Monday, 31 December 2012

Last Lap of the Year

Christmas and New Year may have their culinary and celebratory attractions, but it is good to have the routine and discipline of athletics training. The final instruction from our coach before he disappeared to hotter climes for a three week sojourn was to enjoy Christmas, but not to put on any weight. With this diktat still ringing in my ears I decided to go for a long run this pm.

I drove to the main entrance of the Downhill demesne and parked close to the mullion windowed gate lodge once occupied by the indomitable Janet Eccles.

Starting my run there I ran through the gardens, proceeded past the Black Glen with its dark waters and down into Castlerock. There wasn't exactly a traffic jam in the village, but there were a lot cars coming and going, mainly coming. The destination for their New Year's Eve outing was the church hall adjacent to Christ Church. The reason for the mid afternoon congregation? Rather obvious really. This was a gathering of friends and relatives following a funeral. No doubt the Mother's Union had come up trumps with the necessary comfort food. A death is sad at any time of year, but it just seems more poignant when society at large is celebrating. Something seems false and my vote goes to the celebrations.

There were maybe fifty people on the beach and five or six happy dogs chasing seagulls and rounding up their owners. I turned at the Barmouth and retraced my steps along the beach avoiding the puddles left by the retreating tide. At the high watermark a man in his early sixties was waving a metal detector at the beach detritus. His ever supportive, but rather bored wife walked behind him with stoic grace. Hopefully he found something more than a selection of rusty ring pulls, but I suspect not.
The beach run completed I took to the roads running past the golf club, round by the Presbyterian Church, over the railway line and then into the myriad of avenues and walks on the outskirts of the village.
It was then I was attacked by one of those bad natured little dogs that should only be seen revolving on the top of a, "78." I reminded the owner of her obligations and liabilities under the Dogs Order and asked her whether she regarded the dog's lead as a fashion accessory. She retorted by saying that her canine friend thought that I was the postman. When I questioned her as to whether it was acceptable to allow her beloved fido to carve its initials on the calves of the purveyors of the Royal Mail she remained silent. Her dog did not. She could not control the mutt. Small dogs are the bane of runners' lives. The temptation to score three points is ever present. I explained to the animal's owner, in fluent Anglo Saxon, that if she did not control her dog with immediate effect that at best she might expect a visitation from the dog warden and that if fido should break my skin that she should look out her insurance policies before celebrating the New Year. Eventually she managed to attach the lead to the collar of her ratweiller. As with children people should not have dogs if they can't control them.
With an occasional backwards glance I then headed to the football pitches which I ran around a few times before proceeding back to the shore front and then uphill past the Apostle Cottages into the grounds of Downhill Castle and back to the car.
Another year of running completed.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

The Boston Bridge - Londonderry's First Bridge Across The Foyle.

Until the latter years of the eighteenth century one had to employ the services of the ferry in order to cross the Foyle at Londonderry. The ferry rights were held by the City Corporation from the Society of the Governors and Assistants, London, of the New Plantation of Ulster, (The Hon. The Irish Society), at a rent of £20 per annum. The Corporation sublet their right to operate the ferry for an annual sum of £300.

As early as 1769 the Corporation of Londonderry was petitioning The Hon. The Irish Society for permission to construct a bridge across the River Foyle, but it was not until 1786 that consent was forthcoming.

The contractor for the bridge was one Lemuel Cox from the firm of Cox & Thompson, Boston, New England hence the reason for it being referred to as, "the Boston Bridge." Construction of the 1068 feet long structure commenced in 1789 and foot passengers were able to use the bridge by the end of 1790, although it would be 1791 before carts and other vehicles were able to cross It. The oak piles for the bridge are reported as having been imported from America. Twenty workmen travelled with them to assist in the construction. The bridge was lit by gas and it originally incorporated a short drawbridge which was subsequently replaced by a turning bridge so as to allow river traffic to proceed up to Strabane. Throughout its existence the wooden Boston Bridge was a toll bridge. (It was demolished soon after the opening of its successor, the Carlisle Bridge in 1863). The toll office was on the western side side of the bridge. The cost of the original construction was £16,594. When a 350 feet long portion was swept away by ice in 1814 the repair bill was £18,208.

