Monday, 30 December 2013

Jackets for Chickens

I was half listening to Radio 4's, "You and Yours," programme today when an item caused my ears to prick up. I was being informed about jackets for chickens. Surely this was an item for April 1st.? But no this was a serious albeit rather esoteric article.


Apparently a firm with the appropriate name of, "Omlet," has developed a jacket to keep chickens cosier during the winter months. Omlet is known for their chicken coops and they had been contacted by various of their customers who thought that their garden chickens looked cold in the snow and frost. They are currently retailing a high vis jacket and a tweed version. The high vis jacket is available in yellow or pink and it can be purchased for your clucking friends at the ever so reasonable price of £20 per twin pack.

Designing a jacket for a chicken is not as easy as you might think. The bird's shoulders have to be left uncovered so that its balance is unaffected. Six prototypes were looked at before the final version was decided upon. This does not interfere with the bird's dust bathing and sits high enough up so that the bird's feet cannot get stuck in it. A snug fit is achieved with velcro fastenings. Over one thousand of these winter warmers have been sold already and no doubt today's radio airing will help sales.

I wonder if Omlet will diversify into woollen jumpers for sheep and leather jackets for cattle?

Saturday, 28 December 2013

The Power of the Sea.

Today's pergrenations saw me in Portrush. The recent high winds had subsided, but there was enough wind for a few kite flyers to launch their kites over the beach. They were fairly basic kites, but still more colourful and lighter than those of my youth. My maternal grandfather made two or three kites for me. He used bamboo for the skeleton and the actual kite and its sail were constructed with brown paper. Not very hi tech but they did fly and I enjoyed the time with my grandfather. Unfortunately he died when I was eight years of age. He was only sixty six when he died. At the time I Ithought he was an old man. Now he would have been almost a contemporary. If he had had better health and managed to stagger on eight or ten years I know that my life and career path would have been very different. Whether that would have been better or more enjoyable is debatable, but I suspect that it would have been.


The storms and high seas have clearly impacted on the North coast of Northern Ireland. Huge slabs of concrete on a slipway at Portrush's East Strand have been thrown asunder. The strength of the waves that caused this damage is rather frightening. Nature definitely has the upper hand in this battle.


Tuesday, 24 December 2013

City of Culture - The passing of the Baton.

The burghers of Hull must be so so excited that they are to succeed Londonderry as the UK's City of Culture. Imagine the joys they have in store. They might get a lovely white tent for a year and if they are very lucky they will host that pinnacle of the cultural world aka the Radio One Roadshow. No doubt they will also have a pyrotechnic display and some balloons and a few locals will strum their guitars, while others will stick a finger in one ear and entertain their doting mummies and daddies to culturally important pop songs. They might even have a ballet troupe arrive in town. I can see the queues already!


They will also become very well acquainted with the, "L," word during their tenure of the City of Culture accolade. This is a very important word which must only be uttered in reverent and hushed tones. Local councillors will tell everyone who will listen and those that won't, that there will be a great legacy. The owners of local businesses will be told that they are being presented with a huge commercial opportunity.


The residents of Hull should also remember that this recently generated honorific is held in such national high esteem that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will probably not have her ministerial car driven in their direction. MarIa Miller was just too busy over the last year and didn't manage to locate Londonderry on her sat nav.


I wonder if Hull will be not only the second UK City of Culture, but also the last?


Sunday, 22 December 2013

Gold in those Bottles.


Farm diversification is certainly one of those buzz terms at the moment. BBC NI have screened two series of Nick Hewer's "Farm Fixer," which tackles this very topic.


Diversification is I think a good idea, but if farms are not to become theme parks and yet further venues for the sale of coffee the diversification must be of a truly agricultural nature. That is what has happened at the Kane's Broglasco Farm at Myroe Limavady in the shadow of Binevenagh. In little more than seven years the Kane family have developed a very viable business producing rapeseed oil from what was previously a cattle feed crop. Availing of the history of the nearby Broighter Gold find in 1896 and naming their product , "Broighter Gold," has been a contributing factor to their success. This has been a true story of sustainable agricultural diversification.

Building on the success of the original, "Broighter Gold," oil the Kane family have recently produced various types of infused oil, including basil and chilli. I suspect that their sampler pack will figure on the Christmas list of many score of Northern Ireland's gourmets - and gourmands.


More Winter Colour in the Garden

Winter Jasmin

It may be almost Christmas, but that does not mean that there is no colour in the garden. The colours may be more muted, but they do bring a vibrancy to the winter's day which in some ways is more marked than the lusciousness of the ripe summer garden. There is that obvious contrast between the dull darkness of the dank days and the slightly apologetic brightness of the winter flowering shrub.

Last Rose of Summer?

Red Twig Dogwood - 22nd December 2013
Pink berried Rowan. 22nd December 2013
Pink berried Rowan. 22nd December 2013

Friday, 20 December 2013

Christmas Salads



A week from today and the bulk of the Christmas gorging will have been concluded. By that stage I suspect that I will be looking for lighter meals. In anticipation of this impending change of diet I decided to check on the salads which I have growing in the greenhouse. Although I have not supplied them with any heat I have placed a fleece tunnel over them. I have several cos lettuce and mustard plants growing on and apart from a few small slug holes they all seem to be quite healthy and with no frost damage. It looks as if I will have a good crop of salad leaves for cutting and consuming in the aftermath of Christmas.


The Attractions (?) of Cross Country Running.

I had the dubious pleasure of running my first cross country race in 1969. There wasn't any option in the matter of participation. The entire school was obliged to ,"toe the line," in this annual running carnival. There were three races based on age, juniors, intermediates and seniors and you were running for the glory of your School House.


I didn't enjoy the slip and sliding of Cross Country running then and despite many score of similar races in the intervening forty four years I have never grown to enjoy this genre of the sport of running. Undoubtedly it helps build strength and many athletes and their coaches swear by its importance to their winter training regime. Personally I am more inclined to swear at it. Wet feet, mud caked kit, sodden spikes, continually adjusting your stride pattern and being at constant risk of ending up face down in a muddy puddle. Is it really that strange that I should want to avoid these winter experiences? I don't think so.

