Sunday, 31 January 2010

Poor State of Roads

I ate out last night, at an Indian restaurant in the Odyssey Pavilion in Belfast. Peter, an old school chum whose 50th birthday was imminent, met me in the foyer. We meet for a meal perhaps three times a year.

The pavilion itself seemed fairly quiet, although there was something "big" on in the Arena, adjacent to the Pavilion. We were shown to a table immediately. I had my usual, unadventurous onion bhajis, chicken Tikka Masala, pilau rice; and we shared Peshwari nan bread.

One topic which Peter brought up in the conversation was the state of Northern Ireland's roads. They are, of course, utterly deplorable - and that is putting it mildly. We used to joke disparagingly about the state of the Irish Republic's roads, before they joined the European Union. Now, the opposite is the case, one has to admit.

The "Roads Service" - as they call themselves - no: I call them the roads disservice. The roads disservice management is totally culpable for a culture of neglect over several decades; and it is simply not good enough for them to blame the NI Office ministers or anyone else. The roads disservice management remain culturally incapable of getting to grips with the disgraceful state of our roads.

The roads disservice has acquiesced in "turning a blind eye" to the damage done to our roads by utility companies, which do not reinstate any trenches, man-hole covers or anything in a proper fashion. Consequently, we have thousands of sunken trenches, poor quality workmanship and pot-holes which the roads disservice is ultimately responsible for. It is their responsibility to see that a satisfactory job is done; that their inspectors return after, say, six months or, if necessary, eighteen months to ensure that the repairs are good.

I shall name a mere two roads in Belfast or, at least, sections of them: Holywood Road and Ravenhill Road. The Holywood Road has some nasty sunken trenches causing uneven surfaces close to St Mark's Church and the junction of Palmerston Road. The roads disservice always claim that these roads are inspected regularly, which is spurious. The damage has been there for months and nothing has been done about it.

The Roads Service has a responsibility to bring utility companies to account. It is not good enough for the roads disservice to shift the responsibility to whichever company originally dug up a road. The roads disservice must surely have powers to enforce utility companies to repair damage incurred and, if necessary, re-surface a whole section of carriageway.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Bespoke Suiting

I spoke on the blower this morning to Clarke and Dawe, the men's clothiers, about made-to-measure suits; including the cloth and, mainly the price. Seemingly the rough figure is currently £595, presumably for a two-piece suit.

Then I rang David Young, a bespoke tailor - possibly the only bespoke tailor on the island of Ireland. Mr Young is quietly spoken, unassuming, and sounds a good, all-round egg to me. We chatted at length about types of cloth; cloth weight; the merits of two or three piece suits; Holland & Sherry; and the number of fittings (normally one).

Mr Young has fitting sessions in Dublin for clients there; though he willingly offered to come to Belfast. His fee is currently €1,000 for a two-piece suit; and €1,400 for a suit and waist-coat. That equates to about £868 for a bespoke suit using Savile Row cloths, like Holland & Sherry.

I read a testimonial from one satisfied customer:-

"I was in Ireland a couple of months ago and happened into Mr. Young's shop on Francis Street in Galway. Mr. Young, a kind and unassuming gentleman, informed that he was born and raised in Dublin, but moved to London as a young man where he trained under Peter Moore on Savile Row in the 70s. Years later, he returned to Ireland and set up shop in Galway - his wife's hometown. He seemed surprised at my interest in bespoke clothing. Apparently, there is not big market for bespoke tailoring in Ireland, notwithstanding the economic boom there over the past decade or so. Most of people in his shop were rummaging through racks of ready-made suits and sweaters. His clientele is a small, but loyal group, comprised of lawyers and bankers in the Galway area. He seemed to have no idea there is wide interest outside of Ireland for bespoke tailoring.

He showed me some of his work in progress, which consisted of hand-cut cloth; hand-sewn canvases; soft, lightly-padded shoulders; and hand-sewn buttonholes with beautiful horn buttons. The style appeared to be classic Savile Row, mildly structured with high armholes and nipped waist. He told me that all the work was performed by him personally on the premises, from the cutting of the cloth to the finishing of the garment.

I was shocked to say the least when he told me his price for a hand-made bespoke garment - 1,000 Euro for a suit; 700 Euro for a jacket. That is about half of what I paid to one of the least expensive Savile Row tailors, and about a fourth of what one can expect to pay in most tailoring houses in London.

Based on our long conversation, I commissioned him to make me a jacket out of Donegal tweed. He was reluctant to do it without a fitting (I was returning home in a couple of days) but agreed to do it after I assured him he could make any adjustments on my next visit to Ireland. At 700 Euro, I figured I didn't have much to lose. After I finally selected a cloth from the book, Mr. Young's cloth merchant in London told him he ran out of it. Apparently Magee - the company that holds the monopoly on most of the handwoven tweed market in Donegal - won't sell cloth directly to tailors. Magee, however, does sell cloth to individual customers at a few of its approved retailers, so Mr. Young ordered the cloth through one such retailer in town. In fact he and I walked across town to the shop to confirm it could get the cloth for us.

