Thursday, 29 August 2013

What Computer to Purchase?

My laptop computer is beginning to show its age. It is not quite ten years old, but I am told that this makes it almost prehistoric in the world of computers. It's not that it has ceased all functionality, but it does take rather a long time to, "warm up," and get to the stage where I can get on to the Internet or even type a letter. One has to allow about fifteen minutes for its circuitry to get to the operational stage. I have to admit that this can be a tad tiring.


Having enjoyed using my ipad for the past twelve months I thought that I might purchase a "Mac," as the successor to my chronically ill computer ,despite the hefty price tag that such a purchase would entail. Accordingly I entered through the doors of Belfast's, "Apple Store," having resigned myself to having my current account somewhat denuded of funds as a result of the visit.


My initial ponderings had caused me to think that a Macbook Pro might be the ticket as it had a CD drive. The staff seemed to be very knowledgeable and it was suggested that I might want to consider a desk top model rather than a laptop. I retreated to a nearby coffee shop for an infusion of coffee and to ponder. Undoubtedly I would be getting more, "bang for my buck," if I went for a desk top computer and maybe I didn't need the portability of a laptop as I had my ipad. What to do?


I retraced my steps. It was a different sales assistant that came to my assistance on this occasion, but equally knowledgable. Having ascertained my limited use of the Information Technology Highway and its capabilities he suggested that I might want to consider using a portable keyboard along with my ipad and at least postpone the investment in a new computer. A Logitech keyboard cover was produced for me to look at and try. The ipad slots into a groove in the keyboard, essentially giving you a mini laptop. I decided to purchase this piece of hardware and so far I am happy with it. I suspect however that I will ultimately reenter the portals of the Apple Store to purchase a new computer, whether desktop or laptop. I can't imagine that the memory of the ipad will be sufficient to store everything that I want to retain.


Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Tree Trimming

My chainsaw toting friends arrived on Monday morning to carve up the latest arboreal casualty, a wild cherry tree which had elected for a horizontal stance some three weeks ago. The reason for its decline and fall was soon evident. Whilst a ring of wood about six inches deep was alive and vital the centre of the trunk up to a height of some eight feet was soft and diseased. It crumbled in your hands.


With the cherry tree duly ringed they attacked what remained of the bole of a large scots pine which had gone to tree heaven several years ago. Their efforts were rewarded with five very large rings. How was I going to manhandle these into a wheelbarrow and get them under cover pending blocking? Thankfully they are as equally adept with an axe as with a chainsaw and they were able to half each of the rings. The resultant slabs of wood still weigh close to three quarters of a hundredweight, but they are now at least manageable and as they kindly brought them up to the yard I only have to lift them onto my logging block.


The final subject of their incisive administrations was a large cherry tree branch in the lower garden. Its angle and weight had resulted in a large longitudinal crack appearing. Another growing season or a sufficiently strong wind was going to bring it to earth so I thought that I might as well anticipate the inevitable and have it amputated.


Tuesday, 27 August 2013

A Telephone Call, a Radio Programme and a Womble.

I received a telephone call from a former work colleague this morning. Not an unusual occurrence. Usually our conversations are just that - idle everyday chats, but occasionally and today was one of those days he has to ring me about some old work matter. He knows that I hate having to discuss and more especially having to remember such things and I know that he only rings when he has to. That said it does upset what passes for my equilibrium.


Memories and thoughts surface and refuse to go away, the stomach churns, the pulse climbs, the headache starts, the brow furrows. Like many people, maybe even the majority, I never really enjoyed my working life and for the last ten years I positively despised it and myself for being a thrall to it. Maybe if I had been able to compartmentalise work and home and forget about work when not at work I would have been happier. This conjecture is however hypothetical because my nature does not permit of such a solution. Worry and pessimism stalked me throughout my career and it seems that I will never be free of their clammy grasp.


