Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Tied Up At Home

Craig contacted me today, letting me know that some NT volunteers are meeting at Gibb's Island, Strangford Lough, tomorrow; but, sadly, I need to remain at home due to the heating contractor fitting new pipes, connecting them, replacing radiators, water cylinder, boiler and more. It's practically impossible to leave.

Tomorrow they're fitting the immersion heater and the new condensing boiler, a Warmflow U70HE. They could well have the job finished by Thursday afternoon. Then it'll be my turn to put everything back in its place again! This is the first chance I've had to get to the computer all day.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

The Prospect From The Black Mountain, Belfast

I have not been too idle this weekend: preparing for the heating contractor next week who's fitting the new central heating system. So the carpets have been peeled back; furniture has been moved; and all manner of things uplifted to facilitate them. It hasn't been as hard as I thought.

We motored up to the National Trust's property overlooking Belfast this afternoon, Divis and the Black Mountain. Quite a few cars were parked at the car-park.

Every time I visit this lovely property, there is something new to see. Today I noticed more new fencing along the left-hand side of the road towards Divis Lodge. The lodge itself hasn't been renovated yet; however, the outbuilding at the side of the road now has a new, slate roof and guttering. Inside there are three rooms; the work is almost complete there. They are also constructing a modest toilet block behind the outbuilding.

I hiked along the meandering tarmac road upwards, towards the top of the Black Mountain. I saw the scorched earth where there had been a fire several months' ago. It's showing signs of rejuvenation already, I'm glad to say. Up at the former military base on the summit, it is really quite desolate. The radar installations are still there; but there's no sign of any military equipment at all.

From the top of Black Mountain, I strolled over the moorland downwards towards another old path; and back past Divis Lodge to the car-park. My compliments, yet again, to the National Trust for such a marvellous amenity.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Northern Ireland Police: Are They Up To The Job?

An expensive speed camera system has been installed on the main A2 carriageway towards Bangor in County Down. Since May, 2008, one motorist has been caught speeding. NI Police has been entrusted with the task of operating the scheme.

The Panic Button system in central Belfast has been out of order since Tuesday, 22nd July, 2008. Northern Ireland Police is in charge of it.

Does NI Police have sufficient resources to enable it to cope with Law and Order in the Province? If not, why not? Has the Northern Ireland Office a case to answer, since it is, technically, their paymaster?

I must disclose a certain bias at this point, because our home was burgled in 2004; and our car stolen in 2005. I am still awaiting word from NI Police about the crimes. I'm not holding my breath.

I wish to add, lest anyone is an any doubt, that I support the highest standards of British policing, Law and Order throughout the United Kingdom. Does the Lord Patten?

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Belfast Has A Mermaid

It was such a pleasant day today that I cycled into Town for a few hours. I'd arranged to meet an old colleague at the usual prearranged drinking-den, the Mermaid Inn in Wilson's Court.

First of all, I locked up the bike outside the central library in Royal Avenue and made for the upstairs reading-room where I studied the 2008 editions of Who's Who and Debrett; a little research for Lord Belmont, you know.

Some time later I ended up in Donegall Place; I ambled over to the Pen Shop in College Street, where I was served by a lovely lady and we chatted about...pens! It was quiet in the shop, so I showed her my Onoto and explained the story about Dr Oldfield and his pen practice business. I was really there to buy some ink; namely a bottle of Mont Blanc sepia ink - sepia being a brown, earthy colour.

At twelve forty-five I was seated comfortably in the Mermaid, tucking into their signature chicken and stuffing with all the trimmings, as well as garlic potatoes. I always enjoy it and, at £6.95, it's good value. Tim - my namesake - had a couple of beers while his lordship indulged in the requisite gin-and-tonic, times three. That put me in top form.

I'll see what I feel like tonight; I might return to the Globe for karaoke.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Lance Corporal Croucher, GC

Many congratulations to Lance-Corporal Matthew Croucher, Royal Marines, for the heroic deed he performed and the award of the George Cross.

