tuesday.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

BBC Northern Ireland Ticket Unit

Three cheers for BBC NI's Ticket Unit. I always knew they were most agreeable and courteous; certainly at every concert I've been to.

I've been lobbying a bit for them to introduce online applications for tickets and, hey presto, it has happened! Let us hope that this convenient service continues; and that it is of mutual benefit, thereby making the process easier for Ticket Unit staff too.

I am delighted and wish to extend my compliments to all the worthy staff at Ormeau Avenue, Belfast.

Thank you; and long may it continue.

Fake Razor Blades

I've been caught out! Serves his lordship bally right! You think. I'll just put it down to experience, and won't ever purchase items described as "Gillette Fusion Razor Blades" on Ebay again. £8.49 for eight cartridges was too good to be true.

When I received them, the packaging was, as you'd expect perfectly fine; they appeared to be the genuine article. When I began using them, they became blunter before too long. In a previous blog I recounted an original cartridge lasting over fifty days.

The Ebay seller is no longer registered - at least under the original name. I've contacted Ebay and Gillette.

There's doubtless a sweat-shop somewhere in the middle of China churning out millions of 'em.

The only way forward is to buy them from reputable, major stores or supermarkets. I still believe that Gillette Fusion are the best because they last so long before becoming blunt. I've bought forty-two items on Ebay and this is the first fake. It would take a lot more than this to deter me from using Ebay.

If anyone knows of a store or online store which sells them cheaper, please let me know.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Bloody Bridge Mourne Mountain Walk

I set off at about ten-thirty this morning for another hike in the Mourne Mountains, County Down. I went on my own - the Dowager is bedridden presently.

It was a pleasant drive to the popular Bloody Bridge car park, which is a few miles beyond Newcastle, County Down, in a southerly direction. The park wasn't too busy, so I tucked the two-seater into a nice, private spot beside the public toilets.

About ten years ago, when I drove a BMW saloon, we parked at the same car-park, I went for a hike; and when I returned I couldn't start the car because the battery was flat! It was an automatic and I had no jump-leads, so, embarrassingly, I had to try and find somebody who could help us to start the car with jump-leads! In the end, I found my saviour in the form of a clapped-out old ice-cream van. It was no joke at the time, I can tell you.

Donning the hiking-gear, I set off without further delay. The Bloody Bridge walk is about six and a quarter miles; the round trip takes up to five hours depending on your level of fitness; and it is described as being "strenuous: a sustained, gradual ascent with a steep, final section".

I wish to mention the National Trust for their sterling work managing a large section of the Path; you'd hardly notice any bracken at all now, thus encouraging finer flora to flourish.

The Bloody Bridge Path follows the Bloody Bridge River, the hiker encountering old quarry tracks at times. There are several disused quarries en route. My hike today culminated at the Bog of Donard, which lies between the slopes of Slieve Donard, the Province's highest mountain at 2,788 feet, and Chimney Rock Mountain at 2,152 feet. I sat down for a rest against the Mourne Wall and refreshed myself. There were two groups of young people hiking there too.

Motoring home towards Ballynahinch, County Down, the thermometer in the car read 22c. I felt uplifted after the hike and was glad I'd made the effort.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

A Rose That Brings Joy

Last winter we planted a new rose bush at the porch. Prior to that we'd tried clematis and Virginia creeper. The clematis, sadly, never blossomed; the creeper never clung. So a brand new rose was planted late last November.

I'd done some research in order to make the best choice, settling for the highly fragrant climber, étoile de Hollande.

The picture was taken ten minutes ago; it doesn't do justice to the deep red rich velvet crimson colour of the rose. Its fragrance is very rich indeed. A true delight.

Let's hope it shall give years of pleasure for us, and visitors alike.

I found an old container of dark creosote in the garage this afternoon and used what there was of it to paint the wooden planking above our front wall. The smell is most pungent, the result effective. I think creosote substitute is sold nowadays; must buy some more.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Free Re-Charging Service

It wasn't particularly busy in the gym at Castlereagh this morning. I drove a different route this morning: along Knock Road and dual carriageway; then right turn along Castlereagh Road. Up until now, I've driven along North Road, Grand Parade and got stuck at those infernally long traffic-lights at the Castlereagh/Grand Parade junction.