On days such as this I have to force my body into action and fight the desire to do absolutely nothing. My brain doesn't want to think and my body does not want to move. The physical jolt I determined upon was a session on my concept rower. I turned on the radio and settled into the palliative arms of exercise. The programme presenter was talking about the benefits of deep brain stimulation. It does not however cause you to forget.


I think that it was Mike Batt who said that the one item which he wanted to retain from his late mother's possessions was her pair of rose tinted glasses. A laudable wish for a womble.


Colourful Butterflies

Peacock Butterfly - 26th August 2013

There do seem to be more butterflies fluttering about the garden this summer. I wonder if it has anything to do with the government's policy of not cutting certain roadway verges as often as in previous years. Most of us will have seen the small roadside signs with the prohibitory words, "Do not Cut."


Allowing a good bed of nettles to develop seems to be one of the best things that one can do to facilitate the life cycle of the butterfly, with many species laying their eggs on this particular plant. A good excuse to adopt a relaxed attitude to gardening or at least to allow a wild corner to develop!

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly - 26th August 2013


Sunday, 25 August 2013

Fungal Meal


Late summer and fungi are now beginning to appear in the garden. I don't pretend to know an awful lot about these examples of garden flora, (is this the correct term?), but I have been told which specimens within the confines of the garden can be consumed with alacrity and which most definitely have to be avoided.


The examples in the photograph may not be the most photogenic specimens, but they add a meaty something to a cassoulet. I have also consumed a few examples along with free range eggs provided by the friendly attendant at the local municipal recycling facility. The remainder of the mushrooms have been sliced, bagged and consigned to the freezer.


Saturday, 24 August 2013

Mixed Race Cucumbers

Cucumbers 2012

Last summer's cucumber crop provided me with dozens of long regular specimens. The longest were almost two feet in length. A heck of a concurbit. The variety was Telegraph. I decided to save some seed from one of these goliaths hoping that this year's crop would at least equal, if not exceed that of last year. I duly sowed the seed in the spring and it was not long before I had nine or ten cucumber plants growing on. The best half dozen were selected and planted in the back section of the greenhouse and the necessary bamboo scaffolding erected to allow the plants to clamber skywards, assisted by a little judicious tying in.


It was not long before little cucumbers could be seen to be forming. Unfortunately these have not grown to the size of their forebears. They are stunted, rather more ridged and have a yellowish tinge to their skin.


What had happened? Why had my eugenics experiment for cucumbers gone so disastrously wrong? It was a few days before I realised the awful truth. The purity of the bloodline had been compromised! Last year as well as growing cucumbers I had also grown two gherkin plants. What I had been growing on and nurturing was the illicit spawn of a gherkin and a thoroughbred cucumber brought together by some nefarious bumblebee. Dr. Mengele would not have approved. Still they do taste all right.

Cucumbers 2013 style.


Thursday, 22 August 2013

Ballymoney Cyclists Wheeling into Portrush.

The rain stopped not long after I had concluded my training run yesterday evening although the sky remained leaden. I decided that I would stay to watch a cycle time trial which was being organised by Ballymoney Cycling Club. The course took in a stretch of the coast road, passing Dunluce Castle and finishing on the eastern outskirts of Portrush.

To my mind the distance being cycled, (9.8 miles), seemed a rather idiosyncratic mileage. Why not ten miles? Even nine miles would have a better ring to it. The start and finish lines didn't seem to have any particular logic to their selection, most especially the start. To the casual observer, ie me, it seemed eminently sensible to have the would be Eddie Merckxs start their efforts a couple of furlongs back from the starting point that had been determined upon. Even using the multiplicand of an Irish Mile couldn't give roundness to the mileage.

Fourteen individuals sped past me as I viewed them from my vantage point. It is hard to judge the speed of a cyclist but I would have thought that the better ones were travelling at more than 25mph as they zipped by me. All but one of the cyclists were remarkably quiet in their efforts. The exception to the rule and what I judged to be the silverback of the competitors punctuated the air with his grunts and groans.