Instituted in 1940 by HM King George VI, the George Cross was established to acknowledge extreme and outstanding gallantry; it is next in seniority to the Victoria Cross.

The GC is very sparingly given and there are twenty living recipients presently.

Smart New Colours For 2009

Cognizant of my slight obsession with the diminutive Smart cars, I've been trawling the web and noticed that two new colours shall feature for the 2009 model: Rally Red and Grey Metallic.

They're dropping the yellow and the metallic red, I believe.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Drummers Need To Be Fit As Fiddles

That's his lordship on the right there, doing his daily exercise with a mouse; and reading about the requisite fitness criteria for a career in rock-drumming. You can actually see the sweat falling from the old brow. Did somebody mention Lord Bath? Don't be ridiculous: Lord Bath hasn't a room like that. Then you think it was Lord Belmont myself in stouter times... I'll keep you guessing.

Jesting aside, it's potentially a dodgy pursuit for those of us with a spot of the old flab, or are challenged in a gastric sense. Steer clear of it, in other words. Cousin-once-removed Michael, if you're perusing this article you are doubtless well aware of the stamina involved at any rate. The calories must melt away when you're whacking the drums like the proverbial clappers. It'll be most helpful in regulating your weight, in future years at least.

Keep on rocking!

Monday, 21 July 2008

Lamentable Institutional Vandalism

The old Northern Ireland Ministry of Agriculture has had a shameful history of what could be termed institutional vandalism which, nowadays, would be unacceptable. I refer, namely, to several historic country houses which the Ministry acquired about fifty years ago with their parkland.

Tollymore Park, near Newcastle in County Down, was the Province's first forest park; and it came with its fine mansion-house which stood on the site of the present car-park. It was the seat of the Earls of Roden. The house was demolished in 1952.

Belvoir Park, near Belfast, was another fine demesne with a stately home dating to the mid-c18. It was originally the seat of the Viscount Dungannon; then the Lord Deramore. The house was, at one time, considered as the official residence of His Excellency the Governor of Northern Ireland; sadly, however, the estate was deemed too large for that purpose and the Ministry of Agriculture took it over. The house was demolished in 1961. The site is now a car-park.

Castle Archdale in County Fermanagh, a fine country estate with a noble manor-house which was built in 1773 was, yet again, acquired by you-know-who; the derelict mansion was allowed to rot until it, too, was demolished in 1970.

Here we have three prime examples. The Ministry acquired these historic houses as part of the country estates; the Ministry wilfully neglected them. They didn't know what to do with them; they certainly didn't want to spend any funds to maintain the houses, as was their responsibility. So they let them fall into more disrepair until the opportunity arose to have them condemned.

At least we can be thankful that the beautiful parkland remains and is well-kept. Had the Ministry been more proactive and imaginative, the aforementioned houses could have been utilized for other purposes - Gosford Castle, County Armagh, has been transformed into apartments for example.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Traditional Ulster Cooking At Its Best

Yet again, following a Sunday drive in a southerly direction along the County Down coast terminating at Donaghadee, we ended up at a favourite cafeteria: the Donaghadee Garden Centre café. I never cease to enjoy a meal at this place. It's the traditional Ulster home cooking using wholesome, fresh ingredients which does it.

Today we had cream of mushroom soup with a fresh roll; a sumptuous portion of chicken & ham pie with creamed potato, peas and mashed carrot and parsnip. Pudding was massive: lemon meringue pie with whipped cream.

One minor quibble: the helping of dessert was simply too large for me - I couldn't finish half of it. I'd hoped that the Dowager would be able to share it with me; however, this was not to be. I had to leave half of it, which was a shame and irked me somewhat. In future I'll be particularly careful when ordering. I wonder if they serve children's portions?

The chicken pie with vegetables was £6.95; the soup £3.95; lemon meringue & cream £3.50; and a beverage £1.60.

