Sunday, 30 September 2012

Gran Canaria: VIII+

I usually amble down to this pavement bar, Gio's, during the late afternoon in order to turn the netbook on, order a refreshing  restorative, and broadcast Lord Belmont's pearls of wisdom to the Globe.

I spent about four hours on the beach again today. I have been walking barefoot, holding on to the flip-flops.

One reason is that I wish to allow my toe blister to heal before I wear the Crocs again; another motive being that I am of the belief that walking barefoot toughens the soles of one's feet, thus eradicating years of hard skin.

It must improve the natural "foot-print", too. Our feet are spoiled by a lifetime of mollycoddling in comfortable footwear.

Being abroad in a hot climate affords a great opportunity to harden up the soles.

Gran Canaria: VIII

I revisited Dali's restaurant last night and sat at a little table outside, beside the window. The owner usually stands at the entrance to greet established and prospective patrons.

For the first course I ordered the "Playful" salad, more akin to a smoked salmon salad. They use balsamic vinegar as the salad dressing here.

Unfortunately the playful salad proved to be a meal in itself; I say Unfortunately because the nose-bag is not overly spacious.

It consisted of a dressed salad at the bottom of a kind of deep soup dish, with plentiful smoked salmon laid on top, with a tomato peeled like a rose.

The rim of the dish had orange slices.

I pronounced this to be delicious. During the interval, a party of six arrived and asked for a table. Wolfie looked round his tables and said Regrettably No. They talked for a minute. I immediately realised that I was sitting at a two-seat table, with two two-seat tables beside me.

I was about to suggest that I remove to another table when Wolfie approached and enquired if I'd do that very thing.

Chivalrous as always (!), I said Not At All; Think Nothing Of It, and got up.

The party of six were most appreciative ~ as was Wolfie ~ and thanked me effusively. They told Wolfie to offer me a drink.

Well, my main course subsequently arrived, Roulade of fresh salmon in a Vermouth sauce. It was served with salad and a bowl of fries.

This, too, was very good; though the old nose-bag was about to explode by this stage. Timothy Belmont was full as a ... Grandee of the First Class. Ha!.

Wolfie asked me what I'd like to drink. I was reluctant to have alcohol, though succumbed to a little carafe of red wine.

The bill was about €25. I left him a €5 note and departed.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Gran Canaria: VII

All is well and quiet here. It is hot when the sun shines and warm when overcast. I'm sipping a G&T, seated on a Rattan armchair in a pavement cafe.

I was at the beach for most of the day. I check the BBC News website daily, including the Northern Ireland section; thus I'm up to date on current affairs at home.

I shall make my way to Dali's this evening in the hope that there will be a table available for the old fodder.

Brackenber House Uniform

If anyone reading my blog happens to have a Brackenber uniform in their possession; or could even take a photograph of it, I'd be keen to publish it here. I attended Brackenber in the early seventies.

I have checked the internet and there is scarcely any information about Brackenber or, to give the school its full name, Brackenber House Preparatory School. The school was an old, Victorian villa in Cleaver Avenue, south Belfast; and it was demolished many years ago in order to make way for a housing development.

This is the only entry which gives a little information. A past pupil has taken the trouble to publish this.

In my time, the headmaster was John Craig. Other teachers included Harvey Cross, Frank McQuoid, John Magowan, Miss Rankin, Mr Sheehan, Mr Maguire, Mr Bull, Dorothy Dunlop and Mrs Horne among others.

Two names always amused me: Mr Bull, appropriately enough, taught physical education; and guess what Mrs Horne taught? That's correct, music!

There were many fellow pupils there; however I particularly recall Patrick "Paki" Lowry, Roderick Mitchell, Paul Moffatt (furniture), Richard Pierce, Johnny Irvine (ITN), Andrew Gemmil, Howard Hastings (hotels), Alan McKelvey, Elmes, Jay Piggott (CCB headmaster), Nicholas Tougher, Nigel Coates and lots of others.

During my time at Brackenber, my prowess on the track was almost invincible, believe it or not. I won the senior 100 yards; senior hurdles; long jump; and 220 yards. These victories culminated in my being presented with the Victor Ludorum trophy in 1973. I'm blowing my own trumpet, since nobody else is offering!

The uniform consisted of long, knee-length socks which were mainly grey with red tops; grey shorts; a red blazer with white BHS insignia on the breast-pocket; a red and white striped tie; and a red school-boy's cap with white lettering insignia, too.

I'm afraid that, sadly, I can find only a mere sock - which hasn't been washed since it was last worn, 35 years ago - along with the Old Brackenbrian tie; the cap is somewhere and I imagine I'll come across it eventually. The old boys' tie is maroon, black and white striped. The uniform was scarlet in colour, like the colour of the Grenadier Guards! My House was called Hawks, and we all had little, circular enamel badges to display in our button-holes in order to identify which house well belonged to.