The bridge over the River Foyle was to be the first of several bridges constructed by Lemuel Cox throughout Ireland including one over the River Suir at Waterford. Between 1792 and 1796 Cox along with his wife and two of his sons resided in Ireland before returning to America where he died in 1806. Prior to becoming a bridge builder it appears that Cox was a wheelwright.
Sources : Dictionary of Irish Architects; Colby's Ordnance Survey and Commemorative Booklet of Visit of The Right Hon The Lord Mayor of London to Londonderry 1933

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Scripophily - Railway History Documented

Some years ago, it must be nearly twenty, I came upon some old share certificates. They aren't of any great value, maybe a few pounds each, but I decided to hold on to them. I thought that they would be an interesting addition to my study wall once framed. Most of them date from the latter years of the nineteenth century and were issued to a Mrs Mary Gaussen, wife of Rev James Gaussen of Wellington Road Dublin. I have tried to discover something about this lady and her husband, but although I can find reference to various Gaussens in Dublin in the nineteenth century to date I have been unsuccessful in discovering any information regarding this pair.

They must certainly have had a very comfortable life style. Mrs Gaussen's holding of £450 of Consolidated Preference Stock in the Belfast & Northern Counties Railway Company would equate to some £64,000 today, although of course the stock may have been trading at under par when it was purchased.

These old share certificates are interesting in that they do give an insight into our industrial past and the engraving is often very detailed. I suspect that it will not be long before share certificates become a thing of the past. Even private share holdings are for the most part now held on a paperless nominee basis.

The Belfast & Northern Counties Railway Company was the name adopted by the Belfast & Ballymena Railway Company after it amalgamated with/ took over the Ballymena Ballymoney Coleraine and Portrush Junction Railway in 1860.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Grow it Yourself

I watched with interest a short news article regarding the Grow It Yourself organisation today. It was also mentioned on the BBC NI News website. There are now apparently some 30,000 members throughout Ireland and 100 organised groups. The organisation was established in Waterford in 2009.
I totally agree with the notion that people should grow more of their own food, both from a financial perspective and the therapeutic aspect. Not everyone has the advantage of a large garden, but even a very small patch is sufficient to grow a selection of salad veg with perhaps a few tomatoes and peppers being grown in pots. Many householders however do not have any garden and that is where the allotment is so important .

It is a pity that the number of allotments provided by local authorities and others has declined so much over the last forty/fifty years. The only allotments now provided in the Derry City Council area, of which I am aware, are at St Columbs Park. (There might also be a privately operated area of allotments). I can remember allotments at Lone Moor Road, The City Cemetery, Riverview, Glen Road and Meadowbank Avenue. All of these have disappeared.

Whilst I support and applaud the objectives of the Grow It Yourself organisation it does strike me that the very many horticultural societies throughout Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland must be failing in their purported aims if the gardening wheel has to be reinvented.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Londonderry Gaol

The nineteenth century tower at the top of the Fountain estate and overlooking Bishop Street is all that remains of what was the cities fourth gaol. Its first involuntary inmate heard the door close behind him on 16th August 1824. The Gaol finally closed on 31st March 1953, but it was not until the early nineteen seventies that this severe looking seat of retributive justice was finally demolished.

The castellated front which extended along Bishop Street Without for two hundred and forty two feet sat some five feet above the street level and slightly back from the pavement, with railings atop a wall. The site extended four hundred feet back in the direction of the river. There were a total of one hundred and seventy eight single cells as well as work and day rooms. In addition to this the prison as originally constructed included the Governor's residence, what was described as a hospital, (perhaps more accurately a medical wing) and a chapel. The front of the prison was a part of an earlier prison constructed in 1791 but this was remodelled and added to between 1819 and 1824 by the firm of Henry Mullins and McMahon. The total cost of this new prison was IR £33,718 (Stg £31,125.)

Rather interestingly the earth which was excavated during the digging of the foundations of the gaol was used in the construction of two hundred and sixteen perches, (for the benefit of those that have forgotten, that is one thousand one hundred and eighty eight yards), of the roadway which is now known as Strand Road.

Colby's Ordnance Survey of 1837 contains a paragraph which very definitely reflects the nineteenth centuries views on how a prison should be run. "The enforcement of silence and the introduction of labour have been productive of a collateral result which is highly satisfactory - that of rendering the gaol disagreeable." The Survey is an extremely important source of information concerning the City at the dawn of the Victorian age. As late as 1835 two of the Gaol's residents had been sentenced to death for Highway Robbery. This was commuted to deportation for life. Presumably they ended up in Australia. In the same year thirteen individuals were incarcerated for illegal distilling.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christmas Munchies

Another Christmas. Another year. One does tend to reminisce at this time of year. I always enjoy the run up to Christmas. One's youthful eagerness never totally disappears. Yes the socks have arrived again!. I don't have a huge pressie haul but I do appreciate it.