It has been suggested that I divest myself of £6 for the pleasure of experiencing a cross country race tomorrow. I suspect that I will not be expending funds. As Flanders and Swann correctly noted the glories of mud are for hippopotami.


Wednesday, 18 December 2013

A Wireless Concert.

In an age where music is so readily available this advertisement of 1928 emphasises the changes that have occurred in the intervening years. It seems rather odd to think that a, "radio concert," would draw customers into a restaurant, but clearly the proprietors of, "Stevenson's," viewed that this was at the cutting edge of entertainment for the afternoon tea drinking classes. Despite the sepia tone that the image brings to mind the reality is that the British Broadcasting Company Limited was only founded in 1922 and it was on 1st January 1927 that the British Broadcasting Corporation was established. Listening to the wireless would have been something of a luxury and even a novel experience for many people just ten years after the end of the Great War.


I can't remember when this establishment finally closed down, but I suspect that it was in the early 1970's. I can certainly remember digesting various comestibles within its doors during the 1960's.


Sunday, 15 December 2013

An Old Shoe Shop

This advertisement from 1889 recently caught my eye. I have quite vivid memories of McCutcheon's shoe shop in Butcher Street. They had an agency for start-rite shoes and as a young child I was dragged along to their premises to have my shoes fitted. Indeed my first pair of shoes was purchased from this emporium.

They had a strange piece of equipment which enabled the staff member to see whether a shoe had enough space around a child's foot. This machine was undoubtedly at the forefront of 1950's and early 1960's technology, but how it worked and how safe it was I really don't know. From the front it looked a bit like a lectern or a low pulpit. The subject of the examination stepped onto the machine from the rear and manoeuvred forward as far as possible so that his or her shoe encased feet were thrusting forward into an aperture. There was a viewing window on the top of the machine and the assistant considered the scene through this and then pronounced on whether the selected shoes were the correct size for the young feet.

During the course of my memory the business was owned by the Cunningham family who lived at 1 Carlisle Terrace from the time of the construction of that house at or about the date of this advertisement until it was sold by the widow of the late Cecil Cunningham in the early nineteen eighties to a gentleman by the name of William Coulter. For many years the Cunninghams provided lodgings for the Assize Court Judge.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Shoes Maketh Man

My trusty Grenson shoes were becoming very down at heal - literally. I suppose I shouldn't complain too strongly. I do like these sturdy foot covers and there was no question of throw out and replace. No this was a job for the cobbler. After ten years and two, "rehealings," they are old friends, not just a functional cover for the old plates of meat.

There do seem to be fewer of these artisans than there used to be. I suppose this is a reflection of people tending to invest in cheaper shoes and deciding that it is more economic for them to replace worn footwear rather than repairing it. Personally I think that it proves to be easier on the pocket in the medium to long term to invest in a good quality shoe that moulds to your foot and which you repair and maintain. Anyhows the old friends were deposited with the local cobbler last Friday to have their lopsided heals excised and replaced. I collected them today after parting with the non princely sum of £9.00.

A level gait is resumed.


Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Holiday Read.

The Frozen Dead - Bernard Minier - Mulholland Books


Most of us will read more books whilst on holiday than we normally do. I certainly fall within this category. One of the books which I read during my recent lazy hazy sojourn was a translation of Bernard Minier's debut novel, "The Frozen Dead." What I can still remember of my O- level French forty years after the event would not be adequate to read this book in Minier's native tongue.


If one has to allocate a book to a specific genre and I suppose one must, then I think the best description for this one is probably, "crime thriller."


The backdrop for the novel is the French Pyrenees. The opening scenes involve the discovery of the decapitated body of a horse owned by a well connected local industrialist. This prompts a Toulouse police officer by the name of Servaz being sent to take charge of the resultant enquiry. The story is related through this Latin quoting character and a psychologist by the name of Diane Berg. This latter individual has just commenced work in an institution for the criminally insane which happens to be in the same valley as the equine remains were discovered in. Servaz comes across as a believable character, Diane Berg less so.


Two murders follow and there is the disturbing discovery at all three crime scenes of the DNA of one of the, "residents," of the secure unit. A nearby and now abandoned children's summer school will prove to have a connection to the deaths.


The build up to the denouement is well paced although I did find the actual climax of the novel slightly weak. However perhaps that is being rather churlish because as a holiday read it was enjoyable, - good escapism. I believe that Minier has now brought out a second novel and I would be tempted to add it to my reading list.


Death of Stamp Collecting?

Like many of my generation I was introduced to stamp collecting at quite a young age. Looking back I suppose that I cannot have been more than five or six years of age when my maternal grandfather presented me with my first stamp album. It had quite a colourful cover featuring several dozen stamps and the words, "Stamps of the World," were emblazoned across it just in case I forgot what I was to affix to its ninety six pages. In common with my childhood friends, we all seemed to start collecting stamps at about the same age, I joined the school stamp club and we spent hours swapping stamps and floating them off the corners of envelopes. It was I think seen by our parents as a pastime which had some educational merit and we were encouraged in it.
I suspect that if I now returned to my alma mater that stamp collecting would not feature as a hobby undertaken by many of the pupils. The electronic age and the birth and growth of the internet have totally changed how children spend their leisure hours. With the burgeoning of e mail and various other messaging services and social media in general the raw material of stamp collecting is in any event becoming less and less prevalent. The numbers of letters neatly folded into envelopes and with adhesive stamps affixed to the top right hand corner is declining year on year.
The world's postal authorities are still producing endless drifts of new stamps but in my view they have for the most part become gaudy sticky labels compared to the results provided by the engravure method of stamp production which arguably reached its apogee in the 1930's.

Maybe this is a pastime which has had its day and should now be allowed to pass into a footnote of social history.


Saturday, 7 December 2013

Winter Colour in the Garden

Iris Foetitissima


It really is surprising what colour you can have in the winter garden. Of course there is the vivid red of the holly berry and the purple hues of the ivy and come the end of January there will be the pristine white flowers of the early snowdrops, but other colours can brighten up the winter months.