Radweld Fills The Gaps

I poured a small bottle of Radweld into my car radiator earlier in the week; and I peered under the bonnet yesterday to see the state of affairs in the radiator, which had been leaking for some period. I am delighted to say that, so far, the Radweld appears to be doing the trick; the section under the radiator is as dry as a bone.

We'll see. I shall keep an eye on it. Mind you, if it does do the job it will have been £3.99 exceedingly well spent. I'm wondering if I ought to pay Graham at Hillfoot Autos a courtesy visit to let him know - he was good enough to check under the bonnet and offer free advice...

Saturday, 19 July 2008

A Walk In The Woods

Today was a National Trust volunteer day and the venue was Killynether Woods near Newtownards in County Down. We met at 9.30am; there were six of us and the task was to uproot tiny sycamore saplings from a wooded clearing. The weather was OK.

Afterwards, we walked up the hill towards Scrabo Tower and had our packed lunches. Sausage & egg along with a flask of tea was on the menu for me today.

After lunch, we all drove to Island Hill which is between comber and Newtownards. Armed with litter-bags, we walked around the island and, I'm glad to report, there wasn't much litter at all; heck of a wind though.

It's been a dry afternoon at home, so I've taken the opportunity to mow the lawn.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Barry White: The Valedictory Column

I wish to express my most cordial regards towards a local journalist whom I hold in the highest esteem. I have not concurred with every single word that Barry White has penned; nor would I expect him to agree with every opinion of mine.

Nevertheless, I believe that Barry White, veteran columnist in the Belfast Telegraph that he is, has demonstrated his humanity, humour and wise judgement through his writing.

I shall miss his column in the newspaper; and I wish him and his family well in the future.

Figaro Singing In The Rain

Yesterday evening at the annual "Summer Big Screen" operatic event in Botanic Gardens, Belfast, was yet another washout. It was still dry when I left home; however, shortly after my arrival and just after I'd set up camp in a strategic position, it began to rain steadily for the next two and a half hours.

Imagine the scenario: seated on a picnic chair clutching a cumbersome umbrella, endeavouring to balance a glass of wine in one hand whilst grasping a sandwich in another. I eventually donned the Peter Storm gear and I stayed largely dry; only my shoes were damp. It was cold though.

My picnic was good. I'd bought a round of Tesco Finest salmon and cream cheese sandwiches, and a round of Finest ham & chutney; finished off with a raspberry panna cotta pudding. A mini bottle of bubbly completed the experience.

The opera itself was well up to Royal Opera standards: a great cast, fine acting and singing, wonderful props and orchestra.

I decided to pack up at the interval. Unlike the Irrepressible and the Intrepid, I wished to get home, shed my wet clothing and dry off.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Onoto Fountain Pen Restoration

When I got back from the gym at lunchtime there was a package in the hall from the postman: my restored Onoto pen. I wrote an article about it several months ago and decided to have it repaired.

It appears that the reason for its not functioning was a missing head mount. Dr Oldfield has done a splendid job. He has serviced it (£18), including re-finishing the oxidized ends; and supplied and fitted a new piston head mount (£6). Special delivery cost a fiver and he packaged it exceedingly well, with a little plastic case. The pen itself is now pristine, like new.

It writes beautifully; there really is nothing to touch such a fountain pen - even, dare I say, the august Mont Blanc.I hope and intend to start using it regularly.

Juvenile Blue Tits

Presently there are four or five young blue tits regularly visiting our feeders. They make a bee-line for the peanuts, which they adore. It's a joy to observe them. I've noticed very few young goldfinches so far; plenty of adult ones, as usual, though.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Fancy A Lunar Chop Suey?

I'll tell one thing about 'em: there aren't many places in the world where you cannot find a Chinese takeaway. Just about every town, at any rate.

Now they want to ensure that their dedicated takeaway junkies, his lordship included, have a home-from-home on the moon. Yes indeed, folks, they're already preparing for 2020 when they should have a fully-functioning Chinese lunar takeaway. Clearly they wish to ensure that they have their "carry-out" facility up and running prior to the American arrival.