The day's festive meal rarely fails to please one's taste buds and today's munchies were certainly up to standard although the roast potatoes were forgotten about. I was not involved in their production but I did espy their preparation. Despite this I managed to fail to remind the cook of their existence. My loss is apparently going to be the gain of the cook's elder son's canine friend. I hope that Fido enjoys my loss. Thankfully the roast ham was retained on the menu. I must concede that a well prepared ham rates above turkey so far as I am concerned. Maybe it is the saltiness or the taste of the cloves.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas Stamp Inflation

The UK was quite dilatory in the issue of special Christmas Stamps. It was not until 1966 that we had the first Christmas commemorative stamps. It doesn't seem that long ago, but I know that it is really. I must concede that for me the year 1966 is not memorable because of the issue of these stamps but rather because of England winning the World Cup. That of course prompted the issue of the, "England Winners," stamp.

Back in 1966 we were able to post our Christmas cards for the princely sum of 3d. This year I had to pay fifty pence to post each card. That is ten bob in real money. Postage prices have therefore increased by 4000% over forty six years. That I think is rather frightening. It is not too surprising that sales of the traditional card are declining. That said e-cards are rather impersonal.

I'm Dreaming of a Warm Christmas.

I am not one of those individuals who yearns for a white Christmas. The garden covered in a blanket of snow with Mr Robin Redbreast perched on a berried holly branch may look very festive, but it does restrict what you can do over the holiday period.

Today's high single digit temperatures suited me very well. I was able to go to the Bank without regretting that I had not invested in winter tyres. I was able to go for a six mile run without having to worry about icy underfoot conditions and I was able to work in the garden without my fingers becoming numb.

The weather conditions for tomorrow are to be similar so I will be able to take a long Christmas morning walk without the prospect of numb feet. 

Global warming may not be such a bad thing after all.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

A View the Foyle Commanding - Upper Moville Parish Church

I suppose the bean counters at Church House have to bow to financial pressures and demographics but it is still sad to see a church falling into decrepitude and being sold. Such is the fate of Upper Moville Parish Church at Tullynavin, Redcastle. The Church and grounds, but excluding the graveyard to the rear and the grave of Capt. The Hon Ernest Grey Lambton Cochrane which is situate to the front of the Church, was recently being advertised by a Donegal estate agent. The guide price was fifty thousand euro. This does seem quite cheap but I suppose there are several factors depressing the figure, the state of the Irish property market being the prime one. I wonder if a sale has been agreed as yet?
I knew that the church had not been used for some time but I hadn't realised that it is over twenty years since its doors closed. That does rather beg the question why the decision to sell was not taken during the boom days of the Irish economy.
The present church was consecrated in August 1853. It replaced a smaller building which had been constructed by the Cary family of Castle Cary in 1741 as a private chapel and which then became a chapel of ease before becoming the parish church with the division of the Moville Parish into, "Upper," and "Lower." The ruined walls of the original church are still to be seen in the graveyard and indeed there are several graves within the walls. Lewis in his, "Topographical Dictionary," of 1837 reports that the original church was too small and that there were plans for the construction of a new and larger building. Clearly these plans took a few years to come to fruition.

The present building is I think quite picturesque with its bellcote and well proportioned lancet windows and the septfoil window on the west wall. Hopefully the planners will ensure that any conversion is carried out in a sympathetic manner. It was suggested to me that it might be a good idea for the nearby Redcastle Hotel to buy the property and use it for civil ceremonies. This strikes me as an extremely good notion, but I suspect that the cost of renovation works would just not make it financially worthwhile.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Pre Xmas Run

Today was the last pre- Christmas group training session. We are on rest/easy training mode at the moment. Our coach is lapping up the winter sun in Portugal and arranging our spring training week.