I do enjoy the notion of being able to cycle at speed, but I fear that I will not be purchasing a racing bike and taking to its saddle. I was most definetely closer to fifty than forty when I taught myself to ride a bike and although I can pedal along on my trusty hybrid it is with some degree of trepidation if not quite fear that I approach any protracted decline. I do not have that blind confidence of youth. The thought of coming off a bike whilst travelling at 25 or 30mph and the likely bony injuries that would result from such a tumble causes me to refrain from purchasing a thoroughbred cycle. I must content myself with my cart horse specimen.


Portrush in the Rain

Looking towards Portrush and the Skerries - 21st August 2013

Typical summer weather. Mild and wet. That was how I would describe Tuesday's late afternoon weather in Portrush. I had decided to run around this north coast resort for a change of training venue.

There is something somewhat melancholy, but also rather familiar and comforting about a seaside town trying to engender a holiday atmosphere when nature is laughing at its efforts. Frazzled parents were dragging their bored and bedraggled offspring through the mizzle laden air. One child stamped in a puddle. Her siblings were already sodden and didn't object. Close to the harbour two elderly women, perhaps they were sisters, sat on a bench wearing identical plastic macs. A bit of rain wasn't going to spoil their day at the seaside.

Like the children I was rather wet by the time I returned to the car after my hours run. Two optimistic "Mr Whippies," had pulled up not far from where I had parked. No one was queuing at their windows. No one was anxious to purchase their confections which were advertised in garish colours as, "Soft to Eat, Hard to Beat."

A couple of hundred yards away I could see a large marquee. The banner advertisements announced that it contained an ice rink. An appropriate attraction for a small seaside town, in Northern Ireland, in August,in the rain.



Monday, 19 August 2013

Running Against Time.

Tullamore in County Offaly was Saturday's venue for the 2013 Irish Masters Track and Field Championships.


I suppose we erstwhile Peter Pans of the track are a rather sad and desperate section of society. We don't want to admit that we are becoming older and slower. We try to hide it. We endeavour to ignore it.


One might think that running and competing against near contemporaries would provide the catalyst for that moment of disbelief when you can forget that you really are the age emblazoned on your birth certificate. Unfortunately that is not the case. You line up at the start of your age category event and you are surrounded by these wrinkly faced men with grey, greying or absent hair. For a second you ask yourself what you are doing standing amidst these individuals. Then the sad reality hits. You are one of these individuals. You are defined by your age category.


Age does weary us and the years do condemn.


Leeks for second crop

With the early potatoes now dug a portion of the vegetable patch presented itself for replanting. I had been growing on leek plants for this very purpose.


Of course it is late in the year and of course these will not grow into show winning specimens, but they will grown into very usable vegetables. As planted and with leaves and roots trimmed the leeks are presently about nine inches from tip to toe and about the thickness of a pencil. By the time they hit the plate they will have grown to at least the thickness of a broom handle.


Weather permitting I shall probably pull out the now denuded pea vines today and replant that area with quick growing salad vegetables. A really interesting day I know!


Friday, 16 August 2013

The Road to Tullamore


Despite my paucity of training I will be journeying to Tullamore this weekend for the Irish Masters Track & Field Championships. The weather forecast would suggest that it will be a dismal, damp and dank trip down to the midlands and that the conditions are unlikely to improve for the day of competition.


I cannot say that I am travelling with much hope, either as to times or positions, but to use the vernacular I will certainly give it,"a rattle." Championship races tend to be run tactically rather than particularly fast and I expect my 800m to be very much like that with the racing not starting until the last 200m. That may however depend upon who has dodged serious injury and turns up and who is carrying some small niggle. My problem is gong to be lack of base fitness due to my time out through injury and perhaps even more importantly lack of race fitness. The 400m, if I do it, is likely to be a truer race.


I must remember my spikes!


Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The Ebb of Summer

Last Garden Peas of Summer -14th August 2013


It is only the middle of August, but already I feel that summer is ebbing away. The evenings are becoming appreciably shorter and cooler. The blind of darkness is fully down by half past nine. In another fortnight the schoolchildren of Northern Ireland will be striding or moving with grudging step through the school gates and another academic year will be ushered in.