The ring road route seems to be quicker. Most times, at any rate.

At the leisure centre there was an oldish biddy, in a track suit, in front of me. She was querying the cost of this and that (has it gone up in price?) when, suddenly, she produced her mobile phone and charger from her bag and gave it to the receptionist, asking for it to be re-charged while she exercised! The young receptionist, with a glint in her eye, asked the customer if she wanted it re-charged using Council electricity. No comment there.

Why don't we all try that in future; perhaps I'll whack the old electric toothbrush in the hold-all the next time.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Gordon Ramsay, Esq., OBE, at Versailles

I've just received an email from Gordon Ramsay's office about a new restaurant of his at the palace of Versailles.

2008 Northern Ireland Opera Season

I'm anticipating the opera season at Castleward already. I've just had a look at the old ancestral DJ in the wardrobe - and I mean old - it was made in August 1933; I must photograph it. It's in great condition; four buttons on each sleeve are functional; ribbed silk, wide lapels; heavy wool. Think: Brideshead Revisited and Bertie Wooster.

The trousers are ancestral too: heavy wool with double silk piping. They are from my full evening dress ( which is now, sadly, never worn lest I'm invited to a Court function!) but I use 'em with the DJ. A touch baggy perhaps; that's age for you.

I've an ancient black silk bow-tie too; the only new garment is a white marcella piqué dress shirt.

Please, God, provide us with a sunny, balmy summer's evening.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Integrated High Definition Televisions

Panasonic is one of the first manufacturers to announce that it will be producing integrated HDTVs imminently.

If you're considering a new HD telly, it may well be worth considering...

Short Change

What a lovely spell of weather we've been having! I've switched off the central heating, donned a pair of shorts and polo shirt, wheeled out the bike and, this morning, I rode to Ballyhackamore library to see the Which? magazines. The May edition isn't out yet; I notice that, in the April edition, the Panasonic TX37 LZD70 got top marks. It's a LCD telly.

From the library, I wheeled the bike past Rouge Wine Bar - has anyone tried it recently? - and cycled up Belmont Church Road. I sauntered in to the Golden Crumb home bakery for a few of their jam doughnuts; the sausage-rolls caught my eye and I took three of those too.

It'll be sausage-rolls, onion mash and sweetcorn for dinner tonight. Comfort grub. And sixty lengths at the old school.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

To My Friends

My Dear Cyber Friends,

I am very low at the moment. Please support me. The Dowager has been unwell and I had to get an ambulance to take her to hospital on Sunday morning at 4am. I've so many people and doctors to contact that I 'm finding it difficult. Please send your support, if you care. There are tears on this keyboard. But, rest assured, I will persevere.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Online Mail Order-aholic

I've splashed out, yet again, on two small purchases on the web: I won the bid on Ebay for The Man With Two Left Feet by P G Wodehouse for a fiscal snip, at £2.37 including postage; that means I've only one more book to get - My Man Jeeves.

I've also been doing some research about a product called Groom-Mate. I was impressed by the positive feedback and hardly any negative comments, so I've ordered one.

If anyone's interested, I'll post a comprehensive review of it at some future time. So, let me know in the comment box; if I get sufficient feedback I'll write my opinion.

East Belfast Fish & Chip Shops

We fancied fish and chips last night. I'd heard good reports about the Fryar Tuck on Bloomfield Road in Belfast, so motored over at about six forty-five. I parked opposite the place, at a little block of shops.

Inside, there were about four or five others. I was studying the menu when I heard a voice uttering "what would you like?"; indicating that I hadn't decided yet, she broadcast to her colleagues - and everyone else - "he doesn't know what he wants". She must have reiterated this statement three times. I can tell you that she wasn't the kind of person I'd wish to cross swords with, judging by her demeanour.

The menu didn't list cod; simply "fish". I ordered one fish supper and one fish, the supper costing £4.40; the fish £2.80. So the total was £7.20. I didn't have to wait long - it was quick.

At home, we were a bit disappointed with the fish, which was less than chunky. That said, we haven't had really chunky fish from a chip shop for ages. Nor was the batter the finest: the colour and texture was uneven, as if two pieces of fish had stuck together whilst frying. As I said before, we thought the fish was quite thin. The chips were fairly good though.