Once again, if there are any Old Brackenbrians out there reading this, and they could send me a photograph of the uniform - anything at all, even a photograph of the school - I shall publish it here.

First published in February, 2009.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Gran Canaria: VI

Timothy Belmont enjoyed another good gastronomic time at Dali's last night. The Tournedos Rossini was too tempting to ignore; the noble gnashers were prepared for Business.

I ordered a glass of the white house wine and the ever-diligent Wolfie brought me a sort of carafe.

The little morsels of  bread and a vegetable spread in a tiny dish, with the refreshing aperitif served in brandy balloon, arrived first.

Dali's was quiet when I arrived, though I was early. 

As I anticipated, the main course was presented to me after awhile: A fine fillet of beef, thick-cut, cooked perfectly for me ~ medium-rare.

This was quite a simple dish. I thought there might have been a few more green vegetables or their dressed salad, though Wolfie brought me a dish of Belgian frites.

In the event, the little chips went well with the Tournedos, however.

You shan't be at all surprised, therefore, that I cleaned my plate.

I attached the nose-bag again for the next round: Crema Catalana, a Spanish version of creme brulee.

Thus the noble gnashers were given a rest.

The bill came to about €33. I paid by credit card, though have a feeling I forgot to leave a tip.

The best remedy, perhaps, would be to leave a generous gratuity the next time.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Gran Canaria: V+

The swimming here is simply divine. The sea-water is temperate; a fair bit warmer than Ulster's waters at Portballintrae Bay.

I have a pair of flip-flops manufactured by a company called Crocs. These are, of course, the kind of footwear where one's big toe inserts itself between the shoe.

Alas, despite having worm them for a few years, they remain uncomfortable: The part between my right second toe has chafed it, causing a little wound which needs some time to heal.

Consequently, I cannot wear the right Croc without aggravating the cut skin until it heals.

I have stuck part of a plaster on the wound, though the wretched Croc chafes that, too.

I am wearing my sand-coloured  Desert Boots at present.

I'm tempted to get rid of them and use my Havaiana flip-flops instead (I use these at the swimming-pool at home).

Gran Canaria: V

I spent the day on the beach yesterday. The sand is so hot at times; it reminds me of Dudley Moore's comedy film, TEN.

How amusing was it to watch him on the beach, getting the soles of his feet burnt by the sand, and using towels to get from A to B?

The climate remains fine here, in Gran Canaria.

Methinks that tonight I might revisit Dali's gastronomic emporium. The steaks are rather large; so, depending on the old appetite, I might opt for fish again, or have a main course followed by a dessert.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Readers' Queries

I have received a number of queries from readers pertaining to matters genealogical and ancestral.

Alas, I am unable to answer individual questions of this nature. I simply do not have the time.

I do hope readers will understand and appreciate that I am not always able to respond.

Gran Canaria: IV

You recall the little restaurant I alluded to the other day? It goes by the name of Dali's. Well, it was open last night, so I perused the menu again briefly and loitered a few seconds till the proprietor greeted me.

He said I could sit at any table I wished, except the reserved one.

This is a very small establishment, dear readers. Its complement of tables is about eight, at a push. Most are outside on the terrace.

Dali's is a gem amongst swine. the chef-owner is an artist in his spare time. His oil paintings adorn one of the windows.

Dali's states that it is romantic in ambiance; unique and relaxed. Works of art abound.

I was shown the menu. Gourmet prawn cocktail is an item on the menu that Timothy Belmont finds almost irresistible. I ordered it.

Subsequently I chose the "orchestra" of halibut and Salmon in a rich, cream sauce.

Wolfie, the owner, brought me a refreshing aperitif served with ice-cubes in a brandy balloon glass; with tiny cubes of toast and a sort of pate.

By this stage, the tiny restaurant was almost full with patrons.

My prawn cocktail arrived, served in a glass dish shaped like a conch-shell.

This starter was superb: The seafood sauce had been blended to the perfect consistency, with the appropriate tangy balance of tomato sauce and mayonnaise. There were dozens of prawns and four or five lettuce-leaves arranged round the side of the dish.

The top was crowned with a peeled tomato which resembled a red rose (had they guessed my ancestry?). Ha!

Service is diligent:. This is, however, not a place to frequent if you are in a hurry.. The grub is prepared freshly and to order. You can sit at your table for as long as you wish, soaking in the decadent atmosphere and courteous service.

My main course arrived. It was served in a cast-iron, deep-sided pot affair. The salmon and halibut were nestling in a sublime sauce of cream, mild mustard and lord knows what else. Suffice it to state that this concoction hot the spot, bang on target.