Left to our own devices we decided upon a 10k session. After our usual 5k warm up we ran 8 x 1000m with 2 min between efforts . The aim was to run the kilometre reps at 10k pace. My average time was 3. 43.5. It didn't feel particularly quick but I would be more than happy with a 10k at that pace, bearing in mind my current state of fitness and current age. I just wish my hip problem would resolve itself so at I could rack my training up. Still I was able to drag our sole regular female runner around the circuit and she was very happy with her times. I think that she should be aiming for the same 800m time as myself this coming year. Two minutes fifteens secs is the target. I know that it sounds rather pedestrian but once you factor in the age tables it begins to sound respectable.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Christmas Cheer for Asda

Northern Ireland Environment Minister Alex Attwood should I think be commended for his refusal of four out of town retail planning applications which had been submitted for the Londonderry area. It is however unfortunate that he could not have dealt with, (and refused), a further four applications which are still pending. Worse still is the news that he has given permission for Asda to build a new store at the Crescent Link Retail Park.

We are told that this new store will create 350 jobs. I suspect that at least some of these will be part time and it would therefore be interesting to know the number of full time jobs that this figure of 350 equates to. Whilst Asda may be adding 350 jobs to their total workforce I wonder how many new jobs will result from this development? How many jobs will be lost in the smaller locally and regionally owned supermarkets in the area and even from the existing Tescos and Sainsbury?

Mr Attwood seems to believe that this new supermarket will bring people into the City from the North West and from Co. Donegal. Surely if they wanted the pleasure of going to a supermarket they could go to one of the existing outlets. Have Messrs. Tesco, Sainsbury, Lidl et all announced that they cannot cope with the local demand for baked beans? I don't think they have. If someone from Londonderry, the greater North West or even Co Donegal feels the need to surround their groceries in bags bearing the Asda logo they do have the option of driving to Strabane or Coleraine.

When will it be realised that demand is finite? If that point is appreciated then it will also be appreciated that a new supermarket will just shuffle the customer base around.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Garvagh Fast Food

It is a small village. According to the last available census figures its population is 1288 . It does of course have a catchment area. But on one side Ballymoney is pulling at its sphere of influence as is Coleraine. Maghera is also pecking at its hinterland.

By no means could one describe it as a major centre of population. Despite all of this it presently has two pizza joints, a Chinese takeaway, a fish and chip shop and a fish n' chip/ burger shop.

It is strange how the,"Take Away," has become such a ubiquitous feature of our villages, towns and cities. When I was a sprog, (in the fifties and sixties) the fish and chip shop was, by and large, visited by the nocturnal reveller and the, " Tillies'" on their two week holiday. That was my perception anyhow.  It was very much the treat of the manual worker. Nothing wrong with that.

Nowadays these fast food establishments are becoming the choice of our burgeoning middle classes. Why spend three quarters of an hour preparing and cooking a meal for your family when you can drive three miles to a takeaway, queue for ten minutes to have your order taken, wait fifteen minutes for your order to be cooked, pay your twenty pounds and drive three miles home with the caffeine free ,"coke," which you have purchased at the local petrol station? The answer in many instances is convenience, (aka laziness.)

Society is lazy. Society is wasteful. Society needs a kick in the proverbials and maybe the odd lesson in domestic science and family accounts!

Blocked for Christmas

Once I had returned from my run this pm I decided to attack some of the wood rings which had been stacked up in neat order by my chainsaw wielding friends a week past. Thankfully the rain had eased somewhat.

I managed to wheel up six barrow loads of rings for starters. Doesn't sound a lot I know, but the rings are rather large - and heavy! A wheelbarrow full is probably two hundredweight and that is amply heavy when you are wheeling it a couple of hundred yards over grass.. At least some of the wood is now under cover.

The seventh barrow load succumbed to my splitter and sledge. Another fifty blocks to add to my pile. It is rather satisfying to see the newly split blocks pile up. If there is any bark on the block it is of course important to stack the blocks with the bark uppermost.

I am continually surprised at the price being charged for bags of blocks. Five pounds seems to be a very average price for a sack containing maybe two dozen blocks. I would probably use two sackfuls every night. Perhaps more! Once I have blocked up all of this years arboreal casualties I should have three months fuel for next winter. The good life is an appealing notion and maybe a necessary elective.

Horseless Carriage - Dobbins' Plight

My horseless carriage is beginning to show its age. After almost ten years of faithful service I may have to accept that the old workhorse needs to be replaced. This is a sad and difficult decision. It only seems like yesterday that I drove it from the garage on the first of its now one hundred and seventy thousand miles.