Back at Mr. Young's shop, he took detailed measurements and told me the jacket would be finished and mailed to me in a couple of weeks. Based on my experiences with London tailors and shirtmakers, I didn't believe it would be finished in two weeks - especially since it would take him a week to get the cloth. But sure enough a couple of weeks later it arrived at my home in Washington.

What is most remarkable to me about the jacket is the fit. It is by far my best fitting jacket, and Mr. Young did it without a fitting. No other tailor has made me such a well-fitting jacket - even after multiple fittings. It's very light for a tweed jacket, and it's beautifully finished. After paying extra for the specially ordered fabric and postage, the final cost was 850 Euros, which was still about half what I last paid for a jacket with shoulders that make me look like a linebacker made by a traveling London tailor.

So if you're ever in Ireland, stop by his shop. He is a very interesting fellow, and he may even teach you how to speak some Irish.

Also, Mr. Young said he would travel here if three or four people in a given place were interested. Again, he seemed surprised to hear there was a demand for bespoke around the globe. I sparked his curiosity when I told him that many of the tailoring houses in London make trips to the U.S. and elsewhere throughout the year. He's kind of insulated there on the west coast of Ireland. I think he would be absolutely shocked by the discussions on this forum. However, while he and I communicated through email a couple of times through his daughter, I don't think he is very computer savvy."

Mr young initially put me off waist-coats, saying that they were not as fashionable these days; nevertheless, a waist-coat can be somewhat distinctive, on the other hand.

If Mr Young were coming up to Belfast, would any readers be interested in having a bespoke suit made? That's my idea, incidentally, not his. It is just a thought. He's going to contact me in about three weeks' time.

Brackenber Uniform

Can you guess who this is? Sorry to disappoint you: it is not young Timothy William, Viscount Sydenham! Try again...

Malcolm Lennox sent me this.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Brackenbrian Dinner

The old boys' annual dinner takes place at the usual venue this year. I have to admit that, since I left Brackenber, I have never attended one dinner; nor am I proud of the fact. There are, however, mitigating circumstances: namely, a degree of diffidence on Timothy Belmont's part.

If any fellow old boys happen to be perusing this post, I wonder if they might enlighten me as to the format of the dinner? Do most old boys attend alone? Or in a group? Is one assured of convivial company? Is there a bar? Is wine included with the meal?

If I could be reassured, I might just make an appearance!

Costly Vinegar

I was in Tesco's today, buying a few staples, viz. bread and milk; and spotted some plonk, a 2006 Cabernet Merlot from south Australia, 13.5% proof. It was reduced from nine pounds something to £4.99.

That's hardly surprising. They must have had difficulty shifting it. It's like ruddy vinegar. I shan't be buying it again.

We plopped a saccharin tablet into each glass and that has made it more palatable, at least.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

The National Trust: New Image Rot

The National Trust has refreshed its image and brand. This has manifested itself on their new website; documents; magazine; handbook; cards and car stickers. They plan to introduce the new "brand" to clothing and vehicle livery, too.

The National Trust's management expects that this new image will make the Trust "more approachable and engaging".

The most significant changes include the loss of the word "The" from the National Trust to reduce "the feeling of formality"; a bolder use of the oak leaf; and the use of "a much wider palette of colours" for the logo.

What utter rot. How much did this exercise cost? My loyal readers can rest assured that I shan't be travelling down that progressive, egalitarian road of those at GHQ in The National Trust.

Omitting the definite article? "Let's go to National Trust property today"; or "National Trust method is best"; "I'm a supporter of National Trust." Quite preposterous.

Rest assured that Timothy Belmont will be maintaining the original and best, at his reactionary best; including continuation of the definite article and the green colour.

Long live the National Trust.

The Evergreen Hawthorne

I was over at the Balmoral Road end of Belfast today, a part of town I enjoy visiting occasionally; and, since I've been getting "withdrawal symptoms" about Fulton's splendid Hawthorne self-service restaurant, there was no stopping me.

En route, I browsed at a few of the German car showrooms, viz. Mini, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. I do admire the little Mercedes SLK; in fact I sat in one and, while the seating position is fine for me, being a kind of sports-car, it is "low"; so it would be unfair to expect the Dowager to clamber in to such a model. I've only had the baby two-seater for eight months anyway. Car showrooms just fascinate me, though.

I lunched at Fulton's self-service restaurant, called the Hawthorne. The fodder was sumptuous, home-made-style and tip-top as usual. I devoured the chicken and mushroom tart, accompanied by a side salad and coleslaw. Their creamy mustard dressing is ethereal, by the way: always remember to pour it over the salad. My only disappointment was that I could not order a pudding, owing to the generous size thereof. Never mind.

There is a Marks and Spencer food store near by, so I dashed in and treated the household to the following:-

  • Two packets of their most excellent fruit pastilles, made with real fruit juice (9%)
  • Two sticky toffee puddings: all butter sponge with dates drenched in a Muscovado toffee sauce (42%)
  • Strawberry & clotted cream cheesecake
  • Half-fat West Country créme fraîche

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Brackenber: 1960

By 1960, and possibly owing to larger numbers of pupils, the location of the school photograph had moved to Brackenber's grounds. Notice the increase in the number of teachers, too.

