Saturday, 21 March 2009

In The Canaries

The bags are packed. Last-minute tasks have been completed. I'll shortly be travelling southwards, to the Canary Islands, for a holiday.

I'll endeavour to write a few postings, if I manage to find a convenient computer; the hotel will have one; it all depends on what they charge! If there's an internet café in the resort I shall, most likely, use that.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Value Pizza Review

I have just eaten Tesco's Value Cheese & Tomato mini Pizza. I followed their instructions to the book, baking it at 200c for seven minutes. I use a Salter thermometer in the oven.

I added sliced shallot, cherry tomato and honey to the topping.

My verdict? Not bad. Value for money at 49p. Personally, I found the base dry, though; especially at the edges.

The dryness puts me off. More expensive pizzas, like the Pizza Express variety, aren't dry at the edges.

It was an interesting test, though I probably shan't buy the value ones again.

Pine Lodge's Future

I have read, on the internet, that several care homes in Belfast have been threatened with closure. This threat has come under the guise of the government's "comprehensive spending review", thanks, no doubt, to Mr Brown; and those charged with ultimate responsibility happen to be the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, their head honcho being William McKee, Esq., CBE.

One of those residential homes is Pine Lodge, at 186, Belmont Road, Belfast. It is opposite Strathearn Girls' School.

This concerns me. Cognizant of this, I respectfully urge all those who care to write to Mr McKee expressing their support for these facilities in Belfast.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Ventry Street Service

I left the two-seater off at Euro Auto Service in Ventry Street, Belfast, this morning for the fitment of a new ignition coil. Two down, four more to go! This is the second coil to wear out within twelve months, and the roadster has six.

Mind you, Bernard seems to be very good. He runs a tight ship in Ventry Street, with about four mechanics. He always shows you the faulty part when your car is ready. True to his word, the repair took an hour so; and having settled the £100 account I motored home. It was eleven-thirty, too early for lunch at Molly's Yard where I had intended to go.

While I awaited the repair, I walked into Town. I spent some time in the Belfast Welcome Centre at Donegall Place. On the way out there was a pile of Belfast Telegraph newspapers on the floor and they were complimentary, so I helped myself to one and the dreadful headlines about the tragic death of Natasha Richardson, wife of Liam Neeson, OBE.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Valuable Experiment

I watched a programme last week called, I think, Tonight; and it was about an experiment carried out by the Money Saving expert, Martin Lewis.

He conducted a test, whereby one or two families bought supermarket "value" own-brand products instead of their usual proprietary brands. The results were surprising.

The family members were, naturally, not informed that they were eating value groceries. By and large, they didn't notice any difference, in most cases!

I have tried a little experiment myself, this morning. I bought Value Butter, 84p; Value Sparkling Water, 12p; Value mini Pizza, 46p; and the Value toilet roll which, at £1.17 for four is fine and does the job quite sufficiently, as we buy it all the time!

The Value Baked Beans are great value. The juice can be poured off, extra purée, honey and Worcestershire sauce added.

There are, of course, groceries I shan't skimp on, viz. eggs, meat, bread etc.

I'll add extra ingredients to the pizza, viz. more tomato purée, onion, honey, cheese etc. and I'll report back with my conclusions!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Music At Springhill

The National Trust sent me a leaflet containing information about a concert at their County Londonderry property, Springhill, near the village of Moneymore.

The Glenn Miller Tribute Orchestra will be performing there on Saturday, the 25th April, 2009, at 7pm. It is possible to book online.

St Patrick's Day

Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal presenting shamrock to the Irish Guards.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Exemplary Vegetable Garden

If you have been following the BBC Four series called Sissinghurst, you shall be aware about the National Trust's - and the donor family's - efforts to create a new, organic vegetable garden on the Estate. Its principal purpose is to supply the restaurant with a mainly self-sufficient crop of fresh fruit and vegetables. It extends to 3½ acres. The home farm is 259 acres in total.

I strongly support this idea. I feel that this is the way the Trust ought to go in as many properties as is feasible. Sissinghurst is in Kent, one of the mildest counties in the United Kingdom. What would thrive in Kentish soil, may not always be appropriate in other regions, viz. County Down or elsewhere in Northern Ireland. Perhaps unused walled gardens may suit this purpose admirably.