I had a brief saunter around the garden this pm after my mornings training session. The orange of the iris berries cannot be missed, nor the pale pink of the vibernum flowers. The fragrance of the latter is something which will fill a warm room with its sweet flavours. The winter months should not be written off automatically.


Friday, 6 December 2013

On the Cusp of the Year

As I am on the very cusp of what I refer to as my, "Heinz Year," I decided to treat myself to a couple of fingers of cold tea lookalike liquid tonight. I have to concede that I do like a nice whiskey. Training is scheduled for 9.30 am tomorrow so a refill is perhaps something that I should refrain from, tempting though it undoubtedly is. A thickish head is not something which recommends itself to a stomach churning hill session!


Well maybe an itzy bitzy refill!


Wednesday, 4 December 2013

That won't do nicely Ulster Bank

Yet again Ulster Bank and its parent, (RBS) have been having problems with their computer systems. Internet banking hasn't been accessible; credit and debit cards haven't been accepted and money could not be accessed from cash points.


Apologies have of course been forthcoming with some poor member of staff being wheeled out in what is becoming a very familiar damage limitation exercise. Even his lordship, ( well maybe the next birthday honours!) the Chief Executive has thought it appropriate to apologise.


Compensation has been promised for, "those left out of pocket due to these systems problems." The 2012 computer shutdown cost the Ulster Bank some £18 million in compensation payments to customers. The glitches may have been fixed or patched over more rapidly this time, but I suspect that the loss of confidence and even anger which this most recent debacle has engendered may result in consequential losses for Ulster Bank which far exceed that figure of £18 million.


It is rather disconcerting to hear RBS's Director of Customer Relations announce ,"that the Group still did not know the cause of the glitch." Will the problem reoccur?


Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Londonderry's Mr Mainwaring?


There is no doubt that banking has undergone remarkable changes over the last forty to fifty years. Interest rate swaps; currency swaps; commodity swaps; derivatives et alii would seem like the vocabulary of an extra terrestrial entity to the 1950's and 1960's bank manager. The recession has prompted calls for the return of old fashioned banking, but the traditional Bank manager as personified in the character of Mr Mainwaring will not return to our high streets. The Bank branch network is shrinking as people are prodded into using internet banking. Lending decisions are taken as the consequence of credit scores. Bank Managers now have very little autonomy. Knowing your account holders, their backgrounds and their families is no longer the important factor it once was. Banking is now a very objective exercise with little room for personal knowledge and other subjective imput.


It is nearly forty years since I opened a cheque account with the Ulster Bank. The branch manager who I saw for this momentous event was very definitely a traditional Bank Manager. Apart from the lack of a moustache he didn't look unlike Captain George Mainwaring. Berry Hackett, aka, "Laughing Boy," certainly had the same build as Mr Lowe. I can't remember when he was first appointed as manager, but I suspect that it was in the early 1960's. At that time there was a long polished mahogany banking counter in the Branch with the cashiers in cubicles, no security glass and no crocodile queuing. Very definitely another era, a time when Bank Managers were provided with a house by their Bank. If my memory serves the Ulster Bank had their manager's house on the Culmore Road.



Monday, 2 December 2013

Beetroot Not Beaten Yet.

I omitted to lift the balance of the beetroot prior to flitting off on holiday. Clearly there cannot have been any severe frosts in my absence. The leaves are still untouched by winter's cold hand and the, "beets," are unscathed. I pulled a few of the beetroot to roast for tonight's munchies and I can now report, having consumed the said vegetables, that they provided a very acceptable accompaniment to the evening repast.


There are frosts forecast for the end of this week so I must remember to harvest the remaining beetroot and store them in sand filled boxes tomorrow or Wednesday.



Sunday, 1 December 2013

Sunday Run

Holidays do provide a welcome interlude and yes the warm temperature of foreign climes is enjoyable, but there is something reassuring about being back home and reverting to the everyday routine. For me that meant meeting up with my usual Sunday am running partner at Roe Valley Country Park today. Coincidentally we came across one of my former running companions, one of his sisters and her husband. Famiy life has meant that he has had to ease back from training in recent years. We joined them for our warm up. It seemed so natural that we were back running side by side and reminiscing about races of yore and our long standing running friends and acquaintances.

I yearn for life to stay the same, but age, responsibility and events provide hurdles which can't always be cleared.


Friday, 29 November 2013

Winter Training

Eight degrees centigrade, (forty six degrees farenheight in real money). Not a bad temperature for late November in Northern Ireland. The problem is that I have just returned from the slightly warmer climes of Lanzarote. Seventy six to forty six is a marked and unpleasant difference.


I have always thought that reducing the winter by a few weeks is a good idea. Unfortunately I am not in a position to head off to Happy Valley for the entire winter as certain of my forbears did. To them Lanzarote would have been a bit, "nouveau," and not quite pukka and maybe they would have been right. Well ok they would have been, but it is nice to get away from frosts, rain and winds, if only for a short time. Running and training in a temperate climate devoid of mud and rain is an easy selection.


Thursday, 28 November 2013

More Food for Londonderry?

I note that Northern Ireland's present Environment Minister, one Mark Durkan by name, has decided to recommend a mixed use planning application at Rossdowney Road, Londonderry which is to incorporate a new food superstore, (so says the Derry Journal.). Mr Durkan is reported as saying that the development will benefit the local area and the Waterside as a whole. I wonder whether the owner of the neighbourhood supermarket which is located some fifty yards from this new development would wholeheartedly agree with Mr Durkan? I think that I know the answer to that question.


Perhaps there have been food shortages in the Waterside area of Londonderry with emergency supplies being trucked in, but if there have been I haven't heard of them. In addition to the neighbourhood supermarket already referred to there is a larger supermarket within approximately six hundred yards and a large Tesco within seven hundred yards. How many supermarkets do we require? What evidence of need is there for another outlet at the top of the human food chain? I would accept that the local economy may benefit from some short term construction jobs, but if this feeder of waistlines is constructed will there be a net increase in employment in food retail in the catchment area of this, "superstore." two or three years hence? Logic says no unless there is an increase in population, or BMI's are allowed to increase, or there is a major problem with intestinal worms!