One can only hope that they send someone like Miss Ching-He Huang to cater for my needs.

Next stop, Mars...

Glassware Ban

Belfast City Council has banned patrons from bringing cans or glassware tomorrow evening for the Opera In The Gardens event at Botanic Gardens in Belfast, in collaboration with BP and the Royal Opera House in London. Nothing new there; this has been the case from the very outset.

In practice, it means that picnickers are not permitted to bring their own bottles or cans of wine and beer. Obviously, where there's a will, there's a way. Booze could be transferred to a plastic bottle; or you could try to secrete a small bottle of champers under your clothing.

Still, it's an inconvenience. Is it because of the confounded health and safety police? Or simply an attempt to force people to buy the sponsors' offerings? Or perhaps both? I'm probably being cynical; they claim it's for safety reasons (i.e. trying to prevent thugs from assaulting each other with bottles).

As usual I shall provide my own refreshments. I have no idea what the caterers charge; I'll not be ripped off by them at any rate.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Encounter With Daft Eddy On Sketrick Island

Craig, if you are reading this there were five or six stalks of ragwort missed the last time you were on Gibb's Island! Fear not, I uprooted the blighters. Gibb's Island, near Killyleagh in County Down, was looking wonderful yesterday as I strolled around it. The potholes on the path have all been filled in with tons of stones. All is well.

We motored on towards Killinchy and Sketrick Island, Daft Eddy's base. Sketrick Island is a virtual peninsula with a permanent bridge or causeway. It lies on the western side of Strangford Lough and its most notable establishment is Daft Eddy's pub and restaurant. As we approached the pub yesterday it became obvious that they had cleared a substantial section of trees in front of the place, so it is now a lot more conspicuous from the mainland.

I do like Daft Eddy's. It was quite busy yesterday, but we still got a table in the middle of the pub. It's an atmospheric place with some character and friendly staff. They doubtless recognize us now since we've been giving our custom for a very long time.

I went up to the bar and ordered two small Carlsberg shandies (£2.90). At our table, we perused the tempting menu and eventually opted for duck spring rolls with side salad; scampi with garlic potatoes, salad and coleslaw. I invariably request more tartare sauce - I like it so much.

One small gripe. I'm no expert, but I thought scampi was another name for langoustine or Dublin Bay prawns. What size are langoustines? Perhaps, nowadays, the term "scampi" is all-encompassing and refers to a small part of it. Certainly most pub scampi, and the supermarket variety in breadcrumbs, is diminutive.

Having got that off my chest, the meal was delicious. I ate the lot and my plate was as clean as a proverbial whistle. I complimented them too.

The scampi was £10.75; coleslaw £1.50; duck rolls £5.75. I felt generous and evened the bill up to twenty pounds.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

The Band Of The King's Division

It is most welcome to see that the band of the King's Division is playing at the annual garden party of the Irish President, at Her Excellency's official residence at Phoenix Park in Dublin.

The Irish President's official residence was formerly the summer, or out-of-season, residence of our sovereign's Viceroy, or Lord-Lieutenant, of Ireland, before partition when Ireland chose to leave the United Kingdom.

HM Lord-Lieutenant For County Antrim

Lord O'Neill is to retire as Her Majesty's Lord-Lieutenant for County Antrim on 1st September, 2008. He has held the office since 1994.

Lord O'Neill shall be succeeded by Mrs Joan Christie, OBE, DL.

Bennett's On Belmont: On The Twelfth

Our usual Saturday haunt, the Bay Tree in Holywood, was closed today, as were most establishments; so we drove down Belmont Road, Belfast, and, lo and behold, Bennett's On Belmont was the sole place open. It is the glorious Twelfth, after all!

Since Bennett's was the only café open, they were doing a steady trade and selling plenty of cooked breakfasts. We ordered two filter coffees, one mocha coffee, one cherry scone and one vanilla muffin. Service was prompt, my coffee good and the muffin fresh and tasty too. The total bill was £8.10 and I left a 50p tip.