Notwithstanding that obvious fact, it should be possible to supply the Trust's restaurants in such properties as Mount Stewart, Castle Ward, Florence Court, Springhill and the Argory with home-grown produce; and I'm utterly convinced that this could be an excellent marketing tool for the Trust at its regional properties, as well as using surplus farmland for such a purpose.

Perhaps the National Trust head office, with Dame Fiona Reynolds, DBE, at the helm, have this aim in mind already. I do hope so.

Ulster Hall Open Day

It's impressive. I can certainly attest to that. I arrived a bit early on Sunday, at eleven o'clock; and the tour didn't begin till noon. However, I spent my spare time viewing the exhibition of Carey murals running along the left-hand corridor.

These paintings are about a hundred years old. They have been completely restored as well as possible by expert conservators. Though not fine works of art, they are nevertheless fascinating, depicting such scenes as the old long bridge in Belfast; Belfast harbour; the Dublin Road Turnpike; High Street in the 17th century, and so on.

The Ulster Hall itself now looks splendid itself. It has been given an impressive face-lift and the interior space has been transformed, aesthetically at least. The upstairs seating is now capable of swivelling; the colour scheme is much more subtle, with pastel blue and white shades; some intricate details have been gilded; the stairs and some other areas have been carpeted. I can't wait till my first concert again.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

The Jalopy's Revenge

The two-seater has not taken kindly to its being traded-in in a few months' time. I started her this morning and, within seconds, I knew instantly that the same fault had emerged, the one which occurred almost a year ago: another ignition coil is faulty, causing the engine to misfire and a warning light illuminates on the dashboard.

Rectification was quite a costly affair a year ago, not to mention the time and trouble required. I'll give the garage a ring in the morning. It's really just a matter of figuring out which coil is faulty, unplugging it and replacing it with a new one. In theory.

The trouble is that I wouldn't know how to tell which coil is faulty. Then there's the little matter of the warning light; it had to be re-set the last time by some type of diagnostic instrument at a cost of £20. I drove to Lisburn to get that done, too.

Long Live Victoria

By the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Queen, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India.

Thus Her Most Excellent Majesty Queen Victoria was officially styled. Born at Kensington Palace in 1819, Victoria succeeded her uncle, King William IV, in 1838; married her most beloved husband Prince Albert, the Prince Consort, in 1840.

Queen Victoria died at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight in 1901; and is still our longest serving Monarch. To date.

As it may have been gathered, I went to the local cinema last night to see The Young Victoria. I was not disappointed, either. I tend to choose the films I watch quite carefully these days, so I had an idea it would be good, anyway.

This movie is an accomplished historical period piece, sumptuous and splendid in its settings and costumes; most sympathetic and realistically true to the characters portrayed. I'd say it is not unlike The Duchess in its nature. Those of us who enjoyed The Duchess shall, most probably, be predisposed to The Young Victoria.

Emily Blunt played the Sovereign's role magnificently, as did the rest of the cast. Handel's moving Coronation Anthem, Zadok The Priest, featured constantly throughout the film.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Digging For Minnowburn

There were about eight of us at Minnowburn today, including a new volunteer. We worked up at the Rose Garden, planting herbs and other flora. The wall surrounding the garden had been filled in with concrete which has now been removed. The gaps have been filled with soil and we are planting flowers therein.

We spent about three hours before downing our tools and heading back to the warden's office for lunch. I'd brought some cakes from Marks and Spencer for everyone, as a sort of treat.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Belfast's Latest Hotel

The latest edition to Belfast's ever-increasing number of hotels is opening later. It is called the Fitzwilliam Hotel, and it is a sister hotel to its namesake in Dublin. It is located at 1, Great Victoria Street. It stands beside - and looks down on - the Grand Opera House. The new hotel will doubtless receive a fair percentage of visiting actors, among others. It boasts 130 luxurious bedrooms.

These hotels may be named after the Earls Fitzwilliam, the 10th earl of whom died in 1979 when the earldom became extinct. I await elucidation from the hotel about this.

This block between Grosvenor Road and Glengall Street was originally a terrace of five-storey homes from 1835. The terrace was demolished in 1905 to make way for Mr Crewe's new theatre, the Hippodrome.

The Royal Hippodrome theatre, pictured right, stood here in 1907, although it suffered an unsympathetic renovation in 1960 when much of the façade was butchered and it was renamed the Odeon cinema. Its name changed, again, in 1974 to become the New Vic cinema.

My father used to take me to this cinema to see the latest James Bond films during the late sixties and early seventies.