Monday, 25 November 2013

Time and Memory

Austerlitz. - W. G. Sebald. - Penguin Books

A friend gave me this book to read. He thought that I would enjoy the quiet meditative quality of its prose and its slightly melancholy attachment to time and memory. I did.


The Austerlitz of the story is Jacques Austerlitz who as a five year old is put on a Kinder-transport by his mother, Agáta and sent to England. He is placed with foster parents and brought up by them in a cold Methodist manse in Wales. He becomes Dafydd Elias and his formative identity is erased from him just as unbeknownst to him his parents are being literally erased as a result of die Endlösung. It is only after the death of his foster mother and the mental decline of his foster father that the then teenage schoolboy first discovers his true name.


Slowly, almost imperceptibly half forgotten memories flutter across his memory. He ignores these little signposts of recollection, consciously blanking out what may be his past, but with age he is inexorably drawn backwards to his heritage and the future that was taken from him.


As Sebald so presciently states, time is the executioner of our future. With incessant regularity it slices away at what is yet to come.


Cheese comes from Plants and Pasta Comes from Animals

These are among the beliefs held by a substantial percentage of the UK's schoolchildren so states the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF). It seems barely within the bounds of belief that children are growing up so divorced from the countryside and without any true knowledge of where their food comes from.


BNF's research involved some 27,500 schoolchildren. Almost one in three of the 5 to 8 year old primary school children involved in the survey were of the view that cheese came from plants, ( perhaps their teacher had plonked a cheese plant in front of them at some stage and told them to draw it!) and more than one in six of the 8 to 11 year olds were proponents of the view that pasta came from animals. I am trying to imagine what animal they think produces raw pasta. Presumably a herbivore?


Lack of basic knowledge was not restricted to younger children, the research reported that ten percent of secondary age children thought that tomatoes grew underground.


How have we come to this pass? The advent and growth of the supermarket and the proliferation of ready meals with the original ingredients processed beyond recognition must bear some responsibility as must the innate laziness of our vacuum packed society. Maybe however it is simply a reflection of our increasing lack of direct personal knowledge of agriculture and food production. I wonder how many of the 27,500 children have a parent or other relative directly involved in agriculture, horticulture or fishing? Precious few I suspect. It would have been interesting to have given the children a tongue sandwich and then queried them on where the tongue had come from - or been!


Friday, 22 November 2013

Sir John Ross, PC. QC.

Born on 11th December 1853 John Ross was the eldest son of Rev. Robert Ross and his wife Margaret Christie. Rev. Ross had been installed as minister of Fourth Londonderry Presbyterian Church, (Carlisle Road) on 29th March 1850 and was to remain in this position until his death on 1st July 1894.


The young Ross's elementary education included a period at the Model School, Londonderry, (it had opened in 1862), before proceeding to Foyle College where his contempories included Percy French. He subsequently entered Trinity College Dublin where he graduated with a BA in 1877 and LLB in 1879. A member of Grays Inn, (1878), he was called to the Irish Bar in 1879 and practiced on the North West Circuit. He took silk in 1891 and was elected a Bencher in 1893.


Like many of the legal profession he entered politics and served as the Conservative Member of Parliament for the City of Londonderry from 1892 until 1895 when he was defeated. The following year at the age of forty three he was to become the youngest judge in the United Kingdom when he was elevated to the Bench as the Land Judge in the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice in Ireland. He holds the honour of being the first Presbyterian Irish High Court Judge. In 1902 he was sworn into the Irish Privy Council and in 1902 he was created a Baronet. In 1921 he reached the apogee of his legal career when he was appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland. He was to be the last individual to hold this appointment, it being abolished in December 1922 at which time Sir John retired to London, but ultimately returned to Northern Ireland to live at Dunmoyle Lodge outside Sixmilecross where he was to die on 17th August 1935. He was succeeded to the baronetcy by his only son Sir Ronald Deane Ross KC, MC , MP who for a time was Recorder of Sunderland.


Sir John's wife whom he married in 1882 was Katherine Mary Jeffcock Mann, the only daughter of Lieut. Col. Deane Mann of Dunmoyle. The match was not approved of by the Manns. The young Ross had two great failings so far as the Manns were concerned, -that he was not from a landed family and his Presbyterianism. Whilst the couple did not exactly elope, Miss Mann is reputed to have walked from her father's seat to Sixmilecross where she took an early morning train to Dublin and then married Ross at St. Michan's Church, (Parish Church to the Law Courts of Ireland), with her parents being absent. The honeymoon was apparently spent riding a tandem from Dublin to Donegal.


Despite the initial antipathy if not hostility between the young couple and the Manns it is clear that relationships must have improved as Dunmoyle would ultimately belong to the Ross's. The house and its large conservatory were demolished in the mid 1960's.


A brother of Sir John Ross, Stuart C. Ross was for many years a solicitor in Londonderry. His firm was ultimately taken over by a nephew (?) Frederick Bond who continued trading under the style of "Stuart C Ross & Co," until his death, when the business was subsumed into a larger practice and the name disappeared.


Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Gym Challenge

Gym work can be a bit boring. By its very nature it has to be repetitive, slowly building up flexibility, muscle strength or length. Accordingly when I saw a gym challenge being advertised I thought that I would give it a rattle. There was a choice of three levels of difficulty. Despite not being built along the lines of Mr Atlas I elected to attempt the most difficult level, - more reps, slightly heavier weights. The aim was to complete the exercises as quickly as possible, wasting as little time as possible between the nine constituent parts.


So what did I have to do? The following exertions made up the elements of the challenge :-

1.5 k Static Bike ride

500m row - level 10

60 hip flexors

50 press ups

80 box step ups - 20kg

60 sit ups

40 shoulder presses - 16kg

800m treadmill run at 10 degree angle.

30 Bench presses - 40kg.

It didn't prove to be quite as difficult as I thought it might, so perhaps I judged my pacing slightly incorrectly. The exercises which I found to be the toughest were probably the sit ups and the bench presses, or more accurately the last four or five reps of each. The clock stopped at something over eighteen minutes. Now for some practice and a rerun me thinks.