I was brought a side plate of what looked like champ, as we fondly call it in Ulster: mashed potato and spring onions ~ scallions.

To complement this course, another side plate of mixed salad in balsamic vinegar was presented to me.

for such a diminutive restaurant, they perform culinary masterpieces here; nay, miracles.

Rest assured, friends, the Belmont nose-bag was firmly affixed for an hour or two here.

I washed it all down with a large glass of red wine. Wolfie asked me if I'd like coffee. He duly brought a small cup of fine coffee, served on a tiny silver-coloured salver, with a ginger biscuit.

The bill came to about €30.

Needless to add, I shall revisit Dali's soon.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Gran Canaria: III

I went for a stroll this morning, after breakfast, towards a palatial hotel on the edge of the sand dunes. Twitchers, I spotted my first hoopoe, about five yards from me.

At approximate intervals of three hundred yards, there are public weighing scales on the foot-paths in this resort. Is this a subtle inference for those of us with a beady eye on the old doughnuts every hour or so?

Their maximum payload seems to be 120 kilogrammes, whatever that is in pounds and ounces. the Earl of Belmont's inconsiderable bulk may not register thereon (!).

These prehistoric scales used to grace every chemist's shop in the British Isles. Did the British Pharmaceutical Association do a deal with Gran Canaria a few decades ago?

I HAD A very good meal last night. Dali's was closed. I'd been recommended another establishment called Brasserie Entre Nous.

Its aspect is quite unpretentious, akin to a bistro. Nevertheless, Isaac & Nadia are purveyors of jolly good nosh.

I had the fillets of pork, served in a fine wholegrain mustard sauce, with various artfully prepared vegetables, including broccoli, baby carrot and potato.

The potato, however, was served in a kind of oblong cake.

This main course Timothy Belmont professed to be very good indeed.

I was brought a basket of the ubiquitous bread. Alas, they had no alioli, though there was abundant creamy mustard sauce on the plate.

I had a glass of red plonk with the meal.

For pudding, I opted for the chocolate mousse. No complaints here, either.

The meal set me back €20, excluding the tip.

Monday, 24 September 2012

USA Visitors

A steady increase in readers from the United States of America is emerging. American readers should be aware that Lord Belmont offers them a very warm welcome. We share a common bond.

One of my favourite authors, Sir P G Wodehouse, spent much time in the USA.

Visitor numbers are volatile, and their origins depend on the time of the day when statistics are checked; though, at this moment, about 14% of my "hits" emanate from the United states.

Domestic readers might sometimes think I am being pedantic when I'm being so specific about places and names, always naming the county after the town, for instance.

Well, pedantry can be a weakness occasionally; though I do it for the benefit of global readers.

Gran Canaria: II

Well, friends and readers, Timothy Belmont arose from the ethereal slumber at about seven forty-five this morning. All is peaceful with my world.

Having attended to the old ablutions, I had cafe condensado with wholemeal buttered toast and peach jam.

A right glutton for punishment, I donned the trusty Clark's Desert Boots and ventured out, to the local establishment which sells all kinds of groceries.

It is overcast here today, though hot ~ well into the eighties, I should think.

I'd omitted to bring lip balm or that stuff one applies in order to prevent cracked lips; so I had to buy some (€1.99).

I think I've discovered a little bijou restaurant in the vicinity, called Dali's. It is Franco-Belgian in ambiance and cuisine. I shall report back. I wonder if they have wi-fi...

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Gran Canaria: I

Timothy Belmont is suitably installed and presently having a refreshing freshly-squeezed orange juice at a street bar in the resort.

It is hot here ~ late eighties or nineties, I should imagine. 28-30 degrees Celsius, in continental-speak.

I met an agreeable couple from Coventry and we enjoyed a chin-wag and drink this morning, self sipping mere cola.

Harvey works at Land-Rover and told me about the new Range-Rover coming imminently. He drives a Range-Rover himself.

I bought a bottle of Bombay gin, tonic-water, a lemon, and all the usual staples this morning.

The bananas are remarkably large. Their skins are much thicker than those at home.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Park Plaza Belfast

Timothy Belmont is seated in the lounge bar of the Park Plaza Hotel at Aldergrove Airport, otherwise known as Belfast International Airport.

Is it not simpler to say "Aldergrove"?

I am having a gin and tonic.

I might have a bite of something or other, though I'm not hungry yet.

They have free wi-fi; a flat-screen telly is turned on beside the bar; another telly provides flight arrivals, not departures.