The boy in the top row, five from the right, is pulling a face!

Once again, many thanks to Malcolm Lennox for sending me this image. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Ducal Connections

Here is a tale of two dukes who both sat, consecutively, in the House of Commons; then the House of Lords.

Between 1955 and 1964, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Grosvenor, DSO, TD, JP, DL, MP, was the Member of Parliament for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. In 1967, Colonel Grosvenor succeeded to the dukedom of Westminster.

In 1964, Colonel Grosvenor was succeeded as Member of Parliament for Fermanagh and South Tyrone by James (Marquess of) Hamilton, MP. Lord Hamilton remained as MP for the constituency until 1970; and subsequently succeeded to the dukedom of Abercorn in 1979.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Sorry Eva!

The Comment Moderation device has fulfilled its primary purpose. I received two comments from Eva, Prince William's infatuated Romanian admirer, during the night; and, subsequently, the device has enabled me to intercept the messages and delete them. Sorry Eva! Should you wish to make contact with HRH, kindly contact him through Clarence House; not through the good offices of Timothy Belmont.

I have been in communication with Simon Cundey of Henry Poole, the tailors. Even if I were serious about acquiring a Savile Row suit, it would be a trifle impractical, in a logistical sense. Nevertheless, he did suggest a first fitting over two full days, with prior notice. The price has not been discussed. I said I'd contact them the next time I visit the metropolis, which could be next year. I lament the days when I could nip over to Savile Row from the Lords and fly back and forward as often as necessary (and if you believe that, you'll believe anything!).

Undoubtedly there is a considerable difference between bespoke and made-to-measure suits: whereas bespoke suits are made, cut and sown completely by hand in the premises over several fittings, with individual requirements and details like buttons and linings discussed with the tailor; made-to-measure would be much more elementary, with measurements noted and then sent off to a factory somewhere for assembly. That's the basic difference; and it's reflected in the price!

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Garter Day

I have discovered a most interesting article by Caroline Davies, about the logistical arrangements leading up to the annual Order of the Garter ceremony at Windsor Castle in 2006:-

"The robes are hanging from rails in dust-proof bags, each meticulously labelled. Boxes are stacking up along the walls and marked with different names - Sir John Major, Sir Timothy Colman, The Baroness Thatcher.

Behind the barred door of the strong room, heavy gold and enamel collars are being taken out of their blue-cushioned cases and given a brisk going over with a cloth.

"Who's got the Duke of Wellington's hat?" a voice yells. "Ah, this one's Princess Alexandra's. Stuffed with netting so it sits perfectly," volunteers another.

This is the scene at the offices of the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood in whose capable and experienced hands hangs the success of Garter Day, a celebration of the world's oldest order of chivalry. And the pace is frantic.

Today will be a special day for the Queen. With her birthday announcement that the Duke of York and the Earl of Wessex would be made Royal Knights, it will be the first time all four of her children join the annual Garter procession, an ostentatious display of ostrich plumes, glittering insignia and velvet mantles at Windsor Castle.

Founded by Edward III in 1348, and said to be based on the Arthurian Knights of the Round Table, it is the world's most ancient and exclusive club.

Aside from the Sovereign and Prince of Wales, there can be only 24 Knights Companion (or Ladies, who were excluded by Henry VII in 1488 and only reinstated with the admission of Queen Alexandra in 1901) at any one time.

There are, in addition, Royal Knights from the Royal Family, including the Lady the Princess Royal, and Stranger Knights, mainly from European royal families but also, in a post-war act of reconciliation, the Emperor of Japan.

It is the greatest honour the Sovereign can bestow - though it is also a matter of dead men's shoes for the Knights Companion. For the others, membership is somewhat dictated by limited "hardware".

The blue velvet mantles - originally meant to reflect the Middle Ages' idea of heaven - each has a red vestigial hood and is adorned with the Garter heraldic shield. They cost about £4,500 and each new member has the choice of buying a new one or wearing an older one.

Both the Duke of York and Earl of Wessex have opted for new for today's ceremony, and they will foot the bill. Others, such as the Duke of Abercorn who wears his great-grandfather's, prefer family robes. They are usually worn only once a year, and spend the other 364 days locked away in a special climate-controlled room in Cambridge.

In the days leading to the Garter procession, they are delivered to the Central Chancery at St James's Palace where staff match them to their owner's other insignia.

The collars are a different matter. Each comprise 30 troy ounces of gold knots alternating with enamelled red roses of St George, the order's patron saint, and are adorned with a hanging three-dimensional figure of him slaying the dragon. They are few in number and would cost at least £12,000 to replace.

Most date from the 1930s, but the oldest, worn by the Duke of Abercorn, dates from the 1750s. For insurance purposes the knights prefer to leave them locked in the chancery's strongroom, taken out only for Garter Day, or designated "Collar Days" when they must be worn at ceremonial occasions on feast days and special royal anniversaries, though never after sunset.

Each knight, or lady, also receives the glittering Garter Star and a blue riband bearing a smaller badge called the Lesser George - most of which they keep at home.