Monday, 18 November 2013

Concept Rowing Contest.

My indoor rowing tends to be a very solitary affair, home alone in the cellar with the concept rower and the radio playing loudly. Yesterday however I competed in a rather low key contest. Five concept rowing machines had been lined up in a row and they were linked to a large overhead screen. Ten individuals took on the 2000m challenge.


There was no attempt to seed individuals or split them into light weights and heavy weights, though for the most part the weight categorisation was fairly obvious. Five were selected at random for the first heat, self included. The large screen displayed the rowing rate of the competitors and the gaps in metres between everyone. It was not long into the row before I realised that there was no one in this heat who was going to push me. To achieve any half reasonable time I would have to force my own pace. My finishing time was 7.33.7 so very mediocre, but I was a minute a head.

The second heat panned out in a very similar way. Again there was someone who was appreciably better than the other contestants. He had more upper body strength than myself and with two hundred metres to go I was sure that he would beat my time, but I think that he must have then reached his lactic tipping point and his stroke rate slowed slightly. He finished in 7.34.1.


Saturday, 16 November 2013

The Cost of the Van Man.

When does performing for free result in ratepayers having to stomp up £36,000? The answer is when that performer is an individual by the name of Van Morrison. Apparently this individual has been granted the Freedom of the City of Belfast for the contribution he has made to the City. Not being a follower of his musical genre, whatever it might be, and not knowingly having listened to any of his little ditties I will refrain from commenting on whether this was a meritorious decision or not. In any event the decision was take by the city fathers and Mr Morrison now has all the quodos which attaches to a Freeman of the County of the City of Belfast and of course all the benefits.


In recognition of this great honour which was being bestowed upon him by his city of birth Mr Morrison volunteered to perform for free. The rub was that whilst he might be performing free gratis and for nothing the cost of his performance would not be free because his band and crew would require to be paid. Presumably there is also the matter of paying for security staff and stewarts at the Waterfront venue.


I have to confess that on reflection I have some sympathy for Morrison's band and crew, but why was the decision made not to charge for the tickets? Some two thousand free tickets were apparently released to the Belfast populace via a lottery system. I am told that fans will readily pay £50 and more to hear their crooner of choice. Imagine if Belfast City Council had made a profit on the event! A terrible suggestion I know but it is actually permissible.


Friday, 15 November 2013

Village Resting Place

Yesterday's events determined yesterday's apparel. It was another of those days where a dark suit was taken from the wardrobe to the accompaniment of white shirt and sombre tie. Black shoes completed the Stygian uniform. Yet another funeral required my attendance. Thankfully this was not a trajic death that was being honoured, but no funeral can be anything but sad. I cannot understand why clergymen exhort us with phrases about funerals being days to celebrate the life of a deceased. They are days of sadness, sorrow, memories and sometimes regret.


The funeral service was held in a small village church. Friends, neighbours and relatives made up the congregation. The deceased's late husband had been a farmer and many of those in attendance had complexions that vouched that they too were horny handed sons of the soil. They twisted their necks from side to side, uncomfortable with the restriction of collar and tie.


I cannot remember a time when I did not know the deceased. She was married to a first cousin of my mother and their farm provided what seemed like a boundless playground for my childhood energy. Their large family, four boys and two girls meant there was always someone to play football with, to chase and be chased by. She didn't benefit from quite the longevity of her husband, but after eighty six years I don't suppose she thought she had had a short life, but then again human nature always demands more.


The liturgy of the funeral service may be comforting, but I suspect that a rational dissection of those familiar words and phrases might have caused many of those sitting in that small rural church to intone, "Sapiens nihil affirmat quod non probat," - a wise man asserts nothing he cannot prove.


Tuesday, 12 November 2013

A Wooden Pile


Whilst my wood splitting may have been temporarily halted as a consequence of the breaking of the shaft of my sledge hammer I have already managed to provide myself with more than two cubic metres of logs for the winter of 2015/16. Despite the physical effort involved I do enjoy blocking firewood. There is a certain simple satisfaction in providing yourself with your own fuel.


My Sunday running companion is a joiner by trade. He waxes lyrical on the qualities of various woods. Not a man of many words nor particularity demonstrative he talks feelingly of the colour and qualities of our native trees. If anyone overheard our post run conversations on the grain and colour of different woods and how easy or hard they are to cut they would probably regard us as a couple of sad old buffers. Well maybe we are, but we do appreciate the turn, grain and smell of the wood and the heat provided by the logs resulting from our travails.


Sunday, 10 November 2013

Bright Chard

Chard - Bright Lights

Swiss Chard must be one of the most colourful inhabitants of the vegetable garden. The fine specimen which features in the above photograph is a bit of a rogue plant. It is not growing next its fellow chard plants in the designated row, but rather it sprang up amongst the potatoes. Perhaps some blackbird or robin stole a seed from the row which I sowed in late spring and dropped it amongst the drills of potatoes!


It is inevitable that frosts will soon be a regular feature of the night hours. So as to provide the chard with some protection against the drop in temperatures I will place bell cloches over the better plants so that I can continue cropping them through the winter months. With a modicum of effort it is just about possible to have Swiss Chard available right throughout the year even without a tunnel house.


Saturday, 9 November 2013

Portrush Parkrun Revisited

I paddled along to Portrush this am to participate in the Parkrun along the resort's East Strand. Bad decision! It is about a year since I ran in this event and it was silly of me to think that the experience would be any better. It wasn't. It was much, much worse.


I suppose that I can sort of understand why a Parkrun was established at this location. The scenery is pleasant enough, even in winter and if I had been sitting in a hostelry eighteen months ago with the mellowing affects of several snifters circulating through the bloodstream I might well have nominated this locus for a Parkrun. However on the following day I would have realised the stupidity of the notion. For a one off event fine, but this is not a suitable venue for a regular Saturday run.