In summary, I wouldn't go out of my way to buy the fare at the Fryar Tuck. It was all right. I'm still on the look-out for the best chip shop in my vicinity. Our nearest one, John Dory's, is as good as any and may, at times, even have the edge; so I'll probably return there.

Friday, 2 May 2008

BBC Northern Ireland Ticket Unit

The BBC in Northern Ireland organizes and sponsors many musical events in partnership with the Ulster Orchestra. I support these Invitation Concerts. The BBC deserves a lot of credit and gratitude for this. Indeed, it is a wonderful service to the local community. I keep a close eye on their web page for forthcoming concerts.

If you wish to attend the concerts, you either phone the Ticket Unit on the rip-off 0870 number, 0870 901 1227, or you could write to them. I usually write to them.

I sent them a message by email the other day, asking a perfectly innocent question: How much do they charge, per minute, if you phone them? So far, I have had no response.

Why can licence-payers not apply for tickets online? Why is BBC Northern Ireland reluctant to disclose, or take seriously, my query as to the cost of their rip-off 0870 line?

Why don't they simply admit that it's a means of making a profit? How much does BBC Northern Ireland earn from calls to the rip-off 0870 Ticketline number?

BBC One Addendum

I forgot to mention The Weakest Link. Annie's worth her weight in gold, figuratively speaking at any rate. It has, of course, been promoted from BBC Two to BBC One. I watch it occasionally. I'm really struggling to think of programmes I watch on BBC One, on a regular basis. Very few indeed.

Take the news, for instance. I get most of the news from the internet, on the beeb's website. I sometimes watch Newsnight on BBC Two. I frequently listen to the midnight news on BBC Radio Four. And the Today programme on Radio Four stirs me from my slumber at seven-thirty each morning.

That's about it.

BBC One Switch-Off

Sir David Attenborough, OM, CH, CVO, CBE, is undoubtedly one of our most distinguished broadcasters. He is a true pillar of British Society. Sir David is also a wise man. When he speaks, the BBC ought to listen.

Sir David feels and, indeed, cares so vehemently about the BBC that he has expressed his misgivings about the Corporation. I, by and large, concur.

I seldom watch BBC One nowadays. If I do tune in, it's to BBC One London; not BBC Northern Ireland. I genuinely cannot recall the last programme I watched on BBC One Northern Ireland. I have certainly been quite fascinated about the London mayoral election. BBC One London is best for that coverage; whereas BBC NI tends to give prominence to its own productions in lieu.

Enough of that. To return to Sir David's criticism, I think he's right about the abundance of so-called lifestyle programmes (although I like The One Show, with Ulster's very own Christine Bleakley from Newtownards in County Down). Of all the BBC channels, BBC Two England is the one I watch the most.

Thank goodness for satellite.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Cycle Run Into Belfast

I'm glad I missed the heavy hail shower at four o'clock today. I cycled into Town for a lunch-time drink with an old pal I used to work with. We met, as usual, in the Mermaid Inn, which is tucked away in Wilson's Court. This old building dates from ca 1800 and has some fragments which may make it one of the earliest surviving domestic buildings in Belfast. In 1860 it was known as the Rainbow Hotel and Tavern.

I chained the bike to a lamp-post in the Court itself, and went for a walk round Belfast. I got back to the pub for twelve forty-five and ordered a g-and-t. I'd had the stuffed chicken before and enjoyed it; so ordered it again. They give you breast of chicken, back bacon, stuffing, turnip, carrot, cauliflower, broccoli and garlic potato. I think it cost six pounds fifty. Very enjoyable and unpretentious. Tim arrived shortly thereafter and had a pint of beer.

We had a good natter and arranged to meet for lunch at the Water Margin Chinese restaurant next week. I'll write a review of it and post it on my blog.

How Clean Is Your Keyboard?

Trawling through the papers this morning, an interesting article caught my eye about computer keyboards. Apparently they're potentially dirtier than your loo! Presumably there's more likelihood of germs being spread via public keyboards, ones with multiple users. Still, it's food for thought, as the expression goes.

The moral has to be: either clean your hands or clean the keyboard; or, preferably, wash both!