The most incomprehensible piece of kit, however, is the garter itself, in dark blue for the knights and pale blue with a buckle for the ladies. The order's motto, Honi soit qui mal y pense (Shame on him who thinks evil of it), is spelled out in gold lettering.

In keeping with ancient tradition, it will be tied around the left calf of both the duke and earl during their investiture in front of the other knights and ladies in the Throne Room at Windsor Castle.

The Queen used to do this herself, but two pages now perform the ritual for her.

Then the garter is taken off straight away and is rarely used again.

Ladies of the order wear theirs at state functions on the left arm, but whether the knights bother under their trousers is open to speculation.

While statute prevents any adornment of the collar, the garters themselves can be set with jewels. "The Queen Mother's was diamonds upon diamonds upon diamonds," recalls one member of the Central Chancery staff.

All insignia and robes must be personally handed back to the Queen on death, a ritual performed by an heir in a private audience. Their banner, which hangs in St George's Chapel, the spiritual home of the order, will then be removed.

No one really knows the reason why the garter was chosen as the order's emblem.

Modern scholars have cast doubt on the tradition that it was inspired by a garter dropped by Joan, Countess of Salisbury, at a ball in Calais which Edward III retrieved and bound to his own leg.

It seems more likely to represent a strap used to attach a sword, as seen on knights on 14th century brasses.

Today it is purely ceremonial, the highlight of the day being the procession before crowds down to St George's Chapel for the installation service.

By early this morning the robes, hats and insignia will have been married up, brushed, packed up and taken on their journey to Windsor. At the end of the day they will be brought back, and locked up for another year."

Lagan Canal Revival

There are ambitious plans afoot to reinstate the Lagan Navigation, a canal which linked the city of Belfast with Lough Neagh. A number of authorities have a shared vision to restore the canal already.

Feasibility studies have been undertaken and Belfast City Council is keen to press ahead with the project, subject to funding. Click on the map to enlarge it.

Other interested parties include the Inland Waterways Association and the Lagan Canal Trust.

The original navigation ran from Stranmillis in Belfast to Lisburn; Culcavey; Moira; Aghalee; and through to Lough Neagh. The canal passed through 27 Locks. Built in the 18th century, it was one of the most successful commercial navigations in Ireland. The development of road and rail led to the demise of the Lagan Canal and its abandonment in the 1950s.

About eight miles of the line of the navigation (between Lisburn and Moira), was lost in the 1960s when the Northern Ireland M1 motorway was built. However, a study by consultants has shown that re-instating the navigation would be feasible by making more use of the river Lagan itself. Restoration of the navigation is strongly supported by Lisburn City Council, which rebuilt Lock Twelve as the central feature of its civic office development in 2000. There are also plans to build a new Lock One at the weir in Stranmillis, Belfast.

I am slightly unclear as to how they will re-construct the canal where the motorway section is; and it does sound as if it will be costly. Despite this, I'm enthusiastic about the prospect of our canals in Ulster being revived.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Lady Mairi Bury JP, 1921-2009

I must write a few words about the memorial service for Lady Mairi Bury, while everything is still fresh in my mind.

I thought it was very well done indeed. St Mark's Church in Newtownards was full. The first thing to catch my eye, as I entered the church, was the Londonderry coat-of-arms above the porch. The Londonderry family were patrons of St Mark's, to the extent that they had owned the land; provided the land for its erection; paid a substantial amount of funds towards its construction; and, what is now the Baptistry in the South Aisle was formerly the Londonderry private pew.

The Service was excellent, I thought. The Rev Canon Kenneth Smyth, and his assistant whose name escapes me, gave an interesting sermon about the Londonderry family's connection with Newtownards and St Mark's; and his assistant told us a bit about Lady Mairi's life and interests, including philately and flying.

Lady Mairi's son-in-law, Mr Peter Lauritzen, then walked up to the pulpit and provided us with a splendid eulogy; very well done indeed.

I was seated in the middle of the nave, a few rows behind the Family. I chatted at length to the tall, thinnish chap beside me and I'm afraid I didn't catch his name; for we shared an interest in heritage and old churches. I said hello to Dr Anthony Malcolmson, who was sitting just along from me; and he reminded me that his Brackenber school-days were c. 1958!

I noticed a few people there, viz. the Duke of Abercorn; Lord Rathcavan; Lady Dufferin; and, of course, members of the Londonderry family circle of whom I really only recognized Robin Birley, one of Lady Annabel's sons.

Ulster Hall Concert

Players in the Ulster Orchestra are permitted to wear anything they like, as long as it is black. Even Bandanna-man!

Now I know why the BBC Invitation Concert, at the Ulster Hall in Belfast last night, began at 7pm: It was a live production on BBC Radio 3. It was publicized in Radio Times as Performance On 3.

I sat in my usual seat upstairs. The Hall was almost full. Being live, a presenter called Petroc Trelawny appeared a few minutes before seven; introduced himself; gave a brief summary of the performance; and prompted the audience to begin applauding.