You are always going to have a stretch of soft sand to wade through at the start and then again at the end, but of much more relevance are the vagaries presented by the tides. Today the high tide was scheduled for 11-20 am and there was little or no firm running. In an attempt to keep to the best of the running you just had to ignore the advancing tide and splash through it. Several horses had clearly been exercised along the beach in the early morning and the craters left by their hooves posed a definite danger most especially when the tide covered them. Picking ones way along the beach hoping that you are not going to snap an ankle can surely not have any attractions for anyone. It doesn't for me.

I don't doubt the enthusiasm of the organisers and volunteers at this event, but I do question the retention of the particular locus. Certainly keep a Parkrun in Portrush, but move it off the sand.


Garlic Planting

It was a good year for garlic, lots of large bulbs with fat creamy cloves. Rather than buying in garlic to plant for next year's crop I chose some of this year's largest bulbs to split up and provide me with my seed cloves. I have probably planted slightly too many cloves but I do like garlic and it does seem to have various health benefits. Still if they do all come and survive the winter, one hundred and fifty garlics might be slightly too many!

With rabbits still proving a problem in the garden I have surrounded the newly planted garlic patch with protective chicken wire. My shotgun toting friends have still not appeared to rid me of these turbulent pests.


Friday, 8 November 2013

A Sledge for Christmas.

A bright morning, but there was a definite nip in the air. It is often said that wood heats you twice, when you cut it and when you burn it. With this trueism fixed firmly in my mind I decided to block a few rings of wood.


The exercise most definitely warmed me up. I was starting into the third ring when the weight of my trusty sledge hammer was suddenly dissipated. The shaft had decided to part company with the head. Clearly I had not appreciated my own strength! Well perhaps fifteen years of active use of the sledge might have been the real reason for the partition of wood and metal. I will now have to persuade one of my practically minded friends to fit a new shaft to my weapon of wood destruction. It's either that or put a sledge hammer on the old Christmas wish list.


Thursday, 7 November 2013

City of Derry Building Society to Disappear

It isn't that long ago that Londonderry had three independent building societies; the Oakleaf Building Society; the City of Derry Building Society and the Londonderry Provident Building Society.


The ,"Oakleaf," was the first to disappear. It was 1980 when it was taken over by the Anglia Building Society. On 1st September 1987 the Nationwide Building Society amalgamated with the Anglia Building Society which then became known as the Nationwide Anglia Building Society. The original City of Derry Building Society was taken over by the Nationwide Anglia on 30th September 1987. That left the Londonderry Provident Building Society as the sole local building society. It changed its name to the City of Derry Building Society on 1st January 2001.


The directors of this minnow of the financial world, (£42.6m), have now announced that the Society is to merge with the much larger Progressive Building Society. In view of the respective sizes of the two entities it might be more accurate to talk about a takeover rather than a merger. The members of the City of Derry Building will have to vote for the subsuming of their Society in the Belfast based Progressive, but presumably the necessary hari-kari vote will be passed.


It is interesting and perhaps a little ironical to note that in the Accounts and Reports of the City of Derry Building Society for the year ending 31st December 2012 it is stated that the Directors, "are fully committed to the Society's future as an independent mutual building society owned by its members." Clearly ten months is a long time in the financial world!



Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Spill Rail Connector DW12C

Car safety is clearly an important issue, but it does seem strange that vehicle recalls occur with such frequency, most especially since car production lines are now so automated. Monday's postal delivery brought me one of these safety related recall letters from Mr Tata's scribe. It informed me that there might be a problem with the, "spill rail connector," of my horseless carriage.


What a spill rail connector actually is I have no idea, but apparently a few vehicles have as a consequence of this mechanical aberration experienced fuel weeping which in a worse case scenario could result in under bonnet smoke or fire. I guess that this probably does warrant a recall!


The letter assured me that this was a, "no-charge," recall. Rest assured Mr Tata that I had no intention of paying for a vehicle check necessitated by a fault in one of your factories! Anyhows it wasn't a no cost recall. My car was not collected, checked and delivered back to me. I had to drive to the dealership, wait around for the necessary check to be carried out and then drive home. Bang went my morning. I was assured that my vehicle did not have a defective spill rail connector. Hoorah!


Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Honking Afternoon


Today's manoeuvres saw me driving through Ballykelly in the direction of Londonderry. Even with the noise of the traffic I could hear the plaintiff honking of swans calling to their brethren in the skies over Lough Foyle. To my right, in the fields immediately below the road, there were several hundred mute swans. I pulled over to have a closer look. There were obviously rich pickings in these stubble fields.

The birds were grazing the ground with satisfied and noisy intent. Every so often a few more squadrons of their kin made rather untidy landings, eager to join the feast. Whilst food was clearly the reason for their presence they all seemed to have an equal degree of wariness of the road. Surveying the fields occupied by the swans it was as if their was an invisible electric fence some twenty yards into the fields. They fed up to this line but did not cross it. It was quite strange to see.


Monday, 4 November 2013

Donkey Serenade

I don't suppose that very many of those who, "happen upon," this post will know of or have heard of, "The Donkey Serenade." To me it did seem an obvious title, but I suppose that is because I grew up watching grainy musicals on the very small box in the drawing room. No glorious technicolor then and just about a choice of stations. It wasn't that long after the everyday story of country folk had experienced the death of Grace Archer. Another reference to something which will mean nothing to most people!


I have always liked donkeys. The fine specimens in the above photo are kept by a farmer a few miles from where I live. He presently has four donkeys as well as a Shetland pony and foal.


My maternal grandfather bought me a donkey when I was about three. This was kept at his farm and every week I would inspect my donkey and be led around on it. Unfortunately my grandfather's ill health and subsequent demise meant that my first and largest pet had to be disposed of. The farm suffered the same fate. I often play the, "what if," game. What if my grandfather hadn't suffered ill health and died at what now seems the very early age of sixty five? Would he have kept the farm? Would I have been gently introduced to the notion of taking over his farm? I suspect so, but I will never know.


Sunday, 3 November 2013

Sunday Duathlon.

My usual Sunday morning training was sidelined today. Instead of a brisk six mile run and various strengthening exercises with a nearish contempory I had committed myself to a run leg in a duathlon, (run, bike, run). Our team toed the line with a total of 95 years of experience. Most of the years, if not the experience was supplied by yours truly. A world champion kick boxer, a good cyclist and a rather geriatric runner, this was the make up of today's dream team.