I feel that I am being a bit of a traitor even thinking of consigning it to the vehicular equivalent of the equine retirement home, or even worse the knackers yard or glue factory. But time goes on. The years are in it and I am becoming wary as to whether it can hold its form on long runs. Its annual health check is looming and this has forced me to address its future.

Without telling it what I was doing I drove it to a garage yesterday so that I might view a possible replacement. I don't think that it really understood what was going on. I parked it some distance from the sprightly young pretenders with their shining paintwork. It would have been unfair to allow it to draw comparisons with its own lacklustre comportment.

The new generation of dobbins undoubtedly have more zip and they would be cheaper to fuel and maintain ,but the initial outlay is the rub. It is hard to warrant and rationalise the expense. Perhaps something with a lesser pedigree should be the replacement for the loyal provider of locomotory services.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Christmas Bash

Saturday night saw the athletic club of which I am a member hold its Christmas party. The venue was the same as last year, a local hotel and as with last year our meal was served in a private room away from the main function room and the worst of the noisy excesses. Thank goodness!

I suppose that one shouldn't expect too much from these mass market jolly fun times, but it was very evident that the hotel had embarked on a cost cutting exercise. Last year's hot punch reception had been consigned to some accountant's waste paper basket as had the coffee accompanying mints. There was no suggestion that a second cup of coffee or even a top up was a possibility. The decoration budget had also been cut.

As for the serving staff and wine waiters it seemed as if their average age was sixteen years and one day. I think the one day was the time spent on training. To be fair they were all affable enough, but I never knew from which side to expect a serving spoon. When I ordered wine for the table the bottles were plonked down with great aplomb. The cheerful youth who had been designated wine waiter for the evening then scurried off on tasks unknown leaving me to do the honours. I suppose hotels do take on casual staff for the Christmas period and I expect they are being paid little more than the minimum wage. That may all be an explanation for poor service but it is not an excuse.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

North West Cross Country Championships

I decided to watch the North West XC Championships yesterday. They were held in the grounds of Gransha Hospital Londonderry. That's what I know it as anyhow. However I think they are changing/have changed the name of the hospital in an attempt to do away with the perceived negative connotations of the name. Since the closure of the Londonderry Mental Asylum, Gransha has been the mental hospital for the City and environs. I can't imagine that a change of name will change public perception
The senior race was not scheduled until 12.25 so a few of my training compatriots joined me in a training session before the races. After a twenty minute warm up we ran 10 x400m on the road with a one minute static recovery between each rep. I am still experiencing pain in my left leg, but I managed to get through the reps although I know that I was dragging my leg rather badly. Still 80s per effort was just about acceptable in the circumstances.

By the time I had warmed down and changed the junior races had finished. It was time for the main race. Rather unusually the feature race at this meet includes juniors, senior men and women and vet men and women. I have to say that whilst this format facilitates the organisers it does hide the efforts of the female and vet runners. A total of 224 runners lined up for the race.

The overhead weather conditions were all that could be desired. It was relatively warm. There was no wind, nor rain and it was sunny. Friday's rain did not however improve the conditions underfoot. I saw three runners succumb to the lack of grip and take quite heavy falls. This just underlined my decision to avoid cross country races when at all possible.

From the start of the race, Declan Reed from City of Derry Spartans was clearly the in form runner. The lightly built and quick striding runner picked his way through the mud and sticky conditions with what seemed like effortless ease. Behind him the longer striding Dave Morewood of Annadale Striders pushed hard, but he still finished eight seconds adrift in a time of 19.07 for the 6k course, with Scott Rankin of Foyle Valley AC taking the third podium place in 19.24.

Sixty percent of the participants in the race were vets/masters. It is of course very laudable that so many older people should be involved in competitive running, but it is also rather worrying that there aren't more younger runners coming through the ranks. The race winner is 39 years of age and the runner up is 42. There were six '"vets," in the top twenty including one v50.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Drumceatt Convention

I am not quite sure who gave me this commemorative cover or indeed who produced it. I suppose that it could have been the then Limavady District Council which had the idea of celebrating this little known event. It does seem to be slightly unusual to celebrate a fourteen hundredth anniversary. It's not one of those anniversaries that strike you as being particularly noteworthy.