The conductor was Takuo Yuasa; the soprano, Elizabeth Watts.

The music was Walk to the Paradise Garden, by Delius; Tchaikovsky's Symphony Number 1 in G Minor; and Elizabeth Watts, the soprano soloist, sang Berlioz's Nuits d'été.

I had some difficulty in stifling my coughs and only just managed to wait until appropriate intervals to clear my throat!

Friday, 22 January 2010

Memorial Service

I've been sneezing and wheezing for a good part of the week with a nasty cold, so whether I will attend the memorial service for Lady Mairi Bury tomorrow is questionable. I gather the Service will be at St Mark's parish church in Newtownards, County Down, at noon.

The Daily Telegraph has written an obituary of Lady Mairi here; and I have already expressed my condolences in other articles.

If any readers do attend the Service, please feel free to leave a message.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Blade Bargain?

I have just purchased a packet of Gillette Mach 3 cartridges, 12-pack. They are currently available online at Boots. I was in Town briefly this morning and, having popped in to their Donegall Place store, the 12-pack was unavailable there.

However, they can be ordered and paid for online; then you designate a branch for collection, which is convenient enough.

Twelve cartridges cost £11.99, equivalent to £1 per blade which seems good value.

Reject the Kraft Bid

The trouble with public limited companies is that so many - or the majority - of the shares belong to huge pension funds and others of that ilk. Private individuals often exert tenuous influence.

The Cadbury family, whose faith was founded on the Quaker religion, is firmly against the takeover of their old company by the American conglomerate, Kraft Foods.

So am I.

Janie Cadbury, the widow of Peter "the Cad" Cadbury, has instructed Coutt's, her bankers, to reject the offer on her behalf, saying, "it has got nothing to do with money. I simply could not vote for an American company to takeover Cadbury, no matter the price."

Cadbury's hold a royal warrant.

I simply wish Cadbury's to remain British; pure and simple.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Molly's New Website

Molly's Yard, a compact establishment with a good measure of charm at the end of Botanic Avenue in Belfast, has a brand new website. I've eaten here several times within the last year; and, though disappointed by the severely constricted menu on December 31st, I remain undeterred. I look forward to revisiting them shortly. Here is their new website.


The Earl of Oxford, making a bow to Queen Elizabeth I, happened to let out a fart, about which he was so ashamed that he went into exile for seven years.

On his return, the Queen welcomed him home with the words, "My lord, we have forgot the fart."

John Aubrey in Brief Lives (c. 1693)

Sophie Wessex

I have just learned that, in honour of HRH''s personal service to The Queen, The Countess of Wessex is to be appointed to the Royal Victorian Order.

I am unclear, as yet, whether HRH is to become a Dame Grand Cross (GCVO) or Dame Commander (DCVO) of the Order.

The illustration above shows the breast star of the GCVO.

Addendum: HRH is appointed GCVO.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010


Field-Marshal Montgomery was the foremost publicist of his age and, by no conceivable stretch of the imagination, short on ambition.

Winston Churchill said to King George VI: "I'm worried about Monty; I think he's after my job". And the King exclaimed: "Thank God. I thought he was after mine!"

Caribbean Villa To Let

Without being in receipt of one penny of commission whatsoever, I thought I'd like to advice readers that a splendid Caribbean villa on the island of Mustique is available to rent.

It belongs to that fully paid-up member of the Labour Party and champion of socialist ideals, the Right Honourable Shaun Woodward, MP, Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland; whose official residence is, of course, Hillsborough Castle.

The Mustique villa can be hired for £27,000 per week.

But clearly business has been good for Woodward, whose wealth comes from his Sainsbury heiress wife Camilla, and now the price has shot up by £11,600 per week.

Details of the rental hike come just days after it was revealed that Woodward and his wife have acquired their seventh home, a sumptuous Alpine ski chalet.

The Woodwards' global property portfolio includes a family home in Cirencester, which has replaced their old Oxford town-house, a £1.35 million flat by the Thames in London, a £7 million villa in The Hamptons on New York's Long Island, a holiday home in the south of France, and the bijoux terrace house in his St Helens constituency.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

The Ely Letter

I have unearthed an old letter I received from the Ely Lodge Estate in County Fermanagh 33 years ago. It is dated February 8th, 1977; hence my interest in country houses from an early age.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

The letter is from the Estate Office at Ely Farms on the estate. Charles Plunket was the Agent at the time.

It explains that the 5th Duke of Westminster inherited the family seat at Eaton Hall in 1967; and still retained Ely Lodge as his private home; that the 5th Duke retired to Ely in 1977 and his son, Lord Grosvenor (now the 6th and present Duke) was living at Eaton Hall.

In 1977, the Ely Estate amounted to 1,000 acres in County Fermanagh and 1,500 acres in County Tyrone.

Metra v Met Office

It would seem that the Met Office cannot rest assured that the BBC will automatically renew its contract this year; according, at least, to a source in the Corporation. Apparently most of the big supermarkets - like Tesco - use a subsidiary company of Metra, New Zealand's national weather forecaster.