I took the opportunity to tell my aunt about my exploits at the Globe bar, Tesco Knocknagoney's big extension project and Sir Winston's parrot!

Sir Winston's Centenarian Parrot

Here's an astounding tale: I had absolutely no idea about the longevity of the parrot. It's hard to believe, but Sir Winston Churchill's pet parrot, Charlie, is still alive. Charlie was born in 1899, we are told; and Sir Winston taught him to utter obscenities about our erstwhile German foe. It's a great little story.

Sir Winston Churchill's grandfather was the 7th Duke of Marlborough.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Mayoral Transport

The Right Honourable the Lord Mayor of Belfast's official car was parked outside Belfast City Hall this morning. Admittedly it does have a sense of presence and style; it certainly doesn't look very old. It's in showroom condition.

It's a BMW 740i long wheelbase in navy blue; registration number 3WZ, with a coat-of-arms flying from a pennant on the bonnet. I can see why the city fathers may wish to hold on to it for a while yet. Regrettably I don't have a picture of it; I forgot my camera.

Karaoke Around The Globe

I did a most unusual thing last night: I kicked off the slippers, stuck a few bank-notes in my pocket, put on a cheap watch and drove over to Belfast's university quarter, where the Globe Bar is located. I'd emailed them to check about the karaoke and when it started; and I was informed that the DJ arrived at nine-thirty. In the event, it didn't begin till about ten forty-five.

I parked at University Street and a short walk around the corner, to University Road, got me to the Globe. Formerly it was called the Elms Pub. It's very much a student pub. Quite austere inside, with a metallic ceiling, "used-look" parquet floor, plenty of wooden counters, a pool table, lots of TV screens; smoke-free!

Armed with a half-pint of Carlsberg shandy, I took a seat on a bar-stool and observed. Nothing much happened at all till the DJ arrived and the music began. There were three girls just across the floor from me. The youngest - I think - looked like a sixteen year-old (are they allowed in bars?). She was a pretty girl, vivacious, pert, confident, very petite indeed and slim as a rake. She wore trendy blue jeans, white shoes and a T-shirt. She must have caught me looking at her, because she teased me for the rest of the evening by dancing erotically and opening her mouth in a suggestive way right in front of me! I've no conception as to whether she knew I fancied her or not (which I did!) - I smiled the whole time - but I imagine she felt safe with her pals; and I must have been three times her age too. Perhaps I'll return next week and, if they're there, buy them all a drink as a friendly gesture. They appreciated my singing.

I sang a few old favourites: the Piano Man and Candle In The Wind. The old vocal chords were performing at full power. After that I didn't linger and headed home about eleven forty-five. The half-pint lasted the whole evening. I must admit that I rather enjoyed it.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Food Mountain

The Prime Minister has given us a lecture about wasting food in our homes. Fair enough; I think he has a point. I hate seeing food wasted. We seldom throw out any surplus food, whether it's past its use-by date or for any other reason. If there are any leftover crumbs, the wild birds get them.

There is probably a lot more food wasted in the catering industry: restaurants, hotels, cafeterias, supermarkets and other places. I inevitably see plates in restaurants with half of the food uneaten; and that includes fast-food restaurants too. It's so wasteful and I blame the consumer. Some people simply order too much food instead of sharing it with their families or friends. Huge pizzas are ordered for toddlers who have absolutely no notion whatsoever of finishing them. What's the point?

So the Prime Minister could have mentioned the catering industry and consumers' responsibilities there also.

Balmoral Road Trip

The traffic was fairly light this morning; the holiday period is imminent and the roads are quieter. I revisited the Public Records Office NI to see if another member of staff would photocopy an A4-size section of an old chart for me; alas, they seem to have a rigid policy about that now so there was no joy there.