It's the first time I've been in this hotel. The bar is perfectly adequate; more relaxing than those in the airport, I should imagine.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

New Companion of Honour


THE QUEEN has been graciously pleased to give orders for the following appointment to the Order of the Companions of Honour:

Order of the Companions of Honour (CH)

To be a Member:

The Right Honourable Sir George Samuel Knatchbull YOUNG, Bt, MP

Mandarin City

I arrived at the Mandarin City Chinese restaurant on Wednesday evening slightly early, after seven, so ventured to the counter and ordered a snifter, which happened to be Bombay Sapphire.

Isn't it a wonder the Political Correctness Brigade hasn't changed that to Mumbai Sapphire? Ha!

As I sat sipping the restorative, I observed that most of the takeaway customers had a certain rapport with the staff; obviously a good sign.

I have to say that I've been coming to this Chinese establishment occasionally, ever since it opened its doors about 25 years ago (that's a guess: do any readers know when it actually opened?).

It is located on the Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast, in a neighbourhood known as Ballyhackamore. Other restaurants in the vicinity include The Point and Horatio Todd's.

BP duly arrived at about seven thirty and we were promptly shown to our table.

The staff here are well presented, diligent and courteous, in my experience.

The decor and ambiance is one of opulence, in an Oriental sense: comfort, warmth and well-being, which actually belies the more prosaic exterior facade.

The restaurant was full, quite a statement of Success, given that it was a Wednesday, let alone the current economic circumstances.

Mandarin City is actually quite large, seating probably over 100 people on a full night.

BP ordered the usual chicken in honey and chilli sauce; while I had the king prawns kung po.

Frankly I have never been disappointed here yet. The cuisine was as good as ever. BP gave the chicken the thumbs-up; I relished my big, juicy prawns, served with plenty of vegetables, including a few baby carrots.

Pudding consisted of strawberry cheesecake with whipped cream for me; while BP had the banana fritters.

We concluded the meal with coffee, accompanied by the complimentary after-dinner mint and Chinese biscuit.

The bill came to about £60, including drinks.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Sainsbury's Coleslaw

By Appointment to the Right Honourable the Earl of Belmont


I discovered this creamy, tasty coleslaw several months ago and, I have to admit, I am an addict.

This is Sainsbury's West Country Mature Cheddar Coleslaw, Taste the Difference ~ Cabbage, carrot, cheddar cheese, West Country cheddar and onion in mayonnaise.

Mayonnaise (36%); Cabbage (25%); Carrot (16%); Cheddar Cheese (10%); West Country Cheddar (8%); Onion; Chive.

The mayonnaise contains: Rapeseed Oil, Pasteurised Free Range Egg Yolk, Water, Spirit Vinegar, Sugar, Salt, Mustard Flour.

All previous Warrants for coleslaw are hereby cancelled and annulled.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Castle Dillon: Unsold?

I attended the property auction held at the Stormont Hotel, Belfast, this evening.

I was interested to know whether Castle Dillon, one of the Province's finest country houses, sold or not.

At eight fifteen, the hammer rose and, despite the price guide of a mere £250,000, the auctioneer had to lower his offer to £100,000 before there were any bidders at all.

The final bid was for £115,000.

We were advised that the vendor was in attendance.

I should imagine that Castle Dillon remains on the market, its future uncertain; which is a shame, given its status and pre-eminence as a part of our heritage.

Marquess of Hamilton

James Charles Harold Hamilton, styled Marquess of Hamilton (b 1969), is a courtesy lord and heir to the Duke of Abercorn.

Jamie Hamilton was educated at Harrow School and was a Page of Honour to The Queen between 1982-84.

He was married on the 7th May, 2004, at Guards Chapel, Wellington Barracks, to Tanya Marie, now Marchioness of Hamilton (b 1971), eldest daughter of Douglas Percy Codrington Nation, senior managing director of Bear Stearns (1942–2001) and his wife Barbara "Bobbie" Brookes.

Lord and Lady Hamilton have two children: James Alfred Nicholas Hamilton, styled Viscount Strabane (b 2005); and Lord Claud Douglas Harold Hamilton (b 2007).

The family seat is Baronscourt Castle, near Newtownstewart, County Tyrone.

First published in April, 2011.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Small Explosion.

The tranquility of Belmont GHQ was severely disturbed this afternoon by an explosion emanating from the fireplace, where a fire had been lit.

I 'd thrown the contents of a waste-paper bin into the fire, oblivious of a spent Duracell AAA battery which had been discarded therein.

This act caused an explosion, which spread some contents of the fire onto the carpet.

Swift action, with a proprietary foam detergent, impeded any further damage. 

Meeting the Lord Mayor

At two-thirty on Friday afternoon, I was taken to the Right Honourable the Lord Mayor of Belfast's suite of rooms on the first floor of City Hall, Donegall Square. The rooms look on to Donegall Square West.

I entered the Lord Mayor's Parlour, a splendid room with a long, large dining or display table, which dominates the room.

It has various silver items displayed, including a regimental cigarette box, engraved and lined with a fine veneered wood.