In the vegetable patch the last of my early potatoes have now been dug. Their main crop cousins look about ready so there won't be any potatoless period. I pulled the bulk of the garden peas about a fortnight ago and today saw the balance of the pods being stripped from the plants. Unfortunately I missed a few pods from the main picking that would have benefited from cropping at that time. Pea pods do have a habit of hiding from you. These rather starchy peas will be consumed tonight along with some Chinese Broccoli, a few potatoes and a modicum of animal protein. A preprandial snifter may now be called upon.

Chinese Broccoli - 14th August 2013


Monday, 12 August 2013

Back on Track Again.


I made my comeback to track competition yesterday after an injury enforced absence of three months. It is easy to say that it is frustrating not being able to compete, nor indeed train properly, but it doesn't describe adequately the feelings engendered by a restriction on your locomotive powers. A bit late in the season to feel the tartan under my feet, but at least I was able to start, and more importantly finish a race.


The venue for yesterday's track meeting was the Mary Peters Track. This was my first race at the track since its re opening after being extended from six to eight lanes. An open graded competition was being run in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Team Trophy. I know that it is late in the season and some people will be on holiday, but even putting all that in the mix the turnout was very disappointing. Various events including the men's 400mh were, "pulled," through lack of interest and many had a distinct paucity of competitors. The men's 100m, 200m and 400m were probably the most competitive and highest standard events with the 400m being won in something over 48s.


The event chosen for my comeback, the 800m, saw only four of us at the starting line. Three of us are in the same training group so it felt more like a time trial rather than a race. That said myself and my two compadres were reasonably satisfied with our times, most especially taking account of the strong wind on the back straight. Needless to say I finished fourth, (ok last), but at least my 2.15 left me in sight of those ahead of me!


Saturday, 10 August 2013



Having a mature garden certainly has its advantages. You aren't waiting for trees and shrubs to grow and provide you with shelter and you have your arboreal features in situ. The downside is that you have your casualties.


Most years storm and old age cause at least two or three boughs to head earthwards. This year has however been worse than most. On Wednesday morning as I lay between sleep and wakefulness I heard a loud crack and crashing sound. An investigation disclosed that an old cherry tree had decided that it was finally time to move from the vertical to the horizontal. I have to admit that it hasn't been entirely vertical for more than a few years. The cause of that I in part put down to the climbing rope which had been attached to a large branch about thirty feet up by a previous owner. No doubt it was put in place so as to appeal to the Tarzan abilities of his teenage children.


It seems that I must again call upon my chainsaw toting friend. We should both end up with a few cubic yards of firewood. Earth to earth. Wood to ground.


Thursday, 8 August 2013

Ness Country Park

I paddled along to Ness Country Park this pm. I have to concede that the old causa causans for my visit was not just to have a walk and enjoy the scenery. It has been perhaps twenty eight years since I was last there and I wanted to view the condition of the paths and refresh my memory as to their incline. Why so you ask? Well it had struck me that the steep walls of the Burntollet Valley, where the Park nestles, might provide a sheltered venue for a few of the running group's winter sessions. After all the Northern Ireland Environment Agency is always extolling the merits of getting out into the country loop.


I must say that I had a very pleasant stroll down alongside the river and through the dappled glades further up the hillside. Unfortunately some of the paths are rather too precipitous and involve too many steps to provide a satisfactory route for a training session. Unless of course you were aiming to compete in a fell race! However on an, "out and in basis," the path next the river would suffice for reps of varying length and there is one pathway next the visitor centre which would provide a flat one kilometre circuit.



Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Gooseberry - Fulsome Jam

The trusty saucepan has been brought into use again. With the balance of the gooseberries now picked, four pounds of these hairy berries were topped and tailed before being deposited in the saucepan along with the juice of one lemon and something just shy of a pint of water. This concoction was brought to the boil atop the aged aga and then left to simmer for about fifteen minutes, by which time the gooseberries were no longer recognisable as berries. Four pounds of Tate & Lyle granulated sugar was then added. (Other makes of sugar are available!)