I motored on to Halford's store and bought some car radiator anti-leak fluid; then on to The Smart car showroom. There's still no news about the 84 bhp model having micro-hybrid-drive (MHD). However, there will be a limited edition model in 71 bhp with special wheels, paint and upholstery. I saw a brochure and I wasn't fussy about the wheels or light-blue paint; but I particularly liked the "used-look" cognac brown leather. Perhaps it will be an option next year on all models instead of black leather.

I lunched at Fulton's Hawthorn Restaurant: minced-beef tart with salad and coleslaw; individual banoffee pie with whipped cream. Sumptuous. The mince tart was £5.95; coleslaw £1.35; dessert £1.65; and cream 40p. Long Live Fulton's!

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Crisp Allegiance Change

Up until now, we've been munching away at Kettle crisps and Tesco Finest crisps; there's been a change of policy. The current favourite is Walker's Sensations Caramelized Onion With Balsamic Vinegar.

They taste exceedingly similar to pickled onion to me; however, that's fine - I like pickled onion. My change of allegiance is due to flavour, uniform shape, evenness of browning and size.

The fact that they're British is a bonus.

No Swimming At The Old School

I'm suffering from aquatic deprivation. I usually swim two hundred lengths of the pool at the old school four times a week. Now that they're closed for the summer holidays, I'm driving to the leisure centre instead. So far I'm spending twenty minutes - two hundred calories - on a rowing contraption.

I'm looking forward to the College re-opening already. One thing's for sure: I intend to keep myself fit in the interim.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Poor Hygienic Example

The issue of basic hygiene standards and, in particular, television cookery programmes has been raised at the British Medical Association conference in Edinburgh.

I never noticed poor standards myself; however, I shall say this: there is one cook chef on the BBC's Ready Steady Cook programme with a hippy hair style. He's never off that programme; I have trouble avoiding him and switch channels when the man appears. This man ought, surely, to be wearing a chef's hat or, at least, have his hair tied back. It's unhygienic in any kitchen.

Some kind soul ought to send him electric hair-clippers as a Christmas present, and do us all a favour.

Sainsbury's Salad Bar

I do like the idea of Sainsbury's salad bar. It is most convenient, providing they have it well stocked. I was there the other day and grabbed a small container to fill up with the salad selection. Slightly disappointingly, half of the salad bar receptacles were empty so there wasn't much choice. I mentioned this to a staff member, who replenished some of them. Nevertheless, it is a great facility and the small size is a mere 99 pence.

It's a wonder that Tesco doesn't have salad bars, at least not in Northern Ireland; because salad bars in their stores would undoubtedly be most popular. Tesco, seemingly, give exceedingly low priority to Customer Service (in my experience).

Car Engine Leak

There seems to be a small leak under the engine of the two-seater. I've just noticed it within the last few days. I thought, at first, that it may be an oil leak.

I drove to a local garage, Hillfoot Autos, on Knock Road, Belfast, and they inspected it from underneath a ramp. Certainly not oil; more likely water mixed with anti-freeze, so it could be coming from the radiator.

They can't fix it now anyway, so I'll simply keep an eye on water levels till after the holidays. Hopefully it'll disappear (wishful thinking).

The head honcho at Hillfoot seems a decent chap, so I may well give them future business. They charge twenty pounds per hour plus VAT.

I think I was ripped off by another mechanic the last time an ignition coil was fitted. Yes, he had to check the coils; yes, he phoned up a colleague for advice; yes, he needed to obtain the part; yes, he drove away at two-thirty and returned about eight forty-five that evening. But he charged sixty pounds for labour, thirty-five pounds for the coil and the coil was plugged in in seconds. He sent me to another garage in Lisburn to have the computer re-set too which cost twenty pounds. Perhaps that is par for the course, his coming out to fix it, getting the part from a dealership etc. I don't know; I just feel it was dear for something that took seconds to fit.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Gripping Final

Since rain has temporarily ceased play at the Wimbledon men's final, I 've taken the opportunity to comment on the royal box: I spotted HRH The Duke of Kent, TRH Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, Lady Annabel Goldsmith, the Governor of the Bank of England, the Rt Hon Peter Hain MP, Bjorn Borg... and a Hyacinth Bucket lookalike seated directly behind him.