One wall has photographic signed portraits of The Queen and Prince Philip. The side-table is groaning with more antique silverware.

This suite of rooms has fine plasterwork.

In a few minutes the Right Honourable the Lord Mayor,  Alderman Gavin Robinson, entered.

The Lord Mayor showed me various items of interest, and his suite of rooms, including a dressing-room (with shower, wardrobe and wash-basin).

The wardrobe contains vintage mayoral attire, including tricorne hat and ceremonial robe. I wonder who else has worn this very attire, other than the Earl of Belmont (!).

The mayoral badge and chain of office weigh about a stone.

The Lord Mayor placed it on my shoulders and, I assure you, it is unforgettable.

Beyond the mayoral boudoir is the Lord Mayor's study; and the Lady Mayoress's parlour.

These rooms have fire-places.

I spent an hour with the Lord Mayor, discussing private and civic matters, including HMS Caroline and mayoral transport. He was particularly interested to hear about my interest in the heritage of Belfast and Northern Ireland.

I took my leave at about three-thirty on Friday afternoon, when the Lord Mayor presented me with several official gifts ~ tokens of this most memorable visit.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Blackberry Day

I drove to Donaghadee, County Down, today. I lunched at Donaghadee Garden Centre. It definitely wasn't as busy as usual. Why was this?

Have any readers noticed this phenomenon themselves? Is the economic climate a factor? I have no idea.

I fancied the chicken & ham pie with mashed potato and carrot.

I always enjoy the homely grub here, and at its sister garden centre at Bushmills. They are extending the centre again, hence patrons were diverted.

After lunch, I motored the short distance to Portavo reservoir, where I picked a bountiful crop of juicy blackberries; my second batch this week.

Now I must have about half a stone of them in the freezer, for crumbles and sponges.

I walked right round the reservoir. There is a good view of new Portavo House from here. It was muddy in places, so wear wellies.

Lowry's Wood, our new National Trust plantation beside Portavo, is thriving.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Bennett's On Belmont

I arrived at Bennett's On Belmont at about five-thirty on Friday afternoon.  It was fairly quiet, with two or three tables occupied; about six diners altogether.

I recall these premises as having been the main hall of Victoria Unionist Association. In the 1990s, the premises were converted for use as a cycle retailer (Bike-It, I think); then Bennett's acquired the unit.

The entrance is in a position where there are a few steps, because Belmont Road is on a slope.

I always felt that it would be better moving the door up the road, where it is more level; however, Bennett's don't own the building. Perhaps this suggestion has already been made.

I walked up to the counter, sat up at a bar-stool, turned on the netbook and perused the black-board.

Unfortunately I was unable to obtain a wi-fi connection; Bennett's do not have their own wi-fi at present.

First impressions were of a warm diner: Informal, relaxed, friendly staff; clean and generally welcoming.

The black-board had several tempting items, including John Dory fillets with buttery mash, broad and green beans, and fried sage leaves.

It cost £12.50.

Service was prompt and it arrived within five minutes, I'd say. I liked it. The fish was mild, delicate and moist, though the fillets were small.

By this stage, more people were arriving. Bennett's is licensed, by the way.

I fancied a traditional pudding. The warm apple crumble with cream, at £4.50, sounded the business.

It arrived in a large, deep bowl. There must have been the equivalent of two apples, I imagine! A good crumble topping, with chocolate melted on top. This worked well. Delicious.

Much as I am tempted, I cannot find any major criticisms of Bennett's at all.

They serve good, well-presented, comfort grub, in a diner-style, informal atmosphere.

Friday, 14 September 2012

At City Hall

I was invited to a meeting with the Right Honourable the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Alderman Gavin Robinson, today.

Above is the dome of City Hall from the central vestibule.

A memorial window on the ground floor to Her Majesty's forces and regiments which have served the city of Belfast.

Inside the Lord Mayor's Parlour: Royal mementoes and silverware.

Mayoral Meeting

Timothy Belmont motored into the city of Belfast this afternoon.

Parking was prearranged for me in the courtyard of Belfast City Hall.

I have a meeting with the Lord Mayor this afternoon.

Having parked the two-seater, I took the opportunity of ambling over to the Linenhall Library, where I gathered information pertaining to the Moores of Rowallane.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Island Taggart

Island Taggart was my destination today.

Island Taggart is a property inalienably held by the National Trust. It lies between Ringdufferin directly to its north and Killyleagh, the nearest substantive village, to the south.

The island is one mile long and a quarter of a mile wide at its widest point; a total area of about 85 acres, acquired in 1984 from Patrick and Kathleen Mackie.

Our task was to excavate a pond on the north-western side of the island; and this we did with gusto.

There were six of us.