It took about five minutes to dissolve the sugar after which the caries inducing mixture was boiled for about ten minutes, followed by simmer mode. The pink scum which collected on the surface was spooned off at intervals. It took about forty five minutes before the conserve was adjudged to have reached its setting point after which it was ladled in to the awaiting sterilised jars.


Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Runner Beans to Chutney

The vegetable garden is now in full production and surpluses are beginning to occur. Three pounds of runner beans was too great a quantity to ingest in one sitting and I therfore determined that they should be converted into pots of chutney for laying down and winter consumption. There would of course have to be some ancillary ingredients. Unfortunately the transformation of beans to chutney requires the assistance of other garden produce and some items from the larder. The following items were assembled:-

3 lbs runner beans - chopped

2 onions - chopped

4 garlic cloves - chopped

2 pinches chilli powder

2 lbs light brown soft sugar

2 teaspoons fresh ginger - grated

1 tablespoon mustard powder

2 pints malt vinegar

2 tablespoons cornflour

1.5 tablespoons ground turmeric

A saucepan of slightly salted water was then brought to the boil and the beans and onions added and cooked for ten minutes. The water was then drained off with the beans and onions being transferred to a food processor where they suffered the fate of a thousand knives before being dumped back into the saucepan. There they were joined by the garlic, ginger and sugar as well as one and a half pints of the vinegar. The resultant concoction was boiled for some fifteen minutes. The remaining vinegar was then poured into a bowl where it was joined by the mustard powder, cornflour, turmeric and chilli pepper and then added to the saucepan where the combined liquid amalgam was then boiled for a further fifteen minutes. Cooling proceeded after which the sweet smelling sludge, (well truthfully don't all chutneys look a bit unappealing in isolation?), was spooned into the awaiting sterilised jars.



They say that it takes six to eight weeks for a chutney to mature and taste its best. I did however think that I should check that this culinary delight was palatable. I am happy to report that no ill affects have manifested themselves to date and surprisingly it tasted quite nice. Perhaps cheese, biscuits and a rich port might be an appropriate accompaniment.




Sunday, 4 August 2013

Buddleia - The Butterfly Bush

It is rather easy to work out why the buddleia is referred to as the butterfly bush. I have one planted just outside the kitchen window and I have just counted over forty red admirals latched on to the dense panicles, sipping at the sweet nectar in the heat being reflected off the wall of the house.


Although there are quite a few cabbage white butterflies fluttering about the garden they don't appear to find the scent of the buddleia bush as seductive as the red admirals do. A pity really. If they did then I might not have the task of checking the underside of the leaves of the various brassicas in the vegetable patch for their rapacious caterpillars.


Thursday, 1 August 2013

Bulldog wins again!!

Escapism is I think one of the most alluring features of the novel. From the perspective of 2013 the Bulldog Drummond novels of Herman Cyril McNeile, (aka Sapper), are certainly escapism. The world they portray never really existed although the precepts and social mores displayed in Sapper's writings were undoubtedly a feature of a certain stratum of British society.


They are, "Boys Own," adventure stories, rattling good yarns. Spiffing tales of daring do. You know from the outset that Hugh Drummond MC will be successful in his fight against his protagonists, no matter what the odds. Perhaps therein lies some of the joy of these novels. Some might say that they are not politically correct in our increasingly sanitised world, but echoing what I am sure Bulldog Drummond would have retorted I would say to that, tommy rot!


I must have been nine or ten whenever I started to read these books, moving on to them from the works of W. E. Johns. I seem to remember unearthing a few from a box stored under a bed in my paternal grandmother's house. Presumably they must have been bought for my father or his brother in the 1930's.


Recently I saw an audio copy of , "The Third Round," in the local library. I could not resist borrowing it and dipping in to its cocoon of comforting escapism. It did not disappoint.