Personally, I take many of the Met Office's forecasts with a pinch of salt. In fairness, though, they do tend to get the temperatures largely accurate. Whether there's going to be rain or shine, though, leaves "room for improvement". Despite this, and given their sophisticated computers and monitoring equipment, it's hard to fathom why they cannot do better.

I imagine our British climate is extremely difficult to forecast with accuracy. It seems to vary so much, from the extreme north of Scotland to the south of Kent.

If the big supermarkets trust Weather Commerce, Metra's UK subsidiary, I think the BBC should, perhaps, consider them too. Why not? They might just be more reliable, in a meteorological sense!

Interestingly, Weather Commerce produce a two-day forecast for post-codes in Northern Ireland: Enter your post-code here.

Saturday, 16 January 2010


For the Attention of the Right Honourable Gordon Brown, MP, Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury:-

"There are plenty of ways to get ahead. The first is so basic I'm almost embarrassed to say it: Spend less than you earn".

Paul Clitheroe

Volunteer Programme

Resumption of the NT Volunteer activities begins again this month, when we will be visiting Ballyquintin Point a few times in order to do a spot of hedge-laying and tree-planting.

We shall also be revisiting Anne's Point, which is opposite Mount Stewart. There is a willow tunnel there which we'll be repairing; as well as a wattle bird screen.

There has been a slight "lull" in volunteer activities during December and the New Year; so it will be good to resume work again.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Lifer Spotted

There was a lifer on the flight this afternoon; and he bagged Seat 1c, too, which seemed to have more leg-room. I noticed none other than Lord Maginnis.

Gatwick Airport

It's two fifty-four. I've got through the ordeal of security at Gatwick; and I thought I'd remembered to remove everything from my luggage and my person. The toiletries and the Dell Mini 9 were declared. The coinage and belt were also removed.

I did omit to remove a pair of items, though: The metal shirt-sleeve bands! The penalty, yet again, was a thorough "going-over", and removal of the shoes.

Oh well, no harm done. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I have a BT Openzone connection here in the airport.

Inside the Wolseley

Remember the Wolseley motor car? I do, though they'd been absorbed into the British Leyland leviathan by that time, which became the fate of many marques at the time, including Rover, Jaguar, Daimler, Triumph, MG and more.

A good friend of my father invariably drove Wolseleys; they had become a smart version of the Austin 1800/2200 by the seventies. The little, illuminated Wolseley badge on the grille amused me.

I ate at the Wolseley restaurant last night, named after the aforementioned car because there used to be a showroom at the premises. The Wolseley is quite far up Piccadilly, near the Ritz hotel.

I followed my usual practice, telling them that I hadn't booked; and, without further ado, I was shown to a table in the middle of the restaurant where I could view all.

It's a busy place, though service was prompt. They provided me with a newspaper.

I ordered the seasonal game "fully garnished"; and a side order of mashed potato. It was Scottish venison. I love venison, especially when it's nicely cooked: the meat tonight was quite rare; lean, tender and delicious.

For pudding I had the blackberry and apple crumble with custard. I washed the meal down with a glass of their own red wine.

Price-wise, this place is on a par with the Ivy. The customary cover and service charges are added to the bill.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Ecclesiastical Splendour

It must be about ten years since I last paid St Paul's Cathedral a visit. The entrance fee has increased to £12.50, though it was reduced to £9 yesterday, due to the inclement weather. St Paul's is one of those historic buildings that fill one with awe: Look around and Wren's masterpiece is there for all to admire.

Whilst the crypt of St Paul's lacks the architectural magnificence of the nave and dome, it compensates for this by its historical import. Here we have the tombs and monuments to illustrious personages, many of whom were Admirals of the Fleet and Field Marshals; the two most noteworthy, perhaps, being those of the great Duke of Wellington and Admiral Lord Nelson. Many of our military figures rest here; there are memorials to Lord Alanbrooke and Lord Montgomery, for instance.

The Crypt is vast: The shop is here, as is the cafeteria and the restaurant. The Crypt also contains the Chapel of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire; and the banners of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother and Prince Philip hang here. I think the Order was founded in 1917, so the Chapel is relatively recent.

I chatted to a member of the clergy on duty below the dome. We talked about Northern Ireland and he asked me if Belfast was worth a visit. I replied tactfully that every place was worth a visit at least once! I told him that I listened to Canon Lucy Winkett on Thought For The Day, BBC Radio Four; and he exclaimed: "can you get Radio Four over there?" Had I been impertinent I could have added " Indeed, and we have electricity and cold running water too!" It was an innocuous enough comment, though.

Earlier in the day, I wandered in to Turnbull and Asser's shop in Jermyn Street for a "browse". There was a sale on, though they don't seem to publicize it much. I stepped downstairs, where there were literally dozens of ties on the sale.

Over at the end where my shirt sizes were, I noticed a classic, plain, light blue button-cuff shirt; and, slightly impulsively, bought it. Their button cuffs all have the distinctive three buttons. I told the assistant that I'd been a customer of theirs since the early 80s; and that I still owned a double-cuff silk shirt, along with three other shirts, from Turnbull's. Now I have four, plus two ties and a handkerchief.

Long may they last.