The Convention was called by the then High King of Ireland a gentleman by the name of Aedh (aka Hugh). There were three matters deliberated upon:-

1. The release by Aedh of one Scannlan Mor. - He wasn't!

2. The growing and burdensome power of the Bards. - Their powers and numbers were reduced.

3. The relationship between the High King of Ireland and the Scottish Kingdom of Dalriada. - The Scottish kingdom no longer had to pay tribute to Ireland and a mutual defence alliance was established.

I suspect that this piece of ephemera will end up on e bay or in a postal philatelic auction in the very near future.


Thursday, 13 December 2012

Driving on Dandelion Wheels

A newspaper article in Saturday's Daily Telegraph caught my eye. I suppose it was the seeming incongruity of it. The article concerned the making of rubber from dandelion roots. It has to be said though that this does not mean that every lazy gardener in the United Kingdom has a veritable rubber plantation in his back garden. The dear old variety of dandelion which is native to these islands does not contain a sufficiently high percentage of rubber to make its cropping a commercially viable venture. 

The dandelion which is causing all the excitement is from Russia and has the catchy name of Taraxacum koksaghyz, TKS for short. It is reported that an Indian-Dutch company by the name of Apollo Vredestein has now exhibited the first prototype tyres made from the milky sap that is found in the dandelion tap root. Selective plant breeding has so far enabled scientists to increase the rubber yield from TKS from 1.4% to 8.9% of dry weight, just short of the 10% which is viewed as the commercial percentage.

Whilst we tend to deride the dandelion perhaps it will ultimately provide us with an economic alternative to natural rubber. Its tap root is of course already used for the manufacture of a coffee substitute and its young leaves are sometimes added to salads. I have to say that the diuretic and other propensities of the dandelion would make me rather loath to ingest it.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Reeds Rains - Volte Face?

Having announced on Monday that it was closing its Northern Ireland branches within a few weeks and that all clients would be contacted, Reeds Rains are now reported as saying that this statement was issued without approval and was incorrect. This does seem rather strange. Clearly a statement was prepared. 

Apparently they are now exploring the opportunity of changing their operational model in Northern Ireland to one of franchising. 

One cannot help wondering if the local managers, having been told of the intention to close the Northern Ireland operation approached their Yorkshire HQ with the franchise proposal as a means of attempting to secure their own future and that of the other staff. A considerable number of Reeds Rains branches are already operated on a franchise basis. 

Monday, 10 December 2012

Reeds Rains to close in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland's depressed property market claimed another victim today with the announcement that Reeds Rains would be closing all seven of its branches in Northern Ireland within the next few weeks. These branches together with another two which closed in 2010 were acquired by RSL Property Services PLC, Reeds Rains' parent company, in January 2010 when it purchased Halifax Estate Agents from Lloyds Banking Group for £1. That acquisition resulted in RSL becoming the second largest estate agency business in the United Kingdom. The 2011 accounts for the Company show that at the end of 2011 the Company had 568 branches, (down 16 on the year), of which 199 traded under the Reeds Rains banner.

The company issued an Interim Management Statement on 15th November. This was quite positive in its tone and pointed to a seven percent growth in residential sales. There was no hint that the closure of any branches was being contemplated. The company appears to have survived our double dip recession quite well. At the close of the market today shares in RSL were trading at £2.53 just a few pence below the pre recession price.

It would be interesting to know whether the present and future state of the Northern Ireland property market is the sole reason for these closures or whether there is an element of strategic management on the part of the directors. The annual accounts will not tell us that.

(See now post of 11/12/12 by way of update)

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Christmas Logs

I hadn't been up very long on Saturday morning when my chainsaw wielding friend and his son arrived to assist the hornbeam in its desire to hit the ground, (my post of 28th November refers). They clearly knew how to use their weapons of mass destruction although the hornbeam put up considerable resistance. Apparently this tree has the hardest woods of all our native trees. The hardness of the wood is such that it is used for among other things the production of butcher's blocks. No wonder I was having some difficulty with my trusty handsaw.

With the hornbeam reduced to a series of rings and smaller logs the intrepid duo set to work on several large beech boughs which had come to earth . This turned out to be easier work. I have to concede that I left all the cutting to my friends. Whist they did the heavy work I initially concentrated on lopping off the small wood. They then wheeled some rings near to the sheds. This was done at the run. Alternate training! I then set to work on blocking the rings. It was my turn to start perspiring. It will definitely be a few weeks before I have all the wood blocked and stacked. I suspect that I will end up with near three thousand blocks and my friends have departed with an Ivor Williams trailer full of rings. 