O'Neill's New Restaurant

I notice that Lord Rathcavan's son and heir, the Honourable François O'Neill, has bought his father's celebrated Knightsbridge restaurant, the Brompton Bar and Grill. Mr O'Neill is a qualified chef.

An article can be read here.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Advice Sought!

I have to tax the two-seater shortly. Six months' car tax costs £115.50. The new baby two-seater is due to arrive in late May or early June, so three months' tax would remain on the present jalopy; and that equates to about sixty pounds.

The baby two-seater will have twelve months' car tax included, at £35; and, they assure me, a tank of petroleum.

The question I put to you is this: Do I remove the tax disc from the roadster prior to trading-in; or do I forget about it and let money-bags Agnew's benefit from it? I have no wish to be naughty; nor to risk any reproach from them, by the way! When the salesman examined the car, the tax had barely a month remaining; nor was there any mention of it during negotiations.

All forthcoming answers and opinions will be much appreciated...

Chelsea Pensioners

I've been following the BBC Two series about life at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. What a remarkable institution. Indeed it is regimented; though that suits the Pensioners, having served in our Armed Forces.

The officers wear mufti, lounge suits; and the Pensioners wear a uniform, the most conspicuous part of it being the scarlet tunic coupled with a tricorn hat. The Governor is usually a senior general; and his deputy a major-general.

The Royal Hospital is gradually moving with the times and now, in these days of equal opportunities, it has been felt that the doors ought to be opened to female Pensioners.

The very first lady Pensioners are arriving this week.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

A Neat Solution

The new baby two-seater does not arrive till late May or June and, since it doesn't have a spare tyre, I've thought of a solution.

Notwithstanding a most sufficient two year warranty, including emergency breakdown, I don't trust myself to have my mobile phone at hand all the time, let alone in the car!

The answer? Argos sell this bit of kit which is manufactured by Holt's. It's called Tyreweld and the Argos kit is good value since it includes a 400ml canister of the stuff; aluminium torch with batteries; polyester, high-visibility jacket; latex gloves; and a kit-bag too.

It seems just the ticket in the unlikely event of a puncture whilst en route.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

The Murder Of Pc Carroll

Police Constable Stephen Paul Carroll, Northern Ireland Police, was murdered yesterday. His murder was cowardly, brutal and carried out by a low, fanatical thug.

A 17 year-old youth has been arrested in connexion with Pc Carroll's murder. I earnestly hope and pray that the heinous perpetrator, whomsoever it may be, is apprehended, charged, convicted and spends the rest of their life rotting in jail.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Essential Filling-In

The trip to the dentist wasn't too bad. That's it over and done with, hopefully. It took him 25 minutes to do the job; and I am £29.36 less well off as a consequence. While the anaesthetic took effect, my teeth were cleaned.

I had a chat with Ivan about motoring and holidays, as is often the case.

A Deal Is Signed

I really didn't believe it would happen. I was prepared to bide my time for another year or more. The signals I was getting from them were not good, from my perspective.

I have wrestled with a dilemma over the two-seater we own now, a truly wonderful car. It is greatly admired and commands a certain presence. Despite this, I usually drive about Town, and if we are on a longer drive, I rarely exceed 50-55 mph; I doubt if I have ever exceeded the 70mph speed limit.

Since I bought it a mere two years ago, the Government's drive to encourage "greener" vehicles has been a factor. I resent paying high car taxes and fuel costs. Despite this, I currently drive less than 5,000 miles per annum. The roadster will require a new set of run-flat tyres eventually, too. I do not consider myself truly "green". Costs have been the motivating factor, not saving the planet. That said, I dare say I could claim to be greener than average!

Despite this scenario, I motored across Belfast to the Smart Car centre at Isaac Agnew's dealership, again, this morning. I remained in good humour, though steadfast (as, no doubt, Agnew's will testify).

The deal is done; I've signed along the dotted line and handed them a deposit. We finally agreed on a price to change.

I have ordered a Smart ForTwo Passion Coupé turbo 84 BHP with piles of extras: Metallic grey paint; black leather heated seats; lockable glove box; front fog lights; power steering; electric mirrors; velour floor mats; chrome package; and two-tone horn. The illustration does not have the chromium grille, wing-mirrors or rear trim.

It is due to be delivered in late May or early June. Twelve months' road tax is currently £35. I drove one about a year ago and I have reviewed the experience here. Agnew's have provided me with an insurance estimate of £215 although, quite frankly, I'll probably stick with my current insurer until the next renewal date, at least.