Most of the day was spent digging with spades, mattock and crow-bar.

I spotted a tiny, worm-sized eel in the pond during the day.

For lunch I had a home-made chicken salad wrap.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Rowallane Café

I spent the afternoon at Rowallane demesne, near Saintfield, County Down. Rowallane is the regional GHQ of the National Trust.

I had been invited to join Craig, Strangford Lough warden, at a seminar about social media networking.

The Trust is actively encouraging properties throughout England, Northern Ireland and Wales to embrace the likes of Facebook, Twitter, You Tube blogging sites.

The seminar lasted about two hours.

Afterwards, Mike showed us round the ground floor of Rowallane House, which has been transformed into a reception area for visitors to the property.

Brand new facilities include a shop, exhibition foyer, and a lovely new café, complete with outside terrace. The café has a bright, colourful décor which enhances the beauty of the room.

It opens from Thursdays to Sundays at present.

Earlier I picked almost four pounds of blackberries in the estate.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Motor Insurance

Motorists seeking competitive insurance deals might not be best off with the big-name firms, according to one study, suggests Mike Rutherford in the Daily Telegraph:-

The 10 cheapest insurers:

1. Adelaide Insurance Services (IAM Surety)

2. Frizzell (LV Frizzell)

3. Royal and Sun Alliance

4. Ageas (previously Fortis)


6. Liverpool Victoria (LV)

7. NFU Mutual

8. Saga

9. Marks & Spencer

10. Swiftcover

The 10 most expensive insurers:

1. Kwik Fit

2. Lloyds TSB

3. Endsleigh

4. Post Office

5. Diamond

6. More Than

7. Elephant

8. Admiral

9. AA

10. Bell Direct (part of Admiral Group)

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Duke of York in NI

His Royal Highness The Duke of York has been meeting staff and students involved in apprenticeships during his official visit to Northern Ireland.

During his first engagement, Prince Andrew visited Northgate Managed Services in Newtownabbey, County Antrim, to meet with staff and apprentices involved in its ICT Apprenticeship Scheme.


HRH, who is the UK's Special Representative for International Trade and Investment, was greeted by Mrs Joan Christie OBE, Lord-Lieutenant of County Antrim, and went on to meet Mr A Ross, Chief Executive, who accompanied HRH during the engagement.

Prince Andrew met with senior management and current and former apprentices to hear about the work of Northgate- the first IT company to launch an IT Apprenticeship Scheme in Northern Ireland.

Prince Andrew later visited Northern Regional College in Ballymena to see how apprentices there are being trained. HRH was greeted on arrival by His Worship the Mayor of Ballymena, Alderman P J McAvoy.

He also met the Hon Ian Paisley, MP for North Antrim, Dr Stephen Farry MLA, Minister, Department for Employment and Learning, and Trevor Neilands, Principal & Chief Executive of the Northern Regional College.

His Royal Highness began his tour with a visit to the Toyota Academy, where he met with staff and students and heard at first hand how the academy ensures a focus on apprenticeship and adult training, with highly qualified technical staff and well resourced facilities.

Joanne Donaghey, a Level 3 Mechatronics Apprentice, presented HRH with a gift of a puzzle/pen holder which had been designed and manufactured in the Engineering Centre.

Prince Andrew's final engagement was at a garden party at Hillsborough Castle, County Down, on Thursday afternoon.

The garden party was hosted by the Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

The Duke of York met about 2,500 invited guests from across Ulster society.

Rt Hon E J Pickles

As Sir P G Wodehouse might have said:

This man Pickles, you must understand, was not one of those men who are lightly kept from the tea-table.

A hearty trencherman, and particularly fond of his five o'clock couple of cups and bite of muffin, he had until this afternoon always been well up among the leaders in the race for the food-trough. 

If one thing was certain, it was that only the machinations of some enemy could be keeping him from being in the drawing-room now, complete with nose-bag.

Oily Fish

Nick Collins, Science Correspondent at the Daily Telegraph, reports that eating a portion of oily fish such as salmon or mackerel three times a week could help to protect the muscles from deterioration in old age by doubling the benefits of exercise, experts claim.

A combination of regular doses of fish oil and gym exercises improved the muscular strength of a group of women in their late sixties by 20 per cent in a new study.

A control group who took part in the twice-weekly, 30-minute exercise sessions but did not take fish oil increased their muscle power by 11 per cent.

Over the course of the 12-week study, those who took the fish oils also made noticeably larger improvements in tests of their balance, walking speed and time taken to get up from a chair.

Speaking at the British Science Festival, researchers from Aberdeen University said the difference could be down to the effects of DHA and EPA, types of Omega 3 fatty acid found in fish oil that have anti-inflammatory properties.