I had been told that the event would be quite low key, but in the event ninety three individuals were at the start line including a few relay teams.The first leg was run by the son of my usual Sunday training companion. He finished his 3k strongly and passed three individuals in the run in to the changeover to bring us in a very respectable twelfth. The team, "nomme," then set off on his bike ride. No news from the course, so it was a matter of keeping warm and waiting for his arrival back at transition. The first competitor rode in, pulled on his running shoes and headed off on his second run. Some forty seconds later the next competitor arrived. Then my teammate. He had moved us from twelfth to third. It was not going to be a matter of running in the pack!


My run was over an out and in course, with the first half being slightly downhill and as a consequence the second half being slightly uphill. I managed to pass the second placed runner within a kilometre and at the turn I could see that I was catching the leader, but unfortunately not quickly enough. He still had fifteen seconds on me at the end and of course he had completed the entire duathlon without any team assistance. One does have to place these things in context.


Munchies courtesy of our cyclist's momma followed our exertions. A welcome repast.



Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Expense of Power

Mr Cameron is proposing that additional powers, including that of raising certain taxes, should be given to the Welsh Assembly. One cannot but think that as well as being something of a preemptive strike so far as the Welsh balkanisationists are concerned that this is also a message to the Scottish electorate, - stay loyal to the Union and you can have more regional power.


Why cannot it be recognised that the regional assemblies are just an additional and unnecessary level of government? Imagine the financial savings that could be achieved from dissolving these regional talk shops for good. No MSP's, no MLA's and no MWA's and none of their support staff including the layers of civil servants pandering to their egos.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Colonel Charles Patton Chambers.

This son of Foyle College and Empire joined the East India Company in 1856. He served throughout the Indian Mutiny and was in Agra during its siege. He fought in the second battle of Agra. This action would prove to be a precursor to the relief of Lucknow. In 1858 Chambers is recorded as being a Lieutenant with the 48th Bengal Native Infantry. By 1876 the then Captain Chambers was promoted to the rank of Major. A further promotion followed and on 23rd July 1879 his retirement on half pay and with the honorary rank of Colonel is formally recorded in the London Gazette. He is described as being late of the 107th Foot. A son, Charles Colhoun Chambers MC served in the Great War with 12th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery and was killed in action in Flanders on 10th July 1916 at the age of 27. Colonel Chambers died in 1927(?) at King's Langley, Herts at the age of 91.


Sources: London Gazette, The Magazine of Foyle College.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Masticating Reporter

When I was growing up in the 1960's the chewing of gum was very definitely a no no. Those who indulged in this imported American habit were viewed with some disdain, perhaps even disgust. They were most definitely personae non gratae. I suspect however that the general view on the habit has become less damnatory over the years. Maybe this is due to the sale of nicorette gum to those trying to give up smoking. There has certainly been a reversal in the social acceptability of the two habits and it is tempting to suggest that chewing gum is now almost lauded by certain people because of its connotations with the giving up of the pernicious weed.


I have to say however that my views on the chewing of gum have not altered much from those that were inculcated into me during my formative years. I do not like the habit and I find it very off putting to have some individual talk to me whilst exercising his molars on a ball of saliva covered gum. If I have the misfortune to catch sight of some gum addict's mandibular delight stuck between his dentition I begin to feel nauseous.


Imagine then my feelings of revulsion when I recently viewed a video clip on the website of a small NI newspaper. One of the paper's reporters was requesting information on a photograph which had been supplied by a reader. He was chewing gum throughout the clip. I accept that this was not national television, nor the website of a national newspaper, but was this behaviour acceptable? I cannot be persuaded that it was. I emailed the editor of the relevant publication and asked him if the reporter was being admonished for his conduct. He did not respond.


Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Major-General Sir Robert Porter K.C.B., C.M.G.

Born in Co. Donegal in 1858 the young Robert Porter received his initial education at Foyle College before taking up his medical studies at Glasgow University. He entered the RAMC in 1881. This saw him serving in the Ashanti Wars of 1895/96 and he was present at the capture of Coonmassie which event is related in Henty's novel, "By Sheer Pluck." He was awarded the Ashanti Star (1896) and as a veteran of the South African War he received the Queen's South African Medal and the King's South African Medal.


Subsequent appointments saw him as Administrative Medical Officer in the Irish Command (1908-10), Principal Medical Officer Western Command (1910) and Deputy Director of Medical Services Malta (1910-14). During the Great War he was appointed Director of Medical Services 2 Army and was mentioned in dispatches no fewer than six times. He was awarded with the honour of Commander of the Order of the Crown and the Croix de Guerre by Belgium. His medals also included a 1914 Star Trio with August- November clasp. He retired from service in 1918. At the time of his death on 27th February 1928 Major-General Sir Robert Porter was resident at Beckenham, Kent.


In 2011 Sir Robert's medal group was being advertised for sale at a militaria auction being held by Lochdales of Ipswich. The estimate was £5,500. A sad footnote on a distinguished military career.


Sources: The Magazine of Foyle College; Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives.


Saturday, 26 October 2013

City of Culture Packing Up

Now that Londonderry's year as the UK's City of Culture is fizzling to a conclusion it seems to be getting more attention in the media. The BBC reports that, "The Venue," the name given to the temporary structure which was erected to host the eminently forgettable, "headlining," events is to be dismantled in January 2014. There was no appetite from the private sector to take over the running of this structure. Four million pounds was spend on the erection of this glorified tent and apparently £500,000 will now be spent on its removal from the landscape. It really does seem that the legacy of the City of Culture will be forgettable.


No doubt a few hostelries and coffee shops have seen an increase in takings, but has the dear old rate payer been a winner? Derry City Council is expecting a deficit of £1.5 million pounds. Within the last month three directors of the '"Culture Company," have elected fior resignation. Not a happy ship, not a cultural success, not a lasting legacy.


Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Stormy Run


An immature herring gull stood ignoring its adult companion and attempting to ignore the winds which blew in from the churning sea. The steel coloured waves crashed into the rocks and turned into a series of noisy, churning malestroms. Not a day for bird flight and not an appealing day for a coastal run.