I'm off for a filling at my dentist's this afternoon, too.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

John Dory's: Still Great

I'd intended going to see a movie in Belfast last night. I even considered having a meal as well. Victoria Square came to mind; parking at Gloucester Street and walking a few minutes to the complex. The Odyssey Pavilion also came to mind; though there's not the same choice of restaurants at the Odyssey as at Victoria Square. The Film? The Young Victoria. Anything with Julian Fellowes' involvement must be good (Brideshead Revisited comes to mind).

In the event, I couldn't be bothered! The weather was dreary last night, so I battened down the hatches. Not before jumping into the two-seater and motoring over to the preferred fish-and-chip emporium, John Dory's.

Dory's remains a force to be reckoned with, in the heady world of cod-fish and fried spuds. They continue to give their rivals a good battering (forgive the floury language please). I tried a new fish-and-chip shop several weeks ago; however, I'm pleased to say, Dory's remain as principal purveyors of traditional fish suppers to the Belmont household (and possibly the Earldom itself).

They run a professional, well-oiled and sedulous operation; consistent standards, too, in my experience. Last night the chips, in particular, had real flavour. Sometimes chips can be tasteless; not this variety. The onion rings were freshly prepared, very large and, again, using real onion slices with a golden batter. It was a generous portion for £1.70.

So I whacked the stuff in the boot and whizzed back to put the old feet up, figuratively speaking.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Is O'Leary Going Potty?

The boss of the Irish budget airline Ryanair, Mr Michael O'Leary, informs us all that he is considering a loo charge on his flights. I take a dim view of this. Obviously passengers could anticipate this tariff by using the airport lavatory immediately prior to embarkation.

I think I'd bring an empty plastic bottle and a modesty towel rather than pay O'Leary to use his toilets; that may never occur, hopefully, since I have never had the pleasure of flying on his aircraft. Nor do I intend to.

Such an attitude towards passengers is out-dated, strikingly disrespectful, arrogant, ignorant and unacceptable as far as I am concerned.

Friday, 6 March 2009

The Ulster Hall: Its Restoration

Following a major refurbishment and extensions, which has lasted almost two years, Belfast's oldest concert hall is finally re-opening this evening.

Completed in 1862, the newly refreshed Ulster Hall is classical in style. Interestingly, the original coat-of-arms on top of the façade may have been that of the Hall's patrons, the Mulholland family, Barons Dunleath. Indeed, the 4th Baron, who sadly died in 1993, was a passionate supporter of the Hall and occasionally played the grand organ there. I have fond memories of Henry Dunleath.

The Ulster Hall, at 30, Bedford Street, was sold to Belfast City Council in 1902 and, in 1959, a new shield depicting the Red Hand of Ulster replaced the Mulholland arms. This shield is displayed at the very top of the building.

In 1862 this splendid building was one of the biggest concert halls in the British Isles, with a capacity of 2,000.

The mighty Mulholland pipe organ still dominates the auditorium; though, sadly, the Group Theatre within the building has now closed down and the space has reverted to its intended purpose as a function room.

The Hall is now the headquarters of the Ulster Orchestra. I'm intending to visit the Ulster Hall on the 15th March, a public open day.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Prince Philip Visits Northern Ireland

While I motored along the Sydenham by-pass yesterday morning at ten o'clock, a large cortege of police motor-cyclists followed closely by three black Range-Rovers with blue lights flashing overtook me. That normally indicates Royalty, a Head of State or the Prime Minister.

I discounted Brown, who was in the USA. I get most of the local news from the BBC Northern Ireland website. I checked it when I got home and there was no mention of a royal visit. Had I missed something? I know they chop and change their news site frequently. I would concede that it may have been mentioned on the Newsline television programme; however, since I do not watch that, I wouldn't have known.

I happened to be reading the Daily Telegraph today at lunch-time and, in the Court Circular, I read this entry:-

4th March, 2009
"The Duke of Edinburgh, Patron, this morning attended a Reception at Hillsborough Castle for young people who have achieved the Gold Standard in The Duke of Edinburgh's Award and was received by Her Majesty's Lord-Lieutenant of County Down (Mr. William Hall).
His Royal Highness this afternoon visited the Hilton Hotel, Belfast, to commemorate its Tenth Anniversary, and was received by Her Majesty's Lord-Lieutenant of the County Borough of Belfast (the Lady Carswell).
The Duke of Edinburgh, Patron, subsequently attended a Luncheon at the Hilton Hotel for The Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme in Northern Ireland.
His Royal Highness, Captain General, Royal Marines, this evening held a Dinner at Buckingham Palace to mark the Special Boat Service Association's Sixty Fifth Anniversary".