At the Ivy

I ventured out to Leicester Square yesterday evening, the aim being to seek out a much-lauded and hailed restaurant called The Ivy. Armed with my map I found it quite easily: It is just off Charing Cross Road, down Litchfield Street. The Ivy is literally opposite St Martin's Theatre, where The Mouse Trap still plays.

The Time was four-fifty; the Ivy didn't open till five-thirty; so I re-traced my footsteps on to Charing Cross Road and encountered a small bar called The Porcupine, where I had a small restorative.

At five twenty-five, I drank up and made straight for the Ivy. The staff at this restaurant are exceptionally courteous, which softens the obligatory 12.5% service charge and £2 "cover" charge. I advised them that I hadn't booked; she inquired if I had a theatre booked (no); showed me to a table; offered to relieve me of my very heavy British Warm overcoat and hat; handed me a plastic card for the cloakroom on departure; and even brought me a newspaper, since I was on my own.

They have plenty of staff wafting about, keeping an eye on patrons attentively. I was brought a basket of fresh, crusty bread and a dish of flavourful butter.

I ordered the slow-cooked Cornish lamb shoulder with roasted winter vegetables; and also had a side dish of honey-baked parsnips with thyme. The lamb was delicious; it was absolutely tender, with little fat at all. Slow-cooked indeed and succulent; a generous portion, too. The couple beside me had just arrived, and the chap liked the look of my lamb so much that he ordered it himself! I had made a wise choice.

I washed it down with a glass of Chardonnay wine.

I had sticky toffee pudding for dessert, accompanied by a little jug of pouring cream.

The experience was all quite civilized. I'd certainly return.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Wireless Marvel

I'm seated in my London hotel room, with my diminutive Dell Mini 9 on my lap, tapping away happily. The hotel has free wi-fi and I'm using their own connection. It's ruddy marvellous, because my little netbook has all my settings, bookmarks, favourites and passwords.

The Mini 9 was possibly my best purchase in 2009. I find it quite indispensible.

I got into trouble at Belfast City Airport, because I'd packed the Mini 9 in my hand luggage and should have "declared" it to them! That cost me a thorough "going over". I nonchalantly read the Daily Telegraph while the security girl swabbed all sides of it, from top to bottom, and whatever else they do. I'm sure she enjoyed it.That's the computer, by the way, not me!

Bank Buildings, Belfast: An Historical Note

The Bank Buildings was built in 1900 by W H Lynn. It is still one of Belfast's finest late Victorian edifices, constructed with such materials as red sandstone, polished granite floors and pilasters. The front faces Castle Place; and its name refers to Cunningham's Bank, 1767, which stood on this site.

A former palace of the Lord Bishop of Down, Connor and Dromore stood on this site too; and a branch of the Northern Bank later. Three buildings are known to have occupied this prime location in Belfast.

Moving on to Callender Street: the building where Alden's in the City now stands was once a tobacco factory! Murray's tobacco factory was here in 1888 and it was connected to 21 Arthur Street.

Last published on December 4th, 2008.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

The Late Ian Dury

I've never been a "fan" of the late musician-cum-entertainer, Ian Dury; though I have enjoyed one or two of his hits. So, having read a generally favourable review of Sex, Drugs And Rock And Roll, a so-called "biopic" about his life, I decided to go and watch it.

I found it strangely fascinating. Dury was a remarkably strong character, given his physical handicap with polio, thus necessitating having to wear a leg caliper. His father seemed to be self-made and wealthy, since we saw him driving a white Rolls-Royce or Bentley Silver Cloud. And Young Dury was taught to look after and fend for himself, especially given his disability. Dury hated being thought of - or treated as - a "cripple".

All in all, I was glad I went to view it. Catch it if you can.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Four Illustrious Generations

His Grace the Duke of Wellington has just become a very proud great-grandfather, to infant Arthur Darcy Wellesley, Viscount Wellesley.

The Duke's son and heir is Arthur, Marquess of Douro.

Lord and Lady Douro's eldest son is Arthur, Earl of Mornington.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

The Natural Baronet

How can I put this - phrase this - in a nice way? Sir Richard Wallace, 1st and last baronet, was the natural offspring of the 4th Marquess of Hertford. Despite Sir Richard's elevation to the ranks of the gentry with a baronetcy, his status as Lord Hertford's illegitimate son probably remained a stigma to him throughout his life, given Victorian rectitude.

Sir Richard inherited an absolute fortune, unimaginable to many nowadays, let alone in 1871.

He inherited his father's estates in County Antrim, around Lisburn, for instance, making him one of the largest landowners in the Province, with 58,365 acres.

Next week, I intend to visit the Wallace Collection, at his former London home, Hertford House in Manchester Square. I've never been there before: Have any readers visited the Collection?

Comment Moderation

I've been receiving literally dozens of comments from a follower in Romania, purporting to call herself Eva; and she is obviously infatuated with Prince William, judging by how eager she is to make contact with HRH.

My readers and followers would be unaware of these innumerable nuisance messages.

As a consequence of this, and with reluctance, I am applying Comment Moderation with immediate effect in order to rectify matters.