As a normal part of ageing, muscle size reduces by between 0.5 per cent and two per cent a year in older people, a condition known as sarcopenia.

After our mid-thirties our body’s ability to build muscle through exercise alone begins to diminish, meaning it is difficult for older people to resist muscle wastage.

Researchers said the fish oils could work by combating the low-level inflammation that is typical in older people and hampers the ability of the muscles to build power and mass.

Dr Stuart Gray said: “We’re trying to make older muscle adapt like younger muscle, and that’s where we think fish oil can come in.”

Prince Andrew in NI

His Royal Highness The Duke of York arrived in Northern Ireland on Wednesday evening, 5th September, and was guest of honour at a dinner hosted by the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, Mike Penning MP, in recognition of the role of Apprenticeships in the Northern Ireland Economy.

Prince Andrew met with invited guests from a wide range of Ulster companies and employers who benefit from the Apprenticeships NI programme, as well as young apprentices who have taken part in the scheme.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Chapel Island Day

The aerial photograph atop - courtesy of Fat Tony.

Today was spent on Chapel Island, a property of the National Trust near Greyabbey, County Down.

There were about eight of us. This little island has become slightly overgrown, because sheep have not been grazing on it for a few years.

Our task today was to clear the undergrowth below the electric fence, in order that sheep can be re-introduced this autumn.

We all had to vacate the island after two o'clock, given that the tide was coming in fast; hence we lunched on the mainland.

This was an opportunity to discuss our forthcoming trip to the bird observatory on the Copeland Islands.

I'd made myself a chicken salad wrap today.

Later, we went back to the Old Schoolhouse on Mount Stewart estate; and from there we all attended a reception for volunteers at the mansion-house.

Afterwards, we were treated to a delicious array of cakes, cream scones, tea and coffee.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Ely Lodge

Formerly the Ulster seat of the 5th Duke and Duchess of Westminster, Ely Lodge, County Fermanagh, sits on the southern shore of Lower Lough Erne

It has an association through marriage with the Hume family. Lord Ely married the daughter of Sir Gustavus Hume (of Hume Castle) and they lived at Ely Castle.

In 1870, the castle was in danger of collapsing and was demolished. The stable block remained, and was converted and extended to become Ely Lodge.

In 1948, Ely Lodge became the home of Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Grosvenor, Lord Hugh Grosvenor's younger son; who subsequently became 5th Duke of Westminster. 

The 5th Duke's mother was Lady Mabel Crichton, of Crom Castle, and the Duke spent much of his childhood at Crom.

The late 5th Duke's son, the 6th and present Duke of Westminster, was born at Omagh, County Tyrone. 

The 6th Duke was then known as Gerald, Earl Grosvenor; and both he and his sisters spent their childhood at Ely Lodge.

Ely Lodge remained part of the Westminster Estates till about 1987, when Viola, Dowager Duchess of Westminster, Lord-lieutenant of County Fermanagh, was tragically killed in a car accident.

In 1994, Charles Plunket, the former land agent who inherited the estate on the Duchess's death, sold the estate privately.

First published in June, 2009.

T A Villiers MP

The Right Honourable Theresa Villiers MP is the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Unless I am mistaken, the family pronounces their name as in "Villerz".

Theresa Anne Villiers, born in 1968, is MP for Chipping Barnet. She was appointed as a Privy Counsellor in 2010.

Mrs Villiers was born in London, the daughter of George Edward Villiers and Anne Virginia (née Threlfall).

On her father's side she is a descendant of the Hon Edward Ernest Villiers, brother of George, 4th Earl of Clarendon, Charles Pelham Villiers and Henry Villiers.

She is also a distant relative of the actor James Villiers.

Growing up in north London, she was educated at the independent Francis Holland School; gained a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) degree with first class honours in 1990 from the University of Bristol, and went on to obtain a Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL) from Jesus College, Oxford, in 1991.

After graduating she worked as a barrister and as a lecturer at King's College London (1994–99);  married fellow lawyer Sean Wilken in 1997; and the couple wrote an academic legal book. They have since divorced.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Aquatic Resumption

Sixty. Not the advanced age, Belmont hastens to add. I have a dozen years to go on that one. Ha!

Swimming at the old sports club began in earnest this evening; and I got to it like the proverbial duck to water. I swam sixty lengths.

The stroke I use is the front crawl. I noticed that swimmers at the Olympics had a certain technique, whereby, when they pushed themselves off the wall of the pool, they performed a sort of dolphin movement for a few seconds, prior to using their arms.

I tried this technique and it does seem to be effective.

Alan in Belfast

I am indebted to Alan, because his own blog, Alan In Belfast, inspired me to create Lord Belmont in 2007.

I wonder if he recalls my contacting him for advice about it five years ago? A year or so later, several of us met at a restaurant on the Belmont Road, Belfast, for a natter and meal.