Lady Annabel is Lord Londonderry's sister and daughter of the 8th Marquess of Londonderry. Lady Mairi Bury, incidentally, who lives at Mount Stewart in County Down, is her great-aunt.

P.S. Also present among the dignitaries were TRH The Prince and Princess of Asturias.

Slap It On!

Fear not, the Godmother has just paid a visit and a modest sherry has been imbibed. Still as sober as the Lord Chancellor.

About Dr Who and his pal Davros: has anyone told the Davros lad that he could do with a touch of the old suncream? I'd suggest that old prune-face slaps on some Tesco factor fifteen; shouldn't set him back too much.

Castle Hill Chinese Takeaway, Belfast

I relish Chinese cuisine. I've tried a lot of takeaways in my neighbourhood and we keep going back to the Castle Hill which is on Upper Newtownards Road, close to the North Road junction. Sam, the head honcho, usually answers the phone to take the order; he advises me if they're busy and it'll take thirty or forty minutes. Last night it took under fifteen minutes.

I'm not really adventurous, so most of the meals we order have been tried and tested before. We ordered one prawn cocktail and one king prawn kung po with fried rice (number 24).

The prawn cocktail is very good if you like the taste of the seventies British classic. There's a lot of lettuce; however, overall it's generous enough and tasty. The sauce is good. It cost three pounds.

The prawn kung po was very good indeed: the sauce a good consistency and not too fiery; a fair amount of vegetables with pineapple. The prawns were juicy and quite large and coated with a light batter. That set me back six pounds twenty.

I only recall one occasion when I had a standard sweet & sour meal with something in batter - and the batter was overdone. It's never recurred since then. I have to confess that I still like the classic sweet and sour chicken in batter now and again; it's probably the least healthy item on the menu, but I seem to crave batter!

Delivery is a pound and their phone number is 9047 1597.

Are Blow Heaters Uneconomical?

Stephen, a fellow-blogger, has brought my attention to the humble blow-heater and its energy-guzzling prowess.

Several years ago I was shopping in Halford's for some car polish and I noticed a rather substantial stock-pile of boxed blow-heaters near the entrance of the store. They were on offer for a fiver each. I thought of the Dowager and how useful one of these bargains would be; at a fiver there'd not be much to lose, even if it only lasted a year or two. So I made the purchase.

Three or four years later, the trusty blow-heater is still spewing out hot air in the requisite direction. It has three settings and we keep it at the lowest level; are these contraptions heavy on the old electrical juice?

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Restorative Required As Prescribed

Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother enjoyed a modest restorative occasionally. We have that in common. Queen Elizabeth's daughter, Her Majesty The Queen, has acquired similar tastes with regard to liquor: a concoction of gin and dubonnet.

I prefer to take a hip-flask with me occasionally; the preferred mixture of Scotch and Drambuie contained therein. It is known as a rusty nail.

New Odeon Cinema In Belfast

Belfast's latest cinema complex shows its first films to the general public on Friday, 18th July. It has eight screens: screen one is the biggest, with 465 seats; screen seven the smallest with seating for 102.

Standard price for an adult ticket is £6.20, although there are fifteen other price variants. Tickets can, of course, be booked online but there is a card-handling fee of seventy pence for this facility.

The Odeon Belfast is situated on the second floor of Victoria Square shopping centre at Victoria Street in central Belfast.

I'll definitely pay them a visit as soon as there's a movie I fancy; hopefully in the next month or so.

Alternative Fuels To Petrol

It's encouraging to see that motor manufacturers are competing to find innovative and alternative means of running our vehicles instead of petrol. Within the next decade we ought to see significant changes. Hydrogen seems to be the main alternative in the longer term.

In the short term, Mercedes-Benz will introduce models imminently which run on fuel other than petrol.

The sooner the better.