Regular readers: Please be assured that this action will not effect your contributions and messages; and I still welcome comments!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Old Building Saved

It is gratifying, for once, to see that the High Court in Belfast has effectively overturned a planners' shameful decision to permit the demolition of an old Victorian building in Queen Street, Belfast.

I commented about this about three months ago.

The building's finest feature is a carved stone door-case, the archway being supported on red granite colonettes with grape and acanthus capitals. The keystone boasts an Elizabethan gentleman's head, sporting a long beard, ruff and hat; flanked by shields, oak-leaves, roses and acorns; with bosses of thistles and shamrocks.

The Honourable Mr Justice Treacy was told on Friday that the application to quash the planning permission decisions was no longer being resisted.

Friday, 8 January 2010

New Royal Portrait

There is a new portrait of Princes William and Harry on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London. TRH are seen wearing the uniforms of the Household Cavalry (Blues and Royals).

Clarence House has issued more details here.

The painting was commissioned by the Gallery and the artist was Nicky Philipps.

Prince William wears the breast star and sash of the Order of the Garter.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Suits you, Sir

I've treated myself to many things down the years; and, in some ways, wonder whether I ought to have "invested" in a bespoke suit from a Savile Row tailor decades ago. How much do they cost nowadays? £3,000? I must admit I've refrained from such expenditure on a suit, despite my size and figure remaining constant since adulthood.

I suppose there would be logistical - or practical - issues as well: several fittings, necessitating flights to the metropolis.

Are there any decent tailors left in Belfast or Northern Ireland? There used to be an old tailor tucked away in an entry off Ann Street; but he is long gone. I think his name was Peter McAllister or something like that. He made me an Oxford grey suit about 25 years ago and it is still going strong.

Back to that question about Savile Row: would you pay £3,000 for a suit?


I must have been mad to venture up to the old school last night, what with the treacherous conditions. Still, I had sent them an email inquiring if the swimming-pool was operating; and they replied in the affirmative.

I motored up the windy drive carefully, parked the car and stepped out in the Brashers into the relative warmth of the sports complex.

I could possibly perform this routine with my eyes closed; I've been doing it for thirty years!

The changing-room was empty. No surprise there. One of the sixth-form attendants was on duty at the pool, so all augured well.

Shock, horror, surprise! The water was quite warm and temperate, so I jumped in, equipped with the trusty goggles and nose-clip; and began the age-old swim of sixty lengths.

I had the 25-metre pool to myself, apart from the headmaster and his young family arriving at about 45 lengths into my swim. Then a nice, hot shower. Done!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Matters Equestrian

Country Life has informed us that the Lady Lloyd-Webber is to succeed HRH The Princess Royal as President of the Pony Club. Madeleine Lloyd-Webber is an accomplished equestrian rider herself.

It is Snowing!

For the benefit of readers and followers outside Northern Ireland, this is the current scene in Belfast.

The Big Freeze continues...

Monday, 4 January 2010

Pool Closed Again

I motored up to the Sports Club this evening, in the expectation that the swimming-pool would, at least, be open.

Yet again, they have let down the loyal membership with a printed notice on the door stating that the pool is closed due to a "broken cover". No notification to members; no indication as to when we can expect the pool to re-open. No adequate communication.

It doesn't really surprise me; though it is still deplorable. Little wonder numbers are dwindling. Those who supervise the pool appear to be indifferent towards the Sports Club. Were a member of staff at a private health club to treat members in such a manner, they'd have been dismissed within a week or two. Not twenty years.

I'll simply continue to exercise at the private health club I belong to, though I'll miss the swimming.

Swimming Again?

The Sports Club re-opens this evening, so I am ever hopeful that the swimming-pool will be warm enough for the customary sixty lengths. It's a fortnight since I last swam. The pool wasn't particularly warm last term; so much so that one lady stopped coming for the remainder of the term. Little wonder that membership figures remain stagnant!

Apart from the exercise, it's also an opportunity for an invigorating shower.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

The Miraculous Lozenge?

One article caught my eye in the papers yesterday: the 20 pence a day lozenge that, it has been claimed, is designed to ward off all cold and flu bugs.

Seemingly the lozenge would be taken once a day before breakfast and would cost a mere 20p per day. Scientists hope to have it for sale within two years. It is called Veldona.

Here is the main article.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Restore Harrod's

I do wish that the House of Fraser would buy back Harrod's. They owned the store from 1959 till 1985, when it was bought by the Fayed brothers for £615 million. I care not whether it is taken back in a hostile manner or otherwise, because Fayed would doubtless be resistant to its sale.

Harrod's is a national institution and tourist attraction. The great store proudly used to hold four royal warrants, till about 2002 when Fayed withdrew them himself, thereby pre-empting senior members of the Royal Family.

I insist I am not being xenophobic; I simply disapprove strongly of Fayed's attitude and behaviour towards the Royal Family. I know the man has resented being unsuccessful in his attempt to acquire British Citizenship. That is different matter; one decided upon by the Government.

The House of Fraser was injudicious to sell Harrod's in the first place, to my mind.