You played a part in creating the Belmont Phenomenon - or should that be the Phenomenal Belmont? -  Alan!

Alan has written another great post about his trip to the new National Trust Giant's Causeway visitor centre today; articulated to a far greater degree than my post about it three weeks ago.

To be truthful, my posting was slightly - shall we say - diplomatic, given that I really do whole-heartedly concur with Alan's sentiments on his experiences there, and the virtual golf-course he alludes to.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Hi Baldy!

The talk this weekend is that a baldness remedy might hit the shelves within two years.

About ruddy time, Timothy Belmont says.

Whoever owns the patent should fare as well as the Gillette Company.

I cannot wait to slap the lotion on the crown atop and see the results.

Divis Munitions Store

Today I motored up the Belfast hills to the National Trust's splendid Divis and Black Mountain property.

There were quite a few walkers, many with their dogs.

I had a chat with the member of staff on duty at the Long Barn.

My curiosity required to be satisfied regarding the conspicuous structure on the heathland en route to the Black Mountain.

On closer inspection, it is relatively recent, probably dating from the 2nd World War. It is built of breeze blocks and corrugated iron; and has recently been painted.

I fancy it was a munitions store and even a shooting-range, judging by the heavy strong-room door, electricity and large, panoramic, rectangular window.

More recently, it has been used as a byre.

Divis mountain was formerly Ministry of Defence property.

If any readers have any knowledge or memories they'd like to share about it as a military base, please leave a comment.

Castle Dillon Sale

 Image courtesy of © Sarah Hutchinson Burke – Please do not use without permission

Here is a golden opportunity for readers to acquire one of the finest stately homes in Northern Ireland.

I've already written about the illustrious family that once lived here, the Molyneux Baronets.

I'm grateful to Jonathan Bamford for alerting me to the news about Castle Dillon.

There are more images here.

Castle Dillon, County Armagh, is on the market. The maximum reserve price is £250,000.

  • 21 Bed Mansion House/Private Nursing Home
  • 2-storey/9-bay centre block with single-storey/3bay wings
  • Numerous Reception Rooms/Bathrooms/Kitchens
  • Stores/Conservatory/Lift/Set in grounds overlooking Lake
  • Extensive Refurbishment will be required
Property Description

Castle Dillon House is externally a large and somewhat austere mansion, built for Sir George Molyneux, 6th Baronet, in 1845. The designer was William Murray.

It has a two-storey, nine-bay centre block; with single-storey, three-bay wings. Both the entrance front and the garden front, which faces the lake, are similar and plain, apart from a pillared porch on the entrance front.

The interior is no less austere: a large hall with a screen of columns dividing it from a central corridor which ran the whole length of the House, with a curved stair at one end.

At the garden front, a saloon flanked by the dining-room and drawing-room. There was a library and a morning-room on either side of the hall.

The entrance gates, dating from 1760, once described as "the most costly park gates perhaps at that time in the three kingdoms", were erected by Sir Capel Molyneux, 3rd Baronet.

Sir Capel also erected an obelisk near the Park in order to commemorate the winning of independence by the Irish Parliament in 1782.

The sizeable walled demesne lies in pleasantly undulating countryside, with a lake at its centre. An anonymous guide wrote in 1839 that,

‘… the demesne is laid out in a style of elegance, rarely imitated in this country, and which would do honour to the best taste. Here every natural advantage of hill, wood and water, appears admirably improved by the correctest aid of art …’

It is laid out as a mid-18th century landscape park, though there is little remaining planting, with some woodland at the lake and very few parkland trees. The site has been forested and intensively farmed in recent years.

The first house was built circa 1611 and, when that was burnt in 1663, another followed.

The walled garden has gone but two gate lodges survive, one possibly by Sir William Chambers and an eye-catching obelisk erected in 1782, still impresses outside the demesne walls.

The baronetcy became extinct when the 10th Baronet, Sir Ernest, died in 1940; though Castle Dillon was sold in 1926 and has served for various purposes, including a nursing home for almost 20 years, since then.

The property accommodated around 76 residents and was always around 98% full and very successful. Unfortunately the company who acquired it from the Sandown group of nursing homes got into financial difficulty and the property was closed down and left vacant.

It was then vandalised but the main structure is still excellent and can be reinstated as a Nursing Home again as the demand for beds in the area is very high.

Another possible use, subject to planning permission, would be a hotel and leisure facility similar to Galgorm Manor and Spa or a Wedding Venue.  Another option to be considered is the conversion of the building into luxury apartments.

Only very seldom does the opportunity to acquire a property such as this arise and for interested parties, early viewing is recommended.

To be auctioned at the Stormont Hotel, Belfast.

Open Viewing Dates: Viewing By Appointment Only