Whether or not BBC NI was gracious enough to provide us with information about Prince Philip's visit to the Province, I'm doing it myself. You'll possibly obtain more royal news from Lord Belmont than that lot!

Lunch At Molly's Yard

It was virtually impossible to find a parking space near College Green in Belfast today. It's most likely the same every day. Eventually I found a space on Botanic Avenue. I bought a Daily Telegraph and ambled up the Avenue towards Molly's Yard. In case you don't know, Molly's is a bar and restaurant in College Green Mews; the entrance is actually in Botanic Avenue, just round the corner from College Green.

This was my very first visit to the establishment. You walk through a kind of entry and wander right to the rear of this former coach-house and stables attached to College Green House. I pushed the door open and stood surveying the place. There were about four others there. The waiter showed me to a small table opposite the bar-counter and presented me with the menu.

Before I elaborate, I should add that the bar is tiny: no more than about five or six small tables. I was seated on a narrow, wooden bench with cushions scattered everywhere. It's an intriguing little place, really; certainly cosy, with a particular ambiance and engaging staff.

The waiter explained how he couldn't write the list of "specials" on the black-board, so he recited them aloud. I ordered the home-made beef-burger with onion jam and Oakwood smoked cheddar cheese, served with chunky chips and mixed leaves. I waited about fifteen minutes for this, which is fair enough because it was cooked to order. Everyone else waited a similar time, too.

The meal arrived on a trendy, oblong, white plate. The burger was about two inches thick! Genuinely meaty and well seasoned. It was skewered with a wooden cocktail-stick. The cheese and onion chutney sat atop. The chips were real: Home-made, chunky; dry on the exterior and quite fluffy inside. I liked it. My bill was £8.50 for the hamburger and £1.75 for the large apple-juice.

I wandered upstairs on my way out, in order to have a look at the dining-room which is more formal and spacious. The á la carte menu includes six starters; six main courses; and six puddings. Two courses cost £22; three cost £27. They always have a fresh seafood item available; and service charge is not included (unless there are six diners or more).

On their next boozy trip round the British Isles, that wondrous duo of connoisseurs, Oz and James, ought to consider paying a visit to Belfast and Molly's Yard, the meeting-place of a circle of artists in Belfast whose symbol was the Headless Dog. That aforesaid haunt happened to be the premises now known as Molly's Yard; and if you look carefully enough at the base of the coach-house, you'll still see the silhouette of a headless dog on the wall.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009


Here's a most informative advertisement on ITV which succinctly explains how to recognize the symptoms of a stroke. Please read it here.

I hadn't a clue about this and, thanks to the ITV ad, I now have a better idea.

The Car Dealership Experience

I hate negotiating at car dealerships, partly because I simply don't feel confident at playing along with them in their little game. I visited the only Smart Car dealership in Northern Ireland this morning, mainly to get a trade-in price for the roadster.

The roadster is in excellent condition. Its mileage is half that for a car of its age; furthermore, it is regularly serviced. Why would I sell it? That is a good and fair question: For a start, I do mostly urban driving and the roadster's performance is lively, so I might manage 22-23 mpg. The most I have ever managed has been 41 mpg. Agnew's had a good look at it and offered me about one thousand pounds less for my car than it is worth. According to Glass's Guide, the dealer's bible, that is.

I've paid £3.50 for a proper Glass's valuation; and you get five varying prices for this fee: Trade-in Excellent; trade-in average; trade-in below average; dealer retail; and private sale.

They are tighter than me! That explains, of course, why Agnew's are such a successful dealership amongst other factors.

Another option would be to sell my car privately, which I am unenthusiastic about. According to Glass's, I ought to get about £2,000 more for the car doing it this way, than trading it in with the dealership.

Agnew's may well improve their offer but there is a considerable gap in what they are offering and what it's worth - according to the car bible.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Disband Quangos

The NI Commissioner for Children and Young People doesn't half know how to spend our money. She is now intent on preventing parents, and others, from smacking children. What utter nonsense; and a blatant waste of taxpayers' money, too.