Friday, 4 July 2008

His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, KBE

The Aga Khan certainly isn't short of a bob or two; world leaders and heads-of-state seem to form an orderly queue to meet His Highness. I have noticed in the Media that he is having a new motor yacht constructed in Plymouth: the Alamshar. The cost? One hundred million pounds, give or take the odd hundred thousand.

His Highness is a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

Shopping Around?

It doesn't really surprise me that many shoppers are being more "promiscuous" in their shopping habits, the economic climate being as it is. In practice this means that shops like the German chain, Lidl, are selling more goods. Unsurprisingly, top-end food stores, like Marks and Spencer, are suffering because some shoppers are "trading down" to the likes of Tesco or whatever.

We have always shopped at different stores. Quite simply, we shop wherever it suits us and at whichever store stocks our favourite foods; for instance, Tesco milk and wholemeal bread is fine. We particularly like Sainsbury's natural Greek-style yoghurt with honey; their streaky bacon crisps up well too.

By and large, I prefer to buy goods sourced, where possible, from within the United Kingdom, within reason naturally. I'm mainly referring to staples such as bread, milk, meat, fruit and vegetables. Years ago, Marks and Spencer in Northern Ireland sold thin British streaky bacon rashers. I arrived one day only to find that they had ceased stocking them for a non-British variety. So I have not regularly shopped at M&S food-halls in the Province for that very reason. I haven't boycotted them; I'm just careful about what I buy and check labels.

I stopped going to Lidl's for the same reason: many of the food staples were, at the time, sourced from outside the UK. Perhaps that situation has changed.

The old cliché, Shop Around, still prevails and is as pertinent as ever.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

The Beneficence & Largesse Of Gordon Brown

The Prime Minister is going to consider the impending two pence increase in Fuel Duty very carefully. Big Deal. Seventy per cent of the cost of fuel is in tax anyway. Their munificence towards the motorist is boundless.

Sanitized Bothy Minus Fire And Cooker

On Saturday, whilst on Salt Island in Strangford Lough, we ambled from one side of the island to the other. In the middle there was a makeshift dump the builders were using for discarded stuff, like the old gas cooker.

Sadly the cooker shan't be replaced in the renovated bothy; campers must make their own cooking arrangements. There may not even be any gas cylinders. As I alluded to earlier, the open fire has been replaced by an enclosed wood-burner. So no more cosy log fires.

To be fair, many of these new regulations have been imposed upon the National Trust by Government bodies like the Health and Safety Executive.

For instance, if there's an organized youth party camping at the bothy, any other campers must stay elsewhere on the island (more regulations).

Ah well, we'll see how it all works in practice.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Rare Visitor

We were watching the Murray/Nadal tennis match this evening when I spotted a sparrowhawk perched on top of our feeders. I hardly ever see them; once or twice a year. This one had missed its prey: the feral pigeons had long gone. If the hawk had come during the day there would have been an abundant choice.

North-South Divide

What struck me yesterday, whilst watching Wimbledon, was the fine summer weather in the metropolis while we, in Belfast, suffered the complete opposite. It was a good example of the varied climate we have in the United Kingdom.

The weather forecast isn't quite so good for today at Wimbledon, when young Andy Murray flies the Scottish British flag representing our last hope. I intend to watch his match against Señor Nadal. Hopefully it will be exciting to watch, not a walkover.

I took the opportunity to spread some fertilizer on the lawn this morning; I shall sow some grass-seed next week and rake it into the existing grass.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Electricity Bill Savings

It's no secret that many governments, including our own, want us to change from using old-fashioned traditional light-bulbs to the energy-efficient variety; moreover, they want to phase the old ones out.

We've been using the energy-efficient bulbs for a few years and, I can tell you, it has been one of my better decisions. We also had two, elderly, energy-guzzling freezers and I got rid of those for an A+ rated large freezer.

Since then our electricity bills have been substantially lower. I actually thought there'd been a mistake when we received the first bill after our conversion.

So I don't really need to offer any advice; the narrative above speaks for itself. Just do it!