The crepitus in my shoulder is not going to improve.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Mehaffey wants more students in Londonderry

Dr. James Megaffey, the former Bishop of Derry & Raphoe apparently believes that the Magee Campus of the University of Ulster requires a student population of 10,000. He says that it would be good for the city of Londonderry. In the short term that is probably right, but should we be creating more and more university places? 

There seems to be a notion that everyone should have the benefit (?) of a university education. The exam grading system has been altered over the years so that children aren't actually told that their standard of achievement is woeful. They aren't told that they have failed. That would be bad for their self esteem! How many Universities were there forty years ago? How many are there now? Has the IQ of the population increased exponentially over the the last four decades? I think not. If matters proceed as some would wish, (don't upset the little dears), everyone should be entitled to their PHD's. 

A few years ago I noticed that one of our seats of learning was offering a degree course in Greyhound Studies. Is this really a course that merits a BA or a BSc? I don't doubt but that people entering that industry need  instruction, but is a three year university course the correct way to provide that instruction? For many jobs and vocations apprenticeships and on the job experience must be the correct way forward.

A degree should probably reflect a certain standard of academic achievement but it does not mean that the recipient will necessarily be of any use in our commercial world. Degrees are not and should not be regarded as a be all and end all.

Leeks and Cheese Sauce

I braved the biting wind this morning and ventured into the garden for a short period. The vegetable patch is looking somewhat dishevelled at the moment so I decided that a bit of tidying up was appropriate.

I also wanted to dig up some leeks for this evenings repast. I don't imagine that anything too exotic will be done with them. They will most probably meet their end with a rather calorific cream sauce covering their blanched looks. No doubt standard carbohydrate fare together with a modicum of protein will accompany them to my plate before I dispatch them all. In terms of liquid refreshment to assist my digestion I think that it may be necessary to open the bottle of Pouilly- Fuisse given to me by a friend a couple of months back. It would be wrong to allow it to turn to vinegar and disrespectful to the friend.

Portstewart Strand in the Gloom

The greyness of the the sky was already melding into the Stygian darkness of the sea when I pulled up at Portstewart strand. At the far end of the beach the red navigation light at the mouth of the Bann flashed its regular warning. Beyond that I could just make out the pimple on the skyline that was the Earl Bishop's Mussenden Temple. The tide was out and for the moment the waves lolled idly, waiting for their lunar command to move landwards once more. Stretching along the beach like a ragged garland was the spume left by the retreating tide. A slightly melancholy scene.

Viewing this meeting of land and sea would not help me complete my training run. Not having changed into my running kit before leaving home I how had to complete this task within the rather limited confines of my car. I have become quite adept at this over the years, so much so that I am sure that Harry H would have regarded me as a worthy successor. While completing my yoga inspired manoeuvres  I espied a very strange looking cove commencing his run up the beach.

I have to concede that runners tend not to be known for the sartorial elegance of their running gear, but there is what might be described as an accepted and acceptable code of dress. This bunioneer had however developed his own very idiosyncratic style. He had one of those rather silly looking faux fur hats with ear flaps planted on his head. The bobble on the top did not improve the look. His lower body was encased in blue shell suit bottoms the legs of which he had tucked into dark brown, knee length socks. Maybe he adopted a similar garb for cycling, eschewing the use of bicycle clips I mused. As for his footwear it could best be described as solid, - very solid. I hadn't realised that you could purchase leather running shoes modelled on the hobnail boot, but the evidence was now in front of me. His jacket  was I think constructed of canvas, perhaps purchased at the closing down sale of the last Army & Navy Store. The overall look was not good. His running action was little better. His legs only moved from the knee down. It was as if the gusset of his shell suit bottoms was wallowing between his knees. As for his arms these were held rigidly in front of his chest. His back was ramrod straight. There was no fluidity of movement. He was moving, but contrary to all of the principles of forward motion. It did not take me long to overhaul him.

About half way up the beach I came upon two fishermen. They had their fishing rods propped up on tripods and they were busily sucking on their cigarettes. They stamped their feet trying to ward off the coldness of the gloom. At the end of each of their rods was a small red light. From a distance it looked like a gathering  of glow worms. They were still engaged in their lonely vigil on my return. The other runner was however no where to be seen. Perhaps he had become embarrassed by his appearance ? I suspect not. A look like his could only have been developed after deep deliberation.  One could see that he revelled in it. Three people had seen him and his ,"get up." Thus sated he had cut short his exercise and drifted homewards.