I have never smacked a child in my life; I don't see any harm in it, though. It is certainly preposterous to suggest that the act of smacking equates, in any way, with child abuse for instance.

Little wonder that our taxes - direct and indirect - are now so exorbitantly high, when the Government spends millions upon millions of hard-earned pounds on such entities.

Let us disband these quangos. At the Government's earliest convenience.

Car Tax Snag

I was inadvertently ensnared by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last year. I had just remitted my annual road tax payment to Vehicle Licensing in the middle of March; and, a week or so later, they returned it, informing me that I had sent the wrong amount.

As it happens, I sent them the amount they asked for on their form. However, since the 2008 Budget fell around that time, the Duty increased. Presumably they go through this rigmarole every year with innocent motorists, do they?

I shan't be caught out this year because the 2009 Budget falls on the 22nd April. If your Car Tax falls on this month, why not take the forms - in person - directly to a payment office. Don't post it to them around the middle of April unless you are prepared to have your form returned and they demand the new 2009 rate!

The Treasury knows which month the annual Budget will occur. Should Vehicle Licensing not forewarn drivers with an explanatory note; especially if the Budget falls in March or April?

Sunday, 1 March 2009

RMS Titanic: Its Birth-Place

I've taken a few pictures of the area around the Belfast ship-yard, now known as Titanic Quarter, while I was out for a stroll today.

Two large plaques adorn the walls of the Thompson Graving Dock's pump-house, where Titanic was built.

HMS Caroline, floating headquarters of the Royal Naval Reserve in Northern Ireland, still sits at the Alexandra Dock.

SS Nomadic, erstwhile tender to the Titanic, will eventually be berthed at the Hamilton Graving Dock in the Abercorn Basin.

The Brown Imbroglio

The Prime Minister's standing, according to the opinion polls, is at its lowest ebb ever. He is desperate to ward off mounting and sustained criticism about his handling of the economic situation here, and his role in its severity during his lengthy tenure as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Many maintain that Mr Brown steered us into this mess in the first place.

Issues like the global recession and Sir Fred Goodwin's pension are red herrings, designed by the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Gordon Brown, MP, and his lieutenants to deflect condemnation. Goodwin is a wealthy man anyway. This recession is, indeed, a world-wide phenomenon. The effect, however, has been much more severe in the United Kingdom.

It would be easy to suggest that the retired banker, Sir Fred Goodwin, has his knighthood revoked; and that we - the taxpayers - enact legislation in Parliament to have his pension stopped. We would undoubtedly pay a very heavy price, literally, for this course. Goodwin, I'm afraid, is standing on quite firm ground. If the matter did, eventually, end up in Court, Goodwin would expostulate some most unpalatable, not to say embarrassing, home truths for the Prime Minister and his Government.

Of course, were we ever to reach that stage, we'd probably have a new government with a new Prime Minister at the helm.

Mr Brown is desperately seeking scapegoats for his current woes. As far as he is concerned, nothing is his fault; despite a decade of fiscal stewardship at the Treasury.

A Night At The Opera

A large portion of Glengall Street, running alongside the opera house, was taken up by huge juggernauts last night, all belonging to Scottish Opera. They even had a lorry for their own orchestra. I'd arrived a little earlier in order to have a pre-theatre aperitif in the first-floor lounge bar of the Europa Hotel.

I'd considered having a meal at Deane's or elsewhere prior to the opera; however, I didn't bother in the end.

The bar was just as I liked it: warm, quiet, a good choice of seating and an agreeable ambiance. It's much better to spend awhile here than that ghastly, modern, claustrophobic carbuncle extension attached to the Grand Opera House.

At five past seven I finished my drink and made directly for my seat - A21 - in the dress circle. As is my custom, I shunned the carbuncle and entered the original splendour of the opera house, up the old stairs to the first floor. We had a full house this evening; even the gallery slips were filled.

It always feels such an occasion to be at the Grand Opera House with its sumptuous, lavish interior; the ethereal ceiling with its frescoes gazing down at us; the gilded plasterwork and red velour seating. It must surely rank among the most beautiful theatres in the British Isles, if not Europe.

Scottish Opera's production of the tragic grand opera, La Traviata, was absolutely stunning. What more can I say? The performance was superb, including that of the orchestra. The applause and cheering at final curtain was one of the longest I'd seen for many years; it must have lasted for over five minutes at least. They'll be back! Such acclaim is irresistible.