Despite the discouraging weather I decided to proceed with my run around the area of Portrush, slightly cheered by the rainbow that appeared on the horizon far out to sea. Maybe I wouldn't get too wet!


Initially I ran around Ramore Head. There was no shelter here. The wind buffeted me. It tasted salty. Every few seconds it would ease slightly, causing me to stagger into the momentary vacuum. To my right, next the sea, two posies had been thrust into a crevice in the rocks, a sad reminder of a fisherman torn away by the greedy sea.


The West Strand was empty, although there were a few walkers striding along the promenade above the beach. They were all encased in waterproof clothing. Usually when I run past someone a few words of greeting pass between us, but not today. People walked with their heads down, intent on completing their perambulation as soon as possible. These walkers were out to complete a task, not for idle enjoyment.


Like the walkers I was anxious to complete my exertions as soon as possible. It was not a day to savour the weather. Reaching the end of the promenade I headed inland, passing under the railway line and made for the East Strand. It also was empty of people. A small flock of sandpipers chased the waves in and out. I turned just before the White Rocks and retraced my strides. I had checked the distance on my Garmin. I now took the most direct route back to my car. It was good to get out of the wind. Lunch beckoned. Eight miles completed.






Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Sir Andrew Searle Hart.

Born on the 14th March 1811 Andrew Searle Hart was the youngest son of Rev. George Vaughan Hart of Glenalla, Co Donegal and his wife Maria. His initial education was received at Foyle College and from thence he went to Trinity College Dublin in 1828. At Trinity he was a classmate of Isaac Butt, the son of another Donegal Rector.


Hart graduated in 1833 and obtained the Science Gold Medal. He was a elected a Fellow in 1835, became Master of Arts in 1839, LLD in 1840 and was co-opted as Senior Fellow in 1854. The apogee of his collegiate career came in 1876 when he became the forty second Vice-Provost of Trinity. As was then the custom he retained this position until his death on 13th April 1890. He was the author of an Elementary Treatise on Mechanics (Dublin 1844) and an Elementary Treatise on Hydrostatics and Optics (Dublin 1846). He was a member of the Royal Dublin Society and the Royal Irish Academy.


On Monday, 25th January 1886, prior to the levee, The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, His Excellency the Earl of Carnarvon, conferred a knighthood upon this Old Boy of Foyle College. Writing to the then Headmaster of Foyle, Dr Maurice Hine, shortly afterwards Sir Andrew said as follows, - " Many thanks for your congratulations on a honour which is liable to be misunderstood. It was intended by His Excellency as a parting compliment to Trinity College, and my claim to a share in the honour rests solely on the fact that no other living man has been so long connected with the College as I. This is a claim which I can safely undertake to maintain against all the world, which gives me an advantage over many men who have been similarly honoured."


Sources: Our School Times March 1886.


Sunday, 20 October 2013

Last Legumes of the Year


When I harvested the garlic I sowed a row of a dwarf growing garden pea. This was done more in the hope than the expectation that I would have any pods to pull before the descent of autumn frosts. Against the odds the pea vines have grown to maturity within the timeframe allotted to them by the vagaries of our climate and I was able to pull some fifty pods this pm. Hopefully the remaining pods will swell out during the course of the next week and I will have a few pounds of peas for freezing.


Saturday, 19 October 2013

Dental Flossy? Methinks Not.


I have been attending my present dental practice for about seven years. However my first experience of the practice dates back to the 1960's when for whatever reason I was taken there by my parents when I broke a crown. (I think that our usual dental surgeon must have been on holiday.)


Returning to the practice more than forty years later it was still very recognisable. True there were a few computers in evidence and there had probably been one or two partial refits over the years and of course the staff and dentists had changed, but it was still very much the same practice and I have to concede a trifle old fashioned. Not that there is anything wrong with a touch of yesteryear. It can be very reassuring and the treatment I received, dental and social was always first rate, although I was always wary of the deplaquing exercise. It was my practice to take two or three painkillers in advance of my six monthly checkups.


About a year ago the principal elected to retire and his successor, a dentist of the female variety has embarked on an extensive modernisation scheme. The premises definitely needed this revamp. Work is still very much ongoing, but the surgery into which I was ushered last week had been completed. The old linoleum and strip lighting had disappeared to be replaced by dazzling white walls and bright inset ceiling lights. A brand spanking new treatment chair and dental equipment sat amidst the room.


Methinks that my now dentist will prove to be a very astute business woman as well as a being a proficient dental surgeon. She is definitely not a dental flossy!

I forgot to take any painkillers in anticipation of my checkup; deplaque and clean. It wasn't necessary. The female dental touch may be gentler than that of the male!


Friday, 18 October 2013

Getting Drugs from the Pharmacy. Easy!!

The aged male parent was unable to attend his GP's surgery today to pick up a prescription so I was volunteered/directed to collect it for him and then go to his pharmacy of choice to obtain the drug filled phials.


I introduced myself at the surgery and was asked to confirm my father's name and address. This satisfied them as to my bona fides. At the pharmacy I was only asked for my father's name. An easily performed task, but should it have been easy as it was? Maybe there are more stringent procedures for different and stronger types of drugs and medicaments. I would hope that this is the case. If not then there is something of a gap in the rules and regulations of the health service in so far as they apply to Northern Ireland.


Perhaps I do have an honest face, but so do the most successful con merchants.


Thursday, 17 October 2013

Plucking Tomatoes.



The tomatoes have been late in ripening this year, but for the last eight weeks they have been coming thick and fast. I must say that I do like a freshly picked tomato, sliced and sprinkled with a little salt. A pre- breakfast snack does not however use up that many of these New World fruits. However a good few stone have already been transformed into chutney and soup.


I pulled almost ten pounds this morning. Thankfully there is no imminent danger of a frost, but I think that I will pluck the remaining tomatoes from their vines over the weekend, whether they are red, orange or green. That should ensure that I will still be consuming tomato sandwiches at the end of November.


Another gardening year is coming to an end.