I arrived back at the car with  just under thirty minutes on the clock so taking to the roads I headed towards the promenade and completed a lap which took me round the outskirts of the town.  That done I also drifted homewards.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Nil Points for Eurovision

The mandarins of, "Eurovision," are worried. Four of the coterie of countries which have been providing us with this annual, "music," extravaganza, Poland, Greece, Portugal and Cyprus have indicated that they will not be handing over their fees to participate in the next running of this cultural highlight. Quelle dommage! 

Save for Poland the reasons cited by these lundys to the cause of European music have been financial and of course it is not just the cost of entry that has to be taken account of. You then have the worry that you might actually win. If this fate befalls you then you have the very expensive and very debatable pleasure of hosting the following years jamboree and not even an affable Ralph Ryder to help you. If one was uncharitable one might interpret Poland's reluctance to participate as having something to do with it failing to get through to the final in six of the last seven years.

Setting aside such prosaic factors as expense might not the real reason for countries deciding to give Eurovision, "nil points," be that they see it as a waste of time. Fifty eight years after its creation it cannot claim that it is a reflection of modern popular music, nor a spawning ground for young talent. Can anyone save for the occasional pub quizzer tell you the name of last year's winner? A kitsch show with kitsch songs and kitsch costumes. A wholesale European bailout from this show is desperately needed. Let it and us die in peace without any more cacophonies of booms and bangs.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Herb Sunday

The relatively mild weather conditions have meant that many of my herbs are still quite verdant. Clearly the frosts will do their worst in the very near future and that will put an end to fresh herbs until the spring. I have picked and dried quite a few, "Schwartz " jar fulls of various herbs already. That said I decided to pick some more this afternoon. For the most part the croppings were placed on the top of the Aga to speed up their dessication. The parsley was however just bagged and frozen.

The herbs which were selected for today's drying session were apple mint, sage, bay  and marjoram. It is surprising the quantity you can harvest from a very modest area. With the increasing cost of foodstuffs I find it somewhat strange that more people do not decide to invest a little time and effort in growing their own fruit and veg. A lot of us have more than ample room to grow a significant percentage of our food. The, " Dig for Victory," exhortation may be seventy years old but it is perhaps even more relevant today. Add the words, " from recession," and there is the impetus and rationale for the effort.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Londonderry's Jewish Bagman

Over the years many manufacturing industries have come and gone in Londonderry. One of them was the production of leather goods, primarily that of grip bags. This was the business established by Ludwig Schenkel when he fled the Nazi Anschluss of Austria and ultimately arrived in the City. It would seem that he initially achieved British Nationality, but that this was this was taken away from him, presumably as a consequence of the outbreak of the Second World War. On the 23rd September 1947 he was however readmitted to British Nationality. Notice of  this appeared in the London Gazette on 17th October 1947. By this stage he was living at Balmoral Avenue.

He carried on his business at 91 Foyle Street. His company was named, A Halliday Ltd. With the cities long tradition in shirt production he never had any problem in attracting competent seamstresses. For over thirty years this dapper little man provided employment for some thirty five workers. Just before he retired from business he presented my parents with one of his bags. They still have it, although it is a trifle battered after some forty five years of use.

I suppose that I cannot have been more than eight or nine when I first met Ludwig and his wife. It was at the Guildhall where the local horticultural society was holding its autumn show. He had won the cacti and succulent classes. I was unplaced. He took time to explain to a very enthusiastic schoolboy how he had carried out certain grafts. I subsequently visited him on several occasions to see his very large collection of cacti.

Horticulture was only one of the many hobbies and interests pursued by Ludwig during his retirement years. Both the piano and philately occupied much of his time, but photography was his passion. Most of his photographs were taken in Co Donegal where he had a holiday home at Clonmany. The Co Donegal historian, Sean Beattie, regards Ludwig's photographic legacy as being of particular importance going so far as to say that he will, " replace Lawrence as the post war iconic image maker for the North West." Several of Luwig's photographs are to appear in Sean's book, "A Cultural and Social Atlas of Donegal."

A nice man. A cultured man. A man